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The New and Glossy People of Blogland

by Elena on April 1, 2010

Death of Print

Have you canceled your magazine subscriptions?  Are magazines starting to send you their glossy pages for free?  I smell anxiety, but this is no surprise to many people in the publishing world.  I seem to rattle on about the subject quite a bit, but as a writer I can’t help but obsess about every article that comes out on the subject.

Yesterday The New York Times featured an article on its front page about The Rising Stars of Gossip Blogs.  When people hear gossip writing, many raise their noses in the air, like they once did, or still do, about blogging.  But these same haughty nosed people may beg, steal, or borrow to have the type of success some of these gossip bloggers have had.  The article’s author Alex Williams comments on the tipping point when bloggers went from people airing their dirty laundry on the web, to people pursuing a real writing career.

The lines between “reporter” and “blogger,” “gossip” and “news” have blurred almost beyond distinction. No longer is blogging something that marginalized editorial wannabes do from home, in a bathrobe, because they haven’t found a “real” job. Blogging now is a career path in its own right, offering visibility, influence and an actual paycheck.

The elusive paycheck, however isn’t what drives many a blogger, especially in this new and shiny blogland where a lot of online magazines and blogs don’t have the money to pay writers for their work.  On the other hand, the online landscape is opening up lots of other doors for people to be innovative and create opportunities for themselves.  Like a lot of other careers it takes a mix of talent and luck, with the scales tipping to one side more than the other depending on the person.

Although the article focuses on gossip blogs, the same can be said about all types of blogs.  Bloggers and blogging sites have changed publishing in ways that makes even The New York Times suffer.  Remember when The Times decided that it will start to charge it’s readers?  Now they feature on their online frontpage, an article about the very people who have severely cramped traditional media’s style.  Isn’t it ironic, in the Alanis Morissette sense of the word, that many of these nontraditional writers/bloggers rise to success without so much as stepping in a newsroom?

Image via: cuttlefish



Talking to Strangers From All Over The World

by Elena on February 23, 2010

Too scared to try the Chatroulette site on my own, I enlisted the company of my cousin to test out the site that everyone was talking about last week.  We were aware of what to expect after reading our fair share of first hand accounts.  Although Nick Bilton from the New York Times is correct in his assessment:

Nothing can really prepare you for the latest online phenomenon, Chatroulette.

…not even knowing what to expect.  You can talk to lots of people, but you don’t form any sort of real connection.  Anyone who hypothesizes otherwise really misunderstands the website.  It is a place for the curious, the lonely, and mostly the mischievous, like us, looking to stir up some trouble and a few laughs.  Will it change our world?  No… but it definitely created a surreal one.

Chat RouletteImage via: NY Mag

The Creepy
The first time you see someone expose their manhood to you, it will be traumatizing.  It doesn’t matter if someone at New York Magazine gave you fair warning.  Soon you start to appreciate the people who ask you in advance if they can show you what’s in their pants.  At least they give you the chance to say no thank you.  This naked trend makes the amount of children we saw on the site an even more disturbing trend.  These children are seeing the same images we are seeing, and at their age shouldn’t they be outside playing, not watching some loser show his goods?

The Curious
If you take out the large amount of flashers on Chatroulette, what you are left with is a large amount of curious people.  For the first 20 or so people we saw on Chatroulette, we “nexted” quickly and nervously, mostly because it is strange talking to complete strangers.  What do you say to that new face staring back at you?  It’s easier to press NEXT.  Add the anxiety that you don’t know who is going to pop up after you hit NEXT, it is safer to keep your finger on that NEXT button.  Sometimes you find yourself nexting others so they won’t get the pleasure of nexting you first.  Take that complete stranger!  I nexted you first. A lot of the time we came across people who looked like they didn’t know what they were doing, like us, and were checking the site out for the first time.

The Funny
After we turned off our computer and went out for a typical Saturday night, we returned home with some liquid courage and an extra partner in crime.  As it turns out, this website is very much like the bar we just visited, except for the fact that you are forced to make awkward conversation with your neighbor at the bar instead of avoiding eye contact and shifting your body language.  This forced interaction makes for some funny encounters like we had with our favorite French guy in Nice.  We spoke to him for about a 1/2 hour (very long for Chatroulette), connecting in the same way that tipsy strangers connect at a bar.  Suddenly you are best friends!  It was 9am in Nice and he had just gotten back from a party; it was 3 am in the States and we had just gotten back from a bar and some tacos.  He sat back in his recliner wearing a suit, red tie, and a huge, goofy smile ready to talk, in a thick French accent, to his new stranger pals on Chatroulette.

The Friendly
There are some nice people on here, believe it or not.  I was happy when we stumbled across a guy in Tunis, mostly because I was able to practice my French with him.  We danced with some people and often gave friendly waves to others who didn’t really have much to say.  Another guy, who was unsurprisingly French (they were the most open to talk to other males, without any sexual undertones) played some tunes for us on his guitar.  Since there are a lot of people who are curious about the site, not everyone is going to be a sick bastard.  It’s like talking to a penpal whom you’ve never met in person.  You have to think of generic ways to talk to someone will never meet again, although we did see some of the same people twice (despite the thousands of users).  We also came across a few parties and chugged a beer (I chugged a can of seltzer water) with a guy from somewhere in the Southern US.

Will It Change Social Media?
Some people are touting that this site is not a true social network site because you can’t form real connections.  I see their point, but I would argue that there are some interesting outcomes of interacting with people in a way that isn’t possible in real life.  Sure you could approach anonymous strangers in a park or bus, but chances are your efforts wouldn’t bode too well.  The one main difference between Chatroulette and other social networking sites is that you have no firm connection between people.  You can’t “friend” anyone or “like” or “dislike” anything.  Once you hit the next button the interaction is lost.  It is also an open haven for everything, which includes the crazy.  There is no way to police the content.

Sure it freaks me out a little that so many social connections are being made online, but that doesn’t take away the relevance to what it means to social interaction and the marketing world.

Naturally the interaction we had with a drunk guy from France will not change social media, however the option of face-to-face video chatting can.  It can open up lots of doors, (yes many of them will be problematic and creepy) as well as new ways for people and companies to interact.  Is it the type of site you check everyday like Facebook?  Most definitely not.  Will companies eventually find a way to cash in with this sort of instant interaction?  My guess is yes.

Our Conclusions About Chatroulette.

  • Women will get fewer “nexts” than men, mostly because of the large number of men on the site.
  • Most men will next other men.
  • Men from outside the USA are more likely to stop and speak to other men.  It seemed that American guys would next another guy in a matter of seconds, but the French, Chinese, and Turks were much more willing to say hello.
  • A large majority of people on the site want to expose themselves or want you to expose yourself.  Be prepared to be shocked.
  • Your surroundings tell a lot about what you are looking for.  If you are in a well lit room with others it sends a much different message than lying in bed with the lights off.
  • The Chinese love to wave hello!
  • Participating with a buddy is much easier than going on the site solo.  Also much less creepy.


The Strange and Creepy World of Social Media

by Elena on February 19, 2010

Lego on FacebookEveryday there are new ways to communicate with one another, besides actually sitting in front of someone in person and having an actual conversation.  New social networks pop up each month and frankly it’s hard to keep up.  This past week alone Google Buzz and Chat Roulette made their way into our online world.

These sites have changed the way we market products and ideas, as well as the social interaction of our society, but let’s leave that for the psychologists and sociologists to tackle.  What I’m interested in exploring is what happens when you give free reign to millions of tech savvy users with varying interests and different definitions of what they consider fun?

What about the juicy stuff, you know, the creepy, stalker, addictive part of knowing every details about the people you follow?  Not everyone is poking friendly pokes and tweeting informative tweets.  Don’t get me wrong.  I obviously love social media, what with this blog and all, but I still find it utterly fascinating, and a little frightening, the level it can be taken to.

Chat Roulette

Let’s take a look at the social network phenomenon of the week, Chat Roulette.  For those unfamiliar, with the program, it is a one-on-one text, webcam, microphone-based, chat service where you can talk to people all over the world.  There is a catch of course, or maybe it’s the hook.  The site is literally a social game of roulette because you never know who you are going to get.  By participating you open yourself to brutal honesty from complete strangers who have the option of pressing the next button when they are tired of looking at you.  After you hit that button, you can be talking to a person dressed up as a ninja one minute or someone looking to practice their English the next.  Most of the time however you will probably be nexted quickly, or disturbed enough to push the next button yourself.  Sam Anderson’s article, The Human Shuffle written for New York Magazine, provides an entertaining look into his experience with Chat Roulette.  If you want to get a better idea about this site, this is the article to read.  He describes his first experience with Chat Roulette as taking him back to grade-school filled with feelings of social inadequacy (with all that nexting).  Anderson also goes into detail about some of the conversations he had, as well as the odd magnetic feeling you get driving you back to the site.

Imagine you sign on only to find this guy…

cat suit on chat rouletteWhat is he a cat?  Honestly it could have been worse.  As far as I’m concerned, you’re sorta asking to talk to weirdos dressed up as cats.  It is a game of roulette after all and you never know where the ball is going to land.

Despite the site’s terms of service (Chatroulette does not tolerate broadcasting obscene, offending, pornographic material and we will have to block users who violate these rules from using our service) ask anyone who has tried Chat Roulette and they will tell you otherwise.  Lots of creepers are on it with the sole intention of getting people to expose themselves or frankly just exposing themselves to you.  This brings up worries about child pornography and many other issues that get exacerbated once they enter such social network spaces.  This is one more site parents have to be worried about their kids stumbling upon.

Google Latitude

Google Latitude is a feature on Google Maps that allows you find the approximate location of your Gmail friends.  When you look at the map you can see your friend’s avatar hovering around their location.  It seems friendly enough, allowing your friends to see your whereabouts with the Google Latitude software.  It is brilliant really, Google really thinks of everything.  The question is, do we really need to pinpoint the locations of our friends and family?
Google LatitudeGoogle is aware of the dangers of location data, which is why they enacted privacy settings into their program.  First and foremost you are in charge of who you accept as a friend and you chose the people who can see your whereabouts.  You can also hide your location.  For many this provides a sense of security.  As internet users we have become less anxious about sharing private information about ourselves, but the rule of thumb is that we need to have control about what we share.  As for Google Latitude, it’s not like your friends are going to track you down.  Plus, there is nothing creepy about knowing who is ‘in the area’ and ‘dropping by’ because you saw their little avatar floating around nearby.  Hmm.  This brings me to…


I first found out about Foursquare from the Frugal Traveler at the New York Times.  The reason Foursquare is relevant to a frugal travel post, is that the site encourages people to explore a neighborhood and “check in” to local restaurants, cafes, museums, etc.  The more you frequent a location, the more chances you get to receive prizes and discounts, depending on the location.  You even get badges if you unlock new places and the more badges you get, the closer you are to becoming mayor or an explorer.  Users can make recommendations and keep others updated on what is hot in their area.  Overall the site seems like a great idea for those looking to explore their city, but there is a really big BUT here.  Sure it seems harmless BUT what is the consequence of people knowing your every move on such sites like Foursquare and Twitter?  Glad you asked…

Please Rob Me

The guys on Please Rob Me sure have a sense of humor.  What with listing all those empty homes out there haha.  Making us all aware that if we tell everyone where we are at all times, we inadvertently alert them when we aren’t home haha.  It’s just too funny… isn’t it?  haha…  As it turns out, letting everyone know our every move through various social networks, is not only annoying, but also brings up security issues, stalking, theft, etc.  Some people full of hubris and irrational fear believe that “it will happen to me,” while others brush it off thinking “that would never happen to me?”  Most people fall humbly in between, aware of the risks but not willing to let it rule them.  Of course the guys at Please Rob Me didn’t create their site to facilitate burglary, but rather to raise awareness, ever so bluntly, about these privacy issues.  They certainly got their point across.  So don’t go putting your friend’s personal address on Foursquare in order to get extra points or an online badge.

Please Rob

This last site isn’t creepy or scary in any way.  Disappointed?  Don’t worry, it’s still peculiar.  If you ever wanted to know what people really think about you, brutal honesty, without knowing who or where the opinion comes from, sign up for!  Why anyone would open themselves up to such candid remarks is beyond me, but some people just want honesty, or the taste of suffering.’ users ask, “What’s wrong with me?” and people can leave anonymous tips answering that very question.  Since it is anonymous, it allows for brutal honesty without consequence.  If you find any of your friends on asking:

“What’s wrong with me?”

You can always anonymously tip them.

“You’re on this site.”

[Disclaimer – Social media networks are not inherently creepy or strange, however the debate of the new ways we interact with people have raised many questions about privacy.  It is a choice to participate in such programs and post as much information as we want about ourselves, and there is nothing inherently wrong in doing so.  But to everything there is a balance and examining the creepy side is just a bit more interesting.]

Image via: Balakov



Mexico Plans To Restrict Social Networking

by Elena on February 16, 2010

Police in Mexico

Imagine you wake up one morning and suddenly there are restrictions on your Facebook account.  Think of the upheaval when Facebook merely changed its landing page and design, what do you think would happen if users couldn’t sign in at all.  Most people would freak out because let’s face it, there is something about the book of faces that can be very addicting.

The Mexican government plans to implement every social network addict’s nightmare by restricting social networking sites, starting off with Twitter.  Twitteros, users of Twitter, have been causing some havoc in Mexico City and around the country, by creating accounts used to alert people of alcohol checkpoints.  Police in the US have also faced this problem when Americans tweet about the locations of alcohol checkpoints or officers lurking in the shadows waiting to catch you speed.  While this does cause some concern among authorities, users of social network sites like Twitter hardly agree it constitutes placing restrictions on accounts.

Alerting other Twitter users about alcohol checkpoints is irresponsible but not necessarily unlawful.  You can’t arrest someone for telling their friend that they saw a police officer on such and such street, however when you post it on Twitter it reaches a much broader audience.  This is were things get complicated.  In Mexico City the law states a 5 year prison sentence for people who “in any way help a delinquent avoid investigation by the authorities or escape their actions.”  Does this include helping drunk drivers get away from police?

The Mexican drug war creates a much bigger problem for social network sites.  Why you may ask?  Well think of it this way.  Kidnapping and escalating drug violence is on the rise in Mexico.  If a kidnapper is looking to get information about a person they plan to abduct, where do you think they are going to look first?  Where is the easiest place to find information about where a person lives, who their friends and family are, where they go to school or work, what they look like, or where they hang out?  Facebook is a kidnapper’s dream because it provides all this information in an easily accessible homepage.

Scary huh?  The sad fact is that if you have family in Mexico, you know someone who has been affected by the rising violence and crime, in particular near the border.  But the question is whether or not it is necessary to restrict or shutdown these sites as a matter of public safety.  There are plans to set up a police force to monitor Twitter and the like, for unlawful activity or death threats.  While this can provide some peace of mind for some, there is still the fact that drug cartels are known to infiltrate the police department and even the military.  The same problems seem to persist.

If you are unaware of the severity of the drug situation in Mexico take a look at the LA Times’ Mexico Under Siege, which offers interactive maps, statistics, and up to the date news on the ever growing situation.  There are also many horrific stories coming from people who live in these war town areas.  Stories about corrupt military, officers forced to hide and avoid the drug cartels, as well as the fact that police cover their faces for fear that the narcos will recognize them and exact revenge on one’s family.  The fact that narcos are using technology is not new and security experts acknowledge that “drug traffickers have an intelligence network and, as far as I know, at this moment in time it’s more effective than ours.”  This forces law enforcement to become more involved with technology and social media, places one wouldn’t normally imagine police activity would be necessary.



Beyond The Hype: Can Technology Save The Day?

by Elena on January 27, 2010

SupermanLately I’ve been spending lots of time reading and writing about the changing media landscape.  My nerdy inclinations find the topic endlessly fascinating, and I’m not the only one.  Everyone is talking about the future of publishing, and hypothesizing how things will change.

This past weekend I wrote a post about the New York Times’ plan to start charging its readers.  Because online news sites have been providing free content for years now there isn’t a sufficient revenue stream to sustain company costs.  Needless to say, social networking, blogs, microblogs, and the digital lifestyle has all led to the decline in print news, but what can we expect in the future?

Some believe the future lies in distribution.  Today Steve Jobs revealed the name of the Apple tablet that everyone has been buzzing about.  The iPad is a device somewhere in between a smart phone and a laptop.  It has a battery life of 10 hours, much longer than most netbooks, even my little powerful one sitting atop my desk.  Without belaboring the discussion about the iPad , I’ll leave that for the tech whizzes that know what they are talking about, I wanted to discuss the ways new technology is expected to change the distribution of media.

Many are wondering if this little expensive device can save the publishing industry.  The New York Times has already signed on, as well as other publishers, without really knowing what to expect from this 10 inch iPad, but hoping that it will provide some sort of additional revenue.  Many compare the struggling publishing world to the struggling music industry and the problems it faced years ago.  One can argue that iTunes vastly affected the way people obtain music, but to say that it saved the music industry would be an exaggeration.

One important distinction we have to make is the difference between the art and distribution.  Creating music is an art (let’s forget about lipsynching and autotune for a second and focus on real music).  Apple did not reinvent the music scene, but they made it possible for someone to make money off of it (whether or not it benefits Apple more than the music industry or the artists is another discussion).

Just like making music is an art, writing is a craft that one can learn.  Not Apple nor Amazon, nor any other tech company, can reinvent the medium itself.  What they can do however, is innovate the way we receive media.  There are endless options to chose from, which is why big companies are starting to get anxious.  Despite the vast  choices, however, people will continue to have opinions and will buy and use products they deem worthy and of value, remarkable products that Seth Godin describes.  People who value high quality journalism will pay the price to get it, but there will be some growing pains to get there.  As media changes, as well as the marketplace, consumers are looking for something more than a mediocre fix and that is where the art comes in.  Just like artists in the music industry are starting to think of innovative ways to distribute and make a living from their craft, writers and publishers will do the same.  No matter if I read the morning news on my computer, a newpaper, or my fancy new Apple iPad, I will be reading content written by a person, a journalist, a freelancer, or a blogger.  What I hold in my hands won’t change that.

Image via: James Jordan



Free Kareem - Free Speech is a Human RightFree speech is a human right.  It is something that most people don’t even think about as the go about their daily lives.  I know I don’t.  For the most part we can say whatever we want, in whatever snarky tone we want, and we won’t get in trouble for it.  Matters get sticky when you talk constantly about hate or you threaten individuals, the government, or society on some level, but for the most part we won’t get put in jail for saying what’s on our minds.  Not everyone is so lucky.  There are people around the world who get tossed in jail for doing what I do everyday, blog.  I found out about the large number of bloggers in jail (over 60) after reading a post on Polo Bastards.  Polo Bastards is an interesting site, unlike the usual travel sites you will find, that writes about parts of the world most people don’t think about visiting.

Yoani Sanchez writes her blog Generation Y from Havana Cuba in an effort to “let me say, in this space, what is forbidden to me in my civic action.”  She writes mostly from hotels where internet often costs upwards of $7 an hour.  In Cuba only senior officials and foreign residents can contract an internet service, leaving most of the population isolated.  The Cuban government filters her blog on the island, however their are greatest risks than silence, where some countries inhibit free speech by using jail time and even torture.

Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman is an Egyptian blogger who was sentenced to 4 years in prison for speaking his mind on his blog.  He is charged with.  “(1) Spreading data and malicious rumors that disrupt public security; (2) Defaming the President of Egypt; (3) Incitement to overthrow the regime upon hatred and contempt; (4) Incitement to hate Islam and breach of the public peace standards; (5) Highlighting inappropriate aspects that harm the reputation of Egypt and spreading them to the public.”  On the Free Kareem website you can find out all the information you need about his case.  On the site’s blog you will get up to date information, such as how he has been denied visits from his lawyer for the third time.  You will also find pictures, videos, music, and letters in support of Kareem, such as the song written by Ethiopian singer Meklit Hadero.

Free Kareem - Free Speech 2Free Kareem - Respect Human RightsFree Kareem - In all LanguagesFree Kareem - MediaFree Kareem - RallyFree Kareem - Blogging in not a CrimeFree Kareem - Speech is no CrimeIf you want to get involved or wish to contact Kareem you can do so through the Free Kareem website.  In order to keep up Kareem’s spirit’s, the Free Kareem Coalition, a group of young bloggers and college students committed to free speech, appreciates any letter sent to Kareem.  You can send a letter directly or through their contact page which they will mail to him.  If you decide to write a letter make sure not to write anything that will aggravate prison officials (they read all letters first).  It will only make matters worse for him.  Did you write to Kareem?Write to KareemAll images via: Free Kareem



New York Times Building in ManhattanWe are a spoiled bunch.  With just the punch of the enter button on your keyboard you are seconds away from the answer to any question you may have.  How much does it cost to buy a condo in Long Island City?  How many calories are in kumquats? What the heck is ROI? Online users are accustomed to unlimited access to free information on the web.  With social networking sites like Twitter, it is possible to get updates on the latest news events, in 140 characters or less.  This is a small part of the reason why the New York Times’ new business plan is causing such a stir.  The New York Times plans to charge its most loyal readers, readers who will not doubt go over the set amount of free articles each month.  Don’t worry just yet; the plan won’t kick in until 2011.

From a purely business standpoint it makes sense that a newspaper of the Times’ size would charge people to read its content, but as we know, the online world works differently than the print world.  If you want the print version sent to your door everyday, you expect to pay for it; however if you want to read the online version every morning before you check your email, you expect it to be free.  I mean why not?  Most everything else is free online.

The prevalent business model for online media has generally been to offer free content to readers and to rely on advertising dollars in order to stay afloat.  This has put some strain on well-established and new publications alike.  Staff writers get cut and freelance writers make less money, hence the reason most writers are turning to unconventional methods to support themselves.  There is no doubt that media is changing, as it has many times before, people just have to figure out a way to change with it.  The question is, how do we do it?

While publications are suffering in general, The New York Times is of course very different than your small local paper or your daily blog reads.  It is much more costly to run such a huge operation, with reporters all over the world, as well as writers, editors, line editors, deliverymen, and distributors.  As Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research states, Google ads can’t pay for everything:

The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face.

He is right.  It is crazy to think that the high cost of maintaining such an operation can be covered by advertising, and if it can’t, how else can it support its daily operation?  David Firestone, a deputy national news editor elaborates this point.  “As painful as it will be at the beginning, we have to get rid of the notion that high-quality news comes free.”

The New York Times is worried about many things.  Their biggest worry is simply whether or not people are willing to pay for their news.  The changes won’t affect the occasional reader who stumbles upon an article after searching Google News, but rather the avid readers of the Times who return day after day.  Will these readers turn their back on the publication?  Another worry is of course ad dollars.  If the paper loses some of its audience, it will inevitably lose some advertising dollars.  It is risky, but with revenues down, they have to do something.

Some publications have found success in charging their readers.  Cook’s Illustrated charges its readers for unlimited access to their database of recipes.  If you check out their website you will notice something very strange.  There is absolutely no outside advertising, yet they were able to grow 30% in 2008.  This strategy works well for niche markets, but the Times is not for a niche market with its breadth of topics and news stories.  The Times will have to find a balance between subscribers and advertising.

Now this begs the question, would you pay for high quality news or other high profile news sources like the New York Times?  Sure people may say that they will pay, but when the time comes will they really pay up, or will they be looking elsewhere to get their news fix?  Other papers currently use the paywall method, such as the Wall Street Journal and Newsday.  The Times has tried to charge its online readers in the past, without much success.  From 2005 to 2007 the newspaper started TimesSelect which charged for its editorials and columns.  Columnists such as Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman began to complain about their drop in readership.  Friedman noted that reader’s abroad, in particular readers from China and India, stopped reading his content because it became too expensive, especially for a country where $50 is a huge investment.

On a personal level I can relate to both sides of the argument.  Out of pure selfishness, I understand the draw of free content.  Times are rough and I want as much free information as the next guy.  As a writer who has been in contact with many publications that are having a hard time paying its contributors, I understand the importance of paying for high quality content.  I also believe that if a product is remarkable, then people will pay for it.  You may lose some consumers here and there, but it seems absurd to continue offering free products forever.

One thing that is certain in our information saturated world, industries are changing and little good has come from freaking out.  The music industry didn’t gain much from trying to sue every person that downloaded music illegally, and while it’s true that the music industry is struggling, products such as iTunes and Pandora has managed to keep people paying for their music.  We can stream free movies online, but that hasn’t stopped people from going to see movies on the big screen (Avatar already topped 500 million in the US).  Late night television has suffered in the ratings (such as Conan) because of its ever fickle audience; however other shows (even some non reality shows) have managed to gain large popularity by breaking the mold, such as Fox’s Glee.  What companies need to do is figure out new ways to reach consumers and hold their attention, which may be easier said than done, what with all the options we have to chose from.  Despite the blogs and new sites popping up, there is still space for a respected and high quality news outlet like the Times, where reporters are at the scene and are expected to exemplify a certain quality of excellence, even though they too make mistakes.  I don’t see this type of reporting changing anytime soon.

Image via: paalia



Is Travel Good For Business?

by Elena on December 7, 2009

Antwerp Central Station, BelgiumWhile reading the innovation article that inspired the majority of my posts last week, I started to think about the connection between travel and growth in business.  It seems inevitable especially in our ever globalized business market.  Based on the findings in the innovator study, managers who have been on assignment abroad show about 7% higher market performance when they become CEOs, compared to the CEOs without the international experience.

One of the most powerful experiments innovators can engage in is living and working overseas.  Our research revealed that the more countries a person lived in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience to deliver innovative products, processes, or business.

I am not a CEO of a major company and I cannot personally recount the truth of these statistics; however I do feel that they are reflective of the benefits of travel.  There are plenty of people who tell how travel has affected their lives.  There are thousands more people who, despite short vacation time in the US, are dreaming about their next vacation.  To some, travel is merely an escape from the rat race, but maybe it can be much more.

Rick Steves argues in his book Travel as a Political Act that travel can help us form our political opinion.  By experiencing the way other countries are run firsthand, we can eliminate past prejudices, assumptions, and fears.  We can even start to reshape opinions about our own countries.  In regards to business, this awareness can reshape the views of a company, as well as the assumptions of the way companies should be run.

Travel can help your professional career in many ways.  There is a reason many reporters and researchers go ‘in the field.’  There is invaluable information outside of your cubicle.  In this age, where the consumer has loads of products to choose from and thousands of outlets in which they get their information, it is much harder to get your customers to listen.  Marketers need to find innovative and unconventional ways to run successful campaigns.  Of course traditional advertising can be clever and effective (think of Geico’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’) but just because people remember that Maxwell’s is ‘good to the last drop’ or the McDonald’s catchphrase ‘I’m lovin it,’ doesn’t mean that they will drink Maxwell coffee or eat McDonald burgers.

Not everyone can live by gallivanting outside of the office forever, but when you get the chance it will create lots of opportunities that can spark new ideas and revitalize your career.

Image via: antwerpenR



It is impossible to judge who has the best job or lifestyle, since everyone has different aspirations and ideals.  Some celebrities gripe about the pitfalls of fame; yet there are many more people searching for their 15 minutes.  Not everyone will become the next creator of a popular social networking site, nor does everyone want to be.

Yesterday I wrote a post about the qualities of an innovator and the process they use to create something new; however that need not be your goal.  There are many other ways to use the qualities of innovation.   If you want to change your lifestyle, by working from home, starting your own company, or traveling more often, it is possible.  There will always be constraints, but sometimes constraints garner creativity and dedication.  I realize that as a woman in my twenties, I don’t have the responsibilities of a family or a mortgage.  It would be naive of me to assume that it is just as easy for everyone, however it is not impossible to make changes little by little.

Travel is something I consider to be a very important part of my life.  If travel and working for yourself is something you are passionate about, you can start off by trying these strategies:

Use Past Experience: Many people who love travel find ways to travel so despite having a job.  Alan from The 9 to 5 Alternative works as a surveyor for an information services company.  He is able to travel the world as he gathers cost-of-living data for his company.  Jobs like his allow for lots of travel.  If you would like to quit your 9-5 someday, you can start save up money now, until you are ready to start your new endeavors.  I used to work in media and now have ventured into the world of online/new media.  Things I’ve done in the past help me to move forward with what I’m doing now.

Do Your Research: Before  you make any big life decision you should be asking a lot of questions.  You need to do your research and make sure you are making the right moves.  Granted you don’t want to worry needlessly, and being prepared will take away some of that worry.  You also need to figure out your expenses and income, and if you have enough saved to make a transition.

Learn From Others: You can learn so much from watching others doing what you would like to do.  I have been inspired by so many people, and I continue to learn from them every day.  If you are considering life on the road you should check out others who are already living the life you desire.  Some of my favorite examples of people who have successfully accomplished introducing travel into their lives are Christine Gilbert at Almost Fearless, Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity, Alan Perlman at The 9 to 5 Alternative, and Matt at Nomadic Matt.  Their posts will inspire lots of people to start traveling.

Experiment: Start slowly and try out your new lifestyle before you jump right in.  It is easy to idealize a situation without considering some possible downsides.  Traveling for a living, starting your own company, or being a freelancer may not be the right choices for you.  Before you quit your job and make any big decisions, you should try things out in small bursts.  You could use a bulk of you vacation time and live they way you would be if you were on the road for awhile.  That means no fancy hotels, unless you have a trust fund or some kind rich relatives.  If you want to work for yourself, start doing so right now (without quitting your day job).  Sure it seems nice to work in your pajamas and enjoy breakfast at your personal computer, but it is often hard work in the beginning.

Network: Once you make a change in your lifestyle, you will encounter a whole new set of demands and social network.  It is important to get involved with this network whether it be fellow travelers, fellow writers, or fellow artists and designers.



Be an Innovator and Create Something

by Elena on December 3, 2009

GoogleWhat do guys like Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos have in common?  Yes they are insanely wealthy, and yes they were young when they made their millions, and ok yes a few of them started their companies in their garage; but besides all that, what I want to focus on is the fact that they are true innovators that changed they way things were done in their fields.

While rummaging around Barnes and Nobles, I came across an article in The Harvard Business Review about innovation in business.  I felt guilty spending $16 on a magazine, so I opted for a $5 foam something or other from Starbucks instead and sat down to read the article.

The following couple of days I was telling anyone who would listen about “The Innovator’s DNA.”  I usually avoid titles with the word business in them, but this article struck a chord.  “The Innovator’s DNA” discusses what sets apart innovative companies like eBay and Amazon.  They may be big corporations now, but they all started with an idea, no matter how small.  eBay started because its founder wanted to help his fiancee find rare Pez dispensers, you know, the plastic toy that releases candy from its head.  Google, known for its innovative products, completely changed the way we search for information.  Their work ethic, offices, algorithms, advertising, products etc. etc. continue to influence and dominate the search landscape.  (Admittedly, Google makes my nerdy heart flutter, so I may be a bit biased).

The review studied the habits of 25 innovative entrepreneurs, as well as thousands of other executives and individuals involved in such companies.  As it turns out, there are certain “discovery skills” that innovators use to get ahead.  The good news is that these skills are most often learned.  In other words, you aren’t born with the gene to create an empire.  It’s also fascinating because they aren’t limited to entrepreneurs.  Anyone interested in living outside of the box can use them to get ahead.

Innovators are open minded and can relate various ideas from various fields in order to be successful.  A rather famous example is Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college  and took a course in calligraphy.  A career in calligraphy is not a traditional career  choice, however years later while designing the first Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs was able to use his calligraphy skills.  He introduced various typefaces and fonts that were later copied by Microsoft and used today on all computers.

Innovators ask questions, simple as that.  They ask the easy questions and the hard ones.  They challenge assumptions and don’t believe that things need to be done a certain way.  Maybe that’s why Sergey Brin enters business meetings on rollerblades.  Why not?  By asking lots of questions you get down to what people want and the ways to make your products and information better and more useful.

Innovators learn from what is around them.  Even Shakespeare borrowed themes and storylines from the great writers before him.  New technology builds upon the technology before it and the media is constantly changing.  By studying those around you, the successes as well as the mistakes, you gain insight for your future endeavors.

Innovators aren’t afraid to experiment.  With experimentation you risk failure, but they are willing to risk some failure to attain their goal.  As an innovator, you need to learn from your mistakes and go forward with your successes.  After being fired from Apple, Steve Jobs started Pixar, and as luck would have it, he returned to Apple when they bought his other company NeXT.

Innovators network because they can learn from others.  Not only do they need to test out their ideas, but they also gain a greater perspective from others, inside and outside their field.

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