Categorybiographies 2.0

Radical transparency: Obama staff applicants needs to share their online pasts

R

The Obama team ruled the online campaigns, that’s something most could agree on. They also show they know their stuff by digging deep into staff applicants’ online pasts, as the New York Times reports:

A seven-page questionnaire being sent by the office of President-elect Barack Obama to those seeking cabinet and other high-ranking posts may be the most extensive – some say invasive – application ever. The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps. Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages. The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”

And you thought your new employer checking out your Facebook profile was kinda odd? Hah!

On the internet, we will always be beaten on price

O

We will always be beaten on price (by Flickr user moleitau, all rights reserved) Image: We will always be beaten on price, courtesy of blackbeltjones

Somehow this picture by Blackbeltjones really resonated with me. It seems to sum up a basic dilemma fact of life everybody (or at least every web worker, freelancer, creative type and coffee shop dweller) faces these days: We’ll never be able to compete through price. On the internet, there’s always someone who’ll be ready to be cheaper, maybe even faster.

Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so, not at all. From my experience, quality and good chemistry beat price anytime. If a client wants it primarily cheap, there’s decent places to get that. But the kind of work many of us are offering needs some time, creative input and experience. (To get an idea, check out Stowe Boyd’s Ten Day Rule, which pretty much sums it up.)

Why am I mentioning this? It’s not like any of my clients has ever complained in this respect, it’s always been good, constructive and trust-based relationships. But this photo was too good not to use it here. ’nuff said.

FDCareer brings roleplaying games to business networking online

F

A quirky, but interesting approach to business networking combines pen-and-paper style roleplaying games with career networking sites like LinkedIn or Xing. It’s aimed at students and young professionals.

Going by the (not so hip) name FDCareers, the service lets you choose a character class and gain experience points, eventually giving you level-ups for your accomplishments. You gain points by adding experiences to your CV and by interacting with others on the platform, so it adds a playful touch to the somewhat dry profiling approach that Xing takes. (LinkedIn takes a similar, if way more simple approach here, with their percentage-based profile building.)

In an email describing the service, they state:

Every time you gain an internship, become a leader of an organization, or get a high GPA, you gain experience and level-up in FD Career. People with high levels gain prestige and access to new features of the site. Our goal is to make personal and professional development fun for students and young professionals.

There are five categories you can get levels in: Education, Experience, Leadership, Social and Initiative. Adding friends on FDCareers would give you points. For example: By joining and adding a friend, I got two “social points”. Internships or job experience as well as social engagements would give extra points.

This approach is pretty cool, why should professional mean all dry and boring? However, there’s a few drawbacks as it is: First, the name. FDCareer? Could hardly be more boring, sadly to say. Second, the interface doesn’t exactly look like fun, either. (Even LinkedIn has a more compelling, more playful user interface.) Third, at the time I tried the service, I noticed a few technical problems (PHP errors in the profile pages).

As it is, FDCareers looks like a lot still has to be done. It’ll be a while, and a lot of work. The idea of spicing up boring resume building with gaming elements could be fun, though. Maybe the team should look into the basics of Alternate Reality Gaming, there could be some great inspiration there.

(Disclosure: Joseph Yi of Future Delivery, the company behind FDCareers, asked me for feedback on the service.)

Berlin couple share their pregnancy: RealBirthTV

B

RealBirthTV.comWhen I was pointed to RealBirthTV first a couple of days ago, I have to admit I didn’t know what to think. Over-sharing or a logical thing to do? RealBirthTV is Berlin-based couple Erik and Jodi, who share the journey of their pregnancy, starting a few days ago in their third month.

Today I met up with Erik and he told me a few bits and pieces, good fun. The idea is to really take the audience along and share the whole experience, and use the whole range of social media tools: Blog, video podcast, Flickr galleries, you can leave video messages for them via Trombiblog. Also, it’s a deeply, inherently human and very personal topic, so it should be great for an online community.

I haven’t heard of another project catering to this particular niche: totally long tail in a way, but then again, also totally mainstream. And as I said: This one I have a hard time making a clear judgement about. But one thing is certain, it’s a very ambitious & innovative* project, and I wish Erik & Jodi all the best. So I’m curious what you think about the project!

ps. Also, we agreed to a brief introduction of RealBirthTV on blogpiloten.de. Expect it before the end of the week. (Full disclosure: I’m project managing blogpiloten.de.)

  • Update: innovative, I thought after posting this, isn’t the right term here. It’s more a logical next step, the application of a certain set of rules, mechanisms and ideas to a particular niche: Here, total transparency during pregnancy.

Is Google making us stupid? (No.)

I

The Atlantic just ran an article asking “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” which two friends forwarded independently – always a clear indicator that it might be a good idea to actually read the article. (Thanks Puja, thanks Burkhardt!) And The Atlantic author Nicholas Carr does raise some important points.

Carr’s key argument is that the way we read skim texts in the web makes us lose the ability to immerse ourselves deeply in longer texts: We forget how deep reading works. And he’s right on when he observes that all of us information workers find it increasingly bothersome to sit down with a book and read it front-to-back while emails keep pouring in, Blackberries chirp, phones ring. We all, I suspect, know the feeling. It happened to me more than once that mere minutes after sitting down with a book I started fidgeting and was drawn almost subconsciously to my email inbox, basically by reflex.

However, that’s only half the story.

Our reading patterns are (or so I think) to a large portion context-based. Reading in the office, with my computer sitting next to me, is particularly hard because distractions are everywhere and interruptions are mostly legitimate and not just random noise. It’s an office, after all. (In case you’re wondering: I work freelance, so it actually is possible for me, in theory, to read in my office.) But I can’t really see the same mechanisms at work in different contexts. When I like to immerse myself in a story, a book, a long and complex text, I try to block out as many distractions as I can. Switching off my phone for an hour isn’t heretical, it’s a legitimate choice. It takes little time to get back from skimming mode into deep reading mode. (Of course, it may very well be that younger generations have a harder time doing so because they learned to read in a different way; this I cannot say for sure and I do not want to judge about.)

There’s another point in Carr’s article that I find somewhat disturbing. He compares the internet to a system like Taylorism, “designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information”. Taylor’s ethic, Carr concludes, “is beginning to govern the realm of the mind as well.”

One, the facts: The internet was by no means design for efficiency. Quite to the contrary, the internet was designed for redundancy, and it’s as messy as anything: Parts are failing? No worries, it’s all decentralized. The information will find another way. The internet with it’s complex architecture is what we call an emergent system. It’s (in a way) the opposite of efficiency.

Two, the internet is not our mind. “What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the mind,” says Carr. Google is not trying to tell us how to think. It’s a system that was (and still is) built to find information we are looking for: Google serves our demands, not the other way round. Of course, always having all the information out there at our fingertips does have an effect on our thinking (just as it seems that we completely forgot how to make appointments with friends without cascade of cell phone calls beforehand). But that doesn’t mean changing back is impossible.

Three, Carr states that “in Google’s view, information is a kind of commodity, a utilitarian resource that can be mined and processed with industrial efficiency.” So? Google isn’t taking any workers’ rights to personal freedom here: Computers process information, in one way or another. It’s what they do, what they’re built to do. Trying to get more relevant results at the expense of nobody and nothing isn’t a bad thing to do in itself, is it? (Of course, secondary effects like low concentration span when over-using can be an issue.) Spending “days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries” doesn’t have an intrinsic value (which, to be fair, Carr doesn’t claim), it was (is?) rather a flaw in the system, a symbol of not having access to the information one is looking for. Efficiency is a word that comes to mind, convenience is another. Opportunity is a third, and maybe the most important one here: We now have, for the first time in human history, the chance to access a global repository of information, data, knowledge.

Is Google making us stupid? I think not. Lazy, maybe.

Documents Are Conversations: The Future of Work (is now)

D

The Future of Work?A little while back, while I was visiting San Francisco, my buddy Max Senges (the proto knowledge entrepreneur) and I had a chat or two about the future of work, which both of us see in collaboration, sharing and networking/the cloud. Of course, just like for many of you, this has basically already become part of our work lives. But it’ll go further, and a great many folks and organizations might want to catch up.

Here’s a few brief thoughts, distilled into no more than 140 characters each, Twitter style (Max’ Twitter, my Twitter). We even scribbled a bunch of them in a notebook, in long-hand, but as it is with paper we lost it. So all I can provide right now is what I remember off the top of my head.

Don’t expect anything too deep; but maybe we were able to dig up a nugget or two that resonates with you. Without further ado, here’s the first few rough ideas.

  • Documents are conversation.
  • We live in the network, and you should, too.
  • Sharing is growth.
  • Social is the new black.
  • A paywall is a wall folks crash into. Free is a freeway that folks love to surf.
  • Hardware infrastructure is dead weight. We love to fly in the cloud.
  • Iterate, iterate and iterate: Nothing is ever finished.
  • Reputation, character and smarts are our capital.
  • We don’t give a shit about fancy titles. Neither ours, nor yours.
  • We want to deliver excellent results. For our clients’ best, but also to impress our peers.
  • You can eat your cake and have it, too. And know what? Your colleagues and your competition can eat that same cake, too. You’ll still have it.
  • We prefer casual talk about biz talk. We like to Get Things Done. There’s no contradiction there.
  • Flexibility is key. We won’t buy expensive stuff without checking them out up front. And we always prefer flexible rent-on-demand services.
  • Probably we know the people you’re looking for. Just ask us.
  • All this corporate stuff isn’t very sexy. We’d like to bring our own equipment.
  • We like to remix, mash up, hack. And we don’t care if the producer likes that or not.
  • Don’t broker with information. Sharing is much more effective. More fun, too.
  • Our watercooler lives in the cloud, too, it’s called Twitter.
  • Word of mouth is a powerful thing. And through Twitter it spreads fast. Really, really, really fast.
  • We’re always on. But here and there, we’ll go off the grid. During those rare times, we really won’t answer calls. Not even yours.
  • Our carry our social networks around in our pockets. Yes, even right now.

Breaking the Banksy: First interview?

B

A new Banksy mural ‘One Nation Under CCTV’ painted next to a CCTV camera at a Post Office yard in the West End. (Image: Dailymail.co.uk) A new Banksy mural ‘One Nation Under CCTV’ painted next to a CCTV camera at a Post Office yard in the West End. (Image: Dailymail.co.uk)

Half the world, it seems, has been chasing the British graffiti artist Banksy: Police for his vandalism, art collectors for his works, sprayers for his style, media for the scoop. So far, his cover hasn’t been blown. Now Daily Mail has a first interview, or rather: description of a meeting with the artist.

To post this here may seem slightly off-topic, and I guess it is. I posted it anyways for two reasons:

First, I think it is indeed quite remarkable that it’s even possible to keep your identity as secret as Banksy does, while still producing art in very public spaces, like the one seen above, and the one below. (One of his recurring topics is surveillance of the public space, after all, and what you could call sousveillance, i.e. inverse surveillance.) In our age of transparency and data sharing, of public surveillance and CCTV, this seems like quite an achievement.

Second, it’s a hell of a good graffiti. Not only does it look awesome, the way it plays with different levels of reality, surveillance and meaning is just mindblowing.

Banksy: What are you looking at? (Photo by Flickr user nolifebeforecoffee) Banksy: What are you looking at? (Photo by nolifebeforecoffee)

Some more Banksy art? Check out what Flickr has to offer, sorted by interestingness.