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October 19th, 2011

How to be a good neighbour

The other day I was walking around my neighbourhood when a woman stopped me to ask for directions. “Where is de Courcelle street,” she asked. I pointed her in the right direction, and left with a spring in my step.

There’s something great about being asked to do your civic duty, either giving people directions or helping an old lady with her groceries. I have a feeling a lot of people like it. Yet in this society we are asked to do it less and less. This sense of duty and the muscle that accompany it are atrophying because we are rarely called upon to exercise it.

I think acting global, while still acting local, is possible and within reach for most people. They just have to shift their mindset when dealing with, for example, the web, and then shift again when dealing with a local merchant. The economics of each of those things is different, so your ethical compass should be different for each of them, too.

I have a feeling that the best models lie at the extremes of this line: very global, or very local. It’s just a feeling I have, though. Can’t support it– yet.

But in either place, global or local, you need to be a good neighbour. On the web it means to link to your sources, to ask permission, or to leave comments. In person it may mean picking up the mail when someone is out of town. There is a sense of duty in either one of these places.

As our sense of neighbourhoods change, our duties change. How is it changing for you?

* Filed by Julien at 11:57 am under community, random

August 26th, 2011

A Quick Thought About Anti-Social Douchebags

You’ll often notice guys in airports, washrooms, cafés, etc., talking loud on their phones, disrupting conversations everywhere.

You’ll also often notice that these are often powerful-looking guys: business-types, tall maybe, expensive phones, etc. In fact, you might even have a situation in mind. I know I can think of a few.

Sometimes, these scenes go on for a long time– so long that everyone around them starts looking around at each other. Knowing glances pass between tables.

Then, everyone kind of shrugs, thinking “well, what can you do?”

Watch a scene like this sometime– you won’t have to wait long before it happens. Everyone wants to tell these guys to shut up, but nobody does. No one steps up to the plate because no one wants to be “that asshole,” or because they’re embarrassed or don’t want to be told off.

But these scenes aren’t just random acts of social violence. None of it is not a coincidence. The reason these guys have these symbols of success is because they have balls. They’re willing to do what other people aren’t, have extreme confidence, and get by because of it. It’s why these guys get where they are today, why they have the expensive clothes, the phones, and the loud voice.

They flaunt their status and ignore social cues that their behaviour is undesired. Maybe they feel they’ve earned the right to do so, I dunno.

But no one ever told them no.

This happened to me one time on the Camino de Santiago with an old German guy. He was talking on his phone really loud in a dormitory filled with about 50 people. Everyone was looking at him. They wanted to sleep, but he didn’t care.

I walked up to him in my underwear, about 60+ hours of tattoo work in full view, and gestured for him to fucking close his phone immediately.

He left the room. People started laughing. Everyone was grateful.

Please take this story to heart.

Nobody else will ever say anything, ever. It has to be you.

* Filed by Julien at 1:28 pm under community, culture, social hacks

February 4th, 2011

The Future of Blogs is Paid Access

Update: Aaron Wall left an epic comment here which adds significantly to the discussion. Click here to see it (it’s #55).

Pay attention. This will be on the test.

I remember having a conversation with Chris, sitting in Café Méliès in Montreal one time, talking about business. We had an idea for a private forum. This was a few years ago, I think– maybe even before the book.

We would base is on Aaron Wall’s private SEO community, base it on our expertise in social media etc. We’d split whatever money we made, pay any blogger who wanted to be an affiliate. The idea was simple, but good and scalable. It would make a lot of money if we did it right. So we called Brian Clark– he was doing Teaching Sells at the time. He said, “Good stuff. I’m in.”

The joke is, Chris and I never did it… at least, not in that format. :)

Much later, Third Tribe would be released– pretty much the same thing we talked about. Good on Brian for actually having the initiative. :) Aaron Wall’s forum would increase in price, from $100 to $300 per month (still a good value IMHO) and continue to grow. Chris would launch Kitchen Table Companies and other private communities of the same type.

This is now old news. Or is it?

Except I’ve been talking to Mark O’Sullivan at the exceptional Vanilla Forums, who says that big web personalities are asking him about private forums for their sites. I’ve been interviewing Brett Rogers, who funds his documentaries partially by having people come along on his adventures. And I’ve just started working with Martin Berkhan, who can’t handle the flood of questions people ask him about his workout and nutrition methods because they seem to work so well.

What is there was a solution to this? I think there is. But let’s veer off for a second.

I think you can lead an exceptional life, market yourself correctly, and the life itself will help pay its own way.

Something big changed with the web. We could create personal brands, broadcast ourselves for free, and create a following. Except if we got popular, we started not being able to pay attention to everyone anymore. This is normal.

I’m thinking of Richard Nikoley. His (successful) experiment with not washing his hair for two years has led to articles in the Chicago Tribune and other places. He can’t handle the emails he gets anymore. Also Chris Guillebeau, who recently got 800 comments on a post he put out.

As Aaron Wall has said, popularity is an inequality between supply and demand. You solve it by raising price.

Books and conferences are price points– they are old methods that people are used to and don’t flinch at. I use both, and they work well. But there’s a problem with them.

Middlemen take over the old methods. They live as parasites off what you and I produce. Many of them do it without adding any value whatsoever.

There is something missing from Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans method. It is fine for artists, for producers of actual artifacts, artists, etc. This is one reason Seth Godin’s Domino Project is so interesting. It cuts middlemen out. But it still requires the creation of an artifact… of a product.

What if YOU were the product?

I believe that what people want when they read your book, when they come to see you speak, or sing, or when they buy art from you– I believe that what they actually want is you.

This method has worked for authors before. Gary Vee and Tim Ferriss basically sold 1-on-1 time with them in exchange for bulk book purchases. This has the advantage of making them look big to a mainstream audience, but the end result is the same. People often want them, not the book. Same with all the people I mentioned who do amazing things.

Your audience wants to be a part of your life. Maybe, in some cases, you should let them.

Here is another assertion which I might be a bit shocking.

The future of the web personalities is the monetization of weak ties.

The web naturally creates an ecosystem of micro-stars, like television, but doesn’t necessarily have a way to turn this into a living. If you keep answering emails, forever, you become exhausted and your personal time is sucked out of your life.

The solution is paid access.

Of course, you don’t want to monetize your strong ties. That would be insane. The social norms space stays pure. You don’t pay your wife for the nice dinner she made.

But weak ties, by definition, take more than they give. They do not, as many people say, “pay in terms of attention,” except in huge masses which become unwieldy because of a new kind of demand– bug fixes, emails, etc.

Here is my theory. Once supply and demand of personal access are no longer equal, solving it through price not only helps you maintain a solid personal life but accelerates the process of popularity, by helping you free your time and do cooler shit.

A new stream of income means more freedom, which turns into a more interesting life, which turns into more popularity, which turns into more income, etc. A virtuous circle.

Of course, most of what you do is free and public. That’s one level of access. But I think that you should turn on different levels as well. Everyone in social media right now wants books and speaking gigs. You only get those at a certain level of popularity, but you could turn lesser levels on as well. Forum access, email access, Skype access– any of these could become an income stream for various types of web personalities.

But wait!, I hear you saying. Let’s say some of these weak ties become strong ties! What do we do then? Well, easy. Stop monetizing them. We could call this the dinner party rule– if you’d invite someone to dinner, then they should have free access to you. This impacts the bottom line, but that’s natural with friendships– wanted, even. Besides, friendship is more valuable than $47 a month or whatever.

Help me out here.

Look, this post has already gotten much longer than I thought it would. I could go on forever about this– it’s so logical to me that I could argue it until the cows come home. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll ask you what you think, and to spread it if you think the idea is interesting or worth talking about. Tweet or subscribe below.

By the way, I don’t know if it’s something I personally want to do– although I’m pretty sure I could. Maybe you could too, once your audience reaches a certain mass. Wouldn’t that be easier than trying to get a frikkin book deal or becoming a social media expert? Besides, I suspect there’s only enough of those to go around.

* Filed by Julien at 11:09 am under business, community, experiments, social media, trends

September 13th, 2010

Where the Poor Go

I was checking out some graffiti in my neighbourhood the other day and thinking about gentrification.

It seems natural that those that are poor would be able to see opportunity in places (neighbourhoods) where the rich are not looking yet. This is how startups get profitable and why artists move into sketchy areas of a city.

As these same areas become profitable, though, big organizations move in and build condos, or Facebook gets into location based social software. This eventually crowds out the poor or small as the rich lean into the problem with their increased resources. Depending on laws (anti-monopoly, rent control, etc.), this may take longer, but it can’t really be stopped entirely. This is “fine” (not really), as long as there are new places to go.

When the poor of Europe took boats to America to have access to new land and to stop oppression of their people, they had to work hard in order to make it livable for their families, but their hard work was rewarded. They had more opportunity and freedom than their class normally allowed. They became rich in a new way by changing the pond they swam in.

This is all fine and good… until you run out of land.

I’m asking myself where settlers go now. When all neighbourhoods become gentrified, when all areas of business become monopolized by larger enterprise, where do the disenfranchised go to seek new opportunity? Do they have to move out to the North of Canada, the wilderness where no one really wants to be, in order to find something new for themselves?

Another question to ask yourself is where you are on the spectrum. Do you seek out opportunity by finding strange, uncomfortable places, or do you look for areas where risk is lower? This is the spectrum from angel investor > venture capitalist > shareholder in a blue chip company. Each has methods of profit but they are based on ability to understand risk. (Of course it all comes back down to this.)

Wherever you are, it seems inevitable that someone bigger will eventually come in and crowd you out. This force exerts its influence wherever you are on the chain.

So, everyone must become a settler again in order to find better land. Best that we adjust to discomfort now and find new ways to increase our liberty and profit– before the tides turn.

* Filed by Julien at 6:02 am under community, culture, random

September 10th, 2010

Choose Your Web Wisely

Voting, food, career, spending, success– all of these and more are political acts.

We don’t realize it while we’re doing them, but all are meaningful in terms of who they help– ourselves, our families and communities, or the world at large. The mere act of paying rent to the stranger who owns your apartment building, for example, is a behaviour that enriches someone you don’t know instead of you and your loved ones. This is the same for every dollar we spend or every minute we pay attention to something.

We all live in a web of relationships and attention that include friends, family, and co-workers, but you also choose the web you live in, and the ones you decide to help. Every time you choose one web over another, it can change your quality of life for the better.

By deciding to optimize your health by eating at home, for example, you are already deciding not to participate in the McDonald’s and Olive Gardens of the world, choose better quality food for yourself, all while increasing your own competence. By taking part in a farmer’s co-op you are enriching your own neighbourhoods instead of the Wallmarts and Carrefours of the world who would rather shut down stores than allow unions.

Every time you take part in a scheme that favours the rich, you also increase their power over the poor. This also happens every time you talk about Twilight over some other (less popular) movie. Even more important: If you are part of the attention- or capital-poor class, you’re also impoverishing yourself.

Making the choice to be healthy only benefits you and those around you. But if you choose not to care, you take part in a massive web of insurance companies, take out restaurants, and doctors who count on your apathy to profit. Then, the choice of what to do is theirs, not yours.

All acts of purposeful ignorance or negligence enrich others instead of yourself. All acts of learning empower you and those you care about. This is why you should learn to read more, be more crafty, and know how to fix your own car and bike. The sense of competence it comes with is like gold, and you will wonder why it took you so long to get it.

I know I did.

* Filed by Julien at 10:43 am under clear thinking, community, culture, random

April 9th, 2010

The Benefits of Human Sacrifice

Human sacrifice doesn’t just appease the gods– it’s also what builds a community.

Last year, when I came back from Japan, I had to fly in from Narita Airport in Tokyo straight to Toronto. When I arrived, I realized I wasn’t going home but to a conference instead. But I was exhausted, so I didn’t want to go. But I did go, and had a great time with Brian Clark, Chris Garrett, Chris Brogan, Geoff Livingston and others in the process.

I’ve been thinking about this subject all week after reading an incredible comment on Reddit. Why do we feel lonely or supported? Why do we have full birthday parties (or empty ones, as the case may be)? How can we make more good stuff happen around us?

My theory is that it’s all based around sacrifice. We wrote a little bit about this in Trust Agents, but I want to take it further, because I think reciprocity is a much stronger force than I used to think, and it will take us to good places if we do it right.

I had a dinner party on Saturday, then one of my best friends’ birthdays a few days later, then my co-author’s birthday on the 8th, so it’s a lot to think about. What makes come to our social events, instead of staying home? I suspect it’s sacrifice. In other words, it’s working on someone else’s happiness instead of our own.

Look, we’re all lazy. Sometimes we want to stay home– for you, that may be most of the time. But those times when we sacrifice our own interests and head out to that event our friend is hosting, work on their happiness, we’re increasing the chance that they’ll then come and work on ours.

This is how friendships are built– by doing things together and for each other and making our lives better. It’s how communities are built too, one act of sacrifice at a time (never mind the activities we all take part in and enjoy, obviously).

I think that individuals that sacrifice are, to a certain degree, rewarded. And I think it’s an important part of building social capital online– and it is what we do when we build content for free: sacrificing our own short-term interests for our readers (and our own long-term interest too, obviously).

So maybe it’s a personal short-term sacrifice is a form of long-term gain? I’m not sure. Could we say that human sacrifice makes it rain? :)

I’m thinking out loud at this point, sorry. Does this make sense to you at all?

* Filed by Julien at 9:36 am under community

March 4th, 2010

Incentive vs. Character

The fine for smoking at the New York Marriott Marquis is $250. Feel free to do it; they’ll just charge your card.

Smoke in your friend’s house, however, and he just won’t let you back in.

These two examples display the difference between two kinds of repercussions– financial and social. If you don’t smoke in the Marriott, it’s because you don’t want to be fined. They have to fine you, because the relationship is transactional and they’ll never see you again. But if you don’t smoke in your friend’s house, it’s not because he’ll fine you; it’s because you will see him again (and you’re not an asshole).

One requires incentive– the other is just character.

You can tell good character by actions that are performed when no one’s watching– when there are no repercussions (such as fining someone for smoking) or benefits (such as buying somebody lunch). That’s the main difference between doing something for incentive, and doing it because it’s just the right thing to do and it feels good. If someone sees the good you’re doing, it can actually devalue it– anonymous donations are a good example of this.

I read a long time ago that Buddhist monks have a history of giving unconditionally to anyone, whether they agree or disagree with the reason for giving. This is supposed to promote a kindness and generosity of spirit that carries forward into the rest of your life.

Maybe we should do the same with building kindness and empathy– doing it in order to get better at it. Flex the muscles and it should grow… right?

* Filed by Julien at 3:19 pm under community, culture

February 3rd, 2010

What are we going to do about the BA?

I was discussing with someone last night about the uselessness of the basic university degree. I compared it to an arms race– when one group has a BA, the other needs the BA to compete with them in the job marketplace, but when both sides have them, they no longer provide any employment advantage whatsoever.

Despite this, the price for university degrees remain absurdly high, and their ubiquity means people still ask for them before you’re allowed a job.

I’m not a big conspiracy theorist, but putting students into $100,000’s of debt before their 25th birthday (and inciting them with “no interest until graduation!!!!!”) sure is a great way of keeping them subservient, isn’t it?

Anyway, I don’t think university is useless for everyone, but there has got to be a better way to do things for most people. Wipe out 2 years of college + 3 years of university and you can make it from the mailroom to a level you would be proud to get straight out of university– likely with a better salary. This, assuming you’re decently smart.

Actually, there’s the real problem. The BA is a credential, used to fog people into believing in your competence, despite the real world having very little to do with how well you do in school. I’m sure this is one of the reasons the Peter Principle is true.

For those of us that don’t need degrees, or whose children don’t, what alternative do we have? School still provides you with the contacts you need, and the credentials can occasionally be useful (art school comes to mind). Where can we go from here, what are the options?

I just can’t figure out why we should waste so much to achieve so little.

* Filed by Julien at 3:29 pm under clear thinking, community, culture, trends

November 13th, 2009

Community vs Currency

In The Nature of the Graph earlier this week, I talked about friction– ie, transaction costs– inside groups and how they impact the efficiency of groups.

A transaction cost within a financial relationship can be a lot of things: from a broker taking 10% to a lawyer drafting a contract. We have to pay these over and over, but they allow us to deal with a much wider group of strangers than was previously possible.

Within social situations, friction takes other forms– we have to build a relationship instead of trusting a middleman. Once we’ve built it, though, it’s there forever, so costs are reduced. One could also argue that maintaining the relationship is a kind of upkeep cost, but I’m thinking that social upkeep is cheaper than paying fees over and over again.

But what happens when people don’t comply with contracts?

Legal contracts are simple– clauses are outlined and noncompliance results in consequences that are written in black and white. They’re usually pretty severe, which is why we don’t break them.

Social contracts, in contrast, have lower transaction costs, but something scarier happens when we break them– we get ostracized from the group. So in a situation where community has been built, we chance lose everything we built.

That’s the interesting thing about community. It makes things easier but it also puts us more at risk.

I would say that 1000 years ago, the community may have been weaker than the market. But that was mostly due to their shorter reach– after all, currency travels farther than favours. But now that they can be global, community is once again very valuable.

What do you think?

* Filed by Julien at 5:14 pm under community

November 5th, 2009

Getting Support

Everybody needs a Craig Silverman.

I’ve just started going to a neighbourhood Crossfit gym. My roommate had been into the system for a while (which is like an intense, military-style workout that pushes you FAR beyond your comfort zone), and I’d been once, but I was slacking until Craig called me up last month to tell me he’d be going.

So I went with Craig that first time, and I’ve been back several times since. Why? Because he exerts just the right amount of social pressure.

It’s so important to have a support network for any change you’re trying to achieve in your life. But if you can’t have a whole group, you at least need one person– someone who will harass the hell out of you to make sure you’ll do it, especially until it becomes a habit.

So how does Craig do it? Here’s how today’s conversation Twitter went, just to give you an example:

Craig: “so 5pm today, right?”

Me: “fuuuuuck FINE”

Craig: “atta girl”

There it is. Bullying? Check. Insulting? Check. Accusation of wussiness? Yup, that’s there too.

You could never treat your child like this, or your girlfriend/boyfriend like this, but you know what? Sometimes it’s necessary.

You need to be that person, or find them. You’ll be happy you did.

Oh and Craig, I hate you.

* Filed by Julien at 2:28 pm under community