Monday, December 29, 2008

Off the Tracks

I'm doing my annual "goal planning" this week and took some time to review the past few years goals (and success rate) and it isn't pretty.

First, here are the stats:
2005 9/14 63%
2006 12/15 80%
2007 7/13 54%
2008 5/9 56%

My goals are a combination of personal (fitness, finance, charity, vacation etc) and professional goals. clearly, 2006 was a great year, but I've been sliding hard since then.

2008 was an odd year from the beginning with me leaving the IRC for Microsoft, so I expected some fluctuation (notice the drop in total number of goal targets - down to 7 from 13 in 2007). As a way to get this out of my system, here's what I achieved, and what I didn't this past year:

  • Maintain 180 lbs
  • Coach sports (specifically spring/fall softball and winter basketball). I also helped out with all-star softball and recently started a coaching blog.
  • 1/2 speaking gigs
  • Establish myself in my new role at Microsoft
  • Build blog readership (>200 visits per month) - actual from both npMarketing and Mindnumbing was 1208!)
Things I didn't Achieve :(
  • Break 95 in golf
  • No credit card debt (it's creeping up a bit lately)
  • Save 10-15 gross salary (I haven't calculated it yet, but I'm certain it's less than 10%)
  • Board of small NGO (this is now removed however
I'm feeling like I need to totally retool my goals for 2009 and in someways, up the ante a bit.

In case you are curious, my process includes an important step of writing down a purpose for each goal and culling the master list each year down to about 10 priority goals for the year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Book Notes: Rebound Rules

I just finished reading Rick Pitino's latest book "Rebound Rules." I was looking for some inspiration in both my professional and coaching life and found it here. This is a breezy read for those of us who read a lot of self help books, much of what Pitino talks about is well-tread in other books.

That said, I especially liked some of what he has to say about managing young players. Granted, the difference between the type of coaching he does is a galaxy away from the type of coaching I do!

What I loved most about the book however is how Pitino recounts his Celtics failure and how he rediscovered himself and his passions. His "PHD" (Passion, Hunger, Drive) framework is something that I will be using personally as I begin to plan for 2009.

One other phrase that I really liked was the "darkness of doubt." I've had some recent failures myself in my professional life and realized that the doubt I felt was natural, but something that I simply need to move past. That's a phrase I'll keep in mind for a long time to come.

It's a good read and worth your time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Book Notes: Exodus to the Virtual World

I guess I've been revisiting my own ideas on virtual worlds and the immersive internet these past few months and picked up a copy of Castonova's "Exodus to the Virtual World" to see how things have been evolving since reading his first book "Synthetic Worlds." It is my opinion that his first book was quite a bit better, although this book does really expand on where virtual worlds are headed in more tangible ways.

The book is really interesting, if not way out there. While the idea of people "migrating" to virtual worlds seems (and feels) odd to me, Castronova makes some extremely compelling and interesting points given from an economist's perspective of the world. That said, I'm not so sure his core concept is valid. It would help me if I were a social scientist and had any sort of knowledge to validate or debunk his thesis.

For scale's sake, Castronova points out that "when 100 million people do something" governments need to take notice. He speaks a lot about "policy making" in the virtual world and does a good job outlining the core areas needed for good policy both in the real, and virtual world.

The main point of the book however, is simple. If people can get a better quality of life by inhabiting virtual worlds, they'll do so - and en masse.

A few things jumped out at me as I read the book, presence being one of the stranger concepts to grasp I thought. What exactly is presence when inhabiting a virtual world? Perhaps "attention" is a better way to think about presence - that is to say that what you are focused on is actually where you are at any given time. The phrase "gaze is location" was a bit of a mind trip for me.

In the chapter named "The Fun Society," Castronova imagines a company modeled on how virtual worlds work. I think in the entire book, this fascinated me more than anything. Below are a few key things that made me stop and think:

"New employees wouldhave to work their way into the company just as new players work their way into games: they start at low levels and work their way up."

"They acquire reputations as good drivers, good mechanics, good forklift operators. Once they get enough points, they are allowed to look for bigger jobs at a different loading dock."

"Management would organize all this activity by stating when and whre it would give out points."

"In general, a company organized along these lines would operate the weird emergent order that one sees in games. Instead of ad hoc bands of one hundred people marching more or less after one another the other into a dungeon to do battle with a dragon and get treasure, it would be ad hoc bands of workers gathering more or less where and when needed to perform some work task to which explicit rewards had been attached."

I'm not sold on that vision, but it is extremely compelling to think through.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Can Save the US Auto Industry, Really!

I have the answer! I really do. But I want to lay out some ideas before dropping the bomb on you.

A few disclaimers before we get started...

In reality, I have very little car experience. Never marketed a car, built a car or designed a car. That said, I've paid for CV boots, brakes, tires and once, an entire new front end. I've wrecked a few cars (no one hurt), and certainly spent plenty of time at the gas pump. I have washed cars occassionally, but don't like it that much.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, here are some actual disclaimers:

  1. I'm not a huge car nut. My brother fills that gap in our family. I did once subscribe to Car & Driver, but only for a short time. I tend to view cars as a depreciating asset, but I do trip out when I see a really cool looking ride.

  2. I actually (delusional or brilliant, you tell me) believe I can save the US Auto Industry with my idea.

  3. The idea is free for you to take and use. All I ask is that I get a free one of my choice one day.

As I said, I am not going to simply drop the idea on you just like that. It would feel trivial I think. Or be misunderstood. You might make smarmy comments on my blog like "you idiot" or "that's the dumbest thing ever. Go die jerkboy." Stuff like that.

Instead, in this first post, I'm going to layout a few ideas. You smarties out there will see where this is going straightaway. Feel free to use your car industry contacts to take the idea and make it happen.

Concept 1: Most folks don't give a crap about [high] performance

Since I have literally no statistics, I'm going to take the bloggers perogative and assume this is true for MOST (but not all) of us. If it is true, I'm already on the right track. Sure, lots of folks want high performance vehicles. But me, I just want something efficient that never breaks. My solution isn't for those of you who can afford $150,000 cars. Hell, it isn't for those of you who can afford $50,000 cars. The sort of performance we want is fuel economy and advanced cup holding technology.

Concept 2: My solution bets on the fact that the theater of cars is the most important factor

As I mentioned in a recent tweet, "my auto industry solution based on: It's a fact that U.S. Auto design has always been more about theater than innovation." I'll expand on this soon, but you already know it's true, don't you!

Concept 3: My solution requires a totally new business model. The record companies thought Napster was tough - ha! My solution will require even more pain (hey, I never said my solution was going to be easy did I?)

Ok, more to come soon... if you can guess what my solution here is by leaving a comment, I'll give you a special prize. Yes, I'll tell you if you are right.

Fun In B2B Social Networks

I've just finished reading "The Theory of Fun" by game designer Raph Koster. I had been meaning to read this book ever since hearing him speak at a Serious Game Conference way back in 2005. While long overdue, the timing was quite good.I've spoken to a few of you (and lots more folks who probably don't read my blog) about some ideas that I have around using gaming concepts within social networks. In my role at Microsoft, driving engagement inside the CIO Network has been my primary focus. It hasn't been easy!

Koster's book is quite good for lots of reasons, like understanding what fun is, and how to have it for example. I was really pleased however with his discussion and call out of Game Designer Ben Cousin's concept of "ludemes." Ludemes, according to Cousins and Koster are the basic units of gameplay - the fundamental components (atoms?) of what makes a game a game.

Koster lays out some fundamental elements that make for successful games. My challenge is to figure out how (and if I should even try) to apply these ludemes and concepts in trying to create deeply engaging experiences within a B2B framework. Maybe I'm nuts, but I'm not done digging this well.

Here are the elements:
  • Preparation (players get some time to get ready - healing up, buying new equipment or perhaps by doing research, or understanding the parameters of the upcoming challenge.)
  • A sense of space - in games, this would be the map or playing field. In a B2B social network, this is perhaps the network itself or the parameters of a given problem/opportunity space that the group wants to work on together.
  • A solid core mechanic. The puzzle to solve and an interesting rule set.
  • A range of challenges. Content.
  • A range of abilities required to solve the encounter. Games are dull if all you need is a hammer to hit the nail with.
  • Skill required in using abilities. Bad choices lead to failure whether you are trying to kill a dragon, or develop a solution to a thorny IT issue.
Koster then goes on to talk about some additional features needed to make the experience a learning experience:
  • Variable feedback system. The results should not be totally predictable.
  • The Mastery Problem must be dealt with. In gaming, this means that high level players don't get any benefits from easy encounters. For me, it means that problems have to be hard to solve!
  • Failure must have a cost (at least an opportunity cost)
So what does this all mean, and how could/should it apply to a B2B social network? Good question, and one I'm struggling with. In the case where a member of the community wants to solve a problem using the network, it means we have to construct some game like conditions that will excite the community and give them a sense of fun, adventure and learning.

I don't have any solutions yet, but like I said earlier, I'm not done digging this well. There is something here, I know it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book Notes: The Future of the Internet

I heard Jonathan Zittrain speak at a CIO Magazine event about 9 months ago in Boston and had his book "The Future of the Internet" in a big pile up until about a month ago. The subtitle "and how to stop it" put me off a bit and in my usual way, I judged the book by it's cover, thinking that this was yet another explanation about how the Internet is about to collapse, sending us back to the dark ages.

The thrust of the book however is all about "generativity" - the ability of certain technologies which allow users to create new and unexpected things from humble, typically underground or misunderstood beginnings (think... the Internet itself!). The PC as a generative platform however is probably the biggest and most effective example, it being at the very core of some of the concepts Zittrain tackles.

The book uses some terrific (and recent) examples but ultimately leans on Wikipedia a bit too much. Have you noticed that many, many recent books lean on Wikipedia's singular example?

Ultimately, the book deals with generative technologies vs. appliances. After outlining some terrific arguments about security (or lack thereof) and discussing privacy 1.0 and 2.0 towards the end of the book, I believe that Zittrains's book is an effective warning against locking things down too tightly.

At the end of the day, as we all begin to rely on managed devices like iPhones, Tivos and Xboxes and managed services like Hotmail, Gmail and Flickr, the issue become two fold. First, these appliances and services have zero generativity. You can only customize them just as much as the manufacturer or provider allows thus limiting what we all can create that is new and unexpected.

Secondly, while appliances theoretically would/could be more secure, there are no guarantees, and what we give up with these appliances and services ultimately put us in a major position of weakness from both a data ownership and privacy standpoint.

For years I've railed against iPods because of this very concept. I HATE the fact that they control what formats they will allow played on the device and HATE even more that you can only purchase and manage music via iTunes on their terms. As we've seen recently when Yahoo and Wal-mart shuttered their music services, very bad things happen when the providers decide to close the service or change the rules of the game.

As for how this relates to my role at Microsoft it's perfectly aligned. The CIOs in our online community must certainly be thinking a lot about these issues, even if they haven't read this book. Controlling things from end to end is many an IT managers dream, yet what happens when generativity is turned off inside an organization and all you are left with is locked down appliances? I'm guessing that things end up more secure, though a bit less innovative.

For a terrific review by Cory Doctorow visit Boing Boing. Cory also points out that the book is downloadable via CC license.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Like Greg Grunberg

I really do. I liked him in Alias and love him in Heroes. Never saw Felicity. I'm just hoping he doesn't get Sylar to come split my head open and steal any of my powers after reading this post.

I've been following @greggrunberg on Twitter for a while now and really enjoy his updates. He seems like a normal, cool guy who happens to be an actor. I dig that about him. Just a few minutes ago, I spotted this update from him which promptly prompted me to write this post.
greggrunberg GREGGRUNBERG.COM I'm just sayin'!!!! -- I'm LIVE baby! Just went live and it's good to be live! GREGGRUNBERG.COM

I'm thrilled he has his own web site. I've had my own since God knows when and would never begrudge a celeb their own slice of cyberspace. Good on him. Good on him until I checked out his site that is.

Hey! What happened to the @greggrunberg guy that I like to follow on Twitter? Why is it that I cannot find, no matter where I look a link to his Twitter account or any of the photos that I know he's linked to before?

Here's a list of how his new site completely FAILS to match what he's doing so successfully on Twitter.

  • Typical celebrity website filled with professional photography and slick flash effects FAIL.
  • News section... ok, I'm hopeful as I click news, thinking of course, they are using Twitter to feed the news section, good idea! Nope. News = press releases. FAIL.
  • I click "Grunny" section - this must be it.. the guy has his own section on his own site, cool... hmm.. a bit better I think but still, over produced garbage. And still no twitter feed. About Us section however is required, B+.
  • Projects. Who cares, I already know, he's in Heroes and well, they already have an awesome site. Required though for any web site. B.
  • Photos. Holy crap! I found buried way down in the midst of a crap load of photos a link called Grunny on Twitter (I knew he had linked to some photos). More photos taken by Grunny himself. Too many photos though and not enough that appear to be taken by Grunny and friends. B.

In fact, here's my advice. Trash this piece of crap and go get a Wordpress blog. Make the blog and twitter the main homepage and bury the rest of the crap somewhere else.

  • Lastly, why do I need to register for a site like this? The bare minimum required would be to please list some benefits of registering AND put in big bold letters that you won't sell my info, trade my info or give my info to anyone under any circumstances. FAIL, FAIL, FAIL.

Nice try, you can do better (and your fans I think would appreciate it). Don't you love social media?

The same rules apply to brands as do celebs and obnoxious bloggers... be consistent, be authentic and be open to criticsm.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Role Playing in Immersive Worlds

I've been participating in a new community focused on the immersive internet called ThinkBalm. We did an in-world "role-play" a few weeks ago that despite the usual and significant user issues, technology hurdles and confusion worked out pretty well.

Erica Driver, the curator of the ThinkBalm community and a few community members (including me just a tiny bit) helped write a paper about the experience titled "Role-play redux: ‘Convince the curmudgeon.’” Visit the link to see more and download the pdf of the article.

I continue to be fascinated by immersive worlds for many reasons but continue to struggle with their business applicability because of significant user interface issues, training and technology hurdles. Consider me an early adopter!

Visit the ThinkBalm site to learn more about the community and getting involved.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I Coach

My passion is coaching youth sports. I've been a coach ever since I was a camp counselor at 15 years old and I can often be overheard saying that one day... I'll be coach youth sports full-time. I wonder how that will happen.

In any case, I'm really into it lately and in addition to coaching my daughter's softball team, I'm coaching two basketball teams this winter. That means games Monday through Thursday with practices on Saturdays. There is so much good stuff a girl (or boy) can get out of a well coached team, that I tend to take it really seriously, putting in time to develop practice plans, setting goals and communicating with parents. Now, I'm only talking about 9, 10 and 11 year olds, but good practice habits and learning game strategy is critical at this stage of their development.

I want these girls to keep playing, even if in recreational leagues for a long time and to develop friendships and work habits that transcend a given sport and help them succeed in their lives. I know, big goals for a guy coaching 11 year olds...

I started blogging my thoughts on coaching on weplay (but recently moved to Wordpress) a while back and just realized that I hadn't really linked to it from this blog. So here you go...

If you are a parent or a coach, check out my blog every so often.