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    Entries in news (7)

    Thursday
    Dec032015

    My favorite app is going away - 5 reasons why it was so great

    I knew this day was coming, but for quite some time I was able to delude myself into pretending it might not actually ever come to pass. But in the 'all good things must come to an end' department, I sadly share the news that news and discovery app Zite is shutting down, finally becoming completely absorbed into its acquirer, the similar-but-nowhere-near-as-good app Flipboard.

    For those who never knew Zite, it was simply the best, most interesting, most engaging of all the 'magazine-style' apps that seemed to emerge from everywhere in the last few years. In Zite, you would follow topics like 'Technology', 'Business' or 'Human Resources', and Zite would serve up relevant articles from a wide variety of sources - big mainstream sites, blogs, even really obscure blogs like this one. You could 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' an article and over time Zite would learn about your content preferences and show you more of the things you tended to like and fewer of the things you tended to dislike. Was its learning algorithm perfect? No. But was it pretty good? You bet. So much so that in the four or so years I have used Zite it is almost always the first app I look at every day to try and catch up on the topics that I am most interested in.

    While I pour one out in memory of my beloved Zite, let me share 5 reasons why the app was so great - lessons that I think are relevant not just for the narrow category of news apps, but for all kinds of workplace and consumer technology.

    Here goes...

    1. It was an app used by millions, but it seemed like it was built just for me

    Zite never 'made' me see anything it wanted me to see before I could get to the content I was interested in. It never made me follow a topic that I was not explicitily interested in. It never created some kind of 'sponsorsed' layer on top of the content I was looking for. It felt like a blank slate more or less, that I could build upon over time to get it to work like I wanted it to. I would guess that the 25 or so topics I was following in Zite were likely unique across millions of users. I mean, I was following 'Human Resources', 'Graphic Design', and 'Barbecue', among lots of other things. It just felt so personal.

    2. It was remarkably easy to use

    No effort, no training, no heavy lifting to get Zite to begin to add value. See an article you like? Tap 'thumbs up' and you will see more like that one. See a topic you like? Tap the tag for the topic and it is added to your list of topics you are following. And those two interactions are about all you needed to know to use Zite and get plenty of value in return. The folks at Zite seemed to show remarkable restraint in building and enhancing the app in order to keep it so easy to use. Great technology is sometimes defined by what capability is left out, just as much as what features are built in. 

    3. It got better the more I used it

    Over time, and 'learning' from the many, many times I tapped 'thumbs up' and 'thumbs down' on individual articles, Zite simply got better at presenting content that I was likely to be interested in viewing. It definitely evolved over the years to become really smart about the things I liked, what I did not like, and by the end of its life I found I was tapping 'thumbs down' very little. I never got sick of using it because it seemed to continue to get incrementally more valuable, despite not making many visible changes. 

    4. You could 'explore' and were challenged to discover new things

    The other app I use the most on my phone is my feed reader, Feedly. Feedly is a pretty awesome tool for consuming content, but it pales next to an app like Zite in one important way - Feedly only shows me content that I have explicitly asked it to show me when I subscribed to a specific RSS feed.  So it is great at giving me what I asked for, but not so great at turning me on to something new, something different, or at least a different take on a topic that it should know that I like. All of the things that Zite was really good at. The combination of Feedly and Zite gave me some overlap in terms of content, but together they worked well to bring me a great mix of viewpoints on subjects I was interested in. And many, many times Zite served up great content I would have never came across on my own. Literally all the time.

    5. Finally, you could jump in at any time without feeling like you have missed everything

    Feed readers, blogs, social networks that rely on the 'newsfeed' principle are all great, but all have one big shortcoming: if you have not checked them for awhile you fall impossibly behind. And it is really frustrating trying to get 'caught up'. Even Twitter recognized that by introducing the 'While you were away' updates in your timeline, (which I have found to be really useful, in case anyone cares). But with Zite, since it never operated on the 'timeline' paradigm, you could jump back in to the app, or a given topic in the app, and see what is new and interesting without the real or imagined pressure to get caught up. And in this age of information overload, who need another app or technology reminding us that WE ARE MISSING SOMETHING.

    Can you tell how bummed I am about Zite going away? It was an almost perfect app.

    The folks at Flipboard say that all the cool things and capabilities of Zite have not been fully incorporated in Flipboard, so I suppose I will give them the benefit of the doubt and try it out. But I am not optimistic.

    I am going to miss Zite, but hopefully what was great about Zite will find its way into more and more applications for work and for outside of work as well. By focusing on personalization, discovery, simplicity, usability, and productivity Zite in many ways created the blueprint for what great technology can do.

    And you know a technology was great when you are genuinely bummed to see it go.

    RIP Zite.

    Monday
    Sep212015

    This content is not sponsored

    No doubt you have heard or read about, and possibly (more like probably), installed for yourself one of the popular Ad blocking programs or browser extensions in order to improve your web browsing experience, protect your privacy, and even perhaps to send a message to the internet publishers of the world that you are sick and tired of a terrible, ad-filled user experience.

    While Ad blockers have been around for quite some time, their usage has recently seen a dramatic uptick. A study released last month by PageFair and Adobe reported that the usage of Ad blocking tools worldwide has grown by 41% in the last year, and now about 45 million US internet users use these tools, (a 48% growth rate in the 12-month period ending in June 2015).Robert Rauschenberg, Yoicks, 1954

    Finally, ad blocking has hit the news more openly due to the recent release of Apple's update to the iOS operating system that powers iPhone and iPad that now supports Ad blocking apps and Safari browser extensions to enable ad blocking. Immediately, Ad blocking apps shot to the top of the App Store popularity charts, (although the number one app, Peace, was quickly withdrawn by its creator for reasons of 'conscience').

    And the short-tern and pretty obvious repercussions to online publishers from this rise in user Ad blocking? 

    A loss of revenue, for sure, for those sites that rely heavily on banner and display ads for revenue. If these ads are not seen, they can't be clicked on, and therefore can't produce revenue. From the user/reader perspective this is great, you never clicked on any of these ads anyway, and they drover slower page load times, potentially ate of monthly data allotments on mobile, and were just plain creepy and annoying. 

    But for the publishers, you or me or anyone blocking these ads presents to their point of view almost a breach of understanding of sorts. The deal, such as it it, is that for non-subscription and non-paywalled sites, the publisher would provide 'free' content, and you, the reader, would 'agree' to put up with seeing and occasionally clicking on ads to fund the content creation operation. It is impossible to tell for sure the number of sites that if Ad blocking continues to grow at the current pace will end up either having to shut down, or adopt an alternate business models, (subscriptions, donations, or more 'sponsored conent'). Sponsored content, for now, looks enough like 'regular' content that the ad blockers can't easily identify it as such.

    The deep backstory behind some of what is going on here, and not really worth diving into on an HR blog, is the macro battle being waged for user time and attention, and the corresponding advertising dollars that follow, between Apple, Google, Facebook and if you wanted to be generous, probably Twitter and LinkedIn too. The iOS 9 updated placed a non-deletable 'Apple News' app on your iPhone, Facebook wants every important publisher to publish direct to Facebook, and LinkedIn and its Pulse app want to be the sole source for your news as well.

    Some of these companies, (Facebook and Apple for sure), want to control and segregate user's interactions with the internet into their own platforms, devices, and/or apps - formats where they can define the rules of engagement and protect their advertisers ads from being blocked. Others like Google, want to continue to drive traffic to sites (again, especially on mobile), that don't attempt to drive users to download individual publisher apps as opposed to using the mobile web.

    It is still really hard to know how these trends are going to play out, how we find and consumer information might change, and how the revenue models will adapt. But ads are like water - they will continue to push and flow into whatever openings they can find to get in front of our eyeballs on on our mobile phone screens. 

    But to tie this back, if I can, to the HR/Talent/workplace space, I think the potential for the reduction of independent voices in our space is the real threat and the thing to worry about longer term. If indeed the rise of Ad blocking, combined with the ubiquity, wealth, reach, and influence of the world's largest tech companies drive us to an environment where fewer, siloed, and single-entity controlled sources of information dominate the conversation, then that can't be good for the generation, discussion, and spread of new ideas.

    This, to me, is worth paying attention to in the next couple of years. Sure, web pages free of ads do look better, load faster, and are less frustrating.

    But if the tradeoff is a world where all of the news (or at least most of it), gets filtered, approved, and distributed via Apple, Google, and Facebook can't promise to be a less frustrating one either.

    Have a great week!                         

    Tuesday
    Apr282015

    One day in blogging, a partial list of pitches

    Blogging has been pretty good to me over the years. So has doing the HR Happy Hour Show/Podcast. Both of these things have opened up plenty of doors, created some interesting opportunities, and enabled me to meet some great people along the way. One other thing about doing this is (and back when I started I had no idea was even a thing), is that once you have been blogging or podcasting for a while, you get on the radar of lots of news folks, PR firms, and other organizations that would like you to know about and potentially help publicize their news, product launches, their client's new book, or some event they are promoting.Jasper Johns, White Flag (which is what I am waving towards my Inbox)

    Most of these outreach messages are perfectly professional, offer up some kind of interesting content or news that in theory might be interesting to me (or readers and listeners), and I honestly don't mind getting them one bit. I don't/can't respond to all of these PR pitches, (there can be lots of them in any given day), but I still appreciate them. Even after all this time doing this it is still sometimes surprising that (some) folks are interested in what I think, have to say, and want to connect with the audience. 

    Why blog about the behind the scenes stuff that goes on with blogging, even a small, niche blog like this one?

    I don't know, it just seemed interesting to me today. Which continues to be the primary reason I blog about anything (note for any PR folks who might read this). But just in the last hour or so as I was checking some email, planning out the day, I received four or five of the aforementioned 'pitch' emails, in quick succession. That seemed kind of unusual, and so I checked back at the last 24 hours or so of my received emails and I thought that, wow, I have gotten a ton of PR pitches already this week. So since I brought up the topic, and I am too far down the path of this post to start over with some other, better idea, I wanted to share a partial list of the PR pitches (mostly Email subject lines only) that have arrived in my Inbox in the last 24 hours or so. 

    Submitted without comment, judgement, or endorsement...

    1. Disturbing: Workplace Suicide the New Trend

    2. Volcano Calbuca Erupts! Are you Prepared?

    3. Innovating Service Summit Webinar Will Feature Internationally Customer Service Experts

    4. Lee Hecht Harrison Poll Finds Most Workers Losing Sleep Due to Work-Related Stress

    5. Gain Insight to Independent Workers to Build the Best Teams

    6. Nepal Earthquake Rocks the World!

    7. WiFi Will Run Future Wearables

    8. 8th Annual Mobile Excellence Awards Coming Soon!

    9. Special Invitation: HR Secrets You Need to Hear

    10. The Lavender Graduating Class of 2015 Lacks Legal Protection Moving Into the Workplace

    There's a bunch more, but you get the idea. If there is an idea.

    Blogging is kind of a weird thing sometimes.

    Have a great day!

    Wednesday
    Jul032013

    The end of Reader and the trouble with filters

    I am not sure how you managed to find this post today, but as most of us have heard by now, the demise of the once dominant feed reading platform Google Reader means you're certainly not reading it there.

    Google Reader was for me, the primary mechanism where I discovered, (via the previously sunsetted 'shared items' feature), consumed, saved for future reference, and shared interesting content out to my friends and social networks. Reader was almost always an open tab for me in Chrome (Google please don't get any silly ideas about axing Chrome), and I easily checked it five or ten times a day.  Most nights, the last thing I'd do was run through the 400 or so feed subscriptions I had to make sure I had not missed anything important, seen what my friends and colleagues were writing about, and most importantly for me, saved items for possible use as sources or ideas for blog posts, articles, HR Happy Hour Shows, etc.

    Reader, more so than any other mechanism, became the primary filter through which I interacted with information and experienced what was going on in the world.

    Sure over time, other and arguably better news and information tools began emerging, primarily developed to take advantage of the display and touch capabilities of iPads and smart phones. News readers like Pulse and Flipboard, and my personal favorite Zite, have taken news and content discovery and consumption into the modern technology age. They look great, they are fun to use, and they continue to get better at presenting content in personalized ways. Zite, when given feedback in the form of 'likes' and 'dislikes', over time will 'learn' what content you'd probably be most interested in, and will then serve up more of the content it expects you want to see, and less of what you don't. 

    So while I still relied on Reader as my primary source of news and information, tools like Pulse and Zite began to fill in some of the gaps and problems that Reader, (and really my use of Reader), exposed. Namely, unless you actively sought out new and different sources of information, you'd pretty easily fall into the trap of reading the same kinds of information sources all the time, and perhaps more importantly, you'd end up reading (again mostly), the same things everyone else you knew was reading too.

    And if you spend a lot of time hanging out with the same kinds of people that read the same kinds of things, well, that all can get kind of boring kind of quickly. 

    The demise of Reader should not simply be an exercise in finding and replicating how we used Reader in some other tool. Rather it should be an impetus for all of us that love to read, that love to be challenged by new ideas, that are looking for perspectives that are different from our own, (and that of our friends), to more actively seek out and share something that is just a little bit different, just a little out of our comfort zone, and maybe something that is not the same thing everyone else is reading too.

    Since Reader is gone, we have a chance and a reason to think a little bit more expansively, and to loosen up the filters that we were comfortable with, and that we applied to ourselves and to how we experience the world.

    What are you reading that is different or interesting or makes you a little uncomfortable? 

    Wednesday
    Apr242013

    Knowing when it's time to stop asking for advice

    We all probably read or saw some of the potential downsides of relying too heavily on the so-called wisdom of the crowds during the recent bombings in Boston, (and the intense few days immediately following). While the combination of smartphones, the web, and social media certainly did seem to help in spreading news and information, keeping people safe during the manhunt for the suspects, and even in helping to identify them in the first place, there were also some unfortunate negatives. Bad information, no matter its source, was spread far and wide, innocent or uninvolved people were put under suspicion, and for many, the sheer cacophony of updates, videos, tweets and the like created so much noise that the true signal was often incredibly difficult to find.

    Frankly, at times it seemed like no one, especially the established experts, really knew anything, but everyone had something to say, me included.

     

     

    This is just how things work now, any important news or events, particularly ones that play out live on TV and on Twitter are going to generate a massive volumes of good information - along with almost equal parts of confusion, error, and utter nonsense. Perhaps the best advice on dealing with all this is to just tune out for a while and not get caught up trying to play amateur detective or journalist ourselves. 

    The real reason I was thinking about this wasn't the Boston bombings and the aftermath though, (but they do make for pretty good illustration I think), it was from reading a piece recently authored by Philip Palaleev, a consultant to financial services companies, titled 'How I advise advisors to run an advisory business from my pulpit'. Get past the really odd title, and you get this - some of the best advice I've seen about the problems of asking for too much advice:

    I once read about an experiment where the researches had the tonsils of 1,000 healthy kids in New York examined by doctors. In about 50% of the cases, the doctors recommended removing of the tonsils. The researchers then took the “healthy” kids to another set of doctors. Again, 50% of the kids received the tonsillitis diagnosis, even though they had already been declared healthy by another doctor (notice the rate is not even dropping). Researchers then took the remaining 250 healthy kids and took them to a third set of doctors. Lo and behold — again 50% of them received the tonsillitis recommendation.

    You can see where this is going — go to enough doctors and you will eventually get your tonsils removed. Same is true with consultants — talk to enough consultants and you will eventually get your strategy revised, your compensation plans “fine-tuned” and your processes “optimized.”

    If you spend enough time asking for opinions, ideas, and advice you'll eventually get so much of it you may forget what you were after in the first place, and even what you believe to be right or true or at least likely.

    There is no shortage of people ready and willing to tell us what we should do. The thick is, I think, to know when to stop asking, stop listening, and just do what we think is right.

    More advice is not always or necessarily better. But it is more noise, that we know for certain.