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Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

A close up on the white king of a chess board.

by plffft on Flickr

I just finished reading Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. I’ve enjoyed every page of it, and I’ll put up a full review in a bit. McGonigal talks about how crappy reality really is. And, truth be told, it does suck. Here’s what she thinks is wrong with reality:

  • Reality is too easy. It’s just not engaging us in good enough challenges. There’s a reason why work is boring.
  • Reality is depressing. Where is the hope of success? What is success anyway?
  • It’s unproductive. You work and work, but do you ever feel like you’re getting anywhere?
  • It’s disconnected and trivial. Do you actually know your neighbors? If you do, tell me where you live so I can move there.
  • Reality is just not engaging. It’s really hard to give a damn. Even if you accomplish something, how worthy was that goal?
  • It’s pointless and without rewards. So what if you managed to get the grocery shopping and the laundry all done in one day? That’s the bare minimum, right?
  • Reality serves up bitter disappointments. How do you get over being laid off?
  • Reality isn’t sustainable. Ask anyone what makes them happy. For one of my roommates, it’s shopping, but she’ll run out of cash eventually.
  • Reality lacks a purpose, a point. What’s the goal? As I said before, what is success? It’s not an easy answer.
  • Reality is a mess. It’s disorganized. It’s hard to know where to go or what to do.
Close up of broken glass

by davetoaster on Flickr

Now isn’t that a depressing list? McGonigal uses her book to discuss how we can use games to fix reality. I think it’s a great idea. But as I was reading I realized that we don’t need to use outside games or organize everyone we know to play with us, though that does help, if you can do it.

Rather, as I was reading, I realized that I was already playing life as a game. This blog, for example, was a game. Before you give me funny looks, here’s McGonigal’s definition of a game. For McGonigal, a game has four key traits:

  1. It has a goal. You know what it is and you try to achieve it. She translates this as “a sense of purpose.”
  2. It has rules. These are the limitations that confine the players. If you have ever played party games you know how ridiculous and fun these can be.
  3. It has a built-in feedback system that gives players information on their progress towards the goal. The popular badge system, for example. Or a leader board.
  4. And finally, it is voluntary. No one makes you play.

Now, do you see how my blogging is a game?

  1. I have a goal: Continuous growth of my readership. I’d love to hit 1,000 views a day.
  2. I have rules: Post at least once a week. Make it good, and make it fun.
  3. I have a lovely feedback system: Thank you WordPress dashboard. Honestly, though, I need to get Google Analytics on this puppy.
  4. I do this voluntarily: There is no one but myself cracking the whip.

    A bunch of swimming trophies lined up

    by terren in Virginia on Flickr

When I first started writing this blog, I thought that I was doing it for career advancement. Then I thought it was to help me make sense of what was going on and make contacts. Finally, now, I know the truth. I’m playing a game. I do it for the sake of doing it.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to think of work in the same way? School? How about marriage and relationships? I’m not trying to trivialize these things. I’m trying to raise their importance. Blogging has gained an intrinsic value for me. It’s no longer a means to an end. It is worth doing in order to do it. If work could be that way, education, and even relationships, that would be good for the entire world. And don’t kid yourself that all relationships are had for their own sake.

Do you play any games like my blogging one? Does it help you really sink your teeth into life?

A door with humorous instructions on how to open it

by BruceTurner on Flickr

A while ago I picked up the book The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman. The book was originally published in 1987. In other words, this book is as old as I am. That’s a bit scary. Scarier is that they didn’t really have computers back then. I know. Take deep breaths.

Of course, if they didn’t use computers back then and this is a digital marketing blog, what is the connection? Your answer: Good design doesn’t depend on the medium.

That was the reason this book was assigned to my Digital Marketing Masters class as must-do reading in our usability course. It was an enlightening view on how people approach problems, such as “Open the door.”

man opening a British train door by reaching through a window

Immensively counter intuitive

Opening doors is one of the first examples that Norman uses to illustrate his point that design is integral to how we use the tools around us. Basically, the idea is that if you are presented with a door with a flat metal plate, you know you have to push. If it has a bar where the plate would be, you know to pull. If the bar or plate is on the left, you know the hinge is on the right, and vice versa. But those rules don’t always apply. I know way too many doors with two bars, for instance. And no, writing “Push” or “Pull” doesn’t count. People don’t read. We take cues based on design. Though this seems like common sense, take my favorite door: those to the British trains. They have the handle on the outside and you have to reach through a window to open them. Norman used this example in his book, published in 1987, and they are still confusing people today.

The book is absolutely littered with examples like this, though that might be the most famous. I also enjoyed his description of absolutely useless telephone systems. Do you remember those telephones with multiple lines? They still use them, but they seem to be a dang sight better than what they were like. Unlabeled buttons and odd combinations to reach certain outcomes and if you mess up, you’ll never know what you did wrong.

Now pause, tell me, how this isn’t like so many websites you’ve been on? How about the ones that don’t seem to have a “Login” button even though you have to login to post something? Or those that don’t offer you a “Forgot my password” option unless you go to the “Help” section, which is nowhere near the big red letters saying you’re an idiot for not remembering your password. Or those menus that seemed to have been organized by the most eccentric person on the planet who thinks t-shirts are going-out wear?

People still rely on cues to figure out what they are going to do.

login field on Facebook

The "forgot password" link is faded!

And when we design something to be used, like a “Login” button, it had better have all the bells and whistles to let people know how to use it. This could be as simple as making it a button so it looks like we should click on it, instead of just Times New Roman 12-point font in black, no underline.

Norman’s basic point is that when people make mistakes in using tools, it’s the designer’s fault. We’ve all used those lovely intranet systems that take forever to look up a simple piece of data. We’ve all gotten lost and had to ask a more experienced coworker for help. We’ve all watched in dismay when the task actually required what seems like 10 more steps than it should, using five different menus. Norman sets us free from feeling stupid. It’s not our fault. It’s the designer’s.

Designers often make things so that way the back end is nice and tidy, but if you have ever seen the back side of a cross-stitch piece, if the one side is neat, the other side is a mess (at least in my cross stitch). And that’s what we’re faced with. The worst part is that designers don’t realize it. They think it’s easy, because, well, they designed it! And honestly, what do you expect? It is difficult to go out of one’s way to make life easy for someone in an entirely different position than you.

In the end, I couldn’t recommend this book more to digital marketers. This is an enlightening book and quite a fun read. Norman has a very conversation tone, like chatting with a very witty friend. The old examples even make it more interesting because, well, old as they are, they were new to me.

The book DigiMarketingThis book is a great introductory book on digital marketing. It’s a bit out of date, but the principles are still good. It’s actually a bit amusing and educational to see how the authors predicted the world would look a few years ago and compare it to what it actually looks like.

I would expect this good work from a book with Ogilvy’s name plastered on the front cover. The authors, Kent Wertime (from Ogilvy) and Ian Fenwick (from Sasin 25), certainly know what they are talking about and go in-depth on the subjects. And they cover a lot of subjects. This book is rather thick. Wertime and Fenwick cover the various digital channels that are making their way into marketing meetings. My favorite section was “Games: The New Hollywood,” but they also cover things like Television and IPTV. From there it is on to how to use all these channels. Here, Wertime and Fenwick do not go channel by channel. Instead, they, correctly, emphasize using channels together. They provide a step by step guide on how to do this.

It’s a very thorough book, but if you are looking for an in depth advanced read, look elsewhere. As their inclusion of a step-by-step guide on building a digital marketing plan might suggest, they are aiming for beginners. The authors take the tone of talking to newcomers who don’t know anything. They describe everything from the ground up. They do go into pretty good detail but you will probably know most of it already if you are already familiar with digital marketing.

But even an advanced practitioner can walk away satisfied. The authors provide a very interesting way of looking at digital channels and organize everything very nicely into trends and principles so that you can easily grasp the highlights and how that information all fits together. Even if you already knew the information, this is worthwhile. This is true both for their discussion on digital channels and their “How-To” section.

I also enjoyed the writing style. Regardless of the break out case studies in little boxes, a personal pet peeve of mine, it was quite easy to read. The conversational tone and the use of examples made it interesting.

So, I recommend this book. Again, it is a bit out of date, but as I’ve already stated, if you are already familiar with digital marketing, you’re reading this because of how they approach the structure. Be warned, though. It’s a bit hefty.

Twitter Logos and companies

Image by The Next Web

The book I’ve been groggily making my way through every morning for the past month or so (I’m a slow reader) has been Twitterville by Shel Israel. I’ve already handed a copy to a gentleman in a book store cafe with express orders to buy it, and as soon as I’m done writing and publishing this post I’ll be dropping off my personal copy to a former coworker. Can you tell I recommend it?

This book combines a very engaging writing style with colorful case studies.  Israel adds a personal touch by telling the case study stories from the perspective of the key players, having done interviews to bring the reader these people’s own words. He then makes the stories even more personal by adding his own views or experiences. For instance, even the story of how Twitter started and was first adopted by the business community is engaging in a chapter entitled “Dell’s Paralel Avenues.” Israel doesn’t just describe how Dell first started to use Twitter as a way of moving closeout and refurbished computers, he tells of how Ricardo Guerrero, the gentleman responsible for starting Dell’s presence on Twitter, was very confused when he got his first Twitter account after being introduced to it at the SXSW 2007 conference. Israel then makes it more intimate by interjecting his own personal story of confusion. The first Tweet he ever posted was “Well here I am. What happens now?” This personal flair continues throughout the book.

Of course Israel also covers Twitter best practices. When there is debate, he continues the personal touch by stating his preferences up front. When discussing whether or not a company should use a “logo tweeter” (a logo avatar without a disclaimer of who exactly is tweeting) or a spokesperson tweeter, Israel is obviously pro-spokesperson. (I take the discussion further by applying it to personal accounts here). But he is balanced and fair in discussing why businesses would opt with a logo account rather than his preferred method. He does this by using interviews again, this time with the people behind the logos. In other words, he lets the practitioners speak for themselves, letting him remain openly biased, letting the reader come to her own conclusions, and creating a more interesting read than a simple case study.Twitterville by Shel Israel

And it’s not just a business book. It’s practically a sociology book. With his background in journalism, Israel is able to describe how Twitter is changing the field by allowing citizens to keep each other informed or even informing the professional media, as when Janis Krums tweeted about the Miracle on the Hudson, complete with a TwitPic of the plane in the middle of the river. Krums then appeared as a guest on various television news/talk shows. Israel calls this type of exchange “braided journalism.” Not stopping there, the book then goes on to cover governments using Twitter to get in direct contact with their constituents, like when the British city of Newcastle used Twitter to announce a snow day for the schools and handling resident complaints. And that’s not even beginning to touch on the wonderful chapter on fund-raising on Twitter. If you ever need to raise money, Israel has some great tips – like using the ChipIn widget, which makes it easy to collect donations and let followers keep score on your progress.

Twitterville is a great introduction to Twitter, the type that just gets better if you aren’t a beginner at all, or if your an expert. I chock it up to Israel’s wonderful writing style, but the content doesn’t hurt, either. I highly recommend you pick it up. Today.

Also, please spend less than 5 minutes of your time taking this survey: Avatar – Identity vs. Perception. John Antonios and I are studying whether or not avatars show what we want them to show about ourselves. We’re hoping for 500 respondents, so please help us get there!

John's Twitter Avatars

John's possible cartoon avatar and current avatar

First a bit of background to why I’m discussing photo versus non-photo Twitter avatars: My friend @JohnAntonios mentioned me in his blog post Personal Branding – Your Avatar is Important, Stick to It. He was discussing how it is important not to just randomly change your Twitter icon or your handle since that is often how your followers know you. All great points. John used myself and another non-photo avatar user (@MrWordsWorth) as examples. Then developed John a cartoon avatar that he is thinking of using as opposed to the photo he currently has. He asked me which I prefer. This made me think of a debate that is currently raging amongst marketers that is profiled in the book I’m reading, Twitterville. I just had to respond with a blog post instead of a simple Tweet.

The debate is about whether or not branded/logo avatar Twitter accounts are better than company spokespeople accounts. I think this applies to personal cartoon accounts as well.

Muppet Twitter Avatar

@MrWordsWorth's Twitter Avatar

Now in the book, author Shel Israel (@shelisrael) is unashamedly biased in preferring spokespeople accounts, like Dell’s policy of having employees use Twitter handles using the @NameatDell template and real photos for their avatars (here’s an example). This is opposed to having accounts like the @Starbucks account which is entirely business and has a logo for an avatar. Israel does a good job of showing the other side of the argument, however, through interviews with “branded tweeters,” or the folk behind such accounts as @Starbucks. (Full book review coming)

But how does this apply to personal accounts? Does it? The arguments for businesses using a logo account are not the same as for an individual using what I’ll call a cartoon account, or a cartoon/non-human avatar. Businesses use logo accounts usually to maintain a consistent, branded message, which would get diluted if people used their personal accounts and talked about baseball games. Individuals use cartoon accounts to better display their personality, perhaps as a part of their personal branding strategy. If their personal brand is best served by a picture of dandelions, then that’s what they would use, according to this argument.

Cartoon Twitter Avatar

My Twitter Avatar

The argument against logo accounts does apply to personal cartoon accounts. Social media is all about interacting with people, not logos. What about to dandelions? Or Muppets, like @MrWordsWorth? Or cartoon faces, like my own avatar. @BryanRicard left a comment on John’s original post saying, “In @KateDavids case, her real picture is used in her Twitter background, so if she wants to use a cartoon image for her profile picture, why not.” But my background is not visible in people’s personal Twitter streams, and many people use 3rd party apps like TweetDeck. They only see my cartoon. Your avatar is your face and what people interact with.

So, in response to my friend John’s question, yes, I like the new avatar. But I like the real picture of him better because his face is more expressive in the photo than in the cartoon. Does that mean that I don’t think people should use cartoons? No, I use a cartoon avatar, after all. But I think that the logo avatar debate applies to personal accounts and must be considered in making an avatar choice. Personally, I think that a dandelion avatar isn’t good if you want to attract followers, but as long as there is a face, cartoon, Muppet, or otherwise, that people can identify with, then the avatar works.

What do you think? Do you think that the logo account debate applies to personal accounts? Do you not distinguish between cartoon accounts and photo accounts? Do you follow brands?

The Quick Review: Wow! Buy now!

The Long Review: Wow! Buy now!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. It’s one part history book, one part math text, one part puzzler, and one part philosophy book. And a whole lot of awesome. The best part is, even though I would not technically describe it as a business book, the points Mlodinow hits on are immensely useful for business.

Here’s an example: Mlodinow explains that producers and lead execs for Hollywood movie studios are evaluated by their ability to choose and predict winners. He then describes one exec who had this amazing knack for picking the biggest grossing films to greenlight, but then one year, she had a bunch of flops. She was fired. The next year, that studio put out mega-blockbusters. Of course, because of how the movie industry works, those were films that she, the old exec, had okayed production on. How did that year of flops occur? Answer: Simple randomness. The probability of a year of flops was just high enough for it to actually happen.

The book is full of examples like that, but it is also so much more. Mlodinow goes back in time to study where the theories of randomness came from, introducing us to history’s greatest mathematicians, often humorous characters in and of themselves, such as Pierre-Simon de Laplace, a French mathematician who lived during the French Revolution and Napoleon’s time by basically saying whatever was popular (and would let him keep his head) as vehemently as possible.

The Drunkard’s Walk also is a decent math text, as long as your goal is to learn concepts and not actually make proofs. Ever wondered what Pascal’s triangle is? Well, Mlodinow will tell you, as well as how to make your own and what to use it for. As a tid-bit, it looks like this:
triangle of numbers known as Pascal's Triangle

Then there are the great puzzles. For instance, what are the chances that given one twin is a girl that both will be girls? Well, the chances that there will be two girls is 25%, right? (50% x 50% = 25%) But the answer to this question is 33%. Want to know why? Pick up the book. It’s described on page 52, right amongst other great puzzles.

This is a fantastic book that describes many of the laws at work around us. From movie block-busters to twin girls, it’s all written in a fantastically conversational tone with dashes of humor that make math interesting. I wish my high school math teachers had used this book!

Not too long ago I published the post Go On. Give It a Go! about asking for, and recieving two advance coppies of Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness. I was really excited to get the books. I gave one to an entrepreneur friend of mine (you can see his project here) and immediately started reading my own copy. I wanted to be able to fulfill my part of the free-book bargain: post an honest review of the book to this blog on June 7th, or at least during that week. Of course, this was also right before the 2010 Phoenix Comicon. I didn’t get to read more than 10 pages a day. In the past week or so since the convention, I have been reading as much as I could. It has reminded me of being in school again, trying to finish all the chapters before a test.

As you can see, I wound up missing the June 7th blogging date, but, by golly, I’m going to publish a review of this book during the business week! I litterally just finished the book and am going to publish this post without the typical day of rest and thought I usually give all my posts, to be sure the content is valuable and there are no type-o’s. I’m doing this because I feel obligated to hold up my end of the bargain with Tony Hseih and his publicity team.

And now… A Sleepy-Eyed Book Review of Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

This is a great read. Tony tells stories much like he talks. I heard him speak once while I was in college. He spoke about the corporate culture at Zappos! and how customer service can lead a business to success. Not surprisingly, that’s really what Delivering Happiness is about. Those are his two favorite topics.

The book is structured like an autobiography. The first part of it is actually about his childhood. He has a few cute and anecdotal stories about trying to get rich through a worm farm, a button press mail-order business, and a magic trick mail-order business. And then he progresses to college and pizza, his first company, Link Exchange, and then Venture Frogs, a venture capital firm he started with the money he got from selling Link Exchange, and finally Zappos!. All the while, it’s told in a personal, often wondering, narrative.

Often wondering? Well, as I said, the book is written much like Tony speaks. It has an almost stream of consciousness style to it. He’ll be talking about starting Venture Frongs one moment, then be talking about a really big New Year’s Eve Party the next, end it all with a vignette with a nameless woman who said something eloquent, and be back to Venture Frogs and Zappos! in a few pages. Not that this is a bad thing. Rather it makes the book interesting becuase you’re never sure what you will read about next.

Of course, with a title like “Delivering Happiness,” the book isn’t entirely an autobiography. As Tony mentions in the end, it will likely be used as a handbook for Zappos! employees. He talks a lot about Zappos! once he gets to that stage in his life. It’s not hard to understand why. After reading this book, I have come to see that Zappos! really is Tony Hsieh’s life. He put everything into that company. The book discusses the evolution of the company to its present day, bought-by-Amazon status. He goes in depth into the company’s culture, which is fine by me, since it is fascinating.

Lastly, the book is about a bit more than just Tony’s life or how Zappos! came to be. It’s about how to be happy. The last chapter or so is all about the science of happiness, which we, the readers, can walk away with and apply to our own lives. Pretty nifty.

All in all, I love the book, but it did leave me with one huge question: Tony Hsieh did not start Zappos! That was a man named Nick Swinmurn. Where did he go and how did Tony wind up the CEO?

The people who kindly gave the this book to review asked me to include two links in this post:

Now go buy the book. I’m going to go turn in to a Zappos! customer.

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Who Am I?

I am a Digital Native who is trying to puzzle out what exactly that means. I share my thoughts on social media, digital business models, and PR here on this blog.

I am currently getting my Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School, having gotten my B.S. in Marketing from Arizona State University. Everything is on track and I am making headway towards my dream: World Domination... or being a productive, helpful citizen and marketer. Whichever comes first.

Don't hesitate to get in touch. I Tweet daily at @KateDavids and also have a science fiction and fantasy blog ( and Twitter (@Masked_Geek).

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