Becoming Professional: A Blog

Archive for the ‘Pyschology’ 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?

Advertisements

What if all content were free?

Free Wifi logo

by Wayda Dreamscape on Flickr

With all the discussion going on about pricing in my Digital Publishing course at Hult International Business School, I had to ask this question. There are people, like Cory Doctorow, who maintain that content should be free. He publishes his books for free online using the Creative Commons license. I actually agree with him since I think that piracy in terms of entertainment materials is just too rampant to fight, and who would want to? Often the pirates are the publisher’s biggest fans, and fighting fans is just weird.

But I can’t lump all publishing together. Entertainment is one thing while business, news, and other more factual writings are distinctly separate. When this information is provided for free, does it maintain an intrinsic value or gain the value of its price – nothing?

John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has outlined 5 pitfalls of free content for a business. Hartley Brody with the Inbound Marketing pros over at Hubspot posted a reply defending free content. This exchange made me ask some very important questions about the value of free content:

How Much Value Do People Get from Free Content?

Jantsch points out that show-up rates for free events are around 25-30%, much lower than would be expected to a paid-event. I can’t speak for everybody, but I can say why I don’t show up to free events I RSVP for: I just can’t be bothered or something else comes up. That something else has more value in my eyes than a free event, and nothing happens to me if I don’t show up. No lost revenue without a gain, for instance. And if I do show up, how much attention will I pay? Will I be more likely to skip out if I hear a friend is having a party nearby?

snow and a person walking through it

by dickuhne on Flickr

Brody’s reply to this issue was to say that the event holders (or newsletter senders or whatever flavor of content you produce) should include a coupon or other incentive for people to do what they said they would, such as show up or read, but this isn’t always possible. Newspapers can’t necessarily give out coupons when all their content is free, for instance. And this coupon must be pretty valuable to outweigh my laziness before an event. After all, it’s a gain, not a loss, and humans react more strongly to potential losses than potential gains. They will trudge through snow when sick to attend an event if it means they would have “wasted” their money if they don’t go, regardless that the cost is sunk. This is hard to duplicate with a coupon.

This lack of effort to attend or gain the benefits of free content versus paid means that when someone has actually paid for content, they will actually get more value out of it. If I have paid for a NY Times online subscription, you betcha I’ll be reading most of those articles! When I pay for a single magazine, I go through each page not to miss anything, even when most of it is uninteresting. I feel I have wasted money when I don’t. Do I read all my RSS feeds with such zeal? Nope. I lose nothing by doing so, even though my feeds routinely pump out great information.

How Can We Judge the Value of Free Content?

the tabloids rack

by brownpau on Flickr

Jantsch also raised the point about “eroded value.” In his words, “How good can something that’s free really be?” He was more worried about the lack of differentiation between quality content and slapped-together “pitch fests.” When all the prices are the same, telling the two apart is hard. This probably contributes to the lack of effort people will put into attending a free event. Without prior experience, it’s hard to tell if the event is really worth going to.

Brody counters by suggesting that publishers need to build a reputation for quality and then show that reputation off by displaying how many other people have signed up for your content. This still doesn’t display how much the content is worth, however, since it doesn’t answer how many of those newsletter recipients are actually reading the e-mails or have just forgotten to opt-out. With the Internet being so huge, it isn’t that hard to get a large following. Just look at some of the “gurus” on Twitter.

A higher price signals the higher value. The retail industry has known this for ages. They have known that if you want your store to be considered high end, make the scarves expensive. Even though they are really rather cheap to produce, the price gives the items caché and the brand, value.

Prices Might Help

dollar sign painted on some bricks

by Jim Legans, Jr on Flickr

Pricing your content will help you avoid these pitfalls. If you charge for your events, people are more likely to show and truly listen to what you have to say. The price can be used as a way to judge value, too, so the more expensive – to a point – the more valuable.

Now, like Jantsch, I am not suggesting hiding behind a paywall. For instance, displaying ads for expensive items would associate your free content with the value of the displayed merchandise. You can encourage event attendance by having people pay with digital currency received through a game experience. Perhaps a more common and direct system, however, is the freemium system. A newspaper could have its more general reporting up for free and its in-depth coverage behind a small paywall. Longer reports and such could be paid for one at a time. eConsultancy does something like this with their varied level freemium memberships.


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.


roll of money

by AMagill on Flickr

Pricing is a sticky issue for publishers, particularly in the digital world. Basically, if a price is too high, you, the reader, may ask why on Earth would you want to pay that and go to your friendly neighborhood pirate for a free copy.

So how can a publisher approach pricing in the digital world? Here are three methods.

1. As Cheap As Possible

Because why not? Distribution is free and, as Clay Shirky suggests in his book Cognitive Surplus, there are almost no marginal costs. Basically, each ebook sale is added gravy. Going along in this line, ebooks can be priced fairly cheaply. While speaking at Bloomsbury Publishing in London, Cory Doctorow, author and journalist, acknowledges that there is the possibility of these cheap ebooks cannibalizing the more expensive paperbacks and hard covers, but he doubts it. Rather, he thinks he is merely hitting a market that has a lower price point. Those who want the more expensive hard covers will get them at that price point.

Though Doctorow sells his ebooks, he doesn’t lock the ebook files to one device or prevent users from doing what they want with them. He says that if I could lend and give away copies of my paper books why, when digital is supposed to give us so much more freedom, do I actually have less freedom to share the things I enjoy with my friends? He has a good point. In order to enable this, he protects his work using the Creative Commons license online. While his ebooks may be easy to find, he can still make money off of movie rights and physical book sales. Furthermore, he contends in that by allowing free distribution of his ebooks, he has actually done better in hardcover sales than he generally would. His reasoning? It’s great publicity.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Book Cover

A good, but long, book

People want to share the things they love. This is the motivation behind much of the digital piracy online. Seth Godin suggests in his book Tribes that pirate copies are being produced by the work’s biggest fans who want to spread the good word. Doctorow tells of how the 7th Harry Potter book was available online within 24 hours of release, and translated by fans into German within 24 hours of that. No one sits and translates a book into another language, for free, without a sizable amount of passion and love. And particularly Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I mean, did you see the size of that book? Doctorow is suggesting that this passion be harnessed into good publicity by allowing fans to freely share the work in a completely legal manner, rather than having to do so illegally.

2. Price What You Can Get

Rupert Murdoch certainly does not agree with Doctorow, having put The Times behind a pay wall. The experts are divided about whether or not this will work. Vivian Schiller from nytimes.com maintains that a blanket pay wall damages publishing’s traditional revenue driver: advertising. Bear in mind, she was the one who took down the TimesSelect pay wall. But there are others who think that Murdoch has a good chance at success, such as Rob Grimshaw from FT.com and Charlie Beckett from LSE’s thinktank Polis. They basically think that it will succeed as long as the payment is easy and accommodating to the readers, either bundled in with another News Corps service or with different packages for readers to choose from. Obviously FT.com thinks pay walls work, having successfully implemented their own.

Financial Times LogoBut, as Clay Shirky has said, “Financial information is one of the few kinds of information whose recipients don’t want to share.” If a pay wall is to work, it has to protect information that both the readers and the publishers want protected, such as financial advice and information that helps those in the know come out better than those who aren’t privy to the necessary info. More than that, the information has to be unique enough that it is not easily replaceable. This goes to what the doubting experts touched on. Sly Bailey from the Daily Mirror and John Temple, from the now closed Rocky Mountain News, think that trying to force payment for what is, in essence, rather standard news coverage will not work. The FT.com has a reputation for good advice and financial news coverage. This is rather hard to find. Good world news coverage? Now that’s actually pretty easy.

3. Price Based On Costs

Kent Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen also seems to disagree with Doctorow. Anderson holds that publishers have to be able to recoup the sizable investment required to create the material in the first place, plus cover the on-going maintenance of the publishing outfit. The manufacturing mindset of costing out items based on how much they cost to produce no longer works. There is a zero marginal cost to creating a copy of a file, as Clay Shirky has pointed out, but there is an accumulated cost over time to maintaining a decent publishing website and staff.

Anderson suggests adopting more of a software-style approach to publishing that makes up this initial investment over the foreseeable lifespan of the product. This approach is already working in some industries, such as the music publishing industry, which he calls, “one of the more mature areas of digital business.” The price of an iTunes song is creeping upwards, to as much as $1.29 for the more popular releases. People are willing to pay that, and the companies can’t afford to price lower.

Final Thoughts

These three approaches to pricing each make sense, but they all can’t be right. It is possible that, thanks to the ease of reproducing digital material, we can easily hit lower price points, saving those sales, while still enjoying the more profitable sales of premium products, such as hard covers, as Doctorow suggest. It is also completely valid for publishers to try and price what they think they can get, as Murdoch is attempting to do with The Times pay wall. But it is also true that we may be approaching how we think of a publisher’s costs from the wrong direction. Perhaps what we are really looking at is a large initial cost followed by a steady stream of a lower maintenance cost, and this must be recouped via pricing, as Anderson proposed.

There is no easy way to tell which will work out in the long run. Of course, I have my ideas, though. Those are the subject of my next post. Stay tuned for Part 2!

*This post was written as part of an assignment for my

Masters in Digital Marketing from Hult International Business School,

but since the topic was interesting, I decided to use it for this blog.


Image of a players avatar in Farmville

by RJ Bailey on Flickr

I used to play Restaurant City. I used to play a lot. For a while 12 hours a day. Of course I didn’t spend 12 hours sitting in front of my computer on Facebook. School, work, eating, bathing and all that. This is not a post about gamer addiction and hygiene problems.

So wait. How could I play the game 12 hours a day and yet have a life? This is actually more common then you’d think. Players tell a game “build a bridge,” “open my bakery,” “fight that enemy,” “grow a crop.” These actions take time, so while they are going on, the players go off and live their lives. This is part of why the games are “casual.” Players don’t have to constantly be there and devote all their attention to it in order to play. Don’t try this while playing World of Warcraft. You’ll spend the whole time wondering why you’re dead.

But this “casual” is a lie. The games are no less involving and no less addictive. That’s why people will always be there to water their Farmville crops. I once heard it suggested that if Zynga wanted to destroy productivity, they would change the watering cycle to once every 15 minutes. I was always right back on Restaurant City at the right time to get my bonus cash. We get rewarded for keeping our eyes on the clock and thinking about the game throughout the day.

And that’s why “ghost playing” is deceiving. It makes it seem like you can have fun and advance in the game without giving up your life, but, honestly, I prefer World of Warcraft. At least WoW is honest. Facebook games take over your life more subtly.

Our world is becoming game-ified. Games are occupying more of our time, even when we think we’re not playing. How do you think this will affect society? Multitasking is now much more than just what students do while surfing the net in class. It’s a part of work, and now fun.

Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


So Facebook did it again. They tweaked with the system and made people grumble. This time they changed how photos are displayed. As you can see, my picture of Fluff is now displayed in a window that looks a little like a slide-show program you mike have downloaded to your computer. Personally, I like the change. It looks sleek, the slide-show function is more prominent than before, and it doesn’t require pushing the back button when I want to get back to my news feed. I don’t even have to hit the “x” to close it. Apparently this was a frequently requested feature, but the reaction I’ve seen has been mixed.

Photograph displayed in Facebook

Really, though, is this anything to even grumble about? To be sure, I haven’t seen an uproar, but still. Why do we even care? One suggestion was that since we all use Facebook so frequently, when they change something it is like someone has rearranged our kitchen cupboards. I can see it. But honestly, this isn’t our kitchen. It’s not even our property. It’s Facebook’s. Yes, they seem to have a habit of changing things just to mess around (remember them changing the font size of our News Feeds? Yeah.) But that should make it all the more okay with us. We should be used to it. Yet we still have this, “What did you do?!” reaction.

We all feel like we own a bit of Facebook since we use it so often. But we don’t. Use does not convey ownership, particularly if the use is free.

 

 


 

 

 

 


If you want to learn something on your own, there are a few steps I think you have to do, regardless of what exactly you are teaching yourself.

1: Decide What Exactly You Want to Learn

This might seem obvious, but it’s a step a lot of people skip. For instance, is your goal to teach yourself Japanese? That’s a pretty big feat, so you might want to focus on just spoken Japanese. Cut the task into manageable pieces and then have a go.

Here’s another example: You need to create a web page. Is your goal, then, to learn everything about Javascript and HTML or is your goal to learn only what you need to know to create the web page of your dreams? Learning everything might take a hefty chunk of time, but learning just how to embed videos or background images when using a template would take significantly less time and provide you with exactly what you need.

Definition is key.

2: Decide How You Will Learn

What methods will you use? This helps you stay on track so you don’t accidentally skip a step or accidentally start reading the same material over and over again. Granted it is much easier to skip this step in the process and bounce from Google searches to books to Yahoo Answers, but there is a reason teachers spend so much time on lesson plans. They really do help.

I generally use forums and Google searches when teaching myself things, but I stick to the same forums or blogs so I don’t have to constantly dredge through old info to get what I want. Books can also be incredibly handy. I am a fan of the Dummies series, but I figure any decent how-to book would do.

3: Pick a Time Each Day, and a Duration, and Stick to It

This is the tough part. Discipline. You have to actually follow through with your plan. If you want to learn a language, you have to actually buckle down and do the work. So if you decided in Step 2: Decide How You Will Learn that you would listen to a “Teach Yourself Japanese!” CD during the commute to work every day, then that’s your morning soundtrack. Or if you are trying to learn HTML5 and decided to read HTML5 for Dummies every day in the morning with your coffee, then you had best have that book by the coffee pot.

4: Measure Your Success

This step comes purely from my online marketing background. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we tend to be obsessive numbers freaks. There’s so much data at our finger-tips, it’s hard not to go bananas over it.

The key is to go back to Step 1: Decide What Exactly You Want to Learn. If you “want to learn Japanese,” and you will do so by reading a “Teach Yourself Japanese 10 Minutes a Day!” book, then what you really decided was that you would learn the content in the book. Follow? If you try to “learn Japanese,” you would be trying to learn everything, including epithets and the written language (and if you’ve ever studied the Japanese written language, you are either very brave or Japanese). So to Measure Your Success, you need to match up Step 1 with benchmarks. In the example where you’re teaching yourself Japanese with a book, you could probably use the quizes in the book. With the example of HTML5, you might want to try to build web pages to see how well you learned what you are trying to learn.

5: Practice It

Ever hear “practice makes perfect”? Well, it does. Repeat often, and then repeat some more. Only when you feel comfortable that you know what you are trying to learn have you officially learned it. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

6: Have a Cookie

Because rewards are important. Chocolate or Oatmeal Raisin?


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 55 other followers

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 (maskedgeek.wordpress.com) and Twitter (@Masked_Geek).

%d bloggers like this: