21 things membership-driven design resource Fab.com learned in its first year

My colleague Brian James Kirk shared these slides from a presentation from the CEO of Fab.com, a membership-based design resource that is less than a year ago. The slides and the takeaways are valuable.

Boardwalk Empire: five lessons to learn from season one of the hit HBO drama

The celebrated HBO historical drama Boardwalk Empire, set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, is making its way through its second season, and I’m catching up, having recently finished watching the first season.

The well-funded period piece, with backing from Scorsese, Wahlberg and others, tracks the life and times of a character based on a real political boss of the time. It’s a compelling story, tinged with real happenings, heavily researched authenticity and complex characters. In short, it’s a great watch.

Having finished the first season, there are a few takeaways I found myself internalizing:

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Beware ‘filter bubbles’ online: TED talk from Eli Pariser

From this very compelling TED video from former MoveOn.org Executive Director Eli Pariser on ‘filter bubbles’ happening online due to personalized algorithms (i.e., in truth there is no one Google search, as nearly 60 filters dictate results)

“We may have the story of the internet wrong. This is how the founding mythology goes: in a broadcast society, there were these gatekeepers, the editors, and they controlled the flows of information. And along came the internet, and it swept them out of the way and allowed all of us to connect together and it was awesome. But that’s not actually what’s happening right now. What we’re seeing is more of a passing of the torch, from human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones. And the thing is, the algorithms don’t yet have the kind of embedded ethics that the editors did. So if algorithms are going to curate the world for us, if they’re going to decide what we get to see and what we don’t get to see, then we need to make sure that they’re not just keyed to relevance, but that they also show us things that are uncomfortable or challenging or important…”

Still Life with Woodpecker: my favorite passages from the Tom Robbins 1980 ‘post modern fairy tale’

Still Life with Woodpecker, the 1980 ‘post modern fairy tale’ from Tom Robbins that follows the affair of an environmentalist princess and an outlaw, has to be one of my favorite novels.

It was the first novel from the irreverent and celebrated Robbins, and I love his ability to intersperse his own philosophy into his characters and story arc. Below, I share some of my favorite passages from the book.

  • “The sky is more impersonal than the sea. Above the birdline, higher than the last referential cloud, at an altitude that oxygen will not voluntarily frequent, acrosss a zone where light drives the speed limit and never stops for coffee, crossing that deser in which gravity is the only sheik, a vehicle, owned and operated by Northwest Orient Airlines, whistled through its nostrils as it bucked the current of the Pacific jet stream.”  p. 26
  • “Society had a crime problem. It hired cops to attack crime. Now society had a cop problem.” p. 29
  • “The jetliner whistled to conceal its fear of gravity.” p. 30
  • “For all its fluent resonance, a bomb says only one word — ‘Surprise!’ — and then applauds itself. p. 64
  • “We all dream profusely every night, yet by morning we’ve forgotten ninety percent of what went on. That’s why poets are such important members of society. Poets remember our dreams for us.” p. 95
  • “Equality is not in regarding different things similarly, equality is in regarding different things differently.” p. 97
  • “There’s no point in saving the world if it means losing the moon.” p. 128
  • “Three of the four elements are shared by all creatures, but fire was a gift to humans alone.” p. 161
  • “Niagara Falls have been looked at so much that they’ve become effete, sucked empty by too many stupid eyes.” p. 222
  • “The wedding was at dawn, and dawn had a nasty habit of showing up before breakfast.” p. 242

There are a number of longer passages I love that are just too long to transcribe, like the “neoteny” section on page 19 and ‘tunnel vision’ on page 86 and one on “intimacy” on page 150 and one on “hide and seek” on 244 one on what love is like on page 249

Glengarry Glen Ross: 10 sales lessons from the 1992 cult classic movie

Sales tactics to lead and those to avoid are seemingly peppered throughout the classic, star-studded, independent black comedy Glengarry Glen Ross from 1992 that I finally got to watch — after quoting clips for years.

“We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired,” says the character Blake, setting the mood early on.

As you might expect, there are some takeaways to be had.

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The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio: were mathematics invented or discovered?

The Golden Ratio, the 2003 historical analysis of the irrational number phi (~1.62) by Mario Livio, reads more like a top level review of a few thousand years of mathematical history. And so, while I enjoyed the pursuit of phi in art throughout time, I was much more taken by the top-level review of the development of math. The development, or, well, the discovery of math.

Indeed, of the various historical storylines, one theme from the book that stuck out for me more than others, I was most taken bythe ongoing debate about whether math was invented or discovered, the former of which is my persuasion to date:

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Clay Shirky: “News has to be subsidized, and it has to be cheap, and it has to be free”

Academic Clay Shirky tossed down another great post ahead of an undergraduate course he’s teaching at NYU. In the end, he calls for more chaos — more competitive approaches to creating meaning news for citizens, beyond news for consumers.

You ought to read the whole piece, but here are a couple of my favorite parts:

This system was never ideal—out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made—and long before Craig Newmark and Arianna Huffington began their reign of terror, Gannett and Scripps were pioneering debt-laden balance sheets, highly paid executives, and short-term profit-chasing. But even in their worst days, newspapers supported the minority of journalists reporting actual news, for the minority of citizens who cared. In return, the people who followed sports or celebrities, or clipped recipes and coupons, got to live in a town where the City Council was marginally less likely to be corrupt.

“There are only three things I’m sure of: News has to be subsidized, and it has to be cheap, and it has to be free.”

If we adopt the radical view that what seems to be happening is actually happening, then a crisis in reporting isn’t something that might take place in the future. A 30% reduction in newsroom staff, with more to come, means this is the crisis, right now. Any way of creating news that gets cost below income, however odd, is a good way, and any way that doesn’t, however hallowed, is bad.

Make your Facebook page better

Facebook pushes traffic and helps build an online community.

We’re over that. Joining Facebook and learning lessons from it is in the distant past. It’s time to have that next conversation.

I’m interested in moving to the next step, creating more compelling Facebook pages that keep people coming back, attract more eyeballs, develop brands, help create communication and, of course, help push eyeballs.

I’ve been moving through some conversations, trying to pull out the best lessons. I’m not behind anything compelling yet, but I’d love to do something fun with NEast Philly’s incredibly active Facebook page.

Some worthy reading below:

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FCC report: local accountability journalism is lacking, impact small when present

The FCC released a year-long study on the state of local accountability journalism and the view is pessimistic, as the Seattle Times reports.

A lot of conversation has come from it, and I hope to add some greater thoughts here on the 40-plus page document. Download it here [PDF]. Author Steven Waldman gave a short presentation at last Thursday’s Aspen Institute roundtable.

Technically Philly is mentioned briefly, but in a section lamenting that what modest successes the Philadelphia market has had in local journalism is having a relatively small numerical impact, in terms of traffic. The report’s premise was defining meaningful impact by those sites that account for at least one percent of a region’s overall traffic.

The broad comScore coverage also allows us to piggyback onto recent in?depth studies of local journalism in the digital age. First, the Institute for Interactive Journalism authored a recent study of the online news ecosystem in Philadelphia. They claim to have identified 260 local blogs, including “about 60 [with] some journalistic DNA in that they report news, not just comment on it” (Shafer 2010). While J?Lab does not provide a full listing of the sites, they single out several as particularly successful examples. Metropolis is an online news outlet staffed by professional journalists with experience in traditional media. TechnicallyPhilly.com focuses on the city’s tech community. Public School Notebook covers Philly schools and local education issues. PlanPhilly.com concentrates on planning and zoning. SeptaWatch.org provides coverage of local transportation. The Broad Street Review provides coverage of the local arts scene. The Philadelphia media market provides the fourth?largest panel in the sample, making it easier to find low?market?reach sites here than it is almost anywhere else. PlanPhilly.com shows up just in the February data, with 7 visitors out of 7967 panelists. None of the other online news sources show up at all.

Read the entire report here [PDF].

Important reading and takeaways:

Knight Commission Report on Informing Communities: crib notes on the seminal 2009 project

Almost two years later, I read the entire Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, the report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities.

Debuted in September 2009, I tackled the 80-page document for “the Hardly. Strictly. Young conference I attended in April at the University of Missouri, which was dedicated to brainstorming alternative recommendations for implementing that report.

Not a journalism-only report at all and backed by a year of conversation, outreach and testimony, I wanted to share my notes and thoughts on diving into the seminal report.

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