It felt like Wayne felt in this moment.
It wasn’t the big, blinking great salary that convinced me.
That’s the first truth of this story.

I was quite happy, and my family were quite happy, living in the world’s greatest mountain town. My partner and I worked on a variety of client campaigns; launching sites, consulting, and enjoying a work-life balance that we’d barely dreamed we could manage. We were surviving, building our business while connecting back to our health and happiness. Our daughter was thriving with the skiing, skating, and fresh mountain air. Our Toronto house was rented out to a nice family that we trusted. Aside from the cat becoming an eagle’s lunch (or a coyote’s, or a bear’s), all was going very, very well.

And then the connection request from LinkedIn happened, and the next thing I knew I was dealing with a recruiter from a company looking to launch an Android tablet into the education market.

If you know me, you’ll know that education and education technology are my ultimate passions. Coming from a family of committed, talented teachers, I’ve spent the bulk of my career working on the periphery. I taught ESL in Asia, worked in educational publishing, and turned a massive interest in the web and the power of digital into advocacy work, research, and connecting educators to powerful and engaging technologies. I spent the last few years eagerly connecting with experts and teachers through a variety of social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Nings, and conferences. This work is so close to my heart as a parent, a learner, and person who really cares about where all this technology is taking our society, and our kids in particular.

The opportunity was on the table. To become part of a bold start-up vision, and to impact education through a ground-breaking product that could offer choice in an increasingly branded, proprietary market. To engage with classroom professionals and content producers through a unique (and Canadian) initiative. It sounded great. It sounded like just the perfect next step, even though it would mean leaving our blissful mountain town and heading back to the challenges of Toronto life. It would mean we’d have to rent a temporary residence until our tenants’ lease was up. We’d have to pull our daughter out of school, where she was just making her bones, and interrupt her increasingly positive experience. And it would mean a tremendous shift in our business, where we’d developed a good balance of client work between the two of us.

It would mean a lot of fast, hectic, and disruptive change. The opportunity seemed to be worth all of that.

After I met the team and flew through of series of interviews (me interviewing them as much as they were me), I felt confident that I’d be working with a group of dedicated and passionate engineers and a leadership team that truly had a great product and a genuine desire to make a positive impact. I know that several of my former colleagues also felt this way at the outset. The poop had not yet hit the propeller.

Within a few weeks, the voice in my head started to speak up that something wasn’t right. I tried to quiet it. It kept talking. (more…)

Conference booth
I can hardly wait for your free lanyard.
My, how things have changed. I attended my first education conference in 2004 as a sales representative with a big publishing company. It was my job to cajole teachers to stop at our booth (or lure them in with a big bowl of chocolate bars), and give them a 5 minute elevator pitch on some groundbreaking yadayadayada, then invite them to enter a draw for which they’d only be selected winner if deemed influential enough.

These, my friends, were the days before random winner generators, online entries, and the power of quiet influencers with more followers than the Pied Piper using social tools to share their expertise. Biggest school in Ontario? Pssssssshhhhh. How about the elementary teacher from Armpit, SK, who has built a digital program for her students that gives them reach for their ideas that they’ll benefit from for years to come, and tweets her experience to 5000 like-minded followers? I’d rather learn about the platform that makes that notion of global collaboration possible for kids, as opposed to who’s bought (and wasted the most money on) the biggest gargantua of a conference booth (check out the eco footprint too, yo).

But at SXSWedu, there was no vendor showcase. Companies had to be sneaky and infuse their sessions with clever product pitches, sessionbomb by planting product-focused operatives during question time, or be not so sneaky and incur the deserved wrath (Hi, I’m a #conferencehashtag. People use me.) Teachers are getting much better about standing up to the disruption of their learning. They pay out of pocket to come to these things. It’s not cheap. Don’t invite them to a session about innovations in critical thinking applications and pitch your app.
Amway called. They want their strategy back. Ugh. (more…)

Usually I like October. I enjoy cramming my ham hocks back into jeans. I enjoy the plethora of boot styles to gawk at behind storefronts. And I love Hallowe’en and great costumes and candy  and Dachshunds dressed up like hot dogs.

Not this kind of funk.
This year, I’m in a bit of a funk. Not a funky, James Brown funk, but a negative headspace that seems to be fuelling itself through social media and the internet. Now, when I say “fuelling itself”, I of course mean that I am fuelling it by allowing myself to dwell on the nasty behaviour, lying, and misrepresentation I see, from Twitter bullyin……(see, I almost allowed myself to dwell on something there, but pulled the nose of the plane up just in time).
Over the last few days, I’ve actively sought out some strategies to help quell those negative voices. Meditation helps (and it’s damn good for your brain). Exercise, too (and it’s damn good for your ham hocks). And surrounding yourself with trusted family and friends also does wonders.
From a professional standpoint, it’s very important to prevent the murk from entering the workflow. I could build another analogy here, but won’t because not everyone loves toilet humour as much as I do. (more…)

Like many concerned and outraged Canadians, I’ve been watching the Usage-Based Billing (UBB) development with great interest. I signed the petition. I shared stories with our uninformed friends and colleagues. I felt embarrassed, and yes, furious, that the CRTC would move in such an incredibly backward direction with regard to online access.

Today I feel a bit less aggravated as I learned that Ottawa would reverse the controversial CRTC billing decision, but I consider myself warned.

UBB would have a number of negative implications for Canadians. Many have spoken of its potential to kill innovation. To stymie web-based collaboration and the development and sharing of content. To create a dangerously tiered structure of access, with the wealthiest having the greatest access. UBB would limit access in the sectors where we are at a critical crossroads and need innovation, such as health care and education, at the expense of the profit and content monopolies that our telecoms so desperately want to preserve.  It ain’t right.

Yesterday’s hectoring, school-marmy National Post editorial in support of UBB reeked of telecom lobbyism and ignorance.

How can we push and advocate for free, open, and transparent use of the internet, when cost issues (as opposed to old thinking and ideologies) are the prohibitive factor?  Yeah, unlimited web access is great, if you can afford it.

Alistair Fairweather

And then a beloved and trusted South African Twitter contact chimed in on my frustrations. You see, UBB is the state of the internet in South Africa. She connected me with Alistair Fairweather, who is the Digital Platforms Manager for South Africa’s Mail and Guardian online. He also writes for Memeburn and News24. I was curious to explore the implications and outcomes of UBB in a place where it is part of the system, and Alistair was gracious enough to answer my questions:


How much does the average South African pay for unlimited monthly internet? Is this affordable?

In US Dollar terms, a decent (10Mb/s) “uncapped” connection will cost well over $150 per month. If you want proper broadband speeds (30Mb/s or higher) you’re looking at as much as 5 times that.

Does this constrain the average web user from accessing the media they are interested in?

Very definitely. Many South Africans scrape by on less than 1GB of usage per month. Most billing is done on a “capped” basis – ie you get a certain amount of data per month and are either cut off or pay more to use more. And, of course, you lose any data you don’t use. This means that most internet users are constantly and painfully aware of what they are doing online, and how much bandwidth it will use, for fear that they get cut off and can’t access their email on the 28th of the month.

Does UBB prevent certain types of media (video etc) from being produced and accessed?

It doesn’t prevent it per se – it just makes it much less attractive. What amateur videographer is going to pay $15 per GB to upload her 45 minute, HD wedding video to Facebook? In the States that’s not even a consideration. And of course, an aspiring local film maker can’t use the internet to access a mass audience because barely 5 million South Africans are even online.

Any implications for education? Online learning?

Definitely. Paying by the MB makes schools nervous of providing unlimited internet access, or internet access at all. The same goes for many homes – kids aren’t allowed online for fear of downloading some innocent video and using up their parents cap.

How do South Africans feel about it? Have they tried to change it?

Most of us are very angry about it. We are trying to change it, including lobbying government to open up the market, but when 70% of your country is mired in poverty, it’s quite hard to make them pay attention to something as “luxury” as internet access.

Is there a telecom monopoly?

Yes, and it sucks. Our old state monopoly – Telkom – is now a parastatal but still enjoys an effective monopoly over the “local loop” of our fixed line telephony system. They are inefficient, greedy, corrupt and idiotic. They have single-handedly stunted the growth of our entire internet industry through their stranglehold on both ADSL and our outbound peering links with the world. If I had my way I would have the lot of them horsewhipped and fired, and dissolve the entire company. Our other telecoms companies are also greedy, but at least they are progressive and intelligent.

I’d like to thank Alistair Fairweather for taking the time to share his insights on this issue.

Canadians – be warned.  Let’s hope the decision sticks.

only if you shave
Influence is the conversation of the day, my friends: who’s got it, who needs it, and what numbers such as a Klout score actually mean. We can’t resist knowing how we rate.

Technology gives us access to many more friends of friends of friends, but I’m not convinced that these linkages provide the strong and trusted connections and relationships that really lead to authentic influence. Isn’t it just simply that people like to do business (and other transactions that are just as important) with people that they like and trust? Companies would do well to map their social networks and identify these “liked” and trusted relationships (all the way down the ladder) rather than blasting meaningless messaging. Instead of diluting the true potential of the Web.

This article from Mashable on how marketing threatens the social web resonated with me this week. Read it and tell me how your organization connects, collaborates, and creates positive social action. If it does any of these things, the social network will be sufficiently “influenced” and will share your message throughout their networks. And probably to Kevin Bacon too.

The Klout Army and it’s ilk distract us (and businesses) from stepping up and making a real difference using the tools available.

From Christakis and Fowler’s Connected:
…the spread of influence in social networks obeys the Three Degrees of Influence Rule. Everything we do or say tends to ripple through our network, having an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends’ friends (two degrees), and even our friends’ friends’ friends (three degrees). Our influence gradually dissipates and ceases to have a noticeable effect on people beyond the social frontier that lies at three degrees of separation. Likewise, we are influenced by friends within three degrees but generally not by those beyond.

(BTW – it’s a GREAT book, and will be reviewed shortly in our SpaceRace 2011 Reading List.)

We can turn you off. we can hide you. Look at the fate of many of your Facebook Farmville friends, Spammy McSpammerston.
And cross-posters. I connected with you on Facebook because we have that personal thing. Maybe we made out a few times. Maybe we co-lamented under the migraine inducing fluorescent lighting of that office. Maybe we’re related.
In the social of all social networks, we tend to allow our friends a bit of leeway when it comes to promoting their businesses and interests. After all, what’s the purpose of the network platform if we all don’t compulsively share?
There is an etiquette, however, and it becomes even more important as marketing more obviously invades our precious social sites. We can’t be sure that ‘suggestions’ are organic. Look at the suggested ads that run down the side of your profile. Everything’s in public honey.

Back to etiquette.

Don’t junk up my morning scroll through Facebook with incessant tweets, hashtags, and the like. It’s like you’re throwing crumbs at me. Use Twitter to connect with the networks that bring meaning and value through that particular channel.
Use someone’s name in your status update if it refers to them. Voyeurs as we all are, we like to see what you’ve deemed share-worthy from and for someone else. If you share a link, add some context by telling us why we should care. If you can describe something in 140 characters in the hope of being retweeted, surely you can spare the time to bring some ‘so what’ to your Facebook posts.

Don’t abuse the LIKE. Creating a company page and asking everyone you know to Like it is akin to ringing my doorbell every 10 minutes, and then running away. What’s there to like? Links to content that I might find useful? A contest that will make me salivate with desire? Don’t forget that Big Brother is watching my likes – and will advertise to me accordingly. Be responsible.

Take this into consideration: a post this week from Social Web School looks at a growing trend for companies launching or re-launching on the web. An interactive, custom-designed Facebook page is emerging as the platform of choice for many brands, instead of an independently-housed site of their own. Why? Well, since it’s Facebook, you’ve got the social built in. You’ve got access to the social graph. You’ve got the usability that is now almost second nature – since most of us on the planet are already there – and Facebook’s ability to target pages based on your love of Nickelback (ugh), or root beer, or knitting.

We love (and hate, sometimes) Facebook for it’s tentacled hold on our social and digital lives. Are we ready for it’s explosion into our consumer lives? My bet is on companies who can create an experience that flows seamlessly with the social functions we already use. And then our friends can act like friends, instead of telemarketers.

Stop Throwing Poop at Me
courtesy of GregPC on
I was shown a potential affiliate site for an advertising campaign. They claim that a huge number of our “target” market visits their site every month. *cough*

I took a wander through the “community”. All of the video content came from one advertiser. There might have been 6 videos, all introducing the staff of the advertiser. All from the same company.

Hmm, I thought, why didn’t they post this on their own website?

The other content was of the extremely thinly veiled sponsored type. And to make things worse, it appeared that the publication had only managed to sell this coveted space to two or three businesses.
And to make things even worse, the content stunk. Stank?
A gigantic number of our target audience are frequent frequenters of this site? Really?
And best of all, the publication would send out an email BLAST to this audience (on our thinly veiled behalf).

I capitalized the word BLAST because that’s exactly how I view this type of spam. Like people who capitalize their online communications for effect, email blasts, in my mind, are obnoxious, abusive, and scream-y. Stop yelling, eh.

In other, related news, I unsubscribed from a whole lotta junk this week. Community initiatives that sounded good at the time, but revealed themselves to be BLASTERS of the same, boring, market-y sponsored content. Sure, they’d promised to be my “one stop shop” for resources and information, but most of them could only manage to rope together a boring, amateur list of links (back to their site, of course) with stuff I couldn’t read/open on my cursed Blackberry (always on me though, BTW) to product promotions and testimonials that the sponsoring companies had obviously paid for. Yeah, we know that customers didn’t write those.

I don’t believe that email marketing is dead. I just get a lot of it, and as an informed consumer, I’ve learned to separate the shit from the champagne. Same with “community” websites that are really little more than a community of desperate advertisers. For parents, for athletes, for readers, for teachers, for rich stay-at-home Pilates mums, for web designers. When someone trusts you with their email address, you must take that trust and vow to not throw poop at them. Step up your content, people, or don’t be surprised when the punters run, en masse, holding their noses.

To end on a positive note – I came across some excellent content-based campaigns this week. Here they are:

Hunter Shoots A Bear, NSFW from the makers of Tippex.

How to Build Your Workday around Focus from the fine folks at Lifehacker. Yep, they’re helping sell a book, but the content is juicy and fresh-smelling.

How to Leverage Social Media for PR Success from Hubspot, who are selling their service, but always give great content.


The full report is ready for download. So are other local government action resources.