Tag Archive: Content


Color Commentary

 You need to understand basic color theory.  Period.  It is just that simple. 

One exception: if you are legally color blind, maintain a closet full of Garanimals, have no plans to paint any part of your house, have turned over all decorating responsibilities to a significant other and will never be required to create a chart, graph, illustration, presentation, document, video, web page or any other visual form involving color…then you get a pass.

But everyone else needs to understand basic color theory.

Why? For the same reason you need to be able to speak, read and write. Color communicates. It has meaning. It evokes emotion. It triggers reaction. It conveys feeling. It adds depth. And if you don’t understand how colors complement, contrast and interact, you are functioning with a very limited visual vocabulary.

Don’t undermine your ability to communicate with the world.  Learn about color theory.

Toll Free

Twenty years ago I called a girl 225 miles away and talked for 12 minutes. It cost my parents $3.42 (that’s $5.71 today after adjusting for inflation). That was the cost of connecting with someone beyond shouting distance. And my desire to interact caused me to willingly accept the charges.

Now I could video conference with her via iChat or Skype for free.

Fifteen years ago I submitted my demo reel to 30+ post-production houses in the Midwest. It cost me more than $200 (roughly $285 today) in duplication charges, VHS tapes and postage. That was the cost of distributing unique content to a targeted audience. And my desire to promote my talents caused me to willingly accept the charges.

Now I could post it to YouTube or Vimeo for free.

Ten years ago I purchased a 40GB external firewire hard drive to back up my PowerMac G4. It cost me $329 (roughly $417 today). That was the cost of protecting my digital property. And my desire to insure against potential data loss caused me to willingly accept the charges.

Now I could archive those files to ADrive.com for free.

Establish a connection to the Internet and you are empowered to connect, share, publish, distribute, promote, archive and collaborate with millions of others at no additional charge. This is breaking news to no one…yet I continue to be amazed by it.

¢ontent vs. ACCE$$

Clay Shirky on our willingness to pay for content in the digital age:

People will pay for content if it is necessary, irreplaceable, and unshareable. Businesses excited about the first five words of that sentence don’t understand how constraining the next seven are.

I agree with Clay. Never met the man, but based on his books and numerous talks he seems a pretty smart fellow. So let’s assume he’s right, that more often than not people won’t pay for content. Especially if it can be digitized (i.e., words, music, photos, videos, etc.), which makes it easily duplicated and highly shareable. How can a modern day digital content creator make a living under such conditions?

Simple. Don’t sell content, sell access.

If you fail to see the distinction, consider a few examples:

Case study #1: Adam Carolla. His primary content is delivered via daily, one-hour podcasts available for free via direct download, RSS or iTunes. He also maintains a website that provides additional photos and videos. All available free of charge. But fans have to pay to access him live and in-person or for shirts with his logo. And advertisers have to pay to access his fan base, either via his website or podcast. And if NBC wants access to him full-time for a sitcom, they’ll have to pay for that as well.

Case study #2: Seth Godin. His primary content is delivered via daily blog posts, available for free via his website or RSS feed.  Seth also publishes eBooks and does audio and video interviews for other blog sites to promote his ideas and marketing concepts. All this is made available free of charge. But to access him live and in-person, fans must pay. If organizations want him to speak at their event, they must pay for access to his time. And if a publisher wants exclusive access to his next big idea, there is a fee for that as well.

Case study #3: OK Go. Their primary content—music—is delivered via numerous channels. Fans can stream OK Go’s entire library of songs for free via their website. Fans can also view music videos on their website or via YouTube. True fans can download the raw footage elements of their latest music video to remix and create their own custom composition. All this, as well as photos, blog posts and a community forum, is made available free of charge. But to access the band’s music directly from an iPod, fans need to pay. To access a live performance of their music in-person or to wear their branded merchandise, fans need to pay. And to access their fan base and brand, State Farm paid to sponsor their recent music video.

See the difference? It’s a simple business model: give away 99% of your content for free (see Chris Anderson: Free!) to attract a following (see Seth Godin: Tribes), then generate revenue by charging for access to…

…the remaining 1% of your content (see Fred Wilson: Freemium);
…your fans (see Darren Rowse: Make Money); and/or
…yourself (see Tom Peters: Brand You).

So if you are a digital content creator (writer, illustrator, filmmaker, motion graphic artist, 3D animator, musician, photographer, etc.) you can either venture on your own or go to work for someone else.  Although working under someone’s employment can provide numerous benefits—such as security, stability, consistency and structure—many creatives will prefer the freedom, autonomy and control enabled by a freelance approach. Thus, if you decide to go it alone you will need to follow these 10 steps:

  1. Create cool, original and remarkable content. If you get stuck here, don’t fret—most people do. It’s a significant barrier to entry. It’s difficult. It’s hard work. It’s understandable. And most people never get past it. So either push your way through, find a partner or go to work for someone else.
  2. Promote and share the content for free. Don’t worry about copyrights, patents, trademarks, contracts, compensation or useless forms of protection—it is a waste of valuable time and energy. Instead, get it out there (blog, podcast, ebook, videos on YouTube, etc.) and promote it. Everywhere. Use your network. Leverage any and all contacts. And if you get a positive response, go to step #3.  If not, go back to step #1 and make the content better, switch to a different subject matter or quit trying and go to work for someone else.
  3. Create more content. Lots of it. Work hard to make it cool, original and remarkable. But don’t let the pursuit of perfection keep you from shipping content out the door. At this point you are much better off quickly producing 10 really good pieces than working painstakingly on one masterpiece. Plus, you ultimately don’t get to decide what is bad, good or great; that is the job of your fans. Just keep producing content. If that troubles you, quit and go to work for someone else.
  4. Build a fan base by promoting and sharing the content for free. There is no hard science here. No doors to break down. No secret sauce or magical formula. If your content resonates, it will draw a crowd asking for more. So don’t bother waiting around for it to “take off”. If the content doesn’t attract a following, then go back to step #3 and make it better, switch to a different subject matter or quit trying and go to work for someone else.
  5. Create more content. Lots of it. Start building an inventory. You’ll need it. To do this, you will likely have to work harder, faster and longer than before. If this proves to be a substantial problem, quit and go to work for someone else.
  6. Grow and identify your true fans by continuing to promote and share the content for free. Enable fans to connect, interact and recruit others on your behalf. IMPORTANT: You must maintain a consistent flow of content relative to other providers. If it isn’t consistent, your fans will go somewhere else and quickly forget you. Therefore, if you can’t keep a steady flow of content going, partner up with other content creators to achieve scale and provide a steady stream of content. If you aren’t up to the task of feeding your fan base, quit or sell out and go to work for someone else.
  7. Start diversifying. If you began with an ebook, start a blog. If you began with blog, add videos. If you began with videos, launch a podcast. But do not—repeat DO NOT—allow the new content to detract from the original form. If your fans are used to a steady diet of blog posts, you need to keep feeding them blog posts. If they came to know you via YouTube, you need to keep a presence on YouTube. You must continue to create, promote and share your content in its original form, add to your inventory and grow your fan base. If you’re too tired or emotionally spent to do so, quit or sell out and go to work for someone else.
  8. Leverage your true fans. Use them to promote and share your content for free to further grow your audience. Make it easy for them to recruit other fans. Give them opportunities to interact with you on a closer level. Empower them to mashup and/or create content themselves. Resist the temptation to make specific requests, as it will stifle creativity and undermine their passion. Instead simply ask for help and welcome any and all ideas. Your fans don’t expect every item or proposal to be implemented, just merely considered. If you are unwilling to embrace you true fans in this manner, quit or sell out and go to work for someone else.
  9. Monetize. You can charge for access to your content, but heed Clay Shirky’s advice and evaluate “if it is necessary, irreplaceable and unshareable.” If it fails to pass this test, you are probably better off keeping it free. You can charge for access to your fans (advertising, referrals, etc.), but be careful as it could alienate and send them off in search of replacement content.  You can charge for access to your brand (affiliation, stamp of approval, endorsement and/or physical goods, such as swag, shirts, hats, etc.), an option that is usually harmless and relatively inexpensive. And finally, you can charge for access to you personally (consulting, appearances, conferences, speaking engagements, etc.), keeping in mind that such opportunities will take time away from content development. Whatever combination you settle on, you must continue to create, promote and share your content in its original and diversified form, add to your inventory, connect with true fans.
  10. Decide. Go bigger, maintain, sell out or quit. While you certainly could go to work for someone else, if you get this far odds are you won’t want to.

You do not have to follow this exact order to achieve success, but I contend the sequence of events would be pretty close to what I’ve outlined above. Create content, give it away, attract a following and charge for access to all things non-digital—especially yourself.

Orwellian Influence

Image from Michael Radford's 1984

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, members of the Party in Oceania are required to view a short film each day on the telescreen. The propaganda presented enemies of the Party and encouraged viewers to shout their disgust and contempt at the screen. The ritual was known as the Two Minutes Hate and is described by Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, in the first chapter:

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.

The Party used Two Minutes Hate as a control mechanism, a means to channel Oceania citizens’ repressed feelings of angst and contempt from living under a totalitarian regime towards its enemies. It also removed viewers’ sense of individuality, preventing them from thinking on their own and instead aligning with the thoughts and feelings of Big Brother.

Thankfully, we are far from the dystopian society depicted by Orwell. But is it possible that a daily ritual—even one limited to two minutes in duration—could influence an individual’s thinking and behavior?

We seem to believe so.

There are 200,000+ web pages offering a “daily dose” of something. There are more than 1,900 “daily devotional” books available from Amazon. There are numerous daily podcast feeds available via iTunes and an abundance of documentation on the daily habits of preeminent thinkers and leaders.

Clearly we have embraced the notion of a daily ritual—whether it be for comfort, motivation, organization, inspiration, appreciation or enlightenment. For some, the establishment of a routine helps provide direction, order and purpose. For others, a daily ritual helps provide clarity, focus and peace. Regardless of the reason, if it yields benefits we will likely continue the practice and extoll its virtues to everyone else in our network.

Hence why content producers—especially those dependent on advertising dollars—want to become one of your daily rituals. USA Today wants you to start the morning with one of their papers, while the Huffington Post would prefer you check the latest news via their website. Facebook would like you to spend your lunch hour with them, although Digg thinks you would be better served visiting their homepage instead. On your way home the local talk radio station hopes you tune in, but recognizes you may opt for a daily podcast on your iPhone. CBS wants you to end each night with David Letterman, while NBC would rather you fall asleep after Jay Leno and the Tonight Show.

While the list of available content options is endless, the producers all want the same thing: to become part of your routine. Because that provides them a predictable, consistent, repeated opportunity to try and influence your thinking and behavior.

Sounds a lot like Two Minutes Hate. Fortunately it’s not.

Unlike Orwell’s fictitious society, making someone else’s content part of your routine is entirely your discretion. You can opt in and opt out at any time and are under no obligation to react or respond in any way. Essentially, you get to pick “The Party” whose content proves most suitable to your wants and needs.

And I believe there is an audience eager to make the content of 2MinuteGenius a part of their routine.

2 Minutes

You can accomplish a lot in two minutes…

When used wisely, two minutes is a lot of time.

Communication

Someone recently asked what undergraduate studies in Communication taught me. After a brief pause and moment of reflection (since 15 years have passed), I offered up the following four pearls of wisdom…

#1 – You are always communicating. From birth until death, you are constantly communicating with the world. And the world is interpreting and processing more information than you are intentionally transmitting:

• Shouting communicates, as does silence.
• Hand gestures communicate, as does sitting still.
• Eye contact communicates, as does looking away.

    In short, you cannot not communicate because no communication is a form of communication (you might need to read that again, but you’ll get the point).

    For example, a friend recently commented he “no longer communicates” with one of his siblings. But this is in fact a very strong form of ongoing communication. What message is sent when his birthday passes without receiving a phone call? Or when Christmas comes and goes without a card? Or when he becomes an uncle and hears about it second-hand? You may not be actively transmitting, but radio silence sends a message as well.

    #2 – Delivery matters. How you package and deliver the content of your message affects the message itself. Case in point, if the content is “I love you”, does the message remain the same when it is delivered…

    …in a face-to-face conversation?
    …over the phone?
    …in a text message?
    …on a billboard?

    Maybe, maybe not. But how the content is received will certainly be considered, and that enables your message to be interpreted differently than how it was intended.

    #3 – Context matters. How you deliver content makes a difference, but so does when and where you deliver it. Imagine someone nudges your side and states “Look, that guy is sweating buckets!” What is the intended meaning of the message if the man brought to your attention is…

    …playing basketball while you sit in the stands?
    …speaking on stage while you sit in the audience?
    …eating a bowl of chili while you sit at an adjacent table?

    The content is essentially the same, but the context—when and where the message is received—drastically changes your interpretation.

    #4 – All messages are subject to noise. There are numerous things that can interfere with the reception of your intended message. Sometimes you know about it and try to compensate (shouting in a packed stadium or signaling with hand gestures on the dance floor), and other times you are oblivious to it (wishing “Merry Christmas” to someone who, unbeknownst to you, is Jewish). Bottom line, effective communication often depends on your ability to account for noise between you and your audience.

    Admittedly, an undergraduate degree in Communications is not required to grasp these concepts. Through everyday experience we come to understand these four aspects of communication and we do our best to apply this knowledge in our daily communications with others.  We focus on the content of our message and whenever possible give consideration to how, when and where it is received.

    But now in the information age, we push content out to our audience with little concern for anything else, largely because it is often beyond our control. Case in point, I control the words of this blog post but have willingly given up power over how you receive it (RSS feed, email, internet browser, iPhone, iPad, etc.), when you receive it (morning, night, today, three weeks from now, etc.) and where you receive it (work, home, airport, restaurant, waiting room, etc.). In addition, I can do nothing to account for possible noise (poor word choice, distracting environment, your emotional state, etc.) that might interfere with my intended message.

    And so when it comes to digital communication—the proposed medium for 2MinuteGenius.com— the challenge is creating content strong enough to overpower everything else that contributes to the message.  In essence, I need to make sure there is amazing stuff inside the bottle before throwing it into the vast ocean of information.

    Sounds easy enough.

    The Next Big Book

    As long as the centuries continue to unfold, the number of books will grow continually, and one can predict that a time will come when it will be almost as difficult to learn anything from books as from the direct study of the whole universe.  It will be almost as convenient to search for some bit of truth concealed in nature as it will be to find it hidden away in an immense multitude of bound volumes.

    –Denis Diderot, “Encyclopédie” (1755)

    Books are really an archaic form of information distribution when you consider:

    • The average non-fiction book is 300 pages in length.
    • Most publishers utilize 11 point Palatino font, which yields about 300 words to a page.
    • The average human can read roughly 300 words per minute.

    This means the typical reader requires roughly 5 hours to digest a non-fiction book cover to cover. That’s a considerable investment given the numerous competing interests and limited discretionary time we afford ourselves.  One would think the advent of new technologies—radio, film, video and the Internet—that have enabled faster, more efficient means of information transmission would have killed the medium.  But the book has not only survived, it has thrived, with the amount of information provided via books growing exponentially:

    • In 2007, U.S. publishers released 276,649 new titles, a 34 percent increase from 2005.
    • On-demand publishers released an additional 134,773 titles; an increase of 39 percent over prior year.

    However I believe change is coming, as Adam Penenberg asserted in a December 2009 Fast Company article:

    Instead of stagnant words on a page we will layer video throughout the text, add photos, hyperlink material, engage social networks of readers who will add their own videos, photos, and wikified information so that these multimedia books become living, breathing, works of art.

    So what is holding up this revolution? It’s not technology. Nor is it cost efficiencies. And it’s certainly not a lack of content.

    It’s collaboration.

    The multitude of disciplines required to create the integrated, single interface experience that Penenberg describes is beyond the capacity of an individual author. To produce such a work requires the collective talents of many individuals, the type of a coordinated effort that currently takes place in film and television production.

    The conditions are ripe for a well-known, best-selling non-fiction author to step up and produce something extraordinary with their next book.  To stand out not only for the content but for the way it is delivered.  To blaze a trail and raise the bar for an immersive reading experience. But it will require an unprecedented level of collaboration with others (illustrators, musicians, motion graphic artists, photographers, video editors, etc.) and a willingness to share the credit, recognition and rewards.

    I propose to do something similar with 2MinuteGenius.com.  And while I am not well-known or best-selling, I am willing to give all the credit to those who decide to collaborate with me. Time will tell if that is enough.

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