Monthly Archives: March 2006

Google Testing New Ads

Google is testing a new ad format associated with it’s Google Maps service, as pointed out by the Search Engine Round Table. If you do a geographic search, little icons will show up on the map that identify advertisers close to your search location. For example, if you search "hotels san francisco" you’ll find a small icon with a bed near all of the generic pushpins. Click on the icon, and you see a "Sponsored Link" from the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Do a search on "booksellers nyc" and you’ll find an icon for a coffee shop, sponsored by Barnes and Noble. I did a little searching around on other cities and business types, and couldn’t find anything else, so it must be pretty early in the rollout.

Take Me Out to the Small Game

I’m going a little far afield today. Stay with me, it’ll come full circle.

I’ve been following the recent revival of the Barry Bonds doping scandal with the release of the investigative book "Out of the Shadows". I’m one of those Giants fans who’s been in denial. I watched with incredible fascination as Bonds kept dominating the plate and sending the ball into the stratosphere like a vision from every little leaguer’s dreams. It was magical. And it wasn’t too hard to write off the accusations of doping as the whining of detractors.

Now, the evidence is too overwhelming to dismiss, and I wonder how I could have ignored the obvious for so long. I mean, come on, an aging athlete becomes a hulk overnight and pops his batting average to record heights? What kind of collective fantasy are we all living that we refuse to confront such obvious red flags? Where was the mainstream sports media? Where was Major League Baseball? And more to the point, where are they now?

This year, I’m really torn about taking my 5-year-old son to see the Giants. I know he’s not old enough to understand a scandal, and he’ll bask in the atmosphere of a Saturday game at the park. But I’ll be stewing in the knowledge that it’s just another cynical industry that looks the other way when tickets are being sold.

And here is where this comes full circle. As crazy as this may sound, it seems to me that Bonds is a metaphor for the worst in Capitalism. The short term gain is relentlessly pursued even in the face of long-term loss. Bonds gave us a few seasons of magic. And now there will be a long and painful hangover. We may have bought a lot of tickets then, but how many people will be disillusioned this season and look somewhere else for inspiration? How many people will never look at baseball the same again? And how many people will start to doubt other heroes? Lance Armstrong, anyone? Too good to be true?

I sat with my son last weekend in the bleachers at a local high school game, and after a few minutes soaking up the atmosphere of a small local game, I started wondering if any of those high school kids were using steroids, or how long it would be before they would be tempted. I feel like I’ve lost something of value–not just an experience of something magical, but a belief that the magical is real, that it’s possible. That’s now replaced with a sense of cynicism and disgust. And you can bet there’s a real dollar value to that feeling, especially when it’s aggregated over a mass market.

So. Was it worth it? How will the balance sheet for Baseball look after this scandal finally settles? Think about it. Beyond the disillusionment and disgust, Baseball, and most sports for that matter, have cultivated an unsustainable appetite for super human feats. Without chemically enhanced super athletes to make it all so exciting, what segment of the commercial fan base will wander away, bored by the banalities of a normal season?

Why does this look so much like a metaphor for business to me? I believe in the strengths of Capitalism, but watching what’s happening in the confluence of Big business, politics and entertainment–how everything is so relentlessly short-sighted, mindlessly selfish, and cynically amoral–I can’t help wondering what, beyond the bottom line damage, we’re losing with each new scandal. What new hope will be replaced by cynicism and disgust? And in the end, what faith will we have left to invest in achieving the impossible?

Before you go off and slit your wrists, let me say that I’m not a cynic. I don’t believe all is lost. I just think we’re deluded in believing that reform will come from the government, from business, from Hollywood (no, not even George Clooney), or from religion. Change in our business culture is only going to come from the fringes, from the individuals and the small businesses that will grow larger by doing things different, and by investment from people who want to see those changes succeed.

My big burning question for the day–and I invite comments so I can see some examples–is what businesses or institutions do you have faith in today? Who’s doing something right that we should all know more about?

Who’s Afraid of the Dark(net)?

If you haven’t been following the bubbling unrest over Digital Rights Management, now may be the time to tune in. The wrangling over how technology impacts copyright and fair use is picking up momentum on the edge of mainstream, and some interesting Web sites and undergrounds have emerged that are a good reminder of what creativity is all about. 

<Rant> Creativity is a social currency. It’s about reflection and inflection. Exploring and connecting through something deeply felt as a way of experiencing the present. Humor. Fear. Regret…. The capacity for creativity to transmit emotion, to inspire, to generate shared experience, is more powerful than any manufactured currency.  Which is why we use creativity in business as a vehicle to generate revenue. We use it in marketing, we use it in product development, and we use it most of all in entertainment. But Creativity has very short shelf life as a business currency. Business wants to be efficient, to strip away anything unnecessary, anything that isn’t calculated. Even businesses that code creativity into the DNA of their operations usually can’t avoid stifling it in some vital way, because ultimately the purpose of business is not to inspire, even if inspiration is an expedient tool.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in an industry of creativity. Movies. Radio. Television. It’s become a cliché to moan over the lack of creativity in entertainment today, even as we anxiously await another blockbuster summer with the likes of Scooby Doo 3, and a big screen version of Leave It To Beaver. Why is creativity so lacking where we expect to find it most? Because the structure that allowed the entertainment industry to profit even while it inspired–or that enabled it to inspire even while it profited–has changed. We can copy and share files. We can have 54" screens in our living room with high definition DVDs and video games. We can hang out on the Internet instead of watching TV. From a business standpoint, it’s chaos. New technology. New attitudes. How do you handle chaos in business? You either maximize your effectiveness at doing what you know best, or embrace change and move in a new direction. The relative risk is open to perception, but most businesses like to avoid change.

So now we have a media industry that is very poorly suited to adaptability. They’re using whatever tools and weapons they can find to prevent change, and to retain revenue–one of the biggest being copyright law. We have a record industry suing it’s customers. And now a movie industry threatening the same. At this point, at least in the entertainment business, industry is no longer serving creativity, and creativity is no longer serving industry. It’s a broken relationship that is no longer satisfying to anyone. People feel cheated by the quality of movies and records they buy, and the industries start losing revenue. Industry reacts with ever more draconian restrictions on how people can use content, and people react by finding new ways to get around the restrictions. Because ultimately, people don’t care if the industry is making money. They want to explore and connect through something deeply felt as a way of experiencing the present. They want to share that, and be part of a shared experience. If businesses can make money while that’s happening, no one cares. But businesses get in the way of it happening, they’ll ultimately lose. Because creativity is a social currency far more powerful than anything manufactured. </rant>

This pill will take you take you back where you came from, and you’ll forget everything.

This pill may lead to places you don’t expect.