Category Archives: Visualization

True or false: It takes a network

Last week I suggested that the top-down style of Senator Clinton’s primary campaign may have hindered her effectiveness in competing against Obama’s more networked approach. I wrote that this may be a sign of a new type of leadership — possibly one that can use burgeoning digital networks to lead us out of the dark, scary, physically isolating forest of modern digital life.

This forest is exemplified by the findings in the book Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam. It is also placed into stark contrast by Senator Clinton’s ideal, as outlined in her book, It Takes a Village. The subtext in the African phrase “It takes a village to raise a child” is that no one or two people can raise a well-balanced and fully engaged citizen. At the very least, the task requires an extended family. Ideally there is a whole community at work.

The fear that a network cannot replace a village is — I think — a major source of anxiety about our newly wired world.

Of Televisions and Suburbs

Some would say Putnam (in Bowling Alone) didn’t chart the trend toward physical sprawl and fragmentation far enough. If he had, he might have found its earlier origins. He seems to place the apogee of American social capital somewhere between the administrations of FDR and Jimmy Carter. Before and after that, according to Putnam’s statistics, are the steep sides of a bell curve.

But looked at farther back, this bell might possibly be a blip.

If you look at its root causes, community disintegration might have actually started (silently, unmeasured), much closer to the time of Abe Lincoln. Consider the first game-changing technologies our young country was handed: The steam locomotive and the telegraph.

At the time, they were of huge significance. And these technologies were just the first gateway drugs for our current wanderlust.

After we gained the ability to settle across this country, our urge to strike out was further abetted by the automobile, and then the passenger jet. Nuclear families — and the neighborhoods supporting them — both suffered, as we were granted license by technology. Each successive device seemed to give us further permission to gather in smaller groups, and watch over narrower concerns.

So don’t be quick to heap all of the blame on what is, after all, merely the newest shady character in the police line-up. Networks and portable digital communication are the least familiar technologies, and therefore the most scary. But many others before them have been implicated in our decline. For example, before the web there was the “vast wasteland” of television.

Networks: A Cause Or Effect?

It may even be that networks can be a big part of “the way out of the forest.” Something has been telling me that the situation is more complicated than a steady march toward alienatation. I’m not the first to post these arguments. In his 2007 paper, David Koepsell suggests the following:

The web could well be, and in many ways still is, a highly alienating technology, encouraging a one-to-one relationship with a machine that even TV does not encourage. That is to say, television can be watched in groups, and often is, leading to a form of community interaction that the web typically does not.

However, the emergence of social networking through the web has brought about new methods for otherwise alienated and occasionally isolated people to overcome that isolation, to build new modes of affiliation, and form new communities in both virtual and physical spaces.

Koepsell suggests that no technology is embraced unless it meets some fundamental human needs. But do the latest technologies go far enough to begin restoring some of our society’s waning social capital?

My money is on Yes. But it is hard to see how this will happen, because we have lived with this type of networked world for so little time. Although it’s possible society has a terminal illness that no amount of networked leadership can reverse, it’s equally possible in my mind that our diminished social capital is a symptom of growing pains.

Could it be that, as a society, we’re just at that awkward age?

A Study of Semantics

Rereading this entry, I see the metaphors come hot and heavy. That’s not surprising. And it’s important to understand how desperate we all are for something to grab onto (yes, another metaphor!).

I’m reminded of something Al Gore said, when he was being interviewed on a chartered jet during his 2000 Presidential run. He was talking about his love of learning, and the courses he had recently taken on a number of important topics. When he was asked what he would likely pursue next, given everything a potential president should know, he said semantics.

Gore went on to say that technology and society are changing so fast, our language is straining to keep up. Here’s an excerpt, from the July 31, 2000, New Yorker article:

“Often the word ‘metaphor’ is simply a shorthand description for a very common, run-of-the-mill intellectual tool that all of us use.

“I became interested in more complex metaphors and their explanatory power when I was writing Earth in the Balance. In particular, in my effort to try to understand the origins of our modern world view, and its curious reliance on specialization and ever-narrower slices of the world around us into categories that are then themselves dissected, in an ongoing process of separation, into parts and subparts — a process that sometimes obliterates the connection to the whole and the appreciation for context and the deeper meanings that can’t really be found in the atomized parts of the whole — and in exploring the roots of that way of looking at the world, I found a lot of metaphors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that came directly from the scientific revolution into the world of politics and culture and sociology. And many of those metaphors are still with us.”

Such as?

“The clockwork universe. The idea that all the world is a machine of moving parts that will eventually be completely understood by means of looking carefully at all the different gears and cogs in the wheels and then …” He trailed off; he seemed to be searching for an exact phrase, and as he did this he turned his head in profile, squeezed his eyes shut, and made a pointing gesture with his hand. Then, when the words came, he turned his head back to me and smiled engagingly. “When I compared the absolute number of new scientific insights that came in the first flush of the scientific revolution to the incredible flood of scientific insights that now pour out of every single discipline, every single day, it’s astonishing. There’s no comparison. And yet the migration of those explanatory metaphors, from the narrow niches of science into the broader public dialogue about how we live our lives and how we understand the human experience and how we can better solve the social problems that become more pressing with each passing decade — that migration is, has been, reduced to the barest trickle.”

Gore seems to be saying here that we need fresh metaphors to properly share and debate developments in this new, digital landscape. We need to build a new linguistic toolkit — especially to deal with a world that is, on its surface, purely conceptual.

I agree.

If we can keep talking — and especially if we seek to understand — we’ll be on our way to a better world. I frankly don’t see an alternative. So as unworthy as I am to contribute, I’m glad that in a small way I can add to the dialog.

I’m certainly no expert in such matters. So I polled several who were as I prepared this set of posts. My favorite feedback came from youth and technology authority danah boyd, in a brief but much-appreciated email. To my concerns about our trajectory deeper into a “bowling alone world,” she provided some qualified reassurances (and a little research guidance).

What are your thoughts on this important matter? How are you taking action as an individual to create new and sustainable communities?

True networked leadership builds communities that change the world

There is change afoot at Change.org. This is a blogging site / portal that I’ve watched with great interest since I first decided to research the health of Community in this digital era. Change.org has a bold name and a mission to match. That’s a lot of pressure. So a few weeks ago, the organization announced the hiring of a new associate editor, Joshua Levy.

Levy will lead — for lack of a better word — dozens of bloggers who can pool their knowledge and opinions to inspire and facilitate change. Says a Wired piece on the hire (the link is immediately above), “The project [asks] a large number of busy people to contribute small chunks of time to volunteer — just as Wikipedia does.” I found the announcement heartening because it implied a new type of leadership.

Change.org

That announcement coincided with Barack Obama achieving presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee status, a development that some say signals the death of top-down leadership in national political campaigns. Senator Obama’s campaign followed a horizontal, networked organization, while Senator Clinton’s used a more traditional hierarchical leadership style.

Both developments — as signs of a greater tend — give me hope.

Networked Leadership

Call me an optimist. When I was in my 20s, one of my favorite magazines was Utne Reader. Often called the Reader’s Digest of the alternative press, the Utne not only reported on positive social change but devoted precious resources to encouraging it. Significantly, it reported on the digital revolution, but also took a leadership position in exploring how networks can be used to revolutionize both print and activism. The publication’s prized, four-character (UTNE.com) domain name length is evidence of their early and enthusiastic arrival to the web.

The Utne also recognized the problems that Robert Putnam wrote about in Bowling Alone (the title comes from his observation that nearly every form of civic organization has fallen in membership and participation — whereas more people are bowling than 40 years ago, fewer are bowling in leagues).

The magazine’s response was to encourage neighborhood salons, constructed around the then-burgeoning communitarian movement. Utne realized that our nation’s social capital was shrinking, and attempted a crude (and alas, unsustainable) mail-and-fax infrastructure to support these grassroots salons.

I’m an optimist, but experience has taught me to temper it with realism.

Take the experience of watching the Utne-driven salon movement wither and die. Of course, this was before everyone and his brother seems to have clamored online. Perhaps a “real” network will provide the instant connections (not hindered by the U.S. Postal Mail) that were lacking two decades ago. Evidence of this is the vitality of sites like Change.org, and other online social networks that strive to do more with its membership than exchange banalities and wage Mob Warfare.

Exploring The Social Power of Networks

Earlier this month The Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) held its annual conference. Speakers debated, described and otherwise explored an aspect of a community voice that the PDF’s manifesto asserts is growing. Here is an excerpt of that manifesto (emphasis is at the end is mine):

Democracy in America is changing.

A new force, rooted in new tools and practices built on and around the Internet, is rising alongside the old system of capital-intensive broadcast politics.

Today, for almost no money, anyone can be a reporter, a community organizer, an ad-maker, a publisher, a money-raiser, or a leader.

If what they have to say is compelling, it will spread.

The cost of finding like-minded souls, banding together, and speaking to the powerful has dropped to almost zero.

Networked voices are reviving the civic conversation.

By some measures PDF is correct. New York Times editorial writer Nicholas Kristof, in his opinion piece Saving the World in Study Hall, provides some impressive anecdotal evidence that there is hope for us in the Millennial generation (those who were born in the 1980s and ’90s). And I do not doubt that there are individuals and small groups doing amazing things to make this world a better place.

But can this be “scaled?”

There’s a lot of work to be done, and my concern is online efforts are too little and too late.

Also, can this work be quantified, in the same, nearly irrefutable way that Bowling Alone quantified social capital’s depressing decline?

I’d welcome your thoughts.

In the meantime, I do think I have an answer for Bernard Sifry, father of PDF conference co-chair Micah Sifry. His parting question at the event: “How do we build leadership on the internet?” You find leaders who follow Lao Tzu’s advice in his famous Tao Te Ching:

The greatest leaders are never seen, their presence is never felt
Lesser rulers are loved and praised
Lesser still are hated, and obeyed through fear
And the least are despised and ignored

If you would lead people, trust them to do the right thing
When a leader accomplishes something using the tao
He steps back, moves on to something else
And lets the people praise themselves

Multi-touch screen tables interact with casino patrons

Since Jeff Han first presented multi-touch screen technology, there has been a great deal of speculation on which industry would be first to make use of it. The industry first to reap profits from another breakthrough technology — personal video players — was not surprising “adult entertainment.” But manipulating images on a cool glass monitor is hardly conducive to this, er, prurient interest. Allow another vice, or maybe two, to step in and fill the void.

Of course! Drinking. And eventually, gambling.

Thank you Mike Luedke, of Dinefly fame, for tipping me off to this extraordinary application of Microsoft Surface technology. As this report explains:

The six rectangular tables with built-in 30-inch flat screens using Microsoft Surface technology were installed in a lounge at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, with custom applications built for Harrah’s.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft said the units sold for a base price of $10,000.

A program called Mixologists lets patrons play bartender by creating and ordering concoctions of whatever cocktails and mixers they click on. The system is able to remember users’ drink orders and, one day, may be able to offer customers the same drink at other Harrah’s locations, such as when they play a slot machine.

Another program lets users watch YouTube videos, either by searching or choosing from a list of popular videos. Harrah’s officials said they reached a licensing deal with YouTube on Wednesday.

The table also includes a program called Flirt, which lets customers sitting at any such table in the lounge see and chat with each other, take and e-mail pictures and even trade cell phone numbers.

Okay, so maybe there is a tie-in to prurient interests. Or at least hooking up. Regardless, this is a brilliant application from Harrah’s, a group that has already shown its mastery in customer relationship marketing.

I’ll be curious, when my parents next travel to Vegas, to see if these tables will suck them in. They are long-standing members of Harrah’s Club. I hope they do. I would love to see how data from interactions with these bar tables are used to further improve their experiences at the casinos and beyond.

Speaking of my parents, Have a great Father’s Day weekend, dad!

June is Online Community Month

The headline says it all. On my blog, June is Online Community Month. It is so decreed. And mind you, by community, I don’t mean a particular type of web site, such as the myriad online “communities” described by forums, chat rooms and other real community metaphors. I mean real communities — that raise kids and pay taxes and send loved ones off to war — that are strengthened and propagated by online activity (maybe). In a phrase, I’m talking about computer mediated Community, with a capital C.

Friends vs. “Friends”

This may seem like splitting hairs, this online Communities versus communities business. But it is huge. It is as different a distinction as a friend is to a “friend” — one forged on Facebook (or some other social network) with the click of a mouse and the exchange of some level of web access.

My decision to devote a series of blog entries to the topic started in the Fall of last year. Ever the optimist, I had assumed that technology was the friend of community — as scary as it sometimes appears to parents of the young and keepers of the status quo. I was planning to research the topic to succinctly lay out of the facts to this view. Then I did some digging, and a lot of reading and discussing, and now I’m not so sure. Sometimes Chicken Little is right, and the sky really is falling.

I will be looking, in this U.S. election year, at political involvement online. And also the involvement of grassroots organizations. And even professional associations. I’ll be getting the help of experts where I can, and readers who are willing to provide their two cents.

Bowling Alone

I’ll also be helped by an extraordinary book that predates Web 2.0, but still has great value, from the perspective of recent history. It will also be used to fairly distribute blame, where blame is due, to technology other than modern, web-enabled networking. I’m talking about the book Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam. The title comes from the phenomenon of an era that seems distant now, when we as a society bowled in leagues together, usually after work. The disintegration of this community-building ritual, along with others great and small, is exhaustively examined.

I’ll be sharing observations and statistics from the book throughout the month, as I look at this question: Has technology eroded our social fabric, or simply provided a new way to weave it?

I’ll start today with this factoid from the book — one that examines the communication technology that scared our parents the way the web does this generation’s. I’m talking about the technology that Newton Minow is 1961 called the “vast wasteland.” His famous speech used that term to describe the specific social decay that comes from a day of television:

When television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there for a day without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you — and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

The One-fingered Salute

Bowling Alone talks about the technology of television a lot, asking if there is evidence that a society glued behind a set is more prone to ignoring the niceties that keep a community civil. Below is one interesting finding that the author used to show that it does.

It compares two self-reported activities: Participating in altruistic community events and flipping the bird to passing motorists. Here is his chart, showing the reverse correlation between contributing to what he calls “social capital” and contributing to road rage. It shows a similar direct correlation between this anti-social activity and highly valuing television. Click for a larger view, fully-legible view. (Ignore the reference to “churchgoing” in the titleby the way. It refers to additional data not shown here. It was included to help those who wish to find the entire dataset in the book’s index.)

Do people who are socially involved and people who highly value television have the same impolite driving habits?

Optimists would say that these trend lines may be coincidental. Every generation has complained about the gradual coarsening of its citizens. Web-savvy optimists, such as myself, would also argue that television can degrade “connectedness” while more modern technology aids it. Keep reading this month for more perspectives on this question, to see if I am one such optimist.

Hey, Milwaukee, it’s pecha kucha! Let’s all go watch a slideshow!

The media have called pecha kucha — that unpronounceable presentation format created by two Tokyo architects — a poetry slam for designers. Except it’s not just for design folks.

Writers, photographers, and just about every other member of the creative class have devised and shown these six-minute wonders. Shown where, you ask? Over 100 cities around the world have conducted public pecha kucha nights. And this summer Milwaukee will be added to the list.

I created my first pecha kucha in October and became immediately hooked. I dare you to attend its official Milwaukee debut and not be bowled over by its power.

An audience at a recent pecha kucha event

You’ll find more details at the official site, but here are the basics:

WHEN 

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008
8pm; $10 register online or buy at door 

WHERE 

Hi Hat Garage
1701 N. Arlington Place
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 

PRESENTERS 

  • Corey Canfield | Milwaukee Recycles (Kind Of)
  • Erica Conway | How a Woman Runs a Business
  • Tom Crawford | Kaszube Ornithological Concern International
  • Peter Exley | Growing Up in a Black and White World
  • Daniel Goldin | Dead Department Stores
  • Nicolas Lampert | Meatscapes: A Travel Log
  • Faythe Levine | Craftivism & Community
  • Aaron Schleicher | The Making of a True American Record
  • Jolynn Woehrer | Unwrapping Chocolate for its (Dis) Contents:
    A Feminist Analysis of its Fetishisms and its Fair Trade
CREDITS 

Hosted by 800ceoread at The Hi Hat Garage
Promoted by 91.7 WMSE and Schwartz Bookshops
Founded by Klein Dytham architecture

Thank you Jon Mueller of 800CEOread for helping to bring this form to Milwaukee!

Two new uses of Twitter — one smart marketing, one pure fun

After Comcast’s recent embarrassment of a hilarious YouTube video documenting a cable installation worker sleeping on the job, they’ve realized that good social media management equals good reputation management. That’s my take on why they’ve hired a customer service person to monitor Twitter for consumer complaints.

It almost convinces you that Twitter is more than just a toy.

Naaaah.

Check out Twistori, a brilliant Twitter-fueled demonstration of current social zeitgeist. Perhaps this Comcast customer service person should just troll the site’s I Hate feed for mentions of his employer.

B-to-B Viral Marketing Case: Powerboat sales as a window to our current economic squall

Let’s say you’re a company that mines data in a quiet niche — one not known for analytic vigor. You’ve been doing it for years and do it wonderfully. For clients who appreciate your chops, you’re a godsend. But these clients are exceptional in the traditional retail business sector you serve.

How, how do you spread the word about your super-segmented lists and dead-on business intelligence services? Intuition says you find something to “go viral” around. But that requires some degree of topical relevance, if not outright sensationalism. How do you enliven something as dry as, say, boat purchase behavior (pun intended), to give it the life necessary to grab headlines?

The answer is what Info-Link does. They periodically publish one of the more pedestrian metrics they track: Quarterly sales in bellwether states. Below is their latest Bellwether Report, available on their site and distributed via a simple but effective opt-in email:

Info-Link Bellwether Report

You can explore various sales statistics by quarter (use the pull-down). Yes, the news is depressing. But it’s undeniably informative. And share-able. What information can your business repackage in such a way that people will want to share it?

WhoIsSick.org: A mash-up that proves misery loves company

Musical genius Tom Waits once quipped, “Everybody I like is either dead or not feeling well.” This week I took comfort in these words as I was in the throes of a terrible cold. Everyone I knew, it seemed, was either sick or succumbing. As often happens, this got me wondering how widespread the virus really was.

In the past I’ve been frustrated. Maps of everyday pandemics aren’t easily come by. But today I got an emailed link to an interesting new Google mash-up. The link was sent to me by friend and lighting designer extraordinaire Noele Stollmack (who has been begging me to mention her in my blog for months*). A bit of an amateur epidemiologist herself, she confessed in her email that WhoIsSick.org is the “first social networking site that has piqued my interest.”

Click on this image for an expanded view of the sick people in NYC in the last 60 daysNoele is actually jumping the gun a bit. It may become a social network someday, but for now it’s a promising database / mapping application showing the spread and concentration of collections of symptoms. Participation is still quite low, but I like the concept. The image at the right shows a tag cloud of the symptoms reported in the Manhattan area. If you click on the image you’ll get an expanded view that shows the NYC Google Map with the distribution of these symptoms.

How are you feeling? If the answer is not well, go to WhoIsSick and type in your ZIP code. You’ll see who else is sick in your area, and have a chance to add your malady to the mix.

Try it. It might make you feel a little better.


*Actually, Noele Stollmack finds blogs “too personal and self-indulgent” to waste her time with, which is reason enough for me to create this Google bomb that ranks high when anyone searches on the phrase noele stollmack. :-) Back atcha, Noele!

Jeff’s first Pecha Kucha

It was actually Charles Dudley Warner — and not Mark Twain as is commonly thought — who first quipped, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” Boring slideshow presentations come in a close second behind the weather for producing the most heat for the least real flame.

As I’ve noted here before, Edward Tufte is that rare exception. He’s written extensively on alternatives to the presentation status quo.

On the other hand, the inventors of Pecha Kucha tell the press that they have no goal more lofty than putting butts in seats at their Tokyo performance space. But I really think they’re onto something.

[youtube C_5l6hXwzUo]

As I mentioned a few days ago, I presented my first Pecha Kucha on Saturday, to support the discussion of a new web metric called the Content Interest Index. Today you can find it posted on YouTube (embedded above), to make viewing and sharing a little easier.

I hope to soon attend my first Pecha Kucha performance event in Chicago (the date is TBD), where I know the quality of the presentations will make me glad I didn’t quit my day job. But until I see what a real Pecha Kucha can do, I’m fairly happy with this quirky way to explore an otherwise “bland” topic. I’m also glad to do my part in “doing something” about the scourge that is SDD (Slideshow Deficit Disorder).

How well are you feeding your web site’s antlions?

Earlier today I spoke at a conference for web marketing professionals in Jacksonville, Florida. My topic was web analytics. It was a well-timed opportunity for me. I used the talk to do these two things:

  1. Discuss the new web metric my team has innovated, called Content Interest Index
  2. Try out a form of condensed slideshow presentation called Pecha Kucha

As I described in a prior post on Pecha Kucha, this is to slideshows what the haiku is to poetry, and Dogma 95 is to film making. It has strict rules designed to bring out the soul of a presentation — especially if you subscribe to the phrase “the soul of brevity.” The rules are that you have exactly 20 slides, and each is up for exactly 20 seconds. That means after 6 minutes and 40 seconds, you come to a full stop.

For those of you as nutty about films as I am, you know that Dogma 95 was borne out of the desire of a handful of directors to treat their audiences like grown-ups. Pecha Kucha may not pretend to be anything loftier than playful fun, but it does respect the audience’s valuable time. How refreshing!

My presentation needed a “hook.” I chose a doozie. I compared a web site’s conversion funnels to the lairs that are built by antlions. These critters were an obsession of mine when I was 10 years old (I even kept one as a pet, in a sand-filled coffee can in my bedroom!).

I frankly could not resist using graphics of the antlion’s traps as ways to illustrate aspects of measuring web conversion. In this elaborate comparison, ants unwittingly encircle the antlion’s lair and some tumble to their doom, in the same way that web visitors cruising around a site’s pages are attracted to offers (the “mouths” of conversion funnels).

Hey, no one ever said marketing was pretty.

The Antlion’s Lair

Yes, this comparison is a bit of a stretch — if not downright grisly — but I do believe I got my point across. Especially with the help of a supplemental presentation, given in mind map format (here is the map, in Acrobat format … watch out, it’s a quite large file at 2,310 KB). My presentation included excerpts from the CII case study that you can download from this blog entry.

Why don’t you be the judge of the job I did in milking this helpless metaphor until it mooed in pain? Download this podcast of my Pecha Kucha (1,724 KB in MP3 format), and check out this PowerPoint player file (324 KB in PPS format) for the visuals. You have to sync up the audio and visual files, but it’s hopefully well worth it. Updated 10/9/07: You’ll find the Pecha Kucha on YouTube.

Let me know what you think, and more importantly, if you think the antlion should be some sort of Web 3.0 mascot. What’s the reasoning behind that suggestion? None whatsoever, except the antlion is a very clever creature.

And hey! What the heck. A creature looking this monstrous really needs a break.

Powerpoint to the people: A revolution in presentations

On the last day before a holiday weekend, I thought I’d talk about something that’s important for us marketers but also fun. Or at least it should be. The topic of improving slideshow presentations has been covered wonderfully in the past, but there are some great new perspectives you should be checking out, to keep your Powerpoint decks in check.

(With so many co-workers starting the holiday early today, one of the stalwart few who will be with me in the office today joked that he’d bring Mimosas. From that last riff you’d think he’d followed through on the threat!)

Merlin Mann of 43 Folders gave a wonderful presentation to Google recently on better use of email. His 50 minute presentation (the video is below, and here’s a podcast of the talk) was as fun as it was practical. In response to inquiries, he shared his Powerpoint tips in a recent post. Although I should mention that he is the second person this week to let me know that Keynote has it over Powerpoint, if only because you can look at your speaking notes on your computer’s monitor while the audience sees the projected slide.

In his tips on better slideshows, Merlin mentions Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 Rule: “A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.” This reminded me of another slideshow presentation form (I say form, just as poetry has its classic sonnet and haiku forms). I’m thinking of the form called pecha kucha.

Pecha kucha was invented four years ago in Tokyo by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham Architecture. They created it as a way to attract people to an event space they’d set up. They wanted a freeform presentation environment that wasn’t hackneyed. Sort of an un-poetry slam.

Here are the rules for a Pecha Kucha night: A number of presenters (usually 14) each does a slideshow of exactly 20 images, each lasting exactly 20 seconds. That puts the total runtime at 6 minutes, 40 seconds. The topics of the presentation vary widely, but the presenters are primarily artists and designers. These events have spread, to take place in major cities around the world. I’m tempted to attend the next one in Chicago, in late September.

According to an uncited entry in Wikipedia, this 20 slides, 20 seconds each form has been adopted in some corners of the business world. It allows for a brief, disciplined presentation of ideas, with questions withheld until the end and no room for meandering on the part of the speaker. It’s all in the service of avoiding “death by Powerpoint.” Those who know me well are aware that I dislike using Powerpoint, and try whenever possible to present with a simple MindManager mind map. Or just write out my ideas into a Word document (there, Microsoft, at least you get some of my loyalty!) and speak without visuals. It’s all in the worship of one of my business heros: Edward Tufte.

For my friends reading this in the U.S., have a wonderful Labor Day Weekend, devoid of Powerpoint — unless you like that kind of thing!