No More Generalists

500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider

There are no more generalists. Ok, a bold statement, not entirely true. There’s still a Sears. There’s still a Macy’s. There’s still a guy with that truck that says Handyman on the side who drives around the neighborhood.

But in the online world, rapidly becoming the only world that matters to many of us, specialists rule the day. If you are a photographer, you have focused on a certain population, like newlyweds, or snowboarders. If you need to do Google Adwords, you call an Adwords guy. If you want to send a personalized magazine-like email like I’m doing a lot of lately, you call the email marketing guy. Coders specialize in WordPress or Ruby on Rails. Companies dedicate themselves solely to task-management applications.

There’s a reason for this. It starts out being technical, because when you’re creating something specialized, like an app that does your books, you need to know a lot about the needs of the people who would use such an app. But the reasons for this specialization soon …

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Best Video I’ve Seen this Year

500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider

I’ve been looking at a lot of fundraising videos this week as I prepare a new lesson for Digital Fundraising School, which is coming this fall. Which video did I think was most effective? Which one raised the most money, got the most followers, made more hearts beat a little faster?

I’ve viewed videos about guys who decided to start a peanut butter manufacturing company after their bus caught fire on the road, listened to a graphic novelist with a charming Italian accent raise all the money she needed for her new book, and foot-tapped along with a couple of twentysomethings who managed to sing their way into funding their next album.

Then I saw a video made by a father and his seven-year-old son. It was the game-changer. They weren’t pitching anything. They didn’t want any money. They just had a plan to send a video camera into space. They did this all by themselves, using a Thai takeout food container as a space capsule.

As the dad, Luke …

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Connected and Disconnected

500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider

We feast on social media networks, chewing through posts, texts, moments, images. We are insatiable, worse than zombies eating brains. It’s scary as a zombie movie, but scarier still is the possibility that we aren’t consuming anything –  the networks are consuming us. Watch a Southern California kid crossing the street while texting, oblivious to traffic, and you will certainly see a type of zombie.

Attention is the rarest form of generosity, wrote philosopher Simone Weil. It can be argued that we have become quite miserly. Since my nose is in my iPad now, does that mean that I care less about you?

The NY Times recently ran an opinion piece by Jonathan Safran Foer. He pointed out that most of our communication technologies began as diminished substitutes for an impossible activity. Traveling across the country to visit a friend was a bit of a bother, but a telephone conversation was a reasonable substitute. Better yet, when we didn’t want to speak with that person anyway, leaving a message on their phone machine …

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Hello Citizen Scientist

500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider

Citizen journalists are in the streets, documenting revolutions every day. The New York Times blog uses Twitter to report the news, often from citizen Twitterers, effectively turning on-the-ground witnesses into national reporters. It goes without saying that this would not be possible without the tech of Twitter and camera phones, but there’s a bigger change – and it involves something less visible than a piece of hardware.

Editors are trusting us.

I never did get  the memo from the New York Times editors saying that they would be trusting citizen journalists to report serious news, but that’s just what’s happening. In the connected world, so often derided for being impersonal or faceless, citizens are trusted as never before. Driven by this change, journalism has been open sourced. This has also been happening in science.

Earlier this week, I was speaking with Marc Kuchner, author of  Marketing for Scientists, asking questions about how to connect people who communicate about science with scientists like him.

Why do people care about science in the first …

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Remind me what wants to be free

500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider

‘Information wants to be free’ is an iconic phrase attributed to Stewart Brand, who founded the Whole Earth Catalogue. Apparently he first spoke the phrase to no less a luminary than Steve Wozinak, the other, nicer Steve behind Apple.

So the phrase has an awesome pedigree. Certainly, information’s desire to be free is a good thing. It encourages openness and transparency, and can even stop politicians from acting like fools because we find out about their foolishness pretty soon. So far, so good. When do things other than information become free? Do we draw a line in pixels somewhere?

Music downloads legal and otherwise have driven the market to the bottom (if you consider .99 the bottom), and digital books have transformed the book market – in a good way if you like the editorial freedom to self-publish and reach a large audience, and in a bad way if you are a publisher who wants to push traditional hardcover books. If you are a newspaper or magazine publisher who is not transforming …

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The Complexity of Science in 140 Characters

500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider

Last week’s post on Medium about science and pop culture stirred up something of an online storm. Some scientists on Twitter felt that they ought to be left alone to do science and didn’t need to communicate all that much with the public. Other scientists and science journalists seemed happy, because the more talk about science, the better.

I felt the disconnect keenly. Those doing science often think one way about communication and those who to write about science have a different view. It’s not often an easy relationship between these two camps. You want a couple examples? Ed Yong writes ‘A Guide for Scientists on Giving Comments to Journalists’ with the idea of offering to optimize conversations between scientists and journalists. Chad Orzel fired back on his blog that some of the guide rubbed him the wrong way. Emily Darling writes in The Conversation that It’s Time for Scientists to Tweet. RealScientists has a Twitter stream that does just that. While over on Ben Lillie’s Tumblr, he writes compellingly about why one of the world’s …

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Why Science Needs Help Talking About Itself

500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider

Let’s get past the idea that there are still people who believe that climate change science is a hoax. Let’s get past the notion that evolution might be a mere theory that has to compete with creationism in some schools.

I am taking a deep breath and setting both of those things aside for a moment, because I want to talk to the scientists out there who are doing world-shaking work. Hello?  Does anybody know your names?

Well, sometimes. If you’ve done a TED talk recently or aTEDx, like Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, or if you’ve written a landmark book like Frank Wilson, and can give provocative talks about human intelligence, yeah, ok, some people know about you. If you are Kate McAlpine and make a rap video about the Large Hadron Collider and it’s really good, seven million people will watch it on YouTube. Yes: Seven million. A rap video about physics. It was good enough to make me laugh and cry at the same time.

If you’re a charismatic superstar astrophysicist …

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Thinking Out Loud

500 Words | Written by Lee Schneider

I am thinking out loud. Reading the Steve Jobs biography. (The good one, not one of the knockoffs.)

Thinking about this quote: The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Attributed in various forms to engineers, thinkers, inventors. How do we go about inventing the future? There is a stew of culture that gives rise to huge movements – it’s a heaving mess, too big to see when you’re in it. Steve Jobs lived in the intersection of hippie and engineer culture, a California mix tape of brainy nerds meeting in Palo Alto garages, millionaires minted on an idea, a design notion, a mind-blip that blew up to become a world-dominating industry. How do you incubate that? You can’t. At Xerox PARC they bitmap the screen, Jobs rips it off, and you get fonts and graphics and a mouse to point at it all. Replicate that moment? You can’t. It’s immoral, it’s Picasso saying good artists borrow, great artists steal. You can’t put enough coffee in …

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How Fast Should You Spend Money on a Communications Campaign?

500 Words on Thursday | Written by Lee Schneider

So you have some money to spend on a communications campaign? Great! It may surprise you to know that the amount of money you have to spend is not as critical as how fast you spend it.

Here’s the thing. In documentary production we are able to make a nice chart of how money is spent. If you view it as a timeline,  you’ll notice something right away. At the start – when it is just you and an idea – things are pretty cheap, but as production continues – adding a crew, an editor, composer, and graphics –  things get more and more expensive. If you need to make changes at the beginning, it’s cheap. If you need to change something at the end, it is not cheap.

Now, when you look at communications and PR, most people turn that formula on its head. People seem to think like movie moguls who want their blockbuster movie to ‘open big,’ so they blow an enormous amount of money on the opening …

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500 Words: What You Will Be Known For

500 Words on Thursday | Written by Lee Schneider

Some people have a billion clicks on YouTube. Others have 137,000 followers who read their blog. Who would you want to be?

If you use gmail, Google is analyzing your emails. Facebook is tracking your preferences in friends and products. Data is being gathered about you all the time. My past, and yours, are stored online. I wrote few cartoon scripts more than two decades ago. The series was called ThunderCats. Look for ThunderCats and me on the Internet, and you may assume this is what I am known for.  Even Twitter can make your career or take it down. Ask Anthony Weiner.

So it’s all out there, for all time, moving in powerful social currents. What do you want to make of it?

Jenna Marbles, the subject of a New York Times profile this past weekend, is the person I mentioned above with a billion clicks. She does sharp character comedy as nasty/good as Sarah Silverman or the late Jonathan Winters. She doesn’t appeal …

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