Current Affairs

Why are freelancers so expensive?

The Freelancers Union recently published a study on the affect of nonpayment to freelancers on the economy and to business in general. The report concluded:


Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge.

"Late and nonpayment is one of the top challenges facing the independent workforce today. These workers are at greater risk
of nonpayment than traditional workers, but the law does not reflect this reality. The current way that independent workers must deal with nonpayment is inequitable, time wasting, damaging to one’s finances and harmful to the economy. Instead of having to deal with nonpaying clients on their own, freelancers should have access to worker protections similar to those extended to traditional employees. These workers comprise one-third of the U.S. Workforce; they deserve protections suitable to such a significant part of the economy."


Having been a freelancer for a couple of decades I can relate, but the report missed one thing. If you wonder why the rates are so high for freelancers, this is the primary reason. What you are getting charged for freelance work is already, generally lower than what you would pay a full time employee, based on 40 hour work weeks, benefits, insurance, equipment, office space, etc., but the hourly and project rates you pay are also making up for the losses the freelancers take on one out of three projects. Yes, that's right. The report states that as much as a third of their income is lost through nonpayment.

In the past 20 years, my business has racked up $180,000 in unpaid invoices, or the equivalent of three years of work. I even had a client stiff me on $13,500 after promising to pay me the next day. I went to their offices the next day and found the place emptied and later learned that they had packed up in the middle of the night and went back to China, leaving millions of dollars in unpaid bills and payroll that were unrecoverable.

The report states that construction firms were the worst offenders in this area, either by late payments or nonpayment at 82 percent. The electronics and software industries are close behind in my experience, however, with 3 of 4 either paying 90 days late if at all. 

The benefits of being your own boss are being able to set your own hours, work where you like, and always being able to choose the most interesting work to do. But the next time you are hiring an agency or a freelancer and are ticked off that they are demanding a retainer or lawyer-evle hourly rates, keep in mind that you are on the receiving end of a practice that your company may have encouraged.

Censorship is not the way

As a free speech advocate I’m growing increasingly alarmed over the trend among many to limit speech that offends as well as the freedom of the press to report news. It is happening with increasing activity on college campuses and within much of our national dialog. While this is not unusual outside of the US, it’s becoming commonplace in the US. This essay was promoted when I heard Robert Scoble of Rackspace make an endorsement of the idea of filtering content that he disagrees with on his own Facebook feed. 

I have a great deal of respect for Scoble. He is a journalist of integrity and an important voice for innovation in technology, but for someone like him to come out and recommend technological advances that stifle free speech by creating a freedom FROM speech was disconcerting.  Article-2411817-1BA0651D000005DC-297_1024x615_large

Scoble’s recommendation came during the last week’s national discussion about whether Syrian refugees should be allowed into the US. The fact that I had not yet made up my own mind as to what should be done and rather than state an opinion, I decided to conduct a Facebook experiment to help mold my opinion while, at the same time, demonstrate how objectionable content can be used constructively. That is the point of this essay.

I began with three assumptions:

  1. I do not know everything.

  2. What I do know may be wrong.

  3. Someone else might know more than I do. 

Next, I read as many arguments and news stories as I could on both sides of the argument (they should be let in/they should not be let in) from reputable sources from places like the Washington Post, Foreign Policy magazine and The Economist (to name a few). After reading them I posted them without comment. Then I waited for comments from my friends and acquaintances.

Just about everyone had a specific side to take. It was obvious when they had read what I posted and when they had not. Just about everyone had a strong position based on their own political leanings. Conservatives angrily disagreed with opinions posted by Liberals. Liberal derisively disagreed with Conservatives. There was no middle ground and very little of it was civil to opposing sides. In some cases, I felt obliged to respond to some of the bile but I resisted. Instead, for each response, if necessary I asked for a clarification of their reasoning. This is where the conversation became more thoughtful.

Yes, there were still obvious biases in each respondent. Some went off on rants and diatribes but even in these emotional statements arose common threads, and the most common was, fear that they did not know everything about the issue; that they might be wrong; that someone might know more than they did. Xenophobia, political bias and outright bigotry played a part in all of it, but it was the fear of the unknown and what could possibly happen if their particular solution was not followed was the primary driver. 

I sat back for a day to think about all of this and I came to approach it using the three assumptions.

First was the fear of the unknown. Realizing that approaching an animal that is fearful or even wounded is a good way of getting bitten played into my reasoning. Many respondents described situations that legitimately established their fear of the refugees, while other described situations regarding close friends and relatives. Telling them that they were wimps, whiners and over-reactors (as President Obama has done) doesn’t get them to back down. It gets them to dig in their heels even more. To approach a wounded animal safely requires patience, the ability to properly assess the state of their wound and the means to affect healing.

Second, the fear of being wrong. These people tended to have lots of facts and philosophies at their fingertips. The rejection of German Jews in WWII was widely used. The poem on the Statue of Liberty, another. All of these arguments lacked one thing. Empathy for the fear expressed by the first group. Even when cooler heads addressed the arguments with reason the respondents replied back with aggression to whoever disagreed with them.  Conversely, the people who took exception to the logic snapped back at them in anger, not unlike a wounded animal, because they were afraid, deep down, that they did not know the real answer. 

Finally, the fear of being ignorant. There were some response to the pro-refugee folks that were quite convincing, but because they tended to point out the ignorance of the other in their argument, the response was angry and went in a completely different direction and away from the discussion at hand: whether to allow Syrian refugees in.

In this process I began to consider the fears, ignorance and polemics of the discussion as all valid for the individuals and then produced a single statement with my position:

“We need to accept the refugees as soon as the FBI has established a protocol for screening them. I'm more interested in making sure families are allowed entry. And I am in favor of each family being sponsored.”

This position first acknowledges the human tragedy that is Syria and that humanity demands a graceful response. It also understands the need to take every precaution to keep the nation safe while providing for the needs of the refugees and integrate them within the larger community. It establishes priorities for entry and prevents naturally occurring ghettos of Syrians that could become resentful of their isolation (as we see happening in France and Belgium). 

Instead of taking a side, I assimilated the emotional basis of each side into my position. Remarkably enough, there was not a single comment on they position, but the number of people the “like” the Facebook post spanned the spectrum of political though among my Facebook audience. So let’s bring back the issue of free speech.

If I had my feed filtered, as Scoble suggested, I would not have had the opportunity to come to a clear position, one that heard and understood each side, and came to a conclusion that was not, in fact, agreeing with anyone in particular, but satisfied the concerns of everyone in general. I could not have come to this point without all the raucous and uncivil discussion I saw on Facebook. Every position generated value. 

I do not know everything, but I have access to much knowledge and as I am often wrong, I can find correction relatively quickly. Listen to everyone, consider where they are coming from and respond in kindness. It’s not easy to do and I don’t often do it. But now that I have discovered how to do this, I no longer need that massive filter we seem to want now.

Don Tuite (that's "toot") retires and the changes in journalism continue

Don Tuite formally announced his retirement on April 17 in Electronic Design magazine and it is a bitter sweet moment. Don and I converse regularly on social media and we both live in Redwood City so he's not leaving my life at the moment, but I remember when he first came to Electronic Design after many years as a working engineer. 

We had a couple of phone conversations about clients and stories he was working on when we both discovered that we were in the same town. From then on, Don had an open invitation to come down, have coffee, walk in our nearby park, and even take one of our team on a flight in his private plane (which she called the thrill of a lifetime since she had always wanted to become a private pilot).

The conversations about technology, politics and social change is what I really enjoyed about Don's visits and calls. We never stayed on the subject very long. Once we got the business done it was on to other topics. It was the discussion of how media was changing, however, that got me thinking about my own public relations business and what value it had, and eventually brought me to the place that I knew I had to shut it down, fire all the clients and start focusing on what was needed to be said, not what a corporate committee wanted to say.

Most of the other marketers journalists I talked to during that time didn't have a lot of good things to say about me and what was forming in my head, but Don was one of the few who were not judgmental or dismissive. As a true scientific mind he response was always "you might be right."

His final column rightly reviews the changes he saw in the past decade and reminds me of the discussion we had a decade ago about Marshal McLuhan and adds the work of a mathematician that fed into McLuhan's work... something I never knew. It was a good justification of my decision.

So I get what the rest of you don't, the opportunity to continue my relationship with smart man and a good guy. Congratulations Don. Looking forward to what you're are going to do with your time.

Yelp "victory" will sink the company

In the past, I’ve advised several business on how to deal with negative reviews on Yelp and the damage can be fixed with proper content and engagement, but based on what I’ve seen, I can’t advise any business to engage with them.

Yelp’s recent court victory is was the worst possible outcome for the company.  I’m not sure it’s going to survive. 

(Wait! But they won!  How can that be bad?)

 Glad you asked.  There were three potential outcomes for this trial.  The best outcome would be the judges finding that Yelp does not, in fact, alter reviews to favor advertisers.  But that didn’t happen.  The second best would have been a finding that they actually did and were guilty of extortion for advertising.  The worst possible outcome would be what was actually ruled: that there is nothing wrong giving advertisers an edge on the site.  The court said, tacitly, that it was pretty obvious that is what was happening but there is nothing illegal about it.

 Now, no matter how many times they say otherwise (and they now have a disclaimer on every page), the customers and the businesses have been convinced by this ruling that Yelp is running a legally sanctioned protection racket.  

And that spells the death of Yelp.  They’ve lost the once intangible: the possibility that they were telling Yelp .001
the truth and that they were not gaming the review results in their system.  this ruling confirms that they do which means their service can’t be trusted.

Yelp claims their algorithm does not differentiate between advertisers and non advertisers and I am ready to believe them.  But a simple review of their site shows their algorithm is pretty screwed up.  

I use Yelp often, mostly to find restaurants.  I looked up barbecue restaurants last week, five total near me.  At three of them, all which had advertising packages from Yelp, the reviews were in chronological order so you could trace how they did from when they opened to the current time.  It’s a good thing to do it that way because you can see if they get better or worse over time.  At the other two, who do not advertise, the reviews are jumbled and, amazingly enough, the most horrible reviews are at the top, most of them from when the restaurants first opened and were still getting their act together.  One of them I was well acquainted with and I found the negative reviews at the top not the least accurate.

I also decided, just to check, to do an average of the review stars on the business I knew.  Adding them up, I found they came to three stars.  But Yelp had it at one and a half.

 So, giving Yelp the benefit of the doubt, I’ve come to realize that if they are not extorting businesses, then their algorithm is crap.

 This will not last long.   The wolves are circling. I’m already reading posts by influential people about how bad Yelp is, even if you buy the advertising.  In the past, I’ve advised several business on how to deal with negative reviews on Yelp and the damage can be fixed with proper content and engagement, but based on what I’ve seen, I can’t advise any business to engage with them.

The problem can be fixed… but fixing that kind of thing is what I get paid for.  I’d rather not go down with the ship for free.

Customer Experience Recognition Awards to launch at IDW2014

The first ever Customer Experience Recognition Awards (CERA) will be part of the Information Development World (#IDW2014) program in October.
The first ever Customer Experience Recognition Awards (CERA) will be part of the Information Development World (#IDW2014) program in October.


CERA will recognize outstanding contributions to exceptional customer experiences by information developers in a variety of disciplines including technical communication, marketing, content strategy, customer support, translation, and product management. 


Nominations for the awards are being accepted until the September 19th. You can invite folks to nominate themselves or nominate others. You can even nominate companies if you would like. 

Submissions can be made to recognize companies, teams, project leaders, and consultants working in content development within any industry. CERA honorees demonstrate how content is integral to exceptional customer experience, and show collaborative effort between design, content development, and experience delivery to achieve business objectives.

Here are some links for more information.

Submit Your Entry

Submission Categories

Awards Criteria


Print is still relevant. No, really. It is.

Been having some interesting discussions with social media marketing/techdev types the past few weeks and I've come to realize that the SM industry is about as inbred as an industry can get.  That's not good.  Here's the background:

I am still very tied into the old media world through very deep relationships.  I have good friends that not only work for newspapers, they own them.  5 years ago these friends saw they businesses crumbling but they still thought there was a chance to turn it around and the SM was just a fad.  Today it is quite different.  They understand they were wrong now, but they still don't understand how to put it into the context of their audience... because the SM industry doesn't care about context.  They care about selling stuff... through relationships.  In other words, an industry built on Amway marketing philosophy.

But that's not what social media is supposed to be about.  SM is about building community through shared information.  The health of that community is specifically tied to the validity of the information.  If your core of information is subjective gossip and self-promotion, you will have a very sick community.  If that community is based on objective information and common purpose, you have a healthy community.

That's where the headline comes in.  Our objective information core is still in print and old media.  When I hear people, whatever the age, sit down and talk about the state of the world, their opinion is still based or at least directly influenced by something they read in a newspaper or what someone they know told them about what they read in a newspaper.  Of course it is socially acceptable to say bad things about that source, or whether one actually agrees with the content.  But nonetheless, the core is still a newspaper and generally a local one.

But what happens if that information core goes away, like so many are? John Paton, the new CEO of MediaNews has said he is all in on digital for the future of newspapers, but at the same time MediaNews has been steadily shutting down local papers it buys and creating single entities for large metropolitan entries.  For, example, the respected Contra Costa Times is soon to be melded into a large entity covering everything from Walnut Creek to San Jose.  Good luck getting the news of your town's city council when that happens.  The community essense will be going away and with it an informed local electorate.

Even when a newspaper has only 10 percent of the local population reading it, that means 1 in 10 people you know are reading that paper and are influenced by it.  Ten percent of the electorate is nothing to sneeze at.  President Obama would kick his dog if it would boost his rating by 10 percent right now.  So why would a social media company turn up it's nose at the opportunity to reach 10,000 users every single freaking day?  I don't know either, but they are.

Communications is not an either/or process.  We have been hearing that social media will kill newspapers for a long time, but they are still there (and in fact are growing at 10 percent per annum outside of Europe and the US). TV was supposed to kill radio, but it is still there, too.  In fact, every form of communication since the dawn of media is still in use somewhere (What about stone carving, you ask? Anyone read --- in newspaper probably --- about the Martin Luther King Memorial).  There is a large as yet untapped market out there ready to be taken.  For the social media company that realizes that partnering with an old media company-- and making themselves relevant to their needs -- it will be the golden key to success.  All those that don't will end up following MySpace into irrelevancy.

Cadence and Bruggeman: Saw that one coming

A few months ago I wrote that life was not all goodness and light in the Cadence marketing world, but that seemed to be a false prophesy with the presence of EDA 360 all over the Design Automation Conference in June.  Today it was announced in EE Times that Cadence marketing wunderkinde John Bruggeman had abruptly left the company, as the company reorganizes its marketing effort once again.

Kinda reminds me of what I was saying even earlier about what happens when engineers make marketing decisions.

So it seems that Cadence is moving away from the big vision to expand their markets and go back to "the Cadence that wants to keep building increasingly complex tools for a shrinking and unrewarding market," as EE Times editorial director Ron Wilson said.

Then again, maybe we are seeing preparation for the sale of Cadence.  Could be...?

China Net meltdown good for US?

News of the plummeting value of Chinese net company stocks are throwing potential US IPOs into the "toilet of FUD" this morning, but the reality of the situation is probably good news for US companies without strong ties to China.

Case in point is the tenuous, though deep investment of Yahoo into Alibaba (the Chinese Google).  Yahoo owns 43 percent of Alibaba and there was joy in Yahoo land over the success of AliPay (the Chinese PayPal), until the service was sold outright to the Alibaba CEO giving Yahoo 0 percent investment in AliPay. Seems the Chinese government, heavily invested in almost all Chinese corporations, are happy to sell shares of worthless companies to outside investors, but not so much when those companies actually make money.  The problem is that unless a Chinese company start making money pretty quick, the government pipeline gets cut off.  Hence the dropping value of a lot of internet companies in China.

Since US companies get something less then diddly from our government, they don't really have to worry about the value of their company. This is good news for IPO hopefuls in the "sea-to-shining-sea" because the perceived value of the company is closer to the truth than a company whose books are cooked by government investment. As Barry Goldwater said, "a government big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it away."

California SB 242: It's not as bad as Mark Zuckerberg thinks.

It’s not often that a legislator introduces a bill to not only deal with a current problem but could forestall a potential economic disaster, but I have to give props to California State Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), the current majority leader and author of SB 242.  She’s really on to something,

SB242, The Social Networking Privacy Act, does three things:

  • Stop the publication on a networking Internet Web site of registered users’ home addresses or telephone numbers without consent

  • Require sites to establish a process for new users to set their privacy settings as part of the registration process that explains privacy options in plain language, and to make privacy settings available in an easy-to-use format

  • Require a site to remove the personal identifying information on request, including the information of their under-18, 96 hours 

Naturally the big gorillas in the market are opposing this with phrases like "inhibition of free speech," but they bury the lead, which is this bill could hurt their bottom line.  I’d like to take the position that the issue about the under-18 stuff might have some free speech issues, but financially, this bill has a lot of benefits for the social media industry.  And I’m not alone.  Their is a niche in the social media world that thinks there is an enormous market demand for an opt-in paradigm.

When you look at social media growth numbers you can see that the actual market has flattened out.  More than half the US population and more than half of the consumer product industries have adopted some form of social media.  The numbers are a less than that world wide, but they have flattened out there as well.  New companies are popping up by the hundreds selling service and products to that initial-adopter group, but anyone who would naturally adopt social media has already done so.  

The industry is ignoring the “long tail” of the market that is not convinced, but that would make their industry profitable in the long term.  That means social media is heading for a bubble bust soon if they don’t deal with the elephant in the room.  Privacy.

Senator Corbett’s bill, in addressing a current concern of late adopters and current users, has created a mechanism to overcome the concerns of those to groups and foster continued growth of the industry into the next decade. And all the industry has to do is change its paradigm from opt out to opt in.  The industry letter to the senator opposing the legislation says the legislation will results in “users clicking quickly through the available options without contextual understanding of or serious thought to the case-by-case implications of the choices being made.” But in my view, and pretty much everyone else outside of the Facebook corporation, that’s what users have to do now.

Currently, the method of dealing with security is to go through an arcane list of restrictions AFTER you have signed up.  Savvy users no how to go in, or at least find where they are to go to set those restrictions, but most users have no prior knowledge of what makes a secure profile and the social media companies don’t make it easy.  That’s understandable because the more information a user gives up, the more money the company can make.  But there is a philosophical flaw in that reasoning.  A potential customer that has voluntarily shared information with a vendor is more likely to trust that vendor and become a repeat customer, then one who has been approached out of the blue.  Social media is quickly gaining the same reputation as robo-call sales pitches and junk mail and they need to do something about that very quickly.  SB242 goes a long way to fix that and the social media guys need to wake up, smell the coffee and get some vision.

There are a few companies that have contacted the senator and voiced their support. was actually mentioned twice in the senator’s speech on the senate floor last week as a supporter.  Unfortunately, the measure went down to defeat by a single vote with about a dozen senators absent, at least half would have supported the measure.  She’s not giving up, however, and is fighting to have the measure reconsidered in the current session.  And if it doesn’t go through she will continue to work on it in the next session in some other form.

From a PR perspective, it would be much better for the industry to embrace this move.  Imagine a badge on a page stating that the site complies with California privacy laws?  it would be like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the long-tail market and would allow continued growth of a vital industry.  C’mon Mr. Zuckerberg! Get back some of that vision you had at Harvard instead of being an advocate for the status quo.

Social Media Failure? Don't blame the tool. Blame the workman.

Last week a blog post popped up last week on the Ad Contrarian about the "massive failure" of the Pepsi "Refresh" campaign.  The author, Bob Hoffman of the redoubtable Hoffman/Lewis add agency, was claiming this proved that social media didn't  work.

Let's not point out that the advertising effort Pepsi was putting out before they tried social media wasn't helping them gain market share, which is the reason they went to a social media effort.  Because that would just prove that advertising doesn't work, using Bob's logic. Instead, let's take a page out of Bob's own book.

Bob says: 

1. Advertising is most productive when it is focused on changing behavior, not attitudes.

2. Advertising messages should be created for, and directed at, the heavy-using, high- yield customers in your category.

3. We don’t get them to try our product by convincing them to love our brand; we get them to love our brand by convincing them to try our product.

Now let's point out that all three of those points are also the effort of a good social media campaign.

Finally, let's point out that Pepsi's campaign did none of those things.

The Refresh Project asked Pepsi users to tell Pepsi what their favorite charities were and then vote for those charities in a contest to get some $20 million donated to those causes.  At the end of the project, Pepsi lost 5 percent of their market share.  How did that happen? All the people whose causes did not get picked got pissed off, that's how.  

When you have a product that is not ABSOLUTELY necessary to the everyday life of your customer, then you have to be careful what you say to them.  The Refresh Project did not tell Pepsi anything about the junk food/drink perception of any current or potential customer.  It did nothing to change attitudes of non-customers, nor how to keep current customers. It didn't target major outlets of soda pop distributors.  It was the result of a bunch of clueless people within Pepsi sitting around a table and making stuff up.

And it was primarily an outbound marketing effort... and social media is ALL about the inbound.

So it wasn't a failure of social media as a means to improve market share. It was the failure of Pepsi to use it properly.

Anyone getting this?


Japanese disaster underscores importance of social media and mobile technology

The tragedy hitting Japan is recovering from right now cannot be fathomed in its affect on the Japanese people.  It underscores the importance of being prepared for these kind of disasters, and for knowing how to cope in the middle of it.  That's why I support emergency preparedness training in local communities and am particularly proud of my own church that is conducting classes this month in how to help people cope with these kind of disasters.

In the context of this blog, however, I would like to point out how important social media can be, in conjunction with mobile technology and I bring it up today in the interest of being prepared.  In this CNN video I was watching this morning, one of the points brought up was how people should stay off the telephone lines to allow first responders and government workers to deal with the problems.  You know this is the right thing to do but when you are in the midst of the crisis it is hard for those affected to restrain themselves.

I remember during the Loma Prieta earthquake, I was on the first business trip of my career and was 400 miles away from my wife, my 5-year-old daughter and my one-month old son.  i saw the coverage of the fires in SF, the collapsed freeway in Oakland and the damage on the Oakland bridge.  I had to find out if my family was alright and I spent 5 hours trying to get through to them.  That would not have been an issue if I had a smart phone with a data package.

Thinking about that time and the technology available to me today makes me realize what an amazing world we live in.  A simple text message takes up almost no bandwidth on the communication lines and can maintain a crucial connection with family.  But it doesn't stop there.

Smart phones with video cameras can be used to transmit pictures of injuries.  Location-based social applications can pinpoint where survivors are.  And most importantly, it can keep families connected in desperate times.  Facebook and Twitter may be too public for situations like this, but could be useful.  Lesser-known applications that focus on local communities, like DeHood, might be more effective as they better integrate audio, video and text.

For example, in a situation like Japan, using an iPhone and DeHood, you can take pictures or video of injuries, electrical dangers, fire, etc. and send them directly to emergency services, media or even family.  You can use the GPS services to identify your location and, even in some cases, virtually check if you are not actually on site but are within visual range.  First responders can ask questions, direct you to safe areas and do more efficient disaster triage.

Yes, of course that depends on having the mobile phone system up and running.  It's not perfect, but in my case with Loma Prieta, I would have been able to make quick contact with the family or at least neighbors who would know what is going on.  The point is, it wasn't possible then.  It is possible now.

Many people still think that all this technology is just fun and games.  You can't say that for people seeking freedom in the Middle East, or for those trying to survive in Japan.  We all need to think beyond the convenience and what this means for our communities.

Who's in charge? Finale

The announcement of Steve Jobs taking another medical leave is an unfortunate but timely bit of news to put this series wrap up in perspective.  Jobs has established Apple as the leading consumer electronics company in the world.  For all intents and purposes, what Apple does drives the rest of the industry. Apple did not introduce the media player, it just made one that most people could use.  Apple did not introduce music sharing, it just made it legally acceptable.  Apple did not introduce the smart phone, it just made the smart phone practical for the mass market.  Apple did not introduce the tablet computer, it just reintroduced it when the public actually wanted one.  Jobs was at the center of all these decisions. 

Important to note: Jobs is not an engineer.  He has some technical experience but he has stated the college course that was most responsible for the creation of the Mac was a calligraphy class he audited at Reed College, shortly after he had dropped out of the school.  What made him successful was not technical knowledge.  He knew smart engineers that could realize his ideas, but the engineering never interested him.  The user experience did.  This is the man that has driven the direction of the electronics world for most of the past two decades.  But if he showed up today at any of the leading electronics companies for a job, he would not even get in as a janitor.

Yesterday, after establishing my evidence for the lack of vision or even understanding of the consumer market within the leadership of the electronics industry (most of whom are engineers) I said something drastic had to be done.  I repeat my assertion from the first part of the series: Engineers need to be removed from the management of the electronics industry. Specifically:

  1. Any member of management, in fact, that cannot demonstrate a basic understanding of modern communications practices (yes, that includes Twitter) needs to be contained in the engineering division and kept away from the financial and technological marketing decisions.  This includes anyone in finance that continues to defund marketing programs. These people should be replaced with personnel within the company that have this knowledge, or my consultants who can step in immediately. (I can make recommendations.  In fact, I know several in EDA companies that should be recruited)

  2. Any marketer who utters the phrases: "We know who our customers are...," needs to be reassigned.

  3. Any employee who asks: "What is the ROI...?" and cannot answer the same question for the company's product in specifics and on his own job, needs to be shown the door.

  4. Budgets must be immediately reworked.  At least 1 percent of R&D budgets should be reassigned to real market research.  If staffing does not provide for that research, it must be acquired either through personnel or outsourcing.  At least 10 percent of all trade show budgets should be applied to social media budgets, including measurement tools (If you want to know how, my rates are reasonable. If you don't want to work with me I can suggest a lot of good people) At least 10 percent of sales collateral budgets, including that assigned to press releases, should be reassigned to advertising, based on the information developed by the new market research and input from the conversation developed from the social media program.

  5. Everyone in the company with any connection to the decisions of company direction and vision should be required to spend at least 15 minutes a day maintaining a social media presence and conversation, and then providing regular reports to management about what they have found. (there are tools available to manage this process.)

I would make a comment about venture capitalists working in the electronics industry, but they abandoned it long ago so I don't think there is any point in bringing it up

We have a very short window to turn this mess around.  Let's get to work now or call the grave diggers.  There will be no bail-out this time.

Social media for your neighborhood.

Last week I started a series on the importance and future of geolocal (also called geosocial) apps and outlined a few of the roadblocks to success including the lack of widespread adoption of the underlying technology (smart phones), holding the interest of the audience, and the lack of community building inherent in the current options.  Today I want to look more into that last problem and how some players are overcoming it.

As I said last week, the big benefit of social media is its ability to build communities through the web.  But those communities are, for the most part, virtual.  If you are in Facebook or any other platform, you have a large group of people in your network that you have never actually met face to face.  Yet, you are in contact with them regularly no matter where they are in the world.  you know a lot about them and you have several common interests.  However, try to do that on a local level with social media and you run into a problem: you can’t without a lot of effort.

I discovered this over the past two years on some pro bono work I’ve been doing for Sustainable Redwood City.  I wanted to use social media to grow the organization but discovered that if I didn’t already have a personal relationship with people in my community, I couldn’t actually get them to connect with me or the organization on any SM platform.  I had to meet them first before they would accept the connection.

I also could not use social media to discover people in my community or neighborhood because the platforms did not get that granular.  In Facebook, for example, I can choose the Silicon Valley network or the San Francisco network, but not the SF Peninsula, San Mateo County, Redwood City or my own neighborhood, Friendly Acres.  I was forced to accept a position in a large geographical context.  This isn’t as much of a problem if you live in New York City or San Francisco, but it doesn’t help the 2 million+ people in the Bay Area.

What social media lacks is a local approach and even the entry of Twitter and Facebook into this realm is not helping.

Geolocal/social apps are supposed to help solve that problem by making it possible for local business to reach their local community and expand their business.  If you are an ice cream shop or a coffee bar, it’s a great idea because you will succeed if you get a lot of regular customers.  If you are a dentist of an auto shop, not so much.  If you go back to those guys more than once in six months you have a problem.  But the real benefit lies with the vendor, not the customer.  You need a way for those customers to come together in a community, without violating personal space or privacy.

And that’s the good news because I have discovered some startups that are doing exactly that.

The one with the biggest name is Yelp.  They’ve recently added a geolocal aspect to their reviewing service where you can check in to favorite establishments, but again, they are focused only on commercial outreach and only to whole cities, not neighborhoods, so it is a step in the right direction but not exactly what I think people need.  

Next up is a tiny little company called Gogoverde, which is hyper focused on neighborhoods and is currently only available in Palo Alto and Redwood City.  But they lack the geolocal tech at present.  Mostly what they do is get people who already know each other to join a local network and share information and materials.  

But the app  I’m really excited about is a company called DeHood.  I’ve been using the app for a while, sending some of my activity on it to my Twitter and Facebook pages and even went in to talk to the company leadership, Babak Hedayati and Mike Mertz, to find out more, which lead to a consulting contract with them that started a couple of days ago (so there’s your full disclosure)

But I’ve been using the tech for several weeks now simply because it accomplished what I’ve been looking for: a social media application that can build local and REAL community.

And what DeHood does will be the subject of the next post.

The 12 Entrepreneurs. What have I gotten myself into now?

50184_143431825677984_5976_n  So I just got back from a 2 hour meeting with a handful of on-fire entrepreneurs from Europe who want to shake up the establishment and start building relationships, companies and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  "The 12 Entrepreneurs," as the group calls themselves (12 stars in the EU logo... get it?), come from all over Europe (Austria, France, Spain, Germany, United Kingdom, Romania, Poland, Portugal, Norway, Italy, Czech Republic, Netherlands and Centrope Region (encompassing Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary) and have launched multiple successful companies, but they have grown frustrated with Euro-reticence and Silicon Valley no-it-all-sim (yes I spelled it that way on purpose). They want to get our respective economic engines humming again.

I like these guys so I have volunteered my time to get it started.

The kickoff event will be a small gathering of no more than 50 invitees at the Plug-and-Play Center in Sunnyvale on September 22 starting at 4 p.m.  If working with European companies and investors is interesting to you.  Let me know and I will see about getting you an invitation.  For more info you can find them on Facebook.

Hey, guess what? You can go home again. Just ask Brian Fuller.

Brian Fuller announced yesterday that he is back under the employ of United Business Media and working at EE Times, although not under the position he was before (editor in chief) but as the Products Content Strategist of EE Times Products section.

From the press release; "Fuller will drive product news, information and community and also provide engineers and their marketing teams with the assistance they need to bring products to market more effectively, leveraging the breadth of EE Times' capabilities -- from products to e-learning, news, events, courses, webinars and video."

This is ridiculously good news for the semiconductor industry's marketing wonks, especially those who have come to appreciate and implement social media strategies within their ranks (and there are still damn few of those).  Brian has been on a personal journey into the social world that began at EE Times and their convulsions over whether to stay as a traditional media house or to branch out into other directions.  In that journey he learned what it was like to be a PR hack, an in-house marketing guru, a freelance writer and unemployment.  

He brings back to EE Times a great understanding of how difficult it is to have a vision for communication when most of the industry is still trying to work like it's 1999.

But be prepared. Brian is a very nice guy and will talk pleasantly with you, even if you have not a clue how to communicate your product.  If you are one of those, he will walk away and it will be like the conversation never happened.  Be proactive. pick his brain and listen to what he advises.  You'll be better off

...Leaving, in a Pacifica... Here I come Anaheim.

My last minute prep is complete and a full calendar of live video interviews at the Design Automation Conference in Anaheim...

There's a good list of people signed up to talk from Magma, ARM, Accellera and a couple of companies in the wireless space making their debut.  We'll also be meeting up with some social media entrepreneurs

The interviews will be on Footwasher Media's Vpype channel live at 5 minutes after each hour starting at 9:05 Monday and continuing to our last broadcast at 12:05 Tuesday.  You can catch the archived versions from the channel, but I'll be posting some of them on New Tech Press as well.

I'm not going to spend much time on the corporate news but am looking into the viability of the industry in the current economic market, what companies are doing to make the SoC industry profitable again and what technologies have the potential of breaking free in the next couple of years.  There will be an opportunity to ask questions via chat on the Vpype site, and to make comments and ask additional questions on the archived videos.

HOWEVER, if you are at DAC and want to get in on the action directly, each interview will be done live in the Magma Design theater in their booth in front of a live audience.  Let's make this stuff interactive.

New Tech Press, Live from DAC!

Big news all around today.  Denali and Cadence merge and New Tech Press will go to DAC this year with live video broadcasts on line.

Yep, today we reached agreement with Vpype, the social video startup for partial sponsorship of live (and later archived) interviews with technologists and industry leaders at the Design Automation Conference in Anaheim, beginning June 14.

Here's the catch: You won't be able to see the live broadcasts unless you have a Facebook account.  You'll have to wait until the archived interviews go up on the Vpype site, New Tech Press, and the NTP network partners, like Electronic Products, as well.  

The offer of sponsorship came after I started a series on the Use of Social Video a couple of weeks ago on Facebook that will be continuing indefinitely and will probably be expanding to multiple weekly events on other subjects.

So this is a heads up on both of those opportunities.  We had about 10 people in the audience for last week's broadcast and the new one will start at 10:05 tomorrow morning and I'm looking to expand that audience.  Come with questions, even if they are not about the subject matter of the day (camera positioning).  And I'm going to be looking for interview subjects and participants and we are still in need of a couple of sponsors to round out the costs.  Spread the word and let me know if you want to participate.

EE Times buys DesignCon and may change the landscape for EDA

The hot news today is that the EE Times Group of United Business Media (UBM) has purchased the DesignCon conference for a bargain price of $1.4 million.  Yikes.  

I've always enjoyed DesignCon because it's technical content is just outstanding and very diverse... and I know I'm not alone in that belief.  Most editors I talk to prefer going to DesignCon than DAC for that reason.  (That's not to say DAC doesn't have good content so put your pitchforks down.)  The big difference between the two conferences is that the former is targeted toward what is going on inside the industry and the latter to what is going on in academia.  Plus dealing with the constantly moving circus that is DAC compared to the consistent location of the Santa Clara Convention Center makes planning and costs a lot easier to control.

But I've also felt that DesignCon's marketing has been about at par with what DAC has always done and as a result, the emphasis never changes: DesignCon is always the little cousin to DAC.  The acquisition may change all that.

UBM's Embedded Systems Conference has been a consistent money maker for the company and the push the hell out of it.  Going to the conference exhibits is always exciting and something news is happening every year.  Contrast that to the consistent lack of traffic on the DAC and DesignCon floors and you can see why people still spend money to exhibit there.

DAC is definitely upgraded its web presence and is making noises about how much better it will be for exhibitors, but I've heard that before.  The organization is still top heavy in academics, including those who represent companies.  I have by doubts, though, about how good the marketing is.  That's no insult to the people that do the actual marketing, either.  What has hampered DAC marketing in the past is engineers and academics overruling marketing plans and initiatives rather then let real marketers implement appropriately.

In the case of DesignCon, now in the hands of a company that calls itself a "marketing firm," We're going to see something completely different for the EDA world.  There will be no "nickel-and-diming" the organizers who are not dependent on the good graces of the powers that be.  We might even see a real combination of the embedded and EDA worlds in a common location with systems people at the wheel, rather than chip people.

We might see DAC return to its roots as a strictly academic event, held over a couple of days at a hotel.  I don't think that would be a bad thing.  And I see this news today as a very good thing for everyone

Save the Date: IMTC 2025 on video and collaboration

I'm going to be a panelist at the IMTC 2025 virtual conference next week talking about the future of marketing.  This is a new organization launching new conferencing technology that is pretty interesting.  Not all the bugs are worked out (like getting stuff to work on Macs correctly but I think it has a future for many applications.  All the speakers and panelists will be broadcast, live, from multiple remote locations.  Those with the proper tools can jump in to ask questions, even on camera, or at minimum can comment and ask questions on the chat screen.

My panel is at the end of the first day (Wednesday, April 7) at 12:40 EASTERN Time (9:40 PDT) For my part, I'm talking specifically about the future of media and will probably take some contrarian positions in conventional wisdom (now that's a surprise).  I look forward to "seeing" many of you there.  Let's make it lively.

That Toyota mess? That's on me

It's time to fess up.  All the problems with the Toyota Prius brake and acceleration systems are my fault.  Let me explain.

A few years ago I was a PR consultant to VaST Systems who made virtualization technology allowing engineers to simultaneously test and modify hardware and software designs prior to prototyping and manufacture.  Shortly before I came on board, EE Times did a teardown of the Prius at the 2007 Embedded Systems Conference and one of the small bits of the discussion was how VaST Systems tools were used to build the engine control systems of the 2006 models.  VaST was very proud of this fact and as a result, they turned a lion's share of their concerns to automotive systems development.  Toyota was a marquee customer that th mentioned in all their presentations.

Through most of my tenure with the company I regularly but softly recommended that improved safety and reliability should be front and foremost in their presentations, but the reality was that the message was a throw away point.  Most of the presentations were focused on time to market, and product quality and making engineers' jobs easier, which is pretty much the same thing that everyone else discusses in the semiconductor/hardware industries.   I let it go because, after all, the client is always right, aren't they?

In 2008, however, the automotive market starting hitting the skids and everyone was cost cutting, even high-flying Toyota.  Among the cuts were purchases of design tool licenses, including VaST which devastated a lot of the companies in VaST's niche, including CoWare and Synopsys' Virtio.  My relationship with VaST was discontinued in April 2008 and I had failed to win my point about the importance of safety and the bottom line.  This is my understanding of what transpired after that point.

(NOTE:  I know the publicized accelerator problems were mechanical, not electronic in nature, but subsequent recalls have been based on electronic/software issues, especially after Steve Wozniak himself brought the issue forward)

For 2008 and 2009 Toyota made do without the VaST technology as cost cutting became the important issue. Yes it made the engineering easier, but engineers get paid pretty well so they need to work a little harder, don't you think?  That would turn out to be the years for the development of the 2009 and 2010 models.  Just a few weeks ago, VaST was sold at an undisclosed (and apparently very low price), along with CoWare to Synopsys giving the latter a virtual stranglehold on the entire market.

I say all this and take responsibility for what happened because I want to make a point.  Some people want to know why I seem so angry and confrontational about the changes in media and communication paradigms.  This situation with the Prius is why.

As professional communicators, we have a responsibility to look beyond the trite marketing messages and ancient sales philosophies that our clients and employers cling to and see to the real potential, both good and bad, of what they are creating.  We are the people that create the vision and if we don't have it, people can die.  

I'm not being over dramatic here.  Take a look at what is playing out on Capitol Hill this week.  Look at the pictures of the charred wrecks.  Toyota could have avoided this if they had the right tools for the job, and maybe they were short sighted, but the message that was given to them was that we could make their jobs easier and maybe make their products cheaper, but we just don't have the research in hand to prove that last point... so let's just go with it makes an engineer's job easier.

The research that needs to be done to prove the hard bottom-line and human safety of the systems rolling out the door is done by marketing and communications people.  If companies don't want to invest in that kind of effort, that's on them, but as professionals in the business we need to make them understand what kind of hell they may be unleashing if they do.  And we need to be ready to walk away if they won't listen.

Synopsys now has that responsibility.  They have the technology to stop this thing from happening again, and it is the responsibility of the marketing people to find the right message and It isn't time to market and it isn't ROI. I have every confidence in their ability to do exactly what needs to be done.  But I reiterate: People's lives depend on it.

What we do is neither inconsequential nor should it be done on the cheap.

I'm taking some days off next week.  This has been a marathon week because the world is changing faster than I can type.   I'll leave you with an often unremembered quote from Peter Drucker:

"Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business."