Artivism as Activism in Laguna Canyon

It was only recently that I learned of the term “artivism.” It came to me through a friend by way of an amazing project and a book. The project emerged from the mind of Mark Chamberlain a California artist who used his formidable photography talents to mobilize a community. With the efforts of hundreds of citizens and through the lens of a mural, the beauty and history of their landscape was forever preserved.Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 12.18.39 PM

In the newly released book, The Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism we are immersed in an inspiring story of how the power of photography combined with activism can prevail.

Mark Chamberlain drove west in the winter of 1969 from Iowa to the sunshine promise of California. Eventually he was stopped by the Pacific Ocean at the end of Laguna Canyon. He found his new home. At that time that area of California was populated by a small art colony that began in the early 20th century. There he stayed, making the project certain.

In the 1920’s, Hollywood studios were accelerating their output and found Laguna Beach a convenient and beautiful shooting location. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the 1954 version of A Star is Born are just two of the dozens of films and tv episodes shot there. Several actors used it as a respite from the stress of the industry with many of them eventually settling in. The canyon also hosted music festivals and counter-culture gatherings that grew larger and larger crowds each year. They made the city leaders uneasy and moved to shut down these events, but an awakening had already begun.

As commerce expanded to the south of Los Angeles, developers created a master plan to eradicate orange groves, build housing, business centers and of course strip malls. The locals wanted to preserve the natural beauty and protect the environment, but began to feel their power waning. The Laguna Canyon project gave them a focal point to band together, increasing their power.

Mr. Chamberlain put into motion a multi-phased plan to photograph the entire nine mile canyon stretch as well as collect garbage (dubbed a “garbological” study) to create an immense visual archive. In the book we are taken from phase to phase, complete with images of the time, as the community comes together to make their cause known.

All the work and effort culminated in a 636-foot long sculptural mural consisting of thousands of photographs of ordinary California life. The mural is essentially a wall with a wooden supporting skeleton where these photos would be placed. When viewed from a distance it took the shape of a reclining female figure. The mural was named “The Tell,” taken from the archeological term referring to a mound of earth that has buried civilizations over time.

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The timbers for The Tell superstructure cost over ten thousand dollars, January 1990


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An overview of The Tell under construction

The result was astounding. As most of the images were small snapshots, the mural resembled a neo-impressionist painting of tiny dots. The genius was how the images were sorted and assembled. Content, color, character and many other criteria were taken into account and helped determine where the images would be pasted on the surface. Needless to say, hundreds of people volunteered their talent and resources to achieve the visual language goal of the mural.

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Diving Figure in the early stages

Over time the natural elements worked their own magic, slowly shaping the experience by washing out or enlivening the colors of the photos themselves. The mural became integrated into the beauty of the canyon – claimed by the land – thereby increasing the power of the work, which in turn broadened interest and attention.

The project was so effective that in 1990, ninety-eight percent of Laguna Beach residents approved a vote to increase taxes enough to purchase the land outright. It is now a key part of a 7,000 acre wilderness park.

Although it is a slim volume, it packs a cultural punch and a reminder of the power of collective art. It combines Mr Chamberlain’s personal thoughts integrated with supporting contributions by Mark’s long-time partner, Jerry Burchfield, along with academics, advocates, writers and artists. The images chronicle the journey from beginning to end and provide a genuine sense for the scope of the project.

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Mr. Chamberlain on June 21, 2010. He passed away April 23, 2018 at the age of 75. Photo by Diana Drake

Order your copy directly from Laguna Wilderness Press.

More about Mark Chamberlain by Liz Goldner.

All unattributed photographs are from the BC Space archives.

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age: Book Review.

j9941A search on Amazon of “Nikola Tesla in books” will repaint your browser with 1,872 choices. A Viemo search on Nikola Tesla will yield 552 videos across 56 pages. That’s too much content for me to absorb with my busy schedule so I did what I always do when faced with so many choices. I chose carefully.

My choice was Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson. I selected this book because the author is a professor of science, technology and society and has a long history of being published and well regarded in the technology field. It was a bonus that his three areas of interest, science, technology and society are closely connected to my interests of society, media and technology.

Mr. Carlson is an academic with a strong research ethic and that seemed most appropriate to unpack some of the mysteries of Tesla. I wanted to read through the eyes of a historian who understands technology. I got that in this book.

The book is big at 500 pages including a thorough index. A good index is always a sign of a serious writer. If there is no index in a work of non-fiction then we have been given the right to label him or her as lazy.

I’ve come to realize through the reading of this book and the sampling many others, that Tesla had a magician’s flair trapped inside a brilliant, visionary mind of a meta-physical scientist. I’ll stop short of sorcerer, but part of me thinks he would have liked being placed in that category.

Tesla worked very hard his entire life, tirelessly pursuing his dream to bring wireless power to the world. He was his biggest fan, always looking for just a one more round of funding that would finally close the very narrow gap between his desire and reality. It’s been said that he was ahead of his time. Perhaps he even felt that way.

The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter – for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way.

He had a rare condition known as Synesthesia. Synesthesia is a perceptual condition of mixed sensations: a stimulus in one sensory modality (hearing) involuntarily elicits a sensation/experience in another sense (vision). Likewise, perception of a shape (number or letter) may cause an unusual perception in the same sense (color). This allowed him to fully design all the details of an invention in his mind and actually run the test or experiment. Since he was completely clear in his mind he often did not fully document his designs, and so the Tesla archive is not as complete as it is with other inventors.

It was an amazing life for sure, but not one any of us would likely want to lead. He made perhaps the biggest contributions to the world we share today with our indispensable soul mate, electricity. As I read through the book I jotted down a list of Tesla’s major accomplishments.

  • Mastering Alternating Current (AC). Tesla’s inventions drew interest from the likes of George Westinghouse and J.P. Morgan toward him for investment purposes. Edison was not a fan of AC after seeing men electrocuted by its power. Today’s world is electrified by alternating current.
  • Tesla’s input into the Niagara Falls power project led to that team adopting AC as their power choice to send large amounts of power over long distances.
  • Invented the photographic process for producing X-rays (X for unknown) weeks ahead of Wilhelm Roentgen who is officially credited with the invention. Tesla discovered X-ray photography, but failed to realize it at the time.
  • Tesla was the first investigator of electromagnetic waves which was then furthered by Marconi and resulted in the invention of the Radio. Tesla devised circuits using capacitors and coils that improved Marconi’s invention.
  • Other inventions: Induction motor, rotary transformers, high frequency alternators, the Tesla coil, the Tesla oscillator.

The writing of this book is thorough, but dense. The material is very well organized and written in a consistent style throughout, which for a book of this length and a life this diverse is quite an accomplishment. It’s not an breezy read. One must be determined to learn about Tesla to make it through to the end.

Tesla in France
Tesla lecturing at the French Physical Society and International Society of Electricians (Paris, March 1892)

Mr. Carlson takes us back to Tesla’s earliest years. He recounts a difficult childhood that included the tragic loss of a brother and a challenging sickness. Later Tesla began to blossom while attending Joanneum Polytechnic School in Graz, and his first introduction to electricity and motors. One of his professors said of Tesla.

Tesla was peculiar; it was said of him that he wore the same coat for twenty years. But what he lacked in personal magnetism he made up in the perfection of his exposition. I never saw him miss a word or gesture, and his demonstrations and experiments came off with clocklike precision.

From there Tesla never stopped studying and experimenting. It was the age of the dawning of the magician and he fit right in. He would organize elaborate stage productions to showcase his latest inventions, captivating the crowd with his prestidigitation skills and the magic of electricity. He was viewed as a showman. People didn’t fear him but they did consider him a genius which carries with it a certain amount of eccentricity.

Tesla Receiver
Receiver used by Tesla to detect electromagnetic waves (1890)

To the end, Tesla always believed that wireless power was possible. His work at a Colorado Springs laboratory brought him as close as he would ever be to achieving his dream. But he was not a particularly good businessman and despite his abilities for showmanship, it did not translate well into a cogent story or proposal. His genius just wasn’t taken serious.

He was never rich, but his inventions over the years meant he had ongoing but modest royalties that kept him going through the last decade of his life. Sadly he died nearly penniless in room 3327 of The New Yorker Hotel at the age of 86 in 1943. He never married and there is almost no record of his being involved with a woman at any point in his life.

It’s fitting that Tesla Motors, maker of the pre-eminent electric sedan is named for Nikola Tesla. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, is following in the footsteps of Tesla, but doing so with business smarts and Silicon Valley speed. If you want to know more about Nikola Tesla and have some time. I would recommend Mr. Carlson’s book.

Check out my experience as a Tesla Model S Driver here.

Les Miserables Close-up

JackmanLes Misérables has been told countless times since Victor Hugo gave us his enormous novel. I uncovered over 50 small and large screen versions with only modest effort. Even Orson Welles tackled it on radio in 1937. Les Misérables is probably best known in contemporary times as a musical that began onstage in Paris in 1978. Within two years it opened in London and then became a fixture of the American musical where it still plays over two decades later. I saw it in 1987 in New York.

It was written as a novel, not a musical. So how did it transform into a musical? The soaring score of Claude-Michel Schönberg and powerful lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer — with contributions by James Fenton — sealed the fate of Les Misérables as a musical possibly forever. And so Tom Hooper the Director of The King’s Speech has taken up the challenge; again as a musical.

I will not recount the details of the story involving Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and the diligent Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) set during the French Revolution. All I’ll say is take my advice and never steal from a French bakery.

For me the most interesting aspects of this year’s Les Misérables is how the filmmakers and cast went about making it and how the studios marketed it. The script contains hardly twenty lines of spoken dialogue. The rest is all to be sung, no matter what character opens their mouth. This introduced new challenges for the actors as well as the film crew. Mr. Hooper wanted to combine singing with acting and so had the actors sing their parts live as they were being filmed. They wore invisible earbuds during their performance, listening to a pianist playing their musical pieces. Usually musicals are recorded ahead of time then the actors are filmed on set, lip-synching to their previous recording. The process used here is much more powerful and personal. It’s particularly effective during dialogue exchanges or when three actors sing their own parts individually and are cut into a weave of narrative by the editors. The sword fight, actually a sword and a long stick, between Javert and Valjean in the hospital after Fantine’s death is amazing. Two Australian stars singing snark talk as Frenchmen in Paris while doing bitter battle.


All actors turn in smashing performances with the most tears being shed during Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) solo I Dreamed a Dream. Not a dry eye in the house as they say. Hugh Jackman puts his musical talents on display tackling the most difficult part as Valjean, while Russell Crowe, who played in the stage version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Australia is the determined Javert, who has a very specific way of looking at the world. Evil is one thing and good is another and they are fixed that way forever. Oh, a couple more observations about Javert. He has the best costumes and has a thing for walking on the edge of buildings many stories above the streets of Paris.

The camera takes wide sweeping runs at the massive sets, but when it comes to the songs, the camera moves right in on top of the actor’s faces. Extreme close-up. I believe they were so wrapped up in how they were filming, the overwhelming material and terrific interpretation by the stars, that they just couldn’t help themselves. Be prepared to see everyone’s face thirty feet tall most of the time. Despite the 2 hour and 38 minute running time I frequently felt the pacing was a bit jagged. When I wanted the images to slow down so I could take them in, they were cut off. When I was ready to move along to the next frame, the camera lingered.

The studios knew they had a challenge getting American audiences out to see their epic. The musical genre is always a risk for studios when it comes to box office take. The number one grossing musical since 1974 earned only $188 Million and was released in 1978 (Grease). Even Chicago is well behind that in second place. At the writing of this blog Les Misérables places eleventh with $66.7 Million. It should get a Golden Globe and Oscar bump in a few weeks.

The studios began their marketing in May with a teaser trailer which was upgraded to an extended version in September. They focused on the star talent and on the way in which the film would be made using live singing. They of course leveraged Social Media with Facebook, You Tube and Twitter, and placed one to two minute clips on cable operators networks like Comcast/Xfinity on demand for free.

Fans of the musical will likely flock to the cinema to see this and be very satisfied. Probably moved. Not everyone lives a few miles from quality live musical theater and can’t get to or can’t afford that experience. This film makes this amazing story accessible to millions more people.

Will the future ever arrive? … Should we continue to look upwards? Is the light we can see in the sky one of those which will presently be extinguished? The ideal is terrifying to behold, lost as it is in the depths, small isolated, a pin-point, brilliant but threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it; nevertheless, no more in danger than a star in the jaws of the clouds. — Victor Hugo

Front and back of Original Playbill, Broadway Theatre, 1987 (Steve A Furman Archives)

Les Mis Ticket Stub

Ticket stub from the musical  Les Misérables (Steve A Furman Archives)

Interesting Fact:

Colm Wilkinson who made his mark as the original Jean Valjean in London and New York (He was the Valjean I saw) returns to this picture to play the empathetic Bishop who gives Jackman’s Valjean a second chance.

Official Web Site:

The official movie web site is more interesting than most. Cast, crew, story, gallery of course. And they don’t launch music when you hit the site. Thank you. If you want details on the background of how the film came together read the Production Notes. There are also links to the free Companion Movie Book for iPad, similar to what was done with Lincoln. I don’t have the numbers on these companion book downloads, but I believe publishing them and making them free for iPads and tablets is a much better way to promote a film. Web sites of these pictures are so uninspired these days. Of course they link to the soundtrack. It’s billed as “highlights” because the entire film is the soundtrack. Some of my favorites were on their in their complete form, but others were truncated. A bit disappointed at that. They have some cool wallpapers and icons formatted for desktop and iPad.

Infographic Les Miz

Excellent use of  info graphics telling the broader story of  Les Misérables

Photo credit unless otherwise noted: Courtesy of Universal Studios, Working Title Films and Cameron Mackintosh Limited.

The Printed Word: Why Books Will Survive the Digital Age

I’ve always been a book person. No, I mean a BOOK person. Collector, curator, lover of the dust jacket, size, shape and smell of the printed word on paper. I know how books are paginated, printed, bound, packed, shipped, and how to write a publishing contract. My first career was the general manager of an 18 bookstore chain in the midwest. It was a great experience. I learned retail merchandising, finance and inventory management as well as the fine art of book buying. Publishing and book selling were a gentlemen’s sport at that time and full of mutual respect.

Of course the best part was I got lots and lots of books.

My collection grew out of hand in the late 1990’s. When I was about to move again I realized I’d need to buy 120 packing boxes for my books alone. You see, they don’t compress very well. Enough was enough, so I donated about half to the local library. They couldn’t believe it when I pulled up in my friend’s minivan. That was a nice day.

Fast forward to the digital era. I didn’t have an allergic reaction to reading on a screen, but it took me a while to buy my first book in the digital format. Much like my transition to digital music, time passed before it become a ritual activity. But there are so many benefits to digital books that I’m happy to say they have earned the right to coexist alongside my analog collection. Not replace it, mind you. Oh no, let’s not get crazy.

The biggest benefit of digital is I’m now reading about twice as many books as I did before I got my iPad, and here’s why.

  • It’s backlit, so you can sit in any chair in your home and read comfortably
  • Since you don’t need ambient light you won’t intrude on your wife’s desire to sleep while you read
  • You can carry hundreds of books with you without the weight and bulk
  • In the mood for something, or want to pick up on where you left off, no problem; just a few taps and you’re there
  • Virtual bookmarks never get misplaced which means you can find your favorite passages in a snap
  • No more driving to Barnes and Noble or waiting for Amazon to deliver
  • Trial is easy, as samples are free from the iTunes bookstore
  • iCloud allows you to push the content to all your Apple devices instantly, which means my wife can read the same book at the same time I’m reading it
  • The technology is great, allowing for a choice of font styles, sizes and backlight controls
  • If you come across an unfamiliar word, simply tap it and get the definition instantly
  • Packing for travel is a cinch; all your books come with you, automatically

The reading doesn’t stop there. Magazines, periodicals, professional journals, are all accessible digitally. I believe that magazines on the iPad far exceed the book experience. Just look at Wired or The New Yorker to see why.

Digital is great for traditional fiction and nonfiction works, but I don’t think it holds up for art books or other publications that are graphic rich. You no longer have the burden of carrying the book, but digital homogenizes all volumes. The physical shape of a book, trim size, thickness, paper stock, makes a book a book. Large books need to be large so you can rest them on your lap and enter a new world. Digital books are forced to fit onto either portrait or landscape. The fact that books come in countless physical forms makes them even more interesting.

There’s another drawback to digital. You can’t have a library in your home if you are all digital. There’s something very satisfying about entering a room that has wall lined bookshelves and stroll past the spines to see what’s there. When I visit someone’s home for the first time I immediately look for the books. You learn a lot about a person by what they read. It also becomes a catalyst for discussion. Can you imagine me grabbing their e-reader and asking for the passcode?

I think it’s critical for young children to see lots of books and be able to explore them in a tactile fashion. This is how they learn to read and how stories get told. From bath books and board books all the way up to chapter books, the book experience grows alongside the child. Try giving a 2 year old a digital book to keep them occupied in the tub.

I have some shelves filled with classics, Moby Dick, etc. I show them to my seven year old from time to time and give him a brief demonstration of why they are great works by reading a few sentences. He has something to look forward to and gets excited about it. “Dad, can we read that whale book again?”

Then there are bookstores. In the stores I ran, square footage was scarce, so we didn’t have comfy chairs and coffee bars. We wanted people to come in, browse, buy and leave. Then come back of course. The giant bookstores didn’t come along until a decade later, adopting a location platform modeled after the local library, but without all the shushing. That was a master stroke and I believe added years to the vitality of books and bookstores.

Of course the local library still stands as a hearth of knowledge in a community. My village recently passed a referendum to invest $12 million in a complete renovation and updating of our library to begin this spring. Some argue that we should abandon libraries, but for many people this is how they get their first exposure to the world of books. I’m happy to see libraries and hope we continue to invest in them for many years. I’ve thought it would be a nice concept to combine a library and a bookstore in the same space. The lending side would be much larger than the selling side, because most of the purchasing would be digital and no physical space is required. Creating commerce would provide additional financial support for the library.

It would be interesting to have the option to buy the analog book and the digital book at the same time, packaged together at a great price. I could add what I wanted to own as books while affording me the convenience of reading it on my iPad. Digital books are fantastic and I’m so glad they’re here. But book books will survive the digital age.

Trust Agents – Book Review

Just finished Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Timely topic and certainly these gentlemen are more than qualified to tackle this subject. You never know what you are going to get with books. They can be academic and dry or too light and obvious. I’m happy to report that this work does not fall into either camp. It’s accessible, open and easy to understand. They fill the pages with personal experiences, good as well as not their finest moments, and provide examples from others they admire. These guys are very generous. You will read things you never knew before not for sizzle effect but to make a point and tightly linked to the advice offered. At no time do they become preachy or put themselves into a special category.

The whole point is to be a Trust Agent. Someone who is recognized by others and accepted into a group or network. The trick to being a Trust Agent is authenticity, transparency and willingness to help others. This is the foundation of Social Media, but it is frequently misunderstood or purposely avoided by people and corporations. They say the book is about business, not technology, and it certainly is. But these guys are technical wizards underneath their social trench coats. That knowledge and their smarts have given them a jump start in this new world. Something they tell us anyone can do by making their own game. They tell you how.

The book is full of little sidebars that provide clear cut action steps to help crystalize the points made in the chapter narratives. I think it was a great choice to mention technologies like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, but keep their advice on a much higher plane that can travel onto any new technology platform. If anyone knows that things become obsolete quickly in this world it’s them.

The style of the book is conversational, kind of a duh for a Social Media book, but that could have easily been betrayed. Mr. Brogan and Mr. Smith take turns writing paragraphs and chapters, but honestly I couldn’t tell their voices apart. I would never have known who was writing what unless one of them mentioned the other. They are either writing soul mates or one of them is a made up person (just joking).

It’s a fast read and full of information. It provides the most value for someone looking to get an overarching understanding of how the web has evolved into the social platforms we have today and how to make sense and leverage it. I hope to meet these guys some day and buy them a drink (or cookie). They seem like people I’d like to know.

Read and learn and be entertained at and – Table of Contents for the Web

From video

My roots are in books. I ran a chain of retail bookstores in the ’80’s, became a buyer at a wholesaler responsible for making fiction and non-fiction merchandising decisions for dozens of national chains, and eventually evolved to publishing. As the web emerged one of the obvious shortcomings I observed was when you landed on a home page you had no idea what was behind it. How much content was on that site? How valuable would it be? With a book you can hold it, touch it, and thumb its pages to gauge the quality of information or entertainment value. It has a table of contents and an index. Sites simply try to lure you in.

Web sites have their navigation and labeling and even the blurb about what the site is trying to do, but this frontier was very new and frequently in the hands of almost anyone with a computer and internet connection. In that rests the web’s strength and weakness. Fast forward to today. The web has come so far. 2.0 is here and although I won’t say it is reaching maturity, it is growing up pretty darn fast. Remember, I’m used to the printed word which stretches back to the 1400’s.

But search changed everything. Correction, Google changed everything with search and some may have thought the rest was history. Think again. I have been spending some time with over the past few days and I’ve got to say that it has serious potential.

The official promise is “The web organized for you.” It’s a big promise, and maybe not too far off, which in a way makes me cringe because the web is so full of gossip and mainstream; media soft-brained vox populi… (sorry, I’ll get back on topic). After pressing return you are greeted with a simple statement, “What’s happening on the web: March 16, 2009” along with a very nicely designed page stuffed full of information, but not overwhelming to scan. They have a search field at the top like Google, however you are immediately drawn into the page. The section headings down the power aisle are:

  • Top News
  • Popular Entertainment
  • Just for laughs
  • Images of the Day
  • Daily Deals

Each one of these sections has a tab structure that allows the user to quickly scan the top sites in each category. Here is the Popular Entertainment tab line, covering network television in Hulu, the user generated content of YouTube and Vimeo and music from Rhapsody.

Conent navigation example

On the right hand stack they port in these modules.

  • Hot in the Kosmos
  • Trending Topics – Taken from
  • Top Links on Twitter – Published by
  • Hot Search Trends – From
  • Lucky Dip – Celebrity watch from
  • An untitled accordion navigation section
  • Feeling Browsy? – Kosmos created categories

This is where becomes a giant collection of social media, and distinguishes itself from Google. Without a doubt, “Hot in the Kosmos” is the most interesting section. When you click on any of the topics listed there you are whisked to a wonderfully structured page that is at once highly relevant, broad reaching and unexpected. Here is how they describe the content behind this section.

The Kosmos brings you hot topics by looking at the latest stories on the web. To put it another way, these topics are machine created and not editorially selected. Explore and enjoy!

When you submit a query they tell you they are “building your guide” vs. “returning results” (1-10 of about 366,000,000). They organize the information in the following manner.

  • At a Glance
  • Topic Highlight
  • Web Search
  • News and Blogs
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Conversations
  • Reference

Very thorough approach and it allows the user to select how they want to consume the information. This is a partial screen shot from the “Hot in the Kosmos” page created after clicking on the link Ben Bernanke. If you don’t see anything in this container of the home page you are interested in, you can always enter your own search from that section. Depending on what you enter, you could get back additional information, such as maps.

Sample guide page from Hot in the Kosmos

By the way, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a site say they were “beta-ish” and in “alpha” at the same time. Clearly they are working on all sections at once and labeling it appropriately. Love the transparency and the understanding the need to set expectations for the user.

So this is a long way to arrive at support for the title of this post. is indeed a table of contents for the web. It is the best attempt so far at showing me what’s on the web without having to navigate through it. You can drag components within the two columns up an down to personalize it, but for some reason, not across the stacks. You can’t shrink the size of the modules either, which is annoying at times. I don’t need to see the deal of the day from that big in the browser window. The “Feeling Browsy” section didn’t seem to work at all, which was a disappointment. But I love where they’re going, and I’ll be watching with interest and hope as they evolve this ambitious and potentially important concept. From a book guy turned web enthusiast, I say well done.

Barnes and Making Progress

I know, I know, Amazon is where everyone goes to buy books, videos, even snow blowers. But for the pure book person, like me, Barnes and Noble is still the preferred destination. Clearly Amazon’s site has been ahead for years, but the in store experience is not available to Amazon customers. I don’t care what you say, nothing can trump holding a book in your hand or browsing a well organized store. The web site does a lot of things very well. Here’s a couple.

The Look Inside feature popularized by Amazon has always been problematic for me. The interface refreshed your browser and it was difficult to get back to the product page without repeatedly hitting your back button. They have recently provided a fix for that, but it’s emblematic of online pure plays, that they go out quickly with features then update. That’s a fine approach, but you can’t take a year to fix the usability problems.

Barnes and Noble See Inside feature was implemented properly from the start. It opens a new browser window and has the same look and feel of the site. A scroll bar at the bottom makes it easy to navigate to new pages, or you can select from a link stack on the left hand side. It preserves the book turning motif, which I would expect from real booksellers and appreciate. When you want to return to the product page, simply close the window.

Barnes & Noble's Online See Inside Feature

A feature that has that Amazon can’t is the pick-up in store option. When you find your item simply type in your zip code and a list of stores is returned showing availability. You can reserve it right there and an email is sent to you confirming that it’s on hold. The screen shows a photo of the that particular location storefront, a nice touch and an additional clue that you have reserved it at the right property.

Store Pick-up Screen for

They made one small misstep on this screen. The text says “We can place a copy of this book on hold…” I reserved a CD, not a book. Either dynamically populate the proper product category or change book to item. It’s a small detail, but hey, they are after quality. At any rate, they are doing a nice job of integrating the store and online experiences. As a book guy, I hope Barnes and Noble can weather the current economic environment and sharpen their online skills so they can continue to compete with Amazon.

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations – Book Notes

Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations combines the revolution of social networking with real world, real people examples. Throughout the book, Mr. Shirky takes what could have easily ended up as classic case studies (boring) and brings them to life with characters and a sense of drama. This technique draws the reader in and gets them to care about what’s happening to these people, then adroitly connects the story line to the world of social networking.

His examples span the globe and cover both commonplace happenings (someone loses their cell phone) to lightning rod subjects (the Catholic church scandals). He effortlessly weaves psychology, sociology, anthropology and business into a compelling story that explains the world of social media as not something mysterious, but commonplace, even routine. Perhaps not so yet, but it’s definitely moving in that direction and quickly.

Mr. Shirky believes someone’s age has a big impact on social tool adoption. The idea that older people have to unlearn old things in order to embrace and adopt the new things. He says:

…young people are taking better advantage of social tools, extending their capabilities in ways that violate old models not because they know more useful things than we [older people] do but because they know fewer useless things than we do… Meanwhile my students, many of them fifteen years younger than I am, don’t have to unlearn those things, because they never had to learn them in the first place.

Doesn’t that mean that young people today are learning more things now, that will be useless much sooner than what we learned?

This evoked for me the concept of the disappearing internet. As so many things now ship connected to the web and access to it is becoming ubiquitous. So much so that the concept of the internet recedes into the background. This has energized the development of new devices that can access the web and replace older form factors.

George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research wrote a post on his blog entitled The Digital Vanishing Act. He has crafted a list of devices or platforms and what they have replaced. “Wikipedia made my Britannica go away, E-Z pass vaporized the friendly toll taker” and so forth.

It’s a bit of a wake up call to execs that continue to rely on their experience and track record as a rationalization against the growing disappearance of all things familiar. If they don’t unlearn that lesson, they won’t learn the new one, and it won’t end well for them.

Bottom line, the need for human to human connection is as strong as ever. People will instinctively organize to accomplish their goals and gain power, and the convergence of devices/platforms and the web is accelerating the process. Social networking cannot be stopped. It’s like life, it will find a way.

Here Comes Everybody is a bit long, but thoughtful and accessible. Well worth the time. You can find Clay Shirky’s Internet Writings here.

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies – Book Notes

It seems all the marketing world is abuzz over social media. Everyone wants to do it, but there is no best practices approach to follow. That is until now. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, two high powererd analysts at Forrester Research published a book this spring containing their recipe for starting and nurturing social community.

It’s part blueprint, part self-help book and part research report. I found it to be comprehensive and exhaustive, at least as much as any study can be at this early stage of a new wave. The book can help brands of all sizes and from all verticals, but is tilted towards the bigger firms.

In typical Forrester style they have done their homework. Consumers, brands, software firms, you name it and they looked at it. The style is straightforward and easy to read, oftentimes playing back actual conversations they’ve had with clients. Case studies of course, and even some that didn’t work out.

My company is just beginning to explore this new way to market our brand and content and I found this book incredibly helpful. I’ve given 5 copies out to senior executives at work, and making it highly recommended reading for my staff. It starts with listening to your customers and ends with embracing them to help you make better products. But there is a whole lot of things to do, and not do, in between. It’s all mapped out.

The authors are realistic and clearly outline potential pitfalls, constantly reminding us to be patient, go slowly and get buy in at the highest levels.

Near the end they challenge the more sophisticated thinkers to imagine how working in the groundswell will actually transform their companies over time. How they market, conduct service, carry out PR and launch new products. I’ve been on a hunt for more sources of value for my company, and I believe this could be a viable one.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to come up the curve quickly on social media and community. A must read for all marketers, even if you’re not looking to launch into community at this time.

To get a taste of the book and the Forrester style of analyses, visit the Groundswell blog here. Or you could just buy the book here.

P.S. Charlene Li has recently left Forrester. I have relied on her advice and work for several years and I will miss that. On her “Why I’m leaving Forrester” blog I wrote a three word description of Charlene Li; a rare person. Hopefully our paths will cross again some day as we navigate through our professional lives. Best of luck to her!

All the World’s a Sage

Marshall McLuhan’s watershed work The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects is obviously the inspiration for this post. I first came across his book in 1967 and was completely blown away. My best friend, Tim, a budding graphic designer and fantasy artist, came running up to my front door waving the book. We launched into an hours long discussion of what it meant, and how it was relevant to what we were seeing, reading and watching. We desperately wanted to change the world, and were convinced this was the instruction manual, our treasure map. This is my original copy from 1967. Cover price $1.45.

Of course this book was a keeper, and I have watched after it for 31 years, through twelve moves and six cities. Unfortunately books are heavy and take up a lot of space. They also procreate on their own, as I always seem to have more today than yesterday. Having lots of books is a curse, and inflicts pain each time I move. But I can’t live without them, despite the content available today online.

I was looking for a muse last night, so I started combing the stacks in my basement in search of one. Mr. McLuhan’s book practically leapt off the media theory shelf directly into my hands. I took it as a sign and settled into a comfy chair. My head exploded.

The universe is one humongous cycle. Nothing is original, but everything is original at the start of each new cycle. All of us who inhabit the online social communities feel like we are doing something truly original. And in a way we are.

Technology today is moving at an astounding pace. The web, barely 20 years old, is disappearing into every device and medium. It has advanced so far that we find it difficult to discern any borders between the analog world and the digital world. If you are reading this you are part of the online social media revolution. When I re-experienced Mr. McLuhan’s book it reminded me that we are not original in our desire to revolutionize, we just have better technology. Here are samplings from the book. The parallels to social computing are erie.

From the chapter you.

The older, traditional ideas of private, isolated thoughts and actions−the patterns of mechanistic technologies−are very seriously threatened by new methods of instantaneous electric information retrieval, by the electrically computerized dossier bank−that one big gossip column that is unforgivng, unforgetful and from which there is no redemption, no erasure of early “mistakes.” We have already reached a remedial control, born out of knowledge of media and their total effects on all of us, must be exerted. How shall the new environment be programmed now that we have become so involved with each other, now that all of us have become the unwitting work force for social change? What’s that buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz?

From your neighborhood.

Electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of “time and “space” and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men. It has reconstituted dialogue on a global scale. Its message is Total Change, ending psychic, social, economic, and political parochialism. The old civil, state, and national groupings have become unworkable. Nothing can be further from the spirit of new technology than “a place for everything and everything in its place.” You can’t go home again.

From your family.

The worldpool of information fathered by electric media−movies, Telstar, flight−far surpasses any possible influence mom and dad can now bring to bear. Character no longer is shaped by only two earnst, fumbling experts. Now all the world’s a sage.

From your job.

From the fifteenth century to the twentieth century, there is a steady progress of fragmentation of the stages of work that constitute “mechanization” and “specialism.” …”Come into my parlor,” said the computer to the specialist.

From your government.

A new form of “politics” is emerging, and in ways we haven’t yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing everything.

From “the others.”

The shock of recognition! In an electric information environment, minority groups can no longer be contained−ignored. Too many people know too much about each other. Our new environment compels commitment and participation. We have become irrevocably involved with, and responsible for, each other.

Marshall McLuhan online

The Internet wasn’t invented yet, but Mr. McLuhan knew it was coming. In fact he was already there. He even had the right form factor, electric technology. His book restated what sociologists of the day were saying in a more powerful and dynamic way by getting it out of the classroom and into everyday life. He made it feel like the anarchist cookbook. The book is actually a prototype weblog−full of white space−inviting the reader to comment, rate, and forward to a friend.

It kick started thinking about how we could reshape and restructure our standing in society and awakened us to the social interdependence that is critical for survival and the key to creating a better tomorrow. It was about power. About possibilities and outcomes.

Are you ready? Because here it comes, again.