Saturday, September 24, 2011

Architect's serenity prayer

The serenity prayer (in one version at least) reads:

"O God and Heavenly Father,Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."
This prayer has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, the group founded to help people with problems with addiction to alcohol. I think the insight about the wisdom to "know the one from another" is extremely important for architects as well.

I can see a tendency to want to exert control over things that we really can't control, to produce architectural models that cover a huge span, but don't take into account some practical realities. In other words the much maligned "Ivory Tower Architecture".

So perhaps we should have a version of the Serenity Prayer for another AA group - Architects Anonymous.

O, powerful Zachman, grant us to accept what cannot be changed, the intestinal fortitude to change what needs to be changed and the wisdom to know the difference and the relevant columns

Friday, September 23, 2011

Yelp through the Value axis

VPEC-T is a thinking framework, useful for teasing out different perspectives between stakeholders/participants in a "system". Not necessarily a computer system (in fact many of the thinking models are expressly about the non computer parts of a system). The V (Value) filter helps in understanding the value of the desired outcomes to both the individual and the business.

Applying that filter to some of the more interesting pure-playweb properties (illustrated with examples from yelp and Groupon), we can look at some of the value offered and value received, helping us peer into the business models.

First, yelp. Yelp is a restaurant review site - the slogan being "Real people. Real reviews". The idea being that people like you and I can visit places, and review them - from a non-professional perspective. A nice idea indeed, but really to what purpose - especially what business purpose?

Yelp allows businesses to sign up and somehow advertise.  The purported value proposition being, "yelp has all of these people reviewing places, do you want to make sure that your establishment is properly placed?" There may be other models too. But I suspect that isn't where the real value lies. So let's look at yelp from the perspective of the individual "yelper".

A person signs up with yelp. Has to provide an email address and a (small) number of demographic details. A yelper then interacts with the site by chatting with other yelpers, or reviewing service providers - mostly, but not exclusively restaurants. In other words it is social media for the eating out crowd. Yelp provides inducements (elite status) to provide aspirational goals, and an air of exclusivity for its most prolific posters.

So for the privilege of belonging to a social media site - centered around people's favorite thing to do (giving opinions) yelp is able to collect a large amount of quite well targeted data, that can then be used/sold on or whatever for targeted advertising. Knowing that I travel a bit, which restaurants I eat at, buy certain kinds of furniture, etc. is the most valuable asset of all. It is self reported information, where there is no reason to lie with a very precise perspective on my behavior.

The Value exchange in the relationship is that the yelper gets a strong social group in exchange for letting yelp have great insight into the yelper's habits. Is this appropriate? Absolutely, but you always have to understand what value you are exchanging with another entity when you sign up. Similarly a company like yelp has to make the value proposition enticing enough, so that it can attract the mass it needs in order to sustain a valuable advertisement based business model.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Forced opt-in and opting out

In the current political climate in the USA, "individual rights" have been brought sharply into focus. The whole "what should the country provide, vs what should individuals provide?" debate is in full swing.

Everything seems to be up for grabs and discussion. For example, vaccination of children against childhood diseases is public policy, but there is a group of people (highlighted on the radio yesterday) in Washington State (not the US capital, Washington, DC.) who won't vaccinate their children for several reasons. Individual choice? For sure. Good thing - the medical community doesn't think so. My view, I side with the medical community.

Then we come to some real sacred cows. Charities. There is no doubt that many charities do fantastic work. There is no doubt that many people are comforted by their Churches, that their faith sustains them. However, each of us is somehow forced to contribute to their upkeep, How? Because charitable deductions are tax-exempt - at least here in the US of A. So if I have a marginal tax rate of 30%, then every $100 that I give to a results in a reduction of my tax burden by $30. Yet the charity gets all $100. So where does the difference come from? Presumably the general fund. And where does the general fund get its money? Er, um, from taxes.

Ergo, we are each paying for each other's favorite charities. I am not saying whether we should or shouldn't have the instituions, but let's value them properly/transparently.

Make it a matter of public policy to explicitly show where from general revenue the funds are going, and if people want to give more to support others - in times of crisis or whatever, then let them. I don't want to support mega-churches, I don't want to support super-mosques. I don't want to support giant synagogues. I don't want you not to be able to support these things.

Let's get the government of of the charities business, drop the administrative burden (reducing government cost) and let those who want/use the services pay for the services.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Knowing the purpose of communication

How hard it is for the news media. This morning's post from the mangling of information department comes from our local ABC affiliate, Channel 8 in Dallas, Texas.

It is pretty common to have a "crawl" going at the bottom of a screen - giving some highlights, quick overviews of what's happening, etc. So one would expect clear, crisp writing that is able to be understood easily. After all, the viewer is being forced to multi-task while watching the show, listening to the speaker/interview or whatever, and to read the crawl. That's a lot of brainwork - especially at 0500.

So imagine my horror when these 2 gems showed up this morning. "Michelle Bachman's campaign chief is stepping down, along with his deputy, Ed Rollins, who is 68, cites health reasons." and "Forecasters say it is less likely that hurricane Katia will hit the US. It is now a category 4 storm with 135 mph wind speeds."

So what's wrong here? There is so much it is hard to know where to start.

First, the format is just not suitable for a crawl. Especially with all of the commas. But more importantly, the message is just plain hard to tease out. In a crawl, by definition some of the message is not available to the reader. So, imagine that part of the hurricane crawl had gone by and all you saw was the piece that said "hurricane Katia will hit the US. It is now" - which is what I saw when I glanced at the TV this morning. Exactly the opposite of the intended meaning.

Writing for this medium is different than writing long form. We as writers need to understand the form that our message will be delivered in (yeah, I know, dangling preposition), and craft the message accordingly.

Oh and is it Ed Rollins who is the campaign chief? or is Ed Rollins the deputy? I don't know. I can guess, but am really not sure.