Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Transcript of Live Tweets from The Shorty Awards

Live video from Shorty Awards starts in 40 minutes, according to my rudimentary grasp of time zones and basic math. http://shortyawards.com/

Wacky Internet fun time starts now! http://blogs.lubbockonline….

The most prolific Tweeters in the world will be in one room tonight, trying to route their collective genius through one cell tower. #shorty

Got called, “the Joan Rivers of the Shorty awards” yesterday. I have heels and a wig, just need gold lame dress and old lady pearls. #shorty

Apparently the venue is floating on water? Did they remember the giant Styrofoam whale? #shorty

Join me for live interview with @peggyolson after the show. #shorty

Wonder who picked the music here. Last time I heard music like this, Orson Wells broke in for an alien invasion. #shorty

As pre-shows go, I think I prefer the HuffPo inauguration chaos. Geeks in black t-shirts running around with AV equipment. #shorty

Muzak is Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Is this really the tone we’re going for? #shorty

My Way summarized in 140 char: Life rocked. Dead now. Have you married Ava Gardener yet? Get busy! #shorty

So, the revolution won’t be televised, but there will be a band. #shorty

Just think, in 5 years this’ll be the Honda/Snapple Shorty Awards and the video will be obscured by a giant Chili’s banner. #shorty

I wonder if the Mad Men will get in a fight with Tweeters from other shows? Betty could totally take that tramp from @gossipgirl #shorty

@EHolmesWSJ “@PeggyOlson wearing fishnets and red pumps” I probably owe WSJ a royalty for quoting that. #shorty

Song topics include: death, murder, Sinatra and SATAN. For a finale, the Devil will challenge @charlestrippy for a gold guitar. #shorty

Massive props to band for using phrase “corral of glory” I think I have that on VHS. #shorty

Tonight’s “Music to sell your soul by” provided by @tinpanband #shorty

@socialmediagods have quote of the show so far, “Do you want us to make a benediction to kick off your little show?”

I just heard that @peggyolson has 10 people helping with her “big reveal.” What is she revealing that takes 10 people to lift? #shorty

That’s what I came to see. Young men in ties gesturing frantically to the band. #shorty

I think Greg taught me Political Science in 8th Grade. #shorty

“The 10 Commandments are ten Tweets.” Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s follower count. #shorty

Shorty Awards sponsored by Pepsi and the Knight Foundation. #shorty

@ricksanchezcnn is on screen now, so if he tweets in the next two minutes, it’s his assistant. #shorty

“The idea that you can mix old media with new media is pretty crazy.” Reference to “old suits” at CNN. Cough. #shorty

“You are my assignment editors, you are my focus group, you are my friends.”

Nice touch with the failwhale in the skit. #shorty

@ricksanchezcnn is adding class and professionalism to the proceedings. #shorty

He loves to remind people “he’s a Miami guy.” Did it 5 times during each Imus appearance. #shorty

The phrase, “Journalist who gets it” makes my eyes narrow. #shorty

Let’s get ready to Twumble! #shorty

Quick, how many of these people will be drunk? #shorty

Oh lord, first acceptance speech with a URL in it. #shorty

And here’s Peggy! @peggyolson #shorty With AMC Director of Online Media presenting

That’s Carrie Bugbee, the “real person” behind @peggyolson. I’ll be chatting with Carrie after the awards. #shorty

MC Hammer joins the party. Lot of energy in the room. Could perhaps use a bit more on stage. #shorty

Using Twitter for marketing? After these awards, you’ll wonder if it’s used for anything else. #shorty

#shorty And now the @charlestrippy moment, quoting Rick Astley. I think the biggest problem here is that we can’t hear the audience well.

Reading your 140 char speech VERY SLOWLY may be considered cheating. #shorty

Kudos to the Mars Rovers! Nice to see the inanimate objects represented tonight. #shorty

@actionwipes winning out over bitter rival @papertowels #shorty

Maybe not the most polished presentation in history, but there’s a sincerity here that makes it kind of sweet. #shorty

Wow, Twitter, inc. is really phoning this in. “The power of constraints?” Biz Stone #shorty

The Knight Foundation, they do JOURNALISM, or something. Kudos to the Shorty people for providing an open bar during a recession. #shorty

Working out interview details with @peggyolson Cell and Internet traffic must be crazy over there. #shorty

AFAIK, this will be the first real interview done via Twitter. Maybe because it’s a new idea or maybe because it’s a BAD idea. #shorty

Written by Michael B. Duff

February 11, 2009 at 20:59

2008, the Year the Internet Moved Out of Dad's Basement

2008 was not the Year of the Internet. I can’t even describe it as “the year the Internet grew up.” The Year of the Internet was probably 1996, and the year the Internet grew up was 2004.

I guess we’ll have to call this, “The Year the Internet Had to Move Out of Dad’s Basement.”

The metaphor works best if you imagine it like a Saturday Night Live skit.

“Dad” is a clean-cut man in a black business suit, representing REALITY, and the INTERNET is a pudgy college student in a Google shirt and Cheeto-stained sweatpants.

REALITY descends the staircase: “Son, we need to talk.”

INTERNET apologizes to his raid group and logs out of Warcraft.

REALITY: “Now son, I know you’re a complex, creative person. You’re smart and funny and everyone loves those little videos you make, but your mother and I have been talking, and we think it’s time for you to get a job. We’ve tried to be patient, but Hot Pockets cost money, and you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for three weeks.”
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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 31, 2008 at 17:29

Posted in Culture

Tell John Hughes I want my money back

My 20th high school reunion is coming up next year, and the usual suspects have already found me on Facebook.

The pace of friend requests seems to be accelerating, as the organizers round us up and stuff us in the alumni corral.

It brings up a lot of conflicting emotions, watching these half-remembered names pop up. Bad enough to be traumatized by high school, but I’m also traumatized by the last reunion. I don’t remember what I wrote on my blog back in 1999; I just remember that I made the organizer cry.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 18, 2008 at 14:22

Posted in Culture

Webster's Dictionary selects 'overshare' as Word of the Year

I woke up Tuesday morning and found out my blog had been linked by an unusual source — the dictionary.

Webster’s New World Dictionary has selected “overshare” as its Word of the Year. They link to a variety of great sources, including the original piece by Emily Gould and to me.

Specifically, they link to my column about The Overshare War and to the Rex Sorgatz post that inspired it.

Webster’s defines: overshare (verb): to divulge excessive personal information, as in a blog or broadcast interview, prompting reactions ranging from alarmed discomfort to approval.

I’m delighted to see “overshare” get the respect it deserves. Oversharing isn’t exclusive to the Internet, but before the Internet, there was a limit to how much trouble an individual act of oversharing could cause. Oversharing at a dinner party might be awkward, but real-life indescretions are less likely to travel around the world and be archived in Google.

I’m generally pleased with Webster’s definition and I’m always happy to have my name associated with “alarmed discomfort.”

Now that we’ve accepted “overshare,” I’d like to define its opposite. “Undershare” may not sound as cool as the original, but it’s an important concept, and I’d like to get it out there.

undershare (verb): to ruin a blog with vague, stilted or legalistic prose, as in a political speech or press release

If readers are expecting honesty, candor and personal disclosure and end up with legalese or corporate boilerplate instead, that’s undersharing.

This goes back to the first column I ever wrote. If it’s not personal, don’t call it a blog. I’m not saying Chris Matthews needs to post pictures of his kittens at MSNBC, but blogs need to sound like blogs — clear writing in short paragraphs, written as if you’re talking directly to the audience.

Generation Y really is The Overshare Generation. They’re used to getting their information straight up, unfiltered and direct. They don’t just ignore obective prose, they’re actually put off by it, as if anyone writing in third-person has something to hide.

I’m not saying every news story needs to sound like a blog post (yet), but Internet readers expect an intimate first-person voice, even when they’re reading about Darfur or the stock market.

Undersharing happens on the personal level as well. When a family member turns their blog into a commercial for Herbalife, for example, or when a beloved Usenet personality turns his blog into a half-assed advertisement for his newspaper column…

Oversharing may look like a fad, but I believe it represents a larger cultural shift. The baseline of our public discourse is changing. Readers have grown suspicious of press releases and corporate doublespeak, particularly after what’s been done to our economy.

These bank failures were facilitated by a culture of deception that used weasel-words and clever accounting to hide the truth from investors.

The economic collapse has made readers suspicious of vague numbers and vague language. Readers need straight talk and hard facts, interpreted by people who don’t believe everything they read. Increasingly, we’re going to see people turn away from “official” information sources and seek out sources that sound like real people.

Bloggers need to engage their audience on a human level. I don’t care if you’re blogging for PETA, General Electric, or the White House — if you want your readers to take you seriously, you have to show them the person behind the screen.

Anything less is undersharing, and in a world crippled by half-truth and broken promises, it’s a luxury we can’t afford.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 16, 2008 at 13:33

Posted in Culture

Capsule review of Neal Stephenson's Anathem

“Look, it’s a Vout! Peaceful monks who devote their lives to the study of philosophy, science, and math!”




“He used devil-science to save my life! Dump him the river!”

“Watch out! He summoned science-ninjas to save himself!”

“Run away!”

I’m paraphrasing, of course. The real version has a lot more made-up words, and takes about 60 pages to present this scene.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 16, 2008 at 08:07

Posted in Culture

Groping Hillary: Obama should pardon Jon Favreau

Groping cardboard women is not a crime; even if it’s Hillary.

Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau sparked a minor scandal last week when the Washington Post published a picture of him groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 9, 2008 at 11:17

Posted in Culture

All the sad, young unemployed bloggers

Four of my favorite bloggers joined the ranks of the unemployed this month.

Alex Balk and Choire Sicha of Radar Online lost their jobs last Friday, as Radar Magazine folded its print operation and turned its web operation over to the editor of the National Enquirer.

Staffers were locked out of their computers and put out on the street so fast, they didn’t even have time to steal office supplies.

Ana Marie Cox lost her stipend for campaign coverage and started a pledge drive so she could continue on the trail with McCain.

Defamer’s video blogger Molly McAleer lost her job in the latest round of Gawker layoffs.

These are four of the best writers on the web. So why are they lounging around in their pajamas today, begging for donations and scrambling for freelance work?

Option 1 – Duff is wrong – Intellectual honesty demands that I start with this one. Maybe these writers that I love so much are only funny to me — only funny to a misanthropic microculture that only spends money on DVDs and frozen yogurt.

Option 2 – Everybody’s broke – Entertainment sites exist on the economic fringe, supported with “luxury surplus dollars” that are now being spent on mortgage payments and CEO severance packages. By the end of the year the only growth industries will be in medicine, law and canned food.

Option 3 – Advertisers haven’t figured out the web yet – The people who run companies are age 40 to 60. The people who visit these web sites are 18 to 34. Online sales professionals aren’t just facing a technology gap; they’re also facing a generation gap, trying to explain the relevance of ads that, to the uninitiated, are just pictures on a screen.

The generation gap also affects perception of content. Cutting-edge web sites are quirky, profane, intimate and mean — operating right on the legal edge. This writing style is likely to annoy, frighten, or soar over the heads of corporate advertisers, driving them to “safer” content, even if it is from the National Enquirer.

Option 4 – Bad management – As Nick Denton admitted in the Gawker layoff announcement, “Writers on all of our sites have done exactly what we asked them to: work harder than the competition and grow the audience. It’s my commercial judgment that’s been at fault.”

It’s easy to blame management for this. A lot of people resort to freshmen-level Marxism when they hear news like this. Denton and company make great villains, but I think it’s more useful to examine the fundamental assumptions that drive their business.

The Gawker sites introduced a controversial bonus system last year that tied blogger pay to popularity — granting bonuses based on the number of pageviews that their posts generated. Writers lost a chunk from their regular salaries but became eligible for big bonuses when one of their posts struck oil.

The model worked, increasing Gawker site traffic by 69% in a year. But advertising revenue didn’t keep pace with page views, forcing Denton to cut bonuses and raise base pay.

It seems like a simple formula: talent = pageviews = $$$. But now those rules are changing. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between popularity and revenue. Advertisers are running scared and site managers are struggling to keep up.

Option 5 – “Balk is a jerk” – Celebrity bloggers are a new phenomenon. Pop stars are manufactured by record companies and literary stars still work within a kind of guild system, but blogging isn’t a true art form yet. Bloggers have made great strides, but the Internet is still a media ghetto.

In a just world, bloggers like Balk and Sicha would be rock stars, but the powers that be don’t respect their medium yet. Mainstream pundits vacillate between contempt and hyperbole. They know the Internet is important, but they don’t understand why. Contempt for the Internet is so ingrained, even their Internet hype stories sound condescending.

This climate makes it hard for bloggers, even great ones, to charge what they’re worth.

Huffington Post vlogger Jason Linkins described Radar Online as “an island of misfit toys.” Brilliant people who didn’t really belong in traditional media found a home there. Radar picked up a handful of Gawker castoffs (alternately referred to as Gawker Exiles or Gawker Survivors) and hosted a little utopia online. And like most utopias, this one was short-lived. Ana Marie Cox calls this crew “the Typhoid Mary’s of media.”

Cox said, “We are not good employees. No one will hire us. The world is too square. We are a bunch of round things.”

Maybe these folks really are too quirky for corporate media. But I prefer to believe Option 6.

Option 6 – Superstar bloggers are ahead of their time – To paraphrase John Edwards, there are two Internets. First we have the mainstream, casual, prime-time Internet. These folks think of the Internet as a supplement to TV and radio. They get their news from CNN and the Today Show and visit web sites they see on TV.

They surf major news sites and circulate kitty pictures in email. They use Google to check movie times and look up trivial pursuit answers, but they don’t really belong to the Internet. Their tastes, their lifestyles and their media expectations froze in 1996.

The other group has adopted the Internet as a fundamental part of their lives. They host blogs, use RSS feeds and keep up with friends on Twitter. These people are connected 24/7. They send text messages while they sleep and check email before they put their pants on.

They are young, smart and upwardly-mobile, but there aren’t enough of them yet. They’re hyper-literate, hyper-critical and hyper-connected. These are true alpha consumers. They want to be first with a new gadget, first to review a great book, first to complain about a bad movie and the first to celebrate when an old brand does something new.

They’re sick of the old media paradigm and are desperate to see something new. The key to attracting this group is subversion. You can’t just sneak your commercial onto YouTube three days early and call it “viral.” You can’t just put your marketing copy on Twitter and pretend you’re 2.0.

You have to change the way you talk to them, and the quickest way to win them over is to slaughter a sacred cow. It’s not enough to put a young model in a hot new dress. You have to pan the camera over and show the ripped jeans that she changed out of.

You have to establish a context of subversion in your ads and on your web site, to prove you’re not taking yourself too seriously. The Internet generation rebels against anything that smacks of pretension or self-importance.

These people know all the standard PR tricks and are violently allergic to corporate boilerplate. That’s why sites like Gawker and Radar are so popular, even when they’re raw. Generation Y is sick of committee thinking and committee writing. Blogging is the antidote to this. In this context of subversion, sloppy links and strange word choices can actually work in your favor, adding to the raw, intimate appeal of your site.

This style goes against 50 years of advertising guidelines and a century of professional journalism.

I think these bloggers are suffering because they got it right too soon, giving Internet alpha consumers what they wanted before advertisers were ready to pay for it.

Our economy is contracting right now. Everybody is holding on to their cash, scaling back and preparing for the worst. But the downturn won’t last forever. Internet alphas may be turning to cheaper luxuries, but the fundamentals are still the same.

Maybe you’ll be selling frozen yogurt instead of iPods this year, but the cool kids still need their snark fix, and you can’t catch smart readers with lame writing.

I think this is where Denton went wrong, and where Radar is about to go wrong. Denton changed the focus of his site, alienating his core audience and casting a wider net. Gawker sites dominated the Internet alpha market and hit a ceiling. Denton’s consumers were high-loyalty and high-value, but there weren’t enough of them to keep his numbers up.

He tried to expand his appeal and bring in the TMZ crowd. It worked. Pageviews went crazy but these new visitors had no particular loyalty to Gawker or its community. They were just clicking on shiny things, killing time between Lolcats.

That’s what happens when you cast a wide net. You get more fish, but quality suffers. Gawker pageviews skyrocketed, but the quality of its product and the cachet of its brand went down.

I’m not trying to bash Denton here. Commercial blogs are not vanity projects and they are not charity. Publishers have to strike a balance between quality and quantity of users.

Focus too tight and the audience will be too small to support you. Cast the net too wide and your loyal readers will leave. It’s a delicate balance and no one has it right yet.

All I know is that a dozen of the best writers on the Internet are facing unemployment this month. The future of journalism is strung out in a series of New York apartments right now, ready to work for a fraction of what they’re worth.

What happened to all those obnoxious Internet millionaires? Does anybody have any money left?

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 29, 2008 at 14:42

Posted in Culture, Gawker, Gossip