We’re not friends.

Here’s the thing, Ford car dealership that shall remain unnamed: We don’t know each other.

Same for you, local police department who sent me a friend request.  It’s not that I don’t like you, your cars or the job you do.  I just don’t get what you’re hoping to accomplish here.

The whole idea of Facebook is to connect people to one other.  I’m even kinda okay with it connecting random people to one another, but not anonymous accounts for cities, businesses, or organizations – with full names squeezed into first and last name boxes.  That’s what fan pages are for. And that’s a sign that it has taken on too large a role in our culture – become too crowded.

I would consider becoming a fan of a restaurant I really like… and then my friendship has some value to both of us.  It has some legitimacy in fact.  I would even consider accepting a friend request from the general manager of the car dealership I bought my last car, assuming it wasn’t a lemon. But a car dealer that can claim it has 500 Facebook friends doesn’t mean a thing if none of those folks have or will buy a Ford.

The use of technology in unintended ways can be terrific.  It can also reach a tipping point.  If you want to embrace the latest social media tool to enhance your business, awesome. But let’s try to use it in the way it was intended. You’ll get more meaningful results.

Checking in with the WSJ

Suffering Foursquare fatigue yet?  The Wall Street Journal certainly hopes not.

That paper based in the financial underbelly of New York today fired a cannonball across the bow of the Old Gray Lady with the launch of its new local New York section.

WSJ.com

But better than the WSJ’s “Greater New York” lead story in the morning (This just in: “Rats Mob the Upper East Side“!) is that the paper immediately partnered with Foursquare to focus on engaging users.

Foursquare.com

[Quick explainer: Users "check-in" on their mobile phones when they arrive at various real life places . They can elect to follow their friends and send out a message or a tweet whenever they move locations to let them know where they are every minute of the day. The WSJ collected more than 700 friends by the early evening Monday.]

WSJ.com

The Journal and Foursquare wisely created three branded badges for users to attempt to collect — two of which may just ‘remind’ users of the WSJ as they’re out and about.  For instance, two months from now when they happen to visit Staten Island, they’ll realize they just unlocked a badge they heard of today.

Foursquare, for better or worse, connects people by place.  While the friends the WSJ can track won’t amount to a hill of beans for advertisers, it is getting the paper some buzz on launch day — in addition to just the fact that it launched.

And it is that connection with readers that will drive subscriptions and prove to advertisers that you have a solid base, rather than random traffic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check in somewhere with someone.

Back in the day…

Hey kids – back before the googlesphere and twitternet, the news was delivered to you in the form of an afternoon or evening newspaper.  They looked like this:

The Evening Star survived in Washington, DC through 1981. (image: UN-Omaha)

After getting home late from an event one night this week, I had hoped to get caught up on the day’s news – without watching Extra (sorry, Slater) or the screaming heads of cable news.  And I wondered why newspaper brass have not again embraced the notion of shifting to an evening edition.  You’ll often hear the criticism of the morning’s paper being “yesterday’s news”, so why not publish today’s news today?

I presume one facet of the argument has to do with deadlines, as in, reporters write the day’s news and then editors work on laying out the paper and there’s no way they can get it on the printing press before 11 p.m.  But with newsrooms churning out stories during the day to satisfy the needs of online readers, the entire process has been accelerated.

Another argument, I imagine, is that newspapers enjoy their role of “setting the day’s agenda”.  I can respect trying to hold on to that tradition, but since that same paper will still be on the kitchen table at 7 a.m. AND you get to have it in your readers hands earlier, what’s the harm?  Will it have greater significance if readers think they have the latest news? Perhaps.

If you’re holding onto the next Watergate story, trying to show you’re in control of it, you’ll likely post it on your website around midnight anyhow.  So why not get it on doorsteps sooner?  This applies double for a major story that happened during the day. Show you’re on top of it since the story is already in the news ether.

With everything people do in the morning, I’m not sure why you would not want to give them a greater opportunity to read your product. Consider it a head start.  Heck, with drivel on prime time television, perhaps you’ll even gain a reader or two.

Reloaded, all thanks to what was on the doorstep.

This is how my Sunday morning began, thanks to the New York Times:

There's a sample of Multi-Grain Cheerios in that bag!

I was thrilled, not just to race to the Sunday Styles section, but because we had run out of cereal. And so I was going to tweet this picture with something to the effect of: Brilliant, @nytimes!, you saved me a trip to the store; I’ll pay for an afternoon edition if there’s a chocolate bar — which was true, too.

Before the coffee could kick in, I realized not only did the NYT just make money off of Cheerios by delivering me their yummy sample and coupon (and not only did they make me very happy), but they may have also hit on a new model for newspapers: Why not deliver breakfast with every paper!?  The delivery system, for those who print their “content” on newsprint, is already in place.  And that has some value.

And with that, I frantically finished packing, drove for six hours and am now poised to embark on my new challenge in a few hours…

I’m assuming the role of editorial director at J-Lab tomorrow.  It’s a nonprofit institute that is focused on innovation in journalism.  We believe that there is a future for news — you know, the stuff that comes with your cereal delivery each morning.

I will be better about the blog, promise…

The Sandbox

At a journalism conference last month, I was inspired to get back into the sandbox, as speaker Susan Mernit put it.  I need a place, like this, to romp around in, explore, sit and ponder, and, of course, create things.  Even if only in my head.

So I will write daily, and have decided to also start thevideoplay.com.  For a while, I have been keen on video – particularly online video journalism.  This site features some of the best (and maybe worst) of what’s out there.  Yes, the Drudge of its genre.

So, umm, where ya been?

It’s been a year.  And then some.  And in a cryptic post I explained that I was busy with work.

So here’s the deal: I was ready for a new professional challenge and had heard about this worldwideinterwebnets.  So I explained to the bosses that I was ready for something new, and at the same time, they were looking for someone to run our digital operation.  Timing really is everything.

And so, since last October, I’ve been through two major relaunches, a complete shift in newsroom operations and few exciting rides on the highs and lows of online journalism.  I’m quite proud of what this small group of very dedicated folks could do.  We’ve created a brand new product in the local marketplace, offering unique integrated advertising opportunities and cool social media functionality. It’s not for everyone, but you can’t say we’re not sure as hell trying hard to make it work.

Picture 4

I’ve loved (most of) it.  And continue to learn and grow (almost) every day.

So that’s the explanation.  And yes, I promise to get better about blogging more than once a year.

Free falling…

Thanks, Tom Petty, for summing up today’s news in a song.

If you have yet to peek at your 401k statements, your mutual fund balance or your brokerage account cost basis — don’t.  I made the mistake of just seeing how some money I’d put away was doing, and it’s just depressing.

More so, though, is where we are.  The collective we.  We.  Are.  Floundering.

Our financial pulse

It’s telling that the dow dropped 777 points the day the House rejected the initial bailout bill.  It’s more telling that it dropped 170 or so the day it finally did pass.  And now today, when you’d think Wall Street would react with an ounce of “thanks, we’ll take it from here,” we get another record drop.

My fear is that it will take another decade to recover.  On November 5th, we might see a small uptick in the market – but we’ll surely not be on the right path for a long while.  And in the meantime?

I worry that those who’ve put away money that they’ll need in the next decade will have not come out ahead.  Even those who’ve invested as wisely as possible, are struggling.  And the worst part is:  We might not have seen the bottom yet.

On that cheery note, I can’t help but be reminded of… Eh, forget it.  There’s nothing I can say that will be upbeat.  Except, that those of us socking away a mortgage payment each month — just know that even if your home is devalued now, it’s still one of the smartest investments.  And that’s saying a lot.