Sunday, December 31, 2006

Truthiness and Wikiality Set the Tone for '07

By now, I'm sure you have noticed that "truthiness" was named word of the year by Merriam-Webster. This is sort of like winning an Oscar after previously landing a Golden Globe, since the word got the same honor in 2005 from the American Dialect Society.

Merriam- Webster selected its word of the year for the first time based on an online survey and reports that "truthiness" walked away with an overwhelming 5 to 1 majority vote.

truthiness (noun)

1 :
"truth that comes from the gut, not books" (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," October 2005)
2 :
"the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006)

More insight from Wikipedia:

By using the term as part of his satirical routine, Colbert sought to criticize the tendency to rely upon "truthiness" and its use as an appeal to emotion and tool of rhetoric in contemporary socio-political discourse.

Pop culture fueled by Web dynamics means that a word uttered on a TV show in October can find its way into a New York Times headline just a few months later. In the January 30, 2006 edition, David Carr's article, "How Oprahness Trumped Truthiness," detailed Oprah's excoriation of James Frey for employing truthiness when writing his book, "A Million Little Pieces," while presenting it as a work of nonfiction:

Her show was a tutorial in how to take responsibility and deflect it to others at the same time; by the end, the truth and Ms. Winfrey were aggrieved in equal measure.

Meanwhile Mr. Colbert was back in the word-coining business by July of this year, introducing "wikiality," a mashup of Wikipedia and reality. (The following explanation of wikiality is from Wikipedia, which feels compelled to report the facts even when being skewered.)

Colbert defined wikiality as "truth by consensus" (rather than fact), modeled after the approval-by-consensus format of Wikipedia. He ironically praised Wikipedia for following his philosophy of truthiness, in which intuition and consensus is a better reflection of reality than fact.

(Regrettably, this triggered a rash of vandalism on the elephant page of Wikipedia, which responsible folks had to monitor and clean up.)

It also spawned, a spoof of Wikipedia. Wikiality's tagline is "The Truthiness Encyclopedia."

Can wikiality's moment in the sun, with a word-of-the-year award of its own, be far away?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New Media and Social Software: MIT Enterprise Forum Event

By now, we've all seen the news that we have been selected as Time's Person of the Year. The article is a hopeful celebration of the individual and his or her ability to create, to connect and to build communities via the Web.

Favorite snippets from the article (gives me goosebumps!):

It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before.

It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter. Silicon Valley consultants call it Web 2.0, as if it were a new version of some old software. But it's really a revolution.

How fitting, then, that months ago, the folks at the MIT Enterprise Forum selected Web 2.0 as the topic for the annual winter conference, to be held on February 7th. Yesterday we issued the media advisory for the event, recapping this great lineup, which is still a work in progress. (More to come!) There are a few out-of-towners on here, but this roster underscores the point that new media and new stuff is happening here on the East Coast.

  • Jeremy Allaire, Chairman and CEO of Brightcove (keynote)
  • John Furrier, CEO of PodTech (keynote)

Other notable speakers to date:

  • Adam Bain - executive vice president, Technology & Production, Fox Interactive Media
  • Laurie Baird - director of technology partnerships, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
  • Jose Castillo - president of
  • Steve Garfield - blogger, videoblogger and Boston correspondent,
  • Tom Gerace - founder and CEO,
  • Nick Gogerty - founder and CEO, InClue
  • Phil Hollows - founder and CEO, FeedBlitz
  • Henry Jenkins - co-director, Comparative Media Studies Program, MIT
  • Joseph B. Lassiter III - professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School
  • Amber MacArthur - new media reporter/host, CityTV
  • Andy Plesser - founder and CEO, Beet TV
  • Juliette Powell - CEO and executive producer, Inspiration Festival
  • Scott Smigler - founder and president, Exclusive Concepts
  • Jeff Taylor - CEO, Eons
  • Jon Udell - evangelist, Microsoft
The Forum's open source conference last year, which featured Red Hat's CEO Matthew Szulik and JBoss's CEO Marc Fleury, was a lively time. Based on this year's roster, the event promises to be more adventurous. You can register here. And the Forum events are so, how shall I say it? Cost effective! Only $95 for a Forum member, $120 for non-members and $25 for students.

See you February 7th at the Colonnade Hotel in Boston.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I was a Buzz Marketing Guinea Pig

From time to time, I get fun queries from our blog, ranging from students who are researching blogging to prospects.

But last week's email from a buzz agent was a new one for me. This agent from M80, an "entertainment and lifestyle management" company, was prompted by my November post, "Holiday Gifts for Geeks," which focused on the annual list of gift suggestions posted by Bob Zurek of IBM. (To be fair to Bob, not all are geek gifts.)

Thanks to this post, the good sleuths at M80 thought I might be a good target to review the Sears website,

Full disclosure -- As an incentive to write about this, I was offered a $30 gift card.

In my reply, I explained to the buzz agent that I was more interested in writing about this as a marketing experiment than as a vehicle to obtain a $30 gift card, but she was cool with that. After an extensive debate (15 seconds) with myself about the ethics of this situation, I decided to give the website a test drive. Besides - since I spend my days pitching, it was fun to be the pitchee for a change.

Why does Sears have a separate website for the holidays? In the words of the initial pitch to me:

The site has a lot of useful features holiday shoppers, such as a section to help prepare for the holidays including a holiday planner and a recipe section, a forum and a Kidzone with online games. The website features merchandise from Sears, Kmart and Lands’ End, and allows users to shop by price, category and by interest.

This site is unabashedly targeted to moms, according to the lead of the press release announcing it: "The site is organized in a way that reflects how moms approach the holiday..."

The executive quote from the release drives this point home: "Mom is usually responsible for all activities related to the holidays," said Colleen Cassell, director of direct to customer marketing for Sears Holding Corporation.

(Note to self: Do not tell husband, who was wrapping presents last night while suffering through a dreadful Christmas movie that I picked and who writes his own thoughtful messages in our holiday cards.)

I decided to put the site to the acid test: finding a gift for my brother. Guys are notoriously tough to shop for, with their garages full of tool toys and TV rooms stocked with electronics.

Armed with my e-gift card card number and pin, I hit the site and quickly moved to the "Find a Gift" option -- in my mind the most useful feature of the site. (I don't see myself getting advice for help on "yummy homemade gifts" from Sears, but it's there for you if you feel differently.)

I liked the multiple categories: gifts for her, gifts for him, teen girls, teen guys, babies, and an especially interesting category: Teachers and others.

In the "for him" category, I eyed up the Magellan RoadMate 6000T, a GPS system, but since it rings up at $599.99, it was a bit out of my league for the beloved bro. The Johnny Cash American 4 CD displays as item #8 of 25 on this section, but when you click through it is temporarily out of stock. This is my one quibble with the site. Don't display an item that's out of stock on a list of recommendations for us harried (and clearly desperate) shoppers.

After some surfing around, I opted for the Black & Decker 25 foot steel powered tape measure. (Powered is the key word here - What traditional tool isn't improved with a little juice? Witness the popularity of the electric screwdriver.)

Under "Find a Gift," I also checked out "By person," and liked the "Teachers and Other" category. There, I found the Accutire Digital Tire Gauge, which also landed in my shopping cart.

Altogether, my first experience in getting "buzzed" was informative and fun. And it's such a vivid lesson that non-traditional marketing techniques to narrow audiences really work. It's the long tail at work.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Surviving Holiday Parties and Tech Gift Giving

It's Friday and we're in the mood for something a little lighter to close out the week.

At, check out "Holiday Do's and Don'ts from the Geek Squad." (The Geek Squad is a unit of Best Buy, so one can't help but look at this as just great ad placement.) This article includes helpful advice like:

DON'T buy another person the gift you would like to get. (Dear Son - I know you'd love a Slingbox, but I won't get you a Cuisinart Mini Chopper if you promise not to get me a Slingbox.)

buy an incomplete gift. .. it's not nice to buy someone a slick new photo printer, but not the USB cable to connect it to the printer or camera.

Moving on the the tricky terrain of holiday parties. eWeek offers some good advice in the article, "10 Office Holiday Party Landmines to Avoid." We all have one of these memories, preferably of a colleague's over-the-top performance at a holiday party, rather than your own. I still smile fondly at the memory of a sloshed colleague taking the mic on a Boston Harbor cruise and quite publicly critiquing a former manager's style for all of us. (I am happy to report that we got through our Red Cross fundraiser this week without any eyebrow-raising incidents.)

Most of the pointers in this article repeat the common warnings about getting tipsy, sounding off to your boss or dressing appropriately ("'s unnerving for people to see extra skin on their boss or work buddy, and it's an image not quickly forgotten when you are at your next budget meeting.")

Perhaps a more subtle point is the suggestion of straying outside one's comfort zone to get to know some new people.

"Make sure the people who should, know that you are there. Say hello to your boss and bosses first and stretch yourself a bit, introduce yourself to people you don't know," Halverson said.

"Even if it's just talking to a few people, as long as you're not just talking to the same people you always do, you're doing great."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Red Cross Benefit: A Good Time Was Had by All

From CHEN PR co-founder Barbara Ewen...

CHEN PR held its annual fundraiser for the Red Cross with Network World last night to great success. We appreciated the strong attendance by our friends and colleagues – well over 100 – as well as the spirit demonstrated in spirited bidding for the silent auction items. We raised more than $7,200, bringing to more than $23,000 the funds we've helped the Red Cross raise since last December.

Highlights of the evening included entertainment by The Startdust Show Chorus led by CHEN PR client Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and CEO of Boston-Power, Inc. Their blended voices were beautiful and certainly added to the evening’s festivity.

We are very grateful to all the people who generously donated items for the auction. We had more than 25 enticing gifts to choose from, including an original photo of Babe Ruth taken by the grandfather of our systems consultant Dan Blumenthal of Consolidated IT LCC, a chartered fishing trip from Scott Clay of Clay Family Dealerships, Red Sox/Yankee tickets donated by Paul Gillin of Paul Gillin Communications, consulting services from Sam Whitmore's Media Survey, a jewelry gift certiticate from MASCIO-RICCI, a catered party donated by Fine Catering by Russell Morin, and a pearl necklace donated by jewelry designer Mary Anne Richman, who's also president of MARS Productions. We’re happy to report there were multiple bids on every item, including our quirkiest item, a tour of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery conducted by a board member. And the lucky winner of the iPod Nano door prize was Henry Stimpson of Stimpson Communications.

We are committed to continuing this event annually and to ensuring that it remains a relaxed evening for old and new friends to get together, enjoy some food and conversation and snap up some holiday gifts for a good cause.