Avoiding a “Comcastic” Cloud Experience

It’s a reasonable assumption that your current cloud-based provider(s) might not always fit your organizational needs. While many services will trip all over themselves to get your “stuff” into their infrastructure, it’s a safe bet that few will offer a clear path to an exit if that time should come. Leaving a cloud-service might prove to  be an absolutely Comcastic experience for you.

Ending a relationship with a magazine publisher is fairly easy. Eventually the bothersome phone calls and direct mail pleas (“come back now and will give you 30% off your annual subscription and a tote bag”) will stop. And you’ll be free.

Breaking up with a cable TV provider is a little more difficult.  The retention reps seem to be  lot more voracious than in  most consumer spaces. You can find all sorts of articles and recorded phone conversations between customers and “Big Cable) retention reps (who I should point out are, for the most part, only doing their job).

There were a series of recorded calls in particular that got a lot of exposure and that  led to the neologism “Comcastic.” to describe a particularly awful experience with customer service.

While  it is an unpleasant experience to  terminate a cable TV (Internet)  subscription, the fact is a provider has comparatively little leverage over a customer who is committed to leaving.

With a cloud-computing provider that is not the case. They have YOUR stuff: your spreadsheets, your marketing images, your CAD drawings… If your newly appointed-CFO or recently promoted IT Director wants to bring the services back inside, you might experience some friction trying to get your stuff  back.

You may have experienced something like this Facebook if you tried to get your personal stuff several years ago. When Facebook was pretty much unopposed in the social media space, one of the many knocks against it was that a user could not easily retrieve the photos, notes and videos that it put on to their FaceBook site. Thus, it was difficult to breakup with Facebook.

Google had made several attempts at a Facebook killer over the years to little avail. In 2011, they launched Google Plus (G+) which bore a curious resemblance to Facebook, it seemed the result of “If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Look Just Like Them.” Though G+ did offer some valuable  features that Facebook didn’t including the Hangouts (video conferencing) and of course strong integration with Google Apps.

Google Plus also  offered a way to leave Google Plus. Users could export everything that they had put onto Google Plus and they use it as a backup, or to take with them. Google called this feature “Data Liberation.” It was pretty well received. It was not  too long after that Facebook provided users with the same feature. The market forces had spoken.

Organizations, large and small should address “data liberation” procedures with prospective vendors before entering into a contract. Turn-around times, professional services and storage-media costs should be addressed in the RFP.

You should clearly articulate your expectations for how our “stuff” (content types) and your stuff’s corresponding metadata descriptors will be provided to you if you should need to remove your stuff from the vendor’s infrastructure.  If they can’t provide assurance that would provide you all your content and metadata in a format (XML, CSV, etc.) that you can use, then you should look harder at some of the other RFP respondents.

 

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The “S” Word In My Festus Years

I’m breathless.

Not because I have made multiple ascents of the stairs cleaning my house today, but it’s because for the first time in  several years that people want  to have professional conversations without mention (or little mention)  of the “S” word: SharePoint.

Last week, I had a job interview in which the discussions were focused on my experience in: marketing, design, digital asset management, and staff leadership. Among the people I met, the talk  about SharePoint probably totaled less than 90 seconds.

Several weeks prior, I had a rather robust conversation with a prospective client about creation of a unified content strategy, whereby they might move away from creating whole documents in favor of an “intelligent content,” (modular, reusable, single-sourced). The SharePoint talk was negligible.

Other conversations have ensued about my long-standing vision of true end-to-end content management via the integration of  component content management systems (CCMS)  with digital asset management (DAM) platforms.

I’m breathless because the world has come to realize that I AM NOT A SHAREPOINT GUY!!!!

Except…… that in early 2007, after 20 years of working with Mac clients and admin. experience in AppleShare and Solaris systems, I was hired by a Microsoft parter (as Clark Kent would say, “What the…?” ). During my time with that company I installed and configured SharePoint, I branded SharePoint sites, I trained end users and administrators in Sharepoint, I provided operational support to SharePoint portals……

In the years that have ensued  I have  worked quite a bit with SharePoint doing site branding, SharePoint administration and user training. I’m currently working on a SharePoint project as a content architect.

< Heavy sigh > I guess I’m a  SharePoint guy. Even my Word Cloud thinks so:

Scott Smith's Resume Word Cloud

Yes, I do SharePoint. However I’ve done other things, I am doing other things, I am prepared to do other things.

At a mixer event a few weeks ago, I was recognized by a recruiter who sat at the table and said, “Hi Scott, I remember you as the SharePoint guy.” This must be how Ken Curtis felt.

Most readers probably  don’t even know who Ken Curtis is. However,  many people of a certain age ( habitual TV Land viewers) know who Festus Hagan is.

Festus
One of my favorite TV shows as a kid was Gunsmoke, which for many years was the longest-running entertainment series on television (it’s since been lapped by The Simpsons and others). The  stories fascinated me. I don’t know if there was anything special about the writing, but because it ran for so many years, I became very well-acquainted with the characters.

During the era I watched the show, the deputy was “Festus” a  bumpkin sidekick to Marshall Dillon (James Arness). From the opening credits I know  Festus  was played by Ken Curtis but didn’t know anything about the actor. I vaguely remember him appearing on variety shows, etc., but always in character, and in “uniform” (unshaven and slovenly dressed in cowboy hat and vest). Most of his post-Gunsmoke roles did not seem to deviate too far from the Festus character.

He seemed more entwined with a character he portrayed than any other performer. More than Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), more than Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker),   more than Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell)…

However, Ken Curtis had a rather successful career as an actor and as a singer well before being cast as Festus. He was once  the lead vocalist in the Sons of the Pioneers (a singing group that was founded by Roy Rogers). During that time, he also  performed as the  lead singer in The Tommy Dorsey Band, where he replaced a fella named Frank Sinatra.

I don’t how he felt about being known as Festus for the rest of his life. I recognize that my current SharePoint-centric period probably won’t be lifelong,  though I’m currently living in my “Festus” years; where I’m being identified by one role that I’ve performed.

I don’t mind being labeled a SharePoint guy. I just ask that it be recognized  that while I have worked in some SharePoint contexts I have worked in numerous SharePoint-free contexts, and the prospect of doing so again makes me breathless.

And remember that Festus is Ken Curtis, an actor who played many roles and had some mad singing skills:

Posted in Advertising, CM, DAM. ECM..., Digital Asset Management, Invisible Fist, SharePoint | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A Content Marketing Rock Star (Or Pop Star)

I have been seeing an increased use of the term “content marketing” and pondering how I can describe how it’s differentiated  from “marketing” (without adjectives).

The Content Marketing Institute defines it this way:

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

That provided definition to that could easily be communicated, the next step was to provide a good example. There is no other choice than C. W. McCall.

I was a teenager when the song “Convoy”  came out. I was starting to explore Led Zepplin, AeroSmith  and David Bowie, to the extent that one can in a house with no turntable, or FM radio. However, most of my exposure was to Top 40 songs of the day.   “Convoy” stormed onto the airwaves and seemed to always be on. It was rather catchy, but its was so  over-the-top: with  talk of thousands of truckers, barreling down the highway at 100-mph-hour speeds, while scoffing at regulatory agencies, the police and the National Guard. Almost immediately it found its way into my “guilty pleasure” category.

But, this  song sold a lot of citizens band (CB) radios, and in turn, that sold of 45s (that was was how we listened to songs back then.)   of this song, quite the virtuous cycle that content marketing pros probably dream of.

I’d often heard that the performer McCall (a pseudonym)  was a  marketing executive for a CB radio company and that song was intended to sell CBs. I haven’t been able to substantiate that claim, but I did find out that he worked as an art director in ad agencies, so it’s not out of  the realm of possibility.

C. W. McCall was either  Miles Davis  of Content Marketing, or perhaps its foremost  one-hit-wonder.

Perhaps every organization should include a chart-topping song in the marketing mix. How hard could it be?

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Uh…About That Banner….

OK, it ain’t pretty, but it’s mine. And it’s just an iteration.

I had been pondering, mulling, deliberating,… about updating my site for some time. I like the theme, well enough, but it’s commonly used in the WordPress community. I had updated some of the style sheets a long time ago, but couldn’t accomplish any sort of graphical treatment. There seemed to be too many obstacles to what I had in mind.

Last week, I realized that my deliberation (OK pathological dithering) about my site’s look and feel was keeping me from updating my blogs. I have several fractionally-written blog post waiting to completed and published. However every time I went to update content, I had this sinking feeling about my failure to pull offa visual update and was reluctant to write/edit any further.

A few days ago I saw a derivation of the British WWII  motivational poster-turned meme. This one said, “Keep Calm and Iterate.”

That led me to thinking through  an iterative approach to my banner update. Naturally, I downloaded a copy of GIMP and then tore up my undershirt.

I had the idea of expressing the  “invisible fist” in the style that would be a tribute to Claude Raines (and H. G. Wells for that matter). Though each attempt at such was met with obstacles.

Two of my obstacles to which I’d previously surrendered: my inability to find white cloth bandages and the fact that my older edition of Photoshop no longer worked since I upgraded my operating system a while back.

The undershirt sliced nicely into some bandage-size strips, though the Kirkland brand was a little on the thick side. Doesn’t matter it’s just an iteration, right?  I wrapped my hand and snapped a few photos on my kitchen counter.

Another thing I have been dithering about was whether to make the plunge into Adobe’s Creative Cloud so that I could have Photoshop. Though I just don’t feel that I create enough of that type of content to justify the expense. Truth be told, it seemed a little on the buggy side when I demoed it a few months ago.

GIMP (a free and open source Photoshop alternative,  gave me enough of an image-editor that I could accomplish a few simple tasks: a clipping path, some freehand touchup, motion blur and a fog effect. Like my preview of the Creative Cloud it seemed a little buggy, but I prefer my buggy tools to be free rather than $50/month.

I didn’t really like my product in the end, but hell, it was a product.  I made into a banner and added it to my site, because it’s just an iteration, right. The fact that it’s out in public, I think I am infinitely more likely  to try to make it better.

Now back to writing, editing and hopefully publishing a backlog of blogs.

 

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Six Christmases

My holiday memories are dominated by my six Christmases in Westord, Mass –my parents’ hometown. We only ended up there because of some twists of fate.

My father planned to retire from the Navy in the mid 1960’s and the intent was to move to Florida at that time. However, in one week my brother and mother were both hospitalized with critical illnesses, thus my father re-enlisted. Eventually he retired and we moved to Westford only because my uncle had a house to rent us.

In Westford, I lived within a few miles of my father’s family, and few dozen miles of my mother’s family. And there were snow-covered maples and evergreens, the way that sitcoms and holiday cartoons suggested that Christmas was meant to be.

Without those family hospitalizations my holiday memories would be of Christmas in a ranch house with a grassy ground and a palm tree in the front yard (a nightmare holiday scenario that was eventually realized when we moved to the Orlando area when I was a teenager).

Is it wrong that every holiday season, that I am grateful for my mother’s blood clot and my brother’s ruptured appendix?

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Job Creator

I never envisioned a future where I would live in a house where pots were never dirtied, but I was certain that I would one day achieve a “paperless” newspaper. I longed for that time, when I could reduce my clutter by just a bit.

I used to love the ritual of  spreading out the morning paper (The Gainesville Sun, The Tallahassee Democrat, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune) on my table next to my first cup of coffee and poring over the local and national headlines. When I lived in DC, then Chicago, there was the added bliss of being able to read the entire paper on the Metro, or CTA as I commuted into work.

In recent years the paper seemed to have  become more of burden due to its ability to contribute  clutter to my home. Perhaps that is a sign that I have reached curmudgeon-hood.

We moved to Grand Rapids 15 years ago. This city is  roughly the size of Gainesville or Tallahassee, but one the things that made it feel small to me was that the local paper was delivered in the afternoon rather than in the morning. Much like when I was growing up and lived in towns where “The Lowell Sun” was delivered by a “paper boy” at around 4 pm. It was usually a kid that went to school with my older sister, later they were kids that went to school with me. I always knew their names.

For a time in Grand Rapids we had an actual “paper boy.” A kid about 11  that actually biked from house to house for his deliveries. And we knew his name: Cortez. I liked that feeling of knowing the paper boy, if only for the nostalgic feeling.

Job Creator

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of different people–kids, adults, groups of people–delivering the daily copies of  The Grand Rapids Press. I am not sure if they are related to, or even acquainted with Cortez (who’s probably in his mid-20’s now), but they have always been reliable, and though we don’t see them all that often, they are always friendly.

A couple of years ago, The Press changed its model due to decline in subscriptions. It was announced that the home deliveries would be cut back to Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

An electronic edition would be available seven days a week. There was an option–with a slight discount– to forgo home delivery altogether. I was ecstatic at the idea of going paperless and the opportunity to reduce my  clutter. This seemed like a no-brainer.

Then I began think about the folks who deliver the Press. They were taking a big hit from the forced reduction from seven delivery days to three.

Despite my decades-long ambition to go paperless, and all the merits of digital content (scalable, searchable and NO CLUTTER) I chose to go  with the thrice-weekly deliveries on the possibility that I might help to preserve some jobs.

Now that the digital edition is available, I found that I rarely read the paper copy.  The hard copies get put other uses: cleaning windows, etc. but they aren’t actually read that often.

Recently, my wife and I have been making some efforts to reduce costs. A few weeks ago we cut our cable TV service and few other recurring bills. I looked at the option of cutting out the home delivery of the Press.

Last week I was seriously considering this when I happened to walk out to my car just as the Press delivery crew pulled up to my driveway. They were in a minivan with the side door open. There was a driver and two other people, one handing bundled newspaper copies  to an elderly man sitting in the back seat.

He pulled his arm back to toss it on my lawn and I yelled, “I’m open.”

This man, with a resemblance to Morgan Freeman, and a voice to match, called back “Oh, I’m going to have to get out the car for that.”  He did.  Then he struck a Joe Montana throwing pose and hurled the paper to me.  It was a pretty accurate throw, but I contorted my body to make it look like a difficult catch.

I shouted “Yes!” and performed a celebratory touchdown dance.

He hollered “Sweet catch, boss. The Lions had better pay you some good money this year. I’ll see you Thursday.” (Don’t tell me that you’ll get that kind of customer experience with your iPad.)

“Boss?” I thought. “No, I’m merely a job creator.” And in this case happy to pay for something that I don’t really need.

 

 

 

 

 

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Windy Smitty

On this day, the first day of Summer, I can’t help but reflect on a decision I made in my past. At an age, when I felt invincible. 

If nothing else, let my story serve as a reminder on the importance of bicycle safety. I have to live with my poor choice, it’s not too late for you to save yourselves.

It was on, or around the Summer Solstice in 1994 that I decided to hop on my bike while my head was still sopping wet from the shower. The weather was gorgeous, and I couldn’t wait to get out the door.

I shot a fleeting glance at my bike helmet and chose to leave it on the bookcase. That was a decision that would alter my life forever.

I was heading to Jackson Park, about 9 miles to the south, when I stopped at the Lincoln Park Zoo to use the bathroom. I saw my reflection in the mirror, my hair was no longer wet, thanks to the wind-whipping along Lake Michigan. I drizzled some water on my mane hoping it would lie down a bit.

I walked my bike around the Zoo alternately looking at animals, and the Chicago skyline.

A group of workers inched up behind me in a golf cart. One said, “Excuse me, sir can we get around you?”

I moved over to the right and he had enough room to pass, and said, “Thank you, sir have a great day.”

Before I could respond he added, “Nice Michael Douglas hair, you got there.”

Then his workmate contributed, “Man, you got yourself a Michael Douglas chin, too.”

A third man said, “He sure does. He’s got the hair and the damn chin, too. How are those Streets of San Francisco treating you my friend?”

They chortled as I hopped on my bike. The second man spoke again: “Say hi to Karl Malden.”

“Michael Douglas Hair.” Twenty years later, their words, these caustic words still haunt me. How could anybody be so cruel?

Don’t let this happen to you or your children, please wear a bike helmet.

For God’s sake, protect your hair!

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My Favorite Things

It was a wickedly cold morning just like this when I walked a few blocks from my Ravenswood apartment, and was fortunate that there was a 145 bus, idling in the lot, awaiting its departure time. I don’t remember what was ahead for me at work that day, but my job at the time rather tedious–making truck parts fliers for a ad agency–so it wasn’t that different than the day before.

The driver saw me shivering outside and was kind enough to let me in before his run though it was technically against CTA policy.

As I sat down he offered this sinister warning: “You can stay on this bus as long as you don’t tell anybody what you’re about see or hear.” Then “You got that?”

I nodded then put proceeded to unfold my copy of The Chicago Tribune.

With that he pulled a hard plastic case from the floor to his lap. When he opened the case and started to assemble its components, I saw the glistening of the metallic shaft he had in his hand.

I screamed with every fiber of my being, “My God, he has a flute!!!!”

Then he glanced over his should placed his piece near his lips and played “Take Five” and then “My Favorite Things.”

My winter morning commutes are rarely that appealing nowadays. Now they begin with scraping ice from the windows and many days digging out after being plowed in. There’s never a walk through the brisk cold, with some chance encounters with neighbors, or strangers, or a bit of window-shopping. Those things all put a spring in my step, at least until I began the bone-dissolving work of staring at line-art rendering of spark plugs, oil filters, and mud flaps.

Though at the particular morning, the unexpected jazz performance set the tone my entire day. It wasn’t just the music, it was the serendipity. I wish there were a way that I could plan serendipitous events. They would involve more flutes and fewer cars.

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Wishing You a Safe and Joyous Black Friday Eve

I have no plans to shop on Thanksgiving Day, or Friday, nor do I want anybody to work on Thanksgiving Day. However, I find that the outrage over some retailers’ decisions to be open on Thanksgiving Day more than a little contrived. People have always worked “non-essential” jobs on Thanksgiving. They will again this year and next year.

It’s amusing that media and some consumers are taking umbrage with the fact that Target, Best Buy and others will be open next Thursday. Yet people have had no qualms about going to a grocery store, gas station, theater, McDonalds….or purchasing from Amazon, or iTunes on previous Thanksgivings.

Has anybody ever protested the fact that the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys are forced to play football on Thanksgiving Day? Probably not, because their freakin’ rich. Though there are hundreds of concession workers, security officers, parking lot attendants, who are compensated far less handsomely than the players. They are compelled to be away from their families on Thanksgiving Day. Has anybody ever championed their cause?

I don’t suspect that there much outcry when I had to wash dishes, or stock the salad bar, at Skeeter’s Breakfast House. Management always predicted a rush of Thankgiving diners. There never was. There was usually about 20 customers each Thanksgiving that I worked, most of them were visiting professors from other countries and their families. The wait staff didn’t see much in the way in tips when they worked Thanksgiving, so they made just a shade over what we called “waitress minimum” which was $2/hour at the time. Where there protests?

I do feel sorry for the employees at these retail chains that have work on Thanksgiving. But not any sorrier for the wait staff, toll-takers, or flight attendants that will be working and have always worked on Thanksgiving.

I don’t fault the retailers who starting are Black Friday on Thursday for doing so. If these stores have good numbers they’ll repeat it next year, if the numbers are weak, they may or may not. I like to think if I were a decision maker in a retail chain that all stores would be closed.

Nothing is forcing the customers to visit these stores, during the holiday weekend, or in some cases to camp out in frigid conditions to be “first.” While shopping in general is unappealing, shopping amongst a ravenous crowd of deal-seekers suits neither my habit or my health.

If you shop on Thanksgiving, or the following day, that’s your choice, but you should pause for a moment to remember Walter Vance and Jdimytai Damour.

Perhaps the fourth Thursday in November that currently know as Thankgiving will one day be known as Black Friday Eve or perhaps Navy Blue Thursday.

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I See Dead People’s Status Updates (and they like Samsung, NPR, The NRA, Amazon…)

Since making the plunge into Facebook a few years ago, I have had three of my Facebook friends die. Two were good friends, one primarily a Facebook friend. Heart attack, accident, heart attack.

They all died prematurely and their deaths were made more tragic in that all left young children behind.

One was a good friend in high school, and teammate on the football team. I saw him a few times in the five or so years after we had graduated,  then at the class reunions I attended. We chatted quite a bit on Facebook in the beginning and a couple of times on the phone. He made some informal  plans about bringing his bicycle to Michigan, with special interest in trails on the east of the of the state,  so that he could claim to have been to Hell and back.

One was a good friend in Grand Rapids, with whom I worked (at two companies) for a total of about 5 years. He was my go-to-guy for sushi lunches in the area. He was a great sax player, and he knew a lot about a lot of things and I think he was chronically underutilized in his work.

The third was somebody I had some classes with in high school and I think I had seen once or twice in the years since. I was actually getting rather tired of some of his extreme views on Facebook and didn’t have that much interaction with him.

I’ve always known that friends of mine (from towns I lived in 40, 30, 15 years ago…) would die and never really thought about it how I might learn of their passing. Prior to my entry into the cyber world (15+ years ago), people that I knew have died. I usually heard about their passing from my family members or mutual co-workers and classmates.

When my friend (and Facebook friend), Julio died, a mutual friend from high school sent me a message of his passing. His Facebook wall was busy for several weeks afterwards as friends and his extended family paid their respects.

His daughter was providing updates on his wall, and still occassionally does, three years later.  It was a little freaky at first when I started to get these updates in my newsfeed from Julio.  They were in the 3rd person; it reminded me of the way that over-indulged athletes (and Bob Dole) speak about themselves. It seemed a little less freaky as time went on.

About a year later, another friend’s wife, sent me a friend request. I didn’t know her that well, but I had no reason to deny her friend request. I found out she had friended me specifically to inform me that he had died. She didn’t know of another way to reach me. (you may have noticed I have a rather ordinary name, there is usually more than one Scott Smith in the local phone books ).

More recently, a high school acquaintance who had friended me in Facebook went in to the hospital for routine surgery, I didn’t notice any updates about his status in my feed, so I went to his Facebook wall and saw some updates from his wife. She had tagged him in her updates so her status posts were showing on his wall. I saw several updates that afternoon. I was stunned to learned that he had died in the hospital.

There are occasional updates from his FB wall as his wife tags him in an update of her own. What’s bizarre (though understandable) is when he gets tagged by someone wishing him happy birthday, or to ask how his job is going.

The status updates in my feed from my dead friends feel somewhat normal now. Though the fact that they still “like” stuff from the afterlife is a little harder to stomach.

If a product, or organizational page has an update and they had once “Liked” the page then Facebook informs me of this.

To see that a dead friend “Likes” Amazon, or NPR , or the NRA, or the Miami Dolphins still seems a little bit peculiar, even though I understand that in Facebook’s quest to demonstrate a business model that “Likes” are very important.

Facebook doesn’t know when people are dead . Perhaps if they did the “like” would be in the past tense, such as: “John Doe ‘liked ‘ Disney World” (OK that would be creepy).

Frankly , I doubt that Amazon, NPR, the NRA or the Miami Dolphins really care if they are liked by living, or dead people as long as they’re liked.

I have noticed (with admittedly few data points) that people who liked Samsung seem to die at a faster rate than the general population.

I ponder whether it’s gauche to unfriend dead friends. And whether it’s polite to refer to your dead friends as ‘data points’ for that matter.

Subtle product endorsements from dead friends, I suppose, are part of this brave new world in which we live. Perhaps Facebook Likes will be included in our eulogies and epitaphs: “Devoted Husband, Loving Father, Who Liked The Wizard of Oz, Trail Biking and Papa John’s Pizza…..”

Times change and so must I. Though I’m not sure how I’ll take it the first time that a dead friend Pokes me.

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