The Business of Culture

Ok, I just had a very interesting thought that I’d love to hear people’s feedback on (if you feel so inclined). It relates to my last post on Greg Costikyan’s Manifesto Games company as well as weblogs, the Web, business, society, and culture. In effect, my question is do you think it is feasible for a person to create a business (i.e. freelance work) around helping other businesses through a desired changed of culture within their company? Where the hell did that question come from? Let me explain.

What I just realized after posting my comments to Greg’s blog is that throughout my entire life, even since I was a teenager, I was focused on culture (although I wasn’t really aware of it at the time of course). That’s because when I turned twenty or so, I started looking at what our existing society placed an emphasis on as important and I disliked what I saw. Over the years, that thought has always stuck in the back of my mind. When working within companies, I found those same negative cultural values existing there as well and I disliked what I saw again. After a while, I started thinking to myself, am I an alien or something? Why is it that my way of thinking seems to be so different from other people. Well that changed when I discovered Fast Company magazine.

You see Fast Company magazine, while from outwards appearance seems focused on working really fast and hard to make money, is really internally about people and what drives us. Again, this relates to our society, communities, and our culture. In other words, how we interact with one another. And within the pages of this magazine, I realized that I wasn’t alone. There were other people out there that thought like I did. Even more so, one day while reading the magazine, I found an interview that introduced me to David Weinberger, his book entitled Small Pieces Loosely Joined, and his collaborative book entitled The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Now when I read David’s ideas and then proceeded to The Cluetrain Manifesto and Small Pieces Loosely Joined, I felt like some massive Monty Python Hand of God had come out of the sky and had pointed at what I was reading like a lightening bolt realization. Everything I read from those books and had been feeling over the years finally came together and solidified within me. Again, I realized that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. Others felt the same way I did and were struggling trying to change the world to make it a better place as well.

Now fast forward to today after working in business, working for the computer gaming industry, helping to develop online communities, realizing the importance of culture within those communities, and finally trying to figure out a way to help people to collaborate and interact as a large collective on common goals and projects. Now what I more recently realized is that to effectively collaborate with literally millions of people, the culture of this community has to have values that match it. If they don’t exist, then achieving that collaboration is less likely to succeed, even if you have the technology to make it feasible to do so. For example, being open and sharing are two cultural traits that would be pretty much be a necessity if you wanted to interact with that community. If no one was open with their thoughts or didn’t share anything, then no collaboration would occur now would it?

Ok, finally to my point here. I’ve been struggling for the longest time to figure out what I could do as a freelancer that would not only help other people but also help support myself. Of course, I though of the typical website development avenue because that’s my background. I also though about working within the gaming industry as well because I’ve got a lot of experience with regards to working with it as well. And more recently, I even thought about just focusing on helping individuals and small businesses get online creating their own small communities utilizing blogging software such as Squarespace, the web publishing platform that I’m using now. This last approach seemed much closer to what I wanted to do, not because of the work involved building sites for them, but because of the working environment. The interaction would be on a smaller scale that would be more personable, caring, and focused. In effect, on a more human relationship level like what is seen between two people.

So with my thoughts of Greg’s new Manifesto Games company, I started thinking about what they should be doing with their approach and I commented that culture should be the primary driving force of their change, as it would help them stand out from the typical old business culture that exists in the gaming industry today. As soon as I thought this, I wondered if other people and businesses would need help along these lines? You see everyone talks about how blogging is so great and can change your business but I disagree. It isn’t the blogging technology or the act of blogging itself, it is the change of culture that often accompanies blogging that is the most important thing to focus on. If that company doesn’t change their culture, then their blog will just be spewing out the same stale press releases as they did before but just in a blog format.

Therefore, my question is, if I pursue this avenue of helping companies in a desired change of culture, do you think it would be feasible? Do you think businesses would be interested in this? Do you think there are businesses out there right now saying “God I wish we could change to become a better business but I just don’t know how.” Or do you think that as soon as they hear what I have to say they would laugh and walk away. In effect, changing your culture is one of the most radical and difficult things a business can do. It is about simplifying things and getting back to your roots, almost back to the point of when you were a startup. Do you think businesses would be interested in learning how to be more open and honest? Or would they just laugh and say “We can’t do that!” because the old way of business is still so embedded within them. As I said though, I would be looking for businesses who have a strong “desire” for this change, yet they are just unsure how to get there.

Manifesto Games

Whoa, ok I’m impressed. It looks like Greg Costikyan is starting his own indie label for independent game developers called Manifesto Games. I’ve always admired Greg because he’s one of the few people in the gaming industry who is direct and honest about the issues occurring within it. I seriously hope his efforts pay off and he can create a community of independent game developers that will seriously bring some fresh air to the staleness within the gaming industry today.

One other thing to note. I seriously believe that if my "connected communities" idea was operational today that this would be the perfect opportunity to use it upon as it would allow a large group of decentralized independent game developers to work collectively on common goals from each of their own sites. But that’s why it is so important that the system and idea be as flexible and open as possible, so that it can work with any exceedingly large group of people on any goal or project.

Anniversaries: Time For Reflection

Fifteen years and I still love Sandra as much as the first day I set eyes on her. Actually it’s funny because the other day I was writing my post on Finding Meaningful Relationships with regards to structuring and organizing my thoughts on this site. Well after I finished the article, I sat down for dinner and looked over at her strangely. Although she noticed the strange look, she didn’t know what I was thinking at the time. While looking over at her I had realized, once again, how much meaning she was bringing in my own life and how lucky I was to be in a relationship with someone as wonderful, beautiful, and as caring as she was. Thanks hon!

Analysis of Project Comet Demonstration

Ok, finally found some more detailed information on Six Apart’s Project Comet and it is taken from Mena Trott’s own demonstration of Project Comet at the 2005 DEMOfall conference. The frustrating thing is that the video is slightly blurry so it is difficult to see what you are looking at. First off here’s a quote from the DEMOfall conference site that describes what the demo is supposed to be about.

Project Comet is a significant re-engineering of this pioneering blogging tool, providing greater control, flexibility and privacy in a workspace that lets you aggregate, store, publish and share any type of media asset. This new release illustrates the deep knowledge Six Apart has gained as a leader in the blog software market, and sets a tough new standard for other blog sites to follow.

Alright on to the analysis.



Ok this is the external public view of a Comet website. It looks like they used Mena’s Dollarshort website as an example (although it isn’t live because this site hasn’t been updated since June 13, 2005).

A couple of things to point out in the (blurry) picture. The header area has a picture of Mena with it. You’ll see a lot of this, especially in the backend, which uses small thumbnail portraits of people beside their related content. It makes it extremely easy to see who is talking about what.

The left main content area shows Mena’s posts grouped by day. Each post has a title above it and I think tag/topic information below it.

In the top right corner you’ll see what looks like a tag cloud similar to what Technorati or TagCloud does. In this case though, I believe this is more of a “topic” cloud which shows things that are of interest to me and what I’m talking about. I believe these are the “multiple streams” that Six Apart mentioned on their website about Project Comet.

And finally off to the bottom right you see a listing of books I believe that Mena has been reading. Now one thing you can’t see is the heading for the sidebar info. For example, the heading for her books reads something like “Books I’m Reading” with reading as a link to her full listing of books she’s read.



Ok, now to the backend area of Project Comet where we see the how this community aggregation of a network of people works.

Again in the top right corner header area we see a picture of Mena indicating that this is her aggregated view of her friends and family in her network. Beside her picture it looks like there are some menu options as well. Maybe they relate to her profile settings, not sure.

In the middle left we see what looks like the lastest four photo albums (or maybe photos) posted by people in her network. On the middle right, we see the latest media (i.e. books, music, movies, etc) that people in her network are reading, watching, and listening.

Below that in the bottom right, we see the latest blog posts from people in her network (and note the portrait thumbnail beside each post to easily see who has written what).

Finally in the bottom left corner, I think we’re seeing the most active conversations or maybe topics within her network, although not 100% sure since the text is so small.



Now we see a post being created with the main post entry area on the left and on the right is the “media asset" library (that they mentioned in the initial quote I wrote at the beginning of this post). I’m sure each of those different items on the right are different media types (i.e. photos, music, movies, books, podcasts, etc).



Here is the Photo “media asset" library open which we can then select an image and then drag and drop it to our post we’re writing. Yes, this is the drag and drop aspect of Comet that they mentioned (although in the demonstration he highlighted an image and clicked the insert button (or whatever it is called) on the bottom right of the dialogue window to insert it into his post. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to drag and drop from this library window as well though.

One thing that is very important to note here with regards to their dragging and dropping is that I doubt you will be able to “drag and drop” photos from your desktop directly into your post. Those photos need to be uploaded first somewhere into your library and then from there you can drag and drop them into your post. Actually Squarespace, the web publishing platform that I’m using right now can work in the same way. I can drag a photo from any web page and drop it directly into my post editing window. The image has to be online somewhere for this to work though.

Oh one more thing to note about this as well. These media asset libraries are basically just TypePad lists and photo albums with some more functionality added to them (i.e. sort by date, maybe see related posts tied to item, etc). So in the sidebar, as shown in their example, you are still seeing the latest books added to her TypePad Amazon Book List but somewhere on their I’m sure they’ll have the ability to click on a book and see the post that relates specifically with that list item (a book in this case). Or what they may do is use the Sidebar Title link again. Maybe when you click on the link in “Books I’m Reading” it takes you to a listing of your actually posts talking and reviewing the books you’ve read. This kind of makes more sense, as the sidebar TypePad list is just the current RSS stream of books you’re reading but the collection of journal posts would be all of the books that you read (with the topic stream name of “books” for them I’m assuming, which could also be accessed from the topic cloud in the top right corner of your site).



This is a photo of an image that has already been inserted in the post being dragged and dropped in the upper left corner of the post. If you look real closely you’ll see the outline of the image in the center of the post, including the black cursor, as it moves across the post into the upper left corner.



After getting the image and content where they want it, they selected some attribute information in the bottom left (note the popup selector list with the black cursor selecting something). I believe what they are doing here is selecting the appropriate stream topic that this content should be associated with. If I was talking about my cat, then I’d select “pets & animals” from the list (or create a new stream topic).



And here’s the completed post now being shown on the site’s front page.


After inserting the post, they clicked on one of the topics (in the stream topic cloud in the upper right corner of the page) which took them to this page which is a list of posts from her various family members (including herself) on the topic of “pets”. Note the right sidebar maintains pretty much the same content as the homepage (i.e. topic cloud, photo albums, and books being read).

What I’m not sure about this “dynamic view” as they called it, is whether this is what would be seen to the public or to just Mena. I’m assuming in this case it is what would be shared with the public in total. I think the more private information (say the stuff that only her mom wants to talk about) is shown in the backend only. Not 100% sure on this though.



Now remember before I mentioned before about the sidebar content titles have links on them (i.e. Books I’m Reading). Well this example shows a sidebar title being clicked. Again I’m not 100% sure but I think the title is something like “People in my Family”. Because when they click it, they get the view below.



The final shot from the demo. This is after the sidebar title, as I mentioned above, had been clicked. It shows another “dynamic page” of everything that Mena’s family is talking about. Again note the right sidebar content doesn’t change though, as it is still just showing Mena’s photo albums and books she’s reading, not her entire family’s photo albums and books they’re reading.

A final thing to note, each of these “dynamic pages” is almost like a “weblog” in themselves, which is what Six Apart was hinting at. In addition though, I still have the funny feeling that you can take these content topic streams and use them anywhere, even on another site. For example, let say Mena is a hardcore gamer who has a topic stream that talks about gaming. Well if she was in a clan, I’m sure she could create another weblog with it’s own design for her clan and stream her gaming topic stream to it, not to mention all of the content streams from her other clan members as well. Voila, you now have a “dynamic site” using content streams from different people in your network.

But what if she didn’t want this gaming content on her personal site? No problem, she still creates the content in her backend panel but it just isn’t shown on her personal weblog but instead on her aggregated community clan weblog with her gaming friends.

Meaningful Meanings

David Weinberger has a small quote from Aristotle that talks about the being of ideas and meaning of ideas. What I found interesting in this was the definition of the word "meaning" and how it relates to "meaningful". Meaning can be construed as expressing something which in turn relates to our feelings. Even more so, I was interested in the definition of meaning with regards to something that is "significant". But that’s just it though, isn’t it? I may find something meaningful and significant from my viewpoint but you may not. Even each local culture may put a greater emphasis and meaning on things while others in the rest of the world may not. A good example of this would be the sacred cows in India.