The Demise of the Considered Response

It’s my rather pompous term for the way that email, SMS and, in particular, the SlackBerry [sic] reduce the quality of our replies. Nowadays, it seems, a prompt one-line answer to an email is considered somehow more productive, efficient, effective and “smart” than actually contemplating for a moment the subject and the best response. However trite, irrelevant or misinformed the response is, it seems the act of responding is more important than the nature of the reponse itself.

Another solution, of course, is just to forward the message to others with a brief one line at the top suggesting they read it. This is how poor communication breeds.

The reality is that the recipient probably hasn’t read it himself. Or read it properly, top to bottom. Out there are millions of people only half listening — their emails only half read, slackly responded to (hence my term for the BlackBerry): an industry riddled with the incompetence of the superficially efficient.

My most recent experience of this (boring technical aside follows, feel free to stop reading here) was from my hosting company, which only ever half-read my emails to them requesting help. Here’s our most recent exchange (of many):

Thanks for this, and www.loosewireblog.com is now working. But loosewireblog.com continues to FORWARD to the typepad address; this is not domain mapping. Is there no FAQ that hostway has on this much demanded feature? If not, can you give me specific instructions as to how to map the ROOT domain to the typepad address I’m seeking? Best, Jeremy

Their response, more than 12 hours later (from a 24–hour support service:

Hello,

We have updated your DNS records to the ones that you previously specified. Please test your site in a few hours and contact us if you still have problems.

Thank you.

In the intervening 12 hours I had figured out how to solve the problem I hoped they might be able to solve for me. So of course their fix — which wasn’t a response to my question, even though I had carefully put the key words in CAPS — actually broke the website. This might explain why those of you trying to access the blog via loosewireblog.com haven’t been fortunate the past few hours. Hopefully it is now fixed.

If only the Demise of the Considered Response was as easily reversible.

Skipping The Trailers On A DVD

Does anyone know how to skip the trailers on DVDs? I’ve just sat through nearly 10 minutes of promotions — ‘For the first time ever on DVD’ — for six shows from MacGyver to Happy Days on a DVD of Frasier. What makes the folks at Paramount think they can force me to sit through this promotional dross, having just shelled out nearly $50? And these people get upset when folk buy pirate DVDs. Buying tapes was easier than this: just hit the fast forward button.

Anyway, there must be a way of hacking past this rubbish. Anyone know of any, on a computer or otherwise? (No, you can’t just fast forward, skip chapter or even go to the root menu, as these buttons won’t work while the trailers are playing.)

Oh and I’m going to complain to Paramount, a Viacom Company. How dare they make me fork out money and then sit through so much stuff it’s nearly my bedtime already. My plan is to charge them for the time I had to watch the trailers as their ‘entertainment consultant’ since they made no mention of the fact on the cover of the DVD that I would have no choice in the matter. I reckon 7.5 minutes at $450 per hour works out at pretty close to what I paid for the DVD.

The Future Of Organizers? wikidPad Goes Open Source

If you like wikis, you might like to know that one of the best self-contained wiki Windows programs, wikidPad, is now open source at SourceForge.net:

wikidPad is a wiki-like notebook for storing your thoughts, ideas, todo lists, contacts, or anything else you can think of to write down.

Its author, Jason Horman, released the code late last month, after posting this explanation a month or so back:

I have (clearly) had no time lately to work on wikidPad. I am currently involved with two other startup companies that are eating away all of my time. So what to do? While I enjoy the modest extra income it provides I think that it could be so much cooler than it currently is. In the past few months it seems that more developers have been playing with the platform, and some have been offering to help out in some capacity. I would love to see wikidPad evolve into something incredibly cool. So, I have been thinking of open sourcing it. I haven’t done this before so there are some core questions. I would appreciate feedback/discussion on how to proceed.

WikidPad is a great way to handle notes, and I for one am very optimistic that this sort of thing can move further to centre stage. To be able to cross reference everything just simply by making the words ‘wiki-ed’ is a wonderful tool. There’s a Mac tool that does this in a very similar way, although the name escapes me for the moment.

Good luck, folks, taking this forward, and thanks to Jason for making a gift of this very promising tool.

Being A Reporter And Being A Columnist: The ‘Good Story’ Trap

I’m a journalist. You probably knew that. But since focusing on being a columnist (rather than a reporter) I’ve tried to avoid the journalist crowd. Not because they’re not interesting, dedicated, very smart people, many of whom I count my friends. It’s just that journalists have a certain way of thinking, and I’m not convinced, at least as a columnist, that that is the best way to think. Last night, back in Hong Kong, I think I was able to pin down another reason why.

I was hanging out with some old former colleagues. Nice guys, all of them. We were talking about stuff, and I couldn’t help noticing the habit that all journalists tend to have. They’ll share stuff, anecdotes, things they’ve done, heard or seen, and all the others will be assessing the information in terms of whether it constitutes a story. The biggest compliment one journalist can pay another is to mutter, at the end of a tale, ‘good story’. It doesn’t just mean, of course, that the narrator has spun a good yarn. It means he or she has imparted enough juicy material for the other journalists to realise they’re working on something good. It’s a natural way to think — after all, we’re only as good as our next article — but is it the best way?

I try to think a bit differently as a columnist. For me, the lead in a story — the meat, the point, the angle of the story — doesn’t cross well to a column. Think ‘lead’ in a column and all you get is a bad news story. Writing a story is building an inverted triangle. The meat is at the top, and then you throw in as much other stuff as you can before you run out of space. Sure, you could try to come up with a good bottom — what’s called a kicker — but only if you have a good editor who won’t lop it off because of lack of space.

Writing a column for me is like layering a cake. You have all these different audiences you want to try to capture, so you need to add each layer carefully, not leaving behind those less than interested in the topic while not boring those who already know the background. You need to have a point, of course, but it’s not always going to be the ‘newsworthy’ bit a journalist would focus on — the ‘good story’. You need to put it in perspective, just a like a news piece. But you also need to throw it forward, and not in the way news stories usually do (‘the revelation is bound to cause concern in the market/cabinet/UN etc’) but in terms of what the users might expect to see around the corner, up the road, or over the horizon. As a columnist too you need to pronounce judgement on the trend/product/statement/issue, a luxury journalists don’t have. Your opinion, for once, counts.

I suppose my worry about the ‘good story’ thing is that journalists don’t, or won’t go much beyond that. Calling something a ‘good story’ implies that the angle has already been pinned down, the incremental step forward that the ‘good story’ will push the issue as a whole. But by defining ‘a good story’ journalists also tend to draw a line around the discussion, the issue, the debate, and thereby limit their thinking. There’s no point, journalists know, of taking the discussion further forward because until that incremental ‘good story’ is written, the issue — the bigger story — will stay stuck at that point. News is about angles, what is ‘new’, not necessarily what is really important. To journalists ‘good story’ is a way of saying, ‘interesting. Next subject, please’.

What I’m saying is not new, and it’s been much better expressed elsewhere. Neither am I criticising journalists, who know their ‘good story’ is the one that will pay the bills and please their boss. And, interestingly, journalists not covering the topic they’re talking about will happily debate the ins and outs of the subject till the dawn. The ‘good story’ bit only really applies to topics that might be within the beat of the reporters having the chat. But I consider myself very fortunate to have been given the chance to write a column, not least because it’s forced me to think outside what constitutes a ‘good story’ into thinking about the issue from a much greater distance, and to try to find a way to make it as relevant as possible to the reader. I don’t think I’ve done a very good job, but I think I’m beginning to understand what is required of one as a columnist, as opposed to being a reporter.