Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

How “normal” is Normal Distribution?

With so much talk in the past half-decade about “the Long Tail” it got me thinking about that other popular curve, “the bell curve”. In school, some classes were graded on a bell curve in order to “normalize” the marks across the student body, afterall, it’s called “normal distribution”.

But after seeing so much of the power law distribution long tail in action, from Pareto’s findings to countless examples in biology and physics, I’m wondering if grading according to the bell curve is more rooted in our sense of “fairness” than in reality. I’m sure there’s a sound statistical reason for it and I invite anyone to illuminate that for me.

In the meantime, I’m asking myself: Is normal distribution really normal?

Why Kids Don’t Dig Twitter

There’s been a slew of articles and posts pointing out that unlike Kellogg’s Trix, Twitter ain’t for kids (See here and here). Why? Here’s my theory.

When you go to school (from nursery school up to 4th year university), your social life is laid out right in front of you. Forced into classes where for the majority of the day you’ll be spending close quarters with 20-30 other people your age, it’s a trial-by-fire lesson on navigating the social landscape and that forms the basis of your social life. You make friends in the offline world and you enhance those friendships in the online world. Email and later Facebook were perfectly suited to this social enhancement.

Then you leave school, when you do, you leave the convenient social life. You’ve grown apart from many of your own friends and meeting new people now takes effort. Lavalife and eHarmony have built their business on this insight. Twitter did so unconsciously. As I tweeted a while ago, “Twitter let’s you instant message the public”. The public, not your friends, not your acquaintances, but people you haven’t met yet…but might like to.

This is the crux behind Dave Allen’s post, Facebook Linkedin Twitter – Past Present and Future. Facebook connects you with your past friends and your current friends online. LinkedIn for the most part connects with you with professional contacts you’ve crossed paths with. Twitter’s an open network. You follow whomever you like, you @reply whomever you like, and Tweetups are generally open to anyone who knows about them. Twitter is the social network where you get to know new people. Something you really don’t need to make an effort to do when you’re young.

Joel, Please Don’t Jump the Shark

An open letter to Joel Moss Levinson:

Dear Joel,

I was looking for examples of entrepreneurial Gen Y’s and I came across an article in the New York Times about you. It’s my all-time favourite social media story. While everyone else was getting their 15 minutes of fame and then moving on with their lives, you figured out how to turn a hobby into cash…by entering viral video contests

Then I saw this video for Murphy Goode. Joel, what gives? What happened to the playful Flight of the Conchord-esque videos. This one was too earnest, you were trying too hard. I know, you didn’t get the Tourism Queensland Best Job Ever and that was very wrong of them. It’s possible they just didn’t want to give it to you because you won so many other contests. When I was in Australia, Americans were seriously underrepresented among the backpacker population and having you as their resident blogger would have gone a long way to getting more US visitors.

Don’t get bitter on me Joel; keep the smiles coming. For the rest of you, here’s my all-time favourite.

For more Joel Moss Levinson check out his blog

Why Authors Rarely Give Each Other Bad Reviews

I was a rather shocked when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s scathing review of Chris Anderson’s new book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”, by way of Seth Godin’s defense of Chris. It’s not because Chris Anderson’s position is beyond reproach and isn’t open to debate, but because I’ve never seen a fellow author slam one of his own. When I tweeted this bewilderment, my friend Duane Brown reminded that “authors aren’t part of a gang”. For some reason, I remembered seeing a lot of quid pro quo among the writing community, particularly on the back covers of each others’ books. I wasn’t entirely right.

Looking through my library, I didn’t see a direct “You’re great, no you’re great” mutual gushes on each other’s back covers. There was, however, some quid pro quo on each other’s blogs and definitely a lot of gushing amongst best selling authors.

First, the quid pro quo:

Jeff Jarvis on Seth Godin on his blog Buzz Machine
Back in June, I wrote, inspired by some posts by Seth Godin, that small is the new big. Seth was similarly inspired by his own posts and wrote that small is the new big. Seth liked the line so much he used it as the title of his new book (and was nice enough to acknowledge the synchronicity). But now we both get beat to print by Inc magazine’s cover this month.

Seth Godin on Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do?
Wait. Stop. In your hands you hold a rare thing, the work of a genuine visionary, someone willing to regularly and aggressively challenge the status quo. Five years from now, many people are going to regret the fact that they didn’t read this book today, when they had the chance. Don’t make that mistake. Google wouldn’t.”

Now all these books are great reads, but here comes the gushing:

Seth Godin on Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s Groundswell
Groundswell is jammed with big ideas, useful stories, and quotable stats. This is the new industrial revolution. Are you on board?”

Seth on Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness with another Malcolm compliment
“This is a brilliant book, a useful book, and a book that could quite possibly change the way you look at just about everything. And as a bonus, Gilbert writes like a cross between Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris.”

Malcolm Gladwell on Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics
Steven Levitt has the most interesting mind in America, and reading Freakonomics is like going for a leisurely walk with him on a sunny summer day, as he waves his fingers in the air and turns everything you once thought to be true inside out. Prepare to be dazzled.

Malcolm Gladwell on James Surowieki’s The Wisdom of Crowds
The Wisdom of Crowds” is dazzling. It is one of those books that will turn your world upside down. It’s an adventure story, a manifesto, and the most brilliant book on business, society, and everyday life that I’ve read in years.

I think if I had one more use of the word “dazzled”, I’d have a Jon Stewart bit.

Alan Cross mentioned on his show that the Beatles and Rolling Stones never released albums at the same time. I can’t remember the last time two blockbuster movies went head to head on opening weekend nor can I remember the last time two bestselling authors released a book at the same time. In the content industry, there’s always room for one more movie, book, album, play, etc. so it’s simply good business to space out release dates. It’s also probably also good for business to talk up your fellow artists; wouldn’t want to miss a potential collaborative opportunity.

So why the public spat between Malcolm, Seth, and Chris Anderson? Hmmm, maybe when you’re all guaranteed bestsellers, a little semi-scandalous debate is needed to generate hype. Works for Hollywood.