The revolution will not be televised. It will be tweeted.

Gil Scott-Heron told us in his unforgettable 1970 song/rap that the revolution will not be televised. He goes on to list instantly recognizable icons from popular culture at the time. It’s a collection of non-sequiturs that form a greater whole. While no one or two of these snippets of Willie Mays, Johnny Cash, Hertz, Xerox, Richard Nixon, Green Acres, Hooterville and soap operas of the day by themselves mean much, the listener can step back to watch the compelling mosaic of racism in America and the anger it generated come to life. The basis for each line is more emotional than factual in some cases but it works and it works well.

Perhaps ol’ Gil was about four decades ahead of his time. As the events in Egypt unfolded last week, Twitter was alive with 140-character snapshots of Tahrir Square and the events of the day. Once it was clear that this was a revolution rather than a simple demonstration, the government quickly shut down the internet. The young people of Egypt were using Facebook and Twitter get the word out. In effect, social networking provided the center of gravity for what might have otherwise been an earnest effort left to collapse under the weight of its own chaos.

For those of us not in Egypt, Twitter provided instant, sometimes it seemed like more than instant, feedback. In Gil’s day, it was miraculous that Walter Cronkite could show us what happened in Viet Nam just the day before on the CBS Evening News. Later, satellite technology enabled news networks to show us the Gulf War live as it happened. But even live, it was coming from journalists and controlled by news directors in Atlanta in the case of CNN.

As the proud holder of a journalism degree from San Jose State University, I might be biased. But I don’t think some oversight is a bad thing. I think it’s fantastic to get these tweets from the epicenter of an event like the one we witnessed in Egypt. But it lacks context without some effort to fill in the blanks and to do what we called in J school, “fact checking.”

I was tweeting with another SJSU journalism grad, Jon Swartz. Jon is a Technology writer for USA Today and does a tremendous job covering Silicon Valley for the paper and is a great user of social networking. Jon tweeted :

@jswartz652 Never mind 30 years of poverty, corruption and dictatorship in Egypt… Facebook and Twitter changed everything!#lazyreporting.

As Jon rightfully points out, this wasn’t a flashmob at the local shopping mall. That this was an outpouring based on those three decades he mentions was perhaps was lost on Americans that were too caught up in the spectacle itself. Twitter can be an extremely useful tool. It can also be an entertaining toy. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the tenets of good journalism shouldn’t be disregarded and clearly have their place. Our former ‘news organization-centric’ information gathering model added the context and, usually, the balance to the story.

With power comes responsibility. The new ‘anyone with a smartphone-centric’ model leaves it to the news consumer to seek out context and balance necessary to convert the snippets into the story. Are we up to the challenge?


It’s Time to Forget Rotary Phones.

When the internet really got going in the early 90s, it was first a curiosity and then a revelation. But it was not our ‘reality’. It was another way to do things. You had the ‘real’ way to do something and you had the internet way. There quickly became some things that were largely adopted by the general population. In the business world, Email would be an example.  Other things, at the office and at home, would take some time.

Everything suggested by the ‘internet bubble’ companies in the mid to late 90s was measured against the template of how we had been doing it. Dictionaries, Yellow Pages and encyclopedias were tentatively supplanted.  Restaurant reservations were made with a telephone. It was odd to meet someone online. If you did, for whatever reason, you would not disclose that unless pressed. Any training or education received online was assumed to be subpar or second class.

Fast forward to today. Anyone under 30 expects only one thing from the internet: Everything.

Forget all of that stuff about how funny it is that they don’t remember turntables, rotary phones, phones that had to be connected by a wire, the miracle of the fax machine, boom boxes the size of small refrigerators, not being able to heat up food in 30 seconds and the like.

It’s interesting to those of us who do remember those things. It’s not interesting to them. In fact, read the preceding paragraph to a 17 year old and they will give you an eye roll followed by a dead fish stare that will drop the room temperature by 10 degrees.

In the early 80s, I got a phone call from my grandfather . He was about 85 at the time and had gotten an ATM card from Wells Fargo and was very excited about it. While many were leery of the idea of banking with a machine, he was thrilled. While others worried what would happen if the money didn’t come out or what if they had a question or what if someone somehow stole their money, his attitude was, “this is how banking is done now.” He lived to be a healthy, great looking guy to the age of 99 and I think that attitude had a lot to do with it. That and walking the hills of San Francisco for all those years.

An online degree is a great thing. Rather than words on a page, there is rich digital media that brings the lesson to life. Meeting someone online is often preferable now. The internet is de facto. I don’t know anyone who would debate that. But men and women of a certain age must for their own good let go of those old templates. You’re marketing and selling to people who have new templates and new expectations that have nothing to do with your own.

This is how it’s done now.

Do You Wish to Continue in English?

In my review of the book “Delivering Happiness” by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, I was a bit harsh on Tony. What I thought was coming across as a advertisement for Zappos was actually a lightning bolt to my brain with regard to the art of loving the customer.
I’m an enthusiastic customer. Zappos, a subsidiary of, is an online shoe retailer. In his book, Tony describes trials and tribulations of getting people to buy something that would be at the top of anyone’s list of products that demand to been seen, touched and tried. Getting someone comfortable buying a pair of shoes that, frankly, in all likelihood will need to be exchanged or returned, wouldn’t be easy. The key would be customer service.
Customer service has traditionally been the ‘complaint desk’. RMAs are issued and the metrics revolve around handling these in a cost effective manner. While there is a lot of talk around ‘delighting the customer’, most companies don’t have the passion or commitment to not only be friendly and empathetic on the phone with a customer but to also take that feedback and change the product, procedures or website to eliminate problems in the future.
Companies must examine every problem. Eliminate irritations. Make common sense part of the equation. When I use my ATM card, I’m asked each and every time whether I want to continue in English. Is this because I may have learned Spanish since my last withdrawal and now want to handle my financial transactions in my new language? No. It’s because it might be too much trouble to ask me once and automatically change my customer profile accordingly.
There are a million examples. Tony and the folks at Zappos get beyond the buzzwords to the crux of the customer experience. And they sell shoes.
What product or service are you selling? How important are your customers? It’s time to think way, way outside of the box. We know that the cost of keeping a customer is lower than the cost of acquiring one. If you think that is the key metric, you’re still in the box.

Welcome to Words Rang True

The title comes from the Bob Dylan song “Tangled Up In Blue”.

“Every one of those words rang true and glowed like burning coal.”

I don’t know they’ll do exactly that all of the time but I’ll try to keep it lively and interesting.

My passions in life are music, baseball and my family. And after spending the better part of three decades selling software and professional services in Silicon Valley, I’m interested in the business life and what makes someone a customer and what makes them happy after they are. Like most bloggers, I’m hungry for commentary. Feel free to disagree and please be vocal about it. Compliments are also graciously accepted.

My model for this blog is one that I enjoy greatly written by my good friend Tom Mackey here on WordPress called “Off the Blocks”. I heartily recommend that you check that out. I say that knowing that I’m setting the bar high for myself and I look forward to meeting the challenge.