Category Archives: media

What I’m Reading: On China, Typography, and The Power of Connected Networks

We live in a marvelous age of content discovery and learning.  Between platforms like the Khan Academy, traditional publications like the Financial Times, New Yorker, and the Atlantic, and an ever-growing presence (both digitally and in-person) of gatherings like TED, Davos, Zeitgeist and the like, as long as you have an Internet connection — and the curiosity to look for it — it has never been easier to access information.  But as I’ve touched on before, this ease of access has created a conundrum in and of itself in finding — and thinking through — what all these different pieces mean. 

Below are some things that caught my eye so far this week — what noteworthy events, talks, or reads have you come across?  Share your own in the comments below. 

John Huntsman on China and the US
Zeitgeist Americas 2013 (“Here’s to the Curious”)

Whatever your political leanings may be, it’s hard to refute that John Huntsman is one of the most well-versed politicians on China today in Washington.   In this 22-minute talk at Zeitgeist Americas, Huntsman leads off the discussion on China and the US, and how two distinctly different approaches to leading shape the directions of the two countries.  For  China, who is decidedly driven by long-term strategies, and the US, who excels at executing short-term tactical decisions, it’s more important than ever for both to understand the perspectives that the other is coming from.

In particular, as Huntsman notes, the next few months will be especially interesting to watch as China moves into its third plenum this November, where the new leadership team that assumed power last year will lay out in more detail plans around some the most pressing issues for China today: urbanization, moving from an export driven economy that is more focused on consumption, and the overarching theme of China’s social transition against a backdrop of widening inequalities.   China’s transition today is one that warrants much more than just any one post, book, or talk, but Huntsman’s talk here presents a good overview of some of the present issues at hand.

John Huntsman was a former ambassador to China (2009 – 2011) and governor of Utah (2005 – 2009). As a private citizen, Huntsman was the CEO of Huntsman Corporation, a global chemical company started by his father, Jon Huntsman Sr. 

Typography and Culture: Why the Devil is in the Details
Erik Spiekermann in conversation with the Type Directors Club (TDC) 

How does typography influence and reveal culture? However subtle (or un-subtle), typography plays a key role in shaping the feel and identity of brands and societies.  In this 10-minute talk with world-renowned typographer and designer Erik Spiekrmann, he provides a fascinating lens into the history of the craft and how it’s evolved with the introduction of new content formats and mediums, and how typeface can reveal the sentiment of a society.

How Successful Networks Nurture Good Ideas
WIRED Magazine, October 2013


When the Internet first reached mass audiences, it was a marvelous framework to start storing all our information — to create nodes of reference that anyone could access.  As this information began to grow (exponentially so), it quickly became aobout finding ways to organize and find that information — giving birth to search engines like Altavista, Yahoo, and ultimately, Google.  Today, we find ourselves in another age of the Web, one that is as much about creating as it is about documenting.  On one hand, it’s about the rise of the shareable economy, with the growth of services like TaskRabbit, Airbnb, Lyft, Postmates, and the like.

And on the other hand, it’s helped drive and enable a culture of collaboration and collective innovation.  In this piece from the current WIRED issue, contributing editor Clive Thompson discusses the merits of thinking out loud and the network effects the Internet has in giving way to serendipity.  In particular, Thompson cites the birth of Ushahidi, an open-source project that started as a way for users to automatically pins texts/e-mails from areas under distress directly onto Google Maps), as a prime example of this.

Ushahidi, which is Swahili for “witness”, was an idea that came to Ory Okolloh, a blogger that started writing about corruption in Kenya in the early 2000s, during the heart of the Kenyan elections of 2007, when she received floods of tips of violent outbreaks throughout the country.  While she posted as many as she could on her blog, there were so many others she couldn’t always get to, and she wondered — out loud — whether it was technically possible to get these messages posted automatically to Google Maps.  A reader saw her post and connected her with a programmer he knew who was also deeply interested in connecting Kenyans to talk about the state of the country.   The two connected and within a few days, they had a functional Google Maps-based tool to automatically pin posts via text/e-mail/web form up and running.

In the corporate world (where I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit), connected networks can help drive similar effects — when done right.  Across the board, there is a push to break down silos and to connect the dots (Yammer, an enterprise social network, uses the tagline “it’s a tool for rewriting your company’s culture” as a key premise of their business).   But just as it is with the public Internet, organizations need to create environments that allow for these “perfect storms” to occur. Employees should be allowed — and actively encouraged — to contribute, to become writers and commentators as much as they are consumers of content and media, and given multiple forums and occasions to express their ideas, think out loud, and connect, regardless of team or geography.  As with almost all topics, this one warrants a post (or a few) in and of itself, but I think the case that Thompson makes here is one that business executives should take heed of in growing their operations.

Pop Culture: Lip Sync Battle with Joseph Gordon Levitt, Stephen Merchant and Jimmy Fallon

And to end the note on a truly “epic” performance (according to this Gawker article,  “epic” is actually the most used term on the interwebs today), check out this battle of the ages lip-sync performance from Stephen Merchant, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Jimmy Fallon (10 minute video). If you’re short on time, skip ahead to the 8:15 mark to watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s epic performance of Nicki Manoj’s “Super Bass”.


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xinjiang and the chinese media

i try my best to stay as objective as i can when it comes to news and events, but it breaks my heart to see so many dead and injured in urumqi.  it’s amazing how quickly news travels through twitter these days, but having read some of the tweets that have come out of it, i have to say — please do do your own research, especially on issues as complex and sensitive as the uyghur-han chinese conflict, and realize what a politically loaded situation this is too. it’s much too easy in this day and age to create so many extensions of stories that get retold enough times to be eventually written down as fact. the sensational headlines that media so love to highlight do little to help the situation either.

that being said, i hope that the chinese media will take this opportunity to do some objective, well-rounded reporting — in both chinese and english. it really is dangerous to have two extreme camps of chinese media — the ultra-conservative who pretend that if they go through the days with blinds on, the events that are most sensitive, and often times the most pressing and urgent, will just go away, to the ultra-liberal and impassioned dissidents who become so enamoured with their own righteous quest that they lose sight of reality and the delicate balance between what is feasible and what is idealistic theory.

the state is right about one point in its ambitions of establishing a chinese al-jazeera — there IS a desire and unmet demand by those outside china’s borders to learn about the development of this waking dragon beyond gdp figures and numbers. if chinese media can deliver that, it will be an achievement that will have lasting rippling effects beyond the media into diplomacy, internal state affairs, and basic morale.

use the talents that are the huge media organizations to report on issues that only native chinese can do best — today, we see so many “china reporters” who have minimal  knowledge of the language and whose cultural knowledge of chinese society cannot match up to those of their chinese counterparts (and quite understandably so). no matter how brilliant and well-intentioned the reporter, it is especially difficult to report on issues as sensitive and nuanced as this without a solid grasp of the language.  there is so much more value added when you can communicate with the individuals on a personal level.  i am constantly reminded at what a powerful tool GOOD media is.

empirically, we have seen the success of publications like caijing, whose in-depth coverage of china’s economic progress has won them local market share and garnered international respect. but economics is only one part of the equation; true, china’s economic success has bought it some time as people indulge in their material whims.  but for a country like china to truly prosper, progress needs to be made on other fronts as well.

china’s novel in the 21st century is only just beginning — for the rest of the story to be fairly represented, its leaders need to recognize that achieving a “harmonious society” requires more than simply trumpeting stories that headline economic and regulatory legislation or fluffy, cultural feel-good stories. instead, lend some pixels to deconstructing conflicts that will inevitably surface in ANY society, no matter how prosperous it is — that is where the true demand lies.

i sincerely hope that the chinese media will take this opportunity and take steps to being the moderate voice that china, and quite frankly the world, desparately needs. sorry that this has strayed from the original xinjiang topic, but seeing all the internet hoop-la around this event has only stressed this point more.


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the case for journalists

everyone says that journalists are a dying breed in the age of wordpress, google (and now bing — still need to check it out), twitter, facebook and the like. quite the contrary, i actually think there’s argument to be made that the propensity of these mediums only make the need for journalists far greater.

today, we have millions of pages and bytes of data at our fingertips and combing through them can be a rather time-consuming task. journalists have, and SHOULD, seek out that objective truth and perspectives that should depict a situation.

i think what needs to happen is that we should take a hard look at journalism schools again. true, we are in the age of new media and interactive media has become the overnight sensation of the journalism world. however, what cannot, and should not be forgotten are the core values that define journalism: TRUTH, ethics, and seeking that balance between perspective, fact, opinion, and emotion. more than ever, journalists today need to embrace new technology as a means of understanding how to use all these new mediums to support and uphold these core values.

in the end, i don’t think it will be new media that will kill journalism — it will be journalists themselves if they cannot learn to adapt quickly in the age of 140-characters-based communication.

i should caveat this by saying that since i’m not in journalism school and hear very little about what actually goes on, these are things that may already be taking place. if so, i think it should be communicated moreso than it currently is. can anyone else shed light on this?

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yahoo + consumer product = win/win recipe?

so i got to thinking the other day about the dismal fate of yahoo and its online advertising state compared to big brother google (yes – i am a geek :P) and thought about the conversation for “healthy competition” i recently had with someone about how much i wanted to see yahoo succeed as much as i absolutely heart google, and realized that maybe all yahoo needed to do would be to think outside the online advertising box and bring internet search to a new level through something much more tangible and near and dear to consumer hearts — the products we so love to use and companies so love to sell us.

perhaps in this age of recession and shrinking marketing budgets, online ad giants like yahoo and product marketing teams can create a bit of synergy of their own by teaming up to create a new type of integrated story concept that can translate those marketing costs into valuable sales dollars. we already have billboards that call out to us with statements that comprise solely of a website address. (and honestly, who doesn’t love those minimalist designs?) why not have some t.v. spot that ends with a few choice keywords to be searched on yahoo! that creates a compelling story around a product?

in addition to helping tie a company’s different advertising mediums, a well run concept could turn into a viral marketing effort fueled by social network phenoms, especially among gen y-ers and beyond. by offering exclusive content/promotions/specials that can only be accessed easily through yahoo’s search, the failing internet giant could spark new life back and excitement around one of its core functions — search — while complementing its ad services and bringing advertising to a new level.

decreased costs for each party, increased roi – perhaps with a little bit of skillful corporate diplomacy, it could be one of the very things companies (and yahoo) now need …

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facebook keeps calling me fat

Is it just me, or does facebook seem to have a disproportionate amount of ads that feature titles like “how i got skinny” or “22 and overweight?” That, and promoting more online matchmaking. I wonder if the “22” changes according to each person’s profile. If that’s the case, how much IS facebook really releasing to third parties? hmm.

While the very fact that I’m posting a blog post about it may mean they’re onto something, the converse fact that it’s a rather big turn-off may indicate that it may be time for facebook to rethink its online ad strategy (not saying that I represent the average facebook user but I think that people generally don’t like to be constantly told they’re overweight :P)

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Through Your Lenses

The National Geographic is offering a program that allows those (age 18-30) who will be living or studying abroad in Fall 2008 the opportunity to share their experiences through their gift of storytelling, photography, or film (crossroad of passion, skills, and marketplace perhaps? :)). Sounds like an amazing opportunity!

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