Token-based attention economies and marketing

I’ve been both obsessed and puzzled with the question of what marketing means to a token-based attention economy.

Like Steem as an example.

I asked Nick Grossman on his blog this morning:

“So what does marketing mean to this model especially when the core of the community is attention ala Steem and not a service or product like cloud storage?

He responded:

“…steem is “full stack” from the start, rather than layered. For example, you could take the new Kin token and apply it to a different social network — so the currency and the user experience are detached.

“I suspect that ultimately the layered model will win out — people will build consumer experiences that are several layers detatched from the underlying tech / currency — the way that most users don’t know or care whether this website was built using wordpress or ruby on rails, etc.

An interesting reframing of the question.

I believe that in many ways, token-based economies are as close to natural value systems as I’ve seen.

They work smartly where the marketplace is focused on goods and services like cloud storage, where the value is a quotient of availability, price, and reputation.

That’s the aspirational basis of all marketplaces, like many in the food and supply chain worlds.

But with attention-based systems like Steem, really social nets of sorts, this has flown in the face of what traditionally is thought of as social behaviors and group dynamics in community structures.

Maybe Nick has restated this appropriately.

There is a core distinction between a community and a marketplace. Most every community aspires to a marketplace status but it is not always a natural state, especially those based entirely on the popularity of subjective content or personalities.

Steem in Nick’s terminology is full stack, in my words, they are using an exoskeleton of economic functionality where in actuality the value is a behavioral metric.

Where the true value of socialization or individualized brands ala Facebook or Twitter is not the token or monetization model to an individual, it is, or I think should be, simply the plumping.

I believe that behaviors are platformed at times. That behaviors while they certainly evolve, maintain social and group dynamic norms. It was true when I ran a large open source project a decade ago, is still true today unless I am falling prey to my own experiential bias.

Ask yourself:

-If you are in charge of marketing for a community like Steem, what are your measurable goals?

-How do you know if you are doing a good job?

-How do you avoid the social media trap to use the value of the token as a metric for the ROI of your community activities?

And another one I can’t shake:

-How do you involve the large brands with massive budgets that want to participate in your community, not as individuals but in a yet-to-be-defined variant of advertising and sponsorship?

I spent some time at the Token Summit last week talking to people about this.  I’m focusing on Steem as an example, as it appears to be at an inflection point where these questions will soon begin to be relevant to their continuing success.

Just because you democratize access and economics, doesn’t remove the necessity to lead the narrative with your community relevant to your goals or even a greater good.

Just because you are a community with a built-in economic model that eliminates the need for interruptive media, doesn’t mean that the human dynamics of leadership and engagement, don’t play a telling and formative role. Or even that token scoring is not interruptive in its own right.

I think the first tactical steps to figure this out will come where proven community expertise and behavioral marketing meets the leap to this new market communities model.

Marketing really does matter and it is just starting to find itself in this developing world.


Thanks again to William and Nick for offering me a seat at the conference to lend a different point of view to the discussion.

A tech product that truly delivers: Bose QC 35 wireless headphones

With the Bose QuietComfort 35 Bluetooth noise-cancellation headphones, it was love at first pairing.

I need to think back to my initial obsessions with the iPhone or Mac Air to find a product that I fell for so completely on first touch. And that immediately changed my behavior.

I heard about these headphones over at AVC (thanks, Fred!), bought a pair for a present last January, was immediately smitten and ordered my own after trying them on.

From an industrial design perspective, they are a thing of pure beauty. Attractive to the touch, diminutive in profile, perfectly balanced, so light and comfortable. Work, pack up in a sec and use again everywhere.

It’s not geeky stuff that matters here (though they nailed the specs on this). What keeps me delighted after months of use is that they’ve made work and play better in very specific and demonstrable ways.

These are the game changers for me with this product.

Provide a quiet and concentrative space wherever I am.

I love the streets and am always out, but I simply can’t work in noisy places.

If you travel frequently, work in acoustically-challenged co-op workspaces, or move around from coffee shop to park to restaurants as I do, the biggest issue is noise as a distraction.

No longer.

The number one change for me is focus and quiet wherever I want it, wherever I am. The QC 35s don’t reduce noise, they literally cancel it out.

Seamless auto-answer through Bluetooth for voice and video calls.

From deep concentration writing or modeling out a plan to taking a call and with a touch, then back.

I still have a childlike delight in the seamless ease of this.

The secret sauce is that there’s noise reduction tech in the microphone itself. You can have conversations in very noisy places, and others can clearly hear without dragging in all the ambient roar of a coffee shop or communal workspace.

The big deal, in a nutshell, is that it no longer matters where you are. You can work or do calls anywhere.

A heads up that Bluetooth is a bit funky at times but the tradeoff is an easy one.

Normalizes audio in multi-location video conference room systems

This is a big one for me as I live on Skype and Hangout, one on one and group meetings.

In normally challenging acoustical environments, I can now listen and work, not make listening to others, the work.

This audio problem is exacerbated in acoustically poor places like WeWorks, using their built-in conferencing systems or even most high-end standalone systems. Emphasis is always on video first and the audio is invariably poor. With the standard meeting config where I call in with others to a team on location in a conference room, this was a nonstarter for long meetings. It just doesn’t work.

Problem resolved with these headphones. It’s put listening in the background and understanding up front where it belongs.

The QC 35s are actually kind of the dream solution– high-tech, beautifully designed, so comfortable you forget you are wearing them. They simply do the job above and beyond.

My pair are part of my go-to bag, phone, Mac Air, fast charger and these. Ready for anything the day has to throw at me.

As exceptional for play as for work

Not many products make it to the top of the list for work and play. These do.

Listening to podcasts and music while I hang around, doing chores or cooking dinner. Late nights in a quiet house watching a movie or talk shows in my comfortable chair with a bottle of wine. Hanging around with samthecat, catching up on the news on Youtube.

They just work as you need them to.

The QuietComform 35 is a truly great product that solves problems, creates new solutions and simply makes my life better and more fun.

That is not faint praise.

If you are looking for a Bluetooth, noise cancellation headphone, this may be it.


Not to forget colors, they come in a variety of them and you can customize which component are which color. Go to the Bose site for these configurations.

Making decisions

Making decisions is what we do for a living.

How well we do it, how effectively we step ahead of the market, and how dynamically we inspire others to embrace the resulting changes is the mark of our success.

If you map out your days across your career, it breaks down to a cycle of strategic decisions, tactical executions, market feedback–then repeat, ad infinitum.

In the last week—a discussion over at AVC and the must-read letter from Jeff Bezos to his shareholders touched on this in uniquely different ways.

Fred Wilson succinctly articulates that decisions drive change and change engenders more data that initiates more understanding and ultimately kicks the process forward.

Jeff Bezos’s truly profound treatise touches on the role of that data in how management works at Amazon.

Words to the wise from people truly in the know.

My career in the operational trenches of startups corroborates this and can be summed up as an endless array of ‘what should we do’ meetings and decision-focused retreats.

Locked with the team in rooms, taking all the data we have, all the anecdotes we’ve heard, mapping it out–then making a decision and moving forward.  I can remember literally dozens of these, especially the most gut-wrenching decisions to both good and bad end results.

What is invariably true is:

The quality of data gets significantly better as the tools for gathering it are built more and more into the process. We have more and profound insights than every before.

– Yet the percent of data useful to our strategic decision making has remained the same over time. The quality of the data has not impacted its use in decision making proportionally.

Here’s the rub.

Operational and market data invariably tells you that change and reevaluation are needed much more that it indicates what to to do. It’s an alarm to pay attention more than anything else.

It is true that the less critical the action, the more data you have to guide you. The more directional and strategic the change, the more the data indicates issues to fix and the less it outlines what to do.

This is simply as it is.

The brilliance, as an example, of growth hacking as a tactic and its failure to function as a strategic platform stems precisely from this. The confuscation of data and mistaken process as being the end game. You don’t a/b test change at a strategic level.

Our success as entrepreneurs and leaders of this ongoing process of evaluation and change is invariably tied to the tangibility of our vision, how that drives momentum and defines the messages we champion.

This is what propels us to cross the never-ending market chasms to get stuff done when everything is just so impossibly hard. Our belief in trusting our gut. Our ability to inspire and direct while still being flexible is what it is all about.

I wonder often where experience plays into this. What does it really mean in an environment where everything including the market and the skills to capitalize on it are changing so rapidly all the time.

It’s actually challenging to quantify experience in this process as it is not simply exposure. Or putting in your time. Or working off a large win. And certainly not the been-there-done-that composure of someone who thinks that one blueprint suits all.

Experience to me is the poise of being comfortable in that gray zone, bouncing off the ropes time after time under an onslaught of market and organizational blows.

The muscle memory we develop after endless cycles of this process. Learning from failure certainly but tempered by knowing how to win by keeping going. We have loads of tips and tricks but it’s composure and leadership that we can bring to the process that sets it apart with true experience that helps shape a different future.

This cycle never stops and leaders rise over time with experience by mastering this, being comfortable and poised in that zone of uncertainty.

When I meet new entrepreneurs or evaluate a project or a leadership team to join—this is what I look for.

Their depth of visceral shared beliefs. Their articulation of a vision that makes me feel their narrative under my skin.  Their resiliency to throw themselves into this decision-making process, time after time. The humility to know what they don’t know and the propensity to embrace change

Making decisions is simply what we do as entrepreneurs.

In enterprise mobility, group connectivity, wellness or the food biz it is common ground. And at all levels, from the exec team down to the individuals that sell, market, write and tell stories across the multiplicity of channels.

That’s just what it is.

In building a company, there are many good days and way too many really challenging ones. What we can count on that change is a constant, that complacency is death and that full assurance in decision making will simply never be. It will always be hard.

This is the pulse of it all and the gist of what we do.

Smart Cities

As go our cities, so goes the world.

Some 80+% of us live in urban centers. And the vast majority of population growth this century will happen in these and new cities not yet even imagined.

This is one of the most urgent challenges and the largest opportunities of our times. Fix our cities and you impact the planet and global culture in truly formative ways.

Cities are in many ways both the cause and the solution to a large part of what worries us today: global warming, food supplies and practicality of local sourcing, our health as a population, how fiscally solvent are governments are, how open we are to diversity and how human in our responsibility to take care of each other.

And while certainly, the reality on the streets of New York is not the norm, how we address our problems here creates learnings that can be used everywhere–from Cincinnati to Tbilisi to Porto t0 Ljubjana.

What is a Smart City really?

Honestly, while I think about urban density and its impact on every piece of our lives often, the moniker of a smart city didn’t engage me till my friend Tom Critchlow sent over the link for the upcoming Smart Cities NYC event.

Two of their premises dragged me in:

-Defining Smart Cities very broadly as a category, similar to the terminology we use for the Wellness market or Natural in the food and wine segments. A high-level umbrella to aggregate community and innovations under without limiting the scope of our thinking.

-While broad and multidisciplinary by definition, there is a lot of tool talk, tech especially and understandably so. Cities are built on broad horizontal platforms and tech is transforming most of them daily.

The organizers of the event define Smart Cities as the ‘ intersection of curating technology to the benefits of urban life’ which while this is true, I think of it more from a people first perspective.

Starting with the needs of urban populations as captured in these five simple concepts:

1. Safety first

The overarching necessity that we are all ok and safe because of the depth and mass of humanity, not in spite of it.

2. Mobility and transportation

How to enable literally millions of people to get around on foot, on bikes, in cars, on subways, by water taxi in a seemingly effortless way to gather in groups at an infinite number of destinations.

3. Information and communications

The real-time massively-scalable need to find out what-is-where-when, through each individual’s smartphone regardless of language or economic status.

4. Community and neighborhood

The super glue that makes cities work. We need laws and enforcement but the community and civic ownership is prime.

Without it, without interpersonal and cultural respect, the world and NY itself will simply become unhinged.

5. Public spaces

This is the beating heart of our urban lives and the soul of our cities.

Each of us feels that every open foot of public space is our own. They are and that is what makes it all work in a reality that is almost impossible in its complexity.

People first is always where to start

Cities by definitions are their own markets. People and their well-being are the only criteria for success.

I lived in NY and in many other cities before Citbike and Zipcar, Uber and Lyft, Google maps and endless data feeds that make safety, navigation, transportation, communication and community possible.

Life is immeasurably better today through the hooks horizontally into our broad social nets and vertically through countless apps and solutions.

But even prior to the Internet, places like NY have been dramatically transformed through open space planning and community actions, way before the advantages of networks became a tool for us.

The safety and beauty of a place like Bryant Park today from the true slum that it was in the 80s.

Central Park truly a scary place then, now one of the wonders of the world, open till 1 AM every night and safe without being antiseptic or tame in the least.

The openness of new ideas in recreational spaces like the Hudson River Park, that extends from the South Seaport up to the GW Bridge. Free and clean and available to everyone.

Or the brilliance of the private-public partnership that built The Highline, one of the most innovative new parks in any city in the last decade.

In each of these, there are components of community organizing, of urban design, of crowdsourced funding, of city government cooperation and of tech, that came together in impossible ways to make each possible.

But we are simply just getting started.

Many say that the future is defined by where technology and urbanism meet.

I think the future of urban life is where livability, affordability, and environmentalism meet collectively with the people who inhabit these places. Where the goals are clear and the tools to get there—part technology, part community, part government–are shared by all.

Nothing is perfect obviously and there are monstrous problems that we don’t even know how to approach here in NY.

Affordable high-speed connectivity where you can’t lay fiber is a massive gotcha for NYC.  Figuring out how to fund all of this and still make the city affordable for all, damn near impossible.

But I’m completely in on this idea of the city as the schematic for the world.

And as a New Yorker, a technologist, a community builder and marketer, and a pragmatic optimist it feels personal to me to help try and solve these problems.

So–do share if you have ideas of orgs or people that I should know about.

Blogs and podcasts are a good place for me to start so I can get to know the person and narrative, not just the ideas.

If you are attending Smart Cities NYC, contact me as I plan on being there.

The liberal arts

I’ve been asking myself how I got to where I am today.

What’s the unique piece in the crazy mix of education, life experiences and lucky breaks that made me who I am?

As counterintuitive as it may seem in the face of today’s connected reality and my role in the tech world, I sense that my core as an individual is grounded in the perspectives that I cultivated as a liberal arts student.

Giving myself the unencumbered freedom to plunge with abandon into literature, philosophy, and film. Studying the connections between art and architecture. Writing incessantly and debating fiercely on the most nuanced and obscure of topics.

Play acting the thoughts of the greatest thinkers and artists of all time.

Is there really a connecting thread between what I do today as a profession to that kid spouting Rilke, Baudelaire and e.e. cummings? Sartre and Artaud? Bergman and Kurasawa?

I think absolutely so.

Obviously, we are all products of our times.  When I emerged out of this period studying the history of thought and the human condition, I fell headfirst–and hard–into the beginnings of the software and tech revolution.

And I stayed there through each piece of its growth, from the first computer publishing programs to computer games to well…. today. Software publisher, market maker, online business builder, enterprise sales strategist, community and web thinker.

I’m still obsessed with contextual interconnections, with the power and fluidity of the nature of thought and behavior.

With the realization that what we say or create is less important than what is heard or seen. That the true visionaries are those that listen to the quiet pulses of the world, too faint for most to hear. That language extant from stories that touch emotions and spur reflection is always inadequate.

This is true in art. True in communications. True even in the architecture of platforms. And certainly true in the power of community and brands that touch the heart of the market.

Up to this very day, every time it is my turn at the whiteboard, or in front of a group, surrounded by brilliant technical minds, I lean on this perspective and strength. It is what makes me feel I can give it an authentic shot without fear of falling flat. Or fall prey to thinking that the status quo is something to hold onto.

That part of myself I believe came from the freedom as a student to play act my way through the thoughts and ideas of the world’s most disruptive minds. As while we look at classics as just that, in context they were each historically the crazy ones. The futurists. The free thinkers. The often misunderstood.

This is, of course, more nuanced than simply saying I got this from studying Camus or reading Faulkner or Charles Olson.

Even though I’ll admit, I cannot ride my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge without hearing Hart Crane, I rarely, reread many of these books.

The grasp of the power of the ineffable as a defining truth is what I made my own from my education. That was my takeaway.

Liberal arts as an unencumbered poise towards integrated thought and embracing completely the process of discovery.  A curriculum designed to pursue literacy as a vocation and fluidity of open thinking as a platform for lifelong learning.

I lean on this every day.

And I give it credit for those breakthrough moments when I get something just right, something that touches people with an idea or a product or something they can make their own.

I believe this point of view, this personal DNA if you will, had time to discover itself, back in those college and university days, tempered of course over time by the rigors of experience.

It’s intriguing that recently there’s been a mini-meme floating around, forecasting a resurgence of sorts for the liberal arts.

The idea is that with more leisure time, with distributed, flex-time workforces, a greater segment of the population will tend towards studying and appreciating the arts. That when automation removes countless jobs that today move data and paper around, there will be a shift towards lionizing the thinker and artist to the status of the maker and developer today.

I honestly doubt this will happen hard or fast, but I do think, in the best minds, business and technical alike, it’s already there.

Not a rereading per se of the masters in an isolated world of classrooms certainly. But an understanding that the integration of multidisciplinary thought is necessary to intuit our way forward in an always shifting world. That the arcane can be instructive. That the obvious is often the wrong course.

This is food for thought for all of us.

Just maybe liberal arts is already having a subtle renaissance, reimagined to our times, and in context to the world as it is today.

Try it on and see if works.

It does for me.