My son Ben and I participated in the Dover Sherborn Boosters annual triathlon this past Sunday. We really enjoyed it. It was his first, and my first in 22 years. Well over 300 folks competed, well-mixed in age and gender. They seemed like a pretty competitive, well-trained bunch to us, judging by the 95%+ who had lean cheeks and wetsuits and fancy bikes and bags that said "Boston Triathlon Team".
After the race, I was curious to get a better handle on how we'd done. All Sports Events had done a great job of running and timing the event, and their table of results was very detailed and useful. But I wanted to see it a bit more visually. The All Sports Events folks were kind enough to share the data file, and with a little fiddling to parse and convert strings to times, I got to this (click on the image to launch the Tableau Public interactive visualization):
Before the race, as I shivered un-rubbered on the beach waiting for the swim to start, I overheard a couple of guys my age talking about how now that they were in their forties, with their kids a little older and with more control at home and work (a state of grace I'm not yet familiar with), they had more time to train, especially on Saturday mornings.
Plotting 6th-order polynomial trend lines through the data revealed an interesting, if weak pattern that seems to confirm this life-stage effect, for both men and women. Average performance improves radically as you move from your teens to your twenties, declines as the realities of family life intrude in your thirties, improves once again as you rediscover your inner narcissist child in your forties, and then begins to decline again as Father Time eventually asserts himself (though with plenty of variance around the mean to give us hope). Like Shakespeare said, more or less.
What do you see? Thanks again to the organizers and volunteers for a great event!
As many of you know (having been barraged with a Twit-tensity worthy of @justinbieber), Saturday I rode in the Nashoba Learning Group annual bike-a-thon. Nashoba Learning Group is a school in Bedford Massachusetts for children with Autistic Spectrum disorders. Our family has been involved with the school since its founding over a decade ago; it now has 90 students. It achieves wonderful results, and shares what it learns generously. And now we're also building an adult program as well.
This year's ride was among the most beautiful I can remember -- a lovely, relatively cool and dry New England summer day. Nonetheless, experience has taught me to seek any advantage possible. So, at breakfast, I spied this number, and imagined the drafting possibilities of a one-machine peloton:
Perhaps it should have concerned me that its crew looked a little strange:
Nonetheless, I smiled back, and off we went!
10 miles into my admittedly parasitic strategy (Hey, I did offer to take my turn at the front, but I think they laughed), I thought I heard "Activate les contre-measures!" I thought I saw tacks, but I really can't be sure. Slowly though, the sound of the breeze in my ears was replaced with a slow hiss...
I pulled over, and wistfully waved on the vanguard of riders offering their help. No matter! My wife knows I live for moments like this, when I can break out the tools I so rarely get to use!
Furiously I pedaled - no, clawed - my way back. Well, scratched a bit. Let's just say it was a nice day for a ride.
Thank you again so much to all of the incredibly generous people who supported NLG this year!
Hi folks, a reminder to please sponsor me for this year's NLG Bike-a-thon! Here's the link to the donations site. Below for your reading pleasure is my recap of the 2007 ride. Thank you!
Thank you all for being so generous on such short notice!
Fresh off a flight from London that arrived in Boston at midnight on Friday, I wheeled myself onto the starting line Saturday morning a few minutes after eight . Herewith, a few journal entries from the ride:
Mile 2: The peloton drops me like a stone. Dopeurs! Never mind; this breakaway is but le petit setback. Where are my domestiquesto bring me back to the pack?
Mile 3: Reality intrudes. No domestiques. Facing 47 miles' worth of solo quality time, I plot my comeback... Mile 10: 1st major climb, L'Alpe de Bolton (MA), a steep, nasty little "beyond classification" grade. I curse at the crowds pressing in. 'Allez! Allez!' they call, like wolves. A farmer in a Superman cape runs alongside.
Mile 10.25: Mirages disappear in the 95-degree heat. (First time I've seen the Superman dude, though. Moral of this story: lay off the British Airways dessert wines the night before a big ride.)
Mile 10.5: Descending L'Alpe de Bolton, feeling airborne at 35 MPH
Mile 10.50125: Realizing after hitting bump that I am, in fact, airborne. AAAAARRH!!!
Mile 14: I smell sweet victory in the morning air!
Mile 15: Realize the smell is actually the Bolton town dump
Mile 27: Col d'Harvard (MA). Mis-shift on steep climb, drop chain off granny ring. Barely click out of pedal to avoid keeling over, disappointing two buzzards circling overhead.
Mile 33: Whip out Blackberry, Googling 'Michael Rasmussen soigneur' to see if can score some surplus EPO
Mile 40: I see dead people
Mile 50: I am, ahem... outsprinted at the finish. Ride organizers generously grant me 'same time' when they realize no one noticed exactly when I got back."
Here's one summary of the experience that's making the rounds:
I wasn't able to be there all that long, but my impression was different. Men of all colors (especially if you count tattoos), and lots more women (many tattooed also, and extensively). I had a chance to talk with Doc Searls (I'm a huge Cluetrain fan) briefly at the Digital Harvard reception at The Parish; he suggested (my words) the increased ratio of women is a good barometer for the evolution of the festival from narcissistic nerdiness toward more sensible substance. Nonetheless, on the surface, it does remain a sweaty mosh pit of digital love and frenzied networking. Picture Dumbo on spring break on 6th and San Jacinto. With light sabers:
Sight that will haunt my dreams for a while: VC-looking guy, blazer and dress shirt, in a pedicab piloted by skinny grungy student (?) Dude, learn Linux, and your next tip from The Man at SXSW might just be a term sheet.
So whom did I meet, and what did I learn:
I had a great time listening to PRX.org's John Barth. The Public Radio Exchange aggregates independent content suitable for radio (think The Moth), adds valuable services like consistent content metadata and rights management, and then acts as a distribution hub for stations that want to use it. We talked about how they're planning to analyze listenership patterns with that metadata and other stuff (maybe gleaning audience demographics via Quantcast) for shaping content and targeting listeners. He related for example that stations seem to prefer either 1 hour programs they can use to fill standard-sized holes, or two- to seven- minute segments they can weave into pre-existing programs. Documentary-style shows that weave music and informed commentary together are especially popular. We explored whether production templates ("structured collaboration": think "Mad Libs" for digital media) might make sense. Maybe later.
Paul Payack explained his Global Language Monitor service to me, and we explored its potential application as a complement if not a replacement for episodic brand trackers. Think of it as a more sophisticated and source-ecumenical version of Google Insights for Search.
Kara Oehler's presentation on her Mapping Main Street project was great, and it made me want to try her Zeega.org service (a Harvard metaLAB project) as soon as it's available, to see how close I can get to replicating The Yellow Submarine for my son, with other family members spliced in for The Beatles. Add it to my list of other cool projects I like, such as mrpicassohead.
Peter Boyce and Zach Hamed from Hack Harvard, nice to meet you. Here's a book that grew out of the class at MIT I mentioned -- maybe you guys could cobble together an O'Reilly deal out of your work!
Finally, congrats to Perry Hewitt (here with Anne Cushing) and all her Harvard colleagues on a great evening!
Arrive Houston late. Some lady steers my Hertz car out of space 125, toots cheerfully, and is off. (Wonder how she'll persuade the guard: "Yes, I am Cesar Brea...") I arrange a replacement, and promptly get lost somewhere near Hobby.
Later: looking up from the hotel lobby floor is like looking down a shaft on the Death Star. Thirty stories of beige-brown cantilevered soul-crushing sameness. Can't sleep. Accept insomnia, opt for double-header dystopia: the HBO Julianne Moore / Ed Harris / Woody Harrelson docu-drama Game Change about Sarah Palin, then Repo Men.
Morning. I-290 West, toward Austin; it's moonsooning. Vaguely Quixotic: a "Dry-Force Water Removal" van blasts past me doing seventy. Cattle line up near the road, backsides to the storm, in the bovine manner.
Who says frontier towns are dead? They're just spread out more, reflecting today's faster horses. No horseshoes, but plenty of brake shoes. First Church of Such-and-Such -- still here. Saloons? Gringo's Tex Mex, with "Latino Fusion". Doc's specialized, or maybe just re-branded to game insurance billing -- "Drive-in Gynecology Clinic" (really). Depending on local laws -- or lack of them -- gentlemen's clubs = brothels by another name. Fireworks - pawn - gold - boots - tack - guns - ammo. Plus, still plenty of 'tude:
I cross the Brazos. (Always wanted to say that.)
"We got all your outdoor needs." Even if those extend to giant welded roosters:
Obligatory BBQ stop. Chopped BBQ sandwich, slaw, jalapeno at the Lost Pines BBQ in Giddings. Highly recommended for friendly service and great food:
McDade: two chihuahuas play by the road.
They jump into the traffic.
Doing sixty, I swerve and miss.
The tractor-trailer behind me doesn't.
Crosses, mostly singly, sometimes in bunches: "Have you found Jesus?"
Today I attended Media Magazine's / MediaPost.com's "Future Of Media" conference in NYC. NYU hosted the event at its Kimmel Center overlooking Washington Square; after lots of recent events in midtown it was nice to be in the Village for a change, especially on a sunny early-fall day. To the fortunate folks living in the condo one block south: admiring your rooftop garden and the sweet library below made for a great conversation starter at breakfast!
Ken Fadner, Joe Mandese, and the MediaPost team assembled a great panel. Josh Quittner framed his kickoff question with what seems to be the Ur-point of departure for all recent conferences: Apple's latest announcements. "Is the future simply "three screens" -- small / smartphone, mid-sized / tablet & PC, large / TV?" Very quickly, the responses tumbled out. "Yes! And more: wearables! Thermostats! Location-based marketing (plus ça change...)! Voice! Device-based payments! (Biometric access to our devices, for greater security!) More fragmentation..."
Someone -- I think it was David Verklin -- replied that the answer is to "follow the consumer". At first it seemed like a bland answer. But of course it's really the only way you can get a grip on where things are going: think users and use cases. Which users, and which of their macro life events and the micro use cases that go along with those, represent the biggest pots of potential value to act as muses for media innovators? Someone else -- Bob Carrigan? -- suggested that in shaping experiences to address those users and use cases, "convenience trumps quality." Echoing William Gibson's iconic "The future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed," Maria Luisa Francoli noted that, for example, we're already seeing mobile devices used as a vehicle for payments in Africa. Riffing on that theme, Beth Comstock predicted that we'd see lots more investment in user experience over raw features in the coming two years.
Now, the role of the media in shaping what's possible seems even more significant today than 47 years ago. So Josh naturally segued to ask about what firms would dominate the landscape in the coming years: "Certainly Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook -- but who else?" On the one hand, the panel had no specific, answers: no candidate from the MSM world, no mention of Microsoft (stunning, since we still spend so much time with their software), no golden child(ren) from the Web's Third Wave (though Groupon and Zynga did get shout-outs at different points later in the conversation). On the other, their comments together pointed out that Josh's Big Four all aspired to be platforms that allow others -- ten million, by Bob Pittman's counting I think -- to transform features into experiences that solve for the users and use cases mentioned earlier. One question left unaddressed is how much of the "profit pool" in this vision of media futures goes to the API builders versus the API users. From my perspective, it looks like "the stack" metaphor for software strategy now generalizes well to media too.
In the spirit of "You manage what you measure," one of the audience questions had to do with the metrics that will guide our progress toward media's future. There's consensus, as voiced by Brian Monahan, that The Age of Sampling is passing, and The Age of Big Data is upon us. David Verklin told a good story (even if it sounded slightly apocryphal, and his math seemed slightly off): "CNBC ratings recently went down 15%. Why? Two guys turned 55. What could that possibly mean?? Well, the CNBC ratings panel tracks men 25-54 with certain other characteristics. The panel had 32 people. Two of those guys turned 55..." Swimming briefly against the tide, Bob Pittman counselled "Some of this metrics stuff goes the wrong direction, you gotta help clients think like marketers. When I ran Six Flags, I told my park managers, 'You have unlimited marketing budgets -- just give me a return.'" Maria Luisa Francoli disagreed, pointing to attribution analysis as the way forward. Pittman replied, "True, but that tends to drive you to direct marketing, " She naturally countered, pointing out attribution analysis' whole premise is to put brand and direct investments on a common currency. (For me, it's not whether you pursue greater accountability, but how...)
Josh: "Is social networking a fad?" Consensus answer: the genie's out of the bottle, the challenge is that social media is "broad but not very deep" in terms of how relationships are conducted and maintained there. David to Josh: "How many 'friends' do you really have?" For me, behind this question, crucial to media firms and advertisers trying to capitalize on viral dynamics, is the question of how each of us "filter" the digital world, and of better filters as a worthy avenue toward media futures (the subject of the post I contributed to the conference blog).
What did I miss? What's your synthesis? Again, thanks for a great session.