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When poets get angry

By now, Poetree.coop has probably been shut down.

While it lasted, it was the best-designed, richest source of p2p poetry sharing available online. Only a typical lunk-headed heavy-handed ploy by the inner circle of poets was able to shut it down.

All the classics were there: Rod McKuen, Roald Dahl, even the Dr. (Seuss) himself. In addition, you could find the complete poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and even Thomas Moore.

So, amidst all of these gems, what happened? Why the controversy?

Alisha Grant, spokesperson for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, had this to say, "We applaud the work of the FBI in shutting down this travesty of copyright. If we want great poetry, America, we’re going to have to pay for it."

Many of the world’s top poets reported dramatic decreases in royalties and sales as a result of the site. "When poetry is free, no one is willing to pay for it," one poet is quoted by Wired. Even though some poets had reportedly been earning three or four million dollars a year in royalties and advances, it apparently wasn’t enough.

Missing in the blizzard of press releases was any compassion for the unemployed poetry lover, or for the student who might need to get a few stanzas of an important elegy or even a limerick.

Consider this haiku, for example. Without the net, you wouldn’t be able to discover it without buying an entire book of bad poetry:

Rebels have to have

rules often to feel that there’s

a cause for their acts

I for one will miss Poe-tree (so named because of the tree-like structure of the directory). To those who worked so hard to shut it down, a bucket.

Sign a petition to protest this right here. It doesn’t have to rhyme.

Where do we begin?

Every time I write a post, I have a dilemma.

Am I writing for you, the one who has read more than 2,000 of my previous posts over the last five years? The one who has bought (and read!) so many of my books and is all caught up on my history?

It matters, of course, because I can take shortcuts, it changes the perception of my tone of voice and I can skip a lot of the preliminaries.

Or am I writing for you, the first-timer, the person who found this post on Digg or Delicious? If it’s you, then I should take my time, write a bit more, put some background links in, etc.

Now, of course, you have the same dilemma too.

You have it when someone friends you on Facebook. Maybe they found you cause you’re cute, or because you just joined a new company or because you’re a friend of Tom’s. Or maybe they’ve known you since summer camp and you just need to reconnect…

I think this dichotomy of experience raises the level of responsibility for the reader. Without knowing who you’re reading, it’s hard to judge the tone of voice of what you’re hearing. More important, it changes the posture of the writer.

Sometimes, the web is more of a cocktail party than a club meeting.

Getting vs. Taking

Most people spend a lot of time to get an education.

They wait for the teacher (hopefully a great one) to give them something of value.

Many employees do the same thing at work. They wait for a boss (hopefully a great one) to give them responsibility or authority or experiences that add up to a career.

A few people, not many, but a few, take. They take the best education they can get, pushing teachers for more, finding things to do, exploring non-defined niches. They take more courses than the minimum, they invent new projects and they show up with questions.

A few people, not many, take opportunities at work. Marketers have the easiest time of this (sort of hard to commandeer the chain saw) but don’t do it nearly as often as they should.

What have you taken today?

Where to find great ideas and arresting images (for free)

If you need photos for a presentation or website or brochure, try Flickr.

Go to advanced search, choose Creative Commons Commercial license and search away. The breadth is extraordinary, but what will amaze you is the quality. And the license is a generous gift from the photographer to you.

Another tip: when you are trying to brainstorm, Flickr is a great place to find connections between ideas that hadn’t occurred to you. Even if you don’t use the picture, the ideas are priceless. Do a search on lobster or clouds or crowds or quality and see what comes up.

Two last thoughts: be sure to check out the HDR images, and don’t forget to sort by "Most Interesting."

[Greg sent along this tool, which is an amazing brainstorming aide. Check it out.]

A dumb branding strategy

Jewelry Central is a really bad brand name. So are Party Land, Computer World, Modem Village, House of Socks and Toupee Town.

It’s a bad brand name because Central or Land or World are meaningless. They add absolutely no value to your story, they mean nothing and they are interchangeable. "Here honey, I bought you these cheap earrings at Diamond World!" Not only are they bland, but you can’t even remember one over the other. This is the absolute last refuge of a marketer who has absolutely nothing to say and can’t even find the guts to stand for what they do. It’s just generic.

The second reason this is an exceedingly dangerous strategy is that if you start to succeed a little bit, you suddenly want to protect your lame name. So you hire a lawyer and start to harass people for using the English language. So Computer Land sued Business Land (or maybe it was the other way around) and lost. Or consider the angry lawyer at Jewelry Village (or was it Central, I can’t remember) who sent a letter to Squidoo complaining about an editorial (not a retail) page that used the phrase. There are more than 15,000 matches for this phrase in Google, which means he’s got a lot of letters to send, and a lot of people to annoy. For what? Even if he manages to make a lot of noise, he’s just reminding the world how generic the phrase is in the first place. Can you name one successful brand (except Pizza Hut and I think they succeeded despite the name) that managed to pull this off? [Yes, there’s Central Market and IHOP and Radio Shack… thanks for the submissions. I’m going to argue that in each case, the name slowed down something else that was truly powerful…]

You can do better.

[other naming posts I’ve done: here, here and here.]

The dark side

Snapnames informs me that the most competitive domain name up for auction this week is breastenlargementhypnosis.com.

Think about that one for a bit.

So much effort is going to be spent building this business. Money and time invested in design and promotion and, possibly, hypnosis. Why? To trick people.

I’m amazed every single day at the lengths some people will go to in order to run scams online. It’s so much more work to create a spam site or a deceptive come on, so much more work to deal with the angry customers and be hiding from them…

I can imagine it becomes a habit. Once you start cutting corners and playing a selfish game to see how far you can bend (or break) the rules, it must be hard to stop. It’s all relative, and what they’re doing must seem relatively benign compared to someone else. Of course, there’s always someone more crooked, always someone more selfish…

In my favorite hotel’s kitchen, there’s a big sign on the way out to the dining room:

"If you’re not proud of it, don’t serve it."

Managing urgencies

Do you have a plan?

A long or medium term plan for your brand or your blog or your career or your project?

You can have grand visions for remodeling your house or getting in shape, but if there’s a fire in the kitchen, you drop everything and put it out. What choice do you have? The problem, of course, is that most organizations are on fire, most of the time.

I gave a talk the other day, all about the unstoppable slow decline of interruption (traditional) media and the opportunities for rethinking how we communicate with people. At the end of the talk, someone came up and had very nice things to say about what he’d learned. Then he leaned over and asked me to help him brainstorm about his brand’s upcoming ad campaign, because it was due to his boss on Friday.

Add up enough urgencies and you don’t get a fire, you get a career. A career putting out fires never leads to the goal you had in mind all along.

I guess the trick is to make the long term items even more urgent than today’s emergencies. Break them into steps and give them deadlines. Measure your people on what they did today in support of where you need to be next month.

If you work in an urgent-only culture, the only solution is to make the right things urgent.

Things you don’t understand

Could you make a list? A list of things that you probably could understand if you put your mind to it, but don’t.

Things like:

  • How the Federal Reserve works
  • Why things from China are so inexpensive
  • How Google Analytics works
  • Why kids like using FaceBook
  • How the guys in the factory make the widgets you sell
  • Six ways to make your web browser work better
  • How to make a great spaghetti sauce
  • Editing a wikipedia entry
  • Selling stuff on eBay

Has there ever been a better time to learn what you don’t know? It’s faster, easier and cheaper now than ever before (and, of course, there’s way more stuff now that we don’t understand). If I don’t learn it now, when will I?

Sort of, just and Donald Trump

I noticed a little while ago that I was using the word "just" and the phrase "sort of" in my writing. All the time, in fact. In my last book, a search and replace removed more than 80 unnecessary ‘justs’.

Just say it.

Don’t hide behind waffling terms that don’t mean anything.

On the other hand, as I passed the skating rink in New York with the Donald’s name plastered all over it, I’m reminded of a new trend I’m seeing more of, which is the act of declaring whatever you’re working on ‘the best ever,’ ‘the best in the world,’ etc.

Saying it doesn’t make it so. In fact, it probably makes it unso.

Secret shortcut: personal vs. impersonal

Form letters don’t work. Autographs do.

Surly cashiers fail. Smiles from real people succeed.

Humans like humans. They hate organizations.

Engadget shares this photo of an xBox 360 signed by the entire xBox team (and Bill Gates). Way better than an impersonal letter apologizing for mishandling a computer that was sent in for repair, no? (They had cleaned off a customer’s machine covered with sentimental graffiti).

Do you know what most people want? They want you to care.