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October 18, 2007

The optimates, not as quick as they think
Posted by Patrick at 04:20 PM * 111 comments

John Scalzi reads this article about how to build traffic to your blog, and becomes exercised at entertaining length. There’s a lot in what he says that I’d love to tattoo on the eyelids of people who ask about how to use science-fiction conventions to “promote” their writing or otherwise advance their career. Here are some high points of John’s post, but R the WT.

[P]eople aren’t stupid. Look, I go to conventions and writers’ events, as most of you know. And invariably the most annoying person there is the aspiring writer or neo-pro who is simply there to network, and does so in a graspingly obvious fashion: the guy who goes from group to group, looking for the right people who will eventually let him trade up to standing in a conversational circle with, oh, let’s say, Neil Gaiman, so he can ever-so-casually drop the name of his latest book/story/whatever into Gaiman’s ear.

There’s nothing wrong with networking; there’s nothing wrong with talking about your book with Neil Gaiman (or whomever) either, should you get a chance. But it’s all in how it’s done. To repeat: People aren’t stupid. They know the difference between someone who is engaged in a conversation for the pleasure of the conversation itself, and someone who is marking time in the conversation until they can once again open their mouths and talk about them. […]

The most successful networkers don’t “network.” It’s an odious term. The most successful networkers ignore the grasping patheticness of the term altogether. Rather, they talk. They laugh. They share the moment, and enjoy other people’s company; are generous with other people and help them celebrate their successes, rather than asking to scrape up against that success so some of it might crumble off on them. It works the same online and off.

Or to put it all even more simply: Don’t look at other bloggers as people you can use. See them as people. Don’t look at other blogs place you can use. See them as places you want to be.

As it happens, I never heard of a single one of the “world’s top bloggers and social network marketers” interviewed in the post John links to. Which, granted, may mean that I’m old and out of it. Alternately, it may mean that genuine prominence (and audience reach) isn’t achieved by scrambling after scraps of other people’s notoriety.

RELATED: Stephen Fry on fame.

Comments on The optimates, not as quick as they think:
#1 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:17 PM:

"social network marketers”

I'm trying to come up with an alternative to this phrase which a) would actually be used by real human beings, and b) does not involve any variations on the word "whore". It's proving surprisingly difficult.

Any suggestions?

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:25 PM:

While I'm sure 'patheticness' is technically correct, I personally prefer 'patheticity' (which I have used for years to describe the primary quality of my life).

#3 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:38 PM:

I'm willing to wager large amounts of money I spend more time wandering around the blogosphere than Patrick does, and I'll just add this to his concluding paragraph:

"Who are those guys?"

I've not only never heard of their sites, I've never heard their names, and I read a fair bit of meta-blogging material.

Could this article have been subliminal self-promotion or something?

#5 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:40 PM:

Patrick, Patrick, Patrick. I can't believe you fell for Scalzi's obvious networking trick and gave him a link for this. He's just trying to trade up to a really big name like, say, Lanaia Lee.

I've written all about it at my blog, http://www.mortgages-and-ed-drugs-and-timeshares-oh-my.com.

#6 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:46 PM:

Eric 4: Spoilsport.

#7 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:52 PM:

If you want a quick education on the mindset of the bloggers, webmasters, and others who are trying to make a quick buck on the internet, the Digital Point forum is an interesting place to lurk, in certain values of "interesting." It's where the quick-buck-on-the-web people hang out.

I find the "domains for sale" section to be particularly interesting, in an anthropological sort of way.

Though I warn you, the level of stupid is occasionally sufficient to cause reduction of one's own IQ by osmosis.

#8 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:53 PM:

*refreshes Fry's blog*

*refreshes Fry's blog*

And no new QI on YouTube until some time on Saturday. Damn.

*refreshes Fry's blog*

*refreshes Fry's blog*

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:53 PM:

Xopher #2: I'm sure you mean by that 'filled with feeling'.

#10 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 05:54 PM:

Quite a comments section in that article. I don't remember ever seeing so much obvious astroturf in one place.

And, I'm another here who's never heard of any of those alleged "top bloggers". Guess I'm hopelessly out of things.

#11 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 06:20 PM:

Fragano 9: Chiefly self-inflicted misery, yes.

On the internet no one can tell you're a loser.

#12 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 06:28 PM:

Xopher@2:

"While I'm sure 'patheticness' is technically correct,"

Heh. I'm not, actually. I will occasionally use words of dubious grammatical validity simply because I like the mental image they produce. In the article I also use the word "soul-squattening," which I'm pretty sure doesn't exist, but certainly expresses the sentiment I'm casting for.

#13 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 06:32 PM:

#1 -- I kinda like "making new friends and keeping up with old friends," myself.

For one thing, I make an excellent friend and I'm totally lost when it comes to marketing,

(Also, I'm lazy. But, nevermind that!)

Love, C.

#14 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 06:35 PM:

John 12 (wow that sounds like a Gospel chapter): I was just being deferential. I make up words too, like 'patheticity' and 'franticity'. Raises the odd eyebrow here or there.

#15 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 06:41 PM:

Xopher: I figure I've a decent grasp of the language. When I need a word, I use it. If it's a neologisim that matches the patern of English, I defend it.

In russian all I do is use "ovat" to verbify things when I can't think of the right verb, but that's different.

#16 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 07:36 PM:

Oh, look everybody! Scalzi's came to visit to flog his blog!




Sorry, there is this little guy standing on my shoulder whispering in my ear that made me do it.

#17 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 07:41 PM:

Grumph.
Scalzi came, or Scalzi's come. Don't try to split the difference, self.

#18 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 07:43 PM:

Gah. It's another of those networkers!

#19 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 07:48 PM:

#17 ::: John Houghton Grumphed:
Scalzi came, or Scalzi's come. Don't try to split the difference, self.

... and while I'm blaming the varnish fumes, the mental images that produces suggest a completely different type of blog than Scalzi usually produces.

#20 ::: Dave ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 07:49 PM:

I've heard of Darren Rowse when I heard him interviewd on the G'Day World podcast many years ago. He was perhaps the first guy who figured out what Google Adsense keywords had really high per-click values and then created blogs on those topics. The blogs were not spam per se but actually filled with content, and he claims that this technique let him clear over $100K (Australian, I presume) per year.

Every time people get incensed about PayPerPost.com or something similar, I use Rowse as an edge case. He kind of straddles a line by blogging in good faith but picking what topics he blogs on to maximize ROI. It's not getting paid directly to blog on topic X but it's only an eyelash shy of it in my book.

Anyway, I thought I'd throw in a datum that I have actually heard of one of them. I aim to spend me a weekend of blog networking at ConvergeSouth but a lot of that will be over plates of BBQ and banana pudding.

#21 ::: Dave ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 07:51 PM:

The proper link would be ConvergeSouth in Greensboro NC. It's not really one of those elusive .om domains.

#22 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 08:10 PM:

If they ever allow .om tlds, the reaction from the spammers will be akin to a gold rush.

#23 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 08:12 PM:

Dave @ #21, are .om domains particularly prized in countries where mantras are chanted frequently?

#24 ::: Zed ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 08:25 PM:

My first job out of college was working for the Phone Company. I heard a lot about advancing my career through networking with people in other groups and departments.

It was only after the fact that I heard of the Phone Company study concluding that networkers', er, networks made them more productive because when it did come up that they had to ask someone in another group for something, that someone was more likely to get back to a person they knew.

Thus, they prescribed networking for everyone! And if it ever occurred to anyone that the networkers in the study succeeded because they were genuinely personable and interested in other people, and that someone aping their overt behavior in a calculated effort to get ahead might not see the same results, well I didn't see any sign of it.

#25 ::: Gabriele Campbell ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 08:58 PM:

I admit I still haven't figured out how to make money with a blog, and even if I did, I won't use it. I want to blog about what interests me and not about sex, crime and politics just to attract more readers.

Ok, there's sex, crime and politics in Ancient Rome, too, but it's so dead. ;)

(For the record, I'm aware there are political blogs that are not in for traffic increase and money, but genuinely interested in their topics.)

#26 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:01 PM:

xeger (19):
Scalzi came, or Scalzi's come. Don't try to split the difference, self.

... and while I'm blaming the varnish fumes, the mental images that produces suggest a completely different type of blog than Scalzi usually produces.
Which is why I was changing the phraseology, I was going for a different laugh. I always need to copyedit my posts one more time, even when I take this rule into account.

#27 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:21 PM:

Networking is for computers.

Not for people.

*incipient rant clipped off, to be replaced by cheerful pictures of kittens and bunnies frolicking*

#28 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:21 PM:

"We're having the world's top bloggers commenting on it right now."

"Who?"

"Top. Bloggers."

#29 ::: SPIIDERWEB™ ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:22 PM:

With my popularity and success, who needs coattails?

Hahaha. Sometimes I break myself up.

#30 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:38 PM:

After all this discussion about whether I came or come, I think I need a cuddle. And a night in the autoclave.

#31 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:52 PM:

The funny thing is: I got into liberal political blogging when it was a very sparse field.

I'm only very rarely posting these days (it's not what I do for a living), but if I do post most of the traffic I get comes from people I read and linked to when they were talented and insightful and no-one had ever heard of them.

#32 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:59 PM:

#30 ::: John Scalzi quipped:
After all this discussion about whether I came or come, I think I need a cuddle. And a night in the autoclave.

... and verily, my keyboard now requires disinfecting, due to spew :)

#33 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 10:30 PM:

Mary (#8) "QI on YouTube"

!@#!%!?@#@&!!! Well, there go the next couple of days.‡

(QI, AFAIK, isn't broadcast 'Down Under', (I don't know if Darren Rowse is, either; for which much thanks.))

‡ or possibly 'there goes the next couple of days'

#34 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 10:32 PM:

Claiming that learning subtle tricks of social networking will make your blog succeed is utterly stupid. Those tricks might work when convincing one studio exec will get your movie made. It's doomed from the start if you have to convince every single audience member one by one, which is what you have to do on the internet. Networking with influential people just isn't an economical audience-gained-per-hour use of time. You'd be far better off writing something really good that demands to be linked to. (See: Scalzi, John.)

Real people don't care about marketing. They care about content. People will always prefer a site where someone spends their time writing well, or finding neat links, or coming up with new ideas to a site where the writer spends his time creating a buzz about his site. Once you get to a site, it doesn't matter how much you've heard about it or who's linked to it if there's nothing interesting on it. If Neil Gaiman links to some site, and I click the link, and it's boring, I close the window. You've gained exactly one hit.

The internet has been really successful at countering the spread of corporate sales-talk, IMHO.

#35 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 10:40 PM:

P.S. Re: Scalzi @ 12: I particularly liked "soul-squattening."

#36 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 11:55 PM:

Hmm. "patheticness" inspires me to come up with:

"Patheticology", the study and science of patheticness.

Which, on further musing, leads to:

"Pathetaloogie", what comes out of someone's mouth when they're being pathetic.

And:

"Pathetilogenous", an innate state of being pathetic, i.e., born pathetic.

And:

"Pathetinoid", a rational fear that people not only aren't out to get you, but they don't even pay attention to you.


Re-reading the above, I think I may have taken too many pain pills this afternoon. (Had my last half-dozen crappy lower teeth extracted Monday to make way for a lower denture; healing has been slower than I expected. It's disconcerting when oatmeal hurts.)

#37 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 12:00 AM:

Neither Scalzi nor any of the posters mention this bit, from near the end of the otherwise awful article:

And, remember, too, this nugget:

* Jay White | DumbLittleMan.com - This is going to sound VERY generic but there is no better marketing than writing great articles. I would simply use that time to write.

Did no-one RTFA?

#38 ::: JaniceG ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 01:32 AM:

Reminds me of one of my favorite Fran Lebowitz quotes (there are too many to pick *a* favorite): "The opposite of talking is not listening. The opposite of talking is waiting."

(BTW, thanks for the link to the Fry essay.)

#39 ::: Manon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 01:54 AM:

Wow.

Not only have I never heard of any of those blogs -- which means nothing in itself, since I am not Blog Savvy (tm) -- but on checking them out, I find that on the whole they look like... blogs about making money/fame/internet-street-cred from your blog.

I smell a whiff of eau de pyramid.

#40 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 02:35 AM:

Bruce Arthurs @36: I have a friend whose dad needed to have all his teeth extracted. His dad was given the choice to have half of them extracted, and the other half later — no, he decided that he wanted them all pulled at once and get it over with.

He later described this as 'the worst decision of his life'.

#41 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 03:10 AM:

I tend to feel sorry for people who think of the whole of life as being governed by the assumption that if it can't make money, it has no value. They must miss so much. Things like sincere friendships (rather than ones based on the assumption that your friends exist solely to help you up the ladder), freedom of expression (rather than being constrained by what sells, or what won't annoy the advertisers), and the enjoyment of beauty in the world around them.

My blogs (I'm megpie71 on Livejournal, Insanejournal, and blogspot, if anyone's interested - plug done) are mainly for me. If other people read them and like them, so be it. If people add me to their list of readable blogs, I'm flattered. But I'm not going out chasing an audience. I write for me - always. Whether it's fiction or non-fiction, short story or blog entry, or even a university essay, my preferred audience is myself. I know what I like - I don't know what other people like, and the notion of rushing around trying to pretend to be someone I'm not to other people in order to make myself popular drives me clear up the wall.

If people like me, I'd rather they liked me for who I am, rather than an acting performance.

#42 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 03:18 AM:

I seem to be one of the few people who, when told not to think of creature x, does not automatically get visions of creature x stuck in their thoughts.

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 03:58 AM:

Xopher @ 11

On the internet no one can tell you're a loser.

Then what was that whole "Weirdly Similar ..." thread about? More lossage than I've seen since the 2000 election.

#44 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 03:59 AM:

A J @ 1

Any suggestions?

"Brain-dead idiots with attitude"?

#45 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 04:13 AM:

Heresiarch @ 34

Real people don't care about marketing.

Only fair. Marketing doesn't care about real people. That discussion about the Visa ad that tells people to be obedient little consumption units and use their credit cards hits the nail right on the head, driving its brains into the wallboard with a sickening thud.* If marketeers cared about real people their primary strategy would be to provide good products that people need and can use. Instead, they provide addictive substances and services, because that's much easier than creating something good.

I'd say that these "sociopathic networkers" are well on the way to creating Web -1.0

* Sorry, it's way past my bedtime.

#46 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 06:29 AM:

'I also use the word "soul-squattening," which I'm pretty sure doesn't exist, but certainly expresses the sentiment I'm casting for.'

The sentiment of admiration for someone so willing to perfect their soul that they will do arduous squatting exercises of the spirit?

#47 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 06:54 AM:

I think the problem -- and the whole clonky obnoxious concept of networking -- comes when people experience the social freeze: the ohmigod-I'm-talking-to-so-and-so, what do I say, this shirt makes me look like a needy old queen, how bout that weather? It's compensation for a lack of natural openness.

The trouble is that people like natural openness; they don't like compensation.

I've been having this trouble since I started posting online in my own name. It's the reason my own blog lies dormant for months at a time (well, that, and the fact I've got a very active livejournal that's too TMI to associate with my real name, and can just go write in there instead) -- the Internet and everyone who can access it make up a very big so-and-so indeed.

I'm pondering associating the livejournal with my real name just so I can relax; do they really fire people for slash fiction these days...?

#48 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 07:06 AM:

Bruce Cohen: Marketing doesn't care about real people ... If marketeers cared about real people their primary strategy would be to provide good products that people need and can use.

I was taught (by marketeers) that marketing has 4 P's - Product, Price, Place and Promotion - and you aim to get them all right. So real marketeers do care about the product they're marketing; which doesn't mean good products, but ought to mean appropriate products.

Noticeably People doesn't appear in the P's (hence this thread).

#49 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 07:16 AM:

Xopher #11: I'm absolutely certain that 'loser' does not describe you in any manner, way, shape, or form.

#50 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 07:26 AM:

All that Scalzi writes applies to real-world meatspace networking too. I got the best lead of my life talking to a Scoutmaster at an event where the desperate and entrepreneurial were clustered at the other side of the meeting room. Hence I am now in a training program courtesy of the state unemployment bureau.

FWIW, I've been a regular reader of the Dumb Little Man blog, so I'm not surprised Jay Lake has the only useful advice of that article, as he practices what he says.

#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 07:44 AM:

Okay, so shoot me: I've heard of two bloggers mentioned in that article, Anita Campbell of SmallBizTrends.com and Jay White of DumbLittleMan.com. On the other hand, it's hardly surprising that I do, since they're both with Federated Media.

#52 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 08:13 AM:

gaukler@37:

"Did no-one RTFA?"

I read it, of course. I think writing a whole article about marketing and spending a couple of toss-off lines saying "and of course, write good stuff" at the end is a little like writing a whole article and how to make things explode in your back yard and then writing "of course, don't actually do this at home" at the end. A bitty caveat at the bottom doesn't negate everything that's come above.

#53 ::: Emily Cartier ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 08:41 AM:

I admit I still haven't figured out how to make money with a blog, and even if I did, I won't use it. I want to blog about what interests me and not about sex, crime and politics just to attract more readers.

1. Do something you enjoy.

2. Write about it in an entertaining manner.

3. Repeat as needed.

4. Find something Really Freaking Cool that is related to your fun thing. Make a plan to do the Cool Thing.

5. Raise money so you can complete your plan.

6. Execute plan.

7. Write about it.

Steps 2 and 3 seem to be the killer for most people. The ones who can get to step 7... those are really rare. And a lot of fun to read. Kent Peterson did all 7 for a mountain bike race. I don't *like* mountain biking. Riding on roads sure, but being in the middle of nowhere? With a tent? And bears? Ick! But Peterson makes it sound fun, because it's what he loves and he's a decent writer.

#54 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 08:50 AM:

I felt like Leo Babuata's (ZenHabits.net) suggestion wasn't icky or using in the way that Scalzi seems to be objecting to. His response was to make an aboveboard offer of free content in exchange for marketing space to another blogger. It is still marketing, but it loses much of it's creepiness for being absolutely explicit about it. "I'm not pretending to be your friend, I'm not pretending to be interested in you so you'll give me something. I'm offering you some of my best writing in hopes that you'll like it enough to post it and give my blog some more traffic." He even stresses that the offered post needs to be very high quality. I'm guessing the offer could be couched in terms that would bring it back to icky again, but on the face of it, it seems like a legitimate tactic.

Or is that true of nearly all the ideas, and it is the collection of them that brings the ickiness in?

As a note, ZenHabits is the kind of self-help blog that I read for a month or two and then get tired of, so I did read him in the past and that probably contributes to my feeling that he's an okay guy. It might be icky and I'm just refusing to see it.

#55 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 08:53 AM:

bryan @#42: Gaah! Now my homunculus is being pestered by a Seussian "Creature X"! ;-)

Xopher-> Bruce @#43: ... notwithstanding determined efforts to demonstrate the point! Kinda like Friday and her S-Family.... (Genetically enhanced lossitude?)

#56 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 09:03 AM:

I was on a panel on blogging at Con*Cept this weekend, with Christian Sauve and Steve Miller. We mentioned this kind of thing -- some publishers have for instance been telling authors they need to have a blog. Someone in the audience then objected that we'd been talking about things -- Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, Steve's trip to Atlanta, the money Scalzi and others (including me) raised for the John M. Ford Memorial Endowment -- where blogging had achieved something, and why shouldn't other people get in on this. He made it sound as if we were trying to keep it to ourselves. Whereupon I said that I thought it was one of those things you could only do if it wasn't what you were trying to do. I mean blogs can achieve a lot for people, but only if achieving that isn't their objective.

I think there are piles of things like that. Falling in love is the most obvious one -- if you go out looking, desperate to fall in love, it isn't going to happen. Being happy is another, being happy is a side-effect, not a goal. Likewise impressing people. (I remember years ago on rec.arts.sf.composition someone turning up saying they'd read that I'd impressed Patrick Nielsen Hayden on rasfc and that they were going to do the same, and Patrick posted a brief "You failed.")

I hate "networking" which so often seems to mean "faking friendship".

#57 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 09:15 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 45: "If marketeers cared about real people their primary strategy would be to provide good products that people need and can use."

The problem being that providing good products isn't the marketeers' job. It's hardly their fault that they're stuck hawking a shitty product--the decision to hire all of them instead of more engineers wasn't theirs to make. It was their boss's. I blame corporate culture in general.

In fact, it's hard not to think that these stupid ideas about "social networking" spring from the same insane corporate bubble that makes corporations unable to deal with scandals effectively. Back then, Doctor Science noted that "every one of [Teresa's helpful bullet points] is contrary to usual (and AFAICT effective) strategies for dealing with problems internal to a large organization." [bold mine] Same here: disingenuous bullshit is so effective at getting people up the corporate ladder that the idea of treating your customers (or anyone) with respect would never even occur to anyone in the upper echelons. Of course the best way to sell things is to lie. That's how you win in their world.

#58 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 10:00 AM:

Heresiarch @ 57

All too true, but there is another way to do marketing, one not usually followed in these decadent day.* I can remember** when, at least to some, "marketing" was a "pull" discipline, not "push". By which I mean that if you interviewed potential customers you asked how they did things or what they wanted. And you did a lot of research into what they were likely to need in the future. It's much more common now to stick a product in their faces and ask "Do you like this one better than the pink one with the frammistat?".

At one point in my career I worked for a company† whose standard practice was to have any product proposal†† written by a team of one senior engineer and one senior marketeer. The notion was that marketeers were supposed to be researchers into what customers need now, and what they are likely to need in the near future, based on given assumptions about technology trends. Turned out to be easier just to tell the customers what they need. Too bad, it was a very successful strategy while it lasted; you may have heard of this little startup company: Intel.


* Gotta get the kids off the lawn somewhere in every post.
** And be sure to hit the struggle uphill both ways in the snow.
† Which, AFAIK, has since replaced its marketing strategies with the same sort of Mephistophilean techniques all the big boys use.¿
†† The prescriptive document for a potential new product, without which document no new product development could be approved.
¿ Yes, it is a disproportionately male field.

#59 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 10:08 AM:

Much as I'd rather not put money into the golden parachutes of Bubble 2.0 CEOs via contextually-hyperlinked business models, there is one such "networking" application I've been using lately, called Linked-In. It allows you to create a network of contacts, ostensibly for job-search and electronic shmoozing. Lately I've been browsing through my contacts looking for contacts of theirs that I know, and asking them to join my network. It's not intended to get a new job*, but has, so far, unearthed 2 old friends I'd completely lost track of years ago. Tools are for what you use them; I've never met a tool I couldn't subvert to practical use, if only to pry out nails or act as a memory test.

* It's not likely to. My brief profile, printed on my contact page for any potential employer to see, says that I'm a "Software poet and story-teller". Eff-em if they can't take a truth.

#60 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 10:27 AM:

Hm. I network at gaming conventions. That's the term I use. I'm not trying to publish a game, but I do review rpgs. Well, not so much these days, but I still network.

I think of some of what I do at work as networking, but I'm not sure that's the right term.

It's an odd thing, networking. When I am looking for review products, I am not trying to conceal this fact. I want something from the person I'm talking to.

I want a review copy without paying cash. This is my agenda. I cannot find it in me to say, "Do not have an agenda when talking to people who can do stuff for you." I can and do say, "Do remember that you are talking to -people-, and that you want to treat them as people, not as commodities."

Or, more simply, treat people with respect. Remember that they aren't stupid. Even if all you want is what they can do for you, this increases the odds of them wanting to do stuff for you. And, if you do it right, you find that you like these people and you make connections with them that go beyond getting them to do stuff for you. And, that also increases the odds of them doing stuff for you.

That interest in people, caring about them, respecting them, can't be convincingly faked in the long run. But, it can be cultivated deliberately. This is very weird to say, but I have found it true in practice.

It doesn't matter that I'm not doing many reviews these days. I still network in dealer's room at GenCon Indy and Origins. I want to talk to the people there, some of whom I have known for years now and only see there.

When I started my current job, I decided, very deliberately, that I would befriend the receptionist, Annie. I found time to see her and say hello. And, then, I got in the habit of chatting with her. I was at no point, I think, faking anything, but there is something that feels like it should be odd in saying, "Right, on the to do list is Make Friends with the Receptionist. This is a Useful Thing to Do."

And, it -is- a useful thing to do. Over time, I realized that chatting with Annie was not goofing off from work. She was always the first to know when someone was leaving the company, or when someone had been hired.

Annie retired last year, and I miss her. I regret that her farewell party happened when I was on vacation. This is true. But, it is no less true that I found it useful to talk to her.

#61 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 11:36 AM:

The best times I've had at the very few cons I've attended were spent with a pint (or three) of Guinness (or mojitos!) and talking about anything other than writing/industry related.

I can recall many instances of having to save an author, editor or agent from a self-absorbed "aspiring writer or neo-pro" who was just too, well --- self-absorbed to register the non-verbal clues that they were making someone else uncomfortable.

I've pretty much sworn off conventions because of these kind of "social networking" behaviors. I'm probably missing out ... but hey, there's always Guinness and ML; which is kind of like a convention in it's own right.

#62 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 11:47 AM:

Lisa Padol @60: Some of the most useful advice my supervisors gave me on clinical-psych internship (at a VA Medical Center) was to cultivate relationships with a variety of other staff -- nursing, OT, PT, etc. Oh, right -- physicians, too :) Anyway, that ended up being good for everyone: good for me, because I learned a lot more, in addition to getting to know some really neat people; (hopefully) good for the other staff members, because I shared my information; and ultimately good for the patients, because their caregivers were making more informed decisions.

I think these benefits apply to any kind of organization, and the advice to network, if you will, isn't calculating per se. As you said, the key is to avoid faking it.

#63 ::: Del ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 11:49 AM:

Someone in the audience then objected that we'd been talking about things where blogging had achieved something, and why *shouldn't* other people get in on this. He made it sound as if we were trying to keep it to ourselves.

It's cargo cult thinking. I read a blog article the other day about how healthier, wealthier, happier cities had higher populations, and the blogger said city planners could use this to plan for more population and so improve their city's productivity. That's just post hoc ergo propter hoc, without even the excuse of the "post hoc" part.

#64 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 12:27 PM:

Mez @33: I suppose I shouldn't tell you that just about every QI episode from series 1 to 4 is available at TV Links, right? I use YouTube for series 5 and the few episodes TV Links misses.

Highly recommended at YouTube: QI series 5 episode 2. (Part 2/3. Part 3/3.) Theme: electricity. Fry gets smutty. Rowr!

#65 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 12:33 PM:

I'm a member of a business networking organization that was founded on the following precept:

Givers gain.

Not "Take all you can get"; not "Shmooze 'em, use 'em, lose 'em"; not "Close on the business and move on". Because the founder recognized that building relationships between people is a far more effective way of doing business, and keeping clients, than the model that treats people as nothing more than walking wallets ripe for the picking.

Among the other practices favored by this organization are "Honor the event" (be there for the event's true purpose, NOT to see what benefit you can derive from it) and one of my favorites, "You have two ears and one mouth: use them proportionately."

Whether it's business or "social" networking, being interested in people rather than overt profit is likely to get you farther in the long run. Obviously, the latter strategy can be effective, but once people wise up to what you're doing, you end up alienating them and have to find another batch of marks.

#66 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 12:57 PM:

When I first started going to conventions as a newbie writer (after I'd been going as a squeeing fangirl), I was too shy to "network." So I ended up hanging out with the other newbie writers. We'd sit around talking about how cool it would be to learn the secret handshake and get to hang out with all those really cool published professional writers. We all got to be friends.

Now, ten years later, we're still hanging out, but now we're the published professionals that the newbies point at and wish they could hang out with. And we sort of look at each other, baffled, and wonder, "How the hell did that happen?"

#67 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 01:14 PM:

#11: Not so. On the internet you can spread the message that you are a loser far more effectively and extensively than you can in real life.

#68 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 03:44 PM:

There's a difference between deliberate "networking" for gain, and having a policy of getting to meet as many people as you can, so as to find the ones who are fun to talk to and hang out with. If you don't try to meet people, you end up hanging around on the edges of things without anyone to talk to, which is rarely fun. The critical distinction to make is how you choose the people you hang out with after you've met them. If it's based on gain in status, wealth, or power, you are a dweeb and a loser; if it's based on good conversation, shared interests, or even sexual attraction*, that's horse of a very different color.

Although I seem to be past my conference-going years, I spent a lot of time going to various kinds of software conferences, and developed friends and acquaintances in every community I found myself. I still see some of them, at least the ones who live here in Portland, because we had fun then, and we can continue to do so over a beer or lunch.

* Why do I feel like I have to say, "as long as it's mutual" for the last, but not for the others? Shouldn't they be equally obvious?

#69 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 04:51 PM:

re: the fact that none of us have heard of most of these supposed marketing experts:

There's so much to say about bizarre internet marketing cliques that it really deserves to be a blog post of its own (or a series), but 1. I barely update my blog any more, and b. if I did post it, nobody would see it, and iii. I don't have time to write it right now.

But if anybody else wants to follow some threads and see where it leads, I'll offer up a name good for several hours (at least) of link following, puzzled blinking and befuddlement: "Mark Joyner". He's listed at makeyourownsoftware.com (which is itself an interesting read) along with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Ross Perot.

#70 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 07:48 PM:

I can't help mapping these notions onto a predecessor of the blogosphere.

If we looked through a stack of science fiction fanzines from the 1940s, wouldn't we find some evidence of self-conscious self-promotion, and angling to get one's zine noticed by the Cool Kids?

One practice is inserting "comment hooks," which, when applied in moderation, stimulate conversation. It can be overdone, in the form of deliberately outrageous statements, which a later generation came to dub "trolling."

#71 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 08:37 PM:

*blink blink*

Hello, totally off-topic squeee here, but--Carrie!!!! Have you been here all along and I just never noticed?

(T. introduced us at an SCA evening sometime last year. I kept meaning to go back sometime, and it just keeps not happening. But he's made sure I am up to date on your books!)


...please tell me I did not just make this blog thread more self-referential than it already possibly was. Oh dear. I suspect the penance for that is rather severe.

#72 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 08:56 PM:

The "cargo cult thinking" (thanks Del) is only part of the story.

The real issue is that the offenders here, and especially the corporate versions, are trying to industrialize social processes.

Hey, it worked so well for manufacturing, didn't it? And then it kinda worked for advertising as such... and when they started doing it for management, they didn't hear any complaints (from their surviving subordinates). And now, of course, if the projects fail, the managers fire the rank-and-file, and if the marketers fail, the managers fire the marketers, and of course the managers don't have authority to change how things get done, but if the turnover rate gets too high, the executives just fire the managers, because it's obviously their fault... and anyone with the authority to change the system sees no reason to do so! So, "everyone" agrees it's all working so well, and those guys we fired obviously didn't have the right attitude!

So, how about doing the same for all that messy "business relationship" stuff, after all, that's necessary for the business, but surely it could be more efficient! ("Whaddya mean it can't be done? You're fired!") So, there "just has to be" some way to get that stuff onto the spreadsheet, or else.... And that's where the magical thinking comes in, from "cargo cults" through "magic bullets", "mandatory targets", and so on. (What, me cynical? Damn right!)

#73 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 09:20 PM:

#72: Actually, it's if the projects fail, the managers fire the rank-and-file, if the marketers fail, the managers fire the rank and file, and if the managers fail, the managers fire the rank and file. And my consulting bill is in the mail.

#74 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 09:27 PM:

I meant that you can easily conceal meatspace loserness on the net. If you're an internet loser, that's obvious to all.

#75 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 09:41 PM:

#74 Xopher ... your fly is open ;)

#76 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 10:41 PM:

Mary, you probably shouldn't have told me/us that (#64) about QI. But thank you anyway. At least (many of) my pushers are friendly about it.

BTW the URL www.tv-links.co.uk has, so far, only given me the 'Problem loading page' message

    “Unable to connect
    Firefox can't establish a connection to the server ~~~”
    OR
    “Safari can’t connect to the server.
    Safari can’t open the page “~~~” because it could not connect to the server ~~~”
Which may be symptomatic of an overload of attempted connections.

#77 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 12:09 AM:

Jo Walton @ 56: very much so, especially with the analogy to falling in love.

I guess 'dating' would then be equivalent to 'networking'. "How do I find the right MOTOS/MOTSS?" "Do what you love. Hang out in places where people do the things you're into. Meet other people who like to do the same stuff. Some of them will be members of your preferred gender, and some of those will be available."

#78 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 01:36 AM:

Mez @ 76: alas, probably not just overloaded. It appears the UK officials (exactly who isn't clear) shut it down today and arrested the owner.

#79 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:26 AM:

Mary, #64: you wouldn't happen to know which episode of Q.I. had Fry saying "kneel before Zod", do you?

#80 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 09:03 AM:

So ... what exactly does a successful blog look like? Are blogs successful? hell. Now I have to go blog about this.

#81 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 09:19 AM:

TV Links is dead? Crap! So much for all their disclaimers that they didn't host any of the material.

Martin, I think the Zod reference might have been episode 4 from the current series (5) in early October, but I can't verify it yet.

#82 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 10:26 AM:

AJ @#77: that doesn't work if `what you love' is in fields where there is a huge gender imbalance...

#83 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 11:28 AM:

Nix @ 82: You're assuming, of course, that the person looking for a partner is heterosexual.

But even if you are, that person, doing what they love, may make friends who invite them to a party which includes a bunch of friends or relatives who are of the person's desired sex. Or whose brother/sister happens to be hanging around one night during the activity with a gender imbalance.

#84 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 11:29 AM:

Am I the only person here who has had the experience, at work, of hearing that the company had to get product X up and running because marketing had just sold a bunch, with a stated delivery date in the next few months, even though it not only didn't exist, it hadn't been in the plan?

#85 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 11:41 AM:

#71: *waves at Nicole*

I'm a terribly great lurker here. Usually. (g)

Such a small internet...

#86 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 11:47 AM:

Vicki @ 84

Not quite that experience, but, many years ago, I worked at an electronics company where marketing would say 'Sure, we can build it for you!' before talking to the engineers who would be designing (and building) the product; on at least one occasion, it was extremely difficult. I don't remember if that one made it out the door on schedule (it was, fortunately, a one-off), but it did work when it was shipped.

#87 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 02:34 PM:

Bruce @ #59, I agree that LinkedIn is cool. (And other MLers are on there too; feel free to send me a link request if you've been on here a while and I've had a good discussion with you.) I've had the same experience as you, ending up making some connections with people I'd lost contact with. I think an important reason is that they design features of the site, both subtly and not-so-subtly, to discourage you from spamming everybody in sight, and encouraging people to think carefully about who they connect to. (For instance, I gather that once you get over 400 or 500 links they make it harder for you to add people to your network, and over a thousand or two they make it much harder.) The result is that the average social links are better quality, and people can afford to trust them and care about them a bit more. I've seen serious discussions, for instance, about de-linking from a former colleague who is lying in their resume.

I think LinkedIn also encourages an ethos of abundance, of people feeling freer to say: "Hey, it seems you're looking for work, and there's this interesting sounding job over here you should look into, check it out." (Disclaimer: I'm trying to recruit some people now, very selectively, for the company I'm working for, and some of the guys I worked with 15-20 years back look like excellent candidates.)

I'm rambling, need more coffee.

Vickie @ #84: Nope, you're not the only one. I went through that a number of times when I was at VeriFone making credit card terminals and applications. The company's policy was if the salesman just sold 20,000 terminals to BofA, by god we'd make it happen and never mind what whoppers they'd told to make the sale. Scenarios like that led to some of the most god-awful products. It certainly shaped my attitudes about how not to do things.

#88 ::: Rozasharn ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 04:04 PM:

Bruce Cohen@68: "If it's based on good conversation, shared interests, or even sexual attraction [snip] Why do I feel like I have to say, "as long as it's mutual" for the last, but not for the others? Shouldn't they be equally obvious?"

Good conversation is always mutual: feeling good while talking at someone is a satisfying rant, or (from the other end) an enjoyable performance. Shared interests are likewise mutual by definition. Sexual attraction is the only one that can be one-way.

#89 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 05:55 PM:

Vicki @ 84

No, not the only one. I once had the impossible job of recruiting to my team an engineer who had just come off a 10 month, 100 hour /week project, that happened because a customer liked the previous product so much that a marketdroid swore up and down that there was a hard delivery date for the next generation product with twice the speed at a minor increase in price, and the engineers were required to make this true, given an existing architecture that didn't allow that kind of change.

And previous to that, I worked for a company that was prosecuted by the Federal Government for taking orders, including payment, in the mail for products that hadn't been designed yet.

Anyone else want to talk about the great efficiencies of classic market capitalism? I didn't think so.

#90 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 05:56 PM:

Rozasharn@88:

"Good conversation is always mutual: feeling good while talking at someone is a satisfying rant, or (from the other end) an enjoyable performance. Shared interests are likewise mutual by definition. Sexual attraction is the only one that can be one-way."

I'm not sure I agree with this 100%. I think it's entirely possible for one party to get far more from a conversation than the other; it can be an excellent conversation for one, an adequate one for the other.

#91 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 06:29 PM:

Rozasharn @ 88

You are absolutely right. I was just being grumpy because I realized there were people, probably an awful lot of them, out in the world who wouldn't automatically infer "mutual" when I typed "sexual attraction". Just free-floating nostalgia for a world I never lived in and never will, but wish I did. Like my reaction, years ago, when I read Vonda Macintyre's "Of Mist, Grass, and Sand": "WTF, these people are reasonable. Why can't the people in this time and place be like that?"

#92 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 06:36 PM:

John Scalzi @ 90

That's true, but "mutual" is a qualitative term. Almost by definition two different people won't get the same things, or the same amount of any one thing out any given act or event. The real question of mutuality is whether continuing the act is desired by both parties. Picture the difference between someone politely continuing to listen to a monologue that that they've heard before, because they like the speaker, and someone trying to figure out how to stuff an obnoxious boor into the potted plant along with the unwanted drinks.

#93 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 06:40 PM:

Totally OT, but Vicki, you aren't the Vicki who used to hang out at Wikipedia in the days of the Helga wars, are you?

#94 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:16 PM:

#70 ::: Bill Higgins: #70:

"If we looked through a stack of science fiction fanzines from the 1940s, wouldn't we find some evidence of self-conscious self-promotion, and angling to get one's zine noticed by the Cool Kids?"

Probably. Certainly there was some of that in the late '50s through the '80s (my era). But it was important that it not be done so blatantly that anyone _noticed_ that you were doing it.

The goal wasn't "marketing", but "producing a superior product", because fanzine fandom has always been a meritocracy (with more than a few different considerations of what's meritorious). Maybe the fact that the more readers your zine had, the more money you lost producing it, had something to do with this lack of emphasis on "marketing".

#95 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:42 PM:

Thanks, Patrick, for pointing to this discussion -- I hope it helps reduce the amount of grounds in the Convention coffee-cup, as well as in the blogging one.

I don't have a blog -- just occasionally say something (I hope worth reading) on the blogs/ljs of people I know & like -- but if I did, and were given two extra hours a day that had to be devoted to that, I can't imagine doing anything but what I'm sure almost all the people I know would do -- spend the time trying to improve the quality and increase the quantity of the material presented.

#96 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2007, 07:50 PM:

Medievalist @ 93: yes, that's me. These days I watch a handful of articles, and fix errors if I find them when looking something else up there. Mostly I'm at redbird.livejournal.org nowadays.

#97 ::: Susan Kitchens ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 12:18 AM:

Scalzi referred to this snippet...

[begin quote] “I would pick 5 top-100 blogs that I felt worked well with my target market, then I would read each of their articles and spend time coming up with interesting and constructive comments” [end quote]

which led me to this startling revelation: Mr. William Collins (Pride and Prejudice) is a starfucker who shows us how it's done!

From P&P, Ch. 14, where Mr. Bennet entertains his guest (and cousin) Mr. Collins, and the topic turns to his benefactress, Lady Catherine:

Mr. Collins continued, [begin quote] "I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine that her charming daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned by her. These are the little kind of things that which please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay."

"You judge very properly," said Mr. Bennet, "and it is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they result of previous study?"

"They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible."

Mr. Bennet's expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped, and he listened to him with the keenest enjoyment, maintaining at the time the most resolute composure of countenance, and except in an occasional glance at Elizabeth, requiring no partner in his pleasure.[end quote]

#98 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 02:30 AM:

Vicki @ 84 and others et seq, I think that kind of cart/horsewards behaviour has been dealt with a couple of times from different angles in Dilbert cartoon strips. There are times when they just completely chime in with experience, as do other strips betimes, even if they can otherwise not connect at all — Cathy could do that too.

An example that 'got' me this week was John Deering's Strange Brew cartoon for October 18, wherein the usual sign above the gates of Hell is changed. Not really all that original a thought, when considered, but whang! straight under the defences. 'Take a number'

#99 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 12:20 PM:

Vicki/Clifton/Bruce: I've never been in precisely that case -- although when I was doing contract research I found alleged scientists doing something in the neighborhood (promising that results were "just around the corner"). However, I've heard of enough cases that I wonder why such salespeople have not been visited with a suitable plague, or tarred and feathered, or at least burned in effigy; maybe it's a comment on (our perceptions of?) how management works, that such behavior is (apparently?) rewarded instead of punished.

#100 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 12:50 PM:

Another LinkedIn member here -- and my experience of it so far has also been that it's designed to make you think carefully about who you link to, rather than encouraging you to spam the world as some social networking sites do.

#101 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 01:07 PM:

Another example of management/marketing concerns triumphing over scientific/engineering ones (the ginormous URL gets you there without a login)

Haven't we been here before? Twice?

#102 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 01:26 PM:

Bruce @ 101

That's what I'm afraid of. I haven't forgotten that early-morning call to friends to let them know.

They should have been working on replacements for the last 20 years, but unfortunately that's also the same time period that brought us 'smaller government'.

#103 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 02:16 PM:

Vicki at #96 -- Unless I'm very mistaken, I've contacted you twice today. Didn't realize all this time that we 'knew' each other. Damn the intrawebs are small. (And no, this doesn't count as networking!)

#104 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 04:44 AM:

Vicki @#84, at least twice in the past ten years (all at the same company, I am very dull) I've been told that marketing/sales had promised some product which was not only impossible in practice but also in theory. This was worse than Dilbert's `telepathic user interface'; once I was asked to solve the Halting Problem in two days, and once I was given an entire week to solve the Travelling Salesman problem.

They didn't know this was what they were asking for: they hadn't heard of these problems when they invented the cool new features that would require solving them... but that didn't change the impossibility.

Pointing out that there were foundations that would offer me a million dollars just for solving one of those problems (roughly) and that the other had been proved insoluble for fifty years didn't help. I still had to spend that week or so coming up with `my own solution'. How hard could it be? I mean, it's just banging numbers together, right?

(My uberboss described it as `no harder than making a train arrive on time'. That he could use this as a metaphor for reliability while working in London was impressive enough...)

#105 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 05:49 AM:

Nix, that's compelling evidence in support of the criminalization of the ownership and teaching of Marketing and MBA degrees. heh.

#106 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 09:12 AM:

Nix @ 104

That sounds like strong proof for the existence of a yet harder class of problem whose examplar is Getting Marketing a Clue. In this class, there are known solutions, none of which can be arrived at in less than infinite time.

#107 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 03:18 PM:

Bruce C. #106:

Depends on what sort of solution-space you're dealing with. Those that admit the existence of large heavy objects to swing about may produce some sort of clue in finite time.

#108 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:01 PM:

Apparently, there is now a TV channel in the UK called Dave

It's not my fault.

(Actually, some of the programmes may even be quite good.)

#109 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:33 PM:

Bruce at #45: "Web -1.0" is very good, thank you. It made me think of "Web i", where i is read as the imaginary unit. This is not quite negative, but an abstruse kind of useless.
This reading also improves a lot of software product names.

#110 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:52 PM:

Carrie @85 - Small internet indeed! (note also ADM and Vicki - funny how this stuff happens in this thread) ... Now, if only I could lure you down the highway for coffee sometime!

(Sorry for the two-day lag in getting back to this thread. Have been scattered of late.)

#111 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2007, 06:15 AM:

Martin Wisse, & Mary. I've been combing my way thru the online QI episodes I've found — yup, it's a hard job; a dirty job, but someone has to do it :) — in a fairly methodical way backwards.

So far Series 5 to Episode 7 (espionage) and the last 3 (11, 12, 13) of Series 4 and my ear has picked up no 'Zod' references. Did you ever turn up a "kneel to Zod" from Stephen Fry?

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