Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Spero Ventures. Early LinkedIn, Twitter. These are my thoughts on tech, brand, marketing and community.

How did LinkedIn become the last best social network standing

Why I continue to use LinkedIn (and Twitter), after my rift with the rest!

Love LinkedIn’s new features that popped up over the last few weeks, including LinkedIn Live, Newsletters (in “Creator” mode), Dark Mode, and No Politics mode.

Now, can someone at LinkedIn turn on the No Cringe mode 1, and make my day!

Jokes aside, LinkedIn’s tortoise to the fast-moving, fast-breaking Facebook, Instagram 2 and the ilk, is slowly, but surely winning its own race. Against all odds, and competition, in a world that increasingly drowns & revels in noise, LinkedIn’s legendary CEO Jeff Weiner’s 3 ethos of deriving “signal from noise” is finally seeing its purpose writ large 4 in its winning, at-large.

LinkedIn is the super-hero the world never asked for! Boring, dependable, and utilitarian. LinkedIn is not the social network your Mom warned you about, vs. Timothée Chalamet’s TikTok, Tilda Swinton’s Instagram, and Bill Murray’s Facebook.

Wes Anderson, auteur and director of “The French Dispatch” also cuts the check for everyone else in the picture below, and is a perfect stand-in for LinkedIn. 5

Let’s dig deeper. I’ve checked out all of these three new features and I’m here to say: they are incremental, they work (sorta, kinda, some not yet) but LinkedIn has one job. To get you a job. And, since they’re still great at it.

The rest is just icing on the cake.

So, take em for a spin. Here’s my quick-take on all three new features, hat tip WSJ’s Joanna Stern. 6:


1. Creativity on LinkedIn? What does that even mean?


Who is a Creator on LinkedIn?

My $0.02: LinkedIn Live, and Newsletters doesn’t work yet. But turning on Creator Mode, allows you to set 5 topics you’re going to be writing on more proficiently, and my assumption is you get better promotion for those topics. Think of this, as getting in line at an Apple Store, for a new iPhone.

Sometimes you’re just a few decades in the wrong place. Joining LinkedIn, one of the first goals was to find ways LinkedIn was teeming with LinkedIn Open Networkers (LIONs) and one of our main goals was to expand our offering to more mainstream professionals.

Fast-forward to today, and you see LinkedIn’s new focus on “creators,” Who is a creator on LinkedIn?

So, I just turned on my LinkedIn “Creator” profile on LinkedIn, given my attempts at turning on the writing spigot, anytime now.

Here’s how I turned on “Creator Mode” on LinkedIn. I’m still unsure, why social networks make it so obscure to find basic things like this feature set. For starters, it’s in your profile section.

So, hit “View Profile,” from your “Me” icon on the top right hand, and you’ll see “Resources” (Private to You), right below Analytics.

Clicking on “Resources,” lets you choose up to 5 topics you’ll be writing about. What does this result in? I’m not sure, but I presume, there’s a level of engagement and attention that might be directed towards your profile at that point.

And, I can check if that’s the case. For example, prior to turning on “Creator Mode,” I was pleasantly surprised to see couple of my earlier posts garner over 3000 views, and one which Jeff Weiner had shared, got me nearly 300,000 views.

My Top 5 Biggest Hits on LinkedIn:

1. CEOs Good to Great: Who Made the Cut and Why (363,655 views) 
2. 2020: Reflections on a Year Gone Wrong (5830 views) 
3. It's time to unfriend Facebook and "the algorithm" (3290 views and counting) 
4. Covid made me do it: Life, Love and Work (1510 views) 
5. Time for Stories: The Next Era of Social Media is Now (846 views)  

The secret to many of these views is 1. Write interesting content, 2. Make it so it ties to the right people who care about that content, and 3. Promote.

The rules are the same on Twitter, which was the first time (after the world of blogging) where we atomized attention to specific individuals through @ mentions and topics (# Hashtags). This is LinkedIn’s world of hashtags (similar to what Instagram copied from Twitter).

Regardless, if you see yourself writing content on a more regular basis, it’s worth checking out how much this new feature, helps you with attention and vitality.


2. LinkedIn Live & Newsletters


This alone is worth marketers the price of admission to LinkedIn. This is a big deal.

My $0.02: Email never dies. Social media might, but your trusty old boring email never does. Just ask Substack. LinkedIn Newsletters is a perfect distribution mechanism for content you create on LinkedIn. And, LinkedIn Live is a great add-on for any “creator” or “brand” that chooses Clubhouse, like live-audio or live-video to promote your brand — personal or corporate.

Both LinkedIn Live (I’m not sure whether this is a Clubhouse clone or an Instagram Live clone) regardless, both are worth having in your marketing arsenal, especially if you happen to be in marketing for any brand.

And, newsletters are even more interesting, given Substack’s popularity, it was but natural that LinkedIn & Twitter will attempt to add both these features and LinkedIn just did.

The problem though is both these features are “live” yet not live, when you turn it on. All documentation suggests I should have both features available once I’ve turned on “Creator mode,” but my best explanation as to why not, is that LinkedIn is rolling this out slowly over multiple geographies.

What helps you create a newsletter on LinkedIn?

And, these are the exact same criteria for LinkedIn Live, although China is the only creator that isn’t feasible yet. I wish LinkedIn were more transparent about when and how one gets access to these newsletters, but that’s just the nature of product rollouts.

Now that I have the feature enabled, let’s see how long before it gets turned on.

In addition, I’ve also tried doing the same with Revue on Twitter, so let’s see if that works.

Whether it’s your killer Excel formula or big thoughts on payroll management, your expertise is in demand. LinkedIn wants you to share it as a “creator”⁠—yes, the word tech companies have fallen in love with to describe people who, well, create videos, posts and other internet stuff. — Wall Street Journal 7

This is the stuff that Quora and Reddit have been really good at doing. Creating their corner of the internet, filled with categories of hashtags and answers. And LinkedIn is finally entering that territory, given nearly a billion professionals call LinkedIn home.


More Signal, less Noise


From the early days of Jeff Weiner, I’ve heard him talk about separating signal from the noise, and I feel like some of the features LinkedIn most recently announced are variations on that theme.

In particular, the no-politics mode they debuted, is what one would expect from LinkedIn and also firmly establishes them in the opposite camp as noisy as it seems most days. I, personally, have not experimented with the feature, but it feels necessary and LinkedIn’s implementation trivial.

1. At the Source: Remove Every Post with Political Bias

Every time you see a post that’s overtly political, you now have a chance to set the record straight, scratch the entry and start from scratch. I’m curious if this means you won’t see similar posts, or posts from the author itself?

2. Master Switch: Feed Preferences

This is in the “Settings and Privacy” tab, and once you’re there, it’s a little convoluted but you have to look for “Feed preferences,” that’s stuck towards the bottom of “Site Preferences,” and off you go.

p.s. That said, I am disappointed it feels nearly impossible to find the folks I follow, but I guess if the game is to make things as simple as possible, not too simple, than this might be it.

No politics nor religion in the workplace or at Thanksgiving dinner, and LinkedIn seems to be taking it seriously, and rightly so. How well it works remains to be seen. But its implementation is simple, effective, one-click. Kudos to a product team firing on all cylinders!

For those 810 million users on LinkedIn, if you’re wondering how do I turn on the No-BS or No-politics mode, if you’re wondering how can I create a newsletter or share my thoughts more publicly with my right circles, I think LinkedIn’s making some moves. I will be closely watching, definitely trying out the “creator” features, and can’t wait to make LinkedIn my newsletter of choice (it’s been 15 years in the making, since I started there).

And, if you’re wondering how do I turn on Dark Mode. Look no further…


  1. This is true on LinkedIn & Twitter, and much worse, when I started there in 2006. But today, you have a new brand of “marketers” and self-promoters, who say things like this. That said, I think LinkedIn is in a similar position, where they want the mainstream of “creators” not just the cringe ones. ↩︎
  2. The aggressive algorithm on all other social networks is what led me to quitting them en masse. Here’s how I explained it last week. ↩︎
  3. I’ve heard Jeff, in his early days, both as an acting-CEO and later as-CEO, drilled down the idea that LinkedIn’s greatest asset of ↩︎
  4. This post is a response to a WSJ exclusive by Joanna Stern, who interviews LinkedIn’s current CEO, who I’ve known from over a decade ago, and announces 5 new features; 3 impactful, 2 minor, that I cover in this post ↩︎
  5. This picture stirred a meme on Twitter, at the Cannes premiere of Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” at times absurd yet provoking bemusement the four here, in their “natural” avatars represent a diaspora of human or corporate diversity that lends itself well to humor. ↩︎
  6. Joanna Stern’s post on WSJ does a pretty good job of highlighting the new features, and this post is me, trying out all three features and my raw, honest take on all of em: Creator Mode, LinkedIn Live, and No-politics mode; the other gimmicky mode being the dark mode ↩︎
  7. From Joanna Stern’s interview with LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky ↩︎

Filed under: Latest at LinkedIn, LinkedIn Features, What's New in Social Media, , , , , , ,

It’s time to unfriend Facebook and “the algorithm”

Why I quit Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok for good

Yesterday, I deleted my Facebook account. 1

Ditto for Instagram. And, Snapchat. And, TikTok.

It is time to unfriend “the algorithm” before it’s too late. The writing is on the wall. 2 (no pun intended)


It is time to reclaim our Attention!


“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” — Steve Jobs

Breaking up with the algorithm across Facebook, Instagram, & TikTok leads to a re-evaluation of our lives. Why this matters now, more than ever before…

Apple’s a company that doesn’t have most resources of everybody in the world.3

The way we’ve succeeded is by choosing which horses to ride.

We try to look for these technical vectors that have a future, and that are headed up, and, you know, different pieces of technology kind kinda go in cycles.

They have their springs and summers, and autumns, and then they, you know, go to the graveyard of technology.

And, so we try to pick the things that are in their springs. — Steve Jobs on Products

The beauty of great storytelling is that it’s applicable across the board. This analogy is true for Apple, true for Facebook, and true for me. Facebook, in my opinion, is in its autumn (I’m sure they might think otherwise), but more importantly, I’m in my summer.

And if you choose wisely you can save yourself an enormous amount of work. And you can put your energy to make those technologies great on your platform.”

What I do with my time in my summer (let’s hope) “if I choose wisely,” I could save myself an enormous amount of work or trouble in the long-run.

And I choose to put my energy in people, platforms and work where I see the greatest upside for my growth, and their success. To Dylan and Jobs, a huge debt of thanks, for articulating this decision, in words that I couldn’t have stated with any more clarity.


It’s easier to quit the mafia than Facebook!


Now, the beauty of any mafia, as the saying goes “once you’re in the racket, you’re in it for life.4” But that’s true for any institution; whether it’s your family or Facebook or the Catholic Church. 5

“Once you’re in the racket, you’re in it for life.” — Al Capone

But, institutions, are in most cases not built with the individual’s interest at heart, given the numerous conflicting desires and goals. And, someday, sometime, one has to do the right thing and move away, when it’s affecting your mental health. And, as you very well know, the institutions will not make it easy on you leaving.

To leave Facebook is akin to leaving the mafia you find yourself in, if you go by the many hoops they try to make you jump through to delete your profile. It’s such a cynical ploy, and an understatement on how they perceive you and your attention.

Unflappable in their relentless attempts to derail your finite attention. They make it near impossible to take what is yours and leave. But enough is enough.

I am compelled to write down my version of what I went through to simply delete my Facebook profile, since (shockingly, despite being extremely social-media savvy) it took me a few Google searches, rifling through Facebook’s own documentation, and sighing bemusedly at how folks who work there get a good night’s sleep.


Three Clicks to Delete your Facebook Profile:


Here’s a Cliff’s Notes version on how to delete your Facebook profile. I wish I had this when I was attempting to do just that. Amazing, how much leeway we give bad faith operators in power, in this world. But, I digress.

Step 1: Find your “Settings & Privacy” (Top Right Hand Corner), then “Privacy Shortcuts”

Strange, yet obscure way to hide your delete Facebook button. But, I’ll go with this flow. The word “shortcuts” also throws you off, and having “Privacy Checkup” right above, also makes you wonder which road to take.

Masterfully deceptive, egregiously stupid, and (I bet) extremely effective, at dissuading you and making you want to give up, before you even begin. But, fear not, I got you and will lead you to the promised land.

Hit “Settings & Privacy,” then “Privacy Shortcuts.”

Once you figure out “Privacy Shortcuts” is the magic door that will lead to your escape, you are confounded by this page. Now, this is the entire page on my desktop iMac and a cursory glance (will NOT show you the delete button). Go on… I’ll wait.

Also, the category to place it under “Tools to help you control your privacy and security on Facebook” is also so intentionally misleading to make you wanna throw up. Regardless, scrolling down just a second, scrolled all the way to the bottom, under a sub-heading that says “Your Facebook Information” — “View or download your Facebook information at any time.” Wow. The mind boggles at such a brazenly disingenuous ploy to throw you off.

But, if you persist, and don’t blink, you’ll see the “Delete your account and information” before it disappears.

Step 3: Download Information, “Delete Account”

If you’ve come this far, you’re that much closer to deleting your Facebook account. Now all that stands between you and peace-of-mind, is to Download your information before hitting Delete. As you can see I had 1500 photos and 2500 posts, which I chose to download (just in case), but on perusing them I realize I had stopped uploading my pics to Facebook a while back, roughly 10 years, and these photos were good to have, but I could have lived without em.

I suspect your experience may vary. Regardless, hit that Download button, before you consider permanently deleting your Facebook account.

And, just like that you’re just a click away from deleting 17 years of time spent (some fruitful), and a lot of wasteful minutes across the Mark Zuckerberg Universe (MZU).

Hit Delete, and, just like that — “Serenity Now.” I haven’t thought about it for a second since, and I doubt I ever will.


Matters of Mental Health


I’ve written about my odyssey through mental health, across grief and time, over a year ago 6. A couple of things 7 have changed since then.

A global pandemic, civil strife, rogue actors, bad faith, and Orwellian technology that knows no bounds, has no keepers and brooks no maker of it. But, people chose to react to chaos in different ways. My initial reaction, and I think for a lot of us, in the early disorienting months (Feb – May 2020) were zoom happy hours, and that goes for virtual habits, including ones inhabited by the social algorithm.

But, this abundance, this fantasy, these distractions fed by any of those sources only causes the chaos to spread. In the middle of chaos, only stillness matters.

  • Stillness matters. It surfaces meaning.
    • Abundance messes with our minds. The world doesn’t live with abundance, and scarcity is a feature, not a bug. Pain & Grief, might be the highest versions of this, and possess deep meaning to life & death. But, the only way we can confront that is in stillness.
    • What the algorithm seems to promise, is a fantasy, and it’s time we saw it for what it is.
  • Dependence isn’t good.
    • I realize how much I depend on Facebook Connect to log into sites, and increasingly on voice-activated Alexa and Portal, understanding both Facebook and Amazon now hear every word I speak. And, just like in any abusive relationship, being dependent, or co-dependent is not something one should take for granted. It’s better late than never.
  • A bad friend, is deleterious to health
    • Alcohol, cigarettes, Facebook. Or the Algorithm.
    • The algorithm is worse than alcohol. It’s worse than cigarettes. And, please don’t say we were not warned. It’s time to quit relationships that don’t serve us well.

Just the process of extricating myself from the Facebook rabbit-hole was reminder enough that this was an abusive relationship that has gone on for too long.

But, as I’d mentioned in an earlier post, unfriending Facebook has its immense benefits to mental health. More than alcohol, more than cigarettes, more than eating habits (salt & sugar), more than our physical well-being, the “algorithm” slowly, but surely wraps itself around how we process the world itself. We find ourselves staring into Medusa’s eyes, turning into stone, and the sooner we curb this enthusiasm for distraction, and fashion it after our purpose; the better.


Dylan: ’Til our error we clearly learn


As an early part of LinkedIn, a huge Twitter evangelist (from back in the day to now), social media continues to be a critical part of my daily life and work. But, there’s a difference between that naive take on social networking, with which I was schooled, to today’s attention land-grab, that has me (and many folks I know), rethink the purpose of social media itself.

Someday in the (near) future, we’ll look at this experiment in the human condition, giving kids iPhones like doing out cigarettes, and turning a blind eye to the various genocides that large behemoths have turned a blind eye to, as atrocious.

But, for starters, I wanna reclaim my attention.

For what am I, without my thoughts.

As with all things in life, I’ll let Bob Dylan bring it home 8, spittin’ words of wisdom on technology, our abuse of it, and what it all means.

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he’s fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way

Now he's hell-bent for destruction, he's afraid and confused
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill
And all he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies

Leave no stone unturned
May be an actor in a plot
That might be all that you got
'Til your error you clearly learn

I, for one, am in no mood to make the choice to repeat my mistakes, spending time blithely whether it’s on vices we entrust with a lot of good faith — whether it’s Instagram or alcohol. So, goodbye and good luck to Mark, his minions, and my next glass of scotch.

Good Night, and Good Luck!


  1. 17 years in, though a phantom-limb phenomenon at this time, it’s a fully-grown teenager if I had a child at that point in my life, and it’s strange that it has accompanies a lot of my wins and successes in these years past. Still, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Fin. ↩︎
  2. Who doesn’t remember Facebook’s original “wall” posts, before “the feed” took over. Here’s a great piece by Taylor Lorenz, currently at The New York Times, on the day the wall died. “Sahil Kapur, a journalist in Washington, D.C., echoed Zoe’s sentiment: “Posting on someone’s Wall is more about public consumption than a real conversation. The wall did have a certain appeal when Facebook was a tighter-knit community of college students, but that changed.” ↩︎
  3. Coming from a company at its peak at the D8 Conference in 2010, when they had just surpassed Microsoft as the most valuable company in the world, might seem specious. But, Steve is right about one thing, no company has unlimited resources. No human, has unlimited attention. And, focus, is imperative for any and every goal one has in life. ↩︎
  4. Yep, that was Al Capone who said it. ↩︎
  5. As a recovering Catholic, I understand the role dogma plays in the vice-like grip that religions have on your “soul,” and hence your actions, your inability to make choices as you might freely. ↩︎
  6. Losing a parent, for the first time, will be the hardest thing you ever deal with in your life. The ground beneath your feet, and mind, shifts irrevocably. Now, toss in a breakup, work turbulence and you have a perfect storm. I did, and this was before the pandemic. Meditation, running and staying fit — mentally and physically — saved my ass and my life, arguably ↩︎
  7. Finding passion in career and a partner unlike any, is a start, and boy, did 2021 make up for 2020’s absolute decimation ↩︎
  8. Dylan’s “License to Kill” is a diatribe against technology’s wayward eye when we have major problems right here on planet earth. How resonant today, when there’s a debate about billionaire’s pet projects to Mars and the Moon, when we are faced with climate change, a pandemic and political unrest. ↩︎

Filed under: Facebook, Facebook, HOW-TO Use Social Media, Mark Zuckerberg, Mental Health, Productivity, Productivity Tools, Public Relations, Social Media Tools, TikTok, , , ,

All Roads lead to [[Roam]] Research

Why Roam Research is the future of project management, note-taking and to-dos

  • To-do’s don’t work.
  • Project Management tools don’t work.1
  • Note taking apps do not work

But… Roam Research just might be the Swiss-Army Productivity Knife we’ve all been waiting for.

The four most beautiful words in the English language are ‘I told you so.’ – Gore Vidal

Who doesn’t love discovering a music or stand-up act before the world does 2 LinkedIn (2006), Facebook (2006), Twitter (2007), Spotify (2011), Quora (2012) have been products I fell in love with before the world did, but I think I found myself my next big obsession – [[Roam Research]] – that others might discover in the years to come.


The first draft of life. Roam Research.


A few months ago, stumbling upon a serendipitous tweet, I dove head-first into [[Roam Research]].

A few minutes of exploration later, and $15 of monthly-subscription lighter, I found myself haphazardly and confusedly creating a “root folder” in Roam Research.

Fast forward to 3 months later, I live my work and (slowly, personal life managed) on Roam Research and can’t imagine starting any work day without Roam.

This is the post I wish I had read when I got started.

Screen Shot 2021-10-24 at 8.47.10 PM


Notion is basically lipstick on a Word Doc! 3


It’s not fair to compare Roam to Notion. Or Asana. Or Todoist.

But, as a platform for connecting-the-dots of life 4, Roam somehow out-performs all of the above at their job, and more.

The problem Roam solves is vastly different from what Notion (a better designed & prettier Microsoft Office or Google Suite of productivity docs) solve, or Medium (a beautiful WYSIWYG editor for organizing thoughts), or Todoist (a robust task management app) try to accomplish, and to be honest they all fall short because of one fundamental flaw in how we work. They are all beautiful siloes.

An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood.

That sticks, right in there somewhere.

[he points to his head] – Dom Cobb, Inception

There’s many a slip/s between the moment an idea/s has “taken hold of your brain” to “fully formed, fully understood.”

Enter Roam Research.


Now what does Roam do?


How do we build a platform that makes it trivial to track-download those ideas and process them effectively, without dropping them into beautiful lists of to-dos, notes, and projects?! The challenge being each of those categories of information (to-dos, notes, and projects) interact with one another, but not seamlessly and live in separate islands, including the original silo which is pen-and-paper.

Roam connects the dots between islands of ideas

Roam is a breakthrough in that it allows us to navigate each of these islands of different shapes & sizes (to-dos, notes and projects) by atomizing how each of them are built – from a checklist. Not only does Roam make it trivial to input these ideas mindfully 5 outside of their siloes (like with pen & paper, but better – onto a canvas for drawing upon them with structured data.6), and a simple suite of under-the-hood Easter eggs that pop up at just the right time to get shit done (work or life) and manipulate any idea.

Since forever, we’ve done tasks, projects and every single day, in one haphazard way: ideally, by putting pen-to-paper. Then Microsoft Office, brought the hurt to workplace “productivity,” to be followed by a lighter version — Google Docs. And more recently Notion has created a prettier version of Office (not to be outdone, MS Office ripped off Notion just this past week, to strangely rave reviews and dull re-looped critiques 7).

But, then imagine a near perfect way to capture your thoughts, process intelligence and get shit done — in the moment, through every moment of your life?! It’s almost like Anthony Bourdain describing the In’N Out burger:

Bourdain orders his burger “animal style” — a double patty with extra Thousand Island sauce and pickles. He divulged what he loves most about the burger. “This cheese-like substance is just perfect,” he said. “This is like a ballistic missile … a perfectly designed protein delivery system. – Anthony Bourdain 8

Roam is that ballistic missile perfectly designed for downloading ideas, impelled at completion. 9


What Office could not, and Notion does not; Roam does… 10


Targeted, flexible, multi-layered, Roam is “Notion meets Todoist meets Asana” with agenda, purpose and goals. 11

By shifting all your writing into a bulleted list, and giving you the ability to seamlessly vary that list, Roam reclaims your attention from the tyranny of the blank piece of paper that has writers shudder before writer’s block, and cedes immense control back to you. By also giving all that is needed back to the keyboard makes trivial what might have (until now), taken different iOS apps, desktop apps, and a moleskine notebook to accomplish; a seamless mind-meld between your thoughts and fingertips.

Imagine that, but for every idea that permeates your brain, every idea worth taking down, and because of their mutual links you can jot down and literally “connect the dots” (whether it’s tagged by date or topics, or whole sentences and paragraphs – more on that in just a second.) In the public sphere, that’s Twitter.

In the private sphere, that’s Roam. And I can’t wait to see how that might translate to the work sphere.

Microsoft Word or its online evolution Google Docs is quite literally that blank piece of paper, while both Medium and Notion have prettied things up a bit, without reinventing the original grammar of Word which has served its purpose, but it’s time for the Tesla, not a prettier horse.12

Note taking for me has shifted away from [[Google Docs]] and each time I work on [[Notion]] I realize their immense disadvantages to working seamlessly on a platform like [[Roam]]. It is impossible for any other platform for you to basically get started creating, weaving and connecting ideas without you having to hit a Command-F to File or Scroll to Search or Discover.


Here’s how Roam’s Tesla fares against all previous productivity islands.


Roam’s Swiss-Army-Knife of Five:


Roam differs from Word or Docs or Notion in its minimalist interface (no bells, no whistles, no command-F drop-down from a mouseovers and clicks) that belies the powerful mapping engine powering it, that respond to the click of your keys. (snap of your fingers allusions)

Here’s the five-step crash-course, I wish I had at my fingertips when I jumped on the Roam bandwagon, that might have speeded up my learning times exponential.

Five tools in your tool-belt that will get you humming along your Roam journey in no time. My only $0.02, don’t think twice, don’t overthink, don’t over-plan, just start typing…


1. Pick a Topic, Start a Page: Hit the [[ ]] running…


Imagine being able to create new pages on the fly, without hitting Command-F (File), Open New, and create a new document, or toggle between folders unsure of where you’ve these documents saved, but is there a better way to do this right now.

The framework of Roam Research is built on its bulleted checklists, but more importantly on its bi-directional Wikipedia-like links that can be spontaneously created with the subtle tap of [[ ]].

Whether it’s a mini-rolodex or creating groups of individuals around specific categories, words, book reviews, you name it, create a topic, launch a page, while you generate your ideas. I use it as a mini-rolodex, so I add the job title before the name, I create and tag groups of individuals (so folks who are in Sales, etc.) I even use it for all rough drafts of posts I eventually end up writing, including this very post you’re reading.

The rough draft of everything I think; I build and create on Roam Research, starts with a pair of [[ ]].

It’s interesting that V2 or V3 of every idea goes to different apps:

  • Writing: iA Writer, then WordPress
  • Projects: Emails, Docs, Notion (at times) depends on who I’m sending this to
  • To-dos: Rarely, todoist, for the most part all of my to-dos are reviewed and check-listed on Roam Research

It’s hard to explain Roam to someone who hasn’t used it before, Before I continue, I have to warn the users here, that unlike Notion or Google Docs, there is no freemium version of Roam, so be prepared to pay up-front a subscription to enjoy the benefits of Roam, but rest assured, I don’t see myself working on any other product for note taking (Google Docs), Task and Project Management (Todoist), and everything else under the sun.

Roam is as good as your bulleted checklists and topics (like Wikipedia, but imagine for your personal and work-life), and by just typing those magical [[ ]] keys yields a satisfying Pavlovian response the way that red notifications icon felt on Facebook back in the day. 13


While Google Docs, Notion and others are basically “better, faster horses,” 14, what Roam seems to do is build a new grammar of productivity from the ground up.

And, that leads to a network graph of ideas, unlike any I have seen since my days working at a social network or two. The beauty of these brackets and the chance to start off on topics, is the rich contextual data that accrues that one can see at the bottom of each page.

Over time, I’ve also found myself auto-creating a page for each day, which ties back to making Roam a productivity tool. Creating todos, is as easy as Shift-Enter that toggles through a to-do, done and none.

To me, this is where the magic begins, the 140 character magical spin on documentation itself from Roam. Take Roam for a spin, and in a few days, either the double bracket, or there’s a Chrome extension, that creates a double-bracket, when you hashtag (I know, most of you are rolling your eyes, but when you hit that Easter egg, the productivity gains are immense.

For the first time, in my life, my browser has truly become a moleskine notebook, where I don’t have to toggle between taking notes with a pen-and-paper, staring at my iMac browser screen, but it’s all on Roam, and the keys fly as fast as my mind can.

It’s liberating. And, frankly, this post doesn’t do it justice.


2. Finding a needle (word) in a haystack (block): Double Brackets (())


Now imagine losing your thoughts & ideas in paragraphs, making it more difficult to bring them back up on command, since [[topics]] don’t necessarily tell the full story, but what if you were able to bring up paragraphs or blocks on command by just opening up (()) not just the (it’s called “blocks” here), and imagine being able to at random call up each block that searches and pulls up relevant blocks that might have otherwise been lost.

Imagine a tool that basically allows you to do all of the above three seemingly incongruous goals, and blend them into a daily stream-of-consciousness (yes, seems impossible) that somehow gets things done, while allowing you time to ponder over ideas you’re mulling over (whether it’s a blog post – all of my draft V1s start on Roam) or projects you’re planning at work, events you host, I could go on.

This is basically the culmination of what I described as the fundamental issue with to-do apps. Zooming out and zooming back in to our lives is a constant battle & challenge, but I think, I’ve finally found a tool that allows me to do just that.

Now granted, some of you may be intimidated by even trying out Roam Research. The team seems to revel in the community finding itself, vs. building communities (like Notion seems to be so good at doing), so consider the next five tips and tricks, what I’ve learned in the past 3 months that I slowly Easter-egg’d my way into so you don’t have to…

This is a pretty easy way to master the fundamentals of what makes Roam Research such a powerful tool to accomplish all of the above three – note taking, to-dos and project management – and frankly, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.


3. All Life is a Routine: Double Semi-Colons;;


All of life is a routine. Or a habit.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.” – Gandhi

Somehow Roam gets it, and make it trivial to harness its power.

For the life of me, I’ve tried to figure out life-management, that has taken different shapes and forms from Things to Todoist (most recently), tied to RescueTime, but they all hit upon a fundamental snag — context switching and zoom-in and out of our thoughts — what if there’s a way to go from thoughts to tasks to projects to checklists while you’re on the topic and out and in.

Let me give you an example: tasks are recursive projects that might range from a broken stove knob to a major home renovation. They also slip-and-slide priorities to projects to calendars to time itself. It’s one giant hairball that just cannot be undone, until the very framework and its various parts have been convincingly redrawn.

Every single day, pre-Roam Research, I used a different set of tools for note taking, to-dos and project management, and I must have tried a whole slew of them, and all of them failing, since they were separate islands and they never connected.

Routines have a very important place in life. To-dos, time management systems, project management can all be made more efficient through routines, and no time management app makes it easy to create-and-recall routines as Roam does, and only by being immersed in this environment and using routlines for what they’re worth might one recognize its power.

This has to be my easiest time-saver

  • Emails you send (before an event)
  • Processes and steps you need to set up (during an event, before an event)
  • Daily Top 3 tasks to accomplish
    • Ditto for the week

Just like the iPhone made text an indelible part of our lives and relegated phone calls to the merely urgent, and much like the Macintosh made typewriters irrelevant while making keyboard usage ubiquitous. Roam makes the creation and re-creation of routines and habits trivial from the get-go, what a liberating thought that is but I’ve never seen the ease with which one can create a routine, through keyboard shortcuts.15


4. Tables, Kanban, Pomodoro, on the fly: Double Curly Brackets


The last two features I’ll bring up, might seem trivial at first glance, but I bring them up as an example to showcase the power of Roam Research as a platform for productivity.

Evernote is a popular one that many swear by, I’ve personally only briefly used that app, but there are many others. For me, over the last couple of years, it came down to my favorite Moleskine notebook and pen, which truly works to highlight the day’s Top 10 and any other notes that need taken down.

But a moleskine’s advantage (focus) is betrayed by the inability to link to ideas (I know Moleskine has an app that allows to upload your note taking) a digitized moleskine but again it does not solve the fundamental problem, and something that requires specialized hardware and a subscription that I don’t plan on buying.

While creating a table on Roam Research is as easy, as

{{table}}

Yep, hit Enter, and it’ll guide you through how to type in the headings and the respective entry points for a table. But the beauty of Roam Research is how trivial they’ve made the idea of creating a table.

Ditto for a {{Kanban}} table. Or a {{pomo}}doro timer, in case you wish to time your writing a blog post.


5. Isn’t Research All About The Highlights: Command-H


Life needs a highlighter. What I’ve always envisioned in a modern moleskin is the ability to highlight as we go, and it’s always been impossible to do with any of the task management apps I’ve tried thus far. Just select the sentence, and hit “Command-H”

Imagine a tool that basically allows you to do all of the above three seemingly incongruous goals, and blend them into a daily stream-of-consciousness (yes, seems impossible) that somehow gets things done, while allowing you time to ponder over ideas you’re mulling over (whether it’s a blog post – all of my draft V1s start on Roam) or projects you’re planning at work, events you host, I could go on.

This is basically the culmination of what I described as the fundamental issue with to-do apps. Zooming out and zooming back in to our lives is a constant battle & challenge, but I think, I’ve finally found a tool that allows me to do just that.

Now granted, some of you may be intimidated by even trying out Roam Research. The team seems to revel in the community finding itself, vs. building communities (like Notion seems to be so good at doing), so consider the next five tips and tricks, what I’ve learned in the past 3 months that I slowly Easter-egg’d my way into so you don’t have to…

This is a pretty easy way to master the fundamentals of what makes Roam Research such a powerful tool to accomplish all of the above three – note taking, to-dos and project management – and frankly, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.

The reason being it’s always been impossible to context switch rapidly, especially and most importantly, directly from your keyboard. So you can go from [[Topics]] to ((Blocks and Paragraphs)) to ;;Templates for Routines, and {{Kanban & Tables}} back to a single minded Focus has never been possible, and never from the comfort & luxury of your keyboard.

And the ability to have a daily Top 5 and then some, and then highlight the one you’re working on, allows you to stay focused for as long as you need.

And if you need a timer, all you need is {{timer}} at your hand. Or a {{POMO}}

See the list goes on… Regardless, like a blank sheet of paper, Roam does feel a bit intimidating when you start, and over the course of 3 months I’ve learned what I wish I had known at the start. Building an app ecosystem related to tasks might just takes this to another level.

The key to me, is taking this hyper-invested community of theirs, and move into the mainstream. This post of mine, is just a simple way to describe what has worked so effectively for me — this Swiss Army Knife of Five above.

The four saddest words in the English language, “It might have been.” – Poet John Greenleaf Whittier 16


The Promise of [[Roam]]: Roam is the iPhone to Notion’s Blackberry


Roam’s only competition is itself, and a timeline that competes against Google Docs, who might throw a wrench in the works. But, they are unlikely to move as fast as a nimble competitor like Roam.

What else can they make trivial

To me this is the power of Roam. Any thought process that one can think: topics of interest, blocks of ideas, routines and habits, have been trivialized to a point where your keyboard does the work that normally felt intuitive to pen-and-paper-and-moleskine-notebook.

Ditto for productivity, I feel if they play their cards right, Roam is a far more efficient way to get things done (GTD) than any other tool I’ve ever tried. And if it is, why wouldn’t you make it easy for teams to collaborate off of, and imo that’s exactly what its founding teams would like to do, albeit with religious fervor.

So, what can one expect from Roam Research in the future, and more specifically, what do I wish to see in its North Star.

With a switch of the keys, {{}} or should I say, double curly brackets opens up a world of features that can be summoned at a moment’s notice. Ironically, as well as they connect the various islands of thought on a blank webpage, Roam is the ideal version of Google Docs.

  1. For example: Just this past Sunday, I created a quick overview of my week’s writing with links and a quick hashtag [[time-blocks]] I have created for myself to better manage my time (both at work and in life).
  2. Imagine creating a table on the fly while you let your ideas do the typing. I’ve truly never felt more liberated than when I stumbled upon this easter egg, while planning a sequence of events for the upcoming quarter.
  3. Collaboration (I’d hope) is a simple addition to the foundation they’re building. I find it a huge hassle that I can’t easily share my writing with my peers, colleagues, at work, and I find myself and my content stuck on Roam Island. Ironic, as it may seem.

There’s just so much that Roam could be, and already is, and that can be its greatest undoing as it is its greatest strength. That blank sheet of paper, needs to be defined and communicated effectively to its legions of fans. I see Roam, the way I saw the users of LinkedIn, when I started there back in the day — 2006. Most of LinkedIn’s users were a very active cult of open-networkers (I’m not making this up), and the goal was to create a brand that transcended this core group of users to all professionals, which LinkedIn did.

Ditto for Twitter, that is the closest to the ethos & brand that Roam could emulate. Take for example, how mainstream Twitter’s hashtag and @ mention seem these days, something I’d have never imagined back in the day, when I started using it at SXSW within a core group of insular techie users!

I can’t wait to see what the team at Roam, builds next. But, I’m sure there’s no ceiling for what they can build, but the devil (is always) in the details and execution. And, I am thrilled to continue being an avid paid user of this amazing product.

Just gimme more.


  1. By some estimates, the operations economy is going to be far eclipsed by a project economy and tools to enable these projects are going to become the next Microsoft or Google in the workplace. ↩︎
  2. I remember seeing Abel Tesfaye, way before he became known as The Weeknd, and that’s how I feel about technology worthy of evangelism. ↩︎
  3. Love the allusion to a phrase that has gotten quite a few people into hot water, no pun intended, including President Obama in 2008. That said, I reiterate the absolute hot mess that is Notion, as if “’A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog,’ meaning, ‘Circumstances do not alter a man’s nature, nor even his manners.’” proving Charles Spurgeon right, via his 1887 compendium of proverbs, The Salt Cellars. ↩︎
  4. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” – Steve Jobs. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs is from his Stanford Commencement speech that can be found in its entirety here ↩︎
  5. This is vastly different from a to-do app like todoist that makes it trivial to add your ideas from any source, but sometimes constraints are good. They focus the mind on a stack-ranked list, as opposed to adding a bunch of to-dos from every source imaginable only for you to declare bankruptcy ↩︎
  6. Ironically, “Canvas” is what Microsoft Loop – their Notion clone – often calls itself when painting a new vision of office productivity ↩︎
  7. Microsoft Loop is a new Office app for the hybrid work era, via The Verge. “These collaborative Loop components have been the dream of Microsoft for the past couple of years, and it’s clear the company has been adjusting how Loop works to fit the realities of pandemic life. A central Microsoft Loop hub looks like an improved way to track and organize these components — and a clear response to the new hybrid work era to which many businesses are adjusting and competition like Notion.” by @tomwarren ↩︎
  8. Known for his brash, yet honest delivery, Bourdain sets us straight on what makes the In’N Out Burger above and beyond, the best at what it does, via Eater. ↩︎
  9. Getting Things Done (GTD) was a “work-life management system that prioritizes clarity by eliminating chaos that is our heads. Think of it as the Marie Kondo technique for your brain. ↩︎
  10. I’m going to caveat this entire post both with “I told you so,” and this has been my experience. For many MS Office might out of habit, be the norm, and for others Notion might have created an ideal community for habit, but if you were to start from scratch and define “that productivity tool” that has it all; it has to be Roam ↩︎
  11. I remember the early days of both LinkedIn & Twitter, there was no existent grammar to describe them both. They both evolved organically through stellar leadership into what they are today, but no one knew what they were, just that they were incredibly powerful tools and you knew someday they’d fulfil their potential given great parenting. Ditto for Roam; it feels difficult to describe to others, which might drive some folks away, but I hope to put a spin on it, that show folks what I see today. ↩︎
  12. I do understand that the team at Notion has built a great platform that works so well, for so many professionals, here’s an example; but again, so has Microsoft and Google. ↩︎
  13. I wrote about that red notification icon that might have been an attractive addition to Facebook on Facebook that was geared towards that dopamine hit ↩︎
  14. Yes, Henry Ford might have used a variation of the quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” but trust me all that some people want is a faster horse. Maybe some day they might consider a Model T, or a Tesla, but for the majority of folks we are selling productivity tools to, they just might want a better, faster, prettier Google Doc. ↩︎
  15. Mobile Roam: I’d so love for Roam to release an iOS app, since I can’t imagine the speed benefits of creating routines or any of the other time benefits unleashed by Roam Research. A browser is a great way to get your ideas through, but the explosive power of Roam can best be harnessed on mobile and it’s going to be a herculean task to make that switch seamlessly. Templates in Roam, via hereAlso Capiche ↩︎
  16. Via Quote Investigator: In the passage above Mancroft also referred to “the saddest words” which he linked to Bret Harte. It was true that Harte wrote a comment on this topic; however, he was reacting to an 1854 remark by the poet John Greenleaf Whittier who proclaimed that the saddest words were “It might have been”. ↩︎

Filed under: Knowledge Networks, New Products, Productivity, Productivity Tools, Roam Research, What's New in Social Media, Writing, , , , , , ,

Time for Stories: The Next Era Of Social Media is Now!

LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, now Firework

This post has been a long time coming. But I couldn’t have picked a better time.

It’s when the dust settles, that the stories begin.

The past decade has truly been a roller-coaster in my life and work 1; but the highs can be captured in two startups I was a part of, and whose products I’m most passionate about. And my excitement at a third startup, where I started recently.


Preamble

It is 12 years since I started at LinkedIn 2.

A whole eternity has passed between now and then. Social has evolved from the social network to the feed 3 to “the like,” 4, both of which reinvented modern communication, to Twitter’s @ mention, hashtag and threads and finally today’s ubiquitous Stories.

It is these 3 social tech innovations that have signaled a paradigm shift in how we communicate — game-changers — and I’ve been lucky enough to have been a part of two of these seminal moments in technology. Here’s that story, and mine.

Network.

Hashtag.

Stories.


Network. When LinkedIn Changed Work.

I recall when I started at LinkedIn the world was a different place, Twitter wasn’t around, Facebook was still just in colleges and Friendster was a cautionary tale.

LinkedIn didn’t even have a profile picture and there were extensive debates on adding this simple feature! But the six years that followed LinkedIn launched a slew of new features (Hat tip, @adamnash) that is now a mainstay of professional networking whether it was People Search, the world’s first application platform for professionals, game-changing smart features like Who’s Viewed my Profile, or LinkedIn News that originally launched as “LinkedIn Today” (stealth version was called “LinkedIn Signal”) — becoming today’s modern resume and Professional News Magazine in one.

Regardless, it was an exciting part of my journey in social tech, that was made even more special as nearly half a billion professionals across the globe today call LinkedIn, their work home!

Next stop. Twitter!


Hashtag. When Twitter Changed News.

While at LinkedIn, Twitter was starting out and I recall when one of my colleagues, Steve Ganz, brought it back from SXSW in 2006, and gave me a hands-on guide 5.

38,000 Tweets, 13 years, and 7500 followers later, I’m still smitten.

Twitter, as a product, was a slow-burn but a few weeks in and I was hooked and it was clear from day one that it was an information sharing powerhouse. Ditto for Facebook, I remember Jeremiah Owyang, rave about Facebook after an afternoon of golf. But, I digress…

Fast forward, 10 years and there I was at Twitter HQ, as part of the PR team built by Natalie Kerris, Apple veteran, and yes it was thrilling to be a part of a product that only rivals Apple in my daily consumption.

Twitter products that have changed the world, include the world’s acceptance of the @ mention (that was invented by @jack), Retweets (a throwback to the era of blogging where you reblogged others), the hashtag (accidentally invented by Chris Messina) and the Twitter thread (that was accidentally invented by another user, Marc Andreessen).

Walking into their San Francisco offices (seems quaint now in the era of the pandemic where Twitter WFH for life!), but the time I spent there (albeit short-lived) was worth the space Twitter occupies in my heart. And I wish it had been longer… Gotta move.

Next Stop. Now!


Stories. When Snapchat Changed Publishing.

Since Twitter, we have seen 4 years of chaos in the world culminating in an election that just wrapped. I have been at a couple of other startups, including one that competed with Google Photos, and was later acquired by Snapchat.

Speaking of Snapchat.

It is clear that what Snapchat created with Stories has taken the world by storm. Never have I seen a social feature, get copied so thoroughly. And, Snapchat just copied TikTok today.

Just this past year, we have seen every social platform from Pinterest to (yes!) LinkedIn, mimic this feature and pay homage to the most exciting space in social tech; one that is short, compelling and visual.

Tomorrow. The Best Part of Storytelling is Now.

That brings me to the latest startup I joined recentlyFirework.

Through a challenging few years, I find my life and career come full circle within the social space. This is a startup that gives me a chance to once again work by the side of Jerry Luk (co-founder, Firework) who built LinkedIn’s mobile app, back in the day.

Firework sits in the short video and stories space, a grown-up more like Google AMP Stories, than the flippant memes you might see on TikTok. A creative medium that lets publishers tell their boldest new stories in modern ways, while connecting with an emerging global audience in ways that has never been done before!


Stay Tuned for more…

It has been quite a journey since LinkedIn in 2005 and it’s been even more tumultuous in the past 6 months, in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

I will continue blogging my thoughts on life in the time of Covid-19, evolution of social technology, and my personal focus on health, fitness, and spirituality.

So follow me and over 10,000 of my followers and connections on LinkedIn and Twitter. For now, the easiest would be for you to follow me on Twitter @mariosundar.


  1. I recently walked through what made it such a wild ride, and how meditation & running saved me. ↩︎
  2. Here’s an early interview I did with friend & analyst Jeremiah Owyang, where an awkward me talks him through what all this means to tech and me ↩︎
  3. Remember when the chaos erupting from their users when Facebook launched the feed in 2006 ↩︎
  4. The “Like” was created by Bret Taylor, who also created Google Maps, and much later Quip, which sold to Salesforce ↩︎
  5. I also recall LinkedIn co-founder and Head of Product, Allen Blue, giving me a demo of the very first iPhone when he got his before the rest of us, time stood still! ↩︎

Filed under: About Mario Sundar, Best-of, Firework, TikTok, What's New in Social Media

Five Reasons I ditched Writing App “iA Writer” for “Ulysses!”

Writing and blogging tools have come a long way since I first started using iA Writer, one of the simplest writing tools I could find to publish on WordPress or Medium. Today, there seem to be three writing apps of varying degrees of complexity from left to right that has risen to the top — iA Writer, Ulysses, and Scrivener.

Kafka on Writing or How to Beat Writer's Block
Kafka on Writing or How to Beat Writer’s Block

After some debate, and a few years of using iA Writer, I switched to Ulysses recently since it feels like a grown-up version of iA Writer. It takes the craft of writing seriously, provides an accountability better than any other writing platform and seems to make the inscrutable keyboard-friendly plain text formatting syntax — Markdown just as simple as needed. So, without further ado, here are the five reasons I decided to “upgrade” to Ulysses from iA Writer.

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

Franz Kafka, born on July 3rd and my greatest inspiration to overcoming writer’s block

Five Reasons to Switch to Ulysses!

  • Better Organization: There’s a story to be told about story-writing platforms like iA Writer and Scrivener but Ulysses organizes itself best from the eyes of a writer
    • The Writer’s Journey: The way the app is organized — from personal notes to blogging to writing a book; all the while allowing for random thoughts to permeate an “Inbox” is a terrific way to organize the writing process, regardless of your stage of writing interest.
    • Markdown Onboarding: The challenge at times (for me) with iA Writer was that the organization was rather nebulous around Markdown; 1 that seemingly is a feature, not a bug. Ulysses on the other hand does a pretty good job of educating you on Markdown and distills it down to core features that every writer needs – whether it is adding images, videos, or footnotes (all three of which I had desperately sought to add on iA Writer but constantly lost and finding myself scouring the web for Markdown syntax). Not only does Ulysses guide you while you type in markdown commands but it eases the confusion should you forget the syntax; like when you try to add a URL with the basic syntax, it automatically pops up the URL title bar and you take it from there vs. not knowing if what you did was right.
Markdown to add images on Ulysses
Markdown to add images on Ulysses

I get a distinct feeling, there’s a lot more onboarding magic waiting to happen within Ulysses as I continue to use it, and with the determination to get back into the daily writing game, it was crucial that I had a product that allowed me to see progress being made and that held me accountable.

Onboarding their Subscription and building a community made it worth the price of admission
Onboarding their Subscription and building a community made it worth the price of admission
  • Progress Bar: I love the goal-setting feature which pops up when you hit attachments in the main-screen that allows you to not only tag (which makes for the easiest organization; something that iA Writer was strangely lacking) but also lets you add images (yet another feature that I found missing in iA Writer because previews were almost impossible to do); but most importantly, it allows for goal setting (both in number of characters, but more importantly with a due date for your writing). Believe it or not, the past week has seen me draft over three posts, and being intentional about setting a date/time to start blogging and completing the process truly helps beat back writer’s block.
  • Backup & Version Control: Oddly enough, losing a well-written draft on iA Writer was the trigger that led to my switching apps and one that early users of Microsoft Word might recall. I still can’t find that iA doc which was lost while transferring it across folders on iCloud. And just the fact that Ulysses backs up all its documents with version control was enough for me to switch. Just syncing across devices within iOS isn’t enough (maybe if you’re a real amateur) but it’s the ability to hold the documents in place, for perpetuity that gives a writing app the distinction it deserves.

    It’s like one of my favorite moments from Seinfeld, where Jerry and Elaine mock the reservationist for taking their reservations but not holding it.

    See, you know how to take the reservation; you just don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation – the holding!

    Anybody can just take em.

     

     

  • Multimedia: Speaking of embedding YouTube videos, the only reason I briefly switched to Medium (more on this later) was their exceptional web editor that allows you to preview any multimedia link (from images to YouTube videos to tweets) right there on the page as will be seen on your published page. That’s a terrific feature and one that iA Writer could care less about (remember, they are the markdown writer — plain text writer) but frankly, most of my posts are social in that they connect to a bunch of images, videos, and tweets as jumping off points for conversations. Ulysses is helpful in embedding / previewing pics, embedding videos (not previewing) and are yet to allow for either on tweets. Regardless, this is a considerable upgrade from the iA Writer interface whose primary goal was not moving from your keyboard but made previewing quite the pain.
  • Quality Pays: Finally, the pricing. The fact is there’s a reason one pays for a Mac vs. a lesser priced PC and that argument has been made before. While iA Writer charges $29.99 for the Mac version, and $4.99 for the iOS Version and I haven’t paid a penny more since I purchased it years ago.

    Ulysses goes a different model — subscriptions! And while I’m not a fan (I frankly don’t have a clue how many apps I have subscribed for that I don’t use!) this is an app I plan to use on a regular basis. And on a feature-by-feature comparison, it wins. Frankly, it wins on their document organization, keywords, and backups, because — words matter. When you pay for quality, it shows. And $39.99 a year, ain’t too bad a price to pay for that.

What’d make it even better

Medium’s web-based editor is most definitely the best WYSIWYG editor on a blogging platform out there. It’s miles ahead of WordPress and that’s their secret sauce. I just wish something as simple as Ulysses or iA Writer will allow Twitter, YouTube and Image embeds (Ulysses allows image and video embeds — but (vid) embeds doesn’t translate to WordPress and it’s not as good as it can get, auto-play can be)

 

Regardless, I have to stress that writing on iA Writer is a terrific way to get into the habit of writing or getting back in the game. And you can always upgrade to Ulysses later. Love both these writing apps!

Tweet-Roll: Further Reading // Writers to Follow

Thanks to the following writers for their work that I reference and include above. But more importantly, this is a mini-version of blog-roll that used to be a great way to find a community of similar writers. When I started my blogging experience, I found a community of early bloggers who were included in my first blog-roll including @jowyang, @annhandley, @chrisbrogan, and of course, the incomparable @guykawasaki. Further reading and cast for this post, below: 

About Me: Thanks for reading. I’m Mario Sundar, Twitter’s 1st Evangelism lead in 2016, also LinkedIn’s 2nd PR guy between 2007 and 2012. I’ve been blogging for over 10 years and these are my thoughts on technology and communications.

If you like my writing, please subscribe, comment or respond here below. Or you can find me @mariosundar on Twitter.

  1. iA Writer aggressively markets itself as a Writer for Markdown and purposefully stays on point, making simple additions like images and videos painful.

Filed under: Business Blogging, New Products, What's New in Social Media, Writing, , ,

The Secret about Secrets

Dreams are a window to the human soul. So are secrets.


There really is no place to be truly honest on the web today. There’s no place to scream like no one’s watching. Sadly, this is especially true on issues that matter to you, on issues that make you, or issues that break you.

Yesterday’s news that Facebook is dabbling in the creation of an “anonymous” app has Om Malik seeing red. Facebook has owned the market for your identity on the web and now seems to also gravitate towards the opposite end of the spectrum, ostensibly to alter perception on their approach to privacy?

Facebook’s DNA is about mapping people, their relationships and booming their online identity. In fact, online identity is their most killer feature. It is what we all use to log into various websites to leave comments, or sign-in to new apps and services. It is how many Pinterest. Facebook identity is Facebook. So that is why it is hard for me to take any attempts at anonymity seriously!

Is this a PR move? Let’s give Facebook the benefit of doubt in that all of their successes (as driven by advertising) is also driven by an acute sense of how social works. That and given the lengthy product roadmaps that dictate the creation of products, I think anonymity on the web is something Facebook is giving a lot of consideration and this just might be their initial foray into that space. There might be more than meets the eye and I bet there’s a simple answer to all these hyperactive rumors. Here’s where my heads at in this space.

1. Contextual anonymity is empowering, transformational

Relationships matter. Always have, always will. Just ask Facebook and LinkedIn.

But as psychologists will tell you even within the concentric circles of our life (partner, family, work, neighbors, industry, etc.) we employ varying degrees of straight talk (think “fake it till you make it” resumes) for varying reasons. What if we added anonymity to these different concentric circles?

Google + tried creating these circles (minus the anonymity) to provide different slices of news feeds for different communities within your network.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 1.20.04 PM

Facebook did the same when it allowed you to share different content to different slices of your life.

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 1.21.43 PM

And Branch tried the same mix of generating conversations within communities (experts, journalists, etc.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 1.23.21 PM

Given that Facebook acqui-hired the team at Branch and Josh Miller from Branch currently leads Project Anonymous, it’s not a stretch to imagine the much rumored product being an extension of the DNA that powered Facebook Groups and Branch.

And since Facebook owns the social graph, it’ll be very easy for them to anonymize conversations within groups already created. For example: I’ve a group for my closest friends (10 people), people I worked with while at LinkedIn (30 people), etc. There are so many ways to slice and dice sub-communities within your Facebook graph and just toggle pseudo / anonymity into the mix.

But what’s the benefit of anonymity, you ask…

2. Corporate Dens: When Communities *talk *

Enter Secret.

I became a recent convert to Secret after stumbling upon the concept of “contextual anonymity;” see a Secret experiment called “Dens” which allows for honest feedback within the filter of anonymity in your workplace. Dens seems like a powerful device to enable people at companies to speak up, be playful, and share their daily thoughts that others can follow within the community / company. Even the 360 degree feedback finds in confidentiality, its Achilles Heel:

People who have never gone through the 360 process before are usually initially worried about how the data will be used and if it will remain confidential. You need to ensure you assure them up-front that it is a confidential process and won’t come back to haunt them at performance review time.

The benefits for safe, anonymous comments in similar settings should be pretty obvious to Facebook. Granted there’s room for slander but I’m sure product driven updates will mitigate just that.

3. When Honesty Matters

Take Quora, a content network that allows anonymity for a slew of reasons. Here are a few reasons why this works:

Besides the reason you included, sharing life experience, other reasons include, but are not limited to:

• political/religious views where those views might be persecuted by a strong majority: Falun Dafa, pro-democracy in Hong Kong, Muslims in India, Christians in Iraq, etc…
• Experiences with drugs, and mental illness, or any other taboo subject
• Simply wanting to hide your content from being explicitly pushed out to people who follow you
• Asking questions that you are not able to fully, or clearly enunciate, which feel like they might appear trolly, but aren’t

As I’ve become more active on Secret, I find many heartwarming snippets of humanity show up. And this is just the tip of the iceberg since the network hasn’t hit critical mass yet. But the opportunity to leverage anonymity for its goodness vs. the acts we’re used to seeing on the web, is an untapped market.

Goodness.

Kindness.

Controversy.

And more

Can we scale this kind of a network is all that’s left to be seen. And if Facebook is going to bring a billion people into the world of anonymity, it could tip the scales.

Time will tell.

Filed under: Branch, Facebook, New Products, Secret

Hacking Time and To dos

To dos, like New Year’s resolutions, are a Herculean challenge that most of us have tried and failed. Nothing works. Paul Ford), former editor Harper’s Magazine, thinks we repeatedly waste time building to-do applications with no serious solution in sight:

One of the systems Victor talks about is in that speech is Doug Engelbart’s NLS system of 1968, which pioneered a ton of things—collaborative software, hypertext, the mouse—but deep, deep down was a to-do list manager. Since then the world of technology has never hurt for personal productivity tools.

Every year or two there seems to be a new hotness: it was Remember the Milk for a while, and OmniFocus, and TaskPaper, and Asana. Asana’s tagline is “Teamwork without email.” And of course there are tons of productivity technologies that don’t involve a computer, including the “Getting Things Done” system, which tore through the Internet like wildfire for a few years—Inbox Zero is its legacy.

That said, I believe we are at the cusp of upcoming technologies like speech recognition, the evolution of notifications, and a renewed focus on what I’d like to call “life management” (think wearables) that will finally put a dent in the way we manage our lives, to dos included. A couple of examples that have attacked this problem with some level of success have been “Mailbox” and “Google Now” to cite a couple of examples. Sure, these are early attempts at fixing email and to-dos, but I see this as a harbinger of the future.

The Challenge with To-dos

The biggest challenge with time management apps is the fluid requirements of To do apps. They have to scale from the micro (staying focused on the immediate task at hand) to the macro (that needs perspective with other apps like the calendar, ideally with notifications); the simple to the complex, the one-time to the repetitive (like habit tracker @liftapp); the important & urgent to the trivial; and so far we’ve just had blunt instruments with which we’ve been trying to hack away at this complexity called life.

All this complexity also has to be handled with little input from the user, or you risk losing them at the get-go should you try to gather much information from them. And the input medium has to be as simple as possible, not forcing the user to be typing away with difficulty on their smartphones. That’s where Google Now becomes more and more magical, as they delight their users by surfacing information users might have missed. This will be the future of To-dos. Read through Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan’s post comparing predictive search to digital assistants:

However, there’s no question that Google Now has proven that there are some search needs that can be predicted. These are often especially tied to location. That’s why — in retrospect — it’s not surprising that predictive search has emerged as more a smartphone feature rather than a search engine feature. We got Google Now for our phones long before we got it for our desktops.

Indeed, predictive search may even develop into an essential smartphone feature. We may come to expect every phone to have it, just as we expect our phones to have cameras or notification areas. And just as people might not buy a phone deemed to have a bad camera, they might also pass over a phone with poor predictive search in favor of one offering better.

The other major challenge with to-dos is handing off some of their actions to apps like email and calendar. Like some to-dos, that are important or urgent, could very well be a unit on your calendar. Now how does one hand that off across apps?

[Update: Since the writing of the post, Khosla VenturesTimeful App launched on iOS this past week, and seems to do a terrific job thus far. More on that in an upcoming post]

Now if only there was a way to dumb down this process to its fundamental basics, where the user does none of the heavy lifting but experiences the benefits of (feedback loop) of such a system, we might have a start. Granted we do not have a single solution that is cross-application and cross-platform, yet.

Hacking To-dos with Siri

This past weekend, upon transitioning to Apple’s latest OS X Yosemite, I feel I may have a quick fix, at least for now that might ease my time management. [This post was written before the launch of Timeful, so expect a sequel shortly.] Two of the biggest improvements in Yosemite, besides the mobile iOS influenced look-and-feel are Notifications (at a swipe) and Reminders that (finally!) syncs across mobile and desktop.

And the secret sauce to make this time management hack work is Siri. In its most recent avatar, Siri is a pretty good note taker, transcriber, and so removes the biggest obstacle with Reminders, which is the act of opening an app to type in your to-do, now all you’ve to do is say it out loud and it’s integrated into a giant catch-all. Let’s call that folder: “Do.”

In addition, I’ve created a bunch of often repeated categories, which range from Groceries (which I turn to when I shop at Google Shopping Express or Instacart), to Chores, which I’d rather not turn to, but gotta. At the end of each day, I review the “Do” folder and either assign a time / date for completion, either / or a folder that I can turn to “Later.”

The missing piece to all To-dos is Timing. Notifications (across mobile and desktop) can really make this work, unlike all past attempts at To-do apps. The good news with the new Mac OS’s is that Notifications are integrated cross-platform and a cursory viewing is just a swipe away under the newly redesigned OS X on the right hand of the desktop.

Frankly, this is as good as Reminders are gonna get for now, but I bet there are ways to further do the thinking for us, as Google Now has shown.

The Future is Brighter

With my experience with Timeful these past 24 hours, it’s clear that time management can be hacked on mobile and desktop in a way we haven’t been able to do thus far. And with increasing tie-ins with the mobile OS and the world of notifications (check out Naveen‘s (Partner, Expa) essay on how “notifications are becoming the app itself”) and predictive search, we just might be able to crack this case.

Also, notifications will allow time management apps to interact with the user on a project to project basis in a way that task managers haven’t been able to in the past. The benefits of such one-click incremental interactions (task done or task moved forward) in future OS’s will bring about a sea change in the efficiency of to-do apps.

When we can interact with our data in short bursts via notifications, we make remarkable efficiency gains, especially on tasks that we perform again and again. Apps will become more about information and communications; we’re going to think of them as services instead of as windows onto our data. The things that can make best use of single click efficiency will soar. A whole new world is up there waiting for us at the top of the screen. We just need to pull it down.

Finally, one of the time management fads talked about in Paul Ford’s piece was David Allen and his until recently ubiquitous Getting Things Done (GTD) craze in the nerd community. Even comedian Drew Carey outsourced his time management to Allen to fix this problem and learned this:

[It] turns out that the Zeigarnik effect is not, as was assumed for decades, a reminder that continues unabated until the task gets done. The persistence of distracting thoughts is not an indication that the unconscious is working to finish the task. Nor is it the unconscious nagging the conscious mind to finish the task right away. Instead, the unconscious is asking the conscious mind to make a plan.

And that plan needs to be made in concert with the big picture, without which the minute next steps mean nothing. Curious what David Allen thinks of the new wave of time management?

How do you track time in your life? Curious if any of your time hacks beat the version I outline above. Tweet me @mariosundar or just leave a comment below.

Filed under: HOW-TO Use Social Media, New Products, What's New in Social Media

Time has come to change how we read

Google Reader is dead. Long live reading.

If you are from the real world and happened upon posts from any-and-every tech blog, you wouldn’t be mistaken in assuming that today marks the demise of the written word, now that Google’s offed Google Reader.

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Image Source: Business Week

But as Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine, notes, most people don’t know Google Reader from Google Currents, less so care about its disappearance:

As a blogger this might be blasphemy, but the online echo chamber when beloved products, however esoteric, change or shut down is out of control. Worse, it might convince us, through repetition, that these things matter. Regardless of what your social media circles might indicate, the universe will not mourn Reader because the amount of people whose job (or even hobby) it is to consume and process news is actually minuscule. Thankfully.

As a matter of fact, in their rush to tease out the minutiae, I fear we have missed the big picture. There is a fundamental disruption happening in how news is consumed.

Many apps (Digg, Aol, Feedly) are scrambling to jump on the RSS bandwagon by touting their next Google Reader but fact is we are already seeing attempts at more efficient ways to consume news.

And RSS is only part of that story.

What’s the New TiVo of News?

Matt Buchanan of The New Yorker, writes of the problem that ailed Google Reader:

But a feed reader still represents a fundamentally different vision of gathering information than the social model that has gripped the Web. It is largely a single-user enterprise—a digital monk diligently scanning feeds. And it is intensely focussed on the Web sites most important to the user, rather than the omnivorous grazing that characterizes scanning news on social media, as links are surfaced by the people the user follows.

Fact is most of the sites I recommend below have moved away from the RSS-only model while curating social content, in many cases with a lil help from an expert – a trait most successfully used by Gabe Rivera and his trinity of popular news aggregation insider sites Techmeme (Technology), Memeorandum (Politics), and Wesmirch (Celebrity).

As Matt says:

Everybody consumes the Web differently, so it’s hard to imagine a single reading service that works for every person. But it seems reasonable to think that one combining a person’s deep and abiding interests with the serendipity of social media could work for most.

But the future for news readers is brighter than ever and here’s not one, not two, but five different reasons why:

1. Flipboard

The one news app I cannot live without today would have to be – without doubt – my Flipboard.

Flipboard pulls together the disparate threads of news that course through our ubiquitous social media world and makes gorgeous sense of it. Everything from your LinkedIn to Facebook updates, YouTube to Instagram (even SoundCloud), and most importantly, your Twitter followings are displayed in an elegant magazine like format. It’s the kind of design one normally expects from Apple, and Flipboard’s attention-to-detail here is impressive (Follow their designer, @craigmod).

The important distinction to make here is that Flipboard is primarily a consumption device. Though it provides you options to tweet or update your status on any of your social accounts, the beauty of Flipboard is its visual clarity and the ability to on-board you with great news right away.

2. Feedly

For those hard-core Google Reader users who fret-and-fumed since the announcement-to-shutter was made, Feedly has been a god-send. Not only has Feedly invested the most in making this a smooth transition for users, they have also made the most gains among the same user base (up to 3 million users now). In addition, they now support lost RSS reader tools (like @reeder and @newsify) stay alive.

From a user perspective, what feedly has done is provide a quick replacement for Google Reader with a blazing fast cloud service, which you can find at Feedly Cloud. What’s most shocking to me in this whole scenario is why Google didn’t transition those influential Google Reader users to Google Currents – their Flipboard wannabe – the same way Flipboard did!

What Feedly does with its aggressive push into the Google Reader space remains to be seen, but I’d watch out for what they have up their sleeve next.

3. Newsify

All great news consumption apps start on mobile. Flipboard set the standard and, believe it or not, Newsify and Reeder are two similar apps with similar credentials.

RSS subscriptions, unlike the real-time ephemeral nature of social, add up pretty fast in an inbox and what you found is that you had to declare news bankruptcy pretty soon, deleting days worth of RSS content.

What you need is a pictorial, almost Pinterest-like, visualization that allows you to skim through hundreds of posts while picking out the ones that seem most interesting. If it’s 4.5 star app rating is any indication, Newsify seems to have nailed that experience for the iPhone and the iPad.

4. The Modern Op-ed: Quora and Medium

What Huffington Post successfully started, Quora and Medium have tried to emulate. The goal: to find and amplify excellent sources of authoritative analysis, with topics ranging from breaking news to expertise across varying categories.

While Quora is focused on news-via-experience, Medium seems to have perfected the art of the modern op-ed, democratized it while still maintaining its quality.

But what all these sites do is take the traditional news model and flip it on its head by finding commenters, whose comments are the starting point to creating worthwhile reading, and giving these individuals a platform to write and a community to pontificate.

5. Social News: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Finally, the elephant in the room. Social.

Let’s not forget that all of the above innovation rests on social.

What would Flipboard do without Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn feeds. Would their pages be as interesting or even exist?

Most of what I follow on Flipboard are Twitter lists I’ve created. Most of what most people follow on Flipboard are also built around links shared on social sites. With LinkedIn already showing how a successful social news product should be built around relevance and Facebook clearly showing its cards with what could potentially be a social news engine, we can see the direction that social news is gonna take in the coming years. And it’s gonna be a game changer.

So let me leave you with a question:

How do you get your news today? Is it on Yahoo News or Flipboard or Twitter? Do you read news primarily on your phone as you are boarding the train or on your desktop once you get to work or with a New York Times subscription while you drink coffee in the morning.

Leave me a comment.

Filed under: Curation, Facebook, Journalism, Medium, Quora, Social Media Tools, Tumblr, What's New in Social Media

Quora’s Big Problem

I haven’t been on Quora in a long time.

I used to be there every single day, so much that many Quora users’ feed was filled just with stuff I curated. But that was months ago.

Slowly but surely as Liz Gannes from AllThingsD suggests in an interview with co-founder Adam D’Angelo, “it can be easy to forget to visit Quora, with its random jumble of writings on topics that are interesting but not crucial.

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So as a friend of Quora’s (I even hosted a Quora meetup at my digs last week) and an obsessive about how startups communicate in today’s social media world, I carefully read through the article to figure out if it had clues to where Quora may be headed but was disappointed. Here’s the where and the why:

Paint a picture

I’d love to do a Kara Swisher style deconstruction of the answers but frankly it’d get repetitive here, so let’s just cut to the chase and address the big questions and what they lacked.

Where’s Quora now and where are they headed?

Adam: We’ve become more data-driven. When you’re small, you have to do everything on intuition, but now we’re at the scale where we have a lot of users, so we can run experiments. We have a data team that’s pretty big, actually.

What do you use the data for — is it personalization?

Adam: No, it’s more about to make decisions about what to build. We’re looking at whether something’s going to be a good investment of resources. When you’re small, you can say, “I use the product myself, and I’m annoyed by these things, so let’s change this.” Now we can say, “Twenty percent of our users have encountered this issue that makes them less engaged or more engaged,” so we can test it. That’s really important, because then you don’t have to centralize the decision making. So it doesn’t all go through me.

I think one of the challenges with operational details is that it detracts from the bigger picture and introduces more questions with room for confusion. Wonder how it’s done?

Mark Zuckerberg and the folks over at Facebook, have figured out a way to code every announcement (even ones as mediocre as their recent Facebook Home announcement) in broad strokes compliant to a grand vision:

Mark: At one level, [Home] is just the next mobile version of Facebook. At a deeper level, I think this can start to be a change in the relationship that we have with how we use computing devices. For more than thirty years, computers have mostly just been about tasks, and they had to be–they were too expensive and clunky and hard to use, so you wouldn’t really want to use them for anything else. But the modern computing device has a very different place in our lives. It’s not just for productivity and business, although it’s great for that too. It’s for making us more connected, more social, more aware.

Home, by putting people first, and then apps–by just flipping the order–is one of many small but meaningful changes in our relationship with technology over time.

It’s always about people first. And, Zuckerberg has truly come a long way and learned well.

Words matter. And, ideas matter even more. This is an area where Quora absolutely needs to spend some time articulating their vision, and they gotta do it now.

Now show it works

How big is Quora? What are the most important metrics to you — volume of content, how many people use it?

Adam: We look at people who use it. We don’t share the particular numbers, but it’s pretty big, and it’s growing.

Nah. Not good enough. From a communications perspective, this is the worst answer one can probably give but some startups do it and think they can get away with it. Guess what? No one’s buying it.

You’ve got to come up with metrics that are understandable to the public and it needs to be framed the right way. When I joined LinkedIn, we were close to 5 or 6 million members on the site  and from my first day there, our vision was always clearly framed around the world that we operated within (5 million professionals on LinkedIn vs. 25 million folks on Facebook). Likewise, with Quora, there’s a plethora of factors they can make a great case with to show growth in relevant areas, the most obvious being the number of questions answered each day the world over by knowledge workers in specific topics and categories. Instead, it falls flat when you say: “we’re pretty big and growing.”

Always, show, don’t tell.

Let me give you another example, this time, more relevant to Quora’s size. Take Flipboard for example, which has done a good job of framing their metrics around Flips. How many articles are being flipped, read and therefore shared in their magazines. I’ve created three magazines on Flipboard and psychologically it’s a great feeling when I have 100s of thousands of flips even when my readers number in the thousands. Either way, it’s good for the user and the reader to know where things started, and how it’s doing right now relevant to that start.

Even when Apple was floundering, Steve Jobs always painted a clear picture of the future. This needs to be done; without which everyone’s lost. Moving on…

The elephant in the room: Purpose

You’ve introduced a bunch of new content types in addition to Q&A. What’s working?

Adam: So we have answers, blogs and now we have reviews. The area we define as what Quora’s good at is long-form text that’s useful over time, and where you care about who wrote the text. Not that you need to be friends with them, just that they’re someone trustworthy.

Their introduction of boards was the first time I stepped outside the fan circle and re-evaluated my enthusiasm for the product. And since then I’ve noticed a deterioration in the quality of the Quora feed. Things never been the same since.

But this question leads to clarity in the mission which also should answer why I should use Quora. But instead it led me to thinking of the reason why I’ve dropped out of Quora oddly similar to the reason Liz gave in the early paragraphs: “it can be easy to forget to visit Quora, with its random jumble of writings on topics that are interesting but not crucial.

Every product mission should have a purpose in the lives of their users that makes the product irreplaceable. Take LinkedIn, whose mission to transform the lives of all global professionals led to – jobs. Helping users find a better job, a dream job.

It may not be what LinkedIn talks about all the time, but as a user, it’s this promise that keeps bringing you back for more. It’s this tacit understanding that leads you to update your profile, build your connections and maybe share articles you hope your future boss will “like.” But it all starts and ends with that purpose for a user: what’s in it for me?

Once that reason exists in the users mind, is articulated and is based on reality – it creates a compelling reason to return over and over again. A compelling reason to contribute. Frankly, I think Quora’s unique strengths may lie not just in gathering, sharing and building that knowledge graph (since there are so many others building that graph) but rather in the application of said knowledge towards intelligence and skills that will give it a purpose it so sorely lacks.

But, what do you think is Quora’s purpose? 

Thoughts? Leave a comment.

Filed under: Public Relations, Quora

BREAKING: Can we put Journalism back together again?

This is an attempt at deciphering the happenings of the past week in Boston and the way we follow news today. What are some of the learnings from the past days and what must we avoid. And most importantly, how has social media, Twitter in particular, forever changed the way we consume real-time news.

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The photo acquired via a LetsRun forum that gave us a closer look at Suspect #2 (with white hat in left corner)

This was our generation’s OJ Simpson – Broncos chase. This time, instead of 21 helicopters hovering over the infamous slow-speed chase, we had hundreds of thousands of us refreshing our Twitter feed in real-time as the Chechen brothers evaded, assassinated, and ran over their way into infamy. This time, we contributed and participated our way into the history of media.

Journalism isn’t dead. We’re just reinventing it.

Let’s refresh our memory on a few of the biggest on-air and online human errors the media bungled:

1. CNN who rushed to call that an arrest had been made when none had and other too eager networks like Fox who repeated the nonsense.

Well no one pokes fun at CNN better than Jon Stewart, so here goes. This should give you a sense for the continued hits that CNN has been taking as a sub-standard bearer of mediocre news these days.

2. NY Post: No one expects much from this tabloid, the second Murdoch outlet that screwed up the Boston coverage by pointing fingers at bag men who weren’t Suspect 1 nor Suspect 2.

3. Reddit: Aah… where would we be if social media weren’t a part of these screw-ups.

Yes, there may have been some smugness from social media folks when they thought some of the internet sleuthing pin-pointed the suspects but as was the case, they were way off-base and have apologized profusely since. And I regret being a part of the RT mafia that was a lil too eager to beat our chests a lil too early; a culpability we now share with mainstream media. But for every Reddit fiasco, there’s a LetsRun success and that’s why the “wisdom of crowdsworks and is here to stay:

In places where reporters could not tread because of police restrictions, local residents filled in some of the audio and video gaps. From their front stoops and through their windows, they posted videos of an early-morning shootout and photographs of a vehicle said to be involved in a police chase. The material was quickly scooped up by local television stations and Twitter users. On NBC’s “Today” show, Savannah Guthrie was able to interview two Watertown residents sheltering at home, thanks to a Skype video connection. The residents showed images of bullet holes in their walls, presumably from the shootout.

Farhad Manjoo of Slate Magazine goes as far as hyperventilating:

Next, pull out your phone, delete your Twitter app, shut off your email, and perhaps cancel your service plan. Unplug your PC.

Finally, load up your favorite newspaper’s home page. Spend about 10 minutes reading a couple of in-depth news stories about the events of the day. And that’s it: You’ve now caught up with all your friends who spent the past day and a half going out of their minds following cable and Twitter. In fact, you’re now better informed than they are, because during your self-imposed exile from the news, you didn’t stumble into the many cul-de-sacs and dark alleys of misinformation that consumed their lives. You’re less frazzled, better rested, and your rain gutters are clear.

Breaking news is broken.

Molly Wood of CBS suggests:

It’s not. We have more information, but it’s a morass of truths, half-truths, and what we used to call libel. It’s fast, but it’s bad. And bad information is a cancer that just keeps growing. I’d argue the opposite of Ingram: that the hyper-intense pressure of real-time reporting from Twitter, crowdsourcing from Reddit, and constant mockery from an online community that is empirically skewed toward negativity and criticism is actually hurting journalism. It’s making all the news worse.

I beg to differ. Bad journalists make specious judgments with or without social media.

  • Social media had nothing to do with John King’s judgment to call that an arrest had been made.
  • Social media had nothing to do with the New York Post broadcasting two innocent young men’s photographs from the rooftops.
  • Yes, Redditors, did get their facts wrong, messed up, fessed up and now have offered to help find the poor young man who’s been missing and was falsely accused by them as a potential suspect but it’s the last in a string of bad judgments made this past week.

It’s easy to blame social media for all the ills ailing journalism, but fact remains good journalism will always be about an objective interpretation of verifiable facts. And it’s the responsibility of the world’s largest media institutions to uphold these standards. Not CNN their way into infamy.

None could have said it better than Alan Gregg, former director of Medical Sciences for the Rockefeller Foundation in this excellent post on the Art of Observation:

“Most of the knowledge and much of the genius of the research worker lie behind his selection of what is worth observing. It is a crucial choice, often determining the success or failure of months of work, often differentiating the brilliant discoverer from the … plodder.”

The Boston incident is not an isolated incident. Increasingly we find news outlets choosing to be held captive to the ever quickening news cycle. It was true during the Kennedy assassination, it worsened during the OJ trial, and it’s running a mile a second in today’s social media world.

  • It is the journalist’s job to be the discoverer, not the plodder.
  • It is the journalist’s job to urge caution and call out the plodder.
  • It is not the journalist’s job to be the plodder.

Thoughts echoed by one of the few journalists who proved his value in this melee of real-time nonsense:

But I’d like to go one step further and point out that social media can be a huge asset to journalists in doing their job better. And that job is keeping the rest of the country (that’s on edge) posted on the latest in an unnerving string of attacks. And, if Twitter is the best medium to get that information out, then journalists have to figure out the best way to use it. And some did.

And as the @Boston_Police (now with over 330K followers on Twitter) found out this past week:

“Nothing has really changed,” Bar-Tur, a social media and law-enforcement consultant says, “just the medium has changed.” That might be enough for a new model manhunt to emerge.

And, that exactly should be the takeaway for journalists today.

The medium has changed. Journalism will evolve with social media.

(To be continued…)

Filed under: Crisis Communications, HOW-TO Use Social Media, Journalism

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