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PITCH / July 10, 1997

Adventures in Cluelessness

By Christopher Locke

The Internet is changing fundamental axioms with respect to organizational dynamics, market demographics and the overall conduct of global commerce. It might be useful to examine some of the new paradigms emerging to replace traditional ways of thinking about business, career, and the pursuit of leisure.

But it would be so boring!

Far more entertaining are richly deserved potshots aimed at abject stupidity, brainless bungling, and general garden-variety cluelessness. These are so rampant in today's Wired Society that names need not be named, but shoes are sure to fit -- across industries, job functions, and irrespective of operating system. There is more than enough ridicule to go around.

In fact, there's far too much to fit in a single column. One of the most powerful New Media Realities is that people can no longer grasp ideas that take more than two screens to communicate. And that's at low-rez. We had initially hoped to reduce the following column abstracts to a set of self-storyboarding animated gifs. Sadly, the technology just isn't here yet.

Until the Revolution, then, here's a baker's dozen hints at future articles we can only hope would help our readers to avoid some of the more egregious errors and fatal pitfalls waiting to swallow the unwary whole in the Modern Age of the Electrosphere. Subject to change without notice, natch.

  1. How Not to Interview in Redmond

    First off, if you're meeting with some highly placed executive to whom time is money and money truth, never fall asleep in his outer office while waiting for him to get off a Really Important but interminable international call. However, if you simply must snooze off, try not to drool all over your shirt so that, when he's finally ready to see you and tries to shake you awake, he gets a handful of slobber for his trouble. But, hey, if it happens, it happens, right? Additional pointers are provided to keep things from going downhill from there -- advice we wish we'd thought of earlier, as this one's from personal experience.

  2. The Attention Economy

    Coin of the realm -- and plenty of it -- has always been necessary for maintaining a decent livelihood. Today you want people to pay with their attention. With three billion terabytes of personal homepages vying for the slightest scan, you have to stand out, to rise above the merely adequate. This is of course why everybody's resume looks almost exactly the same, and why there is such fierce competition to approach the -- granted, unattainable -- goal of Total Identity With the Herd. You're probably doing fine in this department, but just in case you slipped up and slid outside the bell curve, here are a batch of tips and tricks for getting back on track.

  3. How to Keep Your Market In Its Place

    This one's for companies, of course. Winning companies we ought to add. You know who you are. You brook no back-sass from the customer base, your phone menu is thirty levels deep, your web pages exude an Olympian air of untouchable superiority. Above all, your corporate data is secure from prying eyes that could use it to blackmail you into things like product design changes, new wrinkles in customer service, or -- and you can laugh, but this has actually happened -- price reductions. Electronic interactivity has given today's customers a taste for chewing up your people's precious time with idle chit-chat about trivial product details far removed from your Strategic Plan. Finally, here are some effective methods for fighting back.

  4. Dealing Firmly With Innovation

    How many companies have failed because some x-random troublemaker said, "But why do we do it that way?" While intrusive and draconian laws preclude treating employees like Medieval serfs, that's no reason to be soft on creativity in the workplace. Weed out your whiners and finger the would-be analysts who unflatteringly compare your operation to more profitable competitors. Talk like this will undermine morale and could ultimately make you have to change something. Hold the line. Take back control. Others are doing it today, and so can you!

  5. New Media Business Models

    Let's face it, from the humblest homepages to the towering powerhouse media monoliths, nobody has the slightest idea what they're doing online. That's why it's so important to have a Business Model. Without one, you telegraph to your intended market that you're not even savvy enough to put up a decent smokescreen. No one expects you to actually succeed, and few will fault you for inevitable failure. But customers can be unforgiving if they feel your hype cannons aren't well primed. A good business model should be broad enough to cover all eventualities, especially the unforeseen, and sufficiently complex to impress the most jaded analyst -- or at least intimidate the crap out of him. In this installment, we'll show you how it's done.

  6. Indie Publishing: Get Over It

    Indie is trendy. But you knew that. Indie publishers are startup websites with pretensions of grandeur. They speak their minds. They answer to no one. They're independent as hell -- and that's the problem, really: they're looking to get acquired. The paradox is obvious to all but the single-digit-IQ crowd, yet it is considered extremely rude to ever mention this except for Extra Points at obscure SoHo bars or super-hip digital magazine parties too unbearable for mere mortals to attend. Strategic partnering, VC money, IPOs -- we'll explain how to get past that irksome Indie stage and start raking in some serious bucks. Next time you check your wallet, remember: content is key!

  7. I Want to Believe!

    Unless you're a hopeless newbie from another planet, you've noticed that online attitudes differ in degree from those of people who, let's say, just read the papers. On the Internet, you have to have passion, flair, commitment. You have to be ready to die for your opinions. Naturally, the substance of said opinions is far less material than the ferocity with which you are prepared to advance them. In one Usenet newsgroup, several dozen people had to be institutionalized recently after a flamewar erupted over alternative quilting techniques. Few fully understand that democracy was actually founded on principles of rabid intolerance, but the net is rapidly bringing things full circle. From conspiracy theories to programming language preferences, this installment will get you started on the road to the Unassailable Views so critical to personal success online. Don't miss it!

  8. Why HTML Sucks

    HTML comes from -- actually, it is an implementation of -- SGML, which stands for How many Angels can Dance on a Pinhead (you have to use the recursive Unicode hexadecimal conversion to properly derive the acronym.) Many people are dissatisfied with HTML because it cannot adequately represent multidimensional simulations of Miss-America-pageant audience demographics for high-definition television sponsors. Nor is it much use for Absolut Vodka ads. Naturally, this has cheesed off an entire generation of professional graphic designers who used to look really good in print via voodoo only they could do. Help is on the way in the form of enormously complex programming languages that will once again make it impossible for any old schmuck to hack up a credible homepage. Don't worry: high-priced arty pages are making a comeback. We give you 93 option settings that will assure true cross-platform Cobalt Blues every time.

  9. Browser Wars and Click-Through Stats

    The topic here, as you probably guessed, is journalism. When the World Wide Web took off like a greased pig in 1994, many speculated that traditional news organizations would be Info Highway roadkill in a couple years. This is just one of the hand-wringing panic-button polemics that turned out to be dead wrong. As could have been easily predicted with a little extra thought, people feel more comfortable when they can read the same story in 113 print and online publications without annoying variations in style or syntax. Certain perennial themes are evergreen on the Internet even today. Who Will Win the Browser Wars? Will Java Ever Be Fast Enough? Who's Making Any Money on the Web? This column will highlight the Top Ten Stories of 1997 -- and also name the other three.

  10. Convergence

    Who wouldn't prefer to get their stock quotes from Mr. Coffee instead of having to log in to some godforsaken ISP? Save the handshaking for your clients and ditch that outmoded modem. Pretty soon we won't have to wait to be authenticated, as a single 220 jolt from the kitchen range will permanently alter our DNA, thus guaranteeing secure commercial transactions with the local florist, chocolate vendor, or body lotion emporium. What immutable Law of Nature ever decreed that the television set and indoor flush toilet had to forever remain two separate appliances? There's a new world of miniature high-bandwidth wireless network-ready Java-enabled non-PC device-like devices just around the corner. We'll show you how to master the Common Gadget Interface before your wristwatch gives you an involuntary lobotomy.

  11. WebWeasel: In a Category By Itself?

    Sure artificial intelligence has taken a lot of flak for floating more inflated claims than an annual convention of used car salesmen. But it's finally almost here for real. Due for release in Q2 1998, WebWeasel combines patented algorithms, common-sense heuristics, and some damn fine guesses into a software product that promises to revolutionize the ability to locate midi files on any of 3200 popular search engines. Web@Net Interactive, a recent spinoff from the highly successful technology incubator at East Erewhon State University, expects product licensing to exceed the sales of all the explosives used in WW II. In this issue we present a feature-function matrix of similar products and explore whether they constitute a new class of Killer Apps. Also covered will be WebGerbil, WebVole, and WebManatee.

  12. The Electronic Town Hall

    We've heard talk of it for years now: network democracy, getting out the e-Vote, instant legislation. But will it ever really happen? With dinosaurs inside the DC Beltway battling over leftover scraps of credibility, it hardly seems they'd want to share what little power they have left with the likes of us. Don't be too hasty though. Imagine the relief it would be to dozing pollsters, burned out pundits and pan-fried politicians if they could finally drop the obsolete charade that anybody's really in control! As arbitrary as the "Internet Community" may appear in its near-psychotic view of all things governmental, the sum total of its knee-jerk whims might turn out to be far less random than what passes for governance today. We say let's give it a spin for a month or two and see what happens. What the hell. Even if the experiment is a total failure, who'd be able to tell the difference?

  13. KISS: Keep It Simpleminded, Stupid!

    Sun-Tzu once said that business is war. Or maybe it was someone at Harvard B-School. Whoever came up with it doesn't matter. The point is that business is serious... well, business. When putting together your "web presence," take a tip from other, more established media. You don't see Hollywood fooling around with counterculture types -- bandits, hackers, tricksters, marginal sociopaths. No. The blockbuster movies that rack up huge box-office ROI always work the powerful archetypal themes: bankers deciding whether to make a loan, marketing execs pondering a new product line, middle-management administrators talking quietly in a hallway. The tried and true, the stately and sedate, the unsurprising, the predictable. This is what the people really want. Look at your website again. It's not so bad when seen in that light, now is it?

Related Links

Entropy Gradient Reversals:

Christopher Locke's Homepage:

Christopher Locke on Intranets:

The White House:

Mars Attacks:

Harvard Business School - A Message from the Dean:

Men in Black:

Start Reading... Voices Archives:

Christopher Locke, a.k.a. RageBoy®, writes Entropy Gradient Reversals when he isn't working really hard for money.

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1997 Format stolen from Microsoft Corporation. All rights usurped.