Sixth Photo Meme

My friend Sooz tagged me in a little Interweb game called Sixth Photo Meme. Basically, Sooz went to her Flickr account, to her 6th page of pictures, and to the 6th picture on that page and then tagged me in the picture. Now although I’m not actually in the picture isn’t the point – the point is that this viral game spreads like wildfire. It’s fun! The one caveat is that you need to have a Flickr account to participate, but even still you need to have at least 6 pages of photos.

So here’s my Sixth Photo Meme! This is a picture of the best game of baseball I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend – October 17, 2004. It was the 2004 American League Championship Series, game 4 at Fenway Park – Boston vs New York. This was the game 4. The one that resulted in the best comeback in sports history, the comeback that ended the Red Sox’s 86 year championship drought. I had the great fortune of attending this pivotal game, this pivotal moment in baseball history. I watched Dave Roberts steal second base – the single moment, the single play that changed it all. This is a picture of Mariano Rivera, perhaps the best closer in baseball history, on the mound in the midst of this game as it unravelled for the Bombers. Anyway, here’s my 6th photo from page 6:

So it’s my turn to pick 6 people to play this game. Here we go:

Ryan Sarver, Sean Coon, Nate Aune, Tara Hunt, Dana Zemack, CitySquares

Social Media is Mostly Noise

I’m a fan of social media, I am, but it’s noise. Like too much time in the subway, or at the airport, it’s just loud and mostly unpleasant noise. Yet somehow many of us us can’t help but get lured into some of it, like a drunk at a bar fight (I know, odd parallel but I like it).

A long while back I declared myself done with Myspace and for good reasons. I even went so far as to state that when I saw others hunched over their keyboards pecking away on Myspace, I found myself repulsed by them. I still feel that way about Myspace, and without quite as much disdain I’m starting to feel that way about Facebook and twitter. I’m quite active on both, however, which makes this a bit of a catch-22. Or rather, am I just the pot calling the kettle black? I don’t know, and I frankly I don’t care. I’m an opinionated SOB and that’s just that. (If you’re repulsed by me it might be for reasons that far exceed my participation in the social web.)

I do find some guilty pleasure in social media participation. It even has some SEO value. That can be detailed by my participation on YouTube where I’ll find videos that I enjoy for one reason or another and mark them as Favorites, or I might post a video, typically something that relates to CitySquares somehow. But you definitely won’t find me on YouTube uploading my friend skateboarding off of his 3rd floor balcony, or of my cat fighting his own shadow. Maybe that sort of thing isn’t my generation – the “me” generation seems to be doing much more of that stuff. I think it’s noise and a waste of time. I try to sift through it all quickly and with my eyes closed.

Facebook is another guilty pleasure. Interestingly enough, the three things I use the most in Facebook are 1) status updates, and I use the twitter app for that; 2) Zombie app/game and that’s mainly because my wife uses it and really has fun with it, so I play along and honestly I just want to be the baddest zombie there is and bite chumps (again, stupid guilty pleasure);  and 3) keeping in touch with some friends. Many of my friends don’t do email very well and some of them don’t do phone well either, but they do Facebook well, so I meet them there and we message each other. I actually find myself more in touch with some of my friends, especially long distance friends, through Facebook more than any other medium in a long time. It’s kind of like the new pen-pal? Oh, I also use Facebook for the CitySquares Page. We use it to upload pictures, events, videos, and other random updates and also our blog gets fed to the CitySquares Page. I like to see us rack up more fans of CitySquares, especially total strangers – that’s cool!

twitter is just a phenomenon isn’t it? Who can really articulate what the hell twitter is all about. OK OK yeah I get micro-blogging, and I get character-limited streams of consciousness from a community of like-minded people. Sure, fine. But I equate it to sitting in a room with a bunch of people I hardly know, with a few friends, who are all just blurting out whatever stupid thing comes across their mind. Hey, I’m no exception. Twitter is probably the loneliest social media there is. I’d be willing to bet that twitter users mostly tweet when a) they’re alone and wish someone was there with them to talk to (loneliness – a human thing) or b) when they’re bored and in bad company. And that’s twitter. Yet I use it. Cuz it’s so easy, so available. It’s on my iPhone and it’s on my Mac.

I love Flickr, on the other hand. Love flickr a lot, and I think it’s because unlike Facebook or twitter, it’s totally passive content. I use Flickr to share pictures with the world, or with just my friends, or just my family. I can put them up there and if/when they want to look, they can. I don’t care much more than that. I like the web 2.0 components there like tagging etc, and sure comments are nice. I also like how easy it is to use Flickr through the uploadr, and certainly the site is powerful and more intuitive the more you use it. YouTube is in a similar category.

There are a few others I use too, like ma.gnolia, or LinkedIn, or (which I am still not quite sure of) but I think I’ve made my point. Actually, maybe not…

Here’s the thing: I found myself so distracted by this stuff in the recent weeks that I was becoming more and more afflicted with a self-induced Attention Deficit Disorder. And even though it wasn’t because of my own content publishing, it was simply because it was there and I just had to watch. Again, like a drunk at a bar fight, or like watching a car accident, or like a fly to a light, I was drowning in it. So I hinted at taking a sabbatical. Well, that was too extreme. I don’t need a methadone clinic, I just need to do less dope! Well that’s one way of looking at it right? So I took a break last week – a total break. I didn’t tweet, I didn’t login to Facebook, I didn’t do anything that related to social media. I even instant messages less. I used less email, more phone, and I didn’t even cheat once. I just stayed away from it. For the first day or two it was hard, and then was a piece of cake. I could totally do without it! And last week was just down-right productive! It was me doing what I do best – getting shit done, knockin’ em down.

The lesson here is that in a society where there’s already far too much noise, be it TV, be it advertising, the city, those flourescent lights above your desk, be it your family, be it your own neurosys, there’s just too much noise already. Social media is just one more awkward minor chord in the symphony of day-to-day life that I, for one, can do with less of.

Facebook Social Ads Won’t Take My Money

CitySquares has a couple ad campaigns running on Facebook as well as a “Page”. I’ve seen very little results, but that’s not too surprising and I’m not too disappointed about it. We may throw some gas on that fire this spring but we’re not losing sleep over it. Since they announced their ad campaign feature back in November I think we’ve spent less than $15 total. Apparently our 6 cents per click isn’t enough, so I just upped it to 8 cents. That should do it, eh? Either way, I gave them the company credit card and they ding it once we hit a certain amount.

A couple of weeks ago we had some fraudulent credit card activity and we had to kill that card and get a new one (I’m still looking for the bastard who thought he could slip one past me). So naturally we had to tell a bunch of vendors about our new card number. I forgot about Facebook. So today I got an email from them, apparently I owe them a whopping $1.92 but they can’t hit our card. The email included:

Subject: Facebook Ads Alert: Payment Failure


Dear Ben:

We were unable to charge the credit card associated with your Facebook Ads account. This can happen for a number of reasons, including:

* The credit card on file has expired.

* The credit card on file was declined.

Your account is still active, but we have suspended delivery of your ads until you update your payment information. Once we are able to process your payment successfully, we will reactivate your ads.

To update your payment information:

1. Log into your Facebook Ads account at ….

OK Zuck, I’ll get right on it!

I logged in, was conveniently directed to the right page with a credit card payment form. Using the convenience Google toolbar Fill In button I filled in the usual info then I punched in my credit card info. I clicked Submit and waited. And then I waited some more. I then got an error. Something like:

We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Please try again later.

Wait a second, you went through all this trouble to ask me for $1.92 and yet the very functionality to take my payment isnt working? Nice.

And you’re valued at $15 billion?

And you supposedly made $150M in 2007?

OK OK, fine, whatever. Let me find my way back to the Ads pages so I can pay you. Wait – how does one edit their credit card info? That’s another story.

Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m just tired of Facebook, and all the hype. But a $15B valuation? $150M in revenue? For what? Eyeballs? Where’s this money coming from? I don’t know, but it sure ain’t from my $1.92 cuz they won’t take my money today.

Facebook: If you want me to pay you some money, make damn sure that feature works first! Don’t waste my time cuz I’m already getting a little fed up. I just pictured Zucks soft, smart assed little face on 60 minutes as I punched in my credit card digits. It made me want to just stop all together. But no, I went back and tried again, and it worked, and suddenly I felt like good things were going to happen. Ah, Facebook. How I love you.

Maybe I should’ve just saved that money for, I don’t know, a half a gallon of gasoline?

An actual use for Twitter?

I’ve been using twitter for a good many moons now but as time went on my use of it devolved into auto-postings about my blog entries, occasional rants about this and that, occasional baseball fever inspired entries, and yes, I admit, the rare drunken banter. Then again, is that devolving my use of twitter or is that evolving my use of twitter?

Over the same period of time I found myself disabling my phone notifications for some people I follow, mostly because I grew very annoyed with their random twits about who they’re having lunch with, where they’re getting drunk at, or whatever other random bullshit I don’t care about that they decide to twit about – you know, things that I also twit about. Some of these people think twitter is just revolutionary. Uh huh – and subway car graffiti is revolutionary too, and so are writings on a bathroom wall, and so is my Facebook status. Get outta here! Are the Gen X and Gen Y and Millennial generations really this self-important?

Anyway, I’ve all but declared myself a quitter of twitter and some of my twits have hinted at my growing boredom. But yesterday I was reading the paper and I saw that we were going to get hammered with snow today. I immediately thought of several things that would be impacted by the snow:

  1. Shit, I have to shovel and potentially use the plow. I also get partly excited by these thoughts because I like doing things that don’t require me to sit at this computer and the prospect of my heart rate going somewhere above ‘caffeinated’ status.
  2. Shit, Bob has an interview with a candidate for an open position. This is an important position. Does Bob know about the snow? He commutes in from Saskatchewan so someone better send a messenger.
  3. Shit, many of CitySquares’ staff come in from outside the city. Do they know? Do they think they’re required to go in?
  4. Shit, I have our marketing intern starting today. Am I going in to get her up to speed?

As it stands right now, it’s 9:12 and I’m at my kitchen table – not at my office desk in the South End.

So, what better use for twitter than a company broadcast system? Have the staff sign up for twitter and follow the citysquares account I set up. But I made it private so that I can control who gets access and who doesn’t. It’s a perfect solution for alerting the staff of important company updates.

I’ve had other ideas about twitter, like letting users follow customers. Then, customers can notify their followers of random specials, sales, events, whatever. Think of it as a newsletter for mobile devices. However, based on T-Mobile’s recent issues with twitter (or is it the other way around?) I’ve questioned making such a feature available to users and to customers, when there’s so much dependency on third parties and so little internal controls.

Anyway, that’s my word.

I’m Leaving MySpace

After about two years or so in MySpace, I’ve decided to quit.

When I first started using MySpace I was totally reluctant. At that time my coworkers were using it heavily, and a couple of my friends and family were also active in it, but I joined, reluctantly, to be a part of the party. I had been

in MySpace prior to totally committing and I found it, frankly, just plain boring. I just didn’t get-it. Then again, I wasn’t a teenager either. I found the technology just and UI to be insulting to me and to society at large, and the users were more annoying to me then a bunch of drunk teenagers at a suburban mall. Every time I saw one of my friends or colleagues huddled over his/her keyboard, pecking away inside MySpace, I thought less of them – no really, I did. I love my friends and my family, but MySpace always seemed to pathetic to me, and so did it’s most active users. A couple of my friends blog in their MySpace profiles and talk about what they ate, who they dated last night, how sad or happy they are. Gimme a break!

Look, I’m really not passing judgment on anyone who uses MySpace, especially my friends and family. I’m not! It just isn’t for me. Never was.

Recently I’ve been getting more and more spam to my gmail account, from supposed MySpace users who “want to be my friend.” It’s totally out of hand. Every time I login to MySpace (once a month) to delete the Friend Invitations, it seems to trigger a flood of spam. Literally within 2 minutes of logging into my MySpace account (which in and of itself is sometimes impossible to do) I am flooded with spam from users like “Nikita” or “Samantha” or “Abigail” who “want to be my friend.”

Back about 2 years ago when Facebook was starting to make more of a name for itself, and some where poo-pooing it for any number of reasons, I wasn’t able to join, because I never had a .edu account. I actually held a grudge against Facebook because of that, until a couple of weeks ago when, after reading all the hype, I decided to see what it was all about. And let me tell you – it’s the total opposite of MySpace. It’s organized, it respects privacy, but it’s also open and free like a social network should be. It’s respects “community” by respecting the community.

I’ve recently heard and read some interesting research about the difference between MySpace users and Facebook users. Some research indicates that MySpace users are a) inevitably teenagers and 20-somethings (who will inevitably grow bored with it) but also b) “lower wage earners.” I don’t know about all that. Personally, I just think MySpace is for social butterflies who are much more open about their personal communities and networks, than, say myself. I tend tend to guard my community from those who may either take something from it, or contribute something undesirable to it. That community tends to be, first, my professional network, and secondly, my social network. MySpace does nothing for either of those real-world communities.

LinkedIn is sort of a hybrid of my professional network and my social network, with the ratio being 85% professional and 15% social.

  • The social element to my LinkedIn activity is typically my effort to help a friend get more involved in my professional network, for their own benefit.
  • The professional element to my (now) Facebook activity is the opposite – it’s an effort to get my professional network more involved in my social life, and it’s network.

MySpace never served either of those purposes. I will not miss it. Not one bit.


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User Reviews

I’m going way out on a limb here, and surely many of you may disagree with me, but I feel pretty strongly about this, as a serious consumer and as a serious business person running a startup that connects consumers with local merchants.

Greg Sterling posted an interesting piece on his blog today titled “Opportunity: Online Reputation Management.” I can’t debate the logic here and the basic point that it makes, but I think that the reality of user reviews and how they may or may not influence consumerism is much deeper than indicated. I also think that the user-review value proposition for small, local merchants is not a strong one. offers users with the ability to write reviews for local merchants. An interesting example of this is for a new coffee house in Central Square Cambridge, called Andala. It’s probably the best example you’ll get in any urbanized area of the typical small business just getting off the ground. They’re not a customer (yet). I’ve been there, with my wife, and Chris has been there a few times. I really enjoyed my experience there, and I posted a review. Why? For two reasons: 1, because I truly enjoyed my experience so much, I found the atmosphere, the coffee (I’m a coffee fanatic), and the pastries and so forth very good and it reminded me of my visit to Beirut Lebanon a couple years ago. My wife also really enjoyed it. That experience was, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 9. That’s how strongly I felt about Andala so I posted a review, once I returned home. The second reason is because I want their business and I genuinely want to help them succeed.

Here’s the problem. I am founder and CEO of, and for better or worse, I only post reviews for local businesses when I feel strongly compelled. I think I’m a typical consumer too – discerning, choosey, but reasonable. I believe that I am like the vast majority of consumers, of all ages.

Ask your friends, ask your family – how many of them add reviews for local businesses? How many of them make a choice to shop at local merchant A vs. local merchant B because of some stranger’s review? I think you’ll find the answer, as we have found, to be not too surprising – that it plays a very insignificant role in local consumerism. But let me stipulate one very significant factors: I’m speaking about local merchants – not products! I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Here’s what I’ve concluded about reviews for local merchants: For the most part, their nice to have, their moderately helpful for a small slice of the consumer market, but by and large, most consumers don’t find reviews of local businesses really all that relevant or meaningful. However, that whole reality gets flipped over on it’s head with one simple difference, and that difference is the almighty dollar. How much cheddar do I plan on spending? That’s the critical factor here.

Whether it’s for a local shoe store, pizza pie, a bar, or for the closest Bank of America, user reviews just don’t carry much weight with the typical, and more importantly, LOCAL consumer.

Now, let’s say I was going to take Ali out for a nice dinner, perhaps within a 30 minute radius of home, somewhere we’ve never been? I plan on dropping a little more loot, having a bottle of wine, in a quiet, romantic atmosphere. Suddenly what other people have to say means more to me. Even still, for me, unless the reviews are dramatically, and powerfully positive or negative, they don’t really impact my decision that much. I can’t think of any situation that user reviews would have a really big impact on my local shopping behavior. Ultimately, I’m looking for X, and I’m looking for it here.

Additionally, part of the fun I have shopping locally is having my own experience – not basing my decision on a stranger’s opinion. Ah, now that opens up a whole new topic doesn’t it – Trust. That’s where this is going? Well, not today.

Back to products. This is interesting because here’s where user reviews take front row – here’s where they take center stage. Product reviews!

Just this weekend I had to find a new boom microphone for my digital camcorder. I didn’t want the stock Canon boom mic, I wanted something else. But I read some reviews on CNET, and sure enough, I made my buying decision.

Take my BlackBerry Pearl for example – a huge jump for me. I went from being a long time and loyal Windows Mobile user to BlackBerry. Before I spent the moolah and made the jump, I wanted to know what others had to say – many many others. I wanted a big sampling of user reviews.

Take my Creative Zen, a new refigerator, humidifier, bicycle, pair of skis, golf club – you name it. I want to know what others have to say – really badly. I bought some new golf clubs this past summer – let me tell you – I probably spent 15 hours or so reading what others had to say about a wide variety of drivers and irons. I’m not exaggerating – just ask Ali, and my brother and father.

Ok, what’s the point here? The point is this: I think user reviews are important for every form of consumerism, whether products, services, local retail, you name it. But ultimately it’s all about the mighty dollar and the impact on me or others around me. How much money I’m going to spend, and how much that decision has an impact on me or others around me. High spend? High impact? Reviews matter. Low spend, low impact, reviews don’t matter.

So if I had a formula it would be:

Total Spend $
—————— = Relevance of user reviews
Total Impact
(distance, pleasure/pain)

That looks more impressive than it really is. Cool

Amendment: Greg and I exchanged emails after he read this blog post and he reminded me of an interesting point that I forgot to address, and that is as follows: In our many many conversations with local merchants, be them in sales calls or for other reasons, local merchants are not terribly big fans of user reviews. They don’t want bad reviews written about them. Surely, they also need to understand that they have a job to do – and that’s to please every customer. Yet some customers simply can’t be pleased, and some use the Internet or a user review platform as a sort of anonymous soap box. Ultimately, user reviews will be a big part of local search and online advertising for the foreseeable future, and certainly that is true for But we respect the needs of the local merchants, and while we allow user reviews, we do need to take an editorial approach to them sometimes. Take Andala for example. The user jlobel actually used a word that we could not approve. We did not bar his review, we merely edited the word. If a local merchant believes we’re on their side, and trust us to take user reviews and that sort of content seriously, especially if they’re a paid advertiser, than everyone is happy.

Lastly, on Greg’s point about there being an opportunity for online reputation management for local merchant reviews, I totally agree. Whoever figures that out is one clever person!