On Cloud Computing: Get Your Head in the Clouds

January 30, 2011

Clouds as Play and Poetry

AxisPortals loves clouds, and always has. As a child, she loved flinging herself in dewy grass to watch fat cottony puffs or thin whisps of white trail across the bright blue of a sky that, back then, never seemed noticeably marred by a film of gray pollution around the edges. She remembers, on windy days, watching as the shadows cast by clouds rushed over the landscape. Like most every kid, and the blessed handful of adults  who’ve managed to hang onto their sense of wonder and imagination, she found faces, animals, castles, and kingdoms in the shifting shapes above. Even now, she thrills to the romance of thick fogs that invite one to walk among the very clouds, and to those fleeting moments of “God light,” when clouds break sunlight into a such a perfect array of beams that it seems–that is is–a moment of purest grace.

In short, it is no surprise that AxisPortals doesn’t struggle much with cloud metaphors. She even loves watching storm clouds resolving into high, threatening walls of darkness, and she always knows she’s met a kindred spirit when someone understands the way the sky sometimes seems to go green in the moments just before some particularly vicious storms.

When it comes to cloud computing, AxisPortals is, similarly, an enthusiast. Though the definitions of “cloud computing” are many and various, they all boil down to one appealing notion:  resources are available and accessible from any internet enabled computer or device. This is unequivocally a good thing, but it turns out to be a way of thinking that many organizations still struggle to grasp.

The Business of Clouds

Multiple Definitions of Cloud Computing

So what prevents an organization from taking fullest advantage of the flexibility, accessibility, and litheness of working in the cloud?

Let’s say that a mid-size organization is seeking a candidate tracking tool. Creating one with a cloud-based tool such as the CATS Applicant Tracking System or something similar couldn’t possibly be faster or more affordable. These tools are highly customizable, scalable, and accessible. They require no purchase of software or hardware, and no installation.  They require no local IT team to be constantly at the ready to field questions or make repairs.  Indeed, excellent support mechanisms are built right in, and there are user forums, support documents, and training videos galore.  Currently stored information can readily be imported to them, and information from within can just as readily be exported. They integrate beautifully with both websites and content management systems, and they are geared toward taking advantage of social networking tools.  CATS, for instance, integrates beautifully with LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.  It also plays very well with Monster, CareerBuilder, and HotJobs.  In short, there’s much to recommend use of a cloud-based tool in this instance.

Unfortunately, though, these very strengths can prove a stumbling block for organizations in which increasingly outmoded notions of ownership and physical presence still prevail. Where is the machine on which the program lives? Where is the outrageously high price? Where is the complicated contract? And aren’t social networking tools awfully dangerous?  Isn’t there something a bit scary, after all, about downloading resumes from CareerBuilder with a single click, or about pushing position postings to Facebook or Twitter so readily?   It all seems too simple, too sci-fi, and too darned contemporary to be trustworthy or real.  To a decision maker who is inexperienced in or suspicious of digital realms, the cloud and all that it entails can be a frightening or simply confusing concept.

Ownership is not an entirely unreasonable concern.  Ask anyone who once stored information on a service long since gone–there’s nothing worse than losing access to data.  However, in most cases, rightful interest in data management and preservation is a concern more than adequately addressed by the tool itself.  Routine backups, regular updates, replication of information, and ability to download data on demand are standard features of a good cloud-based service.  Indeed, the old-fashioned local machine is far more likely to prove troublesome on this score, which is why cloud-based storage and back-up systems are increasingly popular.

Deploying purchased programs on in-house equipment is a costly undertaking, whereas tapping into a cloud-based system generally requires only relatively modest subscription fees.  Similarly, in-house deployments often involve extensive training sessions, whereas cloud-based services offer online learning and support, as well as the advantage of functioning in online environments that will be relatively familiar to many end-users.  Most anyone who can figure out, for instance, how to set up a page in Facebook and use all if its various functions, could soon find his or her way around the dashboard of a cloud-based tool.  Add in excellent online training materials and the ability of new users to tap into these anytime, anyplace, and it rapidly becomes clear that the old model of classroom training and face-to-face support is as outmoded as the dusty machine in the corner. That’s an exciting prospect to those who move comfortably in online worlds, but for those who cling to habits and expectations formed in earlier times, letting go of familiar procedures can be quite as difficult as letting go of the notion that the most expensive solution must, perforce, be the best solution.

Way back when AxisPortals was stretched out in the grass admiring the shifting panorama of the cloudscape, she understood that things change fast. The swelling cloud bathed in sunset’s gold looked exactly like a giant piece of popcorn, but only for a few moments.  Then, it broke, shifted, resolved into something new, or ultimately drifted away to be replaced by another shape entirely. Nothing about these vaporous forms was ever steady or predictable.

Life is like that, too.  Business is like that.  Our economic and informational landscape is forever shifting.  We weather those shifts best when we are equipped to flow and evolve right along with them. Cloud-based services are affordable, lithe, nimble–they allow us to flow with the shifting exigencies of corporate IT, and to meet our audiences’ expectations for connection, immediacy, and accessibility.

Redefining the Idiom

Community Users Lead the Way

Change may come slowly in the cobwebby corners of brick-and-mortar organizations that have thus far managed to avoid entering or even contemplating the cloud, but elsewhere digital life in the cloud is well underway and rapidly expanding.  Recently, AxisPortals posed a casual question to her Facebook friends: How many social networking profiles, blogs, etc. do you manage? Six and upwards, said the respondents, and observation bears this out. But social networking platforms and blogs aren’t the only cloud-based tools enthusiastically embraced in the world beyond business.

  • School parents manage volunteer networks, organize auctions, administer hot lunch programs, track sports registration, and push email to parents using cloud-based tools such as Orgs Online and Auction Trak.
  • Teachers communicate with parents and students using tools such as eBoard, TeacherEase, and  SchoolCircuit.
  • Volunteers in local political campaigns make heavy use of tools such as Constant Contact, YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, all cloud-based services.
  • Church employees and volunteers manage data, communication,  finances, and events with tools such as Church Community Builder, CathoNet, and Parish Data System.
  • Still others create custom project management spaces using tools such as  BaseCamp, Zoho Projects, and Nozbe.

All of these tools and the many like them are fast, affordable, scalable, efficient, and effective. In the communities served by business organizations, then, the advantages of cloud-based systems are already understood and applauded. Further, those who routinely interact with these tools naturally develop certain expectations based on that experience:

  • Users expect organizational websites to offer opportunities for social networking.
  • Users expect to register for activities, events, and classes online.
  • Users expect to apply for jobs and volunteer positions online.
  • Users expect securely to submit payments or make donations online.
  • Users expect to search for and locate pertinent information quickly.
  • Users expect securely to tap into records and documents online.
  • Users expect to create and update their profiles and account information online.
  • Users expect to find schedules, directions, maps, and other key organizational information online.

In American English, the idiomatic expression “to have one’s head in the clouds” means being so absorbed in one’s own thoughts and fantasies that one is out of touch with reality, but in the world of IT, that idiom is being turned upside down right now, all around us.

The organization that can’t or won’t get its IT head into the cloud risks failing utterly to meet the needs both of its own internal users, and of its community audience.

For some, that’s a paradigm shift that might entail enduring some stormy weather as new guiding metaphors of accessibility and emergence replace old notions of ownership and control, but as any devoted cloud watcher knows, keeping your eyes to the skies leads not only to a deeper appreciation of flow and change, but also to better preparation for whatever weather is on the horizon.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Every silver lining has a cloud.


iPad Love

August 27, 2010

The criticism I’ve most frequently seen leveled against the iPad is that it is not really a content creation tool. It’s like an overgrown iPhone, but without the actual phone, the complaint goes, and without the camera, either. Don’t, the pundits say, mistake it for a real computer, or for a writing tool that has the power to revolutionize how or where we write, much less how we think about writing.

Well, I beg to differ, as I predicted I would. Here I sit with a brand spanking new iPad balanced on my lap, and here I am using it to write something that I will soon publish.

The WordPress App that will send this entry to my blog was free and took only seconds to download. The image editor (I am using Photogene) that allows me quickly to grab and embed photos wasn’t free, but it was reasonably priced, and it is icing on the cake, anyway, since making a wide range of images available for content creation is as simple as populating the iPad with photos during a routine synch.

Given the relative youth of the iPad, I can’t see any reason at all not to be impressed with both its current value as a flexible content creation tool and its potential to become even more lithe and appealing in this arena as users and developers continue to envision and enact its possibilities.

In under an hour, I’ve written two email replies and composed one brief blog entry–and I am still only the rankest of beginners when it comes to this tool. I foresee much writing to come, and it pleases me no end to envision this writing as flowing from spaces and places in which even the slimmest laptop would be too ungainly.

Oh, yes, you little book-sized path to compositional nirvana. I love you already, and I can’t wait to see how you inspire me to rethink and revitalize my writing world.

AxisPortals Aphorism: The best writing often flows from life’s little nooks and crannies. The iPad fits in them, and that’s what makes it a content creation tool worth watching.


Why iWant an iPad (Naysaying Gurus Notwithstanding)

April 6, 2010

iPadFor days, now, AxisPortals has been bombarded with links to “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either“) and its ilk.  Hard to say, of course, whether the iPad metaphor will change the world (and I do think of this as largely a metaphorical proposition, because the device proposes filling a technical gap that it must also largely create among those who can’t immediately grasp the yearning for something smaller and lither than a laptop but larger and meatier than an iPhone–something that makes substantial and connected writing, reading, and research possible in currently empty spaces), but whether the tool successfully creates awareness of that rich niche or not, AxisPortals finds both the naysayers’  lack of imagination and their incipient sexism and ageism disheartening.

Yup, sexism and ageism.  It startles me to find myself saying so, but there it is.  Apparently, something about sleek and sealed iProducts brings out the inner Tool Time guy in some male tech gurus.  What?  Nothing to take a screwdriver or a wrench to?  No hood to pop open so that knowing glances and grunts can be directed at the gizmo’s innards?  Well, the thing must be meant for drooling infants and “technophobic, timid, scatterbrained” moms.

Well!  Spoken like someone who hasn’t come within spitting distance of a jacked-in-practically-from-the-womb kid or that kid’s techno-savvy mom in a decade or two.

Look, I love a good crescent wrench as much as anybody.  I did my time as flashlight wielding apprentice to a dad who owned every tool imaginable, knew how and when to use each of them, and could fire up his welding torch when something new needed devising. There’s something that will be forever comforting about running my thumb over the cold braille of “Craftsmen” stamped in metal.  It’s easy to understand and appreciate the sense of vulnerability that descends when there’s no access door to lever open, no wire to pull, no parts to view, name, and scatter.   I get that the more delicate work of rocking an old card gently out of its slot and rocking a new one in is satisfying, as well. At least that involves a tool-yen fulfilling screwdriver or two, plus the chance to hand one’s own kid the screwdriver, thus ensuring that  crucial knowledge such as the difference between a flat blade and a Phillip’s head screwdriver will carry over to another generation.

Sony ReaderMeanwhile, I’m one technophile of a mom who is yearning for an iPad.  While patiently awaiting local availability of the 3G version, I’m already imagining the possibilities.  Much as I love both my Sony Reader and Stanza for the iPhone,  I have a hunch and a hope that the iPad will come closer to realizing the vision of a device that makes lithe and portable interactive reading and writing at length (unlike the telegraphic status updates and text messages that are the iPhone’s area of speedy and easy excellence) a reality, at last.

“It’s just an overgrown iPhone!” sneer the critics, to which I must say, “Yes, exactly and at last!”  In the life of this mom, an iPhone that’s all grown up and ready to venture beyond my pocket and my palm has a definite appeal.  I can envision:
  • The wealth of books I can draw upon while coping with the endless waiting situations that I, like many moms, find myself enduring multiple times most every day.  Since I’m a voracious and relatively speedy reader, the little iPhone that I love has a hard time keeping up with my needs.  A bigger screenful of text that can be flipped a bit less frequently sounds good to me.  My aging eyes will be grateful. Plus, the connectivity of the thing makes me salivate.  If the text touches off a question or a connection, I can chase it right away, and immediately share ideas or reflections with others, or record thoughts for myself.  The Reader can put lots of books in one handy place, but it can’t make research, connection, and commentary quite so immediately available.  When that iPad is finally in my hot little hands, it’s definitely getting a place of honor in the front passenger seat right next to me, where I can reach for it and feed my brain at will when faced with mommy downtime.
  • Homework happiness of the “I don’t know, but let’s find out right now” variety.  How nice not to have to decamp to the computer room every time we want to know the correct spelling of a historical figure’s name, the significance of a certain date or place, or the melody of given song. Sure, we could keep a laptop on the kitchen table, and sometimes we do, but how wonderful to have a wireless device of this size that we can pass back and forth, lean over together, or simply bring along.  Wonder what that bug on the window sill is?  We can pull up pictures and compare right now, and we can have that iPad in our tree house, our tent, or our playroom. Even at my age, I can also imagine the appeal of reading the iPad under the covers.  No flashlight required, but parental awareness advised.
  • Morning news cutting through my sleep as the alarm goes off at 6:30. If something significant or troubling is happening, I can pull up the full news story right then and there.  Snow day fantasies?  The kids can pop onto the bed with me while we check the school closings page together. The vision of connection that’s within easy reach, shareable, and portable is hugely appealing.
  • Literacy resuming its rightful place in the easy daily rhythms of families and individuals.  When I was a kid, our house was chock full of books, papers, and magazines.  Yellow legal pads and writing implements of every stripe were in constant reach.  Reading the Sunday newspapers was practically a day long undertaking.  To me, reading and writing were never activities that required furniture designed expressly for those purposes.  To study, I might flop onto my father’s leather chair, head on the ottoman, legs draped over the back, book or notes held aloft.  To write, I might head out onto our old-fashioned front porch, creating an impromptu desk of the stairs or the ledge.  The iPad is still a new and, for many, prohibitively expensive bit of technology, but it seems to me that it at least holds the potential of moving reading and writing-as the connected and electronic phenomenon they have irreversibly and delightfully become–back into (or newly into, for some) the comfortable fabric of our lives. The iPhone and other smart phones have already edged us toward that reality, but they are simply too small to get us all the way there, whereas even the thinnest laptops are still too workmanlike to achieve it.  I can imagine students touring a museum with iPads or something like them in hand.  I can imagine an iPaddish device on the kitchen counter, making recipes readily available and open to annotation.  I can imagine a doctor and a patient looking at such a device together, while the physician suggests online sources for further reading, or taps into scans and x-rays, or pulls up other key educational information. It may even be that something along the lines of an iPad will make online health records a widespread reality, at last.

Here’s the thing about some of us moms:  even when we can claim reasonable competence with tools, our lives are filled with moments in which the right tool simply isn’t at hand.  Thus, we can achieve repairs with butter knives and staples when need be, we can happily imagine and invent the tools we’d like to have, and we can rapidly adapt to new tools, enthusiastically playing a role in shaping their evolution.  Since we tend to spend quite a good bit of time learning from and with children, a creative imagination is one of our best qualities.

The iPad? AxisPortals can easily imagine the possibilities.  And that’s why iWant one very much, and am eagerly anticipating observing their influence on how we envision the role of technology in our lives.

AxisPortals Aphorism: Not sure what to do with a new techie toy?  Hand it to your mom or your child, stand back, and watch  what happens.  Oh, and don’t worry about the lamp with the faulty switch.  Mom rewired it yesterday.


Free eBooks Revive Classics

January 3, 2010

AxisPortals has always been a bookworm.  She loves the smell of libraries and bookstores (and always did, long before the latter began to be redolent not only of paper and ink but also of lattes and biscotti). She considers books the perfect marker for any occasion, whether of celebration or of mourning. She may someday forgive her mother (also rumored to have cleared the old homestead of an impressive stash of baseball cards) for giving away her carefully preserved collection of favorite childhood tomes, but it isn’t likely.

Kihachiro Kawamoto of Shiba Productions created a set of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale books with inset lenticular illustrations on their covers, and gorgeously photographed, beautifully detailed scenes within. AxisPortals used to own several of the books (including Sleeping Beauty, Thumbelina, and The Tin Soldier), in this now highly collectible set.

She is not much of a cook, but collects vintage cookbooks, nonetheless, poring over their mysterious measurements (a #5 can apparently translates into about  7 1/3 cups of the ingredient in question),  and approaching their illustrations as an Egyptologist might approach a dig in an ancient tomb.   Could an Egyptian queen’s cursed gems glint any more seductively than those perfectly molded aspics of bygone days?  AxisPortals doubts it.

In short, AxisPortals digs books.  Anyone could rightly accuse her–her webby, technogeeky ways notwithstanding–of being a thoroughgoing bibliophile.

What, then, could be more appealing than the ability to carry, access, read, and annotate hundreds of books all contained in one slim volume like this?

What could be better? Not much!

The Pros and Cons

of eBooks for Bibliophiles

Will eBooks ultimately replace old-fashioned texts?  Maybe, but a true bibliophile will still always love holding a rectangular block of paper, print, and binding.  For the bookish faithful eBooks do involve some drawbacks:

  1. Crispness and, depending on the reader, color of illustrations are sacrificed.
  2. Since most readers display only a single page at a time, one must turn the page twice as often.  Time spent with one’s reader of choice mitigates this effect somewhat, but it can be a bit jarring at first for the long-established and thus unconscious and reflexive act of page-turning to come zooming back into the realm of the conscious and effortful.   Those who typically read quickly might feel slowed uncomfortably down.  The trick is to figure out which page turning gesture (button or screen swipe) yields the fastest turn, and then to stick with that until the motion becomes relatively natural.
  3. An eReader delivers texts, but it can’t deliver books.  An electronic reader will satisfy the voracious reader’s yearning for text, but those who love the heft and history of books will likely see their readers as a way to complement and extend their libraries, not a way to replace them.

Unexpected Gift:

Collecting the Classics

On the other hand, this modern and rapidly evolving technology actually offers the certified (or certifiable) book lover a  perhaps unexpected gift:  the possibility of reviving interest in and readership of the classics. AxisPortals has owned her black leather clad Sony eReader for a very short time–just over a week.   In that time, she has purchased one book (Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia), downloaded several free relatively contemporary books from online bookstores, and grabbed dozens of free classic texts, including:

  1. The Complete Little Women/Little Men Series by Louisa May Alcott
  2. All of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and stories
  3. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland:  A Romance of Many Dimensions
  4. Several collections of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories,  along with his first novel, This Side of Paradise.
  5. Two volumes of Robert Frost’s poetry.
  6. A Bible.
  7. Four Charles Dickens novels and one collection of Christmas short stories.
  8. Three of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables novels and one collection of related short stories
  9. P.G. Wodehouse’s My Man Jeeves
  10. The autobiographies of Charles Darwin and Frederick Douglass
  11. A volume of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales
  12. Francis Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess
  13. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
  14. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (which I have never read, and never owned, though it is often cited as the greatest novel)
  15. Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper,  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Huckleberry Finn.

And I’m just getting started.  This eReader has AxisPortals feeling particularly acquisitive.  What’s the allure?  Without a reader, it would be virtually impossible  for any one person of ordinary means to have so many classic texts constantly at her finger tips.  In the world of bound volumes, heartrending choices must be made:  what can I afford, which books are most important to own, how should the limited shelf space be alloted?  Plus, the constant influx of new publications complicates things.  To purchase War and Peace, though one might, alas, never complete it, or to acquire the latest best seller, or complete one’s collection of a favorite author’s works?  Tough choices, all.

Of course, the public library is also an option (and many of them do make eBooks available, as well), but it’s one thing to borrow a book for a week or two, and quite another to own one, which makes it constantly accessible in a way that enables deep literacy.  What did Twain’s Eve say of fire?  “Fire is beautiful; some day it will be useful, I think.”   That is precisely how AxisPortals feels about the ability to tap so readily into to a collection of classics:  it’s warming, it’s beautiful, and it’s useful.    How wonderful it would be, for instance, to make not only a single novel available to a class full of students, but also to make available the many related texts that would help them understand it. And how wonderful for any writer to dip, at will, into such a rich source of models, allusions, and historical connections.

The Sony Reader Store is fully integrated with Google Books (which can, of course, also be accessed on any computer), so that certainly promotes interest in free classics  among those who use the Sony Reader, but there are other sources of free classics, as well, notably  including ePubBooks. Because new books, even in their e-versions, are expensive,  AxisPortals is hopeful that even those who might more naturally gravitate to the latest thriller, romance, or vampire novel (I’m fond of the Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison versions of vampire worlds) will be tempted to fill their “digital editions” folders with free, literacy enriching classics, as well.

It’s fun and exciting to realize that very latest in eBook technology promises to  revive interest in and readership of the old, the vintage, the classic.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  The future of the book is

intimately tied to its past.


Branding Happens: What Fuels Your Fire?

July 31, 2009

The whole concept of “branding” is a vacuous hustle, the majority of the time. You can spend outrageous amounts of money “improving” your “brand” with only vague ideas and doublespeak.

–Hamilton Nolan in “Corporate Bullshit at Its Finest”

As the last month of summer nears, AxisPortals has been planting gardens;  grilling burgers;  tending to the usual round of baseball practices, sleepovers, and chores; and contemplating the myriad evils of branding and rebranding campaigns.

Signs one has entered the land of “vacuous hustle”:

  1. Consultants are paid significant sums to ask you silly questions like, “If your company were a car/animal/tree/shoe, what kind would it be?”
  2. You and your team studiously answer these, but somehow your “brand” isn’t miraculously clearer and more well wrought as a result, nor are profits palpably higher.
  3. You expend a great deal of energy on vague and wistful branding goals, but are still  fuzzy on exactly what you’re doing, for whom, and why.

Now, AxisPortals, former English professor, loves a good metaphor, and would never suggest that metaphorical thinking cannot in fact be useful.  Of course, it can.  When you are pondering your brand, let the metaphors and the similes flow.  Develop analogies.  Picture what you are and what you want to be in vivid detail, and capture it in image driven language.  Let that poetic vision inspire you to action in the prosaic day-to-day world of your work.

But don’t mistake the poetry for the work.

AxisPortals is the offspring of a wildly successful entrepreneur/small business owner.  She used to love listening to his stories about the growth of his business, from the early times when how much money he could pull out of his pockets at the end of the day determined what was for dinner that night, to the later days when his client roll was far too large to hold entirely in his memory, anymore.  She paid careful attention as he discussed zoning and advertsing, competitors’ pricing schemes and government regulations, promissory notes and the wonders of compound interest.  She loved to listen to him talk to customers, and to note the ease of his changes in focus, tone, and diction as he moved from one to the other.

She never did see him pay anyone to ask him what kind of shoe his business might be, but loves to imagine the irreverant fun he’d have had with the whole notion of that.

Still, he was a bit of a poet, and a naturalist, too.  He effortlessly discerned does, fauns, pheasants, and foxes where AxisPortals saw only cornfields and prairie grasses.  He offered volumes of hardbound poetry as gifts, and his inscriptions were careful and heartfelt.  He would drop everything to watch the sun falling behind a tangle of bare branches.  And he not only allowed AxisPortals to develop literary interests, but downright encouraged lofty academic pursuits.

Thus, AxisPortals actually can tell you all about the various shoes he and his business might have been likened to,  among them the following five:

Steel-Toed Workboots: Dusty, grimy, tough, paint splattered, tied with rawhide laces, and made for work.  The smart choice for a “get ‘er done” business in which one might variously need to kick a cylinder or kick some butt.  Serious protection for one’s chief means of locomotion.

Classic Wing Tips: Well-made, polished, buffed, timeless.  A business must move comfortably in many circles.  Thus, the steel-toed boot for the nitty gritty, and the classic wing tip for the lawyer’s or the banker’s offices, the business dinner, or the community affair.

Deck Shoes: The successful business knows how and when to indulge in down-to-earth relaxation and fun. These are perfect for the baseball game, the county fair, the open-air art show, or the quick spin around the lake. Work hard, play hard, and be flexible.

Snowshoes: Sometimes, you simply must get to where you said you’d be, and you have to arrive on time.  Conditions are no excuse for tardiness or for failure to materialize.

Hip Waders: The very thing when branding experts show up with paint-by-numbers metaphorical exercises and hefty price tags.

For a business to have central metaphors or key corporate narratives (here’s a good basic  introduction to corporate storytelling, for those unfamilar with the term),  it must already be actively  living out the metaphor or the story of the moment with energy and conviction.

Branding happens whether we want it to or not.  It is the result of our business’s collective activities and attitudes, the result of our interactions with clients, the result of our approach to employees, the result of our public writing and speaking, the result of our relationships with colleagues and competitors, the result of our web presence, the result of our political sensitivity, the result of our passion and conviction, the result of our integrity. The reputation, perception, and conversation that these things together create in the community is, de facto, the brand.

Recognizing the inevitabilty of branding helps keep the psychobabble in proper perspective, and in check.  When it comes to branding, there’s simply no replacement for the natural power of your everyday actions and interactions to tell the world who and what you are.  Study or tweak the metaphors if you must (and do hang out with folks who can help you learn truly to see  what has been there all along–like a doe at dusk, still and silent at the forest’s edge), but understand that no mentor or consultant can ever write the “poetry in motion” that you are for you.    Ultimately, you simply have to live your story, composing it as  each day unfolds.

AxisPortals Aphorism: Etymologically, a brand is a burning piece of wood, and that may be the most useful branding metaphor of all:  keep the passion that fuels your fire always in mind, and tend to how effectively, happily, and willingly you carry that torch.  Beware, though, of beguiling metaphors that threaten to prevent you from carefully tending or passionately brandishing your unique fire.




The Automatic Investment: Social Media Presence and Your Company

July 30, 2009

For AxisPortals, the lesson to take away from the much talked about case of the Chicago realty company suing a Twitterer who was critical of their services is that all of us–every company, every brand, every product, every service, even every individual professional–has an automatic investment in the online social sphere, whether we realize it or not.

To the Twitter aware, it was immediately apparent that the company’s move was ill-considered, and the company’s official explanation of the background involved did little to alter that take,  which was swift and widespread.  The case immediately passed into the permanent archives of “how not to approach social media” lore.

AxisPortals, though, is less interested in the particular case at hand than in the larger lesson:

The Online Social Sphere Automatically Matters, and you Automatically Belong to It

You may not have a Twitter account or a Facebook profile, or belong to any of the other  similar services.  Nonetheless, you are always only a post away from participation, and because a good portion of your customer base or audience is likely to be participating actively, there’s a good chance that such a post will come sooner rather than later.

Are you ready?

The renter and the property mangement company apparently had a contentious relationship well before the twiticism and the overreaction to it ever hit the news,  so perhaps nothing much could have been done to repair that particular situation. Nonetheless the case makes a good illustration of how crucial it is to respond to criticism in the social sphere in productive fashion.

The main thing is not to fear it.  Indulging in the fight-or-flight response leads to either escalation or avoidance, neither of which are productive.

These strategies are better by far:  listen, learn, offer to repair the problem, extend a genuine thank you for the feedback, and make your moves towards establishing good will apparent.  After all, your response, too, will enter the social sphere, whether you deliberately put it there or not.

Here’s are just a handful of the many products, institutions,  and brands that AxisPortals has referred to via Twitter or Friendfeed over the last few hours:

St. Marys School, West Chicago

St. Mary's School, West Chicago

Good N Fruity

Good 'N Fruity

Dennis Uniforms

Dennis Uniforms

Cascade Drive-In:  Pretzel Coupon

Cascade Drive-In: Pretzel Coupon

Blackberry Smartphone

Blackberry Smartphone

Add in the products that friends and colleagues have referred to, reviewed, discussed, and provided links to, and such a list would run for pages and pages.

These spontaneous references are the natural result of people interacting with products and with each other.  We share our passions, our complaints, our desires, our gut reactions, our criticism, and our praise.

No company or product is immune.  Every company or product has a stake in the conversation.  It’s an automatic investment, and one that should be tended wisely.

AxisPortals Aphorism: Your automatic investment in the social media sphere costs you nothing, but failing to understand its worth can cost you everything.


The Tech Rush: Get Moony Eyed

July 20, 2009

AxisPortals came of age during the moon frenzy.  She read Tom Corbett books, drank bright orange Tang, begged her mother to purchase SpaceFood Sticks (the chocolate version was just barely edible, but the taste wasn’t really the point–it was the idea of the thing that mattered), and could, like most children of that era,  do a perfect imitation of a NASA launch countdown.  “Lift-off” soon became part of the  everyday vocabulary of childhood.

Even the  family cookie jar bore witness to the urgency and romance of the space race.

Over the weekend, the fifteen year old that AxisPortals knows best observed, in passing, that he found Facebook rather dull.  Oh, he said, it had been fun for a little while, but with everyone (and their parents and grandparents) there–and with the endless invitations, applications, and updates–the initial appeal for him had faded considerably.  On the whole, he noted, MySpace, despite its current lack of cool, had been a whole lot more fun.  At least it could be readily tinkered with, and it wasn’t quite so parent heavy.  Somewhere in there, he sighed over the boredom of it all.

AxisPortals wonders what, if anything, in the technological realm today fills us with wonder and excitement?  What makes us want to dance in the moonlight all over again?

Countless  gurus inform us of how we can and should use technology to improve our personal and professional lives, but it’s just as important to tend to what captures our imaginations, what fires us up, what gets us moony and starry-eyed, what makes us want to reach for something more.

AxisPortals Aphorism: In the rush toward technology, don’t miss out on the romantic rush of dancing by light of the moon, or the sweet challenge of reaching for it.