Sunday, November 27, 2011

eBooks & Experience Design

The paper based book has a very simple User Interface. A story created for today's tablets has to have an interface design that allows the reader to navigate through the content without getting in the way. You want to experience the story and not the interface.

Digital story telling is more about experience design than it is about story.  Of course, you need to start with a great story, in the same way a movie needs to start with a great script. Yet if you look at the overall costs of movie production, the script is a small percentage of the overall budget. An interactive story is more like a movie and less like a book. In terms of developing Digital Literature products, the process will be more aligned with movie production than book binding. The key role in developing interactive stories is 'The Director / Experience Designer.'

I have spent much of my career involved in film and television. I've worked on major movies, television commercials, network shows, etc. Most of the time, the people creatively in charge of those events are well studied and highly skilled with regard to their craft. Beyond their own expertise, there are often huge numbers of people involved in the production; art department, electrical, camera, wardrobe, make up etc. Once a script is written, a director takes over and he or she is responsible for bring the words to life on the screen. And that is precisely where books are headed, to the screen.

In my last post, It Takes A Village To Tell A Story, I was alluding to the number of people that need to be involved in bringing an interactive concept to life. As the traditional publishing world collapses, the role of the author is going to be transformed as well. This isn't going to impact Tom Clancy or any of the current A listed writers who have deals with top publishers. It will definitely impact future writers as it impacts the future of the publishing business. This is a huge opportunity for those willing to engage the risks.

Reading as an art form, as a joy and as a luxury will remain for several more generations. The novel isn't DOA just yet but it is being transformed by the forces in the environment. There is going to be an Interactive Experience that is as successful as Harry Potter and Twilight. It is just a matter of time. That work, whatever it is, will not be produced soly by a writer. We will take a team of people and a significant amount of capital to produce. I strongly believe there is a business there and there is a case to be made of how to do it.

While we have built the foundation of our digital publishing platform, we have only produced the first round of interactive picture books. There were a lot of reasons for beginning with picture books. They have very little functional requirements while being able to deliver the framework of an interactive story; pictures, text, audio and animation.

One of the things we have been discussing internally is how much time do we need to allow for designing the experience. One of the key factors here is tuning. You build something and then you keep iterating on it until it feels right. This happens with almost every element whether it's a button or the overall experience of the story itself.

We built really simple experiences and we've spent an enormous amount of time building and rebuilding pages so that they are easy to use and fun to engage. Our next story will be out shortly, we've added a new feature to improve the user experience. Not only are we learning how to make a great interactive story, we are also learning what people want in a product.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

It Takes A Village To Tell A Story

Designing the experience of next generation stories is a multidisciplinary challenge.  While the experience of reading will remain, the compute and storage ability available via the tablet experience is impacting what stories can be in form and function. It's time to consider the evolution of literature when it is connected to a network, a processor and a hard drive. How are we going to define 'Digital Literature?'

The technology for creating interactive stories has been around for a long time. You can argue that video games are interactive stories but are they literature? What is the difference between playing and reading and do they belong together as part of a complete work? What is the experience of a story when it is free from its media? Many novels become movies but if you had both at the same time which would you choose?
 These are some of the experience design questions related to next generation stories.

There have been many attempts at interactive story telling even before the advent of tech. The 'Choose Your Own Adventure Stories' is a perfect example. I like the fact that they have been labeled game books. Another facet of disruption is that it changes language. It necessarily doesn't change the words as much as it extends the meaning of certain words.

(As an example, most of the terminology for film making was developed in the early part of the century. Terms like rotoscoping, matting, referred to specific technologies and techniques, as these technologies were replaced, the language remained the same.)

Whenever i think about interactive story telling, one thing comes to mind. None of them have ever made it Oprah's book club. Interactive story telling, if there is such a thing, is in its infancy. I have always felt that the thing to be cautious about when creatively dealing with emergent technology is " Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

Bells and whistles are great if you like music that has a lot of bells and whistles in it. But for me, story telling has always been about authorship. Francis Ford Coppola didn't build all the sets for Apocalypse Now and say, I know there is a great story in there I hope you find it. He authored the experience. He made the decisions and that is what made it great. His insights as a film maker, his love of story, his understanding theater, drama, photography and music.

I am interested in developing mass market interactive works that are based on tablet technology. Mass Market means there is actually a business there and it also means that there is something of value that people want. That is where interactive story telling has to evolve to.

As I often say to our team, i feel like we have the right ingredients but I don't think we have bake the sweetest cake yet. As the tiny little group that we are, we are learning and what we are learning isn't just about how to build an interactive story. We are also learning, what the market wants. This is a wonderful opportunity!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Paper Chase - Part 5






Before the word, the infinite was known.

I love cave paintings.  I can't look at one without deeply appreciating it's sacredness. I am always humbled by the fact that thousands of years ago, very simple people, facing very primary struggles, were moved to express themselves as human beings. Who could have known that these simple expressions would have such permanence?

There are many theories about the purpose and function of the cave paintings. Some were purely decorative. Some may have been a recounting of hunts and some may be meditations or prayers. All of these primordial images speak to the seer without a linguistic framework. They are, in a sense, feelings and what takes place within the feeling state is the direct transmission of clear knowing.

Before Adam and Eve were cast out of their well painted cave in the garden of Eden, mother earth was undivided. She was undivided by here and there, mine and yours, him and hers. It was Adam, the masculine principle, that was given to name things and by that invention he cut the world into pieces. Before the word, the infinite was known.

Within the construct of language, the cave painting is both a communion and a communication. The image through the force of its composition engages the emotional energy of the viewer and in that engagement there is a direct communication of knowing. In receiving the image, the seer becomes one with it and from that experience of oneness the subject of the image is deeply understood.

The problem for us is that we can't look upon these images cleanly. We're blinded by our post-modern, 20th century sophistication and there is far too much information moving through our synapses. We can't look at an image of a cave painting without going through the mental process of decoding it. It gets reduced to an ideogram of something we might deem familiar. Early man had no such complexity. Seeing was believing.



I once worked for a very well known, slightly insane, creative director. He had taken over a loft in Venice for his office. One day, I walked in and on the far back wall, he had taped hundreds of images to the left half of the wall and on the right half of the wall he had taped huge print out of words. In the middle he had made a sign which read, "Pictures Give. Words Take."

I have always loved the power of words. I have also been fortunate, through the course of my career, to work with and come to know many wonderful film makers and photographers. As media and content become more integrated with compute systems, we find ourselves dealing with the multidisciplinary challenge of designing meaning experiences. They are not books. They are not stories. They are experiences.

When I think of what is possible creatively and technically as tablet technology takes hold, I am truly in love with the possibilities.

For me, it's an opportunity to appreciate and be informed by history and in doing so, hopefully, contribute to the next wave of human expression and knowledge.






Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Paper Chase - Part 4




Gutten Tag Herr Guttenberg.

There are two more things in history I want to cover before beginning to move forward. One is cave paintings and the other is the Guttenberg press. For most people in the tech world, Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press has been talked to death. Yeah moveable type, liberation of knowledge by the printed word, yeah yeah yeah, we know all that. Yes we do.

Yet there is a long history to appreciate before we arrive to the point of disruption, also known as, Mainz, Germany, home of the Guttenberg invention. The printing press was a physical object that created physical pages that were distributed as were the other packaged goods of the day. Everything had to be moved by foot, horse, or ship. The first version of a train would not appear until 1820’s. In the time of Guttenberg things moved slowly. 80 years passed, before Francis Bacon considered the impact of the printing press and wrote, “ typographical printing has "changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world".[9] What better definition of disruption could there be?

The purpose of laying this foundation of history is to provide a deeper understanding about the disruption that is moving through the traditional publishing environment. If the Guttenberg press was its genesis, the we have arrived to the moment of its conclusion. The printed publishing business will never again be what it was. Printed material will continue to exist but many of the transactions that took place as a result of the industry will be gone. When was the last time anyone bought a horse whip?

Take a look at this except of timeline create by Office of Curriculum & Instruction/Indiana Department of Education.

1041 A. D. Printing by means of separate, movable characters in China
1446 A. D. Johannes Gutenberg introduces moveable type printing press in Germany
1468 A. D. William Caxton produces a book in England with the first printed advertisement
1500s Printing books and pamphlets increases

The Chinese were using movable type 400 years before its “invention” in Europe. Given the barriers to travel, language and exchange, the technology may have been landlocked. It takes 22 years for William Caxton to realize that he can leverage the new technology for advertising - In-Game advertising circa 1468. (You can’t even start a digital business today without considering how to create income from ad revenue.) Lastly the rate of adoption took over 50 fifty years. The printing press was dealing with atoms, not electrons.

The traditional book publishing business of today, still deals in atoms. They make physical books. Once the books are printed they have to warehouse them. Then they ship them to stores and finally when the books that they have printed don’t sell, they have to take them back.

Digital books are made once. They are transported digitally. (more on carriage fee's later) Execpt for a small file on a server somewhere, they do not require warehousing and you do not have to take them back when they don’t see. They can sit on the network forever and whoever wants it can download it the moment they discover that they want it.

The invention of ‘The Press’ didn’t just impact the realm of books. It optimized the production of newspapers as well. Not just newspapers but tabloid newspapers. Suddenly, the town squares were filled with postings of torrid one sheets filled gossip and scandal. It was the equivalent of the TMZ blog-o-shpere of its day and exploded across Europe. This flood of content impacted governments, courts all realms of high society. Think Paris Hilton and kim kardashian, people love gossip.

Disruption creates new branches of activity through the extension of its innovation along similar lines of function. Optimizing the printing of books optimized printing newspapers. This is also going to be a big part of the disruption that takes place over the next few years. Much of the middle is going to fall out of the book business. Technology naturally consolidates function, simply because it is more efficient throughout the network. It doesn’t matter if it is a network of machines or a network of people.

As fell the music business, so falls the publishing business in half the time or less. The only thing to consider is what to do about the atoms?

tbc.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Psychology Today Reviewed Our App

We just received an amazing review from Psychology today. It really underscores our product's alignment with and support of early learning.  Wow!  We are really so grateful for the acknowledgement and support.

here's the link: 10 Traits of Good Interactive Apps for Pre-schoolers
by Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D.



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chasser Le Papier - Part 3





The paper chase is in the code.  (dot dot dot)

I know that I am taking the long way around to discuss why I got into the digital book business, but I want to layout my understanding of technology cycles and their resulting disruptions before discussing all of our current day considerations. My belief is that technology cycles are all the same. It doesn’t matter what technology. The patterns of disruption and adoption are the consistent. The tradition publishing model is about to be wiped out by a wave of disruption. A little history now might help avoid hysteria later.

Some of my own history goes like this.
 
When I was in high school, I worked at a disk drive company called Data Systems Design. It was a very small floppy disk manufacturer located in Sunnyvale CA. My friend’s father invented a key component of the disk drive system, the bi compliant head assembly. I worked with my friend after school at the factory. I started on the assembly line and worked my way into the quality assurance department. I built and then tested large disk drive systems. That is how I learned the basics of computer systems. Everything in my career has been based on those early experiences.

You can think of a computer as having two basic components, hardware and software. It’s the soft part of the ware, I want to dive into today. Software is built on programming languages.
Programming languages strive to do two things, ease of use and efficiencies in operations.

In 1863 Sam “The Man” Morse and his crew developed an electrical telegraph system. The “system” sent pulses of electric current through wires which controlled an electromagnet that was located at the receiving end of the telegraph system. Telegraphic communications were measured in WPM, words per minute. Morse’s code was the most efficient. The most used characters required the least amount of taps. To state it correctly, "The length of each character is approximately inversely proportional to its frequency of concurrence within the English Language. Thus  the most common letter in English, the letter "E" , has the shortest code, a single dot.
 
Sounds like a compression algorithm.

Take that jpeg!

tbc.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Paper Chase - Part Duex

The Paper Chase refers to the transmission and reception of knowledge in a cloud based, platform agnostic environment. But before we talk more about John Houseman, who isn't actually "John Houseman" let's go to the dictionary, shall we?

Definition of TRANSMIT
transitive verb
1
a : to send or convey from one person or place to another : forward b : to cause or allow to spread: as (1) : to convey by or as if by inheritance or heredity : hand down (2) : to convey (infection) abroad or to another
2
a)  to cause (as light or force) to pass or be conveyed through space or a medium (2) : to admit the passage of : conduct , glass transmits light, b : to send out (a signal) either by radio waves or over a wire

That's yummy word goodness right there.

John Houseman was born Jacques Haussmann, September 22, 1902. It is difficult to image ourselves in the circumstances of the early 1900’s.   The human experience was dramatically different. Few people traveled more the 25 miles away from the place they were born. Nearly all food was locally produced. Everything was organically grown and the basic rhythm of daily life still rested upon the cycles of the sun; the hours of the day, the seasons of the year. The environment in which humans existed resonated at a different frequency. Take that 3.4 gHz geosynchronis GPS sattelite!

On 12 December 1901, a mere eleven months prior to the birth of Jacques Haussmann, aka John Houseman, a brilliant young Italian man named Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have transmitted a radio signal a distance of about 2,200 miles. Using a very large antenna lifted up by a kite, radio, the wireless telegraph had been born. As the infant Haussmann slept in his crib, a wave of disruption was in its own infancy, rising to unfold across the globe. Alas, if disruption could be so simple.

Disruption is a naturally and regularly arising force. It is a product of system dynamics. It is a result of environment. Disruption never takes place in a vacuum. It is always a synthesis of existing fields of information / energy. Disruption is never directly caused by something new. The genesis of disruption takes place when an existing field of information, endeavor or energy is restructured into a new form through the reorganization of existing connections or content.

Disruption is seeded by diversity.

Prior to Marconi’s claim of invention there were other inventors applying their minds to the same possibility.  In September 1897, five years before Marconi had flown his kite, another man, a Russian, Nikoli Tesla had already filed for and received a patent, for a device that without modification could be used for wireless communication. The technology was already present and almost everyone agrees that Marconi most certainly had known about it. 

In every age, in every technology, disruption is the result of a novel solution to existing barriers. Disruption is almost always created by an individual, who is well versed in the existing field of information and capable of reorganizing the connections within that field into a new set of relationships. That is why I mentioned Shawn Fanning in the previous post. He didn't invent the MP3. He optimized the distribution of it though existing technology. He empowered the distribution of content by making new new contentions within an existing system. Marconi used a kite to get his antenna high enough to transmit in the unobstructed space above the ground. That was a novel solution to the existing barrier of leveraging radio frequencies to over come the limits of the telegraph.

tbc.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Paper Chase - Part 1






The Paper Chase stars John Houseman. I love John Houseman, almost as much as I love a good John Houseman impersonation. John Houseman was one thing but when someone else impersonates him, it becomes something completely different while at the same time being the same. It’s like getting John Houseman and a little extra that’s not John Houseman - that is trying to be John Houseman. In this case John Houseman is a story printed on paper and the John Houseman impersonator is a story distributed on a tablet. So far there is nothing here I don’t enjoy.

The Paper Chase is a love story built around the dramatics of a first year Harvard law student. Beyond it’s romantic framework, it is a story about the conflicts between love and ambition. The movie was released in 1973 at a time when people weren’t ashamed to call themselves yuppies and almost everyone aspired to have more. I think we all know how well that turned out.
Becoming a lawyer was considered by many to be a pathway to a certain social and economic status and the fact that it was made into a movie, signifies the story’s culture value.  ( On a side note, John Houseman, won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in this movie, in spite of being the 6th choice to star in the role.- way to pick 'em Hollywood!)

The Paper Chase is a story, and as with all stories it is a transmission of human knowledge. Stories are an inseparabe part of humanity.  They serve to preserve and evolve the lineage of moral and ethical conduct from one generation to another. This was the genesis of the oral tradition. Throughout all of human history, we have been made to receive stories as knowledge. It is in our DNA.

If you want someone to remember you, tell them a story. Before you give a presentation, tell the audience a story. The structure of a story is a natural pathway for learning and this is the reason I am so interested in leveraging technology in the realm of stories / books. It is a natural and effective way to provide educational content and it comes at a time when, as a society, we are struggling to understand the value of an educated population. If we are not challenged to understand it, we are certainly conflicted about how to fund it.
tbc.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Real Heavy D



I don’t know much about Heavy D the performer. This isn’t about him.  The D I am referring to here is Disruption. The heavy refers to impact.

Websters Dictionary defines disrupt as:
transitive verb
A : to break apart
B : to throw into disorder
C : to interrupt the normal course or unity of

Heavy D as I am intending to use it here implies: ‘D’ all of the above and then some.

Disruption is a natural and regularly occurring phenomena  throughout nature and the technological world that begins much like the butterfly effect. It begins in the details. It begins in the components. It begins in the architecture. If you want to know what the next technology disruption will be start reading up on chip design and become familiar with Gordon E. Moore. Specifically get to know the details of technology and learn about production time lines.

In technological environments, Moore’s Law dominates and its dominion is over far more than silicon wafflers and hard drives and since we are now a technologically based society that law impacts almost every level of our life and lifestyles. Mr Moore’s observation about the cost and efficiencies of transistor usage has become the underlying tempo of today’s business cycle. It is the fundamental force of every technological bubble and it has accelerated, into warp speed, the rates of adoption and obsolescence of our hardware(s), behaviors and consumptions.

Now back to Heavy D the musician for a moment.

Heavy D & the Boyz were the first group signed to Uptown Records; their debut, Living Large, was released in 1987. The same year apple released the Platinum Apple IIe with built-in keypad ($829). 25 year later, through a series of disruptions apple would be the dominant force in the music business taking 30% of every Heavy D track it sold. 
Every aspect of this radical shift can be traced back to the disruptions cause by component level advances. The fact that it took nearly 25 years can be related to the underlying production time lines and the planned obsolence of the resulting products, typically 3 to 5 years. The resulting disruption of the music business can be viewed a series of waves that shifted distribution and consumption away from existing modalities into new pathways and habits. 

Case in point, is the use of audio CD ROMS, an extension of disk storage technology.  Sony first publicly demonstrated an optical digital audio disc in September 1976. Two year later, In September 1978 they demonstrated an optical digital audio disc with a 150 minute playing time. Technical details of Sony's digital audio disc were presented during the 62nd AES Convention, held on March 13–16, 1979. CD-ROM became became commercially available in 1982. A 5 year cycle from proof of technology to active product in the market with standardized specifications all major music interests had agreed to.

The resulting disruption meant that record stores had to redesign their display cases to accommodate the new product packaging. New features were added to the experience of buying and consuming music, the CD-Plus, which was by-in-large a failure and older technologies were casts aside, the analogue tape based Walkman.


Deep within the wave of this disruption was the whisperings of the next tsunami. the MP3. In 1987, the prestigious Fraunhofer Institut Integrierte Schaltungen research center (part of Fraunhofer Gesellschaft) began researching high quality, low bit-rate audio coding, a project named EUREKA project EU147, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). (source)  Over the next 12 years MP3 would emerge as a stand alone technology that would replace it’s predecessor. The first MP3 player appeared in 1999.

Basic compute requires two things, a processor and storage. Being able to store what is being computed has always been a key component of the success of technology products. More storage means you can compute more things. The approach to solving the problem of storage has always involved using compression software. Codecs like Quicktime, and MP3 were developed to condense the file size of the data associated with image and audio files. yet again, within the MP3 wave of disruption, the seeds of the next disruption lay. In 1999 Shawn Fanning and his uncle John Fanning invent Napster an peer-to-peer file sharing network and we all know what happened after that.

As referred to in the movie “Social Network” in October of 2006, the Tower Records chain of stores, in bankruptcy, was bought for $134 million by a liquidation specialist, which closed all of the stores (including the famous flagship Tower Records store on Sunset) and liquidated the inventory. After 46 years in business, Tower Records was no more.

So why do I care so much about disruption? Well the business we have created is based on disruption. One of our fundamental premises is that as fell the music business, so falls the traditional publishing business. But its more than just publishing. It is all of the connected behaviors and consumption patterns connected to the traditional publishing model. It’s not enough to consider the tsunami that is the wave of disruption, you have to look at the landmass its colliding with. Consumers did not stop listening to or buying music but the way they did so was fundamentally changed.


As I have said before, over the last year we’ve developed a platform for producing digital books as apps. The disruption to the tradition publishing model is real and it is going to happen in half the time or less than what occurred in the music business. Moore’s Law dominates. Within 10 years, how we enjoy and consume books will be completely transformed. This doesn’t mean paper books are going to become extinct, they are just not going to be the dominant platform of distribution. We believe we can ride this wave into areas of opportunity and provide new and meaningful content to people who have traditionally enjoyed paper based books.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Twitter is dead. Long live Twitter.


If a tree falls in the Twitter forest no one will hear it. If a tree falls in the Twitter forest everyone will hear it.  The above statements all depend on which tree and who is listening. Twitter is Dead, Long Live Twitter.

Over the last year, we have built the foundation of a digital publishing platform; I say foundation because the development of that platform is nowhere near complete. We have a vision of what that platform can become, the kinds of products it will be capable of developing and the kinds of audiences it will engage.  At the moment, as with all things in life, it’s a work in progress.

We started our business from a very simple place. At our first meeting the team sat down and created a list of core values. Those values, which are listed on our about page, are meaningful to us as parents and meaningful to us a people. We also believe that many people share these values.  The question now is how do we express our selves and our commitment to those values so that we can be aligned with people of like mind in order to facilitate the exchange of products and ideas. ( I say exchange because consumerism is now a two way street, more on that later.) 

Enter twitter. 

Reaching out to the market place through social media has been humbling. At times it feels like walking into the Cow Palace during the middle of a Who concert and whispering the details of our business plan. At the same moment Pete Townshend is doing arm circles, Roger Daltrey is screaming ‘same as the old boss’, John Entwistle is thumping 8 fingers of blistering bass line melodies and Keith Moon is being Keith Moon (actually he's passed out and a kid from Oakland who was called out of the audience is playing drums – true story).  All the while everyone in the place is lit five ways to Friday and going crazy. If ever there was, this was, beautiful joyful, ecstatic noise. Your heard nothing. You felt everything. 

The Cow Palace is Twitter. 
Meet the new boss. 

From a distance Twitter appears to be about the commerce of personality. Everyone is selling something and they want it to appear that they are selling it through themselves. Yet beyond its superficiality, Twitter is, at its 140 character heart, a value based communication platform. Communication as Webster’s defines it is; information transmitted or conveyed.  What Websters fails to mention is the part about value and so does the ‘How To Use Twitter’ manual.  Value is always implicit to information. Knowledge is power and that is what is truly the at the core of Twitter’s social communication platform. Valuable information used as knowledge in the power of choice and action. 

As a company, we have a communication conundrum. We’ve created a value-based product that requires some level of understanding in order to be enjoyed and appreciated. In developing our first round of products we were clear about what we wanted to be and what we didn’t want to be. Much of the “what we are not” was intentional. Some of it was financial. We are not Disney.  We are not Dreamworks. We are not more TV for your kids on the iPad. We are not Activision or EA. We are not more games for your childrens' twitch habit  and  we are definitely not the best value in the realm of digital baby sitters. 

We have worked to develop a quiet experience that supports focus and discovery for very young children. We want our product to be a nourishing part of the childhood experience. Our digital  story experience is a supplement to the traditional picture book. We strive for simplicity so that children can still do what books have always inspired them to do – imagine.  We don’t pre-render your child’s imagination. We allow children to discover and explore. We create a simple sense of movement with the page and allow them to imagine more. It's like a puppet show at the library. It’s simple and we hope inspiring. It is for sure unique. 

Where we find ourselves at this moment is to begin to express our core values into the cacophonous realm of chaos that is twitter. That tree falling in the twitter forest is our message and it’s clear that no one may hear us. I intuitively know that there is no quick fix for this nor should there be. We have to be in this for the long run because the worth of any value is in the demonstration of its commitment over time. A value becomes more valuable when it is measured depth over duration. 

Social media is people.  It is people communicating their values to each other. In order for us to be effective we have to pay attention to the message, the delivery and the follow through as they relate to and demonstrate our values. 

OMG - Dancing With The Stars Is On!

gtg.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Puberty 3.0


How I stopped pretending to be me and learned to love social media

I am going through the awkward process of learning the language and etiquette of social media. While I have always been an early technology adopter, I've never been much of a social adopter. I am by nature a private person... mostly because I prefer quiet environments and quiet people.

Having built the foundation for a digital publishing company over the last year, I've been thrust head first into developing the outreach part of our business. That means reaching out on social media platforms. These are things I've never dealt with and for the most part am not that skilled at.

I remember once when I was in France working on a movie, there was an American at a restaurant pointing at the menu and asking the waiter in a voice that was near screaming... "Is this beef? Is this beef?"

Alas my compatriot was a stranger in a stranger land.  He knew what he wanted to say, he just didn't know how to say it.  He was insensitive to his environment and as a result he was unable to interact within it skillfully, effectively, peacefully.

 My heart went out to the now entrenched and entangled pair, but more so to the waiter. I knew he spoke some English but he was refusing to engage the rude "foreigner". The two were at war. A meal of hostilities ensued and a just dessert was served. (L'addition sans tip). A less than tasteful exchange for everyone involved.

Meanwhile, my experience of the restaurant and its service was quite different. I spoke enough French to honor the waiter. He spoke enough English to be funny. I always loved dining there. The food was fabulous and the wine list was to die for. It was everything an American in Paris could ever want. There were many nights I stayed until the place closed and stumbled back to the hotel drenched in laughter and drunk on freely poured Saint Émilion.

There are parallels here for sure. Social Media is an invisible frontier. It's the strangest of strange lands. It is an ever-fluid ocean with cultural currents and psychological continents that are always evolving. The language of that place is a skill that is hard to come by for most. Very few do it well and many do it badly. I openly include myself in the latter.

Social Media is Niagara Falls everywhere all at once. The current is moving 1000 mph and you can easily fall off and drown. The velocity of messaging is so fast and furious; it is at all times a deafening noise of chatter, churn and cackle. How then, do we communicate something of value?

What do you say? How do you say it? When do you say it and where do you say what?

A tweet, an email, a comment, a post all have very different tunings. It takes a lot of sensitivity and skill to align your communication intentions with the forms and formats of all of these various channels. What you say and how you say it has to be tailored to the place where you are saying it and to the person or persons you are saying it to. Fundamentally it’s about talking with people as people.

If you want to know what can go wrong, let me tell you that you haven't really lived until you've seen your first twitter fight. More often than not 140 characters is too much.

Within a few short weeks of blindly wondering into to the social-sphere- I've bumped up against all of my communication shortcomings. It’s painful, embarrassing and potentially harmful to my business. I have to absorb these early experiences as nourishment for my growth. I want to improve. I want to grow and in order to do so I have to set all the reactivity of my self-criticism aside.

I want to learn how to be a better digital citizen.

Note to self: slow down, talk don't scream, less is more pleasant, remember that everything I am attempting to say is connected to a real person, be polite and be conversational, most importantly be authentic and be willing to learn, even if it means having to apologize. If someone with 18 million twitter followers can blow it, everyone can and probably will.

 There is no failure. There is only experience. Be kind within yourself.

I am going to see if I can find the digital equivalent of Clearasil and hide in my room for the night.

Teenagers!