The Zing of Zynga

Farmer Terry checking in.  Well, former Farmer Terry.  I was hooked on Zynga’s Farmville for a long time.  I had created quite the lush little farm – surrounded by fruit trees and roses, with horses and chickens and cows all neatly housed in their own barns.  For Farmer Terry, nothing but the cutest little farmhouse would do.

I checked in several times a day to virtually weed and harvest my crops.  I kept my property in good shape, even decorating it at the holidays, something I would never dream of doing in my real house.  Honestly? My husband thought I had lost my mind.

He may have been right, but it was fun. Until I realized that to get ahead, I needed to spend real money on the game. Tired of your crops dying before you can harvest them? No problem. A mere dollar will revive them.  Want a bigger house? Ka-ching here, and your wish will come true. Getting carpal tunnel syndrome from hand-harvesting and planting?  For a few bucks, you can buy gasoline for your tractor and let it do the work for you.

This month’s Vanity Fair features an article on the remarkable success of Zynga and the genius of founder Mark Pincas.  Pincas, who seems to have been consistently underestimated by Silicon Valley, is laughing all the way to bank, his path fueled by gaming fans who don’t mind plunking down their money to buy an advantage.

That wouldn’t include me. So I put away my farming tools and retired from Farmville. Ditto with Mafia Wars. And during the heyday of Second Life, I refused to put U.S. greenbacks into virtual dollars to buy outfits for my avatar. Outfits for my avatar??  Are you serious?

But I’m clearly in the minority. Lots of folks don’t mind doing this.  After all, the money you spend is chump change, and in return your online life is richer and easier. And your money fuels Zynga and its gaming counterparts to create more games and more fun.

My current addictions, PopCap’s Bejeweled Blitz and Zuma Blitz, truly mindless arcade-type games, are free. You can buy some advantages, but not enough to tempt me.

So I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who generously support online gaming with real dollars, allowing cheapskates like me to play the latest and greatest for free.  Yes, we’ll always lose, but we can enjoy the journey – at least for awhile.


Facebook Begone?

The natives are restless.  I see it in an increasing number of posts and I’m hearing it in conversations over and over again.  Facebook has stuck its foot into the privacy issue, and users are not happy.

The war started in January, when Facebook’s CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg said that “the age of privacy is over.” As Marshall Kirkpatrick said in this blog, “I think Facebook is just saying that because that’s what it wants to be true.”

So inconvenient to have hundreds of millions of users and be obligated to keep data private.  Here are some eye-opening statistics for you:

  • More than 400 million registered people on its Web site (as of May 12, 2010)
  • 50 percent of those users log in every day (I’m one of them)
  • Users spend 500 billion minutes on the site each month

That’s a huge franchise, and one to be managed very, very carefully.

When I hear trusted friends who know far more about technology than I do raising questions about Facebook’s safety, I listen.  My friend and former colleague, Steve Nelson, is one of those people.  He makes his living architecting social media sites and intranets, giving him some pretty good credentials, in my view.  He’s spoken extensively about his view of the privacy issue in his blog, Clear Night Sky.  In his most recent post (well worth the read), Steve comments on Facebook’s VP of Public Policy Eliot Shrage’s comments on privacy, and summarizes the interview, along with his reaction.  My favorite is this one:

Schrage: “Our extensive efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users.”
My opinion: You gave them less control yet you still seem to think otherwise. They’re confused about why on earth you think you’ve given them more control. They’re confused because you created a confusing system.

Bingo. God knows I’m confused, and God knows I’m not alone.

Am I worried enough to kick the Facebook habit?  Could happen, although the very thought makes me sweat – I’m a true addict and I love how I can stay in touch with tons of people with whom I ordinarily could not ever stay in touch.  But do I want to worry about this?  No. And do I want to spend the time and mental energy required to understand the fine nuances of Facebook’s privacy policy? I really don’t, although I recognize that puts me in that very large category of people who don’t read the fine print.

Nick Bilton of the New York Times puts it this way:

Pop quiz: Which is longer, the United States Constitution or Facebook’s Privacy Policy?

If you guessed the latter, you’re right. Facebook’s Privacy Policy is 5,830 words long; the United States Constitution, without any of its amendments, is a concise 4,543 words.

If you want to know what this looks like in more detail, check out this link (I’ll spare the casual reader). Yikes.

Should you be worried? I don’t know.  I would guess that you don’t keep information on Facebook that lends itself to financial misconduct or blackmailing.  But consider this:  what if you had a teenage daughter who was being stalked by an ex-boyfriend?  What if you had a son who was gay and wasn’t ready to come out yet to the world but was comfortable talking about it with his friends?  What if you voted “yes” on California’s Prop 8 and now worry about being on the wrong side of that political misstep (I’ve stated my views on this before – I’d be horrified that you voted for such an outrageous law but I swear I wouldn’t stalk or smear you)?  Or, to take one from the other side of the political divide, suppose you’re pro-choice but don’t want to be car-bombed by some nut job?

Privacy lets us have conversations with people we trust.  Privacy lets us share our views and our lives with those with whom we have a relationship. Privacy…matters.

We all seem to get it.  Why doesn’t Facebook?

Cooking with

Charles Schulz’s Pigpen

Think of me as the old Peanuts character, Pigpen… dust and stuff whirling around me.  I am a creator of chaos, not order, unless I’m in that very focused eye-of-the-tiger mode when my superpowers spring into action and I can move mountains.

So I need to compensate.  And for me, technology is my co-pilot.  Thanks to the Internet, I don’t have to worry about filing items alphabetically or chronologically – apps will do that for me. I don’t have to worry about mislaying that important piece of paper – it exists electronically, not crumbled into a ball at the bottom of my briefcase.

What brought this subject to mind for me is that we entertained this weekend, and I was positively giddy about how easy technology made the whole process for me.  Let’s start with how I once did this….

I used to have a huge collection of cookbooks.  In each of those books, there might be one, two or maybe as many as five great recipes.  So when it came to entertaining, I’d drag those books out and start searching for something that I’m competent to create, is in season and goes well with other menu items.  Not a quick or a pretty process.  Then, once I located the recipe, I’d have to write down the ingredients so I could go to the market.  Which I would lose at least twice before getting to the store.  And when I finally started cooking, I’d inevitably realize that I had left at least one critical item off the list.  Which meant cooking interruptus – stop what I was doing and go back to the market, leaving something curdling on the stove top.

Even worse was my collection of clipped recipes.  They were always anywhere but where I needed them.  Some in an index box, others in an half-hearted attempt to organize in notebooks, too many free agents, floating around the house somewhere. This drove me crazy.  One year, I polled family members for their favorite recipes, added my own, pasted in photos of family cooking, and turned it into a pretty wonderful Shutterfly book.

But let’s face it, how often am I going to do that? (Answer: NEVER again!)

So I’ve been in search for another solution, and Sloane Mann gave me the ultimate answer:

Here’s how it works… You surf the Internet for a recipe, and when you find what you’re looking for, you click on ziplist and it immediately captures the recipe for you.  You are then given an opportunity to save the list in your recipe box or save it in the recipe box and have it generate a shopping list for you.  The shopping list is intelligently designed – it organizes, by market section, items you’ll need and then has a group of items that they believe you likely already have in the house – which keeps the list clean but also reminds you if you’re running low on salt or something.  Which means no more forgotten grocery items.

Pure genius.

Now, it’s not perfect.  I’ve discovered that while the program reliably copies in the name of the recipe and the ingredients, it sometimes misses the directions.  So watch out for that.  It’s an easy work-around with a little Control C action, but you need to remember to do it.  Even so, if you don’t, when you go back to your recipe book (which is searchable, BTW), the program has stored the original URL for you in case you need to go back to the online source.

So, if Apple wants to get me on board with the dreadfully named iPad, here’s my suggestion: Make it splatter proof and give it a sturdy grease-and-water-proof stand so I can access on it while in the kitchen cooking.  Now THAT would be fabulous!

And meanwhile, a big thank you to the smart people who created ziplist!  You are my cooking heroes!

I Am So Not The Demographic

This is the response I hear from Gen Y’s when I admit to my bafflement with the iPad love affair.  “But, lady, you are NOT the demographic this was designed to please…”

OK, fine.  I take a sip from my Malaax bottle and adjust my Depends so they don’t dig into my old lady stomach, as I ponder what this means. It’s true that I didn’t see many of my age(d) peers waiting outside Apple stores, giggling with anticipation at this latest toy. Probably because we’d have had to stay up past our bedtime.  On the other hand, if my slipping memory serves, didn’t Apple “thank” their most loyal customers who waiting hours for the first iPhone by dropping by the price by $200 within months of the first release? And then gave only a partial refund to the suckers who were so excited to be first on their block to get one?

Oh man, I am an old codger.

Things to be first in (in no particular order):

  • First in the eyes of your family
  • First in the eyes of your friends
  • First to defend your country, family and friends
  • First in line to get a piece of cake (they might run out, you know…)
  • First on the Southwest flight to pick your favorite seat.

Not first to try out the newest flashy gadget.  I don’t want to be the one to find out that you can’t plug in a smart card or use a standard UBS connection.  I also don’t want to test the limits of dropping it (which I’ve done with my Macbook, my iPhone and my Kindle, all with varying degrees of damage). I don’t want to find out firsthand how short the battery life is.

On the other hand, if I had young children at home, I would be tempted by the ability to download children’s books with beautiful illustrations to enjoy with my kids. If I were a video game addict, I would be tempted by the gaming experience.

But alas, I don’t and I’m not.  I love my iPhone, my iPod and my Mac laptop and desktop systems.  I use them constantly.  The only other appliance that gets this much use in our house is my Kindle, which is my favorite gadget of all. Even though it’s not in full color.  Even though it’s not backlit.  It is, however, perfectly sized and comes with a two-week battery.  You can read it in bed without disturbing your partner with a glaring screen. You can read it outside the sun without reflection.  For a reading devotee, it’s sort of perfect.

Does this mean I’ll never give into the siren call of the iPad?  Heaven forbid!  I gave into my jones for a Mini Cooper to the degree we now have two – one hard top and one soft. And I can see a day when the iPad will seduce me as well.  But not the first release, thank you very much.  Or the second.  Despite my advanced years, I think I’ll still be around when they come out with v3 which does amazing things never considered for v1 – and it will cost less, too.

Who knows?  Maybe it will even come with a Malaax bib to keep me from dribbling that white cocktail onto the iPad’s beautiful face…

Farmer Terry, Retired

For the past three months, I’ve been hooked on Farmville, and it’s an addiction shared by over 63 million people around the world.  Yes, that’s right.  There are 63 million people just like me, wasting hours and hours of time planting virtual crops and tending virtual sheep.

Like other addictions, I was introduced to Farmville by a friend, who told me how much fun it was.  Like other addictions, it drew me back on a daily – uhm, sometimes hourly – basis.  After all, I had chores I had to do!  My “cows” need milking!  My “crops” needed tending!  And like other addictions, it kept tantalizing me with something a little better, a rush that my current fix couldn’t get me.  I had to climb the ranks so I could plant sunflowers!  I had to climb the ranks because I had a jones for that pink cabin!

And then yesterday, it happened.  I stopped caring.  By then, I had grown my farm to the maximum size, traded in my pink cabin for a big farmhouse, weeded out all the tropical trees that looked odd next to my red maples, settled my cows into dairy barns, secured my chickens into a chicken coop.  I was about to start planting my vast “acreage” when I saw I was short on fuel, and would have to pay REAL MONEY to get more, as I didn’t have enough Farmville dollars for a scant tank of, uh, gas.  I also saw that if I wanted another chicken coop, I’d have to pay REAL MONEY for it.  I saw that I would have to play – oh, I don’t know – like a zillion more rounds to progress to the next level.  And just like that, I was done.  The silliness had overcome the fun, and my cheapness had won out over virtual rewards.

Perhaps I’m not the best customer for companies like Zynga… only playing for free, not willing to put my money where my nearly carpal-tunneled wrists are.

I did find the experience fascinating, though.  I actually got know some of my Facebook friends a little better, and there were those I was always willing to do favors for, and those who just never seemed to return my good will.  Which made me less inclined to give them fabulous gifts, like a “topiary” or a “sheep.” I’m not the recruiting type, so I didn’t invite others to play, but once I saw a friend on the Farmville roster, I would ask them to become my neighbor, so I could grow my farm.

What can I say?  I was an addict.  But no longer.  Yesterday, I retired.  I posted the notice on Facebook and washed my virtually-soiled hands of the whole messy business.  I thought my sister summed up my situation best, when I was caught up in the cycle of planting and harvesting:  “Terry has waaaaay too much time on her hands.”  But then the always perceptive Kathy Knopoff chimed in with her analysis, commenting on my retirement announcement: “Well, with Mafia Wars, who has time?”

So true.  So tragically true, Donna Knopoff… Meet me in Cuba and we’ll talk over stolen cigars and bootleg whiskey…

Facing Up to the Ugly Truth on Facebook

“After 22 years with Sun…”

“You guys are the best – I’ll miss every one of you…”

“Waiting and waiting – will the axe fall today?”

These are just a few of the layoff messages I’ve seen on Facebook today from my many friends and colleagues at Sun.  Heads are rolling, and with this, the 8th or so major Sun reduction in force in five years, there seems little rhyme or rhythm as to who has to go this round.  Eventually, I guess, we’ll all be gone. And what was once the best company on the planet will be just a memory.

I’ve been down all day about this, but do draw some comfort from the number of supportive messages being posted – some in response to a particular person’s layoff and some just expressing, as Dana Fugate said, small written hugs to our community.

I’ve also had several online Facebook chats with colleagues about how they’re doing.  It’s tough to be laid off, but it’s also heart-wrenching to have to give the news to one of your employees.   Miserable stuff, all around.

And meanwhile, we continue to wait for the European Union to approve our acquisition by Oracle.  And wait.  And wait.  And worry.  Then wait some more.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I extend my  warmest support and good wishes to all Sunnies – whether you lost your job, whether you had to tell someone the bad news, or whether you simply are watching good people go.  It’s a sad day for all of us.

Shiny New Toy or Revolution?

There’s been a pretty lively online discussion amongst the members of CCM (Council of Communication Management) about social networking and social media tools.    It started off with what seemed to be an innocent question from one of our members:

What are your key challenges when building senior management support for social media strategies?

What followed was a flood of comments, but the conversation really peaked my interest when one of the greats in our profession, Roger D’Aprix, spoke up (quoted with permission):

…Why are we trying so hard to ram social media down the throats of senior leaders and get them to do something their instincts tell them is not a good idea? Where is the business case? If we can’t show one and if there isn’t any demonstrable ROI, don’t we run the risk of further diminishing our often fragile credibility as a profession?

My mother used to tell me long ago that “Just because everyone else is doing it is not a good enough reason.” And in this case, even that is not yet true.

This will probably bring the wrath of the gods down on me, but if I were the senior decision-maker, I’d want to see a solid business case specific to my organization.”

As usual, Roger pushed the group to make sure we were considering the right question.

There are surely many tactical issues to be considering when introducing social media to the “higher ups,” and many tactical pitfalls when encouraging its use.   But as Roger points out, if you don’t know what problem you’re trying to solve, the tactical issues are pretty irrelevant.  Because no CEO worth his or her salt is going to approve an approach that is in search of a problem rather than the other way around.

So how do you determine the problem?  Funny you should ask.

When I first came to Sun, I used my past experience to develop and articulate a way to develop true communication strategy.  The tool, named the KAA Model (Knowledge, Attitude, Action) is an almost painfully simple way to keep the communication professional leading the discussion, not following.  In its simplest form, you need to ask yourself a series of questions that will help you identify the gap between current state and desire future state.  This is done before tools are selected.

Because while social networking is a revolutionary way to create different online behavior and true participation and exchange, you still need to know where you’re going and how you’ll know if you get there.

Look before you leap.  Think before you recommend. Good mantras (trite because they’re TRUE) to keep in mind regardless of how shiny the new toy is and how tempting it is to use…