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Op/Ed

A hugely dangerous challenge of the Internet of Things

(EDITORIAL) The Internet of Things is here, with all manner of soft AI voices and shiny Bluetooth bits. But how long can we count on it staying?

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So, robot apocalypse. The Internet of Things machines have their cold metal fingers all up in our data, our houses, our sand dunes and/or porn.

And for what? What do they offer in exchange for this unprecedented invasion of our day to day lives?

Seamless, user-friendly automation to help with a thousand daily tasks, demonstrably improving our quality of life.

That’s… that’s actually a pretty good offer! Nice work, robots.

It comes with catches, and we’ve covered those, but Day One bumps and blunders are part of owning tech. They generally get engineered out.

What I want to talk about is Day 100, or 1000. Because the important word in “Internet of Things” isn’t “Internet.” We have the Internet. We can confidently expect the Internet to continue being a big deal.

But “things” is an important word. Things are distinct from tech. With tech, buying the thing and futzing with the thing are part of the fun, especially for practicing nerds like your narrator. Tech is new, and the excitement of a new game or a new phone can take the edge off, say, a server crash or a quick trip to tech support and back.

What about things? No early adopter aura in history will get a customer to ignore a fridge full of rotten food. Fridges need to work, period. So does your thermostat and your car. All those things are charter candidates for the full IoT overhaul, and they’re all capital T Things, not tech. They aren’t shiny toys people can live without for a week or four. They’re expected parts of daily life, things that need to work on Day 1, 100, and 1000.

Are companies preparing for that? Are the startups rising out of the blue-light-white-plastic Stuff Renaissance prepared to rebrand as global service providers, doing the hard, unglamorous, absolutely necessary work of digital maintenance?

Bigger question: are they prepared to guarantee security while they do so? Because anything with digitized bits needs patches and updates to function, and if it can download patches and updates, it can download things that are not patches and updates. No one wants to chase a botnet out of their microwave. Are the companies invested in always-on Things standing up and saying they’ll take responsibility for indefinitely securing and maintaining the infrastructure they intend to profit from?

Short answer, no. They’re not. Operations departments tend to be vanishingly small, painfully understaffed, spectacularly underpaid. Let’s be real,: we don’t prioritize stuff like that. We’re talking the digital equivalent of the guy who chases the raccoons out of your HVAC, and that sounds entirely too much like work.

Maintenance is not sexy.

But it’s absolutely necessary. It’s generally just the beginning of a thing. It gets the wheel rolling, and that’s not to be undersold.

But the IoT wheel is most definitely rolling. The issue is keeping it in motion, making it a wifi-level universal usage standard, not a 3DTV fad.

That won’t get done in a meeting. That gets done through long term adoption, and long term adoption will be about attracting, training, and retaining people willing to do the hard work of maintenance and customer support.

The Internet of Things wants to be a major step forward in the infrastructure of daily life. I am incredibly in favor of that. But daily life works because it’s the full time job of a whole lot of people to make sure it does so. So to Internet of Things companies, I say – pay them, treat them well, make your organization the best place in the industry for them, or be left behind by the people who do.

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Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Op/Ed

Your MLS system is ugly and boring – how you can impact change

Many in the real estate industry complain about their MLS, but why is that the case and what can be done about it?

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When I perform surveys of real estate brokers and agents, I see the following two complaints about MLS systems all the time: “Why doesn’t the MLS have [this cool feature]?” and “Why can’t the MLS system be easier to use?”

The first question – “Why isn’t the MLS system isn’t as full featured as some would like?” – comes down to two things: money and politics.

Let’s talk about money

Some people might think that MLS software providers are making a huge amount of money, and that the providers can put more resources into adding software features. That’s just not the case. The money isn’t there. Think about it: MLS vendors have had to put resources into making their systems work cross-browser and on an expanding number of tablets and phones.

They have added increasingly more sophisticated prospecting and client collaboration features, numerous local information and mapping layers, and so much more over the past decade. All this while, the wholesale cost for MLS systems has not increased, and in many cases has trended lower due to fierce competition for strategic accounts.

The political push and pull

As for the politics, there is a constant push and pull over the future of MLS systems. For every professional that wants the MLS system to evolve and improve, there is one that doesn’t want the system to change. I often hear, “What we have now works fine.”

If MLS staff and software providers only listened to those latter voices, we’d still be using “the MLS book” instead of electronic tools. But even when an MLS is selecting a brand new system and options are being compared, committee members will often say something like, “We should choose this system because it is the most like our current one and so will be easier to learn.” What that means is that the most innovative system is penalized for being different!

Sometimes subscribers who sit on an MLS board of directors or committee don’t want the MLS to improve its functionality. Quite often, an MLS system will be deployed with some features disabled. During a recent demonstration of system features by an MLS vendor, visitors from the neighboring MLS (which used that vendor) commented, “Is this the same system as what we have?”

Even when the features are enabled, sometimes professionals don’t know what they have.

I see this in surveys all the time – an agent will ask, “Why doesn’t the system do this?” where this is a feature the system already has.

Why is the MLS so difficult to use?

Looking at the second question — “Why can’t the MLS system be easier to use?” — the answer is a lot simpler: the more features a system has and the more ways there are to customize it, the harder the system will be to use.

Since the MLS is a business system with significant complexity, and since subscribers often want it to be customizable to fit their business needs, preferences, branding, and so forth, ease of use can suffer.

For example, it’s easier to enter a listing when there are few required fields, but the fewer required fields there are, the more agents will complain about data inaccuracy and missing data. Likewise, an MLS-generated report with fewer fields on it is easier to read and more attractive.

However, without all the fields accessible, the agent can’t fine-tune the search on behalf of his or her client and must call the listing agent for the information—which is, in actuality, more difficult.

Also, it’s easier to click once to download a pre-built statistical report. Despite this, in order to make the reports more useful to many users, the reports need to be customizable based on the part of the market the user specializes in (i.e., by area, price range, and property type), and need to be styled so the chart can be downloaded and embedded in a newsletter. That means more complexity and a system that is more difficult to use.

MLS software providers try to make good choices when designing the MLS system, balancing out the need for robust features and customization with the desire for an easy-to-use system, but it’s impossible to please everybody.

What you can do about all of this

What this all comes down to is that, if you as a subscriber want to shape how full-featured and easy-to-use tomorrow’s MLS system is going to be, there’s a way for you to do it. Get involved with your local MLS leadership, including with the system evaluation, selection, and implementation processes.

I work with many local MLSs to make sure their leadership is aware of innovation going on in the MLS technology space so they can be smarter shoppers when looking at MLS software providers. When it comes to ease of use, while there sometimes are usability gaffes on the part of the software provider, it is more often the case that system complexity simply reflects the complex needs of active real estate professionals.

Expecting a professional-grade MLS system to be as clean and easy-looking as a consumer-grade real estate search site like Zillow or Trulia is simply unrealistic. Now that you know why your MLS system is so “Meh,” you don’t have to sit back and complain about it. Get involved in your local MLS organization and help take charge of your future!

This editorial was first published here in May of 2014.

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Op/Ed

Procrastinate with purpose by following the Zeigarnik effect

(EDITORIAL) Procrastination is almost inevitable, but what if that procrastination could increase your productivity?

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Let us speak together of the Zeigarnik Effect. But only after I’ve made a cup of tea. See, that’s the nature of the Zeigarnik Effect.

In addition to having a rad name – seriously, I feel like I’m revealing mysterious secrets from the Eastern Bloc, which I technically am – the Zeigarnik Effect tracks a quirk of human cognition that can, once properly hacked, increase productivity by making procrastination work for you.

Bluma Zeigarnik’s original study, which has had its results repeatedly replicated, states that an interrupted task, or a task the subject knows is not yet complete, stays in the back of the mind while they do other things.

The original subjects were waiters.

Bluma Zeigarnik found that service professionals remembered details of a given order when that order was still open, even if they were busy working on something else, but once it had been completed, the details vanished.

What might seem like a procedural consequence of waiting tables – not like you have to remember the doneness of the cheeseburger you gave somebody who left the restaurant an hour ago – has since been demonstrated in tasks from jigsaw puzzles and flatpack furniture to WoW and SimCity.

It’s not a job thing. It’s a brain thing.

When you leave something undone, and you know it’s undone, there’s still a little mental RAM whirring away, working at it.

That’s awesome.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say some of you do not spring out of bed Monday morning singing like a Disney protagonist and throw yourself into every task set before you with motivational poster vigor. I mean, I didn’t, and I like my job.

Hence my cup of tea. I literally wrote those two sentences, then went and made a cup of tea.

Field test. It works.

That’s the Zeigarnik hack – do what needs doing for 5 or 10 or 15 minutes, then stop. Aquire your legal stimulant of choice, or talk to coworkers, or do anything else your workplace allows that isn’t the particular task you’re aching to procrastinate on.

The Zeigarnik Effect won’t do the work for you, but when you set yourself to that job again, you’ll have more ideas and more energy than you did when you started.

Your brain doesn’t like incomplete tasks any more than your boss does.

When a task seems past you or you just don’t wanna, set a time period – 15 minutes is good, but experiment – and let your mental firmware work on it for a bit while the rest of you does something else.

Zeigarnik is procrastination with purpose, a way to get something done without overtaxing either your time limit or your will to live.

Give it a shot. I did, and I got a solid article and a hot cup of Darjeeling out of the equation. Top that for a Thursday morning.

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Op/Ed

Why men are called ‘creators,’ and women ‘influencers’ (or not)

(EDITORIAL) A sh*tstorm has been brewing regarding why men are supposedly referred to as “creators” while women are called “influencers,” and it gets complicated before it simplicity is revealed…

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According to a recent WIRED editorial, a woman is more likely to call herself influencer, while a man is more likely to call himself a creator, because, “Generally speaking, women consider themselves part of the product, while men separate their notion of self from their labor, considering themselves its “creator.”

Besides being no more founded than “generally speaking” though, this sort of notion first assumes creators and influencers encompass the same job description, with the only delineating factor being gender.

In fact, one of the earliest assertions made in the editorial notes, “Really, the only way to guarantee that people will think of your online celebrity as ‘influence’ is to be a woman.”

When ”really,” there is a world of women who identify as creators and men influencers; the differences can be seen in their varying job descriptions, history, and business needs that each fulfill. Therefore, the issue at hand should not be “why men are called creators and women are called influencers,” but “why we should call influencers ‘influencers,’ and creators ‘creators’.”

And that is what we will explore today.

First, let’s understand what an “influencer” is and what a “creator” is.

Before getting into explanations, and differences, it is important to note that influencer and creator are most always a term people use to identify themselves, so the true meaning of the word is specific to each individual.

Generally speaking though, today’s influencer is someone who has educated themselves enough to be considered an authority in their niche (or can at least present themselves as informed). They use this authority, along with their personal brand,to persuade and inspire their following for gain, which can be monetary, or in the form of free products, and/or free publicity.

Influencers often make their gains by partnering with brands to promote their product, or from creating a product themselves, and selling it to their following directly.

For an influencer, a larger audience or following is linear with gains, so a large amount of their focus is on the numbers – followers, website visitors, comments, and likes. The rest of their focus is in making sure those followers are influenced enough to consume whatever is being promoted.

Why businesses tap into influencers’ networks today.

The sole reason businesses hire influencers is for exposure. We’ve all heard “what good is your product/service if no one knows it exists?” or something similar, and for brands, that is exactly what influencers are hired to help with. They act as distribution channels by bringing more eyeballs which, if done properly, translates into more money.

A creator, on the other hand, is more concerned with the finished product of their work and the creation process it took to get there.

So, what is a creator?

Depending on what they are working on, a creator is an artist, producer, maker, writer, or composer who gets paid for captivating work. This person is usually more passionate about design, brand collateral, video creation etc. than persuading the people who will consume their work.

More followers, higher monthly reach, and increased engagement rates don’t excite the devout creator like strategy, composition, and contrast does. For them, one superior piece of work (think one overall cohesive brand package) is more satisfying than producing a mass of mediocre work.

Promoting themselves like an influencer isn’t as important as showing their work. Take my close friend, Chad as an example; he produces a podcast that boasts over a million listeners, and averages 20k views on each Instagram video, which you’d never know by looking at his personal profile. There, he has 2.5k followers, posts every four months, and gets most of his comments from old college friends – all of whom work for him. His virtue, like a lot of creators, is in the quality of his work.

Why businesses hire creators.

Creators do for businesses what a boutique ad agency would do, typically for a fraction of the cost. They use their art to build brand assets, establish brand identity, and create campaigns. While influencers are used as “the face,” a creator could be used as a “face” or the behind the scenes person who you never see. In a sneaker campaign for example, a creator might be tasked with taking cool pictures of other people’s street style, while an influencer would promote themselves in the shoes.

Creators and influencers are different and fulfill different business needs, but they are not mutually exclusive.

A creator can do influencer work, and there are influencers who create magnificent work without them in it. It’s a matter of self identity.

Influencers are also inherently tied to monetizing their content or, “…building a platform with he intention of being used by brands for marketing purposes,” according to Natasha Hunes, a Youtuber who self-identifies as a creator. Hunes adds that a creator is in for the self-expression, not money, adding “I don’t think the claim that most women don’t identify as creators is factual.”

Let’s dissect the history of the two terms.

The biggest factor in establishing the difference between creator and influencer is the history of the two. In a response to the WIRED piece, Taylor Lorenz gives an in-depth history of how “creator” predated “influencer.”

It all started in 2011, when YouTube wanted to replace the boring term “YouTube Stars” for a more inclusive way to describe their multi-talented content creators.

“These people were more than onscreen tales,“ said Tim Shey, a former employer of YouTube, “They could write, edit, produce, do community management, and were entrepreneurs.”

During the search, YouTube forged a partnership with Next New Networks, a multi-channel network specializing in viral content, and started a program called the “Next New Creators” program. This program was designed to help independent YouTube stars grow their audience to the point of monetization. The program became such a hit, the word “creator” stuck at YouTube and began to be the phrasing of choice for their press releases, and future programs.

They went on to open a number of “creator hubs” and studios for YouTube creators to collaborate with one another.

From 2011 to 2016, the video platform continued to promote their new world of creators and hit the sweet spot in 2015 after launching a massive creator ad campaign. This campaign plastered different creators’ faces on billboards, taxis, buses, and subway stops all over New York and L.A., as well as in magazines and commercials. All of the language referred to the people in the ads as creators, and that’s when the term became mainstream.

Not long after, other platforms caught on – in 2015, Tumblr also began referring to their power users as creators and launched a division called “Tumblr Creators Network.”

Influencers went mainstream in 2017, two years after creator did, and according to Lorenz, was the response to the rise of Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and sponsored posts.

As the “new kids on the block” influencers were initially stereotyped as less worthy than traditional YouTube creators, who had spent years establishing their base on an older platform, and a larger platform than IG, Twitter, and Pinterest. Therefore, Lorenz believes the distinction between creators and influencers are not gender related, but more so “platform-agnostic.” This means you’re more likely to find YouTubers identifying themselves as creators, while IG, Twitter, and Pinterest users typically identify is influencers.

And while I do understand Lorenz’s “platform-agnostic” argument more than WIRED’s position that it is a gender-based distinction, I believe that the differentiation as self-assigned terms are a lot simpler than we think.

Man or woman, YouTube or Instagram, people just want to be called what they identify with.

Creators want to be called creators because they relate more with creating, and influencers want to be called influencers because they enjoy interacting with and influencing their following.

Remember my friend Chat, the podcast producer? I asked why he identifies with creator and not influencer, despite some of his work being influencer-based.

His answer?

“I feel more like a creator.”

And I felt THAT.

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