Tag Archive for 'Travel'

Global citizenship

Due to unexpected events, I’ve had to spend five weeks in Australia in the last six months. I’ve also by no means had time for holidays with a backlog of work so it’s made me wonder how practical a dual location life is.

For one thing, its completely redefined my view on being away from my family and friends. While not without some issues on my business, the upside has been my aging parents are happier, I’m more connected with old friends (and family, which makes me happy), and less home sick. Meanwhile I can continue to chase my ambitions in America.

Why would you want this?

  • Because we can now. Flights are quicker and cheaper. They say in ten years time, Sydney to London will take 4 hours (currently 24 hours). But even then, today it takes 14 hours Sydney to San Francisco; and 10 hours SF to London. With inflight wifi becoming standard (increasingly on domestic flights now, and I’ve done it once before on a international flight over the Pacific ocean so only a matter of time), it’s no longer wasted time.
  • Work is becoming more flexible. For example, smart engineers and designers I know just contract now, and small businesses give you flexibility when it doesn’t hurt the business — like how my old employer Vast had a virtual team for many years to attract top talent. Even our StartupHouse team is currently spread across three continents right now (and it’s a real estate business!) not to mention the entire StartupBus leadership team live in as many cities as we have people. While face time is crucial, I have to say from a business point of view, I’ve unexpectedly discovered having such strong networks in multiple locations opens up opportunities not to mention increased satisfaction from the team in the job.
  • health care is becoming more globalised  where medical tourism is a very real trend. I’ve heard of people I know getting plastic surgery in Thailand; eye laser surgery in Singapore; jaw bone surgery in Bulgaria — all because it was cheaper. Actually just this week, I was getting medical care in Australia for a quick checkup and prescription, which ended up being way cheaper without insurance than what it costs in the US with insurance.
  • Education is becoming more flexible, with remote study for adults and what we are seeing with kids being brought up on iPads is just the start. The success I’ve been hearing about AltSchool (where two former colleagues of mine are now working there) is another example how technology is enabling us to have more flexible and higher quality education

Of course, this isn’t a life for all people. Most people are quite happy to stay in the one location and for reasons of work can’t be flexible. But for those of us like me, with the travel bug or with global ambitions in business or with family spread across the world or with a multi-geography upbringing — the advances in technology are now enabling us to have a richer fuller life we desire.

Blog posts on Liako.Biz for 2005

A series of posts that summarises content created on Liako.Biz

You can also read 2008 and 2007 summaries.

Like a good host should, I welcomed you to my new blog which was to document my travel experience. Writing in April 2005, I then proceeded to say how I landed in America (Ohio) and then Boston (with a cheeky review of Harvard ). I also managed to visit New York, before I made my way to Europe to Gallipoli for the 90th ANZAC Dawn services and one of my favourite cities Istanbul.

Similarly, May 2005 was a fairly lame month of blogging as I was still getting into the groove. I spent a month literally sleeping, and trying to create some sort of travel plans. I stayed with my cousins in Athens and managed a side-trip to Mykonos.

I finally got into the groove in June of being a blogger that engaged an audience. It started with my trip to Albania, which then progressed to Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.

My Balkan bash had to end there as the sisters in London called, so off I went to see them and the new baby. However I then had to go back to Greece, and what better way to do it than over land. Unfortunately, it meant I had go through the Nagging wife countries but it’s okay because I partied all the way.

I partied a little too hard and developed pneumonia, which was a bummer for my trip, but by late September I had enough and headed to Athens (from Athens via Moscow) starting with Bulgaria, then onto the long road to Iran via Turkey until I finally got to…Iran. Iran was cool to see but hot at the same time, so I opted for some cold in Russia. Seeing as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were just down the road from Russia, I also visited those countries. Oh and heck, since I was there, I went to Poland, Prague and Budapest until time ran out and my nine months away ended with a finale.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina!

Hola!

Apologies for the lack of activity, as in December I was preparing for an exam, and a day later, I flew to South America for a month – with these last few weeks my freetime has been eaten by creating some order at DataPortability. Despite the fact I knew one month wasn’t enough, and I visited too many countries that the travel was tiring and expensive, it still has been an amazing experience and I figure I might as well share my experience, as this blog did start as a travel blog.

From Tango in Buenos Airies to anaconda hunting in Bolivia, partying in Cuzco to experiencing the misunderstood Columbia – its been an amazing trip, where the people I’ve met on the way have made it just as rewarding as the places I visited. But if you have read my travel writing before, I am not going to bore you with “and then I did this and then I did that and oh my god, we then did that and it was so cool…”. Just some quick observations that may help you see what I saw.

“Self service toilets” – as oppossed to?….

The cities
First stop was Buenos Aires, where I spent close to week doing, um, not quite sure what I did. Buenos Aires is one of the stand out cities in the world, as I was told, but what I wasn’t told was why it’s a stand out city. And the answer is, is because it’s a cultural city. Meaning, there is sweet FA to do there as a tourist. But it’s a funky city to live in: densely urbanised with the town layout following the grid layout that is common across all the Spanish colonial cities, helping structure the urban jungle.

Coming into BA from the airport, I felt like I was driving into Athens: the heat, the run down buildings, and most of all the dirty roads which leave cars with a constant dirt on their sides and belly. Yet that was only the beginning of my comparisons with other cities, as BA’s 48 neighbourhoods each have a unique character and identity – from the slums of La Boca home of the famous Boca Juniors stadium, to the upmarket Riccoletta which had me thinking I was in Greenwich Village New York (the New York you see when watching sitcoms like Friends). Finally, two Melbournians pointed out to me that the city reminds them of Melbourne. One said the harbour is why, whilst my own observation was the grid-like structure of the city found in other great cities like New York, Thessaloniki and Melbourne was more the cause. (Yes, alright, I love the grid layout.)

Bogota (Columbia)

I lost my photos for Argentina so you are going to have to settle with the urban sprawl of Bogota.

The consequence of a grid layout however is a cramped urban look, which I love about in cities, and which is what I believe is a common characteristic of cities with high culture. Whilst Argentina’s population density is 14 inhabitants per square kilometre, the city of Buenos Aires has a population density of over 14,000 inhab./km¬?. With so many people on the one area, no wonder this is a city that radiates culture. It is also no surprise why walking and getting lost in the neighbourhoods is one of the most enjoyable things to do.

Contrast that with La Paz in Bolivia, where I flew to next. Cities of the world tend to be compared to – for example, Buenos Aires, is called the “Paris of the South”, drawing comparison to one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. However with La Paz, I believe comparisons do not do it justice: it deserves to be a pin-up city that other cities can be compared to. And so therefore, whenever I say a city is the “La Paz of the …”, take that to mean, that that city is a shit hole that comes close to the biggest shit hole in the world.

Having said that though, I like shit holes. From the airport looking down, the city built on a mountains crest, certainly is spectacular – a geography it shares with Sarajevo, except about 4,000 metres above sea level and without any Serbs snipers. But whatever it is that makes it special, it certainly isn’t the ridiculous car pollution that I can’t help but claim is one of the landmarks of this third world country. I met a couple saying it’s been two weeks and they were still recovering from the altitude sickness which most people tend to get (including me): they didn’t realise those cars with engines from the 1930s probably are the cause. Getting out of the city was better than any pill you could take.

This is typical: the exhaust fumes are ridiculous on some cars

See that exhaust fume? Now times that by about 1000 and you get the idea what La Paz is like

The poverty is astounding, which is evident in the public works (or lack of). But one thing that strikes me, is that it just works. The overflowing markets in the city centre’s streets (I don’t use the word overflow lightly either) and the crazy amount of cars, give a chaotic feel – but like I said, it just works. It’s kind of cool (in the parts that don’t stink at least).

The other major cities I visited where Cusco in Peru, which is a pretty colonial city ruined by American package tourists, although to be fair, I was barely sober so didn’t get to see much as I was partying with some friends. I also went to Bogota in Columbia, a pleasant city, as well as Cali in the south which is one of the largest cities and centre of the cocaine industry. They also claim it is the salsa capital of Columbia (and the world) as well as having the most beautiful women. They do ok on both counts – going to a Salsa club, although expensive for a tourist, is certainly an experience; as for the latter, the reason why the guidebooks claim this as an attraction (other than because there is no much else to do in Cali but party and watch the homeless on crack cocaine) is because when you get a Latin Woman in a skimpy outfit due to the tropical weather (and that’s skimpy for all ages), no doubt men are going to rate this city highly. Sex will always beat high culture!

How to make cocaine stage 2

Coke, anyone?

The people
Argentineans and Columbians are some of the friendliest people I have ever come across. For example, standing on the Buenos Airies metro with my camera out like a stupid tourist – a lady approached me, urging me to hide my camera, due to theft which is so common in the city. (A big bloke from Sao Paolo who has never been robbed in his home city, an unusual occurrence, managed to get rolled here.) Other incidents and just the way people talk to you, is how I am basing my opinion of the friendliness of people. It’s the little things, but it shocked me particularly in Buenos Airies and Bogota as they are a big cities, which typically means everyone is a prick.

Bolivians I would have to say, whilst not exactly the least friendly, I was just shocked at how sloppy they were. The concept of hospitality is all but lost in Bolivia, it’s so ridiculous I couldn’t help but laugh. For example, at a restaurant on the way to Rubbenareque (where I did my Amazon trip), the way the waiter cleaned the food scraps on the table, was by wiping it to the floor, which was then cleaned by the resident dog.

Lake Tititaca

Lake Tititaca – it’s big

Their attitude to the environment is a conservationists nightmare. I remember asking a lady where the bin was for my chips packet which I had finished, and she just pointed on the ground. I was confused, thinking what did she mean by that, and she just laughed and took the packet off me, throwing it to the ground. As you can imagine, our Amazon trip was very scenic later that week – monkeys, dolphins, and floating garbage.

An interesting thing about South America was the policing presence. For example in Bolivia, there seemed to be a military officer or at least a police officer at every store. Columbia’s roads are full of checkpoints, although then again, with a civil war in that country, don’t think I’m complaining. Unfortunately, I’ve lost my pictures of Argentina, but one of the funniest pictures I took was just off the city centre. You had the presidents palace – an ugly pink building, flanked by the Mayor’s building, the Cathedral, and on the same street as the courts and legislature. However directly behind the Presidents house, about 100 metres south-west, is the Ministry of Defence – a towering building many times bigger. Given the history of the region, the fact that there is a much grander defence building watching the presidents house, is not to be lost as a metaphor.

Another thing that shocked me was how much of a presence the indigenous people have. Whilst it would vary across the countries, with Argentina predominantly European and Columbia European and African; Peru and Bolivia were very much dominated by the dark skinned, sometimes Asiatic looking indigenous people, who draw from a variety of ethnic groups, and who all are descendants of sorts of the Incan empire that ruled the continent just before the Spanish. The colourful dresses of the Amyran women in the streets of La Paz is certainly a sight.

The politics
Unlike my previous nine-month trip in Europe, where I thought I was some traveling journalist reporting to the world, I got over I am not writing a guidebook, and realised this was a holiday to fix me up from getting burnt out after two years of fulltime study and work. However despite a monthy of literally switching off, I couldn’t help myself and went into reporter mode, questioning any South American I came across.

World's most dangerous road

Doing our tour along the worlds most dangerous road

The over-arching theme that I took, was that this was a continent with amazing wealth, but overwhelming poverty and terrible government. Poverty is something that stares in your face – and I am told it is even more pronounced in Brazil. Whilst Brazil is the richest country because of its size, Argentina is regarded as the only developed country. Developed in that there is a stable government and economy, with a key difference being they have a vibrant middle class. Every other country, you notice there are the rich – who spend money in clubs like rich westerners – and there are the poor, which at times would distress me.

Our flight from Rubbeneraque to return to La Paz was delayed, which is an interesting example. The problem with Bolivia is that it has no infrastructure: something like 20-30% of the country’s roads are paved (I would love to be a tyre manufacturer there). The regional airports, like this one we were flying out from, was literally a grass field – with customs like some abandoned bus shelter. Actually, the plane couldn’t land due to the rain, and so they transported us to a neighbouring neglected military airport/grassfield about 40 minutes away, because the pilots managed to land it there. However as it rained, we had to wait for the water to drain as the plane couldn’t take off. This experience was an interesting insight into the poverty of Bolivia in particular, as it spurred a long discussion with a Austrian-born pilot now living in Bolivia.

Electrical wires in La Paz, Bolivia

Health and safety is clearly an issue in Bolivia

This man was one of the 70 pilots of the airline company Amaszonas, who was also one of the 23 owners and the National Operations manager of the company. There are four main airlines in Bolivia – three of them have struck an agreement to work together starting March 2008, with AeroSur doing internal flights, Amazonas doing domestic (going forward), and Aerocon doing the regional jobs like our flight today. The fourth airline, is TAM – a military transportation company, and one which our pilot friend claims is the governments attempt to kill local industry. He explain the Left-wing government has got a nationalistic, almost communist, drive. Rather than encouraging local industry, they are competing against it, trying to drive out these business so the government can have a state monopoly.

La Paz, Bolivia

The streets of La Paz – worlds biggest shit-hole

He was moaning how it took 23 minutes to get into radio contact of the guy that was on duty at this neglected airport, which is a lot of burnt fuel and a good example of how there isn’t a supporting infrastructure for business to do things efficiently. On the point of getting the airport paved, which would mean these planes could land in any weather, at 120metres by 60 it would cost 12million USD – a price the industry could not subsidise, and one the government is not willing. And that’s why 37% of the December flights – and December is on the start of rainy season – had been cancelled. Our flight from La Paz got cancelled as we were checking in, which is why we opted for a jeep ride (and that was an experience). If it wasn’t for this landing at the neighbouring airport, and the last minute response from the on-duty airport controller, the flight would have had to have turned back to La Paz. The economic cost of this infrastructure problem, as you can see, is massive.

Talking to this pilot you have to be careful on his views, as he was in the top echelon of society – married to a Channel Nine newsreader with strong connections to politicians, and the owner of an airline – his bashings of the government is a very different perspective of the poor. But as he talked, it made me realise how much of a no hope the Bolivian’s have despite his optimism when President Morales was out. For example, despite rich in natural resources, the government has forbidden foreign corporations from extracting it. Arguably, these corporations abused the country and its population, hence this stance, but as our right wing friend claims, it’s because the government wants to do it itself to capture all the profits. The problem with that approach however, is you need foreign investment to build the infrastructure & transfer expertise that can’t be done by the Bolivians. And so you have this nasty poverty trap – where the government refuses to support foreign investment despite a clear need for it, and investors can’t invest because of the unstable political situation, which on the inside, isn’t really that unstable (according to him), but which to the outside, looks like another South American bananas republic about to collapse again.

With the poor, and this was especially evident in La Paz, you would see women and children sitting by the streets begging for money. However as I was told later by the pilot, you shouldn’t feel sorry for these people because they deliberately do this. He shared a story how he offered a woman a job as a cleaner in his house, but she turned it down, because apparently she would make more money begging. I don’t buy that as an explanation for all the beggers, but certainly an interesting insight.

Bolivian Amazon tour

The resident crocodile on our Amazon tour

And the rest

  • Apparently, Venezuelan military planes fly in Bolivia! Hugo Chavez of Venezuela appears to be developing a confederate of allied nations, that look like another bloc of defiance against North America, taking on the leading role now that Cuba has its aged leader out of action.
  • I lost my ATM card a few days into my trip! I found this out when I had about two dollars on me, and without another credit card, you can pretty much understand the situation I was in…along with my counterfeit money issue in Iran, I think the only travelers worst nightmare I haven’t experienced, is losing my passport! I managed to get an emergency visa sent to my employers Bolivia office, but turns out that didn’t work – so I was reliant on about $2000 in wire transfers from family via the god send Western Union (thank God South America is cheap). Western Union is literally available anywhere – there are branches within post offices in Argentina, chemists in Peru, as well as banks and their own banks. At a $70 transfer fee, this is one of the travellers best resources when they are in trouble. On the flip side, I HATE YOU ST GEORGE BANK. It took me 20 minutes to try and call an after hours emergency number, and I ended up having to get my folks at home to call directory assistance, because their website is full of marketing crap. Don’t get me started on the rest.
  • I did a three day Amazon tour on the pampas, and I feel like I need to share my research with the other poor travellers trying to prepare.
    • Bolivia has apparently the cheapest Amazon tours with the most to see. All the tour agencies pretty much have cabins off the same river, and cost the same. Indigena has the cheapest; Inca tours the most expensive with mine middle of the range (Fluvial tours) – and for the same product
    • Flights to Rubbenareque can get cancelled at the last minute, which is the best way to travel and takes an hour (about 70USD); a 4×4 “jeep” takes 12 hours (about 55USD if you can get five people to share the ride); and the bus 20 hours (something like 10USD). Although the bus is cheaper – I’ve seen and heard from others why you shouldn’t; the jeep is a good experience to see the countryside but the bumpy roads can get very tiring, and make sure you leave early in the morning, because our driver post 12am starting getting very tired and was just trying to get there ASAP – which made the ride even more uncomfortable (at around 3 am, I felt he was purposely trying to hit the holes in the road, to keep himself awake!). The entire road to Rubbenareque can best be described as a wide goat track alongside a mountain cliff that drops 100 metres at times. The fact you have industrial trucks and buses traveling on a road that a car barely fits on, adds to the problem – if you are on the bus, to make way for other cars, there is a constant reversing and adjusting ON CLIFFS!! So that’s the reason the bus takes so much longer, and passengers fear for their lives. Actually, just ahead of us we witnessed a truck that fell off the road and crashed to the bottom – accidents are common.
    • As for contacting tour agencies, they all have websites that suck – it’s best to just turn up to La Paz or Rubbenareque and book there – they have tours running every day (we had one over Christmas).
      • The details for Indigena tours in La Paz, which you won’t find anywhere on the net, is the following:

      SAGARNAGA STREET (which is on the main tourist street filled with tours, at the very top of the road) NEAR TO ILLAMPU STREET N?Ǭ? 380 PHONE NUMBER 2110749. E-mail is indigenabolivia at hotmail dot com

      • They are the best because they are the cheapest, and the lady in La Paz is very helpful

And that’s all! Plenty more to say, but message me if I can help anyone trying to plan a trip; as for the wisdom I have acquired, lets do that over a beer 🙂

Bolivian Amazon tour

5 observations of how social networking (online) has changed social networking (offline)

Just then, I had an image get shattered. A well respected blogger, whose online persona had me think they were a very cool person offline, is infact, a fat geek with an annoying voice. I can pretty much cross off the list that he can relate to experiences of how Facebook is mentioned in trendy nightclubs on the dancefloor.

Another thing I have noticed: all the major commentators & players of the Internet economy, are usually married, in their 30s or 40s, and almost all come from an IT background.

Don’t get me wrong – the industry has a lot of people that are a goldmine with what they say. They challenge my thinking, and they are genuinely intelligent. But although they are users of web services like Facebook or MySpace – just like the rest of society – they are people experiencing these technologies in the bubble of the technology community. Their view of the world, is not aligned with what’s actually happening in the mainstream. No surprises there – they are the early adopters, the innovators and the pioneers. It’s funny however, that comparable to other services (like Twitter) the adoption amongst the tech community for Facebook has been slow: it was only when the developer network launched that it started getting the attention.

What I want to highlight is that most commentators have no way in the world of understanding the social impact of these technologies in the demograghic where the growth occurs. We all know for example, Facebook is exploding with users – but do we know why it’s exploding? A married man in his 40s with a degree in computer science, isn’t going to be able to answer that, because most of the growth comes from single 20 year olds with an history major.

So what I am about to recount is my personal experience. I am not dressing it up as a thought-piece; I am just purely sharing how I have seen the world take to social networking sites and how it has transformed the lives of my own and the people around me. I’m 23 years old, the people in my life generally fall into the computer clueless category, and I have about 500 Facebook friends that I know through school, university, work, or just life (about ten are in the tech industry).

1) Social networking sites as a pre-screening tool
Observation: I randomly was approached by a chick one night and during the course of our conversation she insisted I knew a certain person. Ten minutes, and 20 more “I swear…you know xxx” – I finally realised she was right and that I did know that person. For her to be so persistent in her claim, she had to be sure of herself. But how can someone be sure of themselves with that piece of information, when I had only met her 30 seconds earlier?

I then realised this chick had already seen me before – via facebook. I know this is the case, because I myself have wandered on a persons profile and realised we have a lot of mutual friends. In those times I would note it is bound to happen that I would meet them.

Implication: People are meeting people and know who they are before they even talk. They say most couples meet through friends. Well now you can explore your friends’s friends – and then start hanging around that friend when you know they know someone you like!

2) Social networking sites getting you more dates
Observation: I met a chick and had a lengthy chat with her, and although she was nice, I left that party thinking I would probably never see her again as I didn’t give out any contact details. That next day, she added me as a friend on Facebook. In another scenario, there was a girl I met from a long time ago and I hadn’t seen her since. We randomly found each other on Facebook, and I’ve actually got to know the girl – picking up from where we left off.

Implication: Social networking sites help you further pursue someone, even though you didn’t get their number. In fact, it’s a lot less akward. Facebook has become a aprt of the courtship process – flirtation is a big aspect of the sites activity.

3) Social networking sites helping me decide
Observation: There was a big party, but I wasn’t sure if I would go because I didn’t know who would go with me. I looked at the event RSVP, and I to my surprise found out a whole stack of people I knew were going.

Implication: Facebook added valuable information that helped me decide. Not knowing what people were going, I probably wouldn’t have gone. Think about this on another level: imagine you were were interested in buying a camera, and you had access to the camera makes of your friends (because the digital photos they upload contain the camera model – as seen with Flickr). Knowing what your friends buy is a great piece of advice on what you want to buy.

4) Social networking sites increasing my understanding of people I know
Observation: I found out when a friend added me on myspace, that she was bisexual – something I never would have realised. Being bi is no big deal – but it’s information that people don’t usually give up about themselves. Likewise, I have since found out about people I went to school with are now gay. Again – no big deal – but discreet information like that increases your depth of understanding about someone (ie, not making gay jokes around them). I know what courses my contacts have studied since I last saw them, and what they are doing with their lives. I also know of someone that will be at one of my travel destinations when I go on holiday.

Implication: You are in the loop about the lives of everyone you’ve met. It’s nothing bad, because these people control what you can see, but it’s great because there are things you know, things you know you don’t know, but now you can find out things you didn’t know that you didn’t know.

5) Social networking sites as a shared calendar
Observation: My little sister is currently going through 21st season – back to back parties of her friends. One of the gripes of 21sts when organising them, is overlap with other peoples. Not only that – but also the physical process of contacting people and getting them to actually RSVP – it’s a pain. However unlike my 21st season experience from a few years ago, my sister has none of these issues. This is because Facebook is like one big shared calender. Another example is how I send my congratulations to birthday friends a lot more than I have in the past because I actually know its their birthday- due to fact our calendars are effectively pooled as a shared calendar.

Implication: Facebook has become an indispensable tool to peoples social lives.

6) Bonus observation – explaining the viral adoption of Facebook
I have a few friends that don’t have Facebook. You can almost count them on the one hand. And when you bring it up, they explode with a “I’m sick of Facebook!” and usually get defensive because so many people hassle them. In most cases, they make an admission that one day, they will join. The lesson here is that Facebook is growing because of peer pressure. The more people in someone’s network, the more valuable facebook becomes to them. When they say 40 million users, it’s actually 40 million sales people.

God bless the network effect.

You need to be persistently adaptable

Tim Bull has recently written an interesting discussion point on when is the right time to innovate. In a post titled “Steam engine time“, he asks:

If innovation is a process of the right idea, in the right place and at the right time, how do we judge what the right time is and measure what is going on around us to hit the right spot?

Some would say luck has something to do with it, although I believe that is the perception from an outsiders point of view. In my eyes, a core set of attributes are required for innovation.

Consider this quote from Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of USA:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

I think Tim is wrong to ask when is the right time, because innovators understand their environment, adapt to it – and then push until they get there. Persistence and adaptability, in my eyes, are two crucial aspects needed in a person or even a country or company, for it to successfully move forward. However whilst persistence is key – you need determination to push forward despite the barriers you are going to encounter – adaptability is the real secret to successfully innovating.

A case-study: multiculturalism in a flat world
Although I was born and bred in Australia, I have been brought up under a very strong Greek influence. With an Australian-born father, and a fresh-off-the-boat Greek mother – I have lived a life straddled in two cultures. Going to an Anglo-Saxon school, yet at the same time doing Greek classes at 9am Saturday (but leaving early for my schools footy games) – I grew to resent Australia’s multiculturalism policy. Without going into too much detail because this will turn it into a political discussion and detract from the point I wish to make – I disliked the fact that Greeks in Australia refused to integrate into the local culture. The Australian government’s stance of officially supporting Multiculturalism, which does things like pay for that Saturday morning tuition, was to me a stupid policy.

Fast forward to 2005, when I visited the Balkans as part of my nine months traveling around Europe. Serbia’s story is one of the saddest stories in Europe. Walking around the city of Belgrade, interacting with its inhabitants, and just generally experiencing Serbia – you realise you have come across a hidden gem in Europe. Yet once you look at the statistics and talk to some of the educated, you understand otherwise: a basket case situation that has little hope.

Serbia, like a lot of other countries I discovered in my travels, have a cultural problem: they can’t let go of the past. Millions of people have died over differing interpretations of history. The Republic of Macedonia’s identity is entirely staked on the fact they are situated on the lands of Alexander the Great. Identity to the nation states of Europe, is in history. And challenges to that history, and their identity, has led to some stupid wars affecting millions of innocent lives.

So guess what? I now think multiculturalism is the best thing my country could ever do, for the simple fact we can never have a fixed identity – what it meant to be Australian 50 years ago looks very different from what it looks like now. In Europe, identity is based on ethnicity with a fixed identity tied to history, language and a religion. In Australia, our identity isn’t allowed to be based on a certain ethnicity, and forces us to find common ground on what really matters like our way of life. If it wasn’t for the policy of Multiculturalism, we would be turning into one of these static nation states within Europe who become fixed as a certain point of time. The Greeks are still mourning over the Turks capturing the Great City of Constantinople from them in 1453 (which is why Tuesday is the unlucky day of the week for them). Yet for the countries like Australia, who don’t have much of a history – they are not locked – and consequently look forward, rather than back. Multiculturalism is a crucial ingredient to our success, because with all that diversity, it means we are constantly evolving our culture to the times without any one group fixing it. And with a globalised word, Australia’s ability to adapt to circumstances will be a key competitive advantage we have over countries.

If you don’t agree with me, have a read of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat – a book a entrepreneur/intrapreneur suggested I read. This guy who told me about the book was a German from Argentina, working for an Indian company to set up the company’s presence in Turkey! He told me that after he read that book, he quit his job and got himself into his current role. He faced the facts, and adapted his career.

Adaptability as success
You’re probably wondering what I am trying to get at, but to tie it back to my point about adaptability, successfully innovators need to constantly adapt to their environment. What happens with people once they get an idea, is that they spend all their time trying to fit it into a world that once existed, only for the world to be a entirely new place. Successful innovators need to constantly evolve their ideas, to the changing circumstances.

In October last year, I made a proposal at my firm to implement a new technology. For the months leading up to that point, people had to some extent talked down my idea and some even flat out rejected it. October however had me find the right person to hear my idea. And yet if I look at what I originally had thought, and what it is now – it is almost a completely different thing. Because when I pitched my idea, I was asked “why” it works and “how” is it different from anything else. It was that ‘why’ question that had me spend countless hours researching and understanding – adapting – my idea to the scenario being presented to me. I successfully made my business case, because I was given the opportunity to reframe my idea and adapt it to the circumstrances I was presented. Had I not adapted my original idea and vision, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now.

Of course, I could have summed up the above by mentioning Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Survival of the fittest, right? Adapt to the Green forest like that Green lizard that looks like a leaf, and you’ll find some food (rather than being the food yourself). Adaptability in life is a key critical success factor; and with innovation, it is the hidden factor that on the outside and in retrospect by others, gets attributed as luck.

Update 20/6/07: Catching up on some reading, I just came across a great posting by Marc Andreessen, an internet pioneer, who talks about the four types of luck and which nicely complements my thoughts above.

A casual chat with a media industry insider

Today I had the chance of picking the mind of Achilles from the International Herald Tribune, who last year was appointed Vice-President, circulation and development. Achilles is a family friend and I took the opportunity to talk to him about the world of media and the challenges being faced.

The IHT is one of the three daily financial newspapers of the world, along with the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. It is currently owned by the New York Times, and has a global circulation of 240,000 people. I had a great chat on a lot of different themes which could have me blog about for a week straight, but here are some of the facts I picked up from our discussion, which I will summarise below as future talking points:

  • On Murdoch’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal: “very interested to see if he will remove the paid wall”.
  • The IHT experiemented with a paid wall for it’s opinion content, but they will be removing that later this year
  • He says the Bancroft family sold it because they are emotionally detached from the product. It was just an asset to them.
  • A lot of the content is simply reedited content from the NYT and internationalising it. For example, replacing sentences like “Kazakhstan in the size of New York state” doesn’t work well for an international reader who has no idea how big New York state is.
  • On the threat of citizen journalism with traditional media: “they are a competitive threat because we are competing for the same scarce resource: the attention of readers”
  • The problem with citizen journalism and bloggers is the validity of their information – behind a newspapers brand, is trust from readers of the large amounts of research and factchecking that occur. They have no credibility.
  • A blog may develop credibility with an audience greater than the New York Times. But this poses problems for advertising as advertisers might only advertise because of its niche audience. Blogs are spreading the advertising dollars, which is hurting everyone – it’s become decentralised and that has implications which are problematic.
  • The IHT’s circulation is spread thinly across the world. For example, it has 30,000 readers in France and six in Mauritius.
  • Their target market is largely the business traveller, which has its own unique benefits and problems. For example, a business traveler will read it for two days but when they get back home, they will revert to their normal daily newspaper. It’s not a very loyal reader.
  • Readership is a more important concept than circulation as it tells advertisers how big the actual audience of a publication is. For example, the average newspaper has 2.7 readers per copy. However due to the nature of the IHT’s readers, despite having high circulation, they have low readership.
  • IHT is in a unique position of relying on circulation revenue more than advertising. For example, a normal daily relies on circulation revenue as 20% of its total revenue; the IHT counts on it for 50%.
  • It’s hard to get advertising because a readership of university professors is less desirable than fund managers that might read the WSJ. Advertisers prefer to target key decision makers.
  • It doesn’t rely on classifieds as a revenue source – a key thing hurting the newspaper industry currently.
  • Although they place more reliance on circulation revenue, they still get some good advertising opportunities as a lot of readers are politicians and government decision makers.
  • They get a lot of advertising for fashion
  • Psychographic data is more important to advertisers than circulation and it shows what type of readership a publication has.

Half the problem has been solved with time spent

On Thursday, I attended the internal launch of the Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook for 2007-2011. It was an hour packed with interesting analysis, trends, and statistics across a dozen industry segments. You can leave a comment on my blog if you are interested in purchasing the report and I’ll see if I can arrange it for you.

One valuable thing briefly mentioned, was the irony of online advertising.
Continue reading ‘Half the problem has been solved with time spent’

Thoughts on attention, advertising, and a metric to measure both: keep it simple

Advertising on the Internet is exploding. Assuming you accept my premise that the Internet will be the backbone of the world’s attention economy – then, I am sure you can see the urgency of developing an effective metric for measuring audiences that consume content online. Advertisers are expecting more accountability online and there is increasing demand for an independent third-party to verify results. But you can’t have accountability and there is no value in audits, if one place measures in apples and the other in bananas.

The Attention Economy is seriously lacking an effective measurement system

Ajax broke the pageview model of impressions, the one billion-dollar practice of click-fraud is the dirty big secret of pay-for-performance advertising, and the other major metric of using unique visitors (through cookies) is proving inaccurate.

It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? The Internet has the best potential for targeted advertising, and advertisers are moving onto it in stampedes – and yet, we still can’t work out how to measure audiences effectively. Measurement is broken on the Net.

(Although I am focusing on advertising, this can be applied in other contexts. An advertising metric is simply putting a monetary value on what is really an attention metric.)

Yet when we look at the traditional media, are we being a little harsh on this new media? Is the problem with the web’s measurement systems just that it is more accountable for its errors? After all – radio, television, and print determine their audience through inference which are based on sampling methods and not actually directly measuring an audience. Sampling is about making educated guesses – but a guess is still a guess.

Maybe another way of looking at it is that the old way of doing advertising is no longer effective. Although we can say pageviews are broken due to AJAX, the truth is it was always an ineffective measurement system, as it was based on the traditional media’s premise of how many viewers/subscribers theoretically and potentially could see that ad. As an example of why this is not how it should be: when people visit my blog via Google Images, they hang around for 30 seconds. People that search for business issues on the web that I write about, like stuff you are reading right now – spend 5+ minutes. If both are equal in terms of page views, but the later actually reads the pages and the former only scans the content for an image – why are we treating them equally? My blog is half about travel, and half about the business of the internet, which is why I have two very different audiences. Just because I get high page views from my travel content, doesn’t mean I can justify higher CPM’s for people that want to advertise on internet issues. Not all pageviews are the same – especially when I know the people giving me high pageviews, arn’t really consuming my content

Another issue is that advertisers are so caught up on who can create the most entertaining 30 second ad, that the creativity to get people entertained has ovetaken the reason why advertising happens in the first place: to make sales. The way you do that, is by communicating your product to the people that would want to buy it. If I placed advertising on this blog, from people who want to do web-business related stuff, they should only pay for the peope that read my blog postings for 5+ minutes on the Attention economy, not for the Google images searchers who are looking for porn (my top keywords, and how people find my blog, makes me laugh out loud sometimes!).

When we create a metric that measures attention, lets be sure of one thing: the old way is broken, and the new ways will continue to be broken if we simply copy and paste the old ways. New ways like click-through ads that appear on search results, and account for 40% of internet advertising is not how advertising should be measured. The reason is because it is putting the burden of an effective advertising campaign, on a publisher. Why should a publisher not get paid, with the opportunity cost of not using another ad that would have paid, because of the ineffectiveness of the advertisers campaign strategy at targeting?

When measuring audience attention, lets not overcomplicate it. It should be purely measuring if someone saw it. As an advertiser, I should be able to determine which people from which demograph can see it my ad – and yes, I will pay the premium for that targeting. If it turns into a sale, or if they enjoyed the content – is where your complex web analytic packages come in. But for a simple global measurement system, lets keep it simple.

Concluding thought

If I stood at the toll booths of the Sydney Harbour bridge naked, some people will honk at me and others won’t. If I can guarantee that they can see me naked, that’s all as a publisher I need to do. It’s the advertisers problem if people honk at me or not. (Not enough honks means as a model I should still get my wage. They just need to hire a better looking model next time!)

My media consumption

I’ve only recently started blogging again, and I need to get into the habit. Even though I have a gazillion things I want to write about, I literally don’t have the time! So here’s a quick post, to keep me – ahem – regular. It’s actually something I think about a lot, given my interest in the internet started from my interest/background in media. Meme was started by Jeremiah, and I saw it on a posting by Marty.

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