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Publishing on Medium – “the best typewriter for the web”

Medium Stats Vinyl

Wow, I got over 5,200 views and 2,300 reads for my first post on Medium a few weeks ago. That’s remarkable.

I’ve been aware of Medium for a few years now. Mainly, I would discover smart content on Medium which I might have found on Wired, The New Yorker, or A List Apart. The long-form content there seemed to resonate with me and I found myself being frequently being sucked in. It’s unclear what Medium is evolving into – a publication, a blogging platform, or something new – a platisure, as Jonathan Glick wrote in re/code.

However, debates about the future of online journalism aside, it’s clear that Medium is a beautiful, simple blogging platform. I’ve heard it described as “the best typewriter for the web.” Ev Williams developed and sold the blogging software Blogger to Google 10 years ago, and this is his vision for the next version of blogging (apart from founding a little company called Twitter in between).

I’ve been blogging on this site for over 6 years now, with a mix of articles on healthcare digital marketing, tech tips, and general digital commentary. This year, I decided to cross-post as an experiment to share select content with the widest possible audience. I posted a thought piece on content and social hubs on LinkedIn’s Pulse in February. It was professionally relevant and links to my LinkedIn profile. I got some solid attention and it’s a useful adjunct to my LinkedIn presence. But, I was keeping an eye out for a topic that would be of broader interest, somewhat entertaining, and suitable for Medium.

Last month I wrote a reminiscence about my time at CBS Records / Columbia House and the cycle I went through from vinyl records to CDs, to digital, and back to vinyl again. It was longer, focused on music (a broad interest topic if there ever was one), and tapped into the current resurgence of interest in vinyl records. I wrote it with Medium in mind.

Within a day the Medium post was noticed by the editors of Cuepoint, Medium’s music magazine. They approached me about publishing the post on Cuepoint, and of course I was happy to. The editors rewrote the headline and found some Columbia House artwork, but other than that didn’t touch the article. Cuepoint featured the article on their page and due to Medium’s algorithms that meant it showed up in lots of people’s Medium email digest.

The post took off. I started getting many Twitter alerts from tweet mentions of the post. As you can see from the chart the traffic peaked very quickly within days of appearing online. I’d estimate about half the views were generated from Medium native promotion, Cuepoint, and emails. The association with one article on Record Store Day led to another 300 views. There were other interesting referrers, like reddit.com/r/vinyl and  some audio forums.

That’s the most reads on any article I’ve ever gotten since I started blogging. There are a host of reasons to own your own platform and have full control over your content like I do here. But, to gain a wider audience and get visibility piggy-backing on a intuitive and impressive platform like Medium is hard to beat.

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How the Mail Order CD Racket of the 1980s Made Me a Vinyl Connoisseur

Record StackI was recruited by CBS Records out of grad school to move to New York City and become a Marketing Planner for them. Not in a fancy, cool division, but in a backwater subsidiary named Columbia House which had a racket where by enrolling you could get a dozen albums essentially free, by agreeing to buy another dozen over the next 3 years. (If you tried to get out of that agreement we would haunt your mailbox for life.) However, if you did the math, it was not a bad way to flesh out your album collection at a better price than you would get at your local record store, if you remember what those looked like.

I loved music, and had shelves of albums. Mainly rock, new wave, but with some World Music and a little Jazz and Classical sprinkled on top. When I bought albums, I carefully recorded them to cassettes to get the best sound quality. While working at CBS Records there were albums for the taking all the time, and my collection dramatically increased. My friends got all the extras.

I found myself in a hot position — I was the sole planner for the Compact Disc Club. CDs had just been invented, and CBS was the only domestic manufacturer. Walter Yetnikoff was running the show at the peak of his success. Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen were all on the labels. It was a music industry that’s unrecognizable today. CDs were a shiny new toy that everybody wanted. Artist royalties typically maxed out at a $12.99 album selling price, but most CDs were retailing for $17.99 — meaning the labels were raking in profits. It was a perfect storm, and I was right in the middle of it.

Columbia-House-Combined-671-Width

At the time, the superiority of music on CDs was largely unquestioned. First releases on CD like Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms or the Eurythmics’ Revenge that had a lot of high frequency sound and clear vocals would leave listeners stunned by the clarity. Listening to a new recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons would freeze a classic buff in their tracks. No pops, no scratches, and it didn’t wear out. CD specifications were designed to cover at least the full range of human hearing, with a dynamic range from the barely audible to volume causing pain — more on this later.

Columbia House was in the right spot at the right time. Everyone wanted to get their favorite albums on CD even if they already owned the album, and Columbia House was a cost-effective way to do it. I was a planner looking at the best offer strategies, and what listening preferences (rock, classical, country) were most effective for acquisition, but it almost didn’t matter. The Compact Disc club was a rocket ship. Within a year it was the size of the main record club. It was the child that deposed his father, like a naughty prince. I amassed a huge collection of CDs, and as music went digital a decade later, I was leading the pack.

Fast forward (or more appropriately, hit the skip button) close to 25 years.

I redesigned my audio system and this time I decided to include listening to my old vinyl records in the setup. I have a pretty large collection, many with the CBS Records ‘For Promotion Only’ stamp on them, a few still in shrink-wrap. Parenthood interrupted my listening habits, but fortunately I had mothballed the records in a warm, dry attic for years and they are still in pristine condition.

CBS Promo Stamp 617 Wide

It was really the album cover art that got me interested again. I’m lucky enough to have several of the more famous covers in my collection: The Rolling Stones Let it Bleed, the Beatles Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band, Led Zepplin’s IV, Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, Blondie’s Parallel Lines, and on and on. Some covers are worn because they were early favorites, but many are almost mint due to my habit of recording to cassette and preserving the records (basically, an accident). I spent hours searching online for the best frames to mount albums on the wall of my home office. Eventually, I bought eight from the Rock Art Picture Show. Their product lets you mount the covers and still slip the albums out for an occasional listen. They are a small independent store that supplies the Smithsonian among others, and I’ve got to say they’re fantastic.

Album Cover Wall

My aging Dual turntable had to be junked. For now, I’ve replaced it with a cheap model with a preamp, but maybe I’ll upgrade soon. In a nod to how the younger generation thinks of records, my son calls it ‘the vinyl player.’

Listening to albums is an enjoyable and ritualistic flashback. You delicately ease the albums out of the cover and slipcase. Carefully positioning the record on the spindle, you clean off the record. Like a patient watchmaker, you then lower the needle to the record. You listen to the entire side of the album. You don’t skip from track to track like a caffeinated squirrel. You get the whole experience, just like the artist and sound engineers designed it.

There’s no doubt that vinyl is hip now. Go to a Brooklyn flea market and you’ll see all your favorite retro artists’ record albums lined up. I was at MOMA a month ago and was surprised to find an excellent exhibit called Making Music Modern: Design for Eye and Ear, which featured high end audio gear as design art. The exhibit included a wall of album art, and I was flabbergasted to find several albums that were part of my collection among the ones featured.

MOMA Display

So, would I switch back to vinyl? After listening to my records over the past month I’ve come to the opinion it’s about the mastering, not the digital vs. vinyl format debate. I’m fortunate that my collection is almost all high quality analog pressings from the 70s and 80s. They were made before the start of the Loudness Wars — a sonic “arms race” where every artist and label feel they need to crush their music onto CD at the highest possible volume level, for fear of not being “competitive.” In fact, yesterday was Dynamic Range Day, an annual protest against this loudness trend, backed by famous music producers, engineers, and high-end manufacturers.

Recently, no less a music authority than Neil Young weighed in with the comment that almost all new vinyl releases are sourced from digital masters and you are essentially listening to a CD cut to wax. Some artists, such as the White Stripes, remaster their work specifically for vinyl. Neil is pushing his high resolution Pono music player, and and now Jay Z’s TIDAL is also hawking music at a quality level beyond the capacity of human hearing. Neil Young has been criticized for his junk science, and recently Kirk McElhearn wrote an exceptionally clear and insightful article Music, Not Sound: Why High Resolution Music is all a Marketing Ploy.

As one of the few people with a sound system (and maybe ears) that could potentially let me hear the differences in music beyond CD quality — Bowers & Wilkins XT4 speakers, Rotel DAC, Integra receiver; with design help from the excellent Home Theater Group — I’m skeptical of the high resolution music claims. However, if hi-res provides an excuse for remastering, that could make it worth it.

The vinyl cycle took thirty years for me, but it wasn’t a circle. It was a spiral that expanded into conversations around digital, and high resolution, and places no one ever suspected vinyl would go. For the right albums, I love the vinyl experience and I’ll be on the lookout for artists paying attention to the techniques and skills that make vinyl come alive again.

Originally published on Medium’s Music magazine, Cuepoint 03/28/2015.

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A Simple Framework for Understanding Social Hubs and Content Hubs

Content marketing and content curation was one of the main themes of 2014. Companies jumped (or stumbled) in with both feet – as well as individual thought leaders, who were quick to create their own content platforms and collections. Supporting these efforts was the emergence of some excellent tools that allowed you to easily stitch together a curated set of content around a theme and then share it with the world. Scoop.it is one of the best examples of commercial platforms out there. Scoop.it allows you to put together a collection of fresh content which speaks to a narrative or theme, and then present it as a website, integrate it into your own website, and even send it out as an e-newsletter.

2014 also saw the maturing of tools for developing Social Hubs – in parallel to the Content Hub tools. Social Hubs allow you create beautiful interactive mosaics from user generated content about your brand / topic. You can easily consolidate content feeds from Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. and create a destination. At the high end, sophisticated moderation tools and rules allow you to selectively feature and “bubble to the top” key creators, influencers and important content.

These two types of hubs have developed along independent lines, however, as both have matured there is starting to be overlap and integration. This led me to develop a simple framework to evaluate them and describe them to clients. As any consultant will tell you, a 2-by-2 grid is always the way to go, so let’s take a look.

Social Hub Content Hub FrameworkStarting from the bottom left, Quadrant 1 contains tools that allow you to collect public social media for an event, around a theme, or a hashtag. For example, you could use Storify to document social media from a medical conference and feature it on a website or on a large display.

As you move to Quadrant 2, you get stronger moderation tools, smart rules for filtering content, and widgets and custom CSS capability that lets you integrate the collected UGC into a website. This is the Enterprise level, and when you see behind the scenes, the platforms are slick, powerful, and able to handle several brands at once. Something interesting happens when you get to the top of Quadrant 2 – you start being able to incorporate your own content. With some platforms such as TwineSocial you can feature your own brand social media (for example tweets around your new product release). When you get up to the RebelMouse level,  you gain the ability to create content within the platform itself, and then feature it. Not only can you post your own brand tweets or Instagrams, but you can publish content that doesn’t exist elsewhere. These sites become full microsites and can potentially substitute for typical website development, such as developing a custom landing page. At this level, these platforms can be very powerful campaign solutions that can be much quicker to get off the ground than a microsite.

Quadrant 3 is the Enterprise level of the content hubs. Scoop.it is an excellent example. In their words, you can “set up SEO-optimized content hubs for each of your editorial themes by choosing a title, corresponding keywords and then scooping content into the hub.” You can customize branding and easily integrate it into your website. Admins can generate email newsletters and link them to tools like MailChimp. When I first used Scoop.it, I simply used it as a place to collect key articles I found elsewhere. Then I discovered their discovery tools. By properly setting up your sources and keywords you can create a truly valuable source to stay on top of a subject – then ‘scooping’ it is a one-click action, as well as tweeting it out to your followers. As an example, here’s an topic I curated about use of Google Glass in Healthcare. Without making this a Scoop.it commercial, I’ll say that it’s a very well thought-out platform. There are other strong offerings at a similar level, such as Curata.

Finally, Quadrant 4. Quadrant 4 is the home of self-publishing. Paper.li is a prime example, their headline being “Create your online newspaper in minutes.” It has excellent tools and offers multiple syndication options, such as your own e-newsletters. This is interesting territory. The top of the grid has players like Flipboard, with its 100 million readers – Enterprise level, while Pinterest has a home here as it is an easy way to curate more visually-oriented content.

A few consumer healthcare brands have spun up social hubs, but not pharma. An unbranded social hub could function as a natural home for health activists. The robustness of the rules and moderation would be of great benefit to a healthcare brand. You can direct the hub to pull living social content from your key activists. Featured posts can be locked into place. That can be combined with a social feed around a condition or an event, which could be heavily moderated according to rules set by a promotional review committee. The result would be a dynamic, attractive designation page where content could be easily shared out. Bloggers could link to it and in turn be featured on the hub. Select pharma company content could be mixed strategically into the hub, pointing to deeper content or news. To top it off, a widget providing a window into hub content could then be placed into the brand website, providing some freshness frequently lacking from pharma websites. Now that we have some FDA guidance that limits pharma liability for UGC, the path seems to be open. Who will be the first to try it? Perhaps a brand with an active social community and a more technologically inclined population, like Crohn’s Disease or MS.

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iOS Share Sheets and Mobile Browsers

Sitting on the train, I encounter a First-World problem: when I click on a links from my iOS Gmail app, it opens in a slimmed down browser that’s part of the GMail app. Why is this a problem? I have no problem viewing most of the content. However, I want to view the web pages in Safari much of the time to take advantage of other features. That takes another click, which is annoying, and when I return to Gmail, I’m still in the mini browser, and it takes another click to get back. Perhaps I’m only allocated so many clicks in a lifetime, so it’s a First-World issue.

Share Sheet iPhoneThe reason this is more of a problem now than it was is due to Share Sheet Extensions. The ability to create these extensions were announced last July and now there’s a nice selection of them. Hootsuite, Pocket, Evernote, and Pinterest, among many apps that I regularly use, offer the extensions. When you’re on a website that you want to share out, read later, file or pin, it’s extremely smooth to take an action with these extensions. It has made my workflow much smoother. But, it’s three clicks.

I ought to be able to find a setting in Gmail to open links in Safari, since it’s the default browser, but it’s not there. This is likely a symptom of the coopetition between Google and Apple, and my experience is the worst for it. When I open a link from the Apple Mail app it opens Safari as I would want it to. However, I use the Apple Mail app for work and the Gmail app for personal email. Plus I don’t love the way the Apple App forces you to archive every email (for Gmail) rather than deleting it.

In my frustrating treasure-hunt through all these settings, I notice that Gmail can use Google helper apps for certain tasks. For instance, it will use the YouTube app for YouTube links if the app is installed. I installed the Chrome browser and that does the trick. Now, links open in the browser just like I want, and I have access to all the share settings. So, if I stick within the Google ecosystem, all is good.

Now my new First-World problem is that I have another browser open – Chrome. It doesn’t have everything I would want, like my bookmarks, but it’s an improvement.

It’s not just a Google / Apple problem. Several prominent apps, like Facebook and Twitter use these slimmed down built in browsers instead of Safari. Neither currently offers the option to use the full browser instead, though Facebook will let you do that on Android. As Share Sheets and App Actions become more essential to using mobile devices this needs to be an option within apps.

Share Sheet iPad

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The Apple Fanboy Transformation is Complete – Loving Time Machine Restore

Apple Fanboy in ActionThere’s a reason the Apple logo has a bite taken out of it. It’s a reference to the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Once you take a bite out of that apple, you are transformed –and more importantly you can’t go back to how you were before.

I just restored a Macintosh from a Time Machine backup and my transformation is complete. I am now a fanboy. For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s a fan who lets his passion override his social graces.

It was so easy! I was upgrading a Mac – which meant I wanted to take everything on my old Mac and move it to my new Mac. One of the easiest ways to do this is take the Time Machine backup (which happens hourly if you have it set up), and  copy everything over to the new Mac.

However, I’ve worked with computers now for over 30 years and things rarely turn out the way they are supposed to. There’s usually some small thing that turns into a large headache, and something you think will be hard that turns out to be easy.

This was so smooth. I set the restore in motion and walked away from the machine for a couple of hours. When I came back it rebooted and every single thing was there. And every single thing worked. It was unbelievable. I will put flowers on Steve Jobs’ tombstone.

Ok, I’m exaggerating slightly. Some of the cloud drives, like OneDrive, had to be set up again. I had to sign into Adobe Creative Cloud to get my licenses in order – which was an easy experience with all my account info all in one place. (Thanks Adobe!) Microsoft was the biggest pain in the ass. My MS Office license had slipped away. I keep very good records of license numbers, but somehow I couldn’t locate the string of upgrades I bought that got me to Office Mac 2011. I spent 20 minutes chatting with Microsoft trying to get the license numbers squared away and finally ended up springing $10 for a home use program just to make the problem go away. It’s really pitiful that Microsoft can’t link licenses back to a single user the way Adobe can. But, I will say their tech support was patient and helpful.

Notice how these were not Apple issues. Everything Apple-related came back in a few clicks. I don’t dislike Windows. I use Quicken on Windows several times a week.  Excel on Windows feels much crisper and there are great Windows utilities like Notepad++ that don’t have any Mac equivalent. But the user experience of this upgrade was remarkable.

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Apple HealthKit Second Impressions

Wearable Man Credit: http://www.psfk.com/2014/06/creating-ideal-vision-health-using-wearable-tech-future-health.htmlNot long after last month’s Healthkit post, Jawbone updated their Blue app so it would connect directly with HealhtKit. So instead of data being transmitted from Blue Jawbone to Purple Jawbone to HealthKit, it now goes from Blue Jawbone to HealthKit directly. They did it quietly, with any communication to band owners. One day the app updated in the background and it was there. (Customer management, anybody?) So, the data flow got a lot simpler and the way it should be.

However, I haven’t been returning to the health app very often. There’s not much to look at, just a couple of charts. It’s an interchange platform. If I wasn’t in the health industry I would barely know about it.

When elephants dance it’s the ants that get crushed, the saying goes. This is very true in tech, particularly when an elephant like Apple makes a big move. In this case, Apple created HealthKit – a nascent healthcare interchange platform. There was already a very interesting interchange platform in early rollout called TicTrac. TicTrac is a platform the connects all of the leading wearables out there, keeping everything in one place. It also allows you to create goals and projects using your data, and provides strong visualizations. You can contract with TicTrack to develop you own branded health programs integrating all theses sources. In a lot of ways it’s what HealthKit could become.

TicTrac is a fine platform but it’s hard to compete against an emerging standard like HealthKit backed by a company like Apple. I recently saw the founders at an Ad Week conference, Health, Wellness & Wearables. They were optimistic about the future, but they will have to find a niche to thrive in.

In spite of HealthKit’s rather basic current state, the future looks bright. Mobile Health News just did a terrific rundown of 137 mobile apps with HealthKit connectivity. Here’s the article.

Based on MobiHealthNews’ analysis, here’s a quick breakdown of the top 10 most popular data types pushed to HealthKit and the top 10 most pulled:

Number of apps pushing various kinds of data (or “writing”) to Apple HealthKit.
  • 34 percent of HealthKit apps (46) are pushing active calories data.
  • 20 percent of HealthKit apps (28) are pushing weight data.
  • 18 percent of HealthKit apps (25) are writing heart rate data.
  • 18 percent (24) are pushing workouts data to HealthKit, even though the Apple Health app doesn’t have such a field.
  • 15 percent of HealthKit apps (21) are feeding step count data into the platform.
  • 15 percent (20) are sharing walking and running distance data with HealthKit.
  • 10 percent of HealthKit apps (14) are pushing out sleep analysis data.
  • 9 percent (12) are sharing nutrition data with the HealthKit ecosystem.
  • 8 percent (11) are pushing out blood pressure data with HealthKit.
  • 7 percent of HealthKit apps (9) are writing cycling distance data.

Number of apps pulling various kinds of data (or “reading”) from Apple HealthKit.

  • 23 percent of HealthKit apps (32) are pulling weight data.
  • 16 percent (22) are integrating step count data from HealthKit.
  • 12 percent (17) are using active calories data from the platform.
  • 10 percent of HealthKit apps (14) are using heart rate data pulled from the system.
  • 10 percent (14) are pulling down blood pressure data from HealthKit.
  • 9 percent (13) make use of walking and running distance data retrieved from HealthKit.
  • 9 percent (13) are pulling nutrition data from HealthKit.
  • 9 percent of HealthKit apps (12) are using sleep analysis data from the platform.
  • 7 percent of HealthKit-connected apps are using the platform to pull in a user’s height.
  • 7 percent (9) are pulling in a user’s birthdate from HealthKit.
Additionally, they report on some telemedicine app and patient engagement apps that are breaking new ground. It’s a good read.Even at just the tracker level, like my Jawbone Up, there’s a big upside. Harris Interactive just did a poll and found:

Nearly half of Americans are extremely or very interested in being able to check their blood pressure (48%) or their heart and heartbeat for irregularities (47%) on their smartphone or tablet, with an additional 23% and 22%, respectively, saying they’re somewhat interested. Perhaps the most common health application for mobile devices right now is the variety of apps and peripherals which can be used to track physical activity, and 43% of Americans say they’re extremely or very interested in this (with an additional 25% somewhat interested).

Add to this the transformation that will likely take place with the Apple Watch next Spring, and wearables are going to have an interesting year in 2015.

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