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Wednesday, April 30, 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I got a PR-blast email offering up an interview opportunity with the CEO of SocialMedia Networks. Just another Web advertising middleman, but with a twist: It’s exclusively targeting the Facebooks and MySpaces of the online world.

I didn’t take the bait, partly because I knew someone else would.

Ads on social network sites aren’t new, although far-reaching monetization attempts have met resistance. Marketers follow the eyeballs, and when more and more people spend more and more Web time on these dedicated sites, that’s where the money will go.

But how effective will these ad pitches be? Operating on the premise that a website is just another website might not work in these settings, because something like MySpace is tacitly considered a no-sell zone. That doesn’t mean it won’t yield responses, but those will probably be accompanied by higher-than-normal instances of backlash.

In a sense, blogging marketer Paul Chaney probably best characterizes this approach thusly:

Advertising on social media sites like Facebook, Bebo and others is akin to going to a restaurant and asking for a seat at someone else’s table. Maybe they’ll be receptive and maybe they won’t. Conversely, to create your own branded socnet is to invite others to have a seat at your table.

It’s all context. That’s why I always felt that all those commercial presences via MySpace/Facebook pages — promoting movies, consumer products and even rock bands — are odd fits. If a social network’s purpose is to foster person-to-person connections, how is someone supposed to credibly claim a “relationship” with a marketing piece?

Conversely, I don’t agree with the call for advertisers to create their own dedicated, branded site just for a MySpace-like experience — that’s a lot of heavy lifting for a campaign which might or might not have a short shelf-life. I guess that opens up an opportunity for a third party to offer up a middle-ground solution: Cookie-cutter social-network setups that can be developed for single-purpose messaging campaigns and that can be ramped up quickly.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/30/2008 01:38:06 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Internet, Society
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Tuesday, April 29, 2021

While rushing through the Upper East Side today, a sign in an electronics store display caught my eye:


I half-suspected that this was a snake-oil claim. But in fact, Casio’s Exilim camera line touts its YouTube-branded point-click-upload onboard software interface, which is designed to make recording and posting of videos seamless. Furthermore, Casio got an exclusive on this YouTube-by-association feature.

Of course, this ain’t news, as Casio rolled out the Exilim almost a year ago.

But it’s news to me. And I think it’s indicative of the times that a camera’s ability to play nice with YouTube is such a powerful sales hook that it’s front-and-center in valuable window display territory. In fact, I’m thinking this is a crucial feature for selling to younger consumers, how might otherwise need convincing to get a dedicated camera versus just using their cameraphone.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 04/29/2008 11:02:26 PM
Category: Internet, Photography, Tech
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Try to follow along here:

To introduce their new non-pizza offerings, Pizza Hut had some fun with an April Fool’s announcement that it was rebranding itself as “Pasta Hut”.

As a follow-up to this campaign, it’s been running a TV commercial to promote these new dishes, called Tuscani Pastas. The spot follows a time-honored format — hidden-camera taste-testing — but with a questionable wrinkle:

The commercial purports to gather unwitting eaters to try the food at Tuscani in New York, and then revealing to them on hidden camera that in fact it’s Pizza Hut pasta, not Tuscani’s pasta.

As far as I can tell, there’s no Tuscani restaurant in New York. Although it’s a pretty effective ad, it seems to me that if they made up the whole thing it’s particularly egregious, even for the advertising world.

No Tuscani’s, but no problem:

The people were invited to an actual restaurant that is named Provence, he adds, but [according to ad agency BBDO] “we intentionally did not reveal the name and instead outfitted the restaurant as ‘Tuscani’ to reinforce our new product launch.”…

True, the fact that the restaurant is presented as if it is named Tuscani is not factually accurate. But I believe that it falls within the realm of artistic license, particularly since the campaign has already used an element of imaginary name-changing.

But wait, it gets even more convoluted:

One final note, dear readers. The New York Times reported that the restaurant Provence was scheduled to close last week and reopen in May under a new name, Hundred Acres. Maybe Pizza Hut could ask the owners to rename it Tuscani — at least long enough for folks to stop by for a pasta dinner.

So basically, the restaurant on TV is a fake makeover of a real NYC restaurant, which is itself now “fake” in the sense that it’s no longer open — but is in the process of getting a real makeover/rebirth.

Throw in the French/Italian/fast food cuisine switcheroos at play here, and my head hurts. On top of that, my stomach’s growling.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 04/29/2008 01:02:49 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food, New Yorkin'
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There’s no ambiguity about the inspiration for Tyler Knox’s “Kockroach: A Novel”, as the book’s opening line should tell you:

As Kockroach, an arthropod of the genus Blatella and of the species germanica, awakens one morning from a typically dreamless sleep, he finds himself transformed into some large, vile creature.

And if it doesn’t tell you, then I’ll let one Franz Kafka enlighten you, “Metamorphosis”-style:

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

I’m a sucker for such literary remixing, as my earlier reading of Joe McGinniss Jr.’s “The Delivery Man” as latter-day “Less Than Zero” attests. If nothing else, it shows off an author’s reverence for the writerly giants.

Notice the level of reversal that Knox imbues in his prose. Not only does he accomplish the bug-to-man change (that “large, vile creature” being a human), but he picks up on Kafka’s granting of “anxious dreams” to Gregor Samsa to, in turn, establish that Kockroach, being a cockroach, would be bereft of any dreaming at all prior to all this. Dealing with more active mental faculties becomes a key driver in Knox’s telling.

I only wish “Kockroach” had held up beyond its opening couple of chapters. A nice enough attempt at hardboiled comic noir, but ultimately a bit of a mess, with most of the characters (including, regrettably, the lead female, who also serves as one of the three narrators) being too underdeveloped to keep the story going. A transformation — in the form of another editorial proofing or two — could have done wonders.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 04/29/2008 12:19:55 PM
Category: Book Review, Creative
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Monday, April 28, 2021

Demographically speaking, that is. Research polling firm Harris Interactive finds that homosexuals are a more receptive blog-reading audience than heteros, 51 percent versus 36 percent.

That includes both content and acceptance of blog advertising — meaning cha-ching for all those gay-themed AdSense ad units just waiting to render!

Despite this news, I kinda doubt too many gay surfers are visiting this blog all that frequently.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/28/2008 11:52:22 AM
Category: Bloggin', Society
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We’re all familiar with the socio-cultural explanations for why some people find themselves in a cycle of criminal activity and prison time. But I don’t think that I’ve ever come across a more succinct illustration of the syndrome than this, regarding an ex-convict work program in New Jersey:

It takes at least a year, [mechanic training school director Rich] Liebler said, to “deprogram” the felons. Most have never owned an alarm clock — months can pass before they show up for class on time — and few can name a family member with a regular job. “We treat them as if they were in a cult,” he said. “We have to reverse the thought process they’ve grown up into.”

This reinforces that there’s no next-day fix for rehabilitating someone who’s known nothing but a hardscrabble way of life. It’s a demanding approach and surely no guarantee of resulting in success, but it’s the right way to frame it.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/28/2008 11:22:13 AM
Category: Society
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It’s a soaking-wet day in New York, with a steady downpour that’s forecasted to last the whole day. Far from optimal conditions for someone who’s got client meetings to flit to and from all day long.

Is it just me, or does it seem like there’s no such thing as a “normal” rainy day anymore? Specifically, I can’t remember the last time I’ve experienced a rainstorm without moderate-to-heavy winds being in the mix. Today’s no exception — it’s far from hurricane strength, but there’s enough windplay going on to swirl the raindrops all around, making even the best umbrella coverage only iffy.

It wasn’t always this way, was it? My memory’s failing me on more and more things these days, but I could swear I remember rainy days that didn’t practically assault you.

I’m thinking we can chalk this up to another manifestation of global weirding.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/28/2008 11:02:56 AM
Category: New Yorkin', Science, Weather
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Sunday, April 27, 2021

…At least, that’s how Wil Wheaton sees it as he expresses much love for everyone’s favorite microblogging platform.

I always appreciate gratuitous “Bust A Move” references, but I question the invocation of the “spam-spam-spam” skit, as that invites unfavorable connotations for any Internet-based communications/feedback system.

As for me, I wouldn’t call myself a Twitter hater, but at the same time, I don’t feel the need to jump aboard. Aside from the value of what I’d put into and get out of it, I don’t know that it’s any more innovative than any other later-stage social-networkish Web app. Besides, enough of my time is occupied with the macroblogging shown here.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 04/27/2008 11:35:30 PM
Category: Bloggin', Comedy, Pop Culture
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cover artist
My publishing roots compel me to hit the new MoMA exhibit on George Lois‘ iconic Esquire covers from the 1960s and 70s.

While the heady news topics of those times provided ample raw material for Esquire and Lois to weave their magic, there was a much more fundamental design concept at play:

What was remarkable then — and seems even more so now, when virtually every magazine cover is a thicket of text lines running behind or on top of one celebrity or another — is that the Lois covers were virtually textless. They achieved their effect by communicating a single idea through an image.

Relying upon a single image to sell an issue (and that’s what it comes down to for any magazine, really) is a chancy high-wire act. Either the casual browser bites on the compelling cover, or else s/he ignores it and moves on. That’s probably why so many publishers hedge their bets by loading, and overloading, their covers with so much accompanying bullet and blurb text.

And for me, it’s become a turnoff. In fact, I recently canceled my subscription to Lois’ old periodical stomping grounds, in large part because I was finding that those text-gorged covers were constantly turning me off each month. Far from enticing me to open the cover and dive in, the instant in-your-face design seems a bit too desperate for attention.

In a way, it pains me to make that observation. For years, I considered the standard teaser-cover to be pretty user-friendly, even to the point of being a good template for online publishing adaptation (think of each of those cover blurbs as a hyperlink). But somewhere along the way, the aesthetic became diluted, I think.

Today, Lois’ image-only style would stand out simply because every other mass-market title persists with the textual path. It’d be a refreshing change.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 04/27/2008 11:06:54 PM
Category: Creative, History, Pop Culture, Publishing
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Today would be Easter for the other Christians. Since I’m in that sect — Greek Orthodox, although don’t test me on devoutness — I’ll be spending time with the extended family, chiefly in the form of eating. The highlight for me will be doling out the chocolate Easter bunnies and Peeps to the little niece and nephews; I’ve been stockpiling that sugary goodness for a month, so the payoff will be nice.

Not to play a game of one-upmanship with the Western observance of this holiday, but I’ll point out that the Orthodox method of determining the date of Christ’s comeback is a bit more straightforward: Basically, Easter should fall on the first Sunday after Jewish Passover, based on the acknowledgment that Jesus celebrated Passover a few days before his crucifixion and resurrection.

Simple, although linkage with Jewish ritual is pretty much the root of this East-West schism:

The belief gradually grew that the phrase “with the Jews” was to be understood literally and that the Holy Fathers at Nicea had decreed that the Christian Easter must not, even accidentally, occur on the same day as the Passover; rather, it must be celebrated later. As a matter of fact, however, such an interpretation was not only inaccurate but contrary to the spirit of what was decreed at Nicea, considering that acceptance of this interpretation necessitates a chronological relationship between the Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover, the very undesirable connection the Great Council sought to abolish.

Contrast that with the hoops that Catholics and Protestants have to jump through to determine their annual Easter Sunday calendar spot. The lunar-calendar calculations are so complex that they had to come up with something called Computus, basically an ecumenical math algorithm.

All told, I’d rather stick “with the Jews”.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 04/27/2008 01:03:25 PM
Category: History, Society
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Saturday, April 26, 2021

Further evidence that the 20-something MySpace generation has no shame: Disclosing annual salary among friends is now considered practically de rigueur.

For people old enough to remember phone booths, a blunt reference to salary in a social setting still represents the height of bad manners. But for many young professionals, the don’t-ask-don’t-tell etiquette of previous generations seems like a relic.

For them, salary information is now fair game, at least among friends. Many consider it crucial to prosper in an increasingly transient, winner-take-all workplace — regardless of the envy that full disclosure can raise. Besides, when the Internet already offers a cornucopia of personal information, it almost seems coy to keep personal income private.

As Ilana Arazie, 32, an online video producer for a media company in Manhattan, said, “If we can talk about how many orgasms we have with our mate, why can’t we discuss how much we make?”

Well, if you bring orgasms into, okay then.

Actually, I was joking about that “no shame” quip (mostly). I don’t disagree with this sharing concept, simply because it’s a rightly-recognized acknowledgment of modern-day working life:

Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at Cornell, said that an open flow of information is deemed crucial by young professionals who think of themselves as free agents, not company men.

“People move between jobs a lot more now than they used to,” Dr. Frank said. This mobility alone increases the instances that salary might come up among friends.

Indeed, no one should expect to stick around with a single company for their entire career, simply because the companies themselves don’t even tacitly offer that security anymore. I argued 10 years ago about that fundamental shift in American life; we’re all free agents these days, like it or not. So there’s nothing wrong with collaboratively comparing notes, in order to establish a market value among peers.

Does this mean I freely cough up my gross/net earnings? Well, no. For one thing, at 36, I’m old enough to cling to the oldschool taboo on the subject. For another, now that I’m a full-time consultant, my annual “salary” can vary, especially with the of-late recessionary rumblings. It’s a bit moot, as I don’t detect any requests from friends and colleagues for that information anyway (nor do they offer up theirs). If anything, I’ll more-or-less let my visible standards of living speak for themselves, and let those curious enough guess at the pricetags and do the resultant math.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/26/2008 08:08:34 PM
Category: Business, Society, Sports
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less blow
So today at around 1PM, I flipped the TV channel to ESPN, fully expecting to see the first round of this year’s NFL Draft in full swing. I haven’t been particularly interested in the lead-up, but I wanted to get a token fix of Mel Kiper et al.

But, shocker of shockers — no draft coverage. Because there was no draft, because unlike years past, the league and the networks decided to slightly streamline football’s most overhyped offseason event:

- The draft will start at [3PM Eastern] Saturday, three hours later than had been the case, but only Rounds 1 and 2 will be held that day. The third round has been moved to Sunday.

- Teams will be allowed 10 minutes to make a selection in the first round instead of 15, and the time between second-round picks will be seven minutes instead of 10.

- Sunday’s portion of the draft will start an hour earlier [10AM Eastern] and teams will have five minutes between picks in Rounds 3-7.

The later start time Saturday is beneficial for ESPN and the NFL Network because viewership grows throughout the day. But the reduction in time between picks is going to be interesting.

The quicker pace between selections has greater impact than just television coverage and ad sales, of course. Teams do jockey for trades during that between-selection time, even if it is for slot-swaps to move up in a round. Potentially, that means a reduction in horsetrading, even if it is only for trivial fourth-round positioning.

Still, as much as I ignored the draft for the past couple of years, I do feel a void. It was a reliable background noise if I chose to tune in. Today’s mid-afternoon start didn’t work for me at all; as a result, I’ve peeked in for maybe five total minutes of coverage. I doubt I’ll catch much more tomorrow.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/26/2008 07:25:15 PM
Category: Football, TV
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Stern Pinball, Inc. is a company that’s in about the most concentrated niche industry that’s possible:

But this place, Stern Pinball Inc., is the last of its kind in the world. A range of companies once mass produced pinball machines, especially in the Chicago area, the one-time capital of the business. Now there is only Stern. And even the dinging and flipping here has slowed: Stern, which used to crank out 27,000 pinball machines each year, is down to around 10,000.

That Chicago connection also played a big part in coin-op videogaming history. In fact, Stern Pinball’s predecessor company produced some 1980s-era arcade videogames. And cross-town rival company Williams went a step further, not only delving into videogames but in fact producing some of the more memorable and challenging games from that era, notably Defender, Joust, and (my personal favorite) Robotron: 2084. As much as Silicon Valley gets credit for birthing Atari, Chicago should get some credit for fostering some eminently playable classic videogaming.

As for pinball, I’m not one who’ll miss it’s eventual passing. I never could get into it. I don’t mind the concept of the ball as a free radical, but so much of the game forces you to be an observer — you watch the ball spring forth, bounce around for a minute or more on various bumpers and bells, and then maybe drop down to the flippers area. Then, even if you get a decent hit, you usually have to wait another several seconds for the ball to descend back down to you. Or, more likely, it drops down dead center, where all your hapless flippering can’t prevent the end of the turn. Woo-hee.

One aside: They still call it the “coin-op industry”. Do any arcade machines still even accept coins — last I noticed, they all had dollar bill feeders, and the newest models even have card-swipe slots. I guess soda and snack machines are part of this business, and they still take coins, so maybe they still justify the industry’s name.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/26/2008 05:23:17 PM
Category: History, Pop Culture, Videogames
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Friday, April 25, 2021

A pretty clear tipping point in communications and media growth is an industry shift from time/unit-rate to flat-rate billing. The growth of the Web, for instance, really exploded once America Online, the dominant ISP of the mid-1990s, phased out per-minute dialup access plans in favor of an unlimited monthly flat-rate subscription fee (the model most of us still have for today’s broadband connections). The lifting of the built-in restrictions that a la carte pricing forces creates a more ubiquitous all-access service, one that users more tightly weave into their everyday lives.

It’s taken a while, but that offering concept is finally creeping into the wireless phone industry with unlimited talk and data plans, playing off consumer tendencies:

“Consumers avoid these services because they want to know how much they’ll pay at the end of each month,” says Jeff Kagan, a Marietta, Ga.-based telecom analyst. “No longer fearing extra costs, of any kind, is going to drive real change in the marketplace.”

That’s something that’s proved often: Price predictability. Consumers won’t necessarily balk at a set monthly charge, even if it’s inflated. But a variable charge causes anxiety, even if it’s affordable — it’s irrational, but a line item that “flashes” on the monthly household bills scares people away. Removing that factor also removes a psychological barrier, leading to unfettered usage.

It’s still a work in progress. For me, an unlimited plan doesn’t make much sense, as I never get even remotely close to my base-package of monthly minutes right now. I would counterbalance that with extremely heavy data use, mainly plain old Web access; but doing so on the existing handset interfaces doesn’t appeal to me. There’s always the iPhone option, but probably not for another couple of years.

What’s the longer-term prospects of this industry shift? Will players like Blackberry become superfluous when everyone’s personal communications hub meets all accessing needs? Will everyone obsessively check their email, MySpace/Facebook pages, etc. on the go? Would this lead to a more-rapid phasing out of all wired Web setups (at least in residential settings)? For now, price predictability means usage unpredictability.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 04/25/2008 12:15:00 PM
Category: Business, Internet, Society, Tech
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Thursday, April 24, 2021

sweetz gig
Who knew that a slightly-creepy cat humor site did enough business to need an office staff? But it’s true: “I Can Has Cheezburger” is hiring, and is getting more of a challenge than anticipated in the screening process.

Apparently, looking at Lolcats all day is an appealing job. Ben Huh, founder of the site and chief executive of Seattle-based Pet Holdings Inc., has received 250 applications since the job was posted on Monday under the headline “Kittehs Want Moar Workerhumans.”

“I got a stack of resumes that I can’t even go through,” Huh said. “You know how they say, ‘Spell everything correctly because the people reading your resume will toss it out otherwise?’ Well, we can’t even do that. We won’t knock you out for spelling…. The traditional resume screening methods don’t apply here.”

The winning applicant will join three other people who moderate ICHC and a few related Pet Holdings sites (think dogs with funny captions). A big part of the job will be selecting from the 7,000 submissions the company receives every day of captioned photos, plus 2,000 uncaptioned ones.

I really hope they have some sort of sensory-overload specialist on-hand, to guard against surefire burnout. Really, how many bizarro photos can someone sift through before their mind rebels in protest?

I’ve got no plans to relocate to the Emerald City, so regrettably, I’ll have to decline this (questionable) opportunity. However, just to show I can flow with the cryptic content, I offer up my previous two posts on the LOLcat phenomenon. Specifically the post titles:



Actually, in a way, this fractured diction might need more stringent editing than you’d expect. Right up my alley, skills-wise.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/24/2008 10:38:07 PM
Category: Comedy, Internet
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Weardrobe is an online, largely phototag-driven clothing-catalogue community, designed to create a huge virtual fashion closet via the aggregation of millions of users’ wardrobe choices.

Not really my kind of thing.

But I found out about it by peeking at the guest list for tomorrow’s Jelly coworking session in Brooklyn, which I’m attending. Weardrobe founder Suzanne Xie will also be there, and so I’d love to pitch the following add-on to her site:

Weirdrobe. Like, weird items of clothing, or donned combinations of such, that elicit puzzlement and awe from onlookers. Or something like that.

Hey, I’m a sucker for puns. Weardrobe got the ball rolling, so I’ll give it another push.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/24/2008 10:01:26 PM
Category: Fashion, Internet, Wordsmithing
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Appropriately enough for a gambling mecca, Las Vegas is taking a double-down approach to urban revitalization: Instead of rehabbing its existing downtown, it’s building a sparkling-new replacement, right next door.

[T]he city will formally inaugurate a new urban core on a 61-acre, undeveloped parcel of land — a project that some experts say is unprecedented in city planning. Called Union Park, its supporters hope it will revive the historic downtown just to the east, where the region’s courthouses, government offices and oldest casinos are clustered…

“It’s quite unusual that there’s a big swath of downtown ground just sitting there without having to go through a whole rigmarole to acquire,” said Bill Hudnut, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington. Mr. Hudnut, the former mayor of Indianapolis, recalled that acquiring just three blocks of that city “involved some legal fights and eminent domain, the demolition of buildings, numerous deals with numerous owners.” In Las Vegas, he added, “they’re just building new stuff.”

And I suppose if Union Park fizzles out after it goes up, they can just pick up another several adjacent acres and take a third stab at it. All that desert terrain is just a blank slate anyway, right?

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/24/2008 06:43:56 PM
Category: Politics, Society
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Wednesday, April 23, 2021

As the New York Rangers get set to embark upon Round Two of the NHL playoffs, I can’t think of any stranger soap opera material than news of Sean Avery seeking out, and landing, an internship at Vogue Magazine.

Avery, who makes $2 million a year with the Rangers and has cavorted with starlets since his days with the Los Angeles Kings, initiated the contact with Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

“He is ridiculously obsessed with fashion,” Avery’s publicist Nicole Chabot told ABCNews.com. “He loves it more than anything in the world. It’s something he has always wanted to do.”…

Though his assignments are “evolving,” Avery will go to Paris Fashion Week with international editor-at-large Hamish Bowles, according to Chabot.

Presumably that Paris trip is scheduled for after June; Rangers faithful would be less than pleased to lose Avery’s agitating skills in the midst of a Stanley Cup run.

I can only guess that this timing is designed to encourage mindgames among upcoming playoff opponents. No one wants to get pushed around by a budding fashion-mag internist…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/23/2008 03:32:17 PM
Category: Fashion, Hockey, Publishing
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Professional puckheads won’t have to go begging for National Hockey League broadcasts next season, as NBC has extended its broadcast agreement with the league through the 2008-09 season.

“There have been positive signs for the league, both on and off the ice,” Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, said in a statement. “Ratings were up this year; the Winter Classic in Buffalo was a huge success; advertising sales were healthy; and the product on the ice has never been better, led by young, marketable stars such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. We believe this is a sport that will continue to grow.”

Ratings for the regular-season Sunday games on NBC were up 11 percent from last year.

We’ve heard all this before — a one-year bump is nice, but doesn’t guarantee any long-term commitment. The key component is that NBC is getting the content for free — no rights means the NHL is simply getting some much-need exposure, and the network has no risk in either broadcasting or else bumping the random game.

Still, having a prime broadcast presence is still a status symbol that any claimant to major-league sports must have. It might not mean as much five years from now, but for now, it’s a requisite that the NHL is glad to have.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/23/2008 03:21:26 PM
Category: Hockey, SportsBiz, TV
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So if inveterate Wikipedia contributors want to add/edit entries in a printed-book version of the encyclopedia-like resource — which publisher Bertelsmann plans to produce, drawing from the German edition of the website — will they have to stock up on Wite-Out and scissors?

The media company — whose units include publisher Random House Inc. and music venture Sony BMG — said Wednesday that it plans to publish “The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia” starting in September with the content made up of 50,000 of the most-searched terms on the German language edition of Wikipedia.

Beate Varnhorn, the head of publishing at Bertelsmann Encyclopedia Institute said the “condensed, one-volume print edition” would bring Wikipedia to a new audience.

She told The Associated Press that the sheer number of entries on the German Wikipedia — at last count they numbered approximately 740,000 and would likely fill hundreds of printed volumes — meant publishing all of it was not “a good project for the German book trade.”

But an annual collection of the most-sought out terms made sense, she said. “A yearbook really can be a documentation of the zeitgeist.”

I can see this move as widening the audience scope of Wikipedia, but in a decidedly dumbed-down way — it reduces the site to a top-ten list. Naturally the flavor-of-the-month entries will get the most action, and by extension would spur the bulk of sales for any published product.

Speaking of those sales:

Like its Web-based namesake, the book will be under a free license, meaning its content can be distributed and copied, including commercially. Copies of the 992-page book — available only in German — will retail for $31.80.

Bertelsmann has agreed to pay Wikimedia Deutschland eV, which promotes the German-language version of the online encyclopedia, $1.59 a copy, said Arne Klempert, the group’s executive director.

“To some extent it’s marketing for Bertelsmann. They are using free content, free knowledge,” he told The Associated Press. “Legally, they don’t have to pay anything for the content but they don’t want to give the impression that they are acting on the back of the Wikipedia authors, so they decided to give something back for that reason.”

Despite the stated ground rules under the free documentation license, I’m sure this exercise in crass commercialism will raise hackles among those with nothing better to do. Likewise, how many article-writers are going to feel miffed over their words generating profit for someone else — again, even though that’s part of the deal? Most Wikipedians blanch at any moves toward directly monetizing the site’s content; even couching a print product as an attempt to spread the word will be met with hostility.

Despite the creeping acceptance in venues high and low — including among far too many media professionals who should know better — I still regard the use of Wikipedia as a reference source to the equivalent of citing graffiti. Bottom line, if a page can be altered at any given moment, it’s not worthy of trust. I’m afraid an enshrined, faux-legitimized hard-copy version will only accelerate the false sense of security it engenders.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/23/2008 03:02:31 PM
Category: Internet, Publishing
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Wouldn’t it be nice to shoot your physician an email when you have a non-critical medical concern, instead of sacrificing the better part of a day with phonetag or an office visit? Good luck getting a response to such an inquiry: Only about a third of U.S. doctors say they respond to patients’ emails, with the rest offering up basically an “I-don’t-wanna” excuse.

Doctors have their reasons for not hitting the reply button more often. Some worry it will increase their workload, and most physicians don’t get reimbursed for it by insurance companies. Others fear hackers could compromise patient privacy — even though doctors who do e-mail generally do it through password-protected Web sites…

Dr. Daniel Z. Sands, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, is among the early adopters who doesn’t get paid for e-visits. He sees communicating with patients online as no different from phoning them, a practice that also is not billable.

How hard would it be for physician offices and hospitals to set up an auto-response message that delivers the usual disclaimers, e.g. disavowing email communication for time-sensitive and critical conditions and such? It’s not brain surgery — presumably one of the conditions that these docs wouldn’t want to diagnose via their Outlook inbox…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/23/2008 02:22:16 PM
Category: Internet, Society
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