The books I read this year

by Peter Rojas

One of my goals for 2011 was to read more, and while I fell short of my goal of reading a book every two weeks, I did manage to read more than did in 2010. Here's what I read this year:

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
  • The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking
  • The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen
  • The Lost Worlds of 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The New Capitalist Manifesto by Umair Haque
  • The Next Decade by George Friedman
  • Zero History by William Gibson

I also read all five A Song of Fire and Ice books by George R. R. Martin (I read through the first four in about a month so I could read the new one when it was released):

  • Game of Thrones 
  • A Clash of Kings 
  • A Storm of Swords
  • A Feast for Crows 
  • A Dance with Dragons 
I'm also in the middle of three books:

  • 1491 by Charles Mann
  • The Information by James Gleick
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson


by Peter Rojas

I've obviously been neglecting my blog here. There are a variety of reasons why -- I've been posting my tech-related writing to gdgt and more general stuff to Google+ and Twitter -- but I'm going to try writing here more again.

Some thoughts on what that TechCrunch intern did and how this is not normal for tech blogging

by Peter Rojas

I've been blogging for a long time now -- going on nine years now, even if I'm not doing it professionally anymore -- and if there's one thing that bugs me is the contention that blogs can't live up to, or even exceed, the editorial standards of newspapers and magazines. In fact, I've written for magazines, newspapers, and blogs, and I can say that I've seen far more ethical lapses at magazines than I've ever seen at any of the blogs I've written for. Which is why I think that Arrington did the right thing by going public about a TechCrunch intern's acceptance of -- and apparently demand for -- compensation from companies seeking coverage on the site. It was important to draw a very clear line in the sand there and make it clear that this sort of thing is unacceptable and not business-as-usual.

And to me that's the crucial thing here, that this sort of quid pro quo is not common in the tech blogosphere. There's a lot of cynicism out there about blogs, but I think that a lot of us forget that the core quality that defines any publication is credibility. It takes time to accrue it, and the way you keep it is by being honest with your readers and transparent about your relationships. And part of being credible means going beyond transparency and recognizing that there are things you simply don't do. My basic rule when I was running Engadget was: Don't do anything you wouldn't feel comfortable disclosing any blog post, but also don't pretend that simply disclosing something absolves you of all responsibility not to have an inappropriate relationship with the companies you're writing about.

What frustrates me is that stories like today's are only going to fuel the cynicism that's out there, and widen this belief that everyone is on the take or has compromised their integrity. I can tell you that almost every single technology blogger I know (and there are always some exceptions) takes what they do very seriously and has a clear understanding of what their ethical boundaries are. And I can also tell you that people who level accusations like "Oh, I bet Apple paid them to write this" has absolutely zero understanding of how media companies work or even of how technology companies do their advertising, marketing, and PR.

I think it's always a good idea to read things with a critical eye, but constantly asserting that every time someone on a tech blog writes something you disagree with does so because they're on the take does nothing to improve the quality of journalism out there and actually does harm because it makes things like today's incident seem less important and more common than it really is.

UPDATE: I put this up and then five minutes later see that Jason has some thoughts posted as well.

Update on Ogilvy/Zync/AmEx

by Peter Rojas

I'd like to think that CES was the most interesting thing to happen to me so far this year, but more than a few people have emailed/IM'd/tweeted asking to find out what happened after I posted that pitch Ogilvy sent on behalf of AmEx's Zync card, so I figured I'd post an update. It actually didn't take long for representatives from both Ogilvy and AmEx to call after my post -- it was maybe half an hour before my phone started ringing -- and over the past week I've had some really good conversations with people from both companies. Everyone I spoke with was apologetic and made it clear that this was a deviation from their usual way of doing things, and I accept both their apologies and that this isn't usually how they operate (in fact the reason I posted this email is because it seemed so out there).

Anyway, I wasn't looking for an apology, but it was nice to get one and I sincerely hope they understand that my intention wasn't to cause anyone any grief as much as it was to try in some very small way to reduce the amount of dumb marketing being done these days. It was pretty encouraging to hear from a lot of people working in marketing and PR who told me they agreed with what I'd written and also felt that there were smarter ways to do this stuff.

Ogilvy engages in tone deaf social media marketing for the AmEx Zync card

by Peter Rojas

Yesterday I got an email from a social media marketer at Ogilvy about a new card that American Express is introducing and how they'd like to strike up an "exclusive relationship" with me. I wasn't sure exactly what that meant by that, but I'd done some work for AmEx in the past -- I spoke to some of their executives about the future of mobile a few years ago -- and so I figured I'd at least see what was up. I wrote back (and this is all I wrote back), "Could you give me an overview of what you're describing?" The email below is what I received in return. If you can get past all the buzzwords ("for 20somethings by 20somethings", seriously?), basically the deal is that in exchange for the "privilege" of signing up for the Zync card I get to give AmEx free consulting (because paying me would make me lie to them, apparently) and then host a party where I can market the Zync card to my "network".

So let me get this straight: I get to sign up for a product where they make money (in terms of card fees), where I give them advice and insight that AmEx used to think was worth paying for (but now is not because that would make me dishonest), and then to wrap it all up I get to pimp out all my closest friends? I can't believe AmEx would be stupid enough to give Ogilvy money for this program, I hope they convinced them to accept payment in Zync card accounts and tweet-ups.

UPDATE: I should make it clear that it's not about getting paid or not getting paid -- I'm happy to contribute to all sorts of things for free, even things for big companies like AmEx -- this is about it being a very one-sided arrangement where one side seems be asking for a lot and not delivering any discernible value in return. Value can come in lots of different forms. I've beta tested products before and given my honest, unpaid feedback to those companies, but I did so because I felt like I got some value out of being able to use the product and learn more about it. There isn't much offered here -- I already have an AmEx card, so it's not like I need to gain some experience using. The value only moves one way, from me to them. They're asking to leverage my usage, my knowledge, and my network.

Hey Peter,

Not a problem! So, here is the deal: If you don’t know Zync…

Zync is the new American Express Charge card for 20somethings. This card is created for 20somethings by 20somethings that is all about customization: consumers can choose packs of benefits. So if you like buying say tech products, you can specifically choose the tech pack tailored to your needs to give you extra membership rewards. It’s all about you and what you want.

Another important thing to know is that the card is currently in beta testing – that is where you come in. As a person who is in the tech world and is out and about in the New York City scene we felt that you would be an awesome person to test out the card and be part of the ongoing discussion with product development team. Since this card is in beta, this truly is a card that is for you by you: you get to choose during beta what works and what doesn’t.

Lastly, since we want this to be genuine, we won’t be paying you for your time to participate because we want the feedback you give to be honest. The benefit is that you have an access to an exclusive relationship with the Zync team, cool events, special committee standing in our Zync Tank and the opportunity to host your own tweet-up, completely paid for by the Zync team. All that is detailed below-

o Zync Immersion Event:

§ To start the relationship, we want to get you to know Zync

§ While we enjoy our PPT presentations, that is not how we want you to get to know Zync

§ For this day, we will be doing fun activities all around New York City so you can really interact with the Zync team

§ This will be a one-and-a-half day experience full of exciting and exclusive events that tie into the Lego Packs (eco, tech, social and green)

§ This will take place sometime in early February

o Zync Tweet Up:

§ While we are looking for feedback we are also celebrating the development of the new card

§ For this, we want to co-host Zync tweet ups for you and your network

§ Will be held in top metro areas (e.g. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco) themed around one or more Lego Packs

§ Events will be for 25 – 50 people at fun locations related to packs such as Brooklyn Boulders

§ This will take place sometime in February/March

o Zync Tank:

§ Since you will be a Cardmember, we want you to get the full experience of the beta testing of the card

§ For this, we have something called Zync Tank. Zync tank is our online community/listening tool that we use to get sentiment of Zync from Cardmembers participating in the beta program

§ With this relationship, you would be able to be part of the “Special Committee” in which you really get to provide feedback to the product development team on ideas for iPhone applications, the next packs and much more

There is a lot that we want to accomplish. With you, we are not asking you to write anything on our behalf or provide us a post. Merely, as a person we value, we want to experience the card with you while we develop it so it’s not just American Express but from a person who really can put a lot of value into the card and perhaps vice versa.

Let me know if you have any other questions. I’ll touch base with you tomorrow to see if you are still interested or have any questions!

Best, Priya