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Business

Save the Open Internet!

We Are the Internet

Small businesses should work to save the open Internet (a.k.a., “net neutrality”). Why? The reason is simple: under current FCC rules, Internet service providers (ISPs) cannot slow down, impede, or block, or charge higher fees for distributing data from any source. This means that content uploaded by small business and individuals enjoys the same access to distribution as that from large companies. When the Internet is regulated as a public utility (under current practice), visitors can access information from all websites like this.

Net neutrality road edition
Image from Huffington Post.

Early indications from the Trump administration hint that such neutrality might be in danger. The mega-ISPs—Cox, Charter (also owner of Time Warner), Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon—would like to charge businesses a fee to have access to high speed distribution of content on the Internet. Such a fee would be in addition to their fees for connection to the Internet. Failure to pay could mean that a business would encounter a delay in displaying content or even failure to have content transmitted at all. Small businesses could suffer lost revenue compared to large corporations who would be able to pay the additional fee.

Non-net-neutrality road edition

Image from Huffington Post.

As previously mentioned in my post on long-form marketing, businesses and organizations are increasingly using video and other longer content pieces to tell their story. What happens if their sites take longer to load than those of larger, wealthier competitors?

If you run a small business that sells a product or a service, you could be forced to pay “protection money” to compete. After all, you can’t afford to have potential clients fall off your site simply out of frustration. And we humans get frustrated quickly: remember how often other drivers (not you, of course!) jump around slowed or stopped traffic to get ahead or into a faster lane. On the Internet, people will jump off your site in just a few seconds. In fact, most viewers spend less than 15 seconds on your website. If they can’t see your site or crucial information (such as a video) quickly, they will go to a competitor’s site.

All of a sudden, that protection money begins to sound like a deal, if not a good one for you.

Imagine being told by a company like Comcast that in order to allow your users to continue to browse your site at high speeds, you will need to pay a hefty fee for data prioritization. You would almost assuredly not be able to make those payments. On the other hand, your multi-million dollar competitors, whether they be Walmart or another big box store, have almost infinite funds to make sure their website speeds are consistent. This, in effect, could put a small shop out of business because of how important internet traffic is to its bottom line.
Kevin Green, “How Changes to Net Neutrality Laws Could Affect Small Businesses,” 2/22/2017.

With the appointment of Ajit Pai as the new FCC Chairman, threats to an open Internet have already surfaced.

FCC commissioners 2017
From left: FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly.

 

The camel’s nose under the tent could be an emerging practice known as zero-rating. Large providers of streaming content—T-Mobile (with its “Binge On” program), Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Comcast—have begun offering consumers video content that would not count toward their data use quotas, that would be “zero-rated.” This creates a situation where an ISP such as Comcast could discriminate against another content-providing ISP such as Verizon. A precedent is then established to create rival toll roads whereby content providers would have to pay to get their content distributed universally. The situation is quite complicated. The best explanation that I’ve seen is by Jeff Dunn, “Trump’s new FCC boss has already set the stage for a less-open internet,” in Business Insider, 2/9/2017.

The previous FCC was investigating the effects of zero-rating on businesses. When Chairman Pai took over, he stopped the investigation, stating that the practice benefited consumers without undue harm to business. In fact, the FCC under his leadership appears to be poised to reduce or reverse regulations so as to allow ISPs to begin to charge content providers differently for premium speed access. That has not yet occurred, but it seems very possible.

What to do? If your livelihood depends on your small business’s access to an open Internet, contact the FCC commissioners. Also contact your local Congressional representatives. For an excellent summary of the historical, technological, economic, and cultural issues regarding the threats to the open Internet, see Quincy Larson’s recent post, “The Future of the Open Internet—and Our Way of Life—Is in Your Hands.” See also Thom Hartmann’s piece on how big ISPs plan to see your information with Congress’s (i.e., Republicans’) approval. Don’t be caught unaware of what’s happening!

 

Personal

BLIZZARD!!

Blizzard map 2017

The first clue that the blizzard has arrived is silence. The usual white noise of distant traffic, barking dogs, sanitation trucks, airplanes is gone—replaced by a white blanket of total quiet. Even the snowplows are banished from the street. Nothing. Everything. Just. Stops. Except, perhaps, for the wind.

Like birthdays, blizzards provide opportunities for reflection. Unlike birthdays, blizzards are random, usually identified by a specific year. People remember blizzards, sometimes fondly. And somehow, the snow remembered from past years always gets deeper, the temperature colder. So, while the wind blows and the snow swirls outside today, here are a few of my blizzard tales. Continue reading “BLIZZARD!!”

Marketing, Writing

Where Have All the Members Gone?

US color

Why Not-for-Profit Members Are Important

Keeping the doors open for your not-for-profit organization is challenging. Money is hard to come by. Federal and state funding is likely to decline sharply during the next few years. The National Council of Non-Profits recently reported that government support, donor retention, and corporate funding have already dropped. Private foundations and individuals focus on new, splashy ventures that are often outside your mission. Covering day-to-day expenses keeps directors and board members awake at night. At a time when relying on members’ support is more important than ever, the crowded schedules of families and distractions of electronic screens means fewer members, both current and new. After all, what’s in it for them? Why should they join your group? If you’re involved in running a museum, an advocacy group, or a community organization, you need to show them why.

Continue reading “Where Have All the Members Gone?”

Writing

Marketing with Lots of Words? Sometimes!

10-ft-tape-measure

In Marketing Without Words? Not Quite!, I argued that social media marketing using lots of images still requires some words to convey precise meaning. But that’s not the whole story. Recent trends show that long-form marketing—long posts of 2,000+ words, case studies, white papers, video(!)—often gets better results in online search rankings and conversions. The primary issue, then, is which long-form strategy is appropriate for your organization and how you should implement it.
Continue reading “Marketing with Lots of Words? Sometimes!”

Tools, Writing

Marketing Without Words? Not Quite!

carrots
What’s Your Incentive?

Words are dying. With everyone spending so much more time absorbing information via smart phones, tablets, or computers, digital marketing focuses more than ever on images. Capturing initial attention and providing essential, emotionally relevant information quickly are two good reasons for this shift. As Mike Hill at Moonshine has pointed out,

Visual and audio technologies liberate us to absorb more information, faster and better, than reading words.

The reason for this is hardwired into us – reading and writing are not skills we’re born with, unlike seeing and hearing.

That visual imagery results in more effective communication and retention of information appears to be confirmed by neuroscience. In explaining the “pictorial superiority effect, or PSE,” John Medina in Brain Rules (video available!) urges us to scrap our text-based PowerPoint slides in favor of image-based presentations. Continue reading “Marketing Without Words? Not Quite!”

Uncategorized, Writing

Help Wanted for Job Descriptions!

jobsadsinnewspaper

Sorry, I’m not hiring. But I am looking to improve the process used by nearly all businesses and organizations that do hire. Let’s face it: looking for a job today amounts to an inhumane, impersonal, tedious slog. If you can join your parents’ or Uncle Joe’s firm, stop reading and go consult a family therapist. The rest of us are condemned to networking and responding to poorly written job descriptions. Be aware, however, that poorly crafted job postings harm employers and prospective employees.

We’ve all seen them: job postings so long, detailed, technical, and jargon-laden that a single human being could not possibly fulfill all of the required expectations. Why are we subjected to such abuse? Continue reading “Help Wanted for Job Descriptions!”

Uncategorized

Battle Boredom, Improve Decisions!

powerpoint-presentation

As a college administrator for several years, I endured too many boring meetings and presentations. You have, too, regardless of your profession. You know the drill: while presenters read from text-heavy or chart-laden slides, people tune out, nod off. Often, they discuss poorly written and argued reports. (I’ll even admit that my own reports too frequently fell into that category!) What to do?

Grow a cerebral spine! Our teachers once urged us to listen or read actively. In today’s jargon, they were telling us to think critically. But we’ve forgotten (or never really knew) what that means. Let’s learn something useful from students in the Middle Ages! Continue reading “Battle Boredom, Improve Decisions!”

Tools, Writing

Wrong Words vs. Right Words

grammar-photo

So you weren’t paying attention in high school English class? I know, it was boring. Besides, we all had social lives to manage. But that lapse might cost you today in lost opportunities for employment or career advancement. Despite rapidly improving AI, spell and grammar checking, and other aids, errors creep into everyone’s writing. And some of them can mark you as an ignoramus. Not good when you’re trying to impress your boss or a client.

Anyone who writes hastily, such as beleaguered office workers responding to scores of email messages each day, often slip on wrong-word ice. Your English teacher surely knew this, but you were physiologically incapable of thinking about anything beyond the next 20 minutes. As a public service, therefore, I’m reincarnating your poor teacher to supply a list of commonly misused words along with their corrected usage. Bear in mind that this is a blog: the list, therefore, is not exhaustive. Continue reading “Wrong Words vs. Right Words”

Uncategorized, Writing

Oh, Those Narrow Scottish Roads!

scottish-road-mountains-cliff

Travel writers should improve their game! Typically, they’re quite good at describing attractions to visit, places to stay, where to eat, and even what to wear. But all of that does not comprise a complete travel experience. As evidence, I offer our recent driving adventure in Scotland.

Last fall, my wife and I took our first trip to Scotland. Since we’re both independent personalities, we shunned group tours and set out on our own to see the countryside. Upon landing in Edinburgh, we picked up our rental car and drove into the city to our hotel. Despite some travelogue warnings, we did not find driving on the left to present a major problem, although we would not recommend doing so for your first time in a bustling city after an overnight flight. Still, we annoyed only a few native drivers (bus drivers seemed to exhibit the least patience) as we negotiated often confusing intersections. Continue reading “Oh, Those Narrow Scottish Roads!”