Three Pillars of Writing Success for Any Publishing Environment

Luc Reid @ 13-04-2011

Lately I’ve been looking, for the sake of my sanity, for some principles of writerly success that I can really depend on. These are a tad elusive when the publishing world is being shaken up by the complete redefinition of self-publishing and the whole eBook thing. I don’t know about you, but I look at all this and say “Hey, how am I going to make a living as a writer in this mess–or even just find a readership–when we don’t even know what the publishing world will consist of in five years?”

Uncertainty is a terrible motivator. Continue reading “Three Pillars of Writing Success for Any Publishing Environment”


The American Dream is SPENT: Two Visions of Contemporary Capitalism

Jonathan McCalmont @ 30-03-2011

At times of crisis, the irrationality of capitalism becomes plain for all to see. Surplus capital and surplus labour exist side by side with seemingly no way to put them back together in the midst of immense human suffering and unmet needs. In the midsummer of 2009 one third of the capital equipment in the United States stood idle, while some 17 per cent of the workforce were either unemployed, enforced part-timers or ‘discouraged’ workers. What could be more irrational than that? – David Harvey The Enigma of Capital (2010)

In my previous column, I cast an eye over the different ways in which strategy games depict the world and how these distorted visions of reality mirror the distortions that affect people when they become part of large institutions, such as governments and corporations. In that column, I discussed strategy games such as Civilization V (2010) and Europa Universalis III (2007) and god games such as Populous (1989) but I omitted to mention games that set out the simulate what it is like to run a business. Continue reading “The American Dream is SPENT: Two Visions of Contemporary Capitalism”


Spectaclegate: should Google police bad businesses?

Paul Raven @ 29-11-2010

Nothing grabs attention and raises ire like a story of shameless bad business practices, which explains the popularity of this New York Times piece on a charmless chap by the (delightfully meme-ready) name of Vitaly Borker. To boil it down, Russo actively cultivates a negative image for his online eyeglasses sales business because all the incoming links from complaints by disgruntled customers boost his site’s search rankings.

Stories that give people a reason to have a pop at Google and its perceived monopoly are also popular, and the saga of Borker has plenty of people thumping pulpits and claiming that the Big G should be managing its search algorithms to prevent scumbags like Borker from profiting from malpractice. The thing is, if Google were to do that, they’d actually be strengthening the perceived monopoly that these people like to complain about in the first place. Jeff Jarvis lays it down:

What if Google sensed the positive or negative sentiment in links and used that to guide its placement in search, as some suggested? Makes sense in the case of bad-guy Borker and his virtual eyeglass store. But as someone pointed out on Twitter last night, if Google did let sentiment affect rank, then what would it do with the negative links regarding Barack Obama or Sarah Palin, to Islam or GM? How would you write that law, remembering that the code is the law?

What if instead Google intervened in a case such as this and, seeing all the complaints, manually downgraded the guy in search? The first problem with that is scale: how do you find and investigate all the bad guys? The bigger problem is whether we want Google to be the cop of the world. Google has been sued by companies it decreed were link-bating spammer sites, downgrading them in search, while the sites said they were legitimate directories. This is the one case in which Google holds the power of God in a market and it’s a dangerous position to be in.

[…]

In the end, Segal’s story looks like a failure of search, Google, and the internet. The internet made it possible for a bad guy to win. Well, so does Wall Street.

But I don’t think this was Google’s failure (cue fan-boy accusations). The moral of the story should be that if you search Google for the name of Borker’s company, you see plenty of loud complaints in the results. The internet doesn’t nullify the First Law of Commerce: caveat emptor. When I had my now-legendary problems with Dell, I kicked myself for not doing a search of “dell sucks” before buying my computer. That’s my responsibility as a shopper. And, as I pointed out at the time, Google would have given me the information I needed. Ditto for the lady in Segal’s story. If I think of buying from a new vendor, I’ve learned my lesson: I search Google first because fellow customers, using Google, will help protect me.

That is the lesson The Times should have given its readers: Use Google to guard against those who would use Google.

I can’t help but feel there’s a subtle mirroring of the Cablegate issues here: information itself doesn’t make us free, but it enables us to take responsibility for our own freedoms. Google’s algorithms likewise provide a powerful tool for anyone fortunate enough to have access to an internet connection; as tempting as it may be, we can’t blame them for our own failure to use it to the fullest. Caveat emptor, indeed.


Unreal estate: man flips virtual nightclub for $500k

Paul Raven @ 19-11-2010

The metaverse doesn’t make the news as often as it did a few years back, but don’t assume that means the glow is off for real profits from virtual worlds: Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs just made a cool half-million bucks on selling an asteroid-cum-nightclub in the Entropia Universe MMO.

Until recently, Neverdie was the owner of one of the hottest virtual properties in Entropia, Club Neverdie, situated on a virtual asteroid around Entropia’s first planet, Planet Calypso. Jacobs bought the virtual asteroid back in 2005 for $100,000, after taking out a mortgage on his real-life house.

[…]

Taking out a hundred grand to buy virtual property may have seemed like poor business sense, but Jacobs had a plan. He turned Club Neverdie into a must-visit destination, one that includes more than a dozen bio-domes, a night club, stadium and a mall, where other players flocked to spend real cash on virtual goods and services. Jacobs was making around $200,000 in annual revenue, enough to comfortably support him and his family. Some might wonder why Jacobs didn’t instead start a real-life business like most others. Jacobs’ answer, “games made sense.” Club Neverdie was a “turnkey business” for him — besides dropping in from time to time to check on the property, the business largely ran itself and had no other employees besides himself.

Flipping property has long been an appealingly easy business model for those with enough capital to spare… but not so much in meatspace these days. I think we’ve yet to see the first full-scale metaverse property gold-rush, but once we have, the first metaverse bubble-burst won’t be far behind; in the meantime, a smart chancer can still make their mark on that particular and limitless frontier.

Incidentally, a little further down this piece there’s an interesting and (to me) unexpected junction to another story, namely the J K Rowling plagiarism lawsuit, which gets weirder and weirder the deeper you look into it:

Jacobs wasn’t always a virtual celebrity, but even his past plays out like something out of a movie. His was born to a Miss United Kingdom and Adrian Jacobs, a prototypical Bond villain of sorts. An infamous ’60s British financier nicknamed “Mr. X,” the senior Jacobs was banned from the London Stock Market in the ’80s after a string of shady deals, and has been reportedly quoted as saying, “I’ll be back again, richer than ever!” You can almost hear the super-villain laughter. Adrian Jacobs died in 1997, but in 2009, his estate filed a lawsuit against J.K. Rowling, claiming the author of the Harry Potter series had copied substantial parts of Jacobs’ 1987 children’s book, Willy the Wizard.

Call me cynical, but I’m now even more convinced that the Willy The Wizard suit is an opportunist scam…

[This story via MetaFilter, to whom I’d point out that while I’ve blatantly stolen their headline pun, I did so in the belief that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That, and the knowledge that I couldn’t think up a better one at short notice. ]


Citizen Denton: New Yorker profiles Gawker founder

Paul Raven @ 14-10-2010

Offered without comment, and via sources too numerous to link, is this profile of Gawker Media blog-mogul Nick Denton at The New Yorker. It’s simply a fascinating character study in its own right, though you could read it as an insight to the sort of attitudes and drives you need to make a blog network a paying proposition in the flux-plagued churn of The New Media.

Through Gawker, Denton wages war on self-regard—or presumed self-regard, as his cast of mind is both abstract and deeply tribal, inclining him to sort nearly all people into one or another category that could be judged full of itself. There is a well-travelled image of Denton on the Web, in which he is wearing a tuxedo and tilting a wineglass to his lips. The image bothers him, because it suggests a level of comfort and formality in his presentation that doesn’t accord with his self-image. Denton is tall and rangy, and has a famously large head that sits precariously on a thin neck and narrow shoulders, leaving the impression of an evolved brain that is perhaps a little too conscious of its pedestrian context. He looks perpetually unshaven, with gray stubble complementing his close-cropped, receding hair, which he teases casually forward. He is someone who likes and knows how to have fun—“Nick has a fairly strong hedonic streak,” his friend Matt Wells, of the BBC, says—but who doesn’t wish to be seen enjoying himself overly. “Hypocrisy is the only modern sin,” he likes to say.

Intriguing, and full of storyable ideas and character traits. Go read.


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