Monthly Archives: April 2010

Elections of Catan – why a three way race is more like a game of Settlers

Nick Clegg is trading one sheep for two bricks

02resources[1] Most readers of this blog know that I love Settlers of Catan.  It is a brilliant little game that is a lot of fun.  Most people who work with me know I’m constantly making analogies from Settlers to the workplace.

The more I think of it, the upcoming election in Great Britain is like a very high stakes game of Settlers of Catan.  The reason it is different from a normal election is that it has a robust third party option (potentially due to the fact that Britain had televised debates for the first time).

Clegg[1]Nick Clegg, of the always-third-place Liberal Party, has a chance to remake the electorate and the other two main horses in the race (current PM Gordon Brown of the Labor Party and challenger David Cameron of the Conservative Party) don’t know how to play the game with more than one competitor.

In Settlers of Catan, everyone’s goal is to win.  There is no prize for second place.  When one person gets one to an early lead, everyone else gangs up on the person until there is a new leader who then everyone hangs up on.  But frequently, it is quite hard to tell who the winner is.

In Settlers, as in life, working with others is important.  You have to do trades that both help you and your competitor.  It is often a very good idea to give your competitor a good deal just do you can take advantage of a certain situation.

Settlers_of_catan_board_game_relaunch_detail[1] Nick Clegg is probably a very good Settlers player.  He’s been hording less valuable resources (often in Settlers it is sheep) and trading them for things he needs to win.  And while he’s still a underdog and will not win the most seats in Parliament, in British politics, unlike American ones and unlike Settlers, there is a very strong prize to be second place: you can potentially be a kingmaker. 

How Nick Clegg plays his election of Catan through the election period and in the negotiations post-May-6 will be exciting to watch.  Just hopes he saves some of his ore.

creating beats consuming

it is really hard to consume and create at the same time

We are meant to be both creators and consumers. Today, however, most people consume far more then they create. Part of the reason for this is because being both a consumer and a creator at the same time is very difficult, and because goods and services have never been more accessible. But a healthy life is one that balances both creation and consumption.

Consumers vs. Creators
When you consume you are often appreciating other’s work.  You eat, watch movies, visit nice places, read books, and party. You vegetate to the sounds of your favorite musical artist on a wonderful couch while surfing Facebook on your beautifully designed laptop.

Creators do just the opposite: they strive to make something that others (or their future self) will appreciate.  Creators toil, try different things, fail, and try again.

People were Born to Create
People need to create and they need to have a creative outlet. Creating things lets us use our imagination, add value, provide a sense of accomplishment and ownership, and is both rewarding and satisfying.

Media,85812,en This is why children enjoy drawing, painting, and making arts and crafts so much. This is also the reason why people in start-ups are generally much happier than people at large institutions – smaller companies give people the freedom to create and have fewer restrictions.

There is nothing more satisfying than creating something. In fact, the fastest way to kill someone’s soul is to subject them to a life where they can no longer create.  But because of our natural tendencies to be creators, this is hard to do: even in the Soviet gulags and Nazi death camps, prisoners found ways to remain hopeful by making intricate designs in their imagination.

In general, creating things tends to be more rewarding than consuming things:

Writing beats reading.
Painting beats viewing.
Giving beats receiving.
Playing beats being a spectator.
Composing beats viewing.
Trying (and failing) beats complaining.
Cooking beats eating.
Lending beats borrowing.
Coding beats pretty much everything.
Yes, creating beats consuming.

Gluttony The greatest threat to our creative nature is ourselves. Today, many people are intentionally compromising creation by living lives focused on consumption.  This is because it is so much easier to consume in today’s world than in the past: wonderful goods, services, and experiences are so readily available.  This does not bode well for society’s long-term outlook and my guess is that few things can be worse for your physical and mental health. 

This is not to say that consuming isn’t important. It is. Consumption and appreciation play a central role in our lives.  But most people need a diet of more creation and less consumption.

Here are some simple tips to help fight the move towards an even greater consumption-oriented society.

How to Create More:

Kids-cooking2 Think of things you would like to create
– Instead of focusing on what you are going to consume, focus on what you want to create. You will be much more likely to follow through with something if you are passionate about it and/or have been meaning to do for a while.

2.    Start with small creation goals – Setting small goals can help break-in your creativity engine and to build momentum. This can include painting a wall, trying to cook a new dish, setting up a website, starting a blog, writing a story, and more. Don’t worry if the end result is not perfect, the idea is just to start creating.

3.    Consume Less – Because we are programmed to either consume or create within any given timeframe, consuming less will actually help you create more. But instead of consuming less immediately, set realistic and manageable goals to cut back on consumption.  If you are going to spend money on luxury, I would suggest you focus on things that buy you time rather than getting yourself more stuff.

4.    Surround yourself with creators – Perhaps one of the most effective ways of becoming more of a creator is to seek out and surround yourself with other creators. By doing so, you will talk about creating more often, get more ideas for creations, and have a reinforcing support circle.

Government Propaganda Online? It’s Only a Matter of Time

Online advertising today is used to drive purchases, but it’s only a matter of time before governments use it to shape public opinion and garner support – and not just among their own citizens.

Let’s say you are the U.S. State Department and your goal was to change opinion in Iran.  In the old days you would try to drop leaflets, pipe in short-wave radio, or spread some rumor.  You might also try calling lots of people with a “poll” with the aim of getting them to think another way.

But today, the cheapest, quickest, and most effective vehicle for mass outreach is Internet advertising. For a little more than $2 million, the U.S. government can show 10 online ads to each of Iran’s 35 million online citizens everyday for 30 days.  A more targeted campaign would cost less than the yearly cost of one soldier in Afghanistan.

Instead of having messages and ads shown to everyone like traditional advertising, governments can show online ads to just their target audience. Not only can Internet ads be shown to people browsing particular sites (like MySpace, Facebook,, and most international websites), it can also be further segmented by demographics, geography, purchasing behavior, interests, and more.  And while man of these sites are blocked in targeted countries, many popular overseas message boards are happy to take advertisements that might cost less than $100.

Buying online ads for something that does not appear to be political would be simple. And like Iran, targeting ads to people in most non-Western countries is cheap.

As our policy-makers become more familiar with new technology, governments will increasingly try to influence each other’s citizens through online persuasion (especially in cheap markets). 

This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on implementation … but it is likely going to happen as governments realize what Scott Brown realized in Massachusetts — that online ads can move poll numbers.

Creating an Implicit Version of Yelp




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I love Yelp — it is an awesome site that has some of the
most comprehensive reviews of thousands of small businesses (I mainly use it
for finding good restaurants).  I’m also
impressed by how the Yelp community has grown.


Building an explicit site like Yelp that relies on user
generated content is a really hard thing to do. Dozens of well-funded companies
tried and failed. Explicit sites face huge marketing challenges because they
need to get people to their site and start reviewing things before there is
much value for others to use the site – a hard chicken and egg problem to
overcome initially.


Yelp has overcome these challenges by building in
hand-to-hand street marketing:

– Throwing parties for their

– Having marketing people get
stores to put up “People Love Us on Yelp” stickers

– Growing community by community –
so they are really strong in places like San Francisco
or New York but
they might be weak in another community

– Contacting businesses and getting
them to claim their profiles on Yelp

– Having great community managers
that encourage lots of reviews by focusing on game mechanics


How to challenge an
explicit site

If you were going to build a Yelp competitor from the UGC
angel, you have two main options: be better than them at community marketing or
be better at inciting user reviews.  But
it is going to be really hard to compete on either. Essentially, you’d be
fighting Yelp at the game they are best at so you’d have to be the best web
marketer to succeed.


You could also take a totally different direction and go for
a new medium (like mobile) and maybe we’ll see some companies do well here. 


Another option would be to focus on building an implicit
version of Yelp. Unlike explicit sites that rely on user generated content,
implicit sites crawl the web and find already existing data and synthesize them
in one place. Instead of the huge marketing challenge that comes with building
an explicit site, implicit sites are really big technical challenges.  That’s why great marketers should focus on
explicit challenges while great engineers should focus on implicit challenges.


If you think about how Yelp is organized, they have a series
of reviews on small business which generally have a common key, such as a phone
number and/or a postal address.  So these
businesses are usually relatively easy to distinguish when crawling the web.


To build an implicit site about small businesses, the first
thing you might want to do is to crawl all the review sites, including sites
like Yelp, CitySearch, Menuism, New York
Magazine restaurants
, Shamash
kosher reviews
, VegGuide, and
more. You can then build collective profiles about the businesses.


You can also include government data about the business
including liquor licensing, lawsuits, Better Business Bureau, real estate
values, health inspections, and more.


Of course, the best site might be one that marries both the
explicit and the implicit.

Interesting Facebook age Facts

Here are some interesting facts of Facebook users in the United States:

# of people aged 13-17:     

# of people aged 33-77:

(very small difference)

# people aged 18-22:

# people aged 28-32:

(Facebook is still dominated by college-aged co-eds)