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A quote to keep me grounded

"No matter how you feel today, things will be different tomorrow." Dr. Nicely (my former therapist) told me that. It was powerful. For the days when everything seemed to be gray and nothing was going well, I had faith that tomorrow would be better. And on the days where I was as high as a kite, it kept me grounded and nimble and never too blinded by my euphoria.

I pretty much say it to myself every day and it always feels positive to me.

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Feeling Lucky?

I guess it's true that you make your own luck. I know that ever since I've begun pushing myself out of my comfort zone, my luck has changed. Or rather, that I changed my luck.

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Returning to Paris...for Le Web '09!

LeWeb'09-Paris dec 9th and 10th I'm super excited and very honoured to be part of Le Web '09 in Paris this year (as an official blogger)! I haven't been back for years and Les Blogs (pre-Le Web) was also my very first trip to Paris. I know, I know. I kept saying it for the past year and a half: "I'll be back" and I even booked flights and coordinated with friends. But last minute something would come up: another conference or a deadline or I was just flat broke. But this time I'm so committed that I applied to be an official blogger and now that I'm accepted, I'm taking my role very seriously. :)

I can't wait to see my old friends from Silicon Sentier and FINALLY visit La Cantine. I plan to come in a few days early to shake off my jetlag and wander aimlessly around one of my favourite cities. Then I'll also be bright-eyed to see the awesome lineup, including Laura Fitton (who just launched the amazing OneForty) and Violet Blue! Also great to see Ben Metcalfe speaking as it was him I first met at Les Blogs in 2005 and who caused the big hubub! I think I might have to organize a 'Bullshit' mob. ;)

Either way, I'm looking forward to being in Paris, going to Le Web, seeing old friends, eating some nice food and drinking some good wine and reconnecting.

If you want to join me at Les Blogs, use the discount code: BLOG09 for 10% off! :)

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Will Work for Whuffie?

I think it's useful to explain the process of how and why someone would work for whuffie and then at what point one gets paid in earth dollars and why (although the why should be obvious).

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Gratitude

[sung to the tune of Ani Difranco's 'Gratitude'] thank you for writing that blog post thank you for saying nice things thank you for the @'s and the links thank you for giving me a virtual gift thank you for saying happy birthday that was a very kind thing to do thank you for faving my tweets thank you for sending that poke we can be facebook friends even if we never met, you joke

but you changed the rules in the last hour or two and I don't know what you and your facebook friends do but please don't please stop this is not my obligation what does my retweeting have to do with my gratitude?

Everyone can sing along: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XK8YIlEddwQ&hl=en&fs=1&]

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New Perspective

poutine! It's now been about 2 months since I moved to montreal and just over 2 months since I left San Francisco to embark on the amazing journey that was Whuffaoke or Bust. This period has given me time to go through all the emotions related to making a big change like this. For me, it starts with excitement, then moves into 'WTF have I done?', then shifts into a retrospective backlash (turning a bit of anger to my former situation) as I learn to really appreciate my new setting, then finally turns into settling in and really enjoying and discovering my new surroundings. The same thing happened to me when I first moved from Toronto to San Francisco over four years ago.

It occurred to me that is pretty much the process of big life changes: new jobs, new relationships, ending of old relationships, political changes, shifts in philosophy, etc. Even when I've initiated the change, it's a struggle. When I haven't initiated the change, the second step (WTF) lingers a little longer. But once I've gotten to the end of the adjustment period, I've grown a great deal for it.

So, how have I grown already since moving to Montreal? Let me tell you a bit about this amazing city first of all...

Montreal is a beautiful city. The architecture is, by no means, as old as the cities in Europe, but has that old European flair. When wandering around Old Montreal (or Vieux Montreal), you really sense the early French settlers of this region. But Montreal is diverse. In the area I live in - The Plateau - there are rows of brownstone houses with treacherous staircases (I live up one of those), bay windows and large trees in front. The layouts are similar - long apartments with adjoined front rooms, usually separated by an archway or a set of French pocket doors a kitchen near the back with a terrasse off of it that overlooks a courtyard shared with neighbours and either a spare room or a storage room in the very back. The ceilings are high. The heating is radiators. The bathrooms are generally small and there is usually the original moulding left throughout. I've loved these brownstones since my first trip to Montreal in 1996. Now I live in one just like how I imagined it back then.

There are two major streets - St. Denis and St. Laurent - that run through the 'bohemian' sections of the city - The Plateau, Mile-End and Outremont - with many secondary routes filled with boutiques, coffee houses, bars and amazing restaurants. Take any one of these side streets and keep walking. You'll be treated to another pocket of charm. There are also an amazing number of parks filled with people here. When it is not winter (and even a little chilly), Montrealers love to be outside. The parks are filled with music, dogs, children, art projects, laughter, food (so many picnics!) and people meditating or doing yoga. In my neighbourhood park, Parc LaFontaine, I've seen people walking their cats, iguanas and parrots as well.

There is no shortage of music, art, festivals, craft fairs, street fairs or other public gathering here. But that's not it. One of the things I thought I'd be able to slow down a bit on here is the tech community events. Nope. Several times a week there is some sort of gathering of geeks of all sorts - and there ARE all sorts. Enterprise tech, startups, bloggers, podcasters, beer-loving geeks, social geeks, tech authors, coding groups...I've already missed more events than I can go to. Montreal has a fantastic and alive web scene and the people who are part of it are world-changers, frontier dwellers (Duncan Moore coined that one for me) and risk takers. They are excited, driven and supportive of one another in a way I haven't seen since I first arrived in San Francisco in 2005. It isn't that this is new for them - they've been gathering and working together like they do now since the first dot-com era - it's just that they understand that if they are to become the best they can be, they need to work with their friends to get there. It's awesome.

Which leads me to my new perspective (which is really my old perspective). The other night, I was fortunate enough to speak at the Girl Geek Dinner in Ottawa and was asked some pretty awesome questions. One of those questions was the question I get asked most often: "Why did you move back to Canada when there is all this opportunity in the US?"

My answer to this has evolved since I've been here. First off, it was just that I needed a change and thought I could bring what I've learnt back to Canada. But now, I realize that I moved back to Canada, and specifically Montreal, because I needed a new perspective.

Niceness, Community and Risk

It's hard to put your finger on it, but Canadians are quite different from Americans. (I realize this is a generalization of course, but it's my experience). Not better or worse, but different. As a country, we are more conservative...not socially or even fiscally...but conservative as in cautious. This can be frustrating for many of the entrepreneurial types that live in Canada, which is why go-getters are attracted to move to the US. The US risk-taking index is way high. What I find most interesting about this is the odds are actually worse for Americans. You quit your job and start a company and fail, you have no real social system to fall back on so you could end up losing everything. In Canada, you have an awesome social system that cushions any fall, so it should be more attractive to take risks here. Right? Well, that doesn't seem to be the case and I hardly have the answer as to why, but I suspect it has something to do with the 'land of opportunity' brand that the US has adopted and that Alain De Botton talks about in his book Status Anxiety. In the land of opportunity, if you haven't "gone for it", you're squandering your opportunity.

Canada's brand is different and not a brand really promoted by its citizens at the same level. Canada is seen as the nice place. A country filled with helpful, friendly, smiling, welcoming people. The type of country that puts individual gain aside for the good of the group. I actually love this part of being a Canadian. Over the years, we've definitely seen gains in the export of Canadian ideas, products and goods and a good number of successful businesses, but there seems to be a distinct humility around success. A Canadian business didn't 'do it themselves on their own merit' but with a supportive community, a strong staff and a bunch of lucky breaks. We all continue to support our businesses who take this outlook and grow distasteful of businesses who become too upity.

But I do believe the brand of Canada could grow in the direction of 'risk is welcome here'. And rather than becoming more 'American' - not a bad thing, but just doesn't suit the Canadian brand - we could learn to leverage that niceness as the perfect opportunity to grow our entrepreneurial base and use the support of the community and government to help grow those businesses to become examples for other budding entrepreneurs.

Balance and Success

Montreal, beyond being a fantastic city in Canada, also reminds me that balance leads to success. That spending time in the park with friends, my dog and my mental state is good for opening my thought process. That long, slow meals are better for my health, which is also better for my growth. That spending time listening to live music and visiting art installations help me think more creatively about my work. Montrealers aren't generally in a rush. They 'promenade' instead of power walk between destinations. There is a distinct lack of fast food and the lineups are at the restaurants that encourage 4 hour sittings. The process of thinking things through is much more important than coming to a solid conclusion.

Talk about a new perspective! I've already thought much deeper, taken more time to ask questions (rather than come to my own conclusions), stopped being so defensive and learnt to practice what I preach: stop and look introspectively to figure out where my own biases are blocking my ability to grow. In the end, balance isn't about work/life or even priorities, balance is about finding your own rhythm. This is something ostensibly inherent to Montreal life. Being generous and community focused while balancing personal needs (saying no and having people really respect that, for example). Being unapologetic for taking care of personal needs instead of sweating over a deadline - this coming from an understanding that the deadline is less important than doing the job correctly. Approaching feedback with less defensiveness and more thoughtfulness. My Montreal colleagues are incredibly open people who will push back with passion and not defensiveness (I have much to learn here).

My Personal Changes

In under two months, I've stopped being so stressed, I feel less obligation, more ready to work on what's important rather than what I need to do to prove myself. I'm also less defensive, more open to feedback, happier, healthier and Shel Israel, who recently came to town, commented on how much younger I appear (not sure if that's true, but I'm definitely feeling it). I am definitely thinking more clearly about how I need to approach my next book and my next phase of work, I have significantly eased up on being hard on myself and instead of feeling lonely, I am treasuring any time I have alone.

My son and my dog are both signficantly happier. Tad is loving his new school and thriving (I seriously treasure the public education system here in Canada). He has a nice new group of friends and has focused on his music again. Ridley loves the number of parks here filled with squirrels and seems more relaxed (if that's possible for a pug) than ever. His coat is consistently healthy.

I love my new apartment and new neighbourhood. There is so much to explore just within a 1 km radius that I haven't had time to explore beyond yet. The restaurants will be my downfall as will poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds..mmmm). But I'm also surrounded by amazing fresh local markets filled with good, healthy food and have been spending more time cooking again.

It's hard to assess after less than 2 months what these changes will bring, but everyday, I feel a little more myself. I feel excited about my work again. I am learning French and feeling like I'm growing again. I'm smiling like crazy, even when I'm on my own. I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to be here right now.

My new perspective feels a lot like my old perspective. The one I had when I arrived in SF in 2005. There wasn't an 'industry' or even a 'community', but there was tonnes of possibility and excitement. Nobody had to prove themselves...we were still trying to figure out how all of this fit together. We spent zero time convincing others that we were "experts" and 100% of the time sharing what we were discovering about the changing landscape around us. And we were still cautious to claim any major generalized victory even when we saw strong examples. That's how I'm seeing the world again. As complex. As changing. As challenging. And as full of possibility. A huge 'Merçi!' to my new friends in Montreal for being so welcoming and to my old friends in SF, Toronto and Calgary (places I've lived) for your love and support.

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Hello, My Name is Tara. And I'm a Twitter Addict.

It occurred to me after nearly starting a fire the other day that I have a problem. I don't know why it took me this long or why I needed to be alerted by such a dramatic incident to figure this out, but I have. It all started back in June of 2006. I heard through the grapevine about this Dodgeball competitor called Twttr and, mostly because I wanted to see if it was really all that (I was a total Dodgeball nut), I signed up and started posting what wasn't even called twitters, let alone tweets in those days. At first, I didn't think too much about it. Then this happened:

twttr is our new early warning system

On August 2, 2006, there was a small tremor in the SF Bay area - the first I'd felt since I moved there - and the fact that all the people on Twttr at the time felt it and reported on it together opened up a world of possibility for me. We all rejoiced. It was our early global warning system. This event brought us closer together. We had a service where we could nearly synchronously and publicly share our experience. How cool!

I spent the next 6 months telling everyone I knew about Twttr, which became Twitter sometime in the fall of 2006 (can't recall the exact date) in support of the new service I had fallen head over heels in love with. Then SXSW Interactive 2007 happened and Twitter exploded. I blame Robert Scoble ;) but it wasn't actually a bad thing (though I did tell a couple of reporters that I didn't like how Twitter was becoming a popularity contest all of a sudden). Twitter needed a big champion and next thing you knew, everyone was joining in droves. These were still early adopters by and large and the essence of that sharing (sometimes oversharing) culture was still there.

But something else started happening. As the conversations grew more numerous and deeper on Twitter, my blogging started to falter. First I went from one post per day to one post every couple of days. After a while, I dropped to a post a week. Everything I used to say on my blog - whether opinion or researched posts - went over to my tweets. And they were conversations instead of a post with comments. This wasn't necessarily a negative thing as many of my posts were probably better off as conversations anyway, but slowly I abandoned my blog altogether, only posting once per month or every two months, which was not nearly frequent enough.

Twitter was great for helping me write my book. If I was getting stuck for good examples and case studies (not something one can just Google), I'd go to Twitter and ask. Usually I'd find really cool edge cases that hadn't been used to death. I also watched companies like Zappos grow their activity on Twitter, which provided a better story for me than I had imagined. Twitter was also a wonderful place to go for support and encouragement. People telling me that I can do it. Friends helping me through break-ups and self-doubt. New followers encouraging me by telling me that they were looking forward to the end result.

I felt as if Twitter gave me family, friends, colleagues and a robust library of information all at once. Mostly it did. But something else was happening to me. I was becoming reliant on Twitter for everything. And, being a pretty good procrastinator, that everything was wonderfully distracting enough for me to get lazy. Really lazy. Like not change out of my comfies and sit on Twitter (and gMail) for the entire day and get nothing else done. I slipped from using Twitter to my professional and personal advantage (and giving back as much as possible to keep up my relationships) to Twitter being my crutch.

When I let the potatoes on the stove boil until the water was gone and become charcoaled because I lost track of time to my Twitter addiction last week, I realized I crossed that line.

So...I have put some rules in place for myself now. I can't open Tweetdeck. At all. This service is just too good at pushing me all the information I need to continue in the addiction flow that keeps me from being productive or having a real life. If I'm around people, I don't open Tweetie (on my iPhone) at all. I focus on who I'm with and if who I'm with checks their tweets, I mention it and I don't use it as an excuse to check mine (the spiral of anti-social). I can check the web version of Twitter 2x per day...and the exception is if I post a question and need to have a bit of a conversation. When that conversation is over, I need to exit. I know I've been told to obsessively follow my @'s, my searches (Whuffie, wuffie, tara hunt, whuffaoke, etc.), but I don't anymore. This may have me falling behind in places, but I lived for years before it existed and I still have Google Alerts.

It's only been 4 days and I don't feel any real withdrawal yet. I've been super productive. Finally got focused on a presentation I've been avoiding for a month. In 3 days, I created something I am proud of...without the assistance of tweeps. I went back to reading blogs and news and books and articles and googled stuff and feel my brain engaging again. I finished one book and have moved onto another that I'm excited about. I've written 3 blog posts (in 4 days). I feel calmer because I'm not absorbing the anger that is being shot back and forth between 'sides' of the healthcare debate. I spent more time with my dog, letting him chase squirrels for longer in the park. I cooked healthy meals for my son. I've been putting together that overdue outline for my book.

This is only the beginning. It's not the fault of Twitter, either. It's a tool. A great tool. An amazing, game-changing platform for connection and conversation. But it's not a substitute for all the other stuff I was letting it be a substitute for. I'll be taking French lessons, going on actual dates, working out on a regular schedule, working on cool new Montreal community projects, designing a conference, creating a series of deeper presentations, writing another book, meeting new people, hanging with my friends, spending time with my son (as much as he'll allow, of course), taking my dog for more walks, reading a book a week, getting current with the news, going to movies, attending art exhibits, talking to old friends on the phone, writing short stories, meditating, keeping my house clean, traveling and all the other things I've been missing while letting myself fall into the allure of the ongoing Twitter party.

Oh...and Twitter isn't the only thing I let distract me. gMail is also bad for me. I'm also limiting my access to that. Wish me luck. It won't be easy.

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Re-Design Zappos?

There has been a great deal of talk on Twitter lately about redesigning Zappos.com and if I weren't a frequent online shopper of shoes and clothes, I may have to agree with people. Yeah, the design isn't the prettiest I've seen. In fact, there are plenty of more aesthetically pleasing fashion sites out there. However, in the defense of Zappos and in my experience of shopping there (quite frequently, I'm afraid to admit) even BEFORE the fancier new Zeta product, I want to let you in on why I think the design is almost perfect.

  1. Zappos understands shoe buyers needs. I have wider calves. I could say it was because of ten years of figure skating, but taking a look at the women in my family, I'm pretty sure it's just the way our bodies are built. Pre-Zappos, I would search around online and off for boots that would actually fit my calves properly. This was an embarrassing and frequently disheartening process. I'd find boots I love, but couldn't zip up and the boots that would zip up would be clunky and ugly. Not at Zappos! They let me filter my results to look at wide calf designed boots only...and there are some beauties in there! They also give me filters like heel height and casual vs dressy. Reading through the comments, I know that I'm not alone...
  2. Zappos posts real comments - good and bad. The first time I left a comment about some boots I sent back, I noticed it was held for moderation. I worried that this was because they may not want to actually post comments that were negative. Not so. It turns out that they want to make sure the comments would be truly helpful (and honest - not planted by a company representative or a competitor) for future Zappos customers' shopping experience. I find that sometimes on Amazon, the commenters aren't so helpful to my decision. Something in the way Zappos crafts comments makes me really sure about my purchases. Oh...and their new reporting on the overall comments is way useful:
    Zappos - helpful stats!
  3. Zappos makes it über simple to return. Knowing that they are selling shoes, which are very difficult to shop for, they've built in a way to make it super simple to return them. Right after purchase, they give you the actual link to the printable UPS label. They also give you this same link in your confirmation email and the packaging of the shoes themselves. There is no searching around. They get it.
  4. Zappos has a crazy selection that gives accurate filters. I can browse everything, which is good for discovery, or I can quickly find that perfect thing I'm looking for. They have a crazy huge selection, which can be daunting, but make it really simple to narrow it down. I don't think I've ever wished for another category, yet their categories don't seem overly extensive. It's like they are inside my head. I like that.
  5. Zappos puts their customer service number on EVERY page. That may seem obvious, but it is rare. I usually have to search around for a way to talk to a person directly. At Zappos, there is no confusion nor is there confusion when I call the actual number. It takes me little time to talk to a human being. The irony of this? I've rarely actually had to use this feature.
  6. Zappos warns me if I need to stop waffling and make the purchase already. Also a good sales technique, but I've been disappointed before when I've put something in my cart, waited a few days and found out that I missed the boat.
  7. On Zappos, it's not about how great they are. It's all about me! Sure, Zappos could make it more obvious how much their customers love them, but I don't think they are trying to hide that fact. I think they are just demonstrating that Zappos focuses on helping their customers rock, not telling the world how fabulous they are...which is why they ARE fabulous. A site needs to help me find what I need to find. Period. Let me figure the awesome part out for myself.

Much like Craigslist, the features Zappos makes easy to find are the ones that matter to me and those that they are missing (or are more difficult to access) aren't that big of deal. And I've been a pretty hefty user of online shopping sites.

So...Zappos...if you do decide to redesign and prettify, taking the advice of others, please remember that my experience as a customer is pretty much perfect, which is why I always go to you first when shopping for almost anything these days. But you already know that. I know you do. :)

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