Internet Stuff

Making Announcements: Pitfalls & Products

I started writing this post over a year ago, and have been sitting on it incomplete for a long time. I feel that in the age of Kickstarter and stretch goals and the frenzied changes to publishing and creation, this is more important than ever. But finishing this post has proved troublesome, so I'm throwing it out as part post, part series-of-notes. Maybe with some discussion I'll rework it into a revised post.


Announcements are fun. They generate buzz and good feelings. So it is tempting to announce many things and announce them early -- and also to announce things to "mask" bad news or to cover up a slowness in your production schedule.

But every announcement is a promise. Some announcements have more promise than others -- literally and figuratively. Typically, the further in advance an announcement is, the smaller and vaguer the promises are.

Every single announcement you make creates, to using Getting Things Done terminology, at least one "open loop." It creates at least one -- and usually many more -- questions that can be asked of you. Each announcement, then, creates more work for you, beyond the actual work in building the project. It also adds more of a mental toll and will wear you down if things don't go well. There are few things more frustrating and demoralizing than explaining to someone -- a customer or some sort of business partner -- that a project has slipped.

If you have six different upcoming projects announced, there are going to be fans who only care about one of those projects. They may have cared about projects A and B, but now that you've announced projects C, D, E, and F, they have fixated on project E. Anything that doesn't relate to project E no longer matters. Not only have you created an un-ideal business situation (You want them to care about all six projects, not just E!), but any time you post a status update for any of the projects that aren't E, you'll be greeted with the question: "But what's up with E?!?" -- and even though that question can be read in a flattering anticipatory way, it can also be frustrating to have spent time and effort on a project to have someone dismiss it with their desire to see the next project.

I, and companies I have worked for, have made every single possible mistake when announcing projects. Here are some of them:

  • Announcing something at a time that takes attention away from another upcoming project. If you are planning on releasing a new book on January 15th, announcing on January 8th that will be releasing an entirely different book in August is likely to reduce attention on the shortly-upcoming title.
  • Announcing too many things at once, making none of them seem important.
  • Making announcements too complicated. A complex announcement should be structured in a way that broadly introduces things, then narrows focus to talk about specifics, and in the end sums up the announcements and leads to a call for action (preorder a book, vote in the ENnnies, etc.) If you give people too many choices, they are more likely to make the simplest choice, which is to do nothing!

Here's some ways to do it right:

Announce consistently. Establish a list of standards -- information that you must know before you announce something, even if that information is not yet disclosed. Do not make announcements that are out of scale with the size of the project; t-shirts going on sale is not the same weight as signing a well known author to a three book deal. If you shout from the rooftops about everything, people will stop paying attention. Establish a plan for how you propagate your announcements through your social networks and try to point people towards your "home base" -- probably your website, but perhaps your Facebook page, etc.

Don't make major announcements in a row without actually releasing something, even if that something doesn't relate to those major announcements. Too many announcements looks like vaporware.

Anticipate questions you will be asked and answer them in the announcement. If the announce/situation is complex, you may want to include a FAQ in the announcement, or have it at ready to dole out as necessary. Quickly update your post (new info where necessary, note at top linking down to change) if necessary.

Proofread that bastard. Three proofreaders, every time -- looking for spelling, grammar, wrong/outdated info, bad hyperlinks, etc.

If you are correcting misinformation, do not repeat the misinformation. Especially when posts are often only seen in part (people skimming, partial RSS feeds, those awful previews on Facebook) you don't want to raise the chances of people seeing only the old information. State the correct information, don't repeat or restate any incorrect information.

Don't give people a chance to hop away from the announcement too early.

If you are working with a partner, licensee, etc, give them a copy of the final announcement as soon as possible and let them know when you plan to post it. They can help propagate it, and won't accidentally spread misinformation.

If this were a finished article, it would have a conclusion. Help me write it?

Ignite Slides from PepCon

I was at the InDesignSecretsLive Print and ePublishing 2011 conference last week, and did a five minute Ignite speech talking about my publishing philosophy, Posthuman Studios, and Eclipse Phase. Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with many of those principles, but I have a sexy slideshow available for download.

I wrote way too much text for a five minute speech, but I had fun and got a lot of nice reactions to it from a crowd of people largely unfamiliar with roleplaying games and their particular publishing niche.

If you were at PepCon and want to chat about the things I said or toss ideas around, there are a ton of ways to get in contact with me!

How to Buy Amazon Albums Outside the USA

I wrote about Amazon's MP3 service only working for USA-based customers last year, and since then I haven't had to deal with them.

Lady Gaga's new album, Born this Way, is available on Amazon for $0.99 for a limited time. iTunes has the same album for twelve bucks. This is a financial no-brainer—but I can't buy it with my Canadian Amazon account (even though I'm sitting here in the USA right now...).

I think discounting something over ninety percent on one venue and not another is awkward and foolish. As someone who likes buying things from the iTunes store (now that it's no longer DRMed!) I would be perfectly happy to buy it there, but I am not willing to pay such a premium.

But there's a nice workaround: From my Canadian Amazon account and spending Canadian dollars on my Canadian credit card, I can buy Lady Gaga's album—they'll take my money!—and give it as a gift to someone with a USA-based Amazon account. They'll take the money but still don't think I should have the rights to the files!

There are numerous ways to transfer MP3 files between individuals once they are retrieved from Amazon, of course.

As a bonus, my subterfuge rewarded me with a free upgrade to 20GB of cloud storage at Amazon. I have no idea if I'm ever going to use it, but free is free.

Three Basic Twitter Guidelines for Sanity and Clarity

1. If you have to break a thought into two tweets, end the first one with [...] and begin the second one with [...].

2. If you use an old-style retweet for something and want to add your own commentary to it, add your commentary before the RT text. For example: "I really like this movie, too! RT @weaselpunk I just watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith for the kabillionth time. Swoon!"

(I think that you should use old-style retweets precisely for this reason—it allows you to add context and commentary for your audience.)

The text "RT" creates a nice wall between your text and the person you are quoting; it makes it easy to tell who said what. When you recommend something to someone, you typically don't say "Watch this first and then I'll tell you why I like it"—you tell someone the reason they should watch it first.

Don't RT someone to reply to them. There's a reply button for that. Don't quote someone when replying to them.

3. The more you deviate from proper spelling and grammar, the harder your tweets are to read. Some comments just can't be "twitter-sized"—so use one of the services that allows you to post a longer comment and link to it, break your comment up into multiple tweets, or email/IM/something else the person you're trying to talk to. If the majority of your tweets are jam-packed with shortenings (shrtngs, u c wat i mean?), it doesn't matter how jam-packed they are with info and commentary: they will get looked over. A "u" and some digits once in awhile aren't a big deal, though!

Creative Commons: (Part of) Why We Give Our Games Away

On an industry mailing list I subscribe to, a few days ago, someone pointed out a site that contained pirated PDFs of thousands of gaming books. I sent off a flip comment:

Damnit. Eclipse Phase stuff, which can be legally shared, isn't there. I wonder if I can just upload it... 😉

Someone sent me an off-list message questioning whether EP could be legally shared. I said yes, absolutely, and they asked:

[Are you] shooting [yourselves] in the proverbial foot by basically giving away their materials. If it's free and legal to do so why would anybody buy the materials?

Here's my replies to that email, edited only slightly to combine a couple emails into one to tie together some subject a bit better:

Well, we sure haven't shot ourselves in the foot so far. First print run sold out in only a few months, second print run is roughly about half gone (haven't seen September numbers yet), and our first two print supplements were both 1/4 sold on pre-orders alone.

Our PDF sales have also been exceptionally strong; partially due to the low price point (1500+ sales of the core PDF at $15 -- exact numbers impossible to know due to our divorce from Catalyst) and partially because of the Creative Commons licensing. People can check out the game, whether that be from our free Quick-Start Rules, downloading from a torrent (we seeded it ourselves to some bittorrent trackers), or by being given it from a friend. If they know they like it, $15 a low price for a full PDF RPG, and while RPG print prices have crept up to where $50 is a very normal price for a 400-page full-color book, nobody needs to buy it "sight unseen" now.

Our ad-hoc research shows that almost every EP gaming group has multiple copies of the print rulebook and multiple copies of the PDF at the table.

People are good. They want to support the things they like and they want to be treated as individuals and be respected. Creative Commons licensing allows us to do that; we're giving them gaming material and allowing them to use in the way that gamers naturally want to use it. It allows fans to support us without worries of legal hassles, and it's given us alternate revenue streams -- like the Hack Packs, where we charge a few bucks extra for access to high-res artwork and InDesign files of our material.

Another great factor for Creative Commons and Eclipse Phase is the themes of EP and the spirit of CC collide rather nicely. Hackers and info-junkies and copyleftists also tend to be interested in sci-fi and transhumanism!

And, of course, no publishing company can successfully fight piracy. The RIAA hasn't, the MPAA hasn't. Piracy is going to happen unless we say "nope, you can't pirate our stuff, cuz we'll just let you give it out!" -- and that makes the file-sharers like us and buy from us. I don't think pirates are evil and immoral people. I know many people who pirate many things and these people also buy many things. They just tend to buy only things they already like. So, of course, giving away your material will only work if your material is good quality!

I'd much rather have someone read our game for free and not like it than buy our game and not like it. In the first case, they're only out their time. In the second case, they're out time and money and are more likely to resent us and/or not buy any other games we may release.

Furthermore, Creative Commons isn't just about "downloading for free;" it's about giving fans permission to hack our content and distribute those hacks. Permission to do the things that gamers naturally do, without fear of lawsuits or complex legalese or requiring our approval. Our fans have built and distributed complex character generation spreadsheets, customized GM Screens, converted our books into ePub/mobi format, and all sorts of neat things. When they do things like this, that gives us guidance as to what we should be doing: because fans aren't just saying they want something, they're putting their time where their mouth is ... a strong indication that they and other fans would be willing to pay for those things if we produced them.

And in the end, if licensing our material Creative Commons is not financially successful: it's the right thing to do, socially. We have to build the future we want to live in. Giant corporations locking up intellectual property is dangerous to society and culture.

Our next RPG will be Creative Commons-licensed as well.

International Digital Sales

The 51st State. Upper America. America's Hat. Canada is seen as many to be "just like" the USA.

When it comes to availability of digital content, Canada can be a ghetto. Yup, it's a #firstworldproblem as we would say on Twitter. Hulu doesn't stream to Canada. Friend links to The Daily Show? Better go rummage around The Comedy Network. The amount of TV and movie content on the Canadian iTunes store is far less than that of the USA iTunes store. Netflix just launched in Canada, with a rather anemic catalog.

And doesn't sell MP3s to you if you live in Canada.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross just released The Social Network soundtrack. For $2.99. It's a steal; it would have been a slam-dunk purchase for me at $9.99 as well.

Trent says:

Regarding the purchase options, sorry about the "clunkiness" of not offering the full record digital download pre-sale (and having to visit Amazon). My agenda was to be able to offer this for the lowest possible price and this was the best way to achieve that. Amazon has been a great partner with past projects and I appreciate your understanding.

I'm not sure if Amazon will be the only venue for digital sales in the future; and I didn't want any pre-order options that involved me buying physical media. The web page also says this:

Standalone digital is available for purchase EXCLUSIVELY on Amazon MP3 (US only) at a promotional rate of $2.99 for a 48 hour period. Worldwide standalone digital purchases will begin here 9/30 at 12:01am PT.

(According to Trent on Twitter, the album will be $5 from other sources when it's available. I wish this was noted right on the main page.)

Why the wait for worldwide sales? Why the promotional price for customers in the USA only?

I didn't want to wait. Less than 30 minutes after the album was released, I posted to Facebook asking if a friend n the USA would buy the album for me; 32 minutes later one of them had done so, downloaded it, and sent me the files.

I'm not sure who owns the rights to The Social Network soundtrack. But I know this: For anything I own the rights to, limiting its availability by geography would be stupid.

One of our most hardcore Eclipse Phase fans is Josh Boys. He lives in Perth, Australia. This year he flew over to the USA for Gen Con, ran 16 hours worth of games for us, paid to be our Dream Date at the ENnies, and was an awesome dude to hang out with. Josh isn't just a fan; he's now a friend.

What if we didn't sell electronic versions of Eclipse Phase outside of the USA?

We'd be stupid.

I don't begrudge Trent and Atticus—if they thought selling the album at $2.99 to a subset of their customers was the best thing to do. I'm sure they would understand that I worked around their system by having a friend pay them because I love their work. I wasn't looking to save $2.01 (I didn't know about the price difference at the time)—I was looking to support artists I love, immediately. Because the internet is immediate, and worldwide.

Being a Better Friend on Social Networks

On social networks such as Facebook, your friends and colleagues typically provide you with a vast amount of information about what they're doing and how they're feeling. You should use this information to be a better friend.

When a friend makes some sort of comment or status update that makes you wonder "What's wrong?", "What happened?" or similar questions—don't ask them that generic question. Take a quick look at their profile and check what they've been doing lately: have they been to a wedding? Did a relative fall ill or die? Did they just break up with someone? Did they just get laid off, or get a new job? Spend just a few minutes—literally!—checking in on your friend, use the resources that they have made available to you, and then use what you've learned to help your friend. If they've just broken up with someone, what's better for them to hear: "What happened?" or "Hey, I heard you got laid off. Let me know if you want to talk or hang out anytime, my schedule is clear for you and dinner is on me."? React to the event that happened; don't just react because an event happened.

Look at this sort of research as the same way you would handle an in-person situation with a friend or co-worker: if one of your co-workers comes into the office and they seem excessively frustrated or angry, do you immediately confront them or ask them what's wrong? Likely not; you're more likely to talk to another co-worker first to see if you can find out what's up. Sometimes, it's better to learn things indirectly so you can approach a situation more delicately or give someone additional time and space. This works the same online as it does off.

If they didn't say anything recently that makes it obvious why they're in such a mood, then go ahead and ask them. But bear in mind that if they haven't broadcasted the reason before, they might not want to broadcast the reason now, so a private message or email (not an instant message) is probably the best way to ask.

If you care about your friends, it's worth spending a few more minutes to make sure that they are actually cared for, and not just bombarded with already-answered questions.

Facebook and Privacy and Passwords and Deactivating Accounts

As usual, when a social media network makes change in how it handles privacy settings, there's been a kafuffle over Facebook's recent privacy changes. I was nosing around the new privacy settings, and noticed something that I consider obnoxious: even though I was already logged into my account, I had to enter my password again to modify my Privacy settings:

"Your privacy settings are secured for your protection."

This is an obvious deterrent to users modifying their own privacy settings, but I can buy the argument that it's good to have that extra layer of protection, as people are likely to leave their Facebook account logged into public computers, and someone modifying their privacy settings would obviously be ugly. Of course, Facebook and their advertisers and other partners all serve to gain the less people know about and modify their privacy preferences.

Beyond that, I was curious, so I went back to the preferences and clicked on Deactivate Account, and sure enough -- you can deactivate your account without inputting your password. Just fill in a CAPTCHA and bam, you are dead to Facebook! Like a zombie you can shamble back through Facebook simply by logging in again—but shouldn't deleting accounts also require you to prove via password that you are who you're deleting?

Instant Messaging Efficiency

Dan Benjamin at Hivelogic wrote a nice article about effectively using your "Away" message when instant messaging.

Here's two other things that I think is necessary for efficient IM communications

Ask Your Question, Don't Ask to Ask

Don't say hello and wait for someone to respond; just ask your question. Don't ever say "Hey, are you there?" or "Hey, can I ask you a question?" -- just ask it.

Situation 1:

Bob: Hey Adam?
[time lapse of 2 hours]
Adam: Sorry, what did you want?
[Bob is now AFK, time lapse of another hour.]
Bob: Hey, I was wondering how big the Gear chapter was?
Adam: It's 62 pages. [Total time lapse of 3 hours]

Situation 2:

Bob: Hey Adam, I need to know how big the gear chapter is.
[time lapse of 2 hours]
Adam: It's 62 pages. [No matter how long the time lapse is here before Bob reads my IM, I've fulfilled my commitment.]

Situation 2 is far preferable. If you know that the person isn't available, you may be better off sending an email or posting to whatever project management software you use -- but simply saying "hello" does not get work finished, no matter what communications tool you're using.

Use Auto-Away Sparingly

Some IM clients will set you as "automatically away" if you are idle for more than a certain period of user-definable time. In practice, I think this feature doesn't work, especially when the time is set low, as the defaults often are. I notice that a lot of people, even when they're working or otherwise busy, will notice that their IM client has set them to auto-away and instantly fiddle with their IM client to reset their status to Available -- resulting in the user "bouncing" around their friend's buddy lists.

If you want to use auto-away, I suggest setting it to a high value: at least an hour. That way it will work for you when you've been caught up in a long phone call or you fell asleep or got kidnapped by friends [or aliens!], but it won't get triggered when you're simply busy working.

Turn Your IM Client Off

I should probably do this more, at least with my business-related accounts: if you're going to be unavailable on IM for a period of time that is extreme [such as an entire daytime period during your co-worker's workday] -- turn your IM client right off. Seeing things like "(1d) Away" in my buddy list just frustrates me, like those people are wasting my screen real estate. I sort these people into a custom group, "Idlers," and minimize that group so I never see them unless I'm specifically looking for them.

Twitter: Search Malfunctioning, Users Missing

I use Twitter [I'm adamjury there, surprise surprise] for a lot of things; keeping in touch with friends, following news, helping random people with graphic design and technology issues, watching people talk about stuff I work on, and promoting my work and myself in general. So I was kind of bummed to realize, last night, that none of my tweets were being indexed in Twitter's internal search engine. This means that anyone searching for keywords might not see tweets where I discuss them.

When I found out, I did the usual account check -- I wasn't suspended, I hadn't put myself into Protected mode accidentally, I could search for other usernames that I use, no issues there. Checked Twitter's various help resources and their blog and status pages with no luck. So, on a lark, I set my stream to be protected, and then unprotected again, thinking that it might cause Twitter to re-index me. No dice there.

I sent off a polite help request and went to bed. In the morning, it was answered, and it pointed me to this support thread. At this time, 59 pages of people who aren't properly listed in the search [and those are only people that know about it, care about it enough to report it, and found the right place to report it!] and over half of the users reporting this issue have reported it in the last week, although it was first reported on May 29th.

What's up, Twitter?

To figure out if you're not being indexed, visit the following Twitter search link, but fill in your own name!

Edit: There's a hashtag for this ... #searchfail. But since the people being hit by this bug aren't indexed in the search, the hashtag is gaining little traction.

Edit, June 22: Still not fixed yet, still no acknowledgement from Twitter on their status page or anywhere else.