Monday, December 28, 2009

Music Monday: Ten Albums from 2009

Here we are: the last Music Monday of 2009. It's been a nice year, at least sonically. 2009 also brought a slue of digital music start-ups, and I'm excited to see which survive and which can survive profitably.

As we look forward to 2010, here are ten albums I will keep listening to. If Santa brought you an iTunes or Amazon gift card for Christmas, might I recommend buying one or two or all of them?

If you don't share my taste in music, check out the Metacritic: Best Albums of 2009 list, which aggregates all published reviews into one mega meta list.

Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Favorite tracks: "Listzomania," "Rome"

Fanfarlo, Reservoir
Favorite tracks: "Finish Line," "Harold T. Wilkins"
(Also check out the very creative Fanfarlo advent calendar while it's still posted)

Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Up from Below
Favorite tracks: "Home," "Janglin"

The xx, xx
Favorite tracks: "Islands," "VCR"

The Dirty Projectors, Bitte Ocra
Favorite tracks: "Stillness is the Move," "Two Doves"

Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career
Favorite tracks: "The Sweetest Thing," "French Navy"

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, self-titled
Favorite tracks: "Young Adult Friction," "A Teenager in Love"

Dark Was the Night, Various Artists
Favorite tracks: "Knotty Pine" (Dirty Projectors feat David Byrne), "Brackett, WI" (Bon Iver)
(Benefits charity! Buy it, don't stream it!)

Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion
Favorite tracks: "My Girls," "Daily Routine"

Lady Gaga, The Fame
Favorite tracks: "Just Dance," "Paparazzi"

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Caren Explains the Boy Next Door

Mom: "I just got an email from our neighbor. Her son wants to meet you."
Me: "Oh yeah?"
Mom: "He's six."
Me: "Six?! Why does he want to meet me?"
Mom: "He wants to go to Harvard. He's obsessed with it."
Me: "How does a six year old even know about Harvard?"
Sister: "Um, this is MoCo. You forget what you're dealing with."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Caren Explains the Advent Conspiracy

Need to buy some Christmas presents, but don't have any ideas? There's a good reason: Most of us have all we need.

But not everyone.

Instead of buying a gift that he or she will probably forget about after December 25th, why not give your time or money to a cause?

Join the conspiracy:

Still need some ideas? Here are a two causes I am donating to this Christmas season:

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Caren Explains Murdoch, Magazines and a Smart Move in Digital Publishing

"Coopetition" will be the name of the game in 2010, at least for five powerhouse publishers who yesterday announced the creation of a joint venture that could give the publishers more control over their future. and other news sources report that Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp, and Time Inc. are the founders of this yet unnamed venture, which will be led by interim director John Squires of Time Inc. Squires has also served in leadership capacities for both Audit Board of Circulation (ABC) and Magazine Publishers of America (two influential and standards-setting organizations within the print industry).

It seems that the joint venture will serve to establish standards for digital magazines and newspapers, in the way of pricing, marketing and technical standards. For an industry that competes on editorial differentiation, an alliance like this is a deviation from the norm.

That's a good thing. Such action is long overdue.

What went wrong.

The industry was slow to realize the importance of digital content and how best to monetize it. Consider this 2004 report from MPA which details digital edition subscriptions for ABC-certified magazines. Only 20 publications were listed, with PC World, Seventeen and (the now discontinued) Cosmo Girl leading the way. Notably absent in 2004 were any Conde Nast, Meredith and Time Inc. titles. By the end of 2007, 110 titles were available digitally, generating 1 million total subscriptions. Improvement, yes, but compare that against a 2005 report that there were 2,000 U.S. magazine titles with significant circulation.

The industry also failed to establish common pricing and content distribution practices early on. Instead publishers treated these things not as standards, but strategies. They tried to compete with one another by either restricting access to a fewer number of readers and making money on content, or opening content to all readers and making money on advertising.

Sometimes newspaper publishers changed strategies in the middle of the game, further tripping them up. provides a good example of this. It began publishing content to the web in the mid-1990s, requiring registration to access certain articles. Then it pursued an "open-but-closed" type of policy, introducing a subscription service for certain editorial columns, before reopening the entire site in 2007. In the meantime, bloggers and online readers found ways around walls, accessing RSS feeds for content, or seeking out third-party sites for cut-and-paste content.

As a consequence, we are left with confusion about the value of content.... at least I am.

How the alliance can help.

In May 2009 The Wall Street Journal's new owner, Rupert Murdoch, announced his intention to move all News Corp. digital properties to subscription models, and went so far as to declare "The current days of the internet will soon be over." It sounded audacious, but he has stuck to his guns, restating this opinion today in an editorial for WSJ. "Some newspapers and news organizations will not adapt to the digital realities of our day," he wrote, "and they will fail. We should not blame technology for these failures. The future of journalism belongs to the bold."

So is the newfound alliance bold? It is if you consider that these publishers are willing to swallow their pride and work together; not so much if the other option is failure.

That's a real possibility. Consider that in 2008, 525 magazines ceased publication. The remaining titles scrambled to get lean and to put their online platforms in order. These online platforms included websites and/or digital subscriptions, like this fancy one from my former employer, Paste.

Coming together and establishing best practices, as well as a common storefront for digital content, will ultimately benefit both publishers and consumers. We could have an iTunes or Hulu for magazines and newspapers, with common formats, quality standards and pricing schemes. Perhaps we will even have one place to manage all of our newspaper and magazines subscriptions so that, when you change addresses, you don't have to send notice to each publication.

Still to be resolved is what role advertisers will play in digital subscriptions. Over the summer the media director of a major advertising agency told me that digital subscriptions are worth nothing, and shouldn't be counted towards circulation. Though his is only one opinion, it is an opinion that publishers will surely hear again and again. All the more reason paid digital subscriptions -- where revenue comes from consumers, not advertisers -- will be important in the future.

But will all this muscle power attract cries of collusion? Perhaps not, if the joint venture is truly independent. After all, ABC has long set standards for the industry (and is funded by dues paid by advertisers, agencies and publishers). Besides, if not the publishers themselves, players like Amazon (with its Kindle) and Apple (with the iPhone and rumored tablet) will be left to set the rules.

We're not talking about survival of the fittest anymore. Unless the industry answers the question of "How valuable is content?" it will remain fragmented and weakened.

We've come to a time when publishers can either live together or die alone. They are choosing wisely.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Caren Explains Where the 10 Red Balloons Were

As you may have read last week, I teamed up with some students and professors from HBS on Saturday to try to win the DARPA Network Challenge for the (RED) campaign. We reached over 2 million people in three days, but were beat by our rivals across the river (congratulations, MIT).

"So where were the balloons?" you ask.

Here is a map of the locations.

(Side note to my Atlanta friends: Not ONE of you noticed the red balloon in Centennial Park???)

Following the challenge, my classmate, Rafael Corrales, asked me to write some reflections. His own post is pretty extensive, especially about our strategy and analytical findings, so I'll use this opportunity to share some lessons I took away on social networking and online behaviors.

1) It's easy to hide behind broadband barriers.

As I followed the Twitter trend for #redballoons on Saturday I saw numerous reports and pictures being posted. However, it was difficult to discern which were real and which were fake (and a number were, in fact, fake).

One example is this picture which did not have a location description attached to it. I recognized it to be from Union Square in San Francisco (because I've shopped at that Macy's before) but could not confirm it. Instead I called on our professor Misiek Piskorski, who was in SF, to see if it was real (which it was -- good catch, @nancyborden). In another instance, I learned that a balloon report in Chicago was a fake, after a friend checked out the scene for me.

When all you can see about a user is their screenname and any personal information he/she/it has volunteered, you have to be skeptical of what you read online. On the Internet, anonymity circumvents accountability.

2) Beware of search sabotage, which might even be self-inflicted.

I noticed within the first few hours of our Google AdWords campaign that we'd run through our entire campaign budget. Drilling down into the data, I saw that the keywords "DARPA" and "DARPA balloons" generated the most clicks. Since you'd have to know that the red balloons were associated with DARPA to search those keywords, my guess is that the clicks came from competitors who either 1) clicked our ads to find out what our team was doing, or 2) wanted to run up our advertising bill. We'll never know.

In hindsight, we might have omitted some keywords to make sure the SEM campaign reached the intended audience, not our competitors.

3) "The currency of real networking is not greed, but generosity."

On this point, I recall what an HBS alum told me about networking: it often seems fruitless, but then you'll get that one connection who introduces you to another and another, and suddenly things start happening.

That was true here. A number of "cold connections" came through for our team and helped our network extend far and fast. One example is the HBS alumni network, especially the DC and Northern California chapters, who sent our message to over 7,000 alums. Brad also helped us get an article with

You never know who is going to go the extra mile for you.

4) Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.

I wasn't surprised when HBS classmates asked me (in person) about Project (RED) Balloon. What did surprise me was hearing from old college friends across the country, some of whom I have lost touch with over the years. These were people who saw my posts on Facebook and jumped at the chance to help. Such interactions were a reminder that, even though I only regularly interact with a few dozen people via social networks, some 700+ Facebook friends are casually observing my comings and goings.

Social networks can turn passive relationships into active ones again with the click of a mouse.

Thanks to Brad, Kyle, Rafael and Professors Lakhani and Piskorski for an interesting experiment.

Music Monday: The Lighthouse and the Whaler (Cleveland, OH)

Oh boy, oh boy! I've been waiting awhile for this one to be released....

The Lighthouse and the Whaler is out today on iTunes. It's a gem from the young Cleveland, OH, trio of the same name.

This debut LP has five things I like in an album:
  • Xylophone
  • Hand-clapping
  • Lingering harmonies
  • Oil painting as album art
  • Nice people behind the music
Sometimes I get jaded and think, "Yeah, yeah... another promising young band... but will they be around next year?" But this band excites that cynicism right out of me.

The band wrote its first song in a field, which doesn't surprise me after hearing the album: its earthy and organic, with some imperfections here and there, which just makes the whole thing more natural and unencumbered.

TLATW recently took the stage after Sufjan Stevens in Ohio (after party!) and are about to embark on a new tour in the spring (hopefully with a SXSW performance on the itinerary?). In the meantime, catch them online.

For Fans Of: Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, the Yim Yames piece of Monsters of Folk, stuff you find on

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Caren Explains Red Balloons, the (RED) campaign and How You Can Win $1,000

Seen a red balloon floating around your town? If you haven't, you might this weekend.

On Saturday December 5, 2009, ten giant red balloons will be placed in random locations across America, as part of the DARPA Network Challenge.

Why should you care?

Because there's $40,000 at stake for the winner!

Join me and my team in this challenge and we'll donate the cash prize to the (RED) campaign and its philanthropic partner The Global Fund. As if that wasn't reason enough for you to want to help, each person who first submits to us a correct location will have the option of keeping $1,000 for themselves. It's a win-win situation, however you look at it.

1. Send this information to AS MANY people in your network as you can. Use email, facebook, twitter, txt, anything! The point is to see how far and fast our networks extend!
2. Refer anyone who asks to our website:
3. Look out for red balloons on Saturday! If you see one, submit its location to us via our website!
4. If you have a blog, Twitter account, LinkedIn account, Facebook account, etc, please link to our website. This will help in the search rankings, which is critical to our success.

Thanks, and let's win this thing for charity!

About Our Team:

This team is being coordinated by MBA candidates Bradley Lautenbach (OC), Caren Kelleher (OJ), Kyle Doherty (OI), and Rafael Corrales (OC), and Professors Karim Lakhani and Misiek Piskorski of Harvard Business School. The purpose of this project is to see how far and fast networks extend. Neither the students nor professors will collect any prize money if the project is successful.

More Information: