The other day I jumped into Google Analytics to review some site stats. We’re all trying to write a post that beats Russ’ famous Teavana entry. There’s so much SEO cred built up in that story that it’s almost a lost cause. I do my part, though. For instance, I won’t link to that post from here. Even though it’s awesome, internal links can add SEO credibility. I am vying to win the Think Brownstone badge of honor – seeing Russ’ sad Deniro face when he announces that one of my posts beat his. My post on Divergent Thinking vs Convergent Thinking is getting close. You should read it. Go ahead, click the link, share it with friends.
So, when I was poking around our site analytics, I noticed something curious. The term “reset button” was one of the leading search terms driving traffic to the Think Blog from Google. After a little digging, I discovered that Mike’s awesome illustration of a reset button was lifted by a few bloggers. At the time, if you had executed a Google Image search for the term “reset button,” the distinctive style of Mike’s illustration helped it stand out a few rows below the fold. Some bloggers felt the same way and borrowed the image.
That sent me on a Google scavenger hunt to see what other original images were lifted from the blog. Curiously, the only other discovery was some site in Vietnam that re-used this image of me from my divergence vs convergence post back in October. The post is some kind of boring marketing strategy article. More importantly, I’m HUGE in Vietnam.
So, why do I care about our imagery being borrowed on other sites? I am a bit of an Intellectual Property (IP) wonk. At one time I ran the media production and graphic design department for a software company. I spent time with our general counsel fixing some internal IP theft that predated our work in the organization. We then co-wrote the IP policies for the company. From that point on, IP fascinated me. I have worked hand-in-hand with client IP attorneys to develop policies and requirements around copyright, trademark and user-generated content. I designed a series of IP workshops for my digital design classes at Philadelphia University. I deliver a similar presentation to clients and as a guest lecturer at other universities and organizations. I’m not an IP attorney, but if I could do it all over again, I would definitely play an IP attorney on TV.
IMHO, the current landscape of IP laws is antiquated and poses serious, unintended problems for creators and publishers. The only way to fix it is to get politicians to pass laws, but Vote Charron For Modernized Copyright Laws is a terrible campaign slogan, so nothing happens. In the meantime, creators are best served by learning what the laws mean and making conscious decisions about how to proceed.
“I teach art to make a living, I make art to feel alive. The more people that see and enjoy my work, the better. My creative fruits are like my kids, I don’t mind that they succeed without me. As for the people who steal work for monetary gain, they have to look themselves in the mirror.”
Todd’s sentiment addresses the moral side of IP theft, but not legal side of it. Folks who “borrow” things on the internet are often confused. For example, when I pose question students about image theft I often hear, “It’s on the internet, so it’s in the public domain.” Legally, that’s not true at all. Just ask the former publisher of Cook’s Source magazine.
So, Russ and I tried to decide what to do about this “borrowing” of our blog’s artwork and we noted a few things: None of the blogs that used our imagery compete directly with our business. Nobody misrepresented what we do or questioned the quality of our work. What bothered us most was that they didn’t attribute our work. So, I contacted the authors of the blogs and asked them politely to include a link to the Think Blog and a credit like, “Image provided courtesy of Think Brownstone, Inc.”
One author chose to take down the image – which makes me sad, but it was her prerogative. One other recently updated his blog to credit us for the image. I’m not providing links to these sites for three important reasons:
- The bloggers who took down the image or added the credit don’t deserve negative publicity for doing the right thing
- The offending site doesn’t deserve the smidgen of SEO credibility a link would give them
- I am HUGE in Vietnam, why can’t you just trust me on this?
So, a band of thieves is raiding our site to steal Mike’s illustrations. What do we do next? Well, as we get around to celebrating our five-year anniversary at Think Brownstone, we’ve been talking about updating our digital properties. We know that an update means more than just a facelift. Russ and I have informally managed our IP standards for the blog – opting for original work, asking for permission before using someone else’s original work, or using images that we consider open to interpretation and attributing them. We never had a formal policy nor did we think about how to let others borrow our work. We may consider marking all of our work with Creative Commons licensing, or perhaps we just make things easier to borrow with attribution. Whatever we do, I assure you the #1 priority is not to damage my Vietnamese fame.
It’s important to note that, while the work that Mike (or any employee) does for Think Brownstone becomes Think Brownstone property, we are grateful for what Mike’s illustrations have done for the Think Blog. Most clip art is easily recognized and can leave a bad impression on your audience. It is great to be able to back your work up with original artwork that comes out of the creative process. We feel strongly that protecting Mike’s Blog illustrations for Think Brownstone also protects the integrity of anything Mike puts his stylus, pencil, marker or pen to.
I am occasionally teased for being a food snob, but the omnipresent slices of american cheese in my deli drawer tell a different story. The truth is, there are some things I just can’t stand (I’m looking at you Scrapple) but I can appreciate almost anything edible that is put in front of me. It makes me sad to think some folks consider me a food snob, then I hear myself saying things like:
I don’t order rosé because I’m always afraid someone will think I’m drinking white zinfandel
…which is exactly what I said a couple of months ago at Tria in Philadelphia. Brad and I were sitting with Di Bruno Brothers’ Rocco Rainone and wine expert Jana Sukala. We were planning Think Brownstone’s fourth annual Bastille Day Cheese Day (BDCD) and someone had pointed out a greek rosé on the wine list.
Rocco responded first, “I’ll drink a rosé, I love rosé.” I already knew that Brad and Jana love rosé, so we gestured over to the server.
Minutes later, I was sitting in front of an embarrassingly pink, but refreshingly cold glass of wine. Rocco and Jana were discussing what worked between the wines and the cheeses on the table. Both of them had pulled out notebooks and started writing. I sat back, took a very manly gulp of my crisp, dry rosé and beamed with pride at what Bastille Day Cheese Day had become.
For something that started on a lark, BDCD has grown into a summer event that many of our clients and friends look forward to. To learn about BDCD, read this and this. If you want to throw your own Cheese Day party, download Rocco’s tasting notes and head over to your local cheese monger and wine merchant.
About two weeks ago, I started feeling anxious about the event. It centered around the typical concerns anyone would have at a time like this: Will everyone enjoy it? Did I make all the right decisions? Is Mike eating a burger? What did I forget? Is Russ going to wear a vest? What if nobody shows up?
None of my concerns were about how the team would do. Rocco and Jana know their stuff and the Think Brownstone crew knows how to throw a party. With Brad as my copilot, I knew none of the logistics would fall through the cracks. Yet, I was worried. That’s how I roll — if I’m not tied up in knots about something before it happens, I’m probably not very invested in it.
This year BDCD was another great success. It’s a smaller event than our annual holiday party, but it’s meant to be like that. I was thrilled to have my mother and father as our honored guests — and was able to steal the floor for a few moments to explain to the crowd how Mom and Papa helped create the connection between Think Brownstone and cheese.
In that introduction, I challenged our guests to do two things. You should try them too:
Try the rind of at least one cheese — Yes, eat the cheese rind. The next time find yourself digging into the gooey center of a new and different cheese, challenge yourself to try a bit of the rind with the delicious insides. You may have eaten the rind of a past cheese and not liked it, but you never ate THAT rind of THAT cheese. Most cheeses mature from the outside-in, so the cheese closest to the rind often tastes different than the center. As long as it’s not wax or cloth or something inedible, you’ll be fine. WARNING: if you’ve downloaded our tasting notes, you may want to work your way up to the rind of the St. Nectaire. It’s delicious, but not for amateurs.
Find a local cheese shop and talk about cheese with a cheesemonger — Buying cheese from an expert is an experience everyone should have. I’m not talking about your gourmet grocery store’s cheese counter, which is probably pretty decent. Go find a shop that specializes in cheese. Tell them about a cheese you once had that you loved and describe what it tasted like. A good, passionate cheesemonger will start to unwrap a few wheels and give you some tastes until he or she finds something that works for you.
As I explained to our guests on Friday night, working with people who are passionate about what they do makes any experience better. It’s what made me confident everything would be OK when those little voices were trying to freak me out. True passion isn’t just a confidence builder, though, it’s contagious. I witnessed that Friday night as I observed our guests interacting with Rocco and Jana.
I like to think that passion is one of the many things that sets Think Brownstone apart. We are often approached by clients to give advice on something completely unrelated to the project we’re working on. Why does that happen? Well, there has to be some level of trust and confidence that inspires them to ask our advice in the first place. I think they also know we’ll bring the same passion to that quick consultation that we do to everything we do. It’s the same reason I’m interested in what a cheese monger is drinking and what a sommelier is eating.
So, on Friday night we served a rosé to our guests and it was great. My final advice: if you’re scared of rosé in public like I was, get over yourself and order one. Unless it’s a white zinfandel, ’cause that stuff is the scrapple of wine.
Let me start by saying – I’m no philosopher. But I am a casual Humanist who recently found herself at a Monastery in Kathmandu taking a crash course in Tibetan Buddhism. Surprisingly, there’s actually quite a lot of overlap between the two schools – one that abjures religion, and one that is one.
Here’s one of the coolest things I learned at the Monastery: peel away Karma and Dharma and Buddha and everyday Buddhism, and what lies beneath is a gaping abyss of emptiness. And that void? That’s enlightenment. In the Buddhist tradition everything lacks independent existence. It’s all dependent. OK, you say, that’s science. That’s quarks and E=mc2. But, they were seeing the world this way a long time before Einstein came along, and they took it further still. Because there’s no objective reality, labels are rendered meaningless as well. There’s no unchanging base for a label to rest upon. Take the letter A for example. What is A? What is the essence of its A-ness? Its base is an interdependency, a relationship of three lines. If you take one away or make one even a little shorter, it’s not an A anymore – then it’s just a random shape. Its utility and meaning is completely altered.
Why am I writing about this on our Think Blog (beyond the nerdy hope that you find this stuff as fascinating as me)? ‘Cause I got completely psyched as this ancient monk was lecturing, thinking “it’s the Internet!” Enlightenment – seeing the emptiness of dependencies that constitute all that we “know” is SO much more apparent (and at the same time invisible) in a digital space than in our corporeal world. It’s 0s and 1s and pixels and space. The Internet is the perfect Buddhist teaching tool – the perfect mirror to hold up to begin to grasp everything and nothing at the same time, so much more readily than with something you can actually touch, or smell. And the important distinction here is that the Internet is the perfect tool by which to contemplate enlightenment not because it’s not real, but precisely because it is. Because, in the Buddhist tradition, Internet reality and “true” reality are on an equal footing. They’re one and the same, both equally, infinitely dependent and elementally empty.
So there you have it, next time you feel guilty for how much of your life you spend online, you might decide to frame it another way – you’re just contemplating enlightenment.
NOTE: Technically, Tibetan Buddhism isn’t Zen. But neither is SEO.