PR people: 10 ways to screw up @techcrunch’s embargo policy

TechCrunch is famous for not accepting PR people’s embargoes.

I’m always shocked that PR people care in any way about this, because there are so many ways to force TechCrunch (and anyone, really) to abide by embargoes. Here’s my favorite ways:

1. Copy Evan Williams (CEO/Co-founder of Twitter). Twitter didn’t launch in a tech blog. Or, if it did, it didn’t matter. I didn’t hear about it from any of the tech blogs. Ev, yesterday, even said that if he launched at Demo or TechCrunch that the judges would probably have panned it. So, how did they launch? They handed it out to friends and let their friends evangelize it. I remember first hearing about it from Eddie Codel. Face-to-face. No PR needed. No embargo needed. No “launch date” needed. I remember hearing about Qik from a friend of the company in an Apple store on a Saturday night. Same thing.

2. Brute force. Hire 10 PR people, call 10 journalists/bloggers at the same time and brief all of them at the same time. You really only need 10 people to launch a huge amount of coverage anyway.

3. Take Arrington’s own advice. He left this one in the comments on his post. Release it to everyone on your own corporate blog and then email everyone and say “take a look.”

4. Release the news in a press conference. This is how I learned of Google’s Open Social. I was in that press conference with Arrington. The embargo ended during the conference. We both had posts up in less than 20 minutes (and I was using Qik to live broadcast it).

5. Just give the exclusive to TechCrunch. Heck, that’s what most PR people do nowadays. It won’t bother us.

6. Promise bloggers a special feature that they will get to talk about first if they keep their mouths shut. Yelp did just something like this with me. They put a cool augmented reality easter egg into the product. So, after everyone else had talked about the app I was able to share with everyone something exclusive. It got covered in every single tech blog too, which gave Yelp a double dose of coverage.

7. Promise Arrington that if he keeps the embargo he’ll get an exclusive interview. This works especially well if you are Google or Facebook. But, if you are an interesting company, like, say, Gowalla, I’m sure there’s something you can offer TechCrunch that they’d be interested in over and above the news of your new iPhone app.

8. Donate $1,000 to a charity if Arrington keeps his mouth shut (will cost you maybe $5,000 to keep a few big bloggers in line). Make it public. That way he’ll look like a loser if one of his writers breaks wind first.

9. Sponsor a party at TechCrunch’s headquarters. That way if the news leaks it’ll look bad if TechCrunch doesn’t cover it. We did that with Building43, luckily the other writers stuck with their embargoes and everything worked out, but if it hadn’t you’d still have the launch party to get news.

10. Launch at a conference that all the tech writers from all the different blogs and publications like and will cover anyway, like LeWeb or Web 2.0 Summit/Expo.

What are some other ways you can mess with Arrington’s embargo policy? And how come so few PR people are writing about creative ways to deal with TechCrunch’s policy? (If you come up with some good ones, link to them in my comments).

UPDATE: since one of these really was just giving up, I’ll give you an 11th one. 11. go to a place a lot of Twitterers and bloggers hang out (like the Twitter Conference that ended today) and tell everyone you like the news and see how it leaks out. I did that with my news about leaving Microsoft and told probably 10 to 15 people. I told them on a Saturday and asked them to keep it quiet until Tuesday. Well, of course the news leaked, but not the way you’d think. A guy I didn’t even know leaked the news first and then we were off to the races. Within 72 hours Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s PR agency, told me I had gotten millions of media impressions with hundreds of articles and blogs.

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Antifeatures: big mistake that location app developers make

This week I got a press release from Gowalla. It went on and on about how much better its feature set was than Foursquare, a point of view backed up by one of my favorite tech writers, Zee, so I gave it a second chance.

Why did they claim it was better?

Because their app forces users to use the GPS in their phone to check in. Foursquare does not, the press release says. That is all true.

If you read that you’d think that Gowalla was going to run away with the prize, right?

But, sorry, it won’t work out that way.

Here’s why. This “feature” is actually an anti-feature.

“What in heck’s name are you talking about Scoble?”

Well, they didn’t do their homework. On the Gillmor Gang last week Kevin Marks of British Telecom nailed it. He told us that people are freaked out by location-based applications.

Every time I show these apps to people they invariably respond with freaked out replies like “I would never use this.” Or, “stalkers would love these.” Or “something nasty is going to happen to someone because of these.”

This is a completely different response than those who I first showed, say, Twitter too. They responded merely with “that’s lame.”

You can get over being lame. You can’t get over your potential users being freaked out.

So, here’s why this is an antifeature for these apps, and probably lots of location apps (let’s talk about how Twitter is handling location troubles later):

1. Both of these apps are location games. You check in. You get virtual points. Your friends know where you are. This freaks people out. But only one app FORCES you to tell people exactly where you are when you check in: Gowalla. This is going to turn off a lot of people, plus it makes checking in a LOT harder. While staying in Sequoia Hospital I was able to check in with Foursquare, but not Gowalla (because my GPS didn’t work inside Sequoia).
2. Most people, when they play location games, want to add some “fuzziness” to their location. For instance, I am at home right now. The closest address to me is the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay (I’m walking distance away from it). On Foursquare I check in there. Which lets me “win” mayorship of the Ritz, plus it lets me add some fuzziness to my actual location. On Gowalla it forces me to check in at my real address, if I want to let my friends know I’m in the neighborhood. My friend Luke, who lives nearby, could use this to know when I’m home and available for going surfing, for instance.
This makes Gowalla considerably less fun, too. One part of a location-based game is presenting people as you’d like others to see you. It’s a lot more interesting to check in at the Ritz every night than my actual home address, which, to tell you the truth, I’d be a little freaked out to report to everyone (and if I’m freaked out, imagine how freaked out the average user is).
3. These two games have two significant challenges and Gowalla’s approach will cripple them in both. The challenges? 1. Get users. 2. Get those users to add locations.
Why are those challenges? Well, if you are a normal user, try to use these systems, and you try it in your home town and no locations are there, you get pissed off and leave. Even I behaved this way, ignoring Foursquare until just recently, despite it being hot at SXSW with lots of my friends. I checked in this afternoon at Rite Aid, a pharmacy in Half Moon Bay. Both systems didn’t have that location. I added it, but adding it in Foursquare had fewer screens. Why? Because of the GPS requirement. And, Foursquare has a LOT more users. Why do I think that is? Partly because it was out earlier, but also partly because it is, well, more fun to play because it doesn’t require exact use of the GPS. The people I’ve shown both systems to tell me they are more likely to join Foursquare. Oh, and I got a nicer reward for adding a new place into Foursquare than Gowalla, which made Foursquare more fun and made it more likely I’ll add the other weird places in my town.

The more I look at it, the more I’m convinced that the strict use of the GPS in Gowalla makes it significantly less likely to gain users than Foursquare will get.

That’s why I call this feature an “antifeature.”

Now, I do admit that there will be disagreement with me. Zee, for instance, thinks that Gowalla is hot because of this feature. I think he’s misjudged it and time will tell who is right.

Oh, as to Twitter, did you see how they added “fuzziness” into the location? They are deleting location information after 15 days.

Twitter is also making the system opt in. User control is very important in getting users over their fears of revealing their location. Most users are freaked out by these features, so user control and fuzziness are the two most dominant and needed features.

What do you think?

The real-time baby (what this means for media absorption)

If you were following my Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, or Flickr feeds you know by now that we had a baby on Saturday night.

Tonight, over on my Posterous blog, I asked the industry to give me curation tools so that I can tell you what I’m seeing on my screen and give you one place to find it all. So far the industry has ignored that.

But on Saturday night I tried to use as many tools as possible to bring you along on an event important to me. All in real time. What I learned was telling.

First, came email. That’s how we let our family know the event was close. What did I say in that email? “Watch Twitter.” Why email? Because most of my family and friends still like email the best for getting notified of things. They don’t get Twitter and FriendFeed. Some have gotten Facebook, though, but there I never know if people are seeing my most important updates, so we stayed away from that at first.

Anyway, I also checked in on Google Latitude, Gowalla, and FourSquare so that people would know we were at the hospital (I even Tweeted that, so people would know I was playing around). Mostly we did that for our social media friends. Our real life family and friends have no idea what those are and don’t use them yet. I did get a couple of surprised text messages from friends after checking in at FourSquare, saying they hoped things were going OK (they hadn’t seen our Tweets saying we were having a baby). Soon I had sent a message to FriendFeed and Twitter letting everyone know where I’d keep them up to date (I used FriendFeed for this, which pushed a single message over to Twitter — I knew that if I used Twitter too much I’d piss off a lot of my audience that really didn’t care that I was having a baby).

Which brings me to a point. Very few of my friends (even professional types) read Twitter all the time. A lot of people found out only today that we had a baby, even though our baby’s birth was retweeted hundreds of times on Sunday and by lots of people with fairly large audiences.

That’s the first lesson: even though you probably are getting sick and tired of hearing about something, like Michael Jackson’s death, which was retweeted by nearly every single one of my friends within the first 10 minutes of the news hitting (that’s what it seemed like anyway) the reality is that most of your friends haven’t even heard the news yet.

My brother Ben, for instance, didn’t hear the news until I called him because he was sick and wasn’t on his computer so didn’t get my email.

Which is the second lesson for media absorption: some people just are not reachable through modern media. If you want to reach those people you’ll have to do door-to-door knocking or calling campaigns. That’s why we got so many political phone calls last year.

Anyway, as the evening went on I’d occassionally Tweet. Things like “Ryan is playing games with us” or “baby’s arrival is tonight at earliest.”

Those Tweets traveled from Twitter to FriendFeed and over to a box on my blog. So anyone visiting one of those areas would know. I also let my Facebook friends know that a baby was on the way. That made sure I got as many people to know something was about to happen as possible.

Lesson three: get your message as much distribution as possible. Some of my friends only hang out on Facebook. If you don’t let them know, your message will arrive to them slower (it will still get there, due to people retweeting and such, but why make it hard?)

Anyway, as the evening wore on, things started to speed up. I tweeted about the drugs being better here than at Stanford (by the way, Sequoia is a WAY BETTER PLACE TO HAVE A BABY than Stanford is — our second son was born at Stanford and we can tell you lengthy stories about how much better the experience is here at Sequoia. Don’t believe me? Yelp backs us up).

Over the next couple of hours I tweeted “getting ready for C-section” and within minutes: “Gotta run, little Ryan is coming soon.

The big event was here. The doctors put me out in a hallway to wait while Maryam was prepared for surgery. It let me slow down, catch my breath, and I was able to use my iPhone to capture an image and post that up.

On my screen I could see how people were reacting to the images around the world. This was a big change from when Milan was born, two years ago (we tweeted his birth and posted photos too, but back then the real time web wasn’t so real time).

Anyway, in the surgery room I used mostly my 5D MKII. Mostly to make images for just Maryam and me. I wanted the first images to be high-quality, so I used my SLR. Luckily for this Maryam was almost asleep most of the time so I could watch the proceedure (the doctors watching me nervously because they know many guys faint at the sight of surgery — they had a screen up so that they could keep me from looking if they had to). Maryam forbade me from publishing in public any of these images. We had reached our privacy line, but I did make the images anyway — that’s the journalist training in me from photojournalism classes.

Soon little Ryan Soroush Scoble was out and crying and here I switched briefly to an iPhone, so I could get an image up right away to family. One family friend of Maryam’s told us today that it was incredible being able to watch in real time what was going on.

Over the first hour we gave little Ryan a bath, watched as he got his first clothes, first few checkups, etc. While Maryam and Ryan hung out together for the first time I had some time to upload those to Flickr and get out another email to family and friends.

Why didn’t I use Qik or Kyte? I’ve found those live video services don’t have enough quality, nor enough reliability, for what I wanted to do. Recording a video on my iPhone and uploading it to Flickr gives a lot better quality — yeah, Qik would have been real time, but it would have been a lot fuzzier. Funny enough I was expecting to use YouTube for that, but the iPhone uploader to YouTube totally sucks and failed on me three times, even for a short video. Apple needs to fix that. Luckily I had the new Flickr app on my iPhone and it worked for uploading the first time.

Also I wanted to choose the moments that get broadcast and Qik really is an all or nothing choice.

By the way, if you do this yourself, don’t forget to make an audio recording of the first cry. I did that just by using the audio recording feature on my iPhone and then I uploaded it via email to FriendFeed.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed sharing these moments with us.