Facebook, Drag Queens and some Internet History

In the beginning, there was this:

“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

In 1993, getting on the Internet was a chore. You had to have a modem and a land line, and a contract with some sort of service provider: Compuserve, Prodigy, Delphi, AOL and GEnie were the popular choices. You could create an account on any or all of these services, use your modem to dial in to their service (long distance charges may apply), and create an identity for yourself out there in the big, vast Wild West days of the internet. It didn’t matter who you were; as long as you paid your service bill and didn’t engage in unlawful activities, you were given the freedom to name yourself and portray yourself as you pleased.

Of course, social abuse easily occurs in such an unregulated space. Just about as soon as dial-up and IRC chatrooms were invented, creepers disguising as teenage girls began to haunt those chatrooms in the hope of seducing the unwary. Usenet groups such as alt.erotica.binaries sprang up, and the technically savvy types of the day could get their hands on free porn (providing they wanted to wait a long time for the data to download). The internet was perceived as a fantastic new innovation, filled with tremendous promise – but beware of the seedy corners where danger lurks.

Dangers such as unregulated, uncensored freedom of speech.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not an advocate of allowing lawbreakers on the ‘net to get a pass under the blanket of free speech protection. I am an advocate for free expression however, and if role playing and assumed identities and anonymous fun and frolic between consenting adults is your thing, then have at it baby.

I posit that the wish for security, anonymity and the right to self-represent however one chooses to is part of the essential DNA of the Internet, and that these rights are under threat and being subverted by the biggest social network of all time, Facebook.

Facebook hates anonymity, and the reason is probably as simple as: if Facebook knows who you are and where you live, it can guarantee to its advertisers that they can reach YOU. Not your internet-dog-alias, not your drag-queen-alter-ego. You. Guaranteed. No argument. Your government-registered, backed-by-a-social-security-number sweet-ass self.

Facebook has a magical algorithm that converts that information to cash, and it really doesn’t want any of us – we, the people – to mess with that. To that end, they make each and every one of us agree to the following:

Under ‘Safety’:

You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.

Under ‘Registration and Account Security’:

Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:

You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.
You will not create more than one personal account.
If we disable your account, you will not create another one without our permission.
You will not use your personal timeline primarily for your own commercial gain, and will use a Facebook Page for such purposes.
You will keep your contact information accurate and up-to-date.
If you select a username or similar identifier for your account or Page, we reserve the right to remove or reclaim it if we believe it is appropriate (such as when a trademark owner complains about a username that does not closely relate to a user's actual name).

There’s a lot of other interesting stuff there – I just pulled the conditions that pertain to the points that I am trying to make. I urge everyone to go and read the whole thing. It’s much easier to read and understand than Apple’s App Store Terms and Conditions.

The basic point is: you promised to use your real name when you signed up for Facebook.

Here’s where it gets really morally slippery and sloppy, and extremely interesting.

My next postulation is: on the internet, people will agree to anything – usually in under five seconds – in order to get what they want, regardless of what they are actually agreeing to in order to get it. Call this the “ignorance of the law” excuse.

I know that I have routinely agreed to things like Apple’s Terms and Conditions without slogging through the entire document. Usually, I am in a grand hurry to hear a piece of music play, and somehow iTunes has updated itself and the terms have changed and I find myself involved in a five-minute battle with the device just trying to get sound out of it. Apparently I missed the fine print where it says Apple has the right to put U2’s new Coldplay album on my iPad – and that’s because they make the document very long and jargony and complicated and look – all I really want is to hear is my Sly and the Family Stone cut that would make me feel good right about now SO I’M JUST GOING TO CLICK AGREE DAMMIT!

If I were to quiz you narrowly on the T’s and C’s for Twitter, Pintrest, Reddit, iTunes, Amazon, eBay, all the stuff you probably signed up for online – what do you think your score would be? I’ll freely admit that if I got above 25% correct, it would be because I guessed the right answers by leaning towards the most profitable answer for the licensor and the least favorable for the licensee, which would be me.

I think that most people enter into these contracts truly believing that they will not be enforced. Maybe it’s a little bit of “they’ll never know, it’s just little old me” mixed with some “they wouldn’t dare to shut me out – they want my business!” – with an added dash of “how can they possibly enforce any sanctions?”

With me so far? OK. Let’s talk a little about drag queens.

First of all, the “drag queen” label grabs headlines fairly easily, and provides plenty of glamorous visuals to boot. It’s easy for the media – social and otherwise – to want to make the Queens the poster-women for the Facebook Real Name Dispute. And so it has come to pass.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the transgender community either gets tarred with the Drag Queen Brush or gets completely ignored. There are many, many members of that community who have – for whatever good reason they have – chosen to hide their “government name” and adopt a name of their own choosing. Not to mention other communities, which granted may be primarily populated with performers – but performers who choose to create their one frank and true identity on Facebook under their non-government name.

Why not simply go and change your legal name, you ask? Well, some do, and some don’t, and they have their good reasons why they don’t, and the point here is that their good reasons are none of your business. It’s a basic privacy issue.

When I was a young lad, the gay community was so much more hidden and repressed and closeted than it is nowadays. Us old-timers have not lost sight of this, and though these United States have come a long way, there is still a long way to go. Gay marriage is not universally legal, and unspeakable homophobic prejudice and violence is still inflicted upon GLBT people all the time, every day, everywhere.

But back to drag queens, since they are fabulous, and the time when I was a young lad. Queens assumed non-government names in order to protect themselves, in order to keep their jobs, in order to keep their families, in order not to lose the benefits of living in society, in order to protect themselves. We have not come such a long way that this is no longer the case. So, one might argue that assuming a drag-o-nym is a fun, fancy and traditional way to enhance a drag persona, I would argue back that the need for safety still exists in this society, and the tradition is not born out of fancy, but out of necessity. Besides, it’s none of your business. See above.

Sure, many ‘drag queens’ are performers, and maybe it is appropriate for them to migrate to Facebook Fan Pages. But not all transgender people are performers, and so it does not make sense for them to be forced to have a Fan Page instead of a Plain Old Page.

I think that Facebook’s “one person, one account tied to the person’s birth name” policy is cloying and entirely driven by the marketing interests of industry. It smells of Big Brother-like totalitarianism, where the identities of the constituents of the state are tightly regulated and the populace is highly scrutinized. I think it is ultimately dangerous and highly invasive of people’s privacy.

But then, you signed away that privacy when you joined Facebook – despite their rather ludicrous “Data Use Policy”.

Oh, and should you come to any harm because your true identity somehow is revealed on Facebook, I leave you to consider this, from the Facebook Terms of Service:



I think that Facebook will eventually implode under its own weight, once the next generation realizes how square and stuffy and flawed it really is and fails to participate. But that’s a topic for a different post.


All this data – FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, your GPS location, the texts you send, all of it – it flows together and runs like a river. And when I make a post, it’s like I’ve tossed a stick in the river from one side of the bridge, then I get to run to the other side of the bridge and watch it float away.

Other folks on the bridge, they might say, “Hey! Nice stick!” and maybe they’ll point that stick out to their friends and say, “yo, check out THAT stick, the way it’s floating, that’s cool”. You might even see instant replays of your stick floating away on YouTube, or someone makes up a new something-or-other based on your stick and posts it someplace else. Or not. But eventually, that stick floats on down the river and gets smaller and smaller until it’s out of sight. We don’t see it any more. It doesn’t matter though: we can just toss another stick into the river to watch.
All streams flow into rivers, and all rivers flow into lakes or oceans, and the lakes and oceans get filled with the stuff that floats in to them. Some people just throw a stick in the water. Some people take a lot of time and care, and craft sweet little origami birds, and toss them in the river. Other people dump their waste in the river, with no sense of shame or guilt. And it all just flows on down out of sight.

You might ask yourself, where did my data go, after it flowed out of sight? It’s really hard to dig up a tweet or a post on FB from a year ago, much less two years ago. Takes a lot of scrolling, doesn’t it? Did that data vanish? No, it didn’t. It’s in this ever-expanding ocean down there, at the end of the stream, this cloudy thing I’ve heard called Big Data, and everything that flows into it goes through the Big Data Treatment Plant, to prepare that little stick of data for its eternal swim in the big data ocean.

Sometimes – often, really – someone tosses something into the data stream that’s really relevant, or transformative, or empathic, or insightful, or stirring. That’s the kind of stuff that makes the data stream good and worthwhile. Just as often – maybe moreso – the data stream is filled with banalities dreamed up while waiting at a red light. I am glad that I cannot see everything posted by everyone everywhere. It would be much too overwhelming to have to sift through what it was that the dude next to me at Starbucks just uttered on his iPhone, or the woman behind him, or the man behind her (and so on, and so on). It’s just and proper that we have at least that level of privacy, at the stick-hits-the-water level.

But past the processing plant, there is no real privacy. There are fishing trawlers that travel the Big Data ocean, with their nets splayed wide. Make no mistake, those are special nets – the kind that actually seek out specific fish and catch them. And they take that cold, flapping-on-the-deck data and stuff it into canning machines that package the data up for resale. Over the years, these trawlers have gotten bigger, with better nets, with more storage in their hulls, with faster robots to store and retrieve all the nicely packaged cans of data. The companies that own these cans of fish-data can pile the cans up and artfully arrange them to make complete life-size pictures of… you. And me. And her. And her Mom. And him too.

Most people don’t mind any of this. After all, these trawlers can send you coupons for Taco Bell, or BOGO 50% off at Olympia Sports, or offers to win a free vacation for the price of surrendering your email address. Some people are expert at engaging with the system and actually succeeding at being happy with the results they get, given their investment of time. I’m not much of an exception – I am constantly entering give-away contests involving Marshall stacks or icy-white Stratocasters. As a result, when I read Salon on my iPad, all the ads on the side are for musical gear. What a coincidence! Makes me feel like a fish in a can.

Think I’ll take a walk down to the Charles River, and actually toss a stick into it. Maybe I’ll post a picture…

Laurel Ann Bowman

I was devastated to learn this week that my pal, colleague, confidante and mentor Laurel Bowman passed away.

Wait a minute – weren’t we supposed to grow old together and sit around the Old Ad Folks Home and talk about how kids know nothing anymore and how it was back in the day? Weren’t we supposed to found the Geriatric Sound Museum where old rockers could wheel off and have another go at fame and ear drum damage?

So it’s only now dawning on me that this is the real deal and that Laurel has left us. I guess that means that I’m leaving Denial behind and about to experience Anger.

Laurel BowmanSo… I remember being introduced to Laurel at 855 Boylston Street, where i worked for IQ&J/121 Marketing. (“Help Clients Win.”) I worked for Jim Ricciardi at the time, managing computer art and layout in his studio. When Laurel came on board, Jim knew her from Arnold and I got the signal that she was good people, family. They shared laughs about folks they knew in common, and I could tell immediately that Laurel was somebody I needed to get to know.

I was spending a lot of time flipping between the Photoshop/Quark workflows that fed the print production beast, and writing HTML and figuring out this new dealy-o thing called The Web. There were like maybe two other computer geeks in the building who got it (Lee Stanford and Bill Fanning), but for everyone else it was a mystery – in fact almost nobody had heard of it. So a skunkworks task force formed, and Mark Wilson came on board, and we decided to go to Management (Bink and Tom) to show them what this new medium could do and to get buy-in that we should take the agency in this direction and pursue work. Mark selected Jay Bernasconi as his art director, and Laurel as his writer.

We landed work, thanks in no small part to the fact that when Laurel entered a room, things lit up. She was a force to be reckoned with. There was no denying her presence.

Clients loved Laurel. They believed in her, because she made it clear that she believed in them. She was their partner. We got repeat business, from clients who would leave their company and brings us along to their new employers. We started to grow.

There was a period of time when it was sort of like we were moonlighting – direct ad spreads by day, interactive projects by night. At one point, Laurel and Emily Gallardo went to the Kwajalein Atoll. on a project for Raytheon. They came back jetlagged and exhausted and filled with stories. I still have a little wooden Buddha that Laurel gave me from that trip.

Ingalls moved to the Design Center in South Boston and rebranded itself. I almost got myself fired, I was so angry over the move. For the record, and to clear the air, I want to say this to Tom Block: I am sorry I was such an asshole. Now that I am older, I understand what you did, and I know my words and actions must have really irritated you. I apologize, once again.

You see, Laurel and Tom had a great rapport. Of course! Laurel and Mark helped me through that rather bleak moment in my life. I owe you guys still for that one.

But back to Southie, and the freshly-minted Ingalls Interactive. Mark brought Katie Fitzgerald on board, and we started pulling down business for real. We were full time interactive, and we became a component in most new business pitched for General and Direct – especially Direct.

You must think that all we did was advertising. Not so. Here’s the heart of the story for me.

Laurel had her band, Lumen. Through her gigantic magnetic field, she managed to pull me away from the desperate orbit I had fallen in to and helped me achieve enough velocity to rejoin the world of the living rockers. I dusted off my keyboard gear and found myself playing with Jack Frosting. I hung out and took in the local rock scene. I felt my fingers thaw and I got back into action.

One time Laurel had a gig or something and she asked if I would come along and maybe just help out a little. I said sure, of course. So we’re riding along in Walter, and we get to TT’s or some place, and we’re getting out of the car, and Laurel leans over and in a confidential voice she says to me, “You know, I’m not as butch as I look. Would you mind grabbing that amp out of the back seat?”

We went to each others gigs. We listened to each others studio roughs. We celebrated each other’s CD releases. When her copy of CMJ would come in, she’d drag me into her office and play me the cuts she thought were worth anything.

Laurel used to dog sit for my family. She took the Baby Dog when we went out of town. I recall also having Bailey come and live with us for a week at one point. What a sweetie Bailey was.

Simone glommed on to Laurel. It was sort of like watching two atoms fall into orbit and bond to form a bigger molecule. Simone insisted on being dedicated at the Theodore Parker Church and on having Laurel as her godmother. At work, Laurel was always asking about Simone.

We grew and grew. Sichon, Mel, Michah, Anthe, Jill (“SHAPIRO!!!!!!!”), Johnny Figs came on board. We landed a whopper from John Hancock and Matt Warren and Ryan McDonough joined the family. And we were a family, with Laurel as den mom.

Comedy was a central part of our daily rituals. We usually had a Howard Stern debrief around 11 am every day. Me and her, we did Jerky Boys routines. We traded being “Sizzle Chest” and “Liver Lips”. That’s where the concept of the Hot Mop came from, a Jerky Boys call that had us on the floor laughing. Laurel turned it into a verb, so when she indicated we should hotmop something, that meant climb up on the roof of it and fix it pronto, bud. No excuses!

Things change, the world turns, people get new jobs. Katie went to iXL, I followed about six months later. Laurel and Robert Guay peeled off and formed Red98 – a whole ‘nuther story that I really don’t know much about, since I was already drinking iXL’s Coca-Cola. Laurel and I kept exchanging dog sittings until she moved to Ipswich and I moved out and got an apartment of my own.

Laurel, Mary, I’m sorry I never made it up to Ipswich to visit. It’s totally my lack of initiative that’s to blame. But then, I guess we take each other for granted sometimes, don’t we?

Back in the old days, when I was pounding out HTML for Ingalls Interactive, I’d run across situations where the copy needed an edit or tweaking – or there was just no copy outright. So, I’d supply my own and run it past Laurel in an email. She’d either tweak my tweak or tell me “Rock on!”. The greatest honor Laurel gave me was to tell me I was an honorary member of Local 855, her pet name for her club of copy writers at the agency.

Laurel, as I write this, they’re laying you to rest. I’m glad I was with you and Mary and your mom and dad and uncle and family last night. I’m glad I saw all our family from back in the day. I love you all.

I love you Laurel. I can’t tell you enough.

Barefoot children

I’m thinking hard about a site redesign for my minimalist, boring link page casually known as sendai77.com. The problem is me of course: i’m the client, the writer, the designer, the technical consultant, the developer, and the cobbler.

More about me: I’m a busy consultant for IBM. I use the word “consultant” loosely: in the Global Services branch where I serve, we’re all consultants, so I sort of can’t avoid the moniker. But a more accurate description of what I do is “IT Specialist – RIA Developer”, which, translated into Ordinary American, means I make web pages. True, I try to get on the slick projects that require Flash or Flex, but since I’m a sub genus of Consultant, I go where the work takes me.

But that’s not all. In my less lazy off-hours, I’m a musician, painter and photographer. I try my hand at songwriting and composing, and I’m not a bad cook to boot. My pals tell me that I have a “very full life”, which may be a way of saying I take on too much.

Given that, you’d think I’d have a smashing, wildly self-promoting web presence. Well, I don’t. Maybe I never will – maybe it’ll always amount to what LimeyG referred to as a few “sad, lonely blogs” which are perennially neglected.

I had a long discussion with Viv yesterday on the topic of blogs and topics. See, I feel that one WordPress is not enough. My infrequent rantings tend to jump categories, and it’s my personal feeling that WP does an inadequate job of fully presenting multi-topic content. Instead, users are force to pick the content channel out of the raging stream (or in my case, pathetic trickle) and apply the Category Filter technique of content sifting to arrive at a page that sieves the stream into, well, categories, which are basically akin to del.icio.us tags.

Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with that…. except I’d like to write a music blog and a technology blog and a somewhat-related-but-entirely-new-thread user experience blog – in short, I sort ofwant more silos, each with the ability to categorize within themselves – and possibly out to each other.

One answer may be to skin my own WordPress in such a way that it reacts the way I want it to.

Viv suggest that I redesign my site. What I’m describing is basically a one-person magazine.

That brings up the spectre of Content Management….

So am I going to put the yellow “Digger Dude” sign up on sendai77.com? I’d rather just unveil the new site when it’s ready, rather than titllating the 1.5 readers I’ve got and letting them down when they realize that “Coming Soon” means “Coming By The Time The Sox Get To The World Series Again”.

Anyone seen my kids anywhere? There’s the barefoot ones.

SBUX and me

I’m a quirky consumer.

If I didn’t have to be a consumer, I’d be quirky, period. If I wasn’t quirky, I’d be a plain old consumer.

I know. Self-fulfilling truisms. But they’ve been banging around in my head for a few weeks, and it all came tumbling out for me when I read an article in the Metro about Starbucks. Actually, it was a transcript of what Jim Cramer had to say about SBUX, or so I glean after attempting to summit the highly-unreadable www.thestreet.com. (Note to theStreet: just because you cover finance doesn’t mean you can’t use plain English – and don’t get me started on the evils of linkfarming…)

I digress. The gist of the article is that SBUX is in the middle of a hard business turn-around, similar to what McDonalds has just gone through. Starbucky’s suffered from too rapid expansion, too many outlets in the wrong places, filthy stores, stale menus, disgruntled staff, the whole shebang. Enter Howard Schultz, who is going to turn the ship around and right the course.

Back to me, the quirky consumer. I’ve noticed the changes down here at street level. After all, by my reckoning, SBUX gets between $15 to $20 out of me per week. Maybe that’s about average – I’m guessing it’s a little low for the typical weekly SBUX addict. I usually just get coffee and a reduced fat coffee cake in the morning. I don’t often go for the 3:30 latte or whatever. The quirky bit: I just ask for a simple, dark roast coffee. I’m generally not interested in espresso drinks, unless I’m craving a straight-up shot. But I am interested in their brand, and I study it while listening to smooth jazz-folk and watching privileged people ordering complex beverages. There’s not much else to do.

OK, blindfold test: When I say “Starbucks”, you think of….

Coffee, right?

Right. Because they’ve gone to much trouble to build their brand on “Starbucks Coffee”. It’s on their sign. It’s on their cups. The lattes and cappucinos (and all their variations and descendants) are variations of the key word “coffee”. They are made of coffee. The brand isn’t “Starbucks Cappucino”. It’s “Starbucks Coffee”.

Which brings me to change number one. They’ve decided to standardize on one flavor of urn roast called “Pike’s Place”, which they go to great pains to tell you is roasted monthly in some place like Latrobe, PA. It took a few moments of brand education, but I (who have never been to Seattle) came to discover that there’s a Place in Seattle called Pike. Oh. I get it.

Of course, my poor old eyes deceived me one day early in this new change, and it looked as if the staff had written “Puke Decaf” on the board. Astigmatism is hell.

Let me tell you, to an urn coffee connoisseur like myself, Pike Place is awful. So, I continue to order the “dark roast”, whatever it happens to be that day. I do so at the peril of getting really tired, burnt, grounds-filled coffee, but hey, I’m quirky that way. I want my dark roast coffee.

Which brings me to change number two: Vivanno.

OK, blindfold test number two: when I say, “Vivanno”, you think of….


Right you are, unless you’ve had one, or at least paid attention in your local SBUX store. Vivanno is their new line of Left Coast smoothie-style drinks.

Is that a good reaction? Nothing? Obviously not, from a brand positioning point of view.

Well, what do you expect? Nobody knows what a Vivanno is yet. It’s not a household word. (One will get you ten it never will be.)

Let’s look at this new brand for a sec.

Viv – anno. Year of life, or something like that, in some sort of Latinate kind of way. Or so I would guess. Seems to me that the marketing types sat around the table and threw a bunch of important and European-sounding syllables around until they came up with the right word that satisfied their particular criteria for creating this new product. Viv, as in “filled with life”. Anno, as in “it was invented in Rome!” Cue the orchestra: Viiiii-vanno! Oh-oh-oh-oh!

But this is a “Kleenex-before-it-was-Kleenex” situation here, folks. It’s a smoothie by a smooth name, is all. And there’s nothing inherently “smoothie” about the word “Vivanno”. You’re right though – there’s nothing inherently “tissue” about “Kleenex”, except the phoneme “Kleen” as its root word. You could even argue that “nex” is descended from “nez”, which is “nose” in French, so you’ve got… Clean Nose…

Remember the Nova? No va. “Doesn’t go.”

Vivan no. It won’t live.

My message to Howard Schultz: if you really want to get back to basics and turn your stores around, it’s the coffee, stupid. It’s really awful to stand in line for fifteen minutes at a cramped and understaffed store, watching the bored and overworked baristas go through acrobatics filling complicated menu orders for picky clients, just to get sub par dark roast coffee. Make good coffee, and do something to cheer up the future actors and rock stars that are pouring for you. You’ll go farther and get better results. Just a thought.

Especially since it was that yummy, aromatic dark roast coffee that got me to walk in to the store for the first time, oh those many years ago…