Indianapolis, IN - January 1, 2009
As I grow older, I realize that Im becoming increasingly intro- and retrospective. So I look into my own personality and realize I have a conflicting feelings about looking back. Im reminded of this at the end of each year when publications are full of best of lists and annual retrospectives. If you stopped me on the street and asked what I think about The Most Memorable Moments of 2008, Id likely respond that Im not interested. But I see these lists and cant help but read them, and I often find them compelling.
So with little fanfare and not much forethought, I humbly offer a list of my own. Well call it Some Random But Really Great Things From 2008. Where to start?
Since I create web sites for a living and write about them for this publication, the web seems a great place to begin. Ive seen a lot of sites and written about several this year, but only a few have truly entered into my daily routine. These two stand the test of time:
Pandora is Internet radio at its very, very best. Simply create a radio station, add an artist or a song, and Pandora does the rest. The rest, in this case, is continuous streaming of music based on the common elements found in the music you like. The musical geniuses at Pandora dissect each of the thousands of songs in their database and rate them on hundreds of criteria. Then the system finds songs with similar attributes and plays them for you. (Yes, just you.) Each time you give a song a thumbs up or down, Pandora uses your feedback to fine tune the results. What happens in reality is that youll hear some songs you know and love and lots of others youve never heard and love. Its streaming radio, with a unique playlist built around your preferences. Truly remarkable. Theyve also added desktop and iPhone applications, so you can use Pandora however you want, wherever you are.
The other top site of the year is Mint. Mint is a little difficult to describe and, like the original iPod, hard to imagine why you need it. But once you start using it, you wont know how you lived without it. You cant pay bills with Mint, you cant trade stocks, you cant really do much at all. But what Mint does is compiles all of your financial information in one place, with beautiful graphs and charts, comprehensive categorization, and utter simplicity of design and usability that allows you to see everything at a glance. What are you spending on groceries, entertainment, dry cleaning? How much did you pay in financial fees last month? What are the balances of all of your accounts right now? Mint makes finding the answers simple. Theyve recently added an iPhone application that makes getting this information nearly instant, anywhere.
Looking to get away? Heres my list of top family destinations of the year. (The great thing about these lists is how subjective they are!) Great Wolf Lodge in Mason, Ohio (right next to Kings Island) ranks pretty high with me and the kids. The Lodge is probably best known for its indoor water park, which boasts enough rides and activities to keep kids of all ages busy all day (or two.) But the facility and the people are great, too. The rooms are unique and the building spotless. When we paid for our room (a couple months in advance) we were told that we had locked in that rate and would get a lower one if it changed between the day of booking and arrival. It did, and we did, and I didnt even have to ask. Insider tip: you can stay at the lodge one night and use the water park the day you arrive and the day you check out. Which was enough to put the kids to sleep all the way home.
Im reluctant to let the cat out of the bag on the next little gem, but Im in a charitable mood. While many of the surrounding areas get most of the attention (like Saugatuck and South Haven), Holland, Michigan might be one of the best family destinations within four hours in any direction. The town is quaint and friendly, there are a variety of great beaches, a pleasant downtown shopping area, and enough restaurant choices to keep picky eaters happy. Insider tips: Try Tunnel Beach, ice cream at Captain Sundae, and on the way home, make a quick side trip for pies at Cranes Pie Pantry in Fennville. Youll thank me later.
This might sound strange to anyone in the generation after mine, but I really think Facebook is reaching critical mass. The last couple of years, I had a Facebook presence with a few friends. This year, the number of people I see migrating over (jumping onboard, however you want to think about it) is exploding. From Grandparents to Grandkids, Facebook is gathering them all. The success, I think, is obviously related to the ease with which the system allows you to find people you know. But equally important is their tight control over how things look, especially in contrast to other social networking sites like MySpace. With Facebook, in many ways, what you see is what you get, enabling a consistent theme across the platform and making it easier for adopters to understand how things work. While it may still fall under the whats this thing actually for? list, theres no denying its here to stay.
Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, you simply have to admire what the Obama campaign has done over the last few years. Running a well-oiled (and thoughtfully conceived) money making machine, campaign strategist David Axelrod and team took the entire political spectrum to school. We have some new ideas, they seemed to say, now stand back and watch us trounce the establishment. There are lessons here for all of us, and some of them arent all that new.
First, focus on the branding. They built a brand for their candidate that resonated with voters on both cerebral and visceral levels. From the verbal messaging to the ubiquitous signage, everything fit together beautifully. For the same reason that Target has been successful with its makeover in recent years, the Obama campaign understood that design does matter and words make a difference. Hats off to them all for staking a claim that the status quo could be improved and then going out and doing it.
Now, if we could only take two years off the campaign cycle
(As a side note, I understand that a cottage industry is blooming selling paraphernalia (Obamanalia) from the campaign. I saw yesterday that you can buy a T-Shirt with Obama and Biden on the front emblazoned with the slogan: "The Democratic Party, Totally Unprepared For Victory." Destined to be a classic.)
Early in the year, my Mom quit calling me. I was ecstatic. Up until that time, I had been reluctant technical support whenever she had a computer problem. Please understand, I really dont mind helping Mom, but as a longtime Mac user, I simply loathed trying to understand (and then fix via the phone) problems with her Windows-based PC. It was nightmarish. So when Dad told me they were picking up an iMac, I was delighted. When I received my first tech support call, I was fine. When she began figuring things out on her own, it was bittersweet. You see, the thing just works. Since it doesnt crash; the questions shes had have been related to migrating from one platform to the other. So once shes gotten used to the different software, everything has been a snap. So I dont hear from Mom much about her computer, but we speak a lot more often using the built in video-chatting software called iChat. Which, if you havent seen it, is a technology that will simply blow you away. The other night, I was talking to and looking at my parents in North Carolina and my sister in Baltimore at the same time over a wireless internet connection. Amazing stuff.
Finally, with the new year here, you might be thinking about a little self-improvement. Why not start with your brain? Ill revisit this topic again this year, but for quick starters, head over to Smart Brief, find your industry, and sign up for one of their free email newsletters. Most are delivered daily and contain a compilation of related news and articles from around the Internet. Its like having a reader service at your fingertips that helps you find everything you should know about.
Lists like this are never complete, so if you think Ive missed something that should be a part of the Random But Great list, send your suggestions to me and tell me what it is and what you love about it.
Looking forward to seeing you again in 2009!