Making Friends With Strangers

For work, often I’ve found myself going to a conference, party or local user group event where I don’t know anyone there and my goal by the end of the event is to know everyone.  The whole process has definitely forced me to think about how we connect with one another.

Ultimately,  when you’re going to make friends with a stranger (aka someone you don’t know), you must have something that you can connect over.    You have to have something that’s going to be the springboard for the longer conversation and hopefully a relationship.

From what I’ve seen those things you connect over can be broken out into 3 types. (I’m sure there are others.  This is just what I could come up with)…

  • A Present Object
  • Shared Interest
  • Shared Present Circumstance

A Present Object

About 8-10 months ago,  I got an Amazon Kindle, which has quickly become one of my favorite things.  I take it everywhere.  I’ll be reading it on the subway on the way to work.  I’ll take it to the coffee shop to read the newspaper on Saturday and Sunday morning.

Early on, the device was more out of the ordinary, so that just about every time I’d take it out some random person would come up to me and start chatting about it.   Ultimately, we’d end up talking about something else but the Kindle was the launching pad.  From the Kindle, you find out what kind books she’s interested in and you’re now making an even deeper connection.

I remember also when Apple computers were less common.  I’d be on my Apple laptop in the airport and I’d see someone else with an Apple laptop.  We’d look up and give each other the customary head nod out of respect.   We were both a member of the Apple family.  From their, it’d be easy to jump into a conversation about experiences with Apple.

It work’s the same with other things.  I’m a big fan of the t-shirt company Threadless.  Whenever I see someone who’s wearing one of their shirts, it’s an instant conversation starter.  How can you not start chatting about the t-shirt “Everyone Poops“?

You just have to find that thing in front of you that you can connect over.

Shared Interest

As I mentioned earlier, I go to a lot of tech conferences and developer oriented user groups, which makes meeting just about anyone that much easier.   When you walk into the room,  you instantly know that you have something in common with everyone in the room.  You can ask someone “So, how long have you been a developer?” or “So, what kind of tech startup are you at?”

Another example, recently a friend of mine invited us to her birthday party.  She invited a number of friends from church but also a number of her friends from work.   These two groups of friends didn’t really know each other.   When I met one of the friends that I didn’t know, my natural question was, “So how do you know her?”  This springs into a conversation.  The shared interest is that of the host, who’s throwing the birthday party.

The shared interest that has brought you together is a way that you can spring into a conversation.

Shared Present Circumstance

Once, I was on the subway on my way home from work.  For whatever reason (I think something happened to a train in front of us), we weren’t moving.    We sat there for what felt like forever.

A row or two in front of me.  I used this shared experience we were having, being stuck on a train that was going no where, to relate and connect.   It probably started with me saying something like “Wow, doesn’t this suck,” referring to the being stuck on the train.   Before you knew it, we were having a conversation.

Ever have a conversation that shifted into awkward and you were fishing for something to connect over?  What shared present circumstance is tried and true that you always reach for?  It’s the weather.  “Wow, the  weather has been great lately” or “Wow, doesn’t this weather suck.”

I have fond memories of the day that I stood in line to get the first generation iPhone.  We were there for three or four hours before we were able to actually get into the store.   By that time, I felt like I was family with my line mates.  We had bonded over the circumstance of waiting in line.  We started talking about our interest in Apple and what kind of tech jobs we had.   I’m actually still friends with some of the folks that I met in that line.

The key is identifying something that you’re both experiencing right now.

Social Object Theory…

My ideas around making friends with strangers really isn’t anything new.  It’s just a way of looking at Social Object Theory.  According to the theory, people don’t connect with people person to person.  They connect with people person to object to person.  That object you’re connecting over can be the things like… present objects (things), shared interests, or present circumstances…  Yep.

So… hopefully this is helpful.  I’m talking about this kind of stuff with Daniel Odio from PointAbout for Digital Capital Week in June 2010 in DC.

What do you think?  Agree? Disagree? I could have EASILY written a ton more examples.  Do you have some?  Are there categories that I’m missing?

2010: Products On The Web I Can’t Live Without

After reading the posts from Michael Arrington and Kevin Rose about the products they couldn’t live without, it got me thinking about what products on the Web that I’ve started to depend on.

I thought to myself, “if this product was gone and I could never use it again, would there be a major void in my day-to-day life?”  What I came up with was slightly different or left out some things that others did, which will hopefully provoke comment and good discussion.

Also… for some of these products, I think it’s more that I’m identifying the class of products that solve this problem and not this product specifically.  The product I’m naming is just the one that I’m using that solves that problem.   You’ll see what I mean in the list.

Google Reader

I remember when you had about 10 or 15 sites in your bookmarks that you’d track and check each and various points throughout the day to see if there was anything new.    Now, the ability to syndicate the contents of a website (through RSS) and aggregate it together with other content is SUPER powerful and totally changes the way that we consume content, as in it let’s us consume a lot more of it.  For me, Google Reader has definitely done the best job of aggregating all the information I want to see together into one location.


Even with and before RSS, the most popular way to syndicate or distribute online content to users is via e-mail.  For me, G-mail has done the best job of attacking the problems around that.  One of the killer features for me is it’s ability to group threads of e-mails into conversations, instead of just unique messages.

Google Docs

Recently, I’ve been increasingly been taking on projects where I’ve been writing a lot of material and having to collaborate on it with a handful of people.   After a while,  the model of e-mailing MS Word docs to your teammates and using track changes just starts to break down.  I knew I needed a cloud solution for all of my productivity apps.  Google Docs has done an amazing job.  I don’t see myself using Microsoft Word or Excel for anything unless I absolutely have to.


I’m always wanting to keep up with my friends and what’s going on.  The thing is that I have a lot of friends and their lives have many complex facets.    I think Facebook does the best of ingesting those lives and helping you keep track of things as they change.


For me, Twitter scratches a different itch.  It’s more of a short form publishing platform, where users can exclaim the things they’re doing or thinking about at any given moment.  As an end-user, you get solidarity when someone else relates to what you’re thinking or feeling.   As someone in the customer service business,  I get a chance to hear from my users and get unfettered access to what they’re thinking about our product and this very second.   That help me deliver them the happiness they’re looking for.


More so this year than ever, I’ve found that my schedule has become increasingly busy and unpredictable.  I’m not able to guarantee that when I start watching a television show that appears on that network on Wednesdays at 9pm that I’ll be able to continue watching it at that time for the rest of the season.  Being able to grab TV at the time which better suits my schedule has become increasingly important.    Plus being able to get all the shows I want in once space is amazing.


More and more people I want to know are wanting good mechanisms for communicating their voices online.  WordPress is both SUPER easy to setup and use for newbies.  Plus it’s moldable into just about whatever use case you can imagine.


I never realized how much I depended on the radio for discovering new music till I moved into the city and gave up my car.     Pandora has done an amazing job of tackling this problem, while at the same time finding me new music that I’ll actually enjoy.  I’ve purchased so many new albums because I heard it on Pandora.  Now, when I do listen to the radio, I’m shocked to hear what is “popular.”

Amazon Prime

I live in the city and so it’s not always easy to run to a store after work.   The ability to click a couple of buttons and have a physical good appear in 2 days is REALLY powerful.  It’s really disruptive.   Before I may have waited till the weekend to go to a store and pick something up,  now I can just have it at my apartment in 2 days.  I think this will force brick & mortar stores to find new ways to add value to the purchase process, other than just be the place that you purchase the good.


There’s so much to read online.  What I had been doing for the longest time was just leaving each blog post open as its own tab until I read it.  Well, this used so much processing from my computer that it brought things to a grinding halt.   With Instapaper, I can just send the article to Instapaper and I can read it later.  I’ll have access to the queue from the Instapaper website, the iPhone app, or the daily Kindle digest.   I’ll often catch up with the blog posts I’m behind on while on my way to the office.

AddThis Toolbar for Firefox

Yes, yes, I know this is our own product but I really do love it. 🙂  I’m the kind of person who’s always sharing links with my friends.  Before you have to copy and paste.    With this, you just click and share.  Click and share.  Click and share.  It makes sharing easy.

Things Absent…

One thing that’s notable and not on the list is Foursquare or Gowala.   While I find these apps enjoyable, they haven’t become a necessary utility yet.  I’ll write more about this later.

So what’s in your list?

Thoughts from SXSW Interactive 2010

On Tuesday night, I got back from the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference in Austin, Texas.   It’s an amazing yet exhausting conference.

Its 5 days of late nights spending quality time with about 13,000 of your closest geek friends.   When you have that many new early adopters together in one place, crazy things are bound to happen.

I had a few thoughts that I thought I’d share…

Business Cards Are So Last Year

This year, I failed to order business cards in time so that I’d have them for the conference.  I was confident that I’d be screwed and have to be writing down my e-mail address on pieces of paper.

Well this year, on the SXSW badges, they for the first time had a QR code that you could scan with a special app on your mobile phone.  When you scanned the QR code, it would follow the person so that you could have access to their contact info later, in the SXSW system.

While a lot of people found this system super buggy, it worked for me.  It showed that there’s a better and more effective way for people to exchange contact information.  I’m excited to see this evolve.

foursquare and Gowalla are incredibly useful.

When you’re in a place where you have lots of friends around you, the ability to know where those friends are is especially useful.  At SXSW, I was at a party and knew that some other friends were hanging out at the hotel bar.  The party was dying down so we went and met up with the other friends at the hotel bar.  This ROCKS.

foursquare and Gowalla are a pain in the butt.

One afternoon at SXSW, I went to a local coffee shop for a latte with a really good friend of mine.  It was a beautiful day outside so we decided to sit outside.  I was having a blast and then I had the thought, “crap, I haven’t checked in on foursquare.”  A few minutes later I realized that I was being ridiculous and just decided to have fun and forget about foursquare.

I really think that social media (Facebook, Twitter, or foursquare) are amazing but when you have to stop life to use them, at times,  they start to get in the way of actual living.

Booth babes…  Really??? *sigh*

As I walked around the Austin Convention Center, I was kind of shocked to see that companies had hired girls in short skirts and heels to tramps around handing out fliers for a product.   A few years ago, didn’t we decide that this was pretty bad.  I was in the trade show and a woman told me that her boss told her to wear high heels to the show.  Really?!?  The boss sounds like a moron.   Seriously, if you need to use sex to sell your product, it must not be very good.  An idea… make a good product, people will use it, and tell their friends about it.

We need a Community Manager support group… or something.

My brother in arms Saul Colt organized a “core conversation” this year about the importance of having Community Managers within an organization and asked me to join the conversation.  It was awesome.  We had a small room and we packed a whole lot of folks into it.  The 45 minutes felt like it went by in 5.  It was quickly apparent that there was a need for bringing people together who were in this field of being the face of a brand, as a “Community Manager”, together.   More on this later…

Get away from the action…

The parties at SXSW are amazing.  There are so many of them going on at any given time that it’s overwhelming but it’s hard to have actual conversations.  Either, you’re running into people you know every 5 seconds, the music is too loud to hear each other, or it’s just too crowded.   You gotta find those spots that you can grab someone who want chat with and get away from the action.  I definitely found a handful of good places and no I’m not going to tell you where they are.  If I did, they wouldn’t be my nice and quiet spots anymore.

See you next year.

Unlike some who’ve decried that they’re never coming back to SXSW, I’ll definitely be back.  Yes, it’s overwhelming and exhausting.  4 or 5 days of free food and beer definitely isn’t healthy but great people are continuing to gather there each year.   I get the opportunity to have so many great conversations across such a group of people in one period of time that it’s not like anything you can get anywhere else.

The Future of Community Management

I’m super excited and honored to be helping with my good friend Saul Colt‘s core conversation at SXSW on the Future of Community Management

Community Management is a key role in any startups but with any new role in a company they need to evolve over time to survive and prosper. Come listen some of the smartest people in this space [Saul Colt (, Sarah Prevette (, Justin Thorp (, Amber Naslund (Radian6), Seamus Condron (MediaBistro) and Andres Glusman (] discuss what the future of community management will look like because the future role is more than just drinking with customers!.

Saul has been an inspiration for the work that I do.  I’m excited to hear what he has to say.  He’s also assembled a really amazing group of people, folks who’ve been pioneers in the community management space whom I’m excited to learn from.  The panel is on Monday at 3:30pm.

Between now and the panel, definitely plan on writing up some more of my thoughts and posting them here.  So, stay tuned.

Yep, I Use Weight Watchers Online…

In addition to running on a regular basis and as part of my journey to be a much healthier person, I’ve recently gotten back into using Weight Watchers Online to keep track of what I eat.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, with Weight Watchers, different types of food are assigned points.   You’re allotted a certain number of points per day.  I have the iPhone app that I use to track what I eat and the points.  It’s pretty simple.

Writing out what you eat and what it costs you helps SO much.  It forces you think about what you’re putting in your body as you move towards consuming in moderation, in the same way that someone uses software to help them budget what they’re spending.

I really see using Weight Watchers as a standard part of living a healthy lifestyle.  If you like to eat, you need some type of frame work for thinking about what you eat to help you self moderate.  But see, Weight Watchers has this real brand perception problem.   Admitting in a group of people that you use Weight Watchers can feel like you’re admitting that you have a heroin problem.   You’re embarrassed and don’t want to say it out loud.

The fact that people hide their struggle with eating and health is  really unfortunate.   I’ve seen first hand throughout my running journey the difference that living openly in community has played.  The encouragement from you all has been priceless and is often what motivates me when I don’t wanna get up in the morning to go running.

I think so many people could be helped by just being open about where they’re at.   I struggle.  It’s easy to use food as means to make yourself feel better about whatever it is that’s going on in your life.  It’s easy to slip into the head space that that order of Five Guys is going to make you feel better about yourself.

But as I can attest to, while food is wonderful and delicious, it’s not a source of hope and fulfillment in your life.  That can only come from one place.  There are times that I’ve forgotten this and have had to work hard.

Ha… looked at the scale this morning and it said 257 lbs, which is nuts considering it feels like yesterday (well May 2009) that I was 282 lbs and I’M SOOOO glad that I decided to do this.  Working towards 230 lbs.  That’s my goal.

I don’t know where I’m going with this post, except to say that I’m a broken human being with my own weaknesses and struggles.  I see so much reward from being open with each other and talking about them.   As I walk through life, I’m so thankful to all of you for being part of my community, encouraging me, and helping to point me in the right direction.

How can I be an encouragement to you guys?