Wednesday, June 20, 2007



My non-librarian lists are abuzz with the OTC release of alli. If you haven't heard of this, it's a new FDA-approved lower-strength dose of Xenical, a prescription weight-loss drug that prevents the absorption of some of the fat in your diet. I think we could take a marketing lesson from these people -- check out what they list under "treatment effects:"

alli™ works by preventing the absorption of some of the fat you eat. The fat passes out of your body, so you may have bowel changes, known as treatment effects. You may get:

  • gas with oily spotting
  • loose stools
  • more frequent stools that may be hard to control

What to expect

The excess fat that passes out of your body is not harmful. In fact, you may recognize it as something that looks like the oil on top of a pizza. Eating a low-fat diet lowers the chance of these bowel changes. Limit fat intake in your meals to an average of 15 grams.


  • You may feel an urgent need to go to the bathroom. Until you have a sense of any treatment effects, it's probably a smart idea to wear dark pants, and bring a change of clothes with you to work
  • You may not usually get gassy, but it's a possibility when you take alli. The bathroom is really the best place to go when that happens

Leaving aside the fact that delving too deeply into these effects might put you off eating to the point where you don't need drugs, people are excited about taking this stuff. What can we learn from this, aside from the importance of wearing dark pants?

1) The power of positive spin. Alli suggests users might appreciate these "treatment effects" because they act like a "security guard," making you think twice before eating something you shouldn't -- kind of the Antabuse approach to diet.

2) If people want what you have to offer badly enough, they'll put up with a heck of a lot to get it. Alli's work is mostly done in advance, given our cultural obsession with weight. How do we get to the point where our services are seen as being this essential?

3) The power of community. When users buy alli, they're not just buying pills, they're buying into a customized weight loss plan, an online community where dieters receive personalized feedback and support, and the idea that they are "partnering" with alli in their weight loss efforts. Even the name -- pronounced "ally" -- implies partnership.

4) People are willing to pay for what they value. A 60-pill alli starter pack costs about $49.99, and you're supposed to take about 3 a day. Its manufacturer expects to sell about $1.5 billion worth this year.

5) There are companion books out -- if you work in a public library, you might anticipate demand, or might anticipate a little run on weight-loss and nutrition books in general. Make a display!

6) People love a quick fix. Again, where here can we show that we add value and quickly meet people's needs?

7) People, apparently, appreciate candor. The manufacturer is pretty upfront about alli's effects, positive spin or no, and puts the information right out there. How about that for embracing transparency?

Some of these may be more of a stretch than others -- but there really are marketing lessons to be learned here. Check out alli's slick little web site; look at the language and images they use; think about the implications.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Boundaries and Bubbles

I didn't write about the horrifying Kathy Sierra situation a while back; the most I could add was a "me too" to that outraged chorus. This did, though, get me thinking about these concepts of "community" and "social" we've been tossing around, and about the blurring of boundaries between our online and offline lives.

We're still so startled when a situation like this intrudes into our online lives, no matter how much time we spend telling our patrons to watch what they post on MySpace and how much time we spend telling our colleagues that what they say online will follow them forever. I know intellectually that random strangers can easily find my posts here in Google and run across discussion list posts from ten years ago. This keeps me from crossing certain lines, but I still write as if I'm talking to a community of friends and colleagues -- and, for the most part, I am, even though I face the occasional angry e-mail or confrontation at a conference. I similarly believe that, for the most part, my neighbors are decent people -- even though one has loud parties, and another lets his large and somewhat scary dogs run free, and another tends to back into our mailbox, and this one is feuding with that one, and... I still believe that, for the most part, public libraries are wonderful institutions, even though patrons at mfpow have thrown things at me, cursed me out, vandalized restrooms, and punched a former colleague in the face.

Online communities get messy because people don't cease being themselves when they get online -- and any antisocial tendencies are exacerbated when you don't have to see your victim face-to-face. The same openness necessary to building that sense of community also leaves us open to those who want to tear these communities down, just as the openness that makes public libraries such special and vibrant institutions also makes them places where you don't necessarily want to let your children wander around unattended.

When we talk about online community and the "social" in software, we need to do so with the same awareness. Just as we need to be aware of the temptation of technolust when thinking about exciting new technologies, we need to be aware of the temptation of connectionlust when thinking about the communities we and our patrons build online. We need to balance our enthusiasm for new possibilities with an awareness of our responsibilities and mission, and an awareness that, when you're dealing with people, life gets messy.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007


It Opened up my Mind...

After posting about church signs, I thought a little more about religion's lessons for getting people passionately involved and engaged. Recently, I received a sample issue of off our backs in the mail, which happened to focus on women and fundamentalism. One of the articles talked about "the allure of the Religious Right" for women as other support networks have crumbled:
Enter the Religious Right with an array of services and support that could no longer be found elsewhere. For struggling families, the support churches offered was an oasis in the desert, everything from home-cooked meals delivered to women and their families after a new child was born to free maternity clothes, baby clothes, and furniture, a supportive community of willing babysitters, women's gatherings during the week, book discussion groups, men's and women's aerobics, food and clothes bank programs, weekly meetings in homes for Bible study and "fellowship," men's basketball and softball teams, choirs, worship orchestras, child and adult musical and drama presentations and "living Christmas tree" projects, grief support, and a host of programs for people of all ages. Best of all? It was all free....This level of support in a society lacking even minimal support for young families can be hard to resist.
(I also have Jesus Camp sitting in my Netflix queue, which promises to be interesting.)

We talk so much about how libraries build communities, about how we provide essential services, about how we bridge the digital divide and create programming for all ages -- and do it all for free. Yeah, we lack the religion hook, but I've seen in oob and elsewhere plenty of discussion about the fact that what originally hooks people in is this sense of community and support they find lacking in other parts of their daily lives.

Looking at the ways in which churches and other organizations have stepped in to fill these gaps might well give us insight into both the need for community, in what ways people most need support. It's worth thinking about what libraries' and librarians' role may be, with these issues in mind.

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