An Interview with Jim Donnelly (from The Internet)

Last week on BuzzFeed, a meme popped up about a man named Jim Donnelly. Jim attracted attention for running an advertisement in his local newspaper in New Bedford, MA, in which he asks people to become his friend on Facebook (to learn, among other things, “Useful Information”). The internet, being what it is, reacted to the this unusual proposition in its typical manner. Heck, I even added a “WTF” badge to the comments thread.

With that simple statement of “Hello, I’m Jim Donnelly from The Internet!” he quickly became a sensation:

After reading the story, I decided to post it to my Facebook page. After all, it’s not every day someone promotes their Facebook account via newspaper. Lo and behold, Jim paid me a visit in the comments, and so I decided to ask him a few questions to learn more about why he decided to reach out to people in this particular manner, and how the attention this week has been. The interview (and his extensive answers) are after the jump.

Tell us about yourself! What do you do for a living?

For the past 33 years, I was a TV Producer and manager of a regional Cable TV studio in New Bedford, Massachusetts under a succession of corporate banners. We produced local news and sports programs, talk shows, cooking shows, etc. My run there ended suddenly in the summer of ’09. No hard feelings. It was a good ride while it lasted.

I’ve been a tech early adopter, enthusiast and evangelist. I’m guessing you don’t remember when a spreadsheet was something made of paper that covered half a conference room table. When you changed a single budget number with an eraser and a pencil, you had to recalculate across and down, using an old-fashioned calculator with a paper roll. I helped the Cable TV company build its first computer payroll budget using BASIC code on a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A with data storage on standard cassette tape. It was thrill after thrill over the years, as the first IBM-compatible PC arrived with two floppy drives, then one with a 10MB hard drive, then a Novell token-ring network, and so on.

People today are spoiled, you hook peripherals up and they work! We used to have to send “strings” of gobbledygook characters to printers and modems to coax them to work properly.

Among the TV programs I produced was a series that ran from 1995 through 2006 called “world@your.pc”. If I may alliterate, I think of myself as a “Low-Level Leo Laporte”. Let’s be clear, I’m not worthy to shine Leo’s shoes, but I participated in the same “sport”, if not in the same league. If my data is correct, in 1995 about a third of homes in the U.S. had a computer in them and about 5% had a connection to the Internet, so “world@your.pc” was geeky cutting-edge for its time here in New Bedford.

“world@your.pc” consisted of two-minute segments within news programs, and standalone half-hours, playing in several regions of Massachusetts, as well as the Atlanta area, upstate New York and some areas in California. I dispensed computer operation tips, keyboard shortcuts, and explored useful and entertaining websites. You can see a small archive sampler of world@your.pc segments on the YouTube.

I’m unemployed now. I need to write the next chapter.

Since 2001, I’ve been posting restaurant menus on a website called Menu Joy. Now I’m trying to make a real business out of it.

Local print newspapers are screwed. Local radio and TV stations are screwed. What will take its place?

I own TV shooting equipment and editing software costing relative peanuts that can do what cost a quarter million dollars just a short time ago. And I have a connection to the Internet. Anybody with those things can create a TV channel. I’m looking to carry on what we did on the the Cable TV local channel by producing local videos and posting them on Menu Joy, with links on Facebook, to draw traffic. I recently produced a video shot entirely with one of those pocket “Handy Cams”, the Zoom Q3, one of the first with a decent built-in microphone. The video, “Free Parking”, is about a seasonal parking meter amnesty deal to coax shoppers to downtown New Bedford.

I believe Facebook is poised to be an amazing phenomenon, more so than it is already. I’ve been calling it the “Second Coming of the Internet”. I see it drawing in scores of people, including my spouse, who previously had minimal interest in Internetty things. It makes connecting with a lot of people so much easier, and fun, than ever before, from close family to acquaintances, co-workers, clients, etc. It’s so much easier than composing an eMail to keep the back and forth, keeping-in-touch going.

Facebook could become the communications grid for everyone for everything.

When you first open a Facebook account, you’re looking at a blank page. It’s empty. Nothing there. You are now like a newspaper editor, you fill your blank page with content. First you connect with your family and friends, they’ll populate your page with bulletins about their lives, ranging in significance from what they just ate to what they just gave birth to. Then you subscribe to “pages”, and “groups” that align with your interests to further fill your custom newspaper with a constant stream of content. If and when it gets to be too much to keep up with, you can use the tools, like “Lists”, to filter the content to specific things. It’s amazing how sophisticated Facebook is getting.

What made you decide to post your initial ad?

Before the “Hello, I’m Jim Donnelly from the Internet!” newspaper ad, I’ve placed a few other print ads and a YouTube Video positioning myself as a “New Media Specialist.” As a result I’m helping a few small businesses establish their Facebook pages. I’ve also asked in another ad “Do you want to be Mayor in 2012?”, advising of the need to start a Facebook presence now, as campaign season will be too late. I think I’ve intrigued a few City Councillors. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m really rolling the dice with Facebook. I’m inviting everyone I come in contact with around town to be my Facebook friend. So far, everyone’s been pretty nice.

On Facebook, I’ve developed a routine of posting the typical chatter mixed with computer tips, Facebook tips, and restaurant promos, every time Menu Joy has a new menu or a video of a restaurant opening, etc, I post it on the Facebook.

Right here I’ll share a great Facebook tip: if you want to spread a message, let’s say a charity fundraiser event that you’d like people to attend, if you do a normal Facebook “Status” post, your friends list will see it, and it will probably end there. But if you can post your promo message on a website somewhere, along with a square-shaped graphic at least 90×90 pixels somewhere on the page, and then post a link on Facebook, you have made a Facebook post with a nice attractive “thumbnail” image and a “Share” button under it, so it can be more easily spread to several levels of friends.

I want to develop a local organized network of Facebook message spreaders. You “Share” my messages and I’ll share yours. The reach could be phenomenal. That’s why I took out the newspaper ad inviting people to be my Facebook friend. Some purists might object to using Facebook for commerce like this. But there’s lots and lots of commerce going on there. Best Buy has a fan page, as do TV shows, cable news networks and every conceivable type of merchant. Musicians are using Facebook to “connect” with their fans. (Connecting = marketing.) In my case, I’m supporting the local economy by promoting the restaurant industry. I’m OK with it.

I mentioned rolling the dice. Facebook is a potentially dangerous double-edge sword. For every person I find to be a Facebook enthusiast, there’s another who’s Facebook-phobic, citing privacy concerns, Big Brother, etc. They may be very correct!!! Especially in light of what Facebook did recently, nudging users into unwittingly making lots of their content available to “Everyone” instead of “Friends-only”, and making it Google-searchable as well. I thought it was a bit disturbing when I saw the Facebook notice and its default choices, my concerns were confirmed when I listened to Leo Laporte’s “This Week in Tech” podcast that weekend, Leo, John Dvorak & Co. thought Facebook might be shooting themselves in the foot. I defied the Facebook default “suggestions” and kept my Facebook settings as they were, and I deleted some family pictures that I wouldn’t want anyone to be having fun with in Photoshop or otherwise misusing.

And who knows what Facebook will do next, what will continue to be free, what they will charge for, and how they’ll change how things work. They’re in control. If they burn their users too badly, there could be an instant exodus.

Tell me about the response so far from the ad, and how you’ve reacted.

About the opening line in the ad: my sons and I are fans of Jon Lajoie. He makes hilarious music videos and puts them on YouTube. If you’re new to Jon, start with Everyday Normal Guy. (Warning: course language.) We went to see him perform live in Boston. The first thing he said was “Hello, I’m Jon Lajoie. (pause) I’m from the Internet.” So I really just copied the concept from Jon.

The local response to the ad was a little disappointing. I made about a dozen new local FB Friends. I had hoped for a hundred or so.

Then I started getting requests from much farther away. It was confusing. One responder told me he saw it on “The Daily What”. Oh No! I only wanted local friends. Not this! I asked The Daily What to take it down, and they did. But it was too late. It had spread to other sites. Like My image was seemingly in the public domain. The Photoshop jockeys now had control of me. And they went to town. A lot of it was hilarious. Even the “molester” stuff, complete with local references. But the “beady eyes” thing stung a little. Maybe my eyeglasses cause distortion. I have regular eyes!!

The Internet can be pretty brutal. Has the response changed your opinion of the web in any way?

I know that people on the Internet can be very brutal. I’ve posted videos on YouTube in the past several years, and the comments range from supportive and complimentary to downright mean and nasty. I’ve seen “Epic Fail” plenty of times, (as if it’s clever to say that.) It’s “Keyboard Rage”, in the solitude of their homes, people say the ugliest things they’d never say to someone’s face. I’m comforted thinking that most people who’ve accomplished things in their life, creatively or in any endeavor, would be unlikely to engage in this type of behavior.

It’s been just about a week since the original ad ran, so I don’t know if it’s peaked yet or if this is just the tip of the iceberg. I got my first crank call yesterday, from a fellow who sounded learning-challenged, asking for help setting up his Facebook account so he could see his nephew’s pictures. It got sillier and sillier, and when he repeated his pleas for help with “Bookface” on his “toplap”, I knew I was being had. The voice sounded very familiar, and upon reflection, I swear I think it was one of The Jerky Boys, or someone imitating one of their characters.

I decided I better figure out how to ride this wave rather than drown under it. I created a Facebook fan page called: “Hello, I’m Jim Donnelly from the Internet!” Now when I get Friend Requests from out of my geographic area, I invite them to connect there.

What kind of information do you hope to give people about the Internet who respond to your ad? What are these “amusements?”

I have several sub-pages on Menu Joy for the sole purpose of creating Shareable links on Facebook, among them: Computer Tips and Facebook Tips. There are a lot of Facebook newbies, and computer newbies on Facebook. People don’t know that you can delete a post you just made if you regret it or misspelled something, or how to use the chat system in the lower right. People don’t know you can send a private “Inbox” message to someone, instead they’re posting phone numbers and extremely personal exchanges right on people’s walls where everyone else can see. When I see someone in need of help, I put the info in a sharable post, knowing that others need the same help.

The page has Observations, Tips and Amusements where I can post whatever I think may be useful, informative or entertaining, whether it’s original or just a link to something I found on the web. I’m not breaking any ground here, but if people laugh or otherwise appreciate what I post, they’re happy, I’m happy.

The goal is to serve and to entertain, and to ask people to do things, like attend an event or try a new restaurant.

Anything else you’d like to add or clear up? Just making sure… you’re not a performance artist, right?

Most of what I do is clear and straightforward. I’ve made a few videos for YouTube that cause some to scratch their heads.

And if any restaurant owners want their menu on the web, check out Cheers!

Thanks to Jim for answering my questions! For more, check him out on Facebook, or his personal website.

8 thoughts on “An Interview with Jim Donnelly (from The Internet)

  1. Well done Veronica!! I wish Jim good luck and aplaude his determination to contine in the face of adversity. Without people like him (and now you), the internet would be a vast wasteland. Thank you. Now can you take a few days to reflect and enjoy the family in this season?

  2. I guess what ‘s sort of heartbreaking is the earnestness and sense of naivety that went into the ad and that i feel like we have all become cruel and ignorant.

    It’s like when you are a teenager and your mom or dad, though meaning well embarrasses you and you say something that you later regret. Or, in maybe a bit of a stretch the situation reminds me of Piggy in Lord of the Flies.

  3. Excellent interview, Veronica. You asked great open-ended questions and just let Jim talk.

    Here is Local Commerce 2.0 explained in a nutshell — Enterprise 2.0 brought to small businesses and organizations. Jim’s vision is right in line with what the experts are saying about enterprises: the ones that will survive and thrive will figure out how to make Web 2.0 work with their customers, employees, and vendors. -Phil

  4. it’s a brave new world. Kudo’s to someone who jumped into the pool without knowing how deep

  5. “I’m comforted thinking that most people who’ve accomplished things in their life, creatively or in any endeavor, would be unlikely to engage in this type of [internet brutal & negative] behavior.”
    We should remind that to ourselves more often.

  6. Thanks for the interview, Veronica. By giving Jim a voice, you turned something that I would have found extremely tacky into something that touched my heart. A humbling lesson. Good Luck, Jim-from-the-internet!

  7. Oh New England…we’re so cute.

    Totally saw this in the paper near my office and then saw it on the news that same night. And he’s tapping into a market here locally that many people are turning their backs on – helping small business, cheaply, and time effectively reach new potential customers.

    It’s a rough world out there and Jim del Internet Uno is helping to break the ice…at least locally.

    thanks to him, my grandmother isn’t afraid of facebook anymore:-)

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