Friday, February 29, 2008

LinkedIn goes even more facebook

We've heard talk about changes for a while at LinkedIn, when I logged in today the facebook-style changes had gone into overdrive. Found myself a bit confused about navigation at first.
There's more focus on the newsfeed and the q&a element, and even a status update (what are you working on?... answer 'connections'... though I found it horrible to use).
I like the new encouragement to self-form groups. But as colleague BadgerGravling pointed out - how do you find them? Take a look for yourself.

Doc Searls on the value emerging from all that time you waste blogging...

Doc Searls gives us another example of the Because Effect:

"I make zero money
with blogging. (No advertising. Love that.) But I make more than zero because of blogging. Not enough to make me rich, but enough to make me valuable. And far more than I would make with advertising alone.

"And the value I create isn’t just for me. I see what I do here as a positive contribution to the world: open prose that’s like open code: simply useful. Or, in other terms, NEA: something Nobody owns, Everybody can use and Anybody can improve.

"At its best, anyway. Some of what I write, I’m sure, is useless. But most of the time I’m at least trying to do something helpful. I think all the best bloggers, like the best programmers, the best builders, the best Wikipedia contributors, all try to do that. Whether they sell it or not."

Absolutely. And it's how all value will be created before too long.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The edifice of the trusted expert takes another hit

Hard on the heels of all that Blue Peter cat naming chaos, dodgy phone votes and competitions, comes news that Maxim (in the US) has published a review of a CD its reviewer hadn't actually listened to (via the BBC... careful now, people in glasshouses etc etc).

Media brands have long known that trust is among our most precious possessions. At least we say we do - and then keep doing things like the above. Yet there are still those who struggle to understand how inevitable the decline of mass media becomes in these circumstances.

In specialist, consumer media (my world - and that of Maxim) we like to believe that our experts have something more to offer than our communities. Often that comes down to access. That's what makes the Maxim thing so wrong - it faked the access. They pretended they had got to hear the new Black Crowes album before you did. And they hadn't. And as a result the opinion was fake. It was a lie. Even the position of authority Maxim could claim from getting this access was bogus - because the access was never there.

THIS UPDATE: (made me laugh outloud!). "Rapper Nas, whose hits include Hip Hop Is Dead and If I Ruled The World, told the New York Post that he was surprised that Maxim had reviewed his album - because he hadn't finished recording it yet. The magazine called his album "radio friendly" and gave it a rating of 2.5 stars out of five."

Guess what all this does to trust...

No wonder people are making use of the power of the network to create their own networks of trust and to set their own definitions of quality (step forward tripadvisor et al). Relevance over quality folks. Live (or die) by it.

There is still a (potentially lucrative) role for trusted reviewers to give you a tip in the right direction, to start a marketing ball rolling in a believable direction. Trust them and you start to believe the reviewer even without direct experience of the product yourself (it's a core part of Dave Balter's thinking, an idea which permeates his book Grapevine, and the activities of his word-of-mouth marketing company BzzAgent).

I'll be keen to hear what Dave thinks about the regularity with which 'expert' opinion is being revealed as untrustworthy when we meet for lunch in London next month, and the impact of trust being created by networks rather than from the centre.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Digital Identity and Reed's Law: The podcast

I'm presenting a paper at BlogTalk2008 in Cork next week (and internally for Bauer Consumer Media people on Thursday this week). It's the same paper I presented at the Digital Identity Forum in London last November - and which is also available to download from the 'white papers' section you'lll find in the left hand navigation of this blog.
Before I spoke at Digital Identity Forum I met with its brilliant organiser Dave Birch of Consult Hyperion. He recorded our conversation for a podcast and I'm pleased to say that has now been made available.
So if you'd rather listen to a conversation than read the 11 pages... go here

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Engagement Mapping: a fairer distribution of ad dollars

Microsoft has come up with a real challenge to google adsense. It's not a new kind of advertising, it's a new kind of measurement and one which is likely to appeal to anyone in the business of branded advertising and content creation.

'Engagement Mapping' is a well-informed punt at the kind of redistribution of value in the supply chain of advertising so many have called for. It goes into beta on March 1.

Mike Teasdale - planning director at Harvest spoke about the need for something like this at the NetImperative publishing seminar I spoke at in November 2007.

Google (and their ilk) gets the lions share of the CPA (cost per acquisition) cake because the final click is most often from search.

That doesn't seem fair because it's not giving enough value back to the creators of the demand. You don't go searching for something you don't already want. Content creators/hosts are doing the job of creating desire.

Example: User sees an in-context and related banner ad. What we do next is... very often not click it. This may well be because we feel interrupted, irritated or whatever. This doesn't much matter to Mike's case. What does, is that the ad has planted an idea in the user's mind. It may have seeded the demand and it has been displayed in a context in which the user was susceptible to that demand.

So there is no click-thru record of me 'responding'. But I do actually respond to it and I am more prepared to part with cash as a result.

More often than not I'll do a search around the terms the combination of ad and content has planted in my mind and do this because I want to do some comparisons - and perhaps because I don't trust one single ad when I can go comparing and do some consideration with communities I trust.

But despite all that - the combination of content and ad has had a large influence on a deal getting done.

Could Microsoft's new tech share out the revenues in both a measurable and reasonable way?

Microsoft says: "Engagement Mapping takes into account for the first time all the various online touchpoints and interactions a consumer experiences before an eventual sale."
“...The ‘last ad clicked’ is an outdated and flawed approach because it essentially ignores all prior interactions the consumer has with a marketer’s message,” said Brian McAndrews, senior vice president of the Advertiser & Publisher Solutions (APS) Division at Microsoft.

“Our Engagement Mapping approach conveys how each ad exposure
whether display, rich media or search, seen multiple times on multiple sites and across many channels influenced an eventual purchase. We believe it represents a quantum leap for advertisers and publishers who are seeking to maximize their online spends.”

Can Microsoft's new system ascribe the right proportion of value (and how do you measure what is right?) to the editorial article that made you think you wanted a holiday, or the next one that made you think you wanted a particular type of holiday, or the next one which made you think you wanted to go to a particular location etc etc.

IF advertising were content and content were advertising we would have a complete (and worthy of the name) engagement model. But I get the sense that Engagement Mapping will only ascribe value to interactions (views and clicks I guess) with traditional-style ads (of the kind that don't fit the networked world, as I discussed here).

I'm not even sure if it has a way of adding in the 'engagement' users have with marketing widgets.

There appears no sign of treating 'content' in the same way as advertising - eg ascribing (and paying) a value to this here blog post because it's made you want to go off and sign up to try Engagement Mapping.

If I'm wrong about that Microsoft, my apologies... I imagine the cheque is in the post?

Trying out Mippin's new video function

I'm a bit of a fan of Mippin. It ticks many of my 'moon-on-a-stick' requests for a mobile internet play which will enable the long tail. And Refresh Mobile CEO Scott Beaumont is good enough to keep me up to date on developments. The latest supports video found in RSS feeds.
The blurb claims: "Refresh Mobile (makers of Mippin) and Partnership Creates Seamless Video Service Connecting Video in RSS Feeds With Mobile."
"...the service will convert and distribute flash-based RSS video content of any publisher, from international publishing companies through to independent bloggers. The process will see video transcoded automatically to the .3gp mobile standard in real-time for viewing on users' handsets."

What I'm not sure of without testing is whether that means it supports video I upload to this blog AND play videos referenced on this blog (eg the copy and pasted youtube code which makes it appear the video is on this blog).
So here's the experiment.
First (example 1) I'll upload a video of my own to this blog:

Next (example 2) I'll copy and paste in some code (also my own, from Brightcove) and see if Mippin also supports that. Frankly, I'll be surprised and amazed if it does.

If it copes with number 1 and 2 then there's no requirement to change our approach to using video in order for our reach to extend on mobile.
However if example 1 works and 2 doesn't then, for those who want to give the fullest experience on mobile, we'll have to stick to ONLY uploading video, rather than copying and pasting code. And that will change where we upload our video in the first place (why put it on youtube if you then have to go and upload it to your blog, too.)
Might be good news for the likes of VodPod, because you'd upload once to your blog/site then use something like the in browser ease of VodPod to share elsewhere.
Apologies, all this is guesswork until we actually see the result of the test... you are currently walking through the experiment with me!
Stand by. I'll be updating soon.
Right then, so far not working. Scott has come back and explained why (see comments below). My example 2 uses Brightcove (and not yet supported, read the comments for those that are). Bit concerned that the Blogger uploaded one (example 1) ain't working either on my mippin site (go to mippin on your mobile - - and search for 'fasterfuture' on there, find this post and you can join in as we go!). Scott does say youtube and several others are supported. So...
Here's example 3, David Ogilvy coming at you from Youtube with a clip that wouldn't have seemed out of place in the first series of Lost.

And Eureka the youtube one does indeed work, and very smoothly too. Congrats to all of you at Mippin. It does indeed play videos simply referenced in the rss feed from this blog (ie youtube code). I'm told the Blogger ones should be added fairly soon... Brightcove may take a little longer.

When the Blogger (and eventually) Brightcove ones are live that'll mean any publisher can extend the reach of not only their content and pictures (via rss) onto mobile via Mippin, they can also add video. An impressive and important addition.

Monday, February 25, 2008

From fear of the random to joy of complexity

Thanks to a free download over at MobHappy I've been discussing the Black Swan with colleagues.
If you haven't read the Black Swan - go get a free summary download now.
There are similar ideas also to be found in The Origin of Wealth. Simply, big changes are caused by unusual events that no one saw coming.
Confused of Calcutta makes the point in another way today, quoting Howard Schneiderman:

When you turn down a request for funding an R&D project, you are right 90% of the time. That’s a far higher rate of decision accuracy than you get anywhere else, so you do it.

And that’s fine. Except for the 10% of the time you’re wrong. When you’re wrong, you lose the company.

The 'frozen accidents' thesis described in the Origin of Wealth references Annie Oakley. At the end of her sharp-shooting show she would ask for a volunteer from the audience brave enough to let her shoot a cigarette from his (or her, I guess) lips.
Because few would ever be foolhardly enough to risk this, her husband would pose as an audience member, step forward and allow the show-stopping finale to take place.
However, on one occasion Crown Prince Willhelm of Germany confounded the usual routine and stepped forward when a volunteer was called for.
Annie had been on the sauce the night before. Now imagine if her trigger finger had been just a little shaky that day. Potentially world war 1 would never have happened... Germany wouldn't have been defeated, Hitler wouldn't have had a platform to prosper etc etc.

One frozen moment in time, one seemingly random chance, could have gigantic impact.
The difficulty for those of us trying to predict the future, trying to strategise... is that this kind of cause and effect can only be seen when you look backwards.

Derren Brown pulled off a great illustration on his Channel 4 TV series recently. He convinced a group of people he had a fool-proof system for backing the horses. His evidence - the results of his tips so far. The show focused on one woman who had used his system to back six winners on the trot. He now convinced her to gather all the cash she could borrow to back winner number seven.

Only once the bet was placed did he reveal to her how his system worked.

Imagine the speed with which her jaw hit the floor when he revealed that she was simply one of thousands of people who had been recruited for this TV programme. That each time he chose a race with six horses in. He gave one sixth of the group a different horse to back each time. Only 1/6th of the group could be right. The other 5/6ths were thanked for taking part and the remaining 1/6th divided by six once more, and given another tip (each 1/6th getting a different tip) and so on. Only the losers knew the system was flawed. The winners in each round were convinced it was a sure fire hit - and by the time race seven came round there were just a handful of excited punters left.

The fact was they had just got lucky in a random series - and now this last lady was putting her shirt (almost literally) on what amounted to no more than faith in a completely random outcome (in which she had a 5/6 chance of failing).

The Confused of Calcutta example could be seen as applying this to the backing (or otherwise) of R&D projects.

The Black Swan leads us to understand that those who have been stunningly successful in business (Bill Gates for example) do not have a secret we should all follow, instead they were in the right place at the right time to benefit from a series of random events (in Gates case it was the happenstance that IBM wanted an operating system, the people they wanted to work with preferred to go ballooning than meet with them and so Gates and Microsoft got asked as a second choice. Gates didn't even have experience of OS. He licensed someone else's. And in the end his company was worth more than IBM.

This sounds depressing for those trying to predict. And it is if you want certainty in the long run. But the case made by the Origin of Wealth suggests that the best solution is to make your company more able to cope with evolution, more able to evolve.

Rather than random events, The Origin of Wealth suggests that business plans are selected for fitness by the market. This is far from random. But it does involve trying things to see how well they fit the market, and changing them in response to the market. Bill Gates was the right individual to take advantage of the fitness landscape (the market) presented to him.

I would, as you might expect, substitute the word 'community' instead of market.

The Origin of Wealth argues the economy is a complex adaptive system - just as evolution is (it is the daddy of all selective processes). I suggest the web is a complex adaptive system too.
Which is why (as I've said before) we live in an age of the fastest growing company in history (Google). It is the arrival of a system of distribution and value creation (the web) which matches the evolutionary performance of the economy which has enabled this.

The problem for most of us is that company hierarchies and silos stand between our business plans and the community. The fitness of a plan is more often than not judged by the guys saying no 90% of the time (as in the Confused of Calcutta example), rather than the community of people for whom it is intended.

The challenge is to find a way to allow the community/market to make its own selections more of the time. In short, we must find ways to act more like complex adaptive systems ourselves - to enable evolutionary practices and processes.

Do your current processes and systems get in the way, or do they assist in this process?

An example:

A company measured its absence rate. Its overall absence rate had risen. It decided to impose a draconian regime of withdrawl of sickness pay across the board (just to be clear, we're not talking about anyone I work for).

Often our first response is to supply a one-size-fits-all solution. We seem to think it's fairest. Evolution doesn't.

The reality in our example was that the rise in abscence rate was accounted for by a pocket of localised lead-swinging (with most likely a viral effect... some people started taking time off, others locally perceived that as granting permission for them to do likewise). Dealing with the local issue slashed the whole company's over all rate. A fit solution for the particular environment.

Evolution isn't interested in what is fair - it doesn't share out a little bit of death across all organisms, or even across all species in hard times. And it doesn't do half pregnant.

Pakistan Government blocks YOUR access to Youtube

One man's reasonable force is another man's sledgehammer to crack a nut, I guess?

Friday, February 22, 2008

In esteemed company

Tomi Ahonen at Communities Dominate Brands puts me in esteemed company today. For which I can only thank him. If my embarrassing bragging about this fact can achieve one thing, please make it that you take another look at the post Tomi references, and add your thoughts/reactions.

Hillary reveals who she's speaking to...

Not that it's anything to do with me but... interesting to note that Hillary Clinton accuses Barack Obama of 'Change you can Xerox' (as in, he's nicking other people's ideas... speeches even).

Not very Net Generation is it? Surely that should be 'Change you can copy and paste'?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Widgets are to web 'sites' as blogs are to broadcast

The Power of the Network means not one but two serious disruptions for media companies to come to terms with.

We've had a while to get used to the idea that we are no longer the owners of the means of production (of content, be it 'editorial, 'advertising' or 'marketing'). We understand that the lowering of technical barriers enabled by blogs and other social networking tools mean that everyone is a publisher now. Not broadcasters, but conversation starters.

The bit that seems harder for us to get our heads round is that this also means we are no longer the owners of the means of distribution.

In a print, tv, radio, (even web1.0) broadcast world we did the distribution. We not only produced the content, we packaged it as we saw fit and handed it out through our chosen channels. There was only one central hub and we were it. So the only way for content (either editorial or marketing messages) to be distributed was by it being broadcast by the same people who created the content, through our channels.

Part two of the disruption would therefore seem obvious: Now everyone creates content, so everyone distributes it.

We saw our position as lone distributor eroded by 'viral' and 'word of mouth' but we didn't really see it as a radical challenge to the status quo of our position as 'the great mouth'.

This is a hard lesson to learn. We imagine that by 'providing a place' for people to aggregrate their user generated (and other) content we can hang on to our role as distributor, as if this can be achieved without collapsing back into broadcast mindsets.

Our aggregating, community-focused plans tick all the right boxes until someone asks about 'reach', or gets excited by how many millions of eyeballs may be scanning that homepage (hello facebook, youtube etc).

I think aggregation is the right approach because members of communities (us included, btw) need to serve one another - individuals blundering around the web cherry-picking little bits of disaggregated content will soon run out of inspiration, for example.

But I also think there's a reason sites which aggregate ugc and conversation (yes that is what facebook does, too) are currently no better at generating high click-thru rates than the rest of the web. That is, there is a reason we struggle to make the business models work.

The models - no doubt responding to those who haven't understood both elements of the disruption - attempt to squeeze the networked production of content into a broadcast-style of distribution. Just look at the page impressions on that. Slap on those banner ads... surely some have to stick... That combined with attemting to take a share of transactions generated (the middle man is only ever the next good idea away from disruption) is about all we see.

The issue is that niche community generated content doesn't lend itself to being broadcast. It's our old friend relevance over quality all over again. One man's 'rubbish' is another man's quality - and the difference is its relevance to that man. A blurred family video of a treasured moment will get distributed to the people who care about it by the people who care about it - but will not become a youtube hit. If you've ever seen a complilation of 'greatest hits from YouTube on TV you'll realise how inappropriate the broadcasting of niche ugc is. Editors selecting for the lowest common denominator get involved. Relevance disappears up the rear-end of a production meeting.

Of course there are rare occasions when someone's niche community generated content breaks out of that niche to become a hit that others want to share. But these are few and far between. The vast majority is in the long tail of 'relevant to me'.

By all means, if advertisers want to give you money to have their wares on show as users fly past them to reach (or upload) the niche content they are actually interested in, you'd be foolish to say no thanks. But response rates remain horribly low - and those responding horribly familiar.

Those advertisers are bound to want something better sooner or later. And when they do, perhaps we can all start coming up with the models that benefit from the fact that networked content production and networked distribution should work together.

Widgets make this requirement clearer, as each day passes.

Trust me, they are more than a tactic.

Widgets are as disruptive to web 'sites' (the notion of the url as home/hub/destination/centralised point of distribution) and therefore to the vestiges of our role as distributors, as blogs and social media have been to broadcast and our role as centre-out content creators.

Widgets combine the two network effects - of production and distribution. The ones that work best allow you to mash-up, creating a personalised outcome. This of course makes you more interested in a) displaying on your own space b) sharing with your friends. In a) you co-created the content. in b) You are the distributor.

But widgets also offer the greatest new opportunities for the creative minds of the media industry. Every great widget starts as the cool implementation of an idea which serves a need. The best respond to the needs of niche communities. It is built to serve and the builders need a strong understanding of who it is they are serving.

Those in a position to understand those needs and to respond with creative and useful solutions stand to benefit. And those of us in specialist media would certainly like to think we're among that number. Of course, the brightest among us will turn to the communities we know to co-create the launching widget in the first place, I hope that's a given...

Perhaps my 'updated definition of media brands' requires a further update:
  • A media brand is a platform for a community with shared interests.
  • Focused on the interests of this global niche community, we should provide the tools to allow the co-creation and aggregation of content, products and services
  • Services are best delivered at the point they are needed – and that is always, always mobile!
The widget-related update?
  • Focused on the interests of this global niche community, we should provide the tools to allow the co-creation, aggregation AND DISTRIBUTION of content, products and services

Your thoughts, as always, very welcome. Please post below.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Necessity could prove the mother of a better fit with your community

Recently I spoke with an editor who bemoaned the fact he didn't have the staff to perform the simple act of adding a couple of news pages to his monthly magazine - and the lack of resource he had for the website that represents his brand online, too.
I had a simple solution: Hand control to the community - via the gift of submitted User Generated Content (UGC).
Allow that same community to vote for the UGC stories they like most (I don't usually advocate the digg-style lowest-common-denominator approach, but this is to create a result for 'mass media' publication) .
UGC beats rehashing centre-out press releases any day, for me.
Allow the stories to sizzle gently online for a couple of weeks (during which, in a wiki, wisdom of crowds-style errors are corrected, and assertions challenged)
Take those which score highest (those the community has filtered as best fit with what they want to read about) then run the usual 'professional' journalistic pre-publication accuracy and legal checks.
And finally reward, with publication in the magazine (and more... who knows, a job in the end for regular stars?)
Next use magazine to inspire next round of 'Your News'... and allow the cycle to repeat.
Watch like a hawk to learn what it is your community is telling you about their brand. Respond with improvements to magazine and site.
Celebrate, with the people who made it happen.

EyeVibe tears down the walls

I was on hols when the embargo was lifted on the news about EyeVibe - which was a pity because I was itching to share having been given the full grift by YoSpace CTO Dave Springall over lunch a week or so ahead of the launch. I know the team have been working exceptionally hard for a considerable time to do the deals that make this work - and to create the technology.

Disclosure; YoSpace is (now) owned by Bauer, the company I work for and Dave and meet and speak on a semi-regular basis.

So, if you've missed the news, EyeVibe is, at its simplest, the combination of 3 and O2's SeeMeTV and LookAtMe - both mobile video ugc social networks built on the YoSpace platform. Users create the content, other users pay to view it. The creators get paid per view.

Overnight it becomes the single biggest video-based mobile social network in the UK. Not only because it combines too very large ones, but also because this is available off portal, too.

Even if I didn't play for the same team, I'd still be saying this is fantastic. It's fantastic because:

1. It tears down the wall between communities.
2. It offers the opportunity for social networking to experience the same growth as texting and picture messaging experienced when the operators opened access across networks (because they tore down the walls).

Tearing down those walls is important for all sorts of reasons. As I've posted previously:

" will always beat closed. So here's another reason: the value of random friends.
"You'll have heard of small world theory, or six-degrees of separation. The reason these are possible is because random friends are introduced to networks - people outside of your usual experience. For example, someone you meet on holiday, or at a party - who opens up a whole series of new connections for you.

"These do not happen when you are in jail...

"Random friends are the parts of your network which allow its value to grow exponentially (see Reed's Law). Remove them and your network has considerably less value."

Now any UK mobile subscriber with a video-enabled handset can share and earn cash from their mobile video clips in one community, no matter which operator they are with.

For the first time members can invite ALL their friends to be part of the same community.

Story so far?
Since the launch of SeeMeTV and LookAtMe!, users have paid for more than 32 million video downloads earning a combined total of over £800,000 for users who have submitted more than 60,000 clips. The services currently generate 28 million mobile page impressions per month.

Relevance over quality... even in 'art'

Regular participants in the conversation of this blog will know I'm an advocate of the idea of relevance over quality.
I'm seeing example after example, lining up to make the point. The latest? Art.
What is defined as great art is generally reflected (in the end) by its market value. And that's how a very few super-rich individuals select the art they hang in their homes.
The rest of us... well there's a minority who like to think of themselves as in some way cultured, having a superior aesthetic eye... or who just plain follow the money (ie the mass media model, lowest common denominator... Claude Monet's Lillies if you will) have reproductions of 'great' (ie high market value) art peppering their homes.

Some prefer to buy originals. I like to if I can afford them.

But over-riding all considerations in my home is relevance.

All of the original art in my home is very relevant to me - collected on travels, as reminders of particular places or important moments in our lives - much like family photographs.

The 'art' may not have 'quality' as measured by market value, but its 'sentimental value' (ie its relevance to us) is much, much more important to us.

How does that play out in your home - and what do you think that means for our consumption of all 'content' types?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Blogs are about two-way flows. The Guardian doesn't understand this

Oh my good god. My colleague BadgerGravling, pointed me at this from the Guardian Blogs.
Wouldn't have been so bad if they'd been transparent from the off.
What makes it so godawful is the fact that the moderators closed the comments before anyone from the Guardian responded.
Note to Guardian - blogs are about two-way flows of conversation. Thanks for the broadcast.

Join the Conversation: Speaking as I find

I'm one of a number of bloggers Joseph Jaffe has sent his latest book, Join The Conversation, for review purposes. I've posted about the wisdom of this strategy previously, here. And I enjoy Jaffe's blog enormously.

I've just got back from hols - and I've read no-one else's review so far (which I feared could cloud or sway my own judgement) so this is entirely and deliberately my own response.

Let's start with the basics. Jaffe obviously thinks deeply about the notion of human voice and its multiplied effect when the power of the network is applied. And on the vast majority of themes, on the whole big picture thing, Jaffe and I will agree whole-heartedly (after all the tagline 'Join the Conversation' has always been applied to my blog from the off!). He is one of us, he is riding the Cluetrain, he understands the power of the network etc etc.

So, all that said, it's the details that I might get picky about. And as a former sub-editor, even poor use of metaphor or lazy english ("pretty unique", for example) can set my pen a-twitching.
As a European reader, the many illustrative examples of good and bad practice from US mainstream media are often lost on me. That can grate a little. I read my copy on a beach in St Lucia - so checking the references on the web as I went along was out of the question.

But these are just details.

Provocative or patronising?
Jaffe seems deliberately provocative at times - and this can result in a patronising tone... (depending, naturally, on your point of view). It was a tone that often got me riled.
For example on page 172 he refers to the Worst Chase Scenario in which a union advertised in a New York paper asking for consumers' worst experiences at a particular bank. Jaffe writes that he was disappointed that it wasn't the bank itself asking the question (me too!). And he says:
"I don't expect you to understand this idea - nor do I expect any company to implement this form of corporate nakedness anytime soon."
My response is that the argument that finding out the worst people think of you, engaging in conversation about it and trying to fix it is the bleeding obvious to anyone who has read the Cluetrain Manifesto, Communities Dominate Brands, Wikinomics et al.
On page 216 he writes "I introduced the concept that you are the community you keep." I'm sure many of us have toyed with similar notions ( I know I have - I am part of a community therefore I am). Jaffe does a lot of this "I did this", "I introduced that". And that's bound to grate with less-than-pushy Brits.

I'll be honest. I haven't read a book that wound me up more regularly in a long time.

But perhaps this was the intention? Perhaps the tone will aid the conversation - a strong point of view will always inspire a hotter conversation, and isn't that Jaffe's whole point? So I'll grant him that. As a strategy for inspiring conversation, it is brilliant.

And when I analyse the regularity with which I get snarky about his writing there's more criticism scrawled over the pages in the first half of the book and more whoops of praise and shared view towards the end. He's building a case, winding you up and drawing you in, ready to end up on a high of mutual agreement and goading to action.

But I do have some substantive criticisms.

Conversation as science: The risk of codifying art.
Jaffe refers, quite correctly in my view, to conversation being an art (as in not a science). Yet he deploys elaborate and complex codifications of 'how to do' conversation in a measurable, transferrable way. I was reading The Origin of Wealth alongside Join The Conversation which served as an interesting mash-up in its own right. TOoW refers to art as knowledge which cannot be captured (in a schema) in any way.
Jaffe is trying to create some rules which anyone can apply - a schema if you like - and he's trying to find new measures of success. And our traditional company structures and budgets require these so I'll say a big thank you for trying but reserve judgement on their usefulness. Applying the wrong scientific thinking to a complex adaptive system can often lead us to incorrect and damaging conclusions (and I will recommend The Origin of Wealth to anyone who wants to explore that argument a little more thoroughly, where it is applied to classical economics).

On the money... almost
Some of Jaffe's examples are just shy of the mark. He wonders why MasterCard doesn't create a 'museum' (his word) for all the MasterCard "Priceless" spoof ads which circulate free and unbounded around the web. I fear a corporation doing that would be in danger of mummifying the idea. There's something of taxidermy about it. I guess my objection is summed up in this post which suggests brands should sit down around other people's campfires, rather than march in and light one in your backyard.

Another belittles Pontiac's suggestion that consumers "Don't take our word for it. Google "Pontiac" and discover for yourself."

Jaffe points out that those consumers who followed the instruction were confronted with ads for unrelated restaurants and rivals, rather than the positive PR the brand may have anticipated. He suggests that with a little more precision (read control) Pontiac could have been so much smarter.

Patronising? Perhaps Pontiac trusted consumers to be wise enough to know how google works and perhaps Pontiac also feared trying to control the search terms used would be against the spirit of the idea.

Isn't Pontiac saying, 'look we know loads of stuff is written about us. We figure we're good enough for there to be more positives than negatives - go take a look for yourself and use whatever terms you like.' ?

Am I crediting Pontiac with too much wisdom - or is Jaffe being too hard on them? Maybe we're both half right?

It's not just about selling stuff
My final critique is that despite an uplifting and over-arching final message "everything is at stake and everything is on the table" Jaffe consistently fixates on selling stuff to people.
This is quite a personal criticism. Jaffe's remit is of course to serve the world of marketing and to persuade traditional marketers of the error of their ways. And part of that is persuading them that life will be better for them should they see the light. And he achieves this in spades.
There is much value in this in the world as it is and as it may be for a couple of years more.
But for me the impact of the network, its power to disrupt what ever it touches, suggests that the message of engagement goes beyond joining 'consumers' (Jaffe's very deliberate term) in the co-creation of content/advertising, or even brand equity. It means that a new community-powered ecology emerges in which converged individuals are doing the co-creation of the very products and services. This very act is all the marketing a product ever needs. That which we create, we embrace... (Alan Moore, et al). I make this argument in rather more detail here.

In summary? (whaddya mean you stopped reading ages ago...)
Join The Conversation
is a deliberately provocative, example-rich examination of the changing landscape of marketing being wrought by the high richter earthquakes of community dominance. It serves as a fine primer for marketing and media professionals and makes a good fist of offering some 'How To' advice on actually joining the conversation.
Those who've read The Cluetrain Manifesto and/or Communities Dominate Brands won't find too many new truths. But Jaffe's central themes are clearly presented and make a compelling case for change.

The blog of the book is available here.

I'm speaking at The Digital Marketing Briefing in London on March 18. Joseph is doing the keynote so I'm hoping he and I can continue the conversation his book has started and this review has contributed to, there.

You are very welcome to join in right now.

UPDATE; I note some bloggers are offering up their copy to the next blogger to share in the new marketing experiment. I've passed mine on to a colleague who writes a blog - but I haven't applied the Jaffe 'Thou Shalt Review' rule. I'll let you know should it inspire her enough to comment on it...

Friday, February 01, 2008

Reading list

If all goes to plan I'm going to get a chance to catch up with my reading in the next couple of weeks.
Here's what I'll be enjoying (I hope!):
1. Finishing off The Origin Of Wealth
2. Delving into Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the new Digital Disorder
3. Reading to review Join the Conversation
4. Tucking into Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.

Big deal

On a day on which the company I work for gets officially renamed under new ownership, here's a bit of perspective.
emap went under the hammer (in two separate bits) for around about £2bn (ok, give or take, but that's the ballpark). More for the detail hungry, here.
Microsoft is offering to buy Yahoo - got to be the most interesting deal of the year - for £22bn.
And just so we're all clear - that's Microsoft valuing Google's main rival at a little over 25% more than ONE social networking site - Facebook.
Is the value in the pointing (the links you get in your search return), or the people doing the pointing? (the people linking to each other).

Back to the intro... the company I now work for is Bauer Consumer Media. Expect me to be updating linkedin et al momentarily.

However, please note, all my contact details, role etc remain exactly as they were.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?