Tuesday, April 29, 2008

You the channel

Microsoft Research was kind enough to invite Bauer Consumer Media (the company I work for) behind the doors of its Cambridge (UK) facility today.
I was joined by our Head of Technology Gus Swan and, along for the fun of it, Communities Dominate Brands' Alan Moore.
My very sincere thanks to Natasa Milic-Frayling for putting together a sparkling agenda and group of brilliant people which sparked some fascinating conversation.
Microsoft Research is the blue sky arm - where new stuff gets toyed with - often ideas that are years from being turned into a product, if they'll ever see the light of day.
And for that reason I'm not going to repeat the bulk of what we were shown.
However, one thing Natasa demo'd is in the public domain and I think it's very interesting indeed: WeConnect.co.uk.

Early in the afternoon we discussed Reed's Law (Group Forming Network Theory) and the idea that navigation and real-time discovery of people who share the same purpose is the thing that unlocks the potential of Reed's Law.

The problem that needs solving is: how do I find people who want to achieve the same as I do right now?

One limitation to overcome (and a pretty significant one at that) is the fact that the tools which enable this kind of connection, social networks, even social mediums like twitter, are still, no matter what their scale, silos.

The long term and monumental win is in a platform-agnostic solution. It is where we are the platforms. We, the nodes, connect through the internet as a whole, not a small subsection of it.

Which is why I find WeConnect.co.uk so interesting.

At this stage it's a series of platform-agnostic personal broadcast channels. I take a picture in Venice - I can share it with you on your mobile, or to my online picture gallery, or directly to your desktop; one-too-one or one-to-many. The connections are between us (via Internet Explorer in this case). The device we use simply realises that connection. There is no social network or medium involved.

Natasa and co are thinking about adding some of the kind of commenting we come to expect of social networks, but know that this will also bring complex design issues.

As it stands it's a brave first step.

Imagine an internet in which there are only blogs and those blogs exist nowhere other than at the point at which they are realised, or rendered, on a device. Imagine a place without platforms or silos, instead a place where groups attract through the implicit and explicit data each of these blogs exhibit. In real time. To and from any enabled device.

(nb, these are my imaginings, not those of microsoft, at least not on this occasion!)

A few steps to go then, but I like the direction WeConnect points.

Visiting Microsoft Research in Cambridge today

I'm getting through the doors at Microsoft Research in Cambridge this afternoon. I've no idea how much of what we get to see and talk about I'll be allowed to share, but whatever the case I daresay we'll have some interesting conversations and an exchange of ideas that can only add value all round.
I took a quick look at their site this morning.
Among the focus on 'being human' and nature's inspiration for the machine I noticed something that didn't seem particularly organic.
Under 'Careers at Microsoft Research' there are just two buttons: 'Interns' and 'Post Docs'.
In the context of 'blue sky thinking' that just struck me as a little odd...

Monday, April 28, 2008

What do you do now you don't watch TV?

Clay Shirky is slap in the middle of my radar right now, which is how I came across this work of genius.

Nutshell: TV has sucked up most of the time you'd otherwise have been using to create things you care about.

I think I spend my cognitive surplus right about here and here.
And it results in stuff like this.

Bet Clay doesn't watch much TV...

In digital space, everyone can hear you scream

When the transaction cost of group activity falls through the floor, economic behaviour must change.

That's my paraphrasing of Clay Shirky's description of the critical disruption the power of the network is causing (in his book Here Comes Everybody).

Clay has identified essentially the same learning that Dave Weinberger brings us in Everything Is Miscellaneous, or indeed that the Cluetrain Manifesto showed (in the idea that in the digital space the gap between humans is zero).

In the digital space everyone can hear you scream.

And it all comes back to Reed's Law (Group Forming Network Theory).

Value gets created by fuzzy-edged communities of purpose. The thing that allows those communities of purpose to gather, evolve, talk, cooperate and act is the medium of zeroes and ones - the digital space.

Digital IS different from the physical realm because it has the potential for us to ALL to be permanently hotdesking, globally.

Unlike the physical world it is possible for ALL the potential of Reed's Law to be fulfilled in a global digital medium.

Where that potential isn't currently fulfilled it is because we are not able to find absolutely every node on the network with whom we could, or should, connect for any given purpose.

There must be huge value in creating the optimum fitness landscape for the individuals who form groups of purpose to find one another. The more people of shared passion and purpose can find one another in real time, the more value will get created.

Until we as individuals become our own platforms, for want of a better word (ie until we as individuals are each able to connect with networks of trust without the need for mediation of any kind) there remains a place for the mediators of this process, potentially the last generation of mediator.

For media as platforms.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Blyk on target as Google adsense goes mobile

Despite consistent mutterings within the mobile industry that Blyk cannot possibly work... here it is hitting its 100K customer target in the UK six months ahead of schedule.
Congrats to all those involved including Jonathan and Alan.

Also today I see google has added Mobile Ads to its adsense suite. So now you can design a mobile-friendly ad to link to your mobile internet site. Potentially very powerful and something I'm sure admob will be watching carefully.
The google tools even include giving the advertiser the tools to create their own mobile internet page for the mobile ad to link to (the horrible flaw in the car-crash they had before was that the ad might point to a standard fixed line web site. All the clicks but none of the business).

All very long tail enabling.

However, that page (an Adwords Business Page) is only an 'information' page. In other words you can't enable easy payment or ordering of an item advertised. Which seems a bit daft. How long before they integrate google checkout?

Two-way flow networks make humans the medium

Print, Recordings, Radio, Cinema, TV: Mass media has been, and remains, about one-way flows of communication. Broadcast.

The mistake we often make when talking about the internet (and mobile for that matter) is to describe them as mediums. They are networks. There is a difference.

The internet and mobile are tools to enable communication and reduce the cost of groups forming (helping to realise the potential of group forming network theory). These are the communities of purpose I described in Communities of Purpose are the Business Units of the 21st Century.

What difference does this make? A significant one for marketing.

Because we treat the internet as a medium, we place our advertising on it and in it. But the ‘media properties’ of the internet are to the medium as paper is to print. It’s the enabler. Paper is what makes magazines, books and newspapers possible. No one advertises on wood pulp.

Anyone who ever read the Cluetrain will have understood that marketing is about conversations (markets are conversations).

Conversation involves two or more humans connecting and communicating.

So where are you going to 'place' your marketing message? Where all the humans are, where all the conversations are going on?

Sounds sensible doesn't it?

Social networks (the media property hits of the internet) are where conversation appears to be happening (online at least). So the response has been; let's cover them in banner ads?

That’s not placing the ads in the relevant medium.

It’s a little like putting notices on trees and wondering why no one is acting on them when they read the newspaper that's made from those trees when pulped.

We're advertising in what we perceive to be the medium (ie the social network) when the medium is actually the conversation occuring between humans.

Justin Kirby at Digital Media Communications would say humans are the medium. The ads have to be in what's made from the trees, not the trees themselves! Your ads have to be in what’s made from the connecting tools of the internet – in the conversation.

So banner ads on the ‘media properties’ of the internet are effectively placing ads around ads. Delightful. Would you enjoy a site made entirely from adsense code?

Of course some people do notice the ads, some do click on them (0.1% isn't it?) and more still have a seed planted by an idea that they act on later. The activation likely comes after a conversation.

The human beings (the nodes in these networks) are your access points to other human beings. They are where the connections are made, they are the conversations, they are the marketing.

Figuring out ways to engage them in your product or service, to make them natural advocates is not about constructing a social network around it and hoping they'll thank you for it. It is more about reaching out to them as human beings in the hope that they will have good things to say about you when they do what humans do: connect.

They do this in social networks of course, but they also do this on telephones, in person, by fax, by email, by im, by text etc etc...

The one consistent element is real humans talking to one another.

If the human is your message, then that message gets carried with them – marketed - no matter what the medium.

Food for thought.

And good news for content. The content that convinces – no matter what the source, remains crucial.

Good experiences are content, too. Content, as Cory Doctorow said, is what sparks conversations. And I think we’ve illustrated how important that is.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Build a widget! Experience the disruption of distribution

I made my very own widget last night. It's very simple, made up of drag and drop elements and click-to-add bits from Sprout.
It's the orange box in the left hand col of my blog; Signature Posts.
I find it useful because it tidies up a bit of my blog and means if (and it's a big if, I'll grant) someone wants the 10 posts I currently select as representations of my thinking, they can display it on their own page/space (rather than take my latest which anyone of course can select using rss feeds).

The process of DIY reinforced something very important for me, as it so often does.
Just as I learn so much about the simple fact we are all content creators now by writing this blog, so I learn, from first hand experience, that we are all distributors now by creating a widget.
As I often say, don't just witness the power of the network – if you want to evolve to survive in this world then you have to live in its environment.

The mass distribution model found at the heart of mass media does not work here.
Build a widget for yourself to find out why.

I'd worked this out before now. But creating my own widget and trying to guess who might choose to share it, to pass it on, reveals the new challenges and opportunities for media.
Our old model is based on building destinations and harvesting eyeballs.

Think about this in the context of traditional advertising (and by association we'll realise we face the same issues with content, because as we discover over and over again, in this world they are heading towards becoming the same thing).

My first thought, on discovering that I can build my own basic widget (I don't code) and publish it, and all for free, was to consider ways the media company I work for could take advantage of this for low risk experiments in widget making.

Quick easy option: RSS feeds gathered into an easy-grab widget users can place where they choose. In other words disaggregation of our content for those who find the technical barrier of RSS still a little high.

This extends our reach and (if we limit the rss character count) it calls those interested in particular content back to our sites where they could be fed in-context related ads. All good.

But what about revenue models that integrate with the widget itself?

When I choose to distribute a widget that's been made on Sprout every iteration carries a link back to Sprout. Want to make your own? Click here?

Every youtube video functions in a similar way.

And if you have adsense on your page there's even a straightforward ad model to go with that.

But at the end of the day the ad and the content are regarded as separate entities. The distribution of the ad message is reliant upon users choosing to view and to participate in the distribution of editorial content.

What if the advert was the content the user chose to distribute? That suddenly raises the bar, doesn't it?

Would anyone choose to place 95% of 30-second slot TV, banner ads and the usual 'creative' solutions on their own (user-generated) content? Would they choose to grab it from where they see it and share it with others?

Oddly enough they kind of do in the Itsmy.com model. Users get to choose if they would like ads on their UGC and if they do, then they can choose which ads. It neatly turns the who-wishes-to-be-associated-with-whom model on its head.

But it could be stronger still if the marketing industry played its part. The majority of advertising isn't meant for individual selection. It is mud slung at a wall to see what sticks.

The ad industry can't make an ad to suit every individual though, can it? That would be mad, wouldn't it? Except that it can with widgets.

Chris Cunningham's point made at Widgety Goodness (Chris is speaking at WidgetWebExpo in NYC in June, an event I've advised on) was that personal outcome is all important.

Sprout's tools are great for those of us seeking to extend reach, to broadcast through a series of niche channels with the intention of a mass result, but unless you allow each receipient to create their own iteration it remains a broadcast solution, not a networked one.

Take my simple widget (please!); it is an editorialised version of how widgets should be. First – I've decided the content. I have edited your choice, I've been the filter on the way in.

And that's hardly enabling a personalised outcome.

I would have preferred to make it a 'my favourite faster future post chooser' in which you could make up your personal outcome from the full selection. Maybe ones that get chosen more often would rise to the top of the list the community of users is then offered? You get the general idea.

The widget should allow you to make the choice. That which we create we embrace. If you participate in the process you're more likely to share the outcome and to actively promote it.

This is obviously true of the marketing too. I am more likely to choose to display the results of my personal choice of content and my personalised version of that content (ad message).

Its worth noting that this works because we live digitally in a community context. It's what the network is all about. There would be little point in me sharing what I think is cool unless I expect you might, too. We do this sharing within our networks of trust. Just as we share links in twitter or thoughts on blogposts. If you've found this it is because we share some interests.

There is residual mass media thinking in the notion that you should create a place on the web for people to show off what they have done (all those personal outcomes) as if just anyone, any old set of eyeballs, might be interested.

The real value is in the sharing of results with friends, who will be interested because that personal outcome involves a friend - in whom they are personally interested.

Then if they take the results and create their own personalised iteration, they'll have friends they may choose to share with, and so the iterations repeat, amplifying the original.

The outcome relies heavily on three things:
1. A willingness to relinquish control.
2. Toolkits users can play with.
3. Creative users.

Kind of different from mass marketing, huh?

2 and 3 are in place. Are you ready for No1?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who owns the experience?

What happens when you aren't in charge of the user experience?

What happens when the user is in charge of their own experience, to paraphrase Dave Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous.

What do you have then?

That question puts the challenge of disaggregation and user-centric re-aggregation in stark relief.

I think it helps us define three simple positions from which media can create value.

1. There is value in providing the item/service purchased as the result of the experience users (plural) create for themselves.

2. There is value in offering valuable discreet (selected and shared) elements of the experience.

3. There is value in drawing up the menu from which they select (iTunes, expedia etc).

Can anyone think of good examples of category 2 wealth creators?

Drawing sketches and colouring in

My daughter asked me if I'd had a nice day at work. I said yes.
She asked if I'd been doing colouring in. I said I had. With lovely coloured pencils.
But that was a bit of a lie. Obviously.
Made me think about what a lovely view of the world children have (she's 3), that it's ALL about play. Wonderful - and informative.
I think what I do is draw the lines, for others to colour in. I'm not sure which is most fun.
I am going to try to do a bit of colouring-in shortly. And I'm going to do it by collaborating with a small group of people. And if we don't colour right up to the edges, that's alright. If our colourings go over the edges, that's ok, too. If the colours merge and create new shades. Great.
And if I end up drawing a new sketch for others to join me in filling in, that'll be fine, too.
Ideas are fuzzy edged. Why shouldn't every stage of the creative process be just as fuzzy?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Communities of purpose are the business units of the 21st century: Now as a wiki

Just created a wiki version of my white paper: Communities of Purpose are the Business Units of the 21st Century, in response to a handful of requests and because we can make it better than I did!
Find it here: http://fasterfuture.wetpaint.com
You will need to create an account, just to avoid anonymous editing. I hope you'll join in.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Has media forgotten what it does?

It goes without saying (but I'm going to say it anyway) that paper has had a huge influence on the way print media developed. But I wonder if we take for granted the huge influence the medium we have grown up with has had on how we are viewing our digital future?

Paper is finite.

That simple fact leads to a number of outcomes. For example; there is a cost involved in adding extra pages to a publication. Paper constrains how much we can publish and therefore what we choose to publish. Paper demands that we are selective - that we edit. We filter the world's information and publish only that which we see fit. And then we make it fit, the way we see fit.

We filter on the way in.

We place ourselves in a self-selecting position of authority. It's a seat we find hard to give up.

We do this, of course, from a perspective of 'serving the needs of the consumer'. We aim to give them what they want. It is in our financial interests so to do.

But the needs of the consumer have to fight for resources with the demands imposed by the medium. And the medium tends to win.

Paper has mass.

This creates distribution challenges. We have to move this mass from one place to another (driven by an initial transcation). We do our best to distribute it to distribution hubs (we call them shops) where we hope the supply chain can be completed with another transaction (which puts them in the hands of the consumer.

These facts (paper is finite and has mass) mean we are forced to serve consumers as large, lowest-common-denominator-driven groups. Paper's physical nature imposes a structural limitation on what print media does and how it must treat its users.

It is conceivably possible that each consumer could have a magazine crafted precisely for themselves, to meet their precise needs. All it would take is a dedicated team of content producers (and in the print world this means employing a team of writers, photographers, designers and sub-editors), a one-off print run and a delivery direct to the lucky receipient's door.

There is nothing standing in the way of that. Nothing but cost.

If you're prepared to pay multiple thousands for each issue of your magazine you can have what the digital space can give you right now (where you'd get it for free). It'll just take a while to deliver.

Print never felt there was much of a market for that. So it created content aimed toward the lowest common denominator (granted, niche by niche on occasion).

It distributed to reach as many as possible with as little waste as possible - but still found 20-25% of its output pulped. The need to drive down unit cost make us err towards a mass production approach. It forces us to think locally, too. (Distributing a newspaper globally is something of a challenge precisely because of that mass and cost thing.)

Consider then how digital is different.

Digital space is infinite. There is zero cost attached in adding an extra page. There is therefore no need to filter on the way in. There is therefore no reason for us to be selective, no cause for us to take up our seat upon our self-appointed editorial throne. The user gets to filter on the way out.

Digital has no mass. There are zero costs to distribution. We don't need supply chains or distribution hubs in the physical sense. Distribution can be pulled to those who want it, distributed by those who advocate it. And it can happen everywhere right now.

Now you can have your ultra personalised content at zero cost - and you can have it this very instant, updated the moment relevant change occurs. It's unlikey you'll do this alone, because you are a human being and hard-wired to be social.

When we think of the role of media in the digital world, are we considering what is equivalent to newspapers and magazines (that is media properties) in digital form - or do we want to become the paper (the medium)?

Is the platform approach (and it's one I advocate myself) about trying to be the digital equivalent of paper? Bearing in mind digital 'paper' has no mass and is limitless, would we be better off delivering brilliantly creative media properties closer in form to user accounts than to social networks?

My initial thoughts are that we may may have multiple roles - as nuancers of the culture (helping with collaborative filtering) in a platform/aggregational style AND as brilliant media properties (of the user account kind) where we become part of the conversation, pulled into someone else's aggregator or platform.

Who says it has to be either/or? The digital world offers more dimensions than we've had to consider before.

Please contribute your thoughts by commenting below.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Here be seamonsters: Tonight I'm going to party like its 1303

I don't watch much television. But last night something did catch my eye. BBC4 broadcast a programme titled Inside The Medieval Mind.
It had real resonance for me. The good professor Robert Bartlett, of St Andrew's University, described how medieval man understood the world - as a place of mystery and enchantment.

"The world was a book written by God. But as the Middle Ages drew to a close, it became a place to be mastered, even exploited."

That sounds familiar. The beginning of the Renaissance (let's call it 1304) began the period of disenchantment with the world - as we learned more about it we found there weren't sea monsters, or people with faces in their chests, or with a dog's head. We demystified the world and we did it through travel, exploration and the exchange of information.

We did this in the physical world. So it took 15 centuries for Greek philosophy to reach and impact on the West.

With the emergence of the network in the digital world it feels to me like the end of another era of mystification. I suspect its impact will take rather less than 15 centuries.

I wonder if it is ourselves who will be 'disenchanted' (ie we will demystify our 'selves') this time around?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Communities of purpose are the business units of the 21st century

Communities of purpose are the business units of the 21st century.

This notion, should you accept it, has profound and far-reaching implications not only the future of publishing but also for advertising, marketing, production and the very process of the creation of value.

It has implications too for how companies should organise to benefit from the new way value is created. Yes, it is disruptive, isn’t it?

This paper seeks to explain why these communities of purpose are of such value and why enabling their rapid, real-time evolution unlocks the key to value creation.

It will consider why this has the potential to be the greatest explosion in value ever created.

And it will propose solutions in which content, conversation and communities of purpose provide the cornerstones. With them I believe we can unlock value now and into the mid-to-long term.

It seeks to answer the question “How do we monetise hosting the conversation?”

Translation: How does media make money in the future?

You can read it in full or download and/or share it below. Hope you'll share your comments below.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Viddler: Video fulfills its 'rich' media promise

Just been introduced to Viddler.com by colleague Andy Donovan and at first gawk I love it.
What viddler allows is the opportunity to move video from poor man's TV to the rich media it so often claims to be.
With Viddler you the (community formerly known as the) audience get to participate. You get to tag the video with your comments which can appear in a timeline as the video plays.
In short, it enables the conversation at in a low-barrier-to-entry way. You don't have to record a video response, edit it and upload it. You can simply comment - just as you might on a blog.

It's the best example yet of what I was calling for in Video Is Poor Media - Until It Loses Its TV Envy.

"Wouldn't it be better if you could:

1. At least rate and comment on any video content (an absolutely minimum requirement).
2. Insert your comments as text overlaying the video at the point they were relevant (subtitles if you like).
3. Add your comments as video at any point you choose (upload a quick clip from your phone or webcam)
4. Insert other peoples videos to make their or your point
5. Add an image, or draw a picture, if that's the way you prefer to 'talk'.
6. Change the soundtrack to one of your own devising.
7. Connect to discuss in real time with other (like-minded) people watching it right now (youtube offers this without the brackets...)
8. Some other cool stuff you've just thought of (post as a comment!)
9. Save it all as your own version to post or share as and where you wish.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Don't be evil. The Google Bad-o-meter

Google's informal corporate motto 'Don't Be Evil' has been in discussion again this week. It certainly was when Jonathan Macdonald and I had lunch on Monday.
Sorry Jonathan (and aesthetes everywhere), I couldn't resist.
I don't even feel this way about google.
I guess what I mean is mottos should be positive rather than negative.

Identity: Complexity or opportunity? Depends who is asking the question?

Tuesday proved to be a really interesting day at the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) day Adriana Lukas organised at the October Gallery in Old Gloucester Road, London.

Some concepts/deployments of VRM-style models got a little air time: pintarget.com (please try it, they'd love your feedback), Paoga's My Sorting Office (which takes the spam out of email and gives you some control over vendors by allowing consumers to set up multiple temporary email accounts through which they can receive pitches from vendors without revealing their own ID.) and I liked BoxedUp's approach which ex FT man Chris Osbourne describes as 'Del.icio.us for products'.

And these are all worthy manifestations of the spirit of vrm.

But I particularly liked Adriana's own grappling with the creation of an infrastructure on which an ecosystem of such manifestations could evolve.

Growing from readily available tools and concepts (RSS, igoogle etc) it raised questions about how multiple personality facets could be shared – in a user-driven way. (Something my white paper on multiple digital identity and the long tail explores a little)

It sounds kind of mad that someone might want to expose facets of their digital identity in the form of 1000s of rss feeds (possibly more) of data about themselves, shared with whom they choose when they choose.

But that's likely because those of us who didn't grow up in the digital age see complexity where digital natives may see the opportunity for self-expression (in a psychological self-deterministic way)

For example,

World 1.0 question: How can I simplify the management of all these multiple identities?

World 2.0 question: Where are the tools that allow me to express all the subtleties of me?

I think Adriana may be on the right track with her infrastructure approach. Build something on which others can express; a fitness landscape for the evolution to begin on. That's where the value will emerge.

And it's kind of the world2.0 solution, isn't it?

Less focus on SEO, more on the point-worthy

Why do we spend so much time focusing on search engine optimisation when perhaps we should be looking at content optimisation?

Time and again I hear how good seo will improve our page rank, will bring us crowds and cover us in gold. And I'm sure it has a role to play.

But the internet is about people pointing at stuff that they feel is worthy of their advocacy. And one thing is for sure: No one points at seo.

Seo is no purple cow (seth godin). But your content and services can be.

Content, as Cory Doctorow put it so well, is to give us something to spark up conversations. It is what people of shared interests want to talk about. Which is why it inspires us to point at it, raising a flag that we are ready to engage in a conversation about it (the simple url links in twitter write this large.

So if you want more relevant visitors, give them better unique things to talk about.

One point-worthy thing a month that no-one else has contributed has so much more value than a 1000 press-releases that can be found in manifold other locations on the web. People might find your version of the press release – but why would they point at you, rather than the other x thousands?

It is the role of media brands to present something point-worthy, something you can't find elsewhere, something that is hard for anyone else to do. Focus on that.

Layer some good seo on that and you may find more relevant people willing to point at you. But don't put the cart before the horse.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The value of a brand is in its conversations

It didn't take long. Twitter accounts are now going up for sale. Via Jonathan Macdonald and David Armano.
AndrewBaron is up for sale on eBay. Last time I looked bidding had reached $1125! @andrewbaron has just 1400 followers.
This phenomenom isn't particularly new - but it is new to twitter. MySpace accounts have sold on eBay before.
This essentially treats user accounts as media properties. Think about that for a moment. A user creating an account on someone else's platform is creating value (in real live dollars) simply from using themselves as a media property.
The fact that bidding has risen so high so fast for AndrewBaron indicates there are those who see the value of highly focused niche communities of interest.
However, the risk is that they are also seeing this as a way of purchasing some eyeballs. And eyeballs, no matter how focused and dedicated, are of less value than ears and mouths. In other words, by purchasing someone else's account you have access to audience, not access to conversation. The dynamic changes. Have you bought the conversation? Do you own it now?
That's contrary to the distributed micro-blogging nature of twitter. The conversation can and does start from anywhere within your self-formed group.
Note, it is a self-formed group. It isn't owned by AndrewBaron, he has no control over it.
All you have bought is access to audience - an audience who, by the way, are more like a community and may disappear if you broadcast at it.
Of course there are plenty of companies and commercial concerns moving into twitter in the hope of extending reach by broadcasting into a niche. Most fail to understand that the value derives from the conversations - not from the broadcast of the message.

And this I believe reveals a truth about how brand values and the value in a brand are now created. The value of a brand comes from conversation about it and with it.

Shoe firm zappo have understood this. @zappos is active in twitter, at least its CEO Tony is (ie a human being rather than 'a brand'.
Tony doesn't just use it to create a buzz (with regular prizes for random followers) he is careful to follow everyone who follows him - enabling the conversation (you have to be matched to see eachothers tweets in twitter).

Tony doesn't just tweet about zappo promotions, he reveals his life and his personality to you in every tweet. He presents a very human face of a company - and he does it in a way that is open to real live human conversation. Marketing without the fog.

I'd never heard of zappo before I found the fuzzy edge of their self-forming group on twitter. Now I have and so have you. And I for one have a warm feeling about it. The value of the brand and the brand's values are being created right before your very eyes - and shaped by your interactions with it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The definition of user-friendly. It ain't digital

My 3-year-old daughter took her first ride on a bicycle today. Here's a picture of her doing it. I didn't tell her where to put her hands, or how to make herself go forward, or how to steer. And when I fitted a bell she needed no instruction either.
I showed her once how to brake. She never needed to ask again. And she was off at a pace that had me jogging to keep up at times.
Makes me question how relative the term 'user-friendly' is - particularly for those of us who work in the digital space.
I've often said 'user-friendly is as use-friendly does', by which I mean eBay ain't user friendly but if you want to build an auction site you'd best make it work in a very similar way because it is how we have learned what user friendly is as far as auctions are concerned.
ITune is another example. User friendly? Is it hell. You've just learned how to use it and so anyone who wants to rival it has to take into account that it's the defacto way we interact with our music.
But a bicycle? Needs no explanation. And mechanical things are so good at that. So what is it that mechanical engineers and designers understand about us that digital designers regularly fail to?
Could it be that they put the human interface first?
What are the most user friendly devices you can think of? I'll make a wild guess that none of them are either electrical or digital.
A door perhaps, a seat? If you know of a digital service that can match the simplicity or effectiveness of a device from the mechanical world please do share...
This is not to say that mechanical design is always right, simple to point out that nothing digital has yet been as right as the best of the mechanical.
Hurrah for the humble bicycle.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Marketing and Advertising Models for a Networked World

I'm hosting an internal seminar and workshop tomorrow (April 10) on Marketing and Advertising Models for a Networked World.
If you're coming along, I look forward to seeing you. Delighted to say that among those joining us will be Blyk's Jonathan Macdonald, Communities Dominate Brand's Alan Moore, Snipperoo's Ivan Pope, BzzAgent's Dan Creekmore, Gray (London)'s Jon Williams, FaceTec's Jon Bickley and Microsoft's Ciaran McConaghy. And all in the humble training rooms of Bauer Consumer Media's Media House in Peterborough.

The death of death

We like a good death.

Death of the 30-second spot, Death of newspapers, Death of interruptive advertising, Death of the website (url), Death of Mass Media… etc...

Perhaps we should start thinking, instead, about life – in all its evolutionary glory – to reveal what’s really going on as the network disrupts everything it touches.

Life; in the disaggregation that digitisation has wrought, in the explosion of distribution of content and services we witness.

Life; in widgets’ freedom to explore and evolve. An explosion of new fauna and flora while the hamstrung dinosaurs of ‘websites’ lumber around hoping their food will come to them.

Life; in the freedom of nodes to connect one to another, one-to-many, one to whichever they choose.

Life; in the way conversations evolve.

Life; in self-forming, non-directed, rapidly-evolving, fuzzy-edged communities of passion and purpose. Out of chaos emerges new beauty, massive energy.

Life; in how groups form and reform online in ways THAT WERE NOT POSSIBLE in the physical world of the atom. Life; in ways the one-dimensional view of the node in Reed’s Law must underestimate.

This is the Columbo Moment.

Walks towards door. Pauses. Turns. Raises hand and eyebrow.

“Er… just one other thing.”

“These conversations of ours. The ones creating all the value. They couldn’t happen before could they?”

Lieutenant, you have me. No, they can only happen in a digital world. The Power of the Network relies on something more than a series of tools returning us to our ‘normal’ social selves – the We Species that Alan Moore refers to. The very fact that these tools are digital, that they function on/with/through the web, makes a fundamental difference.

The Power of the Network goes beyond returning us to our communal ‘we species’ roots. It pours Miracle Grow on those roots, blitzes them with mutating isotopes and carries out multiple cross pollination while harvesting and experimenting on the results ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Every time I move desk I get a new perspective on the business I work in. I have conversations with people who are now much more conveniently placed for me than they had been previously, new people. New nodes, more connections = greater value emerging (one extra node doubles the value of your network).

In the digital world I can be next to everyone, all at the same time. There is no restriction imposed by atoms. Self-forming groups of passion and interest, ever forming and reforming, ever evolving, swirling around the world with fuzzy, permeable edges… these could not exist when conversation relied on two or more people being in the same physical space at the same time.

The self-forming networks of trust evidenced by blogrolls is one great example. But they don’t quite hit the ‘in real time’ (synchronous communication) spot.

Twitter, offers our latest best illustration.

Here’s what it does:

1. Nodes can connect without the limitation of sharing the same physical space. It’s your global, everywhere-at-once hotdesk.

2. It enables real-time, drop-everything-to-join-in conversation.

3. The group involved in the conversation has permeable edges (anyone can follow anyone else – being led to relevant people through their own networks of trust, anyone can spot someone else they might like to follow, referred to by someone else they are already following etc etc). There are no structural limitations imposed by reliance on personal data ownership. They are fuzzy. Facebook’s are more sharply-defined, for example.

4. Since the groups have permeable edges they can (must) constantly form and reform, pursue new interests, break-up, reform around a new purpose etc. They are about flow rather than focus.

5. The distributed micro-blogging nature of Twitter means the conversation can start from any node in your current self-formed fuzzy-edged group. The conversation itself can evolve rapidly thanks to rapid iteration and amplification, creating more opportunities for value to emerge, drawing in and ejecting contributors as it evolves.

Conversation, the great intersection of ideas, is the driver of value of the network. Now it is enabled to evolve in complex adaptive ways, just as the economy does, just as the internet itself does.

New stuff will emerge.

The digital world is not about death. It is about evolving and amplifying ideas through groups who could never have come together before. It is about life. New, amazing forms of life.

The evolution has begun.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Insight in a Columbo-stylee

SlideShare | View | Upload your own
Big thanks to David Armano for pointing us to his colleague's work via twitter

Where did you learn to hop?

My daughter wanted to show me a special trick. She's 3. "Watch me daddy!". And she starts hopping on one foot.
I hadn't seen her do that before.
"Well done," says I. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"On my foot."
I'm sure there's a lesson for meaning, context, logic and therefore search and seo in that somewhere.

Google doesn't know what you're looking for.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hoarding data can seriously damage your wealth

When you aggregate personal data in profiles (eg facebook) you risk imposing structural limitations on the conversation and on the way groups form. This leads to severe restrictions on value and growth creation in your network.

How so?

I was just chatting with JoshuaMarch in twitter about the ratio of followers/followed we maintain. I try to keep mine at 1:1 to enable conversation.

When you have more people following you than you are following, you run the risk of broadcasting to those who can only listen to what you say.
Listening of course has great value. But its greatest value is in the way that it acts as a precursor to your engaging in a real-time human conversation. It's why conversation (two-way flows) trumps broadcast.

Joshua mentioned how good facebook's new chat looks (my self-forming network of trust acting as an excellent newsfilter once again!). At first look, it seems a powerful and overdue play from facebook. Facebook has finally enabled the conversation. A bit.

But twitter still has the edge because the hurdles you have to leap over to become a friend in facebook are greater than those in twitter.

The facebook rules-of-engagement-bar is much higher than twitter's. And that bar must remain high because of the amount of private data you would otherwise have to share wshen you connect in facebook.

There are therefore structural reasons why nodes cannot be as free to connect in facebook as they can be in twitter. No wonder facebook is working on allowing people to connect without sharing all their data (ie degrees of friendship)!

It seems then that if your model relies heavily on aggregating personal data in a profile then you inevitably risk leaning towards conversation and group inhibiting models.

In twitter the process of becoming a friend is as simple as clicking that person's 'follow' button. Once you've done this you have the opportunity to see every microblog micropost from your new 'friend' in real time.

Assuming the followed follows you, every new post you see is a potentional conversation starter shared with every one of the conversation starter's 'friends'. Any person who you follow can instigate that conversation.

This has a powerful and positive impact on how groups of passion, purpose and intent can self-organise and evolve (see Reed's Law and Group Forming Network Theory).

In twitter groups of followed and followers aggregate themselves around shared passions and interests. No one leads. No one is in charge of deciding whether or not the next person is allowed to join. No one sets the agenda. We all do.

Each group has fuzzier, faster-reacting edges than facebook's do. A friend's mention of @twitterpersonB might raise your interest in twitterpersonB. You might end up following them as a result. Your group now has an additional node, a new shape and a subtly reformed character and purpose. The group is therefore faster to evolve by amplification than can be the case with facebook friends. Its synchronous nature makes real time amplification of purpose, and therefore evolution of action, real and fast.

In facebook chat you have to go looking for a conversation. You have to pick one with one selected other friend*. The conversation isn't at the heart of its model. Privacy and closed networks have to retain their dominance for that structural profile-reliance reason referred to before.

And it looks like facebook chat will be for one-to-one conversations only (*please correct me if I'm wrong about that). If so, it means the potential for growth in value will follow the shallow curve of Metcalfe's Law.
Twitter's enables many-to-many so follows the exponential growth of Reed's Law.

Hey Twitter: Beware the Groups!
Why Twitter will beat Facebook

How to be a company in a networked world

Bruce Macvarish distills learnings from many observers of the power of the network into a simple list. It acts as guiding principles for companies:
  1. Advantage begins in the DNA
  2. Talk less, Listen more
  3. Invert orthodox strategy decisions
  4. Open > Closed
  5. Good > Evil
  6. Edge > Core
  7. Flow > Data
  8. Users > Companies
  9. Communities > Brands
  10. Adhoc Communities > Directed teams
  11. networks, markets and communities
  12. transactions, conversations and relationships
  13. Two-way flows - Not broadcast
  14. Power Laws and Nodes
  15. Reed's Law
This of course is much in tune with my own thinking as expressed in The Power of the Network, What Next for Marketing and Advertising and, well pretty much everyhing I reference and discuss to be honest.

A slide I regularly present:

Note - I always put one thing at the top of that list: Think Community First.

What is a company?
For me it should operate as an edge-in, non-directed, community-dominated etc etc... COMMUNITY itself.

Community first - not just in what we do, but in how we go about it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Google puts 'your' brand up for sale

If the news that the community of users owns your brand is only just sinking in, try this for a
size. Google is now going to allow other people (rivals) to bid on 'your' brand's key words in the UK. Via WebWire
According to the report anyone will be able to bid on trademarked names (just as has been the case in the US since 2004).
There's a bit of a panic being raised over on this story about it. Most of the concern is about how this will add complexity to the seo sales world. My heart bleeds.
What about the poor old consumer - looks to me like this carries the risk of creating yet another hurdle between us and getting the return we actually want.
If I search for Nike I'm not looking for Adidas.

Never a truer word...

After a third attempt at this (have you listened to the audio, type-the-number-one???), the two words I was requested to type became alarmingly appropriate.

I have previously signed up to friendfeed via the facebook app.

Today I've been trying to log in to friendfeed's site in its own right - what a nightmare!

It keeps telling me my email verification needs resending. So I keep requesting it and... nowt. Surely I'm not now locked in to friendfeed on facebook for ever and ever amen?

Why we blog. Bloggers understand. Broadcasters don't

One slide from BlogHer's social media survey stands out for me (pictured left, via Chris Carfi on Twitter) because it reveals the value of blogs and blogging. It's about the relationship, it's about communities of passion and trust and it's about people coming together with shared interests.
The best social networks perform all these functions. The greatest value emerges when people combine with purpose. It's clear from these stats that that's exactly what bloggers are doing and also what they think they are doing.

It's the community/conversational/let's get together and get something done feature I think media companies often miss, reverting instead to using blogs as broadcast on the cheap.
Some people just never really get how things are meant to be used, do they?

Deal making in the 21st Century

Seesmic's Loic Le Meur has posted about why Seesmic has acquired Twhirl (about the coolest of the many twitter clients emerging around the twitter ecosystem).
One line will stand out for those from the traditional world of media and traditional Mergers & Acquisitions deal doing.
"We got in touch entirely through using Twitter and Twhirl... how cool is that? Okay, we also used Skype a bit to close the deal..."
As I often say, if you want to adapt to survive in an environment, you have to live in it.
If you don't even know what Twitter, Twhirl and Seemic (even though it's still in closed alpha) are, take it as read you aren't living in the environment.
Come on in, the conversation is lovely.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Make this mobile. But will we still talk?

I've just added a new widget at the top left of the blog. 'Make It Mobile'. Click it and you'll have the content from this blog on your phone to take with you where-ever you go. And it'll get updated the moment I update.

The irony of sending it to your communication device is that by doing so you risk disrupting the conversation.

The 'make it mobile' badge is one of the new bits from Mippin. I've been following Mippin's progress - a system which turns rss feeds from fixed line content into mobile sites, since it launched (Mippin plays video from your feed/ Mippin: Satisfying the long tail, extending the reach of the stumpy dog). CEO Scott Beaumont joins the conversation here from time to time.

They are among the best of a crowd of challengers in this space (widsets, squace and a new one on me, kimia)

Today they've updated and the changes make it oh-so-easy to monetize your content.
And as we know from the explosion of the long tail which adsense inspired on the internet, offering an incentive to publish is a key driver for the many millions who will populate the mobile internet.

In this post when I suggested the long tail would impact mobile internet first and fast (and Itsmy.com and Pepperonity are showing the way) I asked for the following to enable that long tail:

1. Really easy creation of mobile pages (on fixed line and on mobile)
2. Really easy ability to change the design to our tastes (and I'm thinking icons/desktop style as well as background colours and layout)
3. Ability to add and create rss feeds
4. Ability to add code snippets (ie YouTube video, google adsense)
5. Really easy share/ creator propogation (ie socially networked)
6. Enabled for social trade.
7. It has to be free to the site owner.
8. Option to offer as an application-based widget.

So how does the latest version of Mippin score?
1. If your fixed line site has a half decent rss feed it couldn't be simpler to mobilize. But you can't make a mippin site or upload content to it from your mobile.
2. The icon and desktop stuff is still illusive - but that's a nightmare to make right for every operator and every mobile, so Mippin, you are forgiven.
3. The rss feeds bit is what drives mippin. They rely on you having a fixed line site already which has them.
4. The youtube video example has now been implemented on Mippin. Add a youtube code to your blog post and it will play on the mobilized verson too. Critically they've made it easy as pie to add admob code, more easily even than admob. Type in your admob id number and mippin does the rest. Need an admob account? The links are there to guide you very swiftly.
5. Easy share stuff - well that awaits critical mass but Mippin is certainly enabled for this.
6. Enabled for social trade. Sadly not (in a mynumo kind of way) but what the hey.
7. Free to the site owner. Yes yes.
8. Widgetised. No. You can't create a widget to share on anyone's phone's 'desktop' or homepage. But there is a widget (now added to this blog) for your fixed line page which makes it a one-click operation for a user to get your content optimised for their phone, on their phone.

So, a round of applause chaps. I'm trying the admob ads on the mobile version, though I don't expect too many to be queueing up to place ads on my content, but I do seek to understand how easy it is to achieve.

One thought/question: Itsmy.com doesn't share revenues with the people who create its content. Their users are inspired enough by two things which make this possible:

1. The owner of the UGC (publisher) gets to control whether or not they have ads of any kind on their content. If they do choose to have ads then they can also select what kind (as referred to in my posts about Mobile Internet in Berlin earlier this week) and in this respect the user begins to think of the ads as content - not as an unwelcome interruption.
I'm hoping that they get to select at a quite granular level ie which brands, even which exact ads. I need to revist Itsmy.com to confirm. Perhaps a more regular user can tell me?

The right brands on your content allows you to show the world what kind of person you are.
It's a nice reversal of the usual routine in which brand owners decide who or what to associate their brand with through where they choose to advertise. In this model the user gets to select which brands WE wish to be associated with.

Is this another example of the intention economy? Trust me? trust my brands!
Since most users in the Itsmy environment are likley to trust their peers more than a brand in the first place, this could prove very powerful.

2. Only content created on a mobile is allowed on itsmy. That means a) it's all guaranteed to be the users own (written, shot, or filmed on their phone) and b) it all comes from the point-of-inspiration device that is your mobile. The result is users share the content they create very rapidly - and upload lots of it, creating loads of advertising opportunities as they go. Being able to publish at the point they are inspired becomes a driver in and of itself, as CEO Antonio Vince Staybl discussed in Berlin.

Mippin speaks to a need. The need to extend reach into the mobile space for anyone who is creating their content on fixed line.

Itsmy speaks to the need of those who are inspired to create, publish and share as they live their life, where ever they are and what ever they are doing (data charges allowing!).

In theory of course, if you use something like shozu to add content to your blog... and your blog feeds into your mippsite, then you can share at point of inspiration, too. Bit of a stretch though?

Wonder if you can turn an itsmy site into a Mippin one? Would that make for an unholy mess or a double whammy?

I suspect the former for a relatively simple reason. Mippin is a broadcast model. Itsmy is a networked one.

No matter how much of my rss feed is published, the one thing you can't do via mippin is add a comment to the original blog post, or even on the version of it that appears on mippin.
You can vote on my Mippsite in its entirety, you can send a link to a particular post by email. You can twitter it. You can share it on facebook. And these are all very socially enabling, all about sharing after all.
But in each case in order to join the conversation I must send the user away AND hope they are also a member of the community in which we could actually have the conversation. And in this respect the model misses out on the creation-at-the-point-of-inspiration power of the mobile AND the exponential growth potential of connecting up the nodes.

This has to inhibit its fit with the networked world.

This is not necessarily a criticism. And if it is, it is certainly one which can also be levelled at Mippins RSS-fed rivals. Mippin is, after all, an attempt to mobilize the broadcast, publish-from-the-centre, world. The fact that it turns the humble blogger into a broadcaster too is perhaps just a casualty of this.

So, for the record, if you do read one of my blogposts on mippin, please try to keep your inspiration burning long enough to get to a fixed line or full internet version of the blog and join in the conversation then. Send yourself a text reminder or email alert (hey Scott - add that as a button!)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Careful what you wish for... voice activated search for mobile internet

Just hours after I post about my dream of voice activated search (as part of a series of non-typing text search functions we need in a semantic-headed mobile internet) google alerts me to this.
And to think yahoo presented in Berlin only the day before about OneSearch. No mention of the voice activated bit then.
Hey, now this game is going to get interesting. Here comes everyone (as Clay Shirkey might say...).
More on the huge value I see this adding in the previous post.
This one move may double the number of people who can make use of the internet. But the ultimate value will depend on how much of that web moves to non-text, too.
Exciting times for global activation. What consequences do you see?

Mobile Internet Day 3, Berlin: The search for search

Day 3 of Mobile Internet in Berlin saw a lot of discussion of the difficulties facing the growth of mobile internet.
Professor Barry Smyth from Changing Worlds revealed an interesting set of figures from research into online and mobile use.
50% of searches on google etc online result in no action. In other words half of the searches don't return (at least on page one) what you are looking for.
In the mobile world that figure plunges to 10%. 90% of searches result in no click.
So perhaps we need a better search? Dan Applequist (Chair of Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group) presented the case for AJAX, better browser tech and converging standards. And as he dashed for the airport we continued the conversation via twitter.
There are those that argue that the iphone has ignited the use of mobile internet but that this is because iphone users are tech savvy.
Dan's point? His 3-year-old can find and use the browser on the iphone.
I have a 3-year-old too. Unfortunately she can't yet type. But she can speak. In this respect she is like much of the world - much of the world that has access to a mobile phone but not a pc.
So if search was voice activated... that would open up ease of use to millions.
I understand there are latency issues and operator/browser issues in delivering this (Phillip Hoschka, Deputy Director W3C filled me in during a roundtable) BUT as we move towards a more semantic web - one populated with images, sounds, video and people, rather than text-heavy documents, the demand for less text-reliant search/navigation/discovery becomes greater.
So we will have to solve those issues. And as mobiles represent more and more of the nodes on the network (they already offer more points of contact than pcs) then they will come to dominate the needs and the economics of the network and this alone will force change.

More of my thoughts from mobile internet were posted live on twitter: twitter.com/davidcushman

Met loads of great people here and I'll be chasing up many an opportunity when I get to the UK later this week.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mobile Internet Berlin: Day 2

Once again, I've been live twittering from Mobile Internet in Berlin, but here's my chance to summarise and consider. Will be live twittering for third (and for me final) day, tomorrow, April 2.
Interesting stuff today: I love the fact that Tom Hume posted on the blog yesterday and has turned up at the conference today... and that Rocco Georgi, who chaired the pre-conference I spoke at, is now following me on twitter.
In today's sessions we heard from a series of operators who congratulated themselves for simplifying their data pricing. With much success, it has to be said. They think they have also torn down walled gardens.
I'm not so sure they've achieved either.
O2 in Germany, for example, have simplified their tariffs so you pay 9c per minute on pay as you go, phone users pay 10 euro for 200mb a month and laptop users can have up to 5GB for 25 euros a month.
Sounds simple dunnit? But i doesn't include text or mms or voice... which complicates it all over again.
3 In Austria have been in a price war over data prices. Latest result 25GB for 24 Euro a month + live streaming TV to your phone or laptop FREE. Not sure if this includes text, voice or mms... but it does include skype.
3 Austria's Alexander Franz made an interesting point about how skype changes the pricing relationship. Before it you paid depending on use. Now you pay depending on relationship. If you know someone well enough to have their skype details you can call them very cheaply - no matter where they are.
He used the example of calling home to family in Croatia via skype.
Lovely, except for the simplification of data tariffs the operators keep steering around: roaming data!
As soon as you actually go to Croatia and make the same skype call on your 3 Austria phone, you're going to get stung for high roaming data charges.
Imagine how useful googlemaps would be to me right now in finding my way around Berlin. Build in some half decent community/association with something like one of the many socialised business trip connectors and recommenders and you have a result. But am I going to pay £3 a mb? No!!! Imagine the business google is missing - that they could rev share with the operators.
When will this madness end?

I was also amused by Teliasonera's play, just launched in Sweden and rolling out across all their markets: they offer a quick-search home portal which opens content fast and makes even 2G phones usable for internet. But they serve other peoples content then place their ads on it. They think its legal and all... but it is upsetting content providers.
What about a revenue share, asks the audience. Daren't do a deal in case it's a porn site we're doing the deal with, says Senior VP and Head of Content Services (Europe) Indra Asander.
Eh? You're happy to serve your own ad on the porn content (opening in a pane) but not share the revenue for it? Odd morals.

I had lunch with an interesting crew, among them Tim Hyland, of YouTube. I discovered something I didn't know. If a youtube video carries an ad and you copy and paste it to display on your own site/homepage/blog etc, the ad will not serve on your url, unless you also have adsense on your page. If you do have adsense, the ad serves AND you get a revenue share.

Jesus Pindado, talked on the subject of recommendation systems and his company MyStrands, and we're planning to meet after breakfast tomorrow to talk some more.

In the roundtable session we were asked to consider the impact of flat rate data and what barriers face off portal content providers.

Discovery was the key issue our group identified. Makes me wonder why we don't offer an audio search engine (ie one you can talk at/too) via your mobile - and which then sorts results depending on the device you are using.

More tomorrow, no doubt.


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?