Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fashion UK Social Media Landscape Audit

As I'm sure many of those who participate in this blog will be aware, I'm MD at 90:10 UK. Part of what we do is auditing of community landscapes.
Here's a summary piece on the UK Fashion landscape which you're welcome to download and or share.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Twitter fails to deliver on niche - again...

the Twitter fail whale error message.Image via WikipediaJust been taking a quick look at the 'New Twitter' which is creeping around London right now.

Lot's of nice things about it of course - which you will have heard and seen before no doubt. My colleague Jason Fashade has analysed its impact on a number of factors here.

What bothers me is that the Twitterbods seem to have gone for mass broad value, over niche core relevance once again. This surprises (and underwhelms) me given Twitter's baked-in understanding of the networked world.

The target of my concern is in the 'tweets near you' search function.

Just as with Trends, there is no option to narrow this to the tweets of people who matter to you (ie Trends Among Friends - as I've previously called for).

So yes, I can search for tweets near me - which has some value, granted - but not from tweets from friends of mine near me (which has far greater relevance and therefore value).

Come on guys it's a network of fluid high-value niches - give us access to that! FourSquare does.

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Dog Bites Man: Reclaiming the issue attention cycle

I started wondering why I hadn't heard or read about a dog attacking someone for what seems at least a good while now (apologies for the scientific language...)

And then I recalled something called the 'issue attention cycle' we used to talk about in newspapers back when I was in that industry.

Essentially it was the length of time people would still be bothered about a particular issue.

The first dog attack may get a 'brief' on page 7. The second a lead story on page 5. By the third there's a campaign on page 1. But as the attention wanes further attacks warrant less and less attention until they are no longer covered at all.

The issue - one assumes - remains, it's the attention that has gone.

Newspapers likely had a viral impact on each other. Neighbouring local papers having their agendas set, their attention focused, by those nearby.

I imagine (and if you have a relevant example, please do share) if you mapped the reporting of dog attacks over time you would see classic viral dispersion across the nation. Bubbling up, bubbling down again.

Let's assume that dog behaviour isn't viral - that there isn't the equivalent of doggy newspapers to spread the news. The behaviour of the dogs hasn't changed. The reporting of it has.

That's worth remembering when you read any story selected for you by lowest-common-denominator publication.

But it's also important we remind ourselves of this in social media: where the issue attention cycle remains. Through our selection of trusted sources (ie rss readers or peer-to-peer recommendation focused by our selection of Twitter or Facebook friends) we are active participants in the generation of these cycles.

And through the speed of publication, the cycles are hugely truncated.

The saving grace of the web in this regard is the universal ability to publish that it grants.
We don't have to wait for the centre to pay something attention; ourselves and our peers create our only cycles. We choose when to start them, how long to sustain them and when their job is done.

No one can tell us where our interest starts and finishes any more.

And for that we should be eternally grateful. The media chose what to surface. Now we do.
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Join me in celebrating Britain's digital heroes

Each year Citizens Online (of which I am a board trustee) opens a wonderful awards programme which offers £5000 for the TalkTalk Digital Heroes winner.
The awards celebrate people who use digital technology to bring about positive social change.
The 2010 TalkTalk Digital Heroes Awards is the UK’s only scheme to reward the amazing individuals who are using digital technology to benefit their local communities.

The awards will be given to outstanding individuals, working within UK community groups or charities, who are using the power of digital technology to implement bright ideas which bring about positive social change. The awards will be used to fund both new and existing digital projects.
Last year our TalkTalk awards saw an incredible response with over 30,000 public votes deciding on 12 truly inspirational winners. Please join me in trying to spread the word even more widely this year.

Don’t leave it too late. Deadline for entries is September 30th.

More on the awards and how to enter at:

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Black hats and libellous foolishness

Little pieces of my thinking, loosely connected, can be found scattered around the web in the last few days. To note and point those who may otherwise have missed:
First, my lead column for Marketing Week (the UK-based weekly published for the marketing industry) 'Wear The Right Hat for Brand Advocacy' - my appeal for a recognition of what is bad about social by giving a name to it (Black Hat peer-to-peer).

Second, a blog post I wrote in response to the plans by 400 hotels to sue user-powered review site TripAdvisor - which I chose to publish on the company blog. It's titled Sue TripAdvisor? You may as well sue the internet.

I'd welcome your comments of course, in the usual manner.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Scaling relevance: Delivering bespoke utility at low cost

The networked world will overturn many traditional business models which focus on low cost - often driven by the desire to feed on the economies of scale of mass production.

In a networked world we have the potential to scale relevance and should focus on that first.

Relevance - or fit with our specific needs - is reduced by the focus on economies of scale that mass production delivers. Relevance = Utility; in that the more relevant it is to me, the more useful it is to me.

We all have a preference for the thing we find most useful - and place most value upon it. Mass production can't deliver relevance - at least it can't beyond meeting lowest common denominator requirements. The bargain we enter into, when accepting mass produced approximations of fit with our specific needs, is low cost.
There is a balance point between utility and cost - which varies for each of us dependant on circumstances.
I believe our ability to connect with those people like us seeking solutions to the same problems we do, which the web enables, swings the balance strongly in favour of relevance, fit, utility.

And as it does so, so we must start considering, and delivering, new business models which seek to serve the network and not the world of broad mass production; models that make delivering relevance (highest utility) their key driver.
An example; we'd all prefer a made-to-measure, bespoke suit. Not only can we specify it to our taste, it will also be optimised for relevance. In other words it'll fit not just our taste, but our specific shape. To service our bespoke requirement in this regard is costly - particularly when compared with the price of an off-the-peg solution.

Granted suits on pegs are not sold quite at the level of one-size-fits-all, but they are certainly sold against a series of broad 'fitness' points. Very rarely, a buyer's specific taste and shape requirements will be matched by an off-the-peg suit. And on that rare occasion no doubt the rare buyer will rave about the quality of the fit of the suit to all his pals (who no doubt will find buying the same off-the-peg-suit far from satisfactory).

Consider how the networked world could make suits. Let's assume that people are able to accurately measure themselves in all the dimensions a quality bespoke tailor would (and yes, that is quite an assumption, but play along for the thought experiment, please).

Imagine a platform which could gather the meta data of these measurements, associated with their owners (a website, if you like, where people enter the relevant data) where those with excellent matches are introduced to one another - on a global scale.

Now these customers are formed into a group via the meta data of their shared dimensions and taste. Assume thousands of them (remember, we are operating on the global scale of billions of internet users) are a match - and they can all buy together. Now they can get the same order of utility (hand stitching aside, if that is indeed an advantage) as the individual bespoke suit buyer - at the same order of cost as anyone buying a mass-produced off the peg suit.

Imagine the relevance-first model applied to your industry.

The network has the ability to scale fit (relevance) in a way traditional mass production can not. In the complex adaptive system of the economy, those best adapted to the actual fitness landscape are best equipped to survive.

It's another example of how the web reveals the true role of the organisation as a platform - and the web as a place where orgs make things with (others) rather than take things from.
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Friday, September 17, 2010

People Hater. The voice of First Capital Connect?

Oh dear. The curse of the employee who doesn't think customer service is part of their remit has struck First Capital Connect - the much maligned UK rail company.
While many previous rude employees have made themselves all too easy to track (as in the case of employees ranting about customers at a supermarket chain, on facebook, using their own IDs or the famous Domino Pizza video-making eejits who videod themselves contaminating food) this one is, quite sensibly, hiding behind a false ID.
This is a very unhappy First Capital Connect employee. Who says they are fed up of hearing all the moans from customers. Who realises this twitter account may get them some flack. But who wants to vent back. And who doesn't care about the consequences (except that he cares enough not to associate his real identity with the account... not quite so ballsy as the rhetoric then).
See below.

I scored out the name initially because, I thought - 'don't feed the troll'. I'm a First Capital Connect paying passenger. I'd felt the wrath (ah hem) of his sarcasm and decided not to respond. Instead I alerted First Capital Connect to the potential for PR disaster they were facing ( is, afterall, in the business of monitoring and responding - as key tools of our strategic development for orgs - ad over).

This guy is stirring up rows with customers - which just generates more and more negative sentiment for @firstcc (as they are on twitter).

But having given this some thought, I'd recommend the best way to deal with him would be to publicly engage (rather than go on an internal witch hunt). And that means paying him (possibly her) some attention.
The name is also quite telling about his attitude. It is @paxhater (should you wish to observe) - pax being the term the people logistics industry uses for us pesky paying customer livestock.

So this guy hates the people who pay his wages. Nice.

But back to the topic in hand. What should First Capital Connect do about this?

My suggestion, engage - have an open dialogue. Publicly challenge his attitude to customer service and demonstrate a better way. Your more positive employees should be encouraged to do likewise - to see their role as customer service too, to also respond to customer complaints - with help and sympathy instead of bile and abuse. You have to hope FCC have more positive people it could empower to engage with customers compared to this (hopefully) rare misanthrope.

This is a formula for success EVEN if the account is actually not from an employee, but from a disgruntled customer attempting to make @firstcc and its staff look even worse (always a possibility).

Listening, really listening, to what your customers tell you delivers way to improve the service for all parties. Better service equals less complaints equals less disgruntled employees.

But of course if First CC was listening it would already have picked this up. If First CC was responding to that listening, it would already be empowering staff to respond to customer complaints via twitter and other online channels (@BTCare is doing it, Honda Europe (a Ninety10group client) is monitoring and responding and learning too.)

I have one nagging doubt about the account. It follows just one account - the one that ReTweets any complaint that references @Firstcc. If you're fed up of hearing moans from customers, why actively seek them - and only them - out? Particularly if you are really just a regular employee... I have my theories about that. You will have your own.
I'm quite happy to share mine with FirstCC, just as soon as they respond...

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The challenge of 3D printing to the role of the organisation

RepRap from Adrian Bowyer on Vimeo.
Love this article by Simon Bradshaw, Adrian Bowyer° and Patrick Haufe on the trends among, and impact of, 3D printers. I recommend you go read the lot.
In summary the story goes that 3D printing (ie the ability to copy and fabricate products in the home very simply and cheaply) is likely to have the same impact and reach as the home pc before too long.
So for those of you who thought the disruption delivered by the power of the network was limited to movie making, music production and paid-for content, it's time to take a deep breath and imagine this near future:
"All this may be heading towards a world in which people do not buy consumer goods any more but instead download them from the web and print them themselves. They will be able to customise them at will and may avoid some of the environmental and monetary cost currently entrained by the (often global) physical transport of manufactured goods; indeed, work is in train to make RepRap [a community-owned and very low cost 3D printer] run on home-recycled plastic which would further reduce such costs. In particular, the ability of a 3D printer to, in principle, print a copy of itself, and for both machines to print further copies and so on, suggests that the cost of 3D printing may rapidly fall to the point where it becomes a widely-available technology.
Oh, but what of economies of scale? That's the howl heard railing against anyone touting the accurate serving of microniches (in which users get to shape products to their actual specific fitness landscape, compared against the potentially wasteful ill-fit of the lowest-common-denominators of mass production).
The future is a more widely distributed, less centrally organised place...
"...having many people making few items in the home, instead of few people making many items in factories, is against the idea of economies of scale. But economies of scale are not universal: in the past people took clothes to central laundries to have them washed; now people use their own washing machines. Today electricity is generated in 2 GW power stations tomorrow it may be generated by individual photovoltaics on everyone’s roofs. And industrial printing presses offer far greater economies of scale than the home inkjet printers mentioned in the first paragraph that are – for many types of printing – replacing them."
My caveat is this: our preference, as very social beings, is to always work with others. We are not silos and we will not produce, customise or replicate in silos. The web is not primarily for taking from (ie searching for a product to download and print out). It is for connecting us.
Less for taking from, more for making with (others).

Through it we connect with people aiming to solve the same problem as us in real-time. That's where it delivers real value. Through those relationships our preferences are also shaped.
When we find each other we need effective ways of surfacing our best ways forward - and support in reducing the cost of delivering those solutions/fixes/next steps.

Even a world in which we all have a home factory requires a platform approach. The very process of making together delivers better results for those with shared purpose (none of us is as clever as all of us, after all...)

Platform Organisations can help bring us together and help us discover the more successful collective solution. The expertise organisations contribute will be another value-add. And their ability to bring us together to source raw materials at a collective price, another.

3D printing becomes one of the ways in which the outcome is delivered. It's the new delivery truck. But the web itself - and the relationships it enables - retains its role as means of production (via co-creation - making with).

When we talk about means of production, we often think about the machinery to produce. But that does not mean the device.
In a mass production world the connection between the machinery and the process is clearer. Traditionally a newspaper owner needed to own a printing press. They also needed to employ a team or writers, photographers, editors etc to produce the content. Which was the means of production? The printing press or the producers of the content? The two were so tightly connected it didn't matter.

On the web the owner of the means of production of content is the person who creates the content. In reality this was always so. In the past the owner of the means or production of content had no access to the printing press. Now they have (or at least to its equivalent in the form of the web - where of course everyone is a publisher).

The same is true of factories; where the production line is the equivalent of the printing press. In a world in which everyone has access to their own production line ( a home 3D printer) the real means of production is revealed as those coming up with the ideas, process and required designs.

What is clear is that 3D printing throws into sharp relief the need for organisations to think of themselves far less as the makers of, and far more the supporters of the makers of, 'their' products.

Which is exactly how a platform organisation should be thinking...

One final thought inspired by the article (The Intellectual Property Implications of Low-Cost 3D Printing) - the authors conclude: 'Within the UK at least, personal use of 3D printing technology does not infringe the majority of IP rights.'
Which makes me wonder what planet those politicians who forced through the Digital Economy Act are living on...
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Beware the survey of the thing they haven't experienced yet

People are notoriously bad at telling you what they want when they haven't yet experienced the thing you think they might like. Apple's Steve Jobs is always banging on about it. It's summed up as 'people don't know what they want.'

Which always sounds, well, insulting and patronising. (image courtesy amydeanne)

This (from December 2007) illustrates the point:
"Am I missing something? The headlines (Consumers Prefer GPS over Mobile Internet/GPS edges out internet as desired mobile feature - study) tell us US mobile phone users would rather have a GPS-enabled phone than a mobile-internet enabled one.

Translation: I'd rather have a sat-nav than be a live, real-time connected node on the network.
What kind of questions resulted in that?
Q"Would you like to know where you are? Or would you like to know any and everything?"
A"Oh, I'll take where I am thanks."
But people are exceptionally good at shaping a concept to fit their fitness landscape. In fact, they always place a higher value on something they have had input in creating (which brings oodles of peer-to-peer marketing value).

In order to engage them you have to provide the 'thing' to talk about. That becomes the social object; an integral part of the platform-thinking approach. (discover/bring together/surface/work together to fix).

Give them something that interests them, that engages them. Then they'll help shape it. And if you can give them something to experience - then the 'survey' of their feedback will be all the more effective.

That thing could be a workshop in an interesting location, with physical interaction and decisions made, or a beta site with direct links to the developers, or prototypes to add to and delete from, or....

As long as it's something around which discussion-leading-to-change can happen, the social object will be doing its job. And the discussion is key - the process must be social not silo'd.
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Apology as a tool of revenge

The humanising of communication; the shift from one-to-many broadcast to many-to-many conversation, raises the opportunity for comms and customer service teams to perform damage limitation faster and with greater effect than ever before.
Research published in Dan Ariely's latest book The Upside of Irrationality reveals there is one very powerful tool in your armoury which is currently deployed far too rarely and warily: the apology.
Dan revealed a basic and very simple formula: one annoyance + one apology = no annoyance.
A basic and intransigent unwillingness to accept blame (for all kinds of legal 'brand' and ego-related reasons gets in the way of this. Yet, if deployed unfettered by these self-regulations, an apology can make the problem those rules are meant to defend against go away. (image courtesy tim ellis)
Social media has revealed the truth of this on many occasions. An apology served early and earnestly is a powerful thing in damage control.

But the multiple success of this strategy seems to have confused some.
They get that there is power in an apology but not that the power resides not in the utterance of the apology but in the allocation of blame.
They say things like 'we are sorry you are sorry' rather than 'we are sorry for doing the thing that has upset you'.
It may be (and I'd love to see Dan examine this) that an apology only serves the purpose of tool of revenge if someone is seen to be taking the bullet - accepting they were wrong.

In the moment of one side admitting guilt we get a kick of vindication which allows us to move on with a feeling - no matter how minor - of justice served/revenge taken.

And as Dan also points out - our desire for revenge is an essential (even useful) part of what we are.
If we don't feel justice is served we'll find other ways to take our revenge (which regularly means doing down the product/service provider to anyone who will listen).

My apologies if I made that a little long-winded... ;-)

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

The web and the silo of the self

Our digital tools of connection and discovery - the web and its reliants - are not here to make our lives faster.

Whenever it feels that is what they are delivering this is more a result of the sometimes over-stimulating abundance of choices they uncover - and our fear of missing out on something.

That abundance has always been here. People who face the same issues as you existed before the web enabled us to discover each other rapidly and effectively. Sources of information we could refer each other did too.

The existence of the abundance is not the cause of our occasional feeling of being swamped by opportunity - or information overload, as the less-connected world would have it. (image courtesty eggman)

Enabling the discovery of all our available, relevant connections is also not the cause of the 'drowning' sensation.

Some of the solution is effective filtering.

But the greater key is attitude towards our personal responsibility for knowledge acquisition and retention.

In the silo'd world of one-to-many channels (broadcast/mass production) we felt the pressure to acquire and hold the knowledge we needed in the silo of ourselves.

In the many-to-many networks of the web we are allowed a more distributed view of knowledge.

Humans who share lives each hold composite pieces of a shared memory - which can be readily assembled into a greater and agreed whole.

Mark Earl's book Herd describes this. You will recognise it in the experience of swopping stories at a family get-together. Each member of the group recalling a different detail of the same story - completing the jigsaw for all to see.

The web offers a similar opportunity for knowledge - with each node retaining for recall important pieces of a billion jigsaws; nodes being people, documents and things.

For an individual to know everything at once is an impossible godlike dream.

To know that everything known is knowable by us all is a reality of the web.

Those feeling swamped should stop setting themselves impossible personal targets and start accepting their part in our collective knowledge bank.

What you know and are willing to share is more important to all of us than what you don't.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The device-centric era is about to end

You could be forgiven for thinking that, with the arrival of the iPad, and the rivals it is spawning, that we are at the dawn of the era of 'tablet computing'.

But I believe we are at the end of the era of device-specific computing.

The move from urls to apps, closed code to open apis, on-device storage to access from the cloud, all points away from the pivotol role of the device (which is where Apple makes its bucks) to enabling connectivity to your services (the realm, currently, of developers, mobile operators, broadband and wifi providers and ISPs).

The thing that smartphones, tablets and laptops (even, Microsoft Surface - remember that?) enable is ubiquity of computing. Always on - always with you. Access is the key here. Very clearly NOT the device.

The device can enable access - but it is only one way of enabling it. Not THE way.

The service and its delivery is king. Not the device.

Apple has allied these two things by controlling what is available in its app store. You have to meet Apple's standards to be allowed to deploy - for your service to be experienced by the user via the Apple UX interface. The service provided, therefore, on an Apple device is good.

That experience can only be as good as the quality of its adaption to the device through which you experience it.

In other words, if a service is as well designed for the device you are currently experiencing it through as it is for an iPhone, then you may conclude it is the device that's delivering that service (hence the growing army of Android fanboys). A well-designed service works brilliantly with the available interface. It isn't degraded by switching from one device to another. It takes advantage of the interface it has to hand.

But holding a device in your hand, having a device at all, may be little more than a hangover from our comfort with the tactile world. The cloud could be accessed in 3D before -your-eyes Minority Report ways.

Or more likely, direct to your mind (remember how far off and way out you thought gestural interface was when you first saw it demo'd on a YouTube video?)

And at that point in the non-device specific future we'll have no one to blame for a crash but ourselves.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The joy-joy of ice-cream

Daddy and the nugget monster...
Over the last few nights I've experienced some deeply good things.

The first is the ubiquity of wifi and the extent of real-time social networks that is delivering. The rate of change in one small Spanish resort over the last 12 months in this respect is quite breathtaking (I stayed here in Cambrils on the Costa Dorada exactly 12 months earlier). FourSquare's grid is everywhere, for example.

Laptops are now competing with paperbacks as must-have holiday accessories. Not so many years back the holiday user of a laptop was doing so for 'very important business reasons'. Now the holiday laptop user is doing so for pleasure, entertainment, connectedness - work may or may not be part of that. The divisions dissolve.

I benefited very much from that connectedness. One of my twitter friends noted I was in Cambrils and offered that he used to live there. This resulted in a series of welcome local tips - recommendations of restaurants and ice-cream parlours (to which I will return...). Another who has a place nearby also had advice on what I should see and where I should go.

Trusted peer recommendations. In real time.

Dining out in Cambrils - particularly the harbour - is a pleasure. Here's some things to bear in mind re what I'm about to share.
  • We were visiting this particular restaurant for the first time.
  • The owner had no idea whether we were here for one night or 100.

So (and I hope this will embarrass my daughter some day...) my wife had spotted a particular pasta restaurant (Porto Vecchio) she wanted to try. My daughter (5) was resolutely against this very ancient establishment (17th century I believe) on the grounds that it did not serve chicken nuggets and chips. I suspect it never had in all those centuries.
Well. I thought there may be a middle ground. Would it be possible for the restaurant to source a chicken nuggets and chips from a rival nearby? Mum and dad happy, daughter happy, restauranteur happy?
You know what? They made a quick phone call. And said sure, come on in.
So we all ate together and we all ate happy.

And when we call for the bill the owner tells us the chicken nuggets and chips are on the house.
And I'm even happier.

So I tell you all about it. Imagine that in the average chain restaurant...

There is an interesting business model going on here: making everyone happy. Happy beats going for growth over everything. Happy beats going for the last turn of the screw on profit. Happy wins.

And happy wins for those doing the delivery too. How much nicer is it to have your customers leaving shaking you warmly by the hand? Isn't that a better way to live?

It's not a rarity either.

I was recommended (via twitter) to try SirVent - an ice-cream parlour on the harbour front. And it was truly awesome. The staff were brilliant and informative. The prices keen. The ice-cream just mind-blowing.
SirVent creates a steady stream of happy flowing from its door. It over delivers to such an extent most people leave not just smiling but laughing. And they take that joy with them past all the other Harbour front diners on cones piled beyond high with spectacular looking (and tasting) icecream. I've eaten ice-cream in a lot of good places. And this one wins.
The business has been in Cambrils (so far as I could tell) from the mid 50s. It's family run and has no great ambitions to rule the world. It's hard to be this good, to over deliver so magnificently and service shareholders.

But I wonder if businesses of the kind found on Cambrils Harbour show the way business models could and should move - in the direction of the maximising of joy for all parties vs the maximising of profit.
Are they the kind of businesses more of us want to exist? When there is an abundance of most things, there remains a scarcity of happy.

So, could it be the Temparanillo speaking? Or is there space for successful businesses who place joy first?

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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?