Thursday, January 27, 2011

Privacy, permission and concern for the individual versus concern for the network

Data, published conversations, recordings of what we say to each other, call it what you will, ownership of what you publish online has long been fraught with complexity.

Traditional media companies kept it simple when they went online. They got you to agree that everything you publish on their site is theirs to reuse as they wish. They did it at sign up.

They've got a little greedy about this if most print news publications are anything to go by. From their repeated sourcing of quotes and stories from the likes of Twitter it appears they feel they can reuse pretty much anything you publish online.

They haven't sought your permission.

Neither do those companies who spider the web to gather and index what you say. Google, for example. And, of course the wide range of alternative search and social media monitoring tools.

Publish to the web and your default state is that your data is discoverable and can be reused for profit and gain by, well, anyone.

That's a truth. And it's one rarely considered.

Now, if you don't like that truth, you can opt out. You could set twitter to locked, Facebook to absolute private, tell google not to index your blog etc. Or just publish nothing online at all.

These are all options. And they are all actually more about permissions than privacy.

For example, let's imagine that when you sign up to use the web (at all, anywhere) you get the option to set your permissions.

Would you set yours at 'allow my data to be used by companies for gain'? That's effectively the default in the age of social media monitoring. If your data is discoverable it is discoverable by all. On or off.

If you're 'on' monitoring technologies can pick up what you say. There's nothing CIA about that. You can do exactly the same with some patience and a search engine. They can only track open conversations.

Then nice people like my company (90:10group) will slice, dice, analyse and interpret. And if the nice people we work with take the appropriate action and make change based on what they hear then you get better things, things that you cared enough about to want to publish to the web about. (This, by the way, is just part of what 90:10Group does, but it's the part that is relevant in this conversation).

Four groups just gained from your data:

The monitoring tool makers.

Companies like mine: which turn the data (your conversations) into something that can drive change - one to the benefit of both producer and customer.

The producer: Who gets to make a more efficient fit with the expressed needs of their customer.

You. You just improved something you care about.

But should we have asked your permission before we began the search?

My good friend Jonathan Macdonald believes so. And he makes his case very well himself so I will simply link to that here.

I don't object to the provision of an opt-in to this kind of data collection. Many people do make choices already to opt out via the methods I described earlier. The concern is the current internet-wide default that you are opted in.
We could tackle this through a big new 'opt out' button, or education, or by the insight industries opting themselves out.

But for myself I won't be opting out.

When I choose to express my metadata in public (ie publish online) I do so with the intention of connecting with others who care about the same thing I do.

I do so to join with others who may be trying to solve the same issue as I am right now. I do so because together we make things better.

The problem is more important than the individual.

One extra connection (node) doubles the number of connections in a network. It doubles the value of the network.

Which means when I limit the spread of my metadata I'm limiting the connections all of us can make and the value of the network to all of us.

And I'm all for the network over the node.

So maybe what all this does come down to is concern for the individual vs concern for the network.

Tough choices to make. But these are the realities of the networked world.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone so I may have to tidy it up later ;-)
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

App Internet vs Commoditised Devices?

Here's a genuinely fascinating conversation between Robert Scoble (tech blogger) and the George Colony, CEO of Forrester (recorded at Davos).

Key takeaway: The exponential growth of processing power and storage capacity is pushing everything to the edge (in device) which is a threat to web-centric companies such as Google and Facebook. "The web is a dead technology in the long run".
There is something familiar in that concept I was considering back here.(Services And The Death of The Website).
There is an alternative view - that the rapid growth in capability in devices will result in the rapid reduction in price - taking us to a place where the device (our way of accessing all the stuff of the internet) is commoditised to the point where you can pick one up off a supermarket shelf for a few pounds. In that world the web-centric companies remain important.
Perhaps it won't be one or the other but both.
The 20-minute conversation covers the impact of management changes/risk at the top of google and apple and the burning question of when China gets to be the dominant economic power in the world.
I think the CEO may be wrong about China's requirement to go through political change to end up beating the US for GDP. And here's why:

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Can you trust the Trust Barometer?

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2011 is out. Cue a bunch of extrapolations no one should have made.

I'm not having a pop at the fine folks of Edelman who bring us this research each year (many of whom I have a great deal of time and respect for). I am calling on everyone to take a moment to think before they quote, tweet or otherwise pontificate based on the results.

For instance (apologies Keith, I've taken you at random from the #Trust2011 stream on twitter today (January 25, 2011)
Nope. You can't conclude that from the Edelman data.

This neither. Not with anything like a useful degree of certainty.

The danger in both cases (and they aren't alone, and I've almost certainly been guilty of doing the same myself in the past...) is that we conclude that what is true of a small subset is true for the whole populace.

You may be able to make the case if the sample was relatively representative of the general populace. Random even. But the Edelman data isn't.

And it very clearly isn't. All you have to do is read slide two of their own presentation on the Trust Barometer to know this:
Edelman's Trust Barometer is a survey of a relatively small number of heavy-media consuming social and economic elite.

Please treat it as such.

Doesn't make for as neat a headline, soundbite or tweet does it? The truth's a bitch sometimes, ain't it?

Full report etc here.
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Monday, January 17, 2011

The case for ignoring your customer

I quite often hear of organisations which take the quite deliberate action of ignoring what their customers say about them online.

They reason that either:
1) They tried engaging and a group of antis came to dominate the conversation, (many brands gather themselves some long-term enemies)

2) There are only ever negative comments - and they 'already know' what customers don't like (think utilities - stuff that you take for granted until something goes wrong).

Both of the above represent a door closed on innovation.

Imagine, if you will, that all those complaining about your org or brand are in reception at HQ. In their hundreds or thousands. Would you ignore them, their feedback and their ideas?

Why then, when they have taken the time and trouble to tell you (and their peers) what they think of your products and services, would you ignore this crowd at your online door?

If thousands of newspapers and magazines had published negative comments, would you ignore them? Why ignore all those published online - collectively delivering huge reach and much greater trust.

And if a cohort of angry antis seek to dominate the conversation, think again about their concerns. Why are they so angry? How has your connection with your customer broken down so badly? Could you fix the damage of decades of mass broadcast comms with some human-scale peer to peer conversation? Could you show a brand is just a representation of the activities of people? Good interactions with people shift perceptions about brands.

It may be tempting to ignore the lone-but-noisey anti-fan - but something makes that person do what they do. No one sets up websites, twitter accounts etc and keeps building them over sustained periods without a pretty strong set of reasons. Are they reasons that matter? You'd best find out.

Further - disengaging with all your online customers as a result harms you, not them. All you leave behind is anger and a record revealing your ignorance which remains unchallenged and which stays on record for ever.

3) The third group who ignore are those who believe they know better than their customers. Some luxury brands take this view.

It comes from the belief that super premium brands are there to lead, not follow.

Those that believe this should take a look at their company history and ask themselves if they haven't at any point changed their products, servicing or marketing in response to customer usage, perception or complaint. Social media monitoring just writes that process fast and large.

In short I don't see a case for ignoring your customer. When you do so you are saying:

We know better than our customers - all of them, always.

And not even Steve Jobs would claim that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone so I may have to tidy it up later ;-)
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Quora: My answer's better than your answer

I got myself involved in answering a question on Quora: What is the best social media monitoring product?

Here's the answer I gave:
No single tool does it all or suits (every and all) business need.

This becomes even clearer when you add the global, multilingual dimension.

Being technology neutral is important if you are serious about delivering the best results for clients. No vendor (tool) supplies an all-language function.

It's also key to have local language experts in place in both the gathering-the-data and in the interpretation-and-analysis phases. Social media use and dominant sites vary massively from culture to culture.

Then it's all about who gets (delivered) that analysis, in which depts, with what responsibility.

No tool can deliver on creating strategic response from data. No tool makes the data actionable.
Without these the data has little value.

I'd respectfully suggest therefore that it's not a tool you are looking for, but a consultancy.

I would say that wouldn't I? So why have I copied my answer to paste it here? (image courtesy Caro's Lines)

Because, I guess, the drive to lowest common denominator on Quora is too great and the room for niche interest too little, at present.

Those who care about the criteria I value will judge my answer good. They are also the same folk who are likely to come by this blog - brought here by the kind of terms you'll find scattered through it.

Put at its simplest and rawest - my answer's better than your answer (I'm bound to think that because that's the reason I'm offering the answer - I think it's a damn good one). And that's likely the case for all of us driven to answer anything on Quora. We answer because we feel we have the experience and knowledge to answer it better than most. Otherwise we're risking our reputational necks. Or having a laugh.

Is this a problem or a strength for Quora? Time will tell. But the idea that a vote will reveal the best answer is clearly wrong when judged against the measure of the niche needs the internet can serve. The highest ranking is simply the one that gets the single largest group of support. But that does not mean it is the right answer for you.
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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The real-time web vs the new edifices of information

I've been having a play with Quora - a kind of wikipedia meets Yahoo Answers with a real-time spin that's suddenly got very hot.

There's some good social stuff going on, lots of instant connections being made - sign up through twitter and facebook and hook up with your pals for a festival of Q&A!

You get to ask and answer questions - the crowd gets to raise the profile of some questions over others (surfacing them to other folk).
Unfortunately, like so many others it's gone down the lowest-common-denominator route with its voting mechanic. Rather than surfacing questions that are useful and interesting to me and my friends, it simply surfaces what is interesting to the greatest single number of people.

This risks creating peaks of high intensity around lowest common denominator subjects (and there's no plan for dealing with the wikipedia-style rows over right and wrong yet when these peaks emerge) while leaving barren deserts of low interest because the only mechanic for surfacing what's interesting to YOU is to select from broad interest categories OR make a specific search. - on your own.

In other words it's missing the trick of socialising the surfacing of what is interesting to you AND your peers (and let's be clear, Twitter's trends continue to make the same mistake).

Even without this Quora remains interesting. While Twitter may be very effective as a human search engine (ie a place I can ask questions of my peers) it's not good at organising the responses or making them available much beyond real time.

Quora seeks to create an aggregate of the best info and retaining it for future reference:
"One way you can think of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking other people. Eventually, when you see a link to a question page on Quora, your feeling should be: "Oh, great! That's going to have all the information I want about that." It's also a place where new stuff--that no one has written about yet--can get pulled onto the web."
The team at Quora think this is important because while the web is full of info, most of it is not in a format that makes it useful to most.

Which is why Quora makes an ideal acquisition target for Google. (You probably didn't hear that here first).

But it's also its achilles heel. The people best placed to put information in a way that is best formatted for you are people who know you - your friends, your peers. Indeed 'best formatted for you' is a fluid thing better enabled by the real time web than is potentially the case with the edifices of information Quora is creating.

The most valuable content of all is the information you need right now delivered to you in a way you can best make use of. 

I guess we'll soon discover which is best placed to deliver that: The real-time web or the new edifices of information.
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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Head of Research at 90:10 Group

New Year? And another new role emerges with the team at

Ninety10Group is a pioneering global business consultancy focused on using social media, its technologies and data to improve efficiency and innovation through action-orientated insights for its clients across their supply chains.

You'll find all of the below on Linkedin - where you can apply. We're looking forward to hearing from you.

The Opportunity:

We seek an experienced director of Research to join 90:10 Group's management team to help drive and shape it's research products and services across our global businesses.

The candidate will have a strong background and industry profile in pushing the boundaries of digital research practices such as Nethnography, new and emerging medias such as social media.

They should be fascinated by the opportunity this role offers to combine social media, online communities with open innovation & co-creation. They should already have a clear and thought out position on this field and its future.


-Will lead all large scale research projects (including at pitch stage) and look to constantly evolve and improve existing client work.

-They will ensure the network has clear guidelines for data visualisation

-Ongoing development of proprietary data collection and visualisation systems with partners and internal stakeholders

-Hire new teams and train existing personel in best practice qualitative and quantitative research

- Internal and external thought leadership through white-papers, blogging and speaking at industry events.

-Responsibility for the growth and profitability of their business area and its full utilisation across the network

-Must be willing to travel on occasion. Primarily EMEA based but with the possibility of North America, LAT AM and Asia travel.

Preferred Experience:

-Qualitative and quantitative marketing research and particularly online community research via the netnography method.

-Open innovation projects with focus on virtual customer integration.

-Marketing consulting or product development & management

-They will be an avid user of social media themselves. Ideally blogging for some years.

-Commercially-minded with experience of managing departments / divisions

-Proven credentials in challenging traditional wisdom in their field

-Multiple written and spoken languages is ideal with English as a must.

Possible Specialities

Open Innovation & Customer Integration, Marketing & Product Management, Marketing Research & Consulting, User experience design, User experience research, Web Monitoring, Data Visualization, Social Media Research, Nethnography, Software Development, Co-creation, Crowdsourcing

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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?