Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Reb Bull gets it

Advertising nowadays is all about content - not the space in-between. We all know this. Red Bull has known this for years. From their paper aeroplane contests to their forumla one team and of course, their annual NYE Las Vegas crazy stunts.

2008/09 is looking absolutely crazy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ratings - what do they really say?

Here's a really good example of the different things simple ratings can tell you. Jared Spool on User Interface Engineering shows us that by comparing ratings of the same product on different websites you can get a very conflicting story.

Essentially one website was that of a bricks and mortar shop and the other was Amazon. Taking an example review from each website we could see that each review told essentially the same story but on one the product got 3 out of 5 stars and the other only 1 out of 5 stars.

The reason? Not the product but the customer service of the retailer.

Internally, for all events we rate based on a number of different KPIs. This allows us to find out what parts of the event performed well and which parts didn't. These ratings are not public, but it makes me think if they were to be made public, how would they be displayed? I wouldn't like to have five different 5-star ratings, but as we can see above, a single 5-star rating may be inadequate.

Monday, December 8, 2008

There's only one must-have rule for being viral - be legit

Viral campaigns were born of necessity. Whether it was a small film production or cheap start-up business - both with no money - or a large brand that was getting no cut-through in other media. Both these examples had a necessity to go viral to get to their core market.

Some key components of viral campaigns are:

> Use non-traditional channels
> Be irreverent
> Be legit

The third one is the biggest one to get right, because if you're not legit you're going to get yourself into a whole lotta mess.

But what the hell is "being legit" when being viral? Isn't viral all about smoke and mirrors? planting the seed for discussion? Well, yes and no. Creating mystery is one thing, but trying to pull the wool over your customers eyes is another.

The best way to explain is to use examples.

BAD viral blogging - Walmartingacrossamerica - where a couple travel from Walmart to Walmart across America. It turned out this blog was funded by Walmart although no recognition was made. A description of the uproar can be found here.

And now we come to the next round of viral controversy - the viral video.

The past few weeks have been abuzz around a Guitar Hero video posted on You Tube that turned out to be created by the ad agency with the Guitar Hero account.

This is it:

The problem with it was that it never acknowledged that it was essentially made by Guitar Hero. Therefore you could assume that although it was 'virally' and amateurish there would have been a nice budget behind it. It's still a great video, but in the world of gaming, game makers are game makers and fans are fans - game makers cannot impersonate fans, the two worlds must not collide!

What happens when fans revolt? You get great parodies just like freddiw made (warning, this video seems to have been removed from You Tube).

So how do you get it right? Derek Powazek has suggested the EA video they created for Tiger Woods 09. EA did not start the joke, but thought it good enough to get in on. Essentially it started with a fan showing how in the new game Tiger Woods could walk on water. From there, EA had the last laugh!

Check it out:

There will be plenty more case studies on viral campaigns that get it right and those that get it wrong. They key is to be legit with your audience. You do not need to give away all the mystery, far from it, just make sure that if you have a vested interest, let the fans know. In the case of Guitar Hero it may have been as easy as posting the video on the Guitar Hero or ad agency's website with a caption - can you beat this?

Friday, November 28, 2008

What is the future for books?

I was waiting in the airport terminal the other day and decided that it was the right time for a new book. I was already reading one, but needed a fresh one to get me through yet another flight.

Now, I don't think I'm cheap, but for normal reading books (novels or history books) I try and set myself a AUD$30.00 limit. Now I think that is reasonable. With the price of CDs and DVDs plummeting in the face of more and more online content, when I buy a physical object I am demanding a lot more of it because I can just get it online otherwise.

So, when I found a book that I like - an Australian book published and (hopefully) printed in Australia - only to find it cost $37.95 I was shocked to say the least. The book, The Land of Plenty, by Mark Davis and published by Melbourne University Press, is $36.95 direct from the publisher, and $36.99 from Angus and Robertson so it wasn't just the airport book shop trying to get one over me.

Sure, this book probably caters for a niche market, and the costs of such a small run probably don't allow for any discounts, but surely there must be a cheaper alternative and I know there is.

E-book readers have been around for a while now but the average price is still sitting somewhere between US$300-500, so they are not cheap. But the fact of the matter is that from a publishers point of view the e-book should be a fairly compelling avenue to pursue. The value of a publishers work is in the IP the works contain and the traditional paperback has only been a means for distribution.

The difficulty in e-book readers is that they are trying to specialise with EInk display screens that are much more easy on the eyes than traditional back-lit laptops or PDAs. Because of this specialising, easy-on-the-eyes e-book readers have been held into a fairly niche market.

But, the technology is only ever one part of the equation. If the boffins at DELL, ASUS or HP were given enough incentive I'm sure they could create a pretty good easy-on-the-eyes screen mode on a normal tablet PC or PDA. Another reason for the limited e-book market is the ever-present rights management.

Amazon have been able to manage publishers IP through a DRM format of text and uses a direct Internet link from Amazon to the Amazon Kindle therefore assisting to make sure the text doesn't fly off online in the middle of the night. Other e-book providers have also created their own DRM formats, but as we have seen through the Walmart MP3 DRM fiasco customers are becoming more and more wary of DRM supported formats because of their tendency to disappear.

The only reason books have not gone the way of the DVD or CD is the fact that no-body apart from Google and a few universities could be bothered flipping so many pages over a scanner to digitise the books and as yet the hackers haven't decided to infiltrate publishers to get digital versions of new release books.

So what does this all mean? For me it means that as with the dodo and soon the CD and DVD, the paperback is destined to become extinct because the case for costs savings in publishing is too compelling for publishers. But, as with audio and visual arts, the global management of IP in a digital world has meant that e-books are being published at a snails pace.

I am hoping that when publishers and authors come around the the post-copyright era and embrace creative commons and digitised books we will be able to download books that we want to read for a fraction of the paperback cost whilst saving one more tree in the tropics.

Check-list for a post paperback world:

* Integrated PDA/phone/e-book back-lit/Eink reading panel
* Non-DRM file format
* International IP agreement (Creative Commons?)
* Value-added services (audio/video integration, authors blogs, hyperlinked bibliography ...)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wordle - fun with words

Above is a word cloud based on my Delicious links. So there is probably some scientific study to show that words displayed as above provide quicker snapshots of information than any other method - then again maybe there isn't.

Anyhoo, me being equally left and right brained I like pictures as much as facts and figures. A word cloud such as this is a great way for people like me to get across a topic in a short amount of time.

The one I created above used, which I was directed to when I saw this blog post by Deepak Singh, that used the word cloud as a speak-bio outlining the Deepak's interests via his delicious links.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fail ad #003 - email marketing at its worst

Thanks to CEO of Socialtext, Eugene Lee, and his Twitter post for pointing out this Fail Ad that Zoli Edros has blogged about on Cloud Ave.

People received the above email ad in the USA which, when reading just looks like a badly worded spammy email, but when you find out the actual email subject line was ...

"If you want to keep your job, use Spoke"

... it is just plain bad.

This arrived via Twitter - the public soap box that kills brand reputation quicker than you can say "This subject line cost me my job". Here's how it goes: bad ad goes out to the public > Someone points it out on Twitter for being crap > their followers (we're talking in the hundreds) tell their followers (hundreds multiplied by hundreds) and step three > your brand reputation tanks.

I agree, you need a killer subject line to entice people to waste two minutes reading ANOTHER email, but the subject line needs to also inspire confidence. There's a reason all your viagra/debt/gambling spam starts with "big", "win", "huge", "now", "rich" - it's a simple formula that even the worst spammers know about.

So, Spoke, I would strongly suggest that you call up one of your customers that do email marketing for a living and get few pointers on how to actually write a proper subject line.

UPDATE: 14/11/2008

OK, So after sleeping on this post I think it may be a little harsh. Email marketing is a tough gig, so while I still think it's a very bad subject line, maybe the best criticism is some constructive feedback. Here's a few alternative subject lines that would also have worked:

"Be accurate in uncertain times - use Spoke"
"Uncertainty brings change - keep up with Spoke"
"Improve your targeting even in a changing market"

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

No more hiding election activities

Well, if ever there was a sign that the people of the USA are taking back control of the election process, then I think the Internet has shown us that sign. Here are just a few of the many websites tracking the election process:

Google election results

Twitter #votereport

And, plenty more...

Crikey live blog
YouTube video your vote
Intrade prediction market election predition

And for even more, look at the Read Write Web post.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How will social networks ride out the storm?

News from China (subscription required) is that the music sharing website has shut down due to venture capitalists pulling funding because of the global financial crisis(GFC).

A survey also conducted in China has found that due to the GFC the most likely websites to fail are online video sharing websites, social networking service websites, life search websites, and Webpage game websites.

This brings me back to a previous post I wrote in the fall out of the initial Wall Street bank collapses. I questioned whether online social networks (OSNs) were a valuable place for people affected by the initial financial impacts. I found that there was considerable silence from employees affected by the bank collapses.

Without any psychological training I guess there are two schools of handling trauma, either bottle it up and get on by yourself, or share your experiences with others to confront your situation.

If the latter situation were to occur OSNs would be a perfect medium for coping with the GFC. But, it is looking like the venture capitalists are banking on the former situation and that those affected by the GFC will more likely revert to traditional methods of coping with trauma.

And I can't blame the VCs. While OSNs have been around in some form or another since the day dot for the Internet, the current incarnation of OSNs in the forms of Facebook, MySpace and the plethora Ning and KickApps networks are in their juvenile stages. The more I have researched social networks the more I have found that currently to the majority they are a novelty, something to share holiday photos and play games with.

I have found that there are two types of groups that have successfully formed strong and committed forms of OSNs: groups of people that have common strongly held beliefs and groups of technologically savvy people that may not have strongly held beliefs but are comfortable in trialling new technologies. While these two groups fuel the hype cycle and get plenty of media coverage, they are only a vocal minority.

This is the market in which the VCs are playing, and when times are tough, playing with a minority doesn't work. The old cash cows are needed to ride out the hard times.

So for me, I have to agree that OSNs have not permeated into the fabric of society - yet. The majority of the population has not had the fundamental shift in mindset that is required for someone to spill their deepest held thoughts into the public world via OSNs and the like.

I think that there are enough OSNs and community groups to keep the development of online culture growing, however if the worst economic predictions come true, I don't think that there will be enough momentum for OSNs to become the hives of conversation that they might well have been if we were a few more years down the track.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Highlights of the CPA Australia Second Life session

Here it is, this highlights video of the Second Life session that we recently ran.

As will be noted in my final report for the event, I will recommend that sound-checks be undertaken before each session. Some speakers were too soft and others too loud. The remote nature of Second life makes it hard to manage, but we'll find a way.

if you would like to see the full length videos or read a transcript of the session, they can be found on the CPA Australia website.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Social media is still a car with four wheels

OK, I think that I need to get one thing straight - we did not invent the successor to the car somewhere between 2005 and 2008. One of the hardest things to do in the promotion of Web 2.0 thinking in organisations is to remind everyone that social media is still a car with four wheels.

We're not quite in flying cars yet!

So when I go into a meeting and say we can use social media and Web 2.0 thinking to connect with customers it is not green fields, not a flying car. Social media is still just connecting with customers like we always have done, just in a fancy new way.

Bringing everyone back down from Mars and getting them out of their flying cars, I like to remind people that there are plenty of precedents to the things we do in social media. It is not like everyone has been wandering Earth aimlessly in a silent vacuum. People talk, it's natural. People communicate by voice, pencil, pen, computer, phone, mobile phone, text message, gestures, looks, emotions ...

Social media just makes some of these things easier, and sometimes opens a new door to talking to new people you couldn't have previously. What it doesn't do is make conversations start that never would have started in the first place. Social media won't make people do things if they don't want to do them.

An example of a social media tool that has worked is Twitter. Twitter is not a flying car, it is still a four wheeled car. But why Twitter is successful is because it allows conversations to start that previously could not have, not for lack of want, but just because it was too hard. I can now talk to the guys at NASA that operate the Mars Lander if I want. Say Telstra had poor coverage in my area, I could tell Telstra via Twitter and not only would Telstra know, but all my followers too - Twitter is customer service in the public - a powerful tool.

Another example of social media that works are blogs. Back in the 90s it would have been cool to have your own personal web page to tell everyone how much you loved Pearl Jam and were annoyed when a case of beer cost more than $24. But unless you knew HTML and were prepared to put in hours of work and be happy with a pretty average result, it was too hard. Now with blogs, everyone is their own news service and we can all tell the world how ridiculous and dictatorial a government imposed clean feed internet censorship policy is.

Now to leave you with a little history lesson to prove that social media has been around for years, it's just that in the past few years technology has made our job a little easier.

Way back in the 1980s, before MySpace was invented, and MP3s were the stuff of science fiction novels, bands had trouble getting their music to their fans. They had to rely on a wireless receiver, or by then know as a radio. Getting music into record stores meant getting into bed with slimey record companies that would 'own your soul'.

No MySpace! What to do!?

A little New York band in just such a predicament had a solution. Staffed by the members of They Might Be Giants, the band Dial-a-song, recorded songs to an answering machine and told all their fans what the phone number was. Fans could dial up the number and listen to the music whenever they wanted (that is, whenever someone else wasn't calling!). Bypassing radios and record labels and going straight to the fans, that's social media!

So there you go. Even in the 1980s the people were out there inventing the social media cause.

The moral of this story is don't get carried away. We're not in our flying cars just yet.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Selling social media internally

This great diagram comes from David Armano via Beeline labs. I've been following Beeline for a little while since their tribalization of business study came out, and now thanks to Beeline I'm going to be enjoying David's great visualisations of social media.

I like this diagram because I can relate. It's nothing spectacular, not new, and is not unique to social media. Anybody trying to run a traditional, easy-as-you-like competition is likely to have experienced this curve as well. This is the traditional effort vs status quo fight anybody in marketing will have faced.

The opportunity that social media has in this space is that it is relatively new. While there are plenty of precedents in like cases and like scenarios, social media is redefining what the legal precedents mean.

In the post-copyright era where you're more likely to get thanks for spreading the word rather than scorn for 'ripping off' others' work, the creative commons movement is an example of how social media and the socialisation of the Internet is changing the legal game altogether. A maxim that I like to work by in this era is to have the benefit to the customer/consumer in mind at all times.

Working from this angle, it is possible to work with legal (also branding and many other internal departments) to ensure that if it is a viral campaign that you want to do, then it is done for the right reasons and with the maximum benefit for the customer.

I think that it comes down to the old effort versus status quo scenario and if you have the right effort behind your project, and the right argument for customer benefit, then it is possible to keep that viral campaign flying.

And in the spirit of the post-copyright era I would like to assert David Armano's ownership of the original design of the following diagram (as also seen above), but with my own personal touch. In this remix of the diagram I've added a little Chuck Norris. The trajectory of your viral campaign is proportionate to the amount of effort behind your thinking and the customer benefit. If Chuck Norris were to launch a viral campaign he'd make sure that it'd fly fast and far and get to where he wanted it!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Running a Second Life event

A big part of my most recent career move just came to fruition last night with the hosting of CPA Australia's first ever event in Second Life.

My role within the Knowledge Exchange team at CPA Australia is all about finding ways for members to better engage with each other. Be that sharing information, connecting with like-minded members, or any other need members might have to help exchange knowledge.

One need we have been working on is to help members in disparate regions connect and learn with the same ability as those members in capital cities. CPA Australia is well under-way in rolling out hosted webinars, but as an experiment we also wanted to explore the boundaries of remote collaboration. This led us to Second Life.

Much research and many articles have been written on virtual worlds and the 3D internet and it all leads to a thinking that in the future that internet will be 3D. I believe that as humans we naturally interact and feel in a 3D world therefore it is only natural that we migrate our online life to three dimensions.

To get a better idea of how serious this topic is, check out IBM's work in virtual worlds.

But back to our little experiment! Our aim, as part of the annual series of CPA Congress events was to be able to deliver an event that was accessible to any member no matter where they were and to provide the same experience to all.

As with all new things we were required to make plenty of decisions with little experience to fall back on, here is a list of some things we needed to sort out:

How big was our place going to be? Do we need an island or just a patch of land? Do we buy or rent?

As this was an experiment and not (at the moment) a long-term investment we decided to rent land in the region of Bracket. One thing to consider is that you can't choose your neighbours. We currently have a Magic Island and an Egyptian temple as neigbours!

What building/s do you want? What theme will they be?

This one was hard. It's not everyday you get to build a convention centre from scratch! With a little help from our designers we settled on a three tiered piece of land where from the landing pad you could observe your surrounding area. We wanted the experience to be as easy as possible for newbies, so landing people at the top of the hill allowed everyone to get a sense of place and of where they could explore.

We then decided to include an exhibition space. As with the previous point, we wanted as much as possible to replicate a real conference event to make the transition from real world to virtual world as easy as possible. In this area we were also able to show off many of our services and also promote other media applications like our Love your Super video on YouTube.

Our final area to build was the theatre space. For this we chose a three paneled back drop that would allow us to also show off our brand spanking new TVCs - think+create. The central panel was for the presenters slides.

Top cap it off, we were also able to include a backdrop of cityscapes from across the world, fitting nicely into our global premier brand positioning.

Some points to remember when building a theatre or other space in Second Life is that text chat travels 20m and voice 30m, so don't make your theatre too big or else the people in the back rows will not be able to participate.

We also built all our assets in the 3D software called Maya, this meant that if in the future we wanted to teleport to another location or another virtual world we could take our buildings, seats, tables and chairs with us.

The event
How do you run an event in Second Life? How do you register people? What are the 1%-ers that need to be covered off?

Our first hurdle to overcome here was getting people to register. We took a softly, softly, approach to the promotion of this event, so we asked members to contact us if they were interested and if they were we sent our a traditional event registration form. This allowed us to register members as per a regular event, and it also allowed us to grant permission to avatars into our space as needed.

A point to remember is the 'space' you hire is actually just memory space on a server back in Linden Labs, San Francisco. So the memory that we hired allowed for our venue and about 50 avatars. Any more than this and our space might go kapoot.

Once we had the people registered we needed to have a very tight run-sheet to make sure everything went off without a hitch. For this run-sheet we made sure that the virtual team was really contactable. We had phone numbers and emails just incase of technical problems.

To make sure all those present behaved our MC let everybody know the house-rules prior to the session commencing, and we found that as everyone came there to learn and experience something new, the crowd was well behaved.

One thing you will know with Second Life is that it is temperamental. The audio function can come and go willy-nilly. Because of this we had a person on stage that typed out highlights of the presenters speech in the text-chat so that we had audio and text dialogue of the presentation.

Also while speaking of audio, there is another trick that you need to be aware of. All microphones work differently in Second Life. Ensure that you test out your audio levels prior to the event. If there was one down point to the event we held it was that the audio levels were not consistent amongst those speaking.

The presenters
As this was our very first step into virtual worlds we wanted the theme to be around how business is approaching virtual worlds and how virtual worlds can assist collaboration and learning in a work environment.

And who better to lead our first ever event that two experts in the field, Lindy McKeown and Lee Hopkins. Both presenters were able to help us along the way giving us tips on how to create a better Second Life environment and also delivered highly engaging presentations.

Lee has also written a review and posted his presentation on his blog.

To conclude this rather long post I would advise those thinking about dipping a toe into Second Life, go for it, but think about a few key points:

1. It's relatively cheap to get started, hire land to start - only buy an island if you're in it for the long haul
2. Make sure you know what you want to build. Consult all stakeholders at work because once they get a whiff of how cool it is they'll want a little space for themselves too
3. Know what you want to get out of it. I can highly recommend virtual worlds for hosting events, but I don't expect avatars to register to become a CPA member from a brochure I have sitting on a table in Second Life.
4. So.... run an event in a virtual world - in a single session we had people from Mildura, Tumut, Euroa, Tamworth, Cairns, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth AND London, Liverpool, Detroit and New York!
5. Have fun! Virtual worlds let people blend technical learning and creativity in a whole new way, the format of a virtual world means that new connections can be made across geographic boundaries and this, for me, is one of the biggest pluses for virtual worlds.

Teleport to the CPA Australia Congress Centre in Second Life

CPA Australia - Event host
Net Effective - Second Life interior designers, architects, carpenters and all-round virtual tradies
Second Life - the virtual world we landed on
Lindy McKeown (aka Decka Mah) - Virtual world educator, scholar and guru
Lee Hopkins (aka Lee Laperriere) - Business communications expert and explorer of virtual worlds


Check out photos of the event here on Flickr

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fail ad #002

Winner of this week's "fail ad" award goes to Fairfax online and the NAB. When the stock market crumbles and we find out the value of everything is actually nothing, what do you do? Get another credit card!

The sad thing is that in reality this article and this ad are probably quite well suited. Bad taste, bad PR, good financial result. Banking is a dirty word.

Update (t+ 2mins): Yes, that's right, 2 minutes on, same article, new credit card! Below is the Citibank platnium, for all 2 people that have survived the financial crisis, nay, obliteration, unscathed.

Because of this, I am going to have to take the "fail ad" award off the NAB and hand it wholly over to Fairfax digital and their entirely crass online sales team and their bad taste. Congratulations!

Monday, October 6, 2008

GTbyCitroen - PS3 or Citroen who gets the most benefit?

Back in 2006, when I was working for an automotive accessories retailer, we were offered an advertising billboard within the upcoming edition of V8 supercars for the PS2. I thought that this was a pretty big step in the convergence of traditional advertising and promotion and new and alternative forms of media.

Well, even though that was only two-and-a-bit years ago, advertising on a billboard in a PS2 game is the equivalent of sending sputnik into orbit compared to today's international space station.

I make this analogy because I read in today's Australian that Citroen have made a full concept model of their GT car that they developed for the PS3 game, Gran Turismo 5.

This just goes to show that while a little old Australian retailer might consider billboards an extravagant additional advertising cost, a global car manufacturer sees it as an economical model to develop and market test a concept car for the public.

While in this case the concept car was made at the same time as the virtual car, I can just imagine in the future where cars are built for games first then rated, reviewed and judged prior to any consideration is given to outlaying the costs for physical production.

Again, this just goes to show that technology, given the right need, is a great tool for marketing. Sure, the GTbyCitroen might turn out to be a one-off thrill ride, but the mere fact that it made the journey from PS3 to the Paris Motor Show is a giant leap in the convergence of consumer and alternative media and shows one company's use of the connection.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The writing's on the wall

The global credit crunch has just been a lot of talk in more recent history, but come mid-September reality hit when Lehman Brothers went under and Merrill Lynch got scooped up by Bank of America. And now in late-September Wachovia just got bought by Citigroup and across the pond Lloyds has bought HBOS.

Much has been made about the retrenchments, redundancies and other people left without a chair now that the juke-box has run out of pennies. The Economist recently ran an article on how the social networking sites are getting a thrashing by the bankers the world over, so I thought I'd drop in on the networks and take a peek at what's happening.

Let's take Lehman Brothers as an example. "The Brothers" have quite a few groups on Facebook ranging from unofficial alumni groups to recent analyst meeting groups and also official groups like Lehman Brothers (UK).

Up until recently the groups were mostly posting away with the usual stuff about how "this is me" or "I'm moving to a new city" or "how great being an intern is". But things went sour slowly at first, then damn quickly.

On 14 June Jaspreet posted on the Lehman Brothers (UK) group "Don't worry!" with a link to an ominous Bloomberg article. Then as September 15 came around everything changed. The regular posts about catching up for drinks or looking for share accommodation stopped and in fact nearly all conversation by actual group members halted.

Instead we see posts by recruiters, plying their wares, letting groups member know "I may be able to help" (Richard on Lehman Brothers UK). Or reporters such as Verity from BBC's Panorama, trying to find employees to fill out their stories on how this could possibly have happened or get juicey news about employees now "struggling to get a mortgage?" or "worried about how much [pension] you will get?".

There has been some attempts to make sense of the whole crash through social networks, but you could not conclude that social networks are alive and well in bank land. Phillip has set up a Lehman Brothers Support and Help Group Facebook page, but with 70 members it hasn't been flooded with staff and the only posts, again, seem to be from recruiters and reporters.

Conclusions? When the bear market hits and the writing is on the (Facebook) wall, it looks like bankers are pretty much left to their own devices. While it is impossible to link a self-made banking crisis to the hurricane crises that hit the USA earlier this year, it is interesting to note the amount cohesion and networking that was formed with hurricane wikis, networks, twitters and blogs, while now in the banking crisis all that can been seen are the recruiters flying about looking for a feed and reporters looking for an answer as to how they didn't see this one coming.

(image caption: Feeding the bear market)

Fail ad

OK, this is probably not quite funny enough to go onto the Fail blog, but I laughed just the same.

Found on the Age online's business section, Jamie McIntyre, self-proclaimed millionaire, outs himself as being worth only $39.

A small lesson in copy writing, make sure you get some one to proof read and sense check what you write. And always put the dollar figure closest to what your trying to sell! How much easier would it have been to write:

"Get the best-selling book 'What I didn't Learn at School, but Wish I Had' (worth $39) by self-made millionaire Jamie McIntyre - FREE as an e-Book and also get a 21st Century Academy DVD (worth $97) - FREE"

All you would have to do is re-work the CD-Rom graphic and it would have looked good, read well AND made sense.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Alternate reality games (ARGs) - if they've got it why not use it?

OK, I've decided on that title because I think it sums up what I know of ARGs and how they fit into the grand scheme of the universe.

Let's face it, if you live in the first world and are a movie going, popcorn eating, consumerist then chances are you have one (most likely ALL) of the following: email address, mobile phone, Internet access, and possibly even fax and a home phone (oh and two eyes for the real world).

OK, so like a good recipe we have have listed the ingredients. But what are we making? An ARG - I told you! A what?

OK, so ARGs, what are they? Here we go...

People today are becoming more and more connected through plethora tools, gadgets, publications, you name it. So, like the title says, if they've got it, why not use it?

Game makers/entertainment agencies/movie studios are now more and more using this convergence of media to communicate a message to you, basically hogging your eyeballs (eyeball, a good ol' ad term). But the question is, how to keep you engaged?.

This is where ARGs step in. ARGs are basically games that are played out over various media. Keeping you intrigued is the name of the game. A game might start our with an email or a visual clue in the real world. This might lead to a website or a phone number or discussion board. Through these clues the story will be drip fed to you, keeping you intrigued, ultimately leading to a goal - maybe an answer, or maybe just more questions! They key to the entertainment is that all the different media link the story together in the real world.

These types of games have been used well to hype up movie releases. 42 Entertainment, an 'immersive entertainment' agency, for example, has created ARGs for the movie AI, Windows Vista, Disney, and more. More recently one of their successes was with the release of Nine Inch Nails Year Zero album. Wired has documented this project well. The initial clue for this ARG was in the T-shirts on NINs world tour. This led to a website and phone number and so the game began.

ARGs are prized for the attention they demand on a certain subject. While the actual thing being sold (a movie, book, software) might not be advertised throughout the game - the message is. Throughout the game you get to understand the plot, you understand background stories and of course, hopefully, fingers-crossed, you become a fan.

Currently there are a few games being played that I've found through ARG sites such as ARGN and Unfiction. One is Operation: Sleeper Cell, designed by ARG developers for Cancer Research UK (it's not all big business that needs eyeballs after all!), another is, which is *presumably*possibly* for a new movie Blindness.

Coming up, Freshchat has pointed me towards Superstruct, an ARG that the Institute for the Future has developed and is calling a 'Massively Multiplayer Forecasting Game' as the aim is to use the ARG format to get ordinary folks like you and me to forecast the future by essentially playing out what we would do in future scenarios.

ARGs, are they the future of entertainment or just elaborate games for movies/businesses with 'too-big' budgets? They're not for everyone and you'll find that the eyeballs you get are generally few, but the few you get spend a hellofalottatime in the game. And isn't that the point anyway? Get a few advocates to spread the word and instant marketing success?


Props must also go out to Christy Dena, an Aussie expert in the field, definitely someone that has opened my eyes to the variety of cross-media applications!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You want these sponsors on your page!?

I don't envy social networks balancing their advertising revenue streams and keeping their 'big stars' on side. Here's a quick example of when something can go wrong.

This partial screen-shot, below, is from the official Sarah Palin MySpace blog. If I were in her campaign team I'd be a bit upset at the type of advertisers that MySpace had recruited to 'sponsor' her blog!

Brands joining social networks

OK, enough of the pie in the sky theory mumbo jumbo, let's get down and do a plain old list of what's what.

I'm going to try and create and update a list of brands that are entering and trying to engage in the social network space. I'm going to categorise the "brands" (this can include people too, when appropriate) and how many friends they have - a good ol' friend-off!

(For ease of listing I'm going to stay clear of musicians or traditional celebrities)

Please comment and add more!

Listing key: brand, network, friends @ date

Carl's Jr's 3D avatar, MySpace, 59 @ 17/09/2008
Jeep, MySpace, 9,907 @ 17/09/2008
Kit Kat, YouTube, 19 @ 19/01/2009
My Sydney (Tourism NSW), MySpace, 202 @ 07/11/2008
Proudbaldamerican (Sam Eagle from the Muppets), MySpace, 326 @ 17/09/08 (plus you can also find Statler & Waldorf, Beaker, The Great Gonzo and the Swedish Chef!)
1234 Sensis directory, MySpace, 85 @ 17/11/2008
Volkswagen's Miss Helga, MySpace, 6,561 @ 17/09/2008
Vspink (Victoria Secret brand), MySpace, 9,575 @ 17/09/2008

Professional bodies / Services firms
AICPA's Benjamin Bankes, MySpace, 1726 @ 17/09/2008
Deloitte (global), Facebook, 4,788 @ 17/09/2008
Ernst & Young Careers - Australia, Facebook, 3,250 fans @ 17/09/2008

Officiallaborspace (Kevin Rudd), MySpace, 24252 @ 17/09/2008
Malcolm Turnbull, MySpace, 271 @ 17/09/2008
Barack Obama, MySpace, 529395 @ 17/09/2008
John McCain, MySpace, 95785 @ 17/09/2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Developing an Internet policy

I'm currently reading a fascinating book, Pride and Power by Vernon Van Dyke, published in 1964. It looks at the development of the US space program and the political motives that drove the rapid development of the program.

Referring to the launching of communications satellites, Van Dyke says,

In addition to the contribution that scientific and exploratory cooperation may make to peace, there is another possibility: that satellites will contribute by facilitating "people-to-people" communication... If people-to-people communication is limited to programs whose content is pleasing to each government, or if it occurs only among countries that have already established a friendly, common understanding, the contribution to peace will be necessarily slight.

I'm a big believer in the 'history repeats' cycle of life and think that we can take a lot from the debates and thinking that occurred during this last mass breakout of human connectedness. The TV did facilitate people-to-people communication and it has contributed to peace.

But now we face another issue. TV is slowly concentrating in the hands of a few non-governmental corporations, the agendas being set and the content being delivered is slowly homogenising. TV as a means of people-to-people communication is slowly disappearing.

Can the web, in its current form, facilitate the next mass breakout of human connectedness? I think that it can. The opportunities provided to individuals by the technological developments umbrella-ed in 'web 2.0' can ensure that the human connectedness we experience in the next 50 years is better than that of the past 50 years.

Here are my reasons why:

1. Satellite broadcasting was restricted to a limited amount corporations whereas the web is open to everyone
2. Being connected relies on pulling together and having ready access to the combined knowledge of human experience - the web allows others to be connected to the written, oral and visual experiences of others
3. No agendas are set. The web has taken on a life of its own and now has no reason for being other than to just exist.

Just like the satellite debates of the 50s and 60s - whether they should be for peaceful or military use - the web will be faced with debates about what use it should have, how it should be accessed, what is allowed on it, and many other questions.

On an individual level and governmental level we need to ensure that the primary goal of the Internet is to facilitate people-to-people communication without hindrance or agenda.

Image courtesy of NSSDC

Friday, September 5, 2008

Living, 140 characters at a time

Image courtesy of NASA

Twitter; I was lost, but now I'm found.

What's the difference between a Twitter status update and a Facebook status update? Not much really, but I think that it's the type of connection that makes the difference. I follow both. Facebook updates let me know when my friends are in town/going to the pub/off on holiday. Twitter updates let me know when we find martians on mars/when careers fairs are on/when Australia wins a gold medal...

So I guess for me, just like George Costanza, I like to keep my worlds apart. Facebook for friends, Twitter for business and news.

Much has been made of lifestreaming (I'm not there yet) but to me, unless your work is your life and you're happy for the two to become one, then lifestreaming is just that one step too far. (For now at least, I guess).

For the record here are some great Twitter-ers that I'm following:

@MarsPhoenix - Science solved in 140 characters, that's what I like
@EarthVitalSigns - 140 characters is all I need to know when the world goes capoot
@DeloitteLLP - Great corporate use of Twitter, latest is 5 great interview tips
@Ernst_and_Young - Another corporate, this time careers focused
@AussieOlympics - now defunct, but was great for Olympics updates
@zefrank - for that little bit of inspiration :)

Monday, September 1, 2008

I love cool lighting

Finally, I have a place to profess my love for LED lighting! The ability to take light and reduce it down to a single low wattage unit of light is, to me, a fantastic thing. Sure the old LEDs have been around forever, but the new LEDs with their variety of colours and they way they're being used nowadays is the great thing. Once again, it's not what you have but what you do with it!

As far as how this fits into my blog theme, well, I think it's a perfect fit. After all, the social connection between a person and a brand does not start and end with a brochure or a website. Many of today's purchases still occur in the good old fashioned shop. Don't forget that a high percentage of purchasing decisions are made only once the person steps into the shop - having an environment so close to the purchase point that is engaging and tells a story about a brand is not a nice-to-have but a must.

LEDs, while they may not be able to tell a story, sure are engaging if you use them right. One of my favourite blogs, MAKE: blog got me onto the sensacell and their innovative way of using LED lighting. Check this out...

But of course, I can't just limit my undying love of light to LEDs. While they've been a hot thing for a while now, mostly because of the ease of application and the ease of modification, there's plenty of other cool lighting out there to engage people with. The Science Gallery in Dublin recently hosted the LIGHTWAVE exhibition and the amount of cool light applications was astounding (wish I wasn't on the other side of the planet!).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Where is the innovation coming from now?

Today I read on the BBC that soliders are learning battle-field tactics through a virtual simulator called Virtual Battle Space 2.

The story spiked my interest in a way that transcends virtual games and treads on the much broader subject on what used to be called the military-industrial complex. That is, the industry of government contracts, mostly defence contracts, farmed out to large corporations for the research and development of complex industrial machinery and technology.

The thought that I have is that back in the day (I guess that'd be pre-21st century) it was quite easy for governments to manage secretive technological innovations by contracting to a small number of large industrial corporations. However the real innovation nowadays is not really in how to build a bigger jet fighter or a stronger motorised tank, rather it's in the more abstract spaces of how to build a smaller camera or smarter information technology. In these areas you don't need the capital or manpower of a large industrial corporations, really you just need some computing power and plenty of brainpower.

Back in 1992 John Ralston Saul compiled his polemic, Voltaires Bastards, that gave a fascinating insight into the sales conventions held by arms dealers in exotic locations with many mysterious characters. The sales booths were selling stinger missiles, fighter jets and land mines. It was scary stuff and it all seemed to be dominated by the large industrials.

So, finally getting to the point - whereas in the past it was quite easy to say that the real innovation and technological leaps were made through large corporations, in today's world where does the real innovation come from? Is Virtual Battle Space 2 really much better than World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto IV? Are the secretive industrial complexes still hiding the technology or is it the small commercial start-ups that are the innovators of the 21st century? Is transition from disparate units of knowledge to a hyper-connected society braking down the barriers to innovation?

Maybe yes, or maybe no, or maybe I might just be living in a naive idealistic world where innovation comes from the masses for the masses. I hope I'm right.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fun with mash-ups

L O V e-ca N u M is for matches b E37 r22 t W4 O

I love mash-ups. All the social media and collaborative theory in the world can't explain web2.0 any better than a good mash-up.

Above is my blog title using Spell with Flickr by Erik Kastner.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Status, rank and how to make everyone happy

The mindset of web users is shifting (slowly for most) to the acceptance of the Internet now not only as a tool for viewing information, but also as a tool for creating and discussing information. Marketers are embracing this concept (slowly too I might add) and are now using the web for a variety of interactive promotions or, in some instances, community building.

But of course, as with all promotions, marketers can't get something for nothing. If you want to engage your customers you need to be able to provide a reward. In sales it's usually quite simple, give a discount or some other form of physical or monetary incentive. This works in a transactional sense, but does not exploit the true benefits of what the web is capable of.

Two examples that provide us with an example of what is possible are Amazon and eBay. While the format of these businesses are somewhat unique (their customers are both buyers AND sellers), one of the successful tools that they employ is not overly complicated, but is attractive because it hits us on a largely universal level - and that is status.

Starting even before you know what status means, it's there and people are using it to place you in the pecking order. If you ever did Scouts you'd know your status by your badges. Scouts Australia say it is to:

* Facilitate the young person's entry into the Scout Troop.
* Reinforce or teach basic Scouting skills.
* Provide early recognition, and
* Encourage further participation in the Scout Award Scheme

On a national societal level you'll encounter more status symbols than could be imagined. The Australian Government says that its honours "help define, encourage and reinforce national aspirations, ideals and standards by identifying role models. We give honours to recognise, celebrate and say thank you to those who make a difference, those who achieve their best and those who serve others."

Taking this long standing societal notion of status through rank and honour we can see that it is employed vigorously through many of the web's successful businesses. Coming back to our two pioneering online businesses we can see that rank and status is front and centre and one of the primary shopper tools when deciding with whom to shop with.

eBay uses a coloured star system to rank their sellers, with the highest award being a "power seller". The system is based on the transactional value of your business per month and the quality of feedback you receive from buyers. A power seller badge on your profile is meant to inspire confidence in the quality of service a buyer will receive. However there are murmurs throughout the eBay community about the value in the power seller badge.

A recent blog post on the Romow shopping blog described the anger of many small business eBay sellers to the news that eBay had struck up a deal with the large brand whereby can now sell its products on eBay, surely gaining instant power seller status. Locally in Australia, the large online auction house OO-Auctions is also an eBay power seller. By changing the level of the playing field in eBay you get the feeling that the small businesses that have earnt their status the hard way have a right to feel poorly when large businesses tread on what used to be their exclusive turf.

At the same time, another example clearly shows how the automated function of status giving can sometimes lead to unwarranted status. eBay seller Violetsaxrayphone, in an eBay community forum described how she was given power seller status after she offered her services as a mercenary in Iraq for $20,000 dollars. The value of her post must have been enough to trigger power seller status and this stayed until the next automated review of status.

eBay seems to be learning many lessons very quickly about the value of status in a community. If you employ a status system ensure that it is level across all users, naturally the bigger you become the easier it is to stay there, but as is becoming the norm on the web - don't forget the long tail.

Amazon more recently introduced the reseller system and has taken a slightly different, less complicated, path. It has a one to five star system of seller status that is based on feedback and fulfillment metrics and leaves out volume or monetary targets. This system seems to keep a more level playing field. Although the status may not seem as grand it is effective in what the status system is trying to achieve - buyer confidence.

Amazon has also taken the status system and implemented one for reviewers of its products. Instead of reviewing only the products, the actual reviewers themselves are "reviewed" through a system that recognises consistent and informed contributions. Much like the badge system of Scouts or the Army, reviewers are awarded badges based on their contributions. The uniqueness of these badges also distinguishes reviewers - I personally like the "The" badge for known industry personalities.

Status is not limited to buyers and sellers though. In Web 2.0-land many people on the web do not buy or sell anything, rather they interact with each other with information and knowledge as the defining features of status. But the question is how to provide status to this new breed of web user?

Technorati has gone some way to solving this question by introducing the "Authority" system for bloggers. In this system bloggers are awarded an authority number based on the number of current links on others' blogs. While the system is simple enough there can also be problems seen in this system, similar to the eBay dilemma. The premise of the Technorati system, while admittedly requiring blogs to have content worthy of linking to, favours those blogs that have multiple contributors. At what point does the blog/newspaper cross-over happen? The Huffington Post is ranked here but the NY Times is not. Technorati does not give a very clear explanation. I would suggest Technorati provides a widget for the Technorati "fans" ranking too as this may give fairer view of the quality of the post rather than the number of posts.

AdAge's Power 150 of bloggers also trys to rank bloggers. While it is a selective list it aggregates a number of ranking systems to try and even out the playing field. However this system by-and-large still revolves around the volume of links rather than quality.

And finally I come to professional status online. Short of taking a photograph of your university degree and widgetising it, a system for ranking the status of professionals online is something that must be discussed. LinkedIn has had a stab at the status badge with its Company Insider widget. It works like a reverse status symbol. By adding the widget to a company name you give a reader the opportunity to see who they are linked to via LinkedIn in that company. I am not sure of the benefits given to the poster of the original content though. LexisNexis' Martindale index of lawyers has had a go at utilising the function and an example can be seen here.

What the Martindale index does show, though, is a well thought out system for attributing status to lawyers through its Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings. Accompanying this is the visibility ranking on each lawyer page which is a simple ranking system based on the number of weekly profile views of the person/firm's profile page.

So, what's the big deal with status!? As we can see from these examples it is a pretty big deal. We live in a world of rankings and status that has been ingrained in us from birth. We search by and feel comfortable when another person has given status to another person. From the preceding case studies we can also take away a few key points to guide us on our way to true and fair rankings:

1. KISS - keep it simple stupid
2. Be fair - make sure that the small guys have a chance of a high ranking as well
3. Keep it relevant - make sure that your ranking system is relevant to your audience and the benefits of the ranking are easily identified
4. Set the rules - Clearly set out the ground rules for your ranking system
5. Make it rewarding - Make the system rewarding for good work, don't penalise people for not keeping up with others

I'm hoping that I've got all the status speak out of my head now, it's a contentious subject, you could spend days cruising through the hundreds of discussion threads on the topic.

Have I missed anything? Are there any other good examples of status or ranking systems out there?

01/09/2008 Update: I've noticed on Flickr you can pay to become a pro Flickr-ist(?) and you get a little "pro" icon at the end of your name. Paying for status? Not sure what benefit the pro icon is, except telling others you can do more stuff than them.

01/09/2008 Update: Wikipedia and the wiki community-at-large have the barnstar recognition system for wiki contributors. That would be a nice thing to put on your CV - and all it takes is some knowledge and hard work.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Social networks will eat themselves

Hands up anyone who knows how many social networks there are out there?

Laurel Papworth, Australian social media blogger at large, has a list of 40 250 mobile social networks. Yahoo says that their are 229 social networks. Mashable reckons there are over 350 social networks - their readers think there's even more.

Thinking about social groups from a real-life down in the school yard perspective, there will always be cross-overs between groups. But in a school yard perspective it's about status and friendships, valuable time and having fun.

Virtual social networks, I think, are a totally different beast. Sure for the participants the idea is to keep the good times rolling even when you go home from the school yard / local pub / work site or office. But behind these networks are more and more large corporate megoliths out there purely for the almighty buck.

A funny article popped up online today that got me thinking about these shareholder loving mega-corporates and how they're playing the social networking game. The article says that Fox News has joined Facebook, even though its parent, News Corporation owns MySpace. It's a great piece of subversive action on behalf of Fox News and I think a big slap in the face of its parent. I'd hate to have been the SVP for development, who had to explain this away - next stop dole queue me-thinks. But, it makes me think, what happens when all the mega-corporate social networks start hanging out with eachother?

If Fox News is hanging out with Facebook and MSNBC is hanging out with MySpace, then I guess Google will want to BFF someone too because they'd hate to be left out in the rain (and their gang Orkut needs some love too!). It's looking like the school yard is getting a little crowded. Friendster seems to have done a Cartman *screw you guys!* and gone to hang out with the Asian gang (it's huge in SE Asia).

It's all fun and games to be joking about how the big corporations are hanging out with each other, but the scary thing is that there are mega-bucks involved in not only the online social networks but also the old media dinosaurs that are trying to hitch their little cabooses to the next new media train leaving dodge.

I'll need the help of an economist here or some wizz-bang analyst, but if in the convoluted world of media corporations, somehow they all end up BFFing their competitors I think that the double-dutch game of elastics is going to get ugly and one if not more social networks or old media barons are going to get a big flick in the face.

What happens then? For the social networkers they might lose their profile, a few friends, maybe a photograph or two up on their page. But with all the moolah swirling around behind the scenes I'd hate to think we've unwittingly blown ourselves into another huge bubble that's about to burst over the whole school yard. That's a mess I'd prefer not to have on me.

Edit: I had a thought. If News Corp was to create a social network for its shareholders which one would they pick? MySpace?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Love in the commercial world

There's love and then there's love. Love in the first kind is an emotion that transcends all other feelings, rational thought or personal barriers and gives itself wholly and uncontrollably over to another. In large part this kind of love is between two people or a person and their religion.

Then there's love...

Giving ones self over wholly to another, you could say, is pretty much what the commercial world is all about. All the advertising in the world, the press releases, the media stunts and the awards ceremonies, they're all there so that you as an individual can see, recognize, remember and want something or someone.

Giving yourself over to an idea is the essence of what a brand or organisation wants in this world. It's pretty simple, everything else - sales, repeat patronage, loyalty - will follow. Once you succumb to the idea, the rest just follows.

Kevin Roberts, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi and the man behind the 'Lovemark', in a recent speech, outlined a fairly comprehensive list of instructions on how to find love in the modern world. Summarised, it's about big ideas; mystery, intimacy and alluring the senses; and making dreams a reality. This is really big picture stuff, and the more cynical out there might even say it's a bit Willy Wonka-ish. But, really, who wouldn't want a chocolate factory?

With technology closing the gap every day between what we can imagine and what is possible, the possibility of finding commercial love is becoming more of a reality for more organisations.

In the online world the social connections that companies want to make with their customers; organisations with their members and political parties with their voters; are becoming more and more easy to make. Websites, blogs, video-sharing, social networks and communities, are all tools that help us build commercial love.

In the physical world the technologies that let us create or replicate dreams are also within our reach. Audio and visual technologies are allowing us to step into dream worlds. Where once we had to push a button now we just say a name. Where once we had light and dark we now have all the colours of the spectrum. Searching is becoming obsolete because I already know what you want. Customisation is not an option, it is expected. Transactions are instant.

So that's pretty much what this blog is about. I'm on the hunt for what makes someone give themself over to an idea. It's not love in the first sense because we have to admit that this love is transient, it is replaceable and it is not physical. It's commercial love, a second more commoditised version of love. I'm going to call it, love number two.