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 iamblind.org, 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!).