Friday, May 30, 2008

Style vs. Substance: A tragedy of the commons?

By now we've all grown accustomed to Wikipedia's pull. In fact, when we've polled client audiences prior to a series of new media presentations we regularly give, Wikipedia seems to be the one 'new media' experience everyone has had in the last 7 days...but is that a good thing?

Many voices in academia seem engaged in a sort of low-level war with wikipedia and other free, open information sources...from universities prohibiting the use of wikipedia and Google (see this, this, and this example of open minded academic discourse) to general griping about the quality of the entries to glee at the occassional outrages posted as part of the collective wisdom. Anger and denial are the natural first reactions of people for whom the power rules are changing.

Now comes the latest shot in an article by Mark Bauerlein in the Chronicle of Higher Education...and what does it say?

"I can tell when my students have consulted Wikipedia when writing their papers. Sentences lose their singularity, transitions go flat, diction pales. The discourse sounds like information issuing from a neutral platform, not interpretation coming from an angle of vision. "

The article compares the style of wikipedia entries on Moby Dick (I enjoyed the story, but not the harpoon me already) to that of older encylopedia's.

The Professor's conclusion?

"Each one [of the entries in the 'old' sources] is more vibrant and entertaining than the Wikipedia entry. The information is no better, and Wikipedia is, indeed, a marvelous source for a quick date, fact, definition, event. But in style, most entries are deadening."

He goes on to imply that students seem to be incapable of writing with a point of view when using Wikipedia and says "...but I wish I received a lot more biased, opinionated, argumentative, judgmental, stylish, and colorful papers."

Funny, I thought that's what teachers and grades were for...rewarding the desired behavior. Wikipedia and other encyclopedia's shouldn't be confused with primary research...nor with teaching. As a repository of the best available collective knowledge--and a mission that values neutrality--Wikipedia seems to fill an awful lot of demand among the un-Ivoried commoners.

But perhaps we're near a turning point...if the debate is now indeed shifting to stylistic concerns, then maybe we're entering another, happier place on the change curve...acceptance. Who knows, soon maybe the late adopter academics will engage Wikipedia en masse with their leaderly peers and actually try to make it better.

Meanwhile, I'll just continue missing the point of all the angst over the idea that the unwashed masses are not to be entrusted with the power of information unvetted by The Tower. Perhaps the Wikipedia entry about Wikipedia says it all? That or the number of people buying encyclopedias.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A touch too much

The Google Android stalkers have screen shots and video of the latest prototype of this iPhone killer (ok, maybe that is a bit of an overstatement). In addition to the 'hmm, this looks very familiar' reaction, it (The Android project) strikes me as an interesting look into the type of community/cult following that technology can create EVEN BEFORE IT IS AVAILABLE...

What's Android? It's an open source development platform for mobile devices.

So what?

In the always on, always connected world of mobile devices, Google's selected an open-source approach to developing useful technology...a different approach than the Think Different company (which has always preferred proprietary approaches). ..both approaches have their acolytes...and fanatical followers.

Touch screen interfaces have always held an inutitive usability advantage given their support of direct physical manipulation. The Android prototype appears to combine some of the finer features of the iPhone, Samsung and other mobile touch screen interfaces (currently, I am using the HTC Mogul)...proving once again how continuous market learning makes it difficult to sustain a competitive advantage built on technology innovation (anyone seen a drug company growth stock lately?).

Speaking of touch screen innovation, I'm still waiting for someone to invent a touch screen that can be used while eating french fries.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Discover the search engine that pays you back!

Credit card cash back models are coming to search engine marketing...well, at least to Microsift's Livesearch. Microsoft is going to compete with Google by offering to pay people cold hard cash (or at least the kind you get with PayPal) for the purchases they make when using LiveSearch.

Read all about it

So if I use a Discovercard and Livesearch for my purchase, I might be getting 10% off?

As advertisers and marketers, we end up paying Microsoft for the sale instead of the click...that's pay-for-results at it's most per click remains one step removed from the ultimate point of sponsored search. But what do MS get to keep regarding the behavior, demographics and preferences when they control the lead up to transaction?

Credit card companies (notably Discover) have tried this type of 'preferred retailer' approach for years with online shopping applications and agents. One wonders how they might view Microsoft's frenemy perhaps?

Obviously, the pay per purchase model doesn't work for all categories of commerce search. At minimum, it does indicate that the competition for search would seem to have entered a new phase.

UPDATE 5/22: For a more detailed review, some interesting stats and commentary, see the TechCrunch posting from 5/

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why 'viral marketing' is wrong

For one thing, because the term 'viral' isn't usually associated with anything positive--especially online. But lest I appear to be quibbling over terminology, I offer reason number 2:

Because 'viral' appears to be a wholly inaccurate description of how word of mouth actually works online...don't beleive me, though, beleive Science!

A study funded by the National Science Foundation tracked how a few of those notorius 'chain emails' made their way from inbox to know the type...someone fowards you something funny, inspiring or blood boiling...along with the 12 or 13 other 'forwards' that got it to the person before you.

Turns out that messages travel in a much more complex, less direct ways than the disease transmission model would suggest.

From the summary:

"Rather than spreading like a virus, with each message producing many direct "descendents" in the tree diagram, the data suggest that people are selective in forwarding messages to others in their social networks. For example, the researchers discovered that 90 percent of the time, the messages produced only a single descendent."

We've developed a modeller to show the effect of assumptions about pass-along rates in word of mouth campaigns for our clients...I think we will continue to use the most conservative assumptions moving forward.

In addition to specific implications in crafting word of mouth campaigns, this study reiterates how real life communications are usually far more complicated than neat and tidy marketing explanations suggest. Who'd have thought?

For an eye opening commentary on the struggle between art and science, YouTube brings you: Thomas Dolby

Friday, May 16, 2008

Go Granular: Monetizing the online experience

With vast shifts of advertising money into online channels, a question arises: CPM or PayPerClick?

An interesting study at PubMatic shows that CPM values are dropping as of late...At least among the largest websites. And though one month isn;t a trend, the discrepancy between the value of large and small CPM values is noteworthy.

It makes sense of course...CPM's are built on the idea of 'a thousand sets of eyeballs' (do pirates count as one or two eyeballs I wonder?). And yet online, we find that our most granular interests are precisely what we can eyeball at a time (LongTail anyone?).

So as marketers, we can recomend display ads tied to behavioral algorithms associated with web visits. But the largest websites will, by definition, require that our algorithms about relevance be built on equally large guesses about what browsing behavior actually correlates to...paying for such guesses is one model. Paying for a click that 'proves' the accuracy of the guess is another.

The smallest websites, who appear to be maintaining their CPM rates may yet be held accountable to the same standard. For now, they would appear to be capturing the attention of advertisers, perhaps on the premise that they are a more intrinsically relevant place for the people who are to be found there.

Accenture produced a study graphic showing where advertisers expect their money to go in the next five years: Paying for performance arises to overtake the CPM model.

For a captivating look at musical money try the classic:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A post about a video about a dialogue concerning intimacy

We recently provided one of our clients with a few principles for guiding their dialogue marketing efforts.

While most people seem to understand what the word 'dialogue' means, when you add the word 'marketing' to it, the term Dialogue Marketing seems somehow to enter a word nebulizer only to emerge in a thousand little definitions. I'll blame it on marketing. When the American Marketing Association defines marketing like this, you know anything it touches will come with a generous dose of ambiguity...

"Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders." [ref]

What I beleive differentiates dialogue marketing as a term and a practice is that it doesn't see the customer relationship as a thing to be managed, as much as it is a relationship to be engaged.

When one engages someone, it usually carries with it an obligation to understand the other person's wants, needs and priorities...understanding comes through a reciprocal dialogue about what each party can do for the other...and what each wants from the relationship. Sometimes the conversation ends up defining the relationship. The alternative, for marketers, is to talk to your self (kind of like blog posting ;).

Here's an oldie but goody on where a lot of marketing and advertising has been coming from in this discussion...(Thanks for the link Steph)

and here are three qualities and a definition of marketing that leverages dialogue:

1. A vehicle-neutral means of asking, listening and responding to the priorities, needs and wants of individual customers and prospects.

2. A means of identifying and matching an investment in marketing against a relationship's value...from both the marketer's and the individual's perspective.

3. Support for a business strategy that pursues customer intimacy above low price or innovation models.

A defintion: Marketing that engages individual customers and the organization in a reciprocal conversation.

What's in your definition?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Let's play the brand tag game!

The Brand Tags site has a nifty little game of sorts that compels one to define a brand...basically, you see a well known brand logo and then you enter a word or phrase that you associate with it.

While we all should understand by now that a brand exists solely in the individual minds of, um, individual people, this site allows you to see just what's going on in the individual minds of those others who choose to engage.

And while noone would intelligently confuse this with empirical research, it does provide a type of real world insight into the myriad ways in which people define brands...both who, ultimately, owns the brand identity and what it is that they think they own.

Up would be interesting to leverage the terms and phrases from a site like Brand Tags against a search or display ad strategy online for the brands in question...

For instance: If the phrase 'alternative web browser' appears more frequently as the description of the Firefox web browser brand logo than the word 'Firefox' does, wouldn't it make sense to associate the the two terms in the marketing context?

Monday, May 12, 2008

CHM777: Web XdotY

Feeling confused? Just when you think you have the Web 2.0 figured out, the jargoneers tell you that's the old version? SocialWikiGroundswells got you in a Land of Confusion?

Here's a simple taxonomy of WebPointWhatever evolution:

Web 1.0: Static content: you can read it (e.g., an online brochure someone else has created)
Web 2.0: Dynamic content: you can read it and write it (e.g., posting a video, photo or text you created to a site)
Web 3.0: We'll know it when we see it...but it will include read it, write it, execute it. (as in combining data and software to do mapping your personal genome and genetic history)

Wait you say...where's the social? Social, as a Verizon ad might say, is the network. I'm certainly open to other interpretation lenses, but I think this simpler read-write-execute criteria helps one distinguish a difference among the marketing noise.

I suspect the good stuff is in what's after the decimal...Web X.1, 2, etc., as these incremental incarnations reflect the myriad of uses to which people put the web in diverse an agnostic take on the Mies van der Rohe saying, 'Good is in the details'.

Obligatory explanations and support for obscure references:

CHM777 = Change Mode read, write, execute

Disturbing Land of Confusion remake/mashup:

Friday, May 09, 2008

3 for Free Friday

A quick summary of three free web-enabled applications of note this week.

Freebie 1: Google Custom Search--

Google account holders can now generate a search engine for their web site...for free. Sort of. The free version will serve AdWords up with the results...but the results are impressive. We implemented Google Custom Search on our site ( in less than 5 minutes. Users can search the main site, this blog and any other related URLs we might choose. And somehow one more free tool from Google keeps turning into revenue

Value for price paid: $$$

Freebie 2: FontStruct--

FontStruct enable you to create your own fonts using a web browser and then download them as TrueType. For anyone whose ever wanted to create something that reflect their personality type (sorry), this site makes it easy...and free. The only requirements are that you create an account and that the type you create is available under the site's creative commons license. The editing tools are easy, though you won't be creating any hyper-sophisticated flourishes.

Value for price paid: $$

Freebie 3: FreeNet--

The FreeNet project released v0.7.0 after three years of work. What is FreeNet you ask? Well, in FreeNet's own uncensored words, "Freenet is software designed to allow the free exchange of information over the Internet without fear of censorship, or reprisal." See here for more. The project, which has received financial support from companies like Google, employs the efforts of volunteer developers dedicated to the principles of free speech. In their own words "Freedom of speech, in most western cultures, is generally considered to be one of the most important rights any individual might have."

Value for price paid: $$$$

Bonus Friday Freebie: Freewill (your mileage may vary)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Most of the smart people work elsewhere

Bill Joy (a founder of Sun Microsystems) is attributed to a version of the headline phrase.

Bill Joy

I think he was referring to, as we like to say in the Web 2pointWhatever world, 'crowdsourcing' or in code space as 'open source'.

Though you can certainly see examples of crowdsourcing at work in examples as previously posted ( here ) it turns out that the quote has power for what it implies: that no matter how smart you or your institution are, the good ideas are hard to come by day in and day out...and while once upon a time it was difficult to bring groups of dispersed people together to generate good ideas for solving a problem, the interwebs is here now.

As marketers, we might even find that the always-on, interconnected world enables us to engage (shudder!) our customers in the process of ideas...Product designers, engineers, and market researchers are figuring it out (see Nokia, Dell and even Chrysler). Marketers and advertising agencies--the notorious Big Idea people--might find that the biggest and bestest ideas are out there waiting for them...Fifty-plus years after McCluhan predicted it (though using the wrong tool):

In the 1950's Marshall McLuhan proposed a reality television show in which corporations would present their major problems to a mass audience. "For every expert idea that arises inside an organization," McLuhan advised executives, "the public has a thousand better ideas than you ever heard of."

Tapping into those ideas in the new millenium requires only a willingness to ask and to listen...the means are at hand.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A brand as enduring as...clouds

Flogos. That's what an entreprenuer is calling his invention to float company logos in the air as 'clouds'. Up to 6 feet across, the flogos are generated by a machine renting for about $3500 per day.

And while one can see the obvious novelty at county fairs and live events, one does wonder what happens when the wind blows...or when it rains...or how one might interact with a flogo...or measure a result.

Pics and story here

Monday, May 05, 2008

Online video: Attention Deficit Spending

As all breathing humans who care seem to know, the major TV broadcasters are attempting to move their content online in a format hereafter and cleverly referred to as 'Online video'. Great names like Hulu and Joost mask the question these these brave entities undertake: how do you pursue monetization of video content in the land of free?

Well, like many newspapers have found out, it may turn out that they don' least not as much as they did when they controlled the means of production, the distribution channel and the supply of attention.

Mark Cuban has a post talking about a' la carte content and its implication on his blog. An interesting excerpt:

On the web, early evidence suggests that consumers will tune out – click away – if they are forced to watch more than 30 seconds or so of advertising up front, and maybe another 90 seconds of advertising over the next thirty minutes., for example, which has already been lionized by many as the future of TV, serves two minutes of advertising for every 22 minutes of programming(i.e. the programming duration of a typical half hour show from television). Assuming identical CPMs for web video and TV, and after accounting for lost affiliate fees, a 30 minute program on the web with two minutes of advertising yields approximately 1/8th as much revenue per viewer. Are content producers prepared to reduce production 88%?

They better be. Content is commodity to everyone but the individual who finds it of some value. And in the online world, where an individual's interests can be identified and served individually, the method to monetization of content may be that, in fact, content providers pay consumers for their attention. Say what?

Let's ask a few questions and suggest answers:

Q: If content is available but you don't know about it, does it have value to you?
A: Potentially, but not actually.

Q: If you are aware of content but are unwilling to spend time with it, does it have value to you?
A: No.

Q: If you are aware of content, you are willing to spend time with it, and therefore it has some value to you, what is it worth?
A: What you are willing to money (pay per view) or attention (willingness to watch adverts).

So, as a content provider online my objectives are simple:

1. Be sure that I make you aware of content you care about.
2. Price my content at a level you are willing to pay (in the form of time-as NCB has done with its ad supported content--or money--as NBC has done with it's $1.99 downloads fo commerical free programming for the Zune media player).
3. Match my investment in content to the market for it. (NBC has to sell alot of $1.99 episodes or get alot of advertisers willing to support 30 minutes of programming in exchage for 120 seconds of advertisements)

Simple enough. But how?

If I knew that in detail I'd be somewhere else...but you can reason that it would involve the following:

1. Consumer Search
2. Contextual Advertising
3. Social Networking/Community Content
4. All of the above
5. None of the above

As it stands, mass media franchises seem to be pursuing none of the above quite well...Google, Yahoo, and the other online networks seem already to be integrating All of the above.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Anti-Brand: Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto 4 is now in stores. For all the unseemly elements of the GTA game series, it does go to great pains to incorporate parody and, one might even say, satire into the GTA world.

Though I find myself now less enamored of immersive, virtual world/games like GTA, Runescape and Second Life, they do present unique opportunities for hiding humor bombs in the nooks and crannies of the game space. And here comes GTA4 with a satiric smack at one of the decades most revered brands: Apple.

The references play mostly on the perception of some that Apple is a brand for effete elitists.
More screen grabs and description at The Unofficial Apple Weblog.

So what?
It's just a game...for gamers. Except that this game is anticipated to sell nearly 13 Million units this year. And with distribution like that for what is arguably as immersive an online experience as it gets, one wonders where a brand's loyalties might be found...or found the minds of GTA4 players.
The GTA4 Apple easter egg also reminds me that for any brand that becomes 'fashionable' there will inevitably be a counter-fashion that seeks to think different.
UPDATE 5/7/08: GTA4 delivers $500 Million in sales in the first week...6 million units of the game...that's a lot of engagement anyway you look at it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day, May Day: Spam turns 30

May 1, 2008, marks the 30th anniversary of Rhea + Kaiser. Van Kaiser and Steve Rhea certainly had some sense of what they intended when they, and 6 brave souls, started their agency. Congratulations and may success continue!

A much less auspicious event also took place 30 years ago today: the first piece of unsolicited commercial email was sent. In what Wired Magazine reports as Spam, from novelty to nuisance in a couple of decades, we are reminded that what something seems on a small scale can seem to be something completely different when the power of computing is applied on a large scale.

In 2007 for instance, Barracuda Networks (maker of Spam filters and email applicances) reported that 95% of all email was classified as spam:

As marketers, email can seem an appealing vehicle to reach out and touch prospects and customers. The plague of Spam reminds us that what seems like a good idea to the sender can become something completely different in the eyes of the receiver.