22 posts categorized "Technology"

November 09, 2012

Technology and Live Events: Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013

  Framed_woodstock2012_h

The Question

What might one of the iconic music and cultural events of the past century – Woodstock – look like today with the integration of digital and social technologies, especially with Twitter as the network?  And how might this compare almost 20 years later to the first experimental integration of digital consumer technology into the 25th anniversary of that live event?  (If your reading time is limited, go to the sections in this post labeled "Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013" and "Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements.")

The Background

In 1969, Joni Mitchell said, "Woodstock was a spark of beauty" where half-a-million kids "saw that they were part of a greater organism." Without any real outside media coverage during the event, that experience was initially limited to those camped out for 4 days at the 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York.  The true size of that “greater organism” and the full impact of the cultural experience that transformed and energized a group into the “Woodstock generation”  - came later, delayed by limitations in distributing and sharing the experience.

Cut away to the present time, and we see widely adopted consumer media creation technologies and platforms like Twitter that when creatively deployed (with smart production values and rock solid engineering) in areas such as politics, entertainment, and sports  - create real-time living breathing “organisms” (we might now say audience or community) that are “Woodstock worthy” in terms of the potential for impact - and that powerfully bridge the physical and digital worlds for both those at the event and others geographically separated from the event and each other by even thousands of miles.

So it’s not surprising that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently told the Wall Street Journal that the company is evolving to "more closely tie the shared experience on Twitter to the actual event that is happening."  And the proof of that is certainly found in the company’s track record of just the past 6 months as Twitter has made some bold and successful partnership and production moves into the live event integration arena with examples such as:

  • NASCAR – Launching a relationship with the first sports organization to create an enhanced live event experience on the platform.  (May 2012)
  • The London Olympics – Partnering with a major main stream media company, NBCUniversal, along with major brands such as GE, to create an infrastructure and experience that aggregated and parsed millions of tweets from athletes, fans, and commentators. (July-August 2012)
  • The US Presidential Debates and Election Night Coverage – Redefining the relationship between first and second screen in terms of information, conversation, and delivery of candidate announcements.  (October – November 2012) 

The Experiment

So what if we now take Woodstock - one of the most surprising and culturally redefining live music events of the past 50 years - and use the lens of technology powered media and engagement – to see how the spirit and experience of the 1969 original was translated with early digital technology in its first “reissue” at the 25th Anniversary in 1994, and what a “reimagined Woodstock” might be in 2013/2014 with the kinds of technologies and experiences we have today, with twitter as the empowering network.

A quick comparison table here with frameworks, specifics, and flowcharts following.   Download Woodstock Comp Grid

The 25th Anniversary of Woodstock 

In August 1994, the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock was held over a three-day period at the 800-acre upstate New York farm that had been initially intended for the first event.  This was the first time that the iconic brand had ever been revisited as an event, and the producers who had also set the stage for the original phenomena, wanted to remain true to that initial vision while also adding relevance for what they described as “a generation who was reading William Gibson and getting up on the Internet.”

(NOTE: This was quite a statement to be made at that time. In 1994, there were only 1500 Web servers online, the Mosaic browser had just come out one year earlier, Earthlink was launching, and Yahoo was about a browser and content index. No Google, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube. There were no smart phones, and consumer digital still and video cameras were expensive and limited in resolution.  Platforms to distribute media were limited to videotape and CDROM, with containers and authoring systems being jerry-rigged around software such as Macromedia Director.)

But what was the same then versus now?  The drive to create and share information and experiences.

An 8-acre area of the festival field was carved out and named “The Surreal Field” with interactive experiences from artists like Todd Rundgren and Peter Gabriel.  This was also where a 4000 square foot tented production facility (plus an adjoining semi truck with mobile video editing bays) was built in which Woodstock concert goers could observe the behind-the-scenes creation of the twice-daily Woodstock News “video magazine” by a team of two dozen videographers, editors, animators, blue screen operators, composers, programmers, onscreen talent, field reporters, producers and directors working nearly round the clock.  Story types included Woodstock history and event pre-production, behind the scenes interviews, artist interviews, concert audience “ambush style” interviews, “question of the day” blue screen interviews, creative and gaming tech stories, and the concert schedule for the day.

Additionally, limited amounts of text-based reporting were sent out each day via an Apple Web Server.  Yes, limited Internet access was pulled into this portion of the 800 acre cow pasture for this purpose.

A simple flow chart (click image below for larger size image) of the creation of the Woodstock News in terms of people, equipment, and infrastructure. Almost two dozen people, more than 12 Macintosh computers and 24 monitors just to handle acquisition, digitizing, and output to a distribution format from “professional” sources.  No opportunity for “audience” contribution or feedback other than the limited offering in field interviews and blue screen “question of the day” segments.

Framed WoodstockProdFlow

 

  • Woodstocknewsroom
  • Woodstock_jumbo_Blog
  • Woodstock News Storyboard
  • *band schedule image
  • WoodQuestionDay 2
  • Woodpress
  • Woodstockk Logo
Woodstockk Logo

 

My observation at the time on the people and the technology, and live events as platforms for testing creative and technical boundaries. I think it’s very relevant no matter the year – then or now.

"Sometimes it’s almost more about how well your team will coalesce and how they will deal with the elements and difficult situations - mud, crowds, thunderstorms, close-quarter housing - than if the technology will work.  Rock and roll festivals are great places to test the boundaries of multimedia, both from a technical as well as a creative sense.  From a creative perspective, you have to create something that will really grab and maintain people’s attention - from the front row to the guy standing half a mile from the stage watching the Jumbotrons.  And technically, you never know what you might face in terms of the elements causing problems with your equipment - dust in the video deck heads, thunderstorms during which you have to power down, rain coming in through AC vents - and there is no local Apple dealer around when you are out in the middle of what is essentially an 840-acre cow pasture."

Using Twitter to Reimagine a Woodstock for 2013

There are innumerable ways that one could reimagine and engineer a Woodstock  with the wealth of broadly distributed digital and social technologies available to both professionals and the “consumer” audience today, the user experience, design and technical skills that have developed from experiments on many platforms, and the mobile element – which did not exist for anyone at any price before.


Framed WoodstockTwitter2013Infographic

This is a simple flow chart (click for full size image) showing the sourcing of various forms (created by both pro and user) of media content and conversation directly and indirectly into Twitter, and then the moderation, curation, and filtration of that along with the tweet wrapper content itself -  based on both human editorial and rule sets – to create output, visualizations, and control streams back out to various distribution types, displays, and devices.

The description and schematic above in this post represent just one possible “reimagining” (with Twitter as the primary network).  It is meant more as a sketchpad for thinking more deeply from creative, technical and business perspectives of what we can do now in bridging the physical and digital worlds (in both real-time and asynchronously) in ways that were never before possible.  And those new kinds of experiences may well create the “sparks of beauty” and connection to a “greater organism” that Joni Mitchell talked about in the opening of this post. 

  • It  - and that which it surfaces and displays by separating the signal from the noise - can become part of the event/show itself;
  • It can take a deeper show experience to other people outside of the event space (geographic independence synchronously) and time (asynchronous);
  • It can change the “planned” nature of the event itself, by content and conversation created by the audience locally and in other areas;
  • It can spark unexpected cultural shifts.

Woodstock-Twitter Schematic Elements

(1) Content Input Sources into Twitter

How might media of all forms come into Twitter at a major live event such as a reimagined Woodstock?  Significantly different from the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock, media comes from both the pros and the audience.  And depending on the synchronous nature of the event, that audience may not be geographically determined or bounded.

From the event producers, pros, and the artists themselves, we might see:

  • Video elements such as live streaming, edited packages included historical and behind the scenes stories, video bits from location-based monitoring cameras (like DropCams), and timelapse;
  • Audio delivery via live streaming, asynchronous stream or download, edited and packaged interviews and commentary;
  • Individual iconic photos and high quality photo packages;
  • Engagement activities constructed around live tweet chats, polling, alerts, and announcements;
  • Information and data generating devices automatically generating data to a “Tweet card” output based on some behavior by attendees.

For the “audience” both geographically near and far, the ability to create media and commentary is unprecedented.

  • Visual media creation from smart phones, DSLRs, and GoPro cameras, loaded directly to Twitter or attached via intermediary site (e.g. video to YouTube or photo to Instagram).  Short video bursts via perhaps Vine or Viddy.  Longer form via YouTube, Vimeo, and other newly emerging video distribution platforms.
  • Comments and text posts

(2) Separating the Relevant Signal from the Noise

As software advances (including Mass Relevance and other custom software) and real-time human curation skills develop, the effective (from both production and engineering perspectives) moderation, curation and filtration of the vast sea of tweets and associated media from such an event can be parsed and routed to the right people and devices (both private and public) that not only enhance, but change the very nature of a live experience such as a Woodstock

(3) Experience Outputs and Destinations

Twitter content may then be filtered and edited into dynamic media packages, or the underlying data translated into infographics, guides, and maps.  For example:
  • Event page curation as was seen at the 2012 Olympics, with in the not too distant future, the option to add another layer of personal filtering based on geography, demographics, or interests;
  • Tweet streams, editorially selected tweets, and tweet visualizations sent to venue-based displays, as well as out to various broadcast and Web partners;
  • Tweet activity informing real time maps and “programming guides” to optimize the experience of both on-site attendees as well as those at a distance; (See Twitter's Director of TV Fred Graver’s talk including comments about Twitter creating real-time programming guides – a live event is not that different;
  • Tweet activity and conversation turning into data that controls onsite or remote devices, offering up new forms of activities and entertainments that the “Twitter audience” creates intentionally or unintentionally through it’s actions.

More than a moment in time. It’s a way of being in the world.

This is true not only for a major live event with deep cultural influence, but also for Twitter itself.

Beyond the ideas sketched in this post, fully conceiving a reimagined Woodstock size live event would also require looking deeply into engineering issues, brand engagement opportunities, and revenue models including and beyond creative advertising and sponsorship. This party is just getting started, so to speak.  

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June 13, 2011

What’s Past Is Prologue – The Link Between Early CDROM Publishing and Today’s Digital Books and Storytelling Apps

  HyperCardBrochure (HyperCard brochure cover excerpt, 1987)

 

“What’s past is prologue.” – William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” (1610-1611)

 

In William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” (1610-1611), the character of Antonio utters the phrase “What’s past is prologue” which in modern times has come to mean that history influences, and sets the context for, the present.  Such is the case if we look at the links between the vision of media-rich computer-based storytelling from approximately 20 years ago (1987-1991) with the possibilities that the iPad now offers for realizing some of those dreams  - if not now, then in the very near future.   That is, if we get a few things right this time.

In preparing this post, I spoke with some colleagues from the early days of “New Media” at Apple including:

  • Hugh Dubberly, who was a creative director at Apple and co-creator of the famed “Knowledge Navigaor” video . He now runs an interaction design and information architecture firm.
  • John Worthington, who was a pioneering software engineer in the areas of sound and video (QuickTime, Sound Manager, MIDI Manager) in Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, and is a software architect, inventor and performing musician today. 
  • Antonia Chappelle, who was an interactive producer/business development exec at groundbreaking CDROM publishing companies Voyager and Inscape, and has now founded iPad publishing company Sage Tales which recently released its first title “The Venetian.”

 

1987: Past as Prologue

In 1987, Apple produced a video that articulated a vision of the computing future called “The Knowledge Navigator.”  It painted a story of a near future with a portable tablet-like device with high-speed connectivity and new UI paradigms (e.g. touch and voice) enabling a highly personal visual convergence of documents, rich media and data with autonomous agents acting on our behalf (what we might think of now as “friends,” semantic search, intelligent readers, and curators).

That same year, Apple released Macintosh veteran Bill Atkinson’s HyperCard, one of the first interactive authoring platforms “combining database capabilities with a graphical, flexible, user-modifiable interface.” This was an important “entry level” authoring platform with a pathway to adding some more sophisticated programming and media control options.  One big drawback that limited HyperCard – there was no powerful global network (or browser) to access non-local (beyond on the computer or a CD) information or remotely connect people and ideas.  And there were certainly few hints anywhere of the powerful social networks of today (with AOL and The WELL as the only real players in the space at the time).

“Hypercard as an end user authoring system had a low bar of entry but gradually stepped up to sophisticated programming …  It was really powerful but there was no Internet.  It could work over a LAN but there really were no networks. It (the Internet) was still locked up … This thing that was a “war device” could be used for commerce and information exchange…. (But) laws had to change as well as technology. “– Hugh Dubberly

 

The Limitations of the Past

With a vision of a rich media connected computing future that is not much different from the reality of today, married with the beginnings of an authoring platform that could, at some level, address different levels of programming sophistication – why did we not have the potential explosion of interactive storytelling that is possible today?  The late 1980’s to mid 1990’s rich-media storytelling world was largely a great experimental playground populated by a mix of avante-garde experience creators/artists and some mainstream entertainment brands repurposing existing properties.  But the playground never evolved into a sustainable business.  Why?

(1) Immature authoring platforms

HyperCard was a start, but never evolved into a mature authoring platform.  Even Macromedia Director, which became the workhorse of the time, was still in its technical infancy and largely held developers at its mercy.  With a lack of both powerful cross-platform tools and an ecosystem of APIs to plug in and extend functionality quickly and inexpensively, both creative and technical expertise was disproportionately focused on solving rudimentary problems rather than envisioning what the storytelling experience could become.

(2) Long and expensive development cycle

Development cycles for early interactive CDROM titles were often in the 12-18 month range, with the deployment of teams of significant size (10-20 people or more).  Development was expensive, not only as a result of time, but because of the expense of specialized platforms – high end desktop computers ($20-30k) with additional expensive memory, hard drives that had to be physically moved around offices between machines because of lack of networks (with a cost of $10/meg for a device), limited – if any- opportunity for distributed collaborative teams without the Internet and online storage/file sharing, and often expensive ($5k/development computer) software licenses.

(3) Lack of interactive design and development experience

Outside of the MIT Media Lab (founded in 1985),   there were few individuals with any experience in interactive design.  And while both design and engineering talent for these kinds of projects was difficult to find, it was nearly impossible to hire an individual who could bring some level of both design experience and engineering knowledge to the medium.

(4) Limited distribution

Many early developers of interactive titles saw distribution as the single largest obstacle that they faced, even more so than the expense of development/teams and the lack of tools. Because the end game for a title was a CDROM disc, both physical production and physical distribution were necessary.  There was no one button publish or Apps Store.

“Distribution was difficult, if not impossible, to capture if you weren’t a major entertainment company.  In order to compete you had to be able to buy shelf space and end caps at a price tag of $100,000 or more.  And even at that price, you were still competing against big game titles.  This made things difficult for any immersive storytelling company at the time.” - Antonia Chappelle 

(5) Pricing options

Because of the expense of development and limited market size, CDROM titles were priced more like the platform video games of today ($49 or more), as opposed to the free or $.99 apps of today. 

There is a very different consumer expectation of value, and willingness to experiment, when the cost is $49 vs less than $1.  How many units of the Angry Birds app would be out in the market if it cost nearly $50 vs $1?

(6) Niche audience

Audience size was limited because of player platform requirements. Early interactive CR-ROM titles usually required higher end computers for playback to handle graphics, video and audio.  Higher end machines naturally skewed to the early adopter, male dominated, gamer audience – an enthusiastic group, but limited in size then and very specific in its tastes.

“ …people had to have higher end machines, so naturally this  skewed more gamer … (but) to be truthful,  we really didn’t know who the audience was .  We were driven more by experimentation than business.” - Antonia Chappelle 

(7) No consumer Internet

With the inability to build in any network connectivity (beyond a LAN for some specialized business applications), developers had to limit their content and code to the 650 megs that could be squeezed onto a CDROM, or deal with issues of multi-CDROM installations on customers’ computers.  This limited choices about breath and quality of media (and why we saw video postage stamps of 1/16 the size of screens in even the most advanced titles)

 

As a result of these 7 key limitations (“7 deadlies”), early interactive/immersive storytelling was limited in market size, and was dominated economically (although not creatively) by large media companies who already had channel and brand awareness to address the physical distribution channel issue at some level.  As large entities, risk mitigation played a greater factor in decision-making than it did for the independent developer community – resulting in many “best-selling” titles coming from repurposed books or other media, often lacking a particular editorial point of view for what the medium could be.

 

Then vs Now - The Rise of iPad and the Demise of the 7 Deadlies

What’s different now and why won’t 2011 be a repeat of the “failed” (at least from a business point of view) efforts of the 1980s and 1990s?

Over the past two decades, all but one of the “7 deadlies” has been addressed.  The average consumer’s access to baseline processing power and bandwidth is significantly better.  Development teams are perhaps 1/6 the size with virtual geographically distributed teams taking ½ the development time of some of the original titles. Interactive design expertise still continues to evolve, but has moved out of its “ransom note” beginnings.  The market and appetite is no longer only “gamer niche” when over 150 million people have their credit card numbers in Apple’s iTunes Store alone. And the Internet has 15+ years in front of consumers, bringing in a volume of content and connection not even conceivable in the early interactive days – but with user and design experiences that generally fell far short of those developed in early interactive CDROM titles.

“Apple's iPad is a milestone in computing, because it brings together for the first time several capabilities long in development. Vannevar Bush (1945), Douglas Engelbart (1962, 1968), and Ted Nelson (1974) articulated early visions of computers as tools the average person might use to organize their own research. SRI, PARC, and Apple demonstrated the power of graphical user interfaces and direct manipulation. HyperCard and Director ushered in a "revolution" in interactive multi-media, but 600 MB CDs were the only medium for distribution. The Internet exploded onto the scene in 1995 providing distribution but taking a 10-year step backwards in terms of media and interactivity. iPad is the first device to bring together rich media, interactivity, portability, and broad distribution.” – Hugh Dubberly

So which one of “the 7 deadlies” still needs to be addressed?  It’s mostly about authoring platforms, although one can debate there is still a distribution limitation focused now around “how one rises above the noise once you get in the free apps stores, were certain companies have a lot of say about success.”

 

The Remaining Deadly - Authoring Platforms

While the Internet took us steps ahead in accessing and distributing information, entertainment and conversation, it took us many steps back in terms of authoring and design.  And that’s not surprising if you consider and believe this:  looking at the Internet as something that was initially structured to transmit 20-30 page physics papers, and then various individuals found ways to bolt on code and brute force morph that system into something that could distribute cat videos or sell stuff, and create multimillion dollar valuations.

Now if we are to move ahead and take the best of the vision of “Knowledge Navigator” and merge it with that of the Internet, thoughtful development of authoring platform(s) needs to be addressed.

“2011 is like 1991 all over again  -  a new revolution in interactive multi-media. HTML-CSS-JS-SVG offer a great deal of potential, much of it still untapped. But we lack good authoring tools at all levels from end-user to professional designers and authors…. As good as it is, iPad has no authoring environment … Quite a number of iPad information utilities or intelligent aggregators have emerged… All of these services are new and evolving. We're quite a ways from a final or even a stable form.” – Hugh Dubberly

Given this, there are several challenges/development areas that will need to be addressed to get to a true authoring platform that enables many (not just the “tech elite”) to develop immersive storytelling and information sharing experiences (that are neither pure books/magazines, video/documentaries or social platforms):

  1. Intelligent readers and social aggregators that can learn from user behavior and facilitate discovery beyond intentional search of a friend’s “Like” (cross reference this to my prior posts on Flipboard etc);
  2. Richer “book/magazine” authoring platforms that contain social elements (to facilitate media as catalysts for conversation) and more structural information beyond a list of words and pages – reflected in richer navigation, parallel information, linking, collecting and curating one’s own and group material);
  3. Interactive video (and photos) authoring platforms beyond simple linear editing and navigation;
  4. Mobile authoring platform as opposed to authoring on PC.

 

Moving Forward to “Past Is Prologue”

With the development of the right authoring tools and APIs we may well move to a “Media and Story Convergence 2.0” where we see the digital and physical worlds; journalism, publishing and broadcasting; social and personal; services and commerce – all come together in a meaningful, accessible, mass market way - after a nearly 20 year hiatus since the first experimental attempts.

“It’s exactly the same thing people were trying to do with HyperCard.  What has changed is of course the platform … Now with Push Pop Press the real stunning thing about it is consistency of vision throughout the book… Part of it is about the willingness to do things on a grand scale, to go beyond repurposing.  People really thought about the material and the right way to present this… Brain cycles can now be spent against the bigger issues – and not the struggle of the 90’s with so many basic technology issues ….”  - John Worthington  


“Imagine an updated version of HyperCard running on smart phones, enabling 10-year-olds everywhere to develop contents and apps. That will create a revolution equivalent to the invention of pocket books which made possible universal education and literacy. ” – Hugh Dubberly

 

So to the innovative developers who have pieces of what a powerful authoring platform could be - Push Pop Press, Zite, Flipboard, Inkling, and others -  the games have begun.   The past is waiting.  Patiently, perhaps.  Favicon

 

May 15, 2011

If "All Politics Is Personal," Then for 2012 Will It Also Be Increasingly Social and Semantic?

  PoliticalMagazines2012

(Image top right: Flipboard.  Image bottom left: Zite.  Image bottom right : Push Pop Press "Our Choice."  Click on image above to see full size image.)

 

Politics and the Internet, as well as politics and the personal, are inextricably linked.  This may offer up some interesting new opportunities for "political magazines" (built around individuals’ social graph, expressed interests and inferred semantic behaviors) via "publishing platforms" like Flipboard, Zite, and even Push Pop Press - depending on their respective development and business plans.

In 2003, the Howard Dean campaign demonstrated that the Internet could be used effectively to raise campaign funds.  In the 2008 Obama for America Presidential Campaign, a relatively small team demonstrated that digital, social and mobile platforms had graduated from fundraiser status to gamechanger. (Twitter was in its infancy when the Obama campaign sent out its first tweet in April 2007.) And outside of American politics, many of the defining moments for Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook have been around political issues and movements.

What did not exist in these earlier campaigns was the iPad and technology platforms that could enable the construction of personalized political/issue “magazine” experiences built around individuals’ social graph, expressed interests and inferred semantic behaviors – with both deep archival and breaking content of all media types. With thoughtful experience design added to the equation, platforms from companies such as Flipboard, Zite and the underlying technology from PushPopPress could evolve and be used to create a new kind of living mobile political campaign magazine for the upcoming 2012 election.

 

"Like a lot of Web innovators, the Obama campaign did not invent anything completely new. Instead, by bolting together social-networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns, and get out the vote…” – David Carr

 

A Look Back at the 2008 Obama “New Media” Campaign

The campaign generated a connection with “users” in ways that had never been achieved before, and was based around the facilitation of the dissemination and sharing of massive quantities of media (interlinked with actionable opportunities) across many platforms, with minimal effort (given small size of the team). A quick recap of some of the main elements: (for more details, see a great 2009 case study written by Kimberly Smith for Marketing Profs).

  • Main campaign website: My.BarackObama.com was designed to be the comprehensive resource point with media, how-tos, transcripts, and opportunities for involvement.
  • Video: The campaign’s YouTube channel eventually held 1800 videos with over 18 million views. Ustream.tv served almost a million hours of live video streams during the campaign.
  • Photos: The Flickr account included official event photos as well as candid views.  (There was no Instagram,Path or other social photo sharing apps at that time.)
  • Social technologies: Numerous Facebook groups were created and updated daily not only for Barack and Michelle Obama, but also for every state and innumerable interest groups. Twitter was in its infancy when the campaign sent its first tweet in April 2007 (with under 300 followers for @BarckObama). LinkedIn was used to present questions and discussions to the (largely) business community.
  • Mobile: The campaign developed an iPhone app that included news, photos, videos, location specific engagement opportunity information (using GPS), and user’s contacts organized by state for campaign calling. The opt-in nature of the mobile strategy provided the campaign with a community with robust profiles on almost 3 million participants by the August 2008 VP announcement.

Possibilities for the Personal-Social Political Magazine 2011-2012

If 2007-2008 was about brute strength and enthusiasm fueling the cobbling together of the various digital initiatives, perhaps 2011-2012 will see the addition of the elegant auto-generated (and two-way) “personal and social political magazine” generated by new tools from companies such as Flipboard, Zite or even a more social-enabled version of PushPopPress (with various evolution of the tools required).

If “O Magazine” and my Twitter feed can be social magazines via Flipboard … If  Zite can learn about my interests and serve me up more undiscovered content … If Push Pop Press can create Al Gore’s “Our Choice” to merge the models  of the book with documentary film … Then why can’t a party, a politician or a cause have the same kind of possibility of creating an engaging, ever changing environment of media resources (from archival to breaking) and social conversations/sharings around their “brand?”

That new personalized political magazine could include integration of all the disparate elements we saw in the 2008 Obama campaign into one dynamic package (although one could still go to the individual platforms as well).  We might see in these "magazines":

  1. Curation of the political articles/videos your friends have found most useful and interesting
  2. Revelation of influential sources and expertise from sources you didn’t know about (avoiding the personal echo chamber)
  3. Revelation of related issues and discussion documents (to what you have already requested or that has been pushed via a programmed feed)
  4. Options to select information on opposing points of view on particular issues
  5. Historical issue and poll timelines and dynamic infographics and maps generated on the fly
  6. Deep archival issues video presented in relationship to relevant current writings
  7. Live streaming video integrated with info graphics, social curation, feedback, polls and calls to action
  8. Polls, real-world engagement opportunities, and messaging/texting supplied in realtime relating to your interests, reading/viewing path, and geolocation data (of you and friends)
  9. Realtime social sharing of media as well as personal highlighting of media
  10. New models of "opt-in" database building, as well as advertising and fundraising

Data and Insights

Think of the interesting breadcrumb trails of action data to be culled from the various browsings of such an integrated, dynamically built, and two-way “magazine”  - the reading of a tweet from a political curator that leads to a YouTube video that leads to a campaign donation and hosting of an event with 20 friends that generates instantly shared photos curated back into the Twitter feed and displayed in the magazine. Additionally, there would be an incredible learning opportunity for mapping people’s information sources, interests,sharing propensities, and their relationship to various stances on critical issues by discrete geograhic location (even via GPS).

Platforms Need to Evolve

In order for this kind of experience to occur, there would need to be evolution in the development of the technical and design capabilities (eg interactive graphics) of the various  social magazine (Flipboard) and personal semantic learning magazines (Zite), or alternatively the integration of these kinds of social and semantic capabilities into the rich-media book/documentary model of PushPopPress .  Some ideas:

  1. Combination of social curated, search generated, and semantic discovered content across a complex topic definition in a single "magazine" format (not in multiple panes in Flipboard or separate list categories in Zite).
  2. Opportunity to more powerfully discover, capture and retain content of interest from your quickly flowing “historical social stream” to get beyond the timeline model to the “personally important model” that is driven by both “discovery and unexpected delight.”
  3. Intuitive and powerful “bookmarking and clipping” functionality to collect and share entire pieces of media or only highlighted and annotated sections (think scrapbook).
  4. Dynamic integrations of various media types from multiple sources into a single screen experience – eg streaming live debate video with an interactive map and poll, curated related analysts' content that can bookmark, conversing/tweets with friends, fundraising around the issue being debated
  5. Balance between content and sources that are asked for, and new serendipitous information and sources that would be useful and revealing. This goes to the ideas in Steven Johnson’s book “Emergence” where he presents the idea that a newspaper tailored to the tastes of a person on a given day will lead to too much positive feedback in that direction, and people's choices/offerings would be permanently skewed for the rest of their lives.
  6. Addition of new interactive media types.
  7. Smarter deduping of shared media via social relationships so that the same video or url is not shared multiple times from multiple sources using multiped url shorteners.

The Near Future

“Much of the creativity and spirit they (Obama 2008 digital team) brought with online tools to help galvanize grass-roots supporters in 2008, they will be trying to re-create this time with an ambitious online presence. This was evident when Mr. Obama began his re-election effort this month with an e-mail and text-message blast, posts on Twitter, a short video on YouTube and a new app that connects supporters and their Facebook friends to his campaign Web site with a question: Are you in?”NY Times Blog: The Caucus

And in the not too distant future (later this year?), might this not also include political iPad magazines that have content that is both professionally created (by candidate/party) as well as "personally" curated via social platforms, search generation and semantic learning?  Favicon

 

April 20, 2011

Will 2011 Finally See the Realization of the 1995 Idea “The Daily Me” - and Beyond?

FlipboardBeingDigital

"To be a viable publisher in this new world you have to think about how your content is going to map to social real-time experience."  - Mike McCue, CEO, Flipboard, 2011

 

Imagine a future in which your interface agent can read every newswire and newspaper and catch every TV and radio broadcast on the planet, and then construct a personalized summary… It (the newspaper) would mix headline news with “less important” stories relating to acquaintances, people you will see tomorrow, and places you are about to go to or have just come from … Call it The Daily Me.” -  “Being Digital” (p 153) by Nicholas Negroponte, 1995

  

The Future Is Today

Sixteen years ago in 1995, Nicholas Negroponte wrote one of the seminal books of the early days of digital media and design called “Being Digital.”  In Chapter 12 of that book, there is a brief two page section entitled “Personal Filters” in which he sketches the vision of “The Daily Me,” a personalized newspaper that would migrate us from the world of general print (atoms) to that of personalized electronic bits (see his quote above).

A lot has had to happen since then to turn this from prognostication/science fiction into the possibilities we are now seeing popping up most predominantly on our iPads.  Remember that in 1995:

  • Netscape was but a year old (Navigator 1.0 browser),
  • Steve Jobs was at NeXT,
  • the fastest commercial cell phone network anywhere was 2G in Japan,
  • the coining of the term Wi-Fi and the first version of RSS were still 4 years away,
  • companies like Google (1997), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and Twitter (2006) wouldn’t be founded for years

In the decade and a half since then, the Web evolved into an amazing cacophonous, and certainly imperfect, information source – filled with innumerable pieces of content of all types (words, numbers, photos, audio, video) – with the “good/relevant” sharing equal shelf space with “bad/irrelevant.” And with technology development generally outpacing the integration of thoughtful experience design, even that deemed “good and relevant” was often surrounded by distractions and elements that diminished its value and the experience – often made in pursuit of an elusive, but needed, revenue model or some way to optimize search.  Then, more recently, layer in the supersonic speed of information sharing via social technologies like Facebook and Twitter, and it becomes a near full time job for mere mortals to sift the “signal from the noise.”  (This is at least true for the information junkies among us).

 

 

The Problem and a Need for a New More Human Experience

 

For the most part, the truth is out.  Except for a few media sources accessed religiously, a growing portion of news and entertainment finds us via friends, followers, communities, loose ties, and vertical curators. (Whether we “consume” it in the social space, or go to the media brand source with social primarily serving as discovery and trusted referral service, is another discussion.)

 

On the other side of the media equation, publishing brands are struggling with maintaining control of the content they pay professionals to create, installing paywalls, fighting social syndication, bringing in or contracting technical expertise to create their own branded apps, and perhaps “burdened” with old Web thinking and assumptions that people already know of their content and its relevance for them (excluding the opportunity for new serendipitous discovery/new audience).  At what cost?  And might there be another road (not necessarily exclusive of these) to take?

 

The problem with journalism on the Web today is that it's being contaminated by the Web form factor. What I mean is, journalists are being pushed to do … stuff meant to attract page views …  that are really distracting for the reader, so it's not a pleasant experience to 'curl up' with a good website. … Journalism is being pushed into a space where I don't think it should ever go, where it's trying to support the monetization model of the Web by driving page views. … Let's leverage the power of the Web -- don't get rid of it, but make the Web beautiful again. We need to give the content room to breathe, and give magazine-style advertisements the opportunity to flourish.”  - Mike McCue, Flipboard

 

So What's the Win-Win?

For the consumer audience: it’s the creation of a mobile media “enjoyment” tool for the average person, not another power user dashboard that fills large monitors and enables the parsing and scheduling of content. It’s a platform that, in essence, reinvents the Web content model – by providing, in one aggregated place, what the individual specifically requests/wants or what they would enjoy if they knew about it – without inundating them with everything and expecting them to sift.

  • Platform that can help me find what is most relevant to me from a variety of sources - branded, social, curated, semantic-search aggregated - and present the totality in a visual structure that encourages emotional and intellectual exploration and engagement (vs. just clicking).
  • Customization of sources if desired – passively (via technology in the background observing human behavior), and actively via conscious human choice.
  • Creation of “magazines, portfolios or movies” of content pieces that are additive in nature, rather than providing duplicative coverage of a story with the same reference sources,
  • Presentation in a beautiful engaging way that encourages scanning, as well as reading/viewing, bookmarking, highlighting, sharing, and saving
  • Collection and presentation of all media types around a content areas within a single wrapper – text, photo, audio and video

 

For media brands and publishers: it’s about providing a viable technology platform option and place to aggressively experiment with a reinvention of the possibilities of digital content surfacing, presentation and monetization less constrained by some of the “Web rule” legacy that results in “unnatural behaviors” to generate clicks.  There is a chance to be able to design and provide information and entertainment – to tell stories - in ways designed for human behaviors and not merely Web optimization behaviors that humans tolerate.

Could they make far more money than they ever have on the Web in the past  - when they can get the combination of broader distribution and better targeting leading to larger ad, commerce and even ticket/event subscription revenues – with “The Digital Me” as the way they finally tap into real digital revenues (which for pre Internet entertainment company sector in particular, has been strictly second class)?

  • Platform that rewards playing to the strengths of storytelling and understanding the audience
  • Choices of revenue opportunities from multiple sources, including and beyond re-imagined advertising and subscriptions (see “Evolution” section below) – that supports and evolves the brand essence and the creation of great stories
  • New promotion and discovery opportunities that maintain brand and creator integrity
  • Inspiration for opening up media brand’s archives of content, as well as the creation of new – with both used in concert to create new kinds of stories
  • Exploration of new kinds of programming and storytelling experiences, with the majority of resources going to content creation vs. technology infrastructure

Smart and Powerful Under the Hood; Beautiful and Witty on the Surface; Socially Savvy and Agile

If the above are the desired end states for consumers and creators, how do we begin to get there?  Has there been enough evolution in “installed base” infrastructure, agile tools, and human understanding and practice of media design since “Being Digital” -  that companies in the space (such as Flipboard, Zite, News.me, Pulse, FLUD, NewsMix, Taptu) can successfully move toward the vision of the “Daily Me”?

I say “Yes.”  From a development perspective, it’s about focusing on three areas, while always understanding the importance of the building of relationships with media creators and publishers with a creative and economic model that can support all.

 

Smart and powerful under the hood

Search and social for discovery highlight the need for syndication and integration beyond the need for subscription to single branded channels.  A syndication model in turn requires additional focus on relevance and personalization.  Algorithms that are smart and powerful under the hood will have an increasing role in differentiation (because of the desire for personal relevance) but must be deeply linked to design respect.  Technology can’t trump presentation. The kinds of business relationships that can be developed with media partners will also influence the outcome of what algorithms will be allowed to present  (What can be done is not always what should be done.)  Lots of questions and exploration to come here:

  • How is personalization different than customization?
  • How might recommendations algorithms play out – asking questions that require human action (like Netflix and Amazon) or making decisions and taking action to refine choices in the background (like Pandora)?
  • How will content search and semantic search balance out?
  • Does the resulting model of the algorithmic parsing of the information need to be (or lend itself) more to a digital newspaper or magazine, or something not yet seen?

 

Beautiful and witty on the surface

Design that is beautiful and witty on the surface – meaning innovation on the presentation and navigation layers – needs to have equal footing with algorithm development. And this mantra applies as much to the visual manifestation of advertising and other revenue sources integrated in, as it does with the content itself.

 

Socially savvy and agile

A socially savvy and agile approach that can make the wide, fast-moving streams of Twitter, Facebook and even RSS more navigable and time effective is a requirement for any of the experience offerings that wouldn’t revolve around a single media brand.  Again, many questions to be answered in this area beyond technical development and feed integration – as important questions in terms of how one monetizes and could share revenues within “curations apps” part of the system would work vs. the “single media branded” world (whether as part of a social magazine platform or a stand alone branded app).

Evolving the Opportunity - Strategies and Examples

How might a platform like Flipboard evolve to consider areas such as:

  • Advertising
  • Commerce
  • Special Events - Both Live and with Deep Archival Content
  • Video, Music and Entertainment
  • Location-Based Experience Guides

 

Advertising

Is there an opportunity for design-centric advertising fueled by deep multi-source data (real time and historical), in addition to supporting ad sales and display for single media brands within their own “social magazines?”

Advertising models within this kind of environment, could potentially exist in three spaces:

  • The media brand’s space itself (eg the Flipboard Pages model with brands such as “O Magazine”)
  • Socially curated spaces, ranging from Flipboard curated spaces like FlipTech, or feeds from noted curators such as Maria Popova and Jason Hirschorn.
  • Self-curated and directed by the individual using Google Reader, or some future form of custom complex search (if this capability develops over time with Ellerdale technology)

The first is the model that is being experimented with Flipboard Pages with magazines such as Rolling Stone and O Magazine, as well as pure online plays like All Things D – For now, full page ads that fill part or all of the page sold and provided by an outside agency.

In the second and third instances, with aggregated or curated content “magazines” fed via news reader-type application, no one has yet figured out how to share advertising revenues with publishers. One option is to have advertising revenue for brand specific “magazines” only, and use access to curated content feeds as “discovery cost.” However, while the waters may currently be murky in the world of curation, there may be an interesting hidden opportunity for both technology and media partner alike. Consider the possibility of advertising that leverages the power of all the data feeds that pour into Flipboard from the various Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr, Instagram and other accounts – as well as directly from the media brand “magazines.”  That’s a pretty big potential gold mine –obviously more complex than Scenario 1, requiring different technology, agreements and resources to scale and support.

But while not publicly on the drawing boards, could there eventually be a Flipboard powered ad network or advertising type for “multi-source social magazines” that combines great creative with the diverse data streams, social heuristics and additional inventory?

 

Commerce

In many instances, It has been easier to monetize in the commerce space than advertising space on the Internet.  Something to consider in more broadly thinking about what Flipboard and the 'social magazine" space could become, with three potential models:

  • Traditional catalogs (print and Web) translated in a new way onto the platform
  • Curated commerce around a single brand (media or product), product class/type (across brands), or various "deal of the day" offerings
  • Social semantic search commerce where information (photos, social reviews, offers, videos etc) is collected and displayed on the fly against a certain specific product, product class or brand with purchase opportuity online or real world (with geolocation driven recommendations)

 

Special Events - Both Live and with Deep Archival Content

Special events offer new content opportunities to media partners both in creating new live programming, as well as digging deeply into their content archives and integrating "evergreen" programming with new professional content and social commentary/curation.  Programming could range from one time only to an ongoing series (monthly or quarterly) with revenue opportunities extending beyond traditional advertising to include branded sponsorship.Revenue sources ranging from brand underwiritng to ticketing.

What might this look like for live nature, adventure or travel-related programming, sports, music performances, and curated events (think PopUpMagazine on Flipboard)?  How might a YouTube Live partnership fit with this?

 

Video, Music and Entertainment

Could Flipboard become a new syndication and monetization platform for video creators  - both at the head and mid-tail.

  • Major media brands with their video vaults of evergreen content not yet on the Internet (eg topics around science, nature, travel, sports, history, health, pop culture.)
  • New integration/distribution opportunities for many of the newly funded digital studios that fit the middle ground of media continuum between “the major brands” and the long tail of “skateboard dog videos” (eg Maker Studios, Machinima, Break, BedRocket).
  • Celebrity partnerships with direct to the audience behind the scenes or cause related content.

 

Location-Based Experience Guides

Could Flipboard provide a platform for the next generation in guides - around a  location/geography or experience type/topic? The potential exists for guides to be created "on the fly" with social and  algorithmic curation, appropriately integrating (and “de-duping”) media of multiple types from a variety of sources, providing not only content, but cross reference commerce/retail offers and unique events and experiences that are time-based.

 

Moving Forward

We could be seeing the beginning of the first serious rethinking of the Web content experience in 15 years via a better and more human balance of technology, design and financial relationships. This space (and Flipboard in particular) sits squarely at the intersection of design and algorithms, social media and copyright, storytelling and data feeds, order and cacophony - so it is certianly not going to be boring any time soon - and the opportunities for all sides of the table could be astounding.   Favicon

 

March 31, 2010

Why Sharing Matters

TheShare.001

Sharing is no longer just about good manners.  It has assumed a front row seat in the discussion about powerful leverage points at the intersection of content and influence. If you are a media company or consumer brand (and the difference between these two is shrinking in many respects), understanding how people engage with and share content is a critical skill.

And you won’t be alone. 2010 may well be the year that brands and media companies spend as much time (if not more) looking at social sharing optimization as they do at search. The sheer volume of content (both good and bad) being added to the Web is outpacing people’s ability to find what’s interesting and relevant to them. This has been leading to a decline in the overall perceived value of content, along with companies’ and individuals’ abilities to make a living from creating and distributing it, as well as brands promoting around it.

"Abundance breaks more things than scarcity does."

- Clay Shirky at SXSW 2010

But if you can build a system than increases the likelihood of providing the right content (informational or entertainment), at the right time, to the right people, there is the opportunity to reestablish value.  Generating appropriate sharing is an essential element in this “value re-establishment chain.” Sharing lifts content above the general noise level of the Web by the fact that it is deemed important by the users (both initiator and recipient of the share).

"With all the noise online. your social circle becomes a de facto filter, surfacing useful information because they know exactly what's interesting to you and what isn't.  That piece is so important - it's the essence of  influence."

- ShareThis Blog Oct 22

Sharing Stats

  • 84% of “connected consumers” share links and bookmarks – Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report 2009
  • 50% more page views per unique via share-originated links that search
  • For many sites, sharing is now accounting for as much as one-third of the amount of traffic driven by search –ShareThis Blog, Dec 2009

"Publishers, meanwhile, are devising ways to persuade readers to share more, in much the same way they use "search engine optimization" strategies so search engines will rank them higher in search results.  A personal recommendation, they say, can be just as powerful as a referral from Google."

- NY Times, Sept 2009

Publishers and the Design Dynamics of Sharing

If sharing is becoming that powerful a source of engaged traffic, then publishers and creators need to know how and why people share in order to develop and deliver viable strategies for maximizing share-generated traffic, ad revenue and engagement. 

"If you ask a site manager, they'll know how much traffic they get from search.  But when you ask about traffic from sharing activity, they can't tell you."

- Tim Schigel, CEO, ShareThis 

So how publishers incorporate sharing capabilities is becoming increasingly important, not only because of its impact on traffic, but that it also shows that they understand the interests of their audience and want to make it easy for them to share things of interest to their communities.

ShareThis has some interesting information on how different types of media companies have addressed sharing from both technology placement and design perspectives in a post called “The Art of the Share.”   They look at the question of where to place sharing widgets (beginning or end of post) and what share platforms to breakout specifically from the widget, and how this should differ depending on the audience and media type (eg entertainment v technology site).

In the near future, sharing data may influence how publishers look at content development, and how quickly they can respond to sharing trends with more new content. Sharing patterns may also let them know that they are not covering certain areas of content in ways the audience wants.  

The Editorial Anatomy of Sharing

In addition to having the right tools to share and the appropriate design integration of that technology into the site, the content itself needs to be highly sharable from an editorial perspective.

Dan Zarrella conducted some recent research into sharing and his data contains some interesting insights into what, how and why people share content online.  The complete details and TOC can be found at his site here.

Some highlights from his sample of “why people share” provide useful food for thought as to how publishers and creators might think about the editorial nature of their content.

  • 18.6% audience relevance
  • 8.8% increase their own reputation
  • 8.6% further a specific cause or message
  • 7.4% utility and usefulness; conversation starter
  • 5.5% feedback; wanting others’ opinions
  • 5.2% meet new people

Another study from the University of Pennsylvania examines the character of the most emailed articles (email is certainly one form of sharing).  From that study:

“Perhaps most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe … They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.”

Once we understand more about why people share from an editorial perspective and have the tools to help them appropriately share and receive shares, how do we look at the editorial process to “give back” and reward “topic specific influential sharers?" This provides the potential of creating a "virtuous loop of personalized content" that fits the editorial criteria of "sharable." Might we begin to use sharing data to design customized programming experiences that could include:

  • Recommended content provided to senders and receivers of shares via a syndication of realtime topic matching (you shared this, you might also like this)
  • Special content for "topic specific" influential sharers pulled from a brand's archives or created as "behind the scenes" sneaks

    In these models, people are treated as unique individuals vs members of a broader group.  This type of customized programming can be monetized at the individual level, yet still maintain individual privacy.

    New Technologies to Facilitate Sharing

    As sharing becomes more than just a simple utility and moves toward being a core social action for Web users, existing social media companies are revamping their offerings and new ones are appearing, offering their sharing solutions to publishers and creators.  

    “The easier you make it for others to share your content with their social networks, the more you capitalize on the Internet Press — the ability to have your content taken from your central hub and then re-published on others’ hubs and among their networks…People trust their social networks much more than advertising or what a company itself says.”

    Pete Codella in Fast Company

    Three Examples

    (1) The Revamp: Digg 

    This Spring, Digg began revamping its strategy toward "social curation of all the world's content and the conversation around it ... shifting toward a personalization model, where the homepage will be based on ... a user's interests, location, who they follow not only on Digg but services like Twitter and Facebook ... and leaderboards for the infinite topic and vertical pages that will emerge, letting Digg users become trusted sources in a given niche."


    (2) The Evolution: ShareThis Stream  

    The ShareThis Stream is a real-time view of sharing across the Web, enabling users to see what content their friends have been sharing, and the comments, tweets, etc related to that content.


    (3) The New Kid: Stickybits  

    Stickybits brings the physical and digital worlds together via barcode stickers and a SmartPhone app that unlocks access to audio, video, photo, and text messages associated with an object when its code is scanned. Individuals can tag physical objects with media (text, photos, video) by applying custom stickers or correlating existing product barcodes with content. They can also receive additional notification and media from others who scan the object and attach their content to the same barcode.

    However interesting these initiatives are, the conversation needs to move from the “means of sharing” to “meaning enabled by sharing.”  Having technology in place is one piece of the equation; delivering a real user benefit and engaging experience is the other (and more meaningful) part.  While you can have searchable real-time feeds and any number of ways to rate and comment on content, it remains a solution just for geeks if it is not matched with consideration for how people want to more broadly use and interact with content.

    Too Much Information?

    As the world of digital media continues to grow at a dizzying pace, without personally relevant methods of discovery and recommendation such as sharing, users will continue to be overwhelmed and miss relevant content, or simply give up looking for anything new out of sheer frustration. 

    I'd prefer to avoid that world described in the song by The Police called "Too Much Information."

    Too much information running through my brain
    Too much information driving me insane
    Too much information running through my brain
    Too much information driving me insane

    Overkill
    Overview
    Over my dead body
    Over me
    Over you
    Over everybody     


    So can the economics of digital publishing be changed by creating a market for revealing and promoting personally relevant influence (via sharing) across the Web? I say "yes." And that’s why sharing matters. Favicon

    February 26, 2010

    Can a Normalized Scoring System Help Startups Find the Right Partners?




    I recently had the opportunity to produce a series of videos for Chris Shipley and Mike Sigal of Guidewire Group, long time advocates of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

    Audience: Entrepreneurs worldwide and the organizations that support them - investors, large tech partners, service providers, even government economic development agencies.

    Issue addressed: Not all innovation is in Silicon Valley or New York/Boston where there is generally a great density and exchange of information for startups. Information elsewhere is often fragmented. How do you carry some of this to innovation centers in other parts of the globe? Members of the global entrepreneurial ecosystem spend countless hours repetitively collecting information about startups to inform, benchmark or report on their investment decisions. But those efforts are fragmented and have been hampered by the lack of a widely accepted, normalized methodology. So how can you faciliate the pairing of entrepreneur and support organizations?   Is it possible to create a "normalized" score that can encapsulate the essence of the "gut feeling?"

    Two parts to the video referenced here:

    • 00:00 - 05:30 focuses on the background of where their "standardized" scoring system for startups, the G/Score, came from, what it is, and just as importantly, what it is not (not a substitute for due diligence or chemistry).  Their approach is informed by 20 years of talking with more than 20,000 (yes that's thousands) of companies around the world.
    • 05:30 - 12:50 walks entrepreneurs through the 7 components of the G/Score - overall concept, market opportunity, competitive landscape, product and business execution, team, and business model.  They also use some interesting real world company examples to show how they would have been scored on each particular G/Score component in their early days.  Companies include : SalesForce.com, Netflix, Twitter, Like.com, Intuit, TellMe Networks, and Google.

    Some nice feedback on Guidewire's G/Score to date from an entrepreneur and business partner:

    "G/Score - Finally a successful attempt to give an "at-a-glance" assessment of a startup's strengths and weaknesses without needing to read a 30 page business plan" - Joe Drumgoole   CEO/Founder, CloudSplit

    and

    "The entrepreneur community is crying out for a way to describe a startup's "readiness."  Guidewire Group's G/Score is a credible, straightforward and meaningful way to meet those needs." - Cliff Reeves  GM, Emerging Business Team, Microsoft

    After you watch the video, what do you think?  In a world where there are more startups than ever, and more potential partners seeking to work with them.  Where information overload is the order of the day, and there is no common language to talk about startups.  Where finding a way to filter is an essential question every day.  Can the G/Score facilitate that all important matchmaking process between startups around the world and those that can help them get to the next step?

    (G/Score worksheet/definition set can be found here Download GScoreAssessDefs) Favicon

      

    January 29, 2010

    Presentation: Twitter in 20

    TitleSlide_LizGebhardt_WIPP_Jan282010
    Today I had the opportunity to co-present a session on "Building Your Business with Twitter and Facebook"  along with Facebook's Director of Corporate Communicatons Brandee Barker at the annual leadership conference for Women in Periodic Publishing.  A PDF version of my Keynote slides is available here: Download LizGebhardt_Twitter_WIPP_Jan282010.

    This 25 minute talk is a very shortened version of a more robust 2-4 hour seminar I have been giving at media companies - print, TV and digital. The Twitter portion focuses on 5 main topics:

    • Twitter Myths, Misconceptions and Reality
    • The Value of the Shared Link
    • Life On and Off the Twitter Network
    • Guidelines and Tactics for the Brand and Individual
    • Tweet Anatomy: A Real World Example

    There are also related posts at this BLOG, including:

    More information on the ShareThis study referred to in the presentation is available at their BLOG. And the book "Groundswell" is available here.

    I'm interested in hearing how different media companies will use this information. 

    Comments? Favicon

     

    December 12, 2009

    Will Square Be the VISA of the 21st Century?

     Square-receipt-sightglass Image courtesy of Square.

      

    While startup Square is not in the business of making credit cards as VISA was when it started in 1970, there is a potentially interesting link behind the intentions and possibilities of the two companies at the time of their respective foundings, even though they are separated by 40 years of business and financial change, not to mention lightyears of technology evolution.

    When Dee Hock started VISA, he had hopes that he could create an organization that reflected elements of both chaos and order (what he dubbed “chaordic”), as well as competition and cooperation.  At some level, a chaordic organization would be “self-governing,” reflecting more the principles of evolution and nature than those of flawed 17 Century financial institutions and hundred year old oligopolies.  Hock wanted to challenge what many held as fundamental truths about the nature and relationship between money, organizations and the human spirit.  He wanted to use technology and chaordic beliefs to challenge the form (e.g. physical objects of bank and tellers with endless bureaucracy), and rethink the essential function and value that financial transactions should deliver.


    “Could this be an opportunity to reconceive, in the most fundamental sense, the very ideas of bank, money and credit card – even beyond that, to the essential elements of each and how they might change in a microelectronic environment?”
     - Dee Hock, in 1999’s “Birth of the Chaordic Age” page 117


    So while in the end, VISA did not achieve Hock’s highest chaordic hopes, might Square take up the mantle and become the transcendental organization that finds new ways to link together diverse financial institutions and individuals (retailers and customers), some of whom might have had access to the prior financial structure, but many more were denied access?  Might there be a unique business to be built on the transformation of the concept of money from physical object to that of “guaranteed data” that provides equivalent value and a fluid (mobile) medium of exchange for all, regardless of size of the entity?

    In the US today, the credit card revolution started by VISA in 1970 has become a reality in which 90% of US consumers use some form of credit, debit or prepaid card. And what are these cards about?  Don’t think of them as simple ‘credit cards.” More broadly, they are physical symbols of the ability of buyers and sellers to safely exchange value (goods and services) with a level of guaranteed security in the transfer of the data.

    That’s what Hock hoped for in the 1970’s – to be in the universal monetary exchange business via cards, not in the credit card business. While today the system that surrounds the cards is one where it is easy to pay, there is still considerable friction in receiving and accepting the payment. 

    Hence the opportunity for Square to go beyond the reality of VISA.  And the challenge it has is to define and execute on the nature of a new organization that is chaordic, at least in part, by the nature of the “immediacy, approachability and transparency” mantra of its technology backbone.


    “(We want to) enable individuals and small businesses to accept electronic payments by turning any device with an audio-input jack—such as a computer or a mobile phone—into a credit-card terminal.” – Jack Dorsey, Square founder at Le Web 09 (video)


    “I can buy an iPod touch] for $200, get the app and I’m in business. I don’t need a contract with AT&T or anything. I’m in business.” – Jack Dorsey in The Economist


    “The startup hopes to make it big by allowing virtually anyone to accept credit card payments by connecting a simple reader to a mobile device. Dorsey, Square's CEO, envisions the technology being used by small businesses, street vendors, and even individuals who want to sell a couch on Craigslist or collect money from a friend … pricing will allow for different levels of customer involvement. Someone who wants to use the service once for a yard sale should be able to get started easily and cheaply, while a small business might upgrade to a more full-featured version of Square” – MIT Technology Review


    So is what Square will create in partnership with its ecosystem, the premiere system for immediate and secure value exchange regardless of the size and location of seller or buyer?  And in doing so with “real-time” technology, will it make the relationship between “Man and Money” a bit more immediately … human? Favicon

       

    (Video demos of Square can be found here starting at 9:00 minutes in, and here staring at 1:40 in.)

       

    August 26, 2009

    Twitter = LEGOs?

    TwitterBirdLegoBricks

    Twitter bird made of LEGO bricks that I commissioned from New York artist Nathan Sawaya

    Some History

    On January 28, 1958, Godtfried Kirk Christiansen (a carpenter who built a humble toy factory during the Great Depression) submitted a patent for the LEGO brick building system in Copenhagen, Denmark. Fifty years later, the core building block of the brick is virtually unchanged, as is the fundamental philosophy of the company – that there should be unlimited opportunities in play with the ability to build virtually anything from LEGO bricks (elements).

    Almost 50 years later, in March 2006, Twitter emerged out of the company Odeo as a side project (when the first tweet came from Jack Dorsey).  In the three years since the first tweet and then its explosive growth in 2009, Twitter’s small fundamental building block – “the 140 character tweet” has remained unchanged, and an ecosystem of other “elements” (called applications) is growing around it.  Now that may not enable the building of “virtually anything” as in the claim of LEGOs, but what is evolving is much more than just 140 characters of random text.

    A large part of the enduring appeal of LEGO bricks is that they are so simple and satisfying to use, and there is no age or geographic boundary to the appeal.  Anyone anywhere can take a bunch of bricks and build something with only their imagination and two hands.  In digital space, one might say something similar about Twitter.

    So does Twitter = LEGOs?

    Seven Similarities

    1. Size doesn’t matter.
    Both a LEGO brick and a Twitter “tweet” are simple and small, and yet have become iconic in their own rights. A LEGO brick is a small rectangular piece of plastic with 8 studs on the top (4 each in 2 rows) and a pattern of 3 tubes underneath.  A tweet is up to 140 characters in length, period. The simple and logical nature of both may be part of their power.  In the case of Twitter, the length limitation may actually spur use and the creative process, being less daunting than writing a blog post or creating a video.

    2. The value of the sum of the parts is more than that of the individual pieces.
    On a per unit basis, a brick and a tweet are both simple, but they are part of a bigger, more complex ecosystem. Some people might look at a box of LEGO bricks as a pile of plastic rubble, while others see the house, palace, ancient pyramid, or spaceship they dream of, and can finally build.  Looking at the scrolling screen of a Twitter client, the same conclusion might be drawn about a tumultuous narcissistic din, or about serendipitous discoveries and linked conversational threads. According to a 1972 LEGO catalog, LEGO was/is “as simple or as complicated as children wish.”  This is a very Web/”Blogish” philosophy that is in alignment with Twitter, and certainly isn’t limited to the kids.

    3. It’s more than child’s play. Everyone’s invited.
    There is not one psychodemographic group that “owns” LEGOs or Twitter. What starts in one place moves to another.  Bricks began with children and spread to the “other” adult population, including scientists and artists.  Twitter started with the geeks and professional tech insiders, moved to SXSW attendees and the enthusiastic amateurs, and now into the broader population.  Both products could be defined as having “it’s what you make it” and “who you are” kinds of experiences that differ between user groups.

    4. If you build it, they will come (and make it more).
    The didactic nature of the LEGO brick is similar to that of Twitter.  Each has an individualistic approach to problem solving and communicating. There is no one right way.  With Twitter, you can write a novel 140 characters at a time, tell a joke, share a photo or an important article, or organize an impromptu TweetUp. As a 1992 LEGO catalog said: “We’ve got the bricks, you’ve got the ideas.”

    Similarly, neither is a fixed model, despite their simplicity. A LEGO construction set does not consist of one outcome, but of many possible combinations, even though each comes from the same basic element – the brick.  There are innumerable ways that Twitter “outcomes” have been expanded – 2500 and counting to be more specific using the Twitter API.  New applications and their outcomes enable people to directly donate money to charity, take real-time opinion polls, play games, share breaking news photos, and spread the truth despite the efforts of a repressive regime … in addition to talking about lunch and sharing puppy photo links.

    5. Nothing that lasts forever stands still.
    LEGO started as wooden toys and then moved to the plastic shape we know today, and that still remains as the brand and product foundation. New additions to the core brick throughout the years have included tires for vehicles (1961), human figures (1974), software (1997), robots with MIT Media Lab (1998) and a Spielberg endorsed movie-making set (2000).  Similarly Twitter remains the 140 character communication, and yet is changing from its origins both from the ideas and imaginations of its users, and also through technology improvements and new business practices and models in the near future (e.g. paid professional accounts).

    6. “I am the only guinea pig I have.”
    So said architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller in talking about personal experimentation and creativity. The brick is a creative material, an enabling catalyst for kids or adults to influence the world around them in some small, but powerfully personal way by making things once only imagined - real (and with their own hands).  Twitter, like blogging or video production, serves a similar purpose, although with the possibility of far greater influence, collaboration and  conversation.

    7. Turn up the volume.
    In terms of pure raw numbers, both LEGO and Twitter have some impressive ones to offer.

    For LEGO:

    • 5 billion hours a year are spent by adults and kids playing with LEGO bricks (elements).
    • 36,000 bricks (elements) are produced every minute.
    • 19 billion bricks (elements) are produced every year.
    • There are 62 bricks (elements) for every person in the world today.
    • More than 915 million different possible combinations are possible from 6 bricks of the same color with 8 studs each.

    For Twitter:

    • More than 23 million unique visitors and 153 million visits to Twitter.com in July 2009 (Compete.com).
    • 1,400% growth in Twitter users February 2008 to February 2009.
    • Estimated 1.5 million Twitter accounts added in “3 days of Oprah” (April 17-19 2009).
    • More than 3.5 billion total tweets sent to date.
    • About 20 million tweets/day by the end of August 2009. (That means in less than 178 days there will be double the number of tweets sent in the first 3+ years).

    The LEGO List

    Can an attributes list for a “kid’s toy” from 1963 provide inspiration for a Silicon Valley company and a technology entering the second decade of the 21st Century? The following is a list of the 10 characteristics of LEGO written by the inventor more than 45 years ago. What might this list look like for Twitter, now and in the near future?

    1. Unlimited play possibilities
    2. For girls, for boys
    3. Enthusiasm to all ages
    4. Play all year round
    5. Healthy and quiet play
    6. Endless hours of play
    7. Imagination, creativity, development
    8. More LEGO multiplied play value
    9. Always topical
    10. Safety and quality

    Trans-Generational Longevity

    Only a few products outlive generations, and the LEGO brand is one of them. Maybe in the digital age the definition for “generation” needs to change and be more like Moore’s Law (generation = 18 months)? In any case, can Twitter or any digital technology have the chronological longevity of LEGOs?  Or does the analogy, no matter how fun for fans of both, end there? Egv_tiny_blogicon


    (Note: Sometimes posts are inspired by the oddest random and personal desires.  In the case of this one, I wanted to have the Twitter bird “logo” made out of LEGO bricks, in 3D.  So to justify that, I felt that I needed to come up with an idea in which to use that piece of art.  That’s the genesis of “Twitter = LEGOs?” which led to deeper thinking about the particular analogies shared above. If you love LEGOs or just design in general, there is an excellent book that was published in 2008 for the 50th anniversary of the esteemed brick, “50 Years of the LEGO Brick” by Christian Humberg.  The book itself is quite a piece of art with LEGO bricks and copies of the patent and early promotional materials - helpful research for this post - from 1963 to present included.)

       

    April 19, 2009

    Ashton Kutcher's Billboard - Possibilities Beyond Celebrity for the Future of Broadcasted or Public Social Media

    Twitterashtonpicframed

    One of the 1,133 digital billboards provided pro bono by Lamar Advertising in the race to a million followers against CNN. 

         -  From a story in Advertising Age


    If you work in the social media space or are a CNN or Oprah viewer, it was nearly impossible to not know about the "race to a million followers" on Twitter last week between celebrity/entrepreneur Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) and CNN's newly acquired account (@cnnbrk).  Kutcher started the challenge slightly trailing CNN, but used YouTube-distributed videos and calling on his more engaged social media followers to surpass Larry King/CNN's cable TV promo efforts. The "celebrity" facts: Kutcher passed the million mark first and appeared on Oprah (@oprah) to be crowned "king of Twitter."

    But what else might this mini-digital duel reveal beyond the obvious celebrity vanity stories and the growing importance of social media bylines?

    Benefit for social ventures and charities

    Consider that as part of the challenge, the winner agreed to donate 10,000 mosquito nets (the loser 1,000 nets) to April 25th’s 2nd annual World Malaria Day. That means 1,000s of people will have additional protection against a disease that threatens 40% of the world's population and  infects 500 million people a year. And Twitter is full of "tweets" about additional donations coming in from everyday people as a result of the awareness brought about by the race and subsequent interviews.  That's a win.

    Other celebrities including Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) and social entrepreneurs have been using the platform as well to engage an audience predisposed to quickly responding to and sharing information.

    Near future traditional/digital media mashups

    Let's go back to the digital billboards at the beginning of this post.  Not sure in terms of any measurement that might exist what they contributed to Kutcher's tally.  But the more important aspects to consider are two fold:

    (1)  Since the billboards are digital and connected to a network, the message/creative could be programmed and distributed (and theoretically updated/changed) nearly instantaneously to the 1,000+ screens.  No printing turn around time.  No guys on scaffolds with buckets of glue. The content was nearly immediate/real-time.

    (2) Now what if (for safety's and reading time's sake) that the screens had been indoors, like those we see at Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, etc. AND that the screen network's application set was sophisticated enough to take both the simple "old school" billboard message and combine it with real-time information of interest via a feed. On the simple end this could just be a tally of number of followers updating, perhaps with an additional message encouraging peple to join in via their cell phones while they were waiting in line.  Something more complex would be a real-time "curated" feed overlay to the screen of the relevant "tweets" about both the "million follower race" as well as information about Kutcher's malaria cause.

    All of the pieces to do this today exist.  If you look online at applications written off the Twitter API like Glam Media's Tinker or similar Twitter parsing/aggregation apps from Federated Media like ExecuTweets, you get a sense of what is possible through some design and then integration of an RSS feed into a public digital screen.

    Below is an example of what the live Tinker feed looked like this morning for Ashton Kutcher.  Imagine what an "indoor billboard" at a coffee shop or train station might look like with the main visual of the billboard at the beginning of this post,  with an overlay in the lower horizontal part of the screen of the Tinker Twitter stream when the race was still on.


    TinkerKutcherStreamFramed  

    Other possibilities? 

    Here's one. Given that Earth Day is this week - what about a brand doing an Earth Day promo with inspiring photos (professional images and real-time consumer photos) cycling through the screen and relevant tweets of what people were doing that day to help their local environmental efforts, as well as links to activities people could join, appearing simultaneously along the bottom of the screen. Egv_tiny_blogicon



    February 25, 2009

    Nike Stores, Digital Screens and the Nike+ Application: An Opportunity In Waiting For In-Store Social Media and Influencer Building?

    Nikestore  
    Multiple digital screens with rotating images and videos form the visual gauntlet at the entrance to the Nike Store Downtown San Francisco. (photo taken with iPhone)

    Before one even sees a single shoe or pair of running sweats at the Temple of Nike in downtown San Francisco, one takes a ride up the escalator and passes by a series of programmed digital screens that are also peppered throughout the store.  Images of bodies in motion artfully shot along with select Web screens and animations of the Nike+ application speak to the brand story of aspiration and achievement.  One literally travels from the outside world to the athletic world enabled by Nike.

    On Wednesday nights the store is full of runners, members of the Nike Running Club.  They are “the faithful,” armed with iPods sequestered in arm bands and Nike+ sensors tucked into shoes.  Before heading out on a weekly group training run, they browse new merchandise and promos specially selected and staged for the evening. (Last week’s merchandise was Livestrong shirts to coincide with Lance Armstrong’s participation in the Tour of California race.)

    It’s all a great idea – bring the influencers together who use and wear the brand frequently in public, give them a group activity (that syncs with the core brand story) to do in significant numbers, and highlight new products they might like.

    So what’s missing? 

    Web meets (live) World is being overlooked. There’s a unique opportunity to engage these people even further with each other and the brand – powered by the technology they are already “wearing” and the screens and backend networks (video distribution and retail computer systems) already in the store environment surrounding them.

    Consider This : An opt-in real-time public social media system with retail benefits and bragging rights

    A whole host of new opportunities for engagement are made possible if 2-way connections can be established between:

    1. The cell phones* of the runners with an intelligent network serving the video to the screens (as opposed to video coming from a DVD)
    2. The cell phones* of the runners with the retail transactions network (cash registers)
    3. The network serving the screen video to the network that handles the retail transactions at the cash register
    4. Video screens in multiple (a least 2) Nike Store locations holding running events at the same time

    (* assuming iPhone type  devices and or docked/synced iPod minis)


    The Schematic:

    NikeTechConnections  

    If the above technology is in place, and we enable individuals to opt-in as public/in-store social media participants, some programming/engagement opportunities might be:

    1. If a runner has achieved some significant mileage milestone with their Nike+ (e.g. the 4,000 mile mark), and they come into the store for a run night or make a purchase, their mileage achievement appears on the in-store screen network or on a specific set of screens designated for this purpose (cell phone or retail network sends info to the video network) and they are also given the ability (a digital coupon/reminder) to purchase (dare we say “get for free?”) a limited edition mileage achievement shirt (retail network to phone)

    2.  On run nights, teams can issue challenges in-store to those in the same store, or in another store with a run happening at the same time.  Winning team gets on-screen in-store bragging rights, and a discount for purchases that night or an equivalent value that could be donated to their “running charity.”  (This involves syncing of team iPods in-store, aggregating those numbers, comparing to other teams, and visually displaying score results on the screens in store, or between stores.)  This could also be an aggregate competition, running many weeks in the case of earning dollars for a running charity.

    3.  When runners come into the store for the run night, they can send their “in-store digital identity/opt-in registration” information to the screens and the screens visual “slide show” during the pre-run shopping time is information (run stats, photos etc that have been pre-approved) of the actual in-store runners/participants.

    There are many other “public and personalized social media” experiences, as well as “professionally produced” programming concepts that are possible when we can connect the customer devices and networks in the Nike Store.    I am not advocating that this be done just because it can or is trendy because we are using the word “social media.”  I believe the experiences in this environment must give “the participant” at least one of the following, as did the three previously outlined examples.

    1. Help me – have a better day/run, live a better/healthier life, be more effective, make better decisions
    2. Surprise me – by gifting me, recognizing my achievement, or showing me something I didn’t know that will contribute to my cocktail conversation factor
    3. Amuse me – by giving me something to do while I am waiting in line or for the run – trivia, puzzles, games – and if I like it a lot, let me quickly download or bookmark it on my portable device
    4. Inform me –about a product or service, my community, the world – of which I have particular interest; provide quick information with the ability to mobile bookmark and learn more later without having to search for a piece of paper to write down a url
    5. Connect me – to people, events, causes that I can participate in; locally and also globally; one time or on a continual basis

    With these premises in mind, the appropriate 2-way technology in place, and the brand story clear – great Web meets (live) World personal experiences can be delivered on a meaningful and continual basis at the same time that: a brand is being built, promos are being offered, sales are uplifted, environments enhanced, ad dollars earned and impressions made, customers amused while they stand in line.  Seems like a win to me. Favicon-short


    February 20, 2009

    Digital Screens Are Not Billboards

    Starbucks

    Digital Screen at Starbucks showing song currently playing in-store

    They’re both rectangular, have images and text designed to catch your attention in a short period of time, and are built around a business premise of taking messages to places that people physically (vs. digitally) frequent.  But that is where the similarity ends… or rather where it should end.

    Burma Shave and Route 66

    Billboards have been around in some form since the mid 1800’s when Jared Bell began making 9’ x 6’ posters for the circus in the US.  Their numbers expanded in the early 1900’s when the Model T was introduced and more people took to the highways. Advertisers quickly saw the miles and miles of open road as an untapped promotional landscape, with cheap potential for increasing consumer reach. Billboards even began to achieve pop culture status when the 6 panel Burma Shave billboards began lining highways such as Route 66 in the mid 1920’s. 

    (Does this not sound a lot like the Internet of late 1990s/early 2000’s?  And I won’t pull the cheap shot of referring to the … ah …. “Information Superhighway.”)

    However, billboards are not, nor have they always been, welcome additions to the visual environment. (Kind of like the way I feel about pop-ups that are still around and clutter my screen on occasion.) Many cities in the US tried to ban them as early as 1909 - “visual pollution”; and they are currently banned in 4 states (Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii and Maine), as well as in some 1500 individual towns.

    Starbucks2

    (These billboards and others can be seen at Toxel.com.)

    So when do billboards work?  When they move away from some of the “in-the-box” thinking and premises of the media and embrace directions such as:

    1. Breaking the old 2D language: Adidas (top right) and Mini Cooper (middle right).
    2. Evolving the image (content) over time: Tide (bottom right).
    3. Integrating visual elements into the surrounding environment outside the billboard space: “Kill Bill” movie promo (lower left).
    4. Blending into the environment rather than encroaching on it:  Nike and its “gate billboard” at the opening of a park and running/nature path (middle left).

    Evolution or De-volution?

    So where are we now in the timeline of intelligent digital screens that are part of out-of-home networks?  How might they “break out of the frame” and “integrate with the surrounding landscape?” What are the rules they need to construct new creative/interaction models so they are not relegated to the role of disregarded chorus member in what some might call the growing cacophony of screen pollution.

    Friend or Foe? Networked Digital Out-of-Home Advertising or Place-Based Media

    Some might say that the whole host and variety of digital screens that we now see populating coffee and bagel shops, Nike stores, the window displays of brokers, airport terminals, and even doctors offices are the new millennium equivalent of twentieth century billboards, and with that they also bring with them the potential visual downside if misused. Like the drivers of the Model-T’s, out-of-home screens, are focused on marketing to consumers when they are 'on the go' – but now it is in high frequency foot traffic public places, in-transit queues, waiting lines and in specific commercial locations (such as in a retail venue).

     “In fact, billboards are not just for roadsides anymore. Advertisements have been popping up more frequently inside subways and buses, shopping malls, office buildings and airports.” 

    - Jan. 2007 New York Times

    But most are getting it all wrong.  Digital screens too often are turning into Route 66 billboards or an homage to “Blade Runner” with all of the associated problems in terms of consumer engagement or downright disdain because of ill conceived approaches and media that brings no personal value to viewers. With that, the opportunity could be lost to foster and grow a truly unique form of communication and connection.

    Ported Static Ads vs. Dynamic and Personally Relevant Social Media Opportunity

    We will concede that digital signs (even when approached like billboards) can offer what the industry may see as benefits over traditional static signage in that, depending on the intelligence of the backend network sending content to the screen:

    1. content can be updated and exchanged more easily, focusing on the day’s most important promotional item or message,
    2. content can be hyper-local parsing by zip code or other micro-targeting data,
    3. content can adapt to the time of day and audience profile with different programming cycles for different time-of-day experiences.

    Unfortunately, the creative of many digital screens is populated by directly ported print ads or banners, TV ads and promo videos that do not take the full potential of the medium into consideration, and other creative that looks as if it was almost directly pulled from the Web, because … well … “It’s kind of interactive.”  Those translations fall short of what the medium (I am assuming there is an intelligent backend here) could be if it took but a few premises into consideration.  If we use the earlier model of the 4 points of “out of box” thinking around interesting and engaging billboards and apply it to networked digital screens:

    1.    Breaking the old 2D language: The breaking out of the “self-contained rectangular frame” is in the potential for 2-way connection with people via their mobile devices.  This can include information that is downloaded (store and refer to later), information that is uploaded (consumer generated content) and two-way engagement (play). Examples might include: games and puzzles, download coupons and offers, bookmarking urls and downloading pdfs that relate to more info about on-screen content, consumers uploading content (a survey, comments, shout-outs, photo experiences) to the screen system on the spot, customers being identified through an integration of the digital screen and retail systems to display pre-approved personal information or offers.

    2.    Evolving content over time:  By creating programs, events and initiatives, screen network providers, the venues that host them, or major brands that “buy space/time” on them – can create integrated campaigns in which content that people/customers actively create, contribute and comment on is an important element.  This provides ever-fresh and personally relevant screen programming that with more sophisticated two-way and database capabilities/applications could be set to trigger screens when the person who contributed or commented on the content arrives at the venue and activates a mobile device and their ”digital opt-in signature.”

    3.    Integrating visual elements into the surrounding environment outside the screen: A website and mobile device outside the individual screens or screen network defines the person’s “surrounding environment” in this case.  Screens should not be seen as isolated uni-directional islands blaring propoganda.  Appropriate social media programs (per #2 above) means enabling people to create and upload, as well as download and experience – media related to the (perhaps shorter form) content of the out-of-home digital network screen on their own personal screens, tethered or mobile.

    4.    Blending into the environment rather than encroaching on it: Simply said, the look and feel (UI) and nature of the content of screen programming needs to fit seamlessly into its physical environment and feel a part of it, not at odds with it.  It must deliver on the customers’ expectations of what any experience in that environment should be, in alignment with brand image, without being obtrusive or invasive.

    In essence, screen programming needs to embrace and reflect the surrounding brand environment in which it exists (in creative execution and content) and be an integrated part of the kind of experience customers expect (even require) in that environment.  The programming experience needs to be personally meaningful to individuals at the point of physical delivery, but also provide information that can be taken with them when they leave the physical location (via their mobile device) or sent to their computer at home (mobile to screen while at the venue) for later engagement.

    So screens are NOT billboards. Simple concept.  Takes some thinking and risk-taking (technically, creatively and in partnerships) to execute. Favicon-short

    (Disclosure: Danoo, a Kleiner Perkins backed startup in the out-of-home digital network space is a client.)

     

    August 01, 2007

    Making an Impression? - The Demand for Impressions vs. The Quest for Relevant Engagement

    Many a creator of online programming and campaigns for brands have been feeling the increasing pressure to deliver real time data and performance “success” metrics far beyond those that would ever be considered (and would often be impossible to generate)  in the world of traditional media  - magazines, TV, radio.  You’re told: “Hey it’s digital, it should be “easy” to measure.”  But what is the appropriate “it?” And the metric – impressions -  that is referred to as having some level of “apples to apples” comparison value across traditional and digital media, is considered by many to have become a low value, if not meaningless, measurement of what works.

    For impressions, the value and reliability is further diminished when advertisers do not (or cannot) place a different value on an impression generated from a link farm to that delivered from one embedded next to relevant editorial/creative content.  Also, context and immediate consumer relevance can alter the value of an impression within: (1) the same creative content/site for two different advertisers/content creators; and (2) different high quality content sites to the same advertiser/content creator. Impressions can’t differentiate any of this.

    So what happens when there is the collision of a growing addiction to numbers, any numbers, without truly useful standards of measurement?  At minimum there is a misalignment between advertisers, content creators, and media distribution platforms.  And worse case: (1) there can be “rewards” to sites that “trick” consumers to get more clicks, or (2) great programming and creative can be axed because it is not generating the “right numbers” no matter how irrelevant the magic measure.

    While it may not be about throwing away impressions completely - the future model may be to look for the development of metrics that are about relevant engagement and conversation, as well as softer measures of brand health –such as recognition and awareness – that are often generated in the tradition media world through panels and surveys.  In the digital world, there is potential access to significantly large numbers of individuals (much larger than most real world surveys) in dialogue around a variety of subjects, brands and programming included.  What is needed are the systems to engage and analyze those individuals and dialogues in a way that provides meaningful engagement and input for the refinement of creative programming and campaigns.

    June 27, 2007

    Is There a New Architecture of Content for Digital Networks?

    A new view of the architecture of content may be emerging that anyone developing a digital network needs to consider. As a media brand, a site or a network - where should you weigh-in on the scales  between:

    Scale_2 (1) Building the largest entity possible, aggregating the most stuff within ones own editorial container;  A self-contained portal model.
    –    OR  –
    (2) Breaking yourself into smaller pieces – to “self-disintermediate” - and make content bits available where the audience already spends their time and is likely to discover you, or to have you recommended to them by trusted others; A model based on widely and broadly distributed micro formats.

    Where you fall on this scale depends in the belief in some key trends and assumptions, and the extent to which they influence content’s market value:

    1. The method of audience engagement with content in the digital space is changing.
    2. The home page may no longer be the audience’s home base.
    3. Traditional measurements of site success and popularity (like page views) that feed into marketing relevance perceptions and ad rates (and hence revenues) are being displaced.
    4. Technologies that are now in increasingly broad use change the way that pages are dynamically created both professionally and by users themselves.


    1. The method of audience engagement with content in the digital space is changing

    If the point of content is engagement with the audience (either one way or two way engagement), then anyway to make this happen is good. Different people will want to access content in different ways.

    Broadband
    People with faster broadband connections may access content differently than people in dialup space. The bigger and faster the pipe, doesn’t it make sense that the more likely they are to want to access dynamic content and content that is built from a multitude of simultaneous feeds?   The stats: 53% of all US households now subscribe to broadband, according to Leichtman Research Group.

    Widgets
    In June 13 WSJ article “Widgets May Snag More Ads” Vauhini Vara writes:

    “Nearly 177.8 million people world-wide viewed Web content in April made with online tools from companies that let people post photos, videos and music on other Web sites.”

    (My note -  this data is exclusive of widgets that live on and deliver content to the desktop whether or not a browser is open.)

    In Dave Morgan’s June 14 onlineSPIN post “Widget Advertising: Coming Fast”:

    “Simply put, widgets are the most recent embodiment of highly distributable Web media. Widgets permit users to separate the content from the Web page, permitting users to implant them on all types of pages, from personalized portal home pages to blogs to personal pages on social sites like MySpace or Facebook.”

    Susan Mernit's post “Widgets & Tapping into the Ecosystem”

    “….creating and distributing widgets redefines or rebalances the how to acquire traffic/drive people to your destination problem.

    Rather than figure out how to drive XX more people to YY service in order to get your *new thing* (or "old thing", for that matter) used, widgets and the APIs that support them offer low-cost, viral ways to increase distribution and access by letting your users embed your services where they hang out.”

    Social Network Sites
    Social network sites like Facebook are becoming areas of discovery and aggregation of content from a number of sources – personally and professionally created, with feeds and widgets as driving forces. From Jeff Jarvis in his June 11 column in The Guardian:

    “… Facebook introduced what it calls a newsfeed, filled with simple updates about what your friends have done on the service: one posted a photo, another a video, two more befriended the same person, four others started using a feature. This was controversial when introduced - mainly because users were surprised by the change - but now it is popular, even essential…

    … a few weeks ago, Facebook turned itself into a platform. That is, it enables anyone to create applications on top of the service. Already there are scores of aps hooking up users' information with other services such as calendars, maps, chat, music, news, shopping, and much more.”

    Podcasts
    I have to admit personal bias and interest in this space, probably dating back to my old days of music and new media at Apple back in the late 1980s.  I think it’s a great platform for still keeping your brand intact, but distributing to other areas on the Web with user recommendation engines in play (eg iTunes), as well as the ability to get content off the computer and onto a mobile platform, or even play it on the computer when not inside a Web browser.

    The stats that I have been able to find to date seem to paint this distribution channel still as a niche, but I believe there is great upside. And perhaps the heavy users are also the influencers? Some interesting stats in from the February 23 eMarketer:

    “As a rule, most widely consumed podcasts still have less than 50,000 downloaders, and most have far fewer, but podcast distribution and viewing mechanisms are proliferating ….. sheer number of podcasts — nearly 90,000, according to podcast search engine PodNova”

    And from "Podcast Downloading" report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

    12% of Internet users say they have downloaded a podcast to listen
    1% of respondents reported downloading a podcast on a typical day

    The later number may say more about how people download and consume podcast content, as opposed to its relative value in a distribution portfolio.  I personally subscribe to more than two dozen podcasts, many of which are produced weekly and are automatically downloaded and synced through my iTunes application.  Not sure how I would have answered the Pew  question if asked.


    2. The home page may no longer be the audience’s home
    The home page may be an over-rated point of focus for Web development.  Might this event be taken further to question the overall concept of value a pre-programmed site?

    In Jeff Jarvis’ May 29th post on BuzzMachine he cites the statistic that on some news sites as few as 20% of users ever go to the home page. So what then directs the majority to go directly deeper into the site? How about information they gather from active search, “passive” access through pre-programmed RSS feed aggregation, “recommended content” based on links from other trusted sites or blogs, emails or social network profiles from their friends, links displayed in a desktop widget, or a podcast subscribed to and automatically downloaded through iTunes.


    3. Traditional industry measurements of sites’ success and advertising relevance are being displaced
    Page views are no longer the leading barometer of a Website’s popularity and hence have less advertising and financial relevance, which impacts the decision of where to put programming and design resources. It was noted in a April 18 WSJ article “Firms Search for Best Way to Measure Internet Traffic” by Shira Ovide that both Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore have said that they will stop measuring page views, and instead focus on new methods of measuring audience and engagement.  Nielsen will move to “time spent” data as a ranking indicator, while comScore has said that it will emphasize a metric called “visits” that takes into account the time people return to a site within a month.  The reason, to quote Ovide:

    “Page views have been a major barometer of a Web site's popularity and help set advertising rates, but the measure is becoming less relevant. Online publishers and advertisers say page views don't capture consumer loyalty to a site or reflect the increasing popularity of online video and new technology that automatically refreshes Web sites, thereby depressing page views.”

    So what may be driving the advertising metrics crowd now, is the importance of "engagement," or how loyal users are to a site, rather than a sheer volume of indiscriminate and undifferentiated traffic.


    4. Technologies that enable dynamic page and screen creation are in increasingly broad use

    Technologies such as Flash and Ajax enable dynamic page creation. And as more content is made feed-friendly, the ability for individuals to aggregate feeds and architect the content they receive increases, and that content becomes more highly personal and relevant – and hence valued.  Platforms that facilitate the creation and distribution of widgets enable individuals to take content onto blog pages, social network profile pages, their iPhone, and onto their desktop whether a browser is even open or not. So dynamic access to content isn’t just for the technically advanced anymore.


    For Consideration
    In the digital world, are increasing numbers of audience members becoming more sophisticated in taking advantage of the massively distributed distribution power of the Web, and thereby becoming the real programmer, in charge of their own screen(s)?

    In a world where consumption and recommendation (of content) also become creation, does that need to be taken into consideration for media distribution strategy?

    If you believe the answers to the above are “yes” – then at least part of the model of distribution needs to incorporate not just a single branded page or site, but a multitude of user generated screen(s) (not even a Web page necessarily) that has video and audio player, a collection of feeds and widgets, all of which may or may not be inside a browser, and may well be far separated from your brand’s “home page.”

    As Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures) said in his blog:

    “Every attempt everyone has ever made to try to dictate what a person’s Internet experience will be has ended up coming up empty...You have to accept the fact that you are never going to be the be-all and end-all of everyone’s experience. They are one click away from everyone else on the Web.”

     

    June 22, 2007

    The Wisdom of Crowds vs. the Wisdom of Friends

    There’s a great post on TechCrunch by David Sacks, the founder and CEO of new startup Geni (and former PayPal COO), focused on the evolution of the portal.  The premise:  it’s not that portals are irrelevant in the Web 2.0 world, but that their success may require evolution and redefinition.

    If the key service a portal provides is serving up the information a visitor/user needs, then the time frame solution pairs could be seen as follows:

    • Browsing  - Early web days with few useful sites
    • Search - More web sites make browsing less useful
    • Share (and I'll add Discover) - Desire for more personally relevant info or content that is recommended by “friends”

    Evoportal_2

    To quote Sacks:

    "… virtually all Web 2.0 applications which are based on the wisdom of crowds can be reconceived as Facebook apps based on the wisdom (or trust) of friends. To the extent that these services cater to publishers who seek a mass audience, such as YouTube or Flickr, the social graph will not threaten their business. But to the extent they publish content intended for friends, or if the value of their service increases with the participation of friends, these applications face only two choices: get each user to recreate his or her friendship network on their own site or migrate their service to the Facebook platform lest someone else does it first."

    So if you are an established portal like Yahoo or building a new specialty micro-portal, a strategy to consider might then be to provide the components of browsing and search, but to additionally enable users to have access to the aggregated and filtered content that their specified friends have searched, browsed or have specified an interest in – which enables unexpected, yet personally informed,  discovery.

    So maybe it’s not just about the wisdom of crowds (pageviews), but the wisdom of your crowd of friends.

    June 21, 2007

    Influencing the Flow of Conversation

    Conversation and influence is not a new Web 2.0 concept.  It’s been around for thousands of years.  When you walk into a room – a board room, a dinner party, a school lunch room - you can look around and see the conversations that are going on, identify who is wielding influence and has attention (at least for the moment), and how interactive or “two-way” those conversations are.  Perhaps by looking at a group of people and identifying individuals you know have similar interests, you decide which conversation to join.

    Conversation in digital space is still conversation. The difference is that the process of finding and engaging others is facilitated by technology, and can be massively magnified by the Internet.   And because it is so easy for people to engage, it is more difficult for marketers and builders of media brands (especially for those whose experience is drawn largely from “one-way” mass communications vehicles) to find effective ways to identify the thousands of individuals in scattered virtual rooms with whom they want to connect in conversation, and also to measure the changing behavior metrics that result from those conversations. With everyone being a broadcaster of their opinion, the amount of data and the signal to noise ratio can be very high, and the connections between people and ideas very complex. Measurement now needs to be about reaction to messages, and not the simple number of individuals to whom messages were broadcast, but perhaps never even heard or acted upon.

    If you want to have a chance to introduce, change or influence a conversation, what you really want to know is:

    • Who starts conversations that are listened to
    • Who directs the conversation to new parties
    • Who magnifies the reach of the conversation beyond individuals into larger groups
    • Who connects previously unconnected conversations and networks
    • Who is determined to change and is rewarded for changing the message in the marketplace
    • Who might engage in the conversation in the time frame that is important for you

    Blflowofconversation_2

    Here is a simple conversation map showing influential pieces of digital media (blog, podcast, media site, feed reader), and how they link out and are linked to by other popular media.  This map was constructed from some data generated by using a tool from BuzzLogic that based on a user-defined Boolean query identifies the digital media that is influencing the conversation.  In this example, it is constructed from a query around a company called “LivingHomes.”

    This map highlights how the 5th and 16th most influential pieces of media around LivingHomes are connected, and how each of them creates their own inbound and outbound conversation flows to other pieces of media. 

    • The “starting node” of the 5th most influential piece of media in this "conversation" is an interview on the core77.com blog with LivingHomes founder and CEO, Steve Glenn.
    • It reach is expanded through the inbound links with sustainablestyle and worldchanging (also the 16th most influential piece of digital media around the subject area).
    • The later also connects it with other networks, and now the conversation has reached 2 levels removed from the source article, and three levels from the website of LivingHomes - and this is from following just one influencer thread out a few levels.

    June 13, 2007

    What Brands Can Learn from Ze Frank

    The Show with Ze Frank began on March 17, 2006 and ended exactly one year later. You can watch Ze's Zefranktitle sportracers (aka his viewers) giving their "I'll be seeing you's" in a compilation video with many homages to the past year of shows. Ze provided an easy way for fans to upload their videos  and see those from others. Don't miss Ze's final show.

    Now imagine a brand creating a way in which it can engage its customers and influencers in as interesting and honest a way.

    June 12, 2007

    Net Neutrality - Fair and Free vs. Who Pays for the Upgrade?

    So what is Net Neutrality?  And what's all the hub-bub about?

    Netneutralitybw_2

    If you believe that humor has the power to educate, checkout these videos from:

    Susan Crawford, a professor of cyberlaw and intellectual property at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City has a great 5 question/150 word answer FAQ as well as thoughts on the social benefits of the neutral Internet.

    "Think of the pipes and wires that you use to go online as a sidewalk. The question is whether the sidewalk should get a cut of the value of the conversations that you have as you walk along? The traditional telephone model has been that the telephone company doesn't get paid more if you have a particularly meaningful call -- they're just providing a neutral pipe."

    My initial interest was really piqued in terms of finding some clearer explanations when I first met danah boyd when inviting her to speak at a technology industry event this past February. As always, she is incredibly passionate, especially about how this relates to youth culture and expression and focuses on ways to make this complicated issue understandable.

    "If you spend enough time on YouTube, you’re bound to run into things like this (a “music video” with a kid dancing to his favorite song).  This is user-generated content and it terrifies big media.  What if people watch this instead of programmed content?

    Cable companies control access to the Internet for many consumers (they deliver a lot of it through cable broadband).  What if the cable companies could value certain websites over others based on their business needs?  Say, for example, the video content of their subsidiaries downloads really fast but the videos at YouTube are super slow.  Unfortunately, this isn’t science fiction… this is what the “net neutrality” debate is all about.  Internet providers (cable companies, DSL companies, telcos) want to be able to prioritize content so that content companies would pay them to distribute their content fast.  If you don’t pay, your users might experience videos that start and stop or are otherwise painfully slow."

    In addition, there's an interesting mini-debate on CNN from Craig Newark (founder of craigslist.org) and Mike McCurry (former press secretary  for President Bill Clinton and now partner at Public Strategies Washington Inc.) – both smart, articulate  guys with opposing views.

    The gist of Craig's opinion is well summed-up in one of his anecdotes:

    "Let's say you call Joe's Pizza and the first thing you hear is a message saying you'll be connected in a minute or two, but if you want, you can be connected to Pizza Hut right away. That's not fair, right? You called Joe's and want some Joe's pizza. Well, that's how some telecommunications executives want the Internet to operate, with some Web sites easier to access than others. For them, this would be a money-making regime."

    McCurry's perspective:

    "The debate over Internet content regulations ultimately comes down to one issue: Who'll pay for the billion-dollar upgrades required for tomorrow's Internet? ... The Internet is on the verge of one of the most dramatic breakthroughs in its history. Pretty soon, more and more Internet users will be streaming data-rich video into their homes, using the Web for online games, practicing telemedicine and having voice conversations... But standing in the way of these benefits is the need for substantial network upgrades. Face it, the current Internet is creaky and will quickly get congested without improvements...Under their self-proclaimed banner of "neutrality," Google, eBay and other big online companies are lobbying for what amounts to a federal exemption from paying. Unfortunately, their thinly disguised effort at self-interest would dramatically shift the financial burden of paying for these upgrades onto the backs of ordinary consumers."

    So I have to say, from how I understand the issue, I am on the side of danah and Craig.

    June 08, 2007

    Viral vs Buzz vs WOM – Get Out Your Dictionary (or Wikipedia)

    So what is the connection between viral, buzz, and word of mouth? Are they the same or are they completely different entities? Does one necessarily generate the other?  Or none of the above?  Not to get too hung up on language, but prompted in part by a recent read of a great Harvard Business Review piece, “Viral Marketing for the Real World”  by Duncan J. Watts  and Jonah Peretti, and  given some recent conversations, I think it is worth a few hundred words and a sketch of one model for consideration. 

    Viralbuzzwom2_2 VIRAL

    • This is a tactic.
    • For brands it is usually a manufactured marketing message, but the Jonah Peretti's Nike "sweatshop" viral email of 2001 is a great example of how something unexpectedly takes off.
    • The content that is crated needs to be easy to share with transparency embedded in the media.
    • For Viral to translate to Buzz and WOM requires providing people with something directly relevant to the brand.  Just because something is Viral does not mean it will generate appropriate WOM that translates to brand movement.

    BUZZ

    • This is NOT about a particular media tactic.
    • It is about conversation (digital or real world), but that conversation may not have brand relevance or personal experience attached. Otherwise, Buzz is just a lot of noise that doesn't move the needle.
    • For it to be effective, it requires providing something for people to talk about that is personally relevant and engaging. A good vintage example of this is the Honda Accord COGs video - which would also stand the "test" of Viral above.
    • For Buzz to move to WOM requires a brand relevant connection.

    WORD OF MOUTH

    • This is NOT about a particular media tactic.
    • It is about conversation that is about tapping into the power of people's personal networks in a way that is relevant and personally beneficial.
    • It can be stimulated but it CANNOT ultimately be controlled. Think early days of  American Idol and the Apple iPod.
    • WOM can create CHANGE if the conversation is fueled by meaningful stories.

    In the end, what’s really important is not just about debating the words, but understanding the process of engagement. The end goal is about CHANGE of perceptions and actions.

    June 07, 2007

    Integrated Branded Content - It’s All About Engage vs. Tell

    Boomers. GenXers. GenNexers. Regardless of the generation a brand is trying to reach, a relevant and emotional connection with the audience is the goal. With the proliferation of media vehicles that people have to choose from today - or perhaps more likely, that they are trying to avoid - brands must reach beyond the traditional and embrace new, powerful forms of storytelling communications.

    Brands can create "branded content or entertainment networks" by creatively leveraging existing media assets, generating original programming, and encouraging user/consumer generated media. That programming can then be distributed in a number of ways — by the brand itself, via syndication with other sites and networks, or virally through the social media world. Finally, how individuals engage with that content should be monitored and measured in real time in order to inform changes that need to be made during the campaign.

    These digital solutions can be integrated with more traditional media to create a powerful, effective and ongoing program that promotes the creation and sharing of content and story. Below is an example of this concept applied to a simple Branded Content campaign.

    Branded_content_roadmap

    (1) An online web or podcast series (with or without gaming component) could drive awareness to a live event.

    (2) The live event would provide press stories and additional content for more online programming distributed at the website and through partner sites, blogs and social networks; and with appropriate retail hooks, drive store traffic.

    (3) Programming from the event and from seeded influencers could inspire a user/consumer generated media campaign, the unique and passionate stories of which would go on to fuel “traditional media” in print and broadcast coverage.

    (4) Many of the elements can be designed to connect to affinity/loyalty programs that can facilitate deeper engagement and can feed directly back into the digital media and live event worlds with premiums, content and special access.

      Or

    Liz Gebhardt


    • © Amanda Jones
      Digital and traditional (live & broadcast) media/ marketing strategist and producer living at the intersection of Web meets (live) World. More than two decades of experience in building media and technology businesses, content programming and distribution, brand stories and integrated communications campaigns.

      Believes that strategy is all talk unless it can be executed in a way that delivers on both the creative and business promises. Embraces the role of navigator of the uncharted path vs. passenger along the known road.