Aunt May 2.0

4 08 2009

A few years ago, during a visit to the Portuguese Language Museum in São Paulo, Brazil, I found that one of my favourite childhood characters, Cebolinha, was getting into blogging:

2004 is typically considered the year that blogs went mainstream, so no surprises there. It’s expected that a cartoon character would just follow the habits of his target demographics.

That notwithstanding, I had a good laugh getting my weekly dose of geeky fix in this sequence of Amazing Spider-Man #599:

So Aunt May is active in both Facebook and Twitter? Is this just a Marvel plot to get more people to follow them in Twitter? One would expect Johnny “Human Torch” Storm to be twittering (see below), but Aunt May, seriously?

If you believe in this comScore report and the referred Reuters blog post from a few months ago, Aunt May could in fact be as likely to be a Twitter user as Johnny Storm:
comScore blog – (…) 18-24 year olds, the traditional social media early adopters, are actually 12 percent less likely than average to visit Twitter (Index of 88). It is the 25-54 year old crowd that is actually driving this trend. More specifically, 45-54 year olds are 36 percent more likely than average to visit Twitter, making them the highest indexing age group, followed by 25-34 year olds, who are 30 percent more likely.

Reuters blog – Twitter may even be catching on among people who have a reached a post-business phase of their lives: Of the 4 million U.S. Twitter users in February, 5.2 percent were 65 or older.

To keep things in perspective, if you Google “Twitter demographics”, you’ll find all kinds of conflicting data, like this one by Quantcast or this other one by Pew Internet & American Life Project, so don’t start placing all your Twitter bets on the older segments of your target audience just yet. But keep in mind that the online landscape keeps changing at a fast pace: if you are still stuck in believing that Social Media is owned by generation Y, maybe it’s time to check if that latest Twitter follower you’ve got is not your grandma taking a break from all the World of Warcraft craziness.





Enterprise 2.0: Jennifer Okimoto and Antipatterns

23 06 2009

Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t join the Social Media crowd at the Enterprise 2.0 conference being held in Boston this week. But luckily for those attending, Jennifer Okimoto kindly offered to present the Enterprise 2.0 Antipatterns session, scheduled for this upcoming Thursday. You can take a look at the core slides I used in the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco in SlideShare:

But even if you’ve seen me presenting it before, I highly recommend those attending the E2.0 event to see Jennifer’s take on it. She’s a great story teller, and her director’s cut will likely feel like a new presentation altogether. And if you can’t see her live there, make sure you follow her in Twitter for a daily dose of witty commentary and nuggets of wisdom 2.0.





Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2009 Recap: Part 2

15 04 2009

This post is about 2 weeks late, which in this day and age is the web equivalent to yesteryear’s newspaper. On the bright side, most of the real-time info about the expo was already conveyed by the twitterers out there. Just see this entry as my attempt to seed the machine for future searches. In case you are wondering, Part 1 is here.

4. Robin Sloan (Current) and Zach Brand (NPR, Digital Media)
TV & Radio with an API: Stories from Current and NPR
Twitter tag: #w2api

Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2009

This session was a bit basic from a geek perspective, but very well done. Being able to convey boring or complex concepts in a clear manner is a rare talent, and both Sloan and Brand did well there. You may not know Sloan, but chances are you saw his cool video EPIC 2014.

Most media companies still don’t expose most of their content, so I bet this session was inspiring for many. I couldn’t find the slides available anywhere, but you may like this kind-of-related deck interesting.

Some lessons learned:

  • Use a “brand and release” strategy to increase your relevance
  • APIs allowed NPR to create partnerships that would not exist otherwise
  • A good quote: “API = how i stopped focusing on my own website and learned to love the whole internet” :-)

5. Kate Niederhoffer (Dachis Corporation), Marc Smith (Telligent Systems)
Beyond Buzz: On Measuring a Conversation
Twitter tag: #buzzzz

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the first half of this session. You can see the slideshare presentation embedded below, but a presentation is so much more than slides. Seeing what I missed teased my imagination about how much is hidden in social metrics. I would love to have Kate and Marc presenting in an IBM event in the future, as understanding the potential of social metrics is very relevant for us right now. One more item in my ever growing to-do list: check and play with NodeXL!

6. Sören Stamer (CoreMedia)
Darwinism on the Web: Surviving and Thriving in a Web 2.0 World
No Twitter tag, apparently :-(

I couldn’t get in the room for this session, and if you follow this blog you know that this one would be at the top of my list. Next time, I have to make sure I arrive early for sessions with cool titles. As a consolation prize, here’s a nice blog post by a person who was luckier than me and, of course, slideshare:

Considering that I failed miserably in writing part 2 when the info was fresh, I’m not promising Part 3 this time. In case you still have appetite for more Web 2.0 Expo, you can see all the keynotes here.





Is failure overrated?

2 04 2009


Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2008

As seen in Biznology (slightly modified to avoid overlapping with previous posts in this blog):

Is learning from failures overrated? When emphasizing the importance of learning from errors, are we actually creating a culture of losers? Read on to hear arguments on both sides of this discussion and make up your mind. Your company’s survival in the long term may depend on it.

I’m in San Francisco this week, speaking at and attending the Web 2.0 Expo at the Moscone West. In a number of sessions, the speakers emphasized that failure is an important part of the innovation game. Knowing that I also tend to subscribe to that theory, and commenting on the Charlie Brown comic strip I embedded in my previous blog entry, a colleague at IBM pointed me to an interesting piece written by Jason Fried, from 37signals, who challenges that whole concept: “Failure is overrated, a redux”. It’s a good post, and the comments are also worth reading. To have a complete picture of the discussion, I suggest you to also read the New York Times article Jason refers to, “Try, Try Again, or Maybe Not”.

As it’s often the case in heated discussions, I initially found that Jason was defending a completely different perspective toward failure and learning, but this comment of his on another related post made me think that the difference is mostly one of weight.

“Everything is a learning experience. It’s just that I’ve found learning from your successes to be more advantageous. (…) I’ve always found more value in learning from the things that work than the things that don’t.”

I definitely can live with that position. What I have more trouble with is the cited Harvard Business School working paper. Here are some excerpts from the NYT article:

“The data are absolutely clear,” says Paul A. Gompers, a professor of business administration at the school and one of the study’s authors. “Does failure breed new knowledge or experience that can be leveraged into performance the second time around?” he asks. In some cases, yes, but over all, he says, “We found there is no benefit in terms of performance.”

(…) first-time entrepreneurs who received venture capital funding had a 22 percent chance of success. Success was defined as going public or filing to go public; Professor Gompers says the results were similar when using other measures, like acquisition or merger.

Already-successful entrepreneurs were far more likely to succeed again: their success rate for later venture-backed companies was 34 percent. But entrepreneurs whose companies had been liquidated or gone bankrupt had almost the same follow-on success rate as the first-timers: 23 percent.

If the article is accurate – and that’s a big if, considering that this is still a working paper – it seems that the HBS research is not actually proving that “when it comes to venture-backed entrepreneurship, the only experience that counts is success”, as stated in the opening paragraph. It basically demonstrates that enterpreneurs who managed to go public or filed to go public are slightly more likely (going from 22% to 34%) to have a repeat, but isn’t that expected?

There are several factors that come into play when filing a venture to go public, and having done it once gives an entrepreneur some knowledge of what it takes to get there again. I actually find surprising that, even with that edge, the rate of failure is still very high. Another way to interpret the same data is: roughly two thirds of entrepreneurs who were successful the first time (and I’m using the same loose definition of success here) fail the second time. If anything, the data tells me that success is also overrated.

The “learning from failures” approach makes more sense when you take a granular approach to it. Every single initiative you undertake is composed of a vast number of small wins and losses. You definitely can learn from both outcomes, so regardless of which one will teach you the most, embrace successes AND failures. The fundamental message when advocating a culture that allows failure to occur from time to time is to avoid analysis paralysis, or even worse, denial by hiding what went wrong and exaggerating what went right.

The bottom line is that innovation entails good risk management and shares many features with the financial world. Low risk initiatives are likely to generate low returns, and don’t give you much of a competitive edge. Being bold may lead you to collect wins and losses along the way, but also can reward you more handsomely overall. Knowing that, it’s important that you balance your innovation initiatives the same way you handle a portfolio: diversify them and adjust the mix to your comfort level. During economic downturns like the one we are going through now, it’s easy to panic and stop innovating. Keep in mind that a solid and consistent long term approach to innovation may determine your ability to survive in good and bad times.





Darwin: blogging and twittering in the 19th century?

26 01 2009

The Evolution RevolutionYou will be hearing about Darwin a lot this year, as 2009 marks 200 years of his birth and 150 years of “The Origin of Species”. Regardless of what you think about Darwin the scientist, there are lots to learn from Darwin the man.

Last summer, I visited “Darwin: The Evolution Revolution” at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It was the first time I saw him not as a naturalist, but as a person. You still can catch the exhibition till April 19 in the Natural History Museum in London, renamed “Darwin – Big Idea” (see the slideshow for a taste of what you’ll find there).

The handwritten notes and letters caught my attention immediately, as they ranged from the deeply scientific (the famous “I think” sketch with the evolutionary tree) to the trivial and mundane (Fanny Owen, Darwin’s first girlfriend, asking “Why did you not come home this Christmas? I suppose some dear little Beetles kept you away!”).

Almost 3 years ago, I wrote a blog post wondering what it would be like if folks like Darwin, Shakespeare and Martin Luther King had blogs. I didn’t imagine back then that Darwin actually had the next best thing available to him: a notebook, a pen, and the discipline to write almost daily about whatever crossed his mind.

Darwin left a huge written record in books, articles, notebooks and more than 14,000 letters. Looking at them, I can’t help but see the similarities with the Social Media tools we use today. See for example one of his notes aboard the Beagle:

Darwin Manuscripts

I can almost see a “Powered by WordPress.com” at the bottom of his entries :-) .

If you keep digging, you’ll find also his journal:

Darwin Manuscripts

If only he had Twitter and GPS, eh? I would follow him for sure.

Bad jokes aside, I find fascinating that you can know so much about a person who was born 200 years ago. It’s been said that “thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time”. Darwin was doing that back in 1822 at age 12!

So, if you think you know Charles, take a look at the “10 Fun Facts About Darwin” at Neatorama.com. You’ll find that not only he described plenty of new species, he ate several of them too, including armadillos, iguanas and tortoises. And that he once wrote that a wife was “better than a dog” for companion. Not exactly the most romantic thing to say about your significant other, but geeks will always be geeks, I guess.

If you want to learn more about the man, I highly recommend BBC’s “In Our Time” Darwin series, and also Darwin’s Legacy, a lecture series from Stanford University at iTunes U. You won’t be disappointed.





Enterprise Blogging Inhibitors: writer’s block, making a fool of oneself and lack of feedback

26 01 2009

This is an updated version of a blog post I wrote for my internal IBM blog back in April 2006. It shows its age, but it may still be relevant for folks starting to blog inside the corporation.

When I ask colleagues at IBM why they don’t blog, or why they don’t blog more often, the most common answers are “I don’t have  time”, “I don’t know what to blog about” and “no one cares about my thoughts”. In a survey I ran 3 years ago, not even a single respondent mentioned writer’s block or fear of making a fool of oneself as blogging inhibitors.

Many of my fellow IBMers are quick-witted, bright and have plenty of good ideas. They are typically well-read, inquisitive and very open to hear other people’s opinions. Most of them are good writers too, and they would probably be good bloggers. However, many of them don’t blog. There’s this somehow unfounded idea that blogging is going to take a lot of time and effort. Some of them even started a blog, but stopped after a while. They got discouraged by the number of daily hits in their blogs or by the low number of comments their early posts generated or by the time they spent just to write a few paragraphs. Or they just don’t know what to write about on a frequent basis.

If any of the readers of this blog is wondering whether or not to start blogging or resume blogging inside the enterprise, here’s my take on it. Don’t forget that we are all learning, so take it with a grain of salt (as you should do with anything you read). Also, you’ll find lots of – sometimes conflicting – advice out there on how to blog effectively. Be confident that you’ll eventually find what works better for you.

  • Don’t liken enterprise blogging to writing an article for a magazine. In blogs, you can afford to disclose unpolished thoughts out there. Writing them actually may help you to structure your ideas, and sharing with others may enrich a reflection you had only as a raw piece of clay inside your brain, as others may have a common interest on the topic. So, while your post may not be getting you a Pulitzer Award any time soon, it may actually trigger a good discussion with others in your company. I see blogging more like chatting in a bar after hours (minus the drinks and the hangover) than giving a lecture to a demanding audience.
  • Approach blogging like reading and writing e-mails, with the advantage that there’s no serious harm if you skip reading some posts from time to time, and that nobody ever expects you to reply to blog entries. It’s something you do at a best effort basis. Time-box the time you spent reading and writing blogs to, say, 15 minutes a day, or 30 minutes a week. Or just harness your interstitial time, blogging whenever you have a few minutes to spare. As you get used to doing it, you’ll become more efficient. Remember, don’t approach it as one more task to squeeze into your already busy schedule. It’s a learning and networking venue where you get a lot accomplished just by dedicating 15 minutes a day to it.
  • Be aware that many in your company will consume your internal blog via an RSS reader. This means that even though people are reading your blog, the hit counter may not show that. Also, as it’s the case with most blogs, expect a very low comment-to-post ratio at least at the beginning. Some of your interesting posts will not necessarily generate any comment, even though people are paying attention. I found over the years that some of my “comment-less” posts were actually “dogeared” by some colleagues, proving that the number of comments is not necessarily an indication of whether or not readers found it relevant. Most days, like many others blog addicts, I skim through all posts in my feed reader. Whatever you write about, you’ll have the attention of a fair number of readers for at least a few moments. Therefore, make sure the title of your blog entry and its first few lines give a good idea about what you are writing about.
  • Blogging is a 2-way street. If you blog but you don’t read other people’s blogs, you may not “get” it. Reading internal and external blogs actually is crucial for you to REALLY understand why blogs are not the same as newsgroups, instant messaging or social networking web sites. As you start commenting on other people’s blogs and observing how some topics generate more interest or discussions, you’ll probably have a better understanding of the dynamics of this media. You’ll also establish your own network of bloggers who are more attuned to your own interests and area of expertise. Make sure that you reply to comments when appropriate, showing your appreciation for other people’s time and effort. It’s pretty much like going from high-school to University: it takes time to adapt to this new environment.
  • At first, you may not want to limit yourself to a single theme. Some of my favourite blogs talk about a wide variety of subjects: technology, working environment experiences, “fluffy” stuff, latest news, photography, parenthood, jokes. The proverbial writer’s block only happens if you see yourself as a writer with a theme or a deadline to meet. If the whole world is “in scope” for your blog, and you are just “chatting”, not “authoring”, you’ll probably start having a backlog of things you may want to blog about. I’m not suggesting that you blog about things that are too personal all the time, but variety is a good thing. Keep in mind the “virtual watercooler” analogy: in real offices, you do talk about things that are not strictly work-related sometimes, and that helps building rapport with your colleagues.

In my first Social Media presentation ever, back in 2006, I mentioned that Charles Darwin wondered many times if it was worth it to publish his ideas (note that some scholars dispute this as a myth):

Darwin feared putting the theory out in an incomplete form, as his ideas about evolution would be highly controversial if any attention was paid to them at all.

I keep imagining how many good ideas are left private just because people feel afraid of making a fool of themselves. As I said before, everybody has something to say, and nobody says brilliant things all the time. What if Shakespeare, Einstein, Martin Luther King, Gandhi all had blogs where they could share their reflections with others? It takes ideas to generate ideas, so just let you ideas out: many of them will probably be soon forgotten, but a few good ones may florish and persist (if you are not familiar with the concept, you may want to read about memes). Innovation is most often just a way of aggregating independent ideas into a new cohesive structure.





Fame, Interactive Ads and Online Reputation

23 12 2008

As previously seen at Biznology:

As marketers try to find ways to join the conversation enabled by social media, they face the challenge of scale. The virtual third space is becoming increasingly fragmented, to the point that engaging into every single thread of discussion pertinent to your business is no longer practical. In that scenario, can you meet the expectations of a target audience increasingly craving for individual attention? Can you effectively manage your online reputation?

Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas summarized the extent of the online conversations in the social web nicely in their conversation prism graphic:

The Conversation Prism, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0

Going through the petals of the chart above, it’s evident that the online chatter is much bigger than just Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. And it’s not getting any smaller.

In his best-seller book “Here Comes Everybody”, Clay Shirky pointed out that the web did not completely flatten publishing and broadcasting, as fame gets in the way of the elusive many-to-many communication nirvana:

“The Web makes interactivity technologically possible, but what technology giveth, social factors taketh away. In the case of the famous, any potential interactivity is squashed, because fame isn’t an attitude, and it isn’t technological artifact. Fame is simply an imbalance between inboud and outbound attention, more arrows pointing in than out.”

That imbalance can lead to unmet expectations on both sides: companies being frustrated by trying to join an ever growing number of online social spaces and customers demanding individual attention they can’t possibly get.

To mitigate this issue, some organizations have been relying on interactive or personalized online video ads that provide a middle ground between the one-size-fits-all model of traditional media and the many-sizes-fit-many model described by Chris Anderson in his book “The Long Tail”. Here are four examples:

1. Burger King and the Subservient Chicken

Launched back in 2004, this widely popular website (20 million hits within a week of launching, 14 million unique visitors in the first year) is still online after all these years. Its simplicity was captivating: a man in a chicken costume would perform actions based on what users asked him to do. It was based on pre-recorded footage, and more than three hundred commands were available. Sadly, it no longer reacts when you tell him to get a Big Mac.

2. Ms Dewey

This website was launched two years ago as an experimental interface for Microsoft’s Live Search. If you search for “Tiger Woods”, Ms. Dewey may surprise you by making a comment about professional athletes before showing the results. Behind the scenes, the apparent interactivity is achieved via an algorithm choosing one of 600 video clips that may fit the keywords you entered.

3. Antarctica Beer and the Tatoo Ad

As a friendly warning, know that this ad may be a bit too racy for some audiences. I like it for both the humour and the perfect execution. In the future, expect to see even more sophisticated techniques, mixing custom audio or even images with pre-defined content. You can find a rough translation from Brazilian Portuguese to English for the full video here.

4. MoveOn.org viral video

This blog post was actually drafted before the US elections, but I preferred to not publish it back then, as the intent was to discuss interactive ads, not to favour one candidate or the other. MoveOn.org effectively used this personalized video showing the November 4th election being decided by a single voter, whose name is digitally inserted in newspapers titles and video captions.

Interactive videos of course can only go so far. As the amount of user-generated content skyrockets, better tools will become available to marketers for following conversations, detecting trends and managing your company’s reputation. Two months ago, while in Singapore, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation about COBRA (Corporate Brand and Reputation Analysis), an initiative by IBM Research and IBM Global Business Services, that may be a sign of things to come. If you are interested in knowing more about it, visit this page (in the interest of full disclosure, note that IBM is my employer).

Living in exponential times entails developing exponential listening and conversational abilities, for both companies and individuals alike. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but you certainly can enjoy all the fun along the way.








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