On being off-grid and Byline for your iPhone

26 07 2009

The first 7 weeks after I left IBM were a trip back to my pre-Internet days, as I had problems with both my Twitter account and my Bell Sympatico High-Speed connection at home, and didn’t spend much time in front of a computer at work. Not being connected has its bright side, especially during summer time, so I’m not complaining too much. There’s plenty to do in our non-virtual lives, and an excuse to stay away from the computer is welcome, especially in the sunny days of Toronto’s short summer – by the way, the only reason I’m writing this now is that the weather is pretty bad outside and my golf plans were ruined 😦 .

In my case, Bell Sympatico High-Speed was a bit of a misnomer, especially in early July, when I was getting a download speed of 0.25 Mbits per second and learned from Bell that as far as my connection is up, they are charging for service. Last week I switched all my services to Rogers, and so far it’s been good. I’m typically getting very close to 10 Mbits, a 40 times improvement. Just in case, I’ll keep my fingers crossed, as consumers typically don’t have the upper hand in a de-facto ISP duopoly landscape.

In those 7 weeks off-grid, my iPhone became my online lifeline, but while the small screen is good to consume content, it’s less so to create stuff. Going down the Social Technographics ladder led me to discover a great tool for my iPhone, one that I highly recommend: Byline, by Phantom Fish. Here’s what their website says about the app:

Read the latest news from your favorite sites and blogs on your iPhone or iPod Touch, even when you’re offline.
Simply use your free Google Reader account to subscribe to websites you’d like to keep track of. Byline will automatically bring you new content, putting thousands of RSS and Atom feeds at your fingertips.

Stay in sync
When you read an item, it stays read. The same goes for the items you star: Byline will let Google Reader know the next time you have an internet connection.

Browse offline
Even when you have no internet connection, Byline’s offline browsing feature gives you instant access to complete web pages.
Perfect for flights, subway journeys, and (if you’re an iPod Touch owner) those long dry spells between Wi-Fi zones.
Byline will cache the web pages linked to by your notes, starred items, and (optionally) new items. This allows you to save any news item you read and any website you visit for offline browsing.

Here are some screenshots:

The offline capability is great for consuming comics in the subway ride or during those long, boring flights:

Byline is now the most utilized 3rd party app on my iPhone. To save on the meager data plans available in Canada, you may want to turn the “Cache by Wi-Fi Only” on. I typically synch it a few times a day, just before leaving home in the morning and whenever I drop by a coffee shop during the day. If you work close to the CN Tower in Toronto, the Timothy’s store there now offers free Internet for patrons.





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.





Five things I didn’t know about Darwin

28 02 2009

You should probably know by now that in 2009 we celebrate 200 years of Charles Darwin’s birth and 150 years since “The Origin of Species” was first published. I’ve been feasting on all the information flooding in the media about him, and I learned quite a bit about the man and the book in the last few months. Here’s my top 5 list, in no particular order.

1. A dinasty of sorts
The last publication by Darwin, written just 2 weeks before he died, was about a tiny clam found on a beetle leg. Nothing particularly interesting there. The person sending Charles the specimen was Walter Drawbridge Crick, a shoemaker and amateur naturalist. Even less remarkable, one could say, until you learn that Walter would eventually have a grandson named Francis, of Watson & Crick’s double helix fame, arguably the second most important insight in Biology, and perhaps in all sciences (Source: National Geographic Magazine).

2. Evolution
The word “Evolution”, so associated with Darwin in our collective mind, never appears in “The Origin of Species”. The closest you get is the last word in the last sentence of the book, a poetic gem of scientific literature: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” You can check that yourself by downloading a PDF version of the book here (Source: Quirks and Quarks podcast, CBC).

3. Survival of the fittest
Even more puzzling is the fact that the term “survival of the fittest” was first coined by Herbert Spencer in the book “The principles of biology” (1864), and only shows up in late editions of Origin, duly acknowledging Spencer’s authorship: “I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term natural selection, in order to mark its relation to man’s power of selection.  But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer, of the Survival of the Fittest, is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.”. (Sources: The Phrase Finder and Gutemberg project).

4. The destiny of species
Long before coming up with his theory about where the species came from, many of Charles’ objects of study ended up in his stomach. Darwin used to eat several of the animals he helped describing, including, but not limited to, water-hogs (capivaras for Brazilians, a REALLY big rat, in fact the largest rodent in the world), birds of prey like the caracara, and armadillos. I guess that to provide a comprehensive description of a species, behaviour and looks were not enough: the more information the better 🙂 . I learned about this bizarre piece of trivia while watching the excellent “Darwin’s Legacy” course by Stanford University, available in iTunes U., but you can find a very good description of Darwin’s culinary adventures here.

5. Brazil according to Darwin
Charles, to put it mildly, didn’t enjoy much his time in Brazil, affirming at the end of his “Voyage of the Beagle” travelog: “On the 19th of August we finally left the shores of Brazil. I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave-country.” I’m not sure if slavery in Brazil was worse than in other parts of the world, but being the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery suggests that the Brazilian society of the 18th century relied heavily on it, to the point that even today Brazil still has the second largest population of black origin in the world (after Nigeria). On the other side, Darwin was awed by the forests in Brazil: “Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of man; whether those of Brazil, where the powers of Life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where Death and decay prevail.  Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature: — no one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body.” Both quotes are a bit surprising given their quasi-spiritual tone. Finally, to conclude on a lighter note, this is Darwin’s account of Carnival folies in Salvador, Bahia, written on March 4th, 1832:

This day is the first of the Carnival, but Wickham, Sullivan & myself nothing undaunted were determined to face its dangers. — These dangers consist in being unmercifully pelted by wax balls full of water & being wet through by large tin squirts. — We found it very difficult to maintain our dignity whilst walking through the streets. — Charles the V has said that he was a brave man who could snuff a candle with his fingers without flinching; I say it is he who can walk at a steady pace, when buckets of water on each side are ready to be dashed over him. After an hours walking the gauntlet, we at length reached the country & there we were well determined to remain till it was dark. — We did so, & had some difficulty in finding the road back again, as we took care to coast along the outside of the town. — To complete our ludicrous miseries a heavy shower wet us to the skins, & at last gladly we reached the Beagle. — It was the first time Wickham had been on shore, & he vowed if he was here for six months it should be only one.

Watching Darwin braving the festive Carnival crowds in Salvador would have been priceless. If only we had Flickr and YouTube back then!





ROI 2.0, Part 3: We don’t need a Social Media ROI model

19 02 2009

Malcolm Gladwell, in his hilarious TED talk on spaghetti sauce, tells the story of Howard Moskowitz’s epiphany while looking for the perfect concentration of aspartame to use in the Diet Pepsi formulation:

Howard does the experiment, and he gets the data back, and he plots it on a curve, and all of a sudden he realizes it’s not a nice bell curve. In fact, the data doesn’t make any sense. It’s a mess. It’s all over the place. (…) Why could we not make sense of this experiment with Diet Pepsi? And one day, he was sitting in a diner in White Plains (…). And suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, the answer came to him. And that is, that when they analyzed the Diet Pepsi data, they were asking the wrong question. They were looking for the perfect Pepsi, and they should have been looking for the perfect Pepsis.”

Tangent note: Most TED talks are a treat, but this one is particularly funny and thought-provoking. If you haven’t seen it yet, consider paying it a visit. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you may like the TED app too!

Over the last few years, many in the Social Media space have been on a quest to find the perfect ROI model for blogs, micro-blogs, wikis, social networking, social bookmarking and other animals in the ever growing Web 2.0 zoo. You’ll see opinions ranging from “we don’t need ROI for Social Media” to “Web 2.0 has to rely on a lagging ROI” to “ROI 2.0 comes from time savings”. In a way, they are all right and all wrong at the same time. Paraphrasing Doctor Moskowitz, there is no perfect Social Media ROI model, there are only perfect Social Media ROI models.

Since 2006, I’ve been talking to several senior executives in multiple industries and across geographies about the business value of Web 2.0, and have noticed a wide range of approaches when deciding whether or not (and how much) to invest in social computing. For companies in the forefront of the social media battleground, such as newspapers, book publishers and TV channels, investing heavily in new web technologies has often been a question of survival, and decision makers had significant leeway in trying new ways of delivering their products and services, with the full blessing of their stakeholders. On the other side of the spectrum, in sectors such as financial services, social media is not yet unanimously regarded as the way to go. I’ve heard from a number of banking and insurance clients that, if Social Media advocates don’t articulate clearly the returns they are expecting to achieve, they won’t get the funds to realize their vision.

Most players in Government were also very skeptical until the Obama effect took the world by storm, creating a sense of urgency that was not as prevalent before. Since then, government agencies around the globe seem to be a bit more forgiving with high level business cases for social computing initiatives inside and outside the firewall. However, to balance things out, in most of the other industries, investments in innovation are being subject to even more scrutiny than normal due to the tough current economic environment. So, having a few ROI models in your pocket does not hurt.

The following ROI models are emerging, and we can expect a few more to appear in the near future.

1. Lagging ROI

Last year, I spoke to the CIO of a global retail chain and he had an interesting approach towards strategic investments in emerging technologies. Instead of trying to develop a standard business case based on pie-in-the-sky ROI calculations, he managed to convince the board of directors to give him more flexibility to invest in a few projects his team deemed to be essential for the long-term survival of the company. For those, he would provide after-the-fact ROI metrics, so that decision makers could assess whether to keep investing or pull the plug. He also managed expectations by saying upfront that some of those projects would fail, but doing nothing was not an option. By setting aside an innovation bucket and establishing a portfolio of parallel innovation initiatives, you can hedge your bets and improve your overall success rate.

2. Efficiency gains or cost avoidance

Many of the early Social Media ROI models are based on how much time you save by relying on social media, converting that to monetary terms based on the cost of labour. While this is certainly a valid approach, it needs to be supplemented by other sources of business value. Unless you are capable of mapping the saved minutes with other measurable outcomes derived from having more time available, the most obvious way to realize the value of being more efficient is to reduce head count, as in theory the group can do the same work as before with less people. If that’s the core of your business case justification, it may fire back in the long term, as some people may feel that the more they use social computing, the more likely it is that their department will be downsized.

3. Proxy Metrics

Some of the ROI examples in the Groundswell book and blog rely on proxy marketing metrics, i.e., what would be the corresponding cost of a conventional marketing campaign to achieve the same level of reach or awareness. For example, when calculating the ROI of an executive blog, the authors measure value by calculating the cost of advertising, PR, SEO and word-of-mouth equivalents.

4. Product/Service/Process Innovation

The value of customer or employee insights that end up generating brand new products, services and processes or improvements to existing one needs to be taken into account. Measuring the number of new features is relatively straightforward. Over time, you may want to figure out the equivalent R&D cost to get the same results.

5. Improved Conversions

Back to the Groundswell book, one of the ROI examples there shows how ratings and reviews can improve conversion rates (i.e., from all people visiting your site, how many more buy products because they trust the input from other consumers, compared to typical conversion rates).

6. Digitalization of knowledge

By having employees blogging, contributing to wikis, commenting or rating content, creating videos and podcasts, companies are essentially enabling the digitalization of knowledge. Things that used to exist only in people’s heads are now being converted to text, audio and images that are searchable and discoverable. It’s the realization of the asset that Clay Shirky calls the cognitive surplus. That was an elusive resource that didn’t have much monetary value before the surge in user-generated content. Naturally, a fair portion of that digitalized knowledge has very little business value, so you need to find metrics to determine how much of that truckload of content is actually useful. You can infer that by using cross-links, comments, ratings or even number of visits.

7. Social capital and empowerment of the workforce

There is certainly business value in having a workforce composed of well connected, well informed and motivated employees. What metrics can be used to assess the degree of connectivity/knowledge/motivation of your human resources? Several social computing tools give you indirect metrics that provide a glimpse of the metrics you can exploit. Atlas for IBM Lotus Connections, for example, gives you the ability to see how your social network evolves quarterly, and can help determining how many people are associated with some hot skill (full disclosure: I work for IBM).

As you can see in several of the emerging models listed above, there are often three types of inputs to develop ROI calculations:

  • Quantitative metrics that can be obtained directly from the system data and log files
  • Qualitative metrics that are determined using surveys, questionnaires and polls
  • Dollar multipliers that attribute arbitrary monetary value to hard to assess items such as a blog comment or an extra contact in your social network

For the monetary value, I would suggest to adopt a sensitivity analysis approach, working with conservative, average and aggressive scenarios, and adjusting them over time. Just don’t go overboard. As I stated in a previous post, there’s an ROI for calculating ROI. ROI models should be easy to understand, as decision makers will often frown upon obscure calculations that require a PhD degree in financial modeling.

In summary: we don’t need one Social Media ROI model, we need many of them. None of the ones emerging now is perfect, none will ever be. You may need to have a few in your toolkit and develop a sense of which one to use in each case.

Previous ROI entries:

ROI 2.0, Part 1: Bean counters vs Innovators – The need for a real exchange of ideas
ROI 2.0, Part 2: Storytelling and Business Cases





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.