Posts in Category: behaviors

What Ship of Theseus teaches us about branding

Ship of Theseus is a complex philosophical question….Ship of Theseus was a successful, sea-faring ship that remained active for hundreds of years because of its constant upkeep, maintenance and replacement of parts.  Plutarch in his book, “Life of Theseus,” raised a question: if every plank of the ship was replaced during its voyage, was it still the same ship? And Thomas Hobbes, built on this (centuries later) by posing another question – if another ship was built out of the discarded parts, was that now the original Ship of Theseus?

“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”

—Plutarch, Theseus[2] 
This question has become a means of debating and exploring the question of one’s identity – is an object more than its part? Are we more than our thoughts?
Lannyland adds another example that makes a similar point:  The little-known story of Steve Jobs and his Mercedes Benz. Steve drove a Mercedes without license plates for years  - thanks to a loop hole in the CA  law.
It turns out there’s a provision in California regulations that give one six months to get license plates for a new car, and Jobs took advantage of it. Yes, he leased a silver Mercedes SL55 AMG, said Callas — and every six months he traded it in for a new one. So to Steve, the car was still The Car of Jobs, but to the Californian DMV, the car was a different one.
I don’t quite know where I’m going with it but I find this thought fascinating. 
We use Ship of Theseus as an example because it was a particularly successful ship. For some reason, it ended up with the best team of sea-farers, the best repairmen, maybe always caught the right currents and avoided the pirates.  For whatever reason, other ships around the same time did not manage to survive long enough to become immortalized in history. I’m assuming they had access to the same resources, the same pool of talent, the same tools for repairs and replacements – but they failed to be as successful as Ship of Theseus. Theseus’ ship was the one that lasted, turning it from  just a ship into an idea to fall in love with, an historical story to respect and pass on.

Abe Lincoln’s axe has also been used in the same argument. His axe was a political and historical legend. Why do we use his axe to illustrate this paradox and not anyone else’s? Lincoln’s axe came not only to symbolize his humble roots but also what he went on to achieve after that, thus immortalizing his humble beginnings and use the axe as a metaphor to signify it.

So perhaps it is not about any object but about certain objects. Not about any individual or company but about certain individuals or companies that transcend their limitations and join history. Make a place in the hearts and minds of the people are more than an object, as a brand.

I can only assume that during its time (or after its time) Ship of Theseus became a brand. A brand that was respected and discussed. And perhaps the public doesn’t let respected brands die so easily.

So, even if another ship is built, plank by plank by the components of the original ship – it is not the Ship of Theseus because it has no history, no story, no brand, becaue it did not hold the same spirit as the original ship. Just as any other axe built from parts of Lincoln’s axe will never be wielded by him and hence will never come Lincoln’s axe.

Do “Gated Likes” dilute the value of a brand?

Undercurrent has a provocative blog post today titled, “How Brands are Killing Facebook.”

I have a lot of problems with the content in it. No offense to Jim Babb (whose excellent work, btw, I have followed and am a huge fan of) but the few points I want to make below, need to be heard and made.

The blog post asserts, “Hiding content behind a “Like-wall” is killing the value of a Facebook Like. In doing so, these brands are eroding the value of the Like and damaging their own social presence.”

This is not true. And here’s why:

1. There is no way to quantitatively differentiate the earned, paid and gated likes. And because it is impossible to do that, it is impossible to segment and understand the behavioral implications of these fans. Plus, most conversion studies I have seen say that a gated page does not negatively impact the behavior. It’s the content that makes or breaks it. Without any data to back up the assertion, I’ll be hard-pressed to make such a recommendation to my client.

2. In an ideal world, it will be nice to not use “Gated” likes. But here’s the reality. I just finished a study at JWT New York to understand how we use social media and what the behaviors are. When we asked our respondents, what were their reasons for connecting to a brand on Facebook or Twitter, the top three reasons were to do with incentives.

67% said they like a page to benefit from a specific promotion or offer;

63% said they like a page because to search for promotions and special offers.

53% said they like a page to participate in competitions and win prizes.

Point is, data and user behavior already suggests that the primary reason they are coming to a page or liking a page is for promotions and sales. Whether the page is gated or not, has nothing to do with it. Instead of focusing on the gated vs. ungated aspects of the puzzle, we are better off focusing on what to do and how to engage with these fans once the enter the turf. How they get there is important but more important than what we do with them once they get there!

If “Gated” likes have worked as a tactic to attract them and since they don’t yet show (at least to my knowledge) any negative impact on brands or consumers  – why not experiment with it? And use it as a tool to bring more people in?

Also, lets get off our high horses regarding Facebook and “fans.” Who says these people that like our page are our “Fans?” Facebook calls them that but it doesn’t mean they are truly our fans. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gated likes. In real life, to avail of a discount, you still have to step in the store. And that’s what I think a Facebook page is now. We call them “fans” because Facebook told us to call them fans. They could all just be people “in your store” – shopping or not.

We need to be careful in making recommendations that aren’t backed by data. I’ve done this before to0 – made recommendations that “feel” right for an ideal world. But we aren’t living in an ideal world. Brands are putting in a significant investment of resources, time and hard cash to grow their social footprint. This field is nascent but to move forward, we need to be able to sift through what “feels” right and what is accurate.

Just my two cents.

Living knowledge vs. dead knowledge

Stream of consciousness so bear with me…

I was at lunch with a dear friend of mine earlier this week. At 27, Clara is a highly accomplished business leader. Not only does she run and manage an amazing not for profit institution but is also currently enrolled at Stanford Business School. Over steaming aloo parathas, we caught up with each other and then our discussion moved to what we had learned.

Clara shared with me a very curious phrase and I’ve googled the heck out of it but cannot find much. She described to be the concept of living knowledge vs. dead knowledge that was recently discussed in one of our business classes. The notion being that living knowledge is the type that is still being argued upon and talked about and opinions are still nascent.

It reminded me of Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates philosophies. I just finished reading Job’s autobiography. It is a fantastic look into his life but offers broad strokes over the key philosophies that defined and nurtured the last fifty years of the digital age. One of them was the argument about closed integrated systems vs. open syndicated systems. (Jobs vs. Bill camps) I think we’ve seen how both models can work (with caveats, of course) but to me, it is one of those issues that is piece of “living knowledge.” Still being argued hotly and worked upon by members of both camps. Got me thinking, what other examples of living knowledge do we have from our digital history?

Digital in 2012: The web will make us smarter

The last decade or so were the august years of the Digital web. A sort of industrial revolution that created entirely new types of economies, skill-sets, companies and most importantly behaviors. Led by programmers and tinkerers and computer scientists, this industrial age has been crucial in helping us write our generational history. One of the biggest outputs though of this age has been the birth of a culture were our need for visibility has overtaken our need for privacy. What this has done is created a digital world that is not designed for developing original thought.

There’s nothing wrong with that and ofcourse the onus does not lie on the web. But I believe that anything in excess hurts the society. And all this talk about connectivity has left a few other equally important values for humanity at bay. It’s time to address this excess.

The good news is that a new slew of characters have emerge to balance out the equation. I believe, we are on the fringes of entering a new wave. I’m calling it the age of enlightenment in our digital history. And this age is being lead by a new class of people. These are thinkers, artists and storytellers not programmers and geeks. These are people driven by a vision that’s a bit more individualistic, centers more around exploring the tapestry of human opinions and feelings instead of connecting the world into one large immutable being.

The problem

Sharing has become a thoughtless act: Sharing used to carry weight – it used to be hold more meaning. Now, it’s passive, robot-like. And does not persuade or evoke response. Yet brands and marketers continue to tout the one-to-many function that social networks (and the Internet) has enabled. The web systems we have designed unfortunately haven’t focused on curating for the self but for the echo chamber that each of us is a part of. Some may argue we have become mindless drones, quick to react and retweet, but not *think*

I refuse to buy that a meaningful conversation can happen on channels we currently use: Facebook and Twitter predominantly. Even sites such as Pinterest and Tumblr who I’m a huge fan of, often symbolize nothing more than “inspiration fetishism” (a word coined by Stefan Boublil) What this has resulted into is a culture of people that backslap each other, think like one another and as a result, even act like one another. (I cannot tell you how many times I have heard about checking-in and scoreboards in a boardroom for new products. Which brings me to my next point..)

Value exchange is quantified in terms of likes, friends and followers: Web has become too much of a game. With gamifying the web and making instant gratification an expectation, we are setting ourselves up for failure.  I’ll give that the conversations around gaming are evolving and becoming more substantial but we have been trained to respond to flash sales, group buying and other forms of commercial game-induced behaviors. Gaming will have a larger role to play in the age of enlightenment, but perhaps not so overt. It’s job will and should become about elevating the meaning and importance associated with a like, number of friends and followers etc.

As our social quotient goes up, our intellectual quotient is coming down: The web is not going to disappear – if anything, it will continue to become more important in the next few years and become the entity that our kids will play with and even learn from. But if the growth of the web continues to perpetuate in such a manner – what kind of original thought will our kids will capable of producing?

The Solution?

The web, if designed and engineered differently,  has incredible power to induce substance back into our lives. To teach us how to think and encourage behaviors that aren’t simply reactive or celebratory. Our natural instincts are to shut technology or cut ourselves from it for a few days, to take a sabbatical or a thinking break. But why does it have to be this way? Why aren’t we or why haven’t we discussed the possibility of desgining technology and the Internet to make us smarter? Why don’t we make systems that:

1. Are designed for constructive debate and dialogue by exposing us to different points of views
2. Are designed for quality – not quantity. Where there is less immediate gratification.

In our capacity as marketers and brand stewards, our work is also indirectly shaping the future of education, humanity and intellectual thought. What roles can we play to encourage the evolution of the Web in a direction that’s not stunting our growth, but making us smarter individuals everyday?

The good news is, that I’ve already been seeing whispers of a movement in this direction. As I mentioned earlier, artists and thinkers are the one’s the forefront of this movement right now. Raghava KK, my fellow TED nominator and artist, has recently announced the launch of Shaken Media Collective.

Shaken Media Collective is an initiative brought about by the talents of creative individuals dedicated to forging a new direction of storytelling that raises empathy in readers by shaking up perspectives, and bringing stories to life through a fusion of play, art and technology.

You can see a glimpse of what this means (and its current incarnation) by downloading Raghava’s perspective-shifting PopIT application for the iPad where one shake of the story reveals a completely new perspective.

Another such attempt to bring more substance to the web and to our behaviors on the web is Cowbird. I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the early storytellers on the site. Cowbird, like most of other Jonathan Harris projects furthers how technology can offer new ways Screen shot 2011-12-21 at 6.54.01 PMof looking at the world, and telling stories. A tightly controlled and curated environment, Cowbird, is (in its own words)

trying to preserve and evolve the dying art of storytelling, using technology as friend instead of foe. We believe all people deserve equal access to the best storytelling tools, so the communication of ideas cannot be monopolized. We support the broad empowerment of individuals to voice their honest ideas about life, and we believe they deserve a clean, ad-free, uncluttered environment for sharing personal experience.By encouraging self-reflection and deeper connection, we hope to foster a feeling of empathy among people all over the world, so we can start to see our species — and indeed our planet — as a single living organism.

Regarding it’s whimsical name, it says, “Cowbird combines these two extremes to form a new kind of storytelling medium — mixing the slow, deeply rooted, contemplative idea of a cow with the fast, efficient, playful idea of a bird.”

I don’t know how successful these two initiatives will be, but we’ve entered the age of enlightenment and as the collective consciousness around this grows, more entrepreneurs, artists and thinkers will veer in this direction and build upon each other’s work to create a digital world that balanced. A world that can teach us to think as well as it as taught us to respond. Marketers as a rule respond to the current zeitgeist, and once we create a new habits and behaviors, marketers too, will play their part in accentuating and intensifying them.

This is my sincere hope for the coming year and I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this.

Is Facebook influencing world cultures for the better or worse?

There’s enough commentary out there about the new interface changes of Facebook and its new Time-Line centered social activities. I had a thought this morning that I’m trying to reconcile and figured I’d share it here and see if anyone else shared my concern. I’ve had the timeline for a few days now and I actually quite enjoy it. But I wanted to play devil’s advocate and argue a different point of view.

Celebrating micro-achievements is a distinctly American trait. For example, celebrations such as pre-school graduations, middle-school graduations and such are a very American trait. I grew up in India and I can tell you when you passed one grade and entered another, it wasn’t (still isn’t) made a huge deal of. I don’t have kids but that’s how I prefer it. Why must children be rewarded for their job? Or what’s expected out of them? I’m not sure if I’ll be able to escape this trend once I have my own children and if I decide to raise them in this country.

But I’m using this anecdote to make a bigger point: every single milestone in America is magnified and turned into a celebration. (There are both positive and negatives to this)

Like many other companies, Facebook is an American company that has global users. And this is important to not forget. With its new time-line feature, it is essentially introducing this very American trait of celebrating micro-achievements to the world stage. Time-lines offer users an exaggerated sense of their life and its milestones. It gives them a platform to celebrate and commemorate the most insignificant details of their lives. (Yes it has its benefits but I’m playing devil’s advocate here so let me run with it.) This isn’t entirely alien to the Americans, it’s more of an extension of how they’ve been raised and taught to value. But to Facebook’s heavy users in other countries (and I’m only intimately familiar with the culture in India so I can only speak to that) what does this signify or symbolize?

Will we raise an entire generation of Indian children to think, talk and celebrate their micro-achievements as American children do? Will there remain a unique cultural imprint on these children that have been raised on a steady American diet of self-exaggeration ?

Also as my friend Ryan pointed out, do these exaggerated celebrations chip away at the real sense of achievement that comes from doing hard work and earning something?

Just something to think about. If you come from a different background or culture, I’d be interested in hearing your perspectives.

101 on Google Plus (and what it means for brands)

What is Google+

Launched on June 28th, Google+ is a new social networking service intended to compete with Facebook.Google+ has incorporated the best features from Facebook and Twitter and eliminated several privacy challenges, giving users greater control of their content, who they share it with and how they share it. Since the announcement, Google’s brand perception has  soared led by a lift among the 18 – 34 age group)

How it works:

Three key features:

Circles: Google+ lets users put friends into different groups called circles, such as “friends,” “acquaintances,” “family” etc. Users can send specific updates to specific circles and also select to receive updates from specific circles.

Hangouts: Hangouts let you chat face to face with upto 10 people at a time, further enhancing the “social-ness” of the platform

Sparks: Sparks serve up content (blogs, videos, recipes, news, links etc) based on interest. As users add interests over time, Sparks become a personal content feed that users can share within circles

How it differs from Facebook & Twitter:

Unlike Facebook, Google+ lets you slice and dice updates coming into your newsfeed by topics and circles, giving users greater flexibility in consuming content. Google+ also lets users follow the public updates of people that a user is not friends with. At the same time, users can choose to share both public updates with everyone (like Twitter)

Unlike Twitter, Google+ does not limit users to 140 characters. Google+ also allows users to share videos, images etc and comment on the content. Twitter updates no longer appear in Google search, thus limiting the reach and impact of the Twitter content.

Cons wise, Google+ currently offers no application platform for third party developer or brand pages for companies and interest groups. But it’s only a week or so old, I’m certain that as it evolves, Google+ will address these issues.

What it means for brands?

Google already has a suite of excellent products (Docs, Gmail, GChat, Picasa, Maps, Blogger, Android, Search, Chrome, Reader etc) that are used by a billion people globally. What this means is that Google+ has a fair advantage in audience development and growth.

Secondly, Google+ has Google search. And Google Search is every brands strongest ally. Any brand that learns to use Google+ appropriately, stands to benefit from organic search. So while Google+ hasn’t yet rolled out brand optimized pages, brands such as Ford have been quick to build presences on the platform to engage with the early adopters using the existing functionality.

Lastly, I think (although we are far away from it) e-commerce integration will be easier with Google thanks to its experience with Google Wallet and Google Checkout.

Bottomline:

I don’t think there is a question whether brands should establish a presence on the platform. The question is when. Google is welcoming brands to enlist in a beta trial. I recommend you go add yourself to this list and if you have an in at Google, begin your conversations with them now so you can not only build your presence but work with Google in helping them define what that experience for brands and fans should be like.

Other Articles:

Singularity Hub: Fantastic and detailed review of Google+. If you have time, go read this now.

Watch-outs:

I’d been experiencing Facebook fatigue. With over 900 people in my list, it became quite a chore to figure out what to share with who. And I figured my network was feeling the same pressure which is why the quality of content in the newsfeed became drastically un-interesting for me over the last few months. I hid my photographs, I decreased the frequency of my status-updates and became overtly conscious of how much and what I was sharing.

Google Circles promises to eliminate this for me and so that excites me. Google Circles also is just fresh and crisper and I happen to trust Google more with my information and privacy than I ever trusted Facebook.

Having said that, one of my concerns is that users wont really understand how to use the circles or will get bored/tire of using them and begin spewing out content to everyone, relevant or not. I don’t want another Twitter. And it is a slipper post when a social network tries to be both Facebook and Twitter. So we’ll see what happens.

Right now, I’m fascinated with the notion of having my content, conversations and network in one place. If I can figure out how to navigate my identity across these circles, I probably won’t need Facebook or Skype or even Twitter any longer. Just my two cents.

Part 1- Digital Brand Building (What & Why)

Digital is a broad term and encompasses a variety of skill-sets and channels to achieve specific goals. There’s the usual paid, owned and earned each with an aligning goal. While they all contribute towards building a brand’s presence digitally, I’ve been seeing a lot more conversations and interest around how these, if they do at all, contribute towards differentiating a brand as a thought leader or building a positive brand presence. The term “thought leader” implies intelligence, knowledge, and a higher purpose and those claims need to be justified. That term is not appropriate for every brand – but every brand must strive for differentiation using the tools and channels afforded by digital. And there are different ways to earn it. For the purposes of these posts, I may use the terms digital thought-leadership and digital brand building interchangeably. I’ve tried to explore some of these questions that I’ve been thinking about for a while. (What is digital brand building; Associated Benefits, Implementations, Measurement & Case Studies)

WHAT IS DIGITAL BRAND BUILDING/ THOUGHT LEADERSHIP?

Thought-Leadership has long been the competing ground for organizations whose primary product is expertise or strategic advice. Think professional strategy firms, business schools and to a certain extent even advertising agencies that utilize its assets (top analysts, professors, research facilities) to author strategic POVS and create new strategy tools, in the hopes of gaining mind share of potential executives, clients and students. (The most famous example of thought leadership building is the 2003  BRIC report authored by Goldman Sach’s economist Jim O’Neill) I believe two absolutes set apart a brand that gets thought-leadership from one that doesn’t.

Solid POV: And this isn’t just the mission statement of the company, but an encapsulation of how the mission statement of the company manifests practically. An intelligent insight into what the company stands for, what it believes in and why. Zappos is the perfect embodiment of this value; for Zappos, Customer Service trumps all else and the company lives and breathes this dictum on an everyday basis (creating some very inspiring stories in the process – but we’ll get to that later)

The point of view must be singular and all actions (and in-actions) of the company must reinforce it. Whether it was through Tony Sheih’s book “Delivering Happiness” or through the Zappos HQ visits (open to everyone) – the company has a focused message and hones in on it through various channels.

I believe that it is key that the point-of-view be timely and culturally relevant. No one cares about a company mission if its only self-serving and not contextualized in culture, environment or a belief.

Benevolence: There are many ways to interpret this term. What I mean by benevolence is a disciplined approach to creating an inclusive dialogue around the brand’s POV. For some it means sharing the “insider” process, for others it means opening up their doors and the breaking the PR strategist rules. (Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, offers candid and honest answers to questions about Netflix operations, his POV on the business and where it is headed on Quora) Benevolence involves offering value but also allowing the community to create value.

Benevolence also applies to the culture at the company. We are living in fairly transparent times and with sites like Quora, Glassdoor, Vault, Twitter etc, consumers are able to discern the company culture. So when Reed Hastings publishes a Slideshare saying very honestly (and a tad bit clinically) that Netflix does not treat its employees as family, – as a reader and a believer, I respect that.

That said, I don’t think all brands that practice benevolence do it for good karma. Benevolence or community giving is a popular earned media trick – but often it ends up positively influencing the brand’s basic value system on some level.

Roger White of Pendry White Marketing Communications agrees and sums it up rather well when he says:

Thought Leaders do three things well.

  • They raise the profile of an issue and deepen understanding
  • They set the agenda with their industry peers.
  • They introduce new topics to the boards of potential and current clients in their chosen fields and they do these things over a prolonged timeframe

I couldn’t have said this better. This definition however, is not applicable to all brands. (A Skittles, Axe or Old Spice wouldn’t quite fit in this category, but they differentiate themselves in different ways.) What I want you to take away though, is that Thought leadership or Digital Brand building exists on a continuum and not at fixed points in history. It builds over existing brand truths and manifests them in ways that make sense to the audiences and fit contextually within the culture.

THE BENEFITS OF DIGITAL BRAND BUILDING

Digital brand building accelerates serendipitous stumbling of audiences into the brand’s experience set

The consumer purchase journey is no longer linear. According to this study by McKinsey, the evolved consumer journey has two key phases: Initial Consideration & Active Evaluation. In both these phases, consumers are likely to be influenced by friends and family but also have a propensity to seek out brand experiences, whether they are digital, in-store, or traditional. Screen shot 2011-05-05 at 10.40.48 AM

Most brands err on the side of creating a fantastic brand platform and compelling ad campaigns. But the channels for these are passive and linear. Brands aren’t yet considering the question: how can we accelerate serendipitous stumbling into our worlds? Digital brand experiences help create a persistent presence but also increase the likelihood of increasing opportunities for audience engagement and influencing them positively. It grants brand the promotion from the Consideration to the Evaluation stage – at which point the more rational elements kick in. (comparison shopping, information gathering etc)

Digital brand building enhances the perceived value awareness of the brand, thus accelerating arrival at purchase

While metrics are hard to find, the most important benefit of building thought leadership is to build value awareness and increase the perceived value of the brand/ product. Stronger digital brand experience, have a propensity to generate more earned media and provide additional fodder for search engines. As such, ownership of search results become critical in influencing brand evaluations. (A recent Nielsen and AOL study found that 53% of time spent online is directly attributable to content consumption. Out of which, nearly 60% of all shared content specifically mention a brand or product name.)

These thoughts are still in exploration and I will continue to sharpen and better this post as my own thinking evolves. My next post, I’ll focus more on the how, measurement and discuss some excellent case-studies.

Best Practices: Branded Mobile Applications

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes a branded application worth downloading and interacting with for consumers. I wanted to share some top-level thoughts here and hope that I can build on them in the coming weeks. My goal with this post is to provide you with a framework on how to think about a branded application. The final build and concept will vary from brand to brand but here are some principles and tools to think about how you can make the most of your investment into the mobile app. space.

Entertainment vs. Utility:

My research has led me to believe that branded applications usually fall under one of the two value propositions: Entertainment or Utility. I found an amazing chart compiled by Geoff Northcott, Client Partner at AKQA of publicly available download data for branded applications. Geoff, too, in his post categorized the applications as Entertainment or Utilitarian. Although these download numbers are circa 2010, I re-shuffled this data a little bit to make a point. I divided them into two separate charts: Entertainment vs. Utility and picked the best five branded applications in both sections with the highest download numbers.

Screen shot 2011-03-07 at 4.31.19 PM

The point of doing this was to illustrate some of the key benefits: pros and cons of Entertainment Vs. Utility in branded applications.

Entertainment:

  • PROS: A one-off promotion based approach to mobile applications usually delivers huge spikes in customer engagement and often shows significantly higher download numbers.
  • CONS: Brand recall – a large number of entertainment based mobile applications are game-based and as such, it is difficult to ascertain whether users are even aware of the brand when interacting with these applications. Another major con is sustaining on-going interaction with the brand. Interest wanes as the novelty wears off and often, there is little to no re-usage. In fact, 95% of downloaded applications are not used after 30 days. Under-utilized asset of x many customers that have downloaded the application.

Utility:

  • PRO: Evergreen application; perhaps not very sexy. Has a slower build initially but evolves and grows with the brand and its audiences. Usually also reflects the general brand direction
  • CONS: The biggest challenge with such an application is to continuously evolve the offering and keep it interesting and valuable to the consumers. It needs to strike the perfect balance of entertainment, content and utility

Most brands have taken an either/or approach. While I think it depends on the direction and the strategic needs of the brand, it is worthwhile to consider that it doesn’t always need to be an either/or approach. Entertainment based applications have demonstrated the ability to drive high downloads. Why not consider an “Entertainment” based feature as part of your Launch strategy for your branded application ? Ongoing updates can work on evolving the brand and adding newer features and offerings into the application.

Another point-of-view to consider is simply creating diverse applications for diverse audiences. Lets face it. A deal-hunter will not download a branded application for a highly engaging game. And a gamer will not be very interested in a content-based application. In such cases, it is smart for brands to consider which audiences they want to target and build experiences specifically for those niche audiences. My only caveat is that even as brands build niche experiences, it is crucial to think long-term instead of immediate short-tern return.

Kraft’s iFood Assistant is one of the best branded application case-study that I can think of that has nailed the program vs. platform concept. The application offers up to 2000 recipes, many of them using Kraft products. The application has also in-built shopping lists and deals/ coupon features that incentivize users. It is one of the few applications that has continued to keep its users engaged: It launched in 2008 and to date, about 60% of users that downloaded the application continue to use it. In fact, Kraft charged a cool 99cents per download as well, ensuring an alternative revenue stream and solidifying its value with the users.

Regardless of the route you choose, here are some best practices to keep in mind when designing and building the application:

Best Practices:

Marketing Support: Every successful branded application has had strong marketing support in form of paid media, mobile ads and even online PR. This support gives the initial boost to the application but mostly focuses on generating enough downloads to have the application listed in Apple’s Top 100 applications. Applications featured in the list have a 40% higher chance of being downloaded by other users. Additionally, Star Ratings and Reviews also incredibly important tools towards increasing a brand’s chances towards making it into the Top 100 list. Although this is specifically for iTunes, it is fair to expect similar marketing levers to emerge for the Android Marketplace as well. (Consiering Android is now the number one Smartphone in the word)

Intuitive User Experience: If you are not going to invest the necessary time and resources into building an intuitive and highly capable user experience, you are better off not making a mobile application at all. In a recent study, 13% of users said that  a bad experience with a branded application avoided them from downloading other applications from the brand. Also, users just expect an application to be fun and easy to use. Don’t just try to replicate an existing marketing promotion, elements of your website or an ad campaign on your mobile app. Build for its audience and its eco-system.

Social Sharing: Maximize the capabilities offered by a mobile application. Several applications can “speak” to each other. Also there is no point in reinventing the wheel. So where and when possible; make sure your application is connected to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or whatever eco-system your brand lives in.

Customization: Depending on the brand, I believe that simple customization not only helps make an application more interesting but also increases the opportunity for re-use. It’s also highly beneficial for brands from a data-collection perspective to have more granular information about your customers.

I’m sure you’ll want to look at case-studies to build your own argument/ case. I didn’t see any point in re-writing the best ones there are. So here are the links to the best resources on the web. I hope this helps.

Additional Resources:

  1. Mashable’s Top 13 Branded Applications
  2. Best Practices: Mobile Marketing & App. Strategies for Food Brands
  3. Best Practices: Branded Application Design
  4. Geoff Northcott: Branded Apps: Strategies for Success

Why Quora.com will be successful

Twitterati has suddenly recognized Quora and is wondering if it’s the flavor of the month. I joined Quora sometime ago and have found it profoundly useful. There are three main reasons why I’m betting on Quora.com.

1. Content: Quora.com has created a mediated space between Twitter and long-form blog content. Twitter took away the need to write thoughtful, long-form posts. Social media has created an opinionated culture that now demands a deeper level of discourse than 140 characters. Quora has not only validated, but bought back the need for long-form content. Because it is a very specific environment and framework, it actually enhances the user experience by creating mini-communities within one large platform. If Twitter is where we eat pop-corn, Quora is where we go for a glass of wine and some debate.

2. Quality: I’ve never been a fan of anonymous comments on blogs. It’s the same reason why I don’t trust answers on Yahoo Answers and any of the other Q&A sites. Quora.com requires users to identify themselves. When our personal reputations are at stake, it brings out the highest quality of responses and opinions that are well-thought out. What’s more is in most cases, these comments are qualified because you can see who is answering them. A question about AOL? No problem, Steve Case has answered it. I’d rather take his word over someone elses.

3. Ease of use: What’s best about Quora.com is that it balances all my interests and allows me to maintain with equal importance all facets of my personality. I can follow Questions about Creative Writing while I answer Questions about Social Media. My home-page mirrors caters to my interests and as a result, I’m more engaged and involved in the community than I’d be otherwise. There’s also the possibility of making new friends!

Summing it up, Quora is intelligent, smart and just what we needed 2011 to be about. It’s interesting to have followed the trajectory of massive social movements from Faecbook to Twitter and now, my bet is, Quora. Not fair to compare these platforms as they are starkly different, but I like how each of them serves a specific need without overlapping one another. Absolutely love it.

Your thoughts?

Facebook Stories – Art meets Technology

Picture 7 Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Stories application to celebrate its 500 Millionth user. It blew my mind away. When I saw the the trailer for the film, Social Network – it’s haunting NIN track and the montage of a life (its trials, tribulations, joys and conversations) through Facebook, it reminded me of how Facebook has integrated itself in the everyday lives of millions worldwide. It’s changed the dynamics of relationships we have with family and friends and also how we perceive ourselves.

This Facebook Stories application, in my opinion, is a celebration and documentation of all the ways in which Facebook has affected us. I spent some time reading through the stories and was struck with the palette of emotions they displayed.

What’s also very interesting is this story map generated by Facebook. India, as you can see is one of the most active Asian countries. I find that quite impressive.

We had a very interesting discussion at work earlier this week about all the data on the web and how there is a strong need now for applications and services that analyze, visualize and make sense of this data. I cannot agree more. We’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge about our relationships and interactions with each other.

This project also reminds me a lot about We Feel Fine - although We Feel Fine was more abstract and computer-driven. Just a thought.

Crisis communications on Facebook: 3 tips to mitigate negativity

Social media execution is more of an art than a science. In my experience so far, brands have only really paid attention to their social media presence (or in most cases, lack of presence) when their brand reputation is at stake. One such case, I had a chance to observe closely was a retail company with poor customer service at its locations. And this was reflected online on the company’s Facebook page and retail review sites.

It’s unfair to expect social media to repair the brand reputation – especially when the reasons for it are rooted in corporate policies and business decisions. However, social media can help mitigate the negativity. In this post, I want to share a few tactics I’ve used to balance out negativity on a brand-owned Facebook fan page:

Take control over Content Programming: As much as the negativity on your Facebook brand page worries you, it is the first eight-ten posts (above the fold) that are most crucial in setting first impression with page visitors. Because Facebook wall refreshes quickly and rapidly with new wall-posts, the past comments and wall-posts don’t hold as much importance or weight as they do on a traditional ratings/ review sites like yelp.com or an tripadvisor.com.

Fueling positive content via status updates on a frequent basis to drown out the negativity. Create a content calendar that pushes out more brand-favored content and pushes down unfavorable comments. Direct conversation and tweak tonality towards positivity by celebrating the fans/ customers.

Set Facebook etiquette: Most brand pages are a kind of public forum, where the community is the boss. However, the page is still owned by the brand and it’s important for brands to remember that and set clear rules for community participation. I’m a huge proponent of Facebook Etiquette boxes that give brands the necessary protection to moderate or remove offensive posts.

(It goes without saying that this Etiquette box, does not give brands unbridled license to delete all negative comments!)

Response Strategy to negative comments: Respond to negative comments when it is an actionable issue. Always provide a direct line of access (phone number, email address) and sign off using real name. (Pref. a communications / corporate affairs personnel or customer service) Try to establish a response time-frame of 8-10 hours. Avoid responding too quickly to negative comments as it creates unrealistic expectations with the customers.

Hope this helps!

E-Commerce API

Yesterday I noticed my husband log into his Good Reads account and manually add his latest books from Kindle so he could share his recommendations with his friends. It was a little cumbersome and annoying process.

We are both avid readers. We own over 200 physical books and over 25 Kindle books between the two of us (Kindle is just in the last 3 months!) These days, we love coming back home and sneaking some time in the park or at the riverfront with our Kindles. But it is frustrating that I cannot share my books with him. It is even more frustrating that there is no way for either of us to directly port our Kindle buys to a site and rate/ review these books on it and make it accessible to our friends.

So we began thinking, why doesn’t Amazon create an API that allows users to port their Kindle books into a Good Reads equivalent where they can immediately review and recommend the books, or at the very least thumbs up and down it for their friends ?

Then today a few different conversations happened that helped me connect the dots better.

1) We’ve been working on a POV document for our client regarding Blippy. I’m embracing more transparency on the web but am not ready to share my credit card transactions just yet. Blippy is interesting but I’m not sure if people “liking” my purchase is adding any value to me.

At this point, Apple and Amazon have access to majority of my online shopping history. And I’d venture a guess to say that 80% of it is media related. Books, movies, music, DVDS. How amazing would it be for Apple or Amazon to pull a Blippy and give me the option to make any or all of my purchases public. I could not only share them with friends but also record my own experience / review of the particular product.

2. I’ve been playing around with a site called GetGlue for some time now. Getglue reminds me a lot of Netflix but I don’t yet see a tangible return on getglue. Netflix was able to rent or stream me movies and it made sense that the more movies I watched, the better it was able to make recommendations. I guess, I want to discover new faves and have options to buy, rent, read them.

I also spend 30 minutes today answering 50+ questions on Hunch.

3. I also read a terrific review of the KIN phone on the All Things Digital blog. What caught my eye is Mossberg’s assertion that what makes KIN amazing is that all media, images and videos are directly saved online without the user having to do any set-up or transfer! So you take a photo on your KIN, log on to your KIN Studio and lo behold! – it’s already uploaded on it.

So all of this got me thinking, how much richer my experience across all these sites would be if I was able to port in automatically (in addition to my profile/ interests from Facebook) my purchase history from Amazon, Apple and whichever other retailer. (maybe FreshDirect)

I don’t want to physically spend any more time answering questions or likes on sites like Good Reads, Get Glue and Hunch. I want to port in all my available data to them and have them figure it out. Do the work behind-the-scenes and just tell me what I need to know.

Good Reads, Get Glue and even Hunch would become that much more contextual and relevant for me than they are right now.

I actually don’t doubt the possibility of this either. We are moving into an era were privacy is more ambiguous than before and as a generation, we are simply more comfortable sharing personal information at a larger scale. I think an E-Commerce API, or the ability to port in our purchase history (not the amount we spend, but the actual products we buy) will be the next seminal step in creating a more “social” web. It’s not simple about where my friends are and what they are doing – it’ll be more about this is me and this is what I need.

My two cents.

The $1 business model

I’ve been very fascinated with this idea. Now that Facebook is on it’s way towards profitability, it perhaps is not applicable to the social networking giant but there might be something for the new start-ups still trying to figure out their business model.

Plenty of start-ups in the Internet space follow a strategy of building a product, amassing an audience quickly and then trying to figure out how to monetize the audience. Facebook did the same, but it hasn’t and still struggles with winning the in-network advertising conundrum.

It changed its “FAN” to “LIKE” – with the definitive intention of pandering to brands and companies by showing them an increase in enrollment into their fan pages. Facebook also changed the settings on my profile page and now connected each “interest” of mine to a specific fan page. It annoyed me. I had beautifully crafted and super creative interests and activities and now they are all gone because I refused to link them to Pages.

From a brand perspective, these are all excellent changes. Branded content will continue to seep through personal social networks in form of “likes.” My clients are already excited with the possibilities.

But on a personal note, Facebook has become less and less intimate and is losing context for me everyday. I have more people on Limited than I did before and my interactions on Facebook have lessened to wishing happy birthday’s and liking a photograph. Maybe it’s just me but are these changes adding real value to the user to ensure they continue using and trusting Fbook for the long term?

That’s why my $1 business model is so brilliant. If I say so myself.

I’d have MUCH happily paid them a $1/ month subscription fee than be subjected to  forced changes. Facebook would have the operating budget they needed to stave off pressure from the industry and buy time to come up with a smarter strategy. It’s a flawed idea, I know but I just shelled out $20/yr for a flavors.me pro account. Facebook offers a much better service and contains my biography of sorts…so paying a subscription fee to Facebook is a no-brainer.

Just my two cents.

Not just location; I’m ready to share more

I haven’t written in a while. I’m thinking of migrating my blog over to tumblr. There’s a very work-like, formal feeling to logging into my domain name and blogging. Anyways, what follows are a few ideas I’ve been thinking about over the past few weeks. Just wanted to catalog them before they fly away.

***

I’m fairly outgoing and so I enjoy Foursquare. But I very often simply forget to check-in because it’s just not a habit yet. On the other hand, if I’m watching an incredible show, movie or reading a page-turner of a book, I’m the first to yell, facebook, tweet it out to the world. It’s an ingrained habit and now that I read more than 3 books/month and discover new authors more often thanks to my Kindle, I find myself itching all the time to share my ‘finds’ with the community. As a personality, I care more about what people think of my media recommendations over my restaurant/ pub recommendations.

The growth of location-based services has been exponential. Books and reading based services have stumbled along the way, neither of them capturing my interest or attention for a sustained period of time. Books and media-based conversations are so rich and multi-layered in context. Then, I wonder why we can’t yet “check-in” to books and entertainment yet ?

We recently met with the brilliant team at HotPotato to evaluate potential opportunities with them for a client. Miso and Hotpotato allow users to share what they are currently watching. In doing so, they create a live environment of impassioned audiences that discuss live events, TV shows and even movies as they are watching it. But I’d really love to see a version for books and reading.

I’d ventured a guess earlier (largely from my own experience) about new mobile devices such as Kindle and iPad contributing heavily to an increase in media consumption. Perhaps there’s an opportunity waiting to happen here with interactive books on-the-go. Imagine you “check-in” a book everytime you read it and it post reading, you are privy to and have access to discussions and opinions – on the go, on your device.

Just a thought. You know, because I’m really ready to share more than just my location.

Designing for the first 15 minutes

My colleague mentioned to me this particular presentation which was very well-received at SXSW this year. I wish I was there to actually hear the presentation but trolling the interwebs – I was able to find some supporting learnings that better explain this talk. This comes extensively from notes taken by Julie at Facebook:
*Everything below is paraphrased or taken directly from Julie – does not include my thoughts or ideas*


  • We are designers are very attuned to bad experiences.”
  • Designers are designing for themselves – but the philosophy falls flat for the new user experience because we’re only a new user once. Esp. true for social networks because we can’t go back and feel what it’s like to discover and become friends with a new group of people for the first time.
  • Ask for registration after users have done something worth saving – after they have invested time in your site. Another strategy is to prove that what’s over the registration wall is worth registering for. (Gowalla does it well)
  • Design a roadmap around an ah-ha moment. Let people continue with the new user flow even if they haven’t confirmed their email yet so they can get to the ahha moment sooner.
  • Eliminate everything before the ah-ha oment.
  • The feedback cycle for getting a user from new user to very engaged and active user is important but a lot of this hearkens from game design – (eg. spore. mint.com, bejewelled.com) At Facebook, the high level feedback is around sharing.
  • User education is an experience – not something they have to read out of a textbook. (eg. glitch.com, yammer, games)
  • Games teach you controls as part of the gameplay – go left, right  try. “In Super Mario Galaxy, the first task is to jump over the bunnies, which is fun. You don’t even realize you’re being taught because you are so immersed in it.”
  • Tumblr is great example as well.


Key TAKEAWAYS:
- see your new user experience with fresh eyes–watch new user tests.
- get newcomers invested right away into your product
- discover your ‘aha moment’ and get to it quickly
- Set small goals that expand into larger ones.
Designing the First Fifteen Minutes
View more presentations from Daniel Burka.

Social media is your bubble. Not mine.

Umair Haque’s controversial post has caused quite a stir in the community. Bud Caddell’s response mirrors my thoughts and brilliantly articulates the flaws in Umair’s argument. I wanted to share a few thoughts of my own to add to this debate.

It’s largely home to weak, artificial connections, what I call thin relationships. Today social media is trading in low-quality conncetions – linkages that are unlikely to yield meaningful, lasting relationships.

Umair assets that thin connections offer no value and I have an issue with that. His statement assumes that people are not smart, in that they let crowd their lives (and social networks) with meaningless relationships that add no value to them. I look at it differently. For one, and this is mostly a nod to Bud’s point, social media isn’t meant to help you create new relationships – but to help strengthen existing ones. Frequent interactions whether they are by sharing information, inconsequential tweets or debates, help cement an existing relationship and give it a foundation.

Regarding thin relationships, Haque assumes that they don’t already exist in our “offline” lives. Neighbors, car-pool groups, the yoga group, parents of your kid’s friends – these are all thin relationships. And they do add value to your life – even if the only value they add is convenience. Social media has helped accelerate the quantity of thin relationships we can now create – AND it has created new kinds of value we can extract from these relationships.

I frankly also believe that as a culture we are past the point where an “online” relationship doesn’t constitute a “real” relationship. I look at an online friend, acquaintance or person as somebody I have simply not met in-person yet. Social media tools and technologies have afforded us the ability to get a proper picture of an “online” person’s personality, likes, dislikes and thought processes. We aren’t in the 1990′s where an “online” person was just a username in an IRC chatroom. As such, our definition of the word “relationship” has evolved. Perhaps it hasn’t been verbalized yet.

The “relationships” at the heart of the social bubble aren’t real because they’re not marked by mutual investment .

Social media is an investment that works for multiple relationships. The design of the technology allows your investment in it to affect and reach more than one person at any given time. That said, naturally, if you develop an affinity towards someone thinking, you are bound to communicate more often with them and as such “invest” more time into the relationship. What Haque misses here is that the relationships in social media begin by mutual interest and have the flexibility to grow together or apart into various branches.

In response to Haque’s point about social media’s inability to replace traditional gatekeepers – I think that Social media is not meant to replace or dis-intermediate any gatekeepers but complement their efforts.

People invest in low-quality content. Farmville ain’t exactly Casablanca. Third, and most damaging, is the ongoing weakening of the Internet as a force for good. Not only is Farmville not Casablanca, it’s not Kiva either. One of the seminal examples of the promise of social media, Kiva allocates micro-credit more meaningfully. By contrast, Farmville is largely socially useless. It doesn’t make kids tangibly better off; it just makes advertisers better off.

Calling games like Farmville socially useless, is the biggest and most profound logically flaw in his argument. What differentiates useful from the useless? Because kiva.org is impacting change and Farmville is largely creating entertainment – is that the basis for dismissing the value games like farmville add to the social and cultural environments we thrive in?

If that’s the underlying principle for Haque’s argument, he is essentially implying that entertaining pursuits that don’t make us better off, are useless. And that’s bullshit. We are multi-dimensional people, with multi-dimensional skills, interests, hobbies and desires. If I can donate $50 to Kiva.org, I am also capable of engaging with farmville for two hours. And no other platform reflects this better than social media.

As a society needs a balance of do-gooders, entertainers, bankers, artists and critics to flourish and grow, the evolution of social media and social technologies will only happen with a balance of similar pursuits. For every kiva.org, we need a farmville. At the end of the day, it’s not just about how we are impacting change, but also about how are we constantly challenging the status-quo and enriching our critical thought processes, that creates value and elevates the society as a whole.

Social media, the buzz, the conversations are not in a bubble. They are happening all around us – in our physical world. They are shaping and re-shaping our offline cultures constantly and with that, it is constantly challenging how we look at the world. We are all re-evaluating our opinions and ideas with an acceleration that wasn’t really around before.

Social media is a bubble, because we call it so. We (digital strategists, social media “gurus,” adagency and creative types) live in our own bubble only listening to, responding to and exposing ourselves to each other’s thoughts and ideas. The minute you step out of it and surround yourself with a different set of people, a different set of voices – you’ll notice that social media is not really a bubble anymore.

Just my two cents. Would love to hear what you think.

Social Media for Small Business Owners

My talk about Social Media for Small Business Owners along with Morgan Johnston of Jet Blue was a huge success. I went in wondering if I needed to down a few shots of vodka before giving my talk, but turned out that I had a very attentive audience who was hungry to learn! And how!

Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted to focus on talk on giving SBO’s a framework to think about their social media strategies. I still think that was the right approach. The crowd was a mix of SBO’s at all levels – there were folks who had no idea what Twitter or a Fan Page was and folks who were still wondering how to use Linkedin.com to grow their business. While I found most of the attendees very warm and eager to learn, it was a little disheartening when a few still referred to social media as a quick solution to “send more traffic” to their site. You can’t lose weight without working out- how can you then gain the benefits social media offers without putting the time and effort into it?!

Anyways, here is the final presentation that I shared with the SBOs:

Social Media For Small Business Owners

View more presentations from Jinal Shah.
Would love to hear your thoughts. I was psyched that my presentation was featured on the home-page of Slideshare.net :)

My thoughts on chatroulette.com

I’ve read about ChatRoutlette.com a lot and even spent a few awkward moments on the site. I think a Twitter friend summed it best when he described the site as the online red light district.

The experience on Chatroulette.com is eerily similar to the ICQ.com days – where you’d enter a room, vet each other out virtually and maybe share a few meaningful lines of conversation. Atleast on ICQ.com, you could hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

I’ve kept clicking next and the weirdest assortment of strangers from all over the world whizzed one after another on my screen. A creepy bald, old man, an excited college kid from Holland, a girl with her underwear in focus, and the list goes on.  I shared perhaps five lines with a kid before clicking next.

Its remarkable that a young kid in Russia created this site – unsure of how it would be used and how people will react to it. And even though I’m not seventeen, there’s a part of me that is entirely fascinated by this site and the idea of meeting strangers on it. danah boyd expresses it better than me when she says,

I used to love the randomness of the Internet. I can’t tell you how formative it was for me to grow up talking to all sorts of random people online. So I feel pretty depressed every time I watch people flip out about the dangers of talking to strangers. Strangers helped me become who I was. Strangers taught me about a different world than what I knew in my small town. Strangers allowed me to see from a different perspective. Strangers introduced me to academia, gender theory, Ivy League colleges, the politics of war, etc. So I hate how we vilify all strangers as inherently bad. Did I meet some sketchballs on the Internet when I was a teen? DEFINITELY. They were weird; I moved on.

I’m not sure that immature folks of any age (or the easily grossed out) should be on this site. But I do hope that we can create a space where teens and young adults and the rest of us can actually interact with randomness again. There’s a cost to our social isolation and I fear that we’re going to be paying it for generations to come.

Personally, the Internet hasn’t taken away any randomness from my life. The only difference is that this randomness how has a context to it, whether its the six degrees of separation or knowing enough about a person from simply googling them. It is still an act of measured serendipity to come across strangers who actually are not.

Also, I don’t think ChatRoulette has evolved into the kind of platform that can sustain anything more than a brief curiosity yet. And that is OK with me. I do agree with boyd that all strangers are not inherently bad, however, it this Internet age, it might be handy to have an internal radar that urges you to click “next,” when something is just not right.

I think I may play around a little bit more with ChatRoulette. I want to try it with a bunch of friends on the screen to see the experience that gives me. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about CR as well.

Update: This introduction to ChatRoulette by Sarita Yardi is a very good read. Highly recommend it.

Social Media for Small Business Owners

I’m giving a talk next week at Asian Women in Business about Social media for small business owners. Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my point-of-view is regarding social media for SBO’s. I don’t for a minute doubt the value social media provides any business. However, I want to be cognizant of the fact that social media, like any other business channel, requires immense time, resources and investment for limited tangible results. And I wonder if that is a hard sell for a SBO.

I’ve been interviewing and speaking with SBO’s since the last few days and am hearing mixed opinions. Most SBO’s see immediate value in social media but the results don’t often match up to their expectations. And mostly that comes from a case of misguided expectations.

There is a LOT of information on the Internet for SBO’s interested in using social media. But just sifting through it and reading about it can be overwhelming and cause action – paralysis. I don’t want my presentation to be just another talk crowding the web. While there is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to social media, I do want to provide my audiences with a strategic framework to think about social media.

I just wanted to jot down some thoughts here before I begin framing them into a presentation. I’d love feedback and ideas on making this better.

1. What you don’t know about social media: Social media is old news. This talk is not a SM 101/ but lets start with a reality check. Yes, we’ve heard the astounding numbers. 350 Mil+ users on Facebook. 50M on Twitter. etc etc. But what you might not know is this – only 5% of people on Twitter create 75% of the conversations on it. 85% of iphone users use only between 2-4 applications. (So hold your horses before you invest 50% of your marketing budget into a new application)

Bottomline: Share of attention is difficult to achieve UNLESS there is a compelling value proposition.

2. Lets talk about you. Have a clear understanding of your business goals and then think about how social media platforms can help you achieve them. You are not Dell. You are not Zappos. What are YOU trying to achieve from social media? Entertainment networks use social media to drive tune-in and awareness; Magazines use social media to increase readership and build audiences; the korean BBQ Truck uses Twitter to drive foot-traffic and inform its fans of the truck’s locations. And other retail brands use facebook and Foursquare to drive sales and promotions. What is your business goal and is it something that social media can help you achieve it?

What are then some of the goals that SM can help you achieve? From a sales POV – social media can give you a terrific understanding of your customers; help you build thought leadership in you area of business/ expertise and help occupy mindshare. Social media also offers a more direct advantage in terms of driving promotions, foot traffic, sales and positive reviews. (Think yelp.com twitter.com and foursquare.com) The usual arc into success in social media is 1) build audiences 2) to drive awareness and 3) ultimately inspire action.

3. Understand your audience. This is important. Once you have your goals clearly outlined, think about your audiences and where they enjoy spending time on the Interwebs. Are they talking about you or your competitors somewhere? Are they they just a handful or are they in droves?

4. Prioritize your investment. What’s right for your business? Each platform helps you achieve specific objectives. Linked in with business networking, Twitter with customer service, relationship building, Facebook with fan engagement.

5. Rules of Execution.

No overnight results: The amount of time you invest in social media is directly proportional to the results you can expect from social media: Setting up a Facebook page of Twitter profile isn’t enough.

Not about the numbers: Not yet anyways. Focus on the quality of your interactions not the quantity. An entertainment client of ours has 30K less followers on Twitter than its competitor. In spite of this, our client tweets are just as re-tweeted (slightly more often, in fact) as the competitor tweets.

Measure. Optimize. Adapt. The beauty of social media is real-time results. Twitter is still far limited in providing results – but Facebook gives you the opportunity to track progress, see what’s working and what’s not and make changes in real time.

This is a work in progress. But any thoughtful comments and constructive criticism will be super helpful.

2010 Social Media Trends: From Enagement to ECommerce

Social media is evolving from an engagement platform to an ecommerce platform.

With the year ending, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I was and what I was doing around this time last year. In December 2008, I was presenting to all my clients a Twitter 101 deck and giving them a practical, logical reasoning of why they should consider jumping on Twitter. Fastforward 12 months and my agency is not only running and growing over 10 Twitter feeds for our clients, but we’ve gathered a rich historical database of our results.

I want to try and imagine now, how the next 12 months are going to surprise me and knock the breath out of me. Social media and it’s evolution excites me. And for 2010, I’m putting my stake in the ground for E-commerce.

We are going to witness a major shift in how we approach social media. 2010 is going to demand stronger measuring tactics and more importantly, tangible results. Brand building, awareness, buzz and fan activation are important goals but clients and agencies alike will now push for more tangible goals: sales. A direct increase in revenue.

Picture 4Dell just announced today that it credits about $6.5 million of its revenues to Twitter. Dell’s aggregate presence on social media (Facebook & Twitter) and its own community sites (Direct2Dell and IdeaStorm) has 3.5 Million + fans and followers that have collectively contributed to the $6.5 Mil rev. achieved.

What’s important to consider is the astounding growth (more than double!) in just three months following Dell’s announcement in June at having reached a 3 Mil revenue mark. Will the numbers reach 12 Million+ by 2010 ?

Granted $6.5 Million is a tiny piece of Dell’s $60 Billion revenues – but the unparalleled (100%+) growth in just three months alone is worth noting.

We are just beginning to see the potential of driving sales through social media.

Another point to consider:

As financial and human-resources investment in social media continues to grow, it will only get more time-intensive and expensive for a brand to push their audiences to three different web-based destinations: 1) It’s own website 2) It’s Facebook profile and 3) It’s Twitter page.

I think by late 2010, it will be fair to expect brands to start prioritizing their investment and efforts, and arguably giving first preference to its social media destinations. I know it sounds far-fetched. The idea that a brand’s website can be completely cannibalized by its social media presences seems preposterous, but it just makes sense to me logically.

If I can grow the impact of my brand and my revenues ten times faster on the social web than via my website – why wouldn’t I just put more resources into my Facebook page?

Also, it is a LOT to ask a customer to fan you, follow you and also sign up for your email newsletter. Ecommerce needs to get streamlined – content needs to get streamlined.

Signs are already pointPicture 3ting in this direction. Earlier this year, 1800-Flowers quietly opened an E-commerce store on its Facebook fan page.

On it Facebook page, 1800 Flowers accepts payments with all major credit cards and will soon implement Facebook’s proprietary payment platform. (Although the company only has about 8000 fans on its page (and not much fan activity – but that you can attribute to the fact that 1800 Flowers it not exactly what you’d call a passion brand.)

A friend of mine who works at a luxury fashion brand informed me that her company is “definitely” selling products on Facebook starting 2010. Facebook is one of their strongest focus for next year.

These are just my top level thoughts on a topic that is going to become very important and talked about next year. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. If you are a brand, I want to know more about how you are looking at measuring success in social media. Let’s keep this discussion going!

Clever newsletter marketing

Picture 7 I’ve been closely following newsletter marketing these days – while it’s tough to find out exact response rates and gauge effectiveness, I try to judge each newsletter from my own lens, or its uniqueness.

I found LifeBooker via a Facebook Ad and signed up for their deals and newsletter. Just today I recieved this email in mail promoting their free $12 gift certificate code.

What’s interesting to me is that LifeBooker shared information on how other customers used to code, thereby, booking massively discounted spa and haircut deals.

While the newsletter could use design more powerfully to convey this information, I thought it was really smart that they shared some ‘voyeristic’ data. That certainly got my attention.

What do you think? Have you seen other clever and unique newsletter marketing techniques?

Twitter – The end of the begining ?

Ben Malbon and team of BBH Labs has an amazing, thought-provoking discussion on Twitter and the future of it.

Here is the comment I posted on the blog: (Read the main post first!)

I think there are two lenses to have this conversation from: a personal lens and a business lens.

On the personal front, I think Maria phrased it the best. Curiosity and Credibility -also lets not forget instant gratification that this medium allows us. From a theoretical POV, I can also argue, vanity and a kind of cultural megalomania (look how funny my tweets are, or how cool the links I share are)
Whatever the reasons, they pander to the very basic human instinct and we respond to them. I think these responses are also quite evident on Facebook (rememeber how everyone had the ‘Places I have visited’ and the ‘Books I have read’ applications installed when the aps first premiered? ) However, on Twitter – the gratification is on steroids! The speed, the quickness, the instant-ness…
I think what Twitter has done, is made us as human beings incredibly self-aware. We have come to realize the power of our words, our curatorial abilities and our personalities – and because it is so easily manifested on Twitter, I think this is just the beginning. As Twitter evolves, we too, will evolve how we use it.

On the business front, I personally think the answer has never been clearer or simpler. I believe that brands and entrepreneurs are coming to accept that perhaps, the only value with investing time and resources on Twitter is that of a direct connection with the customers. Cliched, but I cannot think of a single social technology that has made customer service so incredibly simple or relevant.

As a collective Twitter community, we have also evolved from the obsessive need to gain ‘followers’ and ‘follow’ people back. Infact, now if I see someone following everyone that follows them – they lose a little bit of credibility with me. It goes to show that they are not curating the information they receive – only paying attention to the information they send out.

It is OK for brands to follow / harness only their audiences. They don’t and shouldn’t feel obligated anymore to follow everyone back. The barriers to entry on Twitter are only diminishing – So in that respect – I believe for brands and businesses, this is just the beginning.

No. I don’t think this is the end of the beginning. Early-adopters such as ourselves may move on to some other technology, but that does not mean Twitter has peaked. We early adopters moved on from Hi5 and Friendster – but those networks continue to thrive. Albeit, with a different audience, but they are successful.

Early adopters like us are never the sole/ target audience of any new technology. Also, any new technology takes atleast a few years before it finds who the ‘monetiziable’ audience is and eventually, it evolves into pandering to that audience. More often than not, early adopters are not that audience.

About monetizing Twitter itself – that’s a question I think everyone is interested in watching how and when that will happen.

Why this should be the future of beauty

I’ve been aware of this nifty little tool (Thanks to Jazmin) for some time now and everyday, I think – today, is the day when one of the massive beauty companies (read: L’oreal, Estee Lauder, P&G, LVMH) are going to license this technology and build it into their website. Why wouldn’t a color cosmetics company jump on this technology and install it on their own website and give women the ability and the freedom to sample the different colors?

Color cosmetics, like food, are products that people (read: women) need to touch, feel and sample. God knows, how many shades of blushes and lipstick I’ve had to try on my face before I found the one that looked good. And the funny part is that the one I end up buying was the one recommended by the MAC makeup specialist. I would have never thought that the color she recommended would look good on me. The point is, this tool would be a life-savior.

Sometimes I think that, while the social web is about connections, relationships and conversations – technology that enhances my experience with a brand will connect me better to it,  definitely earn my loyalty and you know me – I will gloat about them :) The future of marketing cosmetics and beauty is not just about a facebook fan page and some blogger buzz – it is about actually using technology to solve the challenges of your business while making the end-experience a hundred fold more beneficial for your customers.

Btw, I am also surprised that taaz.com only has about 15.2K visitors/month. (Quantcast) Is it because not many women know about it? Is it because while women CAN experiment with the products and try on makeovers, they actually CANNOT buy the products that work directly from teh site?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – and what you think about taaz.com.

* Taaz.com is developed by a San Diego based  photo enhancement company called, Photometria Inc.

UPDATE: Deepu John, VP of Marketing at Taaz.com was kind enough to reach out to me upon reading this article and further clarify some of the points I made above.

I thought I should answer your question about TAAZ from my perspective. In reality TAAZ has had Millions of women try the experience since we launched. Taaz.com has indeed received millions of site visitors. Taaz.com has also partnered with instyle.com to power their Hollywood Hair Makeover (http://www.instyle.com/instyle/makeover). They also worked with Sephora and powered the makeover aspect of Sephora’s 2008 Holiday Ecard, “Mistletoe Makeover” at http://mistletoemakeover.com

He was also kind enough to point to me a selection of press releases about taaz.com -  http://www.newspad.com/all?q=taaz&hitsPerPage=20

I have reached out to him with additional questions and will update as I receive them.

Why social networking sites need a business model first

Yelp.com Scam:

I have written previously about monetizing online communities. To sum it up, my point was that communities do not convert into paying customers unless the expectation is set at the very beginning. The recent Yelp.com extortion scam further strengthens my point. Yelp.com is not yet a profitable company – its primary source of revenue is advertising. As the primary user-review site, I did trust yelp.com implicitly with its customer recommendations. However, having learned today that yelp.com actually tampers with the reviews (pays employees to write reviews, gives a negative review to business who decline to advertise with yelp.com and gives positive reviews to companies that advertise with them) – I will never again trust the veracity of the reviews on that site.

It is a mockery of consumer trust and the implicit rules of social networking and social technologies. Like the Creative Commons Act – this may not yet be written in stone, but dude – tampering with user reviews is dishonest, faulty and plain despicable.

Social networking/ social media companies – I beg you. Please have a business model in place first. Then go attract your users.

Don’t get me wrong – I do think that as a community of thinkers and entrepreneurs, we will only learn by taking risks and making such mistakes. But personally, I’m becoming less and less enchanted by social networks that essentially offer variations of the same service – but do not do the right due-diligence and research to have a sound plan behind it.Ultimately, this is what happens then. Oh yes, we’ve generated a terrific user base- NOW- lets go to investors and get the money. And THEN lets figure out how to make money off this. How can you do business like that?!

We talk so much about old business models dying and how social technologies is re-defining how we do business. Agreed- but I still think there’s a lesson or two to be learned from the old-school folks. For Yelp.com -what’s the point of bringing in thousands of users, establishing trust with your users and then fooling them like this? The sad thing is, unless this story reaches critical mass – users will continue to flock to yelp.com, trusting its recommendations.

I wish brands would understand that a social network is not a solution to their problem. Heck, most brands don’t even do a good job of properly identifying the problem first. As I see it, they find a new media solution first (whether it is a facebook fan page, a social network or even twitter) and then they frame the problem around it.

Facebook – the savior

Yes. I sincerely believe this. At work, I have two windows constantly open other than my work email: my personal email and Facebook. With their new “Like and Share” features, it is diminishing my need to go to a digg.com or a reddit.com – and instead derive satisfaction from sharing items with MY friends. There has been a lot of debate abou their TOCs lately – Give those guys a break. They are doing their best too – to figure out how to make money while staying true to the community. What I love most about Facebook is that while they experiment with different business and revenue models, they are quick to react, communicate and apologize to their community as and when need be.

Anyways, these were totally unfiltered thoughts brimming around in my head after reading that Yelp.com scam news today. Feel free to agree/disagree.

On (NOT) collecting friends on facebook

My biggest pet peeve is coming into my inbox with friend requests from names I don’t recognize AT ALL.

This post has been a long time in the coming. I am a little pissed off right now because I am struggling with handling the facebook conundrum. Facebook has unfortunately liquidated the meaning / definition of “friend.” I still view Facebook as a personal domain. While, thankfully,  I have the option to select and adjust privacy settings per user, it still takes a certain level of personal comfort and familiarity for me to be bold enough to request someone’s friendship and for me to accept someone’s friend request.

Everytime I recieve a friend request that I don’t recognize, I message back and ask : Do I know you. Today, perhaps, I just tipped over my threshold and the response I recieved really really pissed me off. I received a notification on Twitter last night about this person following me. I didn’t find their Twitter feed interesting – so I didn’t follow them back. Then this afternoon, I received a friend request from them. I thought that perhaps I might have met the person and was blanking on the name/ face so as I always do, I asked them: Do I know you. And here’s the response I received.

(Redacted) : followed u on twitter
My response: Not to be rude – but following me on Twitter is not the same as being my friend on Facebook. Please be mindful of people’s privacy and if you want to friend someone, at the very least – write a note explaining why or the association.  You can network with me on linkedin or twitter if you like. I don’t know you well enough to friend you here.

WOW. That just annoyed me.

My goal with being on Facebook is not to collect friends, but to strengthen my already existing social relationships. Unfortnately there are no rules to friending people and making new friends – its just that each of us has a different agenda that should be respected, irrespective of what it might be. And the reason why I invest my time asking, ‘Do I know you’ every single time I recieve a friend request from a stranger is because I have been very glad of the times I have accepted a relative stranger into my friend fold simply because they took the time to answer my question sincerely and honestly. Thats the kind of people I want to enrich my life with – not the ones who think sending me a half-assed phrase as a reason to be my friend.

Maybe I have a very high opinion of myself, maybe every sentence here is hypocritical, but I stand by it. I have not yet sent a TOTAL stranger a friend request – and if and when I do – I guarantee you I will make a strong case of why I should be their friend.

Thoughts on monetizing online communities

These are random and slightly haphazard, so bear with me.

I’ve been part of a few discussions the last few weeks that have resulted into me going back home with the ultimate question in mind:  how do you monetize a community? Or rather – can a community even be monetized?
Everyone is trying to do this – from our clients to startups and even Facebook (did you see that Facebook’s internal evaluation went down to $4Billion from the earlier estimation of $12.5 Billion?)

The only successful case-study that I can think of is Threadless.com. They have nailed the revenue model and the community aspect both – a feat very difficult to achieve in today’s web world. Also, they have done so without really relying on “Advertsing” or “subscription” (the most commonly resorted to rev. models for communities)
I have a theory as to why they are so successful:  threadless.com set the expectations from their community from the very beginning.

Threadless was in the business of selling T-Shirts that people will want to buy. That’s it. The way they find out what people will want to buy is by soliciting designs and having others vote on them which has resulted into a strong community around the core proposition. (Which, btw is not revolutionary – this is how traditionally communities have formed around products, movies, stores etc. – The expectation is always set) In these cases, communities may also stand for “fans”

When I look at some of the recent start-ups and existing networks,  – it clearly comes off as these sites were started to 1) build a community first and  2) figure out a rev. model then.
The risk these companies run with such a model is that the expectation for the community is already set: the community already believes that this is a free service and they begin to conform/ expect and fall in love with that frame of reference.
Once you try to change that frame of reference, you risk uspetting or even losing your community or your fans. And rightfully so – because you are trying to change the core product that the community first fell in love with.

Which is why, it only took Threadless 3 years to make profit and neither of the companies stated above are even breaking even yet.

Which is also why, I think Opensource and crowdsoucring and “Free” are the domains of companies that already have money and are not particularly expecting to see a return on investment. I also think Opensource is a fantastic domain, and possibly, should become the only domain for social good/ social design and social causes. When the collective agenda is to ultimately “do good” – concepts like open source and crowdsourcing are not only incredibly useful, but also cost-effective.

However, for a first-time entrepreneur (like majority of cases) I’m not convinced that Opensource or even “community” is a way to go. While having a community of supporters is incredibly instrumental for any new business, I’m not convinced that this community will convert into paying customers unless the expectation is set at the very beginning.

And lastly, for corporations and clients – I think every established company or organization already has a built-in community. The job of social media/ web is to bring together this community under one umbrella (or at the very least, be findable when they come looking for you) and treat them well and continue the relationship.

Late night thoughts

The beauty of the web2.0 is that it encourages us and forces us to redefine the words: friend, strangers and acquaintances. You agree?

Social Networks: diaryland.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about what really constitutes a social network. I found this amazing historical and pictorial representation of the launch dates of major social network sites in a paper authored by danah boyd and Nicole Ellison. While this is fairly accurate, I think has missed out a couple key movements in this space, namely ICQ and diaryland.com.

According to Whois.com listing, the domain diaryland.com was registered March 9, 1999 and expires March 9, 2010. I am actually very surprised that most academic and scholarly texts on social networking make no mention of diaryland. Diaryland was founded in September 1999 by Andrew Smales, a Toronton native. Without any advertising, Diaryland soon amassed over 350,000 users. (a pity number compares to now:)

I was a part of the diaryland community in 1999-2002 and even though you couldn’t network or "chat", you could add URLs of diaries you liked on your blog and become parts of groups and have little labels and stickers on your diaries. I would love to interview the founder someday — the site is still active but I think most of the old-timers have moved on to blogspot or wordpress. Anyways, the reason I bring diaryland.com up again is because the new definition of ‘social networks’ is too narrow and does not allow the early pioneers to be categorized the same way. Both ICQ and diaryland – allowed you to search for people, leave comments in their guest books or leave them personal notes AND add their URL’s on your blog in support of your new friendship. You see, making new friends and finding old friends on the internet happened back then too – even before we had blogs. According to Whois.com listing, the domain diaryland.com was registered March 9, 1999 and expires March 9, 2010. So perhaps the idea of diaryland.com was conceived even before Livejournal.

 

(Oh and look, smartypants.diaryland.com wrote a book too, The World according to Mimi Smartypants!)

 

Allow me to indulge one more fragment of the early internet memories – the chat rooms! How fascinated I was! My dad had just bought an old black and white computer and I’d enter these chat rooms on excite.com and rediff.com (INDIA) and think not twice about making real friends and giving out my real phone number and real name! Today my ex-boss’s children (8,9 years old?? – not sure) friend-ed me on facebook. I think it is cool and perhaps something young parents should expect as their children grow. (More on this later!)

Irrespective, I am unfamiliar with a lot of these sites mentioned in this diagram. But I love it – maybe I will create one of my own personal journey of the internet. It’s amazing though because around 2003 is when the social network phenomena took off and every kind of network mushroomed upon- even a network that allows you to create other networks! (ning.com)

I’m loving Facebook Chat. Facebook is one place for me where I have all my friends from India, Philadelphia and other corners of the world online. I don’t need to have MSN, Gmail and AIM on at the same time. I’m loving it! Some people say that is the next generation of social networks, to me, that is returning full-circle. After all, AIM, MSN chat and other such chats were the early rudimentary social networks!

:D

I have received some emails expressing interest in wanting to learn more about my passion project. I am not ignoring your emails – I’m merely trying to figure out and define my project before I communicate with you again. Thank you for your patience :)

Here are some old articles I found about diaryland.com founder, Andrew Smales
Salon.com

Boydellisonfig1

Combining commerce with social goodness

Picture_4My previous employer Advanta launched a new credit card in partnership with Kiva. To refresh your memory, I was a part of the kickass team that launched Ideablob last year at Advanta. The newest project that Advanta has unleashed and my dear ex-colleagues worked on is the KivaB2B business credit card.

Kiva.org is the world’s first peer-to-peer microfinance platform that allows US-based folks to lend money to entrepreneurs and small business owners in developing countries. Advanta, is one of American’s largest credit card issuer in the small businesses market. A marriage between the two was inevitable!

For every loan an Advanta card-holder makes to Kiva, Advanta will match the loan amount dollar-for-dollar. American small businesses will in effect, help out small businesses in developing countries without spending any money at all!

Hats off to the visionary Innovation Group at Advanta  :) It is little efforts like these that makes a company special. I will be following their success closely.

PS – I love the credit card design too! My friend, the brilliant Israeli film-maker and designer, Michal Levy designed it.

Reality Show on Twitter

Picture_1Ofcourse, I hit follow. :D

How I wasted time on the internet today

Picture_1

My friend apparently purchased me on Facebook today. So I ignored his request and took a screengrab of it before ignoring it.

Picture_2

And I created a glog of myself today on Glogster.

My passion project

So yesterday I was doing some research on how women and men behave online and stumbled upon scribd.com
I’ve known of that website for a long time but I never really used it because the interface didn’t please me and there are too many ads cluttering the home page. But when I landed on scribd.com yesterday, I end up spending over 45 minutes hunting through its archives and database and downloading interesting reports. I also found pdfs of Haruki Murakami’s Norweigan Wood and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. What really amazed me was the amount of information people are making available for others online. Scribd and Slideshare.net are both fantastic examples of a milder version of an online university.

There are basically two types of information people are sharing online: 1) Organized 2) Chaotic. Here’s how I breakdown both: The kind of information offered on sites like scribd.com and slideshare.net represents an individual’s organized thinking: perhaps about an idea, or a topic of interest to them. Their thoughts are usually clear and they articulate it in the form of a presentation or a document. I classify this kind of free information share as organized information — in which, you may not learn a lot about people, but you learn a lot about what they know.

The other type of information share that is happening online is chaotic – this information share is anecdotal, visual, literal and often metaphorical. It may even border on offensive to unnecessary. This type of information can be found on free photo and video sharing websites, blogs, microblog platforms and other avenues like 43things.com, post-secret and ihate.com. This type of chaotic information share can and is usually done behind a mask of anonymity.

As a strategist, I’m most interested in understanding how this information share can be turned to our advantage and how we can actually make sense and benefit from this share. How can we analyze and derive  conclusive learnings from this information share? I hear that several agencies and companies are already employing and using spiders and other web programs to gather the free information floating out on the web ether – but I’m more interested in discovering patterns and processes that surround this scenario and figuring out, if there is one, a universal and singular method that can successfully make sense of this massive database of information.

This is my passion project and has been on my mind for the last couple of months. I have some ideas around how to realize this and I’m using the help of some smart, enlightened strategists to help me take this to the next level – but I’m asking you as well — can you help me?

My idea hasn’t matured to the next level and a lot of critical thinking that hasn’t happened yet needs to happen before any of this can make sense to you but I’m excited and I return home from work every night to work on this…

And to add one point of clarification – I’m not looking to develop a system that trolls blogs and other media sites and spews out a reports. There are plenty of those out there already. I know what I am proposing does not have a one-size-fit-all solution — I’m not looking to create another aggregator. What I’m looking to do is simply provide a better means to make sense of the free-floating chaotic information to people like me, who want to better understand people/ consumers.

This idea stemmed out of my very recent experience in the agency-life – any new project undergoes (and rightfully so) massive amounts of primary and secondary research. What I’m trying to prove is, because people are already sharing intimate details of their lives on the web, there has got to be a better way to include those insights in our work.

Anyways…

Spring in New York is beautiful – and it feels like it might have finally arrived. This morning when I was getting ready to leave for work, my area was shrouded in mist. I live by the river in Jersey City/ Exchange Place. It’s only 4 minutes from NYC in the PATH trains but it’s an island of it’s own. Very slow -almost fairy tale like with subdued yellow lights and light-rails right out of an Enid Blyton book making up for the city-scape. (Atleast until you reach the umpteen construction sites…) Anyways, it’s a beautiful day today and I wish more days like today :D

Happy, almost, summer.

Web apathy

I haven’t written here in so long and I think now, I am okay with that. I don’t feel the need to put my voice, thoughts and opinions out on the public forum so frequently anymore. I never was quite able to figure out how people maintained such active lives on twitter, blogs and numerous other smaller groups with a full-time job, family and life. Maybe I’m an introvert ? Or maybe the other’s don’t have a life apart from their online lives and jobs? I don’t mean to sound condescending – but I am truly was curious.

People’s nonsense (or their personal PR) on twitter just annoys me now. I’m also being a hypocrite on many levels because I go through phases of total immersion and then total isolation from twitter. But now that I’ve been hearing many top bloggers bullshit so much on twitter, I find myself boycotting their blogs and not being interested in their writings anymore.

The web has become a cacophony of voices – and I don’t want mine to be lost underneath them. I still want what I write to provide value and be meaningful. And my god – it feels so good to make that peace with myself!

Life in New York is fast. I’m working on some fun projects at work and some fun side-projects too. My parents are also visiting from India so the past month has been great. I’m always amazed at how much I learn at work from just observing how other people work and think. But I want to move it a step further now and take my thinking capabilities to the next level.

There’s an idea I’ve been toying around in my head…. but I have to formulate it and think through it. Stay tuned though – I will share soon!

Drawing from history

Last weekend, I watched a new Bollywood movie based on the life of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. King Akbar  often dressed as a regular layman to see and his listen if his subjects were happy. He believed that he could only understand true sufferings of his subjects if he was amongst them and not isolated in his castle. Akbar would then return to court and act upon his observations to make his kingdom happy and satisfied.

I re-tell this story because it is a great metaphor for what brands should be doing right now. The Web has made connections and communications fluid, abundant and easy. So if you are a brand – chances are, your customers are talking about you online. And the only way you can keep them happy is if you are listening and more importantly acting upon what you listen.

:D Happy tuesday!

Dear Reader

I’m a little stressed. I’m stressed about this responsibility that comes with being a blogger.
Being a blogger was hot once. Now, it is a chore. It started as something I did for myself and my friends, then it morphed into a more serious, professional persona and now everytime I log into type in here, I’m afraid it’s just another voice in the cacophony out there.

Bloggers I meet have ‘strategies’ for their blogs, particular reasons why they start blogs and massive, drawn out plans for their blogs.
Clients I meet are wondering about these blogs – they want to wine and dine the bloggers and get them to create, “positive conversations” about blogs.
In another universe, one-time bloggers who are now quasi-famous, are taking potshots at each other, judging and criticizing the very outlets that supposedly started out ‘just out of interest,” and were meant to be subjective, not objective.
The web, the news, the conversations are rife with bitterness and a constantly shifting status-quo.

I come from the world of magazines – it was my first home and I get it. I understand the power of a voice, the power of influence. And I see it coming a full circle, when blogs aren’t just ‘blogs’ but blown-out, magazines that are edited and curated with a singular voice at the helm, becoming full-on media properties. They now have to have a facelift, better features, fancy photography and whatnot. Er, excuse me – are you still a blog? Oh wait a minute, you’ve even got contributing writers. Woah.

Excuse my rant, dear reader.
It’s just 1am on a Thursday morning and I’ve just realized that being a blogger holds no merit for me any longer. Yes, it got me my jobs but it’s not relevant to me in the context that it was before.

Social Thresholds

Returning back to the idea of privacy online, my friend Amit, has a very different point of view that I think is worth adding to this discourse. Our debate rose from teh idea of separating your worlds and contexts that you exist in. Here are his thoughts,

Ultimately, being completely open with all worlds, allowing them to mix, and letting your friends see you in your business contexts, and your boss see you in your personal life, is equivalent to putting faith in humanity and in yourself. It’s understanding that help and opportunity can come from anywhere at anytime, and there’s no way to predict it. And that people are at their deepest level good, that you are deserving of their attention, interesting enough, and worthy of their help, so letting them see more of you can only help you (and them) more than it hurts.

While I don’t agree with this, it is a very valid argument that deserves to be heard and discussed. I don’t agree with this thinking because to me each individual in my life exists in a different context. Your close friends cross over into different contexts of your life but for the rest, there should be no free pass. Friendships should be earned – and special benefits come with that, namely access to my full profile.

This does not mean every moment must be broadcast. There are exceptions to every rule, and times when discretion makes sense. You wouldn’t broadcast a job search while still employed, any more than I’d share minor squabbles with a significant other in a public forum.
But what a loss would it be if you didn’t share your victories and joys — the good times, if not the insignificant ones. It’s weird, this fifth relationship. There’s plenty of precedent to fall back on for relationships with your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your significant others, but most historically haven’t had to think much about their relationship with strangers. That was a problem left for celebrities. Until the Internet gave everyone a chance for microcelebrity.

I have been having this conversation in varying degrees and colors with other friends and each present a distinct, well-pontificated argument that I’d like to share with you. Every voice adds another layer to this debate and while there is no right answer, there is perhaps some weight in the idea that every individual has a social threshold (for strangers) they won’t cross. Whatever that threshold is for them – and it is different for everyone. You may be comfortable sharing your flickr gallery with everyone but not your age and your personal blog while I may be ok with having you observe me here in this space but perhaps not on facebook unless you are my friend. Does this make sense?

What’s your social threshold? What do you allow and not?

Managing online identities

I have been visiting and re-visiting the issue of online identities for a while now. I want to de-construct my view and see if I could make a coherent argument for my position.
There has been a flurry of conversations and debates online on Design Observer and NYT about anonymity and pseudo-online personalities. I’m still exploring what it all means and trying to make some sense of it, but here’s where I stand for now.

Here’s what I reason
– People like me who
are so careful about their online identities are driven by fear.
Although I should point out that while fear maybe the underlying
factor, it is not fueled by the fear to ‘hide something," but instead
‘to protect."

I strongly believe that at the very core, our online behavior
mimicks our offline behavior (bar some of the advantages afforded on
the net, mainly – anonymity) So like we do in our offline lives, our
online lives exist in various contexts and circles. Professional,
Family, Friends, Other — sometimes those worlds overlap, sometimes
they do not. To cite from personal example, my boss at the bank added
me on facebook while I was in the midst of a job search. POKE found me
on facebook in response to a post I had on a facebook group which was
easily searchable if anyone were to follow my mini-feed or simply
browsing through the groups I am a member of. I was in a dilemma
because I very well couldn’t refuse my boss but how was I to accept his
request with my private moves out open in the public? My wall-posts
that referred to my move to NYC had to be deleted – I had to inform my
friends in the know to communicate using alternate means.

Another example – when facebook opened it’s doors to the
public, my cousins, family members and other folks from India surged on
facebook and eagerly added me as a friend. Now this was a real problem
- because contextually, my cultural upbringing questioned whether my
relatives and family members should be privy to conversations (on my
wall) between me and my friends. With my background, there was no way
these two worlds could co-exist mutually on a singular online platform.
Photos, relationship status-es, Wall posts, the innocent and honest
banter on the walls — everything would be subject to scrutiny. And
again, denying these members was out of question.

And lastly – when everyone started adding each other on
facebook, I was in a daze. The change was abrupt and fast. I could
remember thinking how two months back, facebook being about me and my close friends.
And now suddenly, I had lost the context for facebook and what it meant
for me.

*I think opinions of those who are relatively new to
facebook may differ here since their knowledge about facebook’s
environments is limited to the time they have been a member of the
network.

But people like me struggled – wondering if it was rude to deny
requests? who is a friend? what constitutes a friend? Also, in a
professional world, how do you strictly keep your relationships such
but still strong enough to allow them to grow? Again, in a field where
most jobs happen via networking, I was less inclined to deny those
connections.

The answer was plain and simple – private profiles for
‘friends." and the real profile for friends. Until I can trust the
‘friends,’ – there’s no reason why they should be privy to what my
friends deserve and get out of me. It is a pain to manage that yes -
but that is facebook’s fault, not mine. I am an ordinary individual and
I’m sure there are plenty of folks like me who feel this way. So
facebook should make it easier for people like us to use the facebook
platform and satisfy the various contexts we exist in. It’s really a
simple UI issue I think. And I can guarantee you, in the future
facebook will make this possible. It’s a fine balance.

Like I said, I don’t have answers but I think I know what
motivates the desire to maintain and actively manage your online
identity. It’s an oxymoron – because ofcourse, you want to be found
when someone googles you. And professionally for me, I should be found
on the various sites (twitter, iminlikewithyou, 43things, flickr,
orkut, friendster…..etc. etc) if someone searches for me there,
simply because how can I claim to understand social media without
deep-diving into it myself? So yes, I want to be found – but I want to
be careful about what’s found about me. Atleast to the level where it
can be controlled by me.

Short history of micro-blogging

Facebook got rid of the "is" from their status update today, aligning itself to it’s audiences demands and conforming to be more twitter-like. The facbeook ‘status’ messages today are abuzz with news about the disappearance of "is." 

This fascination with our own lives and the desire to share it with strangers amuses me sometimes. Everyday I am reminded of the ‘celebrity’ I could morph into if I wanted to.
These social tools have helped us manifest our illusory popularity within our niche groups, subjecting those in our circles to continuous broadcasts about the trite and sometimes, intimate details of our lives. We call it micro-blogging.

Wikipedia defines micro-blogging as,

"Micro-blogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually less than 200 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user."

It bothers me that we think of it as a revolution when it simply is just an innovation, an iteration at the most. Lets revisit the IRC chat days. ICQ identified users with a unique number and allowed them change their handle and keep the screename dynamic. In the first month alone when I started using ICQ (1998/ 99 was it?) my screen-name changed every few hours depending on my colorful teenage moods and emotional beat.

MSN  Messenger too, allowed for the same and in addition to giving users the flexibility to keep dynamic screen-names, it also allowed them to customize their status messages which in my case, (and those of my friends) varied from laments about life, homework & college to song lyrics and my whereabouts. But the information was being broadcast to 80 some friends with whom I shared real, tangible, offline relationships.

AIM messenger gave users a static user name with the ability to customize messages, updates and even icons- little widgets and tools that allowed users to express themselves and share bits and pieces of their lives.

Cellphone ringers in India allowed me to choose my current favorite songs so when my friends called me, instead of hearing the phone ring, they would hear the ‘song of the moment’ which in most cases was a direct reflection of my life.

 

I outline these instances because in each and every one – users like me and you have with precision been broadcasting our lives to our friends. And we’ve probably been doing this before the term blog was coined.
These options have simply enabled the frequency with which we now share these details — evolving into a more robust, almost pollutant iteration of what we grew up with.

This evolution of micro blogging offers users the ability to become active participants instead of being passive observers. So now, we aren’t only sharing, but also conversing and commenting via micro-tools with an intensity that wasn’t as palpable in the earlier versions. Also and perhaps the most intriguing facet of our current version is our ability and our open-ness to broadcast our life events to an extended and expansive social circle.

My opinion on micro-blogging fluctuates – I know we are fascinated with ourselves but my life (and the other 98% of people’s lives) are barely interesting. They are simple, ordinary lives and I don’t know how if that begets incessant broadcasts. That’s just my two cents. (All the same, I have been guilty of doing the same)

It bothers me sometimes. I see a lot of micro-blogging happening on facebook that is merely by professionals who instead of using facebook as a social utility tool which is what it is meant to be, use it to toot their professional horns. To me, this dilutes the essence of facebook and I almost wish I could take my friends and shift elsewhere. But who would follow me?! And where would I do?

I suppose, the next evolution…..

Online Identities & Social networks

My friend sent me an invitation to join Social Chat on facebook. Out of curiosity, I installed the application to check it out. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but meeting strangers on facebook is not a functionality that fits within my framework of facebook.

I was confounded when a private message popped on my screen (deja vu –1998/1999–  rediff chat anyone? excite.com chat?! ) and asked,

A/S/L?

I haven’t heard that term in over 8 years. (For those not familiar with the term, A/S/L stands for Age/ Sex/ Location - a phrase that was used in the heyday of online chat when people were just discovering alternate ways to meet other people online)

But we are in 2007 now. There are social hierarchies in place. We have various identities online for specific reasons. An individual’s identity on J-Date is going to be different from their persona on linkedin or even facebook. My identities on certain networks are built to meet people (ning, linkedin, cyworld)  but on other networks, namely facebook, I want to connect with people I *already* know.
Applications like Social Chat dilute the meaning of facebook for me. Thankfully, it is only an application and I have opted out already. But this leads to an interesting question – should content, in this case, applications, be curated on facebook? Should there be an editorial team that decides what makes the cut and what doesn’t?

Or is it best left for the public to decide?

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Life on Flickr

Picture_1_2                                                                                                                         Scott and I were brainstorming yesterday evening and looking at this MOST POPULAR Tags list on Flickr. Funny how we never thought about it like this before…

Like the Google Zeitgiest, Flickr’s most popular tags are a great representation of what matters to us, humans, on a macroscopic level. Of the 2 billion photographs on Flickr, this tag cloud is a fantastic portrayal of our lives and what we value most.

Family, friends, kids, festivals and vacations, the summer months, clouds, sunsets, beaches and the water,  concerts and music, food,  birthdays, weddings and honeymoons, our pets, traveling and exploring the world, outdoor activities and games…..

Life is so simple, no?
:)

Connecting the dots

Picture_1
I’m reading a book called, "Pathfinders – A global history of exploration."  It attempts to trace the history of mankind. In it’s own words,

"This book is about encounters – encounters between cultures- and the outreach of ambition, imagination, efforts and innovations that made them possible."

So last night, as I was reading about the divergence and convergence of cultures traced through DNA in this book– Nightline, incidentally played a short feature on how genes can help you discover your ancestry.

The feature is heavily based on the philosophy and efforts on one particular USA based company called Sorenson Genomics. Sorenson has collected about 100,000 samples of DNA from 172 countries over the world and is building an extensive database that will help people trace their genetic lineage.

"I think the hypothesis was that if he could get any two people in a
room, and through this database show them how they were related and
where they came from and how they belonged … that this would change the
way they would feel about each other. That instead of animosity perhaps
they would feel a connection and that would lead to a more peaceful
environment," David said.

I am obviously very interested. My grandparents are from Karachi, Pakistan – what then used to be India. They fled to Bombay, India around 1947 and have since dug their roots there. With the death of my grandparents, it felt like a part of my family history was stubbed right there. Oral history tends to get lost over generations and all that is left is curiosity.

Sorenson Genomics have created DNA kits available for $150 — they use their existing (and ever increasing) database to help you connect your dots. Yesterday on Nightline, Martin Bashir of Indian descent learned that his ancestors were Africans, Rajputs from Rajasthan and Brahmins from Uttar Pradesh.
Another DNA-tester who was adopted and had no idea about his background was able to trace his ancestry to Turkey.

Digital advances are moving us in an entirely uncharted territory. I just rekindled old connections today on Facebook using Friend Finder and I joined an Indian youth social network on ning to connect with other young Indians — is the next evolution finding people with the exact same DNA as me who could be my long-lost, distant cousins ? It is a real possibility.

Organizing web identities

I had a bad habit of going through email addresses when I was younger. The fascination of choosing any persona and whimsical name was too addictive and I made sure I exploited it to the full. I’ve had after the rains, in the rains, little rain cloud, tuscan lights and a countless other  email handles that after a point were too boring to continue with. Thankfully, I didn’t lose any of my friends to changing emails but I’m realizing a bigger problem now. The need for one organized identity throughout the internet. I’ve left digial turds on plenty of social media sites/ social media tools and various other sites that I might have just wanted to "try" out. (FYI – no. you won’t find me on match.com or shaadi.com)

But in doing so – I’m a different handle everywhere. My college years are marked by one handle and then my post-college years by another handle and now yet another one for professional reasons. The lines are so blurred now — and I have on fragmented identity on the internet.

Also, changing the blog name didn’t help because now I’ve gotta figure out how to change the URL…

Any suggestions people?

As a start, I changed my twitter to miyume01 because my AIM is miyume01. (And I recently started using AIM because the rest of the world may be on MSN, but America is still on AIM)

Amazing, funny ad!

This ad is just too cool to not share!
Go on, have a laugh!

Wilkinson Swords.

Responsible Marketing Case Study

One of the conversations that has been plaguing my mind since a few days is that of responsible marketing.
In this day and age, what is responsible marketing and what actions deem you a responsible marketer?
As a consumer, the answer is easy to point out: Don’t pollute my space and if you absolutely have to, keep me entertained while you do that.

A great example is watching TV shows on abc.com. Each 40 minute episode is interspersed  with 30 second commercials, usually all sponsored by the same brand/ company. Each episode packs about 2.5 to 3 minutes worth of opportunities to entertain me and lure me away from the episode into wanting to learn more about your product, or buy it. And the funny thing is, because abc.com has been so nice to make their shows available online, I actually don’t really mind the commercial interruptions at all. It’s every marketers dream to have their consumer in a state-of-mind where they will not object to advertising, right?

But sadly, I’ve only seen a few brands do it right. Some companies try to get all funky and cram interactive games within the 30 seconds which frankly, by the time they load, the 30 seconds are done and I’m continuing with my episode. Some marketers have teh same ad play again and again every 30 second. My point – if you have my attention for 3 minutes, atleast don’t insult my intelligence by showing me teh same ad. Be innovative, create a story. Entertain me.

Lucky for those brands because I cannot remember the names of those that do it wrong. But I do remember the names of those that did it right. Great example: Sprint.
In 30 seconds, I learn how to sooth a baby, peel an egg, turbo park, make an instant sorbet etc etc
And by lord, I also remember the URL www.waitless.org

The waitless campaign, is subtly branded and superbly executed. They make my 30 seconds of interruption worthwhile, enjoyable and memorable. That’s not just great advertising, that’s a great example of understanding the consumer’s medium and creating an experience that is rich and meaningful for that medium.

That to me is responsible marketing.
PS – It would be better if Sprint made this videos available for sharing. Free the content!

Cultural megalomania

Facebook has become a hot topic of discussion and scholarly study. Since facebook applications platform opened up, there are about 5000+ applications only with no real monetization channels. I have expressed my views before about the facebook applications — but there’s an interesting social awareness that is surfacing in this sphere: almost a sort of cultural megalomania.

People are taking pride in sharing their ‘bookshevles," movie interests, virtual gifts, traveled cities and causes. Essentially, all applications that allow them to display their ‘cultural worth’ or ‘cultural currency." I have been guilty of this as well — having toyed around with each of these applications and then removed them because I got lazy of updating my ‘cultural hall of fame’ or simply realized that others had more fuller maps and more gifts and more drinks from their friends and that I would just look lame with such a meagre supply of all of the above. It’s interesting to me that there is a visual metaphor on facebook for all kinds of cultural behavior people engage in — and that people are taking pride in & engaging in that sort of cultural bragging where they think of those graphics as trophies and reflections of who they are and what their online worth is.

It is also, a very strong tool for people to control and sometimes manipulate exactly what their online identity will be. I am hard-pressed to say this is new to facebook. It probably started when we first spent hours trying to pick the right email handle, the right icq name, the right AIM name, the right msn name….The handle reflects our personality and it a strong representation of our physical self into a virtual world. Online diaries, livejournals and blogs allowed to portray our virtual handle in the real world — and supplement it with constant data and feed to promote it, build it further and even, live up to it.

Facebook applications and facebook itself — by allowing visual and graphical representations of more than one aspect of our intelligent/ the culturally assimilated self, as taken this cultural megalomania to a whole new level.

And that’s the extend of thought I’ve given this right now —
what about you?

Random musings and Spapps

Part of my frustration with this blog was because it had become a chore to maintain. Let me count, I’ve got a a facebook life, a dimisnishing orkut life, an email life, a work email life and a real life. It boggles my mind how we can keep a singular identity across all these contexts.

My boss added me on facebook a few weeks ago and I did not accept his invite until very recently — and I only did so because I was moving to NYC. My friends mother is on facebook and she added me — now that is a line I just don’t want to cross. I politely declined hoping she’d understand that I value my privacy.
These are worlds, I just am not ready to mesh.
***

Now that Google launched Open Social – there’s even more talk about applications in general. Developers are having a field-day imagining how they can monetize and retire as happy silicon valley millionnaires. First came the email, the diaries, then the blogs, then the social networks — apps seem the natural evolution. And they are great, but

— they make profile cluttered. and ugly.
they are annoying after a while and it gets even more difficult to search for people’s walls. I’ve never used the private messaging (INBOX) function on facebook as vividly as I do now – it’s just easier for me to msg them instead of spending time looking through all the crappy apps trying to find where their wall is. And I find grace in the fact that I am not alone.

Danah Boyd made an interesting obeservation over an email thread. She said, I think that the main issue with Apps is that it’s clutter clutter clutter and it starts to feel like a new form of spam. Only spam that your friends invite you to.”

That’s an interesting obeservation, right? I think like splogs – there should be a new word of application spams – spapps maybe? But makes you wonder, exactly the kind of spapps will be unleased once Google’s Open Social is unveiled.

I both love and hate the tech industry. For all the innovations, sometimes I think they just make our life more difficult. I hate them for following like a stupid herd, the newest trend in town. And what’s really sad is they do it with so much passion and that they really beleive that their silly widget might be the next big thing. Sigh.

Social media and college kids

Life has been kind to me. I’ve met some amazing people who have taken a chance in me and given me the kind of opportunities someone my age can only dream of. And I strongly believe in passing it on . So something I am very passionately involved in is trying to mentor college students. It is a two-way street really — I pass on what I know and they always end up surprising me.

This past spring, I voluneteered my Sunday evenings and weekday lunches to mentor a few super smart college students that were interested in advertising/ marketing. Rohit Bhargava, VP of Interactive Marketing at Ogilvy PR and his entire team were kind enough to extend us some real juicy assignments to work on. And that’s when I really began to pay attention to how college students use the internet. Simply based on my observations, I was a little surprised to learn that most college students are not as social-media savvy as we digital media practioners think them to be.  The most startling discovery was that college kids do not blog. (This is an observation, so if you have a different experience, please share) In hindsight, this doesn’t surprise me because when I was in college, I was pretty much the only one blogging among the people I knew. (And it was not so long ago)

Last night, Annie (Social Media Director at GPTMC) and I spoke to bunch of curious college students at Temple Unversity’s Student Ad Club. And we both thought it was very interesting out of 20 some students present at the meet, not one blogged. And only a couple read blogs. I have questions about this — and I’m returning to this group next week to sit with them to really understand how they are using the internet and all it’s social application.

Some other observations:

  • They didn’t use or know of twitter but used the facebook status update very often
  • Almost all of them were familiar with perezhilton.com — or his show.
  • They were curious and a common question was, "what do you blog about?"

What do you guys think? Any insights you can share? I’m putting together a survey to learn more about how college students use the internet — any ideas on what should be in the survey?

Ideablob DEMO Video

Ideablob — and a win at at DEMO!

Demoaward Demo_kamila_allison_kelly_jinal

So I have some very exciting news to share! (www.advanta.com) Advanta Bank Corp – where I work in their Innovation Group, just launched www.ideablob.com at the prestigious DEMO (www.demo.com) conference in San Diego last week.

Advanta is one of the largest issuers of Mastercard credit cards for small business owners. We have been in financial services for over 50 years. For the last four months, our team was frantically pushing through to bring ideablob to life. And in case you didn’t know — it’s a huge feat for a bank to have managed this in such a short time. (I’ve become a quasi-expert on legalese involving the launch of a social network!) It was a not only a fantastic learning experience, but also incredibly gratifying to see how brillaintly our legal, Project management, customer service and innovation teams worked together. Truly a roller-coaster ride!

We had every intention of launching this year, but getting into DEMO motivated us and pushed us further to launch sooner. DEMO only invites about 70 companies from hundreds of applications it receives. And our fantastic team (all members are not pictured above) went and conquered !

I will soon share with you our flickr photo stream, but to give you an idea of how carefully and beautifully the whole launch was orchestrated — 10 of us from Advanta were at DEMO, each of us had different T-shirts that represented a particular small business industry and we had matching business cards with it. On the first day — I was the DRAMA QUEEN, representing actors (yepp — they are a small business) and my business card stated facts about actors. The T-shirts were a delight and we were asked several times if they were for sale! haha…

Anyhow, I’d urge you to check out www.ideablob.com

It’s a humble effort from a bank to try to be different and to try to make a difference. We want to build this online community for the give and take of business ideas. We are also awarding $10,000 to the business idea that gains the most votes at the end of each month. Yep – we are talking the talk and walking the walk. As we should be. I’m very proud of my team and the guys at Red Tettermer (www.redtettemer.com) and Seso Media (www.seso.net) who helped us make this possible.

(BTW — we also won the People’s Choice award at Demo. woohooo. Any Demo peeps that chance upon this, do say hello!)

Wired with Geekipedia

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I have started enjoying Wired magazine again — I go through phases with this magazine for some reason. Anyways, this months issue comes with a delicious booklet titled, Geekipedia — 149 people, places, ideas and trends you need to know NOW.

Sorry for the picture- -taken using the MAC camera. (much easier than using a digital camera!) but, make sure you pick up the booklet!

Also, check out the Humping Dog USB from Courtney’s blog — I love what imagination can do!