marketing


This is absolutely genius.

You have to watch (and listen to) it twice in order to really appreciate it.

A friend pointed me to an interesting post in the Atlantic today, called “Take My Money, Please! The Strange Case of Free Web Services“.  It makes the interesting case that “many companies don’t want to take on the obligations to the customer that come from selling a service” as a basis for their not charging for services.  This is not to say companies don’t want to provide support for their services, but rather that they don’t want to have to heed to end-user demands for features, functionality, policies…

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶...

Banksy in Boston: F̶O̶L̶L̶O̶W̶ ̶Y̶O̶U̶R̶ ̶D̶R̶E̶A̶M̶S̶ CANCELLED, Essex St, Chinatown, Boston (Photo credit: Chris Devers)

While avoidance of answering to end-users may well be a factor in the decision to provide services for free, I would argue that this is a manifestation of another driver, which highlights the complexity involved in today’s business models:  Offering services without charge is also a strategy for addressing the risk that another provider will undermine the hold on a user-base simply by offering a free substitute for it – where the new provider derives value from another constituent (most basically, the ad-driven model).

So, by not charging their end users for use of the service, they are in a sense pre-emptively “leveling the field” for themselves.  In so doing, they compete on what they determine to be in best satisfaction of a balance of the constituencies of the particular engagement scenario (users, advertisers, customers…).  This raises the bar for any competitors by forcing them to create a better service or a new value-model to justify engaging that user-base.

Translating value across constituencies — i.e. leveraging a user base for the knowledge derived from their traffic — is always a balance.  This can be seen, at the lowest end, in the context of freemium models where, for example, a paid user may be ad-free.  Having many masters can be a complex and conflicted existence.  Ask any publicly traded company.  Not taking payment from one constituent (end-users, in this case) allows a company to prioritize more clearly and stay truer to their mission than they might otherwise.

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Español: Delfín nariz de botella English: - Tu...

Image via Wikipedia

Our latest Semantic-Link discussion was interesting in that it touched on some distinct but deep topics that tend to recur in our discussions, namely: usability, privacy and the old standby – the definition of semantics itself.

I won’t spend any more time on the definition of semantics beyond that the consensus (for purposes of this discussion) was that it means “meaning”, with contexts including: linguistic/NLP related word-meaning semantics; and the other being compliance with W3C standards – or architectural Semantics.  In essence, the latter is what enables a machine version of the former.

The focus was actually a conversation with guest Nova Spivack, and his more current efforts, including Bottlenose and StreamGlider. (Next time we’ll have to let Nova do more of the talking, as we only really had time to dig into the first of those.)  Bottlenose is intended to help people manage and interconnect their interaction across the multiple electronic realms in which they operate.  While Nova mentions that the system doesn’t currently make use of W3C standard architectural Semantics, it does use ontologies to relate topics and navigate meaning.  This is particularly visible in Bottlenose’s Sonar – which renders a visualization of the active topics, hash-tags, and people around you, with adjustable time-horizon.  If you’d like to try it out during the private beta, visit Bottlenose.com and you can Sign Up using the Invite Code: semanticlink.

Listen to podcast here: Semantic Link Podcast – January 2012

As mentioned above, two key items arose from the discussion – the matters of privacy, and the question of transparency.  In the case of privacy, would it become an issue, from a business intelligence standpoint, that others could more easily see the topics that someone is discussing or investigating – especially if such a tool could cross multiple networks/platforms in finding patterns.

As is often the case in these Semantic-Link discussions, the question of “how much should be exposed about the use of semantics” arose.  There is of course a balance between active vs viral evangelizing of semantics, and the cost of exposure is simplicity and usability, while the benefit is flexibility and control, for those who can handle it.

The answer itself is complicated.  On the one hand, technologies need to evolve in terms of leveraging semantics in order for people to really benefit from the underlying semantic capabilities.  At the same time, those same people we’re talking about getting the benefit shouldn’t have to understand the semantics that enable the experience.  Paul Miller, host of the podcast, also wrote about this issue.  I’ll add that Investors do to like to hear that their company is using unique and valuable techniques.  So too, though, is it the case that any company making use of semantics likely feels it is a competitive advantage to them – a disincentive to sharing details of the secret sauce.  .

As mentioned during the podcast, this is a matter of which audience is being addressed – the developers or the masses.  And in terms of the masses, even that audience is split (as is the case with almost all other software users).  There are the casual users, and there are those who are hardcore – and when we’re talking about masses, there are many many more people would fall into the casual camp.  So from a design standpoint, this is where usability really matters, and that means simplicity.

So in the case of Bottlenose, for the time being they’ve chosen to hide the details of the semantics, and simplify the user experience – which will hopefully facilitate broader adoption.  There may too be room for a power-user mode, to exposes the inner workings of the black-box algorithms that find and weigh associations between people, places, things… and let users tweak those settings beyond the time-frame and focus adjustments that are currently provided.

Mentioned by Nova was the LockerProject in which personal data could potentially be maintained outside any one particular network or platform.   This of course helps on the privacy side, but adds a layer of complexity (until someone else comes along and facilitates easy integration – which will no doubt chip some of the privacy value).

Personally, I’d love to see the ability to combine slices of personal activity from one or multiple platforms, with tools such as Bottlenose, so that I could analyze activity around slivers or Circles (in the case of Google+ usage) from various networks, in any analytical platform I choose.

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Aurasma

Image via Wikipedia

Word Lens logo

Image via Wikipedia

In the same vein as Word Lens, which I wrote about here just over a year ago, Aurasma too looks through your lens and “augments reality”. What does that mean though? And why is it interesting? At the most basic end of augmented reality, think of those times in touristy areas where you’ve had someone take a picture of you sticking your face through a board, on the front side of which – surrounding the hole you’re looking through – is painted some well-built body that surely isn’t mistakable as yours.

English: This is the logo of Wikitude World Br...

Image via Wikipedia

Add some basic technology, and you have photo doctoring capability that puts a border (or mustache) on your photo, or converts it to a sepia or negative view. Geo-code and/or date-stamp the image file, and integrate with information on buildings, locations, people and/or events that occurred there, and you can display that information along with the image when the coordinates correspond, a la Wikitude. Load up that app, turn it on, and walk around pointing your phone at things, and see what it says about your surroundings. (MagicPlan is an iPhone App, from Sensopia, that is a practical application of related technology, enabling CAD for making floorplans!)

Aurasma adds to this, by integrating image recognition (think: word recognition, but visually, picking up defined items) and rendering associated audio, video, animation, what have you – much like scanning a QR code would launch an associated action – but in this case, like WordLens, will do it in place on the image. Take a look:

The reality is that behind the scenes, with text, image or voice recognition, any action could be defined to be launched upon encountering triggers. Going further, imagine using multiple criteria or triggers to launched actions – tweaking the criteria for different scenarios. For example, a coffee company logo could spawn a video themed “start your morning with a cup” if the logo is seen early in the day, a “get a mid-day boost” if it is in the afternoon, or “keep your mind sharp tonight” if it is in the evening (adding “to get your studying done” if the geocode also indicates that the location is on a college campus. The mantra of late has been “context is king”. That’s context.

Here’s another hands-on example of use:

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new MOO business cards

Image by massdistraction via Flickr

We recently used Moo to get some really nice self-designed cards made, and were really happy with the quality.

Here’s a 10% discount you can use as a new customer, if you like – the equivalent of entering TPX88K as a promo code in the checkout process.

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AULogo

Every now and again, I’m asked why one post or another of mine seems to be off on a tangent from “the usual”.  In these cases, it seems that while I’ve stayed true to the theme of connecting ideas to create value, the exchange for that value isn’t as obvious or direct.  To me, these are the times that are most interesting – involving translation of the currency, whether to or from knowledge, experience, or goods.  It is that value translation that is at the heart of the Second Integral.

I’ll speculate now that this will likley prove to be one of those times.

While walking through Maplewood, NJ last weekend, I came upon a new store in place of one that had recently closed.  I ventured in to see what it was about, and discovered it to be an art/craft boutique, with lots of hand crafted and nicely made/decorated items.   A woman approached me and asked if I needed any help, and I asked if these were all things made by people locally.  She was Cate Lazen, and she turns out to have been the founder of Arts Unbound, the organization that opened this “pop-up” store.  She answered my question, saying “well, yes, and everything in the store was made by people dealing with a disability of one sort or another.”

With a part of my brain dedicated full time to triangulation, I found myself automatically thinking about the coalescence of purposes here.  On the one hand, people with disabilities, engaging in artistic work as physical therapy, an expressive outlet, to perhaps generate income, while gaining pride, satisfaction, experience… all through their creative art.

Art as therapy itself is clearly valuable – but what struck me as particularly interesting was its combination of it here with (at least) two other constituencies.  According to Cate, the shop also employs people with disabilities, so it satisfies many of these same therepeutic purposes for the workers as it does the artists.  And of course, being a shop, it brings customers into the mix.

The simple combination of manufacturer + shopkeeper + consumer may not, on the surface, seem so interesting – it is just how a business works.  But the dynamic in this case yields some additional benefits beyond the traditional.

Along with the direct purposes noted above, for the artists and workers, and obviously filling customers’ needs, there are some more subtle byproducts as well, and they’re accentuated by the season’s spirit, due to the timing of the shop’s materialization just in time for the holidays.

Those who find their way to the shop will undoubtedly gain awareness of the overall purposes being served by the organization.   Additionally, buying a gift from this store provides the giver the satisfaction of giving twice (at least) – to the recipient of the gift, to the artist, to the shop worker, and even the good feeling of having contributed in some small way.  All this can even make you feel a little better about buying something for yourself.

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Early in my career, when working as a data jockey with an economic consulting firm, I was on a team for a particular project where, I’ll always remember, we were referred to (in the New York Times) as “nitpicking zealots”.  While I knew it was meant as a criticism, I took the reference then (as now, for that matter), as a complement – emphasizing the attention-to-detail in our analysis.

The American manual alphabet in photographsImage via Wikipedia

For me, that focus has long been coupled with heavy emphasis on usefulness (ok, and logic) as a driving factor in doing or creating anything.  “Stick-in-mud” – maybe.  “Drive you nuts” – sure, the family says this sometimes…  But things just need to make sense.

So it shouldn’t surprise me (or anyone else) that, in my recent Experience Design mini-masters  project, I had an overriding need for the product idea my team was to come up with, to be of real use and value.  The first task was to evaluate whether design principles had been followed in the creation of a particular product (the Roadmaster – a single-line scrolling text display for use on a car).  Then we were to apply these design principles to come up with a different product/application making use of the technology for the context.  We performed our review by considering the Roadmaster’s affordances (what the design suggested about its use); its mapping of controls to meaning or functionality;  whether it provided feedback during use; its conceptual model and obviousness of purpose; any forcing functions, limters or defaults.  Having developed a “sense” of the product, as it was, we were embarked on the design effort by adding interviews/surveys to gather research on potential market need/desire.

Without getting into our conclusions about the Roadmaster product itself, of particular interest is where we ended up going with our design as a result of performing our own contextual inquiry.  Some great ideas emerged among the different teams, for which each team prototyped their design (using Axure), performed usability testing, and presented results.  Most of the teams designed mainly for social-media driven applications.  With our own goals including not just usability, but the usefulness factor mentioned above, we discovered potential in re-purposing the device – to be directed not to other drivers, but to the driver of the vehicle in which it is installed.  Specifically, to aid hearing impaired drivers – whether for receiving guidance from a driving instructor, instructions from a gps, or conversing with a passenger.

The design, which at one point we dubbed the “iDrive” (for reasons that will reveal themselves), involves mounting of the scrolling text display out in front of and facing the driver, and integration of speach-to-text conversion, so that as words were spoken, the driver would see these words displayed out in front of them, without their having to turn to see the hands or lips of a person commnicating with them, nor would they have to look away from the road to read directions on a gps screen.  In its simplest form, the design calls for an iPhone (or similar) application to perform the voice-to-text conversion, transmitting the resulting text to the display for the driver.  An extension of this concept could incorporate detection and display of other sounds, such as a honk, and which direction it is coming from. Since the program, we’ve found that the required voice-to-text conversion capability, in a mobile app (e.g. for the iPhone) as we called for in the design, does exist, so with the combination of the technologies (display, conversion, mobile application, and gps capability), the serving the hearing-impaired-driver market in this way should be within reach.

A side-note to this post: The faculty of the UXD program, Dr. Marilyn Tremaine, Ronnie Battista, and Dr. Alan Milewski, helped to revealed for me that the formal processes of experience design, and particularly contextual inquiry, parallel closely with what I’ve sought to achieve through the joining of the disciplines of Usability, Value Network Analysis (perspectival), and a dash of Semantic (extensible and interoperable) thinking.

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Morning FogImage by Nick Chill via Flickr

I have a tendency to think on the edges or outskirts of domains – in the interstices – where domains overlap with one another.  When the morning fog clears, I typically get brainstorms that result from word plays that bridge multiple domains that may be on my mind.

For example, while attending a meeting this week on Usability in the context of Agile development, I had the thought that there ought to be an application of the methodology within the realm of cooking – and the Scrum component of agile could be referred to in this context as “Scrumtious”.

Another of these hit me while walking out of the grocery store, and no doubt subliminally having picked up “low cal” while thinking about communities and marketing within them, that a calorie conscious faction could refer to their region as a “Low Cal Locale”.

On the heels of my wife’s latest marathon (her fifth), I’m thinking there ought to be a womens’ triathlon called the “Iron Maiden”.

The Scrum project management method. Part of t...Image via Wikipedia

If I had a nickel for every one of these wordplay thoughts, my pockets would bulge each day! My kids tend to be my reluctant test-subjects for these sometimes painful ideas.  As I trust their untainted minds, they are sometimes the end of the line; sometimes though, in the spirit of Agile development, they’re the beginning of an iterative process.

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In the context of marketing and advertising, we’ve heard more during the last year or so, in reference to the semantic web and semantic technology.  What does Semantic Advertising really mean?  One interpretation – the one we’re not talking about here – is the selling of something by calling it semantic, which some have done in order to ride momentum (which I call “meme-entum”) of the space to sell something based on a loose association with the concept of “meaning” or “intent”.  So what are we talking about?

The Art of Online AdvertisingImage by khawaja via Flickr

VS

New, Improved *Semantic* Web!Image by dullhunk via Flickr

The strategy in the space has long been driven by word association, and more and more-so on an automated basis.  At a time, placement was done on an entirely manual basis – and automation of keyword matching increasingly became the basis for new business models.  That is, after all, the basis of what we now think of as contextual advertising – the alignment of what the user is looking for with the other things they encounter on the page.

  • So to put it simply:  What is it that is new and different?  What is it about the inner workings of an advertising mechanism that makes an offering semantic or not.  What are the drivers and opportunities around these differences?  What is real?  These are some of the things we’re looking to learn about in detail at the panel discussion that I’ve been helping to organize for Internet Week in New York – the title of which is Semantic Advertising.We’ll leave it to our moderators to dig into the nuts and bolts of the subject with the experts that have been gathered.  Going into the discussion though, here are some of the questions I’m thinking about:

    • Since keyword matching is, well,  keyword matching: what are the main differences between straight-up contextual advertising that uses keyword lookups relative to its semantic brethren?
    • Does the addition of keyword frequency, and therefore the statistical analysis of the text, make the matching on a ranking basis qualify as semantic?
    • Going beyond simply enhancing alignment, predicated upon statistical assumptions, is it the further use of NLP to not just extract concepts to be matched, but to determine the intent by the terms used – to better tune matches when words have multiple potential meanings?  Many of us have encountered the unintentionally matched ads – which can be disastrous for a brand.  What can really be done now, and how?
    • Further on the NLP side, there is the potential for sentiment detection – so even when the correct meaning of a term is understood, determining whether its use is appropriate for matching would be based on the positive or negative connotation of its use (think here in terms of whether you would want your airline advertised next to a story about an aviation mishap, for example).
    • Going at the question from the “semantic-web” side, is embedding (and detection of) metadata on the page just a different flavor of Semantic Advertising – or should we be calling that Semantic Web Advertising instead?  This seems less prone to interpretation errors, but the approach relies upon metadata which is largely not yet there.  (Because of the markup related aspects of this point, I wanted to call this post “Mark(up)eting and (RDF)ertising”, but was talked out of doing so).
    • Is there a difference in strategy and/or scalability when considering whether a semantic approach is more viable when done within the search process, as opposed to on the content of the page being viewed?
    • If ads to be served are stored in semantically compliant architecture, does that itself provide any advantages for the service provider?  And would doing so give rise to the service being referred to as Semantic Advertising?  Does this even enter into the eqaution at this point?
    • Would increases in the amount of embedded metadata shift the balance of systematically enhanced ad selection and presentation of sponsored content – from one web-interaction phase to another?

    I’m looking forward to the panel – to open my mind regarding these and other factors that come into play – and what elements and trends will be necessary for the viability of the various possible directions here.

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    © Guerito 2005Image via WikipediaAs an update related to my earlier post on the Oregon idea for a mileage tax in place of the gasoline tax:  Here’s a case where the model of cost-per-mile could actually make sense – but not as a road-maintenance related tax.  Instead, this furthers the green and energy independence aspects that the mileage tax would discourage.  In this case, the cost per-mile concept underlies a quicker shift by consumers to electric vehicles.  Better Place is working on transforming the auto market to work more like the communications industry, where the consumer pays for service/minutes – in this case miles.  In doing so, it looks to shift a major expense factor of EVs to being acquired over time – not altogether different from the way we buy fuel for our gas powered cars over time – not all at once.  (I’m calling the auto industry under this scenario the “commutications industry.”)

    In addition to looking to make charging ports ubiquitous, for topping-off the battery whenever parked, the concept  involves battery swapping stations, whereby drivers would pull in when they need a fill-up, and rather than charging the battery that is in their car, a hot one would be swapped in on the fly – in the time that it would take for an ordinary gas fill-up.  The batteries in this case would not be owned by the consumer, but would be part of the subscription or service plan.

    Circling back to a point that I made in the earlier post – different cars have different levels of economy/efficiency – so owners of lower economy cars should bear some added cost, beyond just per-mile.  This can’t just be a matter of how much juice is used, since some batteries will have better retention / performance – and these being the property of the company… (well, you get the point).

    Service can manifest in a range of ways – from people getting the service for a car they themselves purchase, to cars being provided as part of the service (much like a free phone provided under a phone service plan).  Interestingly, Better Place is also pushing governments to require participants in this market to comply with standards – so from the beginning, there won’t be competing standards (e.g. HD vs Blu-ray) which could delay our reaching energy independence by slowing adoption while people wait to see which standard would take.

    None of this solves Oregon’s road maintenance revenue issue.  In fact it underscores the problem.  Increasing the gas tax, though, would keep the pedal to the metal (so to speak) in driving (pun intended) out gas engines there.  If the Better Place service providers do master mileage metering however,  that could address the technical issues behind the proposed tax, and serve as a substitute once the gas guzzlers are all gone.

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