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Lists, Lists and More Lists – Why Lists Will Dominate 2009

December 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Attack of the Show recently came out with a list of top 5 Android Apps. If you didn’t have a chance to catch it, it is available on Hulu.com and I have embedded it below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The five apps mentioned are worthy of being on the top 5 list, but I suppose you have to take into account the type of person using the Android device. For example, someone that was really into Facebook or Twitter might have fbook or twidroid in their top 5. On the other hand, someone that likes really cool utilities that makes their phone that much more useful might have Anycut or Steel on their top 5 list. The point is that lists have to be put into some sort of context, either from the perspective of the person creating the list or the audience that the list is being created for.

So Why Create Lists?

One thing about lists that is true, is that they make great water cooler conversation or in the current techno-speak, they make great comments pages for blogs and videos. Every one has an opinion and these days, voicing that opinion has become easier than in the past. With a single click you can add your 2 cents to any list, you can even remain anonymous in most cases, further enabling the silent majority to voice an opinion. Want to send off a comment to a post you heard over coffee with a friend, no need to wait until you get home, just type away on your phone. For the truly brave, you can even comment on a list with a video response. Just to keep the comments page growing, the list author answers back at the critiques with further proof that the list is correct resulting in another barrage of comments.

Comments to lists ususally follow a typical flow. They start off with a counter list, then question the list author’s intentions and credentials to create such a list while using their own background or experience as proof that thier counter list is better. The final blow from the commentors puts the proverbial nail in the author’s coffin as they critique the author’s 3rd grade list of “Top 5 Things to Eat for Thanksgiving” in which he mis-spelled “chicken” as “chikin”. There is no response that the author can give, except for maybe a new list of “Top 5 Worst Online Personalities”.  

Agendas and Intent

Lists are not generic and usually have some intent and/or prejudice built into them. That’s what’s so great about them and also why they generate so much interest. Why else would someone want to write a list other than to deal with some hidden childhood issue of being excluded from groups? Creating your own list and excluding 99.9% of the world is the best medicine I say. When I read a list, the first thing I think about is the author’s ulterior motive. For example, a few recent Top NFL Franchise lists have the Pittsburgh Steelers or Dallas Cowboys at the top. That’s when I look at the bio of the author to find out which Texas or Ohio college/high school the they went to. Sure enough 3 times out of 4 the author was the water boy for his high school football team in Dallas or Pittsburgh. 

Another list I recently commented upon turned into a very interesting debate about Social Media Experts. The original list on this blog post was meant to be slighlty sarcastic and a little truthful. Combining those two things in a list has only been done successfully by David Letterman or Comedy Central in recent times so it was an uphill battle to begin with. I have taken a note to attach the following warning at the top any list I create: Contents of this List May Combine Both Truth and Sarcasm, Minors Should Close their Eyes

Controversy is not bad when talking about lists, in fact, controversy is the best way to keep lists relevant. If a list doesn’t incite some controversy, then the author should take a week off from writing, ban themselves from Starbucks as punishment, and return to writing only when they have a truly controversial list that will incite online protests and fund raising drives from Moveon.org and on air commentary from Bill O’Reilly.

Don’t Give Readers the Power to Rank Listsrankopedia

What happens when you let readers vote on the ranking of a list? Almost nothing as I recently saw in a Web site called Rankopedia. The site is basically a collection of user generated list topics with rankings by members. There are some interesting lists like, “Greatest All-Time Men’s College Basketball Team” or “Most Evil Person Ever” but it is missing the inciteful author effect. What fun is it to have people vote to create a list when it is much more fun to call out an author for making a boneheaded move by putting New York ahead of California for the best states to live in? Realistically speaking, would you rather have the public vote for the Time person of the year or have that decision come from the magazine’s chosen list creator? Even though the result would be Barack Obama either way, it is much more interesting to tear apart Time for their cler hidden agenda.

So what are the top 5 things to remember about lists? 

1. Lists must inspire comments

2. List authors usually have some hidden agenda, so call them out in your comments

3. List authors are dealing with deep childhood issues, so be kind in your comments

4. Any list intending to be both sarcastic and truthful must have a disclaimer stated someplace in the list

5. Democratizing list creation is the first step to armageddon 

 

Lists are here to stay so get ready to add your 2 cents worth in 2009.

Augmented Reality – G1 app to add context to the stars?

December 20, 2008 5 comments

I just read Jennifer Bruin’s blog post on an app for the G1 called Wikitude AR Travel Guide. The app employs augmented reality, AR. If you don’t know anything about AR, like me, reading the wikipedia entry is very helpful.  

After reading it, I can think of other ways to employ it for everyday use. Here is an interesting idea.

 G1 + AR = Astronomy 101 for Everone

astronomy

Ever find yourself lying down on a field of grass or hood of your car, looking up at the stars in the clear sky and wishing you learned how to identify the Big Dipper, Polaris or Orion? Never? Ok, but what if you did? What if you can take your G1, point it to the sky and have it identify constellations for you as you look through the camera lens? Think of all those millions of children that never had the opportunity to learn about the stars or astronomy, now having all this information in their hands. In addition to identifying the stars, there can be more context of each star given on the screen, like origin of the name, when it was discovered and other interesting stats. Make astronomy fun again. (was it fun to begin with?)

Take it step farther and incorporate interactive learning so that the patterns are not just being identified for you, but the G1 is teaching you how to identify them yourself like in this tutorial.

With this kind of app, an interesting case can be made for the G1 to be subsidized by schools for students. Isn’t learning supposed to be fun and interactive?

Interested in Augmented Reality? Read this wrap up of milestones in 2008 for AR.

Social Media for Brands, Why Established Media Should Worry

December 18, 2008 1 comment

Twitter Question from @jowyang

Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) asks a very timely question. Many people are commenting on the topic of media outlets breaking embargos (the post that started it, this follow-up post from Brian Solis, and a tweet storm on the subject). As Jeremiah asks, why don’t brands tell the stories themselves? Media and communications are undergoing significant changes in how they are used to talk to customers. Brands need to stand up and take notice.

Historically, media outlets have carried the communication from the brands to the audience because of the size of the media outlet’s customer base and barriers such as, cost and trust, for Brands to communicate directly with customers. Barack Obama is probably the most successful example of how you can take control of your own branding and distribution, bypassing the traditional media outlets as the primary delivery mechanism of the message, and be effective. While the traditional media was still used, you often heard news about the campaign simply by searching on the Web, going to his website, on facebook, through twitter, etc… Here are a few more examples of how social media is being used by brands. So how can Brands start to take control of distribution of their message so they are not entirely relying on media outlets?

Control the Distribution

The traditional media has had a monopoly on communicating news to the consumer because they owned the content and delivery mechanism, with the exception of advertising on Web, TV, print and radio. Sure brands can issue press releases, call press conferences and write corporate blogs but consumers go to the influencers, analysts and journalists that are able to take the corporate-speak and add impartial (sometimes) commentary. These media outlets own the distribution of this content leaving brands out in the cold. So when the brand issued a new product, the influencer would add their 2cents, skepticism or satire and publish it to their readers. The result is having the brand’s message hijacked by the media outlet. Social media has empowered a new segment of the media, bloggers and tweeters, to continue the role of distributing the brand’s message, although once again adding some commentary.

Enter the social media influence in distribution of the news. With social media, brands now have greater control over distribution of the news without having to rely on the distribution networks of media outlets. Add to this the much lower cost than traditional advertising. Through involvement in social networks like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, brands can communicate what they want, when they want. For example, they can publish a press release or blog post and use Twitter to distribute to their followers. Their followers can then re-tweet if the message was interesting. You can reach thousands of potential customers within minutes.  

Brands have to build trust in order for this to work. This highlights the point that brands have to adopt social media as a core method of communication for the company. The greater the involvement, honesty and openess with social media, the greater the trust consumers will have in the brand. 

The downside of this distribution method is the lack of established influencers having stories and references available at the same time as the brand’s announcement. While this can be a downside, it also highlights an inherent advantage of social media. Experts can emerge from anywhere, empowered with the awareness that the have a following and their words are being read. 

Scenario (you can tell from the following example that I am not a PR expert, but this makes sense, no?)

If Startup Inc. has a new product out, they see who on Twitter is active, an aficionado of Startup Inc.’s products or similar products and who has a large following. Startup Inc. then contacts these 20-30 people, gives them the product to play with a few weeks prior to announcing, along with an agreement not to mention this in an posts or tweets. Since these are individuals rather than established bloggers or journalists, Startup Inc. probably has more control over the embargo.

Then when Startup Inc. makes the announcement, these 20-30 Twitter users can freely tweet about the product, experience and link to Startup Inc’s announcement. The established journalists and bloggers now get word of the announcement and follow along and eventually write about the announcement. During this entire process customers reply back to tweets and blog posts where company representatives engage with the community in a dialogue. Established media does play a role in this scenario, they just don’t play a primary role. 

I am sure the established media will not be happy about this, but if the consumers are writing about it, I’m not sure the established media has a choice. Just look back at how Obama ran his first couple of press conferences

Communication is a Two-Way Tweet

What social media offers brands is the ability to have an exclusive one-to-one or one-to-many two way discussion. This is something no established media channel, journalist or blogger can do. If brands don’t seize upon this and embrace social media as a transformational communication platform, then they will be eaten by the competitors that do or by the media and consumers who hijack their brand and message.

Where has my browsing gone, according to Chrome

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

After spending a couple of weeks with the Google Chrome browser, I now can see an advantage of the ‘new tab’ screen that presents your top 9 sites most frequently visited. On the right side you’ll see an image of my top 9 and here is a brief description of my daily Web browsing which might tell you a little about me.

Row 1 (from left to right)

my most visited sites

Facebook : I spend a good a mount of time either on facebook or at least keeping the window open to check out what people are up to. Lately I have been connecting with a lot of old college buddies which has made me spend additional time catching up with what they have been doing for the past decade. I only play one or two games and visist a few of the groups that I am a member of.

WordPress – WordPress is my blog platform and I am on this site a lot, especially when I get writer’s block and just sit there looking at a blank new blog post screen. I also enjoy looking through the blog stats and where people are doming from.

CNN.com – CNN.com actually grew into my top 9 during the election. It was a tight race between CNN.com and Foxnews.com over the past few months and during the elction they were neck and neck, vying for my attention. After the election though, CNN.com won out because I felt they delivered more varied viewpoints on news stories while FoxNews.com was tilted toward the conservative viewpoint. I still visit FoxNews.com from time to time to get another angle on stories and they do a better job at highlighting local news around the nation. Oh and their Strategy Room during the election was the best web programming around.

Row 2

iGoogle – This is my home page. You can’t see too clearly what widgets i have but they are Hulu.com, Google Reader, Google Docs and weather. I recently added fora.com to my home page based on a recommendation, but haven’t really been using it, so it will probably get removed soon. 

I used to go to myyahoo.com as my home page, but slowly moved away from that. It wasn’t a one day switch. I can remember having a myyahoo.com and igoogle page running in parrallel. I would use myyahoo mostly for news and stocks. Once I started using CNN more for news and was less interested in stocks, I stopped going to myyahoo.com. I still visit myyahoo.com to check on how my fantasy football team is doing, but that is pretty much it. I never really thought about how much less I use yahoo now than say a year ago, but it is pretty remarkable. MyYahoo.com was my default page for almost 3 years.

I would say that the first four on this list are high traffic sites for me and the next two are medium trafficked sites.

Twitter –  I just started using Twitter and while I go to the website to look at profiles of people following me or for searching through tweets, I primarily use tweetdeck to monitor tweets of those that I follow. TweetDeck is a very cool application that allows you to organize groups of people you follow and filter out the rest. This is extremely useful  as your twitter network grows and you get inundated with tweets. 

LinkedIn – I am trying to figure out the best use of LinkedIn. It is great as a contact database for my professional network, but as I wrote earlier, I don’t make status updates in LinkedIn because I don’t think it is appropriate for the audience. I turned on the WordPress application today and linked my blog so we will see how that goes.

Row 3

CraigsList – This is on the top 9 primarily because I have been looking around for furniture for the kids’ rooms. I was able to get a great deal on a couple of beds, dressers and a desk and only had to drive 5 minutes to pick it up. Amazing. Craigslist will probably stay on the top for the time being as I try to sell the kids’ old beds and their car seats. Gotta love growing children.

BacknGear.com google home page – This is my e-mail, docs, etc… all powered by Google for backngear.com.

Meebo – I have written about Meebo in a previous post. I am still a big fan.

Finishing up

So there you have a day in my web browsing shoes. There are a ton of other things I do online that aren’t in the top 9 but are just as important. For example, I follow up on a lot of links through my Twitter network. 

It may be interesting to have your top 9 sites updated on your facebook or google profile so your contacts can see as well. Since Chrome is an open platform, maybe someone can write that app?

Finding expertise through Twitter

December 11, 2008 Leave a comment

I was going to write about my experience with Twitter after a couple of weeks of use and some tips on getting started for beginners, but then I ran across this entry from Bert Decker’s blog. This pretty much summarizes what I was going to write about. So now I will cut to the chase and give you an idea of some exciting things I have found within the world of Twitter. 

 Keeping up with Social Media (SM) news and SM people

Luc Legay

One of the reasons I joined Twitter was to find more information on how Twitter and other social media tools are being used by businesses. There is a very simple search capability built into Twitter that I found useful to find out who was talking about social media. I added an rss feed based on the search of “social media” within Twitter and minutes later I was overwhelmed by the number of tweets on the topic. I then got rid of the feed and started looking for specific people that had some experience in social media and chose to follow them. I am sure I will follow more of them over time.

I can see that a by-product of building up this team of experts, or at least people with experience, is that you get a constant stream of web articles and blog posts about social media recommended from people you trust. If you think of the Web as this vast database of information, you wonder how people are able to navigate it to find information from trusted sources. Often times it is difficult to know if a website has an ulterior motive, like trying to sell you something, so you have to take their information with a grain of salt. Having personal referrals as an additional filter on the information available on the Web can prove to be extremly useful. But this only puts more emphasis on choosing to follow knowledgable and trustworthy people, which can be a challenge in and of itself.

Another aspect of Twitter that I have found to be valuable is being able to pose questions out to the field. Again, you get the advantage of hearing answers from people who have real expereiences and intelligent perspectives. I have asked a couple of questions (which companies are using social media and how are their results) and gotten a couple answers. Not every question gets answered, but I suppose the response rate picks up the more well known you are within the community. 

There are a couple people I have been fortunate enough to share a few tweets with re: their use of social media (thx rachelakay and Breaking Point). I also saw a tweet with a link to a wiki consisting of companies in various industries that have deployed social media. This list opened my eyes to the number of businesses that have deployed or are experimenting with social media.

So if you are looking at a new market, new product or technology, Twitter seems like a good place to start your research. The information is almost real-time and you can search for any topic to see what people are saying. In addition to these benefits of using Twitter, there are some situations when NOT monitoring Twitter can be harmful to your business. I’ll pick that up in a future post, unless I find someone who has already written about it.

Photo Credit: Luc Legay

Social Media, your bullhorn within the company

December 10, 2008 Leave a comment

SKy Blues - Brower Hatcher

Should we be using social media to communicate to other departments within the company? This is a question I asked myself late last year as the company I was with went through a significant change. Our target customer was changing, the product lines were changing and the customer problem we were solving was changing. That is a lot to communicate to your internal teams. Ultimately blogging and wikis became the most flexible and timely method of communication from the marketing dept to other internal groups. Here are a couple of the things we are able to accomplish.

Give a voice to members of the company

The blog was setup so that anyone could create blog entires. This didn’t mean everyone did, but the marketing and sales depts participated as did a few members of the engineering group. Entries in blogs stimulated discussion both through the blog itself and in hallway discussions.  If you are in marketing or product management, thi sis an extremly valuable tool accomplish your goals.

Highlight our customers and what problems we are solving

This is probably one of the biggest advantages that social media has over traditional media like white papers and case studies. We were hearing back customers on a somewhat rapid pace and considering the new direction of the company, were still trying to figure out what problems were solving. I would have engineers ask me on a daily basis about how our products were being used by customers. This is a valuable lesson I learned. Never assume your employees know why a customer buys your product, what the customer experience is or what problem the product solves. That is a lesson that stands regardless of company size or situation.

Blogs were a way of immediately getting these customer stories back to the rest of the organization. Once we started to collect these customer stories, we actually had a nice little database that consisted of customers, usage scenarios, buying behaviors and deployment environments. From this we were able to create more traditional material like case studies. We were also able to pull information form these customer stories to help define the product roadmap. 

Why not use e-mail to communcate this information?

Of course e-mail is another method to get the same information back into the company, but I have always found two problems with email. First, it is not a usable method of turning data into historical reference to look back on days, weeks or months from now. Second, having discussions through e-mail can often lead to multple threads being commented on in parallel, resulting in unnecessary confusion. How many times have you received comments from a version of an e-mail that was two days old after the thread had died off? Too many to count I am sure.

There are probably a ton of additional benefits or applications for social media within the company. What benefits have you seen?

Photo Credit: Brower Hatcher

3 Steps to make sense of social networks

December 5, 2008 Leave a comment

The main aspect of social networks that really appeal to me is being able to connect with groups of friends/colleagues and stay updated with what they are doing.  Facebook and LinkedIn are two of the social networks I am a part of but I treat them very differently.

facebookI use facebook to keep up with family members, friends and long lost schoolmates. I update my status with things I am doing with the kids, around the house or whatever I want to advertise to the world in a social setting. This was not the case when I first started using Facebook. When I was getting acustomed to Facebook there were a ton of things to do from the Speed Racing and Who has the biggest brain apps, endless movie and TV quizzes and the numerous ways to decorate your Facebook page. All of this just ate up a lot of my time.

After a month of being sucked in, I figured out what would be the most useful aspects for me, cut down my time on Facebook and now feel even much more in touch with the people I connect with.

LinkedInLinkedIn is another network I use to stay in touch with colleagues, see where people are working and track them as they move around to new companies. These contacts I know on a much less personal basis for the most part so I don’t use the status update to advertise what I am doing. I do find LinkedIn very useful in job hunting and hiring becuase it gives you a good idea of a person’s history.

LinkedIn is looking at new ways to encourage more customer interaction with the social network. They introduced an Answers module where you can ask a question and have people within the community answer back. I have not used this to ask a question, but did answer back once. They also added applications that you can integrate to your profile like publishing your WordPress blog to your contacts. This is something I am thinking about but need to look into a little more because I don’t want to send unnecessary information to business contacts.  

I think I have a handle on these two social networks and how I want to use them. I am playing around with twitter and couple of othersto see if they would be useful. So here are my three steps of things to do when joining a social network.

Three Steps in joining a Social Network

  1. Find a social network that appeals to your interests or goals, the more passionate the better. Here is a list of many social networking sites each with it’s own niche.
  2. Connect with friends or others with similar interests. Friends are usually very helpful in learning about how things work. Don’t be afraid to decline requests from people to connect to you if you don’t want to be connected.
  3. Spend a few hours clicking around to see what is available and pick a small set of features to start with. Again, friends are a good resource to listen to.