Mar 31, 2011

A Plea To Conference Organizers

As most readers of this blog know, I do a lot of speaking at conferences around the globe. While all of them are in some way social media or internet-related, most all of them have something else in common: really bad WiFi service.

I don't really get why: I mean it's not that difficult to figure out that everyone at one of these conferences is going to need more than the average amount of bandwidth. That they're going to be tweeting, facebooking, foursquaring, groupmeing, emailing and browsing non-stop. And if you don't have adequate WiFi, they're all going to take to the interwebs to bitch about it.

The solution is pretty easy: install a couple of extra WiFi connections. They're not that expensive (especially if we're talking about one of those $1,000+ conferences. And both they and the free ones can likely find some company willing to sponsor the extra WiFi in return for a few free passes.)

That way the chatter is going to be all about what's going on at your conference. Not about how they can't log into their email.

It's a pretty minor upgrade, but I promise you it'll pay off in spades.

Mar 29, 2011

Social Media World Forum

If you are in London today (Tuesday, 29 March) or tomorrow, stop by the Social Media World Forum at Olympia Hall in West Kensington.

KickApps has a networking bar with lots of free recharging stations and I have plenty of free drink tickets for coffee and other delightful beverages.

In addition to maning the booth, I'll be expounding on how to build a community site during a panel on Wednesday at 11:50 AM

Stop by and say hey if you're around.

Mar 24, 2011

Color Me Skeptical

So the Color iPhone app launched today to much buzz and (more importantly) $41 million in funding already in the bank.

What it does, best as I can tell, is allow you to take and share photos with people who are nearby. So that if you are at a party, you can see pictures that other partygoers have taken . It also has a feature that lets you rate those photos (thumbs up or down) and see your own personal timeline. You can also see all the pictures that were taken at a particular location in chronological order, so over time, a popular restaurant would likely have hundreds of pictures of people celebrating a birthday or anniversary.

Now before we get into the issue of “why would I want to do this?” the overarching theory behind this is that of the flexible social graph based on a community of interest around a particular event or preference. This exists today at some level on Amazon, where they show you the books that other people who’ve bought the book you’re looking at have also read. It’s a useful tool and I’ve often discovered new books that way.

It’s also anonymous: I don’t know who any of those people are, just that they bought The Three Little Pigs too and here’s what’s most popular with people in that segment of the Amazon universe.

Which is fine with me. I don’t need to know anything about these people other than that they share my taste in literature. I’ve found it’s rare that any two people have the exact same taste in anything subjective (food, literature, film, etc.) so I don’t have any need to follow or friend them.

Back to Color though. In addition to not really getting why I’d want to see the iPhone photos of people at the same party (other than the novelty act aspect) I have real concerns over the problems created by the inaccuracy of most smart phones GPS.  I mean seriously, when was the last time FourSquare or Twitter or any other apps got your location exactly right.

And Color would seem to need that sort of accuracy. Because what’s the fun of seeing pictures of a party two blocks over or photos from a restaurant that’s across the street?

I like the idea of fungible social graphs built around a single scenario. It’s just that Color doesn’t seem like the answer as much as it sounds like a one trick pony.

PS: Check out this very funny spoof of their pitch deck.

Mar 22, 2011

History In The Making

For years we’ve been talking about “convergence” as if it were some sort of holy prophesy that would change the world if and when it finally came to pass.

And now it’s happened. Netflix, who already eats up as much as 30% of network bandwidth in the US by streaming movies to our TV sets, is going to produce an original series. Or more accurately, a remake of an original series, House of Cards, that was quite popular in the UK. They’ve lined up Kevin Spacey to star and David “The Social Network” Fincher to direct.  And they’re going to be streaming it over the internet.

Specific details have yet to be announced, but make no mistake: this is the Convergence. It’s TV over the internet, when and where you want it – everywhere from your iPhone to your 55 inch HDTV.

In terms of details, I’ll take the leap and posit that the show will be available at a set time each week, with viewers then having the ability to stream it at any time they want. I’ll go one step farther and guess that Netflix will also ignore the time zone issue, so that if the show first debuts at 9 PM EST, people in LA are going be be able to see it at 6 PM, PST.  So the first thing to watch will be the impact of that sort of time-shifting on ratings and tune-in.

It will also be interesting to see how Netflix promotes House of Cards. Will it be an online promotion only, with banners on Netflix and other sites or will they run promos on traditional broadcast networks along with outdoor, radio and print?

The other interesting thing to watch is tune-in time: what percentage of viewers will watch the show at the exact moment of release, how many will tune in within the first hour and how many will tune in days later and/or watch several episodes at once.

One thing seems pretty certain though: whether the series succeeds or flops, it won’t be the last time we'll be seeing something like this. 

Mar 20, 2011

Just Ignore Them

Lot of bitching and moaning about the number of corporate sponsors at SXSW this year. I'm not sure why though: most everyone I know seemed to more or less ignore them. (Or at least the ones that weren't their clients.)

None of them provided anything I really needed or wanted. (Okay, I did use the very clean bathroom at some brands "party space" but the "space"-- a parking lot covered with AstroTurf- had club-level house music blasting, along with some picnic tables and chairs, and I could not for the life of me figure out why I'd want to stay there once I was done. Nor do I remember the brand.)

But back to the original topic: most people seemed to be blowing by the big brand-sponsored booths on their way to someplace more relevant. The GE Solar Carousel was cool to look at when I walked past it, but that was all they got from me: "cool merry-go-round, guys."

The lesson seems to be you can't graft something artificial onto something whose salient feature is authenticity. Both the purpose of the conference itself, and the food, bars and overall scene of the city of Austin.

Let them come. If they were smart, they'd pay for a speaker or two instead of setting up what are essentially giant trade show booths in the conference center.

Without the pens or free t-shirts

Mar 18, 2011

The Myth of Sentiment Analysis

One of the holy grails of marketing is figuring out a way to provide fully automated sentiment analysis, that magic algorithm that would give brands a way to instantly interpret the things users are saying about them online and make breakthrough business decisions based on the data.

But I’m not sure that’s happening any time soon.

To begin with, I’m suspicious of reading anything more into sentiment analysis than the broad stoke trends we already know how to find: does it matter if 74% of users don’t like your new product versus 86%? Not really. Either way, you need to fix the product. Sentiment analysis can show a trend—are a lot of people suddenly liking or disliking something? Is there any demographic pattern to who is liking or disliking most intensely?

But beyond that, I think we are fooling ourselves. To begin with, people posting online are arguably not a good sample of the population at large. It takes a certain personality type (call them “online extroverts”) to publicly post their opinion of anything. It’s less an age or culture thing as psychological: there are lots of people who are loathe to offer public opinions of anything in real life, let alone online.

“Public” is the key word here: among close friends, these same people will open up, the same way they do in what they perceive to be a “safe” (e.g. closed) social environment. And right now, the sentiment analysis scrapers can’t peer that far behind Mr. Zuckerberg’s magic curtain.

Sentiment analysis is also not sophisticated enough to pick up on cultural mores: expressing unfavorable opinions is looked on as bad manners in many cultures. (My wife is from Tennessee, and Southerners tend to favor the “damn with faint praise” approach. So if you hated “Black Swan” you’d say something like “that Natalie Portman has the most beautiful skin” or something equally benign. That’s not the sort of clue an algorithm is going to pick up on.)

Finally, there’s value in checking sentiment by hand. You can pick out things people are saying about your brand that you hadn’t even thought to have a program check. Plus you get a feel for the type of people who are talking about you.

But in the end, it’s all about the broad strokes: people rarely know why they really like or dislike something, they just know that they do.