Monthly Archive for May, 2007

Faraday Media – Particls

This series of blog posts – wizards of oz – is to highlight the innovation we have down under. So I begin with Faraday media, a Brisbane based start-up that launched their keynote product today,

Particls is an engine that learns what you are interested in, and alerts you when content on the internet becomes available – through a desktop ‘ticker’ or pop-up alerts.

Value
1) It’s targeted. Particls is an attention engine – it learns what you want to read, and then goes and finds relevant information. That’s a powerful tool, for those of us drowning in information overload, and who don’t have time to read.

2) It catches your attention. Particls is based on the concept of ‘alerts’ – information trickles across your screen seemlesly as you do your work, like a news ticker. For the things that matter, an alert will pop-up. The way you deal with information overload is not by shutting yourself out – it’s by adjusting the volume on things that you value more than other things.

3) The founders understand privacy. They started the APML standard – a workgroup I joined because it’s the best attempt I have seen yet that tackles the issue of privacy on the internet. For example, I can see what the Particls attention engine uses to determine my preferences – lists of people and subjects with “relevance scores”. And better yet – it’s stored on my hard-disk.

4) It’s simple. RSS is a huge innovation on the web, that only a minority of users on the internet understand. The problem with RSS (Real Simple Syndication), is that it’s not simple. Particles makes it dead simple to add RSS and track that content.

Conclusion

Why the hell doesn’t Fairfax acquire the start-up, rather than wasting time creating yet another publication (incidently in the same city) that we don’t have time to read. In my usage of the product, I have been introduced to content that I am interested in, that I never would have realised had existed on the web. In my trials, I have mainly used it to keep track of my research interests, and despite my skepticism about how ‘good’ the the attention engine is, it has absolutely blown me away.

And it’s not just in the consumer space – a colleague (who happens to hold a lot of influence in enterprise architecture of our 140,000 person firm) was blasting RSS one day on an internal blog – saying how we don’t yet have the technology to ‘filter’ information. I told him about Particls – he’s now in love. If a guy like him, who shapes IT strategy for a $20 billion consulting firm, can get that excited – that’s got to tell you something.

Pricks

If you don’t have a valid e-mail, Facebook forces you to verify it, before it removes those annoying CAPTCHA boxes.It’s a pretty standard thing for websites to do this.

Now, it’s telling me, I have to verify my mobile phone number – even though I have been regularly using the service for eight months.

bastards

This is not about verifying my identity – it’s about forcing me to give up my personal information. Bastards.

The Wizards of Oz

The Internet has enabled a new world-order, causing people from the CEO down in almost every industry, an amazing amount of grief. The music industry, the newspaper industry, the telecommunications industry – heck, even tangible non-digital products like books – have been challenged at the core. However what these CEO’s have begun to realise, is that the Digital Age is no longer a threat, but a vehicle for growth.

Innovation is a key source of competitive advantage. And if you are an established company, innovation is hard. What takes six months of trying to convince the right people, jumping through hoops to keep internal stakeholders happy, and then finally releasing a half-baked product that is dramatically cut down from your vision – could be done by a bunch of college students in a garage over a weekend. Economies of scale is no longer an advantage in the Information Age – small, agile teams are.

In America – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, News Corp, IAC and the rest – rely on acquisitions to fuel their innovation. An amazing amount of innovation is occurring on the web at the moment – not just new products but new business models. And the above mentioned companies have realised that acquiring a start-up early on, is a cheap way to innovate – as well as a great way to recruit.
But what about Australia?

Like America, we have a strong Internet industry with some clever entrepreneurs. But unlike America – no one is acquiring them. Could it be executives of this country’s leading companies just don’t know how much talent is available onshore? Well working in a professional services company that advises these companies, I am sure of it. Even a tech-savvy person like me is still discovering the amazing amount of talent and potential in my city, let alone country.

So here is to educating – both you and me – as I begin to start profiling innovation in Australia To make a suggestion for me to review on my blog, post it here

Have you tried to implement enterprise blogging?

Martianus: Hey guys, I think the earth goes around the sun.

Establishment: Don’t be ridiculous – everything revolves around the earth. Your idea sucks. Get back to work and let us take care of astrology, because we know best.

Nicholas: Dudes – seriously. It doesn’t make sense. Why don’t we take a different approach?

Establishment (between themselves): We’ve got a problem. These kids think that the earth moves and goes around the sun – as if someone was sitting in a car still, and the earth and trees walked and moved! Ridiculous!

Galileo: Hey I’ve been speaking to a lot of people, and everyone reckons the earth orbits the sun. It’s so painfully obvious. Can we please update our textbooks?

Establishment: Excuse me? Have you not looked at Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and Chronicles 16:30 that state “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” It’s how we’ve always said it. We can’t let you challenge the Holy Book. The Holy Book is law, and only we can interpret it.

Galileo: What’s the big deal? I mean, I’m just saying something that makes sense. Look – everyone else is saying it. It’s not like I’m suggesting we need to implement blogging within our enterprise, to unlock our potential. Now that would be ridiculous!

Establishment: Listen – there is no point changing our world view. If we started telling people that, could you imagine? A famine would start, and nineteen percent of people would get a heart-attack because of the dangers of thinking like that – we can’t take that risk. The father almighty in his wrath would shake our flat earth, and ruin our existence. Even if it were true, why change? It’s not like it would make any difference. Now scram.

Galileo: You guys don’t get it – it could really help people, and it’s not a big deal. I can’t believe the fuss.

Establishment (between themselves): I don’t get what this kid is on. Let go and tell his superiors to have a word with him. We can’t have this type of thing happening again.

Two hundred years later
Establishment: Yes thank you – we are the pioneers. Our team took some risky moves to experiment with a new way of doing things early on – we often forget that it was us, the establishment, that started all this. If it wasn’t for us realising things needed to change, so much innovation would never have occurred. Just think – Einstein never would have worked out the theory of relativity. Thank God for the establishment and the foresight we continue to have this day.

Grand thinking requires space, flexibility and time.

Grand thinking requires space, flexibility and time.” Our fast-paced life has forgotten that reflection is a very important concept for not just quality in our work, self-improvement, and ultimately innovation – but also for our health.

More people need realise that a person has to slow down, if they want to go further. Having said that though, if “thinking” is so easy – why don’t we have more great ideas? The quiet engine of the mind works just as hard – people just don’t recognise the effort being expended because you’re not sweating.

New measurement systems need a purpose

Chris recently proposed a new measurement system for attention, after yet another call to arms for a new way of measuring metrics. This is a hard issue to gnaw at, because it’s attempting to graple at the emerging business models of a new economy, which we are still at the cross roads at. Chris asked us on the APML workgroup on what we thought of his proposal, which is interesting, but I thought it might be better to take a step back on this one and look at the bigger picture. Issues this big need to be conceptually clear, before you can break into the details.

Television, radio, and newspapers are the corner stone of what we regard as the mainstream media. For decades, they have ruled the media business – with their 30 second advertising spots, and “pageviews” (circulation). Before the information age, they were what the ‘attention economy’ was. None of those flamin’ blogs stealing our attention: content and advertising flowed through to us from one place.

The internet is enabling literally an entire new Age of humanity. A lot of the age-old business models have been replicated, because we don’t know any better, but people are abandoning them because they are realising they can now do so much more. So the key here is not to get too excited on what you can do – rather, we need to think why what we need to do.

Let me explain – advertisers sold their product on a TV/radio commercial, and a newspaper page, because it guaranteed them that a certain amount of people would see it. Advertisers advertise because they want to do one thing: to make money. It’s just how capitalism works – profit is god – so do what you can to make higher profit.

But back then, the traditional mainstream media was the only way they could reach audiences on an effective scale. However advertising on the Sunday night movie is the equivalant to dropping a million pamphlets out of a plane, hoping that the five customers you know that would buy your product, end up catching it. Back then, no one complained – it was the best we could do. It sucked, but we didn’t know any better.

The internet changed that.

Advertisers can now target their advertising to a specific individual. They don’t care anymore about advertising on a mass scale; what they would rather is advertising on a micro scale. Spending $20,000 on 10,000 people you know that want to buy your product, has a much better Return on Investment than $2,000,000 on 1,000,000 people – of which 10% don’t speak the language of your ad, 20% aren’t the target group for your ad; and 30% are probably offended by your ad and will ruin it for the 40% they you were targeting in the first place.

Sound crazy? Well Google making $10 billion dollars doing just that is crazy.

So now that we have cleared that up – let’s get back to the issue. We now know one of the reasons why we need measurement: advertisers want to target their advertising better. Are there any other reasons? Sure- sometimes people want to measure what their audience reads for non-monetary reasons – they could just trying to find out what their readers are interested in, so they can focus on that content. Statistics like that is not narcissism – it’s just being responsive to an audience. Or then again, it could be pure ego.

So when it comes to measuring content, there are two reasons why anyone cares: to make money, or to see how people react to your content. However it’s the first type that is causing us problems in this issue. And that’s because how long someone spends on your content, or how many people view your content, is no longer relevant as it was in the mass media days. What is relevant is WHO is reading your content.

I don’t think you can have a discussion about new ways of measuring the way content is consumed, without separating those two different motives for measurement. I like Chris’s proposal – knowing how long someone spends reading my blog posting is something I would find interesting as a blogger. But that’s pure ego – I just want to know if I have a readership of deep thinkers or random Google visitors that were looking for a picture about shorts skirts. (As an aside – one of my pictures is the number one Google image result for “women in short skirts” – thank God it goes to my Flickr account now, the bandwidth that used to eat up was crazy!)

So before we come up with new measurement systems, lets spend more time determining why we are measuring. Simply saying we are better measuring what consumers are giving their attention to, is only part of the problem. We need to first determine what value we obtain from measuring that attention in the first place.

The power of feedback

Validation of a persons self-worth is a key aspect of being human. Why do we like praise, but not criticism? Because the former validates our self-esteem, the latter contradicts it. Insecure people tend to seek more validation from other peoples opinions – because they need other peoples opinions to validate their self-esteem. Wonder why the modest don’t boast? It’s because their validation is not derived from having to tell you so that you know. They already know you know, and if you don’t agree, they don’t care – they’re self validated.

However no matter how secure you are with yourself, everyone loves a bit of validation – it’s just some people need it more than others, or possibly, we all have different ways in how we validate ourselves. Some fish for compliments on their looks; others validate themselves through great achievements. Validation of who we are, is what drives almost everything we do. That’s why an atheist should never bag out religion to a believer – the argument about whether God exists is irrelevant; what is relevant, is that by criticising the existance of a religious establishment, you are actually criticising a person’s self-identity that has been built on that establishment, by effectively de-validating their belief system.

Motivation systems are complex, and I by no means claim to be an expert – but I do know, that the power of feedback is one of the most effective ways of motivating an individual, especially when it comes to content creation. In the context of web-services, recognition and validation are key: people will stick around on your site, if they feel a greater sense of self-worth because of it.

There are two ways people feel validated on online communities: analytics and responses. Analytics in the sense of statistics: page and profile views, unique visitors, popular content. Most bloggers arn’t really making money out of their blog – so why is software that provides statistics on their readership so popular? Because knowing people read your blog, is a form of validation. A bit like how an insecure teenage girl feels validated by the attention she myspace profilegets from sleazy older men. Right now, I am writing this blog entry because a reader asked if I could write more about the interaction between psychology and successful web start-ups. His comment validated my opinions, spurring me to write more on the subject.

Likewise, Myspace users will post a “Thanks for adding me” comment on a new friend. Why? Because it means more people will visit their profile. The reason I can say there are ulterior motives to just thank someone, is because they could have said “thanks for adding me” as a private message. So it then begs the question of why do they want more people to visit their profile? Because people get an ego boost seeing their page count go up.

Statistics to something you’ve created, are a quiet form of feedback. The more views, the more validated you feel by that. Popularity is a great feeling!

A second type of validation, is a bit more direct: it’s through the interactions with people. When people create content – photos, blog postings, whatever – nothing is more satisfying for them than a comment.

Features like Flickr’s recent activity are also apparently, what makes it so addictive. Again – it’s a form of validation. By responding to something someone has created, you are giving value to that creation – that feedback can make someone justify the effort, by providing recognition.

Sometimes the most powerful way a boss can keep their employees satisfied, is by a simple “thank you”. Recognition for effort expended by someone, can sometimes be all that someone needs to keep going.

Think you have a killer web2.0 app? You might. But unless a user feels like they are getting feedback on their existance and content creation, their first visit will likely also be their last. Feedback feels good. People want to feel good. So go and make them feel good about themselves.

Aw shucks – my baby is four years old

When I was at university, I started a Journalist’s Society around 2002 (the publications came under the brand “idMedia”). After some time, I jumped on the new media bandwagon (print is expensive, internet is cheap!) and among other things, started a weekly publication that developed a following of hundreds of people. Since I left uni in 2004, another two editorial teams have gone through, and today, the fourth generation of the News Digest is alive and kicking!

The rendering is horrid, and I really should upgrade their wordpress installation (which I regret converting to WP now – I did it to save them time in coding a template, but instead it has completely changed the type of content that gets pumped out). This is what it looked like back when I was at the helm.

But I am going to leave it be and let them do their own thing. The last few years, I’ve known the people that ran it but this year, I don’t. The true test that you’ve built something sustainable is if it can stand on it’s own. If you can take away a personality, and it still works, it’s been institutionalised. That’s cool.

Whether it lasts, who knows – but I sure as hell left that Society financially sustainable – time to invoice their bloody server hosting…

Study finds 3 out of 10 people don’t use the internet

A fascinating study which indicates to me how early stage the internet as infrastructure is, was recently published. It says how 29% of all U.S. households (31 million homes) do not have Internet access and do not intend to subscribe to an Internet service over the next 12 months. Even more interesting, is the reason why these people don’t have internet access.

Forty-four percent of this group, are “not interested in anything internet”. Seventeen percent are “not sure how to use the internet”. In other words 18% of all consumers in the worlds leading nation with internet access and usage, don’t see the point in using the internet. Couple this with the fact that the developed world which hasn’t got the infrastructure to connect yet (but over the next decade will), means there is still a ridiculous amount of growth going to occur in the internet space.

Mass media execs: if you are stuggling now for audience share against this new medium, good luck to you in five years time.

Social networks as the new e-mail

The other day, I received my first spam message within Facebook, which I thought was reminiscent of the Nigerian scam

Please if you are reliable and Interested in been a commissioned rep with our company we will be glad but you have to be a Trustworthy person. We have sold out to major galleries and private collectors from few parts of the world. We have been facing serious difficulties when it comes to the payment method, i.e The international money transfer tax for legal entities (companies) in Latvia is 25%, whereas for the individual it is only 7%.There is no sense for us to work this way, while tax for international money transfer made by a private individual is 7% .That's why we need you! Branches have been set up in few countries,and the head branch in UK.we are working on setting up a branch in the states, so for now i need a representative in Canada, America,Asia,New Zealand,and Europe who will be handling the payment aspect. so all you need do is cash the Payment,deduct your percentage and wire the rest back.</p> <p>JOB DESCRIPTION? 1. Receive payment from Clients 2. Cash Payments at your Bank 3. Deduct 10% which will be your percentage/pay on Payment processed. 4. Forward balance after deduction of percentage/pay to any of the offices you will be contacted to send payment to(Payment is to be forwarded either by Money Gram or Western Union Money Transfer).

But unlike spam I would get in my e-mail inbox, I could actually check the profile of the user that sent the message to me. It was empty and a dud – which is how I could assess it was spam. Spam through a closed social networking site like Facebook has very different implications to e-mail spam: it’s accountable.

Unlike e-mail spam, you don’t know who is sending it. Sometimes, the e-mail spammers can make it look like it comes from a certain company you trust (like your bank). This also to some extent happens on myspace, whereby spammers do up their profile and deceivingly make it look like a real profile when it isn’t (ie, a pretty girl with her interests filled out – but as soon as you click somewhere, it takes you to a porn referral site). Facebook is different, because people can’t modify their profiles (yet) like you can on myspace, so the person sending the message is a lot more accountable to their true identity. You can judge how real they are by the amount of friends they have, information in their profile, and postings on their profile from other people.

Profile comments are the key aspect – no comments, suggests a fake account – because you can’t fake friends to post real discussions. A spammer would need to create a few dozen profiles, to replicate the thread of discussion via peoples profiles, so that it could make someones profile look “real”: that’s a lot of effort that a computer robot can’t do on it’s own.

A new way of communicating

Aside from this, there is something more interesting: I rarely use e-mail to communicate with friends anymore. Messages or comments/wallposts are now the new way of how people communicate. In the old days, people would forward a funny video – now they “post a bulletin”. People post “notes” and tag their friends if they are mentioned in the note – a bit like writing a story, and alerting those who are involved to have a look. It’s the equivilant to sending an e-mail to a group of people – but leaving it somewhere where all your other friends can have a read as well if they want. That is huge – this open style of communication is something e-mail never did.

I’ve previously written how the “post a comment” feature is one of the most powerful features of social networking sites. When I say these sites are the new e-mail, it’s not just messages that are the means of communicating – it’s actually mostly through these profile comments that people have these discussions. The interesting thing about this new way of communicating, is that two people can be having a discussion, however all their friends can monitor the conversation. For example, I made a tongue-in-cheek comment of a Ukrainian friend of mine on her facebook profile wall, and another mutual (Ukrainian) friend saw the comment and joined in defending Ukrainians!

Social networking sites work because they are creating a community feel, where people interact within a tribe or small village that everyone knows each other, and they communicate in what is like a open forum. If it’s one thing I am sure of, these sites are no longer fads: they are a positive evolution of the Internet as a communications medium. It appear solutions to e-mail spam with clever algorithms that can filter messages arn’t the way forward; the solution is to be found in new ways of communicating, and that is what social networking sites do really well.