Take Me To The River

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Scoble now “[doesn’t] read separate feeds anymore. I just read everything in one long continuous scrolling Window.”

Yep. Makes life easier when you consume the aggregate product rather than the individual feeds, doesn’t it? In Scoble’s case it seems that Google’s feed reader kicked him off the bank and into the river of news; I’m still a disciple of FeedDemon (best RSS reader ever, etc., etc.), but I’ve been playing with Google reader again over the last couple of weeks and it is really nice.

Thus far it’s been as responsive as any desktop reader I’ve come across, and the tagging feature is a nice addition. Integrate some topic/keyword monitoring, and perhaps a a little bit of that collective intelligence recommendation stuff that all the kids are talking about these days, and we might have a winner here:
Google Reader

Can you help Snapfish?

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Please, please help Snapfish. They’re looking for a Director of Customer Relationship Marketing who will, among other things, “be responsible for optimizing the relationship between Snapfish and its customers.”

If you do get any candidates in the door, could you make sure that they ask why — in 2006, for gods’ sake — the only way you can “share” the pictures that you’ve uploaded to Snapfish is by sending people a link that forces them to register for Snapfish before they can look at the “shared” pictures? And as long as we’re noting shortcomings, why is it that there’s apparently no way to get my pictures back out of Snapfish?

It would appear that we have a failure to understand who actually owns these pictures. Data lock-in is a classic, time tested approach to clinging on to customers even after you’ve pissed them off, of course, but these days I’ve got a lot of alternative services available and I’ve got the original image files, so Snapfish doesn’t actually seem to be in such a good position to strongarm me. It’s inconvenient to leave them, but not at all difficult.

According to the job posting linked above, Snapfish’s CRM Lifecycle runs “from Registration to Activation to Monetization to Loyalty to Advocacy.” They’ve clearly spent a lot of time on the first three items; on the last two…well, maybe I’d be more loyal and a better advocate if the company wasn’t forcing me to be their marketing/lead generation bitch.

So that’s why the dotcom crash happened…

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Head over and read (ocregister.com) Colin Stewart’s post Whither Web 2.0? The last paragraph:

When the final chapter of the Web 2.0 story is written, the survivors will be the businesses that manage to build that sort of innovative relationship with consumers – and make a profit at the same time.

Not to nitpick, but isn’t that something that you could reasonably state about, well, any business? That it will survive if it can build a good relationship with consumers and make a profit at the same time?

If alienating consumers while losing money hand over fist was a viable approach to running a business, then we’d have a lot more Web 1.0 companies hanging around these days, now, wouldn’t we?

Blog Money Influence

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Stories of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Ugly: PayPerPost
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks you may have missed the discussion of PayPerPost‘s business model that’s been spreading like kudzu: just to pick some names you might recognize, Doc Searls, Dan Gillmor, Jason Calcanis, Jeremy Wagstaff, Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington have all weighed in of late. Or you could just check Technorati.

For those of you who haven’t been following along at home, PayPerPost’s gig is…playing bloggers to post. To post about specific things, of course, based upon the “opportunity requirements” that the companies advertising those things have set forth.

So the arguments around this are probably pretty clear to you: start from “nobody has to post anything that they wouldn’t write anyway, so they might as well get paid for what they write,” move through “it depends on whether and how this potential conflict of interest is disclosed,” and then after a little jaunt through “back in ought-two we blogged for the sheer joy of it, uphill, in the rain” move along to “this is traditional publishing’s age-old editorial vs. advertising conflict writ small, no good will come of it.”

It seems pretty clear that PayPerPost is a quasi-organic way for advertisers to build up Google juice, rather than a real effort to astroturf the blogosphere, so I suspect that it’ll have a relatively short shelf life regardless of what people think about it. The way I see it, this is an effort to make use of the broad, shallow influence exerted by small readership (or no readership) bloggers.

The problem here is that Google isn’t known for reacting particularly well to attempts to game their system; either PayPerPost isn’t successful for advertisers and the business can’t afford to pay the long tail bloggers for their influence, or PPP is successful in channelling that influence and Google bitchslaps them (and possibly their clients) into irrelevance.

The Bad: Walmart/Edelman

In the “bad as in stupid” category, we have another entry for those who can’t get enough discussion of blogging and ethics: enjoy the Walmart/Edelman fiasco. As you might expect, Richard Edelman’s comment on the matter is pretty dull reading, so I’ll point you to gapingvoid’s take on it, as well.

The summary? There are these people, see, and they’re driving across the country in their RV, spending nights in WalMart parking lots. And they’re blogging the whole experience. Wholesomely delicious, right? Well, there’s the little matter that Walmart sponsored the trip — a fact that wasn’t disclosed on the blog until the news leaked through other channels.

I can easily accept that WalMart wouldn’t know any better, but Edelman? Come on, now. I expect that the logic was “people won’t read the blog with an open mind if they know that WalMart is paying for it, and it’s not like WalMart gets to edit the posts, so where’s the harm?”

Dumb. Very, very dumb. I have a very simple tool that I use in both my personal and professional life: if I’m not disclosing some piece of information, I ask myself “what will you say when this information becomes known to others?” If the best answer that I can come up with is “well, I just really, really need to make sure that nobody else finds out” then I’ve got a problem, Houston. Those are the cases where you get screwed.

The irony here is that the blog might well have been more effective with the WalMart connection disclosed. Sure, many, many people wouldn’t have believed the page that said “We at WalMart believe that we make a positive impact on communities across America, so we’re sponsoring this journalist and photographer as they make their trip, and we will in no way spindle, fold, or mutilate whatever they post.” Hell, I wouldn’t have believed it, but still: the discussion surrounding the site would have been very, very different, and cast everyone involved in a very different light.

Again, it seems like it’s Edelman that really fucked up here: somebody bought into the idea that a “blog” needs to have some sort of indie cred in order to be influential — that having (or, well, aknowledging) a big corporation and money behind a blog would make it somehow impure.

The Good: Insight Community

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Techdirt fanboy. Mike Masnick and crew are building an empire of information and analysis that is really intriguing. A week ago they annexed another neighboring fiefdom (yeah, I’m letting that metaphor go now) when they announced an “Insight Community”: Techdirt basically acts as a trusted third party, connecting companies that want informed, intelligent feedback with bloggers who can provide that feedback.

While blogger response certainly isn’t make or break for a product or strategy, having a sense of what that response might look like could be incredibly valuable. Toss that into the mix with more traditional market research and passive monitoring of Web content and you’ve got a really picture of the environment that you’re releasing into.

An approach like this acknowledges the influence that blogs can have, and allows money to work into the mix in a reasonable way: don’t try to buy the blogger, try to buy the analysis…before it’s splashed all over the Web. Blogs, money, and influence happily coexisting. Incredible.

The Disclosure

  1. I am not associated with PayPerPost, because when I sell out I’m going to sell big, baby. $7.50 for a 50 word post? If I wanted to make that kind of money I’d be living in my parents’ basement writing pulp science fiction on spec.
  2. I am not associated with either Edelman or Walmart, because the question has just never come up…and, for what it’s worth, because I’m hard pressed to come up with a capacity in which I could be at all useful to either organization.
  3. I am not associated with Techdirt’s Insight Community, because I haven’t yet figured out what to list as “areas of expertise” on the application form. Asspatents? Stupid approaches to online advertising? Imagined dialogues between various corporate executives? You see my problem…

A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates

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Bruce Schnier today pointed out that A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates, published by the Rand Corporation back when generating random numbers was really hard, has been reprinted and is available on Amazon.

[Just as a side note, did anybody read the title and get a vague but disturbing mental image of some sort of mega-Caligula scene with 100,000 deviates sticking their million random digits into one another’s…well, you know. No? Good, me neither.]

Anyway, you should really, really go now and read the reviews. I think that this tome will be taking a place of honor in my library, right next to The History and Social Influence of the Potato
Excerpt from A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates

Broken Angel Burns

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This is really too bad: Broken Angel a…building transformed into uninhibited personal expression?…burned on Tuesday. It’s two blocks away from my home in Brooklyn, visible as I walk home every evening. Artist Arthur Wood has owned, lived in, and been adding to the building — the former Brooklyn Trolley headquarters — since 1979.

Searching the Web for more information, I found this incredible flickr set of the building and its contents, taken by Wood’s son, who grew up in Broken Angel. Growing up in this building, on the edge of bed-stuy in the 1980s no less, must have been quite an experience.

Wood is apparently accepting contributions to subsidize rebuilding, and I really hope that he can restore it, but I have my doubts about that happening: one of the side effects of the fire has been official notice by NYC that Wood has gone 25 years without ever discussing topics such as permits, building codes, or inspections with the powers that be.

Brooklyn Angel in Better Days

Brooklyn Angel on Fire

Lunchtime Musings: what Doc Searls (still) wants…

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Doc Searls’ latest post on what he’s calling “Vendor Relationship Management” (VRM) is getting a fair bit of attention. [Yes, pun intended, attention geeks.]

This is something that he and others, including me, have been thinking about for a while. Back in 2004, when Doc was looking for a minidisc transcribing machine, I made a few notes on the topic, which seem even more intelligent and insightful when I fix the typos and structural/grammatical weirdnesses:

Seems like there are two issues here, and advertising is the secondary one. The primary purpose of advertising is to enlighten people about all the wonderful products and services that they don’t yet know they need. That advertising may be caught by someone who happens to have a specific, personal need that dovetails with a particular ad, but that’s generally a happy coincidence. Avertisers place their ads (online or off) where they expect to reach people who could need what is being offered, because the could need market is waaaay bigger than the do need market.

What Doc is primarily concerned with is something that doesn’t yet exist, and I don’t think it’s “advertising,” exactly. The closest equivalent to what he’s talking about is actually product comparison Web sites: you already know what you want, so you go to the site and are presented with a list of links to the places that have what you want, with a little information about each vendor [and perhaps some alternatives that you may not have known about].

You could take Doc’s idea in some interesting directions; what’s most interesting, though, is that the hardest part of such a system isn’t the tech but rather the psychology. How do people want to use such a tool, even if they’re motivated enough to use it at all? Do they want, like Doc, the ability to “actively but selectively” tell people about very specific product needs, or do they want to say “I’m looking for a digital camera” and let the vendors work off of that? What does “selectively” mean in a context like this, anyway? How do you, the user, decide who should have access to the information that you’re publishing, and control that distribution process?

Now that it’s 2006 and I’m all 2.0, microformats immediately come to mind as I read what’s been discussed over the last day or so. From a microcontent point of view, I’d work with a tool that allows me to create a little datachunk that defines what I’m looking for, vendors create their own little datachunks that define what they’ve got available, and a clever little system sits in the middle connecting the two and managing the whos and whys of contact.

There are a lot of possible ways this could be implemented (public vs. private system, mechanisms for managing which vendors and seekers can connect, contact mechanisms in both directions, and a dozen variations and refinements pop to mind immediately), but they all share a couple of characteristics: they’re not “advertising” in the way that we normally think about it today, nor are they a replacement for advertising as we normally think about it today.

At the crudest level, this model is very different simply because it’s -catch based, rather than -cast based. Broadcast begat “narrowcast,” but both start with a vendor deciding that it’s time for them to reach out and touch someone. The VRM approach (or “monocatch,” if you will) is driven by an individual, on their own schedule, making it known that they are interested in something.

While I stand by my statement that defining how this approach can actually solve some advertising-related problems is the big open issue, I’ll note that there are interesting technological questions in there as well: how do you manage the relationships involved to keep VRM from becoming just another marketing-department-schedule-driven ad vehicle? How do you classify all the request and offer datachunks so that people aren’t getting offered microcassette transcribing machines or minidisc players when they’re looking for a minidisc transcribing machine — while still making it easy for someone to say that they’re interested in any of the above (but not minidisc recorders)?

There’s a lot to be done here, but maybe the time really has come to start working on a supplement to our old, familiar advertising.