Wednesday, December 31

Caveat Social Emptor

With the new year upon us, it is time once again for the 2009 Internet Predictions game.

Before releasing my own personal wisdom, let's review the current environment. Specifically social media, since that has been the #1 Internet Hype of 2008.

In the last month:

eMarketer reveals that Social Networkers Aren’t There for Ads. But MediaPost claims Social Media Wins In Marketers' '09 Plans. Forrester warns that Consumers Don't Trust Corporate Blogs. But Buzzlogic claims that consumers trust ads on blogs more than social network sites.

Doesn't help that eMarketer adjusted their 2008 forecasts for MySpace/Facebook revenue. Which makes it seem like the sites are tanking, even though it really just shows that eMarketer's predictions in May were completely wrong.

Depending on who you trust, widgets are either vastly underutilized by marketers (AdAge = Bob Garfield Examines a Tool That Is Cheap, Easy and a Great Expression of the Post-Advertising Age) or a complete bust (AdWeek = Apps: The Newest Brand Graveyard).

And even before the economy crashed, the days of unlimited VC funding for widget startups was declared expired. Start-ups tried the old game of using different words to describe themselves and avoid the taint (social entertainment applications?) Yet they continued to receive more cash.

Meanwhile social networks -- sensing the impending backlash -- try convincing marketers to support the consumer-generated bootleg brand pages already on their sites (MySpace Exec: Marketers Should Embrace Fan Sites). Which is like hitting the hyperspace button in desperation -- hoping you don't end up in the path of an oncoming asteroid -- since they don't make any revenue off these pages.

How do you explain such ying yang reports? Is it really that confusing to determine the state of social marketing?

Desperate times call for desperate analysis. Desperate analysis of an emerging medium provides too much leeway for personal opinion and uneducated guesses. Even for the professionals. Caveat social emptor.

Monday, December 29

Honey, Did You Tivo the Sunday Best Buy Ads?

Convergence isn't always about solving the Next Big Problem by combining two distinct technologies. Sometimes it just takes a low cost of entry and a large industry struggling to survive.

Newspaper FSIs have a long successful history as a marketing sales tool. All major retailers invest substantial amounts of their advertising budget to reach consumers at the Sunday morning breakfast table. But the declining health of the newspaper industry threatens to decimate this once-dominant medium.

FSIs migrated from print to website a few years ago, and now most retailers offer a localized version of their newspaper ads for online viewing.

But now this advertising workhorse has made an even bigger leap into the future. This marketing channel is actually turning into a TV channel. Comcast recently launched Video On Demand Circulars for their cable subscribers. It's almost too bizarre to describe, so I will let them do it:
Video Circulars On Demand is able to take a retailer’s current pre-print advertising materials, convert them into video using our “OnDemand Publishing Platform” and make them available to consumers on their TV Screens. On Demand Publishing is an advertising tool that lets advertisers convert static ads into a slideshow-style video, which is then placed On Demand — allowing consumers to learn about products at their leisure. It’s like moving all of the content from your display ads, free standing inserts, catalogs, and direct mail campaigns to one place-on TV. The same way that you would order a pay per movie, our subscribers will be able to watch a free video about your store’s promotions.

So let's assume that consumers really want to watch FSI slideshows. And that they are willing to search them out "on demand," bypassing other VOD entertainment content in the process. Currently this walled garden doesn't even have a gate that allows you to purchase directly from your TV. The videos can be customized to provide local store info (Great Indoors example). Other retailers opt for a 1-800 phone number or custom URL.

Perhaps this will succeed as television sets become more interactive, allowing consumers one-click purchase directly from the videos. The convergence of video FSIs with IPTV would allow Comcast to customize the ads personally for each household. And perhaps, someday, our grandkids will laugh and shake their heads as we describe how store promotions used to to be printed and dropped on our doorstep every Sunday.

Wednesday, December 24

Stephen Joined the Group "Dads Supporting Moms Hating Facebook"

Considering all the moms I know who recently joined Facebook, their vocal support of their friends (as demonstrated via an endless stream of good for you! and I know how you feel! and I wish mine were still sleeping! status comments), and their tendency to get slightly militant over issues like this; there could be a good old-fashioned flame war heating up:
Lactivists wage breastfeeding war on Facebook
There are plans for a virtual nurse-in from Facebook members upset with the popular social networking site for deleting pictures of women breastfeeding. That prompted a petition called "Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene." As word grew on the Web, the number of people signing up had tripled in one week to more than 61,000.

The online event is scheduled for December 27:

In protest to the discriminatory and unjust policy of Facebook administration classifying breastfeeding images as obscene content, on December 27th, 2008 M.I.L.C. is asking all of you to change your profile picture for one day, to one which includes an image of a nursing mom. This could be a picture of you or someone you know nursing a child, it could be a painting or image of a sculpture of a breastfeeding woman, it could also be a photo or image of any nursing mammal....We ask that you include the status line of "Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!"

What happens to a social network when your members hate you? Back in the day, they just left for another site. Now days, they use your site even more to express their distaste.

There are over 500 groups on Facebook dedicated to breastfeeding. Who would have expected this 3 years ago, when the site was only college students who [insert joke about breasts and fraternities here] instead?

Hell hath no wrath like a pissed off mom surfing the web at night after two glasses of wine. Trust me.

The Long Tail of Current Events

Americans are always looking for a good topic to rally around online.

Take the Iraqi Shoe Thrower. A current event snippet, which 5 years ago would have quickly died down into a historical footnote and recurring punchline on Jay Leno reruns.

But these days it spawns a widening spectrum of social media and viral content. There are Facebook's Fans of Guy Who Threw His Shoes at Bush (111,000 fans and growing) and Lisa threw a shoe at you, throw one back! tag games. Parody videos on YouTube (1, 2, 3, 4). Online games where the objective is to... well... you know (1, 2, 3).

Eventually these will burn out and we'll move on to something new. However, as with most things on the internet, they will never go away. The smoldering embers of this Iraqi's 5 minutes of fame live on. Just a few search results away from an additional slap at Bush's legacy.

CUGMOG, Coming in 2010

Casual gaming continues to grow and receive positive press, per this recent Economist article. The consumer trend for online content is anything short, disposable, free, and entertaining = viral videos, Twitter status posts, Elf Yourself emails, Funny or Die bite-size humor.

Add collaborative to these social media times and you have the recent casual game trend of social gaming (i.e. Facebook's Scrabulous, Texas Hold 'em, zombie bites, snowball fights, and too many more to list).

Add user generated to social casual gaming and you may have the Trend of 2009 in the making. The major video game platforms announced months ago that they were opening their systems to amateur developers. Since then, Microsoft launched XNA Studios, an online community for Xbox independent developers. Nintendo launched their WiiWare site for downloading independent games directly to your console.

While this may provide low-cost alternatives for the hardcore gamer, casual user-generated online gaming is keeping pace. The Wall Street Journal has a good overview. Two sites of note are Kongregate and Playyoo. The latter of which pushes the envelope by adding "mobile" to the string of adjectives, thus positioning itself as the Trend of 2010.

Seems Kind of Web 1.75

End of year rush to get as many buzzwords into one paragraph as possible:
Email Marketing Goes Social
Now you can create email marketing messages that subscribers can easily share to social networks. Silverpop's new white paper shows you how to create powerful email campaigns that can go socially viral. Download your copy from Silverpop today!
Remember back in the good old days when the "Forward" button was a viral enabler?

The Only Consumers Coming to Your Site are the Ones You Can't Market to

Newest report from eMarketer:
More than four out of 10 children ages 6 to 11 have visited a Website they saw or heard about in a commercial or advertisement, according to a 2008 MRI survey. MRI said almost 10.7 million young consumers visited company sites after viewing ads. More than one-quarter of them were 6 to 7 years old, one-third were age 8 or 9 and 40.2% were 10 or 11 years old.

“MRI data clearly indicate that the younger set is pretty responsive to a ‘please visit our Web site’ suggestion,” said Anne Marie Kelly, senior vice president at MRI, in a statement.

Thursday, December 11

Good News for All Senate Appropriations Committee Junkies

So here is a novel idea -- can the the government supplement our billion dollar bailout with Google AdSense profit sharing? The Washington Post ran an article about Google publicly encouraging the government to make their sites more searchable:
A person using one of the search engines, for example, can't find Environmental Protection Agency enforcement actions against a given company, can't discover the picture of a specific ancient Egyptian artifact at the Smithsonian, and can't search by name for the details of a Vietnam War casualty.

Which, if you have ever tried to find information via a government website, isn't a shocker. They tend to be bloated, poorly designed, and difficult to navigate. Like most of the Internet. Only difference is that most of the Internet is indexable by search engines, so we aren't often exposed to their mess. We just Google a topic instead and head directly to the content.

Think about all the paid search links that Google can attach to these results. I expect government-related keywords would fetch a nice bid price. Especially the more niche topics. If the government were smart (stress on were), then they would negotiate a revenue share model.

Then my Google Paranoia sets in. They want to be the leader in finding all information. What happens when they are better at finding government data than our own government? How codependent will the government become on them? Are we one step closer to a "private Google" commissioned to keep track of confidential information behind the government firewall.

On its own this isn't a scary thing. But start cross-indexing their knowledge of government data with Google's other information repositories such as Google Earth/Streetview, Picasa face photo recognition, tracking individual web users via its ad networks, mobile GPS enabled Maps, OpenID...

Then again, maybe this is just crazy talk.

Saturday, November 22

Hitting the Online Video Hyperspace Button

It used to be, back in the day, that us old-timers used our video game systems to actually play video games. Playstation and Xbox continue to evolve into Transformer-style entertainment systems -- BlueRay DVD, live voice chat, streaming music, Netflix downloads.

Now comes news that Microsoft is producing custom video shows for Xbox Live:
The unique concept of masters of horror taking on comedy sees some of the world's greatest horror directors bring their comedic visions to life. The short film pilots will be available worldwide on Xbox LIVE from influential horror directors like James Wan (Saw, Death Sentence), David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy), James Gunn (Dawn of Dead, Slither), Lucky McKee ( May, The Woods), Andrew Douglas (The Amityville Horror), Adam Green (Hatchet), Peter Cornwell (The Haunting in Connecticut) and on-line director, John Clisham.

The collection is sponsored by the US Air Force. Ignoring the whole premise of horror directors trying to create comedy, this initiative puts one more dent into an already fractured media industry. (Update 12/08 = Nintendo has vaguely announced a similar initiative)

Broadband advertising has expanded from 15 second TV spot pre-rolls to a wide array of options. Online content production companies are everywhere these days (1, 2, 3), offering custom video programs on the cheap. Hulu has perfected the art of video distribution. Technology vendors continue to push mobile video. Video widgets ensure that you never have to leave your Facebook or Myspace page again.

Online video is supposed to kill TV. However, from a marketing standpoint, online is getting so fractured that it will become more difficult deciding where to spend the money. Not only do you need to decide if you want to create, sponsor, or just advertise around video content. Now you also have to decide what devices it should be delivered on.

In the end, the power lies primarily with those who have the best distribution system. There has always been a chicken-vs-egg battle online between the technology provider and the content provider. Ironically, owning both is not always the winning solution.

Wednesday, November 19

iTV Urban Legend Debunked!

The CyberProphets (e-prophecies?) were right about one thing. You can now order a pizza through your TV. It will probably take 3 times as long compared to using the phone, as my wife will no doubt point out. But who says technology has to make everything faster and easier?

Now I just need to:

1) Get that latte coupon sent to my phone when I walk past Starbucks
2) Order Jennifer Aniston's dress by clicking her during a rerun of Friends
3) Have provide an accurate and unexpected Wish List recommendation

Then I will consider all my technology needs fulfilled.

Tuesday, November 18

Try the New Holiday Panhandler Version!

Elf Yourself is back again. This time it gets the official Jib Jab treatment, which is an interesting switch considering how successful everyone claimed it was last year. Why dump the agency that brought you the idea and kept it alive for two good years? Maybe they are looking to make it more virable. (might help that they offered to do it for free)

Regardless, it will be a good test to see if Office Max can maintain the momentum for a third year. In an Internet world of always on content, marketers usually cannot resist the opportunity to keep their microsites alive well past their expiration date.

This turns the WWW into a living archive of old campaigns and brief successes. Yes, I'm talking to you Burger King, Xbox, Sega, CareerBuilder, Milk. Your 15 minutes of fame seems to have its own long tail.

Office Max has the sense to limit theirs to the holidays. At some point it will start smelling musty and dated. But, just like that crumbling childhood ornament, you probably can't resist pulling it out every year and hanging it back on your tree.

Go ahead, relive the memories.

Sunday, November 16

The Prom Queen Finally Wants To Be Your Friend

A few months ago I posted about finding an old college friend and an ex-coworker via social networks. Wired had a great article recently about the blurring relationships between current and past friends online. This "endless friending" will be interesting to watch with teenage users, who are building their friend list early in their life.

I, however, have recently encountered a different phenomenon = Regressive Friending. It involves becoming Facebook Friends with people I haven't thought about in 20 years. It probably has a lot to do with the high school reunion season, and the fact that social networks continue to gain older users. In the last 2 months I have been friended (and yes, I admit, proactively sought) the NCHS class of '88.

It started as innocent curiosity: "I wonder if I can find her, what he looks like now, where they work, etc." Lurking at the reunion without having to join the conversation. Then, as with all things social networking, it turned into an obsession. Befriend those you hung out with first. Expand into those who sat next to you in English class. Then move on to the names that you kind of remember, but couldn't really describe. Guess what, they all accept. And within a few days you will also be sought in the same manner.

Which, in the grand scheme of social networking, isn't a big deal. But it made me realize that most of my close friends from my past aren't on Facebook. Which means I now know more about my Facebook high school friends' day-to-day lives than my actual friends:

Annetta is making lasagna for the first time. Al ran a 4:30 marathon in Athens, Greece. Erin can't figure out what a "poke" is. Everyone loves their kids.

The ironic thing is that -- despite all these friend invites and accepts -- I haven't had an actual conversation with any of them. No "what you been up to?" wall posts or "remember me?" instant messages. Instead I get to listen into their daily Facebook status, sneak peeks at their pictures, and see which of their friends aren't in my network. It's almost exactly like high school.

So maybe, as the Wired article surmises, it isn't the best idea to approve invites from your past:
Fine, you can "Remove Friend," but what kind of asshole actually does that? Deletion is scary—and, we're told, unnecessary in the Petabyte Age. That's what made good old-fashioned losing touch so wonderful—friendships, like long-forgotten photos and mixtapes, would distort and slowly whistle into oblivion, quite naturally, nothing personal. It was sweet and sad and, though you'd rarely admit it, necessary.

I reflected on this last week when my brother's best friend from grade school swim team sent me a friend invite. Which, of course, I accepted. His kids did great at the swim meet over the weekend.

Tuesday, November 11

What? No Bullsh*t Bingo Social Game?

So LinkedIn finally joined the Internet circa 2006 by providing embedded widget apps to its users. They have to be pre-approved by the site, similar to getting an app in the iPhone store. There are currently only 9 apps available. Which means either the approval criteria is really tough, LinkedIn is really lazy, or companies aren't rushing to take advantage of it.

LinkedIn has always been the sober, dress shirt & tie kind of site. Which is fine, considering it really is focused on business networking and loosely-veiled job searching (befriend a couple local recruiters and watch their new friend notices). But of the 9 apps, 3 are blog readers, 4 are workspace/document sharing, and 1 is the requisite Amazon fave book lister.

The blog readers are slightly useful, since they automatically found blogs by my network that I don't have time to track down. But an even more useful tool would be one that provides a visual perspective of my network connections. LinkedIn is very 1.0 when it comes to presenting user connections/degrees of seperation. How about a Visual Thesaurus-style map, allowing me to see who is 1, 2, or 3 connections away from each other and explore via click-n-drag. Cross-reference it with specific companies/industries of interest and you could get really fancy.

Honey, Can You Grab Me Another Widget Pizza Pocket?

As another example that we are all complete slackers, Pizza Hut announces their pizza-ordering widget (from Ad Age) allowing you to order directly from your Facebook page. It's impressive that they recently crossed the $1 billion mark in online pizza sales. But more telling that they realize those sales may not be generated directly on moving forward.

The marketing allure of widgets is that they provide an opportunity to reach consumers on their social network pages, decreasing the reliance on your brand website to communicate with them. On the flip side, we are training consumers that they don't need to visit brand sites. Internet users are lazy when it comes to looking for information online. The more content that is fed to them, the less likely they are to seek it out.

We are fattening them up on forkfulls of bite-size information, to the point where they will become so bloated and lethargic that even the coolest viral microsite streaming game thing can't motivate them to leave their social network couch. Believe it or not, is still available.

Friday, October 24

Best "Worst Advice" of the Week

eMarketer = Getting Clever with Social Media
“Suppose I’m selling Coke, and my ad appears next to a naked schoolgirl. Are people really not going to buy Coke? Allow yourself to make some mistakes. When you make them, apologize and fix them, and learn from them,” Ms. Dyson continued. “It’s not the worst thing in the world to have an ad that flops or a spokesperson who goes bad on you—if you listen to the feedback and fix it.”

From someone who obviously isn't:

1) The brand manager who has to explain this to the CMO, after the screengrab gets emailed to them by their PR agency

2) The agency Media Director who has to write the explanation for the brand manager (then makes a mental note to not invite the PR team to the next client dinner)

3) The media sales rep who has to quantify the "make up goods" that rectifies brand association with body parts, so the Media Director has some good news to tell the brand manager, who then can end their CMO conversation with "on the plus side..." (and then makes a mental note to invite the PR team to the next agency dinner)

Tuesday, October 21

The Revolution Will Be Merchandised

In one of the more bizarre twists of the election season, Walmart has posted election videos from John McCain and Barack Obama on their corporate and e-commerce websites:

According to Walmart's press release, their intent is to:
Enable the candidates to introduce themselves to customers, club members and associates, detail their plans and positions on key issues, and will reflect the candidates' campaign platforms in a nonpartisan manner.

What is probably more motivating for the candidates is this Walmart declaration:

An August survey conducted by Voter/Consumer Research of Washington, D.C. showed that nearly half of undecided registered voters say they are more likely to shop at Wal-Mart today than they were six months ago. currently ranks as the 250th most visited website in the US. Which practically makes it a mass media outlet on its own. Throw in their Sam's Club, corporate, and intranet sites, and the videos could reach a potential 15 million visitors over the next 2 weeks.

It is positioned as part of Walmart's voter registration initiative. I can't help feeling a little skeptical, considering they showcase their "Price Leadership Commercials" on the same page. I do give them credit for at least providing links to the other lesser-known third party candidates (Constitution party anyone?)

From a lobbying standpoint, Walmart will be able to publicize their site reports post-election and remind future candidates of their clout. The number of site visits, video views, and consumer comments about this initiative will no doubt demonstrate Walmart's influence and reach with the average American voter.

And don't forget about their in-store television network, which pumps branded content into 3,000 stores daily. That could be the next media outlet in 2012. It just went IPTV which allows advertisers to "better target shoppers by store, screen, day and time-of-day and change their messages more frequently." This gives Walmart the opportunity to promote, er I mean support, local elections as well.

Walmart is playing the neutral, non-partisan content distributor now. Let's hope they continue to follow that path in the future. Otherwise the Store Greeter might ask if you prefer cart or basket, paper or plastic, and Republican or Democrat.

Wednesday, October 15

Brother, Can You Spare Some KinzCash?

I've been thinking a lot about micropayments lately. Back in Dotcom 1.0, it was lauded as a sure thing to drive the success of the Internet. It was essentially the Long Tail of e-commerce = paying minimal fees for accessing content or services online. Which, over time, would add up to real big revenue for the companies providing it.

Dotcom companies tried all types of micropayment schemes = digital tokens, points, microwallets, etc. In the end we got Paypal, 99 cent iTunes, and affiliate marketing kickbacks via "buy this book" referral buttons.

But I have noticed the reemergence of micropayments in a most unusual place: kid-focused virtual worlds such as Webkinz, Club Penguin, and Neopets. The focus of these sites is accumulating virtual stuff for your virtual pet/avatar. This includes virtual houses, furniture, clothes, food. In order to purchase it, you need to accumulate virtual money. This is primarily achieved by playing online games and performing other tasks within the site. Most of these only reward you with a few points/cash at a time.

You have to play a bunch of games, or complete a bunch of tasks, in order to actually purchase something substantial (in a virtual kind of way). Similar to collecting tickets at a carnival or Chuck E Cheese. After 3 hours of mindnumbing games, you then can get that cheap stuffed toy from China that will fall apart before you get home.

We are training a whole new generation of consumers to accept micropayments as a way of life online. Only this time -- in a bit of e-commerce role reversal -- they are the ones getting paid. Which in the next 10 years could lead to a whole new online marketing platform.

Marketing to kids in these environments is really tough. Unless you happen to be a provider of essential nutrients and vitamins. But soon these consumers will grow up and start accessing sites where you can market to them without getting sued. Will they be willing to watch your branded online video for a few Paypal coins? Click your banners and rack up points to get real stuff? Spend 3 minutes on your brand website and win their girlfriend an exclusive virtual unicorn for her Myspace page?

Google AdSense and affiliate programs already have marketers comfortable with spending micropayments of their own for ensuring consumer action. Can't wait to see what happens when consumer microrewards and marketer micropayments finally come together.

Tuesday, October 7

Can't Wait Until They Add a Voice Chat Option

So hands up, who hates the New Facebook? Seems like a lot of people, which is natural when something you are really fond of gets messed with.

My concern is that they have completely buried user widgets in the new layout. Not only do I need to click on the "Boxes" tab to view them, but anyone visiting my profile page must do the same. It's going to kill the efforts of most marketers who are entering this space. Number of widget impressions will plummet dragging the number of interactions along with it. Which will also limit the viral spread. It's been the one area of Facebook that advertisers could get a foot into and has been relocated to the basement.

Which isn't the end of the bad news for marketers and social networks. A recent report shows that 46% of social networkers accessed their fave sites via mobile devices (primarily MySpace and Facebook). Mobile access is mostly limited to posting text status updates, sending messages, and viewing friend profiles.

However, the new iPhone and Google apps are bringing more functionality to mobile devices. The most recent Facebook iPhone app provides access to most of the site's content and tools -- except widgets, sponsored text links, and banner ads. Which is going to be a buzz kill for marketers.

As sites port more content to mobile, there is less need to visit the website versions. As more consumers access content away from their computers, online media pillars such as reach/frequency, time spent on site, and page views will crumble.

Social networks will need to find ways to cram advertising and marketing messages into their mobile apps. If they can find room. And if they can do it without screwing up the consumer experience, which currently is fairly nice and clean. That whole social mapping craze is looking more promising...

Sunday, October 5

Drinking Games For Kids

Our Taco Bell online game was fairly successful in reaching a lot of people online. So we're trying it again for another client = MilkPEP to reach teens/tweens.

This time we're testing two types = one game purchased via online media on, and another launched organically via Kewlbox. Will be interesting to see how they perform against each other. We have a fixed CPM for Neopets which includes traffic-driving banners on their site. Kewlbox charges a fixed fee for game development, so its CPM is dependent on how many game plays we receive over time. Distribution hopefully goes viral via their gaming network and encouraged game embedding.

Neopets game:

Kewlbox game:

Saturday, October 4

When User Generated Content Attacks!

Last month United Airlines investors received the hard reminder that people believe everything they read on the Internet. A six year old article about United going bankrupt was accidentally posted to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's website, causing the stock to drop from $12.45 to $3 in 10 minutes. The Internet still has a huge influence on the dissemination of information.

For years the professional news organizations have complained that "amateur" bloggers would cause chaos with their undisciplined and objective posts. But apparently the rise of Journalism 2.0 hasn't been a complete disaster. The number of news organizations opening up their websites to the average Internet user is a growing trend.

First came the addition of user comments to news stories. Then CNN launched an entire site dedicated to video iReports -- basically a YouTube for news. These iReports are promoted and encouraged directly on CNN's homepage and in its news stories. Why have your journalists risk the latest hurricane when the locals are willing to do it for you?

CBS offers similar amateur news reports via its EyeMobile site. ABC has i-CAUGHT. Fox uReport.

For a generation of consumers raised on Web 2.0, this seems like a natural evolution. However, these respected news agencies seem to have quickly forgotten their own warnings. People will post anything they want on the Internet. People believe anything they see on the Internet. The association of your brand with that content, and the implied endorsement it provides, is where things can get really tough.

So it can't be that much of a surprise that a fake iReport posted to CNN Friday whacked Apple with a United Airlines-style roundhouse kick. The report that Steve Jobs suffered a heart attack sank Apple's stock 10% in 10 minutes before it was pulled.

And definitely shouldn't be a shocker that a photoblog service might end up with some NSFW content. (Not Safe For Work for those of you who have never visited Perez Hilton or TMZ.) Risque and downright naked images have been showing up on the CBS Eyemobile site and through its iPhone app. And Google has been serving ads right next to it.

User generated content is the shiny sparkly object right now. Most marketers are standing a few steps back and poking it with a stick, trying to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. Some industries, such as healthcare/pharma, are standing wayyyy back watching the other marketers with binoculars.

Perhaps consumers will become desensitized to the presence of misleading and offensive content, giving brands a break when they step into it. Or perhaps marketers will retreat to more controlled versions, leaving the wild wild west to those who can get away with it.

Thursday, October 2

Please Be My Closely-Proximal Friend Who Likes Dive Bars

Social networks are rapidly migrating into mobile territory to keep up with their users. Mashing up the cellphone's GPS capabilities with Google Maps has led to the latest trend = social mapping.

Basically it is nothing more than finding your "friend's" current location on a map. Or maybe your "friend's" latest comments about the Thai restaurant that is just around the corner. Newsweek, Washington Post, and Technology Review provide decent overviews of the trend. Especially love the story of the guy who used it to avoid people, rather than meet up with them. The antisocial social machine.

The iPhone has become the premiere launching pad for a lot of these social apps: Yelp, Where, Platial Nearby, Loopt, Whrrl, Moximity, seem to be leading the path. Nokia purchased UK-based social mapper Plazes, so expect that functionality to be automatically loaded into their phones. Google Android's mobile operating system should attract even more social map providers and provide access across multiple cellphone types.

Which leads to the bigger question = if anyone can tack on a GPS Google Map to their service or application, does it become so autonomous that the "find your friends" feature is irrelevant? Do I need all my friends to be signed up and using all these apps in order for them to provide value?

Many of these start ups have fallen into the risky business model based on "he with the most users signed up wins." Which is fine when there is only a limited amount of competition. But there are currently 88 social networking apps available for the iPhone, all of which could become GPS map enabled. Slim chance any of my "friends" are also using them. Not to mention that they now also have to be physically located close to me to be of interest.

Expect the social network giants like Facebook and MySpace to buy up the ones that have the best technology or interface, incorporate it into a new tab on their mobile app, and quickly decimate an entire start up vertical. Or just ignore them completely and do it on their own. Either way the same outcome prevails.

On the other hand, with the Google-supported OpenId movement, there is a chance that these apps could grab onto the holy grail of an XML friend list feed. Thus not requiring you to build up your friend list from scratch on each app, just import one from your fave social network site. Then the apps with the best features or niche community focus could prosper. Which would be great for Google, since any app using a Google map mashup becomes lucrative advertising space for them. I'm sure they would prefer to have it spread across multiple social map providers, each signed up with the AdSense network and receiving micro-kickbacks when a Google map link is clicked.

As for me, I'm working on the new iPhone app Loozr, which shows you where everyone else's friends are and how much fun they are having. Then connects you to other Loozrz in your area. The bar around the corner offers a half price "beer to cry in" if you show up in the next 15 minutes and invite 3 other Loozrz to join you.

But be careful, collect too many Loozr friends in a 1 mile radius and you get kicked off the app. Being antisocial has never been so much fun.

Thursday, September 11

"Cost Per Widget" Coming Right Up

Maybe not the complete answer to measuring social media efforts, but possibly a good first step. Will be interesting to see how long it takes them to get acquired by Doubleclick or Atlas. Er, I mean, Google or Microsoft.

'BuddyBrain' Helps Clients Track Social Apps
Social media technology startup Buddy Media has launched a nerve center for its clients to track the progress of their social applications within the amorphous realm of social networks and user-generated content. Modeled after the human brain, the new BuddyBrain service is split into four "lobes" beginning with an intelligence center where clients can track real-time campaign results, including install rates, average time spent, and retention rates.

Because "Web TV" is Sooooo 1999

How about Widget TV?

TV 2.0 is coming to a living room near you. Intel has announced plans for their new set top box chips to allow "Yahoo Widgets" to run alongside TV show content (via

It's really about web-enabled content via your television. Hopefully relevant web-related content. And not something that Yahoo can control long term.

Think about how the whole "rich media advertising" industry has consolidated and commoditized itself (Unicast, Pointroll, Eyeblaster, Eyewonder, Viewpoint, Shoshkeles, Klipmart, Enliven, Motif) and how the same thing will be happening in the widget vendor world. It's not proprietary technology and any widget vendor/ad network could extend into the same TV screen. I'm also sure the TV networks will want a say in what interactive advertising/media dollars are surrounding their cable advertising/media dollars.

But if it is the first step to truly interactive television in the US, and Yahoo can spearhead the media revenue stream headaches, then more power to them. As long as they don't treat it as make up impressions for my widget banner buy that isn't performing well.

Tuesday, September 2

Next Up, Google Hard Drive Defragmenters

It seems Google forgot one of the universal truths that has made them so much money = consumers are complete slackers online. They have no patience for anything that requires an extra click, a few extra seconds of downloads, or sites that aren't intuitive for 5 year olds. It's why millions of people use their search engine every day. They are too lazy to try to find it themselves.

Which is why their announcement this week of a Google web browser -- codenamed Chrome -- is so odd.

The web browser wars between IE, Netscape, and AOL (before they acquired Netscape and then decided to use an IE-powered browser instead) are soooo 1998. Antitrust lawsuits aside, the main reason IE didn't lose its dominance is because it was such a pain in the ass for users to download a separate standalone browser and keep it up to date.

Sure it was part of the internet experience, back when every new browser offered new capabilities -- HTML table layouts! Frames! Newsgroup readers! Java applets! Audio! But users quickly tired of the PR battles and the endless upgrades. Then Netscape Communicator launched and sucked worse than the previous release, permanently nailing it in its underdog coffin.

Since then IE has dominated. True, Firefox (the rebirth of the good guys from Netscape's ashes) has made some headway and now claims 20% of browser share. But they don't have a revenue model and are primarily user-supported (think of a Wikipedia approach to software development), so I doubt Microsoft really cares.

I can see an initial rush of Google browser downloads by the tech savvy and curious. But the average consumer? Maybe at the insistence of their teenage kids. But once those kids get their own computer, or Dad upgrades his, then I doubt you'll see the Chrome icon anymore.

But Google has a track record of launching things to annoy its competition, or just plain jumpstart a stagnant industry. They put Mapquest on its heels by launching a superior user interface with Google Maps. Forced the telecoms to open up cellphone bandwidth for neutral device makers with their "failed" $4.6 billion bid for the 700MHZ spectrum. They will give iPhone and Microsoft a few sleepless nights with their Andromeda mobile phone operating system. They even sponsored development of a 100 MPG electric car.

Why would they get involved in things like online maps and mobile phones? Oh, yeah, potential advertising space. Electric cars? I'm sure it is more than just philanthropy.

Maybe this head fake is another attempt to provoke innovation in a space where the last technical advance was the autofill button for webpage forms. Or just another way to get that really relevant paid text link in front of you.

Be part of a historical footnote. Download Chrome now.

Your 15 MB of Fame Just Got an Extension

Earlier this year I wrote about the issues of your "private self" merging with your "public self" online. Especially the impact years from now when you think all that content is gone, deleted, or at least buried under a mountain of new internet data.

So consider every Webshots college party photo, Flickr photostream, Facebook/MySpace photo album, and random photo-sharing widget that you may be part of. And the fact that Google is paying attention and, more importantly, helping others find them:

Picasa Refresh Brings Facial Recognition

In the anticipated release of Google’s new and improvedPicasa the company will offer facial recognition technology to help you identify friends and family in your pictures without requiring you to tag them by-hand each time you see them. Launching at noon PDT today, Picasa’s facial recognition technology will ask you to identify people in your pictures that you haven’t tagged yet. Once you do and start uploading more pictures, Picasa starts suggesting tags for people based on the similarity between their face in the picture and the tags you already put in place for them.

Expect every HR hiring manager on the planet to have a subscription to this one. Not to mention an RSS alert feed for parents.

Spoiler Avoidance Just Got More Difficult just announced that they will be pre-launching season premiers online for Knight Rider, Lipstick Jungle, Chuck, Life, and 30 Rock one week prior to their scheduled TV debuts.

Launching TV shows online first isn't new, although it is usually reserved for new shows that networks feel are getting unjust negative buzz. BBC "leaked" the new Dr. Who series debut on file sharing networks to defuse rabid fans of the old show. Showtime provided streaming episodes of Kirstie Alley's Fat Actress after negative reviews were leaked prior to launch. HBO even provided the first 15 episodes of In Treatment on iTunes as free podcast downloads after low TV viewership was revealed.

So the networks might be leveraging Hulu users -- who would highly likely be online influencers -- to drive buzz around their new shows. At least if the shows themselves are any good. Of course, all the dedicated viewers on the internet couldn't help make Quarterlife a TV hit.

Thursday, August 28

Full of Meat and Online Marketing Wisdom

I attended a dinner last night of Chicago online marketing gurus as part of the Conspiracy to Change Advertising. It was hosted by Eyeblaster and a nice informal opportunity to discuss the state of interactive. Two interesting concepts came out of it:

The act of setting up a microblog account such as Twitter, Facebook status, etc. for the sole purpose of pushing out as much random information as possible, with little concern if the recipients are reading them. Specifically for those Twitterers who push out more feeds than they consume/subscribe to.

Behavioral Targeted TV Ads:
When your digital TV and computer start sharing the same IP address, why can't Google serve up dynamically-targeted TV spots based on your online browsing habits (as captured by AdSense and Doubleclick tracking)? Which means 'round the clock Webkinz ads in my house.

We are looking for participants from the "client side" (i.e. marketers who actually pay the bills, versus those of us who collect the money). Let me know if you are interested.

Tuesday, August 26

Three Degrees of Viral Infection

Awhile ago I wrote on the privacy threat when online social apps attack.

That threat has just tripped one step closer with the latest virus attack, spread via Facebook/MySpace friends (from the Washington Post):
The malicious software attempts to lure users in with messages ranging from "You've been catched on hidden cam" to the one about Hilton tossing a dwarf on the street. The messages contain a link that takes unsuspecting users to a Web page that looks like YouTube. There the page tells visitors that to view the video, they need to click on another link to download and install updated software. Those who fall for the scam are actually installing malicious software.

Now bundle in Facebook's latest rich media advertising announcement, which prompts users to engage in social activity via the ad unit:
The first three types of Engagement Ads now in trial let users post comments, become a "fan" of a brand's Facebook Page and send virtual gifts. Within the units, people can also read friends' comments, and see who else is a brand fan or who shared virtual items. All three flavors of Engagement Ads will appear in the new home page placement alongside the News Feed on the right. They will also show up in members' News Feeds as people interact with the ads.

The more sites are encouraged to blend advertising with social network activities, the greater the risk of something going wrong. And social network users will continue to be desensitized about their privacy risks, willing to engage in all types of "social engagement" via widgets and rich media ads.

Pity the first brand whose widget banner inadvertently publicizes its consumers' friend list, photo albums, or other "private" information. Or helps spread the next Virus 2.0.

Thursday, August 21

Taco Fu is Everywhere

Our Taco Bell online game is getting some great results and good press -- over 5 million plays -- not to mention an Ad:Tech award.

Wednesday, August 20

At What Point Will We Start Tivo-ing the Internet?

Back in 1992, NBC launched a grand initiative to cover a wide variety of sports in the Barcelona Olympics -- no matter how niche -- on TV. The catch was that you had to subscribe to three pay per view channels at the cost of $125. By most accounts it was a nice beta test but failed to live up to subscriber goals. They didn't repeat it for the next 3 Olympics.

Jump 16 years later and NBC has launched an even more ambitious program. Over 2,200 hours of Olympic coverage is available online at This time it is advertiser supported, allowing free access to anyone with a broadband connection.

This event is being heraled as the next evolution of online video. NBC is using it as proof that they can capture viewers beyond the TV. Nielsen is using it as a testing ground for cross-media measurement. Media agencies are using it to show they understand media integration. And Microsoft is quietly gaining millions of installs for their Silverlight video player.

Which still raises the question: Is anyone watching? Does the online video long tail extend to the preliminary round of women's 63kg wrestling - mat B?

Olympics online viewership is currently at 6 million a day (no word on what % of that is actually from North America), but expect it to be promoted as a success no matter how many people show up. The online video industry needs something to rally around right now. It is starting to get a bit confusing out there.

It was so easy when branded video content (BudTV) and custom online networks (Joost) bombed, and TV reruns seemed to be the path to video success (iTunes, NBC, ABC, CBS, etc.)

Now we have a new breed of online video portals that are collecting content from a variety of networks with hopes of revenue sharing (hi NBC and Fox, er I mean, Hulu; welcome back AOL). Networks that don't even exist anymore are even bringing their shows out of VHS storage and looking to make some advertising bucks (where have you been hiding The WB?)

Then you have the TV-quality shows that exist only online, providing consumers with new options for their entertainment fix. Short-form content like The Onion and Will Ferrel's Funny Or Die. Webisodes like MSN's Republicrats and MySpaceTV's Quarterlife (which really bombed when they tried to move it to Prime Time). Hollywood creative one-offs like Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. And don't forget the custom video shows produced by marketers such as Axe, Betty Crocker, and Unilever/Sprint.

And if that isn't confusing enough for advertisers to digest, now you have NBC creating the online webisode Gemini Division, which is available on a standalone microsite and also accesible via iTunes, Hulu, SciFi Channel, and MySpaceTV. And Google bypasses the whole idea of a destination for watching video with their recent announcement to spread Seth MacFarlane's new online-only show all over the WWW. Gives new meaning to the online media term "run of network."

In the end, marketers are going to retreat to what is familiar. Which for most of them means sticking with broadcast networks and TV-related content online. And crossing their fingers that things don't get any more complicated.

Wednesday, July 30

Too Late, is Already Taken

Interesting story about HP's nanotechnology initiatives:

HP's grand vision: measure everything

Imagine walking down the supermarket aisle with a cheap device you could hold up to a tomato. If the sensor detects a pesticide residue, you'd know the "organic" label is a lie. Similar tools could track the chemical content of water in a stream, telling you if there was lead contamination and when it got there, or keep constant watch on a bridge and tell if a structural steel beam was at risk of collapse.

Such products are almost certain to become common in coming decades, according to Stan Williams, who heads Hewlett-Packard's Information and Quantum Systems Laboratory. He aims to develop a panoply of microscopic-scale nanotech devices that will be able to measure essentially anything - and at low cost to boot. Viruses, bacteria, the chemical composition of molecules, vibration, moisture levels, particular sounds - these are just some of the things that the super-cheap devices he envisions will be able to detect.

The Internet is great at collecting massive amounts of information. Search engines are great at tracking and sorting massive amounts of information. The WWW is great at giving visual context to massive amounts of information. Mobile technologies are great at collecting/distributing that information anywhere we want. Imagine worldwide tracking of carbon emissions in realtime, viewable via Google Earth.

So it will be interesting to see how these technologies jump the shark into the public space. Toss some in the fridge to automatically add items to your webgrocer shopping list when the food starts to go bad? Paint some on your lawnmower to let you know when it is time to fertilize the grass?

And if marketers start implanting them in their products, and network them together into a massive consumer database (think really small RFID), what research insights and marketing programs might be spawned? At least the privacy groups will then have something bigger to worry about than behavioral ad serving.

Tuesday, July 29

Maybe a Information SuperPanicRoom is Acceptable

So last month I discussed the pleasures of an Internet-free vacation.

This month we went on family vacation #2 in southwest Florida. Standard "live at the beach for a week" lazy tourist trip. We left the laptops at home, but I still had some online connections via my iPhone. Which, as an information retrieval device, came in quite handy for making the trip more enjoyable.

We checked low tide times for optimal sea shell hunting. Quickly found remedies for jellyfish stings (4 beers is the best antidote). Used the new Yelp iPhone app to find good places to eat dinner. The Facebook iPhone app to mock my coworkers with news about manatee sightings, gulf waves, and sunset photos.

But it paid for itself at 4 AM when our 6 year old woke up with major eye pain, after taking a face full of ocean waves the day before. It took less than 15 minutes to find a good local ophthalmologists (yes, mom knew the techical name) via consumer reviews, confirm that they were in-network from our insurance company's site, and pull the exact location/directions via Google Maps. The only bad part was waiting 4 hours to make the appointment.

If you find yourself in the Fort Myers area with a child's scratched cornea, West Coast Eye Care is highly recommended.

Which has me conflicted between being Internet disabled (no access) and Internet restricted (no broadband/computer access, maybe mobile WAP/SMS access) while on vacation.

We could have printed out the tide charts, local restaurants, etc. prior to the trip. But mobile Internet access allows us to be more spontaneous and not have to think so far in advance.

We could just as well have waited until morning to begin calling the insurance company, local eye doctors, etc. and I'm sure everything would have turned out OK. But the ability to speed up treatment by a few hours -- and have some peace of mind at 4 AM -- definitely was preferred.

In the end it is all about self control, which it increasingly difficult in an always-on culture. Of course, once WebTV takes off, it will be less of a debate as long as your hotel room has cable...

Friday, July 11

You Have to be Nice to the IT Department Again

Looks like the IT department has found their opportunity to jump back into online marketing efforts and justify some headcount.

Forrester just published this POV = IT Departments Play Key Role In The Acquisition And Deployment Of Web 2.0 Technologies. They have allowed marketing groups to drive these programs under the guise of "web marketing stuff." But now that Web 2.0 apps are getting more popular and more robust, IT will want to control the efforts.

Which means we are destined for a slowdown in implementation and evolution. Nothing against IT departments (really, please don't shut off my Facebook access). But they exist on disciplined process, technical thoroughness, and the staffing formula where new projects don't justify additional headcount -- just a longer to do list. A mentality that clashes severly with the rough and tumble chaos of online marketing. All those who have been told that a 5 page microsite will take 6 weeks to go live, please raise your hand.

Forrester's recommendation:
Web 2.0 Marketers Must Embrace The IT Department

My recommendation from the agency side of things:
Try to keep your Web 2.0 efforts off the "client site." Disguise it as part of an online media buy or short-term marketing effort. It worked for microsites for years.

Here's the Forrester summary:
Marketing departments, corporate communications, or other lines of business led early enterprise Web 2.0 deployments, with IT departments along for the ride, if they were involved at all. That dynamic is changing rapidly; our recent Web 2.0 survey shows IT departments taking a more active role in the acquisition and deployment of Web 2.0 technologies. Budgetary controls, the need for integration and technical skills, and the growing importance of Web 2.0 tools are all putting IT departments in the driver's seat. Technology product managers and marketers will need to not only deal with these departments but also appeal to them outright. Those that can do so most effectively stand to close more deals, shorten the sales cycle, and grow deployments more easily.

This Way To The Information Supertrail

Just spent some time in the Michigan UP deep woods. Cabins, lakes, fishing, beer. No cellphone access, internet connections, or even a hardlined phone.

After a week of being cut off from instant information, you realize that you could survive without the internet. I missed George Carlin dying and the break of Madonna's divorce rumors. And I didn't know exactly what the weather would be like when I pushed the boat off at 6 AM. But jumping off the Info Superhighway was a nice break.

On the other hand my cousin, who is a freshman in college, found a 3' X 3' area in her cabin where she could get a weak cellphone signal. She spent a lot of time standing in one spot mashing away at her Sidekick keyboard.

Which made me contemplate The Kids today. Personally, I am old enough to remember life before email, WWW, and Windows 3.1. A week without it is a blast to my past. I suffered through AOL on a 28K modem, so tolerating slow webpage downloads on my 2G iPhone isn't complete torture. But The Kids will have no concept of life prior to always on / always fast / always realtime information.

Richard Louv is co-founder of the Children & Nature Network. He wrote a great book titled Last Child in the Woods. It analyzes the connection with children and nature, and the impact of society's alienation between the two. He warns about the decline of "unstructured outdoor play" and Nature Deficiency Disorder. It can be a bit treehugger at times, but overall it raises very valid points regarding how a disconnection from nature can have a broad impact on a child's creativity and social awareness. It can also induce pangs of parental guilt, but even a walk in the local nature reserve is a great first step.

So I think of The Kids and how they will be tracing their nature walks on Google Maps, posting their 24" Northern Pike catches to Twitter, blogging around the campfire. This digital multitasking behavior already runs rampant through most companies. Hotels have started offering conference rooms that don't have Wifi/cellphone/Blackberry coverage to keep offsite meetings ontrack. Why not the same for vacation spots? It was refreshing to tell everyone at work that there was no way to contact me for the next 10 days. Not my fault! Don't even try! You could probably charge more for those cabin rentals or all-inclusive resorts.

Meanwhile I posted my vacation photos to my Facebook page, staked out our next nature vacation on Google Earth, and found a section on that tracks prime fishing times throughout the day. Old habits are hard to break.

Monday, June 16

Don't Forget to Tivo Your Wii Tonight

Nintendo's Wii Fit marketing inertia keeps building with this announcement:
Tribe, Nintendo Partner For Teen Fitness Program
Tribe Pictures has created a new original Web series, "Get Fit With Alyson," starring Alyson Stoner (of the upcoming Disney film "Camp Rock").

Designed to engage, motive and inspire teens to exercise and live a healthy lifestyle, each 3-minute webisode in the continuing series features Alyson leading other teens through a fun exercise routine, an unscripted chat with the cast about the things on their minds, and her personal musings in "The World According to Alyson."

What is most interesting is that additional video content supporting the program will only be available via the Wii's internet channel/browser. The Big 3 have always positioned their newest gaming consoles as entertainment systems. This is one of the first attempts to deliver original video content through them. Sony's recent announcement of their interactive gaming show is next, although they are charging $3 a month for it.

Would you rather watch video content on your inferior computer monitor or your large screen plasma? Gaming consoles are quickly becoming the new consumer device for accessing web content. So now broadcast TV has more alternative entertainment channels to compete with, ones that share the same screen but are always video on demand.

Wednesday, June 11

The Future of Mobile Advertising is Soooo 1997

So Mobile finally caught up with the web browser circa 1997:

Go2 Media Unveils Animated Banner Units
Aiming to entice brand advertisers, mobile content provider go2 Media is rolling out animated banner units across its network of mobile content sites on wireless carrier decks.

The banners will appear at the top of mobile WAP pages and feature a series of images that display on a 10- to-15-second loop and are optimized to run across all networks and devices. The idea is to go beyond static graphical spots and text ads to offer marketers a more eye-catching option for mobile campaigns.

Seriously, if this is the future of Mobile then we can stop now. Because creative teams are really pining for the good old days when they had to cram their creative into 12K banners the size of postage stamps. And animation is soooo important to improving brand awareness, message association, and purchase intent (make sure you put the logo in every frame).

We are really in trouble as soon as the iPhone supports Flash. And the first phone screen takeover ad that I find will be publicly bashed.

Here's something to bet on: 2 years from now we will be moaning about the decline in mobile banner CTRs and start looking for ways to bait-n-switch over to engagement metrics like "time spent reading sponsor pages." At least until video pre-loads explode on the scene and save the day.

Another option: forget about mobile as a banner channel. Reward consumers for interacting with you, don't just push more advertising messages. You could start with SMS code call to actions on your print ads and on your packaging. Or sponsor unique content that they can't get anywhere else (at least when they aren't staring at the 1st or 2nd screen).

Mobile can provide a true one-to-one experience. Please don't waste it on the same tactics that are choking the WWW.

Friday, June 6

Will Work for Stock Options Again

Back in February I talked about the new trend of senior interactive agency talent moving to the Dotcom world. The trend continues:
Matt Freeman Quits Tribal DDB for Top Job at GoFish
Matt Freeman, the executive who was handpicked a decade ago to build the Omnicom Group digital network Tribal DDB, is stepping down as the agency's CEO to head up GoFish, a publicly traded digital ad network.

The pool of senior marketers with strong interactive experience is not very large, and agencies have been hoarding them ever since the dotcom bust. So they will be a primary focus of recruiters.

The advertising industry is also notorious for incestuous feeding/swapping of talent. Will be interesting to see how it fairs as that talent pool shrinks. Without a doubt they will need to start hiring people from smaller webshops/specialty agencies, or second tier markets, who will struggle with being part of a much larger and complex agency structure.

Thursday, June 5

You Got Your Widget in My RSS Feed! No You Got Your RSS Feed...

So celebrity privacy has gone from losing your cell phone address book to having your social widget go all Terminator on you:
MySpace, Yahoo blame bad APIs for celebrity photos breach
Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan's private MySpace photos are all over the Internet now, thanks to a glitch in the bad APIs.

Programmers are people too, and no online technology is perfect. Especially at the rate that widgets, apps, embedded content tools, etc. are being cranked out right now in hopes of being first to be installed, and first to be acquired by the Big Boys.

But it's one thing to have your embedded Taco Bell game crash on you. Another to have your semi-private information spewed across the internet. Which currently consists of personal photos, fave movies lists, and maybe your address/phone number that you forgot to remove from your resume before uploading it to Linked In.

But as users become more comfortable interacting with the internet via social network pages -- as opposed to using external websites -- the privacy impact will grow.

Why visit your bank's website to pay bills, when you can easily install their banking widget on your iPhone, which accidently notifies others via Twitter of your Girls Gone Wild subscription payments. Or store your personal contacts in a format that accidently gets shared on your Ebay merchant page?

Think of all the online shareware that you've downloaded and discovered is crap. Or online tools from established companies that end up being digitally recalled. Or any new Microsoft launch. Now give those same tools indirect access to your personal information and let the paranoia begin.

Thursday, May 22

Just Waiting for That First Social Network Virus

Symantec (makers of Norton Antivirus/Firewall/RAM Decalcifier) has been touching on the social media privacy topic more than once.

Online Social Networks Go Mainstream

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Will be interesting to see how they try to get into this market, which is just begging for some type of automated "check your private information in public spaces" service.

Wednesday, May 21

Shameless Work Plug

A lot of people have a point of view about the state of healthcare in our country. Giving them a place online to voice that view is a natural fit. Having that site sponsored by an insurance company is bound to raise a few skeptics.

Our client, BlueCross BlueShield of Florida, bought into an entire integrated campaign on that premise -- The Power of the Human Voice. And the site to back it up:

It allows anyone to leave a voice message with their point of view, which anyone can listen to.

At first, you would exepect the consumer commments to be pro-BCBS or perhaps neutered negative. But BCBS agreed to allow all posts to go up (except those violating standard decency/privacy terms). Even those criticizing their company. The result is a collection of consumer voices that range from enraged to emotional to positive. It is amazing how many end with the person thanking BCBS for the opportunity to express themselves.

Seems like a gimmick, but listen to a couple and you will be surprised. And maybe motivated to leave your own.

Have you Facebooked Old Friends Recently?

So in the last week I found two long-lost friends via social network sites. I had lost contact with both of them 8-10 years ago, primarily the victim of natural social network erosion. People moved, email addresses changed, phone numbers evolved. Gradually lost touch.

Every so often I would stalk them online to no avail. One of my friends, code name "Ex-coworker Creative Director", has a semi-popular name. So search engine hits would turn up a ton of results, which after 5 minutes of browsing revealed zero direct hits. My other friend, code name "Study Abroad in England Floormate", has a really unique first/last name that turns up zero hits. None. For the last 10 years.

Both friends excelled at existing under the grid. You wouldn't find a resume link, portfolio site, personal homepage, press release, or even online phonebook entry. They didn't exist online, which was fine with them. Until they felt compelled to join a social network site.

Ex-coworker CD is job searching and joined Linked-In. He actually found me first through the "people you might know" recommendation engine. He still doesn't show up in Google (at least not the first 5 pages of results, which is my breaking point). But a Linked-In search delivers 36 people with his name. He is now easy to find based on his city and job title (#4 on the search results list). We are getting together within the next week to catch up.

Study Abroad in England Floormate is also still Google Free. But I found her in about 5 seconds on Facebook. She's the only person with that name. Her Facebook page is literally blank except for her profile photo, which is obviously her. My "be my friend" invite was positively returned within 6 hours. We are now catching up over email and Flickr.

These are two people who really made no effort to establish an online presence, and they easily stayed off the grid. They aren't luddites, live fairly normal lives, and are probably among a large population of internet users without an online homestead. But one profile on one social network instantly opens them up to public eyes.

The social networks themselves are fairly low risk. You choose how much personal information to make public. Potential "friends" need to be acknowledged by you before they establish formal communication. But as social networks become ground zero for your online existence, the natural extension between your online and offline life begins. One or two words can instantly match your Linked In profile to someone else's photo album on Webshots. Which can link you to those relevant web pages results buried in the search engines. And all of the sudden your name drifts up through the search results flotsam, floating through the thermocline to the top of the results pages.

As more offline information becomes enabled online (cue Google Doomsday soundtrack), these connections become stronger. And your private life slowly inches into public. Which is OK with me. I still have a list of old college roommates who I'd love to catch up with, or at least lurk-view to see what they are up to.

Friday, May 9

Research Confirms: Social Networking Just Like the Rest of the Internet

A variety of new reports on Social Networking came out this week, all confirming the obvious:

Big generalist sites like MySpace and Facebook still dominate (just like the big content portals of AOL, Yahoo, YouTube, etc.). Niche networking sites are growing (just like their predecessors -- niche blogs, niche content sites, niche video sites).

And mobile is going to be a category killer at some, um, point in the near, maybe far, future. We assume. Look over there! A mobile beta program! With a banner on it!

Facebook is getting all the hype right now, but MySpace continues to dominate:
Hitwise reports that received 73.82% of the market share of U.S. visits in April 2008 among a custom category of 57 of the leading social networking websites. Among the top 10 social networking websites, Facebook ranked second by the market share of visits with 4.8%, followed by MyYearbook, which received 1.33%.
All that debate over Facebook Beacons, and they only get 4.8% of the traffic? Damn hype engines.

Which is too bad, since most marketers know that MySpace is a sink hole for online advertising. Too much clutter, terrible CTRs, limited opportunities for branded content. MySpace TV has more opportunities but even News Corp, MySpace's owner, admitted they have some problems right now attracting advertisers to the largest social network site on the planet.

But despite the dominance of the big social networks sites, here's a recent report about the growing area of niche community sites. Which may be a more accurate place to spend your client's marketing dollars:
Large numbers of US Internet users joined online communities last year, and membership in such groups is now a mainstream activity. Nearly half of US Internet users surveyed for the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future's "2008 Digital Future Project" report said they belonged to a hobby-oriented online community. A full 41% of respondents belonged to an online social community, and one-third belonged to an online professional community.
If you haven't been to Ning yet, then put that on your list of sites to throw out during buzzword presentations. Especially if you can add that the founder also created the web browser. Not a web browser, the web browser.

And Mobile continues to try to become the new access point, like the baby brother who keeps wanting to tag along on your trip to the mall:

eMarketer forecasts that mobile social networking will grow from 82 million users in 2007 to over 800 million worldwide by 2012.

"This population will comprise current online social networkers who are extending their digital lives to mobile as well as a growing number of mobile-only social networkers," said John du Pre Gauntt, eMarketer senior analyst and co-author of the new report, Mobile Social Networks. "Early reports suggest strong user demand for mobile social networks."

Poor Mobile. Still trying to break away from phrases such as "forecasts" and "early reports suggest" and "maybe kind of sort of we think."

Finally, just for fun, what happens when the virtual world blurs into the real world:

No Shit Sherlock headline of the day

I am still trying to figure out how they got the remote control out of Dad's hands. But that is probably a different study.
Survey: Moms Skip Ads on DVRs
Despite redoubling their efforts, TV networks have much to do to entice viewers to stick around and watch commercials, according to new research from MindShare that focused on American moms.

Monday, April 28

Your Viral Campaign May Need a Sarbanes Oxley Lawyer

There are many more examples where a marketer's "secret" word of mouth effort became a PR disaster. So it isn't something generally recommended.

But still, it will be enough for the lawyers to stifle any word of mouth effort without a full "brought to you by BRAND NAME" disclosure. Which in turn will stifle the creativity, which will stifle the impact of the program.

From AdAge:

U.K. Cracks
Down on Word-of-Mouth With Tough Restrictions

Coming Legislation Makes It a Criminal Offense for Brands to Falsely Represent Themselves as Consumers

Word-of-mouth marketing in the U.K. will face radical restrictions starting May 26, when it will become a criminal offense for brands to seed positive messages online without making the origin of the message clear. Brand owners will face fines or even prison sentences if they contravene the consumer-protection regulations. The legislation came into force across Europe on Jan. 1, 2008, and is set to begin in the U.K. next month.

Reconsider That Photo on Facebook

I told you Google Face is coming... From the NY Times:

A Google Prototype for a Precision Image Search
Google researchers say they have a software technology intended to do for digital images on the Web what the company’s original PageRank software did for searches of Web pages. On Thursday at the International World Wide Web Conference in Beijing, two Google scientists presented a paper describing what the researchers call VisualRank, an algorithm for blending image-recognition software methods with techniques for weighting and ranking images that look most similar.

Wednesday, April 23

No Shit Sherlock headline of the day

Expectant Moms Spread the Word Online

"Moms-to-be trust word of mouth from other moms. And they're going to the Internet to get it."

Mobile Jumps on the Engagement Trend

Not exactly rocket science, but at least they are talking about testing the effectiveness of mobile video in this early stage of consumer adoption. Hopefully the industry skips over clickthrough rates as the primary measurement.

Interactive mobile broadcast TV might be the longest buzzword of the year.

GoldSpot: Interactive Ads Work Best On Mobile TV

Even with content expanding rapidly on mobile devices, many questions remain about whether consumers will be receptive to advertising. A Silicon Valley company, which believes it has a solution to the retention challenge, is offering mobile TV programmers and service providers what it believes is a unique way to gauge that effectiveness.

GoldSpotMedia believes that targeted and interactive ads have the best chance of resonating on mobile TV. In turn, it has developed a product that allows dynamic ad insertion within the content, hoping to better match marketers with interested consumers. Interactive ads--prompting a consumer to receive a coupon or receive crucial info--can also be staged.

Tuesday, April 22

Engagement, The Old Metric Made New Again

About two months ago, rich media ad network VideoEgg announced they would sell banners on a Cost Per Engagement model (my post regarding that announcement).

Kellogg's is now following the same model for an upcoming campaign. From AdAge:

Starcom's Ad Deal for Kellogg's Hinges on Engagement:
Banner-Ad Campaign Based on Cost per Interaction

At a time when marketers are increasingly relying on engagement as a key metric of the success of an online ad campaign, Publicis Groupe media agency Starcom has brokered an online display-media deal based on cost per interaction rather than the more traditional metric of cost per exposure. The deal was made on behalf of the Kellogg Co. with online ad rep firm Gorilla Nation.

The campaign introduces two new Eggo products, French Toast Waffles and Mini Muffin Tops, to the children's market in a series of rich-media banner ads. The banner ads, placed on sites including, feature kid-friendly interactive games such as mashing up foods (chocolate and hot dogs, for example) and measuring how delicious they are.

Considering average rich media banner engagement rates are 5% - 10%, it could be a great payment move by the media sites/networks depending on the pricing model.

It also delivers a much larger results number than CTRs (still between 0.10 - 0.15% on average), which will make clients think their program is more effective. But this could quickly move engagement into the lowest-common metric that CTRs have occupied for the last 10 years for online advertising programs.

It is also nothing new. Rich media networks such as Pointroll and Eyeblaster have been reporting engagement metrics for years.

Also note that the type of sites Kellogg's is on are high engagement already, and targeting kids who would be more likely to interact with ads. Might be different results if they are running on information-focused sites targeting moms.

It's still important to determine what the engagement is achieving, and how it gets tracked down to actual business results. And as "engagement" banners increase in number, expect the engagement rates to decrease. Just like CTRs decreased when more and more banners were shoved online. Remember the good old days when 0.5% CTR was the average?

Friday, April 11

Just Wait Until the Kids Get These Tattoos

Looks like Google is starting to push forward with semacodes (ClickZ article). Applying technology to the oldest medium of all = newspaper print.

Semacodes are UPC-like codes that you photograph with your camera phone, then automatically sends branded content to your phone, or your phone to a specific mobile site. The official info is at

Still a relatively new technology, although I've seen it mentioned a couple times in the press recently. So expect it to start getting hyped.

It requires users to download an application to their phone in order to do it, so adoption in the US will be really low for now.

You will hear a lot of marketers and tech companies talk about how great it is in the "theoretical" sense. Which is unfortunately what usually happens with any mobile technology. Right up there with GPS targeting of coupons (I'm still waiting for that SMS coupon from my local Starbucks when I walk past it). Or mobile couponing in general.

At least until Google's Android mobile phone operating system launches, in which I bet the application will be built into.

It has started getting some penetration in Europe (BMW example). I expect Asia will be first mass users due to their reliance on mobile phones/mobile web.

There was some US news earlier this year about it. You can get the mobile app at Scanbuy's site or text "scan" to 70734. Sorry, not for iPhones yet.

Sprint even ran a print ad in Wired a couple months ago trying to explain what semacodes are. It was about 8 paragraphs long.