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.