Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The future is already here...

It's just not evenly distributed yet... said William Gibson (a Canadian science fiction writer, in 1999).

George Orwell published his visionary work 1984 in 1948. Futurology is a fun field to play in.

Yet, increasingly the stuff that dreams and films are made of are becoming reality. Remember the film Minority Report? There was lots of stuff in there that made me go WOW when I first saw the film. In 2002. I watched it again recently. 7 years later and an awful lot of those futuristic notions are now possible or accessible to the masses.

Mobile search is just one of those areas of rich opportunity, and a clever Dutch company have recently launched Layar - an augmented reality mobile browser / search tool, combining location based technology with search for super-relevant search results whereever you are. This is seriously clever stuff, but real. Already. It's just not evenly distributed yet, but it's coming to a smart phone near you, very soon.

The implications for brands and services is pretty exciting for those prepared to spend some time getting their head around something that seems pretty futuristic. Watch this:

Taking prisoners is awfully bad manners

It's hot in London. Or at least hot for London. Over 30 degrees Celsius and the city starts falling apart. Tempers flare as temperatures rise. I like hot sunny days so I am not complaining but I may just use it as my excuse to RANT.

I've had an AOL email account since 1996. That's a very long time in the digital world.

At the time I acquired it, it was a no-brainer: either have a sensible email address or plus my 56.6kbps dial up access.

These days I have Gmail accounts, Yahoo accounts, Hotmail accounts, other personal and work accounts but my aol address has been my default email forever, simply because I had it first. I've been paying then £5 a month or thereabouts for the privilege of running that (and a couple of accounts for my parents) even though I've only accessed it via webmail and not required dial-up/broadband access services for years.

Yes, arguably I should have cancelled it sooner but the cost of reproducing business cards, teaching my parents how to use a new browser etc was greater than the £60 p.a apathy cost. Then recently they wrote to me to say my dial-up tarif would no longer be available and they'd move me to a £10 a month tariff. Which was enough to nudge me out of apathy.

So I wrote to them and asked them whether I could cancel my access service I've not used for 5 years but have been paying for, but retain my account / email address etc, given that by logging in I am seeing their advertising so my eyeballs still have value against advertising impressions.

They wrote back and said yes of course I could cancel my access, but no I couldn't retain my email address, contacts, filed mail etc, instead I'd have to migrate everything to a Now what's the point in that?

Nor can I export my contacts via csv or other means to other accounts. I feel like I am being held hostage.

Taking prisoners in the digital world is very bad form. Making exit, transfer, account deletion, email unsubscribe etc easy should be a pre-requisite of an e-crm programme.

AOL have failed. Badly. They could keep me and my eyeballs or they could lose me & my parents and make a very vocal enemy in the process. Once I've found the time to transfer my contacts and key filed emails over it will be Arrivederci AOL.

Foolish and shortsighted.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Did you get your Facebook URL?

It's not big nor clever to boast but sometimes you can afford to be smug. In an earlier post I forecast a landgrab and stressed the importance of securing your Facebook vanity URL as soon as they were released a few weeks ago.

500k usernames went in the first 15 minutes after Facebook had enabled the vanity URL registration. 6 million were signed up for in the first 48 hours. You have to pity the smart Alec who ignored advice and forever forward will be Doh. That's what I call a CLM: career limiting moment!

However, if you did miss out, and you are not that precious about exactitudes you can get a near-ish Facebook vanity URL of sorts here.

Although you will of course have marked yourself out to the digerati as having been caught snoozing ;-)

Mashing Michael Jackson

Mashing: The art of digitally re-purposing something to create something new. It's the online equivalent of Play-Doh, where the possibilities are colourful and endless.

A leading Hollywood script writer I once had the opportunity to meet said that in the movies there are only ever 7 storylines, but an infinite way to tell the same basic stories. So I love finding things that scrape or re-purpose content created elsewhere. It's clever, and a brand should be flattered if people are taking the trouble to mash or repurpose your content - it's a compliment and means they've engaged with it.

One of my favourite, favourite websites is Twistori, a visually well presented scrape of Twitter using 6 key words. It's mesmerising. It can't have cost much to create but it is fascinating. And in itself it's based on an interesting project called We feel fine. Both have been around for a while now but I keep coming back to them.

In the same vein, I've just come across a very topical mash-up. Unless you've been at sea or hiding in a cave all weekend it will have been hard to have escaped the news that Michael Jackson died. Yes, really! The dubious taste jokes have been circulating by email and text for days now, and to add to the fun some enterprising developers have created this "tribute" which sets Tweets featuring words that form the lyrics to Billie Jean to the rhythm of the song and the video on YouTube. Clever!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Addicted to the web?

Think yourself lucky you aren't in China where they have some rather questionable approaches to changing people's habits. Owch.

True, we all get what I call "digital indigestion" from time to time. The pace of change on the web can be overwhelming even for the smartest and geekiest amongst us. Last time I felt like that I discovered this amusing antidote...

But it's important for everyone to be AFK (away from keyboard) from time to time. In a world where written communication is overtaking the spoken word and "talking" to people via IM, Skype, Facebook, Email, blog posts, texts etc is increasingly frequent and convenient, but it should never replace face to face contact! We don't want everyone to end up like "the Grey bloke" now do we?

Monday, 15 June 2009

Who needs a website these days anyway?

First we had Boone Oakley - an ad agency doing entertaining things with tagged video content in YouTube enabling you to nav around their "site" that wasn't a site in the traditional sense; now the Webby's (the web's equivalent of the Oscars / Grammy's/BAFTA's etc), have jumped on the bandwagon:

Have a pootle around this...

Friday, 12 June 2009

Media's evolving...

There is no doubt the media landscape has changed irrevocably over the last few years, and will continue to do so. Many of the old models are being questioned and we're all trying to get our heads around this brave new digital world that's changing so fast we're running to keep up.

So with thanks to a friend of mine in the US who sent this to me, here's a well made piece of UGC (User Generated Content) that made me smile today and made some valid points along the way.

Grab a coffee, apply your headphones and watch for 8 minutes. Long by many video standards but a story well told

And if you still need convincing that publishing is in a tricky place, and old models have to change, read this article about USA Today's plans to attempt to monetise some of their digital content.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Short term cuts or long term gain?

My buddies over at Breeze Marketing published a piece yesterday on the importance of keeping an eye on the long term marketing and business objectives, even when the short term pressures are piling up. How right they are.

Business realities frequently do mean that carefully laid plans do have to be revisited and amended when the world around us changes, but we need to be careful about cutting off our nose to spite our face. E-Marketer coincidentally published a piece today on short term marketing focus suggesting that lots of marketing organisations intend to re-ramp up their spending again 3-6 months before the current recession ends. The question remains though, just when might that be? Nobody managed to foresee the timing nor the speed with which the global economy crumbled last autumn.

There has been many many pieces of research done over the years that ratify the approach of under-dog or No 2 players in a market maintaining or increasing their marketing spend during hard times, seizing the opportunity to play on a more level playing field than they normally could, stealing a greater share of voice and often market share with it, advantages which they frequently go on to retain long after the crunch time has passed.

Food for thought. Let's think hard and spend smart.

Missing tricks

Day 2 of the Tube strike, so another walk to and from work for me and many of the other 3 million commuters that usually use the underground network before 9.30am. Everyone knows that Britons love a crisis to bring people together and to give them something to whinge about. For the last two days the commuting community have been united in a common inconvenience.

So where were the brands capitalising on the opportunity to get people to talk?

I spend a lot of time evangelising about the power of the voice of the people, the need to leverage people's personal influence networks and how brands need to be creating conversation currency. Yet here was an opportunity staring everyone in the face, an event that everyone knew was likely to happen, bar last minute strike settlement, and yet as I walked down Oxford Street yesterday did I see a single enterprising coffee shop seeking to add a moment of surprise and delight to the drudge of a disrupted morning? Any brands trying to bring a smile to someone's face by giving them a positive brand experience they could go on to talk about? No. Nient. Nada.

Sunscreen brands, drinks brands, cereal bar brands, blister-care products, I can think of endless mainstream products and brands that could have capitalised on the hundreds of extra people walking past their retailers. 2 days running. But no....

The best I can offer up, and I laud them for doing so, is (the price comparison site) who at least took the initiative this morning to pay someone to stand outside Paddington station armed with this banner and an A-Z to help the lost and perplexed.

It won't have cost them much and I bet I wasn't the only one that noticed. Experiences such as these can interrupt and interject a message and leave a favourable impression.

That might mean someone mentions what they saw / your brand name to their friends and colleagues as a result. It might mean that they shared a Twitpic. Irrespective of the form it takes, that's what I call conversation currency. It can be triggered by all manner of things, BIG or small. Offline or online. But it might well mean that subconsciously or consciously those consumers go on to add your brand name into their brand / service consideration set at a later point in time when an appropriate need arises.

So when these tactical opportunities arise, carpe diem should be a brand's mantra.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Spare me 200 seconds...

According to some research Sony Ericsson published last year 90% of 18-24 year olds only listen to part of a music track before skipping on. Content snacking has become the norm. The average length of a video on YouTube is 2.7 minutes. Which is pretty mental when you think that 20 hours of video are published on YouTube every minute!

But for anyone with a love of movies and a sense of wonder at the time some people seem to have on their hands, spare 200 seconds, all 200 of them and watch this entertaining compilation


Rich pickings in the digital treasure trove this morning.

I've just re-come across Fotopedia (formerly beta'd as Fotonauts).

It's a cross between 2 of my favourite things on the web Flickr & Wikipedia. I love the "Generation G" attitude of the web 2.0 world. It expands my mind daily.

Here's what TechCrunch had to say about Fotopedia. I just know that I am going to enjoy spending some quality time interacting with this site.

Digital Brand "Me"

Personal brand management is becoming more and more important as more and more of our lives end up online. LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, are just a few of the places where snippets of our lives are shared, to a greater or lesser degree publically as we learn to lock down our profiles and get more choosy about what we share with who.

Most people have "googled" themselves at some point, and quite enlightening it is too to see how many alter-ego's you have and what they do. The entertaining bit becomes when you start thinking about the personal and professional implications of what those people are doing online and how that may impact you in cases of mistaken identity. I have a Google Alert set up on my name so I can keep track of that stuff. I also advocate using Pipl - which does interesting deep searches and fishes out data way beyond stuff Google returns.

Anyone that hasn't secured their Facebook profile really should (settings menu / privacy settings), but I would also suggest that you dive in here early Saturday morning (in the UK) and stake your claim ASAP to a proper Facebook username string - so you can go from being to the rather more friendly

I'm forecasting a landgrab. And advising my clients who are brand owners to try and prevent Facebook cybersquatting by registering their interest now. Once those names have gone, they've gone.

Don't tarry.

Google this, Bing that, Search Me

It's been a busier than average few weeks in the world of search engines.

With over 80% of web journeys starting with a search engine (according to some recent EIAA stats) , it's little wonder that in the last round of IAB/PWC figures that PPC / paid for search accounted for circa 60% of digital media spend in 2008. Success in search whether it's natural search rankings of paid for listings, is all about being at the top. Page position is everything.

Search is an interesting marketplace. Google has become a verb. But B.G (before Google), we all happily used Yahoo or Ask Jeeves, and before that those of us who've been navigating the interweb for over a decade can probably recall using AltaVista. Search wars are nothing new. They've just got a bit more interesting recently, as people try and challenge the dominance of the almighty G.

A few weeks back we saw the launch of Wolfram Alpha a "computational knowledge engine" that process queries and returns results in a very different way to Google. A simple search for "London Weather" in Wolfram Alpha gives me current weather across a range of metrics (pressure, dewpoint, temperature), details about the weather station used, graphed trends over time, whereas Google gives me a snapshot for the next few days and text links to the BBC and Met Office. WA has been called the search engine of choice for scientists and techies. I like it. For certain searches I will almost certainly use it over Google because I get a more holistic view of related information and answers in easy to process format. Try it.

Last week saw the much discussed launch of Bing, the latest incarnation of search offering from Microsoft. Although they are positioning it as a "decision engine" rather than a search engine. It's visually arresting without question, with big beautiful pictures that change everyday, and the reason we're all supposed to love it is because it's taking a "vertical" approach to search so that we get actual results relating to our searches (e.g integrated price comparison results) that we can interact with without leaving the search results page. Full functionality on this level hasn't hit the UK yet but most of the reviews I've read seem quite positive, and I do rather like the fact that video search results auto-play in the results page when you hover over them, which plays nicely into that notion of content snacking and removes the frustration of you ending up on a click-chase to find the content you were actually looking for.

But the fact remains that in the time-stretched world we live in, we're creatures of habit and it's going to take a lot of motivation and perceived benefit to convince the masses to shift from the habitual Google search to trying something new and getting used to processing the results in different ways. I hope the media buzz does succeed in convincing people to try it though. It's healthy to have a competitive marketplace.

For me search-wars don't stop there either. Visual search is going to play a big part of the future. Younger generations process information in increasingly visual ways rather than the text-based world I grew up in. So why wouldn't they want search results presented in the same way? More and more kids start their information searches with YouTube, not Google.

I increasingly play with Search Me, I like the interface and the way it presents results. Like Bing, I can get an at-a-glance view of results that enable me to judge much more quickly whether a suggestion is what I am looking for or not.

Mobile search is going to get bigger and bigger as penetration of smartphone continues to grow rapidly and the networks facilitate mobile web use via sensible data packages that remove the barrier of un-predictable pain in the wallet. Image recognition based search apps like Kooaba and SnapTell might still be relatively fledgeling but the potential of this for consumers and marketers alike fills me with excitement.

But search engines still only reach the consumer actively seeking information, and there are times when brands need to interrupt people to get their message across, so getting overly-obsessed with search engine marketing would be potentially missing the chance to talk to lots of potentially valuable prospects, via paid for advertising or deeper consumer connections created in a myriad of ways.

So challenge yourself, go play, there's much more to search than Google if you can be bothered to try.

Content can live on and on

There's yet another Tube strike in London. Travel chaos and misery for many. I frequently walk to work from my mainline station so it hasn't significantly inconvenienced me, and luckily it wasn't raining.

Watching all the people out on bikes who clearly haven't ridden one since they were 10, and the nervous people wandering around with an A to Z in their hands (turn the GPS on your phones on chaps!) made me recall this song / video which has been around for yonks but which always makes me laugh. (There's some slightly colourful language, be warned if you are of a sensitive disposition!)

Forget traditional awareness build and ad decay curves, on the web content can live forever being watched and revisited in peaks and troughs as it becomes more or less relevant, or found by different groups of people. It's reach accumulates over time in less predictable ways but that shouldn't make its contribution any less valuable. Brands just need to think about it differently

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Design Evolution

I'm a huge fan of design, iconography, architecture and the visual arts. So this article in the Guardian with it's very now "Google Squared" approach to showing design evolution caught my attention this morning. Thanks to Mark over at creative freelancing for sharing.

Monday, 8 June 2009

These are a few of my favourite things...

So many to choose from, but hey, this is my very own publishing platform, the beauty of which being I can say what I want,when I want.

So here's a cheer and free plug (I do work in marketing and advertising after all!) for several sites/apps that I've found incredibly handy time after time after time.

If you haven't tried them do:

SnagIt: A fab tool (with a free trial period) that's incredibly handy for taking screengrabs with functionality well beyond ye olde "print screen" trick so you can capture full scrolls of web pages at a touch of a button, annotate them, resize them and all manner of things that make evidencing your point in presentations so much easier, and having consistent sizes to your screengrabs without hassle. Love it.

: My very own free FTP service - really useful for sharing large files, that otherwise won't go through some people's mail servers

LogMeIn: A brilliant (free) remote desktop application that allows me to provide all manner of useful helpdesk services to those a little less technical than I, saving a lot of heartache and frustration on all sides

NX Powerlite: In these days of creating Powerpoint files full of graphics and images, file sizes rapidly tot up, and this very cool tool, (also with a free trial period) does amazing things to crush down your file size without compromising quality (visibly) nor faffing about with winzip or similar.

Kiss YouTube: With more and more content taking a multi-media format, there are innumberable occasions where I need to be able to grab stuff to share at times where I might be in places with no interweb connectivity (shock, horror, indeed these still exist!), and this handy site allows me to convert most videos on YouTube into FLV's. Then I use this to convert them into something a little more universally shareable or friendly...

Media Converter: This is really handy (especially the Firefox plug in) to convert files from one format to another i.e FLV's to WMV's, MPEGs, AVI's etc

Pixlr: There are frequently times when I haven't got my own laptop with me full to the brim of editing software, but need to tweak something. Pixlr is a reduced down functionality, web based Photoshop equivalent that I find very handy.

And then of course there's Skype. VOIP calling is hardly new news these days but with 405million subscribers (May 09) there's a lot of people out there using it and it's amazingly handy to keep in touch with friends, family and business contacts near and far, without racking up ridiculous phone bills, and with the added benefit of video calling. I know of 90 year olds using it to keep up with their great grandchildren. I have a friend who was able to show off her new son to me at 3 days old despite us living either side of the Atlantic. And I have another friend whose 2 year old daughter thinks all phone calls work with a visual element and was recently applying a mobile phone to her arm to show off a recent bruise to her grandmother! Digital native!

Go play

One small step...

And once more I'm contributing to the blogosphere.

Yesterday 61k new blogs were created (according to Nielsen Blogpulse). That's a lot of people expressing their views on all manner of things, joining the "Generation G" revolution where giving is the new taking and sharing is the new giving. G for generosity.

Participation, a very web 2.0 behaviour.

So in the interest of sharing in a slightly more informed fashion than just making my Delicious bookmarks available for all to see, I've decided to commit fingers to keyboard and start this blog.

Working in the digital realm is an exciting place to be. The digital landscape changes so fast there's no time to get bored, and the creativity I see never ceases to amaze me. So for those that don't get to spend as much time exploring the treasures out there, may this blog be a short cut to innovative, quirky, interesting, fun, awful or just random things I've encountered on my daily meanderings around Cyburbia.

All the opinions I express are my own and don't reflect those of any of my clients or companies with which I may have worked or be working currently.

So let's start off with a link to something I spotted last week. The "literal video" movement has an interesting take on music videos, and this version of Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart video made me laugh more than anything else I saw all week.

In fact having been rather over-exposed to the song having worked with Cadbury last autumn on the Gorilla ad re-mix campaign (itself originally UGC), it made me feel a whole lot better! Imagine the power of linking that amount of laughter and goodwill to a brand? Cadburys do a great job of that, but so many brands are still totally missing the point, and just publishing ads designed for TV and hoping for the best.

Yes the good ones do get watched, forwarded, embedded and talked about, but not many brands are brave enough to depart from the tried and trusted rules of TV commercials and embrace the true potential of the digital realm.