Friday, 21 August 2009

Wolfram Alpha's been busy...

It's August. Silly season in the press. The one time of year you can get a seat on the train in the morning without a fight. But whilst some are enjoying hard earned breaks for others the work continues, and the development team at "computational knowledge engine" Wolfram Alpha have been busy busy according to a recent blog post from Stephen Wolfram. Well worth a read.

Wolfram Alpha might not yet have ironed out all the wrinkles but it definitely sounds like they are making process, and I do like the way it presents results if I'm looking for certain types of answers. Google won't teach me how to play chords.Nor play the audio file too so I know what they should sound like.

Sure, WA hasn't made the impact Bing has on the overall search market but it was always going to be slightly more niche because of it's scientfic skew, and it hasn't had the might of Microsoft and some big OEM deals behind it either.

It deserves to retain a place on the search radar.

Augmented & Alternate Reality

AR: It's a topic that freaks a lot of digital immigrants out but I am seeing more and more interesting applications of AR, and in particularly interesting ones in the field of mobile.

Here's the first AR Tubemap application for the iPhone 3 GS I've come across (there are heaps of other useful Tube / Transport related mobile apps). I think it makes a lot of sense as there are tons of people who walk miles underground when actually they could change lines at street level and walk half the distance if only they knew.

But the useful stuff apart, the notion that more and more of us will have an avatar based alter-ego / virtual world presence is what people really struggle to get their heads around. Not convinced? Read this post from Digital Stats. This video makes some interesting points (listen carefully to the lyrics) in a slick way. Well worth investing 3 minutes in. Clearly the opportunities are far wider than this suggests but I liked the way it told the story.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Move over bumper stickers here's Twibbon

Thanks to my squirrelling around the web (see last post), I just found Twibbon.

Twibbon effectively allows you to add a badge to your Twitter Photo icon, allowing all the people following you to see that you are happy to be associated with whatever your Twibbon says/shows. There are loads to choose from already, ranging from that pesky photo-crashing squirrel to all manner of charities and causes whether it's I love Firefox to Breast Cancer's pink ribbon.

It's easy to add to your profile, easy to remove, and not hard to create one either (you just need a gif / png file), as I learned playing around. I'm too short of time right now to go and create a new one just for me but to evidence the point here's one I just adopted.

I can think of so many ways this could be used by brands, even if you only choose to sport a particular twibbon for a short while. What a fantastic way of amplifying your message via your brand advocates. Better go and mention it to some clients!

Word of Mouth: What works and why

I could write reams on this topic as I am endlessly frustrated by brands coming to me and saying I want a "viral".

Let's be clear: Swine flu is a VIRUS.

Something can be transmitted VIRALLY (adverb).

There is NO SUCH THING in digital marketing as a VIRAL.

Viral transmission of content is SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS.

People will only VOLUNTARILY pass on things that they think are interesting, funny, useful and that will reflect well upon the sender in the eyes of the recipient.

Rant over.

To illustrate the point here's a snapshot of something someone sent me earlier today and I am now choosing to share with you because a) it made me laugh and b) it
evidences the point I've just made.

The full version is here and well worth a click.

There's another point about time-sensitivity and WOM that needs to be made but I'll save that for another day. In the interim I'll make the point the short way by saying that yesterday someone flagged up to me the well-established-but-until-now-had-passed-me-by phenomenon of the photo-crashing squirrel, which had me in stitches yesterday, and then again this morning when having sent a friend the link to an "insert the squirrel into your picture" site they sent me back their attempt. Imagine harnessing the value of that level of consumer participation and positive sentiment to your brand by facilitating something similar.

I'm saddened that Reader's Digest (the original offline Twitter?) has filed for Chapter 11 this week, but as a tribute to a longstanding part of their publication I'll sign off, with "Laughter: The best medicine."

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Twitter - are you sure it's not for you??

I meet lots of people who've heard of Twitter because of all the media exposure it's had, but still haven't figured out what they could use it for. Or they signed up, got confused and gave up. As I mentioned in a recent post it's uses are growing and changing all the time, as more and people explore and use it in more and more creative ways.

I have a very good friend who's a serious, serious tri/quadrathlete and he tweets (@xterramac) about his training schedule as it's easier for him to update via his phone when he's on the move than it is for him to blog (well worth a read if you think getting off your sofa to grab a beer from the fridge is hard work, or that a work out is legging it 10 metres down the platform to jump on the tube as the doors are closing).

I use Twitter as an information filter, frequently swapping links and things of interest with my fellow digerati buddies. There are people tweeting about all manner of things both general and niche, so with a little exploring you are guaranteed to find something that's of interest to your work or your hobbies.

If you need some inspiration check out the many many Top 10 Twitterers to follow lists that are posted here after laid down a challenge. You'll find everything from writers tojazz artists, wine lovers to Mummy bloggers, cigar lovers to designers, foodies to photographers. Proof of the power of the micro-community! You'll risk RSI from scrolling, because there are lots of contributions but it's fascinating stuff. I also discovered Twitter Grader today which gives a Twitter-rating pertaining to your sphere of influence.

Go explore.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Amusing Tweet..sign of the times

I just found this tweet conversation going on between a friend of mine and another friend of theirs:

Tweet #1: "Decided to say goodbye to myspace"

Tweet #2 (in response): "were you alone on it? who uses it? Bands? Kids?"

Insightful in many ways - people's perceptions are increasingly that MySpace is rather last year in social network terms. I'm not so sure, I think its use is just altering. Facebook does your personal connections, Twitter does a mixture of personal connections & short form RSS from news sources you define, and MySpace is becoming more about arts-based micro-communities, as it is increasingly primarily associated with music.

Nice thought: advertising=fireworks, social media = bonfires

A great Guy Fawkes party needs both!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Social Media: Have you embraced it yet?

Here's an update of a previous video on the evolution of technology, how it's changing our world, and how we interact with each other. This version has a social media bias, and is well worth spending 4 minutes with. Make a cup of tea and watch this:

Then sit back and ask yourself if you or your brand are doing enough to engage with the consumer the way they want to engage or are you still shouting AT them?

I love Hugh MacLeod's cartoon...

There's some interesting stats about the social media landscape here too.

Kick back and smell the coffee

Thanks to a leaderboard that appeared over my inbox this morning, I've found a lovely example of a brand that understands how they can use digital spaces to build positive associations around their brand without having to bash the consumer over the head with a brand message based on product attributes.

Carte Noire coffee have built this site which features a series of short video clips of 3 well known actors reading passages from a variety of novels, classic and modern, and in so doing encouraging consumers to a) spend time with their site and b) building the association of kicking back and indulging yourself with their brand.

Nice. Full marks for tying in display advertising to deliver drive to site too. I suspect there's probably activity in other media as well.

Right, I'm off for a coffee and to spend some quality time with the not terribly ugly Dan Stevens from The Line of Beauty, whilst he reads me a passage from Middlemarch. Maybe next time I buy coffee it will be Carte Noire.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Kids online & changing information preferences

I grew up in a world of text.(The escapism, stimulation and endless open possibilties offered by reading captured my imagination at a very young age. I've been an avid reader since the age of 3, at which point I aspired to be a librarian. That didn't quite happen, but I still read an awful lot, professionally and personally.

Yet, however well assimilated I might be as a digital immigrant, my outlook and my information processing preferences will always be different to the kids growing up today. Kids today are used to control in so many areas of their lives. What they want to watch, where and when they want to watch it and on which screen are choices I didn't have as a child. I watched what was on TV when it was on, or I did something else instead. Control and video content go hand in hand for them.

So no surprises then that the top thing kids are searching for online is "YouTube". They live in a multi-sensory, multi-media world and are used to consuming and processing information in a far more visual fashion than I do. They learn from videos as well as seeing them as entertainment. Their preferences for video content should be challenging the way we/brands think about engaging and interacting with them. Are we still providing text / static image content because that's the way we are used to processing information?

We're humans, we're all evolving all the time, our language and communications styles are changing and new forms of etiquette or netiquette are evolving for these new channels. I wouldn't dream of writing a letter or an email using the abbreviated style I SMS / text in, yet I able-y text in abbreviated form in several languages. Some of us at least have learned to write and decode what to others appears to be a whole new language.

I'm still a wee bit baffled by one of the bigger YouTube phenomenons for kids, Fred, a series of video diaries by a high-pitched squeaky voiced kid, but that's probably just because I'm not 10.
But let's not just blame it on age, because my preferences are changing too, facilitated by the evolution of technology. I'm now watching more video content online. My TV hasn't been turned on in 4 months, and the last "TV" programme I watched was in March, on the BBC's amazing catch up service iPlayer. I watched it on my laptop. Who needs TV when there's TED anyway?

I now manage the vast amount of digital information I process in a day differently from the way I did a year or so ago. Increasingly I am unsubscribing from email newsletters and signing up instead to RSS feeds for some things and following others on Twitter.

My email inboxes are much more about person-to-person communication, just as they were before I started allowing brands to talk to me in that space. This makes my inbox processing less onerous and quicker. Maybe it's my OCD-side but I like to feel on top of my inbox. I am making different choices about what I need to read and act upon now, what I want to read but is less time-sensitive, and what I like to keep an overview of in terms of new news. Working in the digital space things become old news quickly.

My RSS feeds (the things I want to read, but don't need to be read now, generally bloggers who have interesting points of view), I now get displayed in a much more fun magazine style format thanks to Feedly. Industry alerts I tend to follow via feeds on Twitter. These allows me to process a vast amount more information at a glance, which saves me time and enables me to prioritise much more swiftly what I want to dig into in more detail.

Tweetdeck has vastly improved my Twitter experience, so if you haven't yet ventured into the Twittersphere, then installing it would be my top tip! I'm currently following a new brand or two for and I a week at a time (this week it's Innocent Smoothies and Top Shop) as I explore how different companies and brands are using the tool. It's very interesting.

Facebook vanity URLs top 50million

Yup! As I have mentioned before, getting your Facebook URL is important. Personal brand management is essential: we all live more and more of our lives online, moving forward with the next new thing so quickly that we often forget about the traces we've left behind, and what not might bother us now might well come back and haunt us in the future. A little care with what we are posting, tagging, being tagged in; the occasional spring-clean de-friending exercise and an intermittent double check of your security and privacy settings is no bad thing.

So if you haven't got your Facebook url go and get it quick! Login and then go to Just remember that whatever you choose will stick so no silly puns, nicknames or typos that you might regret in years to come.

In the 2 months since the vanity URLs have been available 50m of them have been snapped up. That's pretty impressive when you think that Facebook now has 250m+ subscribers globally, up 50m since April. Even more amazing when you think that it took radio 38 years to reach a global penetration of 50 million, TV 13 years, the web 4 years, the iPod 3 years, and Facebook itself at the outset 2 years.

We'll never be able to outrun the developments in digital, so we've just got to learn to keep up as best as we can, frustrating as it is, when a series of slides I wrote just yesterday as guidance to using certain measurement tools are already out of date this morning 'cos the site I was writing them about changed overnight! Such is the digital life. Sigh and re-write! It's about understanding beta culture and embracing change and flux as a normal state.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Take a search engine challenge

Do you default to Google? Or has my banging on about Bing enticed you to play?

Some research I read recently suggested that there's a huge amount of blind faith in Google to come up with the right results. In fact, in tests, any other search engine results displayed with the Google logo on the top get more votes than if displayed with the accurate search engine logo on top. That's branding for you. Brilliant!

Try a blind search-engine test yourself and see what happens. This site will give you results from Google, Bing and Yahoo and not reveal who the search engine was until after you've voted for which one you liked best.

Entertainingly, preliminary results suggest that the results would be Google: 44%, Bing: 33%, Yahoo: 23%, which is entertaining given the Bing-oo! merge and Google's 70%+ market share domination of the search market.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Creating content doesn't have to cost a fortune: Human dominoes

I must have sat in goodness knows how many meetings with PR agencies over the years where they've wheeled out ye olde,"bugger we've had no time to think about something really relevant or creative to answer your brief, how about we do a World Record attempt for xxxx" approach. Let's face it, it's August, which means silly season for the media so anything goes. At no 18 in the Video Viral chart I get sent once a week, was this world record "attempt" from Benson's Beds (a UK bed and mattress company).

Fair play to them, they've understood that video content doesn't have to cost millions to create, and ideas and creativity rule.

They've grasped that slapping your branding all over something from the outset isn't necessary nor necessarily a positive - people will watch content that's silly, fun or engaging, and if you capture imagination quickly at the beginning there's a reasonable chance they'll watch long enough to get to the "brought to you by" explanation.

It looks this was uploaded on the 26th July and has already had 415k views which isn't too shabby.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Help! Twitter fell over today

Oh no, Twitter was down for a bit a few hours ago. I've seen many tweets / posts / status updates about it, which for me just ratifies the point that Twitter is increasingly becoming an important communications tool that some of us rely on in one way or another.

Here's a few from my contacts:

"arghh Twitter is down? I work on my own, it's my 'watercooler'! Make it work!!"

" twitter is down - hello facebook"

"is everyone surviving with twitter down???"

"#tweetdeck firing on all cylinders again... welcome back fellow tweeters"

A picture tells a thousand words

There's a ton of different free tools available to us to monitor how our brands are being talked about/represented on the web, and figuring out which ones work best against specific tasks requires some trial and effort and often some lateral thinking.

Yesterday I tripped over yet another one, but it has a slightly different, more visual take: It's called Spezify and it gives you a nice very visual / image based overview of how your brand is appearing on the web, drawing from Flickr, Yahoo, MSN, Twitter, Amazon & eBay.

Who needs moodboards anymore when a big screengrab from this site printed out in colour can make the point in a much more dynamic and arresting fashion? It's warm in London today and warm weather and Pimms go together like hand and glove for me, so I decided to use that for my example...

If nothing else hopefully it will re-inforce the point that consumers talk about brands in all manner of every day contexts, and in normal language that isn't about USP's. It might also serve as a reminder that properly tagging image and video content should not be an after-thought if a brand wants to make sure its' official face is properly represented.

Food for thought.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Brilliant mash-up

I just came across this fantastic mash-up via a Tweet from a friend of mine: The London Underground map updated with the designer's favourite pubs on in relation to each station.

Brilliant! Now could someone do a mobile app for that please? The London Underground tube map app is already one of my favourite / most useful apps, but add pub suggestions to it...pure gold!

Social Media: Brands really can't afford to ignore it for much longer

I came across the presentation below on Slideshare (a great resource for the curious, as in the spirit of Generation G (that's genorosity, remember?) there's all sorts of presentations and thought pieces being shared far and wide). If you are a sensitive type, then be warned the F word is used a fair bit, but get over it and watch anyway, this is about the real world, and the way that consumers are embracing social media. It's not going to go away, however far you stick your head in the sand, so smell the coffee and start to work out how your brand could be participating. The rules may not be hard and fast, but if you need help, ask!

Some of the stats are slightly out of date (for example they quote 13 hours of videos uploaded to YouTube a minute, whereas the last stat I saw said 20 hours), but let's face it the accuracy of the numbers is somewhat irrelevant, because the web is changing every second of every day, and all you need to take out is that the number is a LOT.

Stunning Sydney and Bingles

The Bing summer photo competition winner has been announced and the winner was this stunning photo of the Sydney skyline / Centrepoint Tower lit up during a storm.

9400 photos were submitted which is pretty respectable for a relatively small scale initiative that I only saw publicised within the Facebook environment. And if I was Jeremy Somers (the winner) I'd be pretty chuffed that sometime soon I was going to log in to Bing and see my picture there for a day. I'd also be suspecting that he'll be telling his friends not only of his win but also to keep checking back to Bing to see when his photo is posted.

Involvement and WOM propogation. Nice.

And I'm a bit behind the program but Bing were also involving the video-creating communities via a another competition:

"Since everyone is having fun with the name, we thought it would be interesting to see what you can do with it, put to a little music! Got a fun jingle, or as we like to say in the halls around here “Bingle” you want to share?"

$500 as the prize was hardly going to break the marketing budget, but I reckon the views of the videos submitted where worth far far more than that, not to mention the involvement of those that bothered to take part. Worth a snuffle around YouTube (oh the irony, owned by arch-rival Google!) - there's some super cheesy versions like this one and some which have clearly been thought about quite a lot! This was the winner: