Posts made in November, 2010

Farmville experience? You’re hired!

Posted by on Nov 30, 2010 in Design, Featured, Games, Innovation, The Future | 0 comments

Do you have kids yet? Are they old enough to play video games?

Either way, do you look at their gameplay as something you have to have control over, something that requires moderation?

I was asked this question the other day: “Do you think we’ll let our kids play video games?” Well I don’t know if we have a choice. In the near future, being a savvy gamer may be a serious competitive advantage in the workplace. This paradigm isn’t true today for most businesses (excluding the obvious – game design, Mountain Dew marketing), but it won’t be long before our CEOs and VPs will have grown up interacting with their whole world through interfaces like that of Farmville.

Two Year Olds are Better with the iPad than You

Have you ever watched a toddler breeze through the iPad interface, playing videos, opening and interacting with apps from games to storybooks? Like phones, radios, tvs and computers before them, tablets and smartphones will be indispensable to the next generation. And this means the ubiquitous tools of the workforce like Word, Excel, email and so on will have to be redesigned for a quarter-millenial employee used to rich tactile and sensory experience. Between the rate of change we’re experiencing now in information technology and the pervasiveness in our schools of these new gadgets, I’d place a bet that this same generation is the one who will redesign it, leaving us in the dust if we don’t accept and embrace it first.

It’s Already Happening

Don’t believe it? Think Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. While some companies still don’t let employees access Facebook at work, others base their whole business on the site. It’s been three years since Coke entered the virtual reality space with advertisements in the online game Second Life. And when the next wave of innovation hits, not only will we be trying to figure how to reach our customers within whatever game or app-like context they’re familiar with, we’re going to need to relate internally to our employees in the same manner of communication.

Farmville as a Marketing Dashboard

About a year ago I was presenting a new marketing strategy for an online community-based start-up. And as I was looking for an analogy to explain the proposed growth model, the concept of farming came to mind. Every new community member was a seed, that required nurturing to take root and grow. We thought of member support, user experience and e-mail marketing as the essentials: sunlight, water, soil. But you can’t take individual engagement very far when you get into the tens of thousands of members.

To scale our growth, we had to turn over “the farm” to our early adopters: teach them how to plant their own seeds, reward them for nurturing their crops and constantly provide the tools and raw materials they needed to build and grow their own farms. The two processes – bringing in new members and then teaching them how to build their own communities – was largely automatable. Finding our audience online, delivering messaging, the conversion path to registration, each interaction in the user experience, user sharing functionality – supported with a database filled with links, user data, messages and search parameters, it all could easily have been replaced by a child playing Farmville and triggering automated marketing processes in the background.

Your Next New Hire

Next time you interview someone for a job, learn about the technology that they’re used to, the interactions they have on social networks, the games they play to kill time, the apps they use most. How do those interactive experiences translate into potential innovations in your organization? And instead of looking the other way when they log on to Facebook or bust out the iPhone at work, take notes.

Still Skeptical?

Take a gander at some of the Farmville Youtube videos out there, with “farmers” delivering strategic and tactical advice to game players through tutorials. This guy would make a great corporate trainer, don’t you think?

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The Future of the Web: Internet Summit 2010 Keynote Panel

Posted by on Nov 17, 2010 in Innovation, The Future | 0 comments

The panel, moderated by Dana Todd, CMO, Newsforce:

Joe Gregorio, Developer Relations, Google | Rod Smith, VP Emerging Internet Technologies, IBM | Bob Young

The Future of Content, Commerce, Devices and Technology

Dana: Content has been king for a while, what is next?

Bob: Before “what’s next?”, what have we already done? Think through daily life, how much do you read on paper vs. on the screen? Kids don’t read anymore, well actually they do, but its interacting with text online and devices.

People are understanding that good content will not be created unless people begin paying for it. Where will the next War & Peace come from?

Dana: How does this intersect with traditional publishing?

Rod: We’re trying to dig in for insights, understand what’s popular – publishers and enterprises are thinking, what can I learn from this content and trends? I can use insights to adjust business in many ways.

Dana: Are blogs dead?

Joe: Look at WordPress, blogspot, the traffic is there. There are different channels now though, Facebook/Twitter. They’re being used in other ways, less long form.

Dana: Should marketers’ strategy be diversified then? Can you be good in all?

Joe: You should probably be in a mix, at Google we have specific blogs/twitter accounts for different products.

Bob: But you’re Google! You can dominate them all. The rest of us do have to pick.

Dana: Smartphones are set to outpace PC purchases by 2012. How will that change our media consumption?

Rod: Some examples, in commerce and content. Many people don’t browse, they look for an app. The other part is that the amount of content will pass an exobyte by the end of the year. My iPad? I favor apps that make me more productive.

Dana: How can advertisers participate in this?

Joe: There’s a lot of innovation in the mobile ad space, pay attention to the ad platforms that are being developed.

Rod: Consider this, how big are the pipes? Streaming information through GoogleTV, Netflix, etc. You need serious connectivity. We have to see the infrastructure grow in-step.

Bob: At, we’re trying to rethink what books are in the age of the internet. Paper books are a 500 year old medium. Computers don’t care if its a book, or video, or training course.

Dana: We’re actually way behind in mobile commerce (the US vs other nations). Soon we’ll have Isis from Discover Card and Verizon so we can make purchases with our phones. What does next year look like as a shopper?

Joe: You can learn a lot by looking at two Google products: and hotpot. Boutiques you can go in and set up a high-end boutique, we’ve got celebrities and fashion bloggers creating their own virtual boutiques. Now of course, anyone can go in and set up a personalized storefront. HotPot is GooglePlaces, you can go in to brick and mortar stores and rate, review, give recommendations, etc.

Dana: What else are you seeing?

Rod: You have to wonder with different vendors, what’s in it for them (how are they benefiting from new innovations)? There are tons of ways people are going after mobile commerce, why would we want to put a rigid framework around it too early?

Bob: Fraud is a massive problem on the internet, there are whole industries behind it. A couple of years ago I ended up in the Internet Retailer conference, talking to executives from JC Penney and Home Depot – commerce is in the billions for them online.

Audience: What is your take on net neutrality?

Bob: I’m a huge advocate of net neutrality, we need a fair playing ground for entrepreneurs to succeed against the larger guys that can buy the cable companies. We need to write the correct laws, educate our congresspeople, and vote in politicians that get it.

Rod: Net neutrality drives innovation.

Audience: As a developer, do I build a mobile app or mobile site?

Rod: Because devices are essentially like PCs today and can read browsers, you don’t necessarily need an app. Think about your customer, what do they need?

Bob: I like IBM because every answer starts with the customer.

Joe: A native app gives you more features, but you’re bound to that. Unless your coding on an open-source platform like html5.

Bob: In 95, Larry Ellison and Scott McNeeley announced the “net device” – and now everything is within the browser for a lot of computer users. Now the apps model is taking us back the other way (towards non-browser software).

Rod: We’ll do what we always do: make content for the device.

Dana: In my opinion: build sites that work for mobile. Let’s continue the device talk. Lightweight communication technology is here, like the movie Minority Report. Where are the next developments, opportunities?

Bob: In 1976 a reporter for The Economist made a prediction about the future of computers: If everything will eventually be created by robotics, then the future will be everyone being able to create their own custom devices (in the article, the reference is automobiles created custom per person). So consider the internet, and the question, do I build a site or an app. You can do it all with the web services that are there now. And eventually, instead of an iPhone, in the future, you can design and manufacture your own phone through web services.

Dana: What else are you seeing?

Joe: Consider “the web of things”. At Google, I’m on APIs. All these devices, they’re interacting through APIs, there’s a tremendous opportunity there.

Dana: As developers, what are some of the way marketers can manage all of these opportunities?

Bob: I’ve learned that everything I do to manage a successful technology business, does not apply to regular business models. If you’re running a tech company or team, its like running an art class. You have to get your team to want to create the right solution. You have to lead by example.

Rod: For most of us, you shouldn’t care about APIs, you should just give your dev team an idea of what your market wants. Let them figure out how to solve your problem.

Dana: What is Google doing to help advertisers, educate us as marketers.

Joe: Analytics is a huge part of this. There is so much data out there. Data sets that are bigger than a computer; that you can’t crunch with a desktop machine. Statistics is key.

Audience: What do you think about building out the web with new top level domains? .ibm, .jobs, .xxx, etc.

Rod: I don’t hear a lot of customers talk about it. They’re talking about how they can produce content.

Joe: Search-wise, we do take site name into consideration, but not sure if top level domains matter.

Dana: My opinion, anything other than .com is second-rate.

Audience: From a local perspective, as an advertiser, how can you have the most impact.

Dana: Start with GooglePlaces, its free. 80% of people haven’t even done the basic level of localization, free listings on CityGrid, Yahoo, Yelp.

Audience: Some people see localization and personalization as removing the “world” from world wide web. Its making us myopic.

Joe: Search’s function now is narrowing down, filtering results.

Rod: Turn your history off on Google and then go see what you get. There’s a trade off, sometimes you want personalized, sometimes you want general. You can’t expect search engines to do both, there are other apps you can use for that.

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The Five T’s of Viral Video

Posted by on Nov 2, 2010 in Viral | 0 comments

Viral video is a mystery to most. One day it’s a chipmunk giving you the evil eye, another it’s a kid high on nitrous after the dentist, yet most viral videos have elements in common. Understanding why these elements make people watch, share, talk and search by the millions will help you reach your share of the 85% of internet users that consume online video on a regular basis.

Thinking of viral video as a formula, rather than accident, is one of the fundamental skills learned by participants in my workshop Going Viral: Making and Distributing Online Video (register for December 15th in RTP at the site). A great example of this formula is The Today Show’s live Halloween special from 2009, now known by the internet universe as simple “Drunk Ewoks”. Watch the video below, and then read on to see how they used Topic, Technique, Talent, Timing and Tension to capture the hearts and clicks of the world.

The Today Show’s “Drunk Ewoks” Viral Phenomenon
Of course we’ll have break dancing ewoks humping Al Roker and pissing off Ann Curry for our Halloween special…

The Five T’s: Topic, Technique, Talent, Timing and Tension

Great viral videos often start with a topic that’s top of mind for the collective internet unconscious. In this case, Halloween decorations is an obvious topic for the Today Show – family friendly, fits their audience. But pay close attention, and some other popular internet topics come into play: 1) Michael Jackson died in 2009, and video mashups of the moonwalk were a huge Youtube trend 2) Star Wars. Geeks love it, and combining ewoks plus drinking, break dancing and fornication is a sure winner.

There are so many options you have when setting out to produce a video: music video, animation, short film, etc. In the world of viral videos, certain techniques can be extremely compelling. In this case, the technique is what I call “It Happened Live.” Like Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, Kanye West’s Taylor Swift interruption at the Video Music Awards and Sacha Baron Cohen’s surprise drop in on Eminem at the MTV Movie Awards, Drunk Ewoks wows people because they can’t believe “It Happened Live.”

Who you choose to put in your video has a huge impact on whether or not people will care. Sure the ewoks are the show stealer, but we have to give credit to Al Roker and Ann Curry for building their own audience in the first place. Bottom line, don’t go putting up a video of your kid in an ewok costume humping your boss, unless your boss is famous.

I would watch this video any day of the week, but most people don’t care about a Halloween-themed video unless it’s Halloween. The morning of Halloween 2009, this video was being shared via Facebook wall posts like wildfire. While this is obvious in this case because the topic is linked to an event, not all topics will be, and some opportunities present themselves so quickly you have to be able to react. What can you do for Thanksgiving, the Super Bowl, March Madness that can engage your specific audience in a unique way?

This is the single most important T, and the reason that people will share a video. Tension in the arts is the unexpected, the irreconcilable, the improbable. It is what drives one of the major conversations that viral videos create “Is it real of is it fake?” There is so much tension in this video it deserves a bulleted list:

  • Ewoks drinking booze
  • The co-host getting harassed by an ewok behind her
  • Ann Curry getting snippety (Celebrities getting mad or surprised go viral all the time – search “Mel Gibson recording” “Alec Baldwin voicemail message” or “Christian Bale rant” on Youtube)
  • Ewok doing the moonwalk
  • Ewok humping Al Roker

You can have a great video with all the other Four T’s executed flawlessly, and that may get everyone that hears about it to click and watch, but is the irreconcilable tension we feel that forces us to share with our friends, family and colleagues. Why? Because we can’t make up our minds on our own, we need an outside perspective, a la, “I think this is real, what do you think?”

Going Viral: Making and Distributing Online Video
The Five T’s and much much more are covered extensively in my collaborative workshop for marketers, entrepreneurs, creatives and anyone with an interest in reaching customers online.

Register here for December 15th, 2010 in RTP

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