Category Archives: Blogging

Community management under the bonnet: 23 things

Online communities have been around for as long as the internet itself, but the path technology has travelled in the last decade means the options for what you can offer and what you can do with them today have exploded.

Despite this, they’re still viewed as a bolt-on or feature of a brand’s web presence and their internal workings and dynamics are little understood. This has led to what’s been termed as the “iceberg effect of community management”. In other words: there’s much more going on in an online community than is visible from the surface. Especially in the initial stages, just as much of this hidden activity involves the community manager as it does the community members.

Image courtsesy of Rita Willaert, Greenland, 10th September 2005 on Flickr

Image courtsesy of Rita Willaert, Greenland, 10th September 2005 on Flickr

The full-spectrum of web and social media tools is now being vacuumed up into and integrated with communities: so beyond forums and chat, we now have blogs, RSS, aggregation, email, polls, Q&A, photos, video, audio, virtual worlds, groups, ratings, attachments, events, microblogging, profiles, focus groups, networking, widgets and wikis, to list only the most obvious…

These tools protrude the ocean’s surface, along with the reams of content created by community members. But that is only a small fraction of what is happening. As more brands and organisations come to recognise the potential value of facilitating their own communities – but still consider it as an “add-on” to their main website – what does this mean for the role of community manager? What do they need to know and what do they do all day?

Image courtesy of The Brain Toad on Flickr

Image courtesy of The Brain Toad on Flickr

This is my off-the-cuff list of community management under the bonnet. I prefer the engine metaphor because communities commonly have a goal – they’re supposed to get you somewhere. I’ve also included the pre-launch stages. Depending on your product and whatever way you slice it, there’s a lot to get stuck into!

1. Business Plan
Translating business objectives into a workable plan that is agreed with stakeholders across the business. Finding and agreeing a budget. If you’re already on board at this stage, you’ll need to be involved in this in order to understand the business needs, if you’re hoping to translate it into a successful product that is…

2. Technology Platform & CMS
Choosing a technology platform – low-cost off the shelf packages you can tailor to suit community interaction, eg. Ning, Squarespace, Joomla; bigger-budget customised developments based on for example Drupal (the system I’ve worked with in my last three roles); or maybe you go totally bespoke whether in-house or with an agency (potentially the priciest, and beware proprietary lock-ins that could come back to bite you).

3. Personas & User-Centred Planning
Personas are a useful heuristic for surfacing the needs of the different key groups who’ll be using your community. You think you have your audience all figured out, but have you thought about their activities and requirements in community terms? Explore this in workshops if you can.

4. Design & Build
If you’re around during this phase, you could be called upon to input from the following (and more) perspectives: web design and wireframing, information architecture, usability, accessibility, user experience, on site search, SEO, taxonomy and folksonomy, APIs, browser compatibility and web standards. Many brands are still lacking in some or all of these departments, so your broad knowledge and experience can help make or break the end product! In terms of collaboration and notation around refining design and navigation concepts with your devs and designers, I can’t recommend Conceptshare strongly enough. I used it for that purpose in Chinwag‘s previous re-build and it is genius.

5. Registration & CRM Integration
The first experience of a community member is often to register; don’t make it painful and onerous, you’ll annoy and lose people from the get go. Communicate the importance of this to direct stakeholders, preferably with story boards and demos of best practice. The experience generally is so poor and under-thought that Joshua Porter’s writing a book about it. Get advance estimates for the costs of integrating community registration / login with your current CRM system (preferably when you’re in Business Planning stage). The figures – and actual effort – can be unexpected. Is there another solution?

6. Testing & Tweaking
When you have early “alpha” versions of the site to play with, plan for an extended period of UAT (user acceptance testing). Get people across the business involved. Allow for some less structured “guerilla” usability testing too, at different stages of the build. You can learn as much from this as from pre-scripted interactions. Make sure your community manager is involved for most if not all of it and has oversight on the final sign-off.

7. Guidelines
Social networks revolve around me and are a bit of a free-for-all, they’re social but generally selfish. Communities bring benefits to people by having a common purpose that may facilitate but also overrides pure self-interest. So community rules and a general etiquette are essential. These guidelines need to be agreed by your organisation, and include some legal considerations. You may also need specific guidelines: for your bloggers, for group managers, for staff members and for sponsors, depending on the scope of your endeavour.

8. FAQ / Help
The more multi-faceted your site, the more bases your FAQ will need to cover! Basic instructions on your different areas, tools and registration are essential, should be visibly linked to everywhere and also feature somewhere in the site-wide navigation. Keep them readable and concise. A good FAQ is not an afterthought, and harder to write than you’d imagine. Be community-minded and have a site help discussion forum too, where your input and peer support can mingle to the benefit of all concerned.

9. Seeding: pilot before launching
There’s nothing worse than being told of some cool new community or cutting edge network, and hoofing it over there only to find it bereft of visible life forms. Counter this by running a closed pilot, while you also beta test the site’s taxonomy and functionality. Invite a segment of your audience to participate in the pilot. Make sure they know they’re getting a special preview, listen to their feedback and iterate rapidly to solve key technology, content and user experience design issues during this period. Allow for a couple of months minimum, or at least until there is lively activity before opening up. Then when the world turns up, they won’t be confronted by a confusing environment of unusable tools and tumbleweed. [See also .17]

10. Moderation
Think about posting controls, editing permissions, alert systems, freezing tools, spam filters and of course, moderators! Which is better for your community: external agency moderation, user-mods, or moderation by the experts, contact centre staff and people who know the answers and issues themselves inside the business? As community manager for CIMAsphere I run staff training workshops, and oversee the moderation workflow and rolling schedule. A closed group on the community for geographically distributed moderators to discuss issues and share best practice is another plus. Relying solely on external mods can be un-feasible and also means the brand is not fully engaging.

11. Inboxes
Not everything happens *on* your website, so common community inboxes you may have to set up and manage include: info, help, feedback, and abuse; plus the community manager’s personal inbox of course. That’s a lot of email! Who else can help you mange these inboxes? Hunt down the most apposite or amenable folks and spread the inbox love to spare the pain!

12. Enhancements & bug fixing
Gotta love those bugs as a community manager! Living in perpetual beta with a modest budget, bugs follow you wherever you go. Users complain on the site, people email for help, some people struggle to even login if your registration process isn’t perfect (and whose is?). Bugs perkily await you in the morning, and they’re there when you go to sleep each night. The thing businesses need to consider is that bugs impact users much more directly and frequently in communities than in other websites. And who else can communicate these bugs’ intricacies and preferred fixes to developers apart from the community manager? Prioritise ruthlessly, and use a good bug-logging or collaborative project management tool. I recommend TracAdminitrack, or even Basecamp (but not Bugzilla – it’s strictly for the engineer contingent). Realise you’ll never get them all fixed if your support budget is minimal. Communicate with your users about the bugs, and discuss with the business how they plan to support product development in the future.

13. Analytics
Unique users, dwell-time, page views, referring sites, search traffic, browser and device breakdown, exit pages, pages per visit, popular keywords and content, campaign tracking… this is just the beginning, but if you can’t report on the above, something’s wrong. Even if you use a paid analytics vendor like Neilsen, Omniture or Nedstat, it should be possible to also plug in the wonderfully free Google Analytics. But realise there’s more to GA than meets the eye – look into its deeper facilities.

14. Community & engagement metrics
Another beast from analytics entirely: clicks are not the bottom line! Value comes in many forms. Most active participants; most active groups / forums; total posts / interactions; average posts per user; ratio of posters to passives. These are some fundamentals, but don’t tell you much more than if you’re properly monitoring the community from a managerial perspective in the first place. But how many go onto recommend you, or redistribute your content elsewhere? How many buy? How many change their sentiment from negative to positive, and vice versa? How many act creatively? How many contribute valuable feedback and knowledge to other users and to your organisation? Only some of these metrics are directly monetary, others contribute to site and business objectives in the broader sense and longer term. Think about types of value, what you want to measure, and what you effectively *can*.

15. Bloggers
Internal or external, expert or enthusiasts, detractors or advocates? Okay, it might not be the most sensible move to hire detractors as bloggers, but critics will have a voice on your site nonetheless, and are part of the positive future of your organisation, catalysts for beneficial change. This is because they often speak loudly the frustrations and uncomfortable truths that the brand smoothes over. That’s because they’re passionate, so some could be bloggers eventually 🙂  Get a mix of bloggers on board, make sure a variety of business and community interests are represented, and within your guidelines allow for freedom. Give them ongoing feedback. Run training for internal bloggers and monitor their progress. Try out different things and don’t expect it to purr along like a dream. Expect it to be bumpy.

16. Groups
Groups are very powerful clusters: a key trait of people is to identify by similarity of experience, location or interest. According to the Ruder Finn Intent Index, 72% of people go online just to become part of a community. Groups in communities facilitate this clustering further. Do you have pre-defined or user suggested groups, or both? Devolving group control to community members is common practice. Group guidelines and moderation can ameliorate the risks involved, as well as reassure the group managers that you’re taking their group’s good health and sanity to heart.

17. Advocates, evangelists & early days participants
Prior to launching, identify and open a communications channel with brand or business advocates who can get motivated to sign-up and post when you launch, and help spread the word. These could be dynamic individuals already championing your brand elsewhere in the social mediaverse, or people who present themselves and have good ideas when you (for instance) do a mail out to your audience asking for ideas and involvement before the community goes live. In turn, your first active users should be carefully listened to and responded to. Those first weeks are critical. Having turned up first to the party and said hello, they deserve special attention!

18. Getting to know you
If you don’t “know” your community, you’re onto a loser. By know, I mean get familiar with them as participants. You don’t need to be the resident expert on the community’s focus (though input from experts is essential) but you do need to know who’s unhappy, who’s helpful, who’s critical, and who’s smart. Many community users will be a combination of these and other types. Some people can even be accidentally evil and destructive. Unless they’ve been heinously bad, don’t jump to cast judgement! We’re complicated creatures after all.

19. PR, content and attention planning
Do you know why you’re building your community? Then the PR and content planning should be seamless. Schedule in some eye-catching events and content around your launch; but remember it’s not about broadcasting “messages” or parading shiny baubles. Instead it’s about being interesting by providing value and being relevant and useful. If your event isn’t going to really matter to those early days and ideal users, then all the press coverage and email-outs in the world aren’t going to get people logging in and participating! It’s the same with content and event programming going forward. What might impress journalists and influential bloggers on the one hand and what tickles your community on the other don’t necessarily correlate.

20. Culture shift and cross-business input
The governance and ongoing development of the community shouldn’t be left to one person, or even one department. A cross-business steering group is one way of bringing a range of business eyes and knowledge to bear on the project and prevents it being siloed or becoming a political football for competing fiefdoms in the organisation. Communities languish and fail every day due to the latter scenarios. Breaking down those barriers is one of the great leaps forward that a community can begin to facilitate. People talk about operational efficiencies, but they’re rarely delivered in a meaningful or positive way. Well managed communities make this approach tangible, and eat away at the barriers and inertia both within businesses and between them and their customers.

21. Direct engagement and response
Follows from the above. If your community is a platform for CRM, R&D, product development, PR, marketing or customer insight, direct engagement must be baked in. As community manager you should liaise across the business to make sure the right people are aware, listening and acting upon feedback – whether that’s publicly, or off-line, or in specific community spaces. And the community needs to know you’re listening, even if you don’t respond publicly on every single occasion. Ignore them at your peril. Creating community areas and content that your users have suggested and asked for is one of the best outcomes of engaging with them. Hosting raw, unfiltered and real-time feedback is also a wake up call to complacent businesses; you can gain insight and improve your key business offerings based on monitoring conversations and analysing positive and negative comments.

22. Communications & Marketing
Communities do generate their own buzz, but those who can gain most from community often don’t have the time or aren’t in the right context to pick up on these vibrations. That said, neither does traditional marketing always reach the parts that other, more context-specific comms can. Marketing in and for communities often falls flat, or as one marketer has put it “there’s a hole in my funnel“. It’s got to be clear: what’s in it for them? Reaching out and partnering with other networks is likely to be more fruitful (see 23.). In turn, setting up group, discussion and blog alerts, and a community newsletter, can also spur new members and accelerate activity. Working with advocates in your community and elsewhere also has a grassroots halo effect.

23. Off-site community: partnering & networks
Linking with or extending to external communities can create a virtuous circle, with value for the brand and community flowing in multiple directions. Are there directly-related or relevant groups elsewhere? There were already 30+ CIMA student and member run groups on Facebook when I started at CIMA, which up until then had been ignored by the business. We decided to work with some of the livelier groups rather than starting our own, we recently set up a Facebook page and Twitter accounts, and we’re reviewing other networks. Think about the positive impact of reaching out, but beware duplicating your product and effort on a platform you don’t own. Be realistic about your workload but inform the business that your customers are out there – they’re organising themselves and being courted by others. So for how much longer will your brand be relevant, or will it soon be surplus to requirements?

Think a lot of this is a job for other people? Web editors, web designers, CRM staff, digital marketing and PR folks, web producers, brand managers, product and business development, perchance even some community assistants? That’s as may be, but community management is an emerging profession and – in the main – little understood.

Online communities are viewed much like websites were 10 years ago – “oh, that new thing, let’s get one”. As time goes by, community management will become more specialised. But for now, it’s a whole lotta skillsets rolled into one…

So it follows that I’ve actually left out some things – 23 things is enough to be getting on with 😉  What else do you think goes on under the bonnet of community management?

In line with this (if you’ll forgive me for mashing my metaphors) it’s also time to ask: what other new roles will emerge to power communities forward and keep the iceberg’s complex ecosystem intact?

Advertisements

SXSW 08 panel: Gossip, social electricity and the new web egosystem

Convened (as it emerged) at the behest of Valleywag’s chief scribe Owen Thomas, this session was among the best I attended at SXSW Interactive 2008, as much for the social static and currents it generated as for cerebral reasons.

Plus as a lifelong dyed-in-the-wool observer I’ve latterly realised I’m an anthropology nerd 😉

Featuring (L-R in my photo):
Alan Citron – General Manager, TMZ
Owen Thomas – Managing Editor, Valleywag
Chair: Heather Gold – Writer/Performer, Subvert.com
Julia Allison – Reporter, Star magazine (invited onto panel in real-time)
Shaila Dewan – National Correspondent (South), New York Times
Evan Williams – Co-Founder, Twitter/Obvious

Heather Gold did a tremendous job of chairing. A professional stand-up comic and longtime geek who’s been running her Heather Gold Show in the evening fringe scene at SXSW for a few years, she was the doyen of conversation, getting everyone involved. Like the referee of your dreams, she allowed volleys of audience questions right through the session while still giving each panellist their say. Question Time was never like this.

“I like to organise conversations around things that people really care about… this will run like a collective inquiry as you all have as much expertise on who you are and on the world as we have on our points of view so you’re all welcome to join in.”

Heather, I salute you!

She didn’t stand for any bullshit either. Panelists had to *answer* the questions (until the very end part, that is…), and cutting across other folks was fluently de-engineered by the Gold MC.

Okay, several paragraphs in and no gossip! As Twitter dominated a lot of the discussion Heather first canvassed the 100-strong audience for those who didn’t know what Twitter was – there were a handful. Twitter founder Ev Williams helpfully flagged-up a new online video from Lee LeFever of Commoncraft ‘Twitter In Plain English’ which gives a concise explanation to newbies (Twitter have since added this video to their homepage – I hope Lee got paid).

Supercharged telegrams from the frontline

Speaking for the power and usefulness of Twitter, Heather explained that she follows Bara Tunday on Twitter for news on the Obama campaign – he’s a technologist in Barack’s official team and his tweets tell her more about Obama than the New York Times does.

Owen Thomas described Valleywag as Silicon Valley’s tech gossip rag. But he cited Chris Nolan’s groundbreaking work (for the San Jose Mercury News) in merging tech biz news and personalities as a big inspiration to him. Thomas earned his spurs in tech journalism, having previously worked for Wired, Time magazine, Red Herring (version 1.0), Business 2.0 (recently deceased) and – his favourite – Suck.com, amongst others. Nolan’s ability to create a real, tight connection with readers is the other trait Owen strives for with Valleywag.

So what is gossip? Thomas defines it as “what people are talking about, and that is inherently interesting… My first filter and inspiration for writing a post is: is this something people are talking about? Thanks to people like Ev, technology is making gossip more efficient. And ‘efficiency’ is the word of the day,” he added in a snarky allusion to Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote two hours earlier.

At this point he was booed and heckled by audience member Julia Allison who was then invited onto the panel by Gold. Web TV presenter for the Star magazine gossip site, Allison said she writes about Britney, Paris, Lindsay et al, but in her view “this shit shouldn’t matter.”

Respite from & comfort blanket against what we can’t change…

Shaila Dewan of NYT described herself as “a newspaper reporter”. She covers “the southlands… fires in sugar refineries, hurricanes, the human fallout from Hurricane Katrina, and what the government didn’t do about it, that kind of thing.”

Alan Citron described TMZ as an online celebrity news site that is also becoming a video/web TV show. He’s the general manager but also a former journalist of 13 years standing at the LA Times. He was away from journalism for around 10 years doing other jobs on the internet, and while he isn’t actually interested in it, Alan liked getting into celebrity gossip because it reminded him of what he liked about journalism: getting back to and helping create a news group, helping to deciding what this thing was going to be, figuring out how to make it bigger, even as the business guy you get to participate in those decisions. Especially early on, it was just like being back in journalism. And that’s why he took the job

Why is it doing so well, Heather wondered. Citron’s reply spoke volumes:

“It’s an insatiable appetite – whether it’s bullshit, or whether its good for you, or whether it’s a convenient distraction from Iraq and other things like that which are exhausting…There’s always that one person that someone is following, or a roster of celebrity stars – it’s like their little mental vacation.”

Rags to riches: profiting from gossip

It’s certainly big business for TMZ, as Alan revealed. They average 7 million page views per day and according to Ominiture they had 30 million unique users in February 2008, although it was a big month for celebrities as Heath Ledger committed suicide and Britney lost custody of her kids, Citron added. “And it’s not just here, it’s everywhere, this is a worldwide phenomenon.”

TMZ became profitable after just 11 months. They had 25 staff when it was just a website, now it’s 150 as television production is more production-intensive.

Valleywag has three full-time staff and three contributors. Last month (February 2008 ) they got 4.5 million page views, Owen said.

How can these gossip rags possibly keep up with Twitter, Heather asked. Ev replied that it’s all just part of an ecosystem. Heather quipped “did you say ecosystem or egosystem?” Que hilarity. Next Heather lobbed the ‘what is gossip’ query over to Ev. “The best gossip is about people you know,” Ev said.

Expanding on her Twitter-as-lightning-rod-news-source theory, Heather said following Jason Calacanis on Twitter is the fastest tech news you can get. How does he manage to tweet so much? Owen’s theory was that Calacanis is bulldog-sourcing it (ie. it’s a collaborative effort with his beloved bulldogs).

The democratization of celebrity and public life

Audience question: What’s the minimum level of fame needed to be pictured drinking a milkshake on Valleywag? Owen countered that people in the tech industry are “interested in other people that are not company CEOs. The internet has changed the nature of publicity, the nature of who is a public figure.”

“Don’t put your relationships online,” Julia warned, adding that she’d learned the hard way (in reference to a dalliance with the founder of Vimeo) – “because then people will feel they have a right to comment on them, and that (even if they don’t know you) they are somehow part of the relationship.”

Alan Citron commented that there are more and more layers of people who now qualify as celebrities, “like the person who gets disqualified from the third round of American Idol. More and more people are being sucked into this celebrity thing, and we’re not ready for it.”

“The Zuckerberg [Lacy keynote interview] interest on Twitter today is all about what we call the banana peel moment”, he continued, but Heather countered that “the thing with embarrassing is that if we own it it’s not embarrassing.”

Majority rules and the shifting sands of trust

“Gossip is a way of enforcing societal norms, the way we act and how we judge each other,” Allison astutely reflected. “Facebook is a tool for people to gossip and hook-up,” she added, somewhat more mundanely.

“There isn’t a clear line”, said Ev Williams, “we use tools to do things we’ve always done.” He also had a question-cum-comment that raised broader issues about trust, expertise and the cultural effects of people media.

“You learn after a while that the media is usually really inaccurate if it’s about a topic you know a lot about, but if you don’t know about it you think it’s accurate. As the bar lowers on who is covered in media, will people just learn to distrust all media across the board? And therefore maybe (a) it’s not as hurtful [when you’re gossiped about] and (b) everything’s more critically looked at?”

Giving each other a break…

Heather said in her experience there more open you are about things the less you’re gossiped about. If there were a story about you but you’d already blogged the details wouldn’t people rather go to that blog and read about it directly from the person’s own mind and experience as opposed to someone else’s report of it? Ev rejoined: “In theory. That’s a good defence of people not calling you a schmuck – by calling yourself a schmuck first.”

[Hmm, Isn’t this personal equivalent of “declarative living” a lot more fraught, or am I just out of touch with the zeitgeist?] 😉

At this point my notes became sketchy as I scribbled out a few bullet points for what I wanted to say and joined the standing line queue for the mike….

Anil Dash (of Six Apart) said the “they” is fraudulent, we’re all doing this and we’ve all been on both sides of it – he’s had death threats come in through his blog, and he also had great things happen (because of his blog) and all of it is reported as if he’s not a person. But we built the tools – it’s our fault, he stressed.

New concepts of authority and working the gossip game

“Notions of authority are generationally changing,” Heather noted… “If we are the media we are now reporting on ourselves.” “We are all the thing that we are saying is a problem”, Anil retorted. Julia Allison wondered if isn’t the answer to be very conscientious – people don’t have context when reading these stories as they don’t know the person. [Which sounded like an update on the longstanding demand for media literacy to me; however, in lieu of education’s inability to adapt to the pervasive media society, haven’t we always just provided this literacy for ourselves?]

Someone from Mediamatters.org said if something is picked up in the liberal blogosphere it often goes no further than that unless there is an element of it that holds interest for other parties. But if something involves gossip it can go a lot further – in that way gossip can be good.

The divergent effects of gossip on men and women came up – if a woman is gossiped about she is considered a slut, if it’s a man, he’s a stud. But (rightly in my view) Heather parked this, as we just didn’t have time to go into the whole gender divide and representation topic.

Identity management in the digital age

My observation to the panel was this: In this era of instant gossip and the democratization of gossip, where everybody’s gossiping about each other in public and it’ll be there for years somewhere, cached on Google etc, there’s still a divide. When famous people are being covered by Star magazine or whoever, they’ve got managers and PRs and flacks who will give them feedback on that and they can sometimes try to turn this around to their advantage and they’ll be protected; whereas you and I don’t have handlers, minders, PR people.

So what you need to think about is identity management and how you handle yourself and your reputation. Everything is not going to become transparent, and it really annoys me when people say that it will, because people still want parts of their lives to themselves, they might share it with a couple of other people but not everyone else.

What do the panel think about the idea that we all need to help each other out and give each other more advice on this? There’s a video I saw recently on Videojug ‘How To Behave On An Internet Forum’, which may be in some ways a bit dated, but it relates to this issue of how do you behave in this community where anyone can participate? So how should we handle ourselves to protect ourselves from the malevolent gossip and the useless gossip?

Julia jumped in to proffer her response and didn’t answer my question at all, she just echoed the sentiment and said it’s unfair on people who can’t afford to defend themselves from this gossip. I wish someone else had answered! 😦

Navigating through the “all-seeing we”

Nick Douglas from Gawker (and formerly Valleywag) sardonically observed that even if people respond to what’s written about them, the likes of Gawker and Valleywag just turn it back into another story because they want to pull it back into the machine that makes us money and makes us feel good because (que quotation mark gesture) “we’re better” than Julia (or whoever they’re writing about).

Lane Becker of Getsatisfaction (and formerly Adaptive Path) cited this as the best SXSW panel he’d ever been in.

He quoted from an earlier panel Heather had been on, “Climb to heaven on the backs of your enemies corpses!” This stuff is going to work out for you really well in the long term, he said to Julia (and, by inference, all of her ilk). Part of success is being willing to be a public persona.

The performative aspect of being in the industry is just part of being in the game, he continued. He also relayed his own brush with micro-celebrity gossip when Valleywag published a photo of him in the bath with four other under-dressed people. And one of those people was his wife standing up in her underwear and swigging back a bottle of Champagne. Another was Jason Fried of 37 Signals.

Which recycled nugget of gossip from the subject was a perfect end to the session…

—-

FURTHER COVERAGE OF THIS PANEL

Valleywag
http://valleywag.com/365674/julia-allison-crashes-sxsw-explains-it-all

Nowpublic live blog
http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/nowpublic-sxsw2008-liveblogging-now-gossip-sunday

Guardian Digital Content blog PDA http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/digitalcontent/2008/03/sxsw_how_gossip_feeds_the_web.html

Los Angeles Times
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/webscout/2008/03/gossip-panel-de.html

Session video (on Blip.tv)
http://blip.tv/file/745166/

Gossip panel podcast on SXSW Interactive website (in April 2008 archive)
http://2008.sxsw.com/coverage/podcasts/

For a deeper, earlier examination of somke of the same issues, check out the Chinwag Live panel from June 2007…

The Dark Side Of Social Media (London, 19th June 2007)
http://podcasts.chinwag.com/cl6-full.mp3

I’ve been…

I’ve been building up to a blog post for so long that I’ve forgotten what it was supposed to be about.

The thought itself?

Blogging?

Publishing?

Writing?

Or simply having the time to gather my thoughts without the negative consequences of that action outweighing the positive..?

Curse of the deflected meme

This is starting off badly. I’ve been tagged before, but didn’t respond, because everyone was being witty and pithy and cute and I was so swamped with work and stuff that I couldn’t locate my inner Dorothy Parker.

Also, I found it a bit phoney. To respond I’d have to keep it light and fluffy, or risk giving too much info, if you get my drift. Neither option was compelling.

Now the curse of the deflected meme has come back to bite me…

Via Alan Patrick – “Name five reasons why you do (or do not) respond to memes”.

Caveat: I hate getting into in discussions as a participant when I’m not clued up about the fundamentals. And this discussion requires, IMHO, that I go read some books. Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate maybe, and perhaps Kenan Malik’s Man Beast and Zombie.

Going, going…

Well that’s three solid weeks off work I’ve got coming up then! Otherwise, how can I even say I know what memes are supposed to be, what the counter arguments are, and if my 2p is worth anything…

Or I can be just one dead-end for the “meme” while it makes its frothy way elsewhere, so removing myself from it’s propagation. Pushover that I am, I’m taking the latter option. I’m making up some answers without prior knowledge, and I’m not tagging anyone.

So, those reasons why I “do (or do not) respond to memes”.

Gone!

Yikes, have I answered already? 😉

(1) They complement or accord with thoughts or perspectives I already entertain.

(2) They clash with or challenge perspectives I have previously adhered to in an exciting or illuminating way – ie. frisson or growth (expand your mind).

(3) They help achieve / reinforce consensus (ie. group think) – none of us are entirely innocent of this.

(4) Insecurity – we accept some ideas when we are seeking affirmation through others and lack internal confidence. As a teenager, this was more common for me compared to later on.

(5) Another reason I sometimes don’t respond that’s also connected with becoming an oldster is ye olde chestnut of “priorities”.

However, while I might not respond to a “meme” visibly or publicly, that don’t mean I’m immune to it or that I’m not secretly pondering its dimensions somewhere in my own little Republic 😉

[Note: None of the above serves to undermine the fact that I have a memes handbag.]

SXSW notes: Consumer Is the Producer – DIY Media

This panel at SXSW Interactive on 14th March 2006 could equally have been called DIY Machines, and there was a fair share of crafting on the menu too.

The session blurb went some way to encompassing this broad canvas: ‘New technology allows consumers to play an active role in producing media and objects. How does this not-so-subtle change impact the final product?’

To give you an idea of the sheer range of the conference, in the same time slot the following other sessions were also happening, three of which I also wanted to go to: ‘RSS: Not Just For Blogs Anymore’, ‘Secret Sex Lives Of Video Games’, ‘Open Source Management: Walking The Walk’, ‘Dogma Free Design’, ‘The Orthley Children and Their Computer’, and ‘Democratization Of The Moving Image’

PANEL:
Cameron Shaw – Product Manager, AOL
Limor Fried – ladyaya.net and iBeam Fellowship in Open Source Electronics
Nathalie ZeeAvantmedia.com and Craft Editor for Make magazine
Phillip Torrone – Editor, Make magazine
Christian Crumlish – extractable.com and author of ‘The Power Of Many’
Chair: John Lepowsky – Digital Convergence Initiative

We’re now living in a remix culture, John Lepowsky stated in his opening remarks, where production and access to production is now a much easier process. Instead of the powers that be and corporations broadcasting to us, the internet and other many-to-many networks are changing that.

A caveat to this is that there’s always going to be a relatively small percentage producing with 1-10% participating in creating content.

[I think this oft quoted forecast, which I’ve heard before from Yahoo’s Bradley Horowitz among others is always predicated on the PC/Web paradigm and ignores the role of mobile in accelerating and mainstreaming production and sharing of content. In a few years the mobile will be the dominant tool for this, and unlike PC usage, is ubiquitous].

Accessible technology frees the impulse to create

The rest are lurkers, Lepowsky continued, but the possibility of creation is there for those who want to do it, technology now frees the impulse [exactly – to the power of ten on mobile!]

Limor Freid explained how she and her associates came up with the idea of making their own keyboards on an open source platform. They built 100 and sold them all – calling them the xoxbox. What’s more, 50% of people who bought one built their keyboard out of more than 500 components, plus they fed back!

She introduced the concept of circuit bending whereby people through experimenting created a clone of the Roland TB303 which isn’t made anymore.

Mod culture and the community network effect

One of the strengths of this process is that if you break it, it doesn’t matter because they already broke it in order to make it in the first place. Modifications and personalisation allow you to commune with the machine. Someone even documented the whole project on a wiki.

Some people started to make really cool music with the keyboards (www.pinkofperfection.com). Such activity was like someone doing your own press release for you.

As for why people contribute, Freid reasoned that the value lies in the fact that I hacked something up because it was missing. It’s also about ego – I wanted to show off my skills and get positive feedback; it’s fun, like playing with a toy, allowing experimentation and creativity; finally, it incites contribution. Make it possible, she exhorted other open source community managers and facilitators, be humble to your community, be respectful, be thankful, be supportive and mingle with the natives.

AOL’s paradigm shift

Cameron Shaw acknowledged that AOL has been synonymous with the walled garden, and they had a lot of success with that with their premium users, but it’s not the right place to be anymore.

Now they’re actively encouraging mashups and remixing of user-generated content. They’re opening up the AIM platform though the AIM API. There are 63 million active AIM users who can now avail of file-sharing, voice, buddy lists and RSS so that people can create their own content and environments.

They’re introducing an open API for MapQuest and are also building a page publisher, ie. page layout and profiles that you can plug in modules and feeds to, for example the Flickr widget, eBay rating, Amazon wishlist. All in all it’s a pretty scary thing to do, Shaw observed, especially in terms of premium-level content, from mashups of The Sopranos through to remixing the Superbowl.

Risks of the open web

It’s also risky in terms of safety, especially with the current MySpace panic over predators, Shaw added. Moreover, how much responsibility should they take for copyright violation of content hosted on their servers?

The same goes for quality testing – it’s not guaranteed. While developers are used to things being broken, how do ordinary folks cope with the new, extended “hinternet”? [note: this link is to a PDF file].

There’s a new microformat called module T, Shaw explained and recommended we check www.iamalpha.com.

Upsides of open source product development

Throughout the session a little robot had been trundling about the isle floor, sometimes making its way underneath the seats and nudging people’s legs and luggage on the floor. Philip Torrone introduced it as the Rumba robot, which had come fresh from the Rumba cockfighting session operated via Bluetooth at eTech (O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference) in San Diego the previous week.

It’s an example of what happens if you can turn your customers into your product team. Sony do the opposite, Torrone noted, and they’ve just announced they’re getting rid of their robot division. Likewise with the PSP – it crashes when you try to do new stuff and you have to pay to download more firmware.

Make magazine focuses on what ordinary people are doing, for example they covered a guy who wanted an alarm clock that makes bacon, so he built it himself. Make *is* a crafts magazine, he stressed, as crafts are activities that involve making things by hand.

The grassroots crafts renaissance

Nathalie Zee, Make’s crafts editor, said there has been a renaissance in crafting – knitting, needlework, etcetera. She got into it during the dotcom crash because it was nice to do something with your hands.

Top craft blogs she namechecked were WhipUp, Not Martha, and Thrift Craft. In terms of internet pastimes and topics, blogging and modifying your clothing are both big, and the impulse is to remix it, rip it up and express your creativity. You can even sell it, like on Etsy.com and Craftster.org where you can find knitted robots, knitted cellphone holders, toys, laptop bags, and even Pacman cross-stitch accessories.

The Yarn Harlot knitting blog decided to launch the Knitting Olympics 2006 – they got 4,701 entries. Everyone who participated got a gold medal to put on their blogs.

Artistry and increasing the use-value of objects

Pink of Perception is the Martha Stewart of the indie generation, claimed Zee. She also flagged up Diana Ang, the person behind Project Runway, who created a vacuum dress that got on the cover of ID magazine. Making mathematical knits is another sub-set of this trend.

It’s all about creating community and merging technology, crafts and sciences, said Zee. With ThingLinks, HobbyPrincess.com and Zengstrom, she observed, the common factor is that their work revolves around the Long Tail of fashion and craft.

There’s a sense of going back to handicraft work and the artistry of our generation is in modifying stuff, Zee reckoned. For people to be able continue buying stuff, they want to be able to do more stuff with the things they purchase.

Open source portals and business models

The question was raised as to whether AOL are putting people in place to respond to the feedback they get on the open AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and Mapquest SDI’s. Cameron Shaw explained that internally all their developers have exposed all their work and their blogs. They are trying to embrace the open source community and feedback will be considered and incorporated.

Someone else asked if you can build a business out of this? Limor Fried stressed that people were willing to pay for stuff, eve if it’s open source. It made more sense to her to cerate open source hardware than open source software.

From open source hardware to social hardware…

What about social hardware, someone else piped up. Torrone was first to respond, citing their creation of the Make Pet. Based on how many people are talking to you on MySpace or about you on Technorati, the pet gets more active and even reproduces. Nintendo DS with wifi is another case in point, as you can play other people near you.

The toy industry is good for social hardware. In Second Life a lot of people make money out of things created just for the virtual world – one woman made $150,000 from her Second Life products. Finally, Torrone announced that Make are also making Pacman carpets!

Fried stressed that she’s not the first to clone in the keyboard sector. Moog was the first to clone in this domain. It’s mostly legal to reverse-engineer hardware as there is usually no copyright. With the session out of time the last namecheck of the DIY media phenomenon went to eyespot, an online video remixing community.

[Note: I checked out the WhipUp blog and discovered one of the best ever straplines – “handicraft in a hectic world” – superb!]

———————————————————

My other SXSW Interactive 2006 session reports:

What’s In A Title?
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/03/15/whats-in-a-title-sxswi-notes/

Beyond Folksonomies – Knitting Tag Clouds For Grandma
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/03/22/sxsw-notes-beyond-folksonomies-knitting-tag-clouds-for-grandma/

Book Digitisation & The Revenge Of The Librarians
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/03/23/sxsw-notes-book-digitisation-and-the-revenge-of-the-librarians/

James Surowiecki on The Wisdom Of Crowds
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/04/07/sxsw-surowiecki-on-the-wisdom-of-crowds/

Running Your New Media Business
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/11/07/sxsw-notes-running-your-new-media-business/

SXSW notes: The Perfect Pitch
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/11/09/sxsw-notes-the-perfect-pitch/

What People Are Really Doing On The Web
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2006/12/18/sxsw-notes-what-people-are-really-doing-on-the-web/

Commons Based Business Models
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2007/01/08/sxsw-notes-commons-based-business-models/

Danah Boyd – Current TV interview
https://innovationeye.wordpress.com/2007/01/12/sxsw-notes-danah-boyd-current-tv-interview/

See all SXSW Interactive 2006 daytime panels here:
http://2006.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/

See the SXSW Interactive 2007 website

Identity in question

My digital identity is on the line.

Well, it’s always been on pretty shaky ground, but it’s never plain sailing with this pesky blogging business is it? 😉

I can’t keep calling it ‘Beers & Innovation’ because although along with the help and support of Tom, James, Ingrid, Nick, Zoe and a bunch of other people I’ve been developing and running the B&I event, I’m not any more, and the blog is starting to feel like an odd space.

Innovation Eye seems like an overly grand claim as a title. If only I *was* paid to sit around and anaylse stuff and be mega-insightful…

… sorry, I drifted right off there.

Driving home the identiy crisis, blogger and author supreme Mr Delaney is taking up full-time Editorial duties at NMK  (congrats Ian!) so he’ll be one of the brand new trio hopefully taking the Beers & Innovation events (along with the ton of other events, courses and conferences that NMK do) forward in future as well as working wonders with the website (it really needs a miracle and I think Ian could be just the man) 🙂

Another thing is, I’m going to have another blog soon, on the soon-to-be relaunched Chinwag website. Cripes! It really is time to call in the cloning brigade…

So I’m not sure who I am anymore or what to do here… Any thoughts, crushing put-downs, related trivia..? I’ll mull it over during the festive period.

Tidings etc x

SXSW notes: What People Are Really Doing On The Web

This session at SXSW Interactive on Monday 13th March 2006 attracted an audience of over 200 to the main auditorium.

The big hitters of web stats and consumer / user analysis were there on stage, and there were a few nuggets amongst the factoids pumped out, but overall the session felt a little tame and the insights sparse. Guess that’s what happens when you parachute your stats and trend mavens into a conference of innovators  😉

PANEL:
Holland Hofma Brown (Harris International)
Dr Michelle Madansky (Yahoo! Inc)
Max Kalehoff (Nielsen Buzz Metrics – also own Blogpulse)
CHAIR: Joel Greenberg (GSD&M)

Establishing the types of market research deployed, Holland Hofma Brown of Harris International cited asking people, and “lead user theory” (Professor Eric Von Hippel, MIT ‘Democratizing Innovation’) as the primary methodologies (eg. power bars; Camelback; RSS usage). The lead users are solving the problems so look at them.

Hofma Brown of Harris International polled over 2,300 respondents between 16/2/06 and 23/2/06. Over a third would rather email a friend than call them on the phone he revealed; 55% won’t buy a product without first checking prices and researching online. Still, we’re not sure we trust the internet.

Catching the blog bug

How do we use the internet to connect to others? 10% of respondents had posted to blogs (contrast with 60% of SXSW attendees who were posting to blogs). Who is reading blogs? 54%/46% men to women. Young males dominate blog readership.

How many blogs are they reading? 61% have cited 1-4 blogs in the last year. Why do people read blogs? For most part it’s a passive activity.

What kinds of blogs are people reading? Personal diaries top the charts with 45% (compared to the SXSW audience, 70% of whom read tech blogs). What makes for a good blog? The way a blog looks is less important than what the writer has to say. Who is writing? Men and women bloggers are now equal in that respect.

The connected populace: US vs UK

We’re using the internet to connect and stay in touch with others. So what aren’t consumers doing online, asked Michel Madansky. Yahoo! Get 2 terrabytes of data a day, she explained, citing the ‘Truly, Madly Deeply Engaged Global Youth, Media & Technologies‘ report (summitseries.yahoo.com – all studies are posted there).

Computer – US 86% UK – 92%

Mobile – US 72% – UK – 97 %

MP3 – US 28% – UK – 63%

Email – US 68 % – UK – 86% (at least once a day)

IM – US – 49% UK – 63%

Search – US – 45% UK – 66%

Blogging – US – 17% UK– 20%

Texting – US – 49% UK – 95%

Games – US – 49% UK – 68%

Photos – US – ?? – UK– 75%

Search, peer recommendation and beyond…

Music, sex, shopping, others are the top searches in order of user preference. Search terms are consistent over time, Madansky explained, with MySpace (number 2 term), Limewire and Facebook being the big new entries. Music is the biggest search area for teenagers. Madansky also noted upcoming new arrivals podcast (podcast.yahoo.com) and Yahoo Answers (social search).

Max Kalehoff explained that Nielsen Buzz Metrics help marketers by analysing consumer generated media. Underlying factors he highlighted – media fragmentation, the erosion of trust in traditional institutional information sources, and the rise of interactive media, democratized publishing and social networks.

Consumer generated media upends marketing’s worldview

We’re moving into a phase of consumer generated multimedia – blogs, vlogs, podcasts, etc. Peer recommendation and consumer generated multimedia are by far the biggest referral source. Consumers (92%) now say they prefer or rely on word of mouth, they trust fellow buyers before they do other marketers.

The culture of information seekers and speakers, for example IAMs on Google two days ago – the third and fourth results were serious consumer critiques of IAMs. A new washing machine manufacturer looked at consumer evangelists. Surprisingly, 49% were men when 99% of their marketing had been aimed at women. Marketing programs that amplify word of mouth buzz can also be incorporated into sponsorships and event demos, he added.

Mistrust of UGC in the educational sphere

Kalehoff said we could look up his blog at maxkalehoff.com and the Nielsen SXSW 2006 surveys at (http://go.hpolsurveys.com/sxsw). He also noted the issue of lack of trust in consumer generated media (CGM) as regards to academia and how to counteract it. Edelman PR did a trust barometer study [PDF].

Michelle Madansky was asked how Yahoo use their research in the innovation process. She replied that they have a piece of software called ‘The Idea Factory’ that anyone in the company can input to – new ideas to improve current products. They have also used research to develop the Yahoo Podcast beta.

Kalehoff observed that the food industry is currently being more impacted than any other by consumer power and CGM.

Trends to look out for

What’s the difference between a snapshot and a trend another audience member asked. Brown of Harris International responded that we should watch what the 12-21 year olds are doing.

What’s coming next trend-wise as indicated by the panel’s data another delegate asked. Buzz Metrics said we’re reaching a tipping point from an era where most content was produced by corporates to a point where the majority is produced by ourselves. As search spreads and becomes more advanced this will only increase, so it’s more of a discovery process. Proliferation of multimedia is another trend.

Madansky replied that “my media” is the next big thing as consumers are in control with TIVO etc. Cellphones are becoming more important she continued, with media moving across every device. The social web was an important trend, as the sterility of being served up with yet more questions becomes more acute, and Yahoo Answers was one of the answers to this, she reckoned.

Kalehoff noted that one of the emerging trends in the Web 2.0 space was that there are so many companies doing each thing that a lot of them won’t be around in 5 years.

All SXSW Interactive 2006 panels:
http://2006.sxsw.com/interactive/programming/panels/

My other SXSW Interactive 2006 session write ups:

SXSW notes: What’s In A Title?

SXSW notes:  Beyond Folksonomies – Knitting Tag Clouds For Grandma

SXSW notes: Book Digitisation & The Revenge Of The Librarians

SXSW notes: James Surowiecki on The Wisdom Of Crowds

SXSW notes: Running Your New Media Business

SXSW notes: The Perfect Pitch