Category Archives: Social Media

Mobile search and location reshaping the digital space

Locative media first came onto my radar in 2005 when notice of a collective called Proboscis and their Urban Tapestries initiative hit my inbox at NMK. Excuse me, geotagging the city you say? My curiousity was duly piqued…

Looking into it, I discovered an intriguing creative underground of technologists and artists doing some rather facsinating things with urban geo-mapping, robotics, storytelling and locative media. They even released a limited edition downloadable book about their work.

This was definitely a fringe phenomenon but the Social Tapestries project followed, and along with PLAN (Pervasive and Locative Arts Network), a 2-day globally-framed conference on wireless locative media at the ICA I was lucky enough to attend, it was clear this was coming out of obscurity. Augmented reality was coming to a place near you and me…

Courtesy of Chinwag Live: Search & LBS. L-R: Plazes, Taptu, The Cloud, Rummble, MSearchGroove, Jo Rabin

Courtesy of Chinwag Live: Search & LBS. L-R: Plazes, Taptu, The Cloud, Rummble, MSearchGroove, Jo Rabin

Jump forward three years, and while things haven’t exactly moved at light-speed, the calibre of people and companies we invited to speak at Chinwag Live: Search & Location Based Services on 8th October bespoke a phenomenon that is now unstoppable. Moreover, we’re now witnessing the birth of its business development phase…

PANEL:
Felix Petersen – Co-founder, Plazes / Head of Product Management, Social Activities, Nokia
Chris Moisan – Product & Market Development Manager, Taptu / blog
Andrew Scott – Co-founder, Rummble
Peggy-Anne Salz – Chief Analyst & Producer, MSearchGroove
Adrian Drury – Head of Commercial Strategy & Business Development, The Cloud
CHAIR: Jo Rabin – Consultant & Co-Founder of MoMo London

When an articulate line-up of some of the global leaders in mobile search and LBS are giving their best right in front of you, it can be hard to keep up. So I decided to change tack in my note-taking habits for our events series. I focused on listening to the panel discussion, and then took sporadic notes of points that struck me in the later discussion with the audience.

And boy, it was a conference-load of information packed into 100 minutes. But I needn’t have worried, because not only do we have the fantabulous podcast (coming next week), there have also been some superb write-ups from delegates including Mjelly, Cogapp and Mido.

Privacy’s endless permutations

Privacy and security are big issues stalking this space. If your location is being tracked – sure, that’s a technical achievement. But why would you want your friends to know you’re in a work meeting, or your employers to know your nocturnal movements, or your ex-partner to know you’re in a nearby restaurant with your new flame..? The permutations are endless.

Plazes CEO and product honcho of Social Activities at Nokia Felix Petersen stated that the privacy issue is threefold – firstly: tracking (passive / implicit) versus publishing (active / explicit). But there’s the mental transaction cost of changing your presence status all the time. The second aspect of privacy is time; for example, is it okay if people see me after 8pm? Also, the kind of place. There are complexities to sharing and personal relations in real life that need to be addressed, and as far as I’m concerned slicing them by “my friends only / family / everyone” barely scratches the surface.

The challenge is how to bake in these options without making it too complicated, Petersen reflected. That’s the third aspect – people want privacy options but they won’t use them much. In reality, Plazes have found 90% of the people don’t use it, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be there, he stressed.

Andrew Scott of Rummble told a similar tale. They have these privacy settings and only about 5% of their users use them; on the other hand, 25% of photos (on Rummble or Flickr) are geotagged.

Who owneth the data, maketh the sale..?

Adrian Drury of The Cloud remarked that there’s an interesting question about who owns the data when lots of different players are coming into the value chain, for example Skyhook, and ad-serving platforms. How do we protect the user from their data being abused? The people that own the brand relationship aren’t usually the same people that own the geodata.

As talk turned to the topic of monetising LBS and mobile search, Andrew Scott said media buyers needed to be more flexible about the stock they buy, in order to make relevant advertising work. Adrian Drury brought it back to the inventory question and where the money is; he stressed it’s about scale, scale and scale.

At the point where the LBS industry can deliver enough volume of users, volume of available devices and consistent platforms, then we can actually go out to groups of people or industries that are marketing and advertising and have an interest in doing that on a location based basis, and who can actually build campaigns around stuff that is location-based; then suddenly you bring another element to this industry. Today there are X-thousand iPhones in the UK, in 24 months there will be a multiple of that. That’s another consistent platform, and offers advertisers the availability to push campaigns out to that platform.

Interactive billboards – poised to pounce?

Interestingly, Adrian cited the billboard industry as ones to watch – the JC Decaux and Viacom’s of this world. They are one enormous advertising inventory industry that is yet to converge with the digital world in any significant way. But obviously location-based services bring them immediately into the digital world, Adrian observed, and they will be – and are – thinking about that quite heavily.

If it’s pull it might work, Felix countered, but he reckoned its niche. What doesn’t scale is the example of a billboard pushing something to you. It’s either too small an audience (one person on holiday walking across a bridge in Istanbul) or it’s just super-spam.

Billboard advertising (via Bluetooth I assume) won’t work if it’s done in a spam like way, Felix continued. The alternative? Either you start profiling (very time consuming, not very attractive) or you have socially relevant check-in points, for example being checked into a relevant wifi network (in Starbucks, or a hotel or an airport) – that’s the closest model to what we have on the web right now. Banners don’t work, he elaborated, but ads that react to your interaction with a location are going to be received differently (like Adwords react to the content of the page you are on and the history of your searches), and that’s what we need to crack.

Recommendation and discovery – playing the long game?

In this vein, Peggy was far more excited by content recommendation and discovery. She mentioned ChangingWorlds – a server side solution that does the profile building and what Xtract has done with Blyk. Granted, it involves heavy-lifting and mega-crunching of data, but it’s a much more exciting opportunity and potentially *far* more lucrative.

Claudia Poepperl from Mobile People (mobile local search) noted that the Yellow Pages industry is $30billion industry, that’s where the money is. How much are the panel partnering with Yell or Yellow Pages in order to tap into that massive revenue stream? Andrew Scott said it’s too complicated for local advertisers – it’s the heavy lifting that stopping them getting it right, and Rummble simply won’t carry these ads until they are personalised and relevant.

Intermediary quandaries and scale

Chris Moisan of Taptu said, as a mobile search engine, if you know someone’s location and there’s an intention then having Yellow Pages content where there’s a relevancy is a no-brainer. But the issue for them as a start-up is that to index that much local content isn’t possible yet.

Felix observed that the key intermediary is who whoever bills and owns the namespace for the small retailer. As yet, there’s no unified scheme comparable to phone numbers that allow the small to medium sized local retailer to claim this space that someone else has built.

Qype and Yelp are trying, but they’re rather small, he explained. Whoever will own it can unify it. Yellow Pages are in a good position to do that but they don’t. At the moment it’s the preserve of Google and Nokia.

Scope for location based advertising?

Joel Brazil from Tipped asked how many local search services would you expect an average local retailer would buy advertising from annually; and how would they actually engage in the sales transactions? How many different sales reps could they entertain and buy advertising from?

Adrian replied probably not a lot. At the minute you have a brand relationship or a portal relationship – Yell, Google etc, and they will give most advantage. Felix simply said it’s whoever owns the namespace, whoever drives the traffic. Peggy Anne Salz of MSearchGroove explained that she was doing research for NearbyNow, looking at special offers and exclusives for location based advertising. One major benefit might be in stock replenishment.

Andrew Scott reiterated that companies need scale to make these marketing campaigns work; and the most relevant and least intrusive ads work best. In the future there will be mobile, geocoded ads, remarked Felix later in the debate.

Platform wars: telcos v operators v digital media decks

Adrian situated the fragmentation and user experience issues more broadly. The mobile network operators are old fashioned telcos, and do things very slowly. They have this GPS platform; they’re all able to do this and none of them have productised it particularly well at all.

They did a very bad job in their media deck and they had years and years lead-time to get it right! Then along comes Apple, puts a good media deck on their network and gets it right, with Nokia following close behind them. That will change things and there will be a real fight, Adrian predicted. Who owns the location data – is the operator or someone else? Whoever controls the location data will be the one who wins the war and takes the margin on this, he predicted.

Technically it’s been possible for over ten years for the operators to know where you are, by triangulation and other means, Felix concurred. But the operators just saw it as a way of retaining customers, which totally misjudged the nature of this kind of service which grows in value when you can use it with all your friends, not just your friends on the Vodafone network. That was their fatal mistake.

Power moves to the edge…

But new technologies have changed this, Felix said. Now the power really is moving to the edge: with GPS phones, with third-party providers like Skyhook who provide the wifi databases, and you now have the crunching power in the phone itself. The context is really here in the phone, not in the network – calendaring, who is close by, how many of your friends are in the room.

Like with Nokia Maps, he explained, you don’t need to build something into the *highways* to see if there’s a traffic jam, because if you have enough people using Nokia Maps you can see how fast they move and if they’re all slowing down, then there’s a traffic jam..

Andrew remarked that on a recent trip to the States, he discovered that AT&T were considering scrambling their user cell ID info so that Google couldn’t use it. But Rummble use Skyhook, Google Gears and Google Maps, so they’re not dependent on the operators. Adrian added that wifi networks are also distintermediating the operators. Yet more mounting evidence of the coming battle in this space…

Business in the here and now

Dan from Sponge wasn’t convinced the pot of gold is Yellow Pages. But, he asked, how can the fragmented world of location based services present something simple and attractive to the Slug & Lettuces and Heinekens of this world? Adrian replied there’s a massive difference between whether you’re doing search or display advertising.

With talk turning again to marketing budgets, Adrian encapsulated the barriers currently facing marketers in the location-based space – you need to give media campaign planners enough scale so that they can organise their budgets. In turn, he asked, what premium is there on location?

Such scale in location based services has not currently been achieved, the panel agreed, and clearly no one had all the answers. But I’ll wager some of the companies involved in this absorbing discussion will play a part in changing that.

Merging physical and digital space

While the business development side of LBS is getting interesting, it’s all a million miles from the work of Proboscis and their ilk. But Felix Petersen said that truly locative media will facilitate some amazing things; people will not change, but outcomes will. And this very week (until this Sunday Friday 24th October!) another quite remarkable London-based urban mapping and discovery project is underway.

This time locative authoring and the “public based commons” is getting an accessible game-play twist, with the individual (but collective) mapping out of the answer to a question that players must solve by getting involved in discovering hidden objects and mapping them by GPS.

Utilising Twitter, mobile blogging and GPS, it’s the work of Moblog co-founder Alfie Dennen (in association with Demos, HomeMadeDigital and TED), whose objective is to unlock the urban “noticer” in all of us within a fun, engaging scenario, whilst also raising awareness of the XDRTB campaign started by photographer James Nachtwey which is highlighting the ravages of drug-resistant tuberculosis. As it happens, Alfie is also speaking at our next evening panel ‘MoSo Rising’ on November 11th.

The occurrence of these two separate events in the same fortnight in London was not consciously pre-planned, I promise. But it’s certainly something to be noted, or should I say “noticed”. One thing’s for sure – Felix Petersen was dead right to say the merging of real-life and digital location is starting to move in from the edges. The clue is in the patterns emerging. Better watch out…

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[NB: Really, this is just a fraction of what was covered in this event. I especially recommend Mjelly’s post for coverage of the event’s first half. I’ll update this post next week with a link to the podcast when it’s released]

[NB 2: cross-posted on my Chinwag blog]

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Micromedia futures or the emperor’s new clothes?

Disposable, atomised media is all the rage and I’m as guilty as the next person of wallowing in it.

Web 2.0 and all its trimmings is no exception to this trend, in fact it glories in all things transient.* But what does it add up to? This question is an itch worth scratching, so sometimes we revisit particular events after their initial outing.

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze at ad:tech 2008 L-R Miles Lewis of Last.fm, Umair Haque, Steve Bowbrick

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze at ad:tech 2008 L-R Miles Lewis of Last.fm, Umair Haque, Steve Bowbrick

Which is why, after it’s May 2008 debut (which garnered some good coverage), Chinwag Live took the Micro Media Maze panel on tour to the annual ad:tech London expo in Olympia on September 24th 2008, for an afternoon session on the issues of widgetised, disaggregated media – exploring the trends they embody and are driving forward.

PANEL:
Umair Haque – Director, Havas Media Lab /Bubblegeneration / Harvard Business Online
Miles Lewis – SVP European Advertising Sales, Last.fm
Nick Halstead – CEO & Founder, fav.or.it
Chair: Steve Bowbrick – digital media consultant & entrepreneur

Steve Bowbrick opened by remarking that we’re coming to the end of the IP4 phase of the internet and moving into IP6 (what happened to IP 5 nobody knows). In IP 6, there is 2 times the power of 52 addresses to every star in the universe.

This fits with the trend that we see emerging today in the digital world of everything being connected to everything else.

Every device – whether it’s a PC, or a phone – can have its own address in the IP space, Steve said. Steve I’ll raise you a bunny and the arrival of that old stalwart the interactive fridge 🙂 . Conjuring up a picture of billions of interconnected end points, this reminded me somewhat of Bruce Sterling’s concept of spime but I digress…

The micro media era – content unbound

Micromedia” – a term coined independently by both panellist Umair Haque and new media theorist Lev Manovich in 2005 – held out the promise of content being able to move between these fixed places (or IP points), to be unbundled and rendered remixable; the resulting formations of which could unlock new sources of value. Steve Bowbrick didn’t mention this explicitly, but it’s worth revisiting Haque’s original 2005 Media Economics Powerpoint presentation. The implications certainly informed the discussion.

Nick Halstead of fav.or.it observed that widgets are catering to the ability to customize, another trend we’ve seen explode over the last few years as media becomes more personalised. In turn, the widgets provided by MyBlogLog, Digg, etc, are using the medium in a very viral way, he noted.

fav.or.it’s widgets expose what widgets are popular on fav.or.it. There’s also an attention tracking element to their widgets, Halstead explained, as they’re tracking the number of seconds each user who has installed the widget spends on it and on the sites / URLs visited via the widget.

Widgets and the media balance sheet…

Last.fm now has 21 million users and an additional 19 million more people coming in through widgets. But they have a problem, as their SVP of advertising Miles Lewis explained. They can’t monetise people who only visit and experience Last.fm on widgets, and hence can’t pay for the music rights (publishing, recording and streaming rights).

Currently, there are 350m active Last.fm widgets [I need to check the podcast coming this week to verify this figure], and they also have free streaming on the iPod. Their recent re-design has helped them in terms of streaming rights and deals with the labels, Lewis explained.

But, Steve Bowbrick asked, isn’t that reversing the entire widgetisation trend? To which Lewis replied:

“It’s less about reversing a trend than it’s about building a bigger widget that has an ad on it.”

‘Last.fm In A Box’ is a new solution they’re working on, Lewis revealed [see Mashable and CNET‘s coverage of the announcement in June 2008]. If you click on the link, it opens a player and a commercial message starts that you can then minimise if you wish to proceed immediately. It’s on Rockstar.com on the Guitar Hero game.

Nick Halstead of Tweetmeme & Mile Lewis of Last.fm

Nick Halstead of Tweetmeme & Miles Lewis of Last.fm

Trojan horse for toxic media?

Umair Haque took the premise of widgets – and media more broadly – to task.

“We need to step back and realise that if we use widgets to bring the same old paradigm, that trend will eat itself, as it has done on Wall Street. The stuff we trade in, in media, is in danger of becoming toxic waste.

Now I’ve heard of toxic boyfriends and toxic hangovers before 😉 , and this week’s been all about toxic debts in financial markets, but toxic media was a new one for me. Haque posited an alternative:

“Ads have to become benefits for consumers – communication as benefit, not cost. Media and communications need to help people improve their abilities.”

“But most media – all the stuff we’re surrounded by here at ad:tech – is about making stuff 1% more efficient than it currently is. Most widgets are just distribution mechanisms for the same old junk, and these widgets are about amplifying the devaluation of that junk.”

Off-the-peg widgets for social networks

From the audience Miko Coffey asked the panel’s view on Widgetbox, which allows creation of widgets on the fly that run on Bebo, Myspace and the like.

Miles Lewis replied that Last.fm are open source. Nick Halstead explained that fav.or.it supports Creative Commons licensing, but the problem is that many of these sites promise to deliver widgets that work everywhere but they’re still not mass market enough.

Another audience member from a charity told how they had created an alcohol tracking widget, where users could enter their intake of alcohol and track how that changed and added up over time. How could they get older people to use this widget, when use of this media is dominated by a young audience?

Game-changing moves and creating new markets

Umair Haque turned the question around.

“Nintendo would never have created the Wii if they’d asked who the average game player was. Ten years ago, we never would have thought that old people would be playing games.”

Implicit in Haque’s statement was the understanding that Nintendo have eschewed recycling the same old ideas and assumptions in a new wrapper. Instead, they have done something different and created a whole new market in the process.

He cited companies like Kiva, who have pioneered micro-lending to entrepreneurs in developing countries, as salutary in that regard (the Grameen micro-financing initiative is in a similar vein and was recently mentioned by Vint Cerf in a piece for The Guardian). They show how enabling micro-transactions in a counter-intuitive fashion (from the financial norm in this instance) have been incredibly powerful and transformative.

Business models and the limits of social media

Another audience member who only wished to be identified as coming from “a social networking property”, asked about Last.fm’s business model. Lewis explained it was fourfold: advertising, affiliates, subscriptions, and on the biz dev side, a client like a retailer could use Last.fm In A Box to stream music and place an ad it, so people could listen to that while on the retailers website.

I took this to mean a white labelled widget or plug-in powered by Last.fm that adds ambience to a site, and the user experience, and monetises itself simultaneously.

While the crowd-pulling seminars at ad:tech London seemed to revolve around monetising social media, it seemed that our panel was more frank about the progress made to date. Last.fm, as the poster child of the UK’s Web 2.0 scene (they spoke alongside Skype at the first Beers & Innovation event I organised in February 2006), is still to turn a profit despite its huge audience. Since its acquisition by CBS/ Viacom, it has leeway to continue to grow whilst it pursues this objective.

The next wave of micro media

In turn, the economic shocks reverberating around the world should give us pause for thought. Perhaps the recession we’re poised to enter will precipitate new ways of creating value, and innovative services and strategies that foster that. Recall that game-changing services Craigslist and Flickr were born out of the utility and creativity fostered in the downtime of the last doctcom bust. Keeping an eye on mobile services is probably a good idea.

Steve Bowbrick, reflecting on the session, gives his view:

“The business of marketers should be to invest in durable, authentic content and experiences for their customers, not coming up with increasingly effective ways of taking them to the cleaners. At a conference and trade show devoted to online advertising I think this was a good message to leave behind.”

Whatever happens, we should assume that while micro media may be here to say, its deployment by companies and organisations is not intrinsically clever.

Instead, what will make micro media strategies fly is a combination of experimental chutzpah and purpose to solve real problems. Or else, like Haque says, it could just be about making stuff 1% more efficient, which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

[* Of course Web 2.0 has many upsides too, collaborative software being my particular favourite, and services such as Zopa]

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PREVIOUS EVENTS ON WIDGETS & MICRO MEDIA:

Beers & Innovation: Aggregator & Upsetters – October 2006 (event report)

Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised – May 2007 (event report)

Mobile Monday London: Mobile Widgets – May 2007

Chinwag Live on Tour: Media Widgetised at ad:tech London – September 2007

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze – May 2008 (event report)

Alchemy in the micro media maze

Micromedia makes my life better. For one thing – I don’t have to take comprehensive notes at Chinwag events, because there’s always the trusty podcast 🙂 Thus I spent more of this event using my more evolved faculties of listening and thinking. Amen to that!

L-R: Umair Haque, Ewan McIntosh (The Guardian), Steve Bowbrick, Mitch McAlister (Last.fm), Miles Lewis (Last.fm), Gerd Leonhard

L-R: Umair Haque, Steve Bowbrick, Neil McIntosh (The Guardian), Mitch McAlister (MySpace), Deirdre Molloy (Chinwag), Miles Lewis (Last.fm), Gerd Leonhard

Another good thing about micromedia is that it can re-combine or aggregate into different – often richer – things than its constituent ingredients. The whole is indeed greater… usually. And that’s exactly what happened at Chinwag Live Micro Media Maze last Tuesday 20th May.

PANEL

Umair Haque – Director, Havas Media Lab / Bubblegeneration
Gerd Leonhard – Media Futurist, Author, Entrepreneur
Mitch McAlister – Product Director (Europe), MySpace
Miles Lewis – SVP, European Advertising Sales, LastFM
Neil McIntosh – Head of Editorial Development, Guardian Unlimited
Chair: Steve Bowbrick

From the premise of widgets, and disaggregated, widgetised media more generally – it quickly took off into a much broader debate about the value of media, the challenges for advertising, and the potential of openness for brands, innovators and society more generally.

That’s an exciting leap – and it’s alchemy in my book. Like a previous event we held in Manchester in April – User Centred Advertising – raising bigger questions and breaking out of the ‘media as entertainment’ mindset triggered a much more stimulating conversation with the audience and pointed to an almost boundless horizon of opportunities.

Syndicated companies vs dinosaur brands

And if you’re looking to the future, then Media Futurist (and author of books The Future Of Music and Music 2.0) Gerd Leonhard is your man. Gerd has a way with metaphors and was on good form that evening. He predicted that in the future, there will be one bookmark that represents me, which I can reveal and share different parts of with my friends, colleagues and network.

In the future, most companies are going to be 90% syndicated, he said, as few can afford the huge investment it takes to create a major centralised [aka monolithic?] brand.

Coming from a massively widgetised service, Miles Lewis had some fascinating facts and insights – Last.FM‘s homepage only has 3% of its total hits. They’ve built their success by being all about music and nothing else, he observed. As such, I guess they are one of the leading niche networks – certainly the leading one founded in the UK! [aptly – they spoke at the first NMK Beers & Innovation event I organised in February 2006 on Start Up Culture]

Steve Bowbrick, Umair Haque and Ewan McIntosh at Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze May 2008

Steve Bowbrick, Umair Haque and Neil McIntosh at Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze May 2008

The writing on the crumbling walls is that they’re doomed

Lewis estimated that by the end of this year 55% of their users will be partaking of Last FM via widgets (currently that already stands at 40%), of which the largest has 50,000 users, and the smallest just 3. Regarding those thousands of smaller widgets, he wondered – somewhat archly – how the big media buyers and agencies [with their dinosaur mindsets 😉 ]can reach down into these micro audiences.

Mitch McAlister threw his and Myspace’s support behind the tenets of and movement towards openness – what Gerd is doing, and Lawrence Lessig, and a whole lot of other people, plus open source technologies and development. Collaboration, data portability and more are all key.

What’s more, Mitch expected to soon see the majority of traffic to Myspace on non-PC devices. The main stumbling-block has been the mobile network operators but that’s starting to change. Social nets shouldn’t be walled gardens, he stressed.

Brands in the wild and the benefits of remixable culture

Neil McIntosh of Guardian Unlimited said micromedia is good news for journalists, quipping that “nobody wants to be a channel”. The difficulties he saw were twofold. Firstly, it’s harder to serve ads against feeds. The second challenge was context – if you have a brand built around trust, what happens when your content is presented in an upsetting or inappropriate context off your site.

Umair Haque of Havas Media Lab explained that he wrote a long piece entitled The Age of Plasticity in 2005 (accessible as a Powerpoint download from his Bubblegeneration blog), wherein he first articulated and explained at length the idea that we get productivity and efficiency gains when we are allowed to remix things. Haque didn’t mention that he was also one of the two people who independently coined the term micromedia – also in 2005 – the other being leading new media theorist Lev Manovich]

Coops on the mike and Ian Delaney (lurking left) at Micro Media Maze

Coops on the mike and Ian Delaney (lurking left) at Micro Media Maze

Last FM and Myspace have revolutionised and solved the problem of the music industry, Umair said. But what is happening now – apart from micromedia being seen as yet another way to shove shitty advertising down our throats?

Going beyond the trivial mindset…

Umair (who also blogs as a discussion leader at Harvard Business Online) loathes the term ‘monetize’, he said, because you have to *create* value before you can capitalise on it; you have to have a purpose before you can profit from it. It’s not about creating games for Facebook. We in London labour under the delusion that media is entertainment, but media is so much more than that, it’s the interface for so much activity and experience in the world.

He challenged the panel and the audience to come up with something that would help solve real problems, not trivial ones, and create value at the same time.

Gerd Leonhard drew this analogy: in old media control = money; in new media trust = money. In companies embracing new media, collaboration with the audience is supplanting the old business model of control. Gerd’s remarks on a trust-based market reminded me a lot of the ideas of social capital getting a published articulation in Tara Hunt’s book The Whuffie Factor due to drop this autumn.

Media and ad agencies looking in the wrong direction?

Paul Fisher of Advent Capital Partners was first in from the audience with a question. If industries are creating less value, does this mean there will be fewer jobs in the old companies? In turn, where should he be looking for growth areas in terms of investments? For its sheer audacity, this got a few laughs from the audience.

Miles Lewis of Last FM had an interesting perspective on this. He argued that it is media agencies and ad agencies that are the dinosaur industries. The billions of spend they control are not going to where people are, it’s all going into TV and search.

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PODCAST ACTION!

Well, that’s what I’ve deciphered from my pleasingly sparse notes… but the debate was long and lively, and continued as people stayed to chat and have a drink afterwards. You can catch it all on the Chinwag Live podcast due later this week. Subscribe here or for iTunes go to the event page.

MORE COVERAGE OF MICRO MEDIA MAZE:

There have been some superb write-ups already from people who attended.

Jonathan Hopkins – Middledigit
Ben Matthews – Pudding Relations
Jemima Kiss – PDA Blog, Media Guardian
David Jennings

[NB. cross-posted on my Chinwag blog]

SXSW 08 panel: How widgets influence music on the web

You could sense the ‘we’ve got troubles but we’re still way cooler than you geeks’ (or are they?) vibe a mile off. The music biz was already rolling into Austin on the last day of SXSW Interactive 2008 before the full-scale SXSW Music conference kicked-off the next day – and they were out in force at this session on the afternoon of Tuesday 11th March.

PANEL:
John Bartelson – VP New Media , Island / Defjam
Rogelio Choy – VP Business Dev, RockYou
Chair: Liz Gannes – GigaOm
Ali Partovi – CEO, iLike
Jian Chen – Frontend Software Engineer, Meebo.com

After a year of Facebook mania, clearly the scent of widgets – and some massive widget players – was enough to lure artists, and indie and major labels into the room (if not the debate), and so it began…

Ali Partovi explained that they’ve built iLike into other social platforms but have also built a set of artist tools that will enable them to do stuff once, and publish / syndicate across Facebook, Bebo and elsewhere.

Bono of U2 started to write a new song ‘Wave Of Sorrow‘ and developed it through a process of discussion with fans on iLike. Partovi showed a video featuring Radiohead, Linkin Park and U2 and then rolled out the stats for some shock and awe impact (BTW, I haven’t checked these stats):

U2 – 2m fans on iLike / 131,000 on Myspace
Linkin Park – 542k iLike / 343k Myspace
Foo Fighters – 887k iLike / 588k Myspace
Radiohead have 1.4m fans on iLike

Through mediating their song development on iLike / Facebook in this fashion, he continued, U2 increased their iLike follower base from 1m to 1.3 million, and they’ve got nearly 10,000 comments on the video posted on U2’s iLike Facebook app about the creation of the song (also available on Youtube) .

Content everywhere: aggregating a wider audience…

Chen from Meebo described their product as chat room widgets embeddable across sites. They also generate traffic into the site and between sites. All the distributed widgets aggregate together a larger audience. Meebo widgets have totally skinnable interfaces for your brand or band.

In turn, their chat widgets recognize and play certain media URLs (video, audio, photo and URL previews). The media capabilities are not just for UGC, he added, but also media syndication.

Chen saw great potential in syndicating exclusive content from high quality content providers. He cited the Kanye West ‘Graduation’ album release, wherein Kanye’s label worked with Buddylube, a web 2.0 marketing management company who do a lot of customization of widgets. Graduation (released 11th September 2007) has now (March 2008 ) sold 950k albums, and had 330k legal digital downloads.

Widget marketing trends & the music value chain

Choy of RockYou said they went from 7m visitors to 45m since they’ve went onto Facebook. RockYou also works on Myspace and Bebo.

From the audience someone asked: how and when do we get to the stage where this is a normal way to market and communicate with fans? Chen replied: when the tools are simple enough for independent bands and indie labels to use.

Moderator Liz Gannes said we should check out Kanye’s blog. Is it all about the marketing? No one is talking about distributing…

Partovi of iLike commented that a lot of bands are thinking of themselves as a media business, where they’ll eventually be able to do an ad-supported model.

Choy said that the notion that artists can monetize on RockYou only works if they come through something like iLike. It’s very difficult process if you want to go into selling music online.

My question (which wasn’t picked, despite having my hand up for while) was: with a million widgets and oceans of UGC, will search and widget aggregators overtake the viral growth of widgets? Do they optimize widgets for search, and how to they monitor the level and spread of widget usage as content gets more and more disaggregated?

[Sidebar: This issue will be addressed at the Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze event next week, Tuesday 20th May – and Myspace’s European Product Direcetor Mitch McAlister and Last FM‘s SVP of European Ad Sales Miles Lewis are among the panelists you can quiz on this topic. Booking and more info here.]

Future distribution – D2C scenarios and widget overload

Gannes asked the panel: is the distribution business viable for you? Choy said that selling (not just music but also photos, videos, etc) is not part of what RockYou does directly, but it is through relationships… I guess he meant RockYou is part of the value chain.

Partovi remarked that as things get more and more cluttered, utility decreases, usage decreases and it’s harder to get take-up. Things stagnate and there’s less innovation; and innovation is very important.

iLike lets artists know who their fans are based on peoples’ activity on the widget. This gives, for example, Radiohead access to a much bigger audience online than they could handle or attract through their own site. However, people still downloaded their new album from Limewire, and Radiohead got no metrics [never mind revenue] for that, and no email addresses for all those people.

And there’s the rub! Elsewhere that day, as reported by Paid Content, there was a rowdier session on ad-supported music services. If I could have widgetised myself (far preferable to cloning methinks) I would definitely have been there. 😉

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More coverage of this session:

Widgets put music where it’s at – Jemima Kiss, Media Guardian PDA blog

Upcoming evening panel event:

Chinwag Live Micro Media Maze – Tuesday 20th May 2008, London
http://live.chinwag.com/micromediamaze

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…

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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

Facebookology – the Mark Zuckerberg SXSW 08 keynote interview

Looking at the man who created an addiction I have recently recovered from, whose product I have read and thought about way too much, I was conflicted.

I mean how many layers of information/identity/experience etc can one person process in a split second, right? Facebook has been useful, work enhancing, fun, valuable, diverting, strange, compelling, addictive, aggravating, blundering, wasteful, alienating.

In terms of where it ranks in the social software services I use (for a host of reasons), that depends, but today I rank the top ten thus: Flickr, Drupal, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Upcoming, Linked In, Delicious, MediaWiki, Bloglines.

I might rank these differently tomorrow, or if you ask me a specific question about my purpose, but that’s the broad order right now (sad how my RSS reader has dropped down the list, huh?) .

Zeitgeist platform

So I adopted my “industrial (floor) era” reporter stance and took copious notes at the SXSW Interactive keynote interview with 23-year-old Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Lurking in the shadows, I also drank coffee and ate a superzised muffin. I was coping 😉

And after the webstorm around the “Sarah Lacy / mob-rulekerfuffle died down, and putting aside the business issues per-se, a few seemingly innocuous par-for-the course points lingered.

Zuckerberg was keen to stress the neutrality of the platform, stating over and over that they just want to “help people communicate more effectively and efficiently”. While the case studies he raised of how FB has been used to co-ordinate politically in Colombia and Lebanon could both (naturally) be interpreted as politically skewed, and he flagged up the fight against global poverty, Mark saw social facilitation via technology – not ideology – as the philosophy driving Facebook.

“We’re just trying to build an infrastructure on top of which people can operate.”

Myface or Ourspace?

But this impartial view that Facebook simply lowers the barriers to communication and activity was muddied somewhat when seconds later he remarked:

“People should be able to be heard without any large organisation of millions of people. The world is an increasingly complex place and we need something – an infrastructure – on top of which people can communicate and do it [organise] from the bottom-up.”

Isn’t that an (albeit bland) endorsement of decentralised activity? So bland that it’s in fact very slick. Zuckerberg comin’ on like a talkshow equivalent of Clay Shirky. But lest we forget while caught in the swoon of emergent online communities, centralised political activity abides.

New ecosystem of value-creation a closed book?

So, it’s grassroots activity FB is (apparently) facilitating: the organic, the makeshift social milieu… hmm. Perhaps Zuckerberg should steer clear of sociological points, but the folksy grassrootness was blurred in the context of later comments he made:

“We see the company as a collection of social services,” he said, adding that opening up the developer platform allows people outside to make these services too and they’re “an increasingly important part of the ecosystem”.

“Revenue is a trailing indicator of the non-revenue value you are building,” he observed further into the interview, mid-way through an exploration of Beacon, spammy apps, and the Microsoft / IPO debate.

Beware the quicksand…

Facebook as a brand is rightly a mighty force, whether as a closed system (and open source hate object) or gradually opening space. Speaking of news community aggregator Newsvine, The Guardian’s Charles Arthur recently summed up the power of the Web 2.0 brand:

“[it] is a brand, buoyed by its community of users; without the users it would be nothing, but without the brand, the users would just be people milling around on the web, looking for a forum in which to post their thoughts and be heard.”

…but we’ve seen how easily media (oops, “platform”) brand allegiance can shift, and how heckishly difficult it is to create revenue.

Concurring with Lacy’s point that Facebook considers itself a technology company and not a media company like Myspace, Zuckerberg said: “Yes, and we hire senior people with a technical background, this makes it pervasive in our culture – to be a platform that enables other people to build businesses [that’s anyone from Coke to your 16-year-old neice of course] and build things.”

Ah, a pure marketplace, got it. Oh, but what’s this? Some libertarianism with your platform sir? With some baked-in diversity, vanilla flavour.

All kinds of everything… [*]

“In terms of community we consider it to be a very personal thing. People aren’t being forced into any community, it’s more about allowing them to communicate more and keep in touch with people.”

Egad, Zuckerberg posits Facebook as platform for mass diversity shocker! And yet it’s not so clear-cut. Maybe Mark’s been reading Jaron Lanier? Or perhaps his advisors have been. In turn, spare me the conspiracy schtick; I think it’s a whole lot more confusing and interesting than that. In my book (sic), as both a creature and driver of the complex world, the Facebook story is not over yet – whether you consider it evil, benign or a panacea for all ills.

It’s been an interesting year now social media’s gone mainstream. We’ve lived it, and learnt a few lessons. The gist of it all? Like the SXSW interview, it’s been messy.

[* Dana’s #URL correction# 1970 Eurovision winner says it all]

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The other Pandora’s Box point to emerge from his interview I’ll leave to a later post. Suffice to say it relates to the whole privacy-identity-openness debate.

[NB: I haven’t cross-checked my hand-written notes with either the official SXSW session podcast or the Allfacebook video posted on Valleywag – apologies for any inaccuracies my account may contain]