Category Archives: Start Ups

Round up of my Chinwag events

Sheesh, is it really six months since I left Chinwag? Crazy times. Half of my hybrid role there (the other being planning, wireframing and launching/editing the new website) involved hatching ideas for and bringing to life their wish for an events programme…

Chinwag Live banner

What shall we call it, Sam mused, when I joined in October 2006. I processed this while getting other stuff done. A few hours later I blurted out “It’s a bit cheeky, but how about Chinwag Live?”. So, he asked with his customary chortle, what’s it all about then D? “Casting light on trends in the digital media and marketing industry” I reasoned, deadpan. Actually, it was Sam who insisted we add the words “and marketing“.

Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised - part of Widget Week 2007

Me introducing Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised - part of Widget Week 2007

So I got onto it. Oh yeah, and the marketing and the PR and the whole social media fandango. Bloggishness? Obligatory. Old skool press release? Easy. Facebook Goup? In an instant. Upcoming? Check. Oh, now we need a Facebook Page too huh? Sorted. Flickr photos of every event? At once. Multiple Twitter accounts? We have the technology. Endless networking across the digital fleshpots of London (and Texas)? But of course…

All the good people at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised 16th May 2007

All the good people at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised 16th May 2007

It would all be nothing of course without the thousands of incredible people who were there over the 24+  events… Whatever happens with the recession and the government’s Digital Britain initiative, I know that the UK is a very special place for digital debate and enterprise…

Chinwag Big Summer 07 sponsored by Channel4, Adobe, Neutralize, Agency.com and The Big Chill

Chinwag Big Summer 07 sponsored by Channel4, Adobe, Neutralize, Agency.com and The Big Chill

Here’s a run-down of the Chinwag Live events that resulted during my tenure, plus the offshoots: Chinwag Clinic; Widget Week 2007; and not forgetting Big Summer ’07 – officially the biggest ever party for digital practitioners in the UK with some 2,000 folk attending.

Chinwag's Big Summer party 5th July 2007 dancefloor moves to The Big Chill's DJs

Chinwag's Big Summer party 5th July 2007 dancefloor moves to The Big Chill's DJs

MY CHINWAG EVENTS CALENDAR:

Chinwag Live: Wobble 2.0 – 6th Feb 2007

Chinwag Live: Mobile Metamorphosis – 26th Feb 2007

Chinwag Live: PPC Earthquake – 27th Mar 2007

Chinwag Live: PR Unspun – 24th Apr 2007

Chinwag Live: PPC Earthquake @ Internet World – 2nd May 2007

Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised – 16th May 2007

Widget Week 2007 – 14th-22nd May 2007
(in collaboration with Mobile Monday & NMK)

Chinwag Live: Dark Side Of Social Media – 19th Jun 2007

Big Summer ’07 – 5th Jul 2007
(a superhuman team effort!)

Chinwag Live: Web TV Takeover – 18th Sep 2007

Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised @ Ad Tech London – 27th Sep 2007

Chinwag Live: Xmas Futures, Crystal Balls? – 5th Dec 2007

Chinwag Live: Skills Emergency – 29th Jan 2008

Chinwag Live: Measuring Social Media – 18th Feb 2008

Chinwag Live: Tomorrow’s Ad Formats – 18th Mar 2008

Chinwag Live: User Centered Advertising (with Manchester Digital) – 15th Apr 2008

Chinwag Live: Real World Usability – 22 Apr 2008

Chinwag Live: Measuring Social Media @ Internet World – 30th Apr 2008

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze – 20th May 2008

Chinwag Live: Search vs Recommendation – 2nd Sep 2008
(in co-ordination with Elizabeth Varley)

Chinwag Live: Micro Media Maze @ Ad Tech London – 24th Sep 2008

Chinwag Clinic: Search Marketing Surgery – 30th Sep 2008
(in co-ordination with Elizabeth Varley)
[Testimonials For Search Marketing Surgery]

Chinwag Live: Search and LBS – 7th October 2008
(in co-ordination with Elizabeth Varley)

Chinwag Live: Social Media ROI @ Ecommerce Expo – 28th Oct 2008
(in co-ordination with Julia Eilon)

Chinwag Live: MoSo Rising – 11th Nov 2008
(in co-ordination with Julia Eilon)

Chinwag Live: Xmas Futures, Crystal Balls? – 2nd Dec 2008
(in c0-ordination with Julia Eilon)

That is all.

Want more? Are you for real? Okeydoke, here’s a round-up of My NMK Events.

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Joining the dots at Chinwag Live MoSo Rising

On November 11th 2008 a cross-section of mobile and web practitioners assembled to discuss the ascent and future of mobile social networks and media. It was the second mobile-focused event in a row for Chinwag this autumn, but the discussion was completely different – see my previous post.

Chinwag Live Moso Rising Nov 2009

Unfortunately, someone in the audience repeatedly disrupted it right at the beginning, which threw the panel off slightly, and it took some time for the discussion to find its sweet-spot.

Speaking to jamescoops of mjelly afterwards, I totally agreed with his view that events like this need to begin from some kind of shared framework of understanding, from which they can then progress to a fruitful debate, and in doing so also surface and deal with the blind-spots of the audience, as at Chinwag Live events the diversity of specialism and experience is broad – a state of affairs which (for good reasons) I think should be cherished.

To try and make up for this here, I’ll quote from the event description that was co-written by myself and Julia Eilon:

“The rise and rise of mobile social networking and services is upon us, but is ‘mobile access’ enough or do users seek more?

Spurred on by web leaders like Facebook and MySpace and with lower data charges spreading for mobile web access, mobile social usage has soared. Are location-based services going to be key to its success, or is there more to the future of this most social of devices? How can brands engage in the mobile social space?

Will there be a battle for survival among the current myriad of mobile-only social networks and video / blogging platforms, or can they succeed with focus on novel functionality and user experience? Should online niche social networks also make the move to mobile? Where are the revenue streams and how effective can the ROI be?”

PANEL:

Harry Blunden – Head of Digital, ?WhatIfInnovation!
Justin Davies – Founder, NinetyTen / BuddyPing
Alfie Dennen – Co-founder & CEO, Moblog
Chris Seth – MD Europe, Piczo (unable to attend at last minute)
Roy Shelton – CEO, Next2Friends
CHAIR: Bena Roberts – Mobile Media & Advertising Consultant, Founder & Editor, GoMo News

What follows are some excerpts from my notes. The full-fat podcast will be out soon…

Business models and traction

Roy Shelton – when Next2Friends started they thought they could charge subscription, and then build it up around advertising, but now they’re using it mainly as a white label service to power others’ services.

Alfie Dennen (who has also been busy with some noteworthy personal projects) spoke of the phone as a vector. There’s no chance of traction unless an operator / carrier deck deal is in place. So Moblog has done white label products. Practically speaking, there are quite a lot of ways you can make money from mobile social platforms and services, but it’s still quite guerrilla, he stressed

Justin Davies – the network operators will be key. Think of the power of being able to take a picture and instantly send / share it with my address book.

Jay Cooper from Blyk (in the audience) challenged this, saying Blyk have proved that the ad-funded model can work – it’s not about technology, it’s about having a community. Panel members countered that it was rather about Blyk’s very unique business model 🙂

Who, why, what, when and where..?

Next2Friends are working with the UK’s biggest gay social network to enable real-time posting of photos to the web based around voting upon “who do I want to sleep with tonight?”

Alfie – in China there’s an issue with LBS in that you can’t say where a lot of things are. Moblog had to write an algorithm that screwed up the location slightly.

Justin – just to get the location licence you have to jump through a lot of hoops with the operators, but ultimately, in terms of revealing your location on LBS, it’s up to the user. We need more regulation, and to know and think about the boundaries surrounding us and the legalities surrounding that.

Roy – the advice Next2Friends were given in the UK and US was very different, so they went down the self-policing route. UK is also governed by OFTEL (now OFCOM) regulation of content for under 16s.

Courting brand relationships…

Conor McKenna of mobile social search engine Taptu asked: what should brands be doing and what should agencies be putting in front of them?

Harry Blunden of WhatIfInnovation addressed this, flagging up “branded utility” as a hot idea (although not so new – I first heard of it from Simon Andrews in August 2006), and social networks on mobile are in that space. WhatIf have been looking at brands and mini meet-ups – for example beer voucher giveaways driven by social network awareness.

Harry Dewhirst from Ring Ring Media pointed out that simple campaigns like Flirtomatic’s incredibly successful Strongbow offer showed how direct marketing and response will work in this space. More sophisticated targeting is also possible, he added, and it could drive some fantastic campaigns.

Forecasts for (next year, I think) on mobile are a billion for Myspace and 4 million for Facebook. [NB. I didn’t note if this referred to revenues or users, or who said this; I’ll update when podcast is released]

Harry continued that Ring Ring advocate cross-pollination of social nets and off-deck, as well as ads and placement on-deck.

Luis Carranza from Iris Digital observed that the term “mobile advertising” sets up an assumption that it’s just broadcast and online advertising transferring onto the mobile phone, but we need to improve and evolve the marketing approach so that’s is attuned to the medium. Harry Blunden put a different spin on this, stressing that social networks are just an innovation in digital communications.

Courtesy of Chinwag

Courtesy of Chinwag

I can haz mobile web access?

Jez Dutton, a senior planner from Glue, asked about the key drivers from the consumer perspective, and what are the cost issues?

Speaking with his developer hat on, Justin Davies said that 4 or 5 companies will end up controlling access to applications, but you also need to be aware that you can’t develop an app that is similar to one Apple already have.

In terms of countering the billshock that accompanies metered access to the mobile web, Alfie reckoned that bundling Facebook with Orange was a red herring. I’m not quite sure how this follows, but I’m sure he can set me right on this… 🙂

Harry Blunden countered this directly – it’s the original online social networks (Facebook, Myspace, etc) that have driven mobile web adoption, and the experience is improving because of the services and usability they have offered on mobile.

Is mobile the leader of the pack?

Another good question came from the audience in the form of this poser: is the social net phenomenon predicting what is already happening to us on our mobile phones (was Facebook the peak?) or [in the words of the song] is this just the beginning?

Harry cited the Accelerometer in the device [it’s in the iPhone, and some N Series, S60 and Sony Ericsson models from my brief scan of the web on this, and of course has been widely toyed with] – as a an omen of coming improvements in usability and user interface. Alfie observed that the iPhone is not the second coming, it’s just a sign. It’s a necessary evil given the Apple lock-in. The question is more “what will Nokia do?”

Channel 4’s mobile work around the Embarrassing Bodies series was more to his liking. They got 55,000 downloads of information on mobile after they offered a text-in service to receive more information. The context of mobile as a personal device was key to uptake, Alfie explained. How many people would want to download content about that topic to their PC, when, for instance, partners or family members might also be able to see or access that information? On mobile, it made sense.

Conor McKenna made the point that a lot of people who are using mobile web aren’t online [ie. on a computer] much or at all, such as taxi drivers and doctors.

Explaining the evolution of Next2Friends, Roy Shelton said firstly it was about early adopters; the second wave was creative types, aspiring film-makers and the like; then the social shopping function emerges with sharing and getting opinions. Conor chipped in that mobile social is big in parts of Eastern Europe, with ItsMy going ballistic in Hungary.

Luis from Iris revealed that they’re launching two social networks on mobile handsets in the next year. With time running out, Luis asked – what is the one thing that you would say to mobile customers? For Alfie it was “be there” (though his voice dropped an octave, he was only half joking); while Justin directed his message at producers: “keep it simple.”

PS: I’ll update this post with the RSS and iTunes links when the podcast is released.

PPS. I’m *still* semi-sulking coz no-one, at the event or elsewhere, has mentioned the Jim Morrison allusion in the event title 😉

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…

—-

[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]

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

How we knit the webosphere together – lessons so far

This is outta character, but I’m reposting a comment I made on the Broadstuff (aka Broadsight’s Alan Patrick’s) blog within the last hour, with a few corrections…

Here’s the original post: Bitchin’ About Aggregator posts on Techmeme

To recap on Broadstuff’s key points:

“In essence the issue discussed is… that these aggregators are taking commenting and all that away from the blogs, and “the conversation” is happening elsewhere

… here’s my thesis; anyone who wants to talk to the blogger will probably do it on the blog still, or on a social network they use.

… all these Feedread type aggregator plays that are trying to create their own platforms are medium term f*cked (no matter how much PR $5m can buy) as any form of large scale service – they are just too disjointed…

… Maybe what would be more useful than a Friendfeed downstream aggregator is a “reverse aggregator”, where people who want to comment on any one of these media can do so and it pops up on the blog page, allowng other commentators on other aggregators to see the conversation.”

Here’s my verbose response (but it’s a mammoth issue – my lame excuse)

(1) Initially, in terms of connecting blogosphere conversation together there was trackback, but then along came the traditional publishers and they couldn’t deal with the (spam / gaming) issues, nor incorporate the lessons of online communities’ design or etiquette so far. Thus the promise held out by trackback (see Nico Macdonald, ‘Comment is Free,’ but designing communities is hard, Online Journalism Review, 17th July 2006) was quashed.

(2) Then trackback spam arrived (your favourite Alan) – possibly the final nail in the coffin of trackback’s potential (if we agree pingbacks are the watered-down substitute).

(3) In turn, beyond mere feed readers, more sophisticated aggregators like Netvibes and other “thin portal[s] of widgets” (to quote Mike Butcher on a post about Sleevenotez he wrote on Vecosys, since deleted by the blog owner) entered the arena, along with cross-platform microblogging. The social web and mobile stuff more generally – rather than just the blogosphere – at least became more manageable [see also Jaiku, though it’s gone quiet since Google acquired it late in 2007, and interesting lifestream propositions like Rememble].

(4) But before we could take a breath, social networks went zoom, and we were pouring tons of valuable-to-trivial content, discussion and links (it’s all a continuum, right) into the likes of Facebook and Bebo. But it was hellish-difficult/impossible to connect this back out to the open internet, the ahead of its time [and much lamented] BlogFriends for pouring back in-and-out notwithstanding.

(5) Now we have the next wave of aggregators: Friendfeed, favorit, Plaxo’s Pulse feature, the recently souped-up MyBlogLog et al.

(6) And hot on their tails – for the blogerati – Cocomment, Disqus, SezWho, and IntenseDebate became part of the equation, some of whom even have social network integration in their pipeline apparently 🙂 [my, that sounds rather painful]

(7) This doesn’t even factor in the photo and video outfits out there – Seesmic, Qik, Flickr video, Google Video, Vimeo, BlipTV [gratuitous interview and Beers & Innovation RSS Frontiers video linkage], Moblog and the like; especially the cross-platform players among them. Who has even mentioned or interrogated their part in the connected web in this month’s discussion? Yep, time to remove the old-skool web goggles.

So now that the conversation has left the blogosphere [ReadWriteWeb, 20th March 2008] where does that leave us?

If the walled garden is crumbling, but our attention is ever more stretched, and our conversational quality and digital health suffering, is the model of aggregating eyeballs doomed or due for a fresh lease of life from the most innovative but implacably dominating mover in this space?

And / or in biz parlance, has the reverse aggregator got legs?

I’d love to hear what folks think about all or any of this. Then I can go back to knitting or eating chocolate to calm down – apparently that’s what works for people who aren’t bona fide geeks and are seen to be interrogating stuff above their station, or asking questions that are difficult. Who knew? Go experts! 😉

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PS. All of which makes me even more convinced that the questions we asked in London (and the blogosphere – joint blog by Mike Butcher + Deirdre Molloy) in June 2006 at the NMK Content 2.0 conference, which I co-organised with NMK co-worker Nick Watt, still haven’t been seriously addressed.

PPS. So much for the networked age!

PPPS. Buce Sterling on why the interweb’s a mess 🙂

Widget Week part 2 – Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised

Potent openers are thin on the ground at events, mine especially. Having often developed and programmed the events, I’m normally found delivering safety instructions and other such vital messages in a vaguely ironic monotone (see photos).

So props to Steve Bowbrick for his scenesetting observation at Chinwag Live: Media Widgetised on Wednesday 16th May that the opposing life forces of disintegration and re-formation are encapsulated in the widgetisation of media.

Getting the second event in Widget Week properly underway, Steve canvassed the panel for their definition of a widget and the answers were both resonant and diverse. For their answers, you have to listen to the podcast due this Thursday 24th May.

PANEL:
Mark Taylor – Head of Content, Eircom & founder, Sleevenotez (blog)
George Berkowski – Head of Internet Strategy, BT Retail
Fergus Burns – CEO & Founder, nooked
Jonathan Gabbai – Solutions Manager, eBay
Kaj Häggman – Business Development Manager & Inventor, WidSets (blog)
Chair: Steve Bowbrick

So are widgets internet famous? 😉 George Berkowski, Head of Internet Strategy at BT Retail flagged-up Adsense as the most successful widget to date. He also cited Photobucket, which gets 1% of all internet traffic in the US.

Nooked CEO Fergus Burns was quick off the mark with some headline info about the widget economy. Last year was the year retailers and advertisers started asking “how do I get onto Myspace and onto Vista Gadgets?” You want your widget to be viral, but how do you drive traffic back to your site from RSS and the widget, Burns continued. The challenges ahead mean it has to be fun and it has to give value to the consumer (can you tell Fergus wasn’t giving away too much..?).

Kaj ‘Hege’ Häggman of Widsets stressed the widget proposition has to be simple. They now have 14,000 widgets in their library, 99% of which have been created by users. Doing profile-base widget recommendations is edging very close to advertising he noted.

Widgets – socking it to the portals?

Eircom Head of Content and Sleevenotez founder Mark Taylor explained that the “Kwaydo” engine that powers Sleevenotez (get more info by clicking on ‘Navigation’ on the Zythe homepage), is in fact a platform that powers what he terms “thin portals”.

He acknowledged that on the one hand – with Kwaydo – he is trying to disrupt portal models, but on the other – with his (Irish incumbent telco) Eircom hat on – to maintain them. He said widgets can extend your brand’s borders, but as a widget sceptic he is concerned that widgets are going to become another marketing and advertising tool.

Outfits like Ning and PeopleAggregator are going in one direction against the old portals, he said, but portals still have a role to play and while we are trying to figure out what that role is, it is clear that there is a value in aggregating large audiences. In turn, those portal-type aggregators can also provide access to exclusive content that you can then widgetise.

Utility versus monetisation?

eBay Solutions Manager Jonathan Gabbai stressed that widgets facilitate the distribution of content – which begs the question how do you monetize that? eBay is good for that because it is time-sensitive. The newly launched eBayToGo widget can be embedded on a blog or website giving you live updates on your auction. It this scenario, it’s important to have an open API, as has Amazon and Google, he added.

From the audience Pauli Visuri described a widget rather poetically as a “tear-off” from a website. Robin Gurney of (Estonian-based) Altex Marketing sounded a more cynical note, saying this monetized widget “sounded like a glorified version of affiliate marketing”.

Jonathan Gabbai concurred welcomingly that widgets do lend themselves to affiliate marketing. Someone else said the whole widget phenomenon must be like a “freak-out nightmare” for content owners and publishers, and George Berkowski noted that that is part of it, but there is also a real value for the user – the widget services from Slide, Photobucket and RockYou have great usability and utility for users. They have an altruistic and positive brand effect, and at the same time those companies are monetizing widgets very well.

Applications for and by the masses?

Kaj Häggman observed that it’s as much about allowing users to generate applications, and it’s a new paradigm that that not only gives users control to create their own apps, it’s also about giving control back to the developers. The mobile industry needs to be able to talk the language of the web industry, he stressed; a remark that triggered a flurry of comments about how the mobile industry’s business models were being put on the line by the arrival of the mobilized web, hence their reluctance to embrace it until the last moment possible.

Steve Bowbrick mused on the impact on site owners who have to host the applications and content of others via embedded widgets; the prospect of that happening on phones struck him as even more iffy.

One widget into 25 platforms does not compute…

A delegate from Profero noted that the arrival of Apollo from Adobe opens out the Flash platform to developers and he suggested that this would make it all more popular and widespread. Fergus Burns countered that the recent launches of Silverlight (from Microsoft) and Apollo means that we will end now end up with about 25 different widget platforms that developers will have to develop differently for.

This issue was thrown into even sharper relief by Opera Software ’s Charles McCathieNevile two nights earlier at Mobile Monday: Mobile Widgets. If development work around incompatible widget platforms is not in itself going to become a barrier to the development of widgets, he reflected, support needs to cohere around the notion of a standardised widget spec which is validated by the W3C (more here).

Dave Markham from Vodafone wondered wasn’t it all more about making sure it all works. Vodafone want it to work with widget builders, he said, and he asked the panel whether it would be a better experience for mobile users with downloadable widgets or online widgets.

Widgets as symbiotic parasites

Kaj Häggman commented that a widget is a very personal thing and there is a possibility to put an ad in that space that is not intrusive. Jonathan Gabbai observed that the big question here was one of trust. For kids, you could see a widget as a Harry Potter sticky note. So does that mean it’s all pre-packaged content?

A widget can be classified as a web service, said Burns. Dave Hornick on Ventureblog reckons it can be symbiotic (the Harry Potter-type, providing value for both host and widget provider), or that such as found with Slide, which is a parasitic widget that makes revenue for the widget provider.

Steve then interjected with a vivid analogy of an ecosystem of parasitic widgets leeching around the place and monetizing the attention of hosts on the one hand, and benign widgets that that swung freely between the trees.

Personalisation and widgetised identity

George Berkowski cited the robust personalisation of SnapVine. In turn, he continued, you have the phenomenon of widgetised startpages, whereby you can go to a celebrity’s page, for example on Netvibes, and it has all her content aggregated, plus you can leave voicemails and comments on it.

Lingo allows you to do the same with video and audio. There’s nothing to download, sort of like Skype without the download.

Alex Cooper of 1UpSearch asked if the Widsets business model was one of collecting demographic information and he wondered how that will pan out – will we be spammed by Nokia? Häggman explained that it will be opt-in as they value peoples’ privacy. Steve commented that it all was a bit like widgets as Big Brother or CCTV on your desktop.

Widgets atomised or widgets humanised?

Mark Taylor cited the utility of a private banking widget and Fergus Burns flagged-up the Ding! widget produced by South West Airlines, noting that it had 2 million downloads and there was no privacy issue with that. Jonathan Gabbai remarked that there’s a difference between installation and download, for example, with Firefox you download the extensions but it’s a low barrier to entry.

Finally, Gavin O’Carroll of Rememble asked the kind of mind-melting question that I had hoped audience members might ask in a previous post about this event. Where does it stop? Can you widgetise widgets? For example, will we have banner ads in widgets, and is there any reason why you can’t advertise in widgets?

Check the podcast (due Thursday 24th) for attempted answers to that, as at that point my humble penning skills failed and minutes later chair Steve Bowbrick said it was a wrap.

Stowe Boyd (who discovered the event via Dopplr when he arrived in the UK that afternoon) remained quiet during the discussion but told me afterwards he thought the event was too focused on monetisation (he also tweeted this) and didn’t really look at the user. Fair dos, but isn’t it fair enough to examine potential business models when you want to make a living?

Freakout nightmare or scent of a persona..?

What I felt was also missing was the publisher and brand perspective in terms of future media (although there were plenty of mainstream media publishers in the audience) – how do they maintain their brand identity in the web feed, widget and mash-up space without hugely irritating or inconveniencing people, and how do they fund widgetisation? Alan Patrick is convinced advertising in feeds will fail (see his post on the event). So what will work?

The broader issues of widgetisation outlined in the event webpage were barely touched upon and I would like to have heard more from panellist Mark Taylor too. Check out Mike Butcher’s excellent post on Sleevenotes from back in December 2006 for more on what Mark is up to.

Priya told me later that evening she thought a widget was like a digital perfume. But then we started quibbling over whether she meant natural human scent, perfume or aftershave, and then whether or not we favoured aftershave. And so the lights went down and off I hobbled to Madame JoJo’s for the tail end of the book launch party for Richard Barbrook’s Imaginary Futures: From Thinking Machine to Global Village.

Yep, another Chinwag Live to remember when we’re in yr rockin chairz gluing captions to yr cats…. (cheers Ian). Hmm, did I already mention the photos?

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Please bear in mind my notes were sporadic and atomised 😉 For the complete lowdown on what was said, subscribe to the Chinwag Live podcast via RSS or iTunes.