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  • feedwordpress 16:50:40 on 2014/03/23 Permalink
    Tags: Data Science, Future   

    Creativity Versus the Quants: Does Data Stifle or Amplify Innovation? 

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    This weekend’s New York Times Op-Ed “Creativity vs the Quants” deeply resonated with me this Sunday morning. Journalist Timothy Eagan’s piece appears largely a response to the quantification of society, namely, Nate Silver’s latest project: data journalism [[FiveThirtyEight]] — which is uses fancy modern data analysis methods to figure out what’s going to happen and better understand what happened. In other words, who cares about human analysis, because the data story will tell you the real story.

    Eagan’s Op-Ed was clearly sparked by Silver, but led him to a much larger question that I think we all need to be thinking about as it [data] is going to seriously alter our society going forward. There’s a lot of optimization and insights that can be gleaned from all of this information we are tracking, but at some point we may rely too much on this information — as it becomes “safe” — and lose the opportunity to take grand leaps to innovate.

    A former journalist, and a co-creative, I share Eagan’s fear, and the spirit that inspired these opening grafs:

    Here’s how John Lennon wrote “Nowhere Man,” as he recalled it in an interview that ran just before he was murdered in 1980: After working five hours trying to craft a song, he had nothing to show for it. “Then, ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down.”

    Here’s how Steve Jobs came up with the groundbreaking font selection when Apple designed the Mac: He had taken a class in the lost art of calligraphy and found it “beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture.” Ten years later, it paid off when Apple ushered in a typeface renaissance.

    And here’s how Oscar Wilde defined his profession: “A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.”

    He goes on to discuss Common Core Standards curriculums, “teaching to the test,” and how our education system now is focused on teaching towards a standard quant-based definition of intelligence versus allowing unique intellect to prosper.

    But perhaps because creativity remains so unquantifiable, it’s still getting shortchanged by educators, new journalistic ventures, Hollywood and the company that aspires to be the earth’s largest retailer, Amazon.com.

    From a personal angle, I find this all fascinating as my life has taken an unpredictable turn (even for the data scientists, I’d bet) in that data has become a key part of my life. It may be that it’s becoming increasingly a key part of everyone’s lives, but for a person who planned to spend her life as an artist or designer, a true creative where numbers were only relevant in terms of dollars and hours spent and earned, today, numbers — data — are the center of my world.

    It all started when I got my break as a technology journalist in 2005, in the age when social was just starting to take off and there was a clear transition in the industry from reporting quality to number of shares, largely dependent on speed of coverage and scooping your competition. But when I really fell into the world of quantification professionally was when I began my career at Badgeville, the leading gamification platform.

    At its core, gamification is really all about data, it’s about tracking gobs of user behavior and figuring out what design elements motivate that behavior, then automating it using a technology. The “game” part makes it sound a bit fluffy at first glance but it’s really quite sophisticated stuff, so much so that I found myself really excited about this new world of personally-beneficial and actionable data insights.

    My new job, which I’ll write a whole post about soon, is at a very exciting company that is even more so about leveraging data to help businesses thrive. I needed to adjust my thinking — as a creative — to embrace data, not as something that stifles creativity, but instead as a helpful tool to provide creativity valuable guidance. Sure, there will always be time to step back and go against the data-grain, so to speak, but largely in business, in marketing especially, we are just wasting time with guesswork. So there is a place for data, there’s a huge place for data in our lives and whether we like it our not our lives will continue to get more and more quantified.

    But data takes information that exists to come up with an answer or series of answers based on a pre-programmed algorithm. It doesn’t understand the musicality of language, or how the natural eye processes the white space on a page. Perhaps one day data analysis will become so advanced that it will, like the robots in the movie Her or Battlestar Galactica, mimic our own thought and creative abilities, but we are far off from this, and until machines can meld data with creativity we are hurting ourselves by putting too much value on data alone. We have to leverage the data and there is tons of value to gain from it, but we can’t be all data all the time. Innovation will suffer.

    What data can do — what the best use of data is — is automating at larger scale what today takes ridiculous hours of manual time for tiny wins and optimizing such inefficiencies — to free us and our brainpower up to actually spend our waking hours on creating, innovating, and problem solving.

    The big question is can we find the right balance so we can still encourage and nurture what we do best as humankind — think for ourselves and to create – the new – “the unpredictable.” Nate Silver, can you predict that for me?


  • feedwordpress 19:20:07 on 2013/12/25 Permalink
    Tags: Product Musings,   

    Product Musings: Pinterest Places Review 

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    As many of you know, I’m an avid pinner and have been a fan of Pinterest for a while. I’m also excited to follow the growth of the company from a product perspective, as the company transitions from one of wedding boards to a global visual search leader.

    One of the most interesting (and useful) updates recently has been the addition of Pinterest Places, which enables pinners to tag their pins with locations and create maps of their boards. This is extremely useful as a user (i.e., speaking of weddings, I’m now mapping all the venues I’m considering for my own event that I’ve already pinned) and surely equally useful for Pinterest gathering valuable crowdsourced metadata on the web’s most shared images. It reminds me a bit of a startup I used to work for as community manager and content writer — Diddit.com (RIP) — which offered lists of places to go and things to do, where you could check off all of the activities you’ve completed in a sort of virtual bucket list. This is a similar concept, except it focuses on visual content from the web versus copy and user reviews, and so far doesn’t have any way to mark what you’ve done or want to do.

    That said, while Places is a quality feature all around conceptually, the experience leaves a great deal of room for improvement. It’s surprisingly poor given how solid Pinterest usually is on UX design, but I assume they decided to release a quick version of the feature and will be iterating as it gets traction based on user data. Given I fancy moonlighting as a product & UX consultant, here is my review of the feature along with recommendations for improvement.

    Screen Shot 2013-12-25 at 10.48.58 AM

    Places Product & UX Improvement Suggestions

    1. Mapping is a challenge and not all that intuitive. When you finally figure out how to turn the map settings on (you have to click edit board to do this on each board you want to turn into a Place Board), you are presented with your pins and the option to click “map this pin” for each individual item. However, once you click map this pin, things get tricky. Instead of automatically filling the search box with the pin name or suggesting what you are likely searching for based on the details in the pin and other user’s content, it leaves you with a generic search box:
      Screen Shot 2013-12-25 at 11.06.45 AMWhat makes this user experience worse is that the box that pops up doesn’t display the content related to the pin. I had to toggle back and forth between my pin a few times to recall the spelling of the location that was written in the description.When I finally searched for the item, that’s when things got ugly. The search functionality isn’t buggy per se, but it doesn’t work like one would expect. Instead, the search functionality attempts to guess the region you are searching and, based on my experience so far, doesn’t find what you’re looking for (even though it’s likely in their database.) Speaking of their database — it’s powered by Foursquare — so it has fairly good address information on places people would want to check in (such as wedding venues and tourist spots), but it also has other places people check in mixed in and messing up the search, like “B’s private residence.”

      Actually finding the right item takes too much time while it should ideally be a seamless experience based on mapping UX best practices and intuitive design. I understand why they have yet to enable users to enter addresses for their pins, but it would be helpful to enable manual input to find the right item in the database or add it if it’s missing.Screen Shot 2013-12-25 at 11.09.36 AM

      When you attempt to add your second pin location, this is when things get really wonky. The map will zoom in close to the pins you’ve added so far, but you’ll likely find that what you want to pin is slightly out of range from the map view. Pinterest search will automatically return only items that are in the map area displayed by default now. Getting back to the full map view is a doozy:

      Screen Shot 2013-12-25 at 11.30.58 AMIf you think you can click “Current Map View” because it’s pink and looks like a Pinterest link, you’re wrong. That’s not a link. If you click Choose City you get a prompt asking “What City are You Searching In?” which is useful only if you know the city where the item is located. The best way to find the location of the item is to select “Search Around the World” — but to get back to that option, you first need to put some text in the “Choose a City” search box. Only then will you see the option to search around the world. If you click this, I find more often than not the item you are looking for appears at the top of the list.

    2. The initial mapping UI for the user is frustrating to use and doesn’t make an adequate use of screen real estate. I understand most of UX design these days is leaning towards being ideal on a tablet versus computer display (and I’m atypical in that I use my computer and do not own a tablet), I find the amount of space used for the map versus the pins to provide a disservice to the point of Pinterest – the pins. In certain cases, having a large map makes sense (such as Conde Nast Traveler’s Top 100 Hotels in the World list) because it shows a global map that requires the full space.
    3. The feature is not designed for the likely scenario of a board having multiple pins from the same location. It would be ideal for the map to offer the user the opportunity to pin the item to a location previously pinned from the list. I’m not sure how much of a corner case this is (my wedding list has multiple pins of each venue) but it would make my experience mapping my board much easier.

    What do you think about Pinterest Places? Have you used the feature yet? Do you have any additional suggestions for improving it that I haven’t thought of yet?

  • feedwordpress 19:45:13 on 2013/12/23 Permalink
    Tags: Infographic, , Research   

    The Rise of the Millennials Infographic 

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    This infographic I created for Badgeville (along with our talented designer Lily Alvarez) was fun to put together as I was able to spend time researching my generation. Millennials are a complicated bunch, as numerous surveys and statistics prove, being less than loyal to their companies in terms of tenure, and more loyal to brands who focus on winning them over. Check it out below!

    Rise of the Millennials Infographic by Badgeville, The Gamification Platform

  • feedwordpress 04:41:05 on 2013/12/23 Permalink
    Tags: ,   

    8 Creative Holiday 2013 Pinterest Campaigns 

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    With over 70 million global users, Pinterest remains high on the campaign wish list for marketers everywhere. The visual social network is shining bright this holiday season, with online marketers seeing high ROI from their investments in the Pinverse. In fact, over the Black Friday shopping season, shoppers referred from Facebook were found to have an average order of $52.10, Pinterest referees had a much higher average order value of $92.51.

    While some marketers are dipping their toes in the Pinterest water for the 2013 holiday marketing, others have gone all in. Here are 8 of the most creative and successful campaigns we’ve seen so far this year:

    1. Target’s “My Kind of Holiday” campaign is geared towards digitally connected, time-pressured moms in “the most digitally enabled campaign” in their history, according to Target CMO Jeff Jones. Since mid-November, Pinterest has been the home to Target’s Best.Party.Ever with celebrity event planner David Stark. The designer is creating over 500 custom pinboards for fans as part of the campaign. Target is also testing an e-commerce storefront “The Awesome Shop” powered entirely by Pinterest just in time for the holiday season.


    topshop pinterest campaign2. Topshop, popular UK-based retailer with stores around the globe, knows its fashionable shoppers love to pin. The innovative company has partnered with Pinterest for its 2013 holiday #DearTopshop campaign. The creative collaboration creates an interactive gift guide to help customers find just the right present or outfit for their holiday festivities. Not only is Topshop pulling the Pinterest experience into their website for the season, the retailer has also added giant touch screens to its Flagship London and New York stores, where customers can pin while in-store shopping.

    3. Anthropologie, with nearly a half-million Pinterest followers, is already renowned for their fashionably editorial take on pinning. This season, the company has inspired hundreds of pins by showcasing creative ways to wrap holiday gifts on the board It’s a Wrap and festive decorations on Deck the Home. By focusing on creating relevant, editorial content with visual appeal, some items on these holiday boards have been pinned over 1000 times.

    4. Gap’s “Pin to Win” campaign is focused on encouraging brand loyalists to pin their holiday wish lists for a chance to win a $50 gift card. The contest provided a set of clothing and accessories that shoppers could easily pin from the company’s Facebook app.

    5. Ziploc marketers know that despite having world-class products, bags and containers alone lack pin-appeal. Marketing creativity at its best is showcased in the Ziploc campaign “It’s the Most Pin-able Time of the Year.” By providing useful holiday-themed content, like this entire “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” board of recipes, the company takes advantage of Pinterest’s cooking and DIY-centric following.

    6. Lowe’s, like Ziploc, is a perfect fit for Pinterest when smart marketers take on their seasonal digital campaigns. The home improvement giant is no stranger to pinning, with over 2000 pins, and this holiday is no exception. Starting with a Black Friday campaign, with an entire board dedicated to previewing their deals, to boards like Holiday Ready Home to showcase crafty holiday decorations, the social-savvy brand is a star amongst the Pinterest community.

    7. Urban Outfitters is a brand seemingly built for Pinterest. Its First Look Holiday 2013 board has nearly 80,000 followers and hundreds of repins. The company also shared a number of holiday-themed boards such as Get Gifted and Trim Every Tree.

    8. Tiffany & Co. stays true to their brand with the board A Tiffany Holiday. With beautiful jewelry, the marketing team could just post images of their products and call it a day, but they go one step further by sharing phrases about couples in love against Tiffany blue, with hundreds of shares, the extra Pinterest creativity goes a long way.

  • feedwordpress 08:00:58 on 2013/09/18 Permalink
    Tags: General Fodder   

    Marketing is the New Black: A New Direction for This Blog 

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    Being at the forefront of gamification in my work at Badgeville, I’m in a – perhaps unique way – following the nexus of numerous business trends…

    • Marketers are struggling with customer loyalty because of what I like to call “Digitally-Induced Exponential ADD.” Brand loyalty is dead. Options are in. What to do?
    • Business Managers are struggling to motivate and retain this whole generation of entitled, disenchanted millennials. And just wait for the next generation that is currently being raised with iPads over pacifiers.
    • Companies are investing billions of dollars into technology that claims to fix all of their problems but, due to not allocating proper resources to properly manage these tools, only makes things worse.

    What do all of these challenges have in common? Businesses today are largely stuck in their old, “safe” ways of management. There is buzz floating around about the CMO gaining power over the CIO, or the two roles potentially merging into a Chief Digital Officer at some point. CIOs are typically responsible for corporate technology assets and knowledge management, yet most avoid the benefits of marketing strategy to reach their goals (such as technology adoption, employee retention, and corporate compliance.) CMOs without the ability to think like a CIO (i.e. truly understand their technology investments and how to properly resource teams for their success) are stuck. Yikes.


    I’ve been waiting for the right time to come back to blogging here. I had been writing a few app reviews around user experience design — which I’ll continue doing on occasion — but I wanted to wait until I had something to say about the bigger picture. What do business leaders need to know about consumer applications that can be applied to their objectives? What design strategies should be copied within the enterprise, and which should be left behind? The Chief Digital Officer’s job will be to understand the fast-changing landscape of digital trends and determine how to get the most benefit from these trends across their internal and external audiences.

    In short, I’ve changed the title of this blog, cliche as it is, to “Marketing is the New Black.” This is because businesses that aren’t using marketing strategies and humanized, contextual user experience design across their internal and external apps are going to suffer. It’s exciting to write about this because it touches every aspect of business. The trends are clear, the answers aren’t. I’ll try my best to provide valuable insights into what businesses are doing well, highlights of analyst reports and relevant articles, and the standard design reviews within the context of what business leaders should know. Thank you for reading! Comments are welcome.


  • feedwordpress 05:50:50 on 2012/12/19 Permalink
    Tags: , Music Discovery   

    The New Myspace Needs a UI Facelift to Succeed 

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    I started this blog as a place to post reviews on new technology, and revisions by old technology in attempts to make them new again. It’s been a while since I’ve written a post here, as I’ve been busy with my day job — but the “pre-pre launch” of the new, new, newEST MySpace has me inspired.

    A long time ago, I was a huge Myspace fan. It was miles ahead of Friendster and LiveJournal, providing a place to connect with a lot of friends, share photos, and meet new people around interests. Then, as we all know, the site became riddled with animated GIFs for backgrounds, very little serious conversation (unless you count setting up your next hookup “serious conversation”) and Facebook took advantage of lowering IQ of the overall MySpace population with its introduction of a clean, simple, and less in-your-face hookup planning UI.

    Myspace never figured out how to compete with Facebook. In the midst of all of this, it was purchased by News Corporation, and it appeared it might be revamped and saved, but the site’s loyal users were adamant about the sanctity of their blinking, clashing, boobs everywhere web 2.0 hangout. The years went by and Myspace’s glow of adolescent decollage faded, its musicians kept profiles but found better places to share their music, and traffic dropped off. In November 2012, Myspace was ranked 233rd by total web traffic. Not terrible, but certainly not the site that once held the promise to grow to the most-visited site on the Internet. In 2011, News Corporation sold Myspace for $35M (down from that $580M that they paid for it a few years earlier), to the advertising network Specific Media and Justin Timberlake. It isn’t surprising that the company now wants to return to its music discovery roots.

    What Should We Do With Our Punk Kid That Can’t Get a Job?

    Ok, so naturally a site that still has a sizable amount of traffic, but is losing users by the day, is going to do something substantial to turn its business around. For Myspace, that either meant attempting to copy Facebook (and setting itself up for lawsuits for infringing on all their social networking patents), or doing something different. So Myspace execs decided the one area they could get right that Facebook isn’t all over is mobile. They redesigned the site once again, this time – supposedly – to be ideally set up for tablet users. To be fair, I haven’t tried the site on a tablet yet (I don’t actually own one.) But the web experience leaves much to be desired.

    Myspace also wants to be a media discovery site, bringing it back to its original roots as a place to fan musicians and learn about new artists. It appears to be trading in a more traditional social network style design with a user experience where you can “add people or media” you like to your “library.”

    The initial browsing experience left me rather confused. Only my experience as a loyal user of both Spotify and Twitter gave me some foundation for what this site is trying to do. They want to be Spotify – a music discovery service – but bigger, to compete against Spotify and the other music discovery apps. And with video discovery. And editorial content that is really challenging to browse on a computer.

    What is Myspace’s secret sauce?

    While at first glance, it looks like they’re banking on exclusive content and celebrities, it appears the big opportunity for Myspace is getting social media discovery and sharing right, while focusing equally on the web experience and the mobile experience. The way the site looks right now (at least on the web), I wouldn’t put my money on a lot of success, but that could change. There is definitely room for music and media discovery, especially as the smartphone and tablet market continue to grow.

    The concept here, which takes a while to figure out, is that every person is a curator of content. They are betting on status as a way to encourage people to share, without any real gamification features enabled to highlight contributions. It isn’t clear how one can gain followers here, instead the experience is really about the musicians/creatives and their fanbase. Still, everyday users such as myself can post status updates (how could the site even call itself social without a status update box?) But they aren’t looking for any old “what are you doing” or “what’s happening” status update – they are looking for media-centric posts to help curate the content and provide valuable data that I’m betting will be used later for recommendations and eventually for targeted advertising. Like Facebook, you can add a photo and location with your status update, but you can also easily add a song. How often do you want to share a song with your status update?

    And I…..eeeeeee…. I …. will always love you

    Great, I can share a song with my status post. That may lure musically inclined types to Myspace, but not enough to lure them away from Facebook.

    What’s interesting is that Myspace appears to be going after a mix of hipsters and the younger generations who have shunned Facebook. The people who are not interested in sharing their latest personal status updates, or seeing the 2000000th picture of their classmate’s baby. And they assume these people have the attention spans for a Twitter-like experience but want it to have more pictures and look really nice on their tablets. (OMG it has HORIZONTAL SCROLLING on the web and it can go on forever and ever and ever and ever… just keep scrolling down for it to scroll left… gah this is making me dizzy.)

    So, in short, new Myspace is what I’ve been saying Spotify should be for a long time, with a terrible UI for web. If I wasn’t already using Spotify, I may be drawn to the fact that, for now at least, I can access a giant library of music for free (I’m guessing they will have to start charging at some point.) But the UI for web is uncomfortable to say the least. I’m sure they’d argue that their new audience is going to come from mobile and no one uses the web anymore (I mean, come on, I should just be grateful they didn’t design the entire site to process only via the chip that the cool kids have implanted in their brains) but to gain mass adoption, the web user experience needs some help. Also, they could learn a thing or two from Spotify and how their app enables users to sort music, versus add to a generic library. Granted, I’ve been invited to the pre- pre- launch, so who knows what is up those Myspacers’ sleeves.

    What you really have here is a company that is trying to build the world’s largest social/crowdsourced recommendation engine for media… curated by editorial staff (see below) and everyday people who share similar taste in music, videos, and other content. There is a need for a company to get this right, so Myspace has a shot. It just is trying too hard to be cool, and in the process has made the site really hard to use.

    Even on sign up, the experience is confusing. Most people who sign up are going to not be musicians or artists. Most people are going to be fans. So, ideally, you’d make being a fan seem less uncool in the UI. You’d basically check that off for everyone because even artists are fans. Then you’d provide an option to be a content creator as well. Unless the site is no longer for the fans, which I think defeats the point of a media discovery application.

    But hey, at least they have music and videos for old ladies like myself in their database…


  • feedwordpress 05:04:21 on 2012/06/06 Permalink

    Hot Social App of the Week: Airtime Review 

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    Airtime is, in short, a celebrity-endorsed version of Chatroulette meets Glancee. In other words, it takes the concept of anonymous video chat making it somewhat less anonymous by pairing you with someone who shares your interests, likely with hopes to cut out the number of masturbating men you see when you click next… next… and, uh… next.

    While I love the concept of connecting people through contextual data — both on location and interests — the challenge remains that putting two people in front of each other, even with a shared interest, is not much of a conversation starter. I don’t love how I look on camera, and I wasn’t sure what I’d get on Airtime, so I clicked through ten live users who apparently shared things in common with me — and I cheated, I put my finger over my camera so no one actually knew there was a female on the other end. Nor would they be too excited given the current state of my hair, but I digress.

    Surprise, surprise, as I clicked through 10 random live Airtimers, they were all men. No close-up cock shots, so that’s already a plus. However, I just didn’t know what to say to people, even if I were being myself. Instead of Chatroulette, where it was pretty much accepted that people were ADHD browsing and clicking next when they got bored, suddenly you were connected with someone who you are actually connected to (through friends or interests) somehow. For example, I ran into a person who worked at the same publication I previously reported for (I didn’t know him) and considered saying hi, but my social anxiety ended up being worse on cam than it would be in person. What would I say? Would we just joke about how awkward Airtime is? Would we discuss how we’re both researching for our respective blogs? How would I end the conversation?

    One cool feature is how the browser starts to display likes you have in common the longer you stay connected with that person, so if you have a lot of things in common it rolls those out slowly providing new topics of conversation. I didn’t stay logged in long enough to see if I had thousands of common interests with anyone — I just clicked next until my thumb covering the cam got tired, and I signed off. I couldn’t find a stop cam button, so I had to shut down the browser.

    Perhaps others are less nervous about meeting random people online — on live video — who share similar interests and have other even more relevant contextual connections, but it sure made me nervous. And given that I did not see one other female on there, it seems like until Airtime and its competitors figure out how to solve the awkward problem, they are going to have a whole lot of Chatroulette 2.0 on their hands.

    That said, the Contextual Web is really the next generation of the web (mobile is just a piece of that, it’s data-driven context that matters.) Airtime could be less creepy, and more useful, if it created hangouts (more than 2 people at a time) focused on live events (ie The Olympics.) Yes, this brings us back to the days of “A/S/L cam?” but Google Hangouts have rekindled the whole chatroom non-orgy concept and made them somewhat cool again, or at least showing signs of potential. But, I’m not sure people want to go online to have live video conversations with people who share their “interests.”

  • feedwordpress 06:14:19 on 2012/03/06 Permalink
    Tags: ,   

    “Highlight” The Mobile Stalker App Review 

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    My phone beeps at me as I’m driving down the street, and I open it to see the VP of Business Development of America Online is nearby. I don’t know exactly where he is — maybe in a house I’m driving past, or a car going the other direction. He’s not a friend of mine, in fact, I’ve never met him before. We just both happen to be on Highlight, the new mobile app that takes location-based services to new, kind of creepy, kind of cool heights.

    About a year ago, I thought about how neat it would be to make Foursquare more about introducing you to people who are actually around you, versus encouraging you to check into locations. The Foursquare app itself shows other people that have recently checked into the same location, but there was no effort to connect you to that person. You just saw their face and name, and it was all the more creepy to wander around the bar/restaurant/club in dim lighting trying to figure out who your fellow nerd was, and having to actually strike up a conversation to figure out if they had anything in common with you.

    Highlight has changed all that. It lets people opt into allowing others to be pinged when they are nearby, and just as my app concept detailed a year ago, they use Facebook interests and friends to let you know if you happen to have anything in common with the person. This makes for a great conversation starter if you are at a bar or club (though I haven’t tried it out in that setting yet.) It also makes for a quite interesting experience as you go about your regular day-to-day routine.

    So far, I’ve found people nearby have been mostly men (I’ve only run into girls in the city, it seems to be all men on the Peninsula — 7 women vs 14 men is my current ratio of connections total in my two days of using the app.) Everyone is a tech geek of some sort, which makes sense, because they are all the early adopters, especially for an app like this that is really frightening from a privacy perspective.

    It’s cool how the app tells you how many times you have been near a person. At some point you may realize you are walking past the same person everyday who absolutely loves the same obscure rock band that you do, and then you can both go to their concert together in bliss next time they roll into town. This is extremely helpful to those of us who have trouble building a local friend network. I haven’t used it long enough to see if anyone bubbles to the top of my network due to repeat proximity.

    What will be really interesting is what happens when I go to SXSW this week. Highlight is already being touted as the big app this year — thanks to its main investors being big bloggers that tell people what is cool in the tech world — and I’m expecting a lot of the SXSW crowd to download and use the app. It’s a huge drain on battery life (which is a problem with technology at this event to begin with) but it will surely connect folks around Austin. I’m curious how it handles when everyone in a room is using Highlight… how many notifications will I get? I’ll have to follow up on that.

    One potential use of the app that I’m playing with is recruiting. They let you write a little blurb that pops up with your photo on a map when someone else sees you nearby. I’m deep in recruiting for a design position I’m trying to fill at my company, so I’m now announcing to anyone who reads my blurb and is nearby that I’m hiring. Anyone can message me if they’re interested. I want to hire an early adopter, so who knows, maybe this will work out.

    In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy seeing how many people pop up in my list over the week. I’m a little bummed I didn’t make the app that I thought about a long time ago, but ultimately I didn’t lunge at it because I wasn’t sure what the business model is. I figured if you have enough people sign up for it you can start surfacing nearby offers that are similar to your interests (heck you could have an interesting partnership with Groupon or another daily deal type site). It’s just that requires mass mainstream adoption, and I’m not sure the world is ready to give up their privacy that much yet. Maybe they are. At least something like Highlight would do well in college environments, but for most people looking to get into geo-location services, Find Friends (which is limited to your real friends) and other apps like that will probably get a lot faster mainstream adoption.

    What do you think? Have you used Highlight yet? Have you made any meaningful connections on the app?


  • feedwordpress 15:33:04 on 2012/03/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , timeline   

    Marketers, Quit Drinking the Facebook Kool-Aid 

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    If I read another post about how Facebook’s move to turn all brand pages to “Timeline” is so wonderful for marketers, my eyes might fall out from involentary eye rolling so much.

    Now, there are a few types of brands who greatly benefit from Timeline. Notice I say “who” because the brands that can benefit from this change are brands that are about people. From Musicians to Livestrong, these brands ongoing content and, most importantly, a history of engaging with fans through conversation. This is because Timeline was designed to tell the story of a person’s life, from their birth to, well, their death. I have issues with the Timeline UI to begin with for that purpose, but at least it makes sense for a person. However, not every brand wants their audience to remember who they were 50, 20, 5, or even 1 year ago. (Re)branding agencies are a big business for that reason.

    Brands like Macy’s, which have a stable brand image and message that hasn’t changed through the years, have clearly heavily invested in Facebook timeline for their launch, likely with a lot of help from Facebook and an (Facebook recommended?) agency, to create a quality profile that dates back to their first store. Even in this case that’s really cool in concept, I question how many people are going to scroll back in time to learn more about Macy’s on Facebook? It’s more an expensive filler to fit the new format than content people will engage in. The company, however, is on the right track with Timeline. It realizes just how heavy the investment in social content marketing needs to be to keep up with this new format. Not all brands can successfully do this.

    Meanwhile, I’ve seen the Fanta page in Timeline — clearly their legacy was not so intriguing — so they created a “find Fanta thoughout history” concept, which I’m sure spent a lot of time and planning on, and it’s TBD whether anyone cares to engage with that content. Their latest post seems to have 0 comments and 12 likes. Notice the spam comments on the post in the upper right. More on that later.

    The bigger issue I have with Timeline, and all the “ooh” and “awwing” over how wonderful it is for brands, is that the transition to Timeline did not occur because Mark Zuckerberg and team thought to themselves, golly gee, let’s make the brand experience better on Facebook so they can market to their audience for free.

    Facebook, more than ever as it goes public, needs to ramp up on its advertising growth. The network can only sustain “people” growth for so long, the real growth over the long term comes from showing more ads and increasing the cost of those ads.

    Those kids over at the FB are smart. They know how to create and sell highly-effective advertising. Sponsored stories are a huge part of that. They’re quite brilliant, and they work. Your friend wrote a comment on a brand, now that brand can highlight that story as a comment to that person’s friend network, and so on. The ads will get clicked, which means higher CPC rates, and it’s possible that even those ads do end up converting more for brands. That’s all fine and dandy, but no one should be fooled into thinking the change for brands to Timeline is really about helping brands create engaging content and to reach their audience for free.

    Facebook had a problem with traditional brand pages, and they weren’t the ideal option for brands either. The current brand pages allow brands to create somewhat interactive experiences on them, often designed by a slew of agencies that have built their entire platform on creating content for pages, but those pages rarely got noticed by fans. There are stats that show only 1% of people who like a brand or product ever go back to their page. I’m not arguing that the current setup was perfect, but it at least gave brands the potential of converting their audience by employing clever campaigns.

    Now, Facebook moves brands to Timeline, and everyone is infatuated by how brands can add a pretty photo to the top of their page, just like a user, and if they design it well their page can look nice at a first glance. Facebook is showing off pages in Timeline such as Coca Cola and Coldplay that really look great, especially if you zoom out.

    The big problem is that Timeline itself is a bit of a mess. I have a little bit of beef with Javascript coders who think that just because they can automatically arrange content in a way that fits in a page, it is the right way to display that content. For instance, on my Facebook profile, there is a big box of Superbowl ads that I watched… a good month ago… as well as a second box under it of the same ads, tagged as videos, that I watched, which for some reason hasn’t been bumped down my profile because it’s old. There’s a lot of these experiences that clearly haven’t been thought through when Timeline was designed because some Javascript engineer fell in love with how he was able to effectively display a whole lot of content from different sources.

    At the same time, even if Timeline does exactly what it is supposed to do for brands (get a lot of comments on posts so a few can be used as sponsored stories), there is an even bigger problem of all the spam this creates. This may not be as bad for brands as it is for a personal account (I now have almost 70,000 Facebook subscribers and the experience of reading through my comments is nothing short of pure comedy), but it is still a serious concern for brands. Facebook’s current brand page lets brands determine what they want to surface when someone first comes to that page. The wall itself hid comments successfully, which did not inspire conversation, but also did not open up the brand to a slew of negative and spam posts.

    Negative posts on their own are not terrible — it’s great to engage customers on sites like Twitter who offer negative reviews of their experiences, turning a negative into a positive, but when you get on Facebook, it’s just overwhelming. On Twitter it’s pretty easy to ignore a post, but on Facebook all of the comments are right there on your posts, public for anyone to see. If you don’t respond to a complaint, this is bad social practice, but outside of heavily investing in a team to manage your Facebook page, how can anyone ever keep up? That doesn’t even take into consideration all of the actual spam, pornographic comments, and posts in foreign characters that turn out to be gobblygook.

    I’m all for engaging with your audience, and think conversations are a key part of the social experience. But I’m worried for brands. I’m worried that brands aren’t going to get just how important it is to invest in someone or someones to manage their social media presence on Facebook wisely before it’s too late.

    On the same note, this transition brings the ability for anyone to message a brand directly. Unlike prior Facebook pages, where you could not directly reach your fans, this allows brands to respond to anyone who directly messages them. If this works as well as I think it will, this is another huge problem for companies — how do you handle the influx of messages from Facebook? How many do you respond to? How many do you ignore? How many are spam and just going to waste your time?

    The bottom line is that engaging with your brand fans via conversation is not inherently and awful idea, but the way it’s set up in Facebook leaves brands in a tricky boat. The articles I read on how absolutely wonderful this change is come from either social media journalists and bloggers who get that the current Facebook pages aren’t working, so they’re excited about any change at all, or, more often, from agencies that are going to make bank on this huge transition. And yes, I do recommend you invest in a good social agency to help you with this, because it’s a huge challenge to get right. You might have had one person managing your Facebook page before that featured a contest or promotion every month, but now you need a team of individuals to update content frequently, respond to your audience, and if you really want to do this right, actively delete spam posts. I don’t know exactly how many people need to be on that team, but it’s definitely not just one person.

    It’s most important to be clear that Facebook make this transition for the following reasons, none of which are to “benefit brands.”

    • 1. Facebook doesn’t want to invest its development resouces into building a sucessful page program for brands where they can actually engage with their audience. Facebook is focusing its development on Timeline profiles, which are designed for its users, and it’s moving brands to this layout because they do not need to invest other resources into a product that does not directly drive advertising revenue.
    • 2. Facebook needs to make more money via advertising quarter over quarter. Again, they can only grow their audience by so many people at a certain point, especially in high-value ad-targeting regions such as the US and Europe. Sponsored stories is Facebook’s next golden ticket to growth. But in order to have sponsored stories to sell, Facebook must help brands increase comments about their brand. They are going to do this by forcing brands to post frequently to their Timeline, and solicit comments.
    • 3. Alone, encoraging customer conversations is not awful (it’s actually great for brands if managed properly) — conversations via social channels are smart, and it’s great that Facebook is making it easier for brands to connect with their audience. The reality is, however, that “easy” comes with a price. Facebook is “watching” everything your audience does and says. The company has a huge team of genius data analysts who can just as easily take your audience and allow your competitor who wants to target that audience, just like you do. You will never own this data, or your audience, despite the giant investment you will need to make to properly keep up with your page. Facebook will own the data, and just like your competitors, you will need to rent it back for a marked-up cost.
    • 4. Facebook wants to hold brand content hostage. It will surface content in the walls of your audience insofar as it drives enough contributions and commentary to provide content for sponsored stories. Eventually, if you don’t pay up, I’d only guess that Facebook is going to give your content less priority in the ever-cluttered Facebook wall. If you plan to pay up, great. But at some point you need to think about how much driving your audience back to your site is worth, versus investing in keeping your customers happy on your site, and wanting to come back because you have an engaging experience there already.
    • 5. There is a lot more reasonsing behind the change that as a non-employee of Facebook I can only guess at, but I wouldn’t trust Facebook to stick with any program that is not driving revenue for their advertising programs. They have to do this. It’s not a bad strategy for Facebook, it’s not something you can ignore, but brands should not attempt this alone, and should be careful before heavily investing in creating a Timeline that tracks back to their first store in 1776. I’m sure the company has quite a bit of brilliant advertising technology and experiences up their sleeves to roll out, and it will be brands that foot the bill. While you’re saving your budgeting pennies to support this, pay close attention to ROI, and also make sure to understand that everything you do to create and encourage content generation on Facebook is more data that the company can use to sell ads to your competitors. I don’t have an answer for how to avoid this, and as a social strategist, cannot tell you shut down your Facebook page. If you’re a legitamite brand you need to be there, and you must start thinking about Facebook engagement differently. Just go into this with an understanding that Facebook is not doing something really cool for brands and marketers, they are doing something that saves them a lot of money in development time, while at the same time making them a lot of money in advertising.

    The entire strategy that Facebook has reminds me a lot of AOL in the early days. Are walled gardens back in style? I don’t think so, but for the time being, Facebook has the eyeballs, and is an extremely powerful advertising platform, especially for a B2C audience. Time will tell if this transition to Timeline actually benefits brands, but I’d put my money on the only folks benefiting from this change being the people at Facebook, agencies that can handle the constant content and moderation requirements as well as creative strategy, and community managers, who will find an increase in the number of job postings at all the major companies around the globe.

    What do you think? Is Timeline really a good move for brands?

  • feedwordpress 17:23:19 on 2012/02/04 Permalink
    Tags: , follow, , subscribe,   

    The UX Psychology of Subscribe / Follow / Circle / Friend 

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    Facebook (or was it Friendster?) redefined what a “friend” meant. However, it wasn’t until Twitter when suddenly following was all the rage. This one-way street of stalking / viewing content from another person who didn’t have to return the favor enabled a whole new psychology of the share.

    Twitter’s primary following architecture worked very early on, when everyone playing the game of Twitter was on the same playing field. Everyone started with 0 followers, and 0 following. Then, naturally, prominent figures such as celebrities, journalists and politicians garnered thousands of followers quickly, while the rest of us minons were left with a dilemma, thanks both to a 2,000 subscriber limit and how poorly it reflected on us to follow thousands of people without having a reasonable ratio of that follow count in return.

    It took quite a while to reach 10,000 followers on Twitter on my @AdenaDeMonte account. I haven’t been able to fairly estimate how many of these followers are real people and how many are spam, it still gives this Twitter account some level of status and respect in the Twitter game. My follow to following ratio is close to 1-to-1. A celebrity would be 1-to-1,000,000, such as @aplusk, who is currently following 695 people and is followed by 9,361,787.

    The challenge lies in being a newer member of Twitter, and playing the game right. I recently signed up for a new Twitter account, @GamificationGal to focus on tweets around gamification, social media, behavior data and analytics. Out of the gate I followed approximately 1,000 thought leaders in the space, and, so far 260 have either followed me back directly or seen a tweet of mine somewhere and followed me without my following them. The problem is the user experience here is that at a Twitter user, I’m tempted to subscribe to interesting people who publish lots of quality content, butso is everyone else on Twitter. But these people are followed by more people, naturally, and are less likely to follow back unless they already know you. So if you want to use Twitter as a place to follow and read content, you quickly reach you 2,000 maximum following limit. The only tried-and-true way to get followers back IS to follow people, especially people who do not have a large following, so you’re stuck with the Twitter following dilemma — do you follow crappy accounts so you obtain a large number of people following you, but see poor content in your stream, or do you follow people who are unlikely to follow you back, and get stuck at the 2,000 following limit?

    There are ways around this on Twitter. For instance, most Twitter superusers would use a separate application, such as TweetDeck, where they could “follow” users without following them, but creating lists of people to subscribe to, unofficially. Since all the content is public anyway, it’s easy for other applications to pull in the Twitter feeds in a way that is more practical for non-celebrities to interface with (and I’m sure this is also useful for the celebs who have the opposite problem — too many people following and engaging with their content with a whole lot of spam.) But I question why Twitter itself wouldn’t re-think its follow/following architecture, especially given how other social networks have now borrowed this concept loosely to varying degrees of success.

    Google+ has the best architecture for public/private following, in my opinion. It still shows how many people have followed you versus how many you’ve followed, but the way the UX is designed, it does not look terrible if you are following thousands of people without having them all follow you back. Twitter is much more about this status than G+, which definitely encourages celebrities to play the game (and is why so many of them are active on there still), but G+ is designed more for the average person who wants to engage in public discorse via a social network. The circling concept isn’t perfect (for instance, it doesn’t motivate people to want to be circled by thousands of people, it is designed more to get you to want to circle other people) so it is not a place where place where big egos are easily stroked by a simple statistic. Even Facebook has this ego-stroking down pat prior to adding follow/subscribe functionality (friend count), so it’s not clear if this ultimately limits Google+’s growth and potential for success. It certainly lures a different type of audience, one that returns to engage with public content for quality vs the celebrity-status of the person who wrote the comment.

    The thing that works well for Google+ is that its Circle functionality enables people on both sides of the following relationship to put the other person into a categorical bucket, where the person pushing content out can decide which bucket to share the specific content with. I bet some user experience designer at Facebook and one over at Twitter would say that functionality is too complex for the mainstream. Facebook does have a list functionality which lets you sort your friends into different groups to post to, but the functionality becomes most useful when dealing with public interactions.

    Facebook Subscribe opens up an entirely new can of worms. I know, because right now I’m about 500 subscribers away from 50,000 subscribers. While on Twitter or Google+, this feat would take me years and a lot of work, on Facebook, 50,000 subscribers has occurred in less than three months. The majority of my subscribers are from Malaysia, India, Indonesia, and Islamic nations in The Middle East and Africa. The more subscribers I obtain, the more impossible my subscribe experience is to manage. Facebook displays your subscriber count very prominently on your profile page, as statistical status is still very important in the Facebook social architecture.

    What’s wrong with this picture? Here, Facebook doesn’t care how many people I subscribe to, so I am not motivated to subscribe to other users on Facebook. I am not even sure how many people I am subscribed to, and that number is not important. Who does care about subscribing to people? Generally, older men from around the world who want to subscribe to young woman’s profiles. Facebook’s subscribe architecture had not been built with the proper game mechanics to encourage people in western cultures to want to subscribe to users’ public content. Why? There’s no status attached to subscribing to other people on Facebook, no positive feedback around continuing to subscribe to other users. At best, if you subscribe to other people you get a cluttered activity stream experience which once displayed content from friends only, and now includes people that you forgot you subscribed to one night because they looked remotely interesting.

    I do enjoy the subscribe functionality on occasion, there are people on Facebook who I subscribe to that are not clear-cut, celeb-status public figures that do a great job of creating content for their followers, such as Craig Kanalley, one of my favorite public sharers on Facebook. Craig recently started working at NBC as a Social Media Editor, and it happens that he and I share the same alma mater (DePaul, go Blue Demons!) By sheer numbers alone, we have almost the same amount of subscribers — Craig has 52k, I have 49.5k. We both have accumulated masses of people who leave incoherent posts in foreign characters and/or their full phone number with country code requesting a call, though Craig clearly has more sane people subscribed to his account.

    Viewing a list of my latest subscribers on Facebook, you can quickly see why Subscribe is the worst public “followee” experience of all the social networks:


    If you think this is racist, and would argue with me that there are plenty of people in these countries who might add great value to my Facebook conversation, I performed a little test this morning, just minutes ago…

    I opened up my Facebook commenting to let any of my 50,000 subscribers, as well as my Twitter followers and G+ circlers comment on this one simple question:

    What are you doing this weekend?

    Here are the responses so far…









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