Posts Tagged ‘web 2.0’

How portable is your data?

May 19, 2009

Quite an interesting development yesterday that Facebook is now implementing OpenID, allowing its user to sign-up and sign-in with non-Facebook credentials. I definitely did not expect this from the “walled garden” known as Facebook. Initiatives like OpenID are a fantastic move in the direction of being consumer-centric in the face of extreme web fragmentation. As the Web 2.0 bubble grew, more and more websites were created, forgetting that the user can only visit a finite number of websites. Expecting users to go to your niche social network is not a strategy any longer, especially since just about anything can be done inside of Facebook and a handful of others. It’s hard enough to get users to go to your site, it’s foolish to expect them to create a new set of credentials. Even if they do create the new login, coming back and remembering how to login is a whole other bridge that needs to be crossed. Which is why OpenID is super important now.

Another area that’s just as important and heavily debated is: what happens to your data when you do engage with a site / social network? What about the information that you have diligently provided to Facebook about yourself? What about all of your pithy wisdom that you have shared with your followers on Twitter?  What about all the photographs that you posted to Flickr and Facebook? What about all the diligent tagging, note writing, photo album creation, wall posts, comments on your friends status updates on Facebook? And oh my, what about the e-mails? Who owns that? We would like to think that we do, as it’s our content. But reading many sites’ TOS’s, that couldn’t be further from the truth – the site owns all of the content. Putting aside the possibility of a social network misusing our content (that’s a whole other discussion), what happens when the “new Facebook” (whoever that is) dethrones Facebook, and you want to take all of your content with you that you spent so many months, even years, creating? Do you have to start from scratch? It is my theory that this is why Facebook is so successful: we have so much skin in the game, we aren’t going anywhere, and they know it. And what about the not-so-remote possibility of a site like Facebook failing? Does all of your content die with it?

I first started thinking about it when I saw exactly how formidable the amount of user-generated content is when I witnessed the below exchange, generated by my Facebook status update. My friends wrote many, and quite lengthy, comments (which could’ve been blogposts in their own right). They were so engaged and free to share, and we all got so enthralled by the discussion that we forgot that we may never see this content again after sharing it.

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One way to ensure that all of your comments at least get funneled into one depository that you can point to, and make part of your digital footprint, is to use commenting systems like Disqus. But that still doesn’t solve the problem of a site going out of business and taking you down with it.

How do you preserve and backup your content? I have tried tweetake.com to back up my tweets. It does a great job of throwing your tweets / direct messages / favorites / all of the above into a spreadsheet. However, it only goes back a couple of months; at least it did for me.

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How much should you listen to your customers

May 14, 2009

The recent upheaval in the Twittersphere regarding the new Twitter update dealing with @ replies has got me thinking over the past couple of days (in case you are not familiar with what the new Twitter update does, please read @whitneyhess’s blogpost which does a great job explaining it). Even though I am not going to rehash the details of the new update here, I will briefly mention that as a result, Twitter no longer shows you @ replies directed to people you don’t follow, even though you follow the writer of the tweet (this only happens when the handle of the person you don’t follow is the first word of the tweet).  I am not sure why Twitter did this; perhaps they were helping us reduce the noise that is produced by following everyone’s @ replies. However, this makes little sense, as you can adjust your settings from inside the Twitter.com site. What Twitter should’ve realized that a lot of users find @ replies beneficial to discovery of new users to follow. If someone I respect and engage with replies to someone else, I will take notice and at least click through to that person, and if I like him / her, make a decision to follow. Yes, there are ways to still explore these tweets via setting up a search in TweetDeck and other tools. However, by having everything come to my main feed, it was just that much easier. By taking the option away, Twitter has taken the ability to decide from its users.  If you give me an option to adjust what @ replies I see via settings tab, why take the decision away from me?

The above example shows that Twitter wasn’t particularly listening to its users and how they use the site.  Some companies pursue their strategy without paying much attention to what its users want. And sometimes it’s for good reason. This @ replies episode reminded me of a talk by 37Signals Jason Fried at last fall’s Web2.0 conference in NYC. Jason talked about how each product person / company needs to be a curator, carefully reviewing user suggestions for improvements, while implementing only those that make sense given the company’s strategy. This makes complete sense, especially as a company grows and acquires more users and thus more user feedback. And secondly, users don’t even know what they want most of the time. When they say they want something, sometimes it’s just a symptom of a larger problem they have to solve. As a business, you must figure out this larger problem and solve it, instead of solving by implementing piecemeal modules.

So the question still remains… When do you listen to your customers and when does not listening translate to anger (as in the Twitter example) and possible attrition?

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small is the new black

April 20, 2009

Seeing the STREB show a couple of weekends ago, and discussing it several times with my friend Josephine, has got me thinking about the changing business models, and the reason they are changing. Let me explain.. What I forgot to mention in my previous post is that STREB is using an innovative platform of “10 second dance”. In exchange for a $10 donation, you get to co-produce a 10-minute dance, which will be presented at the next show. This does 4 things well, in my opinion:

  1. Creates a stronger community around STREB, giving all co-producers more “skin in the game”, and allowing them to be your ambassadors and telling all of their friends about it
  2. Allows everyone to participate by making the threshold so low ($10), illustrating the power of the “power in numbers” concept.
  3. Appeals to human vanity (oh c’mon, we all have it 🙂 – in my opinion, you need to be somewhat vain to want to put your life out there with social media like we all do, and imagine that others may and will care about it.
  4. Duh! raises money!

Seems that more and more things are getting processed in bite-sized pieces. There is microlending (Kiva.org, Prosper.com, Donorschoose.com) and of course, microblogging (Twitter and other platforms). Seems that small is the new black. Even the Web2.0 conference this year was themed “The Power of Less.”

I think this reach for “less” is happening due to a confluence of several events, caused by the evolution of our society.

Firstly, and more gradually, our society (online and offline) has gotten inundated. Offline store shelves are packed with brands and brand extensions, with each brand extension in several flavors, colors, smells, textures, etc. Most innovations that corporate America parades around, are actually not that innovative, but rather are updates to the same-ole-same-ole.

There is a lot of noise. Consumers are lost and overwhelmed, and manufacturers feel like they are drowning among noise.

Online, a similar thing is happening: with the “Web2.0” bubble, there are more websites than eyeballs (seems like, but please don’t quote me, I don’t have the actual statistics), and more and more are created each day. Unfortunately, most fail to differentiate themselves. A successful solution that can cut through this noise will have to successfully build around the user, wherever the user is (mobile + twitter + web), and not make the user go to its website (this is an entirely different topic that merits another post, so I will stop here).

Secondly, in addition to this overwhelming quality of online and offline “stuff”, the global economy crash is causing us all to rethink how we spend, how we save, what we value and how to course-correct the mistakes we have made so far. I think this process is a vital one, as it will separate the companies, processes and people who add value (education, where addition of skills downright changes lives) from those that don’t (repackaged toxic assets, where no value is created). Again, this is fodder for its own blogpost.

So because of this economy of “more”, followed by a downright economy crash, we seem to be embracing the concept of “less” and basking in simplicity and authenticity. Who knows, perhaps it’s this yearning for simplicity is what is propelling Susan Boyle to such astronomical heights of popularity.

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Do Onto Others – My Take On Tara Hunt’s Whuffie Speech at Web 2.0 Expo

April 9, 2009

(This post was first conceived on a SFO-NYC flight, and edited and posted several days later).

I am writing this from my SFO – JFK flight (Virgin America has in-flight wi-fi for $12.95 – that’s a good deal considering you are in flight for 6 hours). As I am coming home to New York from the O’Reilly’s Web2.0 Expo in San Francisco,  I am taking a couple of minutes to reflect on the experiences of this week. A definite highlight was undoubtedly meeting all the wonderful people that I had a privilege of meeting for the first time, and reconnecting with folks I had met previously. Although I would be lying if I said that I enjoyed every session and every speech I listened to, there were definitely some bright spots. Tara Hunt‘s session, promoting her new book “The Whuffie Factor: the 5 keys for maxing social capital and winning with online communities” was the best presentation I heard at this conference. In addition to excellent content, it was beautifully delivered and engaging. It was the only session that filled every seat in the house, and people were even sitting on the floor.

What whuffie means, in short, is one’s social capital online. Social capital is used to describe how far your online reach goes, how much influence you exert with your followers, and how likely your online relationships are to do a favor for you. Twitter especially tends to bring out this karmic notion that emphasizes helping others and becoming genuinely interested in others. Tara’s presentation encapsulates nicely the common-sense to-do’s that one can follow as a mental checklist to ensure that your social media strategy (whether for your own personal brand or your company’s brand) remains relevant, human, alive, authentic, and the type of brand that your target customers want to interact with.

Since social networking is such a buzz in corporate America, there is a tendency to rush in and just start doing. This is absolutely not the right approach. You must understand how these communities work, and how relationships are built. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is joining Twitter (or another network) as a salesperson and just blasting out your message 1-way (I wrote about this in my previous post), expecting to have people flock to you / your product. This is not the 30-second spot, and this kind of behavior tends to piss people off in the online spaces. You can not join as a salesperson or as an idle observer / market researchers. To really harness the power of the social web, you must join conversations in an authentic way. Relate to others, feel their pain, engage and give. As a result, you can understand consumers better, vet your ideas, turn upset customers into believers and believers into evangelists. Even though most online ties are looser than IRL (in real life), these are not throwaway relationships. In Tara’s words, “people don’t want to be a number, they want to be treated as a snowflake – each beautiful and unique.” Isn’t this a reincarnation of the Golden Rule anyway? Aren’t we supposed to be “doing onto others” already?

And finally you must create amazing customer experiences in order to make connections. This may be common-sense, but you would be surprised how many companies do not do it well. For example, keeping your customers on your site is not consumer-friendly; however, being available where the consumer is, is consumer-centric. For example, if you are a web application, you need to ensure that your consumer can interact with you via mobile device, web, desktop, Twitter, Facebook / MySpace, Flickr, and wherever your consumers hang out. The key here is knowing where your consumers hang out on the web, and what their usage patterns and goals are. Here are some great ways to ensure that you remain consumer-centric.

  1. Dazzle in details – Moleskin notebook does a spectacular job of this by thinking through all the details and accents
  2. Go above & beyond – the TED conference does this by creating a scholarship fund to ensure that all deserving folks without means can go.
  3. Appeal to emotion
  4. Inject fun – Flickr is great at doing this
  5. Turn mundane into exceptional like Method has done to simple house products
  6. Allow to personalize – Moo cards allow you to make personalized cards using your Flickr pictures
  7. Be experimental like Threadless
  8. Simplify like 37singnals did with Basecamp
  9. Make happiness your business model through increasing autonomy, competence & relatedness. Zappos and WordPress are good at doing this by giving their users ways to express themselves and gain autonomy.

It is absolutely crucial to understand that Whuffie part of a gift economy, where you gain only by giving away and not by taking. This can appear at conflict with the money economy, where making money is the focus. However, the two don’t have to be at conflict. The focus on short term gain, as illustrated by the collapse of the subprime market and consequently Wall Street, will only take you so far. Focusing on doing the right thing, focusing on the long term, no matter how unpopular it may be in the short term, is the only surefire way to succeed. This concept really underscores wocial* web relationships, because relationship building, when done right, happens over time, with an investment of goodwill, and results in good karma and Whuffie.

* “wocial” was originally a typo, but as Tara Hunt herself noted in the comment below, it’s a fun mashup of Social + Whuffie. So let’s make a new word. After all, it’s all about mashups!

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Revolutions

January 13, 2009

After spending the holidays with my parents, my dad and I somehow got into a discussion on revolutions. My dad, who is the smartest person I know, and is also a walking encyclopedia of jokes, anecdotes and quotes, told me the following quote from Otto Von Bismark: “Revolutions are conceived by intellectuals, executed by fanatics, and the fruits of their labor are used by freeloaders.”

Wow, these words ring so true as I reminisce about my (albeit poor) knowledge of world history, thinking of famous revolutions,  such as the Russian Revolution, the French Revolution and others. It also got me thinking about the revolution in which we are now, which is the social web revolution. With the advent of blogging, commenting, microblogging and social networking tools, everyone now has a voice, the web has become a two-way conversation and much more democratic than ever before. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a true revolution, albeit a non-violent one (which is always a good thing in my book).  In a true revolutionary sense, it has altered, and in some cases, upended and disrupted current companies, business models and even industries.  For example, traditional journalism has had to change to accommodate a new brand of citizen journalism. Shareability and streamability of web music engines like Last.fm,  is making the once insulated music labels of yesteryear feel nervous.

So if we were to apply Bismarck’s wisdom to our current digital revolution, what cycle would we place ourselves in? Are we at the stage of  conception (thought of  by intellectuals), the execution (carried out by fanatics,) or the mainstream use (used by freeloaders)? Or do these stages even apply anymore? I am inclined to think they do. I am also leaning towards evaluating our stage as late fanaticism to early freeloader mainstream cycle. Just like in the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, during which web companies without real business models got created and funded, a whole slew of me-too social networks and other wanna-be’s have been dominating an impending Web 2.0 bubble.

Remaining winners who are left standing at the end of this inevitable bubble, will go mainstream (arguably Facebook has already gone mainstream long ago) and “cross the Chasm.” As they do so, the temptation will be for  (mostly corporate) users to to “bastardize” this method of communication. Without really understanding the authenticiy and the comaraderie that characterizes the contributors and consumers of social media, companies will start jumping in (already started, by the way) head first into social technologies and using them the same way they have been using TV advertising: as a one-way talking platform, used to talk at consumers, not with consumers. We must realize that this new style of communication must come with a very different conversation style. Or else become inauthentic “freeloaders” who have hijacked the platform and thus altered the initial intent of an authentic two-way conversation and relationship building.

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Online vs. Offline

November 11, 2008

As I have been pondering the evolution of technologies from “web 1.0” to “web 2.0”, one thing struck me. At first, the web served to provide a one-way communication from the computer screen to the user. In this day and age, with all the social networks and tools, the web is increasingly bringing people together, and sometimes even offline. Meetup is a great example of such.

At Meetup, each person can become a “community organizer” and create a group that meets offline, around any topic or interest. Of course, online conversations can also start among group members, enhancing the offline events. Personally, I organize the Real Estate 2.0 Meetup, where I bring together tech-savvy (or interested in tech) real estate investors and professionals, for the purpose of meeting and discussing how technology can help us in the world of real estate investing.

Twitter also has a huge offline component to it. As you start to follow more people on  Twitter, you will learn of “tweetups”, regular meetings of like-minded twitterers, around a particular topic, or just over some coffee / beers. There are even “bots” that are created to track and retweet when someone mentions that they are going to a particular restaurant / establishment. Anyone who subscribes to this bot, gets the relevant updates. A good example of that is the Shake Shack FlashMob bot, which was created by a fellow twitterer to help NYC twitterers monitor the size of the line via other twitterers’ observations (Shake Shack is very popular among NYC Entrepreneur community and lines tend to get crazy). Or if a twitterer wants to get a group together, he /she announces it, the bot picks it up, retweets it, and the bot’s subscribers all get the note. Voila! Lunch date is set!

One of my favorite uses of twitter has been communicating with from within a conference with other conference attendees. Someone (typically the conference organizer, but can be any popular twitterer headed there), announces a hashtag, which serves as a code to that conference. While at the conference, twitterers retweet salient points made by speakers / panelists, as well as share their thoughts on anything from the subject matter, to the conference food. If they add the hashtag to the end (#hashtag), then other conference-goers can see the tweets, respond to them, and a rich conversation is born. This also benefits those twitterers who couldn’t attend for one reason or another, but want to follow along in real time. Several times my in-conference tweets prompted responses from other conference-goers, a conversation started and then we recognized each other in the crowd based on our avatars. A new relationship was born.

Since I started using Twitter and meeting people in cyberspace via Twitter, many of these “Twitter Friends” became real-life contacts and even friends. We were brought together by a topic / a hashtag / a common Twitter Friend, started an online conversation and finished it offline, in person. I find this extremely fascinating! Bottom line: as web tools get more social, we will keep organizing ourselves around a common idea online, while driving ourselves to enhance these relationships offline. No matter how much twittering, emailing, facebooking we do, we still yearn for face-to-face contact.

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I Tweet, Therefore I Am

October 30, 2008

As many of my social media friends would agree, ever since Twitter burst out onto the scene a couple of years ago, communication has never been the same. In the circles of the tech elite, the communication paradigm has been completely upended. I am neither the most popular twitterer (expressed in number of people following you), nor the most prolific (expressed in number of “tweets” – short messages of 140 characters or less), nor the most long-time twitterer (I only started this summer). However, since I started using it, and started relying on it more and more every day for communication.  I think I do more communication via Facebook and Twitter combined than I do via e-mail these days. Twitter is how I find out about news, talk to my friends, do market research, spread my message, microblog events, make social plans, etc. The uses are endless, and I will continue to explore it in several posts, because it’s way too much for one post.

Let’s back up for a second. For those that don’t know, Twitter is a microblogging platform that allows you to answer one question, and one question only “What are you doing?” – it’s like the status update on Facebook. There is a catch: you need say whatever you need to say in under 140 characters (genius! we could all use a tad more brevity in our lives). Twitter does one thing and does it well (after they seem to have surmounted their downtime issues, that is), it is genius in its simplicity and has a clear brand and a focused marketing message. Huge turn-on for a marketing person like me!

How does it work? You enter your tweet (status update) and everyone who follows you gets your tweet in their stream. You get the tweets of all those whom you follow. You can reply to anyone’s tweet by placing an @ sign, followed by that user’s handle. Your tweets and @ replies are public, and you can also send a direct message to someone by typing D, followed by the user’s handle. Direct messages aren’t capturedin the public stream. You can tweak your settings to either receive the “statement” tweets from folks you follow, or to receive their tweets AND @ replies. This choice is going to be driven primarily by the reason you are on Twitter in the first place.

The inspiration for this post came from a conversation I had with a friend this morning about relative volumes of tweets that different twitterers produce. He tends to be of the school of thought that less is more. And I agree, if your goal is to share a few gems of wisdom and make those gems stand out, which would be hard to do if you consistently pump out mediocre tweets: even for the most brilliant of us, it is very difficult to make every tweet a gem. I don’t put out a ton of volume, unless I am microblogging from an event, but I do use @ replies quite a bit. And that’s because what Twitter has become for me is a rich conversation platform. When I decide to follow / not follow a person, I look at several indicators of their Twitter behavior (let’s coin a term “Twitterhavior”: you heard it here first!), one of which is the ratio of their tweets to @ replies. I am not going to have a very rich experience with someone who talks AT me, not TO me. When I first joined Twitter, I had no idea what I wanted from it, but as I started to make it my own, I have formed my own Twitterhavior. As a sidenote: my friend’s offline personality does not stand for “less is more”. He is definitely more than more, talking over others and feeling the need to dominate each conversation. I am the opposite: much more demure and appreciative of a collaborative conversation. I suspect that your online identity is somewhat complimentary to your real-life identity, helping you fill gaps and become a fuller person. Your online self is, or at least should be, an extension of your offline core values and belief. Now that everyone “has a microphone”, development of an authentic online self is key. If you aren’t authentic, your message will get lost and dismissed. While extending yourself from offline to online in an authentic way, we also seek to fill in our real life shortcomings. I think this is key.

So as far as reasons to be on Twitter, we have discussed a couple so far:

  1. To share what you are doing, in hopes that someone reading is doing the same thing and will join you. This is the social element that will only get enhanced by further developments in the mobile GPS arena. Although, the privacy issues and stalker potential scares me a bit. Network effects kick in here, and for this to work, your friends need to be on Twitter too.
  2. To share your wit and wisdom without nurturing a conversation, talking AT people, which is neither wise nor witty. In my opinion it turns people off. There are a couple of those types I used to follow in the real estate industry (my startup MeetMOJO is in the real estate space); their streams rarely show @ replies. These types heard of Twitter, decided to add it to their toolbox of promotion, without really understanding or internalizing how to nurture the Twitter ecosystem. As a result, they come across unauthentic and not much different from a TV ad, talking AT you. I will focus several more posts on this point, because one of the missions of this blog is to marry traditional marketing to social media, I do hope that marketers will find this useful. As business units enter Twitter (and Facebook for that matter) for business purposes, they must be exceedingly careful to not disrupt the authenticity of exchange on these platforms. One business person that does it well is @zappos, the CEO of Zappos, a mail-order shoe company.
  3. To share your wit and wisdom in hopes of starting a conversation, talking TO people. I put myself in this group, although I use reason #1 quite a bit as well. Starting authentic conversations is key to establishing your brand, whether your brand is just you, or your product, or your company. As a business unit, you could tweet for market research / to gain input on what’s important to potential users. Or you could provide a customer service tweet-line, allowing people to vent and proactively fixing issues. You can make it do whatever you want. But don’t put a tweet out and ignore the @ replies that come back to you. People will stop trying to talk to you. If you care and if you talk back, your announcements about new products will be received with more open arms than if you used Twitter one way. I have even met strategic partners on Twitter. Create a community, ask for feedback, make people feel appreciated. You should do this online and offline.

I will stop here. There are more uses that I am only learning about. Twitter is a living, breathing thing. The more we use it, and the more of us that use it, the more tools that get developed around it, the more uses we will find for it. One thing is clear, it is a culmination of the online conversation paradigm shift. Web 1.0 talked at you. Web 2.0 lets you talk to it and other people on it. Now we have all this information, all this user-created content. Web 3.0 will be all about making sense of this stuff we created in 2.0, as well as creating new stuff of course. As someone commented on Fred Wilson’s blog (I read that comment weeks ago, and can’t get out of my head still) – “Twitter is the railroad tracks for communication in the 21st century”. That sums it up. It not only allows for conversations to happen in real time, across geographies and industries, it also allows for community creation, as well as leveraging the richness of conversation for a business goal. Whatever you reason to join Twitter, you can certainly make it your own. Just remember to be authentic, in 140 characters or less.

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A New Blog is Born

October 22, 2008

I am excited to introduce my new blog to the world. I have been blogging fairly prolifically (some months more than others) at the company blog of my startup MeetMOJO.  I felt the need to start my own personal blog that would deal with anything from my views on the world, technology and social media, which I have come to learn and love through building my 2 startups, to marketing and general business, which I studied extensively in undergrad and MBA.

I used Twitter to source the name of the blog, and one of the suggestions really struck a cord with me. This person recommended that I take advantage of the fact that my initials are M.O., which also stands for Modus Operandi. I thought it was very clever, and decided to adopt it.  “Web 2.0” fascinates me, as it allows you to have so many conversations with so many people at the same time, or asynchronously. Being able to reach out to all my friends on Twitter AND Facebook and tap their collective creativity for a question / issue I am exploring is priceless. Individuals, as well as companies, must take advantage of these technologies to initiate conversations that are more than 1-way or even 2-way.

I look forward to sharing more of myself and my thoughts.

Cheers!

Maria