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Freeing the Social Identity Agent 05/10/2010

Posted by Paul Daigle in Identity, Social Graph, Social Identity, Social Media, Uncategorized.
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“And now, here I stand because of you, Mr. Anderson. Because of you, I’m no longer an Agent of this system. Because of you, I’ve changed. I’m unplugged. A new man, so to speak. Like you, apparently, free.”


With the rapid advancements in real-time communications we’re experiencing through today’s social networking platforms, messaging systems and mobile communication devices, it’s striking how few real gains we’ve made in managing real life and identity across platforms.

The trouble with identity is the more we consolidate it, the more functional we make it, the more sensitive it becomes. This may be why so many of us treat identity as real-time construct, instead of as a long term asset. Yet the idea of consolidating life and identity management is very attractive to the mainstream user, which is helping to fuel Facebook’s rapid growth. But Facebook wasn’t designed to serve identity in a meaningful or user-driven way. Platforms like Facebook, FriendFeed and Twitter are, at their core, innovations that bring an email framework into the cloud to produce network effects through activity streaming. Our relationships and networks on these sites have little to no semantic integrity, as they were built by us to serve an experience, and not to serve our cross-platform lives and identities. Facebook will continue working to advance its offerings and value propositions towards the benefits of authenticated identity and the semantic web. These have become the obvious next steps for advancing communication platform functionality and connectivity, so any activity in these areas works to keep competitors and users believing in a FaceBook lead. But for users, managing real-time identity through multiple ID providers, mobile devices and pseudo-semantic social platforms will continue to create a lot of instability, fragmentation and insecurity.  It will also make managing relationships, data and identities for the long-haul very daunting. Until semantic identity is addressed and activated in a more “real” way we will continue to experience a volatile “real-time” social paradigm that delivers very little in “long-term” social value.

Even if a workable framework for managed ID existed today, who would users trust to carry their real lives and data across platforms? Browsers, social networks, social apps and communication devices will come and go as technology matures. Yet the relationship-based cultivation of identity is a lifelong process. Fusing aspects of managed-identity into email systems, web-browsers, computer security suites, blogging tools and social networks will only increase complexity, fragmentation and exposure over time. Our identities can’t realize their true potential until they serve as the underlying platform connecting our preferred tools, apps and devices of the moment. Extricating identity from these ancillary technologies should be our primary goal. Kim Cameron of Microsoft published a very concise and easily digestible outline of this important problem in his Laws of Identity back in 2006, and that document is still a great introduction to today’s identity challenges.

So what is the right long-term solution? I believe we need life-based identity systems geared specifically toward consolidating activity, data and relationship management. We’ve already seen some movement and innovation in this space with Social Activity Aggregators, Identity Selectors and ActivityStreams, but a new more robust class of social ID meta-system is needed; one which can act more as a Social Identity Agent than a traditional social data manager.

What is a Social ID Agent?

Identity: The collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known.

Agent: An instrument by which a guiding intelligence achieves a result.

Today we customize and manage our presence based on the platforms where our identities reside. An Identity Agent would customize our identity across platforms base on our authenticated relationships to users and service providers. The ID Agent would act both as our identity protector and syndicator, allowing any party to find us via any platform with unfettered access to the data and communication channels that we want to share. Our ID Agent would authenticate our connection or lack of connection with an accessing agent, and provide access to real-time activities and social history based on the authenticated connection. The Identity Agent would place us everywhere at once with a customized presence, keeping every relationship connected to our appropriate real time activities and social histories, while letting us adapt these relationships overtime. Our Social ID Agent would ensure the same reliable level of connectivity, even with social relationships who choose completely different sets of communication tools,  platforms and devices.

With Social ID Agents, our data, relationships, and activities could connect semantically from across platforms, as we become identified and known not by static profiles, but by our shared interactions, collaborations, events and living histories. The Social ID Agent can turn today’s web-of-platforms into tomorrow’s web-of-people.

So how do we free our Social Identity Agents? Three words. Authenticate. Activate. Connect.

Stay tuned.

The Evolution of the Social Platform 05/07/2010

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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Human civilization sprang from isolated webs-of-people. We were tribes huddled together in the night for our mutual protection and survival. We learned that by living together, pooling our experiences, skills and resources, and by placing tribal community at the forefront, that we could survive. Even prosper. This is an idealized description of the first human social platform. Though those early tribes likely relied on a degree of exploitation and cruelty, they succeeded in delivering us from the jungle and sustaining our species for thousands of years. Over that time our tribal platforms produced thousands of diverse cultures, each with their own lands, their own languages, their own customs and beliefs. Each tribal platform cultivated a unique relationship to their world. That relationship, and the data that fueled it, was passed on from generation to generation via the spoken word and through many forms of art and human expression.

As tribal platforms matured and evolved, they got more and more complex. Within progressive cultures, class platforms arose. Power, influence, weapons and resources spurred dynamic regional ecosystems in which platforms ruled platforms, creating complex human systems. Within these systems class-platforms informed geo-platforms which helped define countries, cities and communities. Through it all, the voices of ordinary people remained the leading distributor of system and platform data. These systems worked to keep webs-of-people segregated, yet functioning together as an integrated whole. We knew which platforms we belonged to, and learned that our lives, safety and comforts could often depended on how well we understood and respected the platforms that bound us.

Human systems powered by webs-of-people sustained us until the fifteenth century BC, when the printing press gave birth to a new platform, one characterized by the mass distribution of data. The print age found the individual voice threatened by a much more authoritative voice, “the media”.  But this new means for preserving and distributing data also supported individual curiosity, scientific discovery, and mass education. Through books, pamphlets and newspapers our old systems, powered by isolated webs-of-people, were able to inform a more cohesive and integrated super platform, the web-of-ideas. As this new platform gained influence, our individual ideas and beliefs became the platforms that united and divided us.  As individual and collaborative thinking fueled accumulating human knowledge, faith began to grow that this web-of-ideas could one day deliver us to an improved future.

Less than 500 years later, the progressive web-of-ideas birthed a new age, one characterized by industry and technology. Within a few short decades the steam engine, the phonograph, the telephone, the radio, the automobile, the television and the airplane had connected the world. This new platform, a web-of-machines, continued to chip away at geographical, cultural and ideological barriers. Overnight our web-of-ideas, the platform which fed personal beliefs, traditions and identities, seemed threatened by an exploding ecosystem of social and technological advancements. This new platform, characterized by progressive speed, gave rise to corporations who delivered new paradigms for human comfort, security and connectivity. As we became susceptible to the challenges of life in this dynamic new age, a ubiquitous corporate mass-media emerged to serve as the platform’s primary channel for distributed data.  Corporate broadcast gave the web-of-machines a unified voice, inspiring hope, confidence and authority.

Less than one hundred years later, through the success of personal computers, the web-of-machines produced the Internet, a platform with the promise to consolidate and democratize data distribution and communication for the first time in human history. The Internet first emerged as a web-of-data, the electronic age, providing a world in which all public data could be made readily available and actionable to any person or group with a PC and network connection. The Internet is now in its second phase of maturity, which can be described as a web-of-platforms (the social age), delivering a world in which individuals are creators and distributors of content, environments and experiences, and where social influencers attract like-minds to ignite engaged social communities. As the web-of-platforms gains social influence, public tastes, opinions and worldviews are becoming increasingly dynamic and fragmented, forcing corporate mass media to acknowledge, compete with, and cater to more specialized tastes and interests.  Mobile devices, digital/cable systems, social networks, messaging systems, gaming platforms and peer-to-peer media channels are serving as tribal incubators, shaping ideas, world views and experiences and allowing micro-communities to  flourish. New social systems for media discover, interaction and consumption are quickly eroding the authoritative voice of corporate media, and jeopardizing long establish mass-media business models and distribution channels.

Here is where the history of social platforms ends and the future begins. Where do we go from here? What is the next social platform? What will replace the web-of-platforms and the social age?

I believe the answer is a single web-of-people, and the user age. What will it look like? I’ll try to dig into this question in upcoming posts. When will it emerge? Looking back at our Social Platform Evolution time-line, can we make an educated guess?

  • Tribal Age or webs-or-people (8000B.C.-1450 A.D.) about 10,000 years.
  • The Print Age or web-of-ideas (1450-1880) about 400-500 years.
  • The Machine Age or web-of-machines (1880-1980) about 100 years.
  • The Electronic Age or web-of-data (1980-2000) about 20 years.
  • The Social Age or web-of-platforms (2000- when?) we are 10 years in.

Could a new User Age driven by a web-of-people super-platform soon be upon us? Is it already here?

The Evolution of the Social Platform.

Human civilization sprang from isolated webs-of-people. We were tribes huddled together in the night for our mutual protection and survival. We learned that by living together, pooling our experiences, skills and resources, and by placing tribal community at the forefront, that we could survive. Even prosper. This is, of course, an idealized description of the first human social platform. For all we know there may have been a fair amount of cruelty and exploitation making them possible. But they worked. The tribe, the first human social platform, delivered us from the jungle and sustained our species for thousands of years. Over that time our tribal platforms produced thousands of diverse cultures, each with their own lands, their own language, their own customs and beliefs. Each tribe cultivated a unique relationship with the world which they called home. That relationship, and the data that fueled it, was passed on from generation to generation via the spoken word and through many forms of art and human expression.

As tribal platforms evolved, they got more and more complex. Within progressive cultures, class platforms arose. Power, influence, weapons and resources spurred dynamic regional ecosystems in which platforms ruled platforms, creating complex human systems. Within these systems class-platforms informed geo-platforms which helped define countries, cities and communities. Through it all, the voices of ordinary people remained the leading distributor of system and platform data, as the power of the written word, art and the theatre were often reserved for a system’s ruling class. These systems worked to keep webs-of-people simultaneously segregated and functioning together as an integrated whole. We knew which platforms we belonged to, and learned that our lives, safety and comforts could often depended on how well we understood and respected the platforms that bound us. Within these systems of integrated tribal platforms, the family, the blood platform, served as a powerful underlying sub-system.

These systems powered by webs-of-people, thrived for over 10,000 years, until the 15th century BC, when the printing press gave birth to a new platform, one characterized by the mass distribution of data. The print age found individual voice usurped by a much more authoritative voice, “the media”.  This new means for preserving and distributing data supported individual curiosity, scientific discovery, and mass education. Through books, pamphlets and newspapers our old systems, powered by isolated webs-of-people, were able to form a more cohesive and integrated super platform. The web-of-ideas. As this new platform gained influence, our individual ideas and beliefs became platforms that united and divided us.  As our individual and collaborative thinking was able to fuel this new system, faith began to grow that the web-of-ideas could deliver us to a new and improved future.

Less than 500 years later, the progressive web-of-ideas birthed a new age, one characterized by industry and technology. Within a few short decades the phonograph, the telephone, the radio, the automobile, the television and the airplane had connected the world. This new platform, a web-of-machines, continued the chipping away of geographical, cultural and ideological barriers. Overnight our web-of-ideas, the platform that fed personal beliefs, traditions and identities, seemed threatened by an exploding ecosystem of social and technological advancements. The new platform, characterized by progressive speed, gave rise to corporations who delivered new paradigms for human comfort, security and connectivity. As we became susceptible to the challenges of life in this dynamic new age, a ubiquitous corporate mass-media emerged to serve as the platform’s primary channel for distributed data.  Corporate broadcast gave the web-of-machines a unifying, authoritative and comforting voice, working to supplant the influence of tribes, ideas and individuals.

Within a hundred years, through the success of personal computers, the web-of-machines produced the Internet, a platform with the promise to consolidate and democratize data distribution and communication for the first time in human history. The Internet first emerged as a web-of-data, the electronic age, providing a world in which all public data could be made readily available and actionable to any person or group with PC and a connection. The Internet soon entered a second phase of maturity, which can be described as a web-of-platforms (the social age), delivering a world in which individuals became the creators and distributors of content, environments and experiences, and where social influencers could easily attract like-minds to produce hive-minds, the new social tribe. As the web-of-platforms gave social influencers and hive-minds more and more social influence, public tastes and opinions became more fragmented, forcing the corporate mass media to acknowledge, compete with, and cater to smaller and smaller audiences.  In the web-of-platforms, platforms themselves became leading influencers is shaping ideas, world views and experiences. Mobile devices, broadcast systems, social networks, gaming platforms and new media channels served as social incubators, allowing new breeds of social influencers to attract and convert the like-minded into a vast new network of social hive-minds.

Here is where the history of social platforms ends and the future begins. Where do we go from here? What is the next social platform? What will replace the web-of-platforms and the social age?

The answer is the web-of-people, and the user age.

What will it look like? I’ll try to dig into this question in upcoming posts.

When will it emerge? Let’s look at the history of our social platforms, and see how long they’ve lasted, and try to make an educated guess.

· Tribal Age or webs-or-people (8000B.C.-1450 A.D.) about 10,000 years.

· The Print Age or web-of-ideas (1450-1880) about 400-500 years.

· The Machine Age or web-of-machines (1880-1985) about 100 years.

· The Electronic Age or web-of-data (1985-2003) about 18 years.

· The Social Age or web-of-platforms (2003- when?) we are already 6-7 years in.

Could the new user age soon be upon us? Regardless of what you think of my attempt to summarize the history of the social platform, I’d like to leave you with a more trusted and authoritative thinker on this subject… Mr. Marshall McLuhan, the man you said “the message is the media” and “we drive into the future using only our rearview mirror.” Enjoy…

Who wouldn’t want to be awesome? 09/29/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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NeoUmair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab, recently challenged the world’s markets with what he calls The Awesomeness Manifesto. In it he asks “What makes some stuff awesome and other stuff merely innovative?” His point? If innovation is the act of doing something a little bit differently, then are markets driven by innovation all that, well… awesome?  He goes even further in asking if the cost of innovation can exceed the benefits.

Innovation often isn’t. Innovation means, naively, what is commercially novel.

Yet, as the financial crisis proves, what is “innovative” is often value destructive and socially harmful. Financial “innovation” destroyed trillions in value.

A better concept, one built for a radically interdependent 21st century, is awesomeness. –Umair Haque

Though our culture is built on, driven by, and even a bit obsessed with innovation, is the enhanced value, meaning and quality of life produced always proportionate to the energies expended to realize those fruits? And, more importantly, can innovation be a double-edged sword?

He goes on to identify, what he calls, the four pillars of awesomeness. Each of which sound like an appeal to leave business for the sake of business behind to pursue the higher calling of true value creation.

Awesomeness happens when thick value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off. That’s a better kind of innovation, built for 21st century economics.  -Umair Haque

Umair’s observations are quite similar to my own (see Gravity vs. Electricity).

He concludes by turning his manifesto into a collaborative exercise by inviting readers to contribute their ideas to the cause of awesomeness.

Here are my thoughts on awesomeness.

Capitalism, which is a reasonably good economic and social model, asks most of us to make a significant personal contribution in order to sustain our quality of life. We call this contribution “work.” Regardless of how much we like what we do, most of us see our careers as a means to an end.  We often keep professional and personal separate. We qualify our contributions through their financial rewards. We make our work, what is often our single greatest contribution to society, about making money and living well. Too few of us qualify our participation through our careers much further.

Does the disconnect between our day-to-day getting by and the net value of our output contribute to the kind of markets we see today? Markets where too many indistinguishable goods and services compete for our business. Where fierce competition for existing markets creates a cacophony of voices in the media working to distinguish themselves… creating secondary markets around consumer attention and mind share. If we consider the time, energy and resources that all this competitive activity expends, the environmental impact, the noise we have to filter through, and the time and energy we waste knee-deep in messaging, offers and hype… we have to ask: does this innovative marketplace, with all the heat and friction it generates, really produce net gains for society?

I’m not saying that Capitalism, free markets or innovation are the problem.  I believe that we are the problem. Do we recognize how our careers, our products and our companies affect the world we live in… really. Perhaps the pursuit of personal awesomeness can begin by reconnecting the value of our sweat to the net-value we produce in the market.

Innovation, the act of bringing incremental improvements to existing ideas, keeps us locked in an endless front-line battle for market share. Awesomeness transcends the value found in existing markets to create new markets. The pursuit of  awesomeness is the pursuit of game changing ideas, unrealized value, and truly original ways of thinking. Because we are so accustomed to imagining new ideas and value propositions within the context of existing markets, we have a difficult time trusting or embracing the promises unleashed by awesome thinking. This insecurity prevents awesome thinking from becoming an embraceable model.

Instead, we view awesomeness as a phenomenon produced by a few gifted geniuses. Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz and Oprah Winfrey have the magic touch for creating markets. A Pixar or Nintendo’s succession of successes are accidental or otherworldly. The rapid ascent of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are too singular to teach us anything that we too can employ. By exalting our real world examples of awesomeness, we don’t allow our best case studies to reveal the fundamentals of awesome thinking.

Our biggest challenge is to demystify awesomeness, to help it become a more understood and attainable pursuit. Only by working together to define, recognize, uncover and support awesomeness can we unleash awesome new companies, and create jobs that impart the personal benefits of delivering awesomeness to the marketplace.

Being awesome, especially in this economy, is incredibly difficult. Awesomeness almost always requires monumental amounts of self discipline, courage and persistence, along with a willingness to risk what we have to get to something better. Awesomeness demands that we stand against well established ideas, and openly challenge entrenched paradigms. The pursuit of awesomeness can cause friends, family members, and even our most trusted advisers to question our sanity. Because awesomeness can be disruptive to existing markets, there may also be some who don’t wish us well. The barriers to awesome are high.

Today the web gives us access to a wide and rich stream of information, ideas and communication. We can leverage this new channel to help the models behind awesome thinking become more understandable and embraceable, and help awesome success become more attainable. My question is this: How can we work together to explore and convey the principles of awesome thinking?

What can Google teach us about effective homepage design? 09/23/2009

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Go!Last week, when I came across news of Google’s new patent award for the company’s ultra-slim, famously utilitarian homepage interface, I must admit, I chuckled a bit. It’s hard to imagine a more superfluous use of our patent laws. Even Amazon’s much mocked one-click shopping award from 2000 had more meat on the bone. Trying to turn simplicity into a defendable IP seems… well, kinda evil.  For its role here, I hope the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gets a sleigh full of Internet interface design patent applications for Christmas this year. If Google’s design is defendable, then aren’t they all?

But then the thought occurred to me that this simple, little design may provide some important lessons? Sounds like a joke… I know. But the fact is, this interface is the Internet’s most successful homepage. Sure, Google’s superior search technology fuels its success. But a homepage plays an important role in supporting that kind of success.  What makes it work?

GooglInterface

In bringing a more critical eye to this, an interface that I’ve relied on thousands of times over the years, I found I was able to recognize some important design strengths.  I boiled those strengths down to three essential elements.  Later in the week I visited several other highly successful web properties to see if the same elements were similarly present and easily recognizable. And they were. Hmmm.

This exercise helped me uncover a model for approaching homepage and other product interfaces. What I like most about this model is its simplicity. By forcing attention on communicating these three value drivers it thwarts many of the excesses that undermine most homepages.

So here they are: The 3 key elements that are communicated in a successful homepage design.

Confidence

Communicating confidence is crucial for winning an audience or attracting a customer base. Successful homepages make their companies look credible, stable, capable and ready to serve.

How does the Google design communicate confidence? By allowing the homepage to stand on its name, thus allowing its name to become synonymous with the site’s value proposition, web search, the design exudes confidence.

The take away:

Gratuitous design and blustering copy do nothing to project credibility. Confidence is best communicated by a lack of defense. The more space and attention expended on explaining who we are and why we’re great, the less credible we become. Credibility is a quiet art. The less we say the stronger we look. Say who you are. Be who you are. And call it a day. Let satisfied users and customers create your hype.

Utility

Most websites have several jobs to do. How websites accomplish those tasks define their utilities. In simple terms, the job of an effective homepage is to effectively communicate the job of the site.

For Google, the utility is web search. The value is finding what we are looking for online. Google’s design doesn’t allow anything to distract from its utility message. In doing so it ensures that the site is able to do its job.

The take away:

The homepage should  promote the site’s value propositions while communicating the utilities that drive them.  Don’t force the homepage to do more than that crucial  job. Why let your news, promotions, product information or events distract attention from the page’s purpose, when uncovering that valuable content is a part of the utility of the site? Let the homepage deliver a clear understanding of what value propositions the site holds in store, and a sense of how those value propositions are delivered. In other words, the homepage should focus only on helping the site do its job, which is delivering users to the value that they seeks.

Functionality

The homepage isn’t a storefront, a doorway, or a billboard. When a user hits the homepage they should feel like they’ve come inside. The actions and options available on the homepage should establish a basis for the site’s overall navigation and functionality. Users should get an immediate sense of how things works.

The Google homepage  prompts users to enter their search term and hit the search button.  How we use the site to drive the utility and experience the value proposition is made clear, and that functionality is carried over to every other page, as the Google search box stays with us.

The take away:

Users shouldn’t have to leave the homepage to start comprehending how they’ll use the site. By instilling function and navigation early we give users the confidence and the understanding to navigate successfully among the site’s utilities.

So, there you have it.

Because websites are so complex, and every homepage comes with its own set of challenges, it’s not at all surprising that most homepages fail to successfully communicate all three of these elements. I’ve gone back to apply this model to my own homepage designs, only to find that I’ve often fallen short.

But what is striking is how well sites that have become essential to online life have done at communicating these elements around their value propositions within the homepage. Amazon. Ebay. Craigslist. Blogger. Twitter. YouTube.

I wonder if anyone has a patent pending on confidence, utility and functionality?

Gravity vs. Electricity 09/18/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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gravvselect4 I think we can all agree that the world’s markets have changed dramatically over the last couple of decades. It’s a bigger world, in that more of us are out there competing for market share. It’s also a smaller world, as more of us are now competing globally. The ubiquity of the Internet has substantially lowered the barrier of entry by providing an inexpensive and direct distribution channel between any company and the world’s markets.

Yesterday’s markets, which were characterized by scarcity and exclusivity, have been replaced by new markets that are characterized by abundance and egalitarianism. It wasn’t all that long ago that everything we consumed came to us through a market of limitations. We were accustomed to limits in our choices, resources, knowledge, access and providers. Today we have almost unlimited resources and options to choose from in satisfying our needs, with new providers emerging to serve us every day.

These new forces are shifting power and attention away from the mass media and big business towards consumers and their networks, giving consumers more power and control than ever before.

Since we are all now forced to compete on a more level playing field, and one in which consumers can call the shots, what changes need to occur within our organizations, and within ourselves, to ensure we are able to remain competitive?

To answer this questions, I’d like to  introduce and define gravity and electricity as marketing concepts.

Gravity, a naturally occurring energy, helps to determine every object’s place and position within the environment. Using an object’s relationship to everything else in that environment, gravity helps objects move or stay in place. Gravity is a constant. It’s self sustaining. We can position objects to suit our needs, but sooner or later gravity will win out and relocate the objects, re-determining their relationships and roles.

As consumers and as people we are guided by internal gravitational forces which stem from our value systems, desires, tastes, aspirations, identities and relationships. We are motivated to action, or non-action, by these inherent forces. Our gravitational will is always at work, helping to keep us safe, grounded, balanced, and satisfied.

Electricity, on the other hand, is a force that is generated through the expenditure of energy and resources, and wielded to fulfill a task. Like gravity, electricity can be used to move objects, or to keep them in place.

When we work to elicit actions in people which aren’t directly aligned with, and fully powered by their gravitational will, we are using electricity. Anytime we work to motivate others to take actions that they wouldn’t have taken by themselves, we need a degree of electricity to accomplish it.

When someone successfully talks us into something that we didn’t necessarily want, and through our acquiescence we find ourselves in a position that’s less satisfying, we can be sure that electricity was used to win us over. When this happens most of us will take some action to reposition ourselves back into place, or into a new place of comfort. That’s our gravitational will at work.

In markets characterized by abundance and driven by the will of the consumer, gravity will always trump electricity.

Electric marketing was a best practice back when markets were characterized by scarcity. In those days a large share of voice and wide distribution allowed companies to create markets for their products. Though many brands continue to rely on costly electric marketing and advertising, electricity is losing its potency, and the long-held advantages of electric brands are slipping away. In today’s market the flagrant use of electricity can diminish a brand’s reputation and position. The belief that electricity can still create markets keeps many brands from recognizing and serving the will of their markets and using their considerable resources to appeal to that will.

By recognizing and appealing to a market’s gravitational will, gravity brands tap the natural energies that exist within the market. When a new gravity brand uncovers and serves the pent up will of a market, the market’s networks can do most of the heavy lifting in moving its membership toward the new value proposition. For consumers, the process of being lulled towards a gravity brand is powerful and seductive. Gravity brands allow markets to feel that the brand belongs to them, and not the other way around, tapping into the market’s desire to remain in control. Consumer relationships with gravity brands create bonds that are impossible for electric brands to break.

Microsoft has long been one of the world’s most successful electric brands. One of Microsoft’s most successful electric marketing tactics was to leverage the ubiquity of the Windows operating system. By force-bundling the Explorer browser, Media Player, Office Suite and other Microsoft products onto personal computers, the company was able to quickly dominate those markets. Microsoft was successful using electricity because the software market was characterized by scarcity, and consumers weren’t yet acclimated to exercising there will within that market.

Over the years successful gravity brands like Apple, Firefox and Google have neutralized Microsoft’s electric tactics. Though Microsoft continues to produce high quality products, its reliance on electricity has often hampered the brand’s ability to appeal to the will of the market.

Last year Microsoft launched a promotion to pay web users for using its Live.com search site. In many ways the ultimate electric marketing tactic, this promotion failed to diminish Google’s gravitational pull on the search market. Today Microsoft is again leaning hard on bundling to promote and position its new search site, Bing. If Bing’s value proposition appeals to the gravitational will of the market, will wielding electricity help or hurt that appeal? Could Microsoft find better success by simply allowing its product to speak to the needs of users?

As a gravity marketer, it’s important to recognize that no market is ever truly satisfied. Today’s brands show us where the lowest center of gravity rests based on today’s offerings. As gravity marketers our job is to work to recognize where the gravitational will of a market leans, and to build offerings that can move some or all of the market into a more comfortable and advantageous position. Gravity brands must remain in lock step with the will of their market in order to continue recognizing and serving the market’s lowest center of gravity. Because the gravitational will of consumers and their networks is stronger than brand loyalty; any brand, whether they use gravity or electricity, can lose their market position when a competitor uncovers and serves the pent-up will of customers.

When a gravity brand allows consumers to leverage community, tribal or network benefits, it can produce a gravity-well. What makes gravity-well brands especially powerful is the gravitational force they exert on their markets can over-power the gravitational will of consumers.  How many Facebook users report that they dislike the site, but use it because all their friends are there? How many consumers buy Apple computers, when a PCs could satisfy their needs at half the cost, because of their strong tribal connection to the Apple brand?

Understanding why gravity trumps electricity is a paradigm, a way of thinking, and a means of operating. We can recognize and leverage gravity in everything we do, from product development, to marketing, to managing our personal and business relationships. Appealing to, respecting and leveraging the gravitational will of a person or a market can produce exponential returns. In a world characterized by abundance, gravity breeds security, stability, loyalty and satisfaction while electricity often produces doubt, anxiety, immobility, waste and resentment. As you go through your day, and you find yourself engaged by people, influenced by media and distracted by the many messages working to get your attention, ask yourself…

  • Am I being engaged by gravity or with electricity?
  • How does my answer affect the way I feel about the message and the messenger?
  • How does my answer affect the likely success of the message and the messenger?
  • What are the gravity brands and gravity wells in my life?
  • How do my favorite gravity brands appeal to my gravitational will?
  • Can I recognize the gravity brands and electricity brands in different markets?

Net Neutrality: What are we fighting for? 09/10/2009

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STIMost Internet users  know enough about Net Neutrality to know they support it. But if we take a detailed look into this debate, the battles being waged, and language being propagated, precisely what it is we’re working to protect can seem a little fuzzy. Has the Net Neutrality movement identified a position and agenda that can ensure we protect the Internet’s most basic and essential value propositions?

For the sake of exploring this issue, lets begin by recognizing the Internet as an on-demand network for distributed data, media and communication. Within this network our data and activities all compete for bandwidth. The ISP, Cable and Phone Companies that make up the Broadband industry are charged with managing the flow of this data. The issue of Net Neutrality arose when broadband companies became interested in managing the flow of Internet traffic more “fairly” and deliberately.

Net Neutrality opposes giving broadband companies any degree of control over the management of the Internet’s flow of data. Net Neutrality also opposes any system used by broadband providers to prioritize online data, applications, websites or technologies. Net Neutrality is as much a way for naming the fear of losing the Internet we have today as it is an effort to prevent large companies from changing the rules for online distribution.

So what exactly is Net Neutrality working to protect? Here are a few perspectives:

Net Neutrality simply means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination. With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data — not to choose which data to privilege with higher quality service. -The Free Press

Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online. – Google

Network neutrality is a principle proposed for residential broadband networks. A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams. The principle states that if a given user pays for a certain level of internet access, and another user pays for a given level of access, that the two users should be able to connect to each other at that given rate of access. – Wikipedia

Is Net Neutrality fighting to:

  1. Protect our right to go to whatever websites, use whichever web apps and download whatever content we choose?
  2. Ensure that every user experiences the same quality of service, speed and access?
  3. Ensure that every website, application and data file experiences the same quality of service, speed and access?
  4. Or all the above?

Are broadband (BB) companies trying to game the system to create market advantages for the few, or are they working to uncover the business models that can help them operate more competitively? Here’s an excerpt from a statement on the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s website:

Those who call for regulation of the Internet in the name of “network neutrality” are offering a solution in search of a problem since there is no evidence of a market failure justifying the imposition of common carrier-like regulation on broadband services. “One size fits all” Internet Regulation would replace the workings of the marketplace with government regulation, and choose today what business models are, and are not, permissible. By contrast, in the current market-driven environment, companies have the freedom to experiment with multiple business models, producing more choices and competition in content and providers for consumers, and more innovation than ever before.

Is market failure a prerequisite for seeking regulations that can protect such a vital communications channel?  And shouldn’t we understand the types of business models broadband companies are able to pursue to ensure stability and transparency?

The Net Neutrality movement seems to believe that the way data moves through the system is already fair and equitable. The BB industry, on the other hand, is stating quite openly that they, as system operators, are better equipped to manage, prioritize and price the Internet to keep it fair and equitable. These opposing views, rigid as they are,  don’t lay ground for a constructive debate.

Al Gore was correct when he referred to the web as an information super highway. Like any large highway systems, or energy grid for that matter, the Internet will have to grow to accommodate the growing demands placed on the system. In the highway analogy we’re talking about more cars and more trucks carrying heavier loads. With the power grid analogy we’re talking about more consumers using more electricity for more and more activities. Online we have more users moving larger and larger qualities of data and consuming richer and richer streams of media. Each of these systems also contend with tricky peak usage periods: rush hour traffic for highways, hot summer days for power grids, peak usage hours and seasons for the Internet.

Is managing this growth using egalitarian principles to produce a consistent and uniform experience really feasible, sustainable or fair? The Wikipedia definition above states that “A neutral broadband network is one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.”  Yet, when traffic is heavy and capacity is filled to the point of congestion, BB companies are forced to manage which packets take priority, in effect choosing whose communication is degraded. Demand and capacity are market forces that companies leverage to build more reliable and competitive offerings. If profits aren’t a driver behind addressing the skyrocketing demand for broadband capacity, then where do incentives to increase capacity come from? The “neutral network” is an ideal. It requires models to sustain it. Without those models it becomes nothing more than wishful thinking.

I think most of us can at least agree that we’ve uncovered a dangerous lack of standards for managing Internet data at the dawn of broadband’s ubiquity. We as consumers need to make sure that our best interests are served. We must also understand the challenges in meeting the increasing demand for capacity as we pursue important rules and regulations that govern how capacity is doled out.  Most importantly, we  must clearly communicate our priorities for establishing those rules. The Net Neutrality movement hasn’t accomplished this. Instead this movement has worked to protect the status quo: a market tied to idealistic constraints and disconnected from the market forces that can fund innovation.

If we want the industry to deliver an Internet where a single price of admission provides unfettered access to every app, page, file and silo, with the ability to stream as much content and download or share as much data as we’d like, with the assurance that everyone’s data will remain equal and uniform in both speed and accessibility, then perhaps we need to ask where we have seen this kind of market work?

To shed some light on the challenges that Broadband companies, let’s look at a single broadband provider, and how their fundamentals changed overnight with the launch of a single new streaming destination.

In December of 2007 England’s BBC launched its very successful iPlayer. From this single launch a leading British broadband provider was able to record a 5% growth in total average usage, a 66% growth in the volume of streaming  traffic, a 2% growth in the number of customers using their connection for streaming, a 72% growth in the number of customers using over 250MB of streaming in a month, a 100% growth in the number of customers using over 1GB of streaming in a month, and an increased cost of carrying streaming traffic from £17,233 to £51,700 per month.

Just yesterday at BB World Forum Europe, broadband providers called for help in understanding what the rules and regulations will be in building and operating what they call the Next-Generation Network (NGN). Net Neutrality proponents need to answer this call with clarity of purpose and with a true understanding of the challenges these companies face in meeting tomorrow’s demand for broadband.

Regulators need to go early and they need to go fast – there’s a long deployment cycle for some of what we’re talking about. Can you imagine if I called up an investor and said, ‘hey, how do you feel about investing in our fibre-to-the-home project, oh by the way, we don’t know what the rules are. -Scott Alcott, Executive VP, service delivery platforms at Belgacom.

The good news is that broadband usage has finally come into its own. Peer-to-peer file sharing, streaming video, audio, gaming and other rich media experiences are now integrated into the way we use the medium.  Tomorrow’s users will experience a far richer Internet than we have today. The question of what business models can enable broadband providers to continue scaling capacity to deliver tomorrow’s experiences is an important one. Our goal should be to define consumer rights, protect the Internet’s unique value propositions, and provide the BB industry with clear options for leveraging demand.

Where are we willing to allow market forces to exist? What are we absolutely committed to protecting?

When it comes to leveraging market forces, I believe users should have more responsibility for the capacity they use, and that broadband providers should be free to experiment with pricing models that leverage high speed and high capacity.

The Google statement above makes the point that “telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say.” True enough. But if I call Austria or China the phone company has every right to pass the higher cost of the call on to me. By reserving the right to do so they protect customers from added costs or lower quality of service because of my unusual demands on the system. You might think that our roads and highways are free, and the web is like a system of roads, so why can’t it operate in the same way. The fact is there are tolls for roads, bridges and highways all over the world that help ensure those assets are maintained for the people who use them.

Today some consumers already willingly pay extra for higher speed connections. The NGN will deliver an improved “ultra broadband”. The industry should charge a premium for NGN speeds while educating consumers on the cost/benefit equation of enhanced connections. We as consumers will receive more and more of our consumable entertainment, personal communication and 3rd party services from our broadband connections; and all of those offerings will continue to get richer and more dynamic.

The industry should also be allowed to place reasonable restraints on the bandwidth capacity user can access with basic service. Users involved in ultra-high capacity activities like peer-to-peer file sharing should pay for the increased demands they place on the system. We should encourage the Broadband Industry to experiment with pricing that leverages a range of reasonable connection speeds and capacity allowances to discover what the market will bear. We should also ensure that local and regional markets give the consumer a healthy amount of choices among  BB service providers to spur competition.

Why should we do this? Because the costs associated with delivering data over the Internet continues to decrease year after year, even as usage skyrockets. Allowing BB companies to prioritize data by user contract will not drive up rates. In fact, it could lower rates for average users. And it can give the BB industry a framework for managing capacity and leveraging market forces, ensuring that the way data is managed online remains fare and transparent.

TV, radio, print, mobile communications, energy, you name it… just about every form of media, communication format and utility has succumb to some form of tiered pricing based on usage. This has helped communication, media and technology companies produce products for a wider variety of markets (Cable, Satellite Radio, Online Subscriptions). Tiered pricing is a proven model for keeping markets competitive, selection rich, and quality high.

My allowing the BB industry to pursue pricing models based on usage, the Net Neutrality movement can ensure that we protect the web’s most vital value proposition.

Not too long ago distribution channels were scarce. The enormous difficulties inherent in reaching out to mass audiences with communication, information or products was the single largest factor in determining what most of us bought, read, watched and, often times, thought. That world is gone because the Internet has created a marketplace where barriers are low and distribution is cheap. We must focus on ensuring that big business can never leverage market conditions to reclaim those old advantages around distribution. Prioritization, which will always be an important part of a transparent and fair Internet, should always be determined by our contracted relationships with our broadband providers. If I’m paying for a specified broadband speed and capacity, I should expect that my connection to the entire Internet universe, and all my online activities, will occur at that contracted rate. Broadband companies should never have the right to prioritize the speed or accessibility of a given website, technology, service or company based on their relationship, or lack thereof, with that company. The BB industry should be allowed to prioritize packets by the users within their networks, and not by the data, technology or content being consumed by those users.

At yesterday’s BBWF Europe summit industry executives struggled openly with the challenges of delivering broadband services over mobile platforms.

…prioritization of services will be an issue on mobile networks, particularly as they start transporting healthcare and other services. For example, an instant heart-read or a diabetes feedback is certainly more important than YouTube. Prioritization does matter. – Steve Pusey, CTO of Vodefone

What if the YouTube stream I’m viewing is showing me how to help my friend, who’s gone into diabetic shock? Industry prioritization by content is dangerous for too many reasons. We as users should get the Internet that we choose, at the speed and capacity that we pay for. Net Neutrality should redefine or refine its position to allow the BB industry to explore new business models through direct relationships with its customers, and the marketplace. Net Neutrality advocates should refocus on protecting an equal playing field for content. This compromise can help ensure that we will all experience the same high value Internet on a higher performance Internet infrastructure in the years to come.

Putting attention economics to work in a small American city. 08/26/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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dollarstore

I’ve been traveling Maine this week. After celebrating a family reunion in Caribou, and visiting my family’s origins in Van Buren and St Leonard New Brunswick, I arrived back to Lewiston on Sunday evening. Lewiston is my childhood home, and where most of my immediate family still resides.

Yesterday morning I ventured out in search of some coffee and Wi-Fi.  Driving down Main Street I was struck by the number of “For Sale or Lease” signs on homes and businesses.  Lewiston has struggled for years to transcend its original mill town roots, like many small towns and cities in New England. It occurred to me that Lewiston’s biggest problem is now a much more visible national dilemma: How can we replace our lost manufacturing base in order to keep regional economies growing and healthy?

The café I’d hoped could serve up an espresso and Internet fix was no longer at 205 Main Street. A brand new store called “The Dollar Store & Up!” was in the process of taking over the space, with a front window display now featuring miniature Empire State Building, World Trade Center and Lady Liberty figurines. Some of Lewiston’s longest running businesses have specialized in this sort of overstocked and distressed merchandise. Seems deal conscious residents are more likely to spend a buck on a homeless New York City tchotchke than spend $3 on a high-end mocha. Driving around town it’s clear to see that this city is struggling to find it’s footing in this very difficult economy.

DepTrustFoiled in my attempt to find a comfortable place to work, I decided to take a walk down Lisbon Street, the heart of downtown Lewiston. Once the city’s main shopping district, Lisbon’s eight blocks of early century architecture reflect the city’s one-time ambition to serve as a regional center for commerce and culture. Growing up in Lewiston in the seventies and eighties this particular street was better known for all the things our parents wanted to protect us from… namely drugs, alcohol, crime and “adult” merchandise.

Coming to downtown Lisbon as a child for guitar and art lessons sparked a lasting affinity for urban living and culture. But in those days I wasn’t able to recognize or acknowledge the street’s unique assets. Then Lisbon Street felt like a tattered remnant of  the city’s past. Lewiston and Auburn’s newer shopping malls and neighborhood businesses represented the future of city life.  Our downtown, like many across the country, became an anachronism, and a center for the city’s underbelly.

I left Lewiston in 1984 for Boston, MA and then moved to New York City in ’95,  residing in Brooklyn and working in Midtown and Lower Manhattan.  I relocated to Portland, Oregon in 2001. Over the years I’ve spent time in many big American cities like D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. These life experiences have given me an appreciation for what makes vibrant cities work. Walking down Lisbon Street the question occurred to me: Do cities and towns, like media, possess attention economy attributes that help fuel their success, or lack thereof?  The largest urban economies like New York and San Francisco are able to cater to many diverse demographics and interests. They have something, in fact, many things, for everybody, and for that they demand a lot of attention.  But smaller cities have a harder time catering to wide spectrums of people or satisfying wide ranges of interests. In order to succeed, smaller markets must become associated and identified with specific areas of richness.

My current hometown of Portland Oregon is adept at cultivating and promoting the special associations that give the city much of its character, history and identity. Portland is known to be a hub for outdoor activities like biking, hiking, running, skiing, windsurfing and climbing. Nike and Columbia Sportswear have helped Portland become a international leader in outdoor and athletic apparel. Portland’s independent spirit has helped it become a national leader in many indie industries and cultures, from coffee roasting, beer brewing and DIY music to chicken keeping and gardening. Portland has been successful promoting itself as an international center for sustainability and green living, as well as a leading hub for computer processors, Open Source Software development and technology Start-ups. Smaller Oregon markets like Bend, Ashland and Cannon Beach have become successful centers for experience, from shopping and dining, to outdoor recreation and the arts.

Some of Maine’s most distinctive coastal communities like Portland, Freeport, Bar Harbor and Boothbay Harbor have become strongly associated with the environmental, historic and commercial assets that make Maine a distinctive place. These smaller cities demonstrate the importance of creating a cultural identity to help grow a sustainable economy. Markets with focused identities create attention, and that attention helps fuel growth.

distcourtLewiston’s rich historic associations served it well in the old days. The city was built on its manufacturing prowess, especially in areas of textiles and footwear, and on its strong Franco-American culture. Today Lewiston is a city struggling to navigate from that past into the future. Perhaps Lewiston’s most important decisions regarding its future identity, culture and economy have yet to be made.

As I applied these attention economy principles to my morning stroll I realized that I was experiencing Lisbon Street for the first time as a person of experience: as a marketer, an urban dweller, a critical observer, a parent, and a concerned former resident. I can now recognize and separate the shell of downtown Lewiston’s hope-filled past from the economy that currently inhabits it.

For example, as a big fan of music and the arts, I’m surprised that I’ve never noticed the beautiful old Music Hall called the Frye Block. It’s just never caught my attention. It’s now a Maine District Court. I’ve since learned that the building was the location of Lewiston’s leading hardware store when downtown still served as the city’s main shopping district. But I still know nothing of its original history or the role it played in the lives of early residents.

Applying my experiences cultivating attention economies online, I asked myself what downtown Lisbon currently stands for as a real-world environment. Who utilizes this marketplace today? What characterizes and distinguishes its value proposition, identity and gravity well? Whose attention does it work to attract?

As I walked down this beautiful historic street, with its exposed cobblestone and early century charm it was clear that just a few of the street’s locations were serving 98% of the pedestrian traffic out and about on this particular morning. Those were, in order of volume: the District Court, Labor Board, the Library’s free sidewalk Wi-Fi, the Pawn Shops and Law Offices. If this traffic represents the market, than this early morning economy was clearly focused on the regions underemployed, undereducated and underprivileged.

signlessThis goes to the heart of what any attention economy faces, which is that of perception, identity, experience and relevance. There was little to be found this morning that would cater to or interest the larger populations found strolling through the regions malls and super markets, which explains why most Lewiston residents ignore this downtown environment and why it’s been so difficult for a new mainstream economy to take hold here. The easiest way to measure the value of a marketplace is to image it as a network, remembering that a network’s users and operators help define its character, culture and value.

A downtown economy can cast a light or a shadow on what outsiders believe a community is about, affecting the kind of  attention the community inevitably receives. It was only after I left Lewiston in ’84 that I learned that outsiders often viewed my childhood home as rough and tumble place.  A scary place.  A place to be avoided.  I knew that Lewiston wasn’t that, and had long wondered where this negative perception and reputation originated. Yet on this very morning I watched as downtown Lisbon St. perpetuated an identity that is counter to that which successful downtown markets, or any successful attention economies, work to create. When the heart of a city fails to attract and serve it’s residents the community reputation and identity can pay a price.

Today, like most cities,  Lewiston and Auburn residents rely heavily on their regional shopping centers for shopping, dining and entertainment. But the suburban attention economies and corporate experiences that superstores, malls and plazas provide are indistinct and homogeneous. They offer uniform, garden variety experiences found in every market across the  country.

43_lisbonWhat downtown Lisbon Street offers that’s unique and distinctive is a string of early period store fronts and environments that can be refashioned to serve modern needs and deliver uncommon experiences. Today cities can’t afford to build downtown structures like the Gateway at 5-11 Lisbon Street, or the vacated Depositors Trust Building at 55 Lisbon Street, or the long abandoned space at 43 Lisbon Street (pictured above) with its grand open floors and antique tin ceilings. I’ve had many memorable shopping and dining experiences over the years at establishments built into reconditioned spaces just like these, often wishing that my hometown had possessed such distinguished public environments. What a surprise to discover that Lewiston has the distinctive old bones found in much larger markets. But how does a community begin to create a new economy around an undefined, unrealized and neglected downtown district? It can start by recognizing that it possesses the kind of distinguished urban assets that many towns and cities wish they had, and can’t afford to build… and by creating a new economy that leverages and promotes these assets.

Many of Lewiston’s old mills are being refashioned into modern shops, businesses, bars and restaurants. Lewiston’s reinvention from a manufacturing economy to a distinctive modern marketplace is already underway. Lisbon Street’s future identity seems the big challenge ahead. Glimmers of the street’s future richness can be found in the new businesses popping up that are representative of the kind of experience-driven offerings found in larger markets.  A new restaurant called Fuel and an adjacent art gallery exhibit a modern urban sophistication that feels very much in sync with it’s historic surroundings. A new Indian restaurant called Mother India hints that a more diverse, international flavor could eventually take seed.

fuelWhatever the nature of the economy that eventually characterizes this area, Lewiston would be wise to continue to reclaim and protect the street’s valuable urban assets, while working to support the entrepreneurial culture that’s begun to take shape. The easiest way to support a progressive business culture is to enjoy it’s fruits. Residents should make a point of visiting the new environments and offerings that pop up, and supporting the local entrepreneurs and investors who are willing to take personal risks to bring new jobs, opportunities, culture and experiences to the city.

Residents should make a point of visiting downtown Lisbon Street to experience the local character and uncover the city history that abounds. They should engage the new Somalian shop keepers to help their new international transplants become a working part of the street’s community and culture. Most importantly, they should help create or support new businesses, opportunities and experiences that reflect and serve both the current community and the identity that they envision for the future.

Turning an ailing attention economy around is hard work, but worth the effort, as the economy owners will continue to grow and monetize their assets, investments and the attention they create over time. In the case of Lisbon Street, the economy owners are Lewiston resident. What can residents gain by turning this under-appreciated downtown environment into a welcoming, robust and singular experience? A stronger community. A renewed regional reputation. A prouder local identity. In short, all the cultural assets that translate into jobs, tourism, quality-of-life and rising home values.

Discussing and creating a framework for a community vision maybe helpful for creating a marketplace that successfully accommodates and serves the city’s current culture while working to instill an identity that residents, visitors, neighboring communities and transplants alike can connect with. Without community discussions and involvement, the city’s old identity may feel at odds with the new, more cosmopolitan businesses and environments that emerge, and that disconnect can cause investments to fail. Lewiston’s residents should explore what other small to midsized cities have done to reinvent and revitalize their historic downtown assets and environments, as well as understand how such transformations occur, and how they benefit the whole of the community.

An interesting case study for how a well-defined attention economy leads to exponential growth for a small city is Freeport Maine. Here is a bit of important Freeport history…

L.L.Bean was founded by an avid hunter and fisherman who developed a waterproof boot and set up a shop in his brother’s basement in Freeport, Maine. By 1912  he was selling the “Bean Boot,” or Maine Hunting Shoe, through a four-page mail-order catalog, and the boot remains a staple of the company’s outdoor image. –excerpt from Wikipedia

Freeport is an example of how a single innovative entrepreneur gave a small town a distinctive commercial identity. Today Freeport’s economy sustains over 200 upscale outlets and shops, making this small community one of Maine’s leading tourist destinations. Freeport has succeeded by pulling a singular “attention economy” up by its Bean bootstraps. Imagining what Freeport would look like today if Leon Leonwood Bean hadn’t set up shop is equal to trying to image what Lewiston’s downtown would look like if Benjamin E Bates hadn’t built his mill on the banks of the Androscoggin River back in 1850.

cobblestonesEvery marketplace can be considered an economy of attention. The attention you create is the attention you grow on. The success of small cities depends on how well they define, cultivate, protect and promote the community’s distinct assets. Through the principles of attention economics a city can build and market a focused identity that residents, visitors, business owners, entrepreneurs, investors and neighboring communities can connect with, participate in, and leverage. Lewiston has an opportunity to turn local and regional attention into a valuable new currency by focusing its own attention on reviving this singular urban district.

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The quest for a reliable Internet business model 06/07/2009

Posted by Paul Daigle in Social Identity, Social Media, Uncategorized.
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roundsquarehammerIn March of 1998 I joined online advertising leader DoubleClick, and spent my very first week of employment at our company sales conference in Scottsdale Arizona. The company had just gone public and the first dot com gold rush was well underway. On that first morning I got my introduction to the company CEO and VP of Sales, Kevin O’Connor and Wenda Harris Milliard. The room was filled with bright, attentive DoubleClick employees, mostly from the media sales division, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. I’d worked with many smart people over the years, but I’d never seen an organization exude this mix of passion, intelligence, ambition and confidence.

That morning I heard what the future would hold for me and my new colleagues. The future of business and personal communication would be written online. This we all knew.  DoubleClick would power this future by facilitating the one reliable  business model that had fueled the success of every other mass media channel… advertising. The Internet’s capacity for 2-way communication would deliver a Holy Grail for advertisers. DoubleClick’s technology platform would serve the right ads to the right users at the right time. Our mission: to make advertising work online. Our goal:  world domination. We would all play a role in changing the world forever.  So began a ride that would take me through the web’s first wave… ending years later with mass layoffs, an end to DoubleClick’s role in the sale of Internet media, and the company’s eventual acquisition by Google.

Today, eleven years later, the the future that Kevin and Wenda described that morning has yet to arrive. Why DoubleClick failed in its mission is a long, complex saga, filled with faulty assumptions, miscalculations, PR missteps, consumer misconceptions, and an eventual Industry wide loss of confidence in Web1.0.  The journey from irrational exuberance to irrational despair that characterized 1997-2002 is in many ways still being felt, and in some ways relived, in the Internet of 2009. The web still feels like a place of unfulfilled promises and unrealized potential.  A business model that can reliably fuel this now essential, mass communication platform has yet to arrive.

This reality has fueled many new ideas about the future of business, marketing and communication.  Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price, Charlene Li’s Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and Thomas H. Davenport  & John C. Beck’s The Attention Economy : Understanding the New Currency of Business each stab at the beast from different angles and with different swords.  A common thread within all three perspectives is the realization that consumers are now in the driver’s seat. Value, relevance, customization and two-way relationships are how tomorrow’s companies will win.  Funny, as it was consumer fears and pressure around privacy that destroyed DoubleClick’s ability to execute on its ambitious plan to bring true consumer targeting to online advertising. Winning now requires that we win the hearts and minds of consumers. The DoubleClick story shows how even B2B companies can find it difficult to survive if they fail to bring consumers along for the ride. The game is no longer about just selling products or services.  Instead, the game is about cultivating deep relationships and building strong brand reputations through the creation of unique value, customized experiences and a culture of openness.

The Internet has become a 24/7 gauge for social reputation. Keeping consumers close and engaged and acting both responsibly and responsively is how brands are successfully  managing their reputations and relationships, especially during difficult times. Twitter, a company that has succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of  users, was able to navigate months of scaling issues and hundreds of disruptions in service without harm to it’s reputation. The iconic Fail Whale is an example of the amazing things a company can accomplish when they take consumers along for the ride.

Where are the business models capable of fueling the web’s future likely to be found?  What tools will become essential for managing social reputation and consumer loyalty? I believe the best hope for serving customers and maximizing revenues may lie with OpenID. Open social technology will help companies  build brands, services, media and experiences that both reflect and custom-serve the consumer. OpenID can help brands strengthen their relationships by maximizing user experiences, relevance, functionality and value… the keys to winning in a consumer driven world.

Putting technolgy back “inside” the box 08/21/2008

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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You may have seen this (hilarious) video parody of what an iPod’s 2005 packaging might have looked like had it come from Microsoft. It explores in deadpan accuracy the kind of insulated thinking that keeps many technology companies from producing products and messages that connect with average people.

I find this topic interesting and timely because I often see today’s Web2.0 Cloud as a space where engineering paradigms and tech laden worldviews fuel industry marketing, product design and messaging.

The social web has produced vibrant social ecosystems for youth culture and tech enthusiasts. This is both good and important as early adopters help new technologies find their footing, and lead mainstream majorities to new value propositions. The growing expanse of tire kicking, test driving, puddle jumping and outright pioneering going on in Silicon City, the new city in the Cloud, is one of the most exciting human developments we’ve seen in years.

As we’ve watched new communication channels come to life we have also witnessed the emergence of a powerful social collective consciousness or hive-mind that I’ll call the new Social Tech Society. This prodigious and loosely tied community of social scientist, marketers, developers, entrepreneurs, cyborg anthropologist and influencers wrestle the daily streams of micro-innovation, advanced usage and data feeds to uncover new developments that can make networks flock, bloggers speculate and activities trend, fueling a network fetishism for technical innovation and social evolution. New apps, platforms, methodologies and memes are discovered, evaluated, documented and assimilates or dismisses at a rapid pace .

Is the work of the Social Tech Society widening the chasm between important new value propositions and Main St? Mass consumer success requires products and services that connect with the needs and desires of average people. This occurs when companies successfully package features, functionality and value around simple propositions like solving everyday problems and enhancing quality-of-life. The Social Tech Society is apparently convinced that today’s tech enthusiast ecosystem will one day become the mainstream. Geek is the new chic.  But the seductiveness of combing for watershed moments within the Cloud keeps focus on the outer edges of advancement, which leads to uncertainty, unreliability and diversion. Being an instrument of change, the Social Tech Society is not built for packaging proven features, functionality and value around reliable and well-defined value propositions.

Meanwhile, people who aren’t enamored by tech as tech want to understand what Silicon City is about?  What does it do? Why do we need it? What problems does it solve. How will it improve life? Companies that can develop products that answer these questions for the mass market will harness the true value of the network and the Cloud. Though the Social Tech Society may delay the inevitable, new technologies will eventually connect Main St., Geeks St. and the hive-mind to a truly unified social grid.

If the social web were the telephone, I think we can say that we’ve reached a point where the telephone has become widely embraced by a growing network of wired audio communication enthusiast.  But these participants currently define the network. Until those who care nothing about communication technologies or their effects on the evolution of the human species pick up the telephone and start talking, Silicon City will remain a land known mostly for it’s free flowing innovation and technophile pursuits.

The real value of the social web will be found in the network effect produced by a mass consumer market embracing the cloud for daily interactions. We’re not far from that moment, but we need to improve our ability to develop for and speak to average people. We need to put  technology back inside the box.

Using relevancy and targeting to maximize ad revenues 05/24/2008

Posted by Paul Daigle in Uncategorized.
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googleeyeglassIn my last post I discussed how the key to growing a successful and sustainable online advertising businesses is to give users relevance through a healthy attention economy. Google, the Internet’s most profitable company, delivers ad relevancy both within their domain and across the web.

Google developed a slightly better method for ranking websites at a time when Alta Vista, the former leader, watered down its search mission to compete with full service portals like Yahoo. By enhancing search relevancy, Google won the search market.

In 2003 Google introduced AdSense, a tool that serves cost-per-click ads by analyzing and targeting page content on publisher sites. AdSense gives web site owners an easy way to bring contextually relevant ads to their pages. By monetizing web pages with existing CPC advertisers AdSense enabled Google to spread its cost-per-click business across the open web.

Google has clearly demonstrated that the key to online advertising success is relevance. As the owner of operator of an ad driven business your mission must becomes centered on helping your users find relevant ads. This may sound strange, as we all are conditioned to view advertising as a distraction, but if you work with advertisers that have something to offer your users, it’s important that your users and your advertisers are able to connect are the right time.  How can you accomplish this? There are 2 basic methods. One is by targeting user consumption, and the second is by targeting user profiles.

Google’s business targets consumption. A user searches for a specific word or term which demonstrates an interest in a product or content, allowing Google to tailor advertising and web site results that are aligned with the consumer’s immediate needs or interests. Similarly, Google’s AdSense looks at the content being consumed and serves ads that are topically aligned with that content. Both of these methods bring users relevant options that they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, which is why Google’s response rates are so high and their ad products are so profitable.

In order to provide users with relevancy based on content consumption, your site must be easy to navigate based on need. Clear and thoughtful menus, channels, grouped content, keyword search tools and other drill down methods allow you to create user value and carve out effective advertising opportunities. Yahoo’s Auto, Finance, Real Estate, and Jobs channels each work to build user and advertiser communities around specific needs. The focus of these environments commands much higher ad rates by allowing timely introductions and fueling competition for premium placement. Unfocused pages on the Internet generate .01-.35 cents for every thousand pages viewed. Synergistic environments can often achieve effective CPMs (Cost-per-thousand) of $10-$20. AdSense generates effective CPMs of $1.00- $15, often times doing so on content that wouldn’t sell in a traditional ad-media marketplace.

Whereas consumption targeting is time-based (targeting real time needs and consumption), other methods for targeting are user-based. By identifying and publishing your demographic, psychographic and behavioral data in your media kit, you are building the basic targeting tools that media planners use to consider whether your audience is right for their message.

There are other technology-driven targeting methods that utilize user cookies and/or personal registration data. These methods allow companies to serve relevant ads that are not contextually tied to current consumption. If your company assigns user-cookies that track which users spend time on your food and recipe pages and search on food and recipe related words- you can use that data to serve those users food and recipe related ads even when they are involved in activities that have nothing to do with food. This type of data allows you to create more opportunities to reach specific user segments. If you have an online registration process that records user demographic information like age, gender, industry, interests, income or other personal attributes, you can leverage this data to help advertisers filter out the users who are not in their target market. These capabilities command much higher ad rates because they allow advertisers to concentrate their impressions to ideal users, which eliminates waste.

Both of these methods utilized stored user PII (Personal Identifiable Information).

The key privacy principles which govern the collection and use of PII are “notice” and “choice”. Any ad targeting based on PII needs to be transparent to end-users and to respect their privacy preferences.”  Peter Fleischer, Google’s Global Privacy Counsel,

In other words your privacy policy should clearly state how you collect and use PII, and allow users the means to opt-out of any or all PII targeting. When properly managed, most users will understand that you’re using their data responsibly to bring them relevancy, and will feel that their privacy and security is in good hands. When best practices are ignored you risk the kind of public relations problems epitomized in the past by DoubleClick and Facebook Beacon . Using your PII data to develop ad inventory that you can sell as targeting or filters ensures that you’ll keep your users and their personal activities private and safe.

Advertising is about relevance, efficiency and measurability. Selling online advertising opportunities that maximized these important aspects are crucial to your long term success.