five signs of fail: ads.

  1. The ad content and form is defined by the messaging of competitors, thereby validating their claims / insults.
  2. The focus is a direct reaction to opposing messages, and the campaign would not exist if those messages hadn't provoked it.
  3. The campaign intrigues without offering the audience anywhere to go for further information, even if they research independently.
  4. The images / messages contradict either the reality of the product, the reality of the brand, or other elements of the same campaign.
  5. The ad is based on an internet meme that is either lacking in mainstream appeal, or has already passed out of public consciousness.  Related: the ad directly copies an established meme, adding nothing original.
These are my five signs of fail for advertising.  Feel free to guess which specific campaigns inspired each point - I am giving away no-prizes.

the real (short) meaning of mobile's rise.

Most web applications are about fitting themselves into people's computer using routine.  Whether this is embodied by RSS feeds fitting blog reading around the workflow of other tasks, or about fitting social interaction into computer time at work and home through instant messaging or social networks, tying an application to a computer meant tying an action to a location or mindset.  I didn't think of it this way at the time, but IM probably helped me get more homework done in high school, because it added an incentive to sit in front of the computer and enough distraction that actually doing the work didn't seem arduous.

Mobile applications remove the location bias from these activities.  So, Facebook and IM and GReader, etc etc etc are now fitting into my actual living routine, and the adjustment is notable.  Email is not something I check when I get to work, when I get home, etc.  Email is a way of reaching me at any time, suitable not to a location or time, but to a type of message.  Same thing with Facebook and IM.

This isn't a huge difference to the people who are spending 8 hours a day in front of a monitor anyways, but I start to feel it when I spend more time out in the city, or on location for work.  The change is notable enough that even my laptop is starting to feel cumbersome, which I would have found absurd a year ago.  My social and work information flow / social actions are becoming tied only to the flow of information, and the way I choose to connect to people.

What does this mean?  It means that it's no longer enough to make something seamless in integration with the way people work, or the way people use a machine.  It's becoming necessary to make something that seamlessly integrates with the way people want to connect.  Tying your service to a work-station, or a single machine, isn't a good idea.

If I'm going to be mobile in terms of space, you need to be mobile in terms of platform.


ranking my screens.

Many communications and business blogs have talked at length about the importance of the 'Third Screen', the informational / communications / internet device that lives in your pocket.  Inherent in the title they've worked with is the question of ranking.  I'm realizing my third screen is quickly becoming my first screen, because it's where I do the majority of my hybrid (work and personal) communications.  And now it's actually dictating which platforms I use for my communications.

Blogger isn't cutting it.  The lack of actual iPhone compatibility has become a real deal breaker.  I've tried the options available, including emailing posts, but the formatting is broken, or the presentation is messy, or the experience is generally unfulfilling.  My options are basically to either give up using the iPhone to blog, or to change my blogging platform to something that lets me work with my third screen, which is quickly becoming my first screen.

I've been on blogger for far longer than the month and a half I've been an iPhone user.  And despite the long (long) list of complaints people have about blogger, I've generally not considered switching platforms.

But here we are, and now I'm thinking WordPress might be a rational option, considering they at least consider the idea of letting what I consider an important and influential market play too.


my life offline.

After a weekend without steady Internet access, I spent the majority
of the day offline, excepting my iphone, due to some networking
issues. This is not an ideal situation for me at any time, but at work
it has severely complicated my day.

This disruption led me to a realization; that previous generations
likely did less work, but more tasks - that is to say, instead of
spending the majority of the day on the key tasks of the job, that
time was spent on things like delivering messages, copying documents
by hand, retyping edited documents, travel time for research or
meetings, etc etc etc.

It would have been impossible to do as much actual work 75 years ago
as it is now. But because fewer jobs are based on manual labour, the
perception is opposite.

Increased efficiency inevitably leads to increased expectations. I'd
argue this is a good thing.


dear facebook, beacon is evil.

I know I've just recently berated anyone who whines about Facebook's new setup, but I've been seeing rumours here and there that the Beacon system might be coming back.  I hate Beacon, and I think my rage directed at it is more justified than those raging against the live feed option, or the new layout, or what have you, for one reason.

Facebook catalogues and organizes your social information.  It does this based on what you decide to tell the site about yourself, filtered through your privacy settings.  You might not like everyone you are friends with seeing what you do or say on Facebook, but you have decided to do and say those things, on the Facebook platform.

Beacon is problematic because it follows you around after you leave Facebook, and then tells everyone you have identified as a friend what you are up to outside of the Facebook platform.  To me, this breaks the implicit contract that Facebook users have - that Facebook stays confined to Facebook.  Telling people I'm said 'Happy Birthday' on a friend's wall is very different then telling them I googled the release dates of 35 mens fashion magazines, or watched several videos centred on the history of the bow tie.

What makes me odd, is that I don't have a problem with Facebook tracking this information, and using it to better target ads to me, assuming it is stored in a double-blind system, and kept for a limited amount of time.  What bothers me is that information, which I did not tell Facebook to collect, being distributed among individuals. 

Social networks are about projected identity, not actual identity.  If you remove the user control over the identity presented online, then yes, you are invading their privacy to an extent.  That, I have a problem with.


google valve rumours.

I don't normally obsess over rumour, but I have to say...

social media still needs the broadcast model.

It all comes from somewhere.  People want buzz in social media, and generally they think the obvious solution is to 'go Viral', as though this is something predictable or simple to replicate.  Social media is supposed to bread the broadcast model, but what we keep forgetting is that social media, in the large scale sense that communications pros and companies want, is based on the broadcast model.

The big blogs are either original works or commentary.  They disseminate to smaller blogs, and to sites like Digg and Reddit, generally the same way Newspapers would disseminate into real world conversations.  Many of the things that become comment peices are linkblogged from larger, more established sources.  Sure, the timing is faster, but it works the same as it always did - sources with the biggest audience generally trickle down into the sources with smaller audiences.

There are major differences and advantages in the results - blog and Digg coverage results in a fast online paper trail, google results, more impressions, etc.  For the reader, trickling down into blogs results in stories being approached from more varied and specific viewpoints.  But, if you want blog coverage, if you want social media relevance, the major ingredient beyond having a topic that is relevant to social media, is targeting and getting covered by the big boys.

This is what amuses me to no end about being told, constantly, that PR is dead, is useless, is irrelevant.  Half the time someone will say this, and within a week, link a story from the New York Times, or Marketing Magazine, or Fast Company, or a youtube clip from MSNBC.  Cognitive dissonance is an odd thing to watch writ large.

Social media has changed the game, certainly.  And approaching large entities online that operate on the broadcast model is not the same as contacting traditional media outlets.  But assuming that things that reach the largest number of people are less important at a time when things are breaking down into smaller, more specific conversations forgets the key element of having a topic.

And topics come from shared experience.

fatal flaw of tagging.

Tagging seems like a great idea - allowing individuals to create an adaptable sorting system for their information.  The main problem, and the thing that totally destroys the usability, is the existence of synonyms.

If every tagging system came with a number of pre-set tags, and then allowed the addition of tags that didn't fit into that system, there would be less of the 'tag-spread' that makes tagging useless.  Blogger has a version of this with their 'labels', a little 'show all' button that I use religiously.

I suppose I could go back through all 200 odd posts I've made here and fix the tagging, but going backwards seems against the logic of blogs.  This is a good, personalized system that would work a lot better with a bit of the limitation that the free software world is very often against.  I love crowdsourcing, but people need a path to show them where to go sometimes.


adding a social media layer.

I've had a very social media themed day.  I'm not going to go into the details, but I'm solidly in the headspace, so I'm going to talk about something cool I saw on PSFK recently - the addition of a social media layer, melded with competition, on top of vapid reality TV.  

I don't particularly like the Hills, but I'd be very happy to see this added to streaming TV online on a wider scale.  Lately I've taken to sitting in front of the TV with my iPhone, twittering, tumbling and IMing my way through whatever I happen to watch (normally about one show a week, considering bittorrent is my favourite station).  If I'm watching most things on my laptop screen, I'd like that comment layer.  More useful would be the ability to tie it into the social media services I already use - TV show based chats with my Facebook, MSN, Twitter, etc contacts would be interesting and beneficial.

The scoring part is something I find less useful.  I know many people are excited by the idea of getting voted up or down in a Digg comment thread, but I'd prefer to actually have a conversation.

That said, I'd love watching a deep-tagged episode of the Hills with the highest voted commentary popping up at the times it was made by each individual viewer.  Crowdsourced criticism is easy to see entertainment in.


everything is aspirational.

A short one for lunch:

Targeting shouldn't be about who you think should have your product.  Targeting is about finding the people who WANT to be the person who should have your product.  Everything is aspirational, even when based on cold hard facts like location or stated interests.


crowdsourcing as cubism: crowdfire.

I watch BoingBoingTV, usually on the subway as I head to work.  It's eclectic, and, frankly, has gotten a lot more watchable since they stopped with the 'German-French-Whatever Aspiring Action Hero' series, which was neither funny nor interesting.

The one I watched this morning was an in-depth look at CrowdFire, something the extended boingboing crew seems to have been involved in with backing from Windows, operating at the Outlands Festival.  CrowdFire, in short, is absurdly cool.

The quote from John Battelle was 'the idea is to give the crowd the tools to create the crowd's experience.'  In practice, this means giving the crowd a repository of crowd-sourced images, sound and video from the festival, to be remixed, re-edited, and broadcast during and after the festival itself.  To a creative commons geek like myself, this is already cool enough to warrant a blog post.  But it got me thinking about the project as a normalization, and communalization, of mediated experience.

CrowdFire is, in a way, about second memory as a communal action.  Photographs and video recordings are about sharing and preserving memories better than human equipment can do without assistance.  This is capturing something different though - the increase in scale makes it a recollection on a swarm scale - 60,000 snippets of a thing, as experienced by 60,000 people.  Opening this up not only to tagging, but to remixing and broadcast, makes me think of cubism.  Crowdsourcing something on this scale isn't a matter of photo realism, but experiential realism.  Looking at a compendium like this is seeing every facet, every angle at once.

And I can't help but wonder if this is the future of memory.


worrying signs from apple.

I haven't bought Leopard yet, because despite an impressive set of features, I keep hearing horror stories about it not working properly without a clean install.  And I just downlaoded an iPhone update that included the phrase 'crashing' when it listed it's fixes.

Apple has very quickly become a 'wait-for-the-update' company, which was always one of my biggest problems with Microsoft.

I'm impressed with the iPhone 2.1 OS firmware update, but I'm not impressed that I'm impressed.  This is a company built on the idea of 'it's beatiful, functional, and it just works'.  Two out of three is insufficient.

I know of a large consultancy that has a fairly small margin of profit per project, because they truly believe that it is impossible to do a quality job for a reasonable price with a higher margin.  They instead choose to do the best work possible, and profit based on the massive scale of their projects.  I'm starting to wonder if Apple is only capable of churning out little boxes of perfection when they're the underdog in every way.

When you control every element of a product, it should work.  Reasonable demand, I think.

(Yes, I am still a raging Mac fanboy.  No change on that front.)


top ten iphone apps.

And now, the broken gentleman's top 10 iPhone apps, based on usefulness, coolness, and how excited they make me.

  1. Twitteriffic - I use this more than any other feature or element of my iPhone.  Twitter is a thousand times more useful, and I am a thousand times more obsessed with new information on people I barely know.
  2. Evernote - Text, image, or voice notes, backed up online from my phone.  I use Tumblr as a scrapbook, but I use Evernote as a scratch pad for my half formed rambles.
  3. VNC Mocha Lite - Stuck at an event, I opened my office email list, on my home computer, using only my iPhone.  I was then able to find my colleague's number, call him, and get access to the VIP area.  So yeah.  This is useful.
  4. Simplify Media - Access to my entire music library, and that of my friends, streaming, no matter where I am.  Because sometimes the people around me just need to hear Skullcrusher Mountain.
  5. Air Sharing - Dear USB Memory Stick.  You are now obsolete.  I'd pity you, but I'm not the type.  Now I can drag and drop files wirelessly to and from my iPhone.  Win.
  6. Shazam - This is just actually magic.  I use this more to show people that it exists than to actually find out the names of random songs, based entirely on an 8 second audio sample plucked from the air.  The direct links to YouTube videos help, as well.
  7. Palringo - Not perfect, but free, relatively consistent IM application, which lets me use MSN and gTalk from anywhere.  Quickly becoming habit forming.
  8. Spore Origins - For the poor, sad last generation Macbook user who can't get the real deal.
  9. Last.FM - Streaming music, spontaneously generated stations, bio info, and concert dates.  Easy, clean, fun.
  10. Now Do This - Not actually an app, but a website that works perfectly on an iPhone.  Simple, minimal to-do lists.  Nowdothis.com.
I could also talk about Tumble, Facebook, Super Monkey Ball, etc, but I figured ten was more than enough.

on the new facebook.

I have a lot of trouble taking any complaints about changes to Facebook seriously, because they are almost always freak-outs based on a fear of change.

When the News Feed first emerged, everyone freaked out except me.  It was called 'Stalker Feed', a bunch of groups were started and joined, and people generally decided that presenting the same information that was available before in a more logical way was terrifying.

People actually freaked out, because people knew what they were doing, on a system composed entirely of profile information and lists of people who can view it.  This is the greatest example of cognitive dissonance I can think of in the last 5 years.

Now, the same people are freaking out about the new Facebook, calling it 'Stalkerbook', and complaining, paradoxically, that it makes it too easy to see what people are doing, and too hard to find information on them, due to different tabs for different things.

This is a service, that is based entirely on organizing and sharing personal information with a select few approved people.  If you want to freak out about Google listings of personal info, and it's impossible to opt out, then fine.  Otherwise, you're getting what you expected, and freaking out because the package is more clearly organized.

This probably means you're irrational, at best.  A more usable version of the same information is BETTER, not scarier.

consistent branding is more important than continuity.

A good friend, who recently got some serious blog attention for noticing that even stuff aimed at the casual gamer hates macs, pointed this out to me.

They're updating the PC based version of the XBox Live Marketplace.  And have decided to give it the moronic title of "Games for Windows - LIVE XXXXX" where XXXXX is replaced by a selection from random user suggestions.

And it's embarrassing.  I've avoided commenting on the Seinfeld ads extensively, in part because I'm convinced the value will become apparent in the longer campaign, and in part because I think my distaste is Apple fanboyism gone rampant.  But this I have to comment on.

The XBox, and XBox Live, are the crown jewels of Microsoft's image.  Despite hardware that fails regularly, it's a premiere system, and in my informal observation, the number one choice of the hardcore gamer.  XBox is the brand you want associated with a system that is going to be a one stop competitor for Steam, iTunes Music Store, and who knows what else.

The product should be called XBox Live on every system, I'd think.  When you think of XBox, you think Microsoft Gaming, not specifically a console.  The marketplace should be the same whether you browse it on your Zune, your PC, or your XBox 360.  You should be able to buy products from any of these consoles, and have them download when you turn the appropriate device on.  You should be able so share and organize content between them.  XBox, in terms of appreciation, is the glue of users loving Microsoft.  Make it the glue of your digital distribution strategy.

I'd go as far as to release XBox editions of Vista, optimized for the hardcore PC gamer.  Why not?  It's a brand extension, but it needn't dilute the brand value, because it's the same idea.  Ideas don't have to be bound to a format, that's the first lesson of the digital copying era.


standardized pricing is bad.

Yesterday I bought Dr. Horrible 'Season One' from the iTunes store.  All in all, it was a solid decision, as I love the mini-movie-musical, and am hoping desperately for further installments.  That, and I generally try to buy anything that combines good content with an innovative approach to the distribution problem.  In Canada, the total cost for all three acts of Dr. Horrible was $4.99.  Reasonable.

However, the soundtrack is also for sale on iTunes.  For $9.99.  Twice the cost of the actual short film.

I recognize that it's 14 tracks.  I understand that this is the set price iTunes has for albums, and getting out of the mold is impossible for the content creators, because Apple controls the channel.

But charging twice as much for the soundtrack to a musical, then for the musical itself, makes no sense to me at all.  Hopefully we'll reach a point where creators get to decide the price point for their work, the same way they should have control over album art, liner notes, etc.  Artists create a product that is often defined by it's package.  Let's stop pretending price has nothing to do with that.  And let's not keep making absurd choices - my first reaction to seeing the price for the soundtrack of a musical I loved should not be 'Well, that's moronic.'


transparency as product.

Wired is doing something very interesting with Storyboard, a beginning to end blogging of an upcoming peice on Charlie Kaufman (the dude who wrote Adaptation, among other screenplays).  In doing this, they are increasing reader involvement with the peice, advertising the upcoming issue containing the peice, and creating a new revenue stream from the article itself (advertising on the blog).  This is both creative and innovative.  And I wonder how well developed it could be in other creative media.

For example, imagine if an established band decided to liveblog the recording process, etc, of an upcoming record.  They could post half finished lyrics, snippets of vocal and instrumental tracks, videos of rehearsals and discussions, explanations of the process, etc.  While the money generated by advertising wouldn't be absurd, it would serve as a great introduction to the record.  For certain bands with a large enough following, people (read: Me) would be willing to pay some small monthly amount to get a password and login to access the page.  You could include it in the physical copies of a release, offering the feed for the next upcoming record.  Throw it in a greatest hits package, for example.

Print media isn't dead.  Music isn't dead.  But we have to change what we're selling, and how we're marketing it.  That said, I'll admit the idea wouldn't work outside of an established magazine, an article on an established personality, with an established audience.  But figuring out how to transfer old media success to new media success seems like an important step in figuring out how to create new media success stories from whole cloth.  Transparency as product might be a part of that future.


open standards vs. proprietary formats.

I don't buy clothes online.  I love clothes, and buying things online is cheaper and more efficient, generally.  But, sizes aren't standard, and I need my clothes to fit me properly.  So, generally, I buy things in person.  Sizes could easily be standard, but a mixture of appeals to vanity, and lack of rigorous agreed-upon meanings, is the current system.

It's the same deal with web browsers, as came up in a recent conversation.  They don't all read the same code in the same way.  A page might be programmed to say one thing, but when you get there, you see another.  On a wider scale, you can see why this would appeal to some companies - a closed process, or a proprietary one, combined with other market advantages (popularity, some unmatched feature) can equal dominance.  This is the same logic as one retailer making size 40 jeans labelled 34.

But when everyone does it, and there is a wide marketplace of comparable products each using the same system with different meanings, the industry in question is inherently fragmented.  This can result in greater brand loyalty, but only as a form of stockholm syndrome.

Proprietary systems make you, and your competitors wrong at least some of the time.  There's no incompatibility that doesn't go both ways.

So I have to go into the store to buy my pants.  Which means I keep buying my pants from the same places, because there is less inscentive to find new places, and have to learn the meanings behind each label there.

Open standards only seem like a bad idea if you can't understand the basic tenet of enlightened self interest - making your entire industry / ecosystem / world better inevitably makes things better for you.  It also lets you compete on something other than entrenched market position, which is always transient.


more rabid iphone love.

This time, I think, I've centered on why the iPhone impresses me so very much.  It's not just a phone with mobile internet.  It's the first thing I've used that has actually incorporated nearly all of my mediated communications into one package, that fits into my pocket.

I got interested in computers and the internet right about the time I realized livejournal and ICQ were better ways to speak to my friends than a telephone was.  Part of my stance on this was that I was a 13 year old boy, and phone conversations seemed like a lot to ask.  A larger part was that I could incorporate ICQ and LJ into my workflow (although that isn't how I thought of it at the time).  I could have conversations while doing other things.  This very quickly became the whole point of computers, and the internet, for me.

A list of communications tools I use on my computer: gmail, gtalk, msn messenger, skype, blogger, twitter, tumblr, facebook, linkedin, google reader.  (I'm definitely missing a few)

Communications tools I use on my iPhone: gmail, palringo (msn and gtalk), tumblr, google reader, twitterific, facebook, linkedin, sms, voice calling, voicemail, blogger, etc etc etc.

The iPhone impresses me not because it's the best phone I've ever used (it is) or the best mobile internet experience I've had (my laptop wins that one), but because it's not just a phone, it manages to facilitate the use of nearly every communications tool I use, from anywhere, without much hassle.  I never have to say 'if I was on msn, I could get in touch with _____', or 'I'll have to send _____ a facebook message when I get home'.

I joked with friends a few weeks ago that we'd say to our kids 'when I was your age, we had the internet in our hands, not our brains, and we were damned lucky to get that!'  As time passes, I'm fairly certain I'm going to point to the iPhone as the first palpable outbreak of the hyperconnected future.  Because it's a medium agnostic communications tool, rather than a phone or PDA or computer.  And every time I start using something like that, my life changes a little bit.