Links – 31st October 2008

Rather than a lop-sided list, here is a numbered (but unordered) overview of blogs, articles and tools I have enjoyed over the past few days:

1. Iqbal Mohammed asks a very interesting question: Could price become a skeuomorph? This segues in with an interesting point Matt Rhodes made regarding incentives – it changes the transaction from market to social. Would people prefer to pay in order to avoid any potential obligations in future – whether signing up to a mailing list or being forced into a timeshare? It also reminds me of the Severn Bridge, with its one way tolling. The Welsh like to point out that they can cross over into England for free, but are forced to pay to leave and go back home.

2. There has been an interesting teté a teté on network effects between Nicholas Carr and Tim O’Reilly. While the argument is largely focused upon semantics, several interesting issues are raised. And not entirely unrelated, Faris links to a video of Clay Shirkey talking about Solidarity Goods – items that increase in value as more people use them.

3. Japan’s census looks great. Rather than a straightforward survey, everyone also has to fill in a time diary showing what they are doing throughout the day. Tokyo Tuesday is a fascinating look at the aggregated lives of the salarymen, cyberpunks, samurai and other assorted Japanese stereotypes that one might want to throw into the mix.

4. Can Hulu’s (No.4 on Time’s inventions of the year) current single-ad-per-break model continue? If they are buying content in and paying for their bandwidth then I’m guessing not. Premium positioning only stretches so far. But product placements and other new formats can mitigate the losses from restricting inventory (New York Times)

5. A study commissioned by the Association of National Advertisers suggests that the brand does not influence business decisions in two thirds of the companies questioned. CMOs with an axe to grind against the beancounters, or a realistic assessment of current corporate thinking? (Marketing Charts)

6. A bit old now but Brian Solis has a very thorough overview of the state of Social Media in 2008, and the outlook for 2009

7. An argument in favour of training over talent (CNN) – sounds good to me. An ability to remember trivia can only take one so far in life

8. A digital planning checklist (Katie Chatfield). Does exactly what it says on the tin. Succinct and insightful.

9. Mashable has a nice collection of social media gurus owning up to their biggest mistakes

10. Seth Godin has put the presentation of his latest book – Tribes – onto Slideshare

11. An epic attempt at integrating all of one’s personal data (Kiwi Tobes)

12. A tool that lets you look at the traffic statistics for Wikipedia pages

Enjoy…

sk

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Polls are taxing my patience

Polls are everywhere at the moment.

They’ve been around for a long time, but for me they’ve jumped the shark/nuked the fridge. Use has been superseded by overuse.

The US elections are an obvious, recent cause. I am amazed by the amount of polls taking place. Yesterday’s FiveThirtyEight poll update shows that there were 11 national polls and 25 state polls. For that one day alone.

All the polls will be using different samples, methodologies and weighting factors, and will be producing different results. How useful can all these be? Nate Silver doesn’t think much of them, hence his predictive model.

On the one hand polls can be incredibly misleading. Look at the 1992 British election, where people were ashamed to admit they voted Tory. Labour were well ahead in the polls, yet the Conservatives won. And there are still concerns that the Bradley effect could hand the current election to McCain despite Obama’s current lead.

And on the other hand they can also be influencing. A candidate may move ahead in a poll. This is reported as a surge in popularity. People gravitate towards the likely winner (whether it’s Rupert Murdoch or Mondeo Man) and so a temporary surge can be converted into a substantial lead. All without the candidate doing anything of substance.

However, I believe that while these polls are overused, they do at least serve a purpose. I’m less convinced by the glut of polling options appearing online at the moment.

WordPress, for instance, has incorporated Polldaddy into the service. So, I could choose to serve a poll to my readers if I wished to.

However, I do not.

I’m 100% in favour of developing systems and introducing new options, but I see little use in polls. They are a vague nod to interactivity, but they will produce little utility.

I can see how they can of use to some blogs with a large readership who spend a lot of time on the site constructing thoughtful arguments.

But for the majority of blogs (mine included), people skim and pass through. If they see a box, they might tick it. But how would that be useful to me? I would be grateful to my readers for participating, but I wouldn’t trust any results that come out of it.

Polls give an unwarranted aura of science or respectability. Ticking a box is no better than making a comment. In fact, it is worse, since it requires less effort to think. Simply choose a pre-conceived option and on you go.

Take the BBC’s polls for instance. The BBC are in a constant battle to maintain relevance (for the record, I love the BBC), and interactivity is a way in which they try to do so. But as a result, you end up with a surfeit of pointless noise.

I’m thinking less about the 33,000 comments and counting regarding “Sachsgate” (spEak You’re bRanes must think it has gone to heaven) and more about the fluffy questions of the day or the completely illogical player-rater on football games (I can go and rate Ashley Cole 1/10 on every match even though I won’t be following it), What benefit is being accrued here – either to the user or to the BBC?

So I am making a one person stand against polls. I won’t be using them, and I won’t be participating in them. May they rest in pieces.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cfox74/

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Links – 26th October 2008

A selected list of links below. The recent paucity of posts, along with this going out on a Sunday, should indicate that my recent schedule hasn’t been too forgiving.

Blog-related

Jeremiah Owyang on the 7 tenets of the connected analyst. There is a balance between utility, leadership and a commercial outlook

NBC has begun releasing its TAMIs – total audience measurement index across all platforms. It will be interesting to compare how different genres perform across the different media. Cross-media reach is the holy grail – this isn’t that as it takes no account of audience duplication, but it is a step in the right direction (TV Week)

10 reasons why newspapers won’t reinvent the news in the 21st century. Quite a pessimistic outlook. (Xark)

What great marketers do well – well worth reading (Wikibranding)

Thoughts on the semantic web and the future of advertising from the Web 3.0 Expo (Read Write Web)

Hugh MacLeod interviews Mark Earls – both extremely interesting and intelligent thought-leaders

10 Internet stats for sceptics – the This is Herd blog has been on fire in the last week. This is an extremely useful post that I will be referencing again and again.

Nicholas Carr on Google and the Centripetal web – a very interesting notion. Google is moving from purely facilitating search, to providing unique content through its “First Click Free” method of moving around subscription firewalls.

Doc Searls’ elegant response to the borderline troll post on Wired where the author opined that Facebook, Flickr and Twitter had killed blogging. I don’t blog for fame and money. I blog to ruminate, to share and to learn. And will continue to do so.

Random

Paul Graham writes a typically brilliant essay on… writing an essay

Vice has an interesting profile on a former large-scale heroin dealer

http://librivox.org/ is the place to go for user-created audio books of out-of-copyright works

17 interesting facts about doctors and patients (E-med Expert)

NY Mag has a great feature on Nate Silver – the statistical genius behind the brilliant Five Thirty Eight website

I can’t really single any particular post out for praise this week- they are all well worth reading and re-reading

sk

Crowdsourcing needs confines

Last week I went on a media planning course. Once the introductions, overviews and drinking socialising was done with, we got down to business with developing a media strategy for a new value range of products. In an afternoon.

It was incredibly challenging (especially considering we were all researchers) but extremely rewarding. We eventually found the balance between inspiration and insight, and came up with a half-decent plan.

In effect, the brief we were working on was being crowdsourced.

I have some problems with crowdsourcing, which I have written about before. It can work, but needs certain circumstances. A major problem we faced was a problem many crowdsourced projects face – finding the right dynamic.

We were placed in small groups of peers, each from a different background (media agency/ research agency/ software company etc). We had little knowledge of one another, and by dint of being peers there was no natural leader. By my nature, I work in a fast scatter gun fashion. Others are slower but more methodical and thorough. Both are equally valid, but it can be difficult to get them to complement one another.

We essentially needed a project manager to direct us.

Crowdsourcing has many benefits. But for it to be effective it needs to be tightly structured with the constituent elements clearly demarcated. A leader needs to fashion a coherent and cohesive central vision by pulling the pieces together to ensure that the final product is greater than the sum of its parts.

Take brainstorming as an example. I love brainstorming (I try to avoid “thought showers”). It is a great way to create ideas and to bounce them off different people and thoughts. But it needs a facilitator to carefully select the participants, to steer discussion and to ultimately make sense of the outputs.

And projects need project managers. Impetus comes from ownership. A project manager doesn’t necessarily have to possess total authority, but that person needs to keep the cogs whirring/plates spinning/pick appropriate metaphor. They need to delegate tasks to the most appropriate individuals, identify the weak links, keep the project focused, and ensure the deadlines are in sight.

But while the project manager doesn’t need total authority, he or she does need some. The Apprentice neatly shows the problems a leader picked from a group of peers encounters, and that was the challenge we faced on our course (though thankfully we largely managed to keep it good-natured).

Newspapers need editors. Exhibitions need curators. And projects need managers. Crowds have power, but that power needs someone to harness it.

sk

Blog Action Day 2008: Interview with Stuart Fowkes of Oxfam

As previously mentioned, today is Blog Action Day 2008. The central issue to focus upon and to progress the conversation in this year is global poverty.

I don’t know a great deal about global poverty, but I know someone that does. He has graciously agreed to be interviewed by me.

As well as being a friend of mine, Stuart Fowkes is the Online Press Officer for Oxfam. In his own words, this means “I spent my time thinking about online media, blogging and social networks, and the best ways of using them to help us fight poverty.” In addition to this, he also co-organises the music festival Audioscope – now in its 8th year – which raises money for Shelter.

Q: Firstly, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. To kick things of, could you explain to those that aren’t aware who Oxfam are and what they do?

The standard phrase is that Oxfam is ‘an international agency working with others to overcome poverty and suffering’. That probably doesn’t get across the massive range of work that we actually do. The ‘business end’, as it were, is our programme work, which goes across 70+ countries and takes the form of everything from emergency relief (water, sanitation, shelter and food relief) through to health and education programmes.

We also campaign on a huge variety of issues – the inequalities of the global trade system, provision of health and education in poor countries, climate change issues, debt and aid, and so on. The best-known of these include Make Trade Fair (y’know, Chris Martin and all that) and Control Arms, and we’re also behind the scenes at things like Live 8.

We also have a massive trading operation – comprising of things like Oxfam shops (that glorious national institution) and the Oxfam Unwrapped gift catalogue (buy a goat for Xmas- send it to people who need it) – and run fundraising events like the Oxjam music festival and Trailwalker.

Having just written all of that, I’m not surprised that people aren’t necessarily aware of everything we do. But each thing is as crucial as the other.

Q. Specifically looking at global poverty; what major initiatives have Oxfam set up to help combat this?

Campaigns such as Control Arms and Make Trade Fair have had a massive impact on policies and systems worldwide. In a humanitarian emergency like the Asian tsunami, we’re there providing water, shelter and those things most urgently needed to save lives. Across our programmes, the range and scope is almost too wide to write about – funding long-term work worldwide to help poor people work themselves out of poverty on a sustainable and permanent basis.

Q. As you mention, you participate in and promote Oxfam through social media. Can you give some examples of what you have done to help raise awareness?

We’ve got a new blog section on the website, where we demonstrate the breadth of work we do around the world by offering perspectives and experiences from global staff. We’ve campaigned on MySpace and on YouTube against Starbucks, we’ve mobilised supporters on Facebook around humanitarian emergencies, provided repositories of emergency photos for media on Flickr, and are reporting live from festivals, events and political conferences via Twitter.

Q. What would you say are the major poverty-related issues at the moment, and where would you say the most affected areas are?

For us, the two biggest issues at the moment are probably climate change and the global rise in food prices, which are to a large extent intertwined. It’s the poorest people who are hit first and hit hardest by the effects of climate change, which they had little or no part in causing, and who also have the least chance of being able to cope or adapt – just take a look at some of the effects being seen in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia, for instance. And there are almost a billion people going hungry around the world. For some people, the price of their food has tripled at the same time as they’ve lost 70% of their income due to worsening weather patterns. When you’re spending 80% of what you earn on food and then the price triples, what can you do? Those are the people that we’re there to help.

Q. Is the situation improving or getting worse?

In many ways, the situation is getting worse. The full effects of the economic crisis we’re experiencing now might only be felt further down the ‘food chain’ (as it were) in the years to come, so we will need to help the poorest cope with the aftershocks and feedback loops. It’s the biggest threat to humanity, and also one that western governments still do not seem willing to tackle with the urgency it so obviously requires.

Q. And given the economic crisis, this is unlikely to get better soon?

It will probably get worse before it gets better. Energy that could otherwise be spent developing global solutions on climate change in advance of the COP in December may now be being poured into the financial crisis. And many companies will now put carbon trading and sustainable development aside in favour of short-term cost cuts.

Q. What can we do to help?

Give £2 a month to a charity whose work you respect. Lend your voice to a campaign you believe in. Make a one-off donation to an appeal. Get angry about something and write a letter, send an email or demonstrate. Take your old rubbish down to a charity shop. It really is true that every single donation, signature, email, direct debit or hour spent volunteering is incredibly valuable and will help to save lives.

Q. And of course you are involved beyond Oxfam. Through Audioscope, you have raised over £17,000 for Shelter. Could you explain how this came about, and how Shelter have benefited from your support?

Audioscope is a festival a friend and I set up in 2001 to benefit the homelessness charity Shelter. We strongly support what they do and we know how to put on a gig so we combined the two.

We started the festival with only two guiding principles. We have to love the bands who are playing on their own merits, and we have to make money for Shelter at the end of it. The bands who have played have paid us back for holding these principles dear in lots of ways, but mostly by admiring the charity and wanting to play without taking a fee.

Shelter have not only benefited from getting £17,000, but hopefully by having their profile raised within Oxford. Beyond peripheral media coverage, I know at least two gig-goers who have signed up to a monthly direct debit for Shelter after coming to the show, one friend who did her triathlon in aid of Shelter, and a local band who donated all the profits from a video project to the charity after playing our show too.

And with Audioscope continuing, these benefits will continue to accrue.

Thanks to Stuart for agreeing to this. His blog can be found here.

I’m looking forward to reading the other blogs on the subject (when I’m back at the weekend; this is a scheduled post) and improving my understanding of the issues surrounding global poverty.

sk

Links – 13th October 2008

I’m away for the second half of this week so I am running two 10-day link updates, rather than have a gap later this week

(This is in no way related to me not having time to get this together last week)

Blog-related

Can marketing survive without the Grand Gesture? (Chroma Inc)

A great overview and analysis of Digg’s recent problems with crowdsourcing (Mashable). My post on crowdsourcing is here

A very thorough summary of the major players in the online conversation tracking market (Ryan*MacMillan)

Ben Goldacre highlights a form of Bad Science/research that is not only biased but borderline fraudulent. And ICM put their name to it. (Guardian). My post on bad science/research is here

Adrian Chan on why, in pursuit of the long tail, the power curve shouldn’t be overlooked (Gravity7)

John Battelle on why Google (and Google Maps) needs to add the human community element to their algorithms (Look Smart)

Nigel Hollis of Millward Brown defends the rational AIDA approach of the Link Test on his blog. He raises some valid points, but I remain slightly sceptical. Saying that, I cannot propose an alternative, cost-effective approach

Market Sentinel take a look at how to measure online campaigns. My post on online audience measurement is here

Seth Godin imparts some further PowerPoint tips

Random

Jay Walker has created the most amazing library ever – check out the photos on Wired

100 skills every man person should know (Popular Mechanics)

Rolling Stone offer a character assassination of John McCain – the level of partisanship in US media continue to shock me. Republicans may (from my viewpoint) go further below the belt, but Democrats aren’t angels. Irrespective of whether the bulk of this article is true, the underlying vicious tone turns me off

A slightly lop-sided split there but particular commendation to RMM London’s analysis, problems with crowdsourcing, Bad Science/research and the grand gesture

sk

Nielsen launch TV/Online convergence panel

Nielsen have announced the official launch of their convergence panel. The panel of 1,000 homes and 2,800 individuals in the United States (I presume this is a pilot sample size) will have both their TV viewing and online surfing measured. The TV viewing is captured using the official audience measurement system, with the online element recorded using Nielsen’s proprietary technology.

This is a much needed development as we seek to overcome the prevailing 20th century methods of treating activities distinctly and in silos.

(NB: I recognise that this consensus was most probably taken for practical purposes but with Touchpoints and now this I am encouraged that we are moving towards a unified and more realistic approach)

With more activity moving online, the potential for this panel is incredibly exciting. Achievable insights can include

  • Total TV viewing audiences/reach across TV, DTR and online catch-up (across all sites)
  • The precise relationship between TV viewing hours and online surfing hours
  • The effects of on-air continuities on online activity in real-time
  • The relationship between viewing a programme on TV and accessing supplementary content or information online
  • Simultaneous and solus usage. In theory, one could also see whether the frequency of visiting sites in simultaneous usage is affected as a TV programme draws to a conclusion
  • Whether certain genres are conducive to solus viewing, and others to simultaneous
  • Assuming advertising data is recorded, one can measure the call to action in prompting those exposed to the TV ads to search or purchase online
  • Cross-visiting between channels/programmes and websites

ESPN have already benefited from cross-platform research with Nielsen, with data showing that those invested into the online offering had higher levels of TV viewing. But thus far, this is only looking at one dimension of convergence.

If the panel proves to be successful, it could theoretically be extended to the entire media landscape. Digital/Internet isn’t a straightforward media in that it overlaps with everything – audio, video and text.

Could we therefore see an online panel merged with the official radio or print audience currencies? By fusing the data to a consumer lifestyle survey such as TGI, we would create a real-time, ongoing record of behaviour that goes way beyond Touchpoints’ one-time snapshot. We would be getting closer to the holy grail of media planning with cross-platform reach, frequency and (perhaps) effectiveness all attainable.

However, we shouldn’t get too excited just yet as there are several objections and obstacles to overcome

  • Mediapost notes a concern that increased data collection will put people off, making the panel more unrepresentative. This is a valid criticism, but it is equally valid to all current measurement panels. The size of the establishment survey and the length of commitment are already major deterrents. Adding a second – passive – measurement isn’t going to make much difference, in my opinion
  • Similarly, people may be more concerned with their privacy online. When I worked at a research agency, our online tracking tool didn’t record secure sites and also had an opt-out on certain behaviour. Over time, this behaviour can be modelled and factored into assumptions. While imperfect, it can become a known limitation and worked around
  • While the TV ratings are official, the online traffic numbers aren’t. There are still many problems with recording online behaviour – the long tail of websites, home vs. work vs. mobile access, bias to power users – and all these concerns will be transferred over to the convergence panel
  • Related the the above, the panel size for online measurement needs to be far greater than TV due to the multitude of niche sites (and TV-related activities online are a minority interest, albeit growing). This means the convergence panel is going to need to be much larger than the TV panel and therefore more expensive. Will it be viable?
  • And a very minor point, but as always one can get carried away with online behaviour and overlook the significant number that aren’t online (the “left behinds”). This should be avoided.

These benefits and obstacles are top-of-mind, and I’m sure they have already been considered by those involved. But as always, the proof is in the pudding and so I eagerly anticipate the data releases and word on how the panel is being used by the participating clients. A successful convergence panel can only be good news for the media industry.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmtimages/