Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How Responsible is Corporate Social Responsibility?

For a while now I've been suspect of some Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives by large companies. I believe that behind these well-meaning gestures, there is a another reason for them to exist..... its actually good business for the company.
  • Reducing your carbon footprint = reducing fuel bills

  • Using more recycled materials = making obvious use of lower quality materials

  • Allowing staff to participate in public service activities = good PR

  • Ethical employment = good PR and a reduced legal bills (or avoided restrictive regulation)

(Note: Someone please remind me that one day I should write a posting about corporate 'Greenwashing'!)

There's also the opinion that during these more economically-challenged times, companies may tend to push their social responsibility agendas down the pecking order (as job survival and a stable balance sheet moves up that order). This isn't entirely true though and some ethics can be recession-proof. Proof is reassuringly provided by Ethical Corporation magazine:

Consumers who already pay a premium for ethical goods such as Fairtrade and
organic produce are unlikely to be put off by an economic slowdown

I've now spent some time recently reading the CSR strategies and approaches of several companies (e.g. Coke's). I've found Tesco's probably the easiest to break up and digest (note: I'll purposely not make any reference to their food), this can be found at: http://www.tescoreports.com/crreview08/managecr.html

Their 6 CSR projects listed for 2008 are:

  1. tackling climate change

  2. waste recycling and packaging

  3. carrier bag use

  4. Community Champions

  5. making our Community Plan live in store

  6. trading fairly (labour standards in our supply chain).
Its suprising how quite a few of these map to my points made earlier. However I applaud the 'carrier bag use' project listed. Figures on numbers vary, but Uk shoppers definately use billions of them in a year. Obviosuly encouraging customers to use less of these will reduce their plastic bill. But Tesco's chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy, has said that the project will actually cost Tesco money, as they will be over-generous with their green reward points (1p earnt when you re-use you own bag). But just to be clear, we're talking about plastic bags here, which are made from oil, which readers may have noticed has significantly increased in price quite recently.

BTW: Can someone please tell Tesco that their biodegradable carrier bags are most frequently sent to landfill and buried. The only sticking point with this is that these carrier bags degrade naturally.... through expose to sunlight.

On the positive side, its also worth mentioning that through sites such as http://www.actics.com/, it is possible to influence the ethical actions of some (partnered and usually wholey responsible) companies. Hopefully this transparency leads to company advocacy, which then affects the bottom line.

But for me, perhaps the most striking fact is that most customers aren't prepared to pay more for a Socially Responsible product or at best only want to pay a fraction more, despite claiming publically that they would. In additon, MIT research has found out that companies don't need to be entirely socially responsible to gain the rewards brought about from being 100%. Which does then beg the question.. "how ethical do you need to be?".

Perhaps you only need to be ethical until it becomes uneconomical?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Human Network

Following my posting on Artificial Artificial Intelligence, I was lucky to have this video link sent to me by my great friend Boudewijn.


Using the idea that games are enjoyable, they can be used to harvest useful information that would be of use to others. It reminds me that I once saw a presentation that stated people use the Internet to either save or waste time, I'm beginning to think that may be the case now (especially as its Friday)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Google now indexes audio

Last week Google announced that it has launched yet another service, GAudi, no-doubt named after Antoni the famous Barcelona Architect. Still in 'Beta' (Google's way of saying "we're not sure if this product is good enough to shout about, we'll let you test it first") this service understands ('listens to') and catalogues the audio used in video clips posted on YouTube. It then allows these clips to be searched in a Google-esque manner.

Currently only USA political-based video's seem to be indexed, but it can't be long before Google Labs points this service as the wider YouTube video index can it?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Old newspapers are still good news for Google

It seems that Google has launched several new services that coincide with the 10th anniversary of its launch . Not content to index all information on the trillion pages of the web , it now plans to index old news archives and make them available via its News Archive Search. This service, a partnership with over 100 newspapers, allows you to view full scanned versions of old fish & chip wrappers that have so-far not been searchable.

A technolgoy adopted from Google Books, this now creates a rich historic resource that theoretically takes the leg-work out of visiting the library and trawling through sheets of micro-fische.

So how useful if this service right now?

Clearly USA-orientated, perhaps it needs to broaden its reach of free resources to be of any use to those on a budget in the UK (e.g. everyone now). For example, conducting a search for one of my journalistic heros, Chapman Pincher (the Daily Express defence correspondent who was most critical of the 1970's Labour Government and the Secret Service at the time) reveals only recent articles or resources that require payment and subscription.

Punit Soni, Google Product Manager's takes more time in his blog posting to explain the service.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Further musings on widgets

The discussion about the use and benefit of widgets rages on. Or is that wages? (well it is if you believe the eMarketer article from mback in April Welcome to the widget wars!) Now they come in new & improved media-streaming, rich advertising formats and are seemingly everywhere.

But are widgets really cutting it?

I can't help but think that currently widgets have grabbed more headlines and attention than they should. Half a year ago widgets were the next great thing, but now?

6 months or so ago widgets were even seen as a the saviour of the newspaper industry (probably why they grabbed so many headlines). The big and apparently new idea was that content syndication leads to revenue sharing (and therefore profit?). Even the Tribune, Gannett, Hearst and New York Times Companies teamed up to create a joint venture called quadrantONE. Formed to sell collective ad space and even monetise content via widgets, this collaboration has gone suprisingly quiet recenty. It will surely soon be asked if they really have added value to their parent companies or the customer yet.

So where are the widget success stories?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Influencing what?

I've used the term Influencer throughout a lot of my postings. These are the people who, by their conversations, comment and other interactions, not only have something to say but additonally have something to say that others will listen to and potentially act upon.

For me, they are the social catalysts, partly (but not entirely similar) to those people mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point book.
Note: I actually disagree with his definition that only specific people are responsible for causing sways in opinion, buying patterns and trust. Instead I think that these people could be anyone, even potentially collections of people. However as I've mentioned before, surely the interesting bit is the 'who' and 'why'.

So what exactly do they influence? Well, assuming they are all talking about their effect on your company, then these people will all apply different actions or factors to your Corporate Social Graph.

Here's my suggestions on what some of those influences could be:
  1. Influencing sentiment
    They have an emotional opinion about your company (and the secondary effect of telling others). This sentiment could either be positive or negative and can have an indirect affect on your company.
    Examples: Brand advocates

  2. Influencing behaviour
    They have an effect on the sales or take-up (negative or positive) of your products/service. This therefore directly affects your revenue (& profits).

  3. Influencing links
    Assuming you already have a website, then links to your site will improve your positons in the key search engines (e.g. Google). What's more, these links can still positively contribute to your SEO efforts, even if the sentiment or behaviour they create isn't.

Proof that there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that's not being talked about.

Friday, September 19, 2008

An effective URL strategy and its benefits

The URL and extended URL use on your company website is important for 2 key reasons:

1. It provides a logical navigation structure
Basic usability says that you need to show users where they are in the site structure. Yes, you can provide all the signage/clues/breadcrumbs/etc. but also providing a decent URL path gives your browsing user an informal breadcrumb trail that provides them with further hints as to where they are. Or put it another way, not providing this may mean the difference between your customers finding what they want and not.

For example, just by looking at the URL path on the Adobe site:

You could perhaps decipher that you were looking at some information on one of its products called Captivate. You may even go so far as to think you were on a page that demonstrated how its could be used for podcasting. You would of-course be correct.

However, who would have guessed that this is a link to PC World's Business site to buy this same product? http://www.pcwb.com/catalogue/item/ADOCA004

2. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Real users aren't the only things that read URL's to understand the content. Most web search engines also read the URL and use it in their indexing of the page. This is one of the reasons why blog posting appear so high up in searches for specific phrases.
For example, if you type the following into Google "Customers can be brand evangelists", you get two search results, the top one being:
(my 14 April posting on the subject)

So if you're thinking about re-developing your new website, remember to ask your technical team what they are doing about the URL structure.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is TV worried by YouTube?

Surely there is nothing better to arouse suspicions like a senior company executive adamantly denying something? Especially when it’s the executive chairman of the UK’s largest commercial TV company denying that YouTube is a threat.

But imagine he went one step further and started to throw insults about?
What if he claimed YouTube is a “parasite”, living off of TV shows produced by ITV?

You’d then have to believe he was worried, especially when he’d seen its share price drop considerably in the last 6 months (Note: before anyone starts saying that its price has recently rallied, I’ll point out that this increase in price is only fuelled by speculation that its due for a takeover).

Its a shame, especially as ITV recently claimed it needed to extend from 2010 to 2012 the date it would reach it online revenue target of £150m.

The Credit Card is 50 today

On September 18 1958, Bank of America officially launched its first credit cards in Fresno California. These BankAmericards (now known by their more popular brand name of 'Visa') propelled us into the consumer economy by giving normal people instant access to finances they didn't actually have.

And now sitting on the edge of a global recession, promoted in-part by reckless consumer spending, you have to wonder with hindsight.... was it really such a good idea?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

French newspaper must evolve or croak

Well well, one of the last bastions of french journalism has woken up and smelt the expensive coffee of the modern age before it is possibly too late. I understand that French newspaper, Le Monde, has just completed the development of its TV studio somewhere in its offices (in Paris I assume).

This facility allows journalists to produce articles and video clips alongside each other for the different versions of its paper, with the video obviously making its way online to support the electronic version.

Well-regarded print-based publications such as this one have done all they can in the past not to venture down this path, with critics stating this should have been something done in the more media-friendly 1990's. This would at-least have given these publications time to learn their craft and they could perhaps even have taken some of the lower-level TV channels on at their own game back then.

Could it also be a cooincindence that Le Monde is also looking to cut 130 jobs by March 2009, all in the name of cost saving?


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More doom & gloom?

Here in the UK, we're hearing daily news reports of a forthcoming recession. For the second year running the summer was a wet wash-out and even winning lots of medals at the Olympics in China didn't raise spirits back home for long. So, what's in store for online?

Well, suprisingly its not all bad news, as UK ecommerce is still bucking the downward trend.

According to eMarketer's latest report 'UK B2C E-Commerce:Continued Growth in Tricky Times' 2008 will see an increase of over 28% on 2007 for online sales.

This figure, including online ticketing and digital downloads, is an amazing feat considering the decline in fortunes of High Street stores right now, for example:
And what's more, predictions are that eCommerce will continue to have significant growth, with the same eMarketer report stating:

online sales will hit £94.2 billion ($169.6 billion) by 2012, although the
annual growth rate will drop below 10%
One thing's for sure... this isn't the online marketplace's recession right now!

Monday, September 15, 2008

What is PR these days?

In looking at the changing role of PR companies for a prospective business venture, I was reminded of a useful blog posting I'd read some while back
"Would PR Rather Not Be Measured? " by Brian Cavoli of Cymphony.
(Note: Its a real shame to see that Jim Nail and the crew at TNS/Cymfony haven't been updating their blog much recently. Perhaps the WPP takeover has taken up too much of their time)

This recent flurry of PR research has led me to observe that PR companies have changed significantly in the last few years, especially as I realised that Brian's article was written over 2 and a half years ago.

But this does beg the question of "what is the modern role of PR?"

Q: Is it to know a small number of media people who can be easily influenced over a dinner and beer?
A: Perhaps, but that's not the main part of their role. Even modern PR people admit you need results not just influence.

Q: Is it to blanket-bomb the same set of journalists and other market commentators on behalf of your client?
A: Errr.... No! Thanks to the long-tail of knowledge and specialisation, there are often far more industry-specific people to set up a dialogue with than general journo-types.

Q: Is it to monitor blogs and other social media on behalf of their clients?
A: Yes! In fact I am aware of more than one PR company that now watches numerous blog feeds at the same time (Indeed, one forward-thinking one has even built a Yahoo Pipes application to filter keyword and terms from numerous RSS sources). They should then provide honest feedback to their clients to enable them to make more informed decisons and communication plans.

Steve Rubel however mentions in a recent posting that perhaps PR is becoming obsolete, especially in the modern technical world. I disagree, but perhaps in the case of the Yahoo-Piping company above, PR may need to be more technical to survive.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Interview with Tim Young, CEO of Socialcast

Last month I received an invite to interview the CEO of Socialcast, a company that provides enterprise-wide on-demand social networking. Having only a small exposure to them previously, I was interested in understand more about their product and its features.

Social Cast was started by Tim Young in June 2005 and provides a SAAS (software-as-a-service) offering to enable companies to have their own private social networks. Their early customers came from the music industry (Universal, Sony, etc.) and in Jan 2007 they won a piece of work for Guitar Centre (the US's largest instrument retailer) to build a Social Network between their headquarters & stores.

HS: So what's the key thing that companies need to establish a social network?
TY: Company culture makes a big difference and to get best use from these social networking tools companies need to work towards establish a culture where there is transparency between staff & management.

HS: What's the best method of getting buy-in for an Enterprise Social Network?
TY: You need both CIO & HR stakeholders; clients get the most success when they approach the solution from both perspectives. HR provides the case for building morale and the CIO looks to build and retain knowledge. Just one of these means the approach can be skewed to just one particular direction.

HS: What helps to build adoption of an Enterprise Social Network?
Taking the work we did for Guitar Centre, this project was helped considerably by having total connectivity between the branches and the centre. This then encouraged viral growth of the service which proved beneficial in its roll-out.

HS: What's a typical roll-out plan?
TY: How its rolled-out is very important. We initially test the application in the first 2-4 weeks with a few users. This can then be increased to 20 or so users to set the tone and get key people comfortable. To then encourage usage further we've found it is beneficial to create some exclusivity, perhaps by making it invitation-only so people see the value. This assists adoption by encouraging scarcity, which actually increases the initial networking effect.

HS: So what's the right size of organisation to have an Enterprise Social Network? Is there an optimum number?
TY: We don't usually look at clients with less than 500 employees & as you don't have enough conversations happening. However it can work with as little as 10 people – the more you make it conversational, the better it works. The level of interaction is definitely dependant upon the internal culture and how employees are valued, its a shift in thinking that makes the difference.

HS: Have you had companies measure the ROI of Enterprise Social Media?
TY: Yes, investing in this technology should be benefit-led. You can obviously measure the basic metrics such as whether people are using the software, but once they are engaged you potentially have a career changing tool. Take for example in retail where you have a high turnover of staff, this affects the amount of training and other support you provide. In the case of one client we have implemented Socialcast for; having this sort of tool has helped to drive down turnover to79% following four successive quarters of 100% turnover. This has a direct affect on the cost of the business. In addition, providing a tool to retain organisational information and can capture the knowledge of older retiring employees.

HS: Does this have more an effect for different generations of users?
TY: Yes, defiantly. The hiring & training of millenials is very different. But this can be overcome by integrating them within the company and finding them mentors to pair with. Millenials are different, even their communication structure is different, its immediate. But they do adopt this sort of technology much easier.

HS: So what's new for SocialCast?
TY: We have a new version of our product coming out in September. This is a dramatic shift in what we're providing and is based upon the feedback we've received from customers & end users.

HS: Can you tell me more?
TY: We're obviously keeping things under-wraps until the launch of Socialcast version 3.0, but I can say that we're launching more Twitter-like functionality for users to share ideas. We've found that brevity works and people find small posts far more approachable. This is compared to blogs, which can take more effort to produce. You need to encourage the conversation and not make people feel guilty about not posting frequently.

HS: So have you been looking at how users communicate in a company to deliver a better product?
TY: Yes, we've looked a lot at why people are connected in an organisation and found that its usually around a set of shared objects. These Enterprise social objects can be anything from photos or videos, through to specific documents. The power of knowledge comes from lots of individuals communicating together. The aim is therefore to get the conversations out of email, which has become an abused silo of information.

HS: How did you decide on the correct functionality for your new version?
TY: We prioritise the functionality from an user-centric view when deciding what to develop. We had small forums where we did some behavioural monitoring, its not just important to capture what users say, but what they do. The software must be used to be useful. It was also important to us to build something that is loved. Consumer software is better to use compared to most corporate software, which can be comparatively dry. Its not just about a functional checklists, its about understanding the needs of your users, the challenges they face and giving them tools they like.

HS: Do you have any plans for the expansion of Socialcast?
TY: Yes, we had a successful implementation in Australia earlier in 2008 and we're ramping up our efforts internationally. We've also signed our first UK client for a trial period, so we should have more news about that soon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Happy 10th Birthday Google

On 7th September (last Sunday), Google was officially 10 years old as a business and its the most successful web company ever.

However, we should remind ourselves that Google is not as large as some would have you believe and that there are still 3 technology companies out there with a market value larger than Google’s: Microsoft, I.B.M. and Apple (in that order). To put this in perspective, Google's net income in the last year has been: $4.85 billion, compared with Microsoft’s of $17.6 billion.
(You'd think they could therefore come up with something better than the 'Bill & Gerry' advert then wouldn't you?)

So, what has Google provided the corporate landscape with so far then?

  1. Google AdWords
    The definitive PPC (pay Per Click) advertising model, envied and copied by the competition. Ignore this acquisition model at your peril.
  2. Google Talk
    A VOIP (Voice-Over IP) and messaging client (that hasn't taken off as much as Microsoft Instant Messaenger or Skype)
  3. Google Picasa
    Their version of Flickr, a photo/image sharing site
  4. Google Chrome
    A browser, claimed to be developed for the modern online application (it will be interesting to watch its growth in uptake in 2008)
  5. YouTube
    Purchased by Google at the end of 2006, this king of video sharing sites has changed the face of online broadcasting. (What will happen to Google's original video sharing site Google Video in the long run is anyone's guess)
  6. Google Docs
    A free word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application that may yet challenge the dominance of Microsoft Office.

Oh, and just so happens to have almost 70 percent of the search market sewn up.
So happy 10th birthday Google.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Web2.0 is growing in 2008

I've had a report sitting in my office for several weeks now that I know I should have read . I even admit to feeling guilty each time I moved it to do something else. However, last Saturday I did eventually get around to reading McKinsey's Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise: McKinsey Global Survey Results when the wife was out last Saturday and X-factor had finished.

This second annual trend watch analyses the adoption of Web2.0 tools & technologies within businesses. The results of this survey found that whilst 21 percent of the respondents are satisfied with their use of these tools and are seeing changes throughout the enterprise as a consequence, 22 percent said they were dissatisfied. Some even claimed to have stopped using certain technologies altogether, although this appears mainly to be Peer-to-peer technologies, which I think may be as they are increasingly seen as either: a complex media product (e.g. BBC iPlayer) or part of the seedy world of illegal downloads & sharing (e.g. Bit Torrents).

However one of the reports findings, that may well be cause for optimism (especially for developers and vendors) , was that regardless of whether a company was satisfied in Web 2.0 tools & technologies or not, all plan to spend more on them in the future.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Dutch are first... again

The Netherlands has the largest number of social network users globally (relative to its size) according to this article. Apparently Hyves, LinkedIn and MSN Spaces are the most popular and in that order.

I have to admit, I'm not suprised by this. The Dutch are a very social nation and the only ones I know with just one word to encapsulate "a general feeling of well-being".... "gezellig"!
(Correct spelling thanks to my Dutch friend Boudewijn)

Usability has a commercial impact

According to an earlier article in Internet Retailing, some three-quarters of consumers say that bad usability on a company website has put them off dealing with that orgainisation.

The principles of good website usability have been around for some while, led by people such as Jacob Neilson from his excellent site (http://www.useit.com/) and Jesse James Garrett . The simple rules are there to be followed, some of them include:
  • Try to keep you navigation options to around 7
    (There's a very good reason for this and its to do with human short-term memory capacity and other sensible stuff!)
  • Tell users what's about to happen and then make sure it happens in the way they expect
  • Build your site for the lowest common browser/device, not the latest or greatest (therefore JavaScript is there to enhance functionality, not to break the site when its not used)
I'm therefore amazed that poor website layout and design is such a problem in today's modern eCommerce world. But then I'm also suprised we still have: global poverty, no cure of the common cold and Nylon used to make shirts. As I've previously stated, you can significantly influence your users by providing a positive user experience on your website, but this is the first research I've seen in a while that says a bad User Experience negatively effects the impression that people have of that company.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A few things done well

I'm a great fan of Gordon Ramsay, the celebrity chef, who is known for his Kitchen Nightmares TV program amongst other things. In the show he turns up at a failing restaurant and tries to turn it around, usually shouting repeated expletives in the process. Following his initial observations of the staff & management, he suggests ways they can improve the business and a create a decent product & service. This quite often does actually work, usually if the people concerned follow the advice Chef Ramsay has dispensed.

But what is this wonderful advice then? What wisdom is it that means that restaurants can: cut costs, provide a better product and contribute to a good overall service?

It is to stop producing bad, lazy and fussy dishes. In other words make up a menu of only a few good meals from decent quality ingredients.

Aside from creating great TV, it also dishes out (no pun intended) a sensible set of rules that many companies beyond the restaurant market would do well to follow.
  • Base your offering on the talent you have in your organisation
  • Simplify your product offering or risk confusing your customer
  • Listen to comments, then act quickly and accordingly
  • Don't be afraid to listen to the specialist
Now where's the f&£$*ing difficulty in that?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Media Fragmentation

The 'Nichefication' of media has not been an instant thing, created by the arrival of a few online services, its been here for a while.

From magazines for everything, exemplified by the wierd guest publications quoted in the TV programme 'Have I Got New for You', through to the insane TV auction channels that I couldn't help but watch when I was sick and home-ridden recently.

As Bob Liodice, chief executive of the US Association of National Advertisers said in 2004:
“The mass media don’t exist any more”.

This presentation from Peter Hirshberg on the rivalry, inter-dependance and evolution of TV & Web, has got me thinking recently:

Hopefully the future of both combines the richness of TV and the interaction of the web. But one things for sure.. its won't just be one single channel of consumption ever again.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I've spent the last few weeks slowly reading the book 'We Think' by Charles Leadbeater. I'm also certain that this book is gaining quite a good general readership right now (especially given the un-referenced but obvious similarity in case studies quoted in this article yesterday in the Sunday Times).

The book, based upon the premise that knowedge shared is more powerful (and fun) than knowledge retained, covers such topics as:
mass innovation
distributed ownership
wider cultural change from crowdsourcing (democracy, etc.)
...and a whole bunch of other stuff that got my brain thinking
In fact, looking back, I can now see his influence on my Crowdsouring & News posting.

Here's an introduction to the book, done in a most inventive way

Obviously there are situations where mass collaboration does not work or even backfires and Mr Leadbeater is also quite open about these. Consequently I'd recommend this book, if only for the great case studies, and hope I can find more of them copied in other publications soon.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Visual Networking

I came across this phrase whilst learning more about the merging worlds of communications and entertainment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_networking

In essence it a cross between social media & video. YouTube is perhaps the first real mainstream Visual Networking tool, but here's a clip to give you a better explaination:

What does this mean for a new generation of users & customers?
It means a new way to engage and influence each other.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Facebook for the UK Enterprise?

There is a recent Forrester report entitled 'Facebook for the Enterprise: Catchy Phrase or a Strategy for Collaboration?'. This document highlights several case studies where social networking features have successfully been implemented within large companies.

I should also qualify that what it does not recommend is that companies set up a replica of Mark Zuckerburg's Harvard project to 'poke' their colleagues all day. But it does suggest that companies could use some social networking features to leverage the work of Information & KM professionals to solve business problems. (It also strikes me that if you have an younger workforce who are used to 'personal' social networking sites, that they will find the move to Enterprise Social Networks that much easier). According to Debra Aho Williamson , author of the recent report: B2B Marketing on Social Networks:Engaging the Business Audience
"...marketers will spend far more over the next few years to create and manage their own social networks for business customers, partners, suppliers and vendors"

Note: I'm currently writing up an interview I did for a magaine with Tim Young CEO of Socialcast, who are an on-demand provider of corporate social networks. He also provides several interesting examples (which I'll publish here soon hopefully).

However, all the examples I've seen of companies who have done this are based in the USA. So why have no UK organisations seemingly not stepped into this arena yet? Well UK companies may be willing to consider it following a recent survey that gave 88 percent of delegates (surveyed at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston and the Web 2.0 Strategies event in London) as eager to start using social networking for the business. In fact, 94% of the UK businessese surveyed believe social networking would be beneficial to use at work. This compared to 82% of US organisations.

So who did this research? That will be http://www.trampolinesystems.com/ , the UK's own provider of Enterprise Social Network products.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Artifical Artificial Intelligence

The Turk was an amazing device, built in the 1800's it was used to demonstrate to Royalty how clever a machine could be by playing chess against a human. The Turk was later exposed as a hoax, when it was revealed that there was actually a human inside it. (Note: It was not until Deep Blue that a real computer beat a chess champion 1997)

No matter how you define artificial intelligence (The Turing Test probably being the most well know), there is no case as yet of its official existence. However, what if you could ask a website a complex question or ask it for a task to be performed and get the results within minutes? What if you could ask the equivalent of a modern-day intelligent machine?

It sounds pretty amazing and it is. But its not computer effort that's primarily being used in Amazon's Mechanical Turk, its human effort. This service, run by Amazon uses a crowdsourcing method to send requests to a number of people and to have the results paid for only if the answers are correct / good enough. These Human Intelligence Tasks (HIT's) trade people's time & effort for a small reward. In fact I've heard of several night-shift security guards in the UK who have topped up thier earnings whilst keeping people safe in their beds at night.

So how does this help a company?

Well, it gives you access to a global workforce, instantly. From transcribing audio files (e.g. podcasts or CEO speaches to make them accessible), to writing reviews for local services(perhaps something Yelp should take note of), this uses the long tail of resourcing.

All I now need it to do is ask it to how to play chess......

Monday, September 1, 2008

Building branded communities... why not?

I'm still pleasantly suprised that the "buy or build" conversation comes up so much in relation to social media web functionality. But, I guess its good that potential clients are still asking what's involved in developing their own offering, despite the availability of so many white cost-effective white-label and hosted solutions.

But what do you do when you build it and they don't come? What if there is no Field of Dreams?

I had this recently when a start-up I know built a community part of its website and nobody used it. My first question to ask is "what were you expecting?". You wouldn't produce a product and not advertise it. Somehow they thought that a site would instantly create evangelic users who would encourage thousands of others, whilst instantly appearing top in Google of all keywords. (How I laughed... when I walked out of the room)

Then there's the case that visitors come, look around and disappear. Why? Well they don't find anything of interest! Either your navigation or search doesn't let them find what they want.. or worse still... your community isn't.. errrr... communicating correctly.

The worst thing happens is when brands ignore existing communities and try to set up their own in competition. .Partly through ignorance and partly from arrogance, this is commerical madness and will potentially see companies throw money at something they need not do. It may also create confusion and fragment conversations, making tracking & measurement harder.

So next time your CMO walks over and says something like "we need to build a community", forget what you see in films.