Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Electoral Compass

A friend of mine forwarded me this site -

I love it.

You basically get asked a series of questions about your current political views and it plots your results next to the results from each of the Democratic and Republican contenders.

And while the site is great to compare and contrast your views with the views of the candidates, it's even a better as a simple information collection and delivery mechanism.

The questionnaire at the start is easy to answer. It scrolls through a set of questions and indicates exactly how far you are along. Your answers then get plotted on a grid where you instantly see your position in the political landscape based on the questions you just answered.

In addition, each of the candidates are plotted as well. Pictures of them tell you right away who you are close to and who you are far from. Clicking on the pictures then brings up a window that indicates your level of agreement with that candidate on each of the major issues covered in the set of questions.

This is where I fall (I'm the pencil).

To the right of this image on the website, there is also a choice of different issues to compare. You can choose them all, or concentrate on a few to see how you fall compared to the other candidates.

This one simple tool has managed to solve a hugely complex problem - who do you agree and not agree with on the main political issues? You could have served this information up in a number of ways - lists, graphs, pie charts, tables, etc. None would have been as effective as this plot and set of simple interactive mechanisms.

Thanks Aaron for the link.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

#FREE - The Cost of Attention

Interesting post over at Silicon Alley today that Chris Anderson linked to on his blog.

The gist of Hank William's argument on the Silicon Alley post is that IP is dead or dying. We're all to blame. And we're kidding ourselves if we think this is in some way justified.

He invokes images of greedy masses stealing IP and profiting or sneering at the owners. Music makers, software makers, etc. In fact, he goes so far to say that:

Whether it's software, patents, movies, or music, as a planet, we have decided that things that exist only in the form of atoms, or are not offered as a service, have no value.
Mr Anderson points out in his blog post that 'atoms' (and I think he means bits and bytes here), have value, just not necessarily a monetary one. There is value in attention we give to goods or services that are free. And there are ways to leverage this attention to create value.

Chris Anderson talks in other places about how TV and print have been leveraging attention for years. Free to air TV that is ad supported and cheap newspapers and magazines that have a heavily ad subsidized cover price, are not new business ideas. No doubt new music distribution services will spring up that also try to leverage the massive amount of attention music brings.

The problem with all of this though, is that attention has diminishing returns.

Taken to its fullest extent - the extent to which movies, software, music, etc are all 'attention' subsidized - each additional product, rather than chasing a dollar in a growing world economy, chases 'attention' in a 24 hour day that isn't getting any longer.

It worked for TV and print when information channels were scarce. As they proliferated (with cable, more magazines/newspapers, and finally the Internet), attention got divided and scattered. As a result, these mediums became less valuable.

Surely the drive to monetize attention, for EVERYTHING digital, just results in more of the same - a gradual decline in value. It's not exactly a recipe for growth.

Radiohead revealed a completely different side of this debate with their download experiment (which I have blogged about before). People (most people) were willing to PAY for something they could easily get for free. This proves that, contrary to what Chris Anderson agues, there is indeed an intrinsic monetary value to a digital good with a zero marginal cost. And that the other way to make money from something you 'give away' is to ask people to pay what they think it's worth.

Maybe we can call this the 'Pledge' model? It works for the Metropolitan Museum in NY. It works for countless small shareware vendors. It's not perfect, but having customers name their price might be an the most effective way to value a good that costs nothing to (re)produce.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Google Database

I just checked out the 'official Google blog' - which is a great source for all things new at Google - and found a link to Google Experimental Search.

(As an aside, one of the things I love about Google is that they literally have new products strewn about their website in various stages of completion. Some people think this is sloppy. I love it, it's like a technology candy store. Ok, that's a little geeky, I know.)

There have been 'Google hacks' around for a while, and to some extent these new views make visible options that existed but were hidden or hard to use (like date search filtering). Overall though, I think they are great additions. They bring a lot of useful functionality to the fore and bring Google one step closer to being a true query-like database -where you can display, filter, and drill-down to new levels of detail with ease.

There's a map view - this is a map of pizza places in Greenwich Village. Nothing too earth-shattering about this one, you can replicate much if this view with local map search.

There is a a time line view - this is a time line of WWII. Very useful display. I am always wanting to see the evolution of an idea or concept on the web, this allows you to plot pages against their dates. You can even click on the date ranges and it 'drills-down' in that range to show still further ranges.

Then there is the list view with further information - this a search for Facebook. This is my favorite addition and it's going straight onto my iGoogle page as a default. Just click on the additional information you want to see in each link and the descriptive text resets to reveal measurements, dates, locations, images or your search term. Very useful for a quick scan to get to the result you need.

Problems do exist however. A time line search for Facebook reveals mentions of the term as far back as 1977. No, it's not a link to a modern day Nostradamus. Some guy simply made a blog post about Facebook, MySpace and Times Square in 1977. I am sure there are plenty of other examples of temporal displacement.

Such is the difficulty of organizing the World's information.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Tyranny of the Average

It feels somewhat stupid to write a post about the Tyranny of the Average - it's been done so many times before. What is a mean? When should you use it? What is a median? How does it differ?

Essentially, it boils down to simply being aware that descriptive statistics aren't 'truths'. Your average customer doesn't really exist, not in any meaningful or useful way. You can't market or sell to the 'average' mindset.

Just like we use approximations (kind of, tallish, largish, shortish) in everyday language to avoid the overhead exactness warrants, we use averages as placeholders for complexity - at least we should.

What inevitably happens is these averages take on a life of their own. Their usefulness as a proxy is lost and we breath life into them. Suddenly our average customer is visiting us once a month, she is spending the average amount, buying the average number of goods and leaving feeling averagely satisfied.

All wrong of course. She doesn't really exist. We may as well be talking about the average tooth fairy.

Forget the 'average'. Instead, find out what your customers have in common, if it's meaningful, and why? Think about groups of common reasons they use your product or service. Common amounts they spend on it. Common feelings towards your brand. Common histories. Common stories.

'Common' might make for a more complex landscape, but at least it's real.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 25, 2008


Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.

Just read this post by Steve over at SmallBusinessCEO.

I love the term.

It's actually a whole class of marketing and sales tactics. As well as the plot of many a B movie.

Beware FUD.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 24, 2008

US CFO Confidence Survey

I caught an interesting looking graph over at Swivel. It's a CFO Optimism index from - a joint effort between Duke University and CFO Magazine.

Optimism Index: Company vs. CFO Optimism Index Optimism Index: US economy

It's hard to read for those of us color-challenged (like myself), so for fellow sufferers, in 2007 the Company Optimism line is above the Economy one.

From this graph, it looks like optimism among CFOs has been falling for a while, but take a close look at 2007 - over the last few months of 2007 optimism in the US economy fell off a cliff, while optimism for their own company was not nearly hit as hard.

This makes sense. The last few months of 2007 were awash with sub-prime news and banks losing money hand-over-fist. You would have to be living under a rock to have missed it.

But the gap between how CFO's think this will affect their own company versus the economy at large is telling. They don't seem as confident to write off their own company's prospects, or simply aren't too sure how a subprime credit crunch in the financial markets will affect their bottom line. But they are convinced the economy is in the toilet.

My guess is if you indexed talk of 'recession' against the last few months of 2007 CFO confidence data, you would find a close correlation. CFOs read and listen to the media as much as the next person, and are no doubt swayed by what they hear. If the recession talk gets loud enough, they will believe it inevitable. Even if everything they are seeing in their own company's numbers looks solid.

Which feeds into my theory that the best way to enter a recession is to start talking about a recession.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Viral Marketing Revisited

Gareth over at Brand New just made a quick post about a Fast Company article on viral marketing. Duncan Watts, a professor of sociology at Columbia, has done some new research into the 'myth' of highly influential people.

I read this article on the plane a day ago, and it reminded me of a post I did a while back on another study that addressed this issue.

From Gareth's blog, how he described the Watt's research:

"If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--and if it isn't, then almost no one can," Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it's less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public's mood. Sure, there'll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts's terminology, an "accidental Influential."
The following is from The Dynamics of Viral Marketing by Leskovec, Adamic and Huberman, some of their conclusions in a post I wrote back in November were:
  • The probability of a recommendation working if we receive it from multiple sources quickly reaches a (relatively low) threshold - the verbatim conclusion from this one was "...individuals are often impervious to the recommendations of their friends, and resist buying items they do not want". Couldn't agree more.
  • Highly connected people who recommend a lot ('spreaders', 'mavens', 'sneezers') tend to have significant diminishing returns - they seem to have an influence over their immediate friends, but the wider network discounts their recommendations the more often they receive them
Interesting similarity. And most of Watt's research was conducted using computer simulation models I believe. So there seems to be some real-world validation of the Watt's argument already.

The thing about this debate is that it challenges some time honored traditions - namely the diffusion model of marketing. Early Adopters might not have as much influence as first thought. Or, in Watt's argument, anyone can fall into the Early Adopter role - so finding them and seeding them again with a different idea is futile.

I've seen a lot of money and time sunk into isolating and engaging Early Adopter type audiences. Was all that wasted? Marketers of all ilks should be following this one closely.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Verizon gives us another lesson in how to mislead the customer

Again, it's 2008. The bait and switch; the false promise; the misleading information; the obvious trickster tactics; do they even work anymore? Are they even worth it when there is this thing called blogging that is becoming more and more popular?

Then again, cable and phone companies have such a bad reputation that they probably think they can't really get any deeper into the gutter.

This is me finding out about FiOS - the Verizon very-high-speed internet service:

"Hmm, FiOS. Heard that before somewhere else, didn't know it was available. How fast is it? Really, that fast, omg! How much? What, are you joking, $40/month? For the cut-down version right? The whole enchilada? Wow!! Is it available in my area? You can check on the web? - me going to, entering in "verizon FiOS" as a search, finding the FiOS "check area" site, entering in my address, waiting for some (pointless) graphics to scroll, and find out that...

First reaction: OMG it's available! Verizon, I love you!

Second reaction: Wait, what's that fine print?

Third reaction: new google search, "how to carpet bomb verizon headquarters"

I mean, come on? What deluded piece of marketing pulp decided that blurting out in loud red colors that Verizon High Speed (that's DSL, so it's worse than what I have now) is available after someone just searched for (life changing) FiOS? Which isn't available.

It's the marketing equivalent of shouting, "here, have this for free, NOT! - you lose!".

Brand commitment/affinity/love, whatever you want to call it, doesn't erode slowly. It's lost in an instant with pranks like this.

There is no excuse.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Organizing Video

I stumbled on the site Videojug today while I was looking to see if anyone had already come up with the concept of a 'videopedia' product. Then I found the site, - don't even bother, it's not that great.

Videojug is good though, and well worth a look if you want a video to explain something to you.

Their tagline is: Life Explained. On Film - love it!

The only problem with Videojug is that its original content clips are, well, uninteresting. Production value isn't that high and the voice-overs lack personality (I have only seen a few, so maybe my selection was skewed, will wait and see).

I was expecting a cross between Mahalo Daily and Scobleshow - but it's more like the BBC on YouTube.

When is Jason Calacanis (the force behind Mahalo) going to realize that cataloging and arranging video on the web will be so much more useful (as a business and to web users) than human powered search?

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Radio ad comic relief

I love radio ads. Not because I think they are particularly effective, but because there seems to be so little oversight of what actually makes it in! Which makes for some great comedy.

Case in point. I just heard an ad for increasing your reading speed. It claims to boost your speed by a huge amount. The claim, pretty much verbatim is:

This program will increase your reading speed 1000 times! Which means, in the time it takes for most people to read 1 book, you can read 10!!

Pity the program doesn't also improve your math skills.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 10, 2008

R.I.P Sir Edmund Hillary

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mt. Everest and one of the greatest New Zealanders to have ever lived, died yesterday at the age of 88.

It's hard to describe what Sir Ed meant for our country. Words don't do him justice because he was a man of so few.

He climbed mountains.

Enough said.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

#FREE - is Marginal Cost relevant?

I was dusting off a few old economics textbooks this weekend to try and get my head around this idea of Marginal Cost Pricing - where the next unit of a good is priced at its Marginal Cost.

In the dismal science that is Economics, Marginal Cost (MC) is what it costs to produce one more widget. So if making one widget costs you $20 but making two costs you $25, the MC of the second widget is $5. In perfectly competitive markets with beautiful supply an demand curves, the market price of that second widget is also $5.

This is all well and good. And I can understand the basic rationale behind the model (Wikipedia has a page in it here). However, it seems destined to run into problems in the digital world.

Back when Marginal Cost pricing was theorized, products had physical inputs - it was ALWAYS going to cost you x to produce an EXTRA unit. In the digital world, the short run MC of a good is always zero. It costs almost NOTHING to reproduce ones and zeros.

Using this model, as Chris Anderson does in explaining FREE, all digital goods should be priced at $0 (or close to it). Not too sure if I buy this. I don't think you can take a theory based very much in the physical world and declare it valid in the digital one. You've just ripped the entire manufacturing and production process out of the system and replaced it with.... nothing.

It will be interesting to see if he (or others) address this issue as his book idea unfolds.

Personally, I prefer the arguments around abundance driving price low rather than Marginal Cost. Marginal Cost is heavily distorted in a digital market. Especially when the cost of reproduction to the CONSUMER is also zero. Things just get too messy.

Imagine a world where all Marginal Costs were zero and consumers could replicate all goods for nothing? You wouldn't have any incentive to produce anything. I wonder if that's how some music artists feel?

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Over Researched

Have been having a few problems with my Internet connection recently - it keeps cutting out and going slow.

Through all of this I have made multiple calls to the cable company (Cablevision). Overall, they have been pretty good but one major annoyance is their invasive customer satisfaction research.

After each call with a rep. they ask me to take a survey. Not after a set period of time, not randomly, not even after every second call. After EVERY call. This gets very annoying.

The decision to do this was based on an average number of surveys needed per rep. to assess performance. To hit this number, it turned out they needed to survey everyone. IN ADDITION, if you don't take the survey they call the next day and ask you to take it, again. Ugh.

When your customer satisfaction survey starts pissing off customers you have a problem.

It's an easy one to fix. It's even easier not to make the mistake in the first place.

PS: HSBC sent me a survey about their online banking system the other day. It was the first one they have ever sent me and I was happy to fill it out.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 4, 2008

The advent of Free

Chris Anderson of The Long Tail fame is researching another book to do with Free - how democratization of technology when distribution costs fall close to zero can enhance creativity and generate alternative revenue streams.

This is going to be a fascinating discussion.

He talked about his new hypothesis here at a Nokia conference- 46 mins in length but well worth the watch.

It caught my attention because I wrote a post about 'free' back in October that echoed some of these ideas. I certainly didn't make them up, but I think they touch so much of what we do these days that its vitally important for anyone dealing with consumers to understand the consequences and effects of 'free'.

I think 'free' will be a big theme in 2008. I, for one, will be following it with interest.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Welcome to 2008!

Happy New Year everyone!

Have been light on blog entries as we just got back from a nice 10 day trip to the UK and Italy. Nothing like waking up in the morning on a crisp, clear Florence day to see stunning sights like this...

I'd post a picture of London but it was cloudy and gloomy the whole time (what else is new?) so I don't have a suitably uplifting snap. Sorry.

You haven't lived until you have eaten in Italy. Even the most gaudy tourist hangouts have food to die for. And anything remotely authentic looking... well... it's simply heaven.

Despite all the eating and drink though, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had dropped a few pounds on the trip. Put that down to a wife who was born without the ability to sit still for longer than 5 minutes if a photo opportunity is begging - they need to isolate that gene and try to extend the tolerance to at least 30 minutes.

Among all the walking and photo-taking, we still managed to catch up with family over the week and had a great stay. Big thanks to my sister for hosting the always tiring 'family get together'.

So what does 2008 bring? For me, the only resolution I have made is to learn to, finally, speak Italian. I have an Italian passport courtesy of my Father by way of a grandfather who globe trotted in the early 20th century looking for work - and ended up in New Zealand. I am at least determined to get past 'grazie', 'ciao' and 'grasso pagliaccio' (the unfitting name my wife called me the entire trip when my attempt to teach her some Italian backfired).

As for this blog in 2008? Firstly, thanks to everyone who comes and reads it on a regular basis. I know a few of you. Thanks for all the comments and encouragement.

Later in the year I am going to try and fill a few more more posts with the trials and tribulations of starting a tech company. As there have been a few. The light posting on this topic has been due to the semi 'stealth' mode we're in as my business partner works through some issues. When it's all sorted out, will hopefully make some interesting reading.

Till then, I am going to be devoting much of the first part of this year to my freelance work - which is a mix of planning/research/marketing. I hope to get permission from my clients to talk about some of this work here - should also make for some interesting posts.

And then there is just random ideas and thoughts that float in and out of my head - for better or worse, there will always be a few posts on those.

Well, Happy New Year again everyone. Hope you are all fit and well.

Thought for the day:
Walking around the British Museum it occurred to me we are only approximately 15,000 years into this thing we call 'human civilization'. Some people consider it a failure wanting to happen. I think, given our nature and incentives, we're doing ok.

Digg this
Sphere: Related Content