Archive for May, 2010

Perceived Risk

May 25th, 2010

It’s quite strange how the perception of risk massively influences decisions, especially when from an objective viewpoint there is no real difference.

For instance, young people are recommended to go to a foreign country, travel and work and see what life is like elsewhere. The risk factors then are they might have issues with communicating, finding a job and places to stay. But somehow the parents and friends of these people are almost always dead certain they will do well. On the other hand, when the very same people back home think about quitting their job and starting their own gig or trusting the good gut feeling that everything will turn out fine, most of their close peers will try to persuade them not to, because the risk, they say, is to high. Don’t quit a job unless you’ve got a new one waiting for you, think about the bills to pay, yada yada. But of course, the risk is just the same, if not lower.

Why worry?
Having the choice between someone worrying now because you might fail or worrying yourself later on because you didn’t take the leap, the choice is simple…

Well said, Jim

May 17th, 2010

When bureaucratic rules erode an ethic of freedom and responsibility within a framework of core values and demanding standards, you’ve become infected with the disease of mediocrity. — Jim Collins, How The Mighty Fall

The off-site trap

May 16th, 2010

Whenever off-sites deliver results that are a lot better than those produced any other day and employees who are a lot happier than any other day, you don’t need to have more off-sites. You need to fix what’s broken in the regular workplace. The larger the chasm, the more there is to be fixed.

Innovation!

May 12th, 2010

Listening to Guy Kawasaki’s presention on innovation (which is an interesting lesson in and of itself), I got a cool idea which I tried to find an existing solution for on the web, but there’s no easy-to-find result. So I’m sharing it here, for free.

There should be a microphone headset with an incorporated mute switch or noise gate, so in case you need to sniff, cough or produce other kinds of unpleasant noise that you don’t want to be amplified over the PA or recorded on the video, you — the one who’s wearing it and knows when the incident is about to happen — can just mute it out.
BUT what would make it really great would be if the button were part of a presentation remote that works with both Mac and PC and has all the other cool stuff. But only what we really really need, ok?
So if you’re a microphone manufacturer and don’t want to make the handheld device, please integrate a bluetooth or whatever-works-interface so someone else can make the counterpart.

What else would be cool (in case you’ve already recorded a presentation and want to clean it up afterwards — audio-wise): A plugin or function in your audio software that lets you define a sound (like the noise print in a noise removal plugin) which then marks all the spots in your recording where the software thinks this noise occurs (with adjustable tolerance and so forth), so you have just to check whether the predicted sounds are the ones you want to get rid of and remove them.

Should any of these solutions already be available, I’d be happy if you dropped me a line. Otherwise I recommend you to run with it!

Journalists are marketers too

May 12th, 2010

Over the last few years the discussion about the future of journalism has been going back and forth, going in circles, going nowhere. I’m not even starting to get in there now, my point is an entirely different one.

A friend pointed me to the latest excess of this topic:
Some days ago, a German blogger wrote a post about how she thought about journalism and its future. The way she wrote was sympathetic you-and-me eye-level. A few days later, she adressed  two newspapers who printed her letter. The difference was that with the change of the medium her tonality changed too. It had this teaching, patronizing, “I’m gonna tell you something” touch. Enter the media expert: The researcher from some university put in all his sweat so it became clear that the 57-year old pro out-argues the 22-year old amateur. But in the end, none of them had an answer.

What surfaces here is that journalism does not have a content problem, it has a marketing problem.

First, what publishers do is fill the gaps between the ads in their papers. Ads don’t make as much money as yesterday, hence to get content as cheap as possible, they prefer news agency and press releases over individually researched relevant articles.

Second, the old media (papers, radio, TV) is too slow. When they pick up a piece of news, so do thousands of others at the same time. And while a journalist is typing his article, Twitter, Facebook and the watercooler gang spread it with far more velocity. When the paper is out the next morning, hot news has frozen to death.

Third, as we can see in recent current affairs, there’s a tremendous shift of what matters to people — and they are who journalists should believe they’re working for.

Fourth, a lot of journalists have an outdated idea of what their job is. Especially when it comes to writing, I am totally pissed off by the pretentious tone you hit upon in every paper that deems itself a piece of “quality journalism”. Here’s the point: The paper is not a stage to get on and pretend cleverness by using educated words (and to fail miserably at coining terms believed to earn a Pulitzer). A shroud of intellectualism is no proof of validity. It is possible to explain complex topics in simple words that deliver every piece of information, meet your readers on eye-level, not patronizing them. Every other approach loses effectivity because if your readership is as clever or cleverer (or educated) than you, they might think “What a puff-up! Who’s he trying to impress other than himself?” — and if they’re less clever, they’ll turn away because they don’t understand the language you’re speaking.

Fifth, the chances of making a buck from something that is also available for free are getting smaller and smaller. This is only fair. If there are people who are passionate about politics, celebrities or whatever there is in a paper, the best what can happen is they share their passion for free by providing high value information on their blogs — and if there are people who are into that as well, they can subscribe for updates via RSS or email, they can get in touch via Facebook or Twitter and engage in comment discussions.  I don’t share the media expert’s idea that people don’t know what they want to know. I think they don’t know where to go to find what they care about in a convenient way. With billions of web pages out there this is no surprise. Enter the power of referrals and links. And of course this is scary for journalists, because they’re confronted with the fact there are millions of extremly clever people out there, who don’t have to write an article in time or depend on making money with their writing, so they can put more effort in deliberately, which may result in a better product.

Sixth… I forgot about number six.

[Update:
Seventh, there is a common notion, even a legal one, that there must be journalism in order to protect democracy. My guess is when the fathers of our constitution thought up the public obligation, they would never have thought there would be so much information that people would stop listening, rendering the argument obsolete. (Think about the irony that the ones privileged by this law try to cut the underlying law (i.e. freedom of speech) for everybody else (i.e. bloggers) because it’s ruining their business model.)  They also thought that people care about the truth. They don’t. People care about what they believe. ]

Conclusion. We have more ways of communicating and spreading ideas than ever before. The old monopolies are gone. So are some of the truths and common wisdom related to them. What matters now is honesty, consistency and passion.

Trying to persuade a government of whatever dimension to uphold yesterday’s status quo will kill business in the long run too, so better invest the same amount of energy to build a business for the future. Even if that means going out of the old business.

Waiting

May 7th, 2010

Picture this: Midtown, a group of about 20 people standing on the sidewalk for 40 minutes. What’s going on?

Obviously, they’re waiting for the bus. It should have been here 35 minutes earlier. The next one 5 minutes earlier.

What they’re really waiting for is new instructions. Someone to tell them: “It’s no use to stand here and wait. Let’s move on to an alternative. Follow me.” Someone who takes responsibility. A leader.

Where’s the extra?

May 6th, 2010

The night I wrote about the Axis of Awesome phenomenon, I also purchased the ‘Kids’ cover by The Ooks of Hazzard because I liked the video on YouTube and I thought 99 cents was not too much of an expense.

It turns out that the single you pay for is the same recording as on the video you get for free. Once more I have to admit that my personal standards do not resemble the zeitgeist in terms of music releases, as it seems. The crucial point is that when making the purchase I expected an extra, the Free Prize inside. Otherwise I would have downloaded the audio part from the video for free.

That’s how you keep the interaction going. Not only by trading something for money, but by putting in a remarkable extra that motivates your customers to tell their friends. It doesn’t have to be expensive but worth talking about. This also applies for transactions that are not about money. By reading this blog you trade time and attention for information and entertainment. But does it contain the extra you expect so you go and tell a friend? Your feedback is most welcome.

Auto-clutter

May 5th, 2010

Until this morning I thought you could separate what’s available on the web in two categories: Useful information and clutter. It turns out there’s a third category: auto-clutter. Just by using the term “coffee break syndrome” in the last post, an automatic system on a completely unrelated page generated a pingback (which is basically a link from one blog post to another, be it the same blog or a different one). So I checked back and found out it’s a page about coffee pods (these little plastic cups with concentrated coffee that you put in a machine and get a cuppa). What the heck? It’s because the automatic tracking system is looking for terms like “coffee break” all over the web and generates links to them. I wonder if that’s any good to drive traffic? Maybe. But conversion? Less likely. But it’s free, right? Gotcha. No expense, no thinking if it makes sense.

Long Tail, short attention

May 5th, 2010

Just in case should you think that the Long Tail is an Urban Legend or Web 2.0 myth, here’s a current example (might be gone next week).

The Axis of Awesome is an Australian rock comedy trio, currently hot on youtube with their 4 chord song (the idea of which isn’t new at all, but it’s fun to see that it still applies). However, if you go down the list to find their second feature “Birdplane”, you’ll notice that it has only one tenth of views compared to the 4 chord song. What’s happening is the coffee break syndrome*: A colleague sends an email with a link or you read it on Facebook, Twitter, whatever — 5 minutes of entertainment and you can join the watercooler gang afterwards because you know what they’re talking about. The attention span has been exceeded, there’s no “Hey, these guys are fun! You got more?”
(* I checked that the term is not taken before I used it to avoid confusion — by the way, the CNO domains are also still up for grabs, the Twitter name too)

The really bad part though is that the album of Axis of Awesome is… nice. It’s not a must-have as far as I go. And that’s their problem. It’s not a challenge anymore, because the product is on the market. They’re fun on video, but I wouldn’t spend € 9 on their album. Or € 6 on the 6 songs I like — I don’t like them enough to persuade myself to buy them.

So one of the questions for someone trying YouTube as a road to fame is: If what you do becomes a hit, how do you translate this success to your product? Meaning: What are the trademarks of (you in) the video that can also be found in the product? How can you emphasize the benefits?

Challenge

May 4th, 2010

When someone noticed you had a Mac computer…

… 15 years back, they knew you had to be graphics designer.

… 10 years back, they knew you were graphics designer or musician.

… 5 years back, they knew you were someone working in the media biz.

A device that replaced your business card. A caste mark.

Today, you’re someone who can afford the lifestyle. Apple has finally made the transition from a company making products for freaks to everybody’s lifestyle supplier. Time to cash in. That’s what you’re dreaming of when you go into business. Appealing to everybody without pleasing them.

The losers in this game are the freaks, of course, because they’ve lost one of their trademarks. Which is just one example. All over the place, what has worked previously is about to stop working tomorrow. Whatever special tools helped you define yourself in business or as a person will have become commodities or obsolete at all tomorrow.

The challenge for Apple is to remain special and not to become yet another provider of electronics accessories. The challenge for the freaks is to define themselves not by peripheral attributes but by what they do. It makes no more sense to rely on what you have. If you strip away all that stuff, what remains? This is what needs to be worked on.