the grass is greener on the internet

Business by Internet Democracy

The beauty of the internet is that it gives the potential for everyone around the world to connect with a speed and low cost we never would have dreamed possible.

Increasingly, it seems like companies are using the internet as a polling place to test out their new ideas and even to make their business decisions for them.

This is creating, if you will, business by ‘internet democracy’, sketched out by Andrew Keen in ‘Cult of the Amateur’. (Ironically, Wikipedia’s definition is brief and suggests more the use of the internet for political process.)

Let’s look at how ‘internet democracy’ is being used in business…

First, Google’s ’10 to the 100′ project::

You’ll find all the details at the 10 to the 100 website, but essentially for its tenth birthday the search engine giant has asked for proposals for social projects and committed $10 million to funding the projects that will help the most people.

From there, a shortlist of 100 ideas will be left to the public to narrow down to a 20-idea list, from which Google will pick 5 or less projects.

Crowdsourcing and then deciding by internet democracy probably makes it one of most minimal-effort advertising methods since everyone caught the viral bug.

Another case of business by ‘internet democracy’ is Democreated, a participatory design project by Spanish agency La Doma:

Yes, just take a short questionnaire on what you want to see in a brand, and you will get a share in the resulting crowdsourced business. (Just don’t forget to learn Spanish so you can read the terms and conditions.)

The philosophy goes that the characteristics that receive the highest votes are incorporated into a consumer brand, the resulting brand will be the most popular too.

So what? This has been done offline before!

Sure, we’ve had the Idol phenomenon, and plenty of phone polls, but this is different.

These projects are open to anyone across the world with an email address and an internet connection. It remains one vote per email address, which is a better way of ensuring one-person one-vote than phones. And better, it’s free for voters. No ridiculously escalated call rate, no dealing with grumpy administrators like in actual democracy – this is quick, easy and cheap.

So the internet democracy is being used for good and for profit, but what are the potential issues?

  1. Is what everyone wants, compiled, going to be of guaranteed mass appeal? For example, if I took the beat of a Rihanna’s ‘Disturbia’, the piano of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the guitar of Nirvana’s ‘Smells like teen spirit’ and the lyrics of James Blunt’s ‘You’re beautiful’, all of which have been hit songs in their time, would I still get a number 1 song?
  2. Even though the internet is now widely available in most developed countries, are all voters of interest in a position to participate? (It seems logical that a project that receives the most votes will affect/is liked by the most people, but only if internet users represent the entire market…)
  3. How much does your average web surfer know about business?
    Google has maintained some control but La Doma has left themselves entirely at the mercy of the public…
  4. What’s the incentive for the public to participate in the way you want them to?

Despite these, at the moment the concept retains enough novelty for it to grab attention for the product and the firm. Smart move – I will be very interested to see how it works out.


Evolution of social interactions

The figurative communications ‘area’ we claim as our own and put our personal stuff/things/gear/info into has rapidly expanded with the rise new technologies.

These technologies, in particular the Internet, have hence affected the way we interact with each other and how marketers must interact with their targets.

Here’s a diagram of how we used to interact::

So hypothetically, there’s me, Steve and Bill (names chosen completely at random ;)). I am friends with Steve and Bill, but they’re not friends with each other. We each have our own little coloured ‘area’ for information – things like demographics, interests, work, thoughts and feelings.

Our ‘information areas’ do not overlap, so to find out any of this info about one another we’d have to actively communicate. Hence Steve and Bill, who are not really friendly, will know very little about each other at all.

The outline of each person’s ‘area’, representing their available attention for their effort, is largely unbroken and so we each have a lot of attention to devote to non-social sources of information (newspapers, TV, books; traditional media). We might each be paying attention to completely different sources.

But then the internet came along…

First up, our personal areas have doubled in size.

Note that our attention available is also larger for the same amount of effort. Just as the internet has made the space we occupy larger by giving us more places (email, blogs, chat) and making them cheaper and faster to access, it’s now easier for us to devote our attention to more stuff.

Our ‘areas’ are also now permanently overlapping. It’s not by much and there’s still some very defined spaces, but now I can see when Steve and Bill are online, see their user profiles or blogs whenever I want and participate in the same forum discussions. If I really want to know what they’re doing I still have to actively communicate with them, but it’s a lot easier and faster; email, IM, comments.

Steve and Bill are now much more likely to stumble on each other, even if they don’t want to.

But then a second communications revolution occurred…the RSS feed. Or in its best known form, sites like Facebook and Twitter.

This new way of interacting is known as ambient awareness (link from Sarah Doody).

Note again the massive increase in personal ‘area’, which now means that Steve, Bill and I are in each other’s spaces all the time. We know a lot more about each other. Steve and Bill, just by merit of knowing each other, are frequently in each others’ spaces too.

But also, more of our attention is taken up; not directly proportional to the information gain but still increased. Of course, as you can see by the overlap, there are more cases where I can pay attention to both of my friends at the same time.

How has this affected the way we see each other? NYT claims that it’s a good thing we no longer have to ask each other what we’ve been doing. But how often have you been told that your activities from last Saturday night were drunkenly heinous, evidenced by your photo tags? Or been questioned constantly when your Facebook relationship status changed? Even when you know the information came from online sources you willingly sent to the world, isn’t it just a little weird that someone you’ve never talked to can know practically everything about you? Or that your boss can now know about what you get up to outside of work?

Let’s not forget that this takes away the incentive to actively engage with other people, meaning that you might know a lot ABOUT many people, but you don’t really KNOW many.

However, we might be seeing a world of freer trading emerging… As we have more people to refer to we are more likely to find something which is on our demand curve, in terms of things or information.

For marketers:: The point is that everyone has limited attention available; there is far less attention available for more traditional sources, and much less devoted to actually seeking out information. The available attention we’ve gained for our effort is going into social sources. We’re far happier for other people to seek out information for us.

So you had better 1) be a deliverer of information, pure and simple, 2) be our friend and play our games in the hope we like you, or 3) hope to hell we get over RSS soon.

Tricky legislation for BigPond
October 6, 2008, 8:12 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: , ,

The last week or so has seen Telstra’s BigPond move into the uncharted waters of establishing themselves on Twitter.

Bold? Yes. Successful? Well, so far there’s been some criticism but the company is handling it well.

One thing they ARE being cautious about is whether this move will contravene Australia’s Spam Act 2003 (Cth). And as Zac Martin has pointed out, there may be implications for other mediums like blogs, blog comment, facebook messages, etc.

[this post is not AGLC compliant]

To put it simply, at this point the law is not conclusive.

The legislation has attempted to cover mostly e-mail spam while anticipating future methods of spamming. Most of the cases related to the Spam Act have concerned e-mail, so there has as yet been little definition for contraventions using newer mediums.

Apparently the main concern for BigPond’s lawyers is whether Twitter would be considered a ‘commercial electronic message’.

First, does Twitter count?

 Twitter is a microblog site. That means, everyone has their own feed of blogs <140 characters, and these are only distributed to other people if they choose to subscribe to that blog by RSS, or ‘follow’ the blog.

The key point of contention is s 5(1)(b) of the Spam Act , which essentially states that for the penalties to apply a message must have been sent to and electronic address. This address must be in connection to::

“(i) an e-mail account; or
(ii) an instant messaging account; or
(iii) a telephone account; or
(iv) a similar account.”

Is an RSS compiler a ‘similar account’? Now there’s the problem.

If Twitter is a ‘commercial electronic message’, then would BigPond be contravening the law?

I think that the matter would be more complex, but still defensible.

There are three separate offences::

  1. Unsolicited commercial messages must not be sent. – However s 16(2) allows messages to be sent if prior consent has been given. Schedule 2 s 2 defines this as either expressly given, or reasonably inferrable from conduct or relationships.
    If someone is ‘following’ a Twitter feed, that might be express consent. But it is almost definitely a reasonable conclusion that they wanted to hear from the Twitterer.
  2. Commercial electronic messages must include information about the individual or organisation who authorised the sending of the message. – s 17 clarifies that the organisation sending the message and their contact details must be ‘clearly and accurately’ identified. Arguably the link to a profile from the Twitter message will supply just that.

  3. Commercial electronic messages must contain a functional unsubscribe facility. – This is the trickiest. s 18(1)(c) requires the message to contain a statement that the receiver can unsubscribe. Tough with Twitter’s 140 char limit. It would be up to a court to interpret this, but Twitter already provides options to unsubscribe or block, and with a purposive interpretation I think that would be sufficient.

So Twitter’s probably okay, but what about other websites?

With or without the ‘commercial electronic message’ debate, I think most spaces like blogs, Facebook and Myspace are still okay.

Most of these sites require you to be ‘friends’ before you post on their space, which means you have consented to hear from them. (Private messages on these sites may be a different matter though.) In the case of blogs or publically enabled Facebook walls, not using moderating systems for comments may imply that you have consented to all messages.

Most companies will use a profile on these sites to post information, which will clearly identify them.

Most sites also have a blocking capability.

The most iffy of these is blog comments, which is bad news for NAB with the complaints about their advertising tactics in August.

That’s my legal rant for the year, if there’s anything you think I’ve missed let me know.

Incidentally, the Australian Law Reform Commission is reviewing Privacy Law. Part of this is a proposal to have specific legislation for direct marketing – specific consent and easier opting out may be part of this. Won’t be in force for a while if at all, but that WOULD rock the boat for marketers.

Prosumers and churnalism

I have two new words for the day:: prosumer and churnalism.

The first came from the AMI Marketing Week seminar I was at today, given by John Gamvros of OMD Fuse on the role of brands in consumer’s lives. He focussed mostly on leveraging new technologies and what implications they would have on brand-building. With more opportunities for consumers to create their own content and interact with brands, we’re morphing into a society of prosumers (producers and consumers). Key lesson:: be prepared to let go of some control, and if you’ve done your homework right you’ll have much better brand engagement.

He also showed us the video below, which paints a scary picture for the future and brought out the term ‘prosumer’ about a year ago.

I really hadn’t been thinking of social marketing interactions like that, so ‘prosumer’ may be cropping up in my posts from now on.

The second term was aired quite vehemently on the 7.30 Report tonight (and I don’t think any other channel would have dared to air the story). Ah, churnalism just describes itself so accurately. And sadly, it’s true that a lot of news stories feel like they’ve come straight from a PR department or someone elses news feed. Supposedly the phenomena comes from– well, bluntly, overworking of journalists. It’s entirely possible that this would lead to journos not having enough time and lowering their standards, bringing the standard down in general. However, I think it’s also a matter of society in general not having the time or bothering to check more than one news source, and not bringing them into line.

I’m definitely no expert in this area, so I’ll probably read up it’s origin in ‘Flat Earth News’ by Nick Davies before I start using it prolifically, after all a Guardian veteran should have a fair idea. Right?

B&T, or anybody who happens to be listening right now:: I used to be an avid follower of B&T’s news service, bringing me the latest of Australia’s advertising news…but no more!

Why? Their RSS feed isn’t working.

…and it hasn’t been for weeks now. Please B&T, fix your RSS feed, or update the link which is on your homepage. I feel like you’re not communicating with me and I don’t want it to get in the way of our relationship. 😉

It will be my experiment in social media, which just so happens to be useful. (As all effective social media should be!) Indulge me a little and post to your own blogs. Let’s see how long this takes, or if it happens at all!