A site named Sue

When Johnny Cash sung A Boy named Sue, he knew the value of a name. I thought of Johnny Cash, when I was reading danah boyd’s blog. danah talked about her new car and the way she named it and I thought about my first ride.

My first car was a dilapidated Fiat 500 called Tia (because the car skated around a wet road in a similar manner to the girls in high heels that used to drink too many Tia Maria cocktails in the wine bar I used to DJ in during the week.) I had various company and personal vehicles over the next few years, the highlight being a company Unimog pick-up called Beverley after an ex-girlfriend.

My MacBook Pro has a name (Toshiro after Toshiro Mifune), but my iPod doesn’t since I seem to go through them before I get attached to them. Which got me thinking, naming a thing: a car, my Mac is about a recognition of a deep relationship with an immersive experience. A relationship that makes you tolerant to look over the bad things and focus on the good things. For instance, Tia’s handling weren’t a death trap, but more like an extreme sport.

Despite all the hoopla, you still don’t have that kind of relationship with your facebook page or your flickr account. Now, you could argue that facebook is a channel rather than experience that you can develop an attachment/relationship with. But then a car at its is just a personal channel in the physical world. But like the web it can be the vehicle to personal freedom and adventure. So the problem for the pet name website must be in the user experience, depth of engagement and experience.

Being able to tap into the consumer’s psyche wouldn’t only benefit a sites web traffic numbers but also benefit the marketer in deepening their relationship with the client. And unlike the car radio, every interaction has an answer-and-call mechanism behind it, allowing a virtuous marketing circle to develop. This also offers the opportunity to square the circle between transactional marketing typified by online campaigns and brand marketing which happens to various degrees in traditional mar.coms elements like PR, design and advertising as well as all customer-facing aspects of a business.

Word of Mouth



I was asked the other day by a friend what did I think was the sign of good PR and I replied that truly great PR would be PR that you weren’t aware was PR. And in this answer lies the root of the problem of what is wrong with word-of-mouth marketing.

Some of the biggest word-of-mouth marketing campaigns on Facebook such as the HSBC student overdraft backtrack and the campaign to get Cadburys to reissue the Wispa chocolate bar were both orchestrated by marketers (the NUS and Publicis on behalf of Cadburys). I know that this was the case and so does the general public. It is easy to assume that people are stupid because they like Hello magazine, but they know when they are being sold to or played.

Real-world world-of-mouth marketing is almost anti-marketing. Why the picture of Tiger Balm? I have never seen a Tiger Balm advert, yet it has been recommended to me dozens of times by friends and colleagues to help with colds, helping you staying awake when your driving or muscle aches. The same is true for New Balance trainers which doesn’t have a marketing budget and third-party endorsements like Nike or adidas/Reebok yet still manages to attract the cool kids and avoid employing sweatshop manufacturing.

I wanted to finish this post with a quote from Jonney Shih, CEO of Taiwan-based technology company ASUSTeK in a recent interview with DigitimesCurrently, we don’t think working on sales and marketing is a good idea. We believe that if ASUSTeK can do the best job it can, then there is no concern that the market will have a bad impression of the brand. Think of it this way, most people only know of the highest mountain, Everest, not many remember the second highest.

You may have not heard of the ASUS eeePC (made by ASUSTeK), but it is one of the fastest-selling laptops this Christmas on Amazon, putting it in the gadget hotness zone with the Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, the Nokia n810, the Apple MacBook and the Apple MacBook Pro. Nuff said.

Why the web has gone down the pan

I was inspired to write this post from a number of things that came together at the same time. I found it hard to find anything worthwhile posting about over the past few days because I was insufficiently inspired, particularly by online happenings.

Then there was Michael Arrington’s post on TechCrunch: Silicon Valley Could Use A Downturn Right About Now. Arrington’s article made me wonder if his April’s Fool bid for FuckedCompany wasn’t a wiser move than he realised.

Finally I was watching a video from a past TED conference by author Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice and the seeds of a post analysing my disenfranchisement with the web started to crystalise.

Schwartz lists four factors that consumers face with increasing choice that seemed to map on to my experience within web services and social media sites:

  • Choice produces paralysis: the very plethora of similar services makes it much harder to choose and find the right service for you. This means that I am likely to ignore newer and better services
  • We end up less satisfied with more choices rather than fewer choices. It is easy to imagine that whatever service you use, you could have made another even better choice. This dissonance takes away from the satisfaction provided by the service
  • Opportunity costs: when you have more alternatives it raises the benchmark for satisfaction with a given service, since if you take the good bits of each rejected service you could end up with a benchmark that is nirvana, creating a huge WHAT IF
  • Escalation of expectations: as you become exposed to more services, your expectations of how good a web service should be went up

In essence, more choice reduces the possiblity of having a user experience that is a pleasant surprise, hence no more Eureka moment like I felt when first using Flickr.

Schwartz’ video made me feel better as I was better able to rationalise why I felt that the web had lost it.

Arrington is also right, though a downturn is a very expensive and distructive way of refreshing my web palate. With some noticable exceptions that I will have the good grace not to name-and-shame Kara Swisher has a more balanced assessment of the internet start-up environment here.

Uploading innovation

Uploading Innovation was an unconference organised by Policyunplugged and NESTA. I was invited to attend by Steve Moore; I had no expectations about what to expect. After a short stand-up lunch that allowed me to meet a couple of the attendees. Compared to other events that I have been to, there was a high proportion of attendees from the NGO and charity eco-system; with a substantial interest in leveraging communities for social good.

I came across some familiar faces like Oli Barrett, Suw Charman and Lloyd Davies.

NESTA - Policyunplugged Uploading Innovation

There were some initial presentations to get things going: I particularly enjoyed the talk by former FT journalist Charles Leadbetter. Leadbetter correctly pointed out that many of the web 2.0 cultural traits actually look back, rather than look forward. Commons and the folk ‘art’ ethic go back to pre-industrial time, the countercultural look of the internet goes back to the 1960s. The theme of the old having a recursive relationship with the new, new thing was a meme that echoed through many of the discussions.

Sam Sethi made a brief personal appearance.

NESTA - Policyunplugged Uploading Innovation

I sat in on a discusson led by Matt Hanson and Jeremy Ettinghausen. Jeremy is in charge of the A Million Penguins wiki-book site and had some interesting anecdotes and datapoints from the exercise. Matt is in the early stages of getting a film made that involves a base of subscribers to commission a $1 million movie that can then be given away under the banner A Swarm of Angels.

Penguin had leveraged their brand to launch the wiki. A press release to the Guardian and outreach to six blogs was all the proactive effort needed to get an overwhelming amount of site traffic. At its peak some ten people per second were logging on to the site. Some 25 people had been banned from the Penguin wiki and there are about a 100 regular vandals. The wiki had become the centre of a new meme about bananas. The word banana had been inserted at strategic places in plot. The wiki then became a dadaist art form as editors left the bananas in.

Some of the art in the wiki novel is actually the hyperlinks, so the book is unprintable. Penguin are still working out how to publish this in electronic format. In the end I had the impression that Penguin tolerated the experiment more as a publicity vehicle and asked myself will Pearson Publishing reflect in ten years about whether A Million Penguins was the point at which they should have looked to change their business or continue in the decline of mainstream media.

From a marketing point-of-view it was interesting to hear how Penguin encouraged non-fiction authors to write a blog and build a community up to two years prior to their book being published.

A Swarm of Angels was interesting for a number of reasons: first of all the subscription model was designed as much to only encourage serious participants as much as funding the project. Matt avoided PR and conventional media relations as he had found from his work launching multimedia film festival 1 dot zero that journalists were just not open to new ideas. However the involvement of Cory Doctorow and frantic digging by early participants gave the site the exposure that it needed.

Observations from the banal to the deep

There were a number of consumer patterns that leapt out: those that had computers to blog about the event were split roughly 70 per cent Mac, 30 per cent other PC. Many of the Macs were covered in stickers that ruined the clean product design of the machines.

Of the business cards that I received half of them were MOO mini cards with the artwork from the back derived from their flickr image accounts.

Many of the participants were from the third-sector and there was a real DIY media attitude akin to punk in its truest form, whether the participants manage to move the needle is another matter. Web 2.0 was been seen as a panacea, many of the people that I spoke to were looking to solve big social issues from food education to developing a new capital model based around a kind of cooperative structure for businesses catering to third sector organisations.

Majestic Mk II


I remember the tech press hype in the US when it originally came out, it had an innovative gaming concept that tapped into the zeitgeist of conspiracy theory entertainment like The X Files (remember them) and 24. Majestic was a game by Electronic Arts (under the fictional name of Anim-X) that was very innovative in its approach. Players were wrapped in an online game that charged a subscription (a business model since copied by the likes of Xbox Live etc). The game communicated to users not only through the software, but via web sites, video messages, emails and faxes.

Unfortunately the plug was pulled on the game in 2002 because it did not have a sufficient amount of players to make it financially viable. However, now the time maybe right, the extension of game play into every aspect of their online lives would make it much more powerful.

Think about it; Second Life avatars, IM messages, comments on their MySpace profile, voicemail to their mobile phone, SMS texts, mysterious contacts on LinkedIn, mysterious pictures on Flickr and videos seeded on Bit Torrents. It would be much more powerful because of the seamless integration of offline and online for younger people.

Convergence, utilising ‘free web services’ and a regular revenue stream would make this of interest to mobile operators, media companies and everyone in between.

Talking of games for a cheap January I am going old school and getting a copy of Risk.