Sunday, August 22, 2010

Check-in Reality Check

FaceBook Places up on iPhone this week is another check-in reality check for Location Based Services (LBS) growth.

The interesting thing about this new launch is that Facebook partnered with the two leading LBS players of the moment - Foursquare and Gowalla.  Yelp who is famous for its local reviews LBS service and Booyah have also jumped into the Facebook's Places party.

From the outside, it's all about the beauty of physically connecting with your friends thanks to the power of location-aware social networks.  This video posted by Facebook sets this friendly ambiance all along:

However, in my view, beyond this friendly facade filled with plenty of 360-degree, fine-toothed smiles begins the non so friendly standard war for social check-in ownership.

Check-in growth means big bucks.

In the end, LBS is just a new marketing tool to create a new depth of marketing segmentation, one that traces our social habits from the real world back to the check-in owner's databases.  By overlaying some sort of loyalty or incentive marketing program over our digitalized real-world consumption patterns, as a marketer you are likely to get higher return on your marketing dollars than what you would traditionally achieve through mass media.

Now, back to Places.  It sounds that the check-in ownership definitely helped to shape up the structure of this new LBS deal.  Not all stakeholders have appeared to strike the same kind of agreement with Facebook.  It doesn't look like check-ins are co-owned all the time.  What I mean by that is that you may check-in through Places but that information may only belong to Facebook and may not trickle back down to the LBS originator.  Say that you are an heavy Foursquare user and that you transfered all your check-ins to Facebook places through the new Places API (that one-way transfer is allowed apparently), if you check-in Places after the transfer, I am not sure that Foursquare gets that informaton back...?  Yelp did get a two-way deal, not sure Foursquare and Gowalla did but they may have agreed on a one-way deal as it gives them great exposure to the 500M+ Facebook users for greater service awareness.

Are we on for a check-in standard war on the socnets?

It seems like we are headed into a mosaic-patterned LBS horizon.  What if you start building points for a given brand using Gowalla?  Do your branded check-ins apply in Foursquare or do you have to build two seperate collections of check-ins?

I don't believe that there is any check-in standard in place so far.  On top of that, overlay the segmentation at the mobile phone hardware/software levels and you get a supper dupper LBmeSS.

What about open standards?

Wouldn't the check-me-in pie be much larger should standard check-ins be discussed and shared among all major players of the LBS market?

This reminds me of the GSM days in a way.  Back in the beginning of the 80's, in 1982, a new digital wireless group composed of super smart wireless experts came to life.  This was the "Groupe Special Mobile".  It took about 10 years for the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) to become the "2G" standard which gave birth to the first 2G network in Finland in 1991.

Today, GSM is the technology that is most globally adopted.  One of the main reasons why it has known such a phenomenal penetration is because the target audicnce (the wireless carriers in that case) had the flexibility to build their GSM networks from different GSM equipment suppliers.  For example, you could elect to build some of your radio sub-system with Nokia while your network sub-system could be bought from Siemens.  The GSM standard guaranteed that the different pieces within the network could openly talk to one another.

Yes, it did take some time to get to the GSM standard, but in the end it openly fluidified the target audience value proposition by lowering long-term risk and reducing acquisition cost, as a result, the technology adoption rate went banana around the world.

That's why, I am wondering...
Shoudn't all of the current LBS players step out of their walled garden and raise up their heads to the formidable potential of future check-in open standards?

Consumers would tremendously benefit from technology-agnostic check-ins and so, I believe, would the LBS ecosystem as a whole.  LBS would be turned into Location Be Sustainable!  :-)

As I was laying out my thoughts on a napkin for this post this morning, I came accross a tweet from @loic.  It struck my attention as Loic mentioned the iBody appstore.

Loic takes the stale one-dimensional physical "check-in" dimension into a richer multi-dimensional approach where other sets of data, related to our biometrics, could flow into the socnets through relevant APIs.

You can check out Loic's blog post on the subject.  Here is the video that he posted:

So, if more and more digital dimensions from our lives are bound to flow into the future streams of the emerging social networks, don't open standards make even more sense?

Open platforms, open standards may be the sustainable routes to open innovation.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Digital Love is Forever

What happens when Artificial Intelligence (AI) meets Social Networking (SN)?

By 2035, the supercomputer power will be such that AI might be becoming a tangible reality.  The IBM Blue Gene project certainly represents a contemporary step along the path towards that intriguing horizon.

Over the past few weeks, as an exponentially growing number of Internet users around the world are increasingly digitalizing the stories of their physical lives, I have come to ponder what will happen once we are able to upload our minds into the SN clouds.

AI is an old concept, it actually dates back to the ancient times of Greek mythology.  As I was trying to find more recent representations of AI, my friend Jorge made me aware of a movie released in 1986 called Short Circuit starring Ally Sheedy and Steve Guttenburg and directed by John Badham.

$9.99 later I had bought it on iTunes for my viewing pleasure.  The movie is definitely cheesy, yet insightful for its time.

The concept of AI is a leading anchor of the movie's plot.  The hero is "Number 5", a military robot that is hit by lightning which causes him to escape the lab where it was created, and, to keep it short, engage in a light adventure with an animal-lover (Ally Sheedy) and the PhD who created him (Steve Guttenburg).

"Number 5" develops impressive Emotional Intelligence (EI) capabilities.  Dancing being the ultimate form of human communication and a highly emotional pillar of most cultures around the world, I thought I would share how our hero stimulates its electronic neurons dancing to the tune of a well-know Saturday nigh hit from the 80s' (Go directly to 1 min and 35 sec in the video --> I can't get to have the time tag work to do it automatically for you...):

How is that for AI?

The movie was produced at a time well remote from the Internet era, Number 5's EI looks more like an app downloaded from the human world surrounding him.  The other way around, an upload, wouldn't have made much sense at that time.

Now, what happens if around 2035 we are able to upload our mind to our Facebook (or the prevailing mobile optical SN at that time) page and give it free reigns to manage our social interaction with our family and friends?

In 10 generations from us, how will our grand, grand ... grand (9x) children feel about having the opportunity to interact, even dance in real-time with the AI entity that backed up the mind, culture, personality, and life history of their grand, grand ... grand (9x) parents?

Would Digital Love be Forever?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Time to dive in the pull!

Social Networking (SN) has overpassed pornography as the #1 web activity!
That's insane.

A decade ago, I had the great opportunity to be part of the team that started the first ever broadband wireless ISP in France.  We were targeting SMBs at the time, and although some of the trend may be cultural and our target audience was purely professional organizations, I do confirm that we had about 80% of the our traffic related to pornography.

SN has grown at a 48% compound annual growth rate in 2010 over 2009, and a slew of indicators seem to point us toward the feeling that singularity definitely apply to the long tail of SN too.

Sometimes, some of the SN videos posted around the Internet may seem way too flashy, like this one:

Nonethess, it is undeniable that the sooner marketers will understand how to leverage the pull power of SN and forget about the dusty ways of wasting hundreds of billions of dollars in traditional marketing, the better off they'll be.

Getting there will certainly be a bumpy ride for many.

There definitely is no magic recipe in my view as an entrepreneurial mindset may be the key to getting it right, and it will certainly involve tapping into the unexpected opportunities of serendipity.  Marketers should become VC-minded, investing in a diversified portfolio of SN strategies and converging towards what makes it a win-win for both the communities and the brand.

I believe there is too much binary thinking going on associated with the latest SN craze.  C'mon, it's a learning process and it's not because you have some sort of brand face on Facebook that you are instantaneously moving the needle in the right direction.  You may actually be moving it counter-clockwise if you have not taken a few steps back to think out long term expectations from the communities and operational implications, therefore cost, to your organization.

A few weeks ago, I came across this post on TechCrunch.

I am not the kind of guy to generally react to push marketing; however, I went ahead and purchased the electronic version of the book.  Pretty cool...

In a nutshell, the authors are advocating the fact that "small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion".  To do that they claim that there are three key levels in the pull, three diving boards:
- Access (resources through communities)
- Attract (the organic resources from the communities)
- Achieve (I would parallel this to building the sense of common purpose between you/your brand and the communities)

I paused for a moment and I realized that this is pretty much what my bro and his team have learned the hard way as they are growing their community-based film production company

From the onset, they built the tools to access the film lover communities.  There were no barriers whatsover as the only moderator was my bro alone.  It was a few years ago and the fancy features offered by some fancy user moderation companies these days didn't exist.

Well, it was actually a great opportunity in disguise not to have these digital tools firsthand.

As a matter of fact, while interacting directly with the unsensored communites, my bro was able to understand the power of real-time pull interaction.  Yes, they definitely found themselves in extremely delicate situations where consumers were extremely irrate about things that are normally being dealt with in a private "consumer service" kind of setting. 

It took time, a lot of time, a lot of patience to publically address these consumers' points of pain.  But integrity and openess were the key ingredients to turn around what would primarily look like brand/consumer adversity into sustainable brand/consumer friendship that virally propagates through the communities.

In a word, negative pull interaction is the long term open door to sustainable consumer loyalty.

The problem is that quite a few marketers don't seem to understand that.  You cannot push your marketing in a SN right off the bat because it is going to bounce back in your face and make you loose trust.  Build the trust first, and sollicit the value, don't push it!

Once brands get that, sooner rather than later, they will be able to attract advocates from the community that are going to act as exponential pull powers.  I wouldn't be surprised that in a few years from now, brands will actually start hiring based on the added value of each individual as a contributing entity to the community.  Imagine some sort of Foursquare hiring mayorship for your brand based on added value behaviors.

At that point, the overarching "sense of purpose" will achieve unprecedented return on your marketing dollars, this will be a quantum leap in relation to the famous 10x return on direct marketing investment touted at any Direct Marketing Association conference around the world.

It's about time to dive in the pull!