Lexus has given iPod Nanos to some customers who had delayed delivery of their cars, and has got big coverage not just in the Club Lexus Forums, but also in blogs and even on Digg. These days, companies can get massive benefit, as well as problems, from how customers spread how they feel by word of mouth, including of course blogs. Incidentally, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association had their inaugural conference last month, and got plenty of traditional media coverage, as well as word of mouth. It’s the buzz in the marketing world!
What many people don’t appreciate about blogging is that its power comes from how blogs are interlinked, not the blogs on their won. Individual blogs can be interesting. However it is the linking and commenting on other bloggers’ posts and thoughts that creates a single “blogosphere”. This unitary space of all blogs has powerful emergent properties, not least the ability to make the most interesting and valuable information and ideas float to the surface and become easily visible. The single most important way of creating threads between blogs is simply linking to other blogs – or traditional media – and adding thoughts and opinions. The next critical feature is comments. A blog that doesn’t allow comments hardly merits the name. Comments from others allow readers to see opinions and segues on the original post. However this starts to split the thread of discussions. That is why the trackback feature of blogging is so important. Trackbacks allow people to post their comments on other blogs’ posts on their own blog, and then place a link on the original blog. This allows readers to know that there is a relevant comment posted on another blog, and to go and read it. The primary problem with this is that you need your own blog in order to keep your comments on other blogs in the one place.
The recent beta launch of coComment seeks to address this issue, by allowing people to keep the comments they’ve written in the one place, make these visible in the one place without having their own blog (which in effect creates a blog, albeit exclusively of comments on others’ blogs), and track how comments evolve on a particular post or topic. Stowe Boyd recently proposed a “conversational index”, which rates blogs by the ratio of posts to comments. The reality is that a large proportion of activity in the blogosphere is in the comments. Now frequent commenters who don’t have their own blogs can participate fully, opening the door for a significant expansion in the scope of the emerging global conversation. Interestingly, coComment has been funded by the Swiss telco Swisscom, which happens to be one of the first telcos to launch proximity dating, some years ago now. There’s a very strong buzz about coComment. Not everyone is convinced, however the context is that blogger extraordinaire Robert Scoble was shown the site while visiting Switzerland, blogged about it, and the coComment folk are now desperately trying to keep up with the buzz, even though it’s well before planned release. Word spreads very fast in the blogosphere, when people are interested.
Following on from my recent story on collaborative filtering for music, it’s worth taking a look at Videobomb (Thanks for the link Steve Rubel!). This enables people to post links to online videos. If enough people vote for the video, it appears on the site’s front page, so users can immediately find the most popular videos. This voting structure is extremely similar to the technology news site Digg, which has rapidly become one of the most popular technology websites around. Videobomb needs to get more users before it reaches critical mass, however its intent is to help provide a platform for Internet TV. On Current TV, the producers choose what to screen from all of the public submissions (see my earlier comments on this). Videobomb’s approach enables the audience to choose what they view. In the words of the website, they want “to create an independent, creative, engaging, and meritocratic TV system for millions of people around the world”. Some way to go towards this objective yet, but I don’t think it will be too long before we do have a system that meets this description.
Market research company Polk has found that first-time car buyers barely use traditional media in assessing potential options, leading to a description of traditional media as “nearly obsolete” for this sector. Internet is the primary information source for 35% of these buyers, four times that for television, and eight times that for magazines. Sixty-five percent of vehicle buyers did so without any influence from family or friends, making their media information sources all the more important. As first-time car buyers are in the 18-30 age bracket, the bias to online media is not surprising. However the superior information search and multiple perspectives available online mean older buyers are increasingly dependent on online information for their high-value purchases. One implication is that specialist buyer magazines will find it very hard going as advertisers shift to where the buyers spend their time. Another is that classifieds, for cars and other high-value items, will continue their shift to online. Print classifieds will soon be considered archaic. The issue will become who owns the classifieds – traditional media players, or new players? This will be the subject of some of the research on the future of media my organization will be doing over the next months – more details soon.
John Hagel has a very interesting piece on zero-sum thinking – the idea that there if one person wins, another must lose. He draws out how this is epidemic in the business world. A great example is how companies treat their suppliers. In what way do companies do better if their suppliers suffer? Yet that seems to be how many suppliers are managed today, in squeezing them as much as possible. The trick is to move beyond the single dimension of price. Once you do that, there are unlimited ways to create value for both parties. Yet there are far more ways that the implicit assumption of a zero-sum world drives business strategy. Intellectual property and organizational design are just two examples. The vast majority of value creation in the economy today is collaborative, with more than one winner. Executives must actively seek “non-zero-sum” games, in which you can collectively increase the pool of value available. This shift in mentality is in fact required for survival. Zero-sum thinkers and players will find business swiftly becoming more difficult. If you’d like to learn more about zero-sum thinking and how to transcend it, read the great book Nonzero, by Robert Wright.
David Maister, the über-guru of professional services, has embraced blogging and podcasting. In a revamp last week of his website, which has always provided extensive resources, he has launched a blog titled Passion, People and Principles. It is highly interactive, responding in depth to questions and conversations raised by clients and the professional services community. Not long before, he released an article Marketing is a Conversation, in which he advocates creating conversations and “salons” with clients, engaging in joint problem solving, setting up blogs, and replacing capability brochures with interactive spaces.
David has for a long time said that he focuses on the fundamentals of professional services, because that is still where the most difference can be made. He kindly suggests that in contrast my work deals with the “frontier topics”. He has been very supportive of my work, and gave me a nice blurb for the latest edition of my book Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships: “Dawson has pulled off the nigh-impossible: improved on what was already a terrific book. Even more than before, this is essential reading for professional service firms.”
I have immense respect for David’s work, and discussed his immensely successful personal strategic positioning in my book Living Networks. While David has always talked and written about listening to clients and great service, I think that he has shifted his approach in how he now strongly encourages collaboration and shared value creation with clients. In my latest book there is a subheading “Doing Great Work is Not Enough”. It’s far from enough, and true knowledge-based, collaborative relationships require an entirely different attitude. These are truly fundamentals of professional services.
In a great example of how digital connection brings people together in face-to-face meetings, Michel Bauwens saw my blog post saying that on my vacation I was going to pass through Chiang Mai in Thailand, where he lives. He sent me an email to suggest we get together, and we had lunch in a picturesque local restaurant. Michel is a dot-com and telco veteran who has decided life is better in North Thailand than Europe or North America. He has now established the P2P Foundation, which examines and supports the application of peer-to-peer concepts to all aspects of society. Michel has a compelling vision for how P2P can be applied to creating value, organizational design, social structure, and political structures. Some of his vision is already well visible:
“we have to posit the birth of a new capitalist class segment, the netarchists, based not on the control or ownership of information, but on the enabling and exploitation of the participatory networks themselves.”
At the P2P Foundation website and other sites such as Integral Visioning, Michel has provided substantial resources on the vision for applying peer to peer across society, notably his excellent essay Peer to Peer and Human Evolution, and his P2PFoundation blog. Michel is now looking to establish a for-profit organization that will provide services and implement business models around the P2P frame. I look forward to seeing this develop far further. The potential is certainly there for a global society based on peer to peer structures and thinking, though this may take decades to evolve. It is an immensely worthwhile vision.
Bruce Marcus has been writing the Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing for about a decade, originally as a print newsletter, and now online. His broad experience makes him one of the true doyens of the field. His excellent recent book, co-authored with August Aquila, Client at the Core, goes into the practical detail of creating the oft-spoken of but rarely realized “client-centric firm”.
“Two critical elements have evolved, and are continuing to evolve. We see more clearly the uses of information as a discipline in law and accounting practices. And we begin to learn to harness that information to our benefit in serving our firms and our clients. And that is what Ross Dawson addresses, and addresses brilliantly in this book.
It is, I should note, a pleasure to read this book, not only for its lucid and rational instruction, but for its confirmation of much that I and others have been saying for some time. We agree on virtually every aspect of it, although he goes much farther into the process than most have done.
As knowledge management penetrates the consciousness of a greater body of professionals, Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships will be a well-read and well-thumbed handbook. It is certainly one of the more important works in the field of client relationships and practice management.”
I believe that “collaborative filtering” is at the heart of how the networks are coming to life. The basic concept is that we must collaborate to filter the massive information overload we face. We can do this simply by taking the recommendations of friends we know and trust. However now software can amalgamate the views and perspectives of thousands or millions of people to direct you to the information or entertainment that is uniquely relevant to you. One of the many domains in which collaborative filtering can be applied is music, by recommending or playing music based on your preferences.
Last.FM, which I last wrote about in this blog in 2003, has developed a lot further, and seems to have gained critical mass. Last.FM’s underlying recommendation engine, Autoscrobbler, is now also available separately, helping to fund Last.FM’s free, no-advertising offering. Last.FM creates personalized radio stations based on people’s preferences, and makes recommendations based on what other people with similar tastes like. As such, it is intrinsically based on social networks, and also provides group functionality so people with similar taste can interact. A newer service, Pandora, works quite differently. It uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze music based on its rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic structure, instrumentation, production qualities, lyrics and so on. You seed the service by nominating a song or an artist, and it creates an entire radio station from that. You can also provide feedback on your preferences, as in Last.FM. The service is available for free with advertising, or there is an advertising-free subscription service. Pandora raised $12 million last November, bringing its total raised to over $22 million, showing the faith investors have in the value of these models. However one venture capitalist prefers Last.FM to Pandora in an interesting comparison of the two services. Check out these music services and support them! The better they get, the more we can discover and listen to the music we love the best from the many millions of songs produced every year.
A new Australia-specific blog search engine called gnoos will be launched in February in pre-beta form, by Ben Barren’s company Feedcorp. This is interesting and relevant because many blog conversations are often about local issues, not least politics. Some blog search engines, such as Bloghub.com and LSBlogs.com, offer the ability to search within countries, but have very poor coverage, so are of little use. Similar problems apply to country-specific engines such as the Brazilian blogs.com.br.
An article in the Sydney Morning Herald on gnoos compared the initiative to other Australian Internet search engines, such as Panoptic, which have struggled, as most people prefer to use the global search engines such as Google, with which they are familiar, have very broad coverage, and which offer some degree of local search capabilities anyway. However this is not an appropriate comparison. Blogs are interlinked, they are not usually meaningful on their own. Blogs discuss issues of interest to a particular community, which are often local in scope.
Currently, the deeply intertwined discussions that happen in the blogosphere tend to revert to a US-centric perspective, as that is where the dominant pool of bloggers reside. In a way it’s easier for those who don’t speak English, as their community can be easily defined. Certainly the conversations of the blogging-mad Brazilians get entwined with those of the Portuguese, and those of the French with the rest of the francophone community, however there is a reasonably defined community just by virtue of language. In the case of English, the de-facto global language, conversations tend to get drawn back to the US. However Australians, Britons, and English-speaking Indians, among others, are often more interested in engaging in discussions on their own local politics or issues rather than being drawn back to the US domain. Right now we are in a situation in which US conversations are dominating globally, simply due to the size of the US blogging community and the globally interlinked nature of blogs. An excellent country-specific blog search engine can facilitate the creation of interlinked conversations among bloggers of that nation. I hope that gnoos fulfils its promise, and helps the Australian blogging community to develop a greater identity and ability to engage in discussion on local issues. That will be a big move forward in making blogging conversations relevant to local communities. Politics and consumer issues are largely local, and unless there are ways to tap into those blogging conversations, they will have little impact.