Linking learning & labour

I’m a huge Asimov fan, and am constantly amazed at how he was able to have a perspective of the future on multiple fronts. I was reminded of two of those recently thanks to their application (of sorts) in contemporary scenarios.

First, Hari Seldon‘s (pretty much the foundation of Asimov’s Foundation series) psychohistory, which was able to make general predictions on the future behaviour of large populations using history, sociology and statistics. The easy contemporary connection is big data and predictive analytics.

Second, a short story written by him called ‘Profession‘, (do read) in which every person’s profession is based on an analysis of his/her brain, and no choice is given to the person in this matter! In India, we seem to be already there even without the analysis!

Collectively, these two made me think of employment, and on a related note, education. The thought was that with so much of data available on education and employment, we should be able to create ‘tests’ to compute the interest and aptitude of individuals at a very early age. What this would aim to do is to eliminate the herd education that currently exists. Instead, children would learn things that help them in a profession for which they have the intent and interest, using say, a combination of traditional classrooms and MOOCs. Also, this would no longer be one part of a life cycle, but a continuous process – helping the individual thrive in a dynamic environment.

If you remember, LinkedIn was my representative for ‘L’ in the ‘change imperative‘ deck. That was because I felt that it had the data and the vision to be the catalyst for this kind of a change. I was very happy when it underscored this faith with the fantastic ‘future self‘ experiment, in which they identified the future professional self (5 year time frame) of LinkedIn user Kurt Wagner – another user Mussarat Bata – using various data points!

LinkedIn hasn’t really built this as a public tool, but just imagine the possibilities! A platform that shows people the possibilities which take them closer to their ‘purpose’. (remember ‘The Evolution of Work and the Workplace‘?) I sincerely hope to see this in my lifetime. :)

until next time, live and learn


A new medium

I haven’t taken you outside of the blog in a while, but here goes.

LinkedIn recently opened up its publishing platform, and since it’s a contextually relevant platform to publish my ‘work’ posts, I was immediately interested. Thanks to Gautam, I discovered this link, applied, and soon got publishing rights. It was a harder task to write something though! I have finally managed something that is a differently framed version of concepts that I have written on the blog already. Do take a look here.

Can media become social enough?

A few days back, it was reported that Facebook now had a million active advertisers, and that LinkedIn has 3 million company pages. I’ll let that sink in, in case you hadn’t heard. Despite all the social-ness, I realised it’s impossible not to call it media. The wiki definition for media is “tools used to store and deliver information or data” That, for me, is a smartphone now! I also wondered how many media behemoths could boast of a million active advertisers. And that’s when it really struck me how much the traditional media we were used to have been sidelined – yes, they still get advertising revenue, but from a sheer reach perspective. Google, Facebook, YouTube and many more platforms get anywhere between a few million to a few hundred million visitors every day.  To put it all in perspective, TOI – the world’s largest English daily has a readership of over 7 million.

Media and advertising have had a very intertwined life, unless of course the publication/channel has been on solely a subscription based model. I think the magic of Facebook (and Google, before it) and those that followed is that they have democratised advertising by not just making it something any small business could spend on according to their means, but also giving them the ability to advertise according to contexts – intent, interest, social etc.  Though Google, Facebook etc are still intermediaries, they never flashed their powers, though the latter has begun to, recently. As brands move away from a one-size-fits-all mode of advertising, these platforms give them more options of form and function, and changing the face of advertising. (Google’s exploits are known, here’s a pertinent read on Facebook)

In such a scenario, what really does a traditional media channel have to offer to its consumers and clients? I’m not saying that they’re all going bankrupt next Sunday, but it’s clear which way the wind is blowing. One way, of course, is to use their brand value, and replicate (and grow) their audience on devices and platforms which better serve advertising interests. They can hone their value offerings by offering various contexts and their combinations – local, social, interests, and so on, and build business models for each. The early movers are already making big deals. But that is the red ocean that everyone is fighting for. How really can a player differentiate?

Biz_Is_The_ArtI had a vague thought. Media’s original strength was its relationship with users and the trust involved. In the social media era, how can that be leveraged? Flipboard has already allowed users to become curators and create their own magazines. Is that the future, along with shared revenue on advertising? What if users can also curate the advertising their ‘subscribers’ can see? After all advertising is also news/information and has a certain value depending on the source. Traditionally, media  has been the middle man between advertisers and users, but what happens when everyone is media? Can media start aggregating influencers in every domain, including niches, provide them the material for curation, negotiate on their behalf to relevant advertisers, and share the revenue? Perhaps the next  disruption will be the platform that can handle the complexities involved. What do you think?

until next time, mediator

Social Media Fatigue – an opportunity?

One of the interesting conversations happening on the web these days is on ‘social media fatigue’. As a user of many platforms, I can admit to having experienced this many a time in the near past. But it’s strange – fatigue for the networks we created. So I asked myself – what really causes it? Is it the overwhelming ‘pressure’ to be on top of everything that happens in one’s ‘social circles’? Or is it the other end -the boredom of seeing the same people having the same kind of discussions day after day?

As we first explore new networks, I have noticed that we often hunt for familiarity – either in terms of features, or people. For the purpose of this post, let’s stick to the latter. From personal experience, I have always wondered whether people (including me), in their efforts to be ‘always on’ and across multiple platforms miss out on broadening their world view, and exploring content beyond their natural haunts. A direct result of this is the paucity of topics beyond the day’s hot topic or #outrage or say, a done to death humour hashtag. All of the above are generalisations, since I’ve also been part of several interesting discussions on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn. Google+ actually works better for me these days, probably because it’s a new flavour. However, none of the networks have really nailed it in terms of connecting the user to new people who might be able to broaden our ‘scope’. On the contrary, most networks try to use a ‘people like you’ approach. And then probably, familiarity breeds contempt.

Also, as I’d mentioned earlier in the context of Google+ usage, people rarely make the effort to produce or even share different or differently packaged content for various networks. This means that, especially in new platforms, where networks start small, you are hit by the same content. After a while, familiar content can also breed contempt, I guess.

To minimise the fatigue, the hard work for now, given platform limitations, has to be carried out by the users – in production, distribution and consumption. It’s only recently that I started defining my relationship with the platforms – by answering the basic why, what, who, where, when questions. That has resulted in a comfort relationship, but I’ll be the first one to say that it’s not really optimised, which would also explain my continued experiments with various platforms.

For some time, I thought Google+ Circles, used in conjunction with Sparks, would make excellent ‘interest based’ communities, but then realised it was difficult to scale because Circles aren’t opt in i.e. someone has to add you to a circle, you cannot add yourself. Which leads me to the final point.

Thanks to this line of thought, I wondered whether brands could play a role in diminishing social media fatigue. The ‘constantly on top of news’ would require platform solutions, but there are two other opportunities. One, connecting users whose only link to each other would be the ‘stories’ associated with their brand/category. This link could then spawn new layers and associations between them. Two, sharing content that provides the user more perspective in his domain of interest. Obviously, the users to target here are the ones whose interest area overlaps with the brand’s own category. In both cases, there is a lot of data to be unearthed before working out a specific content/community strategy. So, if brands can ply their trade a little more smartly, life on on social networks could probably be a lot better. What say?

until next time, post fatigue? 😉

Brand Personalities

The discussions on anonymity are back in full force on the web, mostly courtesy Google’s stance against pseudonymity on Google+. Google has its reasons and is supposedly working on it.Considering that I represent myself as ‘manuscrypts’ and an icon/logo on most social networks, identity on the web is an issue that I can definitely relate to.

But when I consider this from a brands’ perspective, I sense an equally grey area. The brand is usually represented on social networks as a logo and a ‘voice’ that cannot be tied down to a person. Most studies indicate that consumers/users would rather talk to a person than a brand. But that also sets the stage for a BBC-Twitter like incident to happen, a scenario I had written about a couple of years back. I have seen only a few interesting alternatives. (eg. Chicago Tribune’s Twitter directory or adopting a persona like Hippo)  There is a different side to it too – how many brand managers would like to associate themselves with the product they manage? (for various reasons) When agencies manage social platforms on behalf of clients, what is the best way to present that? A person has many identities, some he/she wants to share, and some others he/she does not, a brand is rarely given this leeway.

I feel that in all the time that has elapsed since my earlier post, the networks have not yet built systems that allow brands to fully explore the ‘people-conversations’ aspect that makes social work. Twitter and Facebook, the premium players, both lack a way to surface the identities of the people tied to the brand, in context. There is only so much a Twitter bio can hold, and no one looks at the Info tab on Facebook. (LinkedIn is best placed, but very few brand centric discussions happen there.) The focus, whether it’s Facebook’s Ads API or Twitter’s promoted tweets, seems to be on broadcast, albeit more targeted. Foursquare is still early in the game, but the self-serve brand pages are a decent step. I hope Google considers all this when they do allow brands to play on Google+.

If a platform does manage to work it out, it would be helpful for all concerned. Brands could apportion responsibilities. Monitoring systems and reaction mechanisms could build in roles, ‘filters’ and ‘rights’ accordingly, and users would know exactly who to speak to for what issue? The other way, of course, is for brands to build that network themselves, feeding in data, personas and conversations from existing networks. That way, they can even assign responsibility to early adopters within the organisation to test out new platforms on their behalf, and communicate that. With the rise of SoLoMo (social, location, mobile), the need for a distributed social architecture is now of much importance.

until next time, a brand’s personal identity

Weekly Top 5

This week's top news include LinkedIn's growth, integration with Slideshare, Zynga's 'Empires and Allies', Cityville's mobile release, their lawsuit against Vostu, Angry Birds updates, Windows' new SDK, move to HTML5, the new

Nokia Windows Phone, Yahoo's new search tools, potential Hulu acquisition, Google's online reputation management tools, search updates, and adding communication abilities to Chrome.


Brands & Niche Networks

For a while now, I have believed that one of the inevitable consequences of the sprawling social networks we see around today, would be niche networks. This is not something we don't see around already – in fact, most of the networks or users address it in their own ways – groups/pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, lists and cliques on Twitter.

But I see niche networks as an evolutionary phase because currently, the popular networks seem to have been designed for mass, with features evolving when there was a demand – from the users or clients for more segregation. Users, because, sometimes even for the infovores, (apparently the term was the title of a book by Tyler Cowen – HT @uglybutbearable) the deluge of information without efficient filters meant that they were losing out on information they'd have liked to have, and businesses, because without more customisation options, social would just be another media/distribution platform. But social and mass seem to go intuitively together, so the usual way is to aggregate and then segregate.

(Bonus: Great read on filtering by JP Rangaswami on his blog)

However, there are many manifestations of niche networks that I can already see emerging. Ashton Kutcher, whom I'd consider a personality brand, has built his own custom Twitter app with the help of Ubermedia

. A new service called MyCube, still in private beta, is offering users the ability to monetise their information. (via) Raptr, a social networking service for gamers is customising users' news streams extremely well using the information it has on its users. (via)

The only commonality here is that all these seem to be moving away from a mass design to one that's meant for smaller/more specific user sets. Of course, the existing large networks can always figure a way for users themselves to be filters and recommend appropriate things to their own network, (eg. Facebook's new feature) but that's a rewiring.

But I believe that the rise of the niche networks provides an excellent opportunity for brands to get into the thick of things and 'own' the domains they operate in. Nike+ has always been a favourite. I also think Toyota's approach to social networking, built with help from Salesforce is a good first step. The challenge, as always, will be to find ways of how a user need can be satisfied with a new offering that is synced enough with his familiar territory (existing networks) for his experience to be as frictionless as possible. If brands can do that well, they will have built something that's not utterly dependent on the vagaries of current and emerging media platforms.

until next time, admoniche :)


Weekly Top 5

This week’s stories include LinkedIn’s Android app and its developer platform, Bing’s increasing market share and Bing Business Portal, Facebook’s ownership and Open Commute Project, a few apps on the iPad, Larry Page’s reorganisation in Google, acquisitions by Google and YouTube Live.

New media indeed

When I wrote this in last week’s post – “‘social’ as it relates to friends and followers’ overrules ‘social’ as a relationship between brand and consumer”, in the context of how brands use social media, I also became  more conscious that despite me relating to Facebook and Twitter as a means to connect with friends, the platforms themselves were clearly seen as a media by the world at large. Even LinkedIn now apparently has a news aggregator.

It is true that I consume large amounts of content via (or on) Facebook and Twitter, but I have always seen it as content shared by friends, not as media like a newspapers or TV channels. It is probably because I have always associated media with information and entertainment and never social. But that’s only a personalised view, I realise. The larger picture shows a content delivery platform – media. I guess when social scaled it didn’t know what else to do but become media. Interesting how the new media platforms worked from social connection towards utility and the old media are trying to make the journey from info and entertainment to social.

And thus when I saw a few recent Facebook developments, I viewed it through the prism of FB as media. Facebook launched Sponsored Stories a while back, using friends’ actions as an ‘advertisement’. It updated Pages giving functionalities that helped brands interact more. Now it has completely knocked off the ‘Share’ button and replaced it with an omnipotent ‘Like’ button that will transmit a story blurb complete with thumbnail instead of the earlier single line in ‘Recent Activity’. (details) Publishers won’t complain since content will be more visible now. Facebook’s comment box plugin also got revamped with better moderation, social algorithms to surface the comments that will be most interesting to you (indicated by social signals from friends) and better distribution – now, when a user utilises the “Post to Facebook” button on a site with FB comments enabled, it can be replied to on FB and will automatically be reflected on the original website as well. If the publisher has a Page on FB, it can respond to the comment and include the people who have ‘Liked’ the page into the conversation. (details) That’s a first from FB – allowing conversations to go out. Wonder what they’re after – interest graph, a perpetually signed-in user, sole web identity provider, all of the above? But in essence, a new media platform that connects publishers with users. And in this age, brands are after all content creators too, eh?

I would think the progression is obvious – first build a user base with awesome features, then focus on publishers  (including brands) who will make it a distribution channel, and the next step would be to make the advertisers spend more.

While Google is busy dealing with content farms in search results, I realise that we have very little means to stay away from the Facebook way of throwing content at us. Watch your newsfeed as Facebook uses you and the content publisher to make itself more indispensable as a platform. Like I tweeted, the hope is that in trying to be everything – mailbox, location, photo storage, for everyone, Facebook might lose itself. The effect all this will have on ‘trust’ in networks, I’ll leave for another post.

Media has always been aggregating audiences by providing information..+entertainment..+social connections… and then leasing it to brands. (advertisers) With advances in technology, it’s perhaps time for brands to create their own direct lines to consumers, outside of the new media barons. Otherwise, in their immediate comfort state of using yet another platform as media, the way they’re accustomed to, it is possible that they will continue to be at the mercy of a third party and have to play by their rules, sometimes at the risk of antagonising the end user.

until next time, mediators = media + dictators? 😉