Thursday, 28 May 2009

Why isn't part of Chris Brogan's vision

A couple of days ago Chris Brogan wrote an extremely insightful piece about what the new Media Company could look like. He describes a more dynamic and decentralised entity with an emphasis on collaboration and a focus on developing themes over time. A colleague of mine summed up parts of it nicely 'no narrative should now be definitive'. 

It's a theme that is starting to dovetail with a whole bunch of conversations around the publishing and ongoing existence of content and where and how it should exist online. I wrote last week about Jeremiah Owyang's view of our march towards social commerce a theme he expanded on Social Web TV  a week or so ago. It's relevant here because he is envisaging the need for a structured fragmentation of identities that will allow users to participate in conversations and ultimately transactions wherever they are on the web. All part of the same future collaborative status quo that Brogan is envisaging.

At the same time Adam Ostrow over at Mashable is riffing about the death of the destnation URL. Again it's a conversation about content's existence and where a company should concentrate it's effort i.e. do you want to force customers to come to you or do you go to where your customers already are and collaborate there.

April Dunford wrote an interesting piece about how Brogan's vision should be adopted by marketeers, a view I very much agree with, because the themes are really about collaboration and remaining open to outside influence. As April puts it  'If you are in marketing, you are in the communications business and the way we are communicating is changing, in my opinion, for the better.'

So within this context I was interested to read about the relaunch of the UK men's style magazine. Obviously this is just one publication and not a company, however against a backdrop of increasing collaborative working I wanted to see how it stacked up. 

On first view it really looked like it had hit the mark, it had what I now think of as that 'Wordpressy' blog look, but what about the content. Oh my, no ability to comment. They appear to have launched a blog with no collaborative capability. So I tried a video link, nope nothing there either unless you want to leave the site and participate on Youtube itself. Frankly, it's weird, I've come to expect to be able to converse about everything everywhere, whether I'm interested or not and in this particular sector even more so.

So I went back to Brogan's article and pulled out his proof points to see how Esquire stacked up against them:
  • Stories are points in time, but won’t end at publication. (Edits, updates, extensions are next.) Doesn't look like that's the plan the content's light and some simply looks like straightforward advertorial.
  • Curators and editors rule, and creators aren’t necessarily on staff. Nope that doesn't look like it's gonna happen
  • Media cannot stick to one form. Text, photos, video, music, audio, animation, etc are a flow. They are publishing in mixed media in fairness.
  • Everything must be portable and mobile-ready. (Mobile devices need to evolve here, too). Not great on my Nokia and even on my iPhone it's pretty shoddy.
  • Everything must have collaborative opportunities. If I write about a restaurant, you should have wikified access to add to the article directly. Definitely not, probably it's greatest failing.
  • Advertising cannot be the primary method of revenue. No trashy banner advertising.
  • In-line content marketing, clearly delineated/disclosed/explained is one revenue stream. One of many. Yes this does seem to be the case
  • Contributors come in many shapes: onstaff, partner (how pros like TechCrunch link to Washington Post), guest (for love and glory only), and conversational. Nope just looks like staffers to me.
  • Value-add services are another revenue stream. Why not book hotels and flights from my travel magazine directly? Why not buy how-to information on marketing from Ad Age or FastCompany? This looks like how the revenue model is likely to work or certainly it's set up to be able to do that
  • Collaboration rules. Why should I pick the next cover? Why should my picture of the car crash be the best? Nope that aint happening
  • Everything is modular and linkable. Everything is fluid. Meaning, if I want the publication to be a business periodical, then I don’t want to have to read a piece about sports. Nope it's five sections take it or leave it
  • Paper isn’t dead: it’s on demand. With Esquire I do think they can survive as online inexorably grows and there will continue to be a market for the paper publication.
So in summary it looks like they've got the commercials right, which is nice for Esquire, but in terms of long term value for their readers this has to go down as an epic fail. This is old style print publishing for web, I really thought big publishers would have got over it by now. It seems not. 

In yesterday's NMA announcement Jeremy Longmead Esquire's editor was quoted “It became clear that a well-designed niche website with a cerebral heart would have much more appeal and we’re very pleased with the finished result.” and there in lies the problem. The focus is on the design not the content, or at least not how the content exists in the new world and as an editor that should have been the key issue. Design is becoming less important, yes it's nice to have beautiful design but it always has to be led by the content.

My feeling and it's with sadness I say this because I actually don't mind Esquire is that it will be dead in a couple of years if it doesn't embrace collabortive content generation. I hope it takes steps in the right direction.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Twitter in real life

For me Twitter has now almost completely surplanted my iGoogle RSS feed reader, but for many it sems to be being used as a Facebook extension which just misses the point and so says College Humour.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Getty Images Data fail

I was sent a link to a new Getty Images social application 27 letters launched recently which promised me the ability to track trends in image usage and buzz around specific image generation across the web.

About time too I thought, Getty have rapidly been losing ground to other social image sites such as Flickr for quite a while now and appear to have been clinging to an old print led model. So this promised much and when I first opened the link it looked very promising so I clicked to register and this is when I realised they were still stuck in the old business models.

I was faced with a barrage of requests for my personal information all of which were mandatory and all of which allowed me to open an account with Getty. It was quite obvious that this information would be fed directly back in to their central model and into an existing customer segmentation model.

You have to question the objectives of launching a social application like this. To my mind it should be about developing an engaging experience for as wide a range of customers as possible across the social web. In Getty's case it should be to entice the millions of bloggers and publishers away from cheaper and often free sources of imagery to an often higher quality of image that can really enhance a creative execution.

In pursuit of that it is my opinion that you should provide as open access as you possibly can to your applications, that means asking for as little data about your customers as possible up front and then providing multiple optional overlays to customers to add additional details, profiles and preferences to enhance their experience. This provides an easy route to the content you're sharing.

Once there, it is important that you understand usage patterns and the paths that users take around the web to help build a new prospect data model related directly to usage of the social application. This does not preclude you adding this data to your existing database and possibly fitting it into an existing segmentation model, however it does require that you undertake some development work with your database to ensure that you capture new usage patterns and start to understand new customer engagement.

In short I actually like this application alot and so do a lot of the guys here in the studio, but we're all pre-existing customers. If you're going to attract new users and a new customer base you need to look at new ways of workings. Until that point it's going to be difficult to grow the customer base.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The social web is coming of age

When Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web I doubt he imagined it would be hijacked by the world and his wife to relocate their store front. Thankfully 15 or so years on the internet's moving back to a place where people connect, share and chat, only this time it's got a prettier interface.

Forrester's Jeremiah Owyang recently defined what he sees as the 5 eras of social web with a belief that we will reach an era of full peer to peer social commerce as early as 2011.

Now in reality elements of this is happening already. Meebo for example's got IM under control, Facebook Connect's launch really looks like it's going to revolutionise open ID and indeed Business Week's assessment last week was that social networks will turn the portal model on it's head and become infused throughout the web and become entirely embedded rather than providing a destination point through which everything else flows.

Now I already buy an awful lot as a result of following or being followed on Twitter and I look forward to a time when via open ID I can take my social profile across the web and look for peer recommendation on all sites I visit. However, I also work with clients that simply aren't set up to offer this functionality or anywhere close in the next couple of years. Now many would say that these businesses will simply die, however while I have no doubt that a couple of the less agile corporates may go under, because they fail to adapt to new busines models I refuse to believe we are entering a completely new paradigm. This is a case where Bill Gate's technology innovation quote really stands up. I guess all we can do is wait and see.