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September 2007 Archives

September 10, 2007

Social Web Bill of Rights

Social Web Bill of Rights. Overall, too today and not focused far enough into the future.

I'm a little bummed. It is still impossible to be in two places at the same time. So while present in India I've missed out on Office2.0 and the Data Sharing Summit and getting to discuss the Social Web Bill of Rights. Like many I could simply say I'm in; I've been a supporter, worked on the issues and written manifestos over the years.

What I believe is we are closer / closing in on a time where this is really relevant to you me and us. It's less and less a theoretical exercise. However the simplicity of what's portrayed glosses over what  "we" really require and the starting points. I'm assuming that the originators of this Bill can clarify what's required just to execute on it. So I've added my comments / questions per line. The number one test I'd apply is a 10 year thought experiment.

Will this Bill of Rights stand up in 10 years. I simply don't think so. Beyond the "I own my information" the bullets focus on profiles and sharing etc. These are simply written focused on the agendas required to more effectively interconnect the social web today. That's necessary. The real business opportunity is when each of us is provided with an empowered identity.

A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web
We publicly assert that all users of the social web are entitled to certain fundamental rights, specifically:
* Ownership of their own personal information, including: -their own profile data, -the list of people they are connected to -the activity stream of content they create;

My interpretation goes beyond whatever data I shared or fields i filled. The only way you will give be ownership of my information is if you create a public / private encryption key which enables me certain controls and contractual arrangements with site where I either create, share, reinsert or repurpose data that I have ownership and distribution rights to.

Thus: Does my data have an expiry date? I presume the above was written from a perspective of "public data". Similarly if my data changes or I change my data flow what are the contractual relationships with the site? Must the data be resynchronized? So we have expiry, synchonization controls built in.

* Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and

I think this means that we have "creative commons" like arrangements for "USAGE". Eg if I share data with you... or I share with you and my friends or etc. For example if I share my data on another site... should only my friends which already have usage rights be able to see it? There need to be legal remedies for taking a screen shot and repurposing info if the authorization wasn't granted.

This also means we require an identity system that enables each and everyone of us to control access on a per relationship basis if required. For the most part we will control it by groups; friends, family, colleagues etc.

* Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.

I think this means that if I put the information in.. then I can get it out. Frankly Twitter proves  better than any other site that if you enable individuals to repurpose and forward data through your system the value of that information grows exponentially. The determination of which sites I want to onshare my info to... or simply insert my RSS feed  should remain under my control at all times.

So to summarize....
I require meta controls a meta layer on my data that enables access. 1)Access control starts with strong encryption. I then need 2)privacy settings, 3)synchronization, 4)usage (you see this picture only in this IM exchange or for all time etc) and finally 5)expiry controls.

Sites supporting these rights shall:
* Allow their users to syndicate their own profile data, their friends list, and the data that's shared with them via the service, using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats;
* Allow their users to syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site;
* Allow their users to link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way; and * Allow their users to discover who else they know is also on their site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup within the service.

As for sites supporting this. I simply don't think we are asking for either enough or setting the bar high enough. The focus is on enabling users to interconnect elements of their lifestreams using a unique identity that they have chosen. We should be insuring that all these sites where we put this data and link events or notes to our names are searchable. The real benefit to me comes when I can do the following.

When I leave a blog comment the social web means I can aggregate it back at any time simply by searching for my identity.  Currently all such activities are fragmented and lost they are not part of some stream or hooked to RSS. If we really want to be able to stream information then any action / activity that we participate in should be enabled in such a way that we can restream it out of search. In my view David W is right with everything is miscellaneous. The social web doesn't work until we've empowered data to address this.

Overall I applaud the desire here. I don't see a change coming for "us" in the short term from the techno digerati. Until we start with empowering users and providing them with control over their information at the point of initiation then we really aren't enabling "control".

Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, Mike Arrington and Joseph Smarr put together the Social Media User's Bill of Rights.

 Lots of comments on the Open Social web site. My buddy Phil Wolff also adds 18 questions. In the end many  users just don't care. The reason we are interested now is  the opportunity to lifestream our information. We've recognized that  we are tweeting, blogging, updating Facebooks etc. The real change is connectivity and learning now comes from being interconnected into social hubs. The downside is managing them and we are asking for life to be simplified.

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September 11, 2007

Facebook - Blinkers

I furled a link the other day to Danah's post on Facebook her confusion and Scobles answer. Stowe adds here that openness is an abstraction; at least for now and that is certainly my conclusion after talking to many users.

Why do we have our blinkers on?
I'm in Scoble's camp. Seeing what our friends are trying out is compelling. Add to that reading or bookmark notations and it is a powerful mix. For the non digerati I can see they get most of the benefits of an RSS reader with additional benefits of personal recommendations (eg I added this app or play this music). 

ReUse: I'm personally pissed off that what I put into Facebook I cannot get out. I cannot us changes in my context outside Facebook. By contrast I can extend my Twitter updates almost anywhere. Facebook will be superceded because it fails to enable sharing outside of Facebook. In the meantime it is the best place on earth to learn how it works as a learning accelerator.

Privacy in Facebook is meaningless, hidden and unmanageable. Until this is reframed around a relationship construct you may as well assume all is public. I note that Robert wants per content privacy. I'd disagree that flickr gets this right. In fact I don't know one social networking service that provides the level of control ultimately required. See also my post yesterday on the Social Web.

Groups: I see limited success with groups. Few have any real activity; most are just beacons and associations where you may meet other individuals. They appear to work better around events. Many groups are formed based on the title of the group. Few people seem to exit a group preferring to leave the links on their profile pages.

Buddies: I was astonished to learn that Facebook was capping numbers at 5000. For me I believe Facebook is likely to be the first app where we routinely see 1000+ contacts per person. Think Lifestream of everyone you have ever met. Until recently, none of these networking tools seemed to generate lists of more than 100. Not long ago most IM clients were limited to one hundred names. The numbers I see on Facebook continue to turn over these assumptions. Concurrently Twitter has nicely inserted the "follow" function. It may become very hard to move your Facebook list in a few years. If so.... then Facebook will have replaced the WhitePages and the Yellow Pages.

Search: Facebook is the best directory currently on earth. It's for the most part current, relatively people centric, structured enough to be informative. I find the search function sucks. Going public may not make this better.

Facebook isn't perfect. As Jeff Pulver blogged in July; "What's your Facebook strategy?" whether you are an individual or large organization you need to think about this. While the nore correct question focuses more broadly on What's Your Social Media Strategy? (JP Update) there is no doubt that Facebook is worth time and effort. 

Finally, I don't have my blinkers on. If someone would give me:
1) the capability to plug facebook apps into my blog platform then I may well be happy; particularly if it connected and linked registered friends via OpenID.
2)Make it easy for those that want to share or follow me to provide their feeds so I have sources I can syndicate based on my interest level and who they are. Why don't they just come with the wordpress / OpenID profile?
3)Give me some relationship controls in my feeds. Similarly give me controls that enable me to broadcast when I add an app or new newsfeed etc.

I have this suspicion that bloglike platforms with better Identity related meta-data could be the basis for a P2P distributed Facebook. If I was Google it's what I'd be building today. The Portal is dead... even the People's Portal unless it really just becomes a conduit for accelerated sharing.

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September 12, 2007

iPhone Birthday - Xmas Wish List

My daughters birthday falls in December each year. As a teenager it either a shopping spree or some new tech product; ipod, phone, computer etc. So I'm already preparing for the Birthday / Christmas wishes. Without talking about it I sense an iPhone request coming up. I see this coming even though she already has one of the coolest phones in school.

She runs around with an Nokia N73 which she's had for a year. The camera (3 megapx and auto focus) adds to the joy that she gets from it. However after a year she doesn't really use it for music (she did at first - but it doesn't synch as easily as an ipod) and she doesn't and won't get an unlimited data plan on our budget. Her old ipod mini is tired out and she postponed getting a video over the summer.

I've been in the Apple stores and played with the iPhone for at least a couple of hours. I've watched people using them etc. I'm certain that my daughter would get more out the iPhone than her current device. The only other options that compete with extending and putting her on a WiFi connection are either more expensive Nokia N80 or Nokia N95 (both of which I use) and frankly not as effective for web browsing; music etc. While I'm like Stowe and his views on the N95 (a camera that is everything else) and the use that brings me.... most users  don't have the technology interest or the "learning curve" perseverance to get the best use out of it. I know this for a certainty having had my whole family on Nokia Smartphones. They simply aren't using the extra features and that is why Apple's iPhone is going to infect my family and be expressed as "want it" by my kids.

The iPhone is enabling a social conversation around music, you tube, browsing etc. The screen is large enough and thus it is easy to teach others or show them exactly what's cool. I've virtually never handed off my N95 and said listen to this. However I know I could hand off an iPhone and my friend etc will already know how to navigate my music. Similarly with the browser etc. iTunes has created a pre-trained user base for smarts and desire.

From my perspective the game has radically changed. A few years ago I asked Nokia. Motorola and others "What's your Skype strategy?" That has been partially answered by all the WiFi phones they are launching and the new sites that Nokia is announcing as an internet company. In this rush forward its not always been made simpler. The applications that win on my mobile today are gmail, google reader, google maps, facebook, jajah, agilemessenger. Podcasting and YouTube etc while there are just not easy enough to use or never updated or if auto updated kills my battery life. The Skype question was just part of "where should you be going?".

Apple's iPhone price reduction upset a lot of people. I really doubt
Steve Jobs had preplanned it. However, as a strategic move it was
brilliant. He is now in a position to launch unlocked iPhones across
the globe at a price that undercuts all the NSeries phones. He doesn't
yet have the channels of distribution in place. However, when an N73
retails for more than an iPhone you know a price cut is in order. There
is more going on here than just a price cut; it is disruptive strategy
at it's best... and even the discussion will help to sell more iPhones.

The last barrier to adding an iPhone to my household was an AT&T service contract. Engadget reports today iUnlock released: the first free, open source iPhone SIM unlock software - Engadget. That's good enough for me. I know by the time I have to buy it... I can run it on T-Mobile. I won't require a new contract etc. She won't get a data plan; however the wifi will bring in all the data she wants.

Now to see if my predicted request comes true. Plus will there be enough iPhones in stock at Christmas? My guess on stocks there will be. Something Apple understands better than all the other mobile operators and suppliers is Christmas Retail.  Their product assortment coming into  Xmas looks  unreal.  Apple stores may be the only ones that will be able to approach the claim that every family in America visited one in the lead up to Xmas.

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Displaced Chat - Micro Bridges

Jeremy Wagstaff had a thoughtful post last week about Facebook and used the description "displaced chat" as a way to interact without directly approaching them. I think this is very similar to the advice given when jumping in at a party. Listen first. Facebook provides the opportunity to listen and contribute in context; it creates micro-bridges for conversation. It does this without the user having to learn about RSS etc. We become better as a society and community when we learn to listen. That is part of the Facebook appeal... the sense that others are listening.

Jeremy compares it to Skype and the network effect. Facebook like Skype has tipped and we will have a hard time moving off of it. Unlike Jeremy I don't think something will come along in six months to replace it.  However the battle  for retention is increasing. Google just added a newsfeed to Orkut (inevitable) it does more and less that Facebook.

I call it "displaced chat" -- partly because I have pretensions to academia, and partly because I believe it describes a way for people to interact with others without directly approaching them.

Of course, we shouldn't get too excited about this. Something will come along to dethrone Facebook soon enough (I give it six months; once everyone has basically hooked up with everyone they know or want to know, there's not many places to go.)

But, as with Skype, it doesn't matter. The gates have opened. A whole new bunch of people have embraced a technological innovation -- social networking online - and found that it's easier than they thought. And more rewarding. 

Facebook's task is to keep the community learning faster; thus public listings is in my view a good step. They don't let us import enough feeds or export enough. They should take an active role in identity development. They should augment communications etc. In a short time Developers may well be saying that Facebook (like Skype did / does) eats their children (- the developers that create value added applications). Skype failed to keep community momentum. By contrast Google continues to have momentum.

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September 13, 2007

Redefining Communications

I've been using the Jeff Jarvis - Dell Hell case for years; so I was interested today when I saw Andy Lark had taken a job with Dell as VP Global Marketing & Communications. Let's hope we see more companies announcing roles like this interpreted in this way.

Andrew Lark: The Larks Are On The Move

Some other things excited me about the opportunity. Communications is being transformed as a profession and practice – we’re entering a new era in which content, conversations and community are becoming defining forces. As they do, transparency, evidence and corporate journalism really matter. Technology enables us to directly engage our audiences and deliver an unfiltered view – in return we get critical conversations and feedback. I will be able to combine my passion for social media and marketing with that I have for communications on a massive playing field.
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September 24, 2007

India Photos - Latest Trip

I've just returned from three weeks in India.  Two working hard and one week of vacation traveling through the southern state of Kerala; a most beautiful part of India. I have lots of observations and I took hundreds of pictures. I learnt about tea and tea plantations, and took a trip through the backwaters and canals of Kerala on a houseboat. The food is awesome and different. This is a part of the world which I love to go back to. I'd take two or three weeks next time.  It was all very offline! The pictures should be enough to convince anyone.

There are times I still lust for a "real camera" you know SLR big lens, etc. Then I'm glad I no longer lug them all around. I'd still like more camera than my current Nokia N95 provides and yet it more than meets my expectations of a good snap camera. It also integrates nicely with iPhoto and the Nokia Multimedia transfer. As a result I've given up on the Nokia Lifeblog and moved all my photos into iPhoto. As for my camera... it is like the Amercan Express saying. I never leave home without it.

You can find more photos here. Note it is just coming into season; Monsoon season is just finishing. There were few tourists around now. It meant grey skys for the most part and some rain. The temperature was perfect around 80 during the day.

I keep asking myself what's more camera when in a mobile. Sometime I should try and answer that.

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September 25, 2007

India Online - in the palm of your hand.

What's your strategy for India? Would you rethink it if you thought that in less than 3 years 250 million could be online, with an email account, networking on Orkut and responding to localized ads? This is not completely far fetched. Even if the number is only half that, it's quite possible if we look at the mobile as the computer in the palm of your hand.

When I first went to India 18 months ago it was still unusual to see an auto-rickshaw driver with a cellphone. This trip every driver / cabbie that drove me around had a phone. The houseboat captain had a phone etc. Today even in the smaller villages you can recharge your prepaid mobile. I've experienced Indian "broadband" (256kbps if you are lucky) in the home and noted that it is hard to buy routers and Wi-Fi accessories from the local electronics store. Concurrently,VoIP lines are going into homes; most of the infrastructure seems to be creaking from the pace of growth; customer service is often lousy and billing may be a mess. Phones will always come before PC's.

I know the big players in mobile (eg Vodaphone and Nokia) already understand why India is "THE" market they must win in. Many other tech players understand this. Eg Orkut and Google, probably HP etc. I also believe many companies don't or many not be managing it well. Eg Yahoo, Dell, Motorola and many more.

I keep returning to India because I believe successful global companies and startups must all have an India strategy and you won't understand it from 12000 miles away. The impact of mobile growth is only one of the reasons and the focus of this post. The "numbers" simply dwarf other markets (other than China). As these new users come on line they will tip product development, reshape the web and teach us new ways to interact. Real innovations in mobile are likely to come out of India.

The rough numbers:

Internet: Approx: 40 million online of which 25 million are active (weekly). Of that 10 to 12 million are on Orkut and most probably have a Gmail account. Note in India there is only 40 million landlines. Internet access is dialup or a choice of DSL and Cable. Speeds remain slow. A Reliance wireless network connection remains a viable or only option for some.

Mobile. The number ranges from about 180m to 240m. The article below uses 185m of which 39.46m are rural. Thus approx 20% of the user base in India is now rural. Penetration in major cities is approaching 50% while rural penetration ranges from 3% to just over 20%. Of the next 250 million users that go mobile at least 100m will be rural!

Growth: Mobile dwarfs Internet / PC market. In two to three years India will have doubled the current number of users. I have a suspicion that many Internet users are "Users at work"; Orkutting as soon as they arrive at the office. They may not have a connection at home. Internet in the home is likely to remain disappointing.

Other leading indicators that are important!

Airtel recently announced and has been promoting Prepaid for Life. This means you buy a prepaid SIM 495rp and the number never expires (requires 200rp spend every 180 days). It's clever as it provides phones for those that can't even afford to make calls.

Vodaphone which bought Hutch back in Feb 2007 has recently changed the name and is has announced new links to Orkut. Concurrently Google is offering an Adsense like program for Mobile. See this article for Google details. Nokia is also active in this space (see enpocket).


What we really do today with computers can be done on mobile. email, directories, networking, search, maps etc. Enable all these mobile phones with email accounts / Orkut accounts and you are looking at 100+ million users in no time flat. Given the price differential for mobile advertising rates and it is easy to see how Google can potentially arrange a revenue split with carriers. It's not too far fetched to see limited mobile data connections being "free" as a result.

Broadband to the home in India will remain disappointing. It will lag behind mobile growth. Already programs like Reliance NetConnet (USB to PC or PCCard) are popular 3G programs and the coverage is reaching deep into rural areas. The speed can be variable and is often not much better than a dialup connection. I am fairly sure GPRS can not scale to the data requirements of hundreds of millions going online. Thus only the infrastructure and its installation is likely to stall or frustrate the growth of online mobile web users.

It needs to be free: They aren't going to pay for it as they don't understand the value. They want email but it must be free etc. They will happily view an ad while an email is downloaded. Ads can be ajaxed down earlier and retained in the background.

Big Education Job: Only a combined effort by Mobile operators, perhaps Google and businesses can make this happen. It's not impossible. Just a few years ago almost no one had a cellphone in India. Most people in India still don't really have an address (street address). Given the speed of adoption of the mobile - they will want these!

Whether you are a marketer, run commerce, trade, provide services etc. it is time to prepare your strategy for India. The numbers are just too huge. The companies that learn how to reach these new communicators and create the channels for conversation will create powerful platforms for growth. The battle will move to the handset and will never be for the desktop in India.

September 26, 2007

Flow! Requires Voice Messaging not Voice Mail

Dan York writes a thoughtful piece on how we use telephony today; particularly voice. He looks at the flow and concudes that communications seldom start with a voice call anymore. I've written similarly on these pages before. He also notes the importance of presence. What I'd add to this piece is the question. Why do we need voice mail?

I have written extensively about the difference between voice messaging and voice mail and here in "The Future is Voice Messaging", etc. Voice mail as Dan points out is effectively a failure case. What needs to be done? Allow me to turn off my voice mail. Allow me to redirect the caller to the communications medium that my current state and thus context are preferred by me for this caller.

When communications becomes flow then the flow must be controlled by the receiver not by the caller / sender etc. It's no different to answering your front door. It's time for a more effective gateway.

Disruptive Telephony: Telephony is disrupted because voice no longer matters... (as much)

The fact that voice is no longer quite as critical gives us the freedom to explore how it can be used in different ways. Plus, we need to answer the question - if voice isn't the most critical way to communicate, what is? How do we integrate it all together? What do you think? What is your communication flow?

So, let me today turn off my voice mail on my cellphone. It's the perfect signal for I'm not available right now - please send me an SMS... which is frankly many times more efficient at kicking off and framing the conversation. It also may only need a quick SMS back. Then let me begin to use Voice Messaging.

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Windermere Estate - Hotel Blogs?

Does any hotelier really blog yet? While tripping though the Madupatty Tea Plantation in Munnar I stayed at a very small resort catering to 30 people. Given the season it was almost deserted with a small tour group of Brit's staying there. This cottages style inn was a perfect quiet getaway and as the Innkeeper told me they sort of like to keep it that way. Partially because the property with 60 acres of Cardamom and Coffee was more a labor of love than a business. As I know from New Zealand lodges; this size of venue can make big profits difficult. Still we got to talking about blogs and marketing.

I'm convinced that a blog would serve this small establishment well. With limited online presence today (listed on a couple of travel sites) their business is coming primarily via referrals. As it should be, the food and atmosphere was fantastic. In fact one of these sites allowed comments and one related to this establishment was very negative while others like me are resoundingly positive. So as part of a little brainstorming we discussed some options and opportunities for blog content that would create a perfect conversational opportunity.

John's question to me was where would the content come from... we are only a simple hotel. I quickly replied:

Content you have... Menu's, a favorite recipe (the desserts were very British and quaint) updates on their building plans and new rooms / cottages. News about the staff, news around the surrounding area. It doesn't need that many posts; just a way to keep it fresh. Note the seasons, the weather patterns etc. Plus most importantly... do what he was doing with me. Talk to visitors. That's why he's now building cottages with larger decks. It was requested by guests. Tell the visitors stories of Top Station, Masala Chai, the local town etc. Keep it simple and keep it short.

Guestbook entries. Turn a comments blog into guestbook updates. It's common practice in these resorts to ask you to sign the guestbook and leave some feedback about your stay. In fact I'd go further. Ask visitors if I could take their picture (plenty of great back drops there). Then just upload to flickr, tag with windermeremunnar. These too can be brought back into the blog.

It really made me think about creating a simple "post visit" handout... how you can share your pictures, share your visit and keep up to date on Munnar etc. Let them know how to subscribe etc. Create a Facebook group for who's visited etc. Great method for marketing later on. I've never gotten one of these from any hotel. I think it is time.

I'd understood that many of their visitors were in the retired state however all those I saw had digital cameras. I'm sure many of these visitors are already sharing photos. If so... it is time to give them the "tag" windermeremunnar so it's easy to find pictures of the surrounding area. It already returns pictures. See Google.

Which brought our discussion around to Google. I'm a big fan of search results. While John wants to stay under the radar there is already plenty about Hotel Windermere Estate on the web. It's slightly buried. Anyone with some diligent search skills who's looking for a place like this will turn it up. Still the booking was sight unseen. What was persuasive were the comments from others. Like this one:

"The place was a true find right in the heart of tea country. It was an incredible experience complete with the owner personally saying goodbye. " Bernadette, United States (12.01.06)

That would be so much more powerful on their site. These are comments picked up by the booking agency after the stay. Just imagine what is already in their guestbook. The comment above really captured for me the "owner" saying goodbye. We also discussed how you can check for tags, posts, links etc. Subscribe to Google news, the local news, technorati etc. Easy to set up, it probably is worth paying more attention. If you are the hotelier and I've blogged you you probably want to follow-up with a comment. It's that personal touch that really matters. Linking blogs to their stories will create an even better rating and ranking.

In the end the best reason I have for them creating a blog is to provide me with the opportunity to say... Go to www.windermeremunnar.com you will see what I'm talking about. That would help me evangelize them and result no doubt in more referrals. I frankly think it is time for almost every little hotel to have some form of blog. More many a good blog would probably mean I can't afford to stay there any longer. Anyway, I think John was choosey about his guests. It was a pleasure to stay there.

It's worth commenting on Hotel blogs in general. Googling Hotel Blogs gets you Bill Marriott who writes Why Do I Blog?

When your family's name is on the building or you are the person clearly identified with the company, everything you say or do affects the business, good or bad. In this fascinating information age, you certainly have to be transparent.

I can't get too excited about his blog; it's to do with the tone and I don't think it is really designed to engage in conversations, or capture the experiences of people that stay in Marriotts. With the coming explosion of geo-tagging of photos and more, there is a huge opportunity to be bring our stories and images back into where it happened. Example I was at Airlie last year. We tagged our photos all the same. It created a great group collection. I'd think many conferences would run the same. It's easy to create examples of public content. It's being created in venues like this everyday. The challenge for organizations like this is to bring the content and the content back in to a hub of experiences and then help us get the gist of it.

Part of this blog post was to prove that blogs matter to small hotels. I told John I'd get a listing and visibility on Google. I checked today on Madupatty Tea and found all my pictures uploaded yesterday now outranked the tatatea.com/madupatty site.

Also a word of caution. Munnar is off the beaten track. 120 km from Cochin it took almost 5 hours slow and twisty drive to get there. While there you can take a quick tour of a micro working tea plant at the tea museum. Don't forget to get a genuine Masala Chai. There is trekking in the environs although my guess is a two or three days is all you will need. Although it could be a perfect place to go and write a book for a few months

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September 27, 2007

Search - Still the best reason to blog your company

What and how are you managing the conversation points around your business?

When I first started blogging I focused on two words strategy + innovation. I got a kick out of having Google return me ahead of consultancies like McKinsey and BCG. Similarly I monitored search words like conversational + blogging (listed blog post) and re purposed blogging ideas like team+brief (listed blog post).  These last two searches return posts from 2003 that are still listed in the top 10 returns.  Listing like these provide authority and I could provide many other examples. I still watch for new word combinations to see how they list and what impact it means for your visibility. Eg Manifesto Social Networking.

Yesterday I blogged about a small exclusive hotel. This morning anyone that looks up this hotel and does a little searching will return and read my post. This can be proven and apply to almost any small business. So my question today is... What and where are the Conversation Points around your business and how are you participating?

Similarly, my tags obviously return on technorati. As tagging become more common place unique tags and how you talk about your business become more important. Look at this view of technorati today for Windermere Estate. My blog post appears. So does a picture and perhaps if I'd uploaded a video that too. Review returns like this and you can review how you may be able to participate in the conversation.

Being part of the conversation starts with search. Jeremiah Owyang (btw google "web+strategy") had a beautifully detailed post Web Strategy (Advanced): Applying a Social Computing Strategy to the entire Product Lifecycle. which starts with

the corporate website is becoming less relevant, and web marketing (and support) has spread off your domain and google results. You also know that prospects trust the opinions of existing customers (who are ‘like them’) far more than marketers, as these communities of practice assemble, your brand is decentralized –embrace!

For a small business or even a large one the philosophy is right the problem is most companies aren't there yet. Listening starts with search. However smart companies are manipulating search (see below)

Today when we search for a new product or even to find out more about an old one we go to Google. Search the product or the category. More often than not it turns up blogs and for some retailers that are selling it. I looked up a coffee machine yesterday, got lots of retail option and some consumer comments. They immediately effect my buying decision. The hotel and travel examples are very similar.

It's products, services and small businesses that are really going to get social media first. They will understand and want to leverage the talking and conversation points around their business. It can be done for not much effort. For example in the Hotel Blog I could do a list blog of all the other hotels in the area; simply helping people with choice. Similarly for the travel services in the region. etc. Each of these potentially provides more points of search that link back to my business. List blogs, like aggregated content blogs tend to be higher up on Google rankings. Example VoIP Bloggers. This is also no different than local Rotary member supporting each other within a local community.

I'd also like to contrast this approach with one that I'm seeing increasingly done by large companies. Googling IBM, Dell or Skype today will not return conversations around these brands. It returns a power list of their content. For example when Skype first  launched you would always see my blog listed on Google and later Skype Journal. Today you won't find Skype Journal until you get to page three of search. I'm sure that has had an impact on SJ traffic as well. Did Skype follow a strategy to get Skype Journal off the Google search for Skype? (Look at Dell or IBM etc. same story). I don't know (and don't care) although I don't believe such a strategy adds value to the brand. 

Now we must be careful not to confuse a few things.

Category Management & Tags:

  • If I search for "VoIP" I don't return anything for Skype. So someone else is likely to be writing and professing conversation points about Skype.  Similarly if you look to "telephony" Skype has no role in developing the conversation here. The short example is... If I go to a retailer to sell them a new product (eg a coffee) then I must talk about how that product will grow the category and where the product should be put on the shelf... and how this makes more money for them too. The objective is to facilitate the conversation. You cannot do that without knowing what associations you want to have.
  • This is closer to Jeramiah's post and point. Perhaps a question for Google returns is: Are Searchers really getting the conversational data they are looking for? I do know that if I want to learn more about a company or product I will qualify my search with more details. That usually brings me the "other" content. Data that I'm going to take into account in my assessment.

Associations with our Name and Tag: 

  • I suggested that John let guests know what tags he wants photos tagged with; in time it will build a portfolio of content with that association. In the future he will want a more unique tag. Still this is a daily if not hourly or even minute by minute search term. Increasingly you need the early warning radar out. Without knowledge of tags, and search engines you aren't even close to playing. In my hotel example --- how long will it take John to know I've blogged about it? How quickly should he respond? What conversations are happening around the tags he has defined for his business? What points are being made today?
  • In the Skype example their strategy has the search "skype" covered. However there is nothing to suggest that they are participating in a broader conversation, aggregating Skype related content, enabling the conversation, participating in VoIP development, Telephony, or voip regulation etc. When we search terms like these Skype's presence is not there. I don't think it is Skype's intention to have a conversation. The message is just one way. Not to appear as an old nemesis for Skype if you look at Dell you won't find Direct2Dell - Dell's blog when searching "Dell" today. If these companies really want to communicate conversation then they must ensure a "conversation points" link in Google's return on their tag.

In conclusion, searching your company increasingly defines the type of business you are and the conversations you want to participate in. The small proprietary hotel that is interested in the community around them, the guests that have visited, the pride in what they do makes it easy to enable a conversation points and gain trust. By contrast the large business has to work harder at making their conversations visible when you just Google their name. The web has never been more personal and the tone more transparent. This is a fact that ultimately cannot be buried. For companies large and small they should be active in their categories. Examples "Hotels Munnar", "Travel Munnar", Munnar, "Munnar Transport", Google can even help you find which words / tags really matter. Growing category conversations and talking points is the best way to positively facilitate and frame where conversations are going.

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Tourism Missing the Boat on Blogging & Tags

This is another experience post.  It reflects on how a small business in a small corner of the world with limited resource could significantly enhance their business by engaging with and using social media.

While in Kerala I had a wonderful trip though the Backwaters (Wikipedia) on a Canal boat. These are grand vehicles almost 100 feet long, more floating barge, with a slow cruising speed. They come staffed with a captain, guide and cook. There are hundreds of these majestic ships out cruising this very beautiful corner of the world. The Backwaters are stuck back in time, with a life that still centers around fishing, and rice farming.

I found myself on a trip with Rainbow Cruises. They don't have an obvious website although this appears to be it. They also get representation by various travel agents; which again for an Internet traveler raises issues of trust. From the captain I learned that they have 22 boats although may run more than a 100 (200?) via charters during the season raising issues of how they manage quality control. They are apparently the biggest company in the area. The majority of their business in season is foreign, English, European etc. Communication with clients onboard boats is via limited English for the most part.

While I loved my trip it fell down on key details. These are easily fixed and yet they are lessons learned.

  • On arrival at what I thought was the loading point (confirmed in the email booking) I let my driver go. Turned out it was 5km to the boat pickup spot. They didn't have transport. This could have become very messy. Luckily I could call him back. However, introductory communication was poor / no existent. There was no "this is what to expect" in the email.
  • There was no suggestion that you should arrive between 12 and 1 to pick up your boat and maximize cruising time or that lunch was included on the first day. As it was a 5+ hour drive to get there I wasn't cruising until after 3:00. I have no idea what I missed out on and how this changed the sight seeeing plan.
  • There was no discussion of the route we would take or key stopping point when I first arrived in the office. I'd read Lonely Planet and left it behind. I may well have missed some sites in the backwaters I could have seen. When I got on board the boat I had to ask the captain for a map. His explanation and the level of detail on the map was pretty much a trust me. If there had been posters on the wall, descriptions of key places to visit it would have been much better.
  • Turns out they basically had no liquor on board. (I think the staff run a scam on beers and they will happily get more). BYOB is probably a good idea.
  • Watching all the locals washing in the lake I asked about swimming; I found i didn't want to go in. However, again some details re water, swimming, etc would be helpful.
  • I froze under air conditioning on the first night as there was no blanket only a sheet provided. The pre sailing check didn't uncover this omission. Lists and standard checks are something that is easy to implement and also get the guest to check too prior to sailing; so it is fixed there and then.
  • They missed out on a whole group of simple up-sell opportunities. Examples like traditional fishing rods (bamboo poles), small boat or kayak for going down a side canal. I had to prod for shore side visits and arranging a kayak to go down the side canals. These trips or excursions should be made much more explicit. Empower the guest to ask for more by leaving information around. Up sell is completely missed on the web site.
  • Onboard I'd expect to see (like you do in almost any hotel) a book of how and where everything is, services etc. I'd also expect a Captains log or guestbook for feedback at the end of the trip. These weren't onboard or provided.

The captain had a cell phone for ship to shore communications. I'm sure there was no radio on board. Cell phones with prepaid cards would provide another simple up sell opportunity. As most guests are foreign and may well want to call home (the rates on prepaid are so so so much cheaper) that they would pay and the driver could execute a recharge as required. Probably in 500 rupee recharges. Basically, the balance left over at the end of the tour is profit. 

This group as a charter operator has many times the potential my friend John had at Windermere Estate to create a conversation around guest travels. Managing his own business and the expectations of guests would be enabled by sharing more about what to expect, and what you can expect from your charter. Most of the information above is required on the web and in hardcopy on board.  It's important that you recognize you are chartering a boat for no doubt each is unique although many will be similar.

We really should consider how travel has changed and our expectations with it. We fly with electronic tickets, most bookings are confirmed by email (will varying levels of useful detail) and the gestures and security around this paper / paperless system feels less tangible than ever. I believe travelers expect more from their hosts today. Our desire for more information can only be met in two ways. The host can write it... or the host can encourage his guests to contribute. The benefit of the latter course of action is similar to Wikipedia.

This trip is so picturesque that I found myself taking hundreds of snaps. I just searched flickr for "backwaters" and it returned 9000+ photos. The first page were all India. Like my observations on Munnar, if you are in tourism today you must start sharing the tags for your operation and locale.  In fact you can share links to searches like these in your original correspondence (e-mail) on confirmation of the booking.

Example create a postcard and in the description use the tags that return searches appropriate to the area. Send you guests away with a pack on how to get and keep in touch, share the experience etc. Let them know how to get in touch with you. Enable them to upload and share photo's or memories with you on your site. Create a group on Flickr for pictures of Backwaters etc. My friend John should search Flickr and find more photo's like this. Similarly YouTube

I have perhaps diverged from my key points. A blog post has power and a well written and linked one may stick to a small company and not go away easily. This post was not meant to be a negative for Rainbow Cruises, I had a tremendous crew, the boat was clean and it was very enjoyable. I'd love the opportunity to go back; particularly as part of a larger group. However, I have had no real point of contact with Rainbow Cruises, I barely have enough details to provide a proper referral. That's costing them dollars.

After this trip I'm convinced that tourism, hoteliers, and small business owners are missing the boat. I'm never impressed with tourism sites like this one. They just say we will sell you anything. I'd much prefer blogrolls that tie to other establishments; that create a sense of all marketing tourism for an area or locale together. The real life example is finding a B&B booked out and asking the owner who they would recommend. If tourism was to adopt blogging, conversations and community then this information would soon dwarf the flyby night type sites. Enabling guests and past visitors to contribute to the tourism experience will keep it vibrant and newsy. Content that is really useful might then find it's way into my search returns.

I accept that the small hotel, even the small charter company has limited resources particularly for marketing. Too often the marketing is a periodic effort; print brochures, update a website, get new listings, trial some advertising, etc. The benefit of creating an open guest and visitor centric site means that this communication is less about marketing and more about connecting and developing relationships with customers. Concurrently management moves from periodic to daily. One hour per day sharing your business would provide a very healthy investment over the course of the year. The tools are accessible and or low cost to get started.

There is definitely a market need out there. It's also clear that all the hosting services (Typepad, Wordpress, etc) are doing a lousy job of framing the how to get started and what to do. While there is a learning curve required I also think it has never been easier. This blogger created a list A cruise through the canals of Alappuzha but failed to link the information.

What do you think? Should hoteliers consider blogging and turn to conversational marketing? Do you think the CEO of Rainbow Cruises should see this blog? What would he have to do to find it? Should he respond? Btw there are a number of Travel Diary sites. Most are poorly done. Travelblog, Travelpod, Travel-Diaries.

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September 28, 2007

Brand Champions and the Brand Lifestream

I had a challenging comment from Dan Woodward on my latest search post. He asks whether these Small Business Owners should take the time to learn it themselves:

Search - Still the best reason to blog your company (Unbound Spiral)

But, when it comes to fairly advanced marketing/search engine manipulation, where do they go? Are you suggesting they should take the time to really learn all of this for themselves? Do they hire it out? It's a question that does arise (from those who DO have websites) and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about how to answer them (being no Internet marketer myself).

My point is directed to the brand owner. If the small business owner is the brand champion then they should have a strategy. I've  been spelling it out for traditional brand managers in consumer products companies recently. Simplistically, traditionally they were only interested in advertising (reach and frequency) and promotion.  If you look at a  Brand plan  there is no line in it to address Search or social media. All media is now social; all brand plans should now address social media; strategy and tactics.

Recognizing you need a strategy is the first step. Small business owners get it.. just like brand managers do when you suggest they Google their business, google their name, google categories they compete in etc. Concurrently with these searches look at the paid search results. Who's paying and why? Are they competitors? etc.

On should they do it themselves?
I'd argue that all brand managers should have some tests they check on. From search engines to buzzmetrics and others. At this stage it is not a science they need. Science and "social media optimization" can come later. At this point its important to accept this is how customers search for your company. This is just part of how internet savvy customers learn about your business. (It goes too far to show them Facebook, or Twitter references at this stage, or introduce additional ways we share information about a business).

As brand champion one of your tasks is to assemble or enable the monitoring of the "brand lifestream" that exists around your brand. Traditionally this was PR clippings, however the social and accelerated nature of media today means that this action can't wait till the end of the month. The manager today needs it in real time at their fingertips. It's just part of understanding conversational marketing. Time for many to learn new tools!

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About September 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Unbound Spiral in September 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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