WEEKLY#12: 30,000 Feet above Ground and I’m Still Online

So I’m starting this last weekly blog entry in the air thanks to Google’s free holiday wifi on Airtran.  It’s kind of difficult for me to wrap my head around how it’s possible to be on a plane and be able surf the internet at the same time.

So before I really get into this week’s topic, I have a quick and somewhat related story. So, I’m always meeting strange people whenever I’m flying or traveling anywhere alone. I’m pretty sure I have some sign on my face that says “Will talk to strangers.” I can never just have a normal flight where I can get to point A to point B without something weird happening.

Today is no different. On my last flight that connected in Atlanta I was sitting next to  Clifton Powell this C- list African American actor. If you saw him you would definitely recognize him but not be able to place him. It was kind of odd that I was sitting next to him on the plane since he was  on a different flight to a different city with me when I was on my way somewhere else on Friday. I remember seeing him because I  couldn’t place how I knew him at the time.

At first I was convinced he was Eddie Murphy which I thought didn’t make a lot of sense because it was business class on Airtran…which is a lot like getting the VIP treatment at TGI Fridays (not something you should be excited about ) which obviously Eddie Murphy is (probably)  a little bit above that and in retrospect he probably flies in a private jet.

So after I ruled out Eddie Murphy  in my head I decided that it might be Charlie Murphy which I laughed to myself about because of this video (warning NSFW) which is basically the most hilarious Dave Chapelle show sketch ever. But of course it isn’t either of the Murphy’s it is this guy who has been in just about every ghetto movie released since about 1991. And as luck would have it he remembers me from the flight on Friday (probably since I was staring at him so intently trying to figure out who the heck  he was) and he decided that that was an invitation to talk my ear off.

So I have my Hamlet’s Blackberry book with me and he asks me about the book so I gave him a synopsis of what it was about  and he went into a tangent about how he hates technology because you can “never really say goodbye” which I thought was an interesting way to sum it up. With all of the tools and technology we have today we honestly  can never really say goodbye. We can never “hang up” or really “sign off” and be completely inaccessible from people. There really are so few places (at least in the U.S.) that you can truly be free from technology and no one can reach you. Now you’re even reachable as a passenger on a plane 30,000 feet in the air.

Even though I normally talk about its positive aspects, I think that if I thoroughly analyzed the effect  social media has had overall on my life I would have to say that it probably been more negative than positive. Not only is social media  a major distraction for me it also, at the end of the day, probably makes me less social in a meaningful way. I’m not sure that interactions online are truly as meaningful for us as human beings than actually talking to someone and engaging with them in person. Humans have to have that interaction in person to actually survive. I’ve always thought that it would be an interesting experiment to see what would happen if a human was completely isolated from others with the exception of being able to connect with them through technology. Would they eventually go crazy? I think so.

I think the most interesting thing I took away from  Hamlet’s Blackberry is the fact that humans have been grappling with changes and advances in technology since the beginning of time. This is not a new struggle for us as humans and we are just trying to figure out what to do with all of this technology just as people have been doing for generations.

I don’t think social media will ever go away it will just take on a different role in our lives. In the beginning of the semester I wrote about time management and minimizing the ways that people can access you and I think that’s the key to using social media successfully. With social media you are giving the entire world (or it at least seems like it) access to you. You have to make boundaries and create barriers to the way that everyone can access you. I think ultimately people will realize that this is the only way to keep social media in your life and not have it engulf every moment of your day.

RESPONSE #3: Customer Service Lessons from the World’s Oldest Profession

One of the most basic lessons in marketing is that you have to know how to talk to your market and to understand just what it is you’re selling to your customers/clients.  It’s amazing how many companies can get this wrong— knowing what it really is that they’re selling.

There has been a lot of talk online recently about how to create and foster exceptional customer service on social media and I think that is one component of capitalizing on what many companies are really selling which is not a product or service that a consumer can get anywhere but it’s an exceptional experience. There was a hilarious book written by Sydney Barrows a couple of years ago titled XXX Uncensored Sales Strategies that addresses the idea of selling an experience  brilliantly. If you know who Sydney Barrows is you’re either already laughing to yourself or you’re already very offended that I’m writing about this. Barrows is better known as the “Mayflower Madam.” She ran a small but extremely elite and upscale escort service in NYC for about six years. Barrows got the idea to open her own agency after working as a “phone girl” at an escort service for extra money when she saw a void in the marketplace for a professionally ran escort service.

Now before you refuse to take lessons from a former Madame you have to consider what exactly she was doing (besides something very illegal). She was actually on to something very critical for selling a product and service that a lot of companies forget to address and they pay for it dearly. Barrows’ business was not just selling sex to high powered men she was selling something else. Because honestly does this type of clientele really need to buy this? Of course not. That’s why she wasn’t just selling sex, she was selling men a fantasy and escape from their everyday life— what she jokingly calls the “ultimate girlfriend experience.”

Barrows says that the way to sell anything to anyone is to ask yourself “What problem are they [the customer/client] trying to solve, what pain are they seeking to alleviate or avoid? What pleasure or gain are they hoping to experience? What do they see as the ideal outcome and how will that make them feel?” If you’re able to accurately answer these questions about your customers and clientele in any business you will be able to sell more, and keep your customers happy and loyal. Barrows says that the very best way to connect to your customers or clientele is to really listen to them and find out what they want.

Today many of the most successful companies know what they’re really selling is an experience. Years ago an “experience” in a business could only take place in person like at a store or restaurant or perhaps on the phone when ordering through a 1-800 number. Now (the smart) companies are trying to figure out how to give this same exceptional experience online through social media tools. Below is an example of Boingo using Twitter to reach out to customers.

  1. Justin Dehn
    jdehn Why do boingo hotspots never work? 22 Nov 2010 from Twitterrific (Twitterrific)
  2. boingo
    boingo @jdehn Never say never. Let’s make it happen. Which hotspot are you at and on which device? Do you have the software installed? 22 Nov 2010 from web in reply to jdehn

Boingo online customer service representatives scan the web for mentions of the Boingo brand and reach out to customers that are offering both negative and positive feedback. Boingo finds people reporting or complaining about technical issues and often offers to connect by e-mail and fix the problem. If someone says something positive about Boingo you will often see a retweet or note of thanks in a sincere, non-corporate tone and “human voice.”

Customer service is about connecting in a sincere, human-like manner and this can be difficult to portray through something like social media that is faceless and when done poorly can lack a personal feel. Companies that do this well will have repeat customers who probably aren’t coming back for the product they’re coming back for the service and the experience. If you think about it, having exceptional customer service [experience] is really the best marketing that there is.

RESPONSE #2: Maybe You Should Shoot the Creator Instead

A couple of months ago I was  reading an article on some website when I noticed a teaser ad on the right that invites the visitor to click on the link to see “the ad that uses YouTube brilliantly.”

Since we’re always looking for innovative, effective ways to use YouTube (that actually work), I clicked to see what was so brilliant.  Here’s the video on YouTube (warning it’s NSFW depending on how lame where you work is.). We talked about this campaign in my Digital Communication Strategies class with Kathy Baird this semester and a number of  my classmates in this Social Media course tweeted blog posts  like this and this.

I have to agree that this video is brilliant in that it’s clever and attention getting. It has a humorous story as the set up, but I  really had to actually read the explanation of the context to “get” the first part of the ad.

The video is interactive – the viewer gets to choose the ending of the ad and then can add more facts and see what happens. People I showed the ad to all spent several minutes playing with it.

However, I think, one of the problems with the ad is that there’s no really really clear, strong connection between the video and the product being sold. It is SO clever that it may be more akin to Super Bowl commercials that take on a life of their own while the product gets left behind.

My informal survey of those I showed the ad to revealed that the longer a person played with the ad, the further into the back of their mind the product went, and the harder it was to recall the product. And, for those who could recall the product, it was the generic type of product they recalled, not the brand name of this particular product. Perhaps it’s because it is not a US product and because  they had never heard of the product before it was harder to remember? I’m not sure why they couldn’t remember it but not a single person could.

I truly want to love this ad because it is so clever and I wasted more time than I would care to share playing with the different options of things that this bear could do.  I also liked that they tried to make an edgy campaign out of a dying product. But, are they really reaching the people who use their product? Perhaps it was an effort to gain brand recognition amongst a younger crowd but I can tell you that the couple times a year that I might use some kind of liquid paper product I’m just using whatever is in the office I’m not the one actually purchasing it.

I think that there are times when…maybe your time and money would be better spent elsewhere? It doesn’t matter how cool an ad is or how great a social media campaign is or how viral a video goes if the product sucks or no one needs it anymore. If someone came out with some really clever ad campaign for VHS tapes that’s not going to “bring them back” so why waste your money on it? This is the type of ad campaign that I watch and I think to myself, “I bet they all really patted themselves on the back for this one.” Yes, thirteen million people have watched this ad and yes it was clever and yes it was fun to play with and may have used “YouTube brilliantly”, but will it sell lots of . . . I can’t remember what?

WEEKLY # 11: The State of the Blogosphere in Luxembourg

Ahh Luxembourg, I hear it’s lovely there this time of year. (Actually I’ve never heard that because you never hear about Luxembourg.)  So our blog post assignment for this week is to pick a country that starts with your name and do some research into the way the blogosphere has developed there.

So just full disclosure here, I know basically nothing about Luxenbourg but I like the name because it sounds like a really fancy little place. According to the always reliable and accurate Wikipedia Luxembourg has a population of slightly over 500,000 people and it is a trilingual country which is pretty impressive. In fact, the official languages are French, German and Luxembourgish (Lëtzebuergesch)-yes, you read that correctly. Luxembourgish. Amazing.

Actually I take back my statement that I know nothing about Luxembourg because I have heard one thing before– really, the only thing I’ve heard about it– and that is the fact that it is a “tax haven.” So in my search for blogs in Luxembourg I found this post about “things I did not know about Luxembourg” and I am kind of sold on this place already because he describes it as ‘beautiful, clean, safe, centrally located, sunny and warm.” They were also recently ranked the #5 best place to live by Newsweek Oh and they apparently have really low taxes.

Okay so low taxes aside I’m a bit confused about how I am supposed to find out about how Luxembourg uses blogs when I don’t speak German, French and most regrettably, Luxembourgish. The Global Voice Online gives me little information regarding the country’s usage of blogs and actually links to a couple sites that are extremely outdated.

So now that I have chosen my lovely little country of Luxembourg and I simply refuse to change my country of choice, I will do my best to complete this assignment. I have found that there are certain customs and etiquette in Luxembourg with regard to their communication and perhaps that will shed some light on the way that  the tiny country uses blogs.

I have also discovered that Luxembourg has quite the media empire for such a tiny country. Luxembourg media group  RTL is behind much of the operation of radio and TV broadcasting. Luxembourg is also home to Europe’s largest satellite operator, Societe Europeenne des Satellites (SES). The constitution in Luxembourg guarantees freedom of speech and of the press.  The print media are privately owned and reflect diverse viewpoints of Luxembourgers and other EU countries.

Also of note, Luxembourg residents have the highest income per capita of any country in the world. We know that in the U.S. there is greater internet usage amongst the wealthy so one may make the connection that Luxembourg residents are heavy internet users as well. The CIA World Factbook says that Luxembourg has 387,000 internet users as of 2008. So is it safe to guess that that is every citizen of Luxembourg over the age of 6? (At the very least, it’s probably more around 85% of the population). I am also surprised to find out that Skype Technologies is located in Luxembourg. although perhaps that is now simply for tax reasons.

I think many of these facts points to a favorable atmosphere for a  widespread usage  of blogs in Luxembourg.

In terms of blogs that I have found, I have not found as much information as I had hoped but it was not for a lack of trying because again, I regrettably have not brushed up on my Luxembourgish in quite some time. I have found a little expat community in Luxembourg. I  found Pass the Dutchy which is an ex-pat blog with tips and advice for those who have moved or would like to move to Luxembourg. From Pass the Dutchy I have found LIfe in Luxembourg; 352 LuxMag which looks like it is an online mag that covers a lot of culture and events in Luxembourg; Girl About the City which is a blog covering the capital of Luxembourg (which happens to be the city of Luxembourg); and The Beet Goes On which covers a couple of cities in Europe but now is focusing on Luxembourg. All in all for such a tiny country there seems to be a decently sized expatriate community online in Luxembourg.

I am looking forward to learning how to research other countries usage of the blogosphere as perhaps I’m not looking in the right places for this. Or I guess it could also be because I picked the tiniest country possible but what can I say? It started with an L.

WEEKLY #10: I Am (Slightly) Ashamed to Admit This

I am embarrassed and yes, perhaps even ashamed to admit that I am thankful for Facebook. Yeah, I said it. I believe it was about 5 years ago that the website came into my life. I was a sophomore in college and literally my life has never been the same since then.

Facebook is a bizarre place. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suffered from major second hand embarrassment reading someone’s ridiculous wall posts with a  little heart in it or professing their love to a guy who they met two days ago or even some of my married friends venting about problems in their relationship that should probably remain private . There are even some people that I barely know  and aren’t my friends in “real life” but are my “friends” on Facebook because I met them at some point in my life or they are a friend of a friend and for some reason it was necessary to become Facebook friends. I mean, can anyone seriously have predicted something as odd as Facebook 20 years ago?

As strange as Facebook is I am thankful for it  because ultimately I really see it as a community of people that I am somehow connected to because I am either currently connected with them in the “real world” or I at one time was. I see Facebook as almost my own little personalized community newspaper that covers everything under the sun–news, gossip, reviews, opinions, weather, obituaries, classifieds, editorials…but all of the information is  from my friends or people that I somehow know. I  find out news about people in my community by checking out the news feed on Facebook. I have found out about engagements of acquaintances, new babies, new jobs that are avaiable, apartments for rent you name it. I can truly say that I have even used Facebook to find out about news of deaths of people that I knew but I was not necessarily close enough to get information like that firsthand.I have to say that it is a bit unnerving to read someone’s last post or see them memorialized on Facebook.

The World's Greatest Dog, Dos.

Recently a friend of mine found out she was pregnant and she was frantically making calls to all her close friends to make sure we all knew before we “found out on Facebook.” It seems like that is happening more and more to people these days. I’ve just kind of accepted the fact that if I don’t want something to end up on Facebook I better not do or say it…and if I’m not the first to hear some piece of news then I might be learning about it on Facebook. And I am okay with that. I’m able to both receive and share more information than I ever thought possible about things going on in “my community”  because of Facebook and for that reason I am thankful for it. Oh, and most importantly I can share pictures of  my nephew and my dog Dos.

WEEKLY #9: I’d Rather Play Duck Hunt.

My first entry into the world of gaming was about two decades ago around 1990 or so. Santa brought my brother and I a Nintendo NES for Christmas that year. That sounds great and all except for the fact that my brother is 5 years older than I am and had no interest in sharing anything with his younger (and infinitely cooler) sister. Santa had a knack for bringing us these community gifts to “play as a family.” Needless to say that Nintendo did not last very long in the Wilson household. I remember my dad unplugging the Nintendo and taking it away after my brother hit me with one of the Duck Hunt gun controllers. Man, I really loved that game.

While I didn’t have a lot of early experiences with Nintendo I did have a ton of computer games. My family had more than one of those really clunky early Apple computers since as long ago as I can remember. I had a bunch of games on those huge floppy disks and I would retreat to the computer in the Study and play Number Munchers and Oregon Trail for hours.I feel like everyone gives respect to Oregon Trail but not that many people remember number munchers. Number Munchers was seriously the best game. It was really simple but addicting and it  also helped you you learn your multiplication tables. I went to Wikipedia to see if it had a page so I could feel vindicated that I wasn’t the only was obsessed with that game and  don’t worry there are a lot of Wikipedia nerds out there documenting the greatness that was Number Munchers.

This week our assignment was to play Second Life for a little while. I have to say that I’m not really a “game” kind of person these days. I just don’t think it’s that fun and I have about a million things I would do on my average day before playing some computer or video game. Now full disclosure, I do have a Wii and I only think that’s kind of fun because you’re actually doing something beyond just staring at a computer screen which I already do for enough hours out of the day. But even though I own a Wii I think the last time I played it was during snowmageddon last year.

The whole Second Life  thing is very bizarre to me. Basically the only thing I had ever heard about Second Life before was something on the news that people used it to have some kind of odd virtual sex experience. The CEO of Linden Labs tried to make the argument that the fact that people were using Second Life to interact in that way was evidence that users are “engaging with the Second Life community and with each other and connecting with each other as human beings.” Maybe that argument can be made but…is this still not really strange? Now I’m not going to lie, when I signed up for my account on Second Life I felt pretty robbed that I had to pay if I wanted to see exactly went on behind those 18+ doors. There was nooo way I was paying to see what exactly goes on in that arena so I had to google it instead. Famous last words. In an effort to keep this blog post PG I won’t go into it but apparently that whole world is so developed that there are even “paid escorts” on Second Life. I am seriously dumbfounded. I had no idea people spent this amount of time on here and apparently that amount of money too.

When I tried out Second Life I honestly had no idea what I was supposed to do. After I got off the little “Welcome Island” I wasn’t sure what the purpose was. Was I supposed to go talk to people? I just had no interest in doing that. I went to a couple different locations and walked around and I was really shocked at how detailed the environments were. It’s obviously a very “realistic” game but it’s not something I’ll be playing again. I’d rather play duck hunt.

WEEKLY # 8: You Heard it Here First, on Wikipedia

Last week’s conversation in class about Wikipedia only solidified my opinion that I wrote in my week 7 blog entry. Now, that being said I’m still not willing to bet my life (or my career) on the accuracy of any individual Wikipedia post  but I think a collaborative site like Wikipedia is  important to society regardless of whether or not it is as consistently trustworthy as the traditional printed encyclopedia.  While Wikipedia is often ridiculed for its inaccuracies and its scandals and the trolls that roam the site I think it’s pretty amazing just how exhaustive and detailed the site is on so many subjects.

When you look “behind the curtain” at a Wikipedia entry it’s pretty fascinating. I’m willing to bet that many people who visit the site and read entries there never even thought to look at the edit history on a particular entry. I know that I never did before this class. The interesting thing about a lot of Wikipedia articles is that some people will come and edit an article and only add a tiny piece of information. If something needs editing or correcting then someone dutifully goes in and fixes it.

In my opinion Wikipedia is a great resource for current events. When we looked at the Wikipedia entry in class last week at the London bombings I was impressed at how quickly the information was updated by so many different contributors. While the information was not always 100% accurate, and sometimes wildly off the mark, it was very clear that many of the contributors to that particular entry were working diligently to continue to provide updated and accurate information.

I think that a breaking news story on Wikipedia is probably just as accurate as your average news coverage would be on the same story–if not more. I figure that a breaking news story (particularly in today’s 24/7 news world) news outlets are more concerned with getting something out about the story rather than making sure they get the right story out with all of the information. One particular example I can think of where there was a lot of misinformation (varying information) about a current event in the mainstream media  was the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. I was a senior there at the time and I can tell you that that day there was a lot of chaos on campus and a ton of media  outlets were there reporting rumors  and unverified numbers and stories and figures. Hours after the shootings took place the reported story varied greatly depending on where you looked online or what news channel you were watching. I remember my friends and I  searching online to verify details about what happened and Wikipedia was one of the places that we looked  not necessarily for accurate information but to see the collection of information available. I imagine that an entry about it on Wikipedia combining all of the reports and data coming in was closer to the “real story” than a lot of the individual reports on mainstream news coverage. Looking back at the edit history on this entry I can remember the information that we as students received and the Wikipedia revisions pretty much mirror what I knew and when I knew it. The original entry was really off base (reporting one fatality at a dorm) and as the University released more information and local authorities were verifying information the Wikipedia entries increasingly became closer to what we know to be true today. Interestingly I found a YouTube video with a timelapse of the Wikipedia page for the first 12 hours after the shootings. It is pretty amazing to see how much the document changes as more and more  information came in.

The reason I like the idea of following a breaking news story on Wikipedia is because there is a chance to get closer to the truth by hopefully seeing a larger display of the information available out there on the story. I see it as a  compilation of the facts being reported and edited as more information comes in. Obviously using Wikipedia as a news source is not always a smart idea. The bottom line is that people always need to be discerning about information that they don’t hear or see firsthand. The more important it is for you to have accurate and trustworthy information (like say, something life threatening like a hurricane coming towards your house) then the more critical  it is for you to have the best information available from the most knowledgeable source. If people fail to recognize when Wikipedia is and is not a good resource for information then I’m afraid that is their own fault.

WEEKLY #7: Consider the Source, Consider the Funding, Consider the Motive

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

–Winston Churchill

Have you ever taken one news topic and looked at the way it was covered via CNN, Fox News, Al Jazeera, and BBC and seen the radical difference in the way facts are portrayed?  It’s pretty frightening to think that if you only had access to one news source that you would be subject to the messengers point of view and their decisions about what is and is not important to report.

The same can be said for retelling historical events and history books. It is very likely that a text book written by a certain population of academics in the United States is going to vary greatly from a textbook covering the same subject in another country (particularly a non Western country). It is impossible for a human being to be completely and totally objective. Even when you are only restating facts, the way in which you state those facts, the order  in which you rank them in importance,  the words you choose to  describe the facts and the way in which you frame them will be biased. Humans simply can not completely remove all feelings, desires, hopes and fears from their presentation of facts.

If we can not remove out inherent bias from our portrayal of facts then how do we evaluate what is a trustworthy information source and what is not? When evaluating the trustworthiness of a message I  try to “consider the source.” Who is behind the source and in what ways might they have a bias? Why are they sharing this information? And what do they want?  My dad used to say, with regards to medical research “consider the funding” source. What is their motive? Why are they funding this? What are they trying to find and what is their motive for doing so?

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that can be edited by “the people.”  It is funded by many individual donations and most of its donors are individuals contributing sums of around $35. Wikipedia allows any person with an internet connection access to an exhaustive collection of information that used to be reserved only for those wealthy enough to afford a set of Encyclopedia Britannicas. Anyone also has the ability to go in and edit a Wikipedia entry. For this reason, Wikipedia basically “belongs” to anyone willing to take the time to contribute to the project.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, at the peak of its popularity was owned by a private company that had a number of full time editors and thousands of expert contributors. Interstingly, I found out that within the last couple of years Britannica online opened up its articles to be edited by users. Although, Britannica may slowly be morphing into Wikipedia I don’t think that Wikipedia  intended to completely replace the Encylopedia Britannica or really replace the peer reviewed scholarly journal. There are a lot of things that Wikpedia says that they are not. Wikipedia is not for example, a scientific journal. It is not supposed to be written using academic jargon and each individual article is not supposed to go into great depth. A Wikipedia article is supposed to be written in such a way that any reasonably literate person can understand it.  Wikipedia articles can be community reviewed but there is no formal process and they are not necessarily vetted by anyone who would be considered an “expert” on that particular subject.

Wikipedia’s strengths are also it’s weaknesses. Wikipedia is much more timely and current than an Encyclopedia because it can be instantly updated. Because  Wikipedia has the “shoot first, aim later” mantra, information on Wikipedia is often published and then vetted for accuracy and fact checked. Despite some of the “vandalizing” that occurs on Wikipedia, most of the articles seem to be fairly accurate. A controversial (and heavily disputed) study done in Nature magazine back in 2005 comparing Wikipedia and an Encylopedia Britannica  found that among 42 science entries reviewed the difference in accuracy was not that significant.  It seems to me that Wikipedia is more accurate and reliable today than I remember it being back in 2005 when I was in college.

Some people seem to think that having false information on a source as widely used as Wikipedia is really detrimental. I think it’s more detrimental to limit the information  available and limit who can provide information to our society.  Wikipedia is just another extension of the way the internet has turned everyone into publishers and everyone into “experts.” There are lots of positives and  lots of negatives to this fundamental change in our society. Certainly if I am writing a research paper on an area of medicine I am going to refer to something like The Lancet or the  New England Journal of Medicine before I look at Wikipedia’s entry on some complex medical subject.   But this does not mean that there is not a place for Wikipedia as another information source .I think it is important to have both Wikipedia and peer reviewed scholarly journals that are thoroughly researched and vetted by experts.

Overall, I think do think that a current Encyclopedia Britannica (or scholarly journal)  is more trustworthy in terms of accuracy of information  than any random Wikipedia article that you may stumble across. However, if I had to choose having access to one over the other I would choose a collaborative source like Wikipedia that is accessible to the public, funded by the public and theoretically does not have one agenda. It is important that we have places like Wikipedia where anyone (potentially) has access to and can review and contribute to. I would rather read a Wikipedia entry and know that I have to do a little extra research on the topic to make sure it is true than to only have access to information from one source and one person’s/company’s/government’s portrayal of the facts.[

WEEKLY #6: Hopefully He Can?

In 2007 I vividly remember telling my dad that there was no way in hell Obama could win an election– I wanted Clinton to have the nomination. If Bill couldn’t have a third term, Hillary was second best. The fall of 2008 I was ready to ship off to Canada for good…and then I realized that it was way too close to Alaska, a state that could no longer be trusted.

As the campaign wore on Obama really grew on me.  After 8 years of Bush  embarrassing the country in every way imaginable, making up words and speaking for Americans rather than listening to them Obama was really refreshing. I  think a lot of people felt the same way.( I should also mention that it wasn’t that I was fundamentally opposed to having a republican president in 2008 , I was just fundamentally opposed to anyone reckless enough to allow Sarah Palin to be his running mate when his death seemed imminent. But I digress.)

Obama really won two campaigns. One against Clinton and the other against McCain. The former was probably more interesting and definitely more impressive. Was anyone really surprised that a democrat won after 8 years of good ol’ Dubya?

One thing that I found interesting in my research on this topic was Obama’s strategy in winning the nomination against Clinton. Although Clinton may have won the “bigger states,” Obama was winning the votes that mattered the most. Obama was organizing and campaigning in every single state, even ones that he lost. He dominated the primaries in the South, but he also won in the Midwest and Northeast. Most importantly Obama dominated all of the caucus states, including Colorado and Minnesota, and also smaller states like Idaho. This reminded me of  a couple things in our readings. One of the idea’s in Chris Anderson’s book. Obama was relying on the power of the aggregate. A lot of small things adding up into a powerful force. (He also relied on this in his campaign fund raising asking for small donations from lots lots of people.)

If we are using Clay Shirky’s idea of the plausible promise, effective tool, acceptable bargain I think it would be:

Promise: Change

Tool: Campaign

Bargain: Help with campaign and vote

The third idea was that he was truly listening to “the markets.” The markets wanted change and Obama repeatedly demonstrated how he was the closer embodiment to change from the reign of great George W. Bush and Obama also demonstrated how he embodied a hope for a better America. I don’t think there has ever been a candidate that has more closely matched what the “markets wanted” during a campaign. Obama’s campaign very clearly tried to make his campaign a true dialogue. He held interactive town hall meetings and used technology and social media to gauge what was  important to the American people.

What was most fascinating in Obama’s campaign against McCain was that Obama empowered voters. He told them that this was their campaign and people actually went out and volunteered and knocked on doors and made phone calls and sent emails because they felt a personal connection to the campaign.  He even uses this in one of his campaign slogans “Yes, we can.” Obama “allowed” and encouraged his supporters to campaign on his behalf much in the way that Cluetrain Manifesto encourages companies to allow its employees to have a voice and speak out on its behalf. Many Americans really  felt like they were a part of the Obama campaign.

Fast forward two years and it’s amazing how Obama’s portrayal in the media has changed. A lot of the problems with his image is not his fault. Unfortunately in order to get anything done in American politics you have to make bargains and concessions to get any legislation passed. Obama has to be more careful of what he says and the discussions that he has because it may hinder his ability to get legislation passed.

I think a lot of people’s frustration with Obama is that many people feel  like they are not being listened to again. It’s interesting because I think htat his administration has tried hard recently  to have an image of transparency and they have been finding new outlets to disseminate  information to the public.  However, I don’t think the conversations are as open as they once were. When Obama was the outsider promising change he could openly listen to the public but now that he’s in office people’s complaints and criticisms are more difficult to address. I think this goes back to Cluetrain’s idea that failure in the “new market” can invariably be traced back to “obsolete notions of command and control.” It does seem as though the more the administration tries to gain control over the conversation the more it slips from their grasp.

Obama largely ran his campaign as “Us” (Americans fed up with the way things are) vs. “Them” (Bush administration, typical politicians and the crap that has happened in the last 8 years) unfortunately now Obama is kind of one of “them.” When you run as a “washington outsider” what happens when you become president and are now, by definition, an “insider?”

So, will Obama ultimately deliver on his campaign promises? Hopefully he can.

WEEKLY #5: Google, The Next…Irrelevant Internet Company?

I remember the first time I was really creeped out by Google. I was in the midst of some major relationship drama and like every female, well, ever I had to rehash every painstaking detail to my friends. This time  I was doing it via email since most of us had jobs at the time where we couldn’t sit around on Facebook 24/7 (just terrible, you should never have a job like that). Suddenly, I realized Google was suggesting relationship advice links in my Gmail. What. the. hell?

So Google is a little bit like our creepy, eavesdropping neighbor that knows everything that everyone in the neighborhood is doing except—it’s pretty much the entire world.

So is that enough to be scared of them?  Honestly, this is  really something that could be more appropriately addressed in a 300 page thesis rather than a few hundred word response. But I’ll give it a shot and will only address two parts of this. 1. the database of intentions and 2. the future of search

1. Database of Intentions

John Battelle wrote his book The Search about five years ago and since “internet years” are more unforgiving than dog years it may as well been last century. And in my opinion  Ken Auletta’s Googled:The End of The World As We Know it. gives a better overview on how Google grew, how it threatens media at large and where that leaves us now.  The Search,however, probably does a better job of discussing the actual growth of “the search” industry. What is particularly interesting is Battelle’s idea of the database of intentions.

According to Battelle the database of intentions is “The aggregate results of every search ever entered, every result list ever tendered, and every path taken as a result. It lives in many places, but three or four places in particular hold a massive amount of this data (ie MSN, Google, and Yahoo).” Essentially this database holds a massive amount of information regarding human desires, needs, wants, likes, and dislikes that can be used for all sorts of purposes including anything evil you can dream up. There has never, ever been information of this magnitude available to any company ever.

I imagine that I can speak for most people when I say that I’d really rather not rehash everything I’ve ever searched for online with the entire world. I don’t think it’s necessarily dangerous to have profiles of “types” of people. I don’t think it’s dangerous to be able to mine this data for information and get insight into what people want and  products that people might like. What I do think is dangerous is the possibility of all of this particular information being pinned to one particular person and the company knows their name and their physical street address.

So let’s do a quick hypothetical example.

Here’s a 25 year old woman  in Arlington, Virginia that is a college graduate that regularly searches Google for clothes, marketing industry news, cheap airline tickets, “deals,” local concerts, local news, celebrity gossip. She is a moderate as she has some positive searches online for democratic candidates and some positive searches online for republican candidates. She enjoys videos of really cute cats.

It’s not a big deal to me if you know that there is a 25-year-old female out there that is interested in that information. But if you can pin that down to me and know where I live and exactly who I am then I think that’s where the problem lies (I was joking about the cats  thing by the way…). I think that’s when it’s an invasion of privacy, it’s dangerous, it’s “big brother-esque” and the potential for evil to be done is much, much greater. On the other hand if what I’m searching for pretty innocuous information like I just listed above. What’s the big deal? If someone from Google going to show up at my door and tempt me with some great offer that fulfills all of my wants and desires according to what search queries I posted  last week? If Google thinks they can do that then, bring it on. Human beings are infinitely complicated creatures and it’s going to take a lot more than knowing what they’re searching for online to figure them out.

2. The Future of Search

So, yes, we’ve now established that Google is  both like a creepy eavesdropping neighbor and like an odd stalker that wants to “fulfill all of your wants.” Weird.

But what does the future of search even look like?  Uh, if I could correctly answer that question I wouldn’t be taking  this class I’d be running my psychic hotline. Look, no one knows that the future of search is or if we will even be using search as we know it today in 5 years.  What we do know is that things change at an incredibly fast pace and if Google fails to develop and adapt with changing trends then Google’s dominance (at least in the internet space) is not going to be such a big deal anymore. It’s going to be the next big joke. The next AOL.

Sometimes I think an individual companies success can be more attributed to flat out dumb luck than some strategic mastermind plan. There are a lot of incredibly smart, innovative people out there and -shocker- they don’t all work for Google. Personally I think the reason Google is going out and investing time in other industries is because they realize that in 10 years they may not be the leaders in search or the internet. It’s smart for them to diversify and not put all of those billions of dollars into search alone.

As more and more people are using mobile devices to access the internet things are going to change drastically.  That’s not even getting into how devices like the iPad will drastically change search. Last spring I took Cheryl Haas‘ SEO class and my group did a project on Siri personal assistant and the ways that it (and similar technology) can change search as we know it. Last year tech junkies were falling all over themselves about this iPhone app  saying that is arguably the early prototype of the “next generation search engine.” About 5 months ago Apple acquired Siri so obviously they thought they were on to something.

Basically Siri is a mobile phone app that derives user intent through conversation with the user, instead of just a single set of keywords like a search engine does. The picture to the right shows a user asking Siri for the nearest gas station. I think it’s pretty clear why people would think this is the next generation search engine. Battelle talked in  The Search about Star Trek like computers where they can understand what you’re asking.With Siri you can talk into your phone or type a question and Siri will help you find the answer. Right now this is really for vertical niches, like finding a restaurant, getting a cab, finding a dry cleaners but as the technology continues to improve and more people have smart phones I think this will really change the way some of us search. Now, I’m not necessarily saying it’s going to be this particular app but something similar to it.

Something like Siri is not necessarily going to “kill” Google it is just going to  change how and when we use search. Siri is about completing tasks and not about finding a web page. But I think it’s easy to see how “completing a task” is more easily monetizable than search. Companies know that if you’re searching for an Italian restaurant in Georgetown on your mobile phone while you’re standing somewhere in Georgetown (it knows where you are through GPS location) it’s because you’re trying to eat and you want a damn good Italian restaurant now. Siri would provide many, many more “quality leads” than search ever could.

What’s great is that while I was searching for some updated info on Siri I found an article on Search Engine Land and the writer is interviewing John Battelle about the future of search and the article specifically focuses on Siri.When asked about whether or not Google or Microsoft or any of the other current “big players” will be the leaders in 10 years Battelle responds “It’s hard to handicap it this early, but I would go with an unknown at this point. Really, I think that, you know, just like 10 years ago, no one would have said that we’d be talking about Google the way we are. I think 10 years from now it may well not be any of the ones we know today.”

So, there you have it, even 5 years after writing The Search Battelle is saying that Google is not some almighty internet god. Google has had it’s share of major flops and while I do think it will be around for a while I think that people are forgetting history when they talk about companies like Google and Facebook staying on top forever.