Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Twitter poetry

Would you call them poetweets? Anyway, I'm sure I'm not the first, but I've become interested in the idea of Twitter poetry. Poems that can fit inside 140 characters. Examples:
evrywhr:i c mmnts crl'd back like lips frm ancnt teeth;evrywhr:i C the bones,their shapes ntwined in2 the flowrs of gd's infnite spirogrph
That one's exactly 140 chars, which is cool. Here's another:
I wlk nr hom:flwrs&mud&proof of lives livd wth jy&srrw&othr namelss thngs;wrlds story a pudl;tiny mmnt a cvrnus sky;blu wth hrt's own relish
Twitter is what has come to be called a "microblogging" platform. A way of publishing very small messages to large numbers of people. You might not find the time to write a long article in a blog, but you might find the time to post an interesting link you found, or make a quick comment on a news article. I'm sure I'm not the first to think it's also a good medium for poetry. I like the creative limitation that 140 characters gives you. In exchange, twitter gives you a whole new medium for your poetry: simultaneously posted to people's cell phones, facebook and twitter feeds.... very 21st century. And, as a bonus to the reader, if you don't like my poetry, you only need to suffer through 140 characters of it at the most! Here's my twitter feed: http://twitter.com/fergusson. Follow me! If you have Twitter poetry of your own, let me know - I'll link to it here, and in my various feeds and profiles. Tweet, tweet! Update... Here is a list of some links to other posts on Twitter Poetry: Bird and Plane image is Machine, by Hambo. Creative Commons via Flickr. Snowflake image is Flake on Snow by circulating. Creative Commons via Flickr.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Onward!

It's always bittersweet to be at the end of one thing, and before the beginning of something else. I'm proud of the work I've done, growing the Kinzin network to nearly a million members, and building applications that people love to use. There have been some very interesting challenges here, and along the way, I've worked with some people I'll remember for the rest of my life. I'm about to take a week off to hang out with the kids and recharge a bit. Then... Onward!

Monday, June 09, 2008

CNMA Finalist: Producer of the Year

I heard on Friday that Kinzin was a finalist for "Excellence in Social Media Applications", and that yours truly is also a finalist for "Producer of the Year". Given the quality of the other two finalists, I would be quite surprised if I won (on the other hand, I'm very surprised to have made it to the final three), but Kinzin is a truly excellent social application. The team has done amazing things in the last six months, especially, and Kinzin is growing faster than I really thought possible at this point. They deserve the recognition. I only stand on the shoulders of giants.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Crazy MomCat on Kinzin

Crazy MomCat has posted a review of Kinzin today. She starts out by describing her ongoing concerns about privacy, her frustration with existing photo sharing sites that make privacy hard and bombard your visitors with ads for photo finishing services. Then:
"...I think I've finally found a solution to all of this. Kinzin is a new site dedicated to protecting your privacy while letting you show family and friends what is new with you and your family."
That's great stuff. She loves the new photo "print and mail" service as well, which she uses to keep her Father-in-law up to date with the latest photos of the kids. Thanks, Crazy MomCat. Everything we do, we do for you! :-)

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Working with Facebook Social Ads

So, here at Kinzin, we've been experimenting with Facebook's Social Ads for the last few weeks, and I have a few results to report. Simple stuff first:

  • Click-through rates are abysmal. I was running the identical ad in about 15 different regions (you need to run them as separate ads to get the stats broken out), getting just over 10M views. Our average clickthrough rate was 0.06% (that's 1 in 1513, for those counting at home). The best we did anywhere was 0.14%.
  • For some reason, we got quite different results (30-50% variance) if we ran exactly the same ad in exactly the same region, configured to show to men alone, women alone, and men and women together. For some reason, both together got much better results than either gender individually. Weird.
  • Again, the same ad: top four for clickthrough rates: Seattle, Portland, Alberta, and NYC. Bottom four: Toronto, the Maritimes, English Quebec, and Texas.

A little more subtle is the results from using "Social Actions". That's feature that Facebook advertises as being the differentiator for their ad platform. For those that don't know what that is, Facebook will insert a blurb to let you know a Friend of yours has a relationship to the app or group that is the subject of the ad. A friend of mine might see, above an ad in the Facebook margins: "Michael Fergusson installed this app yesterday." This is what Facebook has to say about it:

"What you're looking at is a Social Ad. Advertisers provide the text, and Facebook pairs it with a relevant social action that your friend has taken. Social Ads mean advertisements become more interesting and more tailored to you and your friends. These respect all privacy rules; advertisers never have access to personal information about you or your friends...."

In theory, it could be useful to know that friends of yours use a particular app. In practice, it's a bit creepy to see the name and photo of your friend in a banner ad. My advice in short: don't use that feature. As I said in my last post, we're still figuring out the rules of etiquette in this new space, but I don't think Facebook (the company) has it quite right yet. For sure, it's not right for us and our community.

On that note, I'd also like to apologize to any users of Kinzin applications that were creeped out by our (brief) use of that Facebook feature. We were as surprised as anyone by our own negative reaction to seeing it in practice, and we turned it off as soon as we heard that others were feeling uncomfortable about it, too. We take our role in helping define this new space very seriously, and that role is not to push the boundaries of what's acceptable, but to reflect the growing consensus of what's desired.

It would be interesting to hear about other people's experiences with the Facebook Social Ads. Anybody have anything to, um, add?

(Added 03 /23) I should add that I purchased clicks from Facebook and one other ad network. That other ad network cost 70% less and generated clicks for me at 100x the rate, but virtually no conversions, and traffic to the landing page didn't seem to match the clicks being reported. Hmmm. Facebook ads actually converted at a pretty reasonable clip - 5% or so.

I may not get a lot of clickthroughs on the Facebook ads, but at least they seem to produce some measurable results. My experience dealing with the other ad networks has not been good at all. Most of them seem like shoestring/basement operations at best, and outright scams at worst. Anybody have any good experiences to report?

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Privacy and Social Networks

ATM Privacy Area, by Cackhanded. CC via FlickrMark Ury has a great post on Privacy at his blog The Restless Mind. As I said in my comment on his Blog, I'd like to make an observation about why managing privacy (and other rules of social etiquette) is even harder than it seems.

Real social networks have actual humans as the end points in the graph. Complicated, technology independent humans. I have dozens, perhaps even hundreds of social networks I participate in, and each one has its own complex rules of etiquette and privacy, even when the membership of the network is mostly or even completely the same. In fact, it's those rules that really define the network itself: the people I trust with my kids, the people I gossip with at work, or the group of cousins in my family that happen to be around the same age. Each of these is defined as much or more by what we do together (the "social grooming" as Robin Dunbar calls it), as by the membership, which may be mostly or even entirely the same. One reason for why these rules especially difficult to express in software is that these networks (especially the ones most established in my life) are typically multi-modal by nature. Take the network of "the people who love and care for my kids", as an example: some are in FB, some are email-only, and some (like my Gramma) offline entirely. We humans are very typically very good at picking up on and managing these social "rules", but often have difficulty migrating those rules to a new or unfamiliar modality of communication. As the number ways in which we can communicate with each other increases (more rapidly all the time, it seems), the harder it becomes to manage the complex social rules that govern human interactions.

Kinzin's approach to this problem is to build what we call "Virtual Private Social Networks". You decide on the rules and membership of the network, independent of the communications technology. This is obviously easier with smaller networks, and where the level of trust and familiarity is high, so that's where we've focused ourselves. These Are My Kids lets a network of close friends and family share information about the family's kids. The rules for privacy are set by the parents, and the invited members of the network can use (nearly) any medium they like to access the network: Facebook, email, postal mail, etc. This way, busy parents can spend their time thinking about what it is they want to say, and not worrying about how or where to say it.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Michael on TV

Pretty lame to post this a couple of weeks late, but I've been busy, then I was on vacation, then I was busy again, then I forgot... you know the drill. Anyways, I was interviewed on CBC television for a story on internet privacy. Here's a link (thanks, Frank): http://gallery.mac.com/flee1#100129. lab logoSticking with TV Fame, Episode 140 of The Lab With Leo Laporte on G4 Tech TV in Canada includes me doing a segment with Leo, talking about designing and building applications in the era of social networking. That interview will be made available on The Lab website after it airs on television.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

My interview on Raincity Radio

Just a quick note that my interview with Dave O from Raincity Studios has made its way to the web. Since that interview, our membership numbers have nearly quadrupled, but the basic message remains the same. Those Raincity guys are a lot of fun - Dave and I bonded over our love of hockey history. He especially loved the vintage 1916 Vancouver Millionaires jersey I was wearing (see pic). Any other Cyclone Taylor fans out there?

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Teens and the Internet

The Pew Internet and American Life Project published a study of Teens and Social Media in late December, using data captured mostly in 2006 (so the stats on Facebook usage in particular are probably low). Great subtitle: "The use of social media gains a greater foothold in teen life as they embrace the conversational nature of interactive online media."

Some quick hits:

  • 64% of online teens ages 12-17 have participated in content-creating activities on the internet, up from 57% of online teens in a similar survey at the end of 2004
  • 39% of online teens share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004.
  • Girls are more likely to Blog across all age groups. 35% of online girls blog, and even younger girls (32%) blog more than older boys (18%). Boys are more likely to use YouTube, and twice as likely as girls (19% vs 10%) to be posters of video content.
  • 55% of online teens ages 12-17 have created a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace; 47% of online teens have uploaded photos where others can see them (remember this data is from 2006).
  • Most teens restrict access to their posted photos and videos (77% say most or sometimes)– at least some of the time. Adults, somewhat surprisingly, restrict access to the same content less often (58%). Maybe they don't know where to find the privacy settings.
  • Posted photos or videos are the launchpad for conversation. Nearly nine in ten teens who post photos online (89%) say that people comment at least sometimes on the photos they post.
  • Phones are still prominent in teen social life. What Pew calls "Multi-channel teens" layer each new communications opportunity on top of pre-existing channels. These multi-channel teens are slightly more likely to use landlines "every day" than the broader group(39%/46%), and twice as likely to use cellphones(35%/70%), IM (28%/54%), SMS (27%/60%), and send messages over social networking sites(21%/47%). The use of email is interesting: 14% vs. 22% - both very low compared to the other forms of communication.
The whole study is worth a read. It's short, but interesting.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

An Apple a Day (for a hundred and sixty billion days)

A friend of mine pointed out that that Apple recently passed both Intel and (holy cow! really?) IBM in market capitalization. Wow. So much for Apple being a footnote. Also an article in Wired today about Apple having more cash on hand than Facebook's entire (MSFT-driven) valuation.

You know, Apple hasn't made any strong "web 2.0" moves yet. hmmm...

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Is the world normal?

Last week, 24Hrs Newspaper published a story about Kinzin's Facebook plugin Are You Normal? in their print and online magazine (see the great photo on the left, by Rob Kruyt, that accompanied the article). In the article, I'm quoted as saying that we've reached 90,000 people around the world. Thanks to the power of the network effect, as of this writing we've already passed 220,000 (from 184 countries!) and still going strong.

The point of this post is not to toot my own horn (at least, not only to do that :-), but to mention for your interest that the next set of survey questions we publish will be written in part by our user base. We've had questions submitted from Finland, Spain, Greece, Australia, and the UK so far. I'm very excited about this in particular. As with many things, when we're talking about what's "normal", what we choose to measure is often as interesting as the results.

I'll keep you posted as things progress...

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Friday, October 19, 2007

You can't have small without the big

Robert Scoble, in response to comments made by Evan Williams, creator of Twitter, at Web 2.0 asked the question: "why would anybody want a social network with only 10 friends? Seriously, don’t we already have this? It’s called a family." Williams was talking about creative constraints. Limiting the scope of a social network (TuDiabetes), or limiting the size of a message (Twitter/SMS). I'm surprised, frankly, that Scoble would make such an obtuse comment. That I have lots of friends isn't a reason to not use Facebook, and that my family exists says nothing about the modalities of communication I use to "groom" my relationships with them (to borrow a term from Robin Dunbar).

TuDiabetes for example is a small network (recently passing 1100 enthusiastic users), constrained in scope to the issues related to living with Diabetes. That it is small and constrained makes it more valuable, not less.

On the opposite end of the scale, The Economist recently published an article called "Social Graph-iti - There's less to Facebook and other social networks than meets the eye". I think it's intended to be a cautionary article about "irrational exuberance" in the social networking space, along the lines of the recent New York Times article. There's a lot that's right in the Economist's article, but I disagree with a few things. I think the author doesn't understand the nature of social networks in this respect: we can and do belong to many at one time (as we have since before there were "humans" at all). Many of our social networks, in fact, are built on top of other, existing networks. For example, the management team I work with at Kinzin is a small network built out of my larger "business associates" network, which is part of my "everybody I know" network. It overlaps with my "close friends network" and my "co-workers" network, and so forth.

But unlike other networks, social networks lose value once they go beyond a certain size. “The value of a social network is defined not only by who's on it, but by who's excluded,” says Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley forecaster. Despite their name, therefore, they do not benefit from the network effect.

Mr. Saffo is both sucking and blowing, though, using "Social Network" to mean two things at the same time: the sum of all the users who are members of a particular social networking application, and all of the connections that each individual member has on that network.

My personal network doesn't scale for all the reasons that I've written about previously in my commentary on Dunbar's Number , but Facebook's network doesn't have the problem in the same way. It can contain every human in the world, and it doesn't lose value for me (at least not the same rate or in the same way), because I only need it to be able to find everyone in the world who potentially could be my contact, I don't need everyone to actually be my contact. It seems to me the Economist doesn't account for the fact that we all have multiple overlapping networks, containing people that in the end all are drawn from the same pool, namely all the humans in the world. If I'm trying to maintain 10 different social networks (friends, family, business, acquaintances, etc.), it's helpful to have the underlying system contain all the people in all the networks. So Facebook having 6B members helps me to better create the 10 person network that represents my geographically dispersed family.

Everyone's trying to make it simple: "Irrational Exuberance!", or "Everything's Really Different!" The reality, as it usually is with humans, is much more subtle.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Booksimreading: The Wealth of Networks...

As part of an effort to think more and do less, I just started reading a new book: "The Wealth of Networks; How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom", by Yochai Benkler. What do I think so far, after the first 30 pages?
"At the beginning of the 21st century, we find our selves in the midst of a battle over the institutional ecology of the digital environment," says Benkler. "What characterizes the networked information economy is that decentralized individual action plays a much greater role than it did or could have (before)"... "the removal of the physical constraints on effective information production has made human creativity and the economics of information itself the core structuring facts (of our economy and our society)." Just as the proprietors of the new printing presses of europe used their economic clout to gain independence from the church and aristocracy, people today, both individually and in groups, are exploiting the economics of the internet to take on massively ambitious projects. An important difference, though is that they are often taking on these projects just because they feel like it, and not for economic reasons.
Friendship Wheel Collage, by choconancy. It's this idea that first caused me to pick up this book, actually. The amplification of the individual human as a social creature, as opposed to a "market actor". This is a major change in thinking for some. Capital is less important than it has been in the past. Groups of individuals, acting from motivations unrelated to economics, can often organize themselves more quickly and effectively than a corporation can. I find this idea exhilarating. More as I read along...

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Friday, October 12, 2007

What's "Normal" anyway?

The Normal Theatre, by K2D2vaca

Our Facebook adventure sure has been interesting. In the week since we launched, we've had over 15,000 people do our surveys (Update: three days later, and we're now over 22,000...) and discover just how (ab)normal they are. One curious thing I've noticed while discussing "Are You Normal?" with people is that, at least among the people I talk to, most people assume that their normalcy rating will be very low. In fact, being "abnormal" seems to be what they're hoping for. The thing is, the system only calculates your rating based on what everybody else said, so if everybody's a bit strange, well... that's what's normal. It's what I really like about this application - the community decides what's normal, not us. We could have used some standard psychological test and given a stock answer, but everybody deserved to be judged by a jury of their peers, don't you think?

In case you're wondering: I'm 23% normal (and falling).

Normal, by Binderboy

Which brings up the other interesting side-effect of the way we calculate the answers: that your rating can and does change over time. As more people answer, the most common set of answers changes slightly, effecting your rating against that "standard". To take advantage of this interesting side-effect of our rating system, a new feature we're planning is the ability to check your rating against specific groups - your own friends, for example. And when Facebook launches their new "contact grouping" feature, you may be able to compare yourself against particular sets of people - work, family, whatever. Let me know if you think this feature would be really interesting to you - if enough people call for it, I'll get the development team to move it up the schedule.

Some tidbits, gleaned from the results so far:

  • 68% of people answering the surveys are very concerned about the environment, or are taking action to do something about climate change. 9% say they're not concerned, and a full 23% don't take either position, which is interesting.
  • 9% describe themselves as conservative, 25% as liberal and the rest (65% or so) describe themselves as non-partisan or none of the above.
  • 25% think that a family should have only a mommy and a daddy.
  • 41% of parents lied, saying that having children hasn't effected their sex life ;-), the rest need to get away for the weekend.
  • 45% wish that their kids knew more about their family history and culture

Flickr: Stomen There will be a new survey in the next day or so (Are you a normal Facebook user?), and some UI improvements, so stay tuned.

Cross-posted at the Kinzin Blog.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Extending and enhancing an existing network

Here's a comment to my previous blog post. It seems important enough to promote it to a post of it's own. Personally, I walked away from the McCrae Alumni weekend very impressed. Here's a group of people who have built a (human) network that transcends the institution that initialized it. Below is an example of the group's internal discussion. Good suggestions, and thanks for letting me be a part of the unfolding dialogue.
Hey thanks for buying the power assited bike Michael.

I think I asked a question about effective practices that each McRae alum could engage in immediately: (1) on existing social networks like Linkedin, Facebook and MySpace, and (2) what are the most effective ways we can project our power as a network, i.e., what are some good examples of other successful networks of people who have projected power?

A couple of answers that occurred to me:
RE: effective practices on existing social networks ...
  • we need to be consistent in the name we use for our program. Because "the Program" has changed names some call it McRae, other APMCP, others Cap. Consistent name and tags would make our profiles and comments easier to find,
  • be a good follower. Charles Caldwell introduce many of us McRae folks to Linked in within a year of its founding, most of us didn't take it seriously. Many still have not spend a lot of time moving their contacts in. I didn't spend anytime on Linkedin until I noticed that a guy who is at least 5 years older than me and commands millions (maybe billions) of investment funds and put $50-million into our project in China had 80 contacts there. For example, if someone opens McRae Facebook group ... join, comment ... it take seconds.
  • do business with fellow alum, refer them for jobs, collaborate, coinvest, help your fellow lobsters out of the pot (Canadians usually spend thier time pulling each other back into the pot! who said pot?),
  • practical recoms for the alum website - expand the profiles, add some mapping/geotagging, let each person add photos and attach business plans/documents to share to their profiles, add RSS feeds for each profile and the whole site so that when anyone contributes content the network gets the intel,
  • I wonder if now is the right stage for philanthropy efforts. Sure if a fellow alum is running for a cause by all means, but if we are raising $20,000 as a group for something, should we be reinvesting directly in the network (improve website, hire someone to write a report on where the alum network goes from here, particularly if Cap is out of the picture completely).
Good introductory presentation on the changes that are effecting everyone.
Thanks
You're welcome. Thanks for letting me be a small part of it!

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Monday, August 27, 2007

How to organize yourselves

This last weekend (August 23rd), I was speaking to Alumni of the McCrae Institute of International Management about the social shifts taking place today as a result of the Internet. "Groups of people can organize quickly and efficiently and make their voices heard," I said. "The locus of control is shifting from corporations to people, with powerful implications for politics, marketing, product development." In response, I got the obvious question: "how?" Recognizing that I took the answer to that question for granted a little, here is a short treatise on the ways groups of people (such as the McCrae Alumni) can make finding each other and getting together a little bit easier. In the end, you'll need to have a motivated, passionate, and involved group of people to get anything done, of course. That problem hasn't been solved with technology, at least not yet ;-).
  • Get involved in the Blogosphere. Create your own blog (typepad is good, so is wordpress. I use blogger). Find others who share your interest who blog, and comment on their blogs. Link to their blogs from your blog. Blog about their blogs. Strike up conversations. Talking, linking, and generally letting people know what you're about and that you want to connect is how it all begins.
  • Get set up on LinkedIn. Make sure you fill out the "additional information" section at the bottom of your profile with relevant details of your interests and affiliations, and make sure your "contact settings" encourage people to contact you. Actively search for contacts, and invite people you know.
  • Find your friends on Facebook. I'm a little more wary of Facebook's privacy policy and terms of service, but if you're careful about not revealing non-essential information you should be fine. When you're filling in your profile information, don't forget to put information in the other tabs (to the right of the "basic" tab) that will make it easier for people to search for you.
  • Create or join a private or public discussion group. You can use Yahoo! Groups, Google groups, or Ning. Try to use them more than point-to-point communications like email and IM. These days, I like Pownce. ...and I hear Jumpnote is going to totally kick butt when it comes out of alpha.
  • Most importantly, follow your passion: find out where people are already gathering and add your voice.
Hey Blogosphere: any other keen suggestions for a motivated and savvy, but loosely knit, group of people who are hoping to get more organized?

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My first online social networking application (1982)

It was 1982, and I was calling into a music video show called "Soundproof" (1979-1983... big love out Buzz E. Miller and Dave Toddington!) on the North Shore Community Cable Channel. Ring. Ring. Ring. I was hoping to request Shrink's "Paranoid" (anybody?), and I was waiting for the phone to pick up. They didn't even have IVR to pick up and put you on hold, so we'd call and let it ring while we watched videos. One day, I was sitting on the couch at 1 AM, with the phone to my ear and I realized I could hear voices in between the rings. "Hello?" I said. To my surprise, somebody responded.
Dozens of us would call the request line and chat in between the rings. Can you imagine? "Oh yeah, I'm (ring) totally into Wall of (ring) Voodoo. 'Callbox' is the (ring) best song ever!"
Check out the article on page 8 of this old UBC student paper.
Warning: Some bad language in this video!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KNUnLaRekg

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An equitable arrangement

Home Economics Thanks to Springwise for bringing this to my attention: Home Equity Share. An interesting twist on P2P lending, illustrating yet again how stale the mainstream financial industry has become, and how a little creative thinking can go a long way in that space. Here's how it works: It matches investors, who want to get into the real estate market, but don't want monthly payments or tenants, with buyers who have cash flow to make mortgage payments, but don't have a downpayment. The buyer can acquire the investor's share at a later date, or they can agree to sell the property and share the appreciation. Simple, really. It's a Cozy Home in My NeighborhoodNot that it doesn't have it's challenges (the mid-2007 subprime mortgage meltdown), but it has the advantage that this sort of arrangement is really quite common. Parents helping their kids buy their first house, for example. If you don't have parents who can help you financially in this way, Home Equity Share will find you a "surrogate". So far, the company doesn't seem to be leveraging existing social networking applications to connect people together who are likely to have a higher degree of trust due to smaller "degrees of separation", but that's an obvious extension.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

How do you say Peer-to-peer in Mandarin?

One more update on P2P lending: here is a Chinese P2P lending project called PPDAI. It turns out that most lending in China (not much of a surprise) is P2P (the old-school, IRL type), usually between relatives. Most Chinese don't have access to bank financing, apparently. This could be amazing to watch: 1.3 Billion peers... wow.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Addendum to Bypassing the Banks

Update: Here are a couple of interviews with the companies mentioned in my previous post, at Social Lending Watch. Interesting read, both of them. Thanks for the comments/links!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Update: More on bypassing the Banks

I posted earlier on a peer-to-peer lending project called CommunityLend (love the logo, by the way), which is still as yet unlaunched. Here's another interesting angle: a facebook plugin. Using existing social networks to make (presumably better-trusted) connections between lenders and borrowers. LendingClub has this to say for themselves:
Now that Lending Club is available to Facebook members, person-to-person lending on Facebook is finally possible. “Chip wants to pay off his crazy 18% credit cards; can you chip in $100? You’ll get $110 next year, and even better, you’ll know you helped him out and you may also earn a seat at his debt-free celebration dinner.” Your real friends will even validate the purpose of your loan, and strengthen your desire to live up to it.
And more formally:
Lending Club is an online lending community where people can borrow and lend money, bypass the banks, and get better rates. By working together, members can borrow money more easily and at a better rate than they would get from a bank, or invest in a portfolio of loans at higher rates than those served by savings accounts or CDs. A proprietary technology called LendingMatch™ helps match lenders with borrowers using connections established through social networks, associations and online communities, and build diversified portfolios based on lender preferences.
Their blog has some interesting content discussing P2P lending, and financial advice more generally for the Facebook set. Some articles are quite interesting, including this one on loan pricing. LendingClub is currently open to Facebook users, and plans to expand beyond (presumably to other social networks) soon.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On a personal note

Jill AlexanderFor the most part, I've been focusing this blog on my professional interests, but today I make an exception. I've lost a young cousin, an Aunt, and an Uncle to cancer, and an older cousinMy cousin Ruth is fighting hard today. This is not a sad story though, but a story of empowerment and inspiration: My mother, Jill Alexander (turning 70 on her next birthday), is training hard to run a marathon in October to raise money for Leukemia and Lymphoma research (the cancer that took little Tommy and Aunt Arlene from us). She has a website where she's keeping a training log, and accepting donations. I hope you will visit, and consider making a donation. My Mom and I on the beach near where I grew upI should say a little about my Mom: My Mother is the great inspiration of my life. With all the challenges that come with being a single mother of two small boys, she grew a business from nothing into a beautiful day spa and health centre. She worked hard so we never felt that we lacked for anything that truly mattered. I remember her greeting customers and employees alike with a hug and loving kindness. Losing her brother and sister-in-law, whom she dearly loved, and burying baby Tommy would be a terrible burden for anybody, but she has turned the pain of her loss into a positive will to do good. Those who know my mother well will tell you that this is how she lives her life: with love, and to the fullest she knows how.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Boom!

In Turning the Generational Dial, Carol Orsborn (who works at Fleishman-Hillard, along with my good friend Jennifer Torney) makes the case that the generations that follow the Baby Boomers will be the first in all of history "not (to) have grown into adulthood anticipating the marginalized, invisible, powerless future boomers once expected to have—but rather, the promise of lifelong vitality, relevant entertainment and the thriving careers at midlife and beyond that boomers pioneered." This, I find very interesting. I've heard it said that the web is for the young, that youthful early adopters (alone) are driving the new generation of applications we're seeing on the web. I don't believe it. I heard something at the Web 2.0 Expo regarding the demographics of users of the instructables website. I can't for the life of me, find a link anywhere to it on the internet. If anyone can find something, please let me know. Instructables is a site where people post plans for projects that people can build themselves. The interesting tidbit was that Instructables users fall into two categories: posters and readers. Posters tend to be older (over 35) and readers tend to be younger (under 35). What's interesting about that is how obvious it is. Older people passing their knowledge and skills onto younger people. How... human. One of the things the web 2.1 may give us is better access to an increasingly web-savvy older generation with more energy and more things to share than ever before. Maybe, I'm starting to get a sense of why I should care about the Wikia search engine project... Google lets you search what's on the web, but how do you search somebody's life experiences? That's what I want. Anybody working on that?

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Kinzin beta update

It wasn't the worst I've seen, but I think it's fair to say that the Kinzin launch wasn't as smooth as we wanted. Anyway, Paul's team is working fast and furious (quickly and furiously?) to get the holes patched and loops closed. In retrospect, I would say the Mother's day promotion was too ambitious for the first release. Still, we're getting more signups every day, so despite my own perception of the warts and flaws, there are people out there who are adopting and using Kinzin (a big "thank you" to any of you that might be listening). The next phase is going to focus on closing the loop on publishing and inviting, to make it more fun to create using Kinzin, and more obviously valuable to visit.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

All together now (all together now)!

The great people that I work with at Uniserve (hello Paul, Kate (Trgovac), Dethe, Joanna, Kate (Inglis), Vince) have launched a great new product. It's called Kinzin, and it's a site where people can create many small, overlapping, family-centric social networks. It's very cool, and the launch promotion right now is a free high-end custom photobook for a Mom in your family if you sign up and create a family space. It's kind of in a public beta phase, and it would be excellent if you would sign up and try it out. With families getting spread out geographically and bigger age gaps between generations, there are very few truly shared family spaces, where families can share and nurture their micro-cultures. Kinzin is an attempt to give people the tools to create those spaces for themselves. It's just the beginning, too - there are all sorts of cool things coming down the pipe. Check it out!

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Unbanking

(source: Springwise) CommunityLend is "an online community where people lend money directly to other people. (...)You can set your own rates, payback periods and meet some cool people along the way..." I love the sound of this, and I'm very glad it's made its way to Canada. Peer-to-peer lending "banks" been launched in Holland and Germany and, it seems, with some success. In the Netherlands, Guus Drijver, founder of the unfortunately named Boober, says: "Boober doesn't work with hidden costs and is completely transparent. We don't sponsor yacht races or soccer teams, and don't have expensive headquarters or pay thousands of people high salaries." Amen, brother. In "the next few months", CommunityLend will be launching what the are calling a "test phase" where you can "set up profiles, manage loans, bid on auctions and create groups without using real money". I can hardly wait.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Human Network

Just to follow up my last post, I should point you at Cisco's site The Human Network.
Welcome to a place where we're all connected.
Where remote villages are included. And your PDA is a stadium seat. Where home videos are experienced everywhere at once. And Web applications mash together to create new experiences. On the human network, wonderful things are happening everywhere.
Join us as we work, live, play and learn on the human network. Visit collaborative sites, share network stories, hear podcasts and watch videos, even contribute your thoughts to the human network Wikipedia definition.
Together, we are more powerful than we ever could be apart.
welcome to the human network.
There's not a lot of buzz about it that I've seen yet. I wonder if that's because people don't take Cisco seriously in this space? Maybe everyone's waiting to see what comes next. I know I'm curious...

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Socially Networking


Visualization of a Community
Originally uploaded by DC Rob.
According to an article in the NY Times, to follow up on their purchase of Five Across, Cisco is purchasing Tribe.net. It looks like they think that "social" networking with and among customers will become a standard part of corporate infrastructure. Fancy that. Marc Andreesen says this: "The idea that Cisco is going to be a force in social networking is about as plausible as Ning being a force in optical switches."

messy times
Originally uploaded by el frijole.
I'm not sure if I would go that far, given Cisco's resources, but his point has some validity. There's not a lot of ordinary people in the circles that Cisco typically runs in. Still, it looks to me that they've recognized that the networks that really matter to most companies are made of people, not machines. Good for them. Interesting times...

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Canuck Love in the Blogosphere

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Canadian Bloggers of Note (the Z-list)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Co-Creation Rules!

Here's a great manifesto I got from the folks over at Changethis: Co-Creation Rules. Written by James Cherkoff and Johnnie Moore, it gives 17 guidelines to those hoping to engage with their customers, Marketing Participation-style. I liked how they opened their essay, suggesting an exercise to the readers: Draw a picture with one of your colleagues. Using a single pen, and without speaking, take turns adding lines to draw a face, and then give it a name. Which one of you "owns" the picture? Does it look like anything you've drawn before individually? Can you imagine collaborating with your customers in this way to create a new product or campaign?

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Five things about me

I like this meme. Five things about me:
  1. I'm a Jamaican citizen
  2. I once won a kickboxing match by knockout
  3. In 1978, I won three medals in the Jamaica national cultural festival (poetry, acting, and recital)
  4. I met my father for the first time when I was 27
  5. My great-grandmother was known for making a fantastic curry. One day, she brought home a young journalist named Winston (who later became very famous for other reasons) who had heard of her famous curry, and wanted to sample it.
In the interest of passing this meme along, I tag three very interesting people: Dethe Elza, Paul Prescod, and Colleen Nystedt.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

A new name for the Marketing department

Like many companies, Uniserve has a Marketing department. Today, I proposed to my colleagues we change the name of the Marketing Communications function (MarCom), to Marketing Participation (MarPa). Marketing is a conversation, and I think we need to be explicit: we are participating together with our customers in a conversation. What do you think of this? This reminds me of a post that Ross Mayfield made a few months ago. Let's see if I can find it (rummaging through bookmarks). Oh yes, here it is: Power Law of Participation.
"As we engage with the web, we leave behind breadcrumbs of attention. Even when we Read, our patterns are picked up in referral logs (especially with expressly designed tools, like Measure Map), creating a feedback loop. But reading alone isn't enough to fulfill our innate desire to remix our media, consumption is active for consumers turned users."
Consumption is active. We are what we eat. Culture is an activity.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Authenticity is the new "new black"

I gave a talk at the High Tech Communicators' Exchange two nights ago with my colleage Kate Trgovac, reprising many of the themes from an interview I did for Destination KM with a former (and very distinguished) Blast Radius colleague, Philip Guegan. For the benefit of those who attended my talk (a bright and enthusiastic cross section of Vancouver's high-tech marketing community), I have posted my slides for you to download and use. In keeping with the theme of my talk, it is creative commons licensed, as stated at the bottom of this page.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Who owns culture?

Culture, by David Davis
One of the interesting conversations at the Web 2.0 Conference was a discussion about copyright law, and remix culture. Most of the discussion centered around the mechanism by which artists (that is, their labels) might receive compensation for these remixes. I thought the whole discussion sounded like an elaborate misdirection. The "record" companies already have incredibly sophisticated systems for calculating and distributing royalties. To add "mashups" to ringtones and jingles wouldn't be hard at all.
Yellow Submarine, by Marco Canestrari
The real issue is that the whole framework of copyright is less and less at the service of society and culture, and more and more at the service of big business interests. It is an absolute fact that culture belongs to the people who express it. Not the companies that try to profit from it, or the institutions that try to control it. The sad fact is that our copyright law is diverging further and further from this reality. Law isn't my area of expertise or interest, so I won't comment further on that, but it seems obvious to me that extending copyright for longer and longer periods is simply wrong. With all due respect to the fab four, Yellow Submarine doesn't belong to you. I sing it to my kids at night, I hum it to myself when I'm jogging, I make sideways references to it when I'm talking politics... it belongs to me. My culture belongs to me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thanks, but we'll take it from here.

Party's over_2, by xerones
Is it my imagination, or was there a distinct "party's over" kind of feeling to the Web 2.0 conference this year? Not quite so many really good ideas, more big companies, and most of the interesting startups were already funded. Most of all, though, it lacked excitement. When Amazon.com and AOL are the companies that really stick in my mind, I take that to mean the conference has lost the mojo. Not to put those companies down, they're clearly doing very interesting things, it's just that the first couple of years it was the startups that were centre stage. This time, though, it felt like the big kids showed up and said: "thanks a lot for your help so far, but we'll take it from here..." Not that it wasn't worth going - it just didn't feel like the place to go for inspiration. There were a few things that stick in my mind:
  • Nary a word about families. Nothing about kids; nothing about the elderly. Apparently, there's lots of opportunities still to be had as social networking goes mainstream.
  • The platform wars are on again, and this time AOL and Amazon.com want to be players
  • Don't build any more technology than you have to. It's expensive, and makes you harder to buy, and M&A is the only realistic exit right now
So that's good! There's still some helium left in the balloon if you're smart, fast and light.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Just call me "Mr. T"

"There’s a seduction to being an expert, an assumption in society that credibility relies on deep (and narrow) expertise. However, for people operating at the edges, interesections, and overlaps where innovation thrives, being a generalist is far more powerful." bplusd: On being a generalist

Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, writing in Fast Company, had the following to say about putting design at the heart of your organization's storytelling:

Organizations need to take design thinking seriously. We need to spend more time making people conscious of design thinking -- not because design is wondrous or magical, but simply because by focusing on it, we'll make it better. And that's an imperative for any business, because design thinking is indisputably a catalyst for innovation productivity. That is, it can increase the rate at which you generate good ideas and bring them to market.

Brought to You by the Letter he more real you make the story for yourselves (he recommends using rapid prototyping), the easier it is for everyone to stay on the same page. ...And what kind of people does he look to get into his organization to make the stories real?

T-Shaped People

Tea Set, by Rob Ireton

Mr. Brown goes on:

We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they're willing to try to do what you do. We call them "T-shaped people." They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T -- they're mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need.
Rollin' in the Fog

One Letter / The world is so broad now, and the interactions between things so complex and unpredictable, being too specialized can slow your forward progress. When putting together productive, innovative teams, finding the most effective blend of individual strengths and propensities, while ensuring that they elemental skills native to the domain are present is the challenge. Not quite brain surgery (more like writing a symphony, in my experience), but I believe it may be the most important managerial skill for an entrepreneur to develop.

Mr. T Wants You!

As an aside: I've noticed that people use "Brain Surgery" and "Rocket Science" interchangeably as metaphor for things that are too complex to understand, but I tend to see them as two ends of a continuum. Brain surgery is more of an art: we really don't know how the brain works exactly, and math doesn't help you that much. In contrast, rocket science is largely newtonian, and rewards proficiency with math. I recognize this is a gross oversimplification, but I suppose that's the point of the metaphor.

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Manualizing your business processes

Breakthrough, by The Forrest aka/klepto
What's the opposite of automation? Manualization? What I'm referring to is deliberately engineering humans back into processes that were formerly automated. Why? Because making it faster, or making it cost less, is sometimes too expensive. Sure, it's faster for me to "press 1 for tech support" to get put in the queue, but maybe having a human answer the phone puts the value in the right place, rather than just in the place where it's easiest to count. To quote John Thakara we need to "deliver value to people - not deliver people to systems". The first time I read that, I had a flash of insight (it's rare, but it happens):
Hand Squircle, by The Forrest aka/klepto
Why shouldn't we be able to design a call centre system that a) is financially progressive, and b) is enjoyable to work in? Let's design people in and create new opportunities for meaningful, interesting, fun work to be done. It's mythology that machines are more efficient than people. More efficient for what? With all due respect to our local telecom monopoly, having people greet other people is a much more efficient way to be friendly, as people are simply better at it than machines. Exception handling is usually the single greatest expense in any automated system. It also happens to be what people are best at — in fact, (surprise, surprise) it turns out that they enjoy the variety. Resources : technorati tags: , , ,

Monday, October 02, 2006

This is going to be fun...

The beginning of something wonderful, by Oi Jimmy!
So this is my first blog post as the Chief Products and Innovation Officer of Uniserve Communications Corp. I suppose I've been putting it off for too long, as I search for just the right topic to start off with. I hope you can forgive me :-). As an aside, before I launch into it, just a quick note as to why I accepted this position, which on the face of it probably seems like an odd choice, given my background and personality. Three reasons:
  1. Will Spratt, the CEO. This is a man who knows how to do deals, structure businesses, and make money. Even more importantly, he is a person of the highest integrity.
  2. $25M in revenue, growing quarter over quarter for years now, and generating profit, with over 110,000 customers coast to coast.
  3. The competition is fat and slow, and complacent. When was the last time your telco/ISP did something innovative for you? Press 1 for never, press 2 for a long time ago, and press pound to get put on hold with torturous easy listening versions of songs you didn't like even in the original version.
So there you have it. A great opportunity to build something very interesting on a great platform. Onward!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The (in)accessible Government initiative

OK... here's how you don't do it: I'm applying for a government document online. This is fantastic, of course - the government of Canada makes it possible for me to apply online and ensure my documents are in order before I bring them in person to a physical office and submit them. Let me start by giving credit to the Government for at least going this far. Now for how it all went wrong: I sign up for my online ID (time-consuming, but appropriate), and begin the process of filling out the form, when I'm confronted with a message that the website needs to ensure that I have a supported browser. That's OK (I think to myself), I have the latest version of OSX, fully patched, and the latest version of Firefox, also fully patched. Should be a cinch. I'm actually a little encouraged as the little progress indicator has a clear "Mac OSX" kind of look about it. BZZT. Apparently, I can only use IE6 on Windows to access the government of Canada website. (grrr... didn't I pay a whole whack of taxes when I bought this PowerBook?) Anyway, I'm savvy: I switch to Virtual PC and use IE6 to access the site. Here's where it gets strange. Remember that I just got told that I can't use my Mac... I'm told as I go through the whole process again, that I need to use IE6 on Windows because among other things I need to use Java (you know, the cross-platform one), and that I need to install the Sun JVM, because the Microsoft JVM isn't supported. It helpfully adds that the Sun JVM is installed by default in OSX, so if I'm using a Mac I won't need to install it. So, to make a long story short, there's nobody in the world who has, by default, the configuration needed to access the government of Canada's online forms. Nice.