Monday, December 01, 2008

Social video; Will facebook connect the dots?

According to ReadWriteWeb facebook connect is adding the social layer to video on the web. With discovery channel and hulu on board (as well as digg and geni) users are able to start 'talking about' what they see (and find on the web..digg) to their facebook connections. Not only profile data of facebook but as well friends connections can be added to the sites of hulu and discovery channel. RWW is mostly interested in the DIGG connection, but to be honest I find it much more interesting what is going to happen to the experience of hulu and discovery channel. Will the facebook connect enforce a more mutualy shared 'watching' experience of video on the web? Basically this was one of the strategic goals of building an embeddable videoplayer with social features for the Dutch Public Broadcasting in the project I was leading last year. It may not even be necessary to build this social layer, if the Dutch social networks start sharing their connections in a manner as facebook does.

And there is a good reason to belief they will, for it will only expand their user knowledge even more. Which in turn is off course very interesting information for advertisers in the long haul. Who is watching what and sharing it with whom,.. and what are the comments on the programmes content that are shared between friends.. As I have argued before, we need a whole new manner of looking at and valueing media-effects then as we do now. What facebook connect is doing, this use of the social graph, expanding it to other domains, is beginning to sketch a more clear picture of what the "search and find by friend" of social video will look like.. Eventually, when television will merge with the web even more, imagine how the new positions will be in this landscape... Social networks could very well be the new broadcasting networks of the future. I honestly think, that is not such an unlikely picture of the future of television and one to be reckoned with. It is certain powers will shift.

ICIDS08: interactive digital stories

I am very pleased to have attended the ICIDS08 conference in Erfurt, Germany. The conference brings together writers of interactive stories with the computational AI (Artificial Intelligence) scientists of story engines and applications. For more then 20 years there has been research in the domain of interactive storytelling. One side of this domain is the AI; Artificial Intelligence domain. Here the goal is (and I am using a liberal explanation here) to dissect stories into abstract units that can ideally and intelligently create stories as systems. Progress has been difficult, due to the reality that stories are probably too human to be generated by computers. There is a lot of pre-conceived implicit knowledge at the level of the writer, (knowledge of the world, knowledge of people, creative human exploration) which is hard to dissect into abstract units.

But what is very interesting in my opinion, is that we can use elements of this large body of work to generate interactive story elements and events, that for instance can scale over large audiences, simultaneously. That is making diverse interactive story levels possible on a mass media scale, playing out different story branches that can be emerging simultaneously. Main problem was, is and will be coherence in the story lines as they branche out and start “living” an (artificial) life of their own.

Recent work at the Artificial Intelligence side is into story-generating mechanisms. The issue here is to postpone the creation of story (world, events, motives, goals and elements) as much as possible until it is needed through the interactive story emergence that takes place between the system and the user; this is called ‘delayed authoring’ and it forms the Greenfield in interactive storytelling systems.

Shortly said, the aim is to have a system that can adjust on the fly as much as possible to the course of the emerging (interactive) story. What do you need in the storyworld (elements), as prop attributes to the characters (be it either NPC or players) or the input of goals (and maybe motives) to foster progress during the generation of the interactive story?
At the time you need to fill in ‘the gap’ during the emergence of the interactive story, the system generates what is required on the fly..

So what fields is interactive digital storytelling tested in? Well, for me,.. here is the good news, although the work starts out from different platforms…:
- Augmented Reality (mobile urban drama)
- Alternated Reality (Second Life as testbed)
- Gameworlds (singular or MMOPG; -mods-)
- Interactive television
- The use of new techniques for immersion in film (stereoscopic vision and 3Dsound)
- Webbased interfaces

There, fortunately, is not a lot of debate about which media platform is “the best” for interactive digital storytelling (as can be encountered in industry environments so often), because off course all of them are in some way, more or less depending on the context of the user. The focus is more on matching user/performer/player expectations with what is evolving in the interactive story.

The need for finding solutions for this is shared ACROSS platforms. Main fields of interest are:

- How to generate an intelligent, coherent, fascinating story through the use of (AI) systems (playing out to several platforms if applicable)?

- What is the need of the user entering a story world (or maybe even prior to that, in a user wanting to (co)-create a story world)?

- How to immerse the user into the experience? What can we do to create interest from the user? Using flashbacks, foreshadowing; making stories player specific; creating believable story characters (NPC’s), the use of stereoscopic vision and 3D audio, and what are first results of the tests?

The good news is that by now the two formerly divided fields of storytellers and computer scientists are trying to come together to foster more progress. Maybe the next innovative ‘thing’ (as in next big thing) will not be a game, but an interactive story? Because the game industry has become very conservative; to much money, to much risk, playing it safe, re-doing the same format over and over again.. Game companies become “moguls” and the risk aversion is setting in which, as always leaves little room for innovation.

So.. Let's see..

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why focusing on reach is harming you to get to your goal; becoming relevant!

In 1997, the old days, even before the internet bubble burst (yes I was on the scene already) I once, being a serious telecommunication consultant, had to write my input for a greenpaper on telecommunication and media for the OPTA. To give a north star I just wrote down some simple statements. One of them was

“Not reach but relevance will be key”.

And now, more then ten years down the road I think it is time to restate that prediction a little bit as in “Not reach but relevance IS the key”. What I mean obviously is that “reach” as in GRP or CPM or any other measure of short attention/contact is not a sole indicator of the effect of your communication anymore. The difference between the prediction in 1997 and today is that in my point of view we already passed the stage where it is effective to build your media strategy around aiming at as much reach as possible. But still I am amazed how most of the advertising budget most of the publishers claiming to be "crossmedia publishers" and most of the media agencies are still taking as a centre piece of their strategies.. ‘to gain as much ‘reach’ for a brand/product as is possible’.

Here’s why that is a counterproductive strategy for your brand to say the least..:

Before customers got voices, and media where still about sending and calling out as loud as you can, you could not see the bottom of the iceberg. So all the time, we just said to each other, see how great we are doing. See how many people we have reached with our message….. And see what it did to the awareness of our brand. And see how sales have increased by 10 percent. The campaign is a huge success…

But that really is just the tip of the iceberg…

The piece in the water is the amount of NEGATIVE effect/affect you get when you focus on getting as much reach as you can. The top of the iceberg is where a small amount of customers, who might just be thinking about buying your kind of product or service, or maybe they where not, but got persuaded by the coolness of your campaign and the clever repetition of your media plan and gave attention to your product or brand.

But....The bottom of the iceberg represents the cost of irritating the rest of your public with irrelevant messages. And if you make up that balance, it is a negative one!

And still, how many times a day do we get advertising messages that are completely irrelevant to us. Mostly we do not get irritated anymore, we just ignore the messages completely often never even realizing there was a message at all. (Well, maybe it has some effect, if you believe in the strength of subliminal messaging...) But the costs remain the same, either be it plain waste, or irritation. Your message is completely irrelevant to the people you want to ‘reach’. It never touched any core of their existence, never resonated on any string.

So, basically you did not do well at all! It’s a painful message if you are still out there building media campaigns to get as much reach as you can (and I know most of you are still doing this….). The problem with this approach is, you are sailing under another sky then the one we live in today.

Getting relevant is a completely different act. It means
1. Adding true value through meaningful touchpoints in the lives of people.
2. Being context-aware One context isn’t the other, so something can be meaningful in one context, of no value in another and completely off-beat in another context. Be aware of being context-aware.
3. Helping out your customers, with getting their lives better organized, more meaningful, more fun, more inspiring, more true.
4. Authenticity and openness Be true. Recently I was trying to pull of a stunt in one of the big ranting blogs in the Netherlands ( And obviously the public right away saw the acting, and most of the negative comments on my ‘performance’ where about it NOT being authentic (.. I admit, it wasn’t ;-)
5. Being just in time JIT is a term used in the vending business, meaning that goods are delivered not a moment to early and not a moment too late. This very much accounts for your context-aware communication. Be prepared to communicate on different levels with different persons in your public. Someone might be just exploring your product or service. While another is on the step of actually buying it. The first needs to be able to ‘play around’ while the next one needs a lot of confirmation if he or she is making the right choice. Those are 'different messages at 'different times' in the dialogue you have with your customers.
6. Time is personal not chronological. Coming from the last remark in the previous point.. People are at different personal "time' levels in a dialogue. All taking place in parallel. Steering all of these parallel dimensions is one of the arts of getting relevant.

I can name a few others, and I will in following posts when I get back on how to get a better grasp at these key indicators. But there is one main attitude change that needs to happen:

START LISTENING (and stop shouting… because you really are looking more ridiculously unaware every day)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Snippets of what I learned at the nextweb 2008

I actually noticed three trends at the Next Web. The first is the focus on smaller particles. There was a lot of business development focussing on getting a 'feature' in the cloud.Wauw! Wee makes it easy to upload pictures and text to your site and networks by using your mobile phone.
Bemba is actually a sharing button in your browser, it's de-geeked. Symbaloo is the search button on your mobile. Fleck a start-up of the organisers of the next web is the yellow notes on the web. Twingly metadates the trackback functionality. They announced an agreement with "De Telegraaf", one of the big Dutch publishing houses that starts using twingly to generate more traffic.Cocomment aggregates the conversations you are in, or that may be relevant to you. I can see the meaning of that, with scattered conversations in different spaces.
Wakoopa tracks what kind of software or games you use, and lets you create your own software profile. At first I thought heck who cares, but then I got the picture, it's a two sided knife.. For developers: Get your app out and see adoption rates daily. You can adjust directly, great betatesting. For users: Sharing what you use gives you tips on what like-minded users are using now. And this is off course extremely interesting for the big vendors to know our software-profiles (even be it aggregated).

The other start-ups aimed at centralising all the particles around the users through community, or netvibes-a-like thinking and from there on letting them share again- Sharing was obviously a big theme for every start-up -. Focus is on the personal dashboard. makes it possible for you to centrally assemble all that you want to cast and from there again share it. . Goo-jet seduces you by being the central starting point to assemble your material and take it with you anywhere mobile. Netlog is a social network already growing rapidly and is looking at ways to build new advertising models. Beezbox (currently as I write offline) is another social network app. Like Ning, but it is B-to-B, meaning whereas Ning owns all the data on their/your networks. Beetbox is white label to publishers. Therefore, maybe not technically high end, might fullfil a here-and-now need in the market.

That's a short pick of the start-ups presenting, you may all find them here at the nextweb

Another important development is the application aggregation. Amazon already has started this and was presenting at the next web. Yesterday google announced its google app engine. Handing out the tested tools available within these companies too the public to start building from there. Including the possiblity to scale (amazon and google now a bit about that) Talk about scaling, according to scobleizer (see later) that's what they know how to do in San Francisco.

For the real next web issue, The somewhat longer term development of the web. There was a presentation of Nova Spivack, you can find a substract of this 2 posts below. The next web is where we will start mashing beyond belief.. Therefore the focus on particles is logical. The power is truly going to be in the detail ;-). Cloud computing, applications with low data-rate exchanges, and clear benefits, digg being an excellent early example, will add to the stack. Now by unlocking the data in all those stacks we can even more enrich our experience and get relevant information. That is according to Chris Saad of the Data Portability Organisation. I met Chris, a very likeable man who invited me to come and join in the debate about data portability. An invitation that is not ment only for me, but for everybody. So take a look at the Data Portability Organisation

And then off course there was Robert Scoble, who had a very inviting speech where he was not so much sending out a message, as well opening up to a conversation with the public. Meanwhile, in between the lines, he said some very usefull things like that it is wise to gather many friends and that somehow you needed to make sense out of the feed. Scobleizer just hoppes in and out of the pulse (on twitter) when he’s on, he may react. When he’s of, your reply is lost in some endless parallel space.. I had a short meet up with Robert, (great guy) and he just gave me a tantalizing idea. Very valuable. That kind of sums him up, in and out of conversations. Sometimes being highly relevant. So thanks scobleizer, got the grey cells running up a scheme again..;-)

Monday, March 17, 2008

social video and public broadcasting

In the midst of the videoplayer storm (almost every day there is a new service launched) I have been working on.. indeed making another videoplayer. There is however a very decisive difference in this player with other services. Most of them are aimed at us, users becoming videochannels. That's great, a well of new unknown talent comes on board, You Tube already showed this much. But..This player is aimed at getting "regular" broadcasting material into the the social web layer. The question then is how to get a videoplayer that can stand up against all these new initiatives AND add value to the experience of using and working with it?

We focussed on adding 'watching together" functionality to it. On getting video online "social" itself. What functionality do you need so you can share your viewing experience with others, most likely your friends?
You need to be able to comment and talk about the contents of the video. You need to be able to point out what others should watch, which particular scene..and why
You need to be able to "personalize" the video you want to place in "your environment", notably your webpage, profiling page etc. All of that and more we designed into a player no larger then the You Tube player. Where You Tube is adding - a lot - of social functionality AROUND the players, in their own website, we tried to get the most significant functionality also INTO the player. Off course we want to direct people to the website of the public broadcaster as well. This will happen because of the added value you can find in the landingspages (the reward to go to the website of the pubcaster is this good, you will). With "uitzending gemist" the pubcaster was one of the first in the world to have a large scale video on demand library available to the public. The service is inmensely popular, but.. it is a closed loop. Coming from a closed environment the movement here is to "open up" to the wishes of the public. To take the content and place it in your own context and enable you to "talk about it" with others. In some upcoming posts I will go deeper into the motives behind this, the things we learned so far and a little bit more about how to get video on the web more social. The answer is in the icing on the cake..