The Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and one of its initiatives is to provide members with fancy new gold credit card style membership cards, replacing the former paper-based version. My reaction, when I heard this, was one of disappointment. Every initiative taken by an organization today has consequences and implications that reverberate across multiple sectors. In this case, the AEA failed to take advantage of a priceless opportunity to enhance member services, increase member engagement, and exhibit a very simple but impactful degree of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).
More than 7 years ago, the Census Bureau determined that there were nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the U.S. A stack of all those credit cards would reach more than 70 miles into space — and be almost as tall as 13 Mount Everests. If this number of credit cards were thrown away every three years, the stack of credit cards would reach almost 43 Everests high after a decade. These plastics do not biodegrade in landfills. Not so fancy.
Actor’s Equity is not a lone offender, though. When SAG and AFTRA merged, the new union had an opportunity to revisit its longstanding use of plastic credit card member IDs, but opted to stick with the short term functionality of plastics, long-term sustainability be damned. The Producers Guild and other industry organizations are equally guilty. My frustration would be less justified if there existed few alternatives. However, companies such as Discover Financial services are offering cards made of BioPVC™ and other biodegradable alternatives; well-established technologies such as mobile apps present a plethora of creative and operational opportunities; and other technologies such as NFC offer yet more potential, as their adoption becomes more widespread. So why the lack of innovation or sustainability best practices? Is it an absence of imagination? Aversion to change? Financially motivated obduracy?
As current Chair of my city’s Sustainability Commission, I have benefited from the past four years, learning about the negative consequences of unsustainable practices (both in business and personal life), as well as about the positive implications of Green and other more sustainable commercial and community options, be it through renewable materials sourcing, alternative energy programs, commercial district redesigns, and many other areas. Many initiatives in sustainability offer up more than a single-pronged benefit or solution. It’s not just about environmental conservation, or clean air, or recycling. It’s about positioning ourselves, our businesses, and our communities for a more environmentally, socially, and financially robust future.
Had the AEA decided to explore options for member identification, other than the current plastic card tradition, all sorts of exciting avenues to member engagement and empowerment might have been revealed. Imagine a mobile app (what actor does not have a mobile phone?) that represents not only the individual’s union identification, but also a resource for direct connection to their credit union, membership affiliate discount programs, health insurance tools, personalized pension and 401K insights, dues status (and mobile payment processing), and much more, besides. The cost savings to the AEA and their members alike would be enormous, the raw materials no longer needed (plastics, papers, etc) would be mountainous, and the ability to connect more dynamically with membership would elevate the usefulness, value and – by extension – collective bargaining power of the AEA.
To those who would argue that they would not wish to entrust such data to a mobile device that might lose power, break, be stolen, or otherwise be compromised…I suggest they note that more wallets are stolen and lost than mobile devices. The Baby Boomer generation may not be able to acclimatize themselves to the notion of a cardless society, but I personally am quite excited by the idea of saving money, time, and materials – simply by aggregating the contents of my wallet into a well-protected, institutionally insured, cloud-based ecosystem that poses no more risk to our identities than we currently face today. The promise that lies in such innovation far outweighs the risks, and I can think of no better collective to act upon this promise than Actors themselves. This opportunity seems to have been missed, but I sincerely hope that other organizations might think a little more expansively about each initiative they take, going forward. The smallest tweak might offer far greater rewards (and savings) than they might imagine.
As Apple Computer seems to lose a little of its luster (perhaps only temporarily), it’s heartening to see products in other market sectors pick up where the late Steve Jobs and the conspicuously silent John Ive left off. Indeed, some products have picked up the baton and taken it even further, when it comes to out-of-the-box user experience. One such example is the impressive Nest Learning Thermostat, which I just installed today. The product works wonderfully, a pleasure enhanced tenfold by the exquisite care taken by the product development team to ensure that my introduction to, installation of, and experience with their creation be nothing short of brilliant.
I kept running back and forth from the living room and the hallway, where I was installing the thermostat – eagerly sharing with my wife each and every childlike discovery: “there’s a cute screwdriver included in the kit!”; “it automatically determines what wires I have, and whether it needs to jumper the connection!”; “they included little sticky labels to identify each of the wires coming out of the wall!”; “the digital display comes on automatically as you walk up to it!”; “we can manage it all from my computer, iPad, or phone!”; and so on.
I did feel a twinge of concern, when I realized that use of this thermostat included communicating when I was home and when I was away. This fact, combined with the requirement to enter my home address and other personal information, makes me wonder what sort of fun high-tech burglars might have, were they able to hack in to the Nest servers, and remotely track the comings and goings of homeowners…
Extant that challenge to my otherwise usually enthusiastic embrace of new paradigms in social transparency, I was thrilled by this obviously well-conceived piece of consumer electronics genius. More often than not, startups are trying to practice alchemy: attempting to fashion something priceless out of nothing, or something very close thereto. When an innovator comes along, recognizing the shortcomings of something so ubiquitous as a thermostat, and leverages advances in networking technology and product design, the result is far more exciting than it ought to be.
Some might say that Tesla Motors has achieved the same result with automotive innovation, while Amazon’s Kindle has shifted the landscape of literary hardware, and ARM and Intel continue to duke it out in the technology battle for supremacy in combined processing power and energy efficiency. Innovation abounds, moving our society forward, not so much by leaps and bounds in to the unknown, but rather (I’d like to think) in an inexorable arc toward improvement, so long as we – the consumer – continue to demand integrity in sourcing, sustainability, and workforce management.
What recent product release do you feel has most startlingly advanced an otherwise mundane or hitherto predictable market?
I was recently messaging with a colleague, discussing the finer points of republishing content posted on a Facebook Page, when we got on to the topic of crediting sources. The conversation got me thinking, and following are some of those thoughts, for what they’re worth:
Sharing content is cool, giving credit for the source is even cooler.
Illegally sharing hundreds of films or music tracks online is not cool, no matter how you cut it. Everyone uploads or downloads a song here or there, or surreptitiously catches an episode they missed of their favorite series, but wholesale mass theft of content is just that – stealing.
Trolling is for idiots.
Flame wars are for fools.
Cat pictures should be limited to Furcadia.
If you’re redistributing a Twitter post that someone else made, it’s called a “retweet”, and there’s a button for that. It is not called a “cut and paste and pretend I thought of it”.
Don’t tweet, post, or otherwise publish content just to be the first, coolest, or any other attention-grabbing reason. For most of us, High School ended a long time ago. Try limiting yourself to publishing content which you SINCERELY believe will Inspire, Challenge, Educate, or Empower (my version of Tony Hsieh’s very compelling ICEE philosophy for tweeting).
Empire Avenue, Klout, and Kred are Casual Games. They have no other functional value (with the exception of advertising). Don’t pretend otherwise. This may change one day, but for now it’s all just about as useful as milking a virtual cow. Enjoy the diversion, but don’t make any more out of it than that.
Your follow count – be it on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, or elsewhere – has no metric value other than to tell you how many people clicked “Follow” or “Like”. Relatively few of them actively read your content, so suck it up and get on with your REAL life.
Once in a while, something you post will publish at *just* the right moment, and the content will resonate at *just* the right frequency with the community in to which it is launched, sufficient to go viral (for whatever short period and distance it does so). Take a moment to enjoy the moment, and then get on with your REAL life.
Social media is engaging, immersive, sometimes even addictive. However, it is counterproductive when it becomes anything more than a utility. If you manage online communities for a living (or as an important aspect of your identity), then social engagement (a term I coined in 2005) will understandably hold a central place in your daily life. Everyone else, look upon it as you would the telephone or television: a game-changing innovation that serves to bring the world closer together, and facilitate communication, education, information, and commerce. Used in moderation, it represents an extraordinary leap forward in personal expression, global connectivity, and cultural rapprochement. Used to excess, it erodes the intellect, dumbs down the conversation, and reduces us to yabbering consumers of junk, and little more.
Great tools and platforms have been (and continue to be) developed. Let’s use them with a modicum of wisdom and restraint. The promise they hold is immense, but only if we use them responsibly.
The value of news in the digital age runs in inverse proportion to the amount of time since its release.
If a news item is published at 1:00pm PCT, it has half as much value by 2:00pm, as it did when it was first posted, and only a quarter remaining value by 5:00pm. Obviously, a more accurate measurement of shelf life would take in to consideration the online network on which the news was published, the original posting time (early morning posts tend to get wider reach than early afternoon), and several other factors.
Some media companies, such as the New Yorker and Wired magazine, have recently determined that this is largely because they are giving their news away to 3rd-party providers for free, unreasonably diluting the brand value of their offering. Their solution is to terminate those relationships (as they did earlier this week by removing access to their content from such renowned platforms as Flipboard).
Other media companies are laying off reporters in droves, as they desperately try to save their way to prosperity, under the same “bricks, mortar, and paper” model as ever. talk about lunatics running the asylum…
I think there’s a much simpler solution and, as ever, it all comes down to content.
Consumers don’t place the highest valuation on a distribution channel, platform, or app, but rather upon the content itself. Flipboard may well fail, if too many content providers remove access via that platform. The UX is unquestionably appealing, but who cares that the library is pretty, if there’s nothing to read therein? That said, if content providers restrict access to their content too zealously, minimizing consumer ability to share and spread the appeal of that content, they will effectively squander the “early release” value of their content, and vastly diminish its value, by extension.
Before I propose what I consider to be an enormously simple solution, let’s accept and agree upon some basic truths:
Good news comes from good reporters. Not (bless ‘em) good printers, nor good truck drivers. Journalists such as Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) and Lisa Napoli (@lisanapoli) are demonstrating that direct connection to their “readers” vastly increases the spread of their content.
The Paywall method of news delivery is a clumsy protectionist system that works only in the absence of better paradigms.
People will get their news, and entertainment, one way or another. If you stand in their way, they will work around you. If you develop a solution that is a win-win for everyone, they are more than likely going to work with you.
Taking in to account the aforementioned and obvious fact that news has highest value early in its lifecycle, and marrying this with the fact that netizens place high value on content that raises their network visibility, it stands to reason that those wishing to take on the mantle of “influencer” will be prepared to pay for “early access” to compelling media content. If it costs $4.95 to have a big headstart on the rest of the web, when it comes to news and other media, I know many who would gladly pay. The difference between this scenario and the current paywall system is that my solution does not exclude all other netizens from access to the content. After a sufficient time delay, content could be released to the wider public, free of charge. It’s an exercise in transparency and digital openness, with a nod to commercial necessity. If you want to access content in the first hour of its publication, you need to be a subscriber. If you want access within the first 2 hours, you must be either a subscriber, or have access to the link via a subscriber (further elevating the viral power of full subscribers, and cementing their loyalty to your media brand). If you are willing to wait until the end of the day, so be it. The model needs refinement, but the concept is sound.
Take for example Nicholas Kristof’s latest Op-Ed piece, entitled “My Iranian Road Trip”. As is usual with his work, the Twitterverse and Facebook ecosystem have exploded with activity, as this video goes viral, and spreads around the web. The New York times has a paywall up on their site, so only subscribers can see the video. However, because this is the ONLY option offered, someone has kindly reposted (at least until the NYT reports it!) the video, free-of-charge, on YouTube:
The New York Times gets no love nor revenue out of this scenario. Nicholas Kristof gets his story out. The readership share the YouTube link, and ignore the NYT site altogether. Were my solution in effect, nobody would likely be compelled to waste their time extracting the video content from the NYT site, and reposting it, knowing it would be freely available in a matter of hours. Instead they would be focusing on positioning themselves as first line influencers, sharing the NYT site link and thereby their subscriber access with their own network. Subscriptions would rise, content “piracy” would be mitigated, brand value would be strengthened, and the value of viral media would be elevated in a manner consistent with both the ideals of an increasingly transparent society, and the realistic needs of any business. My scenario recognizes the need to shift from a “control” mentality to a “collaborate” one, recognizing that the core value is highest at point of publication and readership (journalist and consumer), and everything in between is either conduit or obstacle.
I’ve been invited to a private event at the Los Angeles Times building tonight, hosted by Muck Rack (@Muckrack) and the LA Times. It’s been labeled as “a casual cocktail event for a few select journalists, PRs and news junkies to talk about journalism in the age of social media”. I’m eager to see what this constituency makes of my “crazy idea”…
With the recent news that Motorola won a sales and import ban against Microsoft in Germany (effectively removing Microsoft Xbox and Windows 7 products from that market), and is poised to repeat the ban here in the US, the circle is complete.
Video and Audio Compression technologies have been developed by a host of companies over the past decades, and the result is a somewhat murky product development pipeline requiring patent licensing and cross licensing deals, the likes of which would make an LA freeway interchange look like a lonely unpaved road through the dustbowl. Add to this the fact that IP&L (Intellectual Property & Licensing) is the cash cow of many technology giants, and the prevailing practice is to develop patents for everything that can be thus recorded, in the hopes that there may exist licensing revenues somewhere in the future. These are the given circumstances for the present dance featuring Microsoft and Motorola Mobility (now under Google’s wing).
As is often the case, much sabre-rattling has been going on, and clashes in court have ensued. Each side hoped that, when the dust settled, they would emerge with the upper hand. Nobody expected to outright win, but that’s not what IP conflicts are about, when the licensing giants are engaged in battle. It always looks terribly bloody and violent, and enormous (to us) sums of money are dispensed via legal teams. However, these sums are paltry, when compared to the licensing sums at stake. What’s a million or two, when one stands to gain tens and even hundreds of millions?
However, in this particular case, both sides gained and both sides lost, and now it falls to the lawyers and IP negotiators to assess where the bargaining chips have fallen, before progressing with the next stage of battle: the truce.
Now that both camps hold trophies, they could either choose to continue attacking one another, if they believed more trophies were in the offing, or they could begin the next phase of a process all too familiar to large tech companies today: negotiation of a cross-licensing truce.
Instead of negotiating from the outset in good faith, companies today have discovered that negotiation under duress, even if that duress is mutual, tends to deliver greater savings. I’m not sure I believe it anymore, but the trend is to sue until the pot is sweet enough to settle.
As far as the Microsoft/Motorola Mobility clash is concerned, this could be a good time to trade trophies, and settle on a cross-licensing agreement that would allow both companies to get on with the business of selling their products to consumers (albeit at a slightly increased price point, necessary to cover their legal costs). However, now that Google has just purchased Motorola Mobility, the search-and-everything-else giant may opt to bloody its bitter rival a little more, and Motorola Mobility product sales may become collateral damage in the even larger battle between Redmond and Mountain View.
It would all be rather silly, were it not for the millions of dollars, hundreds of jobs, and possible legal precedents at stake…
If you have a suggestion for an app that would be useful to production personnel, or any other feedback, Susan Zwerman will be updating this list regularly, in PDF form. For details, email her at: email@example.com
One of the many April Fools joke postings yesterday involved a claim that Nielsen was abandoning “People Meters”, in favor of tracking audience viewing data via Facebook and Twitter posts. I fell for it long enough to think about the implications of such a move. Once I cottoned on to the ruse, however, I was left with an abiding sense that an issue had been revisited that was far from resolved: Nielsen is obsolete as a tracking mechanism, and the various solutions they and their network clientele keep percolating are almost as useless as the systems currently in place.
The technology exists today to unobtrusively track actual viewing patterns and numbers, so why is Nielsen *still* extrapolating data points from subjective choice-oriented pools, such as Nilesen “diaries” and set-top boxes? Opting for social network-oriented insights would be just as subjective – even without taking in to consideration the fact that there is a drop off in usage of such apps as IntoNow, as people make a move toward reclaiming their privacy.
If IP is being patented to monetize ad-skipping, why not reward opt-ins for more granular tracking? One possible scenario: if viewers let DVR and live viewing data be recovered through hardware-embedded tracking tools, on an anonymous basis, they could get a certain number of credits. Increasing the demographic visibility of their viewership might increase their credits, and credits could be used toward ad skipping, network related bonus content, and so many other rewards. The possibilities are endless, and yet Nielsen et al prefer to look only as far as the end of their noses. The transparency of many social platforms is testament that consumers don’t mind sharing their habits, while the backlash against many misguided practices of some social endeavors (“Beacon” anyone?) demonstrates user commitment to managing their transparency, and not having it co-opted or monetized by third parties, without their consent. It’s not even about consent, in fact. It’s about collaboration. The consumer has begun to see that their life has value – monetary value – and they are willing to share that value, so long as the returns are worth the exposure. For some, it’s as simple as badges and upvotes, for others it’s perks and awards. If Nielsen gets smart, it will recognize this trend, and add a seat at the partnership table for the end-user, and audience tracking in the 21st century could become a much more accurate, rewarding, and dare I say enjoyable exercise for all involved.
I got an iPad six months ago, and have spent the time since then exploring far too many apps for my own good, so I’ve decided that my iTunes Store meanderings should do some good for someone, if possible…
Over the next few months, therefore, I’m going to share some of the apps that I have deemed “keepers”, amidst the legion of apps that have sojourned briefly on my iPad, before being unceremoniously deleted for lack of perceived long term value. Unquestionably, many of these apps that today I praise will eventually be usurped by new and improved solutions. For now, though, these are the few apps that have survived my merciless judgment, by simple dint of the fact that they’re better than the rest:
In order to make this review somewhat digestible, I’m going to split the apps into 20 categories, and I warmly welcome your own feedback and input, should you know of any apps I’ve not covered, which you feel are superior.
Please note that in all but one or two cases, I am focusing on apps that are, or were at one time or another, free. With this in mind, let me start with the “Shopping” category:
Yes, I downloaded the Catalogue app, for all of about 10 minutes. It seemed cool for about that long, before I realized I hate getting catalogues in the post, so why would I rejoice in a flashy digital version of the junk mail tomes? It was therefore the first app to “wiggle” its way out of my iLife. Other apps fared better, however.
AppStart, AppShopper, App Deals, AppPriceDrop
With 585,000 apps in the App Store (as of 03/07/2012), of which more than 150,000 are exclusively for the iPad, how does a new owner know what’s what? A good beginning would be to dive in to the very attractively designed AppStart interface, and learn a little about the device itself, how to maximize its functionality, and then which top apps merit installation as a good foundational collection. At this point, it would be useful to learn the “secret” many iPad users have learned too late: an enormous number of iPad and iPhone apps fluctuate in price on a frustratingly random basis. I rely on a trio of research and aggregation apps (AppShopper, App Deals, AppPriceDrop) to parse these fluctuations, and take best advantage of “sales”.
Amazon’s AR app takes impressive advantage of your iPhone or iPad camera, and lets you point your device at the everyday products around you to discover more about them, and how much they cost on the site that truly seems to have it all. Audio and video clips of some products are often offered, and the A9 technology makes the pan functionality effortless. I was at a friend’s house and browsed a book they had recommended to me, held my iPad infront of it, and in less than the time it took to say the title, I had added it to my Amazon wishlist. From a consumer perspective this is functional utility through technology innovation at its finest. From a sales perspective this is targeted “pull-push” marketing at its most impressive.
GrouponHD, LivingSocial, Spreebird
The ubiquitous deal companies have efficient mobile apps to accompany their desktop sites. I actually find the LivingSocial one to be a little better designed, but the Spreebird app (and site) allows me to donate 10% of the deal back to my daughter’s school, so the double whammy win is a good twist on a concept that is getting old in the eyes of many vendors out there.
If you use these sites on your PC or Mac, these apps are great add-ons, to help you track and manage your buying and selling.
My newest app crush is on Karma. The concept is deceptively simple: tap in to your social network to manage your gift giving schedule; respond to the growing demand for “in the moment” accessibility and ease of process; transfer the choice to the recipient, without diminishing the impact of the gesture. You have to try it out to “get it”, but (as the tagline suggest) “good things will follow”.
On the bubble…
ShopAdvisor, Coupons, RedLaser, ShopSavvy, Yowza!
I love the idea of Barcode scanning for price comparisons, and easy access to coupons in situ, but I’m afraid the value of these apps may be limited to the mobile phone form factor: the iPad and other tablets prove too bulky for the mobile scanning function, IMHO. That said, these 5 apps seem to be the best of the bunch, and I tested a bundle.
Do let me know if you’ve discovered iPad apps that have made your life as a consumer a little easier, or simply a little more fun!
Next time, I’ll be reviewing which Social apps I use on a regular basis.
Here’s vibrant proof that some folks still don’t understand social engagement: McDonald’s (@McDonalds) mucked up a social conversation on Twitter recently, and then their own social media director, Rick Wion, demonstrated an embarrassing lack of awareness, when he tried to explain the whole thing away. One particularly shocking phrase stood out for me: “…With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned…”.
How many times do I have to say this?! Social Engagement is NOT a “campaign”, it is a commitment, and sometimes commitments require weathering rough spots in the relationship; forging through together; learning to listen as much as talk; and - should some control be necessary – controlling in an invisible manner that can never be resented. By admitting that (a) McDonalds continues to desire control of the social media landscape within which it operates, and (b) it considers Twitter conversations as nothing more than advertising campaigns, their Social team has exhibited a McRoyal lack of awareness, with cheese. That the brand thinks it can openly control social engagement initiatives, and then impose “contingency plans”, when the outcome doesn’t match their projection, demonstrates not only a lack of experience, but a mentality that will consistently fail to leverage the potential of social engagement, until said mentality changes. A good social strategy is a responsive and flexible one, not a rigid and controlling one.
So, let me repeat: As I first said in 2007, and have repeated each and every year since: Social Engagement is a COMMITMENT to connection and bidirectional relations. It will not work to its full potential if it is treated as an advertising or product marketing CAMPAIGN tool. Gone are the days when you could blatantly push or pull the consumer in one direction or another, without any regard for their own instincts. The power of marketing has transformed in to one of influence, rather than impact. That’s not to say you cannot use social tools to support, and even push forward, certain marketing campaigns. It’s simply that there are too many variables at play within the social ecosystem for a brand to want to control things all the time. How long would you stay married to a spouse who was *always* and obviously controlling? “Leveraged influence” and “moderated transparency” are the buzzwords today.
“…All right stop.
Collaborate and Listen.” – Vanilla Ice
One must be prepared to let the consumer peek behind the curtain a little more than previously, and even fiddle with some of the levers. A smart brand will create levers with which the social community can interact:
A brand should always have a vision and an objective, and all strategies and actions should be manifest and pursued within the context of the brand objectives. Properly managed social engagement can help to strengthen the brand vision and more effcieiently attain the objectives, both internally and externally:
Inspire employee and consumer evangelism and sharing
Challenge dormant employees, distributors, and consumers to reengage
Educate and redirect potentially hostile influencers
Instill brand values without imposing them
Crowd-source creative opportunities at little to no-cost
Empower stakeholders to truly feel a sense of part ownership in the brand’s success
Advertise incrementally (no need to invest tens of millions if there’s no pick-up whatsoever)
Blend resources (social brand engagement is not just about marketing, it’s about engaging (thus the term!) the whole ecosystem of stakeholders in a manner that brings them closer together, and able to more effectively enhance the brand value. It could be a matter of activating a previously dormant employee population, creating a more tight-knit community out of a global sales force, or bringing end-users closer in to the fold, so that an offering can benefit from their insights, and presell itself in the process.
Year-round presence – social engagement is a full-time enterprise, thus the need for commitment. However, while a conventional marketing campaign requires aggressive ”full-bore” tactics, a social strategy can be far more leisurely, and thus far more manageable. The community will hold the brand up alongside the social team, so long as everyone is playing well together.
Oh, and one more thing…social engagement brings humanity and humor back in to the mix. That’s never a bad thing.
I was recently interviewed on a nationally syndicated radio talk show, and we ended up chatting about Facebook, Twitter, and other social engagement oppportunities. Here below is the audio of that interview:
This one is going to take some work to appreciate fully, and that's how great music should be. It's been a while since a truly great and challenging contemporary musician has stepped forth. With "The ArchAndroid", Janelle Monáe picks up the legacies of Messrs. Brown, Prince, Jackson et al, and serves notice upon us that it is perhaps no longer a "Man's Man's World"!
SocialEyes is a social video service ("Skype for Facebook" with an extra value add), currently in beta, that instantly connects you to your friends and to groups of people who share your interests. Created by the founders of Real Networks, this
You can access SocialEyes at www.socialeyes.com and apps.facebook.com/socialeyes. The service also has a "desktop notifier, that keeps you logged in without the need of a browser.
"the first and only Twitter Follow Management with stats..."
All I know is that I can manage the value of my Twitter community very efficiently with this tool (currently in Beta). I'm not interested in being followed by thousands, but in knowing that my feed is actually providing some degree of value to its readers, and that I am engaging in a mutually beneficial exchange of data streams between my world, and the worlds inhabited by a few exceedingly well placed counterparts. Tweepi helps.