Isn’t “Noise” The Point of it All?

May 27, 2008

Loud music

I have read a lot lately about people complaining that there is too much “noise” on the internet and in social media in general. My reaction? Thats the point!

If someone walks into a room and there is total silence, there is a sense of loneliness, and one will get bored very quickly. I will liken that to what it is like to not have a computer at this point in time. Now you leave your dark, silent room and start talking to one, and only one, person. This was step two: buying your first computer. You can only talk to that one person about so many things, and then you’re back to silence. Now you’ve had enough silence. You want to know what other people are talking about. You want to interact with many people, not just one or two. You’ve moved on to the Internet, and there’s no silence to be found.

Isn’t that how we got to the point that we’re at? The internet (social media especially) was formed for the sake of sharing: information, stories, movies, pictures, music, advice … anything you can think of. Social networks take advantage of niches in this sharing environment, but none of them take away from the noise. They all add to it.

A lot of people have become sick of this noise and are trying to filter a lot of it out. Social aggregators like FriendFeed don’t filter, though, they just take ALL the noise and put it into one place. I like to think of it as turning up the volume (and yes, 11 really IS louder than 10!). Just thinking about all the noise that I am going to hear tonight, tomorrow and the next day gets me excited because I think of all the new things I will learn. It’s also how I get ideas for most of my posts. There are exciting news stories from Bloglines, though-provoking snippets from @ChrisBrogan on Twitter, and news from friends on Facebook. If you really want to hear from the master of noise, check out this post on productivity from Robert Scoble.

So when you’re thinking to yourself that there is too much noise on the Internet, think about why you came here in the first place. I imagine it certainly wasn’t to play by yourself in a quiet room. Remember, don’t be afraid to turn up the volume once in a while … you never know what you might learn.

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Microsoft: The Spoiled Child of the Internet

May 27, 2008

What are some things that you think a company should do when it realizes it is having trouble competing with the “big dogs”? The first thing I would think of is redesign the product. After that, maybe try to compete in a different market. And if you still can’t compete? Give up.

None of these things seem to have been going through Microsoft’s mind as they are realizing that they are not able to keep up with Google’s search business. After coming away unsuccessful from the attempted Yahoo purchase, Microsoft is now saying that they are going to be paying people who use their search engine for online shopping. According to CNBC, people who use Live Search and “who sign up for an account and buy items found using Microsoft’s Live Search cashback site will receive a percentage of the purchase price deposited into their account. When the total reaches $5, the shoppers can redeem their “cold, hard cash” via eBay Inc.’s PayPal. Microsoft said the rebates are funded with a portion of the money it collects from advertisers.”

I am constantly amazed by the economics of the internet. Seeing companies consistently overvalued and not charging for their services is one thing, but this one takes the cake. Usually a business model involves people paying you so your company can be profitable, but I have never seen a model where the company pays the customer. This rebate money is coming straight out of their advertising profits. How absurd is that? It’s like paying someone to hang out with you.

It just proves one thing to me: Microsoft is becoming like a spoiled child who, when it doesn’t get its way, kicks and screams and does everything in its power to be successful. Of course, every business wants to be number one, but it is unreasonable to think that because they have absurd amounts of money they should be able to take over any market the enter. Sometimes they just need to learn when to give up.

What do you think about paying people to gain popularity? Let me know.


Barriers to Becoming a Twitter User

May 19, 2008

I had an interesting conversation with my brother the other day when he asked me, “So what is Twitter all about?” Just to give you a little background, he is a pretty tech-savvy person in his early-mid 20s. After telling him what it was “all about”, he proceeded to tell me that some of his friends were starting to use it, but he wasn’t going to because he feels like to become a user, you first need to know a lot of people who are already well-established in the Twitterverse. His statement got me to thinking, and I feel like he had hit on something that could prove problematic for the people at Twitter.

Yes, since SXSW 2007 Twitter has gained immense popularity among the internet and web 2.0 crowd, but it is just beginning to trickle into the mainstream’s vocabulary. The problem that I see is that if you are not interested in what’s going on in the technology world, or you’re not interested in listening to the “Twitter Mavens” (@Scobleizer, @TechCrunch, etc), then there really is no reason to be using the service.

I (grudgingly) started using Twitter in September for my Business 2.0 class at Quinnipiac University because it was how the professor took attendance (thanks @mikegermano). At first I found the tool to be useless … An online attempt at the AIM away message. But as I started to gain interest in the internet industry, I began following more and more people and learning about what others had to say. It has also proven to be a useful tool for blogging, as it gives me a new way to let my followers know about new posts.

But the problem remains that people who are not yet users will be afraid to try it out because nobody wants to be “that guy” following 4 people with 2 followers. Where’s the fun in that? And if you don’t want to be that person, but still want to Twitter, it takes a confident person to reach out and follow 50 or 100 people that you don’t know. Only time will tell whether or not Twitter will really go mainstream.

Do you think it is hard for someone who is “unconnected” to become a regular Twitter user? Let me know!


Crowdsourcing as a Business Model

May 16, 2008

I have written on a few occaisons about crowdsourcing, how it works, and the benefits of it. On a tip from a commenter, I checked out a recently launched company called Local Motors. Local Motors has started their business using crowdsourcing as their main means of automobile design, in their own words, a “Web 2.0 Business Model”. They allow users to submit designs for cars based on “Competitions”. A past competition was to design “A Californian Off-Road Machine” and $1,500 (plus merchandise) went to the winner (see all entries here). The next competition is a presentation competition with a grand prize of $10,000.

Local Motors Winner

It never ceases to amaze me how great an idea crowdsourcing is. 1) Come up with something that you need designing for. 2) Turn it into a competition between amateur and professional designers. 3) Decide on a winner, either by vote or executive decision. This is all at little to no cost for the person looking for the design. For example, the average salary of a car designer is between $50K-60K per year. Local Motors just had a concept designed for $1,500. Could it be any easier?

It makes me think about the future of the graphic design idustry in general. What will be the fate of large design firms that are competing for the business of high profile clients when the clients are now paying tiny, one-time fees to amateur designers? They must be starting to feel the pressure.

So what do you think? Is basing your business on crowdsourcing a viable model? Let me know.

 


Mercedes-Benz Launches Social Network/Crowdsourcing Website

May 15, 2008

One of the most respected auto makers in the industry, Mercedes-Benz, has just launched a new social network/crowdsourcing website titled “Generation Benz”. An invitation was sent out this morning to, I assume, members of the Mercedes Owner’s Club. It is exciting to see such a well-established brand launch themselves into social media, and I am even more excited to be one of the first to be able to use it.

The site itself is rather average. Terrible UI, very simple navigation, etc. Despite that, I think that the features are pretty cool. They include:

Sessions. This section allows members to interact in real time with Generation Benz members during “Special Viewing Sessions”. The first session is scheduled for June 24th, where they will be giving a sneak peak at the upcoming GLK.

Discussions. This section gives members the ability to comment on new ideas. They include TV commercials, social commentary, polls and looks at other brands. I’ve already had the opportunity to view a new commercial for the new GLK and gave some feedback.

Studio. This is a section for users and admins to upload pictures and video (mostly about their Mercedes). There are also contests such as the “Junk In Your Trunk” contest where users post pictures of what they keep in their trunks.

Network. This is the social network aspect of the site. It allows people to view other members’ profiles and see what type of things they are interested in, what car they drive, etc. It’s very simple with limited profile information.

Other aspects of the site include: Message Center, Events, Activities, News and Polls.

Mercedes is obviously realizing that their market is about to change. With their current audience retiring and becoming fiscally responsible, members of Generation Y are beginning to go out, get jobs, and most importantly, gain some disposable income. This seems to be a good move for Mercedes as they will gain a younger audience as well as get feedback from their new target market in regards to what they like and want.They also ask which social networks their users are active in, most likely to know what to give their attention (and money) to.

I think that U.S. manufacturers should take a hint and follow suit. Maybe they can finally regain the success and prominence they once had.

Do you think this it makes sense for an auto maker to move into social media? Let me know!

UPDATE: Andrew from Generation Benz sent me a link to allow others to start joining their community. You can check it out at: www.GenerationBenz.com/insider


Social Gaming via Console Systems

May 13, 2008

After recently acquiring an XBox 360 (which I should have done a long time ago), I was compelled to take a ride out to the video store to see what games I could find to satisfy my needs to drive really fast and shoot things … in high definition. Yeah, the obvious choice was the new Grand Theft Auto, but I felt that since I was renting, I wouldn’t have enough time to get the full effect. So I went with Burnout Paradise and Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga.

Lego Star Wars has always been a staple to my video game collection because I get to interact with two things that have brought much joy to my life – Legos and Star Wars. The game play is great and the story is always fun to follow. I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10. Not too shabby. Burnout Paradise is a far cry from the previous Burnout games. It has done away with individual races that you get to pick from a main menu and has unlocked the entire city to drive around at your own leisure. This fact alone immediately led me to love this game. To add to it, the graphics are stunning, and no detail was left to mediocrity. Every sign, tree, lamppost and car was given a great amount of attention, and it really shows. When driving up a parking garage, I tapped a parked car that was tucked away in a corner and the car alarm went off with the lights flashing. There are lots of very cool little details like that in the game that I keep noticing more and more as I play. The physics engine that is used is also stunning. Every crash is different, and every time I think, “Wow, it doesn’t get more real than that.”

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, duh, of course these games are going to be awesome. What’s your point?” My point is that these games are becoming the ultimate form of social gaming. When I run out of things to do in Burnout and find that the bots that I’m racing against get too predictable, I can just plug in my Ethernet cord and suddenly I am racing against 16 people just like me who are totally unpredictable. The same holds true for GTA and Madden Football.

Just think, how often do you play video games by yourself? For most of you, probably not very often. It is an inherently social activity. It makes it so much better to score a touchdown against your best friend and be able to see the look of anguish on his face than to score against a machine. There’s no emotion in that. Gaming is all about interaction. Not interaction like Scrabulous, either. Anyone can make a work and then say, “Your turn.” Social gaming is so much more than that. And when you have two or more people wandering around a city with sports cars and rocket launchers, no two games will ever be the same.

So next time you’re playing a game online, think about the interactions, and pay attention to how different it is to play with a real person instead of a bot. I think you’ll start to understand where I’m coming from.

What do you think about social gaming? Does it really add to the experience? Let me know!


From “Plan” to “Action”: Making the Leap

May 7, 2008

So you have come up with a great idea. You’ve done your research, come up with a financial plan, written a business plan and maybe even design a screen shot or two. Now what? In an industry where time is everything, most would say “Find someone to program it.” Not so fast, hotshot. You’re going to need a little more planning before you get to that point. Here are a few tips and tricks to turn your idea into something real.

Polish your concept. You may think that your concept is the best in the world. Well I have news for you: it’s good, but not great. The problem with most concepts is that they are too broad. You should be able to take all the fluff out of it and narrow your whole idea down into one simple sentence. Think of it as a tag line. For instance, Bounty’s is “The quicker picker upper”. Burger King’s is “Have it your way”. These simple phrases have become iconic, mainly because they give a great mental image of what each company is about.

Function, Features, Screenshots. In order to get to this point, you are going to need to have a clear concept (see above). This step is probably the easiest of all of them once you have the concept defined. When you know what you want your company’s image to be, then you are able to know what the function of your company will be. The function of the company (as well as your website/app/network/etc) will lead you to the features that you want and need. Once again these should be defined by your functions. The last step in this process is screenshots. This part is easy. You know that you need a utility that will allow people to look at other people’s photos. Now you just have to come up with a GUI to go along with it. Just remember, this is an important order, and each one builds upon the other.

Plan the technology. A lot of people jump too fast into the programming and architecture of their startups. If it is not planned correctly, this could lead to devastating results. Things you need to decide are: what language will you program in? What type of database will you use? What server/hosting options will you be using? If you mess up on one of these steps, it could mean that implementation will be nearly impossible, so don’t forget to plan before you build. It could save you a lot of headaches.

At this point, you should be able to get people interested in financing (if you need it, and assuming you can sell). When all of those things come together, it shows that you’ve really done your homework and are very serious about getting your startup off the ground. Assuming everything has gone well up to this point, move on.

Now, start building. Now that you have money (hopefully) and interest in your idea (hopefully), you can start the actual building and implementation of your idea. By this point, if all your planning has gone well, you should start seeing some significant progress.

Just remember that if you really want to get to this point, you must really have the vision and passion to keep pushing through difficulties that you will face. And remember, you should be doing it because you love what you’re doing and believe that it is really something that will make a difference … Don’t be looking to get rich quick.

Have I left anything out? Do you have stories about getting your tech startup off the ground? Let me know!