New Blog Location: www.digitalindustrialpark.com

The Digital Industrial Park blog has moved to a nice, comfy hosted location:

—–>> http://www.digitalindustrialpark.com/

Still a WordPress blog, though. We love ya, WordPress.

Happy New Year to all!

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Jeffrey Cole of the State (and Future) of Media.

If you’re an advertiser/marketer and you’ve got questions about the opportunities ahead of us in digital, you’ll want to spend 31:24 listening to what Jeffrey Cole has to say. Television moves out of the home and becomes pervasive and mobile will be at the center of everything digital…but that synopsis doesn’t begin to do it justice.

On the past:
“In 1946 4.3 billion movie tickets were sold. By last year the population doubled so we would have needed to sell 9 billion tickets. Instead we sold. 1.4 billion. The movies are a shell of what they used to be but the theatrical film business is a thriving, high-profile business and it is not a coincidence that it reached its peak in 1946 on the eve of the introduction of television.”

Even more interesting than the history lesson is his view of the digital future and the ensuing discussion.

Hint: John Wanamaker’s conundrum will be answered, I know that half of my advertising budget is wasted, but I’m not sure which half.”

Readable, Recognizable, Locatable, Addressable, and/or Controllable via the Internet.

The Internet of ThingsThe “Internet of Things” to refers to the general idea of things, especially everyday objects, that are readable, recognizable, locatable, addressable, and/or controllable via the Internet. This ties into the business planning that was mentioned in the previous post on “Tools“. These innovations are exactly the kind of things we will be vetting out as we plan out our new business:

“Ideally, the following use cases could be common in ten to fifteen years. To complete shopping in bricks-and-mortar retail stores, customers could simply walk through doorways to check out, debit accounts, and receive e-receipts that they can inspect via the displays on their cell phones. A soldier could rapidly learn how to perform a maintenance procedure by scanning an item of equipment using a handheld device and reading the device’s display. Handheld devices could become not only information sources but universal remote controls for the environment—user interfaces for engaging lights and appliances, locating misplaced and loosely-organized objects, diagnosing problems with systems, and controlling tele-operated objects from greater or lesser distances.”

The Internet of Things (PDF) appears to have ben coined by a member of the RFIDS development community around 2000. I would suggest downloading the PDF, printing it out, and thinking about some of the ideas put forth in the paper. As always, think big, because NOW is when the game will change.

Using Tools As Thought Starters: The Art of the Possible.

With every announcement of corporate layoffs, there has been an increased interest in building small businesses as “displaced” workers look for new ways of making a living. This just may be a very good thing. Without minimizing the pain that accompanies losing a job (it can be traumatic), a world that is connected digitally presents numerous exciting opportunities.

Since no one can be an expert in everything that is out there, I am going to explore some of the tools in my consideration set as we build a business.

It all starts with a business plan and I will get to that next but, first, let’s look at some of the tools that Intridea offers to get the ideas flowing. This is a bit bassackwards but it is a good thought-starter exercise if you are considering a digitally-enabled business. We need new ways to work together and communicate with the marketplace. We’re not going to throw everything old out…but we are going to look new tools and new media consumption patterns. As you look at these tools, think about how they might be used to leverage your business. Think big.

Present.ly: Private Micro-Blogging for Your Business.

Crowdsource: Customer Feedback Widget.

SocialSpring: White-Label Social Networking Platform.

MediaPlug: Media Transcoding Appliance (whew, that’s a mouthful).

Scarlr: Cloud Computing, Minus the Sky High Prices.

Intridea offers a program that I think is brilliant. It is called Live In Five and what they will do is implement your business concept in five days. Devloping a proof-of-concept is always critical and frequently problematic. The Live In Five program is very powerful because there is a big difference between talking about a business and actually building one.

In Paul Gillin’s book, The New Influencers, he desrcibes “The Marketer’s Dilemma”. “The shift to small markets served and influenced by an entirely new breed of opinion-leaders is a sea change for markters. Most marketers still have no idea what to do about it.”

And therein lies our opportunity, doesn’t it?

Balsamiq: $100k in 5 Months. (Nice Business Model).

balsamiqlogoReadWriteWeb has a great story on balsamiq, a software company started by Peldi Guilizzoni who wrote an app and then published his revenue for all to see. As it says in the article, “a simple tool coming along at just the right time!” There is opportunity out there, friends.

[Link to Balsamiq here]

“We love this story. Back in July we wrote about the inspiring experience of Peldi Guilizzoni, a lone software developer who’d built a web design mock-up tool called Balsamiq and who was opening up his financial records on his blog to show everyone how things were going. We’d been following his progress since before he launched, but just 6 weeks after Balsamiq hit the market at roughly $79 per license, we wrote that Peldi had already made $10k in revenue.

That was a cute story, but now it’s been just 5 months and today Peldi reports that he’s just cleared $100,000 in sales of the four variations of his product. Talk about a simple tool coming along at just the right time! It’s cool software, too.”

REST of the article is here.

16 Things to Do While You’re Waiting for the Future.

The economy is bad. Certainly more dramatically so than any of us have seen in our lifetimes. So, what to do? What to do?

A recruiter that I have known for a very long time told me, “Bill, 2009 is going to have two polar-opposite types of positions: Positions with companies that are trying to do more with less and sole proprietors”.

Even if you are in a large corporation, it will be helpful to think like an entrepreneur. And if you happen to be amongst the staggering number of newly unemployed, here are some places to think about starting some revenue-generating opportunities from Rajil Kapoor, Managing Director at Mayfield Fund.

Mechanical Turk – this cool marketplace from our friends at Amazon enable anyone to do human tasks and make some cash.  Several of my startups are using this for simple yet fundamentally human tasks such as image classification, reviewing content, etc.
Etsy – online bazaar for individuals that create handcrafted goods.  This is as much about community as it is about shopping for hard to find goods.  The community shares tips with each other on how to market themselves best online.  Etsy organizes it all in one place and provides all the tools.
Fixya (note: Rajil is an investor) – the Q&A marketplace for tech support for any consumer product.  If you can’t wait, you can get live support for a fee which we share with the experts. About half of our experts do it for the money vs just the glory.
Edufire. Wiziq – marketplaces out of the US and India connecting tutors anywhere in the world to students – focused initially on test prep and language instruction.  Not only do they help you connect with students but they also provide the tools for delivering online lessons – a full interactive chat with blackboard and even video.
Cafepress, Minted, Threadless – online storefronts and communities for designers to sell their wares – in t-shirt, printed form, or any object you can put a design or photo on (reminds me of my snapfish days!)
elance, odesk – connecting programmers, designers, and other professionals with jobs online.  I’ve heard many stories of entrepreneurs finding great worker bees on these services.
ustream, mogulus, qik – It doesn’t all have to be about learning and coding.  These platforms enable consumers to have fun and become video hosts or programmers to broadcast live video and generate a following (and hopefully advertising revenue!)
reverbnation – sites like this help you manage the un-business of playing music in a band.
about.com, mahalo – these seem like great reference sites on the outside but they are really a super-powered community of writers that are doing it for a living – and thriving!

30 important usability issues, terms, rules and principles which are usually forgotten, ignored or misunderstood.

That is probably the best long title ever. But usability is critical to success and smashingmagazine.com has put together one of the best one (scrolling) page overview of usability.

If you are new to usability, this is a great resource. If you are a practitioner, then it’s a fine reference page.

“In this article we present 30 important usability issues, terms, rules and principles which are usually forgotten, ignored or misunderstood. What is the difference between readability and legibility? What exactly does 80/20 or Pareto principle mean? What is meant with minesweeping and satisficing? And what is Progressive Enhancement and Graceful Degradation? OK, it’s time to dive in.”

>>Here’s the highly-usable link<<

Gary Vaynerchuk » My Web 2.0 Keynote in NYC

Sure, it’s some potty mouth stuff but I’m from New York and, besides, the message is superb! Not your standard motivational speech. Much, much, mucho better.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Creative Class® – Thinkers, Innovators, Decision-Makers.

The Creative Class®

The Creative Class®

An ex-colleague who is now working in Dubai sent me a link to this site. He’s one of those creatives who thinks architecturally and is forever coming up with these amazing presentations that explain complex things in brilliantly clear ways. He also is the type that casually mentions that he is building something and that something turns out to be absolutely incredible office space or some kind of place that revolutionizes the way people live and work. In short, we love him and hate him.  ;  )

So when he mentioned The Creative Class, I took his advice. You’ll want to also. (The navigation is chunked out into “live”, “work”, and “play”…that’s perfect.)

Here’s the overview:

“The Creative Class® — thinkers, innovators, decision-makers — influences cultural phenomenon and impacts business…understanding the Creative Class is strategic business. Creative Class Group (CCG) offers regions, companies, and associations the customized information, analysis, tools and research necessary for competitiveness and greater economic prosperity.”

If you would like to join up with The Creative Class, the link is right here.

CIO’s 9 Low-Cost Web Startups.

The good people over at CIO have put together an absolutely wonderful guide for web entrepreneurs! (I highly recommend a subscription…or at least a bookmark…it makes sense out of the utterly baffling. I love it.)

“The genesis for this is are the economic times we’re in,” Guy Kawasaki said. “The old days of starting a company by going to investors and giving a PowerPoint presentation — and then getting $2 million — are over.”

Here are nine companies that have developed nifty Web 2.0 sites (with only a little cash up front).

1. Wufoo

Wafoo

Where they’re based: Tampa Bay, Florida

What they do: Allow users to make online forms with no HTML experience. They can create forms that help people register for a website, workshop or mailing list. As people respond and fill out the forms, users can measure their responses by running reports and viewing charts.

Quote from co-founder Kevin Hale: “We don’t just strive to collect information, but analyze it as well. [With no coding experience necessary], it’s for secretaries who want to avoid the IT department.”

Where they got funding: Hale says they were initially funded by Y Combinator (a venture capital firm that gives small funding rounds, usually of $20,000 or less, to companies in their infancy).

Business Model: Free for individuals; charge fees for groups and businesses.

2. Yoics

Yoics

Where they’re based: Palo Alto, CA

What they do: A Web-based portal that allows you to access your computers or network devices from anywhere, without the cumbersome process of setting up remote desktop capabilities.

Quote from founder, Ryo Koyama: “Our view is that everyone knows how to use a Web browser. So there is no reason all your data shouldn’t be accessible from the Web. Setting up a remote desktop tends to be a more complicated thing.”

Where they got funding: According Koyama, they launched the product with their own resources before receiving funding.

Business Model: Licensing to networking technology companies.

3. Dropbox

Dropbox

Where They’re Based: Bay Area

What they do: Dropbox allows you to synch and share your files online. One of the upsides to the service is that any change or update you make to a file, it is updated across all your devices that access it. It also has good version control, allowing you to “undelete” files.

Quote from founder Drew Houston: (Referencing Dropbox’s sophisticated version control): “It’s almost like a time machine that works across all platforms.”

Where they got funding: $15,000 from Y Combinator. They later received funding from Sequoia Capital.

Business model: 2 GB free to users; they charge for additional storage.

4. Disqus

Disqus

Where They’re Based: San Francisco

What they do: Pronounced “discuss,” Disqus allows users to track the comment threads they participate in, on websites across the Web, all in one central area.

Quote from cofounder Jason Yan: “With Disqus, immediately, I see all the comments I’ve left across websites and I can see when other people replied to [my comment] without having to check out each individual website all the time.”

Where they got funding: $15,000 from Y Combinator.

Business model : Get money from publishers/media companies looking to use the service for their entire sites.

5. MightyQuiz

MightyQuiz

Where they’re based: Bay Area

What they do: MightyQuiz is a user generated trivia game. People can share knowledge with others and have them answer trivia questions in response.

Quote from COO Kelly Bennett: “Our motto is everyone is a trivia junkie for topics they love.”

Where they got funding: Initially $10,000 from Y Combinator.

Business Model: Unclear based on their presentation, but given its social nature most likely ad-based.

6. SlideShare

SlideShare

Where they’re based: San Francisco and New Delhi

What they do: Enable you to easily share PowerPoint presentations online.

Quote from cofounder Rashmi Sinha: “How many times have you received

This slideshow could not be started. Try refreshing the page or viewing it in another browser.

files that clogged up your inbox? We created a social space to share them instead.”

How they got funding: According to Sinha, they got modest investments up front. The later received money from angel investors like Mark Cuban and venture capital from Venrock.

Business model: Their site allows people to take out ads.

7. Posterous

Posterous

Where they’re based: Bay Area

What they do: The service allows users to publish blog posts by simply typing them in to their favorite e-mail service, such as Gmail. It also takes links that were pasted into the email and makes them come alive in the blog post (as an example, a video link posted into an email would appear in its full video form in the blog post).

Quote from cofounder Garry Tan: We can take a link that is worthless [and make it] more intelligent. The user doesn’t need to know how to embed code.”

Where they got funding: $15,000 from Y Combinator

Business Model: Free for individuals. Premium subscription model in the works.

8. RescueTime

RescueTime

Where they’re based: Seattle area

What they do: They measure how much time users spend on the Web, on either a website or application. While it sounds a bit Big Brother like, it’s really for users to determine how productive they’re being on a daily basis (how much time did you spend in email yesterday?). It does offer organizations a management view to see organizational behavior, but individual users’ identities are protected.

Quote from cofounder Tony Wright: “It’s not a micro-manager tool. We offer a categorized view of how you [and your organization] is spending time. That allows you to be more efficient.”

Where they got funding: Wright didn’t specify amount, but it was from Y Combinator, so likely under $20,000.

Business model: Free for individuals; fee-based for organizations.

9. Poll Everywhere

Poll Everywhere

Where they’re based: Chicago and Boston

What they do: They make presentations interactive by allowing users sitting in an audience to text questions to the speaker and see them populate on a webpage.

Quote from co-founder Jeff Vyduna: “Our goal is to make presentations a two-way medium.”

Where they got funding: $20,000 from Y Combinator.

Business Model: Free for up to 30 people, but priced per month as a service after that based on audience size.

E-Commerce Fulfillment Providers (EFPs)

If you are starting an online business and you started running the operations numbers, you have probably noticed that they get pretty big pretty fast. It gets expensive to get things from Point A to Point B.

E-Commerce Fulfillment Providers are designed to take the friction out of order fulfillment. You will, of course, pay for that service but you may also find that removes a component of your business that is not your core competency.

Mark Ayotte is the owner of Yugster.com, an e-commerce site that offers a daily special item for sale each day and he has written an article on EFP’s:

There are several EFPs. Yugster.com uses Webgistix. Amazon is actually the largest EFP, although most people think of Amazon only as a retailer. These two companies take different approaches to fulfillment services. Webgistix offers a customizable solution that is integrated with a retailer’s order-entry system. Amazon offers a self-serve solution that allows retailers to plug into Amazon’s fulfillment infrastructure. Other EFPs, such as WeFulfillIt, are also emerging as demand for these services continues to rise sharply.”

You need to get references if you are planning to do this though. It’s not that these companies are disreputable, they are quite reputable, but you will need to calculate the numbers for YOUR business and also hear firsthand experiences from their customers who ship a similar product line as the one your are considering. Mark Ayotte mentions scalability in his article and that is a critical component that any business owner will want to keep in mind. In good times or bad, scalability is key.

Favourite Website Awards.

Favourite Website Awards.

Favourite Website Awards.

Sometimes you just need a little creative inspiration.

Favourite Website Awards has been a destination of mine since 2000. If you design sites, or are involved in site creative, you will probably want to carve out at least an hour exploring this treasure trove.

If you’re in the ideation stage of a project, you could probably spend an entire afternoon getting ideas and it would all be time well spent.

Engineering. Collaboration. Brilliance.

With eight worldwide locations, six time zones, and roughly fifty people involved, IDEO’s Global Chain Reaction is a great thought-starter for anyone looking to align a company towards innovation.

In these times of economic uncertainty it is easy to forget what an amazing world we live in and that the “art of the possible” is, well, still possible. IDEO’s Jon Kaplan keeps the hope alive with this superb initiative that highlights IDEO’s engineering capabilities that is also pure ingenuity right down to the viral marketing component of the initiative.

IDEO is a wonderful company. Let me tell you, it is very invigorating with people who think like this:

“I sent out rules and people either ignored them or followed them. The sense of humor part was great. Munich emailed early on and said, These rules are there for breaking, right?”

Jon Kaplan, we are very glad you are working.

David Parrish: T-Shirts + Suits/Part 2

Want to start a creative business? Best to know who you are first.

Want to start a creative business? Best to know who you are first.

In his richly informative and enlightening book, T-Shirts + Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity, David Parrish gives us a checklist for self-evaluation. Like many of these sorts of evaluations, the primary value comes from forcing you to answer questions that you need to answer…but frequently avoid doing.

If you are thinking of starting a creative business, or have already done so, you will want to spend some time seeking the answers to these questions. Remember, if you don’t stand for something, you fall for everything.

The PRIMEFACT Checklist (Page 22)

People
What are the strengths and weaknesses of our people?
Employees, directors, members, associates, advisers and
other stakeholders.

Reputation (or Brand)
What is our reputation with our target customers? What are
the strengths – or weaknesses – of our brand or brands?

Intellectual Property

What intellectual property do we have? How is it protected?
How easily can it be turned into income streams?


Market Research / Market Information

What information do we have about market segments and market trends? What do we know about individual clients and their specific needs?

Ethos (or Values or Culture)

What is our ethos, our values and our organisational culture?
Do all stakeholders subscribe to this same ethos?

Finances (ie Money)
What is the current state of profitability, cashflow and assets?
How much money do we have to invest or can we borrow?

Agility (or Nimbleness or Change­ability)
Are we agile enough to seize new opportunities?
Are people prepared to change and ready for change?
Are there barriers to change?

Collaborators (Alliances, Partnerships and Networks)

What are the strengths and weaknesses of our associations with other businesses and organisations (including government)?

Talents (Competencies and Skills)
What are our core competencies?
What skills do we have available and what gaps are there?
How will we learn new skills?

The Hatchery…and Their famous Gauntlet.

The Hatchery is a New York-based vetting process for entrepreneurs. If you have an idea for a business that you are trying to get off the ground, this is an excellent opportunity to get some very hard questions thrown at you (it’ll make you stronger) and get your idea out there in the marketplace.

As they say, “Like American Idol for entrepreneurs”.

“The Hatchery provides a unique funnel for New York innovators to interact with investors, present their plans, receive expert feedback, and pave the way for them to receive funding. At the heart of our model the Gauntlet, an interactive process that gives entrepreneurs a forum to present their strategies to a range of investors.”

Payroll. Now Actually Easy.

Most of the people that I know that are internet entrepreneurs know their way around a P&L spreadsheet but doing payroll has never been top of their list.

A friend of mine mentioned that she was now using Intuit Online from Costco, of all places, and instead of using an accountant as she had been doing, she was now doing payroll herself in 10 minutes.

Cost is between $17.99 – $19.99 a month, depending on your Costco membership.

6 Metrics for Managing UI Design (Russell Wilson)

Russel Wilson has written some very good guidelines that begin to address the question, What are the success metrics? I have managed and lead several large Digital Creative groups and this is ALWAYS a thorny issue. This is very helpful:

Full Article here.

“As part of a recent management summit at my company, we were asked to fill out an RMPT matrix for our departments (I head up Product Design).  An RMPT matrix consists of (R)esponsibilities, (M)etrics, (P)rocesses, and (T)ools.  I have been intending to develop better metrics for both measuring and guiding our design efforts, and this exercise served as a catalyst to get me started.  Bear in mind that metrics help you focus your efforts and measure your progress, but you are also held accountable to them.

For (R)esponsibilities I specified the following:
1) Improve our products & innovate
2) Provide the UI design for new features/functions/products
3) Approve any UI design work done outside of Product Design
4) Validate our UI designs and explore user needs through user testing

Given those responsibilities (and that’s important because your metrics are linked to them) I then came up with the following metrics and met with my team who helped to refine them:

For a given period (e.g. a business quarter):
1) Number of layouts delivered
2) Number of interactive prototypes created
3) Percentage of product design requests completed by commit date
4) Number of users tested
5) Number of product improvements made
6) Number of product insights documented

Current Reading List for Digital Businesses

21 October 2008: If you have, or are starting, a digital business you’ll want to read these. (A special thanks to Tom Illmensee)…

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Dan Ariely
A challenging mate to Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational examines how the world often works according to principles of irrationality in the places where we least expect it. Do you know why you still have a headache after taking a one-cent aspirin, but why that same headache disappears if the aspirin costs fifty cents? Do you know why recalling the Ten Commandments reduces people’s tendency to lie, or why honor codes are actually effective in reducing dishonesty at the workplace? Do you know why, after doing careful and extensive research on which car to buy, a random meeting with someone who had an awful experience with that car changes your decision? Why do we make decisions contrary to our better judgment? What is “better judgment?” Predictably Irrational challenges us to ponder these questions and demonstrates how irrationality manifests itself in situations (often very peculiar and hilarious situations) where rational thought is expected.

Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better

Gina Trapani
This book isn’t a computer user manual, and it isn’t a productivity system. It’s a mashup of both. It’s where you learn to practice big-picture productivity methods on your very own computer desktop. Whether you’re a Mac or Windows user, know only enough to get by or are the family tech support geek, there are tricks here for you. Whether or not you’ve been turbocharging your day with the tips from Gina’s first Lifehacker book, you’ll feast on this buffet of new shortcuts to make technology your ally instead of your adversary.

Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance

Jim Thatcher, Christian Heilmann, Michael R. Burks
This book gives you all you need to know about web accessibility, whether you are a web designer or developer who wants your sites to be accessible, or a business manager who wants to learn what impact the web accessibility laws have on your websites. After an overview of the accessibility law and guidelines, and a discussion about accessibility and its implementation in the enterprise, the book goes on to show how to implement accessible websites using a combination of concise references and easy-to-follow examples.

Make It Bigger
Paula Scher
“Make it bigger”-a familiar refrain to any graphic designer accustomed to presenting layouts to clients-is an apt title for a book that examines the graphic design profession primarily through the lens of the business community it serves. Veteran designer Scher draws from over three decades of design experience to provide readers with a firsthand account of the creative process, that is, advancing good ideas and personal vision within the corporate cultures and organizational dynamics that are predisposed to resist them.

Access 2003 All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies

Alan Simpson, Margaret Levine Young, Alison Barrows
One-stop guide to building databases and managing information with Access 2003

Access 2007: The Missing Manual
Kate J. Chase, Scott Palmer
Demystifies databases and explains how to design and create them with ease.

Why Software Sucks: …and What You Can Do About It

David S. Platt
It’s no secret that software sucks. You know that from personal experience, whether you use computers for work or for personal tasks. In this book, programming insider David Platt explains why that’s the case and, more importantly, why it doesn’t have to be that way. And he explains it in plain, jargon-free English that’s a joy to read, using real-world examples with which you’re already familiar. In the end, he suggests what you, as a typical user, without a technical background, can do about this sad state of our software – how you, as an informed consumer, don’t have to take the abuse that bad software dishes out.

Metaphors We Live By
George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Mark Johnson
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience, they are “metaphors we live by”—metaphors that can shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them.

Adapting to Web Standards: CSS and Ajax for Big Sites

Christopher Schmitt, Mark Trammell, Meryl K. Evans, Kevin Lawver, Kimberly Blessing
Gives developers a peek into the process of the best designers in the world through the work of high profile, real-world Web sites that made them famous. The book focuses on deconstructing these top-tier large-scale sites with particular attention given to deconstructing CSS.

T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity (Part 1)

Creativity and Business

Creativity and Business

David Parrish has written, perhaps, the best guidebook for a creative person in business, T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity. In his introduction, he mentions that he is both a published poet and an MBA. This makes him the ideal person to answer the old question, “Is it creativity vs. business?”

David writes:
“Some people regard creativity and business as being like oil and water – they just don’t mix. They think it’s a question of choosing between creativity and business. I disagree.”

In these times of uncertain economic conditions and the relative ease of creating a digital businesses, it is inevitable that more and more creative people will be considering starting a business. Here’s a hint: go here and print out the free PDF and spend some time reading it and soaking it all in.

Creativity and business are absolutely not mutually exclusive but most of us have a proclivity towards one or the other but the fact is that a successful business requires both. David mentions that there is sometimes more creativity in an engineering group than in some advertising agencies and that is absolutely true. “The most exciting creativity, I believe, is the alchemy of blending apparent opposites, what we often call art and science, recognizing that they are not opposites at all, from which we have to choose either/or in a binary fashion, but the yin and the yang of the whole.”

If you read nothing else in the book, read pages 9 and 10 on Success, Profit, Lifestyle, and Why do it?

It’ll start you thinking about creativity, about business, and about what you will do next.

The difference between shouting to a group and speaking intimately with an individual.

During this tumultuous 2008 election year here in the States one hears the cry, “Drill, baby, drill!” with increasing frequency. And while this cry is about drilling for oil, there is another type of drilling that is changing everything from how elections are run to how soap is marketed. Let’s call it digital drilling.

In the article entitled, “It Worked For Bush“, the story is told of how traditional campaigning was turned upside down by what might be called database marketing…but that term seems inadequately quaint within this context. It’s more than database marketing, it is more accurately digital drilling because it drills down from a huge data cloud right to your doorstep.

“The pollsters also looked in the wrong places. On election day, every exit poll showed a clear Kerry lead. Yet the polls were wrong, because they were wrong in the weightings they gave to different socioeconomic groups and in the assumptions they made about who would turn out to vote. The Bush team had, in effect, destroyed all the methodology on which polling and electoral analysis had been based for the past 50 years.”

Let’s take a look at how this was done,
STAGE ONE:
The ability to digitally store and archive massive amounts of raw data.
STAGE TWO:
The growth in the quantity and quality of multi-sourced consumer information.
STAGE THREE:
The ability to link multiple data islands.
STAGE FOUR:
The analytical power to search and discover new, meaningful patterns and relationships of strategic and tactical value.

This begs the question who did this and how did they do it? TargetPoint Consulting was the company that did this work for the Bush campaign and they describe how, what they call MicroTargeting, completely changes the game:

Why Now?
“In a word: technology. Campaigns have always collected data on their voters, and there have always been mounds of census data, polling crosstabs and voter registration files. Unfortunately, that data was in most cases wholly insufficient to get the job done, or too large and complex for anything more than rough approximations, oversimplified target lists, and statistically insignificant intuition. Technological developments have brought desperately needed depth and clarity to our formerly flat and hazy perception of individual voters.

By using hundreds of data points, comprised of voter information, life cycle information, life style information, financial data, consumer behavior, geographic data, and political attitudes and preferences, MicroTargeting can be used to segment each of your voters into one of a number of mutually exclusive groups, each defined by a unique combination of a host of data points.”

Irrespective of your political inclinations, the issue of digital drilling is an interesting one. And if you are a marketer, the interest is more than a passing one because in a post-broadcast world there is a difference between shouting to a group and speaking intimately with an individual. And motivating them to action.

Digital drilling may help you do that.

Marketing? Automated Serendipity.

Bob Garfield has been railing on about a post-advertising age for over three years now and marketers just may be catching up with that concept.

In his 5,000 word article, a manifesto of sorts, he describes a form of marketing that is far beyond the traditional definition of marketing:
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“”Now we have the ability to automate serendipity,” says Dave Morgan, founder of Tacoda, the behavioral-marketing firm sold to AOL in 2007 for a reported $275 million. “Consumers may know things they think they want, but they don’t know for sure what they might want. They’re not spending all their time hunting for those things.”

Take, for instance, flat-panel TVs. In 2006 Tacoda did a project for Panasonic in which it scrutinized the online behavior of millions of internet users — not a sample of 1,200 subjects to project a result against the whole population within a statistical margin of error; this was actual millions. Then it broke down that population’s surfing behavior according to 400-some criteria: media choices, last site visited, search terms, etc. It then ranked all of those behaviors according to correlation with flat-screen-TV purchase.

In that list, “shopping online for flat-panel TVs” ranked 22nd — 18 places below “consumed ‘Miami travel’ content.” Miami travel?

“Not Chicago travel,” Morgan says. “Not Europe travel. Not business travel. Don’t ask me why. But here’s the incredible thing: No. 1 — and significantly above the others — was people looking at military content. It made no sense. Then I talked to a friend of mine who had been an officer in the first Iraq war. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘That’s easy. The kids in the military are huge video-gamers. They get big, fat signing bonuses, and their housing is free. They don’t need cars. So they buy big TVs.'”

Morgan followed up because he was curious and felt the need for this counterintuitive association to have an explanation. But he needn’t have. Why ask why? The whole point is that data mining takes us to a realm beyond obviousness and common sense. The data speak for themselves.

This message was hammered home in research the same year for Budget Rent A Car’s weekend-rental promotion. “Shopping for a rental car” was the No. 4 correlation. No. 1 was “recently read an online obituary.” Try to connect the dots if you wish; meantime, go read some online obits and see what ads show up on the page.

“We no longer have to rely on old cultural prophecies as to who is the right consumer for the right message,” Morgan says. “It no longer has to be microsample-based [à la Nielsen or Simmons]. We now have [total-population] data, and that changes everything. With [those] data, you can know essentially everything. You can find out all the things that are nonintuitive or counterintuitive that are excellent predictors. …

There’s a lot of power in that.”

The Miracle of Repackaging.

Jason over at 37Signals has a great post on the fundamentals of repackaging content. It’s a proven business concept and it is good to see how it can work online.

Here’s the condensed version:

1st Money: Get your ideas vetted out on your blog, sell ads on your blog.

2nd Money: Make a PDF book or your learnings and sell it.

3rd Money: Make PDF into book and sell that.

4th Money: Hold a conference based on the subject of your book. Charge for that.

Full article is here.

Telemegaphoning: Happy Experiments.

I first heard about Unsworn Industries from Very Short List, which is a treasure trove of discoveries and well worth subscribing to, if you don’t already.


According to their description, Telemegaphones are tall loudspeaker sculptures that automatically answers incoming phone calls and projects the sound of the caller’s voice into its immediate surroundings. So, if you happen to be in the idyllic Dalsfjord in Western Norway, you would be able to hear the the voice of anyone who happened to call projected out across the fjord, the valley and the village of Dale below.

An initiative like this would simply be incomplete without  blog and they do indeed have one which can be found here.

There is an oddly human (perhaps male) allure in the idea of mixing a vast expanse of hill and dale and throwing a megaphone into the mix. The effect, I am told is quite magical. It “fills the whole valley like a soft voice from above”. This is a feat that the even the New York City Transit Authority has never quite perfected.

Project Management Tools for the Troublesome Right Brained People Amongst Us.

Project Management (or productivity) software has always been troublesome. It was like accounting, you needed to have a special person who thought like all those spreadsheets to actually use the program.

Action Method

Action Method

Then the tools evolved and now, with online banking and financial tools like Mint, we are able to track and analyze baffling things like money.

But productivity software has been notoriously problematic for creative projects. Just utter the phrase, “Microsoft Project” in a room full of creatives and it will quickly turn quite frosty. If the tagline for MS Project wasn’t, “Designed By Engineers For Engineers” it really should have been. Even the much-lauded Basecamp from 37 Signals, while light years ahead of Project, is still a bit of work for creative folks who still need to retrofit their working style to fit the interface.

In a recent email discussion about this, a friend from Agile Partners suggested that I keep my eyes open for Action Method. While it isn’t released yet (and living up to pre-launch hype is always a challenge), the concept gave me great hope because the problem wasn’t necessarily with the productivity software, it was with the people that used these applications. And the problem was that they loathed using them. I don’t think loathe is too strong a word. That’s a problem.

What looks different about Action Method is that they’ve broken out the world into projects with three categories.


They describe it like this: “The typical creative process for managing ideas and projects is haphazard. Many creatives lose energy amidst unclear tasks, half-finished thoughts, ideas with ambiguous next steps, cluttered references, and little follow-up in a team environment. This method brings order to the organic creative process we all use in our work.”

The secret of what will most likely make Action Method successful is this key point: creative processes do not lend themselves to a whole lot of documentation and categorizing. “The Action Method is project-centric, not context-centric. “We found that creative people tend to approach their personal and professional lives as a series of projects. Design helps us sort the components of these projects and stay engaged long enough to complete them.” With over twenty years of experience in creative groups, I can assure you the operative in that sentence is, “stay engaged long enough to complete them”. It’s the difference between a productivity system that you can actually use to run your business and one that just wastes everybody’s time.

There’s a great usability book called, “Don’t Make Me Think” which encourages developers to not make the people who are going to be using the interface have to think about what they should do next. Action Method sounds like they have taken that to heart and designed a productivity system that works the way creative people think. At least, I’m hoping that’s what it is.

Magazine Error Messages: “What to Do if Your Cover Is Not Flashing”

Paper, meet pixels. Pixels, meet paper. While I have never bought a copy of Esquire magazine, as soon as I heard that there was an e-ink cover on the 75th Anniversary issue I shot over to Esquire’s site to learn more about how they did it.

It's better in flashing e-ink.

It is more fun when the cover is blinking.

(Not familiar with it? Here’s what e-ink is all about).

The link that caught my attention is the one that made one eyebrow shoot up when I realized that magazine covers now have error messages: What to Do if You Cover Is Not Flashing. This is something that Esquire readers have not had to concern themselves with for 75 years. Onward!

The real story is that it’s an amazing story of innovation. It starts to get interesting when you scroll down to the third paragraph which starts, “Yet the technology still needed a push. First E Ink and its manufacturing partner, the Nicobar Group in Shanghai , had to design circuitry thin and flexible enough to bend with the cover and small enough to draw a level of energy that would allow the battery to last for at least ninety days.” Keep reading, it’s a great story.

There is a video of the cover in action which seems rather silly since the cover just blinks but, still, it is innovative in a Times Square kind of way. For the more visual amongst us, the section about How the E-Ink Cover Was Made documents the seven year journey around the world to bring the cover to fruition.

In a fit of inspiration, this 75 year old publisher has opened up their first e-ink cover to hackers and invited them in. Hackers are actively courted in a section entitled, Can You Hack Esquire’s E-Ink Cover? In response to that question, Esquire says, “We don’t know. Well, that’s not entirely true. We know it’s possible, but we’re not exactly sure how. That’s where you come in.” This is surely good for some buzz…and maybe even something more innovative than a blinking cover.

Guttenburg smiles down on all this, I’m sure.

The Metric System: Who’s Steering?

Imagine speeding down the highway and everyone in the car is trying to grab the steering wheel and yelling “Turn left!”, “Make a right!”, “Speed up!”, “Slow down!”. If you can imagine this scene you have probably been in an online development meeting recently.

There are three metrics that should be considered when making decisions on the site.

Forget about which technology or functionality to use, one of the biggest challenges of running an online business right now is simply agreeing how to steer.

Someone recently gave me a copy of “Web Design For ROI” and I read it on a flight to San Diego. Despite its rather dry title, it is happily packed with pragmatic and insightful tips that had me nodding in agreement (and scribbling notes) all the way across the country.

If you’re in this business you have probably experienced marketing people, sales people, usability people, and analytics people all sitting around the conference table trying to prove that they alone have the one true and right critical success factor. So which one is the sole arbiter of truth? Here’s the path to wisdom: They all do and none of them do.

The truth is that running an online business requires a holistic triangulation of business metrics, site metrics, and user metrics and that no one of them exists in a vacuum. The business metrics are the same ones that the business uses to measure success at a high level such as those pulled from a sales system used by the whole company. The site metrics are from web site reporting tools such as Omniture or Google Analytics. The user metrics are derived from user feedback such as surveys, focus groups, and usability testing.

It is imperative to track different types of metrics from multiple sources if you are running an online business. Yes, imperative. You’ll need visibility into quantitative and qualitative results and this is a great way to enforce some checks and balances on the metrics that are tracked.

By using this dashboard approach you will have the ability to make informed, balanced decisions for your business that are rooted in fact.

Having trouble keeping it in the middle of the road? A good dashboard with these three metrics allow you to keep your eyes on the road and your hand upon the wheel.

Where Should We Put the Money?

It’s a question that shopkeepers have asked long before there were things like websites. Or digital revenue models.

Where should I spend my money; spend it on marketing or on making the store nicer?

Obviously we need both but historically companies have focused on buying more traffic, buying more traffic, buying more traffic. And while we need to drive traffic to the store. we also need to convert shoppers once they are in our store.  Lead generation, fundraising, recruiting, sales; all of these can be measured in terms of conversion.  So when we talk about conversion, that’s what we’re talking about.

The secret here is to look at Return On Investment (ROI) as a percentage because it shows us that simply buying more traffic is not always the wisest business decision (all this coming from an old advertising guy, no less).

Here’s why: Let’s say, for illustrative purposes, that our traffic generation programs yield an ROI of 100%. Every month we spend one dollar to make two dollars. We know what we can expect month-over month.
It looks like this:


But let’s say we have a sales conversion rate of 2%, so for every 100 people who come to our site, 2 of them buy from us.

Now let’s suppose we improve something on our site, say, the checkout process and we increase our conversion rate from 2% to 2.3%.
It doesn’t seem like a very big lift, does it?

Here’s the big a-ha moment: the traffic percentage is for a single month. The conversion percentage is 2.3% of an ever-increasing, month-over-month number. Unlike traffic percentages, our conversion percentage increases:


Buying traffic is a one-time cost with a one-time benefit. Increasing our conversion percentage is a one-time cost with an ongoing benefit that increases month over month. It is entirely possible to see a yearly ROI of over 1000% from conversion optimization and that is why we continually look for ways to improve the customer experience. It’s not just a buzzword, it’s good business and it can tell us where to put our money when budgets are tight.

Perfect Timing: A Marketplace for Illiquid Assets.

Talk about perfect timing. New York-based SecondMarket has created a virtual marketplace for illiquid assets. Things like, say, those trillions of dollars worth of real estate loans that everyone on the planet is wondering what to do with.

http://www.secondmarket.com/

In the U.S., either the banks are going to have to figure out what to do with their debt or the government is going to set up a Resolution Trust Corporation-style sort of solution. Either way, SecondMarket looks like a very, very good idea.

If you can watch only one usability redesign this holiday season…

If you aren’t familiar with boxee, their goal is nothing less than putting cable out of business. No small task. Boxee is a media center interface for aggregating both locally stored and streaming movies, TV shows, music, photos and more. Whitney Hess will be leading the redesign of the user experience and it is a fascinating project because boxee is a critical time in their development. They’ve got loyal early adopters but it needs some work before it gets rolled out to the masses (and if they want o beat cable at it’s own game it has to work really, really well. Computer users have much higher standards than TV viewers. It’s weird but true. Two boxes, two different sets of expectations.)

Here’s how Whitney Hess describes the project in front of her, “So I have quite a challenge ahead of me — how do I preserve the existing elements of delight while making the app more scalable, more social, more effective and easier to use by a larger audience?

I’m starting off by doing usability testing with current alpha users, using boxee both on laptops and TV set-ups, and will additionally conduct interviews with prospective boxee users to learn their media consumption behaviors, attitudes, motivations and frustrations. Together these findings will be brought to light in a small set of user personas and scenarios, from which the necessary features for the ideal experience will emerge. Working closely with the boxee team, I’ll develop a set of wireframes to communicate how the features should be woven together in the most useful, usable, pleasurable way, screen by screen. From there the visual designer and developers will bring the product to life, infusing all of the sleekness and fluidity you’ve come to love so much. And all together we’ll test it, and validate it with users, and tweak it and test it again. On and on and on until we’re ready to launch beta.”