The Challenge Rambles and riff raff about all this and that

3Nov/104

What having 2 boys can teach you about yourself

I recently had my second child. As recently as 11 days ago, on October 23rd. Felipe weighted a healthy 9 ponds, 4.15 oz (4.2kg for those of us who use more modern measurement systems).

Felipe

Felipe, 3 days old.

The new member of the family couldn't be more different from his brother. Whereas Agustin was quite prone to cry -and still is, to an extent-, Felipe is hardly ever heard. Agustin has always been quite active. At only 20 months he sleeps almost as little as I do; goes to bed at 10:30, wakes up at 6:30am and naps from 1pm till 3pm, he's always getting himself into trouble, climbing things and falling down from every conceivable and inconceivable place. I've seen him hit the ground hard and not shed a single tear, whereas if he wants me to hold him he can cry me a river.

Although it is too early to tell Felipe appears to be a lot more relaxed. He sleeps and stares, always quietly, and he prefers to be in his chair than being held in arms (except when his stomach hurts, which only happens quite seldom).

Truth is my youngest seems to be easier to raise than the eldest. Yet I found myself more "useful" with Agustin. The thing is I can quite handle a noisy boy and a chaotic situation, but when facing a seemingly-perfect scenario I'm stalled. I'm too afraid I'll break something.

My children have demonstrated something I already knew: I'm a fixer, not a maintainer. I prefer tough situations to settled things.

I wonder if this is something that will change with time or if it is wired into my system.

3Mar/104

Death to the short sighted web

There is some degree of chaos in the way the web and its users evolve. It does not follow a blueprint or a masterplan, nor are there any "owners" of the web (although there are groups, organizations and foundations that have a huge influence over the underlying technologies).

That is, quite certainly, one of the things that make it so attractive and interesting.

The inherent and unavoidable byproduct of the web's chaotic nature is that its players need to update the way they conduct business and interact with customers in order to stay in top of the game and maximize the potential revenue stream.

Companies that fail in such endeavor will struggle and loose market share, those that excel and can keep themselves in top of the game will have the upper hand and boost sales and conversions.

One of the rules of the web that is rapidly shifting is the idea of the corporate website as the centerpiece of a company's on-line life. This was true in 2001, somewhat true in 2006 and completely wrong in 2010.

Behemoth websites are only part of a very complex web ecosystem, they should no longer be treated as the sole departure or destination point of any web-based activity. I have already stated this much almost 2 years ago.

The general direction in which web-based users ponder around the interwebs has changed quite a bit in the past years. Instead of a single direction of searching and/or accessing websites and interacting solely with vendors at their home sites we're seeing a shift towards people interacting with companies and other people at social networks. This can have a huge impact in the way we all shop online.

Welcome to the social shopping.

There are plenty studies out there in the wild that state how users rely more on peer reviews than on anything Marketing tells them, so I'm not going to focus on that part of the discussion at all. Assume you know as much.

Truth is that although many web-marketers know that fact is that there are only a handful of companies taking partial advantage of the power social networking yield over shopping behavior.

This has a lot to do with walled gardens. Social activities, shopping, pre-shop research all seem to happen in parallel universes. There is a disconnection between all of this things that is in part a product of all of them living in separate and unconnected systems and partially because no one has cared to try to create a single, seamless experience for the user.

The thing is that people spend (and share) more and more parts of their lives through the internet  and all of that information and willingness to do stuff on the web has a potential yet to be unleashed.

The Proposal.

There are 3 basic premises for online shopping that we should look forward meeting as vendors:

  • Convenience
  • Fun
  • Ease of use

I have also talked about how "fun" should be a key part of the e-commerce experience in the past.

Social Networks can add part of that fun component. But they can also add a the convenience and ease of use components. Potentially at least.

Facebook announced a timid partnership strategy with PayPal that is restricted to 2 very specific use cases:

  1. Paying for Ads
  2. Facebook Credits (a virtual goods environment aimed mostly at game users)

We had talked about this Jeremiah Owyang a couple of years ago and he dares to state that this move could be a testing ground for facebook to dip its toe in the e-commerce waters (although company representatives contacted J. to say that what is going on is all that is going on).

There is a huge unleashed potential in this, lets picture a scenario here for a moment.

Imagine that facebook (and other Social Networks) decide to open up e-commerce capabilities, working as a 3rd party identity provider. Users could then go into facebook, click on an ad or other users' status that lead to an app within facebook that allows them to buy goods using their tied facebook-to-paypal identity to complete the transaction.

There are several advantages for both the user, the 3rd parties and the companies involved:

  • The users would only need to input confirmation data for security reasons, no more huge forms.
  • Social networks can charge small fees for every transaction, shifting the current ad-based model to a broader income model with several income sources.
  • Companies would benefit because they could boost sales through e-tail, at lower costs and higher margins.

Now, this would only be scratching the surface of the potential implications of social shopping. There could be all sorts of apps and functions tied with the process. Out of the top of my head I can think of functions that would allow users to brag about their newly acquired goods and rub them in their friends faces (something that would also tempt others to buy).

Also users could serve as advisors and could get discounts for referring their friends to a certain vendor. None of this is entirely new. Most of this things are already being exploited by online games such as Farmville. Yes, it can get annoying, but it is also very effective.

Finally support is also going to have a social component. It is true that many companies have forums and other peer-to-peer support systems, but I have yet to see one that can unleash the massive number of users social networks have to add them as listening ports and peer-to-peer help.

I also think Twitter might have a big role on all of this but I'll leave that for another post.

The idea of the corporate-site-centric web marketing is bound to disappear; they will still occupy an important place;  similar to what it is today, yet less preponderant. Still their major role in the "commerce powered by social media" era is going to be as data feed providers.

18Feb/102

Random thoughts on Winter Olympics

Less than 2 years have passed since I was able to participate in one of the greatest and most important events a Marketer can ever be involved in: The Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Looking back I have mixed feelings. On one hand it was a great and exiting experience, it forced me and the people I worked with to pull quite a number of work hours. On the other hand the amount of bureaucracy and problems the IOC and BOCOG presented us was so immense that I'm glad that I don't have to do that again.

I'm fortunate enough to have first hand insights into how things work, and, trust me, Olympic Marketing is no easy task. In order to associate your brand with the 5 rings and the games you need to comply with a lot of rules that, more often than not, seem a little bit arbitrary.

I can now speak more openly of this issues since my former employer is no longer an Olympic sponsor and I'm no longer employed by Lenovo.

The idea of writing yet another post on the Olympics came after seeing the site AP built for the ocasion. The site bears some resemblance of the gadget aggregator we built in partnership with Google. That page no longer exists, and for those of you who were not fortunate enough to see it I'll make a description: Picture iGoogle filled with Olympic-related gadgets, from maps and photos of the venues to a schedule of activities and the always present medal tally.

I think  a web-based gadget platform can be a very powerful means to engage the public, that could lead to a customized  experience for every user. If a company could combine that level of customization with the power (and inherent virality) of a social network of the size of  facebook that would be a winning combination.

I have to admit, tho that after reading pieces such as this on Mobile Local Social I feel a bit surprised with people finding that Olympians + Social Media can be a killer combo. That has already happened at Beijing. Of course neither was the world what it is now nor was Beijing (or China) as open and as eager to socialize as Vancouver is, but the Athletes have very compelling stories to tell. [shameless plug] And that was what we tried to enable with the "voices of the summer games" blogging aggregator program. Think of it as "long tail meets world-class sporting event". (The site is still up and locked, left as a time vault of what it was).

Yet there is one major issue with Social Media, telling the athlete's story and the Olympic games: the IOC.

The Olympic committee has to be one of the most conservative entities I ever had to work with. Sure, when working for the 2008 games we were concerned about the great firewall and people not being able to:

  • Post their stories from within China
  • Read posts or watch videos from within the firewall

We had partnered with Google, we were using Flickr and YouTube and Facebook, we had reasons to worry. But we were looking in the wrong direction. The real censor was the Olympic committee. And it still is.

Proof of that is this piece by newsy:

And the tweet (now deleted) by Gold Medalist Lindsey Vonn, which stated:

Hey everyone, because of the olympic rules (blackout period) I will not be able to post any updates...

The rules for Athletes are vague. And Athletes are afraid of the Comitee, and for a good reason, they could be banned for life or stripped of all their medals.

There are two main reasons why the rules imposed by the IOC are very misleading:

  1. They do not understand Social Media and cannot (or will not) adapt quickly enough and
  2. they want to keep the upper hand and call some interpretation of the rules and hold them against someone in case of need.

The committee does not like receding any amount of power, and that is exactly what social media would do: it would shift a little bit of power from the IOC to the athletes.

It would seem like the IOC forgets it exists thanks to the very same individuals it puts under an iron fist: the Athletes. The fear is that once the Athletes can start telling their stories by themselves a good chunk of broadcasting rights money could shift from the centralized control to the athletes.

And no one would like that, now, would they?

12Feb/1014

Jump!

Today is my last day as a Lenovo employee. It has been one of the toughest decisions of my entire career, but one that I had delayed quite a bit and that had to be done.

For the most part I have nothing but appreciation for all the time I spent at the company. Sure enough, things were not perfect (or I'd still be working for them), but I was allowed to learn and grow, to do amazing stuff and with the experience of trying to build a multi-billion worldwide company almost from scratch.

Amongst the things I've gained I depart with some good and lasting friendships, some of whom left the company before I did, some are still there. I wont name you (because I would certainly forget about someone and hurt some feelings), but you certainly know who you are.

Final tip of the hat goes to David. He was my mentor within the company, the one to deposit quite a bit of confidence in a South American dude he barely knew and the one providing all the opportunities to do fun things. I have nothing but appreciation for you.

So, what's next for me?

I've decided to make the jump and join a startup company called AbilTo. In words of our own website Abilto:

[was started] in 2008 with the mission of providing a better option for millions of people seeking to overcome the difficulties resulting from commonplace behavioral disorders and life transitions.

That means that I'll be hopefully applying my knowledge to connecting people at various life crossroads with a little help to get them past the bumpy road from my humble position of VP of Web Operations.

In practical terms that means that all web development and marketing will ultimately fall under my responsibility.

I'll also devote more time to my Digital Marketing & Social Media consulting gig. I will certainly keep myself busy.

What this all means for the readers of this blog is that I'll keep posting about the same things I have not been writing about plus some more new and interesting stuff.

I can hardly wait.

22Jan/100

Dear Publishers

Dear Publishers:

People would tend to think that someone who runs a Book publishing company would be well educated, informed and intelligent.

Books aren't dead, but what about the publishing industry?

As usual, preconceptions seem to be wrong.

Unlike your cousins at the music industry you could foresee the changes your industry is currently undergoing and learn from the mistakes others have done before you.

Yet, from my point of view I feel déjà vu.

Your industry, as you know it, will disappear. Now get over it. And get over it quickly. Hey! at least you had 550 years to profit.

The sooner you assume the unavoidable the sooner you can start transforming your companies to adapt to a new reality, a new set of rules and a reading habits revolution that has only just started.

If you start acting stupid and doing things like delaying the availability of titles in electronic format you will only accelerate your fall.

Traditional books will not disappear, much like vinyl records they will, eventually, represent a niche market. If you look at it from an econometric perspective the energy cost of publishing a print book versus an ebook is so huge that the old model has no way to compete.

The question you need to start asking is "what role do we have  in this play now?". The publishing company that nails the answers will have the upper hand in the time that comes.

Many will argument that there is no place for publishers in the future. It is a very tempting statement, but one I think will not be true. There is a place for a new breed of publishing companies in the new, all-digital, book world. That role will have a few common places with what publishers are used to do but will mostly be a new kind of thing based in 2 very basic premises:

  1. Marketing
  2. Content curation

Marketing you already do. But you will have to rethink the way you do it. The best-seller ideology will still play a major role (particularly as e-book pricing goes down) but it will be the long tail / low cost / low sales / hyper-niche books that will account for most sales in 10 years. The first publishing company that takes full advantage of the focused targeting capabilities that modern internet marketing has to offer and puts that to the service of selling niche books (in a semi-automated way, may I mention) can make a fortune out of it. Yet, in order to sale niche products you need to own them, which brings us to point #2:

Content curation is becoming increasingly important. Soon everyone will have the ability to write, publish and sell books on their own. That does not mean that all books will be good. Amidst all those books that are not good the next Dan Brown hides. And between the not so bad books will lay a lot of books that can fill gaps in the ever-increasing number of specific taste and interest niches.

Telling what books are good, bad, can sale or not is a task that no machine or software can be assigned to. No matter how complex the semantic algorithms get, how accurate the intelligence virtualization becomes, how many million iterations a neural network may perform humans will always be the right entities to recommend books for humans.

As for piracy: that will always exist, get over it. The one thing you can do is what the brilliant Ian Rogers told the music industry back in 2007: Convenience Wins, Hubris Loses. If your books are more conveniently bought than stolen piracy will unavoidably decline, don't make the same mistake the music industry did and continues to do: annoy your customers (aka: your-source-of-income). Trust me: it is much better business to pass as smart enablers rather than as greedy idiots.

Yours trully,

A book lover.

3Nov/093

This blog is not dead

This blog is only undergoing a temporary hiatus.

There are a lot of things happening in the industry.

There are a lot of things happening in my personal and professional life.

Stay tuned. Ye shall be back.

Filed under: personal 3 Comments
26Aug/095

Time off, health, other stuff.

I just returned from the first 4 days worth of vacation in about a year.

Thanks to my brother we headed over to Pinamar. Despite being winter we were blessed with springlike weather. I blame global warming.

Agustin had a blast. Luciana had her birthday by the beach.

This time off came as a response to burnout. And to health. My  body was starting to evidence the kind of abuse I was putting it through.

4 days ain't nearly enough to recover. But it helped to put things in perspective. And they haven't been in perspective for a while.

26Aug/095

Facebook question

When I come across an update such as this:

Ted Kennedy's Passing on FaceBook

Ted Kennedy's Passing on FaceBook

The question is: should one "like" it? I certainly don't like the fact of loosing Ted to Cancer, but I do like the fact that someone shared it on FaceBook so I could find out.

I just didn't feel comfortable enough "liking" this.

5Aug/093

Space Invaders (the Death of Conversation)

Markets are conversations. Then Marketers shout. Thus Marketers screw up conversations.

The logic is overwhelming.

10 years ago, a nice book called The Cluetrain Manifesto was published. It changed everything.

Wait.

That needs rephrasing.

10 years ago, a nice book called The Cluetrain Manifesto was published. Some of us thought it would change everything. (In my case it was the first Marketing book I ever read, back in 2000 -in English and while I studied music and worked for a construction company).

The book, in case you live in a cave, starts with 95 theses. The first one reads:

Markets are conversations.

What a revelation! So obvious. In the era of Facebook and Twitter, the time of "online friends", now that the blogs raised and died it is apparently so true.

True, but wrong.

(Yes, I love contradictions)

Marketers have invaded spaces where people lurk (it is the means to the end, right?). They have done so ever since the advent of mass media. When radio become popular advertising surged as almost natural. Then came TV.

Of course those types of media inherently go in one direction; so if someone did not like the presence of  publicity there wasn't much they could do.

Then came the internet.

And something seemed to be different. The advent of the social web brought a promise of a different type of Marketing. One that would listen. One that would talk looking into the customer's eye. One that would be a conversation, much like Cluetrain proposed.

And then us (marketers) screwed it up. Conversations didn't quite have the impact we were used to with mass media. We needed more bang for the buck. We wanted more. We started shouting again. We went back from conversation to publicity.

But Marketers are not the only ones to be blamed, the recipients share part of the shame. Both in an active and a passive way.

The public is to blame because it allows their spaces to be invaded by vacuous marketing messaging.  The most bluntly example of this becomes apparent with the usage of client-generated content to power marketing campaigns. This would be more acceptable if consent were not tacit but deliberate, but that is usually not the case. Maybe letting advertisements into our own private spaces is a price too high to pay to use many services.

The audience is also to blame because many have tried to take advantage of the few marketers that actually tried to do things differently, of the couple of crazy dudes that actually tried to talk. When I read news that state that a mommy blogger tried to bribe George Smith (Online Marketer) for a pair of crocs at BlogHer I feel saddened.

Thus when a Marketer  tries to have a conversation this comes out as the result.

Yet that is deserved. Seth Godin's phrase "all marketers are liars" still applies. Or should I say: Applies today more than ever before.

In the mass media reign days lies were openly displayed and people "bought" them somewhat knowingly. Today things have become more dense, obscure and mangled. Most marketers have a discourse that says that they are part of the conversation, ("hey we even have a corporate blog!"), they find alternative ways to let the customers know about products and services ("we just placed a banner on facebook and MSN!") and have youth and massive appeal with lower than average investment ("we have this viral video you'll love") .

It is all lies. At least on most cases.

Viral videos are pushed to front pages using fake accounts and bots. Advertising, even on the internet, is just that: friggin advertising, not a "new way to deliver the message". Yes, even if you publish your Ad on a social network, it is still an ad. Most corporate blogs delete anything resembling  negative comments; so much for open conversation. Not to mention the shallowness of the content and the fact that PR firms handle that instead of the actual, flesh and bone employees.

Metrics are inflated on a daily basis. Results are overrated. Everything is false.

Phony Social Network users, fake fans, non-existing facts and figures, pay-per-post. So much for transparency. So much for conversation.

I don't know about you, but when I talk I don't shout. Shouting defeats the purpose.

The marketers excuse for such type of behaviors is that, amidst so much noise, if they don't go above the mean murmur they would pass by inadvertently. If that is the case maybe what you are saying is not that interesting. Screaming about it is not going to make it any more appealing (or true, or conversational).

But then again, coming up with relevant content and doing thinks that can go "viral" just due to  to their own weight and creativity requires thinking, inspiration and hard work. Those things are not readily available.

Thus it is Mediocre (social) Marketers and irresponsible customers who have killed conversation for the rest of us.

Thanks, much appreciated.

Now, lets cut the crap and lets all just say what we are really doing.

15Jul/0920

Creative Commons Plugin

Part of the work I've been doing with JD Lasica for his Social Brite project (yes, there is an irony in the fact that a careless, sarcastic SoB teamed up with a caring, polite and nice guy such as JD) included creating a Creative Commons plugin. I'm quite proud to say that I've released the plugin for the public in version 0.1 0.1.1.

It is based on the amazing Job by Nathan R. Yergler and his WP-Licencse Plugin.

What WP-license Reloaded does is allowing per-post licensing. This is particularly helpful for multiple author blogs and sites.

This plugin is on its early stages. For the future I have planned:

  • Defaulting licenses (on a per blog and per author basis)
  • Bulk Updating licienses (for older posts)
  • I18n of the plugin.
  • Anything else you might suggest and that I find cool enough to implement.

I've always thought that copyright (the traditional one) is a big halt to human and knowledge progress. Now I can lie to myself and think I made some progress by unleashing this plugin to the public.

Feel free to add suggestions in the comments.