What’s the Point Of LinkedIn Answers?

December 7, 2007

Are you a member of LinkedIn? I am, and I have to confess that I find the ‘Answers’ section strangely addictive. If you haven’t seen it, it’s basically a Q&A area for members to ask a question on pretty much any subject and hope for the wisdom of the crowd to provide an answer. There are a number of factors though that make me wonder ‘what’s the point?’.

To help explain: the questions can largely be broken down into the following groups.

- Real, useful, interesting and thought provoking questions or requests for contacts
(about 5% of the total)

- those that can be answered in two minutes via a Google search
(‘what is the longest river in Uzbekistan?’ *)

- questions that make no sense or are unable to be answered in this context, or are so ambiguous there’s no hope of a sensible answer
(‘Tips for creating my own website?’)

- Self-promotion cunningly (or not so cunningly in most cases) disguised as a question
(‘what do you think of eatmyshortsatxmas.com?’)

- Bizarre zen-Buddhism style questions
(‘You are a cupcake. What flavor are you?’)

- Questions about LinkedIn
(‘How do I merge two accounts?’ – about 90% of the total!)

- Repeats
(the same question posted in five different categories, one after the other)

- Completely off the wall questions. I call these the ‘airplane’ questions, if you remember the scene at the information desk.
(‘Should I fake my orgasms?’ .. ‘What’s the best price of wooden limbs in the Ukraine?’ .. ‘Why does my new dishwasher make a high pitched sound?’)

So why do people bother? And why do I keep coming back? My theory is that it’s a combination of genuinely wanting to help and our inherent competitive, self-promotional traits coming to the fore. LinkedIn allow you to give someone the equivalent of a gold-star for a good or great answer. Who wouldn’t like that kind of ‘getting-back-to-school-and-impressing-the-teacher’ recognition :-)

I’ve noticed that there’s only a relatively small group of people answering pretty much every question (and, without sounding rude, that most of the really crappy or bizarre questions seem to come from India).

I’d love to know though, whether those people who asked a question feel that they’ve received value for money.

Perhaps I’ll raise the question on LinkedIn ;-)

* Amu Darya


10 Signs You Might Be Addicted to Social Networking

December 4, 2007

- You learn about your brother’s divorce via his status update

- When you look at your friends list you have no idea who half of those people are

- You feel like you want to start poking and bitch-slapping people in real-life

- Complete strangers know more about you than your partner does

- The easiest way for your boss to contact you is by leaving a message on your super-wall

- People you hated at school are now on your best-best-friends list (anything to get that friends number up!)

- You start virtually stalking old girlfriends you haven’t seen in 10 years
.. and then get jealous when you realise they’re married ..

- Your mobile data plan blows out to $300 a month

- Your believe your friends really do include world leaders and A-list celebrities (‘It is Sylvester Stallone. Honest!’)

Anyone got any more?


When Does Choice Become Confusion?

December 3, 2007

It’s no state secret that we, as consumers, are given more and more choices in everything we seek to buy. Enter any supermarket and you’re probably as amazed as I am at exactly how many different types of cheese or hair shampoo there are. If you’re a short, white, ginger-haired, middle-aged, dry-skinned, flaky scalped kind of fellow, there will be a conditioner just for you! Try asking ‘what salad dressings do you have’ when asked if you’d like one in any restaurant in the US and you’ll be confused by the time your waitress has reached number three (of fifteen).

Choice is great of course: how boring would it be to always have to have the same thing, in the same colour, with the same taste? Every .. single .. time.

But when is it too much? At what point do we cross from choice to just confusion?

We were looking for a new mobile phone for my wife at the weekend. Being a bit of a geek I wasn’t phased by the choice of phones themselves – that’s just techie heaven. What confused (read: annoyed) me was the choice of tariffs. Or more significantly, the way in which those choices were almost deliberately designed to confuse and blind you with science.

Yes, I’d like to choose a plan that accounts for my activity. The more I pay per month, the lower my per-call cost should be. I understand that we can’t have a one-size fits all approach. But what is it with plans such as: ‘pay $14 on the $39 cap and get $140 of calls: excluding international calls, but including 5Mb of data, at $5 per month. With 200 included texts; but only on network-to-network super-maxi plan phones; on a Wednesday;in September’

Gah!

It’s not a cap if I have to pay more. It’s an allowance. And I don’t want to have to then choose one of three ‘free’ add-ons that should be part of the standard plan. I want international on or off. That’s it. I shouldn’t need to know or care what network the person I am calling is on – give me a call rate and bury the cross-charges. I don’t know anyone else on your network – are you saying you’d like me to go to your competitor just so I can get cheap/free calls to my friends? Why would you want that?

As for data plans .. $5 for 5Mb? Are you serious? All of the networks here have 3 or 3.5G networks. How long would it take to burn through 5Mb of data? 15 minutes?

And don’t get me started on Australian broadband .. that’s even worse!

Give me a choice, just make it a simple one .. please!

Ok, that’s my rant for today. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest :-)

(speaking of choice: my father was once asked in a diner in New York how he’d like his eggs. After some consideration he simply answered: ‘cooked?’)


DejaVu All Over Again?

November 28, 2007

Come with me back to the mid to late 90s. Remember those years?

Remember trying to find office space in and around the Bay area? First Tuesday meetings with three thousand green badged ‘entrepreneurs’ chasing three red-badged ‘VCs’ around the room? Remember pets.com, WebVan, boo.com and the million other startups hoping to make it into this brave new online world? The mass of money pouring into crazy no-hope projects for the slim chance of picking the right one? The multitude of companies who added an ‘e’ or an ‘i’ to the front of their names? Or a ‘.com’ at the end?

Remember all those companies whose sole method of ever making money was via advertising …?

Fast forward back to today and you may wonder whether anything has changed. Are we going through the same cycle again, you might ask?

I’d suggest the answer is probably ‘yes’ … and ‘no’.

Let’s look at the similarities to last time: there are certainly far too many ‘me too’ products, most of which will fail or be picked up in a fire sale. How many social networks or video sharing sites do we really need? Especially when there’s little to no differentiation between them. There are plenty of social news sites, but no’ones quite struck the right formula just yet (Digg may be close, but has its own issues to deal with). And we’ve got widget, wiki, blogging and portal offerings coming out of our ears. There’s a lot of investment money still to be had, even with the current squeeze on the US market, and a lot of online businesses offer free services in the hope of ad revenue.

There are some major differences though. Firstly the penetration of broadband, which lack of helped to kill companies like Boo (along with totally incompetent founders – more on that later) is now such that the user experience can be far richer. Video, immersive technologies such as Second Life, real-time communications, fancier Flash and Javascript effects, integrated voice and the like help with that greater level of interactivity.

Secondly, whilst there are still plenty of ‘green-horns’ running web businesses, a lot of the companies this time around are run by those people who went through the first-round: for better or for worse. It doesn’t yet mean they necessarily know how to run a successful company, but you have to believe it helps.

I also think that in terms of advertising as a business model, whilst not perfect and whilst still very risky for most ventures, it is more viable than before. Platforms such as Google adsense and ad-words, Facebooks flyers and Beacon, the work that News Limited are doing on the MySpace and syndicated advertising platform mean there’s a lot more serious and targeted effort being put in now than the simple sale of banner-ads or annoying pop-ups. Acquisitions by the big players of companies like eQuantive and the like ensure major investment in this field. That coupled with the drop-off in traditional advertising means that there’s a potential gap to fill (although, for now, the drop off in offlline advertising isn’t being reflected 1:1 online – by a long way).

There will still be large challenges to this model, not least of which a number of privacy issues yet to be fully resolved, but you have to believe that whilst the gold rush dreams should well and truly be put-aside, there’s still some pretty decent money to be made in them thar hills!

If there’s a common thread, it’s that whilst plenty of silly businesses have and will perish in both rounds, the basic tenets of business online have survived and there are plenty doing it well (see the acquisition of Homestead recently as a prime example of survival!)

Predictors of another bubble burst and predictors of nothing but flowers and glory will, in my humble opinion, both be wrong!

(oh, the story about Boo. Nothing too exciting, but I saw Ernst Malmsten and Kajsa Leander presenting at a First Tuesday event in London in the late 90s, and I have to say that if you can predict a companies future by the terrible performance of its leaders – especially Ernst – you would have been pulling your money out as fast as you could!)

PS: looks like boo.com is now a travel company of sorts


Gaming the System?

November 26, 2007

The pre-cursor to getting people to stick around on your site is obviously to get them there in the first place. As we all know, most of us are a mere blip in a giant universe of electronic noise. I note with interest, therefore, a bit of a ding-dong happening at Techcrunch over a post by Dan Ackerman Greenberg following his outlining of the methods his marketing company takes to ‘help’ a video become viral.

What I find interesting about this is that, apart from the fact you never normally hear such honesty, the techniques he describes for garnering interest are nothing new. Sure, we’d all like to think that the ‘net was somehow much more pure back in the day, but the reality is is that offline marketing techniques have simply switched online and have done so for a long time. Ever seen a print advertorial? How about news items that are clearly just press releases? Ever received a free-sample of something or trial products to use at your club or society? Remember the ‘Gabbo’ advertising from the Simpsons (which a number of books and films had used in real-life). Or let’s go back further still: ever think that the first audience member at a sale or market isn’t just the brother of the seller? Ever been to a nightclub and wondered why there were three or four people always first out on the floor (paid by the club to seed the dancefloor).

Personally I’d love more of a ‘fair-go’ for those of us with limited resources and budget. A happy chance of random encounters with whatever media we choose to produce. Fact is there probably isn’t a lot of interaction you can have with any product on or offline without your actions having been ‘influenced’ to a degree. The classic and best examples would be supermarkets and big-box retailers.

The noise over at TC will fade away, and the cynic in me thinks that Mr Greenberg may have pulled off one of the best promotional coups of his career. For the rest of us, we have to deal with living in the self-promotion society we find ourselves and deal with it accordingly.

So, enjoy your Soulja Boys and your Teen-15s over at YouTube, but remember .. there’s a pretty good chance you will have been helped along the way to find them!


Sticky, sticky. 10 Website Categories and the Glue That Binds..

November 24, 2007

I’ve been thinking about stickiness quite a lot recently. I’m not referring to that strange discolored patch on my carpet – rather, the challenge for any website: once you’ve grabbed a visitor, how do you hang on to them and keep them coming back?

Let’s have a look at some different categories of site (heads-up – I have a feeling this is going to turn into a long post as I am basically brain-dumping!). Oh, before we begin – I’m not talking about getting the traffic in the first place, just helping to keep hold of it once
you get critical momentum. The first part (just as hard) is a whole different discussion :-)

1. Originators: In this group I’d put news sites such as the BBC, CNN, ABC and so on, along with a few of what are normally first or second sources of new stories. That would include sites like Techcrunch, Engadget and Wired. Fairly obvious why people return to these sites: there is always fresh content, normally localised or available to a specific interest group. On most of these, you can add comments or your own stories too.

2. Aggregators: Not an original source of information, but a consolidated view from the web, normally ranked or voted on in terms of popularity. For example, Digg, Slashdot, Reddit and the late Netscape. Given the massive amounts of new data available on a daily basis on the web, these sites offer an easier way to stay current with minimal effort. I’d suggest that at times a larger amount of effort goes into the comments and discussions than it does reading the linked stories!

3. Constant Virals: Sites that are able to continually drive viral and word-of-mouth ‘check this out’ buzz. Youtube is probably the pre-eminent example along with a few of the ‘me-too’ video sharing sites. B3ta used to be there, as are a couple of the flash gaming sites. A constant source of new material, who can resist watching some idiot stick his face in a fire-ants nest! The discussion boards and comments also play a big part here

4. Friend Collectors: No longer the ‘new new thing’, but still growing like mad, online social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Orkut, Thursday Club and the million other variations satisfy our need for self-promotion and gossip. Spend time investing in growing friends, filling out your profile, stalking ex-girlfriends, installing applications and updating your status and you’re hooked. Who doesn’t want to know that ‘Paul is feeling farty’?

Message boards, super-poking, wall-post and super-walls all add to the stickiness and most of these sites are very good at teasing you with update emails to prompt your return.

5. Contact Collectors: Largely similar to number 4, but I put in here some of the more ‘serious’ social networks aimed at business professionals. LinkedIn, Ecademy, Ryze, Plaxo .. again there are a multitude to choose from, although LinkedIn is probably the most popular, with its ‘Answers’ Q&A discussion forums proving particularly popular.

6. Reviews & Recommendations: Tripadvisor, CNET, Yelp, epinions and reams of other sites dedicated to helping you research product or service purchases, word-of-mouth reviews and related discussions.

Often tied directly to ..
7. Service providers: Booking a flight? Need a hotel? Hiring a car? Theatre tickets? Online food shopping? Books, CDs, Cameras .. anything eCommerce? Once you’ve done your research online (see 6) or perhaps even at the same time on the same site (e.g. Amazon) come here to make your purchase. Keen pricing, quick delivery, customer service, positive reviews, large stock, longtail serviceability, word-of-mouth marketing, affiliate programs and white-labelling all help these sites along. Let’s put the eBays, Craig’s Lists and so on in here too.

8. One-hit wonders, weirdos and one-offs: Remember ‘badgers .. badgers’? The filipino elvis looking for love? Star-wars Kid the original? The drink-o-meter? All those crappy but addictive Flash games that took up way too much of your time? With traffic that comes in waves as the next news site story and email chain runs, you may not get a lot of stickiness, but the knock-on effect or chance to grab that traffic for other purposes can be vital (esp for a startup)

9. Blogs: We all know that a tiny fraction of blogs actually generate much traffic, or have a particularly loyal readership. Take one of the most popular though – Scott Adams (Mr Dilbert). With such a large fanbase, he is guaranteed a large readership every day and can kick-off a huge discussion with nothing but a simple question. Powerful stuff!

10. Yackfests: Last, but by no means lowest in priority or stickiness comes forums, chat rooms, discussion boards and the like. My wife is currently addicted to some Indonesian fashion forum, and I would bet that the combined eyeball time for discussion boards net wide would be .. well, it would be quite large :-) If you have an interest, any form of interest, you will find a group of like-minded people somewhere to discuss it with. From Google groups, usenet (sshh!), Yahoo to dedicated, home-run hobbyist sites if you get some momentum you have some serious stickiness!

So, what’s the conclusion? Well if you had to pick the common element with each, it has to be discussions and comments. That won’t be a surprise to anyone, and forms one of the key tenets of what has been called ‘web 2.0′. Truth is, the discussion based aspect of the ‘net has been a constant since almost day dot and is one thing that has consistently worked in grabbing people to take part.

One downside though of traditional discussion forums has always been that if you have one, and it’s successful, it tends to suck the traffic from every other part of your site (check out http://www.pprune.org for a good example – a site for professional pilots that gave up on trying to get anyone to do anything except use the forum – which is hugely popular).

There are a number of new players such as Tangler, trying to address this by trying to create not only an embedded discussion platform but one that enables you to bring together other aspects of your site too (profile, product info, interesting links, video and so on).

Imagine there’s a thread going on and you pull up an embedded interactive product, pricing information, select some experts and related media. Think Digg labs meets Amazon, meets Second Life, meets threaded discussion, meets Twitter subscribers, meets YouTube. How cool would that be?

Hmm, well, I did say I was just brain dumping :-)


Exercise for the Reader: Facebook Member Stats

November 22, 2007

[Update: before you get too far into these numbers, you might like to check out this updated post, which gives a more accurate breakdown of genders – the country totals remain the same]

Out of interest I went through the Facebook ad platform to pull together some stats on relative numbers of members from each country. Not surprisingly, the US represents over 40% of the total membership at just over 18 million. Some surprises though (at least to me), with Turkey in 5th place.

There’s quite a heavy bias to the ladies too, with female members making up just over 63% of the total population.

I’m not able to see what criteria FB uses to present these numbers, so these may be members with just a basic profile, or those who have also filled in some additional personal details too.

Full picture is below. Click on the image to open up so that you can see all the data.

[update – see my comment in the comments too :-) ]

Facebook Member Stats


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