Getting Your Priorities Right

December 1, 2007

How would you feel about this situation .. ?

A (hypothetical *cough*) management team realise that they’re not really operating as a team, and decide to have a bit of a brainstorming, bonding and ‘get-to-know-you’ offsite session. They figure that that has to be a positive and much needed sign to the rest of the company. Sounds good?

Meeting gets scheduled for next March…..

Facebook Advertising Platform

November 22, 2007

A short while ago Facebook announced the release of their advertising platform. Given that I had written about that previously, and was in need of some fresh ideas for advertising the Thursday Club (side-project), I decided to give it a go.

Setting up a campaign is a pretty straightforward process. You select the criteria for your audience segmentation, starting with the geography (I’d love to have the option to select ‘World’, but you have to start at a particular country – although you can run multiple campaigns simultaneously in different countries). You can also select gender, age ranges and target keywords to further define your audience. I do like the fact that as you select each keyword you are shown a tally of the number of people that match your criteria. I’m sure someone could reverse engineer some interesting statistics out of that.

It doesn’t appear that the keywords currently include group membership, or much other than a persons direct interests.

You can then create some simple text copy (think basic Google adword style) and optionally upload a picture. If you have a company page, you can also choose to include related information from that. Finally, select how much you’d like to pay per click or per view (I chose ‘per-click’) and that’s pretty much it. You can set timeframes for your campaign and maximum spends per day.

I would recommend experimenting with the CPC rate you bid as you can go from zero impressions to many thousands through some very small adjustments. You can see the effects almost straight away. Current click-through rates are pretty low, but that may be a function of my test ad-copy too 🙂

Overall though I like it. The operation is pretty much identical to how I perceived it might work, bar some limitations on granularity. It would also be nice to get some clarity on exactly where these ads show up.

I’ll let you know what affect this has on traffic to my site, but as of now (24 hours after starting) there have been 5000+ ad impressions which I don’t think is too shabby.

I’ll also be experimenting with some much more targeted ads with a small number of potential viewers.

Stay tuned!

Busy Fools

October 22, 2007

If you ask somebody nowadays how they are, what do they normally tell you? Chances are that along with the usual ‘fine’, ‘doing ok’ and ‘so so’ they’ll also say ‘busy’, ‘tired’ or ‘flat out’.

We’re all more than familiar with the increased pace of life. The always-on, always-connected life of the Blackberry addicted corporate netizens most of us have become. But do you ever stop to wonder how much of our busy schedules are really unnecessary necessities? How much time we waste, or how much is wasted by others?

I’m not talking about proper, conscious time wasting activities like reading Digg, surfing for pictures of cute kittens or writing your blog (ahem). I’m talking about being a ‘busy fool’. Attending pointless meetings, producing reams of unnecessary reports (often the same information sliced in different ways for different people), dealing with administrivia, working on projects you know are never going to work, following rules and processes just because, waiting for decisions, dealing with committees, waiting for sign-off.

Do you ever think about the things you shouldn’t be doing? Actually, not just think, I mean properly stop and consciously decide to not do something? Instead of hoping for more people in your team, or wishing in vain for a bigger budget, have you ever wondered how it’s probably possible to really do more with less (as we all keep getting told) if only the items in the ‘more’ list were actually less (but higher value).

Do you subscribe to the ‘two people in a garage’ theory but never get a chance to find out?

The trick of course is not only knowing what’s important and what’s not, but also helping to educate your organisation to allow people to focus on those items. You should be ready to not do certain things, but there’s a reasonable chance that simply saying ‘no’ will get you labeled as someone who isn’t a team player or isn’t willing to play the corporate game. So you need to be open and honest in your reasons, work upwards and downwards and keep your eyes open for inefficiencies (as an example, I seem to spend a reasonable amount of time getting person A to talk to person B having noted that they’re both working on largely the same thing. This also saves person C – me – from doing the same things a third time!).

I get very frustrated at ‘make-work’ for mediocre people and sometimes, when all else fails, you simply have to walk away. I’d like to think though that we all have a part to play before it gets to that point.

As my old physics lecturer used to say ‘if you’re going to waste your time and do nothing, you should have decided beforehand that’s what you are going to do. Otherwise you’re just wasting your time.’

What are you not going to do today?

Last One And I’ll Move On

October 4, 2007

Much like blogging about blogging, blogging about Facebook is also currently contributing to blocking the tubes: you can see that I’ve been just as guilty as the next person in that regard. I also wasn’t trying to create a series on Web 2.0 either, but as I have the admin power please indulge me one last time (just don’t hold me to ‘last’ ;-)).

Normal service of random nonsense will then return. Promise.

I do find this stuff interesting though, so whilst doing some random link following on the FB subject I came across a comment on Bubble Generation from one Phil Jones. Phil is a lot more eloquent than I am on this, and so I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him.

This is, to me, the essence of my platform argument below.

Phil says: “Actually, the world of Facebook apps. and widgets is the first time I’ve started to see that an old-style platform strategy may be possible. Here the basis is something which which is a hybrid of technology, namespace and social convention. Of which Facebook’s “news-feed” is the archetypal example. Facebook’s news-feed is not merely technological : which is why other generic data-sharing feeds like RSS or Twitter aren’t equivalent. It’s also a social convention within a particular namespace and community: I’m willing to look at data that an application writes on my friend’s feed, even though I haven’t installed the application or explicitly subscribed to it. This is different from the open web – I wouldn’t welcome an ordinary web-application that my friend used, randomly spamming my email. (Similarly, if too many bots started writing to Twitter, that would kill that particular community pretty damned quickly, it’s not part of its culture either.)

Facebook’s platform power ultimately rests on their ownership of this complex but delicate socio-technical hybrid. If they can nurture and grow it, such as giving both users and applications, more and subtler ways to manage it, more nuanced types of relationships between people, with more fine grained privacy control and applications that access these both through the APIs and patterns of software behaviour, then I think they have something that’s very hard to escape from or reproduce elsewhere.

This is no longer about just data, or arguments about open access to it. It’s data + social data + social conventions.”

Well said Phil!

Facebook and Social Networking Are A Fad

October 3, 2007

Or so says Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer. To be fair to the king of the chair-throwers (alleged), Ballmer does say there is a risk that this is the case.

He may well be playing a clever game of toning down Microsoft’s interest in a rumoured stake in Facebook. Or he may just have missed the point entirely; particularly as he seems to be focussed just on the technology.

I’m with Scoble on this one. There will undoubtedly be a lot of consolidation and casualties to come from the plethora of social networks currently around. There will be cooler and more seamless technologies, new players and new cool toys to play with. What Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Thursday Club (sorry, gotta get a plug in :-)) and who knows what else provide though is a platform and a ready-made largely self-segmenting group of identifiable and targetable consumers.

Let me explain: the platform, when done right, offers an open and extensible opportunity for the originator and third-parties to build on and add interesting new twists based on existing data. Witness the Facebook API (although, as an aside, I think that whilst the viral nature of the applications built on the API is superb, they need to be cautious that people don’t get turned off by the sheer volume of ‘Zombie vs Pirate’ style requests. I’ve turned off most of the plug-ins – it was starting to feel too much like crappy cc’ed joke emails. But, I digress.)

Take that platform and add in millions of people who have voluntarily decided to add an advertising persons dream set of demographic data: age, sex, location, marital status, interests, pets, groups, fetishes, favourite bars, clubs, food. You name it and people on sites like Facebook are telling you about it. Or if not you, they sure are telling the automated algorithms that will shortly be feeding them targeted adverts and other useful information. Users on Digg might hate the adverts and a number of the tech-savvy may have ad-block or clever host files set-up so they don’t see them. But your mum? Your sister? The other sixty three and half million emo kids on MySpace? Pure gold if you can mine it.

So Mr Ballmer, it really doesn’t matter whether Microsoft could technically build another Facebook in a short time period (and that’s debatable, but we won’t get into that). It doesn’t even really matter that one particular platform loses some of its appeal, a’lah Friendster (which still goes great guns in Asia by the way). The methods might shift too. But the concept of the network will stay.

Final thought: I’ll bet there are people in Microsoft, lots of super-smart, super-switched on people in groups like Live banging their heads on the table thinking “We know how to do this, but we are missing the boat. Stop frigging around with politics, protecting positions, re-orgs and headcount manipulation and give us a few smart people, a long enough rope and some space and then see what happens.”

And, no, I don’t work at Microsoft 🙂

Don’t Let Me See That

October 3, 2007

Whilst I was shopping for TVs the other day I saw something that at first was mildly amusing but then got me thinking.

I was in … let’s call the store ‘Hardly Normal’ .. when there was a bit of a commotion near the checkout. Two members of staff had got into a shouting match. It wasn’t clear what the fuss was about – I think one guy had interrupted another when he was with some customers. They were still shouting at each other when I left.

It did make an interesting sideshow, and the small crowd that formed near them appeared to agree.

On reflection though, I really didn’t want to see it.

If your company is dysfunctional, don’t let me see it. If your order processing and back office systems are crap, don’t let me see it. If your accounts department finds it hard to deal with your service department .. you get the idea. We may have to contend with annoying co-workers, crappy systems and inflexible processes but I don’t really care how hard you’re paddling under the water: please make it look serene on the surface (and then fix your other issues of course!).

On a related note I once saw a genuinely interesting (and scary) workplace incident in Thailand, when two kitchen workers decide to fight it out. One of them grabbed a knife from the sink. Luckily she (it was two women) was stopped before it got too out of hand.

Not sure why, but the restaurant burst out into spontaneous applause. Now that’s entertainment!

Business BS

September 28, 2007

I had a meeting a couple of days ago with one of the large hardware and software vendors. Let’s call them ‘Moon Microsystems’. I’ve been around long enough to hear my fair share of business BS, but this meeting vied for the world record.

Three hours of my life I’ll never get back, I was tempted to stick a fork in my eye for a bit of light relief. Luckily I had a flight to catch and so managed to escape with most of my brain cells largely intact.
And yes, I did try and steer things back but unfortunately I wasn’t chairing the meeting and was only one of ten participants – how expensive must all of that time been?!

Here are some questions for you (see if you recognise any of these):
– Why do we waste so much time in our working lives (and I’m not talking about checking out your Facebook or reading Digg.)?
– Why waste time in unnecessary meetings?
– Why make commitments we can’t keep or undertake projects we know we won’t have time for, or worse still, deliver no value.
– Why spend three hours bullshitting around the issues instead of setting clear and simple actions
– Why do companies get so afraid to try something different?
– Why can’t people give up control, or really and properly let someone else run with an idea?
– Why do we stymie innovation at the expense of the short-term numbers, giving us the exact same problems year on year?
– Why is it always ‘someone else’s problem’?
– Why keep doing the same thing, never learning from past mistakes?
– Why do we find it hard to filter out the ‘noise’?
– Why do we say ‘because that’s the way things are done around here’ to justify mediocrity?

My apologies – I’m feeling a bit frustrated at the moment. Can you tell? 😉 I appreciate that not every company is like this. There are some superstars out there, to be sure, but there sure are a lot of shockers too.

To misquote someone else’s phrase: “strategy without action is just hallucination”.

(oh, and just to be clear: I’m not suggesting ‘Moon’ are like this – I couldn’t possibly know from the one meeting. Let’s say I’m taking an average over multiple companies I’ve seen in action … )