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Behind The Eyeballs: 75% of All Ads and Content Ineffective?

So many designers, user interface creators and arm-chair critics think they know what makes really compelling content, how ads should be displayed or even how a web site or application should be delivered. But do they? Do any of us really know what it takes to present and communicate content and ads that are truly compelling, cut above the noise, and garner attention from an increasingly scattered audience who have in front of them an overwhelming and accelerating number of choices?

One company is staking a claim to an understanding of the cognitive landscape behind our eyeballs with their quantitative and measurable solutions: NeuroFocus (via AdLab). Dr. A.K. Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus, said this in a follow-up interview with Media Post: “We’ve found that about 75% of all content–not just advertisements–is not neurologically optimal.”

“For example, consumers interpret info on different parts of a screen with different sections of their brain. […] So an advertiser or TV show producer has reduced the engagement potential and effectiveness of their content from the onset if the bulk of the textual and numerical info is placed on the left side–with the imagery or brand logos on the right.”

The company obtains their results through biometric measurements. That means volunteers strap on a skull cap with electrodes on it and engage with the content and advertisements of which they’re presented. The thing that troubles me a bit, is that like the uncertainty principle in quantum physics, my experiences have shown that when observers know they’re being measured their behavior and cognitive processing changes. It does seem, however, that NeuroFocus’ research at least provides a baseline from which content and ads can be more precisely delivered. Then further refinement can occur (with we unaware and passive brains behind eyeballs) with other analytical tools or simple measures of clickstream data.

The Nielsen Company (the grandaddy of TV measurement) has made a strategic investment in NeuroFocus so they’re obviously on to something.

The promise (to advertisers) of the shift to internet-based ad delivery is measurement and to us (the online user) it’s ad relevancy, contextualized or personalized ads. Rarely does significant  and ongoing ad placement occur without measurement nor do venture capitalists sit still for long as ad-dependent-for-revenue companies attempt to drive user engagement and expansion of our involvement with their offering…and thus garner advertisers.

Solid measurement is healthy. Best practices more so as they’re indicators of actions we can take with understandable and quantifiable returns. It’s still pretty early in the evolution of the internet, but knowing what to do, how to deliver it and how to measure it is key to economic success on the ‘net and continued innovation.

To read more, take a peek at this well done New York Times article here and the CEO has a couple of mp3’s and a white paper here.

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Collaboration shouldn’t be like driving by keyboard

Back in 1984 I was a manufacturer’s rep for a computer company called Apple and they had this new computer called Macintosh. Using the mouse was foreign to most people and we’d put on seminars to teach them how to manipulate a mouse and try out this new fangled computer and it’s graphical user interface or GUI (“OK everyone…now drag the arrow to the top left of the screen. Good. Now drag it to the bottom right. Good. Now click once on what looks like a manila file folder. Good.” Yes, it was that sort of brain-dead-simple movements that gave people a feel for a GUI since no one we were presenting to yet had a clue.

One of the metaphors I remember using to help people understand this new paradigm of controlling a computer was comparing this new mousing method — and how fluid, intuitive, fast and seamless it was — to driving using a computer keyboard and typing out commands vs. just using a steering wheel. I’d start off…

Imagine if we had to use a keyboard to drive a car! To start the car moving you’d type in “Go 30″ and the car would begin to accelerate to 30mph. “TL 20″ for turning left 20 degrees” “Alt-B” for braking. Then “OH MY GOD, THERE’S A WOMAN WITH A BABY CARRIAGE!!” and I’d pretend to be all flustered and scrambling to quickly locate the Alt-B keys to stop the car (trust me…it seemed pretty funny 20+ years ago).

Using today’s virtual worlds is somewhat like typing commands vs. fluid steering with a wheel. While I enjoy Second Life (SL), the learning curve necessary to build an avatar, learn how to move through the SL space is far too daunting to all but the most highly motivated among us. While flying in-world is fun and it’s cool, getting around isn’t as easy as it appears in recorded SL videos or perhaps how devotees of SL would have you believe.

To use SL in a business setting for casual use isn’t practical (I’ve tried) since the training and learning costs are too high and get in the way of the intended reason and outcome of getting together to collaborate in the first place! Can’t tell you how much time I’ve invested with people to get them to stop flying and learn how to come back to ground and walk and I’m not terribly patient when it comes to coaching people through the basics when we’ve got stuff to be accomplished.

Qwaq understands these limitations and has a different approach…one that’s simple with relatively short learning curves. I’ve written about Qwaq before and their approach (e.g., building upon the open source Croquet engine), but haven’t looked at them for quite awhile. Did this afternoon and it’s clear they’ve been making great strides and even have an emerging ecosystem (e.g., 3D Templates).

Qwaq isn’t as high resolution or functional as an SL, but that’s not their target market and again, the biggest plus to Qwaq’s approach is that the learning curve is really short. Anyone with face-time in front of computer for any length of time can quickly get up-to-speed and use it.

Qwaq was just showcased in analyst firm Gartner’s latest report, “April 2008 — “Cool Vendors in Collaboration and Social Software, 2008 — and the software is worth a look if you’re connecting with people virtually and would like a persistent room (i.e., work on stuff and leave it there for future work), a virtual meeting space and an enterprise-ready virtual environment that emulates the real world nicely with all the advantages of a location agnostic collaboration space.

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Simple but Effective Podcasting Overview

Found this easy to understand podcasting overview on LaughingSquid (from Common Craft) and thought you might like it. Not because you need to know about podcasting perhaps, but rather how concise and fun it is to watch. More of our communication needs to be this way!

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Can you point me in the direction of content monetization?

which-wayMy recent post We, the people, need a strong media, saw several good comments but Tom Kieffer provided a link (Clay Shirky) that led me to an essay by Nicholas Carr The Great Unbundling: Newspapers and the Net. It’s worth a read and really got me thinking about any content offering staying viable today, whether it’s newspapers, TV, magazines, blogs or even a small newsletter for a highly targeted market.

Carr outlines near the beginning, “The shift from scarcity to abundance in media means that, when it comes to deciding what to read, watch, and listen to, we have far more choices than our parents or grandparents did. We’re able to indulge our personal tastes as never before, to design and wrap ourselves in our own private cultures. The vast array of choices is exciting, and by providing an alternative to the often bland products of the mass media it seems liberating as well. It promises, as Chris Anderson writes in The Long Tail, to free us from the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare and establish in its place a world of infinite variety.

Though he starts out talking about the “economics of culture,” he quickly gets into an examination of the issues surrounding content abundance (i.e., new media) and the economics of traditional media and the unbundling of it in an online age as it pertains to newspapers. I was confused as to the point of his essay since media downtrending is obvious and I was hoping he’d posit a fundamental or obvious solution.

I still think newspapers need blog networks but those thoughts are a tactical manifestation of a larger strategic one: in an age where content is a commodity and extremely simple to create and distribute, those who can edit, classify, aggregate and harness content will add value to that content and gain a critical, mass audience, enjoy monetization opportunities and remain viable.

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Why we, the people, need a strong media

My wife and I are reversing our previous decision to cancel the New York Times Sunday edition because of an article this morning. After reading it, I had the profound realization that we, the people, need a strong, independent counter to mis-information, spin or positioning that any Administration might push on the American people…

…and bloggers aren’t it.

The gist of the article is that the Bush Administration and the Pentagon were architects of a coordinated, orchestrated campaign to position retired military leaders as spokes-puppets for the Administration, going on network news as “military analysts” with either veiled or overt obfuscation of their ties and that they’d been spoon-fed “messaging” about Iraq to carry forward.

According to this article, many of these “analysts” have close ties and affiliations with the defense industry so their livelihoods and incentives are directly aligned with the military industrial complex and the trillions of expenditures on defense and the ‘war’ on Iraq and nebulous terror.

One paragraph leapt out at me and at that moment realized there isn’t a snowballs-chance-in-Hades bloggers could or would perform this type of investigative journalism…or even afford to do what the Times can do, take the time necessary to investigate and then write a report like this article, or even have the power to stand up to coordinated message manipulation by the government (my bolding):

Five years into the Iraq war, most details of the architecture and execution of the Pentagon’s campaign have never been disclosed. But The Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to 8,000 pages of e-mail messages, transcripts and records describing years of private briefings, trips to Iraq and Guantánamo and an extensive Pentagon talking points operation.

I’ve not yet seen any shift in media power from ‘old’ to ‘new’ media that could rival the pulpit a major news daily wields, mainly because of the fracturing of information distribution (and the attention we pay to any given source) today’s Internet is driving. Are you? If so, point out to me the trusted, non-opinion but fact-based investigative blogs or blog networks — ones that are ‘new’ media vs. extensions of ‘old’, traditional media like a New York Times blog — and I’ll take it into consideration though I’ll wager there aren’t any.

If the downtrending of news business models continues to deteriorate and more of us get our news from comedy shows like The Daily Show or Colbert Report — or from lightweight, opinion-driven news sites like Huffington Post or Slate — true investigative journalism is what suffers as does our ability to learn counterpoints and balanced or alternative viewpoints (though ironically, one of my favorite “News 2.0″ articles is here from Huffington Post but is still opinion).

What do you think?

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Photojournalism: Every Career Affected in an Internet Age

Sam Abell

Last night I was delighted to attend the National Geographic LIVE! event with photographer Sam Abell, and came away with something I didn’t expect about professional photography in today’s internet age. More on that in a bit, but first a story on how I came to attend this talk and some impressions.

I’ve been clear while on this new adventure Connecting the Dots and fulfilling my intention as a management consultant in all things internet, web and social media, that I had to be attuned to “the signs” pointing me along my path. These signs are usually tiny and insignificant unto themselves — and therefore most of us miss seeing them — but I’ve been hyperaware and on the lookout for over two years.

As an amateur photographer, I’m always seeking ways to improve my photography through making my lens clearer and ensure I’m using the right filters. This isn’t the camera lens or filters I slap on to them, but rather is the lens through which I view the world (my perceptions, prejudices, curiosities) and the mental filters I apply to a photograph’s outcome (knowledge, ego, and my inner drive to show technical competence) and strive to convey in a photo what I’m feeling inside.

Last week I scanned my bookshelf and grabbed an early 1990’s book on photography (from National Geographic (NG)) to re-read it. Flipping through this nicely done smallish paperback, I settled on a sidebar about the techniques of this guy, Sam Abell, and how he’d almost been fired by his first editor for his dark and non-use of the tricks-of-the-trade (e.g., fill-in flash for underexposed subjects on a bright background). There was something about his approach that resonated with me and caused me to go back and look at his photos and dwell on them awhile.

Two days later I’m on my way to an appointment and Minnesota Public Radio has an interview running with him that I listened to for 45 minutes. Then I read a newspaper article about him. Later that day I come across the event linked to above and broke into a smile…

….”OK, I get it and see the signs,” I thought, and bought tickets to last nights event.

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Are you even aware of what’s available on the Web?

The good new and bad news of the Web: There is so much innovation, so many resources, such a wealth of content and now millions of participants to connect with and pay attention to, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the fact that the global database is being added to every moment of every day and ironically making it tougher to find stuff.

Besides some of the obvious-to-my-tech readers directories like Go2Web20, a listing of Web 2.0 hosted applications (2,294 listings as of Thursday, April 17, 2008), the Open Directory project, Sourceforge listing of more than 174,000 open source packages or even such more narrowly focused sites like one for content management systems (OpenSourceCMS), it’s the acceleration of content repositories that stun me and yet finding them is more challenging than ever.

At issue is the amount of energy investment required to seek and find what you need. Here’s one example: I have a friend in need of access to huge numbers of photos for his K-12 education initiative. Of course, these need to be unrestricted-license images so kids and teachers can use them with abandon. Besides some of the obvious education offerings from key providers, I’ve placed 19 links to sites I hadn’t heard of before (click on ‘Continue reading…’ below) but finding them took me nearly two hours of trolling to discover and this list is FAR from comprehensive.

This illustrates my point: Without considerable time invested coupled with some searching competence, it’s tough to find all of the great stuff that already exists on the Web and is being added to daily.

This is one reason that I’m cautiously optimistic about the semantic Web summed up thusly: “Humans are capable of using the Web to carry out tasks such as finding the Finnish word for “cat”, reserving a library book, and searching for a low price on a DVD. However, a computer cannot accomplish the same tasks without human direction because web pages are designed to be read by people, not machines. The semantic web is a vision of information that is understandable by computers, so that they can perform more of the tedious work involved in finding, sharing and combining information on the web.

My hope is that one day, any of us will be able to perform one search, computers will take on more of the tedious task of determining what’s relevant, and every single reference to “free education photo” offerings that meet my criteria will appear in a way that a human-directed listing now can.

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Bye-Bye Northwest Airlines

No question that there are too many airlines and, with fuel costs a negative impact to the bottom line, consolidation was inevitable. Delta and Northwest Airlines merging to become the world’s largest carrier makes complete sense.

Took a moment this morning to head over to the Minnesota Historical Society web site and search the photograph collection for Northwest Airlines and found these. It’s always fun to look back and see what times were like in the early days, and force myself to compare-n-contrast it with what I’m doing right now and what it will be like for my kids to look back on 2008.

No question it will seem quaint that Mom and Dad struggled with finding wireless internet access; that we used that silly Twitter thing; that Second Life avatars were what we used to represent ourselves; that we didn’t have machine augmentation allowing our thoughts to just jack into the ‘net and connect with others with our thoughts.

Though it’s easy to brush off, this development is a melancholy one for many of us here in Minnesota. We’ve seen many brands go away (e.g., Dayton’s, Norwest Bank) and others explode (Sound of Music turning into Best Buy Company) but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

I doubt we’ll see any improvements in leg room, seat width or less crowded planes. Air travel truly is a Greyhound bus in the sky and is one of my least favorite activities…though one I (and everyone, I’d guess) will put up with since it beats driving, the train, an actual bus or not going at all.

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Digidesign Update: Call from Dave Lebolt, VP, GM

Dave Lebolt

After my rant and a subsequent email to Digidesign’s VP and GM Dave Lebolt (and their head of public relations) Mr. Lebolt called me this morning.

The intent of my post was to get attention. To be a scream loud enough to be heard from Minnesota to California. But not just so I could get attention, but rather attention paid to customers who paid money for product no longer functional coupled with an internal system at Digidesign not geared to today’s customer service and conversational marketing that I and the market demands.

We engaged in a fairly lengthy conversation about them, Apple, supporting the varieties of products and plugins they do, their people and the systemic infrastructure they have (e.g., their customer relationship management system) and what they need to have and do with it (e.g., interact with customers through alerts; implement RSS feeds so we don’t have to go back to their site over-n-over again to check and see if updates are available).

He also offered to buy back the MBoxPro2. Yes, I could’ve been one of “those” customers and leapt on the offer, but that was not my intent and I’d rather they get the Leopard upgrade out and tell me that it’s ready so I don’t have to go and poke around their site every week. As a management consultant in social media where transparency, conversational marketing and engaging with people who increasingly demand a voice is one of the key tenets of success in today’s marketplace, I have to eat my own dog food and bring attention to something so wrong and customer conversations so broken as my experience with Digidesign these last several months.

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Competing (and being discovered) in a Time of Utility Computing

otmUnless you are actively seeking a particular solution or invest enough time looking at hosted Web applications like I do (once per quarter over the last nine quarters I’ve looked at nearly every Web hosted application on the major lists), then you’ll undoubtedly miss seeing huge value Web applications like One True Media (OTM).

A friend had a specific business objective in mind and went on the hunt for a solution that would fit his need. He searched in vain and one day I happened to be doing my once-per-quarter surfing of sites and came across OTM and sent him the link.

It’s absolutely PERFECT!” he exclaimed and ended up choosing and aligning around it. Helping him out with communications and training around his initiative, I’ve spent significantly more time within OTM than I have using its competitors (e.g., Scrapblog, Vuvox, Flektor and Animoto), but I’ve been stunned with OTM’s features, the “fit and finish” of the application, and how it is perfect for consumers interested in putting together mashed-up montages of video, images, music, and text slides. The bonus is inserting that finished creation either within a theme or not and then having the option to embed it in their social network/blog/website or to make a DVD (for a full review of OTM, see the excellent one done by one of the most under-appreciated and best reviewers of technology on the planet, Robin Good, here).

But will OTM survive? Will all of the ones I mentioned above in this category be able to survive as it becomes easier and cheaper to create and deliver hosted Web applications and thus competitors to arrive in this space?

I’m using OTM as a “poster child” for what I see as THE biggest issue of our new, social media/Web application/Internet-centric world: there are so many phenomenally good and valuable offerings out there that it’s almost impossible to be discovered and build critical mass needed to survive — and this problem is only going to get worse as utility computing accelerates making it easier-n-easier for competitors to appear.

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