Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wikis and RSS explained in plain English

These are excellent pieces explaining wikis and RSS. Worth viewing even if you know what it's all about because it's a great example of how to communicate in a simple and concrete way the benefits brought about by a piece of technology or a by given solution. I have recently been involved in analyzing the reporting requirements for the marketing communications team of a customer and these videos provide great inspiration on how to explain issues and recommended courses of action... I did not say I'd make a neat video like this one though. Enjoy.

Wikis in plain English (The Commoncraft Show)

RSS in plain English (The Commoncraft Show)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What's the real impact of your online marketing?

The issue of measuring the real impact of marketing campaigns has always been thorny. With the adoption of web technologies it becomes more acute because of the theoretical capability to measure consumer behavior more accurately that is paradoxically coupled with considerable uncertainty as to the actual engagement of people when exposed to a commercial message. So how do we measure human engagement? Should we use time spent on a page as Nielsen seems to suggest?

When a teenager is in front of a TV set with their cell phone connected on a WiFi network allowing them to access their favorite instant messaging platform, how much of an impact do commercials actually make? When somebody surfs the web looking for something specific, are they really open to the ads and sponsored links that are being pushed their way? Given the considerable increase in the amount of content available, the competition grows fiercer for human attention, let alone for human attention that is coupled with an intention to buy. Things are made even more interesting by the fact that the debate is now open and not solely confined to the guild of advertisers and media owners. Indeed, while, for the past half century, everyone accepted established metrics as accurate proxies of the impact of marketing campaigns, the dirty little secret of marketing was that everybody knew that 50% of budgets were wasted although nobody could tell which 50% it was.
Today the debate is heated and many players, widely considered as authorities in the field of marketing metrics, are trying to push their latest theory about measuring the actual impact of ad campaigns. Such is the case of Nielsen who now seem to support the idea that the time spent in front of a page is actually a better proxy for the consumer's engagement (see Forbes's article and the interview of a Nielsen exec posted on AlwaysOn) than other indicators like page views or click through rates. This is surprising to say the least since the time during which a browser is connected to a page does not necessarily reflect the actual time a user spends considering the commercial messages on that page. Just as an example as I am writing this post, my Firefox browser has 11 tabs open which are connected on different web sites and blogs. Does that mean that while I am painstakingly trying to write proper English to express my views I am also engaged in all the ads shown in all the pages which are open in Firefox? Even if I were to assume that what is being measured is the active tab, I am not sure that when I am on my favorite online publication reading an article I am paying much attention to the banners and ads on display. While I do understand the rationale of Nielsen especially for video content (one page view for several minutes of attention on the video content, plus strong coupling between the content and the commercial messages "embedded" into the video stream), I fail to see why time spent on a page should be accepted as a general metric for user engagement online, let alone user engagement in commercial material published on that page. Perhaps there is a need to develop metrics for each type of format (text, audio, video, images...) accessed by people and to use systems like the Attention Recorder of Attention Trust to measure the amount of attention they devote to a specific piece of content? Perhaps people should be compensated based on data recorded by the attention recorder? Perhaps new forms of marketing are a necessity more than fancy innovation today...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Great news for Jamendo

There we go. Unlike a couple of days ago, I can now say how happy I am for Jamendo, who published an interesting press release.

Post published on 7-JUL:

Today I got some pretty good news for Jamendo, the leading entrepreneurial initiative in Creative Commons licensed music. I won't disclose any details: this is just to tease you and to congratulate Sylvain, Laurent and Pierre, the founders and their team on the achievement of a beautiful success and a major milestone.

Nimbuzz's interesting replies

As Sofie from Nimbuzz promised, the company posted a couple of interesting replies to my post about their solution, which I am still testing and finding quite addictive. I'll probably write a few thoughts triggered by their reply, one of which is that this is exactly the sort of product that can (at last) justify paying for a mobile IP service, regardless the underlying technology. So, yes Nimbuzz may be the anti-Skype for incumbent telcos, especially those who have embraced WiFi as part of their ISP offering and IP service as part of the cellular service. In a way, they are giving more flesh to the concept of a personal integrated communications center, something I felt Jajah was also serving pretty well when they hit the market over a year ago.

E-business in Belgium

This post ties back to my previous rant about Viking Direct / Office Depot in Belgium. Trying to understand  why this sort of business inefficiencies develop, even though I was never terribly impressed with the adoption of e-business in this corner of the world... The country is not exactly the most advanced nation in e-business, sites
often suck big time and they are virtually impossible to find online
(why optimize for search engines after all?), people do not seem to be
using the web for much more than finding information (very limited
transactional / e-commerce usage) and the adoption of new tools is 5-7 years behind the US (adoption is when a tool or technology becomes routinely used by a majority of the population, like short messages on mobiles today). Here's an excerpt from an
interesting report of the Economist Intelligence Unit about e-commerce in Belgium:

"A survey for the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium in late 2004 (and
not repeated since) showed that 39% of Belgian businesses were using
e-mail marketing, and 32% had extranets. Only 27% had extranets that
could interact with suppliers, only 21% were using electronic invoicing
and only 17% were using electronic purchasing. Using the extranet as a
commercial tool does not necessarily increase sales (only 9% said that
it did), but 20% of companies feel it improved their ability to
innovate and 18% felt it improved their competitive position. However,
only in 15% of companies did management consider that e-business was a

Not to mention the resistance of traditional players e.g. in the media
space to the web: Belgium is where Google was found guilty of
infringing copyright legislation because it indexes the content of the
sites of major local newspapers and the case is being reexamined,
hopefully with a more positive outcome since Google finally opened a
Belgian office.

I find this situation of maximal resistance to e-business quite surprising for a country that is home to a couple of
great enabling infrastructures like SWIFT (international network of
interbank transactions), Proton (electronic petty cash), Isabel
(electronic billing, e-banking, e-government...), Euroclear (securities
clearing & settlement)...

So let's say that there's still a lot of potential in the e-business arena in Belgium. Perhaps too much potential...

Viking Indirect or how Office Depot takes care of Belgian business

I must say I am flabbergasted with the Belgian version of how Office Depot / Viking Direct is "taking care of business". A couple of days ago I decided to order some stuff for my office from them, even though last time I did that they sent me a letter by snail mail (they have my e-mail and phone details) to ask me for a fax (!) on my company's letterhead paper confirming the delivery address. It does seem that to some people letterhead paper sent over a fax is a secure way of verifying the credentials of a business, but I would never advise a customer to proceed in such a way because (1) letterhead paper does not mean much in a world where excellent scanners allow any thug to copy a company's logo and (2) asking a customer who fills-in a form online to confirm that order via fax is a major disservice.
Anyway, I was hoping that having ordered once from them and gone through the hassle of faxing paper I would get some decent service for my second order, also placed through their online interface, which seems to work decently well. So you can imagine my surprise when; three business days later, I got yet another letter by snail mail asking for a fax to confirm the delivery address and to ask for prepayment of over 65% of the amount due. Let me get his:

  1. here we have a company who has a peculiar view of e-commerce that in essence creates paperwork for me when e-commerce is supposed to eliminate all that;

  2. I get less service and slower processing of my order than going to a shop with office fixtures and equipment to get the stuff I need, which again defeats the purpose of ordering online;

  3. I get to pay cash for my deliveries when other suppliers give me the standard 30-day settlement for my orders, in a revolutionary implementation of "cash-and-no-delivery-unless-you-fax-us";

  4. Viking Direct is everything but direct in the way they deal with me as a customer, sending me standardized replies on paper and in a format that is no longer used even by the most tech-retarded public administration around;

  5. on top of that the same company is flooding my mailbox with ads and catalogs trying to convince me to buy more from them, and in the process using incredible amounts of paper as though Office Depot had declared a war upon all the forests of this planet;

What I fail to understand is why a major player who created its
business by exploiting the potential of the web in the US seems to be
turning into a soviet administration when they set foot to do business
in this country.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Consolidation time for the web

An interesting piece of news showing that consolidation trends intensify in the industry of service providers for the web: the parent company of a domain registrar acquires a brand protection company. The acquisition is significant in that it confirms that industries that a form of integration of formerly distinct activities is necessary today to deliver value to the customers. Here's my take:

  • registrars need to deliver more value than merely updating the registers of ownership of domains

  • infrastructure providers must make it easy for non technical users to publish, to interact and to transact

  • marketing service providers need search engines and the heaps of data the search engines process to be able to deliver valuable services to customers, something that recent moves by Yahoo! and Google confirm to a very large extent

  • new forms of marketing are increasingly dependent on their ability to capture and leverage human attention for commercial purposes, which means that they are increasingly dependent on the combination of creativity and technical skill

  • brand monitoring and brand protection companies are totally dependent upon their own and the search engines' infrastructures to deliver on their promise to identify and combat phenomena that affect brand value

  • marketing and communication cannot be effective, efficient and productive without a strong combination of what was traditionally thought of as "marketing stuff" and what was traditionally considered to be the province of the legal department (often considered as administrative stuff without much added value)

  • online and offline must go hand in hand and businesses need a comprehensive way to build their marketing and brand strategies in a world where, more than ever before, consumers have their say

To me this means that the merger of formerly distinct industries is inevitable and that the window of opportunity is closing for providers who do not have one of the following two:

  1. critical mass as expressed in terms of money, number of people involved, countries and industries covered and technical capability

  2. a hell of a lot of talent, in which case mass is not entirely necessary IMHO

Interesting times ahead.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Short-term "optimal" valuation may spell future disasters

A very interesting post published on Always On's Insider Network shows a number of worrying trends in the venture investment landscape and highlights one of the common mistakes entrepreneurs make when negotiating with investors, that is seeking the best possible valuation / least possible dilution. The AlwaysOn article links to another very interesting perspective provided by a VC on his blog, where he discussed the concept of asymmetric risk and the issue of getting too high a valuation for a business.

Valuation and investment terms may be the single most difficult discussion I am having with some of my customers, the second being to help them consciously decide on the kind of investor they wish for their business. I agree with the author, Josh Kopelman, that entrepreneurs should focus on long term value creation, that getting too much funding can be as bad as lacking resources and that the full scope of consequences from a given negotiation strategy is seldom considered by founding teams prior to making decisions to have a deal with investors. As a result a great valuation can actually be the worst thing that happens to a business... In fact, I tend to believe that:

  1. the terms of investment other than valuation are more important that valuation itself

  2. lacking consistency in dealing with prospective investors of different rounds is a recipe for a lot of problems, potentially well before exit time. For example, having consistent valuation methods is a very sound practice

  3. crafting agreements that help align the interests of all stakeholders is critical to superior performance and valuation is but one aspect of an agreement with investors

While writing this post I can think of past and present cases in which a perspective larger than the valuation / dilution focus would have helped a lot...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NimBuzz: unifed communications come true... at last

NimBuzz has the power of WOW. Undoubtedly. It's the closest thing I have seen to truly unified communications and it's definitely worth a try. In fact, once you try it it's quite addictive, so be prepared to adopt it ;-)

When a company sits at the frontier between voice over IP, instant messaging and cellular telephony, making it possible for each user to manage all communications through a single interface irrespective of which device is being used, they have something pretty powerful in terms of business potential. NimBuzz comes it two main flavors: an application designed to work on your personal computer and an application for mobile phones. Depending on where you are, you will be using the one that is most relevant to your context to communicate with people you know who may be members of any of the following communities:

  • NimBuzz

  • Skype

  • MSN Live

  • Google Talk

  • Yahoo! (coming soon)

  • ICQ (coming soon)

So NimBuzz is a single interface to several communities that is available both on your personal computer and on mobile devices. It also allows you to call your contacts using VoIP technology, but I have had trouble registering with the SIP server so I cannot give an opinion on that yet. Here are a couple of pictures of NimBuzz on a Nokia E61:

What I found pretty cool:

  • the unification of my contacts on several instant messaging / chat platforms;

  • a cool feature allowing me to buzz people who are not online to ask them to connect when I need to speak to them. Here's how it works: when somebody is offline I can buzz them and they will see a "missed call" event from a number (always from the same caller ID +31313131)

  • 20070711_nimbuzz_synchroskype
    the fact that Skype chat messages I sent from NimBuzz on my mobile phone were "synchronized" and appeared on the Skype chat history on my PC;

  • generally speaking the very cool user interface;

Things to be improved include:

  • identification of Skype contacts with their actual names from their profiles rather than with their Skype IDs;

  • handling of connectivity to the SIP server from a laptop when a firewall is installed on the machine;

  • user friendliness of error messages;

  • user friendliness of installation on mobile phones: I had an issue with my E61 because it seems that there is a Siemens E61 version of the software as well and for some reason it appears in the list of packages for Nokia phones, so unsurprisingly my first attempt with the mobile client was not that successful...

A couple of questions I have:

  • how are these guys going to make money? There's so much free stuff in what they do that I wonder whether what they will sell will make enough profit to cover for the free stuff. Of course, since Mangrove Capital invested in NimBuzz I bet there's an interesting exit strategy... Perhaps an acquisition by Microsoft for merging NimBuzz with Windows messenger?

  • since there seems to be a server infrastructure both for SIP calls and for the rest of communications, I wonder how efficiently it will handle the load if NimBuzz adoption were to go crazy. Smart peer-to-peer implementation is one of the reasons why I find Skype and Joost so exciting, even though Joost seems to be eating up a lot of bandwidth;

  • how will NimBuzz compete with mobile phone versions of Skype?

  • while this stands to boost the usage of mobile IP and therefore improves the potential usage of mobile IP in roaming contexts (good news for the GSM industry I guess), will this do more good than harm to the revenues of mobile operators? I think NimBuzz has the potential to change the balance of power again in this industry...

Overall a great tool worth trying out and quite clearly a bold business quest. Mangrove's next big hit?


OK, so something good is cooking with a company I like a lot and everyone involved seems very excited about it. But I am not allowed to say anything specific yet... Frustrating! For those who ask, I have brought down a previous post, which I will publish again as soon as I can do so.

In the mean time, while we are all waiting, perhaps the best option is to go listen to some music from Jamendo... Here's a cool player they provide: