I’m not an obituary writer…

•March 9, 2008 • 3 Comments

…nor am I a medical professional.  However, I have to call “BS” on the increasingly popular notion that social networks are “dying.”  Growth, especially domestic growth, may be slowing, but according to ComScore, the number of people joining social networks is still growing at an 11.5% rate.  That’s incredible, given how many people are already participating in social networks. 

I was surprised that in a recent blog post, Greg Linden (of amazon, findory.com, and now microsoft fame) seemed to be jumping on the bandwagon, saying that Social Networks are in trouble.  I thought Greg would share my view that this isn’t a positive occurence, and a sign that social networks are maturing (or being forced to mature).    While I don’t see social networks dying anytime soon, they are definitely primed for change.  Users are fed up with certain aspects and wanting more.  In particular, they want personalization. 

As outlined in this Businessweek article, users are fed up with irrelevant advertising.  Spencer E. Ante and Catherine Holahan make this all real, when the describe the woes of Chris Heritage.  They write:

If you want to socialize with Chris Heritage, you won’t find him on Facebook. The 27-year-old Port St. Lucie (Fla.) business analyst joined the social network last year after his buddies bugged him to get an account. But he soon became fed up with the avalanche of ads, especially those detailing what his friends were buying, and he quit the site in November. Now, Heritage expresses himself through a blog, happy to pay $6 a month to publish on a promo-free Web site. “It’s worth it to not have to look at the ads,” he says.

I’m not sure the masses are moving away from Social Networking because of irrelevant ads.  I’ve always been surprised how little users care about ads being relevant.  But, I hope that I’m wrong — because consumer demand for relevant advertising could be a huge growth opportunity for online personalization. 

At the same time, it seems like the whole social networking/contact management is in desperate need of personalization intervention.  This was one of the major focal points at O’Reilly’s Graphing Social Patterns conference.   Charlene Li’s presentation hit this topic directly, in her presentation entitled “The Future of Social Networks.” 

 Hmmm…so, the death of social networking may lead to the rise of online personalization.  I like the sounds of that…

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Seth Godin is like good wine…

•January 10, 2008 • 1 Comment

…he keeps getting better with age.  Even though he’s been driving the same fundamental message (at the highest level) for years, it stays fresh, innovative, and increasingly relevant.  That in and of itself is truly “remarkable.” 

Seth GodinI keep his various books lying all around my office.  Often, when I come in each morning, I’ll pick one up…open it to a random page…and just read a few lines or paragraphs.   The message is always spot-on.  This morning, I picked up Purple Cow and read the following:

Nobody says, “Yeah, I’d like to set myself up for some serious criticism!  And, yet…the only way to be truly remarkable is to do just that.” 

Maybe I just find it relevant because I’m truly a dork and set myself up well for criticism.  But, when I look around at the various companies I’ve been part of (or part of starting)…Seth’s notion of being raised with a false belief that criticism leads to failure certainly seems “spot on.” 

Criticism leads to being remarkable…so, I’m going to go out in search of some good criticism today (and hopefully everyday).   Apparently, I’m not the only one thinking this way (or perhaps there are just a lot of other dorks, like me).  I noticed that in an end-of-year wrap up, Advertising Age cited an Anderson Survey which showed Godin (more so than  folks like Steve Jobs, Peter Drucker, & Tom Peters) is en vogue for 2008.    

Transparency is a beautiful thing…

•January 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I love when companies/corporations are transparent with their customers. It goes a long way in building trust…which is essential for any hope at customer loyalty.

Check out thise end of year blog post from Zoho…it’s transparent to the nth degree:

http://blogs.zoho.com/general/recap-zoho-in-2007/

 I long for such transparency…that will be a sign I’ve made an impact, but I fear it will be some time until that sign is a visible, outward one.  Sigh…

I want to target people…not buckets!

•November 13, 2007 • 1 Comment

It’s a very interesting time to be participating in the monetization of online audiences.   There is so much activity going on…all at a time when folks are needlessly starting to fret that the online advertising growth is diminishing.  What’s interesting to me is that I’ve been incredibly underwhelmed with what has been made available to date in terms of monetizing consumer audiences.  I guess I was hoping for some more sophisticated targeting…the ability to reach the micro-segments that I want to reach with a very low-cost, highly targeted message.   More importantly, as a consumer, I was hoping for the ability to have somebody reach me with advertisements and messages that are of interest. 

In talking with some folks about the advertising in social networks such as Facebook, I’ve often heard phrases such as, “yeah, but their targeting is already very good.  It’s quite contextual.”  And, while I agree that it is contextual — it doesn’t mean that it’s relevant.  To oversimplify, relevance has two key dimensions:

  1. It must be a topic of interest to me and
  2. It must be delivered to me when I’m in the mindset to absorb it. 

When I went to visit my “University of Pittsburgh” group in Facebook this AM, I received an ad for 10% off my next purchase at a local brewpub — Fuel & Fuddle.  I’m well out of college…and am now living in Seattle.  I still do enjoy a good brewpub and actually used to frequent the place that was advertised.  So, this ad definitely meets relevance criteria #1 above.  But, it certainly doesn’t meet criteria #2 — tough to drink a fresh poured amber ale from 3,000 miles away.  I’m definitely not in the mindset (it was 6:44 AM) nor in the physical locale to absorb this ad. 

 Unfortunately, when I look at Facebook’s latest advancements in buying advertisments for their site, I’ve got to agree with Tom Hespos in that I was left wanting more.  Tom writes:

I want to be able to overlay multiple targeting criteria and have the database tell me every time how many people are in my potential universe.

Somehow, the entire Facebook approach to targeting buckets (vs. individuals) seems to miss the real power of social networks — they are amalgamations of diverse individuals loosely bound by common interests at a given point in time.  Hmmmm….sounds eerily similar to my 2 criteria for relevance doesn’t it?

The notion of “buckets” on Facebook is a step in the right direction…but it is inherently flawed when it comes to relevance.  But, then again, didn’t we all learn this when we were kids…as Henry once said to Liza…”there’s a hole in that bucket.” 

Wow…it’s been a while

•November 12, 2007 • 2 Comments

So, I haven’t posted in a really long time.  I’ve been doing a lot of internal blogging…trying to change mindsets to ensure that we are all “wrapped around the customer” at Microsoft Office Live.  Good news…as an organization and as individuals, we very much are, which is very cool in and of itself.  However, it’s especially cool because perhaps now I can find time to start working on my own blog again. 

When starting up again, I debated about getting a whole new blog and just starting over.  But, the topic of interest is the same now as it was then — individual relevenace.  So, what do I mean by individual relevance? 

In this case, it means delivering a truly relevant online experience.  Amazon does it (well, most of the time).  Netflix is paying $1 million so that they can do it.  Not sure why Google’s not doing it (as John Battelle stated — they do have the world’s largest database of intentions).

Is Office Live doing it?  Well, I’ll be covering that here, perhaps.  But, more importantly, I’ll be covering other companies (startups, established entities, large corporations, not-for-profits, etc.) that do it well.  And, from my perspective, doing it well means treating users as an individuals and providing an experience that is on time and on target….errr, relevant. 

With that, welcome (again) to Individual Relevance… 

google recommendation widget

•September 13, 2006 • Leave a Comment

As folks like Niall Kennedy and Greg Linden have written, Google has a new recommendation widget that leverages past search behavior to make search result and web page recommendations.  Niall compliments the “Interesting Items for You” module while Greg expresses some serious concerns. 

One thing that struck me was a comment in Linden’s blog, “Geeking with Greg” from Ionut Alex. Chitu who states that the recommendation widget only updates once a week.  If this is true (and I’ll start my testing of it tonight and go for a week), then I agree with Greg — “That’s not good at all.” 

Recommender Systems ’06

•September 12, 2006 • Leave a Comment

Right now, the conference “The Present and Future of Recommender Systems ‘06” is taking place.  This evening, I found a great new blog via the mSpoke Adaptive Personalization Engine that is covering this show.  You can check it out at:

http://blog.recommenders06.com/?p=13

Seems like a great conference…wish I was there.  Seems like all of the key issues with recommender systems/personalization engines are being discussed — scalability issues, cold-start problems, etc.