Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Nokia Microsoft: my tuppence worth

My tuppence worth of smart arse observations about Nokia

I would like to add a few points regarding Nokia that I "feel" haven't been given sufficient coverage.

A personal insight into why Nokia has always been lagging behind in regards to the all important third-party apps.

When Zipipop started back in 2007, we became Finland's first company to make Facebook apps and in 2008 we won the Mobile 2.0 Best Early Stage Startup award in Barcelona for our Zipiko app.

Zipiko had been started as part of a Nokia competition, and the challenges we faced with our commitment to developing on the diverse Symbian web browsers is easily understood; however, not so well known is the attitude we encountered with Nokia's third party developer support team.

We attended a meeting with them to find out if they could provide any support in making Zipiko work better on Nokia phones.  The result was (remember it was 2008): pay 400 € and we give you the license to develop for us, and access to some extra documents on our developer portal. Doesn't sound like much to pay, but it was a lot for us at the time when we got almost nothing in return.

The attitude was basically: we are by far the largest maker of phones and it is your privilege that we let you develop for us. One of the team members was also totally dismissive of Facebook (which is a choice I respect, but not if you are in the mobile app developer business).

Not long after came Apple with its pay 100 USD and we give you an advanced SDK (software development kit), and easy-to-use app store, and a share in the sales.   Unfortunately we were too committed to Nokia, and our resources got consumed alongside the infamous "burning platform".

Things were later improved regarding third-party developers, but I totally agree with this 2011 analysis post (three years later) in the All About Symbian blog:

"The biggest failure in the Ovi strategy is that Nokia fundamentally underestimated the importance of third party applications. Ovi Store was slow to arrive at the start line of the app store race and the early implementation was poor. While the implementation has improved markedly, it is still fundamentally limited by an inadequate software catalogue, which is the direct result of failing to fully connect with developers and build the services, tools and platform requirements they needed to create a sustainable business."

So to this extent I think Elop was right in saying;

"The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems."
And to this extent I was supportive of the move towards Microsoft, in the sense that they at least did software (and hopefully app portals) better than Nokia, and there was the potential to tie into the substantial goodwill amongst businesses.

One thing is not listening, but another thing is not being told.

When I first came to Finland I was very aware that it was almost sacrreligious to criticize Nokia – both personally and especially not in the press.

So it used to worry me that the Nokia execs could potentially go about their day-to-day business in Finland, attending private dinner parties, etc. not even hearing suggestions that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

When my relatives and friends in the UK started swapping their Nokia's for the Samsung and Motorola clamp-shell phones (e.g. the Razr) around 2005, I tried hard to find a Nokia clampshell in London stores but Nokia didn't make one: Nokia's attitude was that it was just a phase and they didn't start producing a clam-shell until the significant "phase" was coming to an end – by which time huge swathes of users had abandoned ship.

So I am well aware that the fact I am writing this post now shows that I too was party to that silence.

Developing software iteratively in short time periods works – but not for physical devices

We are all aware of how Nokia's early fame for being easy to use got replaced with a reputation for being difficult to use – so I won't dwell on that; however, I did get really fed up with the many substantial faults in my various Nokia phones that I believe was the result of trying to rapidly develop physical devices iteratively in a similar way as software, but this doesn't work for physical things:  new models of the same phone would come out with fixes to the things that were broken or broke (sometimes physically) in previous (and recent) models.

In my case a stronger case fixing to the lanyard (mine snapped off) was added to the N92, and a harder screen to the N95 (the first soft one cracked in my pocket).

And after a while I lost all interest in the multitude of new upcoming models because they seemed to come out every month and it was impossible to keep track – compared to the hype surrounding the yearly release of the "signal" new iPhone. 

OK, I finally got that all out of my system – time to look forward

So I appoligise for taking this opportunity to use this post as a cathartic opportunity to release some long-buried angst.

I do believe that the Microsoft tie up will ensure Nokia remains at least the third big player in the market.

But it will take something extra to bring them higher – a few years ago at a private party one Nokia exec said he liked my Nokia King of Keys strategy – but I never saw any developments in that regard.

Maybe they should listen to it again ; )

Monday, July 1, 2013

Where did the images go?

Many images in this blog disappeared after we merged the Zipipop Google Apps with Freud's.

The pictures that remain were done when using Blogger on my personal Gmail account – mostly before they opened up Blogger to Google Apps users.

If you are a Google Apps user you need to keep this in mind.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Welcome to the Shadow Election

Things have been heating up in the second round of the Finnish Presidential elections, and the voting advice application that I have been helping to develop has been benefiting from the internet / media fueled race off between conservative Sauli Niinistö,  previously a sure bet, and Pekka Haavisto, the Green Party outsider, who is catching up in the general polls, and even racing ahead in social media-based polls like ours (see Äänestys tab in Vaalikone2012).

28 Januray 2012: Haavisto 53,442 – Niinistö 38,485

This is so exiting for Reality Creating Media (RCM), since we are now starting to see the fruits of over a year of self-funded work. In 2010 RCM initially spent a good chunk of a small government grant hiring Zipipop to help them develop the idea of a platform for harnessing the power of social media to unit and coordinate people into making their projects a reality (hence the name). 

As a first step towards a bigger dream, RCM and Zipipop worked together on a prototype of a startup rating and team building service called Bobofarm.  At the end of the contract Juha Mattila (CEO) asked me to join as a partner and Chairman. 

RCM's 2010 prototype of a startup crowd-rating platform

On one hand it made little sense: the funds were fast running out and the business model was still looking like a conventional sponsorship model with a lack of clear growth potential: even though the Bobofarm idea was garnering positive feedback from people in the Finnish startup community.

However, I liked working with such a challenging but flexible team, who were constantly willing to learn and keeping pushing forward with good old Finnish sisu spirit. And I appreciated their commitment to transparency (a topic I care deeply about).  But most of all they agreed that we should strive as long as possible to follow the "doing good" route prescribed by Paul Graham. It has not been easy: the lack of funds is obviously problematic, but things like judging just how pushy we should be with our viral strategies has been particularly tricky (especially when our CTO is viral guru); but there are now signs that this commitment could soon start to pay off.

Not long after joining RCM, the Finnish 2011 Parliamentary elections campaigns started up, and Alex Keskitalo (CTO) suggested we "pivot" towards his long held dream of a totally new kind of candidate matching service.  

Alex wanted to create a service that recommended candidates based on the quality of their ideas – rather than relying on the usual issue-based, multi-choice questionnaire + matching algorithm (similar to internet dating services) that is the norm in most candidate matching applications — or election machines as they are know in Finland. It was a now or never moment, but it made sense because we could incorporate  much of what we had learned and developed with the rating system in Bobofarm.

Crowd wisdom and intuition are at the heart of the concept
Towards Shadow Election 

Since our election machine can be embedded in multiple sites, it is possible to create unique versions of our application that can focus on particular advocacy themes (environment, motoring, etc.) or geographic political areas; while at the same time aggregating all the content into one central hub site. This structure was trialled successfully in the parliamentary elections. And this is why the current version running in Finland is called Keskusvaalikone – literally, central election machine. 

However, we are now developing a version for this year's Kenyan elections, and it will be know as Shadow Election – a hint at Alex's longer term aim of adding features that give everyday people more chances of having their voices raised up by the "crowd" (based more on the quality of their ideas and not their political muscle). A bit like speakers corner in London, but with much bigger social media-based platforms upon which to stand and be better heard. 

We have also now decided to call it a voting advice application (rather than candidate matching service) – since the matching is only one part of it, and via our service you can acquire a broad holistic view of the candidates: both what they are proposing and how they come across in the media. This is the reason why (upon the advice of Maari Fabritius) we have also been the first to integrate web-based video as a core rating component (see screenshot below).

Candidate charisma and voter identity play a crucial role in the virtual voting
This is important since candidates with good ideas also need the charisma / skills to sell them. We are already seeing interesting results showing that the candidates that people rate most highly are often different from the ones they have chosen to give the "virtual" vote to. Does any one have any research knowledge on why this might be? 

In the Shadow Election Kenya we want to include the two different "live" leader-boards (Most Rated & Most Voted) on the same page to make people reflect upon this phenomenon – since this behaviour on some level seems to express a sense of political immaturity – or is it just realpolitik or "he/she looks like me" psychology at work.   

In Finland there has been discussion in the media about the fast changing attitude towards the more open sharing of voting intentions. In Shadow Election you can choose to let your friends know who you are voting for and we have found this to be a popular feature.

For a small (currently) unfunded and distributed outfit like RCM, we are very satisfied that in a country with a relatively small population, we are currently reaching daily figures of around 8,000 unique visitors, and in total over 90,000 virtual votes (over 140,000 by the end of the elections) have been cast.  It's far from case-closed, but it is definitely proof-of-concept. 

As of 28 January 2012:  91,927 virtual votes cast
And when it comes to Kenya, where the Facebook fans of the current Presidential candidates quickly add up to well over half a million, and their status messages regularly get hundreds of comments and likes, well, let's just say we are pretty excited. 

In the meantime we are making connections to Kenyan civil society organizations and IT communities; and we are actively seeking sponsorship to keep the advocacy tool free of charge. But for any potential investors we have a superb commercial growth plan for the future that will have a symbiotic relationship with the current doing good work (but that is a different story). However, we are particularly interested in talking to impact investors.

Download the official short introduction here: Shadow Election Introduction Summary PDF

To learn more about the importance that crowdsourcing and intuition play in the service you can look at these presentation slides covering Shadow Election & Wisdom of Crowds that I used for an iHub Nairobi talk I gave on 10 January 2012. 

Finnish readers can follow the current Presidentti 2012 Keskusvaalikone blog.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's in a name?

Rose Red Devil バラ レッドデビル

Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

(from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)

If you create a service, product or company that is first rate you can pretty much give it any name you like; take Spotify, for example, when I first heard the name I thought it was a contagious disease, but the service is exemplary and we soon got use to the slightly odd name.

A good name, however, can certainly help grease the wheels of success. But what exactly is a good name? Zipipop undertakes strategic branding work and therefore naming is something we have to think about deeply. So here is a process for creating a great name, or at least one that's good enough to get you some attention before the product will have to speak for itself.


If it doesn't stick in people's minds it doesn't matter how clever or meaningful it is.

But to get to both a meaningful and memorable name you can try processing potential names through some of these filters:

ABSRACT: Often names that are abstract or detached from the actual business work best since they have little baggage (or unwanted connotations) and allow for flexibility over time. Think: Apple, Amazon, FourSquare, etc.

ASSOCIATIVE: Often names that have a connection to the line of business or product, but have an abstract quality by being detached from everyday language. Think: Oracle (someone who can convey information from a God) or Nike (the Winged Goddess of Victory).

ASSOCIATIVE NEOLOGISMS: Or you can invent names that suggest a feeling of the business nature. Think: Accenture (accent is to go up), Google (a misspelling of Googol - super large number), Flickr (to flick through pictures).

PRACTICAL COMBINATIONS: Combining existing words to create a does-what-it-says name (think Microsoft, Plancast, SlideShare, YouTube, etc.)

ACRONYMS: Think IBM (International Business Machines, SAP (Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte, etc) that have the benefits of a no-nonsense, does-what-it-says beginning, but after time they acquire the benefits of an abstract name, i.e. IBM is now more of service consulting company that it is a product manufacturer.

However, in all cases the name needs to capture something of the brand essence which first needs to be clearly defined, e.g. business area, values and philosophies. Also to work best on search engines it should have a unique dot.com. This makes the task harder but can force you to be more original.

What do you want the name to convey, for example, Zipipop was very deliberate. Pop was for something bubbly with pop (popular) culture connotations (i.e. pop music); and the Zipi was the result of resorting to a Swahili dictionary (I was born in Kenya) to find a free domain name. It meant "which" – as in Which bag? – due to the personal opinion polls idea we started with. But it also gives the feeling of being fast, as in zip to the shops.

It took Helene and I a lot of thought, plus a weekend of brainstorming, to come up with a name that we thought could work and had a free web domain. However, we like to think the effort was worth it. If you want to try crowdsourcing the effort then we suggest you open a collaborative online document (say a Google Doc) and get the core team to brainstorm dozens of names, then pick five that you can present to your community in the form of an online poll (say a Google Form).

Good luck finding a great name and may your ventures all come up smelling of roses!

(Note: This blog entry is part of a series of entries I'm going to bring across from Zipipop's previous blog before it was turned into the Finnish only sosiaalinenmedia.com blog)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hub Generation

The internet is fueling demands for greater transparency, accountability, sharing, meritocracy, collaboration, flexibility, and social responsibility.

Therefore Zipipop, together with some close network partners, decided to initiate and support a new community blog called Hub Generation to look into these topics and explore the impact of social media and cloud computing on the way we work and organize society. 

This is not your average blog because it uses an innovative approach to help generate and refine content creation.  Most of the content will be summaries of discussions that take place in the Hub Generation Linkedin group. In this way you will get the benefits of different areas of expertise and view points without the need to wade through long discussions; however, in the name of transparency we have just taken advantage of Linkedin's new capability to make the group publicly visible – so that if you wish to get a deeper insight you will be free to read the complete discussions.

The English language blog will have a Nordic viewpoint but with guests from all over the world. And to underpin the philosophical and theoretical thinking we will endeavor to also include practical examples of social web services, management innovations, and civil initiatives that are already making a difference. The mini-essay style blog entries aim to have substance and lasting usefulness.

The community is still very young but it is starting to pick up speed now. There is already some great content and we hope to have some great guest writers in the near future. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Nokia – King of Keys

Now that Nokia CEO Elop has chosen to back Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 platform the race is truly on. There are many pros about this arrangement, but I believe Nokia should add another key strategic element that will help it go beyond potentially being just an "as good" option. And I believe that this should be keys. Key management is a complex challenge for both large and small organizations and Nokia is ideally positioned to become the King of Keys.

Like Google's Nexus 2, it will not be long before Nokia phones start shipping with a built in technology called Near Field Communication (NFC). This is a short-range wireless communication technology standard that enables the exchange of data between devices over a short distance. This has many potential uses and one of them is keys.

Many of us nowadays are used to having some form of wireless electronic key for accessing organizational buildings, which often require the typing of an additional pin code. These two components can easily be built into a mobile phone with the added advantage of being able to issue and remove keys remotely.

Trials of NFC mobile keys are now starting to happen. For example, a Clarion Hotel in Stockholm has recently partnered with the mobile operator TeliaSonera and one of the world's biggest automated key companies ASSA ABLOY to test replacing keys with mobiles. ASSA ABLOY has developed software that can issue hotel keys before guests arrive and they can even leave without having to physically check-out. This could also be used for guests coming to visit corporate buildings. ASSA ABLOY is a Nordic company (with half Finnish roots) and my advice is that Nokia should go and talk with them – if they are not already.

Nokia's strengths have, over the years, been more around engineering and this service is all about technology; and the pin codes would be entered through a standard number pad. So it would be a match made in heaven. A Qualcommm representative told me that there are still challenges with varying standards around NFC, but this would play to Nokia's advantage, since they still have the leverage to enforce a worldwide standard related to NFC keys.

Also the combination of Microsoft's business credentials would work well with organizations looking for a solid key issuing system. A Nokia executive a few months back (at a party) was not initially enthusiastic about this King of Keys idea, since he said that the direct to business sales is a relatively small part of their operations – but then immediately his eyes lit up and he said that he would definitely consider it.

This is an open market and Nokia should act quickly to claim the space.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Conversation Marketing Pyramid

The Conversation Marketing Pyramid Model

How does the continuous use of social media for engaging and building loyal customers fit together with campaigned-based marketing? And how does a social media agency like Zipipop see its business place in the marketing world. The process of trying to sketch an answer to these questions inspired the creation of "The Conversation Marketing Pyramid" model. Like all models it is not perfect, since it inevitably fails to capture the complexity and crossover activities that take place in reality, but it hopefully helps give a snap shot of the new marketing relationships – particularly to those outside of the industry.

The aim is to have loyal customers discussing inside social media and generating viral word-of-mouth marketing for your brand/prodcut. The ultimate example of this is summed up in the joke: "How do you know someone has an iPhone? – They tell you!"

If you create a superb product this nirvana could potentially happen by itself, however, it is much more likely to be reached if the various marketing strategies have been successfully implemented in a convergent way.

A convergent approach to reaching marketing heaven

Layer 1

Underlying everything is a great product or service (since in the open world of social media you can't fool people for long).

Layer 2

Continuous customer engagement and support using the established social media channels (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. – wherever your target audience hangs out) and community platforms for collaborating and rewarding the most loyal customers. This is a core part of Zipipop's strategic consulting and training related to setting up Community Managers and Social Media Teams to empower employees across organizations to participate effectively in social media.

Layer 3

Marketing campaigns designed to raise awareness together with extended social media afterlife strategies. Zipipop can help marketing agencies in concepting the core social media elements of a campaign so that it connects with the existing communities and lives on inside social media discussions.

Layer 4

Specialist digital mobile and social media apps that can authentically be connected with existing communities and potentially kickstarted with the support of loyal customers being supported in Layer 2. These apps need to be relevant, useful or entertaining.

Layer 5

If everything else has been done well at this point the customers will have become the best evangelists. However, it is still important to use social media monitoring tools to listen closely and react quickly to ameliorate any negative comment while accentuating and sustaining positive conversations.

Previously at the beginning of the blog entry:

Last month I was a speaker at SIME Helsinki where there was a good deal of discussion about how social media and apps should be integrated with the more established marketing channels; for example: Is the "big creative idea" still important? Is mass communication coming to an end? How to create convergence across the media landscape? etc.

The general consensus was that there is a greater need than ever for highly creative marketing ideas; however, they need to be designed to generate an afterlife in social media, i.e. the campaign is the kickstarter for a prolonged social media conversation. Some great examples of this are: the Old Spice "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" campaign with over 180 spinoff adverts and tens of millions of views; and The Heineken Italy Activation Milan AC Real Madrid marketing stunt that generated masses of earned media.

Entertaining, useful or relevant

Will Sansom from Contagious Communications used the metaphor of a one-night-stand turning into a long-term relationship. Sansom also reinforced the idea that social media and mobile apps-based advertising needs to be ever more entertaining, useful or relevant (preferably all three). He gave the Carlsberg Where's the Party? mobile app as a good example of this: the mobile web service uses geo-tagging to help people find out where friends are hanging out in the evenings (reminds me of our old Going For One/Zipiko apps). However, I would also suggest that this is a great example of a brand rightfully claiming a space that is appropriate and relevant. In a simple clever way we can also see something similar in the way Valio (the biggest Finnish dairy organization) was quick to claim the space for milk after it was vote the national drink.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bobo Ideas

Constant innovation is a necessity these days. You cannot afford to rest on your laurels, since the rapid spread of information in today's social media turbo-charged web means others will quickly adopt and start using your ideas. So the only strategic option is to stay one step ahead.

Amongst other things Zipipop has a reputation for innovation, which has been achieved through a willingness to think out-of-the-box and take risks. But a lot of this comes from a simple creative tool that we started using right at the beginning of our existence: it is called the "bobo idea".

A bobo idea initiates an micro-brainstorming session at any time of day and in any context. You can think of a bobo as being the seed of a potentially good idea.

How does it work?

When you have an idea that is not necessarily a good one, but you still want to share it to see where it could lead. You say; "Hey, I've got a bobo idea. What if we…"

This immediately tells the listeners to adopt a nonjudgmental, open-minded attitude (like in brainstorming sessions); which means that there is no such thing as a bad bobo – just neutral or good ones.

This simple tool is incredibly liberating and we have notice that many of our clients and partners start using it too.

Why bobo?

My Zipipop co-founder, Helene Auramo, used the word bobo a lot for some unknown reason and we just somehow started using it for this purpose and it has simply stuck. I think it works because it has a naive, unformed feeling that fits very much with this way of thinking and sharing.

Adopting the use the bobo tool has knock on benefits to the whole organizational atmosphere, since it promotes core social media philosophies, such as: sharing, transparency, meritocracy, innovation and the willingness to take risks.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Social Web Services & Paragliding

Can we help you secure 2 million euros in venture funding?

They say a good paraglider is an old one. I have done some paragliding and I would like to go on a specialist course that involves deliberately collapsing your wing – sometimes resulting in the pulling of the emergency shoot. After the course some people give up; since they realize that what they thought was a solid wing can so easily turn into a pocket handkerchief. But there are benefits for those who manage to gain the confidence and skills to right a problematic situation – it could literally be a matter of life and death.

But most paragliding accidents occur as a result of bad choices regarding the weather, the location and required skill levels. After a long drive to a beautiful location it can be very tempting to fly even if the weather conditions are not quite right. At this point you need someone with a cool head to say; let’s sit down, have a picnic, and review the situation.

Since last November Zipipop has been providing concepting and strategic consultancy to startups – particularly in relation to social media. And we warn our clients that the process can potentially be as disturbing as a collapsed paragliding wing, as we endeavor to pull their concept to pieces. However, we do so in a structured way using an analytical process we developed inside Zipipop. We also do a lot of question and answer sparring with the clients; since one of the key roles of a consultant is not to provide information, but to help people understand their own thinking more clearly.

This can be a grueling process, since we are frank and don’t pull our punches. However, the point is not to destroy or dampen spirits, but to help eliminate problems that could become much more costly to fix at a later date. In a way it is a bit like army training: first we break you down and then we build you up again, so that you are stronger, fitter and even more determined to succeed.

But if the client has the right attitude the process can be a lot of fun – since it is a stimulating intellectual roller-coaster ride of brainstorming and idea tuning. We now divide initial sessions into positive and negative – so that we can get the best of both perspectives. And it is crucial that both parties listen closely to each other and respect each other’s expertize at all times.

One client that understood this process was Zokem, with whom we had the pleasure of working with from November 2009 to February 2010. Together with Zokem, KoppiCatch and ArcticStartup we helped moved their “core” offering away from a struggling* social media mobile application aimed at automating status up-dates to Facebook, Twitter, etc, towards the idea of a mobile analytics start-up – their USP is their cutting-edge software for collecting all mobile phone usage data. Initially we were referring to the new concept angle as “Google analytics for your personal life”.

This new approached seems to have helped them in securing 2 million euros in venture funding. We obviously can’t claim credit for this, since the Zokem team is very bright, experienced, and determined; but it is fair to say that we played a significant part in this strategic shift. After our involvement, Meri Kupiainen (co-founder) sent us a thank you email saying:

“You have done an amazing job with us. I must say that this is something that we definitely had to do at this stage, and later might have been too late.”

If you are brave enough to undergo a full Zipipop analysis, we could potentially help you define and refine your concept so that you too have a better chance of raising funding.

* An improved version of the initial consumer offering still exists under the new name of Zoki – Your social assistant. It is promoted on the main Zokem website as a case-study for Zokem’s mobile data gathering capabilities. Zipipop also create the Zoki logo and slogan and gave advice on how it could be developed. The service, however, faces many significant challenges, but the basic idea of a context aware digital assistant that analyses your daily activities and can genuinely help out (be it in your social or daily life) is very compelling; and will no doubt come of age as the technology and analytical experience improves. Who knows, if Zokem becomes the Google for mobile analytics they might just have the resources to make this part of their dream become more of a reality : )

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hubsites – social networks of organizations

Creating neologisms (new words) for internal use can be both helpful and fun – and at Zipipop we have a few in common usage. Making them public, however, can be a bit risky: since you can easily come across as being either pretentious or a bit whacky (neologisms can be associated with some psychotic disorders!). However, sometimes you just cannot find an existing word that sufficiently conveys what you want to communicate and you are forced to invent a new one – hence the word hubsite.

Hubsites should not be confused with the growing term social media hubs; although there are many similarities. But before I try to give a definition I should first provide some background.

We started creating the concept of Hubsites over a year ago because we anticipated that there would be a growing demand for organizations be able to be able to collaborate more effectively with other organizations. The established term extranet comes pretty close to defining what we are calling a hubsite, however, it does not convey how an extranet-type site can be connected into an ever expanding network of other extranets through the use of social media tools and services – thereby transcending the limitations of individual organizational IT infrastructures.

When we first created the initial presentation (see end) we did not know exactly how it could be technically achieved; however, we instinctively knew that the solutions would somehow come through utilizing social media principles and services.

Then last summer, when we joined the Winnovation Network, we were forced to find a way of collaborating effectively with team members in Finland, China, Sweden and Spain. And, after trying Confluence (too clumsy) and looking into Elgg (worthy but needed installing), we ended up primarily using the enterprise microblogging service Yammer; which we found to be the easiest way of instantly improving awareness, making help requests, and sharing information. And this was augmented by Google Sites (fast, easy wiki spaces) and Skype for regular conference calls and one-to-one chats.

This process made us realize that the future of inter-organizational collaboration is not in trying to make customized platforms, but instead mixing up the best of existing social media services to create "collaborative environments".

The principles of the Hubsites Concept are not tied to any particular technology or service (although cloud-based computing is essential to provide common access); but it turned out that the ability of Google Sites to have multiple, shareable "child" sites within the same domain, together with the ability to categorise (label) them around shared "hubs of expertise" or interest, started to make the Hubsites Concept look possible. And then Yammer's new Community Networks capability – where you can invite anyone to join – enhanced the possibilities even further.

So the combination of these two established technologies (Google Sites providing knowledge generation and retrieval tools; Yammer providing awareness and connecting capabilities) now mean that the Hubsites concept can now be made a reality. The challenges are now less about technological implementation, but more about how best to provide sufficient guidance and training to the users to help them adopt new social media-based practices – particularly related to sharing and transparency.

As it transpired the concept was indeed prescient, since in the autumn of last year we started getting many requests from organizations and associations related to how they could improve inter-organizational or cross-project collaboration.

"But collaboration platforms have been around for ages", I hear you say. This is true and there are some very good ones, but how many actually integrate into the everyday workflow of employees? The lack of direct integration has been the downfall of many previous attempts at collaboration and social media integration – since they can be seen as annoying side things they are supposed to use. And how many are flexible, scalable and cheap enough to meet ever changing and growing needs?

It is these challenges that the Hubsite ideas aim to overcome and the exciting thing is that Zipipop has now been commissioned to implement and oversee a very significant trial – based on these ideas – aimed at improving the collaboration of the Finnish OSKE competence clusters.

The trial was commissioned by TEM (the Finnish Ministry of Employment and Economy) and the proposal is based around the use of interconnected Google Sites, Community Yammer networks and Skype tele-conferencing. Zipipop will be conducting user workshops and admin training to try and ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. But the really interesting thing will be to see how the users start to use these simple, powerful and flexible tools to create their own innovative solutions to needs we can not even predict.

And do you want to know a little secret – the technology for the trial will cost absolutely nothing*. That's right, I will say it again, we do not have to pay one cent – since Google Premium accounts only kick in when you have more than 50 users (and even then it's only 40 euros per user).

Another time I'll introduce you to another great Zipipop neologism: bobbing : ) In the meantime we hope you like the presentation and any comments are most welcome.

Note: I am aware that there are some relatively old references on the web to hub sites (two words): meaning sites that have lots of out outbound links; however, a hubsite as such is not an established term. And I have seriously been considering hubnet, as a natural progress from intranet, extranet, hubnet; however, there are many random uses of that term on the web and hubsites can potentially be either private or public. Please help me decide which is best in this SURVEY, where you can also suggest an alternative name.

*Providing current pricing models are not changed in the next four months.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Update of the UpdateFinland Google Roadshow

Yesterday was my last presentation on the UpdateFinland Roadshow. Our presentation was called Working in the Cloud and I basically used Zipipop as a case study of what it means to be a company running its day-to-day operations almost entirely through web-based services, i.e. the cloud.

My aim was to introduce the subject as simply as possible (see
presentation at the end) and I know that I managed to convert some to the benefits of cloud-based IT; although I feel it's going to need a good deal more advocating to get Finland floating on upwards into the cloud en-mass.

There are undeniable benefits in costs, productivity, and improved work environments that will definitely give early-adopters a head start. All the big players (namely Microsoft and Lotus) have, or are working on, cloud-based enterprise solutions; however, Google seems to have taken the initiative with over 2 million businesses and 7 million students already using Google Apps solutions. And in the US they have even started to take the message out into the physical world with billboards.

Google has also upped the ante considerably with last weeks opening of the Google App Marketplace — an iPhone App Store business model but with a focus on business apps. And this is exciting for developers around the world, since it opens up a level sales channel using a proven business model; and we are now considering placing our App Engine-based Zipi Web Builder service there after it has been polished up.*

Google just announced that, alongside a dedicated Lotus migration tool, they now have Microsoft Exchange migration. So reasons not to jump in (or up?) are rapidly diminishing. And for startups the question is a no brainer. For most SMEs, the internet banking level (SSL) security used by Google Apps is more than sufficient, although I appreciate some very large organizations have unique and important concerns regarding data storage. But with the new server farmers being opened up around the world, it would not surprise me that, in the not so distant future, you will be able to choose the location where your data is stored and backed up — which would should placate some European laws regarding the movement of data.

(Update 19 May 2010: Google can already guarantee that some data is stored in Europe and they have also agreed to parts of the European Safe Habour Agreement* for data handling. Also the further Google has to move data in regards to the user the more it costs them – therefore it is most likely to go to the nearest server farm; which in Finland will shortly be the 200+ million euro sever centre in Hamina.)

However, hosted services are already very popular with Finnish students (particularly Google ones: Gmail, Docs, Calendars, Sites, Blogger, etc) – so it is only a matter of time before they demand more collaborative IT environments and start to influence IT decisions within businesses.

It has been a great experience getting to know some of the Nordic Google Team and it was interesting to have the opportunity to slightly adjust my presentation over the three days to try and align it better with the attending audiences (mostly middle-aged SME owners and employees). I guess the X, Ys and Digital Natives don't need any more convincing and already have their heads in the cloud — even if their employers are not quite there yet. But if you are stuck in a organization with outdated and expensive systems, please do try to convert them — and please do send them in our direction if you need any help doing so ; )

However, it looks like I've also managed (fingers crossed) to sell some social media marketing work, so we will continue to be very busy with that while we actively encourage people to
Go Google and build up this relatively new side of our business operations (which we are selling under our ZipiTools banner).

* Here are few links to the Safe Harbour sites courtesy of Verkkoaps.fi:
The Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman (Tietosuojavaltuutetun
toimisto) Safe Harbour in Finnish.

Google statement where they agree to bound to the Safe Harbour:

And the FAQ:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Zipi Doctor Appointments

Are you experiencing any startup pain? If so we know how it feels, since we've been there too. You probably have a lot of questions on your mind. But don't panic, we might be able to help you out, since we are now offering early-stage startups one free appointment per month at the Zipi Offices on Museokatu 42.

The focus is on social media related issues, however, we can also give tips in concepting, design, social media marketing, et cetera. Tell us your situation via email and we'll try to help make you fitter.


For more established startups we are already undertaking comprehensive analysis, customer profiling and strategic consultations. And we would like to expand this service to investors to help them analyze potential investment opportunities.

The analysis is largely based on these prinicples. And our Finnish readers can find out more about the process in this presentation.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Intention Broadcasting: Published Paper

In light of the clear interest in this blog post by Jeremiah Owyang about the Intention Web, I thought I should start promoting my short paper on Intention Broadcasting that was published as part of the Proceedings of I-KNOW ’09 and I-SEMANTICS ’09 Conference 2-4 September 2009, Graz, Austria. It is a summary of my final MA thesis that I undertook at Media Lab, Helsinki, which is now part of the new Finnish Aalto University.


Social media innovations, together with rapidly improving data sharing methodologies, are enabling individuals and groups to instantly disseminate, or ‘broadcast’, messages across many diverse networks. This phenomenon, combined with the growing use of social media services for sharing and coordinating intentions, led me to develop the concept of “intention broadcasting”.

Read it here in Scribd or Download the PDF

Friday, November 27, 2009

Zipipop's Guide to Building Successful Social Media Services

This presentation outlines some of the key things we have learnt through studying, developing and consulting in the social media sector over the last three years. It provides some principles for concepting, developing, marketing, and analyzing “social media” services.

Note: Slide 22 was partially inspired by a conversation with Marko Artisaari, in relation to the reasons Dopplr created its Social Atlas "public space". He made the very interesting point that very few services that focused primarily on catering for exclusive groups were very successful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Death of Middle Management

Networking is nothing new. It has helped human beings cooperate, collaborate and coordinate since time immemorial. And it has helped individuals rise above their own capabilities and extend their personal influence. However, social media is now significantly altering the nature of power within networks.

In the days before social media an individual's power within a hierarchical network was largely based on their position to moderate privileged information and give instructions. And although this has not gone away entirely, the power of social media to rapidly spread information is freeing up the information and eroding this power. In addition, the information sources are becoming more traceable and it is becoming harder for people to claim or limit the ideas of those further down the food chain – or indeed, information to be hidden from management – since the "conversations" are opening up in the online space for all to see. This is leading to what we are calling The Death of Middle Management.

The new power leverage comes from being recognized as generous thought leaders, who "gift" value to the network. In addition, we will also gain credibility and influence by our ability to rapidly gather and compile relevant information for the task at hand. And a large part of this ability comes form being able to obtain information directly from your networks. This is the reason why Zipipop's CEO Helene Auramo sometimes calls Twitter "People Google" – since you can have questions answered by real people in your network.

The new networked economy requires that we find existing or, even better, growing networks to which we can connect with: "As the number of nodes in a network increases arithmetically the value of the network increases exponentially. Adding a few more members can dramatically increase the value for all members." (Kevin Kelly, 1999). This effect can be seen in the success of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; however, it also applies to business in general and to our personal ability to influence.

"In the network economy, success is self-reinforcing; it obeys the law of increasing returns. The great innovation of Silicon Valley is not the wowie-zowie hardware and software it has invented. Silicon Valley's greatest "product" is the social organization of its companies, and most important, the tangled web of former jobs, intimate colleagues, information leakage from one firm to the next, rapid company life cycles, and agile email culture. This social web, suffused into the warm hardware of jelly bean chips and copper neurons, creates a network economy."

The beauty is that network effects can raise the boat for everybody.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Zipipop's Brand Friend Concept

"You shouldn't expect users to actively participate with a brand (especially a new one) in social media without out doing some initial friendship building."

* (Updated 4 Febuary 2010)

Over the last few months we have been developing Zipipop's concept of Brand Friend and it has recently been generating considerable interest. So we thought it was about time to start sharing some of the main findings more publicly.

Over the years we have noticed that one of the main reasons that social media campaigns fail is that they expect customers to engage immediately on an intimate level. However, just as you can't walk up to someone on the street and expect them to immediately be your friend, you shouldn't expect users to actively participate with a brand (especially a new one) in social media without out doing some initial friendship building.

Our Brand Friend concept was initially inspired by an Ed Cotton blog entry elaborating on an idea by Esther Dyson in which they explore the basic idea of brands behaving as friends. The basis of Esther's idea was that brands could be invited into our social media environments as friends to benefit from a symbiotic relationship, i.e. you let the brand have knowledge of your personal activity and it can then offer you personalized, contextually relevant offers. However, we felt that this great premise needed to be expanded into something approaching a concept with a more concrete framework to make it even more useful.

In its simplest terms, our Brand Friend concept recommends that – particularly in the context of social media – brands should behave like friends. And like many "simple" ideas, it has subtle and powerful consequences.

Brand Friend is related to the notion that communication and customer service must now be viewed as core components of marketing. This relatively new approach has been made possible – and essential – due to the explosion of conversations now taking place across the vast social media ecosystem.


The Conversation Prism (developed by Brian Solis together with Jesse Thomas ) gives an indication of just how many conversations are taking place inside social media.

Bloggers, Twitterers and the plethora of other social media users have become "The New Influencers" and brands must learn to engage with them in order to maintain a strategic competitive advantage; however, many social media endeavours have failed miserably as a result of failing to realize that effective interaction is an earned privilege – just has you have to go through a delicate series of stages developing a real-life friendship.

We created the Brand Friend concept as a way of reminding people of this common sense approach and as a strategic model for brands to reach the position of mutual respect and cooperation that ultimately benefits us all. It is still a work in progress and we highly value your opinions. We will be publishing a more comprehensive presentation of the concept in the near future.

One of the most poignant things to bare in mind is that customers can easily fall into the Anger stage at any time: however, if brands monitor the social media conversations – and there are now many tools for doing this, Google Alerts, TweetBeep, etc) — and respond quickly to issues they can quickly bring people out of anger and even bounce them up into a high level of friendship. When people have emotion towards a brand they are still engaged and the real problem arises when they become indifferent. Therefore it pays to be fast and friendly.


We had the pleasure of developing the Brand Friend concept together with our French summer intern Tiphaine Guillot. Although last summer may not have been the warmest, she left with our warmest regards. Tiphaine – the door is always open and best of luck with the future.

* The Conversation Prism is a useful summation of areas of web activity, however, we feel that it contains some confusion differentiating between types of services and technology, eg – the voice/SMS category.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Startup as Band

The world of startups and bands have much more in common than you might imagine. They often start out in grungy garages and go through similar teething pains: balancing ambitious and talented young people in small groups producing creative content on shoe-string budgets. The members have to make massive commitments in the pursuit of a high-risk dream. And the odds of succeeding in a startup are probably not that much better than being in a band.

Raw talent alone can make you famous (a la Google's Sergey and Larry), however, if you want to kick-start your start up its time to start thinking about what kind of band you are.

Every startup needs its lead singer. At Zipipop we have Helene Auramo, who appears regularly in the Finnish media talking about social media; for example, she has just been featured in the new edition of the popular Finnish cultural / design magazine "Image" (see above). The feature title is "Pop Star". Helene is a big fan of Gwen Stefani; which is not a bad comparison to her personal brand image: sassy, sexy and savvy.

Internet entrepreneur as pop star is not new. Probably the most famous is Kevin Rose; who founded digg.com and hosts DiggNation on his own Revision3 internet television distribution company.

In Finland, in addition to Helene, we have Taneli Tikka who definitely knows a thing or two about putting across a pop star image. I don't know him well enough to suggest who he could be compared to though. Any suggestions?

Anyway, I was thinking which other band members would startup "types" be. In Zipipop's case, I feel that Markku (Chairman) would be the lead guitar / band manager; Tuomas (Creative Director) song writer / driving bass; Taro (CTO) innovative mixer/DJ. Diana (the unofficial 6th member of Zipipop) lyrical keyboard player. And I would like to think of myself as song writer / rhythm guitar.

Helene and I co-founded Zipipop, and like all the best creative partnerships, our differences complement each other. Creative partnerships work best when there is time together, but there is also time apart. This is why it is great that she has her Digitytot project in addition to Zipipop and I have my little kid (and maybe a secret film project, but it is too early days to talk about that). Here is a quote from an excellent book I am currently reading called Life's a Pitch:

"One of the greatest creative partnerships was, of course, Lennon and McCartney. They influenced each other profoundly, but they often developed songs on their own. Many of the songs attributed to both of them were actually written by just one: yet the personality of the other still hovers in the background. That was proved when they stopped writing as a team. Without McCartney's softening touch, Lennon's work often became crudely strident; and without Lennon's attack and edginess, McCartney's work frequently descended into sentimentality."

Zipipop is rapidly making a name for itself and with Markku Silén now on board (Finnish press release) the future looks bright indeed. However, we also look forward to seeing Finland's future entrepreneur pop idols.