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 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.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It is not if, it's when

It is not a matter of when mobile advertising really takes off, it is only a matter of when. Just check out these two quotes from two of the biggest players in the internet and advertising world:

“In a few years mobile advertising will generate more revenue than advertising on the normal web.” Eric Schmidt, Google CEO (2008)

“Mobile is the most overhyped thing that I have ever heard of in the short term but the most under hyped thing that I have ever heard of in the medium term.” Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP Chief Executive (2008)

Therefore I was delighted to be invited to speak on a panel at the IIR Mobile Advertising Amsterdam conference last month. There was some complaints that it was the same old same old, however, I still found useful facts, inspiration and much to ponder upon.

I was there to introduce the importance of knowing people's intentions – both for providing useful services but also as a way to make services more appealing to advertisers. Since if you know people's intentions you can offer advertisers a chance to influence them.

It is interesting to note that in the mobile sector one of the few services to be maturing and generating significant revenues is turn-by-turn navigation, and this is a service that deals with clear intentions, i.e. intentions to get from A to B. This knowledge is enabling them to provide preference-based, contextually relevant advertising, i.e. where is my next preferred service station. Could it be that services that can clearly identify their users’ intentions have a better chance of succeeding?

So what other key things stood out during the conference:

Mind your PPPs

The three Ps (Privacy, Preference, Permission) came up again and again. The idea being that you need to obtain all three from people before you can feed them advertising. And it turns out that many European mobile operators are busy creating opt-in databases of users willing to receive advertising in return for benefits.

This makes perfect sense since the mobile is a particularly personal devise that advertisers need to treat with the greatest respect. These same criteria should be applied to the web in general and I am wondering when a PPP component will be integrated into browsers, so that ad feeds can provide more personal and contextually relevant adds.

Click through and creativity

Thomas Curwen, a market planning director, introduced the notion that the obsession with click through is damaging to mobile internet since it underplays the importance of brand awareness and attitude shifting that can be obtained from more conventional "impression-based" advertising.

Another theme of the conference – also forcefully pointed out by Paul Berney (Managing Director EMEA, MMA) – is that currently the mobile industry is not making enough effort to engage with agencies. And Curwen also made an easily missed point that currently advertising "creatives" are just not excited by the perceived potential of mobile advertising – particularly for winning awards. Blyk (the service that provides free mobile usages in exchange for personalized ads) showed some of the most created mobile adverts and campaigns I have seen.

Mobile web browsing is different

One of the biggest problems highlighted with mobile advertising has been the lack of accurate statistics of mobile web usage that the media planners and buyers need. And it was interesting to hear about the GSMA MMM (Mobile Media Metrics) project for sharing data between the UK's top mobile providers in order to deliver more useful information about mobile and mobile internet usage.

Data presented by Nielsen showed that not surprisingly news, sport and weather are popular web sectors for mobile users. Also, it is important to bear in mind that mobile internet is accessed at different times of day than desk bound usage. Again it is not surprising that around 60% of respondents said that they use mobile internet while traveling; however, about 50% said that they use it at home – which suggest that it is becoming easier for them to engage with their mobile device than it is to sit down at a computer. There are also peaks around lunchtime and some restaurant campaigns in London have used this fact to great success.

The Four Rules of Engagement

Jonathan McDonald was both a great host and a significant presence at the conference. He gave a fluid and engaging presentation that was half prep talk and half a imploration to the industry to pay attention both to ancient aspects of human behaviour and the the impact of the modern fluid, transparent nature of the internet. The days of marketers not playing straight are numbered due to the speed which negative information can spread around the web through blogs, Twitter, etc.

I was particularly inspired by his Four Rules of Engagement that he effectively agures should be applied to all aspects of life but in particular to marketing:

The Rules of Engagement:

1) Transparency of Offering (make it crystal clear)
2) Relevancy of Communication (not assumed, but assured)
3) Value of Incentive (not necessarily monetary)
4) Ease of Interaction (make it intuitive)

Read more about how to apply these in this excellent blog entry.

The iPhone Effect

We all know about this so I will just show these stats to remind us about the effect of an intuitive interface, reliability and unlimited data plans.


Mobile ad spending may currently only be about 1% of radio spend, however, this was also the case with internet advertising around ten years ago. However, it is predicted that mobile internet will develop much faster. And don't think of mobile internet in terms of screen size and connection speeds, think of it in terms of context of use – in particular location and time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Commitment Levels in Service Design

We are in the process of concepting a web-service for the City of Helsinki (overseen by that is designed to enable entrepreneurs, consultants and related organizations to better find and share information. To filter and fine-tune the concept we are using a framework that we have developed based on the work of some highly regarded web practitioners and on our own list of in-house criteria.

However, I have just added a new "commandment" to our list that I have never seen directly discussed – commitment. What levels of commitment do you expect from your users? Depending on the type of service you have to think about this very carefully.

Case-study: Jaiku & Twitter

Compare to Twitter, Jaiku’s superior discussion abilities generate a compulsion that one should be actively responding. And it is wonderful how responsive Jaiku users are; however, many people don’t have the time to be constantly on top of such services. So if you miss a comment that was left a day or two ago, you start ‘to feel a bit bad’ that you did not react more quickly. Whereas with Twitter, it gives the feeling that it’s fine to simply post status messages with no or very low levels of engagement.

Some research from Amsterdam University describes this phenomenon in the following way (I have highlighted the words I feel are related to commitment):

"The pace of Twitter reinforces the feeling of situated connectivity and enables group formation. This situated connectivity advances a pure form of Wittel’s definition of sociality (Wittel 2001), in which relations are briefly intense and are solely based on particular points of interest and not on history. Users of Twitter can express themselves, without necessarily making a lasting impression. The ephemeral character of minute to minute diaries and the website’s non-directive character make the platform rather open to spontaneous reactions. Discussing or eavesdropping is minimized by the medium’s pace. Therefore, comments are relatively simple and explicit, which makes Twitter easily accessible to new users, because of the absence of pressures to comply with the intellectual level of the audience." [Bouman et al. 2008]

Twitter's interface physically fragments discussions which serves to further insulate users from extended critique (unlike Jaiku's comment discussions) and reduces the average number of responses "required" for any single Tweet. So rather than Jaiku's committed specific discussions, Twitter creates more loosely formed general conversations that are easier to dip in and out of. However, for specific communities (e.g. IT researchers) Jaiku's forum-like capabilities can prove to be more useful.

To further reduce Twitter's commitment levels aggregator services like TweetDeck nicely collect peoples "replies" and will notify you as they arrive. And TwitterMail can even email you the notifications.

Some services track and display user activity, however, this can sometimes have the negative effect of making casual users feel inadequate – resulting in them detaching further. And network theories suggest that a large number of week ties are more useful than a limited network of strong ties:

"The shape of a social network helps determine a network's usefulness to its individuals. Smaller, tighter networks can be less useful to their members than networks with lots of loose connections (weak ties) to individuals outside the main network. More open networks, with many weak ties and social connections, are more likely to introduce new ideas and opportunities to their members than closed networks with many redundant ties. In other words, a group of friends who only do things with each other already share the same knowledge and opportunities. A group of individuals with connections to other social worlds is likely to have access to a wider range of information. It is better for individual success to have connections to a variety of networks rather than many connections within a single network. Similarly, individuals can exercise influence or act as brokers within their social networks by bridging two networks that are not directly linked (called filling structural holes). "Wikipedia, accessed 22 April 2009]


Facebook does a brilliant job of accommodating both the avid and causal user. There is no end of the interaction opportunities available for the avid user, but a once-a-weeker can still drop in, catchup, and feel the benefits.

My current gut feeling is that if your service is aimed at a diverse range of users then you have to design for low-levels of commitment; however, if the network is very specific users might benefit from more high-level commitment expectations.

So think about how the experience would be for both the committed and the casual user and ideally try to accommodate both.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Intention Broadcasting Introduction Video

Intention Broadcasting – An introduction from Zipipop on Vimeo.

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”.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bashing into things and falling over

"One of the differences between big companies and startups is that big companies tend to have developed procedures to protect themselves against mistakes. A startup walks like a toddler, bashing into things and falling over all the time. A big company is more deliberate." Paul Graham

Like all startups Zipipop too has been doing its fair share of 'bashing into things and falling over'; however, I guess the difference between success and failure is the willingness to make mistakes, learn from them and keep on going. Of course any damn fool can make mistakes, but the difference is between plain stupid mistakes and intelligent, diligent, well-intended mistakes that might have led to remarkable achievements.

Whilst licking some of our wounds, we have recently been doing some serious soul searching: On a specific level, we have been reviewing Zipiko to analyze why it is not growing as fast we would have hoped (see Rethinking Zipiko). And, on a bigger level, we have also been asking ourselves – from all that we have learned – what does it take to make a successful social web service. And in the process we developed these 10 Commandments.

At Zipipop we sometimes indulge in a bit of lighthearted hubris and, although we currently stoop a little humbled, our ambitions remain straight and tall – since if you aim for the top of the mountain you might only make it half way up, but, if you only aim half way up, the heighest you will ever go is half way up. And our goal is to see the view from the top ; )

So while we purse our dreams and trudge our way up the mountain, why not let us give you a helping hand up. Based on our hard won knowledge and experience, we can tell you where best to place your belays and guide you past some nasty precipices.

As well as public speaking and consultancy work, we are also now offering web-oreintated video production. Please contact us to discuss what we can do for you.

The 10 (+2) Commandments of Social Service Development

Thou shalt have PERSONAL PASSION:

What excites you? You have to be totally in love with a project at the start because towards the end your love will fade away and, until it starts making money, you might even end up hating it. If you start with just a good idea you will never even finish it. And you must always eat your own (dog)food.

You shall find a NEED:

If you wish to make a profit your ideas need to be valuable, ie – people must be willing to pay for them? There are plenty of good ideas that are perfectly worthy but have no business value. So find ways to turn your passions into pennies. Otherwise create a non-profit social enterprise or go into research.

You must provide CONTENT:

Users must have content from the beginning. This can come in the form of community driven, user-generated content (Facebook) or readily available content from other sources (Spotify).

Find and connect to NETWORKS:

The new networked economy requires that you find existing or, even better, growing networks to which you can connect with. Nowadays this means providing and making the most of existing APIs. "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) Facebook is the prime example of this and Twitter is currently making the most of network effects.

Define thy DISTRIBUTION strategy:

What channels are you going to used to spread your service? Considering connecting through such services such as: email, Facebook, micro-blogging, calendars, etc. Blog, micro-blog and make friends with bloggers. Be honest and think big to avoid being boring. If you are not comfortable immersing yourself in social media find an advocate who is.

Never underestimate the power of CONTEXT:

What is the context of your service? Both in terms of community and space. Identify communities that will connect with your service and determine where and how they can access it. Context will have a huge impact on how your users related to your service. Should it be designed to work best on large screen or mobile formats? Should it be a desktop web application?

Work hard to find the PLAY:

Do you have any game elements? You should think hard about what makes it fun: reward systems, role play, social interaction / recognition, etc. Amy Jo Kim has identified the following key components: collecting, points, feedback, exchange and customization.

What are your levels of COMMITMENT:

Some users can be put off if the commitment levels are too high. To find out more read this blog entry Commitment Levels in Service Design.

You shall implement your METRICS:

Are you getting your stats? Right from the beginning you need keep a close eye on the frequency and direction of user usage, so that you can iterate and fine-tune.

Thou shalt not be afraid to CONFORM:

Genre films (Westerns, comedy romance, etc) work best when they meet around 80% of the audience's expectations – with only about 20% innovation. This is a safe ratio to follow when designing your user experience. "A convention is a cultural constraint, one that has evolved over time. Conventions are not arbitrary: they evolve, they require a community of practice. They are slow to be adopted, and once adopted, slow to go away … Use them with respect. Violate them with great risk." – Norman, D. A.

Know thy TYPE:

Are you creating a lovable or a pragmatic service? For a lovable service you can push the boundaries and risk some annoying elements because the users will be inclined to in their hearts to forgive you. Or you can go for a service that is efficient and makes a big effort not to be annoying and users will be grateful for your consideration.

You shall do a controlled RELEASE:

If your service has too many problems you will end up shooting yourself in the foot and all your marketing efforts will be wasted. Web users are super fickle, so don't build up their expectations too high. Instead invite them to help you develop though closed-Beta releases.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Syntactic, Semantic and Pragmatic Web

During some thesis research I came across an interesting parallel between semiotics – a key part of communications studies – and the development of the web.

Semiotics is the study of sign systems and can be divided up into syntax, semantics, and pragmatics:

“Syntax deals with the structure of symbols, semantics with their meanings, and pragmatics with their contexts of usage. These terms were picked up by the early logicians and computer scientists and, especially the first two, are frequently the objects of attention in computer science.” Munindar P. Singh

The development of the web – a symbolic system itself – seems to be developing in a similar fashion:

The syntax (structural codes) are relatively established in the original Syntactic Web, semantics (meaning creation) in the web is still immature – particularly in regard to connecting and producing meaning from data. However, the Semantic Web is under development and there is increasing interest in the idea of the Pragmatic Web (which I have previously blogged about).

If you would like to read a more in depth article I wrote around this subject please click here.