Web 2.0 Offline - A Real Life Example

One of our local radio stations is providing its listeners with the option of recording their voice for special song dedications. One of the listeners, actually speakers now, has turned this into a real offline Web 2.0 application.
Most of the people recording their dedications just do that, they say to whom they would like to dedicate this song, and how much they love that person, blah blah blah.
One of these people took this service to a really new level. She started recording certain messages to certain people. Talking to one of her friends, she would wish him a safe trip to his destination, and wish that he accomplishes the goal of that trip. To another friend of hers, she would apologize for the things that she said yesterday and ask for forgiveness. She would have two friends who are not really understanding of each other's differences, and talk to both and try to find a compromise or a midway where they can communicate again together.
All this is done publicly, and all listeners would listen to this. It is becoming more like an interesting series of stories related to this one person, who they have never met, but started to know and identify with!
Next? She became a star! Other listeners who are familiar with her messages started recording their own messages just thanking her and complementing her on how great a job she is doing to get friends closer to each other!
One person decided to use the platform her own way, she used it for her own interest. She became famous, others start to complement her, and eventually new ways of using this recording service will be used by other people.
The radio station is only providing the context for people to record and publish their messages (and they get paid for each sound recording). The users are finding creative ways of using it, and since they are given the chance to publish their voice, they are doing the word-of-mouth advertising for the service since it makes them famous.
This is a really great example of how any application can be utilized in a context where the users can find ways to actively participate in the creation of content, and they will definitely do the marketing for that service or experience provided.

Web 2.0 Offline

While thinking about the different applications Web 2.0 is bringing us, I have been also thinking about how this might be implemented offline, in media that are not based on the Web, and more importantly, applications where the media are not involved at all.
The main aspects, or components that make any application a Web 2.0 application are user-generated content, community empowerment (where the community decides what is and what is not acceptable), and the service provider acts merely as a platform for these activities to happen. This platform is a passive aggregator of whatever the community chooses to produce, and works only on making the platform easier to use, more efficient and effective at realizing the goals of the users and the community, and finally, works on marketing that platform.
In other words, I like to think of Web 2.0 as a new phenomenon of doing business, community activities, and transforming any aspect of our lives and work.
An application I imagined was having a city without a police force. That was my opening example for my presentation on this topic, in an attempt to make it familiar to the audience, and to show them that it is not that technical or complicated, it's just a really new way of doing things.
The police department of city X decides to empower its citizens by allowing them to photograph all the cars that are violating the law, and sending them via email to the department. The officers there will take a look at the photos, and if there is sufficient proof that the car is actually violating the law, a ticket will be issued, and sent to the car owner.

Why would anyone take photos?

I first thought that only people with nothing better to do than pick on other people's mistakes would be engaged in such a thing. But I immediately remembered the frustration I feel when some people park in front of our parking and stop us from getting in or out of our own house. Sometimes, we are in a hurry, sometimes guests are coming, and it is really frustrating to have to deal with it. In such a moment, I will definitely pick up my mobile phone, take a picture of that car, and immediately send it for him to receive his ticket. The beautiful thing is that there are other people also living in the same street who are frustrated with this, and probably one of us will take the picture.
A basic principle of Web 2.0, is that people engage in it for their self-interest. I would really be interested in doing this for our street, and might do it here and there occasionally, but I'm sure the people living there will make sure nobody intrudes. Since everyone will be using the system to protect their own street, almost all streets will be protected this way.

What benefits does it have for the police department?

This method provides much greater coverage for the department. Police officers cannot be everywhere all the time, and people will eventually learn that to take care of their neighborhood, they have the means for that, and they should do it. There will also be a lot more understanding and cooperation with normal citizens who will have the chance to be police officers whenever they need to be! This eliminates the "us vs. them" attitude, and transforms the community into a whole big "us" where "they" would be the ones breaking the law in a certain instance.
Eventually, when this becomes the norm in a certain society, policemen will be less needed to waste their time writing tickets, and can focus more on more important and deeper aspects of their work, like focusing on combatting organized crime, and training for more sophisticated skills.   

How does it benefit the society?

Just like society makes sure the social and ethical norms are being taken care of, again through their pursuit of self-interest, this circle will be expanded to included new areas never tackled before, it should also foster a new sense of cooperation and responsibiliy among people toward increasingly more aspects of their lives.

How to implement?

The first thing is to make this system available while keeping everything the way it is. This provides a buffer, since you cannot know when exactly the use will be widespread in society. Therefore, you keep things going as they are, advertise for the new system, start mentioning instances where this has happened, warn law-breakers that Big Brother has become one of your own, and sit back and watch the photos coming!

Media & Telecommunications Convergence Conference - Day 2

Today was the second and last day of the Conference, and again there were many interesting presentations and speakers.
Again I was very happy to hear about Web 2.0 from Yahoo's Chief Data Officer Dr. Usama Fayyad, and from Samih Toukan, Maktoob's CEO. And again, the audience was not fully engaged in the importance of these new trends and how they are (sorry for the excessive marketeering) changing our world.
It was great that we were given copies of all the presentations of the conference by the organizer. I'll try to share them soon.
All in all, it was a very good and useful conference.

Media & Telecommunications Convergence Conference - Day 1

In the first day of the annual Media & Telecommunications Convergence Conference there were some interesting discussions by panels from a wide range of expertise. Arab Advisors hosted many of the key players in this industry in the Middle East.
I especially found interesting the speech by Dr. Saad Barrak, Director General of MTC Group about their work in underdeveloped nations. The interesting point he mentioned was an example of how valuable hi tech services were in these nations. He pointed out that since the infrastructure was very limited (no roads, no electricity, and many of the things we consider to be basic) there was a very high value given to mobile calls and services in general. The typical European, for example wouldn't give that much value to these things, because they are used to being connected with other in several ways.
Not only that, but there was a high economic value in these services, because the farmer no longer has to accept whatever price is given to him by current bidders, he can easily make a phone call and ask for bids for his crop. He can be very empowered negotiating with the merchants discussing the deal with him. It's strange that huge growth might come from underdeveloped markets precisely because they are underdeveloped!
Another interesting speaker was the marketing director of Ericsson, Jeremy Foster. He clearly had a holistic view of where the content industry is going. His presentation clearly showed the different options available to the user, the price and value comparisons, and the different revenue-generating strategies available to telecoms and content providers.
IP Multimedia Subsystem was a key topic in his discussion and one of the main strategic opportunities to provide content of all types to mobile users. He demonstrated the paradox of the "dumb mega byte" whereby you can download a video clip of a song of 20 MB for free, and that same song, if delivered only as voice would cost $1! Technologically this is irrational, but the market dynamics make it so. It's a clear sign that more services and value doesn't necessarily mean more capacity on gadgets. It should mean smarter positioning, and closer contact with the consumer. He also shared his vision of a centralized database for each user, that can be accessible through different devices, without loosing its formatting and richness. Your soul would be floating in no-place and it can manifest itself for you through whichever medium you choose. That should be cool to achieve. Nothing mentioned about user-generated content, which I think is a key factor in everything nowadays.
Alexander McNabb, group account director of Spot On PR made my day by talking about Web 2.0. It was very strange also that less than 10% of the audience knew the term, let alone being familiar with its different aspects and applications. He moderated a very lively panel where a heated discussion took place about pricing and some unfair practices related to internet service providers.
The general atmosphere was nice, execution of the conference was very good, and the food was delicious! 

Why, How, and When to Quit

The Dip Book
Most of the business advice I've been reading in the last three years is really refreshing. More humanity, intuition, beauty, and self actualization are not only welcomed, they are increasingly becoming competitive advantages for people and organizations. Technology is creating almost everything for us, and we are to do the things that technology cannot achieve; beauty, style, design, creativity, spontaneity.
The dip, by Seth Godin is one more refreshing piece of advice, about (again the opposite of what is traditionally advocated in business) quitting. The main idea is that we should quit often, as a strategic tactic, and that we should choose when to persevere.
I also had this strategy, and I often use it in new endeavors. I focus on one thing, and almost isolate myself from many other things in life. This is to ensure enough focus is given to what I'm doing. Eventually, when things are stable, I can go back and include the other things I like to do.
The new thing for me in The Dip was paying attention to what is it that I want to quit, and what it is that I need to persevere at. Although I usually focus when I quit other things, I seldom make the effort to make sure it's the right thing for me.     
"Being the best in the World" is another key notion Seth goes on to explain. Of course "world" means somebody's world. It also means how they perceive their world, and being the best is about being the best for them (your prospective client / market) now.
The whole book, or "program" as Seth likes to call it, is around this one idea. That we should chose the things that we are the best in the world at, and abandon everything else. The main reason is that being the best has dramatically higher benefits than being second or third. The benefits are disproportionately higher than any other position in the hierarchy.
Not only is it advisable to be the best in the world at what you do, Seth argues that is also becoming necessary to be the best. I a long tail of micro niches, you are probably in one niche and need to be the best there, or else! "In a Google world, the competitor is only one click away." There is good news though. If you think seriously about your strengths, you probably are the best in the world at what you love to do, you just need to focus, make the strategic decision and go for it. This idea echoes the main strategy of Squidoo, "everyone is an expert at something."Sisyphus
The Dip immediately brings Sisyphus to my mind. This character is known for the frustration he has to endure every day. He was condemned by the gods to push a heavy rock up a mountain, only to find it roll back to the bottom on a daily basis. Albert Camus provides a fresh perspective on how to view Sisyphus. Although used as a metaphor for futile activity, Camus argues that the "struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart." He also explains how valuable it is to face the absurdity of life the modern worker has to live with, and to remember that "no fate is insurmountable by scorn." His article is also a reminder that life is a series of dips that we have to endure. Seth mentions in his interview with Guy Kawasaki that But the "book is about investment and effort, in doing things not just for the pleasure of doing them but because you expect something in return."
I tend to side more with Camus's method of learning how to embrace the dip not because of the gains you might get, but because it is an inevitable part of life and work. If you start embracing (and loving) the dip, you can easily use Seth's arguments to choose the right ones to engage in.
My criticism is that Seth says that we should choose which dips to engage in, as if it is always up to us. The dip is there, we always find ourselves in difficult situations, and we are always faced with challenges. He should have mentioned this also, while selling the reader on the importance of going into dips. 
I'm now faced with three ideas:
1. Chris Anderson's Long Tail, which shows that a large enough number of little niches, amounts to a total greater than the few hits.
2. Seth's dip, arguing that you need to be the best in the world (a hit not a miss) in order to really thrive. You have to be focused on the head of the graph instead of the tail.
3. My own idea that we should remember that small things amount to a considerable total, that being the best does have great benefits to it. But...
How can you be the best at something with out being average at the components of that "thing". More on that in "The Long Tail Person."

Conclusion:
Don't underestimate the little dots that can be connected to make a meaningful total, and don't forget that dots are what make shapes. So go on and draw the best shapes in the world!

Web 2.0 Goes Corporate

This is a very interesting report, made by Fastsearch for the Economist Intelligence Unit titled, "Web 2.0 Goes Corporate" and it's the result of a survey they did with 406 executives, most in the C-suite level. It's great and very interesting to know that the large (and typically slow) corporations are picking with such a crazy way of doing business!
Opening up everything (almost) to their consumers, and encouraging them to share their knowledge and thoughts, participate in the product creation process, to become Fastsearch"prosumers".
Although this is not new, the degree to which these executives are embracing Web 2.0 is interesting. P&G is one of the sited smart companies, who are capitalizing the power of social networking to engage users in their products. Capessa, is a joint venture with Yahoo! and aims at tapping into the collective knowledge of women, their preferences, and what they think about in the various stages of their life. This is indirect market research, where they can collect the data they want, and can also have the engaged members of that community fill out some questionnaires for them. It's strange they have an ad for Colgate on the home home page! Or maybe they are embracing the truly open nature of this new phenomenon and allowing almost anything, on the condition that it nurtures the community they are building. They also have Miss Irresistible on Myspace. This is a fictitious character that indulges in being stylish, and boasts a great smile, she also encourages others to show their smile (Crest) . Interesting.
Markets are more and more becoming "conversations", and the markets are becoming more and more liquid.
The report was made by asking the top people in the top industries, most of them really know what they are talking about. This really contrasts to Seth Godin's post on "pundits". Makes you think again...

Self-Service TV Advertising

Just while I thought that The Long Tail would kill all forms of traditional media, Spotrunner has found ways of utilizing The Long Tail to resurrect this (dying?) medium.
It's quite difficult to imagine how a company can provide a link between a huge number of medium to small (and they have big) advertisers, with highly localized TV networks and stations. But this is exactly what they are doing.spotrunner
First, the cost of producing the TV ad (which is usually outrageously high) is considerably reduced by providing generic customizable templates. These are premaid ads for certain industries. If you, as an advertiser, see that they represent your business and are suitable for your campaign, they can customize the ad for you. This is done through adding a new voice-over, and inserting your contact information. There is also the option of adding certain images if needed. Advertiser would not want their ads to be shown by other advertisers, you may think. This is true, but when it is a localized ad, there is no problem in showing in another part of the country where audiences don't watch the same networks.
Spotrunner can get you lower prices, because they usually go for the spots that are not sold, where the TV network can sell them at a low prices, sometimes as low as $18.
Network effects are the only that will improve this service. If a large-enough number of people start using it, and enriching the history of usage, this system should be great. A great suggestion by Mashable was to open up the video library for video producers, so they can participate with their video commercials. They will want to promote their work, and of course get paid for it, and Spotrunner will have free additions to its vast library.
If this is implemented well, it will open up new huge markets not only for amateurs with a good taste, but for professional film / commercial makers as well. The ultimate perfect state would be to become a platform for producers and consumers of TV ads where they can both login in a self service manner, and manage their work from. This would be wonderful to watch, and it would be a true Web 2.0 application, although most of it is not for the web, it will be a great model that uses web 2.0 by linking online and offline media together.
Spotrunner managed to attract some serious investors, and therefore a lot of media coverage (WPP and CBS among others). They also announced in October 2006 that they managed to attract $40 Million in investment. Looks really cool.

Great and Cheap Webhosting by Bluehost

Host Unlimited Domains on 1 AccountEstablishing your website, and securing an excellent web presence, is not only becoming a must, it's becoming really easy, and dirt cheap. The speed at which prices are going down, while features are increasing makes me really wonder how these companies make any money. Although it is becoming a highly sophisticated industry, I believe we should all have the basic knowledge and actually create our site(s) as an extension of our work/personality.
While researching for the best webhosting companies available, I have found one that offers great services and options at very low prices, and flexibility. Bluehost is one of the top rated hosting service providers, and they have great features that can really help one grow their business online, and probably take that hobby one or two steps further. Here are the main features:
Unlimited domains in one account: Many hosting companies will provide you with a certain number of domain names per account. Some of them even limit you to only one. There is no meaning having so much storage space if you have only three sites. Moreover, many companies charge you a setup fee for activating your sites. With Bluehost, you have as many sites as you want.
The value in this feature is that it gives you the freedom to be experimentatl in your approach to building your sites, if it only costs you $10 to start a new site, why not try out that idea you had in your mind? You can also manage these sites through one login.
This can be taken one step further, and you can start selling your services to manage other sites.

Live chat:
I've tried their live chat system, and it's good to be able to ask a question on the go, and have your immediate answer.
Huge data transfer: 3,000 GB of data transfer, or bandwidth, is really a huge amount. Judging by the fact that you can use third parties to host your images and videos, like Youtube and Flickr, you will practically not reach that limit, unless you have a very high-traffic portal.

A lot of storage space:
300 GB of storage is quite impressive. Very few websites use that much of disk space on their servers.
Awards: If you want to check out their quality, you can see their awards page. By the way, they claim to have around 285,000 domains hosted. I guess these customers are happy with the service.

$50 Yahoo! and $25 Google advertising credits:
These are given for new accounts. If you use this advertising to get some traffic to your site, you can easily get back your investment if you have products to sell, or affiliate programs on your site.
Pricing: $6.95 per month for 24 month accounts and $7.95 per month for 12 month accounts. You don't pay anything other than the domain name price which is $10 annually. As I mentioned many companies charge around $25 - 30 just for setup.

Free privacy:
Again this is a feature offered for free. This is the option of keeping your information private, and not having to deal with spammers.
Try them.

The Owners of the Internet

Being different as opposed to being better is a business strategy that is picking up momentum among the "gurus". The ultimate of which comes in the form of being not only different but being the only one (or company) that provides a certain service. Here is an example of something very few people know or even think about.
Just as land has its owners, "virtual real estate" is also owned by a few smart moguls. Business 2.0 magazine ran a very interesting story on one of the top domainers. Domain trading and investment has grown as an industry, of this I am aware, but the degree to which these people have taken it, is really surprising.
Kevin Ham, the man behind many of these evil (and seriously cool) tactics, has also managed to remain anonymous in this undercover field of business.
Software that automatically detects expiring domains and attempts to get it before anyone else is one of the tactics. But it is one of the lame ones.
The .cm scheme is a really interesting one. Based on the fact that many people make typing mistakes when they enter the domain names they want, Kevin and his gang have secured a really interesting deal with the government of Cameroon! Here's the deal:
Whenever someone mistakenly enters "newyorktimes.cm" instead of "newyorktimes.com" their software checks if that domain name is taken, if not it immediately directs the user to a site called Agoga. This is a site filled with pay-per-click ads, and Kevin gets paid whenever a user clicks on any of these ads! They are also working on a similar project with the government of Colombia, who owns the .co extension.
Another form of traffic is surprisingly what is called "type-in traffic", which happens when someone tries to guess a generic name and typing weddingflowers.com for example. This type of user will again be greeted with ads, most of them are actually relevant to their search, which isn't a very bad idea. "Parking", "tasting", and "type-squatting" are among some of the other ways these people make serious money.
I never thought a domainer would have more than a thousand domains registered, but it turns out that the top portfolios owned by one person can go up to 320,000!
In-depth details and explanations of these devilish strategies can be found in the article.

The Long Tail

I'm the kind of person who constantly needs intellectual stimulation. I always need to have long tail booka major mental adventure going on in my life. The more the adventure requires me to learn and discover new things, the better. The most boring times in my life, are the moments spent doing or talking about something I really mastered. You can really drive me crazy if you can put me in such a situation. This book is one such endeavor, if I may say. It's the kind of book that gives you a totally new direction to move in, and I'm quite comfortable doing this. Not only does it show you the untapped direction in which to go, the books explains how to make use of totally new markets, and how to understand, capitalize, and ,most importantly for me, enjoy the new worlds unfolding to us. There are numerous new tails created, and existing tails are elongating.
What exactly is the "long tail"?
long tail picture

According to Hellen Keller,"The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." This, in a nutshell, is The Long Tail.

Hits and Misses

The culture and economy we are used to live in, depends on the Pareto Principle, more known as the 80-20 principle, which basically states that 80% of the results produced are from the "mighty shoves" of the mighty 20%. If the hits are the products, songs, movies etc. that make it to the top lists, the "misses" are the ones that missed them. A closer look on these two types of products shows that they only missed the shelves, and not necessarily the value we give them. Many products are valuable enough for us to buy them, but we didn't buy them because they were just not available, due to the tyranny of geography and physical constraints, as Chris Anderson explains.

The culture and economy we are used to live in, depends on the Pareto Principle, more known as the 80-20 principle, which basically states that 80% of the results produced are from the "mighty shoves" of the mighty 20%. If the hits are the products, songs, movies etc. that make it to the top lists, the "misses" are the ones that missed them. A closer look on these two types of products shows that they only missed the shelves, and not necessarily the value we give them. Many products are valuable enough for us to buy them, but we didn't buy them because they were just not available, due to the tyranny of geography and physical constraints, as Chris Anderson explains.

The Three Forces of The Long Tail

1. Democratize Production: The means of producing goods and services have been dramatically made easy with the new technologies. And since it is easy to produce almost anything (especially intellectual property) the challenge is in the mind of the producer. If you are creative and hard working, you can do some cool stuff.
The means of producing goods and services have been dramatically made easy with the new technologies. And since it is easy to produce almost anything (especially intellectual property) the challenge is in the mind of the producer. If you are creative and hard working, you can do some cool stuff.

2. Democratize Distribution: Making the misses available to whoever wants them, is a key to pushing demand down the tail. Online sales of less-known titles is one of the key drivers. Amazon is one of the prominent examples on this, where they have millions of titles that sell less, but together, they amount to a significant total.

3. Connect Supply and Demand: The ways in which we are making purchase decisions are dramatically changed by these forces. We have recommendation engines, mainly fueled by the history of people's past decisions. At the same time, those "long tail aggregators" are giving the chance for people to share their reviews, and post their comments for whichever product they have tried. This way, we can get a good amount of information about a certain product in minutes.
I was really surprised to know that Sears had a very long tail of products and an affiliate program back in the beginning of the twentieth century. My initial thought was that such a thing can only be facilitated through the Internet, especially with physical products. There is a detailed explanation of this in the beginning of the book.

Anderson goes on to explain the details of the tail, and its relation to the head. How it behaves in certain industries, and where it might best thrive.

The great thing about this new phenomenon is that it's not only showing a new way of doing things, this new way is right in the opposite direction of where we were heading in the past. Going for small niches is a really new concept, in contrast to "think big". The fact that the customers down the tail are people who have special requirements, also means that they are willing to pay a premium to get what they are looking for.
Another important empowerment that these forces provide, is the empowerment for user-generated-content. Again, the first thing that comes to my mind when talking about it, is intellectual content; videos, text, design etc. but there is a great example about LEGO and how they are enabling this. LEGO is giving anyone the option of designing their own pictures or models, uploading them to their website, and getting a map of how the bricks should draw this picture. There is more; this "product" is shipped to the creator, with the picture on the box. This also becomes one of the products that LEGO offer through their website, and they even pay some royalties for the creator of the product if it sells well. Wow!
There is also a great explanation of the long tail of articles, and Wikipedia. An interesting analogy was drawn between Wikipedia and evolution, and the fact that they work extremely well on the macro level, and not necessarily that well in every incident on the micro level. The open source model, makes it a great encyclopedia in terms of flexibility, or more importantly, resilience. There are millions of people contributing, and constantly the articles are updated and improved on by all of us. It's a great system, and it has this wonderful mechanism that runs it, but, that doesn't mean that you won't find crappy articles with very low quality. The best way to use Wikipedia? It is the starting point in your endeavor to understand something, and not the final definitive say on that particular topic. This approach resonates with what Squidoo is actually doing. You provide some links and short summaries related to something you know about, and give the user a starting point and a guide on how to proceed with their quest.

Although these new phenomena seem to just negate our old thinking about the world, they actually don't. The only thing they do, is that they put some limitations to the theories that we know. Einstein did not negate what Newton taught us. He just proved that these theories apply on the physical level. They just simply are not descriptive of the world on the quantum level.
A paradox seems to pop up when discussing the long tail, and the rise of niches as opposed to hits. Anderson challenges the theory that says that abundant choice is oppressive and leads to less sales. This is based on a study that showed that when people are given six types of jam to taste, they buy more than when they are presented with twenty four. The solution to this, are the recommendation engines. People's reviews about a certain product give the new comers a glimpse about how well this product is performing. So, if you want to choose the best jam, you can just ask Amazon to give you top selling ones.
But, doesn't that mean that we are going back to the hits? We are actually asking for the hits this way.
Chris's answer? This is a hit within a very small niche. The best selling jam, is a hit in the jam category and has nothing to do with food, or general merchandise. Now, a hit is really a meaningful thing, within that niche.
My own theory on this attempts to utilize a group of niche skills, each being average, and maybe the aggregate of these skills amounts to a high quality "long tail person".

There's a video discussion done about this book by Anderson, hosted by Google, where he also has an interesting Q&A session that talks about his book.

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