Online Info Privacy vs. Transparency

9 09 2009

Lock DownAs social media continues to embed itself in our everyday lifestyles, the question of privacy burns in the mind of all users of the social web.  What information can people see?  How much do I want people to know about me?  Is my boss going to see my Facebook profile? The issue is a hot topic and one that legislation and government can’t seem to ignore.   A few days ago I came across an article in Adweek: Pressure Mounts on Web Tracking.  The article discusses a proposal for new legislation to alter commonplace internet advertising on the web.  The proposal looks to essentially eradicate, or at least hinder behavior-based advertising by limiting the amount of time advertisers can access behavioral data (24 hrs.) and relying on consent of information by consumers for long term use of data. 

While I believe that the privacy of information is a very important issue and I agree that out-right exploitation by consumers is obviously wrong, I do not agree that the social web should be censored or limited by government regulation.  What these consumer advocacy groups who made the proposal seem to misunderstand is that by creating an open social web, we can actually limit the amount of advertising white-noise that we come across today.  I’m talking about complete personalization. Using information put forth by users online, willingly, to make web content relevant, including the advertising of products or services.  Finally, the social web may one day enable us to stop searching, and allow products and services to find us.  I think this will in fact decrease consumer exploitation.  After all, advertising online is extremely voluntary (click/or don’t click).

Through the use of behavioral data, consumers can receive highly targeted and personalized messages that will allow them to evaluate options and make better choices based upon these offerings.   Think about small local businesses.  The internet has democratized commerce allowing a number of small local businesses to offer services that compete with major corporations, but succeed due to a better value offering and basic awareness generated via the web.   If we begin to limit contextual and semantic data, which can provide some important demographic and psychographic info, we are stepping back ten years when display ads on the internet become the annoying pop-up that is immediately ignored. 

In a time when transparency is demanded by so many consumers for businesses and corporations, I do not see why the same for consumers should not be true to an extent.  The web is a social forum.  If individuals do not understand this, then they should not put their information out there. No one is to blame for a lack of privacy on the web other than yourself.  No one forces you to put your age, gender, location, favorite sports team etc. etc. online.   As consumers, we must first learn the true implications of contextual data before we condemn it as the next form of identity theft.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue as it continues to unfold.

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Gamer 2.0, Exploring the use of Gaming, Community, & Social Media

25 08 2009

The video game industry has always been at the fore-front of using innovative technologies to create unique, fun, and addicting experiences for their ever-evolving tech-savvy consumer marketplace.  That being said, its no surprise the gaming industry has been utilizing social media as an effective means to reach their audience and expand gaming experiences into the online social realm for years.  I remember my first real social gaming experience with Starcraft (another Blizzard MMOG), around the same time that Napster ruled the world and DSL internet connection became wide-spread.   Fast forward to today, and we are see new start-ups like Zynga, Playfish, and Playdom create a multi-million dollar industry from social games via social networks, a burgeoning virtual goods economy, and new gaming experiences that blow my once coveted Sega Genesis out of the water. 

Recently, I worked with Partner and head of Interactive Strategy at Crimson Consulting, Karen O’Brien, to conduct research on gaming industry trends and the use of community and social media.  After completing an extensive competitive analysis across multiple game sites and gaming social networks we narrowed down important industry trends as well as some best practices for utilizing the social web to reach the new Gamer 2.0.  

Where do you see the industry heading?  Will mobile soon outgrow console or even desktop gaming platforms?  Will console gaming be overshadowed by social network gaming? Or, will social games on the console be the first step toward integrating social media and television?


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Radiohead Sets Another Example by Saying Good Riddance to the Album

19 08 2009

Picture 5Radiohead is no stranger to developing innovative digital strategies to sell and promote there music.  Recently, in an interview with The Believer, Thom Yorke revealed that Radiohead will not be focusing its creative efforts on a new album in the near future, but rather pursue creating and releasing singles or an occasional EP. At first I  have to say I was somewhat shocked.  I consider OK Computer and even Kid A/Amnesiac some of my favorite albums of all time, but taking a step back, I realized that this is just another step in the digital music revolution – and a step in the right direction for that matter.  

Okay, so the traditional album is dead – Get over it.   The “album” died when the physical product of a CD, cassette, etc. lost prominence and importance amongst the average consumer.   This may make the true music fanatic question the artistic integrity of a musician – Singles? I want a body of work.  But what does this really mean?  The album, for all practical matters, is just a figment of our imagination – created by the limited amount of storage space on a CD and an industry standard set by hegemonic major labels.   Most albums contain a few hits and the rest acts as almost a filler.  There are definitely albums that can be considered an entire piece of work, take Dark Side of the Moon for example, but these albums are few and far between.   Today, consumers seek out something from artists that could never be produced at such scale before the advent of the internet – content, and lots of it.   

The move towards singels and EP’s reflects this shift in music consumption away from a physical body of work to creating unique, high quality content across multiple online and physical channels.  In many ways this puts more pressure on the artist to crank out high quality tracks each and every time.   The album no longer masks the shitty filler tracks of the past. Instead,  artists can release a single online and allow people to digest that one track (whether they fall in love with it and can’t get it out of their head, or absolutely hate it) leaving them wanting more or wondering what else they can expect from the artist.  This is what the traditional radio has done for artists in the past, except now the distribution platform is the internet, which has an incredible reach, and is open to anyone to publish whatever they like.  

Releasing content gradually, helps stimulate demand and leaves people coming back for more, which is especially true amongst Gen Y-ers and an incredibly short attention span.   In the past a band would release a CD, then tour for a few years, and fans would be stuck listening to the same album for at least 2 years before the artist had fresh tracks.  Today an artist can distribute music whenever and however they might want.  If music consumption patterns continue to trend in the way that they are, the bands  that will have the most success will be those who consistently and constantly create good content (music & video especially.)   Through exclusive content, they can create a consistent following who will frequently visit their website, social media profiles, and concerts always expecting and receiving something new and fresh –  (hmm sounds almost like a blogging strategy.)  Once that community is created, artists can utilize it as a direct channel to sell merchandise, concert tickets, premium packages etc. (Things people are willing to pay for). So cheers to you Radiohead for taking another step toward a bright future in the music industry.

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Five Ways to Create an Engaging Artist/Musician iPhone App

30 07 2009

AppsYesterday, I posted my analysis on 10 iPhone artist/musician applications and their content strategies. After analyzing my findings and thinking about what is currently available in the music app world,  I came up with five content strategy suggestions for musicians, marketers, app developers, and labels to create more engaging and value-oriented artist/musician apps. Each of these strategies offers some sort of value to the music fan that will always keep them coming back and may one day create a valuable revenue stream for some artists. 

 

1. Use OpenID technology such as Facebook Connect and utilize existing social networks to create a community.

The problem I found with most of these apps is that their community platforms exist only within the application itself.  This means that you can only communicate with other people logged onto the app, normally strangers, without any sort of identification or profile. This creates chat-rooms full of spam, wingdings (smiley faces and what not), and fragmented conversation that is really more annoying than interesting. The solution to this problem lies in OpenID technology such as Facebook Connect, which may soon proliferate the web.  Allowing users to log-in to the app using an existing profile, such as their Facebook account, would open the app up to a world of possibilities.  Social gaming companies such as Zyng and Playfish are perfect examples of app developers harnessing the power of Facebook’s word-of-mouth/viral capabilities.  Facebook Connect might be the easiest solution to creating an engaged community, because lets face, when you fall in love with a band/musician/artist, the first person you to tell “You gotta hear this!” is a good friend. 

2. Provide lots of content ranging from photos, videos, artist information, podcasts, FREE music etc. and make sure its quality content.  

Every should have the ability to stream FULL tracks from the artist.  Why would I download a musicians iPhone app if I can’t even listen to their music?  This seems like the most basic value that a music application can offer to a consumer. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have all your music streamed for free (although I strongly believe that it should be), but a music app that doesn’t offer any sort of music seems counter intuitive.   It’s also possible to post content directly to the applications photo and video portals, but this can also become very troublesome.  If you want to see what I mean, download the Lady Gaga app and watch an episode of her mobile show and compare it to the mobile show on the Soulja Boy app.  The difference is good quality produced content compared to a shaky iPhone video camera taking poor quality video of the every-day life of Soulja Boy.  While there’s a case for approaching video content in both of these ways, at least make sure its meets some quality standards. 

3. Allow and encourage user generated content

The only app that offered access to some type of user generated content was the Dave Mathews Band mobile app with photo sharing capabilities. Allowing fans to upload content to the app creates an interactive and immersive experience while also providing tons of unique content for the app. The apps could also link to existing social sites focused on user generated content such as Youtube and Flickr. Really, the mobile music app could be utilized to access an the artist’s entire cohesive web-presence with the touch of a button – I think there’s value in that. 

4. Create or enable the artist radio

When I heard about Irving Azoff’s partnership with Clear Channel to create a.p.e. (Artists Personal Experience) I thought “Brialliant!”  Who else would be the perfect tastemaker for new music other than your favorite artists themselves.  Not only that but if you love an artist’s music, your bound to be interested in their musical influences, experiences, and idols.  So why not integrate something that provides this entertainment in the artist’s mobile app? An artist specific radio station playing a similar type of genre, or music that influenced an album, or the band’s monthly new music picks…. the possibility of creating interesting and engaging content is practically limitless.  Another way to approach this would be to just include podcasts on the app – but I feel like this concept could be stretched to create something pretty unique. 

5. Offer interactive content such as mixing, re-mixing, social games etc. etc.

Make the content interactive.  This can be achieved in a number of ways such as allowing users to remix, mix, or interact with the audio content itself.  An approach that many major brands have been using within mobile apps is integrating interactive games into the applications.  This is where you have to get creative and come up with some a game that is relevant to the music, artist, and associated content. It could be something as simple as a trivia game, but allowing users to interact with the content will create a fun, unique, valuable experience for fans that will have them coming back for more.

What other ideas do you have to improve the current artist/musician app?

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Ten Most Popular Artist/Musician iPhone App Strategies Reviewed

29 07 2009

 

Akon Death Cab for Cutie  Wilco DMB       

When thinking about the future of music and artist content, one must now consider the myriad of possible distribution platforms now available to musicians.  Whether it be iTunes, a subscription service, P2p file-sharing, or services like Soundcloud, one thing is certain, the idea of bundled content (like the album) is slowly becoming something of the past.  Now record companies, entrepreneurs, and technology providers are scrambling to find the next best thing to the once lucrative physical album.  

Mobile applications seem to offer some very unique features for musicians from direct-to-fan contact, in-app mobile stores, and music streaming capabilities. Many artist’s apps are offered for free and grant access to a bundle of content in hopes that the app serves as a promotional tool and drive sales. The problem is that most of these artists apps do not provide any sort of real value to the user.  This is a major problem seeing as though the majority of the top 25 apps in the iTunes app store consist of practical applications that provide services or benefits.   Therefore, I decided to review 10 of the most popular free apps available in the iTunes store to understand how labels and artists are approaching the application concept.  Here are some of the best practices, as well as an overview of all 10 apps reviewed: 

Best Practices

The apps that I consider to be best in class offer a value to the user that would encourage continuous use over time in terms of community, content, and direct artist contact. 

Community:

The Akon, Lady Gaga, and Soulja Boy apps are all powered by Kyte ( an online video-streaming community).  This allows for some really great things such as user rated videos, live chat rooms, and exclusive mobile video streamed directly from the artists.

The DMB app allows users to sign in with their Twitter account allowing for easy communication with band and the fan community.  The app also allows users to upload user-generated-content such as photos from concerts and contains a fan chat room.  

Content

The Wilco, Death Cab for Cutie, and Black Lips apps provide streaming of full tracks and albums on the app.  The app will also function while audio is streamed (a feature that is not found with the iTunes 30sec samples). 

Santana offers guitar lessons via the mobile app provide something of true value to Santana fans. 

The Wilco application has an extensive selection of podcasts from the band. 

Arists-to-Fan: 

The Dead and DMB applications offer exclusive content from the band such as Tweets during live shows.

Update:  Here are 5 ways to create a killer music app based on this research 

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Crowdsourcing Video Game Development May Save The Gaming Industry

24 07 2009

The video game industry recently announced its fourth consecutive monthly decline, posting a 31% drop in sales on video games and video game consoles in June of 2009. The decline in revenue may create a major set back for video game developers seeking large amounts of invested capital for development. While most game developers feel the crunch, some companies believe that community crowd sourcing might help generate the pool of capital needed to create new game titles.

Publisher, Roundhouse Interactive, has teamed up with Frima Studio to create the first community-designed video game, The Game Cartel, by December of 2010. The community will function as a democratic voting system in which developers will place ideas out to the cartel members and they will decide the direction of the game from genre and story-line to even the name. To join the cartel, members are charged an upfront fee of $50 which gaurantees them a copy of the game and covers incentives that will be offered to keep members active in every step of the process. Roundhouse and Frima hope to attract up to 100,000 community members in order to generate an investment pool of $5 million for the development of the new title. 

The Game Cartel

Crowdsourcing game development seems to be a hot topic in the gaming world as revenues continue to slump. Gabe Newell of Valve, has also eluded to a strong interest in community financing. Gabe stated in a recent interview, “What I think would be much better would be if the community could finance the games. In other words, ‘Hey, I really like this idea you have. I’ll be an early investor in that and, as a result, at a later point I may make a return on that product, but I’ll also get a copy of that game.”

There are many trends influencing developers seek this community outreach, such as the recent surge in use of social media and participation in gaming communities, the popularity of highly customized game experiences (such as Little Big Planet and XNA Creators Club, and unescapable economic pressures. If The Game Cartel proves successful, expect to see a lot more developers using crowd sourcing as a means to end. What I question is whether or not creative integrity is lost in the process of crowd source development for an entertainment product. Most games are created by a group of developers that have become experts in user experience, creative game-play, and design. These crowdsourced games may lack the innovation and dynamic game play that most gamers now expect.  It will be an interesting experiment none the less.

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Will Mass Media Still Exist within Decade?

22 07 2009

Mass Media of the PastWill traditional mass-media still have its place in society 10 years from now?  This is a question I began asking myself after the death of what many consider the last true worldwide pop-icon Michael Jackson.  MJ could have only reached such super-stardom through mass-media, utilizing a limited set of media channels aimed at massive nationwide audiences. Clearly with the rapid growth of the internet, digital technologies, and social media, the so called long-tail of media is in effect.  The clout that mass media companies once had with traditional media is withering away as people continue to interact on the web through blogs, social bookmarking sites, message boards, micro-blogs, social networks etc. searching for more customized, niche based sources of media.   This leaves us with a very fragmented and highly targeted consumer culture online.

What I come to question then is what happens when this sort of consumer niche seeking activity carries over into offline social interaction in the real world.   Ten-Twenty years from now, will each individual become so niche focused and spread across such a diverse set networks that some basic commonality is lost?  If we take this long tail effect to the extreme, we would end up with a society that seems to lack a broad set of common interests. This is why I believe that traditional media or mass media may never completely disappear. Lets face it, in many cases people want to be told what to like.  They need common interest to relate and share with strangers. They want to join the crowd and share in large-scale community experiences.  In some cases push-based marketing may still prove to be successful.

Then again, millions of people are joining social networks each month.  Will Facebook become the next form of mass-media?  What are your thoughts?

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