In NYC 3rd – 7th March

I will be attending the Future Marketing Summit in New York City (5th – 6th March) and so will be in New York for a few days. If you are at that summit, let me know. It will be interesting as it is, for sure, but I’m always looking to meet inspiring people face to face for a chat.

Also, if you have tips on what to do in NY during that period, I will be very grateful. I have spent time there before, so the mandatory sights have been covered. For this trip I’m interested in exhibitions, clubs & other ‘hot-right-now’ activities.

Monocle delayed

The Finland launch of the awaited Monocle magazine got delayed by two weeks (until 27th Feb). As a big fan of Wallpaper magazine I’m really looking forward for this new offering. At least the website looks fresh, slick and promising.

I have no data on this, but I’m pretty sure these kind of lifestyle magazines haven’t suffered from the competition from online media like newspapers / more informative mags (& TV) have. A good magazine is a trusted item you take with you for those long rides on an aeroplane/bus/train to refresh yourself with. Also the ads are there to entertain and inspire, not just as useless clutter. A mag doesn’t demand electricity and is ready from stand-by to full functionability in 0.1 seconds. In short, it’s the ultimate on-demand media.

And of course it looks really good on your coffee table.

The FLIRT model of Crowdsourcing / Collective Customer Collaboration

The FLIRT model of crowdsourcing / collective customer collaboration is open for comments.


NOTE!

The version of the FLIRT model presented in this post is outdated. Find the updated version in this and subsequent posts.


flirt model 1.1

Having studied the Crowdsourcing / Collective Customer Collaboration since Fall 2006, I have finally come up with the first version of the framework for my Master’s Thesis. The model is mainly inspired by writings of Eric von Hippel, James Surowiecki, Chris Anderson, Jeff Howe and of course a number of other writers and bloggers that have greatly added to my understanding of the phenomenon (too many to mention here, check my blogroll for insightful sources).

The model views the phenomenon from the perspective of a company considering intensive collaboration with customer collectives and aims to identify the different actors on the field as well as their roles in the collective creation process. Furthermore, it suggests a set of elements (the FLIRT ring) that have to be considered and established in order to achieve desired action in the community. I will first briefly explain the different actor groups and then continue on to the FLIRT elements.

I tried to keep things as compact as possible, so some aspects may not fully reveal themselves from this post alone. If you need a lowdown on crowdsourcing I suggest you start here. As this is work in progress, I urge you to comment, ask questions and challenge my thinking.

THE GROUPS

Creators (core)

This is the group of people that is the most enthusiastic about the collaborative offer, and they go to great lengths in pursuit of creating something unique. They submit original ideas and content as well as remix each others’ material to produce solutions that will earn them respect, status, acceptance, reputation, as well as material rewards. In other words, they are the competing to conceive the winning solution.

Critics (inner ring)

Critics are the people that do not produce original solutions, but are highly involved in the conversation around them. They criticize and offer development suggestions to creators but also act as evangelists to the wider audience by actively spreading the word about the stuff they like (or alternatively, stuff they hate) by e.g. blogging. They are often driven by a personal attachment to either the creators, the collaborative company (they might even work for the company) or the field of work, in which they perceive themselves to possess valuable expertise. Like the creators, they seek rewards in increased reputation and status, but in addition also gains in audience and authority. They seek less direct material benefit from the collaborative relationship, but are instead enthusiastic about the conversation itself and often seek to convert non-believers to their view.

Crowds (outer ring)

The larger crowd is participating on a much lower level of activity and involvement than the critics. They tag, recommend, rate, vote, send e-mail links to friends and sometimes write an occasional review. The interaction is therefore quite shallow compared to the previous level. There is however a great wisdom to be gathered from all this grassroots activity: their input elicited carefully, the crowds through their actions help organizing the alternative solutions and understanding their worth. They thus introduce comprehension to the community as they confirm the relevance and value of the best material produced in the inner core.

Outside of these groups are the traditional consumers that do not participate in any way to the collaborative offering, but instead only view content and perhaps buy the items on offer.

THE ‘FLIRT’ ELEMENTS

Facilities

Facilities have to be in place for the participants to have a place for meeting and interaction. However it doesn’t always mean that the company has to build their own social network service from scratch. There are a lot of networks already in place just waiting for a suitable partner to join forces with. In addition, a hybrid service can also come to question, in which some parts (e.g. discussion forums) of the community are maintained by the company while parts of it (e.g. video content) reside on a 3rd party service

Language

The customers are not stupid. They have to be treated with respect. Although this is already a well-worn principle, it continuously tends to be forgotten, most notably by large corporations with the most resources to pour into the issue, such as these examples show. Fake bloggers and ‘user-generated content’ crafted by ad agencies are bound for a beating. The customers’ worldviews and values need to be understood and appreciated.

Also the community’s potential social objects (photos on flickr, videos on youtube, jobs on linkedin, URL’s on del.icio.us) have to be recognized and utilized, since no social network revolves around an idea of just having one (nor does it revolve around your company, no matter how hard you wish it would).

Incentives

Nobody, not even your customers like to work for free. The incentives required by the different groups varoy, and some are willing to work for less than others, and the issue has to be given very careful thought in engaging the community in an exchange meaningful to all participants. It is often not money alone that inspires the customer creators, but also, depending on the context, things such as fame and access to otherwise inaccessible channels or resources might prove as powerful incentives.

Most of the time, you will have to genuinely challenge your customers and offer them a chance to enhance the quality of their life – even if it was just by the smallest amount – in order to stimulate them. Nobody is prepared to waste their free time to trivial, routine tasks with little or no ‘show-off’ value.

Rules

Don’t expect to a swarm of creativity by creating an open environment where everybody is free to do whatever might occur to them. Naturally, you have to think about e.g. manufacturing constraints already for practical reasons (Threadless has strict rules for number of colors, resolution, size of design, etc), but also arbitrary constraints can be challenging, inspiring and produce unique and noteworthy results.

Apart from standards for submitted content, also the rules of interaction need to be established for a fruitful conversation. At what point and how a member needs to register can make or break a relationship very quickly.

Tools

The people obviously need to have access to the tools necessary to create and participate. These tools can be provided by the company (like Lego’s Digital Designer, a piece of software that let’s you design your own lego models) or it may be assumed that people already have them (digital cameras / cameraphones in the developed world). Sometimes the distinction is not so clear cut (who will provide the empty cans for the artists in the art of the can competition), and thus the question is always worth a thought.

In addition, the company needs to establish its own tools for gathering the results of the conversation and turning the collective wisdom into action.

So there you have it. As said, the model is hardly complete, and you should indeed already have some questions coming my way. I will try to answer them the best I can.

Should you use the model or part of it for your own purposes, do give credit where it’s due. You may not, however, use it to gain direct monetary benefit (publish it in a book, print it for selling purposes, etc.) without a permission.

Tired of networking socially?

I am. With the torrent of social media networks available, the incentive to sign up for yet another service that would bring you tons of new friends and make your life a constant bliss (should you ever log in again after registering) is slowly wearing out.

That doesn’t mean thinking that I already have too many contacts and would be totally happy with my existing buddies. Not even close. Just today I engaged in a very useful and enjoyable e-mail exchange with Mr. Langenberg, who is the author of an article that comes very close to my thesis subject. After inquiring for the working paper, I got a lightning fast response from him, and after explaining my thesis subject in a bit more detail, he was kind enough to share with me a collection of additional readings he thought might be useful for my studies. Most of the articles seem very promising and I doubt I would ever have found them just by soloing through our school’s journal search tools.

Yesterday I didn’t even know the guy. Today he had personally helped me a great deal with his advice and we had developed a mutual interest for each other’s research fields. That’s social networking at its best.

But to the point. The thing I was talking about at the start of this post is the endless cycle of identical processes that I have to go through every time I register for a service: pour out all the information about myself from my first kiss through my favorite bands to whether or not I believe in the existence of extraterrestrial beings. Then I need to pinpoint all the locations I have visited in the world and upload all my pictures from along the way. This all takes enormous amounts of time, wastes bandwidth and feels frustrating, and I’m not even a member in that many networks. The same is true with instant messaging: ICQ, yahoo, Skype, MSN, etc. In order to stay in touch with all of my buddies from different countries & continents, I would have to keep all of these on at all times. Again, a waste of resources and attention.

It isn’t any better with applying for jobs either. Actually, it’s worse. For every employer, I have to use their own unique web form for entering all my previous employers, titles, descriptions of responsibilities, education, language skills, etc. And not I only have to do it once for every employer, but once for every post I’m applying to. If I’m applying for three jobs at the same company, at worst I have to fill out the exact same forms three times within one session in front of my computer! This is not always the case, of course, but surprisingly many big and supposedly up-to-date companies have this kind of against-all-logic system currently in use.

The thing we need is services that can mash up data and user information from various different sources and be controlled by a universal user account. Service providers need to recognize this need and open their interfaces for data transfer between services. When I for example sign up for a new social network, I want to import my photos from flickr, my destinations from ballofdirt.com as well as my work experience from LinkedIn and my link feed from del.icio.us. Otherwise it will eventually be impossible for me to add up on new services and the limit of how many networks I can participate is reached pretty quickly.

Jon Udell noted the same phenomenon in his article on social network fatigue when quoting Gary McGraw: “People keep asking me to join the LinkedIn network, but I’m already part of a network, it’s called the Internet”.

Could it be that some day the only network we need to register to is the web, and all our information will be there to use in all the different contexts we may come up with, with only one upload. Perhaps, but, as it seems now, not too soon.

Advertising as Easy as 1-2-3

With new technologies, an ever-increasing number of services traditionally requiring face to face interaction are moving on to the web. At the extreme are services that don’t anymore need any human interaction on behalf of the service provider. One example of these are web services with which customers can create their own video advertising for TV or web, such as Pick-n-Click Ads, Visible World and Spot Runner. The services claim to bring professional quality video advertising to the reach of companies with a fracture of the costs associated with creating a video advertising campaign.

Being a technophile as well as a graphic designer, I must be skeptical about the phenomenon. The services are apparently targeted to the small and medium-sized enterprises that do not have dedicated departments for communications planning, let alone advertising. This leaves general marketing departments or general management in charge of developing striking, engaging and differentiating creative from standard building blocks. This simply will not work.

There are exceptions of course, but, on average, business directors and managers are not communications geniuses. In a world where our receptors consistently struggle to keep up with the hyperflux of information thrown at us from all sides, it is more important than ever to focus communications efforts that produce meaningful and brilliant solutions, raising us that decisive inch above the competition. And it is not necessarily advertising – video nor otherwise – that is the key: with the tools presently available, there are more cost effective methods at hand for spreading the word – and indeed ones that the advertisers are better at: event marketing, PR, blogging, meaningful dialogue with the customers through online forums, etc. Mediocre marketing communications today has exactly zero value. And it costs money – no matter how little.

p.s. Deutsch, a recognized advertising agency, took part in the discussion by launching the AdConceptor, a parody of the online ad generators. “It’s something, you got nothing. I’d take it!”. Funny.

Given enough eyes…

IBM releases many eyes, a swivel-esque, although more versatile web service for visualizing data.

Both applications aim to capture the collective wisdom for exploring meaningful patterns in seemingly irrelevant data. But where Swivel focuses on comparing data sets through graphs only, many eyes offers a range of tools, including maps, graphs, scatterplots, network diagrams, pie charts and tree diagrams.

While it may not make you Edmund Phelps, it may inspire some satisfaction in that number crunching geek in all(?) of us.

I’m live.

Hi and welcome to Debute, my personal blog. The purpose of this venture is to expose and debate interesting phenomena and issues around the areas of design, business and technology, which are all close to my heart. The abovementioned three are the subjects I spent my time studying in Helsinki School of Economics in 2000-2006 and lately researching as a part of Future Marketing (a research project at HSE) in Helsinki.

But enough about me. You can find more detailed information on my character on the ‘portfolio’ and ‘about’ pages. Let us get down to what it’s all about…

Sami Viitamäki