Saturday 27 November 2010

Easier to critique than create (3 steps to a great idea)


There was an interesting blog post a couple of weeks ago entitled "1.0 is the loneliest number" by Matt Mullenweg where he discussed how to bring something to market. Arguing that ideas need oxygen to grow and if they stay in development for too long then they are actually dying. Matt says:-

If you're not embarrassed when you ship your first version you waited too long. Usage is like oxygen for ideas...every moment you're working on something without it being in the public [domain] it's actually dying, deprived of the oxygen of the real world.

Using Apple as an example, Matt highlights how the iPod was first reviewed as "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame." and "$400 for an MP3 player!... it wont sell, and be killed off in a short time...". The iPad has received similar reviews for it's lack of flash support or camera or weight - but as Matt says, it shipped. This now means Apple have a chance to understand how it works in real life - it now has the oxygen it needs to develop.

The reason for this is that it's easier to critique than it is too create. Creating something new is hard, however once the idea has been floated, it is much easier to then shape this - adding to it, extending it - helping it to grow.

As with many things, the 80/20 rule normally applies here with only 20% of features being used 80% of the time. This means you don't have to wait for it to be perfect or for it to contain everything - you simply need to get it out there. As author Jay Heyman says:-

“Perfect is the enemy of good – if you keep prodding, tweaking and tampering with something good, trying to turn it into something perfect [..] it is possible you might never get there at all, in effect turning a good idea into no idea.”

You also can't beat first mover advantage; the fact that Tesco was first to launch it's loyalty programme gave it a distinct advantage over competitors subsequent attempts.

The increasing connectedness of consumers however also means that this critique is more readily available and almost immediate in it's feedback.

At Loyalty World this month, Nectar provided details on their new iPhone app. Members wanted it - the app has been downloaded 280k times and was #3 in the free download chart within 4 days. Members used it - up to 57% of users opt in to mobile offers, generating £4.4m in incremental sales in just 2 months.

But what was their feedback?

Well Jan-Pieter Lips, MD of Nectar indicated that the feedback had been "great start". This wasn't a negative though - this was recognition that consumers expect to be able to feed into the development of products and services. Consumers are now used to having their say on almost everything a brand does and increasingly are expecting the brands to listen.

Gap is the classic example of this. Forgetting that the brand is where it is because of it's loyal customers, they failed to consult them on their recent aborted logo change. Within just a week of launching it's new logo, the brand backtracked quickly saying:-

“Ok. We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback. We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowdsourcing, we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight.”

You can argue how much of this feedback was as a result of genuine concern/dislike for the logo versus simply a "lynch mob" mentality, but either way, once in the spotlight, it's hard not to pay attention.

Whether it's launching a product, app or loyalty programme, the advice would seem to be:-

  1. Get your product out to market quickly - Making sure it is "good", but not waiting for it to be "perfect"
  2. Listen to consumer feedback - Let consumers tell you what's important, what's missing and what's a priority
  3. Apply feedback and repeat

It's certainly easier to critique than to create so let your customers help out - turning a good idea into a great one and at the same time allowing them to feel part of the process.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Is access control modern day protectionism?


There is a real tension boiling up between content owners and content consumers.

In a recent US legal case Ticketmaster was successful in getting Wiseguy Tickets prosecuted for "conspiracy to commit wire fraud and hacking" with maximum prison sentences of five years and a $250,000 fine.

What was the crime? It was finding ways to by-pass Ticketmaster's CAPTCHA technology which was put in place to try and stop people from automating the process of buying event tickets. They were basically using multiple computers to buy tickets for events in an automated way so that they could do it more quickly and do more of it.

Now you can argue that Wiseguy Tickets were essentially ticket touts, purchasing tickets to sell on and depriving "normal" consumers of an opportunity to buy them - but this wasn't what they were prosecuted for - they were basically prosecuted for hacking.

Even though they essentially only gained access to the same screens and information that everyone else could see, the means in which they gained access - bypassing Ticketmaster user controls - constituted computer hacking.

As Jennifer Granick, Civil Liberties Director at Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a press conference:-

"Anyone who disregards — or doesn’t read — the terms of service on any website could face computer crime charges. Price-comparison services, social network aggregators and users who skim a few years off their ages could all be criminals if the government prevails.”

In a separate case, record label EMI is suing MP3tunes which is a cloud storage solution that allows users to upload their music and then play this from any device/location, arguing:-

“[MP3tunes] does not own the music it exploits; nor does MP3tunes have any legal right or authority to use or exploit that music"

To top all this off, a new law - the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) - is currently in the process of being passed in the US which will essentially "give the Attorney General the right to shut down websites with a court order if copyright infringement is deemed “central to the activity” of the site — regardless if the website has actually committed a crime."

In contrast to all of this however, there was a recent example reported on by Bank2.0 of someone who "disregard[ed] the terms of service" of a company - and actually got thanked for it.

The company was the second largest bank in Russia, VTB24 and they were in the process of building their own iPhone app, but budget constraints meant they couldn't invest in it until 2011. They were surprised then to see a tweet stating:-

"Great to see VTB24 finally has their iPhone app!"

On further investigation - and initially suspecting fraud/phishing - they found the app had been developed by a customer who had re-used their existing WAP site to create a working API for the iPhone app.

When asked why he'd done it the customer replied:-

"Well, I wanted iPhone banking and you guys didn't have it"

In story that could have been written by Disney, VTB24 have since hired the developer and now have a live iPhone app - and everyone lives happily ever after.

What's interesting about this example though is the fine line companies walk. On the one hand, Ticketmaster is prosecuting users for "leveraging" their website for another purpose, and on the other a major Russian bank is hiring the person "leveraging" theirs.

Ultimately, when something is let out into the wild - whether it's an internet site or a new product like Xbox Kinect (hack 1 / hack 2 / hack 3)- people will always want to extend it and re-purpose it. Companies may need to protect their content - but increasingly they will struggle to protect how it's consumed.

If companies start using legislation however to define and constrain this re-use to protect their business model, rather than trying to solve the actual business problem, it could harm innovation for all.

Whether it's music, tickets, banking or loyalty programmes, providing ways for consumers to retrieve, consume and share information is ultimately going to be a better policy to embrace than trying to build more and more protection around it.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Less is more when it comes to Path

New social photo sharing service Path has just launched amid a lot of social chatter and mixed, but largely positive reviews.

The big difference however with this service which is creating a lot of debate is the fact that Path is limiting friends to just 50, citing amongst other reasons, Dunbars law of social connections.  However the reason and the amount are irrelevant, what's interesting is the limit itself.

As every other service keeps on providing more, with email providers giving more storage, smart phones giving more apps, foursquare giving more badges and facebook just giving more of everything - it's strange to see a service setting limits.

On the surface their reasoning seems sound - this is a personal network for sharing photos with close and "real" friends.  The limit of 50 helps to reinforce this, meaning you can't simply import all your friends, followers and hangers on.  However, who's to say what a close friend is and how many of them you should have (ok, so Dunbar's 150 is probably about right), but in reality, this arbitry limit seems a little restrictive and big brotherish - a "we know best" mentality.

But it's none of these things - the limit of 50 friends is simply a gaming dynamic.

If you limit something, you create scarcity.  Scarcity means things are valued more.  Things which are valued more get used more and promoted more.

At a time when we feel everyone is a winner - with A grade exam pass rates seeming to ever increase and reward ceremonies giving a Gold for more and more obscure categories, it's nice to see someone saying no.

Scarcity can be a powerful mechanic and when worked well into a marketing programme can encourage increased engagement.  It can also be lost very quickly by making everyone a winner - this is a situation where you can't have your cake and eat it.

Not everyone can win Gold, not everyone can be Platinum tier and not everyone can be your friend.

I think Path is forcing users to make a choice on who the most valuable people are to them - and in turn are probably selecting the most valuable people to Path.

Creating scarcity can be a sure fire way of creating value.

Sunday 7 November 2010

What is gamification?

With the risk of sounding like a broken record - do I write another blog post about gamification.

Well in the last 6 months alone there has been an almost 300% increase in the number of blogs written about gamification and when you look at the twitter stats around the term gamification it's clear that the last 6 months have seen a significant uplift in chatter.

There was also a buzz around gamification at the Virtual Goods Summit and now it has it's own conference coming up, the Gamficiation Summit. The summit will feature authors such as Gabe Zicherman who co-authored the book Game-Based Marketing, released earlier this year that looks at how gaming mechanics can be applied within marketing programmes.

So far be it from me to buck a trend - this is obviously a topic which is both increasing in interest and dividing opinion.

People can't seem to talk about gamification without somehow linking in virtual gaming platforms like World of Warcraft or explicit real world gaming platforms like SCVNGR.

For me though this confuses the whole topic.

Gamification is not the linking of marketing efforts into games. It is not the evolution of marketing programmes into games. Instead it is the inclusion of gaming recognition mechanics into marketing programmes.

This is a subtle difference but it doesn't stop it from courting controversy.

Arguing that the term gamification is wrong, game designer Margaret Robertson from game design studio Hide&Seek says adeptly in her blog post

"Points and badges have no closer a relationship to games than they do to websites and fitness apps and loyalty cards. They’re great tools for communicating progress and acknowledging effort, but neither points nor badges in any way constitute a game".

Going on to say 

"games set their players goals and then make attaining those goals interestingly hard", contrasting this with loyalty programmes such as My Coke Rewards where she says "collecting enough My Coke Rewards for a Coca-Cola Telenovela Club Beauty Rest Eye Relaxation Mask is hard, but it isn’t interestingly hard."

This is very true. A loyalty programme such as a frequently flyer programme is not a game in the true sense. It does not have what Margaret describes as the "rich cognitive, emotional and social drivers".

However, whilst there are obviously people who love playing games for the games themselves and are drawn into the virtual worlds they create, if you took out the "points and badges" from these games so that there was no progress indicated, no achievements collected, no way to measure your performance against previous plays or your peers, you can bet the game play wouldn't last long.

These "great tools for communicating progress and acknowledging effort" do more than just communicate it - they positively encourage and motivate it.

It's these recognition and motivation mechanics that gamification is trying borrow and develop and not the ability to replicate the actual game play such as being able to "dump my sniper rifle for an energy sword"

The collection of points for rewards isn't gamification - it's simply one behaviour which is being encouraged and recognised. Instead, gamification is how this behaviour is integrated with other interactions, how these are orchestrated together and how overall goals are set, progress measured and achievement recognised.

It is possible to make attaining goals "interestingly hard" within the context of a marketing programme, and it doesn't need a virtual world or special powers to acheive it. Instead it simply needs to be interactive, responsive, timely and relevant to the participant.

Caution is still required here though. Just as I'd argue that a loyalty programme is not simply the provision of points for transactions which can be exchanged for rewards; gamification of a marketing programme is also not simply the awarding of badges and achievements for given behaviours.

Instead, the overall customer journey needs to be taken into account including how it is presented, communicated and shared. Awarding points or badges is the easy bit - making people actually want them, that takes great programme design.

As Margaret said, games should "make attaining those goals interestingly hard", and whilst the game play might be different, the sentiment should be the same.

Maybe there isn't so much difference between designing games and marketing programmes after all.