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  • Archive for January, 2011

    • Top 10 links from the last 7 days: 27th January 2011

      27th January 11

      Posted by Saneel Radia

      Posted in BBH Labs

      If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know that we send out a weekly email to the BBH staff with 10 links we like every week. We look for things that are provocative, challenging, useful, or just plain interesting. When we feel really good about the list, we post it to the blog. Here’s the list from the last 7 days. Feel free to let us know what we’re missing. The list is strongly influenced by what we tweet. Or if following us is too big a commitment, feel free to get our links via trunk.ly.

      Source: Sensimed

      Next-gen iPads & iPhones can be your payment system for things in the real world. Apple’s place in our lives may be on the verge of changing dramatically.

      Smart contact-lenses with heads-up LED iris displays. Welcome to the world of augmented vision.

      Former black Sheep Ben Malbon went to Tokyo on business and made this fantastic instagram album of his trip.

      “We’re so eager to describe the web in utopian or dystopian terms.” NYT’s review of Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together book.

      Social Media Week is a global event from 2/7 – 2/11 with a number of incredible, free events worth attending.

      A second worthy bit (& piece) from the Malbon family. Tim Malbon of Made by Many rants on participation requests from brands (read the comments too).

      BMW is making films again, but this time they’re documentaries about mobility. They had us at ‘jet packs.’

      A collection of brilliant quotes from startups that deliver incredible wisdom in just a few characters.

      We loved (and almost solved) this visual puzzle of 20 things that happened on the Internet in 2010.

      TED launches TEDBooks & hot off the press, @brainpicker takes a look at the launch proposition and first titles.

    • Quora’s pursuit of the holy grail: intent (a counter-view)

      24th January 11

      Posted by Saneel Radia

      Posted in Rants, Search

      We recently posted a rant about Quora that generated a lot of conversation. One of the comments was by Leslie Barry, the founder of Iphso. Leslie made the intriguing argument that Quora actually gets closer to question-and-answer nirvana than any other service: identifying intent. Here’s his explanation of what we’re just not getting. We couldn’t be happier to hear his perspective and would like to thank him for generously agreeing to guest post.

      *** *** ***

      Author: Leslie Barry (@LeslieCBarry), Founder of Iphso

      What is intent?

      According to The Search by John Battelle, the holy grail of search is to interpret the user’s intent and direct them seamlessly to the content, or ideally, provide the answer directly.

      If we assume that intent is not WHAT I’m asking, but WHY I’m asking it, then I believe that Quora is closer to solving the intent of search.

      So how does Quora get us closer to it?

      Quora’s approach is to get the best qualified people (through credentials or experience) to create some rules (boring to some, but necessary to prevent chaos – even Wikileaks has rules), then leverages the serendipity effect to overcome the constraints of similar services, like LinkedIn, to refine the best questions to elicit the best answer.

      What makes Quora unique is that it uses serendipity more effectively than other services.

      What is the ‘serendipity effect’?

      Wikipedia defines serendipity as ‘a propensity for making fortunate discoveries while looking for something unrelated.’

      An example is the real-world benefit I’ve experienced from social media, specifically Twitter, where I meet useful people that I would never know existed without a serendipitous network – i.e., people that I didn’t know I needed to know.

      Quora is leveraging this extremely well: connecting the right ‘people I didn’t know I needed to know’ to clarify intent of the question, and as a result, shortening the path to the answer.

      Intent is only relevant past a certain threshold of question. Something as simple as ‘What is the capital of Maine?’ is clearly better answered via Google. No rocket-science behind the intent there, but asking something slightly more complex and ambiguous like ‘How do you consume news? Has this changed in recent years?’ presents a greater challenge. When you Google it, Google assumes:

      • The question is correct
      • Keyword/location/context matching is adequate

      So here is what Google thinks the answer is:

      …and then Bing:

      They both completely missed the point without the Quora results!

      Conversely, this is what Quora’s users think the answer is:

      Clearly, Quora is more efficient at interpreting intent.

      This is because Quora doesn’t assume the question is correct. Instead it provides the ability to ask a question and have it clarified and modified wiki-style to help shape and tease out my intent. Often as a user, I’m clear on my intent, but am not the subject matter expert and therefore unclear on how to frame the question. The iterative, near-time editing of the question helps solve this issue. Also, Quora doesn’t focus on keyword/location/context matching like a mind-less search engine. Quora’s process of refining the question by subject matter experts eliminates the extra steps of sifting through multiple, non contextual answers.

      And yes, there are many planted questions (Google Link-bait pages, anyone?, LinkedIn self-promotion?, mindless waffle on Yahoo Answers?), and self-promotion, but so what?

      All I care about is the quicker path from question to most valuable answer that addresses ‘what I meant’, not necessarily what I asked. My intent.

      Why can’t Google or Bing use other people’s answers to opinion-type questions to decide the most relevant options to serve you? I think this is because of their strong focus on the search algorithm, which values content over context and popularity over intent. Also, Google is one-way traffic, without an iterative, refining feedback loop; we have to stumble blindly along hoping for one or two interesting search results out of ten or twenty.

      As a result, it’s Quora, not a traditionally defined search engine, that’s helping us take a step towards the holy grail of intent.

      It’s not perfect, but it’s challenging our approaches and thinking about teasing out intent from users. Maybe Google indexes them and learns from them? Once again, it doesn’t matter – we will have taken a huge leap from accepting that indexing and search is better than curated, considered, intelligent answers.

    • Our top ten reads from the last 7 Days: 20th January 2011

      20th January 11

      Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

      Posted in BBH Labs

      We’ve mentioned before that we pick just 10 links we like the look of every week (provocative, challenging, useful and/or entertaining tend to be the order of the day) and send them to our friends at BBH around the world.

      It’s heavily based on the @BBHLabs twitterstream across 7 days, but filleted, honed and whittled to a Top Ten for anyone who fancies a filter between them and the 24/7, 365 days a year drenching in data that is Twitter.

      So here it is again. Feel free to pass on. As usual, ideas on making it more useful always welcome.

      ********

      Comprehensive analysis of CityVille game mechanics - http://bit.ly/eN4GWq

      How novels came to terms with the internet - http://bit.ly/ewWiSj (via @garethkay)

      66% of 16-24s cite *entertainment* as prime motivation to engage with brands - http://bit.ly/hNvy4D (via @contagiousmag)

      If you’re in the Bay area, you only have a few days left to book Kevin Kelly to come and talk about What Technology Wants to your team - http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/

      “Instead of thinking about what to build – It’s about building in order to think” Tim Brown at TED in 09 - http://bit.ly/h2qgHT (via @sermad)

      “Each media channel is a strand in the rope that is the story” – nice piece on @LanceWeiler‘s take on transmedia - http://bit.ly/ha94fy

      The Past Imagines the Future – @brainpicker revisits retrofuturism - http://bit.ly/iebLIE

      The Number One Key to Innovation? Scarcity - http://j.mp/f90r5h (via @malbonnington)

      Interview with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia for the site’s 10th birthday - http://bit.ly/hfzDzB

      2010 online, by the numbers - http://nyti.ms/f3elXQ (via @edwardboches)

      *****

      And  bonus 11th – We’ve come a long way, baby – Map of the internet 1972 http://t.co/URxFwds Vs map of the world through Facebook connections 2010 http://t.co/MyyXkUy

    • Collaboration: blurring consumption & production

      18th January 11

      Posted by Saneel Radia

      Posted in collaboration, People

      A few weeks ago, we posted about what collaborative consumption means for marketers. We found it interesting that the focus on collaboration for most brands tended toward production (innovation, development, etc), but that there wasn’t much noise about the consequence of people collaborating to consume a brand’s products. As is the case often, one of the comments was more insightful than the post. It raised the point that collaboration in consumption actually yields production innovation. Thus, we asked the commenter– Shaun Abrahamson, CEO of Mutopo Colaboratorie– to elaborate.

      ***                                            ***                                             ***

      Author: Shaun Abrahamson (@shaunabe), CEO, Mutopo Colaboratorie

      As a guest poster, some additional disclosure is required because my LinkedIn profile is incomplete. I’d like to add:

      + reviewer at Amazon
      + gas refiller at Zipcar
      + traffic data provider at Google Maps
      + plug-in tester at WordPress
      + opinion offerer at Jovoto
      + classifieds editor at Craigslist
      + A/B headline tester at the Huffingtonpost
      + music popularity statistics reporter at Apple
      + idea spreader at Kickstarter

      I think most LinkedIn profiles have similar omissions. But that is only part of the problem, because I don’t just do work for organizations, but also for friends and family.

      So why it is so important to know who I “work” for or with?

      Of people, value creation, costs and revenues
      All organizations incur costs to make and communicate – to create, design, develop, produce and distribute products or provide services; to generate awareness, evaluation and trials to generate revenues. Of course many of the costs in doing this relate to things like media buying, IT infrastructure, raw materials, rents and the like, but depending on the business a very large percentage of the costs come directly from paying people (i.e., salaries for ALL the jobs to make the organization function).

      So what happens if one of your competitors figures out a way to get some of their work done more cheaply? Fewer people, lower salaries – off shoring and outsourcing over the last 20 years has fundamentally changed developing and developed economies.

      Or, what happens when your competitors are able to attract better talent?

      Most labour conversations tend to focus on full time employment, but there is another important workforce – they are doing the types of tasks we don’t disclose on our LinkedIn profiles. And they are not just working for organizations as we tend to think of them, but for the benefit of their peers.

      Paid vs. earned vs. owned business activities
      Recently Rishad Tobaccowala described among other trends for 2011, paid vs. earned vs. owned media. I’d like to steal this idea and expand it to paid vs. earned vs. owned business activities. Not as catchy, but I’ll keep the explanation short.

      I believe that some of today’s most successful organizations are figuring out how to earn “business activities” that their competitors still pay for. It’s more visible in part because it has become easier to help people help you. Amazon sells more because so many of us choose to write elegant reviews there and Lego benefits from a relentless flood of new product ideas from their community. Zipcar has us refilling gas tanks in the name of sharing and the Huffington Post generates more pageviews when they learn what we like by observing our choices. Groupon gets us to band together into temporary “big organizations”, so we can get discounts previously only available to real big organizations.

      The fundamental change in this collaborative model is that business can create value by “earning” our effort. If you’re looking for inspiration for all the ways in which people can add value, I like the business model canvas or board of innovation (their templates were used to create the diagram above). More specifically, these visual business model tools can be used to quickly highlight the number of ways in which consumers can also be producers, or customers can also be suppliers.

      Beyond roles, these visuals also help outline the different value exchanges: from money and fame to reputation and experiences. The diagram at the start of the post was my attempt to describe the various value exchanges happening around this guest post. It is far from complete, but I hope it shows how “customers” also show up as “suppliers” in exchange for a variety of non-financial currencies. Organizations have many new ways to redefine their relationships with the people formerly known as customers (apologies to Jay Rosen).

      Why this type collaboration matters to marketers
      MIT Center for Collective Intelligence does a great job breaking collaboration down into its DNA – the who, what, why, where and how of collaboration. In Mutopo’s experience on projects like betacup and Life Edited, some of the hard questions have been:

      + why will people participate?
      + what are the right activites and outcomes to focus on?
      + what expertise is required?
      + what can organizations offer in return?
      + how do we quality control?

      I don’t know that this is altogether new for marketers (or for markets). We’ve always had to build teams and find talent, but the scale has changed. Some activities will involve large numbers of people accomplishing tasking in a few minutes or in a few weeks. It will mean much more time evaluating what new outcomes we want, who we want to work with, what they want, what they can do, what we can give them and evaluating how they are doing.

      Finding talent may feel like human resources’ responsibility, but this is a critical role for marketing. Not only because it can touch current or prospective customers, but because it is another way to create value for the organization beyond driving sales through a funnel. And these collaborations can build on exactly the relationships brands aspire to build anyway. Now they have the additional benefit of greatly expanding the reasons for conversation, as well as the types of conversations we can have. After all, it’s quite engaging to discuss what we can accomplish together.

    • Think While You Make, Make While You Think

      14th January 11

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in People, process

      “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
      ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up (1936)

      Photo: Balance, by LN

      At the end of last year, I briefly questioned our fascination with making things. For some reason, I was feeling uneasy. A flurry of conversation on Twitter ensued and later our friend @willsh followed up with a post of his own reflecting anew on the topic.

      Just so we’re clear, we’re big advocates of making and experimenting, not just talking or thinking. And if we’re even half-coping with the maelstrom of change out there, it’s because we’re getting comfortable with the idea of perpetual learning. That may sound hideously exhausting, but it’s responsible for keeping us sane: it’s a blessed relief when you realise your job is to act on patterns and opportunities as they warp and wend around you, instead of sending yourself quietly mad searching for a linear, tried and tested path to knowledge.

      And yet.. we need to stop and draw breath from time to time. There are a few reasons for this, some of which, sure, we’re all familiar with:

      Read full post
    • The answer to this Quora? No.

      10th January 11

      Posted by Saneel Radia

      Posted in Rants

      The question-and-answer site Quora is a big deal. It has some powerful supporters, with early content posted by a diverse group of digerati from Steve Case to Robert Scoble. It’s the talk of the media (see Google Trend of the word Quora).  There are weekly articles on how Quora will be bigger than Twitter.

      So, I guess it was inevitable that I’d hate it. To clarify, it’s not that I don’t like Quora. It’s that I hate it and want it wiped off the face of the earth. In a missionary effort to reach those few that are yet to form an opinion on this site equivalent of an Uwe Boll movie, I offer the following 3 reasons to resist boarding this bandwagon.

      It’s spam.

      This site diabolically infects those with the largest spam potential. I guess when a site is launched by the former head of Facebook Connect, it’s inevitable. By launching after Facebook established critical mass and Twitter became a big deal, Quora made a splash in the saturated question-and-answer site category. So, giving people the opportunity to be in the spotlight with their answer to an already-answered question is an ingenious way to drive audience and usage by appealing to ego. And I don’t even mind ego-stroking. I just don’t want to be repeatedly spammed across my various feeds as people whose content I otherwise love and trust fall victim to name-in-lights syndrome. Then again, if I could convince people I invented tape, it might be worth it….

      There are dozens of Quoras about what Quora is.

      OK, so maybe #Twitter was a trending topic on Twitter the first 6 months. But those conversations were focused primarily on usage and innovation with the platform. The Quora self-referential conversations are literally people scratching their heads looking for value. There’s no better sign that the emperor has no clothes people. But until we admit it, we’ll just keep tweeting how awesome he looks in that special toga (author’s note: this has nothing to do with how awesome I think the hashtag #emperorsclothes would be, promise).

      Quora is attempting to differentiate itself via answer quality.

      This is defended through its use of Facebook Connect (real people!) and an interest graph (curated topics!). Here’s the thing about quality: it’s inversely related to scale on the web. Generally, users or an algorithm are required to remove the noise. Last I looked, countless services already do this. They go by ticker symbols like GOOG, have David Fincher movies made about them, or add a new user every second (most of whom request a professional recommendation after a single meeting together).

      So, let’s sit this Quora thing out. We were able to resist Google Wave and Ping. Let’s make it three in a row that we tried and let pass quietly. This isn’t to say I don’t respect the effort or experimentation of any company trying something new (Google & Apple are incredible at innovation investment). In Quora’s case, I just think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it via my newsfeed.

      Now world, if you’re not on board, pretty please give me a heads-up that I’m taking on a lost cause.

      Then I can start a new Quora-related Quora: “How can I get a job at Quora?”

      {Update: I’ve agreed to write a follow-up post to either eat my words or discuss what I got right after some, ahem, encouragement from readers. So keep an eye out!}

      {Update #2: We asked Leslie Barry to elaborate on his comment below and he’s posted a rebuttal, explaining the unique value of Quora I’ve neglected in the post above.}

    • Advertising, mobile, the fall of capitalism and slankets.

      7th January 11

      Posted by Mel Exon

      Posted in Events, mobile

      Author: Peter Sells (@sellsy), Head of Mobile, BBH London

      http://www.vimeo.com/18528044

      It’s normally an absolute pleasure to speak to your peers about a topic of your choosing. A pleasure that turns to butt clenching FEAR when your know your peers are going to JUDGE you, in a contest against other speakers who are funnier and cleverer than you will ever be.

      The Battle of Big Thinking event format focuses the mind then, but perhaps not necessarily on the big thoughts.  For, as the review contends, this year there was a heavy emphasis on execution and perhaps less on the idea.

      Mine obviously was the exception…