понеделник, 1 декември 2008 г.

Sing it with me now: The more we get together, the happier we'll be.

I have a confession to make. There are some things in life I don't understand. I don't understand how Lindsay Lohan can still be considered relevant. I don't understand why people like Grey's Anatomy. And I really don't understand how people can look at Amy Winehouse and not want to curl up into the fetal position and cry. Alas, I digress. That being said, I would like to discuss with you today the concept of customer evangelists. We have learned about this concept and read about it extensively recently and every time we bring it up I just find it really hard to imagine someone spending all their free time promoting a product for FREE. It is beyond me how someone could truly love the carbonated beverage Vault so much that they actually made a website for it, much less the top Google ranked page. Regardless, whether I understand it or not, I still find it fascinating that these people exist. That is why we shall take a closer look at them.

From a public relations standpoint it's almost like finding the holy grail. You have a product/service/good/thing/etc. you need to promote, and you know its the best one on the market. You need publicity and press for it, but you also know the best type of advertising is word of mouth. You want to get your point across, but you don't want to spend a lot of money, because you're client is cheap (naaaaaahhh j/k, but they could be, who knows). Well now, you don't have to spend a dime, because customer evangelists are taking the reigns of how a product is being promoted. Now all of a sudden, your client is receiving publicity and press from a consumer who not only consumers your product but loves it enough they want to tell the whole world about how much they love it WITHOUT GETTING PAID.

To me the best part of customer evangelists is what happens when they start to network and interact with each other. With the advent of the internet people who were once secluded to the social groups within their local community can now be instantly connected to an unlimited amount of individuals who have the same likes/dislikes, loves/hates, interests/disinterests. When several of these customer evangelists connect they can create a form of brand loyalty that is truly extraordinary.

Now, let it be known that I never intended for this blog to become solely about Apple products, rather it just seems that when I wait till Sunday about what I'm going to write about it turns out that they always provide a very applicable example to our class's lectures and readings. So as I was lurking about the internet like Darkwing Duck did in the night, I came across a clip for an upcoming documentary called MacHeads. It is a film that centers around the community of customer evangelists that ascribe themselves to all things Apple. Now, to say these people are evangelists is a gross understatement. These people are a consumer cult, but without the space comet, red kool-aid, and mass suicide stuff. This community has grown over the years not only in size but also in the amount of zeal they hold for this company. It goes to show that if a company can bring people together and get them excited about their products, well the evangelists will go tell it on the mountain and make sure to bring more and more people together into their community, thus providing more and more sales. And after all, the more we get together, the happier we'll be.

I Spy With My Eye...Everything About Your Internet Life

Here in America, we love our privacy. In fact, we value it so much back in the day we made an amendment to our constitution to make sure British soldiers (or lobsterbacks as I like to say) couldn't come into our houses and do as they please, i.e. drink tea, eat crumpets, say something about the Queen. This fundamental notion of privacy is a large part of our culture; the idea that our property and lives should be kept private and be respected. We have confidential files, authorities must obtain search warrants before entering our house, we have passwords for virtually everything, and the list goes on and on. However, it seems that with the rise and proliferation of the internet our sacred right to privacy has been slowly chipped away piece by piece. Therefore, it is high time we examine this conundrum!

Back when the internet first began to rise in popularity (remember when everyone had American Online?), there wasn't too much to worry about. Dial-up access was costly, intolerably slow, and limited the time and speed of our connectivity to the very limited virtual network that existed. But now, with the rise and dominance of broadband internet connections, it is easier and more affordable for users to constantly be connected to the internet. For example, people now pay their bills exclusively online. They set their bank accounts to be automatically connected to their bill collectors, so that money is withdrawn from them as soon as the bill is released. With iPhones and other mobile phone devices we can instantly be connected to the internet at any point in time. With applications like SnapMyLife, you can take a picture, instantly upload it on their social network and have friends and peers comment on it, within seconds of taking a picture! It seems the more technology is produced, the closer our lives become integrated entangled within this interweb.

This is not a bad thing. With greater connectivity we have learned we can do amazing things through public relations, advertising, charity outreach, blah blah blah etc. But what has happened to our beloved privacy? That bill you paid with your online account setup, most assuredly had your bank account number saved in the annals of the internet, most likely with your social security number. An easy goldmine for a hacker with minimal skills! The photos you took on your iPhone of you chuggin Zimas with Hannah Montana is available for the world to see, and since you're most assuredly under 21, now you're parents, teachers, coaches, and preachers all know you are a very young alcoholic. Yes, now we can be connected within a moment's notice, but what we fail to recognize at times is that very fact, WE ARE CONNECTED. When you post to the internet, you have now entered the public sphere, an its practically public domain. Privacy is not really a counterpart of connectivity. It stands in the way of full networking and integration. How many of us enjoy firewalls, member's only websites, or facebook profiles of our ex's that are set only to private? It seems to be a full member of this online network, one must give up a large portion of their anonymity to fully participate in the evergrowing online network.

But what if I told you, this was no longer so? What if someone created a social network that allowed you to post pictures of all your frat party keggers, upload as many videos of you 'cranking dat Soulja Boy' dance, and you never had to worry about an employer, stalker, or the worst of both of these an "employer stalker" (I don't know if those exist, but imagine if they did!) browsing upon your private life. In fact, it is truly the best of both worlds. A social network with connectivity that is determined solely by you. But, alas, no one has made such a thing right? WRONG.

I would like to introduce to you MOLI. Designed by financial transaction veterans who understand the need for secure transactions, MOLI's members, consisting of enterprising individuals, groups and small businesses, can control their privacy by managing multiple profiles in one account. Members can then segment their social, business and family relationships as well as attain more control using three levels of permission - public, private and hidden - to determine who can and cannot access their profile information. In addition, members can add low-cost, online store capabilities to sell their products and services within the global community. MOLI membership is free as are most of the interactive tools. It allows for a user to be connected and still be private. And from a public relations stand point it is also a win. For advertisers, the appeal of professionally created content in specific channels provides a higher degree of confidence that their message will reside within an appropriate context for their brand. Privacy + networking = Awesome.

You probably are familiar with the Andy Warhol quote about how in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes. Well, we know with the internet, it has become increasingly easier to become a "celebrity".
And it seems far too many people are willing to forgo privacy just to achieve the status of "celebrity". But I feel renowned and infamous artist Banksy is more correct in his quote, "I think Andy Warhol got it wrong: in the future, so many people are going to become famous that one day everybody will end up being anonymous for 15 minutes." Instead of asking ourselves what is the price of fame, we must ask ourselves "how much will we be willing to pay for anonymity?"

Believe the Hype...machine

Okay, okay, okay I know you're saying, "Wait a second, didn't a few posts ago didn't this very man tell us to rage against the hype machine? Now, you're encouraging it?!?!?" Allow me to explain myself and this rather erroneous contradiction.

Not too long ago, in fact less than two weeks ago, I explicated in blog form how bands these days can get famous just from internet hype, especially through the use of blog promotion. The message I was trying to convey is we need to be careful that these bands that do receive hype, fame, and money deserve said rewards. But how do we find these bands? With so many sites that allow users to upload music to their server space, there is an increasing influx of BAD music. I mean a twelve year old can record his ripping cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" complete with prepubescent vocals and horrible tuning, and within minutes have it streaming on Myspace, Youtube, or Purevolume. And most assuredly following that we will be bombarded with bulletins informing us that he has just posted a new song and that it sounds really "tight". So how do we sift through the muck and mire that is being forced upon us. Well thats where we turn to the Hype Machine.

The Hype Machine is a website that tracks and follows music blog discussions. Every day, thousands of people around the world write about music they love — and it all ends up on their site. Imagine the site as a giant music magnet, attracting all songs and artists that are blogged about in the junkyard (in this case the internet). The songs and artists that are the most metallic (no not the most Metallica, that's different) i.e. most popular or talked about, stick to the magnet and are posted onto the sites front page. Instead of scouring the internet like a wandering traveler in the desert, desperate for water, the Hype Machine finds them for you and you can pick and choose as you please.

Here's how it works:
  • "The Hype Machine tracks a variety of MP3 blogs. If a post contains MP3 links, it adds those links to its database and displays them on the front page.
  • Some of the frequently accessed tracks are cached by the Hype Machine server, much like Google Search caches web pages, to reduce load on the bloggers' servers and protect their bandwidth.
  • Those tracks are NOT available for download, but you can preview them via the play buttons that are next to each track.The blog that posted a particular track is identified under every track by name so you can read more about why they posted it. If you enjoyed a track someone posted, stop by and let them know!
  • You can purchase CDs and individual tracks by using the "amazon" and "itunes" links that appear next to most tracks. Each purchase you make via the Amazon and iTunes links supports both the artists and the Hype Machine. Please buy and enjoy." www.hypem.com
This is a huge breakthrough in online music because not only does it try to give artists exposure without letting people steal their music, it allows users to connect to one another's blogs, playlists, and user profile pages to learn more about other things they might like. Also, it encourages users to interact with actual blogs. For instance, if you are in a band, or are a huge fan of one, you can submit music to one of the blogs the Hype Machine collects from. If the blog likes what you send, they'll post it and so will Hype Machine, thus allowing for a lot of exposure to a strong, socially networked audience.

So, I apologize for previously stating that we should merely rage against the hype machine as if it were some terrible monster from the hillside. The truth is we truly do control the machine and technology can always be used for the betterment of everyone. The Hype Machine allows true fans of music to spread the word about music they love and also allows us to no longer be reliant on radio, MTV, or Rolling Stone to tell us what is cool. So I encourage everybody to go to the site, check it out, listen to some music, hate it, love it, praise it, diss it, turn it up, turn it down its all up to you. As I said earlier there is a lot of music floating around there on the interweb, so the question is "who has the power to spread it?" Well, in the words of our hero Captain Planet, THE POWER IS YOURS!

Quite Possibly the Dumbest Idea Ever

Ok, so I can be a little critical of everything in this blog, but hey that's my job. I am after all a New Influencer right? Well as I will milling about the internet I checked my RSS to Tech Crunch's blog. And the story that caught my eye first, turned out to be the dumbest thing I believe I have ever seen.

Apparently, in this world there is a website called Juicy Campus. If you are wondering what this website is, well look no further than the title. In essence it is a blog for individual universities. But instead of a blog that talks about say... interesting classes or opportunities it is a place to post gossip and rumors. That's right. A virtual water cooler. Most of the posts range from who is the biggest "whore" on campus, or who is the hottest professor. It is truly one of the lamest things I have ever seen, and trust me I've seen a lot of lame things. I'm all for the idea of social medias that bring people together and help us connect in ways that have never existed before, but do we really need this?

It seems the creator of the website is starting to feel some heat about the whole issue. People who feel that have been slandered or defamed on the website are threatening legal action against him and the site. The interesting part is the whole concept of transparency. The site is very insistent on maintaining 100% anonymity for anyone who posts or replies. It is part of the whole appeal of the site that you literally can say anything about everything and never have to be responsible for it.

In a recent blog post the creator of the site posted this statement: "Some of the things that have been posted have been mean-spirited, and we have received emails from people claiming to have been defamed on the site,” and adds “We want you to make JuicyCampus juicy, not hateful.” Yes, indeed, to be juicy is always a much better alternative to being mean-spirited.

As social media ingrains itself deeper and deeper into our daily lives it is more and more often that we are losing a lot of our anonymity and transparency. A site like Juicy Campus has an interesting concept by offering and securing these attributes, but at what expense, defamation of other individuals? I think I'm going to monitor how long this site sticks around, because I don't think that will be very long. Oh and it's probably time for that creator to get a lawyer.

Whatever happened to the "Personal" in Personal Computers?

Have you ever seen the movie Antitrust starring Ryan Phillippe? Probably not, but that's okay, it's not that great of a movie, so I'll go ahead and you give a plot synopsis from IMDB: "A computer programmer's dream job at a hot Portland-based technology firm turns nightmarish when he discovers his boss has a secret and ruthless means of dispatching anti-trust problems." Now, I don't remember exactly why I saw the film, but I do remember quickly realizing that this movie was an poorly guised allegory for the antitrust problems Microsoft was a part of in the 1990's. The company was based in Portland instead of Seattle, the CEO's name was Gill Bates instead of Bill Gates (not really but it might as well should of been) so on and etc. But the funny thing is even in 9th grade I was able to recognize this parallel and was not surprised or dumbfounded. When I left the movie theater I recall saying to my friend, "Man I bet Microsoft DOES kill whistleblowers in their company." This was also quickly followed by, "Did you call your mom to pick us up?"

Anyways, after reading Chapter 7 in the New Influencers I couldn't help but be reminded of the horrible acting and screenwriting that was present in Antitrust, and I became really intrigued about how Microsoft tried to humanize themselves. Robert Scoble's Blogger's Manifesto is truly something every company should ascribe to. My generation has grown up in a reality with Enron, MCI Worldcom, and Microsoft. The idea that corporations are somehow looking out for the best interest's of consumers is laughable, and the notion that they are even more concerned about the welfare of their competitors is even a better joke. While the book goes to say that the humanization of Microsoft was a success is something that I can't really agree with.

Due to my own personal experience I will try as hard as humanly possible to never own a computer that runs on a Microsoft operating system again. Their recent blunder with Windows Vista is further proof to me that they really haven't listened to what the blogosphere or consumers are telling them. Furthermore, I don't feel that they are any more "human" than they have ever been, and still are much like the monolithic giant IBM (rember Big Blue?)was back in their heyday. The question I have is, has Microsoft really read the blogger's manifesto?

The point is you can only be on top of the mountain for so long. While Apple continues to put more and more innovative products, made with better quality, better technical support, at reasonable prices they also continue to build a strong consumer based community and humanize themselves with honest, personal communication from the man himself, Steve Jobs. Although, it is obvious Microsoft based systems dominate the market share of all personal computers, a crack in the dam will eventually break free, and if the New York Giants can beat the New England Patriots; who knows, in a couple decades down the road we might see Antitrust II starring Justin Long showing how Apple was able to eliminate the competition.
I personally feel corporate transparency is essential in this day's market to remain a vital, relevant, and successful company, just make sure whatever is revealed is something worth seeing.

Rage Against the Hype Machine

It is no mystery that Myspace has quickly become the most successful networking website in the galaxy. In fact, to not know instantly what that word means would suggest you have been living under the proverbial rock, or live in a area where there is no internet connection (which could coincidentally actually be under a rock). As Paul Gillin, author of the critically acclaimed book The New Influencers, suggests the rise and prominence of such a site must be acknowledged as a very important catalyst to the evolution of social media. And of course for every cause there must be an effect, which is where this long winded introduction is leading. Humor me, and follow along if you can.

According to a press release on July 12, 2007 by the corporate equivalent of Godzilla, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation stated that, "MySpace is outperforming all other social networking sites according to multiple metrics. America’s leading and most trafficked website has crossed the 70 million active monthly unique user mark in the United States, meaning that nearly one in four Americans used MySpace last month, according to newly released data from comScore MediaMetrix." To fully comprehend that statistic consider this fact released by the Associated Press: 1 in 4 Americans did not read a book throughout the entire YEAR of 2006, but apparently during a given month they found the time to check to see if they had received any friend requests. As Gillin notes, with such a wide audience, messages, information, and media are being transferred at epic rates through the lovely interface Myspace has to offer (note sarcasm).

The fact that any type of social media has been able to grow as rapidly as Myspace has is a testament to the power of Web 2.o. But as Peter Parker's late uncle Ben so famously said, with great power, comes great responsibility. And unfortunately the hype machine does not necessarily yield to this maxim and can often use its powers for good instead of evil. Now, as with most issues the line between good and evil, often depends on which side you are standing on, but for me I feel I must complain.

Consider the beloved blog band Black Kids. All within a short period of time in 2007, they managed to sign a management deal with the same team that represents Bjork and Arcade Fire. They played at the CMJ Music Marathon garnering press from the New York Times and USA Today. They received a favorable review from Pitchfork.com (an accomplishment in itself) and were awarded a best new music commendation. And to add the icing to the cake, they were nominated as one of the ten best new bands for 2008 by Rolling Stone. All of these accomplishments are impressive for any bands resume, especially for a band that did not even release an album.

Wait, I'll type that statement again: THEY DID NOT RELEASE AN ALBUM IN 2007.

So how, might a band, that is barely a band by definition, garner so much attention you might ask? Well leave it to nothing other than the behemoth that is Myspace. By release an electronic 4 song demo for free download on Myspace, Black Kids were able to get the hype machine rolling. A few downloads leads to a few blog posts, not unlike the very post you are reading. From there, a few posts can get social bookmarked through a variety of sites such as Del.icio.us, Digg, or Furl. From there people who don't even have a Myspace account have now heard of the band, and can instantly get on the super information highway and download 4 songs of demo quality. Someone might have even paid to see the band at the CMJ showcase and added a low quality cell phone movie of the band performing live. Add some much needed hype by Pitchfork and a few web-zines, and you are looking at the poster band for the Web 2.0 revolution. A band so popular they didn't even have to press a single copy of their music to be successful. (or if that example doesn't puzzle you enough, think about Tila Tequila)

The point: The rapid fire rate that Myspace is growing at means a lot of things for public relations. For instance, the above mentioned band didn't even need to pay for a publicist. All they had to do was sign up for a free account on Myspace. Movies can pay to advertise on the homepage of Myspace instantly guaranteeing them the fact within a month 1 in 4 Americans will see the title and release date of their upcoming project (and most assuredly an annoying clip that I will have to frantically race to mute by clicking on it). Messages, ideas, bands, photos, videos, news, and friend requests are being trafficked by the truck load, eating up mountains of bandwith through this site and that is more than any form of social media can say they are accomplishing. The beauty of Web 2.0 is that the everday internet browser is no longer subject to what he/she is presented. We control the airwaves, we turn the cogs on the hype machine, we decide what is relevant. The responsibility to make sure the right ideas, the ethical messages, and the noteworthy news/bands/videos are the ones that are broadcasted, is ours and ours alone. But which ones are those?

Well, that just depends on what side of the line you are standing on.

Music and Social Media Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly

Let me start with a disclaimer by stating that the social media website I am about to blog about, is currently employing me, but with that being said, this is a really sweet site.

Social media has greatly affected the history of music. In the beginning of Napster (remember Napster?) days, bands and music started to be spread faster, further, and free-er than ever before. A small unsigned band in New Jersey could travel across the country for the first time to a city in California and have people who already know their songs because of peer to peer networks. Now, the effects of this have been good and bad. It is easier and easier for bands to get recognition and noticed these days, but record sales have continued to decline to an all time low. But I think overall the internet has opened more doors, and done more positive things for music than negative things. Bands like Panic at the Disco have gotten signed before even playing a show by posting music on Purevolume.com!

"So what?" you say, "I knew about Arcade Fire before they played their first song." This may be true, in fact many people know about bands before they get big believe it or not. But until now there has been little one can do in order to tell people about a particular band and help them out with publicity. But now, there is a new website called Stereofame which allows not only bands to benefit from the internet, but also fans to benefit from finding awesome music. Stereofame is like a game, it has points, rules, and prizes, but unlike most BORING games like chinese checkers and Chutes and Ladders, Stereofame combines music and social media into an exciting new experiment.

Here's how it works:
If you're an artist, it's all about your music and your reputation. If the fans are loving your music, then you deserve to get some respect in the form of promotion on the website, some sweet merch, and even opportunities to work with professional producers in a legit studio.

If you're a fan, it's all about your passion and your good taste. If you have a knack for knowing which band is going to be next year's Vampire Weekend, then you deserve props for helping to discover them. Once you've earned your cred, Stereofame will promote your choices on the site and give you gift certificates for free downloads and merch from your favorite places.

Stereofame just launched last weekend so it still has a few bugs here and there, but its really easy to sign up. Check it out, tell me what you think, what's cool about it, what sucks about it, and go make some bands big!

As If Facebook Didn't Connect Us Enough

Facebook has come a long way since its humble inception. I remember when people here at St. Edward's (myself included) were quite irate that we weren't an official Facebook school. This was way back in 2004, when really only major universities were on the Facebook network. Flash forward to nearly four years later, and its hard to imagine a network Facebook hasn't invaded. Practically every school in America is included, most major metropolitan areas, and I'm sure people on the moon could have an account if they reeeaaallly wanted one. We have pokes, Super pokes, pokes that rent us Blockbuster movies, and we can see updates to when our friends brush their teeth. So the next logical step in Facebook's digital takeover was a logical one: chat.

Chat? Really? That was the best they could do? I had that idea about three years ago. Now, my digital generation is a little different than the one that is constantly importing Soulja Boy videos like nobody's business. We grew up on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). I remember the days of signing on for hours and hours as I thought of clever quotes to add to my profile, while at the same time changing my away message to show what song I was currently listening to. And of course there was blocking, chat rooms, program bots and a slew of other ridiculously stupid functions that I wasted most of my teenager years on. We didn't have Facebook, we didn't have Myspace, hell, hardly any of us even had broadband connections! (I shake my fist at you 56k!) But regardless of how basic these internet connections were, it fostered an interesting community of social media. It was a way to connect to people that we had never experienced. It was new, it was refreshing, it made talking on the phone useless.

Now recently I watched an interview with the creator of Mark Zuckerberg from when he was here in town a SXSW. Over and over throughout the long and arduous conversation, he emphasized how his goal for Facebook is to just help people communicate better and more efficiently. This is a pretty good goal, especially as a communication majors we probably all are reaching for the goal. But, I have to question how adding a basic chat function is progression at all?

Don't get me wrong I'm sure it is a nifty function to add, and is definitely more useful than buying a "virtual egg" for your friend, but I expect more from Facebook. They have been growing faster than probably 99% of all internet companies since their inception. They have the entire social media blogosphere watching their every move, and the best they can offer us is...chat. Mind you, while you're chatting it will tell you if you get poked during mid-chat.

Facebook's reign atop the social media mountain will only last as long as they continue to innovate. If Zuckerberg is sincere in wanting to progress communication, he's going to have to try harder, think more outside the box. If he doesn't, users will not wait for him to catch up. It is not out of the realm of possibilities for Facebook to slowly go the way of the buffalo and end up like the long last Friendster.