+1 on +1

Okay so it’s not as mass market as the Like button is, but Google’s attempt to embrace social interactions is a better start than people are giving them credit for.

I agree with Louis, this is a hint at a future rather than a capability they are ready to lead with today.

Google can use this to amass very quickly a significant amount of affiliation data which then can be used to prime the pump for their own developers as well as third parties who have aspirations for how to use it. Google seems to have learned from past failures, instead of throwing the long ball they are embracing accepted conventions and creating conditions that support future development.

I could jump on the bandwagon critique their effort as thinking small, very me-too, and destined for failure in the absence of a compelling social strategy… but I’m going to give them a little latitude and watch what comes of the +1 data they will accumulate.

Lastly, the branding of +1 is both smart and stupid at the same time, smart because it’s catchy and already has achieved verb status in certain circles, but it’s stupid because it’s very geeky which makes it less approachable for the mass market. This is the one aspect of their launch I really don’t like, I would expect a company like Google to be able to come up with something a lot better than this.

Who Owns That?

I had an interesting conversation with a senior executive from a large enterprise (in the Global 50) who was expressing frustration with the pace of innovation when it comes to implementing social business in his company. It’s not that they were not doing anything but rather that the act of getting social technologies adopted always seems to run into one large obstacle, who owns it.

This is a problem for a lot of social technologies because in some cases the ownership is truly collective, it’s not a system that gets locked down and controlled by one business unit.

It’s like asking “who owns the logo?”. There is going to be one organization that oversees the company trademarks and another that manages the creative application while another is concerned with the attributes, both real and abstract, associated with it, but in the final equation there is a collective effort behind branding. Social is a lot like this, it’s not a technical system but rather a collective system of tactics and values that drive it.

This is kind of a problem because marketing organizations have been fighting for control of social technologies yet marketing applications for social have been the least interesting. If customer service is really a highly evolved form of marketing then does it not make sense to evolve marketing competencies in customer focused business units?

Customer service organizations are also predisposed to working with other groups in a company, if nothing else it is an essential capability for customer service teams, yet marketing organizations often exist in isolation. The collaborative aspect of social business goes right to the core and having an inherently collaborative system will not in itself make an organization more collaborative as a result if the core DNA isn’t there.

I’m at the Gartner 360 CRM event this week and this is one of the big themes that is being discussed, and if Gartner is right about social being the single most significant cultural trend that companies will confront in the years ahead then the organizational issues that contribute to success or failure online will certainly be a focal point.


Mountain Lion Shot Dead

The animal, weighing 100 to 150 pounds, was first spotted on the busy street near Sequoia Hospital at 8:19 a.m., officials said. Authorities put out auto-calls to 600 homes asking residents to evacuate or shelter in place, then conducted a house-to-house search before finding the big cat.]

Mountain Lion Shot Dead

While not PC, all I can say is thank goodness. This is not from my house and not only is there a hospital here but a school is just around the corner. We’ve had an increasing number of mountain lion warnings in the last year, I was hoping that with all the rain we have had that the wildlife would retreat.

I’m tired of hearing “they were here first”, that could be said of a lot of things but it doesn’t change the fact that these are very dangerous animals when placed in proximity to people.

This part of Redwood City has had dense housing for over 60 years, nothing good will come of mountain lions wandering the streets… for them or us. There is an overwhelming amount of open space on Edgewood Road right on up to the watershed (which is closed off to people access), they can stay in their area and we’ll stay in ours.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/03/29/BAD61ILPP1.DTL#ixzz1I34GGXrM

And Doggonit, People Like Me!

We have been using Rah Feedback for a while now and by way of feedback… I’m not liking it.

Rah is a lightweight feedback tool that your colleagues can use to evaluate you on a number of dimensions. This is, IMO, the problem… it’s lightweight, which means it is entirely measuring how someone feels about you rather than measuring aspects of your performance relative to personal and shared objectives.

For example, someone wrote about me:

“Jeff often steamrolls people with his ideas, whether they are good or bad.”

Damn right.

The problem with this review is that it focused on feedback that is entirely personal and not tied to a defined business objective. If my MBO is to execute on a portfolio of projects in an efficient manner with little latency and with positive outcomes… then irrespective of the color commentary above, I may have succeeded. If my MBO is to do so in a manner that makes people feel fill-in-the-blank emotion, then maybe I did not succeed. In either case it’s hard to know, there is no context on the above statement.

Another problem with Rah is that feedback of this nature is entirely in the moment, as in people’s responses about how they feel about you are entirely based on recent experiences. As everyone intuitively knows, not every interaction with a colleague will result in sunshine and rainbows, and as such it is both unfair and unproductive to measure someone on their most recent interactions with you.

Rah’s attempt to provide a lightweight non-process oriented solution to a requirement that is neither lightweight nor ad-hoc is precisely why the solution doesn’t work for me. I also accept that part of the problem for me is that I’m not preoccupied with how people feel about me at this level, what I strive for is respect for my capabilities and ability to affect positive outcomes for the company, which then will benefit the entire team.


The Crowdsourcing Sweatshop, Not Really

There is a lot going on in this review of the a SXSW session on the “dark side of social media” and the participants are raising really interesting points of view, but I want to focus in on one particular passage:

In many cases, companies have persuaded people to complete simple tasks for no pay at all, instead offering recognition within the volunteer community or points in the guise of a game. Mr. Zittrain called it “a wonderful Tom Sawyer syndrome.”

Crowdsourcing is not the virtual equivalent of a sweatshop. In fact, the notion is so preposterous that I find it difficult to argue against the point without resorting to just calling it preposterous. Ooops, I did it.

Here’s the difference, no one who is benefiting from the effects of crowdsourcing initiatives is achieving those benefits from forcible coercion and exploitation. Crowdsourcing initiatives don’t impose demands on the participant and at any time the person contributing can simply stop without consequences. This was the case with me and Foursquare, I stopped checking in.

I do believe that one of the challenges that any group who is initiating a crowdsourcing project has is finding the right mix of incentives and rewards that create a sense of fairness for company and consumer alike. Badges alone are not enough, actual rewards go a long way to creating sustainable equity and companies would be well advised to consider this in advance.


Man Bites Dog, Unintended Consequences From Bad Laws

Gossett is one of many San Mateo County landowners facing the unenviable possibility that just living on his land is about to get more expensive. The county is looking at non-renewing Williamson Act contracts for some 128 privately owned parcels currently incorporating small-scale agriculture and wildland areas like Gossett’s. The non-renewal process takes nine years, over which the county could gradually increase owners’ property taxes. County staff say the 128 parcels are out of compliance with the Williamson Act. But others say it’s possible the state’s ongoing budget crisis has caused Sacramento to put pressure on counties to tighten their interpretation of the law’s vague language. And the state itself may stop funding the act, which would threaten open space and cause problems for agricultural businesses across California.

128 San Mateo County Landowners Must Farm Natural Land or Pay Higher Taxes

There’s another way to look at this, which is that landowners who are getting a discount on their tax liability are creating a burden for everyone else to shoulder.

This is what happens when every program that appeals to our human interests becomes untouchable irrespective of the financial impact. If we were talking about a property tax break for an oil refinery or a Walmart then the sentiment would be dramatically different, even thought we are actually talking about exactly the same tax principle… if someone is getting a break, who is paying for it?

The amount of money that is involved with these 128 properties seems relatively small compared to the overall state budget, but when you add up this program with literally hundreds of others, well pretty soon the numbers are not that small anymore.

If these laws when strictly interpreted are creating an unreasonable burden, the problem then is not the enforcement action, it’s the way the law itself is written and that is what should be changed. This is precisely what is so wrong with the regulatory environment in California, very little is done to correct what is known to be wrong.

The case of San Francisco and Twitter is a great example, the Mayor says that the law empowering the city to tax stock options has never been enforced and he “can’t imagine a scenario where it would be enforced”… then why have the law at all!

San Francisco would rather retain a law that has not nor will be enforced and risk losing the jobs that Twitter creates, rather than just erasing a bad law from the books and removing the uncertainty for all businesses.

Starbucks and Peet’s, Together Again?

The fascinating history of Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee is on display today as the rumor mill has it that Starbucks is set to acquire the iconic coffee roaster.

The original founders of Starbucks acquired Peet’s in 1984 and subsequently sold Starbucks to Howard Schultz’s company, Il Giornale, in 1987. What is interesting is that Schultz started Il Giornale the year before after leaving Starbucks as a consequence of a disagreement about strategy.

This isn’t to suggest that Peet’s has somehow been in the shadow of Starbucks, in fact the stock has outperformed Starbucks in recent years as a result of the lackluster performance that Starbucks delivered as a result of their over-expansion. However, the fact remains that Starbucks is a far larger company and taking over Peet’s would close a chapter on some extended history in the world of premium coffee.

Trickle Down

We have been having the hardwood floors in our house refinished this week and it’s a great lesson in deflationary economics.

Just 2 years ago I would have had to beg a flooring contractor to come and just give me a quote for my floors because it’s not a big job and they prefer to work on new installations where they make money on the material and the labor. In a bout of frustration I would have called one of the many Chinese shops up in South San Francisco or Brisbane that do this work and they would have done it cheaper than the local contractors but the quality of the work would be a roll of the dice.

In all fairness, we used a Chinese crew for the granite countertops in our kitchen and they did a fantastic job and were 1/2 of the cost of local sources. This isn’t a story about how waves of Asian contractors are putting price pressure on local businesses… quite the opposite actually.

The flooring contractor I’m going with is from Redding, a fact I learned after talking with him at length one day (he does have a 650 area code for a cell phone, so I just assumed). He shared with me that the Redding construction market for new and remodel work basically evaporated in the housing meltdown and he has been forced to come down to the Bay Area to make a living.

I’ve heard this from friends who are local contractors, the market has been inundated with contractors from the Sacramento and (real) Northern California areas. I’ve watched local contractors suddenly being enthusiastic about bidding on our projects and the costs for doing this work declining precipitously  and that is a function of the fierce competition that the market currently has.

I have some other friends who own local businesses that cater to the construction trades (my family used to be in the commercial construction business, now retired) and they tell me that everyone they deal with is sensitive to prices now and this is putting pressure on their margins because the number of businesses that exist to serve the building trades industry far outstrips the demand that is currently being experienced.

I am not an expert in economics but I do have strong respect for Occam’s Razor and the powers of simple observation. When you combine anemic job creation with pricing pressure and rising energy costs (and food prices), well the forecast isn’t positive. We’re in new territory with politicians and bureaucrats telling us that the economy is improving but I’m not seeing a lot of people, regular people, who believe it and they are voting with their wallets.

Retargeting Ad Campaigns

I read that RadiumOne raised more money at a valuation rumored to be $200m. I can see that.

Retargeting is very popular and for good reason, it works. You have seen this in action, you go to a website and then the display ads seem to follow you in subsequent unrelated websites that you click on. What is happening is that the first site uses a retargeting script provided by an ad network partner and that script drops a cookie on your computer through a pixel, which then triggers the display ads to show up for, usually, 5 or 6 more impressions.

At Get Satisfaction we do not buy vanilla display ads, search keywords, or pay for placement of content. Everything we do is organic with one exception, we run a persistent retargeting campaign through Retargeter.com.

The reason I do this is that I see the results in click-to-paid conversions. Using a “burn script” in my shopping cart I connect site visitors who enter my trial account process with those who click on external display ads served by Retargeter so each month I can calculate the cost per customer acquisition on my ad spend. The stats I get for impressions, clicks, and conversions easily justifies running the campaign for another month and that is exactly what I have been doing for going on 6 months now.

I pay attention to display ads served by companies now and it’s really pretty surprising to me how many companies are, apparently, also running retargeting campaigns.