Sunday, August 26, 2007

When online user communities aren't all that they seem...

This week saw the news that an enterprising young man called Virgil Griffiths has written a piece of software called Wikiscanner which tracks the source of edits made to Wikipedia entries. The site has drawn a lot of attention and lists some interesting results.

According to the information provided by the software on the "most sites" the Australian government has been very active, with the Australian Department of defence appearing at the top of the list. The non-government domains list doesn't provide much clarity, since many of the originating domain addresses resolve to the ISP who hosts them and these numbers will, of course, include private citizens who make changes to the entries. Trawl through the lists though and you will see some interesting corporate names pop up...

Others have covered the commentary about the motivations of these organisations for editing Wikipedia entries, so I'll focus on another perspective.

One of the challenges for organisations trying to access their customers through using Web 2.0 technologies and online communities to reach their customers is working out how to deal with the fact that some online communities may not be what they seem.

The WikiScanner experiment highlights the fact that some participants in these communities may not be who they say they are and may not necessarily be participating for the reasons for which the community was originally established. We need to be pragmatic - the very nature of these communities and tools means that we can't stop this sort of activity, so we need to use good practice to make sure that these activities do not compromise the intent of these intiatives.
Setting up an online community or web 2.0 resource is not something that should be done without a plan. The purpose should be clear - to both the organisation that is doing it and for the people who choose to participate.... and avoid subterfuge - a lot of damage can be done to a brand or reputation if you try to engage in web 2.0 activities under the guise of independence or anonymity. Be open, be honest and wherever your community chooses to step outside the intent and purpose, make sure that you deal with this in a manner which is consistent with the stated purpose of the community.

My message in this isa simple one; don't be fooled by the apparent simplicity of Web 2.0 and online communites. We have been working with these concepts and the technologies that support them for a number of years and there are plenty of tips and techniques for getting more out of them ... and for managing the realities of these new, flexible and open environments. Call in the experts (and don't listen to the first baggy-pants wearing ad agency kidwith a shagy haircut and 7 iPods) and make the most of this exciting technology and the great relationshiop and brand building things it allows us to do.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Icebergs are COOL!!

I was a little surprised when I opened the Australian Financial Review yesterday to see my beautiful visage peering out from the centre of Page 48. I was asked by the AFR for my opinions on the recently released internet advertising statistics from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and had a chance to share some thoughts about how those particular statistics really only show the tip of the real digital services iceberg. I was surprised when the journalist (Julian Bajkowski - thanks for inviting us to participate!) asked me if it would be Ok to include a photo .... I didn't realise that I would be permanently raising the aesthetic bar of the AFR IT Section!!*

There is a lot more to explore on this theme - yes internet advertising is growing at an amazing rate (54% for the year to more than $1.2 Billion in Australia alone!) but the impact on business, investment and digital services certainly doesn't stop there.

Internet Advertising measures (by my understanding) the amount of money spent on buying advertising space on online properties. These might be banner adds, iFrames, search terms, paid blogs (yes - some people DO get paid to write their blogs on behalf of advertisiers!! Not me though....) and so on. What it doesn't seem to include is the commerce that occurs around the final act of placing the ad.

Every online advertisement needs something to advertise - by definition interactive ads allow end users to interact with the offer being made. They click on the ad to go to a site, somewhere, that expands on the offer, allows them to register interest / research / buy and that gathers information about the whole chain of events. All of these things require investment - there is creative effort, execution effort, intellectual property, technology, measurement and analysis and more.

All of this goes to the fact that the interactive advertising statistics are just the tip of the iceberg. I have been asked a few times what I think this Digital Services industry multiplier might be - how much of the total investment does the actual "ad buying" represent.

In the newspaper I was quoted as saying that this might be a 2x effect, that the ad buying might be half of the total investment and today we have had a lot of debate amongst some colleagues about this fact. I am getting convinced that the multplier might be much more than that.

I will do some more research on this - I think that the market generally underestimates how much commerce is occuring as a result of the Digital Services transformation that is going on right now. And besides, if we are out there changing the world, it is important to have a sense of by just how much we are doing this.

*My mum thought I looked pretty good anyway....

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Asia's online and its doing fine......

I concluded one of my Quarterly Review trips to the Hyro Thailand office this week and one of the things which resonated during this trip was the great progress that is being made in terms of connectivity and bandwidth in that market.

We recently renegotiated a contract with our corporate internet provider and were able to double the speed of our connection, raise the committed data rate and cut the costs of our connection by around 35%. All because the general quality of service has increased and the market is getting more and more competitive.

It doesn’t stop there – many hotels in Bangkok now offer free in-room broadband internet for business travellers and the number of accessible wi-fi spots has risen dramatically over the last twelve months or so (I got to test this with my new phone – the outstanding HTC Touch which is the easiest wi-fi phone to connect to the internet that I have ever used. Oh, and it is a very functional and very pretty business phone as well!).

This augers well for the digital services industry. General statistics of levels of internet use, levels of available bandwidth and levels of commerce and advertising via digital channels are all trending upwards. It proves our experience in more mature markets – that the level and availability of broadband speeds define the critical “tipping point” for digital services adoption.

Even in emerging digital services markets, we are seeing how connected technology and changing marketing techniques are changing the world.