A Tale of Two Swagmen

Just to illustrate how different our professional lives are, let me show you the swag from the meeting I attended in Boston last week:

That's it.

To be fair, I'm what you'd call an industry analyst; it would create a conflict of interest for a technology company to shower me with freebies. But, come on…

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Who Are You, and What Are You Doing Here?

Some of the more commercially-minded members of the blogosphere got together at the Blog Business Summit in Seattle this week, and although I wasn't there, I've been following along from afar. One of the more interesting (to me) discussions was about measuring your audience and your reach; as vital a topic for Boeing as it is for Boing Boing, or any other corporate bloggers or upstart media concerns trying to make a go of microcontent as a living.

The summary of this chat was really that there is no silver bullet. There isn’t anything in blog/RSS analytics that tells you everything you need to know and tells it accurately.

An audience member added another point, “I don’t care about how many page views or visitors I really get. I care about getting the right visitors, the influential visitors, or the potential customer visitors. How can I tell who’s who?”

Having done some time in the online advertising technology and analytics world (I did a two-year bid at 24/7 Real Media before I got early parole for good behavior), I can tell you these concerns extend far beyond the blogging world. Every media company is struggling with the transformation from unnacountable advertising to very accountable ad models.

In the past, advertisers had to make due with not knowing how their marketing really peformed, trusting instead in audited audience numbers and qualitative surveys to tell them who a given media outlet was reaching. You want 18-34 year olds with a lot of discretionary income? Buy 30 seconds on Friends. Men aged 18-34 looking to buy a car? That would be Monday Night Football. Fat-cat investor types? The Wall Street Journal.

None of these media properties, of course, could prove that any of the advertising they carried actually did what it was supposed to do—sell stuff—but the advertiser took some comfort in the fact that there was nothing better they could do (short of direct mail, but that's got the stank of Valu-Pak all over it). The rise of very accountable online advertising, along with the cost-per-click model that GoTo/Overture/Yahoo! poineered (and Google perfected) is destroying that blissful ignorance.

This puts a lot of pressure on publishers to come up with the goods on their audience: how many? what do they look at? where do they come from? who are they? when do they show up? Not easy questions to answer.

Server logs are totally inadequate to the task, so no help there. JavaScript-based web analytics tools, whether they're the freebies from Google (based on the former Urchin product), or the heavyweight services from companies like Omniture (what GM's using to track you when you read their blogs or visit a GM site, incidentally) are far better bets. Even so, what can they tell you about who an audience member really is? it's an impossible dream. However, an emerging class of analytics-driven targeting services out there (like TACODA and Revenue Science) aim to do the next-best thing: target based on what a unique visitor does, both on and away from a publisher's site. In this way, someone who spends their day surfing videogame oriented sites would be shown ads for related products.

There are shortcomings, of course. To begin with, many people just don't want to be tracked this closely (even if the tradeoff is less irrelevant advertising). They surf with third-party cookies turned off, and with their browsers or firewalls set to block content from certain domains (I'm looking at you, And, as a small-scale publisher of a blog, the network that sells ad space on your site may, or may not, employ this kind of targeting. On the other hand, the advertiser isn't necessarily buying an individual property, they're buying a targeted segment (like "Web 2.0 buffs"); it's up to the ad network selling your inventory to classify your site into the right package.

So, ultimately, analytics are interesting, but not necessarily a primary concern to the blog author. A better use of our time is ensuring what we write is worth reading.



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Feeling Ignored by Sony and Microsoft? Nintendo Loves You!

Nintendo Wii

As far as my wife is concerned, our PlayStation 2 is a device whose sole purpose is to play Katamari Damacy, a wonderfully whimsical Japanese video game that's almost impossible to describe and incredibly addictive.

Unfortunately, most of the other PlayStation offerings aren't like Katamari. They're about racing, sports, adventuring and fighting, and they're meant for the more serious gamer who wants to spend tens, hundreds or even thousands of hours on matches or missions. Go to any video game store or rental place and see if you can find what are being called “casual games” — videogames that you can play and complete in session lasting an hour, a half-hour or even ten minutes, most of which don't have any violence, such as Tetris, Bejeweled or one of my favorites, Bust-a-Move (a.k.a. Puzzle Bobble).

Both the XBox 360 and the upcoming PlayStation 3 are aimed at the serious gamer — typically male, single and having plenty of time to spend an increasing number of hours “grinding” on games whose virtual worlds are expanding. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas gave us a miniature state with facsimiles of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas with lots of backwoods and desert — it can take twenty minutes of real time or more just to get from one end of the map to the other. Just Cause makes you a sort of Che Guevara character and offers 21 missions and 12,000 square kilometers of banana republic to explore, and still the reviews say the gameplay is “too short”. The game vendors' message is clear: If you're not hardcore, we've got nuthin' for you.

The Economist has an interesting piece on Nintendo's strategy with their upcoming Wii: they're going after the gamers and Microsoft and Sony have chosen to ignore. They're applying the lessons from their popular Nintendo DS (at the June 2006 RailsConf, which had a number of the thought leaders in new-school web development in attendance, the DS was the second-most popular machine there, just behind Mac notebooks and ahead of Wintel laptops) to the console and capture a market segment made up of non-gamers and casual gamers. Rather than emphasizing features like new graphics engines and processor cores, Nintendo are focusing on simplified controls, games that appeal to women and casual gamers and non-game functions such as weather and other information channels. As the article puts it:

As it sets out to broaden the gaming population, Nintendo is not
fighting against Sony and Microsoft, says [Nintendo president] Mr Iwata. Its real enemy is
the indifference that many people still feel towards gaming. Of course,
says Mr Iwata, he would be happy if Nintendo became the leading
console-maker again as a result of its new approach. But a victory over
Sony and Microsoft in a shrinking market, he says, would not be a
victory at all.



Vox: MySpace for the Literate

Six Apart, the developers of Movable Type and hosts of TypePad and LiveJournal, have launched Vox, their social networking thing.

Vox is a social network like Facebook, Friendster, or MySpace, except with much finer-grained privacy controls over who can see what, and with a fully-functional blogging engine at the core. Even though Vox users will be able to share their photos and media playlists with one another like on MySpace, it would seem that it's destined to be a place where people actually get to know one another

In anticipation for this event, we asked all of you guys to share what aspect you most appreciate or like about Vox. The answers were varied and personal (just like Vox members) but there was one aspect that really shines: the Vox community. Even though Vox is primarily focused on allowing you to share your life with the people you already know and care about – and, more importantly, care about you — during the past months of the beta/preview real friendships have developed

Marshall Kirkpatrick at TechCrunch points out another two things Vox has going for it: easy customization through dozens of visually-pleasing templates, and tastefully unobtrusive advertising.

Privacy tools, pleasing aesthetics, and low-key advertising. Vox is like the anti-MySpace.


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Scoble: Zune Isn't the Next Wonder Glove Monkey

Old newspaper advertisement for the 'Wonder Glove Monkey'.

Robert Scoble writes that although the Zune has an advantage in software extensibility — it's easier to update Zune software and there's a chance an update could give it some PDA and GameBoy-esque functionality…

But, for now, I’d stick with an iPod. Microsoft hasn’t given us a
killer feature yet that is easily demonstratable for why we should buy
a Zune instead of an iPod.

I agree with Scoble's assessment: Zune's WiFi-based song-sharing and XBox integration just don't have enough “oomph” to be considered killer features, it lacks a distinctive conversation-maker like iPod's white earbuds, nor does it have those little UI features for which Apple is famous.

There's also an issue that doesn't show up on features list comparisons: the iPod is just plain cool. While Microsoft's “consumer” offerings make you feel as if you're eating the table scraps of the people they love most, their “enterprise” customers, Apple products are like “Vince” from the HBO television series Entourage — the cool friend, who by letting you in his posse, makes you cool by association.

Here's an observation from the recent Ajax Experience conference. Although the conference organizers could've chosen to go with a more “cost-effective” MP3 player to include in the swag bag given to every attendee, they went with the iPod Shuffle. They held a number of raffles throughout the conference and a big trivia game at the end, and although they could've saved some money and handed out cheaper players, the prizes were iPod Nanos and iPod Videos. The vendors in the exhibit hall did the same: their prizes were also Nanos and Videos. There wasn't a non-Apple MP3 or video player offered as a prize, because it wouldn't have fit in with the high-end feel that they were going for with this conference.

That's why the iPod is still the Wonder Glove Monkey.


Jason Calacanis Swiped Our 5-Step Plan for Becoming an A-Lister!

At last, we have proof that Jason Calacanis is using some kind of mind-reading technology capable of penetrating the protective-but-jaunty tinfoil chapeaus that George and I wear: he's stolen yet another one of our ideas and given it away as his own — for free — at his Blog Business Summit keynote.

Since he's already made off with our super-seekrit plan for becoming big-time blogosphere stars, we might as well give them away ourselves — or better yet, steal Tris Hussey's coverage on Calacanis' session at the Tucows Blog. Here it is — our five-step program for becoming an A-lister, as stolen from our brains by Jason “That Dirty Plagiarist” Calacanis:

  1. Go to Techmeme.
  2. Blog something intelligent about the top story of the day.
  3. Link to and mention all the people who have said something intelligent.
  4. Repeat for 30 days.
  5. Go to a couple of conferences a month.

Calacanis, whom we're thinking of referring to as “Plagiarismo”, also stole our favorite thing to say to those people at blogging conferences who whine about their inability to break into the A-list or even the B-list. Here it is, courtesy of the blog Pro PR

Blogging is the biggest meritocracy in the world. It’s not broken. You don’t rank? It’s because you suck.

How well you do is up to you. It really is obnoxious to look at the space and say it’s broken because you’re not doing well. If you want to succeed, do a better job.

Here are some choice places to see coverage of Calacanis' keynote, which apparently features ideas that he didn't steal from us. Mind you, he might've stolen them from other people…


Tired: Mile-High Club. Wired: WiFi Club.

'Des Serpents Dans L'Avion' -- French poster for 'Snakes on a Plane'.

Wouldn't it have been nice if you could've participated in the blogging hype about Snakes on a Plane while actually on a plane? Should another opportunity like that arise, you'll be able to jump on the bandwagon thanks to The Definitive Guide to Airline and WiFi and Internet Access, which lists the airlines and flights on which you can get online (for varying values of “online”).

The list isn't as useful as one might hope. There are only two brands of online access offered by airlines: Connexion By Boeing, which will be discontinued at the end of 2006 and OnAir, which currently offers a limited subset of services and typically works through the seat-back video screen rather than your own laptop.