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The "VRI": Doc Wonders If Technology Can Help Us Talk With Companies

By - January 04, 2008

Doc notes my post on conversations and asks why we, as consumers, are not more empowered to control our conversations/interactions with businesses who have tons of information about us and our use of their products/services.

I think what we need is something like an API. Let’s call it an VRI: Vendor Relationship Interface. Through it I could know, and see, what I’m getting from each vendor with which I “relate”. On top of that the dashboard could be built.

An interesting thing here is that I really don’t want to have a conversation of the literal kind with most of these companies, unless there’s a problem. I do want to relate with them, however. That is, I would like to request or arrange for services, pay bills and occasionally make suggestions or provide feedback. Most of that does not require wasting the time of another human being. A lot of that could be automated.

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CBS Video: Not In The Conversation

By - January 02, 2008

Close readers will notice a trend in 2008 here on Searchblog: I’ll be posting stuff about conversations, and in particular how companies are doing when it comes to having conversations with their key constituents. You may recall my one of my seminal posts on this topic: From Pull To Point, in which I urged the Wall St. Journal and the Economist to join what I called at that time “The Point To Economy.” I now call it “The Conversation Economy” and since I wrote that post, the NYT has joined, and it looks like the Journal may follow. But as this post from Poynter shows, CBS News ain’t even nearly there yet, and it’s particularly interesting, because it has to do with video, which I think is a key grammar in what I am starting to call the emerging Internet Creole. From the post:

CBS Sunday Morning may be the best news show on television. A couple of weeks ago, it carried a superb piece on the art of conversation — one that I wanted to send to a friend. So, logically, I went to CBSNews.com to look for it.

It’s not there. Or maybe it is — but I certainly couldn’t find it.

An Idea About Language and The Internet

By - December 11, 2007

I’m reading a book as I prepare to start the real work on my next book. Called The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker (wikipedia), I’m finding it a fascinating read, if at times a bit too happy with itself. However, I chose it carefully, as I’ve been developing my own theories about the interplay of language, conversation, and the future of the Internet.

I have a longer post in me about my first revelation upon reading this work, but it’ll take a full day to draft. However, for the record, it has to to with the idea of pidgin vs. creole, and the idea of search as pidgin, and the creole we all are creating, unawares, as we navigate the web.

Yeah, it’s that kind of a post.

Just to let you hardcore readers know – the ones who came to read this site because of my Search meanderings – that I haven’t entirely lost the thread.

Keep me honest, is all I ask.

A Morning Lecture at Berkeley: Facebook, Time to Find the Value for the Individual

By - December 03, 2007

If you’ve read The Search, you know that my fascination with media and technology flowered while an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, in the Anthropology department. From my first real book related post on Searchblog:

Back in the mid 80s I was an undergraduate in Cultural Antropology, and I had a class – taught by the late Jim Deetz,which focused on the idea of material culture – basically, interpreting the artifacts of everyday life. It took the tools of archaeology – usually taught only in the context of civilizations long dead – and merged them with the tools of Cultural Anthropology, which interpreted living cultures. He encouraged us to see all things modified by man as expressions of culture, and therefore as keys to understanding culture itself. I began to see language, writing, and most everyday things in a new light – as reflecting the culture which created them, and fraught with all kinds of intent, contreversies, politics, relationships. It was a way to pick up current culture and hold it in your hand, make sense of it, read it.

At the same time I was making extra money beta testing some software on a brand spanking new Mac, vintage 1984. Anthropology and technology merged, and I became convinced that the Mac represented mankind’s most sophisticated and important artifact ever – a representation of the plastic mind made visible. (Yeah, college – exhaaaaale – wasn’t it great!).

Anyway, today thanks to Professor Marti Hearst, I was invited back to Berkeley to lecture on search, media, and technology. And man, what a blast. Talking with 75 or so undergraduates (and a few grad students and others) for two hours helped me crystallize a few ideas that have been kicking around in my head lately.

As I started my talk (it’ll be available as a podcast (scroll down) on the UC site soon), I asked everyone with a Facebook account to raise their hand. Nearly everyone did. Not a surprise.

I then went through some of my tried and true thinking on Web 2, search as interface, and the like. But I came back to the idea of economics, and how people make money on the Web. I was really surprised at how interested the students were in this topic. The class is called “Search Engines: Technology, Society, and Business” (how perfect is *that*?), and the students were pretty smart on how Google makes money via Adwords and Adsense. But when I asked about Facebook’s new social ad platform, only a smattering of folks had even heard of it.

I was a bit surprised, given that this was Facebook’s core audience, after all. So I outlined how it works, why it’s an interesting and potentially important evolutionary step beyond search ads, and in particular I explained how Beacon works.

I then aired one of the questions about Facebook’s platform that has been rattling around my head for a while: Will users of Facebook see the sharing of their purchase decisions across the web with Facebook friends as valuable?

For me, anyway, the key to social ads is this: do the ads *add value* to the lives of the people who interact with them? I think the jury is way, way out on this question when it comes the current rev of the Facebook system. So I asked the students this question: “How many of you are interested in telling your friends, via your newsfeed or in some other way, about purchases you make on the web?”

Not one hand went up.

I then rephrased the question. What if sharing your purchase decisions meant that, say, you got a $5 credit in your “Facebook bucks” account that you could spend at Amazon, or for ringtones, or whatever?

About a third of the hands went up. Interesting.

We then went into Q&A, and an older gentleman who was auditing the class asked about philanthropy. He observed that while folks might not want to share their crass consumer purchases, they might want to share information about how they donated to particular causes. Another student mentioned that she would see the value of sharing certain kinds of information, including purchases, with certain groups of friends, but not others.

In other words, it’s clear that Facebook’s current system is simply not granular enough, at least for my focus group of Berkeley students.

But it didn’t stop there. I started to think about that gentleman’s observation about philanthropy, as it relates to how major brands are now approaching their roles as marketers. Steve Hayden, the vice chairman of Ogilvy, a major ad agency, noted at the Conversational Marketing Summit that brands must stand for something – that they must in fact differentiate by adding value to the lives of customers who might otherwise buy a competing product. The classic case of this is the Dove campaign for real beauty.

I asked the class again, might you be open to sharing your purchases of brands if those brands were somehow aligned with your core values, and perhaps, through your purchase, those values were furthered or expressed? The class seemed quite supportive of the idea.

I think therein lies a very important lesson. If marketers want to succeed in the world of Facebook (ie, the world of Conversational Media), they need to add value to the lives of consumers via their marketing. So far, I am not certain Facebook’s ad platform does that. But I’m willing to be that in the next few revisions, it will.

Grow Up?!

By - November 20, 2007

Indeed, grow up. But how? Why assume the only way to get paid is to charge directly? Why not assume a creator can be paid by inviting in companies who are willing to pay the freight so an audience or community can have the experience in the first place? And how can one claim that an honest marketer, who wants to underwrite an extraordinary voice, is somehow not helping to create the experience, a patron of sorts, by its economic support allowing a creator to connect with his or her audience?

It’s immature, indeed, to assume there is only one way to get a creator paid. I can’t agree more with what Jaron writes in this Times Op Ed: “We could design information systems so that people can pay for content — so that anyone has the chance of becoming a widely read author and yet can also be paid. Information could be universally accessible but on an affordable instead of an absolutely free basis.”

Darn right we can. And if I, or we, choose to make our content affordable by letting the right sponsors pay for it, sponsors who respect, value, and wish to support that content, how on earth is that model somehow presumably corrupt?

We’re not all the way there yet, and many mistakes remain to be made. But there is no one correct model. I’ve argued previously that we must take the friction out of paying directly for content. And there are really only a few players who can do that. Amazon is trying now with Kindle. But honestly, there are really only three players who have what you really need to make such a model happen. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. What do they have?

Come on, you know the answer…..search.

And even were Yahoo or Google to execute what I suggested back some 3300 or so posts ago, it will never obviate the idea of free content and communities sponsored by commercial interests. Why? Because we are all involved in commercial pursuits – it’s part of our culture. Having a conversation with those pursuits in ways that feed all parties, well, that’s what a (healthy) economy is all about.

Welcome to the conversation economy, Jaron!

Customer Policy in the Age of Conversation

By - September 30, 2007

AT&T has a TOS for its customers which, implemented strictly, would be an indefensible limitation on freedom of speech (and would create a shitstorm for the company if enforced). I’m very interested to see how long it takes for AT&T to listen to the howling in the blogosphere, and revise that TOS. My take: Companies who don’t listen, respond, and iterate are doomed to fail in the conversation economy.

The language:

5.1 Suspension/Termination. Your Service may be suspended or terminated if your payment is past due and such condition continues un-remedied for thirty (30) days. In addition, AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.