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Bluefreeway; the bridge is out January 30, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in industry news.
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Simon Chen has a nice (if you can call it nice) wrap-up of the day’s events. Richard Webb, founder and CEO of Bluefreeway is out, as is the CFO Ken McDonnell. The share price is currently at 39 cents, back up from a low today of 26 cents, but even the offering of 76 cents a week and a half ago seems a distant and far-fetched dream now. A person who works at Bluefreeway swung by today and said they will be focusing on portfolio companies, and tagged a good deal of braggadocio on the end of it. I’m mad for a bit of defiance in the face of adversity, though it tends to carry more weight when your parent company has the cash to make good on the threats.

Best of luck to everyone affected by these developments, please feel free to share your experiences below or get in touch.

Twitter; the new talkback? January 30, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in blogging, digital strategy, web 2.0.
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Twitter Logo

A good friend just asked me if I really thought Twitter was going to take off, and I guess around that are a host of questions on the value it offers to its users. Maki has some great thoughts on ways it adds value to its users (thanks to Jennifer Laycock for the link), but one thing that just occurred to me as my friend asked the question and I glanced at my laptop to see the conversations roll past is that it seems to operate the same way talk-back radio did (or does for those who still listen to radio).

My Dad pointed out to me years ago the things the talk-back guys were discussing were invariably the things that made newspaper headlines the next day. In the same fashion, the conversations on Twitter revolve around other newsworthy pieces of information. They may not make the front page of the New York Times, they may not even make the front page of the New York Times website, but they will invariably make it up on somebody’s blog, read by any number of people from one to a million.

In this fashion, I love Shel Israel’s notions of global neighbourhoods. I am not American but I am about as interested in the US election as a foreigner could be, and because of this I can discuss the goings on today in Florida with people actually State-side and engage in a discussion about it; I doubt there’s an audience for US politics large enough on Australian talk-back radio to make it worth anybody’s time to take the subject on. It also reminds me of something I think I read in The Black Swan, but I can’t quite remember; you can have only three readers for your blog, but those readers are the presidents of America, China and Russia, your influence out-games the raw numbers…there’s more there I think…

So with the understanding that a blog readership, no matter how small can have a significant impact on the (on and offline) world around the writer, and for a percentage of those posts to have origins in conversations on Twitter, then I think there is a role for it to play as a topic is started by The World™, discussed on Twitter, generating a blog about that discussion which incites further discussion and winds up any number of places. Or as James Governor ironically pointed out (via Marshall Kirkpatrick), if markets are conversations then Twitter is money.

*After-thought* I went back over to Twitter to think some more and saw a note from Loic about Seesmic. If Twitter is the start of a new talk-back, Seesmic is where it is going (additional thoughts on that as I get more into the service…)

Say “I love you” with…a pink iPod? January 30, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing, work/life.
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Pink iPod NanoI receive Apple’s regular newsletters pointing me to all manner of wares available in their store pretty regularly. I haven’t unsubscribed, and I don’t really know why. I’m not big on impulse purchases and I read enough to be well aware when a new product has arrived or is at least about to. On top of that, while I’m completely trading in traditional notions of gender stereotypes, as a guy I do not want a pink iPod. I’d be interested to know if women received a newsletter pushing a blue or black iPod for their male counterparts, but I somehow doubt it.

The iPod itself is a hard sell as a Valentine’s Day gift, one that screams “Holy shit, I’d better get them something!” For anyone who has taken this option and is now reading this thinking a grave mistake has been made, take these helpful tips:

  1. When you order it, get it engraved (Apple do this for free via their online store, it takes less than a week to arrive)
  2. Open it up.
  3. Pre-load it with:
    1. Songs you know your partner loves or have significance in your relationship
    2. Photos of the two of you, your friends, family members, etc.
    3. TV shows you know they love (you’ll be surprised how clear the iPod screen is)
  4. Buy them a decent pair of headphones as well, as the iPod ones won’t last long; I recommend these from Seinheiser, roughly AU$80 and a great investment 18 months running)
  5. An optional extra is the Nike add-ons for those with particularly sporty partners, be careful this doesn’t get turned into a suggestion you think your partner needs to lose a few pounds – this slippery slope is harder to navigate than you think it is.

As a complete aside, I just unsubscribed from the Apple newsletter. Upon reading my opening paragraph, what choice did I have? Now in my sights: Border’s, Go Daddy, eBay. How many newsletters do you receive which you have no intention of ever acting on?

Update: Paypal just copped it as well. I’m reclaiming my inbox and nobody is safe!

Carts and Horses; Forrester’s POST Methodology January 25, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in digital strategy, marketing.
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The second anyone says the “M” word to me, my eyes roll back in my head and I’m out for the count; call it subjective narcolepsy, some things just cannot hold my attention, no matter how hard they try.

With that in mind it comes as a great surprise that I find myself blogging about Forrester’s POST Methodology, a copy of which was sent to me by the equal parts affable and amiable Josh Bernoff, VP and Principal Analyst over at Forrester. It’s timing was somewhat ironic, given I had just implemented a strategy that went about things in exactly the opposite direction the POST document suggests. Funnily enough, they got it right (me less so…).

POST stands for People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology and can be broken down in the following ways:

People -Who are the people using our service and what technologies are they currently engaged in?

Objectives – What are our business goals for this audience?

Strategy – How will achieving those business goals change our relationship with this audience?

Technology – What technology best supports the above?

The entire thing is, in hindsight, common sense, but having sat in far too many meetings now where executives decried the need for Facebook applications without any thought process behind it (beyond “Because everyone is doing it!!!”), something like this comes at just the right time.

I have been guilty of this in the past too, having recently implemented a Twitter feed on my company’s homepage. Now I can still justify this from a business point of view, that isn’t what bothers me. My problem centres around the goals I had for using Twitter. I envisaged a conversation with our users, live support, instant community (just add water). All of these are great, achievable, inherently good things to work towards and we will continue to do so. I left one tiny piece of the puzzle out though, and while perhaps in hindsight I had the OST down pat, it doesn’t actually count for anything.

Because our company’s audience is still enthralled by Facebook.

Because our company’s audience are not at the core of the early adopter segment of digital societies.

Because our company’s audience has no fucking idea what Twitter is. Nor do they care (right now).

That may change, it may not. It depends on how Twitter continues to grow, how it evolves, how much sense it makes to people in the coming months. But given the process that POST outlines, I would have noticed straight away that we have two audiences, not one, and the technologies at their core are mobile (SMS) and social networks, heavily skewed towards MySpace and Facebook. Those techs are relevant to both audiences, and while they require different strategies for interaction, it would have meant a more focussed effort on our part.

The advantage with Twitter is it is a low-cost, low-risk strategy to implement; the worst that can happen is nobody in our audience uses it, the best is it achieves everything I had hoped for and more; the upside greatly outweighs the down (hat tip to Nassim for that lesson). We’ll still continue on a path of developing strategies in technologies that are yet to be proven (largely because we’re able to), but I will personally spend more time in the future identifying the core audience for a project and not get carried away like the “Facebook” execs I derided earlier.

Happens to the best of us I guess…for more advice along this path, check out the method for yourself. Alternatively it is also available in handy book form. These Forrester guys just think of everything.

Meatball Sundae: Coming through your stereo January 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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If I thought I could construct a compelling blog just by repeating his name and linking to his blog I would. As that is likely not the case, instead let me inform some and remind others that Seth Godin is presenting tomorrow (2pm EST, 6am Melbourne time) on his latest book, Meatball Sundae. There is still time to register for the event; I’m looking forward to it so much I appeared at my friend Scott’s door at 6am this morning to listen to it. We stood giggling in his kitchen as it dawned on me that I had risen on the wrong day, made funnier only by the fact he himself had gone to do the same two weeks earlier.

…the brightest minds of our generation they say…

Checking your ego at the door January 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in philosophy, Video Games, work/life.
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I try to avoid writing about games here as my involvement in the industry now is very much as an outsider. I still keep an eye on the conversations going on though and one that never fails to amaze me is the “code vs. art” debate and how people struggle to get teams talking to each other. You can liken it to “creatives vs. suits” in advertising or “sales vs. anyone not sales” in many other organisations, the song remains the same; a notion of “otherness” is allowed to develop in a team or company and it poisons the culture of that place, pitting people on the same side against each other.

I lead four different teams as Producer while in the games industry, and they were all marked by a feeling of inclusiveness, a notion that we were all in it together. Often it had little do to with the organisation, I distinctly recall a senior artist from another part of the company walking into the room where my team was housed (numbering around 30+ at the time) and remarking that it felt like a different company. Each team I have looked after had that same feeling, and it never took any effort to maintain.

The key is pretty simple: everyone checks their ego at the door. I affectionately called it “the no assholes rule”, long before a book of the same name was released, and it gets brought about in a couple ways.

The first is quite simple: hire good people. That statement is a little intangible and open to interpretation though, so I’ll clarify: do not hire people you would not be willing to spend 100 hours a week with, because at some point you will. Assuming you have a high enough barrier to entry for your company (be it a programming test, past sales figures, whatever) then all candidates who reach that mark can be judged based on the personality fit for your team. I have passed up programmers who were great on paper because I knew they would either be difficult to work with or not get along with certain team members. It is a very straight forward exercise placing morale above ability; you can learn new skills in a job, but if you’re an asshole, you’re probably going to stay an asshole.  I should add this has nothing to do with race or culture, my last team had eight different nationalities on it, and we all still catch up whenever I am back in town.

The second is in many ways simpler than the first. As the title to this post says, check your ego at the door. Any industry is rife with stories of senior figures who refused to spend time in the trenches; these teams are without fail mired in low morale and bitterness towards management. I would outline weeks in advance the weeknights (and on occasion weekends) when we would need to work back, but when those days arrived I went from being the team lead to the servant. If your people are working extra hours because of you, you owe it to them to make that stay as comfortable as possible. If it means driving half an hour across town to get a certain meal for someone, so be it. Talk, in that environment, is less than cheap, it is worthless.

Leading by example and showing a willingness to do anything in order to get a project across the line and a team to work together is the only way to ensure different units within a team with each other from day dot. Producers, Group Directors, CEOs, whatever, they all set the tone for the people they are responsible for. Titles (and the egos they stoke) come and go; checking both at the door on a daily basis means you can do the things that matter most. And your team stays talking long after you have left the room.

Path101: Helping those who don’t know what to do January 21, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in web 2.0.
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I wrote recently about passion, how important I think it is to have it in your life and how it has guided my actions over the years. It’s something I place a great deal of emphasis on and  don’t think you can really over-state how important I feel it is to have something that gets you out of bed in the morning. So many people I know, regardless of age, have no idea what they want to do or what that thing is that fires them up all on its own; from my young cousins through to my parent’s friends, the question of “What d I want to do?” perplexes everyone, and I count myself as fortunate that it has always been crystal clear for me.

A start-up I came across recently that is hoping to answer that question is Path101. Simply put, it is hoping to utilise available technologies (thank you Web 2.0) to help people answer the question of what they want to do. Initially aimed at college students, the plan is to broaden the service as time goes on, and leverage the social web in order to help people make those choices. This centres around something they’re calling the “Résumé Genome Project“, an idea that you can look at the career paths of people who have similar histories to you and see how they got to where they are, hopefully discovering some opportunities you didn’t know were available to you. You can submit your résumé to help them build the database too!

Right now there is little more than a blog available, but they’re doing something I haven’t seen anyone else try, and with a good deal of heart to it. I can”t wait to see what they come up with.

Indexed; equal parts cute, compelling, unique, now in handy book form! January 18, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in blogging.
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One of my favourite blogs is Indexed, written drawn by Jessica Hagy. A collection of Venn diagrams (I didn’t know they were called that either), she announced today the Indexed book was now available for pre-order. If you’re not familiar with her work, Jessica maps humorous scenarios such as the correlation between alcohol and UFO sightings or the path to drunk dialing. It takes less than ten seconds to consume each time she posts one and the fact I get to smile a few time a day at no cost to my good self seems inherently insane, but she is all the more lovely for it. Cover below, pre-order now.

Indexed Book Cover

The Black Swan pt. 2 January 17, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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I pushed through the end of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan this week, and while I can say I really enjoyed it, by the end the disparaging tone he takes whenever talking about traders or economists wore a little thin. I have no stake in either of those professions, but once a point has been made and an opinion established (neither of which are crucial for the book’s central argument), reiterating it at every conceivable opportunity insults the readers who have come along for the ride. OK, we get it Nassim, you don’t respect (for the most part) economists and traders, but I didn’t pay the price of admission to wade through you settling personal vendettas, that was achieved when I bought your book and not your rival’s.

Having said that, there is a lot of value to be gleaned between the book’s covers. It rambles in places but the central idea which I’ve been summing up as (rightly or wrongly, feel free to offer an alternative viewpoint) “the distinction between two sentences: “there is no evidence of black swans” and “there is evidence of no black swans”. Whatever issue I take with the author in the above paragraph, I find that idea and the way at which we arrive at those sorts of statements fascinating.

Nassim also hits a couple other great points which are tackled in a much more straight forward fashion in the next book I picked up, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Written by two brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, it explores, well, exactly what it says. Both brothers have spent time as educators in some fashion, and convey their thoughts in indelibly straight forward terms.

The cross-over between the two books comes in the emphasis both place on the power of narrative. As human beings we love a story! We have told them throughout history, sometimes for lessons, all of the time for entertainment. Stories are much more powerful than facts; that notion gets played out every night on the evening news. Made to Stick talks a lot about using that to your advantage, citing screenwriting guru Robert McKee as opposed to a litany of philosophers and thinkers who add limited value without extended research. Nassim attempts to use his own journey as a way of taking the reader through to his point, but an idea that comes up in the first hundred pages of Made to Stick is one he could have benefited from: simplifying a message can give it more impact and not dumb it down.

I’m not even halfway through Made to Stick yet so bear with me on it. I’m already making moves to apply it to my daily work habits though and enjoying the “Clinics” interspersed through the book, an opportunity to apply the thinking you’ve just learnt. If like me you love learning and hate the classroom, consider this one, so far, indispensable.

Lucky you’re with AAMI January 16, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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Never thought I’d see the day when I blogged about car insurance. As opposed to my experience with Borders last week, this was thoroughly enjoyable, which is incredible considering they’re taking me for around $800 over the next 12 months as opposed to the $20 I wanted to spend on a book. Aside from the fact they were the cheapest providers I came across, their tele-sales staff were exceptional. I may have just lucked out and everyone else is the social equivalent of a 90-pound weakling, but Simone, Hannah (from Missouri by way of everywhere) , you got your company a customer for life today. You two are the best marketing hands down I have seen for AAMI; that’s really saying something as I used to work on your campaigns.

Lesson: straight forward and enthusiastic communication wins. Every. Single. Time.

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