The Ever-Shrinking, Ever-Growing Business Blogosphere

Yesterday, I had the absolute pleasure of sharing a malt-beverage or two with Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz, who were in the neighborhood for The New Communications Forum. (By the by, the Bombay Bomber IPA…delish.)

Neville and I had traded a few emails in the past few months, and I noticed on his blog that he was in from Amsterdam for a couple of days for the NCF conference. Shel and Neville have known each other for a decade. Two quick emails and 12 hours later, the three of us were shooting the breeze in person, without any of the typical awkwardness that comes when people meet for the first time. We already knew each other. It just so happened that, prior to yesterday, we’d never been on the same continent at the same time.

Reason #6537 why business folk should write, podcast, or otherwise communicate often, and in their own voice: your customers, vendors, and partners get to know you before they even meet you, so when you do get together, you already have shared context and can get things done 10x faster than you ever have in the past.

Another Baby Step Forward: A Zero Configuration, All-In-One Podcasting Device For About $25 That My Mom Could Use

Although I’m not an MacHead, the iPod shuffle did push a couple of buttons for me, especially around the use case of having a device that was intended to be transient in nature and only store a few songs (or podcasts) for a limited amount of time. The capability to sync a podcast to a flash-based device with the intention of listening to it on a commute seemed like something that would be useful to have. So, I was thinking about getting one of the shuffles.

Before doing so, and just for giggles, I did a quick search on Froogle for USB flash-based MP3 players. Although the shuffle has a killer cost/MB, I found a flash-based device for about 25 bucks that I thought it would be fun to try this out with. Less memory (128MB), but cheap. Definitely in the “good enough for concept hacking” category.

Looking at the specs, I noticed that it was a pretty nifty little bit of engineering for 25 bucks. Not only could you explicitly use it as a low-end MP3 player, but it was also designed to be used as a general-purpose thumb drive. Since I’m on the road a lot, I figured hey…why not? It’d be good for the quick-storage of documents that I might need to move between machines, etc…the usual use case for a thumb drive.

Then I started thinking about it and realized…holy crap…this is an MP3 player and a storage device. That means that the system will recognize it as a storage device.

One can put applications on storage devices.

Epiphany time…what if we took this one step further? What if…in addition to the downloaded podcasts…we put the podcatching client on the device itself and set it up to auto-run every time the device was plugged in?

The first step was to find a small footprint podcatching client. Doppler fit the bill. Fully installed, it only takes up about 1.2MB. So, I installed Doppler on the flash drive itself.


The next step was to configure Doppler to write to the device itself. Piece of cake. Just specify the E: drive as where you want Doppler to store the podcasts.



Ok, cool. That seems to work so far. Let’s configure it with this feed. Fire it up and…holy crap…it works!


Let’s plug in the headphones. Yup. Works (note to self…since this cheapo device doesn’t have a volume control, ensure that all levels are normalized to 0db).


Let’s try it in the car. I use the Belkin Tunecast (kinda like an iTrip, but device-neutral). This would also work with a cassette adapter. In this configuration, total weight has got to be less than two ounces. Cool.


Next step. Set up Doppler to AutoRun. Everytime the thumb drive gets plugged into a machine, Doppler automatically starts and downloads the latest podcasts to the device itself. No setup for the user, no configuration, no nothing. Plug it in, it does it. Lights out. We now have a basic self-running, self updating, podcast listening device, that can be preconfigured and set up and handed to someone with no knowledge of podcasting, who can begin to listen to feeds. For a price point that’s low enough that even the most staid old company won’t even require an expense reciept.


Ok, this is pretty neat. So what?

So…here’s the business problem we can now solve. One of the things that my employer does is competitive intelligence. Up until now, we’ve always delivered this as an online document. But the actual end-users of this stuff (typically sales and marketing folks) don’t always have time to read the documents. They also can’t be sure that they are in possession of the latest update of the documents that we’ve delivered to them. However, as sales types, they are often in the car, or on a plane to see the client.

What we can now do:

  • Preconfigure these dirt-cheap devices, one per sales rep, with a preinstalled version of a podcatching client that is preconfigured to subscribe to a tailored competitive intelligence podcast feed. We can do one “post” per competitor. This allows easy navigation inside the device. We set up the device, subscribe it to the feeds, and hand it to our customer.
  • Prior to heading out to the client, the sales rep can plug the device into his or her machine, and within a couple of minutes the latest-and-greatest kill points will be automatically loaded to the device.
  • In the car, on the train, on the plane, the rep can listen to what’s going on in the competitive landscape. And always have the most up-to-date information available.

This is cool. This has been a good day.


  • AutoRun on WinXP is not natively enabled. Either it needs to be enabled on the destination machine, or the user may need to explicity run Doppler off the thumb drive when the device is plugged in.
  • Doppler is still twitchy. I’m running on the 2.0RC, and it occassionally crashes.


I did find that this does indeed have a volume control, it’s just less intuitive than it could be.

Update 2:

Steve’s right…put an extra five-spot in the budget to do the right thing for whichever podcatching client you use.

Equivalency (?) Between Ketchum And BzzAgent

(n.b. this is a continuation of this discussion)

Armstrong Williams and Ketchum (well commented on here). BzzAgent.

Any difference?

Both situations have an individual being compensated (or having the potential to be compensated) for talking about something. Both situations have a behind-the-scenes intermediary (Ketchum in the former, BzzAgent in the latter) that is itself compensated to have individuals start a conversation. These conversations take place in situations where the other parties in the conversation would typically feel that the commentator is speaking from the heart, and not as part of a part of a program (or under contract). In both cases, the others in the conversation feel duped afterwards, upon learning that an interaction that seemed genuine was actually staged and part of a program of payola.

Despite all the metrics and process, I still feel the BzzAgent model is broken. How to fix?

1) Explicity lose the incentives (per here). If only a small portion of the BzzAgents are redeeming them anyway, what’s the harm? Even if half the current participants drop out, there still are (if the claims are true) many tens of thousands of people who are participating.

2) Require disclosure. When BzzAgents are buzzing, anything less than stating (either verbally or in writing, if blogging, etc.) “By the way, I’m a volunteer part of an organization that’s getting compensated to promote this product, and I will be writing a report on it at some time in the future,” is disingenuous. Just say it. The Marqui people do. (I’m not thrilled with the Marqui model, but I do respect their upfrontedness about it.)

3) Aggressively change the meaning of the word “agent.” For this to work, “agent” needs to mean “agent, as in catalyst,” not “agent, as in shady operative.”

Communication is good. An increase in interpersonal interaction is good. Making money is good. But doing the first two as a means to the third without disclosing it is a good way to rile up a lot of hornets. And that’s not-so-good.

Two Great Social Customer Examples From The Last 24 Hours

Got an email yesterday from Brian Dear, of

“Hi Chris…Big fan of your Social Customer Manifesto blog here…Just went through a delightfully awful customer experience with Intuit. Blogged the whole thing, thought you might find it amusing.”

Indeed! Brian blogged his whole convoluted experience trying to get his QuickBooks Pro 2005 “Slowbooks Amateur 2005” up and running, including a hysterical* exchange with a customer service rep who sounds like a cross between Jeff Spicoli and Patient Zero. The comments indicate that Intuit may have lost a potential customer or three based on Brian’s experience.

Then, not 10 minutes after reading Brian’s account, I’m listening to Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code for 18JAN2005. He not only talks about his ongoing hassles with British Telecom (BT) and EasyNet in getting the last 15m of wire put in place so he can get broadband, but records and podcasts the entire conversation with EasyNet customer service. (Click on the MP3 link; the EasyNet conversation starts at about the 4:50 mark in the recording.)

What does this mean? It means that the barrier to entry of publishing…be it via blogs, web pages, podcasts, what have you…has gotten so low that customers, at any time, can share exactly what their experiences are with the vendors with whom they are working. Not only that, but these experiences become persistent and searchable, sometimes to the point of being more visible than the contrivances the companies themselves are putting out.

Warms my heart, this does.

* – well, hysterical if you’re into schadenfreude, that is…

Doc And Adam Need To Think Different About Podcasting

Adam Curry and Doc Searls slag on the iPod shuffle and its appropriateness as a device for listening to podcasts. In an article today in InternetNews, Doc comments on the device:

“It’s neither a boon nor a bust. It’s just not useful for listening to podcasts. Navigating inside a long podcast — and many are very long — is difficult even with a regular iPod, as it is with all players. So, rather than fix the one feature that’s lame about the iPod, they eliminated it completely.”

Adam echoes the sentiment.

“Apple hasn’t picked up on podcasting because they are thinking about how things work from Apple to the rest of the world. They are not seeing what is happening.”

Adam, Doc…I respect the hell out of both of you. But blaming the device is only looking at half the problem.

The other half of the problem is in the structure of the podcasts themselves. When a broadcaster podcaster constructs a long, monolithic podcast of, say, forty minutes or so, it is a black box. It is monolithic. The only current way around this is to create detailed “show notes” to give the listener (who is your customer, btw) some visibility into the inside of this black box. This is the core of the problem, not the device. This currently needs to be done separately from the podcast.

Let’s take a step back, and look at another example of monolithic content that is delivered digitally…DVDs. The DVD makers figured out early on that they needed to break their creations into “scenes” to make them navigable. Podcasters need to do the same thing.

Three solutions:

  • The pragmatic one: Podcasters…break a monolithic ‘cast into parts, and post them separately. More work on your part, but solves the problem. And its doable today.
  • The midrange one: Create a way to easily bundle the monolithic content with a cue file or the equivalent that tells where things are. If a customer is interested in better navigation, the customer can split the podcast based on the cue file prior to loading it to a device.
  • The long range one: After the podcasters do their part to indicate the cues, Apple, Creative and others build devices that take into account the bundled MP3 and cue files, and allow random access navigation.

To dismiss the device is only looking at a small part of the issue. The onus is just as much on the creators of the content to provide clearer navigation clues into the things that they are creating.

(hat tip: nevon)

Update: Come to think of it, the midrange option could be handled inside of iPodder, iPodderX, or Doppler as well, I s’pose. Have the podcatching client split up the podcast on its way in, based on the cue file, and then automatically write out the component parts for easier navigation.

Latest Macworld Rumor — Flash-based iPod (Code Name: “Shuffle”)

(UPDATE!: iPod Shuffle confirmed.)

“An Italian enthusiast reportedly snapped photos with his cell phone of an Apple banner, normally covered until Jobs’ speech, that promotes a flash memory-based iPod. Security officers allegedly tried to chase down onlookers who might have taken photos.” (from eWeek)

Rumored specs:

  • Code name: “iPod Shuffle” or “iPod Micro”
  • 1GB storage
  • Small, vertically-oriented
  • $99-$149
  • Tagline: “Life is random.”

Perhaps called “Shuffle” since it may not have a screen (thus requiring randomly-ordered songplay).

If true, could be a very interesting transitional device…instead of being the “system of record” for audio, this instead could be a viable device for putting together a drivetime playlist. Grab the handful of songs or podcasts that you want for your commute or your jog, load it up, and you’re on your way. (Come to think of it, this would be a great form factor for audiobooks or language tapes as well.)

From the US Patent and Trademark Office database


Owner (APPLICANT) Apple Computer, Inc. CORPORATION CALIFORNIA 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino CALIFORNIA 95014

Goods and Services IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: Computer hardware; computer software; prerecorded computer programs for personal information management; database management software; character recognition software; telephony management software; electronic mail and messaging software, paging software; database synchronization software; computer programs for accessing, browsing and searching online databases; computer operating system software; application development tool programs for personal and handheld computers; handheld electronic devices for the wireless receipt and/or transmission of data, particularly messages; handheld electronic devices with video, phone, messaging, photo capturing and audio transmission functionality; software for the synchronization of data between a remote station or device and a fixed or remote station or device; Portable digital electronic devices and software related thereto; handheld digital electronic devices and software related thereto; digital audio players, including digital music players, and software related thereto; digital video players and software related thereto; MP3 players and software related thereto; handheld computers; personal digital assistants; pagers; electronic organizers; electronic notepads


Serial Number 78528005

Filing Date December 6, 2004

Converse Customers Create Ad Campaign

“The purpose of a dotcom,” the old joke goes, “is to transfer money from venture capitalists to advertising agencies.” It now appears that the mission of the ad agencies themselves is changing. Significantly. And quickly.

Customers are now starting to own the creative.

The most recent manifestation of this comes from the ConverseGallery. (Although Converse is now owned by Nike, the company seems to still have some soul.) Instead of creating a limited number of one-size-fits-all ads, Converse has invited the rabid hordes of Chuck Taylor fans to make their ads for them. (n.b. per Random|Culture’s point below, the ads on the site are definitely high-end, and made by pros…would be interesting to see the more “amateurish” ones that didn’t make the cut.)

I have to say…the spots are brilliant, as is the process they have put into place.

Their process:

– Set up the (loose) structure for the campaign (“nothing obscene, but pretty much everything else is ok.”)
– Predict where there might be an issue, and cut it off at the pass. In this case, Converse obviously realized that music licensing could be a huge can of worms. So they obtained the rights to 100 pieces of music from a wide variety of genres that the filmmakers could use without worrying about licensing.
– Announce the campaign
– Reap the rewards

Simple. Perfect.

A few suggestions I would have for them, however:

1) The spots are brilliant, and customers may want to talk about them. There is no mechanism in place for them to do so. No blog, no forum, no discussion group. No chance for online watercooler conversation of the ads.

Easy enough to fix. Here you go, Converse. Enjoy!

2) The spots vary in theme and feel, as does the customer base. I would love a way to find out what spots others (in particular, others similar to myself) are really enjoying. A social mechanism for ranking the ads that would be most relevant to an individual would be sweet (think Netflix, think Amazon).

3) Let us see the back catalog! You’ve picked ~30 out of, what, 500 submissions? Let us see the others, too. We’ll let you know which ones are the good ones.

Although not the first (BushIn30Seconds comes to mind), this is a still a great effort, and a great way for customers to really have a converse-ation, dontcha think?

(Hat tip: Church of the Customer)

Others talking about this:

Random|Culture: “Is this deceptive marketing? These are not ‘everyday’ consumers as they would have us believe. And the Boston Herald article clearly states that they ‘solicited’ filmmakers.”

AdRants: “Whether the program brings Converse closer to its customers, gives between work filmmakers something to do or simply gets the shoemaker a lot of creative for free is up for discussion.”

Harriet Potter: “Converse emailed. yeah, didn’t make it.”

AdLand: “Films have been created by everyone: yes, from people who have craft skills, but also from 15 year old kids who have done stuff on their computer. It’s open to all.” (from the comments, apparently from the Converse ad agency, confirming that these are not just pros doing the ads)

Is A Flying Monkey With Lasers On Its Friggin’ Head A Good Value For The Experience It Offers?

“It is considered a bit bizarre to have a meaningful relationship with an inanimate object.” – Tree Stories

“Lovemarks.” Dios mio, what a load of swill.

Saatchi & Saatchi’s latest foray into the absurd starts out strong: “Brands have run out of juice.” Ok, I can agree with that statement. However, that’s where the agreement ends. Let’s examine some tidbits from advertising’s finest, shall we?

“A Lovemark’s high Love is infused with these three intangible, yet very real, ingredients: Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy…Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately. That’s why you never want to let go.”

Um, yeah. In other words, “how can we use advertising to manipulate consumers into ‘loving’ something that doesn’t actually exist?”

Sorry, folks. Those days are done. No longer are consumers willing to be spoonfed, spun, and manipulated at your whim. Apple is held up as an example of a “Lovemark,” yet the instant that it was learned that the iPod had a significantly battery flaw, customers were talking about it and doing something about it.

That being said, the Lovemarks site does have a bright side: the “Lovemarks Profiler.” Through the Lovemarks Profiler, you can perform a self-assessment to determine your personal level of brainwashitude with respect to a particular product. I’m guessing that S&S assumed that people would use this capability to figure out how they felt about their brand of soap or something. However, one can take a slightly different approach.


Once we decide what we want to test, the quiz comes up instantly.


The Lovemarks lovefest is also taking place here, here, here and here.