WWW = Win Win Win

The last 2 weeks in Tokyo have been wonderful. There are more than a few posts worth of material, but today helped to bring together a number of threads I have been trying to pull together. 

In short WWW = Win Win Win.  Because when organizations set out to collaborate with others: they win, their customers win and the people they collaborate with, win too.  We talked a little about how others outside your organization might be able to help you grow your business and also about Obama, who did so many things to make it easy to help his campaign

So here are some more ideas on this theme, direct from Tokyo.

Lets start with UNIQLOCK

uniqlock1

Saneel has been raving about this since we arrived in Japan and I admitted that it was not installed as my screensaver. He couldnt figure out how I had been telling time. 

Today we were fortunate to hear from one of the founders (team of 2) of Projector, who created UNIQLOCK for Uniqlo. 

It turns out that this is much more than a beautifully crafted, award-winning, fan-generating, entertaining timepiece. 

Lets take a look at some numbers. Today there are more than 61,000 UNIQLOCK widgets installed on blogs around the world. More than one year after its launch, it continues to produce steady interest. And this doesnt account for installed desktops. 

But whats more interesting, is how this came to be. The folks at the projector worked on an earlier project, involving dance, called Mixplay (shown below). Mixplay came about when the good folks at Projector saw the dancers and reach out to them to collaborate. As they put it “the were interested” in their work and this led to the collaboration. Which in turn led to 1.5m views on youtube and lots of active discussion and a realization that bloggers were picking up the video, too. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSdhDyPhyiU]

This then laid the groundwork for some of the creative in UNIQLOCK, but also the promotional and distribution strategy. UNIQLOCK is made available as a, you guessed it, a clock widget. And since it constantly updates, its unlike other widgets that get boring and removed. And so bloggers get something slick continuously updating content, Uniqlo gets traffic and sales and potential customers get to be entertained (and tell the time).  Win. Win. Win. 

[also, organizations like Circ De Soleil were brought in - they got awareness, UNIQCLOCK and the bloggers got more original content ]

So what is Pecha Kucha?

This idea was started in 2003 by Mark Dyson and Astrid Klein. As Mark desribes it -

Architects are boring

So why not give them 20 seconds for 20 slides? This way, you see the work, sans boredom. Excellent. But they never expected Pecha Kucha nights to be running in 160 cities. The numbers tell the story of steady growth in interest in the last few years or so (“pecha kucha” on google trends). Other than the local event promotion in Tokyo, they never did anything to push it along – more people started showing up and then asking to host it elsewhere. 

We did everything wrong

Says Mark of their approach. But he feels positive, that if they werent open to collaborators, the idea would never have left their event in Tokyo. The only real agreement is to ensure that there was one person representing Pecha Kucha in each city. 

Mark is amazed by the growth in interest, because they just have sought to promote it and yet is continues to spread. The format is even being used by some at Davos. But the core remains a willingness to work with and support whoever is interested and willing to help.

Whats interesting, is the way real events have results in the spread of a presentation format and the creation of a presentation forum for work that might not have any good forum otherwise and it emerged on its own, with very little support other than the maintenance of the site (and now responses to requests for interviews).

Maybe your city is on the list – if not, why not get it started. 

Pecha Kucha continues to spread indirectly build awareness for Astrid and Mark. Across the world, presenters get a new forum to share the work and ideas. Attendees get to see one anothers wonderful work. Win. Win. Win. 

Finally, an idea that could inspire 1 billion people this year.

Earth Hour

In 2007 5m people did it. In 2008 the number was about 50m in 35 countries. And in 2009, the target is 1b people in 1000 cities, who will turn off their lights for an hour to focus awareness on energy and environmental issues. 

Its a non-for-profit, with minimal budget, growing globally, rapidly, using various means to get more people involved. And also providing a focal point for business to do something positive (and benefit by association). Hopefully we all win, as we get more people to act in ways that can reduce energy consumption and the associated environmental impacts. The stakes are high, but we are hopeful that this is well on the way to Win. Win. Win.

There a few more cases that need explanation: A cosmetics brand used mobile to engage with a few thousand early adopters to help them develop and launch a product. Over a 3 year period they went from idea to 8m unit sales working tightly with their community. Then there is Graniph who partnered with artists to create T-Shirts and build their business while they increased awareness for artists.  More to come.

Help them to help you grow your business

How much would your business benefit if people showed up each day to help out for FREE? 

Some might help you find new customers. Others might help you support your current ones.  Some might even help you make your product or service better. 

Under the right conditions people like to help. Some because they don’t even realize they are helping. Others for social currency and yet others for the hard kind. We’re not so interested in the pay-for-play folks, though.  

Fittingly, Wikipedia defines “crowdsourcing” and has some good examples and references. But knowing what it is, is not the same as taking advantage of it. So what interests us is: how can you make it easier for potentially willing helpers, to help you? How can you create situations where someone can easily move from thinking to acting on your behalf. 

Its getting ever easier online - When you join a cause a group on Facebook, it doesn’t take much. In fact, there is a huge difference between those who join a cause and those who act on its behalf, as these statistics show. But what would happen if it just took another click to donate? (like Amazon “One Click” or even purchasing on iTunes).  How much more money might be donated?

Offline works too - When HP asks you to recycle, they take a few steps to make it easier. You don’t need to search for a way to dispose of your toner cartridge. HP makes sure you can reuse the packaging to return it to them and they include a shipping label. So all you have to do is call UPS to pick it up.  Could you make this easier? Are more people returning cartridges as a result? How much is HP saving?

And offline, is going online - When Barack Obama asked volunteers to call potential voters on his behalf, he didn’t ask them to come on down to their local call center. No, he didn’t ask them to go anywhere, just a few clicks and they would be connected. They didn’t even have to dial a phone number.   

We like all of these ideas because its seems like everyone wins, as a result of some simple, well thought our design and communication. So we wanted to look at different business activities, to understand where and how people can help businesses grow. And then dig into how these examples might be generalized into some framework to put this all to use. And finally, take a look at some open questions presented by having non-employees doing work for free. 

Product & Service Development

This is probably one of the fuzziest processes of all, but this doesn’t mean you cant get help. 

Just Ask

Companies like Dell and Starbucks have formalized the process via Dell Ideastorm and My Starbucks Idea. But even before companies were asking, ideas were being volunteered.

Companies like Muji or Cafe Press take this a step further. Muji.net[in Japanese] is used to solicit ideas, too, but Muji also holds design competitions. Some of the winning designs find there way into the stores. In the case of Cafe Press, they are in fact, asking people  to use their tools (including design and manufacturing resources) to create products for themselves and others.  

Then there is Wikipedia. There have been a number of analyses about just how many people contribute, but regardless of the numbers, the point is – there are unpaid people working on the project. Ditto for Linux and a whole host other software programs. In these cases the community relies on some simple infrastructure to get the work done such as Source Forge

But it doesnt take software development tools to open up the process. As Jeff Jarvis discusses, the news production process is easily opened up when the process is viewed differently. i.e. along the way, feedback is sought, not just from a small group in the newsroom, but far and wide. The result is something that resembles the agile development processes on Source Forge. And something as humble as a blogging platform can be made useful to receive help in producing new content. 

Steal With Your Eyes

As an engineering student I spent one summer working in a refrigeration construction plant. The most interesting advise I received from one of the technicians – “steal with your eyes”. It doesnt translate nicely from Afrikaans unfortunately, but the point he was making was that he had received no formal education, but had figured out how to observe and learn. 

Observation is tremendously powerful. In fact, people just doing what they normally do, might be one of the most helpful things they could do for you. It’s no longer unusual for product developers to ask to observe people using products in their “natural surroundings”. Like animals, we tend to be more ourselves “in the wild” – whether online or off-.

But beyond asking people if you can stalk them, there are increasingly ways to observe from a distance via “public personal histories”.

Public Personal Histories

Flickr feeds. Blog posts. Tweets. These are chronicling different aspects of peoples lives. In many cases they describe shortcomings of existing products or wishes for products or services. Companies like Dell are using these published histories to reach out beyond Ideastorm to better understand the conversations that involve Dell online, wherever they might be happening. 

The beauty of these data points is that people created them primarily for themselves and others they know, so they have taken the time and expended the effort to create and share their experiences. And they are doing this at NO cost to the people who wish to review and learn from them. So you actually dont have to ask anything of them. 

Activity logging

Increasingly data is generated whether we want it or not. Its not just site analytics, but actions taken on our phones or driving actions in our cars. But to gather this data in the first place, you need instrumentation – it might be simple sales statistics or more details logs of how long people spend waiting in an airport security line or when deciding when someone last visited a store. Instrumentation is getting cheaper – Google Analytics is free, so there is not excuse not to know what people are doing on your website.

But increasingly other instrumentation is possible, like location data – we have talked about companies like Sense Networks who are able to help companies make sense of this abundant location information now being generated by phones, GPS devices, etc. And products like Nike + or SNIF Tags generate data which can be shared online, too. 

Promotion

The simple Hotmail promotions in the footer of the free e-mail service, have come a long, long way. 

Flu versus a conversation about flu

There is a big difference between talking about flu and getting flu. Too often today, viral marketing is used to describe some alternative to buying media to distribute some communications. This is just not the same as designing viral elements into the business from the beginning. 

For example, talking about Youtube in the abstract is one thing. Receiving a link to a specific video from a friend, is something else. 

In the first case, it might take some effort to go and visit the site and then see if there is anything relevant for me. But if someone I know, sends me a link to something I am likely to like, my experience with Youtube will be quite different. That first experience might be pivotal – in one case, people might hear about Youtube (hear about the Flu), in the other case, they got the Flu and become one of the people helping to drive Youtube to the most popular video destination.

Today, many services capitalize on this idea – attempting to convince users to take some step to get others to act (visit,view, share, register, invite, donate, buy, etc). 

Get an echo

Specific parts of personal histories can cause others to take action. For example Facebook users see various details of what their friends are doing – what groups they join or what events they will be attending, for example. How important are these actions in causing others to take action? Companies like Social Amp are trying to understand this behavior. 

I think there are some interesting relationships to things like recommendation engines, which use specific user actions to predict what they might like. On a simpler level, companies like Amazon use specific actions such as “customers also bought…” or “what do customers ultimately buy, who view this page?”. 

So how exactly do you cause actions that cause others to act? This will be the subject of future post, but at a minimum you have to convince people to take a few initial actions – it might be convincing friends and family to buy your product on Amazon to get the ball rolling. Or getting a lead customer to take the plunge and talk about it. Perhaps a good way to think about this, is an expansion on the classic reference – you want your customers to take a visible action on your behalf which you know others are going to see. 

Let others show you off

Zipcar does a wonderful job of using their cars to simply let people know that about the service. The more people who drive, the more people who see the cars  and might be curious about it.  My own experience has been that on a few occasions, when I first started using the service, people would ask us about the car and how it worked. It happens less now, or maybe just because its winter and everyone is cold and in a hurry to get where they are going. 

Method Products created beautifully designed soap. Soap users were proud to display their products in their bathrooms and kitchens, making soap a-suddenly-much-more-visible-thing. Other things around the house that seem to be shown off include all manner of electronics gizmos which brings us to a funny area we like to call demoability

Demoability

Demoability is designing in some aspect of the product or service use that just wants to be demoed. Or at least making it really easy for someone else to demo the product or service. I do this all the time – its the – “you will get a kick out of this, so I must show you” in me. The iphone had a few wonderful touch screen demos which ensure that it was hauled out and shown around probably more than any other phone that preceded it (I am not aware of any stats to confirm this). But here are some others someone might have felt inclined to show off: uploading Nike + run info, folding a folding bike, Nespresso coffee making, remote control helicopters, Nintendo Wii remote, Seamlessweb ordering process, Zipcar car finder etc. Not everything can happen in real-time, but increasingly products and services can do a great job telling their stories with some semi-scripted help from their users. 

Interestingly I have seen a few toys which have “demo” modes. And I have used these to show people what they do. Perhaps this was mainly intended to use this way in the packaging, in the store, but it makes it easy for me to explain when asked, so…

Distribution

Its increasingly easy to find and buy what you are looking for, so for example, following a recent demo of a Vinturi, I realized it was the perfect dad gift and immediately used my iphone to buy on Amazon. As it become easier to buy in response to a demo, for example, the lines between distribution and promotion will blur. But there are many ideas specific to distribution that help smooth the way for product sales that dont have to take place via retailers. 

Let anyone sell for you

But this is not really the point here. Getting others to distribute on your behalf is increasingly the domain of enterprise software, where companies like Salesforce pioneered ideas around letting users sign up for personal use and then expand the user base by inviting others and opting in to new features. In this way, selling was done by users, selling to potential users within organizations. In the case of 37Signals, Basecamp, this goes a step further, since many of the projects might involve multiple organizations, so now people from different organizations are showing off the product and helping to distribute it. More than a few of our clients opt to use Basecamp once they have used it with us for a while. 

Support

Support can be a tremendously frustrating experience, particularly if it is not timely and if it does not resolve the problem. While some companies fear discussing their shortcomings in the open, there users are online actively seeking help.  GetSatisfaction offers a great example of how these support requests are being facilitated with and without the participation of companies who make the products. 

Either in a peer-to-peer mode or with the participation of the manufacturer or service provider, these services provide a way to expand support possibilities. 

At some point, support feeds back nicely into product development, as it helps to prioritize issues and is likely to spur discussion of new features (as GetSatisfaction is benefitting from). 

Other Actions

We think there are more examples around actions such as recycling, donating, etc. We will expand on those in subsequent posts. 

Beyond Examples: Suggestions & Questions

We have lots of work to do here and will allocate future posts to these ideas, but here are some initial thoughts on how you might make these ideas work for your organization. 

Reciprocity design

Much of online commerce if focused on finding ways to move users through a funnel. Get people to a site, get them to click through to learn more and then purchase something. Or maybe just to fill out a lead form. 

So we know that multi-variate testing techniques can help you test options. But you still need to hypothesize on things to test. So what should you be testing? What actions should you focus on improving? 

We think you should look for opportunities to make it easier for people to help you. And then you can apply some of the same design and optimization thinking to refine and get the most from these interactions. 

Help is on the way, for you too

Google Analytics, Various Google Searches, GetSatisfaction, Twitter, SocialMention, Salesforce (used by Starbucks and Dell), as well as a host of Wiki and Blog tools, etc. All these companies are building tools to enable companies to quickly begin deploying some of these ideas around their existing products and services.

In many cases, they have figured out how to use these ideas to enable win-win situations for their company and yours. We will delve into some of the tools we are using and recommending to customers, in some follow-up posts. 

Organizing things differently

We think there may be some lessons from outsourcing and partnering – these are critical decisions about how you work with another organization to help them or to have them help you. You need to know who they are, if they can be helpful, how they might help, if they are qualified, etc. But then you also define a way to work together to deal with poss

IP: who owns the work that results from the collaboration?

Disagreements: What happens when disagreements arise? 

Legal:  ”Discovery” is an increasingly important part of the legal process and used to be limited to e-mail. Whats the impact of having more communications in the open?

Privacy: what permission is required from users? 

Info deluge: you thought your inbox was busy before, its going to ramp up significantly when you ramp up interactions…

Too much openness: can too much disclosure become a competitive disadvantage?

We are just starting to dig in on these questions and will likely discover more. But right now, in the spirit of seeking help, we would just appreciate any initial thoughts and ideas in response to this post.

In Twitter We Trust

logo_twitter

One tool to rule them all, one tool to find them, one tool to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

Apologies to JRR Tolkien

Twitter is doing for realtime, curated information, what Google has done for all the rest.  I played with Twitter at first and then didnt use it for a while. And then I found some funny, useful, people to follow such as @saneel, @37signals, @jeffjarvis, etc. And suddenly it was part of my online routine. 

Google Trends illustrates this nicely (I helped the dip) – it didnt catch fire initially, but…

twitter_google_trends

There are more charts, showing similar trends. But perhaps the Twipping point, was Mumbai (sadly). 

I first noticed news on Mumbai as I clicked through my various news sources. And then the Huffington Post (thanks) directed me to Twitter’s Mumbai feed. Since then, the Twitter feed has been my starting point for updates.  Multiple sources chronicled Twitter’s role alongside local TV coverage, in providing up to the second updates. On a more personal note and for a good specific example, just take a look at @vineetgupta’s Mumbai related Tweets

Before Mumbai, I had a similar experience during the US elections earlier this year. Twitter featured a link to the election feed and the commentary, links to news, etc were more colorful than the mainstream coverage (granted we were following online, since we chucked regular TV sometime back). 

Now there are a growing number of useful applications that help you get more from Twitter (although its still not clear what Twitter’s business model is). From analytics to easier Tweeting on your iPhone. And there is no shortage of practical advice , guides and even comandments on how to use Twitter for fun and profit. 

So why is Twitter so great? Tim O’Reilly has a good list of reasons to love Twitter. He gets to the heart of what makes it useful and likely to be successful.

I think of Twitter this way - V.S.R.S.S. - Very Smart Real Simple Syndication. 

The smarts come from the fact that in a Mechanical-Turk-like fashion, everything depends on people (yes, there are some bots, but nobody is making you follow them). As folks who are in the business of news can tell you, its really hard to know whats important without an editor (Techmeme, a staple of automation, recently added an editor). Twitter is the ultimate wire-feed – all you need to do is pick your sources.

So how do you know who is worth following? Increasingly, like the barrage of social-booking buttons, I expect you will see more “follow” or “tweet this” buttons. Also, there are already some tools which do various types of parsing of the feed – if people with lots of followers, are leaders, then these are they, according to Twitter Grader. Twitterbuzz is Digg-like, pulling the most referenced URLs from the ether.

And then there is Retweeting for which I couldnt find a good tool, but some interesting insights on the subject. This might just be the piece that emerges as something akin to hyperlinking – more retweets for a tweet increases its value and similarly, more retweets for a  user will likely do something equivalent to improving their “Pagerank” if such a formal metric ever emerges for Twitter. 

It seems like Twitter may be doing for social media what Google did for search – yes – much useful goodness for fun and profit. Specifically, aside from being fun, its delivering things like leads (dare I say revenue?) according to folks like Hubspot(notice post to Twitter link on slideshare). I’m curious to see where it goes and hopeful that we can work with our clients and portfolio companies to benefit from it. 

Oh yes, lest I forget, you can follow me at http://twitter.com/shaunabrahamson.

Update: John Battelle weighs in on how Twitter changes how we search, resulting in realtime conversations. Interestingly, I just tried to understand an exchange regarding Blackberry Bold between @jowyang and others.  (I’m for the Bold). Realtime reviews? Its happening – the brand reps just need to get into the fray now.

Examples of customers as the best partners

We enjoyed Groundswell because it combines careful analysis and practical examples. And so when Josh Bernoff cpublished Groundswell Award Winners, we were excited to see what the winning companies were doing. 

Many people we work with want to know how they can better work with their customers and how they can use technology to facilitate this. The winners are great examples, but also provide simple ways to think about what specific actions you might take. 

Josh divides the winners into revealing categories – Listening, Talking, Energizing, Supporting, Embracing, Social Impact and Company Transformation (my favorite). Whether you are just starting to think about the relevance of social networks or blogs or trying to reorganize your company, there are examples for almost any type of business.

Sharing for Global Optimization

There are always ways to improve. So trying to optimize, is an ongoing struggle. Take a car for example – there will always be people trying to make it lighter, faster, more fuel efficient. The goals may change, but the desire to get closer to the goals remains. Hence the struggle to optimize.

When I was a research assistant with Prof David Wallace, 10 years ago, he laid out a vision of how designers would collaborate by SHARING models what they new, stitching the pieces together and then have algorithms figure out how to optimize across the entire model.  We called the framework DOME – and it existing simply to let you try more design options and more quickly reach a GLOBAL optimum. The research continues today with an offshoot in the form of Oculus, providing tools for engineering design.

Whats more interesting is that the idea seems to be showing up everywhere. In a recent negotiation class, we discussed approaches which “increase the pie”. Why? Well it turns out that the value of the deal to all parties in the negotiation can be higher if they collaborate. But, it requires SHARING. Negotiation is not usually associated with sharing and collaboration. But when you share, others can see what might be valuable to you and together you can avoid local optimal solutions.

The same appears to be true in social media  Sharing your interests, emotions and thoughts does many things, but it enables better optimization. I think just the simple act of sharing, enables people to know more about what you might need or value. They can then propose ways to work together, maybe even a date. But the this would have been very tough without sharing. And the “sharer” and “sharee” (?) would have been worse off, locally but not globally optimizing.

Maybe this is a new role for advertising: figure out what people need or want from everything they are sharing and bring it to them.