Thursday, August 27, 2009

How hits happen

One of the things I find most fascinating in communications is how information is spread. In the old days traditional channels, and old fashioned word of mouth dominated but these days digital channels are very important, and crucually, can often be tracked.

Often with very big stories there is too much clutter to wade through to work out how the news is spread, and what the tipping points are, but the following are two examples, produced by myslef, looking at stories that have been nre-ignited after their original appearance.

1 - Spotify & iTunes

On the 10th August it was reported that Universal Music in Sweden were claiming that they received more revenue from Spotify than from iTunes. Great story - but despite it being translated into English, the story did not gain much traction.

Here is the original English version of the story, and here is the pattern of spread in social media, produced using Radian6.

You can see that there was an original bump on 10th August and afterwards, and Radian6 shows that these included blog posts like this one, and tweets like this one, and it was posted as a comment to an article on Engadget. Of the 25 posts on the 11th August, 22 were on twitter, including this one by a user with nearly 2,000 followers. Yet the story quickly died, presumarly because it got lost in the noise.

The story got activated on the 25th, leading to 39 mentions in social media, followed by 182 the day after.

What activated it, and why did this work?

The answer is mainstream media. The Daily Telegraph produced this story (possibly seeded by Spotify), which then got picked up by bloggers like this one, and tweeters like this one. Many of these refer the Telegraph as their source. This shows the continued power of mainstream media, and of tweeters and bloggers with authority and a large audience.

2 - Guinness is Good For You.

This old advertising slogan from Guinness was investigated by American academics in 2003, as reported by the BBC at the time. However in late July this became the 4th most read story on the BBC website.

How did this suddenly take get re-ignited?

Again Radian6 helps us to find the answer.

It was posted as a link on the Motley Fool website on 27th July, as an intro to an article about Guinness' parent company.

This was re-posted on the Fodors forum, on 28th July, by frequent poster Hetismij, initiating a discussion about Ireland.

It was then picked up by tweeters, like this one, all posting the same BBC link, and then on the 29th July there were 126 posts mentioning the story.

The lesson from this one is again that it needs momentum on high traffic sites, and from popular and trusted people.

& of course, as both cases illustrate, the story has to be a good one too. But it has to get the right media push to work.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

District 9 Soundtrack

Great embeddable widget for the new sci-fi film District 9. Works really well!

"Come back here - & let me stab you!"

Brilliant collection of videos of kids playing video games, made by Robbie Cooper. Just the faces and the soundtracks.

Via the New York Times, and the Soap Creative newsletter.

Monday, August 24, 2009

500 best tracks of the 2000s at 50c a pop

Great partnership from Lala and Pitchfork - Pitchfork reviewers have chosen their 500 best songs from the decade so far (top track - B.O.B. by Outkast - really?), and online music store Lala are selling them for 50c each.


The rise of 'Free' at the Edinburgh Fringe

I've just returned from a few days in Edinburgh, watching shows at the annual Fringe Festival, and generally enjoying the atmosphere and the vibe. It's easily my favourite UK festival.

One thing that I noticed this year was that the Fringe has effectively evolved into a 3 tier pricing model. It's a nice example of 'Free' as a naturally evolved business model.

First, you get the premium shows, generally featuring acts you'd see on TV, or theatre shows from established companies. An example of this is the unofficial Comedy Festival that is a collaboration nbetween the 4 main venues. Typically tickets were £10 for a 50 minute show.

Next, you get the Five Pound Fringe. These are less established acts, geerally performing in well-equipped venues. Again the shows last about 50 minutes, and for a fiver people are willing to check out new talent.

Finally, you get the Free Fringe, or in fact two different versions, the Peter Buckley Hill one and the Laughing Horse one. All shows are free to watch, and the acts don't need to pay for the venues. Venues make money from selling drinks to the audience, and the acts gain valuable exposure and pass around a bucket at the end for donations. Acts get a far bigger audience than they would otherwise - most of the shows were full - and get to make spending money.

Generally speaking all acts lose money in Edinburgh, but those on the Free Festival probably lose less, and have less admin (paying for venues, ticketing, splitting the box office, taxes etc) and thus enjoy it more. It's not a perfect analogy for the digital world, as it's only a short festival rather than a year-round thing, but it shows Free as a natural evolution.

I saw 5 free shows, and all were excellent. Check them out if you have a chance:

Iona Dudley Ward - character comedy
Peter Buckley Hill - Standup
Kunt and the Gang - very rude songs - has to be seen to be believed
The Peculiar River - Dark musical theatre from the Alchemy Troupe
Goldenanorak Unzipped - standup and sketches

See also - my review of Free by Chris Anderson.

Great banner ads for Halloween II

Who says the banner's dead? Not the guys who made these, who cleverly parody the sort of mindless ads that you see on social networks. It's all about the creativity...

Find the full set here

Via the ever-excellent Metafilter - arguably the best site on the web. (I love Metafilter, and a new, added part of the enjoyment of reading it is trying to second guess which posts will pop up later (uncredited) on media blogs, Popbitch, Contagious and so on.)

YouTube takeover ad for EASports Madden 10

Really good, and another sign of how YouTube is increasingly monetising the site.

You can also see it here, on the Doubleclick creative examples site.

See also - this brilliant ad for Pixar's Up

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's the difference between Facebook and twitter?

For one thing I don't get spammers like this contacting me nearly every day on Facebook.

Sort it out, twitter!

(If you do what to follow me on twitter, and your're not a spammer, you can find me here - )

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Social Media Addicts Association

New campaign for Sony Vaio, using the Social Media Addicts Association.

Here are their 5 Steps to kicking the habit:
- Admit you have a problem but don't tweet about it.
- Accept that you don't need upvotes to feel validated.
- Understand the risks of poking strangers.
- Repeat after me: "Twitter and alcohol don't mix".
- Don't go cold turkey! Just delete one friend a day.

Includes a petition, user 'confessions' and more.

Very good!

Social Gadgets for iGoogle

I love my iGoogle. It means that any computer in the world - friends' computers, internet cafe computers, and so on - can effectively be my computer too just by signing in.

Now come social gadgets for iGoogle - effectively games that you can play with friends, and things that you can share. Google is effectively turning iGoogle into a social network, but without calling it one. Very smart.

More here (official Google blog), and here (FT Technology blog)

Shoot it - genius iPhone App

This is pushing me one step closer to getting an iPhone:

Shoot it is an iPhone app available for $0.99 that lets you send a real postcard of one of your pictures to a friend anywhere in the world. So no buying postcards, buying stamps, looking for a post box... In fact, let's face it you could do it in the airport.

Postage rates apply: US is $0.99, UK is $1.25, and Western Europe is $1.50.


Via the ever-reliable Metafilter

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A tale of two URL shorteners

URL shorteners have been around for a long time. Initially they seemed to serve to make it easy for newspapers and magazines to put long links in in a form that their readers could easily type in (for example for YouTube videos, although most pre-date YouTube).

With twitter they have come into their own. Since twitter only lets you have 140 characters, you don't want to post a long url. Services like, tinyurl, and so on have seen their usage levels soar.

But not their revenues, as almost all of these services have little or no revenue model. Essentially becoming something used members of a free service like twitter can be a real problem.

This is why the service has voluntarily shut down. A statement on the site reads:

" is now in the process of discontinuing service, effective immediately.
Statistics can no longer be considered reliable, or reliably available going forward.
However, all links will continue to redirect, and will do so until at least December 31, 2009.
Your tweets with URLs in them will not be affected.

We regret that it came to this, but all of our efforts to avoid it failed.
No business we approached wanted to purchase for even a minor amount.

There is no way for us to monetize URL shortening -- users won't pay for it -- and we just can't
justify further development since Twitter has all but annointed the market winner.
There is simply no point for us to continue operating, and pay for its upkeep.

We apologize for the disruption and inconvenience this may cause you."

But it doesn't have to be this way. A few days previously a rival service announced that it was going to launch a real time news service, mining the popularity of the different links that can see being sent around through it's system. It reports that it seems more than a billion clicks a month, so is in an incredibly rich source of data to mine, and they plan to charge marketers to access this information.

General manager Andrew Cohen told Wired:

"What we see are people, and marketers, coming to and using it almost as an ad server — running campaigns on Twitter, but becoming interested in the ROI (return on investment) on those campaigns.

If I send out a tweet about dogs versus a tweet about cats, what is my average click rate normalized by the number of followers I have today? Did dogs perform better than cats? Did dogs perform 20 percent better than cats, and if so, if I share a URL about dogs again, has it performed two standard deviations beyond what I would normally expect for sharing a dog-related URL at noon on a Thursday?”

Smart stuff, and being a bit of a data geek I'd love to get my hands on that data. (In fact I can see some of the data, because let you see how many clicks a link has, by adding a '+' to the end of the link, for example: )

What these two contrasting stories show is that there is still both lots of money to be lost, and (potentially) made in digital media. has the advantage because it is the default shortener of twitter, and has the most volume. turned into an also ran.

It also shows that to monetise services you need to be imaginative - paid services, premium options, and advertising are not the only options. If can get their plan to work the company will be worth a huge amount of money very quickly.

One thing though - with short urls you never know where you're really going to end up. There are companies already set up to send links to mirror pages featuring ads as a way of generating revenue - beware of clicking through on short links if you don't know the person posting them.

Cheese & Burger by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Suitably bizzare. Number 10 made me laugh out loud.

Includes recipes. But you must use Wisconsin cheese.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Brilliant rich media ad for Pixar's Up

How cool is this? Served by Eyeblaster

The NHL vs twitter

Great story from the New York Times, about how the NFL is trying to crack down on players twittering, not for legal or rights issues, but in case they reveal things that could affect the fortunes of teams:

"Sparano told the Dolphins that information on Twitter would be picked up by the news media and provide another dreaded distraction.

Coaches did not have to look hard for an example: after Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson sprained a knee ligament in practice Saturday, his teammate Bernard Berrian tweeted that he was out for the season. Berrian later said that he was joking, and Jackson was expected to miss only a few practices.

A greater fear for coaches is that a player will mention that he turned his ankle in practice — or worse, that somebody else did — and that the news media and opponents will quickly read it."

I think we're going to see something like this in other areas of life too. Recently footballer Darren Bent got in trouble for tweeting about his frustrations about delays in getting a transfer:

"“Seriously getting p***** off now,” was the message posted at lunchtime, followed by “Why can’t anything be simple. It’s so frustrating hanging round doing jack s***.”

After later stating that “Sunderland are not the problem in the slightest,” there then followed more stringent criticism of Levy. “Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go stoke NO do I wanna go sunderland YES so stop f****** around levy [sic].”"

The account got taken down, Bent got fined a reported £120,000, but has since claimed that it was worth it as it helped him to get the move he wanted.

This is an extreme example, but firms need to establish guidelines of what people can and cannot write in a personal capacity, especially where it concerns their jobs. Footballers seem to be particularly unwary of what they write; there are lots of cases of overseas Premiership players writing things in their blogs (in their own languages) and then being surprised that the press write about it.

See also - Rio Ferdinand's online magazine

From innovators to late adopters

Click to enlarge

I love this chart from page 16 of the new Ofcom Communications Market report. It shows the current status of different technologies in the UK, from HDTV channels (only used by 7% of individuals) to digital TV and mobile (both used by 89% of individuals).

Go to the Ofcom site to see the full report, or to my stats blog Digital Stats to see my selected highlights.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sponsored Tweets

Sponsored tweets is a site that acts as an exchange between twitter users and brands who want people to twitter about them.

Users sign up, stating how much they would want to be paid to tweet about something, and then advertisers can find people willing to tweet about them, with a link, for a price.

It all uses full disclosure - for example: 'Big ups to my sponsor ACME check out http://...'

This is not good. Yes, the paid element is disclosed, but the whole process devalues the genuine expression that you get on twitter. My first thought was that it could be good for charities and causes, but again the idea of them paying people to tweet seems tacky. I think if anyone I followed started doing this I would un-follow pretty quickly.


Monday, August 03, 2009

Solving the Plumber Problem - updated

Last year I worte a post about local and social search, called Solving the Plumber Problem. Apparently this is a recognised issue for local recommendation services, because while a restaurant may have thousands of customers each year, of which a small percentage will post reviews, plumbers only have about 500 customers a year, so are unlikely to get many reviews, and any they do get are likely to be written by people connected to the business, either positively or negatively.

Anyway... The top rated plumber on the site Yelp in San Francisco, Friendly Plumber, now has 126 reviews, and an overall rating of 5/5 (although to be fair there are some negative reviews if you look for them).

I think if I was in San Francisco and needed a plumber I'd know who to call!

What this shows, of course, is that the rise of social media and user generated content will eliminate things like The Plumber Problem, and twitter, by nature of practically encouraging random and pointless posts, generates lots of data of the sort that did not used to exist.

See also - Dragon's Den and paid search

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Help Me Investigate

Help Me Investigate is a crowd-sourced journalism site based in the West Midlands, and featured in this week's MediaGuardian podcast.

A member of the site puts forward an idea for an investigation, then other members help out by getting hold of documents, sifting data, and writing the investgation up.

It's a great idea, and one that I'd expect to be replicated elsewhere as a more structured form of blogging and citizen journalism.

Current investigations include:

Car Clamping and Parking Fines in Birmingham

Do TV Detector Vans Exist?

& Who Owns the Pubs in Digbeth

More information here
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