Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New word alert: Emotainment

Doctor, doctor... it hurts when I do this...

I hate making up new words. And yet I keep doing it. Why? Because I love making up new words. Love and hate are not so far apart. We learned this from Mr. Spock on Star Trek. The opposite of love is not hate... the opposite of love is Andy Dick. Anyway...

If we use "edutainment" to mean content that is both educational and entertaining, and "infotainment" to mean those things that are entertaining and informational, well... we have a new form of entertainment online that revolves around all the new social thingies that we've got going on. Do any of these sound like things you're doing these days?

  • Heavy commenting on blogs -- not just leaving one comment, but engaging in comment strings, learning who the regulars are, developing a personality on the blog for yourself

  • IMing with a cadre of friends whom you only know online (another word of mine, "eLationships" applies here)

  • Creating avatars and personnae in virtual communities in order to vent various feelings and thoughts you wouldn't under normal circumstances

  • Engaging in online gameplay not because of the game, but because of the relationship potentials

  • Posting and replying on bulletin boards until all hours of the night because of the back-and-forth with various members

  • Chatting in chat rooms, being clever, being sweet, being sympathetic, zinging each other, being flirty, being outright sexy

Well, if the appeal of any of those activities stems largely from the interpersonal drama, the friendships, the wit, the arguments, the zingers -- all the communications that aren't specifically related to the material itself, but to the feelings of the participants, you're involved in what I'm now calling emotainment.
Isn't emotion entertaining? I don't think we've thought of it that way before, but I believe it now is. In the same way that we didn't use to think of education or information as ever being entertaining... but now we do; hence edutainment and infotainment.

When we engage in social interactions on the Web, we are doing so in a medium that we observe even as we interact with it. We are the audience of our own performance. And so,

  • As I type in my own zinger on Digg and dugg somebody, I get to mutter to myself, "Nice one, Andy!" I have been emotained.

  • A group of friends gathers in IM or a chat room and one gets out of hand, bringing a bit too much drama, another soothes the gang, chilling everyone down... impressing the bunch with her words of wisdom. Emotaining them all.

  • A guild leader in World of Warcraft dresses down one of his minions in front of a crowd of guild members after a series of infarctions. The offender leaves in a huff, but all the others agree, "That droog had it coming, and totally had to go." A nice bit of emotainment.

It has been remarked on often before that we engage in higher levels of emotional outburst on the Web, in IM and in email than we do in real life. We don't self censor, it is said, because we don't have the social cues of real life. And we don't have the other person in front of us. I also think we tend to jump on the drama llama online because, well... it's fun. It's emotaining. It's fun to get a little frisson of excitement from being a bit more brusque, risque, flirty, sweet or angry than we do in real life.

And since the consequences aren't (usually) so severe, we go ahead and push the envelope. Which is what entertainment is about. It's just, in these cases, rather than the moments being crafted by a screenwriter or author, we make them ourselves with our own emotions.

Emotainment. Now playing at an adrenal gland near (er... "in") you.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Social features vs. social functions

The social story thusfar...

This is the third in a series of posts about social networking/software, intended to put the current... er... enthusiasm... about making everything "social" into some kind of perspective, and to begin to assign some kinds of business and/or marketing terms and thoughts to the various processes and parts of social platforms.

The first two posts dealt with how we might measure the relative social value of various systems. It took me two posts to do it, since I use this space to think out loud, but with your kind patience, I came up with the following definitions:

Share of Participation: the relative value of participation in a particular type or brand of social activity by an individual or a group as measured by resource or influence

Social Share: how much of the total participation in social activities of a desired audience is aggregated to a particular brand or segment.

So "Share of Participation" might be seen as the social equivalent of "Share of Wallet," but measured in time, number of "units" of participation (entries, comments, etc.). And "Social Share" might then be an equivalent of "Mind Share" or "Market Share." The first measures how much of an individual or group's "social capital" is spent on a particular social network. The second measures how much of an entire, desired audience that network has captured. These are two very different measurements, their differences are incredibly important, and we'll get to that later in this post.

How & what vs. why

People get strategy and tactics mixed up all the time. They also get vision and mission mixed up. I've heard the two terms used interchangeably. I've always thought that "vision" makes sense as the "higher" of the two, as what you see or are looking to achieve -- your vision -- doesn't change based on what you do, but your mission(s) -- what you do -- can change over time. Missions change more often than visions, so they should be lower on the totem pole of organizational chatter. But as long as you know what you mean... fine. That's what I'm talking about. Higher vs. lower.

The "higher level" stuff is almost always concerned with strategy, and strategy is almost always concerned with "why" you are doing what you're doing as opposed to "what and how" things get done. That's because until you know the reason(s) why you (or your boss or your board or your customers) want to do something, it is almost always harder to formulate a decent plan for doing what and how. Why is that? Because there can be many, many different reasons for doing the same thing.

Witness lipstick. It's the "what" answer to a "how" question: "How do we make somebody's lips very, very red artificially?" With lipstick. Bingo. Quesion answered. Super. So... what are you going on about there, Mr. H?

Well, what I'm going on about is the difference between a feature and a function. Lipstick does, in fact, make lips very red. But if you are a woman looking to buy lipstick to make your lips red to look all sexified for your date... that's a much different function for red lips than that of a circus clown. Same feature, different function. One can argue that clowns probably use some other kind of make-up entirely; not lipstick at all. At which point I say again, "Bingo." You've now narrowed your "feature" even further. It's not just about red lips anymore, is it? It's probably about the adhesive properties of the unguents involved or something. What do I know from lipstick? But my point is, for the one feature description, "Make lips red," there are several higher level functions that are radically different.

It gets much more complex when features and functions overlap. And when they aren't well understood. And don't have a history. When media are new and everybody is jumping all overthemselves to get in on a game that seems very exciting because all those crazy kids are setting up MySpace pages and downloading YouTube videos and using the Wikipedia to research their homework because it's all so dang social... well, you need to stop and understand whether the social aspects of what they are doing are features or functions of those networks.

To put it another way: is any particular platform social in nature, or does it simply utilize social abilities to perform tasks? Or both? And, if it is social in nature... is it uniquely social? Is it creating specific social content, or easily replicable interaction? And, at this point, we're back to ways in which we might utilize measurements like share of participation and social share.

Social features: Wikipedia rules

If you don't know what Wikipedia is, and somehow you've found my little blog... that's just sad. That's like some weird kinda reverse Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. But, be that as it may, Wikipedia is one of the best examples of a software platform that utilizes social aspects of computing almost completely as features... but is almost entirely devoid of a social function, except as an implicit byproduct for some of its authors/editors.

Most people who use Wikipedia come in contact with it as users; searchers for information. When you do that, you have no social interaction with article authors whatsoever. You are consuming information. Period. End of story, no social nuttin'. The whole Wikipedia might have been, as far as you know or care, written by one really smart dude, a computer, or a giant robot squid from the future. The social tools put into place -- the social features of a wiki -- are used in order to enable the writing and editing of articles on the site. The function of Wikipedia is to provide those articles to its readers.

If there are any social functions of the Wikipedia, they are, essentially, serendipitous; accident. You and I might "meet" while editing the same article, discover each other's email address, correspond (probably not entirely on Wikipedia, but that could happen...), fall in love, etc. etc. I'm sure that a few deep, meaningful relationships have, indeed, formed across the pages and links of Wikipedia.

Then again, I'm sure that deep, meaningful relationships have formed between mail carriers and folks on their routes. But the social aspects of mail delivery were not, and will not ever be part of the raison d'etre of the US Postal Service, FedEx or UPS. It happens. But it's not part of the "vision."

Social function: eHarmony connects

Meeting, dating and marriage are about as social as you can get. The relationship site is all about matching folks up with that "perfect someone." I have no idea if it's any good. They have good ads. But I've spent some time goofing around on their site looking at their system, and I can tell you one thing -- their Web site and tools are not social, although their service and reason for being is entirely so. Many of the individual tools/features we associate with socialness and Web 2.0 -- wiki-like functionality, tagging, user-creativity tools, individual home pages, Java/AJAX-enabled aps -- are entirely absent from eHarmony's site. Its feature-set doesn't include many social tools. But its function is 100% social -- to establish a social relationship between its users where one did not exist before they joined and used the service.

Social this vs. that? Why should we care?

About half the companies with any kind of serious truck on the Web are monkeying about with social-this and social-that. Yahoo! may pay $1 billion for Facebook. Google just paid $900 million to be the search pal at MySpace. Lots of companies are adding tagging and user profile features to sites. Hundreds of sites today offer either a few social features, or are overwhelmingly social in function, or have utilized social features to the point where they would not function without them (Wikipedia).

This is all part of the Web 2.0 phenom. User created content. Groups of folks connecting with like minds. Virtual worlds and MMOs. All of which is grand. But from a business and marketing perspective, you gots to know what you're looking to accomplish (goals), what you're willing to do to get there (resources), and how exactly you're going to make the trip (tools at your disposal). Being confused about any of these things will put you in a world of loss.

For example... if you think that adding some social features to your company's Web site will create community and make your customers into a big tribe of hand-holding advocates for your products and services... well... probably not. At this point, tagging, user pages, etc. are becoming de riggeur. Within a few years, not having those features on your site will be like not having a search box. In this case, playing into the "social game" may be a good idea, but don't get your expectations up to high. You're adding features to your pre-existing products/services. You're not enabling folks to find their dream spouses.

On the flip side... if you have a service that is truly social in function, like, be very, very careful about tacking on social features. Why? Because you may be enabling people to cut out the middle-man: you. What happens, for example, to the match-maker when the users become the match-makers? Well... er... Right. That's what happens. Bye-bye. It doesn't strike me as dumb in any way that eHarmony's site isn't very social. They're selling social. Giving it away in the site features wouldn't be very smrt.

I'm not saying there ain't good ways to combine the two; I'm just saying that you need to understand the difference. Know what you're selling vs. what is the value-add and what is the loss-leader. Know how social features might truly benefit your customers vs. just being a distraction. Keep an eye on when the socialness of your site may be allowing for interactions that are truly helpful -- uncovering new cross-selling ops, for example -- vs. when you may be enabling competitors to set up shop in your own backyard.

Social networking is good. Yes. I think so. But it is also very powerful. And that means it can bite the hands that feed it if not implemented carefully.

Monday, September 18, 2006

enough 2.0

Being in marketing, I consume about 32,009% of the USRDA of buzz and hype. It's part of the gig, and I accept the health affects. The headaches, the nausea, the decreaed intelligence and strange looks that children give me.

What you reg'lar folk (who only consume marketing and advertising during your day) may feel after, say, a few hours of watching TV without the aid of TiVo to assit in powering through the ads... that slightly tarnished, funky feeling of having had a strange man put his hand on your thigh and try to guide you into a new Avalon or Body By Jake... well, we who dwell in the Land of Spin, we live with this 8-12 hours a day. And we don't put blinders on -- we pay for electron microscopes and consultants and subscriptions to magazines and reports and blogs that give us MORE. On purpose. We watch ads and read books about direct marketing and go to seminars about branding and all kinds of jazz like that. Why? Because we make this stuff up. You eat it. We plant it, grow it, harvest it, grind it, mix it, bake it and deliver it to your door.

I say this as a preamble. I say it to let you know that it takes a lot, a whole lot... a really, really big friggin' lot to make me tired of a catch-phrase. Normally, most marketers think of them as pets. As cute little buggers that the populace at large has adopted for awhile, and will eventually let die once they grow too old to cuddle and start to smell funky. Sometimes a catch phrase will linger on in comedy bits as something that folks in-the-know understand isn't cool, but that geeks think is still "hip." And we in marketing can certainly exploit that tension. Fine, fine, fine. But I'm not talking about that.

I'm talking about a catch-phrase that is actually lingering in the by-god mediasphere. Something that people who should know better keep using. And when it gets to the point where I can't go a week without reading some new "Two-Dot-Oh" crappy story... well, I've gotta just ask people to cut it out.

First of all, if you don't know what "Web 2.0" actually is, don't use the term. It doesn't mean a Web site that you designed in the last year or so. It doesn't mean an interactive site. We've had those for years. It doesn't mean a site that looks clean and cool. It doesn't mean a site that uses Flash or AJAX or Ruby-on-Friggin-Rails. If you don't know what it means, look it up. I'm not even going to give you a link. HINT: If the article doesn't mention Tim O'Reilly, it's a crock.

But even if the hype around Web 2.0 was inflated and had overstated its welcome... and even if folks had just stuck to using the term inappropriately... well, I'd have shut up and put Web 2.0 in the land of cute, too-cooked catch-phrases that us marketing wallahs learn to live with as the enter and exit our various visual fields.

Now, though? Now everything has to be friggin' 2.0, dunn' it? We've got Enterprise 2.0 and Banking 2.0. There's Education 2.0 and Cinema 2.0 and Religion 2.0 and Career 2.0 and Design 2.0 and...

Here's a Clue 2.0... put just about any business phrase or idea into Google... add 2.0... and do a quick search. Great yazzin' zotz.

Two-Dot-Oh is a great way of saying... you don't really know what the hell Web 2.0 is. There is quite a lot of controversy in the Web world as to what Web 2.0 actually means. And even if you believe in what Tim says it means, if what that is, is what it should mean. Because Web 1.0 was supposed to mean that in the first place to many people. Get it? It's not like saying something is "salt free." Saying your idea is "2.0" doesn't make it anything.

Except Annoying 2.0 to me.

Update 10/29/06: In case you didn't click on the logo above, you should know that it was created using Alex P's "Web2.0 Logo Creator."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

TaleWeaver, Second Edition

Well, I finally got around to it -- the Second Edition of TaleWeaver. The First Edition has been available on  for awhile, which seems like a big deal, but ain't. If you care, here's the story behind the story about the story of making up stories.

Back in 1999, I originally wrote the 100 story/game/poem cards that form the basis of the project as a stand-alone deal-i-o for my wife and future (at the time) son. Had no intention of doing more with it, really, than playing it at home with them and some friends and family. But I was told (by her and others) to "Get with the program" and write down the rules. So I did, and formatted it in a friendly way for the nice gnomes at Kinko's to print out, along with the cards.

I made up about 12 copies In that format --  which I guess was "TaleWeaver beta." Hah hah hah... does this make the current version "TaleWeaver 2.0?" NO IT DOES NOT! I will rant on the whole "2.0" thing if you give me even half an excuse. So don't get me started... anyway...

So I had the "beta" done and hanging out, and my friend Jeff called me up and we were talking. And he, it turns out, had started one of the first online self-publishing companies, "Great Unpublished." And since they were new, they needed whatever projects they could get "on the shelves" when they went live. He asked me if I had any "book length manuscripts" or such that could fetch some attention. The only thing I could think of, other than ganging together every scrap of poetry I'd ever written, was TaleWeaver.

So I gave it unto him, and he published it for free. At the time, GU was charging like $150 or sumfin as the set-up fee. No big whoop. The he and his partners sold GU to a company called BookSurge. Which then got sold to Amazon. So now my wee book, through no work and with no effort and no payments on my part was on Amazon. Cool. Ish. Because the cover was really crappy, as the initial GU covers were all very basic. And the cards were included as pages inside a paperback book. Yeesh. And I had no control over the typography. All of which, as a design-wank, made me nuts. But not enough to cause me to do anything about it, as I hadn't done anything about it to get the thing published in the first place.

But then, if you'll check down there... a couple posts down... no, not the one about shaving your nuts... you've scrolled too far... a couple higher... yeah... that one... you'll see that I got a nice email from a guy who used TaleWeaver as a lightweight RPG. "What a neat idea," I thought. "If ever I update TW, I should include that."

Well it bugged me. A good idea like that all, well... Unincorporated. That and the crappy cover, and the cards in the book, etc. So I've been working on the 2nd edition for the last month.

And now it's done and you can get it at Lulu. I'm pleased with how it's turned out, especially the RPG system. I resisted the urge to get overly complex. There's just one mechanic in the whole dang game. Hah! Take that, Steve Jackson! And you can buy the cards separately now, as a downloadable PDF, and print 'em on your own card-stock. Which, since I can't find a way to do custom cards over the Internet (yet), is the best I can do. I may offer a deluxe gift pack or something in my Etsy store where I'll put the book, a printed deck of cards and a couple dice together in a nice box along with an autographed picture of anyone other than me.