Posts about Book

In defense of Facebook

It’s not as if Facebook needs my defense; it has Microsoft’s millions. And I certainly can be accused of Facebook fervency in my writing. But I think some are too quick to jump on Facebook’s back precisely because it is so big and successful.

But I see something bigger happening here: I think Facebook is redefining how to make a mistake.

When they announced the newsfeed, they took their users by surprise and pissed them off. But after pulling back and explaining, it went ahead and, as it turns out, they were right: The newsfeed is the heart of Facebook and is, I’ve been arguing, a new interface for news elsewhere.

When they announced the ad program, they again took their users by surprise and didn’t include enough privacy controls for the users. But after pulling back and adding those controls, I’ll say again that I think they’re onto something. See what Matt McAlister says responding to my musings about airlines capturing the wisdom of their crowds the last few days:

Carrying the theme to retail markets, you can imagine that you will walk into H&M and discover that one of your first-degree contacts recently bought the same shirt you were about to purchase. You buy a different one instead. Or people who usually buy the same hair conditioner as you at the Walgreen’s you’re in now are switching to a different hair conditioner this month. Though this wouldn’t help someone like me who has no hair to condition.

That’s what Facebook’s ad strategy will work to deliver: social shopping. And I want that. Just as I’m interested in what apps friends install I’m interested in what products they buy, so long as they are willing to tell me, and also what they think of them.

Now comes the Scoble Plaxo kerfuffle. Facebook did right: It protected my email from going to the dreaded Plaxo. It cut off Scoble for violating the TOS. But it then reinstated Scoble before he could make a video whining about them. Plenty of folks say they did right.

But now to the bigger point: how Facebook makes mistakes. See Rick Segal defending Zuckerberg on this point:

The larger issue and concern for me is the piling on from Bloggers and questionable Political Action Groups when it comes to pounding on Mark Zukerberg. I turn fifty in 22 days so I can clearly say Mark is a kid. He is going to make lots of mistakes and he will continue to learn and grow. Focusing in on him and how he personally handed it, dissecting his blog posts, etc, is just silly. Many of the blog posts, especially from the “A” list types, have that twinge of arrogance and smugness which is normally seen when the business of business turns into the blood sport of watching somebody fail.

We need to use care in beating up Zuckerberg and Facebook in general because we want these folks to push the limits of finding new ideas and trying to make sense out of all the data flowing everywhere. Try it and get some reactions, adjust, find the happy center, rinse and repeat. That’s what Facebook should be doing and all the users and give feedback about the business. If they go off sides, it will get corrected, it always does. If they do really bad things, people vote with the mouse clicks. Just ask MySpace or AOL’s GeoCities. People vote and have no problem moving.

Right. We can’t expect to see new companies innovating and taking chances without the chance that they make mistakes. Of course, they’ll make mistakes. The question is what they do about them. Zuckerberg and Facebook have done a good job listening to their public and correcting their mistakes and keeping the nerve to innovate and experiment. And they do it in the open.

Too often, companies and brands — especially media brands, I’ll add — try to act as if they’re perfect and they don’t make mistakes and they don’t want to risk their reputations by making any. This makes them timid and that kills innovation.

I’d rather have a company that tries to innovate and makes mistakes, so long as they listen and correct them. That, I believe, is the new way for companies to act. It works only if you are in a conversation with your customers and listen to them. And so far, Facebook has done that. So I agree with Segal. And I say, don’t be so quick to jump on or write off Zuckerberg and company. They’ve done a lot right so far. Could they make the Big Mistake that messes it all up? Sure. That’s what Plaxo did with me, spamming me to the point that I will never trust that brand or company again.

But so far, Facebook has learned from its mistakes. That’s the most I can ask from them.

If airlines became publishers

Furthering my ruminations on the social airline….

Today’s NY Times writes about travel publishers still trying to figure out the web (they’ve been trying and failing to figure it out since the web’s start; I worked, frustratingly, with Fodor’s back in the ’90s as it tried to find a strategy). It says that among their tactics is licensing book content to airlines to display on their seat-back entertainment systems.

But that should be a two-way exchange. Airlines should capture the knowledge of their wise-about-traveling crowds. Imagine if, on return trips, the airlines asked us the hotels where we just stayed and ate and invited us to rate and review them. Imagine if they asked natives to share some inside tips on eating and shopping in their towns. They have a currency to pay for the information: They could reward us with frequent-flier bonus miles. Because they know who we are, they could even start to anonymously aggregate other data around this: ‘American Express Platinum customers recommend….’

The airlines would gather an incredible data base of live knowledge of real travelers with fresh knowledge. They’d outdo TripAdvisor over time. Or they could license their content to TripAdvisor or some of those travel publishers. The airlines could themselves become publishers by listening to and capturing and sharing the knowledge of their customers. But first, the an airline needs to think of itself as a platform for travel and of its customers as networks.

This should be a basic question of any company or industry in the internet era: ‘What do my customers know and how do I help them share that?’

: LATER: TravelWeekly is interested. So is book publisher Joe Wikert.

Taking flight — and fixing it

The other day, I wrote about how I’d like to see airplane flights become social economies as a way to improve and add value to the now-tortured experience. Of course, much of the hassle of flying is in the unfortunately necessary security gauntlet, and others are talking about how to improve that — including the security people running it.

Anthony Williams of Wikinomics points us to an article in FCW describing a successful effort to gather ideas and information from Transportation Security Administration employees through a closed wiki. Williams regrets that we passengers can’t join in and I think he’s right. There’s are obvious reasons why the TSA wiki is closed — namely, security and secrets — but they’d be wise to create a parallel wiki and forum where we, the passengers, could give our ideas and where the TSA people can try out theirs on us.

In the FCW article, Jennifer Dorn, CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration, talks about “rebooting the public square” this way. In a speech, she tells about hearing of the TSA initiative from Kip Hawley, its assistant secretary:

After a great dinner and stimulating conversation, Hawley leaned over and, in a tone reminiscent of the famous scene in the movie “The Graduate,” said, “Jenna, I want to say one word to you. Just one word.”

“Yes?” I said.

“Are you listening?”

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Wiki.” . . .

TSA’s Idea Factory is a secure intranet, restricted to registered users inside the agency. It has become an instant hit. Airport TSOs now share ideas for improving their workplace environment and strategies for making the traveling public more secure. Within a week of its launch, TSA employees had submitted more than 150 ideas, offered more than 650 comments and voted on ideas more than 800 times.

Dorn realizes that this is about more than improving airport security. This is about improving government.

Today, we at the academy are convinced that collaborative technology has the potential to transform government in America, to tap into the expertise of people outside the hierarchy of any single agency or department, to make government more transparent, and to open the door to a broader array of experts focused on solving a particular problem or to citizens who want to contribute to making government work better. . . .

As a public administrator, I believe that the real power of collaborative technology extends far beyond the practical solutions that I’ve outlined. It is more than a new capability. It enables an entirely new way of thinking about the everyday management challenges of government. The real power of collaborative technology lies in its promise for bringing citizens back to the public square to re-engage them in the work of government and solving the problems of America and the world.

: Back to improving airlines and airports. Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is filled with ideas. Found via the Lufthansa discussion, where I’ve not been able to post my comment.

The social flight

What if a plane flight were networked and became a social experience with its own economy?

For part of a book I’m finally starting to work on, I’ve been thinking about how companies and industries can be remade with Googlethink and social smarts (note how I’m not saying Web 2.0). It’s harder to reimagine some than others. The benefits of tearing apart and rebuilding cable companies are obvious. But I just about gave up on airlines, dooming them to their status as the new buses. What can one do with such a commodity service, and one that has deteriorated so badly?

Then I was inspired by Steve Baker at Business Week, who asked, “Why hasn’t aviation benefited more from Moore’s Law?” Maybe it’s not Moore’s law that can reform airlines but Jarvis’ First Law — give the people control and we will use it; don’t and you will lose us — and Zuckerberg’s commandment — give your people elegant organization — plus a bit of Googlethink about networks, platforms, and wise crowds. For Burda’s upcoming DLD event, one airline, Lufthansa, is asking what they should be in 15 years. Here’s one scenario of how they can change in far less time….

Start here: Most passengers on airlines today are connected to the internet on the ground and soon we will be in the air as airlines return to the idea of adding wireless internet to jets (see an AP roundup from yesterday here — I can’t wait). Getting us connected will be good for the airlines, not only because they have something new to sell — if they don’t try to gouge us — but also because we’ll be busy — engaged, entertained, connected — and less likely to grumble and revolt at delays. Busy passengers are happier passengers.

Once airplanes’ passengers are connected with the ground, that enables them to get connected with each other. It would be easy for the airlines — or, failing that, the passengers themselves — to set up social networks around flights and destinations. The possibilities are endless:

* At the simplest level, we could connect while in the air to set up shared cab rides once we land, saving passengers a fortune.

* We can ask our fellow passengers who live in or frequently visit a destination for their recommendations for restaurants, things to do, ways to get around.

* We can play games.

Note that this requires not only wifi internet access at a reasonable price but also electric plugs at every seat. The first airline to do this will gain the loyalty and appreciation of a huge number of wired road warriors.

Continental 747 lounge

* Now think back to the earliest 747s with their lounges where you could socialize with fellow passengers, something that still goes on even in the cramped quarters of today’s jets, though every inch is filled with a seat and though the cabin crew is less often the object of the flirting. The idea is coming back on Virgin and in the 787 Dreamliner and A380. So now imagine if on this onboard social network, you could find people you want to meet — people in the same business going to the same conference, people of similar interests, future husbands and wives — and you can rendezvous in the lounge.

* This is the key to decommodifying the airline: What if you chose to fly on one airline vs. another because you knew and liked the people better? What if the airline’s brand became its passengers? What if the airline even found ways to encourage more interesting people to fly with them because they knew that would attract and retain passengers (they could offer discounts and benefits to people who are active and popular in the social network)? Right now, all you offer is seats and miles: commodities. How much richer this would be if you offered small societies. Yes, we could still get stuck next to a talkative bozo — but not if we could meet people and arrange our seats before the flight thanks to the social network. Next to the right person, I might even tolerate a middle seat.

So these social networks should be opened before the flight. And that enables not only these on-flight connections but also a new economy:

* The airline can set up an auction marketplace for at least some of the seats: What’s it worth for you to fly to Berlin next Wednesday? You could bid and buy a seat from a passenger who already holds one. This could solve some of the airlines’ overbooking problem and reduce the cost of bumping customers if late-booking passengers can buy seats from fellow passengers in an open marketplace. You can bet that once a social network around a flight exists, we’ll compare what we paid. So why not be open? Yes, speculators could arbitrage seats, but so long as they’re nonrefundable, what problem is that for the airline? They become market makers. Besides, this sets a new market value for seats that in some cases will be higher than the airlines’ existing fares.

* The airline could also use this to predict and maximize load. What if there’s a sudden surge in demand for a destination the airline can see because bids appear in an auction marketplace for a certain route around certain dates (because of a new conference or festival or good media coverage for a new getaway or bargain)? The airline can add capacity, which keeps the airlines in control over arbitrageurs; the airline is always in control of supply and now it would know more about demand. Similarly, what if a flight is light and the airline starts offering passengers alternatives at great discounts to enable the airline to cancel a flight and reroute the equipment long before departure? The airline increases efficiency and profitability; the passengers get a dividend; and the environment gets a break. These things can be done in an open and flexible marketplace.

* While you’re at it, why not turn frequent-flier miles into an open market? In miles, the airlines have created a virtual currency with far greater reach and value than those on Second Life or Facebook. But they’re essentially illiquid. The airlines make it impossible to get frequent-flier seats with them unless you’re flying to Krakow on Christmas Day a decade hence. And the other deals they offer us — use your miles to buy a TV — are bad deals. This, in turn, devalues the virtual currency to the point that it offers an ever-decreasing incentive to choose one airline over another; it no longer acts as the decommodifier the airlines intended. So open it up: Let us bid on frequent flier seats with our miles. Let us trade and barter our miles with each other — I’ll sell you this iPod for miles I want to use to get my vacation. This will again add value to the currency.

* The main reason we go for miles today is to get silver or greater status so we can jump lines and board first. But I’m not in control of how much I travel; my employers are. So what you really want is my loyalty; you want a large marketshare of me. So let me earn privileges in other ways. Open this up, too. Let me bid miles or money for these benefits: create a market value for boarding first.

* The airline should find ways to involve employees in the network. They can also offer tips. They are the airline’s representatives to the community. And the airline should want to learn more about its employees through the network. Those who make the flight more pleasant and more social are an asset and should be rewarded. Besides, it’s hard to get nasty with cabin crews when you feel as if you know them.

* The airlines can also learn a great deal about their service from the network of passengers. We’ll tell you about the food and what’s worth paying for. I’ll start a movement to save my knees from the bozos who slam their seats into them. You’ll see which employees are your best marketers.

There are many subtleties to this. For example, in some cases, I won’t want to reveal my true identity (telling people I’m out of town), for others I will (doing business). If seats are being traded, real identities and credit cards must be in the system for security. And so on. But this would be easy to pull off with existing social software (Ning, Drupal) and links to existing social networks (Facebook, Linkedin) and existing auction markets (a walled-in eBay). The beauty is that no marketing is required; you’re simply serving, connecting, and organizing the customers you already have. Yet this act alone rebrands you as the social airline. (Better get there quick, before Virgin does.)

So brainstorm with employees and passengers. Imagine what it takes to be the open, social airline — a platform for travel — and then imagine the good that comes of it. Your customers will give you value if you trust them and let them.

: LATER: Ross twitters: “the social airline already exists, try the last flight to Vegas on a Friday night.”

Cutting up a newspaper

Friend Dave Morgan writes an insightfuul, provocative post — reacting to mine, here — suggesting that newspapers should disaggregate themselves into their separate, marketable skills: a news service; a sales/marketing company; a printing house; a distribution company; a digital shop. He breaks up the dependent, exclusive relationships that made newspapers businesses since their beginnings: nobody else has the content, nobody else has the audience, nobody else has the presses, nobody else has the trucks, nobody else can have a newspaper, but no more.

As we seek new business models for news — not to mention new futures for newspaper companies and their constituencies — this is the kind of thinking and discussion we need. So let’s explore it.

My fear in Dave’s scenario is that the news service won’t be supportable. Oh, the size of present newsrooms most certainly will shrink — no matter how much their inhabitants wish that weren’t true. But I wonder just who would buy their services and for how much. How much of a market is there for syndication when any information is an instant link away, when the value of exclusivity collapses? And disaggregated, it becomes easy for competitors to emerge.

So maybe we need to disaggregate the newsroom yet further into its distinct and, we hope, marketable skills. Reporting and news-gathering (words, images, sound, video, data, investigation) may well be something that freelancers (professionals and amateurs) do. And editing — curating, vetting, enabling, educating, to cut up the task yet further — may find new value. Analysis may happen more and more in the commentsphere that the community has become.

In a world of disaggregated, independent practitioners of journalism and media, I think the editors’ skills of finding the good people and stuff and making it better will be of value mostly to advertisers as they look for quality, credible networks where they can reach audiences. That ties journalism back to ad sales. But it also amplifies the church-state conflicts newspaper organizations were cultivated to control: That is, tough journalism, disaggregated, will not appeal to advertisers; fluff will. One hopes that the opposite is true of the audience — that there is a market demand for journalism, for harsh, true reality — and there lies the solution: without quality, you won’t have audience. That is the inherent leap of populist faith one must make to believe that news survives. I’ve made that leap.

I have similar trepidation for Dave’s digital company, since those divisions of newspapers have fewer unique skills (anybody can build a web page and with easy tools, no one needs to build them anymore).

Sales? There is where I think the core value of the newspaper lies. If the sales organization were freed up to sell anything — to help local and national marketers reach local customers — then it would, in turn, support no end of new efforts, products, services, networks — and, we hope, journalism. The problem with Dave’s scenario is revealed in my post that inspired Dave’s: Newspapers have not been good at innovating and finding new ways to serve new advertisers; Google has been. But Dave’s leap of faith is that freed from supporting only a newspaper, sales will be sales and it will find value in service to a market. My leap, again, is that this will still support quality, credible reporting.

Printing and distribution? Yes, absolutely, they are no longer key values but are, instead, cost structures with too much drag. Divest them; take the cash to invest in innovation. And the fringe benefit is that, no longer tied to the infrastructure of shifting atoms, the journalistic and sales operations will finally engage in that innovation; they won’t care about preserving paper but will instead concentrate on their true values in the market.

I wish I had a bunch smart business students at hand to start making models for each of these media economies. If we assume that there is a demand for news — and in a democracy, we must — then what does the supply side of that market look like? How will local marketing operate? How will networks replace corporations?

When you get down to it, what Dave is really doing is cutting newspapers into platforms that enable independent operators to do their jobs and make a new economy of local media. I say that news and media organizations must think and operate like platforms. This could be what that looks like.