October 2007 Archives

One MEEEELLEEEEE-UN Miles

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About a month or so back, I get this message that I just joined the Million Mile Club for American Airlines.

ONE FRICKIN' MILLION MILES!

My butt has sat in AA plane seats for one million miles since I started flying AA as a kid to today.

On one level, I'm happy about it. I got this little icon on my Exec Platinum card that says 1 Million Miles, and I get lifetime Gold status.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure.

ONE FRICKIN' MILLION MILES!!!!

One million miles of sitting in back wrenching, trapezoid tightening, swollen leg plane seats whose failing cushions and poor ergonomics challenge any sane person while propping up the chiropractic and inflatable pillow business. One million miles of sitting in seats designed twenty years ago when humans were of smaller stature and now through trans-fat fast food and working out humans are just that much bigger. One million miles of watching security getting beefed up to the point where we'll have to strip naked soon to get on the plane.

And how many hours spent just sitting in airports waiting...and waiting...and waiting....

But yet, the world is truly smaller. Decades ago, the expense and difficulty of flying made the world seem so much less accessible. Today, I think nothing of hopping on a plane to go to another country, or just cross-US to do some business or visit family or friends. So one million miles of growing, mounting discomfort for one million miles of watching the world grow smaller, more accessible, and less lonely.

To me, this is a potential positive balancing act turned a zero sum game. If we improve all the crappy things about flying, the positives are actually pretty compelling. But no, we get benefits and sacrifice other things for it. It's really a shame.

It Sucks to Not Be an Engineer...

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It's gotten pretty clear to me that if you're not an engineer, then starting a new Internet startup becomes a difficult venture.

Consider the non-engineers out there with great ideas. You want to start a company but haven't been able to convince someone that you have a great idea through Powerpoint alone. Everyone wants to see something working so they can wrap their brains around it and see if it is truly viable. But you can't show them anything. So you go try to build it.

So far it becomes an expensive project...well, in Web 2.0 terms it's expensive. In normal terms, it probably costs what it should cost. You go find some money, and you pay people what they need to get paid and whatever you build gets built.

But not so in the world of Web 2.0. It turns out that full on products can be built for so much less than normal. Well...less than normal if you are an engineer and program it up yourself. You are programmer, product manager, visionary, business development, designer all rolled up in one. You spend a few months coding at night after your day job and, poof, you have a working web site. The only expenses you may have are your own; nobody else needs to get paid.

For non-engineers, it's a tough to build a Web 2.0 company without being an engineer, or having one as a partner. You could hire an outsourced engineering firm but that could run your costs up to $30k to $100k per month for many months. You could raise that but you'd need 6-12 months to build something. That would put your angel raise at the very high bounds of what is achievable with a Web 2.0 concept. And you'd have to do it without a working prototype. Makes it that much more difficult as investors know they should see something first and have gotten spoiled by all the other Web 2.0 companies who do come in to present a concept with working prototype in hand.

Best bet: Find an engineer or two and bring them on board with your concept. Without engineers, it's a long hard road and I've already encountered several entrepreneurs who are trying to start something, as well as those who are well along the way. Those who have built something could only get money from friends and family, so having rich friends and family goes a long way. Very few have gotten money from a fund, and those were people who had track records in entrepreneurship, experienced and persuasive in the pitch, and had all the important questions answered.

Second best bet: buy Ruby on Rails for Dummies and start programming.

Increasing Site and Social Engagement in Detail

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Over the last few years, social media has really become a popular buzzword. People talk about social networks and the importance of implementing them, as well as the drawbacks and potential dangers. Rather than talk about social media as a strategy, I wanted to point out some actual detail level things to try rather than stay at the 10,000 foot level of discussion. Based on working on social media projects over the last year, I have found the following techniques to be effective at creating and maintaining a vibrant social environment that produces results:

Voyeurism
Related to: Dating/Hooking Up, Expression (receiving end of)

People love to follow other people for a variety of reasons. From telescopes in apartments buildings to eavesdropping on a nearby conversation to hearing and passing on gossip, the lives of others around us seem infinitely more interesting than our own. We follow other people for many reasons: to keep up with what our friends are doing, to check out hot women, to see what trouble celebrities get into - we are always curious, sometimes to the point of obsession, about what other people do day to day. Successful social networks allow people to post and describe their daily lives so that others can take a look.

Communication
Related to: Dating/Hooking Up, Connecting with Context, Entertainment, Validation

It is human to want to contact someone else. We are social creatures and we want to talk to others. Providing a way for people to contact and maintain communication with others is crucial to the lifeblood of a good social network. Just as important is the ability to shut people out, and give people ways of *not* talking to everyone or only certain people (ie. annoying people, spam, ex-boyfriend).

Dating/Hooking Up
Related to: Voyeurism, Communication, Masquerade, Entertainment

Let's face it. Lots of guys surf pictures just to check out hot women. But then sometimes you'll want to make contact and see if you can get a date. Simply providing a means for surfing photos in profiles and a system for communication can enable this activity, but providing additional functionality to facilitate this activity can make the experience more enticing and fun. Think HotOrNot.com and the ability to rate people, and then pick out only the HOT rated people to contact, or show interest by sending someone a virtual flower. Or I'm In Like With You where auctions meets dating and you bid on the ability to meet someone.

Entertainment
Related to: Communication, Dating/Hooking Up, Competition, Fame

Having a good time on a site increases engagement. Providing ways of having fun keeps people coming back to have more fun. Games are the obvious one, and playing by yourself is good but playing against others is often better. Sometimes it's the content posted by users, like funny videos of themselves posted on YouTube or pictures on Flickr to be watched on their Flickr streams. Or if a fun spin can be put on mundane activities, then the unique fun that activity brings will draw people in and keep them interested.

Fame
Related to: Competition, Expression, Entertainment, Showing Off/Vanity, Validation

It's fun to do an activity and play a game, but enabling a way for people to get acknowledged and recognized for their skill rewards people by the notoriety they get for being good at something. Leaderboards on gaming sites allow users to show the world that they are #1 in a game, and they'll screen shot that and put it on their blog. It also means that they'll keep coming back to keep achieving or maintain their #1 position on the leaderboard for bragging rights.

Competition
Related to: Fame, Entertainment

There is something in the act of striving against other humans that people love. They want to test their ablities and measure themselves against others and be measured and will keep coming back to try. They like to see continual improvement and enjoy a rise in skill. There is also competition against themselves so it's not always about other people. And, there is the ultimate prize of being number ONE. Perhaps we'll never get there, but maybe we will. No matter what, we love the struggle and the journey to number ONE. In games and sports is where we most often see competition, but it can also be other things like getting the most views on posted content like a video. Great games and activities constantly provide the ability to raise the bar just a little more each time to keep people competing, but don't raise the bar too high or else people will give up. Not raising the bar at all will cause people to achieve that level and then move on because it's too easy. This bar can be set by other users, like when you're competing against other players in a sports game, it can be set by a computer which auto-adjusts for your skill level.

Expression
Related to: Fame, Voyeurism (contributing to), Showing Off/Vanity, Validation

Constantly we are on stage. The world is a theater and we are its actors. From the clothes we wear to what we say or do, we are always showing the world who we are. Providing a means for people to express who they are means they will continually do it, especially if there is a mechanism for validation like commenting on photos in Facebook.

Showing Off/Vanity
Related to: Expression, Fame

The extreme form of expression is showing off and trying to show that we are special and unique. Showing our crazy stunt videos, or photos of us drinking a 3 foot tall beer, or next to a movie star all show the world that we are not boring people but that we have the biggest peacock feathers. Allowing people to show off and giving validation mechanisms like commenting on photos, or leaderboards, or graphical badges of honors on our profile pages reward us for posting and showing off, and encourages us to do more.

Validation
Related to: Communication, Fame, Expression

We always want to know that who we are is noticed and special by others. We like it when we get comments on our photos and videos from our friends. It makes us feel that others care and that we are not alone in the world. Implementing means of giving validation gives users that special feeling that others do notice them, and they'll keep on posting to get more validation. The simplest form is commenting on photos and videos, but it can be focused by providing context like on Dailystrength.org where you can post an issue and get support from strangers and friends via the internet.

Masquerade
Related to: Communication, Community

Sometimes we're boring. Our lives are so mundane that we get sick of it. Or maybe we're not in the social mainstream. We feel shunned by the general masses and can't seem to get in the flow of society. Or maybe we're just tired of being ourselves and want to try being someone else. On the internet, the ability to be someone else is very easy. Simply creating a new screen name and building a personality underneath it has been done since the early days of the internet. People can pretend they are the opposite sex, older or younger, more fun, more engaging - whatever. It is something that is not easily achieved in the real world. Acting out the fantasy that they have either personality traits not in the real world or entirely someone else can be an activity that keeps people returning. The unfortunate thing is that people often masquerade for negative reasons like stalking children, and this needs to be guarded against.

Community
Related to: Masquerade, Connecting with Context, Communication

Humans want to belong. It's often to easy to feel outcast in the real world. On the internet, communities can be more accepting of people than in the real world. If a site can create a means for people to be a part of something, they will want to come back and continue to participate to be part of that community. Think of the instant groups that Facebook has, based on tags created from your interests, or your hometown. These are ways for people to find commonalities on which to connect on, which foster communication and validation.

Connecting with Context
Related to: Community, Communication

In watching social networks over the years, I am a firm believer that social networking for social networking's sake is a path to declining activity. It is much more engaging for users when you create a context for which socializing happens. MySpace's usage came from the fact that they were always about promoting indie music. Yes, other things happened there, but you knew that you could always find indie music on MySpace. Facebook started out by being exclusive to colleges and there was no way to taint the population with random people who were not attending your university. Everyone you found there went to your college and you could relate easily. LinkedIn's network is built on professional networking, another popular activity in business and its functionality is focused on making that activity easier. Contrast that with Friendster, who had a meteoric rise when it first came out and then usage tapered and dropped because people got bored there when applying this list of social techniques was not done well or not at all.

For all my projects, I try to think about applying some or all of these techniques in creative ways. I also think about the context since not all techniques are effective in every context. For example, dating could be a hard sell in a social stock picking application, but competition and fame would definitely work well. Some of it is experimental, as there could be unexpected results of applying something you thought wouldn't work in a context. So let's turn my example around. Suppose you did create a social stock picking site which had an underlying dating application underneath? Perhaps it could link up all the superficial, money hungry people by allowing you to find, meet, and date the richest, best stock pickers in the world...? Socially unacceptable? Perhaps. Successful? Who knows...

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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