Monday, February 28, 2011

Everything as a service

Is everything destined to become a service? Here is a recent blog post at Harvard Business Review:

"What's more exciting is how you will consume refrigerators in the near future. Will you even need to buy one? Perhaps manufacturers will lease you a fridge and charge a low monthly rate for managing your refrigeration needs. They might bundle energy costs in as part of the package and then help you find ways to reduce energy usage. They'll probably invite you to share clever ways to use refrigerators, or comment on their own ideas, and innovate even better offerings next time. We will increasingly consume products like refrigeration as services rather than as products. As a result, our consumption will be more accessible, more convenient, more affordable, and more personalized."


Web 2.0 innovation: Skweal.

The premise is that people only vent about bad customer service or products on public sites like Yelp if either they don’t have a way to complain directly to the company (to get their problem fixed) or if they try to complain directly but are still not satisfied. So Skweal allows people to complain to one central place and they find the right person at the right company. Participating companies commit to making a strong effort to resolve the problem in the expectation that the customer will not also post about their dissatisfaction in public (but there is no guarantee/contract involved).

Would you do this, or would you rather vent in public? Is it revenge you are looking for, or satisfaction?

Curation Nation

There is a book called “Curation Nation” that explains the growing use of curation as a business model for web-based business models. The premise is that aggregation sites (that present you with everything in an order that is based on a web-crawling and page-rank kind of algorithm) are losing their popularity because of search engine optimizers and too much junk out there.

Instead, we are using our social networks or experts to filter the cream from the crop. We find people who we trust in particular areas (movie critics or friends who share our taste in movies; fashion icons or friends who share our taste in clothes; etc) and then listen to their recommendations. So the growth of reputation management systems and recommendation systems are becoming more critical than search algorithms and search engine optimization strategies.

What do we share with our friends?

There was a study done at Wharton that they covered on the show “On the Media” this weekend that I think would be very interesting to all of you.

The researchers looked at the most emailed articles from the New York Times web site every 15 minutes for several months. This should have balanced out any effects of time of day and day of the week and part of the month. I don’t think they went for a whole year, so there may have been some seasonality effect.

They used semantic analysis to try to identify what the most emailed articles had in common. Was it importance (Revolution in Egypt, etc)? No. Was it Paparazzi (Lady Gage stories.)? No. It was stories that were awe-inspiring. They took a lot of time to develop a formal definition of what they meant by awe-inspiring and trained their research assistants to measure this consistently. And this was the #1 attribute of these NYT most emailed articles. Secondary to that was articles that made people angry (but not articles that made people sad) and articles written by female authors (even keeping the amount of awe and the amount of anger constant).

Keep in mind that these weren’t the most popular articles or the most read articles. These are the ones that people most wanted to share with their friends/contacts. So we don’t want to inform our friends, we want to motivate them. We don’t want to share information, we want to share emotion. Interesting, don’t you think?!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Social network revolutions

Ever since the Tunisian and Egyptian “revolutions,” there has been a ton of debate on the effect of social networking. As a self-proclaimed social networking strategist, I have a few opinions on the matter myself.

First, I hate the talking heads that say either that social networking is the new savior of democracy (by allowing these groups to get organized) or that it is the new tool for dictatorship (to allow regimes to censor and track activists). The truth is that they do both, or neither, it’s all about how these tools are designed, implemented, and managed. As my favorite answer to student questions in class – the real answer is that “it depends.”

But since WE have the power to design, implement, and manage these tools, we can make sure that the positives outweigh the negatives. It is possible to create wi-fi mesh networks that would resist government censorship and prevent them from shutting down the Internet in the event of a revolution. It’s also possible to create anonymous and untraceable profiles for activists. We can effectively do what Christian Slater kind of did in the movie “Pump up the Volume” (great flick btw) with his pirate radio station.

So it's up to the designers at Facebook, Twitter, etc. to modify their platforms. But if they can pull this off, the power it would give activists would be incredible. But as with any kind of power, it can be used for good or for ill.

Household cap and trade

A couple of Eastern European countries are piloting a household level cap and trade system. Each household gets a certain quota of carbon emission credits. If you want to use more, you have to buy credits from someone who will use less. There is a big, central, market for the credits, so it’s not like you have to go out and find the person to buy from/sell to. Would that change your behavior? The pilot studies are finding that people are using less electricity, driving less, etc. But since it’s their choice, it is more “free market philosophy” than government mandates.

An extra benefit is that since lower income households tend to use less energy than high income, it also reduces the need for social safety net spending without raising taxes or government spending. Rich households are buying emissions from low income households. But again, rather than forcing this on people, it is free market based. If a low income household wants to use more energy, they can. And if the high income household wants to reduce emissions and save money, they can do that too.

Smart Homes

There is a new prototype for a smart home electric meter. Existing models can tell you what the differential price for electricity is at any given time and allow you to customize your usage (thermostat, running the washing machine, etc) accordingly.

But this one decides autonomously. When prices go up, it automatically changes the thermostat or delays the washer. Are you willing to give a computer that much control? I assume that the eventual product would allow you to set some basic preferences like the range of temperature you are willing to accept or how long you are willing to wait to wash your clothes.

There are some great applications of human factors design in creating this kind of preferences interface so that it is easy to use as well as effective in translating user preferences into system performance. The great thing is that it pays for itself in energy savings too.