Friday, November 2, 2007

What OpenSocial Means to You

Wow! Just when I stopped reeling over the 100 million users impacted by the new Google-led OpenSocial API standards, MySpace comes on board and doubles that number! This is big!

What is OpenSocial, and why is this so groundbreaking? Marc Andreessen gives an accessible, if somewhat lengthy, description on his blog,

In a nutshell, what it means is that creators of the nifty widgets that you’ve seen grow like wildfire on Facebook can now create similarly cool tools that will work on virtually all the other major social networks. And users can share them with each other across all those networks as well. Which means, on one hand, that the barriers between the different networks are coming down, but also that all the major networks will probably experience greater growth and more interesting content as a result. Along with MySpace saying that they will start allowing ads in widgets on MySpace via a revenue-sharing model, this will really pump widget growth into the stratosphere.

Of course, it begs the question – if all social networks start to share similar tools, what will differentiate them? Probably natural segmentation of their communities based on demographics and interests. I predict that twenty-somethings will soon be on an average of five to seven social networks, and the next big thing will be profile management tools like These are interesting times!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Launch of mEgo and Other Adver Widget News

Last month launched at TechCrunch40 in San Francisco to strong reviews. You can experience a mEgo by clicking on mine, posted 9/18 to this blog. mEgo is a portable profiling application for use across multiple social networks. And as such, it's part of a major trend sweeping the interactive landscape: ubiquity. In other words, being able to place an application in multiple social network environments, and transfer it virally. Adver-widgets are one expression of this trend, and in some ways mEgos are adver-widgets, although they are of far greater complexity and functionality than any others that I've seen.

The key insight here is, how will users, social networks and advertisers react to the growing proliferation of social networks? Over the next few years, I anticipate that most adults between 18-34 will be on an average of 5+ social networks. Those that acknowledge that trend and plan for it will be the winners of the social network world, while those that try the "walled garden" approach of keeping their users on only their platform will end up like...well, like AOL. We remember them, don't we? Web gardens were not meant to be walled! Are you listening, MySpace?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Friday, June 8, 2007

Critics vs. Fans

I was browsing through the winners of the 2007 Webby Awards this week, looking for trends: what's cool, innovative ideas, etc. While there were a lot of beautiful graphic designs , the innovation was mostly in business concepts, such as's peer-to-peer lending, rather than in site design. One thing did catch my interest, however. That was examining which sites won official Webbys in each category, and how they compared to that group's People's Voice selection. The differences are instructive, I think.

First, a caveat. Most of the people reading this blog realize that the People's Voice awards are gamed to a certain degree, with nominees exhorting their colleagues, customers and family to vote for their site. Heck, most of us have probably played along and voted for such sites ourselves. So People's Voice (PV) selections may not truly reflect the average consumer any more than the Webbys judges do. That said, there were certain trends that I think are worth examining.

For one thing, PV choices often provided more immediate gratification than the judge's selections. There was more immediately available content on the Home Page, for example. If a long Flash move was loading, other content kept you interested while you waited, rather than leaving you staring blankly at a "Loading..." graphic. Compare, for example, the interminable Volvo C30 site that won a Webby ( with the PV winner, the Yaris Personal Test Drive ( [Full disclosure: I work with Toyota and Saatchi, but had nothing whatsoever to do with the Yaris Test Drive site.]

Or compare the Webby-winning with PV choice Both sites offer interesting Web 2.0 functionality, but is more immediately engaging, pulling its content up to the Home Page level, whereas Flickr asks that you click to a new page before you can begin to interact.

Of course, there are hosting considerations to putting dynamic content on your Home Page, and new users can be overwhelmed by sites that put too much content out there at once. But since web designers tend to gravitate towards extremely minimalist designs, it's good to check in periodically and see what "real users" value.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

HDTV 2.0

Finally! According to a story released this morning by Dealerscope (, HP plans to release a flat panel HDTV later this year with built-in wireless Internet access and pre-loaded "MediaSmart" software.

As I opined in my post on February 19, I really cannot believe how long it has taken television and DVR manufacturers to figure out that their equipment should come with wireless Internet access standard. Game console makers led the way with units that seamlessly blend entertainment and Internet access. TiVo moved things forward earlier this year when it started selling wireless card adapters that owners could add to the their DVRs, although in my opinion they should have been built in to the Series 3. Now, finally, the electronics industry has woken up. I predict that by the end of the year this will be standard equipment that all new HDTV shoppers look for on sets. While HP's market share in televisions is negligible, I think this idea is so long overdue that others will rush in immediately.

Why did it take so long for manufacturers to reach this epiphany? Say hello to our old friend, the Paradigm Shift. Because Internet access is associated with computers, computer manufacturers were expected to solve the problem of getting Internet access to our TVs. Which Microsoft has tried to do for years with the Media Center, with virtually no interest from consumers. Despite interest in Video on Demand (VOD), who wants to have to figure out how to hook up their computer to their TV and DVR? Now, with televisions pre-equipped with wireless Internet access, services such as the Amazon's UnBox and the many other VOD options that have been on the market will have a presentation platform embedded in their customer's homes. It will take a few more years before we all have them, but the end is in sight.

P.S. A friend of mine just suggested why TiVo, at least, has been so tentative in adding wireless access to their product. His thought was that DirectTV and other content provider partners were probably not keen to have the increased competition for their VOD offering, and may have applied pressure to TiVo to not be too aggressive on this front. Sadly, that makes sense. But TV manufacturers should have no such restraints on their innovation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Which Web Conferences to Attend?

Have you had it up to HERE with web conferences that are a waste of your time and money? I certainly have. Perhaps I’ve become more discriminating now that I run my own shop (and pay for these events out of my own pocket), but overall I think the ROI of most web conferences is pretty poor. So I’m inviting my friends in the interactive world to participate in an experiment. Let’s tell each other which conferences we attend, rate them, and share anything of value that we picked up. Hopefully, over the next year we will all become better informed consumers of web conferences!

I’ll kick things off with a report on OMMA Hollywood, held last month here in LA.

OMMA Hollywood, March 19-20, 2007 Hollywood CA (Rating: 3 out of 5 stars)

A few topics dominated the conference, namely social networks, broadband videos, and user generated content (UGC). Some points of interest...

The Doritos UGC Campaign
Jason McDonell’s presentation on the Frito-Lay UGC campaign that culminated in two user-developed commercials airing during this year’s Super Bowl was excellent. Despite being panned by most of the ad rags, the winner of the Doritos campaign was ranked in most online surveys’ top 5 ads from the Super Bowl, and generated enormous free publicity. In fact, Jason stated that UGC and user polls will play a key roll in upcoming product creation and naming, adding legs to what would otherwise be a one-off promotional campaign.

Another thing that I found interesting about the Doritos UGC campaign was the relatively small number of entrants. Despite the value of the prize, only about 1,000 submissions were received, and many users submitted multiple entries. This is consistent with my clients who have tried UGC campaigns – they are usually disappointed with how few people actually enter. However, I think the Doritos campaign shows that despite a low turnout, there can still be a lot of value in these campaigns.

Other Points of Interest:

• An introduction to “adver-widgets,” care of Clearspring ( a “leader in widget building, syndication and tracking.” The syndication and tracking aspect is key. Clearspring creates branded widgets that users are encouraged to share virally across multiple social networks and personal sites, then tracks how many places they are adopted. Very interesting.

• Jupiter Research confirms that “Frequent Social Networkers Skew Young, but Are Not Necessarily Influential” ( This confirms my own research on social network users. Because social networks, particularly MySpace and Facebook, have grown so rapidly in the last year or so, their users are now pretty mainstream. Early adopters exist on MySpace, but they can be found in higher concentrations on newly emerging networks, or among those who self-identify as users of multiple networks. It’s also interesting to note that online opinion leaders/influencers are different than offline ones.

• I loved Quantcast(, although I have no idea how accurate they are. They provide totally free site traffic estimates and audience demos. I checked a couple of my client sites, and they seemed to be about as accurate as Hitwise, and a lot better than Alexa, but that’s anecdotal feedback only, so don’t hold me to it!

• I was also intrigued by Reality Digital (, which offers a hosted dashboard and API for UGC video and image uploads, and their management and oversight, into established web sites. They not only had a robust, easily skinnable product, but a wealth of real-world experience about what’s likely to happen once you introduce social networking into your site -- and how to mitigate the blowback from your senior execs and legal department.

I hope you’ll all play along and dish the dirt on the next conference you attend. To contribute your recent conference review, post your thoughts here for everyone to see, or email me at

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Don't Diss Your Business Users!

Forrester Research just published a new report called "Usability Remains a Challenge for B2B Sites" (March 7, 2007). Analyst Alan E Webber opens the report by saying:

"During the last two years, Forrester evaluated the usability of 60 business-to-business (B2B) sites. We found much poor usability, especially when compared with business-to-consumer (B2C) sites. B2B sites received their lowest scores on our navigation criteria and were particularly hampered by illegible text..."

This raises an important point that I have been hitting on for years -- don't diss your B2B clients! For some reason, B2B site interfaces are still frequently developed by IT professionals rather than their User Experience (UX) brethren, and are rarely subjected to usability testing prior to launch. This is true even among firms that have in-house UX professionals and routinely do usability testing on their B2C sites! The situation is made even more ludicrous when you consider that the lifetime value of a single B2B customer is often many hundreds, even thousands of times greater than that of a retail customer. And yet I see this phenomenon over and over again -- automotive companies who spend millions of dollars refining their consumer portals have dealer intranets that are almost impossible to figure out, and banking firms put far more effort into their retail applications than they put into those for Cash Managers who manage millions of dollars a day. It just doesn't make sense!

One excuse I hear for skipping usbability testing with B2B customers is that the standard testing protocols -- focus groups and one-on-one lab testing -- are not convenient for business customers. That's largely true. However, other test methodologies exist that are tailor-made for business users. One example is in situ research, whereby the researcher visits the user's work location and observes how they typically use your site. This research is often no more expensive than consumer research, since the researcher's travel costs are offset by not having to pay for a test lab. Furthermore, I have found that many of your B2B clients are happy to participate in research without even receiving an incentive. They are only too happy to point out to you how to make your product more satisfying and useful!

Yes, B2B usability research is a little different than consumer testing, but the return is well worth it. I've seen improvements in B2B applications show triple digit ROIs. Simple, intuitive applications allow your clients to decrease training time and increase their flexibility by allowing multiple staff members to conduct routine tasks. So the next time you start planning a B2B application, be sure the project plan includes user research. Your best customers deserve your best effort.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tivo Meets Amazon

I'm more than a little frustrated about how very long it's taking to get a user-friendly online movie source that delivers films and television shows directly to my television. We've been talking about television/internet convergence coming "soon" for quite a few years now. So I was very excited about the recent anouncement that Tivo and are linking up for a new service. I've been speculating about Tivo for quite some time, as it seemed like such a natural partner. I believe that the reason the Windows Media Player hasn't taken off is because of the consumer fear factor: come on, quick, what are the two most challenging new home electronics devices to install? Your computer and your VCR/DVR, right? So, convincing people to try to hook the two together invites total panic. Whereas Tivo, while still having many of the key components of a computer (a hard drive and modem), looks like an old-fashioned VCR, albeit with this funny little telephone cord attached. So, my hope is that this partnership will overcome the obvious barriers and move the ball forward quite a bit.

The reality seems to still be fairly far off, however. Most of us are still using that telephone line to access Tivo's programming, so you'll have to get a wireless adapter and move Tivo to your home home network to get started (not surprisingly, they actually developed their own and suggest that you buy it, I would have thought that this train has been coming for long enough now that Tivo could have included standard wireless cards in the DVR, as with most laptops sold today, but apparently not. Then you'll need to download Tivo Desktop. And apparently, even after all this, initially you won't be able to order the Unbox videos directly through the Tivo interface. So, my guess is that we're still at least a year away from what seems like a fairly straightforward request. Anyone wish to place a bet on who will get there first, and how long it will actually take to create a seamless user experience for video downloads using a made-for- television interface? Me neither.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Vista's International Test Families

Amid all the news on the recent Microsoft Vista release, one story was of particular interest to me. That was the angle outlining how Microsoft had utilized 50 families of “regular users” to help refine Vista. By “regular users,” we’re not taking about the self-selected power users normally invited to beta test pre-release software. These were regular folks with regular hobbies, giving Microsoft daily feedback on areas of confusion or undue complexity. Microsoft stated that these users’ input was invaluable, yet the cost was relatively minimal -- new computers and a few small incentives such as pizza coupons.

All too often clients cut corners on user research, or cut it out entirely, because they feel that it is too time-consuming or costly. Yet fundamental product breakthroughs often come with this kind of in situ research (meaning in the environment of the user, for example their home or office). Even more exciting is the fact that Microsoft chose families from across the globe from the very beginning of their research, ensuring global relevancy. We salute Microsoft, and wish them the best with Vista.,1895,2081624,00.asp

Friday, January 12, 2007

Welcome to What's Next Interactive Blog!

Welcome to What's Next Interactive's Blog. Here we will discuss what's new and interesting in the interactive world, ruminate on what's dated and broken, and otherwise share insights into how to build a better, more interactive world. I welcome your thoughts and participation.