Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Using technology for social change

I posted recently on my experience with face to face fundraisers and have been casting around for ways in which organisations such as Red Cross could be more engaging and effective.

I found this post on ReadWriteWeb today which started pointing towards some possible solutions which include a Facebook application for causes which uses the FB community to donate. It is still totally un-engaging. I checked the FB application out, some basic stuff is being missed - not even a link to the app from the American Red Cross site. Having said that it may be a reason to join Facebook finally. The other examples are all about using technology as a basic communication method - whereas the power of this medium is its ability to engage supporters to the cause of their choice

There really is a space here where these cash strapped organisations could go more open source and start collaborating on these initiatives.

There are a lot of threads to tie together where some people with some Interactive Marketing experience could really make a difference in quick time.

What level of engagement would it take for you to support an organisation online?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fighting to be the feedback tool of your choice

I've recently been using Uservoice to collect feedback from visitors to this blog on what you would like to hear about.

I've been seriously impressed by the marketing efforts made by Uservoice and their competition as a result of my use of Uservoice.

Interesting to note the story to date...

1. Gripnostril sent me a link to a site talking about corporates talking with their customers.
2. There was a link in there to Uservoice.
3. I set up a site, added a feedback tab to this blog and blogged about it

The subsequent activities have been interesting

4. I found thatan expat Kiwi called Marcus Nelson who works at uservoice was following me on Twitter - he pinged me a question making sure that everything was ok with my experience.
5. Independently, I received an email from the CMO of a competitor company to Uservoice, called SuggestionBox asking what I thought the differences were and offering me a 2 month free trial of their product.

I haven't tried SuggestionBox yet, but have added their Twitter feed so I can keep an eye out on it.

A couple of insights

1. It feels great to have a couple of companies contact me directly wanting to either make sure that everything was going great and actively (and personally) wanting my feedback.

2. It reinforces what I have been thinking about web marketing - there are no silver bullets - you have to get in there and just start talking with your customers.

3. It's a street fight out there for customers when you are starting out and these guys know it.

And I was just going to start to update where I was at in the list of feedback from readers and I notice that all the votes were re-set to zero. We'll see how Uservoice cope with that, otherwise that SuggestionBox trial is looking like a good idea.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Pressure selling techniques and charities

I've posted before about the sales-people on the streets trying to hit you up to make monthly contributions to various charities.

This morning I was approached again by a young woman who was collecting for the Red Cross.

I like the Red Cross and have a good friend who has spent significant time in war zones in the Baltics and more recently the Sudan. They do fabulous work and deserve support - like most charities. This post is not about whether you should support a charity, its more a question of how is this money raised.

I can't help but think that this style of recruitment is not really the way to go.

I decided to ask a few questions of my fundraiser today to get a handle on how this works.

She is employed by Cornucopia, a fundraising organisation in Australia and NZ that targets young travellers on their OE as casual fundraisers. It seems they receive a minimum payment per day as well as a payment per person signed up.

I don't like this - in effect the first donation that I make to these organisations goes to pay the person who is collecting on the street. The second one probably goes to Cornucopia. If I decide to pull the pin on my donation after a couple of months, the charity of my choice probably doesn't get the money. It explains a few things
 - why you are encouraged to donate for a year 'to make a real difference'
 - there is no option for me to take away information to review in my own time (surely this is bordering on breaking the Door to Door Sales Act, although I do note that there is a cooling off period)

If I can summarise the disadvantages, it goes like this

1. The person representing the Brand for the charity is not aligned to the charity - they are doing it for personal gain. Hard to build a connection with this.

2. It is a high pressure sell which does not connect the donator to the charity

3. My estimate is that at roughly 15% of the first year's donation is considered 'Cost of Sale' and does not go to the Charity. Hopefully there aren't residual payments.

So its downside for the charity and downside for the donator. Upside for Cornucopia and the collector (although my guess is that they spend a lot of time for what money they do get).

There has got to be a better way.

The charity needs to look at the connection it is making with its supporters and try and connect them together in a way that makes sense. If you support a particular charity then chances are you have a shared set of values with others who do that - that is something that is pretty powerful.

They also need to make the money that comes from their supporters stretch as far as possible. That means not using professional fund raising organisations. What it will mean is leveraging their network of supporters much more for fundraising - effectively part of the support for the charity is to encourage others to be supporters.

While we think about how to do this, I would encourage you to use the direct methods of donation available to most charities and avoid the fresh faced sales people in the street.

How would you encourage supporters to donate to your charity and keep them connected?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Voice Interfaces have a long way to go to be useful

At a demo last week, I was reminded how far Voice Interfaces have to go to be genuinely useful.

Quite apart from wondering whether voice interfaces are a solution looking for a problem, it made me think about my own experience with these technologies since I've been involved in a number of Telecom projects using Voice Interfaces.

The first one was VoiceDial - a network hosted voice recognition service that you could use to dial numbers by either saying the number or by saving a name. About 12 years ago when phones couldn't do this type of stuff. Had a great ad with a guy picking up his mother in law from the airport and having to dial her by his tag for her- 'The Old Trout'. Can't find it anywhere on YouTube. Let me know if you can find it!

Next one was a Voice Portal called WordUp- basically a Voice recognition system that allowed you to access audio content (primarily news, sport and weather, as well as reading your email to you).

Both of these had major performance issues under noisy conditions (pretty normal for mobile) which meant that the best you ever did was about 70% success rates. Pretty poor.

Having said that the primary customers who were interested were the Blind and there should have been a way to keep this service on - but I digress.

More recently we've had a voice interface as part of 123. The main aim was to direct customers to the most appropriate help as quickly as possible. This has recently gone through a dramatic simplification as again it wasn't able to achieve this - it pretty much just annoyed customers. Instead of asking you heaps of questions now, it asks one or two. Performance around complex answers was just not good enough for customers.

The demo I saw was for an integration between Microsoft Exchange and a softswitch. It produces some great benefits for customers in terms of managing fixed and mobile calling. One of the not so great benefits is the ability to manage your email using a voice interface. About 80% success rate from a fixed line phone! Fortunately the marketing person responsible for the product made the wisest statement I have heard in a demo like this for some time - "If it doesn't work, don't launch it".

So it seems that in over a decade not that much tangible progress has been made - from 70% success rate on Mobile to 80% success rate on fixed. You'd never tolerate that type of performance from a GUI so why do people think that it is tolerable on a mobile?

Until its possible to deal with all the variation in the human voice in an intelligent way this is one technology that I would stay well clear of for mass market use.

Have you seen it genuinely work in a mass market environment?

Friday, May 16, 2008


Mark from our football team has been notably absent for most of the season. We might be second on the table (Uni Raiders) but the lack of goals is pretty much directly related to Mark's absence.
Turns out he has been working like a dog the next phase of his company Valuecruncher.

The guys there have been creating a super simple tool for predicting company valuations for listed companies. Jim has picked it up as well.

The football team used to be mightly impressed that in its previous incarnation Mark and co had found a way to monetise the NPV function in Excel. This new version seriously takes it up a level with the ability to adjust company valuations in real time plus a community function so you can see what other people are valuing the same company at. You can follow their progress on their blog.

Of course I had to have a look at the spread on AAPL - as it would be one of the ones to polarise people the most. Naturally I am not disappointed (apart from the potential upside!).

Great work getting Valuecruncher 2 out the door guys - awesome to see another Wellington crowd getting in amongst it.

And Mark - if you don't get out on a Saturday soon we may just ask Whispering Death to put your subs on the bar...
Disclaimer: I occasionally pass Mark the ball so he can score goals

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Power of reputation

It was interesting to read Rod's post today about the first year of being listed with Xero, in particular the hard work that it takes to build compelling word of mouth. It helps with his pedigree that he had a good reputation to start with. Nevertheless it still required 'phone dogging'.

It got me thinking about a conversation I have been having with a mate of mine who is convinced that you can monetise reputation. I've been thinking about when that might be useful and have started coming up with some ideas about when.

While I have been thinking about it, Michele has been starting a conversation on it. His jist is that there is enough action happening in the digital identity space that you must be able to find away to port your existing online reputation to help you with other transactions. The trademe idea is a winner. Take a look and start contributing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

iTunes server?

Rod has been continuously amazed about the lack of a home iTunes and iPhoto server set-up. To be honest I agree - with a macbook and an iMac at home I don't like the mucking around we have to go through to sync up music and photo collections. Gets even worse when you store your photos on the imac, yet take the macbook on holiday and put pics on it.

This code might be starting to point to whether Apple are finally onto it. WWDC will no doubt tell. Hopefully it is not just another bonjour implementation.

Hat-tip to Philip for the code link.

Tell me what you want

As a proponent of customer-centred design I am always interested in ways for customers / audiences to get closer to the developer of the product, service or content.

Gripnostril pointed me to this today which talks about how some large corporates are finding ways to more directly engage with their customers. Dell and Starbucks are held up as the examples of how this is done well.

What I really liked about this was that it linked to a nice site called uservoice. It's a site where users can add and vote on suggestions. Naturally they use it themselves - instant engagement.

I want to know what you want to hear about in this blog. I've added a feedback tab on the left hand side of the template - suggest away!

Any suggestions for lightweight tools other than paint for adding red ovals to jpgs gratefully received.

TIP: if you are using blogger the script doesn't quite work - replace the '=' sign in the the 'color' reference with a ':' and it should be all good.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Old Dogs and New Tricks

I was really stoked to see this post from Ben this morning.

The post is primarily about Victoria Crone who has been driving Telecom's marketing push for SaaS in the Business Marketing team.

Vic has been around Telecom for a long time - probably about as long as I have - but that doesn't mean she doesn't listen to customers nor does it mean she can't embrace a new way of communicating. And that was her - no ghost-writing there. She is also present on Plaxo and LinkedIn and pretty easy to find on email or phone in Telecom

This follows on from a very informal session with Paul Reynolds last week where he popped up on the floor in Auckland and talked about his very straight forward view about what we need to do to make our customers happy. In a sentence - work out what they want and deliver it, don't be a slave to self imposed heirarchy and siloes. Pretty simple and very effective.

Goes to show that you can't take Telecom for granted in its behaviour - things are changing and people like Vic are getting amongst it.

Welcome to the blogosphere Vic - hopefully you'll be up for posting a blog of your own. I've got some experience if you need a hand to set it up.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Freeview HD on a Mac

With Freeview launching their HD box a few weeks ago, and not having taken advantage of HD goodness I 've been wrestling with whether I can justify another box in the lounge alongside MySky, Xbox and a Media Centre.

I am planning to ditch the Media Centre for an Apple TV based on UI alone - it's just too complicated for anyone who doesn't know the set-up.

I've been talking to Philip about this who is *the* man to talk to about all things apple.

He has put me onto Eye TV which he has been testing for a while now.

Philip confirmed yesterday that Eye TV v3 can happily record Freeview HD locally with readily available EPG feeds.

I am planning to hooking that up to a simple antenna, recording shows on the mac and pitching them to Apple TV. More work for me but one less box in the house.

And if enough people ask, Philip can start his own blog so I don't claim his ideas without attributing his input :)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Rugby 2.0

I've been spending some time with the team at Telecom who are hooked into Yahoo!. A few of them have come back from a trip recently where they went to Web2.0 and also spent some time with Yahoo! discussing strategy.

Their overall summary was that Y! have got a very solid strategy around Web 2.0 to the point where they are coming up with tools that will make Y! services better but also will work well with other Web 2.0 services. A case in point is the feed on this blog from Plaxo Pulse, a 'social network' tool I am using. It is a feed from Plaxo in Blogger using a third party widget. That widget relies on using pipes from Y! to work. Doesn't drive any traffic as such to Y! (well not yet) but I now know how to use it and can use it with other Y! services. They are embracing OpenID. They open applications like Flickr up to work with other apps. This all ties to Y! understanding that their purpose is all about advertising. They don't have to be number 1 in all the verticals as long as they embrace the fact that they operate within a broader ecosystem, and they use the elements within that to drive a strong position in their focal point - advertising. Sure they are not perfect - however they are better positioned than most.

They get they are part of bigger picture that inevitably they won’t control
They know what their key assets are (traffic).
They know what their revenue model is (advertising)
They open up to drive more traffic.

It’s pretty simple.

I'm on a plane writing this and have just read a number of articles from the Herald about the state of rugby in NZ. They are individual opinions that state amongst other things

- Convening players for AB camp early doesn't make sense as they are our number 1 asset and need rest so we can keep on winning
- Springboks are having to choose between Euro contracts and playing for their country - this is generally portrayed as the players are greedy so let’s stick it to them (rapacious is the word used to describe them)
- The sabbatical idea for Dan Carter is silly and we should just open the gates to picking players wherever they are playing and be commercially smart to make $
- NZRU have failed and are too arrogant to admit it.

So putting the Kiwi knocking machine to one side (I mean, who is arrogant - the NZRU or the reporter for saying they are?), I was thinking about a remodelling of NZ Rugby based on web 2.0 principles. Let’s call it NZ Rugby 2.0

It would start with a few principles

1. Rugby is a global, and professional game that provides unprecedented choice for players, administrators and audiences.
2. There are local, regional and global competitions where Rugby is available for audiences
3. It is open - there is no one authority that controls it apart from setting basic standards (i.e. IRB is about setting rules for playing the game and maybe the global competition - the rest is devolved)
4. NZ Rugby cannot survive on its own – it has to contribute to and operate within the global ecosystem.

Under this NZ Rugby would need to be very clear about what its purpose is. At the moment it is trying to be too many things

1. The global leader in playing rugby
2. Sustaining the amateur game
3. Controlling player movement
4. A successful business.

Under NZ Rugby 2.0, I would propose that it has a single purpose

- Become the number 1 brand in rugby entertainment with audiences, broadcasters and players.

It would also recognise that the two key assets it has are

1. The All Blacks Brand
2. The systems that produce professional players and coaches.
3. The AB’s coach

In a radical view I would say that the actual players are not key assets - sure they are assets but in general they have limited life and are subject to high maintenance costs. The system that produces them is definitely the key asset.

The revenue model is simple

1. Broadcast and internet rights – AB matches and other professional games
2. Merchandising – AB merchandising needs to get to the same scale as professional football. New kits every year.
3. Gate sales – these will have to go up – this is the ultimate supply / demand constraint (only so many seats in a stadium). Can be justified if the A team is on the park.
4. Transfer fees – if Northern Hemisphere clubs are going to continue to pay huge $ for players then take a slice.

The key implications on the existing organisation are

1. This organisation cannot be the same organisation that manages the amateur game. It would have to support it (with funding and players) but the purposes are just two different to manage.
2. Forget about trying to control player drain – instead embrace it and use these players as a way to influence the broader ecosystem. In particular re-jigging the global competition structures. Retain the right to call on players to play for the All Blacks to develop that brand. Global player movement builds that brand. Don’t just limit that to the Dan Carters of the game. That is anti-competitive and short sighted (imagine – DC gets injured while on ‘sabbatical’ and now Nick Evans can’t be called up – doh!).
3. Coach becomes really important – he is the guy that pulls a team together from a bunch of guys spread around the world and substantiates the AB’s brand.
4. Communicate like hell with stakeholders – ask them what they really want and rapidly adapt to suit.
5. Governance needs to change – the NZRU model of the provincial unions deciding the make-up of the Board is totally out of date.
6. NZ Rugby is an exporter to a global market – big shift in perspective.

If you think this is without evidence have a look at Argentina. Most of their players are playing the Northern Hemisphere. They were 3rd in the last world Cup beating France to get there.

If the best players were on the park I might start turning up or tuning in to watch again.

Clarification of status

A couple of questions - one on my blog and one on a comment I posted to another blog - as well as some surprised looks from people in the business have led me to believe I need to clarify my employment status.

1. I have resigned from Telecom - my last day is June 30th. There's a strong financial incentive linked to this date.

2. Until recently I was working on Telecom's Next Generation Telecom (or NGT) programme. I am no longer working on that programme.

3. I am working in the Broadband part of Telecom on what could only be described as special projects, supporting the widely held view that there is only one place you can go after Special Projects. Its pretty busy and a good way to finish my time here.

4. I don't have a job lined up for when I finish - I am planning on spending a lot of time enjoying being a Dad, I have a couple of ideas which I will talk about soon enough, and I am unashamedly looking for one or two days a week work to help keep the bank manager happy. Any offers considered :)

Naturally the posts and comments that I make are my own opinion (unless I state otherwise). And they will be flavoured by my experience at Telecom as well as other perspectives that I hold.

That should make it clear.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Small Business hosting in NZ

I saw Swizzle via Rod Drury today.

I had wondered with the decrease in cost of servers whether there was an opportunity to get into this - especially with small businesses who don't need all the bells and whistles, just secure and reliable hosting.

The process looks super easy, but to be honest it wasn't that cheap ($1200 per annum for a linux server?) but I may be out of touch with pricing - I hope they do well.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Blast from the past

I saw this article this morning about a proposal from Telecom to install 6 new cellphone antenna the Foxton water tower.

Brought back a lot of memories - my first role at Telecom was running around the country side picking locations for cell-sites. Invariably we got a lot of resistance from people with genuine concerns about the health issues that might be associated with these installations. While people were genuinely freaked out (the unknown does affect people pretty deeply), when you think that these installations put out about as much power as a 1 bar heater, mounted at 20m (or more) above ground, there really isn't much ground for concern.

We did meet some extremely cool people as well. I recall talking to a farmer in Eketahuna about using his hilltop - he was very cagey until we said we would pay a rental and put in place a road up to the site. We got invited in for the best farm lunch ever :)

I remember this site in particular - was a great place to use existing infrastructure (my personal opinion was that the visual effects of sites was much more of an issue than health effects) and had great height for coverage. The primary concern from residents was that the local chicken farm would be somehow affected causing mutations, which would eventually poison the entire community. Council decided to take the offer on and also ended up doing a deal with Vodafone as well. Telecom antennas are on the top.

The reporter is probably the same one - persisted in thinking they were intelligent by using antennae as the plural of antenna. Antennae are on insects. Antennas are used for cellsites.