Monthly Archives: August 2007

Using Craigslist, Google and Facebook for activism

My wife came across an unusual post when searching Craigslist for Montessori teachers. Among the many schools listed was a post from a ticked off parent warning people about a certain school in Mesa –the school happens to advertise on Craigslist. I have not seen this kind of activism on Craigslist before, directly insulting the advertising of another even though it is nothing new to online and social media.

It brings to mind a story I heard some time back where someone was so angry at a camera retailer that he took out pay-per-click ads for certain keywords on Google so that anyone typing in the name of the retailer who ripped him off would see the ‘ads’ that warned buyers of doing business with the store.

hsbc.jpgToday I heard an example of Facebook activism on For Immediate Release. It was a case of students in the UK using the social network to mobilize and protest against HSBC, a bank that had reneged on its promise of interest-free student loans. The latest update is that HSBC gave in!

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Posted by on August 31, 2007 in Activism, Social Media


Why Facebook is a media darling.

Hard to miss the reviews, the loving tributes and the non-stop attention to Facebook these days. Why all the fascination with a social network that has been around since 2004?

Apart from the fact that it was started by a student, and is run by a 22-year old, is what Facebook stands for. It “has Google sweating” (Advertising Age), is the Future of everything online (TIME), and is Advertising’s worst nightmare (Guardian).

As Lev Grossman in TIME says, Facebook is really about making the web grow up.

What this means is that it is not only stamping on the footprint of other business models, but pointing in the direction where they ought to be headed. And unlike in previous movements, where it was fashionable to follow and try to predict where the CEO of the company was taking the product (think Murdock, Ballmer, Bezos) everyone is trying to figure out what the Facebook members are doing to networks, and the Net itself.

And that’s a much more juicy story.

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Posted by on August 31, 2007 in Media, Social Media


Why sell (or buy) when you can rent?

petrental.jpgNetworks, and the ability for people to buy or rent have disrupted many old businesses, and given rise to new business models. Netflix was the epitome of this, taking on the Blockbuster‘s of this world. They had to respond with Netflix-like Blockbuster Online.

But the rental model is blossoming in many unexpected areas beyond furniture, art, office plants and cars.

The weirdest is called FlexPetz if you want to rent, not own a Vet-whetted, obedience-trained pet starting at $49.99 a month (plus an annual maintenance fee). It’s a sort of a time-share model for pets, says Business 2.0.

Time shares of course were the classic rental business, more specifically fractional rental. Riffing on that model is FlexCar, a way to rent a car for a fraction of the day. You sign up online, pay your fees, and receive a magnetic key in the mail. Then when you want a car you reserve one online, or on the phone, and pick it up at one of the locations. One neat features is you don’t pay for gas; the cars are refueled (by the renters.) How so? There is a gas card in the car that can be used at Arco, Costco etc.

To serve a completely different need, there’s BookSwim that works like NetFlix.

And it gets more creative, with a handbag and jewelery rental site, perfectly named BagBorrowSteal.

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Posted by on August 24, 2007 in Disruptive, Marketing, Technology


Wikipedians at work

wikipedia.jpgA chap called Virgil Griffith, a student, started something that will put the brakes on a lot of hype that sometimes creeps into Wikipedia entries.Unlike many who work late into the night contributing to this dynamic knowledge repository, Griffith has come up with a rudimentary but powerful tool to help us peer through the curtain and check out who’s been goosing the system.

The tool is called Wiki scanner looks like a search engine. There you could type in a company name –say Walmart, or Starbucks– and see details of the edits that took place over the years. Among those who’ve fixed things and been exposed (here, here, and here) are Diebold, Dell, the CIA, BBC… the list is too long. WIRED even has a challenge out there for readers to scan through Wiki scanner, and submit names of companies with their fingers in the wiki jar.

This is transparency at its best.

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Posted by on August 21, 2007 in Media, Public Relations


Take time to ask. Take time to get to know.

As a freelance writer I get pitched a lot. I don’t hit the delete
key unless it’s totally irrelevant. But I have to say there are several
people who do take the time to ask if whom they represent is relevant,
and they do their homework.

I had a pitch from a PR firm in the UK recently that really stood
out. He promised he wouldn’t flood my inbox, and offered an RSS feed as
an alternative –something I opted for.

On a macro scale, how do you get to know an organization, its
priorities, its strategic goals?

On Wednesday I was asked by a local firm
to speak to a group of incoming account managers about strategic
thinking and solutions selling. I used an example of how as
‘transparent’ as it may seem, a company’s web site is the last place
you’ll find that kind of useful information. A Google search would be a
hit or miss, unless you find a corporate blogger giving the inside
scoop. Nor would a site map reveal the inner working groups, the nodes
and the unofficial networks. Taking time to get to know this
“inner-net” means putting our digital smarts aside, and falling back on
our analog skills. I use the phrase “Think digital, act analog” (first
used by Guy Kawasaki, I believe) to illustrate the point.

A good article on this also appeared in Fortune magazine
last month (titled “The hidden workplace.”) “There’s the organization
chart,” it said. “And then there’s the way things really work.”

Bottom line: Take time to understand the analog networks. These power brokers, access points, nodes and human routers may not have a LinkedIn profile, but they sure make things happen!

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Is it live, or is it on ShootLive?

What technology would PR companies, the police, and the paparazzi want to get their hands on?

It’s delivery that basically sends raw images from a video camera direct to the consumer. It is a service from ShootLive,  news agency for the digital age based in Nottingham, UK. The ShootLive service was used in the coverage of David Beckham’s game in July.

Why does this change the game? Because of the need for speed. In journalism and in PR, or even in law enforcement, seconds make a difference. The scoop, the intervention of a criminal, the ability to relay instantaneous pictures of a tragedy such as an earthquake can impact lives.

Images from camera are streamed (as an XML feed) to a mobile phone in less than 60 seconds, the company says. What I like about all this is it doesn’t make the end-user jump through hoops to receive it. Images could arrive as a multi-media text alert.

What could this do for marketing? Apart from the obvious ones that ESPNs of this world will jump onto, and be able to monetize, marketers could get users to opt-in to premium content. Think: Olympics, stage acts such a Live Earth, and even regional ones. The McDonald’s and IBM’s could sponsor XML feeds . Down the line when the genie is out of the bottle, cell phone carriers will use the technology too. Already, AT&T has a similar service called VideoShare where subscribers could stream video with a camera phone to another phone –while talking! These are both low-end ($29.99 and $79.99) Samsung phones not some souped-up smart varieties.

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Good press, bad press about Second Life

Psst. Did you hear? Second Life is getting bad press. Ever since Businessweek magazine
did a cover story on SL last year, there has been nothing but good buzz
about the place. After all the IBM’s and Coca-Colas have all
established a presence there. But the question marks are beginning to
appear. (Note I didn’t say ‘cracks’).

WIRED is running a story (Lonely Planet: How Madison Avenue is wasting millions on a deserted Second Life“)
questioning MadAve’s rush to set up islands in a “metaverse,”
especially when it’s unmanned, feels lonely and way too cumbersome to

Technology Review (subscription required) on the other hand has a very interesting analysis called Second earth –the possible mash-up between Google Earth and Second Life.

My take: It’s way too early to pass judgment on Second Life.
Critics are quick to use ROI thinking to evaluate the impact of a 3D
experience on business. For now the shine is off the rose. But we’ve
seen that happen before, haven’t we? Anyone remember Friendster?

Like it or not, the web will soon incorporate features of these 3D worlds. Trends such as geocoding, mobile
optimization, and our appetite for for on-demand information will create this world –with or without goofy avatars.

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