Tuesday, January 31, 2006

GOOG Stumble?

Discussed in this post: Google Exhuberance

What can you say about the world when a company's profits go up 82%, and its called disappointing? Must be Google Earnings time, yet again. The breathless anticipation that surrounds this company is fairly amazing, leading investors to bitterly dismiss their pretty strong year/quarter.

I've said this in the past: maybe the problem is the expectation, not the performance.
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BuzzOven: Teen-collective Music Marketing Machine

Discussed in this post: Buzz-building with music, brands using WOM channels.

I stumbled across a group called BuzzOven today. I love stuff like this. Their mission is to get the word out about local band scenes (currently operating in Dallas, coming soon to Austin). The way they work is to hit the area, find a bunch of bands, pick three and burn a CD. The CD is then handed out to a group of Buzzers: people who have signed up to cruise the streets, schools, malls, skate parks and whatever, handing out discs for free.

Right now, it looks like Chipotle and Coca-Cola are the only big brands sponsoring this effort (although I have a feeling this probably is at the local distributor/franchise level). This is great effort and a great example of how buzz can be channeled and amplified using the Internet and technology. The important connections happen offline (ie: CDs handed out). But people sign up online, they sample online and they commune online.

I don't know if this is best read as a shake-up of the music industry. Instead, I think this is a great example of how the word-of-mouth channel can be solidified and leveraged by brands. Coke's got a great new distribution channel for their messages in the form of BuzzOven.
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Google and Music: Rumors swirling

Discussed in this post: Google rumors, Napster's reputation, Google's purchase motivation.

The rumor-of-the-day is that Google is going to buy Napster. For a while, I've thought that music is a great big gaping hole in the Google offering. Google stumbling around with music a little while ago, originally offering free ad space to download-sites (although, now, I can't seem to find those links. Maybe they backed off this? It was a weird idea to begin with).

This is certainly a smoke:fire issue. Even if Google is not looking at Napster, it is entirely likely that they are looking to field their own music service. Right now, a decision to search for a song (either on the Internet or on the desktop) would take a user to iTunes, not to Google. That situation is clearly counter to the Google strategy to be the fulcrum point between you and information.

I think there's a shred of credibility to the Napster purchase rumor, simply because of Napster's history. Google makes decision partly based on business issues, partly based on cultural issues. There are probably some people inside Google who really hate to see once proud Napster being reduced to pitching products like everyone else. Google may fancy themselves as a rescuer of the Napster brand.
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Monday, January 30, 2006

WOM Job Post for Affinitive

Discussed in this post: WOM as an abbreviation, WOM in job posts, the institutionalization of WOM.

Here's another job posting that specifically mentions Word-of-Mouth marketing. This time, its for an intern at tech-shop Affinitive. Under the list of qualifications, they list an "interest in word-of-mouth/buzz marketing", and even refer to word-of-mouth in the description of their company with the abbreviation "WOM" (because nothing is really real until it has a three letter acronym)

One more bit of evidence that word-of-mouth is being institutionalized at the corporate level. I think that's really the significance of the recent WOM movement: what was previously considered ethereal and environmental is becoming a part of the actual process of doing business.
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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Must Read: Lego's Consumer Partnerships

Discussed in this post: Electric Artists, Wired Magazine, Legos

I did a short session last Friday at at event sponsored by the agency Electic Artists. On the way out the door, they gave a bag with a few thank yous, including the current issue of Wired, a magazine that I admit I haven't read since the middle of the boom.

In the early days of the consumer Internet, Wired was an amazing resource. The magazine wasn't about technology, but it was about people and technology. It was about life, in the presence of technology. Then, the cash started flowing, the magazine swelled up to an ad-packed mess and the articles seemed to be more about clever ways to spend all that IPO cash. I let me subscription die (and, actually, moved on to blogs at about the same time).

But this gift from the agency may actually bring me back. I left the session and went directly to JFK for my flight home, and got a chance to spend some tme. OK--there's an article about how all this cash is coming into Web 2.0 companies. But there's also this: Geeks in Toyland, a short (cover page) article about how Lego enlisted a small number of dedicated fans to help design the next evolution of their Mindstorm robot-tools.

The article is a great CGM/consumer:manufacturer case study, so they sort of had me at "hello". But the focus is not on the technology, but rather about the way that the technology has been adopted by the community. This remains the biggest hole in technology journalism. If Wired is back on that beat, I may just have to re-subscribe.
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Friday, January 27, 2006

Google Cache "Fair Use" Decision

Discussed in this post: Google, caching, and the concept of fair use online.

Maybe the most significant decision this week came down in favor of Google, where the court determined that the caching of documents is fair use. This is certainly one of those decision that is important as a representation of the core principles of a Web business model built around content.

Google has to be allowed to grab content that is available on the Web: the core idea is well described in one of the WMW forums:
I think a more appropriate analogy is of being in a public space and there being a reasonable assumption that you don't have privacy. When inside your home you have a reasonable assumption of privacy.

Likewise, you have recourse to prevent caching and a reasonable expectation of protecting your content from caching when you use a no-cache tag. And if you don't use a no-cache then you aren't using the tools available to prevent a cache, similar to changing your pants on your front lawn
Publishers certainly like control over content, but the nature of the Web is that the content now becomes available. Google is not committing content theft here (as asserted by another poster in the forum). There is the odd fact that they have made a copy of the work, but it is not the same thing as photocopying a shortstory and re-selling it. The making of a copy is the hinge of the theft argument, but the nature of the medium is what makes the act unique.
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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Microsoft Promotes Joanne Bradford, Moves Bigger into Advertising

Discussed in this post: Microsoft, Joanne Bradford, online ad shortage, MSFT v GOOG.

Microsoft announced yesterday that it would promote Joanne Bradford to head the freshly minted global online ad sales unit. Joanne has done great things with MSN, making it extremely advertiser-friendly and forward thinking. She's a natural choice and definitely an asset to the company...

...as they expand into some brave new territory. The AdAge article clearly pits Microsoft against Google in this space. Did everyone catch Gates' comments around the time of CES? He gently referred to Google as being "good at search": the underlying idea is that his company is a whole heckuva a lot more. He's right of course, and there are a lot areas where advertising is going to fit very cleanly into the experience (such as XBOX and the Media Player stuff).

So, if we've (supposedly) got an online inventory shortage, Microsoft could potentially open the floodgates. Plus, under the mantle of AdCenter, advertisers could conceivably manage many different campaigns under one log-in. Pretty powerful stuff.

Google? Google is in heavy growth mode, of course. But will they be willing to add services that truly take them past their current offerings, so that they can more powerfully compete? What could we see? A Google Media Player? A GBOX game system? GOOGNBC cable channel?

As long as demand remains high (and it certainly will), I imagine the company best able to provide good inventory in a way that is easily managed is in a good position. That's a lot of where the battle is going to be fought.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Intuit Hiring "Senior Marketing Manager, Word of Mouth"

Good for them.

Maggie Colby from Intuit was a speaker at WOMBAT (plus they gave out free copies of TurboTax to everyone!). I didn't get to hear her talk, but I've always been impressed with Intuit's approach to marketing, especially their affiliate program. I think they--as a company--very clearly get the idea that the community is a powerful force in their marketing.
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Ads Dead, WOM Lives...and other reports from the field

Time to catch up on a series of WOM-related stories in the news:

NYT: "Advertising is Obsolete: Everyone Says So" A somewhat tongue-in-cheek review of the latest WOMMA event, courtesy of the Times. The writer does a good job of bringing out the quasi-religous flavor of the WOM community. After hearing his opening remarks, I thought maybe WOMMA Guru Andy Sernovitz was taking a correspondence course in "How to be a Baptist Minister".

I think there's a little something to the analogy, actually. WOM is in its very early stages, and it clearly goes against a lot of the established thinking. Those involved clearly feel a certain mission and need to communicate it to the masses. There's even a bit of the savior-effect here, with a real consideration of consumers mixed into the strategy.

BusinessWeek: "Would you Recommend Us?" One of the business publishing pillars picks up on the NetPromoter meme. If you're not familiar with the concept, the idea is to consistently ask your consumers the likelihood (1-10) that they would recommend your product or service. I think its a great concept, and a very clear way to check on the pulse. When the book comes out, I think we'll see this continue to grow as an idea.

Forbes: "Tapping into the Blogosphere" Not to be outdone, Forbes also catches onto the buzz world this week. The article is pretty much a primer on how to use blogs in business, notable mostly for its presence in Forbes, presented without a thread of fear or uncertainty running through it.

Blogging Sundance. Looks like the iconic indie film fest is turning into a major blogging event. This is great--part of the juice of Sundance is that producers are lurking in the crowds, looking to find the next indie film gem. Clearly, they are listening to buzz at the festival. The opportunity for them to check in on blogs to see what everyone is talking about is a great opportunity to get even deeper.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

TourNews: Prologue to be in London

Big news today is that the 2007 Tour de France will start in London. SteinBlog will sends its crack London Correspondent Nate Elliot out to cover events.
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Online Ad Drives Movie Buzz

Dynamic Logic released a study today on the effect of online advertising in raising awareness for movie releases (ClickZ story here). They found that ads run four weeks before the film's release seems to have the strongest result. That's most likely a bit of a data-illusion, since that's the first time most people have heard about the film, but I'm just making an assumption there.

The other interesting tidbit is that the study found that online is better than any other medium at raising awareness for movies. Well: stick that in your pitch deck and smoke it.

Why would that be? Well, online certainly has captured people's attention in general. I wonder if there's an element of surprise that happens as well? That is, people are still expecting text and flat images on the screen. The presentation of video (as in a trailer or a clip) represents an unexpected element, and therefore grabs attention.

Any other thoughts are definitely welcome.
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Monday, January 23, 2006

In Game Adware?

It looks like the first ethical issue has arisen for the fledgling in-game-ad space. It seems that one agency was placing ads in games not with the publisher, but instead via a "mod" to the game, placed on a server. AdJab's got the story.

Amazing. It doesn't seem to matter what the medium, the same issues tend to creep right back in. I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on the ins-and-outs of networked games, but it appears to me that people have downloaded a bit of code that adds some functionality to the game. Ends up that this particular bit of functionality is to sell sandwhiches.

The publisher is upset, but the argument is most likely going to be the one made for adware: consumers have the right to set their computers up anyway they like.
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Friday, January 20, 2006

SEM Irrationality: Now with Proof!

Kevin (at ClickZ) has a story about the discovery of irrationality in search. A collection of economists have analyzed search auctions and determined that advertisers are paying more than they need to, under the current auction model. The comments from the authors of the paper seem to place the responsibility for this price gap on the engines, and suggests that the engines don't want to change their system because they would lose revenue.

While I'm sure that the engines are not in a rush to make a change that would cost them cash, I also don't think this tells the whole story. OK, advertisers who focus on top spots are likely to get fleeced, but that's not a big deal. Top spots for key terms are just like ads during the Super Bowl and billboards in Times Square: the cost doesn't make regular sense, but companies just want to do it, anyhow.

But, the article states that, under the system they recommend, advertisers would pay only what the click was really worth. The problem with this, is that many advertisers don't really have any idea what the value of a click is. They have a sense of what they'd like to pay, but an actual value (ie: how much revenue a click will bring) is often obscure.

The other point, that seems to be left out here, is that cost and rank isn't always determined by bid alone. Google, of course, factors bid with number of clicks, as does Jeeves. Yahoo! will eventually follow suit, as well. I haven't read the paper, but that is a wildcard that can have a significant effect on costs.
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Notes from WOMMA:

Bob Garfield gave the keynote presentation this morning at WOMMA, and it was rad. I've heard him twice now, and he certainly is one of the best speakers around, especially at framing up the situation that marketing finds itself in.

I had to ask him a question, on a particular point he made. He was discussing the high production costs of popular television shows such as Desperate Housewives. Under current network-television-thinking (and budgetting), the large amounts of cash needed come from The Upfront, that annual festival where advertisers buy ads--in advance--spots in the coming season's programs. Bob predicts, for a number of reasons, that the Upfront is going the way of the Dinosaurs, and I believe he's correct.

So, then, how will the nets pay for content development? Clearly they're going to have to move to a more speculative model. Too bad for them. But really, how is this much different from the way many other businesses (such as movie studios) operate? I wonder if the Upfront was really an aspect of the old, one-time only, broadcast model of program distribution? There would only be one :30 spot shown during the first set of ads of the Friends season premier. So, it made sense to buy that in advance, for a significant amount of money. When the episode airs, its already been paid for.

But not with movies (or books, or games or any other type of entertainment, really). So maybe television will be able to move toward a more speculative financial situation, where the revenue they are going to get is going to come either from pay-per-view charges or ads inserted just-in-time to a viewer who opts in to watch them.

Do the financial officers think about this? I'm sure they do. The DVD sales of television series, coupled with early results from Deparate Housewives on iTunes must begin to provide them with the seeds for a business model. So, maybe content won't go away (it can't possibly), but it will be financed in a very different way: speculation.

Which brings up another interesting, WOM topic: the counterpart to speculation is data. Meausuring WOM is clearly a way to get a better sense of what types of content has the best chance of success. I would look to less lagging indicators (ie: ratings) and more leading indicators driving the understanding of content success.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

More on Analyst Marketers

The notion of the Analyst Marketer is important, and it is clearly getting importanter. Here are two stories today:

  • Google buys dMarc, a company that helps aggregate radio advertising.
  • The 4As have established a new 'eBiz for Media Lab', which looks to be an online marketplace for ad placement.
Pretty amazing. I've long held that marketing is best viewed as a very complex probability equation. The problem, though, is that the factors of the equation are so complex and numerous, that no one was ever able to sufficiently solve it to any really usable degree. Google catalyzed a real revolution, though. They essentially eliminated the creative aspect of ads, allowing advertisers the ability to really focus on the math.

That mindset is going to a large part of the Google Effect, over time, as the expectation of optimization reverberates past traditional online media into other placements. In my humble opinion, those in the business of supplying actionable, realtime marketing data are very well placed right now.
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Monday, January 16, 2006

"Analyst Marketers"

There's a great BW article today (via AdJab) on Search Engine Marketing. One of the most amazing aspects of search is how it moves advertising out of the world of the unknown creative and into the world of analytics and number-crunching. It's actually a realization that's a bit upsetting: a lot of people got into advertising because of the creativity (and not just the creatives themselves, mind you).

Sometimes, when I talk about search engine ads, I wouldn't actually call them "ads". They're really more like "offers". To some degree, I think I want to protect those really great examples of breakthrough thinking. The 1984 commercial should be categorized separately from "Buy [insert wildcard] products at eBay".

The article focuses on search, but I do think that we need to realize that this method of placing ads is beginning to migrate toward more traditional placements. Certainly contextual is at the forefront of this. But placing ads has always been a math problem. Now, what we're seeing is the ability for media planners (or "analyst marketers" as the article calls them) to use software to consider a staggering number of factors when making the placement decision.
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CBS/Pontiac Does Converged Storytelling

(Salud a todos! I'm back from vacation, and--as of this morning--an official BuzzMetrics employee!)

CBS and Pontiac are launching a promotion this week that blends online and offline media, using a serialized story. Each night this week, CBS will show a one-minute episode in the middle of primetime. Viewers can visit the Pontiac site to see more of the story, download clips to their cell phone and (I imagine) find out more about the cars.

The storytelling idea is such a good one for the on/offline combination. The big challenge is not only involvement, but making the most of that involvement. So, the strategy is to try to capture a ton of attention in a short amount of time. If the brand is successful in doing that (because the story is compelling enough), then they better be prepared to do as much as they possibly can with the attention they've been given.
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Monday, January 09, 2006

On Vacation Blog


I'm heading out on a short vacation, so no blogging this week. I'll be back on the 16th, and officially starting at my new position with BuzzMetrics.

That week, I've got two speaking engagements:

User Generated Content and the Future of Media
Stanford Venture Lab; January 17, 6 PM

WOMBAT (Word of Mouth Basic Training)

Orlando FL; January 18

If you'll be at any of these events, please try to stop by and say hello.
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Friday, January 06, 2006

"We sincerely appreciate your taking time to provide your comments and feedback."

Intel has a new logo (hint: it's the one on the left)

I'm sure they're very happy with it and feel that it conveys their new positioning as a platform, rather than as a chip manufacturer. Definitely. Absolutely. It's worlds-different.

The funny note for today, though, is this post on Boing Boing. Someone sent in a comment that said "YOUR NEW LOGO SUCKS." To which, an answerbot responded: "


Thank you for contacting Intel. We sincerely appreciate your taking time to provide your comments and feedback.

The new corporate logo signals that the IntelĀ® brand, and what it stands for, is evolving. It is the most visible repres...."

There's such a danger here (albiet a small one). Clearly, they were expecting to get emails about the logo. But this is so off the mark as to be comic. This may be one of those times where a clearly automated "we appreciate your feedback and will get to it as soon as we can" is better than trying to do an actual automated answer.
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Well, What do you know? Convergence!

After so many years of handwringning by everyone from content owners to media agencies to cable companies, it seems like the convergence of television and the Internet has plopped into our lap. This is yet another example of a bottom up approach: the search/portal companies have gotten enough momentum behind them to just simply offer rich online video experiences that nearly everyone else just needed to get on the wagon.

So, after today, we'll have the formal announcements from Google, as well as Yahoo (with tongue-twistingly named "Yahoo Go"). Believe me, I'm a long-time convert. I've been watching live bike racing at cycling.tv for a year now.

The advertising opportunities are certainly exciting, but not necessarily boundless. Will someone create the TiVo hack to jump past pre-roll commericals? Maybe. But the opportunity to do interactive elements within broadcast spots is very interesting, as is the chance to deliver niche content in a long-tail fashion.
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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Ad Strategy: Easter Eggs

Over the last year, there's been this low-level debate, pitting traditional advertising vs. word-of-mouth. The debate was driven to a nice, healthy fever pitch by WOMMA, with their event last year (and ensuing blog). But at that event, the conclusion was clear that the there's no real conflict between ads and WOM. In fact, they probably work best when considered.

There's a great example of this on AdAge, profiling a Swiss campaign for Parisienne cigarettes. A fairly simple idea really: the brand launched a series of billboards announcing a new look for the brand. Then, three days later, the billboards were repainted by brand reps as well as a bunch of consumers. The brand got a double-dose of awareness and exposure: the first communication and then an extra, surprise shot. The first was as traditional as you can get. The second, more buzz-able.

This reminds me of the practice among software developers (especially of games) of developing Easter Eggs: hidden features that are unlocked if you perform some complex set of moves. For example, follow these rules to play an auto racing game in Excel. The idea is to provide those who are already using your product (or: viewing your ad, are aware of your product) an extra bit of value and a new reason to look again at something that may have become an accepted part of the consumer's world.
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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Word of Mouth and Trust

Dave Evans has a good word-of-mouth tutorial at ClickZ today. He does a good job of laying out the essential need-to-know aspects of WOM and very clearly outlines the best, current thinking about WOM. He's got a line in there that I think needs to be expanded on though:

[20 leading WOM authors, practitioners, and thinkers] said word of mouth presents opportunities for true two-way conversations. Consumers and marketers together have the opportunity via structured word of mouth, managed feedback, and similar social channels to genuinely participate in the design, development, and promotion of the products and services they find valuable.

Undeniably true, but that's really only one startegic approach to WOM. But inside of that concept is a really interesting wrinkle on brand building. I did a research project last year where we looked at the difference between people who have posted something about a product, versus those who have not.

There are only 2 real differences between those groups; how much they trust information about products and how brand loyal they are. There is no significant differences in age, online tenure, connection speed, or gender. But, people who post tend to trust the product information they read more than their non-posting counterparts and they are more likely to be loyal to a particular brand.

That's the real story of participation. When a person is given the opportunity to participate in the creation of a story, he or she is more likely to believe in its truth. Additionally, if a person knows that a story is able to be fact-checked by an open community, he or she is more likely to believe in its truth. And if that person believes that something is true, the more likely he or she is to be loyal.
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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year, New Opportunity

Happy New Year!

My news today is that I welcome 2006 in a new position, with BuzzMetrics. The very rapidly growing word-of-mouth marketing world caught my attention about 2 years ago, and never really let go. I am truly looking forward to diving ever deeper in, with a very strong team.

But first, I'm going to Mexcio ;-)

Feel free to send an email. I'll be at the upcoming WOMMA event, and hope to see you there.
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Monday, January 02, 2006

Auto Ad Inventory Shortage and the BT Opportunity

There's yet another bit of evidence of the dreaded Online Inventory Ad Shortage. Evidently, auto advertisers have already purchased 80% of 2006 inventory on third-party auto sites. That's certainly significant. It shows the level of research the auto shoppers are engaging in before their purchase.

But it also shows the real opportunity for targeting solutions. It's true, as Julie Ask is quoted as saying, that you can only sell so many ads on an auto site. That auto buyer, however, is going to visit many, many more sites which are about all sorts of things besides autos. I've talked about behavioral targeting for a while, noting that advertisers are interested in using it, but are unclear about how. That gap has always represented an opportunity.

But maybe there has never been a real catalyst to force advertisers to look at the opportunity seriously? Take this situation. If you're somehow late to the game, and find all the 'good' inventory gone, you've got to do something. Taking crummy inventory is a pretty sad second option. Mix this with the fact that auto publishers may see a great secondary market for site-visitor data, and we may finally have the right environmental factors at play to make behavioral targeting very, very attractive.
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NBA Opens Archives; Hints at Opening the CGM Floodgates

Well, 2006 is off to a pretty great start--at least as far as the whole "empowered online consumer" movement is concerned. The NBA annouced that it is starting the process of digitizing the video from every game since 1946. Plus, it seems that, since 1996, they have been adding timecodes to significant on-court events. The story describes one potential use of the archive:

That coding will make it easy for computers to search for, say, all the 3-point attempts by Michael Jordan with less than 2 minutes of play in a game where a team leads by five points or less.

What's truly amazing is that they envision ultimatley allowing any fan access to the footage, to do whatever they want to with it (within reason and rules, assumedly). Imagine the amount of new interpretations of old footage possible here: highlight reels, documentaries, music videos, mashups. Plus, I imagine that a dedicated group of fans could go through all that pre-1996 footage and begin marking it up with timecode tags.

This is an inspiring move by a well-loved brand. Steve Hellmuth, a VP at the NBA said of the archival footage"If we've got it, there's no reason why we shouldn't make it available to fans."

It will be interesting to watch as they begin to make this availble. Personally, I'd like to see them explore releasing the footage under a Creative Commons license. But, the important thing is what seems like a real interest in letting fans in...and seeing what they come up with. There's certainly a level of trust here as well. It is possible, assumedly, that someone could come up with a compendium of blown calls, which could be damaging to the league. But most likely, the celebration of the sport is what will be what comes out, which ultimately will just generate more valuable for NBA.
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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Buzz Catalyst: Obscurity

(Happy New Year! Once again: taking the slow time to migrate something on to a live blog from a collection of notes)

The DaVinci Code--a book I haven't read, by the way--is one of the best selling adult books of all time. It's popularity soared, as many books do, primarily through word-of-mouth. There's a short profile of the editor behind the book that helps to explain why: The book contains a significant amount of obscure knolwedge. In fact (as I understand) the plot hinges upon knowing some arcane details.

This is the second catalyst of buzz: the promise that a piece of communication is able to provide the audience with some piece of narrowly-held (and, therefore, valuable) information. The buzz gets sparked for two reasons. The first is that the reader feels empowered (and, naturally, smarter) with this information. The other is that the reader is compelled to use this information, perhaps in a discussion about news of the world. Whatever the case, the information is shared. That's buzz.

Of course, the information itself has to be worthwhile. If the communication piece provides some arcane knowledge about a worthless subject, the buzz goes nowhere. The DaVinci Code provides information about religion and power...an irresistable subject. Again, the Pragmatists did the best job of describing how and why communication happens (and, more importantly, how ideas become fixed in our heads). In "The Will to Believe", William James described ideas as being living or dead; forced or available; or monumentous or trivial. The essay is too much to go into here, but James sought ideas which he called "genuine"--those which were forced, living, and monumentous. The bottom line being, simply: communicate about things people care about.
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