Tuesday, December 30, 2008

happiness: metrics in my hands

Over the past 2 weeks, I've been trying out Happy Factor on Facebook. One of the developers recommended it to me in response to some ideas I shared on arming users with metrics that can empower us to change behavior.

It's particularly interesting in light of the recent flurry of activity in response to Loic Le Meur's thoughts on adding Authority metrics to Twitter (even if the heart of that conversation was about improving search). The metrics I believe will empower us-- as users-- are of a completely different nature than things like Authority and Influence. It's less about attention, more about mindfulness. Listening, yes, and then as a result, behaving more efficiently, productively, and here, happily.

From Happy Factor:
"Happy Factor gives you the tools to learn what uniquely makes you happy. By keeping track of what you do and how happy you feel, you can have more happiness more often."
Happy Factor sends you text messages, at your desired frequency, asking "on a scale of 1-10 how happy are you?" You reply with a number and brief description of what you're doing. The more descriptive you are, the more it behooves you. When you log on to the site, you can graph your happiness over time and identify trends in your happiness-- days of week, times of day, and the best part-- identify the activities, people, or sources of most happiness and discontent.

I've blogged before about my dislike of self-reports, but Happy Factor overcomes a lot of the obstacles of accessing private feeling states by using a simple question, anchored to your own responses, and complemented by your behaviors. The methodology alone eliminates concern over measurement error and response bias: you bear the fruit of your responses. I'm also reminded of a review of studies by Eileen Idler showing a simple 1-question self-assessment of health is a better predictor of mortality than an extensive battery of objective health data...

Looking over my happiness history from the past 2 weeks, I'm reminded what cognitive misers we are-- we put aside so much information that, when made more salient, can help us improve. Similar to my fascination with Xobni, Happy Factor provides clear, accessible information that can immediately modify your behavior for the better.

This opens up a really interesting conversation about self-reports, the value of metrics, appraisal, subjectivity vs. objectivity, and more. Try it out and let me know what you learn. I'm really enjoying the mindfulness.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Go Back: The Future of Measurement

Last week, I asked a diverse group of researchers to share their thoughts on the future of measurement. The researchers (names below) loosely have 1-3 common denominators across psychology, artificial intelligence, text analysis, social media, and/or advertising research and analytics. As witnessed in the visualization of our discussion (courtesy of Wordle), data was the currency of conversation. Broadly, responses spanned tools, methods, metrics, constructs, and value.

I categorized responses into 4 major predictions about what 2009 will hold measurement-wise. In the pdf, available for download below, I've extracted verbatim from all respondents to support the predictions. The discussion took the form of a Google Group, so in some cases, it was necessary to remove substantial dynamics of conversation. I’ve done my best to capture the essence of themes represented and hope this aggregation will be insightful in understanding where things have been, and potentially where they are going.

I walk away with a sense that researchers are optimistic, yet there’s an undercurrent of “let’s get real.” What are we really measuring—what is a meaningful connection, what do we really pay attention to...

In other words, to paraphrase Diane Court (Ione Skye) in Say Anything:
I’ve glimpsed our future, and all I can say is: Go Back.
Let’s get back to basics in 2009 and measure something meaningful.

  • We will substantially advance our understanding of individuals and the meaningful connections they have.
  • We will identify methods to tap what people are *really* thinking, feeling, and paying attention to, meanwhile gaining insight on what a measurement is truly capturing.
  • We will determine how to measure the value of social interactions and attach financial value, whether we’re monetizing attention or a new medium.
  • We will build better tools to manage-- analyze and visualize-- massive volumes of data, primarily tapping the evolving social graph.

Download the pdf summary here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

lazy communication: chronicles of our social graphs

I've been thinking about social graphs... and how egocentric they are.

There's a classroom experiment where students are asked to write the letter E on their forehead. Some people orient the E towards themselves; others think more empathetically and draw an E that's readily perceived by others. When facing themselves, it's an example of an egocentric bias.

Point is, being egocentric isn't necessarily about being selfish or about social desirability, it's a tendency to see things in a limited way, from your perspective only. Like kids who can't yet put themselves in others' shoes.
I think we're egocentric in our communication patterns. Even though we're not charged for long-distance-- calls or emails-- we tend to talk to people really nearby. Think about the ever-enduring silos in organizations. HBS researchers studied >100M emails and >60M calendar entries from +30k employees at a complex corporation in 2006:
"Our analysis indicates that two people who are in the same SBU, function, and office interact about 1,000 times more frequently than two people at the company who are in different business units, functions, and offices, but are otherwise similar."
We communicate with people who are within an arm's reach. This reminds me of the classic 1950's study of friendship in MIT housing leading to the adage (?) that proximity is the biggest predictor of friendship. At year's end, people reported being better friends with people who lived next door to them; people who lived near staircases reported being better friends with people on the second floor!

Are we communicatively lazy? How immersed are we in our full social graphs? Seems likely that we communicate in pretty isolated networks, not dispersed across our entire graph.

Consider Umair Haque's statement on how to be a 21st Century capitalist:
"Yesterday's businesses were built on cash, factories, and IP - financial, physical, and intellectual capital. Next-generation businesses are built, instead, on human, social, natural, and cultural capital - to name just a few."

If tomorrow's business is really going to be built on social capital, we need to figure out how to span our networks.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

learning, organizing, anticipating: better

I joked to my colleagues the other day that I wanted a personal assistant who would not only accurately intuit what I wanted for lunch, but proceed to feed it to me so I could seamlessly work (with two hands) and eat. Pathetic, yes, but after reading about CALO today in the NY Times, I’m optimistic things might pan out.

CALO is the “Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes. After spending some time on the website, I gather that it will automate many of the ‘mundane’ activities in our worklives (e.g. set up meetings with the right people at the right times, and best yet, prepare you with relevant information), based on interactions, activities, and instructions.

Think: Intelligent Amazingness-- it seemingly learns your preferences and priorities by your desktop activities, online behavior, who you physically come into contact with, and perhaps even how you interact with these individuals. From the website:
“The goal of the project is to create software systems that can reason, learn from experience, be told what to do, explain what they are doing, reflect on their experience, and respond robustly to surprise.”
Although it seems unrelated, in a later post, I want to talk about this in relation to Facebook Connect and Friend Connect. I shouldn’t even make this link because the CALO concept is wholly unrelated, but I think it’s important to call out the differences in predicting future behavior based on our daily behaviors, ‘bumper stickers,’ and our connections.

I’ll just say, I’m a huge proponent of figuring out who people are, and anticipating future behavior by what they do in their daily lives-- in fact, it was the topic of my dissertation. I’ve been anti- self-report measures for several years and several reasons.

So this is an exciting development - a new model of intelligent software learning about your worklife and how you navigate it- bound to play a critical role in the evolution of the web and enterprise, even if just inferring what I want for lunch.

Friday, December 5, 2008

metrics in the hands of users

You might have been wondering what I meant when I suggested California Closets revamp my FB account-- my strange need to classify my social graph for optimal predictive ability (e.g. product and music selections). What would new ways to organize and search my FB account really look like? Do I really want a metric next to each friend telling me how similar our tastes are or how good of friends we *really* are?

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of Xobni and its impact on the lives of two of the more addicted emailers I know. I remembered a former colleague telling me she found out I was her top emailee, but lowest emailer; she quickly stopped emailing me so much. Not only was the app cool, but useful.

Another friend told me Xobni clued them in to their "real" workgroup-- not the one the org chart dictated, but the colleagues who actually facilitate getting work done. Earlier today, someone mentioned an Adium app that analyzes IM usage stats to give you a sense of contacts' likelihood to respond, given your interaction history. Naturally, armed with this type of info, you can see how metrics can directly impact behavior.

So I started thinking about metrics in the hands of users (full disclosure: a discussion that evolved in talking to others). People always think of metrics as managerial tools, but really they should be in the hands of users to bring about the awareness and subsequent change in behavior that managers are most likely interested in in the first place.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

the more you give...

As soon as TechCrunch announced the availability of Facebook Connect, I felt pressure to organize my life.

What I mean is, I think our success with Facebook Connect, as individuals, will be dependent on how much information we offer and how well we organize it. Basically, the more you give, the more you get: the more you weed out noise by managing your FB account, the more accurate subsequent communications with you will be. I'd like to have someone like California Closets come in and manage my FB account.

I'm not so concerned with a potential backlash based on people's discomfort sharing so much information. Instead, I'm more concerned people will become disgruntled by not having managed their social graph.

Will people be more discerning about connections from now on? Could FB give us (data-based) tips on identity management? Or is that a psychologist's role?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

boundaries, blending and portability

Was watching a colleague login to a wiki the other day, trying various combinations of 3-4 usernames and passwords-- a situation you're probably pretty familiar with. We have multiple, yet limited, online identities, each with their own digital breadcrumbs, associations, and goals.

Even the earliest theorists of self (e.g. James, Meade, Cooley) saw this coming -- our online memberships automatically embed us in different networks; it's only natural to shift your identity based on context. Blogger, mother, NY-er, Texan, etc...

It made me think about our tacit strategies to manage our online identities and attitudes toward portability. Danah Boyd, of course, talks about related issues frequently (and early on).

My Links are fairly distinct from my Friends and who I Follow -- not 100% -- but I don't really use segmentation strategies within networks to adjust who sees what/ what I see.

With single digital identities and proliferating technology top of mind, the effect of maintaining distinctions across networks vs. merging, and porting identities are weighing down on me. A pretty extensive literature in social psych shows that when primed with a given identity, we adopt a certain awareness that guides our attention and evaluations, and influences our subsequent behaviors. This is natural... I'm curious about the opposite effect-- blending boundaries into a melting pot identity and the behavior that would result from a potentially merged self.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

liking and living, collaboratively

There are three main reasons why I loved Clive Thompson's piece in the Sunday NY Times Magazine.

  1. It questions fundamental differences in how we can define people and predict future behavior: self-reports and preferences vs. behavior.

  2. It highlights the paradox of how social seemingly individualistic things are: The social nature of decision-making; not to mention, the very collaborative style of the Netflix' competition.

  3. It touches on the limitations of computers in understanding nuanced human decision-making.

My favorite things!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

computing, culture, and catalyst

I dropped my Moto Q in the bath tub about two weeks ago-- as luck would have it, 4 days beyond the 1-year warranty of the handset. Because I've been indecisive about whether to replace or go iPhone, I've regressed to a pda-free state that only some of you remember once dominated. It's had a pretty profound effect on me:
It gives me some of the peace of being on a desert island.
  • No one can really reach me- at least not in an interuptive way; when they do, it's through more of a pull: email, Facebook, blog comments, Twitter (importantly, all via computer).
It makes me and others more committal.
  • There's no back and forth or last minute changes in plans. If I/you say we'll be somewhere, we best get there, on time, as planned.
It makes me more aware of my network.
  • I've essentially shifted my awareness from my shortlist of contacts to my broader network of weaker ties-- my email address book, FB friends, connections, etc.
Which made me think, to what extent can technology alone lead to change?

This may remind you of the classic Andrew McAfee stance on Web 2.0, that tools empower people, catalyze change. This has triggered an interesting cascade of heated discussion recently in the AU blogosphere questioning to what extent Web 2.0 is about the tools alone. Matt Hodgson, for example asked, If you build it, will they come? What about the group dynamics, organizational readiness, and interdependency of those two? Stephen Collins of Acid Labs and Stuart French at Delta Knowledge all have notable variations on his position, each highly worth reading and reflecting on.

As a social psychologist, I'm inclined to believe in the power of the situation over the person per se, the nurture over the nature, and perhaps thus, the culture over the technology. But clearly you can't equate "technology" with "person"-- that's the problem and why I so strongly believe,
when it comes to Enterprise 2.0, (like some of the others noted above) that technology is the least of it-- it's shifted thinking, fundamental reorganization, process reengineering, and massive cultural change akin to an intense corporate therapy session (cognitive behavioral, of course).

But as my simple experiment shows-- taking away my technological tools (phone) has illustrated the symbiotic nature of the two. I think technology profoundly affects our thinking and behavior (culture) as much as our culture affects the adoption and use of technology.

Monday, November 17, 2008

conversations are like driving: steering and blindspots

When I was in college, I ran rats. Suffice it to say, it was eye-to-eye with one such subject when I committed to social psychology. Interestingly, another labmate, Todd Rogers, sort of did the same. I came across some of his research on conversational blindness today - "answering the wrong question the right way." Now we know why this is advice often given to job interviewees: it really does lead to better outcomes.

Todd and his colleague found that "question dodgers," who basically answer a question they would rather be asked, typically get off scot-free. Furthermore, when they offer up an 'answer' with confidence, people prefer, like, and trust them more than someone who more genuinely attempts to answer the question. You can see Dan Gilbert in Todd's legacy (i.e. cognitive biases, logical fallacies, errors in judgment). Fascinating research! Yet another example of what cognitive misers we are-- unaware of so many nuances, constantly taking mental shortcuts.

In an HBS interview, Todd sums up some of his findings by saying that

It is striking that participants failed to punish the speaker when he dodged the question asked. For example, the speaker paid no price for answering a question about the illegal drug use problem in the United States with a discussion of why we need universal health-care insurance. This lack of penalty might explain why overt dodging appears so prevalent in politics (and in life).

The big finding is that people rely on style as a shortcut to substance. In Todd's words, "style blinds us to the lack of substance." It really makes you question what authenticity is, or rather which aspect of authenticity is most important: saying what you know well, or trying your darnedest to answer a question you really don't have anything to say about. It seems we all just want to hear something, and aren't so picky as to what... Does this remind you of the positive effect of attention?

Todd seems to focus on this phenomenon as evidence of our natural ability to be flexible in social interactions. It's true, I suppose we are efficient enough perceivers that we'd rather pursue value in a conversation than force an answer we know isn't there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Community strategy: lessons from a cult, part 2

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed several friends joining Landmark Forum groups on FB. Landmark has always caught my eye because in a strange way, it’s the ultimate group. Cult or not, it’s a vibrant community of support, affirmation and collaboration. They even tout productivity and communication as their hallmarks. Also, if you’ve ever been involved or have friends who are, you know it has fanatical loyalty. Engagement, anyone? I’ve never done any formal analysis of their communities, but I’m curious how they’d “score” on what are becoming more traditional metrics of community health.

A couple of years ago, I talked to a friend after an intense “blowout” weekend at Landmark. A few unexpected things jumped out at me from our conversation, perhaps lending cues as to how they master the cult-like bond.

1. No notes – implicit collaboration?

Apparently you're not allowed to take notes throughout the intensive weekend-long session. By not taking notes, you're compelled to talk to others to make sense out of what's going on. 

Takeaway: no learnings are private—it really enforces a team mentality. What you would normally keep to yourself, you do in a glass house.

2. Effort justification

The weekend training costs $500. In order to justify the money spent, you’re compelled to put in a certain amount of effort. Once you've invested all that cognitive work (apparently some of the tasks are quite difficult-- digging up all sorts of 'skeletons in the closet'), you rationalize your choice to join. 

Takeaway: people are constantly benefit-seeking – this must promote a really positive climate.

3. It’s hot. "It's the new yoga"

My friend literally said this to me. Everybody's doing it. They claimed that in the same fashion that people flocked to yoga studios 15 years ago, Landmark training is taking the nation by storm. 

Takeaway: people are made to feel like early adopters; either that, or they fear being left out.

4. Allegiance with a mentor

On the last night of weekend training, you're encouraged to bring a friend, if you know any, who has already been through the program. Thus, your friend, at a more advanced stage of justification helps affirm your progress. 

Takeaway: community elders are vital to success. They facilitate your transition and establish their role as a mentor for the confusion you will surely face as a newbie.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I was talking to someone about ROI and seemingly put her on the spot by asking how she currently calculates the return on her many efforts. After a long pause, she said "revenue," the de facto anxiety-filled response that people feel compelled to give...

Why the anxiety? Because ROI has evolved to such a confusing concept. Usually people interested in ROI are more intent on figuring out what to measure--  the "health" or "vibrancy" of a community, or how "engaging" a blog is. Should we go ahead and officially blur these boundaries? Can the quality and efficacy of online interactions act as 'return' enough?

Where do things stand with appraisal of intangible assets in modern-day companies? Seems like there may be some good learnings there: there's  no accepted standard for what certain things are worth, and even what should be measured (brand value, intellectual property, expertise), but annual reports are issued, reported book and stock values are available... 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

my new economy of words: katenieder

Remember when Twitter first hatched and people bemoaned the 140-character limit, comparing it to Pownce, or begging for just 20 more characters, like texting? Funny how we've not only gotten over it, but embraced micro-sharing in lieu of longer forms. I could cite several examples, including my new fave, mobile food reviews but feel safe in assuming you agree: we're comfortable with the pith and ease that flows from 140.

I read on Matt Hurst's blog the other day that while Twitter has only 2M users, there are about 3M messages exchanged per day, compared to the 1M blog posts created per day.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised; we have a history of reducing everything into small chunks (and tiny technologies). But the truth is, I haven't come to terms with it... so as of today, I confront it head-on. As many know, I am deepy bothered when others try to reduce people into "two types." I'm similarly annoyed by workweek reductivism, and parenting minimized to 3 easy steps. I'm terrible at updating my status on FB, struck by writer's block everytime I get to the, now optional, "is."

Witness my blatant tendency to write long posts... It ends today with the creation of my new (if third) Twitter account: @katenieder. In future posts we can address what my colleague questioned as potentially unjust reinvention of self, but one step at a time. I hereby begin a new era of pith. Follow me, help me, teach me. Please.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

voting is exhilarating

Google search Trends, Blogpulse buzz, Facebook Lexicon, (ps- check out the new Lexicon for specific queries)  Twitter Twist... anyone know of any real-time, trendable, user-generated data we can look at? 
Also, what other DVs can we look at tomorrow? Excited to see how the results will affect things like the Gallup Daily:

Sunday, November 2, 2008

handmade and hand-to-hand

One of my friends really wants to work at Etsy. Another friend opened up a 'shop' there a few months ago and is so profitable, she's going to have to quit her other job to maintain her wares. My ears were ringing from conversations I overheard about Etsy at the Maker Faire. Suffice it to say, for the past few weeks, I've heard Etsy come up more than a handful of times. I checked out the buzz on Blogpulse and indeed see an increasing trend; likewise for traffic. What's going on?

I'm going to wager it's more than an increasing desire for handmade goods and furthermore, more than mass producers of handmade goods finally having found an outlet-- I think its success has to do with making connections that bypass traditional establishments. It's a perfect example of social networking success - people interacting with unexpected others and benefitting in a big way, beyond any incremental, traditional post-shopping satisfaction. Etsy seems to be doing a really good job facilitating the conversation between buyers and sellers, making connections as easy as a good matchmaker should. 

How to maintain this success? As my friend who, by the way, would be their ultimate next hire points out, one potential next step would be embracing niche, DIY sites like ravelry to create "close-knit communities." As she astutely points out, rather than competing, communities like ravelry's are the perfect way to help Etsy members cultivate their ideas-- it's a way for Etsy to nurture their community by providing their loyal, 'engaged' participants more resources. 

In other words, Etsy should reach out to like-minded others the same way their constituents are. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

memes gone viral

The other night, I overheard a really good question. After listening to an Obama campaign volunteer fervently discuss his recent mission and experience, the question was: "What are you going to do with all your Obama energy when the election is over?"

I liked the question because the energy in the political rhetoric right now is so tangible and in need of an outlet beyond next Tuesday. I started to think about where he could channel his energy, but also where all that energy came from.

As marketers have noted, the virality of Obama's campaign is admirable. They've captured a tough and large crowd in a conversation bigger than the election. Marketers praise the campaign for their mastery of the tools of engagement, for creating a transmedia conversation. 

Naturally, marketers are interested in that method-- in fact, they've virtually spawned a new genre of blogs devoted to "top 5-10" learnings from the Obama campaign. But the method is conversation, really. It's not simply the technical tools Obama has used as a vehicle for any particular message.

Biz Stone said in his press release on "Current Diggs the Election."
"Current is helping Twitter amplify the opinions, news, and trends that matter right now. Together, we're influencing more than media--we're evolving conversation."
The tools are evolving a conversation that's bigger than media.

I think the success of the Obama conversation is part tools, and part guidance as to what to do with the information, how to make sense of it, how to participate in the conversation. With just tools, I don't think his memes would be nearly as viral. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

"good" posts

Ideal conversation should be a matter of equal give and take, but too often it is all “take.” The voluble talker—or chatterer—rides his own hobby straight through the hours without giving anyone else, who might also like to say something, a chance to do other than exhaustedly await the turn that never comes.
-Emily Post, 1922

Not to beat a dead horse, but one thing that I glossed over in summing up the commentary on Peter Kim's Influence post was the implicit assumption that blogs recognized as "Influential" will have "good content." That is, we expect them to be both impactful and "good." You know as well as I that definitions of 'good' vary widely, but it makes sense to assume that after reading a post by an "influencer," you would want to walk away feeling like you just had a good conversation.

Being a good conversationalist is challenging... Sure there are rules, etiquette, and feedback to let us know how we're doing, but still no precise science. Furthermore, as Sunday's NY Times article on Sandy Pentland suggests, we're typically blind to feedback, or "Honest Signals"- unaware when we're dominating a conversation, interrupting, or have waning audience attention. 

Luckily blogs bring some of these cues to the forefront... and as we've seen, lack of attention quickly leads to decreased content production. 

So what makes for good content? Can we measure it?

Here's, my stab at defining and measuring "good content." Note: this is an untested, hypothetical algorithm to generate more engagement, as defined by empathetic commentary:

  1. Authenticity
  • This would have to be measured over time-- a measure of consistency in linguistic style to guage whether you're being true to what you know.  Perhaps we'd also look for a slightly higher usage of first person pronouns (I, me, my) to relay personal thoughts and opinions.

2. Economy of Language

  • This could manifest via use of bullets and a low word count. Why? This not only generates intrigue, but shows your respect for your audience's attention. And conveys high status.

3. High Opinion: Question ratio 

  • Might seem counterintuitive, but a colleague and I have been playing around with this idea. Questions don't seem to elicit a reaction without first offering fodder for the reaction: your opinion. Like the above 2, this too can be measured pretty easily with a basic text analysis program.

Just a hypothesis... I considered a few others, like unexpected associations and original thought, but I'm going to standby #1 in the name of anything having the potential to be interesting and "good." 

Anyone want to make a case for other variables? What else might predict loyal readership?

Friday, October 24, 2008

individual groups

Was talking to a friend this morning about his multiple identities... "Friend" has 2 Twitter accounts: 1 personal, 1 corporate. He was reflecting on the different ways he's perceived (or perceives he's perceived) when operating as each distinct identity.

"People give me the cold shoulder when I'm using my corporate account, they're surprised and delighted when I relay the same content from my personal one."

So the enterprise becomes a group of individuals, and we redefine the collective identity or personality of that enterprise.

What happens when an individual leaves? Do they take that piece of corporate personality with them? What's the impact on the enterprise? 

Reminds me of the relationship literature: how we are like overlapping venn diagrams of "me" and "romantic partner" and therefore suffer greatly upon break up. Part of you disappears. 

More important than departures, companies could face some serious identity crises in the near future as we figure out the balance between collective and individuals. Rolling people up into a 'greater sum' preserving their freedom to act as individuals... If not marriage counselors, maybe we can look to sports' coaches for advice.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

influence influenza

Whether Influencer Listers are egoists or not, the comments on Peter Kim’s post last week questioning the self-promoting nature of said lists raised some interesting assumptions about what we expect from the construct of Influence.

To sum up the commentary:
Influencer lists provide no value because they’re simply popularity lists.
Influence is undefined and ambiguous.
Influencer marketing is ineffective, or diluted because of size and the ambiguity of lists

I’ve blogged before about my dislike of measuring something for the sake of measurement. Specifically, I’ve been pretty harsh when people make magic formulas combining a hodgepodge of variables then call it Influence. In my opinion, these approaches go wrong for 3 reasons.

The formulas:
• Lack objectivity
-- arbitrarily involve variables simply because they’re available (e.g. # friends)
Lack reliability - incorporate variables that measure the same thing multiple times (e.g. friends on Facebook + followers on Twitter + connections on LinkedIn)
Lack Validity - fail to show that they predict a meaningful behavior (e.g. “real influence,” sales, good content, etc.)

Without going into detail on psychometrics, I think others would agree there’s an abundance of digital breadcrumbs available to us… we have to start to show how they relate to meaningful constructs; influence, arguably, being one of them.

I think the call to arms today is mainly about validity: we need evidence that people are measuring what they’re trying to measure—that “influence” algorithms predict something meaningful (e.g. widget adoption?).

To be clear, our expectations for influence, influencers and influencer lists probably vary as widely as the ways they are being measured. Transparency will be key.

All this, and I still haven’t come down on the practice of influencer marketing…

Friday, October 17, 2008

media, medium, me

Last night I read a post by a particularly insightful guy questioning "to what extent news is news." He was deliberating movement in the market in relation to alleged news-- asking, to what extent is news embedded in the market...

With real-time technologies and more "social" ones at that, the role of "news" and/or "media" fluctuate.

I was thinking about this while listening to an outstanding presentation by Marcel LeBrun, CEO of Radian6 today. Marcel opened his talk with Marshall McLuhan's thoughts on "the medium as the message." Idea being, the medium, social technology in his case, has a larger societal impact than the messages contained in/on the medium. Marcel went on to talk about the richness of what he refers to as the "social phone," or social web in all its opportunities for participation.

Interestingly this same idea came up in David Matthia's comment in response to Peter Kim's post questioning the value of Influencer lists. Referring to Influencer lists as 'fad-ish', he suggests the real trend is in the influence of the medium-- in organizing and supporting groups (drastically simplified, but similar to what is discussed on David's blog, The Root Trend).

This is all particularly interesting to me because I don't necessarily think of the social web as a medium... Not that I'm the first to suggest this. I don't argue the richness, opportunity, or profound role of the technology in the markets or society, I just don't think of it as a medium. Still, I wonder about its role-- current and future.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

insightful associations

When people strive for buzz, they typically want a lot.

Volume, quantity, attention.

Sometimes they yearn for a lot of positive buzz, but usually just a lot. I would argue the best buzz-- the best conversation-- is the discussion that alerts you to unique associations, people making "distant and unprecedented connections" with your brand, product, or issue of interest.

Turns out these types of connections define the neurological process of insight we exhibit during "aha moments."

Learning (about yourself, your brand, your 'topic') is not about being focused and paying attention to what you pre-determine to be the relevant details, it's about being open and receptive to fringe ideas and associations. Or not? When might listening to weak signals, distract you from the task at hand and do you wrong?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

on texting, talking, and tweeting

There's an article about Jamie Pennebaker in today's Times-- how he's "breaking new linguistic ground and leading a resurgent interest in text analysis." True story. Jamie's a genius. And the timing is impeccable: with the proliferation of 'conversational technology,' there are so many more ways we can glean information about who people are and how they relate to themselves and others, simply by analyzing words. 

Another interesting opportunity is the ability to learn about the role of the medium: Twitter, Facebook, blogging, commenting, communities... Do we vary our style across medium-- do you come across differently as a blogger vs. an emailer? Does each channel fulfill a different need-- do you feel more supported participating in a community than commenting on a blog? Do you feel like you can get your point across better IMing than stopping by your colleague's cube?  

Start amassing data about your conversations, and if you're so motivated as to archive your every word, I'll happily do the text analysis and send you your results to see how your style varies with your self reports. 

Think about things like: how 'good' was the conversation? How connected did you feel to the person you were talking to? Did you communicate effectively? Why did you choose that form? I could go on... but it will become more interesting to hear what type of metadata you choose to archive. Please, let me know...

Monday, October 13, 2008

removing the "copy" from copyright; eyeballs from buzz?

Lawrence Lessig (of creative commons fame), had a nice piece in this weekend's WSJ, even if it mischaracterized his stance on piracy or the aboutness of his upcoming book, Remix.

His main contention is that copyright law has become corrosive in its inability to adapt to the new, creative use of digital technology (e.g. YouTube, Flickr, etc.). 

There's an interesting parallel in the way 'laws of measurement' have yet to evolve for the prolific creation and dissemination of content online. Still we find ourselves using a marketing measurement model. 

Lessig recommends the law should give up its obsession with "the copy"-- this immediately reminds me of the obsession to think about eyeballs exposed to buzz online-- views, GRPs, etc. that, I would argue, also should be abandoned.

An engaging conversation-- that which buzz usually represents-- engenders so much more than exposure. This is why I questioned the impact of mere views in fulfilling our attentional needs and spurring productivity (in creating content online). It seems that as technology transforms, everything related-- processes, metrics, laws-- should respond in kind. Most likely these will not be incremental enhancements, but transformations. 

Anyone else see a parallel?  

Friday, October 10, 2008

paying attention

Max made an interesting comment today, citing HP's Social Computing Lab's study, reinforcing his longstanding belief that attention is the currency of user contribution. It made me think about all the ways we pay-- and can be paid attention, and how we can convey it with varying degrees of depth.

We can visit, view, and look; or, we can interact, participate, engage... 

One of the most notable complements to any web technology is the ability to quantify it transparently. We have analytics for our every action, and as this study demonstrates, we're powerfully affected by our awareness of those metrics/ our performance. But what's interesting too is that most metrics consumed at face value lack depth (i.e. visits and views). 

What is the role of engagement in perceptions of attention? Does it matter? In the HP study, they used a Granger causality test to show that attention (as measured by YouTube views) CAUSED productivity (in the form of increased video uploads); and lack thereof actually led people to stop producing content. 

This is a pretty unbelievable testament to social perception. But more to the point, that level of behavioral change-- to produce more content or discontinue producing content-- was all a function of views. Not views and comments, dispersed views, return views, sentiment associated with views, influence of views, etc. Does engagement matter as much as we think?

As bloggers, which analytics are you most affected by? Mere quantity of visits? Furthermore how much does it affect you and your productivity?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

sins of listening

I've always thought I had good hearing, but lately I've noticed (or have been told), my hearing is dwindling. FYI - my theory is I'm highly sensitive to noise (aka a superhearer) and thus have a lot of interference when it comes to discerning the signal. So naturally, I compensate for it by pretending I hear, doing some fuzzy (desperate) interpretation to make sense out of a blur of words and tone, and impulsively respond. I'm usually pretty off-the-mark...

I come from a brand monitoring world, a space where the potential for many variations of the above can easily happen. Importantly, I'm speaking from an analyst-as-consumer-of-data perspective-- could be a marketer, researcher, client, whomever it is attempting to listen to the data. Point being: ineffective listening is a sin. You should always query and re-query-- as many times as necessary-- so that the data can fully express itself. Data is, in some ways, more responsive than other conversational partners. 

As with consumer generated media, when the data universe is vast, participation is unregulated, and the best questions answered are unanticipated, the most frequent sins are probably acts of omission rather than commission. That is, it's not that you go wrong by acting on the data, but in not benefitting from what you could know if you had more effectively listened. 

I think clever interrogation is the formula for effective listening: a loop of listening, structuring, iterating and eventually analyzing. Which other effective strategies have you developed to better listen?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

the new beast of editing

Yesterday I was obsessed with the idea of editing. Who are the new editors with democratized publication? What is their role? What are the varied ways editing manifests online, beyond the literal editing of a Wikipedia entry? A colleague offered up the idea of Twittering links to popular news as an example, be it an annoying one. 

I was thinking of it more in terms of collaborative filtering as a new mode of editing, a transformed mode. 

Is editing -- in this evolved state-- how the wisdom of the crowds prevails over the known dysfunction of groups (think: groupthink, loafing, etc.)? Is this how we achieve quality outcomes from crowdsourcing? If so, is the editor's need to 'get things right' self-serving? Is it even a need to 'get things right' or is more about filtering and mastery-- making sense of the world? 

I was ready to let it go, but then my mother called my attention to Tina Brown's newly launched Daily Beast a pastiche of traditional journalism and modern day online dialogue. David Carr's piece, aptly titled Editor of Note, Perched Online, says this:
With a slogan splashed across its home page promising rigorous editing of the culture for complicated times — “Read This Skip That” — the Beast is aiming to be a smaller, less chaotic version of the World Wide Web itself.
This style of 'rigorous editing' doesn't really seem to embrace the complicated times we are in (Note: purely technologically speaking). It seems like editing, online. I'd like to see Tina Brown achieve an evolved state of editing. But I think it will require more than 'sensibility'...

Monday, October 6, 2008

chasing engagement

Someone accused me of being like the Music Man when I suggested there are meaningful metrics that tap into the value in a conversation. Sadly, there is a lot of black magic out there in the form of widely variant algorithms for things like influence, engagement, and even less buzzy constructs like sentiment. But the constructs we're chasing exist; it's the methods that are misaligned. You don't necessarily need to add, or even use every variable available simply because you can.

People have deep interactions and make strong emotional connections. 

How do these manifest? Using a simple text analysis program, I did an experiment comparing 500 blogs in which people make a "definite recommendation" to a random sample of blogs (with a similar topical focus). Why? Recommendations have been hailed as the holy grail of word of mouth and even organizational performance (c.f. Net Promoter score).

If you look closely at the language people use around "definite recommendations" you see they are far more emotional, and as you might expect, more positive than negative. Interesting ecological validity there...

More interesting to me, recommendations are more intimate. People used more personal pronouns (I, me, my) indicating that they felt connected to the recommended items ("products") they were evangelizing.

And here's the clincher, they use more verbs than nouns: recommendations included more discussion of experiences with the products than discussion of objective attributes. Recommendations are experienced-based, not removed evaluations.

I don't interpret this as the precise litmus test that will give you the PH of a conversation, but it's a good example of the ability to tap into something valuable, relatively easily. Point being, I think something deeper usually lies beneath: subtle ways that people express deep emotional connections to brands, products, people, and the world in general. 

Friday, October 3, 2008

body choir: unexpected lessons for a healthy community

I was watching an old friend play some music last night and witnessed something that might offer some unexpected clues about what "health" could look like in an online community.

Scattered throughout the audience were friends of the musician who are also members of body choir. A friend told me that there's no talking allowed at body choir-- you speak, or rather sing with your body. This results in spontaneous, yet very fluid movements that you might have seen back in the days of EST groups. Eventually, they're dancing, completely in synch.

It used to amuse me, but last night I decided I was impressed by the symbiosis they achieve. 

There's this interesting process that sets off as various members start to internalize the music, make eye-contact with one another, exchange cult-like smiles, and eventually begin harmonizing their movements, seemingly rolling off one another. You can almost see a meme disseminate across the audience. 

How could an online community achieve this symbiosis-- each member internalizing the community's core values, generating that level of enthusiasm, and harnessing it into synchronized communications?

Can we study groups like this to derive an algorithm for the health of a community? A certain level of information, a vehicle to facilitate the transmission of that information, an optimal number of participants?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

imposing structure; discovering structure

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on enterprise social software and was taken by an idea, which I think is actually a philosophy- my philosophy.  

"In contrast to traditional enterprise software, which imposes structure prior to use, this generation of software tends to encourage use prior to providing structure."
Use prior to structure... 

People always tell you this when you buy a house-- before putting in furniture, use it, walk around, figure out the traffic patterns, see which areas you and others naturally gravitate toward. Then, structure accordingly - make the furniture fit your lifestyle. 

This is my precise philosophy on how to approach new research constructs (e.g. Influence, Engagement, Authenticity), and data analysis in general. Map it out. Use your data and then divine structure. Down with Field of Dreams, 'If they come, it will build (grow)' seems a bit more apt today.

Surely I'm naive. When is it good to impose structure prior to use? People tell me schedules and plans work well in life. Is there anything in the enterprise that clearly calls for structure prior to use or can everything evolve to a place where structure emerges organically?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

wwpjd? analyzing data, philip johnson style

I've been thinking a lot about what it would mean to analyze data from a glass house... All of a sudden reminds me of the time when Nick Denton opened up his blogging storefront on Crosby Street. 

Who can't relate to the situation when immersed in data, you yearn to channel various statisticians, or even your grad school advisor to figure out how best to proceed? Alternatively, have you ever been reviewing someone else's data, wanting desperately to point out something you think is interesting-- that you feel they should know, given your own forays in different data sets?

Several companies are getting into this idea of collaborative data analysis to help efficiently communicate important things as the amount of information proliferates. Early on, I reviewed one such impressive offering, Swivel.com. I was immediately taken with the idea of a community designed around data analysis-- not only the ability to annotate analyses, but access to wealths of metadata on who made the annotation, what else they've commented on, their background, expertise, etc. 

Today, Matt Hurst, a former colleague of mine blogged about DataDepot from Microsoft Research. Strangely, I can't access it anymore, but earlier I noticed there's a lot of room for engagement with the data here... commenting, annotating, easily adding new datasets. This could really transform the way we happen upon empirical insights and highlight complex relationships; and, in the end, happen upon emergent outcomes. No more ivory towers!

What, beyond privacy concerns, are the repercussions of analyzing data in a glass house? Seems like it could really motivate researchers to be productive... 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

you unfriended ME?

I made an interesting discovery last night... I realized I had been unfriended by an old friend on FB, for no apparent reason. 

I'm a big fan of social network maintenance-- I advocate being judicious in accepting requests and periodically weeding. Why? Mainly because it keeps things clean: loud signal, low background noise. 

But in the process of deeply analyzing why this 'friend' decided to cease our relationship, I've been forced to inventory all the reasons others might engage in weeding, or pruning, as Peter Kim calls it.

1. Informational/ Strength of bond - Weeding friends is a method of filtering the potentially massive amounts of information coming in. It allows you to maintain manageable amounts of meaningful chunks of information. To be clear, as a measurement scientist, if I've unfriended you, this is why, with perhaps one exception. 
2. Permissive/ Visibility - Cleansing connections allows you to control who has access to information about you (depending on both privacy settings and platform construction). Was there something about what she's doing now she didn't want me to see? 
3. Identity Claim/ Reputation management - Who you're associated with says a lot about what kind of person you are: your career interests, opinions, beliefs, attitudes, etc. There are a few additional dimensions here too: the quantity of connections might indicate how popular and/or discerning you are, and the 'quality' of the relationships offers clues as to how influential or well-connected you are (and of course the inverse).

What else?

Others, like Clive Thompson, most recently have questioned the meaning of having hundreds of friends on FB, suggesting the technology and low barriers to online 'friendship' challenge Robin Dunbar's original work on network size. Perhaps this article in and of itself was what prompted her to remove her weakest ties (me?)...

But what's most bizarre is my lingering reaction... now 12 hours later, I'm still analyzing a list of potential reasons for being denied access to her doings. It kind of motivates me to want to re-connect. Is unfriending an effective strategy to elicit others to reaffirm the meaningfulness of your relationships? Ahhh reactance...

Monday, September 29, 2008

multi-centered networks

Duncan Watts is critical about centrality. He cleverly ponders the 'weight' of peripheral players and information brokers not stereotypically believed to wield the most influence. In his mind, it's the interactions of equals more than a predetermined 'hub' that create the innovative and emergent outcomes we all attempt to chase down.

"What if small events percolate through obscure places by happenstance and random encounters, triggering a multitude of individual decisions, each made in the absence of any grand plan, yet aggregating somehow into a momentous event unanticipated by anyone, including the actors themselves?"

This has so many implications for those interested in divining an algorithm for said emergent outcomes. And of course, so many social psychological ideas embedded within... The gist is, be wary of the structure within which you're working before you go imposing or assuming a given structure. In other words, study the group dynamics and realize there may be unique circumstances to account for: particularly strong or weak ties across people and groups, peculiar politics, lack of policies, implicit morays... and furthermore active flux. Networks are rarely static.

Groups are complex beasts. When improperly nurtured, we see things like groupthink, social loafing, deindividuation, conformity, diffusion of responsibility, polarization... Groups gone wild... But groups are important and replete with latent assets; Durkheim, for one, emphasized the importance of such social integration. Much research points to the health benefits of social connections in groups, not to mention the wisdom of crowds.

I'm a big advocate of the proper understanding and mapping of existing groups and networks. Prevent anomie! Figure out a way to take advantage of the rich peripheral activity that Watts rightfully calls our attention to. There are a lot of important voices out there that aren't in the spotlight. Any Gladwellists care to challenge me?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the perfect dialogue

Early on, Descartes thought about things like the "perfected language." The rhetoric was about efficiency in communication, at large. This is a scholarly philosophy about signs, symbols, and other things linguistic that are far too logical for my fuzzy thinking. What I think is interesting though, is its extension to the perfect conversation or perfect dialogue. 

Can we come up with rules for a good dialogue? Rules may be a bit restrictive... how about governing principles to frae your conversational strategies? And, importantly, let's focus on The Enterprise DIalogue. 

Grice had something to say about this. A linguist, of course, he derived 4 conversational maxims, under the assumption that conversation is rooted in cooperation. Quality, Quantity, Relation, and Manner. In laymen's terms: you should always talk about true things you can support, keeping your objectives in mind, not giving too much information; and, you should be relevant, clear, and organized. 

These are helpful and clearly could make for an efficient exchange. But efficiency may not be what people (i.e. consumers) are looking for in the context of engagement with an enterprise (i.e. brand, lifestyle, etc.). What do they want? Involvement? Information? Inspiration? Maybe a good conversation is a goal per se? Do people simply want to be engaged in a rewarding conversation?

How could we evolve these maxims?

I might expand Quality to Authenticity. Quantity may not be as much of a priority, although frequency of participation (persistence) is key. Relation might be more about customization-- being relevant today means coming across as attentive and responsive to the idiosyncratic needs of your constituent base. Lastly, manner is huge-- transparency is critical. Be open and transparent with respect to what you know and don't know-- and importantly, what you know thus far about what you don't know. This latter component is really the hallmark of transparency in my mind. 

Now, how do we weave in the role of a compelling story?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

change management through language?

What would it look like if you encouraged all constituents to "story" their relationship to an enterprise? If the words we use are 'literal' reflections of our social orientation, illustrating how we relate to ourselves, others, situations, objects, etc., then what types of words-- and variations--- would we see in the conversations of an organizations' constituents? Furthermore, would we see blatant transformations, for example, from first person singular to plural as the enterprise embraces social connections? 
Moving from "I" to "We" is no simple, linear task. It's going from a monologue to a dialogue. It requires a new level of transparency. It's a very postmodern transformation-- nay mutation: removing the Grand Narrative in favor of many narratives, or going from disorder to greater disorder, as my friend Ryan says. I think there are a lot of learnings in the postmodern movement for today's enterprise. Collaborative technology is begging online architectural metamorphoses akin to our offline architectural evolution from functionalism. Does this framework offer any useful guidance?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

we know we want to connect, but why?

Transforming an organization to be social requires a comprehensive understanding of why we are social animals in the first place. What motivates social interactions? Social psychologists rarely question WHY we have the fundamental need to connect, but readily acknowledge the desire for interpersonal attachments is indeed a powerful driving force in human behavior, on which many psychological processes are built (e.g. emotions, cognitive processes, etc.). 

Modern enterprises are like this too-- rarely questioning WHY its constituents want to connect, but increasingly providing outlets to do so.  As social beings, our quest for belongingness is irrefutable, even after our base needs for survival and reproduction are fulfilled-- look at our exponentially increasing adoption of social media like Facebook and MySpace.

I wholeheartedly believe a company should facilitate and nourish our need to belong and commend the initiatives already in place (whether they receive awards or not); however, before forming and maintaining strong, stable relationships, think about what your constituents desire: how do they want to connect? why? where? 

In my opinion, this will make it magnitudes easier to measure your ROI. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

can you measure a conversation?

Engagement in social media boasts a panoply of social psychological learnings, and yet takes classic social psychology and redefines the experimental boundaries. On one level, there are myriad new, online behavioral residues with which you can operationalize constructs of interest (e.g. Influence); on another level, social media, per se (as a medium/ channel of communication), forces us to question what it means to have meaningful interactions and  recontextualizes everything we know about group dynamics. 
But the essence of social media, as so many people are proselytizing, is about having a conversation (c.f. Jaffe, Shirky).
This is good news; conversations offer a vast array of measurement possibilities; furthermore, measuring a conversation, although unconventional, taps into meaningful psychological constructs that can tell you something important. While it may not directly align with your previous method of calculating ROI, I would argue, conversation affords more productive understanding of your efforts. Is your conversational style authentic? Is it perceived as genuine? Is your conversation in synch with your audience?
As enterprises rapidly adopt social media, we have a viable opportunity to measure, monitor, and eventually use these learnings to transform the way business works. What do you think? Do you think existing measurement models will endure? Do you think social psychology can help make make enterprises more authentically social?