Scripting News for 8/3/2006

The schedule for Wikimania. It starts tomorrow.  

TechCrunch starts a job site, a listing is $200 for a month. Wikipedia bans Stephen Colbert

Scott Rosenberg wonders why Technorati is “so unstable.” 

Marc Canter: “PeopleAggregator is for people who want to build and run social networks.” 

I’m at LaGuardia, where it’s still sweltering, even in the air conditioned terminal you can’t avoid the heat outside (100-plus). I’m waiting for a flight to Boston, and checked the temperature there, and see that it’s just 73. Can’t wait to get there! 

A Google engineer, Mihai Parparita, ranked the most popular namespaces used in feeds. 

It was 104 degrees yesterday when I took this picture of the New York Stock Exchange. The same scene, in a movie.  

Jamie Parks, driving with his girlfriend from Austin to Cambridge for Wikimania, has made it to Nashville. 

Two friends, Robert and Patrick Scoble, embark on a fantastic road trip today, from the Bay Area to Livingston, Montana. I’ve done the drive myself, in the opposite direction, and it’s a great one. Lots of fantastic scenery and lots of empty miles on great roads to space out and relax in. Wish I was along for the ride, but Wikimania should be pretty cool, esp if the heat wave breaks, as it’s predicted to. Tomorrow’s high in Cambridge is forecast at 81. Man, that’s coooool. 🙂 

Making money with ads? Not much longer… 

Yes, I have put ads on some of my sites, but never on Scripting News. I didn’t want to interfere with my message by selling rides to hitch-hikers. Frankly they weren’t offering enough money to make it worthwhile to me. In order to get me to share the space with them, they’d have to compensate me for the distraction, and for the bad vibes that comes from trying to distract the people whose attention I value most, the readers of Scripting News.

An example. As you know, I’m in the process of buying a house (the closing is a week from tomorrow), so I do a lot of email with my mortgage broker, accountant, realtor, insurance agents. They’re all using email these days, so there’s less phone tag, and it’s easier to compare offers, juggling details is possible, even while I’m traveling. Last time I bought a house, in 1992, it wouldn’t have been possible to go to NY and Boston in the week before the closing, but you can do it now.

So every time I get an email from one of these people, Google shows me ads for their competitors. I get an email from my accountant, ads from other accountants appear in the margin. My insurance agent sends me a quote, and links to other insurance agents appear. This is per the design of Internet advertising, but it’s pointless. If I wanted information about competitors I know how to use the search engine, and I would go look them up (as I did when I was getting started).

That’s the key point, we are seeking out commercial information all the time, as we live our lives in a material society. All day every day. I have to go into the city in an hour or so, and I used Google to decide to take a bus instead of calling a cab to take me to the subway station. I was able to estimate the cab fare, and since I don’t live in NY and they keep changing the bus fare, I was able to find out how many quarters I needed to get on the bus (eight). It may seem trivial to you, but it wasn’t to me. They require exact change. Now did any of the ads I’ve seen in the last hour get me that information? No.

When they finish the process of better and better targeted advertising, that’s when the whole idea of advertising will go poof, will disappear. If it’s perfectly targeted, it isn’t advertising, it’s information. Information is welcome, advertising is offensive. Who wants to pay to create information that’s discarded? Who wants to pay to be a nuisance? Wouldn’t it be better to pay to get the information to the people who want it? Are you afraid no one wants your information? Then maybe you’d better do some research and make a product that people actually want to know about.

At a meeting yesterday, at a famous media company, to illustrate this point, which can be a little subtle today, but will be making people billions in a couple of years, I pointed to my computer and my Blackberry. I said maybe Apple would provide software that made the Blackberry work as well as the iPod works with a Mac, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Then I pointed to something I noticed, another person in the meeting had a Blackberry and a Mac too. Amazing that we would both be customers for the same product that doesn’t exist, and isn’t likely to exist, the way things are going.

And that’s why things will change. The current product development process, that focuses on a few supposed geniuses and ignores the intelligence that’s in the user’s minds, same as with unconferences, is about to run its course much as the old style conference can’t possibly compete with one that involves the brains of the people formerly known as the audience. Think about it. There’s a big trend here, imho it’s the difference between the 20th and 21st centuries. In the past the flow of ideas for products was heavily centralized, and based on advertising to build demand. In the future, the flow of ideas for products will happen everywhere, all the time, and products with small markets will be worth making because we’ll be able to find the users, or more accurately, they’ll be able to find us. “Targeting” customers is the wrong metaphor for the future. Instead make it easy for the people who lust for what you have to find you. How? 1. Find out what they want, and 2. Make it for them and 3. Go back to where you found out about it, and tell them it’s available.

I’ve been singing this song since 2000. I think we’re almost there. I saw that Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are banding together to fight click-fraud. That’s about as likely to work as the fight in the 80s to stop people from copying copy-protected software. The incentive to defraud is too great. And who’s frauding who, I think it’s the companies that take your money to hitch your message on “content” where it isn’t welcome. Imagine taking people’s money to turn their products into a nuisance. The kids being born today won’t believe it used to work this way.

User-generated content is actually on the road to nirvana, but it’s not a sustainable model in itself. In all that content, which today’s companies view as frankfurter meat, undifferentiated slurry, a medium for unwanted hitch-hikers, is the idea for the next iPod, or the formula for peace in the Middle East, the campaign platform for the President we’ll elect in 2012, perhaps even a solution for global warming. You just have to believe that intelligence isn’t concentrated among the people who rose to the top of the 20th century’s ladders to believe that there are nuggets of wisdom waiting out there for the taking, among the minds that created all that UGC.

Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

7 responses to this post.

  1. There is a flaw in the post-‘targeting’ mode you outline, in the ‘Find out what they want’ stage. Most people don’t know what they want, and will likely (if unintentionally) mislead any consumer organisation asking them. This isn’t to patronise ordinary people, but to recognise the professional skills of researchers, designers, et al in identifying real but latent or unexpressed needs and giving form to products and services to meet — or exceed — them. When the early BBC chief Lord Reith was asked whether he was going to give the people what they wanted, replied: “No. Something better than that.” Perhaps the Yogi Berra quote points to a more appropriate model.


  2. I don’t think you’ve found a flaw, I didn’t say everyone can articulate what they want, you may be right that most people don’t know what they want, but out there, some people do know what they want, and the trick is to find those nuggets in the vast sea of UGC.


  3. Dave, have you ever read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki? It has a lot to do with what you’re saying here, about how the genius lies not in the few selected “experts” but in the “audience”, or rather, the aggregate of the ideas from the crowd. When you talk about how ideas will flow from the users instead of the other way around, it sounds very much like TWOC.




  4. First, let me say, long-time reader, first-time poster. I enjoy Scripting News. Most of the geek stuff is over my head, but your observations are always thoughtful and good reading.

    I’ve been in the ad-sales business for 25 years. So let me challenge your post on advertising in two ways. First, I don’t see the “process” you are talking about even remotely close to being complete. The problem, imho, is the “they” you referred to are a very divergent group with often conflicting agendas. This problem, combined with corporate and status-quo inertia (think ad agencies and their traditional media buying) will keep your nirvana on the slow track.

    Second, I believe you short-change the whole sales profession. A true sales person uncovers a need and presents a viable and buyable solution. Think of this- what if a week ago a salesperson had uncovered your upcoming need for transportation in New York and presented you with an viable solution for let’s say, 6 quarters instead of 8, (yeah, I’m being simplistic). I reject the notion people don’t know what they want or need. But in our busy lives, sometimes needs and wants get lost in the shuffle. A good salesperson, or advertisement, can bring focus where it is needed or wanted, even if it’s not a the top of our attention span.


  5. Rusty, sorry I don’t agree with the premise of the book you cite, and that’s not at all what I’m saying.

    And Randy your what-if didn’t happen.


  6. Hi Dave have you seen this yet :

    What are your thoughts?
    doesn’t seem quite right to me especially the “allow” version.



  7. Posted by Tom Dougherty on August 7, 2006 at 2:07 am

    As an owner of a company that specalizes in developing brand messages that “get through” I found your comments about advertising quite on target. The following is a snippet of an article I recently penned that speaks to the difference between information and noise…

    It is called “The information age is a dangerous myth”

    The promise of the information age has fallen on deaf ears. Futurists have been touting our epoch as the age of information but your customers have other ideas. These ideas have spawned an entire new set of tools specifically designed to ignore you.

    Lets use the metaphor of email to make this point. On average, you probably receive upwards of 100 emails or more a day — more if you are a member of an email centric company like Stealing Share®. There was a time when email was a powerful way to communicate because it was almost immediate and took place right on the desktop. It required the use of a technology that was already integrated into the workflow of most white-collar employees. It was intrusive and left a fine paper trail. It was a perfect microcosm of “the information age”.

    It is All SPAM
    Today, with the constant bombardment of emails, just to make the technology useful we need to install SPAM filters whose sole job it is to remove at best, or highlight, at worse unsolicited emails. If these filters “believe” that the email is “junk” it either deletes it immediately or places it into a junk mail folder.

    As an email end-user, at the end of everyday we need to sort through the emails chocked full of pornography, Viagra ads, penile dysfunction/enhancement and the latest stock tips to make sure that nothing of REAL importance was inadvertently deleted.

    A close look at these SPAM filters is worthwhile because they work very much like that natural filters that your most coveted target audience uses everyday to make heads or tails out of the din of marketing noise around them. The average consumer today receives over 1,800 marketing messages each and every day and this does not include all of the messages they are subjected to on the web. It is easily twice that number of messages if you include all the banner ads, pop-ups and solicitations that come our way at every site we visit. This is not “information,” it is noise. Your potential customer is spending the vast majority of its day, not digesting all the information they receive but in filtering out all of the noise that comes to it unbidden. We are more aptly in the age of knowledge — a filtered subset of the age of information.

    Customers Develop Filters
    Back to our email SPAM filter illustration. The filter on our computers looks for certain pre-defined attributes that might indicate SPAM. These can be a specific type of layout, image or domain. It can be set to search for particular words or phrases and content and exclude any and all of those. Living in the consumer-oriented society that surrounds us all requires the same set of filters. You customer scans for content that “is not for them” and subconsciously ignores those messages… pushing them into their very own junk mail filter.

    Sometimes, these “rules” don’t work well and need updating. For those of us who have ever bought a home we have seen this filtering first hand. Suddenly, while in the house hunting mode, we “notice” every FOR SALE sign within view as we move about. Then, once we have purchased a house …”PUFF” all the FOR SALE signs suddenly disappear. This is an example of selective attention. Automotive brands rely heavily on this form of marketing. They realize that consumers will filter out the ads when they are not in the market and will focus in when they are. It is a terribly inefficient model that requires great reach and frequency (read CASH) because no one can pinpoint where and when the motivated buyers will appear.


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