Week 47

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. Some thoughts on Google+ and some more information about our involvement with this years PICNIC festival.

Crazy Week

We rarely can go into much detail about our work, but last week is especially hard to describe. All of the projects are at a stage that just makes it impossible to discuss them in public. That said, there will be a point when we will be able to reveal more about thm.

Just for the scope of things: we are currently on three deadlines. Two of them are this week, one is next week. The clients roaster is quite diverse: a bank, a media company and a startup. For two of those clients, we are developing the underlining social strategy with all its repercussions. Meaning: we are going deep into the structure of both companies, talking not only about the choice of the right platforms and tools, but also about some re-organizational stuff, polishing processes, making suggestions what people to hire, etc.

Additionally, we’ve been commissioned to write a concept for a product. Based on our concept, the client will decide whether to take the next step and prototype an app. It was our suggestion to approach the project in a highly iterative manner. The client had a great idea for a potentially very interesting product. Our job is it to determine if it can become something more. This requires a solid evaluation of the problem that we are trying to solve and how large the potential market is for what we are trying to do. Our work also includes some preliminary evaluation of the technical requirements.

Google+

Google’s new wunderkind attracted quit a lot of attention in a very short period of time. With so many attempts to get social right, Google surprised even the biggest skeptics with a surprisingly polished product. After many failed attempts to create a social layer for its products, Google approached the creation of Google+ with a different team- and processes structure.

While the user count skyrocketed beyond the 25m mark in less then a month, we are still hesitant to suggest our clients pour a lot of resources into Google+. After Marcus Brown told me the truth about the internet, it is hard not think about those services and platforms as children (with all the repercussions). Jokes aside, Google+ is certainly interesting and it is probably here to stay. That said, it is still very raw and if a client inquires about our opinion how to handle it our answer for now is: watch and learn.

PICNIC 11

We already mentioned that we will be doing a workshop at this years PICNIC festival. A couple of days ago, we also launched a small tumblr where we will collect bits and pieces out of our preparation of it all. Expect some unfiltered, weird stuff from David, Johannes and myself.

Additionally, I’ve been asked to be an adviser to the festival and I accepted gladly. PICNIC is an internationally renown conference with a great track record and I’m humbled to be contributing to its success and to be part of this exceptional list of people.

Here’s more on the PICNIC Festival, including a code for 20% off the ticket price.

Reclaiming Social Media

We don’t like how ‘social media’ has gotten a bad rep. Here’s why we think that it’s time to take it back.

A dirty word

How did it come to this? Somehow, “social media” has gotten a bad rep. We look down on people who put something with social media in their bios. “Social media expert” has become a curse word. Gary Vaynerchuk famously said:

99.5 percent of all social media experts are clowns.

Maybe it’s just the normal process, when something is new and nobody really knows how it all works. Every crook in the world is smelling some easy money making opportunities and flocks to the space. The companies don’t know yet how to differentiate the experts from the amateurs and get burned.

Tactics will only get you so far

Most brands got into social media in a reactive way. Everybody seemed to talk about it so they had to be part of it, too, right? They moved onto every platform that was the place to be for that time. From corporate blogs to Twitter to “social media newsrooms” to Facebook to Quora to Google+. The approach has been completely tactical and purely based on current hypes, in most cases. That also means that most social media activities have been launched with one implicit goal: taking part. No wonder, defining KPIs is hard. What can you measure when you have no quantifiable goal? Most social media activities have been basically developed in a company sandbox, separated from everything else in the community departments, let alone the rest of the company.

I think this is about to change as social media is approaching a more mature phase within the next months and years. Once bigger brands all have their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts with a decent amount of fans, they will start asking the big question of “What now?”. You already can hear the much feared “ROI question” getting louder every day. This is good, very good. When companies have made their first steps and gained some experience, they have a better position to build solid, long-term social media strategies. And this is the kind of social media work we’re interested in.

We Do Social Media

At the speakers dinner at the Next11 conference, I spoke with someone about Third Wave and he said “But you’re not doing social stuff, too, are you?” Yes, we do. But to be honest, we were having a hard time admitting to it in the first months of this company. Sure, social media was at the core of what Igor and I in particular had been doing at our agencies. But we didn’t want to be perceived as “Yet Another Social Media Agency”. That’s why we focused on projects like CoCities in the beginning. Nevertheless, we’re still excited about the prospects of social media and see it at the core of our consulting business, especially as we enter the “second coming of social media” (as we jokingly refer to it).

We’re eager to help companies create social media strategies that will carry them through the next years and integrate tightly with their existing strategies, processes and efforts. We think it’s time to reclaim social media with competence, a comprehensive approach and earnest craft. Let’s give it the rep it deserves: as one of the most amazing developments to make communication more personal and human.

Also, check out the notes for Week 32 for some similar thoughts on how social media will become ubiquitous.

A few thoughts about Ambient Intimacy

Ambient Intimacy. A small observation about how we share our location, how we want to interact with the information that we are sharing and why the future of LBS is not bound to the small screen of our smartphone.

A couple of days ago, I made this observation on Twitter and Google+:

Observing with interest how quite often communication with my friends begins with an inquiry about my/their location.

Peter Rukavina commented on G+ that his was the entire premise of Plazes. He is right. It’s also the premise (even if not the entire) behind most Location Based Services these days. And not only those. We tend to share location based information on social networks as well. Be it through posting our location in itself or – to bring an example – sharing a photo of the food we’re eating and attaching this particular social object to a location.

My entire reply to Peter’s comment was this:

To a certain extent, it is the premise behind many services we use these days. Foursquare, twitter and even Facebook. But despite the fact that we are the most connected generation ever, it seems that we still do not posses the ability to share certain information in the way that helps others to have constant proximity awareness, nor does take away our privacy. That is, of course, bound to the ability of our mobile devices to transmit information in a way that is not bound to a specific location (check-in). Google Latitude is an attempt to solve just that, but it feels awkward and our hardware is no where close to be able to do it constantly of course. The other thing is that this kind of information is not really well kept in a certain application. I do not want to open up Google Latitude to check up on my friends, I want just “to know it”. Maybe it would just suffice to include that kind of information into our contact lists. At least for the people who I talk to regularly. But that’s some unfinished thinking…

I’ve been thinking ever since about this. It seems to me, as if it’s a problem with two components:

  • How do we want to consume certain information?
  • How do we share certain information without having to put in too much energy in the process of actually sharing it?

All of this brought me back to what Leisa Reichelt described as Ambient Intimacy back in 2007 (while discussing the benefits of Twitter):

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.

This is still relevant and it becomes even more relevant with the increasing of amount easily shareable information. Back then it was Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. And maybe MySpace. We have many more services that we use these days. We apparently do not mind to share all that information as long as it creates a certain value (it’s different for different subsets of people) for us. But – and this is very much a gut feeling – it seems like we are reaching a peak of how many services we can use at once to share specific information. That’s why we tend to connect many services to make sure that the information spreads as easily as possible. I, for example, really wanted to use Foodspotting as soon as they released their Android app. After a while, I stopped, because on top of checking in on Foursquare it was just not feasible.

Speaking of checking in. Do you notice how it’s still somewhat socially awkward to do that? Every time you are not going out with fellow nerds, people will make a joke about it. Why? Sure, that was the case with many services. People made fun of Facebook and Twitter users and we all now how this story ended. The problem with checking in is that it requires a certain behavioral pattern that is almost anti-social towards the people around you. Unless everybody is doing it, of course.

The current solution of sharing your location is only iteration towards more seamless solutions. This is not news. In fact, Google Latitude enables us to share our location without having to purposefully reveal it. It’s passive, it’s ubiquitous. Which is good and bad at the same time. Unfortunately, it negates its benefits by draining the battery of our mobile computing device. To some extent, this is the reason why we still use check-in based solutions. And then there is the privacy issue. But lets not even get into that right now.

Apart from sharing this kind of information, another issue is how to consume it. From time to time, I do follow up on the check-ins my friends are making on Foursquare. It feels, tho, as if we actually want to be aware of that kind of information without giving it our full attention. Ambient Intimacy.

One solution would be to integrate location based services more tightly with the OS of our mobile computing devices. Integrating it into the environment that will always require our attention. But that’s not enough. I’m experience a certain fatigue of being enslaved to the small screen of my smartphone. I want this information to flow around me.

No, this is not a plea in favor of Augmented Reality. Especially not after listening to Kevin Slavin picking it apart. The core problem with Augmented Reality – at least as the term being used right now – is that it requires the full attention of the user. As I said, I don’t want to stare at the screen of my device all the time and apparently not that many other people are comfortable with the current solutions either. Or how many people do you know who use Layar on a regular basis?

Then there is of course the case of the abundance of screens. There are many screens in our life and some could be employed to display the kind of information that we will help us establish Ambient Intimacy with the people we want. Russell Davies wrote about this just recently, but as always it is BERG who done some research an prototyping in this field (they call it Incidental Media).

Media surfaces: Incidental Media from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

As a scenario, this is not completely unfeasible. With the abundance of computational resources and the increasing connectedness of physical objects, we can make this reality.

Moby, not at all destroyed

While we are not in the music business and this is certainly not the place to get tips on the latest scoop on new releases, I couldn’t resist on pointing towards Moby’s newest.

Yes, we are certainly not objective when it comes to Soundcloud – many of our friends are employed by this up and coming startup -, but there is no doubt that they are gaining some well deserved attention. It feels almost as no day passes by anymore without a big new releases that is being powered by Soundcloud. Moby’s release is no exception.

While we are not in the music business and this is certainly not the place to get tips on the latest scoop on new releases, I couldn’t resist on pointing towards Moby’s newest.

Yes, we are certainly not objective when it comes to Soundcloud – many of our friends are employed by this up and coming startup -, but there is no doubt that they are gaining some well deserved attention. It feels almost as no day passes by anymore without a big new releases that is being powered by Soundcloud. Moby’s release is no exception. But in this case, it merges Soundclouds music quality with Instagram‘s passion for visual exploration.

Take a look at this album release page: http://destroyed.moby.com/

i don’t sleep very well when i travel. and as a result, i tend to be awake in cities when everyone else is asleep. that’s where this album, and the pictures that accompany it come from. it was primarily written late at night in cities when i felt like i was the only person awake (or alive), a soundtrack for empty cities at 2 a.m, at least that’s how i hear it. the pictures were taken on tour while i was writing the album. i wanted to show a different side of touring and traveling. a side that is often mundane, disconcerting, and occasionally beautiful – moby

The music is being powered by Soundcloud’s API, the photos are being aggregated from Instagram. Some are from Moby himself, but every Instagram user can add new ones by using #destroyed as the hashtag. Moby managed not only to release a new album, but create a completely different experience around his music by using the best and latest technology. Music, visual impressions and storytelling.

I’m very impressed.

How to cope with change

Change is inevitable. We can resist it as long as we want to, it will always win in the end. So the best solution is to reduce the “pain from struggling against the change”. Here’s what we came up with for how to cope with change.

We kicked off our “Uncomfortable Talk” at LHBS last week with this quote from our old pal Galadriel:

The world is changed; I can feel it in the water, I can feel it in the earth, I can smell it in the air.

We think that she’s spot on, not only for Middle Earth but also for our world in the 21st century. Technology and Moore’s law are changing the face of every industry out there. So we followed that quote with a tour de force about some of the changes we see in our cities, our work and our media happening right now.

There’s so much amazing stuff happening our there. From the possibilities of analyzing collective data of people moving through public transport systems to challenging consumerism with collaborative consumption and open source product development to publishers losing the monopoly on distribution. We are excited by change. We always have been. But we are a small minority. That’s why we were able to talk about the stuff that excites us but label it “Uncomfortable”. The stuff that gets us going makes others cringe and tremble. But as our friend Ben Hammersley said recently at the Lift conference:

The pain isn’t from the change, the pain is from the struggling against the change.

We humans in general don’t like change. We feel the safest if everything stays just like it is. That’s why we mostly re-elect the person in charge than the new and uncertain one. That’s why every change to Facebook triggers the creation of “Bring back the old Facebook”-petitions and that’s why every technological advancement in our history has been deemed the end of the world, be it the emergence of the written word, the invention of the printing press, the railway etc. The funny thing is that we always adapt. It took a lot of years with the written words, still about 50 with the printing press and now only a couple of days with Facebook. Nevermind the music industry which seems to go back to the printing press time frame for adapting to digital.

Change is inevitable. We can resist it as long as we want to, it will always win in the end. Nothing has ever gone back to how it was before. In the long-term we only move forward or stall, there is no reverse gear. So the best solution is to reduce the “pain from struggling against the change”. Here’s what we came up with for how to cope with change.

Stay curious

I can attribute my own success and the success of many of my friends to the fact that we are really curious, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Michael Karnjanaprakorn

I am obsessively interested in everything.

Michael Wolff

People feel overwhelmed by information overload, but for us, all this information, insight and inspiration available is a great thing. If there’s one shared thread between us three at Third Wave, than it is to have no boundaries to what seems interesting and relevant. The key is to let go and let serendipity do its work. Trying to know everything is futile but letting the flow of information take you wherever it goes will open the way for all kinds of interesting aspects and opportunities.

Embrace complexity

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

Embracing complexity is a scarce trait, worth acquiring.

Seth Godin

If you’re curious about everything you begin to comprehend the complexity of things. Everything is connected. Trying to shoebox things is so 20th century. We’ve created too many solutions that never worked because we cut down the problem to what we perceived as the core and by this missed all the subtleties and nuances of the situation. Embracing complexity means to do more big-picture thinking to create a “feeling”, some sort of bigger understanding for the whole situation and than work back down to the level of the problem. It will take more time and much more iterations but it will also create much more sustainable solutions.

Tinker away

One recurring theme in almost all the people that I look at is that they have a lot of hobbies. The innovators are constantly working on three, four or five pet projects — beyond their main job.

Steven B. Johnson

We didn’t sit around a boardroom thinking, here are 10 ideas to build into a company. We like building products, and if it became a business? Great!

Dennis Crowley

If you are curious about everything and embrace complexity, you almost automatically end up at what Steven Johnson describes above as a common threat among innovators. You never work at only one project and you have to try out a lot to understand the complications of it. You have to immerse yourself into it, try it out in all kinds of ways and see how it connects with your other projects. That’s one reason why we just did a conference on the future of cities for example. It helped us to deep dive into everything happening with cities and technologies so that if you ask us now about location-based services or creating a crowdsource-platform for city improvements, we can provide you with a much more informed expertise. We’re already lining up new topics to immerse ourselves into.

So for us, staying curious, embracing complexity and tinkering away is the best approach we’ve found yet to cope with the constant change that’s going on in our world. We can only encourage you stop struggling against the change and look at the possibilities it holds. And if you need some help with that, give us a call or write us an email.