Monday, August 31, 2009

Mickey Eats Spiderman

Disney announced today that it had purchased Marvel Entertainment. Disney is known for its wholesome/all-American entertainment (ABC, ESPN, etc.), long-running cartoon franchises (Mickey Mouse, Beauty and the Beast, etc.), and global theme parks. Marvel Entertainment is most renown for its comic book characters (Iron-Man, Spiderman, The Hulk, etc.) and related movie franchises.

I believe that this is a fundamentally brilliant move for Disney. It allows Disney to target key age-based demographics where it had previously been soft: 12-18, 18-24, and 24-34 year-olds - in particular, boys and young men. Where before Disney was brilliant at marketing a wide range of entertainment to children and their parents (typically over 34), now Disney captures the full spectrum - i.e. children, teenagers, young adults, twenty-somethings, young parents, middle-aged parents, and grandparents.

By finding the missing piece of the puzzle at the right time, Disney has once again shown why it's one of the most successful global corporations.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Cave

75% of the reason for calling my blog "Beyond the Cave" represents my decision to reference the eternal human need to make sense of the world around us. It is based on Plato's Allegory of the Cave, in which Plato uses a simple story to depict how little we actually know and how easily we might be mistaken about the things we think we know.

20% of the reason for calling my blog "Beyond the Cave" stems from my love of Batman. As Batman enthusiasts probably know, the Batcave is considered to be Batman's headquarters. This secret lair is located below Bruce Wayne's (Batman's alter-ego) mansion. It is from where Batman monitors Gotham City, where he conducts his detective work, where his equipment is hidden, and where many of Batman's crime-solving epiphanies occur.

The remaining 5% of the reason for calling my blog "Beyond the Cave" comes from my strange sense of connection to caves. As a child, I distinctly remember driving along curvy mountainous roads imagining the lives of the creatures that lived in the caves that I saw. I feel both fear and excitement when thinking about caves - kind of like how I feel when I write this blog.

But the point of this post is to ask for your help in picking a dedicated domain name for this blog. Unfortunately since is currently taken, I am left with having to choose a different, less obvious name. Including the word "cave" is a must but just doesn't sound right. What do you think?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Twitter is to Email as Radio is to Telephone

A very interesting, but flawed article by a young and wise blogger, Cody Brown, has been getting a good deal of deserved attention lately. He argues that because Twitter lacks a clear focus and an explicit mission, that it will suffer the same fate recently experienced by the similarly unfocused MySpace – i.e. a steady loss of users to more targeted and better defined services. His recommended remedy would have Twitter place all its chips on a core market, like MySpace has now begun to do by centering its offering on music.

Although I believe there is some validity to this overall argument, it is greatly hindered by the assumption that Twitter is a comparable species to MySpace – i.e. that the same evolutionary rules apply to both companies. I believe that Twitter is a fundamentally different beast from either MySpace or Facebook.

While progressive at the time, MySpace and Facebook were designed based on essentially static principles: profiles, virtual bulletin boards (walls), clearly defined networks and connections, groups, and photographs. These principles have been present in static media for decades – in yearbooks, in newsletters, on real walls and bulletin boards, in albums, etc. MySpace and Facebook initially represented the digitization of a pretty old paradigm for socialization. This paradigm is very reliant on the quantity and quality of content and is thus much more vulnerable to fragmentation – whoever offers the most of the best content usually wins more users. Cody’s analysis fits in very nicely within this framework because it clearly depicts how Facebook was able to offer more of better content – primarily driven by both an initial focus on colleges and by the transparency of actual identity verification. Both Facebook and MySpace have changed over time, but their initial principles shaped the trajectory of their relative success.

Twitter is based on different principles and thus relies on a different set of rules, a different group of prerequisites for success. Twitter was initially designed based on essentially dynamic principles: on mobile technology known as SMS (texting). This mobile technology is driven by real-time interaction. It is directly affected by the users’ unique geographical location and the unique perspective that stems from the location. This means that the paradigm is primarily reliant on the quantity of content – and the diversity that inherently stems from large quantities. For Twitter to succeed, it doesn't need to ensure the quality of its content. It only needs to continue to grow the amount of raw information that flows through its system – to become the go-to platform for this form of 140-character communication.

In many ways, Twitter represents a similar evolutionary leap from email that the radio was from the telephone. The radio added a new sense of mobility to distant communication. It opened the door to a more dynamic, democratic, and broader network of communication – eventually allowing the rise of mobile telephony. It also allowed for a much simpler process of rudimentary one-to-many communication. Like radio technology, Twitter represents a platform on top of which different networks are built. Companies will not build around Twitter, they will build on top of it. Because Twitter is a fundamental channel for communication that has opened up its infrastructure to others, its success does not depend on the quality of content that flows through its veins. By encouraging all forms of interaction, Twitter grows the required quantity of information that is transmitted across the system.

What this means is that Twitter is not a social network, it is a tool that social networks use to communicate. It also means that Twitter doesn't need to focus its content on a core target market in order to survive. Just like radio communication is used by billions of different stakeholders, Twitter’s aim should be similar in its broadness. It should serve as the most basic infrastructure for a new form of communication, where the greater the diversity of users and usage-categories, the greater the success of the core platform.

Although promising, Twitter still has numerous important challenges to consider and overcome - many of which I will explore in the near future.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Don't Mess With Fresh

Recently I've begun using scentless detergent. I'm sure that it leaves my clothes as clean as the scented variety but something is missing. Clearly it's that fresh feeling that stems from the chemically-induced smell of most common detergents.

So why does it matter? It matters because certain products have unalienable characteristics ingrained in their being. If these traits were to be fiddled with or disassociated from that product, some real or perceived measure of quality would be lost. If a new car came without that magnificent "new-car" smell, a large portion of the expected emotional fulfilment would be erased.

This is both an opportunity and a threat. When marketers can tap into and magnify these special traits, a new level of customer satisfaction might come about. If those expected quality-characteristics are disturbed, then a disproportionately negative response might arise. I won't make the same mistake again - my next detergent selection will have that familiarly pleasant artificial fresh scent.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What do you want to eat today?

In the past few years, New York City has experienced a very interesting fragmentation of fast-food (McDonald's, Wendy's, etc.) and quick-food (Subway, Pizza Hut, etc.). For example, we now have five or six different sandwich-shop chains - each catering to a slightly different customer-base.

This fragmentation and thus greater choice has been good to the quick-food connoisseur like myself. But it has left me pondering at what point does this niche-ification become unsustainable - i.e. when is the target market too small to maintain profitability?

The answer probably depends most heavily on population density - which can be easily measured. But there also seems to be a fair amount of chance involved. This uncertainty stems from overall food trends. The smaller the niche, the more susceptible these new establishments are to the whims of the crowds. A restaurant serving only vegetarian sandwiches has a smaller chance of surviving a meat-loving cuisine trend than a multi-ethnic Diner. I'm not so sure that new restaurant entrepreneurs consider or even understand this added risk.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Text Me

On two occasions today I heard how text is a dying medium on the Internet. These two individuals, who shall go nameless, both independently used the same flawed argument: The growing capacity and speed of the Internet will make video and audio sufficiently popular so as to marginalize text-based communication.

I completely disagree. At best, video and audio-based communication will serve as an equal complement to the written word. Most likely, text-based exchanges will remain the main form and lifeblood of Internet content.

There are many reasons for this: text is easier to search, text is simpler to translate, text requires less bandwidth, etc. But the main fact that will keep the written word on its throne as the king of content is speed. Writing is still the fastest method to convey and absorb information.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How do you spell that?

I've been thinking about brand names a lot lately, both within the context of domain names, as I wrote about on Saturday, and within the wider realm of popular appeal.

There seems to be a general tradeoff between abstraction and defined description. Abstract brand names, such as Twitter and Google, are usually quite interesting and can be mysterious. Sometimes they are difficult to spell or initially remember. But once entered into personal memory, these types of names are usually more difficult to forget. Descriptive brand names, such as General Motors or American Airlines, instantly express the offered product/service. They can be quickly explained but aren't necessarily memorable.

The Internet is riddled with the full spectrum. In many ways, the product/service dictates what spot on the spectrum to hit. But in the end, the choice of brand name most likely depends on the combinations of the entrepreneur's personal taste and the overall branding trends at the time of the company's conception.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Bing Approach

I've begun to visit Bing at least once a day. I don't believe that it offers a better search engine than Google, but the daily rotation of interesting images is worth a quick peek.

Microsoft has created a reason for me to come back every day. Although that reason is far-removed from the core functionality of Bing, it does get me to at least give it a glance. They've won one battle - capturing my attention. But they've failed to build a superior product so far.

So is this worth anything? Will the novelty of interesting/fun/cool images wear off? Probably. But they do have a few more months before that happens. Bing has its foot in the door but doesn't have the body to walk through. This seems like quite an expensive approach, but for large companies it's viable.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What's in a Name?

I was looking to purchase a domain name today on I haven't gone through this exercise in a few months but was astounded to realize that about five out every six searches proved to be fruitless - the domains that interested me had already been sold.

I wasn't searching for typical or mainstream words but a short domain name was a must. This exercise has made me realize how saturated the Internet has quickly become. Not only are there over one billion users now, but these users are more engaged and proactive - i.e. they buy and build websites like never before. There are also those who speculate on website domain names and regularly purchase and sell these digital assets.

So what does this mean? Since most agree that a short domain name is still better, a new Internet language is evolving. That's why the likes of Flickr and Twitter and Zappos are becoming household names. The growing scarcity of common words and combinations of words for domains will also drive the price up. And the ".com" standard will become less important - as has shown.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Saint Bernadette You Made My Night

Last night I was unable to update this blog because I was out, enjoying a wonderful New York City evening on the rooftoop of a midtown skyscraper. The occassion was a concert by an awesome band called Saint Bernadette.

Saint Bernadette's music is rock at its best. They sound like a unique mixture of Queens of the Stone Age, The White Stripes, Jefferson Airplane, and many other passionate performers. The female lead, Meredith DiMenna, goes from whispers to screams with equally inspired and pleasantly sounding zeal. These musicians are extremely talented.

They seem to have all the pieces needed for massive success. Judging by their MySpace and Facebook pages they will soon hit the tipping point. Hopefully this post gets them one step closer to this new stage - they deserve it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beyond Nutrition

I don't cook very well or very much. But I do love to eat. I enjoy nearly every cuisine. As long as the meal is tasty and nutritious, price or appearance or location doesn't really matter. But food is no longer purely a form of physiological sustenance.

Food now represents another powerful means to signify a moment. Just like music or movies, different meals remind us of different memories, emotions, thoughts, and even individuals. For Western Society, food is an important component of the
nostalgia factor - the motivation for why we make many of our decisions.

Food marketers and master chef-entrepreneurs realize this relatively modern reality. That's why we've seen the proliferation of The Food Network, Top Chef, etc. For better or for worse, that's why food is now used as an additional layer of paint that adds further richness to the painting of our lives.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The iPhone Spy Hurts Innovation

It seems that Apple recently filed a patent for a new gadget to be installed in future versions of the company's popular smartphone, the iPhone. This gadget will essentially serve as Black Box for the device, allowing Apple's technicians to detect any tampering if a device is brought in for repair. The official purpose of the device is to prevent those who've "abused" their iPhone from attaining new phones through the warranty.

For now, it seems that the Black Box won't be able to remotely communicate with Apple's servers but it does leave the door open for a very discomforting slippery slope. Apple has already been widely criticized for the closed nature of its iPhone - e.g. every single program has to be approved by Apple before it can be sold to iPhone users.

I believe that this development is very detrimental to mobile innovation in the Apple ecosystem. Without the ability to tinker with hardware, personal computers would have never experienced the innovative renaissance of the 1980s and 1990s. I fear that Apple is already stifling innovation by tightly controlling the development of new applications. The Black Box will further this trend with the iPhone's hardware.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Tennis Lesson - Part II

The most popular form of tennis involves the one-on-one elimination tournament. The tennis player is forced into a series of solitary battles against a wide variety of competitors - from young to old, mediocre to masterful. A loss means that the tournament is over. A victory quickly brings on the next challenge.

Even a minimal analysis of tennis makes a few valuable themes clear. These lessons can be applied by others who face similar personal and professional hurdles and by those who manage those lone-operators. The main take-aways include:
  • External factors must be managed. Tennis is played all across the world on a diverse set of courts - which are made up of grass, clay, etc. A player's level of success often varies widely depending on the environment.
  • Morale can quickly affect the outcome. A single "bad" officiating decision or other conflict can instantly derail a tennis player. The lone competitor doesn't have the benefit of teammates or peers to buffer or refocus anger. His own emotions can fester and grow. His mind works without the ability to share thoughts or fears with a coach during the match.
  • A complete understanding and comfort with one's tools is required. Many tennis players have experienced a significant decline in their success after switching rackets. The lone competitor reacts disproportionately to a change in his toolset. The racket represents something that a player can completely control - a way to compensate for the environment or emotional outbursts.
  • The right preparation is vital. Because the smallest on-court decisions can lead to victory or defeat, tennis players spend years practicing. They develop the necessary physical skills and the mental abilities to properly react to different scenarios. Because the game is so fast and so involved - preparation is usually far more important than talent.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Tennis Lesson - Part I

Sports are often used as models for real life. Since we frequently derive useful lessons from sports, these competitive challenges can serve as a microcosm for actual experiences - e.g. the importance of momentum within small teams is beautifully and repeatedly illustrated in basketball. Sports such as football, baseball, and even golf are the usual sources for the inspiration of these analogies. Although not commonly analyzed, I believe that tennis also has many valuable lessons to offer.

Tennis is a major global sport, but its popularity fluctuates wildly in the United States. Tennis in the U.S. usually gains limited prominence during particular times of the year when important and/or local tournaments occur. It also reaches widespread appeal when a particular U.S. tennis-star achieves a certain degree of success. Thus tennis doesn't usually come to mind as the prime candidate for useful illustrations of real world examples.

But tennis offers a very valuable venue for building arguments because, unlike any other sport, it mimics a particular real world scenario - it presents a simple model to describe and analyze the solitary competitor. This protagonist is completely alone, where communication with the coach (or caddy) isn't allowed. This hero faces one significant challenge at a time - the live and ever-changing opponent of the day.

Such a scenario is often seen in business and social life. For instance, the solitary salesman often faces a very similar endeavor - tackling one potential sale at a time while alone in the field. Other such circumstances might occur in the line of duty for police officers, soldiers, consultants, spies, etc. Thus the explanatory power of tennis is both relevant and important.

Tomorrow I will describe a few simple but valuable lessons that can be quickly learned from the game of tennis.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Diverse Design

A design is a plan. To design is to intelligently develop an article of clothing, a building, a product, a car, a computer program, or any other sufficiently intricate object. The design process is a quintessentially human endeavor that combines art, science, love, experience, inspiration, and common sense.

All design is rooted in the fundamental experience of creation. Although I primarily design business-related plans, strategies, financial analyses, market research, and other commercially relevant materials, I regularly apply lessons from completely different design processes and design outputs - e.g. for architecture I peruse Dwell, for far our concepts I explore Toxel, and for the world beyond mine I get lost in the Big Picture.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Fragile Internet

The events of this week continue to highlight the fragility of the new Internet. The new Internet is based on a few simple principles and emerging trends: real-time communication, person-to-person sharing of content (especially links, the real currency of the Web), one-to-many dialogue, and the proliferation of mobile as an added channel.

What all of these trends have in common is that they depend on one or more bottlenecks to exist - e.g. social networks such as Facebook, communication platforms such as Twitter, URL shorteners such as, etc. Gone are the days where email was the primary means of communication - i.e. where a technical collapse can be easily isolated to a company or a region. Today, the collapse of Facebook would instantaneously disrupt a global web of communication.

What's particularly frightening is the fact that these bottlenecks have become so important that they are global targets for scammers, nefarious hackers, and other bad guys. Even seemingly benign changes can affect how bottlenecks function and thus how the whole Internet communicates. Three examples from the past week clearly illustrate the delicate nature of the new Web:
  • Out of business. This week announced that it was shutting down its operations. Although this second-tier URL shortener is relatively small, it still facilitates thousands of active shared links. Its demise would mean that those links would cease to function, thus instantly creating thousands of dead ends. The potential ramifications of such a meltdown have led to a variety of plans to either save the company or the links themselves.
  • Absorbed. A few days ago, Facebook announced that it has purchased FriendFeed - a more robust Twitter-type sharing platform. FriendFeed is still a nascent platform with a small yet growing following and an interesting portfolio of technology and talent. Although the move makes sense, it depicts two troubling facts - 1. Logical consolidation will only lead to bigger and more valuable bottlenecks; 2. The users of these technologies are fickle - as seen by a revolt of old-time FriendFeed users.
  • Too big for its own good. Finally, the ongoing saga of the DDOS attacks on Twitter illustrates that bottlenecks are perfect targets for disrupting global communication. The bigger and the more important these new Internet platforms become, the greater the media coverage they will receive, and the larger the probability of more persistent attacks.

In the past, the collapse of AOL's or Yahoo's website would be disruptive but still localized. In the present, we have the growing consolidation of a relatively few global communication platforms. The platforms increasingly sustain a diverse set of economic, artistic, and social activities that provide significant value to our society. These platforms are bottlenecks that are susceptible to a wide variety of disruptions. The emerging Internet is quite fragile for now.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hide Your Face or Get Fired

It's been said that Facebook conquered social networking and the Internet in part because it eliminated anonymity - real pictures connected to real email addresses instead of made up screen names and wacky cartoon images. The theory is that real personas add a sense of credibility, safety, and a much greater opportunity for advertisers/content developers to understand their audience.

But it seems that this openness might have also created a Big Brother-like side effect. Today I read that 8% of U.S. companies have fired social media miscreants. This is probably just the beginning. I'm not sure if this is good or bad. Anonymity used to be the main counter-force to the expanded monitoring power enabled by the Internet. Are we now coming to a place where parts of the digital identity have become a liability?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Get Ready for the Tangible Backlash - Part II

So now that I've argued that real things will make some sort of significant comeback, what does that mean for businesses new and old?
  • There will be a breakout collectible item that will hit across generational groups and will become a fast-burning yet Billion Dollar opportunity - think the new Beanie Babies.
  • The concepts of pure and rare will become closely tied to the real - such as live gatherings, live music, live comedy.
  • A premium will be accepted for good design - we already get this with brands such as Apple and and Method, but will also get it in new and unexpected places.
  • Anything vintage will be valuable - we already see this with Vinyl music and we'll see it with film, art, toys, design, and other creative outlets that have been recently consumed by the digital domain.
  • The real estate and automobile industries will experience a rapid comeback - beating all expectations - what's more real than the home and the ride?

All of these predictions are quite positive and will benefit from riding the economic-recovery wave. They represent opportunities large and small that will offer a significant, yet temporary revival for all that is tangible.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Get Ready for the Tangible Backlash - Part I

The commercially available and massively usable Internet now touches nearly every facet of life. In less than twenty years of rapid expansion, widespread digital communication has completely redefined what constitutes as real - in terms of relationships, content, and value. Today we are faced with the prospect of the massive digitization of products, services, and basic human norms that seemed untouchable only a decade ago - e.g. the newspaper, the doctor, the marriage.

The Internet has forced a fundamental societal change. As with any radical cultural revolution, a backlash is inevitable. I believe that we are on the precipice of such a backlash. It will be manifested by the extreme emotional need for the tangible - either through real items or through face-to-face human interaction. The sales of vinyl records will continue to rise. The proliferation non-Twitter gatherings will continue to gain popularity.

This backlash is caused by a nostalgic need for the familiar reality of the past, by the evolutionary human connection to tangible tools, and by the beneficial nature of scarcity.

Real things evoke emotions of "simpler times," of childhood, and of control. This control stems from the physical constraints of real things - these real items and interactions can't be shared on Facebook or retweeted a hundred times. The touch and feel of human interaction cannot be quickly forgotten or digitally reconstructed.

For thousands of years, human beings have utilized physical tools to maintain our existence and improve our environment. The basic paradigms and supporting mechanisms are genetically encoded in our being. It will take a long time for human beings to anatomically embrace the reality of potentially ubiquitous digitization.

Finally, scarcity is much more easily created, maintained, and excused through the existence of tangible products. This is why gold or silver decorations are infinitely more expensive than digital decorations. Scarcity drives many basic economic principles. But scarcity can't be easily replicated in the digital domain - those who benefit from scarcity will continue to foster its existence.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Proverb For a Reason

An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening.

From a personal standpoint, this old and simple saying gains more credence every day. From a global perspective, the diminishing returns on time is an important phenomenon to consider - as the day goes by, people typically lose concentration and become tired, thus requiring more time to complete an equal task in the evening compared to the morning.

I take this lesson to heart by scheduling more difficult, mind-intensive tasks earlier in the day. Organizations can learn this lesson by fostering a culture that values the morning and pre-afternoon period more than the afternoon. Important meetings and deadlines rarely end well if scheduled for the evening.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Consumers with a Conscience

Morality, ethics, environmental consideration, and other purpose-driven themes have been taught in business school and publicly embraced by corporations for decades. But I believe that not until recently have these conscience-based motivations really mattered in the decision-making process of most consumers. Such drivers were "nice-to-haves" but not required of the companies we purchased our goods and services from.

For my generation (Generation Y), and increasingly for the global society as a whole, the conscience is really becoming an important factor for all consumer-based decisions. This can be seen in hundreds of examples and is manifested as a need for both individually and environmentally-positive products. For example, Whole Foods, which sells organic groceries, has manged to thrive during the recession. Car companies such as Nissan have invested time and money into costly development and rollout of electric vehicles, placing a bet on this trend. And even the old utility companies now realize the benefits of a real conscience-centric strategy.

There are numerous reasons for this massive and significant trend: the growing publicity and actually tangible repercussions of global warming, the proliferation of personal fitness and health-food information, and most importantly the fact the Generation Y is the first generation to have these ideas reinforced during our entire formal schooling process - from First Grade through College and beyond.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Do Social Networks Stifle Innovation?

It's traditionally accepted that radical innovation is more likely to occur under certain social scenarios - where young, undeveloped ideas are given time to grow and to be refined. It's thus believed that early sharing and the potential for early criticism of rough ideas may stop perfectly good radical innovation in its tracks - that social networks that support this instant criticism are bad for innovation. The August 1, 2009 issue of one of my favorite magazines, New Scientist, talks about this phenomenon and even goes so far as to recommend re-engineering of massively popular, Internet-based social networks - or even the prevention of potential innovators from using such instant-communication tools.

I'm not convinced that modern social networks need major change in order for groundbreaking inventions to occur. Building barriers to instant interaction might diminish some groupthink by protecting innovators, but it would also diminish the collective intelligence and communication that is enabled through new, digital social networks. I believe that the benefits of open and fast communication still significantly outweigh any pressures to conform. I also think that we've reached a level of Internet-diversity where radical thinking is near-equally supported and criticized by the masses - no matter how far-fetched the idea.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

To Be or Not To Be

Recently I've been pondering purchasing a digital book reader - either the Amazon Kindle or one of the many other e-book readers that are bound to flood the market soon. E-books are more convenient, more environmentally friendly, offer instant gratification, and deliver content for a lower per-title price.

But something feels slightly off about an e-book. I don't believe that I could feel the same satisfaction after completing an e-book that I do feel from finishing an actual physical, paper-and-cardboard book. Maybe I'm subconsciously nostalgic for the positive reinforcement gained in school after finishing a real book and believe that such pleasure wouldn't come from a digital reader. Maybe the e-book crushes my dream of having an actual library in my home. Or maybe I'm just missing something.

Monday, August 3, 2009

World War II All Over Again (Google vs. Apple)

The rapidly declining level of cooperation between Apple and Google has reached a new bottom - with Google CEO Eric Schmidt leaving the Apple Board of Directors due to significant conflict of interest disputes. This comes after a long progression of Google-product encroachment upon the Apple world of hardware and the resulting, ever-more public displays of antagonism. The two technology behemoths, once united in their battle against Microsoft, are now left battling each other.

This reminds me a lot of the early developments of World War II - where the once united Nazi Germany and Soviet Union allowed initial conflicts of interest to become outright antagonism and eventual war. I won't guess as to which ally-to-enemy players of the past match the present - but it would be safe to say that late 1930s Poland is equivalent to the modern day mobile ecosystem.

Logo placement is purely illustrative - no implications.

If Germany and Russia had maintained their alliance, Germany would have been able to focus on the Western Front and WWII would have potentially had a different historic outcome. If Google and Apple had maintained their alliance - with Apple focusing on mobile/music and the Mac ecosystem while Google focused on the Internet and PC arenas - Microsoft would have potentially lost its position of PC dominance and significant mobile competitiveness. Now we are left with Microsoft (the U.S. or U.K.-equivalent of WWII?) laughing as its two worst enemies commit a historic mistake.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Functional Flaws

Riding the subways of New York is always a unique experience. It runs the gamut of wonderful, inspiring, depressing, disgusting, repulsive, and dangerous. It can also be quite cathartic. Part of the experience is viewing the diverse set of both intentionally and unintentionally absurd posters plastered across nearly every station and inside nearly every train - primarily serving as advertisements.

Today I realized that I've grown immune to actually noticing most of the posters. The promise of perfection is no longer an effective attention-getter. I do notice those posters which are in some way flawed, imperfect, or clearly vandalized. If something is out of place, unexpected, or obscene, I will usually take an extra second to see which unfortunate brand has been affected.

This is probably neither positive nor negative for the advertisers. But it does indicate that the dirty and deranged is still unexpected and eye-catching in certain environments. Flaws will probably force people to take notice, but the impressions may be counter-productive for the brand. Some companies may benefit from intentional flaws if all they seek is attention.

Subway poster Vandalism Art, originally uploaded by Mark_Baratelli.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

There Is No Such Thing as The Norm

I define norms as expectations for both personal and collective behavior - these expectations are based on everything we've encountered and experienced in the past. Recently Seth Godin wrote about social norms and how they translate in the online world. His belief is that digital norms are still quite diverse and unpredictable because so little time has gone by since the Internet became popular - not nearly enough time for uniform behavior to be established.

Godin is on the right track but he's understating the reality of change - since he assumes that widespread norms will be established at some point. I believe that the Internet offers such a unique platform for the development of new communication channels that nearly-universal social norms (such as handshakes) might never come about (or at least not in the foreseeable future). Taking the written word as an example, in 20 years we've gone from bulletin boards to email to chat to instant messenger to blogs to Twitter - with newer channels built on top of the old, never replacing, only adding further complexity.

If you compare the simple actions of emailing an acquaintance vs. tweeting an original link/comment into the ether of acquaintances, I suspect that two fundamentally different sets of response-expectations play out. Once an email is sent, there is a longer high-probability response-period - with rapid declines after certain periods of time (correlated with email-responding hot-periods such as morning and evening). The world of Twitter moves at a much faster pace. A response is initially more probable (due to the one-to-many nature of Twitter) but quickly declines because of the fast-paced flow of new messages.

The reality of Internet-enabled, rapidly evolving communication-channels forces us to constantly re-learn and re-socialize. This need to repeatedly re-establish norms has wide-scale implications for both individuals and companies. Adaptability and a fundamental comfort with change are required for successful communication.