Monthly Archives: March 2009

Microsoft ends Encarta. Will your memory be next?

Microsoft has announced it will discontinue the Encarta encyclopedia this fall — a sad bit of news for those of us who grew up struggling with DOS and floppy discs and were suddenly delighted to find all the world’s information on a set of computer CDs. More than a victory for Wikipedia, the move points to a future where storing information locally really doesn’t matter that much anymore, since you can rapidly pull anything out of the cloud.

Which brings up your mind. We have to wonder, what is the rationale for learning new languages or memorizing presidents if all that data can be transcribed and pulled forth at the touch of a keystroke? In a few hundred years, human beings may be prized more for their ability to search and less for their ability to remember. Computer banks may become the real memory systems; just as social media now has extended our personal Dunbar numbers to allow for 1,500 relationships instead of 150, it may be more efficient to let data chips record the world, and we’ll simply learn to call up the right search query. With the ubiquity of GPS and video and human relationship mapping, pulling the universe together is only a step away. Why should we have to remember all that?

Just a thought. We had another point, too, but forgot.

Via Jonathan Nafarrete.

Free at last, business, you’re free at last

Chris Anderson’s blog just posted an overview of “free” business models, or ways your firm can make money in the coming crunch where prices are pressed lower by digital commoditization. Despite Anderson’s eloquence, we still wonder if all business models are being pushed to the free — digitization isn’t going to reduce demand for solid goods to the point where margins become zero for things made out of sheet metal. Still, if you’re running a small shop or startup, the list may provoke new thoughts on how to make money while passing along lower perceived costs to customers.

If you’re new to the Freemium idea, here’s an overview of Anderson’s speech at SXSW in Austin.

Writing with power

Here’s an example of raw, honest writing to inspire you on a Friday. Max Zeledon is one of the intellectual gems uncovered by the internet — a financial trader schooled in macroeconomics who is a former fashion photographer, who reads and writes voraciously. When not discussing toxic assets and deflation on his blog, he often segues into thoughts on human nature. Max doesn’t censor himself. Sex, love, bowel movements — it’s all there.

Max on fear:

I used to run track in college—the 400m was my specialty event but I would also run the 200m whenever they needed me to fill in for an injured teammate. Running the 200m was a nerve wrecking experience because at the college level this event is about pure power and speed—and a lot guys I faced ran it under 21 seconds. Pre-race jitters were a given for me. My heart would start to race and I would get this horrible butterflies in my stomach. It was definitely fear—fear of getting smoked in front of a huge crowd of frat boys. Taking a huge dump was mandatory and that usually helped me a bit (I felt lighter) but the anxiety symptoms were still there.

My warm-up routine helped too—stretching, jumping, knee lifts, and running in place. Another technique I used was self-talk. Track runners are known for talking to themselves before a race and the technique is all about fighting nervousness. Coaches also emphasized visualization exercises but I never really took them seriously. I think that was a mistake on my part and I blame it on youth and immaturity. But the only thing that got rid of the butterflies was the race itself. Once I got on those blocks and the gun went off, the adrenaline would take over and the only thing that mattered was making sure I was not the last guy coming out of that curve.

In retrospect, I think the jitters were a healthy form of self-awareness because they kept me alert—acutely aware of my limitations and fears. And a healthy dose of fear is a good thing both psychologically and physiologically. Outside the realm of sports, the jitters are everywhere and learning to deal with them is important because the last thing we want to do is to choke during a presentation, an important business deal or a timely stock trade.

TV is still king

Oh, internet hyperbole, it’s so tempting to believe you’re the big thing. But a new Nielsen study reports that Americans still use TV more than any other media. The average U.S. citizen spends 5 hours and 9 minutes a day in front of the live television, and 8.5 hours total in front of all screens including cell phones and GPS devices.

Younger demos skew toward newer “screen media” — adults 25-34 watch only 3.5 hours of live TV a day, vs. 5.5 minutes of internet video and a boatload on mobile. The real trend to watch, though, is the growing multitasking among almost every age group — in which consumers watch TV as background ambiance while working on computers or texting on mobile devices.

TV is still king. The question is whether consumers, in their new multitasking modality, are paying attention.

Photo: Jmsuarez

39% of adults addicted to mobile. 7% not happy about it.

Do you have a love-hate relationship with your cell phone? Join the club. Pew reported yesterday that 39% of U.S. adults are now heavy users of mobile devices to access the internet. Pew lists several typologies:

– 9% of adults are Roving Nodes, using mobile to connect and share with others
– 8% are Digital Collaborators, using mobile to share creativity
– 8% are Mobile Newbies, just figuring out how to connect online…

The list goes on, but one group stands out: Ambivalent Networkers. This group represents 1 in 5 of heavy users of mobile internet — the people who text on phones most often — and they aren’t happy. Pew reports this group feels overwhelmed with the need to stay connected, out of fear they may miss something, and are growing frustrated with the constant variations of social media options to communicate.

We’ve noted recently that the typical savvy mobile-web consumer now has at least 12 standard ways to listen to others: email, Gmail, chat, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, blog comments, RSS feeds, desk phone, cell phone, text messages. Within each tool, subtools are allowing new controls — such as the free TweetDeck software which divides Twitter streams into groups of friends — but each new subtool adds yet more complexity.

Is a backlash growing? Will consumers eventually demand streamlined interfaces to control online connections? Don’t ask us. We’re still adding new icons to our iPhone.

Photo: Scifr

How do agencies build buzz in a recession?

Not with press releases. Look what Plaid is doing. This branding/interactive shop has enlisted the mayor of Danbury, Conn., in a proposed military assault on Denver, challenged Denver’s own mayor, and took over a popular Denver-based ad blog all to promote an upcoming road tour.

Ad agencies do road tours? You get the idea. In a market where people retrench, go build buzz.

P.S. Plaid invited us to play on the Denver Egotist blog takeover, see our riff here.

Sci Fi, Syfy: It’s time, dear marketers, to recognize women

The Sci Fi cable channel made the news last week by announcing it would change its name on July 7 to Syfy, an obscure new brand that outraged some Star Trek enthusiasts. We found it no coincidence that the cable network timed the news to the upfront, where advertisers make major financial commitments for the coming year.

What’s up? Women are resurgent as an advertising force. Consider that women’s web sites were one of the fastest growing categories in 2008, with 46% more visitors (only slightly behind job-search sites). is spinning off its popular XX Factor blog into a woman-specific site. Kristi Faulkner, founder of the WomenKind marcom firm, told DM News “Women are hungry for something that is respectful and dignified.”

And of course it helps that advertising dollars are behind this. In a down economy where men are paring back on big screen TVs and lawn equipment, women still run the household — and most other spending. In the United States women account for 80% of discretionary spending including buying 90% of food, 55% of gadgets, and — yes, boys — most new cars.

Sci Fi is broadening its brand to include supernatural and paranormal entertainment, topics more likely to appeal to women and to attract the marketers who chase them. There could be a lesson here for your own brand.