Jumpstarting cost per influence

Ross Mayfield and John Battelle and Jeff Jarvis have been batting around a new mechanism for online ads.
There are two parts to the mechanism:
* the value of the ad is set not by impressions or clickthroughs, but by the amount of 2nd-degree influence — the size of the audience of the blogger’s readers who pick up the ad.
* the bloggers picks from a set of ads to display (or even, in Jarvis’ suggestion, make the ads).
It’s similar to an affiliate model (blogger gets commission from Amazon sales of book reviews), but different in that it takes into account the influence on the readers of the blog too.
This model blows up two core problems with traditional advertising
* there’s no demand for messages — advertisers barrage us with ads we don’t want.
* demographics are a blunt instrument for predicting preferences. The people I have most in common with aren’t necessarily identical in age or gender or zip code.
The question is how to jumpstart this model, given the notorious conservatism of ad buyers. A consumer products company launching a brand of car or soap is going to wait and see if this wacky idea pans out.
The good news is that there are some types of advertising that are brilliantly suited for this approach with minimal startup cost. This would be fabulous for a gizmo (cellphone/digital camera/music player) product launch — or the launch of any type of products that garners strong loyalty, is purchased by influence, and is already going to have online advertising.
It would be interesting to try for political ads — political bloggers already praise their candidates and advocate issues.
With Technorati, the metrics are pretty straightforward – a search and a little math on api results and you could easily do a payment grid. Experimentation is cheap.
Another really good thing about this approach is that it avoids the “pushiness” of flat-out viral marketing. It’s socially congenial to praise a product you like. It’s rather more obnoxious to send coupons to your friends.
Also, this approach avoids the phony smell of blogger advertorial. Remember the Raging Cow fiasco where Dr Pepper tried to get bloggers to endorse the new drink? An advertisement picked by a blogger is obviously an ad, not a hidden product placement. It’s aboveboard, not underhanded.
I wonder if picked ads would harm blogger credibility — would we respect bloggers less if we saw they were getting paid. My gut feeling says no — affiliate programs can be used with integrity, and this can too.
It would be great if music and movies used this approach, and the ad could include songs and clips. Independent artists and alternative distributors could use this technique. It would work for the majors, but they’re hell-bent on killing alternative distribution instead of using it to make money.

More on Intimacy Gradient

Chris Allen adds to the discussion of the intimacy gradient, design patterns that support different levels of privacy and access.
Chris muses that “the need to provide for an Intimacy Gradient in social software is clear; however, the techniques for showing the transitions between the gradients are not.” Chris quotes Fleming Funch about how links can’t signify levels of intimacy. “As long as a certain chat room or Wiki page is accessible directly with a deep link, it is going to be very hard to make it feel more intimate than any other place I can reach with similar ease.”
I suspect that the design principles for intimacy gradient are going to be different online than in 3d, and efforts to mirror 3d privacy patterns literally will be ineffective, just as interfaces mimicking 3d stores and offices don’t work.
In 3d, the markers of privacy relate to
* property markers: my lawn vs. public sidewalk and street
* physical access: door and gate; bedrooms in back or upstairs
* visual and auditory access: conversation areas around a corner, with an insulating wall.
These design patterns designate ownership/membership, and different levels of physical access.
Online, there are different design patterns for signifying intimacy. Physical interference is less of a problem, while social accessibility takes some consideration.
Groupforming is a distinctive property of the online intimacy gradient. Decent software design makes it trivially easy to create a new private space – no contractors or sawdust needed.
We’re evolving new conventions for showing group membership and “ownership”, even in publicly accessible areas.
* in more intimate spaces, like small-group chatrooms, and livejournal comments, names and pictures are reminders of the small community.
* in shared spaces, it’s good to be able to share pictures and music (which oughta be legal).
Online, we need better tools for vistas, entryways, and entrances.
For example, a technorati sidebar of related discussion shows the vista surrounding the private home or small community on blog.
The “recent changes” in a wiki provides this window for cogniscenti — you can see what folks have been thinking about lately.
The “jibot” on the #joiito IRC channel announces visitors with a few words of background. This creates a social protocol where newcomers are expected to introduce themselves, and there’s a bit of banter where the social tone is established.
Forum portals try to do this with snippets of high-volume conversations or high-rated posts. For experienced community members, portals can help reduce overload and highlight hot topics. But these busy streetscapes can be cluttered, overwhelming, and discouraging for newcomers.
More inviting, I think, is the style on PerlMonks, where the home page consists of selected questions and responses, and deeper sections include discussion, tutorials, reviews, and reference material.
What the jibot and PerlMonks conventions have in common are ways of gradually entering a conversation. Well-designed entranceways are social as much as they are architectural. They provide ways for people to meet others and introduce themselves, and get involved in more extended conversation and deeper collaboration over time.

Rick Klau on Astroturfing

Rick deplores “astroturfing” — the political practice of seeding identical “letters to the editor” that purport to be original citizen comments, but are copied from message propoganda instead.
I don’t think the issue is simple. Being politically informed is good, but doing primary research and original analysis on every subject you care about isn’t humanly possible.
I appreciate groups that employ people to research subjects, stay on top of changing political activity, and provide the opportunity to act. Providing sample letters is a great head start. In areas where I do activism, we provide background information, action alerts, and sample letters. I think it’s good to lower the barrier to participation, so long as more people are doing some thinking.
And decentralized fast action isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When we were working on the SDMCA in Texas, a state senator’s staffer explained that industry lobbyists of course had more influence, because they were able to be at the capitol 24/7. It’s a good if someone who’s on location can tell others what’s going on, so people with day jobs can act almost as fast as the lobbyists on the floor.
On the other hand, twitch-response political action is disturbing. Some people fire off the latest missive without thinking, like a gamer shoots a monster on sight.
Verbatim-copies of letters to the editor, which one expects to be original, seem worse then letters and calls to a Congressperson using a standard template.
Perhaps the difference is that letters to the editor are expected to reflect deliberation, whereas a letter to a congressperson is often about action — encouraging a vote for an against a subject.
After all, our vote for a representative is a one-word response — yes or no. A citizen form letter on a specific issue is a more finely grained response than a blunt vote for a candidate.

More on women and negotiation

Women Don’t Ask leads with an elegant little study showing that a striking $4000 salary differential between men and women masters graduates was explained by women’s reluctance to negotiate.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine called to ask for advice. She’d been offered a job she wanted. She asked me if it was appropriate to ask for a higher salary and to negotiate start date. She wondered if asking might lead them to rescind the offer.
Men are more likely to see negotiation as an enjoyable game, according to surveys reported in the book — they look forward to negotiating. Women more likely see negotiation as an uncomfortable experience. Women see negotiation in the context of a relationship, and are concerned that pushing too hard will damage the relationship.
Another reason that women are reluctant to negotiate is that women are more likely to believe that the other party has already taken her interest into account. The book recounts stories where women didn’t receive promotions — they assumed that the boss had a good reason not to offer them the better job. When the woman finally asked, she got what she wanted, and the boss wondered why it took her so long to ask.
A survey in the book shows that most men don’t think they’re responsible to start with the other party’s interest in mind, and most women do. So, if a man gives an unnattractive offer, it’s not necessarily because he’s trying to screw the other party, he just hasn’t thought the party’s interest through, and doesn’t think he needs to.
The bad news is that women are in a bit of a bind — if they’re aggressive like men, they’re branded bitches and dragon-ladies. When women are perceived as tough, they’re disliked. Assertiveness doesn’t keep men from being liked.
So women need to walk a fine line — we need to be a little self-effacing, a little self-deprecating, even while negotiating with our interests in mind.
The good news is that with training and encouragement, women can learn to negotiate more often, and achieve better results. And, because women are better on average at seeing “win-win” solutions, we’re really good at negotiation once we overcome the initial reluctance, and learn to be persistent without being abrasive.
The book has some chapters with familiar and unoriginal arguments about the differences in socialization between men and women. The substance of the book is good research and analysis on gender differences in negotiating behavior.
Of course, gender differences are tendencies, not rules. I know guys who are reluctant to negotiate, and women who are masters of hardball. Gender is a useful lens, not the only one.
Summary: I recommend this book strongly to women, to men who interact with women, and to people of any gender who are reluctant to negotiate.

This world, extended

In the middle of interesting article about criminal misbehavior by a participant in an online game, Clay Shirky has an intriguing insight about online interaction.
MUDs and MOOs — text-based virtual worlds — were common early genres of online interaction. Prophets and business people extrapolated that future online interaction would be much like these virtual worlds, but with sound and color and 3D. It wasn’t that long ago. Remember the early online malls with pictures of buildings and streets?

My label for this was the Whole Worlds hypothesis

Shared Minds

In the last airplane trip (love plane rides for reading), I read Shared Minds by Michael Shrage. The 1990 book, borrowed from Chris Allen, is delightfully prescient in a number of ways.
Going on fifteen years ago, when tools to collaborate electronically were just emerging: gestating in the the research lab, Lotus Notes was just coming to market, and Tim Berners Lee was inventing the web, Shrage described some of the very familiar uses of social software:
* holding a meeting with a digital whiteboard to capture and shape ideas in a meeting, complete with backchannel
* collaborative writing, as we do now with SubEthaEdit and Wiki
* the citation and deep collaboration culture of scientific research
* the metaphor of “shared space” to describe digital tools supporting collaboration
The book also articulates an important distinction between communication and collaboration. Shrage critiques the ideas of Marshall McLuhan and advocates of business communication for focusing on one-way transmission of thoughts and feelings. Somehow, if the speaker can only “communicate” clearly and powerfully enough, the message will get through, and the recipient will follow.
Instead, Shrage describes collaboration as a shared and deeply interactive process of discovering and creating meaning together. Individualistic modern western culture wants to see discovery and achievement as the product of a lone hero, but innovation in science, art and business is a collaborative process.
Perhaps this is what Sunir means by blogging is sadness: the impression that bloggers are each in their own little world, making speeches at each other. (Although this perspective misses the distributed conversation of the blog communities.
Shrage captures the joy of collaboration — elaborating an idea, creating something new, getting something done — when the contributions of the participants are intertwingled.
Given the state of the art at the time, Shrage’s perception of tools was skewed toward the sharing of personal artifacts (shared access to documents), and elaborate research prototypes (wall systems with voice and video). Today, we have the ubiquitous net, and a wide range of tools, build for shared use, to knit together in a situated manner.
It’s really fun to work on bringing more of these ideas into common use, in a culture based on the values that Shrage describes.

Texas halts closed meetings for now

Last week, ACLU-Texas and Jon Lebkowsky sued the Texas Secretary of State’s office, demanding that the SOS comply with the Open Meetings Act, and hold meetings to review voting systems for certification in public.
On Friday, the Secretary of State’s office backed down, postponing the upcoming meeting til further notice. We hope this means that they are evaluating how best to hold these meetings in public.
We especially hope that the public scrutiny will encourage the Secretary to insist on a reliable, secure, and transparent voting process.

Internal Corporate Weblogs

Ross Mayfield draws a useful distinction, responding to Fredrik Wack’s taxonomy of enterprise weblogs

Instead of the next six types Fredrik offers, I’d suggest the simple categorization of if the blog has a single or multiple authors. Inside the enterprise group blogs are more common and oriented towards collaboration. The topic or objective of a blog can change over time, as most things do, and most individual blogs defy categorization.

Building on these points: knowledge and collaboration aren’t different kinds of blogs — they are different stages in the lifecycle of the same post.
For example, at Socialtext, we use a team weblog to collaborate on the release process, logging process steps, and keeping the team up to date. Once the release is done, the posts serve as an archive. Because Socialtext uses a wiki repository, blog posts can be linked to by name, and updated later.
A post starts as live collaboration, and turns into a knowledge base over time.
Also, today’s technology is blurring the distinction between individual and group blogs in a corporate and community settings. Aggregators, portals, and metablogs pull together individual blogs into combined views of the conversation in the community.

I have issues with “issues”

There’s a dialect of business diplomacy where it is considered rude to identify a problem.
Instead of “we have a problem, the dam has been breached”, we say “there is an issue with the dam”, or “I have a concern with the dam”.
Now, it is true that simply pointing out problems is annoying and often counterproductive in a business environment. Problem statements are best accompanied by suggestions for improvement. Particularly in a startup environment, you fix it, or help fix it, or help prioritize fixing it, or log it and go do something else useful.
Sometimes, there are situations where you’re trying to figure out whether a problem exists “There’s an issue with the flibbertygibbet setting — is this correct.” “I have a concern about the EastCo account. Haven’t heard from them in a while, are they happy?”
But when the water is pouring from the dam, you have a problem, and nobody’s doing anybody favors by using euphemisms.