Thursday, December 11, 2008

Widgets Help Fight Crime!!!

The internet is changing the way people live their lives. Our behaviors are modifying as we adopt new online tools to get our work done and socialize with friends. Savvy organizations are recognizing these changes and are using the internet to keep up.

A great example of an organization which recognizes and is responding to these changes is the FBI.

One of the FBI's best known features is their Ten Most Wanted list. This list has the names and pictures the ten people most wanted by U.S. law enforcement officials. The objective of the list is to publicize these people in the hope that citizens might recognize someone on the list and tip the feds to the whereabouts of the fugitive.

Before the internet became as prevalent as it is today the Most Wanted list could be seen at the post office. This was a good strategy because many people would go to the post office and would see the notice. But people aren't using the post office as much as they used to. Where people used to send letters they now write emails. (According to the US Postal Service financial review from 2004 "E-commerce and e-mail are replacing personal correspondence and hard copy commercial transactions that formerly traveled as First-Class single-piece Mail".)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has responded to the changing times by launching a "Ten Most Wanted" widget.
The widget (seen to the left) offers the Most Wanted list as well as feeds for FBI news and stories. According to the FBI press release touting the launch the widget "includes easy to use share buttons so you can add it effortlessly to almost any website, including Facebook, MySpace, and other social media networking sites."

Alex Iskold writes on his blog ReadWriteWeb about using widgets to promote your brand, drive traffic and accomplish other product goals. In Washington digital media goals are often unrelated to sales. It's great to see FBI connecting with citizens via widgets so you can help them FIGHT CRIME!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Obama, McCain and Third-Party Campaign Sites

The 2008 Presidential election was historic in many ways. The most obvious being the election of the first African-American to be leader of the free world (Barack Obama in case you hadn't heard). This election will also be remembered by history because of the revolutionary way Barack Obama used the internet as a tool for organization and communication.

In my Digital Influence class we recently looked at some of the effective strategies that the Obama campaign employed on their web site. My research shows that the Obama campaign's work on third party sites was monumental as well. Let's look at YouTube as an example:

Barack Obama's YouTube channel, had a huge presence receiving a lot of attention and notable milestones:

32nd most viewed YouTube channel of all time.
34th most subscribed YouTube channel of all time.

By comparison John McCain's YouTube channel, didn't even crack the top 100 in either of these categories.

There is also a clear difference in the degree to which each campaign used YouTube.

The McCain campaign posted 330 videos. Of those only three were viewed more than 1,000,000 times. His most popular video "Celeb" pulled in 2,200,000+ views.

On the other hand, Obama published 1,823 videos (clearly very active) and as of this writing has 12 videos with 1,000,000 views or more. His most watched video "Obama Speech: 'A More Perfect Union'" was viewed nearly five and a half million times (5,440,000).

The Obama campaign was clearly in tune with how to use the internet, whereas the McCain campaign was not. The numbers show that McCain didn't get as much attention on YouTube as Obama did. This may be due to the fact that McCain didn't have the same amount of public excitement around his campaign. However, this doesn't seem to be the case. Another glaring example of third party site use was the difference in each campaign's use of Twitter on election day.

On election day I visited Twitter's Election 2008 page. The Twitter Election 2008 page shows the feeds from each campaign at the top of the page and allows users to post their own personal campaign related "tweet". Here is a screen shot of the top of the page from election day:

In his tweet Obama asked supporters to vote for him and provided information on how to find one's polling place. McCain on the other hand provided a link to an article on his web site that attacked a pundit. A check of McCain's direct Twitter feed shows the tweet in question was posted on October 24th, a week and a half before election day.

McCain's Twitter feed didn't lose the election for him but his cash strapped, unenthusiastic campaign missed opportunities to reach potential voters and motivate existing supporters with free third party sites. According to David Burch of TubeMogul Obama earned 14,548,809.05 hours of free video time on YouTube (length of each video x views). In the same article Joe Trippi estimated that if the Obama campaign had tried to purchase that much TV advertising it would have cost about $46,893,000.

The internet is changing the way elections are being run. Had McCain made better use of the free online resources available to him he may have had a fighting chance.

Chasing the Long Tail: Does Anyone Use Meta Keywords Anymore?

In our discussion of search engines and maximizing SEO the question of whether to use the meta tag "keywords" came up. There seems to be consensus among SEO pros that Google doesn't use them anymore. Google all but confirms this explicitly in this short article about "Keyword Stuffing". But this got me wondering if there are other search engines that do use the tag and if there is some value in chasing that long tail.

Yahoo! recommends entering them to "improve the ranking of... results." (Despite this SEO pros still think meta keywords may be a waste of time.) I didn't find much open information on other search engines so I had to come up with some other way of determining their relevance.

I started by looking at the top ten search engines. According to they are:

1. Google
2. Yahoo! Search
3. MSN Live Search
4. AOL Search - Powered by Google
5. Ask - Powered by Teoma lists the remaining five in alphabetical order:

AltaVista - Powered by Yahoo!
Fast ( - Powered by Yahoo!
Netscape Search - Powered by Google - Portions powered by: Gigablast,,, X1 Technologies, Inc. and Enhanced by

The top four search engines (five sites, of which two run on Google) make up for 97.29% of the total volume of searches in the United States (for the 4 weeks ending October 25, 2008).

Coming in at #2 Yahoo! makes up 17.4% of all traffic. If they use meta keywords that could be reason enough to put them in.

Search engines do not publicize whether or not they use meta keywords. So in an attempt to determine if an engine thinks meta keywords are useful I've checked the source code for each of the search sites to see if they use meta keywords. My reasoning is that if a search engine uses meta keywords in their code it may be an indication that they think the "keywords" meta tag is important.

Here are the results of my research:

Search Engine
Uses Meta Tag
"Keywords"? Y/N
Yahoo! Search
MSN Live Search
AOL Search - Powered by Google
Ask - Powered by Teoma
AltaVista - Powered by Yahoo!
Fast ( - Powered by Yahoo!
Netscape Search - Powered by Google

Some of these results are pretty interesting.

Yahoo! which recommends the use of the tag doesn't use it. On the other hand AltaVista which is powered/owned by Yahoo! does use the meta tag. I'm not sure why Yahoo! doesn't use the tag but AltaVista on the other hand has a history with "keywords".

According to SourceEngineWatch the "first major crawler-based search engines to use the meta keywords tag were Infoseek and AltaVista." Perhaps AltaVista is proud of once helping make the tag prominent? I can't say for sure. But whatever the reason the code is still in there.

(InfoSeek isn't in this top ten list of seach engines but they are relevant to this discussion. InfoSeek was bought by Disney in 1998. It was then converted into the search engine which still uses the keywords tag. and, both subdomains, are consistent with their parent domain and use the keywords meta tag as well. I think it is reasonable to assume checks the keywords tag.)

The next oddity in this list is Netscape Search. Netscape Search runs on Google (who we know doesn't use the tag in their algorithm) so their use of the tag seems pointless. But it gets even more confusing. In 1998 AOL acquired Netscape. AOL also runs on Google and, as we can see in the table above, AOL does not use the keywords tag. Is Netscape simply holding on to an old tradition or does AOL not have a company-wide policy on meta tags? Unclear. But since they run on Google it doesn't matter.

From this chart I might guess that uses meta keywords but considering how inconsistent the other search engines are (Yahoo recommends them but doesn't use them, Netscape uses them but they don't make a difference on their engine) I wouldn't bet on it.

Bottom line:
Yahoo says they help. Yahoo has a not insignificant amount of market share. I say go ahead and put them in. It might help your SEO at some non-Google search engines.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Could Don Draper Make it in a Digital World?

The playing field for PR and advertising is constantly changing. AMC's award winning TV show "Mad Men" offers a (fictional?) glimpse into the advertising world of the early 1960's. The dramatic series takes a certain pleasure in revisiting that oh-so politically incorrect age where drinking on the job seems mandatory, pregnant women smoke like their life depends on it and sexual harassment is just another charming part of office culture.

Mad Men is certainly not a documentary but there is more than a little truth to its portrayal of office life.

The main character, Don Draper, represents the best of 60's advertising. In the following clip he gives his take on why ads work:

Could Don Draper hack it in the digital age? Not with that attitude. Draper's POV is the antithesis of the Web 2.0 environment. Not only are people not looking to be told what to do but they are actively taking control of who they listen to.

For example, Joshua Porter dissects the various ways that allows their customers to take control of who they listen to in his book Designing for the Social Web.

According to the book Groundswell nearly half of all online U.S. adults are "spectators" (pg. 44 fig. 3-3), meaning they read, watch and listen to content, reviews and ratings added by other users. "Spectators" sounds passive but these users are actively choosing what they read/watch/listen to. On the net, unlike television, the user needs to seek out the content they consume.

The mediums for getting out your company's message will continue to change but one thing that will probably always stay the same is that customers/people just want to be happy.

On second thought, Draper could probably catch up.

Joe "the Internet Meme" Wurzelbacher

Presidential candidates consistently try to connect with voters by telling stories about "ordinary Americans." In our current election the McCain campaign has found a way to connect with voters by doing the opposite. They've asked "ordinary Americans" to tell stories about themselves so they will connect with the presidential candidate.

This all began in the third presidential debate, which took place two weeks ago on Wednesday, October 15th 2008 where Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher was turned into a household name. Presidential candidate John McCain attacked Barack Obama's tax plan by highlighting a conversation Obama had with "Joe the Plumber." Joe became something of a touchstone during the debate and by the time it was over "Joe" had been mentioned about a dozen times.

Joe the Plumber's story resonated with some voters. Seeing this interest the McCain campaign made it an integral part of their strategy. They began using Joe the Plumber in the stump speeches of Senator McCain and Governor Palin. The idea was expanded into a theme and they began telling the stories of every "[FIRST NAME] the [OCCUPATION]" you could think of.

In a flash of genius the campaign turned Joe's story into an internet meme by asking supporters to make a video in which they explain how they too are "Joe the Plumber." The McCain campaign encouraged participation by announcing that they would produce a television commercial featuring the "I am Joe" videos. Participants were asked to send the link to their video at the John McCain web site.

Here is the resulting commercial:

YouTube: I Am Joe

Additionally the campaign featured some of their favorite videos on the John McCain web site. My personal favorite is "Joe the Magician".

Joe The Magician

In his book Designing for the Social Web Joshua Porter discusses using "authentic conversation" as a way to engage with customers. He writes "Conversation - at least the act of initiating it - only amplifies the existing sentiment." In an election where John McCain was (and is) down in the polls, and where he needed to amplify an existing sentiment (regarding Obama's tax plan) he hit upon an effective digital strategy to get his word out.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ready for Prime-Time Players: Blogs

Blogs have come a long way.

Reading Technotati's annual report "State of the Blogosphere" got me thinking about the recent history of blogging. The report underscores how much blogging has become an integral part of the internet.

Just a few years ago blogs were starting to get recognition as a new phenomenon in our culture. ("Blogs take on the mainstream" -BCC News, "Blog" named 2004 Merriam-Webster "Word of the Year". Today four of the top ten entertainment websites are blogs (including the top two)!

Blogs have also become a platform for launching personalities and products into the mass media. The blog FiveThirtyEight written by Nate Silver is a good example. Nate is a managing partner at Baseball Prospectus, a baseball statistical analysis firm. Nate invented a system which predicts the performance of Major League Baseball players and teams. (This past season he accurately predicted that the Tampa Bay Rays would follow up their last place 2007 effort with a trip to the playoffs in 2008).

In late October 2007 Nate began to apply his statistical prowess to politics. He began blogging at the liberal mega-blog Daily Kos under the username poblano. In March 2008 Silver launched the blog and stepped out from anonymity. In less than a year he has become a well known expert on political polling. This was all made possible via blogging.

In an environment where "content is king" blogs provide a relatively quick and inexpensive way to establish yourself as an expert. Nate is a good example of effective blogging today.

Here is Nate Silver talking about the FiveThirtyEight and the 2008 presidential election on The Colbert Report:

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blog! What is it good for?

Effective adoption of web 2.0 technology is often a difficult task.

As an IT professional I am frequently asked what is the value of having a blog. Usually the person asking the question already thinks blogs are worthless. It brings to mind the first few lines of the song "War" by Edwin Starr "War/What is it good for?/Absolutely nothing/say it again y'all."

I think the root of the issue behind why some people assume blogs have no value is that they misunderstand how a blog should be used. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff explain in their book Groundswell that a blog can be an effective tool to facilitate two-way communication with customers.

In my experience, getting people who are unfamiliar with web 2.0 to engage with one of these new technologies (like a blog) is often a big challenge. A recurring issue is getting the new user to understand that the new medium isn't simply a new way of doing something they are already doing... but on the internet. When people first started building web sites they basically put their brochure... on the internet. When they adopted email they were just sending letters... on the internet. But when they start thinking about a blog they often assume they will just be posting their press releases... on the internet. When this new user learns that the number of people that might read the blog are relatively low compared to the exposure they might get with a newspaper ad buy they look baffled. Many people think a blog is just another way to declare their message to the world. But as Li and Bernoff explain in "Groundswell" this is a misunderstanding.

What is a blog good for? Two-way communication. A blog is tool for having a conversation with customers about your company and your products. This doesn't neatly fit into any preconceived models for doing business. Li and Bernoff are advocates for a new way of operating companies. One that is face-to-face (business to consumer) rather than top-down (business over consumer).

When trying to implement a web 2.0 (or groundswell) technology I think it is critical to communicate that this new tool facilitates a new way of interacting with the customer.

Have you had an experience where you were trying to integrate a web 2.0 in your office and ran into people who "didn't get it"? If so, were you able to bring them around? How did you do it?

Here is live performance of Edwin Starr singing "WAR":

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Yes, We Can" or "Yes, I Will"?: Supporter Commitment in the Obama Campaign

Barack Obama's campaign website ( makes excellent use of some of the influence techniques discussed in Robert Cialdini's book Influence: Science and Practice.

In the book Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff share some their data on the "Social Technographics Profiles" (demographic use of social media) of Democrats, Republicans, and independents. What they found is that Democrats are "about 10 percent more likely" (pg. 55) to make use of social media than other groups. As noted in groundswell Barack Obama's campaign for President had tapped into this advantage with his social network for supporters:

The site uses a couple of the Cialdini's "commitment and consistency" techniques to reinforce support for its campaign.

(Before I go on and imply that the campaign of Barack Obama is using trickery and deception to shore up support I want to disclose that I am a supporter of Obama and his campaign. Chapter 3 of Cialdini is all about consistency, right?). :)

When you set up a profile page at you are asked to answer a few questions about yourself. Some are looking for basic biographical information ("How do you want to be identified to others on this site?", "What is your birthdate?"). But based on Cialdini's writings the most important question on an Obama supporter's profile is "Why do you support Barack Obama?". By soliciting a reason from the new supporter the site is reinforcing the voter's support by also committing them to their reason for supporting Obama. Cialdini's data suggests this is a very effective strategy for sustaining support for the candidate.

It will be interesting to look at data after the election to see how effective the site was at getting its users to show up at the polls on election day. Do you think this method will increse support for Obama or will it just recommit the already committed?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Simpsons and WORDLESS Word of Mouth Marketing

I was fascinated by the book Word of Mouth Manual II by David Balter. When word of mouth (WOM) marketing works it's as if the advertising campaign comes alive. Exciting stuff. The book cited the iPhone and Tickle Me Elmo as examples of successful WOM campaigns. These cases got me thinking about a WOM campaign which successfully engaged me and my friends without anyone uttering a word. The campaign was the SimpsonizeMe campaign which promoted The Simpsons Movie in the summer of 2007.

My first exposure to the campaign was a TV commercial. The commercial featured animated aliens from The SimpsonsTM working in a Burger King® who were turning live-action actors into popular animated Simpsons characters. It was a cool gag. You can watch the commercial below:

As you can see the commercial only spends the last couple seconds on direct messaging. Three of those seconds are devoted to a URL and only the last two seconds are spent on the "Burger King" and "The Simpsons Movie" logos.

After watching the commercial I didn't go to the link. I thought it was a fun yet strange ad but I didn't think any more about it. A few days later something interesting started to happening. I noticed that many of my friends had changed their Facebook, gMail, and AIM profile pictures to Simpson-like versions of themselves. One of my simpsonized friends posted a link to on his profile page and explained that at the site I too could easily generate a Simpsonized version of myself.

This Simpsons/Burger King strategy is a great example of Balter's "Collective Shared Experience" form of WOM as discussed in chapter I.3. (pg. 18). The personalized images got people talking with each other about their personal Simpsons portrait and whether or not it actually bears any resemblance to the real life person. The site even garnered a fair share of websites complaining that it doesn't work very well. (Of course, each critical article included a Simpsonized version of the author). It turns out the only real problem the site had was keeping up with the overwhelming web traffic.

What's so smart about the campaign is that it takes advantage of social media. The site was successful because people shared their Simpsonized images. Without the web 2.0 infrastructure (social networks, buddy lists, blogs) this campaign couldn't have existed.

The final product (to the right) looks nothing like me. (At least I don't think it does). But to anyone familiar with The Simpsons the style is unmistakable. The SimpsonizeMe campaign was a unique WOM campaign because it was able to get people to communicate to their friends "I like The Simpsons" simply by changing their profile picture. While the images would inevitably lead to a real discussion this WOM campaign is unique because of its ability to silently get those conversations started.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Web is to TV as TV is to Radio

Peter Hirshberg gives a TED Talk on the relationship between TV and the Web. He reaches back and shows some facinating parallels to the shift from radio to TV. Watch for video of Marshall McLuhan talking about "global communities" decades before the blogoshpere.

Peter Hirshberg: The Web and TV, a sibling rivalry

Monday, September 15, 2008

read this link

At least through page 45

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Social Bookmarking in Plain English

Great tutorial on social bookmarking

Monday, September 8, 2008

Blogging Assignments

From the class wiki: (link to source)

Blogging Assignments - 12 weeks

 Maintaining Personal Blogs and posting Comments on classmate blogs
 Assignment Summary

Weekly Blog Postings: Each week, students will write one blog post on topics covered in the reading and class. Each post must be at least 500 words and should follow best practice blog post format: Students must write at least 1 comment on team members’ blog posts per week. Both must be posted by Saturday 6pm. 
  • Posts: 2 points
  • Comments: 1 point (students must write 1 meaningful comment to qualify for this point)


Each week, students will write their blog post (or more). The post should engage with the topic of the previous week's class and reading. You can analyze and summarize, challenge a reading/POV or synthesize several of the readings/POV. You should use good, traditional writing style and good blog etiquette. The latter includes:
  • writing great headlines with strong keywords
  • stating your POV in teh first paragraph
  • some cross-linking (don't go too crazy)
  • clear references to other's work (with cross links)
  • A conclusion OR a questioning challenge for your readers

You will need to write your blog posts by Saturday at 6pm. I will find your blog posts via your RSS feeds. If you choose to write more than one post and want me to focus on evaluating one in particular, just shoot me an email with a link.

Each week, students will post a Comment on at least one other students blog post. This can be the post from the previous week. I strongly encourage you to do more than this but one is all that I will grade on. The comments should feature a POV but need not be more than 100 words or so. Quality over quantity.

You will need to write your Comments by Saturday at 6pm, as well. For now, shoot me an email with a link to your comment. Please put "COMMENT FROM STUDENT: (name)" in the subject line of the email.

Outside Resources

Good Blogging