Jan 252006

Spam is Dead. Long Live Spam!

Spam is Dead.  Long Live Spam!

As pointed out in The Register yesterday (and picked up by Whit in his feed), it’s now been exactly two years since Bill Gates declared that Microsoft would eliminate spam in two years.

Hmmm.  Let’s think about that.  Filters do keep getting better, which Gates predicted.  But challenge/response filtering seems to be dead in the water, and the notion that we’re all going to pay for email stamps seems to be toast as well.

So where are we?  Spam is certainly more of a nuisance than a true crisis these days, which is even more true than when I wrote about here 15 months ago.  But it still consumes massive amounts of time, bandwidth, computing power, and mental energy to deal with the problem and reduce its visible impact on end users.  And even then, the problems of too much spam and too many false positives (emails which aren’t spam that get filtered by mistake) are still very real.  Bottom line — it’s still a business problem with a real, growing market and sub-markets and after-markets for solutions.

With apologies to my many friends and business partners at Microsoft, maybe as is the case with the occasional piece of software, Gates needs to release version 3.0 of his comment before it sticks.

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Jan 252006

Buying Back Your Own Left Leg

Buying Back Your Own Left Leg

There has been much written about the spectacular sale of Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion this week.  The fact that Steve Jobs is now Disney’s largest individual shareholder is amazing news on many levels.  Fred has a great posting on this today from the investor perspective.

Another angle that I find interesting about this transaction is that it reminds me to some extent of Yahoo’s purchase of Overture a couple years back.  Yahoo OWNED the search business.  For years.  Invented it.  Synonymous with it.  Then they let others lap them they became more of a diversified online media company, and voila!  Others focused, innovated, and created a massive business in paid search.  Yahoo lost its own leg and had to pay $1 billion or so to buy it back.

The same could be said of Disney.  There was no other animated film company in America of note for DECADES.  Disney was it.  The mouse ruled the house.  Then others innovated, figured out how to sprinkle their own version of pixie dust on things, while Disney became a global multi-dimensional media and entertainment conglomerate, and poof!  $7.4 billion later, they had to buy their own franchise back to reclaim the animation throne.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but these stories tell me that diversification may be a wonderful thing, but businesses should never forget to innovate at their core and think like insurgents, not like unassailable market leaders.

Jan 192006

Book Short: Required Reading

Book Short:  Required Reading

The Leadership Pipeline
, by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel, should be required reading for any manager at any level in any organization, although it’s most critical for CEOs, heads of HR, and first-time managers.  Just ask my Leaderhip Team at Return Path, all of whom just had to read the book and join in a discussion of it!

The book is easy to read, and it’s a great hands-on playbook for dealing with what the authors call the six leadersihp passages:

From Individual Contributor to Manager (shift from doing work to getting work done through others)

From Manager to Manager of Managers (shift to pure management, think beyond the function)

From Manager of Managers to Functional Manager (manage outside your own experience)

From Functional Manager to Business Manager (integrate functions, shift to profit and longer term views)

From Business Manager to Group Manager (holistic leadership, portfolio strategies, value success of others)

From Group Manager to Enterprise Manager (outward looking, handle external and multiple constituencies, balance strategic and visionary long-term thinking with the need to deliver short-term operating results)

All too often, especially in rapidly growing companies, we promote people and move them around without giving enough attention to the critical success factors involved in each new level of management.  I’ve certainly been guilty of that at Return Path over the years as well.  It’s just too easy to get trapped in the velocity of a startup someitmes to forget these steps and how different each one is.  This book lays out the steps very neatly.

It’s also one of the few business books that at least makes an attempt — and a good one at that — at adapting its model to small companies.  In this case, the authors note that the top three rungs of the pipeline are often combined in the role of CEO, and that Manager of Managers is often combined with Functional Managers.

Anyway, run, don’t walk, to buy this one!

Jan 162006

Book short: Proto Gladwell

Book short:  Proto Gladwell

I’m sure author Robert Cialdini would blanch if he read this comparison, but then again, I can’t be the first person to make it, either.  His book, Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion, is an outstanding read for any marketing or sales professional, but boy does it remind me of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Blink (book; blog post).  Of course, Cialdini’s book came out a decade before Gladwell’s!  Anyway, Influence is a great social science look at the psychology that makes sales and marketing work.

Cialdini talks about sales and marketing professionals as “compliance practitioners,” which is a great way to think about them, quite frankly.  He boils down the things that make sales and marketing work to six core factors: consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity.

Reciprocation – we hate being in a state of being beholden so much that we might even be willing to do a larger favor than the one done for us in order to remove the state.  Think about “free gifts” in merchandising as an example of this, or being in a negotiation where someone trying to make a cold sale on you offers a fallback, smaller sale.  For example, you don’t want to buy anything from the boy scout, but after you say no to the $5 raffle ticket and he asks about the $1 candy bar, you feel more obligated to buy the $1 candy bar because the boy scout has “given” on his initial request.

Consistency – once we have made a choice, personal and interpersonal pressures force us to back it up and justify our earlier decision – even more so when in writing or when declared to others.  This is why marketers love getting testimonials from customers; the testimonial locks the customer in emotionally, as well as encouraging others to buy the product.

Social proof – if others think it’s correct, it must be correct, especially if those other people are like us.  There are some scary examples in the book here, such as Reverand Jim Jones and The People’s Temple mass suicides.  Gripping, but creepy.

Liking – we listen to people we like, and we like people to whom we’re similar or who are physically attractive.  This section was especially reminiscent of Blink, but with different and more marketer-focused examples.

Authority – we have an extreme willingness to listen to authority, even when the authority isn’t quite relevant.  This is why celebrity endorsements work so well.

Scarcity – we have a extreme motivation of fear of loss, either or something, or of the opportunity to have something.  Who doesn’t like to keep doors open as long as possible?

The one place the book falls down a little bit is in the sections at the end of each chapter talking about how to resist that particular technique through jujitsu – the art of “turning the enemy’s strength to your advantage.”  While nice in theory, Cialdini’s examples aren’t super helpful beyond saying “when you think you’re getting suckered, stop — and then say no.”

Overally, though, the book is well written and choc full of examples.  Thanks to marketer Mallory Kates for sending me this great book!

Jan 102006

New Media Deal, Part II – the We Media Deal

New Media Deal, Part II – the We Media Deal

My original New Medial Deal posting from August, 2004, is my favorite posting of all 220 or so that I’ve done to date. It has the most clicks of any posting I’ve done. People mention it to me all the time. I even used it as the foundation for the preface to our book at Return Path, Sign Me Up!

The general thesis (although the original posting is short and worth reading) is simple. Old Media was one-way communication – they produce it, you consume it, and Old Media had a deal with us: they give us free or cheap content, we tolerate their advertising. Think about your favorite radio station or an episode of The Office on TV. The New Media deal is an Internet derivative of that, that is founded on some degree of two-way communication: they give us free services and more targeted advertising in exchange for some of our personal data — just like the Old Media deal, we are willing make a small sacrifice, in this case, some pieces of our anonymity, in a heartbeat if the value exchange is there. This is true of everything from personalized stock quotes on My Yahoo! to the New York Times on the Web. The New Media Deal doesn’t replace the Old Media Deal, it just adapts it to the new environment.

But what about the new generation of services that have popped up on the web around peer production?  The ones that aren’t one-way communication or two-way communication, but community-oriented communciation.  (Note I am resisting hard calling them Web 2.0, but you know it’s there somewhere.)  Does the New Media Deal still apply, or are we on to something else?  I think the rules are morphing once again, and now there’s a new deal — let’s call it the We Media Deal — that builds on the “data as part of the value exchange” moniker of the New Media Deal. Like its predecessor deals, the We Media Deal doesn’t replace the New Media Deal or the Old Media Deal, it just adapts it for new types of services.

The We Media Deal has two components to it:  (1) the value of the service to you increases in lock-step as you contribute more data to it, and (2) the more transparent the value exchange, the more willing you are to share your data.

Ok – that sounds very academic – what do I mean in plain English? Let’s break it down.

1. The value to you increases in lock-step as you contribute more data.  This is something that probably wasn’t obvious with the original New Media Deal, since it wasn’t clear that if you gave My Yahoo! incrementally more data (one more stock quote, for example), you’d get more relevant ads or services.  It’s a pretty static value exchange.  But think about the new generation of web services around peer production.

– The more you use Delicious to bookmark web pages, the more relevant it becomes to you, and the more dependent you become on it as your own “Internet within an Internet.”

– The more you wite a blog or post photos to Flickr, the more engrained the act of blogging becomes in your daily existence — you start looking at the world, ever so slightly, through the lens of “that would make an interesting posting” (trust me).

– The more you use Wikipedia (or wikis in general), the more committed you become to Wikipedia as your first go-to source for information, and the more you get infected with the desire to contribute to it.

The bottom line with the first part of the We Media Deal is that the more you give to the system, the more you want and need out of the system.  A big part of peer production is that most people fundamentally, if quietly, want to belong to any bit of community they can find.  All these new web services of late have transformed the mass Internet from a read platform to a read/write platform, so now everyone can have a say in things.  The same reason eBay is cooler and bigger than the New York Times on the Web will drive this new generation of services, and new spins on old services, forward.

2. Next up — the more transparent the value exchange, the more willing you are to share your data.  Transparecy rules.  When you contribute to the web, you’re exposed, so why is trasparency a help and not a hindrance?  Let’s look at the same 3 examples.

– Delicious let’s you delete your account and all your personal data.  They’re blatant about it during the sign-up process.  The result?  It increases your trust in the network since you can easily exit at any time.

– Blogging and Flickr couldn’t be more transparent.  They’re personal printing presses.  If you’re good at it, you really have to think before you write. It’s you – you’re really hanging out there transparent for all the world to see – therefore you’re even more invested in what you write and derive even more value from the activity.

– Similarly, Wikipedia tracks who changes what, and if you make an error, the community will correct it in an astonishingly short time frame, keeping you honest.

The good news is that, while the We Media Deal is coming of age, our New Media Deal is alive and well and growing stronger as the web evolves as well.  Free services and more targeted advertising in exchange for some of your personal data makes a ton of sense when the right balance of service and data is there.  Transparency and control make the We Media Deal an even stronger stronger bond between company and individual, mostly because the bond is between company and community — the deal gets more solid the more we as individuals invest in it.

Jan 042006

Book Short: Fables and Morals

Book Short:  Fables and Morals

Courtesy of my colleague Stephanie Miller, I had a quick holiday read of Aesop & The CEO: Powerful Business Lessons from Aesop and America’s Best Leaders, by David Noonan, which I enjoyed.  The book was similar in some ways to Squirrel, Inc., which I recently posted about, in that it makes its points by allegory and example (and not that it’s relevant, but that it relies on animals to make its points).

Noonan takes a couple dozen of Aesop’s ancient Greek fables and groups them in to categories like Rewards & Incentives, Management & Leadership, Strategy, HR, Marketing, and Negotiations & Alliances – and for each one, he gives modern-day management examples of the lessons.

For example, in the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, the lesson clearly is to strike while the iron is hot, or that a good plan executed today is better than a perfect one that’s too late.  Noonan gives the example of Patton’s capture of Messina, Sicily during World War II.

And in The Hare & The Tortoise, where of course the moral is that slow & steady wins the race, Noonan gives the example of how New York Knicks coach Rick Pitino inspired Mark Jackson, who was chosen 18th in the NBA draft, to win the rookie of the year award in 1987 by helping him gain confidence by building on his strengths.

All in, a good read, even with that painful reminder that the Knicks used to have a decent basketball team.

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