Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Future of Messaging - The Social Dimension

Social Signals Are Real

Where Do We Look? - As Usual, To The Young.

Innovation in messaging rarely comes from the places you expect. Telco’s thought SMS messaging so useless that they didn’t even bother to price interconnect costs when it was launched. This initial cross network capability (reach), and the relatively low price compared to voice calls, found a niche among young people facing a key constraint: they wanted to communicate with friends but could not  afford to communicate as much as they would like. Once there was a price incentive in place and millions of people were using it new contexts were found that were uniquely appropriate for text. For instance the now common  "running 10 minutes late" message.

In effect SMS created a new back-channel conversation.

What Is a Message?

Sounds like a strange question but Twitter? (www.twitter.com) or comments have re-spun this.  When we "message as social network grooming" we often do not expect a reply, or not right away, but we do expect some form of reciprocity within a certain time frame. Having received a number of fairly passive SMS's from a friend we may feel a strong pressure to not only text back, but actually call them. We "owe" them a call. It is the power of the social bond that creates this pressure to respond.

In the past much of our messaging was one-to-one, we wrote and sent a letter; we picked up a phone and called somebody. Technology enabled us to use the phone to message many others such as group SMS capability (one-to-many). From a particular perspective Interactive Voice Messaging could be considered to be one-to-many in that the call center is calling many customers to give them a message and the option to reconnect. The intertube however excels in creating many-to-many capabilities. So from another perspective, Interactive Voice Messaging matches available customers willing to take the call, and available agents or employees available and suited to take that call. In this case the intertube hosted service acts as a kind of "platform of availability".

Messages are also not static spatial objects sitting in our inbox. They are part of a flow of communication, and it the flow that is becoming increasingly important. Twitter and Facebook present  us with a flow of comments, pictures and the activities of our friends, and we then choose to connect to these comments and pictures or not. The initial posting of the comment or picture is what sociologists refer to as "weak signaling" in that they attract or encourage others to reciprocate with a comment, or to post their own picture. These signals occur in an environment of  many-to-many messaging, and signaling.  Messages themselves could also be considered as being signals that attracts further attention and interaction. The launch of Google Mail (gmail) with conversation threading is one example of an application service that acts in this way.

In conclusion, a message is no longer just the physical letter, the text or talking content. A message can no longer just be considered part of a 1-to-1 interaction that no one else sees, hears or shares. And with the Internet we are likely to see the rise of "communications" themselves as being things, as being social objects, that can be shared, discussed, or that create value in ways we do not currently appreciate.

Part 2

Messaging Will Be Consumed Socially

People with strong common interests or common goals will have reasons to commit to communicating more with each other.  The relationship context will determine how much or how little information we want to know about these people, or from these people. That's why Facebook allows you to "get more or less about this person". This is necessary because as individuals we like to be able to control the flow of information and potential interruptions we are exposed to. From Internet alerts, pings telling us we have new email, to our phone ringing when just about anybody phones, as individuals we desire a way to control that inbound flow. The main problem is that these events come with little context, and little understanding of what I find important right now. Previously the costs associated with making a call acted as an inherent  fee that the caller was willing to pay because they believed the call to be important. With actual call costs decreasing over the last five years, and with the rise of free services such as instant messaging, email and Skype calling, this cost barrier has been substantially lowered, and for many eliminated altogether. We need a new way to figure out which communications are important or not.

As with Internet searches a good predictor of what we like is what we have liked before, what our friends like, and what "people like us, like" (i.e. our profile). In Internet terms I read articles and stories that are recommended by friends (perhaps through Google Reader), or are suggested as stories I might like (as in Google news). This is a blend of algorithmic (automated) and social (physical) filtering. An example might be where we Google the term Restaurant and then check the top three results with some friends to see if anyone we know has actually been there.

We think that this kind of behaviour may play some part in how we manage our interactions with others in terms of "offering invitations to conversation". It will be a blend of automated suggestions and screening, coupled with social filtering and suggestion. When we leave an SMS, this might be seen as a weak invitation to conversation (give me a call back if this interests you). An email might contain a live link to the number of remaining seats at a concert, which might act as an incentive to call back and book a seat when bookings reached a certain point. These would be examples of passive and active invitations.

Some social filtering of the invitation to conversation cycle might be exampled by new services such as http://skydeck.com, and www.xobni.com. These new consumer services hook into your mobile phone (skydeck) to find out who you call, how long you called them, and presents you with the names you call most often at the top of the list. But it might also recommend who you haven't spoken to in a while. It examines the flow of your calling behaviour to find out who is really important to you. Xobni does the same for your email, but also presents you with information as to who is important to the people that you connect to. Add to this all the data being generated on social networks, and internal corporate networks, and you are looking at a fundamental shift in terms of how we engage with others to open up conversation.

We Give Permission and Pay Attention

So messages can be thought of as having social grooming characteristics; as re-enforcing social-bonds; and that often it is the flow of communication that is important, not the individual message per say. We see that messages can act as "social objects" that attract further further comment or action. For companies this means that messages have to be considered as part of an overall communications strategy that builds and supports the customer relationship. Ultimately it is the individual that gives the company permission to call them. Companies have to take care that each message conveys the appropriate content but also that it is in the appropriate flow, otherwise customers withdraw the attention they are willing to give to you, and withdraw from the relationship. Worse still, when these customers withdraw, others in their social network will see them withdraw and will then actively reconsider their own relationship with the company or their opinion of that company.

Companies and vendors of services will have to understand that our willingness to engage will contain both automated and social filtering of invitations to conversation, and that the companies "one-to-one relationship" with the customer is really going to be part of an overall network of "many-to-many relationships", and "many to many conversations".  Found yourself sending email through Linkedin inMail, or Facebook email? You know, I think you are already doing this stuff.


Partial Attention

Friday, November 21, 2008

Will - Tell - Tail - Thaler

The Long Tail a Shaggy Dog Tail?

Will Page at Telco2 rolled out some results on research conducted with a "major online music hub", on "long tail economics". The long and the short of it (ta-dum!), is that the Internet and "physical retail" have the same distribution, and the long tail may not be serviceable at all. This is no simple contrarian view, Will knows his stuff and this is going into the Harvard Business Review. It really is interesting to compare to other social media studies of content creation, co-creation, and consumption.

Demming Undoes Detroit

In a week that sees Detroit on bended knee (albeit, one that was flown in on a private jet), Toyota continues to be a model of lean production values. McKinsey carry a piece on getting Toyota lean production into an organisation, and from what I can see, its the same thing that Toyota were expounding 30 years ago. Its our survival we are talking about, lets get responsible to each other, lets make it better every day. Yes there are tools, and yes their are techniques, but as the article says "Its the soft stuff that's hard to do".


The Inter-Temporal Choice of Swans

And if you were wondering (as I was a few days ago) as to why people make strange decisions around what they can and cannot afford to buy (and repay), Mr. Thaler of the Ole Black Swan has a paper on Inter-Temporal choice, a fancy way for saying people make dumb decisions when the results are times into the future. From simple experiments on discounting future money to social engineering in Virginia where if high school kids dropped out of school they lost their driving licence, reveal that many are unable to delay gratification into the future.

InterTemporal Choice Graph

Go have a gander at the paper, its interesting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Data Strategy, 1938

Notes from The Art of Conversation

by Milton Wright, 1936

The ability to talk well can be cultivated.

Interest you must have if your conversation is to be successful.

Interest can lie primarily in the subject or the person, the latter being by far the surer ingredient for success.

To chatter is easy. To talk resultfully with the hostile, suspicious, indifferent or even friendly is an art.

To really become a good conversationalist over the long term it is necessary to acquire the habit of conscientiously stocking your mind with facts and information and then forming opinions on the basis of that knowledge.

A monologue is not a conversation.

Silence plays an important part in effective conversation just as it does in music.

Masters of the art of conversation rarely give advice, and then, usually, only when requested. It is given tentatively and without seeming to impose their wishes.

The secret of giving advice successfully is to mix it up with something that implies a real consciousness of the adviser's own defects, and as much as possible of an acknowledgment of the other party's merits.

To plant a suggestion is a real test of conversational skill.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Behaviour and Action, Cause and Effect

 Oh Great Shiny Bubble

The New York Times gives a great visualisation of house value declines in the USA. Irish site FinFacts gives a long history of warning signs that went unheeded, and practices that drove this frenzied behaviour. But the question I really have is that even with all this information, and other information besides, would our behaviour and actions change? I mean lets face it lots of people knew we were in a housing bubble but most were still drawn to its shiny bubble surface. I think I need to dig a little into decision making within certain timeframe's and unreasonable weighing up of "perhaps lots of money next year", versus "reasonable money in ten years" (i.e. delayed gratification). Another way of looking at it could be the "problem of the commons" in that by acting in our own short term interest we brought about a collective collapse. Most commentators to date have focused on bad lending practices, but what about our own bad borrowing practices and our attitude to credit?

Data Is The Path To Insight?

I have been thinking that the key capability of a company may be the ability to generat Insight. But now, I am not so sure.(HT: Denis Pombriant)

“The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve” (David Maister)

By this I am sure he means we know that the right things to do are, its just not always that interesting to keep doing them or to get them done. It does remind me of Werner Vogels at Telco2 saying that they knew (Amazon) that they had to focus on scope of catalogue, building visitor traffic, and lowering costs everywhere. Their "platform strategy" had to be a committed strategy, and joined up, and the management had to have the resolve to see it through, even though shareholders were unlikely to understand what they were doing, initially. Perhaps some of this resolve came from the CEO who has invested in some "dogs" in his day, but the learning led them to Platform strategy, and to Kindle, both billion dollar businesses. That and a "relentless focus on being customer centric".

So Why Is Customer Service Still In Trouble?

Well, perhaps its the small things that count. Mashable just posted up their take on a recent pew report that shows we are absolute crap at getting customer service, particularly around Tech support.

- 38% of users with failed technology contacted user support for help.
- 28% of technology users fixed the problem themselves.
- 15% fixed the problem with help from friends or family.
- 15% of tech users were unable to fix their devices.
- 2% found help online.

Consumers’ Attitudes About Various Forms of Tech Support:

- 72% felt confident that they were on the right track to solving the problem.
- 59% felt impatient to solve the problem because they had important uses for the broken technology.
- 48% felt discouraged with the amount of effort needed to fix the problem.
- 40% felt confused by the information that they were getting.

Wow, nearly 60% were so convinced the company wouldn't be able to give them good service, that they just didn't bother to call ! It felt like it was going to need a "big effort to fix", that it was making them feel "impatient", and then probably "discouraged" and angry? I think this may be a case of "interaction friction" before the customer even gets on the phone, or the web.

All This Miracles And We Are Still Miserable?

Eric over at Demand Satisfaction posted this video that just shows, perhaps, how unacceptably jaded we have become about the miracles of technology.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tweet Tweet ! Your Company Has Flu...


I think I said this a good time ago now, but we are only barely using the Internet to track information that is socially useful. The BBC reports that Google is now helping map the spread of flu by tracking keyword searches.

Chis Barraclaugh, STL Partners at Telco2 last week had a great slide showing how all of Google's recent moves were investments in customer data.

Over at SAS Blog there was a nice back and forth on the strategic use of customer contact. It is so easy to forget that in large companies each section, dept, division wants to send messages, calls, letters to the end customer. These requests have be filtered, rated, and evaluated by the company itself.  Something in the back of my mind tells me that something this overall approach is ripe for some new thinking, like, here for instance. As if to reinforce this point, I saw the original SAS Blog entry because their SAS Magazine Editor is on Twitter, and she tweeted a link to the post.

Now what's with the pig? Well it goes to authenticity and two way value creation. I am a great believer that all customer interactions should be build to reduce the friction within the interaction, and should be seamlessly bound to the business process itself. We are on that journey here at VoiceSage.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Post Telco2


Telco2: Janus or Dear Jesus?

I think Mr. Enck called it well when he pointed out how impressive and pertinent Mr. Vogels presentation was. The clarity of strategic vision, the simplicity of focus, was awesome. What I found intriguing was that each iteration of the platform thinking defined a new element of the fly-wheel, a new virtuous reinforcement mechanism. They brought the merchants (merchant platform), so that "the catalogue" was the biggest on the web, your "go to" destination; they built traffic (Traffic Platform) through a kind of open linking strategy, opening out book references, and giving  incentives traffic of 4-7%revenue share. Most people would stop there, hey we have great customer traffic flow and the best stock available, cool. But no, they saw that they had to be the best price possible too, and this implied that they had to reduce the cost of infrastructure (answer: open out your Fulfillment platform so any merchant can send their product through the amazon warehousing network), and then the webstore platform, the enterprise service platform which is like a managed service for other web retailers (and a Labour platform, a Digital Media Platform, an Infrastructure Platform, and yes, a Telco Platform). As amazing as this journey, this evolution was, three things struck me with laser clarity:

- These guys have complete clarity on their strategic principles and will take big hits to protect them;

- They pay attention to "micro-incentives" and "micro-barriers" to desired behaviours;

- They innovate around things that remain important over the long run, not just "new things".

If I were in the Strategic section of a Telco, I'd be looking to workshop my Two Sided Telco play with these guys in the room. On a personal level I met some old friends, and I think met some new and interesting people that I hope to follow up with.

Hack The World: Health and Telecommunications

Again, the excellent RRW has a piece on how mobile communications is being used in Africa to encourage people to see the Doctor and speak about their health concerns relating to TB and Aids. "Please Call Me" text messages are issued from Doctors to the population to encourage them to engage early; "Text reminders" are used to remind people to take their medication or attend a clinic; the call backs are handled by a virtual call centre of "people like you" that will understand your condition, your life, your emotions; mobile blood testing units are brought to the people so that they don't have to suffer the stigma of having to stand in line. If Telecommunications companies are wondering how context, content, community and communications can be braided together in ways that actually improve the state of the world, well, this is one fine example.


Note To Self: Human Beings Are Not "Self Loading Cargo Units".

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