Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

Original is best

Watched the 2005 big budget remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 classic Assault On Precinct 13. As remakes go, it’s pretty good, a new take on the plot with more back story. However I can’t help but the prefer the low budget original: taut, brutal, with tension that never lets up.


SXSW 2008 Round-Up

I was blown away by SXSW 2008, the conference was incredibly useful, I met some great people and I loved Austin. I’ve written up extensive notes on all the sessions I went to. At the moment my rather basic WordPress template makes navigating it quite difficult, so here’s an index page. I’ve ordered myself WordPress for Dummies, so will be upgrading my blog when I have moment.

Respect! – How to work with clients, editorial teams and users to get the best work produced?

Design is in the details – some basic principles for interaction design

Opening Remarks from Henry Jenkins and Steven Johnson– a discussion around the nature of knowlege and learning through social networking

Over 50 and not dead yet – how best to reach older audiences.

Mark Zuckerberg Train-Wreck – Sarah Lacey’s controversial interview

Analytics kills design? –  a debate on the question of whether analytics kills or cultivates great design

Social Design Strategies – Creating experiences that encourage social behavior and public expression in social networking sites.

Jared Spool – Magic and Mental Models – The importance of illusion in user experience design

Kathy Sierra – 20 ways to woo web users.

The Importance of Branding – How brand values are vital to your website.

Master of 500 Sites – Doug McClure’s 5-step model to make better decisions for your start-up in product and marketing.

Community & Loyalty: Gamers to Flamers – Fostering community in social networking sites

True Stories from Social Media Sites – Stories from SlideShare, Style Diary, The Budget Fashionista, Pistachio, Boxes and Arrows, OpMom & Electric Pulp

Casual MMOs – Why massively multiplayer online gaming

Portable Social Networks – How social networking sites can inter-operate

Corporate Blogging – Dell, LinkedIn and My PR Pro discuss the benefits and pitfulls of corporate Blogging

Jane McGonagal – on alternate Reality Gaming


Austin – Chicago – Heathrow. Watched No Country for Old Men – brilliant acting/direction, great for the most part however the last 20 minutes just peter out. It ends feeling grim and unsatisfying. Tried to sleep but couldn’t, closed by eyes and listened to engine noise. Touched down 6:30am, at my desk by 9. Very jetlagged, staggered along until lunch. Made first attempt to leave office thereafter, discovering at the Tube station I’d left my phone. Stumbled back to office for phone and back to Tube. Two stops on down the Tube, realised I’ve forgotten my bag. Back to office again, collect bag and back on Tube again. Try to stay awake until my stop. Paddington. Flowers for Jane. Train to Oxford. Blogging en route. Typing badly, every other key is Backspace. Hope I’m still awake by Oxford. Drifting in an out of consciousness. Just past Didcot, thought we’d only just left! Taxi. No flowers are not legal tender, need to pay with cash. Home. Wonderful to see Jane & Katy, missed them terribly. Katy’s started walking whilst I’ve been away. Dinner. Bath Katy. Sleep. Ahhhhhh.

Texas Chow Down

You can’t go to Texas with trying a Texas Barbeque. In central Austin there’s the Iron Works BBQ, which apart from a framed letter from George W. Bush on the wall, is outstanding. The brisket is out of this world. It melts in your mouth. I couldn’t help myself to two eating platefuls.


If you fancy the real deal in authentic surroundings, then head 25 miles down the road to Driftwood to The Salt Lick. They have a branch in Austin but Driftwood is the place to go. It’s an old ranch, the local Police act as parking attendents (great use of tax dollars). As for the food: all you can eat Beef Brisket, Pork Ribs, Sausage, Chicken, Served with Salt Lick’s Secret Recipe BBQ Sauce, Beans, Potato Salad and Cole Slaw. Deeeeeelicious!


Soulja Jane

Jane McGonogal gave a memorable keynote but more positive reasons than the Zuckerberg/Lacey debacle. She is an alternate reality games (ARG) designer, professor at the Institute of the Future in Palo Alto; an űber-geek with infectious sense of fun and an engaging speaker. She produced A World without Oil, which won this year’s SXSW award for Activism. Her latest creation is The Lost Ring, an ARG for the Beijing Olympics. In sixty minutes she offered a game designers perspective on the future of happiness.


She has a positive view on gaming, quoting GS Elrick (1978), asserting that: “an alternate reality is another way of experiencing existence” not an alternative to life.

Positive Psychology is now big business (link to There’s numerous books on the subject:

Out of it psychologists have created ways of measuring happiness, such as:

  • The quality of life index
  • The happy planet index

A future forecast for 2013:

  • Quality of life becomes the primary metric for measuring success.
  • Communities form different visions of life worth living.
  • Value will be defined as a measurable increase, in real happiness.
  • Happiness is the new capital.

What do we mean by happiness?

  • Having satisfying work to do
  • The experience of being good at something
  • Time spent doing something you like
  • Being part of something bigger

Jane proffers that massively multiplayer online games are part of the happiness engine as they have:

  • Better instructions
  • Better feedback
  • Better community

We are witnessing a global mass exodus towards virtual worlds and game worlds. For many gamers it boils down to quality of life: virtuality is beating reality.

MMOs circa 2008 are like we’ve invented the written world but decided to produce only books. Her vision is to make the natural world more like the virtual world. Some MMOs already do offer that:

  • ChoreWars – parents motivate the children to accomplish real-world tasks which give them points in the virtual world.
  • Zyked – has a similar idea around motivating its users to exercise.
  • Seriosity – Has virtual currency to increase productivity in the office.
  • Citizen Logistics – People can see where you are, treating everyday reality like a game.
  • Trackstick – a personal GPS stick which records where you are in the world
  • SNIF – social network for dogs. Dogs are fitted with a GPS collar which records their location.

Games kill boredom, alienation, anxiety, depression.

Important factors in ARG/MMO game design are:

  1. Mobbability – the ability to collaborate at really large scales.
  2. Ping Quotient – the level of engagement
  3. Influency – the ability to adapt to different individuals
  4. Multi-capitalism – everyone wants a different return. Some want money, other want social capital.
  5. Cooperation Radar – the ability to sense almost intitively would make the best collobarators on a particular task. 
  6. Protovation – rabid motivation. Fail quickly and fail often to learn.
  7. Open authorship – comfort with giving content away.
  8. Signal-noise management – gamers handle so much noise deciding which out of the many available data-points they decide to act on.
  9. Long broading – think big picture
  10. Emergensight – ability to prepare for and handle suprising results and complexity


Important stuff

  1. Soon enough most of us will be in the happiness business.
  2. Games designers have a good head start
  3. Alternate realities signal the desire need & opportunity for us all to redesign reality for real quality of life.

A earlier version of the presentation is available on SlideShare.

Jane Dancing

During her presentation she mentioned she’d learnt the Soulja Boy dance, the audience shouted “Do it! Do it!”. “Ok” she said, “If you wait until the end, I will.”. She didn’t let us down. She popped and jived in time to Souja Boy to rapturous applause. If you want to learn the Soulja Boy dance yourself, check the instructional video below:


Corporate Blogging

At LOVEFiLM we’re planning to launch a corporate blog soon so I found The Future of Corporate Blogs invaluable. The panel consisted of:

How to monitor the blogosphere?
Look in Technorati or Google Blog Search.

How do you measure success?

  • Tonality of feedback – positive of negative?
  • Engagement
  • Analytics
  • Subscriptions to blog
  • Ratio of negative comments to total
  • Sales
  • Conversation
  • Audience surveys
  • Online focus groups

The panel believe logs are now a corporate necessity.

18 months ago 48% of the comments about Dell in the Blogosphere were negative. This led to a broader social media plan. They wanted identify the key issues, have a two way dialogue, with open conversations. The core strategy was simple:

  1. Listening
  2. Analysing
  3. Taking Action

With the full support of Michael Dell they launched the blog Direct2Dell. They use Idea Storm, a combination of a message board and, where the community votes issues up and down; so far they’ve had 600,000 comments. There’s real power in it, a single individual can influence a multi-billion dollar corporation. It’s now been running 18 months and negative comments have gone down to 20%.

LinkedIn decided to start a blog with the aim of maximising use of the service. Up until then they’d been using LinkedIn Answers and Yahoo Groups. Their goals for the blog were:

  1. Educating users – they created product demos and linked to them from blog posts.
  2. Improving customer support – their customer service team had risen from 50
  3. Leading a conversation rather than let community gossip drive it.

It’s now been running for almost a year and working well.

My PR Pro
Their goals were:

  1. Decelerating the time between problem and solution
  2. Engaging with their community

They were working with a well known Marine Park. The park decided to ban juice cartons with straws as they were worried about the straws hurting dolphins. Diabetes sufferers complained as they needed to have a quick sugar rush juice was best. A dialogue was facilitated through a blog, flip-top juice cartons were offered at the entrance to the park the next day.

Using blogs for SEO
If you only use blogs for self serving purposes you will fail. Focus on customers. SEO is good by-product but the wrong reason for starting a blog.

Social media accelerates the time it takes to respond to customer issues. There’s no buffer between you and the customer. When relationships are established, it really improves customer retention. By comparison phone and email are more expensive and less effective for communicating to large customer groups with the same issues. Make sure you plan your corporate blog or it will be a disaster. The message is clear “Get off email now!”

For further information see and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Blogs in Kami Huyse’s blog and her own account of the session.

Portable Social Networks

Every time a new social network comes along if you want to join, should you have to enter all your information yet again? The session Building Portal Social Networks sought to answer this. The panelists were:

Sites such as Facebook, Dopplr and Plaxo are able to extract contacts from your email provider; this is done using specific APIs. Google provide the Contacts Data API for Gmail, Microsoft the Windows Live Contacts API for Hotmail; and Yahoo the Mail Web Service APIs for Yahoo.

For retreiving contacts and other information from other social networking sites use the Google OpenSocial API. Websites implementing OpenSocial, include, Friendster, hi5, Hyves, imeem, LinkedIn, MySpace, Ning, Oracle, orkut, Plaxo,, Six Apart, Tianji, Viadeo, and XING.

There are some other options open to you but to my ignorant eyes these look more hassle than the options above:

Most social network sites follow a standard architecture which has a profile page for each user, often with an easy to remember URL. The information about a user on this page should be marked-up with hCard. Where you have additional pages containing other user information such as friends list you should link to them using the XHTML Friends Network (XFN) rel=”me” attribute in the address tag; this will tell any parser that the linked page is also about this user. Alternatively you can use Friend of a Friend (FOAF). Google indexes the public web for XFN or FOAF markup. Using Google Social Data API you can extract the relationships for a give page.

Oauth provides a standard way of accessing third party authorisation systems (e.g. Gmail) while protecting their account credentials.

Casual MMOs

What the hell is a Casual MMO? A zero barrier to entry massively multiplayer online game; examples are sites such as Puzzle Pirates, Webkinz, Gaia, NeoPets, Club Penguin, Kart Rider, Barbie Girls, PMOG and Facebook applications like Food Fight, Zombies, Vampires and Pirates. Jeremy Liew from Lightspeed Venture Partners hosted a session entitled Casual MMOs: Serious Revenues with the following panelists:

For casual MMOs graphics don’t matter, you don’t need complex 3D worlds, virtual worlds are possible in HTML. To date MMO’s have targeted kids, teens and young adults 7 to 24. The big growth area is 25+. They can be big business: NeoPets has 250M users, Kart Rider has 100M, in contrast with PC application MMOs like World of Warcraft which has 10M.


So how how do you make money? The top 10 revenue models are:

  1. Virtual items sales – Gaia make $1M a month with this.
  2. Merchandise – Webkinz made $20M in physical goods sales.
  3. Information Sale – Food Fight Food Fight offers surveys for Vcash. Potential: 36K users daily, Avg 2 surveys/user, 25c per survey, $18K/day. Annual: $6.6M
  4. Advertising – anners, PPC, Video, Sponsored Items
  5. Auctions/Player Trades – Live Gamer, Entropia, Station Exchange
  6. Subscription Tiers – RuneScape, Club Penguin (700K subscribers), DR
  7. Event/Tournament Fees – Shot Online (Golf), Ultimate Baseball
  8. Real Estate/Land Use Fees – SL, Entropia
  9. Affiliate – TrialPay, $uperRewards
  10. Donations – Kingdom of Loathing

Adrian Crook has produced a good Powerpoint on the subject which is posted on his blog.

Social Media Stories

Guy Kawasaki chaired a panel entitled True Stories from Social Media Sites with:

Rashmi Sinha told a story about a furious Australian Professor who rang her at home at 3am to say that someone was impersonating him on SlideShare by posting a photograph of him. He emailed every email address she has ever had and somehow found her home phone number. It turned out this was by two former students of his living in Mexico. When found they were banned.

Kathryn Finney told a story about Oprah, Sarah Jessica Parker and a dress. Steve & Barry’s sent photographs of SJP’s new Steve & Barry’s clothing line to The Budget Fashionista. This was reviewed an the photographs were published on the site. Steve & Barry’s demanded that the photographs were taken down, threatening legal action, as they were for information only and Oprah had an exclusive. Rather than taking them down they asked the community whether they should. Eventually they caved into pressure on an injunction. SJP even blogged against them. However when SJP went on Oprah, with minor media coverage around it their site traffic increased five-fold. You can read the whole story here.

Laura Fitton, Twitter poster-child, espoused it’s benefits. She used it to find tech support for her Blackberry and came across someone who claimed to be the executive producer of Curb Your Enthusiasm. She thought, “Yeah, Right”. He fixed her Blackberry problem and turned out to be the executive producer of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Erica O’Grady bowed to pressure to launch OpMom early. She got an angry call from the VCs in bed the next day to say the site was down. The lead developer had just got married and was not answering the phone. The MD eventually had to drive around to his out and drag him from the bridal bed to get the site back up – the MD has never been forgiven. The moral of the story is don’t be pressured to launch early. It’s better to launch a site late that work than to launch early and have problems. Initially they were getting 10 signups a day but later became Yahoo site of the day and went up to 5 sign-ups a minute.

Tips for making your social network a success:

Christina Wodtke – “As long as you take care of your community they take care of you.”

Patricia Handschiegel – “When building a social community you need to think about who my audience is and how do you want them to engage.”

Kathryn Finney – “Don’t focus on yourself, focus on the community. Focus on making peoples lives better.”

Laura Fitton – “Be useful”.

Erica O’Grady – “Don’t focus on being cool. Concentrate on the target market.”

Aaron Mentele – “Plan less. Plan for iteration. Don’t over think.” and “Look at other examples [of social networking sites] but make sure it fits your community.”

Rashmi Sinha – “Take a vacation before launch! Have a private beta. Allow private sharing before launch.”

Kathryn Finney – “Move offline.” She’s authored a book of the sire: How to Be a Budget Fashionista

Laura Fitton – Get “Face to Face” power like Seesmic.

Christina Wodtke – “Stay two steps away from volunteer burnout. Watch out for new talent.”

Erica O’Grady – “There will be Flame Wars. Create a platform. Find out what they love.” and “Get named by top bloggers. Get people talking about you.”

Gamers & Flamers

When running an online community, you must consider the different personality types that inhabit it. Rebecca Newton from Mind Candy and Jennifer Puckett from Walt Disney Internet Group ran a panel entitled Community & Loyalty: Gamers to Flamers, Lurkers to Workers covering exactly that. Personality types to consider are:

  • Snob
  • Veteran
  • Noob / Newbie
  • Competator
  • Flamer / Griever – the intial instinct is to get rid of them. However try giving them their own space, where they can do what they like with their own rules. They’re not going to go away but if you give them somewhere to go, they’ll have fun and it will not disturb the rest.
  • Lurker – Don’t seem to be active. Participate without words. For every one active user, they’ll be twelve lurkers.
  • Worker
  • Hall Monitor
  • Expert
  • Shy but loyal
  • Evangelist
  • Self Promoter
  • Trolls / Disrupters – show everything down
  • Spammers
  • Problem children

Communities are self organising. Don’t try to disturb them unless you have to.

After people have signed up, how do you turn them into active participants and make them spread the word? Give them exclusive access to features and new features, getting them to submit feedback. Encourage them to participate as much as possible.

Not everyone wants to participate in a community. Give them baby steps: checkboxes / radio buttons, to allow them to participate.

Rebecca & Jennifer produced some brief notes on the session which you can download here. They recommend two listserves on community issues:

There is a third listserv for community managers, available from however they don’t recommend it due to high volume of “me too” and inside jokey chat.