More projecting, less sharing

In 2008, the sociogeek study asked respondents whether they would post specific pictures on their profiles. The results – partly shown below – are far from surprising: the more compromising or private a picture is, the less likely it is to be shared. Despite many claims of the contrary, Sociogeek showed that social media users are deeply in control of their image. They do not show who they are, but what they want others to believe they are.

Nobody shares, everybody projects.

Results of the sociogeek.com study. The % show what proportion of users would feel comfortable sharing the corresponding image.

Now another factor will likely accentuate this projection phenomena: the fact that social media data is increasingly used to quantify and measure who we are. It is already happening in finance, where Facebook data is used to calculate whether a person is creditworthy:

Facebook data already inform lending decisions at Kreditech, a Hamburg-based start-up that makes small online loans in Germany, Poland and Spain. Applicants are asked to provide access for a limited time to their account on Facebook or another social network. Much is revealed by your friends, says Alexander Graubner-Müller, one of the firm’s founders. An applicant whose friends appear to have well-paid jobs and live in nice neighbourhoods is more likely to secure a loan. An applicant with a friend who has defaulted on a Kreditech loan is more likely to be rejected.

Link on economist.com

There is an interesting cat and mouse game looming on the horizon:

  • Social networks need users to be as truthful as possible, as they live off advertising. To target ads effectively, Facebook needs to know what people really like, who their friends really are. Social networks want us to share, not project, as the relevance of their ads depends on the quality of the information they have.
  • When Facebook data becomes a way to calculate credit ratings, users are pushed to manipulate their data, befriending people from rich neighbourhood,  liking luxury brands, anything they think will make their ratings go up. Users will be pushed to project an image, and not share the reality of their life.

Overall, we see two very contradictory forces emerging, one pushing for more transparency, the other for more opacity. What will happen once users start to “strategize” their facebook presence? How will data scientists separate a true like from one made with a specific goal in mind?

Here is the big question if you are Facebook: what do you gain from giving access to users’ data, and what do you lose? What if allowing the calculation of credit ratings was offsetting the possibility to target ads effectively?

That is a key question I would really carefully look at if I was Mark Zuckerberg, to make sure Facebook doesn’t end up being a network of shadows geared at getting Klout perks and other benefits.

Openness does not scale

When I founded Lift back in 2005, it was nothing more than an abstract idea, an event that *might* happen. There was no value in being associated with it, other than true passion to contribute to the original vision.

Because I had no event organization experience, I made the conference preparation process completely open. On the event’s blog I would ask questions like “how long should the breaks be” or “who would you like to invite to speak?”

It was co-creation, crowdsourcing, radical openness; call it what you like. It worked wonders, helped create a unique event while involving the nascent community, and giving its members a sense of ownership and identity. The best possible scenario.

Then the event got noticed, and things changed. Lift became something, it had an aura, people wanted to be associated with it. From a few suggestions a month, I started to receive 10-15 emails a day, people proposing to “build synergies”, speak at the event, telling me that the format should change to this or that.

That is when I learned openness and success are not compatible. Openness does not scale, no matter how hard you try.

From a strength, being exposed to external inputs became a weakness. Some synergies were taking focus away from the core goals. I was receiving as many speakers suggestions a week as I had speakers slots for a year. People I had to turn down felt rejected. Format suggestions were often contradictory, and going into a direction was making one person happy, two others unhappy.

This is a well known problem. Let’s look at the Pirate party: as Ben Mason writes in Guernica: “a couple of radical principles is fine for a fringe group”, less “once [you] start winning seats”.

Pirate policies cannot be imposed from above, they must be determined by consensus of members; so if the base has not come to an agreement on an issue, the leaders have no opinion. The party convention in December [2012] was supposed to solve this by setting policy, but it failed embarrassingly: since each of the two thousand members who came had equal right to speak, long lines formed behind the microphone and they got through only half of the weekend’s agenda. So to many questions the answer remained: “We have no policy on that.”

Link

What worked for a few hundred pirates doesn’t work when the party grows and starts to have success.

Same for Wikipedia: the organization that represents openness in everybody’s mind is now a mature project, and the movement towards more structure is very apparent. It started in 2005, when users were first forced to register. Restrictions and rules have grown ever since. So much that they have now started to impact the number of contributors, which went from 50’000 in 2006 to 35’000 today. From a recent report by A. Halfaker, R. Geiger, J. Morgan and J. Riedl:

[…] several changes the Wikipedia community made to manage quality and consistency in the face of a massive growth in participation have ironically crippled the very growth they were designed to manage. Specifically, the restrictiveness of the encyclopedia’s primary quality control mechanism and the algorithmic tools used to reject contributions are implicated as key causes of decreased newcomer retention.

Link

From my experience it seems all open organizations follow the same path:

  • At the beginning, a small, consistent and aligned community of people start a project in a fully transparent and open way
  • The project grows, others are joining. Participants’ objectives start to differ more, the alignment level goes down
  • Processes and hierarchies are put in place to formalize things that were previously happening informally
  • As problems continue to grow, openness is scaled back and more restrictions are put in place
  • Early adopters leave out of frustration, referring to the old days as much better
  • A certain level of maturity is reached, made of a mix of open and formal processes

Openness/crowdsourcing/co-creation has been praised as the solution to almost everything. It makes products better by involving final users into the design process. It makes launches less risky as problems have been anticipated. But it is a process that needs to be managed smartly. The key: balance between openness and control.


Ron Lambert, ‘Object for Perpetual Openness’ 2007

From my years of experience, here are a few advices:

  • Set the right expectations from the start. You know you will have to add restrictions down the road, so make it clear as early as possible. This way when new rules are installed, frustration will be less important. Don’t let contributors feel that their feedback results in actions from you 100% of the time, even if it can be true in the early days of a project.
  • Be transparent about the difficulties. Once in the post conference survey we asked “would you like shorter or longer breaks?”. The result: 50% shorter, 50% longer. Make the call, and explain why you could not use feedback in that particular case.
  • Learn to gracefully say no. Consensus is harder to find as a community grows, saying no is a normal and healthy thing. But find a way to not turn your fans against you in the process. This is a really hard thing, but people can understand that all their inputs can not be taken into account if you explain respectfully and carefully.
  • Openness only works with the right people, so think about the incentives you are using to grow your community. It is the same problem with Facebook pages: if you recruit new fans via give-aways, you will not have the same quality of people than if you had been patient, only popping up on the radar of those genuinely interested in what you do.
  • You do not have to choose between two extremes (open vs closed), but to position yourself on that axis in the best possible way, knowing than moving in one direction or the other is always possible. Balance is the key.

The future of retail banking

Here is a short deck of slides I made to describe a possible future for retail banking. Saying “future” is a bit of a stretch, as most of these services are available today. They just do not work together seamlessly, and are available in the US only.

The future of retail banking:

  • My bank statements will look like a twitter timeline, an interface that works both on mobiles and desktop computers.
  • I can add metadata to each transaction, upload pictures or files, the name of the other part of the transaction is clickable and I can see a history of my relationship with them.
  • I can share my accounts entirely or only selected transactions by circles, and decide what is available to whom.
  • I can connect a third party system to visualize my assets. I can filter and analyze my expenses for all my accounts in one place, including online assets like Facebook credits or miles.
  • I can see my cashflow updated in real time, taking into account recurring expenses or upcoming incomes like salaries.
  • Algorithms help me make decisions on assets allocation, and reach savings goals.
  • I can interact with my account manager or family members directly inside the application, exchanging messages and files securely.
  • My credit rating takes into account my online reputation (ebay seller ratings, peerindex ranking, etc) and I can get immediate quotes on services like insurance or credit.
  • I can connect to third party services to accept payments in local or foreign currencies.
  • I can follow what other people are trading, and let others manage my portfolio by copying their trades.
  • The data I generate is analyzed to create recommendations and insights. I get custom offers based on my past purchases directly in my ebanking.
  • I can interact with my bank using any medium I want.
  • I can use alternative and local currencies to transact on my accounts.

 

Disclaimer: some of these startups received investment from Anthemis, a company I work for as a venture partner.

How much more money could Google be making?

Via the excellent The Browser, an article from Economist.com wondering “how to quantify the gains that the internet has brought to consumers“. The article tries to measure the unmeasurable, putting a price on the leisure time spent on the internet, or on the savings consumers make by having access to immediate information.

One thing I found particularly interesting was a McKinsey study that “asked 3360 consumers in six countries what they would pay for 16 internet services that are now largely financed by ads.”

And the answer is? “On average, households would pay $50 a month each for services they now get free.” If this is true, we are talking a LOT of money left on the table by Google, Facebook, etc.

These companies are not stupid. They have good reasons not to charge users:

  • Ads can only be displayed to users not paying for the service
  • Profiling of users through data mining is worth a lot of money (if you need proof of this, click here to read how Facebook likes reveal your gender, race, sexual orientation, etc). Data can be sold, ads efficiency can be improved.
  • Free services don’t require bulletproof user support, and therefore cost less money to maintain.
  • Most services are available free from multiple companies, if one starts to charge users will flee to the others
  • By charging users, you turn off a lot of people and reach is vastly diminished

But the landscape is changing. Let’s revisit the above in 2013:

  • Several services now have a premium offering, where you pay not to see ads. These coexist well with free offerings.
  • Data mining can be made on both free and paying users. Google has a critical mass of users, so even with a decrease in quantity, their mining will still be relevant.
  • Services like Google search or Gmail are technologically mature enough that they would require little to no user support.
  • With users building a long history with web services (I have ten years worth of archive in my Gmail), and Google search still way ahead of its competitors in terms of relevance, switching is not really an option.
  • Users are slowly but surely getting used to pay, for media (NYT, FT), small services (Harvest, Evernote), apps, music.

Considering the above, I wouldn’t be surprised if in the mid term some free web services start to charge their users. And I don’t expect users to necessarily be outraged about that. Seriously, I would find it normal to pay for Google. I’m ready for it. I just would like to know a bit ahead of time if they have such a plan, to buy a few stocks 😉

How R&D can become a profit center

News today is that Ikea “has teamed up with Marriott International to develop a chain of hotels in the same affordable, compact, and stylish vein as the furniture store”. Also happening in Europe, Ford is announcing a car sharing service in Germany.

Increasingly, interactions between brands and clients are not limited to the controlled atmosphere of stores. They happen in many other places, via friends, at work, through countless channels. It becomes strategic for companies to get involved in this “outside world”, and influence those experience clients and prospects will get with the products.

There is also a lot of value in seeing products in situation, gathering feedback on current and future usages in the process. Just like some CEOs like to take customer service calls every once in a while, the hotels will make the boundaries that separate product makers and product users disappear.


Fans have already explored a new business for IKEA: clothing!

What we have here is a mix of lab (co-creation, feedback on products), showcase, and service. It is like R&D mixed with marketing mixed with a business that generates money.

And this is where it becomes interesting. Are we witnessing the birth of R&D 2.0, which instead of being a cost center generates money? Are services the missing piece, the one that makes co-creation profitable? It looks like it, and this is a very key development, one that could completely change the way research and development is approached by companies around the world.

This is a forward thinking move by Ikea and Ford, one that will surely be replicated in the near future. Now the challenge is to make sure clients don’t notice the fact that the average IKEA’s bed planned obsolescence is kicking in after only a few years…

Teaching social media to 85 years old in September 2013

For a long time I have been trying to bridge the gap between my generation and seniors. I organized grandma dinners (the idea was replicated in Canada thanks to CBC coverage), interviewed retirees on their usage of new technologies (part 1, part 2), and now the next step will be a training on computers and social media I will host this September with the help of the Hospice Général, a Geneva based social institution.

The sessions will happen on Sept 19-20 and Sept 26-27 at La nouvelle Roseraie, a vacation house where the average age is 85 years old.

I look forward to see how the older citizens react to new technologies, the outlook they will have on things I take for granted like iPads, google, or wikipedia. I expect a lot of learning for both sides, a fulfilling and humbling experience. I would like to incorporate  external speakers into the program, so if you would be interested in sharing your experience with seniors don’t hesitate to contact me!

Lift13 recap video

The Lift team has produced a short video summarizing Lift13. Check it out if you want to feel the vibe of the latest edition of Switzerland’s best innovation conference.

This post is also an excuse to test the newest release of SublimeVideo [disclaimer: I am an advisor to Jilion, Sublime’s parent company], the web’s best HTML5 video player now allowing for pixel perfect customized players across platforms, from IE6 to Android phones.