Category Archives: Mobile Marketing

New Wikipedia crawler provides powerful semantic search

As recently as May, the online press was calling the technology behind Powerset a possible “Google-killer,” as well as an acquisition shoo-in. In June Microsoft proved the second prediction when they bought Powerset for roughly $100 million.

Microsoft acquired, at the very least, a fascinating toy. Here’s a video showing the power of this company’s semantic search tool:


Powerset Demo Video from officialpowerset on Vimeo.

The next time you need something out of Wikipedia, see if you can find it more quickly using this impressive application.

“Hearing” and Understanding

When I call the technology a toy I’m joking, of course. Accounts are that Microsoft is incorporating Powerset’s app gradually into Live Search. There is another use that’s hinted at in the way semantic search renders answers. It’s a far more exciting prospect than another web-based search engine.

Consider the implications of this technology once voice recognition via cell phones improves.

As I’ve speculated before, we’ll witness the true power of mobile computing when the voice barrier is broken. This voice barrier is a two-fold problem. As with human cognition, there is the problem of accurately hearing, and even more difficult, the problem of understanding.

Powerset’s semantic search shows progress in tackling that second half of the equation.

Magazines learn Web 2.0 tricks

Five months after the American Society of Magazine Editors presented a National Magazine Award for general excellence to National Geographic and The New Yorker, it is what these publications are doing off the printed page that impresses me.

Three Ways Print Magazines Are Making Daring Online Plays

While retaining impressively high editorial standards, The New Yorker has found ways to leverage this content in ways that should attract a different breed of reader — or at least a newer generation.

The image below is a screen capture of a featured political cartoonist at work, creating a caricature for a story. Included on the same page are links to feeds for editorial content unique to the medium — podcasts and blogs.

(The magazine also publishs all print content online. I love how I can pass along by email a copy of an article I’ve read in the print edition of The New Yorker. Example: The South Korean film The Host (original title: Gwoemul) was one of my favorite films of last year, but few in my circle of friends and acquaintances knew about it. Anthony Lane, the bright and Wodehousean film reviewer for the magazine, described this film wonderfully in this New Yorker review. I’ve probably emailed that review to a dozen people, mostly because I find The Host brilliant, but also because Anthony Lane is such a persuasive salesman for the film.)

Another 2008 editorial award-winner, National Geographic, presents its stunning photography in a format that invites sharing. In fact, I had originally seen these photos (sampled below) in the print edition. Fellow blogger Lembit Kivisik had reminded me of them in a post on his Twitter feed. He commented to me that “I think about subscribing to the mag after visiting their site. Maybe I finally will now.”

And that’s the point, I think. Many of these magazines are flashing a little ankle, as it were, on the calculation that people will want an analog version of what they see digitally. (And who can argue that — unlike the online versions — the lush photographs and maps in National Geographic’s print edition are something to prize … to linger over and visit revisit often?)

Jozsef Szentpeteri's cool photos of colorful, bee-eating birds

And then there are the magazines using podcasts in a big way. My latest print Economist is a weekly treat (it’s sad, I know), but time being scarce, I appreciate their new service, Talking Issues. It allows print subscribers to download the latest issues as dozens of well-categorized and labeled podcasts. You get every word of their print edition. Now I get to “read” The Economist the way I would a spoken word book during my long commute into work.

Download the entire magazine in spoken word. Approximately 150 Mb per issue!

Do you have favorite examples of magazines making new media plays for our time and subscription dollars?

99% of Amherst College’s first-year students pass on a land line

Recently Peter Schilling, Amherst College’s director of IT, posted interesting findings about his students technology preferences. Amherst is hardly a typical U.S. institution of higher learning. Located in western Massachusetts, Amherst is regarded one of the nation’s very best liberal arts colleges. However, Schilling’s findings do show the direction in which our college students are using technology and consuming media.

Some of the points Schilling made have to do with how quicky technology is being adopted, and how quickly old technology is being sloughed off. For instance, the number of first-year applicants applying online has jumped from 33% to 89% in just five years.

On the other hand, of the entire enrolled class of 2012, only five of the 438 first-years students (1.1%) registered a telephone land line. The portability of cell phones has clearly won hearts and minds. Similarly, notebook computers abound. Only 14 students of the class (4.3%) registered a desktop computer for use on the school network.

Here are other findings from the 30-point list that Schilling posted (these are direct quotes. I know point #5 is vague):

  1. Students in the class of 2012 who registered computers, IPhones, game consoles, etc. on the campus network by the end of the day on August 24th, the day they moved into their dorm rooms: 370 students registered 443 devices.
  2. The number of individual film titles in the College’s digital video streaming collection: 1,260.
  3. The number of times these films were watched last year: 20,662.
  4. Number that brought iPhones/iTouches: 93.
  5. Likelihood that a student with an iPhone/iTouch is in the class of 2012: approximately 1 in 2.

Try this LinkedIn trick to reduce your stack of colleague business cards

Last night was two firsts for me. I attended a Chicago Cubs baseball game from a rooftop venue across from the stadium. (The Cubs faced my city’s Milwaukee Brewers). The second precedent: Using LinkedIn to reduce or eliminate the need to retain business cards.

I was able to accomplish both because the rooftop socializing event, and a pre-game presentation, were jointly organized by the Milwaukee and Chicago Business Marketing Associations.

Mingling in the posh, luxury box-like meeting room, I had plenty of time to mingle and press the flesh between innings.

By their own estimates, LinkedIn is signing new professionals to its social network at a rate of one every second of every day. In just four years, the site has become de rigueur for executives looking to build their network of contacts. Which is, well, everyone.

It’s an impressive network. Below is a recent summary of who can be found on the site:

A rundown of who is on LinkedIn
A rundown of who is on LinkedIn

The meteoric growth of LinkedIn’s member base means that compared to two years ago, I now rarely search for someone within the site and not find them. And every time I do find someone and add them as a business associate, my own network grows.

Last night I decided to put this ubiquity to the test. For those I spoke to whom I truly saw a value in keeping in touch with (and they with me), I did something different. Instead of simply exchanging business cards, I used my smartphone to go into LinkedIn, search for them, and invite them to add me as a contact.

Now I have something even better than a business card. I have a database entry of these contacts that changes as they move through the ranks of their company, or a future employer. And they have an opportunity to contact me with a favor or other request for assistance — which is, of course, the lifeblood of good business networking.

Looking back at these two firsts from last night, I can tell you I will definitely use the LinkedIn technique again, where appropriate. As for rooftop voyeurism, I must say it was better networking than “spectating.” This shot of my view (unaided by the dozens of big screen televisions throughout the facility) was taken by my smartphone.

The baseball is over there somewhere!
The baseball is over there somewhere!

P.S. Too bad about the Brewers. Better luck tonight in Game #2 of there three-game Chicago line-up.

ChaCha on! Use free cell phone texts to settle bets and get smarter

Yesterday, comments in a post about changing book readership levels proved that my assumptions are not a given. They may even be wrong. Unlike me, some think that rising book sales levels is proof that readership is actually growing.

I’m of the opinion that gross book sales are an unreliable measure.

For instance, the only two publishing break-out stories of the past decade are the successes of Scholastic Publishing, which has the Harry Potter series, and Wiley Publishing, which has the For Dummies series. I’m over-simplifying, but one could say that unless you’re a child, or a “dummy,” your consumption of books isn’t growing year-to-date.

Or is it?

A few minutes ago, after reading a comment in my post by Matt Davis, I decided to reach out to an “impartial” third party. Here is the comment that spurred me on:

Your link claims an increase in book sales versus the previous year. Couple this with the “1 in 4 Americans Read No Books” stat, and my conclusion is that passionate readers are numerous. It’s the passive or non-interested reader that is fading away. Am I wrong?

I don’t know, Matt. Not anymore!

So I used a service on my cell phone that I’ve been meaning to try for some time. Think of it as a library Ready Reference service, but via text messaging. And, at least for now, it’s free. (Standard texting costs in your cell phone plan apply, of course!)

I’m speaking of ChaCha. Reading reports about it intrigued me. I love the idea of settling bets quickly and (hopefully) conclusively. And hey, I can certainly stand to get smarter on stuff.

So I just texted this to the ChaCha short code (242242):

Are more people reading books today versus in the past, or less?

Four minutes later, this is what was texted back to me:

Before the internet and TV and other electronics, people read more books. But now the number have went down a lot [sic]. ChaCha! http://search.chacha.com/u/j02abxvf

On the surface this answer looks good (poor grammar notwithstanding). But if you click on the source link, you have to ask yourself about the quality of the information this answer was based on.

My take-away: Who knows who is right? But for a fun way to settle a question, I like this quick and free service. It might even help with Trivial Pursuit.

ChaCha on!

Nick Hornby on why no one is flocking to buy ebooks

A few weeks ago I faced the daunting task of buying a friend a book for his birthday. The challenge: By his own confession, this friend is not a book fan. Most years he’s one of the third of American adults who never picks up a book. But this year he wanted to start reading again.

So imagine how thrilled I was when in a flash of inspiration I realized I could convert my friend — a 36-year-old mechanic — into a rabid reader. I could hook him on one author’s books as surely as I could if he were an eighth grader and had never picked up Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The book I was thinking of was High Fidelity by Nick Horny. Although it’s not my favorite of this author’s (that’s reserved for How To Be Good), it is perfect for any man who has ever loved and lost and realized he’s done it in a most boneheaded fashion. And who is willing to laugh about it. Hard and often.

Hornby wins readers over by being brutally honest and extremely bright. Maybe it’s just me, but he strikes me as someone I could picture having a pint with down at the pub. (Yes, he’s British, but the film based on High Fidelity shifted in setting from a London record store to one set in Chicago, and stars John Cusack and a then-unknown Jack Black — it travels across the pond surprisingly well).

I reveal all his because Nick Hornby has a blog, and in it he recently listed all the reasons why book publishers should neither look at e-books as a threat or a salvation. In his view, the latests ebook reading devices, Amazon’s Kindle and the iRex Illiad, are non-starters. Here’s a demo video of the latter product:

Here is an excerpt of Hornby’s explanation of why ebooks won’t fly off their virtual shelves any time soon:

  1. Book readers like books, whereas music fans never had much affection for CDs. Vinyl yes, CDs no … For readers, a wall lined with books is as attractive as any art we could afford to put up there.
  2. E-book readers have a couple of disadvantages, when compared to mp3 players: When we bought our iPods, we already owned the music to put on it; none of us own e-books … [And] so far, Apple is uninterested in designing an e-book reader, which means that they don’t look very cool.
  3. We don’t buy many books – seven per person per year, a couple of which, we must assume, are presents for other people … The advantages of the Iliad and the Kindle –- that you can take vast numbers of books away with you – are of no interest to the average book-buyer.
  4. Book-lovers are always late adaptors [sic], and generally suspicious of new technology.
  5. The new capabilities of the iPod will make it harder to sell books anyway. How much reading has been done historically, simply because there is no television available on a bus or a train or a sun-lounger? But that’s no longer true.

Sadly, I think Hornby is again spot-on. Except for one category, I don’t see ebooks immediately selling in any sort of numbers. That exception is business books, which can be far more useful as searchable reference sources than as comforting fireside yarns — or in Hornby’s case, exhilaratingly and often hilarious ones.

Podcasts and the public radio revenue model

On Monday Ira Glass posted the message below on the web home of his outstanding This American Life radio program. He faces a common multi-channel marketing challenge. In his case, it’s this: How do you keep a version of your radio show available on the web for free, but also not tick off the public radio affiliates who pay a lot of money to run the programming over their airwaves (and consequently receive more donations from listeners come pledge time).

I’ve listened to the podcasts since they’ve been made available in MP3 format, and it’s been fascinating to track the various “we need your financial support” pitches proceeding and concluding the podcast episodes. He was initially asking for support of the originating radio station. Now, as the following makes clear, it’s time to subsidize this channel of distribution as well.

Help Keep Our Podcast and Streaming Free
Hello, listeners.

It’s been a year-and-a-half since we decided to offer our show as a free, weekly podcast, and that’s been a crazy, whopping success. But because so many people—sometimes more than half a million—are downloading and streaming our show each week, the Internet bandwidth to distribute the program this way costs $152,000 per year. We want to keep offering This American Life for free. You want us to keep offering the show for free. Our home station, Chicago Public Radio, doesn’t need to make money on our podcast, but they can’t lose $152,000 a year on it, either.

We think we can cover the whole cost by coming to you, hopefully just twice a year, virtual hat in hand. If you listen regularly over the Internet, please pitch in a little cash. To all the people who gave six months ago, a sincere thank you, and please consider giving a small amount again. A dollar from every Internet listener would more than pay for everything, but of course not everyone’s going to give, so consider a $5 donation. It’ll cover you and a few other people for a year of listening. If you donate more than a few bucks, you can choose thank-you gifts—including some stuff you can’t get anywhere else. One of the items is a CD of “The Giant Pool of Money,” our incredibly popular, recent episode about the mortgage crisis, which many listeners wanted to purchase as a gift.

Our dream is that we’ll get you and most of our Internet listeners to chip in at the $1 or $5 level, and that’ll cover everything. We’d love to take care of this expense with a flood of little donations from the people who actually listen to our show this way. And of course, if you feel that getting an hour of our show every week is worth more to you than a dollar a year, we’d be grateful for anything else you’d care to contribute. We really want to keep the podcast free.

How long will it be before we have a micro-payment account (aside from PayPal) that we can set up to allow for quick and spontaneous donations of funds, to support all of the “free” content that is enriching our lives?

Using GPS data to predict where your customers are clustering

Nearly two years ago I wrote a long missive about how the mobile marketing of tomorrow is beyond anything that you can imagine. It predicted a time when retailers such as Starbuck’s could have vending trucks in larger cities, which they could deploy instead of leasing expensive every-other-corner real estate.

Vending locations wouldn’t be fixed. Instead, I suggested that the following could happen:

  • The retailer (say, Starbuck’s) could aggregate cell phone data about your movements, as well as everyone else’s who want the same services as you, and …
  • Anticipate through statistical means where to locate itself to fulfill those needs, and …
  • Alert you via your cell phone where they are in real time (e.g., “We’re two blocks away — care for your favorite beverage?”)

I didn’t expect this to happen overnight. In fact, two years was a pretty aggressive time line in my estimation.

Therefore, I’m a little giddy to see the first part of the process being mapped out and monetized. Check out the new Sense Networks product offering, for a peek into the future of retailing that factors in predictive modeling of where customers will be next.

Harvesting the low-hanging fruit, Sense Networks is focusing on helping find city nightlife hot-spots. Its site explains how this product, Citysense, works:

Citysense is an innovative mobile application for local nightlife discovery and social navigation, answering the question, “Where is everybody?”

Citysense shows the overall activity level of the city, top activity hotspots, and places with unexpectedly high activity, all in real-time. Then it links to Yelp and Google to show what venues are operating at those locations. Citysense is a free demonstration of the Macrosense platform that everyone can enjoy.

I see this as the beginning of a location-free bank branch or coffee shop. Exciting stuff!

Why don’t newspapers tout their power to sell across channels?

One thing that separates humans from other creatures is our ability to use the same tool in different ways. The ultimate example is the computer, which has hundreds of uses. But even a doorstop can make a pretty impressive paperweight when push comes to shove. So why is it so tough to sell a print ad to serve a new strategy? I’m thinking of its use as a cross-channel tactic.

Is it that the typical ad rep isn’t attuned to this medium’s use? Or is it that the typical ad buyer wouldn’t warm to the new tactic even if it could help turn a mediocre print campaign into something extraordinary? As usual, it appears the marketers on both sides of the desk are clueless, and the consumers are the only ones arriving at the party on time.

Research done using Google Print Ads activity, and conducted by Clark, Martire & Bartolomeo, found that consumers definitely do not look at newspaper ads in a vacuum. They often use the web to evaluate and purchase. This research focused on a segment of consumer who tends to research products and services seen in newspapers. My guess is this could be a consumer looking for any considered purchase, where the resources risked by a bad decision are significant.

Not surprisingly, two-thirds use the web in their research. What was noteworthy was that of this group, 70 percent say they went on to make a purchase following the research. Although this is self-reported, it shows the pathway that many multi-channel purchasers take. (Which explains why Kevin Hillstrom is smiling broadly in the picture on his blog!)

I see three take-aways:

  • Any newspaper advertiser that doesn’t have a strong web presence is wasting money
  • Any web site that isn’t fully optimized for organic search should be considered a defective site, since researchers may not use a URL printed in an ad to do the research
  • Ad reps should be pushing harder on selling the off-line / on-line tactic, whether through unique URLs printed in ads or more innovative tactics (think mobile research), such as ShopText.

I just came out of a lunch meeting with two ad reps for a national weekly newspaper. No matter which way I probed, it was clear that they weren’t selling — and ad buyers weren’t buying — multi-channel ad strategies.

Here’s a press release on the study on the Newspaper Association of America web site. Let’s hope the ad sellers — and buyers — read the study and take heed. Consumers are waiting to google the next item they see in print.

New Zoombak mini-GPS puts special events on the map

Marketing technology has focused on the potential of mobile marketing for years. But it has always just been potential. Like most bloggers in my industry, I’ve written with yearning about a day when you can conduct breakthrough events or execute innovative sales strategies using cell phone GPS capabilities, and about making a mobile-oriented device such as an SMS-enabled chandelier (below) a centerpiece of your special event.

Text-message enabled chandelierThese posts were written two years ago.

So what’s the hold-up?

The chief problem is carrier barriers. Our four cellular phone carriers refuse to agree on protocols. These shared platforms would make phone bells and whistles — features that users in many other countries enjoy today — possible in this country as well.

If you’re expecting these barriers to fall soon, think again.

But in the meantime, other technology has slowly come into the reach of event marketers, and to those others like myself who grasp that the next marketing technology wave has to do with place, not a faster internet or better web agent.

Or even the unlocking of domestic cell phones!

The ZoombakMeet the Zoombak

I’m thinking specifically now of Zoombak, a GPS device that is tiny, and cheap enough to buy in bulk and rent. It can become a way to create an unforgettable special event.

Don’t let this application as a high-tech dog tracker fool you. Here’s what Zoombak’s web copy says about this $200 device:

Our small, lightweight, water-resistant locator attaches comfortably to your dog’s collar with a durable and secure pouch. You can pinpoint your dog’s location on-demand via Zoombak.com, mobile phone (coming soon) or live customer care. You can also determine your dog’s location in real time using our continuous tracking option. Simply log on to Zoombak.com to view a map of her current location, as well as her path taken since leaving home. Once you create and activate your own customized safety zones, you can be promptly notified by text message and/or email (your choice) when your dog leaves the zone.

Imagine you’re a college recruiter, and that instead of tracking your dog, you invited a dozen participants in an exploration of your college campus. They could be on a high-tech scavenger hunt. The rest of your potential students could watch the competition on web-enabled monitors. They’d speculate on which person or team returns first with all of the requested items. (Because it’s against the law, there would of course be no wagering.)

Another example of the possibilities: Consider the popular fund-raising event of releasing dozens of rubber ducks in a river and seeing whose duck crosses the finish line first. How much more interesting would it be if, instead of a river, it was a sprawling shopping mall — or topiary maze — and instead of ducks, these where local celebrities willing to (temporarily) get themselves extremely lost for a good cause?

These are just two applications that come to mind when GPS suddenly moves within spitting distance of medium-to-large event budget.

Can you think of other applications for this?

(Thank you, David Joachim of the New York Times for getting my brain racing with an article on the Zoombak.)

Yes, you’ll like the music: The Smart Party system can read you like a playlist

It’s tough to be a host. Will your guests like the snacks? Is there enough room to mingle, and proper ambiance to encourage conversation? And what about the music?

This is no idle concern. In the days of special events that support your brand, your role as marketing technologist suddenly makes you responsible for enhancing the proceedings with the proper tunes. And musical tastes vary widely!

Luckily, UCLA computer scientists have been on the task, and they’ve developed the Smart Party system. It polls the musical preferences of your guests by reading the playlists in their WiFi-enabled music devices.

As excerpted below, a recent NewScientist item (subscription required), reports that this novel approach to “reading your audience” works by getting inside your guests’ purses and pockets:

The [system] takes a poll of titles to work out the most popular genre and can also copy and play tracks from each device. It can then play music from the most popular overall music genre or tracks supplied by each party-goer in turn.

Pretty cool stuff, although the article goes on to mention the obvious: digital rights management (DRM) may make this system a violation of copyrights.

But I’m not as impressed with this innovation as with the direction that today’s innovators are taking. Before in this blog, I’ve posited that more than anything, portable marketing is about place. You’ll succeed as a marketer by enhancing experiences in a physical location at a particular time.

News of the Smart Party system suggests that a lot of others are focusing their imaginations on making a place-based experience more personal, and ultimately more memorable.