Social media powers fundraising for an African classroom

This morning I contributed to TweetsGiving, and I urge you to as well. It’s an excellent cause, and it can give you a first-hand experience in the power of social media. As the name implies, what is propeling this two-day fundraising effort is the micro-blogging platform Twitter.

As of this post, the total raised is ,182. Here is what the TweetsGiving web site has to say about the effort:

Tweetsgiving is a project of Epic Change that seeks to demonstrate the power of twitter and the social web by spreading gratitude and raising $10,000 in 48 hours to build a classroom at the school in Tanzania. The project was inspired by the TrickorTweet campaign organized around Halloween by @TheGrok and @ChrisBrogan and by this “thank you” post.

Giving Thanks

Follow @TweetsGiving on Twitter. Then, as the site suggests, you can “Tweet thanks. Share something you’re thankful for with all your twitter followers. Your tweets can be touching or silly, poignant or fun. Just tweet from the heart and be sure to include the #TweetsGiving tag and a link to”

And of course, be sure to give!

iPhone voice recognition app presages a new mobile interface

A newly-launched iPhone application allows Google searches through voice alone. This brings us closer to when non-computing types can work and play in a Web 2.0 world. Imagine: If this future comes to pass, productivity increases in many industries would be huge.

More significant to us marketers, large swaths of the workforce will no longer consider the computing world to be hostile — or at the very least, impenetrable. As I speculated two years ago many workers simply will not make portable computing a habit until it is easy enough to do through speech alone.

You might consider this Part II of a two-part post. Last week I reported on Powerset, Microsoft’s acquisition in semantic search. Now, here is an exciting stride in the the voice-recognition half of the hands-free computing equation.

Below is how the New York Times characterized the voice recognition arms race (at least, the race for the juicy prize of mobile search dominance):

Both Yahoo and Microsoft already offer voice services for cellphones. The Microsoft Tellme service returns information in specific categories like directions, maps and movies. Yahoo’s oneSearch with Voice is more flexible but does not appear to be as accurate as Google’s offering. The Google system is far from perfect, and it can return queries that appear as gibberish. Google executives declined to estimate how often the service gets it right, but they said they believed it was easily accurate enough to be useful to people who wanted to avoid tapping out their queries on the iPhone’s touch-screen keyboard.

The service can be used to get restaurant recommendations and driving directions, look up contacts in the iPhone’s address book or just settle arguments in bars. The query “What is the best pizza restaurant in Noe Valley?” returns a list of three restaurants in that San Francisco neighborhood, each with starred reviews from Google users and links to click for phone numbers and directions.

The emphasis above is mine. Here’s a demo of the new Google app for the iPhone:

This is going to get very interesting, very fast.

As Raj Reddy, an artificial intelligence researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, reported in the NY Time’s piece: “Whatever [Google] introduces now, it will greatly increase in accuracy in three or six months.”

The semantic search problem, when solved, will help computers understand what people are saying based on their wording and a phrase’s context. On the other hand, voice recognition requires something at least as daunting: Penetrating regional accents. The most visible flaw in this first full week of the iPhone app’s release is it is baffled by British accents.

Cognitive bias and effective interface design

Joshua Porter recently shared an excellent presentation on leveraging cognitive biases in the design of social networking sites. I’ve followed Joshua’s blog for years, and his thoughts on this subject reinforce my loyalty. You should know that I’ll vehemently defend the time I spend reading his stuff, even if you try to persuade me that I could be reading other, similar blogs. This die-hard loyalty is itself an example of something called a cognitive bias. It shows the Ownership Effect, one of the biases — or heuristics — that secretly influence our decisions and actions.

Heuristics are mental shortcuts. Unknowingly, our brain processes information through filters. These filters add more weight to some facts and less to others. Should real facts be scarce, heuristics can sometimes fill in the blanks.

Are cognitive biases good or bad?

The virtue of gut-based judgments is a subject of heated debate. Some think rational decisions are the best. They point to addiction and racial prejudice as two consequences of unchecked cognitive biases. Others, most famously Malcolm Gladwell, feel that heuristics have more value than they get credit for. His book Blink is full of examples of the gut overruling the brain and proving itself more accurate.

Regardless of your take on the phenomenon, as marketers we can only benefit by getting to know cognitive biases, especially in good web interface design. Lucky us: In the process we can learn a little more of how our own minds make judgments.

But be forewarned. It’s not pretty.

A bias that is particularly interesting is Loss Aversion. If I approached a random sample of people and offered them money based on the outcome of a coin toss, the wagers that they accept and refuse are far from rational. If I said I’d pay $1.25 if they win the coin toss, and the cost of the bet is a dollar, a person’s rational brain would do the math and say “Go for it.” In a fair bet, the win far outweighs the loss.

However, most pass on this offer. They refuse the likely ROI of 25%.

In fact, when the stakes are changed and other amounts are tested, it turns out that the majority of participates will hold onto their dollars until the reward increases to $2.00!

This is not rational. Even when haggling is eliminated (defined as holding out until you get the best possible offer), the majority of people walk away from making a likely profit.

Why do they do this? Because the value of not losing is twice as great as the value of winning. In a 50-50 wager, the value of losing $1.00 is equal to that of gaining $2.00. An absurd 100% ROI is the usual tipping point.

Could loss aversion be inherited from our cave-dwelling days?

Where does this reflex to avoid loss come from? Work by researcher Keith Chen with capuchin monkeys suggests that loss aversion may be innate in humans — and indeed, in other more primitive primates. In his research (purchase of white paper required — otherwise, here’s my blog entry on the topic), he sees exactly the same loss aversion in monkeys that are taught to use tokens in exchange for food as others have observed in humans playing identical games. And I mean exactly, as in: If you just looked at the numbers, you couldn’t tell human response from monkey response.

It really makes you think.

Joshua Porter gave the example of using loss aversion to get people to register on a site, with offers of “Never lose another password!” or “Don’t miss out on opportunities to save!” If the cost of loss is presented as half as great as the cost of preventing a loss, you will likely generate a simple conversion.

Paradoxically, the fear of loss is also seen in gambling. As soon as you sit down at the poker table, your more primal, reptile brain wants to ensure others do not get your chips. Even if you have a weak hand, you might try to bluff your way to victory. Even in the face of almost certain loss. To casinos, the cognitive bias of loss aversion is definitely something good.

Swoopo goads bidders in a chase for merchandise

I’ve observed this phenomenon in a truly scary “auction site.” offers merchandise that you can bid on. But these aren’t true eBay-like auctions, because your bid is lost whether you win the prize or not. Everything from software to flat-screen TVs are presented with starting prices in the teens. Then participants throw their cash at the merchandise, hoping to be the last person to place their money down before the timer ends the contest.

The site’s designers have cleverly avoid gambling laws through a technicality. Their site is a “game of skill.” It is arguable that it takes skill to be the last to bid, and thus take home a prize.

But this contest is more like a carnival game of topple-the-milk-bottles. Every bid bumps up the cost of the item, but also adds seconds to the countdown clock. Yes, it’s a game of skill. But like those who have pitted their wits against a carnival game, there are far more who walk away penniless than victorious. And since there are no sweepstakes laws requiring full disclosure, you enter the game unsure of your odds of winning — even with practice.

So what force brings people back to bid again and again? And what causes bidders to pursue an item so vigorously in the face of disappointing odds?

One reason certainly has to be the thrill of the chase — the determination not to let others get the item you feel rightly entitled to claim. After all, you’ve already committed real dollars to trying to win the item! This is classic loss aversion.

Go to the site and see for yourself. Watch the bidding, which has a level of supposed transparency. You can see your opponents bid against you in real time. To watch is both thrilling and deeply chilling.

Spending time on is like watching the id in pitched battle with the super ego. On this site, due to excellent interface design, the id is the only sure winner.

e-Marketing like your great grandpa did at tomorrow’s MIMA evening event

It’s fitting that a panel discussion about interactive marketing in these uncharted economic waters should be held at a restored hotel built during the depths of the Great Depression. The Ambassador Hotel was designed by the same architects who created some classic movie palaces, including Milwaukee’s Oriental Theater.

Join me at a panel discussion tomorrow night held at this gloriously restored Art Deco hotel, hosted by the Milwaukee Interactive Marketing Association. Find out what interactive marketing measures that companies such as these are taking today — and their plans for tomorrow:

  • Heiser Automotive
  • Briggs & Stratton
  • Coldwell Banker Realty

There should be some lively — and candid — discussion.

Here are the details:

Date: November 20, 2008
5:30-6:00 networking
6:30-7:30 presentation
7:30-8:00 Q&A
Members Cost: $20, includes appetizers
Non-members Cost: $30, includes appetizers

The Ambassador Hotel is at 2308 W. Wisconsin Ave. in Milwaukee.

Save 20% On Membership

Sign up now and get a 20% discount on 2009 membership. Do it now!

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.