Just a quick one today, as I couldn’t resist putting the below up; it shows up what client / agency negotiations would like in real life. One way or another, we’ve all been there… Oh, and it came via John Griffiths

Reading this fascinating blog post about the 2010 web from Robert Scoble has made me think about online developments, and in particular about how they’re helping make the web’s central revolutionary feature – its replacement of a physical geography with a geography of interest – even more dynamic.

Before getting to that, though, it’s worth thinking about why the easy availability of a geography of interest is such a big change.

Historically, your relationships were defined by who you were physically close to. For most people, in most of history, that meant a relatively small group, located in a space extending maybe ten or twenty miles from your birthplace.

Of course, that’s not to say that you couldn’t move across the world in service of a particular interest. But it was expensive and time consuming, which made it an option that was only available to relatively few people.

The web’s changed that, removing almost all barriers to creating relationships based on shared interest, rather than shared geography. Now, anyone with internet access can type an obsession into Google, and within microseconds find whole communities of fellow travellers.

That geography of interest makes it easy to build relationships with people who share your passions. Objective physical geography has been replaced by subjective intellectual (or emotional) geography.

The changes that Scoble points to are changing the terms of that geography. Until recently, online conversations have mostly been relatively static things. You’ve needed to be sat at your PC or laptop, in at best a wireless enabled space.

You’ve talked to people through one particular portal – on their blog, or in a particular chat room, or on a message board. Web searches have been based on what people have read about in the past, not what they’re reading about now.

But, as we move towards 2010, that’s no longer the case. Online engagements are becoming increasingly dynamic, increasingly focussed on the now. The mobile web, real time search, social media, fragmented web presences, and so on, are combining to create a new style of online engagement.

We’re used to a web that’s like reading and writing (you write in the past, I read and respond to your writing now, you will get my response in the future), but these new technologies are letting us engage in ways that are more like talking (you say this now, I respond now, you get my response now).

That’s very intriguing, but – in practical terms – what does it mean? For us as individuals, I’m not sure how much of a difference it’s going to make. To some extent, the revolution has already happened. Since the mid 90s, most personal web users have been living in a geography of interest.

Now that that geography is more dynamic, it’s easier to have live, creative conversations within it; but as humans, we’re habituated to communicating through conversation, so (being admittedly very reductive) all we’ll experience will be a set of interesting new ways to carry on a process we’re all already very skilled at – finding and talking to interesting people.

I suspect that the step change is going to come at an organisational level.

First of all, existing organisations aren’t remotely habituated to living in a more and more dynamic geography of interest. That’s because they’re not very good at conversation. For the most part, they talk to the outside world through the discipline of marketing, and marketing speaks in monologue.

Most marketing activity looks to repetitively pound a simple message into a passive, undifferentiated mass of people (very reductively) defined as consumers. That model will come to seem increasingly dated and ineffective as people develop a sense of media as a vehicle for live, interest-driven, two way conversations.

The Terminator promotion I talked about below is one example of more conversational marketing. It’s more sophisticated – and more involving, and more *live* – than traditional film promotion materials, by several orders of magnitude.

Then, there’s T-Mobile, who are reverse engineering flashmobs to turn them into adverts, which are then made live TV events by being unveiled in specific ad slots (did you ever think you’d hear the words ‘exclusive commercial break’ on Channel 4?).

On a much smaller scale, there’s also Vodafone UK’s recent Treasure Hunts, which had their Twitter followers competing to solve clues to work out where free phones (fones?) could be found – if you search #VFTH on Twitter, you can track back over the action.

Secondly, new kinds of organisations will be enabled. A dynamic geography of interest means that people with shared interests will find each other very easily, and then communicate in real time.

Crowds will form instantly; some will coalesce into longer lasting tribes, defined by shared interests, and some of these tribes will generate teams wanting to do something practical that relates to those interests (on this process, more here and in upcoming posts).

Such organisations could be driven by political, commercial, creative or other interests; some will no doubt be substantial enough to compete effectively with existing, more traditional organisations.

The first manifestations of this kind of organisation have been political. For example, according to the Evening Standard, London Tamils are winding up for a summer of protests, organised spontaneously through Twitter and Facebook, and Twitter is playing a key role in Moldova’s ongoing revolution.

Of course, these are just initial symptoms of far reaching changes – changes that won’t happen overnight. Scoble makes the very valid point that these changes might not start filtering through into mass consciousness until far beyond 2015.

I don’t doubt that they will filter through, though, because we’re all social creatures, and living in a dynamic geography of interest will offer us all fascinating, rewarding, and increasingly easy to access new ways of being social.

Well, it’s been a fascinating few hours at Disappearing Towers, because I’ve been pondering Andy Gibson’s ‘45 Social by Social Propositions’, where he defines ‘a set of fundamental principles to follow to help make a social technology project successful’, and invites people to engage with / comment on / remix them.

I’ve never been able to resist a good tinker, so I decided to give them a light remix – partially just because fiddling with things always helps me understand them better, and partially because I always have a bit of a problem with unbroken down lists.

I find them a bit hard to take in, because the structure behind them isn’t always easily evident. And, if you’re looking to explain them to people, everything can become a bit repetitive, because you’ve got no other option than talking through list entries one by one. You can’t generalize, because you have no broad areas to generalize about.

Of course, that’s not to say there’s no structure behind Andy’s 45 propositions; in fact, I think he’s structured them around a well though out process of project development and execution – but I only realised that after I’d spend a while pondering them (and I could of course be quite wrong).

Anyway, I’ve also just been reading Clay Shirky’s rather fascinating ‘Here Comes Everybody’, so I decided to crossbreed them with Shirky’s definition of the three core factors that sit behind any social media project – ‘a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users’.

By promise, Shirky means the ‘why’ of participation; the offer of a benefit or set of benefits that ‘creates the basic desire to participate’. By tools, he means (unsurprisingly) the social media software or formats that will help people buying into the promise get together in the most constructive way. And by bargain, he means the basic culture of the social group; the norms that will be put in place by its creators, or generated by its members.

As I was doing this, I noticed something else. Some of the propositions seemed to me to be thematically very close, so I tried to group them together. Doing this, I began to end up with what were almost mini-haikus; little three or four line proposition sets, where individual propositions started to bounce off each other and create interesting, evocative new meanings.

So, without really meaning to, I created something that began to read a little like a social project / social media poem. Hopefully you’ll find it stimulating; so, without more ado, here’s my Gibson / Shirky / Robertson mash up, which if I were a DJ or similar I would probably call:

Here Come 45 Social Propositions

Why should people be interested?

You can’t force people to volunteer
Build it and they may well not come
The world is a noisy place

Go where people are
Learn to listen before you start talking
Put your energy where their energy is

Content is king
Be realistic about who will create content
Enthusiasts are more important than experts

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

How do they engage?

People make technology work

Design for real people
Don’t jump for the tool
Know your limits

Keep it simple
Start small
Be a pirate

Keep it messy
Don’t centralise, aggregate
Keep your powder dry

Empty rooms are easier to redecorate
Don’t forget the tables and chairs
Throw a good party; be a good host

Planning ahead is hard
No-one knows anything
Expect the unexpected

You can’t learn to fly by watching the pilot
Eat your own dogfood
Failure is useful

Start at the top
Someone has to pay
Don’t confuse money with value

What are the terms of their engagement?

People want control
Your users own the platform
Empowerment is unconditional

Respect how people choose to communicate
Let people solve their own problems
In user-centred design, everyone is right

Never assume, always ask
Say thank you in public
Be consistent

All energy is good energy
Sunlight is the best disinfectant
Give up on the illusion of control

Right, I’m confused about reality. No, really – a Warner Bros online marketing campaign has triggered an existential crisis, brought on by too much metafiction! Seems peculiar, but it’s the truth. Let me explain…

Warner Bros are currently winding up for the release of the rather groovy looking Terminator Salvation – official website here. As part of the campaign, they’re putting groovy viral material out online.

I came across that part of the campaign through the Skynet Research twitter feed, which then led me to the Skynet website, and then this more overtly promotional resistance site.

A key – and, I thought, fictional – figure in the resistance is someone called Bre Pettis. He’s been posting various Youtube videos documenting his increasing horror at Skynet – this is the latest one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VN5g_WZ7kJM&feature=channel

So far, so standard; we’ve seen this kind of thing before with Cloverfield, with Watchmen, and so on. But yesterday, Bre triggered my existential crisis.

Tooling around on Bad Banana blog yesterday, I found this – a set of 1930s warnings about how not to electrocute yourself. It’s just the kind of thing they put up, and a rather wonderful little piece of graphic history.

Digging around, I realised that it’s part of the Bre-niverse; it’s one of his Flickr sets, and links back to his blog. Thematically, it fits beautifully (and very subtly) with his anti-Terminator paranoia. Rooting around on his Flickr feed, I found lots of robot-related pictures, plus some interesting personal stuff.

‘Wow!’, I thought, very impressed, ‘Warner Bros have really fleshed this character out!’ And of course, I was pretty stunned by the reach of the Terminator Salvation promotional material; it is – I thought – so well put together that it’s appearing on blogs like Bad Banana, quite independently of any mention of the film.

That set me thinking about the kind of background information that the web helps film makers put out. Ever since the original Blair Witch Project campaign, the film industry’s been using the web to enhance films by providing additional backstory, character information, gaming experiences, etc.

These kind of transmedia narratives achieve a certain kind of marketing nirvana; they both enrich viewer experience of the movie in a very real, very satisfying way, while encouraging those viewers to spread information about the film to their friends and associates.

An ideal state of communications co-operation is reached; film makers get publicity and commitment from core fan communities, while fan communities get really cool stuff that they can both enjoy in itself and get kudos by sharing. The new media promotional ideal is achieved, and everyone’s happy.

Anyway, back to Bre. He’s so convincing! And that set me wondering – as I headed over to his website, to catch up on the news from the future – about the limits of the transmedia covenant – about the ethics of creating fictional on-line personae.

At what point do you let people know that they’re engaging with the unreal? Is the Terminator campaign so subtle that the Bad Banana folk themselves had been taken in, leading them to spread promotional material as if it was a real, historical artefact? What are the ethics of augmented reality? What can we learn from Orson Welles?

And then I reached Bre’s blog – and that’s where my existential, metafictional crisis began. Rooting around on it, moving beyond the prominently displayed Terminator material, I began to realise that he’s a real person! Who really exists!

And that completely freaked me out. For the last few weeks, following Terminator content online, I’d been assuming that he was a character in a story, played by a reasonably convincing actor – an effective fictional representation of a certain kind of technology guru.

But he’s real! And that made my head explode! Because all of a sudden, I’m living in Philip K. Dick-world, where nothing’s real but what is not. That confusion between fiction and reality is one of the unique properties of transmedia narratives, where unreality piggybacks on reality to create something utterly engaging and entirely new.

And that – wondering where the joins are – is all part of the fun. And, of course, the fact that Bre can be so convincingly absorbed into Terminator-world is simultaneously a tribute to a truly magnificent bit of real person casting, to a great performance from Bre himself, and to the subtlety and coherence of the broader Terminator viral material.

In his late 50s essay. ‘A Process Conception of Psychotherapy’, noted American psychologist Carl R. Rogers laid out a for-the-time revolutionary theory of how patients progress through the therapeutic process. That essay remains very resonant, often in surprising ways. Re-reading it the other day, I was struck – for example – by how it delivers some really interesting insights into what marketing (and by extension, organisations) should be in our modern, web-fuelled world.

In the essay, Rogers posits two extremes of psychological health. At the unhealthy end, patients are rigid and restricted in their responses to life, testing any new experience against their pre-existing belief and response systems, and only engaging with that experience if it’s in accordance with those systems. They perceive their self to be a static structure, and understand anything that might force change on that structure to be a deep, destructive threat to their very being.

At the other extreme are the healthy – in Rogers’ terms, those who experience the self as a set of ongoing processes, responding flexibly and spontaneously to life as it happens. They welcome new experiences and inputs, and are happy to modify beliefs and behaviours in response to them. As a result, they experience daily life as something consistently positive and stimulating, rather than as something consistently negative and threatening.

Rogers felt that his therapeutic duty to his patients was to help them move away from the former state, and toward the latter. The body of the essay deals with that process, and seeks to understand how it works. Read from the point of view of a marketing professional in 2009, it takes on a very different meaning. It becomes a way of understanding two different definitions of what marketing is, and how it functions within the modern corporation.

Marketing’s role used to be fundamentally expeditionary; heading out into the at best unknown, at worst hostile, worlds of consumer-dom, and returning with treasure – de-contextualised insights, that could safely be fed into the body corporate without overly destabilising or unsettling it. This process was defined as being ‘the consumer’s representative within the business’ – a definition that confirmed the powerlessness of the consumer. Consumers could never themselves be present in the business; they could only ever be represented by a small group of marketing professionals.

Social media has changed that by removing the need for marketing explorers. It allows consumers to talk directly with the businesses that interest them. The point of interface has changed; live conversations between consumers and business representatives can happen on any screen, anywhere within the business, through blogs, Facebook, messageboards, Twitter and so on. The way in which those conversations can take place has also changed. Again thanks to social media, it’s much easier for consumers to form self-organised – rather than marketeer organised – groups, to pool their influence and bring it to bear on a particular business in a particular way.

So, consumers can be directly present within the business, either individually or en masse, in ways that were impossible until very recently – and without any kind of marketing mediation. That change means that marketeers now have a new role to play. No longer explorers, they have to become hosts; rather than going out to find consumers, they have to discover new ways of welcoming them into their companies, and ensuring that those companies can constructively engage with these (one hopes, honoured) guests in as positive and direct a way as possible.

Rogers’ essay helps understand the terms of that change. The most successful businesses will be those that – in Rogers’ terms – move towards health; that are able to quickly and effectively sort and respond to input as it comes in, rather than forcing it through pre-determined channels that exist to ensure that the status quo is maintained regardless of external conditions.

Some brands already understand that. Ben and Jerry’s regularly carry user created ice cream flavours. Innocent began with a question to their consumers, and since then have made their brand as much an experience to be interacted with as a set of drinks to be bought. Amazon couldn’t exist without its user-contributed reviews – and, even as I type, are being hauled over the coals by user groups outraged by #amazonfail; neither the Wispa bar nor HSBC free student overdrafts would exist without a Facebook-based consumer campaigns that brought them back from (respectively) chocolate and banking heaven. Microsoft’s Channel 9 encourages direct engagement with its users. Dell’s Ideastorm website allows Dell users to directly impact on the way that Dell makes computers – and so on.

But that’s only a start. Rogers doesn’t just talk about a change in attitude to the world; he describes a structural change in the self, a complete rethinking of what it is to be a person. The depth of that change is hinted at in the title of the book the essay’s published in; ‘On Becoming a Person’. But I haven’t been using it to talk about people; I’ve been using it to talk about organisations. So, I can’t help wondering what kind of ideal business unit a book called ‘On Becoming an Organisation’ would describe; and I can’t help feeling that we’re seeing the beginning of a process now that will – over the next few years – help us find out.

A quick entry this morning, as I’m rushing around today. So, rather than lots of typing, here are two links.

The first is to a Science Museum site that uses rather nifty graphics and some eye-opening information to make the Black Death fun (who knew it could be?). Their proof reading could be better, tho’ I do love the idea of seeing off the plague by firing Canons, rather than cannons. Of course modern science has proved they should have sacked the Bishops, but hey…

The second is to this lovely little Penguin Books promo site for Alain De Botton’s ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’. They’re really on a roll just now; their online work is quirky, creative and genuinely thoughtful about moving the experience of reading onto the web.

Well, I seem to have become a very modest viral presence on YouTube. The lovely people from UKParliament asked me for my thoughts on government and social media at the Tuttle Club a couple of weeks ago; the resulting clip has now been watched by nearly 1,000 people.

Watching it again, my main thought was that I really should given my hair a bit of a brush before they filmed me; I’d just taken off my cycle helmet, hence the slightly exploded look. But that would go against both the point of what they were doing – recording spontaneous, unrehearsed comments – and also one of the deeper properties of the web itself.

The web has substantially lowered barriers to the publication and dissemination of just about any kind of information. That means that it’s much easier to share content with a wide audience when it’s still in development.

The discussion begins earlier, and the content creator can be part of that discussion while whatever they’re developing is still being finalised – as, for example, Charles Leadbeater found out when he released a beta copy of his recent book ‘We Think’ online for pre-publication feedback.

Unlike the printed page, or the television or cinema screen, the internet is a provisional medium; it demands engagement rather than finish, discussion rather than monologue. And, in a small way, my clip is part of that.

You don’t see a polished, scripted, finalised version of me, with a makeup person hovering just off camera, waiting to touch up my perfect hair; you see the provisional, daily, real version of me, delivering a first draft, not a final draft, and above all hoping to start a conversation, rather than deliver a conclusion.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBBkdkYMfl0&feature=channel_page]

Marketeers spend much time and effort making their brands unique, so they stand out from the crowd; but branding acts as camouflage as much as display.

Display is a form of disruption. By standing out from what’s around it, a brand breaks our smooth perception of the world-as-a-whole and demands that we attend to a single, very focussed part of it.

That’s not an issue when we’re deciding what to buy. Individual brands need to shout loudly to be heard in the communications cacophony that is modern commercial space.

It becomes an issue once we’ve bought a given brand, and started using it. At that point, the function of branding changes. The best way to understand how and why that is to be reductive, and think about tools.

A tool is brought and used to achieve a given end. The most effective tools are those that disappear into use. That is, they support the achievement of an end without drawing attention to themselves during that achievement.

If I’m chopping wood, I want an axe that I don’t notice that I’m using. I don’t want one that constantly draws attention to itself through (for example) being blunt, or poorly constructed, or the wrong size for the task at hand.

I only want to notice the well chopped pile of wood I end up with, not the means by which I create that pile. And then I want the pile of wood to disappear into being a fire, without being slow to light, spitting on the carpet, or creating too much smoke.

When in use, brands work in a similar way. They are never an end in themselves; none of us live to shave with Gillette Razors, or travel by British Airways.

We live to be attractive to other people, or to visit interesting places. Brands support us as we achieve these goals, disappearing into the wider actions we take to fulfil our rational or emotional drives.

This is where brands need to camouflage themselves. As well as standing out, each one  should also disappear, harmonising with a chorus rather than just shouting through a cacophony.

As branding people, that’s something that’s easy to forget. Brands aren’t just about differentiation; they’re about integration too, fitting efficiently and effectively into individual lifestyles, supporting a broader personal push towards entirely personal goals.