Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Virtual Arm feels real

Fascinating story in New Scientist.

For those of us interested in Virtual Worlds, the exciting question is: "What happens when people start to believe their virtual body (i.e. their avatar) is ‘real’?"

When one first enters Second Life (for instance) one of the interesting things is the freaky feeling of interacting with someone, one-on-one, in real time and yet of having no idea what their real name is, how old they are, whether they are male or female, what they actually look like or even where in the world they are (really) sitting as they type on their computer. However you soon get beyond that; as advertising agency planners say, you “suspend your disbelief”. You actually feel you are your avatar (and that other avatars are ‘real’). This is reinforced when fellow residents of SL compliment you on your new hairstyle, trousers or trainers, or give you note-cards or gifts. They seek your opinions and react to you as a fellow resident. Relationships are formed. Naturally enough, it all starts to feel consistent and ‘real’. And soon you are living (at least part of) your life as your avatar.

So I don't find the New Scientist story at all incredible. Perhaps this experiment points to the future of social media. To a world where we will spend increasing amounts of money and time on our avatar as a means of self expression; reaching out to others and interacting without human limitations/ constraints/ responsibilities i.e. living our virtual lives as fully as our real lives.

In a sense we will truly be our avatar. So of course we won’t like the idea of anyone twisting our virtual arms. It's enough to induce (real) muscle spasms…

Friday, 27 March 2009

Google: they know where we live!

These are unusually tough times for Google. The company, which is not accustomed to announcing bad news, is cutting 200 jobs in sales and marketing, (following the 100 recruitment jobs earlier this year) the biggest round of layoffs in the company's history. Meanwhile a group of British MPs is up in arms about the new Google Latitude mobile tracking technology and various consumer groups have noticed Google’s share of the search market (79% globally and over 85% in the UK).

Now what's all this fuss about Google Street View? And why is Google doing it?

Well perhaps it sounds like more of an invasion of privacy than it really is: after a successful launch in the US, Google has sent out vans to drive round the streets of 25 UK cities (covering over 22,000 miles!) taking still pictures of houses, shops and inevitably cars and people going about their everyday business. They’ve stuck these images together, constructing 360 degree views. Google has committed to blurring faces and car registration numbers and if you still think you can be identified and you’re not happy, you can complain and they will blur you more and even ‘wipe out’ your house if you wish. I predict the fuss will die down, as it largely has in the US.

As for why Google is doing it, there is only one possible answer; location, location, location. This is related to digital marketers’ holy grail of behavioural targeting; the general idea being to serve you advertising messages e.g. clickable banners, SMSs, Bluetooth alerts etc which are relevant to what you are doing, the mood you are in, and yes, even where you are (or plan to be). For me, this is a good thing. After all, isn't relevant and useful marketing the best sort? Don't most consumers tell us they welcome such helpful information about products and services?

Years ago I worked with a Dutch guy called Harold Goddijn; in fact our agency designed the logo for his start-up company. He didn't have much money but he paid us (on time) and said thank-you (= a good client). He told me with utter conviction that ‘location will be the next big thing in marketing’. Well it's taken a few years for the technology to catch up with the vision but TomTom is now Europe’s leading manufacturer of ‘Sat Nav’ systems (with 2009 forecast revenue over €1.5 billion) and Harold is deservedly a billionaire.

For my (somewhat lesser amount of) money, the UK Information Commissioner was right to ‘green light’ Google Street View. Despite its current difficulties (and these are unusual times for us all!) Google has, in its short corporate lifetime, consistently innovated and pushed the boundaries, at the same time creating what is arguably the world’s coolest brand with very little traditional marketing and promotion. Street View is only sharing images you or I can capture perfectly legally if we have a digital camera (on a 7 foot stick) and enough time to walk the streets of UK cities.

So if a service called something like 'Google Near Here' is next, then bring it on!

Monday, 23 March 2009

These are a few of my favourite things (1)

- Cool Digital Stuff (no credit or liability sought or accepted).

You know how it is. Sometimes, in fact often, one comes across something in the wonderful world of the web which is just too good to keep to yourself. Yes I am aware that many will have seen these before. But if one person discovers something here and gets joy or inspiration from it and shares it then... Well you get the idea. Enjoy.

My daughter still hasn’t forgiven me for sending her this link. I really like the shadows.

Great Digital marketing case history: I wish I’d done this!

This is completely crazy; but inspired. Best on fast connections with the sound up full.


Sunday, 22 March 2009

TFM&A 2009 - a delegate’s tale

I recently attended the TFM&A show at Earl’s Court. (It stands for “Technology for Marketing and Advertising”, in case you’re wondering.)

I thoroughly enjoyed it; I caught up with some friends (both real life and Twittermates) ex-colleagues and clients and came away with sufficient ‘nuggets’ to justify the time invested. I only have one complaint and it’s a biggie…

As in previous years, the organisers chose to make admission both to the show and to the seminars completely free.

The predictable result was queues all round Earl’s Court 2 for the seminars and keynotes, even ½ an hour before they started. The keynotes were excellent (Danny Meadows-Klue, Kevin Eyres from LinkedIn and Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy were all predictably informative and inspirational) but the crowd control issues were alarming. The staff on the seminar doors were loudly advising delegates to “send an email of complaint” as they turned them away with no more than a piece of paper bearing a url to access the PowerPoint of the presentation they were not able to see in the flesh. I almost felt guilty waving my VIP badge and slipping into the “Fastpass” queue. Almost.

I suppose that’s what you get for putting on a free (to bona fide trade visitors) event about Digital Marketing in Central London in 2009 featuring high-quality speakers. Maybe the many exhibitors appreciated the traffic that the free seminars attracted to the event; unfortunately most punters left one seminar they had fought to get into and apparently felt obliged to go straight into a queue for the keynote, 1 hour later, for fear of not getting in; i.e. they had no chance to visit the stands! There were some interesting variations on the overall theme of overcrowding: I had no trouble getting into the CRM, Mobile and Web usability sessions (even after they’d started). As for anything whose title included “Social Media” or “Analytics”, forget it. Geeky looking Digitalistas were fighting like Hell Knights from Doom 3 in their efforts to barge their way in. Delegates were squatting on the floor in the aisles to listen to Rory Sutherland, much to his amusement.

I found myself thinking there had to be a better way.

Admittedly I'm a digital marketer, not an event organiser. It’s certainly good to see the digital industry in such rude health and of course the web is all about inclusivity and open source and all that but I actually think many delegates would have been prepared to shell out a few quid just to get a seat and to be sure of not having a wasted journey. And no, a virtual event is simply not as rich as a real life experience. (There - I've said it.)

Or am I alone in thinking the paid-for model might work better?

Meanwhile I'm off down the Gym to ‘bulk up’ for the next industry event; it seems that digital has never been so physical…

Mike Berry