Category Archives: mass_collaboration_

All Currency is Social. So what’s in YOUR wallet?

I was looking up the definition of currency on Wikipedia, when I came across this line: "modern currency…is intrinsically worthless".  I'm no economist, but the info there indicated that the dollar, euro and other currencies have no value beyond the government declaring them to have value, and markets effectively betting on their future value.

So it's kind of funny that there is a distinction between hard currency (cash) and social currency (as in "net promoter value", WOM recco, blog readership or twitter followers, etc.).  Because both are effectively social constructs (for the cash, at least, since the 'Nixon Shock' ended convertibility of US dollars for gold).

But faith in institutions, like faith in people, can be fragile. 

What the hell does that have to do with marketing?


I'll go out on a limb here.  The era of the one stop shop, or agency network, or do it alone communications company – or brand, for that matter, is dead.

No brand is an island.  No agency a one-stop shop.

Brands ask for multi-year communications plans in 2010, when in 22 months between February 2005 and November 2006, YouTube went from startup to $1.65 Billion Google acquisition.  One thing you can count on is guessing wrong on the right tactics to employ in three years' time. Many of them simply don't exist yet.

So here's where the currency/social currency comes in:

Agency and brand "currency" will be a reflection of their social portfolio strategy. 

The most successful brands and agencies will be driven by a net value comprised of actual sales of goods and services + the "stored value" of their social currency (in the form of their networks of collaborators).

The key will be how quickly and effectively they can convert stored value to real value, by unlocking the power of their collaborators to achieve mutual goals. 

DARPA's "Network Challenge" was just such a test to see test the value of networks in real world problem solving.  An MIT team used a tech-fueled "inverse pyramid" scheme to solve in nine hours a problem DARPA assumed would take significantly longer.

The trick is identifyng mutual goals.  Creating a shared vision – and shared risk.  Opportunity – and accountability.

As an agency, it's a good idea to treat partners well, and treat everyone you meet as a future collaborator.  If entire alliances are forming because you are ridiculously awful to work with, you have a serious problem.

And collaboration prevents legacy investments (or entire company acquisitions) from dictating your solutions – a dev shop full of C sharpies not so useful for your Ruby project.  A search shop with an a state-of-the-art proprietary tool yields decreasing returns once that tool gets dumped onto an overall dev list across an agency holding company.  Flash devs on iPhone/iPad?  waaa waaaa.  Or in our case, it helped to have access to the right folks when we wanted to build a robot.

Victor & Spoils promised crowdsourcing as a creative model.  Meh.  What they have done is built a seriously impressive network of freelancers.  The danger is that that network is built on unstable bonds -  bonds that consist of the promise of hard currency.  Hard currency buys you loyalty with an expiration date (the better offer). 

And while money can't buy you love, earned social currency just might.

The agencies and brands that win will build networks of shared inspiration and mutual goals.  Bonds of social currency.

Because an inspired network, a network built on passion and trust, not submission forms and "friend requests", has the power to move mountains.

Toilet Paper Users and Facebook Users

We social media wanks often earn our fear money through hyperbolic/histrionic presentations laden with "you're business model is f***ed" slides, typically including a gasp-inducing image that compares the population of users of Facebook to the population of actual countries.

But Facebook isn't really a country.  Individual users of Facebook have as much in common with each other as individual users of toilet paper. 

And come to think of it, there may be more TP than FB users for a little while yet.


(FB heatmap when they were limping along with 200MM users back on april 8th,2009, stolen from Dave Know's HardKnox life blog…and interesting to note that if in April they were "admitting" 200MM, and in December Zuckerberg claims 350MM, HOLY HOCKEYSTICK, batman.)

If FB were a country, it would be an interesting one – a preselected technological "upper" class who have sufficient material resources to at least guarantee access, so they probably aren't hurting for basic needs – food, shelter, etc. 

They'd be the world's third most populous country – 350MM+ people, all a few rungs up Maslow's ladder.

And in spite of various valuation discussions, this "country" of tech "haves" wouldn't be a G-7 or G-20 candidate.  Various estimates peg the FB "GDP" at about a billion for 2009 – with about half that coming from ad revenue, the other half from monetization of the FB platform via third party developers.  that puts them at #169 for global GDP, a few steps behind St. Lucia, and just edging out Dijibouti.

The smartest, wealthiest, tech saavy folks in the world, 350MM strong, barely edging out a win on Dijibouti?  Golly.

But there is something much more interesting and a little sad going on here.  A real country has many things that make for an engaged citizenry.  The two I think are relevant here are

  1. economic/social/emotional barriers to leaving, and
  2. a national mythology/narrative

Friendster, MySpace and Facebook are cheap, easy, and addictive, but their glue is driven by the critical mass of friends (network effect) and the difficulty of porting your entire life onto the NEXT BIG PLATFORM.  Facebook Connect is a brilliant way to deflect the need to re-port, but at the end of the day, FB loyalty will be proportional to its perceived utility.  Like toilet paper.  If there is a softer better cheaper toilet paper, I'll use it.


(stolen from

But none of these social nets has an embedded narrative or mythology.  they have a perceived "cool" factor, or not, but they are social tools, little more.  FB is doing its best to become the Leatherman of social nets, with a tool, port or app for every need, but I question the loyalty of its users and the longevity of its position.  Because they have no narrative.  The US Army/Marine Corps CounterInsurgency Manual (available as a pdf here – Download COIN-FM3-24) defines a "narrative" as:

"a story recounted in the form of a causally linked series of events that explains an event in the group's history and expresses the values, characters, or self-identity of the group.  Narratives are means through which ideologies are expressed and absorbed by members of a society."

There is no common purpose to FB, no shared mission, no shared narrative. 

Like Toilet Paper. 

We flush (TP) and upload (FB) our crap every day.

When will a virtual social net nourish our souls?

W+K+Schmidt+Birkett+N900+OneDotZero = fun

As part of our effort on behalf of the Nokia N900, W+K London partnered with computational designer  Karsten  Schmidt and software architect Gary Birkett in conjunction with OneDotZero to demonstrate what happens when

per Birkett:

“we are using a 3 inch display to try to control a 70 foot
display”. Based on the N900’s accelerometer, the software uses an
interface that takes movement data from the handset and sends it to the
projection app, created by Schmidt.”

Facebook Rights – and Ad Model Fail

We were having an internal debate about the Declaration of Independence today, while at the same time, voting is closing on the proposed Facebook Governance Documents. 

I know you know.  And I know you know that if Facebook were a country, its 200+MM population would make it the world's 5th largest (they just passed Brazil)

And here are the proposed "Guiding Principles" (hum "Mine eyes have seen the glory" as you read):

1. Freedom to Share and Connect

People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want, in any medium and any format, and have the right to connect online with anyone – any person, organization or service – as long as they both consent to the connection.

2. Ownership and Control of Information

People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service.  People should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices. Those controls, however, are not capable of limiting how those who have received information may use it, particularly outside the Facebook Service.

3. Free Flow of Information

People should have the freedom to access all of the information made available to them by others. People should also have practical tools that make it easy, quick, and efficient to share and access this information.

4. Fundamental Equality

Every Person – whether individual, advertiser, developer, organization, or other entity – should have representation and access to distribution and information within the Facebook Service, regardless of the Person’s primary activity. There should be a single set of principles, rights, and responsibilities that should apply to all People using the Facebook Service.

5. Social Value

People should have the freedom to build trust and reputation through their identity and connections, and should not have their presence on the Facebook Service removed for reasons other than those described in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

6. Open Platforms and Standards

People should have programmatic interfaces for sharing and accessing the information available to them. The specifications for these interfaces should be published and made available and accessible to everyone.

7. Fundamental Service

People should be able to use Facebook for free to establish a presence, connect with others, and share information with them. Every Person should be able to use the Facebook Service regardless of his or her level of participation or contribution.

8. Common Welfare

The rights and responsibilities of Facebook and the People that use it should be described in a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which should not be inconsistent with these Principles.

9. Transparent Process

Facebook should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies, and operations. Facebook should have a town hall process of notice and comment and a system of voting to encourage input and discourse on amendments to these Principles or to the Rights and Responsibilities.

10. One World

The Facebook Service should transcend geographic and national boundaries and be available to everyone in the world.


Impressive, inspiring, thought provoking.

SO where does the "Ad Fail" part come in? 

Despite near-continuous, above the fold, high visibility FB profile page placements for the past week or so, only 536K+ members have voted.  

That's about .2%. 

And only 109K FB'ers (that's ~.05% of the total pop) have become "Fans" of the ''Facebook Governance Page', meaning
they will receive updates and posts about any conversations or proposed
changes to the documents. 

So in a community of 200MM+, only about a
half million are participating in creating the global guiding principles.

Wow.  All they had to do was click and vote.

Twice as many people voted for the guiding principles of what has become for many an indispensable social utility, as were sacrificed for Whoppers in a single promotion.

\o/ FrontlineSMS Makes Us Better \o/


Ken Banks (@kiwanja on twitter) is an honest-to-goodness tech hero.  When much tech-related news and developments wallow in wonk and wank, or seem aimed at folks with more daily discretionary spending power than many global households make annually (PS3 Home launches!  Waaa waaaaah), Ken's FrontlineSMS (@frontlineSMS on twitter) is a free piece of software that enables NGO's and grassroots organizations worldwide to communicate rapidly and effectively with geographically dispersed groups using basic text-messaging (SMS) technology.  If you can get a signal, you can communicate/aggregate/congregate/advocate.  And it works in spite of the natural disasters and power outages that regularly cripple other tech solutions. 

Just how far ahead of the curve is Ken?

After a year of exhaustive research and millions spent, Larry Brilliant's announced (at TED 2008 last year) that they'd arrived at the conclusion that an SMS-enabled tool could be a good idea to invest MORE time and money to create a team to build and research and prototype and maybe, just maybe, deploy.  Net: according to Google, it would take years and millions to do, in effect, what FrontlineSMS had been doing for years.  Like announcing in 1973 that a moon trip looked "feasible".  Proof yet again that insitutional hubris and groupthink can blind even the smartiest of smartie-pants to nimble people with a passion doing a reverse windmill dunk over them.  [See "Salamis"]

Sure W+K sells soda and sneaks better than anyone, but we love passionate folks using innovative technologies to make peoples lives better.  We were honored to work with Ken on his web presence and logo – both of
which had to work on low speed connections and use text characters
(since many folks would interact with them only via text message).  BTW – the logo we developed with Ken is ASCII friendly and does some great stuff when you paste it into skype.  seriously. 

And it looks good on a button (see photo above).


Participatory Global Viral Video – how many more 2.0 words can you fit in and still have a failed marketing strategy?

Viral viral viral.  If you read my blog, you know I hate the term.  It isn't a term anyone agrees on, other than "viral marketing agencies" who are trying to sell it like special sauce.  For the most part, that sauce is brown, lumpy and unpredictable, like the "gravy" you get at Applebee's.  Marketers like the concept of 'viral', because to them it means "cheap media" (make a video, or app, or whatever, and distribution is FREE!), or it lets them say they "get social media" to whoever is checking off the boxes on their annual evaluation form.  But nothing is viral that PEOPLE DON'T LIKE, and figuring out WHAT PEOPLE WILL LIKE is a game everyone can play, but few play well.  Which is why most advertising SUCKS.

We've had some good hits – the Kobe jumps Aston + snakes, the
FIFA Street 3 spot, etc., but it is, to a degree, a gamble.  Like a good date.

So a video folks are talking about is this one for Stride gum, found by Melissa Sconyers on the NY Nokia Search team.

It's worth a look for two reasons: (1) it shows the power of participatory community, which is actually more interesting than the concept OR the execution, and (2) it shows how jumping onto a popular video may or may not be right for a brand.  At the end of this video, do you get that this is actually a marketing vehicle for Stride gum?  I didn't.  And I knew it before I watched, then I even clicked through to Matt's site, looking for a logo or brand mention (the logo is there, at the bottom of the page, looking very Dad at the disco). 

The story of the video as Matt tells it:
He has friend shoot video of him dancing badly in Hanoi.  Stride gum
sends him around the world to do the dance in a wide variety of places
(normal "YouTube-viral-type-web-2.0-3.0" thing).  But AFTER that video was made and
posted, people sent him their own.  And that gave him an idea.  He
re-pitched Stride with a new idea.  He traveled the world again,
inviting those people to join him.  Participatory viral goes global.

Read more here: (the website is sponsored by Stride)

And please practice safe viral.

Your Collective Brand

Melissa Sconyers, W+K interactive scout, shared with us Noah Brier’s (a Naked-ite) newest creation, Brand Tags.

"Brands exist in people’s heads" goes his premise – and here everyone’s
brand-related tags are collated and rendered as a swarm, creating a graphic
illustration of the brand as socially-constructed collective
perception, with each perception proportionally scaled by it’s
importance to the group.  [Interestingly, as participation with the site
has increased, Brier’s noted more "noise" being introduced – profanity,
brand bashing, etc.]

How does it work?  Brier’s site shows you a logo, and you free-associate a word (that becomes a tag) into the handy blank field.  Then the next logo appears.  It’s shockingly simple, and irritatingly addictive.  So people come to you to tell you about your brand.  Contrast this with Summize, the Twitter search tool that searches public twits/tweets for brand mentions and aggregates them, or their "sentiment"

He’s cobbled together a single player Google Image Labeler, only now instead of help Google tag every image using your free labor, you can help Brands get a gut check.  And make Naked look brilliant.  Sweeet.

What I really liked was the gaming aspect of the site – Brier lets you try to guess the brand based on the swarm and see the tags posted by referral URL (so you can ferret out any domain-based swarm biases 🙂

Melissa conjectures that the site coding may reveal potential Brier-based brand bias in the order in which brands were entered – Nike is #1 (ID=1), Google is #2 (ID=2), etc. – but his numbering scheme skips from #9 (H&M) and doesn’t pick up again until #25 (Yahoo!).  Perhaps this has something to do with their client list?   Or maybe he’s leaving room to put them in later?

Check these swarms for W+K partners:

Brand Jordan
EA Sports

If Brand Tags sits at one end of the spectrum of collective brands (where people are required to go to a destination to create and experience collective perceptions), Summize sits at the other.

Summize positions itself as a provider of "conversational search", and it searchs public twitter streams for keywords.  Enter a brand, get a slew of brand-relevant tweets.  In aggregate, it’s a pretty interesting snapshot of what people are saying, right now, about your brand.  You can even sift for sentiment.


New Year’s Shreds and Wishes

Times Square New York saw two interesting ‘New Year’s’ variations on a theme: On the one hand, prior to New Year’s Eve, a shredder was set up for ‘Good Riddance Day’, where folks could rid themselves (via shredding) of bad things from 2007 – foreclosure notices, pink slips, letters from ex-husbands, etc. A recycling truck was on hand to cart of the residue and bad karma. No sooner had they cleaned up than TimesSquareNYC set up a website (“Wishing Wall Online”) where users could enter New Year’s wishes which were then printed on confetti and dropped on revelers at midnight.