June 12, 2008

SAP Global Survey: AccountAbility's Steve Rochlin

Steve Rochlin, AccountAbility

 [Steve Rochlin from his photo file]

Quite recently, I learned that "Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was more than just a platitude. It is an emerging category. Large companies are employing staff to work on it full time. CSR professionals are forming networks where they share information, insights and resources. Increasingly, they are using social media to further their goals.

Is CSR just some form of new do-good tokenism used by large enterprises to hide their vices between a thin veil of good behavior?  There are certainly some cases of that. But, at  the recent SAPphire gathering in Orlando, I attended a roundtable of nearly 30 people from such diverse groups as Kimberly-Clark and the Carnegie Council. While there was a high level of passion expressed by participants, there was clearly a level-headed and pragmatic approach to it. These were people who wanted to move the needle on enterprise behavior toward people and the planet.

It was the most interesting event I attended at SAPphire, not counting the Eric Clapton concert.

This was due, in no small part, to the workshop's co-leadership of SAP's James Farrar, VP for corporate citizenship and Steve Rochlin, North American head of Accountability, an international nonprofit that partners with business to promote CSR. He has built a career on the issue of corporate citizenship.

I asked Steve to describe what CSR is and is not and to describe how social media is being used to generate a global CSR conversation. He also explains why CSR is good business.

1. Exactly what is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and who cares about it

In plain terms, CSR asks companies to be accountable for good, bad, or indifferent impacts their actions have on the environment, to communities, employees or people. What constitutes “good” or “bad” is subject to negotiation between companies and stakeholders-- groups, individuals, and communities who could be significantly affected by the way a business behaves.

CSR asks business to report transparently on both the harms and benefits it creates for the environment, individuals, and communities. And finally, it asks business to contribute positively to improve environmental sustainability, the development opportunities of low income individuals, and the overall quality of life. CSR expects a company to make these efforts in ways that can actually benefit its own competitive position.

2. How do you respond to the cynic's viewpoint that CSR is just lipstick on a greedy, smoke-spewing dragon? In other words, some folks argue that CSR lets a company say all the right things while continuing to conduct irresponsible activities in the name of profit?

The problem is that there’s no consensus on CSR's definition. So this does, in fact, leave room for companies to make CSR an exercise in PR or worse. There are too many examples of companies giving a few thousand bucks to a charity, then paying in the low six figures to advertise how great they are for giving the money. My favorite story is of a funeral home that promised an elementary school a brand new computer center if it made sure to encourage the kids to send the grandparents their way when their time was up.

Too many try to make CSR about giving a few pennies here and there. But it’s not about that. As our name underscores, accountability is at the core of CSR. What exactly do we expect companies to be accountable for in the way they treat the environment, communities, customers, employees, and shareholders?

Do companies share enough with us about their performance? Do they transparently report on what they are up to? Do they listen to criticism and work to improve? Do they give their most important stakeholders—the individuals whose lives could really be affected by the corporate decisions—some kind of voice and influence?

3.  Tell me about AccountAbility. How did it get started and why? How has it emerged? What does the head of AccountAbility do on a typical day--assuming you have typical days?

In 1995, a group of really visionary folk saw that the relationship between business and society was changing. They predicted that companies would be pressured to issue annual “CSR” reports documenting their environmental, social, and economic impacts.

They envisioned the proliferation of independent, global efforts to establish “standards” or codes of conduct for companies to adopt on everything from climate change, to human rights, to labor practices, and dozens of other issues. They said, “we’re going to need an organization that is always looking around the corner, seeing what’s coming, helping us prepare to meet it, and not letting us get too complacent or self-satisfied about what the rest of us are up to.” They created AccountAbility. We work to be innovative, but clear-eyed and practical. We try to make CSR work by really getting at the heart of what we hold business accountable for, and what others in the world need to be accountable for too. It’s not all one-way and dumped on business. We need mutual accountability, shared responsibility and ways of working collaboratively.

So we designed frameworks and tools. With IBM and The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship we founded the Global Leadership Network (GLN) , a network of about 40 companies collaborating to define the terms of performance excellence for CSR and then demonstrate leadership. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the United Nations Global Compact is involved as well. We have networks in China, Brazil, and India. We use an online, interactive, web platform to help companies self assess, plan CSR strategy, and benchmark.

We do a lot of work with companies to help them build collaboratively designed strategies with stakeholders. We’ve worked with SAP, GE, Nestle and many others on this. We designed one of the leading systems to assure — or verify — these CSR reports I mentioned earlier. It’s called AA1000. We partner with Fortune International and others to rate the accountability of the largest 100 corporations in the world. And we rate countries on how well they create a business climate that allows companies to be competitive and responsible to the environment and communities. Finally, we help companies, “non-governmental organizations (NGOs),” and governments partners to solve tough problems. So there is no typical day for me.

4. How does social media come in? What Social Media projects has AccountAbility started or participated in? Are you considering blogs, Twitter, FaceBook or online video?

In addition to our GLN, we are just finishing a worldwide wiki process to update our AA1000 standard on assuring — or verifying — CSR reports. We struggled with this at first, but got the hang of it, and it is been just a great and powerful process to use the power of social media communities to make vital improvements in this standard.

Third, we’ve just created a relationship with OpenDemocracy. It is a leader in creating blogs and other content vehicles to promote discussion on globalization and strengthening democracy. We often guest-post on OpenDemocracy and we host them in our offices.

We also have a Facebook account.

Fifth, SAP has supported a fascinating effort we’re leading with Web 2.0 analyst RedmonkBusiness for Social Responsibility (BSR) on Web 2.0 on the sustainable enterprise and the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) are helping to lead this as well. Among the things we’re doing is having debate and dialogue via a wiki platform. Those interested should email me and I’ll be happy to send you an invite.

5. Why has AccountAbility opted to embrace social media at this time? Where are you going with it?

Social media tools could be a veritable godsend for those working to advance a progressive vision of the relationship of business to society. And since this vision bolts squarely onto big challenges like climate change, biodiversity, energy policy, poverty, access to education, human rights, food and hunger, disaster relief and recovery, access to medicines for poor people, health and quality of life, and numerous other concerns, these tools could be a godsend for work on these specific issues too. But too many of us are playing the role of late adopters (if not out-and-out skeptics). We think that too many working on these issues have overlooked the power of social media.

We need to catch up and we need to help others catch up too.

6. Can you give me a good example of a company that has changed an activity because of CSR?

Oh, there are too many to mention. I get excited when I see companies like IBM using CSR as a vehicle to enhance R&D. It’s led to some truly profound initiatives like the World Community Grid , which gives supercomputing power to AIDS researchers, voice recognition technology for the elderly and disabled, and an SME toolkit for entrepreneurs in low income communities.

I look at General Electric, which has created a whole business model called ecomagination designed to help customers reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions. I look at cement manufacturer CEMEX which has created a new business model to help poor people get affordable housing and sell ready-mix bags of cement to markets they never thought about before. I look at Shell Oil helping to provide innovative, sustainable alternative energy solutions to poor, rural communities.

I look at Dow Chemical, British Telecom, Nokia, and so many others who are making big commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. I look at the network of major companies joining Business Leaders Initiative on Human Rights to make sure the rights of workers in supply chains are protected.

There is just so much that’s going on.

7. Can you give me a great AccountAbility CSR success story?

Our Responsible Competitive Index inspired the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to enter into an agreement with us to improve its performance. They see this as part of their effort to become one of the top 10 most competitive countries in the world.

We’ve helped one of the largest companies in the world design the first, worldwide human rights policy in its industry. We have a partnership to help revive the garment industries of poor countries now that World Trade Organization-imposed purchasing quotas have been lifted.

We manage a partnership of over 70 organizations that include WalMart, Levi Strauss, Nike, CARE, Oxfam, the World Bank and others. This work has helped save some good jobs and created conditions to prevent sweatshops in countries like Bangladesh and Lesotho. 

We have helped another top 100 company to acknowledge that it must take seriously the potential health impacts of one of its signature products. We’ll be facilitating a series of dialogues on what it can do over the next few months. We also helped a very famous apparel brand avoid a mistake that would have been devastating to its reputation. Its marketing team got too aggressive and was about to launch a major campaign about become “carbon negative.” We showed them that this would be a very problematic idea. I’m proud to say we have many other examples.

8. From an enterprise perspective, where's the ROI in CSR?

I have a love-hate relationship with this question. It is absolutely clear that CSR can generate top-line revenues for a company. It can inspire innovation. It can support new product development. It can open new markets and reignite moribund ones. It can acquire customers. It can recruit and retain employees. It can enhance brand and reputation. It can reduce costs. It can mitigate risks by protecting the so-called “social license to operate.” It can help raise share price.

Or it can do none of these things. Or it can do the exact opposite.

People approach CSR like the movie Field of Dreams. “Build it and they will come.” That doesn’t work for CSR. In fact, it just about doesn’t work for anything a business does. Very few experience the dream where you launch a product that sells itself.

Any company whether B2B or B2C in any industry can generate ROI from CSR. But that company has to be smart and strategic. It has to identify what the most material social and environmental issues are. It needs to assess what kinds of investments will produce what kinds of returns.

Most companies don’t do this. They see CSR as a type of PR. It’s not. It is fundamental and core to the business. Or they see CSR as a “do-gooder” exercise of “giving back.” This drives me crazy. Don’t “give back.” Understand what you are accountable for. Think strategically about how responding to your accountabilities can actually drive business success.

9. You seem to be in a triangulated alliance with Redmonk and SAP? Why do they work so closely with you? Can you name some other AccountAbility allies?

Well we did work with SAP to help it build a CSR strategy, identify material social and environmental issues, and engage with key stakeholders. Out of this we brainstormed an opportunity to look into Social Media as a potential driver of responsible business performance. Redmonk has a great reputation as an industry analyst that uses social media creatively. And it has begun to look into sustainability issues in a big way. It’s been a great partnership all the way around.

10. Additional Comments?

We’re learning that
social media puts some amazing tools at our disposal. Whether we use them to construct the kind of society we all want to live, work, play, and do business in is up to us. We’d love to connect with those interested in applying these tools to advance the responsible performance of business.


June 07, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Lego Community Pioneer Jake McKee


[Jake McKee, a Lego community pioneer. Photo from his file.]

If any of you have ever been to a Maker's Faire--an activity I highly recommend--there is usually a room dedicated to Lego, the little bricks that are supposed to be for children at play. It is much more than that.  On a recent visit to the event in San Mateo, CA, I met a kid of 14, who must have been a dead-ringer for Bill Gates at that age in looks, brilliance and geekiness. The young man had built, not just a train, but an entire model rail system out of Lego. The trains moved on sensors and the complexity of the model was startling.

Nearby, was a model of a robotic crane that could be used for nighttime site surveillance, for example,to examine hazardous area without endangering a human resource. The number of sensor-powered robots, prototypes and bizarre and innovative creations was startling.

The Lego company is now more than a billion-dollar company and it is no longer just kid stuff. It is estimated that as much as 10 % of it's revenue is for adult projects, many of which are the works of hobbyists, while a good deal are now the bricks of more serios endeavors. These adults have formed there own community, called Adult Friends of Lego (AFOL). This is an active and exuberant community. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff wrote in their recent book, Groundswell, " Some products develop such enthusiastic supporters that communities spring up naturally." 

Jake McKee, now "principal and Chief Ant Wrangler" at Ant's Eye View, a Dallas-based customer collaboration strategy practice spent five years at Lego as the Global Community Relations Specialist. His job was to make sure the company allowed the natural fundamentals of community to pervade and transfor the company over time.

Here, Jake describes his experience.

1. What years were you at Lego? What were your primary responsibilities? Why did you leave?

I joined Lego Direct, then newly minted Direct-to-Consumer business unit of the Lego Company, in 2000. Our group was created to help bring the voice of the consumer back to the company in a significant way. I was originally hired as a Senior Web Producer, and starting working on our community efforts nearly immediately. I was at the company for more than 5 years, and the Global Community Development Manager for most of my time there.
Primarily my duties focused on building the relationship between the company and the adult Lego hobbyists - people who had chosen the Lego brick as their creative medium of choice. When I joined the company, I had a nearly impossible time even getting meetings with colleagues to talk about the adult fans. After all, the thinking went, why bother with 5% of the market when there's work to do with the 95%. My task was to help them understand the benefits for the business overall of connecting with the adult fans.
A week before I left the company, one of the projects my team worked on was a Wired cover story. In the week after I left, the CEO announced a restructuring of the company that put adult and kid's communities as a major focuses of the company's structure. More than five hard-fought, difficult, fun, and painful years had started showing return. I'm a challenge challenge junkie, and this was a clear sign I needed to find new challenges.

2. Tell me about Adult Fans of Lego (AFOL). How many members are there and in how many companies do they reside? What percentage of them are hobbyists v. professionals?

AFOLs are adults who have chosen Lego bricks as their creative medium of choice. There are a few who make a living by making Lego creations for clients, but a vast majority are hobbyists who love the bricks.  Males in technical specialties, such as science, math and computers are the most significant demographic, but AFOL is comprised of people in a diversity of fields and from all walks of life. It's been interesting to watch over the years how things have moved from a fairly heavy percentage of "tech nerds" when the communities were first forming to a fairly mainstream representation.
It's nearly impossible to say for sure how many AFOLs there are worldwide today, but when I was there, we estimated there were tens of thousands of active participants who make themselves known as adult LEGO enthusiasts.  Of course, there are countless "sleepers," people who build here and there, but haven't thought, "I wonder if there are other adult Lego lover out there--like me." The internet has created an incredible rise to Lego fans looking to connect and discover. The internet allows then to connect across time and distance in a way previously inconceivable.

3. What are some of the most interesting creations by adult hobbyists?

Wow, it's hard to pick just one. AFOLs have created (and continue to create daily) some of the most amazing things. On Brickshelf , a very old school image sharing site focused on Lego images, there are 2.3 million images. There are countless blogs, discussion forums and personal sites that also share images. And of course Flickr and the other photo sharing sites have their fair share as well.
Some of my favorites include the massive aircraft carrier , Nathan's huge, creepy, and excellent "Gray", the hilarious NesQuik Bunny Space Ship, or the baby yawn mosaic. The list of brilliant, original creations is very long.
4. Tell me about Lego prototypes for professional purposes, such as robotics and prosthetics. How did this get started? Why use Lego for modeling? is there a community built around professional modeling?
While I'm not sure specifically about prosthetics, the LEGO product has been used in countless ways beyond a simple child's toy. From corporate strategy brainstorming to teaching special needs kids various concepts, and tons of things in between.  Lego is a creative medium, not a toy. Just like painting or sculpture can be used for a variety of purposes, so can Lego.

5. You were the Community Guy responsible for the LEGO Ambassador program. How many members are there? How are they selected? How many apply? What does Lego gain by the Ambassador Community?

The Lego Ambassador program was a program I kicked off about a year before I left the company, and was primarily meant to help further the connection between company and community. At that time, we'd finally begun seeing the internal support momentum for working with AFOLs pick up steam and we needed a more scalable way to connect with the broader community. In the early days of our AFOL interactions, you could nearly talk to every fan interested in talking to you. But by that point, AFOLs were joining the community increasingly faster and more and more colleagues were getting interested in connecting with them. The Ambassador program was meant to create a more formalize structure for our interaction to a smaller group of fans who then could help to represent the larger community into the company, and distribute answers and content out to the larger loose knit community of fans.
When we started, we had a fixed 15 "seats" and the program ran in 6 month cycles. Every 6 months, every Ambassador re-applied. In our first cycle we had about 75 apply, which was impressive considering how minimal the information about the program was at that time. I've heard in recent cycles, the LEGO Community Team has increased the number of seats, and has also had a steady growth of overall applications.
Overall the program seems to work pretty effectively, helping to give the community a better, more focused voice inside the company. After all, the LEGO Community Team is relatively small and the community is huge. Ambassadors acted as a "congress", for lack of a better term. They represent the voice of the community into the company, as well as delivering news, asking questions from the company, and giving instant feedback to the company.

6.  What do Lego users gain in general from the Ambassador program? How do the Ambassadors interact with The fan-created LUGNET (Lego User-Generated Network)?

The company gets great feedback and an instant connection to the community through the Ambassador program. Ambassadors are just like any other fan, although they have a designation of "Ambassador." Many Ambassadors use the program icon as profile images or post footers on the various community sites like LUGNET or Classic-Castle.

7. Back in 2005, Lego product development got hacked by some adult Lego enthusiasts. Instead of freaking out, Lego embraced the hackers. Why?

That was in the early days of Lego Factory, a project that allows users to build a model on their computer, upload the model, then order it as a kit, arriving a short time later in a custom box. Lego Factory has many unique aspects, not least of which is that I can design something myself and have every Lego element pulled specifically for my model.
n the early days, however, we just didn't have the logistics down for fulfilling these custom orders. While the system has been refined and runs smoothly, at the outset, we settled on using the pre-packed bags from existing sets to deliver the custom orders. It was inefficient and turned out to be expensive for users, who had to purchase the entire bags.
The community rightfully decided to figure out how the pre-pack bag dynamic worked, so they could make more efficient designs, thus reducing costs. Despite press reports, in my view, it was less about "hacking", and more about crowd-source collaboration. Community members started digging into how the design software worked and how the site calculated costs and shared those results with other community members.
We were excited to see this level of engagement. Our customers helped us solve--or at least provide a better band-aid--to an inelegant implementation. Considering that they weren't doing any harm and were simply opening files on their computer that our software had installed or watching the website, we figured, "why try to stop it?"

8. How have the Lego online communities changed the company?

Significantly, and from top to bottom.

Of course, my view is biased view may be biased. The company I joined in 2000 was a much different one than when I left in 2006. It is even more different, from an outsider's view in 2008. Today, every product line shows some community influence; a stark contrast from 2000 when we didn't have any real connection to adult customers.

Generally, the company is showing the affects of remembering that there are real people doing real (and amazing) things with the product that is developed inside the four walls. The adult fans, while still representing a small percentage of overall sales, help to remind everyone from product designers to marketing folks to manufacturing line workers that the product they're creating and selling isn't a toy but a creative medium.

9. How did your experience at Lego change you personally and professionally? What are you doing now and why do you call it 'Ant's Eye View?'

As a kid my two career choices were astronaut and/or Lego product designer. Getting the job at Lego, quite literally, fulfilled a life-long dream. This taught me two important lessons:

1. You don't get anything unless you ask, and
2. When you ask, you better be ready to respond.

Beyond that, by working with the Lego and its communities, I witnessed first-hand that great products can bring people together. They can change lives for the better, and they can change the world. I've seen so many hugs and handshakes exchanged between people who have known each other for years but were only just meeting. I've seen events that light up a child's eyes run by volunteers who work hard to provide that sparkle.
My time at LEGO proved to me that your work can and should be significant. If you can't delight your customers and improve the world, why bother?


May 28, 2008

Jim Spath Rolls his own SAP Survey

It has been a long time since anyone has rolled their own answers to the SAP Global Survey on Social Media, Culture & Business, which I have been conducting on this site now for one full year. Early on, a blogger decided to post his answers to my questions on his blog, rather than mine. Then, another blogger took those questions and answered them on his blog, sending me a link. Next, yet another blogger changed a couple of questions making them more to her liking, and posted them.

For a while, the Survey was taking on a life of it's own. But then it just sort of fizzled out, and I've gotten to be the exclusive interviewer for the past several months, until last night when Jim Spath, a Maryland-based engineer, decided to role his own SAP questions.

I first met Jim Spath in Twitterville, where I enjoyed his tweets and his wry humor. Jim, a technical architect for Black & Decker, blogs and tweets on his own time. We finally met face-to-face at SAPphire, Orlando, earlier this month, where 15,000 members of the SAP community got together. Jim and I got to spend a fair amount of time together and I enjoyedit immensely.

Now, Jim has resusitated the Roll-Your-Own SAP survey with some excellent answers. Maybe this will catch on again. If you take these questions and adapt them, you can either send them to me or post them yourself, sending me the link. If they seem useful or interesting to my readers, I will post or link to them.

April 27, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Australia's Laurel Papworth

Building a Social Network for Arab Women


Saudi Women's Scial Media Conference

[Panel at Recent Saudi Workshop to launch Women's Social Network. Photo by Laurel Papworth]

Laurel Papworth is an Australian social media consultant, trainer and lecturer. She is best known on Twitter as Silkcharm, a name she adopted during her many years as an online game moderator for Ultima Online and Everquest among others.

More recently, I followed Laurel with fascination, as she blogged reports from inside Saudi Arabia where she was speaking and teaching at a workshop for Saudi women who have since launched a pan-Arab women's social network. I learned through Laurel that some of my perceptions of the lives of Arab women, social media and what they do online was pretty much offbase. While much of the outrages we read about are factual, there is more going on than oppression and suppression. While the fashions being imposed may be circa 6th century, the thinking and online activities is very much modern times. There is even flirting, so long as you do it anonymously and a family member doesn't catch you.

I asked Laurel to expand on what she has already written. The following is excerpted from our email conversation.

1. You have two blogs. One shows an almost stern-looking corporate sort of woman. The other portrays a free-wheelin' Aussie with pink hair. How do you reconcile these multiple personalities?


undefined, my Twitter and one blog presence evolved from the late 90s when I was a game moderator. In those days, we kept our real identity separate from our online persona.  SilkCharm is the name I have used for my primary avatar since the late '90s.

LaurelPapworth.com  is for those who feel more comfortable with a brochure 1.0 website than the aforementioned freewheeling exuberant blog. I keep it as one does a professional site - no comments or user content. Simply stark information: where I appear on TV, what keynotes I'm doing, which public courses. Plus the usual marketing guff: "this is the strategy I do with investors in Social Networks, these are my clients, this is my work at the University of Sydney and University of Western Sydney. " and so on.

I'm building a bridge from social networks back to traditional companies and these two personna suit my purpose. I want to have both sides of myself out there: the part that knows that to grow an audience one needs to have fun and play with them. And that part that knows that conservative companies would completely freak if they had to rely on my SilkCharm to sell my services to their organizations.

We are taking people on a journey, and if I need to start off by pointing them to a my 'corporate' site and then move them across to a more gonzo style blog, so be it.

Twitter is pretty well full of people who 'get it' - therefore I don't have to worry Laurel.  I point my profile to my Silkcharm blog. Blogs are, in marketing terms, one-to-many distribution channels for depth-of-content. This means the blogger sets the topic and tone for the discussion, which is usually indepth and thought out in isolation and then published. And the commenter's respond in a similar tone, usually succinctly in a few sentences.  Pretty well the opposite of Twitter which is many-to-many of streaming content. Step out of Twitter for a few days and the conversation has moved on. I use the blog to develop and build ideas and then Twitter and Facebook to distribute them. 

Incidentally, the academic Laurel (Lecturer Laurel) is different again from Corporate Laurel. But like most people, I can only cope with one or two nicknames at a time. 

2. How did you come to be invited to Saudi Arabia? Why did you decide to go? What scared you about going and can you talk about your problems getting into the country?

Why did I agree to go? Because I thought that giving Arabic women a voice was not only darned important but truly a social media revolutionary act. How could I NOT go?

How I got invited is a longer story.

I'm an irregular on several Australian podcasts including Extraordinary Everyday People with David N. Wallace  and Mike Serfang. Eventually,  Mike asked me to help him write a job description for a Community Manager position for an Arabic women's network for the Middle East. Then I was asked to keynote and run computer lab workshops at woman's network launch event in Saudi Arabia. 

We did this on the fly. Dates kept changing. Until the last minute I did not believe this was actually going to happen. There were difficulties with tickets and reservations. But there were four bigger barriers imposed on women by Saudis:

  1. Women, are not allowed to enter the country without a husband or father-a male guardian or "Mahram."
  2. There is a special area at the airport to escort women through. 
  3. Women are not allowed to stay at hotels without a male family member.
  4. Women are not allowed to drive or be transported in a car without a male "guardian."

I was not shocked by these rules imposed by Islamic culture. In 1999, I lived in Fes, Morocco, to study Arabic, sort of on a whim. But Saudi Arabia is not Morocco. And I had some real concerns.

First, kudos to Queen Sam--not her real name, but it suits her-- a young Arabic woman who was able to swing some visas for us. I don't know how she did it, but she did. So I met Sam at the airport in Dubai and got in line for Jeddah with a group of modern/traditional mixed Saudis. Some of the women wore their hair down and jeans with tops. Others were covered in the black Abaya (gown) and Tarha (headscarf), collectively called Hijabs. 

The coverup rules are based on Koranic quote: "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks all over their bodies, that is most convenient that they should be known (as such) and not molested."

About 10 minutes before we landed in Jeddah, the women changed into their Hijabs. Queen Sam and I put ours on as we were flying over Mecca, that most holy of Islamic sites. By the time we de- planed, the women were covered. All were guided to the special waiting area for their Mahram to collect them.

Except Queen Sam and I didn't have a Mahram.

So she rang up Mideast Broadcast Company (MBC) a sponsor who added great credibility to this project,  and requested a driver to collect us. Yousef, our driver, showed up 3 1/2 hours later, an apparent indication of how important picking up two women guests at the airport is considered. . 

undefined delivered us to the Jeddah Hilton. Thankfully, we were allowed to check in. I was told the laws had been recently amended to allow women to stay in hotels. Some hotels - presumably those run by fundamentalists - still don't allow women to stay, but the Hilton was fine, and we would wear our abayas but our scarves stayed only around our necks, not over our hair.

One thing that intrigued me was that the alcohol-free restaurants were split into two areas. "Men" and "Family." If men are sitting in the family area and women come in, the men get up and move, not the women. It's more embarrassing for the men to be sitting where the women are, than dishonoring for the women to be sitting with the men. Sort of reversed to what I was expecting. It clued me in to a way to gate the online community for women only - use 'shaming' to identify male intruders. If Arabic men use the women's network, it should be made 'embarrassing' for them, not amusing. Shaming doesn't work in the West though! Some communities don't need to be 'gated' (where the member controls access to her profile) as the community manages themselves to get rid of interlopers.

3. Tell me about social media in Saudi Arabia. How is it used and by whom? How much access do people have?

This is one of the most switched on, connected, socially networked cultures I have come across - and trust me, I've worked in Amsterdam, Italy, England, Singapore, Indonesia, and right across Asia. I suspect it's because when you block one form of communication - men and women chatting and going to school together and so on -  we use other means.

First, the guys wrote their cellphone number on bits of paper and threw them out of car windows at the black clad women walking along the road. Then Bluetooth came along and changed all that. Turn your phone on, give yourself a sassy pseudonym--it's important! not to use your real name-- and wait for the offers to flow in.

And flow in they do. The guys don't know which woman is which: "are you the girl by the DVD shelves or the one by the ice cream shop?" So it's pot luck. But it doesn't matter, as most girls would never meet the guys in real life. This is cyber flirting, never to cross over from the virtual to the tangible.

So, why a pseudonym/avatar? "... a new Saudi law was submitted to the 150–member Majlis al–Shoura, calling for stiff sanctions for mobile phone "pornography," including 1,000 lashes, 12 years in jail, and a fine of 100,000 Saudi riyals, or around US$26,670." 

A bit more serious than being grounded for the week end because you got caught flirting on the phone...

I was told that YouTube and MySpace were banned in Saudi. They weren't - at least not at the Hilton in-room broadband, which was very fast (and better than Australia's). By the way, the Australian Government bans youTube and other social networking sites in government offices in Australia, and it's banned in schools in some states. So we have our fair share of censorship. I guess Australian children say "oh I better not go on YouTube if the adults are banning it".  Heh.

I thought I was going to Saudi Arabia to teach Arabic women how to blog and protect their identity online. Yeah. Right. I was kidding myself. These women are completely savvy and au fait with privacy and locking up their content. Whereas we are slowly waking up to the invisible audience and what can happen if someone mashes up our personal RSS feeds from Facebook, Twitter and blogs, Saudi women have it figured.

They are on Facebook but with a pet name like "Queen Sam." They experiment and flirt and are outrageous on instant chat channels - but in secret, privately. In a country where women are not allowed out of the house without their father's permission and a brother to drive them, they stay in contact with married sisters in other cities and best friends in the neighboring suburbs by sharing (gated/locked down) photos and poems and music. Poems more than music, interestingly.

4. In one of your posts, you wrote about an "as yet unfounded" online community for Arab women. Tell me more about it? How did these women enroll and what countries are they from? .

Why is this project important if this is nation whose women already connect, flirt, create and express online? It has to do with changing society from top down as well as grassroots up. MBC 4 (the Arabic women's TV channel) got behind creating a social network for women. And that makes a world of difference – no longer an underground movement but an online community that is ratified from the highest level – from the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps the biggest leap is that MBC is behind ths project. Based in Dubai, MBC is believed to be funded by the Royal House of Saud. Some say it was set up to compete with Al Jazeera, which is regarded as being anti-Saudi and pro-Qatar.  For a media company funded by the establishment, 'giving' or supporting social media is a big step. Consider the Egyptian woman, Esra Abdel Fattah, who was jailed for creating a Facebook group complaining about price rises in Egypt  or the Saudi Arabian girl beaten then shot and killed by her father for being on Facebook. 

A brave and commendable act by MBC to launch imatter.mbc.net.

The women's online network launched just two nights ago as of this interview. It is now open to Arabic women all over the world. 286 signed up yesterday, bringing the sum total to 575 members in 48 hours… not bad!  Unfortunately, in my opinion, the British agency that installed the community solution –Dolphin – adapted the template poorly, didn't integrate (a simple bridge) the forum user database with the main community database and basically showed a lack of understanding building a community. It would've been helpful if they had got behind this project and made it a world leader, but never mind.  

You will see on the site that the primary purpose is to encourage women to submit applications for awards

  • Art Matters,
  • Community Matters,
  • New Media Matters and
  • Entrepreneurial Matters.

All to encourage women in the Middle East and other Arabic groups to state why they matter to the world and that their ideas matter.

The first 50 members were enrolled through the classes that I ran at the Effat College for Women in Jeddah. The others were encouraged in the last 48 hours through promos on MBC 4 TV station in Dubai and across the region. Queen Sam sent me a message on Facebook to say how excited she was to see the signups coming in and didn't want to go to bed. I fully understand –there's nothing so exciting as seeing a new community start to become populated rapidly!

5. How were you received at the conference? What was the biggest single takeaway for you? What did you say or do that surprised the Saudi women the most?

The conference and workshops were fun. The young women were interested in what I had to say, and  most were well traveled and educated (Saudi is a rich nation, and this is the best University for Saudi women). We talked non-stop, they made jokes about not wanting to drive cars anyway because Saudi men are such bad drivers. Every January there is talk about allowing women to drive but it comes to nought. I saw a school bus cross four lanes of traffic at high speed to take an exit.

I think my biggest takeaway was that there is no clear stance on any issue. Even I was starting to get confused – was my wearing the Abaya and Tarha a mark of respect for the women of another culture, or was I endorsing the patriarchal suppression of women?  One or two women were ribald, telling naughty jokes and having midriff tops and a peeking g-string in private, yet genuinely prudish and covered up in other situations.

I surprised them the most by showing how concerned I was about keeping my headscarf on. I really worried it would slip and reveal my hair and that would be massively disrespectful. It turns out that in Jeddah at least, most of them don't care so much except at evening prayer times when the religious police patrol the malls at prayer time five times daily to find people who are not in the mosque and not covered up. In fact, I was encouraged to remove my scarf when lecturing. Women don't cover up in front of women. It's seen as old-fashioned to remain covered at all times, and it also doesn't necessarily set the precedent for how the women lecturers want the students to relate to them. I removed my scarf, once I was convinced they weren't just being polite.

6. You wrote that for Saudi women, " one photo, one chat with a male alone can totally disrupt you life." Can you expand on that in terms of social media?

Saudi Arabia is an "honor" society. Like Asia, with their "keeping face," identity, reputation and trust are tantamount. In online communities, we develop our identity through our profile. We then build our reputation by submitting content which is judged (ratings, reviews, comments). After a period of time of building our reputation, we gain a trust quotient – the eBay method – people read our profile, watch our interaction with friends, consume our content and then decide what trust value to place on our responses to their questions and media submissions. In simple terms, a newbie on a network with a history of 1 day and 2 posts and 3 comments will not have the identity, reputation and ultimately trust that an Elder or a Leader will have.  The long tail of engagement and performance works for/against us in social networks.

In Saudi, the long tail of behavior in real life is also rewarded/punished.

"Last August, the capital Riyadh had witnessed the murder of a young woman by her father, after he came into her room and saw she was chatting with a young man she met on Facebook. Security sources assured Al-Arabiya.net that the father beat up his daughter then shot her."

While not all cases are that extreme, a woman who is discovered talking to a boy at the age of 15 may never live down the shame.  A girl who continually breaks the rules will have trouble getting married (and as jobs are limited, marriage IS her career path). The shame is wrought on the whole family – the police routinely pick up the girl's mahram (guardian) and warn him if she misbehaves or is found in a car with a man not her husband or sitting in a café in a mixed group. The shame for the father of being hauled into a police station is no small thing.

This is an interesting article on Saudi Arabia that goes into greater depthnon social media and Arab culture.

8. When building a woman's community, how can you ensure one is not a male? What would happen if that occurred?

Intriguingly, Arabic men may not like registering at the site. It's girly, pink and not macho. Not an environment these men will want to be caught in, even if the rewards of reaching a pretty Middle Eastern woman is high. A little like suggesting the football team dress as cheerleaders to pick up women – funny yes, but not typical dating behavior.

I think the girls will tease and shame the men who join. Men who join may keep their profile low key – an avatar picture of flowers instead of their own photo. There seems to be a sense of 'this stuff happens but it can't happen blatantly'. An acknowledgement that women get messages via Bluetooth on their phone, but as long as they don't act on them, it's OK.

The community can vote up or down participants so they'll mute badass boys. The usual community tools to reward good behavior and smack naughtiness. In fact, like any online community, setting up the Code of Conduct and Etiquette Statement, creating moderator sub-communities, ensuring that usability and sociability reinforce appropriate behaviors, setting good examples - tell them, show them, reward them. Reward leadership, assign roles and responsibilities, introduce karma and rating systems. They all bring about appropriate behavior and serve to limit the impact of inappropriate ones.

8. I was surprised that you said older women were pushing for change, but younger women are not; that younger women wear the Abaya [black cloak] and Toma [head cover] as badges of pride. It's a response, you say to 9.11. How so?

When my sister and I were little, we would fight each other, being nasty as only little girls can be.  We could've killed each other. Yet, if a stranger attacked either one of us, we turned in unison to protect our sisterhood and trounce the outsider. We still do it today, only not when her children and my niece and nephew are watching.

Perhaps it's easiest to see it this way: Some Americans may not agree with American Foreign Policy – or how politicians implement global initiatives overseas. They may even speak up about it – blog or talk to friends and family. Yet most Americans would not blame individual soldiers – it would be unpatriotic and downright disgraceful to be abusive to a man or woman just because he or she is in a uniform.

Now, imagine every time you travel, you are abused. Your passport is checked and triple checked. You and your wife and your children are hauled into immigration offices every time someone notes you have an American passport. Then you are questioned about why your wife wears a headscarf. Your children are called names and blamed for wars in far off places they can't even spell yet.

I think in that case, even American sons and daughters would change their mind about disagreeing with foreign policy and start to be more "patriotic" or at least, less willing to put up with criticism.  Stop disagreeing with the State and keep quiet. After all, when under attack, we must band together and forget about "petty" differences.

I suspect that is what happens to these women. They see their brothers refused entry to foreign universities, (We've just had a witch hunt against Saudi male students at some of our Australian universities,) their fathers humiliated at airports and their cousins reviled while walking down the street. I think I would be more patriotic to the abaya and scarf in that case too, a quiet show of solidarity and strength to one culture against another.

So it was easy for a woman one moment to say that women should be more free and not be penalized for not wearing the abaya, and the next to say it is a patriotic and religious duty to wear the national standard of dress for Saudi Arabia.

9. How do you think social media will change the life and culture of Saudi women? How do you see it impacting Saudi culture and relationships with the West overall? Let's stretch a bit: Do you think social media can contribute to greater peace and understanding between Arab and Western cultures?

Well to extend the discussion above, it could go either way: "Others stated that Saudi women suffered as a result to their presence on such websites, since they sometimes found mocking or insulting comments mostly written by extremists who browsed these websites and pages. "   

Web 2.0/3.0 changes the game not just in social media. Think recruitment and project management for examples. eLance and Rentacoder break the "dating" model of recruitment sites – brokerage and introductions – and manage the whole development and project cycle. Because a job on eLance covers the whole project management and escrow process, why can't an Arabic female architect or engineer, take on a project overseas, complete it, with no one the wiser that she is Saudi and not supposed to work in that field?

For women who don't have much time for themselves – family and religious duties are heavier in Saudi Arabia than the West - blogging and self expression online is a "personal me-time" that we take for granted. Also, as usual with the internet, anything banned immediately becomes more accessible and popular, so an openness is to be expected.

What we read changes our views.

But we also stay the same. If there's one thing I've learnt about social networks is that we do MORE of what we usually do. So if we are fundamental Islam or fundamental Christian, we are drawn to those communities. If we are academics interested in observing, ditto. Gun lovers find gun communities. If we are cosmopolitan, well educated, literate and polyglots, we will find a community with our values. Rednecks who are xenophobic love their online communities too. On a media platform where we don't just create the content but also filter (acting as a censor for oneself) we will continue to form and reinforce the world in our own image. For better or for worse.


10. Additional comments?

When I lived in Morocco for a year, studying Arabic, a young Moroccan woman asked me shyly "is it true your father sent you out to work and made you get a job when you turned 18?". Well that's one way of seeing it, though I doubt good ol' Dad will understand.  We can't judge another's world can we?


April 04, 2008

SAP Global Survey: H&R Block's Paula Drum

Social Media for Taxing Situations

Paula Drum, H&R Block

It's that time of year again. Spring is in the air. Bird chirp. Flowers bloom, and in the US, a great many of us miss part of it, because it is also tax time. It is also the only time of year when the words "H&R Block" readily come to mind for a great many people.

H&R Block is the world’s preeminent tax services provider, having served more than 400 million clients since 1955 and generating annual revenues of $4 billion last year--that's pre-tax of course.  I don't know what percent of the US population uses their tax preparation services, but they can go in to any of 13,000 offices or use the company's TaxCut online and software service.

Add to this the fact that the company is based in Kansas City, and it makes H&R Block appear to be among the least likely  candidates for coverage in the SA Global Survey on social media's impact on business and culture, but recently, and quite quickly, H&R Block seems to be active in a great number of social media spaces. In fact, I can find no consumer retail or services company that is as active in social media as is H&R Block.

The source of all this activity seems to be Paula W. Drum, Block's VP of marketing for digital tax solutions. She joined the company recently--in 2006 and has driven a mass effort to reposition the venerable tax preparation company as an overall tax expert and she has used some remarkably innovative social media programs to achieve that goal.

So, I postponed my own meeting this morning to prepare this report on my conversations with Paula:

1. You came to H&R Block in 2006. You immediately began driving what is among the most extensive business-to-consumer social media campaigns in history. Yet, I could find little in your background to indicate social media experience. How did you become aware of SM and why did you think it was the right course for Block?


I'm flattered that you characterize our activities as "the most extensive business-to-consumer social media campaigns in history."  I've never thought of it that way.  When I came to H&R Block my mandate was to grow our digital business.  My background was in establishing the e-commerce and interactive marketing divisions for very well-known brands such as Alamo, Rent-A-Car and Days Inn. I've been in the online space since the beginning days of travel e-commerce when no one had much experience in e-commerce or interactive marketing. Those travel brands had flourished with a product that was perfectly suited to e-commerce and it was great fun innovating what was the first experience with the brand – making the reservation. Because the brands were well-known, consumers knew to seek us out directly online.  I was helping to facilitate the overall brand experience.  However, the challenge was very different at H&R Block. 

H&R Block enjoys great brand awareness (99%) but that is awareness of H&R Block as a brick and mortar tax company. Consumers were not aware of H&R Block as a strong contender in digital tax. The market leader, TurboTax, was becoming ubiquitous with approximately 70% market share. To grow our digital business and continue to position the brand overall, we needed to drive awareness that H&R Block was more than the traditional corner tax office. In my past work, I observed the growing power of social networks and user generated content.  My goal was to build awareness of H&R Block as an online brand as well as a brick and mortar brand.


2. What obstacles did you face at H&R Block in getting social media program implemented? How did you overcome them?


I was lucky. There was more support for testing and learning than absolute obstacles. In our first year I positioned most of our social media activities as "tests." They were not a substantial part of my overall media mix, so there was little perceived risk. Most senior executives did not believe that the YouTube contest was going to be as successful as it was. I also needed to convince some executives that SecondLife was a good venue for our brand as well. There were many negative articles about SecondLife before and after we launched our island, so I've had to continue to justify our activity there a few times. There were also some legal hurdles to overcome when we started blogging. Our legal department felt that a blog needed to uphold the same standards as a corporate sponsored advertisement so they did not want any executive expressing an opinion that could not be substantiated the same way that we substantiate our marketing claims. Yikes.   

Fortunately, our "small tests" had some great successes and paved the way to develop a more extensive program in year two.


3. What was the thinking behind your "Super Sweet Refund" YouTube campaign? Can you tell me about the responses in terms of numbers? Tell me about a few of the best/worst contest submissions?


I was amazed by the quality and creativity of the submissions.  There were some really great videos.  A few of my personal favorites are "Death and Taxes" and "Possibilities." We have them highlighted on our new site Digits . I still watch them. It's hard to get them out of your head once you've seen them.

To launch the contest we created some seed videos to serve as contest examples. We promoted the contest on YouTube's home page with the seed video "Candy." In one day, "Candy" received over 1.7 million views and YouTube tells us that we still hold the record for the most views of a home page video. In all, the contest videos received over 4 million views. 

Some of the biggest learnings for me were:

  • How quickly our competition copied us with their TaxRap featuring Vanilla Ice.
  • We should have leveraged the contest across multiple communities because people join more than one social network
  • We should have made it clearer that the community selected contest winners, not us. The winning author did what it takes to win a popularity contest--She promoted herself, getting friends to vote. As a result we received a fair amount of negative feedback when her video was posted to the home page. People thought we had made the selection over other very creative contributions.


4. The name "HR Block Island" confused me because I have visited Block Island--off the Rhode Island Coast. But your "island" is on SecondLife.  What was the strategic goal of building HR Block Island? Did you have many visitors who were below the tax-paying age? Got a colorful tale? Can you give me some numbers regarding visitors? What do you feel it has done for the HR Block brand?

HR Block Island in SecondLife started out as "Tango Island." In 2006, we were going to soft-launch a new online tax preparation product that I named "Tango," because it is a "partnership" between a tax professional and someone who wants to prepare their own taxes. 

The new product was built on emotional-design principles and used new flash-based technology.  We thought the SecondLife community would be a great place to get some initial learning about our new product from early adopters. 

As we started building with Electric Sheep Company, I realized that this space could be much more than just a product showcase.  We were looking at the island prototypes with a Welcome Area, an auditorium, a product pavilion, office space and a ballroom--dancing is popular in SecondLife, and afterall this was Tango Island. Then it hit me that this was the perfect forum to highlight our tax expertise and offer something of value to the SecondLife community, free professional tax advice in avatar format. So the goal evolved to additionally highlight our brand in new ways, demonstrate our technical side and provide value through free tax advice. 

As a result,ComputerWorld named us among the top eight corporate sites in SecondLife.  We were mentioned in numerous blog posts, held a conference with the SecondLife Business Communicators virtually at the island.

Now in it's second year, we've learned a lot. A few observations:

  • People have an unbelievable ability to multi-task. They can simultaneously make avatars dance, ask tax advice questions and follow multiple thread conversations. That's just on the computer. Who knows what else is going on? They could also be watching TV. Their two-year-olds could be crawling around the floor as is true in my case.
  • Virtual Reality is very different from chat. There is something visceral about being able to see your avatar talk with another avatar. Last year, a blogger called it "the future of customer service. I believe there something to it.

To your other point, all our island visitors were of "tax age." Some, however were international visitors, who were not our target audience. There are so many colorful tales that I can tell you about SecondLife and our experience. 

Recently Stacy, a new member of my marketing team, has been coordinating our SecondLife activities.  And as you know, people choose many different forms of avatars from people, to angels, vampires, panda bears, foxes, cartoon characters, etc.  So, we are there on a tax advice night and Stacy sends me an IM saying "there is a vulture standing next to me."  I responded "Yes, I know.  That vulture is getting some tax advice from Hope (our tax pro in avatar form)."  It is truly an environment of non-discrimination!

We also have received numerous comments from our field tax professionals.  They are excited to see the brand "enter the 21st century" as one wrote me.  It has been motivating for many of our 110,000 tax professionals to see the brand in new places and being progressive. We are even getting asked to host tax training in SecondLife.


5. Most readers know that I love hanging out on Twitter. But I find very few businesses flourishing there. H&R Block is prominent among them. When did you start it and why? What is the result so far?


Now we are getting into year 2 of our "the most extensive business-to-consumer social media campaigns in history." We took all the learnings from our blogging, YouTube, and SecondLife experiences as well as observations in the market place (i.e., The new role of citizen journalism and the power of the voice of one) and created a far reaching campaign this year. 

This campaign included Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, a community site name Digits, Second Life and online outreach. I have a lot of my team dedicated to pulling together a more comprehensive and coordinated program. 

Twitter is Amy Worley's baby, so I'll let her tell you about it.

[Amy] We started on Twitter in December. I went in thinking of it as an add-on, a free way to get our message out to a small, but influential, group of people.

One wrong assumption I made is that the time commitment would be inconsequential. Another was that this would be pretty much exclusively a way to push information OUT. Big mistake.

When people join Twitter, they often send an update out into the world and then go away. Nothing happens. So they don't get it. But once they move in to Twitterville, as you call it, and really listen and reply and become part of the community, they're addicted. There's nothing like it.

When it comes to truly connecting with customers, I'd say that Twitter has been the most valuable and most effective component of our social media efforts. I went back and looked at our update archive and I realized that more than half of our updates are "@ replies." Not only have we shared tax tips and advice that serve the general community, but on a one-to-one basis we've helped people get jobs and professional tax training.

We've helped others overcome the anxiety associated with doing their taxes on their own for the first time. We're having a blast participating in @zefrank's Colorwars (how could H&R Block resist a "veryGreenTeam"?). We've discovered and resolved customer support issues and we've met and thanked very happy customers. It sounds crazy, but I actually feel like H&R Block has made some friends on Twitter. We even had a customer call us out as part of @garyvee's Good People Day! We couldn't ask for more than that.

6. Have I left anything out? What other social media programs exist? What's in the planning stages? Five years from today, what do you think will have been the impact of social media on H&R Block's culture and technology?

As I mentioned earlier, we actually have a broader reaching campaign.  We started this year with the goals of positioning ourselves as a tax expertise brand and a digital brand as well.

We created many different pieces of content that we are using across many different social networks. We didn't expect every single concept to be a home run. We want to learn and iterate on what works best. Here's a brief overview of some of the activities:

  • Branded video content: AKA Truman Greene We don't try to hide the fact that Truman is manufactured. Our goal was to create an engaging and entertaining way to highlight the benefits of using our TaxCut Online. We characterize Truman as a brand evangelist and we put up a new clip or two weekly. Truman also has his own page on MySpace Our intent is to produce videos that can be used in multiple locations so we can go where the people are rather than build microsites where people have to come to us.  We produce original content  and even spoof other popular videos Truman has had over 560,000 views on YouTube and has 160 subscribers as of today. He has 3500 MySpace friends.

  • Digits is our own community site featuring tax advice through over 40 podcasts and relevant conversations on tax-related subjects such as rebates. While we are using Digits for brand engagement, it is really an upshot of citizen journalism t is still in the listen and learn phase and will continue to evolve.
  • Facebook. We have a fan page for H&R Block Online, created with the intent to create a presence with applications relevant to this community.We hosted free tax preparation giveaways for "fans" who joined. We have also created widgets that live across online communities such as "Tax Day Countdown," among others. We have over 825 Facebook fans.
  • Blogger outreach and listening.  We listen to what is being said about us in the blogosphere and feel that citizen journalists are becoming as important as traditional media. 


7. Are you so immersed in social media because H&R Block needs to attract younger customers? What are the key goals of the social media programs?

We do want to reach younger audiences who may be doing their taxes for the first time.  We feel that our online products serve that demographic very well.  However, our goals are broader.  We want to ensure that when people think about H&R Block, they first think that we are the experts in tax and that we have a relevant solution for their particular need – whether they want to prepare their own taxes online or have a tax professional prepare their taxes for them.

8. What advice do you have for other companies considering social media? What warnings?

I think any company should be exploring ways to engage with their customer and prospects. The investment to learn is very small. However, newer tactics are hard to measure in the same way that traditional online media such as banner advertising and paid search is measured.  It is also not about how loud you can shout or how great your brand is versus finding ways to be relevant within the community to allow real brand interactions. It is a community commitment not just a quick marketing campaign. I think the other part to realize is that while some activities are free – meaning there are no media costs – there is a human capital cost. 

Finally, it is important to have a level of sincerity about the community.  Brands that are not sincere and transparent in their motives are going to receive a negative reaction.

9. Tell me about measurement. What does H&R Block want to get from these programs and how do you measure that? What tools do you use?

 There are a lot of micro-measurements.  How many visitors, how many friends, how many video views, how many uses of an application, how many blog mentions. However, the primary measure that we are using to evaluate these programs is awareness that H&R Block has digital products. It is a long-term brand approach for us.  Not just a one-time marketing program that we are going to continue if successful and scrap if it isn't. 

10.Additional Comments?

I feel like we are still in the infancy stages of social media and how it will impact the future of brands.  I feel very fortunate that I'm able to work with a great brand that can make a significant impact in this arena.


March 16, 2008

Australia's Silkcharm teaching Saudi Arabian women social media

Laurel Papworth, known in the Twitter community as Silkcharm is an Australian social media consultant. After surviving 2 glitches: (1) No international servivice for her N95 & GIf and (2) no require male escort from Dubai into Saudi Arabia, she is alive and well and in awe of the intelligence & openess of Saudi women.

Laurel is there to teach Saudi women about social media. I am sure that there are no  best practices yet established in this area and that every day she is breaking new ground, even as she worries about her scarf slipping from over her blonde hair.

When she is back safely into Australia, I will have to interview her about this experience for the SAP Global Survey.

March 14, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Africa's Erik Hersman

A talk on Kenyan Violence, Hope, and Social Media


Every now and then, one of these SAP Global Surveys on Social Media's impact on culture and business changes my fundamental perspective. Such is this one with Erik Hersman [TWIT] , an American who grew up as a missionary kid bouncing back and forth between Sudan and Kenya. While most of what we see in the news about Africa fills us with horror and sorrow, Erik speaks with love and optimism.

Erik is more than a little active in social media. I've met him at three social media community events in the last few months. He has an insider understanding of both American and African culture. "The constant bridging of African and American worlds started at such a
young age," he told me that it is embedded in my character. I find it easy to switch between cultures and enjoy friends and associates on either side of the ocean."

Erik works as a web consultant and application developer, as Zungu . His clients tend
to be larger ad agencies and organizations trying to figure out how to
work digital/web communications into their brand.  He was principal developer of Ushahidi, the history-making wiki that let Kenyans generate geographic information on where violence was occurring in their country.

Erik's knowledge of Africa is vast, but I focused just on Kenya, where he is hopeful that the usually stable country is returning to a period of prolonged peace.

1. What is your response to the current wave of violence in Kenya? How long-lasting is
the damage and, most important for this interview, what role did social media play among Kenyans during the violence?

The interesting thing about Kenya is that it has a history of peace, interspersed with small, politically motivated episodes of violence.This made the current crisis in Kenya hard for most of us to believe was happening.  We knew that it couldn't last forever, Kenyans as a whole
aren't warlike by nature, they would prefer a tranquil existence.  This is why we weren't surprised to hear of the peace agreement that was reached this last weekend.

There are three words that describe millions of Kenyan voters:

  1. Disappointed with their current president, Mwai Kibaki, for playing Moi-politics
  2. Angry with their ministers of parliament, voting an unprecedented number out of office.
  3. Jaded  by the election results - wondering if bothering to come out for the next elections   is even necessary.

I would suggest that citizens being jaded is the most harmful in the long run.

There were a couple of interesting uses of social media in Kenya in the last year. Juliana Rotich [Twit] was upcountry when the violence broke out - in one of the worst locations. She used
Twitter, Flickr and her blog to keep everyone in the Kenyan diaspora updated.  Other bloggers like Ory Okolloh , DaudiWere and Joseph Karoki provided an invaluable service of keeping the
world updated with images and news.  These bloggers played a pivitol role in the first couple days as the government instituted a media blackout.

2. Tell me about Ushahidi.com. When and how did it get started and by whom? How fast did it's usage spread during the violence? How many people have made entries and how many people
visited it. What would you say it accomplished for Kenyans, NGOs and outside observers?

Ushahidi (which means "witness" in Swahili) was created after a blog post by Ory Okolloh mentioning how useful it would be to have citizen-generated reports of violence in Kenya, as the normal news sources weren't reporting all that was going on.  Basically, Ushahidi is a tool for people who witness acts of violence in Kenya.  They can send in reports via SMS, email or the website and it is plotted on the map.

Images, video links and data about the event can be added to the system by others.  All information first goes through a verification process, conducted by volunteers in the Ushahidi group who talk to NGOs, the witness and news sources.

The number of reports in continued to ebb and flow with the violence, in times of greater violence we received more reports and vice versa.  To date, we have received approximately 150 verified reports, 40k uniques and 160k views.  More important, Ushahidi has created a new type of
website within the humanitarian sphere for crisis events.  NGOs and Kenyans were incredibly happy to find out about it, and want to duplicate this type of tool in other areas of crisis around the world.

3.  In Kenya, about 100% of the visits to Ushahidi came by mobile devices. What percentage of the
population uses cellular?  How about computers? Is the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program making any sort of impact? What about computer cafes?

That's a bit of a bounce-around question, but I'll see if I can cover each of the items briefly.  Most of the visits to the Ushahidi site came from the web.  However, the Kenyans who interacted with it did that through both mobile and computer-related means.  Since mobile phones are far more prevalent in Kenya (almost everyone has access to a phone, (families often share one phone)  the easiest way to report an incident was via an SMS on their phone to our Kenyan shortcode number.

Many of the computer visits to Ushahidi were through Kenyan computer cafes. The costs of basic computer hardware, plus connectivity is too much for most of the population.  This, of course, is why the mobile phone holds the key to Africa's web and communications future.

I can't answer if the OLPC is having any type of impact in Kenya. Though, I can opine here briefly on the fact that I think any low cost computer in the hands of children in Africa is a big deal.  If you are really interested, I've posted about that.

4. Your Afrigadgets blog is amazing in many ways. I'm impressed the resourcefulness of Kenyans it demonstrates: bicycles built on bamboo frames, generators fueled by yeast and sugar. You've said the site shows Africa is the place for "innovation at the low end of high technology," what are the implications of that for a company wishing to do business in Africa?

I love AfriGadget! I have so much fun with that site, and the other editors who work on it with me are just the phenomenal.  I've stated a number of times that African ingenuity is born of necessity, thus the low-tech products and inventions seen on AfriGadget.  However, what this
also shows is the vast amount of creativity and entrepreneurship that is ready to explode in Africa given the right political and economic climate.  We see this happening even now, in depressed and backward countries all over the continent - wait until you see what these guys can do with an even playing field.

The first thing that I would do as company wishing to do business in Africa is realize that Africans will adapt whatever product I bring to them.  You can't just take something from Europe or the US and dump it in Africa expecting it to work.  There are too many cultural and geographical differences to overcome.  However, if you let the Africans lead your product development so that you get the right type of product for Africa, your chances for success and profit rise exponentially.

5. How can social media help African-based companies? How successful is something like Mama Mikes? Can you give me some additional examples of African businesses using social media?

Social media is new and hard to understand for most Western companies, even though the social media space in the general public is well ahead of the rest of the world. Generally speaking, Africans are new to the social media space. This means that companies operating there are
even further behind. Many don't even have a decent website.

If anything, social media can help in a couple of areas.  First, it allows individuals to circumvent inefficient governments and local regulations.  Second, it allows companies that pay attention, a chance to leapfrog past their competitors who are unaware of the feedback loop
that is now available.

In the "web as business" area, websites like Mama Mike's make a good deal of money because they are the only option - a first mover - in a space that has burgeoning demand.

Additional social media sites in Africa include Afrigator, Mzalendo, Muti, Mxit and others.  For a more complete list, you might enjoy my Flickr collage of African sites--with links.

6. What role can social media play in helping companies located in the US,, Europe or Asia wishing to do business in Africa?

This is a big one actually.  If you include blogs in your definition of social media, then Western and Asian companies are hamstringing themselves if they're not monitoring blogs and social media (including old-fashioned message boards) in Africa.  The types of information
available there is just too important for any organization to ignore.

Another interesting trend that I've just started to see in the last couple months is where organizations actually get in touch with bloggers, who are expert in a particular field, and get their direct input on a specific issue.  That's smart and more companies should do this.

7. While we are on the subject, business people as well as travelers are concerned with safety wherever they go. Can businesses really feel safe doing business in Africa? What role can social media play in helping them understand about safety and danger in companies with dynamic political environments?

The truth about Africa is never reported, only half of it - the bad half.  This means that the news and images you see on a daily basis are only the negative stories.  So, can businesses really feel safe in Africa?  Yes, unequivocally.  Do they need to be more aware of political and economic situations as well?  Yes, and that's where awareness and use of social media can prove to be a major advantage.

I spoke about Ushahidi earlier, what we're working on now is a global version of that platform.  Imagine how valuable it would be to know the crisis level of every country you operated in, and you were alerted about it as soon as something started to happen.  That's an interesting
idea, and one we're currently trying to work through as we create the new platform.  We see the aggregation of blogs, news and citizen-generated reports as a critical way to evaluate situations and think it could be a major help for not just businesses but NGOs and governments as well.

8. How is mobile technology and social media impacting the culture of Africa today? How will that look five years from today?

We're seeing an increasing number of Africans getting online, many times at those cyber cafes we spoke of earlier. The number of blogs, Facebook, MySpace, etc., accounts continue to grow.  This trend will continue as we see Africans finally being able to speak freely to the rest of the world, without being barricaded by prohibitive costs or government censure.

What is more exciting is the idea that someone out there is building a social application for Africa.  Something that recognizes the mobile phone as the primary platform, yet still integrates with the rest of the world via the web.  It's an exciting time, and it will only continue to
grow.  In 5 years we'll be looking at a completely different digital landscape in Africa!

9. You are a champion of tech entrepreneurial ism in Africa. Yet, you've moved back to the US. Why is that?

Interesting question.  I moved to the US before I got deeply involved in technology.  I travel back and forth to Africa regularly, and my ever-supporting wife Rinnie, and three beautiful daughters ages 2, 4 and 6.likely be moving back to somewhere in East Africa when the right opportunity presents itself.  That could be this year or next, either way it will be soon.

10. Additional comments?

Just a last thought on definitions for social media.  Depending what you
categorize as "social media" there are number of ways that Africans see
and interact with it differently.  I spoke at some length of the use of
mobile phones and how they are "Africa's PC", that they need to be seen
as the primary device to develop for.  There is also the radio, and
opportunities around multi-person dialogue revolving around radio, the
web and mobile devices.  What is it?  I'm not sure yet, but there's
something there screaming to be developed.

Africans, generally, already have well developed social organizations.
Tools developed for Africa need to augment the particular types of
social organizations.  The tools in the US, like Facebook or MySpace,
are created to work within the confines of our own disassociated
organizational norms.  That's why they can't just be thrown into Africa
and expected to work.  Africa has it's own unique atmosphere and
organizational needs that require a different type of application to be

March 07, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Jay Dvivedi, Shinsei Bank

Banking on the Internet in Japan


Jay Dvivedi, Shinsei Bank

                        [Jay Dvivedi, Shinsei Bank's Tech Architect]

Social media is not really a component of Shinsei Bank's remarkable advent in Japan. In fact,  Jay Dvivedi, Shinsei's CIO who joined from Citibank and was principal designer and architect of the bank's internet-based system, eschews blogging and social media in his response to one of my questions.

But Shinsei has embraced Internet technologies in a way that no other bank on Earth seems to have done. It has placed the customer at the center and adjusted services to the customer's convenience. The bank had used online technologies to get closer to the customer, and thus, is a prime candidate for the SAP Global Survey. Joi Ito has called Jay his hero, which holds more than a little credibility with us and in most social media circles.

'Shinsei' literally means rebirth and in fact the bank was reborn from Japan's 50-year-old Long Term Credit Bank (LTCB) which went under in the year 2000.  I'll let Jay pick up the story from there.

1. You used technology to build a very different banking entity.  What assets did you maintain from the old LTCB and what did you discard?

We are under a new name, “Shinsei,” but we are the old bank with over 50 years of history and very deep relationships plus 2 million new customers. A key design criteria was to retain our old banking assets and add to it an extremely large investment bank.  We had to ensure that the old be in complete harmony with the new. 

However, in terms of hardware and network we have nothing of the old. Everything is new.

The way we do it is we create a parallel environment which mimics the old.  It’s what we call "parity." New systems behave like old ones. The employees and customers don’t see any change in functions and features; all products, all rules and all processes remain exactly the same. This work was done in about a year. Leveraging the new platform, we overlay on that a product-set which can outrun the competition. 

2.    Can you give me some sense of the size and scope of Shinsei today in terms of customers, deposit, etc. How many physical branches do you have? What percentage of your customers are Japanese?

Shinsei Bank across all its businesses has total assets of approximately JPY 11.8 trillion ($112 billion USD). The key lines of business are institutional banking, including investment banking; retail banking, and consumer and commercial finance. Historically, we were an institutional bank, to this we have added a retail customer base of 2 million customers and in our consumer finance business we have around 8 million customers. The bank has around 30 financial centers to service customers. An overwhelming majority of our customers are Japanese and our heritage is all Japanese. 

3.    Shinsei’s strategy was to create a customer-focused bank. Your vision and contribution was to use standard and inexpensive technology to accomplish this. What does Shinsei do differently than other Japanese banks? How do you become more customer-focused when you have fewer branches per customer than most Japanese banks?

A key principle is that our service should be easily understood. We try to see at it as, “How does it look to the customer outside.” We ensure we don’t create any forms so that when a customer walks in we don’t confuse him.

If you walk into the bank you will be greeted by a person who will talk to you on what you’d like to do. The transaction is conducted and we give you a receipt. To open an account and set up a relationship, all you have to do is sign a simple form and you have access to all our products and services.

We offer zero-cost ATM transactions, zero-cost fund transfers and a large variety of mutual funds. Our structured deposit product offering in its first one year of launch collected over $10 billion USD.

We have very satisfied customers. We have been No. 1 or 2 in customer satisfaction in surveys done by Nikkei, Japan’s leading business newspaper, for several years.

We have simplified the mortgage process. The customer fills in an application giving us just the basic information. Who they are, the type of house they are buying, the amount of loan etc .Based on this information the machine generates templates of specific documents, including samples. The customer can spread it on their dining table and match it with what they have and send it to us. They don’t have to wait till they have all the documents. The machine assembles all the documents electronically and process the loan, giving customers a very fast turnaround.

Nikkei ran a story about three years ago on our housing loan product, rating it the best in the market. We run the entire loan process under machine control and at the time the article was written, we were processing approximately 400 loans per day.

Our approach is very different from any other bank, anywhere. We look at the entire company as a large computer. This begins when we are in front of the customer and then continues all the way through all stages including the accounting and reporting. We focus on using machines for everything that we do. We have three classes of machines: (1) machines that run the processes, (2) machines to control transactions and (3) machines to control the machines. Most banks will have several dedicated networks, one for data, one for telephone calls, and another for ATMs. We have only one and for that we use the public Internet. This is very different from what other banks do.

Professors David Upton and Brad Staats of the Harvard Business School have written an article “Radically Simple IT” in the March issue of HBR that describes what we do. 

We don’t use officers to check transactions, machines check the transaction. We don’t use supervisors to manage the workforce; machines display the flow and status of work with complete transparency so people can manage themselves. If you walk inside the company you will see everything visually as if you are in a manufacturing plant for some machines; the displays tell you what is the work, where are the people, the picture of assembly line, what is the wait time, what are the queues. Its all visible to our staff and there are one or two team leaders to watch.

We do the same thing with our customers. If you apply for a housing loan then the entire process beginning with the application and documents as the customer assembles and sends them is made visible to them. In this way the customer sees what we see. 

4.    Your first year is legendary. You built your entire Internet banking system in one year, when it was estimated it would take you three. You also came in at an astounding 90% under budget. Tell me how you did this?

The Internet to us is not banking. If you visualize that we are building a large city, then the Internet to us are the highways and everything in the company works on the internet. Our telephone calls are through the Internet. Our call center runs through the internet and we have no PBX because we use software. So internet banking is not the right context.

Most large banks have a system where they present a small window of that over the internet to their customers, and call it internet banking. Our system is so designed that what we have inside, customers see from the outside. The capability, the information that is available either inside or outside is the same. If you use the ‘highway’ analogy, the internet is just another path for customers to come to the bank. We are not solving the same problem that most other large banks are attempting to do. By defining the problem we are solving differently we simplify it enormously. Simpler problem take less time to sort out.

Our cost advantage is 1:1000. This comes from using low cost standard components. If you compare the cost of a mainframe disc versus a Dell PC disc, mainframe memory versus PC memory, the source of our cost advantage will be very clear.   

5.  You actually dumped the old bank's mainframe and replaced it with server farms of standard Dell Computers. You off-shored data to India and you decentralized data storage. How safe is that? How does that impact costs? How quickly can you scale?

This is not what we did.

In 2000, the government of Japan sold the LTCB to a consortium of overseas investors. The new management led by our then-Chairman Yashiro had committed a timeline to rebuild the bank’s foundation of one year. Our challenge was to devise work methods that would get the job done. If we had waited to mobilize the huge number of people needed for this task, we would have a huge vulnerability, getting visas, getting people to move, finding housing and so on. So we had a few hundred people come to Japan backed up by ten times that number in India and other locations.

We broke down the work and transported it by Internet to wherever people were and assembled it in the virtual space. By working with multiple teams, doubling them on critical parts, we removed any single point of failure and ensured there was no risk.

Internet is just the transport medium. By itself it has no risk. We control where the people are, what they access and no customer data is ever sent outside of Japan.

Our ability to scale up and work at very high speeds comes form our use of small discrete machines. Unlike the mainframe, which combines everything into one and is actually a big risk, each small machine is discrete and work is organized around them such that there is no single point of failure. Work is spread out. It is literally like a factory making machines or cars and the machines are deployed like equipment in a factory.

6. The bank talks about being transparent to customers about technology. Can you expand upon just what that means and why customers should care?

We are transparent to our customers through our processes and technology. This is to make sure that given our lack of experience - we have only seven years of history - we don’t mess things up for the customer.  Everything about the customer that we know, the customer knows and is able to see. When they execute transactions, they do so under their own control. We remove the possibility that one of us makes a mistake.

7. Can you tell me a story of how the Shinsei system greatly benefited a customer that could not have occurred without your Internet-based system?

Let’s look at how we have grown, what our customers think of us. We have over 2 million new customers, over $50 billion USD in new assets in just seven years. Remember, we have only 30 branches in all of Japan. We could not have done this without the type of technology we deployed.

We have a large automaker for whom we process auto loans. Two years ago they were very unhappy with our service quality and were ready to walk out. By leveraging the methods and techniques we were able to deliver a completely new capability that delighted them in just six months. They have now asked us if we would be willing to work with them in other countries. That is the kind of impact we have achieved.

8. What lessons are there at Shinsei for other technology officers in other enterprises worldwide?

Technology officers would do well to read the HBR article I mentioned to get an idea of our methods and adopt them. They can simplify greatly the problem they are trying to solve and get tremendous speed and cost advantages.

We are working with leading educational institutions to codify our methods and offer them as part of their courses. I must point out that what we do is not new. We have used industrial engineering techniques used for decades in manufacturing and applied them to the service industry.

9.    This interview is part of my survey on social media’s impact on culture and business. I   could not help but notice there is no social media component to your story. Will there be in the future? Would you not want to use social media as banks like Wells Fargo in the US do to get closer to customers and build community?

Our model is one of being highly conservative and of being where the customer is and where they want us, when they want us.

We have tried to create that model where you can call us on the phone, or you can walk over to any of our centers. Everything that you can do in person you can do over the Internet. Everything is available on all the channels. We don’t have a physical community space because we basically believe, “We will be where you are.” 

As I said, our customer sessions are highly interactive where the customer is in full control of his or her own account in all its dimensions. It’s almost as if they were moving behind the teller’s desk, to locate their ledger while they are doing their transactions. We wrap the bank as well as the technology around the customer, whether at home or on the telephone, or when they come into any of our physical centers. Technology is focused around one customer, repeated 2 million times. 

March 04, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Richard Boly, US Embassy, Rome

Using Social Media to Spawn Italian Entrepreneurialism            

               R Boly Pic.JPG

Richard Boly and I worked together in the early 1980s at Regis McKenna, Inc., Silicon Valley's legendary PR firm. I was impressed with both his intelligence and passion, but I was not surprised when he decided that PR was not for him and decided to return to college where I lost track of him sometime around 1985. Then, in 2006, out of the blue he emailed me. He had stumbled across Naked Conversations and was startled to find my name on the cover.

It turns out Richard became a career diplomat for the US State Department back in 1994. In the time since he and I had smiled and dialed for Silicon Valley clients, served in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Paraguay, Italy, and Washington, D.C., where he worked on U.S.-EU economic issues.  He is the most junior diplomat to win the Cobb Award for commercial diplomacy. 

Between his PR stint and his diplomatic career, Richard was fairly diverse in his activity, starting a shrimp hatchery in Ecuador, consulting the Inter-American Development Bank, and raising money for charities.

When Richard found me he was serving in the US Embassy in Rome, where he was focused on entrepreneurialism for Italians. I remember him telling me over drinks, when we got together in Palo Alto, CA, " Italy is the most charming place on earth, but it's like living in a museum. Italians need new opportunities. They need to be closer to Silicon Valley and technology. He invited me to visit the US Embassy in Rome and speak with entrepreneurs. It has remained one of the great honors of my post-authorship career.

Richard serves now as the Coordinator of the Partnership for Growth, answering directly to the respected US ambassador, Ronald P. Spogli. In this role, he has, according to multiple sources, contributed significantly to Italian entrepreneurialism. In that capacity, he is also likely to be the person who has instigated more social media programs than any other diplomat. None of them is designed to extol the virtues of the US. All are designed to facilitate conversations that will help Italian entrepreneurs.

Here are his answers to my questions.

1. Can you briefly describe to me your duties under Ambassador Spogli at the US Embassy?

I work full-time on the Partnership for Growth (P4G), which is an initiative of Ambassador to Spogli, and the U.S. Mission in Italy to spur economic dynamism here.  We are attempting to:

1) Move research to market;
2) Grow risk capital markets;
3) Spur innovation by strengthening the intellectual property rights (IPR) regime; and
4) Create and promote Italian entrepreneurial role models. 

What is really unique about P4G is our creative use of new media tools such as blogging, interactive video webchats, BarCamps, LinkedIn, and even the cutting edge video conferencing technology of the Italian company TVBlob.  This approach has allowed us to create a nationwide network of like-minded individuals and groups in less than two years. They help form the backbone of a developing Italian new venture ecosystem. It has also allowed us to carry our message unfiltered directly to the Italian people.

Even more amazingly, we have achieved this during a period when the U.S. “brand” has been under significant negative pressure, especially among our target audience – young Italians. 

2. Why should the U.S. Embassy care about economic growth in Italy?

The simple answer is: enlightened self-interest.

We have no better ally and partner than Italy. Their economic development is in our mutual interest. Italy’s economy has grown at an average annual rate of less than 1 % in recent years.  We risk having a great partner with the experience and capacity to join us to address future challenges without the economic resources to bring to the table. 

We don’t have all the answers.  Entrepreneurial ecosystems in America have evolved through trial and error, not some grand master plan. We share what we hope will be helpful.

P4G has taken a bottom-up, grassroots approach to promote an ecosystem that supports high-growth scalable ventures. We also try to avoid  bureaucratic inefficiency and a slow legal system.  These issues require a political consensus and more years than Ambassador Spogli has in his tenure in Italy.

3. How, when and why did P4G get started?

Soon after his arrival in 2005, Ambassador Spogli organized an offsite for his senior leadership team to identify long-term, strategic goals for the subsequent three years.  He challenged us to look beyond our daily work and identify “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” worth pursuing. P4G was a key goal coming out of it.

We believe the P4G has created something in short supply in Italy: optimism.  A 2004 Pew Research Center survey asked a simple question of both Americans and Italians: “Does success depend on factors outside of your control?” 

Barely a third of Americans said yes, while fully two-thirds of Italians said yes.  We Americans believe we are masters of our fate. This is an essential element of entrepreneurial risk-taking.  Such optimism is in short supply in Italy, where all-too-often, private actors wait for the government to make the first move, before risking their own capital.

4. And just what did P4G accomplish in the three years since that meeting?

Here's a whole laundry list:

  • Fulbright BEST Silicon Valley Immersion Program. Top Italian science graduate students interested in entrepreneurship spend six months in Silicon Valley. They take a crash course in entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University and then joining a high-growth company in their field of expertise.
  • Angel Investor Boot Camp.  Twenty prospective angel investors spent two days with the Golden Angel Network based at Marquette University, and two days at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.  The learning and bonding that occurred led to the quick formation of the Italian Angels for Growth, a Milan based network that makes seed investments in Italian start-ups.
  • Face2Face: Capturing Creativity [link in Italian].  This innovative, interactive video web chat allows students and budding innovators and entrepreneurs to watch live interviews with successful Italian entrepreneurs. Another Italian entrepreneur, who draws out the guest’s story, conducts the interview weaving questions from viewers, sent real time over the web. These live interviews are maintained as podcasts. The program has been well-received, with professors in nearly a third of all Italian universities weaving this program into their curricula.
  • Deep-dive visits by serial entrepreneurs and tech transfer gurus. We’ve hosted nearly a dozen U.S. tech transfer experts and serial entrepreneurs who have shared information and strategies on the medical device, biotech, and pharma sectors.  We also joined with the Kauffman Foundation to allow researchers to easily share their innovations. We hope Italy will be the first location outside of North America to participate in iBridge.

5. Tell me more about Face2Face.  Was it the first online video program started by the US State Department? What has been the result?

Face2Face [Italian] is a video webchat “network” developed by our Public Affairs team in Embassy Rome.  The most prolific user of this network has been Capturing Creativity. “ The real innovation of Capturing Creativity is that it is unrehearsed, unscripted and the host and guest are Italians only loosely affiliated with the Embassy.  We provide the platform, chose the guests, but otherwise let the Italians shape the discussion. 

This program has helped build both virtual and real communities on entrepreneurship. By the end of June, we will have nearly 30 hours of quality interviews with first-generation Italian entrepreneurs. I believe that this is the best existing Italian language web content on entrepreneurship.

6. Marco Marinucci, a Silicon Valley Google executive, has started Mind the Bridge.  What does the US Embassy Rome have to do with that?  What’s your personal role?

I first spoke to Marco Marinucci in late September 2007 and discussed his vision for the Mind the Bridge business plan competition.  It was a no-brainer to give Marco the full support of P4G and I urged him to speed up his launch so finalists could be announced at a high profile January 2008 Silicon Valley reception at which Ambassador Spogli would speak. We recruited great partners in Italy (First Generation Network) and Silicon Valley Business Association Italy America  (BAIA) and Silicon Valley Italian Executive Council (SVIEC). 

Mind the Bridge was launched in late November with a great social media publicity blitz.  (What do you expect from a guy who works at Google!)  We printed pocket-sized publicity cards and distributed them at universities around Italy.  We urged university professors to promote the competition among their most innovative students.  Ambassador Spogli taped a promotional video that ran on the Mind the Bridge website. 

In barely four weeks, Mind the Bridge attracted nearly 50 applicants.  Marco, BAIA and SVIEC assembled an A-team of Italian and Italian-American entrepreneurs and VCs to evaluate the submissions and chose the six finalists.  The finalists were teamed up with mentors in Italy.  Mentors will help the finalists polish their business plan and hone their elevator pitch. The Mind the Bridge finale will be public presentations by the finalists in San Francisco on April 1 (no joke!).  That same week, finalists will meet with potential investors or business partners in Silicon Valley.

7. Could you tell me about First Generation Network?  Are you involved in that as well?

First Generation, like Face2Face, grew out of a dinner I had in Milan in December 2007.  When I first met Marco Palombi, I was blown away.  I didn’t know that there were young serial entrepreneurs like him, because I hadn’t met any in Rome.  Marco said that Milan was different and so when I first visited Milan, I asked Marco to get some serial entrepreneurs together for dinner.  That night, I met Michele Appendino, who founded one of Italy’s few venture funds and who now is investing in the solar space.  I also met Gianluca Dettori, who as the head of Vitaminic was the youngest CEO of an Italian publicly traded company.  He now is investing in and mentoring a group of Italian start-ups – kind of like an angel investor on steroids. I met Massimiliano Pellegrini, who grew through the roof of Dada USA’s mobile phone content sales. 

This group observed that US entrepreneurs are treated as rock stars, while in Italy, they remain unknown. We talked about how the “young entrepreneurs” group within Confindustria (the national association of employers) had few 1st generation entrepreneurs, but were mostly the young scions of old money.  We lamented mainstream media’s unwillingness to help distinguish in the public’s mind between first generation entrepreneurs, who risk their money and reputation on a new venture, and the sons of self-satisfied incumbents, who devote more time to protecting their rice bowl than innovating.

I recounted the many conversations we had had with young Italians and the many blank looks we received when we asked them which Italian entrepreneurs were their role models.  Not only did they not have Italian role models, they couldn’t name any young Italian entrepreneurs.

I expressed my view that in achieving social change, sharing the experiences of pioneers representing the change sought is crucial.  If young Italians could see that people, just like them, had risked and succeeded (or failed, but had gone on to risk again and succeed), we could spread the acceptance of entrepreneurial risk taking.  I used the simple analogy of a packed beach on a hot summer day.  If you arrive and see no one in the water, you’ll wonder what’s the matter – sharks, jellyfish, razor coral. But when you arrive there are lots of people in the water, you’ll jump right in.   We needed to get the message out that Italy’s entrepreneurial waters were inviting and safe.

Marco and Michele began to recruit fellow first generation entrepreneurs to join the new organization, the goal of which was to provide entrepreneurial role models and mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs.  First Generation Network publicly launched in June 2007 at a “entrepreneurs’ summit” held at Ambassador Spogli’s residence.  In addition to Ambassador Spogli, luminaries who spoke to the gathering of 80 young entrepreneurs include: Andrew Viterbi, co-founder of Qualcomm; Carl Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation; Giacomo Marini, co-founder of Logitech; Alberto Sangiovanni Vincentelli, Berkley Professor and co-founder of Cadence and Synopsys; Renato Soru, Governor of Sardinia and founder of Tiscali; and Minister for Innovation Nicolais.  You can watch the event (all in Italian, except for Schramm) on the web. 

Being in the vanguard has at times been frustrating for First Generation Network.  For example, the leading business daily, Il Sole/24 Ore, recently did a two-page spread asking questions of eleven Italian innovators.  Six of the eleven were 1Gen members, but 1Gen was never mentioned in the article!  Frankly, the relationship with the Embassy has also presented challenges.  As I mentioned before, “dietrologia” or divining the “real” truth is core to the Italian press and First Generation Network has not been immune to such creative interpretation.

8. Are other US Foreign Service posts involved in entrepreneurship? Do they use social media? What advice do you have for them in that area?

Yes.  The State Department and other government agencies such as the Commerce Department have programs to support entrepreneurship overseas.  Some of the most noteworthy include: Middle East Entrepreneur Training as part of The Middle East Partnership Initiative; the Economic Empowerment in Strategic Regions – an inter-agency initiative led by the State Department; the Partnerships for Promoting the African Entrepreneur; and the Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe (e-PINE), and the Department of Commerce’s Program for Entrepreneurial Growth.  Also, the State Department “America.gov” website highlights Entrepreneurship in its “Achieving growth through open markets.”

Partnership for Growth is unique in that it is a systemic initiative born out of the U.S. Mission Italy, based on dozens of consultations with experts in both Italy and the United States.  The P4G itself is a bottom up initiative, with elements of our Embassy in Rome and our Consulates in Florence, Milan, and Naples, weaving together literally hundreds of activities that support the four key P4G pillars outlined in question one.  We have also identified and in some cases help create like-minded Italian organizations that help multiply our efforts.

9. I am conducting this interview under sponsorship from SAP, a global software company.  Of what relevance should these entrepreneurial and social media programs be to them or any other enterprise?

The simple answer follows from the rationale for the Partnership for Growth: an economically strong, dynamic, and open Italy will be a good place to do business.  Italy is a founding member of the G-7, so its economy makes up an important part of the world economy.  Since increasingly, global companies bring innovation in from the outside through acquisition, a more dynamic new-venture ecosystem in Italy will offer fertile new ground to acquire new innovation.  A more dynamic Italian economy will also increase the demand for new technologies and services.

10. Several Italian entrepreneurs have either moved to the US, announced intentions of doing so or have based their businesses in the US.  Do you think programs such as you have started might stem the outflow of young tech talent from Italy to the US?

We hope the P4G will help create an ecosystem in Italy that will support young Italian entrepreneurs.  We have no interest in furthering the Italian brain drain, and in fact, the visa our Fulbright BEST scholars receive as part of the Silicon Valley Immersion Program require them to return to Italy at the end of the six-month program. 

We understand there are many models to building a new venture ecosystem, an exciting one for Italy being the Israeli approach.  A decade ago, U.S. VCs were not beating a path to Israeli entrepreneurs’ doors, so entrepreneurs from Israel moved their front offices closer to Sand Hill Road, while keeping their technical teams back home.  This lead to a rash of Israeli IPOs and VCs decided it was a good idea to open up offices in Israel to access the source of this entrepreneurial spirit.

There are a few examples of Italian companies taking this tact, something the Partnership for Growth has supported.  Media Lario is one.  Funambol, the open source software company that allows you to push your Outlook files to your mobile phone i.e. doing what a Blackberry does, has its software developers in Pavia and its corporate offices in Redwood City.  We hope by developing linkages between Silicon Valley and Italian entrepreneurs, that we can spark more such ventures.

March 01, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Michael Krigsman of IT Failures

Using Social Media to Rearrange the Deck Chairs         

        Michael Krigsman

I met Michael Krigsman because I was cold.

I had flown to Boston in December and to paraphrase Tony Bennett, I left my coat in San Francisco. I Twittered about how most parts of me were chilled to the bone. Mike showed up at my hotel presenting me with a bright blue down filled ski jacket, which he insisted I keep. We had a drink and talked and became instant friends.

That did not mean we would always agree. Back in January, he interviewed me for his Naked IT podcast-blog series on ZDNet and we discovered we had a decidedly different views of the role of IT in the social media future of the enterprise.

Topically, he is a most worthy adversary, a well-recognized expert on enterprise-related IT issues. In addition to being author of the respected ZDNet blog IT Failures: Rearranging the Deck Chairs, he is CEO of Asuret, Inc., a software and consulting company dedicated to reducing software implementation failures.  Michael is also  CEO of Cambridge Publications, which specializes in developing tools and processes for software implementations and related business practice automation projects. He has worked with more than 100 companies on IT-related matter including this project's sponsor, SAP.

Mike gave me my turn to describe my minimalist view of IT's role on social media related issues. This is his turn to respond. On close examination, I still disagree, but on fewer matter than I thought would be the case.

1. You are best known as the "IT Project Failures" guy. So tell me, what are the leading causes of those failures? Do you think social media could somehow reduce those failures? How so or why not?

IT failures are generally caused by management errors in human, rather than technical systems. Poor judgment, dysfunctional organizational politics, and bad planning are far more likely to cause a major project failure than a database failure, for example. The high profile failures that hit the newspapers, or that I blog about, generally arise as the culmination of many bad decisions strung together over time.

Large software implementations typically involve three parties: the customer, the software vendor, and the consulting services supplier. Considering this complexity, and the sometimes-conflicting agendas that result, the high rate of IT project failures becomes less surprising.

Can social media reduce project failures? To the extent social media improves an organization’s communication and decision-making abilities, it will also improve project success rates. Social media is not a magic bullet, but represents an organization’s commitment to streamline communication, share knowledge, and work more effectively as a team. These are characteristics of both healthy organizations and successful IT projects.

2. As you know, I have a minimalist view of IT's role in social media adoption.  Back in January, you seemed to disagree. Please express your perspective and explain why I am seeing it wrong.

When an individual downloads and uses Twitter or Skype (assuming the corporate firewall doesn’t prevent it), IT does not generally play a role. But suppose a big company wants its employees to adopt Twitter in a large-scale manner, and really use social media in day-to-day activities across the organization? Although technical management and IT infrastructure planning present their own challenges, merely making software available does not mean users will actually adopt it.

More significantly, the organization must define “rules of engagement” that encourage users to embed social media in their day-to-day work. From this perspective, planning the diffusion of social media through an organization is little different from planning a  traditional enterprise software implementation. Without proper change management, training, documentation and so on, social media becomes yet another under-utilized tool sitting on a server. The annals of IT failures are filled with cases of software that was purchased, deployed, and never fully used. Social media is not immune.

Coordinated deployments of social media across a large enterprise look and behave like any other enterprise software implementation. In both cases, IT and the business are essential partners in making the deployment successful. As with IT failures in general, the success of social media deployments depend more on human, rather than technical, systems and planning.

3. You’ve said social media can “flatten” IT. What do you mean by that?

There’s no doubt that individual users can circumvent IT far more easily with social media than with larger enterprise software. If an individual wants Twitter, for example, he or she can just install it, which is obviously not the case with large enterprise systems such as SAP. Social media puts power into the hands of individuals and that power ultimately comes at the expense of centralized IT departments.

In my Naked IT interviews with Ed Yourdon (author of 27 books and 550 articles, many covering IT processes that can lead to failure) and JP Rangaswami (who functions more or less as CIO of British Telecom), they each described the history of IT as “protector” of centralized computing resources. Social media is a force in the opposite direction.

4. Is this flattening good or bad for large enterprises?

In the short-term, this flattening can create disruption and confusion which are hardly positive qualities. At the same time, IT needs to change and if social media can help bring positive movement, then it’s ultimately beneficial.

It’s time for IT to leave the ivory tower and become part of the decision-making culture of the business. The entire notion of IT as being somehow separate, or having independent goals from, the non-technical parts of an enterprise is absolutely ridiculous.

I don’t want to paint this as being entirely the fault of IT – many senior business executives don’t fully understand how IT processes function, nor do they completely grasp the ramifications that technical decisions can have on non-technical business strategies. To the extent social media empowers users, and helps non-technical senior executives recognize the impact of technology on their business, it becomes a powerful positive change agent.

5. What role do you see for IT management in corporate adoption of social media tools and programs?

IT should be an equal partner supporting the acquisition, adoption, and diffusion of social media through an organization. Strategic business computing decisions, including social media issues, should reflect the involvement of three groups: end-users, business management, and technical management. In my opinion, IT should partner with, but not drive, social media programs. To the extent that social media programs are business-based, meaning their core function is providing non-technical benefits to users, then sponsorship should lie in the business domain. In this respect, social media is a business initiative like any other, and should be treated as such.

6. Is it your perception that social media poses a threat to enterprise security? How would you say IT should deal with that threat?

In my opinion, social media has the power to bypass many well-established enterprise security systems and IT is right to be concerned. On the other hand, some argue that existing technical security protocols are sufficient and that social media is really no different from other software already deployed in the enterprise.

From an information risk standpoint, however, I believe organizations must create policies that reflect the reality of social media. Remember, these tools are all about information sharing. If the enterprise does not want information to be shared, whether due to privacy, competitive, or regulatory concerns, then appropriate policies should be instituted.

As software evolves, information sharing policies must also evolve. When I blogged that “Twitter is dangerous” lots of people came out swinging. I suspect some of those who argued were primarily concerned about possible chilling effects on social media, rather than looking at the issue on its merits.

7. Do you see a strategic importance to social media in the enterprise? Do you believe it is an efficient way for customers and companies to come closer together? Why would IT oppose that?

Any tools, techniques, or processes that dramatically improve communication and information sharing will be strategic to the enterprise. It’s not about tools, per se, but about helping people work together more efficiently, and more intelligently, to accomplish meaningful results more easily.

Your book, Naked Conversations, argued that removing intermediaries between an enterprise and it constituents benefits both parties. When direct communication between groups increases, both sides tend to move closer together, assuming a desire to remain in relationship. It’s the same with businesses and their customers, employees, investors and so on. Is closer communication between these groups strategic? I think so.

On the other hand, if IT tries to interfere with new methods of communication between enterprise groups, then it will be doomed to fail.  There’s virtue in going with the flow, especially when the flow is inevitable. It should be a partner in helping the enterprise adopt improved tools and work processes. For IT to succeed, it must engage users in dialog and support their desire to improve communications and information sharing.

8. What should IT do when they discover users behind the firewall using unauthorized social media tools for business purposes?

Geez, I suppose there are times when turning a blind eye is the right thing to do.

9. Flash forward five years. What role do you see for social media in the enterprise? What role do you see for IT in dealing with it five years forward?

In five years, social media will be more common through the enterprise. If the past is any guide to the future, IT will still be struggling, trying to protect its territory against an onslaught of democratizing tools and work processes.

On the other hand, some IT managers will have recognized the power they hold to shape and influence how business itself functions. For those wise CIOs, there will unparalleled opportunity to impact major business decisions at the highest strategic level. Those will be good days indeed for smart CIOs.

10. Additional Comments?

Shel, you asked tough questions. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in your survey.

February 16, 2008

Clarification on the Roll-Your-Own SAP Survey

I've received a few answers to my request for a Roll-Your-Own survey and I greatly appreciate them, but I need to clarify something that I overlooked. If I am going to publish your Survey responses on my blog, what you have to say needs to be interesting or valuable to my readers. It needs to add a spoonful of insight to the general body of knowledge.

If you have a blog and you answer the questions I posted, send me the link and I will post a link back to your site. I realize that I voiced what I was looking for poorly a few days ago and I'm sorry if I raised some false hopes. But my customer is my reader and if I post something I need to believe some of my readers will find it valuable.

SAP Global Survey: hi5's Ramu Yalamanchi


Perhaps the Greatest Untold Story in Social Networking

                   [Ramu Yalamanchi, Speaking in Mexico. Photo by IAB Mexico.]

(NOTE: This is my 65th interview for the SAP Global Survey on social media's impact on culture and business. You can find previous interviews from people in 30 countries by clicking on the SAP Category of this site, or just by Googling 'SAP Global Survey.')

Quick, a pop Quiz. Name the world's most popular social networks. Okay, narrow it down to US-based. Okay narrow it down to the online social networks located just in the Bay Area. Who comes to mind?

I'm betting very few of you named hi5 Networks. Yet, this is a network that has been around since 2003, has 80 million users in over 200 countries, is growing by 150,000 new users daily and has been profitable for over two years.

We asked Ramu Yalamanchi, who stepped out of eGroups after it was acquired by Yahoo to become hi5 co-founder and CEO how he accomplished this without spending much on marketing or PR and his answer seems simple. Offer something universally simple and highly localized and get people to want their friends and family to have conversations with them.

Here's my Q&A with Ramu:

1. Can we start by you giving me some idea of the hi5 size and scope? How many countries are you in? How many members do you have? How fast are you growing?

Alexa ranks us as a Top 10 site globally, and as the #1 or #2 most-trafficked in nearly a dozen Latin America, European and Asian countries. We are the #1 social network in Peru, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Portugal, Thailand, Romania, Macedonia, Cyprus, Greece, Mauritus and several other nations around the world.

As of February 2008, we had 80 million registered users in more than 200 nations. On the average, about 50% of these users are active on the site every month. Each day, we grow by at least 150,000 new users.

2. hi5 seems to be one of social media's great untold stories. Let's back up for a second. Can you tell me how and when hi5 got started? What was your vision then and how has that vision evolved?

We launched hi5 in late 2003 to provide a service that connected people to one another in a useful and meaningful way. The service was actually an evolution of a prior website Akash Garg and I had launched, a matchmaking service for South Asians. My brother actually met his wife through that initial service, making my mother very happy.

As we evolved into hi5, we expanded our service, but kept our focus abroad. While other social networks at the time were focusing primarily on the U.S. market, we were interested in the growing number of people coming online all over the world. We saw that as a tremendous opportunity to build a valuable service where people could interact with their friends and express themselves.

From early on, we focused on creating a service that would be easy-to-use and meaningful for people in many different countries and cultures around the world. We started with a simple design, made sure that we had high quality translations, and built relationships with media companies in regions where we saw a lot of usage. We’re now available in 14 languages -- with more coming online every month – and also offer customer support in Spanish as well. We’ll continue to explore culturally-relevant services and features that will enhance the online experience of our diverse international user communities. 

3. You are among the world's largest social networks, and yet we hear very little about you. A Google search produces very few news stories. Was this prolonged stealth intentional? How do users learn about you and join?

That will soon change. The U.S. media is realizing what a world class service we are building – as the online users in numerous countries around the world already do.

In fact, our user base has grown entirely through word of mouth. We haven’t done marketing – the users have promoted the service for us by bringing their friends into it. It helps make their experience meaningful when they have friends on the site. We’ll continue to listen to our users as they tell us what they want to see on hi5, and how we can make it better for them. In turn, we hope they will continue to tell more friends and the site will continue to grow in popularity globally. 

4. What are the primary reasons people join hi5? Can you give me some demographic information? Who is a typical user? Does this vary or stay the same from country to country or language group to language group?

Generally speaking, the bulk of our users are between the ages of 18-35, and we have a balanced mix of men and women. We are also particularly popular among the global Spanish-language community. 

However, given that we have millions of users in so many different locations around the world, there are a great number of ways that people use the service. As our members bring their friends onto the service, they build a shared history of their lives, learn what’s happening around them, and discover new people through the service.

The same cultural nuances that you find offline, you will also find online. A service feature that is popular in one country might be less so in another country. We look for ways to tailor the service to our users’ diverse preferences, involving them in the process through discussion forums and direct dialogue, and by working with developers to create a breadth of culturally-relevant applications.   

5. Do people tend to stay inside their own geographic boundaries or search elsewhere?

It depends on where their friends, family and acquaintances are located. If most are within their own geographic boundaries, then you will see them connected within that location. Very often, though, we see connections across geographic boundaries. For instance, we have Turk members living in Germany, Vietnamese living in Norway and Hispanics in the U.S. – all of whom are connected with friends in their current location, as well as with friends and family in their home country. 

I’ll give you another example: one user in Greece recently wrote to thank us for our service because he said he had made friendships “not only in Greece…but everywhere!” On a trip to Serbia, he said, he met friends he had made on hi5. He said, “They showed me their capital, we went out, etc. If I weren’t a hi5 member, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity to meet these people and see their country.” It is stories like these that let us know we are succeeding in bringing people together around the world.

6. You use Lionbridge translation technologies. How extensively is it used and how successfully?  Does slang hold up in translations? How long does it take for a translation between hi5 users, and are the users okay with the delays?

Lionbridge is one of many resources we use to make hi5 available in other languages. They have helped us translate hi5-generated content, not user-generated content. To date, we’ve worked with them on eleven languages, all of which were turned around rapidly – in a matter of weeks.

For slang, hi5 provides a glossary of terms that call out words requiring more attention by our translators. These are often terms that are branded by hi5 or might have specific meaning in the context of a social networking service. Since we usually have these words translated before we launch a new language, it doesn’t really hold up our translations. We also use a translation memory, which remembers phrases that were previously translated. This ensures that all phrases, especially the unusual ones, are translated consistently. Additionally, we have proof readers of the translations and engage the user base for quality review. With each new language we roll out, we launch an identical language discussion forum, and continually update the service and translations as new features are launched, or as users make suggestions for translation improvement.

7. Where is hi5 heading? Will you remain focused on a young and international user base? What new services do you think you will need to maintain your user base as it ages?

We believe Hi5's momentum will continue across the globe, and we’ll continue to draw new customers from all age ranges. Social networks are changing the way that people use the Web, and much of the way that people consume content and information will be on social networks.

February 14, 2008

The Revised SAP Roll-Your-Own Survey

I have to admit I continue to love my work on the SAP Global Survey. I have now posted over 60,000 words based on interviews with people in 32 countries on how social media impacts their cultures and business.

This is a lot, but in fact it is a small dent of the 100s of millions of people who are now involved in social media in more than 150 countries. I could use your help and participation.

When the survey first started, people began posting their own questions on their own blogs and answering them. Eventually, I served up a generic set of questions, which a good number of people filled out. But over time the momentum for roll-your-own survey takers has withered and atrophied.

So, here is a new set of questions. Feel free to fill them out and send them back to me, unformatted and in email to [email protected]. Or post them in your own blogs, and send me the link. If you can think of better questions to ask and answers, just replace the ones I've listed below. All I'm really interested in is that you increase the body of knowledge on the subject, rather than promote you company product or agenda.

Here are my questions:

1. Describe the culture of your business or where you live. What role does social media play in it?

2. How has social media changed your business or your life (pick one or both)?

3. How has social media impacted your views of businesses, government, politics or education (pick one or more)?

4. Has social media impacted what you do in your spare time? How about other family members?

5. If you have children, or are close to young people, how does social media impact their time or opinions?

6. Is there a discussion of social media where you work? If so, what are the sharpest arguments?

7. an you tell my studio audience an interesting story about how social media impacted business or culture.

8. Additional comments

You can answer some or all of these questions. Do whatever you like with them. If you like to original set of questions, use those instead. Pass them on to a friend. If you know someone I should interview, please point me to her or him. I look forward to your answers and to the surprises that they so often contain.

February 10, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Michael Dell

The founder-CEO talks social media & its impact on his company and customers.

          Michael Dell

                                            [Michael Dell. Photo from file]

Back in December, I interviewed Lionel Menchaca for this SAP Survey of Social Media's impact on culture and business and was impressed with his passion, transparency and commitment to conversations with customers. I was left with the impression that "Dell gets it." The company understands the fundamental changes brought about by social media and in so doing has transfomed a recently hostile audience into one that is on Dell's side, rooting for it in the marketplace.

But how high up does that commitment go? Are Dell's increasing stockpile of blogs just the work of middle management or are the people steering the company committed to social media as well. Is blogging a smart play or a strategic initiative, I wondered. So,I badgered Dell's affable PR guy, Richard Binhammer for an interview with the guy who's name is on the company logo.

Michael Dell has answered 10, occasionally tough, questions below with candor and clarity. I believe it is the longest and deepest interview on social media ever conducted with a CEO of a Fortune 100 company. I am admittedly impressed with what he has to say, but I'll let you decide for yourself.

1.    I imagine 2005 and 2006 were not your favorite years. Customer disaffection began to appear in blogs in late spring of 2005. They, of course, reached a crescendo with Jeff Jarvis famous "Dell Hell" post in August '05. At what point did you become aware of anti-Dell blog posts? What was your first response to blog criticism?

Just to put this in perspective, we've been listening closely to what our customers have been telling us since 1984. We listen in person, by phone and, in 1995, we started Dell.com,  realizing the long-term importance of the Internet for our  direct business model. About 1.6 million customers visit us every day online and our teams do their best to understand what's on our customer's minds at all times.

With respect to 2005 and 2006, I don't think there was any single event but rather a series of events that came together. The marketplace changed, global markets expanded and there was tremendous growth in the blogosphere. What's most important, in the long run, is how we learn from any situation and improve the customer experience. The reality is that my response to finding out about a customer's problem with our equipment  is the same today as it was then – let's resolve our customer's issues as quickly as possible and let's learn from each opportunity and get better every time. I care about our customers and our team knows that it's not unusual for me to send an email at any time of the day or night where I ask them to figure out an issue ASAP. Every customer is important to me.

2. At what point did you start considering blogs as a strategic issue?

Well, when you look at the world and see that the number of people online will double from 1 to 2 billion in a few years, it makes a compelling case for understanding where this growth is occurring and what it means. Our goal is to join the conversation and speak directly and candidly with our customers. The more we engage, the more we learn and the better we can do for our customers.

Our teams have been exchanging information with customers online since the late 1980s with listservs, for example. By early 2006, we had established the Online Community Outreach team, a group of tech support experts that reaches out to bloggers around the world who have questions or may require assistance.  Direct2Dell   was launched in July, 2006. Later that summer, we expanded blog outreach to include any conversations about Dell.  We then launched StudioDell in September and then early in 2007, the IdeaStorm site was launched.
So, we've done lots but we're just getting started.

We also see a tremendous opportunity to partner with our customers to improve the world we all share.  This has led to our global recycling program where any consumer anywhere in the world can recycle equipment for free with us.  It led to the formation of Plant a Tree for Me, which allows our customers to offset the carbon equivalent of their computer for a small contribution to buy a tree.  And, most recently, we launched Regeneration.org as part of our commitment to become the greenest technology company in the world.  This site just completed a really cool graffiti contest that was on Facebook and had more than 1 million people vote on the best digital paintings of the environment.  We believe that when we join forces with our customers, we can really make a difference.

3. Can you tell me how the decision evolved for Dell to start blogging? Who actually made the call?  What was your role in it?

I asked why we didn't reach out to customers on the Web if they had issues and then, once we had that in place, I asked why we didn't have a company blog to further connect proactively with customers.  But all credit goes to our team who really took the initiative to make it happen.   And once we get going at Dell, we are absolutely committed to being best in class worldwide.

4.  What outcomes did you expect from starting social media programs? Has they gone the way you expected it to go?

You know, people talk about social media programs but I just think about conversations with customers.  We have hundreds of millions of them every year.  We listen on the phone and in the offices of our customers.  Why not improve our online listening skills and the number of ways we can do it?

We want our customers to walk the hallways of Dell. From our engineering labs to manufacturing plants to service and solutions teams. This means that when we're making decisions, we're always thinking about our customers.

We're appreciative of our customers on IdeaStorm who encouraged us to broaden the availability of Linux systems to include consumers. We actually made more than 35 business improvements related to IdeaStorm last year and we expect to do a lot more in the future.

We are sharing our thoughts and ideas now in forums or blogs in Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese and Norwegian and we'll continue to increase our outreach in the near future.

There's more work to do and there always will be.  But the most important point is that we are very committed to joining the conversation with our customers wherever they may be in the world.

5. What has Dell learned from blogging? How has it changed product and policy?

Well, we were one of the first companies to have an online policy that insists on complete transparency by Dell employees. Our team members must always identify that they are from Dell when they speak online.

I believe our teams like the opportunity to speak directly to our customers with video clips on Direct2Dell, when we introduce new products. You can see this is now the standard way we introduce new products. Our engineers didn't always get a chance to speak in the past, but now it's easy.

When we have an issue, we act quickly and we use Direct2Dell as a central point for clarity.  If you look at the battery recall, we shared continual updates on our progress.

In the future, you'll see us continue to innovate in how we share our product stories.

6. How do you think blogging has changed Dell's corporate reputation?

You'd have to ask our customers. We don't own our reputation we just own our actions. That's something our customers give to us in return for us exceeding their expectations.

For me, the question is has it improved our business performance? And the answer is yes. But as I said, we have plenty more to do.

7.  While Direct2Dell gets a good deal of attention, Dell has a couple of other significant blogs, IdeaStorm lets users tell Dell what they'd like and DellShares is a space for investor conversations. What value have these two other blogs had for Dell so far?

Ideastorm is incredibly powerful. The Linux community showed how this tool can not only get attention, but lead to change.  We brought back XP as an option for customers who wanted it. We reduced trialware and we get to listen to our customers discuss ideas in real time.

I can't think of a better way for us to know what's important. We can't act on every idea nor should we, but the dialogue and debates are well worth it. With DellShares, we want to make it easier to receive financial information.  We will do our best to discuss what is on the minds of our investors.

8.  Have you ever considered starting your own blog or posting on any of  Dell's blogs? Why or why not?

Yes.  We talk about it often.  Watch this space :) Our team also does a good job of capturing some of my speaking events online.

9.  How has blogging changed Dell's culture?

It reinforces how important it is to listen to our customers. And, when we see an issue in real time, we have only one choice and that is to solve our customer's issue and quickly too. I believe it's improved our reaction time, reduced our time to learn new critical information and made us a better company.

The blogosphere helps accelerate many of the great traits of folks at Dell. We have always cared deeply about our customers. With the blogosphere, it gets constantly reinforced to us how important it is to act quickly and accurately to share thoughts, solve problems and provide innovative solutions.

10. What advice do you have for other public sector companies considering social media strategies?

Just do it.  And we have great technology to make it happen. :)

Actually, we do.  And we often share our learning with our commercial customers.

I think a strong company is one that constantly learns.  One of the best ways to constantly learn is to really listen to customers. The rapidly changing tech landscape makes it efficient and easier than ever before to listen, learn and connect with customers.  The emergence of social media is a tremendous opportunity to bring the "outside" in to your company.

February 03, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Shashi Bellamkonda of Network Solutions


Using a personal blog to calm angry customers.

       [Shashi Bellamkonda of Network Solutions. Photo by schmoozing.]

I first met Shashi Bellamkonda through Twitter. In the virtual neighborhood where I hang out, everyone knows him as ShashiB and he is highly regarded. Shashi is a prolific Tweeter, generous with useful information. He also maintains three personal blogs and is on Linked in as well as Flickr.

The fact that I knew him for several weeks, or perhaps months, before I discovered that he worked for Network Solutions and would be setting up that company's first official blog. It's relevant because people who know Shashi trust him and when a firestorm hit Network Solutions, he used his personal blog to let his employer join a conversation and by so doing seems to have changed that conversation at least to some degree.

The issue was something called "front running." It has nothing to do with presidential politics. In domain registration, opportunists try to see what domains people are looking up, and then buy them quickly so that they can charge people and businesses who actually intend to use them, a highly inflated price. Global Neighbourhoods, for example, used to be a dot com site. It became a dot net site when I let it expire for a period of six hours. The Front Runner wh grabbed it anted $5K.

Just as Shashi started a new position as the first-ever Network Solutions social media person, Network Solutions took action in the area of front running. They said they were holding domain names for three days to protect users from front runners. Users said they had become front runners themselves, forcing users to buy a name from them rather than a less pricey competitor.

Shashi's first days as the Network Solutions blogger were filled with turmoil, shouting and accusations. They are not yet resolved. But the shouting has subsided. I'll let the Q&A pick up the story from there.

1. Can you give me a general picture of Network Solutions and social media? How many bloggers are there identified as Network Solutions? Are employees encouraged to participate in social media? Is there any corporate policy or strategy related to social media?

The very fact that Network Solutions realized that they need a social media person is a positive step toward joining the conversation. We got over the first milestone--getting people inside the company to understand the challenges and the power of social media presence. I have been part of discussions to open new ways for customer communication (blogs, forums).

We may be going slowly but we are trying and do it right.

Network Solutions (NetSol) employee advocates have long advocated we set up a social media “listening post.” By creating my position as the NetSol social media person we have taken a huge step. It did take a lot of pushing and convincing for everyone to be on the same page and may still require more pushing. But I don’t think that is uncommon in established companies.

Folks at Network Solutions have been reading blogs since the beginning and are aware of the best practices advocated by blogs and books on social media. I say this because being a technology company many employees engage in social media at personal level.  A lot of people I know read new media sites like Digg, TechCrunch, Techmeme, Slashdot, etc. avidly. We had to get everyone on the same page at all levels. I have read “Naked Conversations” and particularly liked the small business success examples you have in the book and quoted them to people.

We have been using Communispace as a social media tool for a few years and now we're taking steps in mainstream social media.  In a very small way, I experimented using social media to spread the word about a product that I managed called BuildMyMobi. I wanted to let people know that it was an easy to use tool to create a website for mobile phones. I joined conversations in blogs and forums where the people might be looking for such tools. We asked people to try the product. This helped us understand that with the right approach social media can add a new dimension to our efforts to reach customers.

I am thrilled that I moved to this new social media position and I think Network Solutions has gained as well. They needed a person already connected in social media and I was a perfect fit. 

To have some fun, I started a contest inside Network Solutions to pick a title for my new post and got about 34 entries. My favorite so far is “Social Media Swami”!

In a nutshell, the company has a blogging policy which is more of a common sense approach. The policy is for people to be conscious of confidentiality of information and to ensure there is no conflict with their work. Basically, it says be smart when you blog. There are some avid bloggers and most bloggers I know at work have personal blogs.


2. How long have you been at Network Solutions? What was your job before you became the company's primary blogger? What percentage of your time is involved in social media for your employer?

In 2001, I came in on the ground level, taking tech support calls. I have fond memories of talking with customers. Some conversations are etched in memory - people setting up websites to propose to their Fiancée or to commemorate the experience of having a baby. O once talked with a Bruce Lee fan who took me way beyond my shift .The customer was so concerned that the website had to look right. I stayed on the phone with him until we got it right.

My opportunity really came when Network Solutions introduced hosting. I could leverage the experience I had gained  at home in my basement, dallying with hosting and programming. I worked hard and learned quickly. This gave me  a chance to move up and change workgroups.

I am proud that my dream is coming true not just at Network Solutions. I believe in the American dream--that hard work and perseverance get rewarded.

I progressed from customer service management to marketing and then on to product management.  Before I moved to my new social media position I managed a product that I love – an easy to use website builder that I supported when I first joined Network Solutions.

I am now devoted exclusively to social media, not just for Network Solutions but because it has become my passion to be involved  in the DC social media community. I love blogging and maintain three personal Blogs along with enjoying Twitter. I am currently brain-storming new ideas and hope to create a good social media strategy for Network Solutions to reach the small business. We will learn as we go and I am confident that I will get a lot of help from blogosphere friends. We want to do it right.

3.  Last month, you got to experience the thrill of trial by fire over the issue of "front running," or grabbing the registration of an available website name for the purpose of reselling it . Network Solutions said it was reserving site names for customers. What was/is NetSol's thinking on this?

“Trial by Fire” is certainly right! In a way, I am happy that I started with a challenge. Having bulldozed myself into the position, this was the first opportunity to prove that there was a conversation about us in which we were not participating.

I've always advised people to buy the domain name immediately after finding it. So have other bloggers. Network Solutions decided to reserve domains in an effort to prevent front runners from scamming our customers. We were concerned with customer complaints that they search for a domain and find it has been registered by someone else especially when the chances of a coincidence are remote. We have taken it up with ICANN in the past.

In retrospect, we might have avoided such a furor if we had added more notification on the website and provided a better explanation to our users on this measure at the very beginning.

4. There were at least 200 negative blog posts. Your blog received scores of negative comments, some of them pretty ribald. What was your personal response to getting called so many insulting names? How did upper management respond?
I have been mentored well by the Blogging community. I ignored the insults and concentrated on the constructive feedback. I made sure the user's main complaints were discussed internally at a senior level.

Network Solutions listened and made changes quickly.

I posted these changes to the forums and blogs where the suggestions were posted. This is good for the community since the constructive criticism reached the highest levels of the company. Companies should be open additional channels like this for feedback.

Some of the principles of the Social media that I learned from the community helped me.

  • Listen and participate.
  • Help give your company a human face.
  • When companies listen then the conversation changes dramatically. In this case, it changed from criticism to suggestions on how to make it better.
  • Blogging will expose you. You must expect to deal with criticism.
  • I will make mistakes but I have the conviction to pick myself up, dust off the mud and carry on with a smile. Everyone says my Twitter picture makes me look very optimistic and I am that way.

5.  Did anyone advocate taking the strongest comments down? Who decided to keep them up and why?

Nobody ever suggested taking down the comments. I don't moderate my personal blog posts, except in once where I stated that clearly.  I think the general feeling was that we were getting some good suggestions from the comments on the different blogs including mine. Many people supported my new role. I have been in the company for a long time and have a lot of friends and I had people stopping me in the corridors and asking me to hang in there.

Using my personal blog was my decision to be able to reach out quickly to people asking me questions on Twitter and other forums. In the end it achieved the objective for Network Solutions and the community. Bloggers, on the other hand, found out that someone was there in Network Solutions to take their voice to the highest levels.

6. Nasty language aside, there seem to be a lot of people who don't trust the Network Solutions front running policy. They suggested more user-friendly remedies to your locking the URL for several days. Are you considering changing your policy? Why or why not?

In my experience, Network Solutions has always worked on making the customer experience better. I know we are looking at making changes like the ability to reserve the name for the original searcher. This could form part of a future enhancement.
On a side note, I learned from blogs and comments that even some of our most vehement critics agreed that our "Who is" search and interface was more intuitive than others.

Our public position stated by Champ Mitchell is “A $0.25 non-refundable domain name registration fee would probably be enough to make domain tasting or front running unprofitable”. The good news is that ICANN just proposed a resolution to charge a 20 cent fee on domains held during the grace period.  Network Solutions will support this resolution and will stop our current practices as soon as that is implemented. ( There is a story in the Washington Post that has more info .

7. What has Network Solutions learned from this experience specific to url-locking and front running?

We definitely learned that as domain name pioneers, Network Solutions is held to higher standards. That’s a challenge the company accepts. The key here is that we listened to the community and customers and made the changes even if the majority of the detractors publicly stated that they just used our "WhoIs" search without any intention of registering the domain with us.

This reminds me of a Wharton classroom discussion about branding a few years back. We compared food & grocery stores like Giant and Safeway vs. food specialties like Trader Joe's. The customer’s perception is that the older and more established brands should always have milk and God forbid them if they run out. But if Trader Joe's were to run out of milk, customers are likely to just shrug and say they came at the wrong time. Network Solutions is in the same position in Domaines as Safeway is in groceries.

8. How do you think social media has impacted your corporate reputation?  Do you think social media impacts corporate accountability? How so or not so?

Prior to my position being created the conversation on Network Solutions was being held in social media channels and we were not part of it. A lot of employees used to read blogs and forums and pass around the information internally. Network Solutions may have responded on an ad hoc basis, but there wasn’t a formal process to respond. Now, we try to respond to the discussion in the social media, even if it is among domain holders who are typically not our customers.

Network Solutions has reinvented itself to focus in on providing tools to help small businesses succeed online- ImageCafé – the product that I managed was one of them (Publish a website easily with absolutely no tech knowledge.). Change within a large company takes time and is an evolving process.

As I said, we are already a changed company yet at every meet up I go to I am asked questions about Network Solutions and domain names. I use the opportunity to say that that’s only part of our business. Some people in the community seem to remember us for old times when we were a registrar and the registry. We have to keep engaging in the conversation with our customers and the community to nurture a relationship that helps Network Solutions and our customers work together better.

Network Solutions has good customer service and customers come for complete online small business solutions. The perception of Network Solutions as a domain name company in my opinion is yesterday.

I have a lot of aspirations on how my position will help our customers and the company and I am confident the dream will come true of making Network Solutions a social media success.

9. Looking forward, how do you think social media will change Network Solutions internally and in the marketplace?

The day when a company could communicate hiding behind walls and lobbing stuff over the wall to customers is over. My new position at Network Solutions will work toward empowering our customers to carry on conversations using social media. Companies always want to listen to their customers and are accountable to their customers.

I think about 40% of Network Solutions' business is from word of mouth referrals so we are very conscious of its power. As small businesses embrace social media, word of mouth will take a different incarnation. Social media now opens yet another channel for this communication.

Social Media is also the new citizen journalism. Some companies are starting to realize it and embrace it. We are among them.  As a Social Media person, I have to be the voice of the customer and the community within Network Solutions--sort of like a Ombudsman.

Seth Godin wrote t hatcustomers are now unionizing themselves through the social media. This is a good thing. Social media cuts down the hierarchy that existed in traditional forms of communication between companies and customers.

There are proven cases of companies where engaging in social media has proven successful in changing brand perception. We may be early. Small business is only now starting to engage.

I have a lot of work cut out for me. I have to do my duty to both Network Solutions and to the community. I will be fair and ensure a conversation where both sides are heard. If I am considered a mere mouthpiece of the corporation I will have lost my credibility. A  DC blogger, Andrew Wright says it well on his blog in reference to my position.

January 27, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Montreal's Michel LeBlanc


Candor on Montreal Culture and Radical Transparency   


Michel LeBlanc

                           [Michel LeBlanc File Photo.]

Michel LeBlanc is the most prominent French-Language blogger in Quebec Province, and probably all Canada's most popular French language business blogger. I invited him to participate in my SAP Global Survey of Social Media's Impact on Business and Culture because language is a continuously reemerging issue, and in North America, that triangulates to Montreal, our most bilingual city, and where there is a history of strain over language and culture.

But in speaking with Michel, I was surprised to discover that his personal life had traversed onto a significantly more controversial issue than just language. In so doing, this interview provides the best example so far of the benefits and influence of what he calls, "radical transparency."

A respected Internet enterprise consultant, Michel has impressive educational credentials. He holds an M.Sc. in eCommerce from HEC Montreal/U, an interdisciplinary program involving Law School, Computer School and HEC, Quebec's premier business school. He specialized in web management and conducted extensive research in Web marketing. He published extensively related to that.

His masters research was published at the Center for Interuniversity Research (CIRANO) on analysis of the organization which is usually only for PhD candidates. In connection with that degree, he presented his first of many keynotes on the impact of web services on businesses.

After graduating, he founded Adviso inc., Canada's first French-language Internet business consulting service, which he sold in 2005. More recently, he started Analyweb. Despite the corporate name, Analyweb is simply Michel Leblanc.  He works alone as a consultant, speaker and writer on Web marketing, web strategies and the use of innovative technologies in business settings. His clients are mostly North American and French blue chips, but he also works with small and medium enterprises that have a strong Web presence.
Here are his answers to my questions. I have taken some liberties, by inserting some of his comments from subsequent email:

1. Montreal is considered the most bi-lingual major City in North America. What percentage of Montreal speaks English and what percentage speaks French?  What percentage of Montreal is bilingual?

I do not have official statistics, but I estimate Montreal is 20% unilingual English; 80% French; and 40% bilingual. The French, of course, are a minority in our country and on our continent. Sometimes, the Anglos are so powerful that we feel we are a minority event in Montreal. Anyhow, we are submerged by Anglo culture and media on a regular basis.

2. Culturally, how much do the French and English speaking populations mix together? Would you say Montreal is a culturally integrated or separated society?  Is their much prejudice between the two cultures?

Historically Montreal is divided in two at Saint Laurent Blvd. West of it is English and East of it is French. Both cultures connect and mix on the boulevard.

There is still some prejudice and misunderstanding between French and Anglos. There is still a separatist movement in Quebec Province, but the clashes are coming mostly from outside Montreal and are rhetorical rather than actual physical confrontations.

3. When I met you a year ago at a wonderful blogger dinner there were more than 30 bloggers in the room, about half French speaking. I was later told that this was the first time French and English language bloggers had a dinner together. Have their been more in the last year?  Why or why not?
The dinner where you came is called Yulbiz and it is a meeting of business people interested in technologies such as blogs, and bloggers who are interested in business. This concept has been exported to other places and is now in five countries. I started it nearly two years ago.

Occasionally, English and French speaking bloggers get together and at another event called Yulblog (for any type of bloggers). Both communities mix well. But at Yulbiz, we still have problems attracting the core of English-speaking business bloggers. They started their own thing, the Montreal Tech Entrepreneur Breakfasts. Both communities interact at events such as basecamp, casecamp or facebookcamp. But those events were started in the English world first and it is the French who joined in rather than the opposite.


4. Tell me about business. Do the French and English-speaking communities conduct business together? what language is used?
French and English business people are working together but it is always in English. I presume it would be the same scenario as with the Spanish speaking community in California. Minorities are the one that have to adapt.
5. Let's talk about you.  What social media tools do you use? Are they for business for personal use?
My blog really changed my business.

Right now, more than half my business has come directly from my blog and the other half comes from the perceived notion that I am "the" expert. My blog has attracted a lot of media attention. I am regularly asked as an expert guest by media that wants to discuss e-economy, the web in business context and innovation. This contributes to my "aura" of being an expert and helps me sell speaking engagements that again, brings water to the mill.

So it is all interconnected. I also am using LinkedIn to gather positive feedback from client and I use Facebook to get to know my clients on a more personal level.

6. How has social media changed your personal reputation?
I recently used my blog to reveal a condition from which I am suffering. I have Gender Identity Dysphoria and the only way to cure myself, is to become a woman. I started hormone therapy two months age and will change everything else in the following months.

Since I told my readers (Michel's English translation) customers and friends, I have received a wave of support like you could not believe. I have retained all my customers and even gained new ones because of the perceived truthfulness and courage they saw in my disclosure (In fact, it was rather survival and the belief in radical transparency on my part, but I am very happy about how it has come out). I also created a Myspace Account under a pseudonym where I am connected to two hundred transsexuals worldwide and it is, in fact, my personal virtual support network.

7. You must have had a great deal of faith in your readers and your clients to make that post.

It is a bit more complicated than that. I did not have faith in my readership support. As a matter of fact I was flabbergasted by it. I did it more out of conviction and because I did not want to lie about my physical changes than anything else.
8. Let's return to the issues of language and culture. You blog in French and you don't translate, although you speak English extremely well. Why do you not post in two languages the way Loic Le Meur does it?
It is a matter of time and resources. Loïc does not blog alone. His wife is by his side and he has a team that works with him. In fact, I also have an English blog www.web-marketing-frog.blogspot.com, but I do not maintain it anymore, except for the recent translation. Perhaps that will motivate me to return to it when I have more resources.

I am proud of my French origins and I know I can be of great help to my fellow French-speaking readers as in English, I would be lost in the sea of the Web and there are far more pertinent resources in English than there are in French.

9. What impact do you think social media has had on Canadians in business? How do you see that changing?

Facebook has been widely adopted by Canadians but business people are still scared of it. Several businesses are trying to firewall it and they do not see the potential benefit of knowing your business contacts on a more personal level. Although personal blogs have a very long history in Canada, business blogs are still just emerging.

In several ways, Canadians are not that innovative on the online scene (except for developers, Facebook is a Canadian product. So is Blackberry). My explanation for it is that while France was still playing with Minitel, Canadians were investing in mainframes and heavy business applications.

Then France caught up with the Web and started with a clean slate. Here, the traditional integrators are very powerful and are still "the" reference for major clients. Furthermore, they are still thinking of leveraging their old investments (in the wrong way with old school integration) rather than trying to see what else they could be doing. I wrote 5 years ago about how Web Services could change the way we integrate business applications and how much money it could save and five years later, I could count on one hand, the projects that are being developed.

January 25, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Lionbridge's Aaron Dun

Resolving the problems of Translation

Lily & Aaron Dun
[Lily & Aaron Dun outside Fenway Park, one of America's most hallowed institutions]

My interim report on the SAP Survey of Social Media's Impact on Culture and Business noted that language was among the most vexing problems toward turning the vision of an online world where all people in all places could speak each other into a reality. Yet every day, I see and hear reports of how little baby steps are being taken in that direction.

Still, I wonder how many little baby steps are needed.  To better understand the state of translation technologies, I turned to Aaron Dun, VP Marketing at Lionbridge Technologies, the world leader in online translation technologies.

1. There's a general perception that most translation software sucks. Why it is so hard to make it accurate?  Why would you say Lionbridge's software is more reliable than say, Babblefish or Google Translate?

Let me make a very important clarification. What you are referring to as translation software is actually machine translation (MT) software.  Generally, MT quality is not something you would use as a finished product in a true business setting.  There are a few examples where MT has been used practically and effectively, but those are usually in combination with a human post-editing process.  We could spend our entire dialog on MT strategies, but it would be a deeply technical discussion, perhaps better reserved for another day.

The majority of Lionbridge’s work is based on human translation services that we support with MT, as well as other technologies to deliver a high quality end product.  Our Freeway™ online language management platform helps companies efficiently manage the translation process—getting us content easily, tracking it as it moves through the translation process, and then getting it back into their systems for publishing.

2. How does your system work and what are it's benefits?

In its simplest form, clients send us files of any type in one language, and we send them back 5, 20, 40, 100+ language versions in the same format.

Freeway is effective for our customers for three key reasons:

    (1) It’s free. Our customers don't have to invest several hundred thousand dollars in software licenses.

    (2) It’s fast.  We automate the process of handing content off and streamline how clients get us the files, cutting days or weeks out of the process.  Since it’s all online, it’s fast to set up.

    (3) It’s flexible.  We don’t require our clients to rearchitect their workflow to fit our needs. We can work with just about any data type or content management system (CMS).

These three attributes give our clients the operational agility to meet global objectives.

3. Lionbridge has been around a long time. It only recently turned attention to social media companies. Was this a strategic decision or did an opportunity just pop up? Can you tell me how important social media is to Lionbridge moving forward?

The phenomenon of social media is a relatively recent development and we were pretty early into it.  As the largest translation services provider, our clients bring us complex challenge and social media is no different. We work with nearly every major social networking community to assist them with localizations.

4. Is the technology you use for social media the same or different from Freeway, your corporate translation platform? What are the technology challenges you face in social media platforms that are different than what you face with corporate customers?

Freeway is our central platform, so we use it across our business.  Social media platforms have two main challenges. First they are highly complex web sites.  But in that way, they are no different from eBay or Expedia, two of our clients

The second challenge centers on what to do with all of that user-generated content (UGC). Should it be translated? Are truly personal connections happening cross-culturally in ways that would require translation?  For example, if I post on my friend’s page in German, ostensibly that friend also speaks German.  Where this issue is starting to play out more urgently is in the retail sector where it is conceivable that a German review of a camera might be relevant to someone shopping in the US.

Once the need for translated UGC is firmly established, the “how” gets a bit tricky. Many people think that some sort of MT tool will be the answer; but your own personal experience is pretty indicative of the state of the technology today. MT generally works best in a structured environment where content is uniform and well-defined. That is, of course, the complete opposite of the typical content posted online by users.

At the same time, there is a general trend toward acceptance of less-than-perfect content. We are already sensitized to very casual conversations conducted over IM or through text messages. As a result, we do expect that a higher tolerance for relatively lower quality MT output is emerging in some well-defined settings.

Taken together, we expect a hybrid solution will evolve where there are levels of content on these sites, and levels of translation quality that match those levels, supported by an easy escalation path. So, perhaps the site structure will be professionally translated, the dynamic content will be translated by the community, and UGC will be translated on-demand through MT, or perhaps MT aided by translation memories.

5. You have deals with Hi5, MySpace, LiveMocha and Habbo. Can you give me a brief capsule of what Lionbridge does for each?

Generally, we help these companies localize the framework of the platform to push deeper into the global community.  Jupiter Research just put out a report on Web Globalization, and one of the key graphics in it centers on where the world’s online population can be found. Clearly, China and other countries and languages are reducing English’s Web prominence.  We are helping the communities push further into these world geographies.

In some cases, we are beginning to explore the UGC question and thinking deeply about the right model for this translation process. In other cases, not yet public, we are exploring ways to help social media companies engage their communities to participate in the translation process.

6. What are the particular challenges of social media translation technology?

The sites themselves are not terribly difficult. It’s the distributed nature of the content that is challenging. I don’t mean to oversimplify the problem, because the complexity of these sites is daunting. We just we have so much experience with them, we are well-versed in the challenges they present. In all cases, you need to deal with text expansion and shrinkage for different languages, and of course, right-to-left languages present different challenges, among many other specific web globalization challenges.

But with social media, you have dynamic content being developed across the platform and posted with dizzying speed. This often changes the dynamics of the pages themselves and impacts how the pages are set up, which impacts the localization process.

In addition, the sites tend to be updating and shifting structures rapidly. If the changes are developed with localization in mind, than these can be straightforward to manage, but if they are not, it can become very complex.

7. You use a human element in your service. How does this work in dynamic environments like MySpace?

While we use MT elements, nearly all of our projects are executed by professional translators. That means we engage a group of translators for a project based on their skills and experience. For ongoing engagements with social media clients, we may use the same group for consistency of tone and expertise.

We have a carefully culled “army” of around 25,000 translators in well over 100 languages. Last year, our army translated content into 145 languages.  We are constantly evaluating their performance and expertise to make sure we have a high-quality pool from which to draw for any given project.

8. MySpace has announced a comeback and one of it's first forays is a brave one, and that is a Portuguese language version which will be heavily marketed in Brazil, where the conventional wisdom is that Google Orkut owns the social network. Does Lionbridge contribute something to the new MySpace that you think will give it a fighting chance in Brazil?

I am amused by your notion of MySpace making a comeback. Did they ever leave?  Certainly Facebook has captured a great deal of buzz recently, but with 105 million unique global visitors in December 2007 (ComScore), I don’t think MySpace is going anywhere anytime soon.

I think the success of MySpace in Brazil will be much more determined by the power of what they have to provide to the Brazilians and how that resonates with the people. Certainly, the quality of the translation we provide is a key component of that experience, but these sites are so experiential. It’s hard to judge where or why one will be successful over another.

9.  Do you see a day when all people can talk to all people over the Internet? How far away is that day? What are the most formidable barriers?

Is the Internet the great Rosetta Stone?

I don’t think I am qualified to really address that question.  That gets more to the heart of culture and cultural difference than anything else.  Certainly, the web has grown up as an English-led experience, but that is changing rapidly. I suppose it’s possible to envision a day where like-minded individuals can congregate around a topic or a concept or an ideal online—regardless of language—but that day doesn’t seem near to me.

If anything, I think we might be going the other way where users retrench a little bit as more content is made available to them in their own language. But that should be relatively short lived, as the power of the collective global experience continues to flourish.

10. There are cases of localized social media companies that have over 90% market share. This sounds great except they have nowhere to grow. How could translation software solve this problem?

90% share of what I would have to ask?  We translated content for our clients into 145 languages last year and didn’t come anywhere close to covering 100% of the Worlds population.  If the World’s population is currently over 6.5 Billion people, and some 1.2 billion of those are online, these sites have a long way to go to reach saturation globally.

And that is really the key distinction.  Clearly, this is a global phenomenon.  If these sites can continue to paint a compelling value proposition for consumers around the world, and remain adept at tapping into the inherent need of people to connect with each other, then that 1.2 billion online (today) is their total market opportunity.  They won’t get there in English alone.

11. I could not help but notice the Lionbridge and its representatives do not seem to participate in social media--no blogs, picture; no Facebook group or Twitter account. Not even MySpace or Hi5, your customers. Why is this? Does Lionbridge use social media behind the firewall for either employee collaboration or to work with Content Management System partners? Does Lionbridge plan to join the conversation in the future?

While not necessarily widely visible, we are doing many, many things in the medium as we define our approach.

We have quietly launched our company blog in December. Several employees have personal blogs where they discuss technology issues relevant to their work, or their interests.  Our interpreter recruiting team in Washington DC is actively using Facebook to recruit people who speak a number of different languages.  This is a perfect medium to find folks in, or just out of college, who may be native speakers of the languages we are trying to source, and are currently living in the US.

We are hard at work in other key networks to understand how to use the medium to meet our objectives, but it would be premature to disclose too many details on our plans.  We are rapidly identifying areas where we can use the Social Media to impact our business. Suffice to say, we are active, if not entirely visible.

The reality of these communities is that they are not terribly relevant as a channel for someone marketing a B-to-B service…yet.  The vast majority of our customers are just plain not present in these communities today.

12. Additional comments?

I would just say this is an amazing time to be considering global issues. With the weakness of the dollar and the slowing US economy, clearly companies are going to be talking more about their geo-diversification as a hedge against the US economy.

What we are already seeing is major US companies starting to disclose their percentages of global revenue and it’s staggering.  This isn’t that it’s new revenue, it’s just the level of reporting is much clearer.  We have inherently known much of this through our direct work in getting these companies to global markets, but to see publicly how that work is paying off in revenue is quite impressive.

The notion of a truly global economy has clearly arrived.

January 19, 2008

SAP Global Survey: KD Paine

Measuring conversation is Difficult;
a talk with KD is Priceless

KD Paine & Me

        [KDPaine with admirer at Measurement Summit. File Photo]

In the interest of transparency I need to tell you that KD Paine is my friend. She has been my friend for a very long time. We have both hung out in the tech-journalism-marketing-consulting communities for several decades. We both recall when once-weekly tabloids were fast enough and the state of personal communications art was the FAX machine.

I have always admired KD for her temerity, her ability to pick herself up, dust herself off and just get on with life, even when it deals you a blow. She is a breast cancer survivor who started running marathons to raise money to defeat the beast. When her 100-year-old family farmhouse burned down on a cold New Hampshire night, she built a new one that was true to the spirit of the cinders that had housed her parents and grandparents but embraced the comforts of modern times, including a kitchen that can easily feed 100 people, which happens with regularity. When I spoke at the Measurement Summit that she founded, my wife and I were guests in her home. 

She would have none of our talk about "Oh, we'll-just-get-a-hotel room." She gave us a tour of her amazing acreage and I discovered it really was a farm.  She showed us her bulldozer, the cellar where she preserves her jellied fruit  and the river house, where she wrote her latest book, "Measuring Public Relationships" and has already started on another.

This makes it difficult for me to formally interview KD. As the picture above shows, our relationship is up close and personal, but the issue of measurement is among the most complex flex points of social media and business right now. KD is the undisputed expert on this topic, and to NOT interview KD Paine because I know her too well, would be to a disservice to the readers of this survey.

And now, I give you KD Paine.

1. You have been called the Measurement Queen. Just what is that you measure and for whom do you do the measuring?

First of all, I prefer Goddess to Queen, since Queen implies a command and control society  and Goddesses are typically credited with giving birth to belief systems and are more inspirational.  Besides, there really is a Goddess of all things Measurement named Seshat.

What do we measure?

We measure the impact that media has on the reputation, positioning, messaging, relationships and business interests of our clients. By media we mean everything from Fortune to Salon to Global Neighbourhoods to BizRate to YouTube and Facebook. Typically we look at competitors or peer organizations so the clients understand the relative importance of that impact.

About half our clients are nonprofit and government organizations such as the ASPCA , the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Georgia Tech and Bonneville Power. The other half are high tech, business to business and business to consumer companies like Facebook, Epson, Raytheon and Georgia Pacific. Our clients typically have titles like VP of Communications, VP of External Affairs, VP of Public or Media Relations.

2.  Measurement is one of the enterprise flex point issues when it comes to social media these days. Do you get asked about such issues as the ROI of a blog? How do you answer that question?

Yes, we get asked that all the time. The problem is that the “R” of ROI really depends on the organization.  For the ASPCA the ROI can be measured in how many new members are engaged in the organization because of the blog, and ultimately the “R” is the number of new members as well as the amount of new contributions.

For Ingres or SAS, they may or may not be able to draw a straight line from their blog to the sale of a $100,000 software system, but  they can certainly track the proliferation of ideas and concepts from the blog into social media and perhaps into mainstream media or directly to customers who subscribe to the blog.

For high tech companies and advocacy groups, I’d argue that the ROI doesn’t matter. Not having a conversation with your customers is no longer an option. It’s like an email or the fax machine. At some point you realize you no longer care about the ROI, you simply can’t do business without it.

For an internal blog the “R” might be lower recruitment costs or reduced turnover or higher morale. It depends on the purpose or goal of the blog. The reality, in far too many cases, is that the reason the organization started the blog was because the CEO or a board member said they had to do it. There are no clear objectives, so the demand to  measure ROI becomes a political football tossed back and forth between proponents of social media and the old-line command and control types that once said the internet was a fad that would quickly pass.

3. Media is all about the conversation, which I imagine makes it more difficult to measure than say, a press release. How do you measure social media?

You know the old adage “Measure twice, cut once?”  I think today you have to listen a lot, and measure once. It’s all about listening to what your constituencies have to say.

If you video taped a real conversation, you’d capture body language, you’d know who the players were talking to, and who they were going to talk to next. Computers are only beginning to do that. They can count the people in the room, but they have no way of knowing what those people are going to do next. What is a complete waste of time are those organizations that are still counting eyeballs and using text mining to just measure the words used.   

To evaluate social media conversations, you listen. You hear the tone. You note what subjects are being discussed, what words are used, what battles are being fought,  who is saying what to whom. The only thing you’re missing is the  body language, and the social media equivalent of body language is the avatar or photos you use to identify yourself.

What is most interesting to me is that measuring social media draws on research methodologies that are decades old. Basic sociological and psychological research techniques that have been around for decades are being dusted off and put to work measuring social media.

Jim and Laurie Grunig defined how you measure relationships a decade ago. It’s just been easier to measure column inches and impressions than to actually figure out what people think about you as a result of your actions and words. However today, there are no “column inches and impressions” for social media. There are just conversations and relationships. So we are going back to measuring people rather than ink and bits and bytes.

What technology has brought us is the ability to track not just this conversation, but the next conversation and the next. Social mapping systems like BuzzLogic enable you to follow the conversation wherever it goes. That’s the really exciting piece of measuring social media. We’ve been able to evaluate one conversation (think of focus groups) but we’ve never had the tools to be able to track what happens after the participants leave the room. Now we have that technology. It used to be that we measured reach and frequency. We are still measuring frequency, but social network mapping is the new reach.

The biggest problem are all those people out there that are trying to measure social media with tools that were invented in the 1940s to measure TV – panels and eyeball counting mechanisms that are meaningless to today’s consumer. 

4. Can you give me a good case study of how you've helped a company evaluate a social media program?

Before there was social media, there was consumer generated media and before that there were newsgroups. We began doing competitive analysis in newsgroups for a leading printer manufacturer (not HP) back in 1995.

At the time, we learned that even though the client was worried about negative newsgroup discussion winding up in mainstream media, the information was, in fact, flowing the other way. After PR launched a product, customers were picking it up and discussing it in newsgroups about two weeks later. This allowed them to determine which messages were actually being heard by their customers. A decade later, our measurement program for them now includes blogs, structured review sites like Amazon as well as traditional media and  online sites like Engadget.

We compare the impact that all these forms of outreach have on purchase patterns and what we’re learning is that the greatest influence comes from customers talking to other potential customers in Amazon and BizRate reviews.

We also do extensive research into the impact of social media for Georgia Tech. We look at the discussion about Georgia Tech as well as nearly a dozen other major research universities and determine what’s being discussed, and more importantly, what’s being shared. We look at what Georgia Tech bloggers are saying and what others are saying about Georgia Tech. We also examine the degree to which people are bookmarking and sharing information, so we can identify hot button areas that lend themselves to advancing Georgia Tech’s reputation. Ultimately we’ll be  looking at the impact that it all has on applications and requests for information.

For the ASPCA we measure traditional as well as social media and analyze it to determine which topics and which media are having the greatest impact on memberships and donations.

For a major computer manufacturer we did a social media analysis of their bloggers vs. the competitor’s bloggers. What we found was that their bloggers weren’t blogging as frequently as the competition, nor were people commenting as often on their blogs. So they revamped their internal blogging policy as a result.

5. How would you assess the current crop of social media tools. What do you recommend for an individual to use? Is there a different set of tools for an enterprise? How do you see them evolving?

We’ve gotten very good at teaching computers to understand words, the problems is that they don’t understand the nuances of conversations. Computers still can’t tell the difference between sarcasm and irony. And throw in slang and you have an even bigger problem. So computers are good at categorizing conversations as to what they are primarily about, or where they’re appearing, but as to the real impact of the conversation, it still needs a human.

Personally, I use Google Analytics to track the success of my own blog and IceRocket and Sphere to see how well I’m getting my messages out there.  We use Compete to determine “reach” Then I put the results into our own DIY Dashboard so I can keep track of trends over time. For my clients we use a variety of capture tools like Critical Mention, Cyberalert and BuzzLogic. depending on the nature  and market that the client is trying to measure.

Far more important is the tool that you use to measure relationships. The standard methodology is to present your stakeholders with a series of statements and ask them to what degree they agree or disagree.

This can be accomplished via free resources like SurveyMoney and Zoomerang or even by phone. In an enterprise where you’ve got a significant number of different elements to track and run correlations, you really need some sort of sophisticated database tools like SPSS or SAS. For an enterprise to truly measure its reputation in social media you need a solid mix of human analysts and interpretation with very sophisticated tools. Facebook, HP  and Microsoft did extensive research before selecting measurement tools and all three  insisted on human analysts. So I ask you if some of the leading players in technology don’t trust computers, why should you?

6. Why do you think an enterprise should allow employees to blog or engage in social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook?

Because it will make them smarter and it increases social capital. Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone credited World War II and the draft for boosting social capital by forcing people to interact outside of their comfort zone.  Facebook and Twitter are today’s version of the draft and life in the trenches. They enable you to see and hear different points of view and perspectives from around the world. It brings you different perspectives – instantly. Besides in Facebook, the ability to ask questions and share ideas is a great way to listen to your customers.

7.  I've written that blogging helps companies get closer to customers. How do you measure something like that? 

Don’t ask me, ask your customers.

Do a survey and ask them how they feel about your brand or organization. Ask them whether they agree or disagree with a statement like “This is an organization that listens to people like me” or “this is an organization that likes to throw its weight around." Tally up the answers and you get a measure of the health of your relationships. Ultimately, do they feel closer or more alienated? You’ll only know if you ask.

8. Corporate reputation often comes up as one of the issues related to social media and the enterprise. How do you see social media impacting an enterprise that engages in it?


If you accept the premise that engaging in social media enables you to listen more closely to your customers, then it can only improve your relationships and ultimately your reputation. Blogging and social media imply, assuming you do it right, and that you are open and willing to listen. If society believes that you are open and transparent and authentic, research shows that more people will trust you. While trust is only one component of a reputation, I would argue it is one of the most important. Secondarily, depending on what the enterprise is blogging about, social media can help convey other reputation attributes like innovation, good corporate citizenship and community concern.

9. How do you think social media impacts brand?

That depends on what you’re trying to convey with your brand and how you implement your social media strategy.  Does being in SecondLife or on Facebook help Coca Cola’s brand?  Yes, it conveys that they’re hip and cool. Do they sell more Coke because of it? Probably not, but simply being there says something about their brand. Did being first in Social Media  help John Edward’s brand as the first candidate to Twitter? It might have had he actually been doing it, and not faking it. But because it became quickly apparent that it was Joe Trippi twittering and hired bloggers blogging for him, people stopped caring.

It also depends on who your customers are. If your customers are non-techie types raised in the 50s and 60s, social media will have a lot less impact than if your customers are Gen Y-ers.  Take a company like Lockheed Martin or Northrup Grumman. It seems inconceivable that they’d blog, since arms dealers probably don’t do a lot with social media. But if they’re trying to hire the best and brightest of today’s college students, participating in social media would do wonders for their brand.

10 Additional comments.

Measuring social media all comes down to measuring relationships. There are far too many media options and far too many messages to try to track what’s being sent out there. If people instead focused on what’s being received, and the impact that has on their constituencies, they’d know a lot more.

Shel Israel
writer. consultant. nice guy.
650 430 4042

January 14, 2008

Jennifer Jones Interviews me on Marketing Voices

This is the 2nd time I recently pointed to an interview with me and I promise not to make a habot of it, but I think Podtech's Jennifer Jones did a great job of asking me about the finding of the SAP Global Report on her Marketing Voices program. I think Jen is the Internet's answer to Barbara Walthers.  She has a soft style that just makes you want to talk with her.

The interview took place nearly two months ago before the SAP Report was released. It's now of course been published here in the SAP Report category, if you want to read the 8400 word version instead of Jen's pleasant 12 minutes.

January 08, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Like.com's Munjal Shah

Munjal Shah

[Munjal Shah, CEO of Like.com Photo by Miss Rogue (Tara Hunt)]

[NOTE: I have been retained by SAP to conduct a survey of people all over the world on the issues of social media and it's impact on culture and business. This is the 52nd interview in the ongoing series since it began last June.You can review earlier reports here, by going to the SAP Research Report category]

Munjal Shah was my first client after Naked Conversations was completed. My job was to help him get ready to launch his company Riya at the Feb 2006 DEMO conference, where the company would receive a DEMOGod Award. Riya, at the time would become among the most blog-covered startups of all times. In July 2006, it had a TechCrunch coming out party in Michael Arrington's backyard.  This would all sound like an incredible success story, except that it did not turn out that way. Within a year, Riya would be renamed Like.com and it's entire business model and market strategy would be changed. Anther significant shift was that the new company started with a large tech team in Bangalore. Subsequently, the company disengaged in India and built up its team in the SF Bay Area.

I was interested in two issues: (1) Why is social media less relevant for this former Blogger darling company. Had blogging as a strategy failed? and (2) Had the costs changed so much, that it no longer made sense to build a Bangalore tech team.

I'll let Munjal pick up from here.

1. Munjal, you were my biggest success story. You were the darling of the Blogosphere. Virtually every prominent blogger was writing about you in late 2005 and early 2006. What happened?

Bloggers were not writing about Riya because it was a cool social
media company.  Almost every post on Riya was about the technology's ability to search inside photos. That was the true blogworthy news.  Our core focus has always been on the technology of search.  Frankly, Riya was just not how people wanted to use this technology.  So we tried again with Like and now we are on to something.

2. When did you transform the company into Like.com.What's the new strategy?  Is it working any better now?

Like.com is approaching a $10MM revenue run rate after just 1 year of being live, so yes, it is probably working.  Our core focus was on using the technology in a way that people would like and in a way that had a business model. Like.com has both of these.  Riya had neither.

There are many ways to build a good business. Like.com has a higher click-through rate than any other soft goods shopping engines.  What that means is that our search technology is connecting people with the item they are looking for better than others.  This is what we do better than anyone else.  This is all we care to do better.  We work everyday to improve this.  Visual search is the core of how we achieve this.

3. Why doesn't Like.com use more social media to have conversations with customers?

Social shopping doesn't work.  Shopping is largely an isolated activity for soft good items (clothing, shoes, handbags, etc). Everybody thinks that women will chat with their friend about this dress or that shoe, but frankly, most online soft goods shopping is conducted by women at work in between meetings or late at night when the kids are asleep (our log files and data show this in spades).  Our customers just want to get in and get out. 

I would be careful in thinking that social media is the next generation of all types of sites.  In the case of commerce sites like thisnext.com and even Kaboodle have only gotten a fraction of the revenues that a non-social site like ours has.

4. What advice do you have for startups regarding social media?

Blog about the process of building a company and about your company,
there are many people who are interested in this story and they will
help you build momentum, but in terms of your customers, use it only
if truly appropriate.  There are many businesses on the web that are
about deep relationships, but not all sites fit that profile.  Think
of a weather site, are you really going to create a profile deeply
invest in that site no matter how many social features they have.
Think about a stock picking social networks.  I recently heard that
people are reluctant to discuss their picks online since too many
others can trade on it.  Even though stock picking groups and clubs
offline are very popular amongst day traders, online the speed of
information distribution makes folks want to share less.

5.  Do people use cell phones or PCs? ? What can you tell me about growth?

In general, Internet usage is limited but growing fast.  Mobile usage is much larger.

6. Another big change from Riya's early days is that at least half the team was in Bangalore. What were the advantages of setting up there at that time? How did they change?

Bangalore made sense when it was cheaper than Silicon Valley by enough of a margin to account for the costs of dealing with a remote office.

7. Has inflation really ruined the India advantage, or just bangalore. Why not just move to Chennai, Hyderbad or another emerging Indian City?

Like.com hit the inflation curve early.  We were only hiring the top guys in India and the number of these guys is very limited.  Hence no matter where you went the costs were rising or would rise in the near future. 

Others in India will see the effect, but they will likely be a few years behind us on that curve.  For many big companies cost is irrelevant.  I recently heard an engineer in Silicon valley say he would never work for a certain big tech company.  He would only work for a startup or for Google (the
current market darling).  Microsoft is loosing a ton of people to Google.  Company's like MSFT might not care if the cost in Bangalore is any lower, so long as they can get the volume of high quality engineers that they might have a hard time hiring here.

8. The 'Conventional Wisdom' is that social media is making the world at least a little flatter. Would you agree or disagree? Why?

In terms of startups, I'm not sure about this.  Facebook, Youtube, Myspace, Bebo, iLike, Hi5, Twitter, Digg, ... all are still companies that were started or really sprouted in the Bay Area.

9. What advice would you have to global companies regarding social media and diverse cultures?

Come to Silicon Valley if you are building for the US or global market.  Stay were you are if you are building for the local market.

January 02, 2008

SAP Global Survey: Australia's Lee Hopkins


               [Lee Hopkins.(file photo)]

When we wrote a chapter in Naked Conversations called Consultants Who Get It, we never mentioned Lee Hopkins. In fact, Lee was not yet a member of the social media community. He had pursued all sorts of careers including the Australian Air Force, a London singer-songwriter and a stint in San Francisco. He developed mostly in the London-based media industry until a family situation required him the return to Adelaide, Australia, where he had been raised. From a business perspective that placed him in one of the world's most isolated places in the Western World.

It was there, in Adelaide, where Lee became a business consultant to a portfolio of geographically distant clients that Lee rapidly emerged as one of Australia's leading social media evangelists in business. A prolific journalist and blogger, he is quoted all over the English-speaking world. He was my obvious choice to be the first Australian to interview for the SAP Global Survey and he has done a fine job of giving a sense of what is going on Down Under.

1. You come out of the editorial services field. How did you get immersed in social media?

I'd somehow heard about 'blogs' back in late 2004, but never really thought anything further about them. In early 2005, I Googled 'business communication blog' and came across Shel Holtz.

From him, I discovered his and Neville Hobson's podcast, For Immediate Release. I went on to become a regular contributor and their first foreign correspondent. On the strength of what I saw Shel and Neville doing, I further invested my time in blogging and found, to my delight, that I really enjoyed this 'Social Media' thing. The ability to write and have a willing audience, to be able to play with sound effects and inject my humor into my passion for business communication; these were the intrinsic rewards that I had been seeking for decades but until then had never found. Once I had been bitten by the bug, there was no stopping my wholesale descent into becoming a full-time social mediarist.

2. Can you tell me a bit about Australia and technology? How many people have computers at home and at work? What about Internet, broadband and wireless access. What are the current trends?

Australia has long been recognized as a country of 'early adopters' of new technology, whether that technology is home-grown or from overseas. Most families (except, perhaps, the long-term and multi-generational unemployed) have exposure to computers, either through the workplace for through their teenage children. Most Australian families are connected to the web and the vast majority of those connections are via broadband.

That said, one of the key areas of discussion in the recent Federal election was around Australia's lamentable broadband speeds when compared to other developed countries. For a considerable while, Telstra (the national carrier) was passing off ISDN as broadband as a way of meeting its agreed milestone for ensuring that 98% of the population had internet access. We're currently positioned in the mid 30s in terms of global broadband speed, but each month we slip further down the ladder.

While we are a nation of individual early adopters, at the business level we are very slow to update to new technologies. I could wax lyrical about the benefits of upgrading to Office 2007, for example, and how it is a vast leap in performance and productivity over previous Office upgrades -- but my cries would fall on deaf ears. Most Australian businesses are at least one and usually two generations behind in the technology race. It is only the micro-sized businesses, the tech-savvy or the very large corporations who would consider investing in upgrading to the latest technology. Most companies' IT departments are very risk-averse and so any initiatives to do with technology usually doesn't get past these influential gatekeepers.

Wireless access has been tried by a few companies in small pockets around the CBDs of most major cities, but it is yet to be comprehensively rolled out and supported. It is most often individual businesses, like an ISP, or a coffee shop that provides some sort of wireless access for its patrons. Internode is a wireless ISP that serves a large part of inner Adelaide, but the project never went further due to lack of funding at local council levels.

3. What social media tools do you use? Why do you use them? What is the result?

I predominantly blog, as I find that the easiest, most natural way of communicating. Yes, I also record the occasional podcast, and of course my weekly report for For Immediate Release, but podcasting takes up considerably more time to create a final product than blogging does.

I have also enjoyed playing with video, producing the occasional video blog, but like podcasting, the time involved to decide on content, record, post-produce and publish is significant. I find it works on this scale:

Writing a post - one hour;

creating a podcast - three hours;

creating a video blog - six hours.

Also, as a consultant, I dabble with most of the new whizz-bang tools that arrive every week-if mostly to decide whether they are worth my clients investing time in or not. So, of course I use Facebook, I Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce and YouTube. I would Seesmic but haven't been able to snag an invite yet... I belong to a number of social networks and I of course am active in Second Life, where I am conducting my doctoral research.

The result of all this has been astounding, at least to me. In the space of three years I have gone from being a 'nobody' in business communications to a world-recognized entity. I have been contacted by and consulted to companies that, before Social Media, would not even answer my cold calls. I have flatteringly been called a 'trend setter' and one of Australia's leading thinkers in online business communication. I regularly get invited to speak at conferences, most of which I decline due to not having enough hours in the day and enough dollars in the bank to fly out and attend for free (which conference organizers seemingly always want you to do, despite the fact that THEY are looking to create a profit by charging attendees a small fortune).

Whilst Adelaide itself is a 'backwater' when it comes to online business communication, I have been graced with clients in other cities who see the value of my services and who pay accordingly. If I could only ply my trade within Adelaide I would starve to death.

4. Tell me about social media and Australian business.  How many and what sort of companies are using social media tools? What tools are the most popular? Is there much growth?

'Business Australia' is at an interesting phase: my colleagues and I have spent the last two years waxing lyrical to whoever would listen about the power and influence that social media can wield. Of late, people seem to be listening. 

There is really only one private company, Telstra the national telco, who has launched itself into the social media space. The other major player is the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), the state-owned national broadcaster who immersed itself in social media years ago. But there is a feeling among us evangelists that something is stirring and will spill out in early 2008.

We know that AMP and Westpac (large investment and banking companies) are experimenting behind closed doors. No doubt there are other major corporations conducting similar experiments, hidden from our watchful gaze.

Because of the success that the ABC has garnered with its social media initiatives (blogs, podcasts, Second Life, downloadable TV shows inter alia), many commercial broadcasters have 'jumped on the bandwagon' and now release edited highlights of their most popular shows as 'podcasts.' The purists among us cringe at the use of the term when the files are really only downloadable audio, however it is at least a start. But apart from Telstra, the ABC and a handful of radio stations, the takeup of social media by 'Business Australia' has been lamentably non-existent. We are ever hopeful.


5. Tell me about your clients. To what sort of companies do you consult? What are the barriers you face? Give me a great success story.

My clients range from charities (a church, the RSPCA) to PR companies to banks and a pharmaceutical company. They are increasingly interested in finding out more about social media and, in the case of the PR company, their clients are increasingly interested too.

The major barrier I face is in helping clients understand that social media is not a 'fad', nor is it something only of interest to pimply teenage boys lurking in their mum's basement and chatting to others whilst clothed only in grotty, stained underwear.

The greatest joy I personally receive is when a client, or a client's client, suddenly gets 'that look' on their face and the penny drops, the lightbulb goes on and they suddenly realize that this social media thing is 'do-able' and doesn't need to break the budget.

The second greatest joy is watching their faces when they come across Twitter or Second Life for the first time; it's akin to watching a time traveller from the 19th century be introduced to a mobile phone. The look of incredulity, coupled with the mouthed but unsaid question, "why would anyone DO this?" is so delightful and amusing as to be almost sinful.

This was certainly the case with one of my clients, the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in South Australia. They had been taking a 'beating' from the local media for years and had resigned themselves to always being the 'skapegoat' of others interests and failings. Introduced by another client of mine who was on their management board, I met with the CEO who was exceptionally skeptical of blogging as a way of turning the tables around.

I set up a blog, installed a blogging editor on his and his newly-hired PR manager's computers, then hand-held him as he made his first tentative posts. Within a fortnight he was blogging arduously on his own steam, and daily would call me to tell me how 'this' post had been picked up by the BBC in Poland, resulting in a phone interview, or 'that' post had been picked up by the local media and printed almost verbatim.

Within six weeks the tables were, indeed, turned; the media now went to the blog first to get the RSPCA's story before they went and interviewed the RSPCA-bashers, often resulting in stories that had both 'balance' and, miraculously, positive reviews of the RSPCA.

For the RSPCA in South Australia, blogging has been a transformational tool in how the media and the general public view and interact with them.

6. What about young Australians? What social media tools do they use?
Who do they talk to?

Young Australians have experimented with Facebook but many of them are staying with MySpace, which is by far the most popular tool for them. Facebook seems to have garnered an older, more educated audience, whereas MySpace was the 'only game in town' for teens when it first arrived. Indeed, it was so popular that MySpace Australia was set up, rather than (as usually happens with social networks) Australians become just another number in a database. The loyalty this act by Murdoch engendered is a lesson seemingly not noticed by other social networks.

Different global regions have their 'tools of choice'; I understand that AOL is the preferred IM client in the US, Friendster the preferred social network in Asia... in teen Australia it is MySpace for the network and MSNChat for IM. Nothing else gets a look in.


7. As young people enter the marketplace, how will social media impact business in Australia?

This is a warning bell that my colleagues and I have been ringing but few in 'Business Australia' seem to have heard. We all know that these tools are in use now (heavily), but 'Business Australia' prefers to put its collective head in the sand and pretend that these tools don't exist.

Many of the arguments revolve around the 'time wasting' aspect, and whenever I hear that old chestnut trotted out I roll my eyes up and sigh. I calmly yet passionately explain to the managers and their organizations that these tools are 'oxygen' for today's young graduates when they need to solve problems. They have been taught all through their school years to collaborate; suddenly they arrive in the workplace and the very tools that allow them to share ideas and collaborate are denied them. What sense is there in that? They are expected to innovate, to solve problems in creative ways, but they are denied access to the very paint and brushes that would allow them to create their problem-solving masterpieces.

The skills shortage in Australia is masked very cleverly by 'Business Australia'; if the young graduates knew how valuable their decision-making, problem-solving and research skills actually are they would only work for companies that give them the tools to do the job. But they are not valued, not told they are valued, and so, desperate for a job, settle for whatever they can get and get frustrated about working in an 'antiquated, production line' culture.

I strongly believe that employers who deny their workers the tools with which they are most comfortable are opening themselves up to charges of willful negligence, harming both the employee AND shareholder value.

8. Is social media helping Australia get closer with other places? Which ones? Is it business or socially related?

It is only socially that Australia is becoming more global and personable through social media. For example, I now have contacts, acquaintances and friends all around the globe and it is only social media that has allowed me the freedom to create these relationships.

I know that, within academia, social media has allowed many partnerships to form that add value to all partners and their research projects. This sort of global cross-pollination has, of course, been a strong part of academia for centuries -- social media is the latest transport mechanism and one that allows for exceptionally speedy cross-pollination, but social media is not the novel unifying force within academia that it is outside of the lush gardens.

But for 'Business Australia' it is still yet to be a force. Or even a tremor. Or even a whisper in the dark.


9. You live in Adelaide, one of the world's most isolated cities.  How has social media changed life for you there? How do you think it will change you moving forward?

Social media has allowed me to develop important business and personal relationships around the world, which I certainly could not do before it came along.

As a solo, SOHO, online business communication professional working in a city not known for its business innovativeness and willingness to try something new, making a living was like squeezing blood from rocks. I scraped together a survival income through building websites and writing newsletters, but because Adelaide is so dollar-sensitive I was very often outbid for work by students who were desperate to generate a dollar. I invested considerable time and effort pursuing the traditional marketing avenues: speaking to Rotary groups, writing articles for business magazines, and so on, but little came of it.

Suddenly social media arrived (for me, anyway) and I was rapidly able to reposition myself at the forefront of what I saw was a revolution in how communication could take place between and amongst businesses, their suppliers and their marketplace. Suddenly 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' could be talked about without being laughed at, at least by my peers.

Now, even though I am still living in and operating out of a price-sensitive city, I generate enough money from my consulting work with interstate clients that I can afford to charge 'top dollar' here. There are very few companies based in Adelaide that are large enough to afford me (if they can afford to hire expertise from the large consulting firms, they can afford me; if not, they cannot), so I do little business here.

Because of the 'flattener' that the Internet has become, in Friedman's terms, I can conduct business from anywhere, including the gorgeous Adelaide Hills where I reside. Because of social media I have been able to show thought leadership in my industry, connect with other like minds around the globe, be contacted by clients and potential clients from around the world, and network with some of the greatest thinkers of today. THAT is an incredible privilege!

As for the future, well... I am researching Second Life for my doctorate as I strongly believe that collaborative 3D virtual environments will become a major factor in how we communicate online and I am positioning myself at the forefront from a business communication perspective. The last three years have been a rollercoaster; goodness knows what the next three will bring!

10. "The incumbent Australia Labor Party has just imposed censorship on the Australian Internet. What do most Australian's think about this? How do you think this will impact both personal and business use of the Web?

Most people are experiencing emotions ranging from bemusement to outright despair at the stupidity of politicians. The Australian blogosphere is again laughing at another example inept political bumbling (and this is not the first time the ‘censorship’ card has been played) but also angry that the lessons it felt were adequately explained to the previous government by various interested parties have been forgotten in lieu of ‘being seen to be doing something’.

Like most political pronouncements, what is said and what is delivered are likely to be two very different things, and this is an issue that will probably find itself pushed under a carpet in a month or two as something far more pressing captures the government’s attention.

Saudi Arabia's most popular blogger is under arrest

The New York Times reports this morning, and several bloggers have noted that  Fouad al-Farhan, an outspoken 32-year-old Saudi Arabian blogger was “being questioned about specific violations of nonsecurity laws,” according to the Saudi interior ministry.

They must have a lot of questions, Fouad, who writes about social issues and is his country's most popular blogger, has been detained since Dec. 10.

The heartening slice to this story, is that friends have taken over his blog site for him, changing the title to "Free Fouad," and bearing the quote "I don't want to be forgotten in jail," as a subhead. That's the way a democracy is supposed to work. When one voice gets silenced, many voices rise.

Except that Saudi Arabia is no Democracy, not even close and I greatly admire the courage of both Fouad and the many voices that are rising in that country on Fouad's behalf.

January 01, 2008

Explaining the SAP Global Survey

Over on my Twitter account, I requested people to recommend themselves or people they know to be interviewed for my SAP Global Survey. It was presumptuous of me to think that everyone who knows me there is a regular reader of this blog.

It's also clear that some people who now follow this blog are not entirely clear what's going on with the survey, so let me explain again. I will probably do this periodically moving forward.

I have been contracted by SAP to investigate the impact of social media on business and cuture all over the world. I am essentially doing this through email interviews where I send questions and then post the answers on this blog. There have been 51 of them so far and you can find them on this blog in the Category of SAP Reserarch. They are all tagged SAP Global Survey, as well. At both places you will also find the Six-Part SAP Research Report, which summarizes the findings as of November 2007.

I am looking for people who can contribute to the general body of knowledge on the subject of social media and culture or business. I've organized this by country, region and discipline.  While the central focus is business, SAP and I both believe business focuses extend into youth, education, government, non-profit, citizen journalism and most anywhere that social media is causing change.

If you have an idea, a lead or think you should be interviewed. Please contact me at [email protected].

December 28, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Spain's Luis Rull

Luis Rull

[Luis Rull @EBE07. Photo by Shel]

Luis Rull was a co-host of Evento Blog Espana [EBE07], in Seville, Spain,  where I spoke in November. I got the chance to hang out with him and Biz Stone. He seems to have grown up a child of the global Internet communications revolution with an abundance of stories to tell. What interested me for the SAP Global Survey is the Luis' soon-to-be implemented Spanish-to-English translation service for bloggers. Spain has an abundance of bloggers.  Very few post in English, although a good many of them read English language blogs. Like most people, Spanish bloggers are just more comfortable posting in their native language.  But they see the need to join a larger and more more global network.  That's where Luis' service will coe in, but I'll let him tell his story.

1. Tell me a bit about your background.

I was born in 1973 and raised in Seville. My father is a scientist whose research was about computer simulation of molecular dynamics. I played with mainframepunch cards and crayons   before I could ride a bike.

In 1982, My father's work took us to Copenhagen where I met people totally different from my family and friends. I played with kids from Argentina to Russia, and from all over the world, letting find new ways to have fun. We kids were fascinated by the strangeness each other's toys, especially the new electronic stuff that we shared with each other.

I went to college in Granada where I got my first PC. My dorm friends used it to write essays and do homework. There were no networks. We shared with floppy disks. Toward the end of my degree studies, Internet Cafés began came to Granada and used them to email my parents who were already using it at the University of Sevilla.

When I got a grant I got a graduate studies grant at Pablo de Olavide University, I was given free internet access and I became the unofficial IT guy for my research group and friends. I found myself very comfortable teaching others about computers.

In 2004, I read an article about US politics and the rise of blogs.  It motivated me to visit blogger.com at Google and start my first blog to keep my friends and family informed, but it also gave me a place, a notebook to write ideas as they came into my head, content that could not be published in any other place such as a scientific journal.

As I became more knowledgable about blogs and wikis, I kept helping others.  Eventually, I moved into the private sector as a consultant. A new world was beginning and I wanted to be in it. I joined some wonderful internet entrepreneurs from Valencia and we founded Blogestudio.com.

Mainly, I teach clients how to communicate through their blogs and how to discover, store and share information with colleagues and clients.  Now I am beginning my own company mecus.es with a great team in Seville, focused in Corporate Blogging and Knowledge Management, where I am developing a new service of translation for bloggers.

2. How did you come to co-produce EBE07? Why is it free to attend?

Some of Spain's blogging pioneers come from Seville. Two of them,  José Luis Antúnez and José Luis Perdomo called Benito Castro and asked us to do a kind of summit for bloggers and Evento Blog España was born.

In 2006, Seville's state government, Junta de Andalucía, and Microsoft agreed to be sponsors, with the understanding they would respect our freedom to invite whoever we wanted. Suddenly we had a free place to do it and money to pay the flights and hotels of international speakers. When other bloggers heard about it, the all expressed enthusiasm. Friends and enemies, colleagues and competitors all enthusiastically offered  support. We gathered a great group who knew each other online, but had never seen each other in person.

In our first year we invited Matt Mullenweg, and some of the most influential and interested people in some areas of blogging: Education, Politics, Technology, Ethics, Business, etc. We later discovered that the most interested conversations took place during the breaks and the beers & in tapas bars.

In 2007, the expectation was high and we grew from 200 attendants to 620. Our goal was to respect for the community. EBE 07 was organized for bloggers, and we tried treat them as queens and kings not as subjects. EBE07 was built on them, with low key sponsor presence, free admission and long breaks and social activities.

3. Let's talk about Spain in general. How any bloggers are there? What do they blog about? How many are in business v personal?

I cannot tell for sure, but the Spanish blogosphere is made up mainly of personal bloggers. The growth right now is incredibly fast. There are many more personal blogs than business or commercial blogs. The average audience per blogger is low but the long tail in Spain is really long. From MSN Spaces, to Bitacoras.com or LaCoctelera.com, small groups reign.

Business and professionals have just started to discover the value of blogs in the last three years. I believe that as they understand the profits of listening and gaining their own voice, they will all want to get into social media. There are a lot of resources to help them use the new tools. The number of talented Internet consultants is growing.

4. What other social media tools are popular in general and in business?

Places like meneame.net are very popular, but the management of recommended info thought blogs, twitter, google reader shared or del.icio.us are growing very fast, mainly because they are not very time consuming and are based on people you trust.

In business, the most important innovation is building relationships with people who share your  interest through blogs. News alerts and data mining techniques need a lot of improving, but my opinion is that the heterogeneity blogs are introducing to companies and people’s minds have a lot of potential. 

5. Is social media making its way into government, education and other large institutions? Why or why not?

I think it is only happening in a very small number of places. A few individual civil servant or teachers are using it, but only in a disorganized, decentralized way. The positive way of seeing it is that they are building their own way of using them. They are not following higher agendas or narrow paths. They are adapting social media to their needs, founding great things. My opinion on the lack of interest is that people on top do not want to lose the monopoly of knowledge and want to keep people isolated.

6. Most bloggers in Spain blog, of course, in Spanish. What are the pluses and minuses of that? Do many Spanish bloggers read blogs in other languages?

I cannot say numbers, but my opinion is that many influential bloggers get their influence by gathering information from blogs in English and writing about it on their blogs in Spanish. Many readers don’t have the time, interest or skill in English to get that information from those sources, and they trust these gatekeepers. The amount of information in English is huge and the additional effort only worthwhile for specific niches (For example: your hobby or you competitors)

On the other hand, most Spanish bloggers do it just to express themselves. They are not eager to reach large audiences, so they are not very interested in reaching English readers. But, the Spanish-speaking audience itself is huge because it includes Latin Americans. Internet is becoming more and more popular all over the world and our brothers from the other side of the ocean are no exception. The high quality of some blogs from Argentina, Chile or Mexico proves that.

7. I understand that you are planning to offer a translation service to bloggers. Why? What's the market opportunity?

The market opportunity is a two-way road. It’s obvious that English is the most common language in Europe. If you want to reach a large audience in Europe and USA, the easiest way is to write in English.  Spanish companies are getting more and more investment from abroad and start-ups are beginning to think in a broad way about their market. The world is flat.

Automatic translators do not work properly with dense and rich blogs, so there’s room for professional translators here. The biggest cost for a translator is to specialize in the vocabulary of an area, for example, software. With individual blogs, we can take that away, because the language, special words and expressions are similar every time.

Our products do not only include professional translations but also the adaptation of their blogging software to it. Taking care of SEO matters, ease for clients and freshness of content, we offer the translation of a post within 24 hours. The blogger only has to blog in his or her usual way. We adapt the templates and take care of the translated version. The clients get an identical blog, with the texts in Spanish, with no additional time invested. We only have done it so far  in WordPress, our favourite blog software, but we have researched others and would be able to do it as soon any client requests it.

8. Will it be just Spanish-toEnglish? Would you do English-to-Spanish?

We are also thinking about translation to Spanish. English, French and German are our first choices. We consider Spanish audience very attractive to some English-speaking bloggers all over the world. The consumption of social media in Spain is one of the fastest growing in Europe, and with the weight of Latin American audiences, our product is simply a good choice.

Translating into Spanish is also a good idea because Spanish tends to overrate foreign ideas and people, and that usually gives English bloggers a good first impression.

9. Let's talk longterm. What impact do you see over the next five years of social media on Spain? How about Spanish interaction with the EU and the US?

The shock in the last three years has been so hard that nobody can say for certain. Big media conglomerates had been trying so many defensive strategies that failed. Now, they all join almost any innovation offered to them. This is mainly because small media companies had been fast and imaginative and are succeeding in the growing market of digital audiences. You may see it in the number of newspapers that have easy access to social media tools such as del.icio.us, digg, technorati or meneame (a popular Spanish Digg-style site). You can even see in the content of some news in mainstream media: sometimes you see a TV newscaster saying something that appeared in a blog six days earlier.

It's obvious that the audio and video will have a great impact in blogging in 2008. The number of video blggers and podcasters are increasing in a rate higher than  100% per year. Self-producing audio-visual content is the big change in Spanish media.

The influence of US culture is huge in Spain. Although many Spanish companies are in joint ventures with EU companies, the audience is strongly demanding US content over EU content. With more translation from French, German and Italian we hope to change that.

About 52% of the Spanish population between ages 17 and 52 have Internet access and is growing very fast, according to trusted sources. They represent the more affluent and better education portions of our society.

Spanish people tend to be expressive and passionate about what they like. I see an explosion of quality content. Prepare yourself.

10. Additional comments?

Spain IT community is beginning to think about the world in a “flatter” way. Spanish Content generators will follow them

December 26, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Greece's Stefanos Karagos

Stefanos Karagos.jpg

[Stefanos Karagos. File Photo]

As I've recently written, Greece was a non-player in blogging, when we researched Naked Conversations three years ago. Now there is a great deal happening in social media there, and it seems that wherever you look, Stefanos Karagos is a contributor.

He is among the best known Greek bloggers having started earlier (2001) than almost all of his countrymen. He comes at it as publisher of the Greek edition of PC Magazine, the largest tech publication in Greece with 210,000 readers,  along with three other tech publications.

Stefanos first became active in online conversations back in 1993, when he created the first Greek BBS, which was used to discuss Windows.

He started his first personal blog,  to improve communications with Greek Internet users and to reach his magazind subscribers.  "As a public personality, I need to communicate often," he told me. "Blogging is the most interactive way for me to talk one-to-one and one-2-many."


Toward that goal, he has created several blogs including Anabubula.com which tests how the global market works and, " to prove that if somebody creates unique content, he'll have more opportunities to make a difference," he told me.

For each magazine, he has created a social media platform connecting the offline media with online, giving. He told me the online/offline braiding has given each a significnt boost in followers.  He's also created the largest Greek blogger custom search engine which is about to include social networking functionality. Very early in January, he will also launch  Foracamp.gr, the first vertical social media for 500 tech communities worldwide.



1. Tell me about technology in Greece. How many people go online and where do they do it? How available is broadband?


Greek Technology adoption has accelerated over the last 4 years.  Recent indicators indicators show that the penetration of Internet in Greece is more that 35% of the population but household broadband penetration is only 5%. This year, fortunately, the Greek Government pushed the National Telecommunications Organization [OTE] for lower prices of ADSL and in the last 6 months, we saw the biggest expansion of broadband connections ever in Greece.

As publisher of the Greek PC Magazine, I distributed 50.000 free ADSL modems and trial ADSL connections last September, giving the opportunity for more users to enjoy broadband. The prediction of ADSL penetration for 2008 is that it will more than double.

Another intersting fact is that 70% of the users spend more that 3.5 hours on the net, every day. There are 170,000 registered Greek Facebook users.


2. Blogging also seems to have taken off in the past couple of years.  What are the factors that have

contributed? Who blogs and why?


Most Greek bloggers are young people who adopted the medium quickly and use it as a personal communication platform. We are a Mediterranean country and many days of the year are sunny helping people to go out for coffee and drinks and this is one of the reasons that blogging was not so popular the past years.

But now with low broadband prices the 3G mobile networks to cover a big part of Greece users can use blogging and social media all over the place. Greek bloggers come from many professions and social level and this year, because of the National elections, many politicians to blog and use social media as well.


3. What other social media is popular in Greece?













Wadja.com [Mobile Social Networking]

Zoo.gr [social networking]

Joy.gr [social networking]

Zuny.gr [a Facebook like special for Greek Universities students]

Pblogs.gr [most popular blogs platform after blogger.com]

Foracamp.gr [Social bookmarking for Tech communities]

Cull.gr [Digg clone for Greek Internet market]


New local entry in beta:

Me.gr [social networking]



4. Tell me about language. Other than their own, what other languages do Greek people speak? You speak English quite well.  You have even started sites in English. Have you considered translating your blog? Why or why not?


English is the most spoken foreign language in Greece. From the 23.000 Greek blogs which I monitor via blogz.gr search engine, more than 3.000 are in English. In my Greek blog I offer translation as a feature, via an automatic translation service, because of my very good SEO, 10% of the visitors come from outside of Greece. Translating a site to another language is not so easy and most Greek bloggers actually are looking only for other Greek Internet users.


6. How do most people earn a living in Greece? Has social media impacted them at all?


Tourism is the No1 market and many Greek people earn a living that way. Until now, social media hasn't played a clear role on everyday life here, so actually, it doesn't  impact most people. For example, there is not one Greek blogger earning a living from it. If blogs grow over the next three years the way they have in the past three years, we will start to see the real impact in Greece.


7. Has social media had much impact  in Greek culture so far? What about in the next five years?

I believe that over the next five years, social media will grow rapidly in Greece. 2007 was the  milestone year when social media started to make a serious impact on Greek culture. International Social networks, local blogs and the huge penetration of cell phones are the key reasons. Countires that have big cell phone penetration are on a different path toward social media.


8. How has social media changed your life?


Since I started blogging in 2001, social media has radically changed the way I conduct my media business, how I direct companies , how I attract and keep clients, or make friends, and even view my local market or the world. I don't think I would still be involved with anything regarding innovation and differentiation if Social Media didn't exist.

Without the ability to give input in a product or a service and see the same time the quick response from the audience, the Internet in my country would not have expanded as quickly without the technologies involved with social media.


9. Additional comments?


Social Media is a crucial factor for countries like Greece to provide the innovation and differentiation of their technological achievements.

December 23, 2007

SAP Global Report: Dell's Lionel Menchaca

Lionel Menchaca, Direct2Dell

         [Lionel Menchaca. Photo from File]

[NOTE-Jan 11, 2008. I rewrote the intro to this piece. It needed it. I also fixed a broken link. Lionel's Q&A remains unchanged.]

The Dell script pretty much follows the classic Hollywood formula: Sin, Suffer, Repent the Flourish.  Dell's sin was clear. In order to win a hardware price war it scrimped more than it should have on product  and service. It suffered by watching loyal customers migrate to such rivals as HP who overtook it for category leadership. It suffered further from seeing it's revenues and stock priced plummet into a prolonged and well-publicized freefall.

Dell is just now concluding an 18-month period of penitence. The CEO who steered the Dell Supertanker nearly onto the rocks was unceremoniously replaced at the helm by Dell Founder Michael Dell.  The company is buying back its still tepidly priced stock. It has begun a reinvestment program of $1 billion into support.  Reviews of new Dell products are mildly favorable but not quite laudatory.

Dell is most certainly coming back. Dents in its reputation have been hammered out. But the company has not yet returned to the sort of flourishing it enjoyed for more than a decade.

What makes this all so interesting to me is the role that blogging has played in this apparent comeback. The company started a blog in June 2006. Now called Direct2Dell, it has become the most popular blog published by a major global enterprise.

Direct2Dell is a team blog, but the face of D2D, as many people, including Dell folk call it, is Lionel Menchaca, who is the team's most prolific, passionate and frequent contributor. Lionel seems to specialize in the hottest of issues and he handles them in a calm authentic voice. His, interview appears below.

Will Dell actually enter Hollywood's predicatbly closing scene, the one where everyone flourishes and manufacturer and customers live happily ever after?  That remains to be seen. But because of Dell's new faces of social media, there are a whole lot more people cheering for the company than was the case 18 months ago.

Here is the result of my interview with him:

1. First, tell me a bit about yourself. Where were you born and raised?  When did you join Dell? What did you do at Dell before you became the primary blogger?

I was born and raised in Texas. I’ve been a hardware and technology geek since before high school. My career with Dell started 14 Years ago, in technical support—I was a front line hardware tech for two years, and an OS tech for a year after that. Back then, I thought excellent service and support was the best way to create loyal customers. I still do.

I spent the next several years managing and supporting product reviews for Dell, starting  with PowerEdge servers in 1997.  In the years since, I’ve been responsible for reviews and product PR for many of our product lines—everything from storage products to notebooks and desktops. Just before my current role, I also spent a couple of years doing media relations on the corporate side.

Outside of work, I have a wife and two young kids that mean the world to me.  I’m a huge music fan and have watched the Dallas Cowboys every season since 1976.

2. Most people know the general reason why Dell started blogging, but exactly what happened? What finally made Dell decide to blog?  Who made the decision? Why were you selected?

There wasn’t one specific issue that set things in motion, but Michael Dell has been a catalyst throughout the process. He was the one who asked us to reach out to customers who blogged about their Dell experiences to offer some assistance. That led to the creation of a team of Dell Customer Advocates back in April 2006 four months before we launched Direct2Dell. That’s when we started listening and engaging in conversations with customers throughout the blogosphere. During that critical four-month formative period, we learned a lot about what kinds of conversations were going on, and how to be part of them. For us, that was an invaluable part of the process.

Many people assume that we started blogging because of Jeff Jarvis and Dell Hell [read in reverse order], but that wasn’t it. Jeff’s situation was indicative of a bigger fundamental issue that was going on—our customer service levels in the US were slipping back in July of 2005. I blogged about it here. We started blogging because we knew that customers were talking about us, and we didn’t want to sit on the sidelines any more.

Why me? I think it was a combination of things. Throughout my years here, I’ve established contacts within many parts of the company, especially on the product side. Even though I wasn’t a blogger in the beginning, I understood both the technical and conversational aspects and had been reading quite a few blogs before this job became a reality. My technical support background  was also key. That’s why I was one of the folks tasked with getting the Customer Advocate team up and running. And by the way, that team recently celebrated passing the 5,000 blog post mark.

3. When the blog first came out you faced a firestorm of cynicism and criticism. How was this received among the various internal powers in marketing, legal etc. To your knowledge did Dell ever consider abandoning the effort?

You’re right, those early days were tough ones.  We faced criticism from bloggers and from customers alike. The level of negativity scared some Dell folks initially. Our legal department has been pretty realistic about things. There are a handful of issues that need to be reviewed by them—any safety- related issue, for example.  There are a couple of others but, by and large, it’s common sense stuff.

The other two departments that are directly affected by social media are communications and marketing.  By that, I mean they are the organizations that have to come to grips with the loss of control. We’ve made some progress in both departments, but we still have a long way to go. So far, I think we’ve seen some internal pockets of success, but it’s clear that our continued success hinges on convincing more and more Dell folk  within those organizations that open conversations will be a competitive advantage in the future.

I’ve never thought about abandoning the effort, and no one has asked me to.

4. After a few weeks, the conversation seemed to get a lot more constructive and polite. Why? What changed?

I’d like to think that we built our credibility by blogging the right way. To me that means blogging about topics that our customers ask us to address no matter how negative. That process took time because  we had to dig ourselves out of a credibility deficit that we helped create. By working through that, we earned the right to enter the conversation. That changed things.

5. Can you give me some statistics on the blog? How many uniques? How many comments? Growth?

We’ve been tracking at about 1 million page views per week. Unique visitors have reached as high as 300,000 per month.

One of the most important metrics is the change in the tonality of the conversations. In 2006, at the low point , almost 50% of the conversations about Dell were negative. Today, we are at about 23%. I don’t attribute all that success to our digital media initiatives, but it’s clear that they have accounted for part of it.

6.  As you know, many enterprise decision makers are fearful of being shouted at, lack of adequate measurement tools, loss of message control, leaking secrets and of course--no clear ROI. How would you address each of these?

I think all of those issues are reasons why corporations stay away from joining conversations. I would argue though that the benefits of being part of the conversation  outweigh all the risks. In my view, it’s really about facing the reality of the changes that are happening in front of us.  Companies need to admit that control is shifting toward customers. More and more customers are talking about companies they either like or dislike. Those conversations happen with or without companies being actively involved.  And it’s becoming increasingly clear that those conversations have more influence over perception than much of the marketing material and PR messages that companies produce.

We wrestle with measurement tools and ROI all the time for a couple of reasons:

•    This is a new, but maturing field, and that means it will take time to develop  tools and metrics that mean something on a broad scale
•    Proving ROI in social media almost always involves looking at a topic over an extended period of time

In my view though,  the real value in social media is that it has the potential to change customer perception in ways that just weren’t possible before.  Just because that’s hard to measure doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.  Time will tell, but it seems to me that not being part of the conversation is a far riskier proposition.

7. How has social media in general and D2D specifically changed Dell?

Direct2Dell has made us better listeners. It’s forced us to see things from a customer point of view, which we had gotten away from for a while. Direct2Dell also opened the door for us to expand into other digital media efforts like IdeaStorm and StudioDell. IdeaStorm is great because it’s community-driven. Our customers tell us how we can improve and tell us what ideas are most important through voting.

Between our own social media efforts and monitoring and engaging with customers in the blogosphere, I think we are have developed better listening skills in general. This work has shown us that how, how often and what we communicate is changing: timeliness is more important than ever and sometimes that means  setting expectations that we are working to address an issue before we have all the answers.

And while supporting our own properties is important, we realize that many communities that our customers take part in are outside Dell. What’s most important is that we ultimately join conversations wherever they occur, not just on our own properties.

8.  What are some of the stickiest issues D2D has caused you to face?

1)The exploding notebook in Osaka. It was a huge topic of conversation the first week that we had launched Direct2Dell. I blogged about it, and linked to Engadget on the third day after we had gone live. Inside the company, it caused some friction, but I think it was the right thing to do. That helped set the tone for what customers could expect from Direct2Dell—we weren’t going to shy away from negative conversations.

2) The battery recall. Back in August 2006, when Dell was the first company to announce a battery recall, we received some criticism. In the weeks and months that followed, other companies joined in after us.

3) The 22 confessions post on the Consumerist.  This was a situation that pitted the command and control philosophy vs. the new reality of the blogosphere. Here is my post that connected the dots.

4) Product delays: Starting with the XPS 700 gaming desktop which was launched before Direct2Dell existed, then products like the XPS M1330 notebook and later the Inspiron color notebooks. Making customers wait for products is a sure way to create a bad experience.

5) The XPS 700 motherboard upgrade issue. Not setting customer expectations properly created a situation of many unhappy customers. We worked through it and ultimately offered XPS 700 customers the option to upgrade to  a later product at no cost.

December 21, 2007

3 more 2008 Predictions

Charlene Li & Shirley Owyang

[Charlene Li (r) with Shirley Owyang, will her book beat Naked Conversations? Will Tara Hunt's? Photo by Shel]

I'm feeling clairvoyant today. It must be all those peas. In any case, I have a couple more predictions for the next year.

1. A book will eclipse Naked Conversations as the all time best seller in social media. The two best bets are ones coming from Charlene Li and Tara Hunt. It may be both of them. If I have to pick one, it will be Tara Hunt. I will be ambivalent when it happens. The only way Naked could end up on top of the pile over time,  would be to have the interest n the subject shrink instead of expand.

2. Google stock will see the north side of $1000 a share, even if the recession everyone fears becomes reality.

3. The number of Fortune 500 companies actively executing social media strategies will at least triple.

December 17, 2007

SAP Global Report: Egypt's Wael Abbas

wael abbas.png

I restart the SAP Global Survey on Culture, Business and Social Media on a day that started with reports on the murder of an Iraqi blogger. It is an ironic coincidence that I begin with
Wael Abbas, the Egyptian blogger who is among the most prominent at-risk bloggers. He recently received the Knight Foundation Award for Journalistic Excellence for his relentless exposure of  Egyptian acts of police brutality, harassment to women and government corruption.  According to the Knight Foundation, Wael, the first blogger to receive the award has "raised the standards of media excellence" in his country. He has also raised the wrath of those in power and that is because he has shown compelling evidence that at least some of those who hold power in Egypt are prone to abuse it.

Wael started blogging a few years back just as something to do. But in 2005, his focus zeroed in on government impropriety and he has posted pictures and over 800 videos of women being groped and harassed, a ballot box being stuffed and other abuses, but mostly, peristently and relentlessly, he has provided abundant and compelling evidence of police abuse. He has posted 100s of videos showing police slapping around uncharged detainees in police stations and on the streets. In one highly disturbing clip an young man is sodomized with a stick by several laughing police officers. In another a woman, charged with murder is hanging from a pole like a pig over an open fire, while police batter her.

His evidence has been picked up by traditional Egyptian media who had long ignored complaints that police abuse in their country was widespread.  Al Jazeera has broadcast interviews with Wael and shown his clips across Arab countries. More recently Reuters, BBC, AP,  CNN and most major media networks in the West have covered  Wael and shown his  video evidence. An English Literature major in college, who is proficient in English, Wael writes mostly in a slangy  Egyptian directed toward young Egyptians. Accommodating  increased Western interests, he recently began inserting key English phrases. But mostly, he uses the powerful universal language of visual content with sufficient abundance to disprove police counter claims that such abuses are rare.

"Police beating people--often people who are never charged with anything--happens all the time. Anyone in Egypt who has ever visited a police station has heard the cries of people being beaten. People who are brought into a station for routine questioning, routinely show up back in their neighborhoods with bruises and no one needs to ask what happened. I think the world should know this is happening."

He doubts the recent Western attention on him will protect him from an ongoing barrage of threats, detentions and beatings by police who regularly remind him that "they can do whatever they wish to me."  More important he says is that the West understand how one of their closest Arab states allies routinely treats its citizens. Egyot sits on the UN Council for Human Rights, Wael points out. "This is an allegedly democratic government."  Unrelated to Wael are long-standing reports that US intelligence agencies have turned suspected terrorists over to Egypt, to perform acts of torture might be detected in the US.

The point is that Egypt seems to be far from the safest places to dedicated your time, as Wael has done, to reveal what the government would rather keep quiet. Earlier this year, for example, Abdel Kareem Soloman, a blogging law student began serving four years in prison for criticizing Islam and  president Hosni Mubarak. Will the soft-spoken Wael be next. He has been detained and slapped around and verbally abused.  Police have threatened him, followed him, made threats regarding his family and otherwise made clear they think they have authority to do whatever they wish with him. In genral, the government, according to Wael, sees exposing their abuses as a crime, and considers trouble makers like Wael as ingrates to the Mubarak government.

He remains undeterred.

Says, Wael, "Bloggers are ordinary people.  We are not terrorists.  We should be treated as ordinary citizens and ordinary citizens should be treated with respect. The Blogosphere is the last free voice."

Suppressing, Wael's work and ability to communicate has had some help from Western resources. Two weeks after he received his Knight Award at the Ronald Reagan Center, YouTube took down all 181 of his video posts. They say they did it because people complained about the graphic content.  After numerous complaints, YouTube restored 177 of the clips, saying that Wael needed to make the contextual use of violent images clearer. Few observers believed that was the real reason.  Each of the posts have warnings that the clip shows police brutality, or similar comments. "How could the context be clearer than that" he asks. It is a rhetorical question.
At about the same time, Yahoo, without warning or explanation, blocked Wael's email. It was subsequently restored without explanation after press and bloggers pointed to it. YouTube's parent Google have some history of collaborating with governments attempting to suppress citizen rights. According to Isaac Mao, Google voluntarily deleted such "offensive phrases"  as "Tiananmen Square" and "human rights," on its Chinese version, without ever receiving such a request from the government. Yahoo played a historically unsavory role in fingering Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist, sentenced to 10 years in a Chinese prison after Yahoo steered authorities to him. "Perhaps YouTube prefers I posts skateboarding  dogs," Wael wonders.

In fact, skateboarding dogs may pass muster at YouTube, but they might cause him a good deal of trouble in his home country, where Wael confirmed the ascending influence of  the Islamic Brotherhood, which argues that life today should be lived precisely as it was during the 6th century life of the religion's primary prophet, Muhammad. The Brotherhood also maintains that showing images of either the Prophet Muhammed or naked animals is blasphemous and should be harshly punished. The Islamic Brotherhood, which has been connected to the Al Qaida, Taliban, assassination of a  Dutch movie director, the Iranian Republic, the Cole incident to name a few also believes that all  non Muslems should be converted or killed.

More relevant to human rights, according to multiple sources, is the Brotherhood's determined suppression of women.  They are considered a prime reason for the reported increase in female genital mutilation and the return to the Burka, a caged framework of cloth that covers every inch of a woman.

The Burka is not required by Egyptian law, but it is being seen everywhere and fewer women dare walk the streets of Egypt uncovered, a common practice just a few years ago.  Wael says the Burka is a form of intimidation, not religious fervor. He told me that women often wear wear tight jeans, lipstick and heels under the Burka to avoid intimidation, beating or harassment on the street, sometimes by police," Wael said.

Wael was recently laid off as a correspondent by a German news service for reasons related to his blog. He barely gets by as a freelance journalist.  He's 33 and financially is forced to live at home with his family. He cannot afford to take a wife. All thing considered, why not just move to a Western country where economic and personal freedom are more  easily attainable?  "I have this problem. I love my country," he told me.

December 12, 2007

Ethan Bodnar, 17, Lands Book Contract

Ethan Bodnar is the youngest person I have interviewed for the SAP Global Survey so far. He's 17, lives in Connecticut and aspires to study design in an art college next year. I  immensely enjoyed meeting him for the first time for a few minutes last week in Boston. I often discuss him in my public talks on the SAP Survey because he's the one who made it clear how reluctant many members of the emerging generation are to work for an employer who will not trust them to blog.


Ethan has just announced he has received a publisher's proposal to publish Grab Bag his project-turned-book.  According to Ethan, it will feature 100 artists, be around 200 pages long, and will come out in Spring 2009. Each artists will have two images in the book(one of the creative task and one from there current field of work), a biography, and a short paragraph detailing their experience with the
creative task.

I have a lot of friends who are writing books. Ethan is the youngest, however, and I think it is a great idea that shows the collaborative disposition that also comes out so well in his fine blog.

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Reposting Survey Part 3: Social Media by Region

A couple of people have complained that they cannot access my SAP Global Report Part 3, posted on Dec. 3. I am not certain I understand how or why, but I am reposting this now. It is identical to the earlier post.

[This is the third of four parts I am publishing of the SAP Global Report on Culture, Business & Social Media.  It compares and contrasts what is happening by geographic region. You can see Part One here, which tells you the story of how the report was researched and Part Two here, listing my seven key findings.]

The Americas
•    The US continues to drive most social media innovation with most new products and social media products originating in traditional tech clusters. Silicon Valley remains home to the world’s three most popular blogging platforms; to four of the world’s five most popular social networks Facebook. It is a hotbed for microblogging and online video.
•    The time spread from geek to everyday people in the United States, as mentioned above, is widespread and accelerating.  Social media strategists talk about marketing between the coasts.”  Mainstream US enterprise shunned blogging just two years ago, they are now scurrying to embrace it. 
•    Other gaps are shortening as well. Young people, raised on internet communications are embracing social media innovations nearly in tandem to technology insiders. Likewise, geography lags are getting shorter as well. Tech adoption between Palo Alto, California and say Dubai or the Czech Republics have shortened from years to months.

•    Nascent social media projects have also begun to pervade government and educational bodies. Conferences for government workers, librarians, vertical publishers are being held for the first time and are well attended.

•    With few exceptions, Canada emulates adoption patterns in the US.  However, business blogging remains much rarer in Canada. Canadians latched on to Facebook faster than did Americans and today about one in 10 Canadians is a Facebook user. But, they use it differently than their American neighbors. Instead of finding new friends, they just talk to people they already know in the tangible world.
•    Brazil has Latin America's largest online population, with about 16 million monthly unique visitors or about 10% of total population. Nearly a third has broadband access.  It the Western Hemisphere’s leader in e-government. Last election, about 120 million of them voted electronically. Over 90% of its taxpayers files online. The country also has an advanced e-banking system and most people can access some of their medical records online. There are a surprisingly high number of CEO bloggers and it is not uncommon for businesses to experiment in the social media. Brazil, has a disproportionately young which may explain the very high popularity of social networks and other sharing sites. Orkut is the overwhelming social network of choice. Fotolog, Flogao and Flickr ,three photo sharing sites are among the most popular, as are Google and YouTube. Facebook does not rank in the top 100 sites. perhaps because its navigation is more text-intensive than Orkut and its applications are all in English.
•    Chile claims to be the most technologically developed country in Latin America. According to ISI 2007, in the first quarter of 2007, Chileans spent an average of $532 USD per person in information technology. There is no doubt that young  people are taking great strides in adopting social media. Internet's primary users are children and teenagers from 6 to 17, followed by young men age 18 to 29, mainly from the higher half of the country’s socioeconomic sectors. In the poorest neighborhoods, computer cafés are jammed with young men playing games online. Government has started allowing RSS subscription to websites and a couple of ministries post informational videos on YouTube.  But business remains slow to adopt, and when it does, the project is often internal.
•    Argentina, has been slower to adopt social media, partly because half the country’s population remains below the poverty line. The country’s emerging middle class is slowed by a home broadband connection cost of $100 monthly. This has lead to the high popularity of computer cafes, prevalent in most cities. People pay for connection by the hour. Igooh is a independent citizen journalism arm of La Nacion, Argentina’s national newspaper and online site. Igooh’s adoption is steep and La Nacion’s is flat.  People use Igooh to socialize and publish examples of personal creativity more than to consume news.  Igooh’s founder Ignacio Escribano believes social media is the most revolutionary innovation since the Gutenberg Press. “But Revolutions take time,” he observed. “Perhaps decades.”

Western Europe

•    Western Europe’s culture is diverse. This is a factor in a very uneven social media development. A second contributing factor is the equally diverse fluctuations of broadband adoption and cost from one country to the next.

•    Some European strategists believe in playing follow-the-leader with the US, allowing America to get wet at the “bleeding edge,” adopting only after technology is refined and stabilized. This “fashion following” frustrates Europe’s most innovative social media practitioners, two of whom have moved to the US during the course of this survey.

•    Social media has begun to disrupt “master-servant” business models in France and Spain.  Less so, in Germany and hardly at all in Italy, where broadband access lags.

•    Small countries see the advantage of social media. Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands are among the most blogging countries per population in EU. Irish entrepreneurs have used blogs effectively to establish US market presence.

•    Many European companies value social media as the most efficient way to reach American markets.

•    In Italy, one of the EU’s slowest broadband adopters, there are only 7.5 million visits to social networks in a month. 80% of them are under age 30.

•    Germany has been the slowest advanced country to embrace blogging.  But it does not lag in social networking, where, according to Comscore, 45 percent of Germans who go online use social networks. While MySpace remains the most popular site among Germans, StudiVZ, a German-language social network targeted to students received 3.1 million visitors in July 2007.  Facebook, which has grown this year across Europe at a rate exceeding 400%,  has not yet caught on in Germany. The reluctance of German businesses to permit blogging is often attributed to a love for privacy. A closer look would indicate it is more because German executives want to see a tangible ROI on any activity in which time is invested. In the rare occasions when German companies elect to use social media, they often outsource it to consultants, with the result being an ineffective product that is not integrated with the company culture.

•    Scotland is a world leader in using social media in education. Educators are using virtual reality as well as other innovations to engage students in innovative ways. A public school educator encourages students to work with teachers via social media to determine what they will be taught. Children of parents who have rarely left the UK are encouraged to interact with people all over the world. Behind it all is a strategy to help the next generation to leapfrog into the global marketplace. Facebook has gone from near zero in Ireland to over 130,000 users in six months. At its current rate it will overtake Bebo, which started in Ireland.

Eastern Europe & Russia

•    Countries that were under Soviet control until approximately 1990, started with fresh slates and have relatively high internet involvement. Several eastern countries are well-beyond their Western neighbors in terms of Internet and social media adoption. Citizen journalism flourishes in many of these countries.

•    Estonia is the most connected European country with free, virtually ubiquitous WiFi access provided by the government. It has a highly active e-government, and has a strong pan-European role in e-transactions including banking, purchasing and gambling. Over 90% of Estonian speaking people under age 25 use rate.ee, the localized social network. It’s dependence on internet-related activities for its national operations and economy made it vulnerable to cyber attacks alleged to have stemmed from Russia.

•    From 25-to-30% of Russia’s142 million use the Internet from home or work. About 30% of families have PCs, but not all are Internet enabled. Around 65% own cell phones, but not more than 20% of them use them to go online. There are at least one million bloggers on LiveJournal. Bloggers discuss more politics than business. There is a lot of localized information sharing.  Russians watch a good deal of US-uploaded YouTube clips and there are expressions of surprise of how much in common the people of both countries share. Nearly all traditional media in Russia reflects only the government’s viewpoint. This has given birth to citizen journalism, the first of which is Realno.com, has a network of 320 journalists.  Relatively new, it is receiving about1000 unique visitors daily, but appears to be growing.

•    The lack of business and technology legacy makes Eastern Europe a hotbed for rapid social media emergence. An example is Bulgaria, which fancies itself, “the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe,” and boasts a low-cost, high-talent development community. One-fourth of Bulgarian households have computers. 75% have cellphones and a great many Bulgarians use them to get online. Internet penetration in Sofia, Bulgaria's capitol, is 50%, although the rest of the country is only 25%.  While older generations studied Russian, the younger is required to study English.

•    From 2000 to 2006, Polish internet users increased by over 307%.  With a population of 38 million, there are 25 million cell phones and 10-15 million PCs, with an estimated 13 million people or 34% using the internet, but adoption is growing fast and it is estimated 50% of the population will be online in three years. Broadband access, however is small--about 1.75 million. The number of home Internet users is increasing, while the number using it at work is declining. Citizen journalism, blogging and social networking are flourishing. Many young Poles see the Internet as a short route to career stardom. Bands have started there and flourished. Bloggers have risen quickly to points of significant national influence. . . Wiadomości24.pl is a citizen journalism network of 760 writers where multiple viewpoints are shared.

•    With the exception of Denmark, Scandinavian countries, Baltic countries and Germany have not glommed onto blogging.  But they are zealous users of Wikipedia and localized social networks do well. Wikis are relatively  popular inside the enterprise.

•    In Ukraine, a nation of46 million people, businesses universally provide internet access to employees. About 38% of it is broadband.  Despite, sometimes dangerous friction with it’s Russian neighbor, Ukrainians argue that it is one of the world’s most promising markets for technology in general and social media in particular.

•    In the Baltic nations, about 90% of young people are using social networks.

•    In the Czech Republic, there are 10 million people and 12.5 millions cell phones, 25% more phones than users. Among18-40 year-old men, having the latest mobile device is a status symbol. The country is wild for SMS. During Christmas 2006, Czechs sent about 60 million text messages. However, only about 500,000 people, or 5% of the population use mobile internet connection. About 35% of Czech households have PCs, purchased mostly for children. Their parents access the Internet at work—often for personal purposes. About 2/3s of all computers are Internet connected.  Older Czechs speak Russian, but their children speak English because the latter language has replaced the former in education programs. Social media has not yet really taken off because there are few Czech localized versions.  As more young Czechs become English-proficient, adoption is likely to escalate and the business and cultural changes are likely to be significant.


•    In China, social media is used more effectively as an instrument of social change than as a business tool. Business users, mostly blog to advertise or to create direct sales catalogs. Growth in social media is enormous. In two years, the number of bloggers has risen from 1.2 million to over 20 million. Bloggers range in age from 10 to above 70.  The Chinese are wild about Twitter and social networks. There are thousands of Chinese speaking English in Facebook Groups. Several prominent Chinese blog in English as well as there native language. The rapid growth has made the Chinese government demonstrably nervous. The burgeoning growth of China bloggers makes attempts to control who blogs and what they say, increasingly difficult because understanding the internet and how it works is giving social media users an increased advantage. They are adept at bypassing, what they commonly call, “the Great China Firewall.” Despite the well-document rapid rise of an enormous middle class, the cost of starting a tech-related business in China remains quite low and investment dollars are growing.  The start up community, still in its formative stages, uses social media to reach foreign markets. They greatly prefer the direct conversational opportunities of social media to going through official government channels.

•    In Japan 13.8 % of businesses now have blogs, including the country’s largest bank.  They use them to communicate with existing customers and market to new ones. In the last two years, these blogs have become more open, allowing comments where they once did not. No major Japanese company launches a new product without a blogger relations component. Companies host blogger conferences to tell their story. About 17% of small Japanese companies have blogs and “social networking services (SNS),” as they call it, are widely used by individuals and businesses.  Mixi, the leading SNS, attracts more than ten million users. Like Germans and Canadians, the Japanese do not use social networks to meet new people, but to talk with existing friends. For many Japanese, speaking or writing in English remains. Japanese corporations are starting to use social networks internally to improve innovation through collaborative efforts.

•    Singapore is ahead of the remaining South Asian Countries in social media. The upper echelons of government use social media in their efforts to slowly, steadily open up and previously closed society. But government is not in control.  Recent efforts to silence bloggers during a national election, completely failed. An instructor as a class of 40 college students recently asked how many ofhisstudents blogged.  39 hands went up.


•    About 4 million South Africans have Internet access, or less than 10% of the population. 25% of the users have broadband. Mobile is what matters in this country.  Young people use MXIT , a mobile chat and text message service is exploding as is Facebook.
•   During a lunch interview, an American NGO worker described Internet surfing in a Kenya Computer Café.  African children politely swarmed around her, fascinated by her visits to Yahoo, Google, blogs and email. “They don’t have the money to be part of it yet,” she told me. “But they know it’s there and they want in.”

•    Senegal may have the highest percentage of Internet users in Africa. The country is highly stable with a good economy and education rate. During the years of South African boycotts, global enterprises set up headquarters there and a generation of knowledge workers as evolved, with a new level of awareness of access benefits.

December 10, 2007

SAP Global Report, Part 6: SAP, Tools & the Killer App

[This is the 6th and final post on the SAP Global Report on Culture, Business & Social media. It covers perceptions, of SAP, social media tools and my take on the true killer app for social media.
Tomorrow, I will begin sending out questions to people all over the world to see how social media is impacting their neighborhoods. Here are the links for the prior posts: Part 1, Overview; Part 2, 7 Key Findings;  Part 3 Findings by World Region; Part 4, Business Analysis; and Part 5,  Communications and Culture. ]

Perceptions of SAP

A good deal of input was received by people with suggestions on what SAP should do regarding social media. The people who were the most knowledgeable about SAP current efforts were the most favorable.  But what also became clear was that SAP’s most successful programs were not generally well known.

A few random comments, are reported here. They do not necessarily represent recommended actions.

SAP should:

“Build ERP around social media and not the reverse.”

“Have a Facebook strategy.”

“Use social media to make SAP feel smaller, more nimble and responsive, rather than big, remote and stodgy.”

“Navigate a careful course to ensure it can deliver on customer needs without cannibalizing.”

“The reliance on 30-year-old technologies at premium prices isn’t going to cut it for SAP, Oracle, IBM and others.”

“[My customers] perceive Microsoft Sharepoint as easier to use and collaborate on than SAP Enterprise Portal. “

“Build social media into planning and strategy applications so that people inside the company, but outside of the department, can make suggestions .”

“SAP, like most ERP vendors forgets it is the user experience which matters most..”

“Most of the SAP [social media] efforts have been internal. They haven't told their story.”

“I would like SAP to deliver my services directly to SAP’s client desks. I’m sure, SAP clients would like it as well because their staff would have the information they need delivered [on demand]. The companies advertising their products and services to B2B would like it.” 

Tools, Trends & Global Neighborhoods

Just two years ago, there were merely two social media tools, blogs and wikis. Both were text-based. Now there is an entire warehouse of tools, all of which are used in tandem with each other, are remixed or are otherwise customized. Blogs are now filled with images, and film clips.  Some tools are not actually tools at all.  Social networks, for example, are meeting places. Mobile has more to do with hardware capability than software.

What is of much greater importance is what is done with any tool.  A hammer for example, can be used to build or bludgeon.  It is mostly the user’s choice. Now there are a great number of users.  Social media tools are like any other tools. They are adapted to accommodate existing needs. Small countries like Ireland, Singapore and Estonia use social media to reach larger markets. Scotland uses it in education to help its children leapfrog ahead of where their parents got. Oppressed countries use social media to enable free speech. Tools get remixed, recalibrated and redistributed in new ways at a very frequent pace.

As the focus has moved from tool to application, some tools are simply taken for granted.  In our 48 interviews, only one person mentioned RSS or tagging, two of social media’s most ubiquitous tools. Whether you use Typepad or Wordpress for a blog platform has become as relevant as whether you ship packages via UPS or FedEx.

Just one year ago the site and the number of visitors was considered extremely important.  There was much talk of the number of visitors at MySpace or YouTube. The general consensus is that such numbers are now less important than had been thought.  Social Media sites are rarely spaces for mass consumption. Instead people tend to bop from site to site seeing the same friends and colleagues at each, whether they are sharing photos, reading blogs, watching videos or sharing the virtual community benefits of a social network.

These personal networks are arranged around shared topical interests.  The most influential members of these networks are very often the most frequent to contribute valuable or interesting information to it.  I call them “Global Neighborhoods.”

Global Neighborhoods have become more important than sites.  Most of them are small; usually each has less than 500 members and often, fewer than 50.  The influence inside them is overwhelmingly peer-to-peer.

This poses an enormous challenge to traditional marketers accustomed to mass communications.  Instead of having mass markets where millions of people can be reached, the world is restructuring into millions of online micro markets where the only way to influence is to join in and through generosity, gain credibility.

The result of the myriad social media tools is a highly decentralized universe where marketing has lost its controls to the market itself.

Youth is the killer app

If one wants to understand what is likely to happen in the next 5, 20 or 50 years, the best way may be to study the habits of children and young adults. They are the Online Generation. They are as comfortable with social media as their parents were with television. YouTube today is better known and more often used than was Big Bird and Sesame Street.

Sites like Webkinz & Club Penguin are starting children into social networking early and possibly changing how they collaborate and connect with people through their lifetimes. Social media becomes a habit that is likely to stay with them through their 50 years or so in the marketplace.

The new professional employee is going to know where he wants to work because of social media, is going to use social media to do his job more effectively than did his or her predecessor and doing so will be as normal a process as using the telephone or email is to older employees of today.

As Ethan Bodnar, a High School student in Connecticut said, 

"I want to work at a place that has an office culture that accepted and used social media for work and play. "

He seems to be representative of his generation.

[This concludes the portion of the Survey which I will be posting.  The remainder consists entirely of specific recommendations I made to SAP.]


SAP Global Report, Part 5: Communications & Culture

[NOTE--This is the next chunk of the analysis portion of the SAP Global Report on Culture, Business and Technology. It continues with the analysis of critical areas.  If you missed early portions of this report, based on 48 interviews with people in 25 countries, please check these out: PPart 1, Overview; Part 2, 7 Key Findings;  Part 3 Findings by World Region. and Part 4 Business Analysis.]

Communications & Culture

I define social media as any online space where people can have conversations via text, video, photos or audio.  Although, VOIP, email and forums are somewhat conversational, they were not included in my investigation. While others define the term differently, the important point is to understand that social media may be used by marketing departments, it is not merely a tool of marketing. I am among those who would argue that it is in fact a great disruption to the way marketing has been traditionally practiced for the past 5-6 decades.

I see social media as a communications toolset. As such, its use in the enterprise is much broader. I have called social media a revolution.  It is important that this not a marketing revolution, but a conversational revolution. The revolution moves the corporation from one-way monologue to two-way dialog. Now, a corporation can listen and respond to what people who matter have to say and the implications to efficiency are quite vast.

Social Media allows news, information and rumors to travel from peer-to-peer-to-peer at amazing speed. If something inaccurate or malicious is said about a company or person, it can be responded to immediately. One person with a smart phone on a street corner, in a London Tube, or a plummeting plane can be heard or watched worldwide in minutes after an occurrence.  And anyone who cares can respond.

A company can no longer effectively manage and control relevant conversations regarding its business, products or services. Its traditional use of “communications channels” via traditional analysts and media is eroded and in some cases, has hit a point of near disintegration.

Demand-side revolution

Social media is creating a revolution in demand as well as supply” as industry guru Doc Searls said in his Survey interview. This may be the underpinning of a fundamental shift of control from large, centralized organizations out to communities of customers, prospects, partners and affiliates. Social media is driving a decentralization of power that has fundamental implications.

In fact, one of the phenomena that needs to be examined is the issue of decision-making powers. Evidence is overwhelming that power is moving from the center of the enterprise to the edge where an increasing number of decisions are being made. Social media is said to be a cult of generosity and the evidence would argue that the most influential people in social media are indeed the most generous. In short, generosity is good for business, and in fact, can be used as a competitive edge.

Culture & Language

My research shows more than a little ambiguity regarding language and culture.  There is some evidence that language is emerging as the language of Internet commerce and there are obvious benefits to the world speaking just one language.  While we may be closer today than at any point in this post-Babel Era, we are not significantly closer.

Most of China’s 1.3 billion people would disagree with any claims for English dominance, if they could read these words. While many Japanese business people read English; they are uncomfortable writing in it.  In Poland, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Estonia and a great many other countries, English is taught to children and elite members of the business community speak English.

But regional markets speak local languages and this is unlikely to change for a very long time. A business wishing to use social media to conduct conversations in these markets needs to participate in local language conversations as well as those conducted in English.

Social Networks

While three of the world’s largest social networks, MySpace, Facebook and Bebo are mostly English speaking, Orkut and Hi5 seem to be strong because of their adaptability to multiple languages. Add to that, popular localized social networks in a great many countries, it is clear that a majority of social network users prefer local languages.

The wisest course for a multinational company of any size is to develop and maintain a two-pronged approach.

Culture shapes more than just the language. It also shapes who uses social networks and how they use them. Canadians and the British, for example, have embraced Facebook, but they use it differently than many Americans. While the Americans often use social networks to make new acquaintances, the British and Canadians tend to use it to just speak with people they already know in the tangible world. This behavior is reinforced by the fact that neither the British, nor the Canadians, or the Germans for that matter, blog in great numbers, perhaps because blogging can be viewed by strangers as well as friends.

Citizen Journalism

In cultures where society is emerging from monolithic governments, such as Russia, China, the former Soviet satellites and Singapore, citizen journalism is on a rapid rise.  In societies where a free press is entrenched it is emerging more slowly. Companies choosing to conduct business in these emerging countries should consider citizen journalism as part of their communications strategy that will increase in time.

German culture

Of the developed nations, Germany appears to be the slowest to embrace social media. While some say German business cultures stress privacy, there is greater evidence that German business is more concerned with ROI.  Like England, Canada, and for that matter Estonia, young Germans eschew blogs but embrace social networking.

[Next: Respondent perceptions of SAP.]

December 09, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Part 4 Business Analysis

[I have been publishing the results of my three months global research on state of culture, business and technology as an assignment from SAP.  This 4th Chunk is the Business Analysis section.  If you missed previous Sections, please click on Part 1, Overview; Part 2, 7 Key Findings; and Part 3 Findings by World Region.

The survey itself will continue as an ongoing project. If you think you have something to contribute to this conversation, please ping me at [email protected].]

4.    Analysis

The following are my subjective observations in various key areas, based on my SAP Global Survey findings as well as the additional conversations, mentioned earlier.

A.   Business

Over the past two years the business community has moved through the phases of denial, dismissal, contempt and hostility regarding social media. Now they are beginning to embrace them.  In some parts of the world, this is still occurring at a snail’s pace. In certain pockets of the US, there is an emerging sense of urgency being demonstrated. I believe this is a wise course that will gain momentum elsewhere in the world over the next few years.

The Pain Point

Many of the barriers toward business acceptance have diminished, but one remains. It is one that needs to be addressed on a strategic level and it’s focal point is middle management. While at the c-level and junior levels, there appears to be increasing enthusiasm for social media, middle managers are often more resistant. They often occupy the corporate seat where change causes the greatest pain. On one hand, middle managers are being prodded to creatively initiate new programs. On the other; they are held responsible for continued profitability and efficiency of existing ones. To them, social media can feel like a time-sucking distraction from their primary responsibility.

The Entry Point 

With this in mind, a good number of otherwise diverse companies have found it a wise course to determine a social media low-pain point of entry, one where disruption is minimal, risk factors few and deadline pressures soft. Internal wikis requiring large numbers of employee collaboration work well.  A Massachusetts company’s first project was a wiki to organize a sports team two years ago. They now have several public blogs and are integrating online video with them.

Like the Massachusetts company, a great many enterprise efforts start internally.

What to Measure?

A second set of  barriers involves revolves around the insatiable enterprise hunger for statistical evaluations .  How do we measure the success of a social media program.  How do we compare it to traditional marketing efforts? What’s the ROI on a blog? What are the industry standards?  Point me to a few Best practice efforts.

Social media is, in fact, in a dynamic stage and so are the quantification efforts.  There are some such as Google Analytics. More sophisticated programs are being pioneered by companies such as BuzzLogic. But they have not yet achieved any great level of sophisticated measurement.

Why is measurement so vexing to so many?

For one thing, the issue of what should be measured remains a challenge. While a traditional media relations campaign may look at newspaper article impressions, blogs work differently. The newspaper is a one-directional publisher. A blogger is part of a network, one containing 75 million or so nodes. A blogger can have very few readers and be extremely influential. Take for example a political blogger with only three readers. Measurement tools would determine this blogger to be irrelevant. But what of those three readers were the presidents of the US and Russia as well as the Chinese Prime Minister?

ROI is even more difficult to measure. Social media has to do with conversations, about getting closer to customers. It is no easier to measure the ROI of a blog or an online video clip, than the value of a good business conversation.  For that matter, how do you measure the value of a CEO spending four days traveling to and from and attending a conference, where he speaks on a panel for 15 minutes?

Social Media is just starting. In general business, it’s adoption is just now starting. There has not yet been sufficient time for Best Practices.  There are only good ideas, some of which will be refined and evolve into Best Practices.  Likewise, standards usually come in to play once a technology matures. Social media is currently moving too dynamically to be standardized.

A Hilly World

This Survey made clear that the world is not so flat as Thomas Friedman’s book implied. But it is getting hillier.  The Internet has made geography less relevant that the seller is in Chennai and the buyer is in San Francisco. But social media cannot replace the face-to-face experience. While the culture of business transaction is becoming globalized, local cultures remain diverse. Language remains an enormous barrier, which I will discuss in a few paragraphs.

A second factor of Global Hilliness is that the decisions are rolling downhill, from headquarters to the front lines. One Survey respondent noted that the same phenomenon has made armies more efficient because decisions are made fastest where the action occurs.

This, obviously, restructures the corporation in function, if not organization. Authority and influence are becoming decentralized and the implications to a global enterprise are significant.

Internal & recruiting benefits

The SAP Global Survey also showed the most immediate and universal benefit of social media in the enterprise often happens internally, not externally. Even employees who do not use social media themselves seem to enjoy the fact that management trusts them sufficiently to have the option. There is also evidence that allowing social media is likely to attract the best and brightest of the next generation. One high schooler told me, “I just won’t join a company that will not let me blog.

Corporate credibility

The SAP Global Survey confirmed what has often been reported. People trust what is communicated by everyday people online more than they trust authorities being quoted in traditional media.   As one interviewee put it, “I trust companies that are open and honest with me. I will pay more for their products and services because I can talk with and about them on the Internet.

[Next: Analysis of communications issues]

December 02, 2007

SAP Global Report Part Two: 7 Key Findings

[ This is Part 2 of--I don't know how many parts of the--SAP Global Survey Report on Culture, Business and Social Media. This summarizes the key points of what I learned while working on this report.}

2.   Seven Key Findings

A great deal of anecdotal information was garnered from these interviews. Braided into the survey were excerpts from 30 additional conversations I have conducted in Europe and the US as research for a book project. Additionally, nuggets have been gleaned from current news items. Finally, are observations I have from the many conversations I have held at conferences in Europe and the US and in Internet conversations with people all over the world.

In addition to this somewhat lengthy report, I will be submitting in the new few weeks an Appendix containing bulleted summaries of the interviews conducted specifically for this SAP Global Report. 

My greatest challenge for this report has been to boil down these entire finding to just a few easily digestible points.  The following section is my best effort.  While, they may appear a bit obvious, they are the result of a good deal of listening and thinking.  Each has significant strategic implications for a global enterprise, or so it seems to me.

1.    While it is proceeding at an uneven pace, Social Media is fomenting change in all developed and developing countries. The pace of that change is accelerating. The results will be fundamental and long-lasting changes to most large and centralized institutions including media, government, education and most certainly businesses of all sizes.

2.    The inevitably of this social media revolution rests in the fact that it is being driven by young people—under the age of 30 down to elementary school age. The revolution began, not with social media, but with the Internet. Most freshmen who entered universities last month were born after the introduction of the Web. Communicating and purchasing online is as natural for them as using the telephone is to their parents. As it enters the workplace and markets, this Online Generation is not influenced by traditional marketing, but by peers. They are unlikely to be recruited for employment by a Help wanted ad and they are unlikely to join an enterprise that does not allow them to use the social media tools of their choice. Online conversations will have great influence on what this Online generation buys, view, listens to, where its members travel to and where they stay beginning shortly and remaining for at least the next 50 years.

3.    While a mere two years ago, text blogs were the only power tool of social media, today there is an eve expanding social media toolshed. Blogs themselves have transformed into multimedia things that include video, audio and images. Micro-blogging, where people blog in tiny clips is now in nascent stages but is already wildly popular and demonstrates hw social media will go mobile.

4.    Of all the social media tools, the social network is far away the most popular. FaceBook is the most popular and fastest growing of them among the growing number of people who use English to communicate on the Internet. But people still prefer to use their native languages as is evidenced by the fact that Hi5, a seldom mention, San Francisco-based social network, that focuses on international languages, is among the world’s five most popular social media sites.

5.    Because geography is so much less of a barrier to peer-to-peer communications   than was true a decade ago, cultural differences may be lessening. There is evidence of a global cultural blending in the long term.  However, in the immediate future, language and culture remain highly important and need to be factored into any goal strategies. Someday one size may fit all, but that day will not come in the next five years.

6.     The “geek-to-suit gap is narrowing.” The time from technology enthusiast embracing something new to its adoption in the mainstream enterprise is growing shorter.  It took 12 years for the enterprise to address PCs in a programmatic fashion, after the first of them were smuggled in through the back doors of large companies. It has taken about two years from blogs to be the craze of the technically sophisticated to the current level of enterprise interest.  According to Blogworld, 89% of US businesses believe  blogs are becoming more important for their businesses, up from a Polaris Study estimate of 2% in 2005.

7.    Currently, few enterprises are paying much attention to either social networks  or online video. It is likely that the speed of which this changes will exceed the two years it took blogs to bridge the geek-to-enterprise gap.

December 01, 2007

The SAP Global Report--Part One

[For those of you new to this blog, I have been working on the SAP Global Report on Culture, Business & Social Media since June. It has been a massive, revealing and entirely enjoyable project for me, which will be continued before year end.

I submitted a lengthy report on my findings so far, earlier this month. I am working also on an Appendix summarizing what the participants told me.

The report has been favorably received by SAP who has given me permission to publish the report, minus my specific recommendations to them. Upon completion, I will also publish the Appendix.

I will be publishing the report here in chunks over the next several days. This is the first part.]

1.   Overview

My assignment was at once simple and monumental. Investigate and report on the state of social media in the world. Do it in three months and report to SAP on what I found.

I would approach the assignment, not as a traditional researcher, which I am not; but as a social media champion who has co-authored a book on business blogging transparently on my blog.

Instead of asking the same series of checkbox questions to a large number of people then compiling numbers onto a spreadsheet, I talked to just 48 people, residing in 25 countries, posting 53,000 words of interview results on my blog.  The interviewees were a diverse group, ranging from celebrity bloggers to high schoolers; from South African ERP consultants to Ukrainian citizen journalists, from Cambodian NGO workers and Kenyan orphans to China’s most famous serial entrepreneur.

In giving me this assignment through The Conversation Group, SAP’s Mike Prosceno told me a primary goal was to help SAP become a social media thought leader. That’s a daunting goal but the survey in itself became a significant step down the path required toward achieving it. The transparent approach we took made thousands of people aware of SAP’s interest. By sharing our findings, SAP has already demonstrated it understands that to be a social media leader, one needs to be generous.  By doing our work publicly, the public wants to know more. To date, I’ve received six requests to speak on the SAP survey. Mike has so far been asked to speak with me twice.

The process further demonstrates yet another important lesson of social media. Not only must a company be both generous and transparent, it must also understand that control is slipping from its clutches of organizations into the hands of its constituencies. When, I began the SAP Global Survey, as it has come to be called, I thought I was in control, when in fact I was not.

My very first survey respondent, Hugh MacLeod, author of the wildly popular Gaping Void and a Microsoft consultant, posted his answers on his blog rather than mine. Then Tom Raftery, an Irish IT blogger who was not on my list at all, copied Hugh’s questions, then answered them on his own blog. This was followed by Ken Camp, a Microsoft consultant,  whom I had never talked with who posted to his own site. However, he apparently didn’t like one of my questions, so he replaced it with one of his own, answering it. A little while later, Joe Thornley, a Canadian PR executive would answer my emailed questions with a video post which appeared on Facebook. This was followed by a couple of people taking it upon themselves to ask questions from the survey on both Facebook and LinkedIn. More than 100 people served up answers.

I had obviously lost control, and the SAP Survey benefited greatly by that loss. It demonstrated two central assumptions of social media and why it is so powerful. People are wired to collaborate and most people perform better when you don’t attempt to impose excessive controls over the process.

Of course, the results of these findings are what is of the greatest value, not just to SAP, but to the general public with whom we will share them.  As a social media professional, I will admit that the findings provide very few surprises to me. However, the survey adds hundreds of data points to the general body of knowledge. These confirm arguments that have been previously based merely on guesswork.

[NEXT: Seven Key Findings.]

November 09, 2007

SAP Survey to Continue & expand

SAP seems to be pleased with my 8400-word report and I will begin publishing most of it in chunks over the next few days. I am extremely happy to announce that starting Dec. 1, we will continue with it. I am looking for interesting stories about how social media is impacting cultures anywhere on Earth. SAP, of course, has a special interest in business stories.

I also announced that we will be spotlighting case studies on how social media has been used by marketing and PR to succeed or fail. These case studies may be incorporated into a training curriculum for SAP's communications professionals.

Finally, I want to learn more about how people and companies are handling the sensitive issues. How have companies in heavily regulated areas participate in social media? How has Sarbane Oxley impacted social media. Do blogs fall under them.  What legal and ethical issues have you dealt with.

If you have previously agreed to participate in the the Survey, I probably still have your name and I apologize for not having tie to interview you during the first phase. Please ping me again to be sure you are on my schedule. i am not the world's best record keeper.

I expect to start publishing the overwhelming majority of the report shortly.  Because of the length, I will do it one section at a time. I hope you find it as interesting to read as I found it to compile.

I am also discussing with Mike Prosceno ways that I can expand my involvement with SAP. We see some pretty exciting possibilities. It's funny, Mike is the only person I know inside SAP.  But, if the company adopts his thinking, than SAP over the coming years can be a pretty exciting place. You can say a lot of nice things about SAP, but right now, very few people would describe it as exciting. Hopefully, they will allow me to help change that.

November 01, 2007

Hey, Corp. Communications Folk. SAP Wants Your Case Studies

Well, rest period is over. 

Initial feedback from SAP's Mike Prosceno is that they like what they see in the 8200-word report I sent them. Needless to say, they need time to digest the contents, most of which will be publicly shared.

While that process is going on, Giovanni Rodriguez, a co-founder of The Conversation Group, which has brought me in to consult SAP, has asked me to conduct another transparent project for SAP. Giovanni  is working on a curriculum that will be used to train SA employee worldwide. We want to hear some great case studies.

Send them to me and if they seem unique, valuable or interesting, I will publish them here and Giovanni will incorporate them into the SAP curriculum. Please to not ping me just because your client started a blog.  But if you have gained some knowledge that will contribute to the general body of enterprise social media knowledge, I would like to know. I'm looking for:

  • Cases where new ground was broken for any size enterprise or organization. I am particularly looking for problem/solution/measurable result situations.
  • Internal use cases.  I don't expect you to share any company secrets. But, if you can share with me any examples of how social media is being used inside a company to improve, collaboration, communication, morale, efficiency or productivity, it would be very useful.
  • Business-to-business cases.  This is where SAP resides.
  • Business-to-public cases.  This is where many of the customers of SAP customers reside and SAP wants to understand how its customers can use social media in helpful ways.
  • Lessons learned. Where have you tried and failed in social media? What doesn't work? What is the lesson learned and how would you do it differently next time?

I'm calling this new, but related, project SAP Case Studies and tagging it  accordingly.  You can email me at [email protected] or leave a comment here. If I think it is a case that is either useful to SAP's curriculum, or interesting to my readers, I will follow up with you and write the case up. Or you can just post it on your own blog and tag it  SAP  Case  Studies

October 18, 2007

Update on SAP Global Survey

For the past four days, I've been pretty much buried into what will become my SAP Global Social Media report.  I was focused on the heavy lifting.  I have reviewed about 45 interviews totaling 51,000 words.  I have pored over questions asked on Linked In as well as Facebook.

I've extracted 13,540 words of copy points from the interviewers. My next step will be to take that document and condense it by as much as possible to make a good digest, which I will publish here.

By Monday, I hope to be working on the executive overview, the findings & analysis as well as the specific recommendations.

I am overwhelmed by the wealth of insights, information, anecdotes that have come out of this. As an author, I cannot help to comment that if I merged this with the interviews I conducted last October when I visited 12 European countries, I would have a Hell of a story about social media and culture.

But right now, I have my arms full with a report that I hope influences the strategic direction of one of the world's largest software companies.

October 16, 2007

2 Shifts: Celebrity Bloggers & Disagreeing in Public

I have just started immersing myself in the interviews I conducted for the SAP Global Survey.  I have my report to them due on Oct. 30 and this will be the main activity for the remainder of this month.

The very first interview was with Hugh MacLeod, who I unabashedly admit is one of my favorite bloggers. As I reviewed my interview with him, I rediscovered this useful observation:

"People finally figured out that yes, doing a blog well is actually very time consuming. Not everybody wants to be Robert Scoble- Hell, I'm not sure if Scoble wants to be Scoble all the time, either [Joke!]. Which created a lot of opportunities for less time-consuming web products.

This is us seeing Social Media evolving way from the time-guzzling "Celebrity Model", where people emulate "broadcasters" on a small scale, towards something that is far more useful to most people i.e. something that allows people to make friends and talk to their friends more easily."

This seems to me a profound thought worth revisiting. There is no surprise that the survey shows an increasing number of enterprises all over the world are embracing blogging just when celebrities like Hugh and Scoble are exploring new innovations.

I have said that blogging has started to normalize. Everyday people are starting to use them for everyday purposes in work and play.  They are posting long or short. Blogging is becoming like a telephone--just another conversational tool and the tool is less important than the quantity and diversity of the conversations that are being conducted.

While I was starting to write this post, I received an email from someone who knows Scoble, Hugh and me. He pointed to my recent post where I took issue with Hugh's praise of his client Microsoft. He wanted to know if Hugh had pissed me off somehow and if we were no longer friends. This comes at a time when I have become gun shy of disagreeing with Scoble in my blogs, something I have done from time-to-time since the very beginning of our collaboration on Naked Conversations.

Let me be very clear. These are too people whom I hold extremely dear.  They are two friends who have been very generous to me.  They are two mentors who taught me a great deal about what I now know about social media.

But this is supposed to be a forum, where there is a legitimate give-and-take on ideas. It is a place where we are supposed to take each other on to some degree. Otherwise, we will fill the blogosphere with pablum giving strong praise to weak thinking and blurry ideas because they come from our friends or business associates.

I hope this latter incident does not become a trend.

And BTW Hugh, I disagree.  Scoble loves being Scoble.

SAP Global Survey: Josh Hallett

Josh Hallett

                                 [Josh Hallett. Photo from his File]

Josh Hallett has spent more time than any consultant I know, talking to large and midsize companies about social media strategies. I've used him as a corporate business barometer over the past couple of years.  When Josh had lots of time, social media adoption was slow. Lately, he has been extremely busy and I think that is indicative of what's happening regarding social media in the enterprise, making him an ideal selection for the wrap up interview of this phase of the SAP Global Survey.

He's an internationally recognized thought leader in the convergence of social media and corporate public relations & marketing. Until this week, he has operated as  Hyku, LLC, consulting and doing development work to Fortune 500 firms, the traditional media and some of the world’s largest public relations and marketing firms.

Yesterday he announced he has joined the social media team at Voce Communications, a popular Silicon Valley PR firm where he has been consulting for some time.

He is the creator/producer/host/moderator of BlogOrlando, a regional social media conference and a popular public speaker. He is also a a Fellow/Board Member of the Society of New Communications Research as well as a member of the Information Architecture Institute and the Florida Public Relations Association.

1. Can you tell me how and why you first got into social media?  How has it
impacted your business and personal life?

Back in early 2003 I had just left the web development firm I founded in 1996 (now called CNP Studio).  I started Hyku to provide consulting to select clients on web/communication strategy.  I also started blogging. 

Pre-Hyku, many of my clients were PR firms and ad agencies.  One day an agency asked me to work up a presentation on ‘what’s next online’ for a staff retreat.  I developed an overview of blogging and other forms of online community.  The term social media didn’t really exist since there were no podcasts or videoblogs.  It was mostly blogging and forums.

That internal presentation in 2003 turned into, ‘Can you consult with us on that,’ ‘Can you present to our local PRSA,’ etc.  By late 2004, half my work involved social media. By the end of 2005 it was almost 100%.  I’m lucky to have a blend of the strategic, the technical and some design thrown in as well. The mixture helps me work across a number of roles on projects. 

Over the past few years I’ve worked for a number of large corporations and media firms as well as some great PR firms. Very recently, my role changed. I’m not on my own anymore.  I’ve taken a position at Voce Communications in Palo Alto, CA.  Hyku will become my personal site, and in many ways it has always been my personal site, just intertwined with my business.

How has social media impacted my business life?  As I said, I’ve been working in the field since 2003 and almost exclusively for the past 2 and a half years.  It has become my business.  The interactions I’ve had online have been innumerable friendships and connections around the world.

What’s ironic though, is that in this ‘virtual’ world, I’m traveling more than ever. You still can’t beat the face-to-face interactions. Some of the my most trusted colleagues are the ones I often see at various events around the country. 

On a personal level it’s been very gratifying to see the BlogOrlando conference develop into something. The ability of a group of friends to get together and organize a free event like that is something. Recently, Joe Thornley talked about the ‘cult of generosity’ that surrounds the social media industry.

2. What tools do you use? Which are your favorites?

This might sound like a cop-out to the question, because it’s not really a tool. It’s my network of friends.  Sure tools like IM, RSS, Facebook and Twitter allow me to communicate with those friends, but the tools do nothing without the friends.  It’s the ability to quickly communicate with individuals one-on-one or a group that has become quite the asset.

However if I had to choose just three things (well four technically) I’d say:

1.    RSS Reader – The ability to receive what I want, when I want is what RSS is all about.  I use NewNewsWire on my Mac and it’s always open. 
2.    Keyword Watches – Combine a persistent search in Technorati or Google Blog Search with RSS and you take the functionality of your RSS reader up a notch.
3.     MovableType/WordPress – The ability to quickly and easily publish content is what these platforms are all about.  Almost every single web site I interact with today is run on one of these platforms.  It’s amazing how much those two tools are a part of my worklife. 
4.    Flickr – As an amateur photographer, I love Flickr.  It does everything I need it to, and more.  Currently I have close to 13,000 photos stored online.  That number will probably double or triple in the next year.

3. You talk to a lot of mid and large size corporations.  What would you say
is the state of social media in their corporate minds?

This, of course, varies by company since there are always pockets of growth/resistance in any corporation. In my experience though, many corporations outside the valley/tech sector are still learning.  I am constantly conducting internal training sessions and it’s usually the same questions over and over again.  Granted there is more and more interest, which means means more questions and discussion, but that doesn’t always translate into action. The majority of firms I talk to realize they’re not ready. This could be related to: legal, cultural, etc.

If they do move forward often the first steps are usually either:

a.    Internal
b.    Related to a small event or project 

4. What motivates corporations to adopt social media tools?  What tools are
they most demanding these days?

I really hate to say, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ or ‘Fear’ but sometimes those are great motivators.  They tell themselves about community and engagement, but it’s not until they actually get out there that they realize that those things are real and have a benefit.  This is especially the case for organizations that haven’t generally opened themselves up to the customer/public, etc.

Usually by starting small with an event or a specific product team a corporation can really test the waters.  I hate to say it’s a controlled environment, but often with a product team they will know their power users and (hopefully) have established relationships with them.  Social media just helps facilitate the conversation.

As for the tools they’re demanding?  My experience has mostly been with blogging platforms and how to integrate them with existing web sites. The majority of the work is either in WordPress or MovableType. However, there are quite a few people who still want/need to use TypePad.

Flickr is also being used quite frequently by clients. The Number One feature that organizations love about Flickr is the auto-resize of images uploaded.  Now via the ‘all-sizes’ tab they have the ability to quickly and easily post photos and it’s not just for their blog.

5.  What are the biggest barriers to enterprise adoption of social media
tools? Who is objecting the most?

Staff and time. You can throw up the standard legal/IT argument, but almost every project that I see proposed and that goes nowhere is because of staff resources. They just can’t budget the time for an individual or group of individuals to take ownership. Many fear it will become a ‘full-time’ thing, but if the project takes off, that’s what you want. 

There will always be things that legal will object to, but guess what?  You can probably build an initiative around something you CAN talk about. A social media project doesn’t have to be a complete inside look at your organization and what’s going on. You can start small with something you can talk about and manage.

As for IT, many times we’re doing an end-around. Via the PR or marketing departments the entire project is built outside the IT department on an external server, i.e.  blog.companyname.com. This can be done on a separate server with MT, WordPress or via a hosted service like TypePad.

6.  What trends do you see happening in the enterprise regarding social media?

I see two things happening. The interest and buzz will die down somewhat, but the adoption will rise. What I mean is that it seems everybody is talking about it now, but for a large majority of organizations after they learn about it, much of the clamoring for education will go away. It will be on to the actual implementation and use.   

Remember the days when building a web site was guaranteed to get you on the front page of the business section? That cycle happened all over again with things like blogs, SecondLife, etc.  Launching a blog or another social media initiative is no longer buzz-worthy. However, if planned and executed correctly it can be effective.

As colleges begin to adapt their curriculum, the majority of graduates will have some exposure as well and that will change internal corporate culture.

7.  Can you take a stab at telling me how social media will impact the
enterprise over the next five years?

I think this blends elements from Questions 3, 4, 5 and 6.  Overall, I think you’ll see more adoption of the tools for a variety of purposes, both internal and external.  However the lasting effects are what the tools are helping facilitate and that is communication.  Increased communication and the humanization of corporations are a good thing in my book, some industries may disagree though.

8. Do you have any good case studies to share with me?

Well Kami Huyse has already talked about the SeaWorld project that she and I worked on together earlier this year.

Kami handled the PR and outreach, while I worked on the technical aspects.

At Voce one of the most recent successes has been the Sony PlayStation Blog , which launched in June. The project started in early 2007 working towards a June launch. The primary goal was to establish a blog as a platform for conversation between SCEA and  PlayStation fans. 

Voce managed all aspects of the project from start to finish, including blog design and content planning, policy creating and internal protocol development as well as moderation and measurement. 

It’s been great to watch the level of commentary going on at the blog and see how a number of folks within SCEA are participating.

9. What advice do you have for SAP regarding social media and their global

It starts with allowing your employees to engage others outside the workplace in a natural way. If they work in one specific field just let them be themselves online in external forums/communities.  Who better to know the intricacies of a culture or a situation, than those that actually live and work there.   

10. Additional comments?

It’s interesting to see how the answers get shorter as the questions go on, I noticed that trend with some of the other respondents.

Thanks for allowing me to participate and offering the BlogOrlando attendees a sneak peak at some of your findings.

October 15, 2007

SAP Global Survey: China's Isaac Mao Part 2

Isaac Mao

[Isaac Mao, Chinese entrepreneur. Photo by Shel]

Part 2 of 2

It is fitting that on a day that China's head of state is telling a political assembly that the Communist Party must stay in control, that I write about Isaac Mao who is doing a fine job of bringing entrepreneurialism into China. where he tells me, bloggers have little, if any, trouble bypassing the command and control policies of it's government.

Isaac is no Communist by any means. But he is a "sharist," and there is a difference. " In sharism, people have the same rights wherever they live.   "Under Communism, the state owns all property. In sharism I keep ownership but I like to share and it's up to me. Prosperity and ideas spread because people like to share," he told me last month when we met for a loing San Francisco lunch..

It's an interesting philosophy, one that he says he acquired from his mentor, Japan's Joi Ito, who first inspired Isaac to blog back in 2002. But it's also interesting because, like Joi Ito, about half of Isaac's focus is as a venture capitalist.

When we met,  Isaac saw no irony between sharism and venture capitalism. "VCs like to share wealth," he replied flatly.

While he is currently a partner in UCI Venture partners, Isaac was in the states to talk to denizens of Sand Hill Road.  He is raising a fund to start his own venture fund and is close to reaching his $50 million goal. In the US, that would be a miniscule amount, but in China, it will go a long way because costs in China remain so low, investment capital goes further.

His fund will focus on social media startups that can help to open China's culture to the rest of the world. But he wants to bring them a layer further. "I want to help them become profitable."

There are many venture capitalists in China. A good number of them are satellites of American private equity investors. Isaac is not worried. "I have the hometown advantage. I understand how China thinks," he said.

He also has experience 

Current investments under his management is called another.com  (temporarily closed), which delivers feeds through RSS and IM.

What's interesting about another.com is indicative of how the Chinese tech community is bypassing Chinese attempts to control social media. The server is located in the US. Users in China, can grab content from Six Apart blogs or CNN News.  Not only is the government unable to stop it, they cannot even see it, according to Isaac. Besides, the site breaks no censorship rules. He also asserts that Another.com is not attempting to defy government. "We are just a business trying to make money."

Isaac says that a high percentage of China's 20 million social media community members know how to access uncensored versions of Google using mime servers located outside of the country.

He expressed disappointment in Google because it self censors in China. "Our law does not require Google to remove content. They volunteer to do it it. They try to adapt to our hidden rules, which frequently change. Google goes along. Google loses. So do the Chinese people."

Throughout my interview with him, Isaac impressed me as fearless. He shrugs that off. He's just an entrepreneur and he sees great opportunity in China right now. Like in the US,  he sees his government, as an often inefficient, sometimes irritating obstacle, that can be dealt with.

Social media is flourishing in China. Twitter is exploding because the Chinese love it's simplicity.  The other half of Isaac's life is immersed in the Social Brain Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to building an "open source culture." It promotes free speech and shows people easy ways to bypass "the Great Firewall" of China censorship, which he also calls the Kung Fu Network.

Flickr had a half million Chinese users when a Chinese woman posted a Tiananmen Square photo in Germany. China's government responded, not by blocking Flickr, but by blocking every photo. So, in China, when you visit the popular photo site, you only see black squares where the photos would appear.

Social Brain is the numbers keeper and their most conservative way of counting says that bloggers and other social network participants have grown by at least twentyfold in the last two years and the rate of growth is accelerating.

Through the Social Brain Foundation, Isaac tries to experiment with different social media tool so that he understands the diversity. he uses wikis to allow bloggers to write whatever they want and have other bloggers answer. It is extremely collaborative with 50 of China's leading bloggers all chiming in to discuss censorship. They publish a weekly review of what bloggers were blocked. They link to thousands of Chinese bloggers. 

Isaac sees diversification of content as the growing trend among China's 20 million bloggers. Demographics are all over the board.  Blogger ages range from age 10 to over 70. The hottest topic is politics. A majority of people openly discuss social problems. There are significant chunks still absent, such as middle aged business people who do not blog in any great numbers.

Government is responding by imposing new regulations. It requires that bloggers register their full name, so Chinese bloggers respond by using aliases and nicknames. They know how to use fake ID numbers that cannot be traced back to the original senders and nearly all blogger do it.

The government has also ordered companies to share all content, and end user IP addresses including messages between

between bloggers. Government wants to see all messages. Isaac told me that most people don't even know the regulations and those that do ignore them.  The government cannot keep up with the billions of message, including IM, going about and they cannot track.

There was a time when Isaac was one of a small handful of prominent Chinese bloggers.  Now there are thousands and the number keeps growing. They cannot hide, but the sheer volume of content these prominent bloggers produce make it extremely difficult to suppress control or even discourage.

In short, as Isaac describes it, the government is pretty much screwed in it's attempts to suppress the free speech in the blogosphere.

"In China, we talk openly about the government system failure. People see a lack of balance between powers and society particularly at the grassroots. People are talking about their problems in public and those problems all track back to management and governance," he observed."

Where is it all going?  How will social media change China, and in so doing, the world in general. Isaac  see it filling the niche that government-blessed traditional media fails to fill.  We can reach more people through social media than traditional media in China can. He sees greater diversity of content and creator. Because search services like Google are failing the Chinese people, in his view, "We will use our own trusted resources in the future.





The Whole Global Neighbourhood

John Yunker has pointed me toward his newest ByteLevel effort, a country-coded map of all 245 countries of the world. It's a bit difficult to view even when you blow it up.  That may be why John is selling the map for about $30 through his site.

The larger the font, the more populous the country. When you look at it for a few minutes, your realize how vast and diverse the entire Global Neighborhood really is. You also realize how little of the world has broadband access, not to mention drinking water and safe haven from predators.

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October 14, 2007

I'm keynoting in Spain at Thanksgiving

I don't often tout the places where I'm speaking.  I speak pretty often and after a while it makes the blog seem a bit self-serving. I have been invited to be one of two American keynoters at Evento Blog Espana,the other being the genius, Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter.  While he lives in my physical neighborhood of the world, Spain is likely to be the first time we actually meet.

Increasingly, my interest has been the international social media community. In fact, about half my readers now come from outside the US. I will be discussing my research for the SAP Global Survey, and perhaps filling in the gap  We did not interview any Spanish bloggers in the survey, but that will change when I get the opportunity to meet several hundred of them Nov. 23, 24, 25 in Seville, the beautiful Southern Spanish city. If you can possibly make it, please let me know.  I'd love to meet up with you.

Special thanks to Kami Huyse who recommended me for this honor. I only regret that new motherhood prevents her from joining me on stage. She was dazzling at the recent Measurement Summit.  Maybe next year.

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SAP Global Survey: China's Isaac Mao. Part 1


Isaac Mao

[Isaac Mao in a San Francisco Cafe. Photo by Shel]

China's Isaac Mao, according to Wikipedia, is "a venture capitalist, blogger, software architect, entrepreneur and researcher in learning and social technology. He divides his time between research, social works, business and technology." His main focus these days is as vice president of   and director to the Social Brain Foundation, advisor to Global Voices Online and several China-based Web 2.0 businesses."

He is also among the most inspirational people I've met through my lengthy and meandering social media journey.  It has been a very busy five weeks since I sat down for 150 amazing minutes with him in a San Francisco cafe. Yet, I still find myself flashing on our conversation and feeling myself elated by the pleasure of meeting him.

We had a history together.

I interviewed Isaac by email for Naked Conversations in June 2005.  It started as a pretty free flowing exchange of ideas and facts, but then, Isaac became more guarded in what he had to say about China, censorship and government.  When I asked him if he thought our conversation was being monitored, he answered crisply: "The policies of my government are well documented."

I got the message and backed off.  In December, I looked forward to meeting Isaac at Les Blog 2, where he was supposed to be speaking as well as Scoble and me. But he did not show up.  When I asked Rebecca MacKinnon, the former CNN China reporter and Global Voices China expert who had first introduced me to Isaac. She said told me her friend was having "a few difficulties with his government and it would be better if you left him alone for a while."

I did.

Then the book got published and my life got hectic.  I never circled back to Isaac.  But still I wondered what was going on and worried a bit. I kept checking his extremely popular blog and new he was posting regularly and, it seemed, in unfettered style.  But I never inquired.

So when I met Angus Lau at Office 2.0 and learned that Isaac would be in San Francisco, I immediately contacted him to request a meeting. Isaac, China's most successful tech entrepreneur was in the Bay Area to find partners for UCI, his new venture fund (we'll  get to that in Part 2).

I asked Isaac what had happened back in 2005.  I had wondered if somehow the conversations we had  held back then had hurt him with his government, a concept that he  found funny.  He had said nothing to me that he had not said in public many times. 

But it was about that time, that he realized the government was monitoring his calls.  He could hear them on the phone. "They just weren't good at spying quietly."

By the time Les Blogs 2 came along, he knew that the government was tracing his calls to see with whom he was meeting. That's when a car started following him around the streets of Shanghai. He knew it was a government car because the government always used the same kind of car for such purposes and the guys inside it looked like they came from central casting for surveillance."

Eventually, Isaac got pissed off. One day, he made a U-turn while walking down the street, going directly over to the car and knocked hard on its window.  The window rolled down and he demanded of the two men inside, "Why are you following me?" They looked at each other for a moment, rolled the window back up and sped off.

A short while later, the same two men came knocking on his apartment door and very politely asked to come in. They told Isaac they did not mean to bother him.  They had no evidence that he was doing anything illegal. "But we want more information on anyone Isaac knew," who were doing risky things to our government."

Isaac stood his ground.  "I don’t know anyone like that. It is not my interest. I don't want to improve our government. I just don’t want you to not harass me," he told them. They agreed, but politely requested he not to leave the country for a while. Isaac concurred, which is why he did not speak at Les Blogs 2.

The eavesdropping and shadowing trailed off. After all, Isaac is a spearhead in China's effort to join the global tech community, something China-a country that needs to create millions of new jobs each year--wants desperately. Also, his VC activity brings foreign dollars into China, creating jobs for young, bright Chinese. He may cause them some discomfort, but one would think China wants Isaac to keep on doing what he is doing.

What he says may make government officials nervous from time to time, but all things considered, they are likely to cut some slack to this highly visible, internationally respected member of the international social media community.

Over lunch in San Francisco, one of the world's most tolerant cities, Isaac told me it's different for China's real human rights activists. "They are totally harassed. It's rarely about getting thrown in prison, although that remains possible. They usually remain free, but their lives are made totally miserable every day of their life."

But he is convinced that the determination of his government to command and control over the country's 1.3 billion citizens is becoming about as effective as baling water from a boat with a lawn rake. We joked about movies such as the Bourne Identity that show government agents who are incredibly adept at listening, watching and eliminating citizens.

In real life, neither China's government, nor America's are as good as Hollywood would have you believe, although both governments cause a fair share of unnecessary human suffering.

But the numbers go against the governments. In the two years since we first talked, Isaac estimates the number of Chinese bloggers has exploded from 1.2 million to at least 20 million.  Others estimate that number is as high as 60 million, but Isaac discounts "blogs" that are diaries without RSS or Comments.

More and more these bloggers say whatever they damned please.

"Years ago, we had to self-censor, but more-and-more people are becoming more than Chinese. We are more now a part of the world because of social media and global business."

"This year," Isaac pointed out, "China had many problems [such as the lead paint in toys incident]. Government is more embarrassed by our own people, than from the outside, so they tried to tighten controls.  In the blogosphere, the more government tries to squeeze, the more people fight back. More and more bloggers are daring to speak out."

He said  government wishes it could remove "loud bloggers so the can say China is a 'harmonious society.' " He smiles and pauses.

"Bloggers go on the Internet and hack the word "harmony." In Chinese, you can change the word easily to mean 'River of Shit.' That's what we think of our government's 'harmonious society.' "

"If you want to be harmonious society you should respect diversity and free speech. You cannot sing harmony if all the people sing the same note."

[ Part 2 will examine how Isaac got started in social media, social media in China as well as it's amazing growth and strength in the last two years. We'll also have a bit more on how bloggers deal with censorship.]

September 26, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Chile's Juan Pablo Tapia

Juan Carlos Tapia

            [Chile's Juan Pablo Tapia. From his Photo File]

Juan Pablo Tapia, is a senior consultant in strategic communications, serving as a Projects Manager at Crisis ICC , a communications firm. He's also a professor of Strategic Communication at University Pacifico and UAH where, he tells me, he has "incorporated contents about the Social Media whenever I can."  Additionally, he is co-founder of the Civic NGO responsible for implementing TimeBanks in Chile. His personal blog, is a venue he told me "where I collect Typos." Juan and I share something in common on that one.

I hope you read it through, ir at least skip to the end, where Juan Pablo tells me the best case I have yet heard on social media changing government behavior. 

1. Tell me about your country.  How big, how populated, major industries, quality of life, education, etc.

According to Wikipedia, Chile is the world's 38th-largest country. It is comparable to about twice the size of Norway. Chile's 2002 census reported a population of 15,116,435. Its growth has been declining since the early 1990s, because of a decreasing birth rate. About 85% of the country's population lives in urban areas, with 40% living in Santiago, our capital.

We have a dynamic market-oriented economy characterized by a high level of foreign trade. In 2006, Chile became the country with the highest nominal GDP per capita in Latin America. Even though the exceptional Chilean economic results, the Chilean economy income distribution has been extremely poor. Chile ranks 80th among the countries on the list of income distribution, being the fourth in Latin America and ranking behind much poorer African countries such as Zambia, Nigeria and Malawi.

Chile has signed free trade agreements (FTAs) with a whole network of countries, including an FTA with the United States, signed in 2003. Over the last several years, Chile has signed FTAs with the European Union, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, China and recently Japan.

We Chileans call our country país de poetas—land of poets. Gabriela Mistral was the first Chilean to win a Nobel Prize for literature (1945). Chile's most famous poet, however, is Pablo Neruda who also won the Nobel Prize in 1971.

2.  Tell me about yourself.  What do you do? When did you first get involved
in social media and why? What tools do you use and why? How has social media changed your life?

I define myself as a guy with the desire to learn and to make things in different scopes and Social Media is sure one of the most important.

The first time that I became jumbled with the Social Media was around 3 years ago, thanks to one of the first blog I've ever read ( www.leoprieto.com) made by a friend who is one of the refering ones of this subject in Chile. From that minute, the potentiality of being able to have conversations, virtually with any person in this world, hallucinated me; and even more, there were registries of those dialogs. To understand the phenomenon like a conversation is clearly thanks to you Shel and to your first book. Lately, that power to generate " responsible conversations between participants",  has interested me more from the point of view of the impact in the corporative communication.

At present I maintain two blogs juanpablotapia and bancodeltiempo One is in Wordpress and the other in Blogger. I use Google Analytics to evaluate both in terms of performance and impact. Also I have incorporated 2.0 tools like Podamatic, Slideshare and Scricblike to make them more attractive and to share different types of content. I use RSS for reading and Bloglines and Firefox. My Social Bookmarks are managed mainly by Del.icio.us.

Lately, I've been giving more attention to Facebook and Linked In because of their great potential for creating international and professional networks.  Finally, I maintain my accounts in YouTube, iGoogle, Flickr and others for active video and images.

I use Slide to share my classes with my students and my mindmaps are build on Bubbl, etc. I have a Myspace site to meet and inform me about new groups of music. Recently, I have incorporated Twitter and WIXI on my "software to evaluate's" list.

I am on a permanent search for new tools that allow me to handle the infinite information available at present. So yes, social media has changed my life within the last few years.

3. Do you use social media for your work? How and why?

I use social media practically the whole day at work.

Some projects are developed collaboratively and I use Google Docs, the videos I use for my presentations are on YouTube. When I'm searching for referral information I dig for it on Technorati, Alexa, and others. I believe strongly that the Chilean corporate communications industry still has a passive attitude in respect to this subject.

4. Now, tell me about technology in Chile.  How many people have cell phones and/or computers? How many connect to the internet?  Where and how do they do it?

Chile has the most technological development of Latin America. According to ISI 2007, in the first quarter of 2007, the Chileans spent an average of $532 USD per person in information technology. According to WIP, in Chile, Internet's primary users are children and teenagers from 6 to 17 years old followed by young men age 18 to 29, mainly from the high half of high socioeconomic sectors.

Personally, I believe these figures are not exactly accurate. In the poorest neighborhoods, we can observe a notorious amount of Cybercafés, with plenty of young men using them mainly for playing games on line, instead of doing homework. Whatever they use them for, it is a good first step. The laptops prices have been falling lately and that, added to such TIC projects as Chileaprende from the Ministry of Education's and Pais Digital Foundation , prepare a positive stage for the upcoming world of digital culture and social media.

5.  Talk to me about young people.  Are they more involved in social media than older people? What tools do they like most and why?

There is no doubt that young Chilean people are taking great strides in adopting social media. The Fotologs, for example, had experienced an explosive growth in the last years. According to  the consulting firm Divergent. On Fotolog, Chile surpasses bigger Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil and Argentina in the number of registered Avatars. Thirty-four of 100 Fotologs worldwide are Chilean. Three million Chileans, or 20% of the population has one.

The new technologies also have allowed many young people to access information that  define themselves in terms of cultural identity: the great amount of urban tribes, organized and with access, have their own places on the Web, which is a clear sign of upcoming communities and grassroots initiatives.

Lately, teenage students have marked a tendency in the use of YouTube.  This has received public attention, because students have uploaded and shared videos of bullying in classrooms, which has been followed by media repercussions. Another recent case that reveals the phenomenon of massive repercussion was the Fotolog of an anorexic young girl, who, via fotolog, revealed the crude advance of her disease. Fotologs and blogs have had considerable growth in last years. The Chilean "blogósfera" is acquiring an important level of participation, specificity and reputation from formal media and authorities, and has helped increase the impact of collective initiatives.

Older people are just discovering the potential. In my opinion, they have a reluctance to participate in the conversations generated on the multiple platforms of social communication or Planet 2.0, as a young and prominent Chilean author defined it. Older people are taking their first baby steps on new technologies but they feel crushed by the amount of new global content and participation. Who doesn't?

6. Is business embracing social media tools? If so, in for what purposes? If not, why not?

With few exceptions,, the Chilean businessmen still don't realize the enormous potential to generate commitments and productive conversations with all stakeholders through the social media.

Some have begun using social media tools inside their organization. VTR  and others have included/understood the potential of tourism online 2,0, like the tour agency Cocha . But we have a long way to go. Chile is a fertile land for the social media from a corporate and institutional perspective.

Government employs RSS in some official sites and a pair of ministries upload YouTube videos. But overall, it has not been able to visualize the potential of the SM to generate a greater socialization of their public policies for a citizen participation according the present times. The actual government has not included/understood the necessity to define a digital agenda responding the needs of the Chilean reality.

We Chileans used Second Life to celebrate our National Day and the state TV channel used it to launch its new Soap Opera, but in my opinion these are only incipient attempts.

7. How--if at all-- do you think social media will impact business over the next five years?  What about Chile in general?

Social Media means collaboration and communication.

If you allow me to reduce its meaning, then, I believe it will happen here, as well as anywhere. I see a renaissance of marketing and the formation of spontaneous citizen movements as well as strategically developed campaigns. Chilean CEOs and business leaders will come to recognize that these tools will have a strong development and even a greater growth. On the top of their to do lists, must be to understand social media and strategically use them to communicate with clients and their communities.

But Chile is and always has been a tech lab. Then, it is to hope that, for the rest of this year, a takeoff takes place and thus we receive a 2008 that can even cause the development of significant social media projects in terms of software, creation of content or who-knows-what.

8.  SAP, one of the world's largest software companies has contracted me to conduct this survey.  Could social media improve their position in Chile? How so?

Absolutely! I see the game like this: The first company to plant the social media seed will be the first to harvest the fruits. SAP has a prominent presence in Chile, so credibility and reputation are part of their "PR toolbox". I'd start with the techs, young and pro community, engaging and inviting them to a serious effort to disclose Social Media. Launch collaborating projects with national and social benefits, on a CSR basis. CSR or RSE in Spanish is the key path, from my perspective.

9.  Do you have any interesting case studies you could share with me?

The most remarkable example is the case of Digital Liberation ( Liberación Digital ). A movement that was born from a post of Leo Prieto on his tech blog FayerWayer.  There he  revealed  a restrictive and invasive collaboration between the Chilean government and Microsoft.

In less than 24 hours, that post became a Web site, and only 10 days later, received a  letter from the Commission of Science and Technology of the National Congress opposing the agreement . The letter, the different groups, the logo, the presentation, everything was created collaboratively on a wiki. As  Leo Prieto told me; "I have never seen an organization, public or private, move so fast and in a completely distributed and decentralized way". I totally agree with that

September 23, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Poland's Pawel Nowacki

Pawel Nowacki

                  [Pawel Nowacki. From his photo file.]

[NOTE: This is the fourth from the last of the SAP Global Survey interviews. There will be a break while I write up my report for SAP in October. For those of you, who agreed to interviews who I have not yet reached, I apologize.  I hope to be conducting interviews again in November.]

Poland's Paweł Nowacki reinforces on of the survey's findings. Citizen Journalism is flourishing in cultures that are getting out from under monolithic government thumbs.  Often, Citizen Journalism is a breakaway project, to get news  directly to people and bypassing traditional media. In the case of Poland, traditional media owns Wiadomości24.pl the first and largest Polish internet newspaper. It is part of Polskapresse, the second largest Polish newspaper publisher and the leading regional media news company.

Pawel began working as a student radio journalist in 1983 and when communism fell, he was working with Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's first independent newspaper. By 2000, he had emerged as editor in chief of Dziennik Lodzki, the largest regional newspaper, where he remained until 2005 when he accepted an offer to lead the country's first citizen journalism project.

He has won journalism awards, has a second degree in cinemetography and lectures on journalism at Poland's University of Lodz.

1. Can you give me a general idea about technology and Internet access in Poland? How many people have cell phones, PCs, internet and broadband access?

From 2000 to 2006, the number of internet users increased by over 307%.  Poland has a population of 38 million, with 25 million cell phones, so most adults have them. There are 10-15 million PCs,with an estimated 13 million people using the Internet about 34% of the population. Broadband access is smaller--about 1.75 million. It is projected that in three years, half of the Polish people will be using the Internet.

The number of home Internet users is increasing, while the number using it at work is declining.

2. What are the dominant businesses in Poland? What do people do for a living? How is the standard of living for the average family? What sort of technology do people use in their homes and at work?

Since 1989, when Communism fell, most people have been employed in private companies, mostly big, international corporations,who have invested and built in Poland.

The average Polish life expectancy is approximately a 50, just 60% of the EU average. Many families have cars--middle class families often have two. They also have TV, telephone, DVD etc.

3. Can you tell me about Wiadamosci24 your Citizen Journalism project? How did it get started? How is it doing?  What does the name mean in English?

We were inspired to establish Wiadomosci24.pl by OhmyNews, AgoraVox, iTalkNews, Newsvine.com, Bluffton Today. The Wiadomosci24.pl founders wanted to become as successful as the sites above. The name simply means "News 24."

Wiadomosci24.pl belongs to Polskapresse, the largest publisher of regional dailies in Poland. Regional dailies are the group's specialty, employing 760 journalists. One of our reasons to start the online service was to publish a natioanl online newspaper.

4. At least from the people Hugo has pointed me to, Citizen Journalism seems to be really taking off in Central Europe. Why do you think that is?

In Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism, it became very important to have a second circulation of information. There is no go-between, the way of information is shortened. On the net, every point of view has the same level of importance.  For example in News24.pl it is very important to prezent your own opinion. Comments, opinions : “In My Opinion” (Moje Trzy Grosze) idea for:
             - extensive comments,
             - opinion ON  political and social issues,
             - controversial topics such as euthanasia or abortion. Some contributors are only                commentators not writers. They write only for “In My Opinion”.

5. Tell me about other social media in Poland.  I am told blogging is quite big there, is it true? What social media tools are being used and for what purposes? Is it mostly young people?  What social networks do they join?

In recent years, blogs have become very popular. Also many different internet communities have been formed and are taking off. They are very trendy and appeal to young people 16-35.

Some people write more than one blog. Communities which are being created In the Internet are a second circulation of information. Similar to other countries, Polish people create avatars in SecondLife. Apart from citizen journalism portals (News24.pl, iThink.pl, other blog platforms) also very popular are global communities like YouTube, MySpace, Bebo and localized Polish sites: Grono.net, Goldenline, Blip.

6. Are businesses using social media and if so, which tools and for what purposes?

Business models often focus on building communities gathered around big brands, such as Nokia.

7. What languages do most Polish people speak? Do people in Poland use social media to talk with people in other countries?  If so, which countries?

Most Polish people speak English. A majority of people between 16-30 knows this language. Other popular languages are: German, French and Russian. After Poland entered the EU, young people started talking with people from other countries, mostly Great Britain, Ireland, German, France, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Norway, and other European countries.

8. Has social media impacted Polish culture? How so?  What do you think the impact on culture will be over the next 5-10 years.

New media creats new pop culture heroes. There are in Poland, celebrities whose careers started and bloomed on the Internet. Social media is a short route to a career. One song can make a singer known. Our cultural world will be different in 5-10 years.

9. What advice do you have for global companies such as SAP who would like to increase business ties with Poland?

They should listen to the social reactions,  because they rapidly change trends. Something which is on top today, will be passe tomorrow.

10. Additional Comments?

People here have just started to realize how big is the power of Internet.  We will have much to offer to the rest of the world.

September 18, 2007

SAP Global SurveY: KG Prasad Rolls His Own

KG Prasad

      [KG Prasad. From his file]

K.Govind Prasad of Chennai, India, a pre-print publisher is the most recent person in the world to roll-his-own answers to the SAP Global Survey. He's also the first Indian and first person to extol the virtues of wikis for the survey.

I am wrapping up the survey, at least it's current portion, so that I can submit a report to SAP  on what I found. Most of that report will be released to the public in one form or another, before year end. To those of you who agreed to be interviewed and I did not contact, I hope SAP will allow me to continue the survey after my report is completed.  I'd like it to be an ongoing thing.

If you would like to roll your own, please send them to me before Sept. 30.

September 13, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Russia's Rostislav Vylegzhanin



[Rostislav "Rostik" Vylegzhanin"
OhMyNews Photo

Rostislav Vylegzhanin, or "Rostik" is co-founder and editor Realno.info, the first Russian citizen journalism site Realno.info, which launched last November. He is also an executive editor of Ogoniok oldest Russian magazine. Earlier this year, Rostin lead the committee that produced the first Russian-based international blogging conference.

Rostik makes clear that citizen journalism has greater importance in countries where traditional media are controlled by monoliths. He also gives me a whole new respect for LiveJournal from Six Apart.

1. Can you give me a general idea about technology and Internet access in the Russian Federation? How many people have cell phones, PCs, internet and broadband access?

Recent surveys estimate that about 25-30% of Russian citizens are Internet users. Some are online daily at home or at work, others just use the Web several times in a year.

About 30% of families have PCs, not all of them connected to the Internet. Around 65% own cell phones, but not more than 20% of them use WAP, GPRS, EDGE to connect to the Internet.

In our big cities most people use ADSL, WLAN, WiFi or WiMax to connect. It's not very expensive. In Moscow for example unlimited access costs about $20-25 a month, but in some cases one can find $9 unlimited rates. I should also mention that many people don't have Internet connection at home  but they are active Internet users at work for both personal and business use.

In outlying regions, small cities and towns there are still many dial-up users. Costs are sometimes very high. But in more and more places at least ADSL-connection is replacing dial-up.

2. Can you tell me about your Citizen Journalism activities? How did it get started? How is it doing? How does traditional media view what you are doing?

If it is ok, I will quote my report for OhmyNews International Forum 2007. [Shel note: I did some extracting and condensing to the following portion-SI]

Practically all Russian TV is state-owned and “censored” (I use quote marks because censorship is Constitutionally prohibited but exists de facto).  Most Russian national newspapers are also controlled by authorities. Most regional media is controlled by regional governments.

There are only a few independent national radio stations, as well as a few national independent newspapers. Some regions have independent media, but practically all of them are under pressure.

Freedom of press has been gradually worsening since 2000, when Vladimir Putin took office.

I have to state that we have no freedom of expression and freedom of press in today's Russia. It means that mass media doesn't play a watchdog role for democracy and doesn't serve public interest as they must.

Only the Internet still remains as an absolutely free mediasphere in Russia where all viewpoints can be expressed, where all political leanings are represented.

I don't know why authorities haven't tried to control the Internet yet. Maybe because only one-third of Russians use it, so the Internet is less influential than TV.

Thus, it's not surprising that blogs became popular for hosting public discussions on topics the traditional mass media ignore and for spreading information that cannot be  published or broadcast by Big Media.

The American blog-hosting service LiveJournal.com has become especially popular in Russia. Today it hosts about one million Russian blogs who come form intellectual elite, journalists, politicians, active citizens and so on. LiveJournal represents Russian civic society as it is. That's why the roots of citizen journalism and citizen reporting in Russia are in LiveJournal.

Until last November, there were no citizen journalism sites in the Russian part of the Web, ones like OhmyNews and many other sites that attract user-created news stories just weren't here.

I graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations in summer of last year. My diploma work was about blogs and citizen journalism. Being inspired by successful examples of citizen journalism sites in the US and, of course, by OhmyNews, I had strong desire to launch the first Russian site that would attract citizen reporting and become a mass-medium without any kind of censorship that affects traditional media.

At the same time, the same idea emerged in the 2000-member NGO Club of Regional Journalists. We decided to combine efforts. On Nov. 7, 2007, we launched the first Russian citizen journalism site called Realno.info (means “in reality”).

Fifty regional professional journalists from the Club became our first citizen reporters, publishing on Realno.info those news-stories they couldn't publish in their own media because of imposed 'censorship', pressure or even self-censorship.

Today Realno.info joins together 320 citizen reporters and professional journalists from all over the country post from five to 15 times daily.  All our contributors are volunteers. The site doesn't pay anything them anything.

Realno.info attracts about 1000 unique visitors daily.

Our investors stopped financing the site in March. So, there is no money for programming and promotion. While we are trying to find ways to continue, I can't say for sure that this project will succeed.

3. So, is there a future for citizen journalism in Russia?

What makes me optimistic is the speed of growth in the Russian blogosphere.

But still, there is a long way to go before we can bring the culture of citizen journalism to Russia. Because citizen journalism isn't only blogging.

Realno.info will continue work in this sphere. Now we're preparing the second Moscow conference on citizen media, which will take place in Moscow next spring. I hope, we'll be able to invite some of you to this conference to speak about your own experiences in citizen journalism.

4. At least from the people Hugo has pointed me to, Citizen Journalism seems to be really taking off in your section of the world. Why do you think that is?

The only reason I see is that people are very passive. It's just mentality.

5. Tell me about other social media in Russia. What tools are being used? Is it mostly young people using social networks?

Blog hosting, social networks (sites like classmates.com) and video hostings are very popular. Not only young people use blogs, social networks, etc., but users of different ages, professions and so on. For example an average age of a LiveJournal user in the US is 18. In Russia it's 21.

6. Are businesses using social media and if so, which tools and for what purposes?

Some companies have their own blogs to contact their customers, ut not many. Most of the companies that use social media simply advertise themselves on Internet social networks and blog-hostings.

7. Besides Russian, what languages do Russian people speak?

Practically all people in Russia speaks Russian. All sites in the .RU internet zone are in Russian.

But in national republics that are parts of the Russian Federation, people also speak their native languages. Like the Tatar language or the Bashkir language.

Not many (but more-and-more) Russians speak foreign languages. The most popular are English and German.

8. Do social media have much impact on Russia culture? Do you think it will impact it in the next 5-10 years?

LiveJournal has a real impact on Russian social and political life. LiveJournal in Russia became the place where Russian citizen society is forming. I think the influence of blogs and especially blogs in LiveJournal on Russian life will increase in the next years.

9. Could social media improve the relationships between Russians and Americans?

They already do. I think, when everyday Russians watch Americans on YouTube, they understand how much in common we have. And vice versa.

September 12, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Martin Malý, Czech Republic

martin maly

               [ Martin Malý. From his file]


Martin Malý is among the best known bloggers in the Czech Republic and founded  Bloguje.cz, the first and most popular Czech blogging platform. He insists he is not a geek, pointing to his many diverse interests, he says the compelling evidence is told me the most compelling evidence is that he does not like Star Trek. The other side is that he was an early Czech computer user, he first got onto the Internet in 1996 and built a Geocities web site and he programs in several languages.  He is also a pragmatist, hoping that the so-called social media revolution does not bring false hopes to an emerging nation where the average office worker still makes about 1000 USD a month.

Martin's overall summary is that to date, social media has not much changed life and business in the Czech Republic.  But then he notes that blogs have caught n and that young people are embracing social media.

Because of Martin's fondness for detail, this interview has been condensed in a few places. Here's his story.

1. Can you tell me a little bit about the Czech Republic?

It is a small country situated in the middle of Europe, bordering on Germany, Austria, Poland and the Slovak Republic. The  Czech Republic has about 10 millions inhabitants in an area area comparable in size to Panama or Ireland. Until 1993, the Czech and Slovak Republics were one federation, called Czechoslovakia and was part of the Eastern Bloc, countries held under strong Soviet control until the communist imperium failed and went away in 1989.

After 1989, the Czech and Slovak Republics opened their borders and started to integrate
into the structures of the democratic world - the Czech Republic has been a member of the NATO since 1999 and of the EU since 2004.

2. Tell me about technology. How many people use computers and cell phones? How many have Internet, broadband or wifi access? Do they have connection at home or at work?  Is it expensive?

The Czech Republic has three big cell phone operators but this was not always the case. Back when we just had eurotel in 1995, a cell phone was a status symbol. In 2000, a third operator named Oskar entered the market, GSM prices immediately fell. The cell phone became just the utility. While we regard them as just a handy thing now, we love them nearly to obsession. We have 12.5 millions registered cell phones, 25% more phones than people. We buy ringtones, wallpaper and Bluetooth accessories. Men between 18-40 years want to have the  most advanced phones with all the technologies producers can integrate into them.

Everyone uses SMS. Last Christmas, Czechs sent about 60 million text messages. Some people use their cell phones for accessing the Internet from GPRS to the CDMA, EDGE or 3G. It's estimated that about .5 million people, or 5% of our population uses mobile connection.

With computers it's quite different. Czech society is divided into two groups: (1) people who aren't interested in the computers or actually hate them, and (2) people using them. The division is based today on education and age, but even less-educated people buy computers for their children.

About 36% of the households have  PCs. Just about 27% of  households have an Internet connection. More than half of those have broadband access - it's about 15%. Penetration of the broadband has rapidly grown in recent years (from 2% in 2003 to 15% in 2006). You can find  more at this site, and here but they are in the Czech language.

Is Internet expensive? It's an interesting question. The average monthly salary is about 1000 USD for office professionals like clerks. Most people, such as shop assistants and supermarket cashiers make 400-500 USD per month.

The cheapest PCs cost about 500 USD. Notebooks start at 1000 USD. A basic TV costs about 250 USD and a 2L Coke 1.5 USD. The most common Internet connection (ADSL, 2Mbit/512kbit) costs about 15 USD per month. There are cheaper WiFi providers (about 6 USD per month) or cable TV Internet providers.

Internet connection is not so expensive, but many people still think "it's useless, it's  expensive, it's not interesting, it's a toy for parvenus..." - mainly the countryside inhabitants and uneducated people. But those  people can sit in a pub and spend up to 5 USD for beer and cigarettes each day - it's not rare, it's maybe about 20% of the population.

Many Czechs use Internet for personal reasons at work. It's one of the Czech bad habits. Each server administrator in the Czech Republic knows that there are two peaks of the server load: in the morning (office holders "start to work" with a cup of coffee and favorite pages) and between 2pm-4pm (Czechs feel the end of the working hours is near, so they don't start any new tasks. They just pass their time net browsing, waiting for the end of the working hours. They are sometimes able to wait nearly two hours).

3.  Tell me about yourself.  When did you first start using social media? Why and how did you start? How has it changed your personal or professional life?

I started to use computers in 1985. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (although Czechoslovakia was a communist-held country, there were about 100,000 owners of small home computers like Sinclair, Commodore or Atari, and we joined in many local clubs. My first contact with the "world online" was in 1992 - with the BBS. In 1996 I tried the Internet for the very first time. There was nothing there but Yahoo!, Altavista and IRC. My first social network was the Czech Channel on the Undernet IRC. As time passed I tried maillists, discussion servers and other "proto-social media."

Yes, these things changed my perspective. I can find people with the same interests or opinions much easier than in real life. I met my wife on a dating website, which is as social as media gets, isn't it?  l

In 2002 I started a blog and in 2003 I created the Czech republic's first public blog system, in part because Blogger.com had fundamental problems with accented characters.

My platform, called "Bloguje" (this word means"(s/he) is writing a blog" ) has become well-known, beating competitors by technological advances such as SMS and MMS blogging, videos and so on). I left it a short time ago, to put my time and energy into new projects.

4. Overall, how important is social media in the Czech Republic?  How many people are using social media tools? What languages are being used on social media?

Social media is not dramatically important in the Czech Republic. Czechs take it like other things on Internet, more as fun than serious. There are some localized Czech social media sites. The best-known Czech language are:

  • lide.cz ( "the people") One of the first Czech social networks, founded in 1998. It provides personalized home pages with photos, messages, lists of friends etc., as well as blogs, chat rooms,the user forum etc.  Lide.cz has more than one million registered user profiles (10% of the population).
  • seznamka.cz ("the dating office") - social network primary focused on making acquaintances.
  • spoluzaci.cz ("the classmates")  It's a place where people can find their classmates, talk with them, arrange alumni meetings, or share photos or documents.
  • libimseti.cz ( "do you like me?") ihas 200,000 daily visits, provides similar services to Lide.cz.
  • Clones, often as parts of big portals or web news servers. There is a tendency to try to offer everything on one big site.  We have three big portals, each with its own e-mail, blog system, web journal, search engine, catalog, map server, multi-language dictionary, social network, ad network. Then there are three big newspaper sites, which tend to offer it all as well.  Collaboration is not usual on the Czech Internet.

The language used in the Czech social media is mainly Czech. Only a few people from the Czech Republic use global services, such as Orkut, MySpace or Facebook (although there are about 5000 Czechs registered on Facebook). The biggest issue is the language barrier.

Only a minority of Czechs speak English, because English was "an imperialistic and enemy language" until 1989. Until then, Russian was the only obligatory school-taught language, English was a second language taught in high school. But the situation has rapidly improved in recent years. Many young people speak English now. It is obligatory in our basic schools. Even older Czechs learn English now because of their jobs.

But English remains a foreign language, so we're a little bit socially isolated from the rest of the world.

5.  What social media tools are being used in the Czech Republic and by whom?

In short I can say that the "pure social media tools" are used mainly by young people, mainly teenagers, just for fun (sharing information about "funny cool videos", parties, music, disputating if Nokia is better than Sony Ericsson etc.) Older people, looking for serious communication and contact, use the traditional ways of introduction. They look for web pages corresponding their "taste" and use forums or mailing lists to communicate to each other.

There is no call for social media tools in the Czech Republic. Older people prefer face-to-face meetings in the real world, and younger ones use the traditional Internet tools,  rather than social media.  If they want to meet new people or so, they use web chat servers or public or private discussion forums.

In the last years, new communities have started to form around blogs. Bloggers communicate to each other via blogs and sometimes meet in the real world as well, in the same way communities based on profession or hobby have risen around a meaningful web/blog.

6.  What about young people?  Are they embracing social media faster than their parents? What do they use and who do they talk to?

Young people use the social media, but I can't understand why.  I can't say what is the reason they use it. When I look at the Czech social media, I notice it's meaningless like, hmmm... like the MySpace  :)  It's just another thing appreciated in the teenager's world they can show and boost their own status in the society with; "to have an own profile" at a social media web is something like "to have a branded t-shirt" or "to have a really coooool ringtone in the cell phone". It has no other sense. They talk about the things important in the teenage world, you know, like
everywhere on the globe.

7.  Has social media changed culture in the Czech Republic?  How so?

I don't think so. Internet has no big influence in all, most people aren't interested in the Internet's things. The rest of the people, who know and use Internet, are mostly information consumers, just reading Internet magazines and newspapers or looking for some practical informations. Only a small part tends to use social media.

The only "new media" with some influence are the weblogs. Some of them are widely read, some of them have already been published, one blog has its own TV representation.

8.  Can you describe to me the Czechoslovakian business landscape?  What are your biggest companies? Where do most people do for a living?

Correction: There is no "Czechoslovakian" since 1993. The biggest companies are the Czech Railways (about 70.000 employees), the Czech Post, Skoda (Czech automotive manufacturer, a member of the Volkswagen group) and the Czech Energy Company (owner of the power plants). Many people work in minor plants of multinational companies (Philips, Toyota etc.), mostly on the hand-worker positions.
There are about 500.000 people employed in the (local or state) government structures.

9. Have businesses started to use social media? How so?

I don't see such a movement. Some companies try shy experiments with social media, but they are limited to deal with the "P.R. weblogs", "Pay per recension" or "advertisements in the social networks". But these attempts, and I must say "very naive and thin attempts", are often denounced very soon (mostly by bloggers) and their effect is uncertain.

10. SAP, one of the world's largest software companies has contracted me to conduct this survey.  How could they use social media to help their customers in the Czech Republic?

Oh no! No more "corporate social media", please! :) Czechs are very sensitive to such tends, hating the attempts of "corporate human face." They feel the "corporate spirit" and stay awake: "Beware! Someone wants to blame us!" I really cannot imagine how SAP can use social media to help their customers.

In my humble opinion - maybe they have to focus on the courses and educational activities. I often see advertisements like "We're looking for SAP R/3 specialists" in the newspapers, but no "Course for SAP..." offers! I would be the first one being interested in suchcourses to make my wife happy with such a huge salary being offered to SAP R/3 specialists in our country! :)

10. Additional Comments?

The Czech society is very ambiguous. There are very clever people in the Czech Republic, with God-given improvisational gift, craving to the new technologies, travelling around the globe, communicating and thinking in the global context, active and well-educated, but a little bit disqualified by their origin (some people around the world say: "Czech Republic? It's a part of Russia, isn't it? There was a war at the end of the 90s, wasn't there?"). For instance - NetBeans, the well-known IDE for Java, was developed by the Czech programmer Roman Stanek (later bought by Sun).

On the other side you can meet sour and unhappy people, unwilling, unpleasant (mostly at the offices or in the shops), simple-minded, envious flunkies, hating all the things they cannot drink, eat or boast about; often happy when other people feel as bad as they feel. You can reply that such people are everywhere, but this is very intensive in the Czech Republic. This is the first thing the foreigners notice when coming to the Czech Republic. Maybe it's a relict of the communism, who knows...

But - I think Czechs are the same like the other (Western-) European people, with the same worries and pleasures. Maybe more cautious due to their terrible historical experience. They still think of Internet like of something "above the standards", something "from the higher society". Internet isn't percepted like an ordinary thing, lets say TVs, DVD players or cell phones. So this is the first reason why social media isn't so evolved in the Czech Republic.

The second reason is the language barriere. People like to communicate in their language and the abroad English-speaking services have a big disadvantage because their UI is (in the most cases) in English and their developers can't often imagine that there are languages using more than 26 characters in the world.

And last but not least - remember that the Czech Republic is a small country. Ten millions inhabitants, about million can work with the Internet, only a few thousands "active netizens"... There isn't a space for big, ambitious or innovative social media int
he Czech Republic. But I think there is a lot of space for the Czech mutations of tried English projects, which can attract theusers and "learn to use social media".

September 09, 2007

SAP Global Survey:Argentina's Ignacio Escribano


Ignacio Escribano

           [Argentina's Ignacio Escribano. Photo by Shel]

The term "Renaissance Man" is most often used to describe Leonardo DaVinci, because of his contributions to multiple disciplines including art, science and philosophy. Certainly, Argentina's Ignacio Escribano, who heads the citizen journalism project for La Nación, Argentina's national newspaper has not equaled Leonardo's. But his has been a diverse path that shows a restless interest and contributions in as many categories.

Trained as a doctor of internal medicine in 1995 and planned to be a psychiatrist, a lucrative field since there seems to be a huge demand for Argentinean shrinks. Before returning to school,however, he went on a backpacking bicycle vacation to Patagonia. "There I knew my destiny was something different than being in a hospital.

Ignacio decided to become a freelance journalist instead. He contributed to several prestige publications including the Spanish language version of the Miami Herald as well as La Nación.  In 2003, he wrote a piece for La Nación , observing the irony of two statues in front of Argentina's argest public library. One was of Evita Peron, who once said: "Shoes yes. Books. no." The other statue was of Pope John Paul II, then head of the religion followed by most Argentineans.

The editors spiked his story. Frustrated, he stopped writing, taking a scholarship to Cambridge University where he studied Buddhism and Hinduism for six months. Curious what life was like in countries, where the culture was not dominated by Catholicism, he spent the next 18 months living as a house guest with people he met in Germany, Sweden and England. He found more free thinking in these cultures than in Argentina and the experience and his dedication to spirituality shaped his future.

Eventually returning to Argentina to meet up with his Indian guru who advised him to become a recording artist, he started singing Latin music and playing guitar with prominent local musicians.  They cut an album which is selling well but not well enough to pay the rent in Ignacio's apartment.

At about that time, he met up with Guido Grinbaum, but we'll get to him in a moment. Bear with me through this aside.

Until now, I have been publishing the SAP Global Survey in a straightforward Q&A format, conducting all previous interviews by email. To my pleasant surprise, respondents keep changing how they've responded. Ignacio became the first to decline an email conversation, saying his English was not good enough, which is untrue. He added that face-to-face and phone interviews, such as we've now conducted were more human, which is entirely true. Of course, this way, I have to work harder.  In the end, our four hours of conversation has built a friendship that promises to endure and makes the effort worth the investment and then some.

Now back to our story...

With about 40 million people, Argentina is among the world's 10 largest countries. It is also geographically among the longest. From it's northern border to its southernmost point is a distance equal to the distance between Moscow and Madrid. One-third of the population lives in Buenos Aires. Ignacio is among them.

There is a significant, and growing middle class, but from one-third to half of the population exists below the poverty line. Broadband in home and office is growing but relatively slowly, even among middle class people who already have installed TV cables. Home connection is over $100 monthly and is significantly slower than in the US.

Argentineans, for the most part, use "Locutorios," for connection. These are former phone call centers that have evolved into computer cafes where people can connect at an affordable hourly rate. This is very similar to what I have witnessed in both Ireland and Italy and I imagine is pretty common worldwide. Locutorias are pretty much ubiquitous, at least in Buenos Aires. People use computers there for email, downloads, research, chat, printing and game playing.

Bubbleshare and Flickr are both popular photo sites, but music and video downloads are less popular. Many people fear downloads will deliver viruses, so they still buy music CDs, which they consider safer.

In July 2006, Ignacio met the aforementioned Guido Grinbaum,founder of Deremate.com , which is sort of the South American eBay. When La Nacion corporate, whose primary property is the newspaper Ignacio that motivated Ignacio to leage Argentina in anger three years earlier, bought the auction site, Guido was put in charge of all digital operations. Guido invited Ignacio to run a new citizen journalism and social media site to be called Igooh. The word loosely translates to mean "transform from the darkness." 

Two months later, Igooh was born on the first day of South American spring. Ignacio picked the day for symbolic reasons. He remembered at quote that he had seen in 1995 or so when he was was a hospital volunteer in Boston: “All the flowers may be cut, but spring cannot be stopped.” 

If there was some cutting to be done, it would come from his former colleagues on the traditional journalism side  of La Nación where blogging and social media are disdained to say the least.  The online  version of the newspaper stopped allowing comments on the request of the journalists. This is not as odd as it may sound, says Ignacio. "I play music for the musicians in the room," he told me. "Our journalists write for their bosses and for their fellow journalists, not for the people. So they don't want to hear from the people."

Ignacio's former colleagues do not take Citizen Journalism sites like Igooh seriously. Now that it is receiving about 180,000 unique visitors monthly, such disdain may subside. Except for a recent and mysterious plateau, readership has steadily risen in the year since its inception. By contrast, La Nacion has remained steady at about 175,000 daily readers over the past year.

Igooh posts about 40 articles every day, written mostly by middle class Argentinians between the ages of 30 and 40. They write mostly about politics and current events. People share personal--often intimate--stories and occasionally post a poem or song.  There are some photos, but mostly it is text posting. Video and audio clips have not yet arrived.

Ignacio is the designated face of Igooh. "If people see me do it and I am comfortable, it invites them to do the same." He is Igooh's most frequent contributor, rebutting editorials he disagrees with, posting photo essays and personal interviews.  He writes only in  a first-person voice and he is often quite intimate in what he has to say.

He sees key differences between citizen and traditional journalism.  Ignacio has faith in people replacing editors as fact checkers. There is no place at Igooh for the backroom politics that motivated Ignacio to quit contributing to La Nacion in 2003. He prefers the voices of everyday people to the more polished tonality of the pros because he hears the ring of truth in them.

Like most of the world's sites, Google directs the most traffic to Igooh, sending it 70 % of total readership. Only five percent come from banner ads at the regular La Nación site. Igooh doesn't know much about its own demographics.  It has yet to install Google Analytics or similar services. It's charter is to provide a social network as well as citizen journalism, but that part has not yet started.

Ignacio believes that social media's ability to let any person publish and any voice to be heard represents the most important social revolution since Gutenberg, " but revolutions take time," he told me, "perhaps decades."

In fact, my conversations with Ignacio have demonstrated that revolutions move at different paces in different places. No US journalist laughs at or disdains the impact of social media. There are no traditional media companies dismissing what's happening on line as a passing adolescent fad anymore. When I met Ignacio and Eduardo Lomanto, a business executive for La Nacion, back in July, they were both shocked, when I said that I doubted there would be many metropolitan dailies printing papers five years from today and many would simply be out of business. Their mouths opened in harmony when I said many people doubted that either the Boston Globe or San Francisco Chronicle could survive through 2007.

In the US, my observation has been heard many times and no one considers such statements surprising. In Argentina, the concept of a world where trees are not cut down and smeared with ink then distributed by machines that burn gas is still astounding and futuristic.

"In Argentina, we are about five years behind the US," Eduardo told me. "That's why we are here--to talk with people like you so that we can understand or own future."

My free-for-what-it's-worth advice to Latin American and for that matter European media companies is to pay very close attention to what is happening to traditional US media companies. My advice in countries accustomed to monolithic top-down information controls is to heed the words of Bob Dylan.

The times they are a'changing and they are changing faster than you may realize.

September 04, 2007

SAP Global Survey Office 2.0 Talking Points

I'm hosting a star-studded panel on social computing at the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco this Thursday.  In my opening comments, I will have a mere five minutes to address the SAP Global Survey, which has taken a good portion of my attention over the past two months. Here are my preliminary talking points, but I may need to do some speed-speaking to get it all in.

  • In June, SAP asked me to do some traditional research on social media to help them be a thought leader on the subject. I suggested that because social media involves adhering to cult of generosity, I should conduct interviews, like I did for Naked conversations—transparently on my blog.  Less than a week later, SAP VP Mike Prosceno sent me the following email: “It’s a go.”
  • In two months, I’ve interviewed over 40 people in more than 15 countries. I’ve posted more than 40,000 words on subject. Spoke with world famous bloggers, high school kids, Cambodian NGO workers, and Ukranian Citizen Journalists.
  • Survey took on a life of its own illustrating the community powers of social media. In the beginning I was structured. I sent email questions that people were supposed to send back. Instead, they posted the answers on their own blogs. People I did not interview, rolled their own questions and posted or sent them back. Joe Thornley sent a video clip. Others started asking my questions on my behalf on Facebook and sending me answers. Some folk thought I asked stupid questions and changed them, then answered. It has become an open source survey in every way.
  • Too early for conclusions.  But here are some early findings.
  • Social media is active and growing on all continents and most major islands of the world.
  • As innovators start looking past blogs, blogs are taking off in the enterprise.
  • All social media tools get adopted first by non-corporate users, then seem to catch on in the enterprise two years later. Video is hot now among consumers. Watch for massive corporate adoption in 2009-10.
  • Social media tends to start with kids. Think of what that means to your enterprise moving forward.
  • The universal tool worldwide is the social network. It is being adopted by consumers and businesses everywhere in both localized and global forms.

That brings us to today’s panel. Introduce:

SAP Global Survey: Alex De Carvalho on Brazil

                       [Alex de Carvalho. Photo by a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/hyku/">hyku.]

Alex de Carvalho
is the Community Guy at Scrapblog, where I have been consulting. As the interview will reveal, he knows a good deal about the comparative cultures of the world. I turned to him specifically for his significant understanding of what is going on in Brazil, South America's most populous country. The answer is a great deal and Alex has some good advice for companies hoping to do business there.

I'll let him tell you.

1. Alex, you have lived in more places than just about anyone I know. Can you give me a summary?  Can you also tell me a bit about how these cultures are the same or different?

Well, my father is a retired Brazilian diplomat, my mother is from Finland and I was born in Paris. We moved frequently and I spent my youth in Algiers, Accra (Ghana), Teheran, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Helsinki and Miami, where I attended high school and college. I later completed an MBA in Fontainebleau (France) and then lived in London, Chicago, Setúbal (Portugal) and Paris before moving back to Miami.

From having moved so much, my experience is that everything can change from one day to another and we are susceptible to even small changes in the environment, in politics and in the economy. The world is not so small and not so flat and there are new places and ways of seeing and doing things waiting to be discovered by each one of us. We should celebrate and preserve these differences, for they add variety to life. Beyond these differences, though, we all have similar dreams, goals and emotions which transcend geographic barriers and cultural differences, like raising a family and living in peace.

2. When, why and how did you first become involved in social media?

Through a combination of experiences and circumstances, I was looking for greater authenticity in online marketing. I had worked in advertising agencies and co-created an e-mail marketing company in France, based on Seth Godin's "Permission Based Marketing" concepts.

It made sense to market to people by getting their "opt-in" first, rather than interrupting them with commercial messages.

The change came when I read the Cluetrain Manifesto and then stumbled upon IT Conversations and started listening to podcasts all the time. This brought me quickly up the learning curve on Web 2.0 and I started my current blog in mid-2004. I adopted various social tools and started to connect with people around the world. Soon after, I started posting photos on Flickr, started a second blog, joined different social networks as they were created, including LinkedIn, Orkut and Facebook and started bookmarking on del.icio.us. I also joined the WeKnow guild in World of Warcraft and explored Second Life.

Blogging, social media and game play allowed me to meet and exchange ideas with brilliant people around the world. Paris has an outstanding blogging community and bloggers organize weekly events and meetups. I also attended great conferences in Europe related to the Web 2.0, including LesBlogs in Paris and Reboot in Copenhagen.  I currently lecture at the University of Miami on Social Media, covering online identity, community building and citizen journalism.

3.  Tell me about Brazil. Who uses technology in Brazil? What do they use? How much of the country has broadband connection?

Although I don't live in Brazil, I try to keep up-to-date with the Brazilian blogosphere and social networks. I organized the Brazilian delegation at the World E-Democracy Forum in Paris and was brought up-to-speed on the use of technology in Brazil. I was surprised to learn that Brazil has one of the largest electronic voting populations in the world, with over 120 million people who vote electronically.

Apparently the voting system uses open source code, so it can easily be audited. During elections, voting machines are even brought to remote villages in the Amazon. Most Brazilians --90% of them--file their income taxes electronically. Brazilians have one of the most advanced banking systems; they can access some of their medical records online; and they can get informed and participate in local municipal and school board decisions online.

Most recent figures indicate Brazil has Latin America's largest online population, with about 16 million monthly unique visitors. That's only 10% of Brazil's population. Nearly a third of those are using broadband, so there will be considerable growth ahead.

4.  How popular is Orkut in Brazil? Why do you think it became so popular? Why do you think Facebook adoption has been so tepid there and do you see Facebook adoption increasing?

Social media in Brazil revolves mostly around Orkut and the photo sharing sites Fotolog, Flogao and Flickr. Orkut is the most visited site in Brazil and over half its members are Brazilian.

Orkut made explicit the social graph: writing scraps (messages) on each other's profiles, leaving testimonials and being a "fan" of someone made social relationships apparent. Now people make plans and keep up with each other through the scraps. "Scrapping" on Orkut has replaced emailing in many cases. There are also thousands of communities and some of these are very large, with many that have over a million members.

A quick search on Alexa shows that Facebook does not currently rank within the top 100 sites visited in Brazil. I think Facebook's current potential in Brazil is limited because its navigation is more text-intensive than Orkut and the applications are all in English.
Orkut has been translated to Portuguese and its Scrapbbook is more prominent than Facebook's Wall. Also, Orkut's communities are more active in general than Facebook's and threads are easier to follow.
But social network adoption is difficult to predict and Facebook may gain popularity in Brazil as it continues to grow elsewhere.

5. How is social media impacting Brazilian culture?

If you're online in Brazil, more likely than not you're using at least one of the popular social media sites mentioned previously. Brazilians are also active bloggers. Orkut in particular has entered popular culture through songs and through frequent mentions in the press. The site has also replaced emailing and phone calling for keeping in touch with friends and for making plans for going out and for the weekend.
On the negative side, there have been isolated cases of illegal activity on Orkut and there tends to be a lot of spam if you're a member of large communities. Many have decided not to join Orkut for these reasons, as well as to protect their privacy, identity and safety. In general, though, Brazilians are outgoing and those online are using a combination of Orkut, photosharing, instant messaging and Skype to keep in touch with each other.

6.  How big a barrier is language on the Internet?  What percent of Brazil speaks English?

I am not sure what percentages of Brazilians speak English, but language is a significant barrier for a large proportion of Brazilians online and most would prefer to navigate and communicate in Portuguese, given the choice. Generally speaking, English is still a competitive advantage at work.

7.  Tell me how business is using social media in Brazil--if at all?
What tools are the most popular?

In my experience, Skype and instant messaging with MSN have been popular in Brazil for connecting with others professionally and for project management and collaboration through chat and VoIP. Some CEOs have started blogging and this may also become a trend. I've also seen some Brazilian businesses and brands in Orkut and in Second Life. A lot of this is still experimental, but Brazilians spend a lot of time online and they tend to pick up quickly on what works and what doesn't.

8. What about young people? Is there a division between people under
25 and over?

Brazil's population pyramid is shaped like a pear and the under-25 represent a large proportion of the overall population, perhaps about a third. I don't have statistics on who's online; from my experience on social media, I would say that the under-25's tend to use Orkut and Fotolog more and the 25-45 segment is on Flickr or is blogging.

9.  What advice do you have regarding social media to multinational enterprises wishing to do business with Brazilians?

I would start by listening to the conversation. Do searches on Technorati in Portuguese and on Orkut to see what's being said about your company and products and to see who your fans are. Get in touch with them and start a dialog. Be sensitive to cultural differences, hire Portuguese speaking community and outreach managers and translate everything to Portuguese, or at least provide help in Portuguese.

Assist them with their questions and ask them for feedback. Help them become evangelists when appropriate by supporting their community building efforts on Orkut or elsewhere. Consider bringing the conversation to your own space by starting a blog and setting up forums where users can help each other. Run promotions and be generous with your evangelists and those getting the word out, but always be transparent in your actions. Finally, make it easy for Brazilians to purchase securely online using their own credit cards and banking systems.

10.  How will social media evolve in Brazil over the next five years in your opinion?

Because Brazilians spend so much time online, I think Brazil will track closely with what's happenning elsewhere. Broadband penetration is rising rapidly in Brazil, so probably video and photo sharing sites will do well. Google is well accepted, Orkut recently launched and new 'Web 2.0' look with rounded corners and RSS feeds and Brazilians are very active on YouTube.  Social media is evolving quickly and many of the same tools will be picked up or adapted by Brazilians online.

11. Additional comments?

Yes, I would like to add that social media has opened many doors that for many historic reasons were restricted mediawise:
- The democratization of speech through free tools that allow people to publish, collaborate and organize with each other online
- The possibility to access knowledge and information and to share opinions with people from other cultures
- New rules for advertising and consumerism, because people are savvy, they are protecting their rights and they are having conversations

September 03, 2007

Tumaini Kids Use Running & Blogging to Connect with World

My Singapore friend Ivan Chew, the blogging rambling Librarian, found the Tumaini Kids blog and was inspired to dedicate this great original song to them. The best way to get the whole story is to see the YouTube clip produced by the two women, who met at Stanford Univeristy, bummed around the world before stumbling across the Tumaini Children's Center, which houses 170 orphans and "vulnerable children in Nyeri, Kenya.

The two started the Hope Runs project.  They now live at Tumaini and train the kids in running. They hope the sport will connect the kids to people in more developed nations and they look for small donations and used sneakers to help their kids. There's also a social entrepreneurial thread that runs through what they are doing.

The blog is amazingly articulate in the postings apparently by teenage Tumaini kids.

I'm not sure if this should be considered part of the SAP Global Survey, but it certainly is a great example of how social media is impacting culture and changing the world.

SAP Global Survey: Hugo E. Martin

Hugo E Martin

[Hugo E. Martin from his personal file.]

Of all the people who have been the most generous to me in this SAP Global Survey, Hugo E. Martin, is at this point #1. He has introduced me to people in Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic Ukraine, Bulgaria and Croatia, giving this survey insights that, when published, will help you understand the strategic importance to this rapidly emerging sector of the world.  In this interview, he explains why social media is so much hotter in Central Europe than in Germany. Thanks again, Hugo.

He has also been more generous than anyone so far in offering suggestions to SAP on how they can use social media to do a better job.  Thanks again, Hugo.

Hugo can best be described as an old-timer in publishing, marketing and the Internet. In 1978, he CHIP, the first German computer magazine CHIP. In 1981, he helped American  tech publishing legend David Bunnell and Tony Gold start of PC Magazine in the US.

From 1993 to 1998 he spearheaded the internationalization process of Vogel Media Group and helped to build, and managed publishing houses and publishing ventures in 12 countries, including China, Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Greece, Poland, Turkey, Ukraine, Vietnam.
Today,he consults media, IT&C and internet companies in Europe and Asia.

1. When did you first get into blogging and social media and why?

I first read about Weblogs in 1999. I started talking and writing about their use and benefits in 2002. That was when my colleagues and friends tried to push me  to start blogging. But, at that time, many of my clients had ‘just learned’ about email & e-newsletters, and our CMS was serving my needs for publishing on our websites.  I had no problem to solve with blogs. Whenever I wanted to, I could get something in print.

I saw no reason to blog. Of course, I read, cited and pointed to blogs. My colleagues and I discussed regularly, whether the time was right to replace my regular weekly newsletter with a blog. Finally, in November 2004, we decided to go ahead and publish a regular blog while maintaining our monthly newsletter. Only this past summer, was I brave enough to drop my email newsletter and concentrate exclusively on writing my blogs, delivering new posts via feeds with a weekly summary per my newsletter.   

2. What social media tools do you use?

Most important for me are feed readers and tools to organize and publish feeds to websites, applications and store and retrieve them on databases. My main tool for accessing and reading is still Bloglines. I also use Google Reader, MyYahoo, Netvibes and others, but not on a regular basis.

My Blogs are on Blogger. I have posted more than 2.000 times in less than three years. I’ve written some on WordPress and other platform and use Tumblr (but mostly for aggregation).

I use video sites--mainly YouTube--and to a lesser extent I use Flickr for photos and I still use IM a lot. To serve international needs, I use Trillian and Skype.

I have experimented with some wiki systems including MediaWiki, SocialText and Jotspot,  but in my work, I use any wiki-software my clients want to use.

In 2004 I started to use social networks like Linked-In and OpenBC / XING (and I still do) and checked out others. Today, I am more on Facebook and MyBloglog. I like the ‘ambient noise’ of Facebook, which gives you the feeling of being connected and I wait for the Jabber/Lluna project to become real so I can reach friends by cutting through the space-time dimension.

I have used del.icio.us and digg as social bookmarks. After my favored tool for subject-oriented bookmarking ‘crispynews’ folded, I did not find a replacement, so now I worked around that with Tumblr.

3.  How has social media changed your life?

It has not changed my life.

Both my business and personal life are very internationally oriented. Internet and Mobile communication helps me ‘entertain’ my network much more easily. My day on the net starts in the morning with Asian friends and ends late at night, or early morning, in America or Asia.

On the German business sites, social media is going quite slowly. Most publishers here are not convinced about the need and benefits--or perhaps, it is anxiety and/or the hope it might soon go away.  Businesses are very reluctant to use social media themselves and prefer ‘their specialized people’ to take care about that. Not all, but most if them. One Example: you hardly find comments on my blog on publishing – the standard response comes by phone or email and business people don’t want me to make their comments public.

4. Tell me about social media in Germany.  When we wrote Naked Conversations we could find very few blogs (I apologize for missing yours).  But have blogs evolved?  What about other social media tools such as social media, wikis and online video?

There are still many fewer blogs in Germany than in US, France or in Poland. There are many reasons (excuses) for that. First I think, many Germans do not like to expose and express their opinion, except when they are asked do so, and it is safe to do so. Second, the media landscape in Germany is quite diverse and in many flavors, so there is little room and need for alternative media (although some of my colleagues would disagree). Third, most of us use new things only if we know about the benefit and can easily explain it to anyone who might (or might not) ask. Of course, we also have our early adopters here, but you Americans outnumber us in that respect.

There are many different figures about how many blogs there are in Germany. Between 350,000 and 1.5 Million. In May 2007, our Burda Communication Network found 1.1 million German bloggers. Is it important? Are the active? What is active?

There are business and corporate blogs, but they remain small in numbers and maybe that is a good sign. As far as you can see from the outside, too few business, companies, organizations blog inside and/or in their private networks.

All social media tools are available. Most people understand enough English to use international versions, and, like anywhere else, for all categories, we have many local equivalents. Often those are  clones.

  • Business Social Network: LinkedIn – XING
  • Students Social Network: Facebook – studiVZ
  • Picture sharing: Flickr – Sevenload, Photocase
  • Video sharing: YouTube – Sevenload, MyVideo
  • Social Bookmarking: del.icio.us / digg – Mr. Wong / Yigg

If the benefit of social media becomes apparent to Germans, then I think usage will pick up fast. 

Example: Wikipedia is one of the top social media applications in German-speaking countries and with 630,000 articles. We are just behind English (1,950,000) and ahead of French (550,000) and Polish (420,000).

5.  You blog in two languages. Why did you choose to do that and how does it work for you?  Other than language, what similarities and differences do you find in the people who join your conversations in the English and German versions?

My website always had more visitors on the English version and on my subscriber list for our newsletter I had more people interested in the English (international version), than in the German version. Therefore, my alternatives were, to write in two blogs or to write bi-lingual. In connection with dropping the newsletter, I asked my readers about the language-mix:

0 percent voted for ‘I am only interested in German posts’
6 percent voted for ‘I am only interested in English posts’
13 percent voted ‘Split it into two’
81 percent voted ‘No problem.’

So I think it works fine for my readers. The patterns of communication are not different than in real life. In English “Hi Hugo, I agree, disagree …”, in German “Sehr geehrter Herr Martin, in Bezug auf ….”

6.  You took issue with comments Loic LeMeur made during my recent interview with him regarding what's happening in Central Europe.  Can you tell me your perception of how social media is evolving in that region?

I pushed Loic once to include Central Europe and Russia (CEE) into his list for Reboot, Copenhagen, so I tried again. Social media in CEE countries is much more “in place” than in Germany and it is much more needed there, as well. CEE is “more social” and the cultures have extended their communication onto the net and into mobile.

Some examples:

  • The Russian press is mostly ‘guided’ and ‘owned’ by the state, so the opposition and the intellectual elite need and use social media (particularly blogs) for discussion.
  • Social Networks are spreading in the Baltics where you have over 90% of the younger ones in social networks. Mobile internet access plays a leading role.
  • Heavy personal use of social media in Poland, the opposite to Russia. Polish people look at Western applications. Google leads search in Poland by far and has less than 1/3 market share in Russia.

Business wise, as far as I can see, social media has not had a strong impact yet, but it will take off, if there are localized versions serving business needs.   

Not to forget, there are still strong handicaps like access, speed and cost of Internet and lower incomes. However, I am convinced that they will not follow us for long, but will take a short cut. 

7. How is business embracing social media in Germany and Central Europe?

Business is  embracing social media rather slowly.

I think the first reason is that social media enables business to do something they do not feel a strong need to do and do not know how to do. Second, is the contrast between the picture consultants paint of social media as sexy and ‘nice to have’ and the horrifying picture an observer gets of social media being a chaotic, abusive, dangerous, uncontrollable and sometimes even criminal environment.

To penetrate business, social media needs an approach of solving needs & wants business people are aware of and see as either mission critical and/or incorporating tools and practices that are successful in everyday business practice.

This would be a worthwhile job for SAP.

8.  What about young people?  What are the hot social networks?

Although the use level cannot match  Korea and Japan, social media and social networking are already big and growing fast. It's different in different countries as is the penetration rate of Internet access which varies from 10 to 60 percent.

You will talk to some of my CEE friends, so I'll give you just a few interesting examples:

  • In Poland, the No. 1 Communicator is Gadu-Gadu with about 5.5 million users. Skype has about 3 Million. Poland claims 15 percent of their Internet population blogs.  By contrast, Romania less than .5 percent.
  • In Germany, we have just less than 2 million students, and more than 3 million members on studyVZ.de the German Facebook, we also have a strong community on MySpace and growing fast on Facebook

9. How can SAP use social media to improve its practices in Germany and
Central Europe?

My SAP-experiences-- as a user, a system house, a publisher and as a consultant are maybe a bit out-dated. Let me just name a few areas that I think they should examine                   .

1. Internally, SAP staff and management are using social media (like Blogs & wikis) in a big way for their business, but missing out to provide this features and tools as natural basic components of their software. I would suggest SAP take more care of their clients' basic needs.

2. If you get your WordPress / Socialtext / 37Signals, etc. application offers, when you start thinking about SAP (and you find out that your staff uses them already in their daily life) than  SAP has an easy ‘educational job’ creating value by giving a helping hand and first-hand experience. When I talk with corporate clients, SAP does not come up as a social media service provider or even the provider of choice. Just take a look at the SAP Global Website . It is still ‘prospect ware’ it its best – o.k. , they have a ‘contact form’ you can fill out.

3. If I were still a publisher, I would like SAP to deliver my services directly to SAP’s client desks. And I’m sure, SAP clients would like it as well, because their staff would have the information they need for business delivered to their needs and wants. The companies advertising their products and services to B2B would like it. They can finally reach anyone involved in the buying process  at a reasonable cost and the B2B publisher should like, because the have a superb and cost-effective way to service their client (readers & advertisers).   

But I better stop there, you have the contract with SAP.

[Shel's Note:  There was no need to stop there. SAP contracted me and the transparent approach to the study knowing full well they might be paying to see themselves criticized. The people I worked with want to know what people think and i was assigned to find out.]

10. Additional Comments?

In Social Media all should pay their entry fee, be of value to the community and get (based on the value they deliver) invited again. We are much closer to a social media environment, if the User is the one who benefits most, the author / original producer second and the service provider can ‘make a living.'

August 31, 2007

Latin Americans needed for SAP Global Survey

I have completed sending out interview questions to people in Central Europe for the SAP Global Survey and I expect to be posting a batch of responses from that area starting next week. While, I continue to to welcome people with knowledge of any country, I am next going to focus on Latin America, where I have only three respondents so far and would like many more.

If you know something about social media in any Western Hemisphere country south of the US, please let me know. If you can recommend someone who is knowledgeable, please make an intro by email for me.

My new email is [email protected]. I am phasing out of itseemstome.net.

After Central America, I plan to look at Asia and the Pacific where I have a few contacts but need a great many more. China has been difficult for me.  I have only two leads there, which seems a bit small for a country of 1.4 billion.

This SAP Global Survey has been a remarkable experience for me.  I have learned a bit about how culture shapes the use of technology, while simultaneously, seeing how very much people everywhere remains the same.

With SAP's permission, I am going to start talking about the findings in public.  The first time will be next week at Office 2.0 in SF, where I am moderating a panel of experts on social computing. Then, on Sept. 27-9, I'll be using the SAP Global Survey as the subject of a keynote at BlogOrlando.

August 28, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Ukraine's Serhiy Danylenko


                    [Sirhey Danylenko.
          Photo Courtesy of Hugo E. Martin]

It's a typical start up story.  A couple of smart students, do a class project with a professor encouragement. They decide there's a commercial opportunity and take it into the mainstream where they decide to put the customers as much in control as possible. It catches on and it inmproves at least one aspect of society just a bit.

Except this one didn't start in Palo Alto or Austin, but in Ukraine, a new and emerging country. The story shows how much alike people are when they have the freedom to pursuit what they want and the tools that are now available through the Internet.

I owe a very large thanks to German blogger Hugo E. Martin, as I recently stated. Sirhey Danyenko is one of several people he connected me to. I love Sirhey's story. I think it is relevant to the SAP Global Survey because it shows that cultures and economies are emerging through social media, and when people can interconnect, they very iften end up doing business with each other.

Here are my questions to Sirhey and his outstanding answers:

1. Tell me about the Internet and the technology in Ukraine. Do people have broadband access?  What about business?

Ukraine is a pretty large country located in Eastern Europe. We have a population of 46 million. people and the territory comparable to France. 38% of Internet users enjoy broadband connection and this number is growing. It means that very soon Ukraine will solve the problem of low speed dial-up connection.
In fact, almost all Ukrainian web-projects being developed at the moment, are aimed at users with broadband connection. Business understands the importance of IT.

Both small and big companies provide their employees with Internet access at workplaces. At the same time we have some troubles with access in regions and small cities, though the situation is getting better. In 2007 PeopleNet 3g Internet-provider appeared on the market, so it's enough to buy PCMCI or USB card for laptop and stay online 24\7 wherever you like.

2. When and how did you get interested in social media and citizen journalism? How have they influenced your life?

Together with my friend Dmytro Dubilet we studied at Shevchenko University, Institute of International Relations where we specialized in International information. We published the University newspaper and then decided create our own project, starting with an Internet newspaper. The basic idea we had is that readers should influence journalists as much as possible. We thought that in our project there wouldn't be editorial staff and people would be free to publish any information they want.

We started writing the code in 2004 and on 5 August 2005 Highway went online. Then we found out, that the model we were using is called citizen journalism in Western countries. And then the concept of Web 2.0 appeared and we found ourselves in a middle of the social media stream.

3.   What would you say are the results two years later?  How and why did you select the name 'Highway? '

In our third year of study we realized, that we wanted to run our own media project. From the very beginning it was a business project.We wanted to create brand new, honest, popular and trustworthy newspaper based on a profitable business model. It took us a year to become listed among theTOP-25 Ukrainian online mass media properties and sell a part of the project to Ukrainian Media Holding. That was our first big success in the media business. The name "Highway" was chosen to symbolize freedom, broad outlook, speed of thought. This word is not often used in Ukrainian language so both project idea and its name appeared as something new and interesting for the Ukrainian media landscape.

4. Who reads Highway?  How many readers do you have?  How many of them comment? How does it compare in influence with traditional Ukrainian media?
Can you give me a good interesting anecdote that illustrates the effect Highway is having in the Ukraine?

One can say that Highway is a daily general interest newspaper. We have 20.000-25.000 unique visitors per day. Many articles prepared by citizen journalists get republished by other web-sites. Highway has 5500 registered users, of whom 500 are active contributors, which
publish up to 100 stories per day: articles, interviews, pictures, poems, stories, news stories etc. The life of Highway team sometimes reminds me of anendless anecdote.

We do not hesitate to experiment and work in style "Fire! Fire! Fire! Now Aim". People, who come to our office, think that Highway has a huge editorial staff and they
are pretty astonished, when they get acquainted with me and my several friends.

When I send letters, depending on the addressee I sign them "Editor in chief", "Head of marketing department", "Co-founder", "Head of advertising," "Brand manager" etc.

5. In the US, we know all too little about Ukraine and your region. How can social media change that? Will it?

Internet and social media in particular change the lifestyle of Ukrainians. People use Highway not only to read stories, but also to communicate and socialize.  Every published story is a welcoming message for conversation. In comments, people provide links to additional information and alternative viewpoints, express  their own thoughts. Students, who study journalism, use Highway to have a practice and prepare good credentials for a future career in traditional media.

Civic activists and NGO members publish information about their plans and results of implemented projects. Highway has a strong community. People, who talk to each other online willingly meet in real life. Once a year, we organize Highfreedom - an annual meeting of Highway citizen reporters from all over Ukraine. The last High freedom took place on a beautiful island near Kyiv (Kiev). 170 citizen journalists spent the whole night in a tent camp with fire, songs and lots of communication.

Highway is not just a newspaper, but also a social network, which provides people with space for communication and personal development.

6.  What languages do people speak in the Ukraine? How big of a barrier is that to social networking with the West? How does that barrier get reduced?

In Ukraine people speak our own Ukrainian language and also Russian, the language we inherited from Soviet past. At the same time children study English almost in all schools and Ukrainian business elite speaks English pretty well. There are a lot of Ukrainians at LinkedIn. Google is the #1 search engine in Ukraine. However, the majority of Ukrainians prefer to use Russian social media services, since they can speak this language. I don't think the situation will change soon. Media professionals will have active contacts with the West, when the majority of Ukranians will use native services.

Another detail worth mentioning is software development outsourcing. I won't tell exact project names, but a lot of prominent Western web-projects were created by Ukrainian teams. Western companies hire Ukrainian coders, because they are quite talented and skilled and cost less, than Western coders.

7. What other social media do people use in the Ukraine?  How fast is it growing?  How do you think it will change your culture over the next five years?

Among popular social media sites are Maidan  and Narodnapravda (Ukranian lins). Maidan is known as a site, where civic society activists publish information and coordinate their actions. Narodnapravda is a part of Ukrayinska pravda project, based on the community of its readers. Both projects are growing consistently and contribute to the development of civic society in Ukraine.

8. Tell me about business in the Ukraine. Who are the largest employers? What do people do for a living? What is the average lifestyle of mid-level

The largest employers are industrial companies (coal, steel, chemicals), servise providers, banks and IT companies. Average income is 1500$ per month, however, the prices are quite cheap. For you to compare: a good dinner costs 5$. 0,5 l Coca-Cola sosts 0,6 $. Mid-level employees spend 8 hours a day working in the office, waiting for evening to meet friends, go to the cinema, nightclub or just have a cup of tea in a cafe. Some of my friends drink beer and watch TV till late at night or play computer games. Other use evenings and day-offs to study, read, go in for sports, sleep, devote time to hobbies. Ukrainian lifestyle is very European.

9. To what extent do businesses use social media and if so, which ones and for what purposes?

Businesses only start realizing the importance of social media. At the moment, we help one of the biggest Ukrainian banks set up its corporate
blog. Another company, mobile operator, created Web 2.0 portal for its community. Yet another company organized contest of mobile ethics
aimed at bloggers. These are only first steps. We can feel a great interest on the part of business, so more projects are to appear in the future.

10. Additional Comments?

I think Ukraine is one of the most promising markets in the world. It's developing rapidly and we have a lot of smart people to run beautiful projects. You can come visit Ukraine and take part in this event we're organizing at the moment.

August 27, 2007

Help wanted on SAP Global Survey

We are heading into our third and final month with the SAP Global Survey.  From my perspective the results have been spectacular, so far. I've learned a great deal and I hope those of you who have been following feel the same way.

But I'm now heading into thinner waters.

While I will continue to interview knowledgeable people wherever on earth I find them, the three areas I will focus on over the next months, in order, are:

(1) Central Europe. German social media blogger Hugo E. Martin, who has been particularly helpful.  Thanks, Hugo. I could still use a few more folk to talk to particularly Romania and any Scandinavian country.

(2) Latin America. I have interviews in process in Argentina, Chile and Brazil, but that leaves a lot of uncovered ground. If you know someone, including yourself, who can tell me about social media in any Latin American country, I'd love to hear from you.

(3) Asia & Pacific. I have done interviews with one person in each of Japan, Singapore and Cambodia. I know a couple of folk I will contact in India and Australia, but this is a huge area and my knowledge is currently minuscule.  Please help me if you can.

You can email me here or just leave a comment below. I thank you and my client SAP thanks you.

August 24, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Brian Reich Rolls His Own

                                    [Brian Reich. Stock photo]

Brian Reich, director of new media for Cone, Inc., a Boston-based PR firm, has rolled his own answers to the  SAP Global Survey.  His first book, Media Rules! will be published by Wiley in November. Brian is the second person this week to ask if I was still looking for survey responses.  The answer is overwhelmingly yes. Please use the questions you see below, or any others that will contribute to the conversation. Feel free to post on your own blog, make a video or surprise us with a different contribution. The survey will continue through September.

Brian explains how social media has changed his life, giving him a new profession and saving him from a life in political back rooms. These are great answers, Brian.  Thanks for playing.

1. From where you sit in the world, how has social media changed your life? How about the lives of your other family members?

Everything about my life has changed as a result of social media - and continues to change.  First and most obviously, while I spent much of my life working as a political operative on campaigns - doing everything from licking envelopes to knocking on doors to making commercials and managing candidates -- I now make my profession as a new media strategist, working with organizations of all shapes/sizes to identify ways to better communicate in our ever-changing society. 

In short, I have a career because of social media.  Of course, on every other level, social media has changes my world as well.  I connect with friends, get my news and entertainment, participate in political campaigns and causes now largely, if not exclusively through social media driven technologies.  I used to watch a lot of television, was a couch potato supreme -- and now I am free to engage wherever, whenever, and however I like. 

2. From where you sit in the world, how do you think your personal and business lives will change over the next five years? How about for the rest of your family?

My wife and I are due to have our first child this November, and with family and friends scattered all around the world, I see social media as a critical component to my child's life.  Just as I connect through social media to the outside world, so will I expect my child to.  And as he/she grows up, the sophistication of the technologies will continue to increase, the quality of the content will continue to improve... and what he/she grows up to be will be so much more intertwined with social media than anything my generation (or even my younger siblings' generation) has ever seen.  Education will be different.  Economics will be different.  Politics will be different.  Culture will be different.  I will get to experience some of it, but it will literally define my child's life - what a thrill!

3. What do you feel are the ascending social media tools and which are descending?

I think audio and video are on the rise and text is on the decline.  Audio and video are simply more interesting.  There isn't one particular tool, one gadget, one venue, or one service that encompasses all that is possible in social media, so I don't have just one to name.  What I do know is that right now we just watch and listen, with a little creation on the side, but over time we will truly interact.  That video you watch online will become an immersive experience.  You will transfer seamlessly from one device to the next, from one activity to the next.  You might read the paper (in print! gasp!) in the morning, and then instead of seeing just an update of the article online, you will get to interact with the author, then listen to the subjects talk, then buy the products they are using every day.  You can do that now, but the process is clunky.  Social media will evolve and we will see a smoother interaction with everything.

4. The folks at SAP are particularly interested in social media's impact on the global enterprise as well as small to medium-sized corporations. Do you have any knowledge or advice for them?

Media Rules! (which is also the title of my book).  It's not about the tools, its not about the venues.  If SAP - and the companies, nonprofits, educational institutions, entertainers, and individuals (and everyone I left out) can really produce great information, experiences and stuff, it won't matter how they deliver it.  People want the information, experiences and stuff.  They want it wherever, whenever, however they want.  So give it to them.

5. Do you have any interesting case studies of unique uses of social media?

Lots!  Here is just one, an early, experimental kind of thing.  I have been working with the Alliance for Climate Protection to use a variety of different social media tools to help move people along in their commitment to addressing the climate crisis.  The challenge is to get people who are aware of the climate crisis, but not actively involved in its effort, to take real action and make meaningful changes to their lives.  How to get someone to change their life is a huge task that will take time.  But our first attempt, which was centered around an online collage, leveraged things like tags to help people explore and learn instead of follow a single path.  It was simple, there is much more to improve on and learn, but it's a start.

6. What social media tools do you use?  Which are your favorites? Why?

I use a lot, it's part of the fun.  I use Facebook and MySpace and a dozen niche social networks.  I use Twitter and have experimented with Pownce and Jaiku.  I blog.  I podcast.  I watch and contribute online video.  I create and play online games (mostly serious games) and text message, use the mobile web, etc. 

There are dozens of things I have done only once and my favorites are the ones (like Twitter and Facebook) that I continue to use actively/daily and experiment with, seeing how they develop and what I can learn about people by using them.

7.  Do you see language as a barrier for  social media?  Will English become the global language of the Internet?  Should it?

Yes.  Tools and content will have to be developed so that the language that the content/media is not a barrier to anyone, anywhere enjoying it.  I don't think English will necessarily be the global language of the internet - in fact, I doubt there will be a global language.  I think, if anything, there will be a set of global languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, etc.) that everything has to be created in to touch a wide audience, to be considered to have an impact.  That raises the complexity and the cost of doing social media, but it also expands the reach.

8.  Are you reading more blogs or less these days? Are you watching more online video or less these days?

I read about 150 blogs a day.  That is up -- but not because there are more blogs, but rather because my interests are expanding. As I get older, I involve myself in more projects, and want to learn from more sources.  They have been there for a long time (I rarely am new, or even early, to discover a blog)... they are just new to me.  ANd yes, much more video these days.  I probably take 15-20 mins out of my day to just watch video.

9. What is rarely asked about social media, but is critically important to consider?

We are in the early stages of a dramatic transition from a 'read-only' culture to a new, more dynamic 'read-write' culture. The audience wants to have choice in what they do.  They want to have an impact.  And they want feedback when they give, transparency when they invest, and accountability on everything.  Social media encompasses so many of the newest online techniques where people no longer just interact with content by “reading” and “clicking,” but digest messages and then contribute their own ideas. 

What is the magic ingredient?  Substance.  Organizations have both a need and an opportunity to talk about serious issues – to be authentic, transparent, and sustainable in their operations and communications.  We aren’t talking about going green or baring your soul – just meeting your audience’s expectations for how to have a conversation and to address their needs.

Organizations that deal with serious issues face this challenge every day.  And we can learn a lot from them.  They know how to create innovative experiences that the audience can access and influence while still including a take away message that is meaningful and actionable.  They know how to build loyalty and drive participation.  And everything they do changes the world.  This panel will discuss what drives success in the serious issues space and the lessons all organizations – and the agencies who work with them – can take from that.  We will explore what makes serious content popular on social media sites, what kind of activities organizations should be creating, and how can you make sure people see what you are doing once you’ve made it - in the context of the issues that are important to them and to the society as a whole.

August 21, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Chris Shipley

Chris Shipley on Demo Dais

[Chris Shipley at DEMO 07.  Photo by Shel]

If Chris Shipley had been an investor over the past 11 years, instead of executive producer of the bellwether DEMO conferences, she would probably have one of the most successful venture funds in history. Over the past decade, she has talked to thousands of entrepreneurs to pick the 60-70 companies that present at her two conferences. As co-founder of Guidewire Group, a global market intelligence firm focusing exclusively on early stage IT companies, she is becoming respected globally as an analyst who has clear vision about what is on technology's edge. Shipley and I have an interesting relationship. I have known her more than 20 years and she is a personal friend. As editor of Conferenza Premium Reports, I reviewed her conferences and was not always a cheerleader. I was part of the team that produced the first BlogOn, the first business blogging conference. I asked her to answer questions for the SAP Global Survey because she has the clearest vision of anyone I know at what occurs at the intersection of technology and users.

1. Did you invent the term "social media?" When was that and what did you mean by it when you first coined the phrase?

Some people say I did. Mike Sigal and I began using the term as we sat around a dining room table talking about the ways in which community changed the nature of information publishing.  We dubbed Guidewire Group a "social media" company and we used the term when we put together the first BlogOn event in 2004.

By social media, I meant that community would play a fundamental role in shaping content.  At that point, we thought that content might be seeded by writers/editors, but that the community voice would ultimately speak louder than that of the original writer.  We saw the role of the media company as a facilitator of the conversation, not the producer/editor/arbiter of news and information.

2. You have been around long enough to have witnessed more than a few waves of tech adoption. Do you believe with those who feel that social media is the largest and most significant wave so far?  Why or why not?

"Largest and most significant?"  That's hard to measure.  Each wave builds upon the last, so which is most significant, the foundation first wave or the successor waves?

I do think that the rapid and broad dissipation of power/influence/control that is at the core of social media (Web 2.0?) is as fundamental a shift as from mainframe to mini and mini to PC.   When power moves from central control out to the edges, things change dramatically and forever.  This Genie isn't going back into the bottle.

(By the by, and not to make pitch here, but this is the primary theme and focus of DEMOfall next month).

3. How has social media changed the world so far?  How do you think it will change the world moving forward?

I've been giving a talk this summer that I call "Everything 2.0." The basic premise - social engagement with information changes everything. It's about a power shift and it will redistribute wealth, authority, status. When more people have more access to information, when they can share their perspectives/stories, when they can tell their "truths,"  they are empowered.  In past generations, those who controlled the message controlled
the wealth, authority, and by extension the populace.   

That control of information and influence has now shifted, in large part, to the populace, and once empowered, they won't easily give it up. (Something, by the way, that many folks empowered by social media would do well to remember-- it's heady to be "powerful" and "influential." But, just as bloggers, for example, took power from other media outlets, that power can be taken from them.  Power is fleeting and requires great responsibility to hold on to it.)

I think we'll see that social media has a major impact on this next presidential election. ... and for the most part, politicians at every level don't get it.  They're still looking at the Web as a fund raising tool. They are going to be really surprised when they discover that social media demands that they *talk with* their constituents rather than *talk at them.   Social media may well be the thing that returns democracy to the electorate broadly.  But we're all going to have to learn how to use that power.

4. You meet entrepreneurs from all over the world.  Tell me, what percentage of them are focused on developing social media companies?  Are these trends different or the same worldwide?

I could argue that they all are [social media companies].  Fundamentally social media evolves from "media" to "information" or something larger than our typical understanding of media.  It's about directly engaging with customers and community - whether you intend to or not.

5.  There are social media companies. Then there are companies who use social media.  What trends do you see among tech and more traditional companies regarding the use of social media.

Can I just repeat answer 4?

Tech companies are moving faster, perhaps, but every company will feel the impact.

6. This survey is being conducted on behalf of SAP, a global software company.  What strategic advice do you have for SAP on the emergence of social media?

Recognize that the customer is now in control.  Sounds simple, but this is the biggest challenge for large IT vendors.  They will need to design products that embrace/leverage/amplify the social dynamic, and they can only do that by putting their legacy behind them and opening up to more and louder voices of the marketplace.

7. What social media tools do you think will serve businesses?  Is this the same or different worldwide?

I don't think it's a tools question, it's an engagement question - businesses will be served by letting go, by listening, by rapidly iterating.

What's very different here, though, is that social media is both a tool set, a distribution model, and a power shift.  This change isn't just about extending your software to a new platform, it's about embracing the ideas and ideals of collaboration, communication, and individual influence, among others.  Companies who see this change only in terms of software design will miss the mark.

The technology industry lost many venerable companies in the shift from centralized "glass house" computing to personalized desktop computing.

Let's not be surprised when we lose a few in this transition as well.

8. What factors are culture and language in the emergence of social media?

Social media - and more importantly - global connectivity create the condition for greater cultural understanding.  Maybe that accelerates learning and tolerance and engagement but it doesn't fundamentally change the human dynamics that allow cultures to divide us.   Social media isn't a magic bullet that brings world peace, ends hunger, and cures cancer.  We have to use these tools to build bridges and create understanding.  Or we use them to amplify anger and distrust and prejudice.  You - everyone of "you" - get to decide.

9.  Additional Comments?

I'll be very interested to see what you come up with from this survey.

SAP Global Survey: Douglas Karr Part 2

Douglas Karr has posted his second part of what will apparently be a three-post response to the SAP Global Survey. When I first received his link last night, I was a bit suspicious that he was stretching his answer for more links. In fact, he has done a fine job of offering specific  information on how he uses social media to increase business productivity, of how a the Indianapolic Colts use social media to expand their fan base from regional to global, of how Midwestern values give a different perspective to social media than perhaps california.

I suggest you take a minute to check it out. Thanks, Doug.

August 18, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Douglas Karr

Geek Marketing Blogger Douglas Karr has taken the SAP Global Survey  into yet another  direction.  I sent him an entire set of questions and he took just the first of them and he has dedicated an entire post to tell his personal sage of how he came into the social media and how it has changed his life.

Toby Bloomberg who write the wonderful Blogger Stories, should interview Doug. His is a good story and a bit inspiring.

Doug promises to answer the remaining nine questions shortly in fewer than nine additional blogs.

August 14, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Alison Bolen rolls her own

Alison Bolen at Sascom Voices has rolled her own SAP Global SurveyShe feels that I have been ignoring "the little guys," in my SAP Global Survey selections. She'd like to hear more from people inside the enterprise who are struggling with resources to make social media work. So would I, Alison, but these people are hard for me to find, as are people in some of the countries where I am trying to get answers.

I started the roll your own version of the survey, specifically so that everyone and anyone who wished could be part of this survey, and I appreciate your excellent answers. Perhaps some of your reader will follow suit as well. We welcome "little guys" wherever we can find them.


August 12, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Forrester's Charlene Li

Moderator, Charlene Li [Charlene Li. Photo by Thomas Hawk]

Charlene Li is part of  Forrester Research's San Francisco office with a focus on social computing,  Web 2.0 technologies.  She also looks at online localized media and classifieds among other subjects. She is a frequent public speaker and I have yet to hear her present without learning something valuable. She is working on a book called "Groundswell" which not coincidentally is the name of the Forrester blog she shares with Josh Bernoff.

Here are Charlene's answers to my SAP Global Survey questions.

1. When I last interviewed you, you said that social media was making geography less relevant.  Can you explain a bit more about just what you meant by that and just how much applies to today's world?

Let me amend that statement. It's making it less relevant in that it doesn't matter that I'm in San Francisco and you're in Bangalore. We're able to connect and communicate much more effectively today because of asynchronous social media like blogs, podcasts, and even Twitter. But geography in some ways matters even more -- with location-based services (which have yet to really take off), I can tell if someone I know is in the same place where I am (or where I'm heading) and connect with them. Knowing the location of someone provides very valuable context that adds to social interactions.

2.  You also talked about social media changing government and politics. How would you describe those changes right now?  Do you think social media will have much impact on the 2008 Presidential election?

No doubt it will and already has had an impact. Those with influence in the social media space are being courted (I have an Obama badge and group on my social networking site profiles).

3. Do you see social media evolving in the US, Europe and Asia along similar or different lines?  How so?

The European report has a lot of details on this. In general, it's being adopted with similar patterns, just differently. For example, Japan's Mixi social network is heavily used, but everyone is anonymous.

4. How fast or slow is social media being adopted by the global enterprise? Is it making a difference? How so?

This is a pretty general question. It's mixed by the company, and within different departments of companies. In general, there's a great deal of energy around using social media as extensions (or even replacements) of existing collaboration platforms like Web Sphere or Sharepoint.

5. The traditional corporate structure is very top down.  Is the bottom-up nature of social media on a collision course?  How does a traditional company adjust to the changes?  What happens if it just 'keeps the course?'

Definitely, but it really depends on the nature of the company. Some companies are less top down and welcome bottom up involvement. In those companies, social media is being adopted and used strategically.

6.  SAP has been working for five years at being perceived as a social media leader.  It has created three well-subscribed social networks.  How have it's efforts made a difference, if at all?  Do you think social media has improved perceptions of SAP? Do you think social media has improved the reality of SAP?

Most of the SAP efforts have been internal, and they haven't told their story.

7.  What social media tools do you see as rising in the enterprise?  Which are on the wane?

Rising: Wikis, widgets, blogs, social networking
Waning: RSS, specifically, dedicated RSS readers. But this is being transferred to more general personalized pages on intranet portals.

8. Looking forward five years, how do you believe social media will have changed multinational businesses?

- Companies will be flatter--not in actual organization, but in function -- every day interactions will flow much more smoothly between layers of the organization as well as between departments and locatios.
- Managers will be much more in tune with the ebb and flow of employee angst.
- Geography won't matter -- I tested telepresence recently at both HP and Cisco and it's amazing. Imagine bringing that kind ofcapability to the desktop, and supplementing it with "presence" tools built into social media environments.

August 11, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Simon Griffiths of South Africa

simon griffiths This interview with South Africa's Simon Griffiths takes the SAP Global Survey to its fourth continent, one where lagging broadband adoption makes social media adoption unlikely in the short term. But Simon, a veteran enterprise consultant for more than 25 years sees change being spawned by younger South Africans and he has some interesting comments and suggestions for the sponsor of this survey.

1. Like many readers, I am fairly ignorant of what's going on in South  Africa regarding technology. Can you paint a few broad strokes on how many  people are using computers and the Internet relevant to the total population? What segments of the population have Internet access? Are  broadband and wifi available and at what cost?

According to a recent survey,  there are about 4 million South Africans who have access to the internet, out of a population of about 45 million; the growth rate is about  3 percent. Broadband is now taking off, but only about 25% of Internet users have broadband access. Wifi is established in pockets only - among business, in certain shops and restaurants as well as airports, but has only been implemented as a public service in the town of Knysna.

The cost of internet access is regarded as very high, in comparison to other countries at a similar stage of development, due to the continuing influence of the government-owned telco monopoly, Telkom SA Ltd. Despite the introduction of second fixed line operator, competition in the telco and Internet space remains restricted despite the huge
growth and competition that has occurred since 1994 in our mobile phone sector.

2. Let's turn to social media. How do people use social media in South Africa? What tools are most popular? Are social networks taking off, if so, which ones?

There have been two major developments in social media in South Africa in recent years, one in the mobile arena and the other in the Internet. The mobile development has been an incredibly popular service used mainly by the younger population, MXIT, which provides a very cheap service for sending text messages and chatting via cellphones. The other
is the rapid growth of South Africans on Facebook - this has been big enough for some South Africa companies to start blocking it.

3. Tell me about the enterprise in South Africa. What are the largest companies and how many employees do they have?

From statistics provided by Microsoft on South African companies: Small-to-Mid size enterprises:
1-49 employees, 578,000; 50-1000  employees, 19,000; 1000-5000 employees 200; over 5000  employees, 50.

So while our largest companies might be known - Anglo American, South AfricaB Miller, BHP Billiton, Barloworld - the focus is actually on the mid-market.

4. How are the social media being used by the enterprise and by business in general?

The simple answer would be 'quite poorly at the moment'. Some marketers have started tapping into the social media but the vast majority of business seems to be hardly aware of it, or regard it as a productivity threat. A local success story has been that of the wine maker Stormhoek, which uses blogging as a means to market itself in Europe and the US. Some companies, such as ours, have started to experiment with wikis and collaborative web sites, but we are in a minority.

5. As an ERP reseller, who are your partners and who are your customers?

The company I work for, ProActive Integrators resells the ERP solution from SYSPRO , which has been very successful in developing economies as well as the US, UK and Australia; Microsoft's Dynamics AX and CRM; and Maximizer CRM. We focus on companies with complex manufacturing and distribution requirements. In South Africa, we have over 100 customers. My area in the company is the business unit that has developed specialised applications in the manufacturing space for project management and factory data collection.

6. A while back you posted on your blog that both Microsoft and South AfricaP were "clueless" in dealing with ERP vendors such as yourself. You wrote that SAP's BizOne lead generation was "rigid and anti competitive." Can you expand on what you meant?

What I was saying in that post was that, from what I see, Microsoft South Africa doing about marketing the Dynamics ERP range makes me really think they are clueless as to where, how and who to market to. SAP does it much better here. My belief is that Microsoft doesn't have people in Dynamics (in South Africa) who understand what ERP means.

As for SAP, the comment came from a conversation I had with an SBO partner who complained about SAP's lead generation logging procedure. He was upset that a company that had come to him for Business One (referred by a customer) was told by SAP that another reseller had logged the name and therefore the company had to use that other reseller.

7. What would SAP have to do to improve your impression of them as a business partner?

My experience with SAP in the small-to-mid market is in dealing with them as a competitor, but I think they might need to be more adaptive to the local country ways to doing things. (I hope Simon Carpenter of SAP South Africa doesn't think I'm being too unreasonable!)

8. How can SAP use social media to improve its products, services, customer relationships in South Africa?

I think by educating business managers and leaders about what social media can do, and taking away the stigma that it seems to have got in some quarters (eg, block Facebook). The older generation who runs the businesses might not be able to see what social media can do, but they are employing Generation X and Y (what we call Mandela's Children) who definitely do know how to get value from social media in various forms. SAP has a great brand name in the enterprise software space in South Africa, and could use that to make social media better understood and appreciated as a business tool.

9. Let's speak about South African culture. How, if at all, is social media impacting it? How do you think social media will change South Africa over the next few years?

At the moment the impact is minimal, or is restricted to a small clique. With only about 10 percent of our population on the internet, it is going to take some years before technology like social media is being used widely enough to impact on South Africa culture in a broad way. It will however impact certain population segments significantly, and I believe these will be the younger age groups and the technology platform will probably be based on mobile technology rather than the internet per se.

Government legislation makes provisions for a special low 'e-rate' for providers of technology infrastructure to schools, but the penetration of computers and the Internet in South Africa is strongest in urban areas, which leaves the majority of the population in rural areas still without good access.

10. Additional comments

As your first question showed, there is a big gap of understanding between the developed 'north' economies and the developing ones of the 'south' when it comes to technology. In this part of the world I know of very few people (eg, Phil Duff of SYSPRO and Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu fame) who appreciate how to create and use technology in a way that is applicable to
the developing world.

Technology creators in the developed 'north' need to spend more time in countries like South Africa to see how their technology should be adapted to the way we live and work here. The reason I started my blog was to try and put the case for enterprise software from the developing world perspective.

August 06, 2007

SAP Global Survey:James Seng

[James Seng. Flckr photo by Joi Ito]

Back in 2004, I spent six fascinating days in Singapore on freelance assignment for Network World. I was just gaining my enthusiasm for this blogging thing, and I also blogged a series  of posts on my experience. These were my first international posts and were the best received of anything I had blogged up until that date.  But they were virtually ignored by the Singaporeans I had met. While much of what I saw and learned about Singapore, the quality of people in its government, it's wonderful food, libraries, port and Internet access, I could not find a start up in the city state that impressed me.

But the people I met, were world class in knowledge, education and technology sophistication. Among those who most impressed me was James Seng, with whom I spoke only briefly. He had the heart of a geek and the acumen of a global player. (Wikipedia tells his story better than I can.) Last month, months ago, my friend Jeremiah met up by coincidence with James, and came home talking about hot start ups, implying that my data had badly aged.

So I decided to catch up with James Seng for the SAP Global Survey.  Indeed a great deal has changed since I visited and James seems to be part of a good deal of it. He has moved out of IDA and has started a small investment fund for Singapore startups called Thymos Capital. BTW, James will be visiting Silicon Valley between Sept 19-21 and Jeremiah and I plan to hold some kind of event on his behalf. If you'd like to meet him, please email me.

1. When we met back in June 2004, you were at IDA, the government organization,  where you were in charge of emerging and disruptive technologies. You seemed to me to be among the few Singaporeans interested in disruptive technologies.  How has that changed over the past three years?

The IDA Technology Group has always been interested in disruptivetechnologies, and they continue to be. There is also a wider understanding of disruptive technologies and various government agencies are more willing to experiment with "crazy ideas" than when you visited.

Government has given social media, in particular strong attention and the interest goes all the way to the top echelon as it has both political and social impact. Just a few days ago, various government agencies announced they are going to adopt blogging and online community as a mechanism to interact with citizenry.

2. I spent only one day meeting with Singapore start ups. There didn't  seem to be that many of them in 2003. I met none focused on blogging & social media. How has this changed?

The year 2006 was a turning point for Singapore. Before that, there were startups but they were just bread-and-butter efforts, focusing on strong cash-flow businesses. In 2006, we started to see more interesting entrepreneurial events like the Unconference and Nexus organized by E27 Singapore and The Digital Movement. With that, more interesting startups started to emerge.

In terms of social media, we have social commenter mrbrown who produce the popular podcast Mr. Brown Show and dabble with WTF! Show, both sponsorship supported. Several bloggers are making good money from advertising like Xiaxue with crossover gigs in the traditional media.

There are also traditional media trying to test out the new media space like Stomp, from our traditional newspaper, the Straits Times and also pink5one.com. We also have new e-zine called vogazine.

3. What motivated you to start Thymos Capital?

Several months ago, I wrote about why Singapore is not ready for Web 2.0

I was in the right place at the right time to meet some of the right people who then asked me if I want to do something about it. I decided to start by mentoring and funding. Mentoring particularly is important because while there is a will to do a startup, young Singaporean are often lost in the world of VCs and fund raising and the lingo and practices.

4.  You are considered one of the pioneers of the Internet and open source software in Singapore.  How have these two technologies  impacted Singapore over the last 10-15 years?

The Internet has certainly changed Singapore in the last 10-15 years. Both socially and politically, Singapore is slowly becoming more open and liberal because of the internet.

The 90s was mostly a period of social liberalization as Singapore embraced the Internet. As people gained access to more information and became aware of differences in social culture, some of the more conservative practices were quietly dropped. For example, the introduction of RA18 (Restricted Art 18) for porn films. There is also a wide and ongoing debate on Penal Code 377A (criminalizing gays).

In the last few years, the impact of  social media has become particularly profound. In our 2006 election, despite an explicit ban on online political commentary, bloggers continued to post about the election. Citizen journalists posted photos and videos that mainstream media ignored. Because of the loop-sided reporting from the mainstream media during election, there was a lot of anger and distrust of the media. In fact, in order to preserved some credability, the newspaper eventually reproduced these photos several days later.

There were also numerous incidents where the mainstream media was "forced" to report on incidents widely circulated online on Tomorrow.sg, which I founded & Sammyboyforum. There is a well-documented case recently about Li Hongyi , thanks to reporting on Tomorrow.sg.

There are many more examples but let's stop here for now.

Regarding Open Source, I wish I could say there has been a greater impact on Singapore but unfortunately it isn't so. While there is a small community of Open Source users and advocates, it remains merely a small portion of the larger economy.

This is not to say Open Source isn't used in Singapore. It is, both in the public and private space. However, there aren't any highlights worth mentioning.

5. How are Singaporean people using social media and in what numbers?  Is the top-down culture of Singapore changing at all because of social media?

Three years ago, I conducted numerous litmus survey tests among students (and others from anecdotes). In a class of 40, when asked how many blogs, you often see 39-40 hands up. Bloggers started as young as age 10 and continue all the way up. That's why I decided that Singapore is ready for a blog aggregator and that is why we started Tomorrow.sg.

Singapore's youth are information junkies, reading and writing blogs, using instant messaging more than email. There was also Wikipedia data showing a large contribution from Singaporeans. Friendster was popular among the youngsters. MySpace isn't really popular in Singapore but Facebook is starting to catch-on.

6. What about businesses and global enterprises headquartered in Singapore?

There are many large national and global companies that put their Asian headquarter in Singapore. Unfortunately, most are merely sales and support outlets and,  as such,  are more focused on business than innovation. The local Managing Directors have very little incentive to experiment, nor do they have much authority to do so.

7.  How does social media play into Singapore's aspirations to serve as a digital hub for South Asia and the Pacific Rim?

I was just discussing this with Preetam, one of the Tomorrow.sg  editors last night and also Globalvoices for Singapore. He travels quite a bit in Asia attending various tech and blogger meetups.

We generally agree that while Singapore has a a head start in social media in South East Asia, the surrounding countries like Indonesia and Malaysia have zoomed past Singapore in terms of size and impact.

8.  Can you comment on how social media  is evolving in different cultures and in different parts of the world?

I dont think I am in a very good position to comment on this since I only monitor Singapore, Malaysia and  the US.

But there are sharp differences between Singapore and Malaysia. Malaysia is still very sensitive about pornography whereas Singapore is more liberal. On the other hand, Singapore is still very sensitive about politics whereas Malaysia enjoys higher political freedom (although the government started to clamp down on it).

9. How can an enterprise like SAP use social media moving forward?

Social Media means openness. "No more secrets" (Sneakers, 1992). Those who have things to hide are the most afraid. Those who don't have nothing to fear.

I am not sure what SAP wants from Social Media but first and foremost, dont be afraid to embrace it, be it engaging community like blogging or building a community in Facebook.

10.  How do you think social media will change South Asia over the next decade?

The South Asia region is generally conservative; bound by so-called "Asian values." There is a general "see no evil, hear no evil, do no evil" principle. Traditional media is either heavily controlled or corrupt. The former is why there are so many bloggers in Singapore and latter is the reason for why OhMyNews thrives in Korea.

In the next decade, we will see social media migrate to mainstream media. Who and how to manage this change is challenging. Over the last couple of months in Malaysia, politicians have become uncomfortable with the rise in blogger influence and have taken steps to rein them in, via lawsuits and detained under Internet Security Act.

These efforts are unfortunately ineffective in the long run. Any leaders in a democratic and open country will have problems if their views goes against the middle-intellectual population, short of using force and aggression to suppress that dissent. (which is still true of several northern asia country).

The answer is in engagement, not making martyrs for causes.

August 05, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Beth Kanter

[ [Beth Kanter, photo by Kino-Eye]

Beth Kanter is the least business-oriented of anyone I've interviewed for the SAP Global Survey.  She is a non-profit professional whose heart is embedded in Cambodia where she raises money for causes that help children. I turned to her for some look into what is happening in this South Asian country.  Here are her answers.

1. When and why did you get into social media?  What tools do you use?

I've been online since the late '80s, starting with Bulletin Boards, forums, and eventually, the Web. I use the tools to have conversations about using technology for social change.   I launched my first blog in 2002 primarily to keep track of information and force myself to write every day. Conversations with my readers helped to deepen my learning and insights. It's why I still blog almost daily.

I think people should play with the tools. I eat my own dog food.  I blog about what I learn
from playing with technology and how it can be applied to nonprofits.   Some tools I use:  Typepad, Wordpress (hosted), Blogger, Technorati, Bloglines, Feedburner, Googlereader, del.icio.us, Wikipedia, Wikispaces, Google Analytics, Flickr. blip.tv, Youtube, Slideshare, Camtasia, Quicktime, Powerpoint, Photoshop, Movie Maker, Skype, Facebook, Snagit, Google Aps, and too many others to list.

2.  When and how did you get involved in non-profits? Please give me a few examples of how non profit have successfully used social media.

After graduating with a music degree (flute performance) in 1979, I worked for
several orchestras on the management side before working as a fund raising, marketing, and organizational development consultant.

Soon after, I acquired my first computer (an IBM 286), I became obsessed with how nonprofits could use technology to reach their missions. Eventually, I refocused my consulting and training work in that direction.  I worked with the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Arts Wire project, a WELL-like online forum for artists.  My role was to teach them how to use the Unix-based discussion boards and email. 

From there, I taught nonprofits whatever new Internet technology came along, from those early web pages to today's blogs and wikis. I am in a constant state of learning .  I teach myself and immediately have to turn around to teach others.

Lately, I've been teaching workshops for nonprofits both as an introduction to Web 2.0 and Social Media as well as how to mix social media tools with traditional fund raising and communications strategies. One of my favorite examples of nonprofits, is the NpTech Tagging Community. There are other examples on my wiki.

3. Tell me about your personal involvement with Cambodia. How did you get involved and why?  How much of your time have you spent there? What projects are you currently working on?

We adopted two beautiful Cambodian children from Cambodia.  I blogged about our trip in Feb. 2000 using a series of web pages I hand-coded and uploaded from Cambodia.  We feel in love with Cambodia but we were overwhelmed by its poverty.  Dr. Hendrie, who  assisted us with the adoption, started a nonprofit called the Sharing Foundation, which supports Cambodian children.

I think it is important to give back, so I do many different volunteer projects for the Sharing Foundation. Most recently I've launched fundraising campaigns on my blog.  The first, raised $750 to send a young woman, Leng Sopharath, to college

My second campaign raised almost $50,000, which was matched by Yahoo for the Sharing Foundation's education programs, which I recently spoke about at BlogHer.

I started my Cambodia4Kids Blog because I wanted to learn about Khmer culture and language for teaching my children.  That blog was a cafe where I got to have conversations with Cambodians.  My kids and I had some language lessons over Skype.   In the early days of Global Voices, I covered the country - organizing the blogrolls and writing some articles. 

A team of Cambodian bloggers are helping young people join the global conversation and share their perspectives through different forms of grassroots citizen's media.  This team has been working on a voluntary basis to conduct 14 workshops called "Personal Information Technology Workshop" at 14 different universities with more than 1700 students participating.   I'm collecting donated new tech t-shirts to take over there.

4.  Tell me about Cambodia and technology. Who has computers?  What about cell phones.  Who has internet access and how do they get it?  How expensive is it?

The percentage of Cambodian people who have computers in their homes is extremely low, something like 2%.  Most people access the Internet from Internet cafes, which are more common in the larger cities like Phnom Penh. Battamburg and Siem Reap.  When I was in Cambodia in 2000, you could not find broadband,  even in the Western hotels.

But that has changed and there is  wireless .  My experience with "high speed" Internet access in Cambodia at Internet cafes was that it was way slower than in the US. 

In early 2003, the Asia Foundation partnered with USAID and Microsoft and established a network of Community Information Centers in 22 provinces and municipalities across Cambodia. The Internet-enabled Information Centers across the country provided greater access to news  and information for provincial citizens. And that led to the first-ever blogging  training in the rural areas. 

Mobile phones are very popular and many young people have "smart phones."  Some may have more than one phone. There is even a mobile phone magazine in Cambodia.   Some bloggers, like Borin , use their cell phone to access the Internet. 

5. What social media tools are people using in Cambodia?

They are using blogs, flickr, video, tagging, RSS and social networking sites, although perhaps not in the same numbers as in the US.  There are several Cambodian groups on FaceBook, including a group called "I'm going to Cambodia in  ___." 

6. What language or languages do Cambodians speak? How does this impact their social media and internet communications?

Cambodian speak Khmer and some Cambodians speak English.  This is yet another challenge for people in Cambodia to join the Social Web -- a language barrier.   Over the past few years, there has been an effort to develop a Khmer font or Khmer Unicode that  can customize and localize OpenSource software.  You can read more about it here.

7. What advice would you have for international companies who wish to communicate with Cambodians through social media?

Listen.  Be interested in their culture, language, and engage in a conversation.  Don't just try to sell.   Start by visiting the Cambodia Blogger Summit Web site and follow the links to the bloggers. 

SAP Global Survey: BL Ochman

BL Ochman is a New York City-based social media and marketing consultant , who is one of my old friends that I have never met.  She had a useful and often funny marketing blog, before I sent put up my first post, and I would eventually interview her for for Naked Conversations, where she appeared three times. When we finally meet face-to-face, it will be like seeing an old friend for the first time.

BL is the most recent person to roll-her-own Global Survey.  She is the first to do a mash up with it, removing a few questions and replacing them with her own. An early pioneer and champion of social media, BL is concerned with some trends such as communicating in soundbites and the silliness of being always on. She ponders that her future nmay be as a cave-dwelling Luddite: Heeeere's BL:

1. From where you sit in the world, how has social media changed your life? How about the lives of your other family members?

Since I started blogging in 2002, social media has radically change the way I do business, write, attract and keep clients, make friends, and view the world.

Social media is already having impact on the way my nieces and nephews view the world. They already are involved in sites like Webkinz and Club Penguin. My nephew made himself a Yahoo! avatar when he was nine!

2. From where you sit in the world, how do you think your personal and business lives will change over the next five years?

The direction of communication is toward the sound bite. Twitter, Facebook and the zillion social networks that are emerging are leading us toward 140-character communication.

In one way that’s a good thing: you have to distill an idea to its essence to communicate it in a 140 characters. On the other hand, that spells the death of both nuance and deep analysis, which is terrible.

I think we’ll be depending on pocket-sized computers evolving from the iPhone model, and that’ll mean we can be truly connected all the time – something I both dislike and fear.

Being unplugged sometimes is critical to physical and intellectual health. Me, I need to dance, to play, to think. And I see (OMG am I really going to say this next phrase) young people today thinking it is necessary to be constantly plugged in, in touch, and available. No thanks. I’m just not that important!

So I think I will become a Luddite and refuse to participate in this trend. Look for me in the woods, with a big dog outside my cave.

3. Which social media tools do you feel are ascending and which are descending?

Ascending – portable, pocket sized computers, more specialized and more private social networks, video sharing, 3-D internet

Descending, Facebook et all will soon be the web portals of the past and we’ll see that we don’t need to know what the entire freaking world is eating for lunch today.

4. The folks at SAP are particularly interested in social media’s impact on the global enterprise as well as small to medium-sized corporations. Do you have any knowledge or advice for them?

Yes, the key will be understanding where your customer is, how he/she is getting information, and being there with them in a meaningful way.

That won’t ever mean just jumping into the latest channel because it’s the prom queen of the moment.

5. Do you have any interesting case studies of unique uses of social media?
I like Loic LeMeur asking about 100 people in Facebook to become his board of directors whom he can ask about issues he is studying and contemplating.

I like the American Express campaign that asks people how to change the world and lets others vote on the best suggestions. But I don’t think it should have been limited to card holders only as that limited the quality of the ideas.

Hillary Clinton’s parody of the Soprano’s last episode was pure brilliance because it showed that under the wooden exterior there is a sense of humor. It's cool that they asked people to pick her campaign song, but very uncool that they didn’t remember to say it had to be by an American singer.

I hate John Edwards pretending to be participating in Twitter by telling us he had a great meeting yesterday and other meaningless tidbits. Trying too hard.

I did a contest for Simon & Schuster author Karen Quinn to build community around her latest book and got such clever, funny, poignant responses in video, essays and one-liners. But most importantly, the book is doing really well.

6. What social media tools do you use?  Which are your favorites? Why.

I blog, I use Skype, Google Chat, IM, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, Gleamd, 8apps and a bunch of others.

The ones I like – blogs and Twitter right now. Until the next thing comes along. We’re in an evolutionary process right now.

7.  Do you see language as a barrier for  social media?  Will English become the global language of the Internet?  Should it?

Definitely there’s a language barrier. We need instant translation apps that actually work.

There’s no reason English should be the official global language. We should be able to effortlessly see perfect translations. That’s where I’d put development money if I had any.

8.  Are you reading more blogs or less these days? Are you watching more online video or less these days?

I read about the same number of blogs I always did – about 15 a day. And I definitely watch more videos than before, but I have not been able to get interested in Joost or other online TV.

9. Will kids read books after Harry Potter?

I wonder! I hope so.

July 31, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Joe Thornley

Joe Thornley, A Canadian in Vegas

[Joe Thornley in Vegas, March 07. Photo by Shel]

Through blogging and social media, Joe Thornley and I have become pretty good friends over the last couple of years.Joe, a partner in Thornley Fallis, and agency in Ottawa and Toronto that helps companies integrate social media into PR. Joe was the first person I invited to respond to the SAP Social Media Survey and a few hours ago, he became the 24th to respond.

Any chagrin I felt for his slowness to respond has been offset by the quality and innovation of it. Joe decided to post an online video in response, which in itself shows how social media has evolved since Joe became a blogging buddy way back in 2006.  He also shows the similarities and contrasts between the US and Canada and how social media may be more important to Canada than even the US.  As evidence he offers the fast embrace of Facebook and the fact that Flickr was started by Canadians.

Thanks, Joe. Good post and you have taken the survey into an entirely new social medium.

July 26, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Kris Hoet in Belgium

Bike Babe, Kris Hoet, Brussels

[Kris Hoet & Bike Babe Sculpture in Brussel. Photo By Shel]

Kris Hoet is

Marketing Communications Manager for the MSN/Windows Live European team. I met him first through blogging, and then he invited me to visit Brussels last October when Canadian VC Rick Segal and I were traveling through Europe. Kris proved to be a great host. He gave us a great walking tour through the remarkable Brussels Old Town district, then hosted a blogger lunch in a most impressive restaurant where we discovered that most Belgian bloggers were friends.  We then chatted with some interesting Microsofties in an ancient tower they had converted into a meeting room with a great view. With interesting views in mind, I thought Kris would have some for the SAP Global Survey and I was right. 

1. How is the Internet adoption rate in Belgium? Are there still problems getting broadband installed into the home?

Belgium's total population is about 10.5 million and our online population is about 4.6 million. According to a recent Blognation post on the state of Belgium, “About 2.5 million of those people (or an estimated 50% of Belgian households) have a broadband Internet connection. ADSL and cable make up more than 92% of Internet connections, but the growth rate of new broadband connections is staggeringly low. The three most apparent reasons: the southern part of Belgium (Walloon region) is lagging behind, PC penetration is a mere 57%, and prices remain enormously high (about twice as expensive as neighbour countries France and The Netherlands). There is a virtual duopoly of the major Internet service providers Telenet and Belgacom (the Belgian State holds the majority of shares of the latter).”

 2. What are people doing with social media in Belgium?  What's popular? What's not?

That same Blognation article answers this one as well:

“Belgium has a relatively small but very active blogging community, with a concentration of heavy social network users (and more than 300 estimated Twitter users). This year, the Belgian blogging community organized its own awards show dubbed the Bwards, recognizing the best Belgian blogs, bloggers and vlogs. It is unclear how many bloggers use WordPress, TypePad and the likes, and how many are on Belgian platforms like Belgacom’s Skynetblogs, Telenet’s Digs Blogs, or other initiatives like Skyrock and Bloggen.be. Most media groups (are starting to) incorporate blogs and social networking features in their online properties. Belgium even has its own blog search engine, De Blogoloog, while other services like Blogium and BlogObs serve as Techmeme-like aggregators of popular links. There are a lot of opportunities for Belgians to engage in social interaction (and dating) on the web: Chat.be, Rendez-Vous, ASLpage, LNM.eu, etc. Some community websites target specific niches, e.g. Creativeskills for the creative sector or Dogsontheblock for dog owners. Join2Grow acts as a pan-European community site for entrepreneurs, and business travelers who regularly take trips to Paris and London might want to check out PlaceToBiz.”


The only thing I would add is that you have to know that most global players don’t localize their services (in language) for a market such as Belgium. Therefore, you will see ENG language services like Wordpress or Twitter because of the early adopter usage, but not that much for MySpace or Facebook. Again, all the key bloggers are on Facebook, but it’s definitely not widespread due to the language. One local service that wasn’t mentioned here is GarageTV, which is Telenet’s Youtube clone.


Also the Blognation post doesn’t mention anything about Windows Live Spaces, which is localized for Belgium and there are over 1 million Windows Live Spaces in the country. Neither does it talk about Windows Live Messenger which is by far the most used Messenger client in the country with over 3.4 million active users. On 4.6 million internet users, that sure ain’t bad ;)


3. How, if at all, is social media impact life in Belgium? How about just among young people?

I think most of the impact is among young people. Yes we have about 300,000 50+ users on Live Messenger, but it’s the youth segment that uses it hardcore. "MSN" is a verb in Belgium. e.g. "Let’s MSN later on," etc… referring to Messenger. It’s the young ones who share photos, get hooked up on new services, who only find their job through online services and as such are more quickly attracted to the Web 2.0 job services like expertize.be . It’s mainly youth that watch movies online, or post clips on Youtube and the like. But in the other age groups I don’t think the impact is that big… for now.


4. Let's focus on business. What kinds of companies are adopting social media?  Is it being used internally or externally?

The interactive advertising agencies are pushing for it very hard, but there are only few companies that have adopted much of it. There are great campaigns out there coming from Belgian agencies, that make very good use of the social media aspect. One of these that got launched just recently is Jealous Computers to promote the Nokia N95 cellphone. Some companies have CEO bloggers, but very few and if there are, these companies are mainly online businesses. Skynet (the ADSL operator) used to have a blogging CEO for instance. The idea of opening up for comments, feedback, 2-way conversation still seems to scare the hell out of people.

 So I would say, that if you see companies making much use of social media, their agency is probably the one to thank and, of course, as everywhere you have individuals who totally get it that fight the systems from the inside. The last business segment that is maybe getting into this, is the traditional media in their online presence (newspapers, TV, radio). They introduced their blog(s), RSS feeds, podcasts, debate options, interactive TV shows that made use of the online …

 5. Got any interesting case studies?

All examples are either in Dutch or in French so hard to read for your int’l audience I guess. I think of the Nsights website (for Nokia Nseries) at http://www.nsights.be/ (hey is that Shel Israel in there? J). We had the Paola246 case, which is quite interesting as it concerned a video of a mysterious new blogger in the beginning but ended up being a creation by Het Paleis which is a theater, and the whole online conversation with this Paola246 was the piece basically (almost only online (more here: http://www.hetpaleis.be/events.php?id=157&parent=53). Once you’ve put these answers up online, I’ll post the link to some of my distinguished online colleagues, I’m sure they can come up with some other cool stuff.


6. What about at Microsoft? How is the Blue Monster using social media in Belgium? What about in the EU?

I would think of it as two-way: (1)  I feel like we can go a lot further in using social media ideas on our own products like the MSN.com portals in all countries but most of that is driven from Redmond, and (2) We try and be part of the conversation and there we do have quite a track record already.

We’ve been trying things out for the last 2 years. We invited bloggers to small events where we open up discussion on our services. We invite bloggers to what used to be press events only. We were present at events such as Barcamps, several Microsoft colleagues started their own blogs to reach out to their audience on a specific topic or to engage more in the conversation. We sponsored LeWeb3 last year, invited some bloggers with us to MIX07 in Vegas (Microsoft Web Conference), … and so on. With +17.000 Microsoft colleagues on Facebook and 3.500 Microsoft bloggers I think we’re not lagging behind here.


7. What impact do you think social media is having on young people in the EU?

It is significantly changing the way they consume media. Think about multi-tasking, more on demand viewing, etc… but none of that is unique to the EU. I guess the main difference with the EU and the US or Asia is probably the speed on how people hook up on this. In Asia, the mobile element of it is key, more than anywhere else. In France, blogging is quite big, but less so in Germany, … but you know all that. It’s in your book .


8. What social media tools do you use?  How do they impact you personally and professionally?

I have accounts everywhere, but there are some services that I use a lot.

  • Bloglines: because it syncs with my desktop feedreader and so I can read it on mobile as well
  • Wordpress: for my blog(s)
  •  Live Messenger: with 350 buddies on the list, a lot of conversations happen here
  • Facebook: more and more addicted as we keep using it
  • MyBlogLog
  • Technorati, Blogpulse, … :blogtracking (my own and others)
  • Twitter (and Jaiku/Pownce – although most interaction is on Twitter)
  • Delicious: for my bookmarking
  • Windows Live Writer: for offline blogging, and handy for multiple blogs
  • Digg, Techmeme, …: keeping on top of the tech news

Key to all this is my feedreader, in which I have around 300 feeds, together with my own blog. Reading and commenting with others, as well as writing and creating your own conversation got me new conversations, got me meeting new people, like you for instance, … I learned a lot from that and had conversations that would have been almost impossible without it.

 9. What advice do you have for EU-based corporate communications professionals regarding social media?

I would give the same advice to any corporation with one special remark when it comes to Europe and that is that you have to think about language. As for the US, we can easily interact with anyone out there from Redmond, something that is hard to do in Europe in a sense that I don’t want the interaction to happen from HQ in London, but on a local level. Now this only counts for bigger corporations, but it’s an important element. It will force companies like Microsoft to make sure we can educate our local offices on this, instead of hiring someone in HQ to understand and takes care of things.

July 23, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Allan Martinson

Allan Martinson, superhost

[Estonian VC Allan Martinson on a rainy day in Tallinn. Photo by Shel]

Allan Martinson, is a journalist turned venture capitalist and is founder of Martinson Trigon Venture Partners, the first private equity investment firm in the Baltic states. Last October, he served as my guide during a visit to Tallinn, Estonia, after he told me he could introduce me to some interesting people. These turned out to include the nation's president, a former prime minister, Skype's COO among several interesting entrepreneurs. Here are his answers o the questions I asked as part of the SAP Global Survey.

1. You are probably the only VC with investments in Russia, the Baltics and the US. Can you describe your strategy in operating in these three distinctly different cultures?

To be exact, we do not invest into American companies per se, but very often our Russian portfolio companies have an American presence (a sales or head office or at least registration).

Our investment strategy is indeed different in the Baltics than in Russia. When we invest into a Baltic company, we can be sure there will be no big corporate governance, taxation and other general management issues, which are omnipresent in Russia. On the other hand, the ambition of the Baltic companies is often limited to the Baltic/Nordic region while Russian companies have global ambitions from the very beginning. Also, Russia is a huge and fast-growing market of its own.

In other words, Russian companies have huge risks but big ambitions. The Baltic companies are nice and nimble but very limited in growth targets. The best would be to marry the Baltic managerial talent with Russian ambitions but unfortunately those regions have so little interaction that it has proved to be almost impossible.

Most of the leads in the Baltics tend to be related to e-services (both in public and private sector) and consumer internet. Those are rather based on business innovation than technological breakthroughs. The Baltics have one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world and the small size of the countries makes launching new services extremely fast. Also, those nations are very quick adopters of new services which make them ideal testing grounds.

2. Can you give me some examples of successful Baltic social media companies?

3. Tell me about the Russian companies.  What are their strengths? Name some of the successes.

The Russians are strong in developing software products for professionals. They are often based on really good and innovative technologies, which form the basis of their success. On the other hand, the Russian companies are not so strong in understanding and developing the user's interface and needs of the consumer. That is why most of the Russian success stories are companies whose products target professional users only.

Examples of Russian (or Russian-originated) success stories:

  • Acronis (data backup solutions, due to be listed on NASDAQ soon)
  • Parallels, Inc. (virtualization technology enabling to run Windows on Apple computers)

In addition, Russia hosts a multitude of fully-owned development centers of American companies who employ between people each - ranging from Intel to Boeing to Sun Micro to Microsoft to T-Systems to IBM.

4. Estonia is among the world's most connected countries. How has social media played with society in general? How about in business and social media?

Estonia is a very small country and this has put certain imprint on social media as well. The country's internet population (~70% of the total) is extremely active in using social networking sites (like rate.ee or Google's orkut.com) and writing comments to the articles of mainstream online media (like newspapers sites or Delfi, the leading portal). However, blogging has not really flown in this country. There are a multitude of blogs, of course, many of them maintained by online or offline opinion leaders, but the impact of blogging on society has been much less than in the U.S.

5. How has your business and strategy been impacted by the recent friction with Russia?  Can  social media help diffuse the situation or is that a naïve perspective?

My business has NOT been affected by recent frictions - but probably because it is in industries where people normally don't think of nationalities at all. Those industries are also not subject to government regulation. The situation is different in the transit, timber and oil/gas industries, of course.

Social media has done very little to diffuse the situation, rather vice versa. There are a lot of intelligent blogs and commentators on both sides, of course. But a majority of the

6.You were the lead investor in rate.ee, a social network that by some estimates had over 90% of Estonian youth as registered members. How did it get such a huge percent of Estonia's young people?  What are the social and political implications of this online network?  Does rate.ee expect to maintain members as they grow older?

90% is the correct figure. Rate.ee has registered users in a country of 1.3 million people, an equivalent of Myspace  having 80 million American accounts alone. 75% of Rate’s users are active (at least one visit per month) and 55% visit at least once a week. They receive 20  million daily page views.

It is probably natural that 90% of the internet-connected youngsters in ANY country will use some social networking site or sites. In a small nation-states like Estonia it is natural that the users go to local sites where their friends are and where everyone speaks their language. Rate was just in the right place in right time.

There are similar sites in Latvia (draugiem.lv, one.lv), Lithuania (one.lt), Hungary (iwiw.hu) etc which enjoy similar penetrations. So, it is not purely an Estonian phenomena.

7. Rate.ee recently started a social network in Russia.  How is it similar and how is it different?

Rate’s Russian site limpa.ru has gained users but only 25% of them are active (have logged in once in 30 days). Limpa’s loyal users are mostly Baltic Russians, which is a different crowd from “true” Russians. They have their own micro communities. They use Latin letters instead of Cyrillic due to absence of Russian keyboards.

There is no established leader in Russian social networking scene yet. Sites like odnoklassniki.ru (classmates), moikrug.ru (“Russian LinkedIn”),  have been growing fast but never gained over 1-1.2 m users (less than 5% of Russia’s 30-million strong internet community). Dating sites like loveplanet.ru, mamba.ru and damochka.ru have been more successful by getting 3-5 million profiles and up to $30 m in annual revenue but they cannot be named true social networking sites.

In fact, I should also note thatnote that the Russian livejournal is de facto the leading social network in the country.

8. Can you tell me about social media in Russia and the Baltics?  What tools are being used?  Do people in Russia and the Baltics have computers and broadband connection?

I think I answered to your question in large extent above. Some penetration statistics:

  • Internet penetration in the Baltics is about 50%, (70%) in Estonia. Broadband penetration is about 25% in the Baltics and 40-50% in Estonia.
  • In Russia, one must distinguish between Moscow/St Peterburg and the rest of Russia. I believe internet and broadband penetration in those big cities is similar to the Baltics, while Russian overall internet penetration is about 20% and broadband is less than 5%.

However, the mobile penetration is 100% in the Baltics and almost 100% in Russia. For many people in Russia, their cell phones are the first device to access internet.

9. This survey is, of course, designed to help SAP, a global software enterprise whose core competency is in ERP.  What advice would you have for them in developing strategy for your section of the world?

I believe SAP has lots of competence on how to do business in these countries already. In Russia, SAP IS the high-end ERP market, and in the Baltics they are the market leaders as well.

In my opinion, they have done very well in Russia, and being German has actually helped as the Russians have lots of positive feelings toward Germany. They have strong partners who know how to navigate Russian waters.

As for further strategy I would strongly recommend SAP look into acquisition possibilities, most of all of a company called 1C which is de facto leader in midsize ERP market in Russia.

10. How much of a barrier is language, between countries in your area?  How does that impact social media and business in general?

Language is much more important in Europe than most Americans tend to think. In order to do business in Europe you must be local. You cannot achieve market share for your ERP or social media enterprise if it speaks a foreign language. Period.

11. Looking forward, say five years, how do you think social media will have impacted culture and business in central Europe and Russia?

The impact will be huge and strong but I believe social media here will be more intertwined with traditional media than in the U.S. The main social media sites will be owned and maintained by large media companies, telecoms or oligarchs.

July 21, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Nob Seki

According to Technorati, there are more Japanese bloggers than English-speaking bloggers, which seems surprising to me because there are so many more people who speak English than Japanese.  When I interviewed Nob Seki's Six Apart Japan's EVP & GM two years ago, he enlightened me to the significance of culture on influencing social media. I used some of his comments from June 2005 as a starting point for my interview with him for the SAP Global Survey.

1. When we last chatted,  Japanese blogging was  taking a different path than in the US. There were more women than men blogging. Business was using blogs as a direct sales tool. No one was using the Comments feature  Instead everyone linked through their own blogs. Have these trends changed or stayed the same since that conversation?

Basically, those trends have continued with some notable changes. More business users have  blogs for marketing and communicating with customers. According to  Internet Whitepaper 2007 published earlier this month by Impress Group, 13.8% of companies have  their own blogs, and in particular, 27% of companies who have nine employees or less  have blogs.

Companies are becoming more accustomed to responses from the Internet. More business blogs have opened up Comments.

2. What about the other social media tools, such as social  networking, wikis, podcasts, online video, etc?  How is adoption coming?

Social networking and video sharing are two big services in Japan. Social Networking Services (SNS) are widely used. The leading SNS mixi attracts more than ten million users, bigger  than any other blogging service. However, it does not seem to me that SNS in Japan is the same as that in the US, because people use SNS to share diaries, which is essentially "blogs" in the US. The big  difference is that mixi and other Japanese SNS can control access over diaries for greater privacy.  Remember, the reason why business blogging used to keep comments from  end-users because companies fear attacks by end-users. Personal bloggers have very similar concerns. That is why, I  think, mixi has become very popular.

3. How are businesses using social media tools, either internally or externally?

Businesses are using external blogs and SNS very aggressively and positively. Blog marketing is one of the MUST items if you consider promotion on the Net. Not only do companies prepare their marketing blogs for consumers, but they try to make use of the power of  bloggers, especially what we called "alpha bloggers" (A-listers). In the past 6-12 months. companies have started hosting "blogger  conferences" that are very much like press conferences for bloggers.

Internal blogging, or "intrablogs," as well call them have started up more recently, since Winter 2006, after  people started saying "Enterprise 2.0," many companies are now  interested in deploying blogs (and other social media tools). Intel's  SuiteTwo (blog, wiki and RSS reader) was recently introduced and NEC is selling into the enterprise market as well. It appears that in the past year more  Enterprise 2.0 type solutions have been deployed into Japanese corporations.

Blog tools have been used as corporate Content Management Systems (CMS) here for a few years. According to the Impress Internet White Paper 2007, Movable Type is ranked as the #1 Corporate CMS  tool (27.2%), and other blogging tools as #2 (22.1%) whereas  traditional CMS tools are ranked #5 or lower with single digit percentage market share.

4. Are there many social networks?

Yes. I mentioned mixi already, but I should point out that social networks in Japan do not look like those in the US. Mixi, is not  the place where people meet people, but rather where people invite their existing friends to share diaries (and other information). Actually, these social networks still maintain "invitation only" policies to ensure safety and privacy rather than blogs, which are fairly public.

Probably, many Japanese people feel more comfortable with "closed"social environments and in the Japanese language, SNS is perceived as a service where only invited people can read your diary.

5.  Do Japanese people continue to keep their personal and professional personas firmly separated or has social media begun to blend the two as is occurring in the US?

     Yes and no. I do not have any quantitative figures, but I usually see both.

6. Has social media impacted communications between Japanese people and people in other countries?  Why or why not?

No. Only selected people feel okay to communicate with foreign people in English. For many Japanese people, communication in English is not a comfortable experience - they usually feel ashamed of their poor English skills, so they hesitate to communicate in English.

7. Western perceptions of the major Japanese enterprise is that it is  very top-down in its structure. Has social media had any impact on that or is it pretty much the same?

It seems to me it needs some more time. Social media inside the  corporation is being adopted in the last 6-12 months and we hope it will change aspects of some corporate cultures that slow down innovation.

8. What advice do you have for a Western enterprise wishing to use social media to do business or build relationships with Japanese people?

Do you assume, by this question B2B use? If so, making use of social media should help Western people get along with Japanese business people.

First, many Japanese business people hesitate to speak English, but usually are comfortable in written form (they tend to prefer  emails/IMs/blogs to conference calls for that reason as well).

Asian people are generally much more "context" oriented (if you would  like to know more, please read "The Geography of Thought : How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why"), so social media is the  perfect way to get along, because you can understand not only "what do you want" but "how/why do you want to do this," which makes Japanese people more comfortable.

10. Additional comments?

Social media is widely known and widely used here in Japan by PC users, and more mobile users are expected to be using social media.

July 18, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Stewart Marshall

Stewart Marshall, a Brit who has migrated to Canada takes the roll-your-own version of the SAP Global Survey. He talks about how social media has transformed his life and will continue to do so, how social networks helped him connect in a new country and how SAP needs to better understand customers through social media.

A few people have asked how I'm conducting the survey and there are several ways to be included. I am interviewing 50-75 people by email.  Each has the choice to post the answers on their own site or on this one, with me pointing to it. Anyone else who wishes, can take the roll-your-own version and post it on their own sites.  let me known and I will point to it.

Keep those cards and letters coming in.

July 17, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Nicole Simon

I had a little trouble tracking down Nicole Simon for the SAP Global Survey and I figured she was important, not just for her legendary candor and wit, but because she has always seemed to have her hand on the pulse of European social media. It turned out that she had joined Sam Sethi's new Blognation, a new online newsletter reporting on the news of social media in the world, all in the English language. That project is obviously one of great interest to the SAP project. Nicole's answers are, as usual, terrific.

1. The SAP Global Survey is  concerned with social media and how it emerges in different cultures and how it transcends the formidable barriers of language. But Blognation is one-directional.  It takes Spanish, Italian, Chinese and the  world's other major languages and reports what is happening to English-speaking people.  Does Blognation plan to also reverse English events into other languages or does it expect English will become the common language of the Internet and social media?

You would have to ask Sam this one, but Blognation's goa is different. To bring information about what is happening in these countries to establish a common ground.  English is the de facto language for this audience. Personally, I see no reason to go back into the native languageitself because that would not foster common discussion among everyone, but would just make the old silos again. As long as there isn't one big Babelfish, we will have to agree on one language.

One big big goal I have with Blognation is exactly that: To kick start local entrepreneurs and startups; to get them to start thinking internationally, because the world is becoming one huge place - and it is not enough to stay in your own little corner.

You might also get some information out of this for the survey:

2. What similarities and differences do you see in the way social media is  emerging in the different regions and cultures of the world?

My view of my world is limited to the languages I can read - therefore I have no  clue at all outside the USA and Europe, even more Germany than Europe.

One thing is that people should learn that there is more than one solution to
things. In Germany, Xing is the dominant social network for business, and although the German geek crowd uses Facebook, in Germany studivz.de does run 2.3 billion page impressions per month. If Facebook would ever come over,
they will find it very difficult to just take over the market. Due to it being separated from the rest of the German-speaking world, the whole effect of Facebook and its applications is unknown to Germans. Similar, would be their interest in connecting online as well as offline. Social media is a tool like everyone other and if you bring the right toolset, everybody will jump on using it.

3. When Robert and I wrote Naked Conversations, French blogging was  fast-emerging, but not so in Germany.  Has that changed? We know of course that German-based SAP has embraced social media.  What about other German companies of any size?

Blogging is still not very visible, but it does exist. There is no huge provider giving out numbers like in France; also many  users do not care or even know about Technorati or Alexa. Alexa numbers are usually used  to prove something - total bullshit when it comes to countries other than the US.

Companies slowly start to blog a bit, I remember an experiment with mobile phone provider O2 when I was at Cebit, and also Siemens running a Cebit blog.

Tools like blogging, podcasting and Second Life are much more used for internal reasons and I think that is a good development. Perhaps it is a mentality thing not to bust out about how AWESOME you are, but being more interested in how to get things done internally.

As journalists still have no clue about blogging, it is no wonder they do not write about it. Add again the language barrier and the buzz around blogging does not reach companies much.

4. Let's go back to language. The EU has a common currency, but it's
population speaks over 50 languages. Can social media play a role in
changing that?

The EU does not have a common currency, only a currency which a lot of the
countries of the EU agree to have. UK for example does not, nor does Denmark.

I rather give the role to computer science and linguists to finally build a Babelfish, but social media can help to connect people - even across language barriers. Social media allows me to stay connected even though I am not next to you.

Does Social Media allow me to get a stronger feeling for EU? Yes. But not so  much because of the tools, I think.

5.  How does a start up in Italy or Ireland or Germany use social media to reach global markets?

No clue about the other markets - hence blognation. As for Germany, I would
say that is a typical question of somebody writing. First of all, do I want to
go international? Second, what kind of social media I use depends a lot
on the targeted group. Having a strong German accent but going for audio might
not be the right way for me to go forward.

And if my target group does not even use social media, I can try as much as I want, but it will not result in anything. So if this is the right choice to go for social media, I would assume it is the same as everywhere else, with the only addition that it makes sense to do it in both languages, German and International.

If it is your choice and makes sense for your market, go local with the language as well.

6.  What social media tools are the most popular in the EU? Why?

No clue. I would assume blogging cause it is most convenient, bookmarking  perhaps, and sharing.

7.  Where is it all going?  What will social media in business look like five years from today?

I do not know what it will look like.

The challenge will be to help the individual make good use of the tools and avoid problems / irritation like with privacy. We are going to be a much more connected world, though I see that many normal users do not even recognize what they are using and why.

I would expect some groups to be more internationally oriented than now, and in general expect the user will have higher expectations. Meaning also that I do not care about structures of your company, I can read that you are offering a special deal to country A but not to B.

I, for example, am highly annoyed how airlines treat me just because I am not in the US. Communities like flyertalk already show that this kind  of Business 1.0 - the more people get to know the game, the more the businesses have to change their approach in marketing, management and communication.

8. Do you have any social media related advice for SAP as either a major business software provider or as an aspirant to become a global thought leader in social media?

I have had experience working with SAP, my whole 15 years of enterprise live and if there is anything I can tell you it would be that SAP being the leader in social media itself is not going to happen.

If they try to do that they would be like me trying on a size 6 dress
and pretend to be slim. Business, social media, its applications, its benefits and how businesses / management / organization need to change - there I see a good possibility because SAP understands the processes of a company, not just the technology. Something IBM  feels like, even though they have a VERY good reputation about this space.

SAP customers look for objective orientation, guidance in this world full of confusing things and technologies, this is an area where SAP can be a good global player. In the whole Social Media space? Absolutely unbelievable.

9. Can social media play a significant role in strengthening the EU?  Why or why not?

Yes, through being able to connect with one another, outside of the traditional
channels of media and power / politics.

July 16, 2007

Jaqueline Zenn Rolls her own SAP Global Survey

Busy day for me on the SAP Global Survey. Germany's Nicole Simon has sent in her answers which I will post tonight and Jacqueline Zenn has rolled her own answers to it over on her site, "Chasing the Southern Cross."

Jacqueline talks about how blogging has expanded her world and social network and believes that it will narrow the digital divide in coming years. She also believes that blogging is stronger than it ever was, it's just that the platforms are changing.
She's reading more blogs than she used to read.

I have not regularly read Chasing the Southern Cross, but I like her articulation and passion.  I am now a subscriber.

SAP Global Survey: Loic Le Meur

Loic le Geek

[Loic LeMeur geeks out at dinner in Paris, December 2005. I'm sure the technology he's carrying today is newer than what you see here.  Photo by Shel.]

Mon ami Loic Le Meur, host of Les Web and Europe's best-known blogger has responded to my questions for the SAP Global Survey. He paints a broad and detailed picture of what is happening in Europe saying that social media gives the EU a real chance to compete with Silicon Valley. He also talks about the current hot trends of microblogging and online video.

Go read it.

SAP Global Survey: Ewan McIntosh


[Edublogger Ewan McIntosh(l) chats with Canadian investor Rick Segal on streets of Edinburgh. Photo by Shel]

Scotland's Ewan McIntosh is a research practitioner for Scotland’s national education agency, Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS). As such he has played a major role in the remarkable adaptation of social media into Scotland's public schools. He has also become prominent in the international blogging community and is speaks globally on the subject of social media in education.

Here are his responses to the SAP Global Survey:

1.  Both your expertise and passion are social media in education. Can you tell me a bit about how the two are being used together in Scotland and how that will impact Scotland overall?

Scotland has been a bit different from other countries in terms of adoption of social media, because most of the impetus has come through the education system first. Just one example: the project I have been working with since September 2006 has grown from 20 or so teachers sharing their ideas, experiences in the classroom and resources through blogs, to somewhere around 350 by this summer, with around 800 bloggers in the education area alone. Throughout Scotland educators are realizing what is to be gained from having a wider pool of expertise on which to draw, and social media is the glue binding them together.

The impact on education of children is profound, even if the children themselves are still getting limited use of social media, especially when they hit secondary school (yes, there are more kids in Primary schools doing exciting things with social media than those aged 11+). As teachers refine their practice quicker and with better expertise to choose from, in the form of reflections and ideas and action research, the education of our children improves in tandem.

The impact for our nation in years to come will be significant for this very reason.

2.  How do you expect social media in Scotland to impact Scottish business?

Scottish business has been slow off the mark but is now picking up more speed as people like me and my colleagues at the Edinburgh Coffee Morning shout louder about it. There are, unfortunately, a lot of ad agencies and individuals who aren't really using social media themselves on a daily basis, who mislead companies and organizations as to what this might bring them. That is, they're busy promising short term gains when the reality is something more like two years for any tangibles to kick in. I'm starting some work with Scottish Enterprise, the public/private body which helps small to medium enterprises in their business. Hopefully I'll start to mentor a particularly Scottish kind of business later this year to see what social media might do for it.

3. Let's expand to the EU.  How are the social media changing culture in the EU?  Is it closing or expanding cultural differences?

My expertise in other countries varies, depending on the country. It's such a diorama of culture to start with before you take social media in to the mix. My wife is French but managed to miss the wave of social media. Our French friends, on the other hand, wouldn't refer to it as 'blogging' or 'social media'. They're just having too much fun sharing their pics and family news through MSN and Skyblogs, not caring what they call it.

Slovenia is one to watch, since the education minister put in huge broadband pipes to most towns and cities for the schools. It's only a matter of time before they leapfrog other, more 'established' nations that have plugged away at social media adoption for some years. Ireland, for example, has a terrible state of affairs at the moment regarding broadband. The Fisheries minister there has more to do with internet access than any other - they needed it for the relay points for fishing reports, as far as I know.

4.  What happens to business and culture when the young people of the EU enter the workplace and take over the market? How will social media then be used for such functions as marketing, recruiting and customer support?

2007 is the year when our sixteen year olds, all over Europe, start to enter further education, university or the workplace. They were born in the same age as the Web. Unfortunately, I don't think education or business is doing enough yet to equip them with the skills they need to function professionally with what, for them, are their online toys in countries over Europe. In pockets around Scotland,  you might start to see some more appreciation of the skills youngsters have, and an effort to harness these through further training or simply talking to them. In the European market, however, I think there are too many nations working with old hierarchical business and governmental ideals for this to make any impact for at least the next generation. I'm just hoping some of these young upstarts begin to make what we see as innovative management and social media use much more common before the next generation come through.

5. Which tools do you see ascending and which do you see in decline?

The blog continues to be a place which people value for constructive reflection, for self-promotion or the promotino of their ideas. Presence tools (Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku et al) are for a different, more fun purpose, and some are using them in clever ways in tandem with their more thoughtful blog profile.

In decline? Television. I know everyone's saying that TV and IPTV are the big things this year but they've obviously never met a teen. Teens don't watch the telly. They want much more interactivity than that offers. You can put the telly on the web, but it's what's around a program rather than the program itself that is going up. TV itself, in education, in business, in pleasure, is heading down.

6.  When I visited Scotland, we had some interesting talks about virtual reality in education.  What prospects do you see for it in business moving forward?

Simulations, working out best and worst case scenarios, doing things you can't do in physical space due to lack of funds, space, imagination...
Business can finally do some really short-term exciting projects at low cost instead of pumping money into grandiose F2F projects.

I think that gaming and games, as distinct from virtual reality per se, offer the best opportunities for sims and improvement of employee skills - the employee, after all, remains the most important asset of a business.

There are some great examples of medics, with problems in numeracy, using Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training on the DS Lite, to help prepare for passing their exams. We use it in primary schools, too, to great effect and relatively large attainment gains.

It doesn't even matter if the game content is not related to the sector. The complex skills required to get through a game, whether it's Sim City or World of Warcraft, are the kind of skills a consultant cannot teach.

7. Can social media help bypass traditional language barriers?  If so, how?

As long as Americans continue to call a bum bag a fanny pack I think we're going to have language barriers, even when we're speaking the same tongue
;-) I've found the visual elements of social media have helped me connect to people who speak languages I do not, and connect better to friends I know F2F from all over the world. Seeing a video, having a photographic tour of a home on Flickr, it all helps bind us better. As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. And that was before 'they' saw YouTube.

July 14, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Mark Evans

Toronto-based Mark Evans, maintains three blogs and is VP Operations for B5 Media, a global blog network.Previously, Mark was a traditional newspaper reporter covering the Internet for the National Post, Canada's national newspaper. Mark has always espoused that blogging and social media lag behind in Canada, which puzzles me since a disproportionate number of my favorite blogs are Canadian authored and because FaceBook has enjoyed such meteoric success there.

I asked him about it and here are his answers:

1. You have often pointed out that the Canadian enterprise has been slow to  adopt blogging.  Has this changed? Why do you suppose adoption has been so slow?

While I think there is a lot more happening within the Canadian blogosphere, it's really not where it should be yet. By nature, I think Canadians are conservative when it comes to the Internet. You could argue that the e-commerce market is still lagging and the online advertising market is just starting to gain momentum.

2.  What about other forms of social media?  Is business using wikis, video,  social networks or even podcasts to any appreciable degree?  Why or why not?

The simple answer is no. In fact, I would argue that the vast majority of Canadian business still believe a Web site is cutting edge - let alone using podcasts, wikis or social networks. One exception might be ScotiaBank, which has a popular podcast called The Money Clip.

3.  How can social media extend Canadian-based business opportunities?

If you want to engage your customers in a conversation and build customer loyalty, social networks are great tool.

4. Let's talk FaceBook. Contrary to most tech adoption trends, Canadians rapidly adopted it before Americans or Europeans even seemed to notice it. Now one in eight Canadians is on FaceBook.  How do you explain this  phenomenon?

To be honest, I'm not sure. We're all pretty amazed that it has caught fire so quickly given the same kind of wild adoption didn't happen with MySpace. Maybe it has to do with timing: Facebook opened itself up to the world at a time when Canadians were waking up to the wonderful world of social networks.

5. Is there a lesson for business in the Canadian FaceBook phenomenon?

Absolutely. I think the biggest lesson is you need to carefully monitor the online landscape for hot/key/new trends. If a Canadian business was savvy, flexible and fast-moving, they would have figured out a way to leverage the Facebook phenomena.

6.  Because of FaceBook, a lot of younger Canadians are getting comfortable  with social networks.  What happens over time as they enter the workplace and marketplace?

I think it becomes a part of their work/personal lives. The challenge will be keeping a separation between the two, and making sure work doesn't interfere with play. Employers will also have to realize Facebook is becoming an everyday tool like e-mail. Rather than prevent people from using it, employers will have to trust their employees will use Facebook responsibly.

7. Do you know much about social media being used behind the firewall?

There's really not a lot going on. I do know that Imperial Oil, for example, is very active with internal blogs. I do find it puzzling that consumer-facing businesses such as Tim Horton's (our version of Starbucks!), Canadian Tire and Loblaw don't have blogs.

8. Almost every Canadian business person I've met has talked about social media giving them greater access to American markets.  Do you see much evidence that this is happening?  Do you have any good case studies?

Not really.

9. What social media tools do you see on the rise and which are diminishing?

I think blogs still have a long runway in front of them, and that audio (podcasts) and video are going to be embraced in a big way once people realize they are just as easy to produce as text. I'm not convinced about wikis.

10.  Additional comments.

If you had to look at the Canadian online landscape, it's a mixed bag.

We are among the most penetrated high-speed nations in the world (although we've dropped a few places since being ranked #2 behind South Korea a few years ago) yet when it comes to new activities such as e-commerce, advertising and blogging, we're not as advanced. Then, you've got Facebook, which is extremely popular.

The one thing that concerns me about the Internet is Canada is the lack of high-speed competition. In many markets, you're lucky if you have two options (cable or DSL) while many rural communities only have one option. The problem is that with so few players, prices are going nowhere but up, and that does little to encourage non-high-speed users to jump on the bandwagon.

At the same time, I think the high-speed service providers are also looking at other ways to generate revenue such as tiered service. In other words, net neutrality may be at risk in Canada unless the government/community steps up.

July 13, 2007

SAP Gobal Survey: Ethan Bodnar

So far, the SAP Global Survey has interviewed many prominent bloggers including Scoble, Weinberger, Hugh MacLeod, Doc Searls and now, Ethan Bodnar. Who, you might rightfully ask, is Ethan Bodnar?

The answer is that he is the future of social media, him and the remainder of his generation. He is a 17 and a high school senior.  I met him last week on FaceBook and we have been talking every since. I visited his blog and thought it was pretty cool and in our conversations, I came to realize how informed and immersed he was in social media and how it was already transforming his world into something far larger than mine was at his age.

Following is his interview for the SAP Global Survey:

1. How did you first become involved in social media?

I was first introduced to social media in a book store, where I saw a book on blogging. I didn't even look through it, just read the cover. That night I went home, Googled "blogs" and found some which I just started to read and explore.

Finally, I got around to starting a blog of my own and have been using social media ever since.

2. What social media do you use?  How much time do you spend in social media each week?  How many hours do you spend watching TV in the average week?

I read blogs, use social networks, take part in specific interest community websites, and share videos/photos/bookmarks through web applications.It's hard to say how much time I spend on social media each week. Probably around 21 hours a week which breaks down to 3 hours a day. Still that can vary a lot.

I would say that I watch around an 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours of television a day when all the shows have their full seasons going. (less in the summer) So , that comes out to around 10 hours of TV a week. About half of that is recorded so that I skip the commercials. This thus makes it more important how advertisers reach me online than how they reach me through traditional "old media" methods. Sometimes I will be working on the laptop at the same time as I watch TV or during commercials.

A good mix of social media and television is Current TV. You can submit short videos (based on specific topics or areas or programming) to be voted on by the community on their website. The videos with the best ranking or most votes are then played on the real broadcasted television channel. Unfortunately, my cable provider doesn't offer the channel.


3. How do you feel social media has changed your life so far?

It has connected to me to so many wonderful people from all around the world who are doing amazing things. (for the most part, people not my age) And has allowed me to share what I am doing with them. Without it , life would be completely different. I used to wish that I was around when computers were first coming out but now I am happy to be around when social media is really taking off.

On the other side, there are my friends that I go to school with and interact with in the real world. Interacting with them online takes away some things that could happen in the real world but it still keeps us all connected online, which is good.

4. Who or what influences you and your buying decisions?

I would say that blogs and all those people who write them have some influence on what I buy.  I buy a lot of creative items such as t-shirts from and I have my eye on some stuff from Etsy and Coudal Partners Swap Meat project. Those websites offer products that are based a lot on the community behind them.

5. How could a business successfully use social media to influence you buying decisions?

No Flash Ads. No Banner ads. No pre-roll video ads. Make an awesome product and then find online communities that would like your product and become a member of that community. Allow the community to have conversations about your product or service and welcome the input.

6. You're a lot closer to the classroom than many of my readers. How do you think social media can be used to improve public school education?

In so many ways….

Social networks can be used to connect students in different parts of the world who are studying the same thing.

Students can use social media to collaborate online.

Education will move away from just the teaching of facts to a model where students start to be more creative and develop their own ideas and concepts. We will see students using social media to share these ideas of their own with others. Along with having a conversation about old ideas and their new ones.

Social media in the classroom allows students to see more examples of how what they are learning is used in the real world.

7. You've told me that you are interested in starting a business of your own.  What would that business look like and what sort of role would social media play in it?

The business would hopefully combine design, technology, and the internet as the product or service that it would offer. As for social media, it would try to use it to reach it's customers and would use it for the employees own personal reasons as part of the office culture.

8.  What if your first job out of college banned blogging and/or social media?  How would that impact your working there?

If there was another job that didn't have those restrictions, I would quit the one that banned blogging and/or social media. And if it was the only job I could find, it would be pretty stressful. I would want to work at a place that had a office culture that accepted and used social media for their work and play.

9. What are your favorite social media tools and why?

I use these social media tools because of the great communities that are behind them, the people I know that use them, and how they are designed.

For photos…Flickr rules them all.
For blogging…Wordpress.
For videos…Vimeo is way better than YouTube.
For status and life-streaming…Twitter.
For social networks….Facebook is where my school's at. Virb pretty cool to.

10.  Describe for me your vision of social media in your life five and ten years from now.

Five and ten years is a long time into the future. I would hope that the social media space becomes more organized and some of the sites better designed (nothing against what is out there now). I think we are going to see a lot more development in local community online. Right now there is much more based on interest and I think online networks of people from the same location will start to show up.

People will start "streaming their lives". There will be "streams"
which are really websites that will have a chronological list of what they have done through social media and real world status updates like Twitter. The best example would probably be Jeff Croft's Lifestream. This is some what of a movement away from blogging and takes less time than blogging while still having a strong online presence. Blogs are not going anywhere though.

I think we will start to see social media creating more real world interactions. Through mobile devices that can tell you the location of your friends. And linking those mobile devices to the networks you have already formed in applications and communities online. For example, the social cameras that Dave Winer has suggested. His ideas can also be applied to MP3 players, video cameras and other devices. The link between online social interactions and real life interactions will form.

11. Additional Comments?

Since SAP deals with enterprise applications I though I would throw in some thoughts dealing with that. Keep in mind I have never used any SAP software.

-    Build social media into your customer relations and support applications.
-    Build social media into internal applications so that employees
can communicate and interact with other employees, whether it be in the same office or another country.
-    Build social media into your planning and strategy applications
so that people inside the company but outside of the department can make suggestions and be part of it.

If it wasn't for the social media I wouldn't be answering this survey.
I found Shel Israel on Facebook which caused me to re-discover his blog and then I found the SAP Survey. I look forward to watching the results as other people answer it and would like to thank Shel for the opportunity.

July 09, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Italy's Marco Palombi

Marco Palombi

[Marco Palombi,  sequential entrepreneur.  Photo by Shel]

Marco Palombi is perhaps the best-known and most successful Italian social media entrepreneurs. After stints with Proctor & Gamble, France, McKinsey&Co., Italy and a global enterprise that moved him to Brazil, he founded Tipic, Inc. an instant messaging pioneer company based in NYC with an Italian development team. Tipic developed Splinder.com, Italy's largest online community with 5.5 million unique visitors per month. Tipic also developed the first Jabber Instant Messaging Server for Windows in 2002 and the first mobile Jabber client for J2ME . Marco served on the board of the Jabber Software Foundation in 2003.

By the time I met Marco in Rome last October, he had sold Tipic and was contemplating his next step. He told me that he belonged on the leading edge of technology exploration and that the social media landscape was filling up. He wanted to move on to the "Next Big Thing". He is now planning to move to Silicon Valley with its richer entrepreneurial

Below are his answers to the SAP Global Survey.

1. How much of Italy is online and how much of the population has
adopted social media?

Italy has a population of approximately 60 million. Approximately 20 million people connect at least once a month. There are an estimated 7.5 million unique visitors to social media sites each month.

2. What's happening in terms of Italian/European business and social
media? Are they starting/joining/ignoring them?

I'll try to answer by giving you a "qualitative" overview of how social media is being adopted in Italy.

As opposed to the US, Italy is characterized mostly by: (1) some experiments of social media launched by incumbent media companies and telco operators; (2) "me too" start-ups; (3)corporate blogs (4) US-based services now available in Italian.

Italian media incumbents were slow to adopt social media, but now they are starting to understand that a big paradigm shift is happening and that their own existence is threatened if they do not invest in social media. An interesting example is the investment by Il Sole24ore (the leading Italian financial newspaper) in Blogosfere, a blog network. After il Sole24Ore unsuccessfully tried to go public on the Italian stock exchange, the word on the street was that analysts were unhappy about Il Sole24Ore lacking any social media activity, thus the investment.

Another example: last year, I sold Splinder, the largest blogging platform in Italy to DADA, part of the Rizzoli Corriere della Sera Group. This helped establish DADA as Italy's social media leader, which,in turn helped them with their market valuation.

Traditional Internet players have launched social media platformswith mixed results, but there is no clear leader in the market, as of today, except for Splinder, and the US players (Blogger, Flickr,YouTube, etc), which translated their services into Italian.Corporate blogs have been used mostly so far for advertising.

3. Who or what English speaking people and services are the most
influential on Italians and Europeans in terms of social media?

Italians who are fluent in English are influenced by the same services that are popular in the US. There is no site similar to Techcrunch or a community like Facebook in Italy, since the social media business ecosystem is not very developed.

Also, the most famous blogger in Italy, is probably Beppe Grillo, with a political/satirical blog. Having said that, there are a number of bloggers who have become famous and respected. They blog mostly about technology and social media. A few of note:

- Luca Conti
Massimo Mantellini
Andrea Beggi
Alberto D'Ottavi
- Luca DeBiase
- Mauro Lupi
Antonio Sofi

4. I'm doing this for SAP, so of course, so they want to know what, if
anything, is going on in terms of the enterprise and enterprise
software, smaller business, etc.

Following are a few start-ups, as blogger-journalist Alberto D'Ottavi points out. I have not had any contact with them, so I cannot really recommend them:

- mobango.com (Free user-generated content for mobile phones, now based in
the UK)
- zooppa.com (User generated advertising)
- domainsbot.com (Domain name suggestions using social data)
- www.clipperz.com (password management)
- www.passpack.com
- www.yooplus.com (wiki + Project Mngr platform)
- www.evectors.com (Consulting and integration)
- www.reply.it
- http://www.webratio.com

5. How big a barrier is language to European social media entrepreneurs?
Can they work around it.  If so, how?

If you look at language barriers as a European entrepreneur, it is a
problem, because you have to spend more money and time to service
different countries, compared to a US entrepreneur. I always tell the
story of Splinder, my latest bootstrap; when we were the leader in Italy,
we employed 5 people; in order to launch the service in France we would
have had to hire one more person (+20% cost) and I would have had to
spend more time.

I would say that the large majority of user tend to use services in their own languages.

6. What about young people? Are young people adopting social media
faster than older generations? How do you think that will impact Italy

More than 80% of Splinder users were under 30. That says it all about
the digital divide and different adoption rates. I think social media is a
big opportunity to create a more democratic media ecosystem in Italy
that will change society.  I am optimistic. 

7.  Why do you think Italy has been slower to adopt social media than
other countries like France?

I really do not have any idea why France was so quick to adopt social media. Probably because a few large media incumbents adopted blogs (SkyBlogs) and spread the word much quicker than in Italy where all happened virally up until last year.    

8.  How is broadband connection doing in terms of availability and cost?

Unfortunately, broadband costs more in Italy than in other European countries,
because we have a de facto monopoly in Telecom Italia. Hopefully, things
will improve in the future; but it is a political decision that has to be made.

9. Tell me about your next start-up.

Right now I am exploring new fields. I am trying to understand more
about Biology and Artificial Intelligence; I am fascinated by concepts
such as Networks (in different fields having similar properties) and

July 08, 2007

The Roll-Your-Own SAP Global Survey

My SAP Global Survey project has been interesting so far with lots of great answers from several bright and knowledgeable people. Before it's over, I plan to interview about 100 people from a very broad swatch of the world. 

But, unlike the Naked Conversations project, the SAP Survey has found some legs of its own and has walked off in directions that I had not previously thought about. Hugh started a trend by posting his answers on his own site. From there, the questions were lifted by someone else, and then someone else. I've received more than 50 answers to survey-related questios I've asked on Facebook and Linked-In and the nature of the answers has taught me a few things about the differences in my two social networks.

I've also received a few email requests from interesting people who wish to be interviewed, and the folks at SAP and I both agree that the bigger the crowd, the wiser we will become with the results. So below is a generic SAP Global Survey questions set.  You can answer them on your own site and send me a link, or you can email me your answers at [email protected].
I'll post as many of them as I can. If you respond, you will be credited in the final SAP Global Survey Report.

One more thing.  This is an Open Source Survey. Feel free to ditch some questions below and ask/answer some of your own.

1. From where you sit in the world, how has social media changed your life? How about the lives of your other family members?

2. From where you sit in the world, how do you think your personal and business lives will change over the next five years? Hw about for the rest of your family?

3. What do you feel are the ascending social media tools and which are descending?

4. The folks at SAP are particularly interested in social media's impact on the global enterprise as well as small to medium-sized corporations. Do you have any knowledge or advice for them?

5. Do you have any interesting case studies of unique uses of social media?

6. What social media tools do you use?  Which are your favorites? Why.

7.  Do you see language as a barrier for  social media?  Will English become the global language of the Internet?  Should it?

8.  Are you reading more blogs or less these days? Are you watching more online video or less these days?

9. Write a question(s) for yourself and answer it.

10. Additional comments?

July 06, 2007

SAP Global Survey: Answers from AccMan

It seems that wherever I look online looking for interesting conversations on business use of social media, I find Dennis Howlett, not just participating but as a top contributor. An accountant by discipline, he has emerged as one of the most knowledgeable and generous thinkers on the impact of social media on the Global Enterprise.

He has taken my SAP Global Survey questions and posted his answers on his AccMan blog. He also has an excellent recent post on FaceBook and the Enterprise as a guest editor over at ZDNet's Between the Lines news blog.

Alec Saunders questions some FaceBook numbers

Alec Saunders points to some severe discrepancies between FaceBook's user numbers and the Comscore's visitor numbers, which have received a good deal of coverage in recent days. He shows why FaceBook's own numbers seem more credible.

I'm not a numbers guy, and I'm trying to stay a bit back from the SAP Global Survey conversation, at least while I'm conducting interviews, but I will say that overwhelmingly, FaceBook has been the most mentioned tool of social media.  This includes, generic words, such as "blog" or "online video," as well as brands like "Twitter" or "Technorati."  As far as MySpace goes, as it nears registering its 200 millionth user, it seems to be forgotten among those who have joined our conversation.

July 05, 2007

SAP Global Survey: David Weinberger

David Weinberger keynotes

[David Weinberger Keynoting at New Communications Forum. Photo by Shel]

Along with being a co-author of the legendary Cluetrain manifesto David Weinberger, is my favorite speaker on the social media circuit.  That's because he is among the most passionate and knowledgeable of us. If you have not yet read his new book, "Everything is Miscellaneous," hurry up and read this interview he gave me for the SAP Global Survey. Then click on my Amazon Affiliate button over on the right side of this page and buy his book. Here are my questions and David's answers.

1. David, how have the social media changed the world since Cluetrain was

Social media have continued to do what the Web's been doing from the beginning: Enabling people to connect. But with the growth of  social networking sites and all the rest of the loosely-defined social media consortium, the relationships themselves have some more visibility and persistence. In one sense, it's the story of the growth of metadata.

2. Where do you think it's going over the next 5-10 years?

Other than saying that we'll continue to connect and continue to innovate ways to manage the increasing scale of our social connections, I don't have any idea.

3. What are the biggest barriers to social media adoption in business?

Social networks can look like distractions from the "real" work of business. Sometimes that's the case, but more often, increasing the richness of social relationships makes organizations more robust, resilient, and innovative. Then there are the privacy issues, although generally those are manageable, within a reasonable tolerance.

4. Do you see business adoption trends forming in similar or different ways
along geographic lines?

There are obviously differences in how different cultures adopt technology. Am I missing the point?

5.  What tools do you think will emerge as the most popular in business over
the next 5- 10 years?

Jeez, if I knew that...! In the shorter term, a business has to be in a state of denial to miss the immediate benefits of using a tagging system to enable knowledge sharing and social networking software to enable expertise to emerge.

6. Here's a simple one for you. How will social media change the fundamentals of business over the next 5-10 years.

It will leech  authority  from corners of the institution that don't deserve the authority they've had. It will change the nature of leadership -- ask yourself what leadership looks like on the Web and assume that that's what it's going to look like in your organization. It will form alliances with great value and weight among employees and customers. It will cure cancer and make everyone's feet smell like clover.

7.  What do you think will happen in business as the Online Generation replaces the current generation in the workplace and in the marketplace?

They'll value loose ties as the enabler of advancement (of the business and of careers). It will look like slacking to their older generation bosses. But it's what knowledge work is going to become.

8. Could you comment on the business future of two specific social media
power tools: online video and social networks?

I can comment, but I can't comment interestingly.

Video will enable person relationships, helping the social network to loosen, scale and deepen, all at the same time.

The existing, popular social networks are setting expectations for how we want to deal with the cloud of people we now move among. Business isn't just going to use FaceBook and the like. FaceBook and the like will be the new face of business -- first internally but eventually inside and out.

10. Additional comments?

I have never made a true prediction.

Frank Paynter Takes Issue With Doc's Survey answers

Doc has received a lot of favorable comments on the blogosphere for his answers to my SAP Global Survey questions, but it is not unanimous. Frank Paynter at Listics seems to be wondering what Doc was smoking when he launched ProjectVRM, now an ongoing Harvard Law School undertaking to develop Vendor relationship management tools to counterbalance the enterprise CRM tool sets.

Says Frank, "Doc is a big-time bourgeois individualist, a self-reliance kind of guy, so VRM is likely not really about a reciprocal to CRM."

In conclusion, Frank huffs, "Now perhaps along with the communications revolution that we’ve brought to the world with our little network, there is also waiting in the wings a manufacturing and distribution revolution that will play into these VRM dreams. Some mash-up of Just In Time manufacturing of consumables and Fed-ex… If we’re agile we’ll deliver the network that addresses those supply-side changes as the market evolves to feed our individual demands for unique products and personal and private service. Maybe then I’ll be able to anonymously order up a dayglo orange Ford Model T and a case of black enamel colored mac and cheez."

Since this is a survey, I will keep my views uncharacteristically to myself. But what do you think? The bigger the crowd, the greater the wisdomas James Suroweiki would say, so keep those cards and letters coming in.

SAP Global Survey: Doc Searls

Clueful Guys
[Doc Searls emphasizes a point at Supernova, while Cluetrain co-author David Weinberger listens. Photo by Shel]

In 1999, four technology thinkers, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Christopher Locke and Rick Levine collaborated on a project.  The result was "The Cluetrain Manifesto," addressed to the people of Earth. In steadily increasing numbers, the people of Earth have benefited ever since. While the SAP Global Survey is attempting to examine the varied views of where social media is going, there is universal agreement that Cluetrain is where it all began. The following is an interview with the inimitable Doc Searls:

1. You are one of the founding fathers of whatever it is that is going on now...

And what is that? If it's Web 2.0, I demand a paternity test, and I am sure it will reveal, in the immortal words of Michael Jackson, "the kid is not my son. " If what's going on now is the Live Web, and I think it is, we shall get to it shortly.

2. How would you say the business world has changed since you and your co-authors wrote Cluetrain Manifesto?

First, the business world now runs on the Net, pretty much. Second, the business world knows that it can't get along without the Net, which helps. Third, the biz world is *beginning* to realize the Net brings, as we said in Cluetrain, a revolution in demand at least as big as the one in supply -- and not just because the demand side has joined the supply side with stuff like YouTube and BitTorrent and eBay.

In the original website version of Cluetrain, Chris Locke wrote, "we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it."

Recognizing a situation and dealing with it, however are two different things. The "dealing" has barely begun. Which brings me to what has not changed. First, we have a long way to go in equipping the demand side to express two things:

1) its independence from supply-side customer entrapment schemes -- all that crap that's devoted to "owning" and "locking in" customers, which business (and even customers) still call "consumers"; and

2) new ways to engage with vendors ways that are useful and enriching for both customers and vendors, while respecting the privacy needs of both parties. This is what ProjectVRM is all about. VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management. It's the reciprocal of Customer Relationship Management, which is the field that has been devoted to customer entrapment for far too long, and which has borne nearly the full weight of "relating" to customers -- and entirely on terms supplied by vendors. Customers need to be able to set terms as well, and to relate in ways that work for both sides. ProjectVRM is headquartered at the


Center for Internet and Society at


University. It's a project I started, though it is no longer mine alone, which is terrific.

[Editor's note--It appears that immediately following subnmitting his responses to this survey, Doc made his current entry on the Project VRM blog entitled--"Why surveys suck."]

Second, in the

U.S. we have come to regard the Internet as a "service" that works as gravy on top of our telephone or cable TV connections. Billing from our local cable/telco duopoly supports that assumption, monthly.

Meanwhile, the Net itself remains as it was designed to be in the first place: a simple set of ways to connect devices over any distance with as close to zero cost and hassle as possible, and with minimal interference from the companies that own the "pipes."

If we were to write Cluetrain today I'm sure we would make a strong case for regarding the Internet as a public good with enormous "because effects." That is, far more money would be made because of it, rather than with it.

This is, in fact, already the case, though it is barely recognized. The telcos and cablecos have Congress, state legislators and even citizens convinced that the Internet is something that belongs to them and that they can do with what they please. This is a Bad Thing.

I'm not sure we require legislation to correct it (which puts me at odds with my friends in the Net Neutrality camp), but I am sure it needs correction. How is an open question. I'm rooting for local action, especially by small new businesses that bring the Net to citizens without hauling cable-type TV along.

3. What is the biggest surprise to you on how social media has developed?

I've got to admit that I don't like the term "social media." When I  hear or read it, I tune out. My problem isn't with the word "social," but with the word "media." It's a loaded word, framed by a hundred  years' experience with pre-Net "media" that reduced everything to "content" (another word I dislike) that was then "delivered" somehow. There is a a sense of distance to "media" that I believe diminshes our understanding of the Net. It's a bugaboo with me, and I'll admit to being pretty much alone with it.

4.You described the term Web 2.0 as the name for the next bubble. Do you still think this is true? Is it true of social media as well?

I've said "Web 2.0 is what we'll call the next crash," as well as the current bubble. and I still believe that. Social Media as a "meme"

may sink with the same boat. The more useful distinction is between the Live Web and the Static Web. The Live Web today is branching off of the Static Web. Much of what we call "social" happens there, though I dislike the "media" term because it's old and freighted with concepts inherited from TV, radio and all that.

To understand what I mean, consider what we're saying when we call the Web a collection of "domains" and "sites" with "locations" and "addresses" that we " build" -- and where we look for "visitors" and "traffic." We're saying the Web is real estate. We conceive it in terms we've borrowed from real estate and construction.

The Web was designed by Tim Berners-Lee in the first place as a way to share and edit documents that we write and publish. Later, we added syndication to that publishing-based vocabulary. Thanks to time-stamped RSS (really simple syndication --thanks, Dave Winer, for that one) feeds, everything in the syndicated section of the Live Web is chronologically based. There is an implicit date-ness to your basic blog URL:http://blogname.com/year/month/day/post. That post has a Permalink. Think about "perma" in a chronological sense.

The whole blogosphere is chronological. What's latest is on top, but what's older does not merely scroll off the page into oblivion. It goes into a time-based archive. What's more, Technorati and Google Blog Search both update their search engines within minutes or even seconds of when an RSS feed is posted. That's live.

For all its texty nature, email is also relatively live, because it is date-based. Same with texting, instant messaging, Twittering and other time-based practices. For an illustration of how the Live Web differs from the Static Web, go to Google Blogsearch. Notice how it gives you a choice to "Search Blogs" or "Search the Web."

Why make this distinction? Are blogs not part of the Web? Oddly, there is new stuff on Google Blogsearch that does not appear in regular Google Web searches. What you find on Blogsearch and Technorati is literally "too new for Google." Meaning: too current, too *live*. Google's main search engine crawls and indexes the entire Web, but regards and presents it essentially as something static.

If a site (a static notion) changes, Google indexes and caches that, and wipes out the old stuff. Then it replaces the last index of that site with a new one if it finds changes. Yes, Static Web search embraces and appreciates the changing nature of the Web's "content," but it treats what's current as a static thing with no history. Google's view is fundamentally static, not live. Blogsearch, however, does have a live view, but it's a secondary one. After you get your result (which is relevance-based), then click on "date view", and there it is, organized chronologically.

Technorati, which was born to search the Live Web, defaults to a date view. It still does not have a relevance view (Google Blogsearch's default), though it does filter by "authority" (a term I don't like, because it's too loaded -- but it was borrowed from Google long ago and is still around).


By the way, Technorati was invented by David Sifry as a research tool for a story about blogging that he and I were co-writing in late 2002. The rest is history. I'm still on the advisory board.

Anyway, I'm a voice in the Web 2.0/social media wilderness about the Live/Static Web distinction, but I'll keep yelling. Forgive.

5. How has business fundamentally changed because of social media? How will it change in the coming years?

The walls of business will come down. That's the main effect of the Net itself. Companies are people and are learning to adapt to a world where everybody is connected, everybody contributes, and everybody is zero distance (or close enough) from everybody else. This is the "flat world" Tom Friedman wrote "The World is Flat" about, and he's right. Business on the whole has still not fully noticed this, however.

6.What similarities and differences do you see in the adoption of social media in different sectors of the world?

The big difference is between the U.S. (or perhaps North America) and the rest of the world, in respect to the devices used. Our cell phone system is relatively primitive compared to those in Europe, Asia and even Africa;We text (as a verb) far less. And we use computers far more. Our orientation to the Net is still browser-based rather than any-device-based. I think phones are inherently more personal and social than computers. On the other hand, computers are more open than most phones -- even those overseas. But in the long run progress toward constructive openness will happen on both.

7. What tools do you see increasing in power? Which do you see decreasing?

In general tools that increase freedom and choice are what matter. The ones I care about are the ones we're working on with ProjectVRM. They have to do with independent individual-controlled identity and the ability to express preferences, choices and demand, across whole markets rather than just within vendor silos. I see CRM as we understand it now -- ways to own and manage the creatures called consumers changing utterly once VRM comes along. I believe this will change business itself, and markets along with it. That change will be profound, and positive. Or we'll be proved wrong and join David Weinberger (my Cluetrain co-author and a skeptic about independent identity and VRM) in what he once called his "trough of despair." Right now the VRM glass is .0001% full. I'm looking forward to seeing it filled the rest of the way in my lifetime. Since I turn 60 this month, we'd better hurry up.

8. You have written and spoken extensively on your vision of an Intention Economy. Could you describe it briefly and talk about how social media ties into it? Do you see evidence on it moving from a vision to a reality?

The intention economy is one based on what customers actually want. It is one that removes the guesswork that requires advertising, PR, promotion and most of what we still call marketing. It is what happens when we equip customers with means to tell whole market categories exactly what they want, and have vendors compete to give it to them -- and not to have to enter a privately owned silo or a walled garden (e.g. eBay or Amazon or Orbitz) to get it. It's an open market ambition of mine. And it's part of what VRM is all about.

The upside for customers is getting what they want,without having to fly like a bee from flower to flower, visiting a series of vendor silos that are all customer traps. The upside for vendors is getting rid of guesswork about what customers actually

I think it will work because the Intention Economy is based on what people with money in hand actually want. Not some kluge based on creating demand" and "managing attention" and other marketing jive like that.

9. Do you see social media emerging differently in d ifferent parts of the world? Please describe.


I think cultures are social in different ways. As the Net opens up and gets cheaper everywhere -- especially on mobile devices, we'll see how that plays out. Right now I can only guess. And I won't because it's the 4th of July and already the guests want to kill me for sitting in a room typing rather than coming out to the pool and drinking beer and getting social in the real world.

10. Do you see social media adoption taking different routes in small and medium sized businesses, v large enterprises?

Sure. But again, the time thing.

11 Additional comments?

Let's have a beer sometime. Thanks for the chance to ramble and rant!

Ramble and rant all you want, Doc. Just name a date for the beer. I'll buy the first two.


July 04, 2007

Scoble Responds to SAP Global Survey

[Robert Scoble with Camera at the Maker's Faire. Photo by Shel.]

According to Technorati, Robert Scoble is the world's 35th most popular blogger.  If you slice it down to the category of technology or technology business, he is in the top half-dozen. There is no person I know who has a better ear for the sound of social media's heartbeat than Robert Scoble. He simply knows what's going on.  He finds out by tirelessly conducting conversations with geeks everywhere all the time and he has some clear answers for the SAP Global Survey.

The following are his views on what is happening and is about to happen.  The executive summary: Have a FaceBook strategy.

1. You are a recognized industry leader and pioneer. How has social media changed since you first got involved?

It's gotten faster and the world has gotten smaller. Today I have thousands of friends on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, and Pownce. When the Mexico City earthquake happened earlier this year seven people were on Twitter WHILE THE EARTHQUAKE WAS HAPPENING! That was a very different experience than, say, 9/11 where lots of people were online, but mostly talking through IM.

2. How would you describe the state of social media today?

        Expanding and expanding fast.

3.  Where do you think it is going over the next five years?

        Video and mobile. Video and mobile. Video and mobile. Video and mobile. Video and             mobile. Video and mobile. Video and mobile. Video and mobile. Video and mobile.

        I think I said that enough times. Heheh.

4. When I first discussed this survey with you, you said all I had to do was look at FaceBook, Kyte.tv and a few others. Just what did you mean by that.

I've only been on Facebook two weeks and I have 2,000 friends there already. On Kyte.tv my video channel has been visited tens of thousands of times (and it, too, is only a few weeks old).

5.  This is a Global Survey.  What is your perception of how social media is evolving in the world's different regions?

Watch http://www.twittervision.com and you'll see every country in the world represented. It's growing extremely fast everywhere.

Robert & Patrick Scoble

[Scoble and son Patrick at home, checking out what's happening online. Photo by Shel]

6. What differences --if any--do you see in how small to medium business is adopting social media v. huge corporations.?

Small ones usually do a more human job of communicating. Employees at small companies take more risks, generally, by doing something different. Look at "Will it Blend" over on YouTube. Would a big-company executive have done what that guy has done?

7. This is, of course, an SAP Survey.  Hugh MacLeod told me that the lines between social media and SAP's core application, ERP are getting very blurry.  Do you agree?  If you were advising SAP on strategic adjustment, what would you tell them?

I'd agree. I've seen enterprises pick up social software. BEA's application now has wikis and tagging and blogging built in. So does Sharepoint from Microsoft.

For big companies the marketing challenge is to appear small and nimble. It's why, if SAP announced an iPhone version tonight, the world would pay attention. The problem with big companies is that they move too slowly to really capitalize on the attention of the early adopters. By the time SAP adopts Twitter it'll be old news and not many people will pay attention.

So, how does SAP build one hot feature in every quarter? That's what I'd try to do.

8.  How will businesses reach your son Patrick?  What will they need to get his attention, gain his loyalty and make him willing to tell others about their goods and services?

Copy Apple. Er, understand what Steve Jobs and Apple has done. Whatever Apple is doing they are reaching young people very effectively.

But, right now I'd have a FaceBook strategy. Every startup in the valley is having to articulate whether or not they have a FaceBook strategy and if they do, what it is.

Does SAP have one?

9.  What social media tools are on the rise and which are sinking?  Is this the same or different worldwide as far as you know?

Hot: Facebook.
Hot: iPhone.
Hot: Twitter/Pownce/Jaiku (Pownce is hottest this week).
Cooling: blogging (Twitter is taking a lot of attention away from it).
Hot: Photosharing services and Scrapblogging stuff.
Steady but not sexy: Wikis.
Cooling: Second Life.

July 03, 2007

Tom Raftery Answers SAP Global Survey Q's

My friend Tom Raftery is a highly visible Cork-based blogger respected for his views on all matters related to IT, particularly social software. He has followed Hugh MacLeod's lead and posted his answers to my SAP Global Survey questions on his own blog and like Hugh, his answers are rich in insight and advice.

Tom reports that Irish business adoption remains slow partly because of poor broadband availability. However, some tools are starting to get noticed, thanks in part to the current Irish economic boom. Of course, the fastest adoption is by tech companies.  He says there is a good deal more happening behind firewalls rather than through them.

He predicts that Irish business desire to more greatly access US and UK markets will spur social media growth because of the high social media adoption rate in those large and lucrative markets. Of interest to SAP, will be Tom's forecast that RSS enabled slices of ERP will emerge and be of great value.

Most social media in Ireland is for personal use with social media and online video dominating. professionals use social media to promote personal, rather than company brands. Tom also notes how his success as a blogger and business podcaster have contributed to his personal success, generating speaking invitations in America and in the EU.

Thanks Tom.  You've added value and insight to the conversation

Kami's answers to the SAP Global Survey

Kami Huyse is author of Communications Overtones, one of my favorite POR blogs and is principal of my PR Pro, which assembles teams to serve the social media needs of clients in the Southwest. I asked kami for help on the SAP Global Survey because she works in a region and with clients far different than my own. While I dwell in the tech-centricity of Silicon Valley, Kami's clients are not. They just use technology for getting the job done in other areas.

Here are kami's answers:

1. By my count, you have only been in the world of social media for a little more than a year. In that short period of time, how have you seen it change?

One year and seven months.  I have often measured  social media time in dog years.  In some ways, each week seems like an eternity with all of the changes.  One of the most striking has been the rise of the social networking spaces, such as MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube.  These platforms have matured in over the past year in ways that didn't seem possible before.  People are collecting "friends," but I wonder if the focus is as firmly entrenched in the idea of building relationships as it was when I first started.  The scale of social media has expanded to such an extent that it no longer encompasses just early adopters.  Social media have now broken into the consciousness of the general public.  Even if you don't create content or read blogs, the mainstream media is following and quoting those that are influential in the realm of social media.  It is hard to escape the fact that the content creators have also become gatekeepers.

2. In Texas and the  Southwest, who, in general, is coming into blogging and social media? What about business and the enterprise?

Some of the most notable corporations in Texas to take up blogging have been Dell's "Direct to Dell" blog in , Dallas and Southwest Airlines "Nuts About Southwest" blog in Houston.They have been great examples for many of my clients and other communication professionals.  When I first started exploring social media in 2005, none of my clients incorporated any of its elements, but today all of them participate at some level -- even if it is only monitoring.  One of my clients, SeaWorld San Antonio, just completed a social media campaign centered around the opening of its new ride, "Journey to Atlantis," that incorporated YouTube, Flickr and a purpose-built website.  We are now reformulating that site to broaden its scope.

3.  What tools do you see business embracing? Why?

First, I see businesses very interested in monitoring what is being said about them in blogs, podcasts and other social media.  Some of the tools we use to do this are RSS feeds from Technorati and Google Blog Search.  We also add in must-read blogs and podcasts that are culled daily via an RSS reader.  My clients are very interested in online publishing tools like Wordpress and Movable Type, but they are just as likely to go with a more proprietary solution.  In other words, they are interested in results, in solutions that meet their business needs.  The only difference is that now they are open to social media tools as a part of that mix.

4. When it comes to social media issues, who is most influencing business decisions?

I tend to work with the top communication and marketing professionals at the Director and above level.  However, in every case where a company incorporates social media there has been buy-in from the topmost level of the organization.  In organizations where we don't get that buy-in, the program moves slowly, if at all.

5. What do people talk about on the social media that you follow?  In business circles what are the conversations that you see grab hold, and which do you see just sort of trail off?

Most companies aren't interested in a "blog," or at least the word "blog."  But, when you explain that through social media they can reach stakeholders they could not previously reach, that brings intense interest.  So, I have launched a "news" site, with comments, and have reached out to stakeholders by providing them coveted content.  This kind of language seems to play well in the C-suite.  Business hasn't changed. In general, it is ready to do whatever it takes to communicate with customers and getresults.  We just have to be willing to explain social media in a language they can understand and show real business results.

6.  Can you give me some examples of how your clients use social media?

Yes. I've already mentioned SeaWorld San Antonio and your readers can also read the case study, I posted  last month.  Another client, eDrugSearch.com, is using a blog as a way to reach out to the healthcare blogging community to help people make their own decisions about their health.  I am working with another client, Fizzy Meals, to launch a blog where Fizzy provides insight into healthy eating.  I also have clients interested in a two-way communication mechanism for Internal staff, especially in a crisis.  The platform would include SMS (text messaging), e-mail blasts, a RSS-fed news module, forums for employees to ask and receive aid, and other features.  It would also have a public-facing news platform that would spring into action as needed.  Other clients just choose to monitor what is being said about them.

7.  What trends do you see taking off in general and in the business sector?

Businesses are very interested in results. This is nothing new.  What's new is their willingness to consider social media as a part of their business strategy is very new.

8.  How, in your opinion, has blogging changed business communications?

I am not entirely sure it has changed it much yet.  I do think there is a breed of communicator today that understands that, to be effective, we need to build relationships.  However, I am concerned that some people are just going through the motions and not seeing the true power these tools have given us to engage in a two-way conversation with our stakeholders.  This is very different than collecting "friends" that you will never know and pushing out content in the hopes that it will win eyeballs.

9.  Lets play visionary. How will social media have changed business five years from today?  How about 10?

Ah, the role of visionary.  If I had a magic wand I would insist on world peace...That being the impossible dream, I would settle for getting along a little better.   In all seriousness though, social media has already started to change the fabric of the way that people gather and consume news.  If you look at the statistics, the younger generations no longer rely on television as their main source of information.  They do rely on the Internet and their cell phones.  However, over the next five to ten years, the Baby Boomers, who do love television, will be working through the system, so I don't think television, newspapers and other more traditional forms of media will die. However, I do think they will evolve.  We see this already.  Publishers are already becoming producers, witness the offering of viral video at the "Wall Street Journal," the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post."  Conversely, television producers, such as CNN, are putting more emphasis on their Web properties.  Business will follow this trend and become content creators.  I think that this is the Golden Age of content and parsing it out will be the big challenge.  With so many voices, there will be a growing crisis of attention, and the companies that can solve that problem and win a share of the attention will be the real winners.

July 02, 2007

Ken Camp answers Hugh's SAP Global Survey Q's

Ken Camp who has Digital Common Sense took the questions I sent to Hugh MacLeod and posted his answers which are decidedly different than Hugh's.

As far as I'm concerned, this could not be better. First Hugh posts his answers rather than send them back to me, then Ken Remixes the questions with his own answers and not the conversation is going all over the place. Ken's answers will most certainly get integrated into the SAP Global Survey.

Please feel free to take these very same questions and answer them on your blog. Just send me a link, through my email, or better, by posting a comment. If this thing spreads like a meme, no one at SAP will be unhappy, trust me on this. My tag is " SAP Global Survey."

You can even ignore the questions and just post something addressing these general issues:

  • How is social media developing in different sectors of the world? We are interested by tools, by users, by company size or any otherslices you think of.
  • What does this mean looking forward at the near term future?  How should businesses adjust. How will the enterprise adopt, adapt or resist the impact of social media?
  • SAP is of course concerned with ERP, enterprise software and small-to-medium businesses. What insights do you have in that area?
  • Above all, SAP aspires to be recognized as a social media thought leader.  We are looking for really big thoughts about the future of markets, business, culture, and Hell, let's throw in world peace

SAP Global Survey Questions for you

I started using Linked In and FaceBook to ask questions of my friend networks applicable to the SAP Global Research survey on social media that I'm conducting. The responses have come fast and are generally of high quality. The length and style reveal the essential difference between the two social networks. There were no significant social networks when Scoble and I blogged early Naked Conversations chapters. We would have been able to have a lot more conversations with a lot more people and that would have been valuable. 

But it dawned on me, that I should be asked my questions here as well. Below is the first.  If you wish to answer, please leave a comment here. The larger the crowd that gives me input, the more valuable the wisdom of my report.

Question #1.

How do you think social media will change your life at work and at home over the next five years?

July 01, 2007

Hugh MacLeod is 1st to answer SAP Global Survey Qs

Hugh MacLeod (c), Robert Scoble (l)

[Hugh MacLeod draws his signature cartoons on back of business cards as Robert Scoble watches with admiration at a San Francisco Blogger dinner last month. Photo by Shel.)

Gaping Void's Hugh MacLeod is the first to answer my questions for the SAP Global Survey I announced a week ago.  To my surprise he answered the questions on his own site, a move that is nearly as brilliant as his answers.

he talks about the difficulty of predicting and the surprises of the recent past. He sees a migration away from blogging and nto sociaql networking and explains why. He observes on the cultural differences between, people and businesses in the US, UK, France, Germany and even Denmark. Heobserves how people are using lots of tools in lots of ways and describes business decision-makers that he encounters as being in the "head-scratching phase." He even has narrow and specific advice for my client SAP.

There's a lot more over at his site, not to mention yet another great cartoon. Plus I now get to tell the world that Hugh was my first.

If you would like to contribute to this survey please either comment here or email me at [email protected].

June 30, 2007

Social Networks Helping My SAP Global Survey

Something significant has changed since Robert and I used this blog to write Naked Conversations: Social Networks have happened. I have been posting questions related to the Survey on FaceBook and Linked In. Both are giving me quality insights from people with who I did not previously connect.

About an hour ago I asked on LinkedIn: "How do you think social media will impact business over the next five years?" In the first hour I got five great answers and a referral [I'm not sure if non-members can see the page].

It's only my third day on the project,but one of the global trends is overwhelmingly clear.  Social networks are fast emerging and being embraced by business. I have another 57 days to learn just how people think they will impact businesses worldwide and their relationships to customers.

June 29, 2007

Theresa Valdez Klein: The future is the social network

I've been on Facebook now for just a couple of weeks and am finding it very useful. One neat--but not unique feature-- is that I can post questions to my personal network.  To bolster my SAP Global Survey, my current question is:"What trends do you see in social media?"

So far there has only been one respondent and that was from , the talented member of the Blog Business Summit team.  She wrote that in Web 2.0 companies started blogs and in Web 3.0 they'll engage customers with social networks. She has taken her idea and extended it into a blog post.

I think that is a pretty savvy forecast of things to come. This idea will most certainly make it into my SAP Survey report--with attribution of course.

Do you have a thought on this? Will social networks become a standard feature of the online company of the future?

June 27, 2007

Announcing the SAP Global Research report

This project really tickles me.  In many ways, I could call it "Naked Conversations, the Sequel." Here's what happened.

Giovanni Rodriguez, co-founder of Hubbub, a global social media consulting network , contacted me last month, asking for help with his client SAP. Now, I'm more of a startups guy than an enterprise player, partly because I like decisions made fast. Ad hoc works better for me than systems in place. Once everyone understands the "best practice" I usually move on to practice something more imperfect. But SAP has done a lot of cool things in social media and seems to have been collaborative in its attitude, so I listened to Giovanni.

Giovanni told me that social media thought leadership was a strategic imperative at SAP and that the project they had in mind was to simply get a handle on what is happening in the world regarding social media. Giovanni asked me how I would search for an answer to that question.
I told him I would approach the project in the same way that Scoble and I had researched the book. I would talk to a whole bunch of people in diverse locations and cultures, in businesses of all sizes.  Giovanni liked the idea and I wrote up a one-page proposal, which he forwarded to his client.

In a short and painless process, I got an approval. To get started, I met Michael Prosceno, SAP VP for Global Communications, the guy who had just hired me, at the Los Gatos Original Pancake House, a venue known for huge portions and low prices, well off the corporate circuit.

Mike told me that his personal ambition was to fundamentally change how PR is practiced, making me realize that he, Giovanni and I are fellow travelers. His attitude made it easy for me to try to push the envelope. Most corporate research is is considered sacred and proprietary, thus conflicting with the social media 'Cult of Generosity.'

I suggested to Mike that we conduct and report on this project, transparently, online on this site in the same way Robert and I wrote Naked Conversations. If the book had magic, had not come from the research or the actual writing.  It came from the collaboration we had shared with the blogosphere.  Bloggers gave us leads. They corrected the facts.  They let us know when we were making valid points and when we had gone over the top.

I proposed that we do the SAP Global Social Media Research on this blog, in collaboration with the blogosphere, that we do it transparently and that what we find we share on this blog. This, as far as I know, would differentiate it from any market research and the process in itself would become an example of thought leadership.

Mike loved the idea. He needed to have an internal conversation, take an overdue vacation and would get back to me. That was about two weeks ago. Last night, Mike emailed Giovanni and me in atypical corporate style. "It's a go" he wrote, and I quote it's entirety.

So here I go. I have 60 days to produce three anecdotal research reports on The Americas; Asia Pacific and Europe-Mediterranean-West Asia and I need your help.

Here's what I am doing.  I am trying to answer a single, overwhelming question: "What is going on in the world with regard to social media? I am looking for useful statistics, but those are often outdated before they are published as we learned with the book.

Mostly I am looking for real people with stories and personal experience about what is happening with blogging, video, online communities and assorted conversational media. I'd like to get some anecdotal granularity on why blogging is taking off in Poland these days, or how social media behavior is different in Italy than it is in Russia and Canada.

I want your stories.  For those of you who started reading this blog after the book was published, I interviewed most of the people in a Q & A style and posted them on this site.  Then other people left comments.  Those interviews got incorporated into chapters.  Early versions of the chapters were then posted and we received more comments before finalizing the chapter.

So, please start those cards and letters coming now.  If you have a story that reveals something about blogging, blogging trends in any country of the world please let me know.  SAP is more interested in business than consumer, but what people are doing is  valuable in that it shapes  all markets. You are encouraged to leave a comment here.  If you are shy you can email me at [email protected].

I have only 59 1/2 days until deadline so please start helping me now.