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Quirky, the product development community, has launched again after a redesign of their website. If you’re unfamiliar with the site, the premise is simple: every day we are faced with situations where a doodad or widget would make our lives easier. We are not inventors but we could be, if we worked together.

Quirky brings together a community of every day inventors to come up with new ideas for products, work together to bring these ideas to life, and finally manufacture the product for sale.

The ideas that emerge from the community are usually simple solutions to every day problems: how to better clean up the cords on your desk, slice a melon, or organize your pens. But what is innovative is the glimpse it gives into a potential future of product development, one in which the innovation process is inextricably tied to actual consumers.

It works now on a small scale to produce tangible results, but how far off are we from having the ability as amateur inventors and enthusiasts of changing entire industries with crowdsourced ideas?

Check out Local Motors, the first open source car company, recently featured in a Wired story about the upcoming DIY revolution in product design. Their “Rally Fighter” has reached production and can be had for $50k. The car was designed by the 10 person company with help from a large online community of car builders and enthusiasts who helped materialize the concept art of graphic artist Sangho Kim.

As the costs of small batch manufacturing come down industries will need to adapt to a burgeoning market of local/guild producers to stay relevant to consumer needs.


baidu_0I came across an interesting article on, the dominant search engine in the PRC.  Focused on their market dominance versus Google, who seem to still be struggling with strategy for growth (and particularly in administration) in China, the article provides some insight into how this company has succeeded, and where their recent past and current focuses lie.

An excerpt: “‘Once Baidu went public, they invested in brand advertising, something that Google has just been arrogant in their reluctance in a growing market to invest in any kind of advertising to increase their brand awareness,’ explained Harrington. ‘Baidu went into all the smaller cities and put up billboards, bus ads, and even commercials.”‘

Internet proliferation and usage differs across the world, and the online experience varies widely based on cultural factors, government and other regulatory decisions, and commercial forces. In the U.S., we see a handful of  companies branching out into new technologies and usages umbrella-style, for example, growing from a search-based model to include media technologies, social networking tools, communications functions, and even platform and user interface technologies.  We also see companies that were formerly communications (email) based wrap their arms around “Web 2.0” features and strategies in order to stay relevant.  Baidu is doing some of this too, certainly aware of leading trends in the U.S., however they are acting in strategic consideration of limitations related to Chinese government restrictions.  The thing to keep in mind is that the Internet evolves in different ways in different parts of the world – our own “user experience” does not necessarily represent that of others.

Check out the article, though.  There are some really interesting facts about Internet usage in the PRC.

Brian Solis and JESS3 have published an updated version of their “Conversation Prism.”  This infographic charts the many ways in which online and real world interactions are evolving, and the primary applications we use to communicate. In its current form, I find this to be a good resource for introduction/reminders about services for different channels, but if periodic updates continue, I can see this becoming a great tool for brainstorming and decision making.

Link to a mostly readable image

From their blog, “Using the Conversation Prism , we can visualize and map the shifting landscape of social networks and micro communities to observe and conduct our initial fieldwork through digital anthropology. The process reveals everything, from measurement opportunities to participation strategies to the specific infrastructure changes necessitated by the new proactive and reactive process of engagement in the social Web.”

Advertisers seem to have developed a love/hate relationship with Twitter. As the fastest growing social media site, it is obviously important that brands establish a presence on Twitter. However, what happens when the user-generated content of Twitter works against the brand, instead of working for it? What happens when good buzz goes sour?

The recently launched responds to this issue. (Check out Adage coverage of the ANA Brand Innovation Conference.) Tinker is linked to users’ Twitter accounts. It compiles all of the Twitter tweets about a specific topic, brand or event, such as Apple Computers or the American Idol Finale. Tinker then filters through tweets to find only the positive remarks (excluding competitor mentions, profanity, and other negative publicity), and displays them as a stand-alone feature. Marketers can connect their Tinker display to their webpage, Facebook page, etc.

It will be interesting to see how Tinker will develop as users catch on to the trend. But despite new marketing options, I still feel like Twitter is the way to go. The internet is full of brand messages crafted by the brand, delivered to the consumer. What consumers ultimately care about (and what Twitter could provide if used correctly) are consumer messages about the brand. Imagine the possibilities if advertisers could influence users to tweet 140 character blurbs to the effect of: “This Coke is better than–,” or “The Carolina Hurricanes are the best thing that ever happened to the triangle.” How to get users to mention products in their tweets is the real challenge.

We’re a little obsessed with twitter here at W5. Mind you, we’re not obsessed with actually twittering (or “tweeting” or whatever the kids are calling it these days). We just like to talk about it, argue about its value, and post about it on this blog. (For the record: This is our seventh post that mentions twitter.)

I’m more than willing to out myself as the twitter-skeptic. It’s always seemed a bit too much about navel-gazing and not enough about actually saying something interesting. I’ve lamented its ubiquity and predicted its demise, but it keeps getting bigger and bigger. I was beginning to feel like I was alone in my twitter-phobia…like I was the old codger (at 34) who just didn’t get it.

Thankfully, I came across this video. Now I know I’m not completely alone. Enjoy.

A little marketing research can go a long way. With Facebook’s Terms of Use fiasco, I ask myself, “Did anybody think about potential backlash?” For $30,000, they could have gauged the response of hundreds of members. Instead, they made a business decision that was short-sighted and ill-informed. Now they have had to reverse course after being brutally flogged by their constituents and the media. I just wonder how much this will cost in terms of brand equity; it will likely be considerably more than they could have spent on sound research.

We’ve been discussing social networks a lot as of late, and for good reason. As marketing researchers, we’re often asked to use our knowledge of social networks to develop strategies in which these relationships can be utilized to meet marketing objectives. Often, the best sources for exploring social networks today are online social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc. These sites offer a breadth and depth of networking information unparalleled by any other source. Unfortunately, there are some real shortcomings in using virtual networks to infer conclusions about “real world” networks.

Johan Lehrer, editor-at-large of Seed, has a great post over at The Frontal Cortex (by far, my blog of the month) detailing the differences in virtual network dynamics and real world network dynamics.

For more information about the cutting-edge academic research being conducted using these virtual networks, be sure to check out the work of James Fowler, Associate Professor of Political Science at UCSD.

A while back I wrote about Twitter and its seemingly meteoric rise. In the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about Twitter and social networking from more of a business perspective. While it’s easy to build your online presence as an individual, I’ve noticed that corporate entities are getting a lot of advice as to how to social network. Unfortunately as often happens with free advice, a lot of it is not that great.

Too often, the new breed of social media expert is taking tired marketing and communications methods, adding some glitter and shine, and treating new online and mobile channels as the same old stuff. I’m seeing a lot of top ten lists that talk about ROI, about how to get your message out, about avoiding the mundane. Too often companies are being told to push commercials or marketing messages to the mobile phone. Broadcast static specials or new product announcements to Facebook or Twitter.

Many of these experts/evangelists/buzz generators seem to be missing the point. The problem with all of this is that as consumers use the internet more and more in everyday life, they get savvier about being sold to. They don’t want their mobile device (be it an IPhone or netbook), Twitter account, Facebook Page, etc. to merely be a new conduit for one way information sharing. For consumers it’s about being social, about doing things together, about being awash in the matrix of information that’s out there and sipping when they want. There is one overarching piece of advice that companies should follow when establishing a presence using online user controlled channels:

Use social media as a means of having a conversation.

Don’t forget, conversations are as much about listening as they are talking. Let your consumers talk to you, express their complaints, ask questions. Use the consumer interactions as an opportunity to respond, fix customer service/product issues, and bring consumers in on the process. People are using these methods to talk to each other, when your Twitter page merely announces specials or new product launches, there is no need to follow it. If it’s a conversation you’re sharing information, receiving information, and potentially identifying issues or opportunities in the marketplace. Use social networking to show you care, to show a little of your personality. Despite what many of these experts say, allowing a little about the daily grind of your office to bleed into your online presence is a good thing. While it shouldn’t be a minute by minute recap of the user’s day, showing that real life people work for your company can really add dimension to your brand. You might just create loyal customers who tell their friends to use your products and services.