Virtual Discos: My spin through Second Life

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For years I’ve read about Second Life and didn’t get it. Now after spending a few hours on it, I admit it’s still not my cup of tea. Apparently, I’m not alone. Ten years after launch, Second Life’s growth has stalled at 1 million, and I’m betting they are just the kind of users Tom Boellstroff came to know more than a half-a-decade ago when Second Life was still so avant-garde. He is an anthropologist. But I couldn’t help thinking of sociological and psychological questions about who comes to Second Life and why – and if there is an applicability for commerce outside the band of entrepreneurs already serving the community. But I heartly agree with Boellstroff that Second Life as a whole is a culture, even if it has multiple subcultures.

451px-BronislawmalinowskiFor my venture into Second Life I adopted a feminized name of Boellstroff’s inspiration, Bronnie Malinowski (the original Bronislaw Malinowski is the guy in the portrait to the right), and opted for blond hair (do they really have more fun?) and the so-called student attire (grad student on reconnaisance) and stylish backpack included. I quickly jumped from the beach and then went looking for some of my favorite cities: London, Paris, Miami, New York, Buenos Aires to name a few. The landmarks were fun to see, but they all seemed to have a disco. And after seeing a couple of avatars’ moves and you’ve seen them all.

25_rosedale_philip(An interesting insight I stumbled across from Second Life Founder Philip Rosedale…”one of the biggest surprises he had building SecondLife was how when given total creative license, most of the houses just looked like ones in Malibu. Most people just covet the things they know, he says. And in the US, perhaps that life is attainable enough. And for those who can’t attain it, there are already well-trod ways to escape into it, through television, music videos, or RomComs set in Manhattan where everything winds up okay. Perhaps they want the culture that’s already built for them, not the responsibility to build it themselves. Full write up here.)

After our reading, however, I was surprised to have minimal social interactions on Second Life – just three over the course of my multiple visits and all of them the most superficial of sorts. Personally, I found the stop-motion-vibe of the entire experience at times unpleasant and hard to navigate smoothly. And perhaps the most virtual I felt was in discos when a creepy guy would invade my avatar’s space and not offer to chat. So more realistic than I expected, eh? I found myself most taken with the fantasy sites I visited – Musiclandia and Serenity Gardens – for their better-than-reality creations, interactive elements and relative lack of crowds. (One viewer was so taken by Musiclandia, she posted her own video of her avatar’s trip there on YouTube .)

I found this week’s second reading a bit more of service, with its good discussion of techniques for digital ethnography, even if its references were dated. How quaint it was to read that just 10 years ago social scientists were pondering, “Until consumer digital technology products like cellular phones, faxes, and digital cameras become common household items, we will tackle a steeper learning and logistics curve bringing the participants into the research process.”

Steve Jobs must have been reading.

Indeed, the modern era provides tools Malinowski could not have dreamed of and that commerce is already exploiting, from Twitter and instant feedback to Google alerts. The challenge – for academic research in particular – is how to insure the data comes from a representative sample, when appropriate, and that data gathering itself does not skew the results because of participant awareness as in the Valentine’s Day experiment. Nor have we resolved that privacy issue the authors’ mentioned, have we?

And if you still haven’t had a chance, please take a moment for Joni’s Silly Survey.

QUESTIONS:

1. Do you think Second Life has reached its peak? Do you envision any changes or technology advances that would allow it to grow again? (Oh, and please tell me YOUR avatar’s name!)

2. Nowadays we all give data to commerce via cookies, etc., mobile applications on the Internet — but tell ourselves that in the aggregate it doesn’t mean much. But under what conditions would you go a step further and give a researcher carte blanche access to parts or all of the  personal contents on your mobile device/email account, etc?

3. A previous reading talked about research connected to Twitter; now we have Second Life; is there anyway to do something similar on Facebook, where privacy settings make it impossible for a “digital ethnographer” to lurk?

(Old) News Alert: Buying Twitter followers

So stumbled today on this year-old New York Times story about buying Twitter followers….Full story here, excerpt below.

“…It may be the worst-kept secret in the Twittersphere. That friend who brags about having 1,000, even 100,000 Twitter followers may not have earned them through hard work and social networking; he may have simply bought them on the black market. And it’s not just ego-driven blogger types. Celebrities, politicians, start-ups, aspiring rock stars, reality show hopefuls — anyone who might benefit from having a larger social media footprint — are known to have bought large blocks of Twitter followers. The practice is surprisingly easy. A Google search for “buy Twitter followers” turns up dozens of Web sites like USocial.netInterTwitter.com, and FanMeNow.com that sell Twitter followers by the thousands (and often Facebook likes and YouTube views). At BuyTwitterFollow.com, for example, users simply enter their Twitter handle and credit card number and, with a few clicks, see the ranks of their followers swell in three to four days…”

 

News alert: Online Reputation Management on trial

Thought my classmates would like to see this: We haven’t talked much about online reviews in class yet, but New York’s attorney general has signaled he will crack down on false reviews that mislead consumers. Excerpt here, link to full story below:

“Investigators working for Mr. Schneiderman began by posing as the owner of a Brooklyn yogurt shop that was the victim of unfair reviews. Could the reputation management firm gin up some good reviews to drown out the naysayers?

All too often the answer was yes. The investigation revealed a web of deceit in which reviewers in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe produced, for as little as a dollar a rave, buckets of praise for places they had never seen in countries where they had never been.

In some cases, the reputation shops bribed their clients’ customers to write more fake reviews, giving them $50 gift certificates for their trouble. They also went on review sites that criticized their own fake-review operations and wrote fake reviews denying they wrote fake reviews.”

Story here.

All this data, but to what end?

Wow. I learned a lot this week from the readings I hadn’t thought about, including:

  • spy clip artEven the academics are spying on you! Just hadn’t thought about how social media could be such a wealth of information for the academy. (“Effects of the Recession on Public Mood in the UK”, Lansdall-Welfare, Lampos, Cristianini, WWW 2012, Lyon, France). I found this paper fascinating – to a point. Clearly, while pains were taken to get random samples of tweets, there was no effort to extrapolate it to the broader public. I could see its structure being useful to inform police agencies over time to try to predict a rise in violence or predict a period of calm so that staffing could be adjusted. Or perhaps companies could run the same algorithms on their followers tweets to some purpose? Interesting idea.
  • A simplified way to approach interpretation of website analytics (Online Marketing Blueprint). I felt like Gill Media said nothing we haven’t discussed before, but the simple formula sQ+sV+cE=$$$ helps this marketing novice breakdown the difference between site traffic and traffic quality and the relationship to conversion.
  • Exposure to all the ways different industries are approaching the wealth of data on the web (American Banker).
  • Exposure to the tools that are cropping up to help industry (HootSuite ); (“Why Marketers Should Get to Know Customers’ ‘Digital Selves’”, Mashable).
  • Finally, from the American Banker article and the Mashable piece (Beyond Likes: How Google and Adobe Aim to Measure Your True Social ROI), I feel like I found a nugget of gold. Both cautioned about the dangers of going too quickly and too far in social media campaigns without thinking through the possible outcome:  “If you want to optimize Facebook’s contribution to sales, you have to design that at the front end.” It reminded me of Jorie’s lecture on Wednesday about always having an objective for surveys before you even start writing the questions. It also strikes me that having a clear goal when delving into analytics will help you avoid getting swamped in the morass.

QUESTIONS

  1. BraveNewWorld_FirstEditionTo those classmates with more familiarity with analytics: Did the Gill Media advice and marketing formula ring true?
  2. What is the point where social media marketing goes too far? For example, I think bankers are wise to go slow on personalizing their social media marketing. What about health care companies? Should they be trying to hunt down patients through social media? Other examples?
  3. Should there be any regulatory limits on how social media info is used in commerce? Or are we all just ready to give our privacy way – Brave New World anyone?
  4. FINALLY, please humor me and take the survey from last week…Not nearly enough responses yet to fully appreciate any analytics 😉 Joni’s Silly Survey

Please Take Joni’s Silly Survey

Blog post for 9/18 readings

First off: Please take a moment to complete my silly survey (inspired by Richard) and I’ll be sure and report back on results next week: Joni’s Silly Survey

hanging chadI had a total flashback reading this week’s reading ( “The value of online surveys” ) to November 2000. I was a reporter covering the Florida recount and delving into the differences and performance results between different voting methods: Touch-screen, punch card and optical scan. The verdict was a revelation to me in the technology age. The best way to get accurate results that truly reflect the voters’ intent is old written ballots when a voter can circle the name of a candidate and then it is counted by two individuals – one reading the ballot and one tallying the ballot and each checking each other. Why: Variables of choice are small (just circle one name and if you don’t the ballot is rejected); and human eyes can discern more nuance of voter intent when there is any ambiguity that a computer may never even register (i.e. voter puts a check mark instead of circling the name, etc.) Hence the reason Florida went with optical scan after the 2000 recount as among all the technologies that most simulates that structure –  though there remains concerns about implementation, such as that while paper ballots are created, new recount rules make it highly unlikely they will every be surveyed directly to doublecheck the machines’ counting accuracy.

BIAS: Reading the Hofstra University article, the same tests apply to surveys, of course. Human surveys would seem to come closer to the ideal voting model I spoke of above – but only if the variables of answers are similarly limited and not subjective. Human surveys always run the risk of introducing questioner’s bias. Online surveys need to consider sampling for Internet user bias (i.e. not everyone is on the web). And here is another thought on bias that isn’t unique to the Internet: The pollster’s. The City of St. Petersburg is contemplating using online polling tools to collect citizen input on a new pier (after a previous plan was voted down in the August election). But there are big concerns about the volunteer pollster’s bias, as it helped the opposition in the August campaign. Tampa Bay Times article on the plan

NEW STANDARD: The upsides of online surveys – cost, reach and completion – speak to it becoming the default standard for most clients’ survey needs. Just the Consumer Reports anecdote spoke to its power even in early adaptation: Half the cost and double the response.

PRIVACY: I also think over time there will be more and more concern about security and privacy in these surveys, even beyond today. How does the industry truly assure respondents that their answers are anonymous, when clearly so much of the power of this technology is connecting data? I know on more than one occasion I have started to finish a so-called anonymous survey only to abandon it upon further thought that somehow my answers might be traced back to me in a way I would not want them to be. The NYTimes Magazine Target story suggests I am not paranoid…

QUESTIONS:

1) Online surveys have amazing potential for political polling, which is now considered most valid when it is done by telephone. Do you think we’re close to having the technology and/or broad enough demographics on the web to do it considering seniors are the most-likely voter but also the most likely non-Internet user?

2) Considering the services we explored, when do you think feedback vs. surveys are better for an Internet vendor? And why?

3)And for the more technologically savvy: What software exists to cloak me on the Internet so I can fill out surveys, for example, but block the URL info?

Google’s golden egg: Analytics

It’s mindboggling to realize with Google Analytics – social reports just how much information you can access about your customers and site visitors if you just take the time to look. No wonder digital advertising has taken off. While traditional print media (as we discussed in class last week) still has the potential to reach a consumer who may never have gone looking for your site (or something related) on the web — it can’t come close to providing the kind of realtime, aggregated feedback.

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The potential for commerce – particularly most small businesses that would never have the resources to hire consultants to help analyze their transactions and effect of marketing – is staggering. YET, those small businesses will still need the skillset and time (the latter of which is often lacking for small businesses) to fully grasp the capability of such software. PLUS the Analytics work hand-in-hand with mastery of the Google SEO schemes – another daunting prospect for any small business. And what good are analytics until you actually have eyes on a page? Which all leads back to SEO.

Google does a good job explaining the basics: Google 101: How Google crawls, indexes and serves the web.\ But I still anticipate for the near future, there will be extraordinary potential for web professionals to provide services to businesses needing to leverage the web.  It’s like the placement specialists of old, whose job it was to get their clients’ product on the grocers’ shelves. Anyone may be able to build a web page in the 21st Century, but only those manufacturers who meet the specifications of Google’s store and master the execution will ever get displayed. 

Questions:

  1. How much do you share with a client whose website you’re trying to improve? Do you show them how to use Google Analytics and risk they stop using you? Or do you trust that the scheme is so overwhelming that they’ll always want to pay someone else to keep track?
  2. What is the threshold for hiring inhouse web analysts vs. consultants? Benefits, detriments?
  3. I’m not clear on whether – at the free level – if Google Analytics breaks down sponsored ads versus organic referrals (or is it mute because once you buy Google Ads do you get access to more tools?)

 

Google’s ball hiding; counting clicks and cutting through the jargon

Reading for Week 3

I’d long known Google was the big dog in the SEO game, and was struck watching the video guidelines https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769 what an odd scenario: Follow these rules (which kind of boil down to be transparent and honest and tell us who you’re suiting up for the game, i.e. give us an index) and you’ll have a better chance at winning our game, but by the way, we are gonna hide the ball and we aren’t necessarily the best referees.

So no wonder SEO consulting is a growth industry! But how does a website know whom to hire for SEO or what to expect? I envision even  not-terribly-effective consultants or  scam artists with just a little know-how could probably make a quick buck, particularly from a small business. With the frequent changes and increasing sophistication of search engine algorithms, it will only become more common that companies will hire SEO consultants. But how do you find a good one and how do you also ensure their recommendations actually make it into the day-to-day workflow in your company.

QUESTION: For those classmates with more familiarity with this industry and service: How would you approach hiring an SEO consultant? What should you look for and verify versus what they might tell you they are capable of achieving? What are the best strategies for taking a consultant’s vision and implementing it into the internal workflow?

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Wow, the analytics now available for testing website visits. http://www.conversion-rate-experts.com/split-testing-software/. (I needed a basic primer on split-testing to just get a grasp of what we were talking about and found one here https://www.optimizely.com/ab-testing?utm_medim=cpc&utm_campaign=Shiva&utm_content=wist) .) I’m fascinated by the real-time analysis that can be done to improve web pages, like a focus group only much, much better.

But a broader theme I took away from Conversion Rate Experts, by clicking through to its case studies, was that no one does this alone and you dare not stand still.

It was illuminating and affirming to know that even a leader in one form of web-production – SEOmoz.com (now http://www.moz.com) – might still benefit greatly from tapping outside consultants to help them with another production aspect they’re not experts in – conversion/visitor duration to website.

In the recommended reading, the current site (moz.com) which looks very different from the iteration in the case study, highlighting if you stand still on the Internet, you’ll wake up the next day five days behind. More and more I’m reminded of something Jeff Williams tried to impress upon us in the Photoshop class that we will want to decide what we’re good at in this field and be prepared to ask for help for almost everything else.

QUESTION: Just how affordable are these conversion expert services for a small business or a web designer looking to improve a client’s conversion rates?

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Finally, I found the glossary from Anvil Media http://www.anvilmediainc.com/search-engine-marketing-resources/search-engine-marketing-glossary/ a welcome addition to the reading, helping me compartmentalize SEO vs conversion testing. Perhaps after I am more used to this vocabulary I will not feel this way, but much of this week’s readings was so laden with jargon that Anvil would get a serious look for any business I had because they took the time to help me understand!

QUESTION: Anyone else feel that way?