Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dream it - live it - thank you long tail!

I 100% believe the long tail in our society is thriving, kicking (wagging), and growing by leaps and bounds. Here's an example. I've always been interested in marketing, psychology, and technology topics. Just as recent as 1 or 2! years ago, I remember researching the bejeebers out of google, trying to find the latest books, articles, and speakers on these passion areas of mine. When I found books that crossed over between any of these disciplines, or had awesome ideas in their own right, this usually resulted in a little firecracker of crazy excitement - and ended with me furiously looking through the article or book for quick gratification, and then immediately printing out the goodness (or searching for it on Amazon.com/calling Barnes and Noble down the street).

When I first started using Twitter about 10 months ago, this may have been the coolest factor I immediately noticed. I could search on keywords I was passionate about and find more articles in 90 seconds than I could previously find in 90 minutes. And more often than not, I didn't even have to do a Twitter search because the people I followed had the same kind of interests as I did, and thoughtfully pooled their creativity into a constant stream for my pluckings. Gone were the days of Google as my sole resource. I now had passion-sharers to rely on!

And with the Twitter pluckings, the 1st degree of people that is, came the 2nd degree. These are the people I discovered from the first layer. Next came the 3rd and the 4th and with this wasn't limited to just Twitter profiles but links to personal blogs and in turn further extensions of shared-passion-goodness. As my pool for fishing grew infinitely bigger, and more and more people started revealing their true interest areas, I started noticing a manic level of similarities I have with people I most likely never have crossed paths with.  All this shared inspiration and possibility for input and discussion would have otherwise gone to waste (and of course I am aware I am still just scratching the surface here).

"Know thyself."

What is coolest to me about these niches along the long tail is that the people who do know themselves, and are acting on it and going for it and living it - are finding it radically easier to connect with other like-minded people, and therefore can actually succeed at doing what is truly them. Take the blog OhSheGlows as an example. Angela from Ontario set out to live her dreams and open a vegan bakery after several stifling years in academia. She blogs each day and receives floods of comments on each of her posts. People reach out to her to tell her how her leap of faith into what she truly likes to do inspires them in their own quest to find their own path. As a result, her bakery is growing, and she is happy doing it.  Before blogging and distribution channels like Twitter became a part of our routine, garnering a following from all over the world would have been considerably more difficult.  She has the passion.  Others have like-minded passion.  The newly opened internet of publishing makes it easier to connect and make her dream a reality.

Same principle with any start-up.  Rent the Runway just opened its doors this past Monday.  It's like a "netflix for haute couture" - with the goal of making it possible to rent runway quality dresses for a few days at 10% of the cost of the actual dress.  Sisterhood of the travelling dresses anyone?  Without social media channels and niche groups popping up and informing each other of these innovations, small businesses and individuals consulting on their own or starting their own deal would have a much harder time spreading the word. 

The long tail is growing.  And it's giving people the opportunity to take what is truly exhilarating to them and run with it and find it in others, and help them go in the direction of their dreams. 

"Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them." --John Updike

Photo attributed to futureancient

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Create an "Addictive User Experience"

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what makes some social networking, or web 2.0 applications so pervasive resulting in the "tectonic shift" we are undergoing. The applications we are talking about here are ones that you get a craving to check in with - and see what has happened in the last couple of days, hours, or sometimes, minutes. I hear often that these sites are not about the technology, but rather about something more underlying that shapes our relationship with them. Communication? Humans are innately wired to want and need to communicate. Community building? We want to affiliate ourselves with certain groups, causes; some wanting to lead, and some wanting to follow. In both of these cases, any innovation that makes these basic tendencies easier to do will most likely be game changers.

When I consider sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and consider what qualities these sites have that result in enough energy to shift the current placement of our (tectonic) plates, and push us into a new technological era, it becomes apparent that regardless of whether our need is to Communicate, or Community build, what really results in this kind of motion and transformation, is that these sites are tapping into some of our pretty basic and core needs, and when given the opportunity, we are naturally energized to act upon them.

This past Friday, I was re-introduced to this concept I've been mulling over from a new angle. I attended Maryland's Smith School of Business 10th Annual CIO Forum. A panel was held called "Business Models and Sector Transformation." Of the speakers, Premal Shah, President of an organization called Kiva.org, a non-profit with the mission to "connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty" spoke about when creating a site with the goal of making a big splash, concentrate on creating an "addictive user experience."

"Addictive user experience."

When Premal put this phrase out there, my somewhat amorphous ponderings of what makes people come back to certain sites day after day suddenly took on a more understandable shape. I put myself in the shoes of any random Joe, with access to the internet, a little bit of disposable income, and a penchant for getting that "feel good" vibe when doing something for the sake of "doing good." Now, with my "addictive user experience" spectacles on, I took a look at the site and noticed what attributes it had that could get me hooked.

1. Easy to contribute and low barrier of entry. Signing up is easy, and any lending amount is accepted. A participant doesn't have to be Bill Gates to get involved and make a lasting difference.

2. Specific, recognized cause. A lender can choose a specific cause to get involved with that can be as personal or random as he likes.

3. Gratification through data feedback. Who doesn't love feedback? The site tracks different pieces of data and reports it back to the lender.

4. Opportunity to be recognized. Most of us like to be recognized, especially for something that speaks well for our character. This site features lenders and entrepreneurs on the homepage with the info they choose to present.

5. Authentic, transparent, something to believe in. The site maintains authenticity and credibility and users can continue to participate knowing they are standing on solid ground.

This is all good stuff. Yet what is better, is the fact that there innumerable sites that can benefit from this type of productive platform and Kiva is proof that it can work. Extending this beyond non-profits looking to support a cause - to simply government agencies - we can observe that countless civilians making up the public have opinions, insight, and talent to contribute. And when a site is constructed with the administrator wearing the right spectacles - considering what will energize its audience and get it hooked, data-driven dashboards can symbiotically bring administrator and user together to benefit all.