Maximize Controversy

Want to be heard? Then consider stirring things up. Michael Moore makes his living on political controversy. Facebook experiences counter-intuitive user growth during periods of privacy backlash. The mainstream media makes a living blowing events out of proportion. As a business, brand, or individual, you could, too. Like a fist fight in the street, controversy makes a scene. People usually turn their head toward the loud. And controversy stirs easily. Understand, however, that if you lose the fight, you lose the favor of your audience. Make a splash if you choose, but understand the risks.
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LifeCal Schedule Button (Soft Launch)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with Mark Godwin to design and engineer a little web plugin tool we call a “Schedule Button.” Quite literally, it is a button that you can save event data to and embed into your own website. When your visitors click the button, they can schedule your event to their own calendars.

 

The potential use cases for this button are many: concerts, flights, movie showtimes, house parties, television premieres, conferences, conventions, and more. Business owners and hosts alike can use this tool to connect with their attendees and provide them with necessary details.

I have a hard time managing my time as it is, and existing digital calendars do not make it easier. Few people go to the trouble of typing out all of the event details for everything they do. We built this tool for event hosts to make it easier for potential event attendees to input the correct information into their calendars. The hope is that there will be higher attendance rates if your event is staring your attendees in the face from within their own calendars. Unlike Facebook events (which is exclusive to the Facebook platform), we are trying to make this an open plugin compatible with all calendars and available for embedding into all web sites.

We are soft-launching this button today at Lifecal.co to collect feedback from our closest friends and followers before we announce the tool wider this week. Please head over to our site and check it out! If you have any comments or suggests, identify any bugs, or can think of other great use cases I have not mentioned, please let us know! You can use the discussion board below or email me at craig@lifecal.co.

Facebook is Great for Dead People

Facebook RIPI have eight Facebook friends that no longer post anymore because, well, they can’t. These friends have passed away. I find myself randomly checking up on these profiles now and then, and what I find always surprises me: a steady stream of fresh comments. Some of these profiles get more activity than the profiles of living friends.

Despite my irreverent post title, Facebook may be one of the greatest platforms to date for personal memorial. Like a gravestone of the future, Facebook is a place where people can publicly or anonymously reach out to, browse memories of, and spend time with loved ones that have passed. Some have left a thorough canon of updates and images for us to reflect and enjoy. Private messages to the deceased can really help bereaved friends clear their hearts and heads. In a world that hardly prays anymore, Facebook may be the next best thing.

Mr. Zuckerberg has made a great contribution to the family and friends of deceased users by not suspending inactive profiles. I hope he keeps it that way. It’s worth the server space.

Groupon and Living Social Just Lost a Customer

GrouponI’ve had enough. Fitness classes, yoga, waxing, Brazilian blowouts, facials, tattoos, beauty products, home & garden, apparel, too many hair cuts, too many massages, too many poorly yelped restaurants. I cannot delete these daily spam notes quick enough. I would never spend money on any of those things. I’ve been registered to both sites for over a year and only purchased five coupons. That means that I found only 0.7% of all available deals relevant and 99.3% mostly irrelevant. Terrible odds. I unsubscribed from both services this morning.

Not sure if you’ve ever checked, Groupon or Living Social, but I’m a 23-year-old male and not really that into blowouts or bikini waxing. A basic search and your own profile form would reveal at least that much. Connecting through Facebook or Foursquare could teach you even more.

The marketing prowess of daily emails and a clever coupon system has completely worn off. If these services made a little effort to market their offers by listing “best steak in town” or “highest yelped masseuse” in the subject line, I might pay more attention. Otherwise, the deal messages sit in my inbox like spam at the mercy of the delete button.

Groupon, Living Social, OpenTable, Facebook Deals, Google Offers and all of the other ripoffs coupon services need to start delivering relevant, targeted and meaningful deals. “Deal type” subscription checkboxes on signup pages are not sufficient. The delivery mechanism of email needs to be treated more delicately. And they all need to compete for poignant brevity (deal announcements should be no longer than a tweet).

I will stay registered to Yipit.com, which aggregates all of the major deal players into one daily email and does a far better job weeding out coupon categories I will never buy. But even Yipit could afford to target better and market the benefit of each deal.

Will Facebook Rule the Future of Social?

Facebook KingFacebook is very powerful right now, pervading our everyday lives and businesses. And they have no intention of stopping. While not as acquisition-hungry as Google, which has a reputation for buying up every great small business in sight, Facebook is expanding scope like hotcakes. Places, Deals, Marketplace, Photo Recognition, Questions, Games, Groups, Mobile…the list of Facebook products grows everyday.

So my question stands:  Will Facebook rule the future of social?

No, I don’t think so. Facebook, while omnipresent, is not currently based in natural human exchange. Pokes, wall posts and events are digital abstractions of real dialog. The future of social will be…more social.

Facebook is a closed social graph. And by that, I mean it’s A) restricted to the people you “friend,” B) restricted to the people signed up on Facebook and C) restricted to active device users. This type of social network is limiting and far too much effort. Worse, it’s not human. In real life, we meet people and they become acquaintances. We spend more time with people and they become our friends (or enemies). There is no mutual contract, no “friend” button. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson touches on the unnatural effort involved in curating your various network lists when he forecasts the Implicit Social Graph.

Social technology will evolve. I predict that a platform with the most open, implicit social graph and a passive user experience that promotes true human interaction by keeping your phone in your pocket will take the cake as social media king. Facebook is not situated, nor was it founded, to promote such an organic vision.

What do you predict? Do you think Facebook is an unstoppable behemoth or will the value of real life ultimately take it down?

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Imperial Crown (Heraldry) vector art via Wikimedia Commons.

Why the Email Subject Will Never Die

Mark Zuckerberg does not favor email as a mode of communication because he finds it too clunky and formal. “You have to think of the email address, you have to think of a subject line. You write, ‘Hey Mom’ at the top. You write, ‘Love, Mark’ to conclude it.”

I agree with him about the email address part – any email client that does not automatically fill in the addresses in your recipient field deserves to fail. But I do not agree with the subject line part.

In the social world, it makes sense. Most people share relatively linear relationships with their friends and can contextualize a random message based on past and current circumstances. The person’s name is usually enough to clue you in on the content of the message. You do not need a subject line for a SMS or Facebook message.

But that only works until personal takes a business turn. When tasks, goals or projects are outlined in text between two or more people, it becomes necessary to separate and categorize different messages. All mixed together, task items become difficult to track and organize. To me, Facebook messages are an organizational nightmare. Don’t you dare try to do business with me through Facebook.

The naked subject line does not work AT ALL when you do not know the sender. The subject line is the sender’s only chance at catching my attention. Like a book title, the subject line must explain who the person is and hook me into reading the message. I get over 90 legitimate emails per day, 75% of which are not spam or newsletters and a large chunk from people I do not know. If I spend two mintues with each email (which is on the short end of what it usually takes), that’s nearly 3 hours a day in Gmail. I do not have time for that. Without the email subject, I cannot prioritize, categorize or contextualize.

Email subjects are titles. We are a title-driven culture. The title is a necessary barrier to entry. They always say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But the cover is all we have to make a choice. As long as we have choices to make, we will have titles there to help us. As long as I have a million emails to read, the subject line better be there to help me.

After Hours

What do you do when you come home from work or school? Keep working? Relax? Watch television? Read a book? Write? Work out? Spend time with family? Go to bed?

It is important to keep your body healthy and mind sharp. Family is very important, not to be neglected. Balance is the key to successful living. But consider: your after hours are unencumbered by the expectations of a paycheck or supervisor. You have the freedom to live, the freedom to grow, and the freedom to innovate.

Many of today’s most impactful creations did not manifest at the hands of large corporate teams, wealthy R&D divisions, or policymakers – they were conceived by individuals as hobbies after hours. Henry Ford experimented with his first gasoline engine at home while working for the Edison Illuminating Company. John Pemberton, a late nineteenth century pharmacist, bottled Coca-Cola as a side project. The Wright Brothers assembled gliders in the back of their bicycle shop. Google and Facebook were both parented by active college students. The list goes on.

Live your life doing what you want to do. Embrace your hobbies. Embrace your time. What you do after hours can liberate you.