Google Revises its Social Strategy with Google Me

It all started with a single tweet. Digg co-founder Kevin Rose tweeted that Google is planning to launch its own social network, a viable competitor to Facebook. Within hours, the Internet was buzzing with news of Google Me, the rumored name of this new network. Though Google has already dabbled in social networking with its social community Orkut, its popularity is centralized in Brazil, and India as of late. Now, by utilizing Google’s already existing library of apps, Google Me is poised to be a larger, more diverse platform that will appeal to users worldwide.

Online consensus from blogs and news stories all point to Google Me as a combination of many already prominent Google apps and services – Orkut, Buzz, Profiles, Picasa and Latitude are just a few of the many apps Google could pull from to create its ultimate social network. Fortune Tech’s Seth Weintraub estimates Google has at least 30 social properties it could combine for Me. Instead of overhauling Orkut, Google is creating an entirely new network – a smart move, seeing as Orkut hasn’t found popularity in the United States.

Orkut is a very basic social network, and has a user-base of more than 100 million. What makes it so popular overseas is its focus is on communities and discussion, aspects that popular networks like have,  but aren’t utilized as much by users. Instead, photos, status updates, and games like Farmville reign supreme. On social networks, sharing content in quick, short spurts is preferred over long discussions. Networks like Twitter and Tumblr are examples of how simple, short and quick content has taken the lead. Google Me will most likely focus on this short and simple trend, which should appeal to a wider and more global audience.

To differentiate Me from Orkut – while still retaining Orkut’s users – Google should focus on making its network more social media friendly, essentially creating a one-stop-shop for all things social and sharing on Google and the Web. Google can also utilize its popular Android mobile OS platform and take its network mobile. This would give users access to Me on multiple platforms, encouraging greater use and providing even more sharing capabilities, and the ability to participate in geo-tagging and location-based networking as well.

By focusing more on social media and emerging trends like location-based networking, Google can quickly establish its network as a major player in social networking. It has all of the tools, and now it needs to make them all work together on a single platform. Orkut was a start, but Google needs a network that is fresh and truly Web 2.0 to make it succeed. If the rumors are true, Google Me will be exactly that. Google’s strengths lie with simplicity, personalization and accessibility. A social network with all of these elements would make Google Me attractive to users, while remaining uniquely Google.

Feature image by Search Engine Land on Flikr.

Top 5 Best Practices for Innovation

During Barack Obama’s first Oval Office address to the nation, he called on America’s innovative spirit to drive future sustainability initiatives, particularly in clean energy. Innovation doesn’t stop at reducing our dependence on foreign oil; innovation pushes our society, businesses — small and large — culture and political process into the future. To help usher in a new innovation era, we will rely on forward thinking leadership, our human capital and find new resources to spur ideas, make those ideas appealing and measure our effectiveness:

Innovation Leadership
The first person that comes to mind regarding innovation leadership is hands down, Steve Jobs. He is the archetype leader with a small ego, meaning he respects the minds that surround him; a strong belief in and passion for creativity.  Steve Jobs takes a steadfast, yet well-thought approach to change, a strong independence from other market players, and has the ability to put things into perspective. Under his leadership, Apple developed game-changing products, such as the iPhone, iPod, iPad, etc. Although Apple only “invented” the tablet market with its iPad, Jobs found potential in the personal computer, mobile and mp3 markets and found ways — through innovative thinking — to make products distinctly Apple.

Team Innovation
Brainstorming new product, features and services doesn’t always rest on the shoulders of one person. Gathering an array of different perspectives — from executive to junior and creative to analytical — can help spur innovative thinking. Before assembling your innovation team, determine the reasons and objectives for the group, those employees that will create an interesting dynamic, how you will capture the ideas and who will ultimately finalize decisions (group consensus or team leader?). During your sessions, the most important thing to remember is have fun. Innovative ideas aren’t born from boring work sessions. Take a look at our innovation workshop series for ways to create great ideas, having fun.

Finding Innovation
Wake up and smell the roses. According to Chuck Palus and David Horth, authors of The Leader’s Edge: Six Creative Competencies for Navigating Complex Challenges, managers often walk around blindfolded — meaning they have expectations for what they want to see, therefore they limit exploration and the discovery of new experiences. To find innovation, the authors suggest slowing down, experiencing new things that relate to your product or service. If you’re a designer tasked with creating a chips bag, go to the grocery store and look down the chip aisle. Take a picture, think about it. Ask questions. Who buys Dorritos over your brand? Why? What does the Dorritos bag say about its brand. Slowing down to ask new questions and exploring new places can take off the blinders and open a new world to spark innovation.

Marketing Innovation
It’s not good enough to say you’re ahead of the curve, you need to show it. Design, copy, UI, presentations and unique product offerings are channels to showcase your innovative spirit. For instance, when Apple debuted its iPhone device, no other device looked or felt like it. The iPhone’s design, UI coupled with Steve Jobs delivery, demonstrated Apple’s innovation. For companies that spark innovation, such as IDEO, unique product offerings and initiatives illustrate their innovative spirit. IDEO adapted its Method Card system — for inspiring designers — to the iPhone. Users can download a small deck free, then pay for additional cards. The app markets IDEO’s dedication to innovation, much like the iPhone demonstrate Apple’s ahead-of-the-curve thinking.

Measuring Innovation
Before launching your next product or service, determine your yardstick. In other words, how will you know the product or service is a success? Project how much your product or service innovation will impact revenues based on market precedents. Next, consider taking a qualitative and quantitative approach online. Consumers are increasingly transitioning into passive buyers to active advocates via online social media — thus supplying potentially mountains of data and information on your brand. Consider monitoring product mentions on social networking channels (quantitative) or synthesizing user sentiment in product reviews or forums (qualitative).

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Whose Game Is This Anyway? What Happens When the Actual Starbucks Barista Becomes Mayor?

Karen Levine is a strategy and marketing consultant who specializes in media and entertainment with an emphasis on emerging media. Having worked in digital media, television, print and advertising, she is adept at bridging the gap between new and traditional media. Karen has helped multinational corporations diversify into emerging platforms and has helped early stage and mid-size ventures become more customer-centric and strategic. Visit Karen at her blog Always On.

Foursquare’s partnership with Starbucks is giving the game even more mainstream exposure but also leading to the kinds of stakeholder complications I discuss in my recent post about Facebook.  The dilemma outlined in a recent article is this: Starbucks is offering a special reward ($1 off a Frappucino) to the mayors of its individual establishments.  However, what happens when the mayor of your local Starbucks is the one serving you your coffee?

Well, some are crying foul.  Employees, they say, should not be allowed to participate in promotional contests. A valid point, but the complication comes from the fact that foursquare is not a Starbucks platform or even a platform developed for marketing or promotional purposes.

This harkens me back to the question I asked Dennis Crowley when I first heard him speak during Social Media Week in NYC. What, I asked, was his plan in developing 4Sq?  What was the history and the intention?  I asked because there seemed to be real monetization potential for this platform, that is strikingly uncharacteristic of predecessors such as Facebook, Twitter and even Google, which did not have a monetization plan for the first five years.

So I wondered whether the Crowley crew had these brand partnerships, e.g., Bravo,  in mind when they developed the tool.  Though Dennis deferred my question to a later conversation, my general feel from what he did say is that the application was created more with the users in mind than as a monetizable tool.  If I remember correctly, the main impetus was that since Dodgeball had been sold to Google, he and his friends lacked that kind of mobile tool to communicate and coordinate.  Moreover, as he stated during this week’s Bartiromo interview, the full monetization plan is still evolving.  And, in my opinion, it is evolving from several directions: (1) the power of the data (2) the simple promotional opportunities (3) the strategic partnerships.

Returning to the coffee cup at hand, Foursquare is not a Starbucks platform.  Rather, Starbucks is offering a benefit that is meant to enhance the foursquare experience and, in return, foursquare is providing a targeted communications vehicle and a platform that makes this special offer logistically possible.

But when real money starts to be part of the game – I believe that one of the big box CE retailers is offering a sizable incentive and Dennis, himself, just posted on Facebook that a lobster restaurant (@ Luke’s Lobster) is offering a 10% discount – things change.

4Sq today depends to a great degree on the honor system.  The team has had to implement some anti-cheating controls lately such as preventing people from getting points or badges or mayorships when they check into a venue too far away from where their phone says they actually are, but it’s still based on fair play.

But this is not the crucial point – to my mind.  The fact that the employees at SBs are checking in and, potentially, becoming mayor is not foul play at all. It’s the original intention of the game, to let your network know where you are.  Preventing employees from checking in or even becoming mayor changes the nature of the game and the meaning of the titles and badges.  I am interested to see how this unfolds as new people are introduced to 4Sq as a commercial – promotional tool first rather than vice versa.

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eBay Innovates in Mobile E-Commerce with RedLaser Acquisition

Internet auction giant eBay has just acquired the popular iPhone app RedLaser. The application allows users to scan barcodes to uncover more information about products, and compare price points at nearby locations. With eBay backing the application, eBay results will now pop up in these search results, offering users another outlet to not only compare prices, and hopefully purchase their items from. eBay executives are embracing mobile e-commerce, a quickly growing area of retail – but can the acquisition of RedLaser put them at the top?

mobilecommerceSteve Yankovich, eBay’s VP of mobile, says he wants to see more eBay apps produced at a rate of one every five weeks – to keep the company on the forefront of mobile commerce. Though mobile e-commerce is only a small percent of the market now, it’s projected to take in more than 10 billion dollars by 2015. The shift to mobile e-commerce could easily mimic the shift from brick-and-mortar stores to online retail. Brands that failed to innovate, or innovated too late – Blockbuster and New York City’s Virgin Megastore are examples – ended up taking a major hit. By jumping in early, eBay can reap the rewards now, establish itself as a leader in the market, and capitalize on future mobile commerce innovations.

“Mobile enables consumers to make impulse buys and convenient purchases wherever they are, and eBay is constantly innovating to make mobile shopping easy and reduce the friction in commerce,” said Mark Carges, chief technology officer of global products for eBay Marketplaces, in a statement issued after eBay’s announcement late Wednesday evening. Though eBay has it’s own iPhone app, it lacks the technology to help buyers find products without doing a specific search for the item. Now, eBay’s ownership of RedLaser allows the company to utilize its technology creatively in a way that should mutually benefit sellers and buyers. Sellers’ items will become more visible, and buyers will have an easy way to find the products they’re looking for – fulfilling eBay’s goal to innovate, make mobile shopping easy, and reduce friction.

Beyond just buying and selling, eBay now has the potential to use its acquisition of RedLaser to make the shopping experience social. In the future, it would be fun to see eBay merge its existing app with RedLaser, creating a hybrid of Yelp, Foursquare, eBay and RedLaser. Users could scan an item, check into a store, and leave tips and reviews of the product, the store, or suggestions of places to find better deals – including deals found on the eBay marketplace. As eBay is focused on innovation, a move like this would certainly make an impact and catch the attention of its users.

eBay’s jump on mobile shopping apps shows it’s ahead of the curve when it comes to this expanding market, and its access to RedLaser’s technology should help keep it there for a while. The brand is innovating in e-commerce with mobile apps, making it easier for customers to access their services whenever and wherever they are. With few competitors – Amazon is eBay’s biggest threat right now – eBay stands a solid chance of becoming a leader in this mobile e-commerce.

Microsoft Launches Bing Entertainment

Riding on news of Google’s new online music store, Microsoft’s Bing is making updates of its own. The search engine that could has finally caught up to Google in search quality, and now wants to entertain. Bing’s strategy is to contain users within the site by aggregating small bits of information across the web into one, centralized Bing-branded page, versus Google’s strategy to direct users to third party sites, such as Wikipedia, YouTube (a Google site), Last.fm, ect.

Microsoft’s search engine is implementing this strategy with the launch of its Entertainment feature. Entertainment aggregates multimedia content to a safe zone in an accessible and fun way. According to Bing, users want a trusted, single source for entertainment. Seventy six percent of people use search to help find and navigate their entertainment options online, but only 10 percent say they have a trusted place to go, writes Bing. The search engine’s new Entertainment feature hopes to capture the 90 percent of users without a trusted online “safe zone.”

Aggregating small bits of information across the web certainly takes the pain of browsing third party sites. Creating a centralized information hub could have some significant advantages over Google. To illustrate the UI differential, we performed a simple search for The Replacements “Unsatisfied” into Bing and Google:

google_bing_comp

Bing enables users to drill down within the search engine, versus leaving it for other content offerings by:

Aggregating relevant content into one, centralized location — Click on the first song and Bing will gather all information about that one song, including lyrics, the mp3 (not currently functioning yet), albums and movies where the song appears, other artist recordings of the same song and platforms to purchase the song. To view the information on Google, users must click on third party or non-branded Google sites.

Prominently displaying curated information — Bing prominently displays all entertainment in one, well-designed, upfront section whereas Google’s multimedia content is fragmented within the results. The song mp3 is the first result, followed by a link to Last.fm, Wikipedia, Lyrics Depot and finally video.

Enabling site previews to ensure the resource is safe — Bing’s research indicates its users are wary of unfamiliar sites, so the search engine provides previews with key text and link selections. Google users, on the other hand — who might not be as paranoid — click the link based on one or two summary lines.

While Bing has a meager 12 percent market share versus Google’s 65 percent, Microsoft is innovating, updating its UI and trying to get a pulse on user needs to grow. Microsoft’s recent Entertainment feature is the latest example of the tech giant’s drive to be top dog and could eventually make Google take notice. Here at Sparxoo, we have criticized Microsoft’s lack of innovation in mobile, browsers, tablets and strategy, but this is one case where we have to tip our hat for heading in the right direction.

Google to Launch its Own Digital Music Service

The digital music market is about to grow in a big way. The Wall Street Journal just confirmed Google’s plans to roll out a digital music download and subscription service, to be up and running by 2011. The service, rumored to be called Google Music, would allow users on computers and Android-based phones to take full advantage of this service. With its Android platform gaining ground in the mobile market, Google is seizing the opportunity to further compete with Apple’s iTunes and iPhone. Although Google doesn’t have much of a background in the music industry, its competitive advantages – Android, expertise and market share in online search, and cloud-based operations – could make the service a great success.

Android

Android’s growth has yet to slow down, with a reported 100,000 new activations each day. A report by AdMob found Android in first place for total mobile Web and app usage. Google’s plans for its music service on the Android could give sales and usage even more of a boost. Early reports on Google Music say the search giant plans to add an official app to the Android Market allowing users access to their music on their phones, without connecting it to a computer first. Users would also be able to stream music, similar to Pandora. Android is well-positioned to help Google Music grow – with Android models available on nearly every wireless network, there’s a huge opportunity to take advantage of the existing user-base, and further target users who are joining every day.

Online Search

It’s hard to say how many search queries Google handles each day – estimates range from 235 million to as many as 3 billion. Out of all of those, searches related to music and entertainment must be a few million at the least. Imagine searching for a certain song on Google, where results would include the song’s lyrics, links to related songs and artists based on past searches, information on the artist, and a link to download or stream the song directly – all in one place. Google’s search capabilities can make this a reality.  Users would know where to turn for every bit of information they need, all in one place. Google certainly has an edge to take the music listening and search experience to a new level.

Cloud Computing

Apple has direct downloads covered, while Pandora has found success with streaming audio. Google’s commitment to cloud computing could help bring these two worlds together, and give users an incentive to take advantage of the service. Google Music would provide users access to their music on any computer, anywhere in the world. For users prone to computer problems, or who just want to protect their music, a cloud-based service would allow the perfect solution. Cloud computing is where Google would have its biggest competitive advantage, and should use it as the service’s biggest selling point.

While Google Music would definitely be in competition with iTunes, its ties to search and cloud computing would make Google Music truly unique, allowing the search giant to really create and grow its own distinct service. If Google can make its music catalog as large as those of its competitors and offer the product at a fair price, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be successful. Google’s competitive advantages will help the service take off from the start, and keep it growing from there.


California Considers Advertising on Electronic License Plates

Advertisers have displayed their messages nearly everywhere — from billboards to zeppelins and t-shirts to tattoos. California, the home of tech innovators such as Google and Apple, might offer a new medium to advertise: electronic license plates. It is California’s latest effort to create jobs and fix its $19 b budget deficit. The idea might just be a win-win for California and its commuters.

e-license-plate_feature

Digital advertising on electronic license plates might sound extremely distracting and therefore highly dangerous. However, advertisements will only be displayed when the car is stopped for more than a few seconds (e.g. rush-hour traffic). All other times the digital plate will display the license number.

How can consumers benefit from more marketing, particularly on license plates? The end-goal of advertising is to entertain and captivate its audience. Think: while waiting on the gridlocked Golden Gate bridge, wouldn’t it be great to have a laugh at the Geico’s cavemen or watch a preview from Toy Story 3 (or 4 by the time the service is available to the public)?

“Surely anyone would rather look at a license plate adorned with ‘Got Milk’ rather than ‘5XYJ204,'” writes CNET. Indeed, a small TV screen mounted to the bumper of the car in front of you could provide a much-needed break from the tedium that is stop-and-go traffic.

Taking it a step further, the e-license plates could offer QR codes for drivers to receive coupons on their smartphone devices. Or the plates could have a location-based system to trigger local advertising. So you might see an e-license advert for Milk Boy coffee shop, obtain a coupon via your smartphone device, and then actually pass Milk Boy. If you’re not running late, why not use your new coupon for 20 percent off a mocha frappucino?

To some, snapping pictures with your smartphone and location-enabled advertising is not only dangerous but creepy. Let’s deal with the dangerous element first. All e-license advertising is done during times when the car is stopped in traffic. If you’re behind the stopped car viewing the advert, how can you, behind this immobile car, get into an accident?

Secondly, though the developer of the e-license plates (Smart Plates) has not considered location-based advertising, the idea could have some legs. Car owners could opt-out of the GPS option, but as location-based social networks (think FourSquare and Loopt) increase in popularity, consumers are not as concerned with privacy as they might have been in the pre-smartphone world.

Given the perceived distraction and privacy hurdles e-license plates need to overcome, could it be a viable idea? California is in the nascent stages of development and the state is unsure of exactly the amount of revenue it will generate and the number of jobs it will create. For the state known for its innovation, California is certainly pushing its thinking on how to get out of its crippling deficit. And every idea is on the table, including e-license advertising.

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Motorola Droid X Heats Up Competition with Apple

Google and Motorola will create some sparks with the timely announcement of their new Droid X, merely 24 hours before Apple’s new iPhone 4 in-store release on June 23rd. Coincidence? I think not. It is the latest in a battle to compete with the smartphone market’s top dog, Research in Motion.

Apple’s clearly ahead of Google, with 28 percent of the US smartphone market share compared to Android’s 9 percent. According to one Morgan Stanley analyst, Apple has potential to grow from around 30 million users today to nearly 100 million total users worldwide by the end of 2011.

The Android could give Steve Jobs worry though, as the Motorola Droid X sports many of the same features as the iPhone 4 and uses an arguably faster and larger carrier, Verizon. Should Apple be shaking in its boots? Tech experts weigh-in on the Apple / Android debate:

Motorola Droid X’s new features rival that of Apple’s iPhone 4, while Apple’s release has been tainted by poor reviews and embarrassing tech malfunctions.

“Apple’s stint with iPhone 4 has been already tainted by negative stories and all sorts of rumors. At Apple’s WWDC we saw how iPhone 4 failed to connect to Internet due to heavy WiFi congestion… The ad placed on the Verizon’s website indicates that Droid X would be loaded with some fantabulous features including 4.3-inch display device, HDMI output and Android 2.1 OS. It will also have FWVGA 854 x 480-resolution screen, giving a crystal clear image. The Droid X features apparently stand toe-to-toe with Apple’s iPhone 4.0.” [USA News Week Blog]

Motorola Droid X still has the Verizon advantage over iPhone’s exclusive AT&T contract and could spell long-term disaster for Cupertino.

“Apple can withstand the calls to move to multiple operators for the moment, but if Android keeps growing quickly Cupertino may have to consider making its device available in the United States on more than one network. Advantage: Android.” [PC World]

Apple’s iPhone has one operating system across a few devices, whereas Android has many versions of its OS platform for many phones — making it confusing for the end-user to determine whether their phone receives an update

“Apple has just one operating system available for sale at a time, and until recently it made iOS updates available to almost all of its older hardware… [Android] suffers from a multiplicity of available devices with new and old versions of the hardware, including Android 1.6, 2.1 and the upcoming 2.2. That can get to be confusing for users, since you have to figure out which operating system you’re phone has, whether it’s going to get upgrades, and which features you may be missing.” [PC World]

Motorola Droid X will debut a mere 24 hours after the iPhone 4 in-store release — making it a newer, shiner and likely more popular phone on the block.

“July 19th is the release date of the Motorola Droid X that has been floating around the Internet.  At that time, the X will become the supreme king Android based phone, and one can’t help but wonder what will happen to yesterday’s ‘Incredible’ phone… All we do know is this – Droid X mustn’t get too comfortable on his throne.  In a few short weeks some other phone manufacturer will come out with something newer, faster, and ‘better’ at which point it will be forgotten.” [CNM News]

How to Use Social Media to Improve Your Health

M.K Kellogg helped pioneer one of the first nutrition movements in America through his cereal, Kellogg Corn Flakes. Since the beginning of his mission to make America healthier nearly 100 years ago, the health and wellness category has blossomed into a $112.4 billion business. With each advancement in communications, the consumer health and wellness category grows larger and further empowers those seeking a healthier lifestyle. Home exercise was popularized by VHS (think Richard Simmons), On Demand TV channels eliminated cassettes, WebMD put health on the digital map and now we’re witnessing Health 2.0 with the advent of social media. Unlike VHS, social media enables users to peel back the layers of information to discover the best possible solution — from expert advice to finding a human connection to help cope with illness. How has the health and wellness adapted to web 2.0?

Obtain health information – WebMD is often the first source of health information for its 18 million monthly unique users. It should not, however, be your last stop. YouTube, in particular, is an under-utilized source for health and wellness information. Small businesses and international brands are featuring user-generated and professional-quality video to promote health and wellness. In many ways, YouTube replaces those shelves of workout videos with clips of Yoga and Pilates poses (see below). YouTube is also a platform to promote the collective wisdom of its users. For instance, Johnson & Johnson channel, with 1.8 million upload views, focuses on parenting advice from dozens of parents.

Evaluate health status – Livestrong, of yellow wristband fame, offers a highly interactive and introspective community and digital tools. One of these tools is the MyPlate, which allows users to track dietary habits and exercise to monitor their overall health. The concept is nothing new, but Livestrong takes health monitoring a step further by integrating it into its home-grown, Livestrong community. Members win milestone badges for monitoring their health, which can then be shared within the community.

Get advice about disease from experts – Health and wellness columnists are prevalent on sites such as WebMD and Health Central. There is limited expert / audience interaction, however. UStream changes this. UStream, a video streaming site, features live events with real-time chat capabilities. Using social media login IDs, Twitter, Facebook, AIM and MySpace, UStream enables its audiences to chat about events in real time. This real-time chat comes in handy during health conferences, like Healthways Well-Being Summit, where experts can answer questions and make clarifications based on user chatter. In fact, the US Congressional Health Caucus streams most of its events / meetings through its UStream channel page.

Obtain community support – Coping with illness or other health challenges can be difficult when going it alone. What better way to gain support than from your friends and family on Facebook. The Fridge Graph app enables users set weight loss goals, track progress over time, challenge friends and family to lose weight together and connect with Fridge Graph users in forums. Support forums are a place to swap tips on weight loss strategies and other information. Such support groups can give individuals the emotional support to make real health impact.

Health 2.0 is about unfettered access to information and support. Social media enables users to have an all-access-pass to incredible information and community interaction. YouTube replaces many of your dusty exercise DVDs, Livestrong helps you monitor your progress, UStream lets you chat live with experts, and Facebook makes losing weight a collective effort. Regardless of which medium you use or how you use it, social media is the next evolution in consumer health and wellness.

Read the 2010 social media report:

2010 Social Media Trend Report

View more presentations from David Capece.
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