Reuters opens up bureau in Second Life. Can taxation be far behind?

reuterssecondlife.jpg

The 200 year old news service which transmitted its first dispatches via homing pigeons has opened up a news bureau in the virtual world of Linden Labs’ Second Life.

Adam Pasick, who goes by “Adam Reuters” in Second Life is the wire services sole correspondent, editor, and bureau chief.

Being a financial news service, reporting is focused on news of economic interest with stories and interviews of some of the characters and entities that keep the Linden economy humming.

The Reuters Second Life News Center also keeps track of the Linden Dollar vs US Dollar exchange rate and total USD spend in Second Life over the previous 24 hours ($436,291 as of 9:00pm yesterday!)

Reuters has also built an in-world Atrium (Second Life s/w required) which you can visit and Adam has posted his hours on the site so you can visit with him and pass on your scoop.

Markets are, to a certain extent, a shared hallucination. It only makes sense for Reuters to follow this story to its logical extreme and explore the edge of value creation into the virtual economy. The lead story on the site today, US Congress launches probe into virtual economies, is the strongest indication yet that what is virtual today will be real (and taxable) tomorrow.

Categories
Current Events

What I learned about Direct Marketing

211647945_84ed63ae7c.jpgI had two hours to spare yesterday to make it over to SES just down the road from my office. I was not able to attend any of the sessions so I did a quick loop ’round the trade show floor, met a few folks (including the guy on the left who was looking for a Treo charger), and then skipped out the door to head back to meetings.

On the way out the door, I grabbed a copy of Direct, a trade mag for Direct Marketers. Reading it over lunch today. Here’s what I learned:

1. Your HTML emails going to gmail accounts may be working against you. Not only will gmail block graphics, Google crawls the text & meta data on your email and will serve up text ads that may send your readers on your list to your competition. Bonus Exercise: Check out the ads that get served up next to messages in your Gmail Spam folder for some spam on spam action.

2. Pop up ads are even more hated than door-to-door salesman.

3. Incentivizing new orders with a Click-Per-Action (CPA) campaign could prevent you from ever communicating to your customers via email again.

4. It costs $195/M (I think that’s for 1,000) for names of MacWorld readers who have iPods. The total size of the list is almost 40k so you can buy the lot for cool $7,800.

Why I cancelled my Bank of America Visa card

sspx0004.JPGDespite the fact that I’ve got more pieces of plastic than I really need it really irks me that in order to activate the new card B of A sent me I have to listen to a two-minute spiel about why I really should consider signing up for a credit protection service.

No option to <press #> to opt out or even skip the message. I had to listen to two messages (the second slightly more shill than the first) in their entirety. Only after the lecture on dangers of identity theft could I proceed and activate my new card.

I put my trust in a bank to protect my identity in the first place. Something just doesn’t sit right with this very same bank saying “it would be a good idea” if I signed up for their service just in case. It smacks of protection money.

Credit is due to the B of A customer service rep though. He was nice enough to cancel my account without too much hassle (unlike other organizations) and when I suggested they go easy on the marketing messages in the future, he sighed with a knowing verbal wink.

The Power of the Web

TechCrunch covers Teambuy.com.cn, a "group buying" site based in China,

co-ordinate large numbers of consumers interested in buying the same products. People agree on a place and time to meet, then enter the store in crowds of up to 500 people at once. The crowds tell the store owners that they all want to buy, say a TV or a stereo, but everyone wants 10 to 30% off the retail price.

I remember Stewart Brand writing about this concept being applied to groups of people interested in buying the same model car in his book about the MIT Media Lab.

 

nikeplus.com, a social network of iPod-enabled runners

nikeipod.JPG

Apple & Nike launched a new joint service that combines a wireless sensor that you put in your running shoes that uploads pace and distance data to your iPod Nano which you listen to while you run. After your run, you can sync with your nikeplus.com account and share your stats with other nikeplus.com members. Nike is also making special shoes with the sensors built in available in mid-July.

It’s worth looking at the video on the nikeplus site. Apple and Nike have done this integration very well and there are many little touches that make it clear that they’ve thought this through very carefully. On the nike site there’s an audio clip of Lance Armstrong talking about how listening to music helps him power through his workout and then there’s a link to the iTunes store where you can eventually purchase Lance’s “Sport iMix.” This channel might even kick off a whole new genre of Sport Music Playlists.

Looking forward to when Apple hooks up with someone for a cyclists’ version. My mix tape of the Cocteau Twins & Sundays helped push me over the Pyrenees.

Micropayments

I attended the HBSTech event on the Evolution and Future of Micropayments last evening in Mountain View.

Presenting were:

  • Preston Roper, VP of Marketing, BitPass
  • James Hall, co-founder of FTVentures, a fund with deep experience in micropayments 
  • Peter Ashley, Director of Merchant Services, PayPal
  • KC George, Manager of Product Innovation & Coordination, Visa USA

The session was not as interactive as I’ve become used to when attending other tech events in the Valley and was more of a "hold your questions until we’re done" affair but it still was very informative with lots of juicy snippets after the jump.

Categories
Office

Is it cool to be accessible?

Two posts that came together on the same riff but from different angles. Do communities scale?

First Danah Boyd on “coolness”

“Coolness” is about structural barriers, about the lack of universal accessibility or parsability. Structural hurdles mean people put in more effort to participate. It’s kinda like the adventure of tracking down the right parking lot to get the bus to go to the rave. The effort matters. Sure, it weeds some people out, but it makes those who participate feel all the more validated. Finding the easter egg, the cool little feature that no one knows about is exciting. Learning all of the nooks and crannies in a complex system is exhilarating. Figuring out how to hack things, having the “inside knowledge” is fabu.

– from Friendster lost steam. Is MySpace just a fad?

Then today I read Seth Godin on “authenticity”

Here’s the problem: The moment you take your special, authentic, limited-edition product and leverage it, make it widely available and normal, the very people who loved it inevitably rebel. “Starbucks isn’t what it used to be,” they tell you. The tastemakers who made you successful in the first place turn on their heels when they smell that you’re not authentic anymore.

When a product is everywhere, when it’s hyped in the media and advertised on the sides of buses, sometimes it seems as if the product exists and succeeds because it is everywhere. Before ubiquity, when it seemed as if the product (or its creator) wasn’t in it just for the money, somehow that felt more real, more wonderful, more authentic.

– from Tom Chappell sell out

It’s a trick to get this balance right. The quote from Seth was spurred by the news that Tom of Tom’s of Maine toothpaste sold to Colgate for $100 million. News that struck a similar chord are last week’s announcement that L’Oreal bought the Body Shop for over $1 billion, Six Apart’s acquisition of LiveJournal, and the buyout of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream by Unilever back in 2000.

In each case, the story was painted as a faceless corporation trying to usurp the community built up around a product to serve it’s short term commercial objectives. Yahoo has sailed through these rough waters as well when it acquired flickr, upcoming, and delicious. The point often missed in the hysteria is there is absolutely no benefit to a large company coming in and sucking the life out of a young and vibrant community. Why bother to set aside capital for an acquisition only to quash it and rob it of it’s value?

I think Yahoo has shown that it can take a community such as flickr and give it a good home (servers, bandwidth, and other resources) and also learn from that community and internalize the best things about it (tags, open apis, ui design).

There’s lots of talk about scaling an application to serve a larger audience. The one sold out session at the recent eTech conference was Flickr developer Cal Henderson’s tutorial, “Scaling Fast and Cheap – How we built Flickr” One thing that is not discussed as often is the other side of growing which is scaling the community. What are some of the best practices around taking a small, home grown community and scaling it out to serve millions?

The posts above identify the problem. Are there any examples of successful communities that have managed to retain their “coolness” and “authenticity” while at the same time becoming “universally accessible” and “ubiquitous” or are the two mutually exclusive? Religion comes to mind – are there others?

The Intention Economy – Pulling Demand from the Edge

I’m distilling my takeaways from this week’s eTech conference at, of all places, Disneyland. The vacation schedule of my son’s school afforded us a long weekend down here to the land of characters in big, overstuffed heads.

In such a commerce-driven atmosphere, you really begin to appreciate all the different ways that a machine like the theme park business grabs you by the shoulders to tell you why you and your dinero should part ways. Chats with other parents in the various queues confirm that Disney’s got this down to a science.

By the end of the day, the assault on the senses had even got though to my 6 year old. "I feel like I watched too much television," he said while we were riding the elevator back to our room in the hotel. Everyone in the elevator laughed out loud – he nailed it.

Doc Serls posted a good summary of the eTech conference and how it’s theme, "The Attention Economy," didn’t quite sit right with him. His point resonates with me. Describing the situation we are in as an economic opportunity in which a company only needs to harness attention is one-sided and leans too heavily on the perspective of the seller of goods that is vying for our attention. This is too reminiscent of the "aggregated eyeballs" of the we’s salad days. and not a place anyone really wants to return. If it was just a matter of getting and holding your attention, then companies would all be updating their approach to user acquisition with clever uses of games and social networks to engage prospects and move them down the conversion "funnel." I think there’s more to a sustainable long term relationship than blink tags and nudges.

If commercial activity is what you’re really after, better to state this up front as part of the contract and build the service around that goal. Doc goes on to say what this really means is that the focus should not be on just "attention" but "intention" as in, "intention to buy."

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that.

<snip> 

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or "capturing") buyers.

In The Intention Economy, a car rental customer should be able to say to the car rental market, "I’ll be skiing in Park City from March 20-25. I want to rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. I belong to Avis Wizard, Budget FastBreak and Hertz 1 Club. I don’t want to pay up front for gas or get any insurance. What can any of you companies do for me?" — and have the sellers compete for the buyer’s business.

I immediately started to think that this was what Priceline and Lending Tree did – state your intent to buy and let the sellers compete for your business. But, as Doc goes on to say in the comments of his post, the flaw in these models is that they require you to go to their site and put all your intent to buy parameters into their silo and receive offers from their partners.

This is where the edge comes in. What really needs to happen to make the Intention Economy hum is an ability to broadcast your intent to buy on your own site, be it a blog, or other hosted homepage and, this is key, that site is open to the world to see and aggregate dynamically. In much the same way that Edgeio pulls classifieds information from an indivdual’s own blog post through the use of tags, Intention to buy data needs to reside outside any silo so that anyone with a product that can fulfill a stated need can offer to fulfill it.

Done properly, I could envision the day when any vendor can go to the net and determine pricing demand and quickly offer goods at prices that are far below standard prices because they will, after consulting the net, have much better data on the potential demand. If you’re in the market for a new refrigerator, you should be able to fill out a few fields into a wishlist with your published "strike price." A warehouse, facing a surplus of refrigerators as they get ready to place orders for next year’s model, should then be able to pull in all open requests with a series of tags, say, wanted:refrigerator:kenmore:sidebyside:>$1000

This warehouse could then sort on these wishlists which exist in blogs and homepages all over the net and filter by a zip code or geo-location tag and get a clean list of demand. Faced with a list of 20 pretty solid leads, they could then contact each potential buyer with a bulk discount price based on this explicitly published demand.

Build a commerce platform around the aggregated demand for goods and services and allow people to express this demand in a non-interruptive way and I think you’ve got something way more powerful than an advertising engine. You have a commerce engine built on or predictive market demand.

Advertising and Attention are about impulsive purchases which are fleeting, low-margin transactions. Wishlists and Intention are about carefully considered desires and long term customer relationships. While the former is a quick shot at user acquisition, the later is more sustainable and, if I were running a business, desirable.

The majority of a supermarket’s business and shopping experience is from the aisles in the heart of the store and not the racks or candy, batteries, and gossip magazines right next to the register.

TimesSelect Annual Revenues Nearly $5M

The New York Times announced that it has over 270,000 subscribers to it’s premium TimesSelect service. PaidContent does some back of the envelope calculations and calculates that they are pulling in $4,954,000 in annual revenue from this venture only 52 days after launch.

Categories
Office

Spam Blogs and Financial Incentive

Technorati’s Niall Kennedy posts about the recent spate of spam blogs coming out of Google’s Blogger service and describes Google’s Blogger and Adsense service as parts of a spam suite. BoingBoing first posted Niall’s theory that CAPTCHA’s are no longer a valid block and are circumvented by spammers who redirect the test to eager seekers of free porn. What’s more troubling is that there is no immediate financial incentive for Google to thwart the creation of spam blogs. For every successful spam blog created, the revenue line for Adsense goes up a notch.

Big ol’ disclosure here because I work at Yahoo which is equally concerned and vulnerable with spam. In the interest of generating public debate, I want to throw out this question. Not only am I interested in how spam blog creation can be stopped (more interested in how to take away the incentive to splog, not how to block them), but also interested in the problem of click fraud. The incentive to create a splog is further accelerated with the creation of specialized crawlers that would click all your ad links and generate immediate click-thru revenues along with the more insidious use of zombie networks reported today by Joel on Software.

What can we do to ensure that the tools we have available to communicate and connect are not pulled apart by greedy individuals using automated tools to gain a quick buck? I know it has something to do with authority and trust. Why do we trust our savings with First National Bank at a swank downtown address and not Ed’s Bank in the trailer on the edge of town? Just as we bank at what is most likely a marble-faced edifice in the physical world, is there anyway to add these same clues to reputation in the virtual world?