The Case For Product Development

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/10288261 w=500&h=281]

The long winded, largely self serving, debate over Traditional versus Digital agencies is still alive. It should have been beaten senseless years ago, but the home fires are burning with most traditional shops chasing the market, adding the word digital to their tagline. Good grief, Digital isn’t even the correct term!

Moving on… It’s time for a new debate.

This debate centers around what your interactive agency should be doing for clients. At a minimum, it should be serving clients’ every interactive need, creating engaging experiences, and most of all, helping them make money. As a means to this end, I suggest it should be doing more: imagining, designing, developing and launching it’s own products. What better way to sharpen the skills necessary to make a brand famous online than to practice with your own? Every step of the product creation and deployment process translates to deep learning, applicable to all clients.

Reasonable people will say developing products can distract from the core business of helping clients succeed. I can’t disagree with this. Instead, I assert that the benefits outweigh the distraction.

The benefits to the interactive shop go beyond acquired knowledge for client projects. While it can be difficult to justify the financial investment it takes to have your team concentrate on an experimental product, the rewards can also cover the cost. Example: your team builds an API that can interface between your product API and Twitter. This API can then be used in a client project, streamlining development, increasing profit.

Design and interactive strategy is another area in which knowledge and muscle memory will increase with product development. Typically, a client will already have a product that they’re looking for your agency to promote. An interactive agency that is not creating its own products is missing a vital capability. Without the experience of imagining, building and pushing its own products how can they effectively do the same for clients? There is an entirely different skill set that emerges in product development that wouldn’t arise otherwise. 

Finally, aside from acquired skills, the potential for one, or several, of these products to develop a revenue stream is real. These additional revenue streams afford interactive agencies the opportunity to be more selective about client projects. More selectivity leads to more successes. More successes lead to more clients. Rinse and repeat.

Some shops, including theGOOD, have done this with Sell Simply, theGOOD Uploadr, and most recently Centamental. We have created products and released them into the interactive ecosystem with success. We’ve then been able to parlay them into client work, acquiring valuable IP, while creating alternative revenue streams for ourselves. Other shops have also done this successfully, including The Barbarian Group, 37Signals, and our neighbors Instrument.

While this is not an entirely new concept, it is a concept I’d like to see widely adopted until it is a standard. Interactive shops should make things. Their own things. Clients should seek out and select interactive agencies that have leveraged product development. When this occurs, both client and agency win.

theGOOD.com

Originally posted @ http://www.thegood.com/social/index.php/category/blog/industry/thegood-com/

We’re pretty proud of our new site, so we thought we’d give some technical deets for all of our geek readers. We do hope the rest of you can appreciate it on a more laymen level.

The site is an aggregation engine that acquires feeds from both WordPress and Yahoo Pipes. Pipes delivers Twitter and other social media feeds in a nice JSON wrapper to Flash. WordPress data is acquired via XMLRPC. We made some custom modifications to enable it to deliver some specificity, however most of it was right there for the taking. A tip of the cap to WordPress and its open source goodness.

We’re able to administer the entire site content using WordPress as the CMS talking nicely with its Flash front. Given this, the site can function as our portfolio, social aggregate, blog, and company profile all wrapped up in a of sweet.

If you find any bugs or ideas for improvement we’d love to hear from you. More selfishly, If you’re a potential client and dig what we’re layin’ down, don’t hesitate to drop us a line. We’d love to get in bed with you.

Thanks, and enjoy – theGOOD team.

Analyze This

Originally posted at theGOOD

Analytics Anyone?

Analytics. The word doesn’t show up in any spell checker, and dictionary.com barely even knows what it means. Then why does every client want it? Better question : why does every client buy them only to not use them? Website Analytics is akin to life insurance and here’s why…

Life Insurance – Something you buy but never use

Every client wants the basic information that analytics provides. They want to know who’s coming, from where, and how long they stayed. All great information for sure, but merely the tip of the data heap. What needs to be examined here is a deeper understanding of interactive metrics. As I said, typically sites are measured in broad wide swath terms such as traffic, or time spent on site. These two numbers are often deemed enough information to base a site success or failure determination. This is a mistake. The determining figures are those metrics that directly relate to a sites goal, such as quality of traffic and the interactions that take place once engaged in the experience. Let’s consider the following scenario: Two sites successes are determined solely in terms of time spent on the site. One is an e-card site and the other is a social media network. The e-card site clocks in averaging :45 seconds per visit, and the social media network averages 3:00 per visit. It is determined that the social media network is clearly a more effective site. This argument would be incorrect because it is incomplete. What needs to be factored into examination are the goals of the two sites. The e-card goal is to have someone watch a short 20 second video, customize it and send it to a friend. Therefore, the appropriate metric to keep an eye on would be those statistics related to it’s goal. ie : How many people sent out an e-card? How many people who received an e-card came back to watch it? More plenary: Of the traffic coming to the e-card site: which referring site or campaign drove the most e-cards sent. The amount of time spent on the site is of course going to be low due to the goal of the site. By contrast, the social media network has a high length per visit because users are there filling out blogs, forums, and other time intensive applications. The metric goals should be tailored to these interactions. Therefore, using length of visit is arbitrary and wholly dependent on site content and goal. Furthermore, the raw amount of traffic is not an indicator of a successful site, instead it should be used to measure the success of a media buy, banner buy, virility of the site or advertising campaign promoting the site. This metric should then be broken down into quality of said traffic by measuring in detail said traffics interactions within the site. ie: What did users actually do after they landed there.

“it’s not in the budget”

Great, so we’ve determined that clients should be looking at much more data than they are. However, this is only half the battle, the remaining is actually doing something with that data. The fact is : no clients use analytics data for campaign improvement (wide sweeping generalization used despite the fact I called it a fact. But, its close). What is the reason for this? Why do clients purchase analytics packages, that we as interactive studios sell, only to never put the statistical data to use? The answer is simple : “it’s not in the budget”.

Clients budget money for an interactive campaign from concept to launch. The End. There is no budget set aside for improvements once the campaign is live. The interactive shop works feverishly to concept a grandiose idea, they pitch it, they sell it, they build it and bam! both client and agency claim the site as a major success. Portfolios are padded, corporate managers satiated and all is good. This is extremely bizarre to me. Like, idiotically bizarre. Nobody bothers to check if the campaign actually worked. Furthermore, if they are an advanced client they may check. But, if bad news is found it is a moot point for there is no budget for improvement.

An Opportunity

So, how do we as interactive agency/shop/think tanks solve this? The answer is akin to a sea change in interactive on the whole. It requires placing just as much importance on the post launch part of a campaign as it does the pre. It involves staying invested mentally and financially in a campaign after you’ve built it. It involves both client and agency to set aside ego and admit when a campaign went wrong. To embrace the wrongness as a tool for improvement. It involves educating clients on this topic. It may even be impossible.

There is an opportunity here for our industry. I do believe an entire company could be sustained in such an endeavor. Perhaps there are entire companies being sustained by this very idea. I wouldn’t know as I write these posts blindly without any research whatsoever. However, if you are out there, why haven’t we seen you in our analytics data?

Show and Tell PDX

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

Last night I presented “Using Interfaces Without Interfaces” at Show and Tell Pdx. I showed off some Flash motion detection, Flash color detection and even demo’d a little voice speech recognition in Flash. Some of you asked for more info on how last one was accomplished. I’ll be posting more on this later.

Thank you to Substance for hosting, and thanks for all that attended and enjoyed the show. I had a lot of you come up to me and say that my work has insipred you to experiment more. Just wanted to say, that kicks ass.

Google Docs + Yahoo Pipes = CMS

So, you’ve got a client that wants to manage their website content. They want to be able to update every field on their Flash website, er I mean “experience”. But there’s a catch… they FEAR technology and complex interfaces. They feel that WordPress is too complex, never mind a proprietary custom build CMS.

What’s a developer to do?

THIS:

1. Create a Google Docs Spreadsheet – For this example I’m using row 1 to hold the field vars.

Media_httpwwwchristes_iugsb

2. Set it to publish as a webpage – Be sure to select CSV format. Be sure to set it to re-publish when any editing occurs.

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3. Set up Yahoo Pipes to fetch the CSV data – Set appropriate data mapping, renaming and use Regex to ensure data is proper.

Media_httpwwwchristes_hrxme

4. Publish Pipe as your favorite data feed – For this example I chose JSON.

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5. Load JSON into your Flash app. BOOM!

Bladow, your client can now go on doing what they’ve always done — edit an excel doc ( Google Doc ). They make changes there, it changes on their fancy experiential website.

Genius.

Javascript vs Flash

A recent post by famed Flasher Paul Ortchanian, reflektions miniml, announced that he’s leaving Flash for Javascript. After his rant at Flash Forward last year on AS3, I’m not surprised. Though many in the industry will agree that Javascript is making some leap and bound advances lately, one also must agree Paul has made a huge blanket statement regarding Flash. His choice to totally abandon Flash for Javascript and Ajax just doesn’t make sense. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and the proper technology should be chosen based on project needs.

I commented on his post, but he moderates comments before allowing them to be published. In lieu of this I thought I’d post my comment here as a blog post.

your palm pre link is broken (404). as is, in my opinion, your synopsis. good developers choose the right technology for the job, based on project goals. saying Javascript and AJAX is the appropriate choice for all digital-ad campaigns is a weird choice and a blanket statement. Javascript and AJAX may be the appropriate choice some of the time, as Flash may be some of the time. and sometimes a combination may be appropriate.

your post makes it seem like the two technologies must be mutually exclusive. an odd view, in my opinion.

Facebook and Social Networking

I recently had a chance to comment on a friends blog about how “weird” and “fake” Facebook is. This was my retort:

What’s more odd than Facebook to me is the fact that you analyze how odd Facebook is. I see this over and over again. People talking about online communities as if they are an alternate reality. Or how socially weird they are. Some people, like my aunt, are downright frightened of them. Truth is, they’re as real as your neighbor and as odd as them too. And what’s more, they’re here to stay, only to develop more “realness” as technology develops. Resisting them is akin to halting evolution. It’s human destiny to augment our reality and merge with machines. Facebook, and the internet in general, are first baby steps in a larger leap towards a heightened human self awareness. Sounds crazy/scary, right? But this merger just may make us more human, as we currently define it, in the end.

If you’re so concerned with people from your deleted past rekindling an unwanted relationship, I’d ask why would this concern you? It’s no different than meeting them in grocery store after 10 years. You know, you’d say 10 words to them and never see or talk with them again. Facebook’s the same way. You accept their friend request and then never speak. I’d say Facebook is even more betterer in the fact that you don’t have to accept the request in the first place, thus negating any awkward 10 word conversation.

I could go on and on about the growing global consciousness, the genius of twitter and human augmented intelligence, but you probably think I’m already weird enough to delete me… So, while I appreciate a solid griswald reference more than most, I must disagree with your overanalysis and hesitation to use a form of communication such as Facebook. Once you realize that Facebook IS life, no different from the one you recall just some short years ago, you may be in a better place to embrace it.

So yea, party on Facebook.

Interactive Reactive Experiential Enviro

http://www.flickr.com/apps/video/stewart.swf?v=63881

A year or two ago when I started experimenting with creating applications that provide interactivity outside of a browser, in the environment, I thought it would take years before environmental experiences went to market. I thought there would be no demand by agencies for several years, no clients forward thinking enough to request interactive installations and certainly no companies focusing in on delivering these experiences. I was mistaken.

I’ve been surprised by the amount of buzz generated around interactive installations in the advertising industry. I’ve had thousands of visits to my blog from agencies, developers and the like with keywords such as Flash and Installations, Flash and Motion Detection and Interactive Installation. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that an industry that is always hot for the latest ‘thing’ would push the medium forward. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see several companies honing in on the niche that has presented itself in Interactive Installation. The fact these companies are specializing in it is a testament to the rising demand. There have also been several agencies that are developing their own internal lab to function as R&D into these areas. I commend these agencies for their forward thinking. Unfortunately, most of these agencies still haven’t figured out how to do traditional interactive profitably and or properly. That’s right, I said it. “Traditional Interactive”. Perhaps in these agencies this new medium will be able to skip over the old agency model of traditional “creatives” holding on to the last bastion of control over an interactive project, but I doubt it. Just as in traditional interactive I see Barbarianesque shops excelling in the Installation arena. We all see clients sidestepping traditional agencies in favor of new media agencies in both project work and AOR. I see no reason that trend would not continue in Reactive Media. After all the best interactive work results when the people designing the piece are also building the piece, concepting the piece, doing analytics on the piece and owning the piece.

All that said, I’ve just finished and launched the Interactive Installation located at 6th and Alder in Portland, Or. This is the second public installation I’ve done. I was shocked to see the amount of attention it has received, and is again a testament to how powerful this medium can be. Yes it helped that the client was/is downtown Portland. It got me on the news several times. But still… the excitement is there over the technology and the potential uses of moving experiences into the environment we all live in. I look forward to doing more.

If you’ll notice I’ve called this ‘thing’ several ‘things’ already. I’ve heard many terms bandied about. Some of these terms include Interactive Installation, Environmental Interactive, Reactive Installation, Interactive Projection, Enviro Interactive and Experiential Installation. To me none of these fully encompass what the medium and industry will be creating in the coming years. While most of my experiments have involved motion detection, there are many other avenues in this ‘thing’ to pursue. Auditory data aggregation, touch screen, sensors, robotics, industrial design melding with technology and interactive design just to name a few. I like the term Enviro Interactive. I think it gets close to encompassing the vast array of potential applications without confusing people with the word spelled out in full, ‘environmental’. On more than one occasion I’ve explained what I’m doing as Environmental Interactive only to get some vague response how nice it is that I’m being green.

So, what would you call it? Are you currently working in the medium? If so, in what capacity?

ps. In the news clip above notice that they captioned me as the ‘cyber snow artist’. From this point forward please address me as such. Anything less would be an insult of epic proportions.

Using Yahoo Pipes to Aggregate Your Life

Chances are you publish content using multiple platforms dissipated across the interweb. For example, you may publish photo’s to Flickr, video’s to Vimeo and blogs to WordPress. While each of these sites provide you with an RSS feed, a viewer would have to subscribe to each to be updated with all that you publish. Luckily Yahoo Pipes has provided an easy solution. Pipes is essentially a tool that enables non coders to visually architect an application. While it provides a toolset to perform many valuable and robust time saving application functions, for this example we’ll only concentrate on it’s XML and RSS data aggregation. The following screenshot demonstrates how easy it is to aggregate all of your separate RSS feeds into one feed that viewers can subscribe to.

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The example above shows the aggregation of all my publishing points including Flickr, Vimeo, WordPress, Google Reader and a custom feed I made that enables me to use WordPress as a CMS. After creating the aggregated feed in Pipes I then use Feedburner to track usage stats. The result is http://feeds.feedburner.com/chrisTeso. Please update your feed and subscribe to http://feeds.feedburner.com/chrisTeso if you’re currently subscribed to an older one.