Brands in the age of the API.

August 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

API’s are everywhere these days, and we should be rejoicing. APIs make the internet even more awesome. They are a set of rules that allow one application to interface with another.  They let applications mix and mingle and do things they couldn’t have done alone.

Flippity, for instance, is an API mashup of Ebay and Google Maps that gives Ebay more of a local Craigslist feel. Spell with Flickr generates custom messages using Flickr images.  Wheel of Lunch uses the Yahoo Local Search API to make a game of picking a place to eat.

Image created using Spell With Flickr.

We expect the Googles and Twitters of the world to have and share APIs. But what about more traditional brands? The banks, retailers and manufacturers of the world?

In some ways the whole API concept runs contrary to brand management. Brands live in a world of careful and controlled exposure. Things are either “on brand” or “off brand.”

APIs on the other hand fuel the open source economy.  An API is an invitation to play, to take something and run with it.

What would happen if a bank released an API? Would some intrepid developer use it to create a better financial management tool? Could a cable company’s API yield a better program guide?

Would a brand as tightly controlled as Coke or Nike ever be comfortable with open source brand and product development?

There are some brands that are giving it a shot. Sears is an example. With their API you can imbed their entire catalog, as well as commerce functionality, into your website or app. And MasterCard‘s API gives developers the opportunity to invent new payment applications.

API’s allow for R&D and innovation to come often and from anywhere. And as consumers grow ever more intolerant, and vocal, of inferior products and services, brands might find themselves having no choice but to adopt more of an API mindset.

What do you think?

From inside joke to Webster’s.

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

I learned in college that language is constantly changing, and yet it is really hard to detect any of those changes in a lifetime.

Just like stars. They seem to be in the same place every night. But viewed from the same spot over the course of hundreds of years they do in fact change position in the sky.

But that lecture was pre-internet. And pre-4chan.

In the 90’s I was slightly more of a geek than I am now and started playing a Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO) called Ultima Online, the game that gave birth to EverQuest, Worlds of Warcraft and the rest.

If you’re familiar with these games you know that to survive and thrive you need to join what’s called a guild. Guilds are groups of players that meet in game to get stuff done – like kill dragons. They also use message boards – like 4Chan and Somethingawful.com – to stay connected while not in game.

It was in these guilds, and on these boards, that I was first exposed to some of the architects of Internet slang. The originators of LOLcats and Rickrolling and all the other Meme’s that started out as inside jokes. I was able to witness the evolution (or was it mutation) of our language. At a pace that would have my professor’s head spin.

People love to mess with language on the Internet. They do it for fun, to demonstrate their cleverness and impress their peers. It’s a form of social currency. To be in at the start of a Meme is a badge of honor. It can make you “internet famous”.

What’s amazing about the Internet, as we all know, is that there are no walls between networks of people. Something that originates in even the most tight-nit of communities can easily spill over to another network.

“Leetspeak” (or 1337speak), for instance, in which some letters are replaced with numbers, has its origins in the coder community and Bulletin Board Systems of a billion years ago. Leetspeak helped give birth to LOLcats and lolspeak. Today you are more likely to get sent a LOLcat from your grandma than someone from 4Chan. In only the Internet could two such divergent communities share a connection.

It’s this fluidity that makes the Internet the ideal medium for rapid language change.

Inside jokes aren’t the only per generators of language change, though. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s true for language as well.  Txt spk,  abbreviations and acronyms designed to deliver super short and efficient messages, came into being largely because it was a pain in the ass to type out a message on a cell phone. Who knew what TMI, OMFG, and WTF meant ten years ago? Of course it’s generally agreed that people who say LOL out loud deserve a slap on the back of the head.

Advances in technology have always played a role in the changing of language. There wasn’t a word for book until someone invented the book. What’s different now is the rate in which new technologies are adopted. “Google” is as widely used a verb as “search”, yet wasn’t around five years ago.

There has always been slang, but slang had been largely contained within groups. The Internet allows slang – Internet and otherwise – to more rapidly spill out beyond the walls of a group into the larger mainstream. We live in a world where language can change before our eyes. Personally, I find this exciting.

What do you think?

Or said another way, wH@ d0 J00 7H1nK?

Rewriting the laws of behavioral physics.

August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

I just recently acquired this morsel of cougar wisdom, courtesy my wife’s fascination with The Real Housewives of New York: Money can’t buy you class.

This got me to thinking. What else can’t money buy you?

To answer this question let’s get as far away from Bridge & Tunnel logic as possible. According to an MIT study, brilliantly reframed in this RSAnimate’s video, money can’t buy you motivation. In fact, monetary rewards lead to poorer performance!

As counter intuitive as this first seems, the study is pretty compelling and, I think, extremely relevant to the agency business, an industry completely reliant on human creativity and productivity.

The study essentially calls into question everything we’ve ever learned about human behavior: if you reward, you get more of the behavior you want, and if you punish you get less of the behavior you don’t want.

So if the carrot and the stick doesn’t work, what does?

There are three factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction:

Autonomy.

Mastery.

Purpose.

Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed.  Interestingly, this runs counter to many corporate cultures where compliance is paramount.  The fact is, most people want to do something interesting. They don’t need to be told to, or even incentivized.

Mastery is our urge to get better at our craft. We want to be challenged, we want to improve and we want to make meaningful contributions. The RSA video points to the countless hours that programmers have donated toward the development of Linux and Apache, for no other reason than personal development and community contribution.

The last factor is purpose. Companies with a transcendent purpose are on the rise. Partly because having a purpose is the best way to attract better talent.  Who wouldn’t be excited about going to work every day for a company whose mantra is “do no evil”, or whose mission is to “put a ding in the universe.”

We spend a lot of time during our workday thinking about human behavior.  What carrots we can dangle to get people to desire our client’s products. But how much do we truly know about what motivates our talent. The lifeblood of our entire business?

What do you think?

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