You’re not late to the Internet

Over on Medium Kevin Kelly (of Wired) has written an interesting piece on the development of the Internet and the opportunities it presents.

[From] our perspective now, the greatest online things of the first half of this century are all before us. All these miraculous inventions are waiting for that crazy, no-one-told-me-it-was-impossible visionary to start grabbing the low-hanging fruit — the equivalent of the dot com names of 1984.

So, the truth: Right now, today, in 2014 is the best time to start something on the internet. There has never been a better time in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside, than now. Right now, this minute. This is the time that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh to have been alive and well back then!”

via Medium

Ice Bucket Challenge post mortem: is it possible to capture the lightning again?

Munch's the Ice Bucket Challenge

I’ve been waiting for the Ice Bucket Challenge to cool down (puns!) before taking a look at what went right with and whether it’s possible to replicate. Let’s break this down.

What is the Ice Bucket Challenge?

The Ice Bucket Challenge started, as best we can tell, on July 15th when Chris Kennedy dumped a bucket of ice water over his head and challenged his cousin to either donate money to ALS research or dump a bucket of freezing water over her head. If you’re interested in seeing how it spread the Wall Street Journal has a good run down. From their it spread across social media with people posting short videos of them dumping ice water over their heads, tagging their friends in the posts, and challenging them to donate and do the same. At some point the whole either/or part of the challenge got lost in translation.

Did the Ice Bucket Challenge work?

Good god yes! Over the course of a month there were thousands (tens? hundreds?) of tweets, YouTube videos, and Facebook posts. On top of that the ALS Association is reporting that they raised over $100 million dollars. Keep in mind that during that same time period last year they raised just under $3 million. So that’s pretty much an unqualified success and ridiculously amazing for something that started so organically.

Can you recreate the Ice Bucket Challenge?

No. Trying to recreate a viral campaign is a bad idea. They go viral due in part to their novelty. That being said we can look at what made it work and try and work that into future campaigns.

What lessons can we learn?

Okay, so it works but we can’t just copy it wholesale. Fair enough. There are a few really good lessons we can learn from the Ice Bucket Challenge to apply to future campaigns though.

1) The timing was right. This campaign hit in the summer right in a depressing news cycle. Shot down planes, invasion of Ukraine, ISIS, etc. were all dominating the news. Then along came this campaign, which is entertaining, involved celebrities, and was easy to turn into a human interest story. I can’t count the number of stories I saw where it started off with the ice bucket challenge and then shifted to a story about a local person with ALS. As a general rule news programs aren’t keen on positive stories unless their human interest stories and the timing of this hit when they were dying to break up the depression.

2) It’s basically a chain letter. Or a pyramid scheme or multilevel marketing or whatever way you want to think of it. It quite deftly exploits your social networks to perpetuate itself. Seriously, the tag 3 friends bit is straight out of Cutco’s playbook and also kinda genius in a nefarious sort of way.

3) It used peer pressure, (mild) humiliation and guilt. By tagging you in the post the challenge calls you out in front of your friends. You can ignore it but then you’ll look bad. So you’re peer pressured and guilted into participating. Some people would prefer to call this social proof.

The challenge itself is also a little humiliating or maybe humbling is a better word. Not enough to dissuade people from participating, but just enough that it’s entertaining to watch your friends dump cold water over their heads.

4) It targeted our vanity. We’re all a little vain and we all like looking good in front of our friends. The ice bucket challenge lets people show they care about something, show that they’re good people, and show that they have a sense of humour. Basically it’s a chance to show off.


Zuckerburg gets wet

5) It targeted celebrities. There’s no way this would have got the attention it did if it hadn’t targeted celebrities, which then got it on the national news.

6) It was authentic. This is the one that would be the hardest to replicate. The ice bucket challenge just felt authentic and not like it was cooked up in the back room of an office or that it had been focus grouped. I mean that’s because it wasn’t but still, you get the point. It was simple enough that anyone could have thought of it or started it and that’s something that people liked. They were on an equal playing field and not being directed by an organization.



Creepy forum tries to absolve itself through charity, donations rejected

I’m really not keen to write anything about celebgate or thefappening or whatever the hell you want to call it because the whole thing is just slimy and giving it attention feels off. That being said I do think this is of note.

Apparently in an attempt to absolve some guilt Reddit subreddit r/thefappening (that’s just ridiculous to write) who have been gleefully cataloging all the leaked pictures decided to try and raise some money for charity. They chose the Prostate Cancer Foundation. Note that the charity chosen by a forum based around the violation of women’s privacy is one that only affects men. That’s not a shot at the PCF because they do good work but it is a little telling.

Anyways, the PCF wasn’t having any of it and rejected the $6,000 raised.

via The Daily Dot

OMG – You won’t believe how Facebook’s new updates are going to slap posts like this in the face

Ouch. It’s bad news for Upworthy and other clickbait-y types of sites that promise to “blow your mind” with each and every post they publish.

Early this week, Facebook announced two new newsfeed updates that will affect most brand pages.

On the click-bait front, they are going to de-prioritise posts “with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see.”

Here’s how it’s going to work: the algorithm will check how much time the user spends on the web page before going back to Facebook. In addition, it will look at the ratio between clicks and likes/comments.

The second update will prioritise posts that show links in the ‘link format’, rather than hyperlinks embedded on photo captions.

So this


rather than this

pic1Good luck and happy posting!

Buzzfeed is like a Bond villain stroking a cat in a plush leather chair


So, I never really thought about it like this before but all those quizzes about what city you are or what type of underwear represents your personality on Buzzfeed is really just an ingenious diabolical way to collect demographic information about their readers to use for advertising.

I can practically hear the maniacal laughing.

via Grow

[gsummit] The art of Google ads

One of the more interesting talks at the GSummit conference – though one that didn’t have the best attendance; I guess an talk on the arts is a hard sell to marketers – was by Erik Gensler from Capacity Interactive.

His presentation was on doing online marketing for dance companies and other arts organizations. Obviously pretty niche, but also really interesting. Two things really stood out to me.

Ask Robert Battle

1) They created a website that helped people pick out the right show for them. Users answered questions on what type of music they liked, when they were available, how much they wanted to pay, etc. and then the site gave them options for shows that fit their criteria. This was particularly successful for getting in newbies to the arts scene who were interested but had no idea where to start.

It seems to me that some organizations that are trying to promote grass roots action could really do with something similar that would recommend activities people could take based on their skill set, time commitment, etc. I imagine people would be more willing to follow through if they received a customized action plan.

2) Use Google ads to creep on people. As a follow up to the recommendation engine they also set up there Google Analytics to track users who went a certain amount through the process but then did not by tickets. With that info they then had Google serve up ads to those people for tickets to their shows. The idea being that a lot of the people who abandon the process are interested but leave for a variety of reasons and that by seeing the ad they’ll be prompted to pick the process back up. You see this a lot with online stores when you leave with things in the shopping cart unbought.

Again I could see a non-profit application for something like this for people who don’t end up signing petitions or who stopped in the middle of the donation process.

The slides from his presentation are embedded below.

Facebook is an app more than a site

facebook-mobileFacebook’s most recent earnings report shows that they have 1.32 billion users a month. Of that more than a billion people logged on to Facebook using a mobile device and around a third of all users only access Facebook on mobile devices.

That’s huge and the trend is upwards with a growth of 31%. Anyone doing any sort of campaigning or advertising on Facebook really needs to consider how that works in a mobile environment.

via The Verge

Can activism be a game?


Last month, I had the chance to go down to San Francisco and attend GSummit, a conference on gamification. Gamification has become a little bit of an obsession lately so I was looking forward to the conference and it turned out to be better than I expected.

So what’s gamification? It’s the idea of learning the principles of why we enjoy games and then shifting those same lessons onto other contexts. Usually gamification is used to encourage people to do things that they know they should do that they can’t motivate themselves to do.

A nice clear example is fitness apps. Everyone knows they should work out but most people have to drag themselves to the gym. Let’s look at running apps. At one extreme you have simple apps like Fitocracy, which awards you points for working out and lets you compete with friends. On the other extreme you have apps like Zombies, Run!, which has you listen to a story as you run; every once in a while, zombies will attack and you have to run as fast as you can. Once the danger has passed, you can return to jogging. (Some of you may recognize that this is actually interval training.)

Gamification doesn’t have to be as game-like as all that though (sounds weird I know). At my job we have a lot of complicated legal processes that we try and walk people through. We do a lot to “dumb it down” so that you don’t need a law degree to figure it out but, well, the law is inaccessible and there’s only so much you can do. Invariably we’re going to lose people along the way because the process is hard.

Which brings us back to something I hinted at earlier: gamification is really just the application of the behavioural psychology of motivation. The process is hard so how do we get people to maintain the motivation that they started with? Most legal issues (or really any big issue) can’t be solved in one sitting. They take time and, as that time passes, things crop up in their lives that affect how motivated they are.

Or outside of that context, how do you transition someone from reading a blog post, signing a survey, etc. to take more substantive action either online or in the real world? One of the keynote speakers at the conference was BJ Fogg, who is a professor at Stanford. To oversimplify his talk to one sentence: for someone to do a certain behaviour, they need to be motivated to do it, have the ability to do it, and then have the thought to do it. So you need to break those elements down into their component parts and figure out how to exploit them to encourage people to take action. In principle this sounds really simple but in practice I think it’s a lot harder. I’m keen to do some experimenting and testing.

BJ Fogg

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some highlights and ideas that I found interesting here.

[Random note] I’m not sure if it’s encouraging or not that so many talks ended with notes about not using gamification for evil. I mean it’s good that it was said but it’s bad it had to be said.