Sunday, June 23

How to Gamify Data Collection: Watch Niantic and Ingress

Over the past few months, my free time in between going from home to work has been taken up by a strange and often unusual-looking game called Ingress.

For the uninitiated, Ingress is a product of the founder of Google Maps in a company called Niantic Labs (found at  Initially, you had to vie for an invite (reminiscent of GMail invites) and could win an invite by doing all sorts of intriguing things (e.g., bake a cake int he shape of the team logos).

The premise is simple - two teams (Enlightened and Resistance) are vying for the mind units of Earth.  Once you join a team, you learn about Portals (physical locations that have been identified by other members and approved by Niantic), Resonators (essentially batteries that power the Portals for your team) and XMPs (eXotic Matter Pulse bombs that drain Resonators, and thus Portals until there is no energy left in the Portal to become neutral -- which then you could take over with your Resonators).  As you begin to create Portals with your team, you can connect them with Links and three links in a triangle shape can become a Field which essentially "captures" Mind Units (read: people) for your team.

People liken this game to geo-caching, Capture the Flag, and even Risk.  And, what I find amazing is the number of people that both play the game and are actively participating in the game.  In London, I am constantly invited to create "farms" (higher level Portals that people can farm for Resonators and XMPs) all across the city and even outside.  And this weekend had a great deal of us across London, Paris, Dover, Scotland and Belgium working together on an interesting competition against the other team.  We got shirts and badges and even some neat kit if we were able to take a photo of one of the Niantic "agents" toward the end of the game.

Gamification and the Ingress Game

One of the interesting things I have been doing since I joined the game has been looking at what and why this game even exists.  There is no money to be made (e.g., Niantic does not charge for this), there is a huge cost to this game (see these pages for the amount of equipment you may need to purchase to play) and even the impact to your battery when playing (this game uses your GPS, your wifi and your data plan insanely).

So why would Niantic be making such a game?  And why spend money on plans like taking over different territories in different geographies?

So - my thoughts are based on what Niantic is getting from this project and how ARGs are helping achieve goals of various companies - including Google.

Building a Volunteer Army

Monday, April 8

My friend, Allen Stern, is - was and always will be -- a mensch

Sunday, my friend Dean Collins sent me a Facebook message informing me of Allen's passing.  I was in the midst of cleaning up -- and the news put me on my back foot.

Allen and I knew each other as he was building up CenterNetworks (I always loved putting it with the Camel case) and we would spend days talking about the challenges of creating the NY Tech scene and the challenges he faced with handling PR embargoes, the difficulty in monetizing his blog when the NY Tech scene was not as mature as the Silicon Valley one was, the frustration in writing content that was fresh and compelling.

But while he liked to bitch (and name a good MOT that doesn't), he was also a very warm hearted individual.  In the outpouring of grief and sadness these past few days, I have heard of some of the other generous things Allen did for others.  His gift of an iPod to an unfamiliar reader; his selfless efforts at the NYTech Meetup where he would do video for no money -- outside of trying to get visibility for CN; heck -- he even picked me up from the Austin airport in 2011 when I was flying in for SxSW and he wanted to catch up.

When I was in a career funk, he would help me with chances to increase my visibility by becoming a contributor to CN (and letting me be his press person at various events).  He was there when I went through pain in public and helped me build myself up with my efforts for making Cooper Union more entrepreneurial and helping Tony and I with our efforts in NYC coworking.

Allen is, was, and always will be a mensch.

For those who are not MOTs, I use Guy Kawasaki's post on How to Be a Mensch to clarify:
Leo Rosten, the Yiddish maven and author of The Joys of Yiddish, defines mensch this way:
Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous. 
Here is my humble attempt to help you achieve menschdom.
  • Help people who cannot help you. A mensch helps people who cannot ever return the favor. He doesn't care if the recipient is rich, famous, or powerful. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't help rich, famous, or powerful people (indeed, they may need the most help), but you shouldn't help only rich, famous, and powerful people.
  • Help without the expectation of return. A mensch helps people without the expectation of return--at least in this life. What's the payoff? Not that there has to be a payoff, but the payoff is the pure satisfaction of helping others. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Help many people. Menschdom is a numbers game: you should help many people, so you don't hide your generosity under a bushel. (Of course, not even a mensch can help everyone. To try to do so would mean failing to help anyone.)
  • Do the right thing the right way. A mensch always does the right thing the right way. She would never cop an attitude like, “We're not as bad as Enron.” There is a bright, clear line between right and wrong, and a mensch never crosses that line.
  • Pay back society. A mensch realizes that he's blessed. For example, entrepreneurs are blessed with vision and passion plus the ability to recruit, raise money, and change the world. These blessings come with the obligation to pay back society. The baseline is that we owe something to society--we're not a doing a favor by paying back society.
Allen - you are in Singapore Airlines First Class.  And you are remembered fondly.

Monday, April 30

Influencer Measurement: What does it mean?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have noted an increasing fever pitch of discussion on Klout, Kred and PeerIndex - and how the concepts of measuring influence is both good and bad, the potential downfall of society, an enviable outcome of a more open, transparent community (great one Nick!) and so on.

Wired's article goes into the history of Klout and how it came about (Joe and his three-month speaking diaengagement), Kred's own story is borne out of their tool for social media analytics and monitoring and PeerIndex was borne out of an initial desire to find the best topic curator using crowdsourcing to provide the most interesting content being published at the time.

But the real question is: what are these companies doing?  What is the big deal about "influence marketing"?  Why do I get a score of 47 at Peerindex, 54 at Klout and 721(!!!) at Kred?

What We Measure is One Thing, What Our Clients Want Can Be Another

One of my favorite discussions in the past 15 months often consists of either an agency marketing person, or a brand director or other publication entrepreneurs working to understand what can "influence marketing" do for them?  In a previous post, I describe what I believe to be the rebranding of word-of-mouth marketing to influence marketing.  The difference is that in the new era of social networks, APIs for "exhaust data" and Big Data systems to process all of this data into actionable information brings about a new belief that we can "measure" word-of-mouth.  I would argue, like Nathan Gilliat did, that there is no such thing as a "unit of influence".  All of us - Klout, PeerIndex and Kred - are building models that become our own "truth" for determining actions.

And yes, these are models - not specifically measurement on influence if that was possible.  We use models to extrapolate what is happening - and all models have biases that are built around hypotheses.  As Nathan says:
Models reflect the opinion of the modeler and the objectives they support. Because apparently simple concepts might be used for different purposes by different specialists, we end up with diverse models using the same labels. In essence, we talk about the labels, because they represent familiar ideas (influence, et al), but the models represent what we really care about (such as positive word of mouth, leads, and sales).   
If you understand that the label is just a convenient shorthand for a model that takes too many words to describe in conversation, it's not a problem. If the model generates useful information, it's doing its job. Just don't assume that any one usage of the label is the correct usage. Modeling requires judgment, interpretation, and prioritization in context, which are incompatible with standardization.
So, if you understand that the models are our shorthand for creating meaning out of measurement, the real question is, what are our clients looking for?  And to be clear, by clients usually mean the ones who pay for our services.

Agencies and Brands are suffering.  They are awash in data and dashboards and monitoring and listening and so on - trying to get a grip on this world we call social media marketing.  Years ago, when I spoke on politics and social media , the ideas of "social media" was scoffed at.  Today, it will be the "biggest" area of growth in all businesses.  Shades of the Cluetrain Manifesto, anyone? 

So, when the clients are asking for help, what are they doing?  The same thing they have been asking for years on end - how do I get the message out to the right people to move the needle on my goal?  The problem is - what do you need to measure to be able to determine return-on-investment (ROI)?  And that is where the problem and the puzzle exists.

Sunday, April 8

Politics in a World of Social Data - who knows what about whom?

This past month, I have been reading Eli Parser's "The Filter Bubble" on my iPad Kindle app - and I must say, Eli has done a bang up job of discussing the impact the Filter Bubble can and will have on our political and intellectual discourse.

As I continue to work on the problem of "influence marketing", it brings back concepts of control theory to mind, and how tuning the inputs to a system can probabilistically ensure a bounds on response.  And, as you begin to learn the "modes" of the "system", you are able to generate more desirable performance from the "system" overall.

Eli uses the phrase "persuasion styles" (from Dean Eckles at Stanford and Facebook) which discuss the modes on how a person can be influenced to perform an act/action based on how the request is made, not simply by the content.  And with so much Social Action data around on the web (and purchasable in large batches from companies like GNIP and DataSift), the ability to sift through the voting records, demographic records and Social Action records will be a powerful mix.

Political Influencer Marketing

So what is "influencer marketing"?  As I described in an earlier post, some circles consider the measure of influence corresponds to your perceived expertise in a particular topics or arena.  It harkens back to the old E.F. Hutton commercial, "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen."  But in today's world of social media focused on driving action - and advertising dollars being spent to drive purchases or brand impressions, influence marketing becomes more of a word-of-mouth advocacy concept - who is able to drive actions from whom by creating reciprocal or responsive actions to the original action.

In Control Theory, we would call the original Social Action an "impulse" and then see what "modes" get "excited" (e.g., vibrate, resonate).  This processes is known as System Identification.  And while most "systems" are considered from a single-input/single-output (SISO) model, we know that we are bombarded by "impulses" from all sorts of sources (e.g., TV, adverts, Facebook shares, retweets, LinkedIn updates).