Balancing Your Media Diet

When I was a kid we had the food pyramid. It was designed to help people think about the right mix of foods for a healthy diet. The plate has replaced the pyramid but the idea is the same — you need to be mindful about what you put into your body in order to stay healthy.

The same thing is true for what you put into your head. The more varied the information you consume, the more connections you’ll be able to make between issues and ideas. The more diverse your information diet, the more likely you’ll be able to discover insights that can prompt new ideas and ways of solving problems.

Here’s one example. A few weeks ago, for reasons I can’t explain, I watchedNuclear 101: How Nuclear Bombs Work, Part 1, on YouTube. It was a lecture by Matthew Bunn, associate professor of public policy at Harvard. For years nuclear history has been an interest but the science is tough. Bunn made it very accessible.

He described the problem of achieving fission in a sub-critical mass. He explained that there are three solutions: add more material, reflect neutrons back in to the material, or compress the material. It made sense to me and it apparently lodged someplace in my head.

A few days later I was talking with a client. She was describing the challenge of more effectively using her global communication teams. Simply adding more money wasn’t the answer, she said. And then I remembered the lecture. Her teams, I said, were like the atoms in a sub-critical mass. Money was akin to neutrons. Adding more could help, but so would using consistent messages and materials (similar to reflection) and better coordination with the regions (similar to compression). It was an apt analogy and led to a more focused discussion on how to implement the approach.

With that example in mind, here is a way to think about media consumption in a way that can help broaden your mind when it comes to the events and issues of the day. In the world of MyPlate, there are five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. Applying this notion to media consumption, we could also think of five categories: foundation, expansion, practical, inspirational and indulgent.

Here’s what they mean:

  • Foundation is the basic information needed to put things into context. It’s the news, history, literature and anything else that provides a fundamental view of the world.
  • Expansion is information or ideas that you aren’t familiar with or don’t agree with. The news falls into this category, so can a lot of other things, such as vides (like the one mentioned above), topic-specific publications or partisan Web sites. Consuming this content can take discipline.
  • Practical is information that helps you do what needs to be done. Understanding a clients business or what a particular reporter is writing about are examples.
  • Inspirational is media that makes you feel good and gives you space to recharge and reflect. It can be music, art or anything else that works for you.
  • Indulgent is information that is more a guilty pleasure than anything else. For some it might be reality TV, for others talk radio, for me, it’s video games.

Too much of anything isn’t healthy so it’s important to come up with a mix that’s right for you. For most people it’s easy to spend time with practical and indulgent media. It’s easy to justify it — the practical stuff can help you get your job done and the indulgent stuff is a necessary respite if you’ve been over-taxing the old grey matter.

Media isn’t like food though. You can’t measure it consistently in terms of calories. Does a copy of US Magazine equal two episodes of Parks & Rec? Is binge watching Breaking Bad the same as plowing through three weeks worth of the Sunday Styles section? And what should you do about that stack of ten unread New Yorkers? It’s pretty hard to say.

The important thing is to mix things up. It’s easy to get into media ruts and fall back to familiar formats or content. It’s also easy to stick with popular media. This gives you plenty of fodder for water cooler conversations but if everyone is consuming the same content they’ll also likely come up with the same ideas and observations.

It’s also important to recognize that the right media mix will vary from person-to-person and over a lifetime. A middle schooler will have a far different media profile than a veterinarian, who will likely be consuming different content than an airline pilot. While different people need to engage with different media, it’s important that they don’t isolate themselves in their own media universe.

This has been a big concern when it comes to political media. There has been an assumption that many people only consumed media that supported their point of view. Thankfully, according to a recent story in the New York Times, that isn’t the case. According to the story, what people are actually observed consuming differs — and if far more diverse — from what they report consuming. This is a hopeful sign.

Achieving a healthy media mix isn’t something that should be left to chance. As a first step, why not begin tracking what you read, watch, listen to and play? Do it for a week and assess your media diet. Are you watching way more TV than you meant to? Have you whiled away untold hours playing FIFA 15? Be honest with yourself. Then push yourself the find more balance.

As a communications professional, not only will this give you a glimpse into the actual media you consume, but it will also help broaden that mix, which will expose you to new ideas, help you make new connections and allow you to deliver new insights to colleagues and clients.


Originally published at www.inkhouse.net.

Make Time For Game Time

A new class of media channels is creating vast new audiences of deeply engaged young viewers. They are also blurring the line between creators and consumers. While some marketers recognize the potential of these platforms, there is more that can be done.

Twitch, Major League Gaming and Steam have made it possible for gamers to share their skills and connect with other gamers. These services have made gaming a spectator activity that has become wildly popular. While teen engagement through traditional media channels may have advertisers and marketers reaching for their Maalox, participation in these new platforms is going through the roof. Consider these facts:

  • Twitch has 100 million monthly viewers and over one million gamers streaming their sessions live
  • In 2013, MLG compared viewership for its Pro Circuit Championship with the NCAA March Madness Tournament Video Live viewership: MLG had 54 million hours of video consumed vs. just 14 million for the NCAA
  • On Jan. 4 of this year, steam saw its highest number of concurrent users:8.5 million; NBC was the highest rated network for the week ending Jan. 4– with 7.3 million viewers

These are big, big numbers and they point to a level of engagement between streamers and viewers that other media channels can’t approach or replicate. But what does this engagement look like? What are these millions of streamers and viewers doing for all of these millions of monthly hours? These are the basic activities:

  • Play — there’s got to be someone streaming their gameplay for this to work and so it starts with the gamer. Their game screen is the core of the experience. As they play the gamer is visible, either in a small pop-out box or green-screened in one of the corners.
  • Narrate — as they play, most streamers are talking — mostly about the game they are playing, the opponents they are facing, the system they are using, etc.
  • Interact — viewers can talk to each other via chat and with the streamer. Sometimes there may be a Twitter feed on the screen, sometimes a chat box. Either way, there is a lot of flow across the screen.

It can be a pretty busy experience for the uninitiated. What is missing from this cacophonous space is any meaningful marketing. What there is typically takes the form of video before a stream launches or a site takeover (“The Lazarus Effect” owned the MLG screen when I wrote this). There are also brands that sponsor specific teams or players. Little evidence of that appears in the actual stream experience though and that’s where the action is.

Figuring out how to connect with the audience is a tricky business and one that needs to be handled with some sensitivity. As was the case with social media when it first appeared on the scene, brands need to learn the rules and norms of these channels before barging in. Here are a few ideas for getting a handle on the world of streaming gaming:

  • Watch — have someone spend time simply observing what is happening, learning the language that is used, understanding how interactions take place in the environment.
  • Play — this is a tough job, but if you want to connect with this audience, someone is going to have to be a gamer. Why?
  • Stream — This is why you need a gamer. Ideally, you want people to want to watch you. Your brand can become a destination for this audience if you can present a personality that they want to connect with. A funny, affable, skilled player and voice is key.

Obviously, this type of thing isn’t appropriate for every brand; but for technology companies, game publishers, snacks and soft drinks, and entertainment properties this approach could make sense. Yet as was the case with the early days of social, brands wanting to participate in this channel need to be authentic, committed and thick-skinned (there’s no shortage of trash talking, trolling and inappropriate banter here).

A brand that is able to create a strong personality and following within the new realm of streaming gaming will have a direct channel to a large and growing audience in a way that no other channel currently offers. Seriously, make time for game time.

Originally published at www.mediapost.com.

Pssst, it’s almost time for WebInno44 . . .

A new year and a host of new companies hoping to make it big at WebInno. Things kick off on January 12th with WebInno44. As usual, the festivities will begin at 6:30 at the Royal Sonnesta in comfortable Kendall Square. Here’s my preview of the companies that will be on hand.

Main Dishes

Flyp – Get Multiple Numbers on your Smartphone – There’s not much to see on the Flyp site yet, just the ability to request an invite and a link to a video about the service—which I watched. Basically, Flyp lets you set up multiple phone numbers on a single device, just like their tag line says. They offer a number of reasons you might want to do this – separate numbers for friends or work or creeps you don’t really want to hear from. I guess that makes sense. It does seem like this is something you could do on your own, with Google Voice or Skype. Of course that means having multiple accounts to manage, with different passwords, prompts, etc.

Speaking of which, it is really annoying that every phone I use – home (yeah, I still have one, much to my chagrin), cell and office – uses different keys to skip or delete or save a message; and every company I call uses some different variation of # or * or 0 to bypass voice prompts. Can’t there be a standard? What’s the value or benefit of every carrier or company using their own proprietary approach. Annoying. If Flyp helps deal with that I’m a believer.

Rocketboard – On its face Rocketboard seems like something that’s been done. Essentially it allows you to broadcast (or record) the contents of a whiteboard in real time. One might imagine being able to do this with a Webcam or smartphone and the truth is you can. In fact, Rocketboard uses your smartphone to capture the content on your whiteboard.

If you’re wondering, “why would I need this if I have a phone,” Rocketboard appears to have a couple of nice bells and whistles that take it beyond those more rudimentary approaches. Here are a few of them:

  • By drawing triangles on the corners of the board, Rocketboard is able to recognize the dimensions of the board and correct for the angle and aspect ratio. That means a viewer, instead of seeing a skewed view gets a nice clean rectangle.
  • Rocketboard is smart enough to omit the person working on the whiteboard from the video. It does this by recommending that the person step away from the board from time-to-time to allow the system to capture the changes.
  • It is able to capture still images of the board. Again, this may seem basic but Rocketboard appears to make it really easy. By blocking the camera on your phone for a moment it takes a photo.

All of the files can be made available to those participating in the meeting in real time or as a video to be watched after the fact. It is kind of cool but I’m not sure if it’s the sine qua non of cool office stuff. Maybe Monday will prove me wrong.

Upward Labs – Upward Labs makes it “easy for brands to create and manage their own brand ambassador programs.” I don’t think anyone would argue with the premise here. Brands clearly love it when customers are willing to give them positive word of mouth or social media buzz. In fact, brands have been working with partners like BzzAgent since 2001. I’m not 100 percent sure how what Upward does differs from BzzAgent. Perhaps it’s less expensive, easier to use, fundamentally better? That would be my first question to the folks at Upward Labs and hopefully I’ll have a chance to ask it on Monday night.

 

Side Dishes

Allclasses – Find the best online classes, or search locally – People are mad about MOOCs these days, and with good reason. You can learn so much from so many sources. Whether you’re just curious about something or are actively studying, there’s content or courseware out there somewhere. Allclasses is a terrific clearinghouse of pretty much any online course you can imagine from MIT Open Courseware to Udemy to Linda Online to a million others.

What’s even cooler is that you can find local in-person classes as well. I searched for photography and got a list of more than 3,000 classes. Overwhelming, right? It would be if Allclasses didn’t have some great filtering tools. You can sort results by online or in-person only, price, provide, category, start time and more. It’s all pretty slick and makes Allclasses feel like the top of the class for WebInno44.

BriefMe – What the World is Reading Now – I’m going to be a little snide here, but it’s because I like the idea of BriefMe. First of all, BriefMe is a news aggregator. There are plenty of them out there but this one is based on what people are posting or tweeting about all over the world. Now a bone – BriefMe claims to be the first news-ranking app “powered by people. Instead of relying on the judgment of an editorial team, our editor is an algorithm . . .” Let me just clear something up for everyone: editorial teams are made up of people, algorithms are not.

A news service that delivers “the most popular news articles” is going to miss out on less popular, but possibly more important news. The fact that Kim Kardashian’s butt broke the Internet was a popular story but not necessarily a very important one. Boko Haram’s attacks in Nigeria is important news but not necessarily popular. This is why there are editorial teams in the first place, to help identify and ensure coverage of important topics rather than just fun and popular ones.

Of course I am saying this without actually having tried the BriefMe app. I have signed up for it though and hope to have a chance to check it out.

Connections – Craft Reliable Relationships – That’s a pretty expansive claim for an app to make. What exactly is a reliable relationship? A friend that keeps their word; one that shows up on time? It seems like that’s something the other person is responsible for, how is an app meant to alter someone else’s behavior to make them more reliable? Connections isn’t that ambitious. It basically allows you to annotate and tag your contacts. That’s cool. But not that cool.

HomeBinder – A Homeowner’s Best Friend – Now this is something I can get my head around. I am a homeowner and if there’s one thing my wife and I have learned it that it’s a pain in the butt. Just the other day, it was 9 degrees out and we woke up to a furnace that wasn’t working. Nice. Fortunately, when we opened it up to figure out what was wrong there was a big red “reset” button. I pushed it and the problem was solved. Not everything is so simple and HomeBinder seems like a solid way to manage all of the headaches of homeownership.

The site allows you to set up binders for each home you own (or presumably manage I guess). Binders can include all kinds of useful information – the contractors you use, the rooms in your house, the paints on your walls, your appliances and more. That’s pretty cool. My wife is really good about keeping records of everything but sometimes finding this or that receipt or document is a challenge. HomeBinder would make the process much easier.

HomeBinder features both a free (intended for renters) and paid version ($49 per year and targeted at homeowners). The paid version has a number of additional features, including the ability to upload photos, receive recall notifications and tax reports. Pretty neat. The one thing I don’t see on the site is any mention of an app but the mobile site seems pretty nice. A big thumbs up for HomeBinder.

Legal Hero – Law Done Better – Not only am I a homeowner, but I am also someone who has had to employ the services of a lawyer on a somewhat regular basis. Years ago Wendy and I needed to write our wills and we used some software or Website that I can’t even recall anymore. Years later, when kids, special needs and more serious death planning (not that it will happen any time soon I hope) our legal needs became more complex. Legal Hero seems sit somewhere between DIY and going all in.

Basically, Legal Hero is a marketplace to connect people with legal needs with a network of lawyers. The site says participating attorneys have an average of 15 years experience and that almost all of them have attended at top 100 law school. Lawyers are able to register on the site by applying to be a part of the network. Once accepted, a lawyer will opt into the types of projects they want to work on. At that point, people like me will reach out looking for help solving a legal issue.

Now Legal Hero isn’t actually designed to help write wills or stuff like that. The site has a number of projects you can select from, most of which are related to business needs. The projects include things like starting a business, managing a team and protecting your brand. The site walks you though some simple steps to understand exactly what you need. For example, if you say you’re looking for help protecting your brand, you get additional options: trademark registration, copyright registration and confidentiality agreements. Selecting one of these branches you further to get to the specific service you’re looking for. In the case of confidentiality agreements, to have one prepared will cost you $375, which includes a consultation and customized agreement.

At this point it’s time to select your lawyer, which is done based on your location. I decided not to take this step because I don’t want to get emails but it made sense to me. As with almost any industry, the marketplace model here makes a lot of sense. It will be interesting to see how Legal Hero evolves.

JessMeetKen – Meet Great Guys Other Women Have Recommended – Hmmmm. Maybe there are situations where marketplaces don’t work. JMK is targeted to women. The idea is that if you know a guy but you’re attached or he’s not right in some way you can add him to the site and women can check him out and ask you for the skinny. I can see how this might be a good idea, you get the lowdown on someone that looks like they might be a fit, but I wonder how guys will feel about being on the site?

Skit! – My kids love making absurd videos with and about their friends, fandoms and interests. They spend a fair amount of time looking for tools to use, gathering their content and editing things together. I love it. Most of what they make makes zero sense but they’re having fun and learning skills. Skit! is an attempt to make that process easier. I guess that’s cool but part of me likes it that what they’re doing isn’t easy. I like it that it takes time and effort to come up with something. Like I said, most of it makes no sense but they made it. Skit seems to take some of the effort out of the equation and that might not be a good thing. If I had more time today I’d make a skit, sadly I don’t. Maybe tomorrow.

SplitNGo – Benefits for Restaurants – This is a neat little payment system for restaurants. When the meal is over, people pull out their phone to view their bill. They can either settle up via the phone or with a card or cash. If they pay with SplitNGo their account is cleared and the waiter notified so they can swing by to say “thanks.” The app promises to solve “guests #1 problem,” and the site explains that waiting can turn an excellent experience into a poor one. That’s true, but to be honest, the wait that’s really annoying is long before the bill comes: waiting for drinks, waiting for orders to be taken and food to be delivered are all more annoying than waiting to pay. But that’s just me.

Weft – Tracking and Control System – For the second time in recent WebInno history we have a hardware product. This one is pretty cool. Weft devices are small and are meant to be affixed to cargo so it can be tracked and monitored. Not only does Weft let you see where an item is but it also lets you know the conditions it is traveling though by monitoring things like temperature, humidity, etc. Cool.

Weft integrates with all your favorite ERP and CRM systems, which means all the data collected by Weft is automatically at your fingertips when and where you need it. That’s also pretty cool. Finally (as if everything else wasn’t enough!), Weft is able to look at real time and historical data for all shipments being tracked by the platform. Magically, Weft can use this information to identify problems and bottlenecks so shippers can update their planned routes and schedules to keep performance in tip-top shape. Weft actually makes me wish I had a few containers to ship.

Whovoo – When you want to be absolutely, positively private and secret – OK, let me just say that there is NOTHING in this digital world of ours that is positively private and secret. That being said, Whovoo is trying to make sharing a little safer. I’m not really clear on who this is intended for. If I want to send a picture of my dog I’m not that worried about who sees it. The cute look and feel of the app (which I have not tried since I am on Android) makes it seem kind of for kids, but the FAQ make it clear it’s only for people over 13.

Once I started looking at the FAQ I got a little more confused. For example, one question asks: “Does Whovoo store my private photos and messages on its servers?” The answer is “no.” A few questions later we see, “Where are Whoots [their term for an encrypted photo and message inside a Whovoo envelope] physically stored?” As it turns out, these are stored on Whoot’s servers until they expire. That seems to contradict the first answer. There’s a bit of nuance in that your stuff isn’t stored “unencrypted” but it is nevertheless stored on their servers.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff happening in the messaging space these days and Whovoo might be a neat addition to the mix. I’ll wait to see but won’t hold my breath.

 

So that’s it from me. There’s a ton of neat looking companies lined up for this edition of WebInno and I’m looking forward to checking them out. Hope to see you there!

Avoiding “Jackie Paper” Syndrome

As the app space has matured, marketers have become savvier about the cost of acquiring loyal customers. There’s one notable exception: those marketers who are targeting tweens and teens. This group is apparently happy to be in constant customer acquisition mode, forever welcoming new customers through the front door while watching them exit through the back. This is Jackie Paper syndrome.

For those of you unfamiliar with Jackie Paper, I suggest you listen to Puff the Magic Dragon. In the song, “painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.” That’s what happens every day as hard-won customers age out of services and move on. Somehow, this just doesn’t seem to make sense. Sure, there are some products that are designed for people of certain ages (baby food, Depends, etc.) but apps and social platforms don’t need to be among them, do they?

While COPPA does draw a bright line between teens and not quite teens, it seems silly for companies catering to young people not to have a plan for carrying those customers forward into their teen years and beyond. This is a classic example of Jackie Paper syndrome. Once good money has been invested in attracting young consumers, why not create a path forward to maintain those relationships?

This seems to be a sensible approach but one rarely taken. As digital platforms and services become ubiquitous for young and old alike, creating services that comply with COPPA and are open to everyone seems like a pretty obvious idea. What stands in the way of this happening? It isn’t the technology or the ways the technology is used. In the end, it seems to boil down to the odd belief that experiences designed for tweens and teens have no place in the adult world.

How absurd.

While not many adults or older teens are going to sign up for sites or services that are clearly designed for young teens, kids who want to get involved with social are in a quandary. They can either a) stick to kids-only services or b) lie about their ages. If they take the first approach they’re going to find themselves segregated in the magical land of Honah Lee (another Puff the Magic Dragon reference FYI) that they’ll soon outgrow. If they choose the second approach they’ll find themselves trying to reconcile reality with the fiction the created when they were underage.

Is there a problem with finding yourself in an age-specific realm? Not necessarily. The biggest issue is attempting to transpose that persona once the post-COPPA world becomes a reality. All of the content and connections crafted as a tween fall by the wayside once the COPPA barrier is breached. The result is inconvenience as a new service needs to be identified and a new identity established.

Perhaps this isn’t that big a deal. Perhaps kids under 13 welcome the opportunity to reinvent themselves when they cross the magical threshold into their teen years. Perhaps all of the content and all of those connections lose their meaning overnight. Perhaps, but probably not. Marketers need to rethink their relationships with the tween and early teen set.

There’s nothing to prevent the creation of a social app that’s open to everyone. Such an app – one that provided all of the capabilities that consumers have come to expect from a social platform – could be crafted in a way that is age-agnostic. Taking this approach would allow marketers to treat their relationships with tweens and teens as extensible rather than temporary.

This approach would also allow young people to preserve and expand their online identities from the present into the future. Does this mean all members should be treated identically regardless of their age? Not at all. The fact is people of different ages have different expectations around privacy and the social experience, but those differences can be expressed in a single app rather than discreet ones based on age.

Given the cost of acquiring a customer, and the growing focus on customer lifetime value, falling prey to Jackie Paper syndrome seems a shame. It will also lead to marketers’ tears – like Puff’s green scales – falling like rain.

This post originally appeared on MediaPost Engage:Teens.

WebInno43 – It’s Almost Here!

With just hours to go, I’m running out of time to share my take on the eight companies presenting at WebInno43. As usual, the event will be at the Royal Sonnesta in Kendall Square. Things kick off at 6:00PM. You can register here for an event you’re bound to enjoy.

As usual, the evening will be include main dish companies that present to the group, as well as side dish companies that will be demoing their technology. There’s a good mix.

Main Dish Companies

Dunwello. Give and receive reviews of professional experiences you have with others. Hmmm, there’s something about that description that’s confusing. I understand how I might give a review of a professional experience I’ve had but I’m not sure how I might receive a review of a professional experience I’ve had. I suppose if I were talking to myself but I don’t think that’s what Dunwello is all about.

The real idea here seems to be about rating and being rated for a service. I say, “seems” because I wasn’t actually able to do that. While I was able to register I wasn’t actually able to look anyone up. That is until I logged out of the system. Then I was able to search for and see comments. It seems like a problem that will be ironed out at some point.

The sample feedback provided on the site gives a sense of the tone they’re hoping to achieve. The posts are brief and have a personal feel. I like them and the idea and was a bit surprised that others aren’t doing this already. Maybe they are and I missed it?

Knockey. No Installation Keyless Entry System. This site is super thin on details. Here’s all it says:

No installation keyless entry
Knockey is a patent – pending keyless entry system. Securely control and share access to your home without installing anything.

That’s it. It’s pretty self-explanatory but I still had a lot of questions, like “How does it work?”. It sounds cool, that for sure, like magic. So I can unlock my house – or let someone else unlock my house – from my phone? I’ll be honest, I don’t really carry a lot of keys. Just my car key. Oh, and I have a garage door opener in my car – that’s how I get into my house. If I don’t have my car I know there’s a key stashed somewhere. If I’m in a total bind there’s a window or two I could break. I hope it doesn’t come to that. Geez, I hope Knockey works, it could save me a bundle in glass replacement costs. Please! Knockey! Tell me your secret! I promise I won’t tell. Just let me get into my house!

Villy. Find the Best Neighborhoods and Hotels for You in X. I remember years ago, Wendy and I were living in San Francisco and we decided to spend a long weekend in Monterey. This was years ago and the Web wasn’t really a thing just yet. We looked up hotels, saw photos on rudimentary sites and booked one that sounder pretty good. When we arrived we found the place was a dump. It was right on Route One and was dark, dank and stinky. We were able to cancel our stay and moved on to greener pastures. I’d say we were pretty lucky.

Imagine how much it would have sucked if that was it. If we had no choice but to stay. That kind of thing happens all the time but thankfully Villy is there to help. The site asks a few simple questions – what activities are you interested in, who you’re traveling with and how much you want to spend per night. It then spits out suggestions that seemed pretty good to me.

It isn’t just a list of hotels though; it starts with the neighborhood and then tells you how well it ranks in terms of the things you said were important. For me it recommended Marais /Beaubourg /Notre Dame de Paris based on the concentrations of restaurants, bars, museums and finally shopping. It then suggested a hotel in the neighborhood based on my price range.

The site has all kinds of tools for planning – and sharing – vacation ideas. I think it’s pretty slick and I can only wish it had been around 20 years ago so I might have avoided trouble in Monterey. It’s a cool site and definitely my favorite of the main dish companies.

Side Dish Companies

BioBright. Open Source Tools for Laboratories and Medical Devices. When I saw the name I assumed the company was involved with some kind of bioluminescence. No such luck. Instead the company creates and hardware and software for data collection and visualization. The company sounds pretty dry (“Without a seamless way to monitor the context of an experiment, biomedical experimentation is cumbersome, and scientists’ minds are too often clogged with procedural details rather than profound insights.”) but what they are working on is pretty serious and important. It’s hard to imagine how they’ll turn heads at WebInno but for the right audience this is pretty cool stuff.

Certus. Secure, password-free log-in. There’s no doubt that security is a big deal for every kind of site you can think of. I’m used to trying to remember what my passwords on a regular basis. Frankly, I’ve resorted to either writing them down or relying on formulas that let me remember them easily. (Things like the first three digits of my childhood phone number, the first initial of all my dogs’ names and the month and year I created the password.) Certus thinks they can go one better by using a person’s smartphone to enable multifactor authentication.

I’ve worked with clients in the multifactor authentication space in the past and agree that the combination of something you have and something you know if pretty strong. I sure wish Certus could make the case in clearer language. For them to describe how their technology works it takes five steps and more than 200 words. A picture (and not the one that’s there now) could go a long way toward making their case. I hope they’ll figure out how to tell their story so people get it quickly and get on board.

Elsen Trading. I visited the site the other day and found the company was doing algorithmic trading. At least that’s what I remember. When I went back to the site just now to write about it I found something pretty cryptic:

Welcome to nginx!
If you see this page, the nginx web server is successfully installed and working. Further configuration is required.
For online documentation and support please refer to nginx.org.
Commercial support is available at nginx.com.
Thank you for using nginx.

I’m assuming that message isn’t meant for people like me. Let’s get it together Elsen, people want to know what you’re all about!

Experfy. Data. Analytics. BI. Basically Experfy is a clearinghouse designed to help organizations find qualified data scientists, and for data scientists to showcase their abilities. It seems cool. Since I’m not a data scientist all I could feel was bummed out that I wasn’t a data scientist because some of the jobs and projects on the site seem pretty damn interesting.

LifeGuides. Save time, money, and stress by learning from those who have been there, done that. Somewhat reminiscent of Villy, LifeGuides extends the idea to every facet of your life. The basic idea is for people who have done something to share what they have learned with others curious about following that path. The site has only a handful of guides at this point and few of them caught my attention. I found the images associated with each guide to be bizarre. For example, the guide for “A career in consumer packaged goods” was represented by a bucolic waterfall, while “Interacting with your first boss” and “starting a career in healthcare in the US” were both adorned with an expanse of pine forest overlooking a lake and distant mountains.

These strange pairings made me feel as though I was being treated to a mysterious visual haiku. I never understood what they meant and that search for meaning distracted me from the actual service of the site. When I did manager to get beyond that I felt like this was trying to replicate the informational interview but in an overgeneralized way. The fact how you interact with your first boss is going to depend on who they are, who you are, what type of organization you’re working in, what your plans are for your position in that organization and a ton of other things that are going to be situational. It’s tough to try to make all of that information general. Check it out but I don’t see this as a replacement for actually talking to someone in person, over email or though social channels.

That’s it for me. I hope you found some of this helpful. The event should be good and you should come and check it out.

WebInno 42, Can You Believe It?

WebInno42 is coming up on Monday, June 16th at the Royal Sonesta in Kendall Square. Hard to believe these events have been going on – and getting stronger – for such a long time. It’s evidence of Boston’s great entrepreneurial community and a testament to David Beisel’s commitment to helping that community thrive. I’ve been attending WebInno since 2006 and it’s always one of my favorite events. Here’s the line-up for this month’s event and what I think of each of the main dish and side dish companies.

Main Dishes

Bedrock Data, Easily Integrate Your Business Data – Often the companies that demo at WebInno provide consumer-facing technology. Bedrock doesn’t. This is technology designed to allow businesses to better manage and synchronize their data. The website describes the company as a data management platform, and I guess technically it is; but it isn’t a DMP in the ad tech sense.

The basic idea here is that most organizations have a ton of data (from what I can tell, Bedrock is primarily designed to tap into customer data from CRM systems) and a bunch of apps (and here the focus from Bedrock is heavily tilted toward marketing, though they also support finance, customer support and ecommerce systems). It’s tough as nails to make sure you’re always working with the most current data in every situation and that’s the problem Bedrock solves.

Here’s how it works: you identify your data source (typically a CRM system) and the application you want it to synchronize with. You need to tell the system which data source would win in a conflict, which fields you want to synchronize and get it started. The system will, within minutes, update both systems and will keep them current moving forward. Change in your marketing system will be reflected in your CRM system and vise versa. It seems like a useful, if not especially, eye-popping offering.

Bridj, Better Transit. For Everyone. – Bridj is essentially privatized mass transit. The company currently has two routes, one between Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square and the other from Coolidge Corner to downtown Boston, with more on the way. Bridj has shuttles (featuring leather seats and Wi-Fi) to move people between their single start points and end points. This means no stops, which means much faster travel times than are available from public transportation. The service is currently free during its “beta” period (which started yesterday) and has just one departure time per route at this point.

As I read about Bridj it brought to mind the private shuttles that have received so much (negative) attention in the Bay Area. In that case, employers in the Valley provide the shuttles as a free service. Bridj is a little different because it is theoretically available to anyone who a) needs to get between one of the company’s start and end points and b) can afford a pass (which the company says is just a little more than a T fare). That’s what makes it private-public instead of purely private as is the case of the shuttles in SF.

Still, it does create a tiered transit system that will create distinctions between people based on location and disposable income. One could argue we already have that to the extent that some people can afford to drive or take taxis or use the Pike vs. surface roads. It will be interesting to see how Boston responds to the idea. It raises several questions for me:

Will it result in fewer cars on the road? It might, but going from Coolidge Corner, it’s more likely to result in lower ridership for the MBTA. That seems like a double-edge sword: easier commutes for those who can take advantage of Bridj but less operating revenue for the MBTA.

To what extent will Bridj tax the transportation infrastructure and how will it pay for whatever impact it has? With two routes at this point, it seems unlikely Bridj will have any measurable impact (if anything, taking cars off the road may have a positive impact). As more routes are added that could change, though it does seem unlikely.

Will Bridj serve every community? The company says they use big data to determine their routes. I’m sure that’s true – to an extent – but it’s hard for me to believe that Coolidge Corner is the point of origin for the greatest number of commuters into either downtown or Kendall Square. Will Bridj share the data used to determine its routes? Will the company look beyond Brookline, to some of the outer suburbs or other neighborhoods to help take cars off the road or shorten longer public transit commutes? The MBTA reports a travel time from Coolidge to Kendall as being 30 minutes and costing $2.50, from Ashmont the trip takes 45 minutes and costs $4.50 and from Natick (where I live) the trip takes almost an hour and costs $9.75. Only time and transparency will tell.

Squadle, The Smart Way to Manage Your Business. – Before going on about Squadle, can we all just agree that the name is really terrible? I can’t decide which it makes me think of more a) a group bathroom experience or b) a new Pokemon. Either way, it doesn’t make me think about managing a business.

That aside, what is Squadle all about? (OK, seriously, I can barely bring myself to type that word.) It’s actually pretty cool. Think of it as a silent taskmaster in the cloud. Designed for restaurants (and food trucks!), Squadle consists of two elements: the Squadle Hub, which is a “ruggedized” Google tablet, and the Squadle HQ which is essentially an analytics dashboard.

The Hub allows daily tasks and lists to be shared with employees and provides them a way to keep track of what they are meant to be doing. The HQ gives managers a way to see how well their operation is performing. It’s all wireless, apparently easy to set up and get into the field and is simple enough that even Beavis and Butthead could probably use it.

It’s interesting to see how mobile technology is making its way into more and more industries. The fact that Squadle links employees’ in-store activities with a management dashboard seems pretty cool.

Side Dishes

Animatron – HTML5 is pretty cool. It’s allowing publishers to create assets that can work online and on mobile devices. Creating those assets, now how do you do that exactly? Hell if I know, I haven’t used HTML in years. Animatron is here to help. I signed up and tried fooling around with it and it seemed pretty cool to me. I didn’t have the time (day jobs!) to do much though. It’s certainly worth checking out and giving a spin.

AppBlade, Deploy, manage and configure with ease. – As AppBlade points out, mobile devices have changed everything – including how we work. As businesses rely on apps to help their employees get things done, they’ve faced the challenge of getting purpose-build apps into the field, managing them, keeping them up-to-date, etc. That’s the problem AppBlade is designed to solve. It’s not a problem I face so I can’t really say that much about the company.

Kidnosh, Eat out. Eat well. With kids. – As a father I appreciate the challenge of finding places to eat with my kids. They’re in their teens now but that hasn’t made things any easier. When they were young, oh man, what a pain. Kidnosh is designed to make it easier for adults to find restaurants that are kid-friendly. That’s cool. I looked at a few listings and it all seemed good to me. What wasn’t so good was the apparent absence of an app. The worst – and I mean worst – thing is being out with hungry kids and trying to find a place to eat. Maybe these guys should check out Animatron?

RocketBoard), Stream your ordinary whiteboard to anyone anywhere. – There’s not much to say about RocketBoard. They were Teamboard. At the moment the site is nothing more than a field to enter your email address to get early access when it’s available. Watch this space I guess.

Zylo Media, Advertising that people choose to interact with! – For reasons that are beyond me, I’ve ended up working primarily with advertising technology clients for the past three or four years. It’s an exciting space with lots of players, all different layers of technology and issues that transcend product (things like privacy and big data). Does that mean I choose to interact with advertising? No, not really. Sometimes I do and I’m the most impressed when I find myself engaging with ads without even realizing it at first. There’s a real art to making that happen.

Zylo develops casual games that help reinforce brands and provide consumers with offers and rewards for playing. The company captures user names, contact information and demographic details. According to Zylo, the typical player will consider 50 offers before accepting one. What does that mean? It means the customer has played about 200 games and been exposed to more than 2000 ad impressions over the course of an hour. To me that seems like a lot of impressions in a short time but if Zylo says it works, who am I do judge?

Well there you have it, my preview of WebInno42. Bridj is the most interesting one, not necessarily because of what they’re offering but because of the questions it raises. I’m looking forward to th

Right Enough

What day was it that we lost the ability to cook at home? It was probably at least a month. Easily a month, probably six or eight weeks. The process of getting the stove replaced and delivered and installed was a pain but such is life. Here is how the story ended.

On Friday Sears called to say the installation would happen on Saturday. Wendy and I were (and are) dealing with much bigger issues than the stove, so while happy I was disappointed not to be able to join her for something else. During the agreed upon window a white van arrived bearing two installers. They went to work and soon discovered a problem.

Somehow, this new stove was a fraction of an inch wider than the original one. They identified the problem as being our granite counter. They explained I’d need to cut the counter if I wanted to get the stove in and did I know anyone who could cut granite. As it happens I do so I called my friend Marcos. He agree to come over but in the meantime I told the installers to get it all set up and I’d take care of sliding it in later.

They did as much as they could do and went on their way. Soon Marcos arrived and we looked at the stove and looked at the space it was meant to fill. We looked at it this way and that. Soon I saw (or thought I saw) that by raising it a bit more and pushing it to one side we’d be able to get it in the gap. We went over to Home Depot to get some items to help with the task.

Together we raised the stove and started to slide it in. It still wouldn’t fit. I saw the problem. Our cabinets were slightly off – closer together at the bottom than the top. This was a relic of yet another frustration (I shake my fist at Almir!). Marcos is very clever. He looked at the stove and looked at the space it was meant to fill. He looked at it this way and that. Soon he saw a solution.

We’d need, he explained, to detach the countertop from one of the cabinets, move the cabinet ever so slightly, push the stove into place, push the cabinet back into place and finally reattach the countertop. Wendy and I had an engagement that night so we agreed we’d take care of this the next day.

The next day got busy. We didn’t return home until later in the afternoon. We couldn’t reach Marcos so Wendy and I set to work. It was a pain in the butt but we managed to detach the countertop, move the cabinet, level the stove, push the stove into place and put things more or less as they were.

There’s still work to be done, but at least we have a working stove. It was way more trouble than it should have been but what can you do? Sears was less helpful than I wanted them to be but in the end they did as much as they probably could – particularly Carlos, our case manager. I think this weekend, circumstances permitting, we will revisit the meal we had planned all those weeks ago. Wish me luck.