Monthly Archives: June 2008

What the Ebay Ruling Means to the Rest Of Us

This morning, Bloomberg news announced the following:

  • “EBay Inc., the world’s largest Internet auctioneer, was ordered to pay LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA 40 million euros ($63 million) over claims it didn’t do enough to stop the sale of counterfeit goods. LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods maker, claimed in the Paris lawsuit that EBay has a heightened responsibility to prevent fraud. The ruling also places limits on the online sales of LVMH perfumes.”

What does this mean for the rest of us playing around in New Media?

You are responsible for what your customers do on your site.

Ebay likely contended that by the open nature of its “international garage sale”, it could not possibly contend with every buyer and seller- every transaction that happened, to guard against knock-off merchandise traded as the real thing.  As an almost perfect marketplace, Ebay definitely always comes with the “Caveat Emptor” clause- Let The Buyer Beware- the buyers definitely have to understand, in setting prices they will pay, that is it likely the goods they are getting are not authentic- that’s part of the risk involved.   But regardless, Ebay lost its case for not doing enough to limit the traffic in counterfeit goods, and lost to the tune of $40 million euros- about $63 million dollars.

Clearly, this means things like Craigslist have to begin to take a closer look at the transactions on their site.  For the likes of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and more, this may also mean that you could be held liable for things that happen on your site, even if you are not directly involved in the transaction.   I would be particularly concerned that the terms of service be updated with clauses waiving any and all liability for any transactions, personal or financial, facilitated through the site.  Any site connecting people to other people. goods or services is now potentially liable as a thrid party beneficiary to an illegal or immoral transaction, and I would be a bit nervous about the downstream implications of this ruling.

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I Miss Tim Russert

I was totally shocked when I heard Tim Russert passed away.  Tim’s political discussions were among the best in all of modern journalism.  I have been a big fan for years, and I think we will miss his reasoned point of view and critical analysis of issues this election more than ever before.

Tim was a real human being on television- you got the sense that he was always true to himself.  He was down to earth, smart, but not pompous, inquisitive and showed a willingness to ask the tough questions and put people on the spot when necessary.  He was a litmus test for the seriousness of most of the political figures in the Country, and I worry about whomever might replace him.

In an age where the 24 hour news cycle seems to fuel controversy for its own sake, for policy debates that end up looking like school yard battles, for a time where the line between news and entertainment seems to be getting less and less discernible,  Tim Russert was a breath of fresh air.  Meet The Press is a  serious news show, for serious people, and was never shy about it.  I hope NBC will be able to find someone who can at least attempt to fill the very big gap left by Tim, and continue to make Meet The Press a show that teaches and informs, as well as continue to test and examine our political leaders with probing questions rather than those about their undergarment preference.

I will miss Tim every weekend and Meet The Press will be different without him.  But I will especially miss him on election night, when his calm analysis made me feel like reason would always prevail.

My best to his family and colleagues.  We have lost a national treasure.

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How to Make a Successful Business

I am a huge fan of Seth Godin, and this is a riff based on one of his recent blog posts.

If you want a successful business model:

Start with the fact that everyone has problems.  They want and NEED a cure for those problems.

1. Identify a problem.

2. Develop a simple solution for the problem.

3. Price and market it correctly.

4. Rinse and repeat.

For example, Apple found a problem.  The cell phones that let you look at your email on the road or cruise the net were button full, and performance mediocre.  So they developed the iphone.  It’s a pretty mediocre ipod, but it is an awesome phone and mobile computing device, for me.  I have never been so happy with any one gadget I have ever owned.  And it has the geek lust factor on top of it.  It’s beautiful to look at, as well as simple to use- something people would want to show off to their friends.  And like all of Apple’s products, the user interface is made so that it is intuitive and easy to use- no manual required for basic use.

But the phone was expensive, although competitively priced with other business phones.  Now with the 3G phone, the phone is cheap enough and fast enough to reach a whole new segment of the marketplace.  They took the same concept, tinkered with the existing problems- limited sales because of price point, people wanting faster speeds- and then gave people what they waned, as announced at the WWDC. – Lather, rinse, repeat.

This same model works for any business- you have to provide something someone needs- if you are just a luxury, a want over a need, your shelf-life will be short.  If you fill a need and solve a problem better than the other guy, success is much more likely.

As always, the devil is in the details.

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Marketing Yourself and Your Project

Chris Penn has a great blog post about online marketing web strategy we should all read and take to heart.

In essence, Chris tells us that the product comes first, the advertising comes last.

Whether you intend to market yourself, your company, a product, a service- it doesn’t matter. The very first thing you need to concentrate on is the quality of the “widget” you want to market. If the “widget” isn’t the best it can be, if it isn’t worth remarking on, than no dog-and-pony show of marketing will make it any better than it is.

The Cheeseburger Doritos Fiasco

About a year or so ago, I wandered into the local supermarket, and there was a bag of snacks called Doritos Flavor X-14. You were supposed to buy them, try them, guess the flavor, and go online to tell Doritos more about the flavor- it was a very video-game like environment, and was pretty cool. I even liked the whole mystery flavor experiment. I bought this chips and tried the whole thing out, impressed by the marketing scheme as much as anything else.

The core problem here was that cheeseburger is a lousy flavor for Doritos or any chip. It ended up tasting more like a charcoal briquette with ketchup as anything else. No amount of cool marketing would make me go back and buy that chip again. You might say that they got me to buy one bag, and that was the end goal. However, if you have lost my trust by this weird marketing misstep, I am not coming back, and I may even be less inclined to buy your current products, which are just fine.

The bottom line here is that great marketing can never make up for a bad product. If you have a fantastic, remarkable product, you may want to market it to get it to a wider audience, but no amount of marketing will actually improve a lousy product- it will, at best, give you a modest return as you dupe people into believing you- but their loyalty and return visits won’t pan out for you. The word of mouth about you and your product will start to turn, and making up for that loss of trust will take much longer than waiting and marketing your product when it’s ready for prime time.

it’s really hard not to talk about the things that excite you. It’s next to impossible to keep some great innovations under wraps, because people are eager to be surprised and engaged, and if you have a great thing going, the word will travel quickly. As a business, you may need to identify influencers and the people who act as social nodes into a bigger community, but word of mouth will spread, if you have something worth discussing and mentioning.

So there’s no need to rush the publicity part of the program- wait until you have the underlying product in great shape, whether it’s yourself, your show, product, service or whatever- think it out beforehand and be ready.

Marketing before the product exists will only frustrate everyone, especially your future business partners and clients, so wait. Talk about your ideas with friends and colleagues to get initial feedback, but don’t open the social media and marketing flood gates until you are really ready. Marketing is the decorating or staging of a house to help it sell; It’ the window displays, the eye-catching moment of attention, that gives you permission to give someone more information. It’s important, but you don;t want that attention all the time, and certainly not before you are ready to go.

As my mom used to say about teens in low cut garments, complaining about getting too much of the wrong kind of attention: “Don’t market if you aren’t selling.” In the business context, this also means don’t market until you are actually ready to sell, and then don’t be surprised by the overwhelming positive response you receive.

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Some Thoughts on Community

Part of being involved in Podcamps and podcasting in general, is about forming communities. For my presentation this year at Podcasters Across Borders, I’ll be talking about why community matters. In much of my life, it is the sole motivator for what I do.

Community is defined by Dictionary.com as a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage. It can be a social, religious, occupational or other group sharing common characteristics or interests, perceived or perceiving itself as distinct from the larger society. The word comes from Old French, meaning ‘fellowship, community of relations or feelings,’ and it’s clearly about how we identify ourselves as part of different groups according to our core beliefs and interests.

Each community can have it’s own label, and when people ask “tell me about about yourself”, the words we use often identify us by our community affiliation with others.

Some of my labels: parent, educator, podcaster, new media girl, volunteer, knitter, diver, squash player, photographer, event organizer, reader, researcher, writer, and there are many, many more.

Each of these labels expresses one of my interests, hobbies, or the things I am good at- my strengths, if you will. And each word can have a community affiliation as well.

Community Stories

Everyone has limited time and personal bandwidth, so our engagement in different communities varies. For example, a few years ago, I went to a weekly “Stitch and Bitch”- a knitting group that involved some great women, including professors at a local university. My enthusiasm was as much for the conversation as for the yarn, but the love of the yarn also meant that when I went to London, I got a chance to sit down and knit at Liberty’s with a group of ladies I knew only through online channels up to that point. It was a really special moment, and proved to me that online relationships reach into the real world, and even mundane hobbies can bring people together.

My local knitting group disbanded after the person who lead the group moved, and the community epicenter seemed to disintegrate. It’s a shame, really- I miss that group. It’s harder to see all those people as regularly as when our community was functioning and meeting regularly. Now I see some of those women only occasionally and one on one, and I miss the interplay and ideas that came when we were all together, regularly, as a group. I miss the community.

Religion

Many people participate in communities around their local church. My dad was a card-carrying atheist, yet he sang in the choir at the local Unitarian Church every weekend. The Church and the choir were his community, regardless of his personal religious beliefs. My mom, on the other hand, takes an active role in the local episcopal church. Her interest and participation changes as the community leadership has changed, and as the community morphs over time.

What do these two stories have in common?

Communities rarely form spontaneously- you need to have more than one person to have a community. Communities need some sort of leadership or epicenter; sometimes a common interest bonds the community, sometimes it’s values. Without some sort of unifying force, common purpose and/or leadership, communities can fizzle and dissolve. The loss of the community leaves a hole in the lives of those who were once involved, but recapturing the “special” in a new community, even if bonded by the same interest, may not be the same.

Communities require a little leadership and direction- this is what helps to form the identity and sense of common purpose. This isn’t to say every group needs a leader, but people tend to look for someone to take charge, even if the extent of that direction is “You can come to my house Tuesday Mornings from 9 am to Noon if you can make it.” Without that sense of setting a time and place, people wander around without direction or purpose.

Community And Event Planning

For most community-oriented events, ranging from Book Fairs to Community Days to Podcamps, organizers struggle to keep volunteer labor dedicated to achieving the goals. Volunteer labor operates based on passion and commitment. In fact, you probably couldn’t pay people enough to get the passion and commitment volunteers have. Yet volunteers can be flighty as well. Since the only commitment they really have is psychological, (they aren’t relying on the monetary exchange of a salary or other reward) it’s easy for them to neglect commitments and put the volunteer labor you depend on at the bottom of their priority list. This means volunteers, while wonderful and passionate, can also be unreliable. It makes relying on volunteers difficult at times, because you really have no leverage to demand that things are done in a timely manner.

People get different things out of volunteering. The PTO moms I know get a sense of community by knowing other parents, and knowing the faculty and administration of the school. They take the information in books like Freakanomics to heart- the data that shows parents involved in their kids’ school do better on tests- and hope that it will be equally true for them. These are the intangible benefits PTO moms count on beyond the good feeling of contributing to a bake sale and showing their kids know they care.

Yet the skills required to organize a book fair or a Podcamp or any event – even the Super Bowl (and I speak from some experience here…..) are all the same. It requires a few people to manage what needs to be done and coordinate all the other moving parts efficiently. The more people feel like a team, whether they are paid or not, the more it will show in the final product. The people in charge of different committees or teams need to be as dedicated to the overall goal as to their individual performance. there needs to be some leadership, even if it’s informal, to make sure everyone is progressing to the final goal- a successful event.

Next post, I’ll talk a bit more about leadership in communities-and about how to make things happen without whining or causing resentment. It’s not always easy.

More importantly, let me know what you think about communities and leadership. What makes for a successful community? When do communities fail? And can we “save” a community when it starts to dissolve?

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