Living in a connected world

It’s probably kind of ironic, that I’ve made my living very much in the world of technology and doing business on the web, but don’t have a significant online presence. The reason for that started out as healthy skepticism towards splattering my life all over the internet with likely unintended and undesired consequences.

And after a few years, it became an ongoing living experiment in how (im)possible it would be to limit one’s footprint in the big G’s search engine. So searching for my name returns these little snippets of varying relevance and accuracy spread out over long periods of time. Those who really want to find me, seem to have been able to do that, but it does seem to take a bit of effort unless you bump into this site – then of course it’s easy and that’s the whole idea! 🙂



THO Twitter Hashtag Optmization

While I’m not about to Twitter my personal life (it’s not that exciting, trust me!) I’m intrigued with it for business purposes. So again my hobby personae to the rescue.

It’s in that context that I’ve started to think about my Twitter post in a similar way to SEO. While Google obviously holds links very dearly, and thus being very smart about the terms one uses for one’s links is important, the argument could be made that on Twitter, the #hashtags are something that deserves rather serious deliberation. I have no idea yet if Twitter hashtags have significant marketing power, but I’ll experiment for a while.

So if you call it SEO to make it big on Google (and other search engines), what would you call it for Twitter? Maybe THO: Twitter Hashtag Optimization?

Hobby Personae vs. Real Identity

I’m quite skeptical of living one’s life in the kind of total public view the Web makes so easy. But in my consulting practice I also advise on the technology of marketing brands, companies, products and services. And therefore I need to gain and upkeep know-how, conduct experiments and continually get hands on impressions of evolving web marketing trends, techniques and technologies. But if I don’t want to market my own persona, and also not conduct early experiments with the brands or businesses of my customers, I need another outlet.

However, setting up something entirely fictitious wouldn’t only be a bit misleading / unfair to the people who would bump into such a fictitious entity or brand, but it would also be somewhat of a waste. So I didn’t find that very attractive.

So for quite a while I’ve taken to do these types of experiments using the legitimate and very honest context of my hobbies. I use different personae (“brand names”) for different hobbies. This allows me to learn in realistic settings and makes my hobbies also a little useful for my business.

So far I’ve attempted to prevent cross referencing my real name with my different Internet personae, mostly because it might prove misleading for potential customers of mine to see my name very widely attached to my hobbies, but so little to my business and professional self. And my friends, who know the cross reference have continually respected this desire of mine. That says a lot about what amazing friends I’m lucky to have. So the disconnect on the Web still exists as far as I know. This approach has turned out to be not only much more fun (I like my serious work also to be enjoyable), but also more respectful to search engines and the people who use them. One day somebody (or even me) will probably create the connection such that search engines will figure out the relationship between the various identities and that will be ok  – at least I hope!

In the meantime I’m merrily using SEO (Search Engine Optimization) techniques for my hobby alter ego’s and related interests and causes, but not for my real name.

Unearthing business value in popular culture

Of course twitter is over-hyped, but like several technology phenoms before it, it also has something special. It’s fundamentally a broadcast technology: one sender many recipients and because of it’s roots in SMS mobile phone texting it’s also short. There’s something to be said about brevity. It’s often been said, that a good poem is harder to write than a 20 page essay. A good elevator pitch is very hard to comose, but there’s a whole generation getting a lot better at it in front of our very eyes.

But like every technology it has it’s dark side and misapplications. Just like nuclear technology. Bombs vs. little power-plants in a research satellite being sent to the far reaches of our solar system. And in the early phases of new technology the less desirable applications often come first. But only seeing the dark side of a technology makes one miss the positive impact the same technology can have when used wisely.

Twitter for example can be a great tool to stay in touch with customers if one has a major website outage. One tweet may save hundreds of help desk calls. That’s not only less expensive, but also makes for happier customers. People just want to know how you are progressing with fixing the problem. One tweet per hour and potentially hostile customers may turn into fans. I wish hosting provider could have figured that out rather than staying silent on their recent major DNS problem with their own domain, which affected several of their services in a big negative way. The irony is, that customers were tweeting amongst each other not only their dismay, but also emergency workarounds for some of the services.

And if not overused, it can also be a valuable tool for highlighting truly special things like a once-a-year sale. Or a new version of a flagship product.

Commoditizing Service Provider Dependencies

It’s an increasingly better understood business concept to build high end custom things from commodity parts. For example Google has built some of the most powerful data centers on the planet essentially with commodity parts. One of the main reasons for this principle working is the fact that many commodity parts are so much less expensive than some of the high performance parts. So in many cases one can obtain quite a few commodity parts for the price of one high performance part. For example, if the high performance part is 3 times as expensive as the commodity part it may be worthwhile buying 2 commodity parts (either for higher performance or just in case the first one breaks), rather than the one high performance part. In higher volumes even a 20% price difference can often be offset by buying 10% more of the less expensive part. And in some cases, a 20% higher performance or reliability part costs 3 times the price or more.

Computer hardware is a classic case for this principle, and since more and more machines and devices have computer parts in them, it’s not surprising that this is happening across many industries. Even some space agencies are experimenting with rather having several almost identical missions using commodity parts in the expectation that some of them fail, but the overall price-tag is lower. (Of course this principle isn’t a good one for human space flight, that’s why human space flight will continue to be increasingly disproportionally more expensive than machine based space exploration).

In addition, there’s a bit of a little secret in many industries. Quite often the so-called high performance part is neither particularly higher performing nor significantly more reliable. Since the sales volumes in commodity parts are so much higher, often more of the kinks get worked out sooner. And also since it’s easy to switch between commodity parts, the competition between suppliers is fierce, often leading to identical or better performance specifications for commodity parts compared to so called high performance or high reliability parts.

However, this principle can also be applied for obtaining services, where such services aren’t too hard to switch between and if there is a significant number of suppliers within reach. If it’s web based service the supplier of that service can be pretty much anywhere.

For example, in the case of Web Hosting there are a very wide variety of suppliers with widely varying sales pitches and pricing. Recently I have made some good experiences with rather choosing two or more inexpensive commodity providers, rather than a single higher priced one. Without naming names, some rather popular websites hosted by rather reputable high end providers have gone through significant multi-hour outages because something fundamental to their service provider broke.

If those websites would have had two or more service providers sufficiently far removed from each other and hopefully not with any common components, they likely would have had only very brief or no outages. And quite possibly they would pay less, too.

There’s another increasingly problematic issue in the provisioning of high-end services. It’s just very expensive to provide customized services to just one or a few customers. It’s disproportionally less expensive to provide exactly the same service to many customers. And in the end the customer has to bear that cost.

So I tend to recommend to create and manage one’s relationships with one’s suppliers in such a way, that one uses the supplier’s service in the most mundane way. Don’t be the one customer with special needs or a special implementation. You are very unlikely to be served well in those.

Do the special custom one-off stuff in-house and make that part of your core business and outsource only the stuff that is easy to get two or more suppliers for and is easy to switch.

Again, this can’t always be done, but I believe this will become an increasingly winning business principle. The trick and the benefit is to figure it out faster than one’s competition. And in a tricky economy it may make a difference in business survivability.