Microsoft is Waking up a Little

Last fall I found myself thinking about Microsoft and their strategy a lot…I really don’t know why I spent so much time thinking about Microsoft, I think it was because they seemed so utterly absent from the activity (Flickr acquisition, delicious acquisition, etc.)…I guess they were the elephant in the room.

Last week HighRoad – Microsoft’s PR firm – invited myself and about five other Toronto area blogger/developers to meet the director of Microsoft Live, Phil Holden.

I gave the team at HighRoad my feedback on the meeting which was basically, “Why invite us over to see a bunch of your ME TOO apps?” Part way through I asked Phil, “So what is Microsoft doing that is new or different?” The answer (“tightened integration across all our products”) was frankly lacklustre, though I can see how having your contacts simply managed across your email, your cell phone, your social network is compelling. But will Microsoft allow you to easily participate in non-Microsoft social networks? A murky answer was given…almost a “Why would you need that?” feel to it, though Phil was clearly listening.

I’ll give the reason why they should allow you to move freely between networks for your future reference. Social networks and communities are only as good as the people within them. There will come a day when any given person will need to be a part of a very specific community. Let’s use a niche/vertical knowledge network as an example and let’s assume the network is not based on a Microsoft platform. If I can’t easily take my identity with me to that other network, it’s going to piss me off. So much so that I will probably never come back to Microsoft once I leave. If they made it easy to move out and back in, well then, I’d probably come back.

So basically they still have not learned to LET GO. They still want to tell you who you can play with. I would not hang out with a person who told me who I could associate with and held me back from joining a new group of friends…at the end of the day, it’s not very social is it?

Anyhow, the reason for this post was actually something totally different. The reason was the one really positive thing I took away from the day. As I mentioned, in the fall I had got my head stuck thinking about Microsoft’s strategy. Here are some of my posts from that time:

Microsoft Getting Disrupted – What is their Strategy?
What Microsoft can learn from the Xbox
Microsoft and APIs – The Only Strategy That Remains?

The one thing that Phil Holden said that really caught my attention was some numbers Phil shared. Basically Microsoft has about 350 million MSN users and 350 million hotmail users and 300 million unique users between the two services. Phil said Microsoft is going to focus on serving those 300 million. As someone who believes deeply in serving his users, and from years of consulting knows that your current clients are your best prospects for new business, I think Microsoft has settled on a strategy I can live with for now. Well done.

By the way, Tom Purves did a good write up of the session there…you can see me (beardless) behind Phil in the photo there.

Mark Vs. Mark – Is the Internet Boring or What?

Mark Cuban put up a great post this morning about how boring the internet really is. I think the main point he’s trying to make is that it’s not the “internet” that is new and exciting, it’s the applications that are so much cheaper and easier to build that are now changing the world:

Its the brainpower that is changing our world. THe internet is just a utility to deliver the digital bits they create.

I tend to agree with Mark Cuban because he is right about the countless cool new applications that are popping up mainly because of the low cost to build them, and not because of any remarkable breakthrough in the internet.

Mark Evans disagrees wholeheartedly with Cuban saying that there really are a lot of people out there that have no idea how powerful the internet has become:

Mark, it’s a nice rant but you can’t be totally serious to claim the Internet is more than “just a utility to deliver the digital bits” created by entrepreneurs or kids. To be honest, you need to step back from the fire and realize how many people have little clue about the Web’s capability and power.

Perhaps this is a Canadian vs. American viewpoint because in a lot of ways we Canadians are lagging behind the US when it comes to utilizing the web’s power.

Either way, I think both Marks agree that the explosion of creative and remarkably useful web applications being released every day are really good things, both for the consumer and the entrepreneur.

Open Source Communications

I’m in the Call For Help TV studio right now… I just did a segment on Tech TV about FreshBooks and I am about to do a segment on marketing software online.

In preparation for the show I did some research on the host, Leo Laporte, and came across this interview on Mad Penguin.  Leo talks a lot about open source platforms vs. Windows platforms and the IBM platform era that came before.  He does a nice job of explaining how the sheer POWER of having people working at something they love for all the right reasons (READ: open source developers) creates a better product than people who are working for someone else while someone else benefits big time (READ: Microsoft employees).  Okay… nothing new.

What got me going was how he equated the platforms to government (i.e. Democracy vs. totalitarian rule).  In this scenario he describes how countries like China are going to extraordinary expense to restrict their peoples’ access to the internet, and thereby not allowing them access to masses of information.  Allow me to reiterate: they are going to EXTRAORDINARY EXPENSE.  AND he points out that that carrying on like this is unsustainable: the model will break.   I agree.

So… let’s switch gears and think about corporate communications for a moment.  Traditionally corporations have been totalitarian states.  Remember when the only source of news was a newspaper?  Remember when the radio came around?  Then TV?  Gradual change.  Each of these are broadcast media where companies can control their message and basically their message was the God’s truth because…well…there was no other message…and they had TOTAL CONTROL over that solitary message.

Then the internet happened.

What is the significance?  The corporate message is now being shaped by users/consumers/fans/participants much like open source software.  Why is it like open source software?  Because people not companies are using tools like blogs and podcasts and web sites and email to create the message and shape the message…and there is no stopping them from doing it.  In fact you shouldn’t want to…you should be thrilled they are taking their time to even bother with you.  You should support them as much as you can, engage them when it’s natural and LISTEN to them – that is the big thing.

I was on a call with one of our customers the other day (we set up calls to talk to them because we value their input and take it to heart every day).  This caller referred to our users as our “virtual board of directors”.  Perfect, and absolutely right.  They are that valuable (i.e. like advisors).  They have that kind of influence (i.e. like a board).  The feedback they give us and the blog posts they write shape our direction and help us sculpt the communications we do. So…like the open source movement, which relies on remote software developers to craft the software, our remote users sculpt our communications in a very natural and organic way.

Open source communications is the way from here on in.  That’s a good thing.

Adwords Help from the Master

As part of our initiative to deliver helpful resources to our FreshBooks users, this Thursday at 1:00 PM I will be hosting a tele-seminar with Andrew Goodman.  Andrew is THE Google Adwords expert and the author of “Winning Results with Google AdWords“.

Any start-ups who are thinking of using Adwords, or looking for some guidance running a campaign, can join in on the call.  The call is free to attend (but you have to pay your long distance rate if one applies).  Feel free to tell any small business owners or web designers or service providers that you know about the tele-seminar, all that we ask is that you sign up in advance so we can gauge our numbers and buy the correct number of phone lines.  Thanks.

Here are the details and more information about Andrew.

Bottom Up Marketing

One of the emerging trends that web 2.0 is helping to facilitate is bottom up marketing. I touched on this as it relates to web applications a while back.   Basically, bottom up marketing occurs when rank and file users adopt a technology that eventually percolates up to upper management. In terms of groups, technologies often begin with fringe users and spread into the centre.

These principles apply to the dissemination of information as much as they do technology.  It’s a very natural progression any way you slice it and the adoption curve is steeper than ever thanks to web 2.0 technologies.

At the mesh conference, we are going to be looking at how bottom up marketing affects traditional marketing – it’s something every marketer needs to understand inside and out. It is the way of the future, and let me tell you, I am totally sold.

Why? Mesh is a living, breathing example of the power of bottom up marketing. As the organizers we gave ourselves 7 weeks to sell a little over 300 tickets. Just seven weeks. What was our advertising budget? $0. Seriously.  Talk about a leap of faith <grin>…

After 3.5 weeks we had sold about 200 tickets  – exclusively as a result of us blogging about it and the word spread and if that is not amazing, I don’t know what is.

What have we seen along the way? Well, we have seen that people are willing to come from California, from New Zealand, and all over Canada to attend. (And we have had great support from Vancouver – thanks, Van city!). What kind of people are coming? From our five blog posts the word has trickled out and up. CEOs of publicly traded companies will be there. Government types. Start-ups. Consultants and political wonks. The crowd will be diverse and engaging and we’re honoured to be providing a forum for people to connect.

Why is bottom up marketing great? For one, your ear is to the ground. In the blogosphere, it is not hard to hear what people are saying about you – just check your web stats! It’s also not hard to see what you’ve brought to life.  For example, Jen Nolan is an IBM developer (her husband, Chris, is speaking at mesh) and she is going to use the Unconference Room to talk about women in web 2.0.  Excellent, excellent stuff.

So, it’s great to be able to walk the walk with mesh. As 5 guys with other jobs, we are grateful to everyone for the support mesh has received. We’re still gunning to sell out and I encourage you to buy a ticket or tell friends who are planning to attend to get theirs soon, because with 2 weeks to go, there may not be enough to go around.

Mathew, Stuart, and Rob are talking the web marketing from the bottom up meme today as well.

Stuart MacDonald Elected CIRA Chairman – Help Him Rule .CA

Quick post to let you know that Stuart MacDonald – one mesh felllow of the mesh conference organizers – was recently elected as Chairman of CIRA (Canada’s Internet Registry Authority).

Always an honour to be chosen by a committee of your peers, Stuart is an excellent choice. Congratulations Stuart!

Stuart is now looking for some people to take positions on the board. Check out this post is you or someone you know might be a candidate.

P.S. I said yesterday that I would post about the new brand today. The new web address has been released to a select few. More releases (on this blog and others) to follow in the coming days. If you are just dying to know about the new brand, shoot me an email (you can find my address at the top of the page) and I’ll welcome you into the inner circle.

I am an Advertising Agency Killer

What’s in my head will kill Ad Agencies.  Seriously.

I was out last night with a friend who is the advertising account manager for several large consumer brands.  I asked about her online strategies and she said they had been planning for six months and they are just about ready to hop to it.  I said, “So what is your strategy?”  She said, “reinforce key messages  … blah blah” I tuned out after the first three words.

“Reinforcing key messages” is an offline advertising and PR strategy.  Online it totally wastes opportunities.

Online you want to build a relationship.  By the time someone is on your site, they are looking to participate.  Help them – don’t waste your breath telling people how you are better.  Start a relationship and as it grows, seed those messages.

I asked, “What Metrics will you use to measure the success of your online campaigns?”. *Black stare*. “Maybe our design guys know.  I’ll ask.”

I asked, “Are you using a special URL to track your various print and TV ads.” *Black stare*.  “Not sure.  Good Idea though.  I’ll ask my creative guys.”

Fortune wrote some great articles about Madison Avenues fears of going online (could not find them…read them in print. Sorry).  They fear it because you can track EVERYTHING.  No more, “Spend 5 million on 30 second spots” with no way to track results directly.  Ambiguity is gone.  Fear is building. 

What’s in my head will kill Ad agencies.  Seriously.

Google-Music-Search

Google Music search is arriving.  It’s released, but I can not find a link to the main URL.  Thanks be to Dave Winer who apparently shares the same tastes in music as myelf. Little Feat might have been my first search.  Aces.

Bonus: If you share our tastes (see Dave’s post), here is something more contemporary that you might like.  If you can see them live, do yourself and favour and get yourself there (sadly looks like you’ll have to wait a bit though as has apparnetly Jim caught pneumonia…).