Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why Iterative Development is Awesome

I wanted to call this post "Knowing When to Not Listen To Anyone" but I thought it was too negative so I went with "Why Iterative Development is Awesome". Iterative development is the process of developing an application in a somewhat flexible manner.

By flexible, I mean it creates opportunities in the development process for new ideas to alter the final form of a product. Anyone who's built a Web application more complicated than a feedback form knows the finished product has a slim chance of being the same as the original spec, for numerous reasons.

Hopefully those reasons rest in the realm of early customer feedback, capitalizing on new technology, or new business opportunities and not the realization that the product as specified is terrible. The process implies developers and product managers will learn about what they're building as they go, realize threats and opportunities, and react accordingly.

There are, however, some problems, a major one being opinion overload. Sometimes, especially at a startup, the opinions of people higher up the corporate food chain are valued more than those of people in the trenches. Acting on those opinions can lead to some terrible mistakes, especially if they are contrary to the majority opinion.

In an environment where there is no strong product manager to fight for well thought-out priorities vs. tangential ones, disaster can ensue. But an environment where entrepreneurial ideas are marginalized can lead to a weak product. The trick becomes knowing when to listen and when not to.

There is no sure-fire method for determining the best course of action. There is ultimately only one tried and true mantra to get a team through the dark days of development:

Do the best you can with what you have.

Think every idea through and discuss them amongst as large a group as possible. Involve your product's community when you can to increase the size of the crowd. Make decisions on direction clear and well justified.

The best path will reveal itself under scrutiny.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Facebook Changing Fans to Likes

Caught this article that talks about how Facebook will soon be phasing out 'Fan' and replacing the concept with 'Like' in most cases. Apparently the goal is to increase engagement with brands on the platform.

I find it to be an interesting change because of the nuances of meaning.


noun – an enthusiastic devotee, follower, or admirer of a sport, pastime, celebrity, etc.: a baseball fan; a great fan of Charlie Chaplin.

1885–90, Americanism; short for fanatic


verb –
1. to take pleasure in; find agreeable or congenial: We all liked the concert.
2. to regard with favor; have a kindly or friendly feeling for (a person, group, etc.); find attractive: His parents like me and I like them.
3. to wish or prefer: You can do exactly as you like while you are a guest here.

A comparative analogy would be that of American and Canadian beer. They're similar – but one's definitely weaker.

It reminds me of a book called 'Raving Fans' by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Sheldon M. Bowles. It focuses on how the best customer service produces customers who are fanatically loyal to your product. It's a great book that highlights how few companies can pull off raving fans and why. Social marketing, such as corporate participation on Facebook, is a great way for businesses to reach out to and foster raving fans.

This leads me to question whether Facebook is making the right move by watering down the concept of 'Fan' to 'Like'. Will people be content to support brands they like, vs. supporting brands they are fanatical about? Will they go out of their way to click and show their support?

There is also the residual Facebook phenomenon of users wanting a dislike button for status updates and shared items. Expect that argument to heat up as 'Fans' disappear and users can apply the same logic to 'disliking' brands.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Five Desirable Traits in a Community Manager

Looking back at my time as a community manager got me thinking about how not everyone is cut out for the job. That's not self-flattery; I feel some people's personalities would have trouble adjusting to the highly social and sometimes volatile nature of it. That got me thinking about what personality traits I see are important for a good community manager:

Detail Oriented. One of the hazards of one-to-one communication is that as the number of 'touch points' between community manager and community members increases, it's possible to lose sight of the details. Whether it be getting back to someone, staying on top of product news, or relating community information back to the company, a community manager's job requires a lot of organization and discipline to stay on top of things. This especially holds true for all customer-facing issues. Conscientiousness is, as they say, key.

Active Listener. Active listening is good for more than spoken communications. In real or near to real-time text environments, taking the time to ask questions of community members clarifies their input and further involves them in the conversation. Some people are shocked they get the attention. Others revel in it. While remaining professionally distant is important, set a friendly tone where opinions matter and are shared openly.

Humility. Community management is not the place for a big ego. There will be times, especially at a startup, where you will have to eat your words, usually through no fault of your own. Launch dates slip, broken things don't get fixed, products don't develop as initially planned. Be prepared, and turn to the next point to get you through:

Sense of Humor. Be funny and laugh often. I don't mean be unprofessional. There are limits. But humor will get you through the most trying crisis and your community will laugh with you.

Patience. I cannot stress enough how important patience is. Sometimes people communicate on the Internet like people screaming at each other from the safety of their cars. While some are malicious, most just react based on emotion. Typically community management and customer service face the brunt. While it's sometimes difficult, be patient with each customer and they will eventually appreciate your professionalism.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Weekend Comic - The Idea

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Inspiration: My Favorite Quote

I thought since it's Friday I'd leave everyone with an uplifting quote that always manages to help me through the day, even when times are tough:

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." — Calvin Coolidge

Enjoy your weekend.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Social Marketing is Not a Bubble

I recently heard a comment that social marketing is a bubble. The term implies that sooner or later everyone will conclude social marketing is significantly over-valued, and soon after there will be a social marketing 'crash' with far reaching effects.

I don't buy it. But the idea is worth thinking through, if only to validate (again) that any social marketing endeavor undertaken in an off-the-cuff manner, without proper metrics and strategic goals, is a wasted and sometimes detrimental effort.

Fortunately, I think professionals in the social marketing space understand this. They strive to integrate as much value as possible when developing ideas, products and services with longevity and profitability in mind. Their effort undermines the concept of a 'bubble'.

Also, social media will exist whether businesses are involved or not. One of the foundations of social marketing is that the interrelation between social marketing and social media is a symbiotic one. It's a conversation both sides choose to participate in for mutual benefit. That conversation opportunity isn't going away, in fact, the opportunity is growing daily.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Five Considerations for Choosing a Social Games Platform

Social game developers are faced with a number of platforms to choose from on which to build their products. But what platform should they choose? The greedy answer is 'all of them'. The larger exposure your application has to various audiences on various platforms, the larger the opportunity for revenue in the long run.

That logic, however, has some large obstacles associated with it. Developing for multiple platforms costs money, because with the rare exception, different platforms have different code requirements that limit the ease of porting a product from one to another. Ergo, time and resources must be applied, sometimes in excess of potential revenue.

The process of platform targeting must be strategic for reasons that have little to do with technology and much to do with adoption. Here are five things to keep in mind when beginning the selection process:

Potential Market. Size matters, but so does relevance. Bringing a sports product to a business community might work, but bringing it to a casual community might work even better. Have a complicated product? Target savvy users. Also look for opportunities for viral communication amongst users. Does the platform allow your early adopter evangelists to share your product with their like-minded peers? Can you reward them for it? Take time to analyse whether the platform itself is growing in terms of users. If so, build for the long-haul, or for the sequel.

Competition. Will your product be one of one hundred? One of 10? Alone? Each scenario has opportunities and weaknesses. Analyzing the competition, from quality, to numbers, to development ability, will mean being able to assess whether your product will be a leader, competitive or lost in the noise. Remember, having competition is not a bad thing, even if it's a similar product. There is always a cost savings associated with not bearing the burden of educating your users, especially in a pioneer space.

Stability. Analyze stability in ways beyond platform growth and number of users. Is its technology integration policy clear and reliable? Will your product ever come in harm's way of its user protection policies? Does it have 'flighty' APIs or are they solid and well thought-out? Is the technology selected to build the platform at risk? As a social games developer interested in building and maintaining an audience, it is important to ensure the health of your symbiotic host platform before committing to a long-term relationship.

Mobility. A social game that does not integrate mobility is asking for trouble. So the question becomes, does your target platform threaten or encourage potential mobile integration of your application? Does it allow data sharing? Does its API provide tools to make it easier?

Accessibility. The audience and success you have on a platform is worth significantly more if you can leverage it on other platforms. Connective technologies allowing users to maintain their intellectual and emotional investment in your game as they move from platform to platform promotes a stronger user experience. If the platform isn't open to interconnectivity, it threatens the growth of products running on it.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Feel Good Technology Stories

I like reading feel-good technology stories. They bring out the best of the geek in me. Here are three of my favorites from the last 48 hours:

Efficient Desalinization. MIT scientists developed a desalinization chip that could one day provide clean drinking water to remote villages with only a solar power source to drive them. Read the story at PopSci.

Privatized Space Flight for the Rest of Us. Well, for those of us who can afford the $200k ticket price (which, coincidentally, takes the 'me' out of 'us'). Virgin Galactic's Enterprise took its official maiden flight and landed safely. Besides looking fantastic, the space ship will one day ferry six passengers into space via a high altitude launch and rocket push. See pictures and story at Fast Company. Virgin apparently collected $45 million from 330 passengers booking flights so far.

iPhone Opera. This is more of a 'dare to dream' than a true feel-good technology story, but Opera submitted a version of its mini browser to the iPhone app store. If Apple allows the browser onto the platform, it will be a spark of hope for those of us who wish the platform was more open and competitive. Read the story at Read Write Web.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Five Social Marketing Budget Hot Spots

I cringe whenever I hear someone new to social marketing say they are eager to pursue it because it is 'cheap'. The five hot spots listed here should make any check-signer pause, because failure to contemplate their associated costs will result in a low return on any investment made.

Staff. The nature of social marketing implies highly sophisticated two-way communication between businesses and their customers. For a small business with only a hand-full of customers, or a start-up struggling to build a customer base, managing relationships with customers is relatively straight-forward.

But in larger organizations, with many customers, multiple community managers and departments interacting with customers in real-time, careful attention must be paid to staff and staffing hierarchies. The industry's frontier nature means scaling social marketing staff can be a costly endeavor, as solutions and products addressing the problem are in their infancy.

Cost of Participating. The ramifications of participating in social marketing can be greater than expected. By being active and proactive about addressing customers, organizations raise customer expectations in terms of delivering on whatever is said in those conversations. Whether it be addressing product issues, or sticking to a corporate slogan, the consequence of poor follow through is a damaged reputation.

Information Technology. There are many social marketing and SCRM products struggling for the spotlight as companies attempt to make efficient their social efforts. The scale of social marketing requires some kind of product, and that product will have a cost associated with it. Again, the current frontier state of the industry means costs will likely be higher than expected.

Crisis. Social marketing crisis happen. However, the total cost of such crisis is not easily estimated. Here's a good example highlighted in a blog by Jeremiah Owyang. Companies with social exposure must be prepared for the financial cost of things going wrong.

Metrics. Any social marketing program started without adequate metrics for measuring its success will ultimately cost more than planned. If a program can't be measured, proceed with extreme financial caution.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Weekend Comic - The Chatwalker

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Monetizing Social Games

All social game designers face the challenge of monetizing their games. The problem they face is this: Providing premium entertainment does not by itself guarantee revenue, especially in a world where customers are reluctant to pay large sums of money for a product, and a precedence for free product exists.

This is especially true of iPhone development, with its vibrant Apple App store and thousands of free games, but also troubles social networking sites, console platforms and stand-alone game sites.

The solutions to the problem are many, and new solutions become available as disruptive technologies are introduced, especially in the fast-changing mobile environment. But what are the ingredients designers use to try to beat the system?

Virtual Currencies. Virtual currencies have become the bread and butter of revenue generation amongst most social games. While some designers opt for direct sale of virtual goods for real-world cash, many have found it is advantageous to introduce virtual currencies. Virtual currencies help maintain a user's suspended disbelief and immersion in the game world, and by doing so distance them from the reality of paying real dollars for something with no real-world value. Virtual currency can be purchased in blocks that encourage further real cash investment.

For example, by pricing some premium items slightly higher than the largest purchasable block of virtual currency, users can be encouraged to purchase more currency than would normally be inclined to. Such practices may be deemed unscrupulous by users if directly explained, however, under the guise of getting the better sword (or whatever) the reality doesn't sink in.

Virtual currencies can also be used to create a network of games that cross-promote each other, and serve to lift and shift users from game to game similarly to how loyalty program points can be used to lift and shift users from brand to brand in the real world. Instead of changing user buying habits, they can shift user play habits, by giving them premium access to a game they might not otherwise try.

For example, a user amasses a sum of virtual currency in one game, and is allowed to take it, at face value or at an exchange rate, to another game for a head-start advantage.

Reward Systems. Reward systems give users something for reaching milestones and achieving things in games. And by creating 'meta rewards' - rewards about playing games, opposed to attaining in-game achievements - designers can encourage users to spend more time playing more products. The concept thrived in the console world and spilled over into social games. Users like to support their intellectual and emotional investment in games by collecting 'stuff'. As with all collections, however, a balance must be struck between offering collectibles and offering too many. Having too many rewards leads to user confusion.

Marketing offers. Marketing offers have a bad rep in the social games world, and most of that can be attributed to profiteering companies with loose standards pioneering the industry. Marketing offers can work, in systems where virtual currency is earned by users in exchange for carrying out some kind of marketing activity.

It's important to note that users sometimes treat offers as originating from the game where they find it - so reputation is key. On the positive side, quality offers with reasonable rewards will be well received by users. And on the negative side, users can hold the game developer responsible for a bad offer experience.

Advertising and Location Based Advertising. Advertising in games must be done in a non-disruptive way that does not intrude on the game experience. Most developers shy away from including ads because by the very nature of advertising users are encouraged to think about something other than the game when they engage with an ad.

There is a great opportunity, however, for advertising in mobile social games through location based systems. By acknowledging that users playing games on mobile platforms are likely not sitting in front of a computer or game console, but are out in the world, ads can offer users real value alongside the game experience.

For example, a user playing a mobile game while at a coffee shop would likely positively view a special offer from the same coffee shop. The user is already at the location and making use of the offer would be a minor disruption to their game play experience. Location based ad systems can offer that kind of granularity, and will gain popularity as they develop over the next few months.

Designers can reap the greatest value from these ingredients if they are used to build a platform that evolves with its users. By developing the various monetization aspects of the platform, and intelligently integrating new technology opportunities as they become available, social games can continue to be enticing, revenue generating entertainment experiences.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Social Web - Is it a Big Bang Deal?

Sometimes working in an industry magnifies the industry's importance. This doubly applies to anything digital, like the social Web. Sometimes it's easy to forget that a very short while ago the electronic technology we take for granted today didn't exist. Can't live without the social Web? Pfft! Back in the day, if we wanted to be social with someone we had to walk up hill both ways, in the snow, to visit them.

Here's a humbling perspective: I read this article in the MIT Technology Review about the search for another Earth-like planet, and the recent discovery of an exoplanet (a planet outside our solar system) that brings us closer to success than ever before.

The exoplanet, designated CoRot-9b (named after the French satellite used to discover it) is composed of Helium and Hydrogen and probably does not support life in its -23 to 157 °C climate. In terms of little green men, a big let down; but important to science nonetheless. More interesting, however, is the mention of NASA's Keplar Satellite, the James Webb Space Telescope, and several other technologies that will soon be searching for life-sustaining planets.

Happily, if I'm to take the word of an assistant professor at face value, I'll be around to enjoy the discoveries these technologies help make because:

"Johnson predicts that Kepler will find the first inhabitable "Earth" outside our solar system in the next three to six years."

The idea is enough to boggle the mind. The technology available in six years here on Earth will be as amazing to my generation as what we have today is to our grandparents. The capabilities of mobile devices and the infrastructure on which they operate will have multiplied in effectiveness several times. We will be far more Web-social.

We'll have integrated the social Web to a point where we'll raise a generation with the ubiquitous ability to contact their peers directly at any time with text, voice and video. And the concept of being without that technology will be as alien to them as the thought of the existence of another 'Earth' is to my generation.

Children six years from now will easily grasp the idea of a planet like ours waiting for us beyond our solar system. They'll know about it faster, share ideas about it more efficiently, and as they grow they will reach out to it with tools a hundred times more powerful than anything available today.

But some things won't change, especially when their grandchildren begin talking of travelling to our celestial neighbor. They will have to grapple with that new technological reality as previous generations have struggled with technology since the dawn of humanity.

The next time you see a child, enjoy a chuckle. They're in for quite a ride.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Good News From the Digital Ad World

There were a couple of interesting stories recently in the world of digital advertising that should be of interest to Web and mobile game developers who build ad-supported games.

The first is this Reuters article covering a comment made by Google Engineering Vice President Vic Gundotra about mobile advertising:

"'We hope and believe that there's even a chance that we could exceed desktop in the future,' Gundotra said in reference to the cost per click of mobile ads."

One reason for this expected upsurge is search relevance. As one would expect from an engineering guy, Gundotra feels the distinct technology opportunities associated with mobile platforms, such as location-based advertising, will give them an edge.

In other news, Kantar Media released a report today on the state of the advertising industry. Not surprising to those involved with advertising, 2009 for the most part sucked. But there was a high point:

"Internet display advertising expenditures increased 7.3 percent in 2009, aided by sharply higher spending from the telecom, factory auto and travel categories."

So to all those game designers that built games with an advertising component about travelling in cars and talking on phones - congratulations! May 2010 favor you equally.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Freemium Games and Free User Opinion

A friend at Bytemark Games sent me a link to a blog about Neil Young's (CEO, Ngmoco) GDC talk on his company's 'freemium' iPhone game model. The blog is Tuaw, where I also found a GDC interview with Allen Ma, an Ngmoco Producer, on the same topic. While Young's presentation and Ma's interview both address the business reasons for pursuing a freemium model, neither addressed a potential social Web problem inherent to the model.

A freemium game is a fully functioning game that is free to play. The theory behind releasing a free game is that more people will play the game, and, if it is a quality product, it will quickly gain popularity. Removing cost as a barrier to entry allows more users to get involved with the game quickly. iPhone games further benefit from the Apple AppStore, where these games are easily attainable and come recommended to users through various 'top game' charts.

Free does not equal profitable, however, and to monetize freemium games developers build in various short-cuts, premium and fluff items into the game that users can purchase via micro-transactions. While a user who plays for free can experience the complete game, a user who pays can do so faster and potentially have more fun. The stage is set for social conflict.

The freemium model creates a situation where there are virtual 'haves' and 'have nots'. Not surprisingly, the dichotomy leads to confrontations that surface in user communities. This phenomenon isn't limited to the iPhone platform, but exists in the PC world as well, or on any platform where a game can be influenced by a paid advantage. It is more extreme in games where players compete directly with other players.

The conflict is based on time. Free users invest heavily in freemium games, but with time instead of money. Investing time leads to users becoming emotionally attached to a game, and in some cases devloping incredibly strong senses of pride and ownership. When a paying user circumvents that investment, it creates resentment and conflict in the community.

Users who play for free resent people who pay to play. And users who pay to play treat free users as second class citizens. As Ma puts it:

"'re paying for the game, so that you can continue to own people that don't pay for the game."

Game companies can't cater to the free user's perspective. Understandably, they are more interested in paying users as they are the source of revenue. And so, today's early freemium models already suggest a future problem.

The best lessons of the social Web teach us the resentment free users feel will become a public part of the freemium experience, negatively influencing future users and their attitudes towards freemium products. This negative influence, socially reinforced, contradicts the purpose for releasing a free game in the first place - the encouragement of rapid, wide-spread adoption.

Game companies operating on a freemium model must tread carefully on the social Web or they will find themselves negatively biasing their free users and jeopardizing the model they are striving to build.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Danah Boyd on Privacy and Publicity, SXSW

South by South West (sxsw), the top new media conference, is winding down but the post analysis is just getting started. I was particularly impressed by Danah Boyd's keynote address, "Making Sense of Privacy and Publicity" in which she reminded attendees of the complexities surrounding the issue.

Danah is an excellent person to read if you're interested in privacy issues. She's been following developments around privacy in various sectors of society for quite some time and wealth of examples, anecdotes and information to offer.

Her keynote, a rough outline of which can be found here, was a winding look at what privacy and publicity issues people face on the Web today and offered some thoughts on why people behave the way they do.

Her conclusion offered specific advice to technologists, parents and marketers regarding how to approach privacy and publicity from their perspectives. Each group has its own challenges to overcome. A summary of her points for each group:

Technologists. Evolving a product with your customers carries distinct social challenges. Building a new product can be easier than evolving an existing product. Existing products have social context that influences user attitudes towards them. Providing users a sense of privacy creates a potentially threatening situation if that privacy is taken away. Changes that lessen privacy can have negative real world ramifications for some customers, and failing to acknowledge those ramifications will damage your reputation.

Parents and Educators. Adults guiding young people through the social Web lack precedent. Encourage open dialogs and actively listen to apply common sense solutions to challenges. Be prepared to learn. Ask questions.

Marketers and Analysts. Public data is public in context; failing to acknowledge context can jeopardize relationships and lead to the misinterpretation of data. While greater availability of data is positive because it can lead to better decisions, failure to respect and understand sources can cause more harm than good.

I encourage anyone involved with the social Web to read the full keynote; this summary only scratches the surface.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekend Comic - Buying a Domain

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Best Farmville Crops

A long time ago in a land far, far away (called Farmville, on Facebook) I was interested in analyzing crop progression to see how the rewards for certain Farmville crops scaled. Some crops must be better than other crops, right?

Turns out there were some clear winners, and my fast Farmville leveling was based on a chart like the one below. The chart integrates plowing cost because it takes a chunk of potential revenue from each seed planted. The "value defining" factor is revenue per hour.

Some other fast Farmville leveling tips: When leveling fast in Farmville, chose the crop with the highest revenue per hour and the shortest hours to harvest available at your level. Plant as many plots as possible, and harvest as soon as possible. Encourage your friends to fertilize your crops, as it increases revenue and experience earned. Spend excess coins on buildings, as the coins spent earn a one-to-one return in experience points. Sell buildings so things don't get too crowded, and re-invest the coins earned for more experience points.

Good luck!

Crop Plow Cost Cost Sell Price Value Hours Rev/h
Superberries 1 15 10 100 75 2 37.500
Asparagus 15 220 357 122 16 7.625
Onion 15 170 275 90 12 7.500
Sugar Cane 15 165 239 59 8 7.375
Peas 15 190 381 176 24 7.333
Tomatoes 15 100 173 58 8 7.250
Green Tea 15 105 191 71 10 7.100
Grapes 15 85 270 170 24 7.083
Sunflowers 15 135 315 165 24 6.875
Ghost Chili 15 80 136 41 6 6.833
Acorn Squash 15 175 258 68 10 6.800
Coffee 15 120 243 108 16 6.750
Blackberries 15 75 117 27 4 6.750
Lilies 15 195 369 159 24 6.625
Blueberries 15 50 91 26 4 6.500
Carrots 15 110 200 75 12 6.250
Corn 15 150 380 215 36 5.972
Raspberries 15 20 46 11 2 5.500
Potatoes 15 135 345 195 36 5.417
Broccoli 15 200 473 258 48 5.375
Pattypan Squash 15 65 160 80 16 5.000
Cabbage 15 140 388 233 48 4.854
Lavender 15 160 384 209 48 4.354
Sweet Potato 2 15 10 125 100 24 4.167
Red Wheat 15 180 449 254 72 3.528
Aloe Vera 15 50 85 20 6 3.333
Cotton 15 75 207 117 36 3.250
Peppers 15 70 162 77 24 3.208
Yellow Melon 15 205 528 308 96 3.208
Rice 15 45 96 36 12 3.000
Pumpkin 15 30 68 23 8 2.875
Red Tulips 15 75 159 69 24 2.875
Watermelon 15 130 348 203 72 2.819
Cranberries 15 55 98 28 10 2.800
Pineapples 15 95 242 132 48 2.750
Strawberries 15 10 35 10 4 2.500
Pink Roses 15 120 254 119 48 2.479
Yellow Bell 15 75 198 108 48 2.250
Soybeans 15 15 63 33 24 1.375
Squash 15 40 121 66 48 1.375
Daffodils 15 60 135 60 48 1.250
Artichokes 15 70 204 119 96 1.240
Eggplant 15 25 88 48 48 1.000
Wheat 15 35 115 65 72 0.903

1. Superberries were a special reward crop, and aren't always in game.
2. An experimental crop. Sweet Potatoes did not wither. Special cost (10 coins + 25 FV Cash)

Read some of my thoughts about Farmville design here.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

SCRM Tips from the Games Industry

I recently joined Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang's social customer relationship management (SCRM) Google group 'Social CRM Pioneers' to keep tabs on the fledgling market.

SCRM is the combination of the social Web and customer relationship management, or in other words, taking the information people make available through social networks and putting it to good use in business processes. This can be as simple as listening to product improvement suggestions and implementing the best in the development cycle, and as complicated as trying to gauge and manipulate public opinion about a company and its practices.

Of course, all of SCRM depends on people using the right tools for the job, and there are many software companies and consultancies trying to make a name for themselves in the space. (I won't list any here; if interested head over to the group and see who's talking sense). The success of SCRM is dependent on an adaptable corporate culture flexible enough to make use of it, and savvy enough strategically to maintain clear vision and direction without falling victim to the emotion social input can convey.

Having spent time in the games industry, I feel gaming companies and audiences are ahead of the SCRM curve. This makes lessons learned there potentially useful in other markets. Here are some I think apply:

Customers find effective SCRM addictive. A customer who can directly relate their input to a product change becomes more loyal and more possessive of a product. Validation leads them to make an emotional investment in how the product grows. They will return with more suggestions for improvements or changes as they become part of what is built.

Carefully actively listen. Active listening is key. But it's also dangerous. If a company engages in active listening without fully understanding business metrics and product performance, actively listening to your customers can lead to incorrect business decisions. For example, if your product is available in blue and red, and your customers say they prefer blue, but red outsells blue - further investigation must be made before integrating customer preference.

Beware SCRM efficiency. As SCRM matures and is fully integrated into a company's business practices, every sale becomes a relationship sale vs. a pure commodity sell. While the rewards can be greater, the burden of maintaining complex customer relationships also increases. Ultimately, SCRM will become the target of optimization, especially at enterprise levels. Traditionally, when a technology is optimized, it becomes less personal. This is a dangerous contradiction to SCRM, and violates some of the founding principles of 'social'; the personal, friendly, relaxed interactions between people.

Reward customer input. Customers will take advantage of whatever ways you give them to help with the product and practices, provided they get something from the process. 'Something' can be validation gained from seeing a suggestion put to use, or by allowing them to maintain a presence on a corporate platform (such as a discussion forum or facebook page). It can also be a direct reward, such as a product discount or privileged access to information about products.

There's a lot to learn from game company SCRM strategies. Success comes from determining the best methods for collecting, measuring and sharing data and leveraging it to create better customer relationships, products and services. Regardless of the industry, as with any social technology, flexibility and adaptability are necessary corporate traits in order to capitalize on the benefits of effective SCRM.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Social Games Offers: All That Glitters...

I found this article published on Techcrunch about a Comscore study concerning giving gamers the chance to perform marketing actions in exchange for virtual currency in social games. Here is the gist of it:

35% of the survey respondents said that they engage in "marketing actions" to earn virtual currency (such as watching a video, filling out a survey, etc.), and 53% said they be willing to consider marketing action for currency if given the choice.

Studies like this really bother me. First of all, the study was sponsored by Offerpal, one of the companies with a product that lets social game developers integrate marketing offers into their games. Let's gloss over the blatantly obvious conflict of interest here and, for a brief moment, take the results at face value.

To the author's credit, from a gamer's perspective marketing offers are a more appealing solution to getting game currency than handing over a credit card and making a real cash purchase.

And I suspect that such companies as Offerpal will continue to provide evidence that yes, users do in fact use offers to get game currency if they are available.

But what they won't ever make public is any unbiased analysis - an audit, if you will - of what value the offer sponsor gets from these offers.

Every gamer is predisposed to game an existing system, i.e. learning a system and taking advantage of it. That's what makes them good gamers. Whether it means clicking on a link to get currency and immediately closing the opened page, providing a fake or spam email address, switching browser tabs while an ad plays, or clicking random answers on a survey, a gamer will get their currency using the path of least resistance.

Ergo, there is very little return on marketing investments made through these offers. But that won't stop Offerpal, and companies like it, from selling the fake ROI for as long as they can milk it.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Community Management and Customer Service Must Work Together

Community management and customer service are two distinct areas of a Web business, but when it comes to communication it is vital they act as one.

For example, a Web startup I worked at broke this rule. It segregated the two customer-facing roles:

Customer Service had a team of four customer service representatives (CSRs). They would take all inquiries through the Web product via email, had an on site presence, moderated the technical support area of the official forum and were available via 'live chat'. Customer service's primary roles were policy enforcement and technical support.

Community Management consisted of a community manager (me) and worked out of the marketing department. The community manager was available through email, instant messenger, had an on site presence, and moderated the official forum. The community manager was responsible for consistent messaging between the company and its customers, hosting on-site events, addressing questions about company and product direction and played the role of customer ombudsman. Community management's primary roles were communications and public relations.

In the beginning both groups operated in their own silo, sealed away from each other. Needless to say, it was not very efficient or effective. The CSRs would tell customers one thing, and community management would tell them something else, and vice-versa. Community management was faster to respond to customer inquiries in most cases, which created further inconsistencies. Finally, both teams were very bad at telling each other what was going on.

The result? The customer experience suffered, influencing the business's success. If I could go back in time, I would make these changes to how the two groups were structured:

Clear communication is priority one. Not just business to customer, but internally. The two teams should be set to work together from the beginning, with a simple technological solution to assist working together. Whether it be a SharePoint-style site, or intranet of any kind, information must be easily shared between teams so the customer is never confused by mixed messaging.

Response time is vital. In a real-time world, both groups must strive for immediate responses to customer inquiries. On the customer service side, automated responses via a ticketing system with a tracking number and a canned message is enough, because it's something. On the community side there will be times when it will be necessary to cover for the customer service team. Statements should be prepared outlining how the customer's problems are a priority and are being dealt with in sequence.

Prepared communications. Ultimately, community management drafted a set of canned responses to customer inquiries to help customer service with business and product direction. These had to be created as new customer issues would arise. Also, community made room for technical guides, etc. on the official forum to help users through issues they were having with the product. The teams got in the habit of talking to each other, and updating each other about potential issues on the horizon.

One decision maker. The customer service group had a lack of leadership. As a result, they had four different 'bosses'. Singular direction is important because any confusion is passed on to customers.

Preparing community management and customer service to work together will keep the company's responses timely and messaging clear. Be proactive, because winning a customer back is harder and more expensive than winning them in the first place.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Technology Solutions for Investigative Journalism

I recently read this 'Tweetifesto' at and it got me thinking about modern journalism and its challenges. The Tweetifesto made me chuckle, the gist of it being: People want deep investigative journalism, but by golly, that stuff is hard and expensive.

Well, no news there. But it did lead me to contemplate some possible advantages inherent to modern (and future) technology models that could shape the future of journalism.

The BitTorrent Protocol. I am not referring to how BitTorrent can be used for piracy, or how it's undermining old business models around monetizing data, but to the premise of the technology itself. The simultaneous sharing of bits of information between multiple trusted sources to shape the content of a large digital entity.

Investigating something is a linear process. Investigations typically have only a few brains behind them, for reasons ranging from maintaining focus to building trust between journalists and sources. An investigation is a learning process, so the more the journalists learn, the smarter they become, and the further they can push the investigation. This process usually takes many interviews and many hours of research.

Applying BitTorrent theory capitalizes on the evolution of information sharing to include non-linear sources in an efficient manner. No longer must source A lead to source B, and so on through the investigative process. Information becomes simultaneously available as more of it is shared. By harvesting a trusted network of multiple data sources, the scope of an investigation broadens significantly with the amount of data collected.

The Semantic Web. The Semantic Web is a foundation concept of the next stage of Web evolution. It is the process by which information is applied to information to give it meaning. Known as 'meta data', the concept helps put into context whatever information is being presented. For example, Jeremy Buehler is a name, where 'Jeremy Buehler' is the information and 'is a name' is the meta data. In the context of mark-up languages:

[name]Jeremy Buehler[/name]

Working with data is problematic because language applies context to information. Context is what makes some information better than other information. In order for the Bitorrent theory to work for journalism, meta data must be applied to the vast amounts of data returned from the trusted network of multiple data sources. In so doing, some information will become more meaningful than other information.

Real-time Collaboration. The Semantic Web will improve journalists' ability to gather and make relevant vasts amounts of data, however, the investigative process must be focused, responsive and validated. Using such real-time collaboration tools as Google Wave, for example, data can be prioritized and further sifted by multiple human minds. Discussions about information can be made in by-the-letter real-time, as such tools allow for the interjection of comments, questions, more data or even the assignment of tasks to individuals.

Furthermore, the product of collaboration is already in digital form. A journalist or editor would have to put the finishing touches on content to make it easily digestible. When finished, publishing the story could be a one-click effort.

Pie in the Sky? These technologies are not five years away. They're available today. Trusted networks? Social sites, Twitter, FourSquare, etc. Bittorrent? Almost everyone with a computer is aware of it, and a good many people with the theory behind it. The Semantic Web? Besides investments by database companies like Oracle to further its development, technologies such as XML have been in place for some time and there are already information standards in place for various industries. Real-time Collaboration? Some people already use it to do business, and have been for some time.

These technologies would not revolutionize investigative journalism, but evolve it. The cost of carrying out investigations would theoretically lower, while putting more meaningful information into the hands of investigators. This will be a boon to journalism and for people everywhere, but there is one not-so-small hurdle to overcome before evolution can take place.

The companies backing journalists must overcome their fixation with traditional business models, and business process models, and change.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekend Comic - Chat

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Web Advice for Small Businesses

The following tidbits of wisdom were hard-learned by me over 15 years of involvement with Web marketing and development:

Know what you don't know. When entering discussions with a Web services company, know what you don't know. Chances are you're a business person who knows their business very well. Don't push it. Leave such areas as technology, Web marketing, etc. to those who make it their business. Reciprocal respect in the early stages of a business venture between all parties involved will mean more listening, less babble, and a better planned project.

Beware the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur in question could be you. Entrepreneurs are people with a strong hands-on approach, and a clear vision of what they want. Sadly, sometimes clear vision comes with a pair of blinders. Be open to new ideas and directions for your Web project to avoid returning to the drawing board a year later to pay twice for work that should have been done up front. Be prepared to hear alternatives for the ideas you've constructed. It will save frustration and costs down the road.

Be aware of timing. It may be the right time for a Web site, but the wrong time to push for customer integration or large scale web marketing. Alternatively, it may not only be the right time to 'add' to your initial Web concepts, it may be foolish not to. Bounce ideas off your Web partners to help make sure your efforts are neither 'too big' nor 'too small'.

If you build it, they might not come at all. Don't create a Web entity on the off chance your customers will migrate to the platform on instinct. The Web is part of many businesses's day-to-day operations, but assuming your customers will use the tools you give them can be overly presumptuous. Understanding your customers habits, wants and business processes can save in planning and development costs.

Don't lead with technology, lead with business sense. Don't be suckered by flashy Web goodness. Video, slick graphics, bleeding edge Web technology is sometimes amazing but can also be of little value on business Web sites. Lead with an understanding of what your customers want, and give it to them with strong attention to simplicity and functionality. Its okay to look good for the party, but don't over-dress.

Know your vocabulary. When venturing onto the Web, make sure you speak the same language as your partners. Your vision of a 'portal' for example, is not necessarily anyone else's. Ensuring you and your partners speak the same language will heighten all parties' understanding of the project and its expected results.

Is something better than nothing? More often than not, the answer is no. Web users are notorious 'once bitten, twice shy' people. A poorly thought out Web tool can hurt your transition to Web business practices more than it will help. A focus group of potential Web customers or users will tell you more about your project's chance of success at both the planning and 'first draft' stages than any consultant will.

Your users will tell you what they want. If you give them the opportunity to – and that doesn't necessarily mean asking them. While a focus group, questionnaire or business lunch will give you amazing, and sometimes very straightforward information about what your users want, there are other ways to understand their needs. Close examination of their business processes, purchasing behaviors, interaction with support staff, and commentary in public forums (media, social media, Web forums, etc.) will yield many clues on how to create a Web success for your customers.

Many are greater than one. Placing yourself in your customer's shoes and examining your competitors and other aspects of the business community they find themselves in can yield information about what they will expect from the Web tools you build for them. Take advantage of the public nature of the internet to see what your customers see, and compare that vision to the entity you represent. How you fit, where, and the manner in which you fulfill a customer's needs can be influenced by understanding their virtual surroundings.

Don't create obstacles. Building barriers, restricting information, creating control structures, and other limitations on your customer's behavior on your Web site runs the risk of alienating them from the service you provide. Don't be your own worst enemy on the Web. Put your customer's needs first.

Have the resources. A poorly supported Web entity means that, over time, more and more customers will become disenchanted with it. Avoid the 'build once' mentality. No matter how much you and your partners prepare for your customer's business online, a year's worth of usage will yield new business needs and opportunities. Have the resources, both human and financial, available to address them and avoid stagnation.

Look within. Changing your customer's business practices and Web-enabling them means your company has to change and be prepared to support them. This means corporate change. Support your Web efforts with an inward eye closely watching human resource problems, business processes that bottleneck, etc. These are problems that will evolve over time, after your Web site launches – regardless of how prepared you were pre-launch.

Admit your mistakes. Sometimes you will be tempted to brush an internet tool or service under the rug and forget about as a costly mistake. Don't forget your customers are watching your every move on the Web. Sometimes admitting the shortfalls of a service will earn you respect from your customers where otherwise they might have ignored you in favor of a competitor. Having a plan for improvement or a clear path for your customers to follow as an alternative to the service you're no longer offering will also make for a better Web image.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Five Things I Learned About Communicating as a Community Manager

Not long ago I worked as a Community Manager on a difficult Web product. Each day was a new crisis. The product was a gaming platform and the users were very comfortable with communicating on-line. They had no qualms about pointing out faults, highlighting company shortcomings, and telling it like it was.

And I loved every one of them.

The community kept me aware of things happening with the product to which I'd otherwise be oblivious. And its members presented many (remarkably well thought-out) ideas on how to improve the product and our business. I was also responsible for site retention activities and they made my job significantly easier.

The goal of any community manager should be to facilitate two-way communication between a company and its customers, in order to improve the business and its products. In the process of doing so, I learned a lot about communicating with them.

In order to make communicating with me easier I ran a discussion forum, posted my email address, allowed users to chat with me directly using instant messaging tools and I made sure I was available for on-site communication at scheduled times.

Twitter wasn't popular when I started the job, and my superiors elected to have the social networking sites handled by someone else through an office in another country - a major mistake - as a unified voice and response mechanism is absolutely vital for successful community management.

Here are the top five things I learned about communicating while doing the job:

5) Be Patient Everyone who contacts you is taking precious time from their lives to do so. Respect them by making time to understand whatever point they're trying to make. If that means writing back to clarify, DO IT. Respect builds respect - and that pays off for the company in the long run.

4) Be Fair Always try to put yourself in your community's shoes. Try to understand how they see your company and your messages. This will help immensely when trying to understand why they are saying what they are saying, and how.

3) Be Funny Humor is tough but very useful. Never use it at someone's expense (except, perhaps, your own). Our product at the time was an entertainment product, and people were using it for a good time. Occasionally using humor helped keep the mood light. As Mary Poppins said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," especially when rolling back a release or those rare times when you have to infringe on your user's behavior when changing a company policy.

2) Be Fast Speedy response times are important because as an official voice, you can kill rumors, correct incorrect assumptions and address problems as soon as they surface. A situation that festers is significantly harder to control. It makes community management a 24/7/365 job, but it comes with the territory. Yay for Blackberrys and laptops!

And finally, the most important thing I learned about communication:

1) Be Honest Like in any personal relationship, lying begets more lies. And unlike any personal relationship, as community manager you have thousands of eyes watching what you write and listening to what you say. Lying about something is an invitation to disaster because YOU WILL GET CAUGHT. Quickly become an expert in making the best of the worst situation, but never lie about what's happening.

Finally, remember that what you write and what you say in your role as community manager will live on the Web long after you've left the role. To this day, Google searches for my name list forum posts I made as Community Manager. I am comforted by the fact that I took the above lessons to heart and communicated responsibly, because what I wrote became my digital legacy.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Time Spent Playing Online Games

Yesterday an article was published on Gamesbeat quoting an NPD Group report outlining January statistics about video game sales and the amount of time people spend playing online games. The gist of it:

Market researcher NPD Group said that the average number of hours spent on online gaming has risen for the third consecutive year. That bodes well for this fast-growing segment of the game industry, which includes everything from casual online poker games to hardcore multiplayer online matches on the game consoles.

The statistic is promising for the games industry, but how much can online gaming change society?

World of Warcraft, the most successful PC-based Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game of all time boasts in excess of 11.5 million subscribers, a small number compared to the world's current population of 5.6 billion people. It's a number that doesn't carry a lot of weight until you start doing some good old fashioned math.

First get statistics from Xfire, a game community and chat program that tracks the time its users spend playing games. Warcraft is their top game in terms of time spent for the last 1,615 days. Daily, 57,572 people using their service spend 15,790,298 minutes playing the game. That's 4.6 hours per person.

It's not accurate to apply these numbers to all 11.5 million subscribers, but it's fair to compare the 4.6 hours a day spent playing to the more than four hours a day the average American watches TV. Then take into account the thousands of other online diversions available, from Farmville to Poker, and it becomes easy to see how powerful online gaming is and how it is infiltrating society.

I believe that power will result in cultural fallout and societal change. The trick is to pick what the 'tipping point' will be: the point at which that power manifests in society.

I think it will be when virtual achievements gain status in the real world. This can already be seen in game communities where top gamers get hero status, but it will be a tipping point when online achievements change the real-world status of the average Joe.

Put another way, anyone can play an online game, and become notoriously good at it inside the game world. But the tipping point will have occurred when that person feels no societal restriction on wearing a t-shirt with his gamer name on it in public. Another sign could be that it becomes acceptable and preferable to use ones real name instead of an alias when competing online.

It's hard to imagine the world after the tipping point because the gap between the real world and the virtual world is significant. As time progresses, and as technology evolves, the gap narrows. I don't think my generation will see it, or even the next. But their children will grow up in a world so vastly technologically different that its possible, and even probable.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

One Person's Privacy...

I dislike location-based mobile applications that pinpoint a user's location on a map. A user typically 'check's in' at the locations they visit, and other approved users on the service can see where they are in close to real-time. Products in this genre include such applications as FourSquare, Google Latitude, Loopt etc. and usually combine a cell phone's GPS and meta data to create a service-oriented social application.

I agree there are some fantastic opportunities created by these applications. Augmenting reality is an area of technological development I find fascinating and exciting, and these applications certainly augment. There are opportunities in tourism, social, education and my favorite, gaming.

These applications are also dangerous because they threaten personal privacy. My enthusiasm for new technology would probably blind me to these threats if it wasn't for an experience I had early in my career.

I was working as Assistant Editor of a Canadian IT trade publication and the company that ran it had an in-house art department. The creative director was an older man who had grown up in post-World War II Poland.

I was having lunch with him and telling him about this fantastic new technology I'd just covered in a recent story. The story was about Radio Frequency (RF) tagging, the process by which a tag is added to a product, security card, etc. that emits a radio frequency that can be monitored by sensors. The advantage to the technology is that it allowed everything from shipping companies to retail stores monitor the location of their product in real-time.

One of the applications of the application I told him about was the high-tech house Bill Gates built back in the '90s. It would display images on the walls and play different music in a room based on the tag worn by an occupant. This would guarantee no matter where a person went in the house, their favorite art and music would follow them.

I was giddy with excitement about the possibilities of such a technology. So much so, I failed to notice the creative director was about to lose it. And he did. He explained to me in harsh tones that such systems can give governments too much control; that it was dangerous to be marked; that it is a terrible violation of freedom.

His experiences included a world I had not been exposed to and the emotion he displayed served as a swift kick to my sensibilities. The negative what-ifs began to come to mind. Oppressive governments, stalkers, burglaries, social profiling, playground mocking, terrorism, all the big and little negative twists to what had been up to that point, something very cool.

I view these location-based mobile applications in a similar light. The technology is cool. And there are many great and positive uses for it. But not everyone in society will use the tool as is intended. We must be cautious.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Google Wave vs. Google Buzz

I find myself trying to use both Google Wave and Google Buzz products because I believe in the overall approaches to communication taken by the Google platform. However, I think they will one day converge into a better-executed single product.

Some won't like me comparing the two as they are built for different purposes. Google Wave is a real-time collaboration and communications tool. Google Buzz is essentially another news feed, as made popular by Facebook. A short list of key differences between the product would include:

1) Real-time. Wave is a (very) real-time product, Buzz is not. There is a delay on Buzz posts, especially through linked sites. Wave is real-time letter by letter.

2) Closed environment. Wave is a closed environment, like email, Buzz is not. Buzz can list content from Blogger sites such as this one, Picasa feeds, Twitter, and more. Wave will have the potential to use Wave-friendly widgets, but these will require external development.

3) Linear communication. Wave is non-linear communication, while Buzz is. Wave uses an elaborate playback scheme to run users through a conversation from start to finish. Comments on a wave can be made at the beginning, end, middle, or privately - there are no limitations. Buzz is far more structured. Comments are locked in a sequential stream.

I think it is easy to see how the two products could cross over. In Buzz I envision a targeting feature, allowing one to direct a post to a specific user and make it private. In Wave, I see developers creating plugins that automatically feed a user's tweets, etc. to user lists.

The question is, which product will be more easily digested by users? Buzz took one on the chin with a very sloppy release that invaded users' privacy. Wave had a very rough time of it too as users tried to put it in context.

My pick would be to Wave-ify Buzz, based on user familiarity with the news feed experience. Facebook is doing a lot to educate a marketplace (400 million users strong, and growing) on how to interact with a news feed, and taking advantage of it would be the smarter and cheaper thing to do.

I would like to be a fly on the wall at Google and see how the products are viewed from development, positioning and competitive standpoints.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.