Going Mobile

31 03 2010

Thirty-nine years ago when The Who released “Going Mobile” on the epic Who’s Next LP (yes, it was vinyl, and I still have it), little did they know they were lyrically predicting the future. Nostradamus may have a little more street cred in the prophesy department, but I happen to think Daltry and Townshend were spot on. And never mind that they put on a pathetic Super Bowl XLIV halftime performance.

While they may have had no idea back then what it meant to “go mobile,” it has become the de facto way of life for more and more of us in 2010. In fact, it is the mobile phone app that allows us to do this. And, perhaps most significantly, it foretells the the declining importance of the desktop computer for the years ahead as we rely increasingly more on apps.

And as much as we might like to deny or naysay this trend, it is the truth. Even I, owner of more computers than I can count, find myself not venturing over to the familiar machine nearly as much as I once did. because I can do so much from my phone.

While in bed. While driving (sorry). Walking. Biking. In meetings. Out of meetings. You name it.

Hell, I once thought that broadband was great, because I was seemingly “always” online. That was nothing. Now I truly am always online.

But this new reliance on apps must have “traditional” web-only residents a little nervous. It means we are not surfing the web like we once did. If anything, these handy little apps mean that our online experiences have become more focused on specific destinations. It’s great if your company happens to be one of those destinations (like banks, periodicals, airlines, insurance companies, etc.). And it’s not so great if you depend on folks stumbling into you through a search engine.

The greater implications is that it now behooves all businesses to develop apps if they wish to hang on to customers. Just as web sites in the late-1990s were the must-have item, the app is the same in 2010. If you think the current roster of 150,000 apps is a lot, just hang around a couple of years. It will likely catapult into the millions.

The only problem I see is that we’re going to need smart phones with even greater storage space and cell phone providers with ever faster service. As for those companies who insist on maintaining their Luddite status, the general public reaction to their name will be a lot like that of my students when they heard who was performing at the Super Bowl a few months ago. Not The Who; rather, The Who?

Dr “Won’t Get Fooled Again” Gerlich

Thinking Inside The Box

30 03 2010

Nothing like a good recession to push a company on the brink of death into a fit of creativity. Like lush green sprigs that grows from the ashes of a windswept West Texas grass fire, sometimes new solutions are birthed from the cemetery of old ideas.

Such is the case of Clarion Technologies, a Michigan plastics company with once-strong ties to the automotive industry. Faced with an economy that went south (quite literally, I might add), and an industry that can’t give away vehicles, Clarion had to reinvent themselves. Or die.

And so it has repurposed itself as a consumer products company of the strangest kind: A maker of plastic caskets.

No kidding (watch the video clip here).

Isn’t it comforting to know that you, too, can be buried in what amounts to an enormous cloth-lined soda bottle? One that will probably never decompose? Pine boxes be damned, let’s go for eternity here.

If Clarion’s latest product line gives the company new life, the human landfills we know as cemeteries are going to be filled with the hermetically sealed remains of millions. Archaeologists in the 75th millennium A.D. will unearth acres of petroleum-based packaging with well-preserved human contents. And they probably won’t marvel at our use of oil, because by then there won’t be any to fuel our appetite for travel.

While part of me wants to give a high-5 to Clarion for deftly figuring out how elude the Grim Reaper, the other part of me says we need to be finding ways to cut down on our use of plastics. Heck, I’ll be darned if I want to be buried in something that will conceivably last as long as my soul (which I really do hope resides along a street paved in gold, nowhere near any lakes of fire). The green blood coursing through my environmentally-sensitive veins says we ought to be using less plastic, and recycling what we do use.

But if my heirs do bury me in one of these human pop bottles, I hope that Clarion has the social responsibility to at least put that friendly little triangle thingy in a visible spot. Make it a 1 or a 2. Because I want the archaeologist who unearths me to drop my bones back in the ground, and haul my box over to the dumpster in front of Walmart.

Dr “Clarion Call” Gerlich

Get Your Game On

29 03 2010

Games are the glue that bind humanity. They provide an escape from the drudgery we call daily life. They offer us an opportunity to test our mettle. They give us the venue for human interaction.

Which may explain why games are so enduringly popular. One might even argue they are the hallmark of an advanced society, for anyone who has time to play games has clearly mastered all the other intricacies of survival.

From a very early age, children are game players, taught perhaps by doting parents playing peek-a-boo. From then on, until our last domino-laying, dice-rolling and card-playing day, we will play games.

So I suppose it is only natural, then, that millions of people have jumped onto the social gaming wagon courtesy of Facebook. Farmville. Mafia Wars. @Hearts. About one-half of Facebook’s 400 millions users play games there. My Facebook screen is littered with offers of eggs or the need for bullets, attesting to the fact that many of my friends use social networking not so much as a simple means of keeping in touch, but for far more thorough engagement (with the site and one another).

Now let me make one thing perfectly clear (he says in his best Richard M. Nixon voice): I really do not give a cow patty about these games. I prefer my games to come in a box, thank you very much. And that box should clearly be labeled Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary or Apples to Apples.

But that doesn’t mean these social games are wrong. They’re just not for me. But developers are still not happy with what it currently available. No, they are trying to create the Magnum Opus of social games, the killer app that will work not only in Facebook, but also on your iPhone and your TV. And you may as well toss in your iPad as well (assuming you reserved one before they ran out this weekend).

Now that’s ambition.

Imagine, if you are a FB gamer, being able to play whenever and wherever. Farmville will no longer be just an office time waster. It could be an all-consuming 24-hour preoccupation. To and from work (but hopefully not while you’re driving). At the office by day. And on the couch at night.

So what is all the fuss? Because whoever can find this mother lode first will reap an enormous windfall. Virtual goods that complement on-screen game-playing are extremely profitable because there are no tangible elements involved. And if you can sell an app for the phone and/or TV, there’s extra money to write home about.

And while I shudder to think of what life will be like with folks walking around face-down at their phone while trying to build another barn in Farmville, I admit that this could be a lucrative enterprise. Maybe I really am just a little bit old-school in that I prefer my game-playing to be F2F, but if phone-to-phone works for you, I’m not going to stand in your way. Just don’t send your mafia after me.

Dr “Game Face” Gerlich

Come Together

28 03 2010

We are social animals. Furthermore, we tend to like other people who are a lot like us. It’s almost like we are giving ourselves a high-5 for the awesomeness that we are. That hackneyed cliche about birds of a feather applies to us no less than the avian flocks it describes.

But today this flocking of peoples is far greater (and easier to accomplish) than selecting neighborhoods, churches and social circles of like-minded folks. And it brings with it enormous implications.

Take, for example, Facebook. The 2008 national election will go down in the books as the first whose outcome was bolstered in large part by galvanizing voters in support of Barack Obama. While John McCain was still trying to figure out e-mail, Obama and crew were busy uniting people on the social graph.

Today, there are thousands of fan pages for virtually any possible cause or activity, product or service, college class or alumni group. And while many are admittedly rather silly (who really gives a flip if your state is the first to have 1,000,000 fans?), the cumulative impact is very clear: there is a certain drawing power at work here, and it makes it easy to build a groundswell of opinion of, or preference for, anything.

And whereas we humans once were probably members of only one or a few tribes at most, today we can easily align with dozens. Don’t believe me? Check your FB Info page to see how many fan pages you follow.

Sure, we could argue that listservs in the 90s provided this functionality, but that was simply text-driven. And far fewer people had access to email back then. But with the ubiquity of the internet and over 400 million users, FB is the new National Mall, a place where anyone and everyone can come together. At the same time. In the same space. Without bumping into one another or getting the riot police riled up.

If anything, this is my “sticky, viral and magnetic” lecture writ large. While these three drivers have always played a large role in web sites in general, the true meaning of the imperative is only now being felt. FB, for examples, provides the platform to do all three with such ease and on such a large scale that few could have imagined.

In the old days, people circulated petitions to try to make their voices heard. More recently, they used email chains. Now they organize. Mobilize. And realize. Just look inside the White House.

And if this isn’t enough, consider how easy it has become to market to very narrow market niches. FB allows advertisers to selectively target their ads (note how the three ads down the right column often match your profile descriptors, fan page memberships, and even words you frequently use, like Sudoku in my case). Everything we do or say places a different marketer’s bulls eye on our foreheads.

When Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin started Facebook (chronicled so nicely in The Accidental Billionaires), their only goal was to meet girls at Harvard. Little did they know they were building an engine which in a few short years would unite people on many different levels, in networks of their own devise and volition. It is the realization that we are birds of many different feathers, and we can now match them one at a time with others who share that same stripe somewhere on their wings.

This engine helped elect someone by uniting people with a common cause, hope and desire. This engine allows me (and you) to peel back the layers representing the onion of our lives, drilling down to tribes of which we were once members (like the Class of 1977 at T.F. South High School). And this engine allows marketers to talk back to me in ways I will likely find meaningful.

Just try doing that in your little one-dimensional neighborhood.

Dr “Tribal Counsel” Gerlich

I Ain’t Hooked

27 03 2010

Richard Pryor was one of the funniest (and perhaps also filthiest) comedians to ever hit the stage. Perhaps his most memorable one-liner was in reference to someone asking him about his cocaine usage. “I’ve been doing that sh** for 20 years. I ain’t hooked.” Sadly, I think he was hooked, and some bad lifestyle choices led to poor health and his ultimate death.

But that quip stuck with me nonetheless, and I use it often to downplay my addictions. Coffee. Biking. And social media.

Alright, maybe I haven’t been doing social media for 20 years, but it feels like it.

But I was reading with raised eyebrow some of the stats from a recent study detailing our nation’s use of social media, email and the like. I see that I am in good company, apparently. Lots of company.

Yes, I have a Twitter/Facebook/TextMessaging/Email monkey on my back, and that critter is always wanting more bananas.

And while I am not quite as bad as a certain 7% of the sample who would answer the beck and call of technology even during the most intimate of human situations, I do confess to tweeting in church. At dinner with my family. And, yes, even during meetings.

All it takes is for one person in a meeting to pull out his phone, and suddenly everyone has license to do the same.

While there is a generation gap in usage of these sites, as well as willingness to allow interruptions in once-sacred occasions, I find myself siding with the younger folks on this one. I sleep with my phone, just like 83% of college students do. I have been awakened by the friendly vibe of an incoming text, and responded quickly. In sleepless fits of middle age insomnia, I have facebooked with reckless abandon. I have read and sent emails at all hours of the night (try this sometime…your colleagues will think you are at your desk. Ha!).

But I also use my phone as an alarm clock and flashlight; all is not lost. So there.

Still, the data reflect what may be a growing nationwide addiction to all of these distractions. And yes, that really is what they are. Welcome distractions much of the time, but distractions nonetheless. I can see a time coming in which we will have techno rehab clinics, internet-free zones at which we must turn over our phone upon entering. But untl then, I am the Tutunkhamun of Twittering, the King of De Nile (and -nial). I can stop this any time I want to. Just like coffee and biking.

Just don’t try to make me. Please. Because I ain’t hooked.

Dr “OK, Maybe Mildly Enamored” Gerlich

iPadding The Ad Budget

26 03 2010

I told you this thing was going to rock the planet. No, it may not be the perfect tablet computer, but it is a huge step in the right direction. And the 3rd of April 2010 is going to go down in tech history as the day traditional online advertising died. Bye bye, Miss American Ad Pie.

In case you haven’t pre-ordered yours (I did, thank you very much) or made plans to be at an Apple Store a week from tomorrow, you’re going to miss out on this mega event.

You see, in spite of a recession, advertisers are actually lining up to spend gigantic wads of money to be able to place interactive ads in iPad versions of Time, Wired, Sports Illustrated, and more. Banner ads? Boring! Grey-scale Kindle screen? Bah! Smudgeable glossy pages? Neanderthals!

Sure, one could argue that the iPad versions of print magazines and newspapers are really no different from what could be delivered to desktop computers. And this assertion would be very true. But the iPad has many other things going for it, most notably its portability and wifi (or 3G).

As I waxed poetic recently, the iPad is a bridge device between iPhone, computer and TV. Sure, the first-gen will be missing some nice features (like camera and phone), but the rush to create apps just for it, along with enhanced advertising content, mean that it is being taken seriously by developers and marketers alike.

And no one even knows how many of these things Apple will be able to sell.

While the prognosticators vary considerably, I have seen numbers from 2 to 5 million for 2010, and as many as 7 million in 2011. While that’s not exactly at the same level of iPhones (now over 45 million worldwide in three years), one must consider that the iPad is more expensive than iPods and iPhones, and is also being viewed by many future customers as supplemental, not primary, devices.

But it is the unabashed confidence of these forward-thinking advertisers that has caught my attention. iPad users will certainly reside in a very comfortable and sought-after demographic ($500-700 toys are highly discretionary, you know), yet I can’t help thinking they see a future here for video-enhanced interactive advertising that heretofore has not been exploited. Or leveraged.

And after iPad and its soon-to-appear imitators have helped build that bridge to television, expect ever more of it on our big screens as well. TV apps. Interactive content. Advertising sidebars and cul-de-sacs. And ever-so-sharp targeting to folks most likely to buy your product.

Now if someone would pad my wallet a little. These cool gadgets are starting to add up. And I bet my kids are each going to want one, too.

Dr “Mac To The Core” Gerlich

Across The Crevasse

25 03 2010

I will never forget looking out of my third-grade room window in suburban Chicago and seeing tear gas clouds rise to the sky. A race riot was going on across the street. They were turbulent times, and numerous voices were wanting to be heard. Racial equality. Women’t rights. Anti-war protesters. And Baby Boomers promoting sex, drugs and rock and roll.

It’s a wonder any of us survived. All that change at once can be a hard pill to swallow. It went against everything my parents’ generation believed in (even if they were dead wrong on the civil rights part). Older folks were fearful that their society was crumbling. Blacks could sit at the front of the bus, women would be treated as equals. And we didn’t just say “Question Authority.” No, it was much more blatant and involved the f-bomb (just ask Joe Biden in case you don’t know how to use it).

The generation gap some 40 years ago was huge, but Boomers eventually grew up and became respectable tax-paying, lawn-mowing suburbanites just like our parents. And now we Boomers are the Old Guard, despised by our own progeny just like we did to our parents. It’s harvest time in the wheat field of American culture.

So I was intrigued to read Nancy Gibbs’ essay in the 22 March 2010 issue of Time Magazine. In it she questions the assertion that today’s generation gap is even wider than it was in my youth.

Gibbs correctly asserts that there is often little difference in the way Boomers and today’s Millennials dress, and to some extent, the music to which they listen. Thanks to the demographic drift of social media, we are now friends with our own kids on Facebook and Twitter. It almost sounds like we have cloned ourselves to the last strand of cultural DNA.

Yet Gibbs also cites recent polls from Gallup and Pew which demonstrate a huge perceived gap…and it is the Millennials themselves who see this chasm. Worldviews are different…religious participation is much lower among our youth…we are a cross-cultural salad bowl rather than a melting pot. Oh yeah, and one more thing: Millennials are married to technology in ways that many of my Boomer contemporaries cannot begin to understand. (Yes, I sleep with my phone, too, so maybe I’m not as old the wrinkles on my forehead suggest.)

If anything, I see Millennials as being jaded…not necessarily because of a couple of unwanted wars in the Middle East, but because the playing surface has changed a lot in the last few years. The economy still sucks. And while Millennials are the most educated generation in American history, they may not have access to the same employment opportunities Boomers have had (and continue to enjoy).

But the biggest gaps between the generations are, as Gibbs points out, in hope and heart. And this is what has me less worried than I might have been about things. You see, Millennials actually are more hopeful than their Boomer parents, and in spite of wars and recessions, are quite optimistic they will one day be able to lead the lives they want to lead.

And this makes me happy. Maybe it means we have turned the tide. While the Boomers no doubt championed some tough issues that simply needed to be brought to the front burner, I for one will say that we probably could have done it will a little less rock-throwing, drugs and loud music. Maybe, in spite of ourselves, there really is hope among the cynicism we so often hear, both on the street and on the news. And maybe we can all go to sleep one day soon (with our phones, of course), comforted that the future of our nation really is in good hands. Even if those hands are always busy fondling technological devices.

Sure beats getting hit with tear gas.

Dr “30 For The 21st Time” Gerlich

Taking Credit

24 03 2010

We’ve all heard this lecture before from our parents: Spend your money wisely, and don’t go into debt. Much easier said than done, but we know that there are repercussions if we violate the rule. Our credit rating will suffer. And this is something that afflicts adults of all ages without discrimination.

So important is our credit rating that insurance agencies use it as a measure of insurability. In other words, you will probably experience the negative correlation that can occur between credit rating (low) and rates (high). It’s like saying because you cannot handle credit well, you will probably have lots of accidents and make lots of claims.

But could it also be possible that your social networking activity might also affect your credit rating? In other words, how you tweet and facebook could be ruining your credit score, and thereby affecting not just your insurance rates, but also your ability to borrow money for a car or house.

Worse yet, even who you list as your friends and followers can affect your credit rating.

How’s that again?

Yes, if you are friends with a bunch of low-lifes who have lousy credit scores, the assumption is that birds of a feather flock together. You had better start trading up in the friendship category, in hopes that your aspiration group could have a positive influence on this all-important statistic.

Now here’s what I think: This stinks. It’s bad enough that my propensity to crumple fenders is somehow related to my ability to pay off debt in a timely fashion (which I do, thank you very much). What’s really bad is the guilt-by-association thing. Mt Twitter and Facebook friends are two very different groups, partially by virtue of the fact that total strangers can follow you on Twitter just because they like what you’re saying. But to accuse me of mingling with people of poor economic repute, and thereby assuming I am of similar stature, is just plain hooey. And there oughta be a law.

I have cultivated my Facebook friends like you might peel an onion, selectively going back 2-4 years at a time through my life and finding old friends and acquaintances. And, yes, I have not seen many of these people in 30 or more years. I have no idea what their creditworthiness might be, nor do I care (hmmm…maybe there should be a questionnaire before I accept their friendship offer?). They could all be credit scofflaws of the highest degree, and I wouldn’t be any the wiser.

In the mean time, pick your friends wisely. You may be living in a dumpster if you’re not real careful.

Dr “Can I See Your FICO Score, Please?” Gerlich

Truck Stop

23 03 2010

I remember when I was a kid (uh-oh, there he goes again…) and the Good Humor Ice Cream truck would cruise down my street. He would go nice and slow, and play his annoying song over the loudspeaker. His slo-mo progress afforded just enough time for kids to run to Mom to beg for money. Worked every time. I suppose Mom figured her dollar was payment to simultaneously get my brother and me to shut up, and get rid of that annoying music.

People have been serving ready-to-eat food from trucks and even bicycles for decades. I see it in barrios with bicycle vendors hawking helado and tortillas. When I’m out riding my bike, I hear the modern ice cream man with his annoying songs blaring (perhaps as poetic justice…I lived long enough to reap that harvest). And I see men driving from one construction site to another selling everything from pastries and snacks to tacos.

But until Kogi BBQ dispatched his fleet of trucks to LA boulevards and thoroughfares, no one had really considered making gourmet delectables the equivalent of street food. Think: Korean and Mexican mashup, $2 kimchi quesadillas and short-rib tacos.

Fired from a chef’s position at a swank LA Asian fusion hotspot, Kogi put his first truck out in November 2008. And he didn’t rely on annoying music to attract patrons; no, he used Twitter to crowdsource. Effective? You betcha. Last year his revenues were $2 million (watch the video here).

That’s enough to spawn a slew of competitors, not just in LA, but in major cities across the US.

Kogi is a perfect case study of how a little guy can stick it to snobbish upscale restauranteurs, while at the same time leveraging the sheer power of social media. His overhead is low (even though those kitchens-on-wheels can easily top six figures), and he can choose his locations pretty much at will. He’s the float-like-a-butterfly-sting-like-a-bee Mohammed Ali of lunch, the Redbox of dinner and late-night snacks. Convenient. Cheap. And good.

Sit-down diners must be shaking in their boots wherever Kogi and his imitators rule the streets. No, we won’t all one day be eating on the sidewalk. But when you combine all the essential nutritional and economic ingredients, it’s easy for something like this to go viral.

So what’s on my Twitter-loving mind? Lunch. Kogi, can you get on the 40 and drive 1100 miles east? We need you in Amarillo.

Dr “Mind If I Cut In Line?” Gerlich

Passing The Bucket

22 03 2010

I always hate it when PBS launches their big pledge drives. I am not a big fan of MDS phonathons designed to guilt me into calling in with my donation. And I am never comfortable in church when a bucket or basket gets passed under my nose, that little pause intended to give me time to toss in my tithe.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do not mind actually giving money. I know some of my best friends think I am a conniving skinflint when it comes to money. Maybe that’s why I wound up a Business major, you know. But I try to be generous with what I have.

I just don’t like it when people beg me to give.

So that ‘s why I absolutely love Kickstarter.com, the internet donation site that lets anyone with a new project, album or business idea put their best foot forward in attempt to raise cash.

Yeah, I guess you could say this is also begging in one sense, but it’s a lot different from 24-hour TV marathons or peer pressure in the pew. In the luxury of our home or office we can review the individual page created by the solicitor, and make up our own minds.

The beauty of it all is that the hopeful beneficiary can pitch the idea in any way they choose, and select the dollar amount they need. There’s a 90-day maximum period to reach the goal. If the goal is reached, then Kickstarter bills the benefactors through Amazon Payments, while Kickstarter keeps 5% as their commission. If the goal is not reached, the campaign is over, no one is charged, and no one gets any money (Kickstarter included).

While the obvious funding seekers might be starving artists hoping to record a new CD, Kickstarter has worked with a wide variety of individuals, groups and small businesses. The ability to go viral with it via Facebook and Twitter gives anyone global reach in a heartbeat, thereby exposing unknown numbers of strangers.

The alternative, of course, is try to drum up support from family and friends. Good luck there.

Kickstarter is different from the numerous microloan programs up and running overseas and also now gaining a foothold in the US in that these are outright donations. And funding seekers have license (actually an imperative) to be creative, like structuring donor programs to provide tangible benefit (like signed CDs, concert tickets, etc.). Furthermore, Kickstarter is the online offering equivalent of crowdsourcing…in effect, crowdfunding. Just as the web has brought many and highly disparate peoples together under various tents and awnings, Kickstarter unites people who see fit to support an idea they all agree is worthy.

And that’s a bucket I don’t mind tossing my dollars and coins into.

Dr “I Just Need To Get My Own Page There” Gerlich