A Hundred Pictures from a Thousand Words

So there are not quite 100 pictures here … but it is interesting! This is a "datapainting" of the ServantofChaos blog broken down into tags and then visualised courtesy of Flickr. It was generated by the Anoptique engine called the FlickrMixr.

Not only can this engine generate a picture grid based on your XML/RSS feed, you can also download the PHP code and host it on your own server!

Of course, part of the beauty in all this, is that is yet another component in the Web 2.0 puzzle. So a networked community contributes to and augments the work of a single person. Makes you feel like you are part of something larger. Something more human than technology normally allows.

It would be great to see FlickrMixr taken a step further with overlayed images that are closer to the TagCloud concept … allowing for relevance and frequency of tags with images overlaying each other … Check it out for yourself!


Customers Don’t Innovate

When looking for inspiration or for innovation, many marketers turn to focus groups. This is "tried and true", makes us feel like we are gaining insight and a valuable understanding of consumer behaviour. And while, yes, it may yield some insight, it won’t necessarily lead to breakthrough innovation.

Focus groups reiterate old stories. The participants talk about your brand and your products or services and (depending on the strength of your brand) will tell your story according to their experience. In general, the story you will hear in focus groups is already yesterday’s story (or last weeks’ or last years’).

But innovation is about future stories. Innovation doesn’t start with "once upon a time", it starts with "imagine if …". Innovation is hard work, but it must be done by YOU. You can’t expect your customers to innovate for you (and I know there are some who do … but I am talking about customers not evangelists) … it is not their job. As Steve Cone says "Focus Groups are a waste of time and money" … and quoting Henry Ford:

"If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse."

The innovation that a customer may have about your business is to move to your competitor who is engaging them in product development via blogs, updating them with podcasts and serving them with truly unique products. So start imagining your future today, and start telling a whole new story (maybe in a whole new way).


Podcast for Free?

Now this is cool … if you have ever wanted to try your hand at podcasting, or if you know what it takes and can’t be bothered with the hassle OR if you just like to try out new stuff online, well this site may be one to add to your list.

The Gcast team are currently supporting Bono’s ONE Campaign and you can hear episode 2 online now. So, this is a cool story-telling technology with its own story to tell … does it get any better?

Phil Gerbyshak points us towards this site and claims that he is also going to be giving this a try. I am relatively new to reading his blog, but there is plenty of interesting material to paw over.


Stories Pull You Home

We can’t underestimate the emotional strength of a good story. They can not only help us understand our place in the world, they can also help us realise that we are not alone in our world. Through the simple act of sharing a story we can reach out to others, and in turn, be reached by those who have an affinity with our story. A great example of this is the Livestrong "share your story" site.

On this site, the stories are raw and powerful. They are stories of saving lives (the ultimate story), of overcoming and learning. They are written with the authority of real experience and they are shared honestly.

There is much to like about the approach that the Livestrong Foundation continue to take. And there is also much to learn about the way that they are using technology to spread stories and connect real people with them.


The Unrestrained Idea

This blog began as a personal challenge. I wanted to see whether I could summon the energy and enforce enough discipline upon myself to write every day for 3 years — or 999 days. At first I didn’t mind what I wrote — sometimes poetry, other times commentary and even simple links through to other sites.

But a funny thing happened. The blog began to take a shape of its own accord. And as I wrote, the focus and tone became more definite. It is still a work in progress, but my challenge has shifted from one of simply writing, to an even more personal challenge — to write with an authentic voice.

What do I mean by this? It comes down to stripping back my ideas and thoughts. I am aiming for clarity of expression … but also clarity of emotion. It is easy for one to obscure the other, or for words to get in the way of meaning. It is way, way too easy to lapse into jargon.

Russell Davies talks about blogging as being a personal archive of ideas and that those ideas do not need to be breathtaking or "high interest". And one of the comments to this article points to a Simon Waldman article in The Guardian. I was not able to find it, but I did find a great article by Jem Stone detailing Simon’s visit to the BBC where he discussed the shifting nature of journalism. What he talks about is what this article is actually doing … showing how multiple blog entries come together to create something that is greater in value than a single piece in isolation.

So, while one entry may start as a transient idea … there is the potential for it to combine with other unrestrained ideas in some chaotic way. And this new knowledge may actually help someone understand a situation … or may help germinate new ideas. The message is clear — it is all about content. It is about collaboration. And it is about the comment as much as the article!


An Interactive Future

Technology has the potential to revolutionise our lives. The challenge is making the "technology" disappear to the point that it becomes just an "enabler" of interactivity rather than a "driver".

This technology is definitely heading in the right direction.

What’s In It For Me?

Let’s face it, we all like to feel part of something. We all like to feel that we are reaching out to others of like mind (or interest). On some level this can be translated as "self interest" (even if all we get out of it is "satisfaction" or a "sense of community").

Guy Kawasaki points us towards Harley Davidson as a great example of publicising your community.

But this site shows that there is something even more important … BENEFITS! The community actually "feeds the needs" of its members! One of the things that Harley Davidson do well is make it clear that there are a whole range of EXPERIENTIAL benefits that come along with membership of their worldwide community.

The site nicely articulates "what you receive", "what you can earn", "what you can do" and "what you can use". Do you offer your community something of value? Is it clearly articulated?

If only Ducati were doing something so well! Oh they do, but sadly, its here.

The 70/30 Rule

Engaging an audience is a challenge … do you go for all-out emotional engagement or do you opt for "truth" — the bare facts? Robert Passikoff reveals in an interview with the Being Reasonable folks, that there is a non-equal balance in favour of emotion. He characterises the interplay between the rational and the emotional as "unequal partners" and stresses the need to use both to provide mutually reinforcing bonds in support of your brand.
So, there is the commitised element of your brand — the QA, the trust, the functional benefits — representing about 30% of your message. And the rest is your creative. The rest is the way you tell your story, the way you weave a web around the facts, the way you entertain or delight.
This is important because research shows there is a correlation between brand and profitability, between customer loyalty and your ability to STAY in business! Now that’s a measurement of brand value that is worthwhile!

Writing the Secret

When I was younger I was able to write much more quickly. I was more in-tune with the connection between writing and my emotions (as well as the emotions of others). It was always interesting for me to share my poetry or prose with others, as I would find that the words on the page would resonate with them in surprising ways. Back then, I used to write to hide. My readers, on the other hand, would read to reveal.
What my readers would find within the writing was a small secret. No matter how much I wanted to hide, I also wanted to be found, so I would leave clues, hints and pointers. A word here or there, an exposed nerve. What I was searching for, through my writing, was an authentic reaction, and this too, was what my readers were intent on discovering.
Back then it was easier in a way. It was easier to write and shy away from responsibility. It was easier to claim that the writing was separate from the writer.
But then a hollowness fell over my words. I found that my writing began to lose some power and that the energy that had driven it was missing. I still wrote often, thinking that strength would return. I turned my hand to plays, to short stories and to articles, and while they were "clever", they would only sometimes approach the full force of emotional engagement. Clearly I was burnt out.
When I came back to writing after a short break I was surprised to find a shred of authenticity in a page of one of my plays. It was funny, because I remembered what was going on when I wrote those particular words. It was frightening, because those words seemed to hit me in the chest. It was sobering because I knew, now, what it would take to write.
I had discovered the secret of my secret.