Micro is the new small. Progress, one micro step at a time.

A couple of weeks ago I attended Jeff Pulver's #140 Conference in Detroit. I have to say that it was one of the more inspired gatherings of people that I've been to in some time. The more conferences I attend the more I find that any conference with the words "social media" in the title are total crap. Same people, same thinking, no progress. I'm trying to diversify and find the other people who are doing the work.

The #140 Conference brought together storytellers who talked about how they are affecting change in the city of Detroit and the world. Two of the top presenters had something in common which I find fascinating and in both cases, revolutionary. It's the evolution of micro.

I've written about micromedia before as far back as 2007. The web has made big things small and small things big. New trends are emerging now around micro-payments, micro-fundraising and even micro-real estate. Meet "Lemonade Detroit" and "Loveland".

Lemonade Detroit:

Lemonade Detroit is a documentary film about the people who are in the city of Detroit who are not leaving and who are committed to making things better. Here is the trailer if you are interested:

The coolest part of the project, however comes in the way the filmmakers are trying to fund the film. They're allowing the public to purchase individuals frames of the film. Once purchased, that person will be listed in IMDB as an official "Producer" of the project. So, you get to help a filmmaker and get a cool bonus on the side. Such a cool way of thinking differently about raising money for a project like this.

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Loveland Inchvesting:

Welcome to the microhood! Along the same lines as Lemonade Detroit, Loveland is trying to improve the city and allow people to invest (or inchvest) over time. Loveland is a small physical parcel of land (see map below) located at 8887 East Vernor Highway and Holcomb streets where people can purchase inches of land. Once purchased, the ownership is mapped to a digital environment where people can chat with their neighbors and form real relationships. People can earn badges, name the city and give it their own personality.
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This way of thinking small can have a big impact. It's different, adds value to the community and to individuals and makes you sit back and think about the possibilities. Just think about micro funding a novel all the way up to a project to bring clean water to Africa. There are amazing possibilities that open up when conencted to mobility and mobile micropayment by SMS/RFID.

What would you do as a side project if you could? How would you change the world?

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Virtually extinct or a comeback kid?

Mark Goren (PlantingSeeds.ca) must have been reading my mind this morning. I've had the following blog post sitting in the queue for a while, but he made me think about it with his message:

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What is the future of virtual worlds? When is the last time you opened Second Life? Do you even have it installed anymore?


It is completely out of the digital marketing conversation at this point and not without reason. Massive hype lead to major investments and disappointing results. Social media has picked up the hype-baton and left virtual worlds in the dust.

Personally, virtual environments are only a small, occasional blip on my radar screen. I do keep tabs on new innovations, but it would take a very targeted client with just the right demographic to get any benefit from participating.

I almost smacked somebody the other day for even mentioning Second Life. This was the big digital marketing idea a couple of years ago for many agencies. It has since been replaced by the Facebook page, followed closely by the YouTube channel and the Twitter profile. Admit it, you know I'm right. Strategy is boss now and we can do better than this.

That said, I think there is a ray of hope. Primarily I think that group events have the most potential to succeed. From conferences to trade shows to presentations, virtual environments have a level of engagement that you can't get on the conference call. With the economy going the way it is, this may be a more attractive option to some companies to get in front of their clients in a rich environment and without the up-front investment in time that cost SecondLife so many users.

What are your thoughts on virtual worlds? Take the poll below:

[Feed readers, click through to the post for more information.]

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Blogging from Virtual Worlds 2008

Picture 11.pngI'll be blogging and shooting videos over the next day and a half at the Virtual Worlds 2008 conference here in NYC. I'll also be posting updates on Twitter as well as here on the blog. If you have questions drop me an email or a Tweet. I'll update this post throughout the day.

mattel_logo.jpgMattel toys actually has a Chief Barbie Girl who is focused on making sure that the Barbie brand stays relevant and engaging. Toy lines need to scale with kids to stay relevant to their lives. Barbie Girls is for girls ages 8+.

The barbiegirls.com world was named the fastest growing in a recent report. First world focused on girls with a unique, focused offering. Highly customized avatars allow a lot of combinations and more connection/engagement. The world allows socialization and friendships to be formed in a fun and very safe environment. The world allows for multiplayer games that bring girls together like the makeover game that allows people to become a stylist and interact with each other.

"Virtual worlds as the new playground." Kids now are digital natives and they think of toys differently. In 10 years, the people entering college and the workforce will be 100% savvy to virtual environments.

Some statistics from some Mattel-sponsored research:

  • Just 39% of moms feel websites are safe and secure
  • Just 38% use the tools to make the web experience safer
  • 78% of moms are influenced by their offline trust in brands in their online interactions.

The Mattel model is Educate, Empower and Engage. E3.

Educate: Making parents comfortable and being transparent in the interactions. Allowing parents to understand how to monitor what their kids are doing. Making sure it's easy to understand. Also educating the kids so that they understand the safety features.

Empower: Allowing parents to monitor and update their daughter's settings. The experience is very empowering for the girls as well. Users have full control over who they make friends with and can be seen by. Blocking and reporting features are built in.

Engage: Taking steps to build a tool where the kid and parents can set their own rules and agreements. This encourages an up front conversation about the rules and expectations. Time spent, safety settings, etc. are agreed upon together.

The future of Barbie Girls. Moving to a subscription model with Barbie Girl VIPs. There will still be a free experience to allow any girl to connect. VIPs will be world celebrities. VIPs will have exclusive access to clothing, have virtual tiaras and access to VIP-only areas.

The world is seeing huge growth with between 20,000 and 30,000 new signups a day from around the world. That's amazing.

From the tradeshow floor:
Lots of interviews to come in the next week or so. The number, and breadth, of companies participating in the tradeshow is pretty impressive. Vendors surrounding all areas of the worlds from consulting companies to companies that build sims and avatars to the companies that run the world platforms to e-commerce companies and everything in between.

It's pretty interesting to see how down on SecondLife everyone is and how they really use the negativity surrounding that brand to compare/contrast their own offerings. I do have to say that I am amazed at how many different worlds there are out there with very specific demographic and geographic influence.

Pro-marketing. Second Life, for most intents and purposes is not a very friendly environment for marketers looking to enter the game. There are companies that you can work with to get you set up, but it's not right off the shelf. There.com runs the technology for MTV's virtual world offering and has a very pro-marketing approach to virtual worlds. They have set offerings that allow marketers to reach people through a variety of different tactics.

LindenLabs does have a new offering called SL Grid that lets you brand a private world and control what happens there. There.com has a similar model as does Multiverse. Look for interviews from these guys in a couple of days.

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Going virtual (and taking you along with me)

I'll be attending the Virtual Worlds conference in NYC this Thursday and Friday and I want to ask you a question.

What do you want to know about virtual worlds?

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The overall feeling that I pick up on from most marketers that I speak with about virtual worlds is predominantly negative. There has been a lot of media hype, a lot of lessons learned and some nice successes as well. Certainly virtual worlds have a future as a communications vehicle/marketing launchpad/community/engagement platform, but I want to know what you have on your mind.

Do you want to know demographic information? Who the key players are? How you build a sim? What the average cost is? What the differences between worlds are (SecondLife vs. There)?

You name it and I'll do my best to track down that information and record it here on the blog, on Twitter and in videos that I'll post here at the end of the day.

Just leave a comment here on this post or you can send me a direct message on Twitter or just drop me an email. I look forward to hearing your questions and tracking the answers down for you.

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Presenting with two of my heros in Second Life

sl_medill.jpgWhen you're invited to present on new media in Second Life next to two thought leaders (and all around great guys) you just hold on and try not to sound stupid. Last Friday I had the pleasure of taking the stage next to CC Chapman and Greg Verdino (neither of whom I've met in person) in a presentation in Second Life to a class at the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism. Hopefully I held my own and added some value to the discussion.

Some takeaways from the presentation:

  • SL is a great way to add texture to what would typically be a voice-only conversation. The avatars resemble (Greg and CC look MUCH more similar to their RL selfs than I do) the people and are more engaging than staring at the back of a Polycom.
  • A lot of the questions centered around a) how to learn about new media and things like SL and b) how to measure it.
  • We presented through SL's voice chat and it was just like being on a phone call. Very stable.
  • There was a mix of in-world and out-of-world people attending. Questions and answers went very fluidly.
  • There is a generation gap with virtual worlds that is important to acknowledge here. If you're not 25+ and in this space or under the age of 10 you may not know a lot about it. Thanks to Webkinz (and similar kid-oriented networks) the next generation of consumers will be 100% fluent with virtual worlds. They'll know how to move around, interact and transact.

To any students reading this post, the advice from the three of us was pretty unanimous and along these lines:

Never before has it been easier to get involved in marketing, engage thought leaders, learn from experience and hit the ground running when you get your first job. The best advice is "do stuff". Start a blog, create an avatar in Second Life and wander around, upload your photos to Flickr, comments on blogs that you enjoy reading, listen to podcasts and call in with a voice comment, create a Twitter account and actively listen to what's going on. Those things I just mentioned are all free, they just take a committed time investment.

I've often said that social media has been more valuable and more educational than any class ever was. People want to teach and learn at the same time. We're collectively in this to help each other advance and that's a great thing.

What advice would you offer students in school right now?

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