Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Story of a Viral Video

Anyone who has ever been associated with new media marketing and watched a YouTube success story wonders: how and why did this video resonate with the market, and how might I produce such a 2-minute wonder? I remember attending a panel at the Personal Democracy Forum (08) and listening to four people who had done just that. And I remember one panelist saying there was some unknown piece of magic; none of them could guarantee another success.

So imagine my pride when my own 22-year old daughter hit one out of the park on her very first effort – and with a climate change message. I’d loved her idea when I’d heard it the month before. I thought the script looked strong when I edited it a few days before the filming. I was blown away by the execution of the first draft cut of the shoot. My expectations were very very high. I could feel that this was goal to be a hit. But of course, you tell yourself to stay calm and prepare for the usual outcome of low viewership.

The 1.5 minute video hit YouTube around noon on a Monday. A half dozen of us sent the link to our friends, and tweeted and Facebooked it. Within an hour or so, it hit 355 views. And there it sat as the afternoon wore on, and evening came. We heard from friends that they had loved it. We kept hitting refresh, refresh, refresh.

I emailed a colleague with experience in YouTube video postings and he replied that the view count of videos that had a rapidly rising number of views would stick, and then correct late in the day. So as the evening wore on, we hit refresh, refresh, refresh. At around 10:30pm, success! The number changed!

To 1200. We were stunned. What? That’s it? Minor depression set in. Well, 1200 wasn’t exactly bad. I mean, home videos don’t get 1200 views in half a day, but we were really disappointed. As we went to bed that night, a little before midnight, we refreshed again.

22,000! OK! We slept well. On opening our eyes in the morning, the first task was to refresh again.

65,000! We got it into the Huffington Post on its second day, and O’Reilly also picked it up on Fox. The Twitter and retweeting stream was strong. On the fourth day, it rotated into the “Currently being viewed” slot on YouTube’s home page. And it hit their “Most Popular” selections. YouTube has some kind of inscrutable (and no doubt well researched) methodology for deciding where to place its videos on the page, and which page. On the fifth or sixth day, we were definitely among the top three most viewed videos for that week.

Here is the video:

So what were the success factors?

Beautiful young women are always a pull. Yes, we know that. But it also has a nice story line. It opens setting one expectation about what it is about (sexual heat) and flips it into another kind of heat (global warming). There is drama, how far will they go? It’s fun; the people shooting it are clearly having a good time. It has a surprise ending. The music chosen was spot on. The editing is remarkable. The pacing, impeccable.

A small detail: we thought we were going to call it “Supermodels stripping for the Planet.” But a quick YouTube search of “supermodels stripping” brought up a lot of stuff we didn’t want to be associated with and that we didn’t want people to stumble upon if they looked for us using the search function. We changed it to “Supermodels take it off for Climate Change.”

And a last note: a confirmation that perception is in the eye of the beholder. The perceived tone of the video is totally based on the lens the viewer brings to it. Some people thought it was pure as the driven snow, and surprisingly modest. Others thought it verged on pornographic. Sadly, YouTube censorship seems to have come to that conclusion as well. Despite the soaring popularity, they took it off the most popular page. No doubt based on the title and screen capture without having actually viewed it.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Holland first city with distance tax

The Dutch lead the way in transportation once again. They look to be the first country in the world to move from a fuel tax to a distance tax, with the cabinet presenting a plan to be voted on.

According to the DutchNews.nl story, the highpoints are "If the legislation is passed by parliament, motorists will start paying tax on every kilometer they drive" and that the "tax will be higher during the rush hour and for more polluting vehicles." Exactly right and as it should be, payment based on distance, emissions, and time of day. I've been saying for a while that movement from a gas tax to a distance tax is inevitable, and here is the start.

What interested me comes from the comment section. Unhappy people worry that it is regressive, represents double and increased taxation, is the end to their privacy, and is another step in the big brother government. These are all common concerns. A careful government presentation of the effort would dispel some of the false assumptions, and dealing head on with the privacy continues to be imperative.

I don't know whether the switch will mean higher road taxes. In the US, it should mean that. Today our transportation infrastructure is financed through gas taxes, and these haven't kept up with inflation. In fact, they remain unchanged at a national level for the last 18 years. That doesn't work! Our infrastructure is literally falling down.

The stimulus money, if well spent, would help a small amount. As a measure of the backlog of projects, we can look at the submissions for $1.5 billion in discretionary transportation projects that was in the ARRA (stimulus). The submissions from states were due September 15. The result: 1,381 applications seeking a stunning total of $56.9 billion -- 38 times the money available! It should be pretty clear that states are desperate for more money for transportation investment.

On the issue of privacy, I've blogged about how to address it many times.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Creating the Conditions for Explosive Innovation

Here is the most succinct description of how I think we can drive innovation, economic development, and spur our world on to the new low-carbon economy.

One of the reasons to make anything more open is the admission that there is more value to be extracted. Whatever we are talking about is underused. So in my mind, “open” implies “excess capacity.”

There are also levels of openness. Some kinds of open mean that certain people, with specific attributes (enough money, enough expertise) can participate in the newly opened asset. Other kinds of openness dramatically change the equation of who can participate: this kind of openness reduces the cost of participation and the level of expertise required to participate and therefore is game-changing, especially in the number of people who choose to engage.


Guest bedrooms -> hotels -> couchsurfing (in 10 years since its founding, beds are now available to visitors in 55,000 cities in 231 countries – try that private sector!)

Ma bell phones -> cellphones -> iphone (in 2.5 years since its market entry, over 100,000 applications have been made)

Cars with fixed ownership & fixed wireless offerings ->
Zipcar/TomTom/Sync ->
multi-purpose open devices inviting creation of an infinite number of apps (who knows? We have yet to produce an open in-vehicle after-market platform)

Single-purpose wireless devices ->
Extensible malleable wireless devices ->
Open wireless devices with a mesh communications protocol (ubiquitous low cost local data transmission worldwide!)

This idea has important implications. For companies, opening up some platforms is a way they can farm for innovation cheaply. Losing ideas lose on their own R&D dollars. Winning ideas can be purchased by the platform-providing company. Voila! low cost R&D with 100% success rates!

For governments, the implications are much more far reaching. If a government seeks to maximize the private sector or individual gain from its expenditures, it should open up as many of its technology investments as possible. It should seek to lower the cost and expertise barriers for participation, with the resulting explosion of uses and innovations on the underlying platform.

This is why I have been advocating that government technology purchases require that excess network capacity be make open, that devices chosen be non-proprietary and able to be multi-purpose, that open standards and internet protocol be used.

Related posts:
Lowering Barriers to Innovation in Cars

Creating an Open In-Vehicle Platform
Open Platforms, Smart Grid & Smart Transportation
Whats "open" got to do with it?
Time for Cooperative Capitalism
Technology Recommendations for Congestion Pricing

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