Convergence – In search of the Uber Consolidation

Convergence logoAre you like me, Seeking the Consolidation & Convergence of all Applications, Tools and Electrical Wires?

I enjoyed this article from Engadget “What Apple could learn from Palm Web OS” and it spurred me to consider my state of un-convergence, with the multiplicity of electronics that I lug around, different coloured USB keys to swap files, portable disk drives for backups, Apples and Dells, iPod and Blackberry, camera and video, work and home, Freebox and AppleTV, avi and wmv… The list of interdependent yet not connected items continues to gall me. When can we have the uber-converged mother-of-all tool?

Specifically, I dream of consolidating all my address book information whereby all my snail mail and email addresses and telephone numbers are simultaneously updated and accessible across every platform — think Plaxo on drugs. I think of centralizing all my digital communications so that, instead of jumping from Facebook to LinkedIn to twine to twitter to Hotmail and gmail, etc., I just have one email site to open and one preferred functionality to use — think universal netvibes. I wonder if it is time for me to abandon a fixed line at home (like 1 in 5 US households apparently) to concentrate on one mobile phone (nix one for work and one for personal use) so that I have just one telephone number to give out and have one less bill to pay (albeit the fixed home telephone is embedded in an internet and television subscription here in France). I am confounded by the number of different electric chargers that I must carry with me to support my blackberry, my iPod, laptop and earphone, etc. — much less when I travel abroad with all the different plug adaptors. I puzzle at the stash of USB connector chords that I have by my computer to connect the various apparatus with non-standard fixtures to my main computer (thank goodness for the USB hubs). And, if all that were not enough, I just want my laptop, desktop, television, iPod and mobile phone all to be the same. On this latter point, aside from the large keyboard, one can sniff that an economically viable answer is around the corner.

Convergence Mobility Telephone & Computers

Somehow, despite my fast typing and reading skills, I still feel like I am near to being submerged by the burgeoning number of sites and applications to which I have signed up. Is my webiquity catching up with me? On the application front, among the solutions that are out there and that are truly helping, there is hellotxt that creates“what am I doing” microblog messages for a wide variety of twittery applications — and can be updated now via the mobile. There is the aforementioned netvibes (est 8 million users) or pageflakes for storing a good portion of different applications such as Facebook, gmail and/or hotmail (albeit you still need to switch to the individual applications to read and write). Still, there is no full coverage system. Proprietary applications and stonewalling is clearly stopping the creation of the mega-consolidator. One thing is for sure; I am not alone in my desire, even in France. There was a study done by Accenture in France about the desire for telephonic convergence in France (no longer available on line).

Palm Pre TelephoneI gather that Palm has come up with a new palm PRE (coming soon, pictured right) all-in-one product. See here at Engadget and here on Mobiledia for more details. A friend at Nokia has reliably told me that the Nokia E71 “connected freedom” is a good alternative with the bonus of being available already. And, there’s the Touch screen qwerty Nokia N97 coming soon. Could it be that a hardware company can come up with the wherewithal to centralize all the different applications?

But, as urgent and (de-)pressing as the need for convergence is, the world of the web is expanding like the universe…to appear and operate on many different media…well beyond phones… on buses, tables, buildings, all electronic appliances… And newer still appliances and applications are sprouting up like mushroom so that, just when you think you have it all together and think you can converge onto one new glorious, unifying ubermetaplatform, you are going to be faced with the mobile book reader (Sony’s PRS-700BC or Amazon’s Kindle); the to do list consolidator that wirelessly feeds the “shopping list” on the kitchen fridge into your uber-PDA todo list; or a digital pen that magically transforms letters on a page into a typed document.

Just think about it. There are a billion people connected to the net now via their computers. The next billion internet connections will come on mobile platforms… Ready for mobile phone banking and mobi-creditcards (try wizzit which won the top prize at the NetExplorateur 2009)? On-demand shopping assistance, advice and ratings on your uber personal mobile device (try Big In Japan – Biggu – T-Mobile G1 on YouTube coming soon to Europe)? The third billion one has to imagine will have internet literally at, if not, in our fingertips. Everything will be wired.

Of course, there’s another topic brewing here regarding the convergence of branding, entertainment, advertising and consumption and how best to tackle the convergence from a marketing standpoint. But, better save that for another post.

What are your thoughts about convergence? What are your favourite tools? Or do you feel that it is just an interminable rat race and a way to get us to spend more money (think Vinyl-DAT-CD-mp3-mp4…)?

NetExplorateur 2009 — Tom Gensemer on the Obama online campaign

At the NetExplorateur Forum 2009, I attended the Obama_online presentation by Tom Gensemer, Managing Partner at Blue State Digital (BSD), who explained the inner workings behind President Obama’s online campaign. Gensemer, who is not one to hide his partiality, gave lots of insights as to how to make an online political campaign effective — insights that carry over well into the business world.

First, here are some numbers about Obama’s “online” campaign:

  • They achieved a database of 13.5 million people each of whom subscribed and opted-in for the Obama campaign.
  • 7,000 unique email messages were created and sent out, populating the 1.2 billion email messages that were sent out between February 2007 and November 2008.
  • There were 3.2 million donors who gave, on average, more than twice an average of around $80 (some $500 million were raised online).
  • Around 2 million text messages were sent out.
  • They motivated 2 million social networking participants and created more than 200,000 events across the country.
For all the President 2.0-speak, this campaign excelled more in its presence online (more like a 1.0 approach) than for being a truly web 2.0 interactive campaign. The messages were evidently very controlled and, yet, by being touch with the communities, there was plenty of interaction. By mixing beautifully the on- and offline communication, the Obama team clearly mastered the art of feeling interactive via their effective grassroots mobilisation.

So, some guidelines to retain for creating your own campaign, political or not:

  • The average email message was less than 250 words long.
  • Each message was designed to provide a call to action of some sort (sign up, sales, contribution, affiliation…). i.e. no gratuitous communication. Every time, it was relevant and engaging.
  • The email remains the killer application.
  • There is no such thing as too many emails as long as the emails are not unwanted!
  • If you fake it, they will notice it. Be authentic.
  • If you promise, follow through.
  • Ask the addressee something (an action) with a clear and easy request.
  • Newsletters are dead. “When was the last time you opened and read a newsletter,” Tom chided us.
  • Text messages are more cumbersome to create in large scale and they do not work for raising funds.

In order for an online campaign to be successful, there are some basics that need to be understood by top management.

  • Make the online campaign fully integrated into the organisation: the online team and its activites must be part a the whole team — I think of the salesteam in particular.
  • Invest in staff, not the tools — not the easiest of Tom’s recommendations in today’s climate.
  • Listen and respond to the community needs. The Obama campaign had as a principle to get back to any sign up within 3 to 5 days with a telephone call or visit, thereby bringing online off line.
  • Test, test, and re-test. Not just the technological testing, but test on smaller markets to check the tone, the message and the uptake.

In a sidebar conversation with Tom, I was able to glean some insights as to how they managed to gain the budget for their activities. The first point was that the campaign already had some money which made it a little easier. But, the way they won the bid (they learned about it just 10 days before the campaign began in Feb 2007) and the way the budgeting progressed was by setting bite size measurable objectives. At the outset, the goal setting was all about acquiring emails (always with the mantra of linking each communication with an action…). Thereafter, the number crunching revolved around the number of email addresses that remained “live”, the number of people that contributed, responded or acted on one or other request. Blue State Digital clearly have a very good and immediate metrics system.

For me, my biggest takeaways from Tom’s presentation were that the success of the campaign was brought out by these two fundamental considerations:

  • Obama was and is a committed community builder offline; whatever strategy employed online was intimately related to the offline approach. The leadership set a consistent tone.
  • The success of the online approach benefited from groundwork done via the prior campaign with Howard Dean (2004), helping to break into the political infrastructure. I.e. An online campaign cannot be miraculously built overnight.

The revelation in all this? Business can learn from politics. Whereas I think that business principles are gravely missing from political processes, the way that BSD and Obama ran this campaign (call it “integrated sales & marketing”) is certainly a case study for businesses. For companies that are not as interested in totally letting go, there are still ways to involve and engage the consumer without succumbing to too much web 2.0 freak speak. The message was controlled, yet it looked and felt legitimately inclusive. Interesting, no?

You can read more about the Obama case study on the BSD website here.