Why The Philosopher’s Mail is One of the Best Things That Happened to The Internet in a Long Time

The Philosophers Mail
Over the last 12 months, if you’re like me, you’ve slowly seen your Facebook feed transforms itself into a river of feel-good garbage posts and trashy news report about drunken mayors and Hollywood stars mug shots. The Facebook dream of “if the news is important, it will find me” has slowly dissolved into the equivalent of the high-calorie, low nutrition meal. Growing frustrated, I have to admit thinking about shutting down my Facebook account many times but have not done it. I still find value with the real-time connections I have with my friends and acquaintances but I keep wondering why people feel the need to share worthless (in my opinion) content. Last week, the Philosopher’s Mail quietly launched and I finally started getting some answers to those questions.

Described as “a new media outlet rooted in popular interests, sensibilities and inclinations of the day – but that tries to read and caption the news with an eye to traditional central philosophical concerns – for compassion, truth, justice, complexity, calm, empathy and wisdom.”, the Philosopher’s Mail is a mash-up of typical tabloid-style newspaper articles with deep philosophical insights you can find… well, that you usually don’t find anywhere!

Led by Alain de Botton (one of my favorite young philosophers) on the editorial team, each article starts with a very mundane or typical daily news but ends up with deep insights into why we tend to focus on that news. Some examples:

In “Emma Watson on Caribbean holiday helps us to find love“, we start with paparazzi photos of starlet Emma Watson with her rugby-man boyfriend and we end up with a lesson in “tenderness and appreciation”.

In “Simon Cowell, on holiday in Barbados, proves that suffering is part of the human condition“, starting with pictures of Simon Cowell on vacation in Barbados,  we now understand he “is one of the earth’s perfect examples of a philosophical experiment about the role of money in a fulfilled life”.

Beautifully written, the Philosopher’s Mail
i) helps us understand why we’re attracted to trashy news
ii) creates meaning where we thought there wasn’t any
iii) helps us forgive ourselves and our friends for sharing these kinds of trashy articles.

Even though I still see as many trashy articles in my Facebook feed, I’m now much less frustrated by the situation. If only because of that, the Philosopher’s Mail is probably one of the best things that happened to the Internet in a long long time.

BIA/Kelsey ILM West 2012 Conference: A Preview

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In less than two weeks, BIA/Kelsey is organizing its ILM (stands for Interactive Local Media) West 2012 Conference, a must-attend for anyone in the local media space. Held from December 4 to December 6 in Los Angeles, the team has put another yet another great line-up of speakers and panelists.

As I will be attending, I’ve put together a list of “can’t miss” keynotes and panels:

Day 1 (December 4)

  • The ILM West Kickoff: The View From BIA/Kelsey. That’s when the analysts share interesting data on “local”. Helpful for all those PowerPoint presentations you’ll be preparing in 2013
  • Opening Keynote: Bill Gross, CEO, Idealab. Bill Gross. ‘Nuff said.

There’s also panels on venture capital, on sales transformation and on innovative startups. Those are often “hit or miss” but you never know.

Day 2 (December 5)

  • The Google Executive Interview: Todd Rowe, Managing Director – SMB Global Sales, Google. Should be good.
  • Keynote: Jason Finger, CEO, CityGrid. Definitely interested to hear what CityGrid is up to. They’ve been silent recently.
  • SuperForum: Mobile’s Impact on Interactive Local Media: National to Local. Those 4 mini-sessions all focus on local and mobile.
  • Afternoon Keynote: David Krantz, CEO, YP. Like CityGrid, interested to hear the latest news at YP.
  • Targeting Local Audiences: Hollywood Shows the Way. Ah, I love when they bring new industries to the table. Lots to learn usually.

Day 3 (December 6)

  • A Discussion With Ben T. Smith IV, CEO, Wanderful Media. This one should be very very interesting. Ben’s company has been very active lately, including a huge $22M funding roundfrom newspaper companies in September.
  • Keynote Speaker: Dan Levy, Director, Global SMB Markets, Facebook. Facebook doesn’t usually share a lot of new information in these conferences, so stay tuned.

If you want to connect when I’m there, don’t hesitate to ping by e-mail: sprovencher AT gmail

In addition to the conferences, the event is great for networking. If you’re planning to attend and haven’t booked your ticket yet, Use my personal code to get $200 off the registration fees: ILMWSEB

Facebook Phases Out “Places” but Adds Location to Status Updates and Other Shared Items

Facebook announced yesterday that they “are phasing out the mobile-only Places feature“, a check-in service that was introduced one year ago, and replacing it with the ability to add location to status updates, photos or wall posts.  As the announcement says:  ” Now you can add location to anything. Lots of people use Facebook to talk about where they are, have been or want to go. Now you can add location from anywhere, regardless of what device you are using, or whether it is a status update, photo or Wall post.” As Techcrunch adds, “Starting this week, you’ll be able to easily associate location with any update, even if you’re nowhere near the location.”

Another big change, again explained by Techcrunch: “Another location-related change: Facebook now prompts users to include a city-level location tag with all of their updates (for example, if I wrote this from New York City, it would prompt me to include that with a status update). You can disable this if you aren’t interested, but city-level location probably won’t present a huge privacy issue for most people.”

What it means:  A couple of thoughts: it completely makes sense that Facebook now enables location data to be attached to a shared message. Twitter does the same. Location is a data payload of a status update the same way a URL accompanies one. I also like the idea that most status updates on Facebook will now be geo-tagged at the city level. A huge amount of locally-relevant content will therefore be available for consumption by users but also by Facebook API developers.

As for the disappearance of the check-in, two prevalent thoughts are expressed by experts and pundits.  Most people agree that it either means Foursquare has won or that check-ins are useless. I think the answer is probably in-between. On a side note, this report (.pdf) published by White Horse and titled “Lost in Geolocation: Why Consumers Haven’t Bought It and How Marketers Can Fix It” generated four key findings:

  1. Location-based services have not yet reached the tipping point.
  2. The chief barriers today are a lack of clear benefit and privacy fears.
  3. Users are mostly young, active contributors to social networks.
  4. Marketers will need to create and test new geolocation experiences that are not generic but relevant to a particular brand and audience.

From a volume point of view, Facebook had managed to capture a solid number of check-ins vs. Foursquare. I’m a Facebook Places Editor which allows me to quickly see cumulative check-ins for some places. In Montreal, for example,

  • Helm (bar/brewery) has 341 check-ins on Facebook and 502 on Foursquare.
  • Hotel Le Crystal has 756 check-ins on Facebook and 351 on Foursquare
  • Centre des Sciences de Montreal (Science Museum) has 851 check-ins on Facebook and 715 check-ins on Foursquare
  • Brit & Chips (restaurant) has 342 check-ins on Facebook and 439 on Foursquare

Obviously, the sheer size of Facebook usage in Canada makes those numbers quite small (it probably should be 100 times more to be proportionate with Foursquare’s traffic) , but still people were doing the check-ins. Since I acquired my latest smart phone (a Samsung Galaxy S2), I’ve been finding myself doing more check-ins on Facebook than on Foursquare, probably because the friends I want to share my location with are already on Facebook. I’m going to make a prediction: expect the check-in to come back in one form or another on Facebook in the near future.

From a Needium point of view, we’ve found check-ins to be an excellent way to prove that a conversation leads to a conversion/sale/visit. So, we definitely like check-ins as a concept!

One last thought: the fact that Facebook wants you to add locations about “where they are, have been or want to go” reminds me of the past, present, and future concept I discussed in my temporal Web presentation. I wonder if they will start exploring this concept further?

The Evolution of Merchant "Presence"

Flickr picture by Andrew Atzert

Fifteen years ago, if a merchant wanted to make sure he’d be found when people were doing shopping research, it was very easy. You simply needed to have a free basic listing in your main business category in the print Yellow Pages of your city.  Advertisers could extend that presence in different cities or business categories by buying additional basic business listings and if you wanted to stand out when consumers were doing comparison shopping, you could make your listing standout by making it bold or buying an informational listing (lines of text) or a display ad (graphics + text).  Some people were trying to game the system by changing their name to AAAAA Joe Plumber and appear higher in the listings but buying a display ad would insure a ranking improvement in your category.  Life was simple and/but choice was limited. Directory publishers were making tons of money with huge profit margins.

Things certainly have changed since then.

Fast forward to the search engine era (2000-2010), search is the main method people use to do comparison shopping now. For small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), having a presence in the search engine era means having a Web site but ranking in search engine results pages is very random. It’s probably the equivalent of a Yellow Pages basic listing.  The discipline of search engine optimization (SEO) was invented to try to improve Web site ranking in organic search results. This is probably the equivalent of print bold listings (white hat SEO) and AAA merchant names (black hat SEO). And if you want to make sure you appear above everyone else, you bid on specific business keywords in, for example, Google AdWords (search engine marketing or SEM). This is the equivalent of the Yellow Pages display in the Google era. The search engine from Mountain View is now making tons of money with huge profit margins.

The complexity of this search ecosystem means most small merchants need to rely on service providers for Web site building, SEO and SEM, three products of very high interest in the Yellow Pages space in the last 2-3 years.

But that’s not all. In the search engine era, local search sites have multiplied as well. Merchants need to make sure that their basic listing information is everywhere, that it’s correct and is the same everywhere. That’s quite a challenge given the dozens (hundreds?) of sites out there. Companies like Universal Business Listing, GetListed and Localeze have risen to the challenge to help SMBs. Search Engine Watch recently said “Your address is the new link”.

But lo and behold, Google’s search query volume seems to be plateauing. Compete says it has dropped 0.6% from December 2009 to December 2010.

Things are changing yet again…

Enter the social media era (2010-2020?), the conversation age. Consumers are now spending more time using Facebook and Twitter than anything else on the Web, even beating e-mail. As I write this, Facebook claims they have more than 500 million active users per month.  25 billion tweets (messages on Twitter) were sent in 2010.The rise of these powerful social networking and communications tools means that merchants need to be present there as well.

So, what does SMB presence means in the social media world? It mostly means building a Facebook page and creating a Twitter account. It’s actually fairly easy to do and many of them have done it already. I can also tell you every local media company and SEO/SEM firm is thinking of offering (or already does) the creation of a social media presence for small merchants who are not there already. We’ll probably see the arrival of technology companies enabling mass-creation of those pages/accounts. This is the “basic listing” of social media.

Next, how can merchants be found in social media? They’re able to buy Facebook ads or Twitter promoted ads (tweets, trends, accounts) and we’re already seeing the arrival of technology providers to enable campaign management (like we saw search engine marketing). This will be the equivalent of Google AdWords for the social media era.

What about organic “search results”? How do smart SMBs get found “organically” in social media? They join the conversation. They broadcast information about their store, they reply to consumer comments and questions, they identify potential customers and invite them to their store. Small merchants are all about relationship-building and the human touch. They just need to port this to social media but they need help. They need to understand the tone that’s required but mostly they don’t necessarily have the time to engage in and monitor social media. They need support and they need to filter the noise.

I think this space is going to be huge. As SMBs easily create their basic presence en-masse on Twitter and Facebook (BIA/Kelsey says close to 50% of SMBs have created a Facebook page and close to 20% on Twitter), they’ll be wondering what to do next. This is the space we’re trying to crack with Needium, helping SMBs figure what happens next organically after the basic social media listing. By identifying business opportunities in social media, by monitoring merchant name mentions and by offering white-label community management services, we’ve shown small merchants that there’s value in social media and exciting business life after the account creation. We hope you’ll be with us along for the ride!

2010's Most Important Events in Local/Social

Like last year, Mike Blumenthal asked me for my thoughts on what were the most important events in “local” in 2010. I obliged and Mike put together a blog post with my answers. In a nutshell, they are:

  1. The launch of Twitter Places
  2. Foursquare’s growth
  3. Facebook launches Places
  4. The launch of the iPad
  5. The rise of Groupon and the explosion of the daily offers space
  6. Groupon rejects Google’s purchase offer

Head up to Mike’s blog to read the rest of my post.

In the Bay Area Next Week for BIA/Kelsey's ILM:10 Conference

Next week, I will spending the week in San Francisco and in Santa Clara for a series of meetings and BIA/Kelsey’s ILM:10 conference. The conference is being held in Santa Clara December 7, 8 and 9. The agenda is jam-packed with interesting topics and speakers. I’m looking forward hearing the following people speak:

Tuesday, Dec. 7

  • Opening Keynote: Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO, Yelp. I’m interested in hearing about Yelp’s recent usage and revenue growth, to see if it can maintain its relevancy in a Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare world.
  • The Big Money in Local ” panel with Dev Khare, Vice President, Venrock and Kara Nortman, VP, M&A, IAC/InterActiveCorp. I want to know what kind of investments they are looking at today, probably no Groupon clones… 🙂
  • Stephen Weis, VP, Digital Sales, Hearst Newspapers (participating in “Traditional Media, Revolutionary Thinking” panel). Hearst owns very interesting local properties in newspapers, directory publishing and online. Curious to hear how the integration is working and where they’re finding economies of scale and synergies.

Wednesday, Dec. 8

  • The “Google at ILM 2010: Refocus on Local/Location Services” session with Wesley Chan, Partner, Google Ventures and
    Carter Maslan, Product Management Director, Local Search, Google. Recently, Google has been signaling their huge interest in “Local”. It will be interesting to hear it directly from them.
  • The “Pandora: The New World of Local Radio” presentation with Cheryl Locagnero, Senior VP of Advertising Sales, Pandora and
    Brian Mikalis, VP of Performance Sales, Pandora. We rarely talk about music and radio at the Kelsey conference. I think we could learn a thing or two from these guys…
  • The presentation from Matt Idema, VP, Yahoo! Local. Are they still a player in local? I think they still are but they need to tell their story to the industry. This will be a good opportunity.
  • The presentation from Jim Sampey, COO, Cox Target Media. I just want to know his thoughts about group buying and what’s their strategy and execution plan there.
  • The “Checking In on Location-Based Services” presentation with Andy Ellwood, Director of Business Development, Gowalla and Gillian Heltai, Director, comScore. Are location-based services a business or just a feature?

Thursday, Dec. 9

  • The keynote address from Steven Johnson, I’ve heard him speak two or three times already and he’s always sharing leading-edge insights. Definitely looking forward that presentation.
  • The “Facebook Spotlight: Working With Facebook ” session. Facebook is now a must in “local”. It will be interesting to hear where they are in terms of strategy, how they integrate places, check-ins, deals, etc. in a cohesive way.
  • The “local sales” panel with Court Cunningham, CEO, Yodle, Todd Rowe, Head of Global Channel Sales, Google and Geoff Stevens, Executive VP and GM, Global Business Development, WebVisible. Local sales is hard. Curious to hear about their success and discuss retention rates as well.

On Monday December 6, I’ll also try to attend Mobile Monday Silicon Valley to hear about “2010 Year in Mobile Review and 2011 Predictions”

If you’d like to connect while I’m in California, send me an e-mail at seb AT needium.com

Facebook Places Will Be Huge: Capturing Stories About Places

Yesterday night, Facebook finally announced their local/geolocation play: Facebook Places. It’s fairly straightforward. The main idea is that you’ll now be able to tag yourself and check-in/mention/review places when doing a status update in Facebook. Each place will have a page on Facebook with basic listing information coming from data provider Localeze (we use them at Praized Media as well). Depending on your privacy settings (set at “friends only” by default), structured status updates that mention specifically a place will appear on place pages. On place pages, you’ll be able to see if your friends are there or have been to the place in the past. You’ll also other “public” status updates (when Facebook users have chosen to broadcast that information to the world). This video shows you in details how Facebook Places works. Facebook Places is available for US locations to start, with other countries coming soon. It can be accessed on the Facebook iPhone app and at touch.facebook.com.

update: Business Insider has a “how to use Facebook Places

Merchants

Facebook has no plan to monetize Facebook Places in the short term but merchants can claim their listing. I suspect claiming a place transforms it into a local Facebook fan page. It wasn’t clear if we can we link/merge Facebook Places to existing Facebook Pages. Techcrunch has a piece about how Facebook is promoting the new place pages to advertisers.

API

Facebook is also launching an API for Facebook Places. The read API is supposed to be available today. They’re also a Write and Search API in closed beta. As Jerome Paradis told me yesterday on Twitter, Facebook Places (through its API) is probably going to become the gold standard for local check-ins. CNET calls it “one check-in to rule them all”

Launch partners

Other than Localeze as US data partner, Facebook is also partnering with Gowalla, Foursquare, Booyah and Yelp at launch. Consumers checking-in using one of these four applications will be able to broadcast their structured local information in Facebook as well (and it will appear on the Facebook place pages as well).


Goal/vision

Facebook product managers say they have three goals for Facebook Places:

  1. Share your location
  2. See who in your network of friends is around you
  3. Discover new places.

The long term vision was explained as follow by Facebook representatives: “there are three places that matter: 1) Home, 2) Work, 3) The Third Place. The Third Place, a term coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, is the places we go, and share lives”.  With Facebook Places, you can now “create stories around places” via local status updates. “Stories are now going to be pinned to physical locations”, the vision is to create a repository of human memories around “places”.

Privacy concerns

Facebook has obviously learned from last December’s debacle when they got Twitter envy and reseted everyone’s privacy settings to public creating a huge fury. For Facebook Places, they default the check-ins to “friends only”, which means only your friends will see your “local” status updates containing a tagged place. Even before trying the service, many people on Facebook and Twitter seem to be freaked out by it (and if you are, you can opt out here by changing the setting on “places I check in”). As I wrote on Twitter this morning, we should try Facebook Places first before we all go crazy. Keep calm, breathe normally… 🙂

For those interested in learning more, you can probably still watch the archived press conference. The Altimeter Group has a good analysis.

What it means: I believe this launch is huge for geolocation/local media space. It has come of age. Four years ago, when I launched this blog to talk about the intersection of local and social, many people didn’t see how these two topics could connect. I think everyone now understands the power of social when mixed with local. Facebook is the place where you aggregate/maintain your core social graph, your friends and colleagues. By introducing a way to easily structure status updates around local places, Facebook becomes the default local conversation engine for local places. I stated yesterday on Twitter that, “with the FB Places launch, we can officially say it: merchant/place reviews are dead. Status updates are the new merchant reviews.” I explained my rationale to Mike Blumenthal this morning:

  • Status updates (or tweets) are easy to do.
  • Many people have stopped blogging because doing short-form messages is so much “easier”, less time-consuming, than a big blog post.
  • I think the same thing will happen to long-form merchant reviews. It’s going to become so much easier to do a quick status update review using Facebook places (and those will accumulate on the Facebook Place page) that a lot of people will migrate from doing reviews on Yelp (or IYPs for that matter) to do them
  • I added that, for me, Facebook Places is not about “check-ins”. It’s about signaling socially your location. It’s about structuring a conversation about a
    local place and anchoring it to the right place.

Facebook Places will change the space forever.