back to article HP Labs ponders grabbing attention in the age of social computing

Beware social network denizens, you are being watched and your wallets measured. The vast sea of information available on the internet is no doubt useful, but is it fruitful? HP Labs is hard at work figuring how to harvest the collective intelligence of groups arising from "web 2.0" and turn it into a profit. Bernardo …


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  1. Martin Lyne

    Who ever said..

    ..that "Web 2.0" could make any money?

    People like talking to each other, especially when it's free. That's about the extent of it. Ruining it with adverts messes it up for everyone. Just as if you start to amke something appealing by paying someone to write fake comments recommending a product. Bam. Instantly nobody trusts them and they are worthless (apart from the bad ones which could confirm a worry, unless rivals start to post fake bad recommendations against each other. Then back to good old mistrust)

    Can we all just step away from this? I really don't want to have to break it to more people that "No, social networking can't really help you.. but I'll make it do that if you really want"

    Unles of course you run a popular Networkinets website, then.. well it's probably time to bail out while you're on top.

  2. Rob

    Social Immune System?

    " As people become increasingly resistant to traditional forms of marketing, viral advertisements and recommendations are being used more often as an alternative strategy. "

    I liked this sentence, implying that advertising/marketing on the whole is a virus for humanity, and as society creates the antibodies (ie. achieving a passable level of consciousness) the virus-peddlars have to create new and dynamic ways to ensnare us with their infectious bilge.

    Is the term 'viral advertising' just a coincidence? Is it!?

    I think I had a more prominent over-arching point to all of this, but I have to sprint out and buy... anything.

  3. Jonathan McCulloch

    Web 2.0, making money and social immune systems


    I suspect you have this all wrong. I'm a marketing fellow, albeit less conventional than most, and I know something about the subject.

    First, Web 2.0: people are making money out of Web 2.0 and social websites, but it's much less obvious than the examples you're seeking, perhaps. There are reasons I think most of their business models suck the big one, but that's another story.

    The reason most advertising on social network sites (probably) flops has nothing to do with the sites or the concept and everything to do with the fuckwits in charge of running the ads. Look in your local Yellow Pages and you'll see literally thousands of flopping ads (because they all look the same and talk in terms of services rather than what it does for the buyer).

    A counter-example: the Snorg-Tee ads on FaceBook. Exceptionally well targeted and, I suspect, very effective.

    Advertising and marketing as a virus. Maybe. Like Dawkins's memes, perhaps. But advertising and marketing is much maligned and usually by people who really don't know what they're talking about.

    The substance of marketing is the same everywhere: emotional connection. Science has pretty much proven what we marketers have known empirically for a long time: we decide emotionally and justify after the fact with logic. It works the same in all industries.

    People aren't so much resistant to the form of marketing as they are unseeing of the message because a winning formula is mercilessly copied and done to death. Do your research and you'll see the marketing doing best is nothing more than recycled strategies and techniques from 1937 or so. There IS nothing new, not really, and there are reasons for that.

    Please don't pretend your IT businesses are any different, because they're not. To stroke the emotions of an IT geek is an easier job than you might think (I was one once). You might laugh and pretend superiority over Paris and her, um, "high society" foibles, but the same emotions are at work in YOU when you get all hard and sweaty over the 500TB drive with automatic scrotal-massage you can slip into your pocket.

    Same emotions... different triggers is all.

    The reason it's all the same is the emotional connection, and that's buried in the limbic system and we share it with all the mammals.

    You can believe me or not, but I actually study this stuff (because it's my business) rather than assume a position of snobbish superiority.

    -- Jon

  4. Goat Jam
    Paris Hilton

    I've always found that

    "don't look here" worked pretty well for grabbing a persons interest.

    Paris, because she is always saying "don't look here" too

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    i agree with you, although it has a lot to do with targeted advertising.

    It is quite interesting to see the same people who moan about having their personal information used to put them in a demographic, then complaining about ads that don't sell them anything they want.

    Although intrusive flash ads tend to have people reaching for noscript regardless...

  6. Mike Crawshaw
    Black Helicopters

    @ Jon

    Maybe... maybe not. I think it does vary depending upon the person in question.

    Personally, I hate advertising on principle. On the odd occasions I watch TV, I go for a piss / refill my glass / go play with the dog (NOT A EUPHENISM, PEOPLE!!!) when the ads come on. I run AdBlock Plus and NoScript. I skip adverts in newspapers / magazines. Any e-mail advert gets deleted (are you listening, Dell?).

    Why do I do this? Because I don't want to spend my time being told how wonderful Product X is, especially when Products Y & Z are telling me exactly the same. Advertising IS all the same, and every product is selling the same "message". e.g. EVERY washing powder is telling us how great it is - so there's no actual difference in the message, regardless of the product. So what's the point in paying any attention to these messages?

    I also have a complete lack of interest in "new & shiny". I ran a Nokia 6111 into the ground, and replaced it with a new 2670 for the princely sum of £10.89 (pre-pay) when it died - neither of these, at time of purchase, can remotely be described as "new & shiny" products. I played Guitar Hero 3 at a friend's and loved it, but I would not, EVER, spend £70 on a game (current Wii price), no matter how good it is - I have better things to spend my cash on - mainly CDs, DVDs and books (most of which are not "mainstream", BTW, and thus tend not to be advertised much, if at all).

    If I want something, I will research it myself, and make decisions based on things other than advertising. Advertising has turned me away from some products, because I find them so damned annoying - when I was looking for a change of banks, I wouldn't even consider the Halifax, for example, because I find their singing adverts that murder songs painful.

    Be it in the "limbic system" or not, if you advertise it, they will not necessarily come. And if they want to steal my personal data to target that advertising at me, I guarantee that I will lock the doors and stay at home...

  7. Jonathan McCulloch

    @ MIke

    I have people say this to me all the time, and I believe you and they are telling the truth as you see it. And you may well be right. For me to argue would be pointless because it's an unfalsifiable hypothesis and so invalid.

    However, I'd be surprised if you or anyone else save a genuine psychopath is immune from all advertising and marketing. You'll see why in a moment.

    But let's say you're right. It doesn't make any difference.

    Here are some observations:

    1. Most of the advertising you describe is shit. I'm not surprised it turns you off. It turns most people off -- and it doesn't work. A "good" ad is one making the advertiser money. The ads you see on the box and in the paper, etc. are usually put together by Brylcreemed BMW drivers with red braces and over-large expense accounts. They know very little about marketing at all.

    2. You say you'd research the stuff you want to buy. Good. Thing is, Mike, good marketers provide just the information you're looking for. Good marketers rarely try and sell anyrthing. I don't, for example. I offer information and service and when people are ready to buy... I'm the guy they think of. A savvy firm selling computers will stop worrying about the event of selling computers and start concentrating on the process of building relationships with their ideal clients. I define marketing as anything anyone perceives about your business. In the case where Mike is doing research, marketing to Mike means providing quality information and making it easily and obviously available. It means serving Mike without expectation of making a sale, but rather of giving him the means to make his own mind up. Are you really telling me you'd be immune to this kind of "wow" treatment if a firm truly bent over backwards to make your research easy?

    3. Advertising/marketing is a numbers game. A good mail to a responsive list will typically pull between 5% and 10% response. A cold list, maybe 1%. A really HOT list, 60%, 70% and more (my personal best is 56% on a £6,000 item). But this still means in the main 90% of people or more DON'T buy. People like you, Mike. But -- here's the thing -- we don't care about you. I'm not being rude here, just realistic. As a marketer, the only people whose opinions count are the ones giving me money. Why would I care about anyone not interested in what I have to sell?

    As I said: most commentary about marketing on forums like this (and slashdot) is made by people who really don't know what they're talking about.

    I don't mean that to be insulting, and I'm not directing it at you specifically. It's just the way things are.

    -- Jon

  8. Jonathan McCulloch


    "Although intrusive flash ads tend to have people reaching for noscript regardless..."

    Yes. And I'm one of them. I do the same with pop-ups, too.

    However, the irritating truth is pop-ups DO increase sign-up for things like newsletters and ezines. I have no idea how well Flash ads works, but if they don't work it's not the tech: it's the targeting.

    Personally I don't use them because I'm not a fan of the "quick win" or indeed one of the Success Peddlers selling you a $97 ebook promising to give you the secrets to Life, the Universe and Everything so you can make a gazillion quid and retire to the Caribbean and sip pina-colada by the pool while some infeasibly large-breasted totty rubs her tits in your face.

    Tangentially, it's interesting to see how a lot of these people are really suffering in the downturn because their businesses were built on throughput and turnover rather than relationship equity.

    -- Jon

  9. Mike Crawshaw

    @ Jon

    No offence taken. Because you're working in marketing, and having a grown-up conversation on the topic, rather than what we normally see from the industry, it makes a nice change.

    I accept that marketers "don't care about me" - I get that, and I'm quite happy with the concept! The less people are trying to sell me stuff, the happier I am. I know I am the exception, in not being very materialistic, and not having the "new & shiny" syndrome, from the majority of Western Europeans and North Americans. Only my ex-girlfriends and some sparring partners would describe me as "psychopathic"....

    Regards your comments on "research" though - I don't do mine through "official" channels, such as the companies involved. Any company can make a great website and give me all the information I could possibly want, and more. I generally go for things like independent reviewers, both of the company and the product. An example would be when my phone conked completely last week (8 days out of warranty. Figures.) - I had a choice between 2 models of replacement, both Nokia. I didn't do my research to decide between them at and Carphone Warehouse.... I was looking through independent review sites, and forums where people ask for assistance with problems. One model came up with quite a few issues, the other with very few. I chose the one with few problems, as in this case, reliability is more important than bells & whistles. Nokia has no impact on this research, aside from making the product I chose reliable. This approach is becoming more common, thanks to the internet, and more people are basing purchase decisions on information not controlled by the sellers of the goods concerned.

    If making a good product is marketing - I'm all for that type!

    (PS You mean those $97 ebooks don't work? Dammit!!!!!)

  10. P. Kelsay

    @Jon and Mike

    What a refreshing conversation. Glad to hear that someone in marketing agrees that most advertisements are awful. I was wondering this morning what sort of marketing brain came up with a billboard for a Honda SUV where the largest word on the sign was "bloated"... Mmm, enticing!

  11. Jonathan McCulloch
    Paris Hilton


    New and shiny: I'd be amazed if you didn't have some niche quirk you'll pay anything to indulge. Most of us has. Mine is books. I am the world's easiest person to sell a book to and I rarely care how much I pay.

    Yet anyone trying to sell me, say, a home homeopathy kit won't have a chance (because it's bullshit).

    My point here is anyone trying to sell anyone anything they're not predisposed to buying is wasting time and money. Unfortunately, most of the marketing you see (and hate) is trying to sell arbitrary shit to everyone. Try to be all things to all men, and you end up being nuffink to no one.

    I bet a well-crafted ad for something akin to Douglas Adams's dark glasses which would prevent you seeing any advert anywhere would catch your attention, right?

    Doing your background research is good, and you're wise to be sceptical of "official" channels -- which is why creating a good product is indeed good marketing. In my own business, the only marketing I do is delighting my clients and informing my target audience (with a newsletter and a monthly column in a local rag). That's it.

    Then, because I do a great job, I get referred to others all the time.

    And those $97 ebooks... well... all the others don't but I've discovered the insider to an overnight Internet fortune... on AUTOPILOT!

    It's here:

    Interestingly I wrote an 80+page ebook myself pointing out why these ebooks don't work but seem to ("survivor fallacy", etc).

    Paris because she's been about a bit and probably has more testimonials and referrals than I have.

    -- Jon

  12. Jonathan McCulloch
    Paris Hilton

    @P. Kelsay

    "I was wondering this morning what sort of marketing brain came up with a billboard for a Honda SUV where the largest word on the sign was 'bloated'.."

    Probably someone from a big agency droid with a big car, small cock and no clue. If you look into this, you'll see the incestuous procession of big companies doing the rounds of big agencies, impotently dumping their financial loads into the coffers of one before moving on to the next (hence Paris)

    The ads produced in the process delight the bigwigs (because the agencies pander to their egos), win loads of awards... but rarely make much money.

    Account execs suspect the truth but can never be sure because the ads can't be tracked and tested like they should be (one reason I NEVER work with big companies and don't even work with small ones where I'm not talking immediately with the owner or the guy who makes the decisions -- and I'm in that relationship as the EXPERT not the hired help. Several times before now I've given clients their money back in the middle of a project because they won't do as I tell 'em).

    If you want to see some great advertising, look in the inflight magazines (Ryanair has some great ones in the stapled-in thing at the moment, and the one from Continental when I flew to North Carolina in May was outstanding).

    Also, look at the classifieds in the Mail on Sunday. Some great small ads in their (they're good by definition because they're making money).

    Sorry... you've got me started now.

    -- Jon

    P.S. I meant "And those $97 ebooks... well... all the others don't but I've discovered the insider SECRETS to an overnight Internet fortune... on AUTOPILOT!

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