February 2010 Archives

Robin Wauters:

wo law firms, Beck & Lee from Miami and The Weston Firm in San Diego, have filed a class action lawsuitin Los Angeles federal court alleging unfair business practices by local business review and rating website operator Yelp.

The plaintiff in the suit, a veterinary hospital in Long Beach, CA, is said to have requested that Yelp remove a negative review from the website, which was allegedly refused by the San Francisco startup, after which its sales representatives repeatedly contacted the hospital demanding payments of roughly $300 per month in exchange for hiding or deleting the review.

Sounds familiar, you say?

You may be thinking of last year, when East Bay Express ran an explosive story, basically accusing Yelp of being in the 'Business of Extortion 2.0′, which covered similar ground. Shortly after reporter Kathleen Richards published the article, Yelp vehemently denied everything and called her piece inaccurate.

Tom Foremski:

Social media is great at promoting social media experts but useless at promoting actual products and companies.

I hardly see any product or company discussions in my Twitter or Facebook streams. I see occasional gripes about airlines, cable TV service, and sometimes I'm asked to become a "fan" of a company on Facebook. But that's about it.

The fact that airlines lose luggage, are late, are rude, is not new, it's par for the course. Same for cable TV companies. Social media does nothing to improve airline service or inform me much about things I didn't already know about a product or company. As for joining a corporate Facebook fan page, one click is about the extent of that engagement.

Yet social media is great at promoting social media experts who say that they advise corporations on their social media strategies. Or maybe social media is not good at promoting social media experts because I don't see the results of their work.

Gary Reback:

Antitrust lawyer and Open Book Alliance leader Gary Reback has been called the "antitrust champion" and the "protector of the marketplace" by the National Law Journal, and has been at the forefront of many of the most important antitrust cases of the last three decades. He is one of the most vocal opponents of the Google Books settlement. I interviewed Reback a few months ago, and Google Books was one of the topics we discussed. In the column below, Reback discusses Google Books and its ties to Google search.

This Thursday leaders of the international publishing industry will watch with bated breath as a federal judge in New York hears arguments over whether to approve the Google Book Settlement.

More a complicated joint venture among Google and five big New York publishers than the resolution of pending litigation, the proposed settlement once promised unprecedented access to millions of out-of-print books through digital sales to consumers and online research subscriptions for libraries. But with the passage of time and the ability to examine the deal more closely, the promises proved illusory. The big publishers, as it turns out, have reserved the right to negotiate secret deals with Google for the books they claim through the settlement (pdf).

Meanwhile, torrents of outrage rained down on the New York court - from authors whose ownership rights will be appropriated through the settlement's procedures, from librarians fearful of price exploitation by Google, from privacy advocates worried that Google will monitor the reading habits of library patrons, from libertarians incensed over the use of a legal procedure to effect the widespread appropriation of property, from digital booksellers concerned about Google's unfair advantage in the marketplace.


The last six months have confirmed the anonymous executive's worst fears. Once upon a time, Google claimed it employed neutral, mathematically-based algorithms to prioritize search in ad listings. But last November Google admitted to the Washington Post that only search results from Google's content competitors are listed according to neutral algorithms. Search results from Google's own properties, like maps, news and books, are now listed first, the algorithm notwithstanding. Even more recently Google admitted that it changes the rank ordering of paid search ads to prioritize its own company messages.

Organizations relying on SEO (Search optimization strategies must consider this environment when determining how much, if any, to spend on such schemes.

Is Pepsi a Social Conductor?

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Jay Deragon:

A social conductor is an individual or organization that enables people to use their organization to achieve wants, needs and desires. The opposite is a social producer who uses people to create direct benefits to their organization.
Pepsi Initiates the "Conductor" Model
Time Magazine states: To Pepsi, and to companies around the world, the days when mass-market media is the sole vehicle to reach an audience are officially over. Instead of pouring millions of dollars into a Super Bowl commercial, Pepsi has started a social-media campaign to promote its "Pepsi Refresh" initiative. Pepsi plans to give away $20 million in grant money to fund projects in six categories: health, arts and culture, food and shelter, the planet, neighborhoods and education.

People can go to the Pepsi website refresheverything.com -- which can also be accessed through Facebook and Twitter -- to both submit ideas and vote on others they find appealing. Among those on the site now: "Help free healthcare clinic expand services to uninsured in rural TN" and "Build a fitness center for all students in Hays, Kansas community." Every month, the company will offer up to 32 grants to worthy projects.

"This is such a fundamental change from anything we've done in the past," says Lauren Hobart, chief marketing officer for Pepsi-Cola North America Beverages. "It's a big shift. We explored different launch plans, and the Super Bowl just wasn't the right venue, because we're really trying to spark a full-year movement from the ground up. The plan is to have much more two-way dialogue with our customers."

$20M is a drop in the bucket for Pepsi, which will certainly continue to spend advertising money in the traditional way. Having said that, thinking different for marketing purposes is certainly a great and timely idea.

Brokers and agents have numerous local opportunities to stand out without spending much money.

US mortgage sector braced for end of Fed help

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Michael Mackenzie:

Cold turkey time is rapidly approaching for the US mortgage market as the Federal Reserve gets ready to end its mammoth $1,250bn buying programme at the end of March.

The prospect of such a large buyer moving to the sidelines means that the "artificial market" created by the Fed's hefty purchases - part of a monetary policy strategy aimed at reducing mortgage borrowing costs - should result in more normal mortgage rates, likely to be at a higher level.

The question is, how much higher? There is a great deal of uncertainty among many investors on exactly how to position themselves for the withdrawal of the Fed from the mortgage market. Many want higher rates, as it makes the investments more attractive. Yet the Fed wants to keep mortgage rates low to help home-buyers.

In a survey of some of the 4,000 people attending a securitisation conference this week, 73 per cent of respondents expected spreads on mortgage-backed securities to go "much wider" when the Fed ceases buying mortgage bonds, backed by mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the impact is hard to pin down.

The Future of the City & Technology Trends

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Samuel Palmisano (Chairman of IBM):

A few years ago, the world crossed a threshold. For the first time, more than half the human race is living in cities. By 2050 the figure will rise to 70 percent. We are adding the equivalent of seven New Yorks to the planet every year.

This means the most important locus for 21st-century innovation--technological, economic, and societal--will be our cities. They present the most promising opportunity to make our planet smarter.

Cities bring together the systems by which our world works: education, transportation, public safety, and health care, among others.

We have the capacity to inject new intelligence into those systems. Enormous computational power can be delivered in forms so small and inexpensive that it is being put into phones, cars, and appliances, as well as things we wouldn't recognize as computers, such as roadways (to monitor traffic) or rivers (to monitor pollution and better allocate water use). The data captured by these digital devices--soon to number in the trillions--will be turned to intelligence, because we now have the processing power and advanced analytics to make sense of it all.

Our challenge is to apply this technology to improving the places we live. Consider the applications:

Things we know:
  • Networks, particularly wireless, will be faster and pervasive
  • Mobile technology is exploding, and will be the right tool at the right time for most real estate professionals, see the latest version of our branded iPhone app. It is faster, easier to use and more convenient than most traditional website search and analysis tools.
  • People are flooded with data. Turning that data into useful information - the "value add" and building relationships is the key to broker business growth.
  • Some of the broker concierge services schemes from dot com boom #1 may now actually happen. Our Main Street software includes an extensive set of CRM/customer for life, transaction and concierge tools. One real time system from leads to closings.
  • The key question for all organizations: "what is your value equation?"
Let's discuss the opportunities that lie ahead. Contact Virtual Properties +1 608 271 9601 or zellmer at virtualproperties.com

Tom Foremski:

We share a common belief that trust is an important currency in today's world especially in the digital realm.

Trust, we are taught, is hard won. It takes a long time to establish trust yet it can be destroyed in minutes.

But is that really true?

I've been looking at the Edelman Trust Barometer reports and it shows that trust in businesses, in media both social and traditional, in NGOs, in governments, jumps up and down by large margins from year to year.

I've been particularly interested in trust in social and traditional media. In the latest report, trust in peers, which represents social media, plunged by 20 points from 47 percent of those surveyed in the prior year, to 27 percent. Trust in other forms of media also fell by large margins.

Fascinating, though not really surprising given the amount of social media "spam" circulating around the internet. Useful, timely content and commentary will always add value. Spam clearly detracts.

Details here: 3MB Edelman PDF, website.

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