Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My new favorite cooking website

I heart and I have for awhile now. The interface is great, allowing users to easily change proportions, print out recipe cards in a variety of sizes, and generally customize the experience as needed.

But today I discovered, and well, wow. This site is cool. It allows you to search for recipes based on your cravings. So, for example, you can search by ingredient, dish, cusine or even mood.

A search for "yogurt" and "soulful" returned a recipe for White Gazpacho with Mint & Apple. A search for "uplifting" "Mexican" "chocolate" returned a recipe for a Flourless Chocolate Flour-Basil Torte.

It's by no means perfect, but as the data base grows based on user input, it can only get better. Plus the concept is great. It's metadata put to good use!

Show me the money

Here's what I want to know: when will organizations take the Internet seriously? Study after study shows its growing influence, yet budgets still remain in TV and print. Here's the latest:

Maybe as Marshall McLuhan says, it's just easier to live in the past than on the cutting edge. Too bad, since the opportunity is so great.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tech Talk @ Google

At Google Seattle tomorrow:

Web Archives & Interfaces for Social Studies of Online Action

About the Topic:
Capturing Web-based phenomena for retrospective and developmental analyses is a challenging necessity for social researchers interested in understanding online action. Choices at each step in the process of creating Web archives and archive interfaces reflect particular forms of knowledge, and shape the kinds of analyses that will be possible for archive users. We will compare several different Web archive interfaces, exploring how each shapes analysis paths that enable and constrain the lines of inquiry that can be pursued and the kinds of knowledge produced.

About the Speaker:
Kirsten Foot, Associate Professor of Communication, UW
Kirsten Foot earned her PhD in Communication at UC San Diego, and is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Washington in the areas of communication technologies & society and international communication. Her research interests include the reciprocal relationship between information/communication technologies and knowledge production. As one of the directors of the research group, she develops new tool and techniques for studying social and political action on the Web. She is the coauthor of Web Campaigning (MIT Press, 2006), coeditor of The Internet and National Elections (Routledge, 2007), and coproducer of several Web archives. She is an editor for the Acting With Technology book series at MIT Press, and an organizer for the Digital Media Working Group network at UW.

I'll be there, looks fascinating! More info.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ratings & Reviews | A baseline for retail

Ratings and reviews aren't always seen as "social media," possibly because they're not as exciting as social networks or as en vogue as blogs. But they're an often overlooked social application--but I would suggest one that should be a baseline for any retail website.

Today, eMarketer published an article with studies that suggest ratings and reviews are essential to online shoppers. Not only are they the most desired of Web functions, but they are highly valued. Here are two charts that illustrate this:

If they are so useful, why aren't more websites integrating them into the user experience? My guess is that most companies are afraid of them. "What if someone says something bad?" is the most common question I am asked by my clients.

I tell them two things. First, it's ok if someone says something bad. It provides you with a chance to listen to them (like a free focus group!). But also, one bad interview does not necessarily turn a potential customer away. I fact, research I have conducted has shown that users want the good and the bad--they tell me they are smart enough to evaluate each response and to make up their own mind.

Second, a bad review is an opportunity for the next user to counter. Not only does it happens, but this type of advocacy is invaluable. You can't pay your best PR people for it.

I'd really like to see more retailers experiment with ratings and reviews. Your customers want them. Shouldn't you give it a try?

Monday, February 11, 2008

The caucuses as social media

I attended the Washington State caucuses on Saturday and was reminded once again where this concept we call social media comes from.

I walked over to Lowell Elementary school with my husband where we joined our fellow neighbors. The place was packed. Once we all got settled by precinct, everyone stated their candidate preference. The count, before debate, was 59 for Obama, 17 for Clinton (including myself) and 14 undecided. That meant that Obama would get four delegates, Clinton would get one and the undecided group would get one.

Then we talked, trying to convince each other in an effort to win over delegates. Having the big mouth that I do, I of course had to speak up on behalf of Clinton. But many people from all sides shared. When we recounted, many from the undecided group moved to the Clinton camp, which meant Clinton got one more delegate, for a total of two.

It was a fascinating process, and it reminded me how each of us can make a change just by speaking up.

And that's exactly how social media works. Like or don't like a candidate, a service, a product? Say something on Epinions or Amazon or another site. Wondering why a story has been dropped from the mainstream media? Blog about it. The Internet is the great equalizer, it's a democratic check-point if you will. And no matter how much big business is trying to take it over, the voice of the average guy or gal--that's you and me--is not only heard but often considered more credible that the voice of big business or mass media.

And isn't that how democracy is supposed to work?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Google's Social Graph API

Last week Google released their Social Graph API, which, if implemented on a site would essentially allow a user on a new social network to more easily connect with existing friends. It basically attempts to solve the problem of slow growth for a user who would otherwise have to individually seek out friends and recreate their friends list every time they joined a new network. We've all been there.

2008 does indeed seem to be the year of the user, with the DataPortability movement taking hold and OpenID (and similar applications) being adopted by large web properties. Google's API is just another piece of the user-centric pie, and one that moves us a little further toward the "web as platform" promise.

What I have found interesting in the last week is that there are two camps forming around this API. On the one hand, you have proponents such as Tim O'Reilly and on the other hand, you have folks such as danah boyd concerned about privacy and exposure. I greatly respect these folks and I understand the concerns, but I am also surprised by the trepidation.

As with any new technology, this API can certainly be used for good or for evil. And as with any user-centric experience, the user should be able to opt out. But all in all, this API empowers data--and it empowers data that exists publicly. We are not victims here. If we have participated online or connected with others, there are consequences to this (I personally giggle a little when I look at my Usenet entries a la 1995, now archived by Google). But that information was put out there by me. I have the choice of what to expose, unlike cookies which just track my behavior.

I'd like to see us give this API a chance. I get the fears and concerns, but it's nothing we haven't tackled before. If this is a user's web, then let's empower the users and have faith that they will win out in the end.