If I were a Venture Capitalist…

…I wouldn’t be investing in social media. Or location-aware services. Or game-enabled, location-aware, social media mashups. Instead, I’d go for augmented reality.

That, at least, is my takeaway after attending last night’s New York Tech Meetup. Certainly there were plenty of cool demos – parse.ly and Hangalong stood out in particular as interesting concepts filling an interesting niche – but I didn’t really want to consume any of them as a standalone platform. At a certain point it just becomes another set of friends to manage, another list of preferences to train, another batch of data to import, another platform to evangelize in my social group, and it all makes the process of socializing and sharing more complex, not less.

It’s not that I don’t want a better way to find online content that might interest me – heaven only knows my Google Reader is clogged beyond belief and my Facebook feed is more colorful than useful – or find a better way to make plans with a nebulous group of friends on a Friday night. I just want these to be features of my existing social tools, not their own islands, no matter how API’d and Facebook Connected/@anywhered. At this point, I think it would take an upstart with the ambitious vision of a Google to hope to upend the social landscape.

By contrast, the value proposition of something like Docrew – a game for kids played though a computer’s webcam – doesn’t depend on momentum, integration, or lengthy engagements. You simply open it up, and it’s immediately cool. I’d pay for it, even though I’m far from the target audience (five year olds).

And as a side note, precisely one demo inspired an immediate download. Cabsense is just plain useful.

Who’s Got Your Back?

From the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

The authors propose that gender differences in negotiations reflect women’s contextually contingent impression management strategies. They argue that the same behavior, bargaining assertively, is construed as congruent with female gender roles in some contexts yet incongruent in other contexts. Further, women take this contextual variation into account, adjusting their bargaining behavior to manage social impressions. A particularly important contextual variable is advocacy—whether bargaining on one’s own behalf versus on another’s behalf. In self-advocacy contexts, women anticipate that assertiveness will evoke incongruity evaluations, negative attributions, and subsequent “backlash”; hence, women hedge their assertiveness, using fewer competing tactics and obtaining lower outcomes. However, in other-advocacy contexts, women achieve better outcomes as they do not expect incongruity evaluations or engage in hedging. In a controlled laboratory experiment, the authors found that gender interacts with advocacy context in this way to determine negotiation style and outcomes. Additionally, process measures of anticipated attributions and backlash statistically mediated this interaction effect.


Or to summarize, women are more assertive when sticking up for someone else than when sticking up for themselves, probably because they’re less likely to be viewed as disagreeable, unwomanly, abrasive, or “bitchy” when doing so.

Leave aside for a minute the entire debate on why this should be so, whether it can be changed, and if the world would be better off if women started acting more like men (or men started acting more like women). This research actually points to a rather nifty and relatively simple way a forward-looking company could reduce the role that differences in negotiating styles may play in the gender pay gap.

At the annual review, instead of negotiating themselves for a raise, each worker would instead select a trusted coworker to go in and negotiate on their behalf. They’d then return the favor for their coworker. If the research above is accurate, under those circumstances we’d expect mens’ and womens’ negotiating styles to converge.

And for workers who can’t find one colleague willing to speak passionately about the value of their contribution to the company? It seems to me this also creates a good way to identify who within an organization simply isn’t worth keeping around.

(Yes, I realize there could be principal agent and Prisoner’s Dilemma issues if employees believe that the overall pool of money devoted to employee compensation is fixed, such that more for others means less for them. However, this isn’t an issue if the salient factor is how much surplus value created is captured by employees versus management and/or shareholders. Feel free to discuss in the comments.)

Amazon and Macmillan: It’s the Brand that Matters

More interesting and thoughtful discussions on the Amazon/Macmillan dispute I tweeted Saturday are here (start with this and go backwards) and here.

It seems at least that there’s a strong case to be made that Amazon is arguing that since ebooks cost (at least a bit) less to manufacture than physical books, consumers should pay less for them. By contrast Macmillan is proposing a scheme that would lead publishers keeping most of the surplus, with perhaps a bit for retailers. That said, I think Amazon is still going to emerge the popular loser from this gambit.

The reason is brand. If Amazon isn’t selling the book I want to buy, it’s violating a core tenet of its brand promise to me, to be my one stop for my media (and increasingly everything) purchases. I, loyal user, am now going to think twice before investing in something like Amazon Prime or the Kindle that locks me into buying from Amazon.

Macmillan’s brand, by contrast, basically doesn’t exist, so there’s no asset to take a hit. Think I’m being harsh? When was the last time you bought a book because of who published it? Can you name five Macmillan authors off the top of your head? Can you name one? The brands that matter are those of the individual Macmillan authors, and they’re pretty much blaming Amazon for disrupting their revenue stream.

Bottom line: even if Amazon is fighting for something people want (cheaper books) there’s no way this move ends up enhancing their brand.

(And just before I hit publish, I see that Amazon conceded this round. I suspect this was their strategy all along, and I still think it was a poor decision. But maybe later this week I’ll explain why I think poor branding is part of what got publishing in trouble in the first place.)

(Way) More than Software as a Service

Is software as a service just the start for new service-based business models? A recent Boston Globe points to the “servicization” of just about everything.

As someone who’s already bought into cars as a service (Zipcar), movies as a service (Netflix), books as a service (Paperback Swap) and dresses as a service (Rent the Runway), I say bring it on.

But, if companies are going to thrive in a service economy, it’s absolutely critical that branding move beyond the marketing department and into the organization as a whole. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that only 3 of the top 25 global brands on Interbrand’s Best Global Brand list for 2009 are primarily services organizations. To put it bluntly, as a services organization, a every customer interaction that doesn’t deliver on your brand value, destroys the brand capital you’ve built with that customer – and maybe many more.

That’s where someone like a Chief Brand Officer becomes critical to ensure that your brand lives and breathes long beyond the customer acquisition process.

Are Apple Tablet Rumors Completely Missing the Real Story?

Most of the frenzied speculation around the presumed Apple tablet presumably to be introduced this week has focused on its potential effects on book, magazine and newspaper publishers. But much less is being said about how the tablet could change the landscape for mobile operators.

Put simply, it’s hard to see Apple’s tablet making much sense without a 3G or even 4G data capability. Syncing your iPod with your music library may have worked in 2007, but by 2010, who’s going to pay hundreds of dollars for another device unless it can be used to find, purchase and download content on the go? Would you want to manually load your newspaper onto your tablet every morning? Or would you expect it to arrive automatically, article placement tailored to you interests, every morning, no matter where you were?

In fact, Apple’s decision to build a tablet in the first place only makes sense in light of the degree that the iPhone has already tied its fortunes to MNOs. The tablet would be the device that would make the case for 4G, WiMax and other mobile broadband investments. Again, books and newspapers are nice, but how much would the audience for the tablet grow it it could stream high-definition video on demand?

The winners in this model aren’t publishers – they’re Apple, who increasingly captures a share of the profits of the book, magazine, newspaper, video, and even gaming markets, above and beyond their existing position in the music industry, and mobile operators, who are now potentially selling two data plans to customers, AND building out an infrastructure that could position them to supplant ISPs as the primary supplier of data connectivity to homes, just as they’ve supplanted fixed-line operators as the primary suppliers of voice services.

My New Year’s Resolution: Give these 3 Words a Break

Some words become catchwords legitimately – like “green.” Yes, people misuse it, but it’s the shortest way to refer to a whole set of concepts – renewable, sustainable, energy efficient, organic – that have suddenly moved to the center of the conversation.

Other words bluff their way into catchword status simply because we don’t quite trust the plain English counterparts they usurp. My goal for 2010 is to kick the habit for my personal three most overused of these faux catchwords. Below, the offenders:

What I really mean to say: use
Why I don’t just say this: Three letters? And three such common ones at that? It just seems so…everyday
What I’m going to do instead: Skip the “use x to” part of the phrase – it’s implied. Instead, get straight to the results.
Exception to the ban: When discussing debt ratios

What I really mean to say: easy
Why I don’t just say this: It sounds like it belongs on an infomercial
What I’m going to do instead: Describe the process to demonstrate its easiness, instead of just asserting it.
Exception to the ban: In reference to tights and camisoles

What I really mean to say: thing, it, product, GigaDoodle 3000, etc.
Why I don’t just say this: I did, already. Three times in two paragraphs.
What I’m going to do instead: Write less about the product. Write more about the customer.
Exception to the ban: If there’s a problem no further than one paragraph away