Debunking the Long Tail: Separating Reality from Wishful Thinking

LongtailFor years, we've believed that the Internet would allow obscure films like The Peanut Butter Solution to find their audience, no matter where the fans lived or what language they spoke.

It's been the inspiration for countless Internet companies.

But what if we've been looking at it the wrong way?

Erick Schonfeld over at TechCrunch writes an interesting review of a Harvard Business School article whose basic premise is that just because the Internet makes it possible to offer more goods does not mean that consumers will start buying in significant numbers.

Erick dissects the HBR article and argues that while demand is being pushed down the tail, simply aggregating non-blockbuster items is no guarantee of success. (If you haven't already, I urge you to read it as well as Long Tail author Chris Anderson's comments before continuing.) Erick acknowledges that the  market has changed, but concludes,

"...but to say there is no money in the Long Tail is nonsense. It is just more finely distributed and harder to find. True, there are not many businesses that have figured out how to collect it. Google is one with AdSense and search ads. Each search ad is insignificant in and of itself, but all of those obscure terms add up to billions of dollars."

What is amazing is that people take the Long Tail as gospel without really considering what it means. As an example, one of the conclusions of the Wikipedia entry for the Long Tail is that it has changed the proverbial "80-20" rule into the "72-28" rule. It doesn't mean that the Long Tail has somehow marginalized blockbusters: instead it describes how much product discovery efficiency has increased.

Likewise, this definition does mean

  • "...Important profits from the long tail will be largely be made (by) those able to aggregate niche products" - Consumers want variety, and a hyperefficient market as Zappos.com proves, retailers are able to make greater margins from less popular products

However, it does not mean:

  • "...Everything is going to be a hit at some time...the next Brit Spears or Kanye is out there in the (Long Tail)...if they can only get 1) monies and 2) traction." - I got two words: Heaven's Gate. They spent $5 million marketing it and it only made $3.4 million in the US. Sometimes, you really can't polish a turd and make people believe it's an apple.

Given some of the recent court rulings won by luxury goods companies like Louis Vuitton against both eBay and Google, it appears the Long Tail is working harder for fraudulent knockoffs than the original couture brands. The New York Times reports that Tiffany & Company argues that 83% of the products sold on eBay are fraudulent. (And I mainstain that the luxury goods companies should get into social networking, if only to publish an API that lets third parties know who is and who isn't an authorized dealer. But I digress.)

So let's consider a couple of other real world experiments.

In the early 90s a major cable company that I worked for ran a pair of trials at the same time: a dozen hit movies scheduled at convenient times, and a much larger library of films that included both hits and films that were popular with smaller groups. The trial using the much larger library had a lot of initial interest, but usage dropped off after a short period of time. On the other hand, the hit movie channel had moderate interest at first but traffic grew over time. Our conclusion was simple: the hits drive the revenue.

That example is 15 years old, and Chris Anderson rightly points out that heavy DVD renters are more likely to venture into the Long Tail. But there is another example that is much more current and possibly much more persuasive.

Early insiders at both AOL and Prodigy tell the same story, at different times: early adopters did a lot of exploration at first, but after time, they would spend more time online at fewer sites. If the Long Tail applied, wouldn't smaller websites be seeing strong growth in both new site launches and recurring traffic? When Techcrunch suggests that people are benefitting from the "billions of dollars" generated by AdSense, and then I read that VC Fred Wilson's popular blog is only making $500 a year, it makes me wonder.

At the same time, the average search query is growing in both number of terms and complexity. Does it mean that people are getting better at finding niche sites? Or does it mean that people are simply getting better at sampling new experiences? I somehow doubt that most people that visit a new site go on to become a frequent visitor at that site, even with the assistance of RSS, social bookmarking and widgets.

The Long Tail is a way to describe how web services and other innovations make it easier to find and buy things. I'm not sure that it helps stores like The Gap find a better way than outlet stores to get rid of unsold inventory, nor does it help a music label improve its ability to find the next hot act. But for people interested in other models that describe how technology influences our relationships with brands, I'd encourage you to explore Dunbar's number. Marketers know there is a limit to how many brands can possibly have top-of-mind awareness; Dunbar's number gives you insights into why McDonalds makes more money by featuring only 8 items or why the average Facebook user only has 164 friends.

Inside Burger King's $190 Burger: It's All About Igniting the Senses

190burgerWhen the cost of gas causes people to rethink their travel priorities, it is up to local businesses to find new ways to tell great stories that compel people to visit.

You don't have to be an upscale New York hotel with a new spin on the TV dinner to play the game. You can be a local Burger King franchise with a $190 burger, as reported by AdAge (registration required).

Determined to show the world that it takes meat quality seriously, this Burger King sandwich is only available Thursdays at a single location. All proceeds go to a local children's charity. So what goes into a $190 burger?

"...(The sandwich is) made from Wagyu beef, topped with white truffles and Pata Negra ham (which owes its nutty flavor to the fact that the pigs are fed on acorns), the burger nestles in a bun spread with organic-white-wine-and-shallot-infused mayonnaise, plus pink Himalayan rock salt, and dusted on top with Iranian saffron. It is served with Cristal champagne onion straws and a garnish of lamb's lettuce."

By all accounts, the meat is good but all the other stuff is great -- the mayonnaise, truffles and Pata Negra are all something special. Customers were especially surprised to find that the saffron's aroma really did put their nose in synch with their taste buds.

Of course, the sandwich is only part of the experience. You have to call in to reserve your spot. Once you arrive, you are ushered through a red velvet rope and up some steps to a private upscale dining room. There is crisp table linen and free-flowing 2003 Tapanappa Cabernet Shiraz from the Whalebone Vineyard in South Australia. And at your table, you're presented with a free limited-edition bottle of Coca-Cola.  And, as Riedel connoisseurs know, the shape of the bottle does affect the taste of the beverage.

People want to go places where they can experience new things. Even though the venue is Burger King, every step of the experience is laden with information that the consumer can take home with them, whether it's trying Pata Negra ham or trying to recreate Cristal champagne onion straws at home (hint: try adding herbs de provance). Companies need to do less so-so stuff and really try to ignite the senses.

Just about any restaurant can re-create this same type of experience. By asking people to reserve a spot in advance, your risk goes down because you only order what you need, and only cook when they arrive. You can bring in locally grown produce (because as Whole Foods knows, everyone wants to know the story behind what they're eating), and instead of a Coke, give them a customized coffee table book that contains fascinating stories about the region and delicious recipes from the locals.

And as for Burger King? So far 30 of the burgers have been sold and there are plans to introduce the $190 burger in Spain and Germany, also for a limited period.

Luxury 2.0 - How eBay Could Have Used OpenSocial To Save $61M

Canthelpyou

A French court on Monday ordered the online auction giant eBay to pay 38.6 million euros, or $61 million, in damages to the French luxury goods company LVMH, owner of the prestigious Louis Vuitton brand. LVMH estimated that 90% of the sales of Louis Vuitton goods on eBay were for fakes.

Fashionphile estimates that eBay was making $3.8 million in fees a year from the Louis Vuitton brand alone (see the Fashionphile analysis), not including other brands owned or managed by LV such as Christian Dior.

eBay's initial defense? It published guides (like this) that would help educate consumers on how to tell authentic Louis Vuitton goods from the knockoffs. That flimsy protection justified countless abuses like one-day auctions of LV goods; continuing to protect eBay sellers who had zero feedback but 50 listings for LVMH products; fake second chance offers; and worse yet, $75 bins for $1000 bags.

After the first cease-and-desist judgment, eBay appeared to clean up. My impression today is that the promise of eBay - "...to provide a global trading platform where practically anyone can trade practically anything" - is going to continue to lose ground so long as they rely on internal automation instead of vendor certification.

This is where I think applications like OpenSocial have tremendous promise. Instead of relying on internal authentication schemes, eBay should ask LVMH and other luxury brands to create and manage their own social networks. In this case, the Louis Vuitton social network would be composed solely of merchants specifically authorized to sell and resell Louis Vuitton goods. Building this network eliminates the argument that it would be "prohibitively expensive" for similar online marketplaces to comply with LVMH's requests...if you can handle simple constructs such as FOAF or OPML an online marketplace can determine if a retailer is legit.

What's In Style? Brows, Strong Bangs ... and Advertising Leverage

Harpers_roadblockLeave it to Kim-Van Dang of hot shop KVD-NYC to identify the hottest trends for 2008. A former beauty director at In Style and Good Housekeeping (who has done just about everything from giving fashion advice to Bill Clinton to going skinny-dipping in Cannes with Pamela Anderson), she looks at the factors that influence how people experience things. In addition to advice on what's hot for 2008, she weighs in on the latest trend in content, which isn't in Techcrunch or PaidContent but instead the latest issue of Harper's Bazaar.

The July issue of Bazaar devotes a whopping 40 editorial pages to four celebrities and models — Gwyneth Paltrow, Elizabeth Hurley, Carolyn Murphy and Hilary Rhoda — who also star in the advertising campaign for Sensuous, a new fragrance from Estée Lauder. It's significant because it significantly blurs the distinction between advertising and editorial. Magazines typically dedicate a page — or even just a blurb — of editorial space to a new perfume.

Dang predicted that other marketers will seek to mimic Bazaar's example, demanding similar editorial attention:

"...Advertisers have something to show now and say, ‘Why am I not getting this treatment?’ In the current economy, I think advertisers have more muscle."

Fact is, cosmetic companies generally treat their product introductions like movie premieres. They hire stars and models who can land magazine covers and other media attention, or sometimes go even further, like creating a joint venture with Sarah Jessica Parker to create the Lovely fragrance. While I don't see videogame placements anytime soon, product placement is going to continue to stretch conventional definitions. I stand by my 2004 prediction that we'll see product placements in places like Second Life.

Paid placement is something I've blogged about here, here and here. If I've got a restaurant and I want to be noticed by a local upscale hotel, senior Yelp reviewer or blogger, I need to pay or comp them.

Yet the public blogosphere likens this quid pro quo to a crime, as seen on my recent conversation on Mashable. For small to medium sized businesses, you cannot wait for the infrequent blog post or twitter about your company. You have a requirement to shape the conversation.

I think there's going to be a collision, soon, between the online purists and the businesses that sell in the real world. (And it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see Bonnie Fuller's hand in this.)

And as for Kim-Van Dang's thoughts? 

  • Brows are the new eyelashes. Brow salons are popping everywhere, as are brow-growing and grooming products.
  • Green is the new brown (replacing purple).
  • Strong bangs are back. Witness model Kate Moss and designer Erin Featherston.
  • It’s all about super-peptides, lasers and injectables in NYC and it’s all about eco-chic facials and elixirs in L.A.
  • Do you love visiting spas? Now you can live at one. Luxury condos with built-in spa facilities and services are the next big thing.
  • Oh, and lots of French stuff: French butters, French cheeses (Vacherin), French perfumes (Jicky, Shalimar, and Rose Barbare), and French teas (Mariage Freres).

(Hey NYC and Company! You need to recruit Kim-Van Dang into your Ask-A-Local program!)

Emerging Sponsorship Categories: Custom Publishing Comes of Age

Custompublishing Bill Chipps over at IEG recently shared the next up-and-coming trend in sponsorship: on-demand book printing.

Figure it out: if you were invited to a golf tournament, you met a ton of celebrities, and had a lot of fun -- how would you feel if you received a surprise in the mail: a hardcover coffee-table style book, filled with great pictures of that event of you and all the people you met? If you're like millions of other Americans that love seeing pictures of themselves, you'd love it!

With vendors ranging from Blurb to Lulu to Amazon's CreateSpace.com, these books typically cost between $20 and $50 per book. Bill indicated these books are useful in three ways:

  • It's an emerging category to pitch for sponsorship.
  • They become tools to create or supplement fulfillment reports and sales materials.
  • They are an excellent activation vehicle for sponsors.

Bill cited the example of Newport Harbor Corp., who last fall began using iPhoto to create custom books for sponsors like the Stop & Shop Supermarket, which sponsors Taste of Rhode Island. While the sponsors were already expecting to see reports describing traffic, the books provided a visual reminder of the event and the sponsors' participation. Interns manage the photography and design elements while the sales team writes copy. They plan on creating books this year for every sponsor paying over $10,000.

The uniqueness of this sponsorship category, combined with the familiarity of such books provides a unique opportunity for forward-thinking marketing organizations. The on-demand part is important: you don't have to have a minimum order; so whether you order 1 or 10,000 the economics are very similar. Some potential opportunities for such custom publishing include

  • Restaurants: combine photos, beloved recipes and historical documents (articles, reviews, awards, etc.) to create unique souvenirs for their most beloved customers, or distribute them to local hotels and concierges in recognition for business.
  • Hotels: celebrate employee-of-the-month programs that emphasize the service standards of the hotel, but include pictures of the employee and co-workers, personal thank-yous from management team, and copies of letters from appreciative guests.
  • Cruise lines: Create a template that includes postcards and mementos from various destinations, include maps and fun facts about destinations. When there is a multi-week cruise, take a lot of pictures of the passengers over the first few days and place them into the template. Email the template to the vendor so when the cruise winds down, passengers receive these books when they disembark.
  • Convention and Visitor Bureaus: Reward conference organizers with multi-year deals with books filled with pictures of their membership having fun. Include lots of pictures featuring local restaurants and other venues. In other words, create an emotional component that reminds them how much fun they have visiting your neighborhood.

Reliving the 70s: The Loews Regency Park Reinvents the TV Dinner

Friedchicken

Talk about history repeating itself.

Salmon Classic TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie are popular on Hulu.com. My friend Sandy went from a straight cut to the Farrah Fawcett wave. Twitter is doing its best to repeat the rapid rise (and unfortunately, the rapid decline as well) of the CB radio craze. And now, the Loews Regency Park in New York City rejuvenates the TV dinner concept: introducing Park Avenue Fried Chicken (above), Wasabi Crusted North Atlantic Wild Salmon (right, top), and the Slow Braised Pot Roast (braised in Pinot Noir, below right).

Jeff Davis over at the wonderful foodie blog Foodfete (go ahead, check it out) appreciates what Chef Andrew Rubin is trying to do...and loves the warm, fuzzy feeling it gives him.

The trays are porcelain, not aluminum or plastic. The fried chicken is free range and the macaroni and cheese is cheddar asiago with a Parmesan crust.

While not designed for a low-fat diet, the good news is that this food may be good for you in other ways. Some research suggests eating certain foods can help reduce stress (and no, this research did not come from Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat).

As Sewell Chan blogs over at the NY Times Citydesk,

"...research out of Cornell University suggests that females tend to prefer snack-related comfort foods (candy and chocolate) while males prefer more meal-related comfort foods (pasta or casseroles). The researchers speculate that the gender differences may relate to upbringing. Men may have been conditioned to prefer hot or labor-intensive meals (conjuring up memories of their mothers taking care of them) while women seek convenient comfort foods (a form of self-indulgence)."

As scientists figure out how changes in brain chemistry make us happy, we also are witnessing people who take a more active interest in understanding how their food is produced. I think it's only going to be a matter of time (months, even) before these two trends collide: maybe not TV dinners from your local farmers' market, but certainly using comforting iconography (the old dairy box the milkman would use to deliver milk to your door, or the brown bag lunch) to market locally grown produce.

Hiring The Best: Research Shows the Value of Sarcasm

Dannymeyer_2Katherine P. Rankin may have simply wanted to research where sarcasm lived in the brain as part of her ongoing research into dementia. Along the way, she may have discovered an insight which may lead hospitality professionals everywhere to rethink their hiring practices.

What she found is that the ability to perceive sarcasm requires a nifty mental trick that lies at the heart of social relations: figuring out what others are thinking.

It turns out that sarcasm lives in the right side of the brain. (It lives in the right hemisphere, along with the ability to appreciate puns and jokes, appreciation for fine food and wine, love of travel, as well as empathy and listening skills.)    

Why is this important?

Let's turn to Danny Meyer, who as I've mentioned before, knows something about customer service -- he's the founder and co-owner of eleven classic New York establishments. All of these venues have outstanding customer service: Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Tabla, Blue Smoke, Jazz Standard, Shake Shack, The Modern, Cafe 2, Terrace 5, and Hudson Yards Catering. He's also one of the early investors in a little company called OpenTable.

In his book "Setting The Table", he's got a term called the "51 percent solution". He argues that the way people relate to each other is just slightly more important than the technical performance. It's the same reason a flawless four- or five-star restaurant can actually attract far fewer loyal fans than a two- or three-star place with soul. Meyer adds:

"...The human beings who animate our restaurants have far more impact on whether we succeed than any of the food ingredients we use, the decor of our dining rooms, the bottles of wine in our cellars, or even the locations of the restaurants. Because hospitality is a dialogue, I have always placed the highest premium on hiring the best possible staff to engage our guests."

If the customer feels like the wait staff has done something for them (i.e., listened and take action as a result), they have a strong emotional experience and are likely to come back or perhaps tell their friends.

If the customer feels like the wait staff has done something to them (i.e., didn't listen and did something else instead of what they wanted), they are going to have a stronger emotional experience and are more likely to share the negative experience with their friends.

A restaurant can do a hundred things right -- but if the wait staff can't understand the signals the customer is sending, and therefore doesn't react, the whole experience is ruined. By testing for sarcasm, you're also testing for the ability to provide excellent customer service.

Before you go out and hire the most sarcastic people, there is one caveat: as Cornell notes in a recent report, "Questioning Conventional Wisdom: Is a Happy Employee a Good Employee, or Do Other Attitudes Matter More?", the most important factor is whether employees understand what's important in their job. Sarcastic employees are simply better at listening and identifying needs. They still need guidance in developing the improvisational skills that are at the core of delivering an excellent customer experience.

Link: The New York Times has a terrific article -- as well as a video used in a scientific study on sarcasm. (registration may be required)

Louis Vuitton Revisited: What Web 2.0 Can Learn from Luxury Brands

Vuittonqi060308big_2

Louis Vuitton Mallatier has been getting a lot of press for its efforts to build and protect its intellectual property. While many pooh-pooh Louis Vuitton's extensive litigation efforts as being misguided, the results are hard to argue with. Nadia Pleisner's inappropriate use of Vuitton IP has been shut down (the Facebook page has been disabled and she has published a statement on her web site) and even giant Google has been taken to task, again: The Paris District Court forbade Google and its French subsidiary from selling search ads against trademarks owned by Louis Vuitton.Google was also ordered to pay 200,000 euros, or $257,430, for unfair competition, misleading advertising and trademark counterfeiting, reports CNET.

So why should Web 2.0 companies care? The idea that Louis Vuitton is wrong is based on the premise that awareness (or eyeballs) continue to be more important than revenue.

That premise leads people to believe that Louis Vuitton should take the high ground whenever someone attempts to link their brand to a controversial issue. The argument is that if Louis Vuitton gets engaged in the issue - through sponsorship of workshops, through education, through advocacy - it will somehow advance their brand.

That same premise leads people to believe that every Google search for "Louis Vuitton" creates greater value for the brand and the company.

After spending years in this area -- I was a member of the IAB committee that established the standard terms and conditions for Internet advertising, and have worked and blogged extensively about Louis Vuitton -- I'm led to the conclusion that Louis Vuitton is doing a much better job at helping its retailer network make money than Google does.

As social networks and Web 2.0 apps alike try to court third parties, many like Microsoft program manager Dare Obasanjo and former Palm CTO Michael Mace are starting to make the argument that if your company has an API, you need to do a better job of showing developers how they're going to make money.

This is the difference between Yahoo and Microsoft right now: Yahoo is doing a bang up job of opening itself up, but its efforts at showing how Panama was going to make money for advertisers, or showing how third parties can make money off of Yahoo's search services in general, pale in comparison to Microsoft's ability to mint millionaires (through real revenues, not appreciation of stock) -- some 10,000 by the year 2000, according to a NY Times article.

Meantime, Google does help people make money through its advertising system, but the way it's currently designed, it does a much better job at creating visibility for Louis Vuitton knockoffs, who used to be confined to seedy places like Canal Street in New York but have found a terrific platform for visibility in Google.

At the same time, Louis Vuitton is building on other initiatives that one wouldn't expect from a house of couture. AdAge reports that on the 10th anniversary of launching its line of local city guides (which I covered earlier here), it contracted with Soundwalk, a company specializing in audio guides, to produce three tours of Chinese cities. This is a natural evolution of custom publishing, or brands using the Internet to become de facto media brands unto themselves.

According to a Louis Vuitton spokesman:

"[It] is a new concept in urban tourism, and we really want to offer a new way of traveling to our customers ... with China hosting the Olympic Games in 2008, it was natural for Louis Vuitton ... to open its Louis Vuitton Soundwalk series with a trilogy of Chinese cities."

Beginning June 16, the tours will be available as downloadable MP3 files (via louisvuittonsoundwalk.com). They will be sold exclusively online for $17 each, and are available in English, French, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin.

Can I Borrow You For A Moment? The New Cognitive Surplus

Istock_000003622473smallI've had a lot of conversations recently about crowdsourcing - using web tools to engage the public (or other large groups) to solve problems. Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research provides an example of how crowdsourcing helped improve a conference session by turning a boring panel into a more lively one:

"...Questions made the panel: Love hearing viewpoints from people with boots on the ground."

Now, Clay Shirky provides a completely different context for crowdsourcing: with all of the free time we are no longer spending on television, and instead spending with Facebook and other social applications, can we find a way to solve some of the really big problems? He asks:

"...Let's say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing.  The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year.  That's about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that is 100 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation."

When he says "Wikipedia projects", he means things like Vasco Furtado, a Wiki Map for crime in Brazil. If there's an assault, if there's a burglary, if there's a mugging, a robbery, a rape, a murder, you can go and put a push-pin on a Google Map, and you can characterize the assault, and you start to see a map of where these crimes are occurring. While that might not mean a lot to someone that may never visit Brazil, in some of my previous posts I've noted how similar local projects led to a fifty percent drop in crime.

Think of it: just a change of 1% in your TV watching habits can lead to a hundred projects, just like these. Clay notes the last time there was a similar change in how we spend our leisure time as significant as this, it gave rise to gin and sitcoms. Read the post for yourself, or Dave Morin over at Facebook posted a video of Clay's talk.

Why We Facebook: Inside the Emotional Cues That Motivate Us

When I worked for TCI Technology Ventures (the venture capital arm of what was the largest cable company), we would look for the cues that would trigger a positive emotion, which would help lock in the customer. For example, while basic phone service is unsexy, voice mail had a lot of emotional cues. People would save key voice mails from loved ones and return to them later. The number of voice messages was a proxy for how loved the person felt.

I know it sounds cheesy, but when you are dealing with sixty million subscribers, emotional cues were among the most reliable indicators of whether a sub was likely to churn out.

So fast forward to social networks. Beyond all of the technical gobbledygook about privacy and data portability, could it be that people use Facebook because of similar emotional cues?

To answer that question, we reference an unscientific survey of Facebook users via SurveyMonkey, which yielded the following factoids:

 Whatpeopledoonfacebook

What Facebook Users Do Every Day

1. Look at Photos (28.1%)
2. Poke Someone (12.3%)
3. Send Private Messages (10.5%)
3. Write on Someone's Wall (10.5%)
5. Add a New Friend (8.5%)
6. Comment on Photos (6.1%)
7. Add Photos (1.8%)
8. Edit Profile (1.2%)
9. Add New Applications (0.9%)

What Facebook Users Do Frequently

1. Look at Photos (43.9%)
2. Write on Someone's Wall (34.2%)
3. Add a New Friend (32.9%
4. Add Photos (27.2%)
5. Edit Profile (21.0%)
6. Send Private Messages (17.5%)
7. Comment on Photos (15.8%)
8. Poke Someone (14.9%)
9. Send Gifts (6.1%)
10. Participate in a Group (5.3%)
10. Add New Applications (5.3%)

What Facebook Users Never Do

1. Use the Marketplace (81.8%)
2. Create Your Own Group (54.4%)
3. Comment on Notes (49.1%)
4. Write Notes (44.7%)
5. Create Your Own Event (42.1%)
6. Send Gifts (40.4%)
7. Add New Applications (31.6%)
8. Poke Someone (28.9%)
9. Participate in a Group (23.7%)
10. Comment on Photos (6.1%)

When looking for emotional cues, I look for things that people do somewhat obsessively, for example, every day. Using that criteria, "viewing photos" and "poking someone" rank higher than "send private messages", which is a form of email. Sharing photos is a very intimate exercise common among family and close friends, and has become more widespread thanks to photo sharing sites like Facebook and flickr.

As for "poking someone", it's helpful to understand what a "poke" actually means. A common answer is it's a mindless way of saying "hello", but others have compared it to online flirting: if someone pokes you, and you poke them back, it's a way of saying, "Yeah, I'd date you."

Compare this to the #1 activity that people never do, which is "visit the Marketplace". (Notice that "Use Beacon" wasn't included as a choice ;) Brands that are seeking to get involved with Facebook should look for ways to emotionally involve their target audience, or as Don Dodge puts it, execute a "head fake" where you entertain people with shiny, fun activities; all of which are just a front for your sophisticated data-collection operations.

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