Instagram: when big boys play…

First of all: a billion dollars is a mighty smack of money. It is a huge pile of cash. It can buy you enough bread to feed a midsize African country for a decade, it can buy you some nice stealth fighters, a private island, or it can buy you -give or take some change- the New York Times (market cap $942m).

So, for the 13 man strong team of Instagram, to say no to the whopping dollar cash pile that Facebook’s Marc Zuckerberg slammed on the table would have been very difficult. 1 billion dollars is a lot of reasons.  1 billion offers the Instagram people a golden future where they will not have to work, and can dream of white sanded beaches and chilled long drinks a-go-go. On a super yacht.

For us all, it just means that one of the favorite picture sharing tools together with the 1 billion pictures we jointly posted on it, became Facebook’s property. It solidifies Facebook’s position as the social network that is weaving a very tight web around your social life, and your social data. It strengthens Facebook’s position as the leading social stack on the web. It also patches one of Facebook’s Achilles Tendons: a good picture sharing platform.

Personally, I look at this a bit weary eyed. Remember Facebook buying Gowalla in December? It killed the service in March, buried the technology, the platform and its users in the darkest dungeon of Facebook Towers. I hope Zuckerberg will keep the good of Instagram alive. I loved the simple technology, the slightly cheesy filters, and the buzzing sharing community. I hope the buy was not a capitalist hostile takeover version of cease and desist. I sincerely hope to be spared the sad duty of having to write an in memoriam for Instagram over the next couple of months. I hate eulogies.

But I do not share the crazy-panicking Internet frenzy on the new acquisition by Facebook. If Facebook kills Instagram, other picture sharing networks will pop up. Zuckerberg bought Instagram because he wanted it, Zuckerberg bought Instagram because he can.

He can, because we all allow him to… don’t we?

Gowalla dies at #SxSW. 3 years old, RIP.

One would almost forget. Simultaneously to Dennis Crowley’s future visions on SoLoMo, location based social networks and Foursquare, Gowalla died a gruesome and lonely death, somewhere in the deep, cruel and moist dungeons of Facebook.

90 days after Facebook  opened its checkbook to buy Gowalla, the doors of the company have officially been sealed. A kick in the head for the Texan incubation and start-up loving community, because Texas was Gowalla’s homebase.

“There can be only one”, and it seems that Foursquare won de battle hands down. There will be muscle fletching and eyeball rolling between Foursquare and Facebook for sure. But the cutest player has quietly left the building through the backdoor.

#SxSW does not like defeated technologies and brands. It is for the glorious startups, the victorious winners, the ambitious coolcats. But I wanted to lay a wreath on the doorsteps of the convention center for an adorable little Texan baby that did not make its third birthday.

Rest in peace, Gowalla.

My “check-in” beats your “like” anytime

For brands, creating engagement in any way is key… that’s why they are in social media in the first place. In recent months, a telltale signal to determine that engagement at a glance is the number of “likes” a brand collects all through the brands online ecosphere. Fueled by mostly Facebook, the hunt for likes is powering an important part of the Social Media roll out, and, between us: that is a bad thing.

A number of “likes” does not show you in any way the quality or quantity of engagement with your target audience in any way… for that more intelligent sets of data should be explored that give more relevant information on quality, sentiment, loyalty and behavior.

And a “like” is just a wrong metric. Clicking on it is often a gratuit gesture… for most consumers it means nothing more than a thoughtless “click”.  There is no bar, no effort, no real thinking, and thus way too often no real intention or engagement.

Personally, I have more respect for the location based check in. A check in, is like a “like”, but only better. Checking in means that people are linking their real life location and behavior (shopping, eating, going to a concert,…) with their offline social media ecosphere. They went through an experience that reverberates in the social spider web. Location based social check-ins are more and more combined with the ability to rate the experience, adding a tremendous potential added value for the brand. Having people checking in from stores, airports, planes, restaurants and events and giving a positive social rating turns every active “checker” into an active brand advocate.

People will trust the review of someone who actively ate at a restaurant way more than one from someone who just punched the “like” button on a website.

Check-ins new style will beat up likes big time 😉

Ronald Reagan fathered Foursquare

There, did that get your attention? I thought it might… 🙂  Tim O’Reilly caused quite a stir @ #SxSW when he proclaimed that Ronald Reagan was the mental father of Foursquare.

But he has a point. Let’s go back into history: while the Beatles were working on their White Album, the U.S. Navy and Air Force slotted together a system that would enable navigation on a plethora of applications. A set of incompatible systems was developed, until the US Department of Defense decided in 1973 to unify the existing systems. With atomic clocks carried on geostationary satellites (predicted by Arthur C. Clark) , the Navstar Global Positioning System became a huge success. In the beginning, military use had priority, and accurate positioning was not possible for civilian systems.

The disaster with Korean Flight 007 in 1983, a mortal tragedy that could have been prevented with more accurate location awareness, made President Ronald Reagan decide that accurate GPS signals would be available worldwide and at no charge. Reagan’s directive angered quite a lot of military decision makers, but stood at the cradle of the location driven social media that is so popular today.

The military not only got us the backboned, dynamic rerouting internet (and an internet of things by that), but also stood at the very beginning of Google places, Gowalla and Foursqaure. Not to mention Augmented Reality, that made it directly from the cockpit of the Apache fighting helicopter into the smartphones. Presidents and generals at the roots of social media, a slightly disturbing thought….;-)

Location starts getting real value

#SxSW in Austin still needs to officially kick off, but one thing is for sure: it is still about location, location, location. In the night and early hours before the event, you see location based tags and check-ins popping up like warm popcorn all over the city.

Foursquare, Gowalla and Google Places are arm wrestling for love and attention, and mayorships, points and badges are being distributed to the convention goers like ice cubes on a warm day.

But I spot a mayor difference. It goes way beyond the boyish gimmicks now. Location starts to add value. The big three added a ton of Social Functionality to their offering: the fact that people now can rate places, add tips, and hint at things to do, hyper jumped location based sharing into a realm that makes social marketing interesting. We found a great Austin Barbeque Place to eat, based solely on tips of Foursquare and Gowalla. We were tricked to the coolest bars in town with the same applications.

Startup “Heat Tracker” (find it for free in the app store) shows where the most action takes place in a reasonable circle around you. “Heating up” proves to be a great indicator for finding cool places to hang out with likeminded people.

Social location linked with the endless possibilities of “rating” places opens a great added value: peer screening. Nothing better to guide your culinary escapades in an unknown town than tips of people who tried it before.

Checking in is not just for geeks anymore, it helps determining the places to be, the hot spots and the trendy locations. The time a selected group of journalists and critics, and specialized publications as Michelin Guides and tutti quanti could determine where in town you wanted to be seen is over.

The reputation is made by the countless people around you. And THAT is a good thing ;-).

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