Though it took hundreds of thousands of years for fossil fuels to form naturally, chemical engineers at the University of Michigan did it in a minute.
By “pressure cooking” green microalgae in 1,100-degree-Fahrenheit sand for around 60 seconds, the researchers converted more than half of the slimy algae into biocrude oil, which can be further refined into various forms of biofuel.
It’s an exponential improvement over Mother Nature, and a breakthrough for the lab. Two years ago, the team sped the process up to under a half hour, converting around 50 percent of the microalgae into biocrude.
“We’re trying to mimic the process in nature that forms crude oil with marine organisms,” said Phil Savage, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Michigan who conducted the study along with doctoral student Julia Faeth.
Instead of waiting for dead organisms to decompose under layers of sediment over the course of millions of years, Savage and Faeth filled a steel pipe with wet, green microalgae of the genus Nannochloropsis, and pushed it into the hot sand. A minute’s exposure heated the algae to 550 degrees all the way through, and 65 percent of it became biocrude.
In addition to the time savings, Savage is trying to streamline the process of creating algal biofuel by starting with wet algae. Traditionally, algal biofuel producers dry algae before extracting biocrude. That takes time and costs quite a bit of money – which explains why algal biofuels cost around $20 per gallon. Savage and Faeth said that they can’t yet estimate any cost savings for their method, but any simplification of the process could potentially bring prices down.
While the results are certainly promising, don’t expect to fill up with algal biofuel anytime soon. The Michigan team conducted their tests with just 1.5 milliliters of microalgae, and still don’t know why they hit a sweet spot at the minute mark. Savage and Faeth suppose that researchers previously overestimated how long it took to create biocrude, and that affected the yield of prior experiments.
“My guess is that the reactions that produce biocrude are actually must faster than previously thought,” Savage said.
Though nature took a while to create fuel, more time spent in a pressure cooker could actually be deleterious to the algae. ”For example, the biocrude might decompose into substances that dissolve in water, and the fast heating rates might discourage that reaction,” Faeth said.
Even if further research shows that it’s completely feasible to create large volumes of crude from algae in short periods of time, biofuel producers still have to generate enough heat to get large amounts of algae up to 1,100 degrees. That’s going to require a great deal of energy, not to mention algae. While algae doesn’t displace farmland the same way ethanol and other crops grown for fuel do, the US would still need enough algae to cover the state of New Mexico to meet its energy demands with biofuel.
If your elected officials suddenly seem less clueless, you might thank Beckmann and Hallaran, creators of Congressional analytics dashboard, Correlate.
After the inauguration of President Barack Obama, Dan Beckmann, a former Obama digital team strategist, stayed in D.C. to meet with Congressional staffers on both sides of the aisle. Beckmann, 32, had previously worked on developing and implementing new media strategy for ABC News and Current TV. Now, with all that he had learned about using technology on a political campaign, he was eager to try and use similar digital tools to increase the effectiveness in the governing process. As he met with staffers, Beckmann listened to what was and wasn’t working on Capitol Hill. Before long, a solution came into focus. “I didn’t go to D.C. to pitch a company. I thought they needed better social networks,” Beckmann says. Staffers told him that their most pressing need was a system that would help analyze and organize their correspondence. “For the next month I went through the Senate and House, both sides of the aisle, and they all agreed, some embarrassingly, that they had a huge problem,” Beckmann says.
So after those conversations, he and Tom Hallaran developed a program called Correlate, which allows the constant stream of correspondence from constituents to their elected representatives to be more efficiently managed. The program processes a single member of Congress’s constituent email, faxes, physical mail (via scan), and social media to produce real-time analytics on the issues that constituents are most concerned about. Correlate searches the correspondence for keywords and connects those keywords to specific pieces of legislation that are active in Congress. Over time, a machine-learning process comes to understand how people write messages, and identifies and then searches for key patterns in the correspondence. Then, the tool uses public government database information about active bills in Congress to associate bills with correspondence. The Correlate team has found this process to have approximately 85% accuracy. The program also filters correspondence coming from inside and outside the members’ districts.
“It takes a long time for the offices to get any understanding of what’s in their correspondence,” Beckmann says, noting that in the best-case scenario correspondence is organized and delivered to the relevant staffers two weeks after it has initially been received, and it’s not very analytical. As a result, one of the most important aspects of our democracy–the ability for any citizen to write their Congressperson with their concerns–has become a slow, cumbersome, and often disregarded process.
Correlate allows the feedback to be viewed through a real-time dashboard. At any moment, a member of Congress or someone on his or her staff can pull up the tool to see how a particular piece of legislation is moving by the hour, day, week, month, or year. The dashboard also allows each office to focus in on patterns in specific cities and areas in their district.
Beckmann is CEO and cofounder of IB5k, the company which built Correlate; Hallaran serves as cofounder and managing partner. In addition to building Correlate, IB5k has developed several other products, including a Facebook app called “Citizen Cosponsor” which allows average citizens to “like” a piece of legislations and interact with it throughout the process. They are also in the process of creating an updated system to manage all electronic communications within the House of Representatives.
Correlate’s government service costs under $500 a month per office. Beckman and Hallaran’s vision foresees a relatively low-priced product for government, supported by commercial applications of the same technology for private-sector companies. Correlate is already being used by some major consumer brands and their PR teams to follow consumer reactions to issues and campaigns.
Correlate doesn’t just process reactions to hot-button legislation, either. It also tracks everyday “casework” (i.e. immigration issues, military academy nominations, flag requests). Casework accounts for a significant portion of Congressional correspondence, and it is frequently time-sensitive, yet it is also a victim of backlogging.
Almost four years after those initial conversations, Correlate is active in 10 offices in the House including the leadership. Beckmann, Hallaran, and their team are pleased with this traction, and they anticipate greater adoption in the House and initial adoption in the Senate in the near future. Matt Lira, Director of New Media for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, was one of the first staffers on the Hill to embrace Correlate. “There is a sense that technology when applied to the problems of our democracy can have a beneficial impact. In the legislative process, this correspondence problem is one of the main drivers of the feeling of disconnect between the public and the legislative institutions,” says Lira, who also worked with the IB5k team on the Citizen Cosponsor Facebook app. “We don’t want to just process this information, we want to make it actionable and useful to the legislative process.” On the productivity side, IB5k estimates that Correlate can eliminate at least half of a full-time position in a Congressional office. Lira says Correlate has allowed his office to reassign several staffers to more substantive work.
With the challenges in communication, Beckmann feels that constituent voices are being drowned out by lobbyists who have much more direct access to members of Congress and their staffs, “We have a huge problem with the power of special interests in the political system. This is a way that we can make the communication between a candidate or an office holder and their constituents stronger. It cuts out the need for special interests. It puts the rest of us on a level playing field. Now an average citizen can have just as loud a voice as a lobbyist.”
Hallaran and Beckmann believe that this model can be extended to all the branches of federal, state, and local governments. The team has already had conversations with the White House and international governments about implementing Correlate or a system like it. For Beckmann, Correlate is a continuation of excitement that captured so many people during the 2008 campaign. “People might remember what the energy in the political system was like back in 2008. In our office it’s still like that. People wanted better government and they knew it was possible then. Part of why we’re doing this to deliver on the promise that politics was going to change,” he says.
It’s an unforgettable sound. A slow scrape against the wall punctuated by a high-pitched clank. The broom didn’t stay balanced where you’d left it. Now you’ll have to pick it up and attempt to balance the broom again. It could stay put for six months. It could stay put for six seconds. No one knows.
Poh Liang Hock is in the process of building a better solution that’s already won a Red Dot award for its concept. His idea is a self-standing broom.
“My friends and I rented a house a few years ago. Like every other tenant, we had to clean our house from time to time. A broom, dustpan, and mop were all necessary tools in the process. However, amidst the cleaning process, the broom kept falling to the ground whenever I leaned it against the wall for some fresh air,” Hock tells Co.Design. “As a result, I came out with the vision of solving this problem once and for all: how could I keep the damned broom from falling down?”
His solution is decidedly simple and, in hindsight, painfully obvious. Rather than locking a broom’s pole to its bristles at the base, Hock’s broom pivots, repurposing the bottom as both a platform for the broom to stand upon and a weighted anchor to keep the broom vertical. While the precise implementation is still in development (and, we’re told, in need of considerable refinement), Hock has brainstormed a better broom that will likely need either no or very few additional components to realize. In other words, Hock’s broom has the potential to be a premium product through clever design alone.
“I just cannot believe my luck because such an idea is so simple that I believe even a normal guy would be able to devise such broom,” Hock writes. But the thing is, a normal guy clearly couldn’t. If he could, none of us would still be dropping brooms in 2012.
Yes, Facebook Timeline is in the process of rolling out to all users, so it may actually have looked different to you, but yesterday’s filing won’t create any immediate changes to the service that 483 million of us log into every day.
Contained in the 213-page S-1 document was Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to potential shareholders, in which he wrote that Facebook was “built to accomplish a social mission – to make the world more open and connected.” He also talked about Facebook’s culture of “The Hacker Way,” writing that “the vast majority of hackers I’ve met tend to be idealistic people who want to have a positive impact on the world.”
But the Facebook IPO filing means it will now be beholden to shareholders and a board, and while its offices may be filled with idealists, they’ll still have an obligation to generate revenue. The company already laid bare a comprehensive list of risks that could hamper its ongoing prosperity. Certainly things will change — but the question is how much.
Let us know in the comments and take our poll: How do you think Facebook IPO will affect the social network?
The business practice of brainstorming has been around with us so long that it seems like unadorned common sense: If you want a rash of new ideas, you get a group of people in a room, have them shout things out, and make sure not to criticize, because that sort of self-censoring is sure to kill the flow of new thoughts.
It wasn’t always so: This entire process was invented by Alex Osborn, one of the founders of BBDO, in the 1940′s. It was motivated by Osborn’s own theory of creativity. He thought, quite reasonably, that creativity was both brittle and fickle: In the presence of criticism, it simply couldn’t wring itself free from our own minds. We could only call our muses if judgments didn’t drag us down. Osborn claimed that this very brainstorming process was the secret to BBDO’s durable creativity, allowing his ad guys to produce as many as 87 ideas in 90 minutes–a veritable avalanche. “The brainstorm had turned his employees into imagination machines,” writes Jonah Lehrer in a long, excellent article in The New Yorker. But as Lehrer argues, the only problem with all this is that brainstorming is total bullshit.
You’re More Creative Working Alone
As an opening salvo, Lehrer lays out a devastating experiment, conducted in the 1950s, which found that when test subjects tried to solve a complex puzzle, they actually came up with twice as many ideas working alone as they did when working in a group. Numerous studies have since verified that finding: Putting people into big groups doesn’t actually increase the flow of ideas. Group dynamics themselves–rather than overt criticism–work to stifle each person’s potential.
Lehrer doesn’t quite explain why that happens. But in a nice coincidence, Susan Cain tackles that very problem in her upcoming book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. As she explains in The New York Times, groups don’t encourage creativity because of the social pressure they bring to bear:
People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure. The Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that when we take a stance different from the group’s, we activate the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the fear of rejection. Professor Berns calls this “the pain of independence.”
Criticism Improves the Brainstorming Process
Those findings all probably make sense to anyone who has sat in a brainstorming session and wondered why Debbie from accounting suddenly became the world’s most vocal expert on car design. (Here, I’m referencing a real-life experience I got sitting in on a brainstorming session for a major car company.) But Lehrer goes on to point out that other studies have shown that the presence of criticism actually increases the flow of ideas. One experiment compared two groups: One which brainstormed with a mandate not to criticize, and another which had the license to debate each others ideas. The second group had 20% more ideas–and even after the session ended, the people in the second group had far more additional ideas than those in the first.
Why is that? Lehrer doesn’t really say, and neither do his sources. But this idea makes sense. The problem with traditional brainstorming is the assumption that good ideas can spring up unbidden. But the process is really more interesting than that. Usually, inventions often begin when an inventor spots a problem. Good ideas usually don’t hang by themselves, unattached. They come about as solutions. Thus, allowing criticism into a room full of people trying to brainstorm allows them to refine and redefine a problem. Adding more and more complex problems to the mix doesn’t stifle creativity–it actually gives the mind more to work with, simply by demanding that we find better and better answers.
Creativity Is About Happenstance, Not Planning
Lehrer then goes searching for better models of the creative process, and finds a couple. One comes in the form of a professor who was able to study how the relationships within a group affect the quality of their work. Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, found that on Broadway the worst-performing productions were the work of two groups: Those that had worked together too much, and those that had worked together too little. Too much familiarity bred groupthink. Too little meant that they didn’t have enough chemistry to challenge each other. The most productive groups were those with a baseline of familiarity but just enough fresh blood to make things interesting.
But there’s a serendipity involved that you can’t fake: Studies have shown that the most successful groups of scientists also work in extremely close physical proximity. Just being around another creative person is vital to the process, because so many ideas happen as a result of water-cooler chatter and passing contact. The best support comes by anecdote: Building 20, a famous hothouse of ideas on the MIT campus. It worked because its design was so crappy and haphazard. It was nothing more than a sheetrock box, but in its maze of corridors and cramped offices, scientists of all stripes often found themselves happening upon conversations with others from wildly different fields. It’s no accident that so many breakthroughs came from that building, including radar, microwaves, the first video games, and Chomskyan linguistics.
Can We Rework the Brainstorming Paradigm?
I laid out all of these details from Lehrer’s article because each of these findings suggest that the brainstorming process might not be totally hopeless after all. We know that breakthrough insight likely requires intense, individual reflection. We also know that criticism unlocks creativity. And finally, we know that creativity can be fostered by a certain type of physical space.
Each of these findings, taken together, is cause for hope. For one, the brainstorming might work better if it focused not on finding solutions, but rather identifying problems. What if, during a brainstorming session, people weren’t asked to simply throw out ideas, but rather problems as well. Granted, you’ve still got the annoying problem of groupthink. But the fact is that people are usually better at finding fault than they are at finding answers. Properly harnessed, that could be a good thing. Let’s say, for example, you’re trying to invent a new computer UI. It’s much more productive to find what drives people nuts and the features that keep them from doing what they want to do than it is to find out what sort of computer they’d like to have in some idealized fantasy world. Solving such a complex problem as UI design demands a certain subtlety and depth of thought. But those solutions only begin flowing when the problem becomes interesting enough to demand new ideas.
Finally, the fact that office design can so dramatically affect the work we produce means that designers have the wherewithal to affect a company’s core mission. Designers really can make a company smarter, if they embrace the chaotic reality of creativity, rather than trying to create spaces where every last function and possibility has its place. In other words, there might be room for a new design paradigm that embraces both limitations and flexibility. You can create offices where accidental encounters are the rule. And you can create offices where nothing is ever fixed. The smartest office isn’t perfect, and it isn’t permanent.
Guest post by Scott Forshay, creator and editor of mobi.luxe. Following him on Twitter @mobiluxe
Establishing consumer relationships through mobile marketing, as with any successful, productive relationship, inherently requires a mutual exchange of value. Whether consumers are opting-in for brand communications via SMS or engaging with the brand in a single instance through scanning a QR code, the onus is on the brand to deliver value in return for customers’ valuable time and information. Without the perception that value has been exchanged for value, the relationship becomes essentially one-sided and unrequited attempts at interaction on the part of the consumer will spell the end of the relationship – perhaps permanently.
In the early stages of mobile marketing, the value exchange was almost exclusively defined through promotional-based marketing. Consumers were asked to share their mobile numbers in exchange for coupons. While seemingly primitive by today’s standards, text back couponing remains an effective behavior stimulus for many brands and retailers, but for luxury brands discounting flies in the face of the intrinsic value of the brand. The challenge for innovative prestige brands is defining how best to create a true value exchange with their most loyal advocates while remaining true to themselves and not cheapening the brand in the process of attempting to deepen relationships.
Any value exchange requires the exchange of currency. Whether the currency is monetary, emotional, or informational, it establishes the parameters necessary to define a successful exchange and secures a commitment to future exchanges. With this in mind, an analysis of the efficacy of any value exchange must be measured by the mutually beneficial exchange of mobile currency.
Affluent loyalists of prestigious brands seek greater intimacy with, and priority access to, the brands they most covet. In exchange for priority access, the affluent consumer will exchange premium monetary currency. A mobile campaign touchpoint that directs the consumer to an optimized landing page or microsite featuring a product exclusive to mobile subscribers effectively plays marionette with the heartstrings of affluent consumers by exclusively engaging a prestigious audience with exclusivity and access to product available only to a select audience. Tactics such as these create a successful value exchange whereby a monetary commitment is made by the consumer in exchange for priority access to the brand and the prestige associated with exclusive ownership.
The essence of any coveted brand is the story it conveys. And as Brian Solis believes, “the aspiration it evokes.”
The rich heritage and tradition of the brand is infused with creative vision and continued innovation as the brand narrative unfolds across mediums to engage consumers and create a vision of a lifestyle to be aspired to and desired. Traditionally the brand narrative has been told in a unidirectional fashion through artfully produced photography and film, but the consumer was only capable of experiencing the story in a disconnected way. Mobile, as a medium, is innately transitive in nature, serving as a persistent interface for consumers to navigate an ever-evolving digital ecosystem of retail touchpoints and become, themselves, players in the storytelling experience. Strategically dissecting the brand narrative to take on an episodic form allows the brand to engage audiences in the on-going drama, create desire to see where the story will lead, and create deeper emotional connections in the process. Whether bringing still imagery to digital life through QR codes or augmented reality, targeting desired audiences and engaging them with rich mobile display advertising, or consistently communicating emotional currency via SMS marketing, the mobile value exchange is successful in the exchange of permission to communicate with highly-valued consumers in return for deeper levels of involvement and engagement with the brand.
Regardless the strategies or technologies employed, successful mobile marketing relies heavily on a fair and evenly balanced value exchange between consumer and brand. Given the intensely personal nature of smart devices, coupled with the fact that the device is nearly always within arm’s reach, it is more important in mobile marketing to avoid being intrusive and irrelevant. Consumers will not give up their valuable information in exchange for clutter or noise. Focus on an understanding of the currency of mobile marketing and utilize it to create an exchange that delights both the audience and the brand that value them.
Scott Forshay is a Luxury and Premium Brand Marketing Consultant and Mobile Strategist who’s been featured in PSFK, Luxury Daily, Fashion’s Collective, Business of Fashion, and The Wall Street Journal.
The key to applying science to marketing is being prescriptive. Calculating and analyzing data that is interesting is fun, but information becomes useful when it tells you how to achieve a specific goal. Throughout my career, one of the goals I’ve focused on is the engineering contagious ideas. I’ve worked for years, using science and data to understand how to craft content that spreads like wildfire.
Humans have been spreading ideas for thousands of years, telling each other where to find the best hunting ground, what dish detergent to use and what god to worship. The web provides unprecedented access to these conversations, allowing researchers to analyze millions of ideas to reverse engineer what it is about them that makes them spread.
Generally, when you ask someone why certain ideas go viral, the best answer you’ll get is “because they’re good.” That video I sent you last week was so funny, I had to share it. Any more than a few moments of thought reveals this to be entirely untrue. There are plenty of good ideas that go nowhere and lots of bad ideas that spread like crazy. Clearly there are some other factors that determine how contagious ideas are. And it is exactly those factors I’ve devoted my work to studying.
If you’ve been to enough social media conferences, or read enough books or blogs about modern marketing, you’ve undoubtedly heard a ton of what I call unicorns-and-rainbows advice. Feel-good stuff like “engage in the conversation,” “hug your followers,” and “have a personality.” It’s hard to disagree with this kind of stuff, because I’m not going to get on stage and tell you to punch your customers in the face, but it’s generally not based on anything more substantial than what sounds right, or makes the listener feel good.
Unicorns-and-rainbows advice is kind of like the snake oil and magical cures peddled before the rise of real, scientific health care. No real doctor would treat his patients with a certain procedure simply because it “sounded right.” It’s time for social media marketing to move beyond the dark ages and embrace the deluge of data now available to us.
One of the biggest problems with the superstitious approach to social media is that success is considered luck. Under the hegemony of unicorns-and-rainbows it’s black magic to make a piece of content “go viral.” The only things those myth-based marketers use to guide their efforts is gut feelings and anecdotal (and often misleading) “experience.”
I for one, don’t like to base business decisions on luck or gut feeling. I prefer to use science and data to create reproducible and reliable results. To accomplish this, I crafted a model for understanding how ideas spread and I’ve studied how marketers can optimize for success at each step of the process. I call this model Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness. It’s what my latest book is all about.
While the name is reminiscent of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the actual model draws on two other concepts: AIDA and OODA. AIDA is a sales methodology that describes the steps in the selling (or buying process): awareness, interest, decision, and action. Each of those steps must occur if someone is going to buy something. OODA comes from military strategy and describes the decision making process in a confrontation: observe, orient, decide, and act.
My framework describes the 3 steps that must happen if someone is going to spread your idea for you:
1. The person must be exposed to your idea. They have to be following you on Twitter, subscribed to your email list or “like” your page on Facebook.
2. They must actually become aware of your idea. I follow 8,000 people on Twitter, so I don’t see every tweet. Your target must actually read your Tweet, open your email or see your wall post in their feed.
3. Something in that content has to actually motivate them to spread your idea. Once I’ve read your tweet, it has to make me want to retweet it. Your email has to make me want to forward it.
At each step of this process, marketers can optimize for success. My book goes into detail about each of these steps and provides data on how to do the best, but here’s a run down:
1. To increase the number of people potentially exposed to your ideas, you must increase your reach. Get more followers, email subscribers or Facebook likes.
2. You have to learn to be heard over the noise of social media. By being more attention grabbing or using contra-competitive timing.
3. Your content must include motivation-raising features. Combined relevance, calls-to-action and us vs them are examples of contagious “hooks.”
This is a guest post by Magdalena Georgieva of HubSpot, a marketing software company based in Cambridge, MA.
What makes one voice louder than the other? While this is a simple question, it often takes us to a nuanced answer. Being aware of these nuances is essential in the world of marketing.
If your voice is louder than mine, it could be either because you can reach more people than me or because you can reach the right people. In the first instance, you have the necessary reach to spread a message. In the second instance, you rely on your network to distribute the news. In this context, influence cannot simply be equated to reach: the size of your email list, the number of Twitter followers or the likes on your Facebook business page. While reach is certainly a strong demonstration of influence, it’s not the single most important factor.
With the mushrooming of new online communication platforms, the process of information dissemination has radically changed. The power of publicity is no longer only in the hands of traditional media outlets. The new reader, with her growing Web presence and personal brand, also has access to broadcasting technologies. Channels like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook
has given voices to people who had been silent in the old media environment.
Yet there is no guarantee that the voices of these newly empowered individuals will be heard. They need to deserve the attention of their network by creating compelling information, optimizing it to get found online and developing meaningful relationships. The same methodology applies to small and medium-sized businesses that seek to increase their presence online. Through this process, a company will start building the right network–one that is fully engaged and well connected.
Building the right, and not necessarily the biggest, network will enable you to spread a message effectively. As an example, let’s look at how the news of Bin Laden’s death spread on Twitter.
SocialFlow, a social media optimization startup, created a number of images to illustrate the news dissemination process. The Twitter update of Keith Urbahn, Chief of Staff at the office of Donald Rumsfeld, was what triggered the spread of the news. “Keith was not first to speculate that the address is related to Bin-Laden,” wrote SocialFlow on their blog. Yet he was the one
that led to to explosion of the story on Twitter. How did he do that?
Keith Is A True Influencer
According to SocialFlow, at that time Keith had a following of 1,016 people. While this number is higher than the average Twitter user, it doesn’t even come close to the following of Twitter industry celebrities. ”But the right network effects came into play, and enabled his post to generate enough trust amongst his followers, their followers, and so on,” wrote SocialFlow.
This observation sheds light on several important nuances when it comes to defining influence–value, credibility, reach, timing, etc. These are also some of the nuances that come into play when marketers want to spread messages, set new trends and gain more exposure. Keith’s followers knew that he was someone in a position to have credible information about what was
actually happening. His statements on foreign policy events are immediately more valuable.
Identifying Other True Influencers
The true movers and shakers of the online marketing universe are less visible than you’d think. They show up when the timing is right, reach out to their medium-sized but strong network, and let the message take its course. In fact, you might have a few of those in your marketing community. Here are three ways that you can identify those people when looking for them online:
1) They are followed by at least twice as many people as they follow, and usually many times more than that. It’s easy to get a huge follower count by finding people who auto-follow back or similar. If you want to find an authentic influencer, look for people with many more followers than just who they follow. Twitter users who are true influencers often follow only a few hundred people but are followed by many thousands.
2) Use third-party search engines to find influential people in a field. For example, Followerwonk lets you search Twitter biographies and then sort or filter by various criteria. When combined with tip #1 above, this is a great tool for prospecting who the real influencers are in a field and who’s just phoning it in.
3) Try out a “smart” Twitter search engine that can help you pinpoint who is really talking about specific issues, like PostPost. Using PostPost only works with the existing people that you follow on Twitter, but you can use it to determine who that you follow is talking about a particular topic at different times. This is incredibly useful when doing research or exploring topic leaders.
What other tips or tools do you use to help you identify and follow influencers online? Have you had other experiences like Keith’s above?
Quick Pitch: Tagstand is an NFC platform that simplifies the NFC stack for businesses and developers.
Genius Idea: Program and manage NFC stickers on the web.
“The way your phone interacts with the real world is going to become quite fundamental,” predicts Kulveer Tagger. Tagger is betting on the trend with Tagstand, a startup serving as a platform that businesses and developers can turn to for NFC tag procurement and management.
Customers can purchase packs of stickers, and then use the Tagstand Manager to program — and reprogram as often they see fit — how those stickers function on objects in the real world. They can also track sticker usage.
Tagstand could theoretically, depending on the whims of the tag owner, allow a consumer with an NFC-enabled device to touch his phone to a sticker to check in on Foursquare one day and view a promotional video or product page the next. The point is clearly to commodify NFC technology — to package it up, sell it to businesses and marketers, and make it consumer-friendly in the process.
One problem: consumers aren’t yet toting around NFC-enabled devices en masse. But should that change — and research firm Juniper forecasts that it will — Tagstand, says Tagger, hopes its first-mover status will solidify it as a harbinger of the NFC revolution in the states.
In the right-here and right-now, Tagstand appears to be pulling in impressive sales and traction for a three-month startup in a nascent market. “We’ve had loads of developers and businesses contact us,” Tagger says. “We’re basically finding out what we think are going to be the first applications of NFC.”
Outdoor marketing is surfacing as the most popular application, he says. A Tagstand customer in India, for instance, made a bulk purchase of 20,000 tags for $10,000. The customer plans to put tags on movie posters at malls and cinemas in India, he says.
Next on the agenda for Tagstand is to give startups access to NFC payments capabilities and release an API for its tag management system.
Tagstand is a graduate of Y Combinator’s summer of 2011 session. The startup is in the process of raising additional funding.
Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark
The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.
Already using Google+? Follow Mashable’s Pete Cashmore for the latest about the platform’s new features, tips and tricks as well as social media and technology updates.
Google has finally made a public statement about the recent wave of controversial Google+ account suspensions designed to enforce the company’s “common name” policy.
The policy is outlined in section 13 of the company’s User Content and Conduct Policy. It’s designed to stop users from creating fake profiles and to set a positive tone. Section 13 reads as follows:
“To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable.”
Google SVP of Social Vic Gundotra admitted to Robert Scoble on Sunday that the company has made some mistakes with its first attempt at cracking down on fake profiles. And in Monday, Google VP of Product Bradley Horowitz wrote a more detailed post in an attempt to clear the air and set the record straight.
“We’ve noticed that many violations of the Google+ common name policy were in fact well-intentioned and inadvertent and for these users our process can be frustrating and disappointing,” Horowitz said in his Google+ post. “So we’re currently making a number of improvements to this process, specifically regarding how we notify these users that they’re not in compliance with Google+ policies and how we communicate the remedies available to them.”
Among the changes Google intends to implement:
- Google will give users more warning and the chance to comply with the common name policy.
- The company is improving the signup process.
- Finally, the search giant is exploring better ways to support nicknames, maiden names and pseudonyms.
Hotowitz also took time to dispel the rumor that a suspension of a Google+ account means that a user loses his or her access to Gmail, Google Docs or other Google services. “When an account is suspended for violating the Google+ common name standards, access to Gmail or other products that don’t require a Google+ profile are not removed,” he said.
Google+, which will hit its one-month anniversary on Thursday, has clearly been suffering from growing pains. It has received strong criticism for its handling of Google+ brand pages.