Last.fm and the application of the lightweight models and cost-effective scalability

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Lightweight model and cost-effective scalability is a pattern that Tim O’Reilly identified as part of Web 2.0 platforms endeavours (O’Reilly, 2005, pag. 4). This pattern consist of maintaining the ability to scale quickly when required. The lightweight model implies that is not only a matter on technology, the business model of the company should be able to dinamically cater for a increasing number of user/customers.

Nowadays, cloud computing allows to rent utility computing services such as storage and computing resources tailored to the demands of the users; that’s why is affordable for Web 2.0 start-ups to rent those services on the Internet, instead of buying expensive hardware and software for its functioning. In the event of success and acquisition of a considerable user-base, the Web 2.0 platform would only need to upgrade their services in the cloud, so it could cater for more users. Facebook was based in this pattern, as was created by a few students with a small capital in Harvard University; then, as more users were adopting the platform more economical and technical resources were added to provide the needed increased power to the service.

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Let’s explain this pattern better with its relation to a popular music website: last.fm. Last.fm is a music platform that uses a recommendation system called Audioscrobbler, which helps to recognise the musical tastes of user based on the tracks that they listen to, either on online radios, user’s computer and portable music devices; this information is uploaded to a database via the music player or a plug-in (Wikipedia, n.d, para. 1) where is catalogued and used to make recommendations to users depending on their tastes.

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Starting small and growing from there: at the beginning Audioscrobbler was a university project of Richard Jones when he attended the University of Southampton in the UK. He developed the firsts plug-ins and created and API for the community to contribute to extend them. On the other hand, last.fm was a music site and online radio. Both merged to become a stronger company. But their beginnings were humble, start-ups with few resources making use of open source software in the case of Audioscrobbler (Wikipedia, n.d, para. 4-5).

Growing and acquisition by CBS – scaling up: By 2007 CBS, the giant american media corporation acquired last.fm for US $280m, the largest-ever UK Web 2.0 acquisition (BBC news, 2007). By this time it had been a long walk since their humble start-up and so, their user-base increased exponentially and of course their needed resources were much more, so using cloud computing to scale was the way to go to gather more storage and computing resources.

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Shoemaker to your shoe: For the creation of a lightweight business model is important to consider in which aspects the platform excels and what other aspects could be outsourced to business partners; linking different business models in synergy. With this approach the platform could focus in their competitive advantage and let other contribute in what they do best. In last.fm we can find examples of this: before, last.fm had its own online radio service; but realising that there were many other online radio stations and streaming services like Spotify and YouTube that were offering a better service, last.fm decided to cut their online radio and outsource it to those providers (last.hq, 2014). As we say in spanish: “Zapatero a tu zapato” – “Shoemaker to your shoe”, meaning that anyone should focus in their field of expertise and outsource other activities to companies with better expertise. In the case of Last.fm, their focus is the music recommendation system (Audioscrobbler).

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In a nutshell, the pattern is: start small, increase customer base, get more economical resources, scale up gathering more technical resources, outsource activities that are not part of the competitive advantage and grow, grow, grow but always making sure that the expansion of the company is proportional to its customer base.

Thanks for stoppping by and feel free to have your say!

 

References:

BBC news (2007). Music site last.fm bought by CBS. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6701863.stm

last.hq (2014). Did someone say on demand?. Retrieved from http://blog.last.fm/2014/01/29/did-someone-say-on-demand

O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0 – Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software.Retrieved from http://oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html?page=4

Wikipedia (n.d.). Last.fm entry. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last.fm

Music Rebellion Leveraging the Long Fat Tail: CDBaby

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The Long Tail

Leveraging the Long Tail is a concept introduced by Chris Anderson in 2004 and adopted by Tim O’Reilly later on when describing the main features of Web 2.0 platforms to explain the concept that with the introduction of Internet and later technologies the small and not known sellers and producers have the same opportunity of distribution and sales than the big fish in any market. There are a few mainstream fish who get most of the market share, but there are millions of “not known” little fish that aggregating the total of their small-scale sales can actually challenge the figures of the big ones. Wow, that’s an interesting concept!

Our favorite topic is music, so I’d like to show how this concept applies to this field. Firstly, to contextualise the discussion let’s see how the music industry was run in the past in contrast to how it’s run in this digitised world of today:

For the most part of the 20th century the power in the music business was held by a few big names: Universal, Sony, EMI and Warner; those were the main labels. But what do I mean by label: “A company that produces, markets and distributes the music of artists”. At that time they were the ones that had the recording studios, the distribution channels to stores, the media support to publicize and advertise and because of that, their voices were booming stronger than any other fish in the pond. Only a few artists chosen by them were the only ones who had a major opportunity of having a great living out of music. But not anymore, all the musicians now are in a  a level ground as the resources have been made accesible for “everybody”, that is:

  • Home studios are cheap so any given artist could access them easily or even invest in one to create a product of a decent standard.
  • There are music distributors, such as the feature of this article CDbaby, that receive music from artist in CD format or MP3 and sell them through their online store and even more, send the music to high-profile online music stores such as iTunes and Rhapsody.
  • Social media and internet methods of advertising and publicising such as Facebook and Google have made that low-profile musicians could be known better.

ImageLet’s focus in CDbaby as a typical example of leveraging the long tail. Their slogan is “the best independent music store in the web” (stylised in lower case, reflecting the grass roots background of their members).

What are their features and how this relates to Leveraging the Long Tail:

  • There are more than 300,000 artists signed up to CDbaby. I have to say that they are mainly independent, but also mainstream artists are there (CDbaby, n.d., a).
  • Those artists caters for a significant number of micro-market niches.
  • The sign-up fee for the standard service is $ US 49 and includes worldwide digital and CD distribution as is shown in CDbaby website (n.d., b). This is a price that is affordable to any musician. Nowadays, the big labels don’t have the exclusive worldwide channels of distribution, as now any humble musician could reach any place in the world with their products.
  • CDbaby make use of digital music that could be distributed through the web at minimal cost through the use of MP3s and other compression formats; minimising then the inventory costs, being this one of the features that helps the leveraging of the long tail.
  • CDbaby receives a limited number of physical CDs (4) to minimise inventory space. CDbaby will ask the artist more CDs based on the demand of the product.  In addition, offers the service of CD manufacturing so the small fish could have a CD factory that they could count on using on demand orders.
  • Comments and rankings crowdsourced to fans help the users of the platform to filter and explore the ocean of music.
  • Artists are prompted to categorise their music and tell if their music is similar to other artists, so that the right music could be pitch to fans that have bought similar music.

CDbaby empowers the independent musicians leveraging from a big long tail, but it also true that the ocean of artists is huge and the noise is loud, so now it all comes down to how the artists can stand out to get the attention of an information overwhelmed hordes of fans.

Thanks for stopping by and have a read.

What do you think? Feel free to post your point of view.

Cheers!

 

References:

CDbaby (n.d., a). About CDbaby.com. Retrived from: http://www.cdbaby.com/about

CDbaby (n.d., b). Pricing. Retrieved from: http://members.cdbaby.com/cd-baby-cost.aspx

 

Perpetual Beta in the Music Arena: Reverbnation

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We have come a long way studying the O’Reilly’s patterns for Web 2.0 platforms; some of the previous topics have been: harnessing collective intelligence, data is the next Intel inside and assembly in innovation. Now the turn is for “Perpetual Beta”. But what is it?

Perpetual beta

Perpetual Beta Life Cycle

Beta testing is, according to Webopedia (n.d.), a test to a computer product prior to general release, this test could be done by sending the software to beta test sites or to real users through the Internet to get some real-world exposure and feedback necessary to refine and revise the system. Beta testing is part of the old school waterfall model which include a program of sequential and iterative activities which are done for the user to ultimately enjoy and utilise the software; those steps in the waterfall model are: conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, production and maintenance (Wikipedia, n.d.). The approach of this highly rigid structure is to have most of the features ready and then show it to a sample audience that would help to spot the flaws and inadequacies in the software. The exposure of the software to the target users is often quite to late in the schedule and the interaction with the user base is usually not enough; that could lead to an unsuitable product.

With the emerging of Web 2.0 technologies and the open source movement a pattern was recognised by Tim O’Reilly (2005, para. 4) that mitigates dramatically the problem mentioned: “the open source dictum, ‘release early and release often’ in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, “the perpetual beta,” in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis”. This creates a more dynamic and close relationship with the user as the developers are on the lookout of users’ operations to fix, tweak or add to the current functionalities. Let’s see how this principle applies to one of the most popular social platform in the music arena: Reverbnation; which is devoted to create a network of musicians, venues, managers, labels and fans, striving to give to each of these target groups special benefits tailored for their needs.

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Reverbnation has been in perpetual beta since its conception and numerous functionalities have been added according to the current needs of the users and the trends of social media platforms:

  • Promote It: is a feature that uses the fact of interlinked social networks to present the band to fans who like similar kind of music. For that, Reverbnation connects with fans through YouTube, Facebook, Pandora, etc.
  • Music for Good: with this functionality the artists contribute to established good causes via a percentage of songs sold. This taps into fans inclination to buy more music from social active artists.
  • Tunewidget: are popular between musicians to feature their music, videos and press releases in widgets that could be fixed anywhere in their websites, social media pages, etc.
  • Band Equity: this is a performance metric to establish the engagement of an artist with their fans and it takes into account several factors: the reach of people through social networks, blogs and websites; the influence of the contact, e.g. how much time the fans listen to the artist’s songs; the access to direct communication to fans, that is, mailing lists sign-ups and finally how recent all those interactions are. With Band Equity Reverbnation is able to create chart-like lists that featured the most popular bands in the platform.

All these functionalities were included in the platform not as important version reviews, but as incremental tweaks based on user feedback and behaviour and market trends. From my standpoint, Perpetual beta  is not other thing that a responsive outlook to what is going on in the platform environment.

Thanks a lot for reading and I’d appreciate your point of view.

 

References:

O’Reilly, T. (2005). Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Retrieved from: http://oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html?page=4

Webopedia (n.d.). Beta test. Retrieved from: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/B/beta_test.html

Wikipedia (n.d.). Waterfall model. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterfall_model

The Art of Safe Online Dating Regulating Users’ Behaviour: eHarmony

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eHarmony advertises itself as “The #1 Trusted Singles Online Dating Site”. This kind of Social Networks are a one of kind Web 2.0 applications, because they strive to introduce strangers, help them to find a match and start a long-term relationship. That is, help strangers to connect and create a relationship in the real world! So safety is a number one priority for the site and the compliance of the rules by the members becomes an important issue, as the reputation of eHarmony depends on that and ultimately they are dealing with the physical integrity of the members. How eHarmony regulates the behaviour of the users?

First of all, the Risk Management division is committed to preserve safety. They are involved in mitigating the risks of being part of the social network. They have several approaches to regulate behaviour of users:

Publish rules to stay out of trouble: common sense advice is given to the community in regards to how to go about contacting, meeting and getting to know other people. Here are some of the tips from the eHarmony Australia website:

  • Always use your best judgment: people looking for love tends to get blind about con intents from fake prospect partners. The cheats make use of this tendency to take advantage of the situation as can be seen in this video.
  • Never share financial information or certain personal information: with the pretext of trying to find out more about a person life, the cheats ask questions to find information that could be used to break into financial accounts. Click here to watch the in-person phishing con video.
  • Be cautious when sharing personal information: some people feel the need to rush to get to know better the other person and hastily share personal contact information such as, phone numbers and emails. That could result in people being harrassed as they don’t know each others’ temperament yet. For that, eHarmony advises to go through a step by step communication process that eventually would lead to a secure call made by the system where neither the person calling or the one receiving can see each other’s phone numbers.
  • Do your own research: even though there is some screening carried out by eHarmony with authorities, they have a disclaimer saying that the information could be out-of-date. They encourage people to make their own reseach before meeting the other in person by typing the match’s name into a search engine, contacting local autohorities to obtain public information, or using a paid service to obtain a full background report.
  • Make your first date safe and successful
  • Always be respectful and kind

The risk management division of eHarmony receives concerns about a match and undertake proper investigation on the issue that could lead to cancelation of accounts and escalation to authorities.

Finally, eHarmony also works closely with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) to identify and combat online fraud in Australia. As such, if there is a belief that one of the matches could be a fraud suspect, in addition to reporting to eHarmony, they encourage to file a report with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission website at: www.ScamWatch.gov.au.

In this way the online quest for love becomes safe and people can focus in finding their soul mate!

 

How to Get the Support of the Public – PRs in Brisbane Airport

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PRs stands for Public Relations and is nothing more than a tool for getting the support of others by means of good works well publicized.

Public Relations as its best!. Photo credits: Zebra Public Relations Ltd.

I think that this is a really interesting topic, is how you make other people get to know the good things that you have done and therefore get them to help you with future project that you have in mind. This is a basic skill that an individual or company would have to develop if they want to keep in business. This applies to everything in life, for example how do you convince a girl or boy to be your girlfriend or boyfriend, well showing appealing and hopefully true things about you! That’s the whole business of PRs: “Good works, well publicized”.

Brisbane Airport Corporation have some resources that could be well used in this direction through social media:

  • The Airport Ambassadors are a group of volunteers that have the will to help the visitors of the Brisbane Airport with questions that they may have and directions that they could need about how to do some things in the precinct. The Ambassadors are wandering in the international terminal and they run the Visitors Information Centre at the domestic terminal. They have a natural tendency to spread the knowledge that they have about the airport and their workings. This is what is called a Maven: “somebody who is willing and eager to share their knowledge”. They could be taught how to use properly Facebook and Twitter and could respond swiftly to questions that may arise in the public. And not only that, but they could be proactive in posting in public wikis or blogs how to do specific procedures that they have found are the more asked by visitors, i.e. Q&A. In this way the visitors and customers would be delighted about the swift responses to their issues and they will get a better impression of the Airport.

The Airport Ambassadors. Photo credits: Brisbane Airport Corporation

  • The Brisbane Airport has a program of free Tours that increase the awareness of the community of all the things that happen in a day-to-day basis in the Airport. This awareness definitely leads to a sense of engagement. I searched for some of these tour videos on the web a nothing came out. It would be a great idea to make a video about that, with a really popular and amusing public figure, who could help to create a funny and informal footage for posting it through the social media channels. The purpose is to get the video viral and innovative ideas are a great way to do this, i.e. check this amazing video of the American band OK Go and see the number of views that it has: 37 million+! If BAC creates a viral and educative video, the image of the airport would be enhanced in the community and the numbers of followers in social media would go through the roof!

PRs nowadays are closely connected with social media and the word could be spread to the extent that the outputs could be viral and appealing to the general public.

Wikis for Creation of Community – Brisbane Airport

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Wiki, what a funny word: it has rhythm, it has rhyme! Wiki, wiki wiki! When I first heared it, I wouldn’t imagine the importance that it has nowadays for the smooth flow of information. Wikipedia, the biggest ans most popular encyclopaedia and is a wiki.

Wikipedia Logo. Photo credits: The Independent

So, what’s a wiki anyway?

Is a website where multiple people could collaborate to produce documents that all of them could read, looks simple but powerful. Check out this video a for simple explanation.

Wikis could be used from a small number of friends arranging a holyday to multinational companies that would like to use it as a repository for their processes as explained by Dicky Chiu in his blog.

Let’s focus in a specific application that I am interested in: the interlacing relations between employees of a company.

Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) is the organization that has the lease over the Brisbane Airport for 49 years; this lease was granted by the Australian government for 1.4 billion dollars.

Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of the Brisbane Airport, I’m going to state some facts:

  • It has an extension of 2700 hectaers, roughly a square with sides of 5 km.
  • BAC is responsible for maintenance and bulding of infrastructure, such as sewers, water, roads and power and communications in the precinct.
  • The Airport accomodates over 420 businesses that service in different industries that range from freight and aircraft handling to leisure and retail.
  • All this businesses employ more than 19,000 people.

Brisbane Airport. Photo credits: Novotel Brisbane Airport

But the surprising fact is that BAC has only 300 hundred employees to handle this monster! So each of the employees is a valuable assett and BAC has to treat them like that. What better way to create a great work environment to strengthen the bonds in the work force community.

Wikis are just great to achieve that end! What about a Wiki categorised by hobbies where all the employees could enter information about their leisure activities and share them with their peers. The employees would get to know who are the people in the company that they could hang out with to share their interests, several clubs could be formed out of that such as: bands, cooking, photography, fishing and running groups, amongst others. This interaction promoted through a social media tool would create strong emotional links that are essential to the smooth operation of such a relatively small but important bunch. An example of that is how Atlassian uses their own wiki product Confluence to achieve these social activities in the enterprise, as Sherif Mansour (Technical Product Manager at Atlassian) says in the Digital Orgs interview (21:55).

Wikis are relevant for any group activity, where everybody could input and feed from the general output. Of course, media policies are important to keep the activity under certain control, but as said by Sherif Mansour in the previous interview, people tend to behave well when they know that they are identifiable and that they are writing for the whole group.

Wikis have a great deal of applications, this is just one, but the sky is the limit!

References:

BAC – Our Company

BAC – People and Culture

The Power of Microblogging at Airports

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In my opinion the Brisbane Airport is a great subject to study in regards to Social Media, mainly because is the third airport in Australia, it has a great number of stakeholders and also because is located in the Australia TradeCoast – the second source of employment in the Brisbane area after Brisbane City.

Brisbane Airport. Photo credits by Brisbane Airport Corporation

Some of the main stakeholders involved with the Airport are government, airlines, passengers, employees, retail shops and transport system (to and from the airport). All of them have their own interests and challenges:

  • Airlines lend air transportation services to passengers in a streamlined and profitable manner. Adjusting to satisfaction standards of customers to keep them happy and make them loyal.
  • Passengers would like to travel in a timely, economical and comfortably way.
  • Employees want to keep their job to get a regular salary, lend the service to public efficiently to keep their customers happy and be in an attractive workplace that would keep them interested in their job.
  • Retail shops are interested in making profits selling their products, be in a pleasant environment that would attract customers and have some market research about the passengers’ purchasing trends.
  • Transport system would like to create profits from the transportation of passengers and companions from and to the airport and transport quickly (without jams or delays).

To create an effective way of dealing with instant communication from/to the Brisbane Airport, BCA (Brisbane Airport Corporation) have implemented a Twitter account that is a paramount tool to broadcast information to a great number of people and to connect emotionally with users and other stakeholders. Several applications come to mind and other ones are already implemented by the Social Media department of BCA:

  • Airport could receive informal complaints about their services and solve the issue or at least give an explanation. Also help requests are made and handled through Tweets:

  • Information about flights timetabling and delays could be broadcasted.
  • Airlines could tweet through the Airport account recently available accommodations in their flights.
  • Airlines could use the Airport account for announcing discounts on tickets, making the airport account attractive to the Twitter user.
  • BCA informs the community of new policies and decisions, explaining the reasons for the changes and letting the community express their views; which creates valuable feedback for the airport administration:

  • Issues relating transport to/from the airport could be communicated:

  • Public interest announcements:

  • Airport receiving and acknowledging good feedback for their services:

All of these applications and many more that are being used and that could be found create a smoother communication with all the people interested in the Airport and make the public feel more engaged and emotionally involved with such an important public service as the airport is for Brisbane.