Archive for the ‘TradeShow’ Category

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I recently caught up with a winter hibernation guide to imbibing in the stylized aura of shimmering Mad Men cocktails. It reminded me of the lingerings of respectable grown-ups drinking with impunity. They maintain their own obliviousness when the tumbler is shaken by the vaunted fictions of the camera. And what of their children? Are we still smarting from their own pungent tipsiness?

What characters sense and taste in memories and cinema is the ultimate stirring. It is an enterprise bursting to infect the communications pathways of entire marketing planets. Ladies and gents: from our gaping doors to your devouring eyes we bring you the Museum of Food.

That’s the taste we smell through our sights — the entrees and spirits captured in the evocative restaurants of film and the eat-in kitchens of classic sitcoms. The Food Network, the literal version of eye candy, has spawned a foodie offspring on most of its rivaling channels. The contents of those 2D sauce pans and table settings jettison chefs into a select crowd of scientific entertainers. Imagine when you swap out the kitchen help for the celebrated dining scenes, staffed by fully established franchises of fame. Who needs to reheat yesterday’s leftovers when you’re rolling out the specials on today’s menu?

Knowing one’s audience is to understand its taste for celebrity appetites. The campaign is zipless in its execution. No introductions are necessary. The script writes itself. The credit goes to that recipe — the one insisted on by the audience. Which audience? Do you need to ask, dear? We’re all on a first name basis here.

The familiar ingredients free us to portion control our connections to food events (formerly known as meals). They situate us in places (formerly known as physical locations). These seasonings could only be conjured up by our shared emotional histories with the actors we park under our cultural limelights.

So what does this have to do with more posts about museums and food?

A food museum would be the showcase for the re-enactment of celebrity meal scenes. From a tourism angle the concept is eminently franchisable. Each licensed property answers to the expectation of aromatic exhibitionism. The gift shop is the cafeteria. The advertising and the photo gallery are one in the same. Each chapter would festoon their cultural watersheds, local flavors, and neighborhoods of community food rituals. In effect, the first food chain set to endless variation. That’s the pull of culinary sensuality in the food court of public opinion.

How could this play out theme-by-theme among the planet’s food enthusiasts in the great dining halls of any Cosmo city of our vast global village?

  • Science wing: Food as medicine, nutritional supplements (friend or faux), organics v. industrial farming …
  • Sports arena: Ticketed bake-offs between master chefs, gaming concessions since the Romans …
  • Spiritual chapel: Biblical scenes and customary rituals …
  • Fashion runway: Dinner jackets, cocktail dresses, bulking up of American XXL …
  • Design pavilion: Interiors of watering holes from neighborhood taverns to western saloons, and Irish pubs …
  • Philanthropy: A percent of the proceeds go to local food pantries …

Apart from the charitable donations I haven’t landed a single loaded insinuation on the inflammatory minefields of food policy. Sure I’m letting obesity suit up as its own fashion statement. But do you hear me leafleting here for animal rights? How about the subsidizing of empty, cheap, diabetic-inducing calories? We’re going to have to take that fight outside our 501c3 status, food museum goers!

We’re going to have to stock those future flame wars in the freezer section and score brownie points on what we know. That would not be hunger but appetites — especially the gurgling bellies of stars from stage, screen, tables and bar stools. Hey bub — I can still see their mugs on the wall while I’m waiting for my own table to clear.

What you don’t know may hurt you.

What you don’t need to know WILL distract you.

Content is no longer king. At least that’s what I read in the news paupers.

There is no longer a premium on being the first to know. The future lies in being the first to understand in a way that draws others to that same understanding and their own conclusions. That’s the manifesto for curators.

Content is a stammering, mucus-laden umm among the miscellany of unfiltered search results and anonymously authored web posts. In a world where pocket devices are publishing platforms, scarcity isn’t measured in speed, access, or being connected but in making connections. Enter the sense-making territory of the web curator.

Imagine you’re on the exhibition floor of the social media event of the century: information surplus? Meet knowledge deficit! That introduction is being brokered by a knowledge planner — someone who can reconcile information supply with knowledge demand by anticipating:

  • how news travels
  • in what circles, and
  • where that impacts most

The cultivations of web curators are based on the three pillars of interpretation: context, context, and context. Tell me who said it, who heard it, and where and what they said becomes immaterial. Tell me the way in which an appeal was made and the call to action falls by the wayside. Show me the eye-witness who lived through the event she’s recounting and I get her authenticity implicitly as well as the emotional investments that would lead me to question her disinterested bystander status. An accomplished curator is not simply a message interceptor or retransmitter but a temperature gauger who positions the bursts and slowdowns of message traffic within the frame of reference of the personal radar.

We operate on a need-to-know-basis. If it lands off radar, our attentions don’t shift.

In this tree-falls-in-the-forest scenario a Web curator is the best defense against the maladies of information fog such as A.D.D., insomnia, the blurring of professional and personal affairs, and absent presence — the anxiety of device-enabled availability. That doesn’t mean you farm your calendar out to a personal attention manager. That happens in a decade or two. But it does mean answering to the contextual value of our personal mental space: WIIFM (What’s in it for me)?

The Market for Curators

So how does the curator find their niche? Being all things to all content consumers is about as relevant as trying to bury a subjective point of view. The new transparency isn’t about leveling the playing fields of opinion. It’s about linking to sources.  Unlike the ad-supported models of SEO campaigns a curator is not a human lynchpin for converting click-happy consumers. Idea people are not buying merchandise so much as arguments — the kind that support the rationales for the advice they sell. Perhaps the killer app here is rediscovering the art of disengagement: finding no surprises when we reconnect because the curator has your back at all times:

She tries to communicate a need for balance to employees who report to her, too. “I worry about the speed at which they are going,” she says, adding that she wants them to “shut down” when needed, for the sake of their families and their health.

- Mickey Meese, Who’s the Boss, You or Your Gadget? New York Times, February 5, 2011

Assuming we know what keeps our clients up at night, what kind of radar-building equipment serves the needs of curators?

That’s where a grounding in advanced search commands and even some grasp of tired, ol’ traditional media segments can come in handy. If you use a custom search tool like Google Coop Search to bundle sources you can see highly differentiated takes on your pet peeves, hot stock tips, and celebrated rumors on the news horizon.

Run those queries in the form of event-based trip wires and the daily counts form the aggregated patterns of what blows hot and cold in terms of news coverage. Google Trends runs the media pick-up patterns in tandem with the same terms in Google searches — in effect we have that same handshake from the trade expo: media supply meets (or misses) user demand.

These radar constructs are good for high visibility issues that soar and plummet from year-to-year. But many of our search targets would go undetected on such a public radar. For that we need to scale down to a more street level view through localities, community members, and more niche or locally based organizations. That’s where an RSS reader like Feed Demon shines as a personalized approach to event tracking and the aggregated coverage patterns — the IPhone of Google Trends, if you will.

The Value of Curatorship

Finally curators should sell their quantifiable benefits to a confused and distracted market. That sales pitch starts with single examples:

Abstractions like what the best-known are best known for might be a starting point for idea people. For more grounded folks it boils down to this — one purposeful, unitary artifact that reveals the telling quote, table, framework or footnote — diamonds in the … umm … content rough.

The bigger picture benefits will emerge once these evidentiary building blocks become ingrained in our web-based discovery process. That might be sweet music to sleep-deprived crisis managers. It may be a threat as well to the scientists of external risk assessment who traffic in the language of hysteria; the paranoid leading the parablind down an alley of would-be prowlers and invaders. No one likes to depart from the script. No one makes time for interruptions. They arrive unannounced. Their departure comes in its own time.

The impulse to panic is an age-old temptation not restricted to unsuspecting widows or defenseless victims. Is the concentration level thick with anticipation or diffused through false alarms and unmet expectations? Is it a wave of consensus or a squeaky wheel? A whistle in the dark or a charging stampede? What are the measured responses that address tangible perceptions — not last night’s nightmares but tomorrow’s business realities.

A curator can discern the strength of association and tell you where you are in your crisis – floating near the bottom of a deep-sea or being washed into shore escorted by the storm surge itself.

Sound like answers you’re not getting from today’s Google? If you want a crowd, start a fight. And when you do, hire a curator who can point out who’s in the audience.

I take no satisfaction to in repeating back what one CEO from an Israeli startup told me but I had to agree: “complete meltdown.”

He was referring to the lack of imagination, attendees, and reasons for showing up at Information Today’s Enterprise Search Summit. Much of the dour story is told through realities that no event planner can possibly correct. I saw the low numbers at the Boston Gilbane show last December and that was sobering. Still given the strong concentration of media/finance/law/consulting communities in and around NYC I thought enough of a core group existed to attract the vendors and analysts — maybe even some splashy announcements.

Nothin’ doin’. No luminaries — The Steve Arnolds, Sue Feldmans, Oz Benjamins — all no shows. Even the vendor speakers seemed in a hurry to finish their sessions so that we’d have more time to mix. Precious little was said or speculated on concerning FAST and its place in the Microsoft search arsenal. Even less was offered in terms of SharePoint customizations, 3rd party tools, and what’s worth planning for in the new release.

As an Information Today subscriber, contributor and speaker I have no incentive to trash their earnest efforts to stage an influential and instructive conference. It’s equally true that I did get value from going. Even in a lean year I benefitted much from exposure to Lou Rosenfeld who I had interviewed but never seen shine in a conference setting. One of the keynoters, a guy named Jared Spool gave a spot-on repudiation to the vendors; that the search bar is not the common ally of the uninformed masses but actually a tool of last resort. The guy I was teamed with on the interface track, John Ferrara, laid out an astute and telling case for the suggest function.

That said perhaps it’s time to rethink why we used to come each year. Maybe its time to consider how those reasons might be wearing thin while others that go begging could be answered in future forums?

For starters there’s very little give-and-take between attendees in terms of first-hand feedback on their specific deployments. Why not an open mic night version for info-geeks? We could kick the vendors out (or they could forget booth-sitting and pay the sponsor for eavesdropping privileges.

Another improvement would be to attempt some prototyping among breakout groups that try to advocate on behalf of their mock project. Another team could shoot it down on numerous grounds and both teams could learn a thing or two about implementation politics that are not so obvious when sequestered behind your own firewall. Dave Snowden does a far better job of describing and staging this exercise in the Art of Ritual Dissent.

Finally if I put on my dust-laden vendor cap I can imagine how these gatherings could be used to test drive my MRD requirements: what user pains are consensus-forming and which ones only apply to fringe customers? Where should I aim my priorities for upcoming releases? A face-to-face test lab might do the trick.

One of the prime points I’ll raise tomorrow at the Boston Gilbane Conference: Where Content Management Meets Social Media is the garbage-in, garbage-out notion that post-Google content production is really all users about picking through the information scraps for that one unsuspecting gift of credible, airtight, leverage-worthy understanding.
It’s about the yard sale of search results where my precious time is suddenly not billable because I’m no longer on the clock — I’m on Google and anything that turns up is free and clear or I turn it down.

The idea that a corporate intranet could become the pleasure center of a redemptive search ain’t gonna happen because of one vendor over the next or because our corporate intranets are rebranded as incubators for the soon-to-be monetized grand designs of our wannabe thought leadership elites. No one slaves over their best strategic thinking on a corporate intranet. No one honestly believes that the answer to better content is to pay a premium for it (or any fee at all).

The ultimate triumph over unlimited content in a time-sensitive world is to hook-up the content pipes to the quantifiable demand for knowledge (information worth putting to use). Do that and that surplus of supply can be a blessing. Of course that means understanding what your customer need to inform their decision-making. Does that mean invasive surveys? Does that mean reading the long tail of your search logs in dubious hope that a pattern emerges? Does that even mean that your users know what they want (in advance of seeing it)?
Here are a few pragmatic pointers:

1. Do that hookup maneuver in your metadata structure. Connect your taxonomy to how people complete their work (actions) — not some unwinnable debate about what to call things (nouns).

2. Make your search tool do the heavy user lifting. They should not have to guess about where their next productive experience is coming from. Conversely you must be vigilant with your providers to make sure they are sensitive about where they locate their content — otherwise your users have to care too (they’re probably more interested in telling their life stories to Survey Monkey).

3. Create one dignified and significant workflow where an important milestone triggers the telling of those teachable moments that keep people like me employed as KM professionals. Maybe it’s dissecting a win-loss. Perhaps it’s an illustrious use case. Either way it’s an instructive lesson about how to model success and draw important distinctions that were not obvious prior to when the story takes place.

4. Include in the storytelling the other relevant links and deliverables that document the life of the project in question. That’s how to grow the content base in step with the knowledge deficits you’re trying to balance.

Last week I attended the ESS show at the New York Hilton. I think the most salient smoke screen to hit my radar was the game-changing notion that a successful search deployment (and there are more than a few to be found) shifts the stakes from a user to provider-centric view of enterprise content. But the first few steps are tentative. This is not so much a groundswell as a groundbreaker — and once it catches fire, a deal-breaker too: Want to improve user experience? Increase provider participation.

The distinctions that once colored content producers and contributions continue to bleed together. If I offer an opinion about how well an instruction helps me do my job am I a passive consumer or an engaged community member? If I download a bunch of presentations and preview several others am I identified as a content collector? Does my mounting collection signify a degree of influence that the author has over my efforts to absorb, master, and ultimately leverage this material? No matter what the motivation, no matter what the conclusion … what we do with content will one day eclipse the content itself.

My favorite new feature on display at the show was a passive approach to meta content, a.k.a. content about content. A vendor named BA-Insight has devised an ingenius way to capture the secret life of documents. These secrets reveal what sway the ideas conveyed by our peers have over us. In the publishing world this is a simple units sold formula. Behind the corporate firewall this is called a Wiki that gets updated almost as often as a freshly proposed solution is minted as a new product innovation, business model, or marketing approach. No matter what the end game it’s a provider’s market and the easier it is to reach it, shape it, and build on it, arguably the better the outcome.

So how did this play out at the vendor booth? BA-Insight’s Longitude product collects all kinds of passive feedback — downloads, previews, tagging, and other recordable sessions events take the opt-in approach to a whole new level of discretion. Essentially the record button is pegged to the user ID, rendering the idea of an active observer to that of the actions taken by that same user. This approach to meta-content is completely passive, preserving an untampered search session. That means no gaming, back-scratching, user surveys, or votes to cast (the equivalent of internal pop-ups). This is user feedback of the purest, organic degree. Perhaps the purity is why the team from Accenture that provided the case study has so far shied away from this feature?

The other nice-to-haves are alluring to any professional services shop that belches, respirates, and wheezes in PowerPoint. For instance Longitude’s preview pane decouples bloated ZIP folders (the last refuge of a knowledge provider with no time or incentive to upload their stuff. Not only can you cut and paste right out of preview but you also see the pockets of relevance by page number, adhering to your keywords.

All the whizbangetry was blown away however by Kevin Dana’s elegant and sparing AJAX customization that registers a keyword lookup on Accenture’s back-end index. This search suggestion feature would come in handy for any enterprise where the user base is not graded on keyword creativity but their ability to reshape existing outputs in the form they’ve been tasked to regenerate. Creative? Well maybe on someone else’s clock and with someone else’s IP!

The search sugestion feature comes to mind when considering Tuesday morning’s panel led by Jean Graef on social search where a discussion about user inputs into enterprise search quickly led to a familiar tradition-bound versus web 2.0 fight on who was better equipped to carry the findability mantle into the next round of version-dot-placeholder. MITRE’s Laurie Damianos says that much of the collective intelligence (and foundational content) added in her enterprise comes from employees’ pre-existing tags. MITRE has built and fielded a social bookmarking prototype, creating public profiles from RSS feeds for internal indexing. Damianos says the effort has led to a referral system, promoting common tags and using recommendations for similar labels. She also raised the often overlooked question of content lifecycle management and the link root brought on by broken links and outdated page references. The team currently enforces freshness by purging all tags that go inactive after 90 days.

I thought the real panel-stumper was put to the next roundtable on BI Tools hosted by Steve Arnold. Graf Mouen of ABC News asked what Arnold, Northern Light’s David Seuss, ISYS’s Derek Murphy and SAP’s Alexander Maedche saw in terms of their accounts investing the needed resources in something more critical than tagging feeds, search tools, preview panes, and text analytics — that resource is on the firm’s own domain experts. All deployments regardless of technology, vendor, cost, and implementation smarts can only go so far without their participation. The sober answer of “not much” belied the unnatural state of seeing Seuss and Arnold in actual agreement.