Social Media Forum: Social Currency

Yesterday I did a talk at the Social Media Forum 2011 in Brussels. It’s a topic that I’m interested in since 2006 or so, the time Hugh MacLeod started talking about “social objects”. You’ll find out why when you keep on reading.

I started the presentation with a quote from Mark Twain I had found only a day earlier:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why” (Mark Twain)

The reason for that was mainly that as usual in social media related conferences (or actually on many of the stuff that is written about it online as well) is around tactics, hardly ever about the reason why. One of the other speakers asked a question about whether you need to be active on social media or building your own web presence, I think he used the reference ‘fish where the fish are’ to reference social media. To stay in that analogy that is like saying you should either ‘fish where the fish are’ versus ‘making sure your fridge is at the best possible temperature’. In that idea the tactics we’re all focusing in so much is just the same as thinking about tricks to get the fish to hop in the fridge themselves… that’s a silly idea isn’t it?

Enough about fish already. When I think about Social Currency, I can only think of it as the most interesting thing possible in social. What do other have to say about it though? That’s what you can see on the first few slides. A lot of explanation etc, and I can only think NOPE (thank you Chuck Testa). Why do I think it’s more than that? There are 2 cases I used to prove my point.

First one: The Blue Monster. You can read about that on my blog as I’ve written about it several times before, it is that what I believe made Hugh start to talk about ‘social objects’. Explaining what it meant for him. He called it the hard currency of the internet:

“The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them. The Blue Monster is a good example of this. It’s not the cartoon that’s interesting, it’s the conversations that happen around it that’s interesting.”

It was the Blue Monster that gave me, Steve and many other Microsoft colleagues a way into the tech community to talk about Microsoft and how we (as employees) were convinced something was changing on the inside. Only because people didn’t understand why we used the cartoon ourselves. The question to explain that created that window of opportunity.

A more recent example, the second one I used in my talk was the “Bikers” viral we made for Carlsberg 2-3 months ago. I haven’t talked about that video on my blog before, yet there’s a chance you have seen it – as did about 13 million people since launch. You have to see it first before I can further explain:

Apart from thinking it’s funny, what was the first idea on your mind? There’s a good chance it  was something in the lines of ‘would I have done that?’. Carlsberg launched their new baseline recently: That calls for a Carlsberg. And with that also a new proposition. It’s about a ‘reward for a daily act of courage’. And this was our (first) answer to that. Notice that you didn’t just talk about it, you probably discussed about it. It’s almost a social experiment.

That’s what Social Currency is about, a way to create value. That’s also why I think it’s a better word than object. And, it’s not just about talk value, but about discussion value. Make stuff worth discussing. If you keen on doing this, you build Social Capital. And that’s fundamentally much more interesting than learning about a few (ever changing) tactics first.

Hope you like that, feel free to comment. You can find the (small) presentation up on Slideshare:

Bing@TED: awesome!

The maps feature on Microsoft’s search products has always had a bit of an edge over Google maps. It wasn’t all good, but the 3D map view was always more realistic compared to competitors, the Bird’s Eye view still remains unique and if you see what they presented at TED a few hours ago… friggin awesome. The Flickr integration, the … I don’t know where to start. Seriously, check this out.

Oh, and Blaise – I’m a fan since you presented Photosynth at Microsft’s internal MGX event a few years ago. You rock!

More on the Bing TED presentation is here.


This is how the Urban Dictionary defines this: “(adj) something that is so baffling only goggles could understand”. I suppose that is how you got to think of Google Goggles, a mobile tool that allows you to take a picture of something to get instant search results based on the content of the picture. Sounds cool, check this out.

It did remind me of a Microsoft project I read & blogged about 3 years ago, a side project of Photosynth at that time. They talked about a very similar tool but don’t remember hearing from this after that.


Question to ask the Photosynth guys maybe? Or Steve, maybe you know (can find out)?

Le Web ‘09

Have to admit, I’m kinda sad. Today and tomorrow the best web/tech conference in Europe is on in Paris… and for the first time in 4 years it’ll be without me. Since I had a good part in the sponsorship of the conference by Microsoft, the fact that I’m not even going this year makes the difference even bigger.

The first time I went to Le Web was in 2006. The conference just changed name from Les Blogs to Le Web 3 and MSN UK had been a sponsor for the first 2 edition of Les Blogs with Windows Live Spaces. With Le Web 3 we decided to sponsor from the EMEA budget and link it to Windows Live in general and not just Spaces… it wasn’t just about blogging anymore so that made sense. If you were there in 2006 you might remember that little piece of network cable in your welcome bag with which you could win a smartphone at our booth, it worked rather well I’ll tell ya :)

© Peter Forret

That was where I met Hugh MacLeod for instance (where he did this interview), our paths would cross quite often again… especially in Paris.

In 2007 we were back, this time with shared sponsorship from the European and the French team of Microsoft. This was the year that Le Web became big, like really big. It was a always a good conference, but in 2007 it changed into big. Hans Rosling, Philippe Starck, Yossi Vardi, … just look at some of the videos I selected back then and see for yourself. Made a lot of good new contacts that year, unfortunately our presence (Microsoft’s I mean) wasn’t really good that year.

Last year Microsoft BizSpark took over the lead in the sponsorship, just like it’s the case this year. And I made sure we had the Blue Monster in Paris, with Hugh as our guest. Good fun, I’ll tell you that much.

© Dennis Howlett

Good thing about Le Web though is that the event is broadcasted Live, check out this page from tomorrow morning to follow the livestream from the main stage (via Ustream). Or check out the Le Web iPhone app.

And let’s hope I can make it back to Paris next year. Greetings to all my friends in Paris and good luck to Loic and Geraldine for what will be most certainly another great conference ;)

Mighty cool!

It’s not the first time I blogged about Photosynth but what can I say, it keeps impressing me over and over. Here’s a new video created by the University of Washington of a Photosynth they’ve created of the old city of Dubrovnik based on pictures of the city found on Flickr. Just take a look and you’ll agree with me, this is mighty cool. New York anyone?

{Hat tip Steve Clayton]

The Avatar Marketplace

Branded virtual clothes spotted in the Xbox Avatar Marketplace. This means you can now buy Adidas, Quicksilver, … gear for your Xbox avatar, great stuff. Before I go any further you need to understand something though. The Xbox avatar used to be a small square icon just like the avatars you see at whatever internet service of choice. Twitter, Friendfeed, … you name it. With the latest release of the Xbox dashboard last year they changed all that for the Xbox though. Avatars now became virtual 3D characters which you could personalize to your own wish, making them look like you as much as possible (or not at all).


That’s all fun and games but the real importance of all this is only showing now with the launch (beta still) of games such as ‘1 vs 100’ in which you literally play the well known tv show on your Xbox against another 100 real people. And you might have guessed it, the game is showing a virtual studio full of avatars of the people playing. The new avatar, a better representation of you and not just a little square anymore. Thus the importance of brands being very valuable in this context.

Today Adidas, Quicksilver (and maybe some others) are present with virtual versions of a part of their real collection. Should this be limited to fashion brands only, sure not. And should it be limited to existing clothes only, sure not. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone actually launches a new collection on the Avatar Marketplace first, I think it would. Yep, we’re definitely only just scratching the surface here – to be continued for sure!

Consumers don’t care about strategy

I don’t think there’s another product in tech that is ridiculed as much as Microsoft Bob. Never heard of it? That’s probably for a reason. Kudos to Monica Harrington for ‘confessing’ that she used to work on Bob and for writing a blogpost about it on Todd Bishop’s Microsoft blog. The product might have been a failure, the lessons learned are absolutely worth for everyone to read. Here’s one that stood out for me:

Consumers don’t care about strategy. Corporate customers do because if they’re investing big dollars over many years in a product, they want to know that it will continue to evolve in ways that are beneficial to the organization. In the corporate market, selling a vision is huge. By contrast, selling a vision to consumers is pointless. The key question they want answered is, "Does it make my life better today?"

It reminded me of how we always try to translate what lives in the ‘Meeting Room’ to something that can work in the ‘Living Room’ for all our clients. Make sure you read Monica’s full post, it’s worth it.

What a ride!

The last 2 months have been kinda crazy. After my last day at  Microsoft, I started jobhunting right away, jobhunting new style that is – using my blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, … and every other network that could help me spread the word. Interestingly enough it all became a bit of an experiment along the way as well, like when I introduced the #hirefriday tag, but nevertheless still a rather unpleasant reality of being unemployed during a crisis. Lucky enough for me things paid off rather quickly and 5-6 weeks after my last day at Microsoft I started working again.

My new home is Duval Guillaume, an idea-centric communications agency with offices in Antwerp and Brussels. Since 3 weeks you can find me in the Brussels office (photo below) as the new head of strategy there. But more on what I’m doing there in future blogposts.

What the office looks like

A lot of people have been very helpful during all those weeks and I’m very thankful for that. I realize I have been pretty silent on this blog during most of that time but we’ll be going to a more regular rhythm again soon. First I need to change a few things here, for one I should really get that self hosting thing going (yeah I know it’s not the first time I talk about this).