The business case for goodwill

Carolyn Y. Johnson has a great article about companies that listen online today in the Boston Globe. She mentions that Comcast and Southwest monitor Twitter for frustrated users and Dell for improving its customer service as well as providing a site called IdeaStorm where people can provide feedback. Dell has implemented over 50 of the suggestions from the IdeaStorm site.

I’ve talked about listening online before, because I think everybody at Google should do it to some degree. Google is pretty good at hearing outside feedback, although there’s always more we could (and should!) do. Here’s what I said last time:

Some of the most dynamic teams at Google are the ones that listen to bloggers and respond. ….

My ideal would be if every Google project had someone watching the blogosphere for feedback. It could start as simply as a persistent search in Google News and Google Blogsearch for mentions of that product. That would help us spot if a particular project is causing headaches for someone. We should get the listening locked in first.

Both Google News and Google Blogsearch provide RSS feeds for search results, so you can search for your product name, turn it into a feed, then add that feed to Google Reader to see new mentions of your products. If you’re logged in, you can even customize Google News to create a “Google” section or only news about your favorite topic.

I wrote the quoted paragraph above in 2006. In 2008, you’d monitor more places. Monitor Twitter with Summize, which can provide a feed for a query. Monitor FriendFeed by adding “&format=atom” to the end of a search url (hat tip to lifestream blog for getting that info from Bret Taylor at FriendFeed).

By the way, it’s not just companies that benefit from feedback online either — most organizations can get good suggestions. Ubuntu’s brainstorm feedback site just received its one millionth vote on an idea and has its own blog. You can even download the code for Ubuntu’s brainstorm project and use it yourself.

The fly in this ointment is how to make a business case for listening. What are the metrics that argue for having someone engage with a community, listen to feedback, and push for changes? Any smart person intuitively knows that good community relations are a solid idea, but how do you prove that? In a company of size X, how many people should pay attention to or be dedicated to community relations? I’d be interested if other people have thought about the business case for goodwill, or know of resources that discuss this.

xkcd @ Google!

[Adding an xkcd cartoon to my last post made me remember that I had this leftover post that I never published.]

I’m ruthless in pruning my work email down to the essentials. In particular, I auto-archive emails about different speakers at Google. So many neat/fun speakers are always visiting Google that if I started going to all those cool lectures, I’d never get my regular work done.

I’m at peace with that choice, but it does mean that sometimes I find out about awesome speakers at Google by reading about them on an outside blog.

I missed Randall Munroe, the guy that draws xkcd, which is a bummer. It’s one of my favorite net comics. Here’s my favorite xkcd:

Funny xkcd comic

My second-favorite is this map of the internet, because some real internet cartographers used the idea and made a real map of the internet with the same basic design.

If you like xkcd, Ellen has a great post about Randall Monroe’s visit to Google.

Socially exhausted

I communicate with people in lots of ways: face-to-face, email, via my blog, leaving comments in the blogosphere, conferences, etc. At SMX West a couple people asked “I sent you a friend invite on service X but you haven’t responded. Do you not like me?” Please don’t feel bad, because it’s not that. I’m letting a lot of requests drop on the floor — even requests from other Googlers to chat on Google Talk. I did a quick check of various social services and here’s what I found:

LinkedIn: 176 invitations to connect
Twitter: 671 requests 1060 requests
Google Talk: 27 chat requests
Facebook: 190 friend requests
MySpace: 35 friends, and it’s a fake account that someone else set up in my name (I’m not 42 years old, thank you very much 🙂 ).

At this point, managing friend invitations feels more like work than fun. Many of these services have really poor interfaces for mass approving, and a while ago I discovered that if I stopped responding to friend requests, very few people got angry with me. So if I haven’t responded to a friend request from you, please don’t take it personally — I’m just a little socially exhausted.

By the way, I have a precise measurement of being Calicanissed. He told his twitter following to add me, and I got almost exactly 400 additional twitter requests. Jason didn’t know it, but I had my twitter set to the private mode that requires each twitterer to be approved. Thanks, Jason. 😉

Verisign increases .com fee to $6.86

It looks like Verisign is increasing fees to $6.86 for a .com domain and $4.23 for a .net domain. Around this time last year the fee went from $6.00 to $6.42 for a .com domain and from $3.50 to $3.85 for a .net domain. The new fees become effective October 1st.

Blogger Play is really addictive. It’s a slideshow of pictures that are currently uploading to blogger. I remember the first time I realized that the nightly TV news would never play re-runs; if you missed the show that night, you wouldn’t see it again. This new feature has the similar feel: there’s a river of pictures flowing up to Blogger, and if you aren’t watching, you might miss gems.

Googlified points out that if you use and don’t want to participate, it’s easy to opt out, and also that Flickr has something similar. The Flickr slideshow has a lot to recommend it, including a row of thumbnail previews at the bottom and the ability to choose tags to view. On the fastest setting of each, Play shows photos 3-4x faster than Flickr’s slideshow, but they’re both cool.

The only downside I’ve noticed is that (at least on my XP machine using Firefox) Play seems to eat up memory and never free it, so don’t be surprised if Firefox crashes (it could be one of my browser extensions, of course). Internet Explorer seems fine.

Fun stuff. When lots of people are uploading pictures or willing to label items in a photo, you can do some pretty amazing things. Check out two SIGGRAPH papers from 2007: one uses Flickr to remove or change parts of a picture (see below), while the other lets you insert new photo objects into an image.

Original picture Doctored picture

If you’re not familiar with SIGGRAPH, check out some of the video highlights from the 2007 program. I especially enjoyed the image resizing demo at around 1 minute, 43 seconds into the video. I wish YouTube let you create bookmarks at a specific point in a video like you can with Google Video, but the whole video is fun to watch.