To API or not to API, that shouldn’t be a marketing question

Crossposted at The TrendWatch

Yesterday, the quintessential online ad resource BannerBlog featured two ads for Smart. Both pulled dynamic data — weather and maps — to build a display ad unit. I could be wrong, but the data source was probably some sort of API. For those not so versed in acronyms, Wikipedia to the rescue:

An application programming interface (API) is an interface that a software program implements in order to allow other software to interact with it; much in the same way that software might implement a user interface in order to allow humans to interact with it.

Flickr Mosaic
Flickr Mosaic: Crayonbox, constructed with Flickr API. Released under a CCommons license by krazydad

Like digital bridges, API’s request standartized information from public (and sometimes private) web services. From USA Spending to Fedex tracking, from Flickr to Google Maps, the interest for APIs has been traditionally confined to B2B/ERP and the Social Web. But lately the concept is extending beyond these areas: with developers creating exciting and unexpected uses with the new data available, and with consumer brands and the ad industry starting to let go of their closed silos, in essence “letting one thousand flowers bloom“. A good consumer brand example of this trend is the UK grocery chain Tesco, who announced a new API at TechForTesco and invited developers to tinker with its data, search for nutrition facts or send ‘ideas’ to the customer’s ‘ideas inbox’.

Web development frameworks have long been using these large building blocks to enable rapid development by a larger interested audience. They not only ignite the engine of innovation, sometimes stalled by internal corporate politics, but also allow brands to have a comfortable degree of control. With new data sets available, we could start thinking of new kinds of mashups, such as business data built directly into communication solutions, CRM programs feeding custom content or display ads with real-time data, as mentioned in the beginning.

Before a brand dips into this space, it’s challenge is to question which data set respects legal and privacy issues, while at the same time being interesting enough for developers and consumers to act upon. What they shouldn’t be asking is if an API is useful (it’s useful when the data is right).

If you’d like to know more about what’s being done with such web services, I highly recommend checking out the website Programmable Web. It’s a useful resource with over 1500 APIs that have been used in thousands of mashups.

The Zerkin Glove – Intuitive Interaction with Augmented Reality

Noah Zerkin gives AR a touch of awesomeness, with his Zerking Glove.

The low-cost data glove (under $300) allows 3D interaction with virtual objects in augmented reality (AR) environments, with accurate 1-to-1 tracking of ones entire arm from shoulder to knuckles without external reference infrastructure .


Despite all my pet peeves with all the hype surrounding AR, i’ve been lately more thoughtful of the subject and there’s a few interesting projects being hacked, like this one from @noazark, who’s looking for investors.

Augmented Marketing: 10 ideas beyond reality

2009 has been abuzz with Augmented Reality, and what was once novelty is now on the verge of becoming a fad, a “Me Too” marketing strategy. As i still think there’s a lot of bright people researching new ways of interaction, here’s a short selection of videos collected in the last few months, featuring the best augmented reality examples used for marketing purposes.


    One of the first AR examples used in advertising, by Mini.

  2. GE Smartgrid

    Papervision meets FLARToolKit for a digital hologram of GE’s Smart Grid technology. Developed by North Kingdom.

  3. Wear Your World

    The Fluid Interfaces group from MIT showcased their work on a recent TED Talk, with Pattie Maes demoing the sixth sense, a step towards the ubiquitous computing vision of Mark Weiser.

  4. Topps 3-D Live cards

    One of the quickest ways for AR reaching a mainstream audience is definitely sports. With Topps 3-D Live cards by T-Immersion, you can bring life to players, with the help of a webcam.

  5. Wikitude AR

    The iPhone might get all the buzz, but one of the promising AR integrations is on Google’s Android, with Wikitude, a mobile travel guide based on location-based Wikipedia and Qype content.

  6. Augmented Reality Geocaching

    Ok, this is really just a concept, but as an occasional GeoCacher, i really loved this idea. Oh the possibilities for augmented ARGs (see also Map Tracking and MARQ).

  7. Dynamic Wine Labels

    Dynamic Wine Labels. An innovation, a company co-founded by Twinelis buddy Andre Ribeirinho. Wine information on the go, using QR codes with AVIN (think ISBN for wines).

  8. Augmented Reality Tamagotchi Maid

    A virtual toy, with their 64 page instructional manual, with all the Japanese idiosyncrasy, developed by Geisha Tokyo Entertainment.

  9. Sekai Camera

    Mainly a mobile technology, but with a promising marketing future, the Sekai Camera is a system for using online data to navigate the real-world, featured on the latest Techcrunch 50TechCrunch 50.

  10. Augmented Magic

    Augmented Reality Magic 1.0 from Marco Tempest on Vimeo.
    You didn’t think I’d forgot the coolest video of them all, where Zach Lieberman and Theo Watson mix technology with magic, didn’t you?

While this kid of experiences has all the eye-candy, the real trend that interests me is “The Internet Of Things”, with technologies like Arduino or companies like TikiTag and Violet.

For related information, check out this great resources:

Get a Third Place

There’s a recurring theme on some mainstream media that the Internet and social media are some kind of dark force, that only does bad things to your kids and those who spent too much time online don’t have anything useful to do with their lives.

As i’m never short of passion of explaining to regular “offline” folks the outstanding opportunities that the web has brought to us, let me share one of my central arguments that you can also use to bring more people in to the conversation.

The Third Place

The Third Place refers to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace, or as i call it the private and professional spheres. The concept was created by Ray Oldenburg , arguing that these places were central on their community building role on a society.

A monthly meeting of users in Lisbon, © twittlis

The web pushed this whole concept further, as citizens increasingly rely on digital tools to stay connected, with social media becoming their main third place. With shopping malls and other consumption temples getting emptier in a year of crisis, this trend will deepen and it’s up to us, early adopters, to show the Yellow Brick Road to newcomers.

Show your friends the best community tools available so we all can build a better society. From to, these are not only tools for digital democracy but effective agents of change.

So when those folks tell you to get a life, just reply: “Get a Third Place”.

Catching up with the new marketing

This week i commented at work the fact that some blogs rival in terms of online audience with same major newspapers, with marketers needing to review their traditional media planning. On a happy coincidence, today the Wall Street Journal writes why many marketers are lagging behind consumers in terms of social media.

Jump on the Social Media Bandwagon
Illustration by Matt Hamm under a CC License

Some highlights:

Don’t just talk at consumers — work with them throughout the marketing process.
The conversations consumers have with each other, result in “some of the most interesting insights,” including gift ideas for specific occasions, such as a college graduation, and the prices consumers are willing to pay for different gifts.

Give consumers a reason to participate.
Other companies provide more-direct incentives: cash rewards or products, some of which are available only to members of the online community. Still others offer consumers peer recognition by awarding points each time they post comments, answer questions or contribute to a wiki entry

Listen to — and join — the conversation outside your site.
monitor relevant online conversations among consumers and, when appropriate, look for opportunities to inject themselves into a conversation or initiate a potential collaboration.

Resist the temptation to sell, sell, sell.
When consumers are invited to participate in online communities, they expect marketers to listen and to consider their ideas. They don’t want to feel like they’re simply a captive audience for advertising, and if they do they’re likely to abandon the community.

Don’t control, let it go.
“You have to let the members drive. When community members feel controlled, told how to respond and how to act, the community shuts down.”

Like it or not, the old way of doing (push) marketing is on its final days. Or has i heard yesterday on the Campus Party panel about Advertising and social media, your homepage is now Google.

Unplug your friends

The video of the week is no motion graphics masterpiece or a viral sensation (yet). It’s a simple clay figure animation by the folks from (recently redesigned), remembering us that we can use the Internet to get off the Internet.

There’s also the mini-site at, where you can send an Intervention Email to your screen- addicted friend. After all, you can do your life without Twitter.

The film was created by Julie Lamb Gaboriau and Phil Gable, directed by Rohitash Rao and produced by Curious Pictures in NYC, in collaboration with Meetup.

Source: Paul Isakson

P.S.: Speaking of meetups, if you’re in Lisbon, join us at Social Media Cafe and Twittlis.

Google Maps City Center

This should probably be one of my silliest posts, but since serendipity doesn’t come that often, i might as well share it. So here it goes:

If you’re looking for a city, where does Google Maps take you by default?

Running a couple of queries brought some interesting results:
(zoom in to street level, for better view)

Lisbon, Portugal

This was actually what took me down the rabbit hole, as it’s a long stretch to consider Praça do Comercio as Lisbon’s city center.

New York

Times Square is a a pretty good choice, Downtown Manhatan would do fine also.

Paris, France

Right next to the city hall. I was expecting Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe.

San Francisco

Van Ness Ave w/ Market St‎. What were you expecting now? Alcatraz?

London, UK

Another strange choice, next to the Parliament Square.

Rome, Italy

The placemark sits right in front of Il Vittoriano, on Piazza Veneza. No Colloseum for you.

Madrid, Spain

Puerta del Sol is a pretty busy city square, but celebrations usually take place at Plaza Cibeles.

Mountain View, California

And of course, Mountain View, placed next to Google’s corporate headquarters.

This seemingly useless trivia is actually important, as businesses get ranked in Local Search according to their proximity to the city center. If you’re an hotel, entertainment or tourism related service, you’d better start caring how Google Maps sets their city placemarks.

So, is your city center the same as the one suggested by Google Maps?

Social Media and Brand Hijacking

Brand Hijacking happens when consumers appropriate the brand for themselves and add meaning to it. Most of the times, we get to know only the benign form, when customers act as evangelists. This behavior is something to be encouraged by companies, or as David Armano puts it, brands should act as facilitators, opening communication channels and providing tools and materials (if you’re really hip, wrap it around a Creative Commons license) to consumers.

Brands as facilitators
: Illustration by David Armano

The brand positioning envisioned by the company isn’t always how the consumers perceives it: remember the blockbuster Snakes on a Plane or a more classical brand like Dr. Martens, initially a gardening shoe for senior women, until teenagers hijacked the brand with ideological purposes.

Things can get even dirtier, with the next-generation cybersquatting practices, fueled by search engine marketing or plain digital identity squatting on a new malign form of brand hijacking, with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and all the social media universe making things even more complicated.
No matter how well-intentioned Alex Wipperfurth was with his book Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing, there will always be people using the (social media) FORCE for the wrong purposes.

On top of these misuses, one big issue remains: most companies are completely out of touch with brand hijacking in social media, with no Online Reputation Management strategies whatsoever.

Mad Men on Twitter

One of the recent episodes of brand hijacking involved AMC Series “Mad Men”, a TV Show that revolves around the advertising world in the 60’s, and Twitter users that were impersonating some of the series characters on the microblogging service.

Mad Men main cast: Photo by MACTV

Don Draper, Betty Draper, Joan Holloway, Sal Romano, Bobbie Barret, Jimmy Barret, Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell, Trudy Campbell, Peggy Olson, Bertram Cooper, Helen Bishop,Paul Linsey, Duck Philips, Bud Melman and even David Ogilvy were all playing their Twitter role, extending the series beyond the TV set, with great respect to the tone of the show (I even suspected at first they were really hired by AMC).

It turns out AMC wasn’t involved at all and when they find about it, a take-down was issued to Twitter with most of the accounts suspended. It can’t really get more clueless than this about social media, when a legion of fans (Don Draper has almost 2000 followers) is evangelizing the show for free and a company silents their voices like this.

With all the Twitter uprising and bad press afterwards, AMC came to their senses and reinstated the accounts (although there was no disclosure of future intentions). At, the Twitter Fans Blog, it was summed up pretty well:

Fan fiction. Brand hijacking. Copyright misuse. Sheer devotion. Call it what you will, but we call it the blurred line between content creators and content consumers, and it’s not going away. We’re your biggest fans, your die-hard proponents, and when your show gets canceled we’ll be among the first to pass around the petition. Talk to us. Befriend us. Engage us. But please, don’t treat us like criminals.
This site exists to catalogue the conversation around AMC’s Mad Men and its fan base across the social web. But it’s just the beginning. ‘We are Sterling Cooper’ is a rallying cry to brands and fans alike to come together and create together.

This sad episode (not of Mad Men, which I’m also a fan), highlighted the dangers and opportunities that brands are facing in social media. On the one hand, brands should listen and participate, being igniters of positive hijacking. On the other hand, it is becoming evident that the same amount of attention that was being put on domain squatting, must be taken in regards to social media identities.

It could happen to your brand

The Mad Men example is mostly about companies being clueless and getting punk’ed by social media. Most of the times it’s a case of not being able to understand these communities. At Twitter for instance, there are plenty of brand hijacking examples, with big names like iPhone, Vivendi, Motorola, Nokia, Intel or WindowsXP not being run by the company. Just imagine the amount of harm to a brand an individual with wrong intentions or resentment could do to your brand.

With this, i’m not defending that a company should go out and start issuing take down notices in every social media service there is. Instead, you should check what you could protect today and start providing these hardcore fans a safe harbor to continue evangelizing your brand, They’re your best friends, your customers, don’t turn them into enemies.

If things really go wrong, you could always go the judicial route or contact the service regarding the issue, but that’s something you should be really be sure, or you could turn into another RIAA.

These concerns not only apply to company brands, but also to individuals. Celebrities, politicians, writers, musicians, everyone that has a digital footprint should care about their social media brand. Just imagine if someone registered your name on Facebook and started using your name. Wait. Perhaps it’s already happening. You’d better check it out.

MySpace and Facebook have plenty of digital copycats, fans with the “me-first” mentality, creating unofficial profiles that are so credible that everyone adds as a friend. Again, most of the times, it’s positive brand hijacking, but what if?

What if someone uses your aliases and start spreading rumors? What if someone takes your Twitter username and then tries to sell them? What if someone starts astroturfing and overlinking on your behalf?

Always use protection

Flickr photo by Corey Ann under a Creative Commons License

So now that i’ve warned you about the problem, what’s a company to do?

  • Register your brand/product name early. How early? As soon as a social media service is generating consistent buzz about your brand. That means that you should have registered yesterday on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, while monitoring promising services like Friendfeed or Disqus.
  • Ask your agency what to do. I’m sure there is someone smart enough to give you the right answers.
  • Define procedures for brand hijacking as one of your social media best practices. A simple social media policy will do.
  • Get your voice. Is it a push model, or do you actually engage with the users? Delegated or internal ? Formal or Informal conversational tone? Does your company have a a Digital Curator ?
  • Provide aggregation mechanisms. It’s hard to keep pace with all the services. If you don’t have internal resources, services like Friendfeed or SocialThing are a great choice.
  • Track your brand buzz, with free services like,, Google Alerts and Technorati or more professional ones like BrandsEye, BuzzLogic or StartPR.
  • Have a consistent alias/nickname in different services. This is also a great marketing tool, making it easy for fans to guess your channel on YouTube or even getting a few more SERP hits.

All these measures have a preventive character, shielding your brand from being used in harmful ways by users. It mostly relates to domain squatting, that has brought so many troubles to brands, forcing them to take legal actions.

The implications for online advertising are clear: if you’re to launch a new campaign / product / service, be sure to register the most significant aliases in the main social media services. It’s obvious you can’t register all variations, but at least assure the most obvious ones. Think about it as if you were optimizing for search engines. Better yet, think about it as Social Media Marketing.