What I Learned From Our 2WAY Summit, Part 2

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2way-lead-image.pngThis is the second half of my thoughts about what enterprise IT folks need to takeaway from attending and speaking at our 2WAY conference this past week. You can find part 1 here.

I’ll cover some of the breakout sessions on the second day as well as additional thoughts gleamed from the keynote presentations.

My session on real-time communications

I was asked to lead a panel session on examining the effects and implications of real-time communications on Web technologies, and what this means for corporate Web developers who are trying to incorporate more interactive and immersive experiences in their Web sites. I brought four representatives together for the panel that spanned a wide variety of technologies:

  • Ian Small, the CEO of Tokbox Inc., which enables group video chat apps on a website,
  • Theresa Szczurek, the CEO of Radish Systems, which sells ChoiceView, an iPhone/iPad app that enables real-time communications to call center agents,
  • Danielle Morrill, the VP of Marketing forTwilio Inc., which has a series of Web services to enable voice and texting interaction using a variety of programming languages and tools
  • Evan Schreiber, the VP, Content Strategy and
    Acquisition of 5 Min Media
    , a leading how-to video repository and syndicator that is now part of AOL.

We had a very spirited discussion and lots of audience questions on how each of these tools is setup and deployed by a typical customer. What I found interesting is that there is no single video or “call me now” HTML tag – the process of incorporating these kinds of content is fraught with complexity and individual use cases varies widely. There is also no consensus on whether asynchronous or synchronous, true real-time interaction is best – the circumstances will dictate one or the other – but clearly we are headed towards a more complex Web page and that audio/video is going to be playing an increasing important part there.

I have the impact of video’s stickiness first hand: I have been syndicating my own video how-to content for the past several years using YouTube and a dozen other video sharing sites, including 5Min, and have found that 5Min is doing something right: next to YouTube, my channel there accounts for the largest viewership and continues to grow week by week. (I don’t receive any funds from 5Min, just to be clear what our relationship is.)

Each of the four vendors has their own series of programming interfaces and open standards, some of which are better documented than others. And each has a very different business model too: some give away freely all sorts of information in the hopes that their interface will be adopted and charge big bucks for corporate implementations (like Radish), while others (like Twilio) charge a few pennies per text or calling minute in the hopes that they will make it up on volume purchases. 5Min makes its money on ad clicks, which works for them because they have figured out how to wrap and embed ads in appropriate places inside the hosted videos. What this means is that there is a lot of room for innovation and potential success in this particular marketplace as things get sorted out.

(I should mention that there are lots of other voice and video add-on technologies, including tinychat.com and clickdesk.com. Feel free to share your favorites in our comments.)

Clearly, one place that all of these technologies will play a bigger role is in customer support. None of us wants to wait on hold on the phone or navigate a complex voice response menu system when we need to get a problem resolved, and having images sent to us directly (as with Radish) or able to chat with a representative (as with Twilio or Tokbox) will help improve the customer experience and perhaps win over a customer for life. Tokbox’s Small mentioned his real-time video application was reassuring to customers who wanted to see their representative and understand that the agent was engaged in fixing their problem and not just typing to a dozen other users in distress.

And also clear to me at least is that these technologies will enable all sorts of new kinds of applications that we could never have anticipated, such as GroupMe.com that was built on top of Twilio: the service sets up private groups that can receive text messages on their phones, or to start instant conference calls.

Thanks to a wonderful panel. So the key takeaways here are to start thinking carefully about how you can use video to enhance your Web content and ways that you can tell your story with short videos. And if you have a customer support department, look at some of these technologies to see how you can improve things.

How to become a social media consultant

At another session, I thought that UStrategy’s Ravit Lichtenberg had some very thoughtful things to say about how corporations should be using social media — she does a lot of work for HP and Salesforce.com. She mentioned that Old Spice’s revenue jumped 120% in April, claiming that this was due to integrating social media into their overall marketing. But it might be hard to prove any causality.

What I really liked about her talk was her idea of going through a cycle of trying, learning, applying, personalizing and then innovating any particular social media strategy. But the key is being able to go back to the trying phase and cycling through all of them again and again until you understand what works for your particular corporate context, and not just get stuck on the “trying” phase and abandoning the project altogether. “Social media is not just an experiment,” she said. “There are complex processes and procedures you need to put in place to make it happen – including training and updating skill sets, and providing common goals and solving real pain points so the project can be deployed across the company and contribute to the bottom line.”

Key takeaway: Don’t be afraid to experiment, but don’t be afraid to implement either. As Yoda said,do or do not, there is no try.

Some other random thoughts not worth their own subhead

At the conference, we also heard from Jeff Jaffe, the head of the W3C how they are working on a bazillion Internet standards, and perhaps some of them will come to fruition in our lifetime to actually have an impact on enterprise Web development in the coming years. They have no small task having gotten their start when we were all debating what HTML tag would be most appropriate for a particular action. Now they have to deal with a truly knotty multi-dimensional problem to handle mobile, social, and video enhancements to our websites. No one in the semiconductor space wants to wait 10 years for a spec to be defined before they can build a chip for it. How true.

JP Rangaswami, chief scientist of Salesforce.com, mentioned this post by Kathy Sierra that caught my attention:

“why are so many so convinced that [insert favorite buzzword] is the answer vs. just making a product that helps people kick ass in a way they find meaningful? The real pixie dust is when you ask yourself, “how can I help my users get more comments on THEIR blog?”

Hold that thought. Take something that NYC VC Fred Wilson spoke about: the difference between content that is free, and content that is freely available for other apps to consume it. Now here’s the takeaway: This difference is worth spending some time thinking over. How can your content be used by other’s apps, and how can you enhance their apps and help your partners succeed? Therein lies success for corporate developers.

As you can see, there is a lot that I picked up from the conference – it had a rich tapestry of themes and memes for corporate Web developers and IT folks in general. Do take some time to go to our site and review some of the video recordings of the keynotes if you are interested in hearing and seeing the speakers directly.

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2way-lead-image.pngThis is the second half of my thoughts about what enterprise IT folks need to takeaway from attending and speaking at our 2WAY conference this past week. You can find part 1 here.nnI’ll cover some of the breakout sessions on the second day as well as additional thoughts gleamed from the keynote presentations. n
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