Archive for July, 2008


At Metablocks we wear both developer and marketing hats! Most of our business revolves around user interface and application design, especially social media applications, but we also have a growing consultancy business around social media marketing.

One of the new social media marketing tools that has gained popularity and momentum in recent months is Twitter and a growing number of new media marketers have become big “Twitter Marketing” fans (IgnitePR, Citizen Agency,TechnoSailor, i.e.)

What is Twitter, you ask? Twitter defines itself as a tool for “staying in touch and keeping up with friends no matter where you are or what you’re doing.” (more…) Marketers have reinterpreted that as a way for companies and brands to stay in touch with customers or prospective customers no matter where they are! For those interested, I recently added a page on our Wiki with a list of Twitter marketing related resources including articles and success stories.

Here are some practical applications of “outgoing” Twitter marketing in action:

  • A TV show or music network automatically updating viewers and fans via Twitter about upcoming episodes
  • A news network distributing news headlines regularly on Twitter
  • A corporate blogger automatically updating their Twitter feed with links to their latest news, events or blog posts
  • A local government sending weather and other alerts (such as Amber alerts) to their residents via Twitter

Here are some “incoming” Twitter marketing applications:

  • A cable company using Twitter to identify customers with support needs or issues
  • A technology company using Twitter for find information about competitors
  • A marketing company using Twitter to gauge the “buzz” or interested around a Brand
  • A reporter using Twitter to find out what the “Topic De Jour” (topic of the day) happens to be

Another interesting “application” (verb) of Twitter is to actually integrate it into desktop and web-based applications (noun) to automatically share information about a users activities or interests (with their permission of course).  Here are some examples

  • Your cable set top box automatically “tweets” the TV shows you are currently watching
  • Each time you sell an item on eBay, Craigslist or vFlyer, it show up on your Twitter feed
  • Videos or photos you share on sites like YouTube and Flickr instantaneously get reflected in your Twitter feed
  • Blog posts, news and events you create automatically show up in your Twitter feed

Too much information (TMI)? Perhaps, but a growing number of people are now living “Twitter-enhanced” lives and marketers are realizing that Twitter may indeed be that best way to reach them!

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  • iPhone 3G Applications are Here!

    The new Apple iPhone 3G hit the stores on July 11 and despite some technical glitches has been quite a success. By Sunday, July 13, Apple announced that iPhone 3G sales surpassed 1 million units is just three days.  Apple also said that iPhone and iPod touch users have already downloaded more than 10 million applications from the App Store.

    More than 800 native applications are currently available for the iPhone and according to Apple, more than 200 are offered for free and more than 90 percent are priced at less than $10!
    These are pretty impressive numbers for a “new” platform!  You’ll find applications in obvious categories such as social networking, games, news and entertainment, photography, business and media on Apple’s newly launched App Store (accessible via iTunes).

    We are currently working on a handful of iPhone development projects (and I am sure dozens of other developers are as well) so you can expect the number of iPhone 3G applications to keep climbing!

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  • Enterprise 2.0 and UI Design

    The term Enterprise 2.0 has become a popular term used to describe the general transformation taking place within the enterprise as companies move towards embracing Web 2.0 technologies and practices.  I mentioned the trend a couple of days ago. The phenomena is actually very simple and very prevalent – what makes sense on the Internet, eventually makes sense in the enterprise – think Enterprise Mashups, Enterprise Widgets, Enterprise Social Networks, Enterprise Video and even Enterprise user-generated content!

    Enterprise 2.0 User Interface Design:
    More recently companies have gotten around to updating internal (and external) web-based application to incorporate Web 2.0 design and technologies. Here are some of macro and micro trends we have seen or proposed as it relates to enterprise clients:

    • Updating their presentation layers to leverage XHTML/CSS
    • Incorporating AJAX and FLEX components in their UI’s
    • Moving away from “Frame-based” design to simpler CSS-inspired skinnable UIs (this CSS Zen Garden for the Enterprise)
    • Adding support for user feedback and user-generated content in the form of rating widgets, user comments and discussions, as well as content upload capabilities
    • Adding support for RSS and other forms of syndication to their applications
    • Mashup that integrate both Internet and enterprise feeds
    • Continued move towards Enterprise “start-pages” (Enterprise dashboards like Netvibe, i.e.) and Enterprise Widget
    • Increased support for Video and other rich media content
    • Mobile application support (especially for the iPhone and Blackberry)
    • Converting from SOAP and WSUI based web service architectures to more modern XML REST and JSON
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  • Enterprise 1.0 vs Enterprise 2.0

    Most of our Enterprise clients are very much involved in moving their organizations towards becoming more “2.0”.  The concept of Enterprise 2.0 has in the past represented “technologies and business practices that liberate the workforce from the constraints of legacy communication and productivity tools like email”.  Enterprise 2.0 Conference came out with a chart that did a pretty good job of identifying some of the organizational differences between Enterprise 1.0 and Enterprise 2.0.

    Enterprise 1.0 Enterprise 2.O
    IT-driven technology / Lack of user control
    Top down
    Teams are in one building / one time zone
    Silos and boundaries
    Need to know
    Information systems are structured and dictated
    Overly complex
    Closed/ proprietary standards
    Long time-to-market cycles
    Flat Organization
    Ease of Organization Flow
    User-driven technology
    Bottom up
    Teams are global
    Fuzzy boundaries, open borders
    Information systems are emergent
    On Demand
    Short time-to-market cycles
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  • In the process of rolling out Facebook marketing campaigns for clients that involve some combination of Facebook Applications, pages and groups, we often get asked what that the difference is between Facebook Pages and Facebook Groups, and more importantly, which is better.


    To the untrained eye they are pretty similar, but in reality, for marketing purposes – Facebook Pages are significantly superior to Facebook Groups. In general they have all the features of a group plus (the very important) ability to add applications and do perform more extensive customization on the page. Here is a quick comparison of the two:

    Feature/Benefit Facebook Pages Facebook Groups
    Applications Most None
    User Interaction High Limited (and ONLY with IFRAMES*)
    Promotion Post to Profile
    Send Update to Fans
    Post to Profile

    Invitations Share Share
    Invite Members
    Metrics Comprehensive None
    Associations Yes Partial
    Access Public (anyone) can access Users must register/login
    Administrators Not Shown Visible
    • Applications: Pages allow you to add many of the thousands of applications available on Facebook. This allows you to add apps like RSS feeds and other dynamic content as well as to customize your Facebook page.
    • User Interaction: Applications (including IFRAMES) support increased user interaction on Facebook Pages. Groups do not support applications and only sponsored Groups (for companies committed to spending at least $50K in advertising for a minimum of 3 months) can add IFRAMEs.
    • Promotion: The ability to promote your page or group is key to any marketing campaign. Pages provide more flexible ways to recruit fans/users including placing Social Ads that point to your page as well as the ability to send email updates to fans.
    • Invitations: Both pages and groups have equal support for inviting other users to become fans of a page or join a group. Groups may actually have a slight edge in the category but not a significant one.
    • Metrics: Pages provides comprehensive and valuable “insight” on user activity on a page. This functionality is sadly missing from groups.
    • Associations: You’ll notice that groups (optionally) have a list of related groups. Unfortunately there is no way to control which groups appear on that list, making it rather useless. With a page you can add a list of links (to groups or other resources) that you want to promote or associate with your page.
    • Access: Probably one of the most important differences. Anyone (aka the public) can access a Facebook Page. Groups, however, require users to register and sign up for Facebook.
    • Administrators: Groups reveal information about who the group’s creators and administrators are, page keep this information private.
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  • Widgets Platform Overview

    Quite often we get the request: “I want a widget”. Although most people making that request have an good idea of what platform they want their widget deployed on, some don’t. Here is a quick look at some of the common widget platforms options available, their pros and cons, and other important considerations:

    • Flash-based Web Widgets: This remains the most common platform for widget development. Widgets built in Flash are generally designed to be embedded on social networks, blogs and other web pages (by simply cutting and pasting a snippet of HTML code). They can be distributed directly or using a Widget marketplace or distribution platform. About 80% of the actual widgets we build fall into this category.

    • Other Web-based Widgets: There are a number of other web-based start pages, portals and communities that prospective clients are sometimes interested in developing widgets for. These include services like iGoogle, Windows, Pageflakes and Netvibes. Widgets built for specific web-based services are generally are generally not portable across services. We usually build widgets in a way that increases the likelihood reuse (since most services support some flavor of Javascript), additionally some services, like Netvibes, have “wrappers” that allow them to be used in other start-pages.
      See more comprehensive lists…

    • Desktop Widgets: Desktop widget platforms include Yahoo! Widgets, MacOS X Widgets, Microsoft Vista Gadgets and Google Desktop Gadgets. Widgets built for these platforms are designed to run on a user’s desktop. As a result, they are generally are not spread virally or via “drive-by” marketing. Prospective clients evaluating or considering desktop widget platforms are usually driven by specific customer requests or applications. Most widgets built for a desktop platform require that the user first install a widget engine (Windows Vista and MacOS are exceptions), a process that can be time consuming and can pose a barrier to adoption.
      See more comprehensive lists…

    • Facebook Application: Although a a widget can be embedded in a Facebook (FB) application, a FB app is “technically” not a widget – its a lot more. When building “widgets” for the FB platform, most people are talking about developing a Flash-based widget and then build a FB application to “contain” it (the are some limitations). The alternative is to ditch the widget idea and simply build a full featured FB app that takes full advantage of the platform.


    • Other Social Media Applications: This involves building applications or “porting” existing Flash-based widgets to platforms like OpenSocial (for MySpace, Hi5, Orkut and others) and Ning. Unless you have a compelling reason for doing this, you are probably better off with one of the other options.
      See more comprehensive lists…

    So What Widget Do I Need?
    Hopefully you have already answered that question. The platform (or platforms) you select to develop and deploy your widget(s) on depends on the following:

    • who your target customer is (consumer, customer, enterprise, prospects, i.e.)

    • the purpose of the widget (marketing or utility)

    • what your marketing or customer acquisition goals are (related to purpose)

    • how you envision the widget being used and distributed (is it viral?, i.e.)

    Clients interested in solving marketing, awareness and branding problems are usually interested in Web-based widgets (or social media applications) that are often seen, easily spread and hopefully come with a compelling reason for folks “driving-by” to spread them.

    Clients interested in using widgets to deliver utility or functionality or extend an existing application, are probably most interested in Desktop widgets.

    Clients that want marketing exposure on numerous widget marketplaces (WidgetBox, Netvibes, Yahoo! Widgets, i.e.) are probably going to want to build smaller (feature poor) widgets on a technology (Flash, i.e.) that works on multiple platforms.

    Clients targeting “paying” or enterprise customers are probably looking at specific desktop widget platforms.

    More Widget Platform Information
    I hope this answers some of the questions people about widget platforms. I have also created a section ( on the Metablocks Wiki dedicated to tracking relevant widget development platforms, feel free to check it out.

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  • Widget Trend and News Update

    Here is a quick roundup of a couple of recent interesting widget news and trends:

    • Book Widgets for Authors: Authors use widgets to help promote their books and online communities.
    • What’s Next For The NYTimes Online: Excellent example of comprehensive social media marketing by the New York Times! More and more companies are beginning to realize that social media outreach needs to be comprehensive and broad in order to be effective.
    • Understanding Widgets: Not a trend or news piece but nice short post that helps “frame” widgets for those thinking about have one developed.
    • Enterprise Widgets: I liked this piece about a new and emerging breed of widgets – widget being used within the enterprise!
    • Political Widgets on Facebook: Makes absolute sense this election season, I think every politician should have their own widget
    • Mobile Widgets?: Kind of – Nokia labs launches widget initiative that tries to integrate your desktop with your phone (build on the Yahoo! widget engine). I am more interested, however, in seeing widgets move to mobile platforms in more meaningful ways.

    We’ll cover some of these trends in more detail in upcoming weeks!

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  • Metablocks Wiki Update

    We have moved the Metablocks Wiki to its new home at We will phase out the old Wiki as we transition partner projects and other content to the new Wiki.  Most people have used Wikis at one time or another (Wikipedia, i.e.) and understand how they work (you can read our wiki definition). 


    A growing number of organizations, including ours, use Wiki for a variety of business purposes ranging from collaboration, support, project management to light-weight content management (CMS).  Some Wikis try and capture information about an industry or market (Inman and Zillow for example have real estate wikis) while others are designed to provide customer support and build community ( eBay, vFlyer and Meebo are some good examples). Ours is simply designed as both an internal and external resource for archiving information on development and marketing projects and efforts that we have an ongoing interest in. Feel free to check it out.

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  • Infographics at Metablocks

    After my post on Hillcrest Labs, one or two clients mentioned that they didn’t realize we were such big Adobe Illustrator users! I am not surprise since its not common knowledge that in addition to our core business of web and social media application design and development we provide a broad range of other service to clients including infographics and other information-driven communication. Most of this work stems from our web design group who help clients better communication aspects of their technology or architecture visually. In the process we have developed a growing library of “object-art” that helps us in the story telling process.


    Here are a couple of examples of some past infographic work:

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  • Whenever we build applications for a new platform we like to understand the target market, market drivers, and the overall competitive landscape. In the process of understanding the set-top box market, I ran into a handful of great HDTV, set-box and video stats and facts that I thought would be interesting to share:

    HDTV and TV

    • Approximately 70% of people aged 34 years and younger surfing the Internet while watching their TV – CEA
    • Nearly 60% of HDTV owners consider themselves sports fans – CEA
    • 50% of HDTV owners cited HD sports as their primary purchasing factor – CEA
    • 90% of fantasy sports players use Internet to look up sports info while watching TV – Fantasy Sports Trade Ass.
    • Favorite sports programming watched in HD include Super Bowl (78%) and college football (41%) – CEA
    • This year’s Super Bowl is expected to drive the purchase of approximately 2.4M HDTV units – CEA
    • 18% of consumers watching the Super Bowl expect to be online during the game to check stats, IM with friends or check betting lines – CEA
    • 12% plan to use a PC in another room to check statistics during the game and 13 percent expect to use their mobile phone for the same purpose – CEA
    • Samsung is the worldwide TV brand leader with 20.8% of the revenue share (Q1 2008) followed by Sony, LGE and Sharp – Digitimes
    • Around half a billion homes worldwide are expected to have digital TV by 2011, and in the future the integrated media center will be at the heart of the Digital Home – BuddeComm
    • CEA predicted that 16M HDTV would sell in 2007 bringing the total number of HDTVs sold in the US to 52.5M – CEA

    Digital Set-top Boxes

    • In April 2007, Motorola announced shipped its one millionth IP-based set-top box – Daily IPTV
    • Apple TV could eclipse both TiVo (4.4M users) and  Netflix (8.8M users) – Daily IPTV
    • AT&T expects targeted advertising on its video and mobile services to become a $1B business by 2010 – Daily IPTV
    • Set-top boxes are merging Web-based services with TV. AT&T invested $26.5 million in ChoiceStream last year. Time Warner Cable rolled out software from Biap Systems that allows users to bid on eBay and track fantasy football statistics wither their cable remote – WSJ
    • Google has partner with EchoStar to use set-tops to  buying, selling, and measuring the impact of TV ads running on Dish Network – WSJ
    • According to In-Stat, it is estimated that the number of set-top boxes shipped (worldwide) since 2000 will exceed 150 million by 2009 – WSJ
    • Google is already streaming YouTube videos into living room via devices like Apple TV and HP’s Media Smart TV as soon the Playstation 3.

    Online and Mobile Video

    • 57% of adult Internet users have watch or download video from the Internet – Pew
    • 57% of online video viewers share links to the videos they find with others – Pew
    • 75% of users have receive links to watch video from someone else – Pew
    • 63% of Apple iPhone users have viewed videos vs 28% of regular cell phone users – Interpret
    • 18% of mobile phone users reported they have recorded a video on their phone, 10% said they had watched a video on their phone – Pew
    • In Feb 2008, 10.1B videos were viewed online, a 66% year-over-year leap – comScore
    • 123M Americans viewed online video at least once a month in 2007 – eMarketer


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