Big in Japan: Social Tools and Services

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Get Phone Features via the Podcall API

In a move that reflects the current direction of the Big in Japan business, we are launching our first true tool set ~ an API to allow web applications to build in robust voice features  that are built, managed and hosted by Big in Japan. Big in Japan doesn’t want to build the applications you use, we want to make the applications your deliver better! Think BASF for web services.

We have been providing Voice 2.0 integrated applications as dedicated services for quite some time. Now we are offering a robust API (application programming interface) that allows any web developer or application developer to integrated custom phone features into their application.  The first API provides hooks into our Podcall system.  The API work regardless of the web technology (Ruby on Rails, PHP, Flash and of course simple HTML to name a few). Want to offer this sort of functionality found on Google:

Originally built to allow for quick and easy integration for Courtney Cox’s new television show Dirt, the Big in Japan team is opening the API for any developer who needs access to a telephone system. What can it do? The possibilities are endless. Start with simple functions like providing messages or wake-up calls to your users or clients. Then build interesting dating applications to connect people together. Or create robust identity verification system for your services for payment processing or demographic data collection. The system is robust and the applications are limitless.

The Big in Japan Source Code Revealed!

biginjapancartoonEarlier today we announced that we would release the source code to several web applications built and hosted by the company in a post titled, “Opening the Source at Big in Japan.” TechCrunch even picked up on the idea. The source code is being released using the GPL.* Each tool was written using Ruby on Rails. If you review the code you will note that each tool was built at a different time. See if you can guess which tool was first and which was last. As promised:

The repositories can be accessed either by browser or via the svn client. The svn username is “anonymous” and the password is blank.

* To be clear, it is our intent that anyone who modifies the code MUST release those modifications publicly. If you modify the code for use as your own hosted service we require that you release the modified code. Get it? There is some confusion about this point in the open source community. The license explains that you are required to do so if you distribute or publish the code and some argue that a hosted application does not constitute “distribution” or “publishing” of the code and as such you are not required to release the modifications. We understand the confusion, but want to be very clear, for the purposes of our license hosting the source code for other’s use constitutes distribution or publication of the binary code. This is detailed in the source code files as well. Enjoy!

Opening the source at Big in Japan!

OSI logoThe Big in Japan team is growing and our mission is becoming clear. This morning while I was driving to work I was considering how much time we should invest in the free feed tools we built over the past year including FeedVault, PodServe, FrankenFeed, elfURL, InstantFeed, QwikPing and SocialMail. They need a lot of work to be relevant, but we are super busy working with our paying social media clients. Do we have the time to support a suite of tools that were very hot a year ago, but cooling off by the day?

We learned quite a bit about development, rss, social media, web 2.0 and ruby on rails while developing them. We learned even more about how hard it is to keep web services relevant. We are still using custom versions (i.e. mash-ups) of the tools to support our own clients.

So here is our proposal (instead of selling them on ebay). We will open up the source code for each tool (with the exception of PodServe for now) using the GPL just as we did for SimpleTicket. What do we ask in return? That anyone using the tools (i.e. building something from our initial work) contribute that work back into the SVN for that tool (FYI - the license requires it). If you don’t want to, or can’t contribute your modifcations back just let us know and we will sell you a modified license. The name Big in Japan is the property of our company as are the trade names associated with each tool.  Oh, and we will keep them running as hosted services as well (don’t email us ~ your data is safe).
Check back soon for links to the SVN for each tool. Hope you enjoy taking a look at the code…

Using a robust blog host

A question that comes up regularly when you’re talking to clients about starting a new blog is where they should actually host the blog. Sure, Typepad or Wordpress.com only cost a few bucks a month, but is the cost worth it? If you’re running a business and using your blog as a tool to drive sales/connect to users/solicit feedback, so you want to put that content in the hands of a hosted service?

Certainly there’s advantages to using a hosted service such as Typepad or Wordpress.com - the biggest being the low cost. But there’s also disadvantages - namely, you’re not in control of your content. When you sign up for hosted services you have to agree to abide by their terms. The services have the ability to change their terms as they see fit, and if you get sideways and violate those terms, you risk having your content pulled or worse - deleted.

There is some ruckus in the blogosphere lately about Wordpress.com shutting of some accounts that use the PayPerPost (no link, they don’t deserve it) functionality. Now, I’m not a fan of PayPerPost at all (not even a little), but I wonder what happens if Wordpress.com decides that they’re building their own ad network, and no longer allows Google Adsense, for instance. Slippery slope indeed.
This is part of why Big in Japan offers a hosted blog solution. This is more expensive than Typepad or Wordpress.com, but there are several significant advantages:

  • Content is in your control - We have a contractual obligation to you when it comes to your data. We can’t delete it, we back it up, and we can’t share it with anyone for any reason unless you ask us to.
  • You dictate your standards - You decide entirely what is and is not acceptable for your site. We might suggest, for instance, not to use PayPerPost but we’re not going to require it.
  • You’re in total control - When you’re hosting away from the services, you have much more freedom to change and modify how your blog software works.

This applies to any professional blog hosting, although we tend to believe ours is the best! But generally, using a hosted service for your business needs can get real scary, real fast. Be sure to decide in advance whether than risk is worth it. You don’t want to find yourself in a corner you can’t get out of because you tried to save a few bucks.

Everybody goes home happy

Over the years, I’ve realized as I talk to community interaction professionals, whether internal employees or external firms, the issues we all struggle with are basically the same set of core challenges.

When I was at LEGO I found myself repeating certain things enough that I was eventually known for them. These mantras have stuck with me, and I’ve written about a few of them in the past.

Perhaps the most crucial mantra was quite simple: Everybody goes home happy.

The idea is simple - when creating connection between consumers and there needs to be a balanced maintained. Brands shouldn’t be giving away their time and product for no reason, and community members should be volunteering to help a company for no other reason than “they asked”. Both sides should be getting something fulfilling out of the interaction.

But here’s the all important question….what is “fulfilling”? Who knows! That’s up to each party to determine, and then communicate. The goal is that whatever the fulfillment, at the end of the day Everybody goes home happy.

This is a scary concept to businesses who are not used to interacting with their consumers. You don’t get an answer through a focus group, or surveys. You can only get real answers (rather than strictly data) by interacting with fans directly. Interacting isn’t only about asking questions, it’s about watching patterns, learning the inside jokes, and looking for potential benefits.

As a related sidenote, Tara was on a panel yesterday here at Blog Business Summit and shared basically the same theme, with different words. I love the fact that I’m clearly not alone in this way of thinking.

Tara says: “Community is a non-zero-sum outcome: everyone benefits”

Beautiful Seattle and Blog Business Summit

More coming later, but I’m at Blog Business Summit today and tomorrow. Meeting great people and hearing some great discussion. Oh, and partaking in too many late night Seattle microbrews…

In the meantime, check out some of the live blogging happening:

There’s a ton more coming shortly if they’re not up already. Check out the Technorati search for more linky goodness.

FX Posters!

Jason from FX Network sent us some posters for the office.  Hopefully we get to do Fancasts for all of the FX shows!  Thanks, Jason!

Podcast Interview: Combat Studios

At first our latest interview may seem a bit out of place for the Big in Japan podcast. After all, what does Battlefield 2 have to do with social media and community building? Quite a lot, actually. The gaming industry has been connecting with consumers and building communities around their products for years. Most brands could learn a metric ton from the gaming industry.

The latest interview on the Big in Japan podcast is with Michael Lewis of Combat Studios, the creators of Battlefield 2 Combat. BF2C is an amazing community system that adds a new level of play and community interaction to the Battlefield 2 PC game. Michael shares his experiences working with his community, and shares some great pointers we can all learn from.

Subscribe to the Big in Japan podcast

Download the file directly here

    The opportunties of Podcasting

    I came across an interesting article on podcasting tonight and thought I’d share.

    Scott Gatz from Yahoo was in town for the BlogOn conference and he stopped by our offices to talk about a survey done in August about RSS and podcasting that Yahoo recently released.

    Other bloggers covered the RSS results, but I was intrigued by the results on podcasting…..28% of the people surveyed were aware of podcasting, but only 2% actually listened to podcasts.

    I asked Gatz, so is this a bubble? And he said, nope, an opportunity. He pointed out that this survey was done before Yahoo this month released its podcasting service. The difference between those who had heard of podcasts and those who had used them actually reflected the fact that the tools for finding and listening to podcasts were too hard to use. With their podcasting service, Gatz said, Yahoo planned to make podcasting as accesible as it had done with RSS.

    Yahoo does seem to have had real success by embedding RSS within My Yahoo, so well that most people don’t even know their using RSS. Gatz said that a few million people (under 10 million was the guidance he gave) now use RSS on My Yahoo, up from 6,000 in January.

    Even though this article is old, and even though numbers for podcasting have risen, I still think this is an interesting point. What is “podcasting”, really? It’s not about an iPod and it’s not even about downloading to a mobile device. To me, podcasting is about making cool audio content easy to create and easy to access. If that means it can be quickly moved to an iPod, great! But that’s only one part of it.

    That’s actually the premise we’ve built the Big in Japan Fancast system on - ease of use for all involved. Audiences can use a traditional phone to record content. They can listen to the content online or on your iPod (or other music player). And organizations can easily moderate content to ensure a positive, yet honest flow of content.

    Interview with Bob Langert of McDonald’s

    The McDonald’s Corporate Social Responsibility team recently launched their “Open for Discussion” blog, and not surprisingly were quickly caught up in controversy. The key issue was that the comments weren’t being moderated very quickly, and as such the blogosphere assumed that McDonald’s was taking a hard line against actual open discussion. Turns out, the real issue was a lack of moderation resources to actually moderate the comments.

    Recently I had a chance to chat with Bob Langert, the McDonald’s VP that leads the CSR team, and one of the key bloggers on the site. I’ve posted the interview in the Big in Japan podcast. Grab the BiJ podcast feed or download directly.

    Big thanks to Bob for spending time with me!

    Speaking at Dallas PRSA

    I’m going to post about my experience this week speaking to DFWIMA … let’s just say that my mojo was seriously compromised by a series of technical issues.

    On the bright side, through that speaking engagement, I was invited to speak on a panel about Web 2.0 at the Dallas PRSA Media Day
    on October 20. If you’re in town, come on out. The headliner is Betty
    Nguyen from CNN’s Saturday and Sunday Morning, and there’s several
    other interesting panels I’ll be sticking around for.

    If you plan on being there, drop me a line so we can meet up in person!

    Community Participation: Breaking 1%

    According to Jakob Nielsen, “In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.”  He calls this the 90-9-1 rule.
    Some interesting numbers cited by Jakob include:

    • 1.1 billion internet users
    • 55 million internet users have blogs (5%)
    • Only 1.6 million posts per day (.1% post daily)
    • Blogs are worse than the rule with 95-5-.1
    • 99% of Wikipedia’s users are lurkers (68,000 active contributors)
    • Less than 1% of Amazon.com users write reviews

    Jakob suggests that you can’t overcome participation inequality, but you can help shape the curve.  His ideas?

    • Make it easy to contribute
    • Make participation a side effect
    • Edit, don’t create
    • Reward participants
    • Promote contributors

    Interesting post.  Take a moment to check it out.

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