Roger Ebert and the Power of the People

EbertWith Roger Ebert’s passing today, we’ve lost not only a legendary movie critic, but also a man who recognized that the power of the people, as much as his own reviews, could decide the fate of a movie – and even a product, company or person.

Many may not know, but Ebert was an early investor in Google and believed in the promise of the Internet to share messages.

In his online reviews, Ebert always encouraged others to chime in with their own views of the movie. This inspired me to contribute my own reviews to Yahoo! for a period – something I plan to return to in the near future.

Days before his death, Ebert even launched a Kickstarter campaign to gather money from the public to bring “At the Movies” back to television.

This faith in the public is a reminder of other recent instances where companies put the future of their products and even personnel in the hands of the fans.

Razer’s Project Fiona

Razer’s tablet prototype, Project Fiona, was originally shown at CES in January 2012 running a full Windows OS on a 10.1″ display, powered by a Core i7 processor, and boasting a potential late 2012 release.

But, in October 2012, Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan posted a picture of the tablet, stating that they would only produce Project Fiona if the picture received 10,000 likes in 7 days. If they couldn’t drum up enough interest for people to Like the picture, then it’s probably safe to say Razer fans wouldn’t buy it.

With 139,000+ Facebook subscribers soon thereafter, Min-Liang posed additional questions to his subscribers, the results of which have determined what Fiona’s price range will be, what CPU/GPU configuration it should have, and which other features will be included.

Gears of War 3

This type of crowd sourcing was also seen when Epic Games and Microsoft allowed fans to determine the fate of character Clayton Carmine in Gears of War 3.

The eventual decision was made, based on a count of fans’ purchases of limited edition “Save Carmine” or “Carmine Must Die” t-shirts bought either on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace or in person at that year’s Comic-Con show – with all of the proceeds going to the Child’s Play Charity.

Seattle Sounders

In a move that not only brought the team a healthy dose of publicity but also gave fans a sense of inclusion in the decision-making process and future direction of the franchise, the Seattle Sounders provided its fans in September 2012 the opportunity to determine the fate of the Major League Soccer team’s general manager.

Members of the “Alliance,” a fan association that includes season ticket holders and fans who are willing to pony up $125 per year, were left responsible for the fate of Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer, who was publicly not too fond of how his job hanged in the balance of the whims of the team’s fans.

But, if it comes down to either turning a blind eye to customer feedback or embracing it, the latter will win every time. Fans hold the ultimate power in making or breaking products, companies and even personnel – particularly these days with social media. For instance, companies coming to our client Medallia to find out what their customers are saying about them know the power of the people.

So, while we may not see another classic Ebert review, the legacy and example he left behind for the value of public opinion will live on.

Jordan Hubert can be reached at Follow Jordan on Twitter @jahubert.

Photo credit:


‘Tis the Season for Logo & Site Redesigns!

Apparently, since Halloween is approaching, many large companies are replacing the “costumes” they’ve used for years with new ones.

Microsoft recently unveiled its new logo and accordingly updated its site – all in preparation for a long line of Windows products being released, from Internet Explorer 10, to Xbox Music, to Windows 8 (the last of which Computerworld dubbed the “most ambitious project that Microsoft has ever undertaken”).

Yet, for as ambitious as these new products are, it’s hard to believe how staid the new logo and identity system appear. Unlike 99% of companies, Microsoft has to reach billions of current customers and potential new ones, so the task isn’t easy. And not everyone agrees that the new four-panel color square passes the test.

Blogger Chris Matyszczyk puts it best: “You’re always supposed to notice when your lover has had her hair done… yet as Microsoft unveiled its new logo, one had the feeling that the company had been to the hairdresser, and then merely asked for a trim.” At a bare minimum, the team that designed the current logo for Microsoft’s Surface tablet should have fought harder to elevate that image to corporate status.

Wendy’s, too, underwent a recent tweak – in this case, for the first time since 1983! The makeover comes as the chain looks to redefine itself in the face of intensifying competition from the likes of Panera and Chipotle, which are seen as a step up from traditional fast food.

The new logo also signals the upcoming rollout of renovations to Wendy’s outdated restaurants with a look that features natural lighting, flat-screen TVs and a variety of seating options, including cushy chairs in nooks.

Also joining the recent revamp trend is eBay, as the company is pulling its old clunky site into the modern age with a major redesign and new features inspired by its buzzier tech rivals.

The overall look is cleaner and simpler and, like Wendy’s, conveys what a redesigned site and logo are supposed to do: there are clearly changes coming to the stores/products, and this new look reinforces that. Microsoft’s came up short in this respect, in that you’re not supposed to merely notice.

In Sterling’s integrated communications projects — including identity systems, websites, and user experience testing — there are a few do’s and don’ts worth considering when redesigning an online experience:

  • Change the Look, But Watch Your Step
    • When a site has an established audience, changing the design too drastically can cause confusion for returning visitors. Some may think they’ve arrived at the wrong site. If the logo is strong enough, it can probably carry the transition by itself. Otherwise, look to the old site for whichever visual elements became the brand of the site.
  • Avoid Losing Search Engine Rankings
    • Make sure you don’t lose any of your old site’s title tags or meta descriptions. More importantly, if you change the title structure or content layout, be sure to include redirects in your htaccess file. And always check your 301 redirects.
  • Back Up Everything
    • Nobody likes losing content. You end up feeling like the Germans at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, back up your files and databases often. When working on a site, keep a local repository under version control. Have the latest version backed up offsite. Whether you use FTP, cPanel, or a WordPress plugin, or a command line, back up early and often and test the backups once in a while to make sure they still work.

Jordan Hubert can be reached at Follow Jordan on Twitter @jahubert.

Photo credit: leapgo


CES: Dead and Buried? Don’t Hold Your Breath

Having just returned from CES, I’m surprised to see the “CES is dying” coverage.

This seems to be due, in large part, to Microsoft pulling out of the show.

Is the show changing? Absolutely. Is it the powerhouse it once was? Perhaps not. Is it going away by 2015 as some have suggested? Let’s just say rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

While in the past, there was more razor sharp focus (it was easy to pinpoint the biggest trend), the breadth of the show has changed that. In conversations with dozens of media and analysts about the biggest trends, I didn’t hear the same answer twice. I would argue that this is a good thing.

Answers included ultrabooks, smart TVs, 3D and, my personal favorite – a stroller that is host to a USB drive and closes itself at the push of a button. Anybody who has seen me struggle with a stroller understands why this is so appealing.

A thriving economy is a diverse economy, and that’s the case for a specific subset of the economy (in this case, technology) as well.

Is CES massive? Absolutely, and it’s probably ready for a reboot. Where else can you find a concept car from Mercedes that is beyond a price tag, surrounded by hundreds of Chinese original equipment manufacturer (OEM) companies jockeying for the same audience?

But by every account, the state of the CES economy is strong. Schwag is still big (I even got handed a Five Hour Energy as I left the tram from my hotel one day).

The bottom line is that this year CES was more of the same. More of the fatigue, more of the madness and more of the cool tech gadgets we all drool over and then, a few years later, clamor to buy.

What it wasn’t, at least from what I could see, was waning in any real way.

So, as many have said before me: CES is dead. Long live CES.

Devin Davis can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @DevinDavis.

Image via International Business Times.

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Mason’s Folly?

Re-reading a recent NYT interview about Groupon's founder walking away from Google's $6B offer, I was struck by how much this situation reminds me of the Yahoo!/Microsoft melodrama we witnessed in early 2008. Andrew Mason, like Jerry Yang, walked away from the negotiating table and is being coy about it.

Before saying "no" to Google, Andrew, I hope you took a good hard look at how well Yahoo's go-it-alone decision has worked out, both for its shareholders ($16.72/share on Dec .23, 2010 vs. the $33/share offered by Microsoft in 2008) and for its employees. I'm sure you see yourself as more akin to Mark Zuckerberg than Jerry Yang; for your investors' and employees' sakes, I sincerely hope you're right.

Even so, I'm betting that Amazon's recent $183M investment in #2 LivingSocial is going to make your life much more interesting in 2011. After all, Tony Hsieh and Jeff Bezos know a thing or two about creating loyal customers in markets that have no barriers to entry.

Let the games begin!