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"What year is your ride? It’s really beautiful."

I turn off the car and hand over my my license,

consider what to do with an

out of place compliment.


He asks if I know why he pulled me over.
Because an asshole wouldn't let me in
so I took what's mine with no regrets. 
"No," I say.


The citation comes in quadruplicate,

an unsafe change in lanes.

Love the red interior, he says,

be safe.


I pull away carefully,

wondering what carbon paper costs these days

and how it would survive

without constables.


Sorry in advance for a long post. I'm not a big believer in hoarding ideas - I have many more than I will ever use, so I like to toss them into the public domain in the instance that someone else wants to steal one of them. If you use any of these ideas, feel free to throw a small equity stake my way :-)

I'll be making this a regularly occurring series, as new ideas bubble up, so stay tuned.


I've tinkered with a ton of iphone and ipad apps in the last few years. You'll know from my recent post on game dynamics that I've been keenly interested recently (thanks to a SXSW panel I attended) on how clever application designers are earning our loyalty (obsession / compulsion?) by employing the same principles that good games do to keep us enthralled.


Case in point: Apps like Foursquare, that reward us points for checking in to dining and shopping establishments, and increase the points they dole out to us based on frequency. The "status" game dynamic is strongly employed by awarding "mayorships" for the most loyal patrons, and often showering the mayor with freebies or exclusive deals for their loyalty. Players compete against each other to steal back the mayorship. Friends compete against each other to be the most active, checking in at the most places. In short, it's an app that unabashedly rewards consumerism.


Swipely takes it a step further, allowing you to publish a news feed of all the places you swipe your credit card. Seriously. As I understand it, they leverage Yodlee's API to gather data on the purchases you make and publish them to a feed that your friends can subscribe to, comment on, etc. Which might be great for a gal that wants to brag about some new Christian Louboutin shoes, but not so much for a guy like me who is likely to be buying an 8-pack of toilet paper and a Mountain Berry Powerade at Walgreen's.


I don't need any more help spending money, thank you. My wife and I spend enough money eating out to each month to seriously support another family altogether. It's shameful, we know it, and while our kids will still get to go to college, they may have to check their textbooks out from the library instead of buying them, because mom and dad took everyone out for a few too many cheeseburgers when they were little.


Steal this idea #1: Don't help me spend money, help me save it

What I'm looking for is a killer app that does the exact opposite - helps you stop spending money. If game dynamics can encourage you to hit up Starbucks every day for two months until you become the mayor, surely we can embrace the same principles to reward you for every day you don't go to Starbuck's. does a pretty good job of letting you see what you've been up to, integrating all of your finances into a single view, allowing you to create budgets and compare actual spending against them, and quite a bit more. It falls short of actually encouraging behavioral changes, though. I want an app that lets me acknowledge my spending weaknesses; since I drive through McDonald's nearly every morning for a sweet tea and either an oatmeal or a yogurt, that's $2 - $3 dollars per day, Monday through Friday, that I know I shouldn't spend. If I could flag McDonald's as a "vice purchase", then let the app and game dynamic principles reward and encourage me for every day I didn't go there, I'd be well on my way to finding financial app bliss.  It's the reverse of Foursquare. Instead of rewarding me for checking in and spending money, it rewards me for NOT checking in and spending money.


Expansion opportunities abound. Let me automatically invest the savings from the days I achieve my goals into an investment, or toward a goal. Let me connect socially with my friends who share common goals, and let us compete against each other - or better yet, work in tandem - toward achieving the goal. Maybe we agree that if we ALL stop smoking, all the money we would have spent on cigarettes goes to a group vacation, and the app helps keep us honest and also tallies the amount of money we are collectively saving toward the vacation.


I would also like to see an app tackle debt payment more effectively. It's shocking that Dave Ramsey hasn't turned his debt snowball, and his money management ideas in general, into an app. Seems like Yodlee would jump to help someone with his reach build an app that taps into their data sources and take a cut of each app store download.


Steal this idea #2: Fractional Investing in Charitable Causes

This one doesn't even have to be a mobile app. The web would do quite nicely, thank you. Point is, I like to give money to good causes. Most of us (hopefully) do. But I'm inundated with causes, and it gets a bit overwhelming. I'd like to centralize my giving, in the same way that I have centralized my investment portfolio. I don't go individually to every company I want to buy stock from and buy and manage my investments separately, I do it all from a broker.


Taking it a step further, and using the stock world as a model, I love what ShareBuilder offers. For people who might not be able to buy large quantities of shares at once, or that like to split small amounts of money among a handful of investments, they allow you to purchase fractional shares of companies. In the non-profit world, I'd love to be able to allocate a fixed monthly contribution - say $100 for example - and then choose a "portfolio" of causes I would like that money split between. Clearly, I understand that administrative and payment processing  costs might dillute the amount of money the charity gets in the end, but I'm leaving that to someone else to work out. These are free ideas, after all :-)


The ability to change your percentage allocations on the fly would be a must. When tragedy strikes, I may want to move Red Cross to the top of my list for a few months.


I'd also like the service to centralize and automate all tax documentation I need for end of year filings (though in my instance it never amounts to enough to matter, I view the function as a necessity to help much more well-financed donors).


Steal this idea #3: Fractional purchase of airfare (my favorite idea, btw)

Airfare is expensive, right? Families that aren't in the upper echelon have to save for quite a while to afford plane tickets for the whole gang to visit relatives, take vacations, etc. And with prices constantly fluctuating, you can miss out on tremendous savings (and the airlines can miss out on your money) because you don't have ALL the money you need to purchase the trip up front.


This model would turn airfare into a commodity you could invest in over time. A plane ticket would be comprised of a fixed number of "points" or "shares," similar to the way the loyalty programs work. But the points could be bought any time, in any quantity, at market prices for that day and moment in time.


For example, a coach ticket from Austin to San Francisco, round trip, requires 200 points. On the day I am shopping, the fare is $540. Each point, then, is worth $2.70 ($540/100). If I thought the fare was a really great deal (it isn't, btw), I may decide to go ahead and invest 50 bucks today, since that is all I can spare but know I want to make the trip this year. My 50 bucks gets me appx. 18.52 shares of the 200 I need to cash in for the ticket.


A week later, the fare drops to $380, and I have just received my paycheck. I decide to invest $200 and get 105.26 shares (this time at $1.90 each), bringing my total ownership to 123.78 shares at $250.


A month later, it's getting pretty close to when I would like to travel, so I buy the remaining 76.22 shares at $2.15 each (based on that day's fare price of $430.)


Thanks to dollar cost averaging, my full ticket price is appx. $413.87 - right in the middle of the highs and lows from the days I invested - and I was able to set money aside for travel while locking in pricing on my own terms.


Clearly, the idea has potential for all sorts of resale and brokering opportunities, as well. There are many complexities. Again, yours to work out if you so choose. For me, the potential for families to save for airfare while locking in pricing - and passing much needed dollars over to the airlines - is a win/win. It could also put airlines out of business, for all I know.


Steal this idea #4: Make my grocery shopping experience better

Target, the big box retailer, marveled me when what has to be at least a decade ago, they started listing the aisle numbers that items on baby and wedding registries were located. This effectively ended the age-old "hunt for ambiguously named product" dance we all did when shopping for gifts. While the items were still fairly ambiguously named, we at least could focus our search to one aisle instead of an entire store.


But little progress has been made since then. I can order a sandwich and have it delivered to my house from my iphone (thanks, Jimmy Johns). I can manage my entire retirement portfolio. But I can't see what aise the macaroni and cheese is kept at while I am grocery shopping?


I've seen some pretty cool apps for grocery lists - but I wonder why the stores themselves don't put out apps. Here in Austin, where HEB is our major grocer, an HEB app would get huge uptake. While I am in the store, I could search for an item and instantly find where it is kept, the price, and the in-stock status. While I am at home, I could build my shopping list, choose the store I am going to, and have my list automatically sorted in the order I walk the store.


Sure, the macaroni moves around. But the store employees and manager always know where it is. Product placement is an enormous part of grocery store and retail strategy. There's no reason the data can't be easily shared.


I imagine that groceries might think that more impulse purchases are made when people DON'T have this type of information at hand, when they are looking at the shelves instead of at a list. And maybe they're right. But it will only take a store opening that embraces these principles for me to abandon loyalty to the stores that want to cling on to old ideas. We're entering an era where consumers demand access to information, and expect transparency from the stores they frequent.


Plus, if I'm staring at YOUR app in YOUR store, you have a captive audience. You can give me coupons, you know what's on my list before I even get to the store (for inventory and stock projections), you don't need a loyalty program to know who I am every time I enter the store, you know even more about my shopping patterns, how long I am on an aisle, etc. Use the data.



Steal this idea #5: Receipt itemization

Somewhere, someone is already working long hours on this one, I am sure. But maybe you have a better idea of how it can work. I mentioned earlier how much I've liked the ideas behind I also checked out not long ago, a pay service for scanning and archiving receipts, business cards, etc. And I read an article somewhere on the "interwebs" that suggested possible integration between Mint and shoebox. Cool, but not cool enough.


Here's the challenge. My wife brings home a receipt from Target for $150, and I have to figure out how to itemize it in Is it shopping? Is it household? Is it gifts? Is it personal care? Is it entertainment or clothing? The answer is, it's all of those. Unless I want to go to the painstaking process of manually splitting the transaction and calculating the portion of tax associated with each item and re-categorizing 20 or 30 different line items, I'm stuck picking one master category. How can you effectively set and follow a budget when you have to force long receipts into generic categories?


I'd like to be able to opt my credit card into a service where more information is transmitted than just my total. Seriously. Retailers already store every detail of every transaction. They can scan a barcode on my receipt, or even swipe my credit card in the store, and tell me what I bought and when, and issue me refunds, etc.


A cool 3rd party service would integrate with major retailers and POP systems to be warehouse customer receipt / purchase info, then feed into services like or even Yodlee to make that information accessible within their products to the end-consumer that wants full purchase itemization and receipt downloads. Perhaps to protect privacy the data would only be recalled when the card holder opts in or requests transaction details. But I want to see my Target purchase on, click for more details, see an itemized receipt, and have the items already categorized for me. I could change the categories as I see fit, of course.  Since products already carry SKU's, it's a matter of a relational table that maps categories to the store's inventory.


Stay tuned for "next time"


And that's round 1 of "steal my ideas." Please point me to working examples of apps that already do these things, and share your ideas for how to extend or improve on these ideas, too. Hell, share your own ideas here. Nothing would be more flattering to me than to have a successful business or app originate from my blog.




Screw best practices!

Posted by Joshua Merritt Mar 22, 2011

Screw best practices. I really mean it. Well, mostly, at least.


We hear the phrase a hundred times a day, no matter what field we work in. IT, sales, marketing, finance - everything is about following best practices, taking a "best practices approach," learning from industry best practices, blah blah blah blah.


Here's my beef(s):


  • If we all follow best practices, who will ever do something new?
  • We are all too quick to assume "best practices" are final and definitive, and that there couldn't be an even "better" practice that is either untried or less successfully publicized.

  • There is no regulation on the use of "best practices." Anyone can make up a best practice and declare it as such, as I am doing now by formally declaring it a best practice to slip a poop reference into any conversation you have with someone senior to you in your place of employment.


In marketing, the quickest way to get me to vomit directly on you is to say "but best practices say" when I am talking about an out of the box idea. I like to take calculated risks. I like to push how we might do things tomorrow, not base them entirely on how they were done yesterday or today. I know there are similar thinkers in IT and all other industries, or we would all still be churning our own butter manually and I'd be writing this with a chisel.


In perhaps the ultimate example of hypocrisy (and tongue in cheek wit), here are my best practices for using best practices:


  • Identify what you get by using them. Seriously. Then look for gaps against what you hoped to deliver. I.e. if best practices tell me that a headline should be 5 words or less, and I write a headline that fits the bill perfectly - but doesn't make sense, or is no longer exciting - is the best practice serving me well?

  • Decide whether the area is one in which you would like to lead or follow. Sometimes, following the masses isn't bad. Maybe you don't want to stand out.
  • Setting, or even challenging, best practices are great ways to demonstrate leadership - as long as you get uptake. The risk is that you end up the BetaMax, marching to your own drum without anyone else behind you.
  • Never assume that what works best for someone else will by default work for you. Test things. Be inquisitive. Sip the kool-aide before you drink it and serve it to your friends.


Lastly, in an ultimate conspiracy theory, I'll leave you with this: can best practices be used as weapons? I can envision a scenario where seemingly "best" practices are promoted into an industry, then while most major players are adopting and practicing them, a much more devious and brilliant competitor is going against the grain and truly differentiating themselves. Maybe a clever ad agency starts pushing social media strategy as the key place to focus marketing dollars, then uses the downturn in email volume to win big in prospect's inboxes. Any real world examples?


I open a new browser. Type in my destination: Access denied, "This website has been deemed inappropriate in a business setting."


Okay, let's try "Access denied, "This website has been deemed inappropriate in a business setting."


Hmmm. What about Google Docs? Access denied, inappropriate.


It appears I am being "policied" out of partaking in the cloud collaboration revolution. Any page I hit that has even remote possibilities of online storage is clearly defined as a no-no. There's a link at the bottom of the warning page that encourages me to submit my case if I believe there is a compelling reason to use the site in a business setting. I decide instead to blog about it.


Full disclosure: Half my front yard is a vegetable garden. I live on a busy street in an urban setting, where foot traffic is heavy and crime rates slightly elevated. I could build a fence around my garden, but someone determined to steal my veggies will still do it regardless.


My point? People that want to steal will steal - with any tools they have, or with no tools at all, despite any obstacles Corporate secrets can go out the door on paper, or even less traceable, in minds. By cutting off access to new tools, we're not protecting our companies from loss, we're locking ourselves out of innovation. 


A company's cloud computing strategy should be much more than just focused on how IT will use cloud resources to become more efficient. It should include how employees across all areas of the business can embrace new technology possibilities to become more efficient and innovative. Indirectly, cloud computing has the potential to improve trust and job satisfaction.


  • Don't opt for a one-size fits all approach. Your people and your company have unique needs. Dig deep to understand them, and build a plan that accommodates them.
  • Make sure all business leaders are in alignment, and that the message the company is sending about cloud adoption is reinforced, not contradicted, by the user experience. When you announce your company has saved millions by cutting down on physical servers, or is deploying new services faster due to cloud provisioning, other employees will naturally begin to wonder how they can help make the company better and more profitable. They will look at their own usage patterns and think about changes. Let them help you.
  • If compliance is a concern, use education to help employees understand if their are compliance challenges they need to be aware of. For example, saving financial data or private customer information to a personal cloud storage account is a no-no. Collaborating on a presentation or using taking more accurate and organized meeting notes may not be.
  • Lastly, remember that cloud computing itself represents not only a technological shift, but a cultural one. When people can carry their entire music library with them everywhere - all stored in the cloud - they will wonder why they can't do the same with their work documents. Whenever possible, create reasons why, not why not.

Use your cloud wisely. 


The McDonald's at Braker Ln. and 183 in Austin, TX - conveniently located down the street from the BMC office - just expanded their drive-thru line to include two separate lanes.


There is an inside lane and an outside lane for placing orders, then the two lanes merge back into one for payment and order pickup. Which begged the question (for a small yet inquisitive brain like mine): How do they know which order is mine since they don't know the order in which the traffic from the two lanes has merged?


So I asked. Not once, but twice. The first time, I asked a gentleman at the payment window. "We take your picture when you place your order," he said, quoted loosely. "Then I can see the pictures on my register and match you to your order."


Wow. Could this be true? I posted a question on Yahoo Answers to see if a McDonald's employee would verify. Arguments ensued, since apparently some McDonald's have this technology and others do not. So I asked again the next time I paid for my order. The young cashier said, "We take a picture of your car."


Confirmation. It might not be a picture of your pearly whites, but they are at least snapping a shot of the front of your car. I won't ask the question of how they tell the difference between 5 identical Ford F350's here in Texas, but presumably the photo captures a bit of the driver or passenger as well.


Which gets me all sorts of excited about the technology possibilities. Here's what I am thinking:


They should capture your license plate. Easier done in states where a front plate is required, but still possible to snap a rear shot as you pull away from the order kiosk. Why? Your license plate is a unique identifier. Technology in place by police departments, toll road authorities, etc. is so advanced at license plate recognition that you don't even need someone to manually decode the plate; software will analyze the photograph and convert the letters and numbers to text.


So what then?


They could create a massive database that tracks order history by license plate. Not very useful for historical analysis, I agree. But VERY useful for what I will call predictive ordering and assembly. If the same car goes through the drive-thru every day and orders a large coffee and a hash brown, and the order never varies, you can predict that they will order another large coffee and a hashbrown before they even order it. Do you pull the order before they place it? Maybe not. But on very busy days, the system could help better forecast what inventory to have prepared or assembled.


Additionally, they would be better armed to upsell. Asking me if I want an apple pie after I place my order - when I have NEVER ordered an apple pie in my entire life - is pointless. But if they know I have a weakness for hot fudge sundaes, asking me if I would like to add one of those has a much better chance of getting my dollar. They could also encourage loyalty by triggering discounts automatically for frequent visitors.


They could partner with social media apps like Foursquare or Gowalla. By allowing you to enter your license plate number in your profile settings (kept private, of course), they could automatically "check you in" when you drive-thru locations that have the recognition technology enabled.


Maybe some of this is scary. Maybe it's unneeded and not valuable to McDonald's. From my take, if they are going to take pictures for every customer that drives thru, they should figure out how to monetize the data.


How else could they use your picture? How do you feel about them taking it?


First and foremost, this blog entry is fresh content. It’s not compiled from 15 other blog entries, hasn’t (yet) been turned into a “Top 5 Tips” list, is not also a podcast, and was not promoted last week via under a different title and byline.


Do you really care? Or more precisely, would you even know?


Marketing Sherpa released a chart showcasing the top tactics for developing effective marketing content and it should be no big surprise that repurposing and reformatting existing content came in at numero uno. Before you upcycle every has-been whitepaper in your "collateral tree" (my second least favorite tree, 2nd only to cedar) into a mish-mash of undigestible bullshit, I thought I would add a healthy dose of caution into the conversation.


Two points:
1.) We're all smart enough to know this, but I'll say it anyway. Repurposing content does not make the resulting content inherently effective. This is where the sherpa's may have over-sherpa'd a bit in the title of their article. "Top tactics for developing marketing content" would be a more accurate title, since their is no evidence in the chart to qualify effectiveness.


2.) Crap in, crap out. Bad content is bad, no matter how many different spins you put on it.


Now for a couple practical suggestions that I think even the sherpa-y-est of sherpas would agree with.


  • The fact that you have a bunch of content sitting around does not mean it needs to be repurposed. Instead, look for buried gold. At BMC Software, we have trillions of white papers that range from brilliant to, well, dumb. There aren't many dumb ones, but there are plenty inbetween. If I dig for gold and only come up with a couple shades of dirt, I keep moving.


  • Strive to make something truly new out of the old materials you work with. Etsy craftspeople aren't successful because they take an old men's shit and change out the buttons. They turn the old men's shirt into a woman's dress. The result is exciting and different and you can't even recall what the piece originally looked like. I also can't tell you how many times I've caught publications and companies in the act, reading an article today that I know I read yesterday with a slightly different headline and ending. This is called fraudulent content. It's plagiarizing yourself. It's not a trust builder.

  • Create every piece of content assuming it will be read and remembered. You and I know it won't. But if you create it under that assumption, you protect your brand's reputation from becoming a content mill like articlesbase

  • Never promise what you won't deliver. A major strategy over the last few years, in both marketing and media, is to give something an incredible headline that makes the user click - and then deliver an article that only scratches the surface of what the title hinted. It's the content version of a bait and switch, and if I could drop everything I am doing and be profitable litigating content creators for baiting and switching, I would start that legal firm in a heartbeat.
  • New topics deserve new, original content. Don't muddy your brand's position on a "trending" topic by rehashing messaging and content that is still "somewhat applicable." Demonstrate your leadership with new thoughts, things people haven't heard before, or at a minimum said in a way that they haven't been said before.


There is no denying the potential value of reusing - as one trick in the content arsenal. Just remember to ask yourself first if you are repurposing for a reason, or just repurposing. Your answer will be a major determiner in just how effective your content strategy is.


Actually, the guy in front of me in line at Potbelly does. Kristina doesn’t seem to be with him, which doesn’t mean she isn’t at home waiting for him, but it doesn’t mean she is either. While they make my original turkey on white with swiss cheese and no mayo, I wonder what single word I would tattoo on my neck if I had to.


Since my wife’s name is Kelly, I rule out Kristina. I have two daughters, so I can’t play favorites and pick one over the other.


I think I will go with “neck.” It’s accurate, and makes people wonder if I have labeled other parts of my body.


Here's some neck tattoos for you to peruse at your leisure.




A controversial title, yes. And no, I don't believe BMC or any other company other than the health insurance companies are profiting from our use (or lack thereof) of healthcare coverage.


I CAN tell you that in light of so many changes to healthchare benefits structure (not just at BMC but across the board, at least in the United States), I wonder if the term benefits shouldn't be changed to a phrase more like "possibilities" or "maybe's" or even "hopefully not's." The trend, to keep healthcare costs down and profits up (which I certainly advocate for, btw) is to implement a complex series of FSA's and HSA's that require us to set aside a buttload of our own money upfront and gamble on the costs of our future health expenses. In the event we are healthier than we anticipated or exercise extra discipline and restraint in going to the doctor, we lose the remaining money and it often goes directly to our employers. Hmmmmmmm. . . in what world is it a benefit to me to fork thousands of dollars back to my company?


To add insult to injury, there is no standardization nationwide on all the rules of using FSA money. Some companies allow you a grace period for spending flex money. I found out today that while I have until tomorrow to submit receipts for my 2010 FSA funds, the money had to be spent prior to December 31, 2010. This is different than many other companies, who allow the FSA administrator to accept purchases made in the first couple months of the new year, as a grace period - in this instance, up until March 15th, 2011. A small misunderstanding on my part around a poorly documented clause that varies from company to company will cost me to lose $2,000 from my 2010 FSA account - and subsequently means that the $2,000 I just spent on new glasses (thinking I was depleting my 2010 funds) have actually depleted my 2011 funds. Basically, a $4000 oversight - and $2,000 into BMC's pocket.


Don't get me wrong. As a shareholder, I would much rather that money go to BMC than to the insurance company. At least I benefit indirectly from cash in the coffers at BMC. But what I would rather have is access to my money, and a more clear and simple way to navigate through all the crazy if/then scenarios.


Sure, the major insurance companies have all come out with apps that let you see your account balances, etc. They're basically just alternate access points to data you can access on the web. Maybe I'm the only other employee on the planet that feels this way, but taking advantage of my benefits often feels like a game in which I am the only one not privvy to the rules. The providers get it, the insurance company gets it, the HR guys get it - and I am competing directly against them without a copy of the rule book.


I'm begging for an app that would let me dial in any scenario and get real feedback in return. It would know my coverage - ALL of it, from FSA and HSA accounts to my actual health care insurance, vision and dental benefits, etc. Before I, oh, say fork out 2k for glasses I will not get back, it would be nice to open the old iphone and enter:


I would like to:

>Spend $2,000 for glasses

> Go


The app would come back to me and tell me how the coverage would be applied. Sample result would be:
> Submit $400 to VSP Vision Insurance for frames and lenses
> Submit $1000 to 2011 FSA
> Pay 600 out of pocket or from 2011 HSA


The app would include push notifications that alerted me to looming deadlines. And as cellular phones increasingly become positioned as payment devices, it would eventully integrate in real time with my mobile / digital wallet. When I pay for a health care expense, the expense receipt would automatically port to my benefits app and get placed in the appropriate queue for filing or reimbursement.


I loved my PPO plan that I used to have, because it was easy:

  • I didn't need a finance degree to calculate how much the plan was really costing or saving me.
  • There was no claim submission dance where I had to lay out a chart of permutations and wait until a daytime lunar eclipse to submit a claim
  • I knew my how much it was costing me. There was no risk at the end of the year of losing something.
  • More than anything, it FELT like a benefit to me and my family. When you work hard, shouldn't your benefits feel like benefits, not puzzles you can't solve?


PPO's have become inaccessible to many of us, due to the high costs of coverage. Employers believe that FSA's and HSA's put financial responsibility into the hands of the employee, preventing unneccessary trips to the doctor and encouraging preventative care. When you look at charts and graphs in dollars and cents today, they are likely right.


I would argue that people with a propensity for putting off health care will just put it off further - compounding the problem and costing us all more in the end. In the more short-term, what is the value of employee happiness and peace-of-mind? How many hours of productivity did I lose today doing the health care do-si-do and grieving the loss of thousands of dollars?


At minimum, I'd love all of our employers, across high-tech and other fields that attract talented, hard-working, dedicated employees, to audition potential benefits against the word "benefit" and take a "gut-feeling" test. If things have to be complicated, though, I would urge some more high-tech tools to help us make better decisions. I've navigated 3 different websites and chatted with multiple reps from two different benefits coordinators, and I can only tell you I feel a bit stung today. I lost a lot of money. And I still can't find the fine print that warned me against it.


This blog is about everything even loosely relevant to a technologist - from pointed articles about ITSM to cool pictures of laptop bags, funny memes, and more. The technology behind our healthcare benefits, and how it can help guide us to financial decisions that benefit not only our companies but ourselves is highly relevant. I'd love all manners of feedback - including those that tell me I'm just a sore loser and a bad budgeter. It's all fair play at Accordion Solo :-)



Apparently nobody reads  words anymore, so I've been deconstructing for an hour now to shorten the hemline of this post a bit. How do its' legs look?


Anyway, the big hooplah at SXSW interactive this year is social gaming. Zygna (think "Farmville") is making mega-bux schlepping ads in fake worlds that stay-at-home moms escape to for over 60 precious minutes per day. My own wife plays. Honey, if you're reading this, don't forget to water and feed the real children.


All this leads to Seth Priebatsch, CEO of SCVNGR, and his prediction that the next decade is all about the "game layer," which could be 10x more impactful than the social layer. All these layers make me want to eat cake real bad, I'm not even gonna lie.


Here's the (kosher) beef:


  • The game layer will be about "using dynamics and forces to influence the  behavior of where you are, what you do there, and how you do it"
  • Game dynamics are not the same as loyalty programs like frequent flier clubs and credit card incentives, which do use some basic tenants of gaming but still "just suck."


So the game layer will be about making us all act even more like alcoholic lab rats and tricking us into doing things which may or may not be in our best interest. At his recent TED talk (embedded above), Priebatsch said, ". . . with 7 game dynamics you can get anyone to do anything."


I've taken the liberty to watch numerous Preibatsch keynotes so you don't have to wonder whether he ever washes the orange shirt or puts the orange sunglasses on his face instead of the top of his head. As best as I can tell, the answers are no and no.


A few of the top secret "7 gaming dynamics" that Priebatsch and team will use to establish an all-orange national dresscode:


  1. Appointment dynamic - a dynamic in which to succeed, one must return at a predefined time to take a predetermined action. (Think restaurant happy hours, or in Farmville, crop maintenance.)
  2. Influence and status dynamic - the ability of one player to modify the behavior of another's actions through social pressure (American Express Black Card, Modern Warware (I'm a level 4 but deparately want to be a 10)
  3. Progression dynamic - a dynamic in which success is granularly dislayed and measured through the process of completing itemized tasks (LinkedIn: Your profile is 85% complete, seeing how many cups of coffee you need to buy to get a free one through a loyalty program)
  4. Communal discovery - a dynamic wherein an entire community is rallied to work together to solve a challenge (Digg, which uses a community to find and source the best news, for example)


There's much discussion already online about what the remaining 3 dynamics are, at least one of which is likely the viral dynamic (and others theories suggest scarcity, social dependence, etc.) Read the banter here.


The game layer and ITSM

So how we embrace the coming game layer and create an opportunity for help desk customers (or the employees that respond to tickets all day) to  "level up?" I loved Priebatsch's assessment of why our school system is broken. He says school is already a game, it's just not a very good one. The rewards are arbitrary letters (A, B, C, D, F) and you can fail. Instead, in riebatsch's view, students should earned experience points based on milestones, and we should swap the negative reinforcement with positive.


Here's a short and by no means exhaustive brain dump on incorporating game dynamics into ITSM:

  • Perhaps tickets themselves are akin to crops in Farmville, and resolving them is much like tending the crops. Changing the UI for help desk workers to make it look more like fun and less like an intimidating (and seemingly endless queue) of mundane tasks could encourage participation and job satisfaction. Fast-food chains time employees on how quickly and accurately they serve each customer. To an extent, the employees are playing a game.
  • Allowing the next-gen help desk employee to "level up" by solving more tickets, unlocking advanced tickets and problems for them to solve, and perhaps even basing real-world rewards like vacation time on "in-game accomplishments," employees might be less likely to burn out and more likely to strive for higher performance
  • Can users be similarly rewarded? Could they earn experience points for turning to a user community or a wiki before they open a ticket? What do they get in exchange? Perhaps priority service when they DO open a ticket? Yahoo Answers and other "crowdsourcing" question and answer sites grant points to community members that correctly answer another community member's question. Points are meaningless if they don't carry perceived value, whether it's status or the ability to redeem them for something.
  • Apps like Four Square use badges to encourage repeat behavior. The person who "checks in" the most at local coffee shops and restaurants can become the "mayor" of that establishment, often unlocking sponsored rewards from that business. Could help desks use badges or equivalents? You could unlock a "user helping users" badge, or badges in very specific content areas. With each badge, your status in the community escalates. Community status could translate to things like higher perceived value in the marketplace in the future, unquestionably.


Perhaps the scariest / most exciting thing is that the concept CAN carry over to so many aspects of our professional and personal lives. I, for one, would LOVE to see some healthy competition - perhaps embracing the progression dynamic - around starting and ending meetings on time. Since I have my own unique conference calling code, when I schedule a meeting with others it should include a meter (a la the trend with airlines to report the on-time percentage of flights during booking) telling them my meetings start on-time 99% of the time. Similarly, I could see how often my invitees dial in on time, and we would all be more attentive to our schedules in an effort to preserve our scores.


How else can game dynamics drive positive behaviors in IT service management? Is the greater potential impact with the service requestor or the provider?


MyCareerWeb is a new web service (currently in beta) that promises to do for your online presence what credit scoring bureaus like Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion have done for your financial life: assign a number to it. The currently free service analyzes your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profiles, compares the data against a "fact checking" search of the web, and spits out a number between 350 and 850, with the current "average" score being 589.


The goal? To help you build your "personal brand" and be in control of how you appear to prospective employers, most likely. How (and if - they're currently at just 4000 users, a number that Facemash surpassed in an hour or two online if anything from the movie is true) they will monetize the service is what worries me more. Sure, there's the opportunity to sell individual users a score monitoring subscription service, or one-time access to a score, like the major credit-reporting companies do. But they could also sell reports to employers, who might actually use this nonsensical number to make human resources decisions.


So how did I fare? I went ahead and signed up for the beta - you can use your LinkedIn or Facebook sign-in to get started without creating a separate account, which is a nice touch. One you sign it, it automatically tablulates your score, but it's only looking at the initial account you provided. For instance, I logged in using my LinkedIn ID, so my first report was based exclusively on the data from LinkedIn, without factoring in my other social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) I had to go back and add each of those separately, each of which inadvertently factored into my revised score. Here's the final results, considering all 3 of my accounts:




Congrats to me. I'm a 667, which puts me squarely in the lower half of the above average segment (UPDATE: See the bottom of this post for info on how I boosted my score to a 697 in just a few minutes). I haven't taken a deep dive into the methodology used to arrive at that exact number, but it seems to look for how many people you are connected with, how many of those people have worked with you in the past or present, the types of content you post and others post on your "wall", validation of information you display on your pages through a web search, etc.


I've used my Facebook page largely for personal enjoyment, not professional advancement. So it didn't surprise me when my score was docked a few points because they found "inappropriate" content on my wall. It likely won't surprise any of my coworkers, either. Here's what the report said:




When I went to the "Go To MyData" link it suggested to review the offending Facebook wall posts, I was able to scroll through the last 9 or 10 months of posts made to my wall. It instructed me to review the highlighted posts to find the offenders, but no posts were actually highlighted, so I guess I will never know.


A few of the reports you can generate were actually quite interesting. I liked this one, which showed me the distribution of my LinkedIn contacts across industries:




Again, no major surprises. I work in the computer software industry, in marketing and advertising, so it makes sense that more than 75% of my contacts would be comprised of those two categories, along with Information Technology. It did serve as a good reminder to diversify, though. If the tech industry took a hit (which has NEVER happened), my skills could still be quite useful in other segments, but I would lack the contacts I need to effectively network.


It would be awesome if MyCareerWeb took the analysis and recommendation to the next level - perhaps offering recommendations like the one I inferred above about diversifying my contacts by expanding into new industries. Maybe we'll see that level of thought when (if) it comes out of Beta.


It should also include the ability to link to your blog for it to extract information like frequency of post, number of commenters and audience engagement, etc. You could have a blog with 10,000 readers and not tweet, but this score would be blind to how established and reputable you are in the "blogosphere." Not that I am there. I'm just grateful that 20 people are reading :-)


UPDATE: I followed up on one of the suggestions MyCareerWeb made and added my employment information to my Facebook profile, and my score surged 20 points to a 687. Apparently, a "free" account allows you to update your score 3 times. I've used one of them. I will go back and make a few other adjustments based on their recommendations and see if I can break the 700 mark and report back to you.


UPDATE 2: I added two more of my previous jobs to my Facebook profile, and updated Facebook with which of my friends I had worked with at each of these jobs, and boosted my score another 10 points to a 697.