stop engaging

I doubt it is really engagement that we are after. Thinking about it, the word works for a good moment or two as a departure from static presentation models takes shape and begs reference, but now I am dubious of its application / context and the extensibility required to provide foundation for what has to be an impending productization: the reduction to common feature sets and resultant “functional suites” designed to just barely fall short of a Social Business Platform. These will of course all rely on web services and be added to a given presence as easily as pushbutton Fantastico stands up WordPress in your LAMP hosted site.

And I still call CMS, “CMS” and have to explain that CMS *does* do all kinds of stuff besides change new article titles.

Engagement services can happily live in the cloud, but please, not my front end. It will cost me my rear end. (ha, yeah) It would be great, Sir/Ma’am, if you could grant me access to a middle abstraced layer so I don’t have to build my solutions in fear of your next point release. That might be one of my biggest issues with (some of the big) Social Business Platforms. What do you mean you don’t support customization? You’re in the cloud, but so I have to depend on yet another bean bag with its head in the clouds? Been there, thanks. By the time I am done modelling content with arrays inside of individual fields to escape the didactic shifts in the solution’s focus, and by the time I abstract everything core to my own awful RESTful package, I might as well build it all myself and engage your in-crowd of Engagement Partners one on one.

No secret that I am big on ontology and the discipline of language. Words bring their luggage when they visit, though, and usually they are packing a CPAP or other life-sustaining equipment. If they need to leave it behind for you, because you don’t want to accommodate the tubes and pumps, they are going to die. In their sleep, unaware. Next to you. In your bed. You dirty rat. Think about your environment and if it is really that special… should it truly require relearning intent inherent in words? No. No. That is not truly a question.

No matter how cool your engagement engine is, the police are always going to engage a suspect, as well – and suspects have been around a lot longer than analytics paired with localized web content. Come on. Stop this departure from what is proven before we go the way of Agile, here. A thousand camps with different names and unique because of their adoption but the same in that they are bastardizations of a common theory that will be useful to everyone. This wrinkles my Wranglers.

It is important to have a stable foundation when stepping in any direction – because this is neat but any direction appears to be “forward” despite the lack of orientation beyond our collective noses. Without stability underfoot, you have to move and hope that the next lillypad is more assured. Until then, remember Frogger?


Old Skool Froggah

Jump Frog. I says JUMP!

Beyond the almost Darwinian evolution of meaning, there is more fundamental failure in the idea conveyed by our beloved Engagement. I am sure Marketing adopted the term and ran, ran, ran with it. Engagement is not the goal, if the fairly esoteric meaning that is used by Marketing and IT is given legs – it will fall apart as others not hip to the secret become involved and they wonder what good engagement is and the basic questions are prompted.

  • “This is just, gamification.”
  • “This is just usable.”
  • “Engaging? Hardly. Useful, I guess.”
  • “Oh, holy mackerel I am like wicked engaged and locked to this engagement-laden site that I have to have to tell everyone about and I want a lanyard I can please hang my laptop around my neck or so I never ever ever have to leave here.”

Millions of sales calls into Marketing and Amazonian stacks of pamphlets have been generated to proselytize the all too ambiguously valuable engagement concept. It’s easy to say, right? You may notice recent changes to this page since you loaded it. That is my engagement engine. I coded it a few years ago. It is extremely lightweight yet perfect and has proven engagement increases when people who never came to this site before do come to the site. Can you guess what it is? Hmm? Yes? Oh, I am being sooo annyoing.

Generally, the platforms directly adopting the term into their name, (Sitecore a notable exception) provide an inextricably intertwined list of interdependent and often acquisition-enabled features wind up delivering short of their summary of parts. The attempt to substantiate themselves as being more than they often (all too often) are, is revealed in the indirect to explaining how the solution is actually delivered.

It seems like nobody knows, sometimes.

Multivariate testing front ends that a Marketer can use, basic workflow control, and implicit learning (you tell it how to learn, BTW, or accept another version of what you need to know and sacrifice personalization or engagement internally) plus explicit learning (which we always had). At root, there is a scoring engine and front ends that can be as simple as the same forum you knew in 2000. Gamification can come into play, but that is what I would more happily call engagement. Give me a game. Engage me on pages aside from the ones mandating my shipping and mailing address.

Oddly enough, for some reason you will normally see the analytics that are key to this whole engagement thing only if you ask and it (to me) tends to be the fascinating part. But it is not measuring engagement. It is measuring popularity, consumption, and everything that engagement assumes with no right. Audacious, pretentious, engagement. Targeted content needs targets to hit and sufficient variation to not be bologna, re-purposed.

Engagement often assumes some degree of what is fondly termed personalization. Lets please not overlook that Personalization is more akin to Persona-personalization and content geared  towards an abstracted target. Personas. Not specific people, even if they have names that imply Suzy the Sassy Single Mom and Steve the Savvy Supervisor of Staff were interviewed to tune the system against. Of course, if I buy men’s shirts I am going to appreciate the list of men’s shirts that the CMS presents after learning of my behavior, but that is not engagement. That is sales. And why isn’t this coming from your CRM (why isn’t it generally at least obviated as a huge value add by many vendors)?

I get a list of shirts because I like shirts. Great. Presenting the list is not the goal, either. The goal is getting me to spend money and invest in enriching the web properties with UGC, social campaigns, etc. Get me jazzed. “You heard about Waze? Dude I was drunk as a mofo and that thing told me there was popo at exit 17 so you know I jumped right off at 16.” That is something that would have me, if the person described therein was remotely like me, back with saliva pooling in my lower lip.

My engagement is not the goal. I submit it is reexamined and instead of proclaiming that our goal is something that happens during a traffic stop, we look at what actually benefits the business, the business users, and the customer or public user. No more engagement platforms, please. No more “gaining user interaction through engagement” because that is not what happens and as a goal, setting KPI there is almost a self fulfilling prophecy of doom.

I can imagine a term that implies value is being fostered as well as delivered. Happy people, too. I see happy people. This would seem to indicate something like a Happy Investment Facilitator, and we can call it a HIF. I already see Happy Investment Delivery as an alternative. Perhaps there will be an HI concept with specific implementation methodologies fueling intense Marketing feuds and people will get their cars shot up by opposing camps on their way to work. Who knows. I can dream. That is a horrific dream. We maintain pacifism until the bloody, bitter end.

At least we would recognize the engagement isn’t going to do it and if it requires explanations towards what it REALLY means. Try something like Value Fostering Architecture or Smile Inducing Application Bling or Business and User Goal Value Smuggler or Impediment Assassination Agent Software. Something like that.

At some level I have, since the early days, detected some doubt from Executives regarding Engagement and they have absolutely been standoffish regarding personalization. One reason: the brand requires consistent messaging and can only accommodate so many personas with meaningful value add, but also fails to return sufficient metrics to support the acquisition of the engagement platform itself. What led to more sales, really? An optimized path for Mark the Manager and Cassie the Curt Customer, the novelty of the whole thing is quick to fade when it turns out that they are not the important (pretend and imaginary) personas.

Nonetheless, the baby bird has wings, has found a breeze, and is teetering on the edge of the nest. I doubt it will respond well if called “baby bird” much longer, though it worked fine in the past when it was alone in the nest. Here, we can use “Chuck” for the bird (it is cute as pie), but The Artist Formerly Known as Engagement needs a new moniker.

We can pass 200 people in the car or on the sidewalk and avoid engaging them or engage them as appropriate. We engage and scale as required, never truly passing 200 stories of human existence or driving past 200 threads of consciousness resulting from a singular perspective and having experienced what it is to be a human being as asserted by their persistent mortal shuttles. My head hurts even thinking about the amount of sheer work that would take. I really have a hard enough time experiencing my own mortal shuttle (or whatever sounds profound to you). The jokes will stop there, before I am out of line again.

We are not after real engagement. Real engagement is what Rodney King got. We are after value. Of course, and yet again, Value rears its name in one of my pontificating grooves. It means next to nothing, yet has the audacity to imply everything.



Traditional Big Up Front Design (BUFD) and New Big Enough Design (Not Really a Thing Yet)

I’ve written previously on the pitfalls in BUFD and so have many, many others. Most of them wrote after I did. Just so you know. Nascent thought finds light right here on my blog.

Smaller organizations seem to adopt Agile principles more readily than others, but the communicate as a team more easily and can “get it” even from a distance because they are intimately involved. Even the unsaid goals due to their proximity to the action as it happens. I learn about the perfect meal for Ms. Whomever not by listing her entree and appetizer, but by watching her eat. She might avoid soft foods. Maybe she pushes her veggies to the right every time. Little things…, big things. I will learn them over time. She probably doesnt even realize most of them are required for her to be happy and find the meal fulfilling. What do we care? Well, the meal is no good unless she values it. She might think it looks nice, or tastes nice, but all sizzle no steak is way too commonplace. Ask your ex.

I still encounter teams (large ones, small ones, short ones, skinny ones) that want a creative brief in hand before dev work beings. Not just a style guide, but finished product. Otherwise, I guess, they might hardcode and affix the login box to the wrong side of the page.

As the number of roles, handoffs, gates, formal signoffs, and any kind of ceremony goes up, less meaningful communication can happen. People are busy with their counterparts, creating documents, specs, etc.

I struggle with the proper delineation between roles but like anything else, the answer is that it depends. With the creative doc going to dev, I think there is a little backdoor that makes it hard to wait for finished product. On one hand, there is a handoff and assumed liability. On the other, man do we waste time. Decouple your data from your layout, do real content modeling, and the UI becomes informed instead of didactic. If I can cleanly articulate an Object of Knowledge (say, a Super Hero) and specify that It will consist of

Photo with fists on hips (you would leave out the sassy detail)
Video of flying in the air, ducks at his/her side (more detail best left to the experts)
Super Power
Example application of Super Power
Slogan / Tag Line
… just be sure to allow this list to change, update, or shrink.

Then creative can do what they need to do and will want to know if there is only one picture because they wanted to build out a gallery. They might ask (or may need to be told) if the biography is rich text? How long are they?

What they really need is good sample content.

And then maybe they can put something together while dev begins iteration 0 or similar, design gets sign off not on FINAL comps, but on the fact that they get the jist of it.

2 workstreams, off and running, with artifacts all useful and very little time lost or wasted. In and of themselves, well built and extensible Super Heros are able to be repurposed across channels and campaigns,

Teams work better in timeboxes, and when cross discipline, they can bake value into everything that is coded. The QA phase is a kind of ceremony if we do CI and Regression in an environment mimicking production.

Of course, communication is iterative speech, and we all know that even though talking to yourself is fun and a sign of complete mental stability, even mental mastery, it is hard to be objective and offer things you never considered.

Have a barely good enough day.

Or a good one, but is barely good enough when you are a high functioning, data decoupling, visionary.


one of the good ones

Sadly, that laugh will always come in the front door whenever it wants to. My two favorite people who aren’t my daughter: So much :)




Cloud or SaaS?
Depends on what you call cloud. Can be thinly veiled Saas.

Ideally, tonight, I am thinking cloud as template to be ideal, with APIs managed and stable instead of plugin capabilities.