Revolutionary Measures

10 changes that Facebook has made in ten years

This month Facebook celebrates its tenth birthday, having come a long way from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room in 2004. Hitting 1.23 billion active users and 2013 revenues of $7.87bn points to an astonishing growth in just a decade – though several researchers have tried to spoil the party by pointing out that teenagers have been deserting the social network in favour of cooler locations such as WhatsApp and SnapChat. On the flipside there’s been an 80% growth in those over 55 joining up – and from an advertiser’s point of view, which is the demographic with most money?

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr...

As the parent of a ten year old, albeit one that hasn’t delivered any revenues yet, it is amazing to see the impact that the social network has brought, not just online, but to the world around us. This is particularly true when it comes to marketing – ten years ago digital marketing essentially meant creating a website, SEO or sending out emails, rather than the relatively sophisticated profiling that is now possible through Facebook.

So here’s my top ten things that Facebook has changed:

1              Our language has evolved
Ten years ago we liked things. Now we Like them, and friend and unfriend people in the real world, as well as online. Poking publically is still frowned upon though. The language of Facebook has added and amended written and spoken English, and made it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

2              Marketers have traded control for access
If you told a marketer ten years ago that they’d move from investing their budget in their own websites to fitting their content inside the constraints of a presence on a third party network they’d have laughed at you. But essentially that is what Facebook has done – consumer marketers feel they have to follow their target audiences onto the site and interact with them, if they are to drive engagement.

3              Consumers are now in charge
The relationship between companies and consumers used to be one way and top down. The very word consumer conjured up a vision of passive purchasers lapping up whatever was marketed to them without complaint. Social networks have turned this on its head. Got a complaint? Disagree with what a company is doing? Facebook (and, of course, Twitter) provides you with a megaphone for your comments and can reach a global audience within seconds. Brands no longer have total control – as my ex-colleagues Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington have pointed out we’re now in an era of #brandvandals, that have the means and inclination to undermine corporate reputations overnight.

4              Everything happens faster
This isn’t just because I’m old, but we’ve moved from 24 hour rolling news to second by second and minute by minute activity. Move away from your computer for a tea break and you’ll be behind the curve and out of the loop. The constant need to update your status, post what you are doing and react to other people doing the same does give immediate insight, but is it at the expense of longer term perspective?

5              You cast a longer digital shadow
Ten years ago there wouldn’t be much information available online on most people. Now people live on Facebook, sharing their most intimate moments without a second thought. But unlike the offline world, this information doesn’t disappear but remains available forever. So be careful what you post as a teenager, as it may come back to haunt you when you’re Prime Minister

6              News has changed
How we consume news – and how it is collected and disseminated – has evolved beyond all recognition. Facebook profiles are the first place that journalists look for information or reaction to events. Much of our news is shared or recommended by friends rather than genuinely found through our own efforts. Consequently bite-size stories have risen up the agenda, along with a focus on cute kittens and addictive but unprovable gossip.


7              Distance is less important
It used to be that your closest friends were those you saw every day, even if the main thing you had in common was location. But now you can hang out with people you share interests with, wherever they are scattered across the globe. For many people the main focus of their social lives is Facebook, not the telephone or face to face communication any more.

8              Celebrity hasn’t gone away
Social media has allowed celebrities, from the Queen to Justin Bieber, to share their lives and build a direct relationship with an audience, unconstrained by the press. But this comes as a price – you need to actually talk to your fans and engage, rather than shutting yourself away, surrounded by minders.

9              We’re more open
Perhaps too open judging by what many people post. But the stereotype of shy and retiring, emotionally awkward Britons has been completely destroyed by the advent of Facebook. There’s no limit to what people think is shareable or that they believe their friends will find interesting………….

10           We’re beginning to grow up
Our attitude to how our private data is mined and used is changing. When Facebook began, few were bothered about what happened to their personal information – but that has changed as we’ve grown savvier about what it is worth. The next decade will see a fascinating struggle between Facebook (and marketers) and users, as each side tries to shift the needle on privacy.

 

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February 5, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paranoid Android

This is not a good time for the paranoid to be on the internet. In the wake of the first set of revelations from Edward Snowden, more is emerging about the extent of online eavesdropping by the security services on both sides of the Atlantic. According to Snowden British intelligence agency GCHQ showed off the ability to monitor YouTube video views, Facebook ‘likes’ and Blogger visits in real-time to its US colleagues back in 2012. The programme, named Squeaky Dolphin, even had its own logo (though looking at the design, I don’t think the spies should give up their day jobs quite yet).

Angry Birds

Even worse, spooks have been accessing smartphone data while people play Angry Birds, enabling them to get hold of user’s personal information. Presumably the game was picked due to its global popularity, rather than being a cunning ruse by GCHQ and the NSA to enable staffs to play it during work time.

And in an unrelated story, a security company has found an internet-enabled fridge that has been hacked and is now sending spam. This is particularly worrying given the rise of the Internet of Things, with more and more devices and appliances around us connected to the web. Essentially each of these is a small, but powerful computer, often without the same level of security and protection than you see on a PC or tablet. Being able to hijack a fridge is one thing, but as the Internet of Things spreads, more sinister opportunities arise – remotely controlling smart cars or switching on and off hundreds of air conditioners to bring down a power grid are all possibilities.

Taking these stories together leads to two concerns in my mind. Firstly, internet privacy. I think most people understand the need to collect information on identified threats to public safety, provided due legal process has been followed. What Snowden seems to have uncovered is technological spying that has gone mad – exactly what you’d expect if you put a large bunch of very intelligent geeks in a room, give them all the resources they need and exonerate them from any qualms of conscience by saying it is in the national interest. So what happens to information that is found online that is not linked to terrorism but minor, non-criminal misdemeanours? GPS data that shows an MP was with his mistress when he should have been elsewhere or evidence of unsavoury (but not illegal) internet activities for example. The nature of technology means this information is unlikely to disappear, but will sit on servers somewhere, with no guarantee that it won’t be pulled out in the future.

Secondly, security concerns have the ability to derail the Internet of Things. As Google’s recent purchase of Nest shows, market momentum is increasing. But if people add the worry of security issues to privacy concerns they are less likely to embrace the opportunities that the Internet of Things offers when it comes to increased efficiency and energy saving. After all, I don’t want GCHQ to know what’s in my fridge – or burglars to know when I’m away on holiday.

There’s been a lot of talk from politicians about reining in the security services and that needs to be formalised to reassure the law-abiding – instead of enabling spying, the tech industry should be focusing its intelligence on improving the actual security of the devices and applications that control our lives.

 

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January 29, 2014 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The end of work?

The world of work has changed immeasurably over the last ten years, not just in the UK but across all developed countries. Repetitive, process driven jobs have been automated, with technology replacing paper-based workflows. In many cases this has led to a hollowing out of sectors and companies, with the remaining workforce split between menial roles and higher level management.

English: Watt's steam engine at the lobby of t...

And these changes are accelerating. A report in The Economist points to new technological disruption in the workplace, driven by computers getting cleverer and becoming self-learning. Lightweight sensors, more powerful cameras, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, big data and advances in processing power are all contributing to helping computers do brain work. Innovations such as driverless cars and household robots don’t require human intervention to operate, and can do more than traditional machines.

Research from Oxford University suggests that 47% of today’s jobs could be automated within the next 20 years. Many of these roles are in previously ‘safe’ middle class professions such as accountancy, the law and even journalism.

So, this begs two questions. What skills do people need if they are going to thrive in this new world – and are we teaching them to children quickly enough?

The employees of the future will require skills that complement machine intelligence, rather than mirror it. Empathy, the ability to motivate, and being able to think outside the box will all be needed. Essentially soft skills, backed up by specialist knowledge that is based on experience that cannot be replicated by machines. Professions such as therapists, dentists, personal trainers and the clergy are all seen as being relatively safe from replacement by robots. Interestingly entrepreneurs often possess these talents, so expect them to thrive as they use technology such as the cloud to bring their innovations to market quickly.

As a knock on effect, the will be a change in the size of companies people work for. Before the Industrial Revolution most people worked either for themselves or in small organisations (the village carpenter and his apprentice for example). Industrialisation required scale, so vast mega companies grew up. These won’t disappear, but the number of people working for them will shrink dramatically as intelligent machines take over. We’ll move to a larger proportion of the population being self-employed, providing their services on a personal basis. 

Looking at education, schools will also need to change. Pupils need to understand the world around them, so they have to be taught a certain number of facts and dates, but rote learning of what made the British Empire great is going to be useless for a large proportion of people’s careers. What is needed is to teach skills for learning and adapting, thinking for yourself and how to motivate and show empathy to others. Essentially, children starting school today will be going into careers that may not even exist yet – so lifelong learning and flexibility are critical.

The predictions of the havoc that technology will cause to the world of work may be overstated – just because something is technically possible, it doesn’t mean it will quickly become mass market. And governments, worried about massive social change, are likely to step in to mitigate the worst impact through legislation. But changes are coming, and we need to think more like entrepreneurs and less like machines if we’re going to thrive. 

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January 22, 2014 Posted by | Creative, Startup, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Google, Nest and the opportunity for startups

In many ways the news that Google has bought smart home company Nest Labs shouldn’t be a surprise. It has been talking to the company for some time and apparently lots of Google employees had installed the company’s sensor based thermostat in their own homes.

Google 貼牌冰箱(Google Refrigerator)

More to the point I think it fits in with Google’s overall objectives. As analysts have pointed out, Google isn’t a search engine company (and hasn’t been for some time), but is about data – collecting it (analysing search results, Google Glass, StreetView) and then using it to either sell you things (through adverts) or make your life better in some way.

With billions of sensors embedded in previously dumb objects that will be communicating in real-time, the Internet of Things promises to create a tidal wave of data. Each piece will be tiny, but if you can bring it together and analyse it you can get an even deeper view of the world around us, and the people in it. Nest’s products are much more than thermostats, and provide Google with the sensor/Internet of Things expertise it needs to add to its product portfolio. It already has Android-based smartphones/tablets to act as controllers, the mapping technology to show where sensors are located and the technology to analyse billions of events in real-time. And with Google Fiber rolling out in several US cities, it has a network to send the data through as well.

A simple example – your Nest thermostat notifies you that your boiler has gone wrong via your smartphone while you are at work. And suggests a registered tradesman that can fix it by trawling the web and any recommendations in your Google+ circles. Or alternatively gives you the address of the nearest clothing shop, so you can stock up on thick jumpers.

Many people (myself included) would find this a bit creepy, but it is potentially possible if you can knit all the technology together. What I think is interesting is how utilities will respond to the future entry of Google into the market. After all, as publishers and others have found, Googlification can squeeze out incumbents through sheer scale and by engaging more closely with customers. Utilities have to decide whether they want to partner with the likes of Google, risk losing the customer relationship and become commodity suppliers of gas and electricity or take a stand and build stronger engagement with customers. In current circumstances that’ll be difficult – people are at best ambivalent about their utility supplier, and in an era of rising prices and poor customer service many actively dislike them.

So there’s a big opportunity here – and something that Cambridge’s cluster of smart home/green tech companies could exploit. For example, AlertMe already has a partnership with British Gas, while Sentec is working with metering companies to make their products smarter. If energy companies don’t want to work with Google then they have two choices – do it themselves (teaming up with smaller tech companies), or partner with larger industrial tech companies, such as Siemens or Bosch. And these industrial giants will need the specialist expertise that smart home companies can provide.

The utility market doesn’t move fast, so don’t expect to see Google running your home in the next year, but the Nest acquisition should actually spur the whole sector on, attracting both interest and investment. The world just got more interested in smart homes, which is good news for relevant startups in Cambridge and beyond.

 

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January 15, 2014 Posted by | Cambridge, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Fitness tech wins gold at CES

Las Vegas / CES 2013

It’s CES time again, and one of the key trends at the world’s largest consumer electronics show is wearable tech. That, and the need to make sure your autocue is working in the case of film director Michael Bay.

I’ve previously talked about how devices such as smart watches (and Google Glass) only really have a market to monitor vital signs and provide information on how our bodies are performing, and the products on show at CES bear this out. Intel launched a $1.3m competition to find the best uses for wearable tech (as well as a copy of the ARM-based Raspberry Pi) while Sony unveiled life-logging software and a device called the Core that monitors time spent on various activities, from jogging to watching movies. So if you’re bored with your life you can revisit what you were doing ten minutes ago, which sounds like the recipe for getting trapped in an infinite, ultra-mundane loop.

But the best uses of wearable tech are all linked to fitness. There’s a very good reason for this – as someone that runs a bit (and the husband of a hardened marathoner) I’ve seen how lucrative the market is. After all, like paying for gym membership, money spent on clothes/equipment used for keeping fit is guilt-free – so you can invest in five pairs of trainers and 23 different tops that may make you go faster without worrying too much. Add in the obsession runners have with stats and there is a large, and affluent, sector to target. Products on show at CES include headbands that monitor heart rates and core body temperature as well as smart socks that check your running style. Copying a project seen at Idea Transform several years ago, there’s a sensor that attaches to your baseball bat, golf club or tennis racquet to provide real-time information on your swing to enable you to improve. Pity it came too late for England’s batsmen.

For once, I can see some of the wackier products announced at CES as having a future. Everything is there to make wearables work – sensors have been miniaturised, communication technologies such as Bluetooth are widespread and most of us have smartphones to provide control. This offers the chance to provide unprecedented, real-time information on your body that can either improve your fitness or guard your well-being. There are definitely going to be privacy issues that need to be tackled, but the market is there. Whether that’s the same for the connected toothbrush that ticks you off for not brushing properly, I somewhat doubt……….

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January 8, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thinking, Fast and Slow

A Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in 2006.

Probably because it is a difficult discipline to predict, we marketers love the idea of systems that are proven to deliver results. Whether it is putting the call to action in a certain font, including a free pen with a mailing or emailing at a specific time of the day, anything that can help convince consumers is considered fair game.

So it is no surprise that marketers, and particularly advertisers, have long looked at psychology to help predict what will work and what won’t. I’ve previously talked about Mark Earls and the theory that, basically, we all want to belong to the herd, an ingrained, unthinking, attitude that makes us enormously susceptible to peer pressure.

Much of herd theory is related to the work of Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2002. His work (including the seminal Thinking, Fast and Slow), shows that the human mind is comprised of two systems. The first (system one) is intuitive, making decisions automatically, while system two rationalises the ideas of system one and sometimes overrules it. Essentially, what this means is that we think far less about decisions than we believe we do, and are much less rational than people expect. As Kahneman put it, “We are to thinking as cats are to swimming. We can do it if we have to, but we don’t particularly like it.”

Theories such as these are a godsend to marketers. If you can convince system one to like/buy something then chances are it’ll slip past the lazy watchdog that is system two without anyone noticing. Potentially scary if you are a consumer (or a citizen during an election campaign) but perfect for ad agencies.

Hence, as a recent story in The Economist points out, the phenomenal success of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Gorilla advert, which delivered an ROI three times the industry average. In reality the advert had nothing to do with chocolate at all, but led with emotion (rather than information) and brand (rather than product benefits). Ad men love Kahneman’s theories because:

(a)  They get the chance to do fun, extravagant ads that could win prizes rather than list the benefits of cough syrup

(b)  Traditional ways of measuring ad impact don’t work with system one-led ads. So there won’t be an annoying (uncreative) market researcher telling you your ad doesn’t resonate with the audience.

As the current crop of Christmas adverts shows, reason and rationality have very much gone out the window, with a focus on brand, emotion and slowed-down songs sung by female pop stars. But I don’t think all is lost for the system two adverts – if they are clever, informative and delivered with humour they can appeal to our rational selves, and by being the opposite of the mainstream can stand out by being different. There’s always a trade-off – if all things were equal, most of us wouldn’t choose to fly Ryanair, but system two looks at the price difference on tickets and forces us onboard. So, before they get carried away, marketers and ad men shouldn’t throw system two out with the bathwater (or should that be gorilla?). 

December 18, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Cambridge Cluster – what’s missing?

Cluster (IA)

As I’ve said before, startup clusters are springing up all over the place and that’s great. There’s even one in my village (population 3,000) – well, two startups and a group of support services, including myself.

Clusters encourage innovation, particularly through external economies of scale – i.e. by providing access to the people, resources and infrastructure that startups need but don’t have themselves. And the more startups there are in an area, the lower the price of these services as they are shared across a greater number of companies.

A lot of these clusters seem to be driven from outside, particularly as both central and local governments realise that startup clusters are (a) sexy and (b) cheap. Why not give them a small pot of money/some space/a patronising visit to show you’re supporting innovation?

So, putting cynicism aside, what does a startup cluster require – and how does Cambridge measure up? I’ve been looking at Brad Feld’s work on building a startup ecosystem, based on 20 years experience in Boulder, Colorado. The aptly named Boulder Thesis highlights four things that these communities must have:

  1. They should involve entrepreneurs and feeders (people/institutions like universities, government, venture capitalists, lawyers, PR people). BUT they have to be led by entrepreneurs if they are to truly take off.
  2. Long term. It can take 20 years to build a community, so entrepreneurs need to stick around, even if they’ve built and sold their company long ago. And the same goes for those that fail – encourage them to stick around.
  3. They need to be inclusive, welcoming anyone, no matter what their skills or ideas.
  4. They need to be active, with a range of events and accelerator programmes to help encourage and nurture startups.

That’s Boulder. Let’s compare it to Cambridge.

Firstly there’s a large community of entrepreneurs and feeders in the city (so a tick there) and entrepreneurs are taking a leading role. And given the longevity of the Silicon Fen success story there are plenty of long term entrepreneurs who have stuck around, from Hermann Hauser to Mike Lynch.

It’s the third and fourth points where I believe Cambridge has issues. Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredibly welcoming people in the Cambridge community and some great events/accelerators that nurture startups. But, perhaps because of the size and depth of the community, spanning everything from medtech to green IT, groups can appear disconnected, with everyone focused on their niche. Some of this may come from the research-led nature of many Cambridge innovations, but, even in academia, cross-discipline working is becoming more normal after centuries of specialism. Compare this to places such as Norwich, which has a smaller (but still substantial) startup community that seems more cohesive, with greater communication between disparate companies with radically different ideas.

What Cambridge does have, and that I think is missing from Feld’s thesis, is the combination of new and old blood. The universities, and increasingly tech businesses, attract talent, much of which stays on and contributes to the ecosystem. But enough leaves to make space for new ideas so that things don’t go stale.

So, in true end of term report style, Cambridge needs to try harder when it comes to building a cohesive, overarching supercluster. It has the constituent parts, but what is needed is stronger glue to stick it together and help connect the bigger picture. Let’s see if 2014 brings a solution to this long term problem.

December 11, 2013 Posted by | Cambridge, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hubs, bridges and the discovery of America

English: Columbus_1892_Issue-$5.jpg Christophe...

There can be a tendency in Cambridge to think that innovation ends at the city limits, and particularly that we’ve got the monopoly on tech startups in East Anglia.

Proof positive that this isn’t the case was on show last week at SyncNorwich, where more than 300 entrepreneurs, developers and members of the Norwich tech cluster talked about their diverse successes. This included market leaders such as FXhome, which produces special effects software for both Hollywood blockbusters and amateur filmmakers, Liftshare.com, the world’s most popular car sharing site and mobile interaction/payment firm Proxama. A whole host of newer startups, such as targeted mobile advertising company Kuoob, music community site SupaPass and educational software provider Wordwides (set up by a 16 year old) also talked about what they could offer.

There’s obviously been lots of activity in Norwich for quite a while (FXhome has been going for 10 years and Liftshare.com for 15), but what the evening did was give outside endorsement to the cluster. Mike Butcher from Tech Crunch came along and it gave everyone present belief that they were on the right road and that they should be shouting about it. In the days since, I’ve seen emails offering co-working spaces and there’s even a cluster name (Silicon Broads) being bandied about, along with a startup map.

Norwich isn’t the only cluster rising to prominence across Europe – the growth of cloud-based technologies, new agile development methodologies and a focus on entrepreneurship mean they are springing up everywhere. Some people see this as a bad thing – they point to the size of Silicon Valley and wonder how hundreds of disparate European cities can compete or scale. But as Butcher pointed out, the Valley has a 60 year head start and what is needed is to build bridges between the different hubs – after all takes 2 hours to drive from London to Norwich (or Cambridge), the same time to get from one end of Silicon Valley to the other.

What Europe needs to do is to use the nimbleness of having multiple centres to its advantage and turn disparateness into diversity. I’m reminded of the story of the ‘discovery’ of America. At the same time as Christopher Columbus was touting his plans around the courts of Europe, the Chinese Emperor was assembling a great fleet to explore the same area. Given the scale and backing put into the expedition it would have been likely that the first non-native settlers in the present day United States would have been Chinese, not European. However the Emperor died and his plans died with him – there was no alternative power that could take them on. In contrast Columbus, originally Genoese, travelled round Europe for years until he found a backer in the Spanish monarchy. The result? The world we know today.

So it is time that European startups (and political leaders) stopped dreaming of a single super hub that on its own can rival Silicon Valley. It’ll never happen and what we need to do is build bridges between the enormous variety of hubs across Europe. Making everyone aware of what is going on up the road (or further afield) is crucial to driving collaboration, unlocking opportunities and building a successful pan-European tech ecosystem that can break down barriers and silo working and deliver jobs and growth.

December 4, 2013 Posted by | Cambridge, Creative, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The (marketing) meaning of Christmas

christmas tree

As everyone by now has been reminded by their children/mother, there’s less than a month to Christmas, cueing mass panic and a rush to Amazon.

Rather than starting shopping I thought I’d look at the marketing behind Christmas and how it has evolved over the past centuries. From the Christian Church to John Lewis brands have attempted with varying degrees of success to link to a midwinter celebration. Here’s a top four of marketing successes:

1          The Church
Before people start getting upset about the hijacking of the Baby Jesus’ birthday by commercial interests it is worth going back to pagan times. Before the Christian Christmas began there was a major celebration of the midwinter solstice, around the end of December. There’s no record of when Christ was actually born in the Bible, so essentially the church merged the existing pagan festival with Christ’s birth from around the fourth century as part of a move to increase converts and popularity.

2          The Victorians
For popularising other traditions (such as present giving around the day itself, rather than at New Year, and Christmas trees) we have to thank Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, helped by the pen of Charles Dickens. The stereotypical Christmas scene of snow, robins and greenery comes directly from Victorian times, despite the current lack of ‘seasonal’ weather on the day itself. What better way to spread colonial strength than by giving the world an excuse to celebrate?

3          Coca Cola
There’s a widespread belief that Father Christmas’ red and white costume comes directly from Coca Cola’s 1930s ad campaigns. This may not be completely true – his forerunner St Nicholas dressed in red and white bishop’s vestments – but it is certainly something that the soft drinks giant cannily exploits to this day.

4          John Lewis
Over the last twenty years the competition to own the Christmas experience has led to more and more lavish advertising campaigns. Thanks to a heavy dose of hype these ads now attract press coverage on their own, with commentators discussing their relative merits, and now monitoring the social media buzz. Undoubted winner of the past few festive seasons has been John Lewis, which has knocked Marks & Spencer off its perch as the must see Christmas advert. This year it has spent a reported £7m on its animated Hare and Bear campaign, which generated over 14,500 tweets in its first few hours of release.

So, why is it important? Firstly, Christmas has come to dominate the retail landscape, with many chains doing the majority of their business in the months around 25 December. Secondly, spending is still cautious (despite what official figures say about the UK moving out of recession), so competition for every pound spent is fierce. If you can tap into the Christmas spirit not only will you generate seasonal goodwill, but you will also bring in revenue from customers who will remain loyal over the whole year.

This means that while it is easy to sneer at the over-excitement about TV ad campaigns, they are only the successors to previous attempts by brands to ‘own’ Christmas and therefore win over their audiences – whether to sell soft drinks, Victorian values or even Christianity itself. As the investment shows Christmas is far too important to be left to Father Christmas. Myself, I’ll stick to Scrooge………

 

November 27, 2013 Posted by | Creative, Marketing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The all-seeing eye

People are still coming to terms with the lack of privacy that social media and the online world have brought. Some are happy with the fact that ‘privacy is no longer the social norm’ (to quote Mark Zuckerberg). However for many more of us the fact that our every online move is tracked (whether by large companies or the NSA) is a big worry. But at the moment, the usefulness of free online services, such as search and social media, outweigh the intrusion. After all, it is confined to the virtual world and provided you don’t do anything stupid, like give out your house number on Facebook, you can keep your real life separate from the web.google-glass

But the shrinking size of cameras, and the forthcoming launch of Google Glass, promise to merge the offline and online worlds like never before. Whether deliberately or by accident you can photograph and share images, video and audio in real time, without the knowledge of those around you. Combining this with the vast store of digital information on the web enables people and places to be easily identified, tagged and shared. So far Google Glass has privacy safeguards built in – it bans facial recognition apps and requires either a voice command or tapping the top of the glasses to take a photo. However given that there is already a hack to take photos by winking, I can see developers getting round this all too easily.

Should we be scared? The normal argument trotted out by those in favour of increased surveillance is that only the guilty or those with something to hide should be worried. And obviously the ability for the police to identify criminals and terrorists is a major positive of ubiquitous cameras. But what about the person who happens to be snapped where he or she isn’t expected to be – on their way back from a secret rendezvous with a lover, or a job interview that they don’t want their existing employer to know about? The difference between official surveillance, where access to the pictures is tightly controlled, and the world of personal photo sharing, is that everyone can see everything, without safeguards to limit access. There’s already issues with unauthorised photos taken upskirt or down blouse by low lifes with camera phones. Add in facial recognition to these, enabling the victims to be identified, and it makes the whole practice much more sinister.

For me the even more disturbing thought is what businesses can do with this data. Advertisers already have access to your location, your past browsing history and what you have previously bought. Add in what you are looking at, and your reaction to it, and it gives a 360 degree view of your behaviour. Spend five minutes idly staring at a poster at a bus stop? Look at a pair of jeans in a shop window? Expect it to be noted and used to sell to you.

Don’t get me wrong, the proliferation of personal cameras can be a good thing. They can be used to provide information on the world around us – want to know what that plant is or what bird is singing nearby? Google Glass can help. They benefit dementia patients, enabling them to fill in the gaps in their worsening memory. Personal cameras provide a tamper-proof record of conversations that can prevent litigation against doctors, couriers or the police. But in my opinion, the negatives outweigh the positives.

What is needed is a fundamental review of privacy and how it is enforced. And that needs to happen now, before Google Glass and its competitors hit the streets and become mass-market. Social media failed to do this – there privacy was an add on rather than built in from the start and this has had a major impact on how our personal data is shared. When it comes to something even more personal, what we see and what we hear, governments and businesses must act now to guarantee privacy before it is too late.

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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