Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Some “Big Data” Musings

Wasn’t really happy with this post when I first wrote it because it didn’t really have a tight “so what” conclusion to it. I revisited it today and…still no big conclusion…yet, they work as musings so how about I just share them anyway.

1. Just as the Art Director / Copywriter pair are the key to great creatives, the strategist / analyst pair will be key to great marketing strategy where the analyst is the number crunching quant and the strategist knows which questions to ask of the analyst.

2. Social media has dominated the marketing punditry discussion in the past couple years but pay-per-click advertising uses, gives, and optimizes Big Data. Expect a more balanced PPC / social in marketing plans.

3. Infographics, standard issue in the PR and B2B arsenal, will go consumer and become more dynamic and consumer facing (e.g. more Infogrpahic billboards with real-time updates)

4. Expect to see greater use of ‘frictionless sharing’ and it’s cousin, something I’m calling ‘private IRL tracking’.

On the frictionless sharing front, Nike+ got the ball rolling years ago with people sharing their runs straight from their shoe device. Spotify and various news readers (e.g. Washington Post) are making their way into our newsfeeds. But there’s also broadcasting your electricity use and rewarding savings in an attempt to get households to use less.

On the IRL tracking, I’m thinking more stuff like that track foot traffic at specific locations, Mongoosemetrics which tracks phone calls, and someone ought to invent a device that sends your car’s trip meter info straight to an expense tracking app.

How Google+ has forced us to Rethink the Spectrum of Friendship

Growing up as a child in the pre-Facebook era, my friends were people I played with, or hung out with regularly. They lived in the neighbourhood or I met them in school, or they were kids of my parents’ friends. I suspect that’s largely the same for kids today.

As we grow up and attend different schools or expanding our horizons with other activities: sports leagues, camp, music, part-time jobs, full-time work, moving to a different city, town, or country our friend network expands but also compartmentalizes itself into circles of friends. While you the individual deftly floats between your circles, the friends in each circle rarely meet each other. This is most noticeable at weddings where the different tables at the reception often reflect the different circles of friends and relatives for the bride and groom.

And there’s another thing tends to happen when we expand our social network. Individuals start falling on a friendship spectrum. On one side are your true friend, your BFFs, your confidantes, the people who know you really, really well. On the other side are your acquaintances, people you know in passing, whom you might stop in the street to say hi but the conversation almost never veers beyond small talk. Then there’s those in between. “Work friends” whom you see every day who know a fair bit about your personal life but you still feel the need to keep some professional distance. “Co-mingled friends” people who you met through someone else and love to hang out with them but you never get together except with that someone else. “Family friends”, the relatives of your friends or the friends of your relatives. “Old friends” who you don’t see as often as you used to but still maintain ties.  And a whole slew of others.

Then Facebook came along and acquaintances, work friends, old friends, family friends, co-mingled friends, old friends all got mashed up together in the same news feed. It was both refreshing and complicated. The lines got blurred. Stuff you’d share with one circle of friends would be seen and commented by others and vice versa. On one hand, you got to know those on the weaker side of the friend spectrum a bit better and they got to know you a bit better. On the other hand, you got to know those on the weaker side of the friend spectrum a bit better and they got to know you a bit better 🙂 Eli Pariser can fret all he wants about filter bubbles but in some way Facebook opened us up by getting to (sort of) know our spectrum of friends better.

And now, here comes Google+ asking us to choose our friends and put them back into their circles. I understand the zeitgeist that inspired these circles. The voyeur aspect of Facebook was interesting at first but now that we’ve tested our limits with public-ness, we want to regain some control over who sees what. But now we’re faced with a rather awkward conundrum. The spectrum of friends, the degree of friendedness was heretofore a pretty much unconscious classification. It wasn’t something we’d say out loud and we didn’t really think too much about it. Now, here they are, staring us in the face. Our pre-frontal cortex, responsible for reasoning, is now given the unfamiliar task of classifying our friends, of pigeon-holing them into labelled groups. If algorithms created the first wave of online filter bubbles, the next wave might be created by us.

Twitter: Television’s Peanut Gallery

During this year’s Oscars, I had two screens going. The big one was showing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. The smaller laptop screen was showing the #oscars feed.

In some circles, this “social viewing” habit might be the savior of TV. Some people believe this second screen is the savior of event-based television programming creating a virtual living room and restoring the old shared experience that once was a staple of TV viewing habits everywhere. Well, like most virtual things…it’s not exactly the same thing. When it comes to things like Superbowl parties and Oscar parties…I go mostly to socialize, the event provides an excuse to get together and a theme for the party. The twitter takes one element from that…the snarky heckles we do to the TV as we’re watching. That’s it. It’s one big virtual peanut gallery each person trying to out-snark the last comment in the #oscars stream.

It’s funny. It’s a nice accessory to the Oscar viewing experience…but it’s not social viewing.

Why FourSquare? (or Facebook Places for that matter)

Jesse Schell had a fantastic talk at DICE 2010 ending with a thought experiment a game-ified life where near the end he imagines a future where marketers and game designers work together to create life as a game. FourSquare is the beginning of that. We go to work we check in we get points, we go to lunch, we check in, we get points and every so often we get points in the right places at the right time and we get badges and mayorships. And the points and badges give us instant gratification which is pleasurable and motivates us to get more points and more badges in a never ending hedonic treadmill of external validation. Ok so I’ve strung together several psychological theories which for me explains why FourSquare exists intellectually.

Then I came with a more practical explanation while waiting for take out food. Unlike a doctor’s office, there’s no magazines at restaurants (though I suppose you could re-read the menu and see all the stuff you didn’t order). So what to do while waiting for your food? Check in. Then it hit me. What to do when waiting for the subway (in those stations with reception), check in. What to do in between innings at the ballgame? Check in. What to do while your computer’s booting up at work? Check in. The genius of FourSquare is not only good game design that meshes with human psychology. They created a brilliant means to pass the time while we wait for the other pieces of life to get going.

Why Doesn’t BP Crowdsource a Solution to the Spill?

While the LA Times and many others have written about this being a “public relations catastrophe”. I really just see the environmental catastrophe. BP’s PR problem is a direct corollary from that. Fix the environmental problem and you fix the PR problem. Now this is a BIG PROBLEM, one that would trouble a good number of scientific teams. So why leave the solution to just the inside team at BP? Why not get any accredited scientist willing to help?

Innocentive is a platform that allows for this to happen and they’ve issued such a challenge. What I don’t understand is why BP hasn’t stepped up with prize money to generously reward the group that comes up with the winning solution?

One the Road: 10 Mobile Travel Apps

This post was originally written for the “Friday Five” section on the Edelman Digital blog. Here’s an expanded version.

Your luggage is packed and you’ve kissed your loved ones good-bye. Plane Tickets? Check. Hotel and Car Rental Reservations? Check. Map? Check. Guidebook? Check. Those were the good ‘ol days of travelling and according to a CondeNast Traveler article last year they were still necessary evils of travelling. Well mobile technology has caught up and nowadays, it’s all you need.


Available for: Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Mobile Web (Any phone with a mobile browser)

After setting up an account with Tripit, forward all your confirmation emails (flight, hotel, rental car, even Broadway tickets) to . The system scrapes through the emails and creates an itinerary complete with all your flight details (with links to web check-ins) and reservation numbers that you can print, email, or access through your mobile device.


Available for: Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Mobile Web

Want to know what that that jacket really costs in your home currency? Get up to the second currency rates and adjust it for credit card or debit card rates.


Available for: Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Mobile web

Ok, you’ve arrived, settled in, and need something to eat, a drug store to buy the razor you forgot, and a supermarket to get some snacks. Fire up Yelp and search for all these venues near your present location. Not only will you get the venues, you’ll get reviews by previous customers so you can decide if they’re really worth checking out.


Available for: Mobile Web

Not all economy seats are created equal. Some have extra leg room. Some have smaller overhead bulkhead compartments. Some have no screen. Some do not recline. Be more informed about the seat you want by checking the mobile version of Seatguru at


Available for: iPhone

Voice to voice translation apps are in development now (link to ). In the meantime, we have to contend with text-based translation apps of which there are a lot to choose from. iLingual takes some of embarrassment out of not knowing the local lingo by having an animated version of your mouth speak the phrase, demonstrated in the following video

Google Maps

Available for: Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Mobile Web

We use this so much at home, we forget how indispensable it is on the road. All of a sudden, the features we thought were neat’ have become ‘incredibly useful’. You might have missed that great shortcut looking at a paper map…and because of the traffic layer, you know to avoid the highway this time around. And with streetview, you won’t miss that great cafe recommended by Yelp with the teeny tiny sign.


Available for: Blackberry

Every business travel knows, tracking expenses are a pain. You need to keep all your receipts, so you can justify to accounting that because of that important client’s particular taste in vintage wine, the dinner for two really did run $200. Enter expensify. Take a picture of the receipt with your mobile camera and connect it to a particular expense. Then when you get to the office print off your report. Connect your credit card to your account and expensify can issue IRS compliant e-receipts related to each line item.


Available for: Blackberry, iPhone

This is a great app for anyone meeting you at the other end. FlightCaster not only lets you know when a flight is delayed. It gives you the probability of the flight being delayed “nearly 6 hours before the airline alerts”.


Available for: iPhone

Want a tour guide without the hassle of following a schedule, dealing with other tourists, or listening to cheesy jokes? HearPlanet lets you learn about your surroundings at your own pace through the comfort of your mobile phone speaker. And if you have earphones or a blue-tooth ear-piece, you’ll look much more attractive than when you’re carrying that digital “wand” at the art gallery.


WebSite: Can’t find one

Available for: iPhone

For those whose idea of a winter vacation is shredding the slopes of whatever peak was featured in the last Warren Miller movie, this app’s for you. Hold your phone over that traverse with several runs coming off it and you’ll know the names of the runs, level of difficulty, and mid-mountain lodge locations. Maybe later on they’ll incorporate user generated conditions one day with foursquare style points for the skier who doled out the most advice and a free apres ski beer for the mayor. Here’s a demonstration.

Personalized and Customized Works Best Online

There’s a key element to online shopping that can’t be replicated in the bricks & mortar world and it’s one that e-commerce vendors should take note.

1. The ability to browse endlessly through a multitude of combinations and permutations

2. The ability to customize ones order with great precision.

Or as Rory Sutherland put it so eloquently at TED

…if you’re on Expedia or you’re on easyJet you can interrogate your possible choices to a degree which, if performed face-to-face, would make you an asshole. If I spent three hours on the phone with a travel agent, and after three hours, I was saying, “And would it be 20p cheaper if I went on Wednesday?” unless I was an unbelievably thick-skinned individual, I’d be conscious of the fact that the guy was thinking, “This guy is a real pain.” Now, when I interact online, I can be as much of a pain as I like. I can be the world’s most-demanding, world’s worst customer and there’ s no one to mind.

That’s probably why travel was one of the first industries to go e-commerce mainstream. Not only are there psychological barriers but the economic incentives for commissioned travel agents are to get booked relatively quickly so they can move onto their next commission.

That got me thinking of other things where the online shopping experience trumps the real world because we don’t want to waste a sales person’s time.

Computers: Dell’s done well selling direct because for a lot of buyers, there’s way too many options, upgrades, and add-ons to consider.

Custom Clothing: They have your size but the wrong colour. The right colour but the wrong size. For some, clothing shopping is frustrating. Online shopping carries the uncertainty that what you buy won’t fit. That’s probably why T-shirts and shoes, which seem to have the most standardized sizes, have worked online. And when you’re talking customized a la or Nike ID, the possibilities (and browsing time) are endless.

Delivered Prepared Foods: Pizza Hut sold over $1 million worth of pizzas through its iPhone application. It makes sense. There are way more pizza toppings than there used to be not to mention crust and cheese options. Why trouble a phone operator? Online ordering can work for a variety of take out food that’s often customized. Think Sushi, Asian takeout, and Rotis.

Cars: Ok, we still want to go to the lot, sit behind the wheel, take in that new car smell and test-drive our new baby. But then we come to unpleasant part, haggling with salesperson. Moreover, we’re haggling before we decide all the options. Sure, you can build and price most cars on a manufacturer’s web sites before entering the dealership but they never include the after-market add-ons or dealership specific servicing options. Once you pick your base model car, it would be great if you could go home choose all your options, consult with whomever you need to, then go  back to the dealership to make a deal.

Why Kids Don’t Dig Twitter

There’s been a slew of articles and posts pointing out that unlike Kellogg’s Trix, Twitter ain’t for kids (See here and here). Why? Here’s my theory.

When you go to school (from nursery school up to 4th year university), your social life is laid out right in front of you. Forced into classes where for the majority of the day you’ll be spending close quarters with 20-30 other people your age, it’s a trial-by-fire lesson on navigating the social landscape and that forms the basis of your social life. You make friends in the offline world and you enhance those friendships in the online world. Email and later Facebook were perfectly suited to this social enhancement.

Then you leave school, when you do, you leave the convenient social life. You’ve grown apart from many of your own friends and meeting new people now takes effort. Lavalife and eHarmony have built their business on this insight. Twitter did so unconsciously. As I tweeted a while ago, “Twitter let’s you instant message the public”. The public, not your friends, not your acquaintances, but people you haven’t met yet…but might like to.

This is the crux behind Dave Allen’s post, Facebook Linkedin Twitter – Past Present and Future. Facebook connects you with your past friends and your current friends online. LinkedIn for the most part connects with you with professional contacts you’ve crossed paths with. Twitter’s an open network. You follow whomever you like, you @reply whomever you like, and Tweetups are generally open to anyone who knows about them. Twitter is the social network where you get to know new people. Something you really don’t need to make an effort to do when you’re young.

Old Philosophies, New Technology Part 2

Freud remarked that since the invention of the first tool, we humans have extended the functions of our own organs to the point that we’ve become “prosthetic gods”. Motor power extends our muscular abilities while modern transport lets us travel around the globe. Telescopes and microscopes extend our vision while photography and recording devices extend our memory of a fleeting visual or audio event.

So what about the shiny new tool of the present, social media? Does it extend the depth and breadth of our ability to relate to one another. Well…no but yes. The oft-quoted Dunbar number states that the average person can maintain stable social relationships with 150 people. Facebook’s in-house sociologist seems to confirm Dunbar’s theory, the average Facebook member has 120 friends.

Give it a few years and I bet that number grows significantly. When Facebook first opened to the public everyone’s first instinct was to find all their old friends. Once a sizeable number of the old gang from high school, university, camp, etc. was reconnected our networks didn’t grow as fast and we slowly started adding people we met in real life. But we were scrambling. The kids are just starting. As they move from elementary school, to junior high, to high school, university, and beyond they will keep their old networks intact. Will childhood friendships last longer?

Maybe not, but the ability to call up old friends, flames, and acquaintences is much easier now. So our prosthetic godliness has gotten better. Whereas photography and recording devices extended our memory of a fleeting event, the multimedia lifestream that is social media extends our memory and lets us keep tabs on all the people we meet.