What we can learn from GM taking advts off Facebook

social network

General Motors took their advertisement spend off Facebook.[1. GM pull ads off Facebook] Given the expectation around Facebook’s IPO, this is seen as bad news for Facebook. On the contrary I believe this is a classic example of how old world companies wrongly perceive paradigm shifts in technology and technology-enabled interactions. Will keep this brief but could do with some review and discussion from your end.

First let us understand how advertisements are served online today. A random user, say Ajay, does a search for a car or a related service like motor insurance. This keyword is watched by search engines or advertisement providers like Google, to whom vendors have bid on specific keywords to trigger display of their advertisements. So what you have is Intent -> translated to keywords -> keywords matched to list bid by vendors -> advertisement displayed. As you can see this is simple and works reliably. Works because their is a clear articulation of intent, you know what you are looking for before you hit a search engine. Variations can occur when advertisements are displayed in specific vertical sites, say like designer related tools on a site like Smashing Hub.

Now, think about what is lacking in this workflow from which Google makes most of its revenue. What is lacking is an understanding of the user. Who is she, what does she like, care about and so on. Yes, Google can and does track what searches you have made, what links you end up visiting..but these allow Google to only infer what you are as a person.

So, where does Facebook come in here. FB is your social network. You receive updates of what your connections liked, updated, saw, read and so on and likewise all your updates are propagated out. All within a single homogeneous network. This is a goldmine of engagement data using which FB can build a detailed profile of a person. Imagine how richly targeted advertisements can be on FB. A vendor could potentially say, “FB serve ads to people in Manhattan, NY area, who are environmentally conscious, like organic products and like kittens”. Am not aware to what granularity FB allows to target people but if they wanted they could do it. That precision in being able to target a message, will allow organizations to adapt messages, discounts etc to suit a particular demographic.

Now to GM. If a car vendor thinks, showing a bunch of ads on FB is going to drive sales or engagement for their car related services, they surely don’t understand what social media is about. Social media is about brand-engagement, being on top of mind for target demographic, its like a grease that smoothens all aspects of customer outreach. Taking an old business model, showing ads about your products to gain customers, to a brand new technology enabled capability like a social network will not work. The parallel I can think of is when organizations started doing Flash websites to show interactions without understanding underlying principles of hyper text.

Anyway, enough cribbing. What would I do if I were boss of advert spend on GM? There must be a hundred stories behind every car that GM has manufactured. Tell these stories on Facebook, get customers to connect with people behind the brand. Or highlight customer stories, where a safety feature saved a life, or a student who used a GM car for his first day at college or first job. Travel from point A to B need not be mundane, anchor it to aspirations, ambitions, identity and culture, then you have a much bigger canvas to experiment with. I feel FB is the first wave of social media platforms that are going to change how the world goes about living. But it takes work and creativity to harness a new medium like FB, just throwing ads to see if something sticks will not work.

What would you do if you were boss of GM? Share thoughts in the comments section.

Creative Commons License Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig via Compfight

Google Drive? Drive on

 

Google Logo

Am sure at least some of you have been eyeing Google Drive, so thought I would remind you of the recent changes Google made in their TOS and show you a recent post I came across. This is important, so read on.

First is the Google TOS, go on read it. It is not as bad as the legal documents enterprises usually cook up in their cauldrons, this is relatively mild. If legalese is not your thing, then allow me to highlight the terms that gets me concerned.

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones.

Ah…do you see the dark clouds yet? Wondering what lurks right behind it? Wait no more, read the next quote.

This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.

Now to the second item, the blog post I mentioned at the start. A computer scientist ends up getting a $1000 bill from Amazon WebServices. Reason? There were numerous GET requests to large number of objects in his S3 bucket. Large enough requests to be charged $1000 for a month. Guess what caused it, He was storing a bunch of these URLs on his Google Spreadsheet, which got crawled by Google. Read the whole post, useful to understand how Amazon S3 did not raise an alarm at the unusual number of requests, why this was not Google crawler but a service called FeedFetcher from Google and why Google’s privacy policy prevented this “crawl” from being cached.

To summarize, a document you created using Google Docs/Spreadsheet had a URL, which was not public, got crawled repeatedly. Am not sure about you but I typically like my documents unindexed unless I explicitly make them public and expect them to be indexed. Integrated experience is good until I am forced to integrate within an ecosystem with unintended consequences. Lesson here is this, provide integrated experiences but ensure you align to customer expectations of service boundaries, or inform the customer upfront about consequences so they can take an informed decision. Its hard to retain this balance and completeness, but should be worth pursuing.

I am sticking with DropBox and SkyDrive, until even they have this bright idea of offering integrated experiences.

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Why Samsung/Android Will Never Get Another Dime From Me

Android - No dime from me

Android - No dime from me

(Rant Alert. Keep away if you wish!)

I hate Samsung Mobiles and Android. I hate them with an unparalleled intensity. Btw, I pre-ordered and bought a Samsung Galaxy S2, SGS2, believing it would ‘truly’ be the phone that proves Apple iOS had legitimate competition.

Before you ask, I am an Apple fan but never owned an iPhone myself. I have owned Nokia, BlackBerry and Motorola so far. Apple phones have always been rather expensive in India, so have admired them from afar. You would think with Nokia, Blackberry and Motorola as yardsticks for quality Samsung and Google would have no issue in making a customer happy. Tough luck, these fellows have no bloody clue on what makes a consumer device tick.

Just so we are objective in our hatred, here are some points:

Multi-tasking: The very first joke that hit me. After a full first charge done overnight, I used the phone from 8am and the damn thing lasted until 1 or 2pm, just by using the built-in apps. I used them slightly more than normal because it was a new device and I was eager to play. Pathetic power management was my impression on the first day of use. Nah, make piss-poor power management. Am sure at least few engineers behind Android knew multi-tasking would suck the battery’s soul and spit it into dark places. But guess multi-tasking was a marketing differentiator against Apple and the morons used it.

First App: Which led me to Google for options. I found that using a product like Advanced Task Killer helps power management. I hope you get the irony of this. My first f**cking app is “Advanced Task Killer” on Samsung, can you f**cking believe that? Anyway gentlemen, I did that and power management got vastly better..if I constantly killed apps that run in the background. Reminded me of using TaskManager on Windows to speed up my PC.

App Launch Experience: I got the standard list of apps Samsung ships with its version of Android. Eagerly I opened the pre-installed apps one by one. Every time I did that I had to accept Terms and Conditions..for every bloody app. I did not bother to understand whether it was for every app or every publisher or some other criteria. For all apps on the home page I had to accept conditions. What the f**k were they thinking?!!

Built-in Apps: The Google native apps were tolerable but none, absolutely none, of the built in apps put a smile on my face or helped accomplish my task without wincing. Let me highlight another gem, on the home screen the following apps were pre-installed – Voice Command, Voice Recorder, Voice Talk and Voice Search. Am sure if you thought about it deeply you might figure out what each of them did..but are you so jobless? Was there no person at Samsung to spot this?

Heating Problems: This phone heats up without apparent reasons, like a teenager who needs no specific reasons to feel horny. And I have given up trying to figure out the causes, just as I would think of a raving, slobbering, drunk on the street. It just is, best to ignore.

App Store: This deserves its own post. The Android App Store, or Google Play, is the very antithesis of “play”. It is a murky cesspool, notwithstanding the shiny veneer that confronts you when you launch it. Peer a tad closer and you will see clones of popular apps, apps that don’t elicit confidence that your private data will be treated with care, app equivalent of the Nigerian inheritance scam mails and more.

And so far I have not mustered enough recklessness to give Google my credit card details, so never bought a paid app. Before you think am a technical noob, I regularly buy my books/ebooks online via Amazon or Flipkart. On my iPad, of the 176 apps almost 35-40% are paid apps. Least expensive must be the 99cents ones, and most expensive one must be the WSJ subscription and AppCooker. That is just on my mobile devices, on the Mac I have bought Scrivener, OmniGraffle and more. Bottom line, as a software guy I love to pay developers for their work and don’t mind putting up the cash. The Android ecosystem(Google Play, Android, Samsung) just does not inspire that confidence in me, nor delight me enough to overcome perceptions of the ecosystem.

PC Sync: Samsung supplies a software called Kies to play the role of iTunes for iOS devices. It would be no exaggeration to state Kies is easily the most effed up piece of software thrust upon a hapless mankind. I truly have no words to describe how awful it is. The syncing mechanism is not reliable, when it actually manages to work. Inspite of constant updates, it has stayed as half-assed as when it was born. The firmware upgrade process is a joke, the OS upgrade is yet to arrive, the syncing works sometimes..in short, useless.

To Android fans: Sorry, you might have your reasons to love your variant of the mess that is Android. Hackability is a important but not in a consumer device. The ecosystem just does not attract the kind of mindsets and cultures that go into making beautiful and affordable experiences. Apps like Instagram for Android are exceptions to what prevails normally.

Conclusion: I bought a brick with my hard-earned money and deeply regret buying Samsung Galaxy S2. The issue is not with this device alone but the entire ecosystem and the kind of software providers and mindset it attracts. Am putting up this post so it can help people who are considering Galaxy Note, Galaxy S3 and other locust-like swarm of Android variants that are waiting to feed on our money and our patience. Not a dime more from me Google/Android/Samsung, I did pay a big price and trusted you to build something worthy. And you let me down big time.

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Don via Compfight
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To Exist Digitally

Lonely Tree

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: sant.o via Compfight

If you cannot point to something digitally, does it really exist? Craig Mod asks this somewhat rhetorical but pertinent question. The specific context was an interview with Haruki Murakami and the desire to point to interesting quotes therein.

Craig goes on to answer the question, saying:

To not exist means in part to be offline…To not exist digitally means to be walled off. Silo’d. Unpointable…Unnetworked (even if it’s on the network). It’s means to not be part of that growing corpus.

What I find interesting is the notion of Unpointable and Unnetworked, the former easy to understand and the latter difficult to follow through properly.

Unnetworked is the baby step taken by the real-world towards a digital world, where the information is present online but not part of a corpus.

Unnetworked is Unfindable, which effectively renders the artifact invisible.

Unnetworked is Unpointable, not amenable to be linked to.

For example every digital document produced by tools of the PC world, like Word/Excel/PDF is unlinkable. Or take proprietary professional content sets sold with a sprinkling of metadata thrown in. All unlinkable.

Am willing to bet that an ecosystem that survives on being unlinkable will slowly diminish in relevance and business value. Whether it is a corporate strategy that relies on exclusive access to proprietary information, or document formats of the PC world engineered for being printed on paper, or any tool that produces information that cannot be linked to will and should go away.

What is your take, is Unlinkable as big a deal as I think it is?

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How Would a Billion Dollars Sit on You?

instagram logo

Mike Krieger, co-Founder of Instagram, shares how their photo-sharing service was scaled to 30million users in under 2 years. The slide is at the bottom of this post too. What caught my eye though was the below quote on TechCrunch:

Considering his company was just bought for $1 billion, it’s a pretty remarkable effort, 185 slides in all.

Then it struck me, Instagram was acquired for a billion dollars less than a week back. And here is a co-founder sharing technical details of how the technical infrastructure was scaled. Not sure if it sank in for you but I spaced out for a few moments!

Imagine, you have many hundred million dollars on you, acquired by the largest social network on the planet, built the current hottest photo-sharing product and you talk technology to a bunch of geeks!

And no, the slide preparation might not have been delegated to a minion, there are only 13 employees!

Gentlemen, this is behavior worth emulating. Much much dollars have barely registered on Mike Krieger. And guess what I have seen people who fall for silly labels, who play power games for a tag worth nothing beyond corporate walls, or see themselves on pedestals for relatively small reasons. To be candid, I have fallen prey to this sometimes too, though I take care to remember where I started and come back to normalcy.

So, now to you. How would a billion dollars sit on you? Where does building things of lasting value sit in your priorities?

And yes, awesome tech details in the presentation, do not miss it.

(My colleague Jeethu brought this to my attention, a big thanks to him!)

If This Then That

If this then that

Between Flipboard and Zite on the iPad my primary means of consuming news and social media is a settled thing. But the workflow to act upon an information item is not consistent. A new startup IFTTT, aka ‘if this then that‘, takes an excellent crack at the problem.

To add more context, on Flipboard my way of marking an item for acting upon it later differs. I ‘favorite‘ tweets, ‘star‘ RSS entries from Google Reader and ‘like‘ Facebook entries. On Zite, for items I wish to act upon, I end up ‘bookmarking‘ them on delicious. Ideally I would have all favorite tweets, star RSS entries end up at delicious.

Think of IFTTT as a way to act on content from any of your social media streams, based on specific conditions being true within the content. Simple example is to bookmark a tweet in delicious if I favorite it in Twitter. IFTTT does this automatically now.

To be clear Yahoo Pipes does do this and more but the user interface is suited for those with programming experience or at least the ability to understand and build flow-charts. IFTTT excels because of its UX simplicity. The means for setting up a task are like reading a simple sentence and filling in the blanks. GUI has given way to a simple textual interface. Beautiful is an understatement!

Head over to IFTTT and have a play. They are in beta though. I have 5 invites to give away, drop me a mail(check my ‘About’ page) and I can send you one. And my first recipe to save favorite tweets to delicious is here.

(Thanks to Robin Sloan at Snarkmarket for pointing out!)

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Google Correlate Draw, Finds Data That Fits Drawn Pattern

Used to be that you first had data. Then you did analysis to figure out the patterns and trends in it. Now you imagine the pattern and Google Correlate Draw checks if there is a search term that correlates to your pattern. This is awesome.

In case you can’t yet make out what the fuss is. Imagine how a person picks a dress to buy, they find a dress that fits them. Now reverse it, pick a dress and imagine finding a person who would fit it. See that!

Google Correlate Draw Examples

Note: the blue lines are what I drew and Google Correlate plots out matching data in red.

Downward trend

And guess which search term pops up? Windows Server 2003 Enterprise! And a near perfect correlation too 🙂 LittleSnapper

Upward trend

Ends up lots of people had parking tickets on their minds. Am sure city councils would have seen their parking ticket revenue increase in this period. Google Chrome

Sine wave-ish cycle

Curiously the term ‘adware free’ seems to have had a fluctuating fortune. Google Chrome

Further thoughts

Correlate Draw’s approach brings out interesting possibilities. The basic idea of search using something other than text has been attempted before. For example i)Google Goggles, search for images or ii) Voice interface to search term entry or iii) Shazam, search for songs based on recorded snippet, all try to think of search as an activity that transcends looking for “textual” information.

But what is intriguing about Correlate Draw is its ability to search, or should we say match?, for patterns in quantitative data. And that too using an intuitive drawing interface. That twist of expressing a search query as a drawing is what makes this so interesting.

Imagine this. What if an research analyst in a financial firm ‘draws’ stock price movement patterns and have the system bring up companies whose stock price correlates with it? What if every time-series data could be searched in this manner?

There is also the UX aspect. The variation that can be expressed in a drawing can never be matched in a regular search interface. You could have textboxes to capture certain terms, sliders to express value within a range, a drop down to capture a single item out of a set and so on. But the expressiveness in a drawing would be hard to beat.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What do you think about Correlate Draw? How far can you push this idea?

Redefiners – For Media Firms Who Wish To Disrupt Markets, Relevant For All Content Players

Redefiners is a presentation by Activate that provides a ‘lay of the land’ view of how media firms can capture growth dollars. It is a stunning presentation and very relevant for any content player who uses technology to deliver content and related experiences to their users.

Just read through the deck, it is time well spent. I will summarize this later for my own understanding and share it here.

via Anil Dash.

Windows 8: Awesome UX, Not So Much Underneath

Big news coming from the D9 conference around Microsoft. Its flagship OS gets a rethink with the tentatively codenamed Windows 8. Take a look.

Simply love the concepts here. The tiles, ability to compose windows, IE 10.0 and more.

But all the rush vanished when they showed Excel and Windows Explorer. You got to the same old Windows, the junk was brushed under the carpet and nothing more.

John Gruber does a fantastic job enumerating why this is a flawed approach.

I quite understand Microsoft’s predicament. How could you not provide backward compatibility?! There would be a virtual revolt from consumers, especially the corporates, if their favorite apps did not work. So the internals with its 20 odd years of legacy will have to remain. What about the Office suite? Imagine all the corporate drones who live in Office, who raised a ruckus when the Ribbon menu interface was introduced! Whilst it would be possible for the Office team to reinvent the UI for a touch based environment, they would have a PR disaster on their hands if they attempted anything on those lines.

Microsoft is doomed by its past successes. Whilst it might have the intellectual mettle to re-invent itself for the post-PC world, it is chained to its legacy and thus doomed for irrelevance. Apple has craftily maneuvered itself out of its niche status in the PC world by using its low market penetration to invent iOS and related services to define a new field and own it.

Interesting times.

Idea – Flipboard for Financial Research

FlipboardForiPad

Flipboard is a personalized, social magazine for online content. Currently an iPad app, it has completely revolutionized media consumption for me.

Media consumption workflow

Almost 90% of my online time is spent on iPad/Fliboard at home. My twitter, facebook and rss feeds all are rendered in beautiful magazine layout. Add the ability to share the content again via Twitter or store for later via Instapaper and I have the right workflow for media discovery and consumption on the iPad.

Rich media aggregators like Flipboard on the iPad are the harbingers of how online media should be presented and consumed.

Online News and Financial Research

This has been interesting to me since my day job is running a product business that helps research analysts produce financial research. There are many similarities between online news and social media feeds and financial research. There should be no reason why the same experience available for news via iPad should not be possible for financial research.

Antiquated Tools

Of course reality is a little more complicated than that. Financial services firms are typically behind on the technology adoption curve. Research is produced using antiquated tools, stored in proprietary file formats and distributed in PDF.

What about RIXML?

RIXML, an XML standard, has been around as a structured way to publish and distribute research and the data elements surrounding it. But its adoption has been hampered due to complexity of specification, clunky authoring tools or reluctant businesses who don’t see sufficient ROI via this approach.

Whilst I have my own views on the utility of RIXML, I firmly believe a structured form of data exchange will benefit all parties concerned. Some of these capabilities, or consequences of using a structured data format in popular tools for research authoring from my firm and others.

Sellability

But it is always a tough sell when talking about the benefits of serialization formats, metadata in general and adhering to a standard taxonomy and making the output available in a standardized format.

With Flipboard it becomes easier to sell the benefits of publishing content in standardized formats. Because without RSS feeds and standard ways of marking up and publishing content Flipboard-like experiences would be an impossibility.

Last thoughts

Of course I do get that financial research is mixture of structured and unstructured data and there are a ton of cool things that can be done here to make the job of communicating and consuming insights a vastly superior experience to what it is now.

Drop a note/comment if you are interested to hear more or wish to discuss.