Business Society Technology

Enemy at the gates: content marketing vs natural language (vs litigation)

I couldn’t help it. The English in the post was so bad I had to state the case. Sure, it only had one “like” and probably almost nobody had seen it, but all the same, it cried out “auto-translate”. The sentence structure was not blatantly incorrect, just…off. Sure, there were several actual mistakes, but they were the sort of thing that you would find in a Google search.

But in a different context.

This particular post was promoting a content marketing seminar or something like that. Some self-professed expert selling expertise. It was full of hashtags and the actual words were possibly spurted out by some paid service of other experts. The Facebook page had several thousand “likes” but the actual post just one which is fairly typical of this level of wannabees. But it is indicative of a larger problem.

While we discuss politics and how, when, if and what the platforms should censor or not in public dialogue, this is what is happening in the background. If they make their algorithms so they favor tags, well, tags is what users will give them. Even Apple has started using tags on their YouTube channel. They won’t get high in search ranking without them. Plain and simple.

So the post with terrible English attracted the attention of the owner of the page. He initially said it was correct, then said it might have been a typo. He then set his lawyer on me with threats to delete it. In a way this behaviour is entirely consistent with all the other things he has copied and pasted in order to present himself as an expert. That is how it works. A pecking order of ignorance. In the fast-changing world of social media, you can be an expert as long as you find customers with less knowledge or desire to keep up with the latest trends. Threatening to sue is standard operating procedure and we are all the poorer for it.

For what is the value of social media if I can’t freely post on my wall and discuss with my friends without fear of litigation? Should we all end up using it simply as content marketing, ever promoting something and seeing it simply as yet another channel? Social networks should actively protect our right to write freely and without fear or the content will simply become pointless. Even public figures should have the right to discuss freely on social media with their friends.

As well as all other problems, the actual language will end up being computer code compatible with whatever indexing mechanisms they use. Humans like to communicate. Stop policing it and enjoy.

Oh well, at least he corrected his post the next day. ; )

FOR THE RECORD: Ι flagged the comment where I was threatened with litigation to Linkedin but have not received an answer.

Media analysis Society Technology

The Queen’s Gambit isn’t just bad. It is proof that Netflix has made us stupid.

You will be extremely hard-pressed to find a negative review of “The Queen’s Gambit”, a Netflix series about a chess prodigy. So let me do my best.

We are living in a cinema-free pandemic period with limited choices. Important major international releases are frozen, production of new ones restricted seriously. Netflix can sit at a table with the producers of the new 007 and ask for it at a ridiculously low price because it is going stale and they don’t have many options. So let me start another way around. How did I hear about the Queen’s Gambit?

It was on Netflix’s reccomendations. We all know that it is a bad reccomendation engine but what other options do we have? Check it out on IMDB? That is getting worse every day as Amazon hasn’t spent time improving it in ages. First reviews? Always gloating for any old crap. So we take the bait, the Netflix promo on Netflix makes it look better than others, you see the first episode and then, well, the rest, because you are on the binge machine that is Netflix. Worse still, friends and family are also stuck in the same rut so we are not even cross checking. The Emperor has no clothes but, meh, let’s wait till the parade is over before saying it. And when you have invested eight hours on the parade of the mini series you are highly unlikely to admit it was wasted on mediocrity.

I will go further than that. The Queen’s Gambit is downright insulting and dangerous. Take for example the topic of substance abuse. The way it is presented we are left with the impression that it is a) easy to control b) useful for chess playing and c) with no long term consequences. Or maybe let’s see how the series portrays a woman entering a male-dominated realm: a) everything is polite b) nothing particularly nasty happens to her and c) grandmasters lose to her and immediately offer to help train her for her next challenge. This level of lying is insulting to millions of women of that era and even today. Women’s rights organizations should be an uproar.

In fact all the topics touched by this series are done in such a superficial way that it is problematic. Take the scene where she visits a hippy house to enjoy marijuana for example. It is the cleanest and least messy den ever shown on television to represent a hippy household. My daughter didn’t even understand the point of the scene as our heroine hoovered and tidied the place after a one night stand , also confusingly presented. This isn’t political correctness, it isn’t the opposite. It is just terrible movie-making that fails to really touch the audience in any meaningful way.

The Queen’s Gambit is an insult to so many great chess movies, so many true chess stories, to the heroes that battled hate in the Cold War. It isn’t just bad TV, it has a negative impact. People won’t start playing chess because of it, they will start pretending to play chess for a while maybe.

So my movie review would be like this: “If you are really bored with the pandemic in lockdown and have no access to anything else other than Netflix, if you want to mindlessly waste 8 hours of your life without learning anything of consequence, don’t miss it!”

The serious social and technological problem remains: how will we fix recommendation engines? If we introduce a social aspect to them, can we as a society, ensure we hold ourselves up to any level of intelligent critique? Or do we just want to have fun? Well the Queen’s Gambit is not even fun.


Messages and Music: Google doesn’t care

Tech pundits have often bashed at Google’s ever-changing messaging solutions array. Let me assure you: Google simply doesn’t care. There is little useful data in your silly little chats. It will not help the algorithms improve, it will not help them serve better ads.

I know, I know, this is just a theory. Nobody knows how Google decides things, not even most of the people working there. But I know because I just spent some time trying to reorganize the way I handle music. Google decided to end Play Music, a service many of you don’t even know existed other than the shortcut on your phone if it was an Android. But I loved it. I could upload endless mp3 files (50,000 actually was the limit) and have them available on all my devices. I could also just click on an album name or folder full of lectures I want to hear while running. That is the same thing as what Spotify charges you 10 bucks a month to do. Only free. It integrated stuff online with offline life almost perfectly. Much like the very excellent and underrated Google Play Books service which is – as far as anyone can tell – also without limit in terms of number of books you can have on it for free.

There was actually a good working model in all these. One service for everything. You want a book? Add it to Play Books. You want it on your device? Just click “download”. You want to see it from any other device? No problem. It is actually the model most users want. All in one. Limitless. And free.

Google gives you infinite space on Google photos. Infinite Google Docs. Infinite books to upload and enjoy. Common denominator? You are helping them get more data. The sort of data they like and can use to improve their all-knowing God-like algorithms. Messaging is obviously not useful or they would have introduced a killer app ages ago. They have the users, they have the tech, they have the power. But now we know that music is also useless in that respect. So don’t bother with YouTube music folks. It will fold and fail like so many other Google experiments before it.

If you’re not part of the solution, you probably don’t even know what the problem was.


Facebook Horoscopes: the killer app

I have gone on record as stating that I would sacrifice a finger (possibly even a whole hand) for access to raw Google data.  It is the closest to an omniscient, all-knowing creature there has ever been on the planet.  Its data can pretty much predict all sorts of business and other developments.   Facebook on the other hand has earned no such honor in terms of self-mutilation.  It is a badly run platform with management closer to a hacker mentality than a global force for anything.  However, as a social scientist, I would love to experiment with users like they do.

Whether or not horoscopes have the slightest truth to them is scientifically pretty clear.  They do not.  End of story.  Except for the haggling little detail of the fact that most people on the planet, even scientists, actually believe the opposite.  Some secretly read their charts, others try and explain it away, many openly follow them as “innocent fun” but probably well over half the global population in fact gives value to astrology.

Not that many scientists have bothered to discredit astrology simply because it is so obviously irrelevant.  A few studies into the time of year of birth don’t really bear much relevance.  NASA tried to point out that it could be 13 and not 12-star signs and of course they shouldn’t be neatly spaced out if we want to have any sort of astrological founding to this particular myth.  All to no avail.  So I call on Facebook to solve this once and for all!

Oh great schemer, hacker at heart, and lost unethical teenager, Mark Zuckerberg, this is your time to shine.  Use that vast trove of data you so freely sell to everyone to help us understand.  Most users have given you their actual birth date.  And you can cross-reference with a zillion indicators of personality.  Do Virgo’s post more often?  Do Pisces upload more creative things?  Are Scorpios really sex crazy in their online behavior?  You have the data even for shy zodiac signs.  Are all people born in August less likely to post stuff about themselves?  Especially with lockdown and increased reliance on social media, it would be extremely easy to prove or disprove that certain birth dates correlate with certain online traits.

Except you won’t, will you Mark?  Because all you care about is money and power.  If you find any such data you will use it for a dating app or whatever else you can think of which will generate money and power for you.  Congress doesn’t need to break apart technology companies.  Just the selfish ones like Facebook.


The ring , the next President and the finest manager you have ever seen

It was just a Facebook ad for a ring. Contrary to doom and gloom tech naysayers, their algorithm is pretty bad. I very rarely even pay attention to Facebook ads. But this fitness monitoring ring had the endorsement of the NBA. That little familiar logo in combination with the indicator that it had hundreds of comments caught my eye. It was mainly Republicans expressing their hatred of the athletes that took a position against racism. I made the mistake of commenting and instantly received a lot of hate and ridicule. As a seasoned social media professional, for the good of my mental health, I just left it there and forgot about it.

This morning I woke at 4am. I had gone to bed early, I don’t need much sleep anymore. And…LeBron James. Normally I would roll over and sleep some more but I started to watch the game. A lot of people find the first half of a basketball match boring since any result can be overturned at the end. They don’t know LBJ. He was probing the court like Curiosity, the Mars rover from NASA. The man is the Marco Polo of exploration, he tries every opponent, every combination of moves with his team mates. He has a mind map of every individual’s playing styles, strengths, weaknesses, mental states and a plan about how to help them develop in the direction he needs them to. At half time I didn’t even care about the score. Almost everyone had played well. And they didn’t even know that LeBron was the one pulling the strings.

Most people are focused on short term results. Multinational behemoths suffer from this, quarter to quarter, keeping investors happy can ruin a company. It is pretty similar with elite athletes, millions of haters ready to demolish you at every turn. This is a sport which pioneered detailed data gathering, it was way ahead of the curve in terms of using all available information to improve. And LeBron is the Google of it all. He processes it and he uses it for good. Google may have dropped the slogan “do no evil” but LBJ lives by it. The Nuggets started increasing the pressure, chipping at the Lakers’ lead. LBJ continued to trust his teammates even though they were – as always – wasting many of his great assist passes, or not understanding how they need to move.

And then comes the dreaded finale. Jamal Murray is possibly the all time greatest if you look at his stats during the playoff fourth quarters. The man turns into a monster scoring machine with a phenomenal percentage of his shots going in from anywhere he chooses. He kicked into gear and for those in the know it was obvious that the Nuggets would win.

Except that LBJ was on the court.

It was the gentle, almost loving way that he did it. If only political rivalries were so sweet and tender. He made a slight hand signal to Rajon Rondo to indicate that he would defend against Murray. And that was the end of that. The next 3-4 times the rising star attempted to score he was met with the defensive genius of LBJ. He missed them all. All those basketball experts who had previously understood that the Nuggets would win, instantly knew that they would now lose. One man turned the match around yet most people wouldn’t even notice. Because in an equally gentle way, he then stepped away.

Especially in politics or business we are always asking our leaders to be forceful. We don’t like it when they are uncertain even when – as with the COVID pandemic – the simple fact is that nobody had conclusive evidence on which to act. In basketball it is easy to see how LeBron could just keep making a fool of Jamal Murray. That is what Michael Jordan would do. He would keep at it to make an impressive story for people to tell. About him. To become a legend simply by the fact that he personally did something extreme and impressive.

Not LBJ. He left Caruzo to defend even if it cost them a couple of buckets. He continued to pass to others even though they missed a lot. He quietly sneaked off court before the end even to not make a big fuss about the win, to not make it about him, to go and talk to Anthony Davis who had struggled on many fronts. They started to walk towards the locker room completely and obviously exhausted but a journalist chased them. It is the rule that the top scorer of the winning team has to speak on camera right after the game. Davis couldn’t handle it, LeBron dragged himself out and put his after match towel around his neck.

It is usually four questions. The last one is sometimes not about the game. Tonight it was about Breonna. That question is something that LeBron has earnt. He is the unofficial spokesperson for millions of Americans because he has matched athletic skill with political bravery. Michael Jordan may or may not have said that “Republicans buy sneakers too” to justify his lack of political action, but LeBron forcefully accepts the opposite role. If all those haters in the fitness ring cost him not getting as many championship rings as Jordan so be it. More so even than the great Mohamed Ali he is a symbol of an athlete using his position to change the world.

And I cried.

It was past 6am in Greece, I only had a short nap to take before waking the kids and all that, but here I was crying for what a tall black bearded and slightly balding man said about Breonna Taylor. In a highly polarized country getting ready to vote, what could he possibly say to millions of people like me around the world? After all hundreds of communication specialists are dissecting the same topics for presidential candidates and covering every possible angle, every slogan, every way to look at the problem and influence people, he had me, the interviewer and people around the world feeling his pain.

It is not the championship ring that LeBron James is lacking. He is President material. If you are in any way involved in leading teams you would do well to study him on and off the court. While everyone talks the talk about uniting the country, leading their companies, or teaching this and that, he shows us how.

Business Marketing TRAVEL

The best thing on my holiday you can do at home

Instagram dictates modern tourism, learn how to use it

It was our last day in Reykjavik and we headed past the scenic old port.  To a simulator.  That’s right.  After two weeks in Iceland and a whole lot of very impressive experiences, we went to a helicopter fly-over machine.  We had been on glaciers, inside volcanos, seen more waterfalls than you can imagine exist but here we were strapping ourselves in to a typical such ride.  It moves, it sprinkles you, blows air on you and you get a completely unique new view on the sights you have already seen as well as many you will never be able to.  It also features good weather which helps explain why it took so long to film it.  At the end they offer the typical cheesy fake photos of you in front of the Northern Lights or other options for anyone with too much cash.

If you only have fifteen minutes to experience Iceland I can think of no better way.  And you could have the same film anywhere in the world.  But the cheesy photos kill it.

One of the reasons Iceland is so popular lately is because it is Instagramable.  You just point at any of their attractions, take a photo and can be sure of a stream of likes and comments.  That simple.  You will look good.  It is unusual.  You seem interesting and adventurous.  It stands out in their social media.  I first experienced this effect last year in Norway.

It is much safer than it looks. To the left of my friend Shorty in this pic I took is a ledge from which you can climb onto the rock.

This is just a rock. I can think of a thousand equally impressive views in Greece where we could add a rock like this for Instagram.  And even though thousands of people probably post the exact same photo, mine still got hundreds of likes and comments.  So why don’t we go about putting rocks for photos in more places?  Make it as safe as you want, just make sure it looks impressive.  And make it easy for the photographer to get to the right angle.  It is more important these days than the actual experience.  People don’t care how you got there, if you cheated or took a ride, nobody will check.  “Pics or it didn’t happen” only refers to the finish line, the final result.  No matter if you posed for ten minutes or waited two hours for the clouds to lift, the sun to be at the right place or whatever else you needed to do.

I think someone has actually died falling off this rock, but it still rare considering how many thousands of people go there and pull silly stunts like me there

In fact if I had one criticism of Iceland and the way they have set up their national parks it is that they don’t have enough photo opportunities.  Too many of those great waterfalls have fenced off the ideal semi-dangerous-looking spot or the ideal photo angle position.  Nobody has (yet) fallen off that rock in the picture.  This other one (with me jumping) I think one person did; too many think it is cool to dangle their feet off the ledge.  Why? Because someone posted it on Instagram! In a way it may actually be the Norwegian Tourist Board’s fault that person fell off.  If only they had set up the angle for photography better.  He wouldn’t have to go so close to the ledge for an impressive photo.

Me in front of a waterfall. Not even a famous waterfall, no filters, just a good angle.

The currency is “likes”.  No point complaining, that is how it goes.Work with it.  It is the most natural viral promotion there is.  People take the photo, others are envious and want to go get their own ultra likeable photo.  No need to chase so called “influencers”.  Instagrammable locations work like a pyramid, sucking in more and more people.  Even the ones that didn’t like or comment are opening a Google search about travelling to that destination in another tab.  Come on, admit it, you probably started back at half way through this article when you saw my picture of my friend on that rock…


(If anyone in tourism needs my help making their location more Instagrammable, feel free to contact me.)


Time travel now available in Greece

Many of my friends think I hate Greece.  It is true I am very tough on its people, businesses and government.  I openly support the famous marbles from the Parthenon taken by Lord Elgin staying in the British Museum.  I fully justified austerity measures as well deserved.  I even downplayed the massive recent success of containing the pandemic by claiming it is mainly due to the fact that hundreds of thousands of lazy civil servants are happy to officially do nothing and get paid for it whilst others are simply protecting older people because they live off those pensions.  I am also a vocal critic of Greek tourism, always harping on about the lack of infrastructure, short term profit causing destruction and horrible rate of decay of anything Greek tourism touches in its unplanned and unregulated ways.

But right now it is pure bliss.

I just got back from a five day stint around Central Greece.  Kudos to my partner and all the kids that tag along, we just hop in a car and follow our hearts.  Feel like walking to a spectacular waterfall?  I was in Norway last summer but we can compete with the best of them.  Prefer an alpine valley, do you want to camp under the stars?  You got it!  Some of the least light polluted places in Europe are in the Greek mountains.  And of course if you want beaches, heck, we have all kinds of beaches.  Not just the ones you see on the posters.  Beaches with sand, beaches with pebbles, “I want a beach to find pretty stuff to make a necklace” said my daughter and hey presto, here you go darling, I just needed to drive around a couple more corners.

The real treasure right now however is the freedom.  You get that beach to yourself.  You can walk all day and not meet a soul.  All the tourism infrastructure is there and working, just without all the tourists.  It is a unique opportunity.  A friend once explained to me that the Greeks that own most seaside resorts are actually descendants of the least able offspring of people that lived in mountain villages.  Back then, cultivatable land was the prize.  So the second son got the lots by the sea which were considered worthless.  I liked the theory, it justified all the damage I have seen done to these places over the years by short term thinkers out for a fast buck, the ones that like to take advantage of tourists.

Well the good news is that they are not around now.  It is mainly the more modern, friendly, better grounded hospitality operators that decided to make a go of it right now.  The long term thinkers.  The ones you will like.  If there is one cafe open in the village, it is the nice one.  Add to that freshness the fact that nature is refreshed through quarantine keeping humans away for a couple of months and this is the most ….springy Greek spring ever.  

So take it from someone that isn’t afraid to say it as it is even when it annoys all my Greek friends.  Right now is truly the best Greece anyone has seen in the past half-century.  If you visited a long time ago, you know what I am on about.  If you don’t just take my word for it and visit Greece as soon as possible.  This won’t last forever I’m afraid and I will have to go back to bitching about it again…


Greece using Covid19 to leapfrog ahead!

This is no conspiracy theory. The Greek government has done an admirable job handling the pandemic. To be honest, it was much easier than others. We have no economy. Sending everyone home when half the population isn’t working anyway is no big decision. Taking an aggressive approach when your economy depends largely on tourism is also an easy choice. If we manage to salvage July and August on the Greek islands it will be a major victory. Leaders of countries with actual working economies that produce something had a much harder job. Sure Trump and Boris Johnson are inept, but we should not disregard how much harder it is to make any decision when there are billions riding on it.

Here in Greece it was easy to stop schools. We have a terrible educational system run by civil servants who do their best not to work or be evaluated. Not much difference if they close. In England it could cripple many companies when parents have to stay at home. Here it is easy for most people. Same with our enormous civil sector. Nobody misses the paper pushers when they are gone.

Some years ago, when my kids still thought I knew the answer to everything, they asked me what I would do if I became prime minister. (Because it was so obvious that I was the wisest man in the world!) I didn’t have to think much, the answer was obvious: “I would force everyone to get on a single IT system for everything.” This would solve most of our woes, from the black economy, to corruption.

And voila!

We now have most of the population at home. Online most of the time. How will they return to work when this is all over? They won’t! Our Prime minister used to be minister of Interior. He had a thing about organizing the civil service better. Here is how he will do it: What we will do is ask them, under the pretense of health and safety, to work online. Civil servants in Greece have managed to avoid using computers. About two decades ago some minister tried to make it compulsory for them to use email. He failed. They still don’t. But they could now!

These civil servants are all being paid full salaries and bonuses even though they are at home. So you could easily ask them to start signing in on a computerized system. Next step would be to get them to monitor some simple procedure, much as they would stamp approval on paper in their offices. Then more procedures on the same electronic platform. “Hey, we are paying you, it is dangerous to go back to the office, this is the only way!” It is not hard to imagine the entire civil service being restructured in less than a year like this. And the best part is that whoever can’t or won’t join the digital revolution will be self exiling themselves.

I am optimistic I know. My kids tell me that too now that they are older.


How come flight attendants don’t get the virus?

My partner works for a major airline. They have tens of thousands of people that come into contact with travellers every day. Here are some aspects of flight attendants in particular that make them worthy of being examined for possible clues about the new coronavirus:

1. It is impossible for a flight attendant (FA) to lie about being ill. They are a fairly unique professional group. For most of us if we feel unhealthy, it is just an excuse at work or an email from home and we disappear off the grid. I could be writing this while burning with a fever and you would be none the wiser. FAs are in very public scrutiny for many hours before and after every flight. The FAs flying to and from China since last November when this outbreak begun were at the airport many hours before and after flights and had to go through a number of check points. If one was burning with fever they would have been flagged.

2. It is also impossible for a FA to be ill with this coronavirus and all their colleagues not to know about it. They are a tight knit bunch with intense social media (chat groups) to solve every day issues. Even on their Facebook groups they often post about minor medical issues. Especially for American based FAs it is completely impossible that one would have coronavirus symptoms and at least 5-6 people would not be instantly alerted.

So for starters it is a group of people that is impossible to under report. It is also a pretty large sample size. Let’s look at their daily grind for clues:

1. They are in close proximity to 100-200 people in every flight for many hours.

2. Before the outbreak they wore no gloves or protective equipment.

3. Airplanes have no particularly special air filtration systems (for viruses).

4. Airplanes are stationary, full of people and FAs for several hours in total, often without air conditioning working at zero altitude. (In case you had some theory about cosmic rays killing corona virus.) So even if a pressurized cabin impedes the circulation of water vapour it isn’t always pressurized.

If someone more expert than me on air travel thinks about it, there are probably a dozen more factors like the above. And someone more expert than me should really look into the fact that so far only one flight attendant has contracted coronavirus. Maybe there are valuable clues in this (pretty large) sample of professionals for a fast solution to what needs to be done.

(In terms of cases of flight attendants with coronavirus, at the time of writing I can find only two. One Korean and one Japan Air.)


Major scientific breakthrough on the virus from Greece

Did you know that contact with silver kills the coronavirus? In fact, according to most Greek priests, it kills all strands of the virus, even the new ones, even the ones we don’t know much about yet. Because the spoons used in communion are silver. 1+1=101

In case you haven’t visited a Greek church, Holy communion here is not like the rest of the world. We don’t do a wafer, biscuit or whatever else would make sense. No, Orthodox Christians in Greece share a spoon and drink from the same cup! And if you think that is ludicrous, wait until you hear the excuses they give for this. They range from “Christ kills all evil contained in communion” to “it is the alcohol in communion that saves us.” Fifty, a hundred or more people, gather on Sundays and basically exchange saliva based on the belief that this is an on-demand miracle, much like the spontaneous combustion every year in Jerusalem that gives us the fire to light our Easter candles.

For Greeks this is normal. The Greek Orthodox Church pretty much controls the Justice system and government. Greek schools teach more of what the church demands than most other topics. They own enormous parts of the country, prime real estate in central locations and of course an entire peninsula which in direct contrast to every single rational argument remains only for men. The President of Greece, now a woman, can not visit a part of the country because …well, because the church says so.

It is, of course, the right of every human to believe whatever they like. But in terms of public health, such irresponsible behavior that flies directly in the face of all available scientific knowledge is truly and monumentally criminal. The only miracle in this whole ridiculous farse is that the World Health Organization hasn’t intervened.

The image is from a preposterous article explaining away various cases

(Image link )