True gamification: What Google Maps has to learn from Supercell

I am in San Francisco battling jet lag, trying to sleep at the local time. But not so far away from me a group of kids is blaring out music.  It is an international bunch of kids in their twenties and they are playing from their phones what they think the others will like.  You could call it “party classics” in a way.  But Spotify will never know these songs.  These are the ones someone chose because he thought a bunch of strangers will like them.  The good ones you know because they all sing out of tune and slightly drunk.  Either the boys are heard more or the girls, depending on the appeal.  Sometimes both together, boy, they must be too shy to get on to sex so they keep listening I suppose.  The failed songs are changed after the first chorus when they see lack of traction with the audience.

It is vitally important to really listen to what is going on in the world and your target market.  “We are gamifying the platform” they say in software with conviction.  They mean you now have a goal, some medals or some levels to complete.  Whether it is Google Maps, a school or some old fashioned application with a face lift, the story is the same.  Way too little, way too late.

It is called “gamification” for a reason.  It is meant to be like games.  Modern games though.  Stop looking ten years behind and look at the games that do well today.  How do they motivate users? I have my kids to thank for Clash Royale.  So I know the difference.  It is hard to explain when you don’t play and when you don’t see kids reacting to the opportunities and changes in the game.  But I will try.

 

First of all with the onboarding.  It doesn’t just run an intro to get you going.  Clash Royale maintains a learning culture in players but constantly introducing new challenges and incentives to learn tools.  They know that if complexity increases and players don’t follow, they will be disappointed and leave.  For example these days they made a new “touchdown” way of playing.  So there is a simple version for you to get into it gradually in a consequence free environment.  Nothing to lose.  In fact you can’t go to the “proper” game until you have taken off the training wheels here.  Now think how many GUIs “upgrade”, “update” or generally get more difficult and lose customers.

The most common mistake of so called “gamification” plans is in fact the opposite of this.  They make the changes complicated but the rewards too simple.  Clash Royale allows you to feel you are the best on many different levels.  Maybe you have the most donations to clan members this week.  Or you are the only one with the new cool weapon, the highest level troop or some other unique category you can brag about.  You might be really good at a particular challenge.  Everything you do gains you something, but it is never simple.  Gold is useful, diamonds even better, experience points help you gain levels and it is all connected.  (Won’t go into how exactly, too nerdy, you have to play it.)  The rules of these rewards can be as complex as you want, in fact the more complicated the better.  Just stay on top of it.  We are online after all, you can adjust them dynamically depending on how people are reacting or not reacting to them.

Supercell, the creator of Clash Royale, is fast to fix things like that.  They take each new character as it’s own franchise.  With pre promotion, videos on youtube, it’s own introductory events to get everyone to know and use it and then new challenges to help it get back into vogue if we are not using it much.  Maybe it costs less elixir this week or it does double damage the next.  This is an economy which is centrally controlled after all.  Just make sure it is fun.

It can all be done with any platform.  It could be done with Google Maps.  After all the single biggest problem is how to get people involved and contributing.  You can’t map the world on your own.  I am a level 8 Local Guide.  At 15.000 points, all I get is the information that my next milestone is 50.000.  It is like looking at a very tall mountain from the bottom and not wanting to walk.  It would be like going through fifth and sixth grade together without any school report along the way, just a “well done!  You made it!” at the end of two years.   If you want me to tell you about wheelchair access, tell me that I am the hottest contributor this week or in my area this week.  Or that I did the fastest first ten contribution this week.  Anything.  In Clash Royale everything is always moving you ahead …somewhere.

The other important aspect of effort is community of course.  But here again, Supercell show the way ahead.  Because you can’t force community down anybody’s throat, much like you can’t force modern people to be sociable in the same way.  Some like to play with friends, to collaborate.  Others prefer to play with strangers or against strangers.  Sometimes we like to spar against friends.  At times we want the buzz of risking but then we like to just slog away in mindless torpor to relax.  It can’t all be at the same level all the time.  Clash Royale offers all these different ways of playing almost all the time.  Because as central dictator of their universe, they make sure that things are never permanent or too stable and boring.  Clan challenges appeared for a while, then disappeared while they decided on the initial data, then reappeared with gusto.  Now they come mainly on the weekends when all my sons’ friends (and me!) can play together and try and win clan chests which we all share.  Some of us like playing like that.

So by all means gamify your platform.  Gamify work, gamify learning.  But do it like Supercell or call it something else.

Apple will never produce the best technology: here’s why

I have been branded an Apple hater a long time ago, so I don’t bother to worry about that.  Since 1981 I have lived and breathed technology and Apple insults the very essence of the world as I understand it with its behavior.  I don’t use the word “like”, it is not aesthetic and it is not subjective.  Apple can never be a positive force in the world of technology.  Admirable marketing maybe.  Amazing reality distortion for sure.  Machiavellian trickery when it can.

Technologically speaking, the world is not an unknown, magical place.  There are only so many electrons that can whiz around in silicon at a specific speed.  Apple can’t change that.  They can’t magically make any major breakthrough.  Not only because they hardly spend any money in Research and Development.  Because nobody makes such amazing leaps on their own.  The world of scientific innovation is one of collaboration and open platforms.

That is of course the exact opposite of everything Apple stands for.  It is no surprise that a Unix derivative in the form of Android now powers 90% of the planets smartphones.  Here’s what Apple can never do:

  1. Be open about its plans.  Absolutely vital for innovation to happen.  You can’t build on something if nobody tells you how it works.
  2. Experiment more freely.  Apple produces an absolutely terrible product such as the first iWatch but insists on selling it as the next big thing.  They don’t seem to be able to give away something in order to learn like Google does so often.  (With mixed results, but the principle is correct, tried and tested in innovation)
  3. Make more.  Why only three iPhones?  I can get an Android with a battery that lasts 3 days, a rugged Android, an Android for 100 dollars, etc, etc.  If you don’t try market niches, if you don’t allow others to explore them, you will never discover something really exciting.
  4. Stick to global standards.   Apple costs the world economy billions in lost productivity.  Why on earth can’t they just stick to standards?  How hard is it to have a “normal” USB for power, or to avoid tweaking Bluetooth?  Standards in technology are the bedrock of innovation, the firm ground from which we fly to the skies.
  5. Collaborate.  It seems silly to even write that it is so obvious to everyone in business these days.  You collaborate even with your direct competitors when it makes strategic sense.  Apple never seems to be able to last long in any sort of collaboration, a slave to its Steve Jobs’ inspired image of the lone genius.

There is no such thing as a lone genius in technology.  Some amazing people have made great leaps and provided us with inspiring moments and ideas.  But the actual products?  They are always the result of extensive team work spanning the globe, companies, universities and every kind of kid playing with something to finally achieve greatness.

When Cook took over I hoped he would change some of this.  It seems he can’t.  Apple is a prisoner to its old “rules” and too afraid to go for the real innovation of changing its corporate selfishness.

The best monopoly the world has ever seen

The amount of complete gibberish I am reading about the HTC-Google deal is phenomenal.  You don’t need particular insight to see what is happening.  Nor do conspiracy theories help or those “grand scheme” type wackos that explain how it is “just the first step” of something enormous we all don’t understand.

Google is keeping the Android ecosystem healthy.  Google is doing what no government is fast enough or decisive enough to do.  Bailing out a company with something good to offer the world.  Much like Motorola before that.  No, the plan is not to “kill Apple” with some super phone.  Quite the opposite.  Pixel phones will continue to be in short supply.  They are not meant to be iPhone killers.  They are simply tools to show the way ahead.  Not light years ahead, just the next year.

Being a monopoly, much like being a dictator, is not an easy job.  You have to make everyone look good and take a back seat even when minor things don’t go your way.  Wait for everyone to get onboard instead of issuing marching orders and killing them off.  AndroidOne is an excellent example of the “try, try again” approach.  Sure, they could force everyone in a number of ways.  When you own most of the searches on the planet, YouTube, Google Maps and other prime everyday tools, it would be easy to force people.  But Google isn’t Facebook and it isn’t Apple.  “Do no evil” means “wait until they all think they want what you want them to do.”

Google isn’t “challenging its partners” as some ignoramous wrote in the Verge.  Selling off Motorola wasn’t an admission of failure.  The Android ecosystem looks much healthier with Lenovo and Motorola and Nokia in it.  In essence they are all Google, all marketing and selling machines that make money for Google.  Google learnt from Microsoft’s mistakes: Never make it too obvious that you control the whole technology platform.  Microsoft and Apple are welcome diversions in this respect, making Google look like less of a monopoly than it really is.  They kick up a big fuss about whatever silly little project they are launching all the time, keep press and people busy thinking about something else.

Google is an awe inspiring monopoly.  It controls most of the answers to the planet’s questions.  Never in history has one institution had such power.  I ask it if it will rain tomorrow, how to get to my next appointment and why Hitler didn’t attack in Dunkirk.  Google knows how many iPhone Apple will sell in Indonesia better than Apple does.  They have probably correlated it to search queries on peanut butter or something.

So if some idiot journalist wants to wax lyrical about it’s “failure to make a feature phone and grab market share” just do what Google does:  smile and ignore.

Apple: We burn Pentiums to the ground

If you don’t remember that slogan, let me remind everyone.  Because in a rather strange way, it has been wiped from Google!  Seriously, Google it.  “We burn Pentiums to the ground” and toasting Pentiums was a major Apple promotional campaign, aimed at convincing us all that their proprietary Motorola (IBM) processors were “better” or “faster” than the Intel alternatives.  It is an extremely educational story to take to hearth as Apple goes down the same rabbit hole with the iPhone today.   Back then it took users a couple of years to figure it out.  Graphic artists were trying to ignore that benchmarks of actual task performance was showing a huge disadvantage.  Back then, Apple was the tool of choice for creative professionals in the visual design.  So it was a matter of pride.  You applied a Photoshop filter and it took twice as long to render it as that guy you made fun of with the cheap PC.  In video it was ridiculous.  Apple did its best to make sure that there weren’t many applications running on both PC and Mac, but Adobe After Effects slipped through the net.  Benchmarks there were off the chart, with the ultra expensive Apple machines trailing by whole minutes in everyday tasks.

So what did Apple do?

They lied in your face!  The “we burn Pentiums to the ground” campaign, much like a lot of Steve Jobs’ presentations, were 100% lies.   He used vague graphics and charts showing an X percent advantage, or stating the new processors were 22% faster than…something.  And then they got personal claiming they “toasted” the Pentium processor.   But you won’t find it easily.  Here’s a video:

 

Where are the ads now?  I am a long time Apple hater so I know very well how I used to find them with an image search…..gone.  Zilch.  Almost no digital footprint of them left!  Either Apple or Intel, or both of them, got Google to make them disappear.  And this is where it gets interesting.  Because Apple is heading the same way today.  I wrote a short article highlighting the many things about the iPhoneX.  Quad DAC, GigabitLTE, MQA, Log and lookup tables for video…it is a long list of useful high end features other smartphones have already.   I post it on Facebook and an Apple fan friend (I still talk to them) starts going on about the “all mighty A11 Apple chip”.  Obviously he had no better response.  But allmighty Apple chip?  Really?

The company is in its classic rabbit hole.  It needs to “think different” but instead it is focusing on “being different”.  Not the same thing.  When the whole world has Bluetooth, the whole world needs Apple working on a safer, faster, better standard.  Not to just tweak it a bit and call it iBluetooth, making its AirBuds “proprietary”, “more expensive” and “not compatible”.  (What their tag lines should have been in the first place.)  When the world agrees to use USB type C we don’t want to carry around custom Apple dongles and dangles.    Siri is a joke and new Apple “features” are usually just copied from Android.  If they are not, they are a bad idea.  Like getting rid of the home button.

I still remember holding the very first iPhone and asking “where is the copy-paste” function?  They laughed.  Like they laughed when I asked where the right click was on their mice.  Guess what?  The iPhone got copy and paste eventually.  And the Mighty Mouse had a right click.  Even now, Apple products are not as good as others in these two respects.   In Android we have built in advanced clipboard features and multiple windows to play with.   They copied too little, too late.  And made a mess of the reality distortion necessary to cover up their tracks.

Much like the old days, someone is going to have bail Apple out.  Not talking about cash this time.  It will be Google that will run to the rescue and they won’t even tell us about it.  Suddenly Siri will magically get better, Apple Maps will work around the world instead of the rather limited version they have now and other Google power features will trickle through in various ways.  Just enough for Apple to pretend it is the innovator.  Which it is.  Just not in technology.  In technology it takes R&D, persistence and number crunching to get to the top.   Apple is better at getting money off people.  Some call it marketing, some of us like to call it as it is.  Especially since most of us aren’t making any money from this mass dellusion.

Don’t let me spoil the party though, enjoy looking at your shiny iPhoneX until it unlocks.

 

My personal communication map for all of you

Don’t send me something urgent on Facebook Messenger.  I won’t see it for half a day, maybe even more.  In fact, I might not respond at all there because I prefer email for people that I don’t really know.   I started Facebook when Facebook started and it has amassed so many people I don’t know it is more of a publishing platform than a communication tool nowadays for me.  Of course if you really knew me, you would know that.  Which is sort of the point.  We have so many social media and other communication platforms available that it is just one huge mess.  So let me untangle it for you regarding my personal network choices.  It is my contention that we all need to do something like this, possible with yet another app or social platform to communicate it everywhere.  I will describe it as it is today, starting from things closer to me and spreading out.  After face to face interactions it goes something like this:

  1. Inner circle.  If you really know me, you know my cell phone number.  It is usually somewhere near me and is quite obviously the place to find me if you need me urgently.  I do switch off at night and I do try to forget it at times in order to truly relax.  So if I am up a mountain, running, cycling or playing with my kids you can’t get me.  Unless you know their telephone numbers, or my partner’s number and you catch somebody near me.  I also blatantly disregard it ringing if I don’t recognize the incoming number, ie you are not in my contact list. I don’t consider not picking up rude if you do it to me and I hang up at any time for any reason.  There is nothing sacred about talking on the phone.
  2. SMS.  This is a better way to get me for something not urgent but important I shouldn’t miss.  I am likely to respond via email if my answer needs thinking and explaining.  I dislike SMS as it is not easy to archive and keep long term connected to a contact.  I have linked everything to contacts since way before smartphones, my brain has always had a built in CRM system.  If we meet at a trade show I might open a new contact with “some interesting dude I met at CeBit” and then add “Nick – English” the next time or “has cool ideas about distribution”.  I will keep adding things to your contact ad infinitum.  Your kids’ names, your favorite Greek food and anything else I discover.    Met up with an old school friend who is now my dentist and was showing him how to use google contacts.  He saw “dude from school, has a kid around 10, likes spear gun fishing” on my phone before I had had time to add new info….
  3. Email.  Of all the online methods, call me old fashioned, but I prefer email.  I save emails forever.  Unless we are chatting off the record and not saying anything important, I like a medium that records everything so I can find it.  Anybody proposing we discuss something serious on Viber, WhatsApp or Messenger is obviously a clown in my books.  Either that or a woman trying to chat me up or some international spy who prefers I don’t save things we write.

Online or offline?  At this point I have to draw a big red virtual line.  Anything under this is online methods.  And I warn you:  I am not always online.   Email is above the line because it is the only thing I let sneak through as worthy of more data connection.  But I switch off plenty. When driving or travelling or outdoors.  When in a meeting very often.  Do not assume that I am online.  I am often not online.   So if you don’t know my cell phone and I don’t have you as a contact worthy of responding to, you are not getting me.  End of story.  Send an email or take your pick from the online methods below:

4. Google Hangouts.  Yeah, I know, it’s not very trendy.  Which is precisely why I chose it for my inner circle.  Kids, family, parents, partner.  I shouldn’t really even be telling everyone else but I will simply ignore any requests from people that aren’t family.  Hangouts is for quick stuff between us.  I will still do my best to turn to email, or phone, or meeting if it is “juicier” in terms of content.  Stick it on a shared Calendar event or anything shared and permanent where I know we can all find it.  Chat is a waste of time as far as I am concerned most of the time.  Use with extreme caution.

5. Skype.  Used to use Skype a lot for work.  Polite way to keep in closer contact with work related stuff.  Go offline when you don’t want customers to find you, go online when you are ready to be full of good ideas for them.  I still try to be on a computer with Skype some time during the day.

6. Linked in.  Can’t guarantee I will check it every day but I try to maintain contact for various reasons.  During the day often 5-6 times I will need to look for something or someone there.

7. Instagram, Viber, What’s App, Snapchat chats are proof to me that you are not serious.  Unless I have a project with some organization or country that relies on one of these a lot, I try to uninstall them from my devices.  I then install as soon as need arises.  But no, you won’t find me on these time wasting rubbish tools.  Get a life, get serious and get away from them asap.

8. Facebook.  I have a hate-hate relationship to Facebook.  It insults my intelligence the way it simply demands our attention.  A black hole for wasting time and a great tool for selling to those that haven’t realized they are wasting time and money on it.  Depending on current projects I might not even see it for a few days or be online all day. In any case, I do my best not to depend on it.  I often disable my account for a few weeks and use alternate profiles for managing pages etc.  Try it.  It clears your mind.

I could go on but we are already pretty far from me in terms of communication.  You can comment on one of my many blogs and sites, I might see that faster than most of the other online ways (4-8) described above.  I generally switch off all push notifications.  But take the time to draw up your own communication map.  And if anybody wants to make an app for it call me to become a beta tester.  No, scrape that, email me about it.

 

Google will never buy Kevin Durant

When the Golden State Warriors got Kevin Durant we were impressed.  What was already a super star team just got even …super starier.  The Warriors couldn’t even hide the fact as he single handedly won matches and LeBron tried to defend 2 or even 3 players on his own at times.  As the finals ended today, (4-1 exactly as I had publicly predicted by the way) I find it hard not to draw parallels with Google.  

 

Between Google and Facebook, online advertising has demolished the old names in media.  Hundreds of million of dollars are flowing every day in a new direction.  But only Google has the intelligence to handle it well.  It isn’t wasting time in messaging apps because messaging apps do not contain much useful information from which to figure out what ads to show you.  Facebook has the 4 most resource hungry apps for Android.  Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp and of course the Facebook app itself.  For no good reason.  As they integrate Instagram with Facebook more and more, you can’t help but wonder why we even need four separate apps from Facebook.  While they experiment with screwing up your timelines, Google is getting the job done.

 

Google keeps improving Android at such an amazing pace, even now, that Apple only has to copy a few features every time to manage to entertain its audience.  Which is sort of the point.  Nobody was anywhere near Google in Artificial Intelligence.  Yet Google didn’t launch anything magic until it needed to.    It could blow everyone out of social tomorrow.  Some of us remember that day when our Google searches showed us what our friends were doing and what they thought of our Google searches.  It was a freak day, maybe I was on some A/B test.  I saw what Google could do if they used more of what they know about me and my friends.

 

Google will not though.  It is not about having 4 All NBA players on your team.  It is about hiding their talent unless it becomes necessary.  If Golden State blew out the Cavs today by 160-80 everyone would be furious.  Call it sportsmanship if you like, I call it clever business sense.  Basic human understanding.  Nobody likes a freak.  Society does not tolerate outliers.  Business and government tend to target whoever does too well.  Google will never make a fuss about buying a Kevin Durant.  They got Ray Kurzweil and didn’t make a fuss.  He got natural language recognition working way better than everyone else.  Siri is a joke but Google is making sure you don’t feel bad about it.  In fact it is quite likely that Apple and Facebook end up borrowing technology from Google in order not to fail; they are now officially too big to fail.

 

It takes a little bit more to make a Champion.  And more after that if you don’t want everyone to hate the Champion.

Digital storytelling with an inflated piece of leather

You can go to seminars.  Watch inspiring Ted talks.  You can study storytelling from Homer to Homer Simpson until you are yellow in the face.  But we all have plenty to learn from the NBA.  I just spent my best sleeping hours watching Game 3 of the Finals and the storylines are too many to count.

Over here in Europe it is hard to explain to people.  They are used to the pathetic low levels of entertainment that soccer offers.  They don’t mind watching multiple extremely boring games as long as once in a while someone dazzles them for a few minutes or scores a goal once every forty minutes.  They put up with rigged matches and applaud Juventus, happily forgetting the unbelievable scandals that sent that very same team out of the picture a few years ago.

Every sport gets better when you know the storylines, the players, the drama.  The NBA however is the only sport that makes sure you can’t miss them.  Let me illustrate my point with just the most recent posts from the official NBA Instagram account today as I find them:

On the left a pretty straightforward “match up” type story.  LeBron versus Curry.    If some post Jungian psychologist wanted to frame this, we would say it is the anticipation stage of the story.  Dramatic graphics, blue versus red, this is an eternal struggle as a poster.  A black man with white clothes is keeping the ball away from a white man in dark clothes, their bodies locked, their wills at odds.  The two greatest players of our time with the word “AT” between them.

Each player in the NBA has a tiered set of myths.  LeBron is not just about his “legacy” or “Greatest Of All Time”.  He is “chasing the ghost” and “returning to Cleveland” as a modern day Ulysses.  On the right he is flying, the illusion of invincibility of the dream stage in any story as the hero has some success but…not quite.  There is always something more.  Like the endless supply of StormTroopers that Luke Skywalker shoots, the endless levels of a computer game.

The NBA excels in making stories out of older players too.  Here we have LeBron, alive, in colour, next to a faded retro Bill Russel.  Michael Jordan still makes millions from selling shoes on the back of this sort of myth making.  And even much lesser players are kept around contributing to “the big NBA family”.  Today I choked up as with a few simple gestures the NBA made a fuss about a person in charge of TV something or other.  That’s how good they are!

In fact today as we watched, the sportscaster said “wow, those two are setting the stage to take a role in the future here”.  He was referring to two players with microphones, another NBA first whereby we can listen to the players during the game.  It really brings the action, the passion and the human stories to life.  These two players, according to the sportscaster, will likely take a place as commentators.  Indeed there are many great players now entertaining us, analyzing moves and making sure we understand what is happening.  Shaq a prime case study of such a transition.   On the left “4XMagic, legends reunited”.  Players don’t drift off and disappear as happens in other sports and other leagues.  If you make it to the NBA, you can be here for life, simply changing roles in the story.  It is like DC or Marvel characters, ever weaving narratives along the way.  The Warriors’ coach was a sportscaster before becoming a champion.  Before that he was a champion with the Bulls as a player.  It never ends.

In fact the NBA is so amazingly good at making stories of everything that all the social responsibility things they do seem relatively “normal”.  LeBron can donate a hundred million for children from rough areas to study and we don’t even flinch.  After all he is himself David Copperfield or Aladdin or some other mythological hero in his own story of rags to riches.  You can watch a feature film about it.  He produced it.  And that was before the unbelievable way he brought the title to Cleveland after so many years.  Rocky Balboa revisited with a very real “local boy” aspect, he deserves the statue even more than the one erected for Stallone’s film hero.

The NBA hardly allows a single bit of information to flow to social media or any other media without making sure it can be framed within stories.  Steph Curry, the amazing little boy that nobody took seriously, like the Lord of the Rings bringing a title to a team which was at the bottom of the league for so many years.

The NBA produces so much content that fans can produce their own mini movies simply repurposing video.  Some of them are quite good actually.  Other fans produce short films with “footage” from games they edit together into a story or a video clip.

But they do so much more.  I was amazed at the insightful comments of my younger son until I discovered the source of his basketball wisdom: short clips on Instagram which are converted with graphics reminiscent of NBA 2K showing how a team or a player executed a particular play.  And it’s not just the spectacular stuff.  Any and every aspect of the game are brought to the forefront.  A particularly good example is the replay.  While other sports like soccer avoided it like the plague (probably so that they could more easily rig matches), replay became integral to the NBA.  They branded it, they gave it a story.  Much like the frustration stage in a good story, when the hero struggles, is treated unfairly or is confronted with a seemingly unbeatable enemy.  The referees go to the monitor.  They wear big headphones so they can concentrate.  We see it all, nothing is secret or vague.  In fact now in the TV coverage they added a new character;  the wise man who knows the rules and explains what is at stake.  Again branded, this mini story within the main narrative ;the replay center brings a happy end to that particular scene with justice.  We all saw that LeBron wasn’t stepping on the three throw line so here is one extra point for you retrospectively.

Most of what the NBA does is then copied in other sports.  Only it is hardly ever quite as good.  A large part of this has to do with the sport itself, the rules and the setup from its beginnings.  An even larger part has to do with the fact that the players actually enjoy these roles we assign them.  They participate. They embellish.  They have their own marketing teams adding and playing with the themes.  Some of the most creative adverts and brands around them are constantly building on the story lines.

If you have seen Space Jam or don’t know the story of Michael Jordan, his foray into baseball and his triumphant return, you have seen  the Odyssey, Orpheus or the Ramayana.  It is a classic story, a true story, an amazing story where the rise is followed by the frustration stage.  His invincibility was lost, nightmarish enemies and threats appear and in the climax of the plot all hope is apparently lost.  Like LeBron’s Cavaliers losing 3-1 in the finals.  I lost good money betting against my Cav-fan son that they couldn’t turn it around.  It had never been done by any team, let alone against the most amazing super team of all time.  But in the resolution, Jordan, LeBron and the other NBA heroes get out there and overcome the odds.  They are super heroes and we have witnessed and felt what ancient Greeks felt in a good tragedy.

A lot of people try to copy the NBA.  And so they should.  So we all should when our job is communicating.  This is ten adults in shorts bouncing around an inflated piece of leather after all.  If you don’t watch it, if you don’t take in a little of the plot, you will just say it is “boring”.  The fact that they have me awake at 4am enjoying the drama shows I am hooked.  The fact that the TV ratings are through the roof and revenue from all NBA related goods above the roof prove I am not alone.

Human beings try to assign meaning to puffs of clouds, to random numbers and to events in their lives related to the stars.  Some say that is what God is.  Our desperation to add meaning to the mystery of life.  I’m not sure about all that.  If there is a God, I am starting to suspect he too is copying storytelling techniques from the NBA.

 

 

 

Good cop – bad cop: why only Facebook is evil

In a lot of our discussion about the future we tend to bunch Facebook and Google together.  After all they are two Goliaths that rely on advertising.  Unlike Microsoft that has spread its income sources, or Amazon who is in a different arena all together.  Grouping them together however is unfair, misleading and dangerous.

“….the great organ of social life, the prime element of civilization, the channel through which native talent, native genius, and native power may bubble up daily…”  The quote is not from a recent Zuckerberg motivational speech but from James Gordon Bennett, who published the Morning Herald in 1835, one of the first newspapers which tried to sell an audience to advertisers.

Facebook has a simple and similar target.  To get us to spend more time on their platform.  Wasting time?  Sure.  With fake news?  Of course.  It is the newspaper of our time and it is a tabloid newspaper for sure.  Facebook will do anything to get you to stay.  It will interrupt you and make sure you get no work done.   It will buy out other platforms like Instagram only to gradually turn them into…Facebook.  It will copy features from Snapchat with no shame if Snapchat or any future smaller company isn’t willing to be bought by Facebook.  Facebook has no purpose by definition.  Mark Zuckerberg has excelled since his college days in dreaming up new ways for people to waste time.  There is no purpose.   He simply thrives on studying your time wasting habits per se, whether it is flicking up and down a timeline, looking at photos of friends or creating controversy.  (Which his systems always reward in one way or another.)

The opportunistic approach is best illustrated in the erratic way it deals with its customers.  Advertising on Facebook is not a science.  It can’t be.  Because they are always changing it in order to make whatever worked yesterday not work tomorrow unless you pay more.  The scandals about false video impression numbers and all the other scams Facebook has got caught for so far are just the tip of the iceberg.  The elephant in the room is that Facebook ads simply do not work as well as they want you to think they work.  Why?  Because people shop much less when they are simply wasting time.   Nobody will tell you because digital marketers are too busy taking the money you are no longer spending on “old media” and giving you fancy stats that impress you.

Contrast that with Google.  You know, that place you go when you actually want to get things done.  When you research a product purchase.  Where you find out useful stuff about your world.  Google has a much tougher job.  They have to give you services like Google Maps which are simply so useful and so much better than any other option and then find ways to monetize them without losing the title.   Advertisers that understand the difference are much more effective for their customers.  Lazy advertisers simply give in to the marketing director who only understands Facebook ads because that is what they use every day.  A Facebook ad “impression” is in no way similar to a Google Ads “impression”.  Facebook reminds me of Nazi Germany radio wardens, people that walked the streets to corral citizens all together and force them to listen to Adolf Hitler speak on the radio.  We need shared experiences and Zuckerberg is going to give you the ones he can sell.  While Google figures out machine learning, automatic translation and organizing the world’s knowledge for everyone Facebook adds smiley faces, dislike buttons and the amazing new way to say something with a colored background.

The way Facebook treats fake news is a wonderful illustration of its hypocrisy.  Much like the first tabloid newspapers almost two hundred years ago, it seeks out and promotes anything lurid and boisterous.  In the old days newspapers based on advertising for revenue had people in courts looking for scandal or even reported on the slave trade for effect.  Facebook today pretends to be politically correct but makes sure similar content reaches you.  And plenty of it.  It is a bit like newspapers pretending not to control the classifieds section or not carrying blame for readers’ letter in “opinion” pieces.

In the mid 19th century, the first “trolls” were in fact journalists working for cheap newspapers in a constant effort to increase circulation so that they could sell advertising.  Some things never change…

Your social media “strategy” is a pile of steaming… social media

Do you remember SEO?  Some people went around “optimising” websites.  Others sold courses on  search engine optimisation.  No, please, try to remember exactly what went on then.  You were a bit vague how “those Google things” worked.   So you outsourced.  Something worked more or less, you didn’t get fired over low rankings.  Probably because your boss didn’t understand SEO fully either.

There is a good reason why this happened.  It is that nobody fully understands how Google works.  It is secret, personalised, it changes often and Google spends a great amount of time and effort making sure it is difficult to reverse engineer what they do.  Through it all, some of us had an attitude that is more pragmatic.  I always said “if you can tweak it that easily, Google will take it into account automatically.”  All those silly tags, the time wasted adding fields, alt texts and gobbledegook for what?  Google does a better job at figuring out which content should be shown to who than you could even imagine.  From phone usage, to browser habits, email content and million of other signals, Google’s algorithms are simply astounding.  And useful.  Yet still some people pay good money learning about SEO.  Which brings me to the current fashion:  social media training.

A whole industry has been built around teaching you “how to succeed on Instagram” or “how to promote your business on a Facebook page”.  Friendly, trendy, graphic heavy sites, emailings, courses and videos with gurus full of a burning desire to help you “get ahead”.  Training in technology was always a challenge methodologically.  In times of rapid change such as these it is damn near impossible to stay current.  Taking a “course in social media” is essentially admission of a handicap.  You have no real projects to learn from, you lack the drive and bravery to put yourself out.   Sure, you can’t improvise with the facebook account of a Fortune 500 company, but you sure as hell can experiment with any number of other ones.  From the school committee Instagram feed to a blog about your kids’ basketball team.  The cost is zero and the experimental opportunities infinite.  Don’t read about it.  Do it!

I started writing this article after seeing a scary directive in a pretty large corporation defining – among other things – the “correct time for Facebook posts” on their official page.  This is an excellent illustration of just how stupid “social media gurus” have made people.  Google it and you will find loads of scientific looking “papers” by “data scientists” claiming to have crunched millions of data points to “prove” when you get maximum traction.  At first it seems clear or even “obvious”.  You want to post when most people are online, more likely to see what you posted.  But wait a minute.  Those two statements aren’t even connected!

You want to post when most people that are interested in your message are likely to see it.  Not even that.  When some people which might actually react in a way that will have a beneficial impact to your brand will somehow see your social media post.  The more you think about it, the more disclaimers you would need in order to even make sense of what exactly you are trying to achieve.  What is your brand?  Which parts of the audience do you think you will reach?  What mood will they be in at one time versus another?  How will Facebook’s algorithms react to your message at that time in relation to everything else going on when potential message recipients log in?  There is only one way to learn and – you guessed  it – that is not by going to a seminar or reading my articles.  Even if you hire me to experiment and measure for your company, as I propose you do yourself, my fine conclusions will have a very limited shelf life.  If anyone discovers a “silver bullet” for getting great traction in social media, by their very design, social media will have killed the opportunity in days or weeks at best.

Thinking, reading, talking to people and going to seminars are all useful idea generators.  I often discover new tools from the fantastic people around me in the real and virtual world.  We all need training and we all need mechanisms to make us rethink what we do.  People like me should be paid vast amounts of money to help others in this noble cause.  We can all improve in ways to test our hypotheses. But there is only one way to take responsibility and that is directly.  Don’t hide behind management gurus for things you can quite easily test out and know yourselves.   Until Facebook, Google and everyone else change the parameters that is.  Which they have probably done 5-6 times in the time it took you to read this article.

My point precisely!

 

 

A horse designed by a European Committee

I take offence to the expression ‘a camel is a horse designed by a committee’.  Camels are incredible animals, possibly ideally suited to the desert.   They have been instrumental in thriving civilizations and commercial breakthroughs which changed mankind forever.  A camel is in fact an animal no European committee could ever imagine.  Someone would argue it doesn’t look right, another would object to it’s saliva based on some european health guideline or other, for sure we would bicker for years about whether or not we can eat its meat; and with more than 100% certainty, the number of humps would become the bone of contention between heads of State for decades.   In total, we would probably spend millions of euro in meetings, public hearings, research and other pleasantries and end up with …a horse.

An excellent recent example is that completely stupid button you have to “accept” when visiting websites.  It is of course completely useless.  A bit like making a sign reading “attention! If you get on this camel, a lot of people will see you because you will be higher up than before“.  A paper sign.  Which camel owners will have to put on the camel everytime a “new” rider comes along.

Perhaps the best illustration of the futility of approaching technology is carrier neutrality.  To put it simply, this is the notion that Facebook has to “deal” with hate talk or sexism on its platform.  Or that it is Twitter’s “fault” that some people spread false rumours via tweets or bots.  In practical terms, this is like asking the telephone company to interfere if two or three of us start talking about building a bomb one day on our phones.  Completely and utterly ludicrous.  In fact, we could make telephone companies completely ban profanity on the telephone.  All calls could go through voice recognition systems and when a swear word was recognised it could cut off the line or send you a fine.

There are two reasons we don’t do this and both are interesting.  The first is that despite spending billions on automatic translation research, Europe still lags far behind in terms of real time machine translation.  Things you can do for free on any Android phone, simply can’t be handled by any European infrastructure in technical terms to handle the task.  Much like no French company could serve videos as well as YouTube.  The second reason is of course that we could never all agree on what constitutes “profanity”.  A French man’s “merd” is not exactly the same as a British “oh, poo!” or even a German “scheisse!”

In the same time Europeans would take to “initiate a working group to deliberate the need for a committee to address the issue”, Google staff would have solved it.  In fact they did.  Not for ethical reasons, but for commercial reasons, YouTube made video channels with profanity inelligible to take adverts.  Problem more or less solved.    Air BnB had a similar problem with users of their platform who refused tenants based on race or ethnicity.  This is no easy problem to solve.  It is virtually impossible to find a solution talking about it around a table.  Air BnB didn’t “initiate research”.  They tried, tested, improved and made it work.

Essentially the problem is one of friction.  Technological networks operate on the premise that less friction is better.  You want your phone to serve instantly.  Search results at a the blink of an eye.  What Silicon Valley does when presented with a challenge is usually to actuall add friction.  That ludicrous european website button informing us about cookies is in essence an added step.  It is meant to ensure we all understand cookies.  Except it doesn’t.  Compare it to Facebook trying to teach us about privacy.  They constantly change the way messages pop up, the content of the messages, the way they try to make sure we are all on the same page concerning who sees what when we post on their platform.  Other platforms have online mini lessons about hate speech.  You start to post something and it pops up saying “hey!  Do you know that this word you are using is considered negative in some parts of the world?  Would you rather use one of the following suggestions:……”  They even give mini history lessons relating to words or uses of words to help make sure you say what you want in a way which will actually get the message across.

Europe will never, ever catch up with Silicon Valley like this.  Artificial intelligence is not about installing a “kill” button.  I read through the blurb and it is a bit like bad French or Italian academic literature.  Too much theory and mostly outdated.  Impressive for headlines, useless in practice.  In this particular phase of technological development we need to be building infrastructure and platforms.   We need millions of experiments and we need to learn much faster.

Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the legendary Mini, is often credited with coining the expression about horses, camels and committees.  The question is whether today he would be enticed by a cushy university job, doing European research and enjoying European committees and funding, rather than building the iconic Mini car.  I think he would prefer to work for Google and just get things done.