Business Communication Technology

Don’t spend good money on SEO. Start a blog!

OK, I admit it.  I never liked Flash.  But Apple isn’t killing Flash.  Google is.

Back when I sold ‘real’ animation software I hated it.  Computer geeks idea of making stuff move on a screen really was the absolute worse way of doing it.  I objected to it as an animation tool.  Then I started getting annoyed at Flash as the cause of all those ridiculously complicated websites which took forever to load and didn’t really tell you anything.

I felt the need for content. Content isn’t king, it is our bread and butter.   And while corporate websites got FLASHier (pun intended) they got less and less interesting in terms of content.  It was like a one page brochure on nice shiny paper.  Almost useless, you can’t even use it for starting the fireplace in winter.

Which is why blogs took over.  Google likes blogs better than Flash sites.  And people find content through search.  At least if you are interested in attracting new customers.  Having a flash based website you end up paying for SEO to achieve what? If someone enters your brand name, your official website appears near the top of search results.  Which is like saying that if someone opens the physical copy of yellow pages, when they get to your listing they see you!

What you really need is to appear next to relevant topics.  And Flash doesn’t do that.  Wordpress does.  Or any other mechanism that puts the emphasis on content.  So rather than spending through the nose to try and make your flash website more SEO friendly, just start a blog next to it!

Your flash website is like your business card.  Flashy and almost useless but it gives a better (safer) sense of your brand.  And the blog is like your newsletter.  Less aesthetically pleasing but with more juicy content, worth revisiting.  I predicted the demise of Flash back in 2007 but here I am now in some ways backing it.  There is no good reason to go tearing down work already done on the platform 98% of connected computers use!  Just because Steve Jobs and a bunch of iPhone touting fashion maniacs in California say you should?  (Remember than iPhone penetration is much much lower in most of the rest of the planet.)

I still don’t like flash by the way.

Business Communication Technology

Brand building and social media

I took the time to get to know a superb team of brand builders today, has a sample of their work through sadly not a lot of the more recent stuff.  They know what they are good at and they really focus on those details of a brand that matter, especially in packaging.  It got me thinking about all the social media so called brand building.

In essence you need to know three things to start with: who do you want to get into your net?(work) What gets onto your customers radars?  (Rather pointless these days to talk about media ‘consumption’.)  And where does the rest of your team fit into this effort?  (Your employees or anyone else you feel is on your side.)

It seems self evident to say you need a target but with social media this is not an easy task.  It isn’t a box sitting on a shelf, limited in many respects in its effects.  It bridges PR, community, investors and any other partnership in ways so complex it is infuriating to try and explain many times.   In normal brand building, people like the fantastically able people at Yalos make sure that everything is perfect.  The best possible take on all aspects of the brand.  In social media we are battling to achieve a degree of transparency which is almost in opposition with classic testimonials or case studies.  We are looking for a convincing ‘person’ of a brand.

And this ‘person’ cannot be driven by a single entity.  It has to be the live sum total of customers’ living with the brand.  But as clear as they are conversing with a friend.   Except they aren’t sitting down to share a coffee and a long chat.  They are saying ‘hi’ as they pass each other in the supermarket, ‘how are you’ as they pick up their kids from school and ‘we should get together some time’ as they sit next to each other for five minutes at basketball practice.   That’s life today, even with ‘normal’ regular real people friends!

Let me be clear about one thing: for most companies I wouldn’t dream of putting up anything on a social network that can be demolished.  I recently witnessed the online bashing of , what seemed a much promising eshop type venture in Greece with serious levels of investment.  Their facebook page had all the right ingredients but once the complaints started, it seems impossible to put a lid on the hell it let loose!  You can’t delete a comment you don’t like, everyone will know instantly.    Server problems?  Delays?  Confusion?  Even if they were perfect from the start they would have been in for it.  When behemoths like P&G are struggling to make sense of it all you know we have a challenge.

And I have the solution.  Stay tuned!

Business Communication Technology

y2k vs swine flu: lessons for two industries

Everyone in the IT industry pretends it never happened.  One of the most succesful marketing fabrications ever in what is otherwise quite a boring sector.  It generated billions in revenue out of nothing.   The y2k bug was a public relations triumph.  And in many ways, it relied on similar scaremongery as H1N1.  Presidents and prime ministers went on record publicly in order to “raise awareness”.  They authorised massive amounts of public funding in order to counter the potential threat.

Potential” the operative word.  Nobody guaranteed that air control, traffic lights and bank systems would crumble as the Millenium dawned.  But everyone happilly got paid overtime to miss the New Year party.  “Just in case”.

Swine flu, though also grossly overhyped at least had some actual victims!   y2k managed to capitalize on the planet’s fear of robots taking over.  A generation of decision makers seeing technology taking over but at the same time not really understanding how it works.

I must admit that I did not personally mastermind y2k hysteria.  In fact I am one of the very few who publicly, clearly and often stated that it is all complete nonsense.  But now older and wiser I am more interested in the hysteria than the truth.  I want to do a Steve Jobs on the planet by actually causing such irrationality!

It is the Holy Grail of marketing.  Selling services for a non existent threat with all the marketing created by terrified, responsibility fearing civil servants.  Anybody with a passion for serious social engineering please contact me;  with the increased pace of technological adoption and dependence, combined with social media we can do better than y2k and swine flu combined!


this concert never happened

nobody expected it.  the party was well underway already, past midnight.  i felt something in the sky.  too near to be a plane.   suddenly the spotlights went on and we all turned our eyes up.

it was like a spielberg shot where u see everyone’s reaction while they try to figure out what the alien ship is doing.  it was dusty and noisy.  two massive helicopters where bringing containers to the middle of the field.  really fast!

so fast in fact that they had unhitched and left before we all got near them.  they looked like plain containers.  black.  and rather smarter than what you see behind trucks on the motorway.  not scary, not alien.  so we ran down.

but before we could get near them, they started.  the party music was obliterated by their sound, a massive subsonic boom, louder than even the helicopters earlier.

and then it moved.

now we’re a generation that sits through the effects in “Transformers 2” but finds Megan Fox more exciting.  it takes a lot to impress me.  a huge box from the sky unfolding with smoke and light pouring out of it in the middle of nowhere ranks up there.

it wasn’t aliens.  it was a show.  superbly choreographed.  every robotic move as it set itself up.  like the introduction to “wall-e” it was gripping.  the sound turned into a pulse, then a hint of music.  by now the stage was completely ready.  the container had opened up into a complete concert rig, instruments and lights all set up.  the second box seemed dormant.  maybe it had malfunctioned.

“the way u move me…” the voice was unmistakable.  depeche mode burst onto the stage from behind the smoke.  what on earth?  how? why?  this was no playback performance.  as it neared the end they took the song off on a tangent.  it was amazing.

we didn’t have time to adapt though.  if they went for a second song somebody might have headed back to the drinks table.  no, this was no ordinary performance.  bono came on stage!  “I know a girl…a girl called party…”   the second box now seemed to be an audiovisual central station as the sky filled with a gigantic laser show featuring a female figure dancing.

and while we were lost and entranced by the show inthe sky, a female voice joined bono.  the song ended without anyone figuring who she was but it merged into the unmistakable beat of the eurovision 2010 song contest winner.  lena!  u2 did a rock version of it, the 19yr old sang better than her pretty abysmal performance in Oslo and bono improvised anti globalization slogans as a rap over the last part.

the show lasted just short of an hour.  the surprises kept coming.  ac/dc, van morrisson, mick jagger, james.  the selection of musicians seemed to relate to the style of the couple throwing the party we had come for.

we were all too busy gawking or dancing to think about it.  a few people shouted “we need to tell someone about this!” but there is no cell phone reception in that part of the mountain.  we just tried to take it all in.  someone in front of me tried to take pictures with his phone but this was impossible to capture.  it was everywhere.  virtual projections in the sky, then lights on the forest as the ausie band sang “beds on fire” and the light show made it look like the forest was ablaze.

we didn’t know what was coming.  a reunion of the clash was rocking tha casbah and there were fireworks reminiscent of battle all around.  scenes from iraq and afghanistan played back.  as the song ended the stage was airborn!  the real helicopters had snuck back in the mayhem.  the scenes from vietnam had fooled us from seeing them come in.

it just hovered ten meters above the ground as all effects and sound ceased.  the containers folded up.  show must be over.  but my brain was a step ahead.

ten years ago, this couple of friends of mine had asked david bowie to send a video message for their wedding.  i had tried to help too but we got no response from her favorite artist.  who was now standing on the stage! the master showman himself started talking over the music drone.

it was the introduction of his spider song but then he added:

This concert never happened.”

the music stopped.  the stage was suddenly whisked to the sky at massive speed.  it almost disappeared behind the hill.  i was about to turn my eyes down.

“there’s a staaaarman…”

bowie must have been secured to the floor of the stage somehow because the whole thing swung around at g force velocity to fill our senses with music and lights.  i honestly lost track of reality for the rest of the song as the helicopters traversed the small mountain valley in every possible way, laser show, fireworks and every other effects with abandon.

he left for good, still singing.  we were almost tempted to run up the mountain to look for him.  everything went dark and quiet.  we flopped on to the ground exhausted and exhilarated.  even the cold grass beneath me, i stroked it, was this real?  my eyes couldn’t close.

there was just one reality check.  a parachute.  they must have dropped it earlier but it got lost in the pzazz.  a simple white set of three parachutes with a billboard beneath them.  it floated down.  we strained our eyes.  it came to reading distance.    i see well at distance.  and i read fast.  both advantages proved critical in this case because the sign burst into flames and then burnt the parachutes well before reaching ground level.

most people hadn’t had time.  “what did it say?”  i just smiled.  my eyes wearily closed at last.

this concert never happened.  a limited liability company with offices worldwide.  don’t look for us.  if you have enough money we will find you.”


Open sourcing privacy: my master plan

The advances in neurology are fascinating right now. MRI scans no longer limit themselves to one brain.  It is the interaction of people which ups the ante.  How do my mood changes affect you?  If you don’t want to get bogged down in mirror neurons and spindle neurons and the detailed science of it all, I thoroughly recommend “Social Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman.    Snap judgements on whether or not we like someone or a product are well worth analyzing because the same principles are even more important online.

I famously wrote that I would sacrifice one of my hands for access to the raw data of Facebook or Google.  Well, I just thought of a good way of keeping all my hands and still getting those invaluable insights!  While the media suddenly get excited about privacy online, projects like Diaspora are a good idea.  Yes, I don’t like the idea of giving away my personal information, my thoughts, photos or anything else to someone else.  Of course they will try and make money out of it!  But what if we could establish a research cause worthy of being a part in?

Remember when everyone installed SETI screensavers to help crunch data from alien-looking observatories?   Or the global appeal to help process human genome analysis?  (The idea was we would help discover solutions to global diseases, turns out we just helped pharmaceuticals get richer!)  But we can use the same principle, that same altruistic sensibility to get people’s personal data.  Heck, we can beat Facebook at it’s own game!

Here’s how it would work: a set of totally trustworthy institutions throughout the world, something like the United Nations, runs the show.  OK, we don’t really trust anyone and we all think that once data is digitized it can and will go anywhere, but we will have to settle for the best available trust levels.  Then we get widgets, could be in the browser, could be anywhere else on your computer or mobile phone, that monitor what we do.  Facebook, Twitter, email, whatever we feel comfortable sharing.  Here’s the catch: the data is whitewashed of our names and other personal details from the beginning.  I may choose my data to be shared as “a guy in Greece”.  In fact I, and many others I suspect, would be more willing to give really private information to such efforts, stuff I would never put online otherwise.

Open privacy policy from the beginning because the whole point of this tool is to help you understand how much information you are giving away with everything you do.  (Yes of course Symantec or some other security company could attach it to their antivirus but it wouldn’t be the same, read on.)   And here is where I get my data at last:  universities or other researchers from private or public institutions can apply for access to your data.  They write up a proposal, what they will do, what they will look for and what insights they will give us.  Maybe they will give whoever gives their data up more detailed information to make it worth participating.  So in fact, I won’t even have to do the research, I will just install the browser plug in and choose whichever scientist makes nice proposals!  Then they will give me their findings to mull over.

We will effectively be breaking the monopoly that large institutions like Google or Facebook have over user data this way.  Sounds hard to sell but simply getting the academic community involved would be a huge leg up; in fact they would sell it for me as they would all need the platform to get their research done.   We could even make sneaky Facebook apps for it!

Business Technology

Web friendly new art technique using Pantone pens

illustration made with pantone marker pens
Click on the image to zoom in and see more like it

The web enabled world makes us all very choosy in terms of eye candy.  We just see too much good stuff to take notice of a striking visual.  Which makes it all the more interesting when someone actually does something new.   A children’s book, just out, is possibly opening a whole new stylistic category and one that is very web friendly.

Dimitris Fousekis executed it entirely using Pantone marker pens!  (I would link to the relevant product page but at it is impossible to find anything.)  It isn’t just the textures that are interesting.  For sure the artist’s view on even something as simple as a fish is fascinating and with unique levels of detail and character.  But it is the richness of the image based on something as simple and standard as Pantone colors which opens up whole new worlds for images going around the web enabled world that is fascinating.

Apparently the artist is working on an exhibition of oil paintings for the Fall of 2010; it will be interesting to see how the colours are used in relation to this technique.  I personally think that this is so original it merits being made into a type of brush for Illustrator or Corel Painter like they have Van Gogh or other master brushes.

Communication Society Technology

Self organized criticality in our brains (and media consumption)

Example of a small world network from Mathaware website

There has been a lot of work done on the way human organise their social activities.  (Here is an excellent summary)  From Einstein to Aristotle, these are serious questions regarding just how many people we “know”.  With our global markets steaming along and more and more people trying to decipher Facebook and other such phenomena the questions are more pertinent than ever.  If nothing else because we are reaching the limit of what our brains can handle.

And brain research indeed is what has helped me move ahead on this issue.    John Beggs at Indiana University has done some groundbreaking work to show what we always suspected:  our brains are tittering on the brink of chaos!

If we had a regular network of neuron operation we would be too slow.  If it was random it would again not be the most efficient way of dealing with our environment.  Small world network organisation fits perfectly with all previous work on the topic.

And it also explains “aha” or “eureka” moments.  Our brain works like sand on a beach.  The wind piles it up and then suddenly it crumbles.  (Here some recent research on this in relation to sudden realisations or discoveries.)  You can apply the model to natural disasters or avalanches.  What is interesting is that Beggs figured out how to test (and prove) the theory in our brains.

It is the changes between a calm state and a flurry of activity that defines intelligence in many ways but that is not what is interesting for social media.   In many ways, people using them will reflect similar patterns.  And if you want to use them you will have to adapt.

The reverse side of this coin was proved in an interesting experiment with believers and atheists.   It showed that believers’ “deactivated the frontal network consisting of the medial and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex bilaterally in response to speakers who they believed had healing abilities”.   ie to accept religion your brain actually switches off critical parts of it’s functionality.

The slogan “TV is dead” is simply not true (as proven by increased consumption of television globally) exactly because it is a great way of doing something similar.  We (well some people more than others!) need a method of “switching off” and relaxing like trash TV.   It is just a shame that so many people do it through passive soap opera and reality show consumption instead of just getting out for a walk.


An insane privacy bug in Facebook for Blackberry

So I am at  party and someone is really interested in an event I heard about on Facebook.  In fact she is so keen she wants to go asap.  She insists and we are in the middle of nowhere so she logs out of her Facebook account on  her Blackberry and hands it to me.  I log in, find the event, send her the info and log out myself.   Seems straightforward.   We continue the other discussion and she shows everyone how cool it is that her brand new Blackberry shows up pictures of her friends when one of her friends calls.  “It did it all by itself!”

Two days later I log in to my Facebook account and I am greeted by a message.  Facebook noticed that I have been using Facebook for Blackberry.  Would I like to import my contacts?  What contacts?  Her contacts!   All I did was click “yes” and all her Facebook contacts came to me!

I realise that for any American reading this I am already way off the mark.  This shouldn’t be a blog post, this should be a law suit already!  (OK, it is all documented with screen grabs etc just in case I change my mind…)  With the amount of negative publicity they are getting these days about privacy problems, this could make me a fair amount of money.   It is almost a media frenzy right now without adding one of the most popular mobile platforms for accessing Facebook to the mix.

The beauty of this one from a litigation point of view is that nobody can escape the blame.  I looked over the technical aspects of setting up Blackberry Enterprise Server and the options for social networking integration and sure, we could blame Vodafone (the service provider) for anything mistakenly set up in her account.  But then it was the Facebook application on my computer that offered me her contacts!  And she had done everything “properly” by logging out before handing it to me.

But no, I won’t add to the calls for everyone to delete their accounts from Facebook.  Yet.  In fact I just started a second Facebook account for myself in English.   I will just be more careful not to post any information more personal than I do on this public website.  And for sure I won’t be handing my Blackberry to anyone at parties…

Business Technology

The politics of software piracy statistics

Working with software in the Balkans, piracy has always been a prominent issue.  Whether it was during an initial meeting with a new vendor trying to figure out which parts of the market to first aim at, or with an old partner looking to squeeze out some particular segment.  “Nah, we can’t do that.  Too much piracy.”  Discussion ends.  For people in technology as long as me, a big part of us is resigned to the situation.  Everything can be copied.  Change your business model.

But then BSA (the Business Software Alliance is the most polite version of the acronym) came along.  Sure it was only backed by a few companies but they were the big ones that matter.  And their PR, well, I don’t need to tell you how many millions piracy costs the software industry because everyone else does.  OK, it sort of makes sense to accept a number like this from an organization that represents software companies.  Not!  Why on earth should we not assume that they are greatly exaggerating?  It is like accepting the data from McDonald’s about the nutritional value of their food!  “Ultimately, determining the global PC software piracy rate includes collecting 182 discrete data inputs and evaluating PC and software trends and data in each of 111 economies.”  No mention of the exact data inputs…no wonder Pearson is selling of IDC with shoddy work like that.

And it gets worse.  “Worse” as in “worrying that most people/journalists/politicians take them at face value”.  You read a title like “Piracy down in Canada”.  Based on what numbers?  BSA.  Well, actually a mish mash of pseudo proper looking numbers from IDC and whatever else they can combine to make it look scientific.  In Canada’s case even IDC and BSA admitted they overdid it.  Their numbers were wild guesstimates!   Now this sort of megahoax gets people like me interested.  Why should BSA want Canada to appear like a low piracy country?   A good example.

It seems that the main purpose of BSA is to get legislation passed so the companies involved can sell more while doing less.  To achieve this:

1. Statistics are fabricated and presented in such a way so as to apply pressure when and where needed.  Yeah, let’s change around the top ranking so as to get different countries in the spot light.

2. PR and advertising focuses on either general wishy washy “principles” or specific cases (for intimidational purposes – it is cheaper than actually suing every culprit)

3. Position the lobbying effort as high as possible with as many vaguely relevant organisations as possible.  Then get them to regurgitate the rubbish data, or – better still – to simply take action based on the false information.

So why has piracy dropped in Greece?  I would love to take the credit through the increased retail presence of ProgramA.  It has been a truly massive change in retail indeed.  But let’s be honest.  Not even GfK monitors most retail sales!   So it must be, because the Greek government bowed to the pressure and passed the laws BSA asked for.  Bill Gates shook hands with our prime minister, got his top level deal, threw in a bone with a Microsoft research centre in Greece.  Guess what?  We are no longer top of their list!

The list of countries on this year’s BSA report read like a US terrorist suspect roll call!  Georgia    95% Zimbabwe  92% bangladesh  91% Moldova    91% armenia    90% yemen    90% sri lanka   89% azerbaijan  88% libya    88%  belarus    87% Venezuela  87%  Indonesia   86% Vietnam    85%  Ukraine    85%  Iraq    85%  Pakistan    84% algeria    84%  cameroon   83% nigeria    83%  Paraguay   82%  Zambia    82%  Montenegro  81%  bolivia    80%  el salvador  80%  Guatemala  80%  botswana   79%  china    79%  Ivory coast   79% Kenya    79%  nicaragua  79%   On the other hand “Serbia is one of a handful of economies, including Italy, Greece and Colombia, where tax audits also include software license compliance. This is one of the reasons piracy has dropped six points from 2005 to 2008.”  Great work guys, you got government agencies working for you in these countries!

You know what the initials BS stand for.  Now you know what BSA stands for.  Only believe statistics you have made up yourself!


Why I wish our prime minister would get a stewardess (like his Dad)

George Papandreou is nothing like his father.  He tries sometimes when giving speeches to large crowds, but only in the mannerisms and style.  The most important difference I would argue, is that he is not a womanizer.  And before all female readers close this window offended I need to clarify that this is a serious political point.

Andreas Papandreou famously attached himself (though it was probably the other way around!) to a younger woman, Dimitra Liani, a stewardess at Olympic Airlines.  His sizable grin, even after heart surgery, matched the size of her breasts as the story went around the world.  I still get asked about it when travelling abroad!

It takes a certain kind of audacity to pull off moves like that.  Sure, it can go too far, like Silvio Berlusconi has done.  But with every timid public appearance of Giorgios Papandreou it is striking to think how we would handle an extramarital affair.  I think it would do him good.  He would have to stand up for something and wiggle his way around.  He would have to add an aura, that star power that politicians use when necessary.  He has been cast by friendly US media as “The Greek Thinker” but we all do way too much thinking.  And talking.  It is the actions that have been missing!

So get yourself a girlfriend please Mr Primeminister.  Heck, get yourself a dozen, do a Tiger Woods on us.  And while you are learning how to get out of that, you might get better at international negotiations rather than lying down and playing dead.