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!

 

 

English uber alles: the language digital divide

Google assistant is fantastic.  Unless you don’t speak English.  In which case it is almost useless.  The whole “Artificial Intelligence” vogue is rather misleading.  Because when I speak to Google Allo I am still using all my experience in computing.  It works great for me because I think like a computer.  I break down my questions into chunks the way I think the computer wants to hear it.  I add qualifiers, words to help the machine understand with more accuracy.  I use terms that are more likely to work.  When we say “natural language” hey, there are classifications.  I use “natural language more likely to be understood by Google”.  It drives others crazy.  They blame my perfect accent.  “But I said the same thing!  Why doesn’t it work for me?”  

 

Here’s the problem.  Google and pretty much everyone else in Silicon Valley, they are all only thinking in English.  Your Amazon Echo is designed for native English speakers.  (Pun intended.)  All your gadgets are.  Worse still, the intelligence is designed around people thinking  in English.  All the structure, the concepts, the way it is set up.  It is rather entertaining how some people get caught up with the fact that slang and tech words are conquering the world.  That is the tip of the iceberg.

 

Silicon Valley is moving ahead of the rest of the planet with leaps and bounds.  Light years ahead.  We don’t have local information.  We can’t use amazon like you do.   We can’t pay for stuff or call a self driving car.  Amazon will not be able to deliver to the trunk of my car either.  The United States are a test bed for new tech and the gap with everyone else will grow exponentially.  And only in 2030, when computers are smarter than humans, maybe, just maybe, those computers may decide to develop all these wonderful tools for the rest of the earthlings.    And even then it will take a lot of work.  Because English is the language that provides the structure and concepts.  More likely that you will have all learnt to think like Google by then. 

 

2030 is still material for science fiction.  Today, now, it is clear that we all have to move to the Valley or fall behind.  We have neither the data with which to develop such advanced tools, nor the number crunching power.   The entire planet sends their thoughts to Google every day  Out position, habits and preferences.  It is no conspiracy theory, it is simple mathematics.  Not impossible to catch up, just really really hard.

Google is evil. But not like you imagine it is.

“Ah, yes, you’re the guy that has a thing against Google.”

It wasn’t the best of introductions but I knew what he was on about. I do have “a thing” with Google.  I am jealous as hell!  Because a select few people in Google are literally the closest a homo sapiens has ever come to being an all knowing God.

This is not some conspiracy theory.  Some time ago Google started hiding search results.  Out of on thousand people coming to a website via Google search, almost nine hundred are now a blank slate.  Google doesn’t tell us which keyword sent them here.  “Unknown search terms” is their way of admitting they are evil.

Worse still, the kind of keywords not appearing in results is far from random.  Google has used all their deep learning algorithm prowess to skilfully select categories so you can’t game or reverse engineer it.  Even in languages other than English, their technology is awesome.  90 per cent of the planet is using a search engine which then sends them to results based on a completely secret method.  And then it tells us nothing about where and how it did it.

So what?  Well, for starters, Google can hide or promote any idea, product, brand or other entity.  There are extreme examples, whereby a government or rich person pays them to do it.  Relegating a search result to page two of search results is usually good enough, though I have seen cases where the unwanted result disappears completely after on phone call.  Completely.  Like it never existed.

But that isn’t the biggest issue.  The real question nobody is asking is “how does Google sell all this knowledge?”  If you want to know what teenagers in your region will be buying tomorrow, Google can tell you.  Yes, it can sell you the information.  The corellations between search results and real life transactions and trends are pure gold.  Google knows if your next export idea is good or not.  Google knows what will sell and what will fail.  Much like they did with influenza, Google knows better than anyone at any time in human history, what is going to happen tomorrow.

All large organizations have more or less secret divisions.  When Microsoft decided to target governments all around the world, they didn’t call the division “blackmail and coerce department”.  It was lobbying.   Unfortunately Google works in much shadier ways.   Kings of industry have personal and secret relationships with Google.  Not their “head of sales” or “head of Research and Development”.  It is outside the office where this sort of information is exchanged.  Like insider information for the stock market only much much more powerful.

Google not only knows which government will win the elections, Google can greatly influence the result.  Google doesn’t even care, they can sell advertising and information to everyone on all sides involved.  Their rising levels of secrecy and the pittance of data they do allow us access to proves Google is more powerful to do evil than any other organisation in the history of mankind.

The Asian Toad and Google research for business

My friend James is probably the smartest person I know.  Whether he is teaching himself music in order to do the soundtrack to an amazing documentary of his, building innovative mammal free zones in New Zealand, riding a motorbike or in Madagascar fighting the Asian toad.

The what?  When a modern human comes across something unknown, we Google it.  Just like that.  Which means that billions (3.2 billion) of searches a day globally can tell us a lot.  People in the UK search for “toad” more than other countries, but of course there are toad in books, children’s series, music band and all sorts of other things.   Maybe there are opportunities in those for some sort of co-promotion.  The English are followed by Ausies, Americans, Canadians, NZ and …Nigeria?  Following Google searches is a bit like the dictionary game.  I just spent five minutes learning about “The Grasshopper and the Toad”, a short story by a Nigerian, as well as the use of the word “toad” in Nigerian politics.  Which is exactly the sort of peripheral knowledge you need as a business when researching your topic.

For example searches for “toad” have seasonality.  Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be because of some amphibian habit.  For example in the UK, October seems to be the main month for “toad in the hole”, a popular local dish, comfort food for many.  By contrast in the America, searches for “toad” peak every year at May and Arkansas is the state leading in interest.  If you are planning a campaign for the Asian toad, maybe do it in the winter when people so you don’t compete with all the people asking “what is the difference between a toad and a frog?”    In Australia searches for toads are in the Northern territory, don’t waste any ad money elsewhere.

Of course Google “normalises” the data.  Which means they try and mess it up enough so you can’t reverse engineer it, or use it to compete.  Still, with time, even without numbers, you can see that there are more searches for a “horned frog” than an “asian toad”.  You can follow that path too and look for promotional opportunities if you want to.

I picked the example of the Asian Toad on purpose.  If you are using a business problem you are often too close to the topic to explore.  For example searches for “toad” correlate in seasonality in the U.S. with searches for “vinyl siding”, “house paints”, “insects” and “utility trailer”.  Each of these terms merits some online detective work.  Working around the limitations of data provided by Google is actually inspiring.  Searches for “frog” correlate mostly with “garden clogs” in America but while checking this out I discovered “save the frogs”, a poetry competition in Australia which made quite a digital dent in terms of stats.

Searches for “toad” in Australia correlate with the term “religious”.  The search to figure out why this occurs won’t fit in a blog post.  But you see the point:  playing around with Google search data brings new ideas to your project.  It changes priorities by giving new angles.  Something you consider secondary might be a huge business opportunity in a specific segment.    New ideas are born, old ones improved.  We are all essentially trying to build a model of how things work.  Use Google’s model to tweak yours.

It is a big and complex world.  Don’t let your assumptions narrow things down too quickly.  Oh, and check out http://jamesreardon.org/ – tell people about the Asian toad and let’s all do something about it.

Why Google will never post profits like Apple just did

The Imitation Game was not as good a film as it was made out to be.  Maybe if you know nothing about Turing or the history around it all, or if you enjoy watching whodunnit TV shows.  Some people summarized it as “the story of how a closet gay shortened the war by two years”.  Well that is a terrible summary.  Probably because the film isn’t sure where to focus.  What is much more interesting is that thanks to his invention, the computer, we can quite accurately guess how many gay men in the U.S. are in the closet looking at Google searches.

In the film, the only part I found interesting (but the film just glossed over in a video clip like quick series of shots with music) was after they broke the Enigma code.  They had to use some of the intelligence, but not so much that the Nazis figured out they were eavesdropping.  If they saved every ship from Uboat attacks, the Germans would know they knew how Enigma worked and change the whole coding system thus rendering it uncrackable again.    They had to calculate the impact of every Nazi move on the war effort and decide where they could pass on vital information to the Allies to make a difference.  Only just enough of a difference though…

In that sense, Google is much much worse than Hitler and the entire Nazi empire.  They own the global search market.  They know what we want better than us because not only do they have our individual searches, but the technology to evaluate it too.   And how much do they tell us?  They statistically jiggle, hide, mix up, muddle and do everything they can so we can’t reverse engineer what they know.  Which is a lot.   Google knows what we are looking for.  Google knows what we are thinking.  It is the closest to an omniscient being we have ever had.  Even without their impressive number crunching technology, just looking at the raw data of searches in a country or particular region would spark a million new business ideas in the head of even the most ignorant person.

I am pretty serious when I say that I would willingly cut off a finger in exchange for access to Google big data.  It really would be the closest to playing God I can imagine.  Surely way beyond any previous homo sapiens could even imagine.

So when Apple posts “record profits” I just smile.    Google could easily make ten times as much.  But then everyone would start asking questions.  When Google chooses certain cities for ultra fast access, how are they choosing?  Should we all be focusing on those cities?  When Google buys a company, what do they know that we don’t?  Exactly like Turing’s team in World War II, Google is carefully giving away only just so much so we can’t reverse engineer what they are up to.

Unfortunately my finger is still on my hand and I am none the wiser though…

No Zuckerberg, I don’t think we will ever trust you

Facebook wants us to trust it.  Zuckerberg says they need to change their hacker mentality.  Stop taking advantage of users and start seeing our point of view.  It’s not going to happen.  And he isn’t putting his money where his mouth is.   Facebook is still essentially the same scammy way of thinking he had from the day he ripped off the idea from others and rushed to do it first.

It is also about how businesses react to pressure.  Google is a fine example.   They do the philantthropy angle much more convincingly.  They did from day one.   Purple cow, Project X or anything else you want to call it, they made it part of their branding all along.

But there is more to it;  the whole social network idea is simply not the right message.   Don’t look at youngsters leaving Facebook.  Look at Google starting to phase out the Google Plus logging from other sites.  Why?  Not because Google plus failed.  Because a Google identity either from Gmail or from an Android phone is pretty ubiquitous.  And serious.   Nobody will blink if you tell them you have Gmail.  Tell them you use Facebook and it takes a bit of explanation:  what, how, when, why.

Social networking is not a core life activity.  Communicating is.   Facebook made it’s mission (along the way) sharing the things you care about with the world.  Well, Facebook is not the best way of doing that, is it?  Windows dressing, slogans and reacting to market research won’t save Facebook unless it really, really changes its actions before its words.

Apple Silli and Google Creepy

I have been accused of being a “Google basher”.  This is rather unfair.  It would be hypocritical to use so many of their products and complain.    Google Now might well be called “Google Creepy”.  It draws on my email, calendar, gps, web searches and many many other bits of information I voluntarily hand over to them everyday.   And it gives me better advice.  It knows what I am really looking for.

Anyway you look at it, when you conduct a web search it is well worth sitting back and thinking about it:  “You have just got relevant information from the sum total of human data available on a vast international network in 0.8 seconds“.  That’s not quite how it says it at the bottom of every Google search, but it sure could boast if it wanted to.  Nothing comes close.

Which of course is why Apple bought Cue.  A desperate effort to get Siri slightly more intelligent by using what little social context you are willing to give it plus access to your mailbox.  Much like Apple’s humbling experience with maps, the point is to buy in some  know how.  Just enough new features for them to talk about at the next iPhone or iOs launch.  Enough to keep the fans happy.  But nowhere near as much substance as Google Now.

What this approach to customization is effectively doing is making it even harder to monitor what Apple and Google are doing with our data.  Like the Hummingbird changes to Google search, they are introducing an even bigger “not provided” category in Google Analytics.  You will not know how visitors got to your website as it is not a simple matter of keywords anymore.  It might be because Google Now algorithmically guessed really well, or it might be influenced by an Ad campaign or it might even be the NSA giving Google instructions to get you to land on a website.   We simply won’t know and there will be no way to reverse engineer it easily either.

So no, I’m not Google bashing.  I am in awe of the company’s ability to walk that fine line.  They persuade us that what they offer is so useful that it really is worth handing over personal data for it.     But Apple?  What exactly are they offering?

MotoX heralds a very quiet revolution

People talk about Google being increasingly being a “hardware company” but they are missing the point.  It’s not about fancy gadgets, not about whether the Nexus has a better screen than an iPhone and definately not about the MotoX stealing market share.  It’s not even about Google knowing the next worldwide development through some fancy algorythm which crunches all our searches, emails and map data.

It’s about processing power.

No, not the CPU or GPU processing power.   Intel would be all over that, guessing when the CPU will be X times more powerful and all that. No, it’s about Google knowing how much stuff Google can process.   Today.   The feature of the MotoX that gave them away was voice recognition.

Do you use Instant Upload or the iCloud to store pictures?  It is wonderful technology, just humming away in the background.  Yet after all this time using it, if you ask me “what were you doing on the 7th of October two years ago?” I can now tell you.  Because my phone has by all chances uploaded a picture from that day.  It might have been the kids, or a funny sign, or the fridge I promised to move for a friend for reference (to see if it will fit through the door) but chances are, I have a picture from that date that will help me remember.

I have long held that our smartphones should constantly record what we are talking about.  It would be legal (as long as it only recorded your own voice) and it would be damn useful.  Imagine using the speed of Google instant search to find when you said what.   That conversation your girlfriend is talking about, accusing you of supporting fascism.   Now you can get the transcript!   That interesting chat with a professor.   You have your half of the talk, you can figure out the rest.   And of course…business meeting notes.  All automatically, silently recorded by your MotoX.

Can’t wait for it to happen.  If they haven’t patented it already, there you go, my gift to the human race for today.

The point is that only Google will know when Google can make this happen.  They own the cloud, in terms of pushing the boundaries.   They are now on the forefront of applied internet connections and speed issues.   With YouTube they have worked the data streaming issues to the bone.   Not on a theoretical level.  On the level of stuff you can use today, with your current connection.  They have millions of smartphone users to experiment with.  They are also on the forefront of supplying massive computing power to us all from their data centers.    So I can write away with all these theories and ideas but …

…only Google can decide when it will become a real product.

Steve Jobs was right to “go thermonuclear” against Android

“I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

The point isn’t whether he said it or not.   Nor is it whether it is admissable in court (it is).

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong.”

The real issue with Apple versus Android is a much more important point about their underlying business model.   Both rely on market dominance.   Some may call it an abuse of a dominant position.   I prefer to call it the “give away” model.

Here is Google’s version:  “we spend millions developing a cutting edge telephone OS.   We give it away to any phone manufacturer that wants to use it.   Guess what?   Android phones are cheaper that way!   We spend billions buying companies and developing Google Maps.   We give it away for free and even include navigation in Android phones.   Who cares if we destroy an entire industry, it’s not our industry!   We spend billions buying, developing and running YouTube, Gmail and loads of other services.   You know what?  You can have them all for free!  And everyone along the chanel can do what they please and make money anyway they see fit.   All we ask of you is that you click on an advert now and then on Google search, YouTube, Gmail or wherever else we put one in front of you.”

And Apple’s version: “We spend millions selectively buying cool companies or those that have developed some technology we need because we don’t really invent anything.   We package them as cool as we can and charge as much as we can.   We squeeze everyone in our supply and distribution channel dry.  We drop prices or add features only when the competition forces us or Steve Jobs isn’t around to persuade Apple fans that whatever we have done is cool.”

Put that way, which phone OS do you think is heading for global dominance?   The philosophy of free with Android extends to apps of course.   Forget Apple style scaremongery about locked devices.   Rooting an Android phone is almost included in the package and applications that unlock any app you find are almost automatic.   Android 5.0 might include a “crack that app” in the OS…

Steve Jobs was right to feel threatened about Android.   Not because they “stole” some iPhone features.   He, of all people, knew very well that the iPhone was never about features.   It is Google’s business model that is the real threat.   If Apple wants to beat Android it should be spending it’s money not on law suites, but on buying more companies with new features to give away.   They have done it before in other sectors when they felt desperate.   Apple’s involvement in the digital video is a good example.   Final Cut came out of nowhere to become the darling of a new movement (it’s always a “revolution” or a “movement” with Apple, isn’t it?) mainly through features they added by buying up companies.   Buy a company that makes a 4000 dollar color management software and throw it in the next version….

The real problem with Google’s threat however for Apple, is that Google hasn’t got to worry about hardware.  Chinese workers killing themselves, the cost of components and copycats will find it hard to beat Google at its game.   Not even Microsoft has managed to mount a credible threat to its search monopoly.   Facebook’s floppy IPO shows just how little anyone really believes that sexy newcomers, no matter how big, can really effect Google.

Facebook screws up on the international business etiquette

“Right now you may only reach 16% of your fans each week.  Reach Generator guarantees that you reach 75% of your fans…”   This is Facebook’s grand plan to show us they know how to make money?  Instead of “connecting people” or “helping us share with the people we love”…  Facebook is openly admitting to allowing advertisers the right to dominate our timelines!

The idea is of course nothing new.   It’s just advertising.   Google has been taking money to tweak search results, make items disappear from autocompletion and promote certain results for years.   But they don’t tell everyone about it!   Not even pretty high ranking Google executives know the whole picture regarding what you can make disappear from Google if you have enough money.   Only people and companies with…well, enough money, know that sort of thing.

It could be some twisted campaign to show that Facebook is opening up regarding privacy.   But no.   This is just inexperience of global corporate rules.     Worse still they are testing out a similar thing for consumers as the “highlight you want to be sure your friends see”.  If I am going to pay 2 New Zealand dollars for that luxury, I might as well make my own website Mark!   People already distrust Facebook big time (not so much Google).

This is not the way to beat Google.  Take a page out of Apple’s book instead.   You don’t like Android?   Go out and buy 2-3 mapping companies and produce a spectacular rival to Google Maps for starters.   Buy a company and throw in a free Siri for people to start relying on that instead of Google search.   Give us freebies so that we use your service.

But maintain appearances please!