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.

FBI vs Apple = 6-1

  1. If there was someone on the planet that didn’t know that the usual way FBI and Apple solve these things is in secret, we all know it now.  Both parties involved admitted that usually when the FBI wants the contents of a phone, Apple has always played along and told nobody about it.
  2. We all found out about Apple’s sneaky secret backdoors.  Updates they can install on just one specific phone and other things which only a mind as perverse as Steve Jobs could think of.
  3. At best Tim Cook seemed “adequate”.  For most of us he was just blatantly hypocritical in pretending to stand up for free speech and privacy.  This is the right hand man of Steve Jobs.  They both did so much nasty stuff against consumers’ interests for so many years; any serious analyst can only laugh to hear him wax lyrical now.  iPhones secretly sent location, private data and well,  pretty much everything in the past.  It probably still does, just in more complex ways.  They never told consumers any of it.
  4. Similar to “freedom fries” and the small media war against France in the past, this media frenzy will leave Apple with scars.  True patriots will avoid iPhones to some degree.  After their tax dodging tricks, Chinese workers killing themselves and Donald Trump having a go at Apple, it is starting to pile up.
  5. After all this, magically, a way to hack the iPhone was discovered.  So the FBI doesn’t need a backdoor.  They can use the same trick for any iPhone.  Heck, we are all pretty sure they can hack the latest models too.  Well done Apple, you just made sure the entire planet knows just how unsafe your products are.
  6. I am not the only one not to buy the story about an “outside contractor helping the FBI”.   Apple gave in.  They helped the FBI and came up with this vague story to cover up.  They knew that if they left it long enough, many outside contractors and hackers would find publish a way around on the internet.  Every hackathon has Apple products falling first.  This is no conspiracy theory.  Apple products’ security is rubbish.

There is only group of people which think that Apple won the case.  Apple fan boys.  But then again they always think Apple has won.  So the only interesting question is “why make all this fuss for nothing?”  I would look more at the stock market for answers than the technology involved.

Do the stripes in our flag make it look fat?

GUIDELINES FOR INTERNATIONAL MEDIA COVERING GREECE

Since the start of this economic crisis, Greece has struggled with its international image.  Journalists trying to fathom where to start in the coverage of the story, most obviously need help in understanding how to handle issues such as:

1. We love it when you emphasize the rustic, Zorba the Greek image of our country!  Lay it on.  Don’t shoot any report from Greece without showing some Greek coffee,  part of an ancient monument, old men in a taverna looking at the camera as if they are all retarded, or twenty year old archive footage from a horrible beach full of drunk Northern Europeans.

2. It really helps when you choose people to interview that can’t really speak English.  Might be cheaper to just hire an English actor to put on a fake “Stavros” accent.  Oh, and dress him like a waiter to, your audience will relate to it much better.

3. Always, always, pick an angle that shows chaos in the background.  If there is a demonstration with just 30 people outside Parliament, yep, you guessed it, pick a close angle, shake the camera around and make us all sick as if we are watching “Saving Private Ryan”.

4. If the demonstration was over in half an hour, no worries, for the next 1-2 days just show old footage of street riots anywhere in the world and get a journalist to speak over it from a bad telephone connection.

Now, the above four points might confuse you in practise, so here are four more to make you feel less guilty:

1. Yes, no matter what you write, some Greek will hate you.   Get used to it.  Truth is that even Greeks struggle with the idea but it seems to be the way it goes over here since Ancient times.

2. When a Greek disagrees, yes, be sure he will tell you about it.  You could see it as a great traffic generator for your news organization’s website, but over time it gets tiring.  Use sparingly.

3. When one Greek disagrees with your article or news item, be sure that some other Greek will immediately disagree with the first Greek.  They will proceed to argue amongst themselves.  Leave them to it or they will instantly gang up against you.

4. Don’t bother trying to word things carefully.  It doesn’t help.  Also useless is any attempt to contact sources and get them on your side before publication.  Depending on the situation in Greece, they are liable to make a 180 degree turn overnight.

You may think all this conflicting advice  is like walking a tightrope.  You are wrong.   We understand media better than most countries.  This is the birthplace of tragedy.  All stories are by definition as crazy as you want them.   You want soap-opera material?  Prime minister marrying a flight attendant OK?  A bit thin on the sex scandals lately, but 3-4 families in control of everything is usually enough like next year’s PBS series on the mafia to do the trick I think.

So stop complaining.  The food is good, the weather is great and we just keep producing great media events.  You don’t even need to work that hard; you can always take even minor developments and set them against our permanent structural problems to blow them up enough to submit something to your boss before heading to the beach…

 

Communicational lessons from the Greek crisis

As you watch the television coverage of riots in the center of Athens, you might find it useful to ponder for a minute on the situation.  Not for the conspiracy theories or the endless economic analysis we are all tired of.   From a practical point of view the items which might appear in your country too sometime in the future:

1. What to do with millions of unemployed people?   That’s a lot of time and energy available from a lot of people.   If it doesn’t get channeled into something, some is more than likely to end up in riots.   If religion was the opium of the people in bygone times, soap operas later, what is taking up the slack now?

2. Who is the enemy?   Again, if the bad guys are not defined, everyone is up for the part.   Many modern economic crises featured politicians’ focusing on some “other” to blame.   Used sparingly in politics or business, this strategy can in fact be useful to help foster social solidarity towards a common goal.

3. Everyone’s an expert.  Social media and the internet have dislocated any traditional way of controlling the agenda.   Government inaction makes it even easier for a minor event on Twitter or Facebook to grow disproportionately to its true impact.   The only way to stay ahead in the internet age is to run faster than everyone else.   All the time.

 

 

Machiavellian media realpolitik, iPhone radiation and Tiger Woods

A fancy way of a pessimist saying “I’m not a pessimist, I am just facing the facts” as expressed by Machiavelli 500 years ago:  “…how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation.”

When the fuss over possible health side effects from the use of mobile phones started, it instantly reminded me of something.  Tobacco industry tactics!  For every seed of doubt regarding possible negative side effects from the use of mobile phones, bulldozers of studies and committees instantly appeared to say the opposite.  To a layman they seemed “scientific enough”.  “Doctor” so and so talked, “certain scientists” were quoted, “reputable statistics” were thrown in for good measure.

It seems I was not the only one seeing a pattern.  In their excellent recent book “Merchants of Doubt,”  science historians Naomi Oreskes  and Erik Conway take apart many scientific issues and the way in which “think tanks” muddled the evidence in the media.   (An excellent summary of how think tanks influence Green Politics here.)  They start in 1953 with a case book analysis of how the tobacco industry did it.  Then all sorts of other issues, from acid rain,  global warming to the ozone hole, get analysed.  Oreskes, a scientist herself, started seeing the pattern when her work as an oceanographer made the media portrayal of global warming seem completely inconsistent with her understanding of the ‘facts’.

You have two main tools and they are the same whether you are defending mobile phones or your reputation in the school playground:  1. Spread disinformation and 2. Stick to your story (especially those parts which seem to have appeal in the broader audience even when it is absolutely crystal clear that it complete nonsense.  Confusing the public in this way is guaranteed to gain you ten or twenty years of whatever product or idea you want to sell.  Like it did with the tobacco industry.

As a spin doctor I am fascinated by this topic.  I also wish that there was a sequel looking at the media more carefully.  For sure, journalists carry a huge part of the blame as they don’t do their homework properly.  Much of the disinformation would be debunked instantly if they did even elementary double checking of the sources.  If a thousand scientists say one thing and one think tank another, you had better triple check who is funding the think tank!  Journalists often fall into the media trap of trying to simplify arguments and present them as straightforward oppositions.   The topic also demands a second take to more carefully look at the differences between issues where the science was crystal clear, like the ozone, and others where it was not, like acid rain.  (A triumph of the opposite kind as regulation was passed despite this!)

It is also interesting to follow up on the media assumptions regarding scientists (they are all socialists!) and the environmental movement (sandal wearing hippies) in a time when it has become a much more complex public issue.  Portraying any view as “radical” usually pushes people to take the middle road.  In pricing we call it the Goldilocks effect, in cognitive psychology  it is the bias of aversion to extremes.  If just one State decides to make mobile phone makers prominently feature SAR figures (radiation from mobile phones) they must be “extreme”.  In a time of greater social responsibility and with companies and products having more and more to do with scientific discoveries, fully understanding the relative truths is of vital importance.  Just like companies pulled away from Tiger Woods after the scandal, you really don’t want to be associated with what proves to be bad science propaganda.  Yet even (or especially) big corporations are climbing on various cause bandwagons without fully understanding the risks.

There is a crucial difference:  unlike illicit affairs or spats with prostitutes, bad (pseudo) science is in the public domain.  There are well established rules to publication and pecking orders of status amongst them.  For good reason. It is not that a lone scientist can’t be right some times, even when the entire planet says otherwise.  But if that lone scientist is also the one who claimed that second hand smoking doesn’t do damage, CFCs don’t damage the ozone layer and that acid rain is good for certain crops…well you get the picture!

Why TV companies should give away reputation monitoring

The field of reputation monitoring seems to be on fire.  By all accounts a hot, hot, hot category to watch.  The reason is simple: most businesses don’t really know what is happening online and they are scared.  So they pay for a company to make sense of the millions of interactions going on globally around their brands.  They monitor products, staff, competitors, slogans, IP… in fact they let the reputation monitoring experts tell them what they should be monitoring!  This is about the same as asking your army’s general what new weapons he needs.  Expect a long, complex and detailed list of very expensive stuff.

Don’t get me wrong.  You do need to monitor what is going on online. And with the right partner you might even learn a lot about the field.  But it is extremely important not to lose track of the real world of influence.  Which, for most businesses, is not yet completely online.   Traditional media like TV, radio and print exert massive influence.  Heck I have waged fax mailing campaigns that blow the socks of anything online!   The fact that they don’t provide metrics as easy to produce as the online stuff shouldn’t marginalise them.

It does of course in a twisted Catch 22 scenario:  online metrics are easier, so we spend more time with them, so we disregard older media, so ad spend decreases.  The solution is pretty much what Google did with their Analytics.  TV companies should buy monitoring systems and give them away to customers!  In Greece for example there is a truly excellent company, www.qualia.gr which offers not only solid technology for speech and content recognition, but intelligence in it’s analysis.  And social media is included, so you can get an overall and balanced view.  (If I was the TV company buying Qualia I would tweak the algorythms a bit I think…)

It is all about interface.  If I get you looking at my monitor of information I control what you think.

THAT is how Onassis fans best

In one of it’s versions, the joke involves Aristotle Onassis on his honeymoon with Jackie deep in Africa.  Night after night Onassis cannot satisfy his new wife in bed as a large negro swings a large fan to cool them.  Eventually Onassis asks the servant to try his luck with his bride while he holds the fan.  Afterwards he asks Jackie:  “Was that better, my love?” to which she responds extremely positively.  Onassis turns to the negro and declares: “See?  THAT is how you need to fan to get results!”

Some time ago I wrote a summary of all the reasons a televisual show about technology is a tough nut to crack.  And then a few days ago I got asked again whether I would be interested in doing a TV show.  As I mulled the question over in my head I wondered:  where did all those ideas about new TV shows go?  Have I just lost interest?  Is the fact that I don’t watch any television affecting my motivation?  Is TV, that same medium that I so enjoyed producing for, suddenly dead inside me?

And then last night I watched episode six of The Pacific.  (My summary of how war film and television shows have developed is here.)  The Pacific started out as pretty bad television really, confused in its targets and only of interest to veterans and their kin for historical purposes.  At the end of episode five, the producers kicked in with the sort of power that Saving Private Ryan had.  Big time.  But that isn’t what interested me so much at this point.  (Though I did make a point of keeping those ten minutes to show my eldest son as an educational tool.)

It was the ecosystem build around the Pacific.  Starting with the great HBO official site.  Click here for a sample relating to this week.  There’s maps, there’s storyboards, there’s books, audio books, veterans, discussions…it is easy to say “well, they did all the work, why not show it?” but this is pretty stellar work.  Not in terms of web presentation or community building online but in pulling together the related work.  It pushes the related issues up in my agenda.  Even if I didn’t have a thing about the second world war I would get interested in learning about all these strange sounding little islands and the related battles.  Heck I even watched the Alister Grierson film about Kokoda in Papua New Guinea!  (Warning: if you are not Australian, make sure you get a version with subtitles, I missed half the story trying to figure out what they were talking about!)  The ecosystem of information around an old war on the other side of the planet seventy years ago increased the relevance of the show to me.  I always like to talks about “hooks” in any marketing concept and this is like a wall of velcro!

It is no profound statement that television is no longer the main attraction.  The interesting part of media production and consumption is now precisely the integration of all available media and products.  Firstly to become part of the consumers’ lives.  And secondly in order to make some money, one way or another, from the whole exercise.  More and more television is a loss leader, supporting or promoting other revenue streams.  This may even be true in terms of it’s reason for existing.  You might do a television programme these days simply to get your hands on enough video material to support a web concept.

Wow, writing a blog really does help you think.  I am now bursting to the seams with new ideas about TV shows.   All I need is a team of people producing interesting content and side products and I will stride in to enjoy myself. 

THAT is how you fan your bride Aristotle!