Social media: outsourcing your company information. Yes, it’s stupid.

Remember CRM?  The idea was you would try and get together everything you know about your customers so you could better guess their needs.   Yes, it was a lot of work.   Ah, let’s just rely on an external provider to do it for us.   In fact we won’t even have a contract with this company and we will let employees and customers do pretty well whatever they like on it.   It’s called LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever else comes along, gets bought out or changes its technology at a whim.

Yep, that will work just fine.

Not!   Social media platforms are just that.   Somebody else’s platform for your information.   How many kids you have and where you went on holiday used to be something that expert salespeople got out of you over fancy dinners.   Now you just give it away for nothing.   And, worse still, that supplier of yours who used to care, now has no access to the information.  He has to pay this social media platform for “intelligence”.   That is if the little startup in Callifornia has some way of getting to him.   For the most part, awesome masses of useful information is simply going wasted.   It is like trying to guess what “the market” is feeling based on the heavily censored information Google AdWords gives you about search queries.

Remember how everyone was in a panic to have a “fully updated” company website?   They got excited about who would put up something new everyday, they rallied up support from various company departments.   Now they pay an advertising agency to write stupid one liners on the company facebook page…  The discussion went from what sort of database can best manage the company information to… “here is a funny video about a baby that hit his data with a frying pan – have a nice weekend!”

The scary thing is that even well seasoned managers seem to have been thrown off balance by the sudden change.   At first they treated it as just the latest fad from the marketing department.   Then they started worrying they are missing the boat.  Then they got an iPhone and a Facebook account and got hooked.   Now they are blubbering idiots who think they will conquer the world based on a social media feature which might not even be around next week.

I am beginning to feel like a family doctor.  Somewhere between their advertising agency, IT department, PR people, internal sales and marketing resources, someone has to remind companies of targets, ROI and mission.




On Germans and Other Greeks

“There was a time when Richard Wagner wrote no music for almost six years. He was thirty-six, and had completed three of his ten major operas. The Flying Dutchman and Tannhiiuser had been launched, with varying degrees of success, in Dresden, but Lohengrin had not yet found its way to any stage. There was a price on Wagner’s head. He had been involved in the 1849 Dresden uprising – providing places for secret meetings, supplying grenades, reporting on troop movements from the tower of the Kreuzkirche, watching the opera house where he was employed go up in smoke. When the uprising failed, he was charged with treason and forced to flee from Germany. Some of his associates were caught and sentenced to death, though the sentences were eventually commuted to long prison terms. Wagner, with forged papers and an assumed name, took up temporary residence in Switzerland. There, beset as he was by political, personal, and financial difficulties, he found he had come to an artistic impasse.

He could write no music. Instead, as the four operas of his Ring cycle gradually took shape in his head, he turned out volume upon volume of rabid, fevered, tortured prose. Much of it was political, and all of it touched on the nature of art. Partly to convince others but largely to convince himself, he fashioned an artistic creed so comprehensive and demanding that, when he turned to write music again, that music – the opening pages of the Ring – was like nothing he or anyone else had written before.”

In “Athena Sings: Wagner and the Greeks“,  M.Owen Lee traces the influence of ancient Greek tragedy on the great musician.  As nationalistic fanaticism rages today around the Euro 2012 football match I though we should remind ourselves that these two countries have pretty deep ties.

“By the time Nietzsche begins writing The Birth of Tragedy (it would be published in 1872), the question of tragedy had already been firmly established in Germany. In less than a century from the appearance of Schelling’s reference to Greek tragedy as the site of a solution to the enigmas of post-Kantian philosophizing, the topic of tragedy had taken root in German thought so deeply, so fundamentally, that the history of its presence in nineteenth-century German thought was almost as important as the original history of Greek tragedy that belongs to fifth century b.c.e. Athens (curiously, when Nietzsche first confronts it, the first life of this question—as it is found in ancient Athens and played out in the theater—is only as long as the second life of the question—-which is found in Germany—and is played out in academic publications). By the time Nietzsche broaches the question of tragedy and its relation to the modern world, the history of the second life of this question is, by and large, for better or worse, owned by Hegel. When the young Nietzsche begins to take a serious interest in Greek art, especially Greek tragedy, Hegel’s argument (or, better, the Hegelian argument as it was canonized by his epigones) that the structure of tragedy was ultimately a dialectical structure had become something of a commonplace.”   (On Germans and Other Greeks – Dennis J. Schmidt)

But is is not just about ancient Greeks and romantic German intellectuals.

“An important aspect of Greek identity involves the extent to which it can be considered an Eastern or a Western country. Today, when Greeks prepare to go abroad to Germany, England, or France, many say, “We are going to Europe.” This may seem odd, given that Greece is a full member of the European Union, and most people think of Greece as the cradle of Western civilization. It is ironic that while the West looks to Greece for the source of its own identity, for most of its history the sights of Greece have been turned toward the East. In ancient times, Alexander the Great turned his back on what he considered a barbarian West and spread Hellenism to the East as far as India. When Constantine established his religious headquarters, it was the growing town of Byzantium that he chose, not the small village of Athens, with its few houses spread beneath a forgotten Acropolis.   The Orthodox Church, which was the primary force behind Greek identity for nearly 1,500 years, has always maintained a strongly anti-Western stance.”

Exploring the Greek Mosaic: A Guide to Intercultural Communication in Greece – Benjamin J. Broome

As Greeks prepare for the match and even decide not to buy German beer today they forget just how much Germany has helped many Greeks that went there as guest workers.   Trying to rally up memories of the second world war and the atrocities is out of place.   Here are a few British reports:

“122. The German occupation, whilst rigorous, has exasperated the Greeks less. The change when passing into the German from the Italian zone is very noticeable. The Germans forfeited their considerable popularity by their callous behavior during the famine and their wanton looting of public and private property. The removal of art treasures to Berlin and the flagrant commandeering of luxury goods and furniture, which could have no military justification, disillusioned the Greeks. Lastly, they showed that they were the Herrenvolk in many infuriating ways, by knocking Greeks off trams, by hitting them in the streets.

123. But latterly the Germans have only behaved harshly when they had some pretext. German troops have been instructed to behave properly to the civilian population and they seem to have fraternised with the Greeks. It is possible for 20 Germans to visit a village in circumstances in which the Italians would only go 1,000 strong.”

British Reports on Greece 1943-1944 -John Melior Stevens, Christopher Montague Woodhouse, David John Wallace, Lars Bærentzen

So call me a traitor if you want.  I will be cheering for the Greek team tonight but fully expect the Germans to trounce us as they are systematically better at football of course.   And for all my German friends, all those great people I have met around the world who happen to come from that part of the world, there are many of us over here who love you, Merkel and all.   Maybe we should all be reading more from our great thinkers …

Communication Society

The Greek crisis produces media stars of disinformation

For more than two years now international attention has been on and off.  George Papandreou milked it as much as he could.   Having the potential to blow up Europe or even the world economy according to others is a feat unmatched even by Bin Laden.   Unfortunately nothing constructive has been done with this spotlight.

Yannis Varoufakis is a prime example.   Our rather dim witted prime minister had legions of advisers.   Varoufakis was one of them and realised the potential better than others.   The world economic crisis has changed the role of economists in general.   A lot of interesting debate has come of it.   Some rise to the challenge and put old theories into new shoes from a communications point of view.   And some, like Mr Varoufakis, decide it is easier to simply become militant.   The joy of economics is that you can always construct a counter argument which seems convincing.

Try reading his “message to the BBC and other assorted international media“.   Chomsky can crossover from linguistics to economics and to media analysis and still be a reference point.   Varoufakis can’t.   Using vocabulary pretty similar to the SYRIZA party he supports.   We learn about the “Assault on Truth” and that international media are “violating every journalistic standard and principle known to man or woman”… (is that even logically possible?) …you get the point.

Even better, he writes a whole blog post about how the BBC cut him off  before he was  ” given a chance to complete my point”.   The rather interesting video shows him on a uniquely boring monologue of more than two minutes during which he is only briefly interrupted with a question.  Not even heads of State, or major international personalities with few media appearances get such an easy time on the BBC.   He is right, there is bias.   I suspect the journalist doing the interview just didn’t know how to cut him off politely!   It was a hot day and he probably just thought “ah, let him rant and I will take another sip on my frape instead…”

If the BBC faked a technical glitch to cut him off well, that’s a pretty good call from the viewers’ point of  view.   Anyone with experience in such interviews knows damn well that you are usually lucky to even get a soundbite through intact.   Varoufakis complains about them not letting him develop his argument as if he is structuring a lecture.  (Though the rest of his interview doesn’t bode well for his lecturing capabilities.)  And all this strong wording and rather unfair criticism from a man who the BBC has on various shows quite often!   (Listen for example to a more usual interview here – after 16′ 55″ where he speaks much less and the journalist interrupts him much more.)

So why does this obviously clever man do all this?   Why does he bark “wolf!” regarding an – always – imminent Euro collapse even though he has been barking up the wrong tree for some time now?   Obviously it works!   According to another report by the same, highly biased, BBC, he got offered a job through the attention.   It doesn’t really matter if the Eurozone doesn’t crash.   People like Varoufakis will simply reinterpret the data into some other conspiracy theory.   Much like the US was going to “collapse” back in the 70s with the oil crisis.   He brags on his blog of  his “duel with the bank exec” as if it is a game on the one hand and/or that he is the only saviour of the Truth and all the planet’s underdogs on the other.

Betting on the future has been big business for fortune tellers for thousands of years.   Shame that some people choose to ridicule their countries when they do it publically and internationally like Mr Varoufakis.


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.