Business Society Technology

Enemy at the gates: content marketing vs natural language (vs litigation)

I couldn’t help it. The English in the post was so bad I had to state the case. Sure, it only had one “like” and probably almost nobody had seen it, but all the same, it cried out “auto-translate”. The sentence structure was not blatantly incorrect, just…off. Sure, there were several actual mistakes, but they were the sort of thing that you would find in a Google search.

But in a different context.

This particular post was promoting a content marketing seminar or something like that. Some self-professed expert selling expertise. It was full of hashtags and the actual words were possibly spurted out by some paid service of other experts. The Facebook page had several thousand “likes” but the actual post just one which is fairly typical of this level of wannabees. But it is indicative of a larger problem.

While we discuss politics and how, when, if and what the platforms should censor or not in public dialogue, this is what is happening in the background. If they make their algorithms so they favor tags, well, tags is what users will give them. Even Apple has started using tags on their YouTube channel. They won’t get high in search ranking without them. Plain and simple.

So the post with terrible English attracted the attention of the owner of the page. He initially said it was correct, then said it might have been a typo. He then set his lawyer on me with threats to delete it. In a way this behaviour is entirely consistent with all the other things he has copied and pasted in order to present himself as an expert. That is how it works. A pecking order of ignorance. In the fast-changing world of social media, you can be an expert as long as you find customers with less knowledge or desire to keep up with the latest trends. Threatening to sue is standard operating procedure and we are all the poorer for it.

For what is the value of social media if I can’t freely post on my wall and discuss with my friends without fear of litigation? Should we all end up using it simply as content marketing, ever promoting something and seeing it simply as yet another channel? Social networks should actively protect our right to write freely and without fear or the content will simply become pointless. Even public figures should have the right to discuss freely on social media with their friends.

As well as all other problems, the actual language will end up being computer code compatible with whatever indexing mechanisms they use. Humans like to communicate. Stop policing it and enjoy.

Oh well, at least he corrected his post the next day. ; )

FOR THE RECORD: Ι flagged the comment where I was threatened with litigation to Linkedin but have not received an answer.

Media analysis Society Technology

The Queen’s Gambit isn’t just bad. It is proof that Netflix has made us stupid.

You will be extremely hard-pressed to find a negative review of “The Queen’s Gambit”, a Netflix series about a chess prodigy. So let me do my best.

We are living in a cinema-free pandemic period with limited choices. Important major international releases are frozen, production of new ones restricted seriously. Netflix can sit at a table with the producers of the new 007 and ask for it at a ridiculously low price because it is going stale and they don’t have many options. So let me start another way around. How did I hear about the Queen’s Gambit?

It was on Netflix’s reccomendations. We all know that it is a bad reccomendation engine but what other options do we have? Check it out on IMDB? That is getting worse every day as Amazon hasn’t spent time improving it in ages. First reviews? Always gloating for any old crap. So we take the bait, the Netflix promo on Netflix makes it look better than others, you see the first episode and then, well, the rest, because you are on the binge machine that is Netflix. Worse still, friends and family are also stuck in the same rut so we are not even cross checking. The Emperor has no clothes but, meh, let’s wait till the parade is over before saying it. And when you have invested eight hours on the parade of the mini series you are highly unlikely to admit it was wasted on mediocrity.

I will go further than that. The Queen’s Gambit is downright insulting and dangerous. Take for example the topic of substance abuse. The way it is presented we are left with the impression that it is a) easy to control b) useful for chess playing and c) with no long term consequences. Or maybe let’s see how the series portrays a woman entering a male-dominated realm: a) everything is polite b) nothing particularly nasty happens to her and c) grandmasters lose to her and immediately offer to help train her for her next challenge. This level of lying is insulting to millions of women of that era and even today. Women’s rights organizations should be an uproar.

In fact all the topics touched by this series are done in such a superficial way that it is problematic. Take the scene where she visits a hippy house to enjoy marijuana for example. It is the cleanest and least messy den ever shown on television to represent a hippy household. My daughter didn’t even understand the point of the scene as our heroine hoovered and tidied the place after a one night stand , also confusingly presented. This isn’t political correctness, it isn’t the opposite. It is just terrible movie-making that fails to really touch the audience in any meaningful way.

The Queen’s Gambit is an insult to so many great chess movies, so many true chess stories, to the heroes that battled hate in the Cold War. It isn’t just bad TV, it has a negative impact. People won’t start playing chess because of it, they will start pretending to play chess for a while maybe.

So my movie review would be like this: “If you are really bored with the pandemic in lockdown and have no access to anything else other than Netflix, if you want to mindlessly waste 8 hours of your life without learning anything of consequence, don’t miss it!”

The serious social and technological problem remains: how will we fix recommendation engines? If we introduce a social aspect to them, can we as a society, ensure we hold ourselves up to any level of intelligent critique? Or do we just want to have fun? Well the Queen’s Gambit is not even fun.


Messages and Music: Google doesn’t care

Tech pundits have often bashed at Google’s ever-changing messaging solutions array. Let me assure you: Google simply doesn’t care. There is little useful data in your silly little chats. It will not help the algorithms improve, it will not help them serve better ads.

I know, I know, this is just a theory. Nobody knows how Google decides things, not even most of the people working there. But I know because I just spent some time trying to reorganize the way I handle music. Google decided to end Play Music, a service many of you don’t even know existed other than the shortcut on your phone if it was an Android. But I loved it. I could upload endless mp3 files (50,000 actually was the limit) and have them available on all my devices. I could also just click on an album name or folder full of lectures I want to hear while running. That is the same thing as what Spotify charges you 10 bucks a month to do. Only free. It integrated stuff online with offline life almost perfectly. Much like the very excellent and underrated Google Play Books service which is – as far as anyone can tell – also without limit in terms of number of books you can have on it for free.

There was actually a good working model in all these. One service for everything. You want a book? Add it to Play Books. You want it on your device? Just click “download”. You want to see it from any other device? No problem. It is actually the model most users want. All in one. Limitless. And free.

Google gives you infinite space on Google photos. Infinite Google Docs. Infinite books to upload and enjoy. Common denominator? You are helping them get more data. The sort of data they like and can use to improve their all-knowing God-like algorithms. Messaging is obviously not useful or they would have introduced a killer app ages ago. They have the users, they have the tech, they have the power. But now we know that music is also useless in that respect. So don’t bother with YouTube music folks. It will fold and fail like so many other Google experiments before it.

If you’re not part of the solution, you probably don’t even know what the problem was.


Facebook Horoscopes: the killer app

I have gone on record as stating that I would sacrifice a finger (possibly even a whole hand) for access to raw Google data.  It is the closest to an omniscient, all-knowing creature there has ever been on the planet.  Its data can pretty much predict all sorts of business and other developments.   Facebook on the other hand has earned no such honor in terms of self-mutilation.  It is a badly run platform with management closer to a hacker mentality than a global force for anything.  However, as a social scientist, I would love to experiment with users like they do.

Whether or not horoscopes have the slightest truth to them is scientifically pretty clear.  They do not.  End of story.  Except for the haggling little detail of the fact that most people on the planet, even scientists, actually believe the opposite.  Some secretly read their charts, others try and explain it away, many openly follow them as “innocent fun” but probably well over half the global population in fact gives value to astrology.

Not that many scientists have bothered to discredit astrology simply because it is so obviously irrelevant.  A few studies into the time of year of birth don’t really bear much relevance.  NASA tried to point out that it could be 13 and not 12-star signs and of course they shouldn’t be neatly spaced out if we want to have any sort of astrological founding to this particular myth.  All to no avail.  So I call on Facebook to solve this once and for all!

Oh great schemer, hacker at heart, and lost unethical teenager, Mark Zuckerberg, this is your time to shine.  Use that vast trove of data you so freely sell to everyone to help us understand.  Most users have given you their actual birth date.  And you can cross-reference with a zillion indicators of personality.  Do Virgo’s post more often?  Do Pisces upload more creative things?  Are Scorpios really sex crazy in their online behavior?  You have the data even for shy zodiac signs.  Are all people born in August less likely to post stuff about themselves?  Especially with lockdown and increased reliance on social media, it would be extremely easy to prove or disprove that certain birth dates correlate with certain online traits.

Except you won’t, will you Mark?  Because all you care about is money and power.  If you find any such data you will use it for a dating app or whatever else you can think of which will generate money and power for you.  Congress doesn’t need to break apart technology companies.  Just the selfish ones like Facebook.


World Health solved (it is still noon)

Nope. Not yet. I will not buy a smartwatch. Not smart enough. Sure, if you like wearing a watch anyway, there are plenty choices that also measure things. It’s not that I am waiting for more sensors. Even with what is available today on a $30 smart band we should be getting more useful information.

My phone knows how much ground I am covering when walking my kids to school. The watch knows my heart rate. So why isn’t it telling me if I am getting more or less fit? My phone knows how much screen time I am getting late at night. My watch knows how well I slept. So why isn’t it telling me exactly what to change in my schedule? Hey Google, should I watch a movie or mess about on Facebook right now?

These examples are simply scratching the surface. As I fire up Google Docs and start writing, it could even give me ideas like “go drink something, you are struggling to get a decent sentence” or “I see you can’t find a catchy title. Maybe tomorrow you go for a walk first, statistically, you come up with titles much faster on days that you walked in the morning before.”

The only rational reason a company like Google isn’t doing this is so that we don’t freak out. It is far from inconceivable that the company knows when we go to the toilet and how long we spend there. Without demanding any user input (that’s how I like it best) we could be getting very very useful advice on diet and lifestyle that really make a massive difference. Our phone knows which doctors we visit and when anyway. Our Google searches, the apps we use, the speed with which we click or even how often we idly play with our phone’s screen unlock, all these data points, when connected, surely give a powerful insight into our health, mood and potential at any point in time. Over time and with millions of people on this platform, it is safe to assume major new roads of inquiry would open in terms of global health. If a pandemic struck the world, we would not be blind begging for more test data; we would already have it as some combination of heart rate/temperature/activity/blood oxygen would surely fit a pattern which would fairly accurately predict if you have SARS or something like that.

The more you think about it like that, it is ludicrous that doctors aren’t demanding this data in order to make better decisions.


World “adopt an iPhone user” day!

We all have blind spots. In technology, we get excited about them too very often. Opinionated. Most times it doesn’t matter. People buy what they want to buy and find ways to convince themselves it was a good choice.

Especially if it costs more than a thousand bucks.

My partner was an iPhone user. Not one of those that just uses it as a phone and for posting selfies on Instagram. Due to her demanding work, she really puts it through its paces, uses many apps for many parts of her life. And then she met me. With a 250 dollar “flagship killing” Chinese Android smartphone that kicked the iPhone’s ass on every front.

First it was the wifi. “Alex, how come your phone is already connected and mine is struggling?” Don’t know hon, maybe because Apple has always been a walled garden technologically? “OK, let’s say they do it for some internal political or security reason. But why does your phone see eight wifi networks and mine struggles to see three from the exact same location?”

Then it was the signal. I mean the actual “I need to use the phone” connection. On the same provider, from the same location. I am loud and clear, whizzing at 4G speeds on my browser and not even the ghost of Steve Jobs holding the iPhone “correctly” could save this poor device.

Even I, the great iPhone hater, the person that has ranted against Apple since 1981 more or less without a toilet break, thought it must be the device. Maybe it is faulty. Try a hard format. Try changing the device. Nope. Nada. Even if you uninstall dozens of apps and have it running as “clean” and lite as possible, the iPhone is no match.

Do you care? Well, unless you are next to me, you won’t notice. My PocoF1, an old phone by now, only scores 91 on DXOmark for its camera, the iPhone should be blasting me with its fantastic camera, shouldn’t it? Well it doesn’t. Because I have flexibility. And sure, theoretically, a well informed iPhone user has options in software and add-ons to make feature films and masterpieces. But the Apple mentality is “keep it simple stupid” and that is what the users end up being. Stupid. I could go through hundreds (literally) things like that. Plug an Android phone into your computer, drag and drop mp3s, documents or movies to your memory card. Watch them cringe with envy as you say “damn, that 256GB cost me almost 30 bucks!” Anything an iPhone does, an Android does better, faster, cheaper or for free and with more options. Even if you are rich, even if you have zero time to think about your smartphone, some of these are important to your life. Important to real things that make a real difference. Sure you can work around them. You can ignore them. You can be, well, stupid.

No pressure from me, my partner switched to Android. Now we marvel how much better the GPS is, how I can guess where she is on the plane as our Location Sharing becomes amazingly useful rather than the vague blob it was before. She has a 4000mAh battery and doesn’t have to carry cables, adaptors and worry about running out of juice all the time. Working seamlessly with Google Calendar, Keep, Gmail, Photos, Docs and all the other truly amazing free services from Google improves life instantly and effortlessly. And what she is starting to understand as the phone learns around her Google account is just how well Android adapts to your life and interests.

An occasional Google user, through Gmail and even Chrome if you use it instead of Safari, really isn’t experiencing Google magic. My phone usually knows what I want to do or learn within two or three moves of my finger. That is why I gladly give Google whatever it needs to know about me, my life is infinitely better, more productive and hassle-free. Tim Cook was wrong to start using privacy as a differentiating factor. Not only is Apple as guilty as everyone else in this respect, but it risks making Apple AI and Apple devices even more stupid than they are right now compared to Google.

So adopt an iPhone user. If you love somebody, set them free from Apple blindspots and show them how the rest of the world, even in poor parts of the world, even with sub 200 dollar smartphones, the world is coming together to celebrate the marvels of information-done-right AI productivity.


Why do Pixel phones exist? (and how they just hurt Apple in revenge big time)

I never cease to amaze how wrong tech writers get some things. For years now I read about how Google has failed with Pixel phones, “never quite got it right”, “hasn’t got market share” and other such comparisons with companies that are nothing like Google.

Pixel phones were never meant to sell a lot. That would be suicidal. Google is not a hardware company. (Yet) And if it becomes one, it will not be from selling phones that the profits will come. Google sells ads. Everything else is an enticing freebie. To get you to buy ads.

Case in point, Android. The dominant superpower of smartphones globally. Unless you live in a bubble in the West Coast, New York ….or the magazines and tech blogger world. They write about a company with less than 1/10th of the market share globally, as if it is an equally powerful opponent. It is a rerun of the PCs vs Mac “wars” of the past. Again, a completely insignificant market share of Macs was held up so antitrust authorities and whoever doesn’t like monopolies could pretend Microsoft had an opponent.

But Google needed to find a way to control the ecosystem. They tried Nexus, they tried Google One (Google Go, whatever) and they tried Google Pixel. They don’t want to sell million of phones. They want to sell just enough to goad the rest of the market in the right direction. Everyone now talks about a “clean Android” experience as a major selling point. Bloatware on Samsung and other market leaders has gone down dramatically. You are either with Google or …well, with Google but they let you add a twist here and there in case you come up with something innovative.

Enter the Pixel3a. Now that is something different and mysterious. So far they artificially kept Pixel prices high so as not to antagonize other Android manufacturers. Here we have a different story. This is revenge. The product launched just as Tim Cook had decided to make privacy a major selling point on iOS. And with the launch of one device, Google kicked him back in the groin. Just as millions of iPhone users are wondering if it is worth spending 1000 bucks on a new device, the Pixel3a offers premium everything at 400.

Google will not pursue it further. You can be sure that there will be problems with availability and all the other excuses they have used in the past years to purposely stop Pixel and Nexus devices from eating up market share from Google’s Android partners. Tim Cook seems to be backing down on his privacy-based effort to differentiate Apple products. If he doesn’t, Google can easily wipe more value off his company by launching a Pixel 4a or shelling out Amazon Prime day offers for the 3a at 300 bucks or whatever it takes to demolish all that magic dust Apple took years to rub onto their overpriced devices. Google doesn’t even need to make another mid-priced phone. They have just officialized the category. Xiaomi and other manufacturers can now capitalize on it.

It is a great example of how a company loses focus and fails. Apple is too big to fail of course, more an international currency than the dollar. But some of us, in times like this, get a glimpse at just how well a behemoth such as Google can play the monopoly game with style.

Oh, and grab a Pixel 3a, it really is a stunning device for that sort of money.


The retards over at Apple

I am pretty sure that word gets all politically correct bells ringing so let me explain: it took Apple users almost a decade to figure out how useful wireless Bluetooth is. They are permanently retarded in their adoption of technology, always waiting for Apple to tell them what to do, like well schooled, but ignorant, infants.

I remember thinking this about a decade ago when I was excited about my Gear4 Bluetooth headphones. They had A2DP and I know this nerdy acronym because back then I had to mention it and insist at stores while I explained that A2DP meant stereo Bluetooth basically. Ten years ago.

Yesterday I listened to the New York Times popcast about AirPods. I pitied them. These are highly intelligent people, writing for the peak of global media, influencing millions around the world. And their list of excuses was pathetic. “Sure the sound quality is not good but I don’t listen to much music really” or “it is ok for calls and music is just for drowning background noise for me”.

It got even worse while discussing the planned obsolescence. “Yeah, they will probably die one day after their warranty” or “it is cheaper to buy new ones than repair them”. These people are resigned to Apple like some sort of tax. One poor woman bought a pair that didn’t work and then bought another pair which also didn’t work with her phone! Is that the definition of a hopeless loser or what? Almost everyone agreed that the AirPods look horrible, geeky or just plain stupid, one hides them under her hair.

Worse still, the only positive they could think of about the specific devices was the “seamless experience”. This refers to the fact that Apple, as usual, didn’t follow Bluetooth properly but tweaked it. Bluetooth has been around since 1994 and the A2DP profile mandated the use of the SBC audio codec as a minimum, rather than enforcing the direct transfer of other audio standards like mp3, mwa, and aac. Even though these are supported, the teams making protocols try to get everyone aboard so consumers don’t need to worry about incompatibilities. Unless those consumers are retards of course.

While I was enjoying my wireless headphone Bluetooth freedom these past years, iPhone users waited for Apple to “reinvent” the accessory. Apple has a tiny percentage of the smartphone market, yet in their little bubbles, the users think they are advanced. The entire planet moves along without them. Retarded. Sorry, no better word to describe the pathetic bunch of people that slavishly follow the Apple path to a walled garden dead end.

Business Technology

Huawei ban is a joke and so is the cheap Pixel

You just don’t get it, do you?

The tech world also has cliches. And if you have been around long enough they stand out. Apple as an opponent is a big one. When Microsoft ruled the world, they made it look as if a company with less than 7% market share was the opponent. That way they could pretend not to be a monopoly.

Google is copying that strategy. Inundating us with ads comparing the new, affordable Pixel to an iPhone. Yeah, right, sure, anything you say. Android is running billions of phones all over the world while iPhones are relevant only in a few countries or even cities. Or maybe just the posh neighborhoods within those cities. Google owns the AI, the data and the tech. Apple is buying up 2 companies a month trying to catch up as always.
Google does not even want to sell many Pixel phones, they never did. Pixel phones are just a way of kicking the rest of the Android ecosystem in the butt. The cheap Pixel is also a shot across the bow at Tim Cook for him talking crap about privacy.

There is of course absolutely no justification for what Donald Trump did to Huawei. Not that the Chinese are not terrible at stealing intellectual property and ripping off stuff. They are also likely to be trying to spy on us through their tech. But hitting Huawei is no solution. Why not Xiaomi too? Or any number of other Chinese manufacturers for that matter. And why just tech? They copy, steal and might be up to nasty spying with all sorts of other things they produce. Maybe even toys. Apple and Google met with Trump. He made them both promise to spend gazillions on new offices so that he could talk about new jobs in America. That is how it works.

Donald Trump does not understand what the late great master of propaganda Steve Jobs and his teacher Bill Gates knew well. His heavy-handed approach and erratic moves to please either his corporate friends or Russian blackmailers are ruining the facade so carefully built over many years.

Running a monopoly is not the hard part. Pretending it is not a monopoly is the real game.


The incredible power of not seeing what you don’t like anymore

Sometimes as I tidy the house or while looking for something else, I find something the kids have made.  These days it is mainly my ever creative daughter. It is often touching. So I might stand there with a little “i love u dad” note in my hand crying.  It isn’t the joy of parenthood I think, it is the surprise reminder of how strong emotions run within us, a pent up bottle of fizzy information we keep forgetting.

Like many other NBA fans, this year I stopped watching.  Somewhere between the Warriors’ dominance and LeBron not making the play offs I lost motivation to spend any more of my precious time following the NBA.  Bear in mind that this is the business I have help up as a shining example to follow. The best storytellers in the world, what marketers should emulate, God’s gift to all of us.  I have written articles, analysis and done podcasts telling everyone to follow the NBA and analyse its every move. I honestly believe it is not only the best sport to follow but also the best organization and media savvy institution to analyze and learn from.

But I have had enough.  I need to move on. So I want to cut out the NBA in order to learn something else.  If I am watching live matches when I wake up at 4am (Greek time), I am not reading a new book.  And this is when I realised how much power these new tools give me.

I just tuned the NBA out of my life.

First of all I went to google settings and removed it from my interests.  That pretty much solved a lot of the ways scores popped up on my phone. Same with news, I just removed the topic from the (excellent) Google News app.  “Not interested”. It didn’t even feel like a major ceremony, two taps and it was gone. YouTube needed a little more help and guidance. I had to tell it I wasn’t interested in 7-8 videos and then click to remove the channels.  Sorted.

For someone deeply immersed in everything NBA for the past 2 years it was surprisingly easy.  I feel like one of those people who quit smoking and then say “oh, it was just a decision”. Only it is even easier.  The NBA simply doesn’t exist around me anymore. Unless I walk into a sports bar and it is playing on the TVs, or some friend posts about it, I simply don’t see it anywhere.  The equivalent for my savana dwelling ancestors would be to tap twice on a baobab tree and make all baobab trees instantly disappear from their line of sight.

We read enough complaints about our digital world, how we are inundated with information, much of it useless or confusing.  Here is my – very real – objection. Never in the history of homo sapiens have we been able to control our informational environment as much as now.  What many consider a disadvantage , the fact that I check my phone a million times a day, the fact that Google owns me, all this is simply fantastic when you are ever so slightly disciplined enough to tell it what you want to see around you.

It is also very exciting.  Can’t wait to learn something new.  And as my kids grow up and stop surprising me with notes around the house, I am pretty sure the rest of this vibrant digital planet will do something similar for me.