Communication Technology

Interface time (again) – supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

You know that something is changing when Google talks about a “beautiful interface”…   As the world tries to figure out how to keep their day job and still find time to check up their facebook, twitter, linked in and Google Plus accounts, it seems we are going full circle to the operating system debate again.   Whether it is thin clients, cloud computing, mobile or whatever.

Google and Microsoft have shown which way they are going, trying to make it all “seamless“.   Same buttons at more or less the same place.   Get used to it.  Literally, that is an order:  “Get used to it!”  and then “buy our stuff, not the competition!”   That is what the interface wars are always about.   More than a decade ago I publicly predicted Nokia’s demise based on the premise that their interface couldn’t make the upgrade to a smartphone world.   Even things that seems minor, like the way Google real time operates, quickly become addictive, our brains just demand them afterwards.

And now I would put my money on…Wordpress!   Not the interface so much (yet, though they are improving) as the design of a personal publishing platform.   I don’t want Facebook to organise the presentation of my information.   Nor Google or Microsoft.   Tumblr is very pretty and visually entertaining but no, I want a no-nonsense environment in which to make decisions about the stuff I care about.  I don’t want folders of Google Docs.   I need what comes when you put together the dynamic development rates of with the user friendliness of with…all that social stuff.   I don’t want comments from my friends to be in Facebook OR Google plus OR anything else.   I want them under my blog post where I can collect them and control them.  Without having to log in and out of ten different systems or hope that Hootsuite will get it right.

My nieces just started a blog, just for the family, all about their holiday in Greece and what they are doing in the three weeks they are over from the U.S.   Nope, they couldn’t do it on Facebook, they don’t have accounts and I don’t think they should have accounts in a social network at their age anyway.    I have used WordPress for collaborating with just one other person (writing a kids book) or for a group of people on a work project which ended up running for more than a year and now has more than 150 very useful posts; it has become an internal resource to them.    To me it is testament to my skills as a consultant.   Beats a powerpoint presentation on many levels and it is alive.   But it couldn’t be done without Worpdress.   It is the business model as much as the technology.   You can start up a free personal blog one day for fun and end up at whatever other side of the publishing world the next.   I put some basic FAQs about electric bikes simply because I was tired of people stopping me to ask the same questions.   A few months later it is the No1 resource (and any Google search in Greek on the topic will get you there) for ebikes in Greece!  It’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious:

Mary Poppins:  “You’d better use it carefully or it may change your life. ”

Bert: “For example, one night I said it to me girl, and now me girl’s my wife!”

Sure, there are other platforms which do some of this stuff well.   But I will be looking at “My Dashboard” on with renewed hopes that if “there can only be one” interface, these guys will get it right.


Google can destroy you. “You” being anyone and anything. Scary?

I remember the debate in some English Literature class: will the future be like George Orwell’s “1984” or Aldus Huxley’s “Brave New World”?  I am a social media scientist by nature it seems because Huxley was always where I would put my money.  But the “soma” of our time isn’t a drug, it is information.   And one company seems to be controlling it all.

I was chuckling to myself while watching the hilarious “Google autocompleter” video.   I almost posted it on Facebook.  But I have worried too long about this to fall into the trap.  Google is not evil as per se.   Google is wielding the biggest weapon ever to exist in human history.  Let’s hope it doesn’t get too evil with it.  But what harm is there in April fool day’s pranks like Gmail motion?

It is getting worse than free.   When Google decides to put all companies related to GPS, mapping and anything related to pasture it is one thing.   Spending gazillions creating Google Maps, navigation software, and even promoting services around this ecosystem is worrying for competitors, annoying for lawmakers (since they don’t seem to have a profit making reason to do it) but useful for end users.  OK, it disrupted a major developing industry in ways we can’t even decipher yet.   Losing money on video serving via YouTube on a scale unimaginable to any corporation for years however is quite another thing.  It looks crazy and I wonder why other corporations aren’t emulating the “free” model.   Give away something really enormous in order to hook customers on something seemingly unrelated.

The silly little spoof video just puts it a step further in my mind.   Google can buy or create content to disrupt the world even more! Why stop at making all books available online for free? (Whether their authors want to or not…)  In a way, they are lucky Steve Jobs is almost dead because he is the only person with the cash and the will to do something similar.   They can just buy the rights to anything they like and use it to gain eyeballs.   It would be the equivelant of BP buying distribution rights to a popular sitcom or Pampers to the next “Cars” movie and then using the publicity or forcing consumers to do something in order to enjoy their favorite show/film.   It would be like Nike buying out FIFA and stopping the final of the World Cup to say “we want you all to ‘like’ our page on facebook or we will stop the game!”

Except Google is smarter than that.   Google has managed to keep looking like the underdog in everything it does. Google makes every evil step it takes towards an unimaginable monopoly in the search for information look like a legitimate one.   For the common good even.   It is Big Brother wearing a Tshirt and sneakers.   It is the equivelant of “soma” in Huxley’s brave new world, like a drug that keeps everyone happy, a glut of information that keeps us sedate and unable to act.

If you aren’t too scared of getting on Google’s black list, use the comment box below to leave a response…  But the Thought Police will know instantly!

Business Technology

Facebook ads don’t add up: how I proved they are cheating

“So why don’t you cheat?”  It took me a while to recover.   My father has always been my moral compass.   He has stood through many decades of doing business with absolute integrity refusing to bribe anyone in a country where this is unheard of.   He didn’t fall for the trap of taking funding from the European Union or going to the stock market when all other tech companies where making a quick buck.   He is almost a saint in the way he helps everyone and anyone he meets, often without them even knowing about it.

We were discussing a recent client of mine, a difficult case.   It is still in the early phases and I haven’t quite figured out how to work my social engineering magic in order to bring them clients. What my father was really asking is “how will they know that it is real customers clicking on their website and not some click farm?”   The man is a born business person and goes straight to the heart of a problem even though he has never used Facebook or any social media.

The answer is simple.   Anyone with a slight knowledge of how to use web site analytics will see right through it.   And – more importantly – it just won’t make any business sense medium term as they will not be getting new customers and new business.   Which is what I promise them.   But this is not what Mark Zuckerberg promises my customer when he entices them with Facebook advertising.   He is simply selling clicks to ignorant business people.

Most of my customers have already used Facebook ads before I start with them.   They are all perplexed. “I saw a big spike in traffic but then…nothing.” It isn’t just that the traffic disappears the day you stop paying for FB ads, it is that all that traffic seems to amount to …nothing.    Are you paying $50 a day?   Funny how you get a completely stable amount of hits during those days.

This bothered me on a methodological level initially.   “What if my customers’ budgets are all spent on ‘early morning’ type people?” I worried.   So I begun to set up experiments. I split the day into particular time segments that seemed to make sense to me based on experience with status updates, Likes and such.   I am the Greek Dan Zarella after all.     Women checking Facebook between 6.30 and 8.30 are quite a specific bunch.   Organized!   Men online between 11 and 12.30 another.   Lazy!   I have even discovered a niche of females that do a “facebook lunch break”.   So all I had to do was set up the same advertisement and shoot it out to different demographics.   And then monitor it every hour to see what is happening.   (Yes, you need big monitors to handle the big spreadsheets without getting dizzy!)

It was amazing.   “Boy, these guys at Facebook must have some really clever algorithms” I mused.   They somehow seemed to be spreading the clicks around the day.   It made no sense.   Humans are highly unlikely to be so consistent.   As the day closed the clicks trickled and everytime by midnight Facebook had managed to get the campaign to the exact daily target.   “Wow, hiring all those geeks from Google must have paid off” I thought.    “They have build something that even Google AdWords can’t do.”

And then, somewhere near midnight, in between stats, being more online on Facebook than I think is healthy because of this project, it appeared.   Right there, in front of me, on top of the other adverts was one of my test ads.   I left the tab open and scrambled to the summary to triple check.   Yes, this one was clearly targeted to men aged 45-64.   I double check my profile.   Yes, Facebook knows very well that I am male but only 41.  So what is it doing?

It is bending the rules! If “The social network” showed the whole world something is that someone who cheats and lies once, will probably do it again, given the chance.    The people at Facebook know that it is extremely unlikely that anyone would discover this trick.   After all most people only have one profile.   Unless you specifically set out to prove them wrong, your website analytics will be hard to monitor for such small variance in age of visitors.   And all too many advertisers on Facebook are only using it to funnel people into their Facebook page where the analytics are even worse.

I have criticized Facebook advertising on many levels, ranging from the pathetic demographic information they provide (outside the US it is much worse) to the kind of clicking you usually get from it.   But this is different.   They are wasting what can soon become a powerful tool by rushing to capitalize on it by cheating.   Judging from their rate of improvement in search they have the brainpower to do a proper job.   They have the network to make something more powerful than GoogleAds.   They should just focus on what is unique about this new advertising medium rather than trying to bolster up the numbers to impress investors.

10/3/2011 Just discovered an even worse thing Facebook is doing.   There are charging above the set limit!  (Article and screen grabs in Greek here.)

Business Communication

Personal Communications Advisor: better than golf

Yes, yet another acronym.   I am now officially a PE.C.A.   I coined the term because it is going to become a popular profession.   Not for me personally.   I only got involved and am developing the know how in order to assist corporate clients.   The problem is that the personal branding of their top brass is important.   Really important.   And they have no clue how to properly use their social media.

Top CEO easily accessible via Facebook?   Not a good idea.   His or her personal information available?   Most high flying execs have no idea just where and how the stuff they post online might be accessible.   So, most of them avoid it all together.   Also not a good idea for many.   (Depends what business you are in and what your overall company communications plan is.)

So, they need to be online, trendy and creating buzz but aren’t sure what exactly the latest Google, Facebook or LinkedIn policy change means.  In comes the PE.C.A.!   Setting targets, measuring results, checking what the reactions are.   Somebody has to be online to check that a storm isn’t brewing.   The CEO isn’t going to be signing in every five minutes…

For many up and coming entrepreneurs or other business people social media is a valuable way of getting up in life in terms of connections.   I was once advised to take up golf in order to meet “the right people”.   Unfortunately it is true that many a major business deal has taken place between swings.   (And – in my experience – this nonchalance often leads to catastrophic results.)  But by projecting the right message, the CEO can get the equivelant of golfing contacts online.

Take your best swing!

Business Communication Technology

VISA, Google and racism

“We would like you to confirm a transaction made yesterday in San Fransisco.”   A few years back I used to get a lot of calls from my bank.   Customers that travelled as much as me and shopped a lot online were obviously an extreme rarity in Greece.   So I had hardly hit an airport shop or finished buying something on the web and my cell phone rang…

Their logic was algorythmic:  an individual buying a lot of stuff with a credit card in widely different parts of the world is likely to be a fraudster.  But imagine getting a call like this:   “Mr Chalkidis, we know you are an illiterate schmuck so are you sure you bought all those high brow books from Amazon today?”    It would be similar to the British banks that denied me a credit card when I landed to study in England because of my Greek decent.  (Too many Greeks before me had ran enormous bills and then skipped the country!)  

I fought (and won) the banks then, like the European Union lawyers can fight Google now.   Racism!   Forget complex tech talk about algorythms, focus on human rights.   Google cleverly has tried to make their search contextual.   Based on past searches and other customer data.   ie hazy enough to confuse provability.   So get several brand new computers in different locations and build carricatured profiles on them.   Log what they surf and what they fill in as a profile.   Then do a web search.   Any differences in search results and you can yell “racism!” “sexism!” “nationalism!” or any other “ism” you like.

It is easy mainly because this language of rights makes no sense really.   It is however extremely succesful in the court.   Especially if you manage to find a difference, no matter how trivial, between different races or ethnic groups; anything that affects an underpriviliged group.   If one personae has declared he or she is crippled in any way and they don’t get as many sports results for example.  

It may sound ridiculous but imagine actually been cripple and getting a telephone call like this:  “we notice three charges for fancy running shoes on your credit card this week.   Can you please confirm them?”

Business Communication Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still don’t like flash by the way.


Open sourcing privacy: my master plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communication ENGLISH Technology

How to lose 90% of your web traffic in one day

Looking through all the analytics since moving  old stuff to it was obvious that Google bots were not going to figure this out for themselves. First I put in a few links in other blogs to see what would hapen. Nothing. If you search for any older articles on Google, you get the old link. Even after a month! So I put more links in other articles, even really popular ones at  and other blogs. Obviously the free version of WordPress behaves very differently to a properly hosted one, SEO optimised and all. So then my new , which is all properly WordPress hosted and optimized started featuring links to the new location. Still Google bots weren’t picking up.

So I shot off a Joomla website to test out how it behaves.  Completely prematurely and it looked terrible at first . I did not update any indexes or submit anything to Google Webmaster tools and see how long it takes them.  It was almost instant thanks to a few well placed links to older articles.   Essentially, what the machine had to figure out is that any link to my old blog can be easily converted to the correct new location, simply by adding a  at the beginning and replacing the “aspx” ending of the file with “html”.

So:  is now

In bold the bits you have to add or change to the old location to get a new – working – one. My six year old son can probably do this, Google bots can’t.  Then again the whole point of the exercise is to increase targeted results without paying a penny in Google AdWords so maybe they don’t want to!  

While in retail with Public I really got excited about the experimental approach to business. Set an experiment up, test it, adjust, measure, tweak and again. Properly done in retail it is phenomenally useful. Now I am using a similar techniques with SEO. The way I handled this change, total visits to  fell dramatically. From around 800 on an average day (peaks are 2500, lows are 450) it dropped to less than two hundred!

This gave me a unique opportunity to test assumptions about where the actual traffic is coming from.

1. Several permanent visitors which I thought were regular fans, turn out to be corporate (PR agencies probably) searchers, checking whether I have written something about them every day. From the looks of their queries, this is done automatically. Hey, that’s what you get for writing nasty (though true!) things about people!

2. My main loss is articles in minor blogs or websites which are not following up on their broken links, or not bothering to update them. (And just deleting them as they don’t work.) They were sending me a very healthy 30% of my traffic since several articles were deemed as “unique in their perspective”. These were articles I wrote specifically to examine how necessary a “other” opinion was in the cyber world and how it would circulate. Things like questioning whether eye laser surgery is really worth it which may have plenty criticism in the US but not in the Greek language.

3. Several other websites and journalists have tagged me by topic or category. I am obviously heavily plagiarised, thank you very much for the honour! Most do include a link to the original article. Now if only they would update it…  Google searching for one of my articles is up to 70% of what it was before the switch and rising rapidly.