27 December 2012

Google, Panupol Sujjayakorn & Search

Why was Alexander the great, so great? Ermm...because he had the best possible teacher & advisor in Aristotle. Replace "Alexander" in your query with "Akbar" and a certain Birbal pops up. Repeat with "Chandragupta Maurya" and Chanakya pops up.

So the common denominator, behind the successes of these great rulers, were trusted advisors. These advisors managed, processed & contextualized fractured pieces of information and knowledge together  - sometimes giving these rulers the information & advice they were actively seeking. Or sometimes providing information proactively when they felt the context was relevant.

Today, the closest most of us have to these trusted advisors are search engines.

At last count, Google has indexed more than 120 Billion URLs & has PageRank. Competing search engines have their own levels of index and secret sauce to generate results. Whilst one can pretty much find information on anything through a few refinements to a search query,  or sometimes by just recognising a phrase, search experiences are still constrained by a couple of hairy challenges:
  1. Limitations of Boolean 
  2. Limitations of Context
As a result, one may get THE right answer to a search query, but the search engine has little clue on what the human behind the query is looking for.

The closest analogy to this experience is the amazing story of the former World Scrabble Champion - Panupol Sujjayakorn. Here was a guy with very little knowledge of English, who memorised words acceptable in Scrabble without knowing their meaning, and went on to win the World Scrabble Championship!

The good news is all of this is changing - through the introduction of Structured Experiences, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence & Context into Search.

An understanding humans need answers, not links when they search, has given birth to structured search experiences - the likes of Siri for starters. If sales are proof such experiences are valued, look at what Siri did to the sales of iPhone 4S.

Another evolution underway is the introduction of Neural Networks & Artificial Intelligence. Google, is experimenting with videos featuring cats and is learning how it can teach networks to adapt themselves & learn what is important, rather than look at the previous visitor paths & clicks to serve presumed results to similar types of searches.

Talking of context, a billion+ smart phones are in use today and they just about provide the missing clues for search engines to improve relevance in real time. Google Now , for example, is an indication of experiences to come - whereby search engine evolve from the role of trusted advisors, to becoming more like a personal assistant.

Whilst these advances in Technology, Intelligence & Relevance are great for improvements in online search experiences, on another frontier, the race to digitally annotate and help discovery of the physical world has begun. Google again currently leads this field via offerings such as Field Trip & Project Glass.

Both Field trip & Project Glass are interesting projects, the adoption of which shall provide answers to some key questions in days to come:
  1. Are we humans ready for our physical worlds to also be digitally annotated? 
  2. Will we demand it? If so, will it give rise to a new wave of SEO like services?
  3. Should such services just show us more of what we like, what our connections like or introduce us to new stuff?

09 December 2012

Salvation Army adds Mobile to Handbells & Red Kettles.

For over a hundred years, around the world, the sight of a dapper volunteer, a ringing bell and bucket means one thing - the start of the Salvation Army christmas collection drive.

Over this weekend, in Seoul, I was pleasantly surprised to see the addition of a Mobile option to the Kettle. Yes, it's in high-tech Korea, and the technology for money transfer via mobile is ready. But to see Salvation Army deploy this option is refreshing.

But beyond refreshing, it's smart for a few reasons, including:
  1. That channel choices, drive brand choices is a known adage. The addition of a mobile option gives the Salvation Army an edge over  competing choices
  2. Mobile can also help bring in new donators.
  3. As one does not see an immediate pinch, when donating via credit cards, the possibility of the donation amounts being higher than typical loose change increase.
I hear the Salvation Army is targeting to collect 5 Million Won this Christmas. I'd be curious to know how much of this comes in via the mobile.

04 November 2012

Checklist to Asses your Social Media Monitoring Priorities & Needs.

Below is a useful checklist to prioritize your social listening priorities (courtesy Altimeter Group)

It's more than a year old, but still relevant. The full report by the Altimeter Group on Social Analytics can be downloaded from here.

31 October 2012

Promoted Personal Posts & Narcissism.

"Every day, news feed delivers the stories you post to your friends and subscribers. Promote important posts to help people notice them. Promoted posts appear higher in news feed, so there's a better chance your audience will see them". So goes the pitch for Facebook's Promoted Posts.

Makes sense for FB to tweak EdgeRank & throttle Organic Reach, using relevance as an alibi, and force Brand Pages to pay for incremental reach via Promoted Posts. This option is also being beta tested on select personal accounts (see image).

Now, people claim to share information about themselves on Facebook as one of the ways to maintain relationships. Although in reality, the tendency is to overshare or share selectively the updates that help curate identities.

So what would us humans make of people using the option of promoted posts to push their updates into your eyeballs?

Without getting into a heavy debate about "Does Facebook Turn People Into Narcissists? & Promoted Posts  even more so, I'd argue:

  • People spend time, effort & money on grooming, wardrobes, accessories, toys and experiences to stand out. Some even plan a holiday with a particular status update in mind. Anyone who claims they are not looking for huge responses on posting an important update just sold you a fish story. So why not? Especially when they couldn't be arsed to game their ermm.. *EdgeRank.
  • On the other hand, if all that one's friends & connections see are update after updates labelled *Sponsored*, you know who's on the slippery slope to becoming lonely & sad.

26 September 2012

NFC, Smart Phones & the Apple iPhone 5

Since it's recent launch, there's been debate on the exclusion of NFC technology in the new iPhone 5. More so, because competitive Smart Phones have it in their feature set.

For some pundits, it's a decision the company will regret.

For some, it's a smart move given the slow rollout of NFC at merchants.

The NY Times blog even has a post on why it cant feature NFC with  it's current design.

If the notion that any new adoption yet to spread beyond early adopters, is still technology, NFC qualifies. Behavior change is hard. Habits and behavior regarding money even more.

So NFC technology as a substitute for cash and cards may be ready, but a majority of people are not. At least not in the next 6 months I could argue. By when the new batch of smart phones would be getting ready backstage for the catwalk, the playing field to be reset and for time to tell if Apple's choice for this season was smart.

29 August 2012

Why I'd lose my regard for Lance Armstrong?

Across the world, brimming with confidence & the arrogance of youth, athletes start off with the belief they can be at the very top of the game. But in cycling they also contend with the extraordinary achievements of one Lance Armstrong aka the Lance Effect. An effect that flames many a young cyclist's dream when they start. And quickly burns most through the lure of doping.

Yes, professional cycling is a demanding sport. It's also the most tainted, with smart doping turning mules into thoroughbreds. And rushing fading champions onto a rapid downward spiral, whilst they vainly hold on to that ephemeral high of a podium finish.

But, time and again, sports reveals Great Champions. One such is cyclist David Millar, who's seen the highs and lows first-hand and now helping to save this tainted sport. I admire his courage to come clean, and being candid to say he didn't have the courage to give-in but choose to be caught through carefully planted evidence.

If you have 30 mts to spare, listen to this fascinating BBC interview:

For years Lance Armstrong and the USADA have been playing catch me if you can in public. On August 23rd, Lance Armstrong dropped his fight against doping charges citing the toll it's been taking on him and  his family. This to me is a sad development. The media has gone to town, but the only one who knows the truth is Lance Armstrong.

I still admire Lance for all that he's achieved under difficult circumstances, and he has my benefit of doubt. But if he's been too clever, he's done more damage to cycling and the lives of many a young cyclist than good. The day this is true, my respect for Lance will cease.

13 August 2012

Responsibility for Fan Posts & Comments

The best know form of marketing is advocacy, when a converted recommends a brand to another - usually to someone they know personally.

Now fans apparently can't advocate brands on Australian brand pages, as it could be considered advertising. If they do, brands will be held responsible for content posted by fans. The ASB was ruling based on a complaint against a liquor brand.

Whilst the ruling clearly defeats the spirt of brands being on social, brands will find it impossible to fund the new levels of staffing for the requirements of community management. Even if they have the funds, next to impossible to find this volume of talent.

With the pre-moderation required, brands can also kiss goodbye to any sort of real time engagement. Besides the ruling also opens up the field for sneaky competitive trolls, out to derail each other.

Surely, this blanket ruling needs to be reviewed and contained soon.

Image Courtesy: Google Images

28 July 2012

The Social Olympics, London 2012. #NOT

This Summer Olympics are being touted as the most Social Olympics ever. Faster, Higher, Stronger. Now designed for Likes, Comments, Shares.

Yes, the official Olympic channels are well set up:

There's charming content to drive conversations. More great stories of champions, underdogs, triumphs, heartbreaks, guts and glory will follow in the days to come. 
But actively policing & blocking 20 seconds of a shared highlight  that can spark conversations on your behalf? Come on IOC! 
If the IOC weren't so stifling with copyrights & sponsorships, the Summer Games had the opportunity to be truly participative. Perhaps, we have to wait until Rio.

18 July 2012

Douglas Adams on how we think about technology

Way back in 1999, Douglas Adams penned this great piece on How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet

It's a great way to view technology. Gist of which is:

  1. Everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal
  2. Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it
  3. Anything that gets invented after you're thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it's been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really
Now apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors, TV, phones, the internet, mobile apps, multi-player games, smart phones and your age is bound to show.

If not physical, your mental age for sure *<):o)

01 July 2012

Tom Cruise, his divorce, search & sentiment

This video is hilarious. Yes, people fall in and out and go nuts when in love.

And news just broke over the weekend, Tom & Katie divorced.
So how much of this sudden spike in search for this video this week is fueled by the cynic in people?  To the OTT PR act he put up on Oprah and otherwise for the world?

Judge for yourselves, with these recent comments:
Now, I'm not judging Tom Cruise, his PR antics or his private life. Just reporting with some simple, publicly available data.

28 June 2012

Greatness by Neil French

Neil French, a creative legend and fantastic human being I once had the privilege of working in the same office with, on greatness:

24 June 2012

Photography in the Instagram Age

About a 100 years ago, Eastman Kodak launched the Brownie Box for a pricely sum of $2 with ad copy that read:
"Any school boy or girl can make good pictures with the Brownie Camera." 
A tall claim, when photography was really cumbersome, complicated and costly.

While the Brownie's image quality was obviously dubious, through contests, photo clubs and prints for pennies, it gave birth to photography as a social activity. It's estimated nearly 1 in 3 Americans owned a Brownie at it's peak, and those who didn't couldn't avoid the ones who carried their 'Brownies' and were trading snaps for their scrap books. 

The key point was by transforming how people engaged with photography, Kodak transformed how they engaged with one another. Basically shared experiences no longer had to be experienced together.

Cut to a 100 years later, and Eastman Kodak, which pioneered the social sharing of pictures, cuts a sorry business story.

While Instagram, the one pioneering the digital Brownie movement in the midst of the battle of the megapixels, sensor sizes, interchangeable lenses and multi-functional compacts,  just had a  billion+ $s thrust at it. 
And as with the Eastman Kodak Brownie, image quality on Instagram is secondary to the social nexus it helps support.

A few reasons why Instagram already has close to 30 millions users, even though it's just launched outside of the iOS platforms:

  1. In an age of information overload, pictures are the easiest way to convey and grasp information. Before you had to text, email or upload a photo from a phone camera. Instragram  made it intuitive, easy & seamless to both capture & share images.
  2. The light level of profile data on Instragram lowers the barrier to interact with a wider community of photography enthusiasts. Not only is Instagram a social network by itself, you can also post to other networks.
  3. But the real secret for Instagram's rapid adoption and success are the 17 or so pre-programmed filters which are cleverly designed to distract the eye from amateur compositional errors through exaggerations & flares. These clever filters make average shots look good and good shots stunning and noticeable. Filters also help add a layer of emotion & alter the mood of the pictures for a personal touch.  All of which make Instagrams good conversational starters & topics in today's socially connected world.
Despite it's current momentum and single focus, Instagram has it's glitches and it's users are wary of the recent Facebook takeover. Founder Systorm sees it as product in development and plans are being made for immediate future. 

The Eastman Kodak Brownie is being discussed a 100 years after the launch. How do you think we'd be talking of Instragram 10 years or even probably a year from now? Thoughts?

01 May 2012

Google Drive launches Beta

Sign up for free 5G. If all these cloud options are confusing, the top 5 options today are reviewed here

30 April 2012

Numbers on Tennis Balls

If you ever wondered what the numbers on a tennis ball 1/2/3/4/etc... stand for; it's only to help players in adjacent courts identify their respective balls.

Nothing more complex than that folks.

29 April 2012

First Week Box Office Collections & Social Mentions

Walt Disney is banking on analysis of Tweets and mentions across the social web, to forecast how much money The Avengers will make over the opening weekend. In fact, Fizziology, a company that analyses tweets, blog posts and other social network data to provide box office forecasts, projects $150 million for the opening weekend.

Yet, Twitter and other social networks can also turbocharge word of mouth to hurt a film's box office performance in the first week per this study from the Cass Business School, London. Academics from this B school analysed 4m film related tweets and concluded Twitter postings (or MWOM - Microblogging Word of Mouth) could sway the box office results of a film a night after it's release. The gist of the report: Sentiment spread through MWOM immediately after a movies release greatly influences other people's decisions to attend a screening during the opening weekend.

So while Walt Disney can plan for social mentions prior to the movie release - which can lead to favorable forecasts,  it looses control of MWOM once movies hit theaters - which is essential to keep the momentum for the opening week.

Paul Adams, one of the leading thinkers on the emerging social web,  believes, and I concur, "influentials are a myth." They are just another media channel, albeit serve an important role as taste makers before the movie release. Drumming up PR during the first week of movies release, to influence MWOM may not be as impactful before it's release. This is just in case, the forecasting company got it wrong.

Which bring me back to what William Goldman, author of a couple of  best selling books on the show business, famously once said of the movie business: "Nobody knows anything."
What he probably left unsaid : "Focus on the entertainment, experience and distribution. The participation, social mentions & results will follow."

IMHO this rings true for any launch, let alone the show business.

26 April 2012

The Google Privacy Debate

When Google announced it's new privacy policy on 1st March, it summarized  the changes succinctly in just 3 points:

  • Our Privacy Policy is now much easier to understand.
  • Our Privacy Policy will enable us to build a better, more intuitive user experience across Google for signed-in users.
  • Our privacy controls aren’t changing.

In addition, the new policy doesn’t change any existing privacy settings or how any personal information is shared outside of Google. 
"We aren’t collecting any new or additional information about users. We won’t be selling your personal data. And we will continue to employ industry-leading security to keep your information safe."

Yes Google does:
  1. Ask for your personal information when you sign up
  2. Gather information about your hardware and software when you use it's services
  3. And even information on your location, search history, call history, location, mode of access etc.. amongst others... to make your experience across it's properties more relevant and personalized.
And, if you think sharing this information will NOT improve your experience, use privacy control tools to do things like edit or turn off search or YouTube search history. Use another accounts for information about yourself you don't like mixed. Or browse incognito even via Chrome.

It's therefore surprising there's even a debate about the new privacy policy.

And for those who continue to view Google with suspicion, I have just 2 simple arguments:
  1. As with anything interactive, the user has to make the first move to engage. And has the choice to refrain from clicking on an ad or marketing message.
  2. Today, Google makes most of it's money from clicks. If it's privacy policies prevent people from engaging with ads across it's network, wouldn't it be putting itself out of business?
Lastly, Google again on how it's making ads safe, in addition to making them relevant and personal.

24 April 2012

YouTube turns 7.

Seems eons since it launched and may well be the future of video content,  YouTube was launched with this simple 19 second video featuring it's cofounder just 7 years ago:

Some staggering statistics, 7 years later:

  • 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute, or one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second.
  • Over 4 billion videos are viewed a day
  • Over 800 million unique users visit YouTube each month
  • Over 3 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube
  • More video is uploaded to YouTube in one month than the 3 major US networks created in 60 years
  • 70% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the US
  • YouTube is localised in 39 countries and across 54 languages
  • In 2011, YouTube had more than 1 trillion views, or almost 140 views for every person on Earth

Updated stats across other metrics, including traffic, can be found here

Happy Birthday YouTube!

18 March 2012

Good Old TV Commercials

Saw a sweet campaign for a hosting service in India. It exudes wit, charm and personality although you need to know India to enjoy the  humour.

Good creativity always breaks clutter and lands a campaign right from where it can start a dialogue. These ads do just that.

13 March 2012

Why videos go viral?

Informative & Funny! Kevin Allocca  -YouTube's trends manager, shares his thoughts about silly web videos. And what makes some videos go viral.

28 February 2012

Pinterest! Pinterest! Pinterest! - The new Facebook Annexe

Over the last month or so, Pinterest is all the rage and all over FB news feeds like a rash.
Google Trends for "Pinterest"

If Twitter is the modern day version of Ham Radio, What is Pinterest? Is it here to stay? What role does it play in our lives that other platforms don't?

To understand anything new, it's best seen through the eyes of the familiar. 

Pinterest is a free public gallery space/wall, where anyone can display, co-create and seamlessly share with their connections. Unlike Facebook "Likes, Comments, Shares" which happen in chronology and on personal pages, Pinterest allows concurrent interactions across boards of varied interests in shared spaces.

The Facebook integration has been a game changer for a platform that was dormant for most part of 2 years. It's now providing Facebook with an annexe of shared public spaces, something it didn't really have. I wouldn't be surprised if Facebook tries to acquire it soon.

For the "show me the money", Pinterest beautifully aids discovery across  social graphs at the very top and drives commerce as a referrer (the first of more innovative options to come).

Is Pinterest is here to stay. Thoughts?

08 February 2012

What ails Indian Cricket and how to overcome it?

One of my favourite cricketers, delivers a simple but painstaking solution to get Indian cricket out of its downward spiral.

Given all the emphasis on T20, sometimes I wonder if we are too deep in the rut to ever climb out.

22 January 2012

Echo Chambers, Information Discovery & Role of Weak Ties in Social Networks

Do social networks give you a more diverse perspective on the world through helping you see more people's opinions?
Are they an echo chamber that just reinforces your opinions since the people you share with probably have similar opinions to your own?

Here's a gist of a rather longish Facebook paper on the diversity of information within networks:

  • Information we consume and share on Facebook is actually much more diverse than conventional wisdom might suggest
  • Facebook is not a echo chamber
  • We are exposed to and spread more information from our distant contacts than our close friends.  Since these distant contacts tend to be different from us, the bulk of information we consume and share comes from people with different perspectives. 

The long version of the research paper is here

21 January 2012

Designing for Social

Heard this a while ago at a Facebook Workshop and this simple sense check has stayed true for me till today.

Transcend Social By Design from concept to practice by asking 2 basic questions of the content, events, participation ideas etc.... you introduce into your conversations:
  1. Why would people care?
  2. Why would they share?
And take culture, context, a specific behavioral insight, purpose & equity of the brand to shortlist.