Internet

The Change Imperative

Ever since I first wrote about institutional realignment, I have been more conscious of it and its implications on our lives. To a certain extent, even paranoid, because of the pace of change. Ray Kurzweil is hard at work to make himself immortal, and believes we should get really close by the 2030s. He has been right before on many things of this nature. Moore’s law, digitisation and everything related are also getting us really close to the singularity. I am reasonably convinced that I will see both in my lifetime. If you live to be 200 and have robots smarter than you around, what does that do to education, money, marriage, work and pretty much everything that constitutes life? On the flip side, natural resources are running out, and I can see the complications already. It’s not a good sight, or experience!

I am finding it impossible to wrap my head around what all of  this would mean to our concept of life. In the meanwhile, I do know that everything is changing at breakneck speed, and in order to survive, we need to be cognizant of things that can impact our lives – as individuals, and as organisations.  I have deliberately avoided the word ‘disruption’ because it gives me a sense of suddenness and it is a furiously debated topic these days. Rather, to quote John Green (said in another context) I think we’re in the first state of “Slowly, and then all at once”.  This, is my take on ‘Change’.

(Thanks Nikhil for helping on a couple of alphabets and Amit for Unsplash, the source of many images used)

 

An Internet of Things narrative

Towards the end of last year, I’d written a post on the ‘social product‘. Its premise was that given social’s conversion to media, the opportunity for fulfilling social’s initial promise would fall on ‘product’ – using data, network effects, and relationships to connect consumers along a shared purpose. In the last few weeks, I have seen rapid acceleration happening on this front. I can see at least two narratives working in tandem, and I’m sure that at some point they will begin to augment each other really well. In this excellent post on technologies that are shaping the future of design, sensors occupy the top slot, and they are at the basis of both the narratives – one on humans, and one on things. The official classification, roughly, translates into Wearables and Internet Of Things respectively for the scope of discussions here.

This post is about the second. So, what is the Internet of things? The wiki definition is simple, but effective –  ”The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.” The best primer I have come across would be this infographic, which has everything from a quick technology explanation, applications and challenges to market size, statistics, and interesting use cases. For a really solid perspective, look no further than this deck titled ‘The Internet of Everything‘.

How does it affect us? For now, it is about convenience. If you’re familiar with Android launchers, imagine an IoT version – it’s almost there, using iBeacon! There’s more - Piper, which works as an IFTTT for your home, the smart fridge that can order groceries from the online store, the smart TV that can learn preferences and help us discover content, the washing machine that can help order detergent, the egg tray that will let you know about the number of eggs it holds and their ‘state’, the automated coffee machine, Philips’ connected retail lighting system, Pixie Scientific’s Smart Diapers, the GE a/c that learns your preferences, the smart bulb that doubles up as a bluetooth speaker, (!) and so on. Some of the products are really useful and solve a need, while some others are more fads and probably not adding the value that reflects the potential of IoT. But that’s just the learning curve in progress, as the market starts separating needs and wants.

All of this also means that consumption patterns will begin to change, as more purchases become automated, and more importantly data-driven. In my post on the driving forces of 2014, I had brought up technology as the biggest disruption that marketing has seen. This is most definitely one of the manifestations.

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What can brands do? For starters, get interested. Think about the tangible benefits that can be offered to consumers. What are the kind of data patterns that devices (or products) can surface to help the consumer make better consumption decisions? What kind of contexts can be relevant? Instead of force feeding advertising on traditional channels and fracking social platforms, can communication to consumers be made seamless using data, contexts and easy processes? While ‘device’ brands might have an initial advantage, ‘product’ brands need not be left behind at all. As the washing machine post (linked earlier) suggests, a Unilever or P&G might subsidise a machine, because it’s pre-sold with 500 washes worth of their detergent. It could even be real time, with SDK, API systems telling a partner brand to push a contextually relevant communication to a consumer. As things start storing and communicating data, privacy will be a major factor that decides whom consumers will share what with. Unlike media, trust cannot be ‘fracked’, it needs to be earned over a time frame.

Where does it go from here? A common language/protocol/registry is a good start, as is a white label platform – both are trying to connect an assortment of devices and gadgets. While there is value in data at an individual level (more on that in the next narrative) one of the critical factors in the success of this phenomenon is the devices talking to each other – humans acting as middle men to pass on data may not be a smart way ahead!  Digital Tonto has an excellent nuanced perspective that differentiates IoT from the web of things. (WoT sounds cooler!) The difference is in connection and interoperability.

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Equally important is this phenomenon’s ability to solve human needs. (Internet of Caring Things)

Collaborative consumption is fast becoming a consumer reality. As always, brands (generalising) are bound to be a few years behind, but the hope is that the web of things will force them to start collaborative creation and distribution and more importantly, focus on consumer needs.

until next time, #WoTever

P.S. In a corruption of Scott Adams’  idea, I think #WoT is paving the way for robot domination. ;)

P.P.S. If the subject interests you, check out my Internet of Things Pinterest board.

The questions in Big Data

In my last post that touched upon Big Data, I had mentioned how the seeming intent of Big Data is to synthesise actionable insights from processed and unprocessed information at touch points related or unrelated to the enterprise, and then use it to target consumers better. While this is probably true for the short-medium term, I read a wonderful perspective at GigaOm by Beau Cronin on its true potential – the path to building the equivalent of global-scale nervous systems. As I tweeted after I read it, it reminded me of something I’d written a couple of years back before I’d heard of #BigData – if we could actually use data to go beyond that to answer life’s profound questions. Before we go into the subject, here’s a nice video by OgilvyOne titled “Big Data for smarter customer experiences” (via) though it’s skewed more towards the experience rather than the data.

Beau Cronin has mentioned several possibilities this would give rise to, and the post made me think if something like the hive mind concept would mesh into it as well – a sort of hybrid neural network. He has also pointed out the hurdles we would face while we get there – gathering, processing and conversion into actionable insights, and how phenomena such as priming,expectations, and framing matter so much in how we perceive our physical and social environments. In essence, a fascinating read.

I was particularly intrigued by framing, and began thinking about it in the context of the unstructured data – tweets, posts, mails, videos – that is a major component of Big Data. The fundamental question being – is it unstructured because we’re framing it ‘wrong’? Based on the enterprise’ intent and not the users’? Ironically, I couldn’t frame the questions right until I met the ever-brilliant S, who has always maintained that the answer is easy to find once the question has been framed right. He has developed (Tulpa -to build or construct in Tibetan – is the concept he enlightened me on while we were discussing semantics) something that at a rough level mashes the MECE principle with Frame Semantics and the entity-relationship model. There’s IPR involved, so no more beans shall be spilled, but as always, I learned much from the conversation.

In essence, structure can definitely be derived from what we currently call unstructured data, provided we frame the queries right. I can intuitively begin to understand that in the era of data abundance, the only way we can make sense of all of it is by focusing on an intent that is derived from a common purpose, so that the sources of data (users) will be more open to help solve the challenges of data collection. The processing and inferences that follow would yield the best results when the right questions are asked. I have a feeling that the questions asked by a business in an earlier era might not cut it.

until next time, role models

With great data…

LinkedIn’s article curation is improving very well in my case. What I particularly like is the dash of serendipity in the list. One of the articles I recently read was “Are we all being fooled by Big Data?” Though it is less to do with business per se and is skewed towards economic forecasting, it does make for a very interesting read.

Gartner’s 2013 Strategic Technology Trends has Strategic Big Data as one. In fact, I’d also add ‘The Internet of Things’, ‘In Memory Computing’ and ‘Actionable Analytics’ (also in the list) as related items, as a source, enabler and application respectively. While Big Data has been talked about for a while now, and has seen applications as well, I am not sure how accessible it is to the majority of organisations and brands. In essence, is it ‘mainstream’ enough? (I see organisations struggling to link existing data) Are there frameworks being built that will aid analysis and action across various functional domains – ways to nimbly access and use contextually relevant ‘packets’ from troves?

Probably 2013 is when we will see things moving. But there’s something about data that worries me. This has come from my own experience as well as from the things I have read/heard. And that’s where the organisation’s intent becomes important, because you can find data to validate most anything! This is all the more significant because with improving technology, the volumes of data will have the potential to help brands shift paradigms and disrupt the status quo. But it can also be used for strategic/tactical blunders. As the saying goes ”If you torture data long enough, it will confess to almost anything

All of this reminds me of social media. The hype, the evangelism, the tools and so on. And just like social, Big Data has in it the ability to amplify the inherent nature of the enterprise.

until next time, think big

A new era of work

Sometime back, I had written about institutional realignment – on how the internet will slowly eliminate the middlemen across industries and disrupt every institution that we have built thus far – political, societal, economical, professional, cultural, health and so on. This would have massive impact on our sense of identity and how we live as a society.

A couple of weeks back, I read this interesting post at Pando Daily titled “Are we becoming a world without big companies?” The post quoted AngelList founder Naval Ravikant “the world would be increasingly made up of very small startups interacting with each other through APIs. No big corporations.” The corporation, at this point in time, plays a lot of middlemen roles – from our sense of identity to global relations – and continuing from my earlier thought, I think the internet will disrupt this one too.

Which then makes one think of the workforce currently employed in the corporations – that’s most of us. :) From 3D printing which is poised to disrupt the already shaky manufacturing industry and the not-so-shaky distribution systems to singularity, which will have major implications on our health, education and employment, there are macro changes that will affect us. Even the best minds would not have a definite answer on what/ where the jobs of the future would be. As Ray Kurzweil has stated in this interesting interview, “People couldn’t answer that question in 1800 or 1900 either. ” (when asked about the scene in 2000)

It then brings me to something I believe will be the key to survive and flourish in the coming age – the willingness and ability to live with uncertainty. In this excellent read in the WSJ titled “Learning to Love Volatility“, Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues that rather than trying to predict black swan events, we should be building institutions that are not fragile and can withstand and even benefit from disorder and unexpected events. Though an institution is the protagonist here, I think there are lessons for individuals too.

In a way, humans could be considered open APIs that big corporations and governments used to meet their ends, it would be interesting to see a future that reverses this. :)

until next time, be the change….

Social grows up to be media

On the first page of BG Verghese’ “First Draft”, he talks of The Times front page on the day he was born -21 June 1927. The paper was priced at one anna and “only carried advertisements on its cover page as was the general practice.” This was how traditional media companies had always worked. They had probably begun as journals, and later had sponsored information. (ads) In an era of information scarcity, this was probably required and appreciated. Even if they were not, the complaints would spread only as WOM. More importantly, while they took money from readers, their real survival (generalising) depended on advertisers. In the case of radio and television, it is even more evident. Then came the internet, and a story that has oft been repeated. We’re not going there.

Though from email to BBS to Geocities to Friendster and beyond, everything can be considered social media, it began for me in the form of blogs (in 2003) became social networking via Orkut and really took flight with Twitter (May) and Facebook (July) in 2007. By this time, ads had begun to be ‘noise’ as media platforms proliferated. Twitter as well as FB served different purposes. As the cliche goes, “On Facebook, you connected with people you went to school with, and on Twitter, with people who you wished you went to school with.” In fact, such was my affection for Twitter that I even walked the talk. :)

Why this long winded narration now? Because what I’d considered social is now very clearly becoming media that happens to have a social past. Facebook’s Promoted Posts will now reach people who have not Liked the brands as well, and it is working on measurement systems that resemble GRPs. From its options – a real time cloud API company and a media company, Twitter has clearly chosen. It has now started throttling the third party apps that made it the rockstar it now is. In their chosen line, this is an inevitable step to protect the ‘value’ it sells. Promoted tweets can now be targeted on the basis of interest.

The disappointment, even if I reconcile myself to the fact that social is media, is the extent of evolution, or rather, the lack of it. Of the two, I have better hopes for Facebook now. Mark Zuck, despite the IPO, still controls it and from whatever he has spoken thus far, it seems this is not just a business for him, and though the ‘Promoted’ stuff on Facebook has now taken centre stage, the potential of the Open Graph remains and if it does evolve (as mentioned in an earlier post – last paragraph) it will continue to be interesting. Twitter? Oh well, Google’s AdWords is a megabucks one-trick, and it has Android. In the Google-like path it has chosen for itself, I can only hope that Twitter has a vision beyond being “sponsored”. If there is anything that media history has taught us, it is that irrelevance is just one service away.

until next time, growing pains

Until the customer is king..

Instagram just released v3.0. One of the biggest changes in this version is the introduction of Photo Maps, which quite obviously, plots your photos on a map. The default is opt-in, not opt-out, though they’ve done their bit to give the user control over data.  I updated despite reading this Wired article on the privacy implications and the bug that briefly exposed private photos!

I’d written my first post that referred to Big Data recently, and the day after that, I read this very interesting post that talked about various applications including an algorithm that can identify cities based on their unique architectural elements and other distinguising characteristics. But a few weeks earlier, WSJ had an interesting post that talked of how large corporations see big data as a means to get personal with customers using information gathered by placing tracking files in people’s browsers and smartphone apps without their knowledge—so they can be stalked wherever they go, with their “experiences” on commercial websites “personalized” for them. The post describes not just its real world analogies but practices as well, and predicts a future where the user will declare your own policies, preferences and terms of engagement—and do it in ways that can be automated both for you and the companies you engage. An entire ecosystem across apps and corporations built in a consumer centric fashion.

But as the post itself admits, the move toward individual empowerment is a long, gradual revolution. Until then, we need to define our own limits of sharing, fully understanding that it is a give and take. Not just what and where, but whom too – since all it takes a RT or a ‘Share – Public’ for something shared in a close circle to go public. How much of privacy would I give up to open myself to opportunities, or get an experience that is tailored to my needs and convenience. On the other side, a modern corporation needs to understand the choice the consumer is making and use the information to not just provide genuine value, but also make it easier for both entities to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape.

until next time, kingmakers

The path to mediocrity

Seth Godin wrote a post on the masses vs great design, and how the brands we love refuse to become democracies. Yet, on an everyday basis, and across product offerings – from web design to entertainment, I see brands clearly pandering to the ‘masses’. And they’re not going to disappear in at least the medium term, because they spend resources in wooing and keeping consumers, though these consumers are hardly ‘loyal’. The undemocratic approach that Godin mentions is for the rare breed of confident, gritty, focused brands which have answered their why, what, how and when very well.

On HBR Blogs, I found an article by Bill Taylor – “Bad Service can be good business” a very interesting read. It showed two different scenarios where the headline is applicable -companies who try to keep the costs down to the barest minimum and charge a premium for anything but the basic (the author quotes Ryanair as an example) and companies whose offerings are so compelling, and whose reach is so vast, that making the investments required to deliver high-touch service would be making a big strategic mistake. He cites new media companies like Facebook, Twitter etc as examples.

Most of the companies I was referring to in the first paragraph are trying to be one of the above. But they play an in-between game, starting at some point and thinking that they’ll figure out a way to get to their destination. But IMO, it can’t happen that way, because once you set expectations, you fall into the ‘trap’ of fulfilling them, without really figuring what your brand stands for. You’re forced to play the reactive game, watching your competitive landscape and fencing with them. As you progress, you’re drawn further away from the active game of pursuing a goal with focus. The trap, hence, is mediocrity, and it is surprising to see it these days because the web and social platforms specifically are a great way to find that slice of audience which will give the brand a chance to deliver that focused product/service. I’m not talking of superficiality here, but the DNA of the brand, and the organisation, the strand around which everything is built. I’m also not saying that all mass brands are mediocre. In the purpose that they have defined for their brand, Ryanair is anything but mediocre. Despite the seeming difference in the two scenarios from earlier, they are bound by a commonality – clarity of thought, which inspires clarity in everything that the brand does.

until next time, clear blue ocean

Data: Growing up

The Facebook story might be facing rough weather, but that hasn’t stopped the social network from pushing out new and interesting things. It launched “Page Post Targeting Enhanced” – features that make it a media platform offering sharper slices to marketers (easily) by allowing filters based on gender, interests, relationship status etc. It has also rolled out Facebook Stories that highlights “people using Facebook in extraordinary ways”. Venture Beat has a very smart take on how this can be the future of news by intersecting two of the most interesting contexts – location and interest. As a media platform, one can imagine the advertising potential.

Twitter already has local (city specific) trends, though, from experience, many people seem to think that they’re viewing national trends when Twitter is actually showing them local trends. Twitter already has Promoted Tweets and is enhancing features that allow better targeting.

Media buying in the age of traditional media consisted of a plan being prepared (and negotiated) after evaluating the reach, cost and other parameters of various options across platforms – print, OOH, TV, Radio etc. The (reach) data has always been contested, and the (post) measurement is more of a myth than reality. New media platforms, on the other hand, are significantly better in terms of transparency and in addition, have better native and 3rd party tools for self publishing, distributing and measuring. The data is one click away from the marketer. After a certain tipping point of reach that these media achieve, traditional media would be forced to provide this level of accessibility, and then, IMO, the value provided by media agencies would be reduced significantly, as tools would make it easier for the marketer to plan real time and measure too, across platforms.

In essence, data that the marketer needs, to make informed choices on the why/what/how/when of platforms, is easily becoming available.  The data that really needs to be converted into information is now flowing in the reverse direction – from the consumer and his actions across platforms to ______. And this data is not just for marketing, its use is across the board and affects product, customer care, operations, technology and so on. It is Big Data, the players are evolving, and the next stage in this ever changing game has begun.

until next time, don’t worry, it’s already a buzzword. ;)

In trust we trust

Karthik recently wrote a post on a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while now – “How should brands use public information you share on social media“, on British Airways’ “Know Me” scheme to personalise their service by providing iPads to their staff and “giving them instant access to customer data, including passengers’ travel history, meal requests and details of any previous complaints. They will also use Google Images to search for pictures to link with passenger profiles, helping staff to identify them next time they fly” (via) It has already been met with disapproval from some, but Karthik believes there is value if there is intelligent use of context to delight a consumer. I’d tend to agree.

Any user of Rapportive would be familiar with the thrills it offers thanks to rich profiles provided as you read/write a mail from/to a contact. :) At an enterprise level, any social media practitioner would also agree that it’s sometimes useful to butt into conversations where an @ has not been used, if you can provide value to a consumer. A Capgemini infographic, based on 16000 interviews in 16 countries, shows that 61% of digital shoppers want the store to remember their personal details, 54% want to receive persoanlised offers, and 41% actually want to be identified through digital devices when they enter a physical store! But when Orbitz starts showing Mac users different and costlier options as compared to Windows users,  I’d really wonder if the business is providing value to consumers in personalised offers!

At paidContent, I read “Big data and the changing economics of privacy“, which discusses how easy it is to get info on people, and debates a ‘Do Not Collect’ law, especially in the context of new technologies like face recognition. Another suggestion I read at AdAge is to let consumers build their own tracking profiles - What consumers might prefer, if one were to actually ask them, is the ability to build, manage and get useful things from their own profile and data. Let consumers remain entirely anonymous and in control.

As this Econsultancy report succinctly points out, personalisation is ultimately a trade off, and businesses need to learn to provide tangible value to consumers who share their data. But before that, they also need to make the consumer comfortable by using even freely available data intelligently in a way that shows their intent, asking consent when applicable, building trust and allowing users to retain control.

I personally believe that if you’re putting any information out on the web, you should take responsibility for it – that includes what you share and who you share it with. From experience, it can give you great lessons in trust, and I think that applies to the relationship between people and businesses too.

until next time, trust worthy