Too much plumbing. Too little poetry.

We live in a world driven by data and although we probably don’t even understand half of it or don’t even bother to look into it as we should, decisions aren’t taken unless they can be fully rationalized. As Rishad Tobaccowala mentioned in a recent post:

“In marketing we worship the algorithm and its superiority to human decision making.”

He makes a good point. He continues with:

“In the world of media we are so fixated on the plumbing of finding the right person at the right place at the right time that we forget that the interaction we deliver will have to be absolutely right and brilliant not to piss of this superbly well located person at the exact right time. The better the “targeting”, the more important the tone, content and quality of the interaction. Lets think about the poetry versus just the plumbing.”

This reminded me of the conversation between Bill and Melinda Gates during this year’s TED event in Vancouver. Somewhere in this conversation – hosted by Chris Anderson – it’s clear that part of the magic between these 2 people in spending billions of dollars to charity is the mathematical approach of Bill Gates combined with the more tangible, human experience of Melinda with the people involved in the decision. Something they obviously recognize as a necessity in their decision making.

Anyway, Rashid makes a few strong points why we should rethink how we deal with data. Read the full post here.

Compass over maps

In one of the best talks at this year’s TED Conference in Vancouver, Joi Ito (Director of MIT Media Lab) said the following:

The idea is that the cost of writing a plan or mapping something is getting so expensive and it’s not very accurate or useful. So in the Safecast story, we knew we needed to collect data, we knew we wanted to publish the data, and instead of trying to come up with the exact plan, we first said, oh, let’s get Geiger counters. Oh, they’ve run out. Let’s build them. There aren’t enough sensors. Okay, then we can make a mobile Geiger counter. We can drive around. We can get volunteers. We don’t have enough money. Let’s Kickstarter it. We could not have planned this whole thing, but by having a very strong compass, we eventually got to where we were going, and to me it’s very similar to agile software development, but this idea of compasses is very important.

A talk well worth watching.

What responsive design should really look like

I found this video from the interactive prototype Room-E on the 72U project blog. It’s a prototype showing what will be possible in the near future when you think about a more responsive environment.

“The future of the computer is to essentially make it disappear—a disconnected interface, so the house or the office or the building or the city is the computer.”Mark Rolston, Chief Creative Officer, frog

Check out the video below.

Is Google Glass the Segway of this era?

Not so long ago Mike Butcher (from Techcrunch) tried on a pair of Google Glass lent to him by a Glass Explorer at a conference and even though his experience with Glass was rather short he made a conclusion that nailed it for me:

“So Google Glass for me will be this era’s Segway: hyped as a game changer but ultimately used by warehouse workers and mall cops.”

I had a chance to buy a Google Glass 5-6 months ago when the original Google Explorers were allowed to invite 3 friends to join the program. As managing partner for digital at Duval Guillaume, I need and want to be on top of major tech innovations and Glass is definitely one of those things. So I volunteered immediately and made some arrangements to be able to buy it whilst not completely following the standard procedure. You have to be a US resident for instance which I’m not. But that was pretty easy to overcome. So I got my Google Glass pretty soon after and once it was all set up (which was pretty easy) I started playing around with it.

At first I was in awe. The little projection screen of Google Glass is crisp, the voice & touch controls are very intuitive and simple to get familiar with and it’s pretty impressive what it can do. It’s the same when you share that experience with others, every time one of my friends or colleagues put on Google Glass and performed some of the main key tasks they were amazed with the result. That and the jealousy of some to get hold of their own.

I took some really great pictures of the rising sun while driving my car, got directions pointed out to a unknown shop while walking in the city, watched Youtube video’s after searching them via voice commands, shared Facebook updates also via voice, … A lot of nice things actually. But then there’s also a problem. There are a few, like battery time for instance (which is worse than on a smartphone). But that’s not the real problem.

The real problem is that actually wearing it makes you look weird – or at least different enough for people to notice. It doesn’t look natural and so people will make a comment about it. They either know what it is and want to try it, or worse, want you to take it off, like if you’re constantly filming people. Or people don’t know what it is and think you look ridiculous. And you can’t blame them because you know you look ridiculous with the glasses on.

And if people ask what the benefits are and you tell them, they will tell you all of that’s also possible with your smartphone. With the difference you don’t have the take it out of your pocket, but then again you don’t have to wear those strange glasses all the time. And indeed, there’s not much you can bring into that. Because there are very few moments that you can say that you couldn’t possible reach for your phone, in which case Google Glass really was beneficial to you.

And for that Mike’s comment makes a lot of sense. When it makes no real difference to use Google Glass or your smartphone for the same tasks, the smartphone is still a winner. But when you’re a policeman, or a flight attendant, a medic, … and you need your hands for other things then the Glass makes total sense. Therefore it cannot come as a surprise that NYPD is testing Google Glass or Virgin Atlantic.

I’m not sure how the final Google Glass will go to market nor when that will happen. But it still needs massive change before people will adopt it because it don’t think it is appealing enough to the masses how it is right now. Let alone the price tag of course, you can buy yourself some pretty sweet smartphones for USD 1.500.

Don’t get me wrong by the way, I’m still pretty happy to have one and I will keep testing the device for quite some more time. It does help to get insights on where wearables might go to and it still is pretty amazing if you’re willing to unthink the fact that you are wearing empty glasses with a battery pack on the side. Let’s see what comes next.

Note – I wrote this on the plane about a week ago, since then Google announced Android Wear which subsequently makes a lot more sense to me than the Glass does for the moment. Or maybe I should just wait until we see what RayBan is going to make of it.

The strategy is delivery: it’s not complicated, it’s just hard

Neil Perkin does many interesting things. One of those things is organizing the so called “Google Firestarters” which he curates for Google UK. Last Monday he had invited Russell Davies, planning legend and now creative director at GDS, to come and talk about his learnings and insights working on GOV.uk. Fascinating talk, well worth crossing the channel for.

For those who, like me, don’t know what GDS stands for: Government Digital Service. They lead the digital transformation of government.

Back to the talk. Russell talked about GDS and how they started working on GOV.uk, what their design principles were, how they made decisions about what to do and maybe more importantly what not to do. And every single thing they do is shared publicly, which is as you can see on the the principles, something they thoroughly believe in.

  1. Start with needs
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

Read all about it on the GDS design principles right here. The second part of his talk was about why all of the GDS’ learnings building GOV.uk are interesting for anyone in marketing & advertising. In the past it used to be difficult to make a brilliant product, but marketing was easy. The craft and machinery needed to make something brilliant was not accessible for many, the few media channels with immense reach to advertise to people was pretty easy to use. Today that has changed said Russell. Today making a brilliant product has become far more easy than it ever was, but marketing it has become very complex. And thus marketers today are focusing fully on trying to digitize the marketing part of things, whereas we should think about complete digital transformation of the business we’re in.

Other things they found out during the whole process. Things that we all need to think about and see how we can learn from it are:

Attention. It’s one thing to win people’s attention, it’s a whole different thing to make sure you respect the attention you were granted. There’s generally too much focus on getting people to notice what you’re doing and too little focus about making sure you do something with that attention. To quote Russell:

“If you made something brilliant and it doesn’t explain itself you haven’t made something brilliant”

Reputation. A brand is a promise, reputation is delivery. You can’t build a brand based on what you’re going to do.

Culture. When you want to transform your whole business like you should, everyone should be on board for this. You need to work on the culture of the company that digital thinking becomes the default mindset.

The product is the service is the marketing. Ask yourself: what would Amazon do? They would get it wrong for a while, then have more data than any traditional business ever will and they’ll win. Because of their digital thinking habit, not because they’re smarter.

Thanks for a great event Neil. Thanks for a great talk Russell.

Bonus link – From April 2014, digital services from the UK government must meet the new Digital by Default Service Standard. For that GDS developed the Government Service Design Manual, and yes also that is publicly available for all of us.

Image creditScriberia made the visualization of the talk.

The age of the micro multinational

“If the late 20th Century was the age of the multinational company, the early 21st will be the age of the micro multinational: small companies that operate globally”

I found this great quote on Neil Perkin’s ‘Only Dead Fish’. It’s a statement from Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist and I can only like what I see here. It supports our own opinion (at Duval Guillaume) that you don’t need to be huge or have offices around the whole world to be able to service clients globally. 

A recent Policy Brief from the Lisbon Council states:

“Traditionally, these small, self-starting, service-driven companies would have been described as small- and medium- sized enterprises, or SMEs, but thanks to the Internet, the emergence of new business platforms and the increased openness of the global economy, these companies can enter markets with a minimum of bureaucracy and overhead. Add to that their unparalleled ability to respond promptly to changing market developments, a collaborative DNA that often translates into superior innovation performance and the lack of the institutional inertia and legacy relationships plaguing larger organizations, and one begins to see the transformative and paradigm-changing potential.”

According the brief the big paradigm shifts that are taking place making all this happen are:

  • Most jobs are created by young companies and start-ups
  • Today technology makes it possible for small companies to gain the reach and traction of big companies at very low cost
  • New platforms and online business services are making it easier for small companies to focus on areas where they add value
  • Internationalization – the key to success for almost all contemporary businesses, large and small – is easier to achieve via the Internet
  • Today’s workforce has changing priorities
  • Experienced and highly skilled individuals are setting out in record numbers to work for themselves

Yet another reason why the future looks bright.

The “Basket of Remotes” Problem

Jean-Louis Gassée brought up an interesting challenge or issue with regards to the current hype around the Internet of Things:

It’s actually a very simple thought when you come to think of it but one that I thought is very true and relevant. Because indeed, the idea of all these connected devices in your home that need to be ‘operated’ via some kind of remote is all great but knowing that we haven’t been able to fix this for television in the last 50 years is something to think about.

“Indeed, so-called “smart” TVs are unable to provide a machine-readable description of the commands they understand (an XML file, also readable by a human, would do). We can’t stand in front of a TV with a “fresh” universal remote – or a smartphone app – touch the Learn button and have the TV wirelessly ship the list of commands it understands…and so on to the next appliance, security system or, if you insist, fridge and toaster. If an appliance would yield its control and reporting data, an app developer could build a “control center” that would summarize and manage your networked devices. But in the Consumer IoT world, we’re still very far from this desirable state of affairs. A TV can’t even tell a smartphone app if it’s on, what channel it’s tuned to, or which devices is feeding it content. For programmable remotes, it’s easy to get lost as too many TVs don’t even know a command such as Input 2, they only know Next Input. If a human changes the input by walking to the device and pushing a button, the remote is lost. (To say nothing of TVs that don’t have separate On and Off commands, only an On/Off toggle, with the danger of getting out of sync – and no way for the TV to talk back and describe its state…)”

We’re clearly not there yet. I wonder if it isn’t because both hardware and software manufacturers are increasingly investing in their own controlled and often closed ecosystems which implicates that little to no enterprises will be interested in opening up to this idea of 2-way thinking.

And also the idea that the phone will be the one and only device to rule everything in the future is an idea which I doubt will be realistic in the near future as I’ve written before.

Does technology generate more talk, less conversation?

There’s an interesting article in The Atlantic based on an interview with the publication and Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and a professor at MIT. She recently released the book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other in which she argues that we are losing the art of conversation:

“Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.” Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, “the boring bits.” In software terms, they’re features rather than bugs. The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet, however—the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfies—is fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you. “That’s not conversation,” Turkle says. She wants us to reclaim the permission to be, when we want and need to be, dull.”

I like the idea of the occasional dullness. The idea that breaks or gaps in a conversation is actually help drive the conversation. Check out the whole article.