IBM Watson API: Artificial intelligence as a Service

In the past supercomputing was only accessible to large corporations who could afford to fork out tens of millions of dollars to set them up. However, with the rapid advancement of technology, computing has become much more affordable and accessible. Nowadays you don’t have to spend millions of dollars to access some of the world’s most powerful computer systems. In fact IBM is offering some of their Watson services to developers for free during the beta period.

Watson is an artificially intelligent system designed by IBM to process information in a more natural and human like manner. Watson continues to get smarter by tracking user feedback.

IBM is now offering developers the ability to use Watson via their cloud platform, BlueMix.

The current Watson services IBM are offering for public use are:

  • Concept Expansion: Maps euphemisms or colloquial terms to more commonly understood phrases
  • Concept Insights: Explore the concepts behind the input, identifying associations
  • Language Identification: Identifies the language in which text is written
  • Machine Translation: Globalise on the fly. Translate text from one language to another
  • Message Resonance: Communicate with people with a style and words that suits them
  • Question and Answer: Direct responses to users inquiries fuelled by primary document sources
  • Relationship Extraction: Intelligently finds relationships between sentences components (nouns, verbs, subjects, objects, etc.)
  • Speech To Text: This service provides highly accurate, low latency speech recognition capabilities.
  • Tradeoff Analytics: Helps make better choices under multiple conflicting goals. Combines smart visualisation and recommendations for tradeoff exploration
  • User Modeling: Improved understanding of people’s preferences to help engage users on their own terms
  • Visual Recognition: Analyses the visual content of images and videos to understand their content without requiring a textual description

This is a big deal for businesses around the world because this access and these capabilities were previously only available to large corporations and researchers. This means anyone has access to the forefront of technology. Now developers can use these services to easily build applications that do very advanced things for minimal initial investment.

For example the Visual Recognition service could form the basis of a digital asset management system which could automatically tag and categorise uploaded images and videos. User feedback could be fed back into the system to progressively improve the quality of the tagging and categorisation.

The Message Resonance service could be used to help improve the effectiveness of EDM campaigns. You could input social media feeds of customers and then have it analyse a draft EDM to see if the word choice fits the audience.

By making it easy for developers to interface with Watson, they are providing the AI with a firehose of learning material. It is likely that the capability, accuracy, and raw power of this and similar services will grow ever more rapidly in the coming months and years.

The service is still in beta, and while the live demos are hit and miss, they provide a glimpse of what is possible.

 

Location based gaming – is this the next game changer?

Location based games, such as Geocaching, are gaining worldwide popularity.

Geocaching is a worldwide treasure hunt that’s becoming a huge craze all over the world.

Geocaching is an app which uses a phones GPS to direct players to the specific co-ordinates of a hidden geocache (a container filled with a logbook and items to trade). There are over 2.5 million active geocaches worldwide and 6 million people loving every find.

How could this work in marketing?

Location based games could open up a whole new way of engaging with consumers. Creating your own branded location based game could help to draw consumers into your stores.

For example, a coffee shop chain could create a location based game in which users find virtual rewards in store to redeem for a free coffee. The users could compete on a live leaderboard for titles such as most coffee shops visited, most distance covered, and even most coffees drunk.

Providing potential customers with an entertaining, engaging, and memorable platform like a location based game, will embed your brand into their consideration set for life.

Find out more about Geocaching here.

Other location based game: Ingress

20 x 12 – 20 Trends for communicators in 2012

I’ve compiled a list of 20 trends for communicators for the next 12 months.  Enjoy!

1. True Digital Communications
What many people in our industry call “digital” is just online communications. Truly “Digital” operations occur across three layers: Hardware, Software and Online. Most agencies and companies have played with Online (Social , Facebook, online communications and content, ads and so on), dabbled in Software (software as a service, apps, calculators, tools and games) and have left Hardware to their staff hobbyists, if at all.

We’re going to see some truly digital operations in the marketing and communications space, led by the big integrated agencies and/or marketing companies. Large scale technology builds to augment shopper experience and facilitate awareness and sales should be part of every marketeer’s ambitions. What is more likely over the shorter term are smaller, cheaper, more nimble executions such as: merging digital displays with other media, ensuring that point of sale systems share APIs with social networks, and building low cost gadgets and tools to facilitate communications and sales (potentially starting with LittleBits, Cubelets and other low cost electronics).

2. The Internet of Things
We’re going to see a genuine value exchange – internet connected everyday household items provided cheaply (or freely) in return for advertising opportunities. With the rise of the “internet of things”, where every day household items such as fridges, alarm clocks and even toothbrushes become connected to the internet, we’ll see them become advertising and communications displays – a home full of screens. Advertising has funded the FTA TV industry in many countries; phone calls, SMS and data have subsidised mobile handsets. The freemium business model, so popular with software, will begin to expand into consumer hardware. Data, paid for by advertisers, feeding content to devices paid for by advertisers. Clocks that provide sponsored news updates, weather vanes that give you the temperature and an advertisement for clothing are just two examples of how marketeers might create new owned media channels.

3. Digital Austerity
2012 is about simplicity and austerity. The death of the campaign site has been coming for a long time, but finally, communicators are beginning to realise that in order to build distinctive, memorable brand assets, AUniqueWebsiteForAShortTermCampaign.com is a complete waste of time and money. Short term campaign constructs lead to efforts being made dragging people to that campaign construct such as short-term Facebook Fan page, short lived apps and other useless elements, rather than getting their brand noticed, remembered and understood through developing long term brand assets – the foundations of a brand – offline and online. The corollary of cutting down a variety of different campaigns and distraction marketing is that people will notice your brand more, rather than noticing your advertising. Branded, consistent distribution points for communications should always be increased.

4. The Last Campaign
2012 should see big changes in the way many marketing departments operate, away from the on-off “campaign mentality” that has hurt so many brands with visibility gaps and lack of reach, to more realtime marketing – always listening, always responding, always mentally available, always reaching consumers. The only way to achieve this is for many companies to move away from seasonal, quarterly and campaign budgets based on time, and move towards more modal budgeting – in order to reach, to tell stories, to create distinctive brand assets, to engage and entertain – all at the same time, over time, all the time.

5. Sentiment ain’t what it used to be
While social media monitoring, conversation analysis are essential elements to learning and developing qualitative communications insights, one of the most useless elements to it, sentiment analysis, will hopefully die a quick and sudden death. There is not a digital marketing practitioner worth his salt that believes sentiment analysis is anything more than gimmickry. So much more can be gained through analysis of issues at a qualitative level, keyword analysis and a spread of sites and conversations. Conversation monitoring firms should stop peddling this snake oil and actually provide better value by being able to monitor sites where truly insightful conversations occur – primarily Facebook and online forums / discussion boards.

6. Data and Analytics
Big Data is the new oil, the new plastics, the new “social media”. Forget retweets, likes and other soft metrics – Big Data analysis allows for any organisation to understand their huge data sets in a way that will fundamentally change the way they manage their businesses. From working out how to predict when insurance claims will be made, to the likelihood of hospital visits based on previous visits to a local doctor, to the correlation between temperature and beer consumption, companies like Kaggle are making high quality big data analysis cheaper and easier. Google Correlate helps banks understand the most likely timing and location of mortgage enquiries just as it has helped the US Center for Disease Control understand the timing and location of virus outbreaks. And on a small data analysis scale, companies like Betaworks, with their stable of brands such as Bitly and Chartbeat, and ISP based sources such as Experian Hitwise and eCommerce analytics tools are essential tools that have suffered from less visibility because they’re not the new, new thing, but they are incredibly important, and 2012 will see them recognised as such once again.

7. The Game Layer
2012 is the year that game dynamics or “gamification” crossover into the every day. Gamification is, in simple terms, a series of emotional mechanics communicators and marketeers can use to encourage purchase or incite reaction. A traditional example of gamification is happy hours in pubs. If you attend a pub (location) at a specific hour (time) you receive half price beers (discount reward). Airline rewards points are similar: purchase a flight (transaction), and you’ll get points (artificial reward points). The more you purchase, the more points you earn, therefore you increase your status (level-up) for greater benefits (point reward status). This is no different to addictive games, where the more you play, the more experience you earn (XP), the better your weapons / players / options. Humans are irrational, emotional beings. The key for communicators and marketers isn’t to change the way they communicate, but to change the way they get noticed and increase relevant associations with their communications, building a “game layer” over their existing communications and marketing.

8. One Hundred Seconds of Solitude
Solitude and silence will make a considerable comeback in 2012. Shutting down notifications, turning off phones, removing oneself from data access will become more and more valued. Out of office replies and voicemail is diminishing, with the expectation that we’re always connected, always plugged into the network. As a result, we’ve seen a consumer backlash in the form of email bankruptcy (deleting one’s entire inbox and writing an out of office alerting people that anything they’ve sent over that period has been lost/deleted) and overall attention deficit, not a disorder, but the deliberate lack of attention. Now we’re seeing apps such as MacFreedom that allow you to block the internet for up to 8 hours – and as the name suggests, earn “freedom” from notification. International holidays have an unintended benefit in that the prohibitively high mobile data costs stop people from checking in on the road, allowing a respite from notification fatigue (which for some is an asphyxiating disconnection).

9. Attention Shifting
From Instapaper to uTopic to Pinterest to YouTube’s “Watch This Later” to Safari’s “Reading List” – we’ve moved from appointment based media such as traditional TV and radio to time-shifting media such as podcasts and video recording to now “attention shifting”. We see it now, we can access it now, but we’re not ready to actually consume it and think about it now. These tools are in essence “Wishlists” for free content – despite it being free (cost-wise), we’re not free (time-wise). We’re going to see a lot more of these tools, “Attention shifting shopping carts”.

10. Advocacy Fatigue
Why listen to loyalists? They’re buying already. As for their reach, it’s limited, despite the protestations of many a social media “guru”. The excellent Ehrenberg-Bass Institute recently found that less than 1% of existing Facebook Fans were actively engaged in their Fan Pages, and existing fans didn’t buy any more of the products compared to non-fans. The social media industry needs to focus on reach, rather than niche; the industry needs to use social conversations as a means to understand what people are thinking, the questions they are asking, and what they’re searching for and visiting, rather than defining success on the actions of the very few “likes” and “fans”. What is more important is to speak to the many people who aren’t buying, talking, sharing, liking and blogging about your brand – the everyday consumer, non-existent or light buyers of your brand. Many social media campaigns ignore this very obvious paradox: the very people who are the lightest consumers (who are the source of sales growth) are the very ones who aren’t engaged, who aren’t participating, who aren’t fans – and who have little or no interest in the brand. Further, with the exception of high involvement purchases, current fans are unlikely to advocate to these others on your behalf.
Provide better communications to get noticed by the uninformed and disinterested – yes, involve the key opinion leaders, involve the niche if you have the luxury – but effective storytelling has to happen across media, for the many, not just the few.

11. Social Signon
Here’s a puzzle: If you consider the entire Hotmail user base, where are the largest number of users based? If you answered China, you’re wrong. Japan? No. India? Indonesia? Brazil? United States? Germany? United Kingdom? All incorrect. the answer is AFGHANISTAN. Before you wrack your brain considering the reasons why, the simple answer is that Afghanistan is the first country that comes up in the login / signup page, therefore people click Afghanistan rather than scrolling down and accurately filling in information. People are sick of signing up and logging in, but this isn’t new – 88% of people claimed to have provided incorrect information when joining services in 2011, up from 76% in 2010, according to a recent survey for Janrain. Facebook Connect – using Facebook to automatically fill in signup documents and login isn’t new either – however 2012 is the year when “Social signon” will move towards universal adoption. By the end of 2012, sites that do not offer social signon (whether via Facebook, Google Account or Twitter), and true connections to the social graph, will suffer drastic declines in visitation, interaction and most importantly, the ability to deliver customised content and advertising to users.

12. The Tyranny of Popularity
Facebook is making it easy – too easy – to automatically share our activities. We read an article on the Guardian or Washington Post Website, and it automatically adds it to our Facebook feed. We don’t even have to like it – simply participate, and it shares automatically, “frictionless sharing”.
There is a problem with this – there’s so much info out there. Facebook is breaking with its past of “Top Stories” and moving the other way – overwhelming us with more information than we need – or like. While sharing is always important to the sharer, too much sharing is a burden on the consumer. That’s the key problem with Twitter – it’s a torrent, not a stream. In the era of information overload, and attention bankruptcy, we now have too much from Facebook. Most people aren’t good at working out what’s interesting to others and what isn’t, so we require filters to identify the best stories and content – some filters are professional people such as editors, while other filters use aggregate measures such as clicks and “likes” and serve us the most popular. If something becomes popular, it moves to the top of social rankings, which begets popularity, whether the content is “good” or not. The only way to ensure that the most popular content changes on many sites is to introduce decay rates to content that ensure even popular content falls off the perch quickly enough that people won’t get bored by it. Google overcame this issue, what was known as the “Google effect“, when it used to promote the most clicked link higher up the search order. Since then, they’ve improved their algorithms to ensure that it’s not just the most popular (ie: social), but the most relevant and most authoritative link that gets promoted, but this will change in 2012 with increased social search results.

13. The Payment Layer
Digital has lead to an explosion of channels across so many industries – from music to social to content to platforms. However, one of the holy grails of the internet – reliable, universally acceptable and rigorous payment systems are rare. After PayPal, there is daylight. WePay, MoneyBookers, Amazon Payments and Bitcoin (despite it’s recent troubles) are potential challengers, while Square’s growth has been slow and steady.
Google Wallet is slowly growing, while Near Field Communications will be integrated into everything from digital panels to vending machines to supermarket checkouts – allowing us to pay by waving our mobile phone over a payment terminal. Once payment systems become more sophisticated and allow us to pay in increments of hundredths of a cent, then we may see an improvement in the way copyright is adequately remunerated outside of specific distribution channels, from text to images to video to audio.

14. The Rise of APIs
APIs, Application Programming Interfaces, are ways in which software programs communicate with each other. Simply, it’s how you’re able to get the weather on your iPhone app – the weather bureaux (or source of content) creates an API that your mobile weather app accesses in order to find out what your local weather forecast is. APIs aren’t just used for weather, but by organisations of all different types to open up their systems and allow people to build apps, software, games and solutions using that information. A perfect example of that is the NYSE, who opened up all of their data in the form of APIs, so that people would create software that analyses, tracks and provides solutions related to any part of the NYSE. Another example is auto manufacturer – General Motors has recently created a number of APIs in their cars, allowing people to control elements of the car’s operation using their mobile app – whether starting the car remotely, or setting off a map based alarm to warn the person that they should stop as they approach a petrol station. APIs aren’t just about access, but about building an ecology around products and services for the betterment of the consumer. American Express and FourSquare trialled a system whereby offers and specials through Foursquare were automatically redeemed if a person used their American Express card – without staff or consumer having to wave a coupon or delay the transaction. All of this powered by their respective APIs. 2012 will see a boom in APIs as organisations see the benefit of opening up their APIs and allowing customers, suppliers and consumers to mash up the benefits and reap the respective rewards.

15. The Internet is Leaking
As much as we love our flash in the pan status updates, tweets and other digital ephemera, people are looking for a reversion to the tangible, the tactile, the real. It’s been happening for a while, but there are a distinct lack of providers in this space. Berg has just launched Little Printer, a prototype for a “social printer”, a means to deliver up to the second status updates, weather reports, photos, coupons and other ephemera in printed form. Apple have recently added a very useful “Cards” app, that allows iPhone users to send greeting cards direct from their mobile phone using photos they’ve just taken. From the NewspaperClub.com to Postagram to Printstagram, tactile options are on the rise. As wonderful as digital is, it’s not great at giving us texture, despite the proliferation of Instagram and Hipstamatic film grain packs. 2012 will provide us with many more examples of where the Internet has leaked into our rooms.

16, Mesa Checkins
Forget checking into a venue – what are you eating there? What is the event you’re attending? 2012 will see an explosion in the detail checkin – not the generic venue, but the specific product, service or event. If I want the best spaghetti bolognese within 1km, a check-in service such as Oink will help me find it (despite it recently being purchased and shut down by Google). I might not be a fan of a sports stadium, but I’m a fan of the team who are playing there that day. Mesa checkins – “mesa” coming from the Greek “inside”, tend to be more active – I’m “watching” / “eating”, rather than the passive “I’m at”. Mesa checkins are also rapidly extending into traditional media, with an increasing number of media-synching apps that allow us to check-in to songs (Shazam, SoundHound) and TV shows (Miso, GetGlue, Into_Now, Meta Mirror, Flingo, Media Sync and GOAB) while we’re watching them.

17. Life Telemetry
Formula One cars are at the bleeding edge of electronic innovation, particularly their telemetry systems that monitor hundreds of variables on a car and instantly send the information back to base, in order to provide the teams with the ability to modify the performance of the car, thus improving performance. With mobile phones in every pocket, with accelerometer, compass, microphone, camera and other sensory inputs, why not track every element of your life and thereby improve your performance? Whether it be tracking your sleeping patterns with sleep apps such as Sleep Cycle, monitoring your calorie intake with LoseIt! or your jogging distances with Nike+Fuelband, the mobile device as sensor and quality infographics as output should increasingly allow us to monitor our life telemetry – from calorie intake to productivity to moods.

18. Smarter Search
As good as Google is, it only supplies us with a list of links where it believes the information lies, rather than the information itself. The greatest online success stories are platforms for sorting and filtering information – Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Amazon – they are in essence elaborate curators / editors – with either ads or a retail store attached to monetise them. We require better search, “plain English” search, and actual answers, not results. From Google Squared (recently shut down) to Wolfram Alpha to Siri to Google+, we are in a new era of search wars, based on providing us with real answers and solutions with a social, local, intent / historical context.

19. Second Screen Culture
We’re all accustomed to text search. For many of us, Shazam was the first app we installed on our smartphone – with its wonderful ability to ID any song we might hear out and about. We may even be in the vast minority who scan QR codes to access product information. Increasingly, 2012 will see visual search increase dramatically, especially when shopping – note eBay’s recent introduction of visual search. Second screens such as mobiles and tablets will give every single element of a brand the ability to be multi-dimensional in its communications. Where visual and audio search will play an increasingly important role is using the mobile as a media enabler – where people want to know more about a product at point of sale, or while watching an advertisements, they’ll simply be able to point their mobile phone at the device and allow the product packaging to “speak”. 68% of Americans watch TV with their smartphone, tablet or laptop in hand. How many marketers are providing complementary content for this second screen?

20. Vertical Social Networks
In the “good old days” of the internet, people would gather around interests and hobbies. News groups, with names such as alt.music.house were large planets that we would orbit around. We gravitated around interests, not people. These communities evolved into online forums – on topics as varied as fashion to football to cars to politics to music. These online forums are still the primary and most popular way in which people converse online – bringing together total strangers, generally identified by pseudonyms, around one common interest. Social networking sites such as Facebook are different – they make the person the “planet” – self-focussed, with a person’s life being the major topic that others gravitate towards. Vertical social networks bring together people who aren’t necessarily friends, but gather around an interest, just like online forums. The difference being they link the best of forums with the best of social networking; around specific topics. LinkedIn is a good example – people brought together around careers and business networking. Sermo is another – a social network for medical professionals and doctors to discuss medical issues. Myspace went from a social network, to trying to become a vertical social network around music, looking for focus and a specific interest to provide a hook for users. 2012 will see more and more of these vertical social networks arise, with the key being that they are mobile enabled – localised and using the cameras and microphones on phones to bring content “from the street” to the network instantly. PearlTrees, FoodSpotting and GetGlue are three examples; by the end of the year, there’ll be many, many more.

Me + Campaign Asia + Social Gaming

I have been quoted in a new piece in Campaign Asia Magazine on Social Gaming.  Here’s a link to the piece: Campaign Asia April 11 Social Gaming

My full response for Campaign Asia:

Q: What has been the impact of social gaming on the general gaming landscape?

Gaming was always seen by people as anti-social, but social gaming has destroyed that myth. Social gaming – whether games specifically based on social networking sites (Such as FarmVille and CityVille), Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (such as World of Warcraft or Everquest) or Console Networking games (such as Call of duty: Black Ops or FIFA 11) have opened up gaming in a number of ways; it has increased the number of gamers (with a strong growth in older females), it has increased the number of gaming sessions (as people are encouraged to play with their friends, and it has also increased the duration of gaming sessions (as the previous limitations of computer based intelligence are now superceded by the ability to play against real people).

In short, it has provided a new dimension to gaming, a new relevance and greater consumer touchpoints – it’s not just about the old PC vs console battle, but the ability to play games in browser, in social network, on mobile and other touchpoints.

Q: What is the chief revenue driver for social game developers? How important is ad-based revenue?

In the old days, games were either freeware/shareware or paid products. Now, we have a broad mix of revenue opportunities: paid (buy the game for $x), subscription (per month $), paid updates (buy the new levels for $x), advertising based (in game displays or sponsorship), and increasingly in-game purchase (virtual goods such as clothes, weapons, and other virtual goods that make for a better in game experience). Mostly, gaming developers should be looking at a mix of these opportunities. Ad based revenue is at it’s best when incorporated into the game in an engaging way – rather than just using the game as a billboard for display ads.

Q: Does the advent of gaming via SNS mean that marketers need to rethink how they strategise their in-game advertising? How then should brands be engaging with social gamers? What are the challenges involved?

Yes – just as marketing communications need to be engaging and relevant, so does their integration into games – particularly how they will work in a highly social environment. The key is to recognise that you are not building a platform or a tool, but a community – and every decision should be made to encourage the satisfaction, enjoyment and interaction of that community. While many marketers are fearful of social media because they “lose control” of conversation, social gaming allows the marketer to create the world and set the expectations and actions of the participants. It’s a relatively more controlled environment.

Q: To what extent are game developers and brands partnering to build games that satisfy both consumers and brands?

One of the earliest examples of this was the Playstation game “Boxster Challenge” which was developed by Porsche to coincide with the launch of the original Boxster way back in 1997. It was more or less a completely immersive, highly engaging virtual test drive experience for the Porsche Boxster.

One other great advantage of gaming for marketers is that unlike movies or music, gaming sequels tend to get better, therefore it’s easier to predict and partner with successful gaming franchises. More recently, we’ve seen changes in the way marketers use existing gaming franchises to promote their products: H&M used The Sims to promote and sell their clothing in game and McDonalds in FarmVille. Snoop Dogg has sold over $USD700,000 in branded virtual goods.

The bottom line is – games are incredibly popular – marketers aren’t doing enough to partner with game developers.

The Apple iPad – Initial Thoughts

Every so often, a technology comes along that redefines competition within markets:

  • Email redefined the way people communicate, and in doing so, undermined the letter delivery service forever.
  • Phones are in competition with coffee shops.
  • Skype is in competition with domestic airlines.

Now, with the iPad, Apple’s “magical and revolutionary product“, Apple is in competition with TV broadcasters, newsagents and printers as a source of media. Print media organisations aren’t dead – their distribution model is. TV stations aren’t dead – if they produce content – but they are if they simply broadcast it. The iPad represents an opportunity for people to access professional content from anywhere in the world from anywhere. Video, audio, photos, music, games and books.

Where individual songwriters can record and release a song for $1.99 through iTunes, where individual developers and content creators can release individual iPhone Apps for sale, now content creators can release books and other written content through a secure payment and distribution system. Apple’s new iBookStore will erode the print publishing distribution model in the same way digital recording from a laptop , iTunes and peer-to-peer file sharing has eroded the record company business model. It will open up opportunities for organisations and individuals to create and release content of all types.

In 2004, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that you can listen to music in the background, while movies require that you actually watch them, and that the size of the iPod is not conducive to high quality viewing. With the iPad, Apple has created an almost perfect video (and gaming) device. I believe we will see further opportunities including:

  • Channel iPad: Live content streaming of TV shows, direct from producers – either bypassing or augmenting traditional TV viewing
  • Vote now: Realtime interaction with mass media events and live TV shows – eg: voting
  • Get used to seeing them on people’s laps at the footy / cricket: Sports teams providing rich in-game experiences and interaction via wireless networks in-stadium straight to iPad

Other random thoughts:
It will change the way in which we design websites, as fingers become the navigation tool rather than the mouse. This has happened on the iPhone, there’s no reason why we won’t see a similar shift with the iPad.

Video will be even more important in the communications mix – iPhone / iPad Apps will use more in-app video, and moreso considering YouTube is integrated into the device.

As people will now have a large keyboard on glass (silent typing versus a physical keyboard with buttons), we will see iPads:

  • Becoming more popular than laptops in Uni lecture theatres
  • Being used as a silent replacement for normal notepads in meetings, interviews and presentations
  • Being used as a big screen, synchronised (via Wi-Fi and 3G) version of our everyday notepad

We also see the iPad in the following roles:

  • Being used as a display / interactive device at retail – instantly synchronised, providing personalised product information for each customer.
  • Being used as the ultimate device for sales reps – giving them a big screen for videos, presentations, sales charts, images and the synchronisation and connectivity for productivity on the road.
  • The ultimate “Doctor’s friend”, in the form of a one size fits all repository for scans, images, medical history and in-patient records.
  • Apple’s massive repository of education content on iTunes U will find a logical home – the iPad is the ultimate education tool – relatively inexpensive and simple (restricted) enough that anyone can use it as a learning tool.
  • It will be a hit with the world’s ageing population. Larger screen means larger type which means less strain on eyes. A great platform to build solutions and content for the older generation.
  • The ultimate cookbook for home chefs.

NEW versus BETTER

What makes things popular? Often, new stuff is popular, just because it’s new. It’s there – and it wasn’t there before. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.

This thought struck me as I was walking down the street on the weekend. I walked past a razor shop, and saw a whole heap of brand new electric razors. All the latest bells and whistles in razor technology. Genuine improvement, genuinely better than the electric razors of two years ago. Two doors up the road was JB Hi-Fi, all of the latest and greatest in music, games, movies and technology. New stuff. But very little of it was an improvement. Some of it was simply slightly different, but newly released.

So, how do punters differentiate between the mass of existing ideas and products – they have a generic choice:

  • Stuff that is better
  • Stuff that is new

Thriller should be in the top album charts – always. As should Saturday Night Fever. Along with AC/DC’s Back in Black, and Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack. They are some of the best albums of all time – timeless classics, incredible artistry, superb songwriting and incredible production. However, they are nudged out by the newly released such as the utterly appalling Susan Boyle. It’s the same with films; Star Wars should be showing in cinemas all over the world these holidays, in the top selling DVDs, but instead we get Chipmunks – The Squeakquel. Sales charts are dominated by the newest releases, not the best.

Broadly speaking, companies with a strong focus on technology, research and development are good at making things better. For example, electric razors, microwaves, DVD players, iPods, computer software all get better with every iteration. Computer games are the perfect example (in stark contrast to other creative entertainment) where sequels are consistently better than the previous product. They get better. People are used to the new being better, because these companies train their customers to recognise that new = better. They largely deliver on that promise.

Again, broadly speaking – movie sequels and follow up albums suck, but still find a level of popularity because they are new. Politicians struggle to convince voters that they have an ongoing bias for policy innovation – because they generally don’t do anything anything better, they do things that are new. When politicians do genuinely reform, where they do make things better – witness Australia over the past 15 years – it’s regarded as a rarity. The media’s love affair with many politicians is often based on them not being better, but being NEWsworthy. Restaurants don’t often do things better, they do things that are new. New dishes, new menus, new decor, new music. The ones that do it better outlast the ones that do new things.

Subjectivity does play a role here of course, so these organisations expend a massive amount of effort in convincing people that their new is better, even though it’s generally not. Politicians try and convince people that their new policy will lead them to a far better quality of life. The restaurants try and convince their diners that their new dishes are the best they’ve ever tasted. Movie distributors try to fill their trailers with quotes saying their show is “the funniest film ever”. Music companies rarely have releases that are better than things past, but they are just new, so they try in vain to prove that they are better: “Madonna’s best album yet”. They must convince people with all of their might that new = better.

So, why are things popular if they are only new – not better? why the hell do people fall for it? Because these organisations make these new products remarkable.

Three types of remarkable:

  • Remarkable: Different, incredible, reactionary, inspiring – genuine innovation
  • Re-Markable: Provides people with a new way of looking at / using an existing product
  • Remark-able: Worthy of remark and discussion due to an overwhelming story or point of interest

Some things have two of these qualities (Susan Boyle – fat competition winner that you talk about with your friends, singing old songs in a new way), some have all three (iPod – amazingly innovative means of listening to music in a new way that you want to tell your friends about).

If you can be remarkable, you can rise above the vast back catalogues of human creation, rise above the better, and simply become the new – therefore implying a sense of better. Not to say that’s better, it’s simply remarkable.

So which category do you or your organisation fall into? New or Better? Either? What steps can you take to be both?

Monopoly’s Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMMOG)

How adland is cutting Big Media out of the future: a great piece from Wired on the Tribal DDB / Monopoly City Streets Massive Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG), and the changes for the future of brands and products.

It’s a whopper of a case study that speaks to the heart of all digital initiatives. Ultimately, the digital industry does (should) do one or more of three things:

  • Help / Augment
  • Engage
  • Entertain / Educate

Whatever the digital initiative, if it does only one of these things, it’s not enough. If it does two of these things, it’s got a good chance at succeeding. If it does three of these things, it’s likely to work very well. Reach people, get them engaged, help them, entertain them. Get them to remember you.

How this Monopoly game ticks all three boxes?

  • It helps / augments the experience of playing Monopoly by making it a global game with potentially millions of competitors.
  • It engages through it being a great game, a great product and scalable across millions of people.
  • It entertains. It is Monopoly after all.

Kiss my RSS – An Explanation of RSS

Why don’t more people use RSS? Let’s start at the beginning, with an answer to the question: “What is RSS?” The best way to describe it is as a subscription to all of your favourite websites in the form of a “ticker tape” style notification. It allows your favourite sites’ new content, stories, posts and images to be delivered to you, rather than having to visit those sites to get the content.

As soon as there’s some new content – in the form of a new news piece, new photo, new video, new comment, new post, new item – the RSS feed you’ve subscribed to from that site notifies you of the new content – and even delivers it to you.

Therefore, instead of spending all day trying to find content you might like on various websites, you can subscribe and customise RSS feeds, and the content you like finds you.

I subscribe to over 400 RSS feeds – unique sources of information – grouped around the following topics:

  • APAC Business
  • US Business News
  • Economics
  • Clients
  • Digital and Social Media
  • Fashion and Culture
  • Footy
  • Forums (Forums are where 98% of online conversations occur  – I subscribe to the most popular, across topics as varied as Automotive, Mums, Fashion, Music, Youth, Politics, Finance… You name it).
  • Friends
  • Greek Sites
  • Italian Sites
  • Insights
  • Marketing News
  • European Business
  • Asian Business
  • Middle East Business
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Music Business
  • News and Opinion
  • Planning
  • Politics and Liberty
  • Random Blogs
  • SEO / SMO / SEM Insights
  • Shopping
  • Statistics
  • Strategy
  • Trends and Future
  • Video

So – if you’d like to be able to read the sports section of the Herald-Sun, the Business section of The Australian, the Opinion section of The Age, YouTube videos tagged “Daicos”, blog posts from the von Mises Institute, the Restaurant Review section of the New York Times, the Collingwood Forum on BigFooty.com, and the latest fashion updates from [frockwriter], all in five minutes without having to swap between 100 websites, then RSS feeds are for you.

All you need to do is be on the lookout for the orange or blue RSS logo – on various websites, and you’re halfway there! Then, by using Google Reader, Netvibes or other RSS readers, you can subscribe to your favourite feeds.

SmartCompany: Me on Twitter’s churn and burn

I’m is quoted in this Patrick Stafford piece in SmartCompany. It’s about Twitter’s appalling churn rate of over 60%.

Some of the reasons why Twitter’s retention rate is so bad:

  1. It’s limited – 140 characters. No video / audio / rich media / expression / detail / depth – yes you can link to those things, but that’s it.
  2. It’s neither a mass broadcast mechanism nor is it targetted. Fine if you want to get a message out to a number of followers in a single moment, but terrible if you are using it for reach or for a more personal or limited conversation.
  3. It’s very easy to set up, so there’s little in terms of “purchase investment”. You register, follow a few people and if you walk away / forget, it’s not like you’ve spent hours of your time – there’s little to “lose” by abandoning it.
  4. It’s a media phenomenon. The media are going nuts over it, when the punters are far less interested. It’s like Second Life – not a day would go by when the media wouldn’t write about Second Life – it drove a spike in interest, but didn’t drive long term usage.
  5. As written in a previous post, Twitter is for old people. Young people couldn’t care less and aren’t using it in any substantial numbers. Older people either don’t have the time, or the interest, so they join up, look around and leave after a while – they don’t keep the ball rolling.
  6. It’s not customisable. I might enjoy some tweets of some people (person focussed), or some tweets by all people (topic focussed), but definitely not all tweets by all people. It needs to be customisable. Right now, whether I like it or not, I have to read the tweets of all of the people I follow on Twitter. You could argue that there are multiple plugins and applications that allow for customisation of Twitter, but the basic beginner user isn’t interested enough (or capable enough) to then look for filters and plugins. So they get bored / frustrated and stop using it.

Read the full article here: Research casts doubt over whether Twitter fad will last – Business news, business advice and information for Australian SMEs | SmartCompany.