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The world is strong-arming me to get mobile.

10 Jan

I don’t have a cell phone. I have very little interest in changing this.

It irritates some of my friends. Sometimes I feel like I am missing out, but when I am having a drink at the pub with a bunch of people and half of them are elbows deep in a text I think ‘not for me’. I get by fine with a land-line and the many communication options my Mac has to offer. I got by fine until last week that is.

My Shaw phone modem malfunctioned. I not only couldn’t make or receive calls, but nobody could buzz me from the front door of my building. I lived with this for a few days but I eventually had to make the 45 minute call to Shaw to get the modem replaced. Of course I had to make this call elsewhere than home.

‘Your phone is not working at all?’
‘Nope, and my buzzer doesn’t work either.’
‘What’s your cell number?’
‘I don’t have one. I’m one of those guys. Last one I bet, right?’
‘Can you use a friend’s phone?’
‘I can’t ask a friend to wait with me from 8 AM to 8 PM for your guy on a work day. Can’t he just toss a stone at my window when he gets here?’

I arranged for the technician to check in with the coffee shop in my building to be let in. So long as he made it before 4:30 PM this would work. After that no dice. At least most of the ridiculous appointment waiting period was covered.

But really, what a hassle. At this point my refusal to join the mobile masses is the real problem. I’m the asshole, not Shaw.

The tech made it before 4:30 PM and my phone works again. Like somebody who made a promise to god in order to get out of a jam – and survived – I don’t feel much like keeping my promise to get a cell phone. But really it is time, or is it?


Flowers for a CEO

6 Oct

I heard the news of Steve Jobs passing along with countless others, on Twitter. A lone questioning tweet appeared, then a trickle, then the news cascaded down the stream. If you had just arrived on earth to witness it you’d be forgiven for thinking a beloved humanitarian fighting injustice and suffering had been assassinated.

Steve Jobs Apple silhouetteAs Apple’s figurehead and spokesman he didn’t invent any of Apple’s industry changing products, nor did he design them, he was the CEO. Which makes it all the more incredible that customers fans have been leaving flowers outside Apple stores in remembrance and people from countries all over the world are still flooding social networks with micro memorials.

Steve Jobs wasn’t just one of the greatest American CEOs, he was a true visionary.

The people who knew him describe his relentless drive to innovate, to push the people he worked with to improve every aspect of what they were working on, to do things differently. Not to give people what they wanted, but to bring them new products that they would love.

That he did this at the expense of profit led to him being fired by the Apple board in 1985. His return with his visionary leadership style intact made Apple what it is today. That’s what makes him one of the greatest American CEOs, but that doesn’t explain the genuine grief evident in the social sphere.

For me that’s explained in his ability to elevate form over function in a world that is increasingly focused on ROI, efficiency & the ruthless pursuit of cost-cutting.

We have an emotional response to design in a way we never will with an list of impressive specifications. With his drive, every Apple product touched by his vision shines. It’s what led Apple to be elevated to not just a global company, but a movement. And movements are driven by emotion. Few people leave such an amazing legacy.

This is a 5 star blog post

21 Sep

This is a 5 star blog post… or is it a 1 star blog post? Well you’re reading it, you decide. The star rating is the grandfather of social validation and review mechanisms. Migrating from the hospitality industry it moved to the entertainment industry before slipping effortlessly onto websites where it makes perfect sense for our attention deficit, fragmented, time-poor online world.

Copeland image: The problem with star ratings.With a single click you can sum up your entire experience of a product, service, or entity and be off to your next online destination. Conversely, no time to investigate a product? Just check the star rating. Everyone wins? Well no, and for the typical implementation of star rating systems here’s why:

It’s too democratic
The leveling power of the Internet has done some wonderful things. Bypassing the media, it has given a voice to people where previously their frustrations and delight would be confined to a small circle of friends and peers.

Mainstream social media hasn’t addressed this yet, but its problem is that in many ways influence and positioning vastly overshadow experience & knowledge. That’s for another post, but in the context of star ratings it means that everyone has the same level of authority when they rate something. So what’s wrong with that?

Well, should you really be allowed to rate something if you’ve never actually bought the product or experienced the service yourself? Why should you have the power to influence others based on hear-say, or worse, in the pursuit of an ill-informed agenda? Especially considering your star rating is elevated to the same level of influence as someone who actually paid for the product or service.

A star rating for a meal or movie accounts for a passive activity with a very short timeline. Should it be applied to a complex product or service with which you interact for a period of months or years? The blanket democracy takes no account of whether you read the instructions, ignored the warnings, let alone whether you paid for the product.

It’s open to abuse
Running a campaign or launching a product? Why not just buy 5 star reviews. Or go the extra step and buy 1 star reviews to be applied to your competitors.

Electronic Arts suffered the wrath of agenda driven star rating abuse when they released Spore, a PC game with what was seen by consumers as having  draconian anti-piracy measures. An organised backlash resulted in 837 1 star reviews being posted on Amazon within days, many by people who had never bought the game. Maybe this was a fair rating of the anti-piracy features, but it tarred every aspect of the product with the same brush.

It amplifies inherent bias.
If you pass my imaginary gate for people who have actually paid for the product then we run into the next huge failing. Inherent bias.
If you’ve committed to the point where you shell out money for a product or service then you’re pre-disposed to like it. There’s also the documented need to validate our decision. If you’ve ever looked for a review of a movie after you’ve watched it, or searched for a product review for the gadget sitting next to you on your sofa, as I have, then you’re probably looking for approval via social validation. You’ll be inclined to leave a higher rating as a result.

At the other end of the scale are those looking to assuage their anger with a 1 star review. What star ratings don’t show is the vast majority of people who find the product satisfactory. Have you ever taken the time to rate, or review  something that you were mildly pleased with, or was satisfactory? This evangelism amplifies both end of the scale, leaving the middle ground in a vacuum. It’s the reason youtube is looking for alternatives to star ratings. And if they are I’d wager the big e-commerce sites are as well.

Twitter is circling the drain and we pulled the plug.

31 May

USE #YYJ FOR VICTORIA! screamed a veteran twitter user at a stumbling fawn stepping gingerly into the raging torrent of tweets.
This, for me, was the point when Twitter lost the final vestiges of dignity and innocence, becoming the anti-social monster that it is today.

In the early days, Twitter was joyously simple. An exciting forum of discovery and interaction and a genuine social network, but that didn’t last long.

Businesses came, sniffing out the promise of cheap/free marketing. There was a sense that this was the holy grail of marketing; a tool that empowered businesses to establish personal marketing channels with customers for next to no cost. You could ditch your traditional advertising and marketing, save money and grow your business. Predictably, Twitter followed the path of the tranquil and charming getaway, ruined by glowing magazine articles and word of mouth. Now, it’s broadcast media, the screamer on the daily paper, it’s the tv newsflash, the spam email, its not social.

Is it really that bad? Well towards the end of last year I asked the community if they knew a place to hire a mini excavator for some (serious) weeding. No recommendations, but I did get 4 Excavator sales companies autofollow me within seconds offering leasing and easy finance.

I voiced this take on Twitter in Doug’s post on automated tweets, and in the resulting comments he suggested examining a Twitter stream to find the social tweets. So I did just that. Reckoning that local users might be looking for local tweets I sampled an hour of tweets containing the #yyj hashtag on Friday 27/05/2011. There were 98 tweets. So of those 98 tweets, how many were inviting discourse and would satisfy the notion that Twitter is a social networking tool?

One. Yes, one. Accompanied by three others that weren’t actually seeking discourse, but were at least open or community minded (click the graphic above to see the community tweets).
Those four were almost completely drowned out by an endless foghorn of tweets grandstanding, boasting, demanding RTs, hocking, selling & promoting.

So who’s to blame, well us. When Twitter opened the doors and set its creation free we invented tools to filter and analyse streams, measure every possible metric and correlation, milk every last drop of insight and relevance. It provided everyone with an ego or an agenda – and I include myself here – a soapbox.

It’s only now that I’m seeing people who have no crossover in their everyday lives with social technology, start to turn up on Twitter. Are they going to find a world of discourse and discovery? How long will they post those frank and unguarded opinions before they realise that every word is being and analysed, their value to marketers is being assessed and they are being filtered and ranked by their receptance to offers. And perversly, whether their influence deems them important enough to listen to if they complain?

So can Twitter be saved? Does it even need saving? Topics for a following post.

Death, taxes and ironic ad placements

13 May

This unfortunate (or brilliant, depending on your perspective) ad placement caused outrage – even consternation – in the UK recently.

One thing we know from working on McCalls Funeral Directors is that funeral homes and humour don’t go well together.

I’m guessing David McCall would have a private laugh at this, but the insensitivity would also baffle him.

The poster has been replaced by this upbeat, more appropriate one.


9 May

Doug posted last week that this wasn’t hate on HSBC month here at Copeland. This is true.  So, lucky for us CIBC released this new ATM ad!

Need I say more?