Tuesday, 22 December 2009

'Tis the season of goodwill and keeping in touch

As Christmas approaches, the blog posts may be dwindling (only 37k new blogs created in the last 24 hours, normally it's in the 60k per day range), the tweets fewer, and the Facebook posts are increasingly recounting stories of travel horrors or excitement at seeing friends and family (well for most of us).  Most of us are turning our thoughts to those we are spending Christmas with and those whom we aren't but would like to have been able to.

For those of us with friends and family scattered around the world, being together at the same time and  in the same place may not be realistic, but amongst the many communication platforms we have at our disposal, it is tools like Skype which have been game changers in keeping relationships alive, and for encouraging a wide range of people of all ages to venture online and try it.  Phone calls are already fantastic for those that you can't see in person, but video calls are even better.

I regularly see 15m people logged in to the service on a Sunday morning (GMT) when I'm trying to catch up with my brothers in Australia. So it's no surprise to me to read earlier today that Skype now accounts for 8% of international calling minutes globally, but it's a fact I thought I'd share.

A quick call (video or otherwise), or a personal email or text can mean a lot to people you don't see often.
Be a sport. Spare a few moments and get in touch with someone you don't see often.  It's Christmas.

Touchscreen phones & winter don't go

Hmm,  have had my latest touchscreen toys a few weeks now and I'm still exploring and pondering my views.  I've been amazed at how quickly you get used to touch navigation and swiping (to the extent that I've caught myself trying to swipe my desk phone to navigate the office phone directory, and jabbing my finger at my laptop screen, ooops).

However, I have 3 initial observations about touchscreen based phones:

1) I can't text or email without looking which I could when I had a keypad with 3 letters to a key

2) On my old Nokia non-smartphone mobile I could turn off predictive text (which I used to because I frequently text and abbreviate in 4 languages), on my smartphone I can't turn it off, only change language / keypad (so I get an AZERTY layout in French for example). Grrrr.

3) When it's cold and snowy I can't use my phone with my gloves on, because it doesn't register my touch. Seriously annoying. Maybe I'll have to swap to leather gloves and see if that works better.

I knew that the toys wouldn't fit in my pocket before I made the decision to swap but it really is rather annoying! Having to juggle carrying a phone, a notepad or laptop, a cup of coffee and a swipe access card to a meeting and opening heavy fire doors is a real challenge.

Dear Father Christmas,

If it's not too late, please could you bring me (sometime in 2010 will do) a smartphone with all the functionality of my HTC Hero or my iPod touch but in a form that fits in my jeans pocket, and works with gloves on.

Yours in hope


Monday, 21 December 2009

Tis that "top xxx of 2009" time of year..

There are many great things that have come out of the digital space in 2009, and there are loads of Best of charts burbling into my Tweetdeck everyday at the moment.

Of all of the round ups of smart comms activity that have tripped across my path (so far) my current favourite is from Contagious magazine. I'd recommend downloading the pdf which has a really comprehensive round up of case studies of smart  thinking, creative and execution from around the world, neatly divided up into sections encompassing digital, integrated, gaming, outdoor, entertainment and content to name but a few.

For the few of us left in the office this week (thankful that we are not trying to get to France on the Eurostar, cos the trains aren't working 'cos it's too cold!), it would be 20 minutes reading well spent.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Digital's great but some things are just better in reality

Did I miss the memo about the Christmas slowdown being cancelled this year?

Gosh, it's all busy busy busy all around me, and not even with Christmas shopping and parties, although there does always seem to be a focussed urgency to catch up with people, let alone complete tasks as the end of the year looms. I am crossing my fingers that next week might actually see some relenting of the hectic pace of the last few weeks.

I've seen some great, and some truly dreadful attempts at offices trying to do the "green"  thing and send digital Christmas cards / videos but to my mind there's nothing like proper Christmas cards because otherwise you are just one click through and gone (or worse still a lurking memory associated with something awful), whereas cards sit  innocently on shelves (or desks in the case of clients) for a while, an active reminder of the sender. 

Call me sentimental if you will, but in this season of goodwill I like to be reminded of my friends and family, and even in my days as a client, it was nice to get cards from the agencies and suppliers I worked with. Sure, having to actually write your name (heavens!) in this keyboard-centric age  is seen by some as a chore, but I like digging out my fountain pen and spending some relatively calm time writing notes and messages to people I care about.

Maybe I inherited the habit from my Dad?  He is meticulous about maintaining his Christmas Card List book, carefully noting who he has sent cards to as he writes them and after Christmas checking off who he received them from every year, updating addresses, adding children, and sadly deleting the departed as he goes. In itself it's a journal of relationships and ties, family and friendship histories over time crammed between its' covers. It might lack the vivacity of photos and status posts that we are used to in a Facebook-world but to the geneologists of the future, those tracing family trees, these things will be gold.

Christmas cards - just a fore-runner of social networking?  Most of us aren't in regular active contact with the majority of people in our Facebook friends list, just as we don't necessarily frequently see all the people we send Christmas cards to, but to me that doesn't diminish at all the value of someone taking the time to write and post me a card. Or, in the case of my talented designer friend Trev, who has taken the whole notion of personalisation one step further, and who for years has been compiling a cd of interesting music and sending that instead of cards, designing the album art to reflect events in his year, from weddings, holidays to children & George the cat.  I have a collection of these mad, fun eclectic cds from over the years which I love, and I await the new one in eager anticipation every year. It's become part of my things I associate with Christmas just like exchanging a new Christmas tree bauble or decoration with one of my other best friends, a lovely tradition I adopted from her family.

So whilst I applaud the notion of charity that is so often the excuse for not sending Christmas cards, I'd rather buy myself a more expensive than usual sandwich in M&S of a lunchtime, because they make a donation to Shelter (charity supporting the homeless) than not send cards.

That said I did like this agency's attempt to bring to life what Santa's iPhone would be like.....

Friday, 11 December 2009

Cultural adoption and adaptation from the Arab world

Some of the cultural constraints of working in the Arab world are a mystery to most and a source of endless frustration to many people working there  within the confines of international HQ'd company processes. Western values aren't adopted and accepted everywhere, and nor should they be, but that's often forgotten when global synergies in ad creative are being chased. Cultural differences are essential to what a friend of mine used to describe as life's rich carpet bag. Accepting and respecting these differences is important, as is taking time to understand how different influences across cultures, languages and borders blend together to create new interpretations, which is why I thought I'd share this TED talk on Arab Pop Culture with you:

I sat in a meeting this morning where someone reminded everyone that the accepted business models of now are based primarily on accepted developed world practices and yet the business growth of the future is going to come from India, China, Russia and other markets that are vastly different in size, scale and dynamics to the ones the current models are based on. 

Change is inevitable and those that can embrace it and adapt to it will be the winners.  As we approach the end of this decade, one thing I am sure about is that the world is going to be a very different place in ten years time as technology marches ever forward changing our lives in ways most of can't even imagine yet.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Technology is something that didn't exist when you were born. A 9 year olds view of the world

I just came across this great video interviewing some (US) 9 year olds.

They've never heard of Napster and haven't a clue what "dial up" means / don't associate the sounds with the things I do.  They have mobile phones, and have been using iPods, PSPs and computers since they had the motor skills to move a mouse.  They have pocket money, listen to /download music, video and images, play games.  In short, are you doing enough to engage with the consumers of the future?

(Skip the 1st 50 seconds of introductions if you are short of time,  and the digital specific stuff starts at 1m28 ish))

The decade according to 9-year-olds from allison louie-garcia on Vimeo.

What does your digital morning look like?

I was pondering this morning on the role of digital connectivity in our lives.

I'm digital through and through, with an endless thirst for innovation and new experiences, yet I still force myself to have (at least one) "digital day off" a week (well almost entirely anyway, I am a big believer in the "mobile internet OFF" button on my phone).

Always on connectivity has many uses and advantages but it's important to remember
a) that however digitally reliant we are becoming, offline media play a role too
b) it's healthy (literally both physically and emotionally) to retain perspective by not being always connected to a device (I first had a BlackBerry in 2002 and gave it up deliberately in 2006 & have coped perfectly well without permanent attachment to an email box ever since, albeit have now got a smartphone/device or two so occasionally give in but as an exception rather than the rule)).  That said I'm unusual, mobile (web) usage peaks between 7 and 10am, when pc/mac based surfing takes over to reflect people's morning routines.

So assuming it's a weekday and I'm in the office my media / digital morning routine looks like this:
1) Radio alarm wakes me up & then I head to the kitchen turning on the (digital) radio (mostly for news / travel alerts) and then the kettle
2) Read snippets from "The Week" magazine whilst eating my cereal
3) Turn on mobile on train in the morning (I am fortunate enough to have lots of friends scattered all around the world and as a legacy of days when I travelled around the globe constantly I generally turn my phone(s) off at night, so I don't get woken up by messages buzzing in). Might respond to any texts I've missed. Too early to call many people.
4) Read London freesheet The Metro / a book
5) Might check in with FourSquare if I stop for coffee on my way to the office (more on that another time, but just started to play with it)
6) Turn my laptop on

At which point my digital day really starts properly.  I need the space to think first thing, which is why I prefer to read the paper / a book / stare out the window / often walk through Hyde Park to the office rather than immediately start processing information, tweets etc etc

So once in the office, first off I open Spotify, then Lotus Notes (urgh), then Tweetdeck, and then Firefox (usually already full of tabs of things I've been reading / working on).

Whilst Lotus Notes is doing it's (slow) thing, I'll scan Tweetdeck for interesting tweets from my Twitterati buddies, often providing links to my morning digital food for thought, so onward to Firefox.

Normally I'll open my mail boxes, read / action important mail /news alerts, and scan Facebook quickly before going back to read any links I've opened via Tweets. I also habitually go and check the picture of the day on Bing. It makes me happy .Then I dip briefly into Artwiculate to get the grey matter going.

Every few days I'll also dip into my RSS feeder and scan some blog posts.  Increasingly I use Twitter for tech updates and news and RSS feeds to carefully chosen blogs I like to follow / read more detailed posts than tweets allow.

And all that before 10am (ish) usually.

What does your digital morning look like?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Got your Google Goggles yet?

We know that Google are going to be busy announcing all sorts of things this week and so far I've seen real time search going live  (so now I have Tweets relating to my query) appearing in my search results:

Then, going back to my point yesterday about everything getting more and more mobile, they're also launching Google Goggles, an augmented reality / visual search app for Android powered phones. (Not to be confused with Google Goggles in Gmail which makes you do maths questions to stop you sending emails you'll regret when you've sobered up!)

Shame Google Goggles doesn't seem to be enabled for the UK yet, so I can't tell you what I think about it in reality, as I can't find it in the Android store. :-(    In principle it will let me use the camera on my Android powered phone to find things relating to the content of the pictures I take.  (I also heard Snaptell ( a visual search engine that's been around for a while now) got snapped up by Amazon. Smart.)

Theme of the week in Google videos seems to be having two engineers presenting every new development (is this a rip off of the Mac v PC idea form Apple?!). At least this one's animated to make a change.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Increased relevancy in search: Good or Bad?

Buzzing around the web at the mo is lots of debate about Google's decision to roll out "opt out" search personlisation.

To the average consumer that means that they will now / soon have to consciously act to stop Google storing data about their search behaviour. If you have a Google account that means actively opting out of Google storing your web history indefinitely, and if you don't / are not signed in it means you need to choose to block Google's ability to store your search data via cookie for 180 days.  Then again, you might not want to block them out so you can benefit from increased relevancy in the way your search results are displayed. Your call.

Here's a rather geeky video Google posted on their blog to explain the benefits / opt out methods.

Do you feel this is Google being "Big Brother" ish or see the benefit of prioritised search results?

It's an interesting debate, and certainly one that will rage for a while.  I flip between both sides of the fence. I'm obviously interested in how search is evolving, and so trying to ignore quite how much Google know about me, I signed up to the Google Labs Social Search beta a while back...

I can see why daata privacy is a big hairy issue for a lot of people, but I also suspect that it's a bit like when people first started getting mobile phones - it took a while before people got over the issue of trusting a person's mobile number.

I remember lots of people being wary of calling a tradesman who only appeared to have a mobile number, rather than a landline, despite the fact that obviously if you've got a leaking tap, you really wanted to speak to the plumber himself ASAP not wait 'til he got home from work to pick up his messages.  I am sure we'll adapt fairly readily to sharing certain aspects of our digital behaviour if we can see the benefit to our busy lives of having results pre-filtered against either our social graph (friends/contacts), our previous/regular behaviour or, increasingly, our location as we move more and more interchangeably between desktop and mobile searches.

I can't see our lives getting any less busy, so I believe that shortcuts will become more and more important to us, whatever forms they may take. Where that gets interesting as a notion is therefore how brands will be able to play in that space. It means they will have to work hard to build relationships with us, and / or with our friends as the conduits to other people.  Interrupting people via search will get more and more challenging.

To me, the opportunity to initiate those relationships by being useful or entertaining is now. At the moment there's lots of people exploring and open to try new things. True, there will always be some that continue to do so, but I also think that humans being humans, we'll also quickly find that people find a repertoire of "service providers" for certain things and then it will become much harder to get them to swap and try something else unless the current provider fails to deliver. It makes total sense.  We already know that most people have around 8 favourite / default TV channels from the many to choose from, 6-8 websites they visit regularly, so getting your brand on that trusted repertoire list ASAP, whether it's for "go to" stuff or stuff coming to you via an app/RSS/Twitter feed etc is pretty important.

I predict a war of attrition starting in the next 12-18 months with brands fighting each other hard for deeper relationships with the relatively small numbers of wavering consumers. At the minute the field is open, so think about how you can start being useful or relevant to your consumers to start building brand affinity / sign up to apps / services that go beyond just flogging brand benefits to death.  There'll always be a role of traditional offline media like TV for that!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

When is TV not TV? When it's on YouTube. Or is it?

It's tricky one isn't it? We used to say "what's on the box?" meaning the TV, but now we all have flat screens or panels, so that no longer really rings true.   Yet "TV" is a term that we generally associate with long form multi-media content that isn't feature-film length but is longer than the traditional 3 minutes of content snacking we're used to on YouTube.

As broadcasters come to terms with the notion of on-demand TV content, they're increasingly seeing YouTube & it's brethren (Hulu, dailymotion,etc) as powerful platforms to extend the reach of their shows.  Channel 4 announced last week  that 50 hours/week of catch-up TV content will be available on YouTube (as well as 4 on demand), along with a joint ad revenue sharing deal.

So TV is now just a generic term for longer than short form but not as long as feature film multi-media content, that has it's origins (be they a commission, acquisition or initial exposure) via the hallowed halls of a broadcaster.

Which is as it should be from a consumer persepctive: content should be platform agnostic.

As a consumer I want to watch what I want to watch, when I want to watch it and whichever screen is most convenient at the time.  All of which then raises a whole heap of other questions about how you create those "water cooler" discussion moments of shared experience driven by people you know watching the same thing at the same time.

So with that in mind, and remembering however digitally savvy we all are, we don't just live in cyberspace, I bring youYouTube's first venture into offline advertising: