Happy new year: all the best for 2013

Don’t bother reading this post, get out there and have some fun!
The blazing sky

Four trends around me

Four ideas that have been kicking around in my head for a while, but didn’t quite feel like standalone posts. Part-observation, part-manifesto make of the four trends what you will.

Data utopianism
There is a temptation to think that new developments will evolve in a manner that is entirely positive for society. However that generally isn’t the case, whether it was pricing information or online advertising; seemingly liberating technology actually is a power multiplier against the consumer. There is no reason to think that developments like mobile contextual data or the quantified self will be any different.

Yet there constantly exists amongst many of my peers a data utopianism that blinkers them to the ethical and process issues that need to be carefully thought through. That isn’t to say that I am negative on technological progress but mindful of the responsiblity that comes with it; on an individual and collective basis.

Liberation from choice
One of the standout successes in commerce start-ups this year has been careful curation. From Jason Goldberg’s Fab, Birchbox Inc, Frank & Oak to Bureau of Trade the e-commerce provider has become a curator. An arbitor of cool. The business has freed us from excessive consumer choice like a real-world personal shopper with hipster aesthetic. Choice is hard, it is overwhelming, it promotes disatisfaction as every option isn’t ‘the one’: the perfect set of jeans, the ultimate cup of coffee or the perfect gift.

Context-driven divergence
Over the past number of years we heard from technology companies about convergence. The companies that bought into this are suffering.  Japanese electronics firms particularly Sony bought into this vision and tried to implement it and failed miserably. Whilst its eyes was off the ball, it had its premium position in consumer electronics by just good enough products made by the Koreans and Chinese brands like Hi-sense.

Japanese electronics companies are trying to get back into the game by attempting to square the circle between common owned data and contextual devices through looking at new ways to connect consumer electronics in a seamless manner. Yet the biggest consumer problem they face is that television is about tuning out whereas the computer and internet content is about turning on. Both very different contexts.

The PC, which had historically been the ultimate digital Swiss Army knife is seeing declining sales with consumers as lightweight devices like tablets and smartphones replace them in communications and content consumption. I can’t remember the last time that I used Yahoo! Instant Messenger, but I use WeChat and Skype on my mobile pretty much every day.

The soft innovation crisis
Silicon Valley veteran Judy Estrin in her book Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy some four years ago highlighted that the US and by extension one could argue, the western hemisphere is being left behind in hard innovation. Instead of developments moving Moore’s Law forwards we have a social network that built on the likes of The WELL, Friendster  and MySpace. Even the smartphone is based on operating system computer science that can trace itself back to Bell Labs in the 1960s.  None of the user experience developments have moved significantly on from Doug Engelbart’s famous SRI demonstration in 1968 at the Mother Of All Demos.

Products like Siri have highlighted the huge leaps forward that AI still needs to make some four decades after massive defence spending first started going into it.

We have huge problems in energy:

  • Sustainable energy such as wind power and solar don’t work, tidal and wave power haven’t been commercialised
  • Nuclear power development has been limited, promising work on Thorium and fast-breeder reactors have gone nowhere
  • Nuclear fusion is still a pipe-dream
  • Semi-conductors haven’t moved on since significantly
  • Battery technology needs major leap forwards
  • Transportation still needs fossil fuels
  • Algae-based bio-fuels seem to have stuck in development

All of these areas in isolation represent a soft innovation crisis and an opportunity, yet sufficient capital and will seem to be lacking. That Facebook has attracted more more money than the various private space programmes in the US is insane.

More information
Slideshow: Japan consumer electronics showcases smart connectivity – EETimes

Ten most popular posts of 2012 | 10个最流行的文章

Here is a run down of the most popular posts on this blog over the past 12 months in order of unique page views:

  1. Throwback gadget: IBM ThinkPad 701 – the one with the ‘butterfly’ folding keyboard
  2. I like: Sony MDR-A10 headphones – the folding headphones that came with late 1980s and early 1990s premium Discman models
  3. Korea: Coffee republic – the independents – independent coffee shops I tried during my time in Korea
  4. Throwback gadget: Sony Vaio PCG C1 series – the Sony sub-notebook of the dot com era that almost made Windows look cool and were a poster child for Transmeta processors
  5. Gavin Bell’s TopShop tiger – mega-corp does plagarism and doesn’t get away with it
  6. Throwback gadget: Revox B77 series of reel-to-reel tape recorders – Swiss brand’s iconic 2-track tape recorder
  7. The quantified self: thoughts and a perspective – thoughts and concerns about the faddish movement sweeping social media types at the expense of discrediting real health benefits to be gained and ethical commercial dilemmas
  8. Consumer behaviour and technological change
  9. Facebook: IPO postmortem – a dispassionate analysis – thoughts immediately after the IPO, some of which are still very pertinent
  10. Thoughts on Microsoft Surface – making sense of Microsoft’s take on the iconic Speak’n’Spell toy

Much of the top results were driven by strong sustained search results and are more a reflection of the strength of interest in the iconic products and the ‘searchability’ of things. I was surprised to see how high my brief trip to Korea scored so high on inbound traffic and the level of sustained interest in the quantified self.

Gavin Bell’s TopShop tiger brought a surge of traffic fueled in part by the UK digerati upset by a clothing mega-corp who copied a photograph from flickr.

Brighton’s Christmas lights

I still can’t work out if this is a need bit of video editing and post production by The Poke or the genuine article. Either way enjoy:

2013: just where is it all going?

For the past few years, I have done posts that have attempted to guess what 2013 is likely to bring, last year I did better than I deserved, so here is my best guess for the next 12 months or so.

It’s the economy stupid

The economy is probably one of the biggest factors affecting the technology sector over the next 12 months. In the developed world, the economies and social stability has been maintained on the back of credit, from probably back as far as the Reagan administration.

This is no longer a European or American condition but can be seen in the debt-laden economies of Korea and Japan as well. Even countries like Indonesia have shown a dramatic upturn in personal and commercial borrowing across Asia in 2012.

Recessions usually mark a point of restructuring in the economy. In the 1970s and 80s the US and many European countries moved to a more serviced-based model as Japanese and other Asian countries took on traditional industrial roles.  The lost decades for Japan has seen the country move away from primarily being a planned economy that makes things to a more  mixed economy similar to Germany.

The housing related bust of the past four years has seen the US and Europe deal with a broken financial services sector and try to find a new way forward in the face of globalisation and a lack of economic differentiation to the likes of China.

All of this is going to affect technology, what we adopt and how use it. My own move to Hong Kong has my parents using Skype and Facetime – the same is true in households all over Ireland as a large swathe of the population emigrated to work around the world.

There are also likely to be other impacts:

  • A large section of the web is ad-supported from Facebook to news sites, companies generally reduce advertising spend in straitened times. Yahoo! during the dot.com bust saw advertising revenue declne by a third, which gives an idea of what could be in the pipeline
  • The launch of Windows 8 has gotten off to a slower than expected start, part of the reason for this is that consumer PC purchasing cycles have been extended from four-to-five years. Now part of that could be because we don’t need to buy ever more powerful computers all the time if we are using them primarily for web-related tasks, but it could also be because incomes are tighter. Tablets like the Apple iPad could be what economists would call substitute products (like using margarine as a cheaper replacement for butter)
  • This is also likely to mean that new ways of selling us televisions like Sony’s innovations in creating 4K displays will have a slow adoption rate because we don’t want to buy films we have on DVDs and Blu-Ray yet again, so technological upgrades will starve media cash-cows
  • I would expect household discretionary media budgets to be squeezed which is probably why Sky has looked at a la carte online video models in the UK

One aspect of the technology sector that is ripe for a restructure in the current economy is venture capital firms as many of them who invest in ‘easy innovation’  have a raison d’être that looks increasingly uncertain. Web-based start-ups are increasingly been bootstrapped together by the technically savvy; Kickstarter allows for the trial of consumer hardware concepts.

3D-Printing is interesting, but isn’t the future of manufacturing as we know it

Tinkering, hardware hacking or DIY has had a makeover over the past few years as the creative classes discovered shop work, crochet and plastics and called it ‘making’. Three D printing has become a gradually more affordable technology that slotted neatly into the making meme. If you have a big enough printer and the appropriate format CAD file, any shape can be made. Anyone who spent a bit of time watching Star Trek: The Next Generation will have been immediately reminded of the replicator in the ships canteen which conjured up any dish the crew wanted.

What 3D printing can’t do is emulate many physical properties of materials. So despite what you may read on in the press, constructing a gun using 3D printing is harder than you’d think. Components from magazine springs to barrels have complex mechanical properties and the best lower receiver made so far by a group called Defense Distributed broke after a sixth test shot was put through it. All of this means that whilst 3D printing is interesting, it isn’t anywhere close to the Star Trek replicator that everyone seems to believe it is.

Anyone of a certain age who did shop work or used a forge at school knows how heat can dramatically change a metals property, any student of history knows how carbon changed the properties of iron into steel.

So you can forget about printing your own clutch for the car rather than paying Renault a fortune.

LTE is going to make more a of difference to your carrier than to you as a consumer, at least for now

Back in 2001 I was working with Capgemini promoting it’s telecoms practice. One of the vehicles used was a report that compiled the knowledge of senior executives from across the telecoms and media sectors.

One of the things that struck me about this process was how little the executives knew what would be likely reason why consumers would buy 3G and how they would make their licence fee investment back. In the end, this process took some ten years, and many of the promises that were trotted out for 3G during the late nineties and early noughties are kind of here now with the advent of 4G networks. Though in reality having tried Facetiming or using VoIP on 3G networks has been a failure for me.

But this process has made me a bit skeptical about the expectations being put on 4G in the west as a universal mobile elixir of goodness, with us all Facetiming and running successful internet businesses behind every hedge row.

I don’t think so.

Firstly in order to do those things the data caps would need to be raised substantially on LTE contracts for consumers.
Speed diagram
This diagram from Ericsson’s Mobility Report shows how speeds change over distance from the base station to the cell edge. The most interesting aspect of this diagram is the ‘norming effect’ that occurs in 50 per cent of the coverage area as download speeds converge. This also shows the flaw in expectations around rural broadband, since the kind of performance envisioned by policy makers would require a very dense cell network, which would probably be as expensive as its wired counterpart.

Despite living in the hyper-dense wireless lifestyle city of Hong Kong, I haven’t cut my wired connection and instead use a DSL connection at home

What LTE will probably will do is help your mobile phone company carry voice traffic more efficiently.

Small, but perfectly formed web businesses

One of my favourite sites this year has been Newsblur. Alongside pinboard.in it is one of a few web properties I rely on. Both Newsblur and pinboard.in are more akin to an artisan operation than a large corporate. Both sites provide a niche offering that fills a real need: pinboard.in fills the gap in social bookmarking that delicious left and Newsblur provides a better RSS reader.

Both of which are offerings that major web companies have largely abandoned or stopped innovating. In the case of Newsblur: Google Reader, FastLadder and Bloglines to name but three RSS readers that have disappeared or stagnated.

Facebook’s biggest enemies will be agencies

Facebook has managed to infuriate with agencies and clients and everything has developed an escalating price tag. Firstly there is inventory inflation – you could charitably argue that this is purely market forces. However I believe that it was no coincidence that General Motors announced pulling back their spend on Facebook with a timing designed to sour the companies IPO last spring.

Given that things have only been exasperated since then as Facebook has effectively forced brands to use advertising support for their pages in order to now engage with existing fans as well as acquire new ones.  Agencies will start actively looking at alternatives to Facebook including branded communities  and other advertising platforms to provide better solutions for clients. During the autumn Becky and I ran an advertising campaign to promote awareness of meningitis amongst parents; in the online part of the media buy, we went with Unruly Media’s video network instead of Facebook because the numbers worked out better. Neither of us were professional media buyers, but the math was obvious and that compelling it didn’t matter.

Consumers will likely be using Facebook for years to come and advertisers will not ignore this, in the same way that they still use the Yahoo! Network. And media buyers will still provide counsel but do what their clients want. The needle will move slowly against them to a less pre-eminent position once this knowledge permeates through agency and client circles.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Samsung Galaxy S III hardware failure: Phones failing for no reason | BGR – bad NAND? Will this be like the capacitor issue that plagued PCs years ago?

Amazon Book Reviews Deleted in a Purge Aimed at Manipulation – NYTimes.com – interesting implication for wider social content sites as well as e-tailing

Communities Dominate Brands: First Look into Final 2012 full year market shares for smartphones and OS wars, the Top 3 are settled on both

European Union formally accuses Samsung of antitrust violations in patent investigation (update) | The Verge

Microsoft reveals cunning Windows plan below surface – It has to dump hardware partners to work | TechEye

Social Media Press Release 2.0 – SHIFT Communications PR Agency

Brands must adapt search strategies | Warc.com

Luxury habits mature in China | Warc.com

Samsung Displaces Nokia as Top Cellphone Brand in 2012 and Takes Decisive Smartphone Lead Over Apple – IHS iSuppli®

FOSS Patents: Judge denies Apple permanent injunction, throws out Samsung’s jury misconduct claims

Global semiconductor revenues set to shrink in 2012, IHS says

Study Shows Affluent Spend Money to Save Time (Infographic) | Social Media Today

Chinese manufacturing base Shenzhen leads country in Internet, microblog penetration: Report – The Next Web

Next-Gen Tablets and Laptops Will Get “Cooler” With GE’s Jet Engine Technology | SiliconANGLE

No Google Apps on Windows 8 and WP8: User base too small to invest in | BGR

Why We’re Building Collections – I hope that they don’t forget pinboard.in

Why Google Just Made iPhone King: Ads | Wired.com

Combating accidental clicks in mobile ads – Google Mobile Ads Blog

Samsung Exec Admits To Using Apple Products, Calls iDevice Ecosystem “Sticky” | TechCrunch

US court rules Apple’s iPhone infringes on three patents held by Sony and Nokia owned MobileMedia – The Next Web

Apple, LG Electronics Defeat Alcatel-Lucent Patent Claims – Bloomberg

Merry Christmas

All the best for the holiday season. The embedded Christmas soundtrack below comes from London streetwear store The Hideout. Apparently they originally got it from Andrew Hale of 80s best-selling band Sade. It is like The KLF got locked in a studio full of Japanese novelty records whilst recording their Chill Out album.
The Hideout Christmas Gift Mix by The Hideout

Crystal ball-gazing: 2012 how did I do?

Sorry that things have been quiet here; a combination of work, food poisoning and a writing-related deadline but posting on rc temporarily down on my list of priorities. But now balance has somewhat returned to the Gedverse.

Last year (as for the past few years) I looked at what I thought would be trending items over 2012. So how did I do? In 2011, I got a hit rate of four out of six:

Facebook: above-the-line becomes more important

Facebook’s tweaks to its newsfeed algorithm pretty much obliged brands to use sponsored stories for community acquisition, so I am claiming this.

Facebook: substantial inventory price inflation

By August, UK media agency Cream posted a blog about how research had shown 45 – 75 per cent price inflation. Two for nil.

Twitter: getting its mojo back

Changing aspects of regulations governing the API, was definitely not Twitter getting its mojo back; as is the row with Instagram. But it is making a lot of money. Two – one but I am still ahead :-)

Changing business models a la Pinboard

I think I can claim this one, I cite Newsblur and WhatsApp as evidence your honor.  Three – one.

Search and mobile tempo set by regulatory and legal moves

I can probably claim this more for search than mobile when one sees the antitrust investigations against Google in both the US and EU. Mobile is more interesting as Apple’s legal efforts haven’t held back Samsung, but then Samsung have failed to use the courts to hamper Apple as well. Four – one.

New growth areas in mobile likely to be around core phone things: communications and messaging

I have been setting up my new life in Hong Kong and much of the process has been managed over WhatsApp rather than email. Tencent’s WeChat (aka Weixin) is the first Chinese social media service that has gone global. Viber has seen take-up amongst a number of my UK peers and a number of other services like Naver’s LINE have respectable subscriber and revenue numbers. Five – one

Pictures under glass metaphor unlikely to change

When a Nokia phone is largely differentiated on rounded sides and a magenta-coloured case from its Windows brethren. Android phones show a similar lack of variety and the new BB10 devices look like a similar monolithic slab, I can claim this one.  Six for one.

So a 85.7% prediction rate up from 66.(6)% as much by luck as anything else; I can’t really see myself improving on this in 2013 unless the year is surprisingly boring.

More information
2012: just where is digital going?
Crystal ball-gazing: 2011 how did I do?
Is Facebook Advertising Too Expensive? – Cream

Christmas in the office

Twas the day after Christmas and I’d left the house,

Into the office; empty not even a mouse,

The stockings were still hung on the computer monitors with care,

In the hopes that the cleaner would soon make them bare….

OK enough destruction of well loved poems. I have been in the office between Christmas and new year. CES in Las Vegas stops for no man or woman, neither do clients in many parts of the world. In addition, new business is tying up a lot of my time. But once you have got through all this and sorting out the filing system, what things should the digitally-minded communicator be doing?

Number one on my list would be upgrading the corporate and client blogs to WordPress 3.5. Why?

  1. Security – WordPress development features constantly improving security. This is a journey rather than a destination, but it pays to stay current. A secondary aspect of this is the ability to have a standard payload of plug-ins attached to a WordPress.org identity; so signing in with the ID will have the WordPress install have a consistent plug-in set. This is really handy if you manage a number of blogs on behalf of your organisation or clients
  2. More tablet-friendly admin interface – the WordPress blog is touting a retina screen friendly UI, at least partly because of the iPad. The development team have been continually refining and making UI improvements across all aspects of the admin interface
  3. Improvements in how WordPress handles hosted media, though I would still recommend offloading pictures to flickr, audio to SoundCloud and video to the likes of Vimeo or YouTube

Archived from blog posts I wrote for PR Week

Operation Christmas by the Columbian army

It is a bit strange watching a video of psy-ops pitched in the same way as an advertising agency award entry but interesting all the same.

Hat tip to Rachel Catanach who used this in a presentation I saw her give the other day.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Amoeba Music’s Vinyl Vaults is no Napster – I, Cringely

Facebook Studio :: Blog | Announcing a New Pages Structure for Global Brands | Latest News and Updates

MIT Scientist Andrew McAfee Says Big Data Will Soon be Too Big for the Metric System to Handle | MIT Technology Review

The future of software pricing: PwC

Microsoft’s battle for consumers: it’s time to drop the Windows name | The Verge – has the Windows brand been over-extended?

Facebook Has Decreased Page Reach, And Here’s Why | TechCrunch – some great data here on why a blended paid | owned content strategy is required for all you PR holdouts

3D Printing is the New Industrial Revolution? – broadstuff

How To Become A Hacker – Eric Raymond on hacking (rather than cracking)

APAC travellers want more social media | Market-interactive.com

Around the clock diagnostics

Whilst The Economist‘s description of this as a tri-corder maybe premature, it is an interesting effort to re-professionalise the quantified self a la Polar, which seemed to suffer from a fair bit of smoke and mirrors with the likes of the Nike Fuel bracelet.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

The real threat that Samsung poses to Apple | asymco – really interesting article on Samsung’s strengths

On Legacy iPhones and Cannibalization – AllThingsD – the legacy phone makes up the lower price models in the Apple range

Apple Joins Google in $500 Million-Plus Bid for Kodak Patents – Bloomberg

Billionaire Sells Stake in Topshop for $805 Million – NYTimes.com

Google exec was told to stop Tweeting | The Wall Blog – the people who are responsible for engineering social media don’t even understand how things can propagate

TI rolls open-source RTOS for MCUs – lower footprint than Linux which should be compelling

MediaPost Publications Pre-Roll Video Ad Prices Dip, Large Inventory Blamed 12/07/2012

Facebook in Talks to Buy Microsoft’s Atlas Ad Platform – AllThingsD

Communities Dominate Brands: Why Nokia Lumia and Windows Phone 8 will fail – ie will never become the promised third ecosystem – Tomi Ahonen updates his numbers of Nokia market share

As of February, you’ll have two fewer characters to tweet with when you share a link on Twitter – The Next Web – trillions of links already

Apple Hires Hacker Who Helped Save Windows From Security Hell | Wired.com

Exploiting the implicit – MEC whitepaper

Times of London offers $80 Nexus 7 to new digital subscribers | Geek.com

Time Spent In Mobile Apps Is Starting To Challenge Television, Flurry Says | TechCrunch

China Mobile’s Li Yue on iPhone 5: TD-SCDMA is not a problem, it’s all about business model and benefit sharing » Unwired View

Apple loses $34.9 billion in market cap in its worst trading day in 4 years, but why? – The Next Web

Lack of Distribution Is “Killing” Surface – AllThingsD

Twitter Loses Ability to Properly Display Instagram Photos – NYTimes.com

Michelin Stars slammed in fear of rent hikes, | Market-interactive.com

Facebook Messenger for Android drops account requirement, taking on SMS and WhatsApp | The Verge – interesting how Facebook is being usurped as a communications platform

ITU Approves Deep Packet Inspection Standard Behind Closed Doors, Ignores Huge Privacy Implications | Techdirt

London Calling: Should Apple buy ST-E or Renesas Mobile? – but what about patent licences?

Printed electronics pilot line starts production

The Nokia Lumia Sellout – Most Likely A Marketing Strategy – Seeking Alpha

Nielsen | Social Media Report 2012

Yahoo sees several flaws in $2.7 billion Mexico ruling: source | Reuters – the big question is why wasn’t it disclosed in company documents in the first place

Touché – Carnegie Mellon University | CMU – really interesting immersive media experiments

Daring Fireball: Why ‘The Daily’ Failed – there is also the problem that the content didn’t have value. It wasn’t a professional tool like the Wall Street Journal or provide something you couldn’t get elsewhere

Nokia Siemens sells optical network unit to Marlin Equity Partners – ok, interesting move. But will it be enough to be competitive against the new network players?

On the Levenson report

I have been viewing the outcomes of the Levenson Report from afar and decided to revisit my first post on all this:

In the grand scheme of things the impact wasn’t that big. Whilst the News Of The World (NoTW) closed down, the replacement paper by News International has only managed to sell roughly half the NoTW’s circulation. I suspect that this is less about outrage and more about the disappearance of a well-loved brand – I was mildly surprised by the value in the NoTW brand.

News Corporation’s resilience. What is probably most interesting about the whole debacle is the way Rupert Murdoch has used the opportunity to split the firm in two and structure News Corporation for future growth. The company has also changed its approach towards its news media properties. With the split, there is a less sentimental approach and something similar to a fast-failure model has been in play. But this has also spurred innovation:

  • Closing down The Daily
  • The Times adopting a subsidised tablet model in a clear nod to the mobile phone industry

It was interesting that News Corporation used it as such a catalyst for change, either way it’s rivals will be competing against a leaner more dynamic business. They would have been better off with the status quo.

The confluence of interests. Whilst the Levenson Report was quite measured compared to some of the sentiment expressed, there was no way that it was going to get through on all recommendations. This would have upset the eco-system too much and there would have been likely blow-back in the future for the body-politic. Who knows the exact motivations but David Cameron’s administration took things about as far as they could. If one looks at the overall stance on the media industry from the Digital Economy Bill onwards, any greater moves would have been very out of character. The established media industry still has friends in power.

More information
The News Of The World: it’s probably not the revolution that you think it is
An enquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press by the Right Honorable Lord Justice Levenson – executive summary (PDF)