Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

What a week we’ve had, I was thankful that I wasn’t affected by the latest hacking which took out WPP’s agencies around the world. It would have been an unproductive week.

Let’s get on with the things that have made my day this week:

Ten years of the iPhone. The iPhone was announced ten years ago this week. This has been reflected on in the technology press. More about my thoughts and experiences on this in a separate post. Here’s Steve Jobs’ introduction of the device. It doesn’t feel like this was a decade ago now

Cumulative iPhone sales over the past 10 years via Statista

Infographic: 1.2 Billion iPhones in 10 Years | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

How the iPhone affected Apple’s finances

Infographic: How the iPhone Changed Apple in 10 Years | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

Part of the innovation was hardware, part was software and the third part was getting carriers to allow iPhone users to consume much more data than handset manufacturers had been previously allowed.

This month also marked 20 years since the first camera phone. Conscious Minds put together a great documentary featuring the inventor Phillipe Kahn about how he developed the first cameraphone as a kludge to share the birth of his new child.

Kahn founded Starfish Software with his wife. Starfish pioneered device and data synchronisation that underpinned smartphones. They were founding members of the SyncML standard, which underpins the modern smartphone address book to this day.

When I started working in London, I worked with an agency called The Weber Group. We were considered to be a PR agency, but in reality the role we played varied enormously. For some clients we helped them define market size, opportunity and strategy. For others we were a press release factory. I used to sit in a row of account managers – people who where the day-to-day client contacts and drove accounts along. I worked alongside a lady called Heather; between us Heather and I were responsible for looking after some of the key companies in the genesis of the modern smartphone:

  • Starfish Software
  • Palm – the Palm Vx PDA was like non-wireless prototype for modern smartphones
  • PalmSource / Access Software – Palm’s unsuccessful effort to build a modern iOS-esque operating system on top of Linux
  • Vindigo – a turn by turn navigation app for the Palm. This was pre-GPS, but did on device route plotting for major cities, in many respects a prototype of what Google Maps looks like now

Jed Hallam’s Love Will Save The Day is another music experience I’d recommend, sign up here.

Luxxury dropped an ideal playlist for summer via  radio station KCRW Santa Barbara’s website

Finally, I dipped into Google Talk for the first time in ages and came across Joel Primack’s presentation on galaxy formation

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Links of the day | 在网上找到

We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned (New Research) | Buzzsumo – probably the most depressing post on data driven content strategy in a while. (Rocks with head in hands whilst having no respect for audience)

Nestle Targeted by Dan Loeb in Activist’s Biggest-Ever Bet – Bloomberg – Third Point up to its usual tricks, or something more?

Where Technology Meets Culture: Week 1 of Living in Beijing – not news to readers of this blog, but a great summary of the WeChat economy in action

The Vault Of The Atomic Space Age – amazing 20th century tech photography

China’s New Cybersecurity Law: The 101 | China Law Blog – interesting requirements laid down for data protection including use of encryption

North Korean Restaurants in China Close Amid Regional Tensions | Radio Free Asia – quality of food or politics?

Twist is Slack without the annoying distractions | TechCrunch – more of a feature that Slack can replicate rather than an alternative app?

Coffee Ripples – Home of the Ripple Maker – there is something soul destroying about this product

WeChat Developer Error Codes | Grata – so handy for English-speaking  developers

Thinking about Marcel

Publicis Groupe announced two things in the past week that caught the attention of the industry:

  • Withdrawing for 12 months from all promotional activity spend including the Cannes Lions awards
  • A Groupe-wide 12-month digital transformation fronted by a personal assistant app

You can’t look at either in  isolation, they are both linked together.

Why the withdrawal from promotional activities?

There are various speculative takes on this:

  • Other groups doing better at Cannes Lions this year had caused them to ‘take their toys to go home and sulk’. I hadn’t looked at the Lion awards scores, but I wouldn’t think that this is the reason. Clients would react negatively to it. Clients have egos too
  • Cannes Lions have gotten too expensive. Running events on the Côte d’Azur has never been cheap. The hotels can charge premium rates, due to demand being greater than supply. The GSMA World Congress moved to Barcelona in 2006 for this reason. Cannes can still run a good event and the infrastructure is ideal for advertisers. Other groups like WPP have pared back their spend but not cut it completely
  • It’s designed to focus spend on the things that matter for the next 12 months. This was one reason articulated by Publicis. The spend involved isn’t going to make a significant difference. At least, not on a project of the scale outlined by Publicis
  • It’s designed to focus staff on the things that matter over the next 12 months. I think that this is a key factor. Marcel is a software layer for a wider culture change the ‘Power of One’. Forcing the agencies to work together to provide a full deep offering for the client. This creates an internal market for services, skills and knowledge. There is no use having a development team if you can tap into Sapient. This also leads to a de-duplication of capability, increase in efficiency (% billable time).  It also reduces duplication of knowledge creation – tap into it wherever it is. You would need to balance this against client confidentiality
  • It’s a PR stunt. If handled well Publicis could gain a lot of positive coverage from this. It’s a classic example of what Sun Tzu called ‘The Void’. It’s also a bloody expensive PR stunt – so one would have to presume this is a collateral benefit. What happens if Sapient doesn’t match what’s in the concept video 12 months from now? If it does succeed then Publicis ends up with a solution would help market their business – business eating its own dog food, as advertisement

Let’s move on to Marcel itself

It’s hard to deconstruct a corporate video to get a firm idea what the underlying form might be. The truth is that the underlying form may not even exist yet as a product brief. It takes time to coalesce an offering from high concepts to prototyping these concepts with a sampling of users. From then on you go to mapping out the functional requirements of the product and build it in a series of short sprints. Once you have a minimum viable product and tested it, you may want to tweak your project direction further.

However, when you dig into it, Marcel isn’t only about an app, but re-engineering most of the IT infrastructure as well in order to support the machine learning capability. Marcel will find it harder to learn if the data is fragmented in drives with different permissions, online services or even offline.

Carla Serrano describes Marcel as:

A professional assistant that uses AI machine learning technology across our 80,000 people in 130 countries to connect, co-create and share in new and different ways.

This won’t be like Alexa Home managing your calendar and your Spotify playlist.

AI is put in there for audience members who wouldn’t know what machine learning is. A nice succinct definition below via TechTarget:

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. … The process of machine learning is similar to that of data mining.

Let’s tease out the functions

  • Connect – could be anything from an intranet directory to a social network a la Facebook Work. The key element for success would be to get people to complete their profile and for the content to be validated. From personal experience, it is best if you get people to do this right at the point that you are on-boarding them. Getting a mass-push on employees doing this would be a campaign of attrition since there is always a client call to do, pitch to write or creative concept to develop. The information could be pulled across from HR systems, business planning, time-tracking / accounting systems and scraping LinkedIn profiles but all the data will be sub-optimal. How do you ensure consistent quality data on staff expertise? The key benefit of machine learning would be pulling information capacity and personnel career ambitions alongside mining the profiles.  What I’ve talked about in this paragraph is a major undertaking of data integration in itself

I’ve ignored messaging as a function as most agencies use multiple channels for messaging including Slack, email, Skype/Lync or SMS. A messaging service might be built in, some of the interfaces could be ‘call-and-response’ chat bot style interactions.

  • Co-create – Co-creation could just be building a virtual team through the connection functionality, if its a platform in its own right what would that mean? Google co-creation platforms and you get 14,900,000 results. There are lots of options, opinions and descriptions of how to implement a platform to do it. Publicis could use some of these commercial off-the-self platforms. Decisions would have to be made if the co-creation would facilitate synchronous or asynchronous co-creation. Where do you want to have it involved in the process? Discovery, strategy, creative briefing, ideation, concept development? Is bolting Box.net accounts, Basecamp or Jira co-creation and where would the co-creation process benefit from machine learning?
  • Sharing – Back in the mid to lated 1990s knowledge management was a thing for technology marketers selling into enterprises. The idea was that a mix of data mining software (Autonomy or SAS Institute) would allow you to tap into the written knowledge across your company. Of course, it didn’t work out that well. Google tried a similar thing with its own Search Appliance hardware sold to enterprises. For a business like Publicis whose product is data, insights and ideas, the potential implications are huge

Based on Google’s Return on Information: Improving your ROI with Google Enterprise Search white paper here are some rough numbers that I came up with.

1706 - Marcel

The notional productivity gain is worth well over $400,000,000 in additional billable time, or like having almost 1,600 additional staff at little additional cost. The key word in all this is ‘notional’.

So what’s the downside to the factors outlined in the top-level view of Marcel?

  • Client confidentiality – imagine if you’re a client and you realise that your documentation within an agency can be searched for beyond the account team and could be used in ways that you don’t know about? This isn’t an unsurmountable problem, but it is something that I am sure Publicis would be thinking about
  • Changing working habits and culture – the most valuable files will be spread across Dropbox-like services, in email exchanges, on file servers, personal computers (Mac and Windows), USB sticks and optical media.  Software can look at unstructured data to try and make sense of it. But it needs access to the files first. As a manager how would you feel that you lose control over work assigned to your staff. How would you assess their work for their appraisals?
  • A marathon of sprints – this a huge IT undertaking across hardware infrastructure, networks and access. That’s before you’ve considered software development. On its own it would weighty task – in reality it will be a large amount of iterative tasks, any number of whom could delay or damage Marcel

Understanding the context for Marcel

The second half of the video is concept film of how Marcel would work in practice. It was likely put together to give voice to functionality rather than also thinking about tone. I would not be surprised if this was reused from an internal presentation to showcase the vision of Marcel to key stakeholders. The film has tonality in it is a bit concerning, I suspect it’s unintentional. If Marcel works as promised we would be in new territory for corporate culture however.

Having watched it reinforced to me:

  • The technical scale and ambition Marcel represents. It is a huge undertaking from a technical point-of-view
  • Marcel is just the start of the hard work for Publicis.

How do you ensure a culture that continues to attract and retain the top talent as the organisation gets Marcel operational?

  • What does it say to women (or men) who might want certain amount of work life balance due to family commitments or a desire to upskill?
  • How would it handle organisational politics?
  • Lesley might be requesting talent for his energy client but how would his demands be balanced against those of their line managers or other people in the business?
  • How might it redefine the role that line managers play for colleagues?

The partial removal of client services as a gate keeper between Jamie the client and Publicis talent was interesting. It would make client services job to get their arms around all the business opportunities in the client much harder. It would also be more attractive to certain clients who would feel more in control of their account.

Themes in the film:

  • Marcel is being used at night or in the twilight – usage massively extending the working day. Agencies aren’t really a 9 – 5 lifestyle at the best of times, but this video implies even less work-life balance as standard working practice. The introductory dialogue is shot at twilight and Alex the Asian American strategist, sits in an empty office at night time. Lesley is in the artificial time of an subway station and even the Arc de Triomphe dropped in is shot in twilight
  • Marcel is mobile – and being used out-of-the office in most of the film. This implies that the work day has no boundaries. Does it imply that mobile devices are no longer for reacting to urgent emails, has the balance of work expectations changed to zero-downtime always on proactive working? How would an agency team be able to keep their thinking fresh over the medium and longer term?
  • Marcel is desktop – Alex uses Marcel on a desktop computer and the web service provides a Statista like set of visualisations for data. The implication being a large amount of research source integration (social insights, market data, Kantar media data???). This would also affect third party licenses as information is pooled
  • The dialogue implies a ‘Siri’-like experience on the mobile app, except that it understands what you’re saying. Marcel is far more articulate conversationalist than Siri, Google, Alexa or my banks interactive voice system. He’d probably score highly on Tinder due having a personality. I suspect most of this is a plot device for storytelling. Alex gives voice to his key strokes and Marcel is manifested as a search box rather like Bing using a desktop computer. Lesley the South African client service person is not talking to his phone as he moves up the escalator – he is literally giving voice to his thoughts. He sounds stressed.
  • Jamie the client from a bank is an interesting vignette. She has direct access to Marcel as a client facing tool and it is suggesting Publicis contacts to her, normally you would expect a client services person to be that interface.
  • Ines, the copy writer in Brazil has the most positive experience portrayed. Marcel understands her complex career aspirations and offers her opportunities to work on an Indian project. It looks as if she is doing this work at home, again reinforcing ambiguous message on work / life balance?
  • All of the people are alone, Marcel is not shown being used in a normal office environment. Marcel becomes your team?

TL;DR

Marcel is the business equivalent of playing high stakes poker. If it is pulled off successfully it would put Publicis in an excellent position versus it’s competitors. However there is a lot that can go wrong from a technological and organisation perspective.

I don’t know how much of this can be realistically achieved in the 12 months that Publicis seems to have given itself? It strikes me that this is likely to be a transformation that would require much more time in order to fully match the vision outlined.  From a cultural perspective the challenge of ‘break, build, bond’ hides the level of complexity and change going on.

The biggest risk is what happens if Publicis doesn’t meet the wider industry expectations of success with Marcel? How will that affect client perceptions of them, or their ability to hire talent? How would it affect Sapient’s standing as a technology company?

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I like: Dave Finocchio, CEO of Bleacher Report on media and sports business

Great points on Facebook through to sports team owners

No surprises on what is said about Facebook. The fickleness of millennials with regards sports is interesting, it did make me wonder if this also plays through for supporters of English Premier League teams.

Fantasy sports leagues aren’t engaging as it had been for older generations. Younger people struggle to get 12 of their friends on board to participate with them.

E-sports has a really small overlap with existing sports fans. E-sports players burn out too fast. It needs to address this to blow up as big as mainstream sports.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Harbin beer and Starcom join hands to push China’s e-Sports | Marketing Interactive

Brands are learning millennials’ language for luxury: “organic,” “sustainable,” “ethical” — Quartz – oh god

Owl Labs Meeting Owl – cute product design for… – I am reminded of the wood cut faces on the beneath the facias of old Nokia 5110 handsets

Macron wants limits on Chinese investments, takeovers in Europe’s strategic industries – smart move, there is a strong case for a ‘China reciprocity law’ forcing technology transfer to the EU and restricting investment in strategic industries

Unstoppable at home, Ramdev’s Patanjali gets a reality check in Nepal | Quartz – Ramdev’s products have given the likes of Unilever a scare in India, interesting to see his brand has limits

Inside Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence Comeback | WIRED – interesting article on two levels. Firstly, Microsoft’s approach and direction on AI, secondly the classic approach to storytelling from a PR perspective. Not surprisingly they are focused on Facebook and Google

Group M downgrades UK ad growth forecast in part due to brand safety fears | Campaign LiveAdvertisers are increasingly taking a more measured view toward digital as they grapple with developing data strategies; setting more coherent objectives; attribution considerations; increased brand safety and accountability expectations and the appreciating trade-off between risk, price and performance

Americans won’t wait more than four minutes for a slightly less disgusting hamburger | Quartz – which funnily enough was the time that the McDonald’s restaurant I worked in for six weeks at the start of my working career aimed to surpass

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Publicis’ technology infrastructure vision for a more flexible agile business. So much in here to unpack including an unintentional dystopian vision of future work life.

I went along to watch Linda Yueh chair a discussion on Brexit at the London Business School

Notes from #lbsbrexit session chaired by Linda Yueh

10 years ago Steve Jobs launched the iPhone

Beyond Good and Evil trailer

Download More than 2,500 Images of Vibrant Japanese Woodblock Prints and Drawings From the Library of Congress | Colossal

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Links of the day | 在网上找到

The Political Kindling of the Grenfell Fire – The Atlantic – Britain has slipped to sixth in the economic rankings. Yet either position, fifth or sixth, is misleading: Broadly speaking, Britain is an economically average country, with one exceptionally rich region—London, which is reportedly home to more multimillionaires and billionaires than any other city in the world, and serves as the country’s economic engine. Of the EU’s 15 strongest economies, none rely as heavily on one area as the U.K. does: London’s per capita GDP is almost two and a half times Britain’s national average. But London’s enviable self-confidence, its robust financial services sector, and glittering facade, obscure the devastating inequality that plagues the U.K. While the city is Britain’s lone representative among the 10 richest regions in northern Europe, the country also includes a stunning nine of northern Europe’s 10 poorest regions. – One paragraph deflation of British hubris that underpins the likes of the Leave campaign and a great argument for London becoming a city state.

Cathay Pacific still ranks among top five airlines in the world, with other Hong Kong carriers also taking home accolades | South China Morning Post – despite all the problems

WATANABE KATSUMI: “GANGS OF KABUKICHO” | #ASX – amazing portrait images

China’s total number of cinema screens now exceeds the US | Marketing Interactive – why Hollywood makes odd casting and big spectacle films

Apple Culture After Ten Years of iPhone – Monday Note – The First Trillion Dollars is Always the Hardest

P&G Malaysia goes on LINE to grow online following | Marketing Interactive – probably very big in Thailand for this as well

The Car Was Repossessed, but the Debt Remains – The New York Times – For low-income Americans, the fallout could, in some ways, be worse than the mortgage crisis. With mortgages, people could turn in the keys to their house and walk away. But with auto debt, there is increasingly no exit. Repossession, rather than being the end, is just the beginning. “Low-income earners are shackled to this debt,” said Shanna Tallarico, a consumer lawyer with the New York Legal Assistance Group

Why is Japanese customer service so amazing? Because in Japan it’s one strike and you’re out | SoraNews24

China’s Biggest Gaming ‘Whales’ Are Werewolves — The Information – I was introduced to Werewolf in the early noughties by some of my geekier friends

Sunrise preps 2G switch-off | total telecom – interesting move by the Swiss carrier. Greater focus on in-building and long distance performance of LTE

WPP folds Neo@Ogilvy into Mindshare | Campaign Asia – interesting move to bring all paid media inside GroupM

Tim Cook was right to fight the FBI | TheNextWeb

Minecraft’s New 4K Textures Don’t Even Look Like Minecraft | Extreme Tech

It’s business, and it’s personal: How Amazon Web Services decides to enforce non-compete contracts – GeekWire – sounds like most non-compete clauses

Robots are doing the work of $326,000-a-year Goldman Sachs employees – Axios

Roam like at home? Not so fast – POLITICO – interesting exceptions

Targeting and the F3EAD Process | Havok Journal – interesting perspective with key focus of reducing time to insight and action

Design in the Era of the Algorithm | Big Medium

Investors step in to play risky role of lender | WSJ City – at what point does this become similar to China’s shadow banking practices?

Monday marketing thought

“Global activation local amplification” – four words that make a process sound easy.  Yet it is amazing how many established successful multi-nationals struggle with this process.

I was talking to  friend the other week who talked about a project that they were asked to pitch for. A global multinational asked them to come and workshop the company’s global digital strategy for local teams – so that they could then work out how to localise it.

The implication was that a global strategy had been decided upon that didn’t take into account who it could be scaled for markets with low budgets (small countries) or atypical digital usage.

Global activation, local amplification

I’ve used the words atypical here for good reason. These markets may not have gone through widespread desktop online usages. They may be transitioning between feature phones and SMS to low specification smartphones on lean data plans. However, in the likes of Kenya, their use of mobile payments with services like mPesa are far ahead of the west.

You also can’t assume that usage is one phone, one person. In the likes of rural India the phone may be used by other family members with SIMs being the individual’s own.

How much of their media consumption is side loaded on to mobile devices?

A global activation approach requires extensive discussions with local company stakeholders BEFORE it’s sufficiently baked. I worked on web properties at Unilever and we thought about how could graphical assets be leveraged, a common social publishing platform (Percolate) and common measurement (Adobe Analytics) as a primary focus. We recognised that markets may want to build leaner, smaller websites or roll out changes when they had marketing budget.

Bringing key stakeholders gives them ownership of the strategy, so they are much more likely to give a decent effort in local amplification.

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Technology is way ahead of interface designs

This post has taken a while to write. When I started we were on the cusp of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. If you’re interested in technology, but aren’t an Apple fan it still matters as it sets the agenda. Apple’s moves affect wearables, smartphones, tablets and OTT (over the top) TV services.
 
The New York Times published an interesting article Apple Piles On the Apps, and Users Say, ‘Enough!’.
 
Ignore the title of the article itself, which is a function of clickbait rather than content. Instead, it provides an good critique of interface design across platforms. It highlights:
  • The difficulty in finding and installing other apps inside Messages. Many users aren’t aware of the functionality. This is different to the ‘interface as oldster barrier’ that SnapChat had. DoorDash – a Deliveroo analogue dropped a support after a few months due to a lack of users. Apple took a second run at this with iOS 11 trying to improve discoverability
  • Apple 3D touch isn’t used to drive contextual features by app developers
  • The Apple Watch’s mix of crown, button and small touch screen made ‘lean in’ interactive apps hard. The Apple Watch interface isn’t learned by ‘playing’ in the same way that you can with a Mac or an iPhone. Apple’s forthcoming watchOS update looks to have Siri ‘guess’ what you want. It wants to provide contextual information to users (and reduce interactions)
If you ignore 3D touch for a moment, these problems are cross platform in nature. (Some vendors like Huawei have attempted a similar 3D touch feature in their own apps. They did not try to get developer adoption.)
 
Thinking about Messenger app developers struggle to integrate disparate features into the interface. The exceptions are:
  • LINE
  • WeChat – the take up of mini-apps in WeChat have been disappointing performers. Is this indicating a possible ceiling for functionality?
Wearables as a category looks thin, with Apple being one of the largest players. Pebble got acquired by Fitbit. Jawbone seems to be a dead company walking. Their blog was last updated in October 2016, Twitter in February. It’s ironic: their original BlueTooth headset business would now be a great opportunity.
 
I’ve tried Casio’s BlueTooth enabled G-Shock, four Nike Fuelbands and a Polar wearable. I am on my second Apple Watch and I still don’t know what the real compelling use case is for these devices.
 
So how does this stuff come about? I think its down to the process of creation, which affects analysis and critical analysis of the product. Creation in this case is essentially throwing stuff up against the wall until it sticks and then the process becomes reductive. As a case in point, look how smartphones have evolved to the slab form factor. 
 
Throwing stuff against the wall
 
I’ve worked enough times on digital products to understand the functionality is king. It’s the single most important thing. I’ve worked on products that wonderful functions but:
  • Consumers didn’t know they had a need, its hard to get consumers to build new habits. Forming habits can be hard
  • They were a bitch to sign up with. Yahoo!’s sign-up process killed products. It’s a fact. We’d get consumers hyped up, we’d deliver them to the relevant page and they wouldn’t convert. I didn’t blame them, if I wasn’t an employee or digital marketer I’d have done the same
That’s how products are now built. The focus is on speed of execution of the idea. It isn’t about thinking through the complete experience. Agile methodologies with their short sprints puts emphasis on function. Away from data to feed into big picture optimisation. A function focus means that you end up with ‘lean in’ interaction designs as default.
 
There aren’t many organisations that get it right. I’d argue that the early Flickr team and Slack ‘got it’. Though there are common factors:
  • Both Flickr and Slack had common key team members
  • Both products fell out of failure. Flickr came out of tools for Game Neverending. Slack began as a tool in the development of Glitch
Where are the ergonomists and futurists?
 
There are people who can provide the rigorous critique.
Back in the day organisations with large R&D functions like NASA and BT employed writers to envisage the future. Staring into the future became a career. People like Syd Mead provided a visual map of the future. Mead and others did a lot of work thinking about the context of technology to users. At the present time lots of criticism levelled at VR glasses is it being anti-social. This comes as no surprise to anyone who has read William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Social interaction is more likely to come glasses wearer to glasses wearer. It will happen in a virtual third space. Neal Stephenson explored this third space in Snow Crash. The Black Sun was a virtual night club.
 

Bill Moggridge, designer of the GRiD Compass computer – the world’s first laptop thought a lot about ergonomics. The laptop had a 11 degree slope from pop-out leg to the keypad. This is something that your MacBook Pro or Surface doesn’t have. There is a lack of depth in technology design compared to what Moggridge had. He brought in psychologists and studied human computer interaction. He eventually co-founded IDEO.

Whilst the elements that Moggridge looked at were well known the thinking doesn’t seep into product categories. We are very good at asking can a product be made. We are poor at asking what does the product really mean. Apple’s viewpoint on the tablet segment is a case in point.

The vast majority of tablets are used for lean back media consumption from watching films and reading books to reviewing emails. It can work as a productivity device in specific circumstances with custom built apps – say field sales or replacing a pilot’s flight paperwork. The keyboard and power of modern Macs (and PCs) provide a better tool for content creators; whether its analysing a spreadsheet or writing this blog post. 

Yet, since its launch by Steve Jobs, Apple has viewed the iPad as a new PC. The iPad Pro has been designed to try and catch up in features with the Mac. It is ironic that Microsoft has moved a slim ‘MacBook clamshell design’ analogue into its latest Surface range.  It is very different to the pragmatic design ethos of China’s ‘shanzhai’ gadget markers who came up with both laughable and smart solutions. Everything from the dual SIM phone to the phone / electric razor hybrid. Successes bloomed and oddities slipped into the night.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Politico has got a great way of processing shares of charts and diagrams, take for example this chart on UK post-Brexit inflation driving the UK towards a brecession

It includes responsive formatting

Nestle mulling sale of its nearly US$1 bn confectionary business in the US | SCMP – really interesting move that shows Nestle following a trend that PepsiCo tried to go down a number of years ago

Dentsu Aegis Second Big Shop To Downgrade 2017 Ad Expansion | Mediapost

7 of the top 10 smartphone suppliers headquartered in China | Electroniq

Common Sense: Did the Jack Welch Model Sow Seeds of G.E.’s Decline? | New York Times – interesting read, I wonder whether this will discredit other parts of ‘Neutron’ Jack’s legacy

Busting Thieves One Dyetonator At A Time | ogilvy.com

Nokia Touts NPU for Internet’s Next Chapter | EE Times

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Louis Vuitton’s personalisation feature is really interesting. It brings NikeID magic to their retail experience. I think that it will also impact secondhand sales – flair is much more of a personal decision.

Scott Galloway manages to get his academic colleague Adam Alter to highlight some of the techniques used to make apps as digital catnip

The soundtrack of my week has been this mix by Jennifer Cardini

This is probably old news, but it was the first time that I noticed it in my feed. Instagram has an email collection facility that reminded me of Twitter cards. Its a great idea that can help tie Instagram engagement closer to e-commerce sales

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Flickr has been tweaking its design and has improved its search. These changes have largely happened under the radar. In my experience, the biggest move was that the ‘camera roll’ has been depreciated in menu positions so that you no longer click on it by accident. It’s good to see the continual improvements in a time of substantial change at Yahoo! / Oath or whatever Verizon calls it. Flickr talked about the changes it made to the user’s profile page on its blog.

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Links of the day | 在网上找到

How a crippling shortage of analysts let the London Bridge attackers through | UK news | The Guardian

The blockchain paradox: Why distributed ledger technologies may do little to transform the economy — Oxford Internet Institute

How to prevent the UK’s self-destruction | HKEJ Insights – Jim O’Neill on the state of Britain

Q&A with Connie Chan | Techinasia – Connie works at A16z and really gets the Chinese eco-system better than anyone else on Sandhill Road

In Pakistan, China presses built-in advantage for ‘Silk Road’ contracts – Reuters – China’s advantage isn’t IP, price or product but willingness to deploy cheap capital fast

WWDC 2017 — Some Thoughts – Learning By Shipping – interesting analysis – Steven Sinofsky was a senior executive at Microsoft

Tech Fix: New iPad Pro Inches Toward Replacing PC, but Falls Short | New York Times – I still think of the iPad as predominantly a content consumption device. Whilst it can be great with apps for specific work, it isn’t a general purpose device like a Mac

Aldi fires $3.4 billion shot in US supermarket wars | RTE – really interesting move with huge potential impact for FMCG brands

‘Nobody at Yahoo understood Tumblr’: Why Marissa Mayer’s big bet on Tumblr never panned out – eerily reminiscent of Flickr, del.icio.us experience in many respects

US intelligence agencies are beginning to build AI spies | Quartz – not surprising they would want to hand off first line analysis on data to machines

Indoor GPS could stop us getting lost – and make us spend more money | CityMetric – indoor navigation still feels clunky

Women have no idea what to wear to work today — Quartz – ironically they are too illiberal for men’s clothing

Oprah time: True Names by Vernor Vinge

New York Times journalist John Markoff was interviewed by Kara Swisher on the Recode podcast in February and talked about reading science fiction to better understand how technology is likely to affect us.
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It’s actually a great piece of advice. Back in the day, large corporates used to employ authors to write stories based on scenarios as part of their research programmes. Many people have attributed the clamshell mobile phone to the Star Trek TV series and the flip communicator devices.

Markoff outlined his favourite stories.

“Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson (1992): “The premise is, America only does two things well. One is write software, and the other is deliver pizzas. [laughs] What’s changed?”
“The Shockwave Rider” by John Brunner (1975): Markoff said he built his career on an early understanding that the internet would change everything. He said, “[The Shockwave Rider] argued for that kind of impact on society, that networks transformed everything.”
“True Names” by Vernor Vinge (1981): “The basic premise of that was, you had to basically hide your true name at all costs. It was an insight into the world we’re living in today … We have to figure it out. I think we have to go to pseudonymity or something. You’re gonna participate in this networked existence, you have to be connected to meatspace in some way.”
“Neuromancer” by William Gibson (1984): Markoff is concerned about the growing gap between elders who need care and the number of caregivers in the world. And he thinks efforts to extend life are “realistically possible,” pointing to Gibson’s “300-year-old billionaires in orbit around the Earth.

I had read Snow Crash relatively recently and Neuromancer was revisited last year. I had a vague recollection of The Shockwave Rider and True Names, but hadn’t read them in over 20 years.

Vinge’s True Names is published by Penguin with a collection of essays from a range of technology thinkers including

  • Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer who founded Habitat one of the first massive online multiplayer games, back when dial up bulletin boards were the bleeding edge. Farmer worked at Yahoo! when I was there and was involved in Yahoo! 360 and still consults on community / social platform issues
  • Bruce Schneier wrote about how security products fail us. Bruce is one of the world’s leading commentators on all things hack and cryptography related
  • Mark Pesce is better known now as an Australian-based computer academic, but two decades ago he invented VRML – a way of representing the internet as a 3D thing and prescient in the light of Oculus Rift and others.
  • Marvin Minsky; was a pioneer in AI and machine learning provided an afterward to the story

That True Names managed to attract essays from these people should be an endorsement in itself.  Re-reading it two decades on, Vinge’s story echoes and riffs on the modern web. Hacking, cyberterrorism, constant government surveillance and the tension between libertarian netizens versus the regulated  real world. The central theme of Mr Slippy; a hacker who is identified by US government officials and co-opted as an unwilling informant and agent provocateur feels reminiscent of LULZSec leader and super grass Sabu. It’s amazing that Vinge wrote this in 1981 – although he envisages the web as being rather like a Second Life / Minecraft metaverse – with NeuroSky style interfaces.

Penguin’s careful curation of essays riffing on the themes of True Names is where the real value is in my opinion. For someone who cares about technology and consumer behaviour. It is worthwhile keeping this book on the shelf and diving in now and again.

More information
Want to understand the future? Read science fiction, John Markoff says. | Recode
Habitat Chronicles – thoughts on gaming, online products and community building by Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer
Schneier on Security
Mark Pesce’s professional website and his columns for The Register
Vernor Vinge lecture on long-term scenarios for the future via The Wayback Machine

Links of the day | 在网上找到

The One Big Reason Why BuzzFeed Needs to Break Into TV – Bloomberg – so much for the online media business…. old media is the new sexy

Tom Oberheim On The Art Of Synthesizer Design | Synthtopia – amazing interview with Tom Oberheim on how he got into synthesiser design and talks about his products

Haul For One: U-Haul Adapts & Reuses Abandoned Buildings | Urbanist – some of these are stunning for a modernist sucker like me

What influencer marketing really costs – Digiday – interesting ranges in here

Apple’s new anti-tracking system will make Google and Facebook even more powerful – The Verge – a more marginal improvement than you’d think

Apple Just Joined Tech’s Great Race to Democratize AI | WIRED

Why Apple is struggling to become an artificial-intelligence powerhouse – The Washington Post – Washington Post was bought by Jeff Bezos

Entertainment Accounts Closed as Party Emphasizes News Control | China Digital Times – China clamping down on celebrity scandal accounts as well as accounts that would be disruptive to government

Pathology of a Fake News Story – Thoughts On Journalism – Medium

Apple launches Business Chat for iMessage in developer preview | VentureBeat – looks like they have been taking a lesson or two from WeChat

Facebook study shows what TV viewers are doing during commercial breaks | silicon beat