Watson’s peer isn’t an AI, it’s just like Tony the Tiger

e
IBM have done some iconic advertising since the late 1990s. Sun became the dot behind dot com; but was out-marketed by IBM’s ownership of e-business.
e hip
For some early clients like Boxman – there were accusations that IBM was learning about the internet whilst it did the work. And for many many of the products it was little more than putting HTML lipstick on a mature technology pig.

In 2008, that seems to have changed to smarter planet as IBM looked to get involved in infrastructure from building management to traffic control.

In 2011, IBM’s Research division saw the culmination of a seven year project that had one of their supercomputers perform on TV game show Jeopardy!  Marketing really started to change in 2014 in a dramatically different direction. IBM started describing a mix of machine learning and big data analysis technologies as Watson – they have their own Watson business unit. The implication being that the company had a corporate mascot. Think Tony the Tiger meets The Terminator.
What I Got When I Mailed Tony The Tiger An Autograph Request
The Watson you might have been sold may use similar technology principles but there isn’t a single sentient AI doing your tax returns in one milli-second and pharmaceutical research the next. Yet having talked to friends who work in a number of sectors and that’s precisely how they perceived Watson.

 

Thoughts on the Apple event of September 7

Style

  • The presentation was telling a hard story to an audience that were likely to be underwhelmed. Phil Schiller rather than Tim Cook carried the most difficult parts of the keynote.
  • The piano finish device was an obvious attempt to provide a style angle to the new iPhone and mask the aerial sections. However it is a class action waiting to happen as it will dull over time with micro-scratches
  • The story that the audience was told didn’t feel right. Lets talk about the headphone jack. The double camera only appears in the Plus, so the requirement for room isn’t a credible argument on its own, other vendors have managed to waterproof handsets with headphone jacks. I suspect that Apple isn’t sure that its backing the right horse. Its the least aggressive change they’ve made in a while. The inclusion of an adaptor shows that their user aggression still isn’t as high compared to when they got rid of: SCSI, Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), iPod 30 pin port (still pissed about that one), AppleTalk, floppy disks or optical disk playback and storage – I suspect that they are fearfully waiting to see what the pre-order numbers will be like and they should be. A straw poll of AdAge readers (core Apple user demographic) showed overwhelming disappointment
    AdAge readers on new iPhone
  • There is a lot of really nice features in iOS 10 – I’ve been using it for a while, why didn’t they make more of this and macOS Sierra?

Substance

  • Innovation in the smartphone category has flattened out. The iPhone 7 provides reasons for laggard iPhone users to upgrade, but nothing for 6 and 6S series users. There are few if any innovations for the likes of Huawei to ape in their new models
  • Innovation in smartwatches has plateaued. Apple is coalescing around fitness and dedicated products are much more cost effective for consumers. In China Xiaomi’s fitness band sells for about £15, for many consumers it would be enough. Fitbit is doing well – Apple’s wrist computer (alongside Samsung Gear etc) looks like a sledgehammer to crack a nut
  • Apple have done nothing to address the latent demand for new laptops amongst consumers (I am still happy with my 13″ Retina MacBook Pro). There was no replacement for the Cinema display (again, I am happy with my current set-up, but where is the pro-user love)
  • Apple abandoned its flirtation with luxury by discontinuing the gold Watch. They are still holding out to be viewed as stylish by doubling down with Hermes and a white ceramic device – it would work on the opposite wrist to a Chanel J12
  • It was curious that Apple moved away from talking about security and privacy; the collaborative document working using iWork which could be seen as a potential attack vector on to the desktop. The Air Pods that sync seamlessly with a device without visible security precautions.  iPhone security was addressed in the James Corden car karaoke skit at the beginning of the show rather than woven through the materials.
  • The speech about the app store was to try and bolster developer support, I suspect that services will shore up the Apple financial numbers over the next 12 months
  • The Nike branded Apple Watch was part of a broader move reposition the Apple Watch 2 as a fitness device.

Throwback gadget: SnapperMail

At the end of 2001, I started to prepare of leaving my job at Edelman. This meant upgrading my home IT set up. I picked up an iBook. The iBook was Apple’s consumer-orientated laptop made from 1999 to 2006. Mine was a second generation ‘Snow’ laptop with a G3 processor, dual USB sockets and a combo drive which allowed me to watch DVDs and burn  CDs.

I used the move to go on the first version of OSX. The move also meant that I got a new email account, my default account to date. It had two key attributes:

No adverts, so it looked professional in comparison to having a Yahoo! or Hotmail email address and it wasn’t tied to an ISP.

IMAP support which allowed me to use my email account across different devices that all sync across the devices. POP3 downloads the  emails from the server to the device

My iBook was my only source of email access whilst I left Edelman and then eventually joined Pirate Communications. My first smartphone was a Nokia 6600, which I used alongside a Palm  PDA – l got this sometime around the end of 2003. The 6600 supported IMAP out of the gate, it was slow, but I was connected.

The 6600 was eclipsed by Palm’s Treo devices which were a better device. I moved from the 6600 and a Palm Tungsten T3 combo to a Treo 600 smartphone in January 2005.

The process wasn’t smooth. The Treo was sufficiently fragile that I got a translucent silicon jacket that worked surprisingly well with the keyboard and screen protector to look after the touchscreen. Software wise the Treo 600 was a step back from the Tungsten T3 PDA. The screen was smaller and the software felt sluggish in comparison. I had deliberately chosen the 600 over the 650 because I had previously worked agency side on the Palm account and been a long-suffering device owner so knew how crap they were at bug fixes.
snapperfish limited
Unfortunately Palm had not been as progressive in comparison to Nokia with its default email client. The software didn’t support IMAP. Fortunately I used to follow Mitch Kapor’s blog and he had recommended an app from a small New Zealand company SnapperFish.

SnapperMail was a compact modern email client. It has a number of features that we would expect now:

  • It supported IMAP
  • It supported SSL client to mail box encryption*
  • it was really easy to use
  • You could work with attachments including zipped files**
  • There was no restriction on the file size of attachments, the only restriction was your email account rather than your email client

This looks like the kind of technology you would have thought Palm should have done. At the this time Palm were competing against Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003, BlackBerry 6200 series, 7100 series and early 8700 series. Yet the default email client was back in the 1990s.

*The full-fat application cost US$39.99

**SnapperMail came bundled with HandZipper Lite which handled the compressed files and JPEGWatch Lite image viewer

I used this alongside MetrO – a public transit directions app and QuickOffice Pro – to read Office documents as part of my modern smartphone experience. It wasn’t just me that loved SnapperMail, it was praised by Walt Mossberg back when he wrote at the Wall Street Journal.

SnapperMail won two Palm Source (Palm’s software licence business) Powered Up awards in 2003. It was recognised as Best Productivity and Best of the Best Solution.

More information
SnapperMail Has Solid Software For Savvy Mobile E-Mail Users | WSJ
QuickOffice
MetrO – open source mass transit application
PalmSource Welcomes Developers with Awards, New Tools; Announces New Licensees | PalmSource press room

I/O and Google’s viewpoint on technology

Google I/O happened on May, 18 – 20.  There had been a lot of pieces of coverage about the different products and services released. But I wanted to spend a bit of time reflecting on what I/O tells us about Google’s viewpoint on technology.

Giving apps a second chance

Google knows as well as anyone that the app moves towards a maturity model where consumers stick with the core apps that they want and then don’t go any further.
apps
Data shows that consumers use their top five apps 88 per cent of the time. So why would Google care when it knows that 60 percent of the top apps on the Android platform?

The reasons for an expanded app usage include:

  • A proportion of Google’s advertising (like Facebook) is derived from the promotion of app downloads
  • Android devices are reaching market maturity in many markets, growth is likely to come from new uses – at least some of which will be derived from third party platforms
  • Google has staked its ambition in the PC sector on its Chrome operating system being able to run apps from the Android eco-system. In order for that to happen there needs to be a healthy community of developers
  • In the same way that DoubleClick’s ad network greatly expanded the inventory of Google’s advertising business, third party applications offer Google an additional source of usage for its own services. If you want to see the future of Google Apps look at the the way the likes of Baidu and Tencent allow third-party integration with their own tools

Streaming or ‘instant’ apps is part of Google’s efforts to encourage consumer trial of new apps and enhance relationships with developers. Firebase, it’s new analytics platform for mobile developers helps them have a better relationship with their installed user base allowing them to use data to target notifications and campaigns.

More faith in wider area networks (WANs) than personal area networks (PANs)

Android Wear’s updates were interesting. Put simply Google has more faith in data being delivered in a timely manner over cellular or wi-fi networks than it does for inter device transfers over variants of Bluetooth. Both the Apple Watch and Android Wear products suffered from performance lags when the watch was a thin client of a phone. Having a cellular radio on board the phone presents challenges with battery life, but speeds up real world performance.

The original design failure wasn’t down to network performance, but is likely to have implications for personal area network technology like Bluetooth in its different variants or ZigBee. These technologies are all about scale, lose a scale advantage and it poses a problem for future adoption by others. This can happen in a virtuous way. Apple’s adoption of USB benefited the standard greatly and drove interest in peripheral development for both Mac and PC. Apple’s abandonment of FireWire and the 3.5″ diskette marked their decline.

Lots to be concerned about from a privacy point of view?

Google Home moved yet another pair of Android powered ears into our environment. It was obvious from Google’s description of services that a paid marketing model to be the ‘car booking’ or equivalent service of Home could be very lucrative for the search giant. How this device could be used for market research, tracking brand mentions or government surveillance also poses some conundrums moving beyond smartphones to brown goods.

Android N features file based encryption rather than treating the whole device as an encrypted disk. This raises questions around the comparative ease of access from a privacy perspective. Secondly, SafetyNet allows Google to reach into a phone to remove pre-existing applications without user permission. There is no explanation if they also have write privileges to the phone as well. If so, expect law enforcement and intellectual property owner interest. From the way it reads this would affect apps and content that have been side loaded as well as got from an app store.

Android is giving the high ground to Apple on privacy presumably because it considers its own customers don’t care about it that much.

Reference designs in VR to drive adoption and commoditisation 

Google’s Daydream project looks to provide standardisation in hardware. By going down this route, Google hopes to spur on the sensor market required for improved AR experience and drive uptake. These will likely be a very different experience to the computer workstation powered Occulus Rift. Driving this technology into the smartphone market may combat the current stagnation in phone sales growth.

More information
Google I/O 2016 event page
A16hz on Google I/O 2016
Everything Google just announced at its I/O conference
Palm, Apple, Google and the whole mobile device thing
The Limits of Google
If Google’s right about AI, that’s a problem for Apple – Marco.org
ISIS’s Mobile App Developers Are in Crisis Mode | Motherboard

June 2016 online marketing and technology research slides

Here is a copy of the slides that I pull together (when I have the time) each month of publicly available data that would be of use.

This month I have some new data around search which came from disclosures at Google I/O in terms of search volumes. We talk about social as if search has gone out of style but its growth is still staggering, driven by mobile device penetration.
Google global search volume
Looking at global search revenue over time, Google’s monopoly position becomes immediately apparent.
Global Search Revenues
More details about me here.
Slide20
Full presentation available for download as a PDF on Slideshare

What are the major reasons behind Yahoo’s drastic downfall?

I came across this question on Quora and decided to post my answer with additional data points and information here as well.
Yahoo! star
This is a big question. In the answers that it will receive you are likely to see:

  • Difference of opinions about the reasons of the decline
  • Differences of opinion  about when the decline actually set in. Which begs the question was the downfall that drastic?

Before we get into the why, lets think about the nature of businesses.

Public listed companies generally don’t last forever

The AEI said that 88 per cent of the companies that made up the Fortune 500 in 1954 are gone. Yahoo! is between 21 and 22 years old depending which way you count its age.

Yahoo! has outlasted many of its peers:

  • Excite – merged with @Home Network in 1999. It went bankrupt in October 2001. It was sold in December 2001. By 2007, the business was broken up by territory.
  • Lycos – was sold three times, each time for a fraction of the purchase price
  • Hotbot – bought by Lycos
  • AltaVista – minority stake sold to CMGI in 1999. Bought by Overture in February 2003. Yahoo! acquired Overture in July 2003

Only MSN remains of the original brands that it competed against. If MSN wasn’t a Microsoft business, its survival would be questionable. Microsoft’s online services lost money from 2006 through 2010. By comparison, Yahoo! has kept making a profit – despite its issues.

Macro-effects

The technology sector has become a hunting ground for active investors. Back in the 1980s, American publicly listed brands were attacked by investors:

  • RJ Nabisco – leveraged buyout by KKR
  • Gulf Oil & Unocal – T. Boone Pickens had failed bids for both oil companies but made a large profit on his holdings
  •  TWA – leveraged buyout by Carl Icahn. Icahn’s business practices were responsible for its bankruptcy in 1992 and 1995
  • Revlon – acquired in a hostile takeover by Ron Perelman, much of the business was broken up to pay for the deal

In the 1990s, factors changed:

  • Credit lines for deals dried up as some leveraged buyouts proved to be bad for investors
  • Businesses developed more effective defences including poison pills, golden parachutes and greater debt
  • Overall value of the stock market increased. This reduced the amount of opportunities to get companies on the cheap

Moving forward 20 years, the technology sector became in a similar place

Historic technology businesses have moved from being high growth to value businesses. This changed the nature of investors interest in them.

  • Microsoft gave a seat on its board to an activist shareholder ValueAct Capital
  • Apple started paying dividends and raising the debt on its balance sheet to fend off Carl Icahn

Google’s unique two-tier shareholding structure has proved to be an effective defence so far.

A business like Yahoo! looks like a classic corporate raid target as its value is less than the sum of its parts. It has a regular cashflow that could service a lot more debt at current interest rates. It has assets that can be quickly sold.

Capital has become much cheaper. This is partly a result of low interest rates set to keep the economy out of trouble in 2008. But there is also a lot of foreign capital and pension fund money looking for a home.

Missed opportunities

Given that we have the perfect vision of hindsight, Yahoo! missed key opportunities. Here are some of them.

Yahoo! failed to buy Google

Yes, Yahoo! did fail to buy Google. And their competitors failed to buy Google as well. Excite rejected the opportunity to buy Google for $750,000 in a deal arranged by Vinod Khosla. By comparison Terry Semel, then CEO of Yahoo! failed to buy Google for $5 billion. At the time Yahoo!’s entire market value was roughly $5 billion.

Yahoo! failed to buy DoubleClick

While Yahoo! was playing catch-up with Google on search. Google outbid the online industry to pay $3.1 billion for DoubleClick. DoubleClick provided advertisers with more opportunities to place banner ads than Yahoo! did.

Yahoo! failed to buy Facebook

Terry Semel offered $1 billion for Facebook in 2006. Semel wouldn’t go to $1.1 billion Facebook’s board wanted.

Yahoo! failed to sell to Microsoft

I don’t think that the Microsoft deal was a serious offer. There are  reasons to be suspicious:

  • Microsoft couldn’t make its own online business profitable at the time. The deal was unpopular with shareholders
  • Yahoo!’s contribution to the open source community would have been an antitrust issue
  • It would have to get through approval by Japanese competition authorities
  • It would likely have to get through Chinese antitrust authorities

Yahoo! didn’t communicate these risk factors to shareholders. Which then left the door open for the Microsoft-funded Carl Icahn coup later on.

Yahoo!’s board has failed the company

I think that there is a stronger argument for this when you look at their selection of CEOs over the years

  • Tim Koogle – led Yahoo! on the upcycle of the dot.com boom. He resigned and replaced by Terry Semel during the bust that followed.
  • Terry Semel – was a senior media industry executive who bought the business out of the bust. He never got the product and never used email. He never managed to build a media company despite his Hollywood heritage.
  • Jerry Yang – history will look with more favour on Jerry Yang in the future. He did the Yahoo! Japan  and Alibaba deals which are the most interesting parts of Yahoo! today. As a CEO, his time was consumed by  Microsoft’s hostile bid
  • Carol Bartz – Bartz was a Microsoft approved appointee. Her deal on Facebook Connect saw the social network build its business on the back of Yahoo!’s user database. Bartz does the Microsoft search deal badly. She also launched mobile apps that were bad. The one thing she needs respect for is her approach to marketing. Bartz realised that she needed to promote the entire Yahoo! brand. Although there was a buzz marketing team in the US, most marketing was based around products. Unfortunately the execution of the brand campaign was poor. This was partly because it was led from the US with little engagement of regional and national marketing teams.
  • Scott Thompson – stayed for five months. Allegations were made about his education, better due diligence on his recruitment required.
  • Ross Levinsohn – Ross served as interim CEO after Thompson left. It is hard to know what CEO he would have made. But his successor seems to have borrowed his strategy.
  • Marissa Mayer – Despite the goodwill Mayer had going into the job she hasn’t managed to change Yahoo!’s current business. That the company’s strategy is being driven by activist shareholders says a lot.

Problems in execution

Yahoo! had its fortune hitched to brand display advertising. Growth has dropped in this for the past ten years. Yahoo!’s declining advertisng revenues started in Q2 of 2006. Part of the problem was that Yahoo! had been too successful to begin with. Yahoo! sold its display advertising for way more than it was worth.

Yahoo! failed to monetise search as well as Google. And then handed its search business over to Microsoft, who failed to do as good as job as Yahoo! managed on its own.

Yahoo! failed to execute in mobile, despite some smart early efforts. Photo community Flickr was the default photo app on Nokia’s N73 blockbuster smartphone. The N73 launched at the end of April 2006. It was was one of the last things I worked on before leaving. Given that headstart Flickr could have been Instagram. Instead its a more specialist community of ‘proper’ photography enthusiasts. Yahoo! Messenger and Mail both worked on Nokia handsets from the mid-2000s. Yahoo! Go was an app which provided access to services including:

  • Flickr
  • Address book
  • Calendar
  • Email
  • Maps
  • Search
  • Content: news, weather, finance, sports, entertainment

It could have provided the same function that Android provides for Google, but Yahoo! considered as ‘beta software’ right up to is finish in January 2010. Yahoo! has been providing Apple with weather information and stock data for the iPhone. Yet it hasn’t managed to build a successful iPhone app.

One way of illustrating the decline of Yahoo! in mobile is to look at the user numbers of Yahoo! mail, which seems to have peaked around September 2011.
Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail and Gmail users over time
Hotmail shows a linear increase over time, likely due to organisation changes as it has moved to the cloud and Gmail takes off, presumably on the back of Android – though iOS users also have Gmail accounts.

Yahoo!’s acquisition process was broken. Ever since Yahoo! wasted 1 billion dollars buying Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com the business slowed down. Broadcast.com was a scare on the collective memory. Capital decisions took longer, acqusitions took longer. The cheque book was harder to open. Under Marissa Mayer, it was finally let loose, but the purchases seem to have made little difference.

Yahoo! failed to become a media company. Back when I was at Yahoo! we launched Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone – a sort of proto Vice News in 2005. Despite Semel’s Hollywood background, he and following CEOs never made it work. Despite the fact Yahoo! had joint ventures with TV networks in Australia and Canada. When Marissa Mayer finally managed to get talent in the door, audiences had moved to other sites:

  • Gawker Media
  • Buzzfeed
  • Daily Beast
  • Aol’s blog network
  • Huffington Post

Yahoo! failed to make social work. Yahoo! owned pioneer social brands:

  • Yahoo! Chat – chatrooms were the Facebook Groups of yesteryear. Yahoo! was doing social before it was a thing
  • Delicious – neglect, internal politics and corporate interference meant that Yahoo! never capitalised on Delicious. Despite its tribulations there are some people who still use it, though I am not sure why
  • Flickr – corporate interference and neglect destroyed the potential growth of photo sharing site Flickr. The site is kept going as a photographic enthusiasts community. It could have been Instagram. Thankfully, Yahoo! only spent $30 million on it
  • Yahoo! Messenger – Yahoo!’s Messenger had a poor mobile client, but could have been WhatsApp. Facebook dominates the sector along with Tencents WeChat, NHN’s LINE and Daum Kakao’s KakaoTalk
  • Tumblr – Yahoo! was forced to writedown the value of Tumblr to nothing. The company failed to monetise the popular blogging and curation platform. Tumblr is one of Yahoo!’s few products that attracts a millennial audience

Yahoo! products had a poor experience. I launched over 14 products at Yahoo! in just over a year. I only ever used 2 of them on a regular ongoing basis – Delicious and Flickr. Other products like Yahoo! 360, Yahoo! Answers or Yahoo! MyWeb 2 – fell into three categories:

  • Dogs to use – particularly in the set-up part of the process
  • Not particularly useful – Yahoo! Answers, great idea in prinicple but poor cultural fit. That poor fit meant that it filled up with noise, Yahoo! Answers isn’t as useful as Quora
  • Strangled soon after birth – so it became frustrating to commit your time to them as a user

Politics paid a part in this process. The Communications group (responsible for Messenger and Mail) had a lot of duplicate products. Yahoo! Photos was a bad version of Flickr. For storing your bookmarks there was:

  • Yahoo! Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! MyWeb
  • Yahoo! MyWeb 2
  • Delicious

This all bogs management down and sucks away resources. There were also so many projects that never saw the light, due to constant changes in priority.

More information
Fortune 500 firms in 1955 vs. 2014; 88% are gone, and we’re all better off because of that dynamic ‘creative destruction’ | AEI Ideas
Microsoft’s Bing/MSN Results Truly Horrifying — Loss Rate Balloons To ~$3 Billion A Year | Business Insider
Stupid Business Decisions: Excite Rejects Google’s Asking Price | Minyanville 
A Microsoft First: Activist ValueAct Gets a Board Seat – WSJ
How Yahoo! Blew It | Wired
Yahoo! Could Have Bought Facebook For 2% Of Today’s Valuation | Business Insider
Sorry Microsoft, Yahoo — Google Just Got Bigger | Ad Age

What the IFTTT is going on?

So first it started with an email just under three weeks ago:

Hello,

We have been busy bringing improvements to the IFTTT platform. Because of these technical updates, some Channels will no longer be supported.

On March 23rd, the following Channels and their Recipes will be removed from IFTTT: App.net, BuzzFeed, Campfire, Diigo, Etsy, ffffound, Last.fm, Readability, Yahoo Fantasy Sports, and Yammer.

Since the beginning of the year, we’ve added over 30 Channels and encourage you come check out what’s new and noteworthy on IFTTT!

—The IFTTT Team

Now this list includes a mix of former digital titans like last.fm and Yahoo!. But some of the others listed there are business that still have a lot of heat behind them like Buzzfeed.

Then Sunday I get this:

Hi,

We’re working on a new IFTTT platform for developers that makes building Channels and Recipes a breeze.

Recently, we’ve worked with our partners to migrate to the improved platform, but some have chosen not to do so. Unfortunately, the Pinboard Channel did not migrate to the new platform and will be removed on April 4th.

Pinboard is one of our favorite services and we’re all sad to see it go. We hope down the road it may be back.

Stay tuned to the latest Channels launching on IFTTT!

— The IFTTT Team

Ok, pinboard.in isn’t a service that huge amounts of people rely on. But for those of us that do rely on it, its as important as Evernote or email.  It’s user base tends to be tech forward kind of people.

But it begs a wider question, why the short notice and how come IFTTT can’t bring services along with them that have tech forward users? Pinboard have posted their version of what happened on their blog and it makes for disturbing reading. The link is at the bottom of this post, I recommend that you take some time to check it out.

A quick look on Google News shows that this loss of services from IFTTT hasn’t been covered, and there is nothing on the IFTTT blog that I could see.

I have rebuilt my recipes that use pinboard.in in a services called Botize. It costs €4.99 a month or €49.99 a year and only accepts payments by PayPal.  If I come across better services I will share them on here.

More information

My Heroic and Lazy Stand Against IFTTT | Pinboard blog – disturbing guide to IFTTT’s designs on your data and business model.

PrivaTegrity: the flawed model of distributed keys

Dave Chaum’s idea to to try and balance between state actors demand for internet sovereignty and the defacto end of citizen privacy, with the need to address emotive causes such as terrorism, paedophile rings and organised crime got a lot of attention from wired.
Yesterday evening on a bus stop in Bow
The principle behind PrivaTegrity is that there would be a backdoor, but the back door could only be opened with a nine-part key. The parts would be distributed internationally to try and reduce the ability of a single state actor to force access.

However it has a number of flaws to it:

  • It assumes that bad people will use a  cryptographic system with a known backdoor. They won’t they will look elsewhere for the technology
  • It has a known backdoor, there is no guarantee that it can’t be opened in a way that the developers hadn’t thought of
  • Nine people will decide what’s evil
  • If you’re a state actor or a coalition of state actors, you know that you have nine targets to go after in order to obtain access by hook-or-by-crook. It was only Edward Snowden who showed us how extraordinarily powerful companies where bent to the will of the US government. The UK government is about to grant itself extra-territorial legal powers to compel access. There is no reason why a form of extra-ordinary rendition couldn’t be used to compel access, rather like Sauron in The Lord of the Rings bending the ring bearers to his will. Think of it as Operation Neptune Spear meets a Dungeons & Dragon quest held at a black site

More information
The Father of Online Anonymity Has a Plan to End the Crypto War | WIRED
Privategrity

Brandwatch on luxury brands

Not the most polished presentation but good content by Brandwatch on the state of digital and social with regards luxury brands.

More about Brandwatch here.

WeChat Life Report

Nice collection of consumer behaviour data on WeChat. Over the past year WeChat has expanded the services that it provides to include Skype like conference calls, which changes and expands the behaviour in this report. (Presentation on Slideshare)

Churchill Club on the increasing use of learning machines

I don’t want to get into an argument of what an AI actually is, so hence the title change – but interesting watching.

The changing culture of Silicon Valley

When I was in college I interviewed for a few placements, one was with Hewlett-Packard in Germany. They wanted a marketing student to look after their printing brochures on demand initiative for their UNIX product line. This was going to save them a mint in terms of marketing spend using an Indigo Digital Press rather than brochure runs on litho printing, reducing waste, storage needs and allow for faster document updates. (HP went on to buy Indigo in 2001).

Commercial adoption of the web was around the corner, I was already using it in college, but its ubiquity still seemed quite far away. I decided I didn’t want to go for the job primarily because I wanted to get my degree over and done with and HP weren’t paying that much for the role.

We were interviewed by a succession of people, the only one who was memorable  was a guy called Tim Nolte who wore a Grateful Dead tie and had a Jerry Garcia mouse mat in his cubicle.

At that time HP, had the dressing of the company man but had more than a few hippies on the payroll who permeated its culture. Reading Robert X Cringely’s Accidental Empires made me realise that technology was as much a culture war as technological upheaval.

If one looks at the icons of the technology sector up to and including the early noughties many of the people were influenced by the counterculture movement if not part of it. The  Grateful Dead where one of the first bands to have their own website at dead.net. The Electronic Frontier Foundation was founded by John Perry Barlow, a lyricist with The Grateful Dead. Steve Jobs was influenced by Indian mystics and his experiences using LSD.

Stewart Brand who founded WIRED magazine and The WeLL was the editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, a guide to useful things for people who wanted to get back to the land. He was influential in the early environmentalist movement and had been involved in the counterculture of 1960s San Francisco.
Members of the Golden Circle Senior Citizens Club of Fairmont holding quilt they made. The quilt was raffled off during the Fairmont centennial, May 1973
Ideas from open APIs and creative commons came from their libertarian values. Open Source Software again comes from academic and countercultural attitudes to information and has had to defend itself from accusations of communism, yet it now runs most of the world’s web services and gadgets from smartphones to Google’s search engine.

Reading the Cluetrain Manifesto is like reading a screed that could have come from an alternative Haight Ashbury.

Aeon magazine wrote an article on how yuppies have hacked the hacker ethos, but the truth is they’ve got behind the steering wheel as web2.0 declined. The move from open web API’s and the walled garden approach of Facebook and their ilk marked a changing of the guard of sorts.

Flickr had and ability to move your photos as a matter of pride in their product. Just a few clicks kept them honest and kept them innovating. Joshua Schachter’s similar approach on del.icio.us allowed me to move to pinboard.in when Yahoo! announced that it would be sunset.

Government always is the last to catch up, which is the reason why open data only really gained mainstream political currency in the past five years.

Were now in a Silicon Valley whose values are closer to the Reagan years and I am not too sure what it will do for innovation. I suspect that the change won’t be positive.

More information
Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date by Robert X Cringely
Don’t listen to Bill Gates. The open-source movement isn’t communism. | Slate
How yuppies hacked the hacker ethos – Aeon

Alan Kay – Normal Considered Harmful

Alan Kay is an iconoclast in the history of personal computing. He worked at Apple, Xerox PARC and Atari. He was part of Apple’s R&D team up until 1984. He has challenged the direction of personal computing and is the father of object orientated programming – which is the foundation of many modern programming and web development languages.

Kay’s presentation on computing given in 2009 is well worth a watch to get a macro view of the state-of-play in computing. It is interesting how many new ideas are actually old and how the skills of computer programming in some ways has gone backwards.

Desktop and mobile messaging

Over the past few weeks WhatsApp has rolled out a web client to complement its previously mobile-only experience. From a technical point-of-view this was WhatsApp playing catch-up with its rivals.
Mobile social network ecosystems
Skype has long been a multi-platform messaging system that made the leap to mobile over eight years ago. LINE has had both desktop and mobile applications for a while. WeChat had had a web interface for at least two years in addition to its mobile client and dedicated desktop clients for both OS X and Windows.
wechat app
Those whom I spoke to who had used the web interface talked of WhatsApp’s ‘unique’ way of handing off from mobile to the web through the use of QRcodes. And they were surprised when I showed them WeChat’s implementation that looked eerily similar and has been around for much longer.

There is a certain paradox that the most successful OTT messaging platforms now have a presence on the desktop, yet instant messaging clients like Yahoo!, MSN, AOL and ICQ weren’t able to successfully move from desktop to mobile.

So why desktop and why now?

Is it about WhatsApp putting pressure on Apple to change its model to suit WhatsApp?

The Messages app in iOS is secure, supports voice, photos and text messages. It offers much of the functionality of WhatsApp. WhatsApp complains that it can’t repeatedly charge on a yearly basis for its service on iOS, yet iOS has supported in-app payments for a while. I suspect WhatsApp wants to get a free ride or its beef with iOS is from some unstated reason.  In summary, whilst WhatsApp’s web service is only available to Android users, I don’t think that this is really about Apple.

It is threatened by other apps?

WhatsApp has a big presence across the world (outside of China) in the OTT messaging space with over 700 million active users. However other services are managing to increase their footprint.

I took a straw poll of some friends with regards their messaging usage. Did they just leave one platform for another in the same way that Google won out in search or was there something else going on?

Most people that I spoke to weren’t generally deleting  the more popular messaging apps and moving from one to the other generally. (They had tried and sometimes deleted the likes of Telegram or Wickr for instance). But they did have different groups of contacts in different places. So WhatsApp probably isn’t losing its spot on established users phones at all, and having a rival app on a phone isn’t likely to make WhatsApp lose out from being downloaded on a new phone.

By all accounts, different messaging platforms are about different groups of friends and contexts. WhatsApp tended to connect with family more often than other messaging services.

Is is about usage time?

I suspect that this could be the case. It was interesting to hear a couple of friends talk about LINE. They commented that LINE had a range of stickers, but the main reason is that you can use LINE at work without having to use your phone and it be obvious with your boss. I think that this is where WhatsApp could be feeling a gap and decided to fill it.
what is mobile
It also begs a second question. When you have laptops that will run for 8 to 10 hours on a battery and slip in a bag like a tablet, is desktop yet another mobile device? The kind of work usage mentioned would also fit in nicely in a coffee shop or in front of the TV with the family; a subtle back channel to the outside world.

My understanding was that WhatsApp was focused on getting people in the developing world on board, they provided a lean bandwidth frugal messaging platform that was leaner than Facebook. Instead, the web interface is more aimed at ‘first world problems’.

More information
Four Of The Top Six Social Networks Are Actually Chat Apps | Marketingland
WhatsApp hits 700 million monthly active users — GigaOM
Messaging app Kik passes 200M users | VentureBeat
From Messaging Apps To Ecosystems : Line, WeChat, Viber & Others | LinkedIn
Why Apps for Messaging Are Trending – NYTimes.com
Every app is a communications app | Layer
WeChat to overtake WhatsApp as top messaging app in India: GWI | Digital Market Asia
WeChat Dominates APAC Mobile Messaging in Q3 2014
Tencent Drafts Chinese Expats for U.S. Duel With WhatsApp – Bloomberg