Monday, November 9. 2015
Twitter has replaced it's "favourite this twt" star icon with a heart - which is odd, as it shows Twitter fundamentally misunderstands how people use the system. Which is also odd, as it wouldn't have taken more than a cursory glance at their own system to work that out, this is not some deeply hidden arcanity. People use "star" to log stuff that looks useful/important/etc, not just because they "love" it.
But the "heart" fiasco points to a deeper malaise, in my view that started when Twitter started a scorched earth policy with its own developer ecosystem a few years back. But then, when you have a management that changes more often than a comic-book Banana Republic government, its not entirely surprising it doesn't really understand how it's service creates value to it's users, nor have a longer strategy to create value apart from trying new ways to flog Ads to people that don't want them.
Speculation is that the main reason for the ongoing silliness is investor pressure to produce more growth - it "only" has 300 m users - nor real profit (it still loses $2 for every $ of revenue) But this is again odd, the point of a bloody big IPO like Twitter had is to give it the runway to sort its business model out without resorting to short term desperation tactics. Twitter is not Facebook, it's eventual business model will not be "Facebook Lite".
Now in recent months its started to be a bit more reasonable in its treatment of its own ecosystem, which is a Good Thing, as nearly all the real innovation on Twitter since the original concept has come from that community. What emerges succesfully from the developer Darwinian Soup is far more likely to help the service grow and expand than any internal brainwaves like replacing a "star" with a "heart".
When Twitter IPO'd, we opined that the service had far more long term potential than Facebook, but Twitter's revolving-door management structure was its weakness, as compared to the ruthless determination of the Facebook team. Now, let's see how fast Twitter can U-turn on this mistake. That will be an acid test of it's ability to succeed going forward.
Update - we tweeted this post, as we always do - and got a few favourites, with stars again. There is hope yet...
Update 24 hours later:
(i) The hearts are there now
(ii) Twitter, after barely 1 week of hearts operation, claims they have a higher uptake with hearts than stars. Bit early I'd think....
Wednesday, October 7. 2015
This is a summary of my more detailed article on the Agile Elephant blog
I was at the IOM Conference in Cologne last week, which is mainly concerned with the "Human" side of the Future of Work that the Digital Transformation will bring. The focus is really on how white collar, mainly fairly knowledge oriented workers, will do their work in future. It's all about improving human potential - expanding knowledge, increasing collaboration, co-ordination, engaging, enthusing, a move from hierarchy to flat organisations and teams. It's an optimistic vision, a Human-centric model. What's not to like?
But here's the rub - The Humanist, People-Centric approach is just one exposition of possible "Futures of Work" currently ongoing. You don't have to go far before you find three other very different futures being created as well as this Human-centric view of the Future of Work:
The people impacted by these worlds are going to have a very different experience from the happy human-centric vision painted in the Human-centric model
But what is interesting - reading all these various sources - is that there is very little intersectioning or consideration of the other models by any one of these models, the pundits & thinkers of each all seem to operate in Silos (Silos being something they all decry in the Current Ways of Working, ironically).
In essence the answer to the question "What is the Future of Work" is "All of them" - but in different combinations depending on industry, location, role and time. I put more detailed analysis in the other post, if anyone wants to look at Value Chain Analysis and Product/Process matrices, but in essence history suggests a hybrid will occur in most cases (just as manufacturing best practice today incorporates offshoring. lean production & worker cells, automation and elements of business process re-engineering).
For the Human-centred fans, there is the second rub - a lot of those impacted will be those people that thought they were slated for the happy, hierarchy-free world of work. How so? Well, if your job can be:
The Future of Work, in short, may not have you (or me) in it. And that is something less often mentioned - the Future of No Work.
The discussion about how the next shift will play out politically, economically socially is also not considered by many enthusiasts, but - for now - a quick look at the Industrial Revolution is instructive in thinking about the next 50 years. During the Revolution, while it is true that the changes created new jobs, better lifestyles and a better world for those countries that went through industrialsiation, it was not an easy transition:
Interesting times, and we are now living in them
Friday, October 2. 2015
The 72 hour brouhaha over Peeple has been fascinating to watch, in that everyone seems to hate the idea of being rated by others online.
And yet most of these selfsame people are being rated, every day and in every way, by a myriad of apps and websights and bots for all sorts of aspects of their online activity - financial, reputational, physical, attitudinal, activities....
Wake up people - Peeple is just the obvious endgame of what is being done already all over, every day.
Update - just had to add this quoute by @fakeBaldur re all the hoo-ha
"The #peeple law: a badly thought out app startup will be indistinguishable from performance art."
Friday, September 25. 2015
Fascinating snippet from the Grauniad about how Jeremy Corbyn's campaign used online tech to outmanouevre les autres:
Soffa [Corbyn campaign digital operatiomns head] created an app – using the American political organising software NationBuilder – that allowed volunteers to make calls to potential supporters from their own homes. The app provided information about an individual’s Labour membership, which constituency they lived in and its electoral history. Volunteers would follow a series of questions, with the answers fed back to Soffa’s team through the app.
If you ever read Nate Silver's book on predicting the last US presidential election (Silver got it right, many didn't), or the results of the post mortem of the last UK election polling, you will know that the critical thing is to know what voters are really thinking, not what they tell pollsters etc. Corbyn had an early insight.
Knowledge is power.....
The £3 thing was blindingly obvious - in hindsight, of course
Another thing we picked up was that the overdone and increasingly frantic attacks on Corbyn by the supporters (including those in the mainstream media) of the Blairite/Tory Lite wing of the party had the opposite effect to what was intended, they were increasingly lampooned on social media and in fact created sympathy for Corbyn among neutrals, as well as fulfilling the Wildean maxim that the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about.
Thursday, September 24. 2015
Image courtesy Bloomberg
To no one's great surprise, there is much less to the online Ad industry than meets the eye. A new Bloomberg report puts into black and white what we have suspected for a while - some quotes:
Digital’s return on investment was around 2 to 1, a $2 increase in revenue for every $1 of ad spending, compared with at least 6 to 1 for TV. The most startling finding: Only 20 percent of the campaign’s “ad impressions”—ads that appear on a computer or smartphone screen—were even seen by actual people.
There is a certain delicious irony in that Ads - fake content if ever there was - are being sent to fake people, but what to do for the Ad supported businesses out there?
As in all things, quality costs - if you want humans to see Ads, it costs money (see chart above).
This will also become yet another move in the Ad Industry Arms Race, one can imagine bot scrubbers and audience checkers etc, but all they really serve to do is add more friction to a system that is already corrupted, the temptation to use bots won't go away easily or quickly.
Thursday, September 17. 2015
There seems to be a lot more harrumphing about Ad Blocking these days by those whose business models are impacted by it, even though a minority of people (c 20% globally) use them. Today there is more wailing than usual as Apple released 2 Ad Blockers for the new iOS 9 that shot to the top od Apple Apps hit parade - re/code:
After the inaugural day of Apple’s latest operating system version, which permits new extensions for blocking content in Safari browsers, two apps that do just that shot to the top of the paid downloads.
The big panic is this means Ad blocking is now possible on Apple phones and Tablets - Mobile up to now has been Adspamzone supreme.
It doesn't hurt sites like Facebook that place Ads in their own streams but it may hurt Google (who pays for its Ads to show through AdBlock Plus). It’s not clear if Google has worked out a similar "fix" for these new iOS apps.
Anyway, there is great wailing and rending and gnashing by the Ad industry, and ever more ludicrous suggestions of what the advertised-to customers need to do to help keep those Ads rolling past their eyeballs - I saw one today that suggested people run Adblockers disabled by default, requiring them to blacklist the bad plays instead of "punishing the entire web".
The fundamental problem with Advertising as a business model thoiugh, is that customers don't like it unless it is very unobtrusive, and the industry is largely incapable of self control in that respect (did you know that most people install Ad blockers due to worry about use of their data to "personalise" them). It is a "tragedy of the commons" problem in that it is always to the advantage of the "ad-overgrazer", so cheaters prosper - so it's always just easier to assume the endgame, i.e. they are all acting in bad faith - and block the lot.
A more useful model would be spam killers, who do the work themselves, but of course that would require the Ad industry to do something else - be reasonable about it's advertising - which so far it has never been able to do since Pop Ups 15 years ago, hence Ad-Blockers in the first place (see Tragedy of Commans Game theory above).
Or maybe a whitelisting system - a certificate that says one conforms to a "minimum obtrusivneness" standard, and then Adblockers let it through. Odds of 1:2 though that it won't be 6 months before the lobbying and other attempts to expand the definition of "minimum unobtrusiveness" reaches "untrustworthy" status, and up go the shields again.
Interestingly, its better educated (aka wealthier) people who are the heavier users of Adblockers today, but use is growing rapidly (41% last year) so the Advertiised-to total spend will devcline faster than the number of people seeing Ads.
Anyway the current system dynamic is an Arms Race game - more and more intrusive Ads breeds more and more people trying to evade them, and ever better Ad Blockers. It's a Zero Sum game, in that the sum of revenue falls to near zero at game end.
Update - 1 day later, and the best selling Ad Blocker has been pulled from the Apple Store by its Maker:
Peace [the App] required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white. This approach is too blunt, and Ghostery and I have both decided that it doesn’t serve our goals or beliefs well enough
What he doesn't say in his post was that a social media sh*tstorm was waged against him, I'd bet you can only see the half of the pressure on the public channels too. I suppose that's one way of winning the Arms Race - unleash a social media campaign and force the Adblockers off the market - but its short term, if one person can make one, and there is a demand, guess what....
Wednesday, September 16. 2015
Twitter full of the perils of downvoting. Facebook says that's not what it's for, it's to "express empathy"
Perish the thought that people could use Emojis or even Smileys, an old and well loved tech, to emote.
Aha! I hear you call - People used to use smileye to like things - the point of the Like button is for FB to track transaction reactions, and right now FB can't track any sentiments except "Like" very easily. So why does FB want to record stuff other than likes? Added granularity for Ad-serving is my starter for 10
BTW - re Dislike as Mob Rule Tool, it'll all be in the execution, haterz love to find new aways to hate.
Thursday, September 10. 2015
Last night we had our September Social Business Meetup, with Euan Semple being our speaker for the evening (he spoke on Pigs, Lipstick & Dinosaurs - see relevant blog posts here, here and here)
Anyway, in the Q&A&D afterwards, people noted the way Twitter seems to be increasingly being used by people to try and signal they are "more X than thou". I have seen the effect, and it does seem to be an increasing "thing" on Social Media - but I can't prove it as it's very hard to write algorithms to sort genuine opinions from these signals, so I started looking for a reason as to the "why".
So, I was scrabbling round the Web to see if there was any information on this, and one term I came across was "Virtue Signalling" and that made me realise that this was covered already in a classic piece of game theory in signalling - "weak tells"
In Game Theory, you can signal an intent - a "tell" in the parlance - that may or may not be genuine. The way you tell if the "tell" is genuine or not is to measure its strength, and this is measured as the cost to the signaller. A "strong tell" is typically by someone who will "put their money (or other assets, reputation, time etc) where their mouth is". A weak tell is a signal with little cost to the user.
For example, Slacktivism (or its online variant, Clicktivism) is a classic "weak tell" play, in that it is typically a very small amount of effort required to show support for X online - a short amount of time needed to like a petition or click a survey or turn an avatar into particular colour/symbol, with no financial requirement and no comeback (the demand is usually to spend Other People's money & time, in fact). This means the campaign garners the maximum possible supporters, which is then stronngly trumpeted. To say it is popular on Social Media is to put it mildly. Of course, if you ever try and convert that support to any "strong" tell by asking for money (or time, or personal details, or similar) support drops off very fast.
Anyway, it became clear to me that "Virtue Signalling" (or "Smugupmanship" and "the Tyranny of the Like"- other terms I found) is a sort of "added value bonus" to a weak tell - not only can you profess your credentials at no cost, but you can simultaneously elevate yourself to be even better at being X than anyone else. A trick like this - essentially a bonus boost to social currency - is clearly going to spread, and spread fast, on most social media.
What is more interesting to us though, being analytics fans, is that from a Social Media analytics view is that this phenomena distorts "sentiment", which of course everyone analysing Social Media is desperate to get right. For example, when we analysed Twitter for UK election intentions, it came out strongly Liberal Democrat in 2010 and strongly Labour in 2015. In both cases the strength of support for the Tories (who hold many "hard to admit to in public" opinions) came as a big surprise, especially in 2015.
Now we made the assumption at the time that Twitter was largely populated by more liberal people, rather than a truly representative mix of the population - but this analysis would suggest that another contributing factor is that some people either (i) are too nervous to oppose what seems like a groundswell of support, as they can't tell weak tells from strong, and also there is quite a contingent who "tweet liberal, vote Tory".
It is more prevalent where there is politics of some sort or another (so "the right thing" is defined), and seems to be more of a "thing" on networks where people are known, and not anonymous, as far as I can see. Social Media's obsession with identity and transparency, in other words, is probably driving behaviours that give the opposite of clarity and honesty.
For what its worth, this effect is why all democratic systems eventually moved to anonymous voting (secret ballots) rather than a show of hands, when it was realised that public displays of opinion can be influenced and thus do not yield the true "wisdom of the crowd".
Sunday, September 6. 2015
This is just a quick note on my own experiences and not a full review
I have upgraded my second best work computer from W7 to W10 and initial impressions are good. In fact, all pro so far.
The start button seems to be back by default and uses part of the pop-up menu to show Windows 8 style tiles. I am not a huge fan of having pre-set content pushed to my desktop, but they could be quite nice once personalised.
The upgrade process was quite painless and has automatically picked up my "pro" licence, so I can used Bitlocker. In fact, this is a feature enhancement, as Bitlocker was only available (to encrypt drives) on Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate. (Since W7, all versions have been able to read Bitlocker removable drives.) One of my colleagues did report that his licence was lost and he ended up with the basic version of W10, although there is an option to ask Microsoft to issue the correct licence to fix this.
W10 offers two ways to back up, with the legacy W7 "Backup and Restore" or the native "File History". Both of these can work to a network location (although this may not be true on the basic version of W10.)
The UI has a nice clean style, in spite of my attempts to clutter the desktop with random icons!
Last but not least, there is an option to revert or roll back to (in my case) Windows 7. I haven't tested this, but it could be a useful feature if issues arise. Of course, the usual health warnings apply and you should back up your system and especially, your data before upgrading. The Windows 7 "Create a System Image" is probably best if you need to do a clean restore shortly after upgrading. The main drawback is that it is only a snap shot and would overwrite any data updates from the time of the system image to the time of the restore.
I have learnt to be wary of Windows updates, especially after Vista and Windows 8.0. However, Microsoft seem to have gone for continuity this time and I am cautiously optimistic. I will report back once I have had a chance to play with the upgrade.
Friday, September 4. 2015
I have written a fairly detailed analysis of the impact of Transaction Costs on New Ways of Working on the Agile Elaphant blog, its a response to Esko KIlpi's essay that is part of the O'Reilly WTF project.
I never know whether to reproduce the full text on both blogs, but usually don't - the full essay is thus over there, but here is the expurgated version. In essence, Kilpi's argument is that technology is dropping transaction costs outside the Firm faster than within it (There is a more detailed explanation of Ronald Coase's Transaction Cost dynamics of Firms in the other post), and thus the structure will shift from Firms as intermediaries between customers & suppliers to other economic entities. Kilpi argues:
What really matters now is the reverse side of the Coasean argumentation. If the (transaction) costs of exchanging value in the society at large go down drastically as is happening today, the form and logic of economic entities necessarily need to change! Coase’s insight turned around is the number one driver of change today! The traditional firm is the more expensive alternative almost by default.
What I really like about this analysis is that it's based on business operational thinking, which in my view is what will define what works. I do have some caveats with the line of reasoning, however:
Firstly, ”If” – as in “If the (transaction) costs of exchanging value in the society at large go down drastically”. This “If” has a rider, which is there will only be a shift "Also If" the transaction costs of Firms do not reduce, i.e. are not equally affected by these same technologies. If those In-Firm transaction costs also go down, using the same sorts of technology, then there will not be a great shift to "exchanging values in the society at large".
Secondly, what are these replacement economic entities going to look like when the firm sheds transcations? Who will operate and own them? Will they be bedded in the "society at large" or not? There is an implication in Kilpi's work that these are not intermediary structures, and the overall WTF essay assumes they will be set in some new style of (implied more egalitarian?) network, as many of the Sharing Economy proponents believe. Except that these "platform" businesses are exactly the same as Olde Firms except they use this newfangled Internet thing, but now with Apps.
However, if you look at the example given in the essay as a harbinger of the new – Uber – this is clearly not really the case. Uber is clearly just another Firm. As to value exchange, it remains a centrally placed intermediary. All links lead to and from Uber. All transactions (logistical and financial) are routed through Uber's servers, within its own network. If this is a network economy, it is a highly centralised and closed network, with all nodes owned and run by Uber. All that "society at large" is doing is supplying or ordering a taxi ride and paying for it at the edge of the network, as it did before, just that now its ordering by App transactions rather than 'phone or hail ones.
In this case one "traditional" Firm, the original Taxi Company (or in fact many Taxi Companies), have just been replaced with another, newer, one - Uber. A new Firm has used new technology to reduce the transaction costs in a well worn existing business model (order taxi - route taxi - pay taxi) and is now using good old fashioned In-Firm competitive advantage to take market share from existing Firms with higher transaction costs. Uber only needs a “very different kind of management” insofar as it is managing more machines, less people in its workflow. It's network is a good old heirarchical network, just more automated.
Same web, different spider.
In summary, my view of the piece is that it risks assuming that any change to traditional Firms will deliver a societal network, i.e. the replacement to The Firm will be a better thing. But it's far from clear that Uber at al are "better things", they are in reality just "New Firms" where a large proportion of their cost savings come not from the technology driven transaction cost reductions due to ICT, but the labour and regulatory savings they use by arbitraging current laws and regulations.
And this has been true overall in "Innovationary Business Models" for many a decade. The big driver of outsourcing and offshoring was lower regulatory and labour costs, especially in developing countries, and not the transaction cost reduction from adoption of ICT on every desk and cheap global telephony. What has really changed in UberFirms is who the employees nominally work for, their working conditions, and which regulations the UberFirms believe they can avoid.
However, there is already starting to be pushback from existing competitors, regulators and employment institutions to ensure a more equal playing field. This is why, as these efforts are starting to level the field, some of the Uber-alles plays have already had to shut up shop. Uber's own model is under attack and it is having to shift more of its resources into lobbying, undercutting competitors and public pressure to keep the arbitrage gap open (....long enough to IPO at Unicorn valuations ).
In short, its not quite clear how sustainable the UberFirm model really is. Most do not have the database Google has, the warehouses Amazon has, or the music rights Apple has. They have a temporary advantage via regulatory arbitrage, but that will go, sooner rather than later, I think. They have freelance taxi drivers (or name your UberClone service supplier type here) and customers, but both of these are free agents and as faithful as the next service drop needed. They have a matching algorithm and an App, and can take credit card payments, but this is not rocket science to build.
I was having a useful Twitter discussion with fellow London blogger & VC Nic Brisbourne about current players competing by adopting some of the same technologies/working practices He made the good point about scale, i.e. - taking Taxis for an example again - how big do you have to be before you can implement Uber technology and counter them. Nic's other argument is that a large player gets a network effect in attracting customers
Its hard to tell, but the predictions I would make for taxis are:
- There is a declining benefit curve - ie at some point, far smaller than a Global Uber, you can offer a similar service at a competitive price.
- I'd wager a "London Cab App" would be useful enough and big enough for 14m Londoners, thats a big enough market in a cloud driven world where nearly everyone has a smartphone. Sure some Global Warriors would want a Global TaxiCo, but most people on the planet would run with one from their city nearly all of the time.
- Question of course is will anyone build, say, a London Cab App service in time to head off Uber.
- But over time this is a low barrier to entry business - over time, as technology develops, it will get easier to offer services at smaller scale so even more local cab co's can offer similar services.
In short, its not impossible that today's Taxi firms will still be tomorrow's, if they can also embrace the technology.....I'd also bet that this set of observations is largely applicable to most of the prospective UberFirms.
But lastly, I can't see any scenario where the Work -The Future is dominated by a rosy world of value additive, societally sharing networks with single agents and microfirms gaining the surplus, the trend if anything is to UberFirms - so talk of the extinction of Firms is somewhat premature.
Update - article in FT explains how Uber is running into trouble with regulation in Europe. I am more curious about why US city regulation seems to be unable to stop them than EU regulation working, to be honest.
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