Friday, November 17, 2017

Bose, Indiegogo & the noise-masking sleepbuds

Do you buy stuff off Indiegogo, Kickstarter or any other of the crowdfunding sites out there? Or have you ever tried raising funds that way either successfully or unsuccessfully? I've only dabbled as a buyer a couple of times for things that friends have been raising money for. I've looked plenty of times but I've never been sufficiently tempted to part with my cash.

I'm not a huge buyer of stuff these days but I do like to see campaigns like this one from Brita Hirsch and her mission to produce British bred and woven top quality merino wool fabric. It seems to me that that was what these sites were built for: small companies, often start-ups, raising cash via buyers interested in their products. It's a useful way to find new customers and raise finance at the same time. Plus you can test market sentiment and get some initial feedback. In fact, I'd say it was an elegant solution for the likes of Brita.

I do feel a bit uneasy when I see the likes of Bose Corporation crowdfunding their latest new product on Indiegogo - a pair of noise-masking sleep buds. I see Bose as a very well-established brand and corporation with decades of experience in designing, producing and distributing new products. I would even go as far as to say they're one of the best audio brands out there, so why on earth are they on Indiegogo?

I get the commercial rationale... friends have reminded me that it's a good way to test the market and to make sure they're on to a winner before going into production. The customer feedback they get is invaluable to improve the product before finalising it. And it derisks all of that.

I'm still uncomfortable with it. Maybe it's an Indiegogo problem in accepting such a large company on to the platform. They know their commission is going to be great when a company like Bose gets on board and they need to make money. At the time of writing, they've raised $445,951 which is almost 900% over their initial goal. And that commission will help subsidise the products that fall by the wayside and the start-ups, that just don't make the grade. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling they're hijacking something that was meant to support and promote a completely different type of company. If you have big bucks to begin with, you can invest much more to promote your Indiegogo campaign. You can use it to generate new consumer interest in a way that advertising alone would struggle with. Arguably, it's great marketing that with the best will in the world a small company cannot compete with.

But is Bose's success at the expense of the underdog? And if so, does that matter?

I'm interested to know your thoughts.

Day 17/30 NaBloPoMo

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

I'm half-way through NaBloPoMo. It's harder than you think to write a blog post every day. It shouldn't be that difficult, but sometimes it just is. Sometimes, the words just don't come very easily. Sometimes you start a post and it's not the right time to publish it or you need more info or time to work on it before publishing. Today is one of those days. I have a couple of posts in draft that need a lot more work than just commenting off the top of my head. So today, I'm going to share some links with you and things I'm thinking about at the moment instead. You'll have to wait for the meatier posts!

Terence Eden's testcard set up for Shambala Festival
Use a Test Slide
Terence Eden, a fellow member of the NaBloPoMo club, has written today with some very simple top tips on presentations with the main point being about using a test card at the beginning of your presentation. It's a genius idea actually on a couple of levels. By using a test card, if you happen to have to test your AV when some or all of the audience is in the room, it's neutral in content and, Terence says 'easily ignorable'.

I would add that for those of us of a certain age, it will bring back lovely nostalgic feelings and may put me in a more receptive frame of mind to hear from that speaker. It also occurs to me that brands and companies that have nifty graphics, could put together a similar type of testcard using their own graphics. You can read more of Terence's presentation tips here and he's made his testcard available on github too.

Free university courses
Quartz magazine has been keeping track here of the 800 or so universities globally that are offering free or partially free online courses. And in the last quarter, 200 universities released 600 more courses to the general public. That's an incredible resource and goes some way to democratising education.

I don't know about you though, but I find online courses really challenging. My attention wanders, I find it hard to be disciplined about it and I miss the collaborate nature of working with other students, or at least having that personal contact. I think there's also something to be said about going to a specific place to do something. There's something intentional about that that helps me, at least, with the learning process.

But with university fees on the rise in the UK and the cost of living increasing, the demand for cheaper ways to get the same level of education has to increase. I'm no fan of university fees or the debt that lumbers the student in for many years to come. There is an emotional burden that comes with that alongside the financial one. So the future for some kind of online learning looks healthy but maybe the format needs to evolve. Or maybe I just need to get my head down and do one of these online courses. If I can do a daily blog post this month, then I can surely manage to complete one of these courses. Maybe that'll be my next challenge...

Digital Disruption
Apparently 50% of companies don't care about digital disruption. And 10% of them don't think this will affect them at all according to this post by friend and fellow mobilist, Monty Munford. He's citing some new research from Dell EMC. This chimes with a conversation I had with a friend a couple of days ago. He's recently left a large oil company and the main reason for his departure was their utter lack of acknowledgement of the digital world in which we live and the changes required to adapt to that. It's not so much about the nuts and bolts of the software requirements, but the culture change within the organisation. The latter point is so important and the one that so many organisations are missing.

There are plenty of businesses that are rely much more on word of mouth and personal contacts than anything else. And that's absolutely fine. And absolutely right for them. Not everyone needs an all singing all dancing website or mobile app. And some industries may not be affected as quickly as others by the ubiquity of digital. However, internal processes, monitoring and management are increasingly digital or algorithmic and, whatever the size of your organisation, you probably need to adapt to changing customer needs and changing ways in which customers want to connect with you or be served by you. And that's going to mean digital in some shape or form.

Global Mobile Awards at Mobile World Congress 2018
If you want to enter one of this year's 38 categories, you need to get in quick. Entries close next week on Wednesday 22 November. More information about the categories, costs and how to enter here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Love Theatre Day is Today!

Action shot from the fabulous School of Rock
Blimey, I nearly missed this. I've just discovered that it's #LoveTheatreDay and if there's one thing I do love, it's the theatre. I was even at the theatre last night to see Son of a Preacher Man in Wimbledon - great performances and music, the writing - not so much, enjoyable nevertheless. But I digress. What is this #LoveTheatreDay thing, I hear (some of) you ask?

This is an initiative run by Mar Dixon in association with The Stage newspaper according to this article. It's a social media initiative to encourage us to celebrate theatre around the world on Twitter and other social media platforms, hence the hashtag and it's happening today - Wednesday 15 November 2017.

There are three themes throughout the day:

1. #Backstage between 10am and midday to go behind the scenes and see parts of the theatre you would never normally get to see. I guess we've missed that one, but you can check the hashtag for what happened. I love backstage. There's a certain smell to it. It's very hard to describe. It's a nice smell and I'm guessing it's a mixture of wood, workshops and people, but it's unique to a theatre and unmistakable if you've ever experienced it.

2. #AskATheatre between 3pm and 5pm where you can talk direction to the creative teams about their shows and ask the questions you've always wanted to.

3. #Showtime between 7pm and 10pm when people will show what they're seeing at the theatre and what happens off stage during a show.

This campaign is for theatres, performing arts organisations and the general public to celebrate what they love about theatre and to encourage more people to go to the theatre. I think it's a great idea. And one that just wouldn't work without mobile phones. The ability to take pictures, write down our thoughts, record video and audio and distribute it easily and quickly to a wide audience is amazing. This certainly couldn't have happened 10 years ago. Technically, we could do all these things, but the uptake wasn't big enough to reach the mainstream. But today, it's a whole other story. One thing to be grateful for with the ubiquity of the technology.

There is something special about the theatre that keeps drawing me back and anything that encourages other people to enjoy that special something is a good thing in my book. So check out the hashtags, take pictures and share your stories from backstage, off-stage and in the audience and have a great #LoveTheatreDay.

The Safety Curtain from The Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon.

Day 15/30 NabloPoMo

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mobile Campaign Best Practices 2017

I've always been one for best practice. We don't see enough of it enough of the time unfortunately, especially when it comes to mobile advertising. The amount of time we're spending on mobile devices at any time is not decreasing any time soon and so it should follow that the ad spend follows the eyeballs to mobile screens. It's not quite the case yet. But as an industry, the more we can inject creativity into campaigns and best practice into targeting and running those campaigns, the better chance mobile will have and the sooner the ad dollars will cross over.

Global mobile ad spend is estimated to grow from $108.9 bn in 2016 to $143.5 bn in 2017. However, according to my friends at On Device Research, most of that cash is wasted on ads that are ineffective that consumers don't engage with and don't recall. That's a lot of money to waste...

It's not all bad news though, as the top 20% of mobile ads in terms of ad recall record an average uplift between the exposed and control group of +20% points. The remaining 80% of mobile ads achieve an average percentage point uplift of just +3%. Similarly the best performing 20% of mobile ads in terms of purchase intent are six times more effective than the remaining 80%. So there are clearly some advertisers and their agencies getting it right.

So what are these key things that they're getting right?

  1. Logo presence on every frame is crucial
  2. A human presence can engage
  3. Product shots catch the eye
  4. Placing branding at the top of the creative boosts ad recall
  5. Be cautious with dual branding as it can distract and confuse
  6. A single clear message beats a text heavy ad overloaded with information
  7. Video grabs the user’s attention
  8. Inject a little humour in to your creative
  9. A bit of interactivity hold’s the user’s attention
  10. If you want to drive purchase, then unsurprisingly having a strong call to action helps
  11. There's a bonus point to consider too and that's emotion. If you can connect emotionally with the consumer, you will do better.

ODR tells me that the top performing adverts adhere to six of these principles on average yet few advertisers adhere to these rules. I'll be honest, this is pretty much advertising 101 for any visual channel, be that print, outdoor or TV with the exception of the interactive points around video and interactivity which specifically apply to digital.

The bad news from the UK's High Streets has seen October retail sales fall at their sharpest rate since the height of the recession in 2009. That suggests there will be a tough run-up to Christmas. We don't yet know what the knock-on effect to the digital ad market remains to be seen but this time of year typically sees robust ad spend and mobile can have a great impact.

Typically, Q4 campaigns outperform the rest of the year when it comes to unprompted and top of mind awareness. This is perhaps no surprise since well known household names tend to advertise heavily in this quarter. These brands will always have high baseline levels of awareness anyway so although they'll get a boost in Q4, it is not as much as some of the lesser known brands can achieve.

That said, the team at ODR have noticed that Q4 mobile ad campaigns are underperforming in terms of boosting ad recall. This is likely down to even higher ad clutter than usual and being bombarded with a greater quality of brand communications overall. That means you might struggle to recall specific ads compared to quieter times of year.

That means that best practice is needed even more than ever, especially if you don't have the same kind of budgets that the big guns have.

If you need some inspiration of some good campaigns, then it's worth tracking ODR's quarterly winners on most effective ads. This one from Blis for B&Q for Father's Day ticked 7 of the boxes from the Best Practice list.

You can get the full mobile creative best practice guide here (it's free and includes some nice examples for each point). And if you're wondering about how On Device Research measures brand effectiveness, you can find out more about their methodology here.

Can you remember the last mobile advert you saw? I can remember one and that's for the Business of Software event tomorrow to hear Eric Ries talk about his new book, The Start-Up Way. And that's where I'll be tomorrow afternoon lending a hand. Maybe see some of you there.

Day 14/30 NaBloPoMo

Monday, November 13, 2017

On this day...

I'll be honest, I was struggling a bit to think about what to write today. So for some inspiration, I thought I'd take a look at what I and fellow mobilists were writing about on this day in previous years. In doing that, I was reminded of the Carnival of the Mobilists. It started in 2005 and the idea was that a blogger would do a write up of the week's writing about mobile. If you were a blogger, you could submit your article to be considered for inclusion. In this way, readers could discover more blogs and writers could attract more readers and followers. And it worked I got to know many other bloggers as a result and it was a good discipline to read beyond your normal remit.

So let's take a look back at what we were thinking and writing about back in November of years past.

November 2006. Rafe Blandford, writing his All About Symbian blog back then, wrote CoTM #52. Links include thoughts on Ajax, java and flashlite. Youth trends are covered. There's an review of the Opera Mini browser (we had smaller screens and less capability back then, remember). There's also a review of the Nokia E70. And of course there's talk about advertising, this time embedding them in ringtones. Check it out.

November 2007 and it's Mark Hooft's Ubiquitous Thoughts turn to host CoTM #99. His specialism is mobile learning which he looks at but he also covers Google's Open Handset Alliance which was the previous week's big mobile announcement. He also talks about mobile marketing - needing simplicity and also a link to Jan Chipchase and thoughts about design based on what you know about your consumer. Check the links here.

Mark Hooft also hosts CoTM #149 in November 2008. There's been a US Election and Barack Obama is the President. There's been a conference about Handheld Learning in the UK and the Mobile 2.0 event in San Francisco. Round-ups of both are included. Money and the economy is a key theme this week also. We were right in the midst of the credit crunch at the time. Survival was key, and arguably, still is key. More here.

November 2009 and it's CoTM #200 at Jamie Wells' The main theme in this week is Google buying Admob for $750m. Wow, 8 years ago. Time really does fly. Anyway, there's lots of chat as to why it's a good thing (or not) and why Google got a bargain. There's also some good thoughts about the uptake of mobile banking. And some other stuff too. Check out the edition here.

In November 2010, Andy Favell of MobiThinking takes the helm. He must have had a reorganisation of his website as it's dated December, but according to Volker Hirsch, this was from mid-November 2010. Here's that week's Carnival. There are some interesting posts covered with topics including mobile music, network operators struggling to own the social graph, thinking about branding and marketing on mobile, mobile commerce and fragmentation and the legal issues around films on iPhone.

In stepping back in time for this post, I'm astounded about how much good writing and thinking about mobile was going on back then. But also sad to remember that at least two of the prolific contributors to the carnival have now passed on - Judy Breck of Golden Swamp and just last month, Carlo Longino of Mobhappy and TheFeature. I'm also sad to see some of the blogs linked to are no more, including the site that used to be the home of Carnival of the Mobilists. I think the history of our industry is important. We need to know where we've come from to help us work out where we're going and where we don;t want to revisit. Hey ho. Such is life.

Until tomorrow.

Day 13/30 NaBloPoMo

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Complex writing is good for you (or why I'm writing every day this month)

There isn't a lot of routine to my home life. I'm not rigid when it comes to meal times (although I do like to cook from scratch). I'm not a morning person at the best of times so work related tasks drift into the evening, especially now that the weather is cold and miserable. My work tends to come in fits and starts - it's the well-known feast or famine scenario. I think that suits my personality most of the time but not necessarily all of the time.

In very busy times, or particularly stressful times, I can and do adopt a more regimented routine and I've used the Fabulous app successfully to help me with that. One of the tasks that it has you doing every day is a to do list. They recommend strongly that you write this down by hand and not on a computer or phone. There's something about the act of writing by hand that is perhaps more mindful than typing. And maybe it connects to the brain differently. I'm not sure. Either way, when I've done this routine, it does work and has helped me maintain focus and manage a heavy workload. 

Writing by hand is also a key part of the famous book, The Artist's Way. A friend recommended the book to me some years ago. I've never managed to work through the whole thing as it takes commitment and I'm not quite ready to commit to being an artist (What is my media? Will my work be good enough? How will I pay the bills? And lots of other questions immediately spring to mind. And yes, I know that's what the book can help you answer!). 

One of the key tasks of The Artist's Way is to write your morning pages, by hand, stream of consciousness style, until you have written at least 3 sides of paper. This can be about anything at all but it's a recognised way of dealing with whatever is on your mind at the time whether that's what the weather's doing or because you've had a run-in with someone. There are times when I've started the process and done a few days or a couple of weeks, but never stuck with it. And once I've dropped the ball on it, I've never picked it up. Oliver Burkeman writes more about how he used them and how they're being used by business people too.

Despite my penchant for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I have held on to this blog over the years and still see long form writing as important. That's one of the reasons why I committed to doing the NaBloPoMo thing this November by writing a blog post every day. I think it's healthy for me to write something every day, partly down to the routine and discipline of it but also because it helps me think things through in more depth.  

It turns out that complex thinking is inextricably intertwined with writing. According to this article from TES, if you discourage extended writing, you can damage deeper thought. And if we need anything right now in this age of instant gratification and algorithms making decisions for us, it is deeper thought! So on day 12 of this NaBloPoMo experiment, I'm reassured that I might just be on to something.

Day 12/30 NaBloPoMo 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Are Smart Meters as smart as they like to think they are?

My energy company in the UK has been bugging me at every turn, by email, post, notes through the door, random people knocking on my door, to persuade me to have a smart meter installed and to get me to book an appointment. This is part of a government initiative to have smart meters installed in every home in the country between 2015 and 2020.

The thinking behind these smart meters is sound. It allows a household and an energy network to better understand its energy usage and in turn, access different energy tariffs based on usage patterns and may help the nation use less energy by the energy companies being able to plan better and individuals to take more control over their consumption. It's part of the vision and thinking about what smart cities will look like in the future.

All the blurb makes it sound like having one of these meters is compulsory. The consumer ends up paying for the cost of the installation over time in their energy bill. Hmm. Not so keen on that extra expense thank you very much.

I checked. It is NOT compulsory to have a smart meter installed in the UK, not now, not ever. You can get on installed at any time in the future if you change your mind. You don't need to be forced into it by your energy supplier. There's more about it on the OFGEM site here (that's our energy regulator for readers from outside the UK).

The trouble is that British energy suppliers don't have a good reputation, especially when it comes to anything technology related. Their websites are clunky, unintuitive and often inaccurate. I know from friends working at large agencies how painful the process has been to rollout any kind of digital technology with energy company clients. Their culture and organisational structure has exacerbated this and made things worse. That's not to say they don't have helpful, intelligent people working for these companies. They do, but not nearly enough of them and with, I'm guessing, inadequate leadership and inadequate ways of innovating or putting the customer first.

My instinct with the rollout is to not have a smart meter installed. I don't want to be spied on. I don't want the hassle of a workman or woman in my house fiddling around. I don't want an algorithm deciding to switch off anyone's access to energy. And I certainly don't want to have my system vulnerable to hacking. That last one is probably the clincher for me. So many of our large companies and corporates suffer data breaches. I can't trust them with my personal data so I'm definitely not ready to trust them with managing my 'smart' energy supply.

I also  don't want to have to think about my energy supply except that I get it and the bills are paid. I'd rather we had a simpler pricing structure so the we can forget about it and not have to worry or check that they're on the right tariff. And the bottom line is that I just don't trust them that they're getting this right.

I've read too many reports in the news of massive billing issues of people being overcharged hundreds of pounds (often those who can least afford it), people being cut off inexplicably, of units failing and giving wildly inaccurate readings so I have to question why there is this insistence on rolling out a system that is clearly flawed.

In case my mind has been made up as a result of #fakenews, I did a straw poll of my friends, both techie and non-techie, and what they thought about it. The feedback was overwhelmingly negative from both camps.

The techies had real concerns over personal data and how they would (mis)use it and just couldn't trust them with it, worries about security and hacking and also the lack of ability to implement and manage. Non-techie friends were also very worried about personal data tracking and the vulnerability to hacking but also the health concerns around the radio waves they're emitting.

I think there's also a question around the units they're using, the cost of the programme when there are other, cheaper ways to do it. I'm sure there are more reasons that I haven't yet considered.

So, when it comes to smart meters, I'm being a refusenik. I've also signed this petition. I'd be really interested in your thoughts and experiences with smart meters too.

This lovely tongue-in-cheek animation from the campaigning site StopSmartMeters is a great quick intro to the issues.

Day 11/30 NaBloPoMo

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tis the Season

It's most definitely that time of year. I was out in Central London last night and stumbled across the opening of the Carnaby Street Christmas lights replete with free cocktails (too strong, tasted synthetic, threw mine away), DJ, a steel drum band and discounts in shops, bars and restaurants in the area. I've never seen it that busy so they were clearly doing something right. My friend and I tried to eat in one of the many local restaurants, but by the time we got there, the wait time was more than 45 minutes so we wandered further into Soho and found somewhere else.

But it's not just Christmas Lights that signal the festive season. It's the battle of the Christmas TV ad. I do love a good Christmas advert. One that tells a story, that is a short film and doesn't oversell the brand they're advertising.

I haven't seen a clear winner yet unlike previous years, and there have been no tear-jerkers yet, but there are some contenders nevertheless.

Very - Get more out of Giving

Debenhams, You Shall Find Your Fairytale Christmas starring Ewan McGregor

M &S Paddington Bear and the Christmas Visitor (I have a soft spot for Paddington!)

Argos, Ready for Take Off

The Vodafone Christmas Love Story with Martin Freeman. Parts 1 - 3 are great. Am eagerly awaiting part 4. Will he get the girl?

And of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without an entry from John Lewis with Moz The Monster

Although these may not be as strong as previous years efforts, they're still beautifully crafted with high production values. Please can we see more of that all year round whether that's on digital or on TV?

Day 10/30 NaBloPoMo

The 25 Most High Tech Cities in the World

The Shard. London's tallest building.

A Facebook friend posted this article today from the World Economic Forum about the world's most high-tech cities. I don't think there are many surprises in there and London comes up as the number 3 behind San Francisco and New York. That's good to know as a Londoner and working in and around tech.

The article makes for interesting reading and highlights the tech strengths of the cities it lists. It's great to see how well represented Europe is. There's also good representation in the USA and Asia. Cities in Africa, Australia and South America don't make the top twenty five.

The article also reiterates that world populations are becoming ever more urban. It's something I'm aware of. It's certainly happening in the UK. The regions are suffering as London grows. The tension between London and the rest of the country also grows. As someone who regularly spends time in the regions as well as London, I can feel the difference. It's like I'm living two lives sometimes. My London life and my Midlands life.  I note this quote from the article:
'In less than 35 years, the World Health Organization (sic) estimates that two-thirds of the world population will be living in urban areas (PDF) . That's an additional 2.5 billion people. The cities that will flourish the most are those that rely on cutting edge technologies and create opportunities for people to develop new ones.'
How the world will sustain another 2.5 billion people, I really don't know. I imagine we'll have to learn to live in smaller homes and using a smaller environmental footprint. As for transport to get that extra 2.5 billion people moving around - be that country to country or a commute to work, that's a whole load of extra traffic fumes unless we move to cleaner energy sources. I rather like breathing. And having spent time in hospital with breathing difficulties, I know first-hand how debilitating it is and how particles in the air are really bad news for our lungs.

As for the comment about cutting edge technologies... that's making me go 'hmmm'. What's important is to make sure that things work surely? We need reliability and consistency of service and things working and not just cutting-edge technology. We need to be able to roll services out and not have them in isolation. We need, I hate to use the cliche, but 'joined-up thinking'. We absolutely need to make things better and we need innovation to drive that. And we definitely need to experiment. We probably don't do enough of that as start-ups, entrepreneurs and investors are usually chasing the money above all else. We also need a population who are educated and have the skills to drive this forward. That's a huge challenge to know what and how to teach our children, teens and young people when their lives will be so vastly different in a short space of time and we're educating them for jobs that don't even exist yet.

I'm thinking we're possible now in a post-app world with the rise of AI, machine learning and robots. And that has major implications when it comes to privacy, security, ethics and unintended consequences. I don't think success is limited to being cutting edge.

Counting up, I've spent time in 10 of the top 25 cities, albeit a few of them before the massive growth of tech in the last 15 years or so. How about you?

Day 9/30 NaBloPoMo

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Showing up

Woody Allen famously said that 80% of success was simply showing up. The older I get, the truer I think that sentiment is. And as Martin Bihl points out, it's certainly true of advertising. And I would say, it's (sadly) especially true of how online and mobile advertising currently works. A lot of advertising works simply by being there when your competitor isn't.

I'm consistently disappointed with the dismal quality of a lot of advertising, the volume of advertising messages via all channels and the desperation of ad networks to sell their inventory, of ad agencies wanting to buy eyeballs and of advertisers clutching at straws to make us buy something we really don't need. 

As an early mobile marketing pioneer, I'm also frustrated at the lack of innovation when it comes to mobile advertising in particular. We have all these wonderful, unique qualities to a mobile phone in terms of location, convenience, uniquely personal, and many other sensors and we just use them for analytics that then drives more dismal advertising to our screens, whatever screen that may be. Where are the new ways to connect with customers beyond pushing them a bunch of unwanted messages? Where are the nifty ways to improve on customer service to help us retain customers? There has to be a better way than sending relentless 'buy me' emails, surely?

When I started at ZagMe with Russell Buckley 17 years ago, and my younger and less experienced of life, really thought we could change the advertising world for the better by being more relevant, increasing the quality of advertising whilst decreasing the volume of it. I guess greed, desperation and a lack of imagination got in the way and, instead we have the online advertising model of advertising shoehorned on to a tiny screen.

Martin's post on the topic of advertisers showing up is well worth a read and he says it much better than I can. Check it out here.

It's not all bad though. We are seeing some quality TV adverts on our screens in the UK. The current Warburton's advert, Pride and Breadjudice, with Peter Kay is a particular favourite of mine. 

Day 8/30 NaBloPoMo

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Children, their mobile habits and the new Monqi phone

It's weird to think that a mobile phone has been a major part of my communications life for the last 17 years. It's weird to look back at how I used to communicate and what my attitude was to telephony and technology. It's also weird to note how my chosen methods of communication have largely switched from voice to digital text based - email, blogging, social media, messaging. It's even weirder to think that some people have never used a 'dial' on a phone, think that it's perfectly normal to have a video call or to share photos that disappear moments after you've taken them. Nevertheless these things have happened.

I had a press release land in my inbox this morning. It's to promote a new smartphone, Monqi, aimed at children and parents being sold exclusively at Carphone Warehouse. The phone has a tracking app and parental controls. Their marketing team have put together quite a cute video showing a Granddad being taught how to use his smartphone by his grandson. It's a couple of minutes and it does give us a glimpse into the technology generation gap.

The press release goes further about their research and tells us by the age of 14, the average child will have sent more than 35k texts, 30k WhasApp messages and spent more than three sold weeks on video chat. The teenager will also have spent the equivalent of six months looking at their phone during that period, averaging 135 minutes use a day. Young people also spend over an hour a day browsing social media sites. They also expect a quick response to everything - typically within 15 minutes.

This does beg the question around what the long-term effects might be of such heavy phone use. I'm also wondering what behaviours or activities it's replacing. And for sure, parents need to be monitoring this and also their own behaviour as most of these habits are inherited by children from parents and other adults. Both adults and children in the survey said they were spending over two hours a day on their phones, with adults admitting that was too long. With children getting their first smartphone on average by the age of 10, and parents routinely using tablet devices and phones to keep their toddlers amused, these screen habits start young and die hard. I think we could all do with trying to find the right balance between screen time and other activities.

Other stats from the results revealed that 60%of  under-14s said their phone is the first thing they check in the morning and last thing at night. 40%  youngsters said they would feel 'lost' without their smartphone for a day with only 7% believing they would feel 'free' or 'relieved' without it.

Young respondents said the best thing about their smartphones was being able to stay in contact with friends and family, and playing games. That last one I have trouble with. There's not a lot of difference between some mobile games and the psychology behind a slot machine. The mindless manipulation of a screen with the reward being bright shiny lights and some noise.

Psychologist Dr Becky Spelman commented on the findings: "The survey found that children invest a great amount of importance in the ability to stay connected – checking their smartphones before bed and as soon as they wake in the morning.“Some parents may be alarmed by this, comparing their children’s experiences to their own childhood when technology was not as prevalent.“Panic is not the solution, nor is denial. It is inevitable that your child will use technology, so it’s your job to help them navigate the digital waters safely, and set boundaries."

"The survey also found that there are benefits to kids having a smartphone - parents can track their child’s location and have peace of mind knowing that they can be contacted if a problem arises.“This gives the youngster a new found independence – which is so important in an age of cotton-wool-parenting.”

Hmm, I'm not sure about the tracking and the cotton wool parenting thing. Kids will be able to outsmart a grown up trying to track them on a phone. But hey, maybe this generation is different in that their attitudes to being tracked has changed. Maybe the phone tracking thing has finally found its time and place in Monqi? A parent of today's 10 year old may be in their mid thirties and has spent most of their life with digital tools of some kind so their attitudes will be different from my generation.

I've written about a previous service doing something similar back in 2012 and prior to that, there were a number of devices and phones trying to do a very similar thing but in a less sophisticated mobile media world. I didn't think much of any of them if I'm honest.

Will Monqi do any better as they can offset the tracking element with access to games and communication channels to connect with their friends? I think they may have cracked it finally. The phone looks quite snazzy. We're in different digital culture with a new generation of parents and our phones can do a lot more than 5, 10 or even 15 years ago when the whole 'child tracking' thing started. Time will tell.

Sample size 1000. Research was commissioned by Monqi Smartphone. Source of information, and additional findings is here.

Day 7/30 #NaBloPoMo done

Monday, November 06, 2017

Maps, Open Data and the Call for Cleaner Air

Screenshot of the Clean Air Merton Map of Air Quality results across Merton, London.
Those of you who know me personally, know that I've suffered with allergic rhinitis (that's hay fever triggered by more than just pollen) since I was a child. After a hiatus from symptoms in my teens and early twenties, a spell working in fashion retail in Knightsbridge with our store doors open all day and the relentless stop-start traffic outside caused my allergic rhinitis to return with a vengeance and it has never yet relented. This summer, during the heatwave week when NOx levels were exceptionally high in London I suffered, what I now know was an asthma attack. I had a worse one a few weeks later and ended up in hospital in the urgent care unit hardly able to breathe. Both attacks probably triggered by air pollution. This isn't trivial. That second asthma attack was very frightening indeed. I read someone describing an asthma attack as feeling like you're drowning in air. That pretty much sums it up.

Reading around the topic of asthma and pollution, I discovered that my local area is a hotspot for pollution and registered twice the legal levels of NOx in recent tests. It's a busy main road, there's a roundabout and lots of traffic lights and there's a lot of traffic that stops and starts causing much of the pollution. There are roads just like that all over London and up and down the country. I knew that parts of London had problems with air pollution, but I didn't realise how close to home it is. Air pollution is an issue which respects no boundaries.

As a result, I'm all for having cleaner air to breathe and luckily for me there are people already working towards this in my local area from several different community groups. They've teamed up and shared their air quality results with those of the council and mapped them on Google Maps. It makes for interesting reading. You'll need to be looking at Wimbledon, Mitcham and Morden to see the results. The black markers are over the legal NOx levels, the yellow markers are not far off the legal levels and the blue markers (there are only 2 of them across the borough) are well below the legal levels.

That's pretty depressing. The area where I live has lots of green space. I live within walking distance of Figge's Marsh, Mitcham Common, Ravensbury Park, Morden Hall Park, Tooting Common and Beddington Park. Yet still we're suffering. The picture will be similar up and down the country.

Mitcham Cricket Green Community & Heritage has lots of action points to improve air quality in Merton and one hopes that both normal citizens as well as those in authority in local government and business take note and take action.

The good news is that this data is  open data and therefore public which means anyone can see it and contribute to it. A big thank you to the contributors and administrators. This is important work and necessary to help us understand the impact we are having on our own environment. If we know what we're dealing with, we can find solutions. Let's all work towards having cleaner air to breathe.

Day 6/30 NaBloPoMo

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Big questions for Big Tech

I've been participating in a discussion on a friend's Facebook page in the last few days. He's frustrated about the content he sees on Facebook, is blaming it on the algorithms and as a result wants to quit Facebook save for keeping a profile live so that he can be messaged by friends and family.

Fair enough, you might say. I know more than a few people who 'don't do Facebook'. I respect their reasons although it makes including them in a conversation tricky when they're not there. It's like trying to have a conversation with your mates in the pub and one of them is not with you.

I pointed out that one of the reasons I use Facebook is that I'm able, to a certain degree at least, to customise what I do and don't see. I do tell Facebook about the adverts I do and don't like. I turn people and pages off and on as I see fit. I've turned off nearly all mainstream news sites - the constant barrage of war, pestilence and famine is overwhelming when there's very little I can do about it and it was just making me feel depressed.

But there is a bigger discussion point and that's how Facebook polices the content shared on its service, especially in light of the allegation of Russian manipulation of voters in the US election - specifically by manipulating Facebook and the distribution of fake news content there.

I know fake news goes on. I do check my sources more often than not. I rarely take things as read when a friend posts a headline. Equally, I try to understand the bias, left or right, of TV and print media too. That takes time and effort. And most of the time, most of the people can't be bothered to do that or don't know that they could or should be doing that.

But coming back to the Russian fake news manipulation thing... that is actually a very big deal. It raises questions of ethics, what should and shouldn't be allowed to be published and how it's policed. This video from Professor Galloway is definitely worth a couple of minutes of your time.

h/t George Nimeh of Nimeh & Partners.

See also this article from the FT 'Ukraine says it warned Facebook of Russia fake news in 2015'.

Day 5/30 NaBloPoMo 2017

Saturday, November 04, 2017

The Future of Blogging and Communications - some thoughts

I went to an interesting panel discussion on Thursday evening in London at WeWork near Old Street. It was organised by the #BlogClub team and the session was entitled 'How will AI and other disruptive forces affect and impact the world of blogging and communications?' The panel was led by Andy Bargery and the panellists were Katie King (CEO of Zoodikers and future author of a book on AI and Marketing for Publishers Kogan Page) Katie on TwitterLucy Hall (blogger at Lucy on Twitter, and Minter Dial (co-author of 'Futureproof- How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption'), Minter on Twitter.

As I've previously done quite a bit of work and thinking around the topic of AI, I was interested to revisit it with a different audience - i.e. not tech experts but writers, both professional and amateur. This made for an interesting evening and provoked me into thinking more deeply about the topic again.

One of the first things to be brought up was Chatbots. I've not had a great experience with Chatbots if I'm brutally honest. I've had a play with the Pizza Express one and the Dr Oetker one. Both crashed on me and both were nothing more than a weak IVR (interactive voice response) in a text format. They both took too long to interact with and what they achieved could have been done much more quickly via a webform or a bunch of tick boxes. The Pizza Express ones have been a bit cuter as it included some animation and video, but ultimately, they're not *that* clever. At least, not yet. Both of these chatbots were on Facebook Messenger.

Robot writing
The discussion moved on to automated writing. The website was mentioned more than a few times and heralded as 'the future'. There have been robot poets in China, a Japanese robot fiction author who got through the first round in a literary contest, and this year, Google invested in AI to write local news. And I know that data driven news content like sports results, stocks and share information and weather is already automated so it's not so far-fetched to think that anyone who writes for a living may find themselves out of a job in the near future.

But let's not get too carried away with this. I tried and it was pretty ropey. Check my previous post for an example article or try it for yourself here. Or take a look at Vic Keegan's Shakespeare's Monkey website (pictured above) which has been running for years and years and still it hasn't created anything worthy of a single line of Shakespeare. I realise that Vic's experiment is based on randomness whereas ai-writer's aim is specifically to generate content for blog writers - your only input is the blog title to generate the content.

Let the tools help you not replace you

That's not to say that there are AI tools out there that are very useful indeed, especially to a writer. Google Search being the most obvious one. Even things like AI Writer may have their uses to link to useful resources. There are other tools out there to help you plan your writing, do research for you and help you with readability, translation, distribution, and more. However, where creativity of any kind is a requirement, the human brain still wins out.

Nevertheless, there are a myriad of servers out there generating fake news and pictures and  automating content (that looks little better than gibberish) in order to either manipulate the public in the former and to make cash from advertising in the latter case. I won't touch on all the automated marketing tools, click fraudsters and fake (robot?) eyeballs out there at the moment who make this scenario even worse - I'll save that for another time. It's a big topic.

It did beg the question of what is the point of automated content if it's going to be robots that see it more than humans. Which also begged the question of why should we bother writing at all if it's going to be harder and harder to reach real eyeballs rather than robot ones. 

Minter stated that human + machine is better than machine alone. And in this context, I agree with him. With the tools we have available to us, we are able to do many more things and usually in a faster fashion.

So the good news is that if you're a writer, you still have a job if a creative element is required. Forget it if you're just churning out generic content based on data such as stocks and shares, football results or weather temperatures.

Some thoughts from the panellists

But there are things we need to think about, whether you're involved in online content of any kind. Lucy reminded us that there's more to blogging than just words and that live video was one of the most effective types of content out there at the moment. She believes that's down to the human touch and the popularity of video. Lucy also stressed the importance of keeping up with your audience. They way they access content has changed, writers and content producers need to keep up with that.

Katy was excited at the prospect of AI and how it can help us now and in the future with the range of tools available to us. Her caveat was that there is a need for ethics around AI.
I agree that ethics are a requirement and we need more thinkers from all walks of life contributing to the AI conversation so that we can remain human. I don't want our algorithm overlords making decisions about me and what I am able to or not able to do based on data that could be flawed, misinterpreted, wrong and worse still, not fixable because the algorithms become so convoluted or data that is completely out of my control as it's inferred from those around me rather than myself. I wrote last year about social scoring in China and Wired Magazine published an in-depth update recently.

How to futureproof being a writer
Minter's advice was that, as a writer, you need to find your niche and be very specific about it. He also believes strongly that you need to write from the heart  and aim to get energy from your writing. He suggests using the AI tools available to use to help with publishing, distribution, analysis and research. He sees SEO as 'Strategic Executive Opportunity' and said that if money is your objective, then you need to think about how much you will invest in these (AI) technologies.

My takeaway
I came away reassured that creativity is still a human trait that cannot yet effectively be copied by software. Nevertheless, there are tools out there that I could be making use of to improve my writing and help me be more efficient and more effective.
A big thank you to Andy and Bernie of #blogclub.
Day 4/30 NaBloPoMo

Here are some easy to sew Christmas presents (written by

(This post has been generated wholly by I've done this as an experiment.)
Just afternoon and a few basic sewing skills are enough to turn a couple of homeless socks into a cozy psine-and what's better than a puppy for Christmas? [0]
DIY Gifts To Sew For Friends - quick and easy sewing designs and free designs for the best ideas and gifts - Creative step-by-step guides for beginners - nice home decoration, accessories, kitchen appliances and do-it-yourself do-it-yourselfers. [1]
Made from recycled fabric strips and padded buttons, the floral clips are an easy workmanship and a fashionable Christmas present. [2]
Do-it-yourself clothes, DIY clothes, sewing patterns, fast crafts, tutorials, DIY tutorials. [3]
Ideal sewing tutorials for beginners with easy patterns to make great Christmas presents for friends and the whole family. [4]
Ideal sewing tutorials for beginners with free patterns to make great Christmas presents for friends and the whole family. [5]
Let yourself be inspired by your PDF and prepare a great Christmas gift in the form of small handmade gifts (materials for Christmas! [6]
Christmas projects include gingerbreads, cones and a modern Christmas wreath, as well as simple projects that can be gifts, such as felt frames for buttons and picture frames that are ideal for children to give to their grandparents. [7]
Do it yourself Kitchen sewing projects - Folding pot holder - Easy sewn Tutorial and models for towels, napkins, napkins, aprons and fresh Christmas gifts for friends and family - Rustic, modern and creative home furnishing ideas! [8]
DIY Gifts To Sew For Friends - quick and easy sewing designs and free designs for the best ideas and gifts - Creative step-by-step guides for beginners - nice home decoration, accessories, kitchen. [9]
List of handmade tailoring projects, including Christmas stockings, decorations, cushions, gifts and table-top races. [10]
Ideal for the child to be able to renovate a Christmas tree once and for all (today you probably won't even want to give it as a gift, right? [11]
Made of fabric remnants, this is close to zero cost, but this makes it will be an incredibly sweet and funny DIY gift for a child or adult, depending on the material chosen. [12]
Package your sweet fragrant vintage glass jar bombs with a custom plate to make the presentation even more unique. [13]
For the bookmark, you'll need to cut out two slightly smaller pieces of paper, as you can see from the video and stick them together. [14]
Instead, reuse it as a personalized stocking for someone special on your gift list, and then fill your stockings with some little wrapped surprises. [15]
DIY Sewing Projects for the Kitchen - Guide and design for towels, napkins, aprons and cold Christmas presents for friends and family - Rustic, Modern and Creative (Sewing by instant gifts). [16]
Christmas sock stitched lean sewn: A fourth fat of the main fabric (format) A fourth fat of fabric lining (work white smooth fabric is fine) A small amount of contrast fabric for Bracelet Calza A small amount of button ribbon A. [17]
For an aromatic, beautiful and easy to use gingerbread, apply the orange and grapefruit cloves and place them on cake racks or decorative platters with the addition of greenery. [18]
Customise the fabrics to match the style of the recipient and give the bag as a gift on its own or fill it with a few little surprises to make your holiday real. [19]
Create a thematic gift basket for newlyweds, students or new homeowners, you can create a basket with a few inexpensive discounted items. [20]
The computer and scanner are all you need to turn your favourite collector stamps (such as stamps) into printable designs that you can use to turn cheap shoppers' boards into useful decorative accessories. [21]
It is not only a sweet and well thought-out gift, but it can be a special gift depending on what you decorate the frame. [22]



(It's not great is it.... See next blogpost for some more thoughts on this).
 Day 4/30 NaBloPoMo 2017

Friday, November 03, 2017

Security, the Internet of Things and The Future of Humanity

I don't know about you, but security issues with digital devices, websites and apps both worry me and render me feeling a bit lost and as if we're always going to be fighting a losing battle with hackers and fraudsters. There are stories in the news every day about a data hack with consumer data being stolen, being locked out of personal accounts, having our laptops being held to ransom and more. It's very worrying as to how vulnerable we can be. And this isn't necessarily through any fault of our own.

As a consumer, we have little control over what happens on the server of the service we're accessing. So even if we're taking care with out passwords and login details, if the server is hacked, we're still vulnerable. Add to that the plethora of connected devices on the market such as routers, health trackers, Amazon Fire Stick, Google Home, Smart Meters and you see the problem is even bigger than just dealing our phones, tablets and laptops. Much of or town and city infrastructure is also connected such as the Oyster Card system on London's Underground, connect street lighting and traffic lights, CCTV cameras, speed cameras and much more besides. This part of the technology industry is only going to get bigger.

Fortunately, there are some very smart people working very hard indeed to help keep us and our digital lives safe. One of those people is David Rogers, my go to guy on all things mobile security. He writes in a post he's written today,
"We know that regular software updates, whilst a pain to establish and maintain are one of the best preventative and protective measures we can take against attackers, shutting the door on potential avenues for exploitation whilst closing down the window of exposure time to a point where it is worthless for an attacker to even begin the research process of creating an attack." 
That makes me feel marginally better about the tedium of seemingly endless updates to apps and software. It also shows us how important it is to keep these things up to date.

But keeping these things up to date, secure and safe is not a trivial task. It's complex and you're likely dealing with a supply chain rather than a single company. I imagine it could be quite daunting for a start-up or a small company.

If you're a developer of software or hardware or commission software or hardware or are generally interested in these things, especially in relation to the Internet of Things, then you would do well to have a gander at David's post, 'The Future of Humanity Depends on Us Getting Security Right with Internet of Things' and check his list of resources and further reading. He really is expert in this area. And I don't think he's underplaying it when he says that the future of humanity depends on it. With all the connected equipment in hospitals, schools, banks, energy companies, airports, transport networks and more, these are all vital and largely invisible parts of our lives. It's only when they don't work that we feel it and the impact can be truly dreadful, and indeed, life threatening.

I, for one, am reassured that there are lots of people in different areas of the business looking at this, not in silos, but together to come up with the right solutions and to keep coming up with solutions as this area evolves and grow. And if you're a youngster thinking about what career you might go into, I'd say that you'd be fairly sure of a solid and lucrative career by specialising in cyber security.

(Day 3/30 NaBloPoMo done.)

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Rodelinda - a tale of obsession

I was fortunate to go to the opera last night to see Rodelinda by Handel at The Coliseum.

As I've previously mentioned, I'm no opera buff which is partly why I'm drawn to going to the opera so I can learn more about it and why and how it stands the test of time. It's certainly out of my comfort zone. I don't enjoy it in the same way I enjoy a musical like School of Rock or a play like Ink (I've seen both recently and both are excellent by the way and well worth seeing). But I do get enjoyment from opera most of the time. And this was one of those times.

I've never heard of Rodelinda and I had no idea that Handel even wrote any operas which shows you where my level of knowledge is. I'm familiar with The Messiah and Zadok the Priest but not much else by Handel. I don't even know very much about Handel as a composer so I was intrigued as to what I would be watching. At the very least I knew it would be good as it's the ENO, but whether I would like it is another matter.I needn't have worried. This production is very enjoyable indeed with beautiful singing, stunning set and great acting.

Director Richard Jones has brought the story of Rodelinda forward to Fascist Italy and brings attention to the obsessional element of the story. The King of Milan, Bertarido, is deposed and sends word that he has died with a view to returning in disguise to save his wife, Rodelinda, and son, Flavio. Meanwhile Grimoaldo has seized the thrown and has designs on Roselinda for his wife. Garibaldo, one of Grimoaldo's allies, has designs on the throne himself and plots with Eduige to do so. Eduige complies as she's furious with Grimoaldo for making a play for Roselinda when he's already betrothed to her. Unulfo is working for Grimoaldo but secretly helping Bertarido.

The common theme that I took from the opera is that of obsession. Grimoaldo is obsessed by Roselinda. In this production he has secret cameras set up to follow her every move whilst she is imprisoned. He spends his days lusting after her and working out ways to win her for himself. Eduige is obsessed by Grimoaldo. She wants him for herself because she wants the power he already has and the power he has taken in usurping the throne. Bertarido's obsession is his wife, and to a lesser extent, his son. Garibaldo is obsessed with power. He will go to any lengths to get it, including violence. Unulfo is secretly obsessed by Bertarido which means he's happy to double cross his boss, Grimoaldo. Roselinda is tormented by her grief at losing her husband, Bertarido.

All this obsession results in circular thinking, plots and subterfuge and violence and threat of violence and unintended consequences. It shows the audience how skewed we become when consumed by obsession of any kind. The story is more gripping than I was expecting - much enabled by the set and 1940s setting and the intense atmosphere it portrayed.

What was surprising was how the very old but beautiful style of music was juxtaposed with the modern setting but still worked really well. The orchestra were using instruments of the day and that even included recorders (who knew that the recorder could sound so beautiful!). The singing is also of its day. The good guys (Bertarido and Ufulfo) are countertenors and are hitting high notes as high as the female singers. And it was very beautiful and full of emotion and was definitely masculine despite the high register. What also worked well was the repetition of phrases in the singing. This added to the intensity of the scenes and accentuated each one's obsession. What I also loved about the production was the wit in both the translation of the libretto and the acting in some of the scenes. There were some laugh out loud moments which balances out the darker themes in the opera.

I won't tell you any more of the story here. Rather, you can google for a more detailed synopsis, or better still, go and see the opera for yourself. It's running until 15 November at The Coliseum. You can book tickets here.

Tonight, I went to a talk about the future of blogging and communications in a world of AI. I'll write about that tomorrow and revisit some of the work I did on that a couple of years ago.

Also, Day 2 of NaBloPoMo done! Thanks for reading.