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Digital Trends

The Trouble with Facebook About ten years ago, I sat in a meeting with a company that was trying to convince us to invest more of our clients' money in Nascar. They had some truly mind-blowing statistics about engagement and likelihood of purchase among Nascar enthusiasts. The meeting was fast moving to a consensus that we needed to work with Nascar. But something felt wrong. The numbers were too good. So I started asking questions about where the numbers had come from. Turns out that the company we were talking to was owned by Nascar. And the studies that generated those amazing numbers were commissioned by Nascar. There was no independent research on Nascar because Nascar wouldn’t allow it. Now, belatedly, media companies are waking up to the fact that Facebook’s numbers also look too good. And Facebook, belatedly, is admitting that they look too good because they were incorrect. The problem, once again, is that Facebook doesn’t allow anyone but Facebook to audit their data. But Facebook would still like to reassure you that, despite multiple admissions of error over the past couple months, their users are still highly engaged and dying to look at your advertising. Sigh. Why does this matter? Google and Facebook continue to make up the majority of spend for digital advertising. Leaving you a choice between a company that is pretty transparent about their data, but would happily drive agencies and media companies out of business (Google.) And a company that isn’t transparent about their data at all, but is willing to work with agencies and media companies (Facebook.) Choosing between an honest enemy and a false friend is a pretty crappy choice. The truth is that Facebook could simply come clean about all of the problems with their data and still get a huge share of digital media dollars. Everyone agrees that Google needs a competitor (including Google) and Facebook, despite numerous stumbles, is the only other game in town. Next Steps: If it looks too good to be true... Read More Just Walk Away Venture capitalist Michael Eisenberg makes an interesting point in his recent Aleph post “Ears, Hands or Eyes.” (link below.) New technology platforms tend to give more geographic freedom to the individual. The PC allowed us to escape the mainframe, the laptop allowed us to escape the office, the smartphone allowed us to go anywhere, and now voice activated technologies like Alexa and the Google Pixel phone are allowing us to escape the interface. Smart watches have been a comparative flop because they didn’t actually give anyone additional geographic freedom. It’s really just a small smartphone on your wrist. Why does this matter? Think of how mobile changed user experience and design. Now get rid of the interface and ask yourself: is there still a user experience? In the classic sense, there is. The user is having an experience. But the tool sets and methodologies we use in creating a user experience are predicated on an interface. We need a new vocabulary to even begin to describe the challenges of user experience in a voice-computing era. Conversation is the wrong analogy. The interactions are overwhelmingly transactional. No matter how good the apparent conversational felicity of these new interfaces, small talk (or big talk) is not going to be necessary or desired. Perhaps we should call this a command interface. Next Steps: Mess around with Alexa. If that isn’t possible, ask Siri some questions. Read More And then there were three. Verizon has been on a bit of a buying spree lately. At first, I couldn’t make any sense of buying content-driven tech companies well past their sell-by date. I knew AOL had an impressive ad tech offering and Yahoo does have traffic. But it feels like someone trying to corner the market on parachute pants. Lately, Verizon has started to show their cards and they are looking much more like a digital advertising play. By owning a fair number of the devices on the market (phones) and a fair amount of the traffic, they can sync up data between personal information, browsing history and app usage. All the better to target you. This should allow them to compete against Google and Facebook, who also offer advertisers the ability to run highly-targeted messages based on user behavior. My gut reaction is that this is like trying to build a Ferrari out of two tricycles and a Dodge Neon. But advertisers are desperate for choices in digital advertising. There may be good money in being the third option, even if you’re a distant third. Why does this matter? Consumers don’t like it when they feel like large corporations are collecting data on them. That’s why ad-blockers are so popular. Google and Facebook have the sense to tread gently around privacy concerns, but Verizon does not have the experience of over-reaching and being burned. I have a feeling they are in for a long learning-curve. The biggest danger for Verizon is that they over-reach by violating privacy on their handsets. That’s ultimately where all the money for these purchases has come from. Next Steps: It’s certainly worth talking to them, if only just to keep Facebook and Google honest. Read More Battle of the Buzzwords Agile is a software development methodology. Design Thinking is a method for using the process of design to solve problems. Both are incredibly popular right now. And, like all popular things, their actual meaning is being forgotten and their application is becoming increasingly haphazard. Matt Cooper-Wright, a senior design lead at Ideo, the company that popularized the notion of design thinking tried to trick apart the differences in a recent Medium post (link below.) Essentially he argues that their differences are rooted in their origins, but they enjoy many qualities in common. Having used both methodologies in the past (and present) I see a lot of value in the distinctions he makes. Neither methodology is perfect. At its worst, Design Thinking can be a way of routinizing creativity for people who suffer from a deficit of imagination. At its worst, agile development can be a way of excusing sloppy code and poor user experience. But, at their best, both methodologies can drive innovative work in their respective fields. Why does this matter? Methodology matters. Not because one way of approaching work is correct and the others are wrong. Methodology matters because any tool should be used rigorously. Both agile development and Design Thinking are methodologies that drive a process. The things they have in common are largely a function of the nature of a process, not based on some underlying commonality. When someone applies a methodology sloppily or mixes and matches different methodologies, they may be skipping over the “boring” parts. But innovation is frequently the result of lots of boredom. Boring is part of the process for a reason. Next Steps: It’s worth reading about Design Thinking and agile development. Read More

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