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When you build digital stuff all day, you develop opinions. Lots of opinions.


Digital Trends

The Second Life of a Flawed Idea Google Glass was a failure. But someone neglected to mention this failure to Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel. Snapchat has chosen to introduce their own wearable technology, the Snapchat Spectacles. (Alliteration being one of the things they copied from Google.) Spectacles will be like Google Glass except worse in every way. They have no screen, just a camera capable of recording 10 second video clips. Yes, Google Glass was ugly and made everyone look like they had a third eye growing out of their right eyebrow. Spectacles improves on that by being ugly sunglasses in ugly frames in a variety of ugly colors. They use an inset light and camera that makes everyone look like they have divergent strabismus. You cannot sell consumers on the idea of wearing something on their face that makes them look somewhat malformed. I can’t believe this is a lesson that needs to be repeated. Application to Marketing: We have exactly one killer wearable – the smartphone. It is successful because it’s functional, adaptable, and can be hidden away quickly in situations where its use is not appropriate. The issues with every other wearable is form factor. The iWatch is just a crappy looking watch with a screen that is too small for most digital applications. Google Glass was an aesthetic catastrophe without enough functionality to justify looking like an idiot. And now Snapchat Spectacles is a crappy camera mounted on crappy sunglasses without other redeeming features. The application to marketing for any of these wearable technologies is nothing. These are consumer products taking a long, well-funded journey from launch to inevitable failure. Nothing to see here. Next Steps: Looking for a holiday present for a Snapchat-obsessed teen who possesses no aesthetic judgement and is immune to the contempt of his or her peers? Look no further. Read More “What version of Firefox?” Since my company builds websites and apps, we have extensive experience with clients informing us that the site doesn’t look like the design. There are many reasons why this might be true. Sometimes clients forget that a responsive site will change based upon the size of their browser window, but often the issue is with fonts. As of today, the internet remains a text-based medium. Fonts are crucial. But fonts are governed by a bizarre system of narrowly defined licenses and they display differently on different devices and different browsers. Developers compensate by designating alternative fonts if the first fails to load (Gotham/Helvetica/san-serif.) If you have designers who truly care about fonts (like ours), you may find yourself loading multiple fonts within a single font family, just for one website. This can slow down the loading of a site or cause it to display improperly if the fonts don’t load. Now, tech giants Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Adobe are introducing technology to create variable fonts that respond to device, browser and screen size to always display correctly. This rare bit of cooperation between technology competitors should remind us that typography remains the centerpiece of our digital world. Application to Marketing: The difference between a digital-native designer or client and one who came to technology later in their career is clearest when design is translated into code. The non-digital-native is more likely to demand pixel-perfection. This quixotic desire to see a perfect match between the site or app and the original design requires the developer to produce bloated and redundant CSS files as they attempt to anticipate every browser, screen size and platform. It goes without saying that such files are much more likely to break when one of those browsers or platforms inevitably changes. A digital native understands that the design for a digital asset is properly understood as a set of guidelines that will inform the code. This collaborative project to create variable fonts will help designers and developers create more attractive websites and apps. But the goal is fonts that look good in every context, not fonts that look the same in every context. Next Steps: If you need help to understand how design can work as a guide to the finished product rather than the prescriptive form of the finished product, consider asking your design team to create style tiles rather than full pages. Read More Facebook’s numbers problem Facebook’s metrics for video always looked fake. When their numbers crushed every other media platform, they insisted that this was just because their users were more “engaged.” But there was no logical reason for people to watch more videos for longer on Facebook than they did on Youtube. People visit Youtube in order to watch videos. Finally, belatedly, Facebook has admitted that the actual reason their numbers look better is that they made a mistake. They only counted people who had watched videos for at least 3 seconds. Meanwhile, every other video platform counted the people who clicked on the video and then clicked away. We are supposed to believe that this is an accident. Facebook, a company stuffed to overflowing with data scientists and the best computer programmers of this generation, simply didn’t notice that they were measuring something totally different than anyone else. When confronted with the fact that their video engagement numbers were destroying the rest of the industry, they never looked for alternative explanations. I suppose it’s possible. Ridiculously unlikely, but possible. Application to Marketing: Businesses lie. They inflate numbers. They stuff the channel with product to make sales figures look better. They hide losses off their balance sheets using shell companies. Facebook is a very, very important company for the digital economy. But I have learned to view with suspicion every number they give concerning engagement on their platform. I believe their active users numbers may be inaccurate. I don’t believe they have control over the bot problem on their platform. I have questions about their cost per click metrics. And I never believed their video engagement statistics. That fact that they proudly announced a $3 billion dollar donation to “eradicate disease” the day before a Wall Street Journal article revealed the overestimated video metrics seems highly suspicious to me. Facebook is a company filled with very smart people. I sincerely hope that they are focusing that intelligence on building amazing products and not on building a very large company. Those goals are different and, at times, in opposition. Next Steps: Until Facebook’s numbers are confirmed by truly independent third parties, one should hesitate to accept them at face value. Read More Crowdfunding grows up All hype is annoying. But crowdfunding hype is uniquely annoying. It suggest to too-credulous founders that they can just post an idea to a crowdfunding site and other people will pay to build it. Now Tesla has come along to show how crowdfunding can be used effectively. By allowing customers to pre-order their Model 3, they know exactly how much demand they have before manufacturing. They don’t need to worry about over or under delivery. This suggests that other companies could publish an idea and gather collective demand without risk. But why should consumers play along? A podcast from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz suggests that there are powerful social factors that lead these types of pre-sale crowdfunding campaigns to succeed. One of the largest is fear of missing out. As consumers see others jumping on board to pre-order the product, they worry that perhaps they will miss the next big thing. But pre-sale crowdfunding can also transform consumers into a community. They perceive themselves as being integral to the development of the product. This transforms them into advocates for that product, likely to promote it throughout their social graph. Application to Marketing: This is an idea tailor-made to be misused and misapplied by marketers. In the podcast below, even the founder of Tilt, one of the largest crowdfunding platforms, cautions that crowdfunding campaigns still take a lot of work and promotion to reach an inflection point (at about 34% of the total.) This is not free. At the same time, pre-selling seems to heighten conversion. Part of that is because there are only 6 fields to fill out in a pre-sale versus an average of 18 for an actual purchase. But my theory is that conversion is easier when gratification is deferred. Many people react to large purchases with a feeling of self-loathing. “I am gross for wanting this expensive and unnecessary thing.” But delayed gratification means that the consumer is not buying this thing for myself right now. He or she buying this thing for someone he or she will be in the future. This turns guilt into a sense of virtue. “I am planning for the future by sacrificing some money right now.” Next Steps: Do NOT launch a crowdfunding campaign for your new Doritos flavor or your idea for bacon-scented antiperspirant. Do launch a crowdfunding campaign to pre-buy a limited edition large ticket item. Bonus points if that item is good for the environment. Read More

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