White Papers & Black Mirrors

I’ve been meaning to properly read the “Digital Isn’t Working (Yet)” white paper by Ian Fitzpatrick & Erik Pelletier at Almighty in Boston, and found some proper time this afternoon to do it.

(I was honoured that they asked if they could reference MTPW > MPWT for it, and doubly so to be acting as source material along with the likes of Gareth, Neil & Faris.)

Now, the whole paper is an excellent read, and sets off many ideas as you go.  I could probably sit and write a 3,000 word companion piece just off the back of it, but that would distract you from actually reading it, which you can do by downloading it here.

I will say one thing about it though, which is a thought bridge to the excellent first episode in the second series of Black Mirror which was first screened* last Monday.

Screen Shot 2013-02-17 at 15.52.55



If you’ve not seen it yet, but want to, maybe stop reading, go watch it, then come back…



…OK, all done?

So, to cut to the chase; there’s a dead boyfriend who is ‘brought back’ to life by his grieving girlfriend.  At first it’s as an email bot, then secondly as a voice on the other end of the phone, then finally as an actual fleshy android thing.

All of his thoughts and actions are based upon what he posted to the web during his life.  But of course, it’s not him, as the girl points out…

“You aren’t you, are you?
You’re just a few ripples of you,
there’s no history to you,
you’re just a performance of stuff
that he performed without thinking,
and it’s not enough…”


Now, back to the white paper:

“What we’ve heard consistently over the last year – from clients, colleagues, audiences at events and conferences – is that mobile still just feels like another place to put ads (and hard-to-click ads at that), data is impossible to integrate across the organization and social is ongoing and yet difficult to relate to the organisation’s goals.  Somewhere along the path to complexity and the resulting focus on channels and platforms, organizations lost track of the very people they were trying to reach”

I can’t help but think that a lot of marketers and agencies have lost track of the people because they are becoming beholden to the “performance of stuff” which characterises a lot of social media.

It’s pretty much impossible to peer through a data dashboard and see the people behind it.

And yet… data is great, because it’s really easy to point to, if you’re a marketer, and show your CEO (who’s more and more likely to be a numbers guy) that you’re acting ‘responsibly’.  And it’s great if you’re an agency, because data can look seductive and difficult and important, and therefore must be something worth paying for.

But it’s not really your customers, is it?  It’s just a few ripples of them, there’s no history to them, they’re just a performance of stuff that they perform without thinking.

And it’s not enough…


Read “Digital Isn’t Working (Yet)”


*it doesn’t really matter anymore when things were ‘first screened, really, does it?  Or does it?


Mapping the social web; 2007 vs 2010

Over the past three years, I’ve made more use in presentations of XKCD’s map of the social web than any other picture…


But for obvious reasons,for the last two and a half years, I’ve been caveating it as a ‘representation of how quickly things move’, as opposed to a ‘ representation how things are’.

Myspace, for instance, isn’t the biggest anything any more.  Well, apart from the biggest deficit figure on Rupert’s annual reporting sheets.

Anyway, I’m DELIGHTED that the guys at Flowtown, in tribute to the original, have updated it for 2010.


Thanks Flowtown guys.

I have just one request… next time, do it in landscape please?  This will be a bitch to look at in presentations…



Uniqlo & Inception: Riding The Data Comet

I wrote a post in January last year about The Data Comet, which was about how…

…the data that we all collect in a comet-like trail behind us (either on purpose or inadvertently) can be harnessed by clever tools that make our life just a little better…

There was even a rudimentary little visualisation.  Aww.



Anyhoo, two things this week made me think of it again.

Firstly, the already much talked about Uniqlo Tweet Show… you enter your twitter account, and it makes a music video from the data left in your comet’s tail:

I think it’s a neat execution (though the music really fucking annoys me). 

I guess it’s an interesting twist on advertising rather than some groundbreaking marketing initiative, but that’s cool… it makes ‘sit back’ just that little bit more ‘lean forward’.

The second thing was the new game for the new Christopher Nolan film Inception.

Now, we work with Warner Bros in the UK, but this has emerged from the US (as a lot of film stuff does), and given the levels of secrecy Chris Nolan usually surround his films with, we always expect things to emerge from nowehere (we found out about all the Dark Knight stuff by registering & playing for instance…).

Anyway, the first level of the game that’s up is a pretty rudimentary casual game based (as far as anyone knows) on the movie… it’s fun to play, yes, but my favourite bit (and the thing that reminded me of the Data Comet) is the fact that when you sign in with Facebook Connect, it uses the names of your friends as the other people in the game…

Here I’m hiding out from Fiona and Mark…



…and here I’m being beaten up by Piers and Gibbo…



Again, it’s not revolutionary, but it’s the subtle pulling in of the data tail I’ve left behind in life to make something more relevant to me that I’m a fan of.

Just think what’ll happen when people get really creative with the comet tail…


The Mythology Engine

This is a fascinating experiment in augmenting storytelling by the BBC… it’s something their R&D department have been working called ‘The Mythology Engine’.  (via Emily Bell)

Theo Jones does a walk through in this video…

So, skipping over the fact that it’s Doctor Who (and therefore very, very exciting anyway), I think this represents a huge step on in terms of how complex narratives can be split out.

Going back to the Jimmy Wales talk on Wikia (at the Guardian Changing Media Summit), the tools that those communities use to build their databases aren’t a massive leap on, technology wise, from the first Wikipedia.



The Mythology Engine, on the other hand, looks like a Wikia site with a V6 engine in it.

If there was a way to make the tools that created it open-source, the communities who created things like Lostpedia, Wookiepedia or the Harry Potter wiki would be all over it I’m sure, creating the perfect framework for exploring the narratives of each of those stories.

At the very least, I’m sure the Doctor Who fans would very quickly and efficiently complete the BBC one.

But would they ever make it open source, like Wikia would be?  In these interesting times for the BBC, they’re being forced to watch carefully the areas in which they go into, as private companies complain that it ‘threatens competition’ in these areas.

Yet something like Wikipedia, famously, doesn’t make money; they raised funding to keep going from users last year.

So if it’s an area where people can’t find a way to make money, should the BBC fill the void with it’s own open source experiments?  And how does that work just with the UK..?

Tricky questions, but yet more evidence that the established practices of yesterday aren’t that relevant in the modern age.


#CMS2010 – three big things, pt I

I was at the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit last week… look, see, really I was…



I did a lot of liveblogging in the morning, then was on a panel early afternoon.  I took some photos of people coming in, just for fun. 

Maybe you were there, and you can spot yourself…





But then, like the awful liveblogger, I got caught up in conversations and inspirations and the like…

…which meant the liveblogging fell away a bit. 

Rather than try and cobble together the back half of the day, I thought instead I’d capture the three big-ish thoughts I walked away with from the day. 

Hopefully these will offer fair compensation for anyone who was following avidly, only to find coverage tailing off like a drunk’s sentence…

(I’ve decided to split it into three posts, because I do go on… so here’s ‘part I’)

Part I – The ebb and flow of mass and niche

So, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia opened the day.  I love Wikipedia, it’s a community with a real sense of purpose, helped no doubt by a really clear mission…

“to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally”

As Wales said, “free, as in free speech, not as in free beer”.



And of course, it’s massively successful in achieving that mission.  But what’s next?

Well, it’s Wikia.  If Wikipedia is just the encyclopaedia in the library, Wikia’s going to be the other cultural artifacts in the library…

The mission of Wikia is “to enable communities to create, share and discover content on any topic in any language”

Not just educational content, learning, but anything people like.  The most successful ones so far are things based on big, cultural things that bring people together… like Star Wars, Lost, or Dr Who (more on The Doctor later, btw… )



See what they did?  They called the Star Wars one ‘Wookiepedia‘.  Clever.

And it’s not just the large, global cultural things that have their own Wikia sites…lots of smaller communities of interest do too.  You know all this, I’ll skip on.

They started as one big central technology idea, and are now spreading into lots of more precise cultural ideas…

Then Erik Huggers from the BBC was talking about the new vision for the BBC, where people would be able to edit and select their own personal, perfect BBC.  The BBC had sprawled into lots of niche and interesting areas of course, from before being one big central place…

…and all through the day, we heard from other big media companies saying they were spreading out into niche, niche and neat technology companies talking about going mainstream.

So it got me thinking about this notion of the ebb and flow of technology and media… back and forth, constantly changing, like the sea…



A new technology emerges, and something mainstream is done with it…

…because in order to get people using it, the technology can’t afford to be fussy.  It can’t serve the many and myriad needs of the population, it has to be for everyone.

Like television when it was just 4 channels, or like Wikipedia.

But when the technology matures, and people love it, more niche opportunities arise… people think ‘ahh, all these people love television, so maybe I could create a station that just shows films, and the people who like television, and like films, will like that better…’

…or think “right, people understand what this wiki thing is now, and they find it useful… maybe people who like wikis, and like a TV show like Lost, will like their own wiki better…”

But when a new technology comes along again, it has to be for everyone for a while… just until everyone gets used to it. 

Then it’ll break apart, and find interesting niches to serve.

For instance, maybe that’s where the location services like FourSquare and Gowalla will end up.  Rather than being technology for ‘everyone’, there will be precise iterations for foodies, football fans and bird spotters…

…the community you share it with will be the one in which you share interests, rather than the shared interest being the technology itself.



The tools of the modern age will make this happen a lot faster too… APIs to build specific versions of a general service, the ability to quickly share information with a given community.

At first, it seems people are interested in the technology.

But then, you realise they just want to find out how they can use technology to help them do what they liked to do anyway, but better.


Location. Location? Location!



(picture of Utility’s sign in Brighton… thanks to clever Matt for the clever title)

…there’s a frood who really knows where his towel is

…from Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams



I’m becoming increasingly fascinated by location.

The location of not just people, but of things too (yes, like towels)…

…and of course of messages… the way people and things communicate with each other.

We’re living in a world where everything knows where it is (whatever it is, human or object) in relation to lots of other things.

So I thought it was worth expanding on why, including why it’s probably very important for marketing folks to be thinking about. 

How things were

Some background; when I worked in the planning and insight function at Viacom Outdoor, location was very important for us.  We were the guys charged with coming up with (occasionally) clever thoughts on why and how advertisers could use Underground & Bus advertising to target the right sorts of people.



We used to refer a lot to ‘recency theory’, as developed by a chap called Erwin Ephron in the US, which basically stated that the most important message you can deliver is the last before someone chooses to do something. 

You can see why it would appeal as a theory to folk selling outdoor ad space… six years ago most transactions were still happening on the high street, and as a way to influence decisions posters were a pretty good bet.

Of course, it’s classic advertising; push messaging, reach millions, affect thousands, and hang the wastage…

How things are

Nowadays, of course, we’re no longer buying stuff exclusively on the High Street.  In 2009, we spent nearly £50bn online (up 21% year of year).  Total retail sales were £287bn, so just under 20p of every pound we spend is online.  A fifth.

Which is enough, in combination with the recession, to make sad sights like this an everyday occurance… this is what you see if you visit the site of the former legendary shopping mecca that was the flagship Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street…





But still, there’s remains a fair chunk of money in people’s pockets to be had when they’re out and about, so the need for location targeting is still there, to guide people towards your front door…


…people aren’t alone when they’re out shopping any more. They’ve got their phone with them… and it’s not an ordinary phone anymore…

Smartphone penetration in the UK was at 15% in Q3 2009 (Nielsen)

Which is of course before we had the iPhone appearing on Orange & Vodafone, a fair few other smartphones appearing on the market, and the Christmas boost.



So it’s got to be around 20% now.  Again, a fifth.

And when you look at what they do with these phones, it’s clear that this may well be the ‘year of the mobile’… 10.4m people in Q3 2009 used their phone to access the internet.  Up from 8.8m in Q2. 

That’s 21% of all mobile users… yep, a fifth, again.

(thanks to Fiona and Mat for the help with stats)

Let’s be honest; the awful browsing experience, combined with stupidly high data charges from the mobile operators, meant the ‘mobile web’ was largely unloved and unused for years. 

That’s now significantly changed.

A fifth of people have the technology to access the web on the move, and a fifth of them are.

Yet I don’t think that’s the most important thing about the rise of the smartphone.  The interesting thing for me is that smartphones invariably come loaded with GPS… they know exactly where you are.

How things might be

Now, amongst those who have the potential to use location based services on their phone, take-up isn’t huge yet; 3.3m people used location based services in Q3 2009.

But it’s growing fast; there was a 7% increase between Q2 & Q3

And this is in a country where location based services like Foursquare and Gowalla are still largely waiting for any companies to really engage with the platforms, as I talked about here.

Why would companies engage in services like this? 

Well, because people will want them to, and reward the ones who do it well with their custom.



On a very simple retail level, there’s huge advantages for people in being able to hold a device in your hand that tells you about the shopping environment around you…

– find out about the discounts being offered, and even make yourself ‘known’ as a discount hunter and see if anyone wants to attract you with a short-term immediate discount in return for your custom



– check the stock lists of a store, so if you’re after something in particular, you know which shops have it, and at what price



– make personal shopper appointments – if there’s a personal shopped in a clothes store you really trust, you can find out if they’re working



– the map for the ‘fastest route around’ based on the shops you want to visit, where they are, and how big the queues there are currently (or have been in the past)



– find out where there’s a free table in coffee shops or restaurants, and reserve it for a small fee (payable instantly through the phone)



– set up impromptu ‘meeting points’ that you can send to other friends and family members



– remember where your car is in the huge, sprawling car park




…and of course, the possibilities go on and on. 

I believe that there will be a location based service around the shopping experience that will cater for just about everyone eventually; young, old, techy or not. 

Because at the heart of it, there’s something hugely useful in improving the shopping experience.

Of course, location based services in the shopping environment could simply drive down prices, much as an insurance aggregation site does in that market (I talked about the notion of Perfect Competition earlier this year in this context).

The challenge for us in marketing is to create these things that continue to add value to the retail experience for people; it will be as much a part of the ‘brand experience’ as the store signage or the TV ad.

One day, there will be no excuse for anyone not knowing where their towel is.  Or how much it costs, or which shop it’s in, or how long it will take to get there…..




The Burglar-Geek Venn pt II: Car thieves

Remember this from last week?  A response to the slightly hysterical Please Rob Me…  

  Anyway… it appears it’s not the burglars we need worry about… it’s the car thieves. According to Charles Arthur in The Guardian, car thieves have been using GPS jammers to steal and hide cars and lorries… …so, you know… let’s be careful out there, yeah?  

The Retail Weather Map

This is really nice, I though… a retail weather map, hidden away in the depths of The British Retail Consortium website…



To my mind, it should be slap bang on the front page, but there you go.  If you want to find it, it’s here

It’s updated monthly too.  They should turn it into a widget that other people can put on their websites.