Obsolescence, dusty keyboards and shining screens

Now, I’m not overly proud of this picture… it’s of the keyboard of our home computer, and it would appear to be a bit… errmm, dusty…



It’s probably very fair to say that since we moved in to our new place at the beginning of February, neither Helen nor I have been near the computer that sits in the spare room. 

Indeed, I only noticed it because I had to go and print out some tickets to go to the Brighton Sealife Centre (print out!?!  It’s 2010, codes & mobile ticketing, please…).

But it did get me thinking, about two things that are, quite possibly, on their way out.

Firstly, the ‘home PC’.… 

Or at least, the description that will be familiar in many homes; a desktop computer that sits in a home office, or squeezed in the corner of the guest room, or wherever there’s room (or is close enough to a phone socket to plug a modem into)…

Like millions of other folks we’ve now got enough mobile/laptop shenanigans going on that to have a separate machine in a different, isolated part of the house is actually now just taking up space… desktops have been outsold by laptops consistently since 2006.



The desktop PC was designed not for convenience, of course, but for necessity.  To get as much computing power in as possible (and make sure that you could power it, cool it down etc), you had to have a big bloody box sitting under a desk somewhere.



Nowadays, though, you can fit all the necessary power into a laptop that you can take wherever you wanted to be in the first place… which was unlikely to be the spare room.

Which means we’re seeing the rise of things like social television (which this article from the BBC will tell you all about if you’re unfamiliar with it). 

Magical computery power is starting to change the dynamics of the home in lots of interesting ways, which will no doubt have more of an effect on the sectors people previously didn’t imagine t’internet would affect that much originally.

So, bye bye ‘home PCs’. 

Secondly, I started thinking about keyboards

The keyboard has been around for ages.  Have a read of the fascinating history of the typewriter on wikipedia…

…the earliest is arguably the ‘Typowriter’ (patented in 1829 by William Austin Burt), but by far my favourite is Giuseppe Ravizza’s “Cembalo scrivano o macchina da scrivere a tasti”, which translates as “scribe harpsicord, or machine for writing with keys”



So approaching 200 years old is not bad going for a technology that by and large hasn’t really changed.  People talk about touchscreen computers (iPad et al), and claim that they’re not great devices for ‘creation’, just ‘consumption’.

What they really mean is that they aren’t great for ‘creation of stuff I now use a keyboard for’.

My generation (I’m 32 now) were introduced to a keyboard as a route to playing, creating or working, but in ‘isolation’; what you played or did via keyboard you did on your own.

A generation underneath probably see the keyboard as a route to communication first (email, IM, social networks etc), then playing, working and creating together.

Whoever we are, we’re all still rooted in that keyboard tradition… so many of us have been trained to use it already, it’s going to be a hard habit for society to shift.

But a generation that grows up in a world of touchscreens…

…well, surely they’ll work out a way to get from this…



…to this…



Just watching the wee fella with touchscreen devices is a joy… he’s only 7 months old, yet he gets the very simple concept that if you touch it, it does something. 

He’s really, really surprised that ALL screens don’t work this way, of course.  And tried to see if the fish tanks at Brighton Sealife centre reacted to frantic touch-motioning. 

Which, admittedly, they did.  Poor turtles.

Anyway, I reckon that keyboards might just be on their way out, but not for a good 10+ years or so. 

Or are we confident that like the wheel, the basic keyboard model is here to stay forever?


The iPad; it's TV, only more so

Now, you’ll remember my previous post on the iPad, TV and the like, yes? 

Well, our superclever research team here at PHD (Clare, Chris & Carrie) have been working on a project to gauge the impact that this generation of devices (i-pad-tablet-slate things).

Here’s Clare to take you through what they’ve found so far…



Following on from this, I thought we’d add the view from the research couch. 

We recently did some work with people – not early adopters, not geeks, just ordinary people who like gadgets that make like easier, or more enjoyable – about how they use mobile devices (netbooks, smartphones etc) in our qualitative facility, The Living Room. 

The ulterior motive was to get them thinking about mobile media use and then get them to consider how they might feel about and potentially use iPads in the future.

<o:p> </o:p>

The results were fascinating.  We found massive enthusiasm appetite for mobile TV.  While few had watched much TV on their iPhones to date, when asked to try it out for a couple of weeks they came back full of enthusiasm and thought the iPad’s combination of screen size and simplicity of use would offer an even better way to watch mobile TV and video content.  <o:p></o:p>

The possibilities for combining viewing with interactions through social networks also appealed to some, with the chance to watch and discuss things together while apart, or pass on recommendations all from the same device you’re watching on.

They also thought it could easily be an option to replace second and third household TV sets, and could even replace some main set viewing especially where people have limited multichannel access, which suggests potential for a “pay as you go” option for mobile tv.



Basically, they saw an opportunity for telly, only more so.  And better.  And easier to share.  Whats not to like?

Mind you, the success of TV on iPad will rely on Apple and other service providers marketing their mobile TV apps clearly and effectively as awareness of existing services for smart phones and computers was still pretty low (we had to show our groups some of the possibilities to get their views).


iPad video review; it's the future of television

I got my mitts on an iPad for the first time yesterday, thanks to David at The Guardian.

We worked with them and Canon on the Guardian Eyewitness app (now the SECOND MOST POPULAR free app for the iPad… FTW).

So we were understandably VERY eager to see the fruits of our labours.

(Apple, ‘fruits’?  See, it’s a pun, geddit?  Oh, never mind…)

Anyway, I took the opportunity to create a little video run through of some of the ‘media’ properties on it, just to get a first feel for what ‘worked’ on the iPad:

So, that was yesterday.  My thoughts today?

All in all, whilst newspapers and magazines (and of course comics) can do some wonderful creative things with the iPad, having used it you realise what a great in between step between ‘lean back’ and ‘sit forward’ it is…

…which is perfect for just watching TV on.

Ben Malbon points out that the posters they’ve put up are like a giant user manual… “this is how you use it”. 



Looks like a great way to watch content, yet still have access to everything the web offers at the flick of a finger.

And sure, as a device it has the potential to do untold amount of wonderful things, depending on the apps developed for it.  And it may revolutionise many markets (news, games, work, healthcare…)

Yet given the amount of ‘watching’ people still do (television, films etc), and the quality and flexibility of the iPad for fulfilling that need, I believe that for mainstream take up it’s the viewing capabilities that will be key. 



People LOVE watching TV, as we all know.  This represents a different, flexible, personal way to do that, wherever you want.  TV has a mass appeal that opens up the interest in the device to a wider audience than would be interested in more early-adopter tech (the iPhone, for instance).

Which means there’s probably an interesting behavioural economics thing going on here too

People will justify spending £500 or so when they compare it not just to the price of netbooks, laptops etc… but to the price of flash flatscreen TVs.

For instance, would you buy a TV for the kitchen when you could buy a stand for an iPad and sit it in the corner when you’re there?  Especially if you can download whichever recipe you want on it too.



Which all means that whilst people will be watching as much, if not more, television content in the future, the way in which they are watching it is even more flexible and on demand…

…whatever, whenever, wherever.

Which has interesting, challenging repercussions for business or marketing models based upon the traditional linear TV watching with ad breaks every 20 minutes… but more on that another day…

What do you think?  Is the iPad the future of TV?


Pixels. Thousands of 'em…


Some folk feel like they’re being invaded by the scary digital world.

It might look look a little like the below video Suneil made by Parisian visual effects company One More Production…

Pixels.  Thousands of ’em…



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 II

OK, after part I, here’s part II of ‘what I walked away with after the Guardian Changing Media Summit’…

Part II – It’s all in the game

Now, I’ve talked about different sorts of games quite a lot here on FtP before (for instance, here, there, and there too). 

Mainly around the elements of gaming that can be brought into other parts of our lives (scoring, points, rankings, interaction etc).

But despite creating various projects that are bubbling away for clients at the moment, I realised this morning that I’ve not really written anything on here about Social Gaming…

…I know, shock, horror.



So, Social Gaming… here’s a quick definition from SFGate:

“Social games are built to be enjoyed and shared with friends through existing social networks and platforms like the iPhone.”

The key is that they are games made specifically to take advantage of the social toolkit available across various  platforms… rather than making the game first, then working out where to put it.

I think the first social game I was probably aware of on Facebook was the ill-fated Scrabulous



The key thing that made it work was not that it was the most intriguing, taxing gameplay, or amazing graphics, or in depth storylines (which the gaming industry generally holds up to be the drivers of ‘gaming success’), but the fact you could easily play it with the friends you already had on Facebook.

No registering on special, controlled gamer networks, just quick, instant access to games you could play with your friends whenever and wherever you were connected.

Since then, in the last two years the number of games out there, and the number of people playing them, has swelled significantly… currently led of course by FarmVille. 

(I hadn’t realised until I read this that FarmVille was a clone of the less successful Farm Town… as Faris would say, Talent Imitates…)



(Monthly Active Users on Facebook, from App Data)

Someone said on the panel that there’s about 200 million people playing social games worldwide, though this report on the BBC suggests that it’s about 300 million. 

Whichever stats you believe, it’s undoubtedly true that social gaming is now both big and profitable… in three years, social gaming has become a $1 billion industry.

But hey, maybe it’s too late to start posting about social gaming now…

As Kristian Segerstrale of Playfish said in the ‘Convergence, Creativity, and Commerciality in Gaming‘ panel at CMS2010…

“In five years time, talking about ‘social games’ will be like talking about ‘electric television’.  It won’t be relevant; ‘social’ will be embedded in every game”

Meg pointed out (via twitter from a different stream at the conference… oh, this wonderful modern world), that this quote is a riff on this Douglas Adams piece, most notably the part on ‘interactivity’…

“…the reason we suddenly need such a word [interactivity] is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television.

Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theatre, music, sport – the performers and audience were there together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for.

We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.”



The one-headed Douglas Adams

From a media point of view though, I think that games are going to become a wholly social experience a lot faster than the other broadcast media experiences…

…as Tom points out in this post here, it’s hard to imagine that the individual media experience (reading a book, watching a TV show) will completely die off in the immediate future.



But games… games are different.

Firstly, in the grand scheme of things, they’re so new

Which is why a lot of the older people who’ve come to social games like FarmVille and Bejewelled don’t consider themselves ‘gamers‘… when they were younger there was no such thing.

And secondly, games were always something to be played together…

…this quote here eloquently identifies the root of the issue:

“The entire video game industry’s history thus far has been an aberration. It has been a mutant monster only made possible by unconnected computers.

People always play games together. All of you learned to play games with each other. When you were kids, you played tag, tea parties, cops and robbers, what have you.

The single-player game is a strange mutant monster which has only existed for 21 years and is about to go away because it is unnatural and abnormal.”

Raph Koster, 2006

…and now that there’s a place to come together and play games like Facebook… well, why wouldn’t you?  Raph again, this time from 2010

“All games are becoming connected experiences.  And it turns out social networks are the glue.”




Why do I think this is important?

Well, marketers and media folk are great (especially in this day and age) at jumping on the bandwagon of ‘the latest craze’.  It would be all too easy to dismiss social gaming as just that.

But when the incumbent gaming industry is looking hard at its own games and trying to move quickly to adapt, I think that shows just how deep this rabbit hole goes…

Also on the panel was Josh Atkins, from Lionhead Studios. 

They’re what you might traditionally think about when you picture games developers; a bit like a major film studio, they create big budget affairs like the Fable franchise…

Josh had this to say:

“We’re not ‘the dinosaur’, but we’re the Nuclear Powered Aircraft Carrier which doesn’t necessarily change direction as quickly as the other guys.

We’re trying to make our games more connected, more casual… taking the best of the modern age into the console game experience.  We want ANYBODY to be able to ‘pick-up-and=play’.”

In short, even the guys in the established games industry are looking at social gaming and thinking ‘whoaa… maybe that’s where everything’s going’.

I think that every game we see created nowadays will have as much sociability built in as possible.  And it’s not like TV or film, where all the ‘old’ content will continue to exist and keep that ‘individual experience’ ticking over.  People don’t tend to play old versions of games.  They play new games.  As games become more socially enabled, so will the expectations of all games.

And just think about all the solitary, individual media experiences that will give way to this new, social, game-fuelled world.

(Part III is here)


Immediacy Theory > Recency Theory ?

I’m going away for a long weekend now, but before I do, I thought I’d just capture this… which occured during a lively twittering with Simon, Bryan, Wilding, the Essential guys and (another) Simon

It’s after talking about Recency Theory in the previous location post.

As an idea, it’s only partially baked so far, but this quick doodle gets under the skin of it a little…



Recency Theory stated that it was more important to concentrate on the last message that someone would receive before they made a decision about something, as that would catapault you in to the consideration set, or set off an impulse purchase, or whatever.

You can see why it was so popular in Outdoor circles when it came to retail… posters are often the last ‘message’ you’ll be exposed to before entering a shop.

But now, with the mobile device, you can get a lot closer to the actual point of purchase, and do some really interesting things…

– dynamic discounts to keep footfall up (5% over lunch, 15% mid-afternoon)

– use search and visual recognition to offer the good cheap to people in a rival’s store

– be ever-present when the sudden “I need a brolly” decision comes into people’s head when the rain come’s on

…things that are a lot closer to the ‘point of purchase’, and actually occur just before or just after the point at which someone thinks ‘I need this…’

So yeah, that so far is Immediacy Theory… being present in the immediate instant pre-purchase, post-decision…

(I’m sure it’ll get much better when you all comment below, so please do… I’ll be back Tuesday)


Microsoft's Bing Maps… take that, Google

If you watch one thing today, watch this…

…Blaise Agüera y Arcas is the architect of Bing Maps at Microsoft (and worked on the excellent Photosynth project before), and talks through their brilliant new developments at Ted 2010 last month.

Reading some of these comments of Slashdot, it really seems they’re trying to leapfrog Google in terms of just what a map can do.

See?  I said before it was all about location

(thanks Kamilla)


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…..