Monthly Archives: April 2012

10 Years After

I was thinking over the weekend about what a very different place the world is going to be from a technical and media perspective in just a few years.  Of course, if you take a few minutes to think back and recall how the world was in 2002, just a decade ago, you’d be missing YouTube, iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, and hybrid cars.  Every one of those things is a daily part of my life and probably yours as well.

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

What got me thinking about this was this:

New research from Leichtman Research Group finds that 38% of all U.S. households have at least one television set connected to the internet via a video game system, a Blu-ray player, an Apple TV, a Roku set-top box and/or the TV set itself. This number is up from 30% last year, and 24% from two years ago. Game consoles are the key devices within this category, as 28% of all households have a video game system connected to the web.

I spend some time each week watching Hulu+, Netflix, YouTube, and other services through my Xbox.  That time spent is not incremental to normal TV viewing – it’s content I find more interesting than what’s available.  That behavior ties in with the research:

  • 13% of Netflix subscribers would consider reducing spending on their multichannel video service because of Netflix, down from 21% last year.
  • 16% of all U.S. adults watch full-length TV shows online at least weekly, up from 12% last year.
  • 19% of mobile phone owners watch video on their phones on a weekly basis; while 9% of all U.S. adults watch video on an iPad/tablet.

So I sort of had this flash forward.  If traditional cable boxes become anachronisms, what else goes with them?  I think desktop computers will be history soon, as tablets and other mobile devices access cloud-based services and data.  Even though I have many computers in my home, I spend nearly all my time on a laptop and could very easily transition to a tablet with a keyboard.  Skype and Google Voice could replace my landline and just may shortly.  I’m sure you can add a few legacy technologies/services that need either to pivot or die.

In only 10 years, a lot of our behavior has been changed by a few services and technologies.  In another 10, it will all be different again.  Are you ready?  Is your business?

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Free Business Idea!

This week’s Foodie topic has to do with my home away from home, the supermarket (head faked you there – it’s not the golf course!).  I don’t know about you but I seem to spend more time dodging folks yakking on their cell phones than I do perusing the specials as I’m pushing my cart around.  While it’s an almost infinite source of comedic relief, it also can be frustrating when items I need are blocked by someone checking their email or confirming a recipe with home base.  Of course, to me that’s a missed opportunity.  Let’s see what you think.

The interior of a T & T store

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I rarely go to the market with a menu in mind.  As my wife is sick of hearing, my philosophy is “let’s see what looks good” and building around that.  Once I’ve sorted out the best looking proteins and produce, I will often fire up a favorite recipe app to find inspiration and a bit of guidance (and yes, I stand off to the side and not in an aisle).  What’s missing in this app is the free business idea but it also points to something we all might consider as we’re developing new products.

None of the recipe apps I’ve found are integrated with their locations, meaning the store.  Wouldn’t it be great if the store’s price, inventory, and aisle data (where in the store the product is) could come up as part of the shopping list generated by the recipe?  I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to settle on an idea and then find out the store doesn’t have a key ingredient or they’re out of stock or it’s very expensive or I just can’t find it.

I can hear you telling me about the obvious problem:  all the various food companies and supermarket chains would have to cooperate to produce a common set of data, and why would they do that?  Why should Stop & Shop let Shop Rite see their pricing and inventory (as if it was a secret)?   Because it’s the right thing to do for the customer, and that’s the business point we always must consider.  The reality is that these chains don’t compete that much on regular pricing – a lot of it is on location and specials.  Moreover, if the app is designed to help the customer already in the store, so the cooperation is unlikely to cost much.

If you know of such an app, that integrates recipes with store information, please let me know.  Some smart chain will produce one that’s chain specific; we’d all be better off if there was something universal.  Who’s going to step up and take the free idea?

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It’s Not ADD, It’s Technology

Time published the results of a study on media habits and the proliferation of mobile digital devices.  If you do decide to click-through and read it, be prepared to be disturbed.  I was.  Then again, I’m what is called in the study a “digital immigrant” – someone who picked up mobile technology in his adult life which was, of course, when it was invented.  Digital natives are those who grew up with the technology.  Since we’re all about being helpful here (and since if you’re under 30 your attentionis likely to wander in about 5 seconds according to this), let me post some of the key findings:

Nokia N8

Photo credit: Wikipedia

  • Digital Natives switch their attention between media platforms (i.e. TVs, magazines, tablets, smartphones or channels within platforms) 27 times per hour, about every other minute.
  • Because Digital Natives spend more time using multiple media platforms simultaneously, their emotional engagement with content is constrained. They experience fewer highs and lows of emotional response and as a result, Digital Natives more frequently use media to regulate their mood – as soon as they grow tired or bored, they turn their attention to something new.
  • More than half (54%) of Digital Natives say “I prefer texting people rather than talking to them” compared with 28% of Digital immigrants
  • One major implication of these findings is that Digital Immigrants are intuitively linear – they want to see a beginning, middle, and end to stories. For Natives, stories still need a beginning, middle and end, but they will accept it in any order. Digital Natives are subconsciously switching between platforms and can pick up different pieces of a story from different mediums in any order.

Let me add some random points from an article on A.D.D., which seems to be running rampant among young folks:

  • (ADD) is characterized primarily by inattention, easy distractibility, disorganization, procrastination, and forgetfulness
  • Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Is often easily distracted.
  • Avoiding tasks that require a high amount of mental effort and organization
  • Often having difficulty concentrating on conversations

Is it me, or do you see the similarities?  One might wonder if the ADD diagnosis can be applied to anyone whom Time classifies as a Digital Native.  Maybe instead of giving Ritalin and Adderall we ought to be taking away smartphones and tablets?


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Digital Just Might Be Dead And Why That’s Good

Do any of  you focus on the miracle that is the telephone any more?  We can speak to someone thousands of miles away as if they were in the same room.  How about the fact that we did away with wires on those phones and now they’re “cordless?”  Maybe even that phones are not tied to a location any more but we can walk around with them on the street or in the car.  A miracle, no?  And yet, for those of us that still use voice communication as a preferred method of interpersonal interaction, the telephone is just a means to an end.  We’re so past the technology that we can get back to focusing on the conversation itself, whether or not the person with whom we’re having it is in the room.

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

"Technology has exceeded our humanity" (Photo credit: Toban Black)

I thought of that as I read the Ad Age piece on their Digital Conference and a statement by Gap’s CMO that “digital is dead:”

He made the bold statement for Ad Age’s Digital Conference, explaining that the idea of “digital” ceases to be relevant when brands stop thinking about technology for the sake of technology and simply think about their purpose.

I like that.  Way too many brands are enraptured by the technology and stop thinking about the business.  They’re focused on the phone and not on the conversation.  Most of us don’t think about how a metal tube moving at hundreds of miles an hour many miles off the ground works – we just get on the plane.  Maybe digital isn’t dead but maybe we’re getting to be post-technological.  We’ve got over the amazement brought on by viewing content anywhere on any screen (when those pesky business relationship don’t get in the way) on demand and instead we just enjoy the show.

I agree we need to spend more time on “purpose” and less time on doing tech because it’s “cool” or the next shiny object.  The next step is to realize that purpose is customer-centric and transparent and not “We talk you listen”.

Isn’t progress grand!

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Handing Over The Facebook Keys

By now you’ve probably heard of some employer who is asking potential employees for access to their Facebook accounts as a condition of employment. It’s become widespread enough that Maryland recently became the first state to prohibit employers from asking employees and applicants for social media passwords and login information. The law would prohibit an employer from taking or threatening any form of adverse action based on an employee’s or job applicant‘s refusal to provide a user name or password to a personal account.  Senators from New York and Connecticut are moving towards doing something similar on a national level.  Think this is just hypothetic?  A teacher’s aide in Michigan was let go from her job after a school administrator demanded that she turn over her Facebook password and she refused.  I have two thoughts and would love to hear yours.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

First – good for the legislature.  Second – how pathetic are the employers who would do this and how desperate have the folks become who feel they must acquiesce?

I’ve hired many people over the years, most of them before Facebook (or the Internet).  While I’ll admit there were a couple of duds in the mix, I wouldn’t have figured that out had I had access to their personal relationships, photos of them on their own time, or an understanding of what videos they watched, music they played, or articles they read.  To me this is the equivalent of demanding the keys to someone’s home to do a complete search of their wardrobe, their books, their medicine cabinet, and their kitchen. None of that is necessary to do a good hire and asking about some of it is already illegal.

Yes, it’s important to check out prospective employees, and that’s way easier today than it has ever been.  Most people are careless about leaving footprints in cyberspace and it’s relatively easy to find out if the candidate who says they are one thing are, in fact, something quite different.   For those who are careful, there are services available – as there have always been – to help with background checks.  Frankly, anyone evil enough to tell big lies about themselves is probably crafty enough to keep the lies off the web.  Besides – even if my buddy says you can check out his Facebook mail, I didn’t give you permission to look at what I sent him – that’s another set of issues completely.

What do you think – would you ever give up access to your account to get a job?  Would you ever demand that access before you hire someone?

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Who Doesn’t Like Cookies?

I know it’s not Friday, but let’s ask about cookies today.  Who doesn’t like a nice cookie?  Well, if you believe a recent survey, almost no one.  Web cookies, that is.  The folks at Econsultancy ran a survey and found that just 23% of web users would say yes to cookies.  They asked based on some new rules about cookie-based tracking that are going in to place in the E.U. and part of those rules will be much greater visibility to users about what tracking is going on:

That 69% of survey respondents are aware of what cookies are and why websites use them may cheer some marketers, but it still leaves a large chunk of web users that may react with puzzlement when they see messages about cookies and privacy on the website they visit.

It also found that a good chunk of users are already managing their cookies via browser settings and that 17% of users won’t accept cookies under any circumstances.  Roughly 60% of users might take a cookie but they’ll need to understand why they should.  In short, it’s the “what’s in it for me” test.  I don’t buy that consumers are happy when they see more targeted ads, which is sometimes cited as a reason why cross-domain tracking is a good thing.  I think the “creepy” factor is off the charts, frankly.  Saving site settings for improve a shopping experience or allowing a site to count visitors and understand site usage might be OK in most folks’ minds – it is in mine – but the survey found that any use that isn’t related to a user’s concerns doesn’t pass the smell test.

I keep waiting for the year in which everyone is going to get serious about balancing privacy concerns with the need for data.  The fact that we’re still amazed when unscrupulous people sell “undeletable” cookies and even businesses that use these services claim no knowledge about what a privacy invasion they are is ridiculous.  Maybe this is the year, although what the E.U. is doing is not really a great solution.  Still, as an industry, if we’re not going to act with users in mind, their representatives are going to force imperfect solutions in the absence of grown-up behavior.

Sour milk with those cookies?

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No Good Deed…

For our Foodie Friday Fun piece I want to look at something Whole Foods announced a month or so ago. On the surface it seems as if it’s very much in keeping with their brand positioning and is something that will make a positive contribution in sustaining the food chain. Why, then, are so many people questioning both their motives and the effectiveness of what they’re doing? A quick examination is useful in raising issues we can all think about as we try to move our businesses forward.

Atlantic cod fisheries have collapsed

Atlantic cod fisheries have collapsed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First the facts.  Whole Foods announced that they will stop selling fish caught from depleted waters or through ecologically damaging methods.  They won’t carry wild-caught seafood that is “red-rated,” a color code that indicates it’s either overfished or caught in a way that harms other species.   This will impact the sale of octopus, gray sole, skate, Atlantic halibut and Atlantic cod caught by trawls, which some say can destroy habitats. Instead, they say they’re going to sell sustainable replacements like cod caught on lines and halibut from the Pacific.  Pretty straightforward, right?  Hopefully by not selling the fish that’s most threatened or whose capture might damage the environment, Whole Foods is marching in step with their brand image and their customers’ mindset.

Except maybe not.  First, for those of us on the east coast, Pacific fish needs to be flown here.  Without having the “is global warming manmade” fight, let’s just assume it’s better to eat locally sourced ingredients for a lot of reasons, the environment and taste among them.  Next, it ignores items such as scallops which are not endangered but are caught using many of the same methods (dredging) that are being excluded.  Third, the list the chain is following is produced by the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California which some attack as having their own agenda.  Finally, the more cynical (read that as New England fisherman) commenters question if the whole thing isn’t just a PR stunt to get some good out of the fact that cod and other of the “red-rated” fish will be hard to find and very expensive so to mitigate the lack of availability the chain is just tossing it out completely.

I have no clue which position is right or wrong.  I raise the discussion because it’s a great example of how even what seems to be a company trying to do some good can involve an awful lot of issues to which technology gives a lot of visibility.  What about the fisherman whose livelihoods are affected?  What about other local jobs that support them and the excellent work most local fishing communities are doing to preserve the fishing beds (which obviously they should have started a long time ago or we’d not be having this discussion!)?

We’ll file this one under no good deed goes unpunished, I guess.  It’s all of our jobs to try to do good as we’re doing well.  The trick is to make sure that others see it the same way and if they don’t, that at least you’ve considered their positions and are prepared to discuss your reasoning.

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