Tag Archives: digital

I Think We Failed

I’ve been doing “digital” as a business since the mid-1990s. Back then it was a bunch of walled gardens that featured mostly text-only content. Those gardens also suddenly made email widely available and I, like many, was really optimistic about the potential the coming digital world would hold in terms of communication and information. The Information Age was dawning, right?

The walls came down from around those gardens and the open internet bloomed. Soon everyone had email and nearly everyone began spending time catching up with old school chums and distant family via this thing called social media. Every content provider had a website, and many people would read the newspaper or a magazine off of a screen rather than off a sheet of paper in their hands. Video soon entered the mix as the pipes got bigger and the devices faster. Today pretty much everyone carries a powerful computer/communications tool/web device in their pockets and are connected non-stop. Technology has become ubiquitous, just as many folks envisioned.

Except that we failed. Social media is anti-social. Many of my friends and I suspect of yours spend hours arguing about things they have little or no ability to change. Of more concern is that their arguments are often based on sketchy facts that they found in their digital travels. Kids sitting at the same table don’t look at one another and would rather Snapchat one another than talk face to face. We don’t have relationships with people because relationships need to have a face-to-face component in my opinion. If you believe what you see in your news feeds, everyone’s life is fabulous and fun yet we know everyone has the same problems from time to time. Their kids aren’t perfect, their meals aren’t all perfect-looking, almost everyone has worries of some sort (yes, non-political ones!), and not every day is spent traveling to exotic locations.

I think we failed. I don’t think most of us appreciated the dangers inherent in the overuse of technology until the last couple of years. We’ve become less social, less open to thinking that doesn’t mirror our own, and too connected to the screen world in front of us while we’re disconnecting from the fabulous world beyond our screens. We’ve learned to code and we’ve not learned history. We go to concerts and watch them through a screen while shooting a video instead of losing ourselves in the music. We text our kids to come to dinner and don’t make them put down the phone and talk, mostly because we’re catching up on our own social streams.

I don’t know if I have a point today because I don’t know that this is “fixable.” We live in a world of surveillance capitalism and the companies that profit from it not only aren’t going to go away any time soon but are aggregating into a very few behemoths that know everything about us. What have we done?

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How Did We Get So Far Off Track?

I started working in the digital world in the mid-’90s. While I wasn’t exactly there for the dawn of the digital age, I was a relatively early member of the group of executives that began building businesses on the internet and on walled gardens like AOL used to be. A couple of things that have happened recently have me shaking my head, wondering how it’s all gone sideways.

First, I asked Twitter to send me something:

Keith Ritter, your advertiser list is ready! The list attached includes the advertisers that have included you in a tailored audience. These advertisers have included you in one or more tailored audiences. Tailored audiences are often built from email lists or browsing behaviors. They help advertisers reach prospective customers or people who have already expressed interest in their business.

I figured since I do a fair amount of cookie-blocking and other means to prevent tracking that I’d turn up in a handful of audiences and I was right. I appear in exactly 9 audiences. However, the rest of the 57-page document (not a typo) listed the similar audiences Twitter has decided I fit. They market me as a part of these audiences and I have no control over it. I can opt out and it will change the ads I see on Twitter. It won’t however, remove me from these audiences. I am included in over 1,000 of them, my data used and sold quite unwillingly.

Then there are the constantly apologizing folks at Facebook. This article in the NY Times is both frightening and disappointing. It talks about how Facebook “gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.”  Their privacy track record is abominable and every week it seems there is another apology and a promise to do better. Fool me once…

It’s taken years for the marketers and publishers to push back on the rampant fraud and abuse of programmatic ads. Social media is rife with “influencers” who buy fake followers and regularly violate FTC regulations on advertising. It seems that everyone under 30 is either a ninja or a guru. Fake reviews for products that are complete rip-offs are everywhere (run a link to an Amazon review through Fakespot if you don’t believe me).

All of this leaves one question: what the hell happened? How did the digital business world get so screwed up? At some point, Facebook and many other digital businesses decided that making money is way more important than serving their users is, I think, the basic answer. I’m all for making money, as my business track record shows. There are limits, however, and I have a fundamental belief that making money can only happen over the long term when you respect the customer. As the great David Ogilvy once said, “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.” Because most of the people who use digital have no concept about how they are tracked and marketed, most businesses treat them as morons and therein lies the problem.

I could rant on but I’ll end it here with a plea. To any of you who are in the digital world, please resolve to get back on track. Way back when in 1995, all we wanted to do was to amuse a few people and keep them engaged. Yes, we sold ads but we also didn’t track people once they left our domain. We didn’t treat them as numbers or rubes. You shouldn’t either. I get that the tools are more sophisticated and more powerful and that the world has changed. Basic business principles and human decency haven’t, have they?

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Legalized Discrimination

I work with a number of startup companies, as I’ve mentioned before. There are a whole host of issues that these newbies face but one they don’t, if they’re digital, is the same sort of access to their potential audiences as is enjoyed by their much larger, entrenched competition. The reason for this is an underlying principle of the Internet which is that all traffic – those little packets of information that carry data, pictures, sound, etc. – is handled equally, both by the “backbone” companies responsible for transport and by your Internet Service Provider. You know – the folks (or folks, if you have a cable provider that provides internet access and a wireless company) to whom you send a check each month in return for the ability to send cat videos to your friends.

The reason for this post is to call your attention to the increasingly loud noises out of DC about giving those ISPs the ability to discriminate. Three years ago, John Oliver did a fantastic job of explaining why this issue is important and last Friday night, he did so again. Why did he need to? Because rules that were put in place to protect everyone are being changed.

Suppose you watch those cat videos on three different video platforms: YouTube, Vimeo, and a startup called CatVideosRule. You notice that the first two are crystal clear and in full high-def, while the last takes forever to load, buffers a lot, and isn’t very clear. It’s likely that the reason for that isn’t that the startup is using bad technology but that your ISP is prioritizing traffic. Maybe they are getting fees from YouTube and Vimeo. Maybe they don’t like cat videos and are slowing down the startup. The reason doesn’t matter. What does is that it’s discrimination and it’s going to be legal. In my mind, once ISPs get to pick and choose, it’s not a big step for them to begin censoring the content as well. You know: if you want to be on our network at full speed you will not criticize us, etc.

The new head of the FCC is suggesting that we just ask the ISPs to promise they’ll play nice. These are the same ISPs that promised you 50MB speed and deliver 30MB with no fee adjustment or apology. We are already seeing some services become “zero-rated”, which means that using them doesn’t count against any data plan you may have. It’s bad enough that the ISPs are boosting their own services at the expense of others. Legalizing another form of discrimination could be the death knell of one of the things that have fostered the dynamic, disruptive growth of our digital world. Do you agree? Are you following this story?

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Take My Money…PLEASE!

Another week, another horror tale from the world of stupid online corporate tricks.

att-003

(Photo credit: wuji9981)

Today we bring you the sad and somewhat horrifying story of the phone company that won’t take your money.  Trust me – I wish I could report that it was out of some philanthropic urge it had to give us all a break.  Not so.  Instead, it’s (yet another) example of how letting programmers, lawyers, and designers do things without input from the real world can spell disaster.

Here at Ritter Media World Headquarters we have a land line as our primary business phone.  It’s from AT&T (yep, them again) and on the bill is also my internet service.  Generally I send them an electronic check once a month but that takes a couple of days to get to them from the bank (a great topic for another post – why the hell should they hold the money for two business days?).  As sometimes happens, the bill got buried in a pile of paper and rather than be late I thought I’d go right to the ATT website and pay the bill directly via credit card.

That was what I thought I’d do.  Unfortunately, after spending 20 minutes on the website, I still couldn’t figure out how to link primary account (it’s the only landline account) to my email and I couldn’t pay the bill.  I tried linking it my ATT Wireless accounts – neither of those worked.  I tried the ATT email they assigned me (but never use) – that didn’t work.  I finally gave up and called them – no time on hold, one layer of menus, type in the credit card, done.

Obviously ATT is a lot more experienced with phones than they are with websites.  Paying via the telephone was a snap.  If someone like me – who is on the web almost 12 hours a day and breathes digital – can’t figure out how to use the web service portal, imagine how someone who can barely send a text will feel.  There are a couple of points here.  First, I wonder how many “civilians” ATT put on the site to test navigation and usability?  Did they give them 3 or 4 tasks – like pay your bill! – and observe them?  Second, stories such as this are why there is still a long way to go with a large segment of the population with respect to making them accept technology into their lives.

Have a horror story to share?  We’re listening!

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Too Many Cookies Make You Fat And Slow

“What the heck is he doing writing about food on a Monday?”

English: Plateful of Christmas Cookies

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given that it’s Thanksgiving week here in the US I’ve got food on my mind more than I usually do.  However, while cookies is the theme, it’s not about the sugary kind.

I was reading a bunch of sports sites as part of a research project when I came to one that seemed to lock up my browser   As it turned out, this site (which shall remain nameless since singling them out doesn’t serve any purpose) hadn’t locked me up but it was taking forever to load.  I opened a new tab and hit another site which popped right open.  Returning to the slow-poke, I took a look at what the page was doing as it loaded.  Imagine my surprise when I had a look at all the external (meaning off the site’s own servers) scripts and cookies that were running.

While my browser had taken the site’s primary analytics cookie (hey, I’m in the business so I like to help others learn) as well as their main ad serving cookie and even their Twitter tracker, my browser had  blocked 66 third-party cookies.  Each of those took a call to a third-party server.  These were ad networks, retargeting firms, on site ads from third parties, behavioral targeting firms,  etc.  The page (and each subsequent page, as it turned out) took  a long time to load .  While it came right up the  browser won’t respond since dozens of scripts are running.  Maybe a great revenue experience for the site owner but for we lowly users, it sucked.

One solution to this issue might be Google Tag Manager or deferring the parsing of JavaScript but it really goes beyond that.  Years ago there was a real emphasis on light page weights (the amount of code on the page as well as all the images, etc) and fast load times.  With the advent of broadband, I can’t recall having that conversation with anyone lately and maybe that’s a bit of negligence.   In addition to the SEO benefit fast pages get, they’re better user experiences.  That’s a broader point no matter what business you’re in.  If the focus isn’t on making your product the best it can be for your consumers, you need to refocus.  While I get that for media the “consumer” is the person buying the eyeballs you’re aggregating, without a good experience to bring those eyeballs back again and again, you won’t be in business for very long.

In other words, lay off the cookies!  Thoughts?

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What’s In A Name?

A friend asked me the other day why my brand is Keith Ritter Media when most of what I do is in digital and/or sports.  Not a bad question and since I’m always using the screed to encourage everyone to keep rethinking the business world around them, I did the same about his question.

Choosing “Media” instead of “Digital” was not an accident.  Having spent most of my formative professional years in what is now called “traditional” media (local and national TV), my approach is less focused on the technology and very focused on the business.  Here’s the bulletin:  it’s all media.   Sure, it’s also getting to be all digital but these technologies are nothing but other channels of communication that can be used in a smart marketing/business mix.  They’re other tools in the box.  The business and all of the relevant best practices remain pretty much the same.

I’m not sure that’s what some of the charlatans out there want to hear.  I’ve had clients hand me stuff from other digital specialty shops (most of whom are run by folks with all of 5-7 years in business) that was very tool-intensive but missed the entire reason of why those tools should or should be used.    Think about it.  Have you only heard of a “print” or “TV” or “radio” ad agency?  Sure, some folks focus on the various types of creative but your better shops take a 360 degree view of media because THAT’S HOW YOUR CUSTOMERS INTERACT WITH THE MEDIA WORLD.  Sorry for shouting but the notion of a digital or social agency bothers me.

“Digital” can be anything.  Website development to content creation to hardware to mobile and social applications. I don’t think it’s precise enough.  After all, we call them “carpenters”, not “hammers”.  It’s not about the tools – it’s about the business.

Am I thinking clearly about this?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Thinking Aloud

Let’s Dabble In The Concrete

Let’s start with a quote this week:

In 2012, marketers will need to focus more sharply on hard metrics to gauge digital and social marketing ROI. They will be pushed in this direction by economic and competitive forces, and by rising expectations from internal stakeholders who are more interested in the bottom line than in creative experimentation. Up until now, marketers have been content to dabble in digital and social marketing out of curiosity or peer pressure. But as stakes get higher, these media will have to provide concrete business benefits.

That’s from eMarketer.  I agree wholeheartedly, and here’s why. Continue reading

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