Weeknote 210: Working 9 to 5

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Things I have learned this week:

- never try to get anything sensible done on the August Bank Holiday weekend
- I think it’s fair to describe my hair these days as “Thinning”
- Twitter is increasingly becoming an exercise in me suppressing sarcasm
- it’s very exciting to get to organise something
- and also to publish something

This is the last Thursday afternoon Weeknote for a while because I’m launching into a new project next week that’s going to involve me doing five day weeks for the next few months. That’s going to be a shock to the system. Although trying to do five days work in four days time and then a day of looking after two toddlers is… hang on a minute…

Connecting customers

Over the course of this summer I’ve had the fascinating opportunity to talk to dozens of people from organisations across the UK exploring the ways in which they are using digital, social and traditional channels to engage with customers. Next month the results of that work are going to be published in a white paper by IG Digital.

The big news? Well, above all else it’s what a variable state organisations are at in the moment. Social and digital channels are in use, often in an ad hoc manner, and ownership if clear is usually sitting with Marketing. How integrated are these new channels with traditional modes of communication like telephone or (even) email? Usually the answer is “not very”.

Social today is very much “media” rather than “network” for most public and private sector organisations. They form channels to broadcast rather than conduits to converse. But even that is changing how sometimes very traditional businesses are operating – evidenced by how hard it is often now for organisations to succinctly describe what it is that they do.

The report contains detailed analysis on our findings, and also a breakdown of some of the industry sectors we spoke to (in particular, Technology Media and Telecoms (TMT), Business Services, Financial Services and Education).

We’ll be launching the report on Tuesday September 23rd at an event we are co-hosting with Zoodikers as part of Social Media Week London.

You can register for the event here, and you can register to receive a copy of the report when it’s published here.

The right to not be forgotten

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Every so often I search for myself on Google. This is me keeping tabs on my online identity, and not just vanity. Honest.

I’ve noticed recently that at the bottom of the search results (which are mostly about me, which is a big “Yay!” for my integrated social search optimisation strategy of just blathering a lot) the following line appears:

Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe. Learn more

This only seems to display when a search is about an individual, and I would like it to be removed when people search for me. 

I haven’t asked for any search results to be removed, and the only other Matt Ballantines who appear on the Internet are in Australia, New Zealand or the United States where European data protection laws doesn’t work. But by bringing the subject up, it looks as if I might have been asking for something to be removed and quite frankly I don’t want to be tarred with the same brush as some right evil bastards

So, can I have my right to not be forgotten back now please? Thanks.

 

On Chromecast

As the price has now dropped to only £18, which is less than I’ve paid for a couple of drinks in a London bar in the past, it seemed like the right time to try out the Google Chromecast – connected TV in a device little bigger than an old school memory stick.

I’ve watched for some time the battle for the connected living room, and no pair of vendors owns the TV in the way that Apple and Google have conquered mobile devices (or Apple and Microsoft the PC before it). To an extent I think that mobile devices have conquered the living room.

I’m currently not short of options when it comes to consuming content on my TV, although we’re not a family that consumes masses of paid-for content. Alongside the free-to-air Freeview channels, we have access to BBC iPlayer on our early Samsung SmartTV. I bought a Roku box a couple of years ago, so also have iPlayer available there alongside 4od, Five on Demand and recently ITV Player. On the occasions when Watford are on Sky, I also watch games via the Roku box on NowTV where I can pay per-game.

Both of those options can be controlled via dedicated remote controls, or controller Apps that make some of the navigation a bit easier (especially when it comes to typing text). The App is just a controller, though. The device (either the Samsung TV or the Roku Box) is the centre of attention, and Apps have to be built for those platforms to be available.

Here’s where Chromecast is different. Although some of the logic sits on the device, some of it is in the app, and it’s function varies from being similar to that of a Roku box (or AppleTV or the video features of XBox), through to being little more than a wireless video connection.

What that means is that whilst there are some apps that have been developed explicitly for Chromecast (iPlayer, YouTube, BT Sport, NetFlix and then a bunch of crud), it’s possible to beam your Android device or Chrome browser tab onto the TV as well.

Whilst the installation process for the device was very slick (plug in, point a browser on a device that’s on the same Wifi network to http://chromecast.com/setup, follow instructions), in using the thing it became fairly obvious fairly quickly that a lot of Chromecast is in Beta, despite the product now having been a year in market.

Switching between devices (from Chromebook to Android phone) caused crashes. New functionality within the Slides part of Google Apps to present to Chromecast gave about 5 seconds of presentation before reverting to the home screen. Bringing up iPlayer in a browser and then pressing the “Google Cast” button in Chrome (interesting lack of consistency of naming there) got iPlayer on Chromecast terribly confused.

Marketers for years have been portraying a world of inter-connected devices (this one for example) where we can flip content from one device to another. The reality is somewhat different, because the reality includes buffering time. Of all of the major players in this domain Google are the ones who get “everything in the cloud” better than others (because their entire business has only ever really been in the Cloud). But the Cloud involves (at the moment) nasty matters of physics and network latency and ropey ISP routers and contention ratios and marketing myths where “sequences have been shortened“.

Chromecast feels like a work in progress. The Apps for it are OK, but no better than those on the Roku box (and there are fewer decent ones available). Wirelessly transmitting the screen from a phone or laptop is OK, but a little bit laggy (and for high-bandwidth content, very laggy). It’s twice the price of a Slimport cable that would connect my phone much more reliably (but much less conveniently).

But it strikes me that, putting aside the issues of how phones and tablets are the interactive channel and device for the living room, the “flick a bit of content from my phone to my TV” vision (if we ever actually want it) is going to be a disappointing experience for as long as it takes more than a few microseconds for any device to begin streaming a piece of content from the Internet. And that’s not something that the TV, the dongle, the laptop or the smartphone actually has within its own control.

An ethical code for disruptive startups

 

 

Coadec Executive Director Guy Levin wrote an interesting piece on Wednesday calling for a clearer view from government about positive disruption in the start-up space. Now I’m sure that government needs to have a view and encourage entrepreneurship, but this is a two-way street. There seems to be an almost “autistic” nature of the way in which tech startups can operate that fails to understand that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do something.

Let’s take an example – the well-publicised taxi-cab disruptor Uber. In most developed cities, taxi services are pretty heavily regulated. In London, for example, to be licensed to pick up without regulation a driver needs to have been authorised by the Public Carriage Office, and have passed the “knowledge” test of the streets of London. Uber flies in the face of most of that (and of the regulated fare structures that drivers must also follow).

On the one hand there is a public safety and protection nature of all of this that (hopefully) ensures that we don’t get ripped off or murdered by cab drivers and they get us to where we are going pretty quickly. On the other hand the traditional “knowledge” is pretty much obsolete as I found last week when I needed to use my phone to direct a black cab driver to a pub within half a mile of Waterloo Station.

Is Uber acceptable disruption into a regulated market? Who knows. My personal view is probably just about, but we shouldn’t ignore the public protection offered by current structures.

Let’s take another example – AirBnB. A service that in some countries is leading to significant legal challenge because the letting of properties for short stays is a licensed and regulated activity. But moreover in some other places is leading to really weird distortions of the housing market.

Is AirBnB acceptable disruption into a (sometimes) regulated market? Who knows. And I don’t know that I have a view (although housing in London and the UK is distorted enough at the moment).

So let’s get more extreme. What about recruitment services? Or legal services? Or what about financial services? Or guns? Or drugs?

The answers lie on a continuum. And there are no black and white answers – only a series of greys. However, you can be sure that legislation and regulation won’t be able to keep up in “start-up” time, so it’s not enough just for Government to have an agenda here. It strikes me that the start-up community needs to develop its own ethical code within which it works that isn’t merely “If it’s legal”.

The role models of past-decade start ups (particularly the big US ones) don’t set a great example here. Whether it’s Facebook’s skirting around data privacy and protection or most of them skirting around international tax boundaries, despite the “Don’t be evil” placards of old it seems that ethics run the risk of being seen as the merely the county bordering Suffolk.

(Thanks to Paul Taylor for the Twitter conversation that led to this post.)

Weeknote 209: plate spinning

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Things I have learned this week:

- layers of intermediaries add exponential layers of bureaucracy
– never put off for tomorrow what you’re scared of doing today
– starting a business, building a business and scaling a business are very different parts of the same whole

Next week: a long weekend, and then my last peripatetic week for a while (and my last Friday with the boys for a very long time)

Replacing paper

I’m currently writing a report. It’s something that is going to be being published next month. Because we are “publishing” the report, I want it to be delivered in a format that is identifiably a thing, an object. But because the report is about digital transformation, I want the report to live to those values and be digital. I have a format problem…

The simple option is to produce a PDF. But PDF’s are rubbish (quite frankly) on screen. If you focus on delivering to a traditional PC then you have to basically do a slide presentation (because the screen’s the wrong size for portrait). If you focus on tablets or phones then PDF’s are terrible because they don’t adapt to screen size… they’re a print document in digital form.

I could produce a website, but a website isn’t a “thing” quite in the same way that a document is. And because of that you don’t get into reciprocity (which is important if the report is being given away for free).

I could produce an App, but that’s a world of cost and pain, and means a whole new stack of learning and production. It also locks out the desktop/laptop market (yeah, I know, Windows 8 apps blah blah…)

How to encapsulate a set of information into a digital entity which can be authored in simple tools, that doesn’t cost the earth to produce, is authentically digital, and also platform independent so that it can be consumed on PC, tablet or phone of whatever flavour without complicated installations… well, that seems to me to be a nut still to be cracked.

 

 

Matt Ballantine's thoughts about technology, marketing, management and other stuff…

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