Why YouTube Red is the same as the 1559 Index of Banned Books

It may be difficult to see a connection between the launch of YouTube Red (a subscription paywall behind which its ‘content stars’ have now been imprisoned), the Council of Trent in 1545-63 and the Index of Banned Books (or indeed between the social media ‘Reformation’ and the Protestant Reformation). But there is a connection and it is to do with institutional reactions to new forms of disruptive technology and a desire to shore up established vested interests.

Looking first at the Council of Trent. This was one of a series of crisis meetings convened by the Catholic Church to try and deal with the pesky Protestant Reformation which was threatening its authority in large parts of Europe. An aspect of this that was especially irksome was the new-fangled technology of printing, which had allowed Martin Luther et al, as well as some other awkward geeks such as Galileo, to spread their ideas far more extensively that would have been possible in the good-old days of the Inquisition. In fact one of the most significant aspects behind the success of the Protestant Reformation was its adoption of this new communications technology and a recognition of its power to disrupt established institutionalised interests (i.e. the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church).

The Roman Catholic Church could not deny or seek to eradicate this new technology, but it could try to appropriate its power and control its output – hence the Index of Banned Books. This Index was an attempt to define and promote only content that supported institutionalised political vested interests (the Roman Catholic Church). YouTube Red, on the other hand, is an attempt to define and promote only content that supports institutionalised commercial vested interests (Google and the advertising industry). Continue reading

TechCrunch Disrupt: putting disruption in front of success

TechCrunch Disrupt is “the world’s leading authority in debuting revolutionary startups, introducing game-changing technologies, and discussing what’s top of mind for the tech industry’s key innovators.”  It ran its 2015 show in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and Carole Cadwalladr from the Guardian/Observer wrote this excellent piece entitled “Is the dotcom bubble about to burst (again)”.

As well as the bubble angle, Carole also focused on the disrupt angle implicit in the event’s title and noted the extent to which the D word is inserted into all the pitches.  The logic here appears to be: 1) look at the businesses that have become successful and that we wish to emulate 2) identify a common characteristic of all of these success stories, i.e. that they were all disruptive 3) reach the conclusion that disruption is therefore the key to success.

Wrong conclusion.  Continue reading

The three ages of the algorithm: a new vision of artificial intelligence

Last week the BBC looked at artificial intelligence and robotics. You could barely move through any part of the BBC schedule on any of its platforms without encountering an AI mention or feature. A good idea I think – both an innovative way of using ‘the whole BBC’ but also an important topic. That said I failed to come across any piece which adequately addressed what I believe is the real issue of AI and how it is likely to play-out and influence humanity.

True to subject form, in the BBC reporting there was a great deal of attention on ‘the machine’ and ‘the robot’ and the idea that intelligence has to be defined in a human way and therefore artificial intelligence can be said to be here, or to pose a threat, when some machine has arrived which is a more intelligent version of a human. This probably all stems from the famous Turing test together with the fact that most of the thinkers in the AI space are machine (i.e. computer) obsessives: artificial intelligence and ‘the machine’ are therefore seen to go hand in hand. But AI is not going to arrive via some sort of machine, in fact it will be characterised by the absence of any visible manifestations because AI is all about algorithms. Not algorithms that are contained within or defined by individual machines or systems, but algorithms unconstrained by any individual machine and where the only system is humanity itself. Here is how it will play-out. Continue reading

Programmatic advertising (aka strapping an engine to a horse)

Strange brandsMy thanks to the team at Digital Doughnut for drawing my attention to this relatively new report by eConsultancy and Quantcast. It is called ‘Programmatic Branding: driving upper-funnel engagement’.

I read the report and it gave me a vivid reminder of a feeling from my agency days where you find yourself in a conference room (probably in New York) listening to a presentation about ‘the new big thing’ (albeit presented in such a way as to suggest that this is not sufficiently new that you shouldn’t already know quite a lot about it) and find yourself struggling to resolve two competing reactions. The first is panic: OMG, the fact that I can barely understand what this guy (probably a guy) is talking about shows that I am just so out-of-touch I may as well resign right now. The second is: OMG I suspect this guy himself barely understands what he is talking about and is just making up a whole new set of words to either disguise his ignorance or take something which is actually very simple and make it sound incredibly complicated.   Experience has shown that the latter usually prevails. Continue reading

Twitter’s failure: a failure of management or expectation?

It has just been announced (in a Tweet of course) that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has stepped down, under pressure from investors, because of a perceived failure to either grow the user base or revenue sufficiently.

The real issue here is what is this a failure of.  Is it a failure of management to grow users and (advertising) revenues, or it is it a failure of expectation on the part of investors?  I tend to see it as the later.

Twitter has the same problem that Facebook has in that the ‘clever’ chaps on Wall Street who had to stick a number on it when it started to prospect for investment used the wrong model.  Continue reading

Why I have voted Green

In any functioning democracy there will always be a conservative party i.e. a party that represents the interests of the rich and powerful.  I don’t have a problem with this.  But the reason democracy works is that it provides a space within the interests of the non-rich and powerful can also be represented and debated.  Thus we have balance.

What I do have a problem with is that democracy in this country, as well as our economy, has become unbalanced.  We don’t have a mainstream party that is representing the interests of the non-rich and powerful.  The party that was meant to be doing this (i.e the Labour Party) abandoned its patch 20 years ago.  It did this because it recognised that it is much easier to get into power with the support of the rich and powerful.  It covered the tracks of its desertion with lots of rhetoric about the end of political ideology and the importance of pragmatism over principle.  It called itself a ‘new’ Labour Party and justified its actions on account of the fact that a Labour party being in power should, in and of itself, ensure that the interests of the non-rich and powerful should be represented.  Being in power became more important than the political debate about how that power should be used and thus that debate basically died.

“They are all the same, there is no difference.”  This is the single biggest message coming back from the electorate.  And the electorate is right.  One party is telling us that it will now cost £9,000 per year to go to university.  And the party that is presenting a “radically different vision for the future of the country” is saying, “tell you what, I’ll give it to you for six grand, can’t say fairer than that Guv, now give me your vote.”

That is not an alternative, that is simply a discount.

And that is why I am voting Green.  The Green Party is the only party which has a set of politics which genuinely represent an alternative.  Some of their policies may me a little rough around the edges, but that doesn’t matter, because what they are trying to do is clear the weeds that have grown up in the space that Labour deserted and put some balance back into democracy.

I, and I suspect the majority of people in this country, believe that the role of government and the public sector is to provide the investment, infrastructure and support that a sustainable, balanced, private sector needs to be successful.  This isn’t a left-wing or socialist idea – it is just common bloody sense.  But it is not being debated.   Access to education is no longer something limited by ability, it is limited by access to money – and this is not being debated.  We are only allowed a ‘choice’ on how much money this shall be.  The Prime Minister has described public services as state monopolies to be broken-up.  Do the majority of people in this country see the NHS as a state monopoly?  But this is not being debated.  We are only allowed a choice on how much money won’t be spent on it.

Will Hutton recent put this more succinctly when he said “the role of democracy is to ensure that capitalism delivers on its promises.”  Democracy isn’t working because capitalism isn’t delivering on its promises.

It is clear this this election will produce a result most people in this country are not happy with.  Dissatisfaction, rather than any groupings of political parties, will have achieved a majority.  But the reason for that is very simple.  It is because we haven’t been allowed to debate the things we want to debate.  We haven’t been given a choice.

Marketing technology: it is confusing but it is going to be big

This post is a marker.  It is post-it note that says “remember to watch this space and try and get your head around it because this is going to be big”.  It also is an excuse to log what I think is a very useful, if slightly mind-bending post by Scott Brinker.

My current mantra for marketing folk is that the future of brands involves getting your head around three things: the shift from the audience to the individual, the fact that community is becoming the new media, and the emergence of the world of the algorithm (i.e. Big Data).  I also continually bang-on about social media being a process, and of course, one of the things we use technology to do is management of process.

To a large extent, eveything that Scott is talking about in his post plays against these  issues.  To manage relationships with individuals at any sort of scale will require a process supported by technology.  Scott also talks about tag management – which (as I have already written about) will become the foundational process for the operation of communities.  Likewise, it is clear that the algorithm will become the tool that makes sense of the data that could be seen to live within the marketing cloud.  And, as Scott points out, Amazon is already starting to offer algorithmic products to do just that.

Scott also observes that things are currently very complicated and confused.  Or, as I flagged in my previous post, this stuff is ‘legitimately difficult’.  I definitely do no know enough about it – but from what I can see, I think I know enough to say that this is the future.  Technology is going to play a huge role in the management of the relationship between brands and consumers – because technology facilitates process, and this future relationship is going to be defined by process (behaviour identification and response) not by channel and message.

I think I can also predict that the key to really embracing this future is to shed yourself of the snakeskin of the past.  Big data is totally different to small data, to the extent that you can’t build your way to a big data future from a small data starting point or mindset.  Likewise, current marketing technology deals with stuff like CRM but the only way you will be able to deal with the new marketing technology is to free yourself from a CRM mindset (and possibly your CRM people).  If you look at this new stuff through the lens of the old stuff, you will probably fail to see or understand its potential.

Social customer service: it is ‘legitimately difficult’ (Social Media Today webinar)

Last week I tuned-in to a Social Media Today webinar about customer service.  One of the participants was Dave Evans (@evansdave) from Lithium.  He had a number of interesting charts which made clear the extent to which customers or consumers now have an expectation that brands will be able to deliver an on-line respond to their specific issues and question – especially in terms of response to Twitter questions.  No great surprises here, I wrote this about the future of customer service back in 2009, but it is good to finally see this sort of thing hitting the mainstream.

However there was one thing he said that stood out – and which I will surely drop into all of my talks and presentations.  He said this stuff is ‘legitimately difficult’.  I loved that.  Obviously he has an interest in suggesting this because if something were easy, why would you spend a lot of money with Lithium doing it?  But he is right.  The easy thing to do in social media is simply fill-up the void with industrial quantities of content.  The difficult thing to do is listen and respond to your customers.  But if a brand wants to operate in the social digital space – that is what it is going to have to do, no two ways about it (as this study from Edelman clearly demonstrates).

Brands have to recognise that they are increasingly operating within the community of their customers.  A community is not an audience and you can’t treat it as such by pushing messages at it.  A community is something you have to listen and respond to.  It is why social media is a behaviour identification and response challenge, whereas traditional (audience-based) marketing is a channel and message (reach and frequency) challenge.  Traditional media is a medium of distribution: social media is a medium of connection.  Traditional media is high reach but low engagement: social media is low reach but high engagement (if you do it properly).

But many brands still don’t get this.  They are pursuing brandfill strategies which, to paraphrase Dave, are ‘ illegitimately easy’.

Podcasting: what goes around comes around

I am intrigued at the extent to which podcasts are enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity because it was podcasts that first got me interested in social media all those years ago.  In the time before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, podcasts were the first vaguely commercial looking manifestation of the thing we now call social media.  Before podcasts there were only blogs – which at the time were simply (and incorrectly) seen as online personal diaries and personal diaries are not serious or sensible things.  Podcasts, however, looked a lot like radio shows – and radio shows are (sometimes) serious and sensible things.  The claim behind podcasts was that now everyone could make a radio show – which seemed highly intriguing, and potentially highly disruptive (at least to radio shows).

But two things happened which stopped podcasts delivering on their potential.  First was the assumption that now everyone could produce a radio show – because it very soon became apparent that the people who had always produced radio shows could do a much better job of it than couples in their kitchens.  This was a classic confusion of information and distribution.  A radio show is basically a form of distribution not a form of content.  The means (and expense) of radio distribution dictate and constrain what the content of a radio show can be – as with all forms of traditional media.  What the social media revolution has done is liberate information from restrictive means of distribution.  Content doesn’t have to conform to the rules of mass media.  Radio (form of distribution) becomes audio (form of content/information).

Audio producers (podcasters) therefore didn’t need to constrain themselves with the distribution restrictions associated with being radio producres – but no-one really realised this.  Instead everyone tried to replicate (and unsuccessfuly compete with) ‘old-fashioned’ radio shows.  Continue reading