Remember when the internet was in its infancy? We all had to put up with little 468 x 90 banner ads everywhere you looked – and sometimes we clicked them because we didn’t know better.
As time went on we grew smarter, we were able to tell the bad adverts from the good, and the emergence of online advertising bumped the ugly out of the marketplace entirely. And now, our brains automatically blank out adverts to keep us focused on the content we went to the site in the first place for. Many of us use ad-blocking tools so our brains don’t even need to perform the mental airbrushing.
But what if those adverts were trying to tell us something really important?
What if the Emergency Broadcast System was hooked into those banner ads trying to give us forewarning of an avoidable cataclysm?
Social Engineering refers to psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.
It is becoming increasingly common by malicious actors (bank and identity fraud, for example), but is also becoming a core part of many companies’ business models.
It all started innocently enough with the Social Graph. The ability to link people with other people, events, photos and products via rich, meaningful relationships turned the one-size-fits-all internet into a personalised window where the chaos suddenly started to shape itself into something we recognised and could engage with on a more emotional level.
The ‘Sharing Economy’ is disrupting established industries and sending huge, powerful incumbents into a tizzy. Uber and AirBnB have shaken the taxi and hotel sectors, shifting power, control and profits from the RadioCabs and Hiltons of this world and into the hands of ordinary citizens armed with nothing more than a smartphone and a mobile data plan.
The question on everyone’s lips is: which industry will be disrupted by the Sharing Economy next?
A couple of years ago, I was in Portland, Oregon, for meetings with some colleagues. One lunchtime, our discussion diverged from work topics to an issue plaguing our home-lives, an issue common to both the US and UK: the reduction in bin-pickup frequency.
It’s a hot topic.
Dude, Where’s My Trash?
We tossed around some ideas to solve our overflowing bins issues, to solve the problems caused by local authorities switching from weekly to two-weekly pick-ups, and to solve that awkward situation we have all faced: that middle-of-the-night walk of shame, bin-bag over shoulder, roaming the streets like a crazed, ferral cat to find a neighbour’s bin with a bit of space left in it to deposit last night’s curry leftovers and beer bottles.
What does this have to do with the Sharing Economy?
A lightbulb lit: why not create a location-aware, social app to help out? Share My Trashcan was born, $5 per bag, with a $1 kick-back to us, it scales and is simple. But then one of our team mentally cycled through a Lean Startup build-measure-learn cycle and developed the concept, discovering that communities can come together to buy a shared dumpster, which would provide even more space (some of which could be shared with other communities!) and would also be picked up weekly.
Share My Trashcan was dead, long live Share My Dumpster!
There are already “promoted” trends, tweets and accounts, but these are typically the domain of big business. There is a much simpler, but far more lucrative, way to monetise Twitter.
The 141 Character Dilemma
We’ve all been there…
#TheThingIHateMost about Twitter; finishing a good tweet, having -1 characters left, and then having to decide which grammar crime to commit — Not Will Ferrell (@itsWillyFerrell) February 28, 2012
It is the worst user experience in the universe!
Twitter is your soapbox and you have 140 characters to get your I Have a Dream speech heard by the masses. Many, of course, waste this pedestal on drivel and mediocrity (and I should know, I recently passed 3,333 tweets…). But for those with a real message, the soapbox is rarely free. Martin Luther King paid the ultimate price for his audience… but the effect of his words resonated. And the world changed for the better as a result.
So if you have a meaningful message, and it takes 141 characters instead of 140, why shouldn’t you be able to pay for that extra vowel?
So yesterday, Mark “FinkD” Zuckerberg’s little Californian social network called “Facebook” (you might have heard of it) announced a new feature called “Graph Search”. Graph Search lets you not only search for People and Pages, like the site currently allows, but also lets you throw much more complex queries at the Facebook database, such as “show me dentists in London recommended by my friends who live in Stockholm”. Or something less insane. But something is missing. Something absolutely HUGE: The Open Graph.
I’ve covered the Open Graph in a fewposts recently, it basically lets you integrate the things you specialise in with Facebook’s own specialisms (posts, relationship statuses, photos, events, etc.). Let’s say you’re a travel agent. You could create a “Holiday” object, which has information on it such as the departure and return dates, the destination (always useful to know), and maybe even the price. And then you “publish” this holiday into the Facebook graph by posting a link to a page on your local website which has the correct OpenGraph information in its header (the code behind that you don’t see, but your browser, and services like Facebook use to find out what your page is all about).
“Bob’s Holidays now offering a 2 week stay in Orlando, Florida for £300.”
Let’s say somebody likes this offer. And then somebody else comments on it. This object is now part of the social graph. People have become “connected” to this “holiday” object and through meaningful connections. To “like” something is very deliberate (and that is very valuable information to advertisers, which is why Facebook is such a potential gold mine for advertisers) and associates a user with an object.
MySpace. Remember them? They were ‘Facebook’ back when Nokia ruled the mobile world, Yahoo! was the world’s second most popular search engine, oil was cheap, flying was luxurious and Saddam Hussein had loads of WMDs.
Then Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook turned up and stole everyone.
Rupert Murdoch bought the ailing MySpace for a smidge under $600m in 2005, selling them in 2011 for $35m. Although if you ask him about that fiasco, he probably has no recollection of those events…
MySpace’s new owners, Specific Media, are making absolutely sure that you know that this is the NEW MySpace. You can go register for the new service at http://new.myspace.com – did I mention it was new?
New Tech, New Design
And by the looks of that link above, Specific Media are embracing the brave new world of HTML5. For the geeks out there, you’ll notice they’re using the HTML5 !DOCTYPE and the new <video> tag.
The design is thin, high-contrast typography in little squares, while large feature-walls of videos and pictures fill the rest of your vision. It’s like the images on Bing, they’re not essential, but they’re engaging and nice.
I was preparing to make comments like, “Bless! They think they can take Facebook on by stealing Microsoft’s Metro UI” or “Some skinny text wont save your butts now, MySpace”, but actually…. and I hate to say this…. I’m very, mightily impressed with what they’re trying to do here.
Facebook should absolutely be concerned about this audacious coup.
While Google+ chief, Vic Gundotra, should be absolutely shitting himself.
There is a lot of talk around at the moment about Twitter’s new stance on 3rd party applications integrating with the service. Twitter has pretty much banned clone applications like Tweetbot, and went as far as buying Tweetdeck for $40 million.
Twitter says it doesn’t want third party developers to “build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.” But is that really all? That’s the short-term, but what’s the long game here? Where is Twitter heading?
Facebook is a place of sharing; videos, links, pictures, etc. Pinterest is a place of sharing pictures, in particular. Twitter is a place of sharing words: you have 140 characters to change the world.
This limit is both the most-complained-about feature and its biggest asset; and once you start combining sharing with 140 characters you start to see something emerge: Headlines.
Twitter is becoming the de facto home of soundbites and straight-to-the-point sentiment. Twitter’s users are bringing content to the service and having their say about that content in a raw, unadulterated manner. Unlike Pinterest, Twitter doesn’t require users to contextualise the shared content (or use massive amounts of processing power to analyse pictures for their content). Twitter’s content + opinion is instantly indexable, interpretable and searchable.
Twitter doesn’t require web crawlers to have a database chocked full of important-right-now information. Twitter doesn’t need to index every word on every page in the universe to understand what people think about some content – it is right there in 140 beautifully simple characters.
So you’re saying Twitter just made Google Defunct?
I’m saying that Twitter is in a ridiculously strong position to take Google on at its own Search game. Google have dropped the ball by focusing so hard on their social network – Google+ – and have become complacent about the two things that keep them in business: Search (which Twitter can steal the show with) and Ads (which, as I’ve discussed before, Facebook is in an enviable position to clean up with).
So what do Google have left in the innovation stakes? Well, there’s Google Glass, of course. But even I thought that up before they launched it. They have self-driving cars too, but the Volvo SARTRE project looks more fun, and more advanced.
Mind you, Google owns Android, the most prolific smartphone operating system in the world and I am a massive fanboi. It’s just a pity it doesn’t earn Google any money – in fact it costs them millions each year.
And the Chrome browser is the best (and most popular) around. But again: it’s free. There’s little in the way of a business model.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years (and who hasn’t!!) you might have missed out on a new trend of technology called “Cloud“. Until now it has been viewed cautiously and sometimes skeptically as a bandwagon that will fade into the sunset pretty soon, however, the reason Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon and all the other big names in tech are investing in it so heavily is because it will end the credit crisis, save the planet and make is us all a lot happier in the process.
The Cost of Living
According to Monster.co.uk, the average salary for a man in the UK is £30,800. To get to work and back each day, Mr Average probably spends around £150/month (that’s based on my own, personal 12 mile commute and a 2-litre diesel car, driven sensibly, achieving between 40-50mpg).
That extrapolates out to mean an annual fuel bill of £1,800 (£150 x 12). It adds up doesn’t it!!
If he could work from home he would save about 80% of that fuel bill – if like me, he doesn’t do much driving around at the weekend – or a total saving of £1,440. If his employer allowed him to work from home, they could actually give him a £1,440 pay cut and (this is the important point I’m trying to make here) he wouldn’t notice ANY difference in the money in his pocket! The employer would save Employer National Insurance contributions too. However, if they chose to keep Mr Average’s salary, he’d be sitting on the pleasant end of an effective 5% pay rise. Continue Reading “The Cloud Will Save Us All!”→
Various sites (CNet, TechRepublic) are saying that the Facebook IPO isn’t for mere mortals like you and I and not to even consider buying stock. When we finally get our chance, the venture capitalists, early investors and company employees will already have had their wallets vaccuumed clean and the price will be horribly inflated. But what if Facebook was about to change up a gear and bring its Armada of engineers to face the company that has already fired the first shot across their bows?
In the S-1 filing, the document required for private companies in the US to get the ball rolling on going “public”, Facebook stated in no uncertain terms that they were at risk from competitive products. With MySpace no longer being a threat, Bebo long dead, Friendster (who?), well you get the point, their competition is obviously Google+. Google are the ones in possession of the smoking cannon with their Facebook-a-like social network and have recently started playing dirty. Signing up to ANY of Google’s services (Calendar, Docs, GMail, etc) will AUTOMATICALLY sign you up for a Google+ account. If you’re over 18, that is.
Given the search and advertising monopoly of Google, this hardly seems fair.
Why are you talking about Google so much? Wait a second, search and what monopoly?
A-ha. Welcome to the party. What kept you?
What would really spoil Google’s day? What would make their Google+ potshot look like a potato gun going off? And most importantly, what would give new investors something to really smile about after they put all their cash into Mark Zuckerberg’s university project?
Every website you go to, you see Facebook’s “Like” button. Every website you go to, you see Facebook’s Comments widget (just scroll down a bit to see an example…). Website owners trust Facebook enough to control how word of their sites spread. They trust them to be in control of the primary way of engaging with their readers, visitors and (this is the important one) customers.
You can see where I’m going with this.
Why wouldn’t webmasters also trust Facebook to supply the adverts on their site? Remember, the adverts that Facebook provides are very highly targeted. Just look to the right hand side of your News Feed next time you’re on FB. Scary, huh! So webmasters are going to enjoy adverts that are very likely to earn them more money. Imagine if you see an advert for a new computer game, Facebook can add a list of your friends who like this product too (using Sponsored Stories, which is already available to companies who want to pay for it!). That’ll increase the pull of the adverts. It’s all great news for webmasters. And very very bad news for Google’s AdWords product.
Wait. Isn’t that the reverse of what Google hopes to achieve with Google+?
EXACTLY! Google are using Google+ to get inside your mind, your social circles, your likes and dislikes, your answers to open ended questions such as “What’s on your mind?”. This all allows them to provide you with more relevant search results and, the important bit again, more relevant adverts that will be more likely to be clicked on.
Facebook is in a much better position than Google, however. Google are in “learning” mode. You’re slowly transferring all your likes and tastes across to Google+ from Facebook, but Facebook already has it all. It has the historical records too which shows how your likes and tastes have evolved over time. Google+ can never give that to Google’s advertising engine.
Facebook could launch their version of AdWords tomorrow, and advertisers would drop Google like a weight lifter with sweaty hands. The benefits of advertising through Facebook will be immense.
But I get Analytics with Google too. As a Webmaster, I’m still splitting my tools between the two aren’t I?
Don’t forget, Facebook are actually pretty good at offering analytics. For anybody who has ever written an App on the Facebook platform, you’ll know about Insights – a growing collection of stats and utilities you can use to track how your application is doing.
It’s not a quantum leap from monitoring Facebook Platform Apps to monitoring users roaming around websites.
And then Google becomes nothing but what it was in 1998: A Search Engine with a cashflow problem.
I like Facebook. It has values that I identify with. I used to like Google, but then it all went very creepy, stopped being innovative and just started being reactive. Not good for a technology company!
I think Facebook would be crazy not to do this. It has amazing commercial potential while also ingratiating website owners with Mark Zuckerberg’s company.
And lastly, it would kill Google, which would solve that whole “competition” thing, that Facebook said was a real risk.