What the hell is digital?

There’s an old zen tale that goes like this:

“..There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Now replace the word ‘water’ with ‘digital’

Businesses continue to think of digital as something separate. Consumers don’t see it like that. To them, it’s just part of their life. It’s all around them and just something that is.

Let’s stop referring to digital marketing. It’s marketing in a digital world.

How Pixar stays creative

Great interview with Ed Catmull, President of Pixar outlining some of the practical, tough ways they manage the creative process. There are some excellent insights into how to manage creative people and the importance of collaboration.

Fundamentally, successful companies are unstable… the forces of conservatism are trying to go to a safe place

There are a small number of people who are socially dysfunctional, very creative. We get rid of them.

When we say we are director-led, we mean the director has to lead

 

A replacement for Google Reader

I just set up Fever. It’s a self-hosted alternative to the doomed Google Reader that syncs via your own server. It’s pretty painless to import your existing feeds and there are great iOS apps too. So far works flawlessly and the design is great too.

Fever

You need your own server space (I use Dreamhost) and if anyone wants any help, gimme a shout.

The tech that time forgot

This article makes the rather spiky point that ‘remembering your first computer is for old people’. i.e. that for the generation growing up now, there’s nothing revolutionary about how thin the MacBook Air is, or how amazing wireless syncing is. Digital photos aren’t better (or not) than film, they just are. It’s just weird that not to have had a mobile growing up.

Seen this way, relative improvement doesn’t matter for brands and businesses. The task is to be relevant now, not merely better than you used to be.

It reminded me of one of my favourite jokes from the ever-prescient, sorely-missed Douglas Adams:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

 – The Salmon of Doubt (p.95)

What if Microsoft was cool?

Minimally Minimal have an interesting branding thinkpiece re-imagining Microsoft as cool. I don’t like everything they’ve done in the execution, but the idea is thought-provoking.

They’ve been the naff whipping boys for nearly  ten years now and it would be fascinating if they could take the design and product momentum of Kinect, Windows 8 and Metro and package them within a cohesive narrative that really caught people’s imagination.

Is Ballmer the man to do this though?

Snapped – How Flickr lost its looks

There are some sobering lessons in this excellent Gizmodo article, How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet.

Extracts that stood out for me:

  • It is a case study of what can go wrong when a nimble, innovative startup gets gobbled up by a behemoth that doesn’t share its values.
  • Even early on, there were signs that the transplant—which had seemed so successful at first—was going to fail. That the DNA didn’t match
  • All Yahoo cared about was the database its users had built and tagged. It didn’t care about the community that had created it or (more importantly) continuing to grow that community by introducing new features
  • Because Flickr wasn’t as profitable as some of the other bigger properties, like Yahoo Mail or Yahoo Sports, it wasn’t given the resources that were dedicated to other products.
  • As a result of being resource-starved, Flickr quit planting the anchors it needed to climb ever higher. It missed the boat on local, on real time, on mobile, and even ultimately on social—the field it pioneered
  • Yahoo needed to leverage this thing that it had just bought. The first step in that is to create a unified login. That’s great for Yahoo, but it didn’t do anything for Flickr, and it certainly didn’t do anything for Flickr’s (extremely vocal) users.
  • If you want to see where it completely fucked up, turn on your phone and launch the Flickr app. Oh, what’s that, you don’t have one? Exactly

Jeff Bezos’ admirable refusal to let Amazon grow old gracefully

Good read from the Economist re Jeff Bezos’ approach to risk-taking. For me, this is the key moment and is the very essence of why traditionally successful companies are  so vulnerable to disruption and change. It’s just not in their DNA.

This may explain why Mr Bezos is so keen to ensure that Amazon preserves its own appetite for risk-taking. As companies grow, there is a danger that novel ideas get snuffed out by managers’ desire to conform and play it safe. “You get social cohesion at the expense of truth,” he says

Launching the Guardian’s websites 1998

I was brand manager at the Guardian when the “Guardian Unlimited” websites were launched in the 90s. As part of the launch, I was tasked with creating a CD-ROM called Get The Net which had starter ISP software and this video of the editor, Alan Rusbridger, giving his thoughts on the internet revolution. I think his thoughts stand up pretty well.

 

Death of the middle man

My money is on this being the decade of disintermediation. The technology, trust and social graph is now in place to allow people to deal directly with each other and cut out the corporates.

  • Brent Hoberman (my former boss) and Stelios have just announced plans to make EasyCar a person-to-person car club
  • HouseBites is attempting to revolutionise takeaways by providing a platform for chefs cooking at home
  • AirBnB is a global network of accommodations offered by locals
  • Comedian Louis C.K. is getting a lot of love for selling his video simply and directly to his audience
And there’ll be more to come.
Could this give rise to the ‘nano-business’? Millions of people like you and me turning on/off supply of services we provide to suit our convenience. By day: accountant, on Sundays: curry chef

Simultweeting

Encouraging parallel conversations during live events has been gathering pace recently. The Guardian have long had much success with their interactive minute-by-minute coverage of sport, and more recently live rolling news.

Even sweet old Radio 4 is getting in on the act; last night I heard them encouraging people to use the hashtag #r4riot and join in with one of their live shows.

But my favourite example recently is Riz Ahmed, an actor in Four Lions, tweeting live (simultweeting?) along with a screening of the film on TV. What a great way to spread the word and encouraging re-watching. It’s a bit like the audio commentaries you get as extras on DVD, but much more vital.

 

The crisis in crisis management

Like everyone else, I’ve been beguiled by the unfolding hacking drama at News International.

It’s been well discussed that it took the confluence of tenacious, brilliant reporting from the Guardian with the amplifying power of social media to really land the killer blows.

One thing that’s really struck me, though, is the impact of social media on crisis management PR.

NI took the understandable step (eventually) of publishing an apology last weekend in all the nationals, followed by “and now let’s put it right” the day after. These are classic steps in the crisis management playbook.

However, are they relevant any more? Within moments of the apology being published, it’d been dissected, remixed, lampooned and re-broadcast by the Twittersphere – undermining its power markedly.

Traditional crisis management has relied on a scarcity of the ability to broadcast. I.e. get your message on tv/in the papers and that’ll drown out dissenters.

Not any more.

A viable way to get rid of TV ads?

People don’t like ads interrupting their viewing, and adverts that aren’t relevant to particular viewers (or skipped) don’t work.

Step forward MirriAd – a neat way of allowing product placement to be inserted post production.  Its effectiveness will all be down to execution, but it’s a very neat idea. Imagine being able to place ads into programmes tactically at a minute’s notice, or show ads for products a particular viewer has been researching online.

Check out the video demo.

Check-ins for TV – the meme keeps growing

Miso is kinda like Foursquare for TV – you check-in to programmes you’re watching.

It might be easy to dismiss Miso as derivative, but I think it’s got a good chance of catching on (I’ve talked about Real-time watercooler moments and social tv before).

Whereas “Bob just checked in to North Acton station” is so what, “Bob just watched Madmen episode 4×10 can elicit real interest for a conversation – “Ooh what did you think of the bit where…?”

I suspect we’ll see a slew of other non-location check ins – sports games? fashions? video games? books? I can imagine “Dave just checked into The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” being a basis for a conversation.

One of my favourite NPD tricks is Break One Rule – take a successful formula and change one thing. I think Miso does this well.