Blockchain is bigger than you think

Blockchain is looking like a seriously transformative technology – maybe as big an idea as http or bittorrent. 
 

Here’s a great primer. It looks techy, but is very readable.

 

Sample wow quote, “Companies like Ebay, Facebook and Uber are very valuable because they benefit tremendously from the network effects that come from keeping all user information in centralized in private silos and taking a cut of all the transactions. Decentralized protocols on top of the blockchain have the potential to undo every single part of the stacks that make these services valuable to consumers and investors. They can do this by, for example, creating common, decentralized data sets to which any one can plug into, and enabling peer to peer transactions powered by Bitcoin.”

 

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

Why Instagram works

There are many photo editing apps and many offer some kind of sharing.

Yet Instagram (see my previous post) is way ahead of the pack in popularity and buzz. This fantastic article goes into why. My favourite aspect is about how it deliberately limits its functionality. you can only load one image at a time. Imagine how natural it would seem to add many at once. But that would detract from the product’s simplicity and delight.

Design is finished not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.

Ever noticed how hard it is to be unpleasant on Facebook?

There’s no Dislike button, it’s tricky to block people and there’s no option to Reject event invites (you can only Ignore them). It’s all terribly inoffensive.

And that’s a key reason for Facebook’s incredible success.

The internet can be a horrible place. People shoot off unfair blog posts, thumb down your comments on YouTube and have you ever read the article comments on the Daily Mail website. Or even worse, the Guardian!?!

Facebook offers a Disnified version of the internet for people. Everything is OK and you won’t get bruised. It’s like going back to the playground, but this time there are no bullies. Everyone has to wear a name tag and play nice.

We’re all vulnerable and we all have egos. Zuckerberg is either a genius or he’s stumbled on a genius idea.

Please Like this post.


Ten principles of good design

This list of Dieter Rams design principles is eternal. I expect that the work of Apple’s Jonathan Ive would stand up well to this test. Picture the iMac/iPod/iPhone as you read down it.

I’m reminded of that wonderful aphorism about design being complete not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.

Vitsœ’s designer, Dieter Rams. Photograph by Abisag Tüllmann

No, the iPad will not save magazines

The iPad is a gorgeous media consumption device. It’s desirable, it’s selling like hotcakes and buying apps is easy. Print media owners shackled by declining sales can be forgiven for willing it to their saviour.

It won’t be.

As the paltry sales of GQ’s iPad app indicate, simply having an app isn’t enough. The dirty truth is that no-one ever wanted a magazine. Just as Coke sells happiness rather than fizzy drinks, what people actually get from mags are:

  1. Signalling. What magazine you hold up on the train carriage, or have on your coffee table sends a message about how you see yourself – be it Viz, the Economist or Wallpaper
  2. Passing the time. Mags work great to wile away train journeys and lazy bath-times
  3. Special interest Whether you love cars, photography, cycling or houseboats, there’s a mag for you.
  4. Sense of belonging People like feeling part of a community and sharing tips.

Magazines have delivered on these benefits very well for decades. The challenge is that digital does all of these better, or changes them:

  1. No-one knows what you’re reading. It’s the device itself that says something about you. iPad v Kindle, and iPhone v Android is the new Mods v Rockers.
  2. You’re never alone with a mobile. Yes you can read magazine-like articles and look at professional photos, but you’re more likely to listen to music, watch episodes of Glee, email your friends or check-in at a foursquare location.
  3. Niche interests are hyper-served by digital. I’m not just interested in digital photography, I want to read in-depth articles on not only Canon lenses, but that particular lens, and those particular types of shots
  4. Sense of community has of course been owned by the massive, real-time, rich media interactions of social media. I want to know now what people think of that Cameroon goal.

That all said, magazines will not die. Print has winning attributes of portability, ever-lasting battery life and brings a simple, tactile pleasure. However, it will of course change. There will be fewer titles and producing them will become a leaner, tougher, much less pleasant game. Print dollars really will be replaced by digital cents. Get over it.

My counsel is:

  • Think brand and not product. Top Gear is the shining example of a media brand that has transcended its format and is thus less vulnerable to channel shift.
  • Embrace failure. There are no certainties in this era of disruption. Things will not settle down, and it is delusional to ‘wait and see’. No-one has a right to survive. The only viable strategy is to keep testing and keep learning.

Where is my mind?

Most holiday advertising gets no more sophisticated than showing sun-soaked beaches with a cocktail in near focus.

Which is why it’s nice to see The Body Holiday. Their proposition is crystal clear and seems to tap into a genuine consumer insight.

Champions of search neutrality – how Google might win the PR war against Murdoch

Rumours abound that Murdoch and Microsoft might team up to make Bing the only place where News International content can be found in search.

As a stick to wield at Google, it’s pretty much the only one Rupert has. And as they trail by miles in search share, Microsoft won’t miss an opportunity to team up and gain an edge either.

It must be tempting for Google in turn to consider exclusive deals with Murdoch’s competitors.

But what do consumers want? Imagine a world where you have to know “I can find this kind of content on Google but that on Bing, or that on Google but not on Bing”. It’d be awful. Like having to dial 118 118 for these phone numbers, but 118 247 for those phone numbers.

We want everything in one place.

I wonder whether Google would open up a PR front championing “search neutrality“? i.e. position themselves as wanting to bring you the whole web and de-position others as wanting to fence it off.

Will people pay for content? Wrong question

Far better to ask – will they pay for my brand?

Are you thinking hard enough about what you really provide to them – rationally and emotionally?

Is it really only news you sell, or is it reassurance? Or a signal for other people of your status? Is your magazine selling entertainment – or is it a way to pass the time? Or feel connected? Or feel good about yourself?

How can you take these underlying values and translate them into other product forms (guide books, insurance services etc)

I’ve previously written about my view that people will pay for content if you make it easy. But if they won’t pay for your brand, you really are in trouble

PR as fireworks

It’s easier than ever to get a PR announcement out there. And easier than ever to cock it up.

A year or two ago, I had a chunky piece of product news to announce, but no budget. No problem I thought, I’ve got all these modern comms assets to play with.

So announce it I did – big bang style – sending the news simultaneously to the website, news wires, the forum, facebook, the press office blog, Twitter etc.

I thought I’d been terribly modern and efficient, but the story got nowhere. It was summed up when the blogger relations guy called me, pretty out of sorts.

I just called up one of our key targets saying ‘I’ve got something for you’ and he told me ‘yeah, I know, I just saw it in my facebook  inbox’. It’s old news isn’t it?’

Big lesson. Just because you have multiple comms routes to market doesn’t mean you should use them all at once.

Sequence matters. Think of PR as a fireworks display. You don’t set them all off at once. The impact is much greater if you build up to a crescendo.

Start with this release order and adapt from there:

  1. Inform internal stakeholders
    Key staff and shareholders should know first – especially customer service people
  2. Leak to bloggers
    Bloggers won’t write positive stuff if they don’t get to break it, so leak news to them and give them exclusive details/pictures.
  3. Tell passionate customers first
    Anyone following your brand on Twitter, contributing to your forum, being a fan on facebook or subscribing to your email should be the first to officially know. These people care about your brand. Critically, you should give them material they can share – eg, embeddable videos, pictures they can link to or exclusive offers.
  4. Mass anounce to journalists, visitors and previous customers
    This is when it’s actually public. Such is the pace of the web that this phase can follow just hours later.
  5. Post-launch management
    Reputation/news management in the days following the announcement is an intrinsic part of the launch task. Use social tools to monitor the conversation and respond to as many positive/negative comments as you can. In the first 24 hours, the prevailing opinion on your announcement will coalesce and you want it to settle down in your favour.

world in motion

Too often mission statements are glib, interchangeable and soaked with avarice. Businesses might as well use a website to generate one.

Great ones are simple, positive and rally everyone behind an idea. Twitter appears to have one of those. Techcrunch reports, as part of the controversial leaked documents haul, that internally they are shooting:

to be the pulse of the planet

I think that’s great – memorable, audacious and benevolent.

The horse-shit fallacy

In the early 2000s I was on a conference panel in Cambridge. A discussion began about the growing threat of spam with the the prevailing argument being “At this rate, email will be unusable in five years time“.

Sitting here in 2009, spam volumes have never been higher, but my gmail account gets maybe one false positive a month. Email remains quite usable.

This is what I call the horse-shit fallacy.

This is not simply a pejorative term, but is based on (possibly apocryphal) tales of London in the late 19th century. Apparently, the volume of, um, little horse presents on the streets was a growing concern and doom-mongerers voiced that “at the current rate” in 20 years time we’ll be three feet deep in the stuff.

Of course this didn’t happen, and it never would. The reason being simply (and what I argued at that spam panel) that we’d never let it. Life is not linear, and successful marketing is predicated on solving problems. Although I had no idea how spam would be dealt with, I trusted that someone would fix it. In this case, it was Google.

Extrapolating the past to create a projection of the future is endemic in our culture and only serves to immobilise innovation and limit thinking.

Don’t believe the hype. Listen out for that phrase “at this rate…” and give it a dollop of what it deserves.

Photo by Pleple2000

Sometimes, competition sucks

When the 800lb gorilla in your market brings out a product close to yours, it’s gonna hurt. Especially when theirs is free.

Which is why I admire Spanning Sync. They’re a funky software outfit who’ve been quietly sync’ing up Apple and Google Calendars for a small fee for some time. Suddenly, things have got a bit noisier with Google announcing a service that brushes ominously past their territory.

Spanning Sync could have been forgiven a few reflective days to chew over their response, but instead had their blog post up in a flash. They were “very excited about” the news and happily linked through to Google’s page.

This is a really smart move. How many traditional companies would ever even mention the name of competing products outside of closed boardrooms? To actively tell your closest customers about them is certainly contrary – and absolutely the right thing to do.

1. Control the agenda
Geek news travels reallllly fast. By competing to bring this information to their customers before they heard it elsewhere, Spanning Sync gained the chance to influence the positioning.

2. Champion the category
By welcoming Google’s product, Spanning Sync looked magnamimous, confident and like fellow fans of the sector.

3. Point out your edge
Spanning Sync were sure to convincingly point out the differences and benefits of their offering – without coming across as churlish.

4. Be prepared
The speed of Spanning Sync’s blog posting indicates that they were ready for this day. Having thought-through tactics for market eventualities is smart. At Guinness in the 90s we developed shadow brand plans to game what competitors might do.