8 Random Thoughts

Strap in, this is going to be a bit of a random wild post. All of the mentioned topics were notable but not worth full blog posts so you’re getting a bit of a mash-up.

1) Lists Don’t Matter Until You’re On One

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Most folks claim that lists don’t matter until they are on one. Then the lording of mightiness ensues, humblebrags and the posts of “how you, too, can be part of x influencer (or whatever) list.”

Here is the truth. If lists didn’t matter people wouldn’t talk about them, good or bad. Do you talk about lists? Of course, this doesn’t apply if you are one of the top-ranked guitarists of all time.

2) Jason Werth is the Dude

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For those that don’t follow baseball, Jason Werth is the wild bearded zen leader of the Washington Nationals. Watch him speak, and you’ll be struck by his calm manner, matter of fact comment, and his slang/poor English, all of which reminds of The Dude. That’s right, The Big Lebowski. Go ahead and make your own determination.

3) What Did That Get You?

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A few years ago I won the top Twitter personality in DC according to a Washington Post poll (see #1 above), and called my Dad to tell him. He said, “That’s great, Geoff. What did that get you?” I still don’t know.

4) Be Visual

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We’re working on our website and trying to develop something new that will really stand out. It occurs to me if we really are in a visual media era, then we cannot talk about visual, per say. We need to be visual. Practicing vs preaching.

5) Doubling Down on DC

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There was a lot of great feedback about last week’s Capitol Communicator announcement that in addition to my building Tenacity5, I am supporting their team as a media strategist. Phil and Paul have done a great job with the product and the Summits. It’s an honor, and rather than blog here and create entities to help the local community this seemed like an easier path. More than 80% of Tenacity5’s business is in the DC area, so it only made sense to double down.

6) If No One Takes Responsibility Everyone Loses

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There is plenty of blame going around these days for wrong conversations and content. But if no one takes responsibility for their own actions and participation, then the only winner is Anonymous. That dastardly crowd-sourced villain does everything today. And the cycle of wrongness continues.

7) Distractions

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I wrote two Facebook posts last month, one on LinkedIn becoming spammy, the other on real-time marketing off of Robin Williams death. Both were complaints, distractions and wasted my (and others’) time. They reminded me that energy and time spent on negative issues that don’t really impact me is energy and time lost. Plus such actions lead to a lack of mindfulness in speech, something I continue to work on.

8) The Super Moon

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The final Super Moon of the year is next week and I will be in Cleveland for Content Marketing World. I wonder what I will miss during that two hour window when I am photographing the moon as it rises over Cleveland.

That’s it really. I have a couple more, but will save them for another round some other day.

Care to comment? Or, what’s going on with you?

Can Data Control Provide Ease of Mind?

Most Internet users have significant privacy concerns when it comes to their personal information and location data. There is good reason: An incredible 82 percent of apps access user data, and 80 percent can share location data.

In a bid to get more people to use their sites, app providers and websites are providing new control mechanisms. This next generation of apps address the lack of safety presented by open data. Will it work?

The privacy problem is typified by the wildly successful Tinder dating app. The secret behind Tinder’s success is its simplicity, but the app has stated a roadmap where Tinder users can locate each other in the same room. Further complicating matters is Tinder’s ability to send user data (gleaned from Facebook) to third parties, including sexual preferences.

Other dating apps like SinglesAroundMe are giving end-users control through new features like Position-Shift. Position-Shift lets people show where they are, hide themselves, or even shift their location to mask their exact whereabouts.

Facebook launched its own location app last week; the Nearby Friends service. Like many new apps on the market, Nearby Friends lets users locate their connections via mobile phone. To ease stalking concerns, Facebook is touting a double opt-in, and forces users to select a level of friends from small custom groups to friends. Friends of friends and public listings are not an option.

Life360 offers a different take on location, allowing people to share information with select small groups. The ideal user group is families. The application developer is so security focused calls itself a red state app offering. The company has successfully garnered more account sign-ps than most of its competitors, but does not report active users.

Will Self Regulation Be Enough?

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While apps are moving towards empowering users with more privacy control, it may not be enough. Location and personal data conerns have attracted attention in Congress. Senator Al Franken reintroduced his Location Privacy Protection Act to close legal loopholes that allow stalking applications to exist on smartphones.

A different set of app developers are creating mechanisms to alert smartphone users when an app is rooting their phone for data. Even enigmatic tech tycoon John McAfee released DCentral1, an app that lets you audit the permissions on your Android phone, and monitor how your data is being leaked.

These new “privacy control-only” apps reveal significant weaknesses in the iOS and Android platforms. In the end, the apps may force smartphone operating system developers Apple and Google to give stronger controls to the end-user.

It seems fair to say that the days of simple check-in apps like Foursquare are ending, at least beyond a very basic public level. As more application developers provide different levels of privacy control, users will become aware of not only the available security measures, but also the general public’s vulnerability to data leaks.

How app users respond to these developments remains to be seen. The more personal the app is, the more likely end-users will demand robust data security.

What do you think?

Freaking Out About Surveillance at SXSW

The topic of surveillance threaded the general conversation at the SXSW Interactive Festival this year. From live video keynotes by the exiled Julian Assange and Edward Snowden to ever present sensor enabled wristbands and a surprising amount of people wearing Glass, privacy — caused by sensors, data, and the Internet-powered applications they empower — found its way into the very pores of the conference.

As a result, the always-on quantified self created a bit of a freak-out amongst attendees. Almost every conversation I had touched on this topic.

First, let me say it was refreshing to see social media and marketing take a supporting role at SXSW as the conference moved to discuss larger trends in the interactive sector. Clearly, the movement towards an omnipresent Internet creates dramatic implications for society and businesses beyond extrapolating personal data to deliver contextual marketing.

It was ironic to see everyone wearing sensors and discussing the latest personal data-driven app, while they conveyed concerns about societal. Those fears included stalking, government and corporate abuse of data, personal privacy (will your Fitbit report your bedside activity?), and the impact on self identity caused by constantly being on.

Yet, most of us felt that while valid, the sensor train has already left the station. We move about our lives vaguely knowing the tech we love is disrupting our own privacy and security, and ignoring the consequences. People may value their privacy, yet they strap on their fitness band or allow access to personal data via social networks, mobile phones, sign-ups and web browsers.

Perhaps it was the Snowden and Assange video keynotes that caused the underlying meme. Invariably, when conversations begin about on these topics people become concerned.

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Having attended (and walked out of) the Assange session and seeing what Snowden said, the two keynote speeches struck me as the self-justifying rants of sociopaths. The exiled self-proclaimed defenders of the public interest seem to need the attention, and enjoyed the audience. It is clear Assange and Snowden think they are above the law, and have no remorse for the certain deaths their actions have caused.

I am not saying that the societal impact of surveillance by friends, family, co-workers and government is not a worthy topic. People are rightly concerned.

BUT surveillance is a government, corporate and personal action that has been occurring since the beginning of civilization. Discussion of spies can be found as far back as Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The medium creates the current manifestation of data and video surveillance. It’s no surprise that governments are collecting and sharing data, while pressuring companies to open their information repositories.

Unrestrained corporate actions leveraging personal data are not a surprise either. We live in a free capitalist economy that influences the government with lobby or special interest dollars.

No Restraint with Personal Technology

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My reaction to a full explanation of sensor-driven personal data.

What is surprising is our personal lack of restraint about data and privacy. We treat it like we treat the environment. There is no personal valuation or action to address the situation even though we fear the worst.

Yet when surveillance in this new digital world order is discussed, we freak out. That is ironic given the larger context. In reality, the fear is self-centered. We don’t like the thought of our little wrongs and guilty pleasures becoming easily accessible to others via the Internet.

Vulnerability is not openly embraced by a vast majority of people.

In the social media era, we saw ourselves, good and bad. In the end, we saw the ugly side of human nature. Perhaps we’re not ready to see even more of the bad openly served to the digital public thanks to our various personal technologies.

Yet, you have to think that such exposure would be bad business for many of the companies involved. Who wants an app that’s going to out them at every corner? Of course, if you live an honest life this is not an issue.

In addition, this is an issue of the moment, and for the older generation. The next generation, the children of today, will grow up in this world. It won’t even bother them.

What do you think?

Breaking Up Google

It may be time to break Google up. At a minimum, the Justice Department should consider taking up antitrust action against Google again.

The search monopoly impacts almost every part of the Internet, from content creation to email to data collection. Every small change it makes creates far-reaching ripples.

Google takes these actions to drive revenue for its advertising products. Revenue is derived from a wide array of advertising properties, including search, YouTube, ads in products like Gmail, and the far reaching AdWords network.

So what’s the hubbub about? Consider how the company uses data sourced from Google+, Android phones, Chrome browsers, organic searches and soon its sensors (via the Nest acquisition) to customize ads. Contextual and creepy at the same time, Google uses all of the data collected from products to serve the ad beast, which in turn suggests products from paying partners.

In doing so, Google pushes the boundaries of fair data use. Further, whenever it alters its search algorithms, Google creates tidal waves across the media industry, and impacts every single business with an Internet presence. Because of Google’s size, every business owner and media publisher must at a minimum pay attention to these changes, if not yield to them.

Google, The Data Bully

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Image by Charles Ovens

Consider how Google pressures sites and companies to provide their data for free. When content owners and publishers say no, Google often replicates the data or it launches a competive product to replicate the creation of that data. This basically tells every data owner to you open their database to Google, or face competition from the Silicon Valley giant. Don’t be evil, indeed.

In many ways, Google’s creation of Google+ sought to replace paid access to Twitter and other social network sites that bar public search crawls. By making Google+ and Google Authorship components of its search algorithm, Google forced Plus upon content publishers and website owners. As a result, Google+ is actively marketed by millions of websites across the globe.

What would happen if the Justice Department acted and demanded that Google pay its competitors, and that Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn social data received equal weight in Google searches?

I’ll tell you what. Most content publishers would stop trying to make Google+ work. A vast majority of those G+ social buttons across the social web would disappear like outdoor Christmas lights retired in the midst of January.

Google+ would collapse. And maybe it should.

In its quest to ensure data quality and drive more revenue, Google consistantly pushes the boundaries of privacy. The list of privacy violations is significant (scroll to the end of this Huffington Post piece). You have to wonder what’s going to happen with data from Glass and Nest.

The search algorithm changes impact every media and business across the world with an Internet presence. You can see the panicked Hummingbird, Penguin and Panda update posts that dominated the marketing and publishing interwebs over the past two years.

Last year Google deployed filtered emails based on keywords and data to create a less spammy email experience. Even Gmail filter changes impacted millions of people and businesses alike. I wonder how many companies have to pay to have their products seen in email ads now? Personally, I’ve had a few emails unnecessarily buried by the new tabs.

With many of these actions, Google forces content creators and site publishers to choose between SEO and smart business. Consider the placement of no follow links in press releases and now guest blogs. Now you can’t transfer Google juice in what should be common sense business activities.

I value organic growth by attracting people to my site more than I care about search algorithms. So I tend to ignore some of the finer points (keyword placement, no follow links on guest blogs I accept, etc.) in favor of a good read, but Google’s changes make me consider each tactic.

Case in Point: Guest Blogs are More than SEO

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I read Google Web Spam Leader Matt Cutt‘s arguments last week to eliminate guest blog links from Google’s search algorithm. While I am certain Google sees more blog spam than the average person does, the recommendation to cease guest blogging is a flawed one.

In particular these statements were erroneous: “Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way any more.”

Though Matt reversed his statement a bit with an amended title and a footnote at the end, this needs to be said loud and clear: Guest blogging is more than SEO.

Guest blogging is an attempt to introduce yourself (or a brand) and garner credibility with new audiences, the virtual road show if you would. In trade, you provide quality content. Even a respected author understands that.

Let me give you some examples:

I wrote a novel call Exodus last year that’s still realtively new. So I guest blogged last Wednesday on To Read, or Not to Read about the possibility of technology destroying us. It was a fun post that delved into post-apocalyptic narration and world building as storytelling devices. It also introduced the book to new audiences.

Then last Thursday I blogged about the coming Zombie Content Apocalypse on Copyblogger. Copyblogger is one of the top blogs in my business. It is always a great opportunity to offer a guest by-line there.

In both cases I delivered unique content to the sites. I believe the original content was useful and interesting to those communities. As a result, I gained a few new followers and contacts from these efforts.

If you told me I would be penalized by Google before I drafted the posts, it wouldn’t have stopped me. Guest blogs and articles remain a strong tactic. That is true with or without Google’s blessing.

This type of situation seems to happen with Google monthly, if not more frequently. And that is the problem with the Internet giant. Small moves create massive waves when you have all the power.

Google Is Threesome

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So how should Google be broken up? Personally, I think Google should be broken up into three companies to create a fairer Internet ecosystem.

The first is the search engine itself as a stand-alone product. When tied to other content elements on the Internet, Google search achieves insurmountable economies of scale. Google tends to leverage search, its various sepearate content mechanisms, and its software (Chrome and Android) for unfair advantages, most notably data mining and the weighting of Google+ in its search algorithm.

The second company would be software products, from Gmail to Android. Also included in this second company would be YouTube, Chrome, Feedburner, and other application elements. In many ways, search is search, and company x is content. We will call this company Google2.

Google3 would be comprised of the hardware companies. Glass, Motorola and Nest would be form Google3. Why seperate these companies from the group? Google clearly uses data to its advantage. Creating and acquiring new devices to capture data seems to be an evolving pattern here, and one that leads to a slippery slope. Separation creates a forced check and balance.

So there you have it, my vision for a safer Internet sans the Google Empire. Much like AT&T, the Baby Bells, and Lucent Technologies in the post telecom divestiture era, the three Google companies would all be very powerful in their own right.

Google Pays to Avoid Trust Busting

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Like other big business lobbies, Google will likely avoid action or penalities for leveraging all of its business powers. Google pays to make sure its agenda is at the forefront of DC legislators’ and administrators’ minds. There are too many dollars at stake.

Washington, DC is a town built on special interest dollars. We all know this; the money involved is a central problem in today’s political gridlock.

Google was the largest tech lobbying company in DC in 2013 with $14 million spent. Ironically, this is a significant decrease over the prior year when Google faced antitrust action.

Though Google may be too powerful, it would take significant public outcry for Washington to act. Google knows the game and plays the system on every corner. We will have to continue dealing with Google’s data manipulation and Internet tactics.

It could be worse. While often overbearing in its moves, at least Google realizes that it can only grow by committing to better search, less spam, and useful information and data products. While I advocate for Google’s breakup, I’d much rather see this management team operating with these economies of scale as opposed to Facebook’s executives. That would be dangerous indeed.

What do you think? Should the government break Google up? Is the company too powerful?

Featured image via The Digital Reader. Capitol Building photo taken by me.

Robert Scoble on Data, Algorithms and the Future of Marketing

Robert Scoble on Data, Algorithms and the Future of Marketing

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have written a defining book for the big data marketing automation era, the Age of Context (read my review). The two teamed on similar book in the early social media days called Naked Conversations that accurately predicted the forthcoming impact on business.

Given their many successes over the years and the powerful ideas in Age of Context, Geoff decided to interview successful blogger Robert Scoble for Vocus. You’ll find an insightful interview on marketing, media and society as a whole.

GL: What prompted you to write the book?

RS: Rackspace pays me to interview innovators, usually startup founders,
but also people who are doing leading edge work inside big companies. Back in early 2012 I saw a bunch of new patterns, due to that work. Sensors were increasing exponentially. So were social data, big data, and wearables. That led to discussions with Shel and eventually to the book, “Age of Context.”

GL: Will the age of context last longer than the age of conversation?

RS:Yes, I think so. Why? Because I’m seeing sensors inside R&D labs that won’t be able to be productized or perfected for consumer market for eight years or more.

GL: Context seems to be about taking the data from sensors, phones, location, etc. and creating useful offerings and information from that data. You discuss this as precision marketing. How important are data skills for marketers +today and +tomorrow?

RS: Well, the big trend is that we’ll need to know 100x more about our customers than we do today. So, yes, data skills are huge. But so are skills in building systems that use that data in a non-freaky way. If I walk into your business and you know everything about me you could easily freak me out, or miscast me and serve me poorly. So we’ll need humans to make sure that the databases don’t enable poor customer service too.

GL:What’s the best way to learn how to analyze data?

RS: The companies at the leading edge have people skilled at machine
learning. That’s what I learned when I visited Prismatic, which is a news service. Learning how to do what those very advanced people are doing? Very hard. Probably requires going to Stanford and getting a computer science degree. But you can start to think about data analysis — watch what journalists do with data and start learning how
to push around data in databases.

Gary Vaynerchuk says he built a database of everyone who tweeted about him. That seems to be a good place to start. Do you know who is tweeting about you or your competitors? If you don’t, then you need to get there and get there
fast (in my industry we already have teams of people and specially-written software to do that, so I have to be far more
advanced than that to keep ahead).

GL:What outcome do you see for communicators who can’t/won’t learn data analysis?

RS: When we wrote Naked Conversations eight years ago we predicted a world where marketers would have to be on social media otherwise they would limit their career opportunities. That absolutely has happened today. The best marketers are on social media and/or run teams that do it.

Tomorrow? If you don’t know your customer in very deep detail you will be run out of the marketing world. Why? Because customers will tend to go to where they are being served better. Uber will beat taxis unless taxis respond. Why? Uber knows its customers in far deeper detail than taxi companies do (down to the point of knowing where you are standing
in the street before they arrive).

GL:You touched on the importance of permission in the 12th chapter on privacy. What’s the future of permission?

RS: I look at Uber. I gave it permission to know a LOT about me, even where I’m standing and my phone number. Why? Because I get a LOT of utility out of that. So, the future is “give utility first, then ask
for permission.” In the book Marc Andreessen calls this “free ice cream.” People will hand over their private details in exchange for a metaphorical free ice cream. I agree.

GL:I remember giving the DNC permission to email me, and I still get spammed despite opting out from their lists numerous times. Is giving permission really just the death of “quiet?”

RS: Google and Apple are working on contextual operating systems. These will know what you are doing. Who you are doing it with. Are you in a meeting? Google knows, it’s on your calendar. So it can shut up any of these lame advertisements. In fact, look at the new Gmail. That DNC email already is going to the promotional folder. It knows about the context of that email and that it’s not from a trusted friend. So, no, I think context is the rebirth of quiet. You’ll get these kinds of messages when you want or need them, not earlier.

Marketers will need to learn to be far better about serving these messages out, too. In a perfect world the DNC would add a feature to its emails like Facebook has “show fewer of these messages” or “show these messages only during
the month before an election” or something like that. But marketers don’t think about customer service so Google will force the issue, just as it has with Gmail’s promotional folder that removes this kind of stuff from the inbox.

GL:What about algorithms? What happens if someone is “abnormal” and breaks the routine assumptions of an algorithm. Will they break the machines, so to speak? Will they be forced to conform to an algorithmic path?

RS: The system is crude right now. It won’t work for everyone. My son is autistic. He isn’t able to give these systems enough of a pattern for them really to serve him. Well, I take that back. He already loves YouTube and Netflix and both keep serving him more videos that are associated with the ones he already likes. He loves that feature.

I don’t see these things “breaking.” I do see them as serving back poor choices. For instance, when using Saga last year, it kept telling me about golf services. Why? I live on a golf course but I hate golf. It didn’t have a way to correct it. These early attempts will seem quite quaint in a few years. The better ones are correctable. I’m also finding that I’m changing MY behavior because of these systems.

Why? I put addresses on all my Google Calendar items now, for instance. That’s because the newer apps like Google Now and Tempo work better when I do that.

GL:Is the ultimate luxury of the future going dark?

RS: The ultimate luxury of the future is to have exclusive experiences that demand your full attention. Burning Man is one that a lot of my rich friends say is pretty great. High demand sports like skiing or surfing are others (try skiing while looking at your smartphone or even the wearable computer in your Oakley ski goggles — I’ve tried and it’s impossible, but once the run is down everyone reaches for their digital devices).

Even with Burning Man I noticed that lots of people were using Waze to get up there and using photo sharing services and social networks to keep in touch back home, even though far lighter than usual.

But, yes, a real “vacation” for your mind is to go dark and discover new experiences. Once you get home, though, you’ll retrain your contextual systems pretty quickly. Say you go to Bali for three weeks. Try a lot of new food. Discover you like sushi. Well, when you get home you will start looking for sushi restaurants.

GL:What do you think the impact will be on thinking? Will we be limited because the machine suggests outcomes for us?

RS: Do you remember phone numbers anymore? I don’t. Our thinking has already been changed by modern machines. In the future we will have to remember less of even more things in our lives. Even how to drive. But
that will give us more time to spend our mental energy on other things. Maybe watch another TED video and learn something new? So, I’m not worried that we’ll get to be dumb. We’ll use these technologies to make our lives better and we’ll spend our mental energies in areas the machines aren’t good at.

This interview originally ran on the Vocus blog.

Big Brother Won and We Loved It

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Image by estacey

The deployment of technology and media to successfully capture the Brothers Tsarnaev remains a subplot in the incredible Boston Marathon bombing manhunt.

Closed circuit television, triangulating cell phone signals, rapid identification, calls to the public for help through mass media, and civic reporting (including family members) used to hunt men in the streets is the stuff of dystopian science fiction. Really, it’s the Orwellian nightmare of Big Brother realized.

The public loved it. Fears allayed, justice to be served, lives resumed.
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