A French Suggestion

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In a news day ranging from Oprah Winfrey putting in a bid to buy the Clippers to the south east of our country enjoying weather straight out of a Roland Emmerich movie it’s the story out of Oklahoma that gives me most pause. In case you missed it, it’s the gruesome tale of a botched intravenous line which turned a new lethal injection drug into cruel and unusual punishment.

I love this country but man do we like killing guys. To be more accurate we like killing mostly black guys aged between 18 and 30 in a handful of God fearing flyover states. The guy who was incompetently poisoned yesterday (until a massive heart attack finished him off) was guilty of a horrible crime…as was the other guy whose sentence was delayed while the powers that be went back to their lethal drawing board. It’s an apparently irrefutable fact that the guys on the gurney yesterday are best monsters who had it coming…but at what point does a civilized society say enough?

Part of the problem is that the preferred source of the lethal cocktail is no longer available it was manufactured in Switzerland and the manufacturers were unable to assure Swiss authorities that it would not be used to kill people so they quit making it forcing the prison authorities to the lethal equivalent of making it up as they go along.

Where I come from back in the day we used to hang folks for pretty much anything….we also used to burn cats alive for entertainment (I kid you not) and bait bears. As our society “matured” we still hung ’em high but on a declining basis. The last people to go to the noose in the UK were executed in 1964. Even then the public appetite for hanging was waning and the pretty clear mistaken execution of James Hanratty in 1962 set the path towards abolition. Most other European countries followed suit although France was still using the guillotine as late as 1977…the French are famously fond of tradition and never believe in changing a winning solution to a problem.

Clearly a good handful of US states are keen to maintain the death penalty in spite of the fact that it offers no proven deterrence, is heavily skewed towards poor young men of color, it’s becoming more and more difficult to do in a clean “humane” way and fairly often kills the wrong people. If we are determined to keep the death penalty because we see it as divine retribution (or some such) and the rest of the civilized world is making it hard or impossible for us to get hold of the drugs needed for us to do it quietly behind closed venetian blinds maybe we should take a different approach.

Old Sparky is still on the agenda in some states but rather than risk slowly frying the condemned alive I was thinking that we might want to take a leaf out of the French play book. Back in revolutionary France there were real concerns about the spectacle of poor folks being bludgeoned to death on the wheel or unceremoniously hacked to bits by an often drunk axe man when the rich and nefarious were given a swift death with a single blow from a sober swordsman. Dr. Guillotine proposed a mechanized clean death to be delivered to all offenders regardless of their rank or privilege. It was a huge success. The technology was still working back in 1977 and no pesky Swiss government will be able to stop us from carrying it out our beloved executions. We could even sell tickets. If that sounds absurd…why does it? It’s a clean reliable instant death…if we are going to kill hundreds of young men each year let’s at least do it in a humane reliable way…vive la France!

Android Trying For Cool (Again)

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Although at one point in my life my business cards actually said “Apple Evangelist” and I do have seven Apple products in my house I don’t think of myself as being one of the Apple Borg members. I couple of years ago I gave up in disgust on Android phones and took up with iPhone and it’s been a long love affair ever since. The best Android phone I ever had by far was the Google G1. It came out in 2008 and I was an early adopter. It was well made, worked with my car (at the time it was G1, iPhone or nothing) and well designed. The subsequent Androids I had were a long slide into clumsy ugly boated garbage. Google has had a weird relationship with phone hardware ever since….and it’s about to get weirder.

There is an inherent tension between Google (who makes Android) and the makers of hardware which runs on Android. Google wants it clean, pure and if possible covered in ads from Google, the other hardware guys want to make it special for their users often by lathering on so many whistles and bells that actually using it as a phone becomes a problem. Google has tried to square this circle several times by buying Motorola, releasing the Nexus tablet/phone and other whacky phone ideas like the recent design your own phone from a kit venture also from Motorola. What they have been sorely lacking is the cool factor.

Android is essentially open source, so phone manufacturers can play to their hearts content producing in many cases cheap but ugly or expensive but ugy phones. If you want cool you still really need an iPhone. The comedic effect is enhanced by the fact that Apple post Jobs really hasn’t done that much to make the iPhone much better….Android is lagging all through their own efforts. Don’t get me wrong…Android is a statistical success outselling iOS handily. It’s just that the horrible job being done by manufacturers using it is clearly driving Google nuts.

In an attempt to get their cool on again Google is planning to scrap their existing Google made and branded Nexus handsets and launch a new line of Google Silver Branded phones. These will probably not be manufactured by Google (the likes of HTC will likely be paid handsomely to do the work) but they will be very closely controlled by Google. In addition to actually useful stuff like water proofing (finally!) and real voice control, Google will rule with a rod of iron what can and can’t go on the phone as delivered. Gone will be the bloated heaps of OEM software designed to enrage en users. Instead Android Silver will be super fast, elegant and perhaps actually cool again. This will likely turn the heat up on Apple to take the iPhone somewhere new, interesting and even more cool….can’t wait.

Tainted, Shamed and Unrepentant?

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I was at a Tech Conference recently and I enjoyed an entertaining session about reputation management.  The speaker was expert and erudite, one of his strongest takeaways was whilst you can mitigate somewhat how your reputation is seen reputation management won’t change the fundamentals. If you are a mean company who only puts up with customers and really thinks we are all there for your exploitation no amount of reputation management can fix that.
We have seen recent examples where very public mismanagement of self inflicted wounds rapidly developed into a social media circus. As I type we are witnessing the well deserved public destruction of the owner of the LA Clippers. That a curmudgeonly old coot who was “dating” a mid 20s gold digger could be taped by her saying bad things about the very people of color who have made him rich and successful is interesting…but this guy has been found guilty on several occasions of racial discrimination in property letting. That’s a serious offense which he has been fined for. It happened before social media so that apparently gets a pass. If we are going to hold folks like Donald Sterling responsible for socially foul actually illegal acts of discrimination he should have been drummed out of the NBA years ago.
An even more spectacular example of reputation management not being enough to cover real sins happened last week when an unidentified genius at the New Your Police Department asked the public to post pics of them interacting with members of the police.  The only people surprised by the avalanche of pics of police people beating up abusing and generally manhandling members of the public they were supposed to be serving and protecting were the police themselves. It’s shocking that they honestly though that we the people might want to post smiling pics of happy citizenry with jovial cops.
I live in SoCal where the police are what amounts to an occupying army. There are daily stories of the acts of abuse,stupidity and over reach perpetrated by the local police on we the occupied people. Yesterday I watched from the sidewalk as two motorcycle cops in perfect uniform complete with reflective sunglasses purred in perfect harmony along one of my neighborhood streets. As they past me and my dogs the both glanced (again in harmony) in my direction…it was a frankly scary moment (and I’m a middle aged white guy). The SoCal Cops don’t ask questions they empty their guns….as do the New York Cops. The difference is that nobody in the corridors of power in SoCal is dumb enough to pull the same stunt…they know they are widely loathed and are apparently at peace with that.
The problem with social media (as has been discovered by several dictators who have been recently over thrown by their people who used it to inspire, inform and organize) is that it’s not owned or controlled by the government. It’s not possible for the mayor to lean on Facebook or Twitter to play down a story or bury a lead. In the same way that.
In the same way that a bad plumber or purveyor of tainted meat can try to mask their bad acts with carefully placed positive reviews so our governments and their hench-folk can attempt to put the social Jin back in the bottle…fortunately for us it’s already too late for that.

Your New Cable Company : Google

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The US is an interesting place. When I first started visiting I was always somewhat confused to find that things like banks, police and schools are run at a surprisingly local level. In the UK there are really only 5 banks serving all 60 million people in the US there are close to 7,000 banks serving 300 Milion. The same goes for TV and radio stations many more per city than the UK equivalents. Other areas in there is much less choice. You are probably limited to perhaps a couple of cable companies who have of In recent years we have seen the cable giant’s go from just being the gatekeepers for TV to essentially controlling out TV telephone and Internet with all the premium content that goes with it.

What is justifiably scaring the cable guys to death is the end user driven movement to “cut the cable”. Folks are just sick to death of paying hundreds of dollars a month to cable giants for content they don’t want and never use. Whilst it’s been reasonably easy for folks to figure out that they really don’t need a home land line (I know literally nobody with one…everyone lives on their cells) historically it’s been harder to dump the cable company in favor of Netflix Amazon Prime and Hulu+ when it’s the cable company providing online access.

Here’s where Google could play a role. For a good while there have been various rumors circulating that Google has been buying up “dark fiber” (that’s not a bond villain) The theory is that they want to get into the business of supplying high speed internet access to households and WiFi to entire cities. As with everything tech San Francisco will get first bite at the cherry but here are 34 other cities in addition to the couple already hooked up who appear to be on the fast track to get Google Fiber. Add to that the ChromeCast device which let’s users enjoy premium services like Netflix on their big screens without any cable company interruption it’s not too hard to see an emerging plan. If you wanted to get a little further ahead of the curve imagine a world where the searches you made on Google are used to individualize content or commercials to every device you run on your Google powered wifi network. Once again Google offers us cool and creepy in the same package. The difference here is that this could save the average household thousands a year with only the cable companies feeling any pain.

Google+ Minus one Boss

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It’s too easy to make Google+ much like the kid with bad breath who really wants to get into the cool kids dorm. The popular ding against it is that people go there to create a presence then never go back. The reason it gets any traction is simply put it’s a Google product and if you use many or most of the other parts of the Google empire you pretty much have to have a G+ presence. Google+ has grown rapidly (over 500 million “users” each month) but with the kind of growth that the IRS might claim when they say they “impressed and surprised” by how many people actually filled tax returns by April 15th…We have to do that why be surprised?  Having said that nothing says you have to go there and actually do very much.The majority of people who I know use it, use it as an automatic second or third post location after Facebook and Twitter. Continue reading

Truth and Consequences

It’s fascinating to see how the escalation of social media is driving so much of our public conversation. A cursory walk through some of today’s lead stories illustrates how dumb people can be and how quickly social media can facilitate retribution. The best recent example has to be from our favorite group of Islamic terrorists Al Qaeda. A week or so back they released footage of their spring jamboree complete with AK47s and death to the US chanting. At the time there was a great hue and cry about how weak this made the US look etc…the blog sphere lit up and nearly burnt down. My reaction was “wow…it’s like they have never heard of drone strikes.” Sure enough a week later hell fire and damnation was rained down on them. Whether we actually hit any of the same bad guys isn’t mentioned in any of the reports I’ve seen, but as a very public rejoinder to the very public nose thumbing it’s pretty near perfect. I’ll lay you dimes to donuts that at some point someone in or very near the White House picked up the phone and complained about the mockery they were getting on Twitter. Interestingly the US government has recently been reaching out to members and supporters of terrorist groups through their online presences. It’s a kind of virtuous trolling where although we don’t negotiate with terrorists we will engage in hearts and mind wars on Twitter and Facebook.

At a much smaller scale but at an even more monumental level of stupidity a mother who was pretty mad at her 11 year old for claiming gangster status on Facebook went to the trouble of recording the 60 stroke 6 minute belt beating she administered to discourage that kind of claim….then posted it to her Facebook….no I couldn’t believe it either. Social services and the police descended in close to real time.

Last week a 14 year old Dutch girl thought it would be hilarious to issue a bomb hoax to American airline via Twitter, which of course prompted phalanxes of knuckleheads to do likewise…all of which received the proverbial knock on the door from the men in black. The lunatic (or performance artist….you choose) who staged “a performance event” in Boston on the anniversary of the Boston bombing was identified and arrested the moment the people who observed his art posted the videos online.

It’s not widely appreciated that what we think of anonymous social media is actually far from that. Although Twitter has a policy of not sharing information unless served with the appropriate legal docs the Airlines have no such qualms…nor do any governmental organizations who might be targets for such pranks. In the general swim of things you are pretty free to complain about flights, airline food or your government online behind which ever handle or username you care to.  You can be mocking snide or offensive…on the Internet nobody knows you are a dog. However the moment you diverge from the norm and start issuing threats or home videos of child beating or an Al Qaeda rally you can be reasonably confident that the same security forces who would otherwise be hard pressed to find their assembly instructions in the dark with a flashlight and both hands, with the help of social media, will show up with a search warrant or drone strike. It’s both slightly terrifying and almost poetic.

Google’s Morning After

Yesterday Google announced results which weren’t quite as pant splittingly fabulous as the markets may have hoped and were pounded into dust accordingly…well slipped 3%…but who’s counting?  We can imagine the brilliant young things in Mountain View sobbing into their organic margaritas as they commiserate about the vagaries of the Markets. Their profits remain fabulous and growing but they are having to work harder to keep ahead. The received wisdom is that the revenue they make for every click continues to slide because we the end users have migrated to mobile devices much quicker than the the advertisers have been able to move their technology and their ad budgets to mobile.

That’s clearly true, what’s also happening is the continuing trend against advertising in general. As an advertising guy who fundamentally doesn’t like advertising  I have raged against the hand that feeds me for years. I was raised by the BBC which continues to be a gloriously a- free zone. I pay the premiums to get HBO, Starz, Hulu+, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sirius and now Podcasting….you name it….any platform which will deliver quality content without stupefying interruption I’m there. Mobile devices are practically much harder to slather with advertising than desktop and the advertising on them can be splendidly easy to ignore….so we do.

What’s interesting is that for advertisers looking to reach buyers who have a time crunch or some kind of local need mobile advertising outperforms desktop by orders of magnitude.  Google has recognized this by quickly taking away our ability to target mobile only and requiring that we pay a 300% premium if we want mobile only clicks. So ironically mobile advertising is both cheaper than the norm for the big box advertisers like Amazon or BestBuy who would rather talk to the end user on larger real estate where they can lead them through their typical buying process (fill this out…click here…add credit card here etc) and super expensive for folks trying to reach customers who need a tow, a plumber or want to speak to someone about a replacement roof. The problem Google is experiencing is that there are many more large advertisers spending millions a month who haven’t yet transitioned to a fully mobile deployed solution.
Googles Chief Revenue Officer recently stated that Google sees mobile and local click prices rising dramatically as more advertisers get mobile. Until that happens they will continue to suffer a mobile hangover.

Excuse Me As My Blood Boils

 

Yesterday I was babbling on about Google’s recent acquisition of a drone company…which is a bit of a diversion from their traditional online advertising world which is where their actual revenue still comes from. Their recent forays into everything from modular cell phones to self driving cars (which are causing some concerns among financial pundits about their fiscal profligacy) prove that they have a strong appetite for both the long game and tech baubles. Meanwhile back on the farm where the sausage and the money actually gets made they continue to conduct trench warfare against their real enemy…their advertisers.
This rant is more than a little inside baseball…so you have my permission to move on to your next agenda item…but just because I can I’m going to rant. What makes me perhaps most mad is the sheer disingenuousness of this most recent development. Here’s what’s up:
For the longest time if your web page or search ad was clicked on Google would tell you two very interesting bits of data; the search term which led to the click and for ads, the exact keyword which drove the click you paid for. That was helpful for website writers (ie SEO) as it allowed insights into who is searching for what. It was doubly useful for advertisers because we could better target search terms which led to clicks which led to conversion. It’s been an open secret for a long while that Google is not a huge fan of SEO and does as little as it can to give SEO folks anything to work with so taking that that away from them made a grim kind of sense. However given that we the advertisers who actually pay the cash which lets them buy cool stuff like robot companies and drone manufacturers used that information to help us plan campaigns and spend money on Google you might think that sharing information which lets us spend more efficiently (and thus probably more over the long term) might be seen as a good thing. Not so fast there hos!
Nearly two years ago Big G started encrypting the search terms from anyone logged into to any Google product under the guise of protecting searchers privacy. At that point they were still passing the search term and key word…coz…hey money is money.
The other day Google announced that they are now encrypting the search term for paid clicks also.  They will allow you to get an overall list of search terms which overall drove the clicks you paid for but where the end user is logged onto any Google service or using a Google Chrome browser we have now lost the ability to attribute the search term to the click which drove the conversion. The fig leaf they hide this act of aggression against their life blood of advertisers is that it helps ensure end user privacy.  The same end users who are essentially anonymous anyway.
What this really does is make the job of the advertiser who is attempting to spend marketing dollars on search terms and keywords which do convert that much harder.  Fortunately we still have data from the non logged in minority and Bing isn’t playing these sorts of games….but it’s still super annoying. I get that Google is under pressure to keep the revenue solid even as the average per click price slips and the desktop, but doing it by simply making life even harder than it has to be for the people who are actually paying the bills seems a little short sighted.

Droning On

Drones are definitely the new black. In addition to them presenting a considerable increase in the tension levels at Al Qaeda pep rallies  Amazon is threatening to use them to deliver stuff we can’t wait an extra day to receive our stuff and now Google is buying into the game. Today they announced that they are buying Titan Aerospace.  You have to wonder why give the enormous tasks still to be completed at home why the Big G is laying out big bucks on drones. The answer is simple….poor people. Pretty much everyone in the “civilized” world has a phone (increasingly a smartphone) and the number of searches served on mobile devices has already outstripped desktops in the US chasing the same searchers in the eternal quest to squeeze the last cent out of an already saturated market is problematic. A solar-powered drone by Titan Aerospace. (Titan Aerospace photo)

It’s increasingly looking like the desktop PC may go the way of the copper landline.  We in the west carefully navigated the entire history of the telephone, it took us a century or more to suffer through the technology until we could just dispense with it altogether and go permanently mobile, I haven’t had a landline in five years. The emerging world has largely skipped copper altogether and gone wireless from day one.  In the same way we are rapidly and permanently abandoning the desktop. Tablets and smartphones do the majority of what we used to do on beige boxes, large parts of the world may get to be fully mobile, online and most importantly shopping without ever seeing a wired phone or a traditional PC.

Delivering the infrastructure to make this a reality explains the recent forays by the likes of Google and Facebook into wireless infrastructure. Whether it’s a balloon or an enormous drone covered in solar panels circling high above the earth the big players in our markets have big plans for the third world. As economies become strong enough to support ecommerce Google will be there providing the network to facilitate it. Yes, Google is of course positioning this a humanitarian initiative to bring a better life to millions.

It’s encouraging to think that one day all of humanity will be able to search on Google, exchange cat pics on Facebook and shop on Amazon. However one could be forgiven for posing the question Bill Gates did recently…if you are so focused on doing the greatest good for the greatest number…why aren’t you helping cure malaria? 

Google Glass Turning 2….But Still Sucking

About a million years ago (actually June 2004) I was invited by a dude I knew at Google to join an upstart email system called Gmail. It was in its infancy and 56 thousand emails later I’m still using that account. Of course now everybody has a Gmail account and Google reads our mail to target us with advertising.

Back then Google was a fraction of the behemoth it has become and it was kinda neat having an email address which was exactly what I wanted…no need to add a year of birth or similar to make the name unique.  Over the next couple of years they opened up the program to everyone and the rest is history. 

Google Glass turns two this week and it has been a quite different story. Even tho Google launched it two years ago it’s still in its “Ambassador” stage. That’s not entirely surprising as Google famously keeps products in “Beta” mode for much longer than most.  It does get tons of press (most of it controversial if not actively bad) sightings are rare and noteworthy and the prevailing opinion seems to be that Glass wearers are pretty much pariahs….I had a better word which rhymes with “brick head” Google themselves coined the term “Glasshole” for users without the social smarts to use the product appropriately.There are several things counting against Google Glass which are keeping it in Beta and may even doom it entirely.

Privacy:  Aside from the idiots who actually wore it in the locker room it is creepy to think that the guy over there with the Brooklyn hipster beard may be filming or photographing you without even the needing to pretend not to be.

Price: At $1,500 and holding it’s completely out of reach of all but the wealthiest of nerds and at least initially was only available to those invited to become “ambassadors” by Google. The result is that the only folks you ever see wearing them are early 30 somethings in silicon valley….as sub group who are rapidly becoming as popular are timeshare sales people at the airport in Mexico. We get it…you are rich and well connected.

Features: Put simply Glass is essentially an extension of your smart phone.  The battery life is pretty miserable and although there are cool thing it can do it’s tough to trade instant pariah status for those limited features.  Wearables at a much lower price point are rapidly becoming the new norm. At about $100 and available from Amazon you don’t need to be a founding member of SnapChat to join the game.

Although Google is amazingly wealthy and powerful the products it makes its money from are essentially both egalitarian and empowering…most folk don’t hate Google. Glass is a clear departure from that norm. Google’s other recent adventure into hardware the ChromeCast TV plugin priced at a very approachable $35 has been a huge hit and has sold millions.  The message is clear, cool and affordable beats cool and elitist every time.