Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
I have become a political junky of late. I’m sure I’m not alone but it’s getting worse. I’ve always been fairly interested but as a “damn foreigner” unable to vote my opinion never mattered. I have watched the GOP campaign with fascination turning into horror…and I can’t look away. I arrived in the US on a permanent basis about 20 years ago. As a Brit I had only a passing understanding of US politics but as I learned more much of it didn’t seem to make sense. Coming from a multi-party political system I was used to poor people grouping together to further their interests just as the wealthy band together to protect theirs. I was a kid during the Labor administrations of the 70s which led to coal strikes and power blackouts. As a lefty punk-rocking teen I watched in horror as Margaret Thatcher then Ronald Regan seized the reins of power. I understood what caused the backlash which led to Thatcher and I assumed it was similar in the US.
When I arrived here 16 years later we were in Clinton I and things looked pretty decent. Still some things didn’t make sense. Why were poor white people such fervent supporters of a party dedicated to furthering the interests of the rich and powerful? Why such a political fascination with women’s reproductive health….an issue which has been beyond politics in Europe for decades. What I was missing was the race factor. In the UK we have had racial problems of our own. Back in the 60’s there was a significant influx of people from the Caribbean countries which were parts of the Commonwealth. These people tended to jobs which Brits had no interest in but there were protests from the skinhead sector. In later years there were several waves of immigrants from India, Pakistan and Uganda. Each of these was met with some disruption but on the whole it was all fairly civilized. In more recent years the barriers to entry from Commonwealth countries have risen and the barriers to living and working for anyone in the EU have essentially been removed. As a Brit I could live and work freely anywhere in the EU….no papers required. This long history of immigrants settling and blending (to one extent or another) has routinely been met with racially based resistance from mostly white working class folk who see them as “taking our jobs” and “polluting the culture.” It was a vocal minority with extremists on the far right getting headlines rather than traction. We muddled along, we even replaced Fish and Chips with Curry as our national dish. People with limited education and job prospects were typically the most impacted but as immigrants (especially those from the Indian Sub-Continent) integrated and succeeded those complaints were less vocal. I have somewhat lost touch with the story back home now, but from what I can gather from regular visits these factors remain a concern but a manageable one. Europe has significant problems caused by the nightmare in Syria, globalization and automation has hit low skill jobs there too but none of that prepared me for the US.
I simply didn’t have a frame of reference for the kind of systemic endemic racism and resentment which haunts significant parts of the US zeitgeist. In 1865 the Brits were drinking tea and building an empire as the US tore its self apart. We don’t teach the US Civil War much in UK schools. We do cover slavery but since we outlawed it in 1833 and our economy was never as completely reliant on it as the US was it felt very remote. We didn’t have reconstruction, Jim Crow or the Civil Rights Movement. The political developments of recent years has been fascinating and shocking. The ascendency of “Mr.” Trump has been eerie to watch. To see the level of xenophobia, misogamy and good old fashioned racism which has driven his ascent is very disquieting. I realize I’m not breaking new ground here, but as a foreigner who has the advantage of being white and (passingly) educated who has come to love the US as I do, this is like discovering that the woman of your dreams was never really that into you and was cheating with her ex all the time. It makes you question what you thought you knew…it’s scary and sad. My profound hope is that if we stack all the liberals, all the LGBT folk, all the kinksters, all the immigrants who can vote, most of the people of color, most of the women and men who think rather than hate into one pile, that pile will be bigger than the pile of angry white men and bigoted white people who have found their perfect vehicle to protest history. I don’t know anybody who says they are voting for Trump but then I don’t know anyone who is openly racist or anti-female equality either. The privacy of the voting booth allows people to express their truth in secret. Am I optimistic?…yes, but I’m also scared.
It’s been a few months but I’m back in the blogging groove. There’s been a lot going on. We continue to make good progress growing our lead generation businerss based on search. The market continues to be complicated with Google dominating search. The strategy Google alluded to more than a year ago as a potential fix for their ever increasing query volume but ever decreasing average price per click seems to be paying off. Clicks targeting a product or service and a locality (think plumber San Diego) continue to climb. As you may know we focus on an ROI based approach where we purchase and manage exposure through our platforms and turn that exposure into results we get paid for. Search is central to that. Other media represent additional opportunity. Display advertising can now be readily targeted to locality but in our (and others) testing display has proved pretty disappointing in attracting end users who are looking for that specific product or service and are ready to “call now.” Social media is more encouraging and certainly more effective than straight display but again it lacks the immediacy of search. The traditional high bounty markets (insurance, home security health) remain strong but the major brands are getting increasingly sensitive to how and where they are exposed to media which again makes the right kind of targeting trickier than it used to be.
Against this changing and challenging background we have seen a couple of dramatic changes in our society which are overlapping into our world. As you probably noticed the US has acquired a significant new problem in prescription drug abuse leading to heroin addiction in many cases. More people are dying from drug overdose than road traffic accidents. It’s a fairly recent change and it’s one that has impacted a much wider range of Americans than the cliché drug addict. It’s a horrific and growing problem. The rules governing insurance were changed a couple of years ago with the goal of treating ‘behavioral health’ like any other chronic condition. If you ask any recovery facility how that’s working you will likely get a very angry answer. It’s not working well, yet…but it is better than it used to be with about 85% of recovery treatment costs being paid by insurers. What’s interesting here is that the entire process of finding the right kind of facility, matching it to the patients insurance and ability to cover any copayments is an arduous and time consuming mess. This industry is just about where hotels were ten years ago. The other point of note is that the process of finding help is done through search but transacted largely over the phone. People call facilities and facilities talk through their options. It’s search driven pay per call with very large bounties, much larger than traditional industries. We see this as a great fit for our platform and expertise and we are pursuing an initiative to address this rapidly expanding market. I’ll keep you posted on progress.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?