» Archive for August, 2012

Enjoy It While It Lasts: E-mail Overload to Resume Next Week

Thursday, August 30th, 2012 by David Goldes

Traffic resumes next week

In the last week of August, nothing seems to get done.  E-mail goes unanswered, meetings are rescheduled, even my local favorite coffee shop is empty as people sneak away for their vacations.

Indeed, last week, Jonathan Spira’s commentary in this space was a mere 83 words long as he rushed out for a holiday trip.

I enjoy this time of year, but therein lies the rub.  Starting next week, all those same people will be back at work and back in their inboxes, refreshed and flush with a sense of false urgency.

But do we really need to bring those stress levels back to normal?

While you think about it, I’m outta here…

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

Gone Fishin’ – For Information

Friday, August 24th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira
E-mail free: the Lake Neusiedl, Burgenland, Austria

E-mail free: the Lake Neusiedl, Burgenland, Austria

It’s August. The end of August. A Friday at the end of August, specifically.

The number of e-mails has declined dramatically as the number of people away from the office increases.

I practically shake my laptop to see if there are any new e-mails as so few are arriving this morning.

If nothing else, my experience, which I am told is not uncommon, does show that we do know how to disconnect.

And that’s what I am going to do right now…

(Picture: Jonathan Spira)

Limits on Recording Everything: Is the Genie Already Out of the Bottle?

Friday, August 17th, 2012 by Jonathan Spira

Ted Nelson, the inventor of hypertext, famously recorded numerous moments of his life on tape recordings, video, notepads, and the like.  Nelson, whose work in hypertext dates back to the early 1960s and coined the term, was not only ahead of his time in this respect but also in terms of documenting his own life (he claimed that his reason for doing so was his poor memory).

An article in the New York Times this past week called my attention to a white paper by John Villasenor, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and electrical engineer by trade, entitled Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments.

While Mr. Villasenor’s point-of-departure relates to the potential for governmental abuse, I was far more interested in the fact that he quantified what I had long suspected, namely that the cost of storage has dropped to the point where anything and everything can be recorded.

The fact that we can is interesting.  But this begs the question, should we?

Today, most individuals generate a vast amount of information each day.  Starting with our conversations and meetings, we move onto e-mail, text messages, social networks, website visits, and cameras.  Our activities, using a credit card, placing a phone call, or sending a text, create additional information (and record our location) on an ongoing basis.

Imagine if all of this were recorded centrally.

Mr. Villasenor estimates that merely storing the audio from a typical knowledge worker’s phone calls throughout a year would require 3.3 gigabytes and cost a mere 17 cents.  That figure, he points out, will drop to two cents by 2015.

Given his focus on authoritarian regimes, he points out that it would cost just $2.5 million to store one year’s worth of phone calls from every person above the age of 14 in Syria (which has a population of 15 million people over the age of 14).  While most of our readers are not planning to record the conversations of their fellow citizens, the $2.5 million figure is mind-numbingly low.

Clearly, things will not end with simply storing the data.  The question is what happens to the data afterwards.  We need to think of all the ramifications that will be the outcome of gathering it, including security and privacy.  Despite their limitations, today’s search tools are more than capable of finding multiple needles in haystacks of recordings.  The question that intrigues me, however, is, what will the impact on an already overloaded society be if and when we start to record our every movement.

Right now, doing so is a curiosity, something an eccentric such as Ted Nelson or a researcher at MIT can do but most mainstream knowledge workers couldn’t and wouldn’t.

There are numerous other issues here besides Information Overload, most prominent among them privacy and government overreach.  At the moment, since we’re at the very beginnings of gathering information on such a massive scale, society does not yet perceive this as a problem.  However, once we really start the ball rolling, we’ll most likely find that it’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

(Photo: Hannes Grobe)

Advertising to the Robots: Marketing Dollars Well Spent?

Thursday, August 9th, 2012 by Cody Burke
Facebook like button

The robot approves this message

Something strange is going on with social advertising. Two interesting stories in the past few weeks offer contrasting views: Google is buying social ad startup Wildfire, while in a different corner of the Internet, one company is pulling its social ads from Facebook after alleging that only 20% of clicks on its ads were from humans.

The optimistic view first. Google’s acquisition of software developer Wildfire will allow the company to deliver software and services to brands for running social marketing and ad campaigns on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Wildfire was Google’s second choice; the company bid on Buddy Media earlier this year but lost out to Salesforce. Interestingly, Wildfire only offers ads through its partner Adaptly, somewhat limiting the utility of the company’s offerings, although that is subject to change after the acquisition.

Google will enter the social ad space through the acquisition, and will be soon positioned to not only sell services on its own Google+ platform, but also to provide its customers with marketing tools that can be used on other companies’ platforms, which of course would include Facebook.

But back to the pessimistic view of social ads. Facebook has stumbled as of late, with its share price nearly 45% below its initial $38 per share IPO price on May 18. Concerns about slowing user growth and the lack of an effective mobile strategy are spooking investors. Just days before the IPO, General Motors pulled the $10 million it was spending on Facebook ads, citing a failure of the ads to impact consumer purchases.

Now, Limited Run, a music industry-focused e-commerce startup, is pulling its ads from Facebook as well. The company claims that, through running analytics of who is clicking on their Facebook ads, they have determined that nearly 80% of clicks are from automated bots, not real human potential customers. To experiment, Limited Run tried ad campaigns on various other social platforms and came up with the same results, only 15%-20% of clicks could be verified as coming from flesh and blood humans.

In July, the BBC conducted an experiment by setting up a fake company on Facebook, VirtualBagel. The BBC team set up some ads and then left it alone to see what would develop. Within 24 hours, the fake company had over 1,600 likes, and within a week, the company had 3,000. After analyzing the data, it was observed that the majority of the likes came from profiles of 13-17 year old Egyptians with suspiciously similar and sometimes outright contradictory profile information, indicating the presence of nonhuman profiles. For its part, Facebook admits that 9%, or ca. 54 million, of its profiles are fake, and that number is nothing to sneeze at in a market where every advertising dollar counts.

For Google, now entering directly into the social ad space, it is critical to not only solve the automated bot problem, but demonstrate the clear value of social ads. Social everything has been hyped beyond belief, and as we are seeing with the ill-fortunes of Facebook’s falling stock value, there may be some value in being anti-social, at least for advertising.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex. He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

Tweeting Away Your Vacation

Friday, August 3rd, 2012 by Jonathan Spira
cows in field

Even THEY get a vacation.

A vacation – at least as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary – is “a period of time devoted to pleasure, rest, or relaxation, especially one with pay granted to an employee.”

That means that, during a vacation, one takes a break from what is considered to be work the other 48-50 weeks a year.

A few years ago, people blogged – sometimes incessantly – about their vacations, typically after the fact. Now, people take their fans and followers along on the journey, a point somewhat driven home by a recent Wall Street Journal piece that focused on how those actively engaged in social media could not – in many cases – take a break.

As the article put it, “the chatter keeps flowing.”

There are two reasons for this, at least as far as the author of the piece was concerned:

  • Fans and followers won’t accept substitute tweeters and posters
  • So-called “power tweeters” risk losing traction with their readers

The problem is that, just as with information in general, the number of Facebook posts and tweets is growing by leaps and bounds. One or two posts may simply be the equivalent of a needle in a haystack and will simply go unnoticed.

Douglas Quint, a co-founder of Big Gay Ice Cream, has over 37,500 followers, many of whom want to know where his ice cream truck is on a given day. “We need to appear active,” Mr. Quint says. “We want to appear in people’s Twitter feeds once or twice a day.”

Soon, that may not be enough. As quantity increases, social media posters fight to be noticed. That may mean that, where once just a few posts per day sufficed, following that practice now might not even get one noticed.

Andrew Zimmern, who hosts a Travel Channel program called Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, tweets as often as 50 times a day to his 410,800 followers. But these numbers should give one pause: Using these figures as an example, Zimmern generates what amounts to 20.5 million discrete messages in a single day.

Who has time to follow someone who can post 50 messages a day? For that matter, who has time to post 50 messages a day? This article reminded me of one thing – why I’ve stayed away from Twitter. The temptation is great. It would be easy to get sucked in. But once that happens, I suspect it’s the opposite of a Roach Motel: messages go out but nothing meaningful comes in.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.