It’s all grey out there…

I am ashamed that I have confined my beloved blog site to the attic and haven’t contributed anything for a very long while, but life and all that has to take precedence.  Above all, I can’t get enthused with any of the latest technologies, as it seems we are just being flooded with product variants, rather than real innovation.

The web?

Take the worldwide web for  example.  It’s still dominated by Google, with the difference that these days instead of technology making headlines, it’s government vs Google, either because states are trying to claw back taxes from the corporation, or they are trying to apply regulations to prevent it from displaying specific search results under the guise of privacy regulations.   Either way, there is nothing much in it for the user, unless you are a lawyer.   As for websites themselves, they have become as utilitarian and exciting as your local Yellow Pages.  The largest ones, in an attempt to reach absolutely everyone, have either stripped everything away, or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, in a desperate effort to seek a profitable revenue model, are littered with inane advertisements.

Smarter phones?

Smartphones too seem to have reached the peak of the innovation sigmoid.  Newszines are desperately trying to get us excited by the latest iPhone or Android updates, really?  I have both and I can’t really get madly excited by either.  Recently, my Android phone upgraded itself to Marshmallow, that was a year after Google (or Alphabet) had pushed it out, but that’s another story.  Aside from some changes in the settings and the fact that you can’t manually push some apps to an external card I haven’t seen anything with the wow factor.   I looked at the latest phones, they are bigger (size, memory and display) but they all share the same drawbacks, like poor battery life.  Let’s face it, we have become accustomed to the daily ritual of charging our phones, but why should we?  Why can’t we have smartphones with batteries that would happily last 4-5 days instead?  Now that would be exciting news…

More of the sameOld typewriter

As for other gadgets you just have to peruse some of the specialist sites, or watch gadget shows, and yet again it’s much of the same, just slightly more powerful, a few buttons here and there, a few extra pixels, nothing truly revolutionary.  It’s a little like watching TV, just full of repeats.

Even in science and technology we are still awaiting the big breakthrough.  Remember how graphene was going to change the world we live in?  Can you think of a single commercially available product featuring this material?  I guessed so…  Quantum computing? And so it goes on.

I don’t want this to become the ramblings of an ageing man, but I do love innovation, yet I see much less around these days.   I have a theory or two for this.  The first is that it is well known that innovation comes in cycles.  We seem to have reached a plateau.  The second is based on the prevailing global economic model.  Truly revolutionary inventions require long term investment and vision.  Right now both of these ingredients are in scarce supply.  Companies are more interested in maximising short term profits and governments (inevitably the initiators of most of the essential research needed for innovation) are scaling back on long term investments.

Until there is a readjustment of some kind we are less likely to see anything greatly exciting around, just more marketing driven product variants, better packaged goods and more aggressive advertising  to support them, but nothing seismically significant.  Welcome to the grey age of innovation.

End of the road for review sites, or new beginnings?

First of all apologies for the lack of blogs this year (as if anyone cared, I hear you saying!), but having recently published a small book with my good friend Henk Vaars,  a 21st century primer on employment, I am still recovering from writer’s fatigue, so I have found it difficult to focus on updating this site.  I know this is  a lame excuse and that I have fallen foul of all I have been preaching (for goodness sake if you have a blog keep it fresh!), but somehow life takes precedence even over digital presence.

The good, bad and dreadfulswitch

Preambles aside, I thought I’d focus on something that has been at the back of my mind for a while: review sites.  I confess that when such sites came out I became an instant fan of them, not just as a contributor, but also as a user finding them a great tool for cutting through the inevitable sales flannel produced by the suppliers in question.  With a quick glance you’d get a fair idea of whether a restaurant was good, or dreadful, if a place was worth stopping by and so on.   Alas, times have moved on and I am of the opinion that most review sites have now become a mere tool in the extensive marketing armoury available to most businesses in the era of digital transformation.

Trip grovellers?

Take for example the famous TripAdvisor.  I was one of their very first contributors, so have now got a fair number of reviews under my belt and heaven knows how many of their useless (except to some very sensitive egos) badges I have accumulated.  By the way, it’s futile to look me up as I am contributing under a nom de plume, something which will become clearer later on too.  I still keep adding reviews out of a sense of affection and duty towards the site (entirely one sided I hasten to say), but I am realising how useless this exercise has become.

Allow me to explain with an example.  About a month ago I was in the north of England and wanted to look up some places to eat.  Everything on TripAdvisor was either ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’,even down to a local chippie or sandwich bar. There was no way, not even by poring over the review details, that one could get a sense of reality. Most of those entries appeared to have been written either by professional sycophants, people with a pecuniary interest in the places in question, or those under the influence of something!  It was almost too tempting to look hard for those very few poor or average places and paying them a visit for the sake of getting some sense of reality, rather than being in some rosey parallel universe.  This situation isn’t unique.  I was somewhere else in England and it was virtually a carbon copy of the experience mentioned, hardly any review was ‘average’ everything was either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’.  Where do you start looking then?  And if you can’t easily get to the truth what is the point of a review site then?

Cautionary tales, cautious style

After some soul searching I looked back at the way I used to write reviews and realised that over time I also adjusted my style to be much more conciliatory, vague and in effect more forgiving.  This is partly due to the fact that on a couple of occasions I have had some truly nasty individuals responding to my otherwise objective reviews in a threatening way, so much that I had to refer them to that website admin.  In a specific instance the hotel owner even managed to track back my  reservation and ended up contacting my parents.  Scary.  Clearly at that point you ask yourself whether putting up with all this aggro is actually worth the hassle…  which is why, probably with countless other people, I then decided to err on the side of caution and have since hardly ever left a ‘poor’ review, except for some vague warnings in the body of the review itself or areas where I knew I would never visit again.

I don’t know how we got to this situation.  Partly this is a reflection of our litigious society, partly I guess it’s also down to the sites in question which effectively failed to protect their most precious asset, the reviewer.

Is it just marketing?

If you included the people who were incentivised to write on review sites (many, and few of the review websites are able or willing to do anything about), those blatantly compiling phoney reviews (like the ones written directly by business owners and their associates, marketing and PR agencies etc), the neophytes, the uneducated, the inexperienced and added them all up, linking to it the more belligerent attitude of the featured businesses, like in the examples I have just given,  you’d clearly begin to question the nature of much of that content and therefore of those sites.

There was a time when review sites sprouted up left right and centre.  I don’t recall seeing a new one in a long while, so we are pretty much stuck with the likes of Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Trustpilot, Google+ and so on.  In addition, there are those sites which are blatantly sponsored by business owners, which begs the question of why of course anyone would want to help them. So it looks as if the review sites landscape has in fact bottomed out with more of them under siege by by professional reviewers like those highlighted in this interesting article from The Guardian that explores even the ‘review turf wars’ between competing companies.

Demise or resurrection?

There are now four possible scenarios.  The first is the technology option. By this I mean that review sites would need to get a lot smarter and should start applying the kind of technology available within search engines to stamp out phoney, poorly written and useless reviews. They also need to reevaluate the star rating.  Everyone wants to be a 5 star performer these days, even school kids, so a new ranking is sorely needed.

The second is that of manual intervention. This is however very expensive and would require editing and validating every review, therefore it’s an unlikely scenario in tight commercial circumstances.  The third, and in my opinion more likely, is that major review sites will continue to devalue themselves to a point where the general public will consider them as yet another small element in a customer’s product or service selection journey, of some interest, but not necessarily high value.

The last point is more revolutionary.  Small review sites could spring up and close down after a short timespan, almost like forums used to be.  The evanescent nature of such sites would counteract some of the pitfalls just highlighted and be more in keeping with the more dynamic social media angle of contemporary digital communications.

But I am no optimist and therefore believe we are simply experiencing the beginning of the end of many review websites, unless they are willing to reinvent themselves – time will tell.

IoT? Smart watches? Boring.

BoredomI feel a little guilty for not having written that much in this site for a few months, but I have a number of disparate interests and with the impending elections here in the UK I have also immersed myself into politics.  Fear not, I have a separate blog for my own political activities, so I am not going to mention the ‘p’ word again here.

The truth is that my passion for innovation hasn’t been fired up by anything over the last few months.  As an avid reader of technology blogs all I have been seeing is basically variations on existing themes.  In fact I pity those journalists who have to make a living looking at technology as sure as hell they must have even run out of nibs by now  (news in brief for the uninitiated by the way).

Variations on a theme

Yes, we have had smart watches (of all shapes and sizes), Google has thrown out its glasses (such timidity shows how much the company has transformed itself into just another boring corporation), the IoT is still in its inception and… well the list goes on almost ad infinitum.  And what about SEO and innovation on the web front?  Yes, search engines are turning smarter and smarter, locational devices offer immense possibility, but we all come a cropper when we try using them either in densely populated areas, where the signal has deteriorated, or in the countryside where there is none. Have you noticed that we are stuck using the same old browsers, except of course they are becoming larger, slower and even less secure by the day?

It’s just a monotonous pattern of product variants and tweaks, rather than real innovation.  It seems we have stalled, just refining and redefining, rather than truly inventing and imagining a new, smarter and more exciting and sustainable world.  Take the ubiquitous  smartphone; it has changed shape (slightly), has had more pixels, more memory (and less battery life, another story!), but we are still essentially split between Android and iPhone.  And when you see the buzz that the imminent launch of Windows 10 creates, well you know that we are living in truly dire times, virtually in the midst of the Gobi desert of technological innovation.

So, could someone out there please come out with something truly inventive, innovative, imaginative, like the internet, or smartphones, or the telegraph, or the light bulb, something, anything, before we all die of boredom?  And if you disagree could you please add your thoughts and above all a link or two, before my brain goes to pulp.

Engage or be damned

It’s all about engagement

I have already written at length about the importance of engagement on social media for B2B operations,  just like a host of other consultants, but I am still surprised by the lack of overall standards and not just on B2B but B2C too!  These days experiences still range from the sublime to the ridiculous, regardless of market segment or company size.

Good app

A couple of years ago I installed on my phone a nifty little app called WeatherBosocialmediamb.  It’s a meteo app that combines reports from various sources displaying the overall situation in graphic format in a specific locality over a 7 day period.  I won’t elaborate as you can easily download it yourself, for free, from your Google Play site if, like me, you use Android.  When a little while ago the developers issued a new release and the app crashed I reached them on social media –  in a matter of hours I had a nice reply shortly followed by a fix.  In fact it was such a nice answer that we continued to engage in conversation and are still in touch to these days.  I have since become one of this app’s most stalwart supporters – a brand ambassador, you may say.

Bad app

At the opposite end of the spectrum a few months ago I took the ill-fated decision of becoming a beta tester for Facebook own Android app.  Their developers kept spewing out new versions almost every other day (proportionally bigger and slower than the previous one) and when things went awry, which was often, there was absolutely no way of getting a response, even using their own dedicated beta testers Facebook page.  Now I know that in the grand scheme of things I was only an infinitesimal annoyance for Facebook, more like a microbe or a gnat than a human being, but you would have expected more from one of the pillars of social media, especially when their audience was a bunch of  people who like me had (stupidly obviously) agreed to help them develop a better product.  Needless to say after much frustration I simply deleted the app and woved never to install anything from Facebook again.  By the way, you can just use your smartphone browser to log into your Facebook page, it’s normally faster than using their app, especially if you just want to check the updates.  In this instance I have therefore become a brand detractor, and all on the back of my social media experience.

…and bad cooking!

And don’t think this experience is limited to apps.  My wife was up until recently an avid follower of the famous chef Gino D’Acampo.  Whether this was because of his recipes, or the dashing looks is something I don’t particularly wish to dwell on.  Anyway, she recently purchased one of his books and had a series of disasters with one of the recipes.  I tried making it too, with the same dismal results.  As we both love cooking and have a few decades under our belts in that department I looked in detail at the list of ingredients and realised there was something unusual.  I commented this to my wife and as she followed him on social media (no, don’t say anything…) she attempted to communicate with his team (you don’t really think that personalities write themselves?) but she gave up as nothing made them engage – not even an acknowledgement, nada.  I prevented her from throwing all his books away, or deep frying every page, but she now detests the man.  Another social media experience gone awry just for lack of engagement.

Risky business

So, here we have some radically different social media engagement experiences, yet I am sure reflecting everyday’s reality for most people.  Quite why many commercial ventures continue to mistake social media for push advertising is a mystery to me.  While it’s almost inevitable for behemoths like Facebook to raise two fingers at their audience, particularly when they enjoy a de facto monopoly, for smaller brands ignoring social media good practices is a risky tactic.  When it comes to social with the right processes in place it is perfectly possible to drive sales upwards at a fraction of what would be required by using more conventional channels.

I know that calculating the real value of engagement isn’t easy and it often needs the support of well established customer relationship management tools in the background, together with sound commercial practices, but it is possible with proper support from social media consultants.  For now though, if you ever thought of becoming a Facebook beta tester take the ice bucket challenge first – you may feel refreshed and therefore more open to consider investing your time in more rewarding ways.  And don’t bother contacting Mr D’Acampo either.

All things Google

The latest design from google

The latest design from google

Those who know me well know that I have a soft spot for all things Google. Perhaps it’s because I witnessed the development of search engines since the old days of Excite or Altavista and Lycos. When Google came out it was like a breath of fresh air.  Further on the company continued with missionary zeal along the path of innovation, another subject close to my heart. How could I not love Google therefore?

I am no dreamer, so I am sure it has its foibles and there are good and bad people in Google too (hopefully more of the former!).  Anyway, I couldn’t help pushing across to you today the excellent synopsis published only a couple of hours ago by The Verge on the 17 Most Important Things announced by Google.  Do take a few minutes to look at this article, it’s very pictorial and packed full with information about the very latest development from that company.  It would be truly amazing especially if Google really managed the provision of a cheap Android smartphone for the developing world.

There is also a new Google design, called Material Design apparently, which is truly cutting edge and fresh.  Here is the link to the Material Design page.

Short piece from me today, but I have a dawn start for a very early morning flight from LGW, enjoy the article from The Verge!

Link

Global Environmental Perception Index Way Down

Aside from my passion for B2B online communications, technology and all things that can unexpectedly go bump in the night… I dedicate most of my spare time working to preserve the environment.  I was therefore perturbed to learn that at global level environmental perception is now on the way down, despite all warnings that things are actually getting worse.

Rather than pasting the full article I recently wrote I invite you to read it in its original format from the link above.  I hope you won’t mind but it really is bad practice to copy and paste content across sites…