It’s the end of the world, or is it?

If you believe the media we are all going to die. Sorry to be morbid about it, but basically that’s it for us. If Ebola doesn’t get you then the quadruple dip recession, that we are apparently teetering on the edge of, will mean we won’t be able to afford as much as a piece of bread. And if you are lucky enough to be spared these fates, struggling around in haz-mat suits and desperately trying to avoid anyone else sneezing on you, then there is always the impending global warming disaster and power shortages to look forward to.

Not much of a choice really; catch an aggressive virus, starve to death in abject poverty or freeze to death in the dark. Lets be honest, it is a bit like the Daily Mail made a disaster movie. But the problem is that this bleak outlook is simply not accurate. Only this week scientists have started saying that they may have drastically overestimated the onset of global warming and that the effects are likely to be less severe than first thought. And whilst this week the recession is back on, last week everyone was in recovery. So what on earth is going on?

What it basically boils down to is that the news corporations have nothing better to do with their time than lead us all up and down the garden path. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, you can take it or leave it. But when it does become a problem is when they start reporting unhelpful things about the spread of a virus like Ebola. At the end of the day we aren’t really impacted if a footballer did or didn’t do something, or even if the latest Yew Tree suspect is guilty. They are both relevant stories but they don’t individually affect us. However, reporting that the Ebola virus can be spread through the air is not just inaccurate, it is irresponsible. It causes panic in a lot of people who get their only source of information on the subject from the media.

And this is the problem with the media, in so many ways. They have the remit to pronounce whatever they like and then repent later. This can be the cause of mass panic at the stroke of a pen (or printing press). Years ago they reported that there was going to be a fuel shortage. So everybody rushed out and filled their cars, jerry cans, even wheely bins with as much fuel as they could, and low and behold there was a shortage. Irresponsible reporting led to the shortage in a situation that otherwise would have been quite manageable.

And this is also the problem with the ‘right to be forgotten’ law. It gives people the remit to do whatever they like, without fear that it will haunt them forever. They can just have the search result removed. No harm, no foul. But there is harm here. The news corporations should be held more accountable to report information accurately. If they don’t have the detail then they shouldn’t report it. Of course, this won’t happen. The system is balanced in their favour. So for now we will just have to be content to ignore the news and hope that we don’t die of one of the many things we are apparently at risk from:

200 different forms of deadly cancer, terrorist attacks, deadly viruses, rampaging illegal breeds of dogs, swallowing lithium batteries, snow storms, avalanches, out of control buses crashing into your home, mad men, dementia, heart attacks, strokes, obesity, sink holes, drug overdoses, asteroid collision, global warming…

…but don’t worry, you’ll be glad to know that when you do die, which is apparently any minute now, your body will be handled with care!

iScotland – following the herd since 2007 / 1707

Last Tuesday (9th September) the world was split into two camps yet again; those who like good phones and those who don’t like Apple. This is a perennial prejudice that arises pretty much every time Apple launches a new product and doesn’t seemed to be based on anything other than an abject dislike of the Apple brand. One of the most perplexing things that has emerged as part of this in recent years is to start referring to those who do like the Apple brand as ‘sheep’. This is a term that seems to be bandied around quite a lot on the social media channels, as a way of poking fun at those who are excited about the launch of the new iPhone 6 models…and to a lesser extent the Apple watch.

The reason that this strange prejudice is perplexing is that the iPhone is the single biggest selling handset in the world. Whilst there may well be more Android users world wide, no other individual device has sold more units than the iPhone has, which means that it is, by matter of fact, one of the most popular devices around.

Apple naysayers clearly feel the need to denigrate the brand, and those who are fans of it, in some vane attempt to gain some sort of moral high ground. But what is interesting is that, by and large, there is no real reasoning behind it, other than simple not liking Apple. The fact is that the iPhone has been one of the leading edge mobile devices for some years. Whether we like it or not, it is almost singularly responsible for transforming the mobile market from the ‘telephone’ market into the ‘device’ market we now know and love. We don’t have mobile phones now, we have devices that are also able to make calls. In 2007, when Apple launched the iPhone, it was without doubt a revolution and they have continued to push the boundaries and lead the market in many ways.

There is justified criticism of Apple; they prefer their own technology to others and therefore don’t adopt things like NFC, other phones might have slightly better tech (for example, the Galaxy S3 had a better phone and video system) but side by side the differences are not noticeable enough to really say that one device far out strips another. And one thing that Apple excels in and has yet been completely unchallenged in, is its user experience. Across the board Apple interfaces are easier to use, have a more consistent UX and have a brand consistency that marks all of their products out from the rest of the pack. It is for this reason that Apple is synonymous with the vogue end of the market…people aspire to have the Apple brand in their hand.

With this in mind, it can only really be the dislike of the brand that people use as an excuse to criticise Apple followers, which seems rather churlish. Calling people who are fans of Apple ‘sheep’ because they like a very good brand, is like saying that if you like chocolate and eat the newest bar from Cadbury’s then you are a sheep. It is quite ridiculous.

And this point is very comparable with another, rather more significant, situation that is occurring literally as I write this. Today, on Thursday 18th September 2014, Scotland are going to the polls to decide if they should break away from the United Kingdom and become an independent country. It is complete coincidence that the launch of the iPhone in 2007 was the 300th anniversary year of the Union Act being passed in Scotland, but the ‘sheep’ description is being used for those wanting to stay with the Union in very comparable circumstances.

Many people will be going to the polling station to vote ‘Yes’, completely based on their pride for Scotland (and most likely their corresponding dislike for England…a long running theme between our two countries) and they will not be swayed for love nor money. It is their right to do this and we should respect it. Scotland, as a country, has the right to decide if it is part of the Union and that is the way it should be. But the worrying thing is that over the past couple of years, as this debate has waged on, a lot of people will have been pursuaded to vote ‘yes’ for devolution based purely on the emotional arguments presented and without any of the key issues being answered.

To date, Alex Salmond and the ‘yes’ camp, have failed to offer a strategy for how Scotland will retain and maintain it’s vast infrastructure, how they will secure a long term future for the country in terms of finance, a currency, political status within Europe and the international community and within the business world. There is a lot of detail up in the air but one thing is absolutely certain, if they vote for devolution then it will be a very rocky short term and the long term is entirely unclear. It seems very worrying that a possible majority of people would vote on such a big decision without any of these questions being answered, especially as the health and well being of them and their country will hinge on this.

Comparing the love / hate relationship the world has with Apple to the very significant changes occurring in Scotland seems, at face value, to be a little absurd. But that is the most worrying thing. Those who dislike Apple don’t really have very much evidence to offer when challenged on it, and when it comes to voting ‘yes’ for Scottish independence, unfortunately at this point the same is also true.

Robo-Collie, it’ll never work…or will it?

The news has recently been bleeting on about some scientific work done by Swansea University, suggesting that robots could replace sheepdogs to herd sheep. Of course this isn’t exactly what Swansea are suggesting, but just for a moment let us address this. The researchers have used GPS data to show how mathematically the sheepdog and the shepherd work together to herd a whole group of sheep successfully. Their conclusion is that there are two simple rules to it and that is that. But the main problem with this conclusion, as accurate as it may be, is that it is based on watching successful herding and not on watching how that successful herding was actually accomplished.

Having grown up around farms, I am quite aware of the tremendous skill and determination required to run a farm. Watching a sheepdog working, changing direction on a sixpence simply on a whistle command, is quite awe inspiring, especially when the effect of this on a sheep herd is instantaneous as well. This duet, or in some cases trio (with two dogs), work in perfect harmony to coerce a group of herd animals into a pen only just big enough to hold them. But the thing that comes across when watching this wonderful spectacle is not the mathematics of the movements, it is the skill of the animals and owner at reading the herd, in being agile and able to react on a moment to control what could otherwise result in a breakout.

Watching on from a mathematical point of view, it is no doubt possible to define the rules that were applied to make this well oiled machine work. But that is no more useful than defining how a stream may, over thousands of years, cut a course through  valley, only to be wrong because you didn’t realise there was a weakness in a line of rock half way down and this caused a completely different route. You see, by nature, sheep are unpredictable and so the dog and farmer control this through their experience and ability to judge and read the herd, rather than by just applying a rule and knowing it will work every time.

Now, the research is not actually denying this. What they have done is to use the rules observed from herding to suggest that robots could be used in other situations where here are large groups of people involved; crowd control or oil spills are the examples in the article. And this idea is actually very fascinating.

The Internet of Everything is the idea that any system will be ‘on the net’ and therefore measurable. The principle is that we not only collect the data from ‘everything’ but we also then interpret and react to it. This is an example of that. Scientists are looking at how one group, in this case a herd of sheep, react to herding and then applying this to another situation where a group may need to be herded in a similar way.

Of course the news reporters translate this into a small scale example, the person stuck in a dark room who can then be saved by a robot guide. That is small fry. So let’s extrapolate this into something rather more relevant.

Over the last couple of weeks the great British countryside has pretty much ground to a halt as millions of holiday-goers edge their way down the motorway to try and gain themselves their four inch plot of seaside heaven. The weight of traffic on one or two arterial roads is simply too much and so it takes eight hours to make a journey that on any other day might take half that. In the Internet of Everything world the cars will be herded, in real time, down the most suitable roads. They can be assigned a route based on availability, weight of traffic, capacity of the road, destination of other cars vs their car, the need to stop for food, water, a wee. All of these variables will be calculated by the vehicle, which will most likely to be doing all the driving anyway, and the roads will stay moving.

This is where the world is heading. Whether it be large groups all going to the same destination, or individuals trying to get somewhere whilst avoiding the crowd, it will be possible to use live data and mathematically rules to shepherd them in the most optimal routes. And that will be the power of big data as well. Take another salient example, the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. Using data obtained using non-invasive medical devices, a patient will be able to be diagnosed in minutes, their presence will then be known ‘on the net’ and quarantine protocols updated accordingly. The ability to track the movement of the disease and then apply the rules we already know work will be much improved.

The power of data is impressive, and it will continue to impress us even more as we realise the potential for it’s use in the future. But an important part of using data is interpreting it in the right ways. The application of ‘intelligence’ to data, and not just generalising that one plus one must always equal two, will be how the Internet of Everything changes the world. Because the reality is that one plus one does not always equal two, sometimes it makes a window too!

Who is Richard Brady?

We are all familiar with the scam emails from Nigerian Prince’s needing bank accounts to transfer their millions into, or lost friends stuck abroad and in desperate need of some cash. It has become part of the British comedy culture, it is in fact somewhat a cliche now. I actually find myself reading some of these and getting quite a lot of enjoyment out of them. After all, you would have to be borderline amoebic to be taken in by these, quite frankly more ludicrous than fiction, yarns.

The traditional way of receiving these has been by email and this has been happening for many many years. In more recent times similar SMS schemes have popped up; the “You’re entitled to compensation for your recent accident” one has probably been received by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people. If that many accidents had actually occurred then the country would just be one big pile of wrecked cars!

Somewhat inevitably I suppose, this scam mentality has started to invade social media. The US based MTV show ‘Catfish’ features the more personal scams, where people mislead others by pretending to be someone they are not, for various personal motivations. On Twitter it is also not uncommon to start being followed by fake profiles, who then post ads to you. But one network that until recently seemed relatively safe from this is the business network LinkedIn. Which leads me to ask the question “Who is Richard Brady?”

LinkedInFraud

When I received a connection request from Richard Brady, who apparently works for Orabank (who have a website – I did a quick check), I immediately thought this seems a bit fishy, but thought I would let it play out. So having done some quick looking around to check Orabank did, on the face of it, seem vaguely real and having checked Richard Brady’s profile to see it had a plausible background, I accepted the request. After all, in my line of work you don’t turn down a connection as it may lead to a project.

Of course, and predictably, Richard Brady’s sickeningly goofy face popped into my LinkedIn inbox within 24 hours, accompanied by the above message. Now this does make a good read. It is a story of a deceit, larceny, conspiracy to defraud a presumably grieving family, money laundering and cover ups. Mr Richard Brady of Orabank does seem to be quite the operator. Is he friends with James Bond or Jack Bauer as well? Are they chasing him?

So what does this actually mean? Well for a start it means that these fraudsters are invading networking and social media sites, and not just the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, the professional sites like LinkedIn as well. Secondly, it means that someone must be falling for these scams, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. So who is that stupid and using LinkedIn? I certainly don’t want to connect with them. Thirdly, and possibly the most concerning thing, is that this profile, claiming to be a presumably fictitious ‘Richard Brady’ is using someone’s photograph to accompany an openly illegal activity.

And at the end of the day that is the most concerning thing here surely? These stories are laughable at best. They are barely worthy of a TV sitcom script, and yet someone somewhere is taking the time to construct these elaborate hoaxes, piecing together profiles with real photographs of goodness knows who. At the end of the day this photograph of Richard Brady may go viral, as ‘the face of the fraudster’. But somewhere a real person has that face, and that person is probably not Richard Brady the man of mystery, intrigue and larceny. Let’s hope the family of Mr Philip Becks (deceased – may god rest his soul) don’t go searching for him!

The real lesson here is that if you put yourself online then there is every possibility that your details and photos may well be used by someone else in their deceptions. Coming back to Catfish, the US show, people are doing this more and more, just so they can have a barrier of protection and anonymity when engaging online. And in practically every case they are using other people’s photographs, stolen from profiles online. This is the risk of putting yourself online. Do you ever really know who you are talking to unless you actually see them? We should all ask ourselves ‘is this person really who they say they are?’ … or in other words, ‘Who is Richard Brady?’

From Russia, with data…

Recently (Source: BBC News) it was reported that Russia are seeking to pass new laws requiring data about Russian citizens to be stored within the country, rather than in datacentres in the United States “where it can be hacked and given to criminals” (quoting MP Vadim Dengin).

At first glance this seems to be a relatively ridiculous stance to take, flimsily disguised as an attempt to protect the data of Russian citizens when actually many skeptics believe this is more about control which could lead to Russia becoming the next country with an iron-curtain firewall – much like China has operated for years. A key question is how will they enforce this in any way that would benefit Russian people?

Irrelevant of the motivations behind this move, there are potential implications for digital practitioners that need to be thought about going forward. For a start, if there is any possibility that a Russian is going to use your application and requires storing any data then that database will need to be stored in Russia. A shrewd move if Russia plans on creating datacentres, but from a practical point of view would the rest of the world want their data stored in Russia?

One option would be to develop the system so that anyone based in Russia has their data stored in a Russian version of the database. But let’s be honest, it isn’t really practical to go down this route. Where does it end? Do you have a database for each country that requires one?

At the other end of the spectrum is the consideration that you have to rule Russian customers out of your experience if they have to do any sort of account creation. For some sectors that may not be a concern. The Google’s, YouTube’s and Amazon’s of the world may decide this is a risk worth taking. But what about the investment sector, for example? Russia has a lot of wealth and ruling them out could be a big problem. Similarly, research becomes a lot more difficult. For an entity trying to undertake surveys Russia may be a key demographic but this may well rule them out of being included.

What is the reality? We think that this is likely to be a very hard thing for Russia to police and most likely they really are only targeting big companies. The only real way to enforce this is that Russian internet access becomes locked down in a utilitarian move to “protect data”, but which would actually be severely curtailing Russian freedoms online. If this is the case then any company serious about having a presence online in Russia would have to have a Russian version specifically for the purpose. Instead, what will most likely happen is that businesses will turn their backs on Russia and so we won’t need to worry anyway.

Internet World 2014 – An agency owners viewpoint

(As featured at http://www.sitesetdigital.co.uk/tabletsilversurfers.html)

I recently attended the Internet World expo at The Excel Centre in London. This was a return visit for me but the first time I have attended as the Managing Director of an agency, so my aims for the day had somewhat changed. Previously, I had found the expo to be a very useful yardstick for what is important in the Digital sector and what the current trends of focus are for both clients and agencies. It has also been very useful to look at what other companies are developing in terms of products and to align these with our own efforts. Most importantly, in the past as a project manager it has allowed me to see what is at the cutting edge so that I can offer consultancy to clients about what they might want to consider for their own strategies.

This year I had new questions to answer, primarily would Internet World be a good platform for us to showcase our agency and our new CMS product. Additionally I wanted to look at what the key development trends are in similar technologies to our own, to make sure we are competitive and focussing in the right areas.

In my previous visits to Internet World I had found a good balance between information and sales opportunities, with a wide variety of providers to talk with, product demonstrations to view and seminar talks to attend. Overriding all of this, previously there seems to have been an overriding focus each year that brings the whole show together, with exhibitors complimenting this and seminar talks designed to further develop on this theme.

Attending this year with my new MD tinted glasses on was a very interesting experience. In looking to answer my key questions I first started by browsing the exhibitors. The first thing I noticed was there seemed to be fewer than last year, but the other thing I noticed was that quite a few of the comparable agencies to Siteset that I’d seen the previous year were absent this time around. This could be for a number of reasons, but one reading of this is that Internet World did not serve them well in terms of new business leads.

Looking to the product side of the fence, there were the usual big names this year. Sitecore were present, although notably with a more modest stand than they had last year. In fact in general the larger players seemed to be more confined, whereas last year a number of the stands were a feature in themselves. This could have been due to the more confined space of this year’s expo.

In terms of CMS products (one of the products our agency offer), there were really only three present on the day; Sitecore, Kentico and Cantarus (although other proprietary offerings were also there). Last year there were many other CMS products of varying scales on show, and I again noticed a lack of PHP technology in this area. Much like the failure of some agencies to have a return visit, it seems that perhaps this is not the right forum for emerging products to try and gain a foothold.

A new thing Internet World has worked on is the networking areas and this year this included a pitch area. Whilst this was an interesting listen, I think I got unlucky though in that I seemed to always be there when the people talking hadn’t rehearsed beforehand. Similarly The Marketplace had a pitch session, but the area was monopolised by people who wanted to use the beanbags as a place to catch up on emails rather than actually listening to the speakers and so the focus was rather lost.

So what about this year’s seminar talks? This is one of the key ways for attendees to pick up on the latest trends and see what is happening at the cutting edge. In the past I have found this is a really good way to see what other agencies are doing with their clients and products. Citrix was no exception, talking about their work towards the Internet of Everything. Whilst not particularly accessible to smaller agencies like ourselves it was fascinating to see what the future will hold and start to think about how we might generate ideas for products that will fit within that. It was a real example of work right on the fringe. But this year it seemed like this was a bit of an exception to an otherwise rather tame rule. A lot of the talks seemed to be very marketing based, particularly those by agencies, where most of the seminar was dedicated to selling their services rather than actually focussing on the work. This was, in large part, a contributor to a day that seemed to lack the seamless thread pulling the whole show together that previous years have had.

I realise that there is an element of the hypocritical about the way I am assessing the show this year. On one front I am asking whether an agency could go there and generate leads but on the other front I am criticising it when agencies do that very thing in seminars. But that is one of the fine lines that Internet World needs to draw and that some seminars achieve very well. Seminars provide a good insight into the work, which then subtly promote the agency behind it. But when the talk itself becomes about promoting the agency then all else is lost. It was notable how few questions were asked at the end of each talk, possibly a reflection on people being less than keen to be sold to, or perhaps even having lost interest.

So did I answer my questions? If I’d asked those questions at last year’s show I would have come away clearly thinking that this year we should have been there ourselves, showcasing our work and our product. But this year the focus had shifted. The smaller product owners were not there and the talks were not at all focussed on quality content. Instead the seminars featured people both trying and failing to sell their brand or talking about topics that were not particularly new, unless they were so far ahead of the game that for most it was just an interesting look into the future.

My questions remain somewhat unanswered at this point, but I am no longer convinced that Internet World is the place to learn about the latest tech and approaches. I’m certainly not convinced that it is a good platform for an agency to generate leads.

Tablet adoption and Silver Surfers…

(As featured at http://www.sitesetdigital.co.uk/tabletsilversurfers.html)

In a previous blog post we looked at how Millenials, those between the ages of 16 and 24, are accessing the internet more and more through their phones. It is now the case that mobile internet access (although not browsing) has surpassed desktop (Source: Mequoda.com), and from the data we featured in our previous blog it is clear that this is being driven by the Millenial and Young-Adult (25-34) groups. The latest data shows that internet usage through apps is growing, with tablet and phone browsing staying strong as well. But is this also a generational thing or is it across the board?

Age Group Browsing

At the opposite end of the spectrum to Millenials are the 55+ group, affectionately referred to as the ‘Silver Surfers’ (shown in the bottom left quadrant in the above infographic). This group is generally the most affluent of the four groups, with plenty of disposable income. They are also less time poor and despite being more well off are often more reluctant to spend their money.

Something that is immediately obvious in this age band is that the vast majority of internet access takes place via desktop or laptop (80%). Not unsurprisingly the level of smartphone access is very low as well (4%), but tablet usage (13%) is an emerging trend in this age group. In Q1 of 2012 only 4% of the Silver Surfer group reported that their household owned a tablet device (Source: Ofcom) compared to 19% by Q4 of 2013(Source: Ofcom). Even more significantly, of this 19% of Silver Surfers who own a tablet, 71% said they personally used the device.

There is a clear trend developing towards the adoption of tablets in the older generations and this may well become the mobile device of choice in this group. Intuitive interfaces and larger screens mean that it is a more comfortable experience, whilst the cost barrier is less of a deterrent for this more affluent group as well. Most importantly, they don’t feel the need to be online all the time whilst on the move, unlike the Millenials.

So what does this mean for Digital practitioners? Firstly there is an emerging and affluent group who are adopting tablet devices (and possibly in time smartphones with larger screens) to access the internet. Secondly, this is a group who are methodical, cautious and time rich. Thirdly, and most importantly, they are a group who have different needs and interests to younger generations, with expectations to match.

In planning for the mobile internet and the internet of things, this generation is going to play an interesting and more significant role over time. Responsive experiences are going to become as important in mobile as responsive design already is. Designing for this age group will be a different process to designing for Millenials. Similarly, there is a whole raft of apps that this age group would adopt that simply aren’t relevant to younger generations. This is only further supported by the release of health related hardware and a Silver Surfer generation who are more health conscious.