The Myth of Multichannel

From Nathalie Tadena in the WSJ:

Researchers from Annalect, a division of Omnicom Media Group, said the use of technology can help “level the playing field” for brands. For example, using up-to-date technology can help a brand stand out in a category that’s not necessarily expected to be a tech-savvy category. The study found that 52% of millennials surveyed said that the technology a brand uses used is the most important factor when making a purchase, compared with 48% who said brand name is most effective.

“It’s really about having a platform for developing and maintaining a relationship with a consumer,” said Pam Marsh, director of Annalect’s primary research and insights group. “It’s just a different way to not only express your brand’s message, but also be open to having the feedback and that two way communication that can go on between a consumer and a brand.”

Brands like to believe that the world is neatly segregated into channels – i’m in my ‘physical world channel now’ and will switch into my ‘internet channel’ later on.

But really there are no channels. All that matters is that brands deliver services that are relevant to my needs, and in the way that I like. Technology for its own sake doesn’t come into it.

Man At The Bar TV

The Indy, on the BBC’s proposed new TV channel:

BBC Brit wants to be “the most interesting conversation in the bar” and is aimed at men aged between 25-44.

Essentially, the commercial arm of the BBC is making a channel aimed at the type of bore who would willingly step foot in a Walkabout pub, or in the document’s own words “the Top Gear generation”.

For years, the BBC has been about safety-first “man at the bar” television and elevating middle-aged, milquewater ‘talent’ like James Corden and Michael McIntyre.

The BBC has finally got the TV channel it deserves.

Containers

The Docker open source project, which develops the Docker open platform for distributed applications, today announced changes to the project’s operational structure to enable it to scale to address its unprecedented growth. During the course of 2014, the number of project contributors quadrupled and is currently at over 740. During the same period, the project processed over 5,000 pull requests, 50 percent of which were made by individuals who do not work for Docker, Inc. In addition to direct contribution, the project – through its open model for design, contribution, APIs and governance – has now fostered over 20,000 projects (such as UIs, management frameworks and monitoring tools) and over 85,000 Dockerized applications which are the open, composable building blocks for distributed applications.

I make a general rule of following where Marc Andreessen puts his money, sometimes against my better judgment (hello Bitcoin), but it still surprises me that there are people in tech who do not get what a big deal Docker and containers are going to be.

The last ten years in technology have shown how businesses that can adapt their business model and technology stack faster to meet changing consumer demand win regardless of existing market advantage.

Businesses like Spotify, Soundcloud and Netflix have won over the likes of HMV and Blockbuster because they haven’t had to carry round the baggage of legacy technology. What’s more, containers, and the accompanying ability to compose an app of discrete ‘microservices‘ mean that they can update their apps on the fly.

In future, we’ll wonder why anyone ever did it any other way.

Why Wikipedia Is More Biased Than Britannica

Zhu and Greenstein then identified some 4,000 articles that appeared in both Encyclopædia Britannica and Wikipedia, and determined how many of each of these code words were included, in an effort to determine overall bias and direction.

They found that in general, Wikipedia articles were more biased—with 73 percent of them containing code words, compared to just 34 percent in Britannica.

New research from Feng Zhu and Shane Greenstein explains how online sources such as Wikipedia can come to be impacted by groupthink, why longer articles are more likely to be biased, and how articles become less biased the more they are revised.

Perhaps the most interesting finding of Zhu and Greenstein’s research is that the more times an article is revised on Wikipedia, the less bias it is likely to show—directly contradicting the theory that ideological groups might self-select over time into increasingly biased camps.

“The data suggests that people are engaging in conversation with each other online, even though they have different points of view,” says Zhu. “The crowd does exhibit some wisdom, so to speak, to self-correct bias.”

The number of revisions required to start showing this effect, however, is quite large—at least 2,000 edits—and the articles most read by users aren’t necessarily those most revised by editors. “To some extent, we are not seeing the scenario where too many cooks spoil the broth, we are mostly seeing an insufficient number of cooks,” says Zhu.

If Wikipedia would like to improve its objectivity, Zhu recommends that it encourage editors to revise the most-read stories first, as well as encouraging people with different political leanings to edit the same article.

“Wikipedia can easily do this,” he says. “It has all the information about how many times people are reading and editing articles. They could easily direct the attention of editors in order to have the most impact.”

Because a Wikipedia article tends to be number one on Google for any given short tail search term, it’s tempting to see it as a single source of truth. However, it’s very easy to find articles on important topics that exhibit signs of bias and groupthink.

Wikipedia is, after all, just another source.

Academic Shorthand

The Economist’s FreeExchange wonders what Adam Smith would have made of the financial crisis:

TIRED of lightweights bickering over the financial crisis and its aftermath? Of economic upheaval becoming merely fodder for intellectually dishonest political campaigns? Wonder what biggest thinkers might have to say? Our efforts to consult the giants of economics have been hampered by an unfortunate fact: many of the most important ones are not only dead, but they died long before governments and central banks began to concoct such unconventional policy tools such as quantitative easing. That explains their absence from the argument—so far.

In an attempt to cross this divide, notwithstanding the obstacles, your correspondent attended a lecture at the Harvard Club of New York on January 21st by James Otteson, a professor of political economy at Wake Forest University and the editor of a new book, “What Adam Smith Knew, Moral Lessons on Capitalism from its Greatest Champions and Fiercest Opponents”. And he asked what the great Scottish economist might have to say about the most recent crisis.

Mr Otteson was kind enough to channel Mr Smith in response by citing a string of illuminating passages. It is no surprise that the man who coined the term “invisible hand” would be no fan of overt government intervention. His dissent could be split into three intertwined categories: the temptation of governments to meddle at long-term cost to society; the dangers of paper money; and how the issues of debt and money shift wealth from the future to the present. That, he thought, constitutes a form of generational theft.

It’s an interesting academic exercise, but markets have changed significantly in the 250 years since Smith was writing. It bothers me, however, when economists appeal to phrases like “invisible hand” to justify arguments that Smith never intended to make.

Bigot Strikes Again

From the Indy:

Ukip is facing fresh embarrassment over comments made by one of its members, who has said that bigots “deserve representation” and condemned the National Health Service as the “biggest waste of money in the UK”.

Matthew Richardson, Ukip’s secretary and a member of its national executive council – who was reportedly brought in to the party last year to help prevent “bad stuff” about the party making it into the media – made the comments about bigots in a meeting last month, according to The Sunday Times.

I was at Oxford with this guy – his nickname then was ‘Matt The Bigot’. I see some things don’t change.

How I Lost My Reason But Found My Passion

Clearly one and the same thing cannot act or be affected in opposite ways at the same time in the same part of it and in relation to the same object; so if we find these contradictions, we shall know we are dealing with more than one faculty.- Plato’s Republic

When I was at Oxford I was very lucky to be able to take a paper on Plato’s Republic. I didn’t know at the time what a profound impact those two months, punctuated by weekly tutorials with classical philosophy expert Paulo Crivelli would have on me. Oxford tuition is incredibly intense because it asks you to produce two papers a week about a topic that is completely new to you, and defend it with experts on the subject. When I wasn’t in the dusty, and slightly crusty environment of the Oxford Philosophy library, I was in my bedroom, surrounded by dog-eared books. I spent copious amounts of time making notes, notes that I still have today.

I got into Philosophy out of a desire to answer the big questions I had in my life. I was nineteen years ago, I’d come out the year previously, and to be honest, I didn’t really know who I was. I didn’t have a real guiding principle. If I was completely honest, I didn’t know how I had ended up at Oxford and if I really wanted to be there. Yet here I was immersed in studying the translation of a translation of a translation of a philosopher who was alive around 2,500 years. And I was finding it incredibly relevant to my own life.

Through the Republic, Plato was really trying to answer what makes a good and just person. And in that he gets involved in a discussion about the soul. Now, Plato firmly believed that the body and soul were two distinct things, and that the soul existed before the body. This is where a lot of people lose attention and decide that Plato was a bit nuts, usually drawing on a bit of Karl Popper along the way. But Plato didn’t really intend us to get caught up in those kind of distinctions. You can substitute ‘soul’ for ‘person’ and it all works just as well.

Plato argued that there were three parts of the person, each with its own characteristics and with each having its own function. There is a rational part, which is responsible for calculating and ruling the rest of the body. The rational part wants the person to achieve a higher good, and to know what truth is. It’s really the right person to be in charge. It’s your body’s Scrum Leader.

Then there’s an appetitive part – the bit that wants food, drink and sex, and doesn’t do any kind of calculation of its own. Sure, we all need to eat and have sex, but if that part of us was in charge, I think we can all agree that there would be problems.

It’s the third part however that has bewitched philosophers and thinkers over the years, and that’s this idea of Thumos. Thumos is a word without a literal translation, but it’s a feeling we all recognise. Some people have called it “spiritedness” or “anger” but that doesn’t seem to capture it. It’s part of the music of our lives – a feeling within us that defies rational explanation.

It’s a fearless, courageous part of us, defined by its courage and sheer indomitability. And by God, we notice when it has gone. When its gone, we lack purpose and passion. We lack self-esteem direction, vision, concreteness. It’s the continued frustration of this that causes us to be dissatisfied in our personal relationships and our work. It’s the primary cause of both burnout and revolutions.

Like many of you, I’ve worked in jobs where I’ve been aware of my own Thumos – for better of worse. We’ve all experienced the feeling of being really fired up to go to work and solve hard problems, and we’ve all worked in environments where we’ve felt like we’re battling against our own indifference. Often we say that it’s time to get out at that point, but it’s not always that easy.

The modern workplace, with its emphasis on ‘agile’, ‘sprints’ , ‘burndowns’ and ‘deliverables’ (I don’t mean to pick on agile here, really) neglects the importance of Thumos. You may have completed your set amount of ‘Story Points’ for the week, but where is the sense of achievement if you don’t really feel like you’ve accomplished anything?

There’s a real problem with workplace productivity today, yet we have never had so many ways (from tea breaks to music to progressive working policies and working from home) or so much literature written about boosting it. Could it be that in our drive to make people more productive, we’ve actually ended up squashing their passion for doing the job?

Of course, it’s vitally important that we don’t allow our sense of Thumos to wander out of control. We need the rational part of our brain, just as we need to keep ourselves fed and watered. But there are days when I’ve come home and found that my life is lacking a sense of passion and purpose. Maybe you’ve felt the same?

The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make When Listening

Can I ask you a question: how often do you really listen to people?

To be really brief, I’ve worked with many, many business leaders who class themselves as great listeners.

It’s always seems to be in the top five phrases a leader uses to define themselves (along with ‘strong and clear leadership’).

The interesting thing though is that often, when I speak to their employees, they often feel that they aren’t actually connecting that well with their leader. They feel like they haven’t got a voice in company decision-making.

I don’t believe that many leaders mean to come over as insensitive or uncaring when they listen. A lot of the time, I don’t even actually think they know they’re doing it.

There’s just a part of them that hits autopilot about a third of the way through the conversation, where they subconsciously move from listening to preparing the answer in their head.

What they don’t realise a lot of the time is that the person on the other end of the conversation isn’t seeking to be heard, but to be understood.

These are subtly, but critically, different. They’re seeking to feel that they have a level of control. They’re seeking to feel like the leader understands them and their story. They’re trying to find a partner on that journey.

Often, the last thing they’re looking for is advice – or a canned leadership mantra. And when you give that to people, you really are doing them an incredible disservice.

You’re stopping short of throwing yourself fully into the conversation. You think you’re talking to the other person, but you’re subconsciously talking about you.

And neither of you are really getting value out of the exchange.

It’s not difficult to resolve. It begins with a pause before speaking.

A second longer to reflect on what the other person has said and formulating a response.

A deeper understanding of what is required of you out of that exchange.And that’s really it.

Staying Power Is What Counts

It can be difficult to find investors with the right staying power. For us investors, it can be difficult to find entrepreneurs with the right amount of staying power too. We want to see a long term commitment to the industry, to the product. It invariably tends to be the startups that  have set up looking for a rapid exit that have the most trouble getting the exit they want.

Both sides, theoretically, in a venture deal, have a vested interest in a quick exit. The VC gets its investment back, does not have to lower its liquidity for long, and has plenty of cash to put into the next venture along the line.

The entrepreneur wants a rapid exit too – they are aware that the market is looking for signals that their business is viable, that there is a market for it, and that there is a profit to be made from the business. Nothing does that quite as well as having a gaggle of potential suitors hanging around.

But, there is maybe good reason to believe that both sides looking for a rapid exit might be a counterintuitive approach. By looking too hard for an exit too early in the business, it is possible to risk the health of the business and stunt growth.

I’ve always believed in the power of what we call ‘staying power’ – what this in fact refers to is a family of related beliefs about what the role of a VC should be, and how they should be prepared to take a role in safeguarding the health of their investment.

VCs should see their investment as a long term commitment to the health of the business. This support should be given by opening up contact books, providing business advice, providing liquidity when required, and through building a long term relationship with the startup.

The emphasis here is on long term. While quick exits sometimes happen, they are very much the exception, rather than the norm. Both investors and entrepreneurs need to be prepared for a long, hard slog in getting a business to exit.

Although there has been a dramatic improvement in the economic climate in recent times, there is still a feeling that many of the larger problems have been papered over, and that there are still some major challenges ahead.

There is still a distinct lack of IPO opportunities in the venture market, and acquisitions are a lot lower priced than they were. This had led many venture capitalists to reserve money for their later-stage investments. By doing this, venture capitalists are storing up trouble for the future.

Building a world class company and positioning for exit is not something that ever has been, or ever will be, easy. This is particularly the case in difficult economic climates. Organisations need a sustained record of growth and profitability.

None of this comes overnight. This kind of growth and profitability requires more than a few late nights. It requires a company to lay the foundations, through managing their reputation, building traction, and turning this into a serviceable, sustainable, scalable business model. When that scale happens, the truly hard work begins, as organisations are forced to effectively localise to different business ecosystems.

Social Slipstreaming

There has been a lot of talk recently around the idea of ‘Teens Don’t Tweet.’ Fifteen year old Matthew Robson’s Report for Morgan Stanley, How Teenagers Consume Media, which relayed the conversations of the 200 or so people in Robert’s year to the wider investment banking and the world, sent shockwaves through the media community also. One of the key findings of the report was that Twitter, a platfom which has shown explosive growth, and now finds itself increasingly becoming part of the established web infrastructure, is not used by teenagers at all.

This was a key theme which ran through the discussion at the Media140 conference which I attended yesterday. A number of the questions which were being asked referenced the idea that ‘Twitter is not a cool platform,’ or that ‘Twitter is not something which is used by young people.’ A consensus seemed to emerge throughout the day that different social networking platforms were good for targeting certain people.

What did not seem to be answered, however, way why this was the case. No one seems to have attempted to answer in a meaningful way why it is that Twitter is less ‘cool’ for young people. As far as I can see at least, there is no reason to be found in the way Twitter presents itself – Twitter presents itself as quite a ‘young’ looking tool, has a ‘young’ language which surrounds it (think ‘tweets’ and ‘follows’ rather than LinkedIn’s ‘recommendations’ and ‘connections’). Sure, Twitter has older people on it too, and this might lead some people to say that younger people find Twitter ‘irrelevant,’ but Gen Y are capable of moving at such speed that they could easily establish a critical mass of people anywhere if they.

In some senses also, Twitter allows a greater customisation of one’s core profile page than Facebook does – it allows people to change the CSS styles, and background image in a way that bears some relation to MySpace’s offering.

So, on the face of it, Twitter failing to achieve a significant following amongst Gen Y is something of a mystery. Twitter, it seems should have done better. There are plenty of reasons why one might think that Twitter should have taken off amongst Gen Y. Twitter seems to have all the peripheral elements to take off amongst Gen Y, but simply, thus far, hasn’t done so. This has been read as fact by marketing analysts, many of whom have simply given up on Twitter as a platform for engaging with Generation Y on (though many are still trying). When pushed for an explanation, they will tend to say that Twitter isn’t ‘cool,’ although Gen Y’s sense of cool is very fluid, and besides, Twitter seems to have the elements to be cool.

Why then, hasn’t Twitter taken off amongst Gen Y? I think that this is a question which certainly can be answered, and that it answering it, we can help to explain some meaningful concepts which surround Gen Y’s engagement and use of these kinds of platforms.

The main reason why Twitter has not taken off amongst Gen Y actually, in my opinion, cuts at the heart of why Generation Y use social networking. It is not a question of cool at all, but more a question of function. Facebook better provides for the needs of Generation Y, and what they require from the technology than Twitter. Generation Y use social networking for social slipstreaming. They use tools such as Facebook to track what people who they think are influential in terms of their fashion and social life are saying about the latest trends, or the latest party, or why she is wearing that dress, or which band they should like. Crucially also though, they are looking to track the responses to that, which come in Facebook, back and forth, in the form of the comments module. Critically too, Facebook will tell you when you have a response, meaning that valuable seconds are not spent checking for responses to messages, and facilitating live, public, IM-like conversations.

On Facebook, status updates are increasingly being used in the same way as they are on Twitter. They are manifesting themselves less as ‘how am I doing,’ and more ‘this is what I am thinking’ and ‘this is the statement which I would like to make.’ Think about the two different technologies, and the choice architecture which they offer people. Facebook, through its News Feed, offers a quick, easy, and live way in which to see what a circle of peers your age think about something, and the key discussions which are taking place around this. This functionality makes it easy to dive in and comment on just about anything, and people don’t have to worry about the length of their responses. These responses are also instantly public. For Gen Y, this also makes any sort of live event, such as X Factor, an absolute joy, as group dicussions abound.

A similar kind of experience is impossible through Twitter. Twitter offers a very linear stream of activity, and only allows you to send messages back and forth between individuals. Creating and sustaining any kind of group discussion is impossible on Twitter is impossible. Increasingly though, swarm like Gen Y are coming to thrive on, and depend on such discussions to guide their social decision making. The reason why Twitter has not taken off amongst Gen Y is a question of  ‘cool’, but a question of function.