Posts tagged ‘innovation’


If you’re in the ‘New Zealand can’t’ camp, then you’re not a business leader

04.10.2020


Which club is the better one to belong to? The ones who have bent the curve down and trying to eliminate COVID-19, or the ones whose curves are heading up? Apparently Air New Zealand’s boss thinks the latter might be better for us.

From Stuff today, certain ‘business leaders’ talk about the New Zealand Government’s response to COVID-19.
   We have Air New Zealand boss Greg Foran saying that elimination was no longer a realistic goal for us, and that we should live with the virus.
   This is despite our country having largely eliminated the virus, which suggests it was realistic.
   No, the response hasn’t been perfect, but I’m glad we can walk about freely and go about our lives.
   Economist Benje Patterson says that if we don’t increase our risk tolerance, ‘We could get to that point where we’re left behind.’
   When I first read this, I thought: ‘Aren’t we leaving the rest of the world behind?’
   Is Taiwan, ROC leaving the world behind with having largely eliminated COVID-19 on its shores? It sure looks like it. How about mainland China, who by all accounts is getting its commerce moving? (We’ve reported on a lot of developments in Lucire relating to Chinese business.) The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has adopted policies similar to ours with travel and quarantine, and I’ve been watching their infection figures drop consistently. They’re also well on their way to eliminating the virus and leaving the world behind.
   We are in an enviable position where we can possibly have bubbles with certain low-risk countries, and that is something the incoming government after October 17 has to consider.
   We are in a tiny club that the rest of the world would like to join.
   Let’s be entirely clinical and calculating: how many hours of productivity will be lost to deaths and illnesses, and the lingering effects of COVID-19, if we simply tolerated the virus?
   Work done by Prof Heidi Tworek and her colleagues, Dr Ian Beacock and Eseohe Ojo, rates New Zealand’s democratic health communications among the best in the world and believes that, as of their writing in September, we have been successful in executing the elimination strategy.
   Some of our epidemiologists believe the goal can be achieved.
   I just have to go with the health experts over the business “experts”.
   I’m not sure you could be described as a ‘business leader’ if you are a business follower, and by that I mean someone who desires to be part of a global club that is failing at its response to COVID-19. GDP drops in places like the UK and the US are far more severe than ours over the second quarter—we’re a little over where Germany is. Treasury expects our GDP to grow in Q3, something not often mentioned by our media. As Europe experiences a second wave in many countries, will they show another drop? Is this what we would like for our country?
   I’ve fought against this type of thinking for most of my career: the belief that ‘New Zealand can’t’. That we can’t lead. That we can’t be the best at something. That because we’re a tiny country on the edge of the world we must take our cues from bigger ones.
   Bollocks.
   Great Kiwis have always said, ‘Bollocks,’ to this sort of thinking.
   Of course we can win the America’s Cup. Just because we haven’t put up a challenge before doesn’t mean we can’t start one now.
   Of course we can make Hollywood blockbusters. Just because we haven’t before doesn’t mean we can’t now.
   Heck, let’s even get my one in there: of course we can create and publish font software. Just because foreign companies have always done it doesn’t mean a Kiwi one can’t, and pave the way.
   Yet all of these were considered the province of foreigners until someone stood up and said, ‘Bollocks.’
   Once upon a time we even said that we could have hybrid cars that burned natural gas cheaply (and switch back to petrol when required) until the orthodoxy put paid to that, and we wound up buying petrol from foreigners again—probably because we were so desperate to be seen as part of some globalist club, rather than an independent, independently minded and innovative nation.
   Then when the Japanese brought in petrol–electric hybrids we all marvelled at how novel they were in a fit of collective national amnesia.
   About the only lot who were sensible through all of this were our cabbies, since every penny saved contributes to their bottom line. They stuck with LPG after 1996 and switched to the Asian hybrids when they became palatable to the punters.
   Through my career people have told me that I can’t create fonts from New Zealand (even reading in a national magazine after I had started business that there were no typefoundries here), that no one would want to read a fashion magazine online or that no one would ever care what carbon neutrality was. Apparently you can’t take an online media brand into print, either. This is all from the ‘New Zealand can’t’ camp, and it is not one I belong to.
   If anybody can, a Kiwi can.
   And if we happen to do better than others, for God’s sake don’t break out the tall poppy shit again.
   Accept the fact we can do better and that we do not need the approval of mother England or the United States. We certainly don’t want to be dragged down to their level, nor do we want to see the divisiveness that they suffer plague our politics and our everyday discourse.
   Elimination is better than tolerance, and I like the fact we didn’t settle for a second-best solution, even if some business followers do.
   Those who wish to import the sorts of division that the US and UK see today are those who have neither imagination nor a desire to roll up their sleeves and do the hard yards, because they know that spouting bullshit from positions of privilege is cheap and easy. And similarly I see little wisdom in importing their health approaches and the loss of life that results.
   I’m grateful for our freedom, since it isn’t illusory, as we leave the rest of the world to catch up. And I sincerely hope they do.

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Posted in business, cars, China, culture, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, typography, UK, USA | No Comments »


Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?

22.07.2020

For a while, we’ve been thinking about how best to facelift the Lucire website templates, to bring them into the 2020s. The current look is many years old (I’ve a feeling it was 2016 when we last looked at it), which in internet terms puts this once-cutting edge site into old-school territory.
   But what’s the next step? When I surf the web these days, so many websites seem to be run off one of several templates, and there aren’t many others out there. After you scroll down past the header, everything more or less looks the same: a big single-column layout with large type.
   I know we have to make things responsive, and we haven’t done this properly, by any means. The CSS will have to be reprogrammed to suit 2020s requirements. But I am reminded of when we adopted many of the practices online publishers do today, except we did them nearly two decades ago.
   Those of you who have been with us a long time, and those who might want to venture into the Wayback Machine, might know that we provided “apps” for hand-held devices even then. We offered those using Palm Pilots and the like a small, downloadable version of the Lucire news pages. We had barely any takers.
   Then Bitstream (if I recall correctly) came out with tech that could reduce pages to a lower resolution and narrower pixel width so those browsing on smaller devices could do so, and those of us publishing for larger monitors no longer needed to do a special version.
   So that was the scene 20 years ago. Did apps, no one cared; and eventually tech came out that rendered it all unnecessary. It’s why I resisted making apps today, because I keep expecting history to repeat itself. I can’t be the only one with a memory of the first half of the 2000s. As a non-technical person, I expect there’d be something like that Bitstream technology today. Maybe there is. I guess some browsers have a reader mode, and that’s a great idea. And if we want to offer that to our readers, it can’t be too hard to find a service that we can point modern smartphone users to, and they can browse all sites to their hearts’ content.
   Except I know, as with so many tech things, that it isn’t that easy, that in fact it’s all so much harder. Server management hasn’t become easier in 2020 compared with 2005, all as the computing industry loses touch with everyday people like me who once really believed in the democratization of technology and bridging the digital divide.
   Back to the templates. I wrote on NewTumbl yesterday, ‘Remember when we could surf the web pretty easily and find amazing new sites, and creative web designs, as people figured out how best to exploit this medium? These days a lot of websites all look the same and there’s far less innovation. Have we settled into what this medium’s about and there’s no need for the same creativity? I’m no programmer, so I can’t answer that, but it wasn’t that long ago we could marvel at a lot of fresh web designs, rather than see yet another site driven by the same CMS with the same single-column responsive template. Or people just treat a Facebook page or an Instagram feed as their “website”, and to heck with making sure it’s hosted on something they have control over.’
   And that’s the thing: I haven’t visited any sites that really jumped out at me, that inspires me to go, ‘What a great layout idea. I must see if I can do something similar here.’ My very limited programming and CSS design skills aren’t being challenged. This is a medium that was supposed to be so creative, and when I surf, after finding a page via a search engine, those fun moments of accidental discovery don’t come any more. The web seems like a giant utilitarian information system, which I suppose is how its inventor conceived it, but I feel it could be so much more. Maybe the whole world could even get on board a fair, unbiased search engine, and a news spidering service that was current and didn’t prioritize corporate media, recognizing that stories can be broken by independents. Because such a thing doesn’t really exist in 2020, even though we had it in the early 2000s. It was called Google, and it actually worked fairly. No search engine with that brand name strikes me as fair today.
   I am, therefore, unsure if we can claim to have advanced this medium.

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Posted in design, internet, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Live from Level 3

03.05.2020

Finally, a podcast (or is it a blogcast, since it’s on my blog?) where I’m not “reacting” to something that Olivia St Redfern has put on her Leisure Lounge series. Here are some musings about where we’re at, now we are at Level 3.

   Some of my friends, especially my Natcoll students from 1999–2000, will tell you that I love doing impressions. They say Rory Bremner’s are shit hot and that mine are halfway there. It’s a regret that I haven’t been able to spring any of these on you. Don’t worry, I haven’t done any here. But one of these days …

Perhaps the funniest Tweet about the safe delivery of the British PM and his fiancée’s son, for those of us who are Clint Eastwood fans:

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Posted in China, culture, France, globalization, Hong Kong, humour, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Andrew Yang’s campaign: #YangGang was just the beginning

13.02.2020


Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

On Andrew Yang’s run for the Democratic nomination in the US:

If Mastodon ever stops supporting that Javascript, I wrote: ‘Pretty stoked at what Andrew Yang has managed to achieve. Certain forces tried to minimize his coverage, to give him as little legitimacy as possible (sounds familiar). Yet he also normalized the idea of an Asian American presidential candidate, paving the way either for himself in 2024 or for someone else. ’. Those forces include some of the Democratic activist media.
   It’s a damned shame. Yang didn’t vilify Republicans, listened to both sides, and was a pragmatist with solutions. Granted, there were areas his policies fell short, but at least he presented the optimistic side of American politics, something so rarely seen in what we outsiders perceive to be such a negative, murky world. Now Americans (and those of us watching from without) will likely face a shouting-match campaign.

And found on the web: a cellphone with a rotary dial that its creator, Justine Haupt, claims is more practical for her, and where calling is faster than with her modern phone. No apps, no SMS, but if you’re after something to call people, it does the job admirably. Her frequently dialled numbers are stored, so it’s only new numbers where she has to dial. The dial also serves as a volume control. Since I’m getting sick of apps, and I can’t be alone, Haupt may be on to something.
   In her words: ‘A truly usable rotary-dial cellphone to replace my flip phone (I don’t use a smart phone). This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.’

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Posted in design, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Capitalism falls down when it’s rigged

04.12.2019

Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, touches on a few points that resonate with my readings over the years.
   He believes capitalism, as a system, is not a bad one, but it is bad when it is ‘rigged’; and that Aristotle was indeed right (as history has since proved) that a sizeable middle class is necessary for the functioning of a democracy.
   We know that the US, for instance, doesn’t really do much about monopolies, having redefined them since the 1980s as essentially OK if no one gets charged more. Hence, Wolf, citing Prof Thomas Philippon’s The Great Reversal, notes that the spikes in M&A activity in the US has weakened competition. I should note that this isn’t the province of “the right”—Philippon also shows that M&A activity reduced under Nixon.
   I alluded to the lack of competition driving down innovation, but Wolf adds that it has driven up prices (so much for the US’s stance, since people are being charged more), and resulted in lower investment and lower productivity growth.
   In line with some of my recent posts, Wolf says, ‘In the past decade, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined have made over 400 acquisitions globally. Dominant companies should not be given a free hand to buy potential rivals. Such market and political power is unacceptable. A refurbishment of competition policy should start from the assumption that mergers and acquisitions need to be properly justified.’
   History shows us that Big Tech’s acquisitions have not been healthy to consumers, especially on the privacy front; they colluded to suppress wages before getting busted. In a serious case, according to one company, Google itself commits outright intellectual property theft: ‘Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business.’ (The case, Attia v. Google, is ongoing, I believe.) Their own Federal Trade Commission said Google ‘used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals,’ quoting the Murdoch Press. We see many undesirable patterns with other firms there exercising monopoly powers, some of which I’ve detailed on this blog, and so far, only Europe has had the cohones to slap Google with massive fines (in the milliards, since 2017), though other jurisdictions have begun to investigate.
   As New Zealand seeks to reexamine its Commerce Act, we need to ensure that we don’t merely parrot the US and UK approach.
   Wolf also notes that inequality ‘undermines social mobility; weakens aggregate demand and slows economic growth.’ The central point I’ve made before on Twitter: why would I want people to do poorly when those same people are potentially my customers? It seems to be good capitalism to ensure there’s a healthy base of consumers.

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Posted in business, internet, politics, USA | No Comments »


The end of US ’net neutrality: another step toward the corporate internet

11.06.2018

That’s it for ’net neutrality in the US. The FCC has changed the rules, so their ISPs can throttle certain sites’ traffic. They can conceivably charge more for Americans visiting certain websites, too. It’s not a most pessimistic scenario: ISPs have attempted this behaviour before.
   It’s another step in the corporations controlling the internet there. We already have Google biasing itself toward corporate players when it comes to news: never mind that you’re a plucky independent who broke the story, Google News will send that traffic to corporate media.
   The changes in the US will allow ISPs to act like cable providers. I reckon it could give them licence to monitor Americans’ traffic as well, including websites that they mightn’t want others to know they’re watching.
   As Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, puts it: ‘We’re talking about it being just a human right that my ability to communicate with people on the web, to go to websites I want without being spied on is really, really crucial.’
   Of course I have a vested interest in a fair and open internet. But everyone should. Without ’net neutrality, innovators will find it harder to get their creations into the public eye. Small businesses, in particular, will be hurt, because we can’t pay to be in the “fast lane” that ISPs will inevitably create for their favoured corporate partners. In the States, minority and rural communities will likely be hurt.
   And while some might delight that certain websites pushing political viewpoints at odds with their own could be throttled, they also have to remember that this can happen to websites that share their own views. If it’s an independent site, it’s likely that it will face limits.
   The companies that can afford to be in that “fast lane” have benefited from ’net neutrality themselves, but are now pulling the ladder up so others can’t climb it.
   It’s worth remembering that 80 per cent of Americans support ’net neutrality—they are, like us, a largely fair-minded people. However, the FCC is comprised of unelected officials. Their “representatives” in the House and Senate are unlikely, according to articles I’ve read, to support their citizens’ will.
   Here’s more on the subject, at Vox.
   Since China censors its internet, we now have two of the biggest countries online giving their residents a limited form of access to online resources.
   However, China might censor based on politics but its “Great Wall” won’t be as quick to block new websites that do some good in the world. Who knew? China might be better for small businesses trying to get a leg up than the United States.
   This means that real innovation, creations that can gain some prominence online, could take place outside the US where, hopefully, we won’t be subjected to similar corporate agenda. (Nevertheless, our own history, where left and right backed the controversial s. 92A of the Copyright Act, suggests our lawmakers can be malleable when money talks.)
   These innovations mightn’t catch the public’s imagination in quite the same way—the US has historically been important for getting them out there. Today, it got harder for those wonderful start-ups that I got to know over the years. Mix that with the US’s determination to put up trade barriers based on false beliefs about trade balances, we’re in for a less progressive (and I mean that in the vernacular, and not the political sense) ride. “The rest of the world” needs to pull together in this new reality and ensure their subjects still have a fair crack at doing well, breaking through certain parties’ desire to stunt human progress.
   Let Sir Tim have the last word, as he makes the case far more succinctly than I did above: ‘When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today’s world, companies can’t operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today [in April 2017] suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?’

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Posted in business, China, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Ford to stop selling passenger cars in the US and Canada, save for Mustang and Focus Active

26.04.2018


The Ford Focus Active: by the turn of the decade, this will be the only four-door passenger car Ford will sell in the US and Canada

In a surprise move, Ford has announced that it will cease selling passenger cars in the US and Canada by the early 2020s, excepting the Mustang and the Focus Active.
   The announcement was actually for ‘North America’ but as Ford of México does a reasonable trade on Figos and Fiestas, it’s hard to see the policy be uniform right across the continent.
   It’s a cost-cutting exercise, designed to save $25,500 million in five years, and trucks and SUVs simply make more money for them. Small cars mean small profits. In fact, car sales lag those of the F-series, Escape and Explorer in the US. Shares have risen on the news.
   That means Americans and Canadians will say goodbye to the Fiesta, Fusion (the four-door sedan counterpart to the Mondeo) and Taurus, the last of which is already superseded in China. If you liked the cooking RS and STs, then too bad. Lincolns are losing money for Ford, too, so maybe the Continental will vanish—given the Fusion is history, the MKZ will follow. That doesn’t leave much in the Lincoln line-up.
   My initial reaction was that the economies of scale would worsen: if you’re not developing for a global market, will development costs be successfully amortized in the same period? We have, however, seen the Japanese do reasonably well with products strictly for the North American market, e.g. certain Acuras and Hondas that are sold only in their neck of the woods. We also know most of the costs of the car are in the platform and architecture, and Ford has shown decent adaptability, particularly with the C519 Focus (the recently released Mk IV).
   Ford says the cuts will come from sales and marketing, engineering and product development, as well as material costs, manufacturing and IT, in that order, according to Automotive News.
   The fact that product development and engineering rank so highly there is worrying to me.
   They’re bandying the word efficiency about a lot, and that always has me worried. That’s the word you used to hear from corporate raiders like Slater Walker. Things can look efficient while they’re being weakened.
   CEO Jim Hackett says he’s feeding the healthy parts of the business, ‘and deal decisively with the parts that destroy value.’
   While it’s true that the crossover, SUV and truck markets are strong, as they are in many parts of the world, I can’t help but think that Ford isn’t preparing itself for tougher future scenarios.
   Energy crises can come unpredictably, for one. Ford was late to the downsizing game in the 1970s because it saw the dollar signs with big cars. By 1977, GM had stolen a real march on Ford. By the turn of the decade, Chrysler was back from the brink with fuel-efficient cars while Ford sailed into the red.
   Chrysler found itself too truck- and SUV-heavy with the recession of the late 2000s, and its entry-level nameplate Plymouth had already vanished, thanks to mismanagement by Daimler earlier in the century.
   While there’s not always a need for a full line—AMC taught us that extending yourself too far isn’t always wise—I wonder if Ford is leaving itself vulnerable.
   Crossovers like the Escape, which might outsell the Fusion, are being beaten in the market-place by the likes of the Toyota RAV4, so it’s not as though Ford is that strong in all the markets it wishes to remain in.
   GM, having pulled out of Europe and Russia, might be in better shape because of its position in China. Ford trails GM when it comes to its Chinese footprint, although it will remain in Europe.
   Ford’s Jim Farley says the company is looking at new types of vehicles that are spacious, versatile and economical, which hopefully will fill the gap should economic surprises surface. Because you need something cheap to hook buyers and get them to the brand. That’s not going to happen if Focus Active is the smallest car in the line-up.
   Ford is likely to have these on global platforms. But that signals to me a real need to remain strong in R&D. Failing that, Ford is looking to partner up with someone, and it may already have an idea who that is.
   I am speculating here, since I don’t have any figures outlining what proportion of revenue is devoted to that area.
   Nevertheless, this sounds like an appeasement of Wall Street.
   That leaves one concern over nameplates. Ford has successfully introduced nameplates over the years because the product was right: Cortina, Mustang, Escort, Capri, Fiesta and Focus among them. But it has also failed by killing nameplates and replacing them with ones that had no real goodwill, such as Five Hundred and Freestyle.
   Whatever Ford has in mind, I hope for their sake that the new product is compelling, as much as the Mustang and Fiesta were when they appeared on the market. Both emerged in the wake of economic recessions, with Ford innovating because it had to.
   In this century, Alan Mulally’s time at Ford had a measured, sensible approach, where you could understand the future. There are question marks over what Hackett has planned, and usually we have some clue what these new products will be four years out. All I know of is that the Ranger will make it to the US again, boosting truck sales, but that’s hardly an innovation. That’s just filling a market niche with familiar product.
   Will Ford do Brasil come up with something that can be sold in both North and South America? Perhaps the next-generation Ecosport?
   There are lessons in history that shouldn’t be ignored, and Ford has one of the most interesting pasts of any car maker. There is, however, a feeling from the announcement that this heralds a time of retrenchment, as its profits fall globally, and net income in the US rising for the first quarter in part due to a lower tax rate.
   Remember, Isuzu also once thought it was a good idea to stop selling passenger cars and focus on SUVs and trucks. And they’re no longer around in North America.

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Posted in business, cars, China, globalization, marketing, USA | 4 Comments »


Being an optimist for a better post-Google, post-Facebook era

15.12.2017

Interesting to get this perspective on ‘Big Tech’ from The Guardian, on how it’s become tempting to blame the big Silicon Valley players for some of the problems we have today. The angle Moira Weigel takes is that there needs to be more democracy in the system, where workers need to unite and respecting those who shape the technologies that are being used.
   I want to add a few far simpler thoughts.
   At the turn of the century, our branding profession was under assault from No Logo and others, showing that certain brands were not what they were cracked up to be. Medinge Group was formed in part because we, as practitioners, saw nothing wrong with branding per se, and that the tools could be used for good. Not everyone was Enron or Nike. There are Patagonia and Dilmah. That led to the original brand manifesto, on what branding should accomplish. (I was generously given credit for authoring this at one point, but I was simply the person who put the thoughts of my colleagues into eight points. In fact, we collectively gathered our ideas into eight groups, so I can’t even take credit for the fact there are eight points.)
   In 2017, we may look at Über’s sexism or Facebook’s willingness to accept and distribute malware-laden ads, and charge tech with damaging the fabric of society. Those who dislike President Trump in the US want someone to blame, and Facebook’s and Google’s contributions to their election in 2016 are a matter of record. But it’s not that online advertising is a bad thing. Or that social media are bad things. The issue is that the players aren’t socially responsible: none of them exist for any other purpose than to make their owners and shareholders rich, and the odd concession to not doing evil doesn’t really make up for the list of misdeeds that these firms add to. Many of them have been recorded over the years on this very blog.
   Much of what we have been working toward at Medinge is showing that socially responsible organizations actually do better, because they find accord with their consumers, who want to do business or engage with those who share their values; and, as Nicholas Ind has been showing in his latest book, Branding Inside Out, these players are more harmonious internally. In the case of Stella McCartney, sticking to socially responsible values earns her brand a premium—and she’s one of the wealthiest fashion designers in the world.
   I just can’t see some of the big tech players acting the same way. Google doesn’t pay much tax, for instance, and the misuse of Adwords aside, there are allegations that it hasn’t done enough to combat child exploitation and it has not been a fair player when it comes to rewarding and acknowledging media outlets that break the news, instead siding with corporate media. Google may have open-source projects out there, but its behaviour is old-school corporatism these days, a far cry from its first five years when even I would have said they were one of the good guys.
   Facebook’s problems are too numerous to list, though I attempted to do so here, but it can be summed up as: a company that will do nothing unless it faces embarrassment from enough people in a position of power. We’ve seen it tolerate kiddie porn and sexual harassment, giving both a “pass” when reported.
   Yet, for all that they make, it would be reasonable to expect that they put more people on the job in places where it mattered. The notion that three volunteers monitor complaints of child exploitation videos at YouTube is ridiculous but, for anyone who has complained about removing offensive content online, instantly believable; why there were not more is open to question. Anyone who has ventured on to a Google forum to complain about a Google product will also know that inaction is the norm there, unless you happen to get to someone senior and caring enough. Similarly, increasing resources toward monitoring advertising, and ensuring that complaints are properly dealt with would be helpful.
   Google’s failure to remove content mills from its News is contributing to “fake news”, yet its method of combatting that appears to be taking people away from legitimate media and ranking corporate players more highly.
   None of these are the actions of companies that want to do right by netizens.
   As Weigel notes, there’s a cost to abandoning Facebook and Google. But equally there are opportunities if these firms cannot provide the sort of moral, socially responsible leadership modern audiences demand. In my opinion, they do not actually command brand loyalty—a key ingredient of brand equity—if true alternatives existed.
   Duck Duck Go might only have a fraction of the traffic Google gets in search, but despite a good mission its results aren’t always as good, and its search index is smaller. But we probably should look to it as a real alternative to search, knowing that our support can help it grow and attract more investment. There is room for a rival to Google News that allows legitimate media and takes reports of fake news sites more seriously. If social media are democratizing—and there are signs that they are, certainly with some of the writings by Doc Searls and Richard MacManus—then there is room for people to form their own social networks that are decentralized, and where we hold the keys to our identity, able to take them wherever we please (Hubzilla is a prime example; you can read more about its protocol here). The internet can be a place which serves society.
   It might all come back to education; in fact, we might even say Confucius was right. If you’re smart enough, you’ll see a positive resource and decide that it would not be in the best interests of society to debase it. Civility and respect should be the order of the day. If these tools hadn’t been used by the privileged few to line their pockets at the expense of the many—or, for that matter, the democratic processes of their nations—wouldn’t we be in a better place? They capitalized on divisions in society (and even deepened them), when there is far more for all of us to gain if we looked to unity. Why should we allow the concentration of power (and wealth) to rest at the top of tech’s food chain? Right now, all I see of Google and Facebook’s brands are faceless, impersonal and detached giants, with no human accountability, humming on algorithms that are broken, and in Facebook’s case, potentially having databases that have been built on so much, that it doesn’t function properly any more. Yet they could have been so much more to society.
   Not possible to unseat such big players? We might have thought once that Altavista would remain the world’s biggest website; who knew Google would topple it in such a short time? But closer to home, and speaking for myself, I see The Spinoff and Newsroom as two news media brands that engender far greater trust than Fairfax’s Stuff or The New Zealand Herald. I am more likely to click on a link on Twitter if I see it is to one of the newer sites. They, too, have challenged the status quo in a short space of time, something which I didn’t believe would be possible a decade ago when a couple of people proposed that I create a locally owned alternative.
   We don’t say email is bad because there is spam. We accept that the good outweighs the bad and, for the most part, we have succeeded in building filters that get rid of the unwanted. We don’t say the web is bad because it has allowed piracy or pornography; its legitimate uses far outweigh its shady ones. But we should be supporting, or trying to find, new ways to advertise, innovate and network (socially or otherwise). Right now, I’m willing to bet that the next big thing (and it might not even be one player, but a multitude of individuals working in unison) is one where its values are so clear and transparent that they inspire us to live our full potential. I remain an optimist when it comes to human potential, if we set our sights on making something better.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, leadership, politics, publishing, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Stefan Engeseth’s Sharkonomics out in China with a new edition

11.12.2017

My good friend Stefan Engeseth’s Sharkonomics hit China a year ago, and it’s been so successful that the second edition is now out. It looks smarter, too, with its red cover, and I’m sure Chinese readers will get a decent taste of Stefan’s writing style, humour and thinking.
   I even hope this will pave the way for translations of his earlier works, especially Detective Marketing and One: a Consumer Revolution for Business (the latter still remains my favourite of his marketing titles).
   I’ve written a brief quote for Sharkonomics and the publisher (with some nudging from Stefan) has taken the time to make sure my Chinese name is accurately recorded, rather than a phonetic translation of my Anglo transliteration, which, of course, then wouldn’t be my name.
   Stefan’s inventive and innovative thinking might seem left-field sometimes, till some years pass and people realize he was right all along. Take, for example, Google wanting to build a high-tech neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, announced in October. Notwithstanding the hassles Google has created on its own turf in Silicon Valley, it’s the sort of project we might expect from the giant now. But would we have expected it in 2007? Probably not, except Stefan did.
   In 2007 (though he actually first floated the idea a year earlier), Stefan blogged about his idea for Google Downtown—why not make real what Google Earth does virtually? Why not shop at places that already know all your personal preferences, if that’s where things are heading? The town would have free wifi and you’d be paying for it with ‘your self’ (the space, I’m sure, was intentional). In 2008, 500 people heard his plans at a conference and laughed. The following year, he met Eric Schmidt and mentioned it to him. Eric paused and didn’t laugh—and maybe the idea sunk in.
   It’s not the first time Stefan has hatched an idea and it gained legs, from Coca-Cola delivering its product through taps to Ikea making flat-pack fashion—both have wound up being done, though the latter not quite in the way Stefan envisaged.

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Posted in business, China, marketing, Sweden | 1 Comment »


There’s still a place for blogging—in fact, it might be needed more than ever

23.04.2017

My friend Richard MacManus commemorated the 14th anniversary of ReadWrite, an online publication he founded as a blog (then called ReadWriteWeb) in 2003, by examining blogging and how the open web has suffered with the rise of Facebook and others.
   It’s worth a read, and earlier tonight I fed in the following comment.

I remember those days well, although my progress was probably the opposite of yours, and, in my circles, blogging began very selfishly. Lucire began as a publication, laid out the old-school way with HTML, and one of the first sites in the fashion sector to add a blog was a very crappy one where it was about an ill-informed and somewhat amoral editor’s point of view. For years I refused to blog, preferring to continue publishing an online magazine.
   Come 2002, and we at the Medinge Group [as it then was; we’ve since dropped the definite article] were planning a book called Beyond Branding. One of the thoughts was that we needed one of these newfangled blogs to promote the book, and to add to it for our readers. I was one (the only?) dissenter at the June 2003 meeting, saying that, as far as my contacts were concerned, blogging was for tossers. (Obviously, I didn’t know you back in those days, and didn’t frequent ReadWriteWeb.) [Hugh MacLeod might agree with me though.] By August 2003 it had been set up, and I designed the template for it to match the rest of the book’s artwork. How wrong I was in June. The blog began (and finished, in 2006) with posts in the altruistic, passionate spirit of RWW, and before long (I think it was September 2003), I joined my friends and colleagues.


An excerpt from the Beyond Branding Blog index page.

   In 2006, I went off and did my own blog, and even though there were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of blogs by now, decent bloggers were still few. I say this because within the first few weeks, a major German newspaper was already quoting my blog, and I got my first al-Jazeera English gig as a result of my blogging a few years later. It was the province of the passionate writer, and the good ones still got noticed.
   I still have faith in the blogosphere simply because social media, as you say, have different motives and shared links are fleeting. Want to find a decent post you made on Facebook five years ago? Good luck. Social media might be good for instant gratification—your friends will like stuff you write—but so what? Where are the analysis and the passion? I agree with everything you say here, Richard: the current media aren’t the same, and there’s still a place for long-form blogging. The fact I am commenting (after two others) shows there is. It’s a better place to exchange thoughts, and at least here we’re spared Facebook pushing malware on to people (no, not phishing: Facebook itself).
   Eleven years on, and I’m still blogging at my own space. I even manage a collective blogging site for a friend, called Blogcozy. My Tumblr began in 2007 and it’s still going. We should be going away from the big sites, because there’s one more danger that I should point out.
   Google, Facebook et al are the establishment now, and, as such, they prop up others in the establishment. Google News was once meritorious, now it favours big media names ahead of independents. This dangerously drowns out those independent voices, and credible writers and viewpoints can get lost. The only exception I can think of is The Intercept, which gets noticed on a wide scale.
   Take this argument further and is there still the same encouragement for innovators to give it a go, as we did in the early 2000s, when we realize that our work might never be seen, or if it is to be seen, we need deep pockets to get it seen?
   Maybe we need to encourage people to go away from these walled gardens, to find ways to promote the passionate voices again. Maybe a future search engine—or a current one that sees the light—could have a search specifically for these so we’re not reliant on the same old voices and the same old sites. And I’m sure there are other ways besides. For I see little point in posting on places that lack ‘charisma’, as you put it. They just don’t excite me as much as discovering a blog I really like, and sticking with it. With Facebook’s personal sharing down 25 and 29 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is a shift away from uninspiring, privacy-destroying places. Hopefully we can catch them at more compelling and interesting blogs and make them feel at home.

   I have also, belatedly, added Richard’s personal blog to the blogroll on this page.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | 4 Comments »