Posts tagged ‘unity’


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 »


Staying a step ahead: the economic benefit of gimmicks

05.06.2013


Wifi on the waterfront is now a normal part of Wellington life—but in 2009 some felt it was a gimmick.

When I proposed free wifi as a campaign policy in 2009, it was seen as gimmicky by some. I wasn’t a serious candidate, some thought. But those ideas that have demand, such as wifi, have a way of becoming mainstream. The gimmicky tag is lost.
   Just as it was lost with the microwave oven, the compact disc, or the cellular phone.
   Not that the wifi idea was anything that new. Nor was it that original. It was simply a logical thing to propose for anyone who had done a spot of travelling (perhaps I did more than my rivals that time?), and had seen the potential of having the internet on tap to those using mobile devices. (The irony of this is, of course, I was not a regular user of mobile devices, at least not till they got to the technology that I expected of them.) If by providing such infrastructure, others could benefit, then was there anything to lose?
   Former Wellington mayor Mark Blumsky had a target to make our city the first capital in the world to be half-wired, that is, to have half its population on the internet. In the 1990s, when people were still wondering what on earth the internet was, that seemed an unnecessary goal. But leadership demands that one stays ahead of the curve, otherwise what point is there? If people wanted leaders to be reactive, then they may as well vote same-again politicians.
   I’m still pushing for extending wifi, especially in the places where library funding cuts have hurt resources for Wellingtonians. During a recent visit to the Johnsonville library, where staff could not discuss the impact of the cuts, I at least solicited the librarians’ belief that their places of work were used by all sectors of the community. Every age, every culture. And this library was particularly buzzing, as a community library should be.
   It’s going to take rebuilding our business sector—which forms a good part of the only published mayoral campaign manifesto to date—to at least get our economy moving and our rates’ base less dependent on citizens. But on the library issues, extending wifi into certain suburbs can help, especially those hardest hit by the cuts. Provide an uncapped service for those accessing certain educational sites, for instance—it’s technically not that hard to distinguish those from merely social ones.
   We’ve seen how the waterfront system is used through the year, and how it helps people connect. But as with the original system, it sends a signal to others, including those wanting to invest in our city, that Wellington is open to high-value, high-tech businesses. Why should our suburbs not receive the same “open for business” invitation?
   Collaboration, after all, helps fuel the human mind, toward new ideas and innovations.
   On that note, too, other things can be open. The 2010 campaign saw my support for open source. It’s still there, since I work with both commercial and open-source platforms myself. I’ve seen first-hand, through a mash-up competition I helped on a few years back (I mentored one of the winners), how providing open data gets creative juices flowing.
   So why not, in line with all of the above, make our bus and train data open to the public? Presently, Metlink won’t be releasing its real-time information (RTI) to the public, but if it did, potentially, an innovative Wellington company can use these data for live maps, for instance. Find out more information than the RTI that’s being delivered at bus stops. It is called public transport, after all, so why not public data? The most obvious app is a live map of buses that works much like the computer graphics in an America’s Cup race—once gimmicky, now also mainstream. In fact, it’s demanded by broadcasters. The New Zealand innovation of high-resolution, three-dimensional TV weather maps is now de rigueur around the world, too.
   If I can think of something like that, imagine what our really creative, lateral thinkers can come up with.
   While some city data are open, we should continue this trend, especially when it comes to data that innovations can stem from. At the risk of sounding trite, ‘It’s limited only by your imagination.’
   And what if such technology became so highly demanded that another exporter, another high-growth firm, was created right here in Wellington?
   The potential economic impact of “gimmicks” is very serious indeed.

As always, feedback and dialogue are welcome, either via this blog, my campaign Facebook group, or my Facebook page.

PS.: Here’s a prime example from Bangor, Maine of how these data can help the public, which Hamish McConnochie shared with me.—JY

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Fighting the politics of division

27.01.2012

Loving this excerpt from Nancy J. Adler’s ‘Leading Beautifully: the Creative Economy and Beyond’ in the Journal of Management Inquiry, vol. 20, pp. 208–22, at p. 211, which my fellow Medinge Group director Nicholas Ind referred to me:

McGill University strategy professor Henry Mintzberg asked the people in his native Quebec to see the world as artists view it, rather than as normal consumers of the public media. Immediately prior to the last referendum that would decide whether the Province of Quebec would separate from the rest of Canada, Mintzberg challenged the electorate to turn off their radios and TVs, look out their windows, and ask themselves: Do our French- and English-speaking children play together? Do we invite each other into our homes? Do we work well together? Mintzberg was asking his neighbors to view Quebec society through their own eyes and to not let themselves be blinded by politicians who were insisting that people from different cultural and linguistic groups so dislike each other that they cannot live together. He encouraged his neighbors to vote based on their own data. Mintzberg was particularly effective in getting the people of Quebec to see the beauty in their well-functioning, multicultural society, a beauty that had been obfuscated by a profusion of political myths that were broadly perpetrated and perpetuated by politicians and the media alike.

   A few points:

  • in many countries, politicians engage in the politics of hate and division;
  • by extension, the worse things get for people, the more extreme they can be pushed toward the political fringes;
  • recognizing the good in our society can reignite our collective purpose—and help make things better.
  •    I’ve heard some of the arguments in the Republican primaries, and to a non-American, the time wasted by PACs on attack ads seems a waste. They also seem rather foreign to a New Zealander. Sure, we attack the opposition, too, but not with the sort of negative undertone exhibited there.
       The more time spent on attacks, the less time spent on solutions.
       Though you wonder if the institutionalization and the deals done behind closed doors can ever be undone, and I don’t mean just the Americans.
       I’ve also been reading Michael Lewis’s latest book, Boomerang: the Meltdown Tour—and can happily report to Mr Lewis that I have bought three copies (the one in New Zealand at twice the price of what I paid in India). While most of it covers the global financial crisis, he spends some time with former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (original emphasis):

    … “When you want to do pension reform for the prison guards,” he says, “and all of a sudden the Republicans are all lined up against you. It was really incredible and it happened over and over: people would say to me, ‘Yes, this is the best idea! I would love to vote for it! But if I vote for it some interest group is going to be angry with me, so I won’t do it.’ I couldn’t believe people could actually say that. You have soldiers dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they didn’t want to risk their political lives by doing the right thing.”
       He came into office with boundless faith in the American people—after all, they had elected him—and figured he could always appeal directly to them. That was his trump card, and he played it. In November 2005 he called a special election that sought votes on four reforms: limiting state spending, putting an end to the gerrymandering of legislative districts, limiting public employee union spending on elections, and lengthening the time it took for public school teachers to get tenure. All four propositions addressed, directly or indirectly, the state’s large and growing financial mess. All four were defeated; the votes weren’t even close. From then until the end of his time in office he was effectively gelded: the legislators now knew that the people who had elected them to behave exactly the way they were already behaving were not going to undermine them when appealed to directly. The people of California might be irresponsible, but at least they were consistent.

       This is just at state level. It’s a lot worse at the national level there. And yet certain politicians here have a hankering to emulate this behaviour.
       Let’s hope that when we next get a chance to elect our officials, we’ll keep these scenarios at the back of our minds—and stay away from them. Let us, instead, look at all the good we can do—and find ways to unite, rather than divide, people. And also, let us ensure that democracy continues to be accountable to the people, rather than the same old, same old “business as usual”.

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    Posted in culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, USA | No Comments »