In the saddle with a lance and a gasmask

I’m well into the second episode of Hardcore History’s series on the First World War. I can tell you about the second all day long, but I’ve never spent much time on the original.

What’s striking about the war itself is watching as 19th-century gentlemen-soldiers, with frilly 19th-century uniforms and a romanticized 19th-century outlook of war, run headlong into a 20th-century machine gun fire. It wasn’t the first time that industrialized technology saw battle, but it was the first time that major powers faced each other using these technologies. What happens when 19th century people have to solve for a 20th century battlefield?

The French rode off to war wearing metal breastplates, white gloves and red pants. It was honorable for officers to stand and wave their sabres around during firefights. It didn’t take long to learn that charging calvary at machine guns presented some problems. Thousand year old tactics suddenly made obsolete, the entire war becomes a series of experiments. Lose a few hundred thousand troops using one tactic, switch it up.

While it’s easy to condescend to generals sending hundreds of thousands of people armed for Waterloo to a front line of drum artilary and chemical gas attacks, I get the feeling, a century later, we are at a similar crossroads. People are going to look back and see 20th century people dealing with 21st century technology. An estuary between ages.

Governments are still using the word “cyber.” The hacking and data collection that we hear about is only a fraction of a percentage of what is really going on. ISIS uses video on the web successfully, the US learns from that and begins to counter with videos of their own. Modern warfare is as much about communication, data, and ideas as it is about troops on the ground.

On the civilian side, we’re using the most disruptive technology ever invented as a new way to watch television, read books, listen to radio and send mail. We're using 21st century technology for 20th century ideas of media and interaction. If you need any evidence that marketing hasn’t figured out what to do with the internet, look no further than the continued use of display advertising, despite overwhelming evidence of its ineffectiveness.

The more I think about it, the more I’m starting to think that being born before the Internet was widely in use isn’t all that different from having been born before electricity. When people look back, they’re going see us just as we see that German on horseback, carrying a lance and wearing a gasmask.

Telly on the Internet

Russell has written a great post about the BBC being innovative with storytelling on the Internet before iPlayer enabled them to become lazy:

If you really work at it, you can always make the internet fit the business model you understand.

I'm not saying this to carp. (Except a bit.) I'm saying this because the biggest challenge in Digital Transformation is not in the initial refocusing on a new organising principle, it's in resisting the steady drift back to the old one.

Or, worse, to something that looks like the new one but is, in fact, the old one.

The BBC did strong, important refocusing work in putting 'online services' right up there in their charter alongside 'television and radio' - with equal weight and status. The inevitable drift back towards telly has turned online services into 'telly on the internet'.

I'd argue that the Cannes Cyber Lion has created an entirely new and innovative way for telly to win Cannes Lions.

Mobile Shopping or No Shopping

Emarketer released a report in which mobile was shown to be augmenting, not replacing, retail stores:

Even as many retailers dawdle, consumers continue to change their shopping behaviors. They still head to stores to actually purchase, but they shop continuously on their devices. Smartphones aren’t replacing stores—they’re augmenting them. In 2015, for the first time, the majority of sales in stores will be influenced by digital media, according to Forrester Research.

Mobile has been a part of how I've shifted my shopping habits. I still expect to have my wrist slapped when I'm in-store and scanning barcodes for Amazon reviews. But I've been doing that for a long time.

The bigger shift over the past year or two, for me anyways, has been less about mobile and more about the elimination of shopping in the first place. When sites like The Wirecutter and The Sweethome do such a fantastic job of pointing readers towards best-in-category products with an accompanying link to buy on Amazon, why would I browse the aisles of a store?

The new assumption is that anything on the shelves at a Target or Best Buy is going to be subpar. It won't be good enough. A mistake. Even if I get a recommedation online and I want to buy at a brick and morter, the chances of finding exactly what I'm looking for are slim.

So yeah, retailers need mobile. But then what?

The Answer is the Unchanging

Jeff Bezos' advice for anyone running a business:

If you want to build a successful, sustainable business, don’t ask yourself what could change in the next ten years that could affect your company.

Instead, ask yourself what won’t change, and then put all your energy and effort into those things.

Reminds me of Bernbach's thoughts on the unchanging man:

It took millions of years for man's instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary.

It is fashionable to talk about the changing man.

A communication must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.

There is a fundamental nature to things, ambivalent to the steady march of shiny technologies and data of various sizes.

It doesn't mean those things can be ignored. They just can't bear the weight of the long term.

Yesterday was tax preparation day. It was also Super Bowl Sunday.

I'm not much of an NFL fan. I've never had a favorite team. I thought that the Dallas Cowboys were my team when I was a kid. But that was because my dad is from Fort Worth and I had an officially licensed pillow-case.

Wearing Dallas Cowboys gear in the DC suburbs, at a time when the Redskins were winning Super Bowls, at an elementary school that considered the Redskins fight song essential curriculum, didn't have me running to sign-up as a fan. I was an insurgent, deep in enemy territory, on the losing side of a cause I wasn't fighting for.

I didn't follow football until college, where fandom is grafted onto your bones like Adamantium. Your body in constant pain as it tries to heal itself for the rest of time. It's an intense experience that causes people in the deep south to shoot at each other if things don't go their way. NFL fandom seems a little boring in comparison to the white hot passion and stray bullets of college football season.

I don't think it's as simple as just picking a team and leaning-in. No, you can't have it all, ladies. If Saturday is full of college football, you can't possibly make Sunday all about the NFL while also having a house, kids, and oxygen in your blood. And if you haven't grown up with a local team to go nuts about, choosing one is an arbitrary exercise, like picking a favorite mineral to follow.

Which is all to say that I've been doing my taxes on Super Bowl Sunday for the past three years. Yesterday included. Super Bowl Sunday makes a fantastic annual tax day. It's far enough into the year that you have all of your various W2s and 1099s, but it's not so far that you can't find a tax guy to figure out if you've screwed up, or if you really have to leave the country.

The best part is that while the rest of the US is 7-layers deep in store-bought dip and dumfounded at the best that the advertising industry has to offer, you're earning the right to act smug and write a blog post on the following Monday.

Responsive Logos

As the browser gets smaller, the logos lose detail and become more abstract. By the time you get to the smallest screen width, you're down to just the Disney "D" or Nike swoosh or Heineken red star, aka the bare minimum you need to render the logo recognizable, if only on a subconscious or emotional level.

The original site with more examples is here

Band Of Unicorns

My friend Barrie, who was a planner before moving into recruiting for strategy/planning types, has been writing about recruiting on her new(ish) blog: Band of Unicorns. It'll be a good read for anyone that works in a creative industry:

I’m just a former planner who has been recruiting for the last few years. Why? The simplest answer is this: I love people and the industry and I really love the people in this industry. We’re a lucky crew of weirdos. (Mean that in the most complimentary of ways.)

Being on this side of things I have been fortunate enough to meet a lot more of you...fascinating folks with great stories, creative hearts, big imaginations who are also haunted by some fears and concerns. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic. Let’s say you worry sometimes. And in this position I hear many of the same questions and concerns, and see consistent patterns of behavior, yet many of you believe you’re the only ones. Trust me, you’re not. There are lots of other unicorns.

I often think about how lucky I am to do what I do. The job itself is interesting, but the collection of marvelous lunatics that I've met along the way is something that is unique to this business, and something for which I'm thankful.

Come Fly the Intentionally Miserable Skies

The New Yorker wrote a piece on air carriers and their take on UX Torture: Calculated Misery.

Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.

The necessity of degrading basic service provides a partial explanation for the fact that, in the past decade, the major airlines have done what they can to make flying basic economy, particularly on longer flights, an intolerable experience. For one thing, as the Wall Street Journal has documented, airlines have crammed more seats into the basic economy section of the airplane, even on long-haul flights. The seats, meanwhile, have gotten smaller—they are narrower and set closer together. Bill McGee, a contributing editor to Consumer Reports who worked in the airline industry for many years, studied seat sizes and summarized his findings this way: “The roomiest economy seats you can book on the nation’s four largest airlines are narrower than the tightest economy seats offered in the 1990s.”

It's a shame to see JetBlue giving in. I guess public companies gonna public.

The Rise of the UX Torturer

The UX Torturer is a new and emerging role in the field of UX. Whereas the typical UX Designer is a one-trick pony who can only improve the user experience, the UX Torturer specializes in degrading the user experience to maximize profit.

New and emerging?

Marketing people have been ruining user experiences for decades.

It's called advertising. And you're soaking in it.

Life is doing: Remembering Mike Hughes

It's been one year today since Mike Hughes, one of the guys that built The Martin Agency, passed. I didn't know him well. We shared only a few conversations during my time in graduate school at VCU and later when I returned to Richmond to work at Martin. But he nevertheless made a lasting impact on my life.

He was a great many things to an awful lot of people. For me, he was living proof, at a crucial time in my career, that there were people in advertising with integrity. That there were agency executives who value the people in their employ. That there is room for both creativity and humanity in the same person.

We had a small gathering to mark the occassion today. In the announcement, Joe Alexender included an excerpt from a longer piece that Mike had written to him a few months before he died.

I always enjoy his writing. But his perspective on embracing and engaging with life, even while nearing the end, has found itself firmly lodged in my brain ... it's something that I hope to continue drawing from in my own life.

I haven’t yet figured out how to do it, but I want to do something that means something. I want to help society address its big problems. I want to help righteous journalism maintain its integrity and its robustness. I want to figure out how to stop governments and politicians from getting in the way of progress. I want our schools to be better. I want scientists to learn how to talk to the rest of us so that all of us can get a firmer handle on the truth.

I don’t fear death, but I am incredibly frustrated by its prospect. I don’t want to have to stop what I’m doing.

Life is measured only superficially by heartbeats, breaths and brainwaves. Life is doing. It’s learning and it’s engaging and it’s thinking. It’s having at least a minimal capacity for joy.

I want to live forever and then die quickly. I want to learn. I want to be part of stimulating conversations. I want to understand the wisdom that inspires some people to see things differently than I do. My whole life I have felt that I had nothing to teach anyone. Now I think maybe I do.

This is what my life is now. Except maybe to get rid of this damned cancer, I wouldn’t change any of it.

M

The Christmas Catalog — Tools and Toys

It's become a cliche, the whole Christmas is a difficult time of year thing. But while it's mostly full of great moments, it also forces ugly choices:

  • Who gets a Christmas card?
  • Isn't that Christmas card good enough?
  • Do we have to keep discussing Christmas cards?
  • Do we need to send a thank you note for the Christmas cards?

Though gifts give me the most trouble.

When giving, I like to try to find something that people didn't know they wanted, but will be excited about. Something with a tad more meaning than "that sweater that we saw" or an Amazon gift card. That's not always easy. It takes time and gumption and a good deal of luck.

When it comes to receiving, I have an incredibly hard time giving people a good answer when they ask what I want. Partly because I rarely think about it, partly because I really hate to be a bother for people, and partly because everything that I can think of offhand is usually beyond the price point where aspirational meets extraordinarily rude.

Which is where the Tools and Toys 2014 Holiday Gift Guide comes in handy:

We have done our best to avoid listing out a vast array of crap that has found the inferior sweet spot between impractical, unaffordable, and meaningless.

Instead, we have put together a list with short personal reviews of few items which meet certain criteria: they are products we own and use; we personally vouch for their quality; and they are useful and enjoyable.

Also, a portion of anything bought through the Amazon links on the guide will go to one of three charities, including the incredibly cool App Camp for Girls.

Unread: A tale of trying to make a living in the iOS App Store

Unread for iPhone and iPad is one of my favorite apps ... I use it everyday. So I was disappointed to hear that the developer hasn't seen enough sales to continue developing for it. He wrote about his experience in a revealing blog post (that I ironically read from within his app):

Unread for iPhone has earned a total of $32K in App Store sales. Unread for iPad has earned $10K. After subtracting 40 percent in self-employment taxes and $350/month for health care premiums (times 12 months), the actual take-home pay from the combined sales of both apps is:

$21,000, or $1,750/month

Considering the enormous amount of effort I have put into these apps over the past year, that’s a depressing figure.

Voyager’s Vintage Tech is Amazingly Vintage

If Carl Sagan was so smart, why did he send a bunch of technology from the 70s into interstellar space? It's fun to be on this end of such an epic mission. Seeing what is essentially an Atari 2600 with a tape drive escaping the heliosphere while still communicating with the Earth, is amazing. According to Wired:

The computers aboard the Voyager probes each have 69.63 kilobytes of memory, total. That’s about enough to store one average internet jpeg file. The probes’ scientific data is encoded on old-fashioned digital 8-track tape machines rather than whatever solid state drive your high-end laptop is currently using. Once it’s been transmitted to Earth, the spacecraft have to write over old data in order to have enough room for new observations.

The Voyager machines are capable of executing about 81,000 instructions per second. The smart phone that is likely sitting in your pocket is probably about 7,500 times faster than that. They transmit their data back to Earth at 160 bits per second. A slow dial-up connection can deliver at least 20,000 bits per second.

Though technically we're still at the beginning. Expected to last for a few billion years, these two robots and the golden records they carry might be the last evidence that humanity existed at all.

Carl does a better job of illustrating their significance:

Source: http://www.wired.com/2013/09/vintage-voyag...

Social is about behavior, not platforms.

I wrote about the need to unpack "social" a few months ago. Greg Satell at HBR argues the case well:

These days, it’s pretty easy to interact with consumers directly.

Yet that’s exactly the problem. All too often, when marketers talk about their “social strategy,” they really mean a digital marketing strategy implemented on social platforms, rather than using social dynamics to benefit their business.

That’s why many social initiatives fail miserably. Consider Pepsi’s Refresh project, which sought to replace $20 million in Super Bowl spending with a social platform that funded good works. While its social media KPI’s soared, its business suffered. Pepsi actually lost market share and fell to number three in the cola wars for the first time in modern history.

The problem is thinking that "social," whatever it means, has some mandate to replace marketing or communications in general. It's not hard to fall into that line of thought, given the number of people positioning themselves as social media space ninjas or the even more nafarious growth hacker. (Growth hacker should be a term for cancer specialists. Not marketing people that think they aren't marketing people.) It's difficult to look at the internet without being accosted by some sort of social strategy SEO expert ninja warfare nonsense.

Social at it's best is about social mechanics. Behavior. Ideas that people want to share. Not in the bullshitty Ted way, but in the things people talk to each other about way.

And mass media is usually much better spreading ideas than Twitter alone. It's a simple matter of scale.

That's not to say that social networks aren't useful in all of this, it's just to say that "social" isn't a channel, it's a behavior that lives anywhere a good idea can.

And after all is said and done, engagement is not a replacement for ideas that move business.

Source: http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/08/what-great-so...

Build for the Long Web

From Indie Web Camp's Principles of building on the indie web:

If human society is are able to preserve ancient papyrus, Victorian photographs and dinosaur bones, we should be able to build web technology that doesn’t require us to destroy everything we’ve done every few years in the name of progress.

The problem is that out of context, most of it will just seem like noise. Games that were awesome on the Commodore 64 in the 80s will. not. hold. up.

Codename Iceman, which was AMAZING in 3rd grade, will. not. hold. up.

But! it's hard to stand on the shoulders of giants if none of their work is still around.

So let's do it.

Source: http://http://indiewebcamp.com/principles

Systematic #105: Uniform Individuality with Kevin Rothermel

Brett Terpstra was kind enough to have me on Systematic this week. It was the first podcast that I've recorded. And brother, if you think your voice sounds weird on a voice-message, just wait until you hear yourself almost make a point for over an hour.

I had an awesome time, I'm pretty sure I didn't offend anyone, and he taught me how to use the microphone that I bought 6-months ago.

So we'll call it a big-time win.

Shedworking

I thought all I needed was a desk. Maybe a home office. I was wrong.

Via Shedworking

Google Looking for Ways to Get Out of Advertising

Russell Davies, with a refreshing take on Google in Campaign:

Google was invented by engineers. They, typically, hate advertising – but they stumbled on an advertising-based business model so lucrative that it was hard to keep hating it. Even so, they certainly did their best to keep their distance. They made the advertising they carry look as unlike regular advertising as possible and all their rhetoric was about how they would make advertising so relevant and targeted that it would stop actually being advertising and become useful information.

...

That’s why I don’t worry that the self-driving cars are going to take diversions past billboards or the thermostats are going to whisper ads in your ear while you’re sleeping. Google is not looking for new ways to do advertising – it is looking for ways to get out of it.

This would be good news.

They make great services, but trying to figure out whether or not I care about Google's knowledge of me is exhausting.

Lego Fusion Blends Physical and Digital Play

Lego is coming out with a new line, branded as Lego Fusion, that is made to bridge real world creation with digital gameplay.

Announced on Wednesday, and shipping in August and September, Lego Fusion boxes each come with 200 Lego pieces. They let you build and play in app-based virtual worlds that include a tower-defense game called "Battle Towers," a town-building game called "Town Master," a racing game called "Create and Race" and "Resort Designer." What you build in the real world can be captured and used in the iOS and Android tablet apps. Each structure then becomes part of the game, and each game can be a part of your world or the larger Lego social community, where others are using their Fusion sets to build similar worlds. Towers can battle towers, race cars can compete against each other and townspeople can take virtual metros to visit other player’s towns.

As a dad of two boys, I can't even begin to describe the embarrassment of Lego (Lego is the plural of Lego) they are in for when old enough. Though I am trying to figure out how to avoid the movie-theme/franchised Lego sets in favor of things like this that encourage them to make things up on their own.

Then after they've messed around with a bucket of random peices for long enough, we'll build the Death Star. Because we're gentlemen.

Via Mashable