12 years and counting…

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the first post on this blog. Twelve years and about 1,800 posts later, I still find dumping good and bad ideas into this reservoir a rather practical way of making sure I do not forget something that may be of use later.

I am sorry I miss from the Archive the first three years (the original Geektalk – that’s why it’s called “Son of Geektalk”) which were on a self-hosted platform I lost control of when I lost control of my own IT when Omnicom bought my agency, way back in 2000: the fact that it took almost five years to capitulate will give you a hint of how stubborn I can be…

Actually, my post rate has slowed down quite a bit in 2016/2017 as I have started another blog (in Italian…) on the subject of sustainable mobility; it is attached to the website of One Wedge, the start-up I founded with my brother and an adventuresome friend.

To mark the anniversary, I added an Archive widget below, for the historians among you to peruse the evolution of silly ideas over the course of more than a decade.

To the next 12 !

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What’s in the sausage?

Few topics get the moaning started like Fake News: from the damage it inflicts on the political discourse, to the assassination of the role of independent media, to the emergence of populisms, the list goes on…

Of course, the Internet did not invent propaganda machines which have existed since man learned to communicate. Propaganda may be a common weapon of every war, but our age distinguish itself in supporting another type of propaganda, the kind whose ultimate objective is NOT winning a war or electing a candidate, but to make money.

meatgrinderThe great innovation of twenty-first Century propaganda is simply the fact it makes more money than it costs.

I have described in a previous post how the mechanism of Resonance works, by creating a positive feedback mechanism which amplifies the effect much in the same way as a Laser works.

The equivalent of the intensity of light is eyeballs and eyeballs can be monetized through the meat grinder of ad networks, primarily of Google.

This guy tells us of a french startup called Storyzy (thanks, Renato) who built a system to monitor a brand’s presence on fake news sites: given a target list, Storyzy scrapes the names of brands from the ads.

Storyzy’s business model is B2B, it seems; once the report is done, they send a nice letter to the brands who appear where they shouldn’t, offering to license the API to run the monitoring in-house. However, it seems, the response has been lukewarm at best: once again, marketing departments distinguish themselves for not understanding the media they use: while they would object to a family restaurant ad sitting across from a gynecological image on Hustler, they commit a portion of their budget to “the Internet” simply demanding it does not end on the Daily Stormer or on pedophile rings and that’s it.

The role of Google is well understood and studied, and I am sure they defend themselves by saying that they would honour any request for exclusion received from an advertising investor. The rest of the intermediaries never excelled in transparency (who pays what commissions to whom?) so it’s not surprising they are less forthcoming about the details of the scheme.

I think what the system is missing is the self-policing element of a TripAdvisor: despite the potential (and the reality) for abuse, those conflicting-interest balances work better than top-down systems pitching consumer and suppliers against each other to make sure both sides are heard. Storyzy needs to open up its data to consumers, so that they get to see who supports whom.

Turn Storyzy into a an editorial service, attract thousands of customers to it, deliver its results in eye-catching infographics that people could share.

Expose what’s in the sausage…

Resonance Marketing (long)

One or two of you will know I have published two books of very little success: you can find the appropriate links on the right-hand side panel ➔➔➔➔➔➔,

Originally this piece was meant to be a synopsis for my third book, but writing in large parcels is boring, so it may never bloom into the full format.

Although the remarks in this essay are of a general nature, I will make references to the M5S system(*) to illustrate my points. Their success is the best testimony of the soundness of the professional advice contained in my books, although it is NOT the result of its direct application, but rather a case of contemporary invention (**).

To be honest, I think they have carried “our” model much further than I had imagined, so I feel it’s time to give my side a refresh to include these latest developments.

The LASER analogy

The first element I need to add is something I called the LASER effect; the word LASER is an acronym which means Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation and its physics, called Optoelectronics, are quite complex and certainly beyond the scope of this short essay (although I proudly remember scoring a very decent 28/30 in my time).

In layman terms, however, a laser is an optical cavity between two mirrors being “pumped” with energy: light injected in the cavity bounces back and forth between the mirrors and, thanks to one of the many miracles of quantum physics, it gets amplified at each passage ON EXACTLY THE SAME FREQUENCY AND PHASE of the incident light, eventually escaping from one of the two mirrors, which is only partially opaque.

What makes the laser so unique is the coincidence between incoming and outgoing light: a ray comes in and a thousand rays come out with precisely the same frequency and phase.

This coherence is the reason a laser beam travels so much further than an ordinary light ray (for example to carry a signal to the Moon and back), or why it can deliver a very concentrated amount of energy in a small region (for example for microcircuit etching) or why it can “read” microscopic optical details on a surface without touching it (for example in a CD or DVD). A laser is the superhero of light rays.

From Optoelectronics to Communications

Now transpose this to communications: if you could amplify a message the same way you do with a light ray, preserving frequency and phase, this message would travel much farther and would deliver a much stronger punch.

In my book, I explain how a proper “tuning” to the spontaneous interests of a community ensures a story is much more successful. I also describe the mechanisms to perform this tuning, by means of something called ontological analysis.

The great revolution of digital marketing is no more than this: instead of relying on the shaky intel provided by market research which usually carries A LOT of inference, now people express their view in public forums in written form – give me a little time and with some ontological analysis I can tell you with amazing precision what’s in their minds.

If tuning is not a problem, then we already have the amplification mechanism: if topics A, B and F are much stronger than C, D and G, all I have to do to make my message “resonate” (another word stolen from physics) is to push out much more A, B and F than C, D and G.

What is the equivalent of the optical cavity? Some place saturated with A, B and F where the message will bounce back and forth between mirrors gaining strength at each passage; it’s important that the radiation is coherent, remember? So this optical cavity is perfectly represented by the page of someone who’s strongly attuned to A, B and F and has a large network (the equivalent of the energy pumped in the cavity).

The practical set-up

As I say in my disclaimer below, I have no knowledge whatsoever of the innards of the M5S system, or any other propaganda setup: I am merely describing how the extension the methodology I outlined in “For Friends, not for Brands!” could IMHO achieve the very same results.

  1. TUNE the system: this could be done by hand (after all, we analyzed by hand the whole political program of the largest European Party across four countries in less than five weeks with a handful of people, so I know it can be done. However, given the need to repeat this analysis over and over, I would rather fine-tune (or write) a software tool that does the heavy lifting of sorting through millions of conversations, while a small group of elite political analysts provides the final intelligence
  2. prepare the INJECTORS: in my methodology, I advocated the use of proprietary assets to store the content and push it to social media. In the case of the M5S it is well known that they control a large number of outlets which push out news, both real and fake, incessantly day and night.
  3. identify the RESONATORS: these are users with the profiles I described above; if Facebook is the platform of choice, they will all have the maximum 5,000 friends and be very active. Moreover, I would map them by topic and cross-check their networks to ensure minimum overlap and maximum geographical coverage. It would not be difficult to reward them by allowing them early access to prime “content” from the Injectors.
  4. Put in place any commercially available ad server to PAY for all that. Since the traffic flowing through the system is huge, it easily pays for itself, unlike more traditional propaganda machines.

Once the system is ready, all you have to do is flip the switch and watch the clockwork.

People sometimes ask me why I left my old job and well, now you know: the ease with which it can be abused gives me the creeps…


(*) the M5S (Italian acronym for”Five Star Movement”) system was created by the late Roberto Casaleggio, co-founder and inspirer of a political party often described as populist which very successfully broke on the Italian political scene in 2009 around the charismatic figure of comedian Beppe Grillo, and currently commands between 25% and 30% of vote, vying with the Democratic Party for the top spot. They are very far from my own political leanings.

(**) Around the turn of the century I consulted for one of mr. Casaleggio’s companies, but on other subjects, so I do not think I had any role in the development of his approach to political communications on the Internet.

When tech is funny as hell…

…it’s usually involuntary.

Yesterday I updated my Navdy HUD navigation system to the new 1.3 software release. It’s a massive improvement over the previous version, including tons of nifty new features and making the product even more usable. Highly recommended.

Among the many new features is also international language support, really necessary because turn-to-turn directions trying to pronounce Italian or French road names or reading aloud SMS or emails in Italian did not work at all, to the point I had switched it off.

So I set it to Italian: the voice is a pleasant contralto, nice choice. But somehow (maybe it’s me) I can’t find how I switch the language of the UI to Italian.

Here’s the situation: I am driving while Joe Pesci’s little sister gives me directions and I am beginning to worry the crap out about what will happen if I don’t follow them…

“I told you to turn-a right at the traffic-a light-a, what am I, your fuckin’ clown? Am I here to amuse you?

Navdy support, help !!!!!

Negating personal brands

A while back I wrote a small piece in response to a speech request describing what I believe is a Personal Brand.

Obviously mine are nothing but opinions, and – equally obviously – not everyone shares them. In particular my LinkedIn profile was visited today  by a person I don’t know who evidently thinks exactly the opposite of what I think.

Nothing in his profile identifies him as a person: he has no name, no face, not even a bio which does not tell us where he worked and when.

Besides, he claims he’s been in the role of Web Marketing Manager for almost 20 years, which is remarkable given the fact 20 years ago a lot of the Web as we know it today did not exist at all. That is not to say you could not do many of essentially the same things: I myself described what I consider one of my greatest achievements in Digital dating back to 1999.

Not one of his numerous posts are his writing: he likes and re-posts stuff he finds here and there.

And his personal website is not much better; actually it’s exactly the same content dressed in a plain HTML website written probably in the 70’s and never reviewed again.

In short what I do not like about such a profile is its complete lack of transparency, a trait I consider essential in this age of fake this and that.

That said, he’s got over 20,000 followers, while I am barely pushing 2,000 so, by that measure, Luca S. is right and I am wrong.

I’ll do my best to get over it.

Screenshot 2017-08-06 12.54.14.png

#TGD – update 3

Don’t go look for Update 2 of The Great Digitization, you did not miss it; that was last summer, but I never bothered writing it, so I am going straight from Update 1 to Update 3.

I may have already mentioned how incredibly time-consuming this task is: in the long pauses while the scanner does its thing I have time review the images, participate in two or thee different Facebook discussion, write this blog post.

Thanks God, unless I work on badly damaged film, usually the “auto” setting of the scanning software gives good results, but each image must be centered and scanned manually while trying to save it in the right place in the directory structure.

IMG_20170805_164640.jpgMy workstation was greatly improved by the addition of a large screen where I can leave the scanning and filing panes while I do other stuff on the computer’s screen.

Unfortunately, the settings I chose (2400 dpi and some scratch removing – this film is  over 20 years old, after all…) are not exactly the fastest, s each image takes about one minute.

How long until complete? Take your guess; mine is about 100 rolls x 36 images x 1 minute = about 60 hours

IMG_20170805_164312

All of this while I wait for the concrete to dry on my step…

Sad political post

I realized I have no right to sneer at the myopic decision of Brexit: looking at the latest polls, Italy could have a Five Star + Northern League government, say early 2018.

Then on October 31st, 2019 mr. Draghi’s mandate at the ECB expires to be followed (presumably) by a German Governor, unlikely to continue with the easy money policy, also because the EU economy has picked up some strength in the meanwhile and inflation may be approaching the 2% target. Net result: Italy’s interest expense shoots up by tens of billions.

The new Italian Government is now seriously (ha!) discussing leaving the EU and/or the Euro: imagine Brexit only a thousand time worse: no concrete planning, haphazard monetary policies and abysmal negotiation skills further undermined by a position that’s a thousand time worse than Britain’s but wrapped in the same bombastic populism to whip domestic support casting Europe and immigrants as The Enemy.

The military ineptitude of our Country is about the only silver lining, as it guarantees we can’t ignite the Third World War, but corporates (and the individuals who can, typically the better-educated, language-speaking group) won’t wait for this and will flee the country in droves, taking trillions of capital with them.

In a weird twist, the only capital for investment will be the Government’s making a right wing Government behave like a replica of the worst South American socialism: company after company, bank after bank will be nationalized making larger and larger swaths of the economy subject to political power, corruption and shenanigans.

Economy wizards who got their degree on YouTube resort to sky high inflation to wear off the crushing debt (maybe even theorizing the possibility of a “controlled default”)and to aggressive devaluation to bolster exports, hugely depressing the value of anything not Euro-denominated: despite the nationalization efforts, prepare for an asset liquidation on a scale never seen in history, Greece will be a petty yard sale by comparison.

Exceeding expectations

People usually turn to Social Media to complain, in frustration for not being listened to. As a result, also due to this habit, Social Media is a sad place full of angst and regret.

So I decided I want to put in my 2 cents to fight this trend.

Case 1: Navdy

I purchased this product from a young company in California during a crowdfunding campaign in march, 2014; as it is not uncommon in these cases, the product suffered some delays and was finally delivered at end 2016.

When I installed it on my car, I immediately noticed that the Bluetooth connection interfered with the car’s connection with my phone, resulting in broken voice and dropped calls.

I filed an incident report with their support which called back the day after: after some email exchanges and two calls with California to test the problem, it was determined that the fix required a patch to the software which could take several months.

As a workaround, they sent me (free of charge) a BT JBL speaker to use instead of my car’s BT while we wait for the fix to arrive. It’s not a perfect solution – and they know it – but it allows me to continue to use their product while they work on the final fix.

Case 2: Thule

My two readers may remember the raving review I wrote when I bought my Thule trolley in 2011. In fact, this bag logged tens of thousands of kilometers with me, to my utmost satisfaction.

Then one cold February two years ago, I inadvertently chopped off one of the aluminum feet in the foul streets of Almaty, Kazakhstan, with the result the bag slightly tilts on its side. Frankly, that did not alter its functionality, but it annoyed me, so after much procrastinating, I decided to seek a spare part.

 

As it so happens, such spare part does not exist as standard, so I filed a case with the Thule Support, asking if they could make an exception.

Within 24 hours they came back to me, asking to see pictures of the bag and offered to replace it altogether, free of charge, which I gladly accepted.

Even though (to be entirely honest) I do not think I will decommission the old one…

The metamorphosis officially begins

That’s right, it officially starts today, as I fetched the last test results (NMR) and delivered the whole lot to the hand surgeon who must decide whether he can do something for me.

I briefly thought whether this could be the beginning of my morphing into a cyborg (now, THAT would be cool) but sadly there is not much in terms of cybernetics into any of my current or future protheses, but rather the dull replacement of malfunctioning mechanical bits (mainly joints).

No augmentation for me, more like a catch-up.

Looking forward to sharing the gory details with everybody here as they become available.

Fourteen years of Digital Transformation

My first recollection of what was to become Digital Transformation is somewhat hazy, but I remember a couple of events which have a timestamp.

In 2005, Tim O’Reilly wrote “What the hell is web 2.0“, an article of still unsurpassed clarity; if you haven’t read it, yet, stop and go read it.

Now, I’ll wait.

I liked it so much I started writing a series of blog posts, the first of which starts with a this comment:

the “Web2.0” moniker is something we have been developing a lot of experience over the last couple of years

allowing me to date my professional interest in the thing that today we all call Digital Transformation circa 2003, hence this post’ title.

I also remember our first large client(*), a multinational company in whose Italian sub we managed to find someone crazy enough to risk the budget he had for a project on an approach completely unproven. The project turned out to be extremely successful, won a whole truckload of awards and kept growing and growing. At some point, however, the need of the Client for our support diminished as, essentially, they had learned everything there was to learn and continued on their own.

Such is the life of Agencies.

This event notwithstanding, the relationship was and remained good, and we did many other projects together, albeit none ever was as ground-breaking as the one in 2003. Nine years later I left the Agency world and wrote two books (this and this) which are deeply rooted in these learnings: I assumed that, by then, my knowledge was not (only) mine anymore, since nowadays Digital Transformation consultants are more abundant than bartenders.

Fast forward to 2017, when I get a call from that same client, but from another country. The person who calls me is someone I had never met before, had never heard of the project we did in Italy; in fact he does not even know me, except for the fact he attended (and liked, obviously) a workshop I gave in Riga, Latvia and when his boss asked if he knew someone who could run a Digital Transformation Masterclass, he thought of me.

In preparing this session, we demanded the audience (a dozen people who are responsible for marketing and communications for that company in a certain region) what were the issues they were trying to address.

To my huge surprise, these were EXACTLY those they had in 2003: it’s like knowledge had not spread around at all; despite the roaring success of that first project, our approach never turned into a true best practice and was never widely adopted.

Questions included:

  • why should we be doing this?
  • who should we talk to?
  • what should we be talking about?
  • how do we establish meaningful though leadership?
  • how do we keep it alive?
  • how do we connect it to our Brand?
  • what if we’re not selling a product?
  • how do I engage the rest of the organization?
  • how do I know if I’m being successful?
  • what should I measure?

So while I am flattered that after all these years the same client in another country is asking for my help, even if just for some training, at the same time I am bothered because – despite my approach being correct – I failed to really make an impact even on a Client which fully experienced its success.

Perhaps I was too ahead of my time, perhaps my books are not engaging enough (the forced readers in my family tell me, no, they aren’t), perhaps the methodology is awaiting some complementary element which will make it truly understandable and, therefore, useful.

Being right is not even the beginning of the solution.


(*) sadly, the client won’t be mentioned. Unlike other cases, I am not cleared to do so, and it will remain unnamed.