Aquila: How do you connect the last billion?

While we’re all happy within our connected lives (and sometimes look to get disconnected as a sign of pure luxury), there are still countless people that can only dream of drinkable water, and enough food… let alone an internet connection.

However, big companies as Facebook and Google are trying to hook up the last billion people. Google-X guru Astro Teller is experimenting with high-altitude air balloons, while Marc Zuckerberg is investing in solar-powered planes that can stay in the air for months. He just announced that his Aquila unmanned plane is ready to beam down internet connectivity from the sky. The size of a Boeing 737, but at just about the weight of a car, Aquila can transfer data at 10 gigabits per second through high precision lasers.

Picture this, from more than 10 miles up, it beams down ultra-high speed internet on a target smaller than a dime.
Efforts like this will enable information technology in remote areas… and will help educational programs like MIT medialabs Nicholas Negropontes One Laptop per Child initiative.

My question is why it is private companies like Space-X that take us to Space? Why is it Google and Facebook that go lengths bringing connections where there were no connections before? Why do we need the Gates foundation to invest in life saving technologies?

Last time I checked what my government was doing, they were very busy collecting taxes…

The Battle for Social World Domination: The Stacks : taking over your life

How do you get absolute control? That quest for world domination has been around for a couple of millennia. There are ways: become a dictator, a Kaiser, a God, Charlie Sheen, President of the United States or start a religion.

But there are other ways. 5 big companies are silently plotting their ways to world domination. They hide in the open, their battle so obvious that it stays hidden. Bruce Sterling, Sci-Fi writer, Visionary in residence and Transglobal Futurist exposed them already at his #SxSW2012 closing keynote:

“There is a new phenomenon that I like to call the Stacks; vertically integrated social media. And we’ve got five of them — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. The future of the stacks is basically to take over the internet and render it irrelevant. They’re not hostile to the internet — they’re just looking after their own situation. And they all think they’ll be the one Stack… and render the others irrelevant. And they’ll all be rendered irrelevant. That’s the future of the Stacks.

People like the Stacks, because the internet is scary now — so what’s the problem there? None of them offer any prosperity or security to their human participants, except for their shareholders. The internet has users. Stack people are livestock — ignorant of what’s going on, and moving from one stack to another. The Stacks really, really want to know you’re a dog.

They’re annihilating other media… The Lords of the Stacks. And they’re not bad guys — I’d be happy to buy them a beer. But really, a free people would not be so dependent on a Napoleonic mobile people. What if Mark Zuckerberg trips over a skateboard?

This structure won’t last very long… But you’re really core people for them and their interests. You are them. I’m them. And your kids are going to ask embarrassing questions about them. And there are voices here and there complaining about them, [like] Jonathan Franzen. He says Twitter is destroying literature. And he’s right. So don’t make fun of him. He’s telling the truth.”

What does it take?

Bruce has his way with words, and is passionate beyond suspicion. But is he right? Are Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft silently taking over our lives? What would it take, to achieve Social World Domination?

1.       Knowing where you are

Have you noticed it? That small side remark during Apples latest event? “We have our own maps now!”. So, maps are important. Knowing where you are, where you go, and how you get there gives the Stacks priceless information. That is why Google is happily mapping the whole planet, why Facebook is desperately trying to make its Places work (killing Gowalla as an afterthought). Apple just got its hands on the trusty Tele Atlas digital maps through its deal with TomTom. Microsoft nicely obtained direct access to the maps of Tele Atlas’s direct competitor Navteq, currently owned by… Nokia.

2.       Owning your hardware

So Microsoft got a lot more out of the Nokia deal than meets the eye. They have access to maps. But also, they secured an option on a vital world domination component: hardware.  After decades of software-only, Microsoft is desperately trying to get a bridgehead in hardware land. Through Nokia and HTC they aim for the smartphone, with the Surface they bring their technology into your living room, and their version of a tablet was announced last week.

Apple of course has a plethora of hardware devices, two of them sticking to your life as glue: the iPhone and the iPad. Google is making sweet eyes with Android, ensuring Google phones in every store. And tablets. Rumors of an upcoming  Facebook phone are all around…

Amazon has a hesitating first step into the hardware through its Kindle. You might not have noticed it, but Microsoft, Apple and Google  are even making it into the car…

3.       Owning your operating system

The heart, core and soul of your machine: your operating system. They own it. Apple and Microsoft obviously with their OS and Windows versions.  Google is quietly improving its Chrome OS.

Facebook  has hired enough brainpower with  Kean Wong,   Christopher Tremblay,  Georges Berenger, Li Fang,  Robert Boyce and Zachary Landau (top-notch specialists from Palm, Apple  and RIM) for an own mobile operating system and applications platform…  Amazon is doing unspeakable things with its Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and experimented with own versions of android.

4.       Owning your browser

The power lords have direct access to your online life through the browsers they own. Apple and Microsoft obviously through Safari and Explorer.  Google through its Chrome browser, Amazon is working on it with Silk, and Facebook is rumored trying to buy Opera Software  and its 200 million users worldwide of the Opera web browser.  Controlling the browser means controlling the internet history, and the internet behavior of the user. Controlling the browser means having the most intimate communication and marketing tool to influence people directly through their preferred web tool. Priceless.

5.       Owning your data, owning your search

Facebook, Youtube, Google,and Microsoft’s Bing. That is what people use to find what they are looking for: from social search, to factual search. Apple has no apparent own search engine, but is getting paid an amazing 1 billion dollar a year by Google to keep Google as the default Apple’s search.

With literally billions of user generated videos, pictures and texts hosted on their servers and platforms, and petabytes of personal data ready to be analyzed and data mined, the five power houses have more insights in consumer personality, profile, habits, spending behavior, and socio-environmental context than anyone else.  The combined stock value of the Stacks is only a fraction of what this goldmine in personal data is worth to seasoned marketers.

6.       Owning your cash

Amazon’s One Click Buying, Facebook’s credits, Apple’s iTunes and AppStore, Microsoft’s e-stores: the Stacks make it easy for you to spend money, or to get paid by third parties for anything you do online. Click on a sponsored link in Google generates hard cash. For Google. Not for you. Your online social life generates mountains of gold for Facebook. Apple is getting a whopping  30% on every paid application that gets downloaded from its AppStore . Amazon is getting a cut in every sale made through its notorious online long tail store.

7.       Owning your life

Quietly, the five Stacks are wrapping their mighty tentacles around the online consumers, sneaking their influence at the deepest caves of personal lives, thriving on direct hard cash and precious personal data that can (and will) be cashed in. The battle for World Supremacy is fought in the shadows, but it’s fought hard and relentless by young billionaires equally at ease on a skateboard, as in a corporate jet. It’s fought by mercenaries with great corporate hair, the whitest teeth you will ever see, and a lot at stake through their stock in the stack…

Bruce Sterling was right. Again. He always is ;-).


Social Media : ROI or RIP, yes, but by measuring what?

The question still pops up: what is the ROI of Social Media? It gives me slight nausea, tingling toes and a mighty nagging headache. Because the question is so wrong. What is the ROI of the internet? Of TV? Of electricity? Of reading a book? Meeting someone at a network event?  Gary Vaynerchuk  puts it even more direct and in context: – What is the ROI of your mother?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not believe in the New Age full Zen attitude of some die-hard social media ninja’s that murmur esoteric kabala citations and mellow truths à la it’s about the value of relationships: we all agree that is way too vague.

The question is wrong – The question should be: How will Social Media contribute my brand in achieving X. And X does not have to be sales by default and definition. It can be sales –absolutely- , but also shift of perception, education, creating conversation, gathering consumer input and insights, delivering costumer service, offering correct information within context, a call to action, shift of tone of voice, etc etc …

The starting point is wrong – Doing Social Media, and then start to wonder what the ROI will be, is a path to certain disaster.  The starting point should be linked to the direct DNA and core of your business, and to your business strategy: What is it you want to achieve: Sell more? Educate? Shift perception? Build alliances to influence? Interact with a fan base? If your social media endeavors do not mirror or contribute to your business strategy, there is no point in measuring your ROI: there will be none.  

The set-up is wrong – If you talk about social media, and social media teams, you are on the verge of an abyss of failure… social media should never stand by itself, nor be operated by an isolated team. It should be part of an overall business, marketing, communications and connections strategy. If Social Media is not woven throughout your marketing and communications organization, it is doomed to fail. Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder) wrote an excellent book on Social Media ROI where he sketches the importance of weaving your social media strategy within the larger organizational and business strategy.

The expectations are wrong – Often, expectations are that within weeks thousands of fans will deliver the miracle that will save the quarterly results. Because, social goes viral, for free, and will double the business, no?. *deep sigh* Social Media is an interactive way of communicating that builds its return on investment in the middle to long run.  It’s not a miracle medicine to satisfy your shareholders.

The metrics are wrong – If you try to shift perception, measuring reach and eyeballs will simply not do the trick. However, in the media industry, the standard set up of measurement highlights GRP’s, touch points, eyeballs, and connection points.  To measure the ROI, we will have to walk the dog back by the tail, and provide measurement that measures what we intended to achieve: Did we change the perception? Did we sell more? Are people using or sharing our content? Does our engagement index go up? Did we move people to our event? One-size-fits-all data sets will simply fall short of measuring.

Social media is still great – But to give it full credit, it will require more work in defining exactly what we want it to do… and where it fits in our business strategy, and to accept that it is – by default- meant to be interactive.  

Fast Company phrases it nicely: “If you get bored with Social Media, it’s because you are trying to get more value than you create”.

Your Klout score? I really could not care less…

I was contacted months ago by a young girl who wanted to know my Klout score. She was making a list of important people to follow on twitter. It made me smile. When I answered that my Klout score is on (like everyone else’s) and that it hovers between roughly 55 and seventy-something depending on my mood, and the temperature of the seawater in Belgium, she got upset. Klout was important, and I was not taking her seriously.

I explained that the temperature of the seawater does have a determining effect on my Klout score. If it gets too cold, I migrate South, and stop tweeting for a while. My Klout thingy sinks accordingly like a stone with respiratory difficulties. If the temperature is ok, my mood gets better, I twitter chat with friends, spread some blog posts around, and my Klout score sours up.  That did not make her happy either.

Now, how can you determine if someone is important based on a yo-yo Klout score? Try walking up to somebody, and ask how important he is. Can you picture that? How do you define ‘important’? Is that a figure in two digits? Will he be more important tomorrow? Is he important because he has money? To whom is he important?

What does my Klout score tell you? Does it show you what people think about what I write? What impact my tweets/posts/musings have? Does it give a value on quality? Even on quantity? If so, in relation to what exactly? To my goals? Did the girl mean with ‘important’ influential? Influential on what topic? To what audience?

I have nothing against  It is a rating system amongst many. I do have something against conclusions hastily drawn from a two digit number that gets influenced by the temperature of seawater.

If you want to determine if someone is important, relevant, influential, you’ll have to rely on more than just an automated tool. You’ll have to analyze all kinds of data, you’ll have to sift through criteria, and you’ll have to put stuff in context. Content might be King, but contextual information is Queen.

There is no number that can tell you whether I am important or not. Only you can determine that.

Thank you for sharing this, it will benefit my Klout score…. :-).

PR, marketing and Digital: The arrogance of experience…

I confess, I admit: I could never ever coach an American Football team. I have never played it, never watched a full game, I do not understand any of the rules, and I am completely ignorant to all the habits and sensitivities. I would probably do about as good as a drunken rhinoceros in artistic skating.

In my book, to be good at something requires enthusiasm, sheer will, track record and hands-on experience. And that is exactly what I see as lacking in how most influencing agencies cope with social and digital media. They line up their usual experienced heavy weights to provide their clients with strategy and guidance on how to integrate digital and social media into the overall marketing and communication mix. Little side note: an alarming high percentage of these heavy weights have no experience in the digital and social media world.  Even more alarming is that the teams they roll out, into the field have none either.

A fascinating amount of power is given to people who have no clue what’s what in Social Media land. It’s not because you’ve read Groundswell or The New Normal that you are fully equipped to deep dive successfully into this fast moving area. It’s not because you know how a journalist thinks that you should take it for granted that a blogger thinks or behaves in the same way. It’s not because you’re a hotshot in direct marketing that you understand –at all­- how twitter works. It’s not because you were fab in influencing through 25 square meter advertorials that you can safely assume that a banner on a site will actually benefit your client or cause in any way. It’s not because your toddler is reasonably good with Lego that it is statistically safe to let him/her play with a fully loaded Kalashnikov.

I’m confronted on a daily basis with blogger relations experts that have never blogged, community managers that are online rookies, and twitter experts that have less reach and followers than my 83 year old gardening neighbor on a rainy day.  Robin Wauters of TechCrunch gave a PR professional a full broadside years ago for not playing online engagement by the online netiquette rules. And Wauters was so right. Too many arrogant old style off-line influencers think they can take the online new interactive digital scene by storm… and birthright. They look down on this booming online realm with an explosive mixture of denial, ignorance, arrogance, even disdain: an ideal cocktail for guaranteed distaster.

Not so long ago, agencies tried to offer top-notch journalists, analysts, Pulitzer Prize nominees and politicians a job to get extremely valuable hands-on knowledge, credibility and experience in house. To think that these same people will make the difference in online engagement is a huge mistake that cannot be remediated by an over lunch training session. Big time for agencies and their clients to go hunt for social media wizards, top-notch bloggers, proven star-profiled tweeps and highly connected  social networkers.

Only by upgrading their workforce with Digital Wizards will companies, organizations and agencies stay afoot in this morphing landscape. How did Cary Grant say it again: it takes a thief to catch a thief….

Facebook claims to be very much like Television

Social Media. Brand mentions on Social Network. How do you calculate value, how do you get comprehensible ROI in your board presentation? Discussion between guru’s, rainmakers, ninja’s, experts and specialist were long, fierce and mostly built upon hot, slightly stirred air.

It is about the like, right? Or about the click through. Definitively about the click through. Well, much to everyone’s astonishment, Brad Smallwood, Facebook’s head of measurement and insights proved all advertisers who measure the success of an online campaign solely on click-through rates wrong.

The Social Network states boldly that the impression, not the click-through is what really matters and positions itself ad-wise directly in the same play-field as traditional television.  Smallwood bases himself on a new data study from Datalogix that connects ad exposure (seeing a brand’s ad) on Facebook with in-store purchases (buying the brand’s product).

On his blog, Smallwood states that:

  • Impressions create value. 99 percent of sales generated from online branding ad campaigns were from people that saw, but did not interact with, ads— proof that it is the delivery of the marketing message to the right consumer, not the click, that creates real value for brand advertisers.
  • Reach drives revenue for online brand marketers. This is a concept very familiar to TV marketers, who often start with a reach objective—but until now hadn’t been proven for online. When applied to digital brand campaigns, the study demonstrated that campaigns that maximized reach had on average a 70 percent higher return-on-investment.
  • Finding the right message frequency is key. The study revealed that for online brand campaigns, if you reallocated high frequency impressions to people seeing too few impressions, you would see a 40 percent increase in ROI with the same budget. What this means is that for every online campaign there is a “sweetspot” of effective frequency that maximizes return on investment, and that the DataLogix tool can help marketers empirically isolate that sweetspot for each brand and campaign.

This sheds a totally new light on how the effective delivery of an ad, or a message should be measured and valued online, and proves the gut feeling a lot of marketers and communicators have had for a long time: that the power of the silent visitors of social networks, the people who do not interact, like, or click through, is way bigger than estimated.

Very often these people are labeled “lurkers”. For people making a living communicating, they are liquid gold.

Twitter goes for Olympic gold

Hell breaks loose today. For a couple of weeks, 14.700 athletes are competing in 26 Olympic Sports and 20 Paralympic Sports, in front of 21.000 journalists and over 10.8 million ticket-holders. After tennis in Wimbledon, and the Tour de France, the Olympic Games are going to aggressively take over, cannibalizing most media coverage for the time to come.

Global top sport is our panem et circenses, our bread and games; London is our Coliseum. Old gladiators will falter, new young wolves will eagerly struggle for world domination, most will fail miserably.  Cheaters will be publicly lynched, superheroes will be born overnight, and humanity is hoping for some serious drama and catharsis.

The Games are heaven for the sports lover, but a nightmare for someone who is not interested. But fan or not, you will experience the 2012 London Games. Sweaty, good looking youngsters will be all over screens, radio waves and social media channels. Infographics will total the medals per country, color and gender ; 3D boosted graphs will show how humanity just got faster, stronger, better and generally enhanced.

While all media are competing for their share of the cake, it is already apparent that the big media winner of these games is going to be Twitter.  True, TV is still the old and uncontested King of Games. But Twitter moves in for Olympic gold. Tweets can be shot from the hip, while mobile: it’s lightning fast, lovely short. For weeks teams, athletes and sport influencers have been polishing up their twitter channels, and established twitter rules and protocols. London is ready for a media war, and the weapon of choice is Twitter.

The first human casualty was already sent home in a virtual bodybag: Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou was ejected from the Greek Olympic team for a bad racist joke. The Hellenic Olympic Committee said through AP that Papachristou was “placed outside the Olympic team for statements on Twitter contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement.” Isidoros Kouvelos, head of Greece’s Olympic mission, added, “We are not here just to get medals, but to promote the Olympic ideals, to show our character.  It’s the same as violating fair play.”

Twitter is deeply entwined in the Olympic 2012 fabric, proving Twitter CEO Costolo right in his endeavors to position it more as a platform than as a service, with a special focus on events and gatherings.  Costolo positions his Twitter as the ideal social platform to make an offline event vibratingly  live online. The Twitter buzz around the Olympic Games will be one of the proof points for Twitters current valuation of over 8.5 billion dollar. The stream of tweets that will be generated during the Games puts the San Francisco based company in direct competition with all other media companies.  Twitter certainly getting a big part of the coverage will push advertisers and marketers into looking at the former micro blogging service in a very different way.  Proven reach, engagement and readership can and will be cashed in hard marketing dollars.    “We don’t have any problem, we don’t think, monetizing Twitter. Period,” Dirk Costolo said to the Wall Street Journal.

While the Twitter Golden boys dream of cash, the Olympic athletes dream of gold.  But their lives just got more complicated. Before, you had to jump far, run hard, fly high and be able to playback your national anthem with a misty smile. Now you also need to Tweet well. Coaches, journalists and decision makers are analyzing tweets, and if they do not like what they read, there will be hell to pay.

So, what kind of online superhero are you?

Are you a social evangelist, an online ambassador, a digital strategist or the most bizarre of superheroes: a digital junkie? Nice infographic from socialtimes.

London Olympic games: if you kill the Social in Games, all you’ve left is business

With still a couple of weeks to go until the Olympic Games in London, more and more people are getting really frustrated with how the organizers are effectively killing most social components of what could have been the first Social Games.

The days where a bunch of naked men would do some heroic, manly and very muscular things for the honor of winning are long, long gone. Sky Sports estimates the true cost of organizing the event on the upside of 30 billion Euro. A smack of money for a sport event that will turn the City of Big Ben into an armed fortress, guarded by surface-to-air missiles, long distance acoustic weaponry, a Royal Navy battleship, 13.000 soldiers patrolling the city, and small armies of foreign security service personnel (the FBI alone is sending over 500 agents).

As organizer LOCOG states on its website: “Organising the Games is a huge challenge. With 26 Olympic Sports and 20 Paralympic Sports, 14,700 athletes, 21,000 media and 10.8 million ticket-holders, it is the equivalent of staging 46 World Championships simultaneously.

The organization is also hammering home a very severe fist on what it perceives as its right to protect its assets. It lobbied, and passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act, that offers a draconian level of protection to the Games (and –more importantly- the sponsors) that goes well beyond any existing copyright law, and that positions all offenders as downright criminals.

Not only will brand police be taping all over all logos and signs in London that might be seen by the organizers as threatening to their commercial interests, (even announcing that people can watch The Games inside a restaurant, pub or hotel will be frowned upon) but athletes and visitors will be seriously limited to what they can do or say on the social networks, if they can use these networks at all.

Twitter already announced to put a ban on use of all games related hashtags (like #games2012) that remotely even smells commercial , and the rules on what can be uploaded or tweeted during the games beggars all believe.  All so called non-authorized association is banned. Technically, someone tweeting he saw a nice Dior outfit at the London Games, is up for a lawsuit.

Longtime it was believed that these rules would apply only on the (big) brands that could try to sneak in marketing guerrilla activities on the expense of the global event without paying. But it looks that no organization or person is safe.

A satiric organization called Space Hijackers that labeled themselves as the “official protesters of the London 2012 Olympic Games“, was (temporary) suspended by Twitter on the spot on Locog’s demand. The crime? Using the Olympic Logo.

Although I do believe in protecting everyone’s commercial and intellectual rights, it saddens me to see that too often the legislation that is put into place to enforce these rights is abused to limit other rights I fervently believe in: freedom of speech, freedom of satire, freedom of disagreeing, and freedom of sharing personal pictures on a social network.

When the social component around an event that will have an impact on over a billion people for close to a month is killed, all that’s left is a sad, expensive, commercial circus.

I hope I am wrong…

(I would have loved using the Ol*mp*c Rings here, but opted for a 150 year old drawing of Olympos. Just to be on the safe side :-)) — One more… keep the faith!

I felt a bit empty, without a purpose, even bored. As a seasoned social media warrior (I promised @thebrandbuilder not to use words like guru, ninja, persona, celebrity, Special Operations Commander and rainmaker in vain), I was secretly hoping for yet another social network to pop up, and make my day.

See, everyone is on Facebook now. Even the Belgian Prime minister is on Twitter. My boss is on Foursquare. Nine real smart people and a horsehead are on Google+. My primary schoolteacher’s little niece is on LinkedIn. I have an avatar on 2ndLife. I am connected to people I will probably never meet on Path, most of my female friends go bananas pinning stuff on Pinterest. Their boyfriends are on Gentlemint.

My Sony laptop faithfully remembers my account details of 14 (fourteen) social sites.

Make that 15 (fifteen). Since yesterday I’m a registered user of a new social online thing called . Microsoft started it as a top secret social research experiment fueled by social groups. They first tested it on virtual machines, then on small rodents, scared orangutans and finally on students.

As a social study on students rarely generates any tangible data,  got a nihil obstat from Nato and WHO, and has quietly been released to the  general public. Microsoft claims it is not looking to wrestle with Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare  or Google+ for world supremacy in the social space. It describes as “an experimental research project focused on exploring the possibilities of social search for the purpose of learning.”  Users of  can find information on any topic, and share interesting findings directly with their network. also enables sharing ‘rich content’ that consists of little  scrapbook-like potpourris of multimedia content.

So, it’s a mixture of Bing, Facebook, and Pinterest.  It’s search on steroids. It’s Microsoft’s crazy Frankenstein-mix of Google and Facebook. It’s vaguely interesting. I think I’ll give it a go. I just have to. It’s my job. Confucius said sternly “Faced with what is right; to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.”

Students can do it. Orangutans can do it.  *deep sigh* I’ll keep you posted.

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