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 ;-).


SxSW: why everyone hates Facebook

It’s like an almost silent undercurrent here at #SxSW: people and brands are not very happy with Facebook.  The fact that the social platform is now de facto forcing brands to pay to reach the fan base they built up over the last couple of years clearly ripped open some sore wounds.

Bonin Bough (from the Oreo cookies) understands Facebook is concentrating on making money, and still works together with the social giant. He regrets however that the Facebook rules now effectively narrow down the organic reach.  All brands see the organic reach to their own fan base drizzling down to a miserable 1 to 2 percent. Many people in the industry cry wolf, especially since they paid big bucks in time, energy and hard cash to grow their fan base, and were hoping to use that fan base into a thriving social community.

Even video blogger and technology evangelist Robert Scoble now has to pay to reach his own friend base on Facebook, and we’re all confronted lately with the option to ‘promote’ our own pictures and updates with friends and family: to reach everyone in your friend list will set you back between 5 and 10 euro.

It puts Facebook in a weird perceived spot: from the backbone of social media, the spot for spontaneous conversations and social sharing, it’s growing into a pure broadcast channel with a strict pay to reach monetary model. The undercurrent here at SxSW thinks that is going to have serious repercussions on perception, sustained use and further growth of Facebook. Already multiple studies are quoted in the SxSW sessions that the growth is slowing down, and that the use by especially the younger generation is taking a beating.

Mark Cuban is an American businessman, shark tank celebrity and angel investor. He referred in his keynote to Facebook as “the refrigerator door app for young kids while ephemeral apps like Snapchat are their day-to-day communications tools. We all post pictures on our refrigerator doors so that we can see them every day and visitors to our home can see them as well. That is exactly what Facebook has become. Facebook is no longer where we show all sides of our personality. Facebook has become the refrigerator where we post pictures and motivational quotes.”

Lots of fingers point to social networks like Pinterest, Google+, Snapchat, Twitter, -and even good old blogging- where the good old rules of the good old days apply: Anything goes. Reach to your circles is free.

As a Scandinavian blogger put it very eloquently over a coffee: a social network is made or broken by the public. The Social graveyard is full of too-big-to-fail companies that forgot the very root of their business: the public. If they turn away, it’s over.


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. — 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.

Instagram: when big boys play…

First of all: a billion dollars is a mighty smack of money. It is a huge pile of cash. It can buy you enough bread to feed a midsize African country for a decade, it can buy you some nice stealth fighters, a private island, or it can buy you -give or take some change- the New York Times (market cap $942m).

So, for the 13 man strong team of Instagram, to say no to the whopping dollar cash pile that Facebook’s Marc Zuckerberg slammed on the table would have been very difficult. 1 billion dollars is a lot of reasons.  1 billion offers the Instagram people a golden future where they will not have to work, and can dream of white sanded beaches and chilled long drinks a-go-go. On a super yacht.

For us all, it just means that one of the favorite picture sharing tools together with the 1 billion pictures we jointly posted on it, became Facebook’s property. It solidifies Facebook’s position as the social network that is weaving a very tight web around your social life, and your social data. It strengthens Facebook’s position as the leading social stack on the web. It also patches one of Facebook’s Achilles Tendons: a good picture sharing platform.

Personally, I look at this a bit weary eyed. Remember Facebook buying Gowalla in December? It killed the service in March, buried the technology, the platform and its users in the darkest dungeon of Facebook Towers. I hope Zuckerberg will keep the good of Instagram alive. I loved the simple technology, the slightly cheesy filters, and the buzzing sharing community. I hope the buy was not a capitalist hostile takeover version of cease and desist. I sincerely hope to be spared the sad duty of having to write an in memoriam for Instagram over the next couple of months. I hate eulogies.

But I do not share the crazy-panicking Internet frenzy on the new acquisition by Facebook. If Facebook kills Instagram, other picture sharing networks will pop up. Zuckerberg bought Instagram because he wanted it, Zuckerberg bought Instagram because he can.

He can, because we all allow him to… don’t we?

Pinterest is not a strategy

Shall we agree to some simple rules? Shall we be open, honest, and right in your face at all times? You’re up for that? Nice. Here comes: Pinterest. It’s not that big of a deal. Honestly, do not get overly excited. From my high perch here at Porter Novelli Towers, it looks like every couple of weeks, some new social media channel tackles the world, and is rewriting history. Myspace. Google Wave. Facebook. Twitter. Google+. Foursquare. Gowalla. Quora. Pinterest. Yammer. Path. Heatmap. Instagram. Yelp.

Some are long forgotten now, others thrive, and some hang on for dear life. But every couple of weeks we go through the hype cycle of yet another network, yet another way of sharing content and precious pieces of highly private life. It’s a bit like the Beatles coming to town: Giggles, groupies, T-shirts and lots of screaming. If you were a Foursquare skeptic, you cannot miss this concert: go Pinterest, go, woohoo!

But it does not crank up my adrenaline a bit. O, I love playing with the new tools. I love redoing my profile, linking it, trying it… nagging about it, and most often: throwing it away. Only the strong tools survive. But I’m getting immune to the excitement of the new shiny tool. Show me what is behind it: is it location savvy? A content curator? A picture sharing tool? An interaction platform? An online virtual Rolodex? Is it a steak knife? Or a Swiss Army knife? What can I use the tool for?

Because that’s what they are, all those shiny apps: they are social tools. I got an offer on Twitter from a GuruNinja, to establish my Pinterest strategy. My Highly Personalized Own Pinterest Strategy… for 24.000 dollar. Now I am a consultant myself: A good strategy is worth investing a ton of money in. But… shall we agree to some simple rules? Shall we be open, honest, and right in your face at all times? You’re up for that? Ok, here comes: Pinterest is not a strategy, neither is Foursquare, or Facebook. Or Twitter.

Strategy is what makes communications work. It goes back to what messages need to be tailored to your target audiences in order to drive behavioral change. Your Twitter, Pinterest, or press release are vehicles, tools, platforms.

So forgive me that I do not hop and down as energetic as I should each time a new tool is launched: I’m a strategist, you know. I am platform independent by definition, generalist by vocation, McGyver by nature, skeptic by choice. I will not bend my strategy to accommodate a tool. I go for the toolkit that suits my strategy best.

And…. –between us- Pinterest is the Gentlemint for girls, right? 🙂

Trusting Privacy settings is Bungee jumping without a rope…

You trust those bungee ropes blindly, don’t you? Think again… they might very likely hang you. An Indian summer drink this weekend resulted in heated discussions on e-identity, e-brand, and the very precious social capital. To my huge astonishment, a lot of people keep on posting shady, risky or downright provocative pictures and updates on their social networks “because they have set their privacy options right”. They post compromising pictures, half-drunk thoughts, angry ramblings, etc…. “because they have set their privacy options right”.

Bull. Here is some advice from a grumpy old timer: turn it off.  Set the privacy filters of all your social networks to the lowest protection. Throw those pictures and tutti quanti wide in the open. Let the entire Facebook community gaze at your holiday pictures; invite everyone into your Google+ circles, and get those tweets out in the open. Have a blast! Privacy was a myth of the 20th century…

Turning the privacy settings off will free you of that false sense of protection. It will make you think four times before posting. It will make you think if you really want your boss to see you without your tiny black bikini on an alcohol generous just-amongst-friends night. It will make you stop trusting your friends.

Because, trust me, friends cannot be trusted. The virtual ones I mean. These thousands of Twitter followers, these hundreds of Facebook people…. They are connections, not friends. And even at least one of your friends likely copy posts that privacy protected picture of you to someone else. If some people cannot keep a secret safe, than certainly not your pictures, most intimate thoughts… or wild frivolous fantasies.

So… turn those privacy settings off online, throw the curtains wide open! But, tighten your security settings offline. I have iron social media guidelines with my friends: on when the picture taking stops during that hot barbeque. And what happens with inappropriate taggers. If people do not want to be cast out of my social circle, they need to adhere to those rules. No pictures after dessert, no wild tagging… no exceptions. My way, or the highway. And yes, I check daily to see if everyone complies!

Trying to fix that crazy picture or sharp ranting is like trying to knit a sweater for a dead squirrel: it’s plain useless.

Have fun, offline and online… but let no-one check your rope for you. Only you can… 🙂


Zuckerberg’s Law : your life is now on(the)line

Imagine; in 2008 a young kid CEO piggybacked on Moore’s law, stating boldly that people will share twice the information online. Every. Single. Year. And ‘his’ Facebook would be the center point of that phenomenon. The bold statement was received with some indulging smiles. The boldness of young people is easily tolerated, if they are successful. Some journalists were already wetting their knives, surely, so much arrogance had to fall, soon.

But with close to 800 million people connected on Facebook, tirelessly sharing their location, moods, actions, notes and intentions, it looks that Zuckerberg’s Law is well on track. And Mark Zuckerberg did more this week than just give the old Facebook a Facelift. He radically redesigned it, inviting the small continent of followers to the next stage.  Zuckerberg is turning your old profile page into a timeline. Your life is from now on a well-defined line through time, captured online.

With a click on a button, a conference and some nicely prepared presentations Facebook positioned itself as the focal point of your online life, the spider in your fragile online ecosystem. It connects to your social web, your pictures, your news, your mail, your music, your games… With the announced even smoother integration of reading, listening, curating and sharing tools, most of what you think, read, want, view, or comment will be linked to, stappled on and associated with your timeline, traced, linked and indexed.

I know, put like that, it sounds scary. But Mark Zuckerberg thinks the world is ready. And I am afraid he is right…

Facebook: Kill « LIKE » to «ENGAGE»

It sounded a bit like a seriously broken record. For more than a year, most of the marketing, communications and external relations efforts for way too many companies and agencies have been terrorized by one magic word: “LIKE”.

Facebook’s LIKE button was rapidly becoming the dictator of influence. Forget about engagement, forget about sentiment, and forget about relevant content, social ecospheres, authenticity: How many “LIKES” can we have by end November? In an online world where everything can be measured, the magic key of demonstrating success was a ridiculous simple graph showing your brand had more LIKES than the competitor.  Add the evil grin on the face of the presenter: we had more LIKES!

Everyone in his right mind knows that “LIKE” does not mean a thing, that LIKE can be bought, 27 dollar per thousand… still, in many pointy haired boss presentations, LIKE became the barometer of online success.

LIKE does not give any hint on the impact content has on an audience, how the content is received, discussed, analyzed, shared, rejected. LIKE is a tool to artificially shift stuff into a timeline. Lots of great content was created, shared, approved and enjoyed, but never liked… and thus never made it into the charts.

Zuckerberg and his team are now taking wind out of the sails of LIKE. LIKE will be less dominant. People can share without liking, or simple  indicate what they read. Facebook moves clearly towards a deeper connection with the content. Basically, it turns everyone’s profile into a dynamic content page.  Mark Zuckerberg said at Facebook’s keynote: “The next five years are going to be defined by the depth of engagement”.

Creating depths of engagement will finally force brands and companies to turn away from the cheap “LIKE” hunting, to rethink their engagement strategy. Creating content that makes the Facebook crowd tick will force communicators and marketers to work harder for their money.

Finally. 🙂


%d bloggers like this: