f5 f5 f5 and breathe

f5 f5 f5 f5 and breathe.


f5 and f5 and f5 yeaaaaaaah.


Refreshing my browser doesn’t usually provoke such catharsis. But for the last 24 hours any attempt to revisit a previously reviewed page has resulted in being bounced to google search. So perhaps my reaction is a little more understandable.

But you might lose any sympathy when I tell you that I broke my internet on purpose. In the interests of science. With myself as the rat in a hall of mirrors of my own design.

Because I wanted to see what would happen if I forced myself to only go forward on the web, to break my surfing habits, to forge new digital trails and discover new lands. To turn my back on the familiar and the routine. To not check Facebook a half dozen times a day. To maybe avoid the distraction of my regular web browsing, or at least find new distractions.

So I got our Alex Matthews, our Creative Tech guru, to build me a browser extension that, when activated, only let me visit particular web pages once. That visit added them to a ban list and any attempt to revisit bounced to google homepage. I whitelisted google sites since our work email runs off google apps – I didn’t think that I’d be able to use ‘Amateur Science’ as an excuse for not replying to email.

Simultaneously I ran some extensions tracking my browsing and web activity to see if I either spent less time online or visited a greater variety of sites with the blocker turned on. The results, I must admit, are inconclusive. Work does get in the way of pure academic research. I had to turn the blocker off quite regularly to get anything done at all. I also found myself cheating my own experiment – browsing in incognito mode where I didn’t have the blocker activated. Using my phone to check twitter and other sites. But yes, I did use less internet with the blocker activated, largely out of frustration.

Of course, a browser extension that stops you revisiting the same old web is only partially interesting. What if instead of bouncing to google it displayed a list of previously unvisited web pages related to the site you had tried to visit? Could it become a serendipitous discovery engine based on the sites you already visit and enjoy? There isn’t really an alternative to facebook or twitter or netflix, but for news and entertainment and sports and tech reviews and online video there is plenty of scope for diversification. ‘Here’s something new’ trumps ‘You can’t go back’ and we’re talking about integrating this into a future release.
A 2010 Nielsen survey reveals that on average people visit 89 sites in a given month. So far in November I have visited over 350. On this computer. Which is one of four connected devices I used on any given day. The point of the Don’t Go Back extension experiment was two-fold. First, to force me to take a look at my online behaviour and maybe make some changes to how and where I browse. And second, to demonstrate that it’s a big old web out there with billions of pages to visit and explore and experience. Habits are hard to break – enforced variety might be what’s needed to spice up online life.


If you want to try out the ‘Don’t go back’ extension and break the internet for yourself, here’s what to do:

– Download Don’t Go Back
– go to chrome://extensions
– select “developer mode” at top of page
– then click “Load unpacked extension”
– select the folder that you unzipped to



Thinky.done – early learnings

We’ve closed the garage door on our first experiment of 2014 over at thinky.do and there’s a post about what we learnt about bitcoin from our Open Wallet Experiment there. A few weeks ago we went public about our rebooted approach to experimentation, so what have we learnt about learning one month on?

First off, constraints are both good and bad, or, more accurately, helpful and limiting. We set ourselves the goal of thinking up and launching an experiment, in public, in a 4 week period. And, Yay us, we got it out of the door. Just. We might have had a better conceived, better executed experiment if we’d given ourselves more time, but we might also still be in idea generation phase, filling up whiteboards with hypotheticals and possibilities instead of results and learnings. We did it, it’s done, onto the next doing.

Second, the subject of the experiment. The extended Labs team were absolutely certain that Bitcoin was the right subject for our first foray. Everyone was talking about it, none of us understood it properly, this was our chance to learn. And learn we did. We now know how to buy it, look after it and spend it. We’ve also learnt that bitcoin is a hard thing to think about and a difficult tool to use for experimental purposes. Getting to grips with bitcoin took time and the technical restraints meant several ‘pivots’ before the Open Wallet Experiment got out there. And while we’re not bitcoin billionaires, we’re in a better position to talk to clients about the benefits and drawbacks of cryptocurrencies than we were in January.

And lastly, how we work. We couldn’t have done anything without help from a number of people. Colleagues in BBH, partners outside (particular thanks to the guys at MediaMonks for talking us through bitcoin practicalities), people who emailed and commented on the blog and our G+ page, all helped tremendously.

And so, on to Experiment No2. Trying to remember what we’ve learnt already, and not forget that each month we’re starting over, all over again.


The Open Wallet Experiment is live


A few weeks ago we blogged about our recommitment to Labs experiments and our new ‘hit-and-run’ approach to experimentation. And now we’re pleased to say that our first experiment is now live, though there were, of course, some hurdles and hiccups on the way.

If you’ve been following the progress of this experiment on thinky.do you’ll know that we decided to make bitcoin the subject of our first field test. This subject came with certain technical and epistemological issues – it’s not all that easy to get hold of bitcoins even assuming you’ve understood what they are for and what you can do with them.

But we are interested in whether the very nature of cryptocurrency transactions – anonymous, underground, based on algorithmic trust rather than human relationships – leads to behaviours that can be best described as, er, shady. Or whether given the chance, perhaps the bitcoin community will prove itself as wholesome as a troop of Boy Scouts.

So we’ve set up bitcoin wallet (address and QR code below) into which anyone can make a payment.. We’re going to leave this wallet up and open until midday on sunday (assuming that all goes well!) and at the end of that time, everything in the wallet will be converted into ‘real money’ and donated to the Disaster Emergency Committee.

Wallet address – 19xnfvdAHitNErAGEhVnfkeBSTL8VVv8yV

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 10.52.24

But we’re also going to do something possibly very ill advised and release the key for this wallet into the wild, meaning that anyone with the wallet address (ie anyone) and the key (ie anyone!) can both donate and withdraw money to and from the wallet. No-one should try this at home!

We’ll be posting frequent stats on activity in the wallet and while we can’t identify individuals, we can identify wallet addresses. So we’ll see how many donations are coming in, how many are leaving and we’ll be able to hero addresses giving generously and identify those wallet addresses taking advantage of this open experiment.

Bitcoin wallet key – 2G6uK7QwKRPntaS7drFSUVsUf24ZVmEaK8gET2K2Uj4w

So, let’s go – the wallet is open and so is the key. We’re not sure what’s going to happen next, but we’re looking forward to finding out.

UPDATE: This post went live at 16.24 and we tweeted about it at 16.27. It took less than 30mins for the 0.01 bitcoin (just over $5) to be withdrawn by a user with the wallet address 1NYR7RF4pdc1i923qGhnkkakCqDLL9dd45. Thanks for taking part :-/

Introducing thinky.do


As Jeremy hinted at last week, we want to make more experiments this year. One of the key things we took away from Robotify is the need for a more modest approach that genuinely allows for speed, failure, mess … experimentation, really.


So for this year, we’ve baked lightness and pace into the process itself in order, we hope, to accelerate learning, but also to have more fun.

Our ambition is to create and release 10 experiments in 2014. We will do this by adopting a ‘hit and run’ approach to the exercise. Each month we’ll pose a new question, and we’ll run a live session to generate and prototype answers. We’ll force ourselves to ship something within 25 days and with a tiny budget – the month’s experiment needs to have sailed before we agree on the next brief.

We might end up with 10 failures, but we’re certainly hoping for 10 pieces of learning, 10 horizons broached, many more new people met and at the very least, to have done something fun with something new, every month for a year.

This new framework means our focus will be on people before machines, behaviours before builds and live development, not drawn out processes. Inspiration might come from platforms, from partners or from people’s imaginative uses of technologies and the web. It could come from anywhere really, as long as it gives us an opportunity to learn.

As well as more experiments, we’re also looking for more involvement from more people. So we’re going to be inviting the whole of BBH and our partner MediaMonks to experiment with us, and a bit later this year, look at how we can go even more open source. For now, we’ll post the question up on the blog before we run the working session and welcome comments and insight. And, as we did with robotify.me, we’ll make the learning process itself transparent, with briefs, ideas, and development being posted in (almost) real time on our new experiments platform.

This new home for Labs experiments is thinky.do. From now on, this is where anyone interested can follow the erratic ballads of Labs experiments, though of course we will point at new thinky.do activities from here and from our twitter every now and again.

 If you head there now, you’ll see that we’ve put up our question for the first experiment of the year. It’s all to do with crypto currencies and the creation of value. We’re holding our first live session this afternoon at BBH in London, so expect to hear more very soon.

We’re excited about switching up a gear in experimentation and we’re definitely curious to see what happens. If you’d be interested in joining us for the ride, please drop a note to collaborators@bbh-labs.com, leave a comment here or at thinky.do.

Robots in the Wild – Robotify.me is in public beta

Author: Helen Lawrence, @helenium, BBH & BBH Labs Strategist

@helenium's robot

It almost goes without saying that BBH Labs like robots. Of course we like robots. The potential for what robots could do challenges our view of the future. What will they be capable of? Do they free us from the mundane or render us redundant? Is the uncanny valley somewhere we’d like to live?

At BBH Labs we’re interested in ‘artificial’ intelligence: how it starts, where it can go, what it means for us carbon-based lifeforms. Advances in sentience, emotion and learning within Artificial Intelligence draw on human data; as the internet collects more and more of ourselves the robots are finding it even easier to replicate our squishy selves. Even the little things – predictive text, Google Instant, EdgeRank – make us blink from time to time.

But, despite the possibility of Skynet becoming self-aware, we decided to have a little play with it.

BEEEEEP. BEEEEP. Robotify.me is here!


We’ve talked about it before, but just in case you missed it then the basic idea for Robotify.me is that by plugging in your social data and using it to create a robot you can learn a little more about how you portray yourself online.

It should uncover if you tend to lurk and not share, if you retweet rather than create, walk miles for a Slurpee or take more photos than a K-Pop fan. Your robot will change and evolve, so keep checking back and see how it’s doing. Don’t worry, it doesn’t need feeding. It’s no tamagotchi and it’s certainly not 1996.

This is the first iteration of Robotify.me, it’s a simple little service at the moment. It will continue to develop and evolve over the coming months. So there might be a few bugs lurking in there and this early beta version of it certainly is lacking any bells and whistles. We’re already looking into adding some more networks to plug in, as well as seeing what else we can get out of the platforms we’re using at the moment. A more comprehensive ‘Roboguide’ is also in the works.

One of the reasons for creating Robotify.me is to encourage a bit of self reflection and analysis, and perhaps to see if people form an attachment with their robot. We’d love to know your robot was what your were expecting or if it threw up something a little odd that you might not have known about yourself. We’ve found ourselves taking more photos, retweeting less, checking in more… all to see what our robots do.

What is the mechanical bird on your shoulder whispering into your ear?


Send questions or comments via twitter @robotifyme; or email too – teamrobotify@robotify.me.

This was an in-house BBH operation. Conceived by Labs, built with the BBH technology team in London, logo and site design by Zag. The beautiful robot illustrations are the handy work of Mick Marston, @futilevignette.

Particular props go out to:
Gabor Szalatnyai: @endofu: Creative Technologist
Marc Owens: @marcowens: Creative
Matt Bertocchi: @ux_matt: UX
Kate Sutherland: Producer
Mel Exon: @melex: Product Owner
Jeremy Ettinghausen: @jeremyet: Creative Director
Helen Lawrence: @helenium: Labs Strategist & Copywriter
Shea Warnes: @sheawarnes: Social Strategist
Luke Kidney: @creativekidney: Creative Technologist
Vicki Maggs: @maggsy: Digital Analyst
Abi Awomosu: @tekogram: Senior Digital Analyst
Richard Davies: @richardtid: Graphic Designer, Zag
Steve Wake: @stephenwake: Head Designer, Zag
Gary Hudson: @garyhudson: Graphic Designer, Zag
Henry Rowan-Robinson: Commercial Lawyer
Sarah Pollard: @pollardfaure: Communications Director
Simon Taylor: Producer
Isobel Barnes: @isobelbarnes: PR Manager
Mark Reddy: Head of Art
Sarah Pascoe: Head of Print
Pablo Marques: @pablo_marques: Creative Director

And of course, the Rebel Alliance: James Mitchell: @jamescmitchell

An honorable mention goes out to Liz Harper: @lizmarieharper: who has kept the Labs ship sailing while we tinkered with cogs and lasers.

And a massive thankyou to all the wonderful beta testers, whose help, advice and support has been invaluable to date.

Thanks to Contagious too, for their great write up of Robotify.me