Archive for the ‘technology’ Category
26th September 13
One of the more innovative corners of the Web, is a dark and somewhat unscrupulous place. That does not mean that it cannot contain a wealth of innovative thinking, once you scratch the surface.
Since it’s launch in 2011, The SIlk Road has pushed the value of bitcoins (the digital currency underpinning its operation.) by over 200 fold, to today’s worth which is over $100 USD. Since the rise of the Internet, no other online marketplace can boast so high a demand, that it lifts a digital currency to become the world’s most valuable. Aside from its huge product demand, there are a number of innovations on The Silk Road that will likely be adopted by the rest of online retailers in the coming years.
US Senator Chuck Schumer summed up the site nicely as “the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen… by light-years.” He demanded that the website be shut down in 2011, but the Drug Enforcement Administration has yet to find a way to do so.
To an outsider, how such a site still exists may not make sense: the buyer and seller are anonymous, they sell illegal drugs, and do so with an online currency. However, the mechanics to make this work so seamlessly are in fact, light years ahead of their time.
The transaction process on The Silk Road is one of the most innovative systems on the Internet today and the population’s trust in the economy allows for an extremely simple system.
Here is the user experience of a transaction:
A buyer decides to make a purchase, they notify the seller of the quantity and their bitcoins are transferred from their wallet to The Silk Road. Their bitcoins are then held with The Silk Road, which acts as an escrow agent for the transaction. The bitcoins are only released to the seller after the buyer has received the product and leaves a review on the seller’s page.
This very simple mechanic of mandating product reviews is an extremely smart step when dealing with a black market because the market becomes more intelligent with every single transaction. This mandate naturally lessens the risk of scammers and builds the trust in the market that it requires to operate. Quite simply, The sellers with the better products get the best reviews and buyers shop with more confidence.
Online retailers like Etsy, Airbnb and Craigslist could benefit from implementing The Silk Road’s review-dependent transaction system. A major barrier for small vendors is garnering enough trust, which usually takes years and several purchases to gain. Although notorious for it’s drug-trafficking, beneath the pavement of the Silk Road lie a number of amazing innovations. happening in this surreal environment that we can all learn from.
7th June 13
Author: Nick Fell, Strategy Director
Last week we launched the Storytime Hangout app for Google+. Built in collaboration with Penguin, it allows families to share the story of Three Billy Goats Gruff over a hangout, whether they’re at home or away from one and other. Not only that but everyone participating can become characters in the story with masks overlayed onto their faces.
It’s early days but the app seems to have caught people’s imaginations and we’re excited about the potential to adapt further stories to be read in this way.
The project was driven forward with unwavering determination by a team of people at BBH and Penguin. We’ve also had great support from the team at Google.
We wanted to share with you our experiences of developing the app and highlight three things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Proactive projects require a laser-focus
We developed Storytime Hangout without an official brief. A small group of us at BBH had been discussing the massive potential of Google+ Hangouts to bring people closer together in some new and interesting ways. We were all passionate enough about the opportunity to spend some of our own time exploring ideas that would augment the experience of a Hangout even further. Storytime Hangout was the best idea of a long list. Proactively developing, building and launching an app in the spare moments in our days has been even more challenging than we expected. We’ve learned the hard way that to succeed means getting behind one idea early and be ruthless with the feature set.
2. Insight before tech
With such a wealth of technology at one’s disposal, it’s never been easier to create and launch an idea. The trap is to build something just because you can. What makes one experience more successful than another still comes down to an understanding of people; their hopes, dreams and behaviour. In our own experiences and in talking to other parents, it was clear that story time was one of the most enjoyable and important moments a parent can share with their children. The problem was that distance and other distractions often got in the way. It’s early days, but we’re hoping that a focus on problem-solving and not tech experimentation alone will encourage people to keep coming back to the app on Google+.
3. Stick by your principles
Technology is transforming publishing. Books are being bought and read in new ways and publishers have to adapt to how they market and distribute their intellectual property. Children’s literature is a particularly dynamic industry. Parents now have access to a wealth of content, apps and games to keep the kids entertained, much of which is freely available on the web. In adapting a children’s story for consumption online we wanted to ensure that we promoted the magic of storytelling. This informed our entire approach to developing the app. Words are central to the experience and we have tried to use technology in a way that augments, not distracts from, the reading of the book.
26th March 13
Author: Alex Matthews, Head of Creative Technology, BBH London
As a tech boy I am always less interested in marketing per se than I am in marketing through services – solving problems and creating something useful – and this is what I was hoping to find on my first visit to SXSW. Initially though I found myself in a Comedy in Technology talk where the little fella above did five minutes of standup – he’s been created as part of the drive to make robots more human, using comedy as a barometer for their humanness – pretty impressive, but still some work to do.
The Beyond Mobile talk was a great example of what I hope is a trend towards a “less is more” mentality, suggesting we need to stop making everything ‘smart’ and instead have one or two smart devices and create many interfaces into them. Also suggesting that devices need to get ‘dumber’ is right up my street. The best solutions are not always the ones that add a million buttons and an Android OS to your microwave – instead just make your microwave remember the time after a power outage (after all, for 99% of the time we only use out microwaves as a clock).
In the same vein was a talk by Golden Krishna (who recently joined Samsung) about his premise that The best interface is no interface. In his paper he discusses the 13 steps that are demanded by car-door unlocking apps now coming to market. Is this really a more efficient system than a key? Or a better system than the non-app solution developed by Mercedes ten years ago?
The Robot in your pocket: AI powered applications talk from Gravity‘s Amit Kapur and Xobni‘s Jeff Bonforte also ran on a similar theme (and is well worth listening to here). Phones have 14 sensors typically – all of this data is available to us and to developers and yet we are still not using it to its full potential. For example, asking Siri to “call Chris” pulls up a list of the Chris’s in your address book. With your behavioural data at its disposal, surely Apple should know that most evenings at 6pm the Chris I call is Chris Smith as I try and organise a quick beer after work?
Although there were quite a few relatively pointless apps on the trade stands I must big up one app that I found – Speakerfy – it allows you to simultaneously and synchronously play a song from your phone or laptop to multiple devices that also have the app. Basically, it creates a multi-speaker system on your and your friend’s phones. It’s going to make bus journeys with school kids even more noisy I’m sure.
Finally, I have to mention the Google Glass presentation in which they live-demoed Glass and launched their Mirror API. The API seems quite open, simple and developer friendly using all the usual standard technologies, though they’re not sure yet how people are going to subscribe to apps for their Glass headset. Aside from the big question which is “will any normal person actually want to wear these?” and the fact that we’re all already entrenched in a behaviour pattern of checking updates on our phones, the demos they gave (New York Times, email, photo, sharing etc) were not all that amazing.
Personally, I think Google is in a limbo state with Glass at the moment – they’re getting people interested, providing APIs but there’s no way for the masses to try out Glass, which does leave that “will anyone really do this” question rather open. There’s a lot of talk and hype from futurology types about Glass, but I’m not convinced they’re going to change the world overnight – going back to my original points, you have to ask the question “what is the business or user problem that Glass is trying to solve?”.
16th January 13
This post was originally published as an article, ‘The Year Ahead For Technology‘, which appeared in Campaign magazine’s first edition of the year last week, 10.01.13.
We may have spent the past few years fretting and fetishising about the time we spend online vs offline, but here’s the good news: 2013 is going to be the year we relax a little. We’ll get over the novelty of social sharing online and just accept it, distracted instead by the utility and magic revealed when ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds start to merge. The physical world becomes properly programmable. The physical web comes into its own.
If there has been a meta creative goal of technology over the past decade or so, I’d wager it is to create online experiences that inch closer to feeling viscerally real; to strive for a ‘real world standard’, if you will. Cast your mind back to Second Life ten years ago, all the way through to the interactive 3D graphics made possible by Web GL today and the steady advances in virtual reality gaming, now being applied to healthcare. Within multiple industries fuelled by technology, there’s a fascination with mirror worlds and visceral experiences. And disappointment when they don’t quite measure up to the hype (goodbye then, Second Life).
But what if we flip things for a moment: think about putting the web into the physical world, rather than trying to mimic the physical world online?There are a collection of reasons why the physical web’s time has come. Forget QR codes. Witness the leap Augmented Reality made with the announcement of Google’s heads up glasses, which justifiably caused a stir in 2012. Then add the emergence of the Internet of Things and Quantified Self into mainstream tech culture, as two sides to the same digital coin:
1. Quantified Self looks at the physical web through a human lens.
An expression coined by Kevin Kelly and Gary Wolf five years ago, it’s about self-tracking your performance – often via wearable, digital tools that collect and report how well you’re doing – with applications for health & fitness, finance, productivity, education, mobility and more.
2. The Internet of Things looks at the physical web through the lens of objects.
Coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999, it refers to connected sensors embedded in objects making them machine-readable and artificially intelligent – with giant consequences for everything from stock taking to security, architecture to art. A year ago Cisco calculated there were already more devices connected to the Internet than there are people on the planet.
And we’re seeing brands back up the promise of both, with self-tracking services like Fitbitand Nike’s Fuelband breaking into the mainstream, whilst IoT services are emerging, likeLockitron, which remotely locks or opens your front door (never worry about losing your keys again) and Growerbot, which uses sensors to monitor moisture, light and temperature in your garden and water when needed.
Solid broadband and smartphone penetration, super-fast mobile broadband, an expanding free WiFi network in the UK and the emergence of services like the ones above are together creating perfect conditions for the emergence of what might be called a ‘real world web’. Even Search is transforming, as Google puts it, to “things, not strings.” Their Knowledge Graph, introduced in May this year, aims “to understand real world entities and their relationships to one another” and already contains close to 600 million. “Search now understands that the Taj Mahal is a building, but also a music band, a casino and a bunch of restaurants.” Then there’s Apple’s Siri and now Google Now for Android; essentially predictive, personalised search on the move, although that barely does it justice.
The rise of the networked brand
What about brands in this context? All this powering up in technological terms and blurring between real & virtual worlds simply underlines why brands in any category need to grasp the value of operating in a network.
A few things worth considering now:
- If your physical product had a digital layer, what would it be?
- What physical, live or exclusive experience can you give to your network to share?
- Are you thinking about ‘views’ or subscribers? If you’re serious about content marketing to connected users, it’s the latter.
- As users flip between devices on the fly, they’ll expect a seamless experience: are you designing responsively?
What happens next?
Beyond this year, we will need common protocols enabled by an open web for this to work at scale. Businesses to watch in the meantime: Smartthings, Place Me (a “persistent ambient sensing” mobile app that collects all the sensory data imaginable) and Esri (formerly Geoloqi, a next gen location app). In short, our ‘phones will pick up so much real world, ambient data we won’t need to look further. To paraphrase Esri’s Amber Case: “Think what SMS did for telephones”…
Welcome to the Real World Web.
7th January 13
Author: Saneel Radia, Head of Innovation, BBH New York and BBH Labs
The annual Consumer Electronics Show kicks off in Las Vegas today. The following is a piece written by Saneel for the Huffington Post on “What To Expect” this year. You can read other articles in the HuffPo series here . As always, follow @bbhlabs and @saneel for tweets from the showroom floor. You can also see last year’s recap on why marketers should be relieved based on what we saw.
I’ve been going to CES for a decade. As someone interested primarily in virtual (i.e., software-based) products and the role they can play for brand marketers, clearly I’m a glutton for punishment. After all, CES is a show about hardware, even if its lead brand has historically been the original software company, Microsoft. In fact, CES is not only a hardware show, but because of the copycat nature of consumer electronics, it’s a show about a particular type of hardware from year to year. Sometime between The Netbook Show, The E-reader Show and The TV show, I started losing faith in CES.
Yet I find myself headed back yet again, this time for The Tablet Hybrid show. Like a nerd voyeur, I’ll closely watch tablets breeding with phones in one booth, then breeding with laptops in another. And I have Samsung to thank for it.
You see, a year that proved tremendously successful for Samsung was a bittersweet one for other manufacturers. On the one hand, Samsung has proven that many users do want a device that fits somewhere between a smartphone and a tablet with its huge-for-a-phone (both in size and sales) Galaxy S3. This is on top of its successful Galaxy Note 2 sales. On the other hand, the industry buzzword of “convergence” is finally starting to rear its head. As devices have collided these last few years, manufacturers were pleasantly surprised to see new categories be created instead of just old categories be cannibalized. Just ask Apple. For years, Steve had people leaving Apple stores with iPhone, iPad and MacBook tucked under their arms. However, these new Tablet Hybrids from companies like Samsung fall into a gray area. These mixed breed devices are more clearly competing with their component parts, emerging from the lab as better alternatives to at least one of their parental units. Like some type of nature documentary, this is a case of offspring consuming parent.
I wonder if I’ll be able to sense the nervous anxiety this is creating amongst each of the manufacturers showing off their latest creatures on the carnival — oops, I mean “showroom” — floor.
While I am walking through this reminder of Darwinism, convincing myself yet again that this will be my last CES, I can only assume those people with the huge smiles on their faces are Google employees. You see, it’s Google’s Android Operating System that’s the real winner here. Android is running most of these mutant hybrids, which is incredible given Apple’s domination of the market as recently as 3 years ago. It’s especially intriguing this year, which marks the first show since Microsoft officially bowed out of the partnership with the organizers. That means Google is arguably the most important company in Vegas this CES (although Microsoft will certainly be making noise about Xbox, Surface and it’s shiny new Windows 8 Operating System).
So, it seems a software company will continue to reign supreme at this annual festival of hardware. I wonder what, if any, impact that will have on the show moving forward? After a decade of attendance, I can safely say that software is the lowlight of the event. There’s a sad monotony in playing with clunky interfaces while booth representatives explain why it’s great that whatever I’m tinkering with can’t possibly integrate with anything I already own. I guess working in a booth in which every device is made by your employer has a way of letting you see the bright side of one-stop shopping (with an employee discount).
But for the rest of us still dreaming of the walk-around-from-booth-to-booth-swiping-our-credit-cards-and-laughing-as-we-throw-the-latest-bit-of-not-yet-available-to-the-masses-technology-into-a-big-grab-bag-that-won’t-pose-any-TSA-issues-while-traveling-back-with-us-before-being-installed-instantly-and-without-reference-to-user-manuals-transforming-our-homes-into-scenes-from-sci-fi-movies-where-the-computers-eventually-turn-on-humans-who-for-some-reason-don’t-have-the-good-sense-to-welcome-our-new-electronic-overlords experience, I must say… it’s actually the lack of integration that’s most frustrating. It seems insane all my content and stuff can’t just go anywhere, anytime regardless of the logo on the back of the device. Microsoft never seemed to get it right, perhaps because they never truly embraced the cloud. I can only hope Google fares better.
If they do, I may just give up trying to give up on CES, and book next year’s ticket right from the showroom floor… on my new iPhone 5 of course.
3rd October 12
It is quite obvious that we here at Labs are huge fans of both the open source community, and idea of social-coding platforms. It would go without saying that being fans of such a community is not enough, one would argue that we should not only be an observer, but also a participant. That being said, we looked at a few of the internal projects and experiments we have worked on and felt that at this point we should share bit of code with the rest of the Internet.
What began as an exploration in Processing quickly became a prototype and finally a solid bit of code that is a complete application. We called it The GIF-A-MATRON, and it is a processing application that interprets the brightness of the webcam’s image and translates it to dots that scale based on that image creating abstract interpretation. In the background the application detects a vistor’s motion and secretly captures three frames, two seconds apart and creates an animated GIF. The GIF is then send via PHP to a destination tumblr site for all to see.
Once we showed it around to a few folks, people instantly liked it. The next logical step was to release it as source for others to build upon, and interpret into what ever they see fit. It’s primary function is something like a animated gif generating photo booth, but we are interested to see where it goes from here. Feel free to grab the source from our Github page. If you do add a twist, let us know, we would love to see what you do with it.
20th January 12Authors: Saneel Radia, Head of BBH Labs NYC & Tim Harris, EVP/Managing Director of Innovation at McCann Erickson*
Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show, an event more widely attended by brand marketers than ever before. Although the show resembled last year’s a bit too closely for our liking, we’ve resisted simply republishing our 2011 recap. What was unique however, is the sense of relief we feel upon our return. Instead of feeling intimidated by the speed of innovation, or anxious from the ever-fragmenting tech landscape, we’ve come home with our industry angst alleviated. Let us elaborate on the trends keeping us relaxed.
No one actually knows how to design for “laplets”
As the world of consumer electronics bounces between convergence and divergence, we were a bit surprised to walk through booths full of laptop + tablet hybrids that seem to be a unique device offering in and of themselves. Then there were phone + tablet hybrids like the Samsung Note. There was even a tablet + gaming rig hybrid. On top of those converging devices, we were struck by the number of input peripherals accompanying them. Peripherals are nothing new, but this onslaught of converged devices with inputs beyond touchscreens is really interesting. It seems touch interface isn’t the panacea we all wanted it to be. When the iPhone and iPad changed the way we did stuff, we figured that was it.
However, one look at how game developers and electronics manufacturers are interacting demonstrates just how difficult it is for content creators to stick immersive content into a touch environment. Ever played a mobile game with dual-virtual-stick control? It sucks. But game developers are still designing games that require it. As anyone that works at an agency has seen, designing irrespective of context happens daily. Sure, we all have our different remedies for this (see BBH’s media design practice), but almost no marketers truly craft ideas from environments. The best simply craft to them, closing the gap as best they can, but not truly letting the context or medium play as fundamental a role as it deserves.
Seeing some of the world’s best content creators struggle with familiar issues, we couldn’t help but let guilty smiles cross our faces. We can take solace it isn’t just us marketers.
TVs being “smart” means we may not have to be
Last year, virtually every booth had the word “smart” displayed on it, obliquely referencing the fact that their TVs were internet-enabled. Although the idea of apps on TVs isn’t going away (especially with gesture-based engagement on the horizon), we saw a more conservative- dare we say even practical- approach to TV apps this year. Instead of highlighting obscure developers they had worked with to make apps, this year the manufacturers were presenting the familiar logos of Netflix, Hulu and Fios. We’d argue such familiarity is welcome to both consumers and marketers. It means less subscriptions for people, and a less fragmented media landscape for marketers.
As TV manufacturers came to the welcome realization that the revenue from app sales simply wasn’t going to change the face of their business, content providers with app-driven models like Netflix have been emboldened (it’s no coincidence Hulu announced its first unique scripted series on the heels of CES). This media-agency-friendly revenue model will make it easier for brands to get onto TV screens without having to partner with developers. Instead, they’ll work through content and distribution companies they already know how to engage. If we had to guess, that means subscription-services like HBO and FiOS will experiment with ad presence of varying levels, depending on the platform (e.g., Xbox 360 vs Panasonic Viera Connect). It’s certainly a lot easier as a brand to think about how to work with Hulu than it is to sort out unique offerings across Sony and LG devices. No one should be more relieved about this consolidation than marketers, a group notoriously bad at partnering with developers and quantifying value in new ways.
Perhaps most importantly, media deal-making lunches have been preserved. Phew.
We put a big bet on Apple and we seem to be winning
Apple is famously absent from every CES, yet it’s clear to any attendee that they are present, if not formally as an exhibitor. Last year was a show of iPad alternatives. The year before was an exhibition of iPhone derivatives. This year was the “hey we have a MacBook Air too” show. Apple certainly didn’t invent the ultra-thin laptop, but any analysis of the design and feature-set selected across various manufacturer’s devices (see Samsung’s new Series 9, Dell’s XPS 13 or any device featured by Intel as an Ultrabook) reveals a very Apple-like device.
Once again, a comforting thought donned on us as we walked the Convention Center floor. Few industries have adopted Apple products as early and as deeply than the ad industry. As creative teams relentlessly pitch tech ideas born from an Apple-centric view of the universe, they may just start to see more nodding heads and fewer rolling eyes. Agencies are notorious for their dogmatic approach to ideas. In this case, Apple’s vast grip on consumer electronics may justify our utterly biased view of tech experiences.
It seems creatives have yet another thing to thank Steve for.
The home is connecting to retail (and we had nothing to do with it)
We’ve all been hearing about the refrigerator that tells you when you’re low on milk since before there were computers (fine, not quite that long, but still). This year’s CES brought all of the “smart” into context for the truly connected home. An LG refrigerator not only speaks to your phone or tablet to tell you all about its contents or encourage you to fill it up again– it also helps you manage a diet via personal profiles and nutritional information. Smart vacuums and ovens do their duties when you’re not even home, and some appliances talk to each other to save on power usage. We’re used to hearing about appliances that talk to retail (or an online grocer), but this year, the retail environment talks back. Walking through the stores of the near future, we’ll get notifications about relevant offers, loyalty plus-ups and even recipe analysis based on what’s at home in your fridge. We’ll no longer have 58 heads of garlic at home or 9 jars of cayenne pepper. What a pleasant surprise– we’ve been trying to solve for the gap between home/planning and shopping/buying forever in marketing. Promotions, brand extensions and partnerships will have much more clarity, because they’ll be based on consumer need rather than marketing guesswork. LG, Alcatel-Lucent and others have given us a palette from which to create truly integrated designs for the makers, sellers and buyers of everyday products. In other words, marketers’ inability to close the gap between retail and brand experiences may soon be a non-issue. The tech industry is sorting it out for us.
Now maybe we can help them figure out how to make their biggest event fresh again.
*Saneel & Tim were two of the co-founders of Denuo, and this was the 10th CES they’ve attended together. They’ve come home broke, and in a fight, after each.
7th November 11
Author: Dan Harris (@gecko84), Social Media Manager, BBH Labs
Every day we use technology to find answers, from Google processing billions of searches, through to emailing colleagues or sending a question on twitter. We are increasingly relying on algorithms, communities and the fact that our colleague’s eyes may pass over our request at the right time.
On top of this, users have to contend with the filter bubble. This selective distribution of information based on a web user’s location, search history and previous clicks relies on a previous viewpoint and won’t necessarily reflect what somebody wants to know *now*.
This reliance on a fast digital response leads us away from existing relationships and habits and all too often we forget the value that can be provided by people with decades of experience, thoughts and stories. For example, when my ninety-four year old Grandad listens to my fairly trivial stresses and comes back with the maxim “You can only give it your best shot son” it resonates because I know he fought in World War II, worked for 40 years, opened a lodging house aged 60 and has been through plenty of loss and happiness.
Online searches may be able to supply the facts about historical events, but it will never be able to replicate the emotions and feelings of someone who was there and witnessed an event first hand or the personal delivery of that information. A status update asking for help is just as likely to illicit sarcastic responses as actual, useful advice. In fact, sometimes the best reply is sitting in a lonely old chap up in Scotland who is just waiting to be asked, whatever the question.
Hugmail is a partnership between BBH Zag and Touchnote, a British technology company whose aim is to bridge the increasing digital divide and making it easier for different generations to keep in touch.
That’s why Labs & Zag are excited to announce ‘Search for a Sage’, the hunt for Britain’s most interesting grandparent. We’re looking to find a great character that’s seen it all, with plenty of stories and a unique slant on life.
We’ll ask a Sage to answer the nation’s questions via regular webcasts and take it from there. We want to put real wisdom on a pedestal in a place where modern society is likely to look for it.
So if you know a grandparent that fits the bill then send a nomination to hugmail.com.
Our sage will be unveiled and start answering questions and laying down wisdom from 21st November.