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  • Media Innovation: Lessons from the The Silk Road.

    26th September 13

    bbhlabs_silkroad

    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.

  • Creativity from destruction

    23rd September 13

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Creativityforgood, digital

    Author: Mareka Carter, Writer & Art Director, BBH London

    Rosalind Davis, 'I Will Wait For You', 2012

    Rosalind Davis, ‘I Will Wait For You’, 2012

    We know anyone reading this blog is interested in hearing about new digital experiences, and so we’re proud to announce a little probono project that a small team have been working on at BBH.

    Artist Rosalind Davis approached us to see if we could help give some exposure to an exhibition she was mounting of work made in response to the London Riots.
    With our connections in Tottenham built from the Keep Aaron Cutting project, we suggested a venue and then a concept – to turn fine art into a truly digital and immersive interactive experience.

    Inspired by Rosalind’s theme of using creativity as a means to repair after destruction, we have built her a website for her show, To The Light - which makes two of her artworks in the online gallery,  Splinters and The Distance Between, into soundscapes of archive from the time of the riots, combined with commentary and opinions from Rosalind herself and others. Snippets of sound are released as you mouseover the brushstrokes and structure of the image.

    The site encourages people to add their own thoughts to Rosalind’s work by recording voice memos and emailing them through to further populate the soundscape, which we hope will grow and grow.

    The show’s private view is next Wednesday 25th September between 6-8:30pm at the Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham.

    We’ve definitely enjoyed demonstrating Rosalind’s belief in creativity’s power to effect change and open up discussion, so please participate if you’re moved to, and do spread the word.

    Thankyou.

    The creative band involved: 

    Mareka Carter & Adam Powers on concept, Alex Matthews & Luke Kidney on tech and build, Heather Alderson & Xoch Ireland on connections and organisation, Izzy Barnes on PR advice, and Ian Lambden at the Mini Mill on sound engineering.

    Rosalind Davis. The Beginning. Part of the Halfway through the Dark Series.

    Rosalind Davis. The Beginning. Part of the Halfway through the Dark Series.

     
  • Get Lucky for the City of Good

    16th September 13

    Author: Nicolas Jayr, Team Manager, BBH London

    CityOfGood_Concepts_0000_1

    Could your career do with a one-on-one mentoring session from Sir Nigel Bogle?

    Or do you have a speech (or resignation letter!) that needs copywrangling by multiple award winning copy legend David Kolbusz?

    Or maybe your profile could benefit from an audit from BBH’s top social media strategists?

    These are just three of the dozens of unique experiences that will be auctioned or offered as lottery prizes as part of the CITYofGOOD project. Other items available include a wine tasting session with BBH founder (and vineyard owner) Sir John Hegarty, a racing top signed by Usain Bolt and a portfolio review from BBH Executive Creative Director Nick Gill.

    All money raised goes to support Brazil NGO Grupo Ruas e Pracas and is part of The International Exchange initiative which brings together communication professionals and NGOs working in developing countries.

    You’ve got until 10 October to decide which fantastic experience you want to bid for and make your offer. Follow @bbhcityofgood for updates and good luck!

    Nicolas is heading to Recife (North-East Brazil) in November as part of the TIE initiative to work with NGO Grupo Ruas e Pracas, whose mission is to empower children and adolescents living on the streets through an educational process based on street education.

  • The future of display is native

    9th September 13

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in advertising, digital

    The final (for now) instalment in a series of cross-posts of some of the monthly tech columns we’ve written for Marketing magazine over the course of the year. This article on native advertising appeared in Marketing’s April issue.

    ***

    A wise agency head recently told me that, statistically, a person is more likely to die in an airplane crash than click on a banner ad. Not least because I’m writing this month’s column on a long haul flight to San Francisco (where I’ve been lucky enough to be invited by a client to spend the week immersed with them at Google’s Creative Academy), this is something I’m hoping not to be true.

     It is certainly the case that display ads are woefully ineffective, just witness the average CTR of a banner ad: at 0.2% in 2012 (from 9% in 2000, in case you’re wondering). Indeed, the death of display advertising has been declared so many times over the past decade or so, it’s astonishing it still has a pulse.

     And yet, it’s a sure-fire truth that when anyone declares the death of anything, it’s how often that thing shape-shifts and re-surfaces, alive and well, in a different form (check out one of my favourite articles of all time, ‘The Tragic Death of Practically Everything’ here).

     In the case of display, witness the inexorable rise of Native advertising.

    Most jargon makes my blood run cold, but this is a term I increasingly like for a couple of reasons:

    1.    The term evokes a sense of belonging and integrity; an opportunity for a brand to show an understanding of natural platform behaviours and a concern with user experience that isn’t associated with traditional display advertising nearly enough.

    2. It is one way publishers and media owners may manage to monetize their online platforms effectively, without sacrificing user experience.

    In short, the user, the brand and the media owner all stand to win. It’s that combination which makes Native advertising worth paying attention to.

     What native advertising is

    Relevant, paid-for content that appears within the editorial stream of a publisher’s site or social network. Current examples include: promoted tweets on Twitter, ads in search, sponsored stories on Facebook, Tumblr Spotlight, promoted videos on YouTube, paid-for editorial content. It’s where publishing, PR and creative content meet.

     What it isn’t

    ‘Understanding natural platform behaviours’ does not mean producing wallpaper. The very best Native advertising is thought-provoking, creative, even disruptive; witness BBH’s work for the domestic abuse charity, Refuge, featuring the YouTube star, Lauren Luke. Nor is it content that pretends to be genuine editorial. No user likes the brand that duped them by presenting commercial content in an editorial environment, with no demarcation from the publisher’s content or link to the brand involved.

    Some thoughts on briefing native advertising

    1.    Native advertising is a (paid-for) means to an end, not an end in its own right. Its role might to recruit new users or kick-start an offer or initiative. As such, it’s more a sign-post on a connected path or story, not pure branded content per se. Simple things like including a call to action or a useful link back to the brand can be overlooked, but are critical to progressing an interested user’s journey.

    2.    It’s equally important we make sure the team involved knows what constitutes natural behaviour on a given platform and respects it. Etiquette and UX, both crucial at the best of times, are disproportionately important here.

    3. Silo-ed organisations won’t fare well here. Look for the people who demonstrate they see the whole picture: they care deeply about user experience, have a strong grasp of your brand voice and the nuances of the different, constantly evolving platforms.

    Who knows, perhaps display isn’t dead, it’s just gone native.

  • On native apps versus the mobile web

    5th September 13

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in design, mobile

    This is the third cross-post this week from a few articles we’ve written this year for a tech column in Marketing magazine. This one from the June issue looks at designing for mobile web versus native apps: as mobile moves to centre stage, should marketers design for every operating system and every device, or opt instead for the mobile web?

    **

    Last month’s column covered how wearable tech is likely to succeed for no other reason than it makes intuitive sense once you try it. Just as mankind ditched pocket watches en masse in the first half of the 20th century (albeit reluctantly at first: apparently your average British male stated they’d “rather wear a skirt than a wrist watch” until after WW1), it follows that we won’t carry around a smartphone when we can wear one instead and stay handsfree.

    When it comes to designing for mobile however, wearable tech throws up additional demands in an already quite complex space. Designing for different operating systems on a bunch of different handsets and tablets is going to look like child’s play when wearable tech fully enters the arena. It’s going to get harder before it gets easier.

    Enter the mobile web. I usually subscribe to the view that the more complex a task, the simpler the solution needs to be. Native apps increasingly dominate mobile traffic, currently delivering four times the volume of the mobile web and yet… why design separate solutions for different OS when you can have the broader applicability and lower costs of designing for the mobile web instead?

    In truth, there is no one mobile solution to rule them all. So how best to navigate development choices now, with one eye on the future?

    Here’s a dead simple guide to ‘what to choose, when’:

    1. Native apps

    If you’re designing a service or utility (task-based) app that requires real speed and you want to use the native features of the OS running on a given device, then for now your best bet is to code a native app, think Instagram.

    2. Web apps  

    In other words, apps that live entirely online and run in a web browser tab. If you don’t need the native features associated with iOS or Android, say, and the purpose of your app is primarily information-based – to the extent it needs constant communication with the server – then you’re better off building a web app. An example of this would be Forecast http://forecast.io/, the weather app built using HTML5. No need to go to the app store, just search, download to your home screen and you’re good to go. Forecast also puts to bed any assumptions that a native app interface is de facto better. As Forecast themselves say, it’s more a question of users getting familiar with the progress that’s been made:

    “It’s 2013, and mobile browser technology has advanced tremendously in the past few years: hardware accelerated transforms and animations have made it easy to create perfectly smooth, jitter-free, interfaces..”

    3. Hybrid apps

    As the name suggests: a native app, but built using HTML, CSS and Javascript. This speeds up the development process and makes it easier to publish across platforms, but there can be compromises in styling and performance. Netflix is a good example of one that works: using the same code base for its user interface on all devices allows Netflix to change the interface or conduct testing at will (whilst video streaming is done within the native layer, meaning it feels fast and ‘native-like’ to the user).

    In short, each of the approaches here have a role, it depends on what we’re trying to achieve. For marketers, I’d wager we default to a native app too quickly. The question to ask is “will this app provide genuine utility or entertainment that users will want to return to of their own accord in future?” If the answer is closer to “no, this is a short term campaign to promote a product launch” then let’s do everyone, including our CFOs, a favour and build a light, responsively designed web page instead.

    Further reading:

    Love this related post on cards as a design approach that solves many of the perennial issues around mobile – it’s must-read: Why Cards Are The Future of The Web, by Paul Adams @ Intercom.

  • On the rise of transience in social technologies

    4th September 13

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Brands, Social

    This is the second cross-post in a series we’re putting up this week from the tech column we’ve written for Marketing magazine over the course of this year. This post looks at the rise of Snapchat and the implications for marketers, it appeared in Marketing in July. Think of it as a sister post to Jason’s recent post here ‘Why the ephemeral is here to stay‘.

    Image: Bert Stern for Smirnoff via rafaelroa.net

    Image: Bert Stern for Smirnoff, via rafaelroa.net

    Reading of the recent death of Bert Stern, the photographer most famous for his ‘last sitting’ photographs of Marilyn Monroe and, closer to home, the advertising shots he took for Smirnoff in the 1950s, you cannot help but admire how iconic the work was. A perfect cocktail glass stands on sand, reflecting an inverted Pyramid of Giza as the sun glides down behind it. Carefully crafted, pure, timeless allure.

    Juxtapose that with the news that Snapchat, the free app that let’s you share video and photos that self-destruct in a matter of seconds, has been valued at a cool $800m during its latest round of funding. Unsurprising, perhaps, given its meteoric usage growth curve (200m images shared daily in June, up from 60m in February, according to Snapchat figures) and yet still somehow staggering. As the Financial Times pointed out, this is more than Instagram’s final sale price ($700m) after Facebook stock slumped. And this in the same week Instagram introduced 15 second video to compete with Vine’s even more microvideo service, not to mention Facebook’s own Poke, questionably – but deliberately – identical to Snapchat, launched at the end of last year.

    So is this super-light touch, technological transience nothing more than a superficial bubble, or a signifier of something deeper that marketers should pay attention to?

    Time will tell, of course. But, as any user of Snapchat will tell you (13-24 yr olds are the app’s current centre of gravity in age terms), it does offer a solution to a very modern problem. Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s founder, says the service was designed deliberately to offer an alternative to the pressure social media can bring to bear on users to present an idealised version of themselves. Against a backdrop of carefully curated streams of perfect holiday pictures, users want to share the real, the immediate, the silly side to their lives without the photographic evidence remaining on Facebook to haunt them forever. And, yes, no doubt there’s sexting too but, as Spiegel is at pains to point out, the app is most often used to share what’s happening now; the extreme transience of the service “doesn’t actually make sense” in a sexting context.

    Brands seeking to reach a younger demographic are experimenting in the space, although inevitably the activity is largely promotions-based on what is still a nascent platform. Snapchat themselves are reported to be considering in-app transactions and native advertising as a route to monetisation in the medium term.

    Certainly the fleeting immediacy here may feel like an anathema to traditional marketing ideas that so often value carefully planned permanence over pertinence, but I can’t help but think that it’s healthy for us to explore technology that help brands get closer to the naturally transitory nature of users’ real lives.

    Perhaps what we are witnessing is a second wave in social media, where we recognise that users don’t want their every move and word captured and held in static perpetuity. If Snapchat doesn’t fit your brand’s value set, then witness the altogether more grown-up Tumblr.

    In his speech at Cannes this year, Tumblr’s CEO David Karp made a point of distinguishing the platform from the likes of Facebook or Twitter. In short, Tumblr values great content over constant social interaction “You can keep it small and do it in a campaign-orientated way”, versus the 24/7 newsroom approach brands feel they need to adopt on other platforms. Karp stressed the fact there are few publicly visible metrics on Tumblr, versus the follower/friend count on Facebook and Twitter: it’s a place brands can house content they can share with audiences, without feeling like they’re under constant scrutiny or trying to meet unrealistic expectations. Suddenly, brands seem remarkably like their users.

  • Hello world: code and the future of creativity

    3rd September 13

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in coding, creativity

    This week we’re cross-posting some of the monthly tech columns we’ve written over the past year for Marketing magazine. In part so we keep a record of the topics that are vexing and/or getting us going here at Labs, but mainly because some of these topics keep resurfacing and seem worthy of on-going discussion. As always please let us know what you think in the comments below.

    First up, a piece published in March this year on code and creativity.

    ***

    Sample of Beatrix Potter's code, source: peterrabbit.com (yes, that's right)

    Sample of Beatrix Potter’s code, source: peterrabbit.com (yes, that’s right)

    A biography of Beatrix Potter published last century may not sound like it warrants a mention in a column about technology. Yet when a friend sent it to me recently I was surprised: as a child, Beatrix had conceived her own cipher or code for use in private journals that she wrote well into her late twenties. 200,000 words in total that were only successfully decoded two decades after her death. So why did she write in code? And why was there such baffled curiosity that a creative writer did this?

    The thoughts Beatrix encrypted were neither controversial nor particularly personal. The biographer speculates that she was a lonely, if intelligent child who sought refuge in her own imagination. Described as a peculiar act of creativity to escape an otherwise colourless childhood, if you will.

    Reading it, I was struck by how little fundamental attitudes to writing code have changed in decades. In our industry, as in others, there’s positive intent and considerable uptake of courses designed to teach the basics of programming languages, sure. But reading and writing code is still not a part of the fabric of life the same way learning a language, sport or an instrument is. Many still see code as intimidating, or the preserve of the solitary (male) computer science geek.

    Even as we grasp how code and the role of different languages are transforming marketing output and our ways of working, still too many of us step back from getting to grips with code directly and personally. That’s for newcomers to the industry, right?

    Yet it’s no more complicated than anything else we learn over the course of our lives and it’s part of the day job: we already know the Internet has been the biggest advertising sector in the UK for the past four years (IAB data) and that it will register double digit growth every year for the next four (PwC’s Global Media & Entertainment Outlook for EMEA, 2012-2016).

    So what now?

    Perhaps we don’t all itch to shape the way the web develops, but let’s embrace the fact that, at its simplest, code is how things get made on and for the web. Much as Beatrix Potter understood a century ago, code is creative. Of course there’s much to do here: if code in combination with its older siblings, art direction and copy, is to grow up faster, better, stronger it needs leadership at every level. We don’t all need to learn to code necessarily, but we do need to know what code can do.

    Time to get with the program, people.

    More on the topic:

    Google’s “Art, Copy & Code”

    A series of experiments launched at the start of the year designed to re-imagine advertising, reflecting the triumvirate now at the heart of commercial creativity.

    Code.org and their video ‘what most schools don’t teach’ featuring Zuckerberg, Gates and a host of other geekarati championing code. If I were Secretary of State for Education, I’d make it mandatory for all girls in secondary education to watch this.

    Decoded – http://decoded.co/. The original “learn to code in a day” training course. You may not emerge a fully fledged developer, but you do leave with a good grasp of the history and roles of different programming languages, plus an app you built yourself. Intelligently designed course, highly recommended.

    Dr Techniko

    Teaching kids the basics of code through a parent-child physical training session where the parent is the ‘robot’ and expected to respond to specific commands: “How to train your robot”. Every small child’s dream.

    And as a counter-point: Learning to Code is a Waste of Time (Forbes)

  • Keep it Simple, Stupid!

    9th August 13

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in digital, UX

    Authors; Kimberley Gill, Creative, and Adam Powers, Head of User Experience

    BA1

    We live for our holidays, and yet sorting them out has become a self-service chore. So it didn’t feel right to just tell people that British Airways *do* holidays, we wanted to deliver on their brand promise to serve, by creating an experience that actually helps people to plan their perfect break.

    We talked about how holiday planning  begins with a picture in your head, and it’s these images that resonate emotionally – when people pick up a guide book they go straight for the photos pages. This made us think – wouldn’t it be good to make a tool that stimulates the senses and imagination, helping you plan your holidays with just your eyes?

    Coming up with the idea of choosing your holiday through pictures was relatively quick,  but the biggest challenge was executing it in a simple, functional amator porno and pleasing way. We explored a few options with different levels of interactivity. One involved asking people a series of visual questions, another was a sort of ‘paint by numbers’ –  but both these seemed to add an unnecessary layer onto a very simple idea. This exploration made us realise that we should use as few words as possible and make the most intuitive experience we possibly could.

    The tool simply needed to read image choices, then suggest bespoke holiday options to match. This felt like a new way to inspire and buy a holiday in itself. And that’s where the name came from: ‘Picture Your Holiday”.

    BA2

    The soul of the experience was always going to be in the animation and interaction – no amount of beautifully designed stills could bring it to life – so in order to ‘see’ this we had to prototype the build. Moving quickly to prototype gave us a number of advantages – it helped focus the team, which unearthed the key interaction challenges very early on. This proved to be cost effective and allowed us more time to really think hard about solutions.

    We were able to explore the tool across mobile and tablet simultaneously, adapting the development branch so that each was optimal but largely from the same code base. Which in turn meant the interactive six sheets at Westfield are essentially running the same version of the tool that works in your browser. Added effort early on made for a much more effective roll-out towards the end of the project.

    There was also a great sense of excitement at the point where we shared it with the client, they could see for themselves the simplicity and delight in the idea. We were then able to do real world guerrilla user testing with the prototype to get feedback and roll it into the iterative dev cycle. Several recurring key findings changed our approach, one of those being the labelling of buttons.

    As the prototype evolved into what would become the final tool, parallel activity to develop ‘campaign ideas’ were set aside. We realised that the product WAS the campaign and the concertina of beautiful images would become the key visual for all communications platforms.

    Behind the elegant interface is a data driven system for all device types. We created a spreadsheet of attributes for each destination and then assigned a value to each. It was then exported as a JSON file, means that the whole thing can still be updated easily, should BA wish to add new holiday destinations, by simply deploying a new file to the cloud.

    ba3

    The end result is something which feels elegant, inspiring and fun to use.

  • Why the ephemeral is here to stay

    7th August 13

    Posted by Jason Gonsalves

    Posted in Social, technology

    Snapchat's mascot Ghostface Chillah. He's a ghost.

    The many faces of Snapchat’s mascot Ghostface Chillah. He’s a ghost.

    It was a great man, Ferris Bueller to be precise, who once uttered the immortal words “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So wise and so relevant it seemed to me, as I reflected upon the phenomenon that is Snapchat. Last month, less than 2 years after launch, Snapchat raised $60m in funding on the basis of a $800m valuation from prominent VC’s. Dennis Phelps of Institutional Venture Partners gushed emphatically “The funding round was “one of the most competitive financings we have been a part of in years”. Despite the fact that they are yet to make a single dollar from advertising or charging users.

    In many ways Snapchat embodies the very essence of the ephemeral but I couldn’t help wondering if it might be a signifier of a broader trend unfolding, something more fundamental and profound. As a generation of “digital natives” grow up and look to their future, and the whole world considers the repercussions of Edward Snowden’s revelations, it appears that we are collectively reappraising our engagement with the digital world. We grow increasingly aware of our ever deepening reliance on networked technologies, the blurring of public and private space, and the changing nature of our relationships with others, and we are beginning to explore new strategies to respond.

    The Snapchat story

    The genesis of Snapchat is shrouded in claim, counter-claim and litigation, and comes complete with its own Winklevoss Twin (singular sadly). In 2011 Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy took their Stamford University classmate Reggie Brown’s idea for a self-destructing messaging service and launched the app in September 2011 that year. Since launch the user base has grown at a staggering pace despite many detractors trying to write it off as a novelty app for creative sexters. Take one look at the numbers its obvious that there’s more to it than that. Snapchat users, particularly teenagers and college kids, now share over 150 million pictures every single day, more than four times Instagram’s daily shares.

    Unquestionably authoritative graph from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2013

    Unquestionably authoritative graph from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2013

    Building the Ephemeranet

    What’s particularly interesting is that Snapchat’s unique appeal comes from restricting, rather than enabling the intrinsic connectivity of the web. It lets people share experiences with friends, but it does so in a way that is time-bound and impermanent. Nothing you send is stored, and none is searchable. A generation of users who’ve grown up immersed in the social web are beginning to realise that their intimate experiences are not only available to their friends. They are also open to would-be employers, their parents, even that girl they may want to marry someday.  According to Evan Spiegel the increasing pressure on them to manage their idealized online identity has “taken all of the fun out of communicating”. In glorious contrast, the transient and ephemeral nature of Snapchat provides a more spontaneous, less controlled or contrived way of communicating. By simplifying a security process enough to the point that anybody can use it Snapchat has created a market for privacy protecting ephemeral communication, an opportunity investment money will help them exploit further.

    Potluck vs Performance anxiety

    In July Josh Miller and the team behind Branch launched their new platform Potluck. Potluck, though very different to Snapchat, bears comparison because it also provides users with an interesting alternative to the performance anxiety of mass social interaction.

    Potluck, not another social network, honest

    Potluck, not another social network, honest

    Potluck is essentially a link-sharing network built on top of a users’ social connections from Twitter, Facebook and Gmail. But unlike many of today’s social networks the focus is not on having users craft an online persona, but rather on the content being shared. Links shared on Potluck aren’t accompanied by people’s names or avatars, only the topic or name of the link, and the number of your friends who are talking about it. Instead of worrying about how popular your posts are, or how interesting you look because of what you share, you can focus on more genuine conversations around the subjects that really matter to you. The performance anxiety is gone, making it more accessible for everyone. As Miller explains “The whole reason we took the time to even focus on Potluck, is because we really do want to empower the people who are not having conversations to have conversations.”

    Free to browse anonymously

    If Edward Snowden and his revelations about the NSA’s PRISM programme have taught us anything (other than to beware of transit in Moscow airport) it is that our digital click-stream is an open book ready to be read by anyone with the computing power and inclination to sift through the meta-data.

    Psychedelic and highly informative Project Prism visual

    Psychedelic and highly informative Project Prism visual

    The involvement of Microsoft, Yahoo and Google in the US spying programme has given an unexpected boost to lesser know search rival DuckDuckGo whose search requests have almost doubled to over 3million a day in the last month alone. DuckDuckGo provides ‘private’ internet searches which means that it does not track users in the same way that the big listed above do. It does serve Google-like ads, but without the customisation.

    Paranoia proves good for business

    Paranoia proves good for business

    As founder Gabriel Weinberg explained, DuckDuckGo chose not to store search data because it reveals so much about us. Search data, he says, “is arguably the most personal data people are entering into anything. You’re typing in your problems, your desires. It’s not the same as things you post publicly on a social network.” Having decided that searching is intimately personal, he deduced, rather presciently that governments would want to get hold of search data. “I looked at the search fiascos such as the 2006 AOL data release, and decided that government requests were real and would be inevitable, and that search engines and content companies would be handing over that data [to government] in increasing amounts.”

    Whilst DuckDuckGo’s numbers are hardly going to keep Googlers up at night this trend is illustrative of the growing recognition of the need to take control of the public availability of our browsing histories. Whilst DuckDuckGo’s entire premise is predicated on anonymity, “Incognito browsing” is anal porno of course a standard feature in Chrome, and similar features have since been adopted by Firefox and IE. Providing anonymous browsing may seem like a counterintuitive move for Google given their business model, but by giving users control over their anonymity on the most sensitive sites these features are more likely to reduce cookie deletion rates, thereby increasing the ability to target ads, thereby increasing revenues.

    Military grade encryption from the App store

    For those wanting the next level of privacy look no further than Wickr, created by Nico Sell, security expert and long-time organiser of Hacker convention Defcon. Wickr is a serious security-focused app that uses “military-grade” encryption to send text, video, voice, and document files that can self-destruct after a given period of time.

    And why exactly do you need military grade encryption?

    And why exactly do you need military grade encryption?

    Hospitals and law enforcement have expressed interest in a similarly functioning Android app, Gryphn.  Encryption legend Phil Zimmerman, inventor of Pretty Good Privacy or PGP, an encryption system so powerful that its distribution was once classified as arms dealing by the US government, is also developing an exciting and powerful suite of communication apps through his company Silent Circle. They are not for “average” users, but they will provide massive improvements in security for business and serious individuals who are looking for it.

    So what does it all mean?

    “Life is once, forever and new all the time” Henri Cartier-Bresson

    The Web 2.0 evangelists proselytised the benefits of a new era where we are all publishers. The Social Web enabled us to harness not just the wisdom of the crowd but the wisdom of our friends. Every moment, every memory of our lives effortlessly shared through our ‘feeds’ creating a permanent, public, searchable and socially verified record of our lives. And why? Because we could. But sometimes “Because we could” isn’t reason enough. Without serendipity we grow stale and predictable. Without spontaneity we deny the authenticity of our human response. Without our privacy where is there space for intimacy or dissent?

    Once opened this Pandora’s box cannot simply be closed, nor would we want it to be. But there is an alternative.  Snapchat’s self-destructing pictures are fun, but they are more than that. They are fleeting glimpse of what we crave, the means to put us back in control. Providing us with a most important ability in this networked age, the means to disconnect.

     

     

     

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