Posts Tagged ‘technology’
16th January 13
Posted in technology
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.
26th March 12
Posted in sxsw
When we started planning for SXSW, we could not have anticipated that our idea for a four-day philanthropic project to update the street newspaper model would spark such a widespread debate. The volume of the response to this program has reinforced our ongoing commitment to this issue, and the feedback has helped us explore the ways in which we can draw attention to it, support it, and effect change.
Homeless Hotspots has connected us with representatives of some of the nation’s leading advocacy groups and street newspaper organizations with whom we are beginning to have conversations about the challenges facing the current street newspaper model and ideas for overcoming these challenges with technology and innovation. In many ways, we owe these connections and the future of this program to those at front lines of this issue, like Mitchell Gibbs at Front Steps in Austin, Mark Horvath of invisiblepeople.tv, and writer Becky Blanton who spoke at TED about her time being homeless.
Where we go from here is directly tied to how we wrestle with some complicated issues that any street newspaper attempting to deploy change will have to answer for themselves – issues we’ve come to sharply appreciate amidst all the debate. Our aim is to partner closely with these groups to utilize the lessons and best practices learned from this experience. Based on conversations to date, our shared goal is a sustainable model that continues to bring homeless people entrepreneurial opportunities that challenge stereotypes, derive purpose and create meaningful interactions with society.
While street newspapers are facing the same challenges as many other traditional media outlets, there are a number of more complicated issues that need to be addressed. We’ve outlined the salient ones below.
1. Quantifying an acceptable level of provocation in the name of the cause. One of the big discussion points from Homeless Hotspots was the line “I’m a hotspot” on the t-shirts, a line we too debated internally before and during the program. The goal of the t-shirt was to create a marketing material that was provocative enough to get message-bombarded festival attendees to actually stop and speak with a homeless person – to spark a human connection and a conversation with a person who is often treated as invisible. Thus, the humanity of the project lived in the actual conversation between the Hotspot Manager and their customer. But what about the potentially negative reaction to that message by some that didn’t stop (or who simply weighed in from afar via the web)? It was many in this group that created a wave of negative sentiment online. While the participants in the program saw the shirts as an ideal social lubricant on the streets, the message took on new meaning when it spread online.
Any entrepreneurial sales venture for the homeless must be carefully designed. The newspaper organization basically works like a franchisor responsible for distributing materials to franchisees, but it must also work like a social service. This balance varies widely from organization to organization and is a complicated role for social enterprise. You want to help homeless participants (i.e., the franchisees), but you don’t want to do so at the expense of the cause itself.
2. Understanding the potential for partnership with a profit-driven company or brand. Because BBH is in the business of marketing and advertising, it was assumed early on that Homeless Hotspots was endorsed by a marketer. We fully funded the initiative and purchased the pocket-sized MiFi devices from Verizon just as any customer would, yet the reaction to the false reports of brand endorsement is an important one to explore. Many found the idea that a brand would employ homeless individuals to be offensive, while others said they’d support a brand initiative if it provided an employment opportunity. Of course, when people realized the partner was actually a local homeless shelter and that proceeds went directly to the individual Hotspot Manager, the sentiment was widely positive.
Before SXSW, we talked about how the long-term viability of a program like Homeless Hotspots would require bringing on a partner that could help financially support it. The costs of the technology and data usage for a program of this nature are significant, making the model difficult to scale beyond a short festival. A brand partner would have the resources to underwrite the costs of an ongoing effort, incentivized by the promotion of its technology; meanwhile, a social enterprise would have stronger public endorsement, but would be challenged to fund such a venture. The potential problem we saw was that when a social enterprise brings on a corporate partner, perceptions change. Emotionally, the social enterprise simply becomes enterprise for some. For others, the opposite is true. Street newspapers and homeless entrepreneurial efforts looking to share costs will have to decide where they fall on that spectrum and choose any partners wisely.
3. Determining the importance of content creation by participants. Where Homeless Hotspots differed most from an actual street paper is that the participants were not selling content they created (although it’s commonly misunderstood just how few of the homeless individuals that sell the papers actually create the content). Serving original content to a user upon log-in to a MiFi device is surprisingly complicated if you don’t manufacture the device yourself (thus we directed users to homelesshotspots.org for further information upon activating a connection).
There is an opportunity to create a more content-rich model for street newspapers and homeless entrepreneurs moving forward, especially as it relates to drawing attention to the causes of homelessness and prevailing stereotypes. For example, Hotspot Manager Jonathan is a talented musician, and there could be an opportunity to use the personal and web connectivity to draw attention to his talent, such as directing customers to a site promoting his music. The Hotspot Managers were also full of local expertise that could add more value to their conversations and connections (John Bird sees this as the future of street newspapers, which he invented when he founded The Big Issue). The absence of such content leaves a void.
The question remains whether or not consumers of the product value that content though. Looking at our own data (difficult to extrapolate from due to the extraordinarily large number of media impressions Homeless Hotspots received, which led to a disproportionate number of donations from non-users), it’s unclear how much the utility of the service vs. philanthropic impulse drove purchase. This is hard to come to terms with if you are a commercial enterprise. How can a business be a degree removed from its product? That sounds potentially negative, but we’ve left with mixed opinions on the matter. After all, the Hotspot Managers were still able to raise almost $4,000, even though the first 2 days of sales were extremely depressed by rain. If purchases were only about actual connectivity, the rain would have made Homeless Hotspots a financial failure for the participants.
What’s important is that the model moving forward must balance entrepreneurial opportunity, with supporting meaningful content and fostering personal interactions. Our data implies it was hearing an individual’s story (many times not even first-hand) that led to someone donating. This particular phenomenon in Underheard in NY already got us to rethink non-profits last year, and it’s especially important for social enterprise. Non-profits fighting homelessness don’t just want to help homeless populations, they want to stop homelessness altogether. But in many cases, customers of street newspapers seem solely focused on helping the individual in front of them. In a world where a homeless person sells a product without content, the one-on-one social interactions are their only opportunities for expression. Luckily, those conversations help overcome stereotypes (the 13 Homeless Hotspots participants had hundreds of conversations in just four days), but only if someone is provoked to stop and listen. Which brings us right back to issue #1.
We’ll keep everyone updated once we’ve identified which partner(s) we’ll be working with in future developments. We’re genuinely excited by the amount of interest from street papers around the world to collaborate on addressing the digitization of media. In the meantime, we can only hope the conversation around homelessness doesn’t step back into the darkness as the media circus winds down. You can certainly do your part by supporting organizations like our partner Front Steps. Even small donations can go a long way in helping them overcome their daily challenges long after conference attendees have left.
UPDATE (April 30, 2012): We are working with StreetWise, the largest street paper in the US deal with numerous modernization issues, including many of those outlined above. For more details, you can read the follow-up post.
23rd March 12
Posted in sxsw
How I went to Austin expecting to learn about browsers and came back wanting to change the world.
Author: Agathe Guerrier, Strategy Director, BBH & BBH Labs
I went to SXSW for the first time this year, with the firm intention to learn about UX, data visualization trends, and new, exciting browser features. As I landed in Austin, I couldn’t wait to find out more about the native vs. web-based apps debate.
In reality, although clearly there WAS a lot of talk of browsers and coding languages and apps, I found myself confronted with a much more fundamental subject: that of meaning and purpose. More than acquire new knowledge, I was filled with new enthusiasm (and a little bit of concern) about the task that lies at hand – basically, redefining the rules of our economic, political and societal framework. Rethinking the world. Yup. Something that we need (the creative and tech community) need to take part in for two reasons: because the last 10 years have demonstrated the need for a new paradigm, and because the growing importance of technology in our world, means it now intersects significantly with world views, beliefs, and ethics.
Take the “Skynet vs. Mad Max: Battle for the Future” dual session (by our very own Mel and Jeremy). It drew a parallel between the small, apparently benign technology choices we make today as consumers, and the future of the human species. Who imagined that buying an iPhone represented a leap towards a world where individual identity would be reduced to one login, one identity, one self, the scary simplicity of this system ultimately leading to totalitarianism? It’s removed, but not far-fetched.
Tim O’Reilly, in his fantastic “Create More Value than you Capture” discussion with Andrew Mcafee, made a powerful case for embedding social good and genuine value(s) in all businesses. He pointed to a brilliantly obvious truth: it’s enthusiasm and passion that fuel creativity, not greed. For the sake of the social equilibrium that it depends upon, the objective of a business can not simply be profit, it has to create value for society at large, as well as for itself.
Ben Silbermann (CEO and co-founder of Pinterest) took part in a Q&A session with Christopher Dixon and kept surprising us with disarmingly candid answers to “hard-nosed” questions. When asked what product feature he was most excited about developing, he answered it was his team, because “your team should be the most interesting product you’re building”. A few minutes later, brushing away a question about whether he was concerned by the various attempts to copy or rip off Pinterest, he explained that their effort went into improving the product and making it the best it could be, not preventing others to imitate it. In his eyes, success comes from putting all your efforts into making your product and experience brilliant, and if others copy you, it probably means you’ve got it right.
And finally, against a backdrop of high risk, economic worries and general breakdown, I was surprised at how optimistically confused Bruce Sterling’s Ultimate talk left us all. He forecasted a move away from the chaotic “internet” and towards vertical stacks or platforms like Google, Amazon, or Facebook (more organized, less messy – an echo to the Skynet vs. Mad Max talk and its crowd-sourced prediction of Skynet’s victory)… but also the ulterior demise of stacks.
He didn’t say what they would be replaced with, but this legendary cynic seemed pretty optimistic about the ability of the interactive community to make sense of the “augmented, ubiquitous, post-stack future”.
In building this uncertain “new world”, we might find inspiration in community-based, generous value creation models like Kickstarter, Airbnb, or Task Rabbit (which were unanimously praised as the most inspirational things to have happened in the last 5 years).
But there is still a lot of work at hand, especially for our industry, in translating the inspiration from Geektopia into actionable ethics for the world of brands…
In the spirit of starting small, here are three things I’m going to start or do more of:
- 1. Get rid of any obsession with single-mindedness, and make sure to respect people’s intelligence by recognizing that “There is not one You”, as Christopher Poole pointed out
- 2. Broaden the definition of “Business objective” to entail the creation of value and values for consumers and society at large, not just profit for the company
- 3. Behave more generously everyday, by building great teams and empowering them to create and make even greater things
28th October 11
Authors: Gabor Szalatnyai (Creative Technology) & James Mitchell (Strategy), BBH London & BBH Labs
Here at Labs, we make a lot of stuff for other people and brands, but, now and then, we like to build experiments – additional stuff we love so much, we take extra time and pull late nights to see it done. We do this because sometimes, we want to test a theory, because we want to test our capabilities, and because we want to make something cool.
But this role is about more than the build. We’ll work iteratively on this, so we’ll be testing and learning as we go. This means you’ll be working with the team to prototype, test, bend and break – modifying and bettering the experiment at every stage. We’ll expect you to have a major impact on the idea itself. You’ll have the freedom to implement any technical solution that solves the problem, to work with the entire team to make sure the thing doesn’t just happen, but happens better.
Why work with us? Because we hope you’ll agree the project is cool, the team is a diverse and interesting one, and the use of data is, as far as we know, something that’s never been tried before. And, at the end of it all, you’ll get to put your name against something very special.
To apply, please send a nice message (with your GitHub username and/or some work) to **firstname.lastname@example.org**, and we’ll have a chat about what we’re trying to build. If you have any more questions, drop them in the comments. Thanks!
3rd June 11
Posted in Books
“Do not go gentle into that good night, but rage against the dying of the light”
~ Dylan Thomas, quoted in Hegarty in Advertising
Sir John’s book, “Hegarty on Advertising”, goes on sale on Monday.
He would be first person to say this is no ‘how-to’ manual, but rather his own story: packed with no holds barred opinion, behind the scenes anecdotes and strongly held principles to work by. There’s no crystal ball gazing, instead a distillation of what he’s learned in 45 years in the business. As such we found it a dose in humility for the here and now: a grip on history that, as ever, sets the future in context.
Despite his protestation this isn’t a manual, several ideas and themes emerge that have a hell of a lot to teach the rest of us: what makes a successful start-up, the humanization of the workplace, how to approach technology and stay abreast of innovation, the role of difference and ‘creative destruction’, the impact of globalization, why ideas matter and more.
We asked him to shed a little more light on some of these themes. In doing so, we thought we’d see if we could put one of his most firmly held views to the test; his belief that “words are a barrier to communication”. We have no idea if this is going to work, but here goes – our first interview response without words.
What do you mean by “creative destruction”?
“Creativity isn’t an occupation, it’s a pre-occupation” – can you explain what you mean by this?
If you started an agency today, what would it be like?
Is there a single piece of work you think defines you?
Where do you look for inspiration?
You say the way creative thinking gets deployed “will always be a continually moving target.. to nail your colours to any particular medium or technology will sow the seeds of your destruction”. So how should we engage with technology?
And, finally, you say you can’t name all the people you’d like to thank, but if there had to be one (okay, perhaps a couple), who would it be?
Sketches are by Sir John Hegarty
For more about the book: www.hegartyonadvertising.com