Tag Archives: facebook

💀💀The end of advertising?

This week – attacking advertising seems to have bubbled up to the fore so I look at two leading commentators perspectives and why I think they well – miss the point.

Finding the villain.

Advertising has been the villain for as long as I can remember. Even internet marketers found a way to criticise TV advertising because you couldn’t measure it.

Farhad Manjoo in the NY Times has a piece on advertising being the central villain online.

He suggests that without it many issues we are seeing online today would disappear, giving two examples:

  1. Russian trolls would not be able to hone their messaging as hey could not test its impact using advertising first.
  2. “Nutty content” on YouTube Kids (I assume he means the computer generated animations I discussed in a previous newsletter).

Finally he suggests that the ad industry produces endless incentives for gaming the system that are only fixed after they appear.

It is an interesting proposition and certainly the world would be a different place without advertising. It would result in some very well known companies disappearing, including potentially the very publisher Farhad is writing for.

Overall though, it would be better in some ways and worse in others. It is difficult, maybe impossible, to get consensus on or even understand the full impact. I think it would limit innovation online for example. But there is one thing I am sure about. There will always be people looking to game a system. The system would just be different.

Actually, I could argue the true villain in both those examples is artificial intelligence as they are really about easier to use interfaces built on top of algorithms that make content faster to create and easier to target. Just this week, the creation of “deep fakes” became mainstream thanks to increasing awareness of software that allows you to change the face of someone in a video.

But I am not arguing that either.

Rapid innovation is the true villain, as everyone rushes to adopt new approaches in a positive way, others rush to take advantage in, let’s say, less positive ways.

I don’t believe anyone would argue for a slowdown in innovation, though those affected by it might like to see it slowed down. In the end, as the innovation matures, regulations appear and there are less loop holes to exploit as the successful companies will be those that fixed the issues.

Don’t blame the media.

Umair Haque also wrote a piece on Medium last week on why the failure of media is not the fault of technology but advertising.

He suggests that the ad agencies took the easy route of reinventing the offline billboards by creating banners and using algorithms to target them rather than a human, creative one.

Apple tried the latter approach though even this was positioned as a reinvention of TV advertising. They eventually, after issues with pricing and getting the ads live, shut it down in 2016.

Publishers could also try these types of approaches – though they are not exactly incentivised to encourage clicks that take their readers away from their website.

With display advertising, the attention should not solely be on clicks but whether it was seen. Of course, people screen out ads but the best ads can cut through – even online – and especially when they make it to the right audience.

Keeping things simple, advertisers will go where their audiences are and then (theoretically!) spend as little money as they can to deliver their message to them. Inertia inevitably happens though.

For as long as I can remember, Mary Meeker has in her annual state of the Internet reports, pointed out that advertising is overspending in print and underspending in mobile. Advertising spend in print is finally declining whilst spend in mobile advertising is indeed rising.

Outside of Google and Facebook, advertising is much more difficult – especially for smaller companies. Upgrading the platforms to make them more accessible will happen over time as the use artificial intelligence gets integrated more and more. Transparency and reducing fraud both remain a heavy focus for the industry today though.

The smallest companies will never be able to invest significant sums of money in creative as Umair would like to see though and if everyone did manage somehow to hit that level then an even higher bar would be required to stand out from the crowd.

⚰️⚰️2018 – the death of the chatbot?

This week the focus is on chatbots and smart assistants. 2017 saw the rise of the chatbots but January has only just begun and we are seeing the first mutterings of their fall.

Will 2018 see the fall of the chatbot?

Goodbye Facebook M

Last year, Facebook were rumoured to be switching focus with its Facebook M platform, which allowed approximately 10,000 people in San Francisco access to a personal assistant powered by ’M’.

You could ask it to order flowers, a taxi, book restaurants etc. but the technology proved a step too far and in the end the result seems to be a suggestions feature added to Facebook Messenger.

Facebook rarely managed to get more than 30% of requests automated, which is problematic if you want to scale to even the entire userbase of North America, let alone the world.

By far the majority required human intervention and clearly it didn’t look like that was going to improve anytime soon.

The use of people alongside the machine was positioned as a way to accelerate past the efforts of Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, who had a significant head start. In the end the general purpose approach of the assistant proved to be its downfall.

It highlights how far away technology is today from truly understanding us, despite what you read in the press.

It was also text based rather than the voice activated approach of Amazon and Google’s offerings. It feels much more natural to ask an assistant questions rather than open an app and type in requests. I’d rather just go to the Uber app and press a few buttons. That may just be my preference though as I don’t live inside my mobile messaging apps.

Regardless, Facebook M is no more whilst Alexa and Google Assistant go from strength to strength. For now, the general purpose chatbox is put out to pasture, whilst smart assistants rule the day.

Chatbots vs Smart Assistants?

At first glance, other than the voice capability of smart assistants, they look pretty much the same.

They are different. Very different in my eyes.

The smart assistant is a new interface to technology in the same way the mouse transformed computer interfaces and the app changed the mobile experience.

Chatbots are a layer built on top of the app or web interface, whilst the smart assistant is a revolution in the way we quickly retrieve/process information.

That is not to say smart assistants will completely replace the mouse or the mobile app, but some types of apps will surely disappear.

So if smart assistants are the future and not chatbots, is this the end of the chatbot?

The end of the chatbot?

No. Despite the huge sales of smart assistants we are still far away from them being ubiquitous. The app interface and the web are going to be the major way we interact with companies for many years to come.

They also reduce the load on call centres, which saves companies money and is I suspect one of the primary motivators behind adoption.

Gartner thinks that by 2020, chatbots will be handling nearly 85% of customer queries – that would lead to a significant cost saving overall and the decimation of the call centre industry.

Regardless, the foundations of the technology behind the chatbot is not far from the technology required to integrate into smart assistants so the investment is likely to be positive into the future also.

Even better, it gives companies benefits today. People are increasingly savvy about using messaging apps and, unsurprisingly, would prefer to get answers to their queries quickly without hanging around on hold to companies.

Chatbots can deliver on this promise – when they are implemented well.

Many feel like a text reinvention of a company’s telephone routing systems or The old Microsoft assistant, Clippy rather than using any form of artificial intelligence but that I suspect will change in 2018.

Chatbots that aim to solve specific tasks rather than trying to solve everything will succeed. This sets expectations up front and improves the overall experience.

One of my favourite chatbots is by Duolingo, which teaches you how to speak in different languages through a conversation.

When it comes to business to business marketing, chatbots can also level up the experience, providing the information that the specific individual requires rather than generic content written to appeal to everyone (and nobody).

This more natural interaction could also mean the death of the form – though we are still a long way away from that and results in building better relationships – making chatbots a natural fit for an account based marketing strategy as well.

👓Who to watch in 2018 and is the web dying? 💀

The latest and greatest companies to watch out for in the next twelve months. Tech not yet the holy grail in education and a look at the future of the web. Are we already seeing its death played out in slow motion?

Lists ahoy

This week saw the first of the companies to watch lists with Bloomberg listing its top 50 companies to watch in 2018 and Linkedin listing its top 25 disruptive companies in the UK – though there are some US companies in there as well because they are hiring a lot in the UK and how can Uber and airbnb not be mentioned?!

Whilst the LinkedIn list seems to propagate the view that big raises means success and fails to really give any further insight on what actually makes the companies interesting, the Bloomberg listing looks at why each of the companies listed are going to have an eventful (both positively and negatively) 2018. Worth a read.

Reinventing schools

Silicon Valley has been very anti the current education services offered in the US – given the overall poor results compared to the rest of the world, there is probably something to those complaints.

Throwing money and tech at the problem does not seem to have worked though. AltSchool, which raised $175m is pivoting away from building schools to deliver tech to existing schools instead.

Not that their tech seems to be anything noteworthy right now. Parents at the school praised not the tech but the attention of teachers and small class sizes – an age old way to deliver high quality educational services. If only this approach wasn’t losing them a lot of money. More here.

Future gazing the web

Andre Staltz has written an excellent article looking at the dominance of Google and Facebook on the web, how the web has changed and looking forward to how the web evolves into a Trinet of Google, Amazon and Facebook.

Thought provoking stuff and one that suggests we regress back to the world of AOL-like walled gardens. Anything is possible but I just don’t see this happening. Whilst the article triggers a healthy debate I feel it is a massive oversimplification.

All ecommerce will not end up going through Amazon – Alibaba for one is a huge future competitor. I suspect governments would step in and regulate if Amazon started to become the conduit of all ecommerce.

Ignoring this even, history suggests that innovation will happen outside the major ecommerce platforms. Shopify, BigCommerce etc. which provide engines to thousands of ecommerce vendors backed by open Internet standards will out-innovate Amazon etc. in specific niches.

Businesses using Facebook have already seen the control it has on their ability to communicate resulting in greater importance being given to email, push notifications and mobile apps.

The web as we know it is of course going to evolve. The rise of mobile has been the major reason for Facebook’s increased dominance and the reduction in Google’s own power.

One thing is already certain. New interfaces are coming, whether it is voice , virtual reality or something else. With it is likely to come the next Facebook (or Google, or Microsoft, or IBM).

One dangerous outcome of the Internet becoming controlled by an oligopoly of corporations is the likely increase in an underground Internet or the dark net as has been popularised in recent years. Last week saw the new release of the next generation Tor network, which has powered the dark net. Four years in the making, it offers better encryption and makes it easier for services to hide themselves more easily. I suspect the various government bodies are actively looking at it and countering already. More here.