Life Lessons from TEDxBerlin and IFA+

Crg_Hl0WcAA_OdeOn Sunday, I had the opportunity to discuss my latest research on image intelligence at TEDxBerlin; today I spoke about it at the IFA+ Summit. It’s inspiring to look at technology through two separate lenses: one that is aspirational and shows us a little about what the future may bring, and one that is more practical and focused on real-world implications. 

I’d seen Patrick Meier speak before, but watching him as he taught Nepalis to guide UAVs (drones) into areas of the country that were devastated and rendered inaccessible after the earthquake was deeply moving.  

Nonny de la Peña, who did a fantastic talk at TED Women a while back, is using virtual reality to bring people into news stories in ways that are not only innovative but deeply affecting. 

James Beacham, an experimental high-energy particle physicist with the ATLAS Collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, talked about what happened when he didn’t find a new particle.

Gloria Spindle, a member of the artist and activist group known as the Peng! Collective, discussed some of the work/performance art her group has executed: fake Google ads, a self-help program for spies, and dozens of other provocations. 

At IFA+, the tone was a bit more pragmatic, but nonetheless inspiring. I really enjoyed my co-presenters’ talks on potential use cases for Blockchain (by Mark van Rijmenan), on privacy-safe search (by Jean-Baptiste Piacentino), and on the future of media analytics (by Dr. Stefan Wrobel). 

What these talks had in common was a commitment to learning, understanding and pushing the boundaries of the digital world we occupy. Here’s what I came away with: 

1. Being right isn’t always the most valuable outcome

Dr. Beacham talked about the crossroads at which he found himself after finding possible evidence of a new particle. One one path, a Nobel Prize. On the other, more data and more learning.  If a world-renowned particle physicist can get up on stage and talk compellingly about failure, we can learn from our mistakes.

2. Sometimes the most important truths are right beneath our discomfort

Look at Peng!’s work. Can art make people rethink conventional wisdom and biases? Every single day; it’s just that sometimes we learn that in retrospect. 

3. Technology can be deeply humane

The work of Patrick Meier and Nonny de la Peña show what happens when we use technology as a tool for humanity, not an escape from it. Can drones be used for war? Yes, but they can also be used as a lifeline for remote populations and for countless other uses, both humanitarian and commercial. De la Peña’s work reminds us that VR isn’t just for gamers; it can be an entirely new way of experiencing the digital world.

On a cross-country flight years ago, I watched Steven Johnson’s TED talk, “Where Good Ideas Come From”. Even in my jetlagged stupor, I remember being inspired by the story he told about what sparked innovation during the Enlightenment. Were people smarter? Probably not. What make so many advances possible? Coffee, or rather, coffee houses. People—artists, scientists, writers, politicians—met in these public spaces and shared ideas that influenced each others’ thinking. 

Even in a world that’s so profoundly digital, I’m inspired by this idea, and by the curators who, in physical and digital spaces, are bringing together the people who will help us make sense of the incredible time we live in.


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You’re Not Good at Social Until it Embarrasses You

IMG_6979Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed at Salesforce Connections by Jay Baer and Adam Brown in a session entitled, “Social is Breaking Out of the Silo”. This is a topic I’m passionate about, because I firmly believe that social and digital absolutely must be aligned to support not only businesses but, so much more importantly, actual customers (e.g., you and me).

This means thinking more like human beings and less like marketers, and using data in a way that engenders not only insight but trust.

One of the most fun parts of the experience was that Adam and Jay, who have been working together for quite some time, used this opportunity to record the interview for their “Social Pros” podcast.

Any of you who do content marketing know that the first rule is to choose a topic or title that makes people want to click through, so of course they named it after something I said, somewhat cavalierly, “You’re Not Good at Social Until it Embarrasses You.” (Naturally, this embarrassed me, so I guess I must be good at social now. I’ll just leave that here.) 

But I did have a serious point; one of the questions I’m asked most frequently is this: “What makes an organization good at data strategy?” In the many conversations I’ve had with brands, in the research I’ve done and articles I’ve read, one characteristic comes through clearly.

Often it is the companies that have experienced crisis that have the organizational rigor to look at data holistically and social and digital from the customers’ viewpoint.

Why? Because in that moment (hours, days, months) of crisis, disparate groups, with disparate points of view, are brought together for a common goal: fix the problem, save our reputation. Do it fast. 

Now of course this doesn’t mean that all brands that have had public crises have learned from them; that isn’t realistic. But there is something about being brought together in the heat of an emergency that can either strengthen or blow up relationships. When that lasts, it builds grit, and trust and willingness to shae.

Thank you to Adam and Jay for the opportunity to participate in “Social Pros”, and to be embarrassed for the sake of learning. It was an honor and a pleasure. And please listen to the podcast and read Jay’s blog post here

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Facebook’s F8 Conference, Day One

Slide1It’s day one of F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference. It’s hard to imagine that, for most of us, the platform is barely 10 years old; it was opened to anyone who had a valid email address in September 2006. But, even beyond the realities of a digital and social world, in which we collectively create and share millions of pieces of content daily, we are now living in an age in which artificial intelligence and virtual reality are real, and are becoming even more embedded in our everyday lives.

“Today we’re going to do something different. We’re going to walk through our roadmap for the next 10 years,” says Mark Zuckerberg, wearing his trademark gray tee shirt and jeans, from a stage in Fort Mason in San Francisco, California. “Before we get into detail, I want to talk about our mission, and why the work we’re doing together is more important than it’s ever been. Facebook’s mission is to connect the world, and the Internet has enabled us to access and share more information and ideas than ever before.”

Lofty thoughts, but then he does something unexpected. For the first time I can remember, at least in this type of venue, Zuckerberg ventures into the political. He alludes to politicians who threaten to build walls, and who incite fear of others. “It takes courage to choose hope over fear,” he says. “It’s this hope and this optimism that is behind every important step forward…Instead of building walls, we can help build bridges. And instead of dividing people, we can bring people together, one connection at a time.”

What’s clear is this: Zuckerberg is no longer the callow kid who built a platform most famous for enabling people to poke and throw sheep at each other. He’s matured. He’s evolved from an awkward, brilliant kid to confident, articulate and passionate leader.

But what’s also clear is that Zuckerberg’s ambitions, and the ambitions of Facebook, stretch far beyond what anyone could initially have imagined. Today Facebook is a platform that encompasses a family of apps–WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, Instagram and Groups–that serve the communication needs of billions of people around the world.

Even as comparatively late as four years ago, right as the company completed its initial public offering, analysts (such as me) were worried about Facebook’s ability to move beyond the desktop to develop a meaningful mobile strategy. Now the company is focused on three fronts simultaneously: connectivity (perhaps most clearly encapsulated by its “Free Basics” offer, which has been amply documented), virtual reality (what Zuckerberg calls “the next mobile platform”) and artificial intelligence, which underlies pretty much every significant offering Facebook has or will hope to have in the next several years.

It’s a lot to assimilate.

It’s tempting to think of these three objectives as separate entities, but the truth is that each reinforces each other in some way. Connectivity of course is the infrastructure that enables digital tools to reach people at scale. Artificial Intelligence is at a critical juncture, because (at least in my opinion) it is still something many people think of as science fiction (films like Her, Ex Machina,Black Mirror come to mind) rather than part of our daily reality.

But if you use Facebook, you already interact with AI on a daily basis. The “Moments” app includes facial recognition based on AI, Messenger uses AI to filter spam (sometimes a bit too well, as recent news stories will attest), Newsfeed uses AI to curate your newsfeed and Accessibility uses AI to interpret photos for the blind. So AI is already here, already so much a part of the way we communicate now and in the future. Not for everything, but it underpins as much of what you see as how you interact.

And AI is the foundation of perhaps the most talked-about piece of news released today: Messenger Platform, which enables developers to build chat bots that can interact with people to do things as seemingly simple as request information or order products or handle customer service issues. The idea is that, as a user, the more you use it, the more it is able to tailor its recommendations to you.  For Facebook, the more examples they have of how it’s used, the more they’re able to refine the AI to be faster, easier, more error-free, more naturalistic.

It’s appealing for many of us to hear from Zuckerberg that “Now, in order to order flowers from 1-800-FLOWERS, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again.” This kind of interaction, pretty simple on its face, can also include a lot of complexity, and it’s a great use of AI as it does not necessarily require that one speak with a real person. This is particularly interesting for brands that want to scale customer conversations across digital channels, either for service, sales or other purposes, but of course its usefulness depends on efficient, intuitive, creepiness-free interactions.

Virtual reality is the piece that, beyond the early adopters, still feels remote to a lot of people. If you’re not a dedicated gamer, what use do you have for it? Is it like Google Glass, which seemed cool (or not) at the time? Will the price point and user experience and available content ever make it accessible enough for everyone? Judging by the number of companies I hear who have spun up VR “innovation centers” I wouldn’t bet against it, at least on the content front.

In Zuckerberg’s words, “VR has the potential to be the most social platform.” That’s interesting when we think about how quickly technology moves and how clunky it always is in its first incarnation. In the future, strapping on a heavy piece of plastic will look quaint (it does already), and we’ll interact with VR in ways that fit more naturally into our daily lives, whether with our phones, or with glasses, or with new devices or immersive screens we can barely imagine today.

My two takeaways so far this morning are this: 1) the first phase of digital is behind us; ten years ago we had one app—Facebook—that did pretty much one thing. Today there’s a family of apps, and an acknowledgement that we each want and need different types of connectivity for different situations. This brings extraordinary opportunities and extraordinary complexity.

But what’s also clear is that 2) this next phase of Facebook is explicitly about  opening APIs, building ecosystems and fostering development. The cynical view is that this demonstrates Zuckerberg’s thirst for world domination, while the optimist hopes for a bit of what he alluded to at the top of his keynote: less wall-building, more bridge-building.

As always, I appreciate your comments.


Here for reference is a complete list of the announcements made today (below content and links courtesy of Facebook):

    • Live API: Facebook Live has been incredibly successful, and now we’re opening our API so developers can design even more ways for people and publishers to interact and share in real time on Facebook.
    • Bots for Messenger: As part of the new Messenger Platform, bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages — all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them. The Messenger Send / Receive API will support not only sending and receiving text, but also images and interactive rich bubbles containing multiple calls-to-action.
    • Facebook 360: We’ve designed and built a 3D-360 camera system,Facebook Surround 360, which produces sharp, truly spherical footage in 3D. The system includes stitching technology that seamlessly marries the video from 17 cameras, vastly reducing post-production effort and time. The design specs and stitching code will be available on GitHub this summer.
    • Profile Expression Kit: People can now use third-party apps to create fun and personality-infused profile videos with just a few taps. The closed beta kicks off today with support for six apps: Boomerang by Instagram, Lollicam, BeautyPlus, Cinemagraph Pro by Flixel, MSQRD and Vine.
    • Free Basics Simulator & Demographic Insights: It’s now easier for developers to build for Free Basics with the Free Basics Simulator, which lets them see how their service will appear in the product, and Demographic Insights, which helps them better understand the types of people using their services.
    • Account Kit: Account Kit gives people the choice to log into new apps with just their phone number or email address, helping developers grow their apps to new audiences.
    • Facebook Analytics for Apps updates: More than 450,000 unique apps already use this product to understand, reach, and expand their audiences, and we’re introducing more features to help developers and marketers grow their businesses with deeper audience insights, and push and in-app notifications (beta).
    • Quote Sharing: Quote Sharing is new way for people to easily share quotes they find around the web or in apps with their Facebook friends.
    • Save Button: The Save Button lets people save interesting articles, products, videos, and more from around the web into their Saved folder on Facebook, where they can easily access it later from any device.
    • Rights Manager: Rights Manager is a new tool that helps publishers manage and protect video on Facebook at scale, while also giving them increased flexibility and control for the use of their videos.
    • Crossposted Videos and Total Performance Insights: The update makes it easier for publishers to reuse and monitor their videos across different posts and Pages, and to see the total performance of the video across Facebook.
    • Instant Articles: The Instant Articles program is now open to all publishers—of any type, anywhere in the world.
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New Report: The Data-Driven Business

The Data-Driven Business_FINAL[3]As we are continually reminded, data is everywhere, but what are organizations actually doing with it?

My new report, “The Data-Driven Business: How Industry Leaders Use Data to Create Value”, looks at how data, big or small, is informing and driving businesses, from a university hospital to a customer service software company to a world-famous rap artist.

Based on interviews with global brands, technology innovators and industry experts, this report identifies three areas where organizations are using data to create value:

  • For operational improvements, cost reduction and risk mitigation;
  • To better understand and market to customers, and serve them at relevant touch points; and
  • Innovation, whether related to existing products and services or new ones based on the data itself.

The Data-Driven Business_Figure 3The report is intended for business people who are interested in learning more about the impact of data proliferation and how it may be used to drive competitive advantage. It lays out the key use cases for data-driven value creation, presents examples of organizations that are using data creatively and effectively, outlines the most pressing issues and opportunities, and presents best practices that show how data strategy can transform organizations.

Case studies include:

  • ​Zendesk: Optimizing the business with data
  • Ice Cube and Fame House: Using data to build digital engagement
  • University of Iowa and DELL: Transforming patient care with data

What’s next? Making it all easier. Says Rory O’Driscoll of Scale Venture Partners, “In the next generation, we will have even more data. Value will be created by software companies taking the complexity out for the customer.”

I’ll be doing a webinar on this report on Tuesday, March 8 at 10:00 am Pacific. Please join us by registering here.

As always, I’m extremely grateful for the participation and support from everyone who contributed to this report. Thank you all so much for your time and insights.


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My Research Agenda for 2016

IMG_2225A few weeks ago, my Altimeter colleagues and I published our 2016 trends overview. In it, I called out three themes that I expect will become more predominant this year:

Analytics for the visual web (images, video, etc.);

Ethical data use and privacy; and

The rise of algorithms to measure and predict even more of our daily and business lives.

While these three themes may seem disconnected, they intersect in interesting ways. In an effort to innovate and better understand and anticipate customer needs, organizations are becoming even more focused on collecting data about “the customer journey.” That journey, as is increasingly evident, includes images and video more than ever before.

So how can we better understand the content and context of those images? How do we understand them in combination with other signals, whether in language (posts, comments) or buttons (likes, shares, retweets) or passively via location or movement? What are the most effective research methods? What happens when what we understand to be true is encoded into algorithms that, increasingly, make decisions on our behalf? How do analytics need to evolve to make sense of an increasingly digital world in a way that engenders trust? And, most importantly, how do technologies and organizations evolve to measure all of this?

These themes will make up the majority of my research this year (and for the rest of my natural life, probably). I’ll also be looking to broaden my scope to be more global, and so will be looking at technologies and use cases in multiple geographies. This becomes extremely interesting when you consider that the topics I’ll be tackling resonate very differently depending on where you stand.

For example, this recent report by The Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications, “Big Data: A European Survey On The Opportunities And Risks Of Data Analytics,” reminds us just how high the bar is for big data analysis in Europe, while highlighting the regional differences that add even more complexity to the mix. And that’s just Europe.

This report from the FTC, “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion? Understanding the Issues”, lays out guidance for companies on big data research, with an eye toward protecting consumers from bias, disparate impact and a host of other possible harms. And finally, this research paper from danah boyd looks at the Facebook “Emotional Contagion” study to explore what it teaches us about academic and commercial research in the digital age.

It’s just three weeks into the year, and I’m frankly excited about all the work to be done. As always, if you have contributions, ideas, or feedback, please share in the comments.



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New White Paper from World Economic Forum: The Impact of Digital Content: Opportunities and Risks of Creating and Sharing Information Online

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 4.36.28 PM 1


Today is the first day of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The theme of the meeting this year is “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”, and will cover not only the cataclysmic changes happening in our world today—artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, etc.—but its impact on business, government and people.

Clearly, digital transformation is a major part of this shift, and so I am honored to announce my guest contribution to a new white paper, The Impact of Digital Content: Opportunities and Risks of Creating and Sharing Information Online by the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Social Media. This paper considers the impact of social media platforms on society – where it is now and where it is headed.

It synthesizes overarching trends, highlighting the opportunities as well as the challenges. Mobile and digital technologies are pervading every corner of the earth, whether through investment (or technology) infrastructure. The report explores the impact social technologies have had on society to date, focusing on business models, law, ethics & privacy. The paper outlines the key issues and explores what these changes mean for society and where these digital technologies are headed in the future.

Alongside this white paper, a new blog series, with eight initial posts, also launches today. It takes a closer look at key issues raised in the paper. The series was developed in conjunction with the Forum’s Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society project and the Forum’s Impact of Digital Content: Opportunities and Risks of Creating and Sharing Information Online white paper. These posts were an opportunity for council members and other experts to consider, in more detail, how social media has, is and will continue to influence different sectors. These posts will be published from today onwards and topics covered will include Government; International Relations; Financial Services; News Media; Health; Environment; Human rights, and Humanitarian Response.

And since synchronicity seems to be the order of the day, I’m also delighted that Prophet Brand Strategy, which acquired Altimeter Group in August of last year, was recently inducted as a World Economic Forum member. We will continue to engage as a firm in topics related to digital content, business and society throughout 2016, both online and offline.

My deepest thanks to the Global Agenda Council on Social Media for the opportunity to be part of the Forum’s Impact of Digital Content: Opportunities and Risks of Creating and Sharing Information Online white paper.


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Facebook Reactions: Not Just Another Smiley Face

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 8.18.29 AMYesterday, Facebook started testing its answer to the “dislike button” in Spain and Ireland: a set of six animated emoji called “Reactions”–love, haha, yay, wow, sad, and angry. The emoji address a lot of what people have asked for on Facebook; specifically, a bit more nuance in how to respond to posts. Here’s what Chris Cox, Chief Product Officer at Facebook, had to say:

Today we’re launching a pilot test of Reactions — a more expressive Like button.

As you can see, it’s not a “dislike” button, though we hope it addresses the spirit of this request more broadly. We studied which comments and reactions are most commonly and universally expressed across Facebook, then worked to design an experience around them that was elegant and fun. Starting today Ireland and Spain can start loving, wow-ing, or expressing sympathy to posts on Facebook by hovering or long-pressing the Like button wherever they see it. We’ll use the feedback from this to improve the feature and hope to roll it out to everyone soon.

This is a much smarter move than the more obvious and problematic option of a “dislike” button, for several reasons. One is context; “dislike” can refer to a friend’s hard day, but is vulnerable to trolling or other (context-free) negativity. Another is range of expression. Even a set of six emoji can address a range of expressive options that a simple “like” or “share” couldn’t do. (For more on how Facebook arrived at these options, and a couple of other fun nuggets, see Casey Newton’s hilarious piece in The Verge.)

Of course, brands’ first question will be how “Reactions” will affect ranking, a hot-button issue for some time now. Chris Tosswill, Facebook Product Manager, says on the Facebook blog that:

We see this as an opportunity for businesses and publishers to better understand how people are responding to their content on Facebook. During this test, Page owners will be able to see Reactions to all of their posts on Page insights. Reactions will have the same impact on ad delivery as Likes do.

But one of  the more interesting aspects for me is what these six little guys mean from a brand strategy point of view. Here’s why I think this was a smart move on Facebook’s part:

  1. Universality. Pictorial language such as emoji don’t require translation and are (more) culturally universal than written language. That’s a cost and time saver for global organizations.
  2. Familiarity. Emoji are becoming more commonly used. In fact, a May 2015 article in the BBC cited a study that found that emoji is the United Kingdom’s fastest-growing language.
  3. Simplicity. From a data point of view, structured data is easier to process and analyze than unstructured data. At the same time, however, not everything will be black and white (or other colors); human beings are notoriously resourceful when it comes to applying sarcasm and other shades of gray.
  4. Succinctness. Emoji are fairly economical in terms of screen real estate, a boon to UX everywhere.
  5. Extensibility. You can always add more!

True to Facebook’s style, this is a test-and-learn process, as it should be (once they’re available) for brands too. This also means there are a lot of as-yet unanswered questions: will brands be able to use these emoji outside Facebook? If so, when? And, more importantly, should they? Will they have a range of options in terms of what emoji they can use, or will they have to offer all six? As you can imagine, this can get complex fairly quickly.

It’s also interesting to imagine our experience as consumers. For example, I could see using “angry” or “sad” emoji if a favorite item is out of stock, or “haha” for fashions I consider particularly ludicrous. Can I say “haha” if my flight is delayed? What does “wow” really mean? Six little faces can mean a lot of things, guys.

As a brand, I would be interested in benchmarking for a while to see what my “normal” looks like. Then I’d want to better understand cases where the emoji is actually being used in unexpected ways. And of course I’d want to compare “Reactions” to other signals. That’s going to require some upfront thinking and scenario planning.

Of course, there are some interesting analytics options, for media and other types of organizations. I can already see an “anger index” or even a “wow index” to compare reactions to news stories over time. I also have to wonder whether the team saw evidence for but sidelined the idea of a WTF emoji (or its more SFW cousin, WTH) because of its obvious trolling potential. But it sure would make for a great Buzzfeed-style roundup story at the end of 2016. So I hereby lobby for some kind of “disbelief” emoji come 2016. I think “wow” may be our only option for now.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, this looks to be a solid first step toward providing more expressive options for Facebook users. and more food for thought for brands as they plan their digital strategies.

Feel free to haha, yay, or wow in the comments.

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