Three things I’ve learned from blogging for the past 15 years

These things also come from just being around for a lot longer than 15 years.

I post them today after seeing reports of a controversy that is strange, only because it’s in Nashville, my home for the past four decades. Dueling tech conference organizers are quite common in other places.

While I am not attending either conference, in brief, here’s what happened. A locally organized conference was the scene yesterday of some trash talk by a country music star (who is very smart and is a savvy business person, but whose schtick and music is of the bro-country genre) and a successful tech entrepreneur who loves to shock people by using lots of profanity when speaking before groups (disclosure: I like this person, but don’t endorse his approach to panel talk).

As the target of the trash talk was a Tennessee native who is now a well-known tech journalist and media entrepreneur, it didn’t take long for her to let the dogs out.

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Amazon Dash: Reinventing the Cuecat, 2014

CueCat2Starting over ten years ago, a long-running joke on this blog has been my fascination with (and mockery of) the recurring need inventors (including those who work for huge technology companies) have to re-invent the Cuecat. For those who don’t recognize the term Cuecat as the punchline of a joke, I suggest a rapid glance at its Wikipedia entry and the wonderful one-liner by the late Debbie Barham, the comic and humor writer who said the Cuecat “fails to solve a problem which never existed.”

A couple of years ago, I referred to the repetitive reinvention of the Cuecat as the
Cuecat Conjecture, based on what must be a shared hypothesis among a small group of inventors that human beings have a primeval desire to own a personal barcode scanner they can hold up to anything in order to buy it from Amazon.com.

cuecat-flowThe most recent Re-Cuecats have been from Amazon.com, itself. My November, 2011 post described the Amazon iPhone app released in 2011 called Flow (that’s still around) as an attempted Re-Cuecat. The app was met with a yawn, however, three years later, in November, 2013, Amazon ported Flow’s Cuecat feature over to an app people actually download, The Amazon App.”

With Amazon’s introduction of Cuecat-like features into apps during the past few years, the term “showrooming” has been used to describe what Amazon is actually encouraging shoppers to do with such technology: Research while shopping in a physical store, and then order from Amazon. (See, also: webrooming as a buzzword to describe the opposite of showrooming.) While showrooming sounds like something that could be done with a simple barcode or QR code scanner, the technology that started with “Flow” can also recognize photos, logos or other patterns that make up the graphics of a book cover or product packaging. Amazon is seeking to circumvent QR/bar codes as big box retailers have demanded their largest suppliers to provide unique QR/bar codes or sizes that do not match precisely Amazon SKUs. By using packaging labeling rather than standard codes, Amazon can update its databases to recognize any packaging unique to chains like Target or Walmart.

Amazon Dash

Cursor_and_Amazon_DashLast Friday, Amazon introduced the Amazon Dash, the most recent update (refresh?) of the Cuecat. At first, I was convinced that it was a belated April 1 joke, but no, the new Amazon Dash is for-real. Presently, it is an extremely niche device and is not available for purchase, it’s free (which was also the Cuecat business model). It is a device currently tied to Amazon Fresh, a grocery delivery service available now in Seattle, San Francisco and Southern California. (I’ll skip the history lesson on Web Van.)

slide2-image._V340762974_The Amazon Dash is a hand-held wand you can use to scan all of the items you need to add to a shopping list (because using an app to do that would be so, well, 2013).

The Amazon Dash clearly fits within the context of Amazon technologists’ belief in the existence of the Cuecat Conjecture (human beings have a primeval desire to own a personal barcode scanner they can hold up to anything in order to buy it from Amazon.com).

It will also be next in line of Re-Cuecats that fail to solve a problem which never existed.

Confession: I’m beginning to cheer for the inventors.

(Thanks to my friend, Jay Graves, who convinced me the Amazon Dash wasn’t related to April Fool’s Day.)

 

What You Think You Know About Anything Is Typically Both Right Wrong

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Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

(Note: This is a wonkish marketing/media related post. It started out as a comment, but grew into a blog post. If, even after being warned that it’s marketing/media wonkishness, you still want to read it, this post will make a great deal more sense if, for context, you read the essay linked below.)

“What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong,” an essay by Tony Haile that appeared earlier this week on Time.com, is one of those counter-conventional-marketer-think items that I typically find intriguing. And I find much to agree with in it. Unlike Haile, however, I do not think the greatest challenge (or, opportunity) to marketing is re-prioritizing web metrics and placing a new label like “Attention Web” on what, at the end of the day, is just another set of web metrics. I think the opportunity is developing a new understanding of the value of media that can correct those things we think about the way markets work  (and not just about the web) that are all wrong. While I think metrics and data will be at the center of that new marketplace, I don’t think the metrics that will ultimately matter will be “web metrics.”

While I agree with him on much, I’ll point out (as he discloses) Haile clearly has a dog in the hunt (he’s CEO of a web analytics company that has traditional publishers as clients), his findings seem to contain a bit of cognitive bias that enable his findings to line up precisely with those his  publisher-clients would, no doubt, love to believe.

Of course, as I’ve said for over a decade on this blog (as a running joke), “I never trust research or statistics unless they support something I already believe.” So I’ll admit that Haile’s research lines up with some of my cognitive biases also. However, unlike publishers with traditional media business models, my primary professional focus has always been on helping companies create direct-to-customer media channels and the type of recurring content that is mutually beneficial to customer and company. It is media that supports our clients’s various business models; not media that is a business model.

I find much to agree with him on the pieces and parts (or, as he describes them, “small signals and changes”) he uses to build a case for what he calls, the “Attention Web.” However, I believe that term and its description merely re-balance the relative importance of factors in the first-wave of web metrics that marketers and media companies have used to create those things we hate about advertising-supported websites (dozens of things to click, intrusive pop-ups, pageview-churning techniques like slideshows).

hammer-nailsHis suggestions that better design, smarter content and understanding how the web works are all great. But as with Haile’s observation that metrics that measure social “likes” and “follows” merely tell you about social “likes” and “follows,” the analytics he points to in the Attention Web merely reveal how much attention the site receives, or how a user actually “uses” the site, not how that attention relates to sales or how customers and brands interact. Advertising, be it on a website or in its various off-line forms and formats, is but one facet of a complex network of decisions, research, interactions, influence, training, support and on-and-on, that must work together to generate the metrics that relate to revenue for the seller and value for the buyer.

It would be so easy if the only thing that mattered in marketing was figuring out where to place an ad on the page to get more people to pay attention to it…but that’s just one tiny part of the journey from potential customer to owner.

Rather than make a case for finding another set of metrics that only matter to those who care about web metrics, I think marketers would be better served to skip the era of trying to game the “Attention Web” and go straight to trying to serve customers who are more-and-more migrating to an “Intention Economy” where buyers and sellers, owners and creators, causes and supporters form new models of web-enabled, mutually-beneficial marketplaces and relationships.

I think web and traditional advertising, and for that matter, traditional media channels and various channels of the web, will all play vital roles in creating such marketplaces. I agree that much of what Haile describes as the Attention Web is important to understand and use. And I fully endorse his findings on what I know also to be true from scientific research: Top Ten Headlines Generate Clicks to Articles That Aren’t Read.

But embracing the notion of an “attention web” is just another thing we’ll one future day think we know about the web that we will discover was both right, and wrong.

How I got hacked while using public wifi by the worst salesman ever

https(Updated to add some context of the hack the person used. See also, the note at the end of the post.)

Last night at a neighborhood sports bar, I learned personally a valuable lesson about using a public wifi hotspot–a lesson I already knew theoretically. The lesson is, “don’t use a public wifi hotspot.” However, since that’s a bit too hard for any of us to avoid, the lesson is: “Make sure you are logged out of any website that is not encrypted–or, put another way, that doesn’t have a little icon of a pad-lock in the address bar or that does’t have a web address that has an “s” behind the http.

Let me try explaining that again: While on any type of public wifi network, you want the address of any websites you are logged into to begin with https://, not merely http://.

Had the person who taught me the lesson not been such an asshole (sorry, there is no other word that works), I would probably be sharing with you the name of his company and praising his service. Unfortunately, the geek (and beer) in him took over any effective salesmanship skills he may possess and his approach was centered on gleefully humiliating me as a segue into telling me about the service his company provides (left unsaid, but clearly communicated was the end of the sentence) for idiots like me.

That may work with others, but all I could think was how quickly I could get away from this creepy guy.

Here’s what happened: A guy comes over to my table where I was eating by myself and bellows, “Hey Rex” acting as if we were old friends. Using knowledge he had gained from my LinkedIn account, he said something about my company and meeting me at an event.

After we established what he was doing, he showed me on his Android phone several open administrative accounts — like for this blog, for instance.

“I want to tell you about this, because I’m with an internet security company and we’re good guys,” he said as he showed me that his Android smartphone had a “sniffer” app he was able to use to access my LinkedIn account and a few other accounts–despite me not being able to recall the last time I used it.

I was wanting to say to the guy, “Wow, that’s amazing. Let me look at your phone and see that.” And then I was imagining him handing me the phone and me smashing it on the floor.

But, that’s not me. I just sat there thinking if I’d ever met such a jerk. But, being fascinated by his hack and his screwy approach.

The “security consultant” took great joy in telling me that the software he was using to access my LinkedIn account and others was nothing special. “It’s available for free on the Android Store.”

Despite his un-salemanship skills, he did have a good point to make.

Rather than attempt to explain what the security consultant was trying to pitch me, I suggest you visit the website the U.S. Justice Department has about protecting yourself while using public wifi. And here is a three-minute video they have that explains what you should do when using public wifi. I suggest watching it and following its recommendations.

wifi-spot_JPG-3Later: A couple people who know that I have one have asked why I wasn’t using my “mobile hotspot.” Good question. I have typically used it for travel, but now have a new appreciation for its benefits in-town, as well.  Also, on Facebook, in a discussion about this post, use of the Chrome extension, HTTPS Everywhere was suggested. I can’t vouch for it, but have downloaded it and will try it out.