Categories
Economy Tech and Culture

Small Business Ad-Spend

The world has been going through a tumultuous era. Not only is it ravaged by the Coronavirus, the subsequent financial and social implications have driven people crazy and longing for a change. Various simmering issues have come to a steady boil in what doesn’t seem like ready to subside anytime soon — racial inequality, financial inequity, a reckoning with the colonial past in western democracies, to name a few.

Big changes are underfoot.

As companies face slowing market conditions, compounded by the social upheaval, they’re also having to face pressure from their customers on standing up to divisive voices in the society. Companies are investigating their ad-spend on platforms that provide micro-targeting, but that in these times also tend to place this advertising side-by-side with content that aims to break the social order.

By last count, a lot of big name companies have already pulled their ad-spending from various platforms owned by Facebook and Google. That said, there are very few, if any, other places for them to reach their customers. So much so that Facebook’s CEO even boasted that these advertisers would be back ‘soon enough’ with their money as they realize that there is no other way.

Buried in these news, I found myself fascinated by the revelation that about 70% of Facebook’s ad revenue comes not by way of these Cokes and Unilevers, but from the multitudes of local and small businesses spread throughout the globe. It makes perfect sense in hindsight — if you’re big, you could possible afford spending on TV ads or billboards, but if you have that tiny neighborhood café that derives a lot of seasonal tourist-dependent revenue, your best bet is a Facebook (Instagram) ad campaign.

Perhaps then, the next ad-tech business the world needs is something that helps these small businesses reach their target demographic in a more ESG-friendly manner. A platform that doesn’t mine all the data there is, but provides genuine value. This platform would be made for small business by small business with only one goal — make the world a nicer place.

Now the question — who’s up for this?

Categories
Life and Personal Tech and Culture

I Miss Emails

Every now and then I search my email for an obscure keyword or phrase that was at one time relevant to my interests — ‘AIIM’ when I worked as a records management consultant, or ‘dinner’ to look back at when we planned for such things by email. I even have chains going back 15 years where people are discussing something forwarded by someone and that resulted in a never-ending sequence of Reply-All’s.

In a way, I miss that.

These days, people send quick instant messages through one of the dozens of ‘social media’ apps that nearly everyone is assumed to be a member of. Can’t remember the contact details of that colleague from 10 years ago? Search on LinkedIn. What about that classmate in grad school? Chances are that they’re on Facebook.

On the other hand, it is almost foolhardy to assume that the person you used to email years ago is still using that same email address — their job might have changed, or they could’ve switched to that awesome new email service that has better spam detection, or perhaps they just wanted to build a new identity as ‘cool_ece_95@yahoo.com’ is just not cool anymore. Foolhardy because composing emails takes a bit of effort and time. You don’t want to waste that effort on thoughtfully writing something when you’re not even sure if it would land in the right inbox. Sending a quick, and abrupt, ‘hey’ in an instant message has no baggage.

Some of my earliest emails with family members are full of pictures, address changes, various forwards, and even videos and recipes. Almost all emails are more than a couple sentences long. They have nice salutations. On the contrary, instant messages are spread around various apps — iMessages for some, WhatsApp for others, LinkedIn for a few friends and even family, and so on.

Whereas my emails are easily searchable, finding the right message or the context it was sent in is terribly hard on almost every messaging app. Searching messages is consistently a terrible experience. It’s like the services were designed to be ephemeral and impersonal. Whereas emails are blocks of conversation, messages are just blocks of sentences punctuated by an image or two, or by a totally different context with its own punctuations.

Emails are fun to read; instant messages are just blobs of stuff.

In other words, most of my instant message conversations are a bad example of object oriented programming. The conversations are just a set of base classes, then subclassed, then extended, sometimes composited. What was supposed to be quick and convenient has turned into something unwieldy and, as a result, not worth archiving and preserving.

My old emails, though, are wonderful memories.

Categories
Politics Tech and Culture

A Technology Proposal for Amsterdam’s New 1.5m Society

The city of Amsterdam recently invited (archive) proposals from residents and companies to help it plan the path ahead in the new normal — a 1.5m society. The goal was to invite creative ideas to help businesses deal with the changes while making sure that they stay in business. The odd thing about pitching ideas is that we’re in an unprecedented situation — there’s no collection of best practices or historical lessons that could be tweaked and turned into something applicable for the modern world.

At the same time, while many ideas would possibly revolve around an app for this, or an app for that, a delivery platform, or a new social networking app for business, I am not sure that’s the right way forward. Not after all the inequities proliferated by ‘big-tech’ in the last decade. The last thing anyone wants is one corporation being the gatekeeper of all physical commerce.

So, is the solution to instead trust the Government? I think, fundamentally, smaller government at the city level is a lot more trustworthy than national policy making. We do, after all, depend on the city to read our grievances when it comes to parking spaces or for sanitation of waste collection. Amsterdam is in a unique situation where it has a woman mayor and where a lot of the infrastructure surrounding business activities is already digitalized.

The proposal I submitted is below. I am not uniquely qualified or even have the organizational structure to action on it, but I do believe that something like this is the way forward in the near short term without succumbing to mission creep.

PS: I know there are grammatical errors :o) I typed it up at the last minute this morning.

Categories
Tech and Culture

A More Equitable Apple Business Model

Even Apple is having to face the coronavirus music. Product announcements, like last week’s new iPhone SE launch, are now subdued due to being online-only. It is having to convert WWDC to an online-only event. Device sales are predicted to be considerably lower YoY. Fortunately for them, they’re already investing in subscription based services to tide over customers that don’t want to buy new hardware every few months.

I was reading an FT news article detailing how Apple’s Chinese contract manufacturers were having to downsize, well, by not hiring as fast they usually do. Buried in that article was a slight conversation with one factory worker who mentioned that he might be able to get a whole week off in April this year, as compared to just a day in the past years. He was also not working overtime.

Wow. I mean, we all know how hard these contractors have to work to make sure we get our new iPhones on launch day, but this is the first time that it connected to me with the name of an actual person.

While we’re enjoying our work-from-home regimen and safely self-isolating, it’s easy to forget the human toll caused by our mindless consumerism. And, it’s not just physical products that drive this consumerism; we’re also mindless consumers when it comes to financial products.

Apple enjoys one of the, if not the, highest profit margins on its products. Those margins are shared, albeit unequally, with investors and employees vested in Apple’s stock. Over the past few years, the company has been aggressively buying back its own stock to further elevate the stock price and hence the gains for its investors in the short term. So much so that investors expect the company to consistently overshoot its own earnings guidance.

It doesn’t have to be like this — Apple could easily make the gains more equitable across its value chain. While it has been forced to look into labor practices in the past, and has resorted to steps such as installing anti-suicide nets in factories, it can and should do more. There is no justifiable reason to maintain high profit margins, while innovation stays low and stock buy-backs remaining high, and while factory labor still has to work over-time and not enjoy the same amount of holidays and time-off as any software engineer or executive in the company.

Would it really matter that much if the margins reduced a little? Our devices would still cost the same; perhaps the share price would take a little downward beating, but in the long term, it would balance out and the company might in-fact be forced to actually live up to its values of innovation and user-centricity. Investors tend to forget any short-term bumps. It is also probably not a bad idea to simply stop catering to investors that don’t take a long-term view after all.

We should start expecting a higher degree of leadership from companies like Apple.

Categories
Life and Personal Tech and Culture

Unpopular Opinions

We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. There’s no shortage of news about what’s going well and what isn’t. Even then, every now and then, something pops up on the various news channels that makes you stop and think. One of these things is how Amazon recently fired 2 employees for speaking out against the company — and I have seen one of the Tweets that, apparently, “broke the camel’s back” — it was a proclamation that the employee was making a contribution towards the well-being of the various warehouse employees on Amazon’s roster that, allegedly, aren’t being taken care of and are being forced to work in life-threatening conditions.

This is not something that all of us are unaware of — just this week, France compelled Amazon to only deliver/process orders for essential items as investigations revealed that a lot of warehouse employees were having to break social-distancing rules for the sake of shipping bottles of wine or other luxurious items like Nintendo Switches. In what sounds like verbal retaliation, Amazon has responded with a threat that it would completely stop its operations in France.

This kind of corporate behavior has become so normal and acceptable over the last 2 decades that the unpopular opinion now is to actually take a personal stand over issues that don’t align with personal values. When governments force better citizenship, they’re maligned. When private individuals do as much as voice their opinions outside of work in their private time, they’re found guilty of violating social media rules in the workplace.

While most people don’t go beyond the short-term impact of such punitive action against upholding a person’s identity and values, the long term impact is tremendous. People, evolutionally, have an urge to spread and validate their inherent values. While financial compensation and social acceptance is a way to successful limit these urges, these feelings have a way of boiling over and causing more harm than necessary.

In this hyper-connected world where all of our communications, down to where we are moving and which web pages we’re clicking on is traceable back to us, and is ultimately consequential to our work place and social acceptance, it becomes that much important to separate our humanity from our workplace obligations. To that end, we need to go back to how we expressed our opinions in the early days of the Internet, and where what we said or expressed was countered in a non-personal, reasonable manner.

This was especially true at universities and schools. We all had a webpage or two, where we expressed our thoughts, our plans, and ultimately, journaled our life and experiences. There were no repercussions for questioning politics or expressing an unpopular opinion that went against the University administration. At most, you would be referred to an independent ombudsman (person?) whose goal was to help both the parties.

Contrast that to now — people, especially those with good jobs at multinational organizations, seldom find the time or build a place to express themselves using their true identity. There have been countless instances of those that did so not recovering from the repercussions for a very long time. In fact, the bigger the company, the higher the chances of never being accepted anywhere else, and the greater the risk.

This is not how it’s supposed to be.

The more people avoid free expression, the more they flock to echo chambers that have the ‘other person with nothing to lose’ voicing their opinions that they could only look at for re-affirmation, but have no way to refine or to dilute towards the less radical. The algorithms at work tend to make this echo chamber ever bigger, and the same companies that ‘enable’ this ‘free expression’ build internal mono-cultures that dampen real expression by their own employees.

Those that continue to operate free blogs and voicing free opinion do so under the pretense of having nothing to lose, which is often a result of opting not to work for these companies or to de-prioritize career advancement in the traditional sense. After all, shouldn’t the top executive at Amazon be, in fact, supporting their warehouse workers and thanking the blogger instead of ignoring any punitive action taken against them by the company?

There is glimmer of hope that the world after this latest pandemic would be the world that uses the forced pause to reflect upon the values that make us human. Already, governments are stepping up efforts to better calibrate compensation for the delivery and healthcare workers according to their real contribution to the society. The world could certainly do with more equity and equality.

And more than anything, we need to make space for the unpopular opinion, for more often than not, the opinion is a result of having spent time pondering over things that no one else deemed necessary, or because someone had the courage to go against the grain.

Categories
Reading Tech and Culture

Don’t Read This

A famous VC blogged about the ‘Free and Open Internet‘ recently. Their rant — they couldn’t read a newspaper opinion piece for free, which is a fundamental right of all human beings, and in those circumstances they feel that newspapers have ‘ceded their role as the public square to places like Twitter and Medium that remain open and free‘.

Wait, what?

Free as in beer? Free as in a dream?

Twitter and Medium are hardly free. They monetize your free expression. They prioritize the trending content instead of what you want to see or read. They log everything you do on their platforms and beyond, and then they leak that data to advertisers and repressive governments. People die.

Newspapers have always been paid. The public square is the park or the verandah where you read a newspaper and discuss stories with other humans. This is a concept that none of the ‘hardworking’ employees of Twitter or Medium would understand. How many hours do they even get to spend at home without answering a work email or fixing issues?

If you want to read an opinion piece, go buy a newspaper, or borrow one, or goto the library. Oh, a library. Another architectural artifact from the bygone era that these ‘entrepreneurs’ want to get rid of. Because public money is better spent on funding their startups.

The free and open internet was a goofy place. A place where you could set up a cheap website with rudimentary skills and show it off. No botheration with SEO or tracking your visitors or showing them ads. Everything was cheap. Technology still continues to be cheap and free.

So what changed? People changed. They’re more entitled to ‘information’ just like this rich guy. No, you don’t just get stuff for free. It’s a lie. Stop reading crap like this and go setup your own blog, write your own opinions, and start your own companies without borrowing or begging from selfish enablers of bad behavior.

The Internet is still a wonderful place to connect with others. You just have to stay clear of the pull of the free. And remember, the only thought leader who really matters is you.

Categories
Life and Personal Tech and Culture

There are two kinds of people…

… those that make a Facebook post about leaving the platform, and those that just do.

The need to announce your departure makes you the perfect Facebook user, and hence a very easy target for rehabilitation targeting.

Is it my validation that you’re seeking for? You have it!

Categories
Tech and Culture

When a Gadget Freak Gets Old

There is nothing philosophical about getting old – it’s a biological process. You could try to run from it, but you can’t hide from the age monster.

What is philosophical, though, is how your priorities change. Case in point – love for gadgets.

There was a time when I was the first person in my circle of acquaintances to procure the latest and greatest gadget. The first iPhone, the first iPad, the first online radio hardware player, you name it, I bought it.

That drive is now gone. It’s more about making the most of what I have. I have been using a 4 year old laptop. It just works and is only marginally slower than the latest and greatest. My desktop is inching towards its 3rd birthday. New iPads were announced and they don’t excite me.

I have gone from being a gadget freak to a gadget lover. I love my toys for the joy and productivity they bring. The computing gadget are indispesable, but so are the new Snapchat Spectacles, a cheap piece of tech that makes it a much more joyful experience to capture daily videos. Whereas I couldn’t really manage to make videos of my cycling trips with an iPhone, the ones that come out of these googles are nothing short of amazing.

I want new things rather than new things.

Apart from the aging process, I think a driver for this change is the fact that most gadgets now come with a yearly upgrade cycle. The periodic purchases for the same gadget, just shinier and faster, gets old after a few tries. In the interest of the planet and sustainability, tech companies need to start looking at ways to maximize earnings without forcing users to spend on new devices every few months.

Sonos is great at this. The speaker you purchased 4 years ago still works like new and still receives the same software updates as one you purchased just yesterday.

I can’t imagine myself springing for a new car every year once tech companies pivot to transportation. Or, maybe that would be a sign that gadgets are better leased than owned.

Categories
Tech and Culture

Facebook Pages as a Website Alternative

We have been getting our feet wet with starting our first business over the past few weeks; it has been fun; it has been exhilarating. While in the digital world you measure performance by metrics such as user counts and reviews, in the real world, people come back to you and give you verbal compliments. They refer your products to others who might enjoy them as well.

It is something I wish that I had done earlier!

Now, with a business comes the overhead of various things, one of which is building and maintaining your business’s online presence. Websites are hard enough, not to mention keeping them safe and secure, that a lot of businesses end up with terrible websites that take a lot of time and money to get done by outside contractors.

We had the same dilemma as we purchased a domain and then spent time and money buying and learning various WordPress themes to figure out the best for us. This is even before you start generating content that would ultimately draw customers in. In our events driven business, a lot of this content is in the form of photos and videos. The website also needs to have things like calendar feeds and a way to sign people up for your upcoming events. It would be great to be able to do live videos and respond to people in real time.

Clearly, this is not a simple website we are talking about.

After a lot of tweaking the theme, I came upon an idea – how about redirecting every visitor on our website to our Facebook Page. We needed the Page anyway since that’s how we communicate with our customers and share pictures. Might as well just make it our business website. The only thing missing is email, but that’s an easy problem to solve with the help of any business email provider that supports custom domains.

Facebook Pages provide blogging capabilities, photo albums, apps for business owners as well as consumers, live messaging, and above all, a marketing and analytics platform that really helps in reaching out to the best customers. I am not sure why they haven’t already started selling branded webpages as a service, much like their FB at Work product.

Setting up required a little bit of effort because they don’t natively provide this as a service. This means that you still need to set up your web server to redirect requests to Facebook. At this time, I haven’t set up any custom links on the server, but there is potential in the future to set up links like <yourdomain>/blog to redirect to your Facebook Page’s Notes section.

Now I can focus all my time and energy on one medium. This will definitely change in the future as the business evolves and it would not be feasible to expect every site visitor to have a Facebook login, or be able to use it for e-commerce. Hopefully, Facebook would start offering a more business-ready toolkit by that point.

Categories
Tech and Culture

Login enforced apps

One of my newest technology pet-peeves is apps that require an account even before giving me an opportunity to try them out or learn more about them. It’s not just the small players that do this, increasingly, but rather big name app providers like Microsoft.

Just this morning, I downloaded Microsoft’s latest To-Do app. Intuitively, my task list is something that could just as well reside on my smartphone without ever requiring to be synced onto the ‘cloud’, but, no, Microsoft would have none of that logic. The first screen is a login screen. I can’t even preview the UI without as much as sharing my phone number and other personal details.

How’s this for a To-Do – don’t download apps that need me to register before trying them out.