Tagged: facebook

WhatsApp Bought By Facebook

I’m sure that by now you’ve heard about Facebook buying mesaaging app WhatsApp for 19 Instagrams. here’s the POV I wrote about just that.

For further reading I would recommend these two excellent posts by Ben Thompson and Ben Evans. Or watch the two of them being interviewed about the WhatsApp acquisition.


Pharrell & The Republic Of Content

Back when I first started attending search conferences you would often hear people saying “content is king” or some variation of the same phrase: on that I remember repeating quite a lot was “conversation is king, content’s just something to talk about”.

However it struck me recently that the metaphor of a king was rather misguided as it suggests that one single piece of content will rule all others. Or, in other words, that it’s possible for a brand to create one piece of content and then sit back and count the winnings. Instead, increasingly, it seems obvious to me that we actually live in a republic of content where power and influence is available to just about anyone.

So, on Facebook you might end up looking at photos of a friend’s new child, taking a Buzzfeed quiz to decided where you should live or read  Guardian article about how the NSA are using social networks to monitor what people are doing. And, to use 2014′s buzz-phrase of choice, when all of this content is ‘native’ it really doesn’t matter whether it’s branded or not, it only matters whether someone is doing something that stops them interacting with your brand.

Ben Thompson summed this up brilliantly a while back:

attention is a zero sum game; every minute spent in Snapchat or LINE or WhatsApp is a minute not spent in Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

To which we could add ‘or giving you an opportunity to sell to them’.

This was brought home to me again today when I saw the 24 hour video that has been created for Pharrell Williams’ track Happy. It is essentially made up of over 300 individual videos, each of them set in Los Angeles and each of them essentially mimicking the original video, which saw  and they feature Pharrell and lots of other people dancing and singing on a street, with a cast of hundreds that includes ballroom dancers, skateboarders, Magic Johnson, Steve Carrell, Jamie Foxx & Odd Future. The ‘standard’ video is essentially a Best Of for the 24 hour version.


And that’s basically it.

Pointing out that Noel Gallagher is wrong about something isn’t exactly an Olympic sport but, when he said that ‘no-one watches videos any-more‘ he rather missed the point. People rarely watch shit videos anymore.

But videos like Pharrell’s Happy marathon, or Arcade Fire’s mash-up of video and Google Maps, the Beastie Boys’ comedy epicBob Dylan’s multi-channel karaoke or Danger Mouse’s visual extravaganza can actually command even more attention that ever.

It might seem crazy that anyone would make a 24-hour video for a song that lasts a fraction of that time but the film, which is what it really is, is absolutely delightful. It’s a great track for a start*; charming, full of life and innocent.

And the videos, each of which feature little snapshots of people enjoying themselves, is much the same, though I do wish they’d flown out the Northern Soul girl for it**. In many ways it reminds me of the movies Swingers & In Search Of A Midnight Kiss in that, it is, essentially, a love letter to LA.


When someone can spend a whole day watching almost endless variations on a 4-minute pop video, what exactly are you going to do? Because the king is dead, vive la République!

*So’s the movie it’s taken from; don’t let the fact that it’s supposedly for kids put you off.
**Maybe they did, did you really think I’d watched the whole thing?
*** Here’s the whole 24 hours.


Buzzfeed, Facebook & The Rebirth Of The Headline

A few years ago there was a lot of talk about journalists learning SEO. I should know, I was one of those doing the talking.

The idea was that as people moved from choosing what news to read based on what they saw on a news-stand or in a newsagent to what they found in Google, journalists and editors need to rethink the art of the language that would be needed to attract them. I created a programme to train all the journalists at RBI to do just this, and even created a series of posts on the subject. Probably one of the high-points of my career to date was being asked to train BBC journalists in SEO for news writing.

One of the posts was about the art of the headline in which I argued that the modern article needed to move away from the puns and metaphors of the past and become more explanatory, clear and informative; the BBC couldn’t implement my ideas around headlines because their CMS had to be able to push content on to Ceefax.

But if I was re-writing that post today, I’d probably have to make a slight tweak. Though I might describe it as the greatest tweak ever known to man!

Yesterday I mentioned some great ads that have been created by Volvo Trucks; as I said, I think the ads are really rather good, and certainly a refreshing change from a lot of the dross that clutters our airwaves. But I’m not quite sure that:

Advertisers Should Just Quit. Nothing Will Ever Top This Volvo Commercial

No matter how great a piece of creative is, it’s probably a bit much to suggest that nothing will ever top it.

Or maybe it’s not. Certainly, based on some of the other headlines that appear to be popping up more and more, it’s actually rather light-weight in terms of its enthusiasm.

If you watch the video above you might be struck by how generous and selfless people can be. But I’m not sure you will necessarily think that fuzzy footage, with a painfully cheesy soundtrack, of people being pulled off of tube tracks or a car being pushed off a train line, is:


I’ve seen the footage of Allied troops discovering the concentration camps at the end of the Second World War and I’m afraid some badly spliced footage of good Samaritans doesn’t really compare.

In the same vein, I don’t think that these are “the most thought provoking images of all time“, I doubt that a slowed down version of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball will “haunt me forever“* and I’m almost certain that a fortune-cookie philosophy speech with a piano backing track isn’t going to “inspire me to live life to the fullest“. But hey, at least it ends with a shot of a model in ligerie biting her lip. Stay classy Jason Silva.

What’s interesting is that it took me approximately 5 minutes to find all of these examples of articles (or rather very short posts which essentially repost content from other places) where the headlines are master-classes in hyperbole.

All of them had been posted to Facebook and showed up in a quick trawl of my newsfeed this morning. It seems that in this world where having virtual ADHD is a feature not a bug, the old adage of under-promise and over-deliver has been consigned to the dustbin. In a world where news, or rather content, is increasingly found via social channels rather than search, it seems that click-bait is getting worse and worse.

Interestingly, at exactly the same time as serious media companies are following down this path that Buzzfeed has blazed, Buzzfeed is setting itself up as more of a serious content creator. This piece on the real numbers behind Snapchat is as good as, if not better, than much of the coverage I’ve seen in the main-stream tech press (which maybe shouldn’t be a surprise). And whilst the argument behind this piece on the British housing market is full of holes, at least it shows a desire to cover serious issues in a semi-serious way.

It will be interesting to see who wins out, or whether there is space for both to thrive, even on one site. It strikes me that products like Flipboard reward high-quality imagery rather than headlines that appear to be written by a ten-year old who has just chugged two-litres of Red Bull, but Flipboard is nowhere near as big as Facebook. If it scales this trend towards ridiculous hyperbole might fade, otherwise it will probably require a Facebook algorithm change such as the ones that did for social readers.

Back in the real world however, Bon Jovi are back in the US charts because of a site that reposted a 4-year old YouTube clip of a guy dancing to Livin’ On A Prayer at a basketball game. Here’s hoping that this really is the perfect time to be launching a newspaper.


A Week’s A Long Time #13


No Place Like Home

When Facebook launched Home, its super-app, many people (me included) suggested that thay had done so to get the benefit of having their own phone and operating system, but without the hassle or cost of building one. Based on the success to date of Home, it’s probably lucky that they didn’t.

According to reports, the app has only been downloaded 1 million times in the month or so since it launched, with many of those who have downloaded it unhappy. To put that in context, when Instagram launched its Android app, it added 1 million users in a day, and they didn’t have an existing user-base of over 1 billion. At the same time, the phone on which Facebook Home was initially installed, the HTC First, has seen its price slashed to $0.99 in order to clear stock.

This doesn’t mean the end of Facebook Home; when the social network launched its early advertising system Beacon it was widely panned,  and was eventually withdrawn after a costly law-suit. Fast forward 6 years and many of the elements of Beacon are now to be found in many of Facebook’s, and many other platforms’, products. It may well turn out that the same thing happens with Home.

Hire And Hire

At times over the last week the tech giants of Silicon Valley have resembled desperate bargain hunters, still throwing things into the shopping trolley as their other half drags them towards the check-out. Yahoo alone has bought or aquihired 4 start-ups, primarily in the mobile space, Twitter bought an analytics  company as well as a big data start-up, and enterprise outfits Salesforce and Box also got in on the act. Many of these deals were around mobile, as are a couple that haven’t come off yet.

Apparently Facebook is planning to doubledown on the $1 billion it (sort of) spent on Instagram and offer a similar amount for Waze, a company that crowd-sources the data to power sat-navs. In the words of Waze founder Noam Bardin:

What search is for the Web, maps are for mobile

Although a rather trite statement, it’s also kind of true. Ironically, the deal is supposedly stalled over an argument about location.

At the same time there were rumours that Microsoft was considering whether to buy Nook, the e-book business launched by Barnes & Noble. Whilst there have since been counter rumours saying that no deal is imminent, it was an interesting suggestion and one that got investors excited.

Maybe they could have done the deal with Bitcoin, the virtual ‘currency’, which received a shot of respectability when UVC, one of the first investors in Twitter, pumped $5 million into a Bitcoin related start-up. Whilst Fred Wilson, the man behind the investment has had an incredible run of investments, it’s hard not to think that he’s backed the wrong horse here.


A Week’s A Long Time #12

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s start by looking at how pictures can be worth a billion dollars…

Picture Of Health?

This week saw Facebook release an important update to Instagram, the photo app that it paid close to $1 billion dollars for shortly before its IPO last year (70% of the deal was in stock, so there’s no knowing what the deal will end up costing Facebook). The update allows people to tag themselves, friends and even brands in the pictures they take.

Whilst Mark Zuckerberg has said that they have no immediate plans to start monetising Instagram, it’s not hard to see how tagging could be the first step on the road to making back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars that they paid for it. Tags in photos were what really turbo-charged Facebook’s growth, and, as I said a year ago, could do the same for Instagram, whilst the fact that it will also be possible to tags brands opens up obvious monetisation options.

That said, it’s worth noting that it only took a couple of days for articles to pop up telling people how to remove tags which may make things a little harder.

Mobile Money

In other Facebook news, the social network had its latest earnings call. Depending on whose PR you read, the results were either OK, great or terrible. In reality, they were probably a little of each.

Revenue was up, though possibly not by as much as some people would have liked. Revenue from games was the highest its ever been, though Zynga appears to be losing its attraction, with its contribution towards Facebook’s revenue down (something Facebook is probably glad about as it used to be dangerously reliant on Zynga.)

In terms of advertising, mobile now accounts for about 30% of ad revenue; this is growing, which is good, but may not be growing fast enough to replace revenue from desktop traffic as it isn’t currently as valuable to Facebook.

Seeds Of Growth?

Last week I highlighted the change in Apple’s recent fortunes that noted that it might well still turn out a major new product, and so it has turned out. To fund its major dividend it is selling its own debt (the iBond?) rather than repatriating the cash it has sitting outside the US, as this would cost it a lot of money in tax.

Having quietened down its major critics, the tech world is hoping that Apple will get back to releasing market defining products, though it seems more likely that Apple will instead bring out the iPod Mini to the iPhone’s iPod, by releasing a lower priced, mass market model. It seems that those waiting for Apple’s Smart TV or internet enabled watch will have to keep waiting.


A Week’s A Long Time #10

Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 10.08.05 PM

Back after a well earned break, I’m going to have another bash at providing a weekly round-up of tech, media & marketing.

Tweet As…

Twitter had a busy week, launching a new product and two updates to its ad systems.

Twitter #Music is an app, built off the back of acqhired Australian start-up We Are Hunted, which is designed to help people find and connect with new and upcoming music. It’s a lovely use of Twitter’s platform which understands, and makes use of, how people are using that to connect to music. Importantly, it builds off of existing music services, in the form of iTunes, Spotify & Rdio: this means it’s in the interest of the latter two for this to succeed, and helps ease the pain of Apple after closing Ping.

At the same time Twitter announced that it is to allow ads to be targeted at Twitter users based on words in their tweets or tweets they have interacted with, and it was rumoured that Twitter is trying to tie-up deals with TV networks so that it can monetise video content within tweets.

Whilst the #Music announcement is a smart effort to drive deeper audience usage of the product, whilst creating lots more lovely user data in the process, the keyword launch, and TV rumour, show that Twitter also wants to get much better at making money off of the audience it already has. Tie the two together and you can imagine a scenario where TV stations target their video content based on what other TV shows people have tweeted about, and then Twitter gets to monetise it. Meta.

Home And Dry?

Last week also saw Facebook Home hit the streets. It’s since seen 500,000 downloads which is impressive, but not a patch on Instagram which saw ten times as many downloads in the same amount of time after launching on Android.

It’s early days yet, and, to be honest, in some ways it’s hard to understand exactly what Facebook Home does for people. Perhaps the fact that one of the main features of Home, Chat Heads, is now part of the iPhone app, will help to really kickstart Facebook’s mobile landgrab. At least that would mean they wouldn’t have to rely on this ad doing the job.

YouTube Preview Image

Race To The Bottom

Finally, and a lot more seriously, the web showed its darker side in the aftermath of a tragedy in Boston. reddit, which likes to call itself the front page of the internet, decided to try and capture the bombers. And failed.

Which would be fine, if it’s misguided attempts to play Sherlock didn’t result in plenty of innocent people being named as terrorists. It was, to repeat one memorable turn of phrase, like a racist Where’s Wally. To be sure plenty of people have pointed out that ‘traditional media’ is hardly blame free, and they’re right. But reddit has history, and it’s not as pretty as its cheer-leaders would like to claim.  


Nothing Crap About Educating People

So, earlier this month, Facebook revealed that laptops belonging to its staff had been infected by malware. Whilst Facebook was adamant that no user data had been compromised, a large number of publications saw fit to cover the story. Which is unsurprising and, I would argue, entirely reasonable.

After all, it’s one of a large number of hacking stories recently, suggesting that we should all be considering what data we share with companies, and what sort of security systems they use to protect it. Add to that the fact that Facebook holds data, on over 1 billion people, that could easily be used by cyber-criminals (birth-dates, names of friends, family & spouses – all things that are regularly used in online banking) and it seems reasonable to at least consider the implications.

Not if you’re Jeff Jarvis it doesn’t. Invited on to a late night slot on BBC News, he decided to dismiss the relevance of the story completely, and instead insist that the BBC were engaged in creating techno=panic. Yes, the BBC. The same company that arguably did more than almost any company on earth to promote home-computing, and which has consistently been a leading-edge innovator in its use of the web to connect with its audience.

Now Jeff Jarvis is undoubtedly an intelligent, succesful and influential man. But that doesn’t mean that he’s always right. In fact his argument that because anything you put on Facebook is going to end up public anyway means that you don’t really have any justification in worrying about data compromises, seems entirely wrong to me. It is exactly because so many people don’t realise this fact, that people like him should be doing more to highlight the dangers, as well as the positives, of technology.

Some have suggested that Jarvis’s almost missionary zeal for the web and its new giants, is almost sinister. Others merely highlight how open to ridicule it is.

Either way, I think that those who try to suggest that his CV means he should be free from criticism are entirely wrong. Apart from anything else, I can’t help thinking that anyone who had a hand in the creation of Entertainment Weekly (current top story – 25 sexiest TV scenes: Your picks!) isn’t really best placed to criticise anyone else on the quality of their journalism.

What’s for sure is that whatever the rights and wrongs of Jarvis’ arguments (and I think  I’ve highlighted why they’re more wrong than right), he lost pretty much any moral high ground he might have thought he had when he followed his interview with a truly epic prima donna style rant, and then resorted to taking comfort in the fact that he was praised by this man.

When Nero’s on your side, you’ve lost.

Photo of Jeff Jarvis explaining why there’s nothing to worry about when your whole life could be hacked because a developer in California looks at a dodgy website by Re: Publica 2012 on flickr


A Week’s A Long Time Vol. 7

Once again, a week here is more like a fortnight. I was on holiday last week and couldn’t drag myself away from the pool to jot down any thoughts on the latest developments in tech. But this week, I hope to make up for it.

The Only Way Is Up?

Wall St. met Silicon Valley this week as Facebook held its first earnings call since its rather disappointing flotation. It came on the back of a week where Zynga had singularly failed to impress the finance world, with very disappointing results.

The first question on everyone’s lips was whether Facebook’s founder, who many believe is dismissive of finance, would show up. He did. Though that doesn’t mean that people were impressed by him. Interestingly, an unconnected post by Fred Wilson highlighted why Mark Zuckerberg might need to play ball a bit more.

VCs have control when things don’t work. Entrepreneurs have control when they do.

The second question was whether what he, and his lieutenants, had to say would relieve the worries of those who bought Facebook’s stock. Not so much.

fb q2 deck

One of the main problems for both Facebook & Zynga is that people are switching to mobile quicker, even, than fast-moving Californian start-ups can keep up with, and the revenue on mobile devices is lower than on the desktop web. Which, of course, is why Facebook bought Instagram. And, in a move that looks like a perfect example of using offence as the best form of defence, Twitter cut off part of Instagram’s access to its API. Ouch.

The Only Way Is Down?

On the other side of media equation, things were also looking rocky. The New York Times released financial results, showing losses had halved. That said, those losses still stood at $88 million for the quarter, or around $1 million a day. And, just days before, The Guardian also reported huge losses, though only £44.2 million for the whole of 2011, which works out at about £3.6 million a month (about £100,000 a day, which has been the case for the last 3 years).

Not everyone was glum though: the web edition of the Daily Mail, the most popular newspaper site in the world, posted its first ever profit. It’s likely that publishers around the world will be looking at them to try to work out how they’ve done this. Unfortunately, whilst the Mail has a pretty strong record of issue-based, investigative journalism (it pretty much ensured that the Stephen Lawrence case wasn’t forgotten), the website owes more to Kim Kardashian than stories of murdered teenagers.

So what hope is there for journalism? Well, it depends who you believe. Salon argued that claims that the way that the shootings at a Batrman screening in Aurora showed how citizen journalism would lead the way, were pure hype.

The Web seems neutral, because it is an open platform that anyone can use. But just because anyone can does not mean everyone does. It is no accident that spontaneous, active citizen journalism emerged on Reddit in response to a shooting at a Batman premiere. The stories that get covered are the ones citizen journalists care about most, and these citizen journalists tend toward a certain social-cultural-economic orientation.

But, another author argued that this very article was, itself, hype. Where was this counter-argument published? Salon.

Confused? You will be.

Still, at least one person seems to have cracked the solution. Facebook just needs to buy The Guardian.

London Calling

And, just to end, let’s have a look at a little event that’s taking place in London at the moment. Unsurprisingly, it’s brought on a flurry of marketing, both ridiculous & sublime; official & not-so-official.

Nike are back to their best with Find Your Greatness*

Adidas have their own take on things with a piece soundtracked by British rapper Wretch 32.

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Does the fact that I think the song is wretched make me old? Probably? I prefer the more thoughtful athlete-focussed pieces.

Away from the big, global brands, a couple of local British companies have been getting some cheeky jabs in. Paddy Power & Oddbins both highlighted the fact that the Olympics police have been coming down very heavy on anyone who dares to try to make money off of the back of the event. And Specsavers showed, once again, that being quick off the mark is as important in advertising as it is in athletics, with a dig at the flaggate episode.

If you have any thoughts on these issues, or anything you’d like covered in a future digest, please do leave a comment, drop me a line on ciarannorris at gmail dot com, or tweet me.

*Nike are a current client of my employer Mindshare

Javelin by Banksy.


A Week’s A Long Time Vol. 6

Well, what a week it’s been. Apart from bankers proving, once and for all, as if we really needed the proof, that they really do match up to their Cockney rhyming slang name, The Stone Roses returned and were, if I do say so myself, triumphant.

But outside the world of middle-aged men cashing in their chips, and Bob Diamond, what’s been happening in the world of tech?

It’s The Content, Stupid

These days it’s becoming hard to keep up with all the tech companies rumoured to be on the verge of releasing a phone, TV, or some other high-tech consumer product. Facebook’s releasing a phone. Google’s releasing a home-entertainment system. No, Amazon’s releasing a phone and Google’s releasing a tablet.

Oh, I give up.

But why would all of these companies, who currently make their money in ways other than shipping product, want to get into manufacturing (even if it is through a third party)? Well, the answers are myriad, but in many cases, it’s down to content. Because what’s fascinating about Apple, is that through its iTunes store, it has essentially locked millions of people into owning its products.

Whilst using an iPhone (or iPod) doesn’t mean that you have to use iTunes, or vice versa, it certainly makes life much easier if you do. And the reason that this works so well, other than the fact that Apple have categorically shown, particularly through the app store, that people really don’t mind making micropayments, is because Apple has a pretty impressive library of content, through its deals with the record and movie labels, as well as its flourishing app developer eco-system.

And it’s with this in mind that we should look again at a few of the last couple of week’s stories:

Meanwhile, of course, Apple keeps on printing money before squireling it away in off-shore havens carefully investing it. And the real irony? As was pointed out this week (and I kind of noted last week), for Apple, the iTunes revenue is a bit like funny money – the real cash is in hardware, and it uses its (free) software to make that hardware redundant, so that you have to buy a new one.

Black & Blue Berry

Meanwhile, away from the world of succesful tech companies deciding what product to release next (and YouView), a lot of attention was focussed on RIM, the makers of BlackBerry, previously the ‘smartphone’ of choice for businesspeople and rioting teenagers alike.

The pronouncement by RIM’s CEOThorsten Heins that his company isn’t in a “death spiral”, was met with widespread derision by the tech blogosphere. After all, the company has seen its share price plummet, shed a chunk of its workforce, and can’t seem to do right for doing wrong, all on the back of delays to the launch of its new operating system.

Now comes news that RIM might be about to lose another big chunk of revenue, if reports that mobile carriers are insisting on a reduction in the fees RIM charges them to use its server infrastructure are true. All of this has left many wondering whether there is any hope for RIM, or whether it should just sell itself off, either in parts or as a whole.

But having said all that, reports of a company’s death have been greatly exaggerated in the past. After all, back in 1997, it was commonly agreed that a once-great tech company, with its shares at an all time low, was basically toast. Indeed, Michael Dell famously said of the company in question:

I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders

Who was he talking about? Apple. If they could come back from the brink, maybe RIM can as well. Now all they need to do is find their very own Steve Jobs. Excuse me if I don’t hold my breath.

I’ll leave you with a wonderful synchronisation of music and tech, and more proof that many of Britain’s finest musicians get better with age: blur’s new songs, premièred on Twitter.

The actual videos are pretty ace too.

If you have any thoughts on these issues, or anything you’d like covered in a future digest, please do leave a comment, drop me a line on ciarannorris at gmail dot com, or tweet me.


The Guardian Likes Facebook

I just popped over to The Guardian site and noticed a bar running along the top of the page encouraging me to log in to The Guardian using Facebook, presumably based on my usage of their existing Facebook app. I’m not quite sure what will happen if I do as they ask, but presumably they might start serving me content based on my social graph (not something I necessarily want, due to the likely creation of a filter bubble). Still, I’m game for anything, so decided to give it a try.