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Marketing and Networking & telecommunications and Security and Social networking and The media and The Web12 Jun 2013 at 11:11 by Jean-Marc Liotier

A few reflections from my notes of public reaction to last weekend’s events.

Advertising is the main source of revenue for publishers on the Web, including the lords of sharecropping empires such as Facebook and Google. Revenue from advertising varies hugely with how well the message targets the audience. Targeting requires getting to know the target – which is the business that Facebook and Google are in : getting the user to find them useful and trust them so that he willingly provides them with their raw material.

I used to enjoy giving the publishers a lot of data in return for personalization and services – even considering the risks. Yes, we knew the risks – but they are the sort of risks that we are notoriously bad at evaluating. Most of us have probably read at least a dozen different tales of Orwellian dystopias – yet our productive relationship with service providers let us convince ourselves that betrayal won’t happen. We were so complacent that it might be argued that we asked for this.

So why are we surprised ? The surprise is in the scale of the abuse. Corruption always exists at the margins of any system that is sufficiently slack to let alternative ways thrive and supply the mainstream with fresh ideas. A society with no deviance at its margins is totalitarian – so we live with that some antisocial behaviour as a cost of doing business in a society that values individual freedom.

But today we find that the extent of corruption is not restricted to the margins – we find that most of what goes on there among people we entrusted with extreme power at the core of the state entirely escapes oversight and drifts into mass surveillance which is known to asphyxiate societies. That much corruption was a risk that we were warned against, but seeing it realized is still a nasty surprise.

Again, this is not about lawful surveillance under democratic oversight, which is as acceptable as ever – this is about the dangerous nature of massive untargeted surveillance outside of democratic control. But public opinion reeling from the shock will probably be blind to the difference – it is now likely to be wary of anything that even remotely smells of surveillance.

Of course, not everyone has yet realized the tradeoffs that modern communications entail and that they have always been making, even if unwittingly – public awareness of privacy issues is not going to arise without continued evangelism anytime soon. But a host of users has awoken to realize that they were sleepwalking naked on Main Street. What will they do now ?

Considering how mainstream audiences have long happily kept gobbling up toxic information from the mass media, I am not holding my breath for a violent phase transition – but a new generation of privacy militants might just have been given birth and I wonder how much they will nudge the information industry’s trajectory. In any case, they will not make the Internet more welcoming to it.

Marketing and Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications17 Sep 2010 at 12:07 by Jean-Marc Liotier

This morning a French banker provided me with an explanation for the efforts of the banks at selling MVNO contracts to their customers. This explanation does not dismiss the influence of the contemporary urge to use any customer-facing operation as an excuse for selling services entirely unrelated to the core product – but it makes a little more sense.

Banks see the mobile payment wave rising high on their horizon, and they want to be part of the surfing – in a bank-centric model of course. As near field communications are coming soon to a handset near you, getting ready is a rather good idea.

To carve their rôle into the mobile payments ecosystem, banks believe that building a customer base is a good way to make sure that they will have a critical mass of users to deploy their products to when the time comes for that. In the context of a maturing market with decreasing churn rates, this makes sense – especially as the banking and insurance industry enjoys much lower churn rates than mobiles operators, and the banker’s image could have a halo effect on the mobile products they distribute.

But on the other hand, considering the leonine conditions that French mobile license holders grant to the MVNO, this is a fragile position on which to take leverage.

By the way, if you feel like working for a hot mobile payments company, take a look at the openings at Zong and say hello to Stéphane from me !

Brain dump and Economy and Free software and Marketing11 Apr 2010 at 10:45 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In the wake of the Ordnance Survey’s liberation of the UK’s geographical information, I just had an interesting conversation with Glyn Moody about the relationship between free digital publishing and the sale of same data on physical substrate.

If computer reading is cheaper and more convenient, can free digital publishing lead to sale of same data on physical substrate ? Free data on physical substrate has market value if the substrate has value on its own or if the data has sentimental value. That is a potential axis of development for the traditional publishing industry : when nostalgia and habits are involved, the perceived value of the scarce physical substrate of digitally abundant data may actually increases. Of course, free data has value on its own – but, as the reader of this blog certainly knows, it involves a business model entirely different to physical items.

Identification of content producers, quality control, aggregation, packaging… This is what a traditional editor does – and it is also what a Linux distribution does. Isn’t it ironical that those the Free software world and the world or traditional publishing have had such a hard time understanding each other ?

Some actors did catch the wave early on. In the mid-nineties, I remember that my first exposure to Free software took the form of a Walnut Creek CD-ROM – at the time there was a small publishing industry based on producing and distributing physical media filled with freely available packages for those of us stuck across tens of kilobytes thin links in the Internet’s backwaters. And there were other before : since time immemorial, the Free software industry has understood that the market role of producing data on physical substrate is distinct and independent from managing the data. As Glyn Moody remarked, it is only a matter of time before the media industry as a whole gets it.

Strangely, the media industry lags at least fifteen years – and probably twenty : even in mainstream publications, the writing has been on the wall for that long. To prove that, here is an excerpts of a 1994 New York Times article by Laurie Flynn “In the On-Line Market, the Name of the Game Is Internet” :

“I think Compuserve as a business is going to change very radically,” said David Strom, a communications and networking consultant in Port Washington, N.Y. “It could be they’re going to become a pipe, an access provider to the Internet, rather than a content provider.”

But Compuserve, like other on-line services, says it will continue to find ways to differentiate its offerings from databases of similar information on the Internet, by providing better search tools, a more organized approach and better customer service.

Compuserve has just released a CD-ROM, to be updated bimonthly, that works with its consumer on-line service to add video clips and music to the service in a magazine-like format. In the first edition, for example, users can view a video clip from a Jimmy Buffett concert and then with a click of the mouse connect to the Compuserve on-line service where they can order the audio CD. All the on-line services are working to add multimedia.

“Compuserve has 15 years experience in organizing that data and making it easy for them to find it and grab it,” Mr. Hogan said. “It’s not just a user interface issue but how content is packaged.”

The history of Compuserve since then shows that they were never able to fully execute that vision. But it shows how long it took for the idea of free data as lifeblood of a multi-industry symbiotic organism to get from visionaries to a mainstream business model.

In the nineties, we had to endure the tired rear-guard debate of “content vs. pipes”. The coming of age of Free data, confirms that the whole thing was moot from the very start. In 1984, Stewart Brand said “Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive… That tension will not go away”. I believe that said tension is most definitely in the process of going away as free data will dominate and feed a system of economic actors who will add value to it and feed each other in the process.

Marketing and Politics15 Jan 2010 at 14:22 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Nothing new, but as Paul Currion remarks, the Haïti post-earthquake crisis shows once again that media and governments alike are still operating under the rule of sensationalism :

“Nobody can deny that Haiti needs assistance right now to save lives, but it also needed assistance yesterday when the infant mortality rate was the 37th lowest in the world. When it comes to natural disasters, we – our governments, our media, ourselves – are victims of the same biases that cause impulse buying at the supermarket. Thousands of people dying from buildings falling on them instantly mobilises a huge amount of resources, but thousands of children dying from easily preventable diseases is just background noise. This is the uncomfortable reality of the aid world, but it’s not one that our media or governments really wants to hear”.

But is it possible, in a noisy media environment, to find success in promoting the long view of human capability instead of a short term view of human suffering ? Some examples do exist, but forming, out of the background noise, a coherent signal that has political impact remains a rarely solved problem.

Free software and Geography and Marketing and Politics and Technology and The Web17 Dec 2009 at 13:27 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The quality of OpenStreetMap‘s work speaks for itself, but it seems that we need to speak about it too – especially now that Google is attempting to to appear as holding the moral high ground by using terms such as “citizen cartographer” that they rob of its meaning by conveniently forgetting to mention the license under which the contributed data is held. But in the eye of the public, the $50000 UNICEF donation to the  home country of the winner of the Map Maker Global Challenge lets them appear as charitable citizens.

We need to explain why it is a fraud, so that motivated aspiring cartographers are not tempted to give away their souls for free. I could understand that they sell it, but giving it to Google for free is a bit too much – we must tell them. I’m pretty sure that good geographic data available to anyone for free will do more for the least developed communities than a 50k USD grant.

Take Map Kibera for example :

“Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, widely known as Africa’s largest slum, remains a blank spot on the map. Without basic knowledge of the geography and resources of Kibera it is impossible to have an informed discussion on how to improve the lives of residents. This November, young Kiberans create the first public digital map of their own community”.

And they did it with OpenStreetMap. To the million of people living in this former terra incognita with no chance of profiting a major mapping provider, how much do you think having at last a platform for services that require geographical information without having to pay Google or remain within the limits of the uses permitted by its license is worth ?

I answered this piece at ReadWriteWeb and I suggest that you keep an eye for opportunities to answer this sort of propaganda against libre mapping.

Marketing and Social networking and The media and The Web15 Dec 2009 at 0:24 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Today I mentioned that 15 years late, I had finally put a name on a past adolescent problem : patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). As far as I understood, it is a growth related muscle unbalance that solves itself when the body reaches maturity.

As usual with most of my microblogging, I dispatch the 140 chars to several sites using and then follow the conversation wherever it eventually happens. In that case, a conversation developed on Facebook. Friends asked questions and gave their two cents – business as usual.

And then an interloper cut in : “Jean-Marc we can help correct your patellfemoral pain syndrome. It is the mal-tracking of your patella. Check us out at”. It is not entirely spam at first sight because it is actually on-topic and even slightly informative. But it is not really taking part in the conversation either because it is a blatant plug for an infomercial site. So spam it is, but cleverly targeted at a niche audience.

I does looks like all the blatant plugs that we have been seeing for decades in forums and mailing list – usually for a short time after which the culprit mends is devious ways or ends up banned. But there is an innovative twist brought by the rise of the “real-time web” : the power of keyword filtering applied to the whole microblogging world is the enabler of large-scale conversational marketing. Obnoxious marketers attempting to pass as bona fide contributors to the conversation are no longer a merely local nuisance – they are now reaching us at a global scale and in near real-time.

Marketers barging in whenever someone utters a word that qualifies their niche are gatecrashers and will be treated as such. But I find fascinating that we now have  personalized advertising capable of targeting a niche audience in real-time as the qualifying keywords appear. Not that I like it, but you have to recognize it as a new step in the memetic arms race between advertisers and audience.

Imagine that coupled with voice recognition and some IVR scripting. Do you remember those telephone services where you get free airtime if you listen for advertising breaks ? Imagine the same concept where during the conversation someone – a human, or even a conversational automaton – comes in and says “Hey, you were telling your boyfriend about your headache ? Why don’t you try Schrufanol ? Mention SHMURZ and get the third one free !”.

Even better, add some more intelligent pattern recognition to go beyond keywords. The hopeless student who just told his pal on Schmoogle FreeVoice telling about his fear of failure at exams will immediately receive through Schmoogle AdVoice a special offer for cram school from a salesdrone who knows his name and just checked out his Facebook profile. You think this is the future ? This is probably already happening.

15 years late, I finally put a name on my past adolescent problem : patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) – growth related muscle unbalance.