The time is now for video calling at home and at work

Last November I posted about whether or not I was going to buy a Facebook Portal device. I ended up doing so and had a smaller one sent to my daughter who lives in Chicago.

This past Monday evening my daughter and I had dinner ‘together’, complete with cooking our respective dinners simultaneously and then sitting down and enjoying our meals, talking and listening to one another. We were just separated by a screen and 1,000 miles. It was bar-none the best experience I’ve ever had video chatting.   The pan-ability of the Facebook Portal device (140 degree field of vision) is good for now and affords a very natural way to interact with someone without holding a phone or having to stand in front of a static camera (as other devices from Google and Amazon). I can’t wait to do it again with her and other members of my family who don’t live close enough to visit regularly.

To be able to use Facebook Portal to talk and watch, and listen with someone you are not able to see as much as you’d like is still a substitute for being there in person but it’s so vastly different (and in my opinion better) than FaceTime or a phone call. As mentioned before because of the camera we were each able to cook and then sit at our tables in our own kitchens while still chatting. The field of vision is not just of your face but of the entire area around you. It’s a much fuller, more realized experience, really almost like actually being there as compared to the small/focused view of just a face using FaceTime or a desktop camera. And you think you need to yell to be heard but you really don’t need to. It takes a little acclimation.

For my work I’ve been a subscriber to Zoom.us for business video chatting for almost two years but hadn’t used it all that much. This year I did promise myself to use video chatting for business on a regular basis. Our company has clients all over the place and the ability to ‘see’ the people behind the voices at the other end of the phone far surpasses the experience of a conference call.

I understand I am may be a bit late to the video chat party as many companies have video calls and meetings as a regular part of their daily workday or workweek.   But overall adoption of video calling has been slow to gain momentum for a variety of reasons both technological and behavioral as there are people who would rather NOT be viewed during a phone call out of old habits. I do wonder about all that data required to handle video chatting. Worldwide 5G can’t come soon enough.

There are all kinds of ways to engender video calling in the professional world including Google Hangouts, which BTW is free. The utility provided by companies like Zoom include the ability to record meetings (but you still should tell people that you are recording the meeting), send and confirm invitations and the ability to have many people be a part of a call. All I can tell you – video calling is better.

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25 books I read in 2018

I still read about half of the books digitally on my tablet through Amazon Kindle, and the other half is a combination of library, borrowed from friends, gifts, and purchased hardcovers and paperback books.

Riding trains between Manhattan and the suburbs affords me time to read that I otherwise might not manage to find. I keep that in mind when the commute gets to me – which it does on occasion.

What are you reading? You should always be able to answer that question from a family member or friend.

Here are the 25 from 2018 – each review in ten words or less.

National Pastime: U.S. History Through Baseball By Martin C. Babicz, Thomas W. Zeller

Baseball’s story within its appropriate historical context. Really good read. 

Raising Ross – Laurie Rubin

My close friend writes about life with her autistic son.

Aja– Don Breithaupt

Yes an entire book about one groundbreaking Steely Dan album.

Why We Sleep – The New Science of Sleep and Dreams – Matthew Walker

Renowned sleep expert reveals the purpose and power of slumber

Principles – Ray Dalio

My one 2018 audiobook. Long and often interesting, not always.

An American Caddie At St. Andrews – Ollie Horowitz

Funny, irreverent, and not so much appreciated by the caddies.

The War For China’s Wallet – Shaun Rein

An American born marketer living in China assesses the future.

Sapiens: A brief history of humankind – Yuval Noah Har

The subject was more interesting than some of the reading.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz

Enjoyable and jarring at times – not a bad thing.

The Patient Will See You Now – Dr. Eric Topol

Nodded my head all the way through.

Steely Dan FAQ – Anthony Robustelli

I’m a fan, he’s a fan. You get it.

Bad Blood – John Carreyou

The upcoming movie can’t be as good as this book.

The Hard Bargain – David Tucker

A would-be opera singer turned eye doctor’s story. Sweet.

Irresistible: The Rise Of Addictive Technology And The Business Of Keeping Us Hooked – Adam Alter

Truly, scary, and something we should all be concerned with.

Two Years At St. Andrews – George Peper

Former U.S. based Golf Digest writer moves across the pond.

Artemis: Andy Weir

Author of The Martian writes another compelling story. 

The Innovators – Walter Isaacson

A somewhat long but yet still a page turning book.

Eternal Sonata – Jamie Metzl

Disturbing and thought-provoking story about achieving eternal life.

Breakthrough – Michael C. Grumley

Humans finally communicating with dolphins, aliens underwater. Somehow it works.

Astroball – Ben Reiter

Modern day version of ‘Moneyball’ and just as interesting.

Navigating Japan’s Business Culture – Robert Charles Azar

American thirty-year Japan business veteran’s advice on what works.

Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think – Peter Diamandis and Steven Kottler

2012 book with a very compelling title and uplifting message.

On The Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody’s Favorite Games – Gary Beisky and Thomas W. Zeller

How various sports originated and the rules that evolved.

There were a few that did not make the list because I did not finish them.

Read more books in 2019. You can do this!

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Do I want to buy a Facebook ‘Portal’ device?

Having a daughter that lives in a city located almost 1,000 miles away is sometimes frustrating. I miss her and wish I could see her and spend time with her more often. And I know I am in good company since many people have family members that live far away.

The recent Facebook ads for its new Portal device are compelling and have captured my interest because for the first time I can visualize the utility of having a device that has a 140 degree field of view and follows you around the room in a way that until now, hasn’t been commercially available. I can see myself using it and enhancing my ability to stay connected with my daughter and other family members and friends. I mean eventually there will be full-fledged video calling like in Sci-Fi movies and TV shows and it has to start somewhere right?

Interestingly Facebook has never before tried developing and selling hardware. So the timing isn’t an accident. There are other options. Google has its Home device and Amazon has its Echo Show, but the reported high quality of the video combined with the camera tracking makes (by many reviewers), the Portal device the early leader.

Full disclosure – I maintain a small financial position in Facebook mostly because I believe it has the ability to connect family (and friends to a lesser degree) and make their human interaction and connection better. I readily acknowledge that this may seen naive given Facebook’s history in both the short and long term. I think it’s possible to be both an optimist, “Facebook can connect family members and friends in amazing way”, AND a cynic, “but Facebook will continue to sell my personal data to possibly nefarious entities because it’s all about the money.” When it comes to Mark Zuckerberg I have allowed my hope that he’s a decent human being to triumph over my knowledge that power and money often change people inexorably. The jury is out on Zuckerberg as far as I am concerned.

The mission of Facebook began with far less than noble intentions. When Zuckerberg created the ‘Hot or Not’ rating system at Harvard it was both crude and popular. It was more of a harbinger of what was to come than people talk about. Yet along the way it seemed that Mark Zuckerberg grew to understand the incredible responsibility that he undertook when trying to help engineer changes in human interactions. Clearly that was not planned, but it is what ended up happening. While it should be much more scary than emboldening, being 30 and leading a society changing juggernaut hasn’t been done before. Mistakes have been made. LOTS of mistakes.

My son challenged me that I’ve been giving Zuckerberg a pass and I’ve thought long and hard about that and to a degree he’s right. Sheryl Sandberg who was brought in to be the adult in the room (which apparently did not work out so well), is also deserving of criticism since a lot of bad things have happened on her watch. But it’s still Zuckerberg’s fault.

Racial discrimination was just reported by a former Facebook employee in the form of reputed suppression of posts from people of color. This too is Zuckerberg’s fault.

The truth is that There’s more and more reason for people to NOT trust Facebook. If that continues for anything more than the near future Facebook will be in a fight for its survival. The release of the Facebook Portal device is timed for the holidays or perhaps a more tactical reason like staving off a declining share price or simply taking the focus of its business practices.

Since I don’t actually spend much daily time on the Facebook platform anyway, I think I am going to wait a bit before buying a Facebook Portal. In the meantime I will continue to hope that the leadership at Facebook gets its act together, comes clean about what’s been going and what’s going to be done to fix it. The cynic in me is laughing out loud.

Posted in Communication, Data collection, Facebook, Living in the World Today, Marketing stuff, Personal Technology, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Direct-to-Consumer marketing is not as easy as it might seem

I’ve been involved with DTC for a large part of my career.   I met and did some business with Lillian Vernon a good number of years ago, and if you don’t know her or her company you might find that to be an interesting history lesson. In fact recently named CBS Chairman Strauss Zelnick was principally involved in the purchase of the Lillian Vernon Company showing he is a direct marketer at heart even before his days at RCA/BMG and Ripplewood Holdings. I suspect Mr. Zelnick would concur that marketing direct-to-consumer can be a very successful and effective method, but is far from easy. He will need that consideration in his newest role as running CBS is not going to be easy either.

Online marketing has created an environment where anyone and everyone has the opportunity to market a product direct to consumer bypassing the more accepted retail model. Author/marketer Tim Ferris detailed a DTC path to riches in his well-known book ‘The 4-hour work week’.   I believe Mr. Ferris is among the few if any people who have such a successful DTC business that they only need to work on for 4 hours per week. Why? Because it’s really hard!

I had a conversation with some 30-something online marketers recently in which I advanced that DTC marketing is challenging. They seemed somewhat surprised, which in turn surprised me.   As if there were a key and all they had to do was find it without knowing where to look. While it remains true that online DTC marketing affords a chance for all to ‘take a shot’ at marketing a product or service, it’s far more involved than making or buying a product, slapping up a website, landing page or offer on social media, and then waiting for the orders to come in. As I say time and again, ‘if you build it, they may NOT come’.

In the digital marketing arena, search marketing and influencer/social media marketing have been paramount in launching successful DTC brands like Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club. Yet those successful stories are the exception and are not the rule.   Just because marketing has become more democratic, does not mean it’s easy as pie, contrary to what growth hackers and online marketing gurus would like you to believe. Research, testing and good old-fashioned hard work are at the root of every successful direct marketing story. That hasn’t changed in 100 years.

Is it getting easier or more difficult achieve direct marketing success online and beyond? While barriers to entry remain low, attention spans are shorter than ever, competition from all over the globe is fiercer than ever, and success is far more fleeting than people realize. Unlike the world of direct response television, digital advertising performance should be judged over an extended period of time (meaning more than three months which to many new marketers seems like a long time).   Since digital advertising is the tail wagging the marketing dog, particularly among the non-deep pocketed, it’s important to evaluate performances on an ongoing basis without making too many changes too quickly which can make it more difficult to obtain learning from results.

Being a celebrity can help garner attention and engagement with a DTC brand. It doesn’t remove the requirement to test and measure campaign performance. It’s not the celebrity doing the heavy lifting in the back room, but the long-term success of the marketing effort will still be based on a campaign’s concept and execution.

‘Winning’ means remaining humble and cognizant that success is hard-earned and fleeting and increasing your speed of learning will lead you to abandon campaigns that do not work more quickly and ride the crest of the success wave as smoothly as possible with the knowledge that all waves have to come ashore.

Are you discouraged? Or are you ready to take a shot? Or maybe a bit of both?

Posted in Advertising, Direct marketing, Direct response, Direct Response Television, Entrepreneurship | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will smartwatches become ubiquitous?

I don’t know if it’s the same for people living outside of a major urban area, but there are increasing amounts people of all ages wearing smartwatches (and in particular Apple watches).

While I am still not a giant fan of smartwatches initially having wondered were people just too lazy to look at their phone, it’s clear that they are not going away. Apple has led the smartwatch charge and there’s a certain cache associated with Apple products in general (i.e. you are willing to spend more than on Android products) and the Apple watch fits right in.

You might be surprised to know there are a number of quality Android watches. Watches from LG, Samsung, and Huawei have fine features and are all considerably less expensive than an Applewatch. Any of the Android smartwatches work with an Android phone meaning you needn’t have a Samsung Galaxy phone to use a Samsung Galaxy smartwatch. But if there are people wearing Android smartwatches out there I am not seeing them or recognizing them. I can however easily recognize an Applewatch. It’s just another example of why Apple does a much better job of brand integration than Samsung, LG et al.

An article last month, ‘Apple Watch vs. Samsung Galaxy Watch: Which Smartwatch Is Best?’ appeared in Tomsguide.com summarized the different offerings –  It made me think a little more about an Android watch but I am not quite ready…yet.

I’ve noted previously that smartwatches are incredibly interruptive if you are with someone that is wearing one. Right in the middle of your conversation the watch flashes, buzzes or whatever and you the wearer cannot help but look down to see what’s happening. At that moment it’s not great to be the other person.

I guess there’s a feeling that looking at your smartwatch is less interruptive and faster than looking at your phone. After all why else would people wear one? With all the technology in our day-to-day lives, we’re all learning to deal with the onslaught of messages to figure out how much is too much. It’s a messy process that will take time to play out.

Will smartwatches become ubiquitous? I say mostly likely yes. Whether that’s a good thing or not, well that’s another story.

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Reading is faster than podcasts – and everything else

I’ve come around on Podcasts, (or is it podcasts?), except when it comes to the fact that they are called Podcasts.   A bit more on that later.

It’s a well-known fact that people can read faster than they can talk, listen, or watch. As someone who reads for more than 5 hours a day, speed is important since there’s simply too much to learn and too little time. I enjoy watching videos professional and otherwise and have more recently become an occasional podcast listener.

I like podcasts well enough but they take a while to get to the point. And it’s not always easy or practical to skip ahead. There are times when I am traveling by train that listening to a podcast is a welcome relief from all the reading I do. Watching webinars, and video presentations are also worthwhile overall, yet I often think that I could zip through the content so much faster on my own. I know I am not alone in that thought.

Seth Godin is promoting that ‘Podcasting is the New Blogging’. I think that’s true to some degree but it won’t replace blogging.

My problem with the term ‘Podcasting ‘is that it’s origination is with Apple and the iPod. Even when they first began to be called podcasts I wondered why they weren’t called Recorded Audio Broadcasts (RAB’s) or Recorded Audio Programs (RAP’s). After all that’s what they really are in essence. Apple wisely has done nothing and the result is that the term podcasts will live on, even as most people do not realize its derivation.

Is long form reading becoming less prevalent?   Or does it just seem that way? Listening is easier than reading for many people. Watching is better than listening for many more people. Not long ago BuzzFeed ‘axed’ its podcast team in favor of video content.

On the subject of video, for what it is worth, I acknowledge that video has a multitude of applications in the professional world and we use it all the time. If a picture is worth a thousand words (or at least it used to be), a video tutorial is worth…more.

But reading is faster. WAY faster than every other way of conveying information. This includes talking despite what some people think about New Yorkers. With all the various forms of content available to people, in general attention spans have dwindled. Long form reading is less popular than anytime in memory as in since books were invented. A recent article in the Washington Post – had the author @JenHoward note she had to work to ‘recover her former reading self’. I totally understood what she meant.

I believe that the ability to sustain long narrative reading and complicated concepts requires focus and attention. This focus is eroded by the practice of reading an endless stream of blurbs. If you can overcome the tendency to mainly consume information in bite-sized pieces you will be rewarded (via long narrative reading), by gaining a deeper understanding of the topic.

So challenge yourself to read more in general, and more long narratives be it books, fiction or non-fiction, long-form articles, and papers. The fact that it can be hard is a good thing for your overall growth and cognitive function. And it’s still faster than anything else.

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Misreported data is useless

My post earlier this year on “Bad Data is Worse than No Data” did not address what is likely a larger problem when it comes to auctioning data sets. Under cover of ‘best intentions’, misreported data is misinformation.

An example: I ride the train from the Connecticut suburbs to Manhattan most weekdays. Sometimes I do not buy a monthly ticket and buy a multi-trip or single ticket. The conductor asks to see everyone’s ticket. Recently when displaying a non-monthly ticket, a few conductors ask to scan the QR code. But not all of them do it and then and some do it only occasionally. When you ride the train a lot you do recognize the conductors on various trains.

Why does the MTA scan tickets? Data collection of course! At least I think. Actually I really have no idea. Some people display printed tickets that they hand to the conductor, others have the app. The result is the data is terribly incomplete, disparate and seemingly of little value. Even if the MTA were to report that their data collection only represents 20% of the riding public, surely they cannot make decisions based on these random data?

Often when I depart the train in Grand Central Station there are two MTA workers standing back to back with counters clicking away at (as accurately as they can) all the departing passengers. I am fairly certain that the MTA is not overlaying the counter data with the few scanned tickets data from the mobile app. If every ticket from every rider was scanned or recorded with NFC (Near Field communication) and entered into a database, then there’d be some juicy data to review – Actionable data!   That’s decidedly not the case today.

Because commuter train travel has been around for a very long time in the U.S. and most systems are antiquated whether it’s equipment or the tracks themselves. In order for a data collection system to be reliable (more or less) on the MTA a massive change would need to take place. When I’ve traveled on trains in Asia one cannot board the train in many large stations without a ticket. It’s hard for me to believe sometimes that conductors still wander up and down the aisles checking ticket and punching holes in tickets. I find most of the conductors to be pleasant and informed enough to offer concise answers to any travel questions about times and arrivals and changes. If they did not have to punch tickets what else could they do? How many conductors are actually needed on a 10-car commuter train? There are two on most trains now.

The data pulled from scans, and clicks, and transactions are varied and undoubtedly difficult to combine to get a better read. Is it actionable? I doubt its reliability and for that reason I think not. But that probably won’t stop the MTA from acting on what they do have. It’s better than nothing right? Not.

Is this any way to run a railroad?

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