3 (Digital) Things to Watch this Week

Highlights of some of the best stuff you won’t see on TV. Running time listed because we know you’re busy.

1. Dancing Before the Beat- Motion Capture and a Slick Interface Combine to Make Music on the Fly (3:35 Minutes). 

2. The Onion Provides In-Depth Coverage of HP’s New Cloud Technology (2:10 Minutes).

3. Digital Artist Transforms New York City into a Theme Park (1:48 minutes). 

Digital Digest- 26 July, 2012


  • Should every social media manager be under 25? Yes, argues a young writer for Nextgen Journal with no experience in the role and still struggling to achieve financial independence from her (clearly over 25) parents.
    • Transparency kudos to Nextgen Journal for also posting this well written rebuttal by Mark Story, someone with actual experience in the field.
  • Valve’s Gabe Newell has a pretty negative take on Windows 8 and is hedging appropriately.
  • Similarly, Fortune outlines their take on the future of videogames and videogame hardware.
  • Twitter is targeting big advertisers with a pretty slick pitch deck.
  • A look back at a rough year for Netflix.
    • More bad news: Consumer Reports released a report detailing customer satisfaction for streaming video services and Netflix was rated very poorly.
  • RadioShack is a victim of its own iPhone strategy success.


The 10 Most Common Articles on Business and Technology Sites

  1. The Shocking Headline That Sounds Fascinating but Really Our Article has Very Little to do With (We’re talking about you here AOL.com)
  2. The Three Things Killing Your Business RIGHT NOW! (click through for details, after watching the ad, sign up to read full article)
  3. The Smart and Snarky Article that you Would Never See on a Mainstream Media Site
  4. The Rewrite and Repost of the Same on a Different Site with Very Subtle (or no) Source Attribution
  5. ‘My Bad Day’- Re-titled and Written as a Metaphor for Common Business Challenges- cat bites and difficult travel experiences are all game
  6. The Gushing Evangelistic “Review” of the Latest and Greatest Thing from Apple
  7. What Company X MUST do to Save their Dying Business Written by a Someone with No Experience Saving Dying Businesses
  8. The Business Equivalent of, “Does this make me look fat?”- Personal Stories of Business Challenges Overcome so Readers can Marvel at that Thing I Did and Respond with Nice Comments
  9. The Story that has very Little to do with Business or Technology but Allowed me to use Photos of Semi-nude Women or the Word ‘Sex’
  10. Big Name Person Says Shocking Thing (when taken out of context of course)

The Wrong Customer and the Real Customer

How is it that the same organizations consistently get ranked as the “worst companies” by consumers? How come some businesses never seem to ‘get’ their customer but still exist? The answer is that they are focused on the wrong customer. The surprising part is that this is pretty easy to do.

University website venn diagram


Who Do We Serve?

The person that pays the bills of course. But, in many cases, this person is not the same as the paying consumer that gives their money to a brand in exchange for a service. Instead, the person that pays the bills is the person directly above the employee and the two or three people above that. Consider this: A guy works in the marketing department of a large organization that sells furniture. He crafts ads and writes copy in his office at headquarters. Occasionally, he visits stores for photo shoots or to discuss new campaigns.  During one of these visits, a customer approaches him and asks, “Do you work here?” What to do? Let’s say he decides to help the customer as best he can, while pointing out that he’s not a retail associate but, nonetheless, he wants the customer to be satisfied. Well, that’s just great, and that is pretty much what every executive would advise and what the training manuals would say to do. And that is exactly what most employees will not do (including the training manual authors and executives). The reason is that it won’t count. Our hapless marketing department guy can serve the customer until the cows come home but it won’t affect his situation one bit unless his boss notices. And, even so, the marketing department’s annual employee evaluation form doesn’t even include a section for customer service.  Even if it did, it would be focused on serving the “internal customer”. Stakeholders trump consumers in almost every corporate project.

Of course this isn’t limited to retail brands either. Distance from The Real Customer is relative to the employee’s passion for serving that customer.  Large organizations are even more at risk for this sort of employee disassociation than smaller ones.  Many companies also have to focus on keeping investors happy. In these scenarios, who is being served? It begins at the top. If the very highest levels of leadership in the organization are beholden to share owners, banks or anyone but The Real Customer, why would the employees under him focus their attention differently? Not that anyone in the business environment would ever say this aloud… that would be corporate sacrilege.

Bonus Success vs. Business Success

So, what to do when the boss suggests we serve a stale bun with the burger, or hide that bad trade on the books until next quarter or smudge the budget numbers so they tell a better story or create a website based on ego instead of service? Bonus or business, who wins? Something to remember anyway the next time you are on the consumer side of the fence and you’re treated by an employee as though you don’t matter.  The reason they are treating you that way is because, in their world, you really don’t matter. Or, rather, you matter, but you matter a lot less than the guy that signs the pay check.

The needs of the boss should serve the wants of the consumer at every level in the organization.  Lasting businesses are built by groups of employees with a passionate focus on The Real Customer and the consumer’s experience with your brand. Promotions and bonuses are built by groups of employees with a passionate focus on gaining the boss’s approval. Are these values aligned in your organization?

Image source: XKCD.com

Everything Old is New- Old Content Outselling New Content

The Kids are Alright

Album cover for The Who’s “The Kids are Alright” overlayed with the real world photo shoot location. Source: PopSpotsNYC.com

Did you know that, according to the most recent numbers from Nielsen Soundscan, old CDs are outselling new CDs for the first time? While many theories have been floated by various pundits as to why this phenomenon is occurring, I tend to agree with the folks at Death and Taxes magazine that the shift is happening because younger music consumers are simply not buying CDs anymore.

So that makes sense, younger folks have no interest in compact disks.  They may not even have CD players.  This might also help explain why iTunes and Spotify are now the top revenue generators for record labels.  But it doesn’t explain why the most popular concerts thus far in 2012 are older acts.  Consider that the top three touring acts this year are Roger Waters (touring an album first released in 1979), Michael Jackson’s digital ghost and Bruce Springsteen. Can’t help but wonder what brand of cell phone these concert goers are using.

And as long as we’re talking about old content in the new world, go ahead and take a look at PopSpotsNYC.com, the source for our image above, where photographer Bob Egan has painstakingly tracked down the location of iconic images in pop culture and digitally merged them with the original famous image.

BlackBerry has Jumped the Digital Shark

Heard on the train a few days ago, as two interns in their early 20’s discussed their co-workers:  “He is so old and creepy. Even if I liked him, what is he gonna do, text me from his BlackBerry? Who even still has one of those?

Research In Motion, makers of the mobile BlackBerry device, recently announced terrible quarterly numbers and further delayed the release of the next version of their phone. As just one in a string of recent misses for the company, media pounced on the financial news and many outlets proclaimed it to be one of the last nails in RIM’s coffin. In response, the recently appointed CEO made several bold statements pointing towards a bright future for the business and the next version of their device, the BlackBerry 10.  Despite being derided as delusional, the CEO pointed out that the organization does have several things going for it:  They have zero debt and plenty of cash, a well-established user-base and plans to reduce operating expenses.  Of course, he’s not likely to come out saying, “Hell, I don’t know, I only just took the job and things are pretty messed up,” but he makes some good points.

Moreover, he seems to understand the company’s struggles.  He stated, “…RIM has missed on important trends in the smart-phone industry…” and further pointed out that they were keenly aware of the position the BlackBerry device once held, “With BlackBerry, RIM created the framework that gave people their first taste of an untethered yet completely connected life.”  That last bit might not sound like a big deal now, but it was at one point.  In the early days of the emergence of the device, it truly was liberating to be able to stay current with work while not physically at work. For the first time, with a single portable, corporate-approved, secure email device, early adapters (and, eventually, seemingly everyone in the corporate world) could finally stay connected when not in the office. Crazy as it might sound now, there was one point when having a BlackBerry was considered a status symbol.

I am not going to debate whether the company is still viable or not.  Personally, I believe they do have the potential, and resources, to succeed and the willingness to do so.  Change is always uncomfortable and this might simply be that period of discomfort.  However, since I heard the statement on the train the other day, I’ve paid much closer attention to who I see using BlackBerrys. And darn it if every single person I saw using one wasn’t over 30 years-old.  It is a small, hardly-scientific and incidental observation, but the next time you see someone using a Blackberry device, take a guess how old they might be. I’d wager not a recent college grad.

Jumping the shark is a term used (generally in TV) to indicate the exact moment when a series started going downhill and is no longer considered fresh, hip or relevant. I think, despite RIM’s potential, they are going to have to overcome a huge market perception that they are simply not cool.  In today’s age of digital devices, becoming cool is a long, uphill battle and, resources or not, that might simply be one that is unwinnable for the BlackBerry device.

Increasingly, we are being defined by our technology choices, whether is it identifying as a PC or a Mac or defining your budget by your device, judgments are being made about you as a consumer.  When you whip out your smart phone, are you sending the social message that you intend to send?

Cybernetic Top Guns

The most important innovation to happen to the development of the next generation of military aircraft is not faster engines, fuel efficiency or bigger guns.  Rather, enhanced user interface design is what is making the difference in allowing pilots to out-maneuver their rivals.  In a recent demo of the F35 fighter plane, pilots described the experience of flying  the plane with the modernized interface as, “like magic.”

Below is a clip demoing the F35’s new digital interface:

The continually increasing automation of flight systems begs the question of whether pilots are still necessary in the cockpit at all.  After seeing the demonstration one can’t help but wonder when fighter planes might actually become remotely controlled, larger-scale, pilot-less drones.  Or, looking even further into the future, if there might be a point when the role of the pilot is obsolete all together, replaced by algorithms and artificial intelligence.

While the story of the F35 makes a strong point for the need for quality interface design for fighter aircraft, there is also the counter-example from the sad but true story of Air France Flight 447 where a poorly designed user-interface contributed to the deaths of hundreds of passengers on a modern, computer assisted aircraft.

As we increasingly rely on computers to manage and automate tasks it is exceedingly important that we emphasize quality, user-focused design whether we are building complex jet aircraft or new ways for customers to interact with our businesses.  A poorly designed user interface can cause a business to crash and burn just as fast as an airplane.