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March 2012
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'Running Between The Toes Of Giants'

Elephant feet
The reams of Facestagram coverage threw up a couple of interesting metaphors which I really liked. Nicholas Carlson's recent piece on Business Insider uses the phrase quoted here in the title to describe the fine line for entrepreneurs (particularly those with a disruptive product or service) between successfully changing the dynamics of a market and being trampled on by large incumbents. I'm not sure that I agree however, with the thrust of the article that Instagram was an app built on the incumbent's turf and "just as easily as Facebook bought Instagram, it could have crushed it in a second". There's plenty of idiosyncrasies about Instagram that, whilst not making it wholly incompatible to Facebook, made it feel sufficiently distinctive to distinguish it in both feel and character from anything Facebook-like. 

One such distinctive characteristic was around how well it did what Brad Frost called 'focused creation, ubiquitous distribution'. Platforms that are native to mobile, he says, are now a perfectly viable starting point for new products but whilst Instagram is an example of what Fred Wilson calls mobile first, web second, it is the ease and ubiquity of distribution of Instagram pictures on the web (including on Facebook) that has helped to spread the charm and appeal of the app. The fact that for so long it was only available on iOS merely added to this appeal. 'Focused creation and ubiquitous distribution', it seems, is a great way to equip yourself to 'run between the toes of giants'.

HT to Dan for pointing me at Brad's post. Image courtesy

Google Firestarters 5: Cory Doctorow

Cory doctorow 1
So, exciting news. For the fifth in the series of Google Firestarters events for planners and digital media folk we are lucky enough to have Cory Doctorow, the renowned science fiction novelist, journalist, technology activist, and co-editor of Boing Boing

Given the increasing ubiquity of digital technologies, their integration into just about every device, and the so-called 'internet of things', Cory will be talking about how in the coming decades, restriction and regulation of general computing could threaten to undermine the capabilities and security of not just communications, but many other corners of modern human society.

It's a big old subject, but if anyone can do it justice, he can. The event will be an opportunity to meet Cory, ask questions and join in some good discussion with the great and the good of UK planning. The event will be held next Wednesday evening (May 2nd) and as usual it's invite only but I have a few places to allocate to readers of Only Dead Fish so if you'd like one, drop me a line (please note I won't be able to respond to everyone but will notify the successful applicants).

Wirewax - Interview With Dan Garraway

Dan Garraway is a technologist, creative, and the co-founder of (IMO) one of the most interesting pieces of digital video technology out there: WireWax. I first met Dan and his co-founder a couple of years ago when, as a young startup, they got in touch to show me their technology that enables you to add motion tracking clickable hotspots to video content. I was kind of blown away by it. The idea of direct interaction with video content is a rather fascinating one (particularly with touch interfaces) and their execution of it is still the best I've seen. I've embedded an example above (for the retailer Oki-ni - you can see the tags when you put your cursor over it) and one below (the world's first shoppable music video for Canada's biggest biggest online fashion retailer SSENSE). Anyway, I've kept in touch with the guys since that meeting and decided to do a short interview with Dan. I like the fact that they are a startup and I think their work deserves as wide an audience as possible.

NP: In a few sentences, how does Wirewax work?

DG: Dead simple. Upload a video, draw a box around the person or object you want to make interactive - let the system do the clever stuff and just decide what you want to happen when they click. Whether to show product information, display another video, show a map, a profile etc.

NP: You've used the term 'intelligent video' to describe the area you play in. What's that all about?

DG: Video has been dumb for way too long. Colour was arguably the last major evolution. The web is, well, exactly that... a web of interlinked documents, texts and basically, communication. We'll tag a friend in a Facebook comment, link to an article on our blog, reference a Wikipedia piece in a quote, yet when we get to video, one of the most powerful and popular mediums of our time, it all, well... stops. Computers don't understand video, they don't know there's a person there, a product there or your friend there... they just seeing moving pixels.

This is the challenge wireWAX is utterly focused on, making video part of the web, making it intelligent. Anyone watching video should be able to stop, click on something in a video that interests them and see it/hear it/follow it/share it as we do everything else in our digital world.

NP: What are the really exciting potential applications for taggable/clickable video and where might this go in the future?

DG: We've just rolled out our latest version, which introduces new wizardry where you can now upload a video and it will automatically tag the people in it. In the coming months we'll be rolling out more of this simplifcation to get to the point where, if you don't want to, you don't have to tag the video at all. You can be at a house party taking a video of your friends falling into the pool with dirty cocktails and just upload it. wireWAX will automatically tag your friends from Facebook and track them through the video. Comment on them, share moments and find people, all in the video. Or why not shoot a video of your band and put profiles on each of your band members to encourage fans to follow them on Twitter.

Some of the most exciting developments for us come in the home. Television secretly loves the internet and we're playing cupid right now.

NP: What's the single biggest lesson you've learned as a startup that it would be useful to pass on to other startups?

DG: There's never been a better time to be a tech start-up. With free wi-fi, cloud services, Google docs, open-source and relatively cheap hardware you have everything you need to start building prototypes and developing ideas, so there's no excuse. But you still need capital to turn a bedroom idea into a realistic, scalable business and take it to market. The biggest thing is to swallow your pride, go look for investment and get your idea, team & pitch into the best shape they can possibly be; and convince someone with money to share your vision, you can't do it on your own. Then forget investment (for a bit) and focus on customers!

The Progression Of Agency Value

Progression-of-agency-value 1

Over the past few months I've been working with the smart folk at Econsultancy on a project (in partnership with Adobe) to better understand the impact of digital technologies on agencies. A big reason for doing this is that, inspite of there being much chatter in the blogosphere on the future of agencies and the agency model, there seems to be a paucity of good research on how agencies are adapting to the many challenges brought by the rapidly changing communications environment.

As part of the research I interviewed a broad range of the great and the good from agencies across Europe covering many different types of agency including full-service creative, media, integrated, digital, and those that are more marketing technology focused (and incorporating the views of a number of well-known and respected voices in the advertising and media blogosphere). Importantly I think, the interviews also covered a broad range of job roles including agency CTOs, CEOs, Strategy and Planning, specialists, Heads of Innovation. The output is a 59 page report that looks at evolving agency behaviours and models, use of technology, differentiation and value creation.

As a key part of this, and in response to the feedback from participants in the research, I've developed a model for agency maturity in four key areas: data, technology, skills and culture. The overarching themes of this model are pulled together in a  framework that references the progression of economic value model derived from Gilmore and Pine's The Experience Economy (a HT to Richard Sedley for pointing me at it). Reapplying this to the context of agency maturity in approach to (and the use of) technology provides a useful framework for understanding the progression of agency value over time and the shift from delivering services, towards staging experiences, and eventually to guiding transformations for clients.

There are many themes that sit around this model, a number of which echo areas I've talked about here previously (agility of-course, structures characterised by small and nimble teams, the explosion of devices, touchpoints and data, the shift from one-way, campaign-driven mindsets to developing more participative experiences and longer-term platforms, the growing importance of earned and owned media assets). I look at what this means for the important stuff like how agencies work, the relationship they have with their clients, how they create value and differentiate themselves.

You may recall that towards the end of 2011, I did a big piece of research on client-side digital structures and resourcing (again for Econsultancy) which itself was a complex but fascinating project. So in many ways this is a companion piece to that, but focused purely on agency side. The common strand that runs throughout both pieces of research is the scale of change and transformation, and challenge but also opportunity, that was revealed on all sides.

You can download a free summary of the Progression of Agency Value report here, and the full 59 page report on the Econsultancy site.

Google Firestarters For Search

Firestarters logo blog
You'll know that I've been working with Google for over a year now, curating a series of events themed around stimulating some different thinking and debate on some of the more interesting and challenging issues facing planners today . We've had four such events now, and had some brilliant speakers and conversation around four different but related subjects (agile, design thinking in planning, new operating systems for agencies, and entrepreneurialism). I'm happy to say that they've been really successful and built up their own kind of momentum. 

The good news is that we're now extending this programme and are launching a new series of events focused specifically on Search Marketing. The original Firestarters events will continue (in fact the next one is due on May 2nd so note the date and watch this space for more on that very soon). Search Firestarters will converge more specifically on search marketing but as before, the objective here is not to sell Google but rather to facilitate insight and debate.

So our first Search Firestarters event is on the subject of attribution. Millions of marketing pounds are assigned on the basis of a 'last click wins' model, yet the number of factors that may have influenced a customer to click are myriad so how might we develop more sophisticated models for attribution to enable marketers to make more informed decisions about the value of different elements of their spend? It's a fascinating and hugely important subject, so we've got a combination of search experts including David Richards (Head of Search at ZenithOptimedia), Martin McNulty of Forward3D, Tom Cull of Carat, and client side expertise including Helen Southgate of BSkyB.

We'll be running a series of short provocations followed by debate and Q & A, and I'll be doing the hosting alongside Google. The event will be held at Google UK offices on the 26th April (starting 6.00pm). As with the original Firestarters events, it's invite only, but as always I have some invites to give away to readers of this blog - if you'd like one then please contact me and I will notify the successful applicants.