Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Jun 11

How Big Data and Online Games Help Catch Scammers

Posted: under Design, infographic.
Tags: , , , , ,

I did a case study on this use of analytics technology more than a year ago. The gist of it is this: online MMPORGs like World of Warcraft, EVE, Everquest, etc., are wonderful tools whereby to study human interactions.

Here’s the gist: when you map the connections between people – or stores, or institutions, or giant multinationals – there are certain geometric patterns that emerge. Analyzing the shape of those patterns reveals what kind of community is in existence, how healthy and vibrant that community is, and whether or not any of the people in that community are acting in a criminal or shady manner.

This technology is being used by Ninja Metrics (h/t to Dmitri Williams, a colleague at USC-Annenberg who runs this amazing company), to help online game environments to detect and remove the kinds of “gold-farming scammers” that ruin the gaming experience for the other players. It’s also the kind of thing that is being used to catch real-world drug cartels, money-launderers and fences for stolen goods.

Now if they can only do something about that punk griefer who keeps zapping me in “Destiny,” they’ll really be onto something…

infographic showing online analytics and scams

(Click to view full size)

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May 29

Mary Meeker’s yearly “Future of Internet” PowerPoint

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , ,

Shorter: Mobile is still undervalued. Hackers suck. China is about over; India is next. Professional content producers still doomed. But good design still matters.

Every year, Mary Meeker produces a massive presentation that quickly makes the rounds on Teh Interwebz and gets name-checked by all the digerati. This year is no different; everything has changed, is changing, will change. So what does the Oracle of KPCB tell us this year? Well, for one thing, she’s down from the “Death by PowerPoint” presentations of years past, that clocked in at 350+ slides (and a whole lotta Visine for anyone plowing through the dense bar charts & bullet points).

Anyway, check it out:

So what’s my analysis of her analysis? Glad you asked.

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Oct 18

JetPack: the Always-Open University Library that Fits in Your Pocket

Posted: under Design.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

…but without the annoying biology grad student who is using himself as a human guinea pig to see if it’s possible to survive for 3 months on a diet of only beer, vitamin pills and broccoli florets. 

the website for jetpack

The switchover to all-digital textbooks is happening faster than predicted. I'm not too sure about reading an entire text on a smartphone screen, but for in-between class cramming, or getting instant updates to course material, it's not a bad choice.

I’d love to say that this is it, we’ve found the perfect replacement for textbooks, but from what I can see here, this is still a very limited solution. They are also trying to accomplish something that is unbelievably complex. I know, because we’ve been trying to do the same thing: come up with a way to create once-publish many.

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Jul 01

Sweet Mother of FSM, Google+ Is Smart!

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration, google.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In less than five minutes, I responded to an invitation (that is probably still in pretty high demand) and signed up for Google+.

Being able to add people to the circles is an absolutely frickin’ brilliant move! The little animations are absolutely killer. I have been wanting this and talking about this and boring the living shit out of my tech-dw33b friends about how the one big problem STILL with social media is that it’s damn near and all-or-nothing game.

No longer. Someone at Google “got it,” and this is a killer feature that Facebook DOES NOT HAVE.

Also: Google+ aggregates my information from all manner of sources, so I don’t have to go through that goddam tiresome “OK, let’s fill in all the blanks on this profile page yet again … wait, what? … it timed out? (long cursing session)”

Check out the screen cap below – this is after only a few minutes of cursory work:

dave lafontaine profile on google plus
All this got added to my profile automatically. It borders on the creepy … except for the fact that I wrote and posted all this info about myself in the first place, and I approve of it and can tell instantly where it came from. Also note on the right-hand side: all the various places where I have established a social profile, all aggregated in the same place.

I kinda disagree with this post on AllFacebook, where they focus in on how Google has made it “compulsory” to be part of Google+, and that the key to all this is “time on site.”

While tech pundits are widely praising Google’s new Plus product, I’ve found the one feature that could take away from Facebook where it’s most dominant: Time on the site.

Facebook users are known for staying on the site for over half an hour a day, something no other site could compete with… until now.

To be honest, my gut reaction after using Google Plus was initially, “Why on earth would anybody switch to this from Facebook?”

However, when I loaded up Google Finance as I do every morning, I suddenly realized that I was asking the wrong question. The reality is that users won’t have the option of not using Google Plus.

However, later on, they kinda stumble into something interesting, that’s also come up recently in the kerfuffle over the “Open Letters to RIM” — that is, that tech companies are starting to realize that what will really make them successful, is making it easy for developers & propellorhead-types like, well, us … to come and play in their sandbox.

Add to that this very insightful dissection of what was at the core of MySpace imploding – the same thing at work, i.e. pissing on indie developers — and you start to see something fascinating emerging in corporate thinking … for those intelligent enough to read the tea leaves (or Cheeto crumbs, if you will).

 

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Sep 02

Janine Warner shows off top 10 new Dreamweaver CS5 features

Posted: under Design, New Marketing.
Tags: , , , ,

Janine played to a packed house at Photoshop World. Apologies for the muddy pic and the brevity of posts, but I am in info-overload mode.

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Aug 04

Unruly Adobe Tag Cloud for MAX in LA

Posted: under Design, New Marketing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I stumbled across this today while poking around at the new Adobe products, trying to decide whether it’s worth it to upgrade to CS4 for the new features in Premiere Pro and Photoshop, or to just hang on to CS3.

Anyway, this is a 3-D animated tag cloud to promote the Adobe MAX conference here in LA; but I think they might want to regulate this a bit more, because some of the user-chosen tags are getting a little … pungent.  Hey. That’s pretty good. Maybe I’ll go there and add “pungent” to the mix…

I'm not sure if you can geo-anchor the text; if not, having "PORN" appear about where Chatsworth is located, is a stroke of serendipitous genius...
I’m not sure if you can geo-anchor the text; if not, having “PORN” appear about where Chatsworth is located, is a stroke of serendipitous genius… (click to embiggen)

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Mar 10

New Online Ad Models

Posted: under advertising, Design, Digital Migration, New Marketing, Online Video.
Tags: , , ,

To quote Michael Corleone: “Everytime I think I’m out – they draaaaag me back in!”

I just got done with a Big Scary Article for the NAA about charging for online content.  I’ve marinated myself in all sorts of arcane data about how to make money from online content, whether or not publishers are being forced to charge for content or are doing it because they are angry and unwilling to make the fundamental changes to adapt to the New Media environment, etc. etc.  Basically, a whole bunch of business theory that makes me sound like a Web 2.0 dweeb, spouting buzzphrases like “Freemium is a viable long-term marketing strategy, but a short-term disaster if you need to make crushing debt-service payments,” and “Big Media brands must leverage their local trust networks to sign up small advertisers.”

I thought it was all behind me, but it turns out that the Online Publishers Association has been hard at work trying to solve the underlying problem with online advertising – that is, that the basic unit of banner ads, really don’t work all that well.  Here’s their proposal:

“As consumers and advertisers increasingly turn to digital media, we must create formats and programs that support and sustain the differentiating aspects of our businesses,” said Martin A. Nisenholtz, founding chairman of the OPA, and senior vice president, digital operations, The New York Times Company. “Agencies must be given the tools to build brands on the Web and publishers must provide the formats for their advertisers to thrive, while balancing the needs of their users.”

The proposed new advertising units are:

  • The Fixed Panel (recommended dimension is 336 wide x 860 tall), which looks naturally embedded into the page layout and scrolls to the top and bottom of the page as a user scrolls.
  • The XXL Box (recommended dimension is 468 wide x 648 tall), which has page-turn functionality with video capability.
  • The Pushdown (recommended dimension is 970 wide x 418 tall), which opens to display the advertisement and then rolls up to the top of the page.

I have mixed feelings towards these things.  As a web publisher myself, I am in favor of anything that delivers real value to advertisers, since if advertisers get value, then they’re much likelier to direct fat stacks in the general direction of indie weasels like me. 

However, as a web surfer, the idea that sites are going to have annoying “Fixed Panels” that follow me as I try to scroll through the page … well, have you ever gone to a MySpace page where the background is busy and annoying, and all the content scrolls across it, increasingly impossible to read?  It’ll be like that.  The Fixed Panel is going to judder and jerk as you use the scroll wheel, and if you’re a person who has multiple tabs open in your browser, well … hope you’ve upgraded your RAM and you have at least four cores going in your CPU to handle all the load.

The XXL Box is a bit more promising. If an ad is actually visually appealing, and it is delivering information about something that I’m interested in, then I would consider it to be part of the content of a page.  If it has page-turn capability, and can also display a short video clip, well, that might be amusing.

But the Pushdown – oh Christ. Where do I start.

This reminds me of the takeovers that most sane publishers did away with a couple of years ago. The one that sticks in my mind is the takeover on Yahoo for Batman Begins, where a crazy swarm of bats exploded out of the ad, covered the Yahoo page to turn it mostly black, and then the text advertising the movie then appeared. 

Hard to ignore, I’ll give you that.  But at the time, I was using Yahoo as my default email address.  The ad slowed things down so much that I switched over to Gmail.  This, despite the fact that I know that Google is scanning all my email messages and indexing everything I write, or that is written to me. 

aaa

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Jan 12

Great Design Equation

Posted: under Design, New Marketing, new media, Online Video.
Tags: , ,

Here’s another quick hit:

Al Gore divided by Bill Gates?

Al Gore divided by Bill Gates?Does that mean that the polar icecaps will now recede as slowly as a Vista boot-up? 'Cause that'd actually be pretty cool.

I really love the playful spirit behind this ad – the way that it takes great design, which by its nature cannot be reduced to a set of integers and mathematic functions, and reconstructs the evolution of great forces in advertising and marketing into an arresting image.  Great stuff.

Maybe I’m loving this just because it’s so “meta” – an ad image that seeks to comment on, and explain forcefully & originally, what is best & most innovative about advertising design.  The Big Scary Project I’m working on right now is kinda like this – it’s a journalistic project that seeks to impress other journalists with its depth & insight.  Which is a high-wire act that borders on the reckless.

Jay Rosen did a piece today that was so good & interesting that it pissed me off.  I’ll be blogging about it, in light of the stuff I wrote about last night from David Simon.

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Oct 06

Replacing Newspapers: A Cocktail Approach

Posted: under advertising, Blogs, Design, Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I hate like hell to keep doing quick, off-the-cuff bites at such big topics, but maybe I should just resign myself to accepting the web ethos of not trying to do all things at once.  Yeah, yeah, I know – “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”So here’s an interesting coinkydink: two items I bookmarked to read later – and actually got around to reading (pause here for an astonished gasp) – struck me as having a stronger relationship than was initially apparent.

First was this bit from the Economist, about how professionals are starting to really flock to online social networks:

On LinkedIn, the market leader, members have been updating their profiles in record numbers in recent weeks, apparently to position themselves in case they lose their jobs. The two most popular sites, LinkedIn and Xing, have been growing at breakneck speed and boast 29m and 6.5m members respectively. And, in contrast to mass-market social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, both firms have worked out how to make money.

The article goes on to raise two interesting points 1) if Facebook can start becoming friendlier to business users it might start actually making money, and 2) professionals are shit-scared about the economy and looking at social networks as great “Career Insurance” places to schmooze people you met once at a conference, snarfed their biz card and never had a use for.old friends.

Next to this was a piece from BusinessWeek, another in the seemingly endless series of kidney punches from the biz community about how newspapers are doomed, done for, goners, forks stuck into them and vultures already descending.

So who would profit from a disappearing newspaper? Local TV and cable, for starters. The city daily is still the biggest single media entity in virtually any market. Its main pitch to advertisers is brutally simple: We have more craniums to dent with your message than anyone else.

(snip)

Which brings me to a disquieting conclusion. The obvious venues for all this displaced journalistic energy are a gazillion new independent online endeavors, be they individual blogs or bigger efforts like MinnPost.com. They will make for fascinating media ecosystems within individual cities, and some will become hits. It is much less certain whether ad dollars will follow. Ultracheap classifieds site craigslist has simply “destroyed revenue,” [emph. mine – dlf] says Dave Morgan, a former newspaper executive who founded behavioral targeting firm Tacoda, and revenue that no longer exists won’t shift to new ventures. Others point out that key newspaper advertisers—local auto dealers and realtors, say—already have many outlets for ads online, not least of which are their own Web sites or national sites such as Cars.com that serve up targeted ads.

For those sensing untapped riches in ads from pizzerias and dry cleaners, well, good luck, says Borrell. “Local is a very unorganized and dirty business,” he says. “People look at local as this one-ton gorilla, but in fact it’s 2,000 one-pound monkeys.” And no publisher can afford to sit down with a city’s 2,000 small fry to sell each a $50 ad. The bitterest pill of all for newspaper denizens is that, while nature abhors a vacuum and all that, in this case there may not even be one left to fill.

Yowch. So newspapers will all just die, and by this point in time, they’ve become so irrelevant and useless that nobody will even really notice that they’re gone?  Sheesh.  Start passing out the pistols & hemlock in America’s newsrooms, eh?

El Tiempo's DIY interface. This is for their very profitable "Portafolio" spin-off site.

El Tiempo

I’m going to have to disagree with this nihilistic conclusion.  Yeah, I know the local online niche ad market is impossibly fragmented, and it would cost a publisher more to pay an ad sales rep than that person would produce in revenue.  Solution: don’t pay the ad rep.  Do what El Tiempo in Bogota calls “auto-pauta,” or DIY ads.  BTW, I really do recommend you click through on that link to El Tiempo.  They are one of the smartest operations out there, they are making piles of cash off internet ads, and they are constantly (ruthlessly, relentlessly) refining their approach.

Moreover. When you look at what the social networking sites are really selling their users, you start to come to the conclusion that what a local newspaper – correction: what the local newspaper of the future – offers can be a lot more compelling.

Think about what the users really want from these social net sites.  Chatting with friends, yeah sure. Blowing your own horn in a socially acceptable way, yessiree. Looking for the next step up on the ladder? Well, yeah … but the problem with a lot of the listings on the social net services is that they are from all over the place. Yeah, you can filter them. But we all know that most of the really good jobs are never spamadvertised like this.  We find them through referrals – which is where recruiters/headhunters come in. And local friends & business acquaintances.

One of the fastest-growing areas on LinkedIn is the “Question” section, where pros reach out to other pros in their groups, and ask something that’s on their mind.  They’re trying to have conversations.

That should be taking place at a newspaper site.  Sooner or later, it will.  Either the papers will replicate it and include it in their future selves, or they will do a Borg takeover.  The paper is a much more logical place for this kind of activity – it includes access to the reference materials from the past, a panel of trained experts to step in and help moderate the discussions, or kick new discussions off with provocative questions, and a huge archive of relevants facts and materials that can be used to make the conversations that much more valuable.

Example: One of the questions I’m participating in on LinkedIn is where to put your money now that the market is tanking so badly. There are some very smart market analysts chiming in here. But it would be nice to be able to have a window/panel open on the screen showing the various stock tables, and perhaps links to content locally that makes the point that some foreign markets are going to be able to ride out this storm, while others just get crushed.

The fact that biz users, those who have education & disposable income, have had to range far afield in search of information that they need to use in their careers, is an indictment of the lack of creative thinking at newspapers.   It will take time and effort to reverse the momentum … because the very users that papers covet most are abandoning papers.

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Sep 11

Yahoo’s Blueprint, PointRoll Dances on the iPhone, and Millennial Media Targets Everyone

Posted: under advertising, Design, Digital Migration, google, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Packing up for the trip back down to LA, but couldn’t let these little tidbits from the CTIA pass without at least acknowledging them.

1.  Yahoo is trying to drum up some support for its Blueprint mobile platform.  They claim that it’s going to allow users to achieve the Holy Grail of mobile/web content – tying together all our virtual identities with its oneConnect application. It’s been said, over and over (AND OVER) again that the first company to figure out how to provide the one-stop platform for social media interactivity over cellphones, is going to be the next Google (if Google itself doesn’t snarf up that space as well).  The dream is that oneConnect (or whatever) becomes the way to keep up with what your friends on Facebook, Flickr, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube, etc. etc. are doing, and a way to post constant updates on where/what/why/with whom/teh awesum!1!/go away now/overload to all the places where you share your life’s experiences with the world.

Leaving aside for the moment the sneaking suspicion that aggregating all our identities through one company’s pipe may not turn out to be such a bright idea, the software is apparently generating the skepticism already.

Yahoo has been trying to hype this app since, oh, Barcelone in February, and to my knowledge, they really haven’t gotten that much traction with it, despite the best efforts of their developers.

I’d like to see Yahoo manage to pull this off; like many others, I’m starting to get more & more uneasy about Google’s unchallenged dominance, and I’d just as soon they not have complete control over what I do, see, say & hear, as well as knowing who I’m doing said communicating with/near/for/against.

Moving on.

2. Pointroll is wowing the attendees at the CTIA, offering easy(ier?) ways of taking rich media ads and porting them over to the mobile platform.  Their demo of interactive ads on the iPhone, done through and with USA Today, has publishers and advertisers pondering if the time has actually come to start migrating the TV ad spending over to the phones that the 14-24s are actually using, paying attention to, and carrying with them everywhere.

The bad news for Yahoo is that PointRoll is hyping that using their platform will allow ads to run across the entire Google content network. Viz:

The Google content network encompasses hundreds of thousands of
websites, including premium publishers and long-tail niche sites.
Google and PointRoll worked together to ensure that the ads served to
the Google content network meet Google’s policies and specifications.
After completing Google’s certification process, PointRoll’s
sophisticated targeting technologies can now optimize the breadth of
Google’s sites and categories, matching advertisers’ messages to the
users who find them most relevant.

Again, nice hype.  But in light of the struggles that Google has had with Android, I remain skeptical that they have managed to so quickly solve all the problems with serving mobile ads in anything like a timely manner.  I just think that there’s still too much market fragmentation to be able to claim that this One Size Fits All app will reach a mass audience.

To backup my point, allow me to quote a piece in the paper today: one of the problems many sites are running into is that about 25% of web users are still limping along with Internet Explorer 6.0.

(Pause to allow veteran web developers to spit, vomit, scream, make the two-fingered “sign of the devil’s horns” to ward off evil.)

IE 6.0 is widely recognized as the shittiest web browser ever inflicted on the public. It was launched in 2001.  Since then, Microsoft has bugged users to upgrade, remove, kill, quash, forget, shred, this browser.  The fact that a quarter of users in the U.S. still view the web through its Funhouse Mirror interface shows that 1) A large proportion of the public continues to employ legacy technology no matter how Christawful it is, 2) these folks ignore new technology, no matter how much better it is, for fear that upgrading will somehow cause them a problem, and 3) any tech solution based on the assumption that people will be running the latest&greatest hardware and software is doomed to die like like a possum wandering onto the Indy 500 speedway.

3.  Millennial Media is competing with PointRoll to serve multimedia ads to the mobile market.  And we’re going to have to stop here, because it’s time to load up the Conestoga wagon and head back to LA.

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