Category Archives: cell phones

If group intelligence works, why do we get Rick Astley?

Spend any time on the internet and you may get Rickrolled, a little trick where you click on a link that you think will take you to something meaningful and instead get a cloying 1987 pop music video. This silliness is a form of internet meme, or an idea that spreads rapidly from person to person with no clear motive or source.

We began wondering how such group consciousness takes off after being Rickrolled on the consulting blog of Mark Pesce, a genius who has forecasted changes in human intelligence resulting from our internetworked behavior. (In a clever twist, above, Mark fakes with Rick Astley, then shows photos of ALL the people he is connected to online, including us!) Mark notes that 11 million years of evolution have given humans big brains, but the “software” that allows us to use our tools typically lags generations behind the “hardware.” For instance, we had the intellect to develop civilizations for thousands of generations … so why are roads and public water and printing presses such recent inventions?

Mark makes this point because today we are witnessing a new form of tools, a hyperconnectivity that puts cell phone networks in the hands of more than 3 billion people. Each day the business and tech press writes about “breakthroughs” in technology, marginal increases in tool use such as Facebook or the iPhone or Twitter, but the real innovation of our new networks is yet to be discovered — and may take generations.

The trippiest idea may be that vast groups of people merge into a higher form of collective intelligence, a hive mind that can predict future outcomes. We riffed on this a bit today in BusinessWeek, and think it has applications for both human governance and — at a tactical level — predicting marketing outcomes. Companies such as Google and Yahoo have run prediction markets to ask employees to place bets on which new products will succeed. Microsoft has asked its employees to bet when software will be ready for testing, or even when bugs will be found and fixed.

Prediction markets work because groups of people, when they bet for personal gain, make tiny judgments that average out to clear foresight about the future. Ask 100 people how many marbles are in a jar, and the average of all guesses will be close to reality. Collective bets could predict future scenarios. Will the bailout bill fix the economy? Will your next marketing initiative succeed or fail? Rather than using focus groups or executive judgment, the best source may be to ask an entire marketplace. You’ll either get a new form of brilliant intelligence, or a link to a silly Rick Astley video.

Prediction markets do have a major logic flaw, as noted by our Twitter colleague Bud Gibson. If such markets really can predict the future, observers will note this … and then try to change the future itself. If McCain’s camp sees Obama’s odds of success are pulling ahead, does this mean McCain is more likely to make aggressive moves to try to regain his momentum? The most interesting thing about future predictions is that if we can really do it, we might not like the future we see.

If you are interested in prediction markets, here are a few worth exploring:

Hollywood Stock Exchange — which movies will succeed at the box office?
Iowa Electronic Markets — real-money futures on who will win the U.S. presidency. Don’t miss the latest McCain vs. Obama “winner take all” prediction graph or detailed price chart.
Intrade — predictions on elections, current events, science and technology.
The Popular Science Predictions Exchange — bets on when technology gadgets will do this or that.
The now-defunct Policy Analysis Market, an attempt by the U.S. government to use group market intelligence to predict when bad things might happen around the world. The concept was quashed following controversy over allowing people to bet on when terrorism might strike or world leaders would be assassinated.

Your cell phone, the seed of revolution

Sydney-based futurist Mark Pesce offers a mind-spinning take on mobile networks in this presentation at the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC. The upshot: social media is not tech toys and texting phones, but instead a revolution in human consciousness.

1. There is always a lag between the emergence of technology and humans discovering how to use it. The printing press was invented in the 1400s, centuries before it led to liberty. The internet emerged in the mid-1990s and we are just now leveraging its network and platform. Our human bodies themselves have had the technology — muscles, big brains and opposable thumbs — to build cities for 3,000 generations, but it took a while for our mental software to know what to do. When technology arrives, the outcome is always delayed and usually unexpected.

2. The next big wave is the mobile phone, and this new tool will once again shift human culture.
Half the world’s population now has cell phones, and by 2011, 5 billion people will be able to communicate anywhere by voice, video or text. This doesn’t mean people will play with iPhones. It means human minds will finally have a group connectivity to act as giant, viral pieces of software.

3. The new hyper-connected human software leads to a world where groups, not individuals, are empowered.
And this is where the futurism gets trippy. Most Westerners view democracy, or at least liberty, as the highest plane of social existence, where capital, labor and people can move at will. But Mark suggests the new networked world of humanity will make groups rise up with their own collective incentives and consciousness, even if those are at odds with individuals or the governments individuals have voted for.

Mobile communications will become the ultimate lever for small groups to move the world. The question is whether that will be for good or evil, and how in the world anyone can stop this genie now that it is out of the bottle.

Why mobile advertising may not work

A new cell phone with a mirror: it’s a perfect analogy for why mobile advertising is being ignored.

You’ve probably heard that mobile ads will be the next big thing, with some analysts predicting the market will grow from $900 million in 2006 to $19 billion by 2011. Yet observers like Thomas Curwen, director of planning at Publicis, note that marketers are still just testing with small budgets despite the fact that 58% of Americans have used cell phones for non-voice activities such as texting or watching videos.

What gives? Why has half the United States already used cell phones for internet-type services, yet internet-type advertising remains stagnant on cell phones?

Curwen suggests it’s because brands have not yet created good content for mobile, but we think it’s the mirror. People using mobile have different modality — they are creating and receiving content that reflects themselves, not hunting for the world’s information on computer screens. Just as social media sites such as Facebook have some of the worst performance in internet advertising, social tools that fit in your pocket underperform because you use them differently. When you make or receive a Tweet or text message or phone call, you do it entirely for you.

With mobile, we’re not looking at content and ads. We’re looking in the mirror.

Tiny devices are by nature selfish instruments, and that is a wall for advertisers who exist solely to take your mindset offtrack to their own message. Sure, some GPS-served ads that point to coffee shops may work. The fluid iPhone, emerging video transmission and flexible interfaces may unlock ad doors. But the combination of small screen sizes (which hold less ad inventory) and a different mindset among mobile users (who are moving fast and creating snippets of content) mean mobile advertising has a stiff uphill battle ahead.

We’re not saying mobile ads won’t grow. We’re just saying, if half a nation’s population has used a communications medium and advertisers haven’t yet made it work, something is amiss.

T-Mobile tempts to lock you in


T-Mobile makes a customer entanglement play with a new campaign to provide unlimited home phone service for only $10 a month — far below the $65 average cost for the typical U.S. consumer. Catch is, this deal is only for T-Mobile cell phone customers.

Nice maneuver. With AT&T courting new wireless subscribers as the only provider of the iPhone, and with mobile handsets getting sexier every year, sometimes the best offense is a good defense.

Samsung Instinct takes on iPhone. Video at 11.


Samsung began selling an iPhone competitor today in the U.S. complete with touchscreen, searchable voicemail, music, GPS … and with better-than-Apple features in maps, video capture, and the ability to watch live TV.

The real story here isn’t that Samsung’s Instinct is $70 cheaper for a few more functions. It’s video — the ability to capture moving images that is beginning to creep into every portable handset. As the world of web and telephony converge into small glass screens, video capture is the revolution, because it is an entirely new way for people to create and share content.

What happens when everyone can broadcast images from everywhere? And what happens to advertisers who count on intercepting and interrupting current video content, when they can no longer get in the way?

Pushing demand to push up your price (or why iPods are getting cheap)


Remember that classic old supply-and-demand curve in Econ 101?

We’ve been thinking recently that marketers are in a constant battle with consumers over where the demand curve falls. At any given supply (shown above by the vertical line), marketers want demand to be higher (and thus be able to sell products at higher prices). At the same given supply, consumers are constantly evaluating other choices, which could shift demand (and thus prices) lower.

A classic example is land; they aren’t making any more of it. So marketers could push property in Florida to raise demand and prices, or consumers could realize the real estate bubble has burst and avoid land in Florida, pushing down demand and prices. Supply is what it is; the demand curve shifts, and prices must follow.

The role of marketers is to attempt to shift the demand curve at any given supply quantity.

This dynamic is especially at play in the release of new technology gadgets such as the Apple iPhone, or the GPS devices now being affixed to car windshields, or flat-panel TVs. These new products emerge with no real competitors; producers plan to ship a set amount; marketers therefore send out messages to try to manipulate where the demand curve falls.

What’s interesting about this push-and-pull is that eventually consumers wake up, realize the new product isn’t that special, and the entire demand curve shifts downward at any given quantity. The Motorola Razr phone launched in 2004 and people were willing to pay $800 (the initial price without a service agreement). Now, the Razr is fading out. Same phone. Same features. Same quantity on the shelves. But marketing could only keep the shift of the demand curve at bay for a little while.

Why does the demand curve shift down for technology? We think it is perceived scarcity. When a new gadget appears, the marketing message is this is special, rare, and thus scarce. Perceived scarcity drives up the demand curve. Eventually, consumers begin to view the “new thing” as a commodity, say, just another cell phone, and the perceived rarity/scarcity goes away. Demand then falls down at any given supply.

Really, the current consumer mania over technology is just bubbles of perceived scarcity floating over our innate demand. What today looks hyper-cool, special and scarce tomorrow looks like just another computer or cell phone. The scarcity bubble always bursts, and the marketers of technology then blow more.

Interesting lesson for your own business. What will you do to make your product appear more rare? And how will your marketing keep the demand curve up, to support prices and margins, while consumers gathering intelligence constantly begin to push it back down?

X-raying the behavior of people, not data


It’s both groovy and scary that MIT researcher Sandy Pentland has figured out how to track your chance of success in life with a cell phone. Think of behavioral targeting on steroids, and you get the idea.

Just as internet advertisers now use “data mining” and “click streams” to follow your online web visits to serve you targeted ads, the MIT idea is to use a cell phone to track your movements, social connections, and even the tone of your voice for “reality mining.” New cells phones can monitor GPS location, movement (with accelerometers), thus motion and body language, and tone of voice — things Forbes notes can determine the outcome of negotiations and purchase behavior. For example, MIT studies have found that evaluating the tone of a salesperson’s voice can predict outcome of a buyer saying yes with about 89% accuracy. Sandy notes, “Humans have a kind of second language that we’re not conscious of, a signaling language.”

In essence, this type of tracking will create a real org chart of humanity — who travels where, connects with whom, and communicates in a way most likely to make transactions or productivity or flu outbreaks happen. On the positive side, ad personalization and economic studies will be empowered. On the negative side, privacy will be a thing of the past.

(Photo: Meredith Farmer.)

Cell phone asks, will you marry me?

Darryl points to a wicked new promo for the Motorola Z10 cell phone, shot and edited entirely on the gadget and featuring, yes, this real home-made marriage proposal. Not only does it show what the current iPhone can’t do, it also highlights the power of real people and real stories in advertising.

Unlike those oh-so-apparently fake Citi ads.

Campaign by CakeGroup. (Video link updated.)

Will the web in your pocket replace your PC?


Our column for BusinessWeek on how advertisers may be squeezed by new mobile devices stumped some readers. Many commented that people just won’t put up with ads on cell phones; others said mobile ads will have higher response rates; still others suggested that cell phone use will be additive to web use, so really there will be no reduction in overall ad inventory.

Shelly T said the entire column was surprisingly thin, uninteresting, and poorly thought out. Yikes!

But when we see new mobile concepts like this BenQ Siemens Black Box, where the very interface layout changes depending on the function you are using, we can’t help but believe mobile devices will replace some old-school PCs.

One way to think of mobile replacing PCs is it is not an either-or proposition. Even if time spent on Google and content web sites diminishes 10% or 20% due to people spending hours on iPhones, that will create huge cascades across web business models.

All content media is supported by advertising; and advertisers invest their dollars like you invest in a portfolio of stock funds. For example, look at the current death spiral in newsprint. As readers abort print for online news, response rates from newsprint ads decline. A marketer with $1 million to spend looks at the $350,000 allocated to newsprint and thinks: Hmm. I better trim that to $250,000 next year, and invest the $100,000 remaining in my internet ads, which are pulling better responses.

Slight shifts in media performance create a migration pattern among marketers, and suddenly the cash flow of one medium is threatened. Have you ever wondered why it takes three page views to navigate on a weather site to find a five-day forecast? Because each page has 15 slots for ads, so three views equals 45 ad placements. When people use iPhones to get weather in one click, all that ad inventory — and cash for the web site, and results for marketers — will go away.

Mobile is coming. Get ready. That BenQ phone is looking mighty fine.

Teen intimacy across space


Maybe love leads technology.

As we watch mobile internet devices sweep into the United States, their adoption is led by teens, young adults, Hispanics and blacks. 60% of young adults age 18-29 use text messaging vs. only 14% of their parents. We’ve pondered why some groups adopt handset devices so quickly. Is it simply default, that teens and some minorities may not have access to PCs in offices so use cell phones instead? Or is there something deeper for demos outside the mainstream that makes mobile devices attractive?

Danah Boyd writes that young Palestinian women often receive cell phones from boyfriends so they can have private communications, in a society where such talk may be taboo. The girls hide the phones under clothing and charge them late at night, when parents can’t see the power cords. For teens, the mobile phone is a key device for negotiating intimate relations throughout the world, she writes.

So maybe it isn’t bandwidth, the gadget, or the interface. Maybe humans, especially those forming or protecting their identities, hunger to connect privately in a very public world.

Photo/self-portrait by imanifest. Pew studies on mobile technology trends here.