Disruption and the Upcoming Chaos

Disruption and the Upcoming Chaos

Ben Sasse wrote a piece in the WSJ about how the political sphere is not dealing with economic changes head on. It’s written as if a government can do something about it.

When he talks about education and retraining, the problem is worse than he describes. Companies don’t train anymore. That’s because the fundamental purpose of business has changed. Ruthlessly (potentially) optimized to provide a product or service for maximum profit at all costs. People are a liability. Not only that, the skills most people can learn here, anyone anywhere in the world can learn and do it cheaper. If the radiologist can be sitting in Malaysia reading the chart of a patient in Midtown, an accountant in India is working on taxes for Deloitte, what job exactly does Sasse think will stay in the US? He says there are many potential policy responses available. Doubtful. None of them will be sustainable. Especially none that he can get through a Republican Congress. We won’t even get into automation.

Sasse alludes to it, most of the rules/religions we have and what we expect out of our lives were designed for living on farms when the family was the economic unit. It was for a time when having a bigger family meant more money. A boy knew as much as he was going to know about farming by the age of 15. He needed to start on the baby makin’. Concepts like waiting for marriage before being intimate meant something different 2000 years ago. Protestant work ethic was great when people were traveling on a wagon trying to stake out 100 acres in California in the 1850s. Will Durrant wrote about this. In an agricultural world, you could see religion in action, the cycle of birth, death, rebirth. It does not have the same impact when most of the population lives in dense areas, commuting, and pushing around pointless (digital) paper feverishly all day indoors or staring at tiny screens in our hands.

Whatever tribe (family, church, country, etc.) protected us and gave us comfort previously doesn’t know how to deal with the current avalanche of changes. We are in the ugly middle where the old ways don’t work anymore, but we haven’t found anything new to replace them with yet.

And anyone who says they have the answers is full of shit.

Alexa is Not about Voice Commerce

Alexa is Not about Voice Commerce

Many consumer brands are trying to incorporate voice interactions or voice commerce into their products. Apple has Siri locked in its ecosystem. So does Google for the most part. But Amazon is pushing Alexa to be the first mainstream voice touch point.

I wonder if that is the end goal. Sure Amazon would like a frictionless interface for consumers to buy more. My hypothesis is Alexa is meant to convince developers and startups that Amazon has all the products and tools that any “technology” company would ever need. The product line has everything from $5/month VPS instances that compete with Godaddy to running oil and energy market-related applications for GE. All infrastructure and data processing needs can be fulfilled within the Amazon ecosystem.

You would think that Google and Microsoft would leverage their expertise into selling more cloud infrastructure. Google’s revenue is overwhelming based on advertising. Microsoft’s comes from Office and licensing enterprise software. Both are in the process of shifting their mindset, but it is not a natural process. This direction might be in Amazon’s DNA or at least related to their previous experience with AWS. They built their website and realized they could leverage that knowledge and rent it out to others. They were the first big cloud provider that enabled developers and shadow IT groups to test, build, prototype and run their products in the cloud. Once hooked those customers were not going anywhere else as they developed more sophisticated products and moved on to other jobs. The use of AWS was organic. It had to be. They didn’t control any of the touch points like the operating system or devices (even though they tried).

How will we know if this hypothesis is correct? The easy answer is we see an uptick in new voice products developed on AWS. It will take time. Voice interactions or commerce have challenges. For example, the discovery of skills or apps. Can you search for Alexa skills without a phone or going through a website? We can’t turn the knob and find more content like on radio. Any form of monetization will be intrusive. How about interjecting ads? We all know how much consumers love pop-ups and interstitial ads. These points of friction require resolution. Otherwise, voice technology will have a short hype cycle.

Marketing Skills of the Future

Marketing Skills of the Future

Scott Brinker interviewing chief marketing technologist of Xerox:

8. Any advice you’d offer to someone starting out their career in marketing today?

Get very comfortable with fundamental martech tools, hone your creative and storytelling skills, and fearlessly dig into data exploration, analytics, insights, and visualization. I believe the future of marketing is in the hands of people who can compose a compelling blog post with personally-generated creative, while laying a few lines of Javascript and building a visualization of the results of the post with some code from D3.

Compare to the email sent out in preparation for the first course in Udacity’s Deep Learning Nanodegree Foundation:

Our team has compiled an excellent selection of resources for you, so please review these as you use this week of preparation to your full advantage:

Are you completely new to the world of Deep Learning? Read this fantastic introduction to Machine Learning.

Need a refresher on the basics of Linear Algebra? Have a look at this Udacity course.

Do you want to brush up Python skills? This Intro to Data Analysis Udacity course covers the Python libraries NumPy, Pandas, and Matplotlib.

Want to play around with a real neural network right in your browser? Check out this cool Neural Network Playground.

Never worked with TenserFlow before? Follow these instructions to download and install it.

We are severely underestimating the knowledge employees and agencies will need to have to optimize for the customer journey in the future.

If most brands can’t get digital right, or more thoroughly digital transformation (which includes big data), how will they take advantage of AI? Which to be successful, requires…big data.

State of…WordPress 2016

State of…WordPress 2016

You would think WordPress would be an easy sell nowadays. WordPress is not the right tool for every website, but the size of that pool is shrinking. It powers a significant chunk of the web.

Automattic has already leveraged WordPress into business with their VIP WordPress service, meant for high traffic sites. Facebook runs their company blogs on it. Practically every large news publisher has something running on VIP WordPress, like NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, and many others. Using that platform, now it is actively (aka spending ad dollars) going after the SMB market with a hosted solution against the lower priced services like Bluehost or Host Gator.


WordPress has a yearly “State of the Word” thingie. The most recent one:

The significant bit during the speech was the creation of the WordPress Growth Council. Why? Proprietary CMS competitors will spend $320 million on advertising, some of it directly against WordPress. In Matt’s words (around 27:30 in the video):

“Advertising does work…even though I think we have a better product and infinitely better community, we are starting to see in certain markets these tools which are typical proprietary, start to pick up shares.”

The Growth Council as a concept is not flushed out, but Matt / Automattic wants to start working on it, and he wants a small number of companies that work with WordPress to help figure it out. It will be interesting to see what direction they take.

Shared Cultural Stories

Shared Cultural Stories

100 Photographs | The Most Influential Images of All Time

Time picked these photos. They are memorable. They are influential in part because everyone knows them. Is it possible for any image/video/story to be that prominent nowadays? There are too many channels vying for our attention. 75 million watched the Seinfeld series finale. The Walking Dead had ratings of 9.6 in 2016. Sure, comparing a series finale against a regular episode may not be fair, but how does any group of people have a set of common cultural stories if there are no standard channels for consumption? The assumption is that it is much easier and faster to share, so theoretically it is possible. If all the social platforms are algorithmically personalizing content for clicks/engagement/whatever, essentially customizing for the individual instead of the common, how do you build the common?

Why did the Roman Empire Fall?

Why did the Roman Empire Fall?

Podcast: The Art of Manliness – The Fall of Rome

Fascinating topic. We think of societal and cultural breakdowns led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. That might not be true. Rome had a thin layer of bureaucracy. Local officials ran the different regions and cities. They invested in their communities, and they connected the locals to Rome. Over time and changes in leadership, the governing model became more centralized. Rome co-opted the local officials, and those officials were more interested in making Rome happy and less invested in their local communities. Collapse coming in 10…9…8…