Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Annual Canadian Crass PR Stunt

I've mentioned in the past that I don't agree with the Bell Let's Talk program.  That post was more on the grounds of I my disagreeing with Bell detracting from a concerted effort by everyone else for their own crass publicity stunt.  What they do with their campaign is, to me, the same as if I created a second Christmas in March and then made the population do all the hard work of populating bins with toys for the less fortunate, and then make a big whooping noise about how much I've accomplished.

Today, though, I want to concentrate not on the ethics of advertising disguised as philanthropy, but on just the numbers.

Bell has a bucket of about $3.5m that it contributes to the campaign.  Right off the bat, you can calculate a 29% reduction in taxable income, so really that's $2.85m in donations that it's really costing them.  What happens to that other $1.015m then?  Well, that's money that could have gone to the tax man and then be distributed to social welfare programs including things like, say, mental health.

You might think that I'm being a little harsh on Bell here, so here's a reminder on something from the not so distant past where they wanted to avoid paying all tax by converting themselves into an Income Trust.  Yes, that would have put about a $1bn hole in the same tax coffers that fund mental health and other social programs.

The other problem is (and I mentioned this in the first link above) even if you don't tweet a single thing, that $3.5m was on the books as part of the CRTC Tangible Benefits clause - so any and all tweets don't actually "raise money" - it just goes against the same money that is already pledged - so you're now effectively acting as an unpaid advertiser for Bell Canada.

The final thing I want to add is that whilst tweeting doesn't exactly raise money, the call to action of making long distance calls and sending SMS's allows Bell to raise money on dying revenue channels.  If you spend $4 on a long distance call to the UK, 5 cents of that Bell will give to mental health (actually costs Bell 3.55 cents due to the taxable income reduction)... That's not a bad sales margin on something that garners this much PR.

Just imagine that same number being applied to a PR stunt by a different company like, say, Ford or GM.  If you scale those numbers up, buying a $4,000 upgrade package for your car would cost them $35.50 in donations. Woo!

This is why I can't help shaking my head at why people join in, instead of being angry about this.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The deterioration of the Huffington Post

I keep my eye on many news sources, and sometimes this includes the gutter press tabloids and other less credible organizations (Fox, RT, etc).  I've noticed in recent years many organizations that previously appeared somewhat professional, and now they don't.  

Today I spotted this little chestnut from Huffington Post UK...  

This is not the first time either, that I've seen the HuffPo get really unprofessional...  I normally see something questionable at least every other day, and sometimes more frequently than that.   

HuffPo already has public image issues due to the nature of the publication and how it gets it's news (there's no reporters in war zones, on the ground where news happens, etc), and they continue to aggregate (in other words leach off the work of the real journalists) news and feed it back to you like they investigated and wrote a legitimate story - which they didn't.

At least in those days they were trying to appear like a legitimate news source...  Now, however, this has changed and not for the better.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On re-discovering old music

When I was a young kid in the late 1970s, the UK was not exactly the most inspiring place to be for a kid, but we had good music.  There was Glam Rock, Ska, New Wave was kicking off, and there was still rock n roll.  The problem is that I was too young to understand a lot of what the music was about.

I've spent a number of years now going back through this music and trying to put context around it - so it's more than just a collection of good songs.  The result is I've a bit better understanding of the strife that the older generations were going through.

Whilst a lot of the music is thoroughly depressing (unemployment, financial issues, strikes, yobs and youth disillusionment), 
some of the themes have since disappeared (all those nuclear related songs for example), but the bulk of the same issues still exist today, though caused by new forces that didn't exist then.

It's been a very rewarding experience, and I thoroughly recommend people go back through old music and give it another listen.  

You might learn something.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Adsense anomaly - it pays more for less visits?

As you can see, I run Adsense on my blog.  It doesn’t earn me tonnes of cash, but I do monitor it on a daily basis to work out my own personal revenue scores (CPM and the like).  Through this process, I’ve noticed an anomaly:  

If I post new content and get more visitors, I make less money per day than if I have less visitors who only come from organic searches in Google…

Put another way (the numbers are made up to illustrate the point):
Imagine I post new content on one day.  Imagine I get 100 visitors from twitter, Facebook, etc, and I get 20 visitors from Google searches.  On that day, imagine Adsense pays me 2 cents.  Next, I don’t post anything for three days - on these days, I only get the 20 visitors from Google searches, and yet Adsense pays me 40 cents per day.

The number of visitors from Google is the same, the only fluctuation is a result of whether I promote on social media or not - yet the revenue is consistently more if I don’t promote?


Monday, January 13, 2014

Real Feedback on Streaming Media

Feedback is something we all need. Without it we've no idea if people like something or dislike it.  Currently our social media systems only allow positive feedback with one click - you can “Like" something on Facebook, or "Favourite" something on Twitter.  This means there's no empathy, sympathy, or disliking of content.

The big streaming media systems have the same issue - you can favourite songs that you hear but most platforms don’t allow you to give negative feedback, or bookmark things you want to come back to later, but it looks like this is about to change. 

Being able to like a song on the radio is great, but you need to be able to say you dislike certain songs for it to be of use - especially when corporations claim that they’re “tailoring” stuff to the individual.  Right now, that means that you factor in enough content to cover the lowest common denominator, and you allow people to skip bits of it…  Think Burger King or Harvey’s where they claim you can have it your way, but you just get to remove from the items you’re given…. It’s not like you can have a burger with a fried egg on top, is it?

We’re about to see this in cars, where the ability to feedback dislikes on streamed content, and the ability to bookmark something for following up on when you’re not on the road.  

It seems that streaming is about to grow up.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Bell is using Sysomos' Heartbeat

Just learned Bell Canada is using Sysomos' Heartbeat tool.


It looks like they're trying to up their game on the web...

EDIT:  Further to applying some automated metrics gathering, it looks like Bell Canada has started addressing some of their security holes...  I can see they've actually fixed one server that was previously wide-open and gave everyone directory access...  

Digital Exhaust

This morning I saw a tweet from @ValaAfshar that said traditional resumes are dead and that the web is your resume... It also had a simple formula as follows:

Personal Brand = Digital Footprint + Digital Exhaust

I largely agree with this:  faced with reading a resume or googling someone, many people these days choose the latter.  This largely ties back to a previous post I made on Klout scores in that something becomes important if people are judging you by it.  So, if your resume is now a fallback and the web is your primary face, you need to make sure you look good.

The biggest drawback to this is context and accuracy: if you've a common name people may research the wrong person, and out of context, information can look harmful - especially images.

Some people might call Digital Exhaust "the litter you leave on the internet", but what looks like litter to one person may be something valuable to someone else.  Just looking at my own, it's a mixture of my passions; ships/boats, space, astronomy, music, bad puns and technology.  All of which can look like detritus to people not interested in that stuff.

Your brand is really more important than many think, but also, it's very complicated and prone to misinterpretation.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Enbridge, Direct Energy And Customer Service

We have a gas system in Toronto that comprises of Enbridge (aka Centrica, so it's basically British Gas again) piping the gas to your house, then you have Direct Energy who then provide equipment rental inside your home, such as hot water tanks and such.  Like cable TV, this is a baby boomer model of "convenience at a cost premium"... after all, why pay $1500 to purchase and install a hot water tank when you can spend ($16.50 per month x 12 months for 15 years) $2970 for the same service?

Anyway, the point is you got two gas players that should talk to benefit their customers, but don't because it's just easier to repeat the mantra that they're "different companies" which absolves themselves of all responsibility when the inevitable goes wrong...

And, of course, something did go wrong.

Yesterday Enbridge turned up to upgrade something outside the house.  They turned off everything inside the house, including the Direct Energy water tank before starting work.  When they'd finished, the Enbridge fitter claimed the Direct Energy tank could not be turned on.

Enbridge claimed it was a gas valve issue and it needed to be replaced.  Direct Energy got involved, and despite being told we have 16 month old twins and it's the middle of winter the best Direct Energy could do was create a 30hr+ wait for a valve replacement.

When I heard about this, I fired up the complaints machine because in my book, that's just not right... Everything was working till they tinkered with stuff.

The social media account for Direct Energy seems to be a broadcast media mechanism, rather than a social media mechanism as they've still not responded to a question about complaints over 18 hours later.  But I did reach them by phone and had a person at our house just 90 minutes later.  

This engineer spent 10 minutes checking everything and there was nothing wrong - the Enbridge guy had just not lit the burner properly.

So, to recap:  Because Enbridge didn't do their job properly, and Direct Energy think it's perfectly OK to not prioritize young kids until you phone them up and complain about it, we almost went 30+ hours without service, yet the whole thing could easily have been resolved much quicker and in this case was fixed in 90 minutes because in fact, there was nothing wrong in the first place, unless you listen to Enbridge.

And people wonder why I get so annoyed at large companies and how they treat customers!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Microsoft - a response.

Today, I got asked this by Microsoft:

Never being one to pass up giving my opinion when asked, here's my response:

I have a 100% rate of failure with Microsoft in the past year where I've tried to give my money and have been told that this is not possible.  The excuses have included the following:

  • You can't order a Microsoft Windows Kinect sensor for delivery to your home without a Live account.
  • If a bricks-and-mortar Microsoft Store does not have the Microsoft hardware you wish to purchase, you can't ask the store to order it so you can come in later and pay for it.  (This was documented in some length here)
  • A Microsoft help chat representative told me in November I can't order a copy of Windows 8 to run under Parallels on a Mac (this was reported immediately to Microsoft as that's just really bad advice).

It doesn't take a genius to realize that this isn't me being awkward...  This is the proverbial "Order Prevention Desk" at work.

Here's a test that demonstrates the problem:  I'm going to give you a link to a page that says it's for purchasing Windows.  See if you can find the "Buy" button in 20 seconds or less.

Not easy, right?  OK, how about taking 5 minutes on that page, and see if you can find it!

You have to question at this point what the reason is for trying to aggravate a customer...  However, I was determined to hand over my money and I eventually found a way to do so...

That was in November.

On New Years eve, I got this email.  

Just look at it!  Was this tested?  (I checked on three email clients [Apple Mail, Outlook on Windows and Thunderbird on Windows], and Gmail in three browsers [Safari, IE and Chrome] and it's consistently broken).

It also implies that they're only now charging your credit card, but I know that was charged in November.

Clicking the last line of that link to the tracking number gives you this:

Again, it's not in the least helpful because the tracking number is full of messed up html.

Now, what ended up happening is the UPS truck arrived last night (2nd of January), and the day after that, Microsoft asks if they can help.  So, the answer is yes, you can help even though this particular horse has bolted, and here's how... 

Can you please take a look at how obstructive the purchasing process is? If someone is trying to give you their money in exchange for your goods, this shouldn't be an endurance exercise.

Canada, Cancer and Air Quality

This morning I heard that there is a potential ban coming on people smoking in their own homes.

I'm a past smoker, and I smoked from about 15 till 37 years old.  I understand what it does to you, but I also understand a bit about the figures...  

In Canada especially, cancer is a skewed topic where numbers and causes are concerned.   For instance, BPA is recognized in Canada as a Cancer causing substance where it's concerned with  food storage and packaging, but you're encouraged to by Progresso products that come in BPA lined cans in order to support Breast Cancer (Campbells has removed it from their cans, but the Pink Ribbon campaign cans by Progresso are still BPA lined). It appears that the Canadian Cancer Association doesn't have the cahoneys to point out how wrong this is to put the majority at the risk of supporting a minority for fear of losing funding (and I'm not going to rant on that subject today).

If you take a step back and look at the situation logically, it's the same thing with smoking in houses.  You have those in close quarters to smokers or the smokers themselves at risk.  This is now the minority of the population, but the powers that be are concentrating on this, instead of questioning the air quality that affects the majority.

I don't condone smoking, but this is now a witch hunt on smokers, instead of letting smokers attrition take care of them whilst people turn their attention to bigger matters like air quality.

Now, some people might say "Ah, but think of the children!".  Yes, let's turn to children for a second.  

Here's a Ford F-150.  Just take a look at it.

In the summer, I happened to notice one of our twins being pushed in a stroller was suddenly coughing as we waited to cross the road at a red light.  Look at the above picture, and take a wild stab-in-the-dark guess at what was occurring...

That is how low down in everyone's thoughts air quality really is.  Ford designed their trucks to point the worst air at the sidewalk, at the height of kids faces in strollers.  Now, either they didn't think about the design of their trucks and how they' re used in the community, or if they did and realized this mistake, they made a conscious decision that this is actually OK.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Big Data

I can't help feeling like the current trend for "Big Data" is awash with flawed thinking.

Big Data seems to imply that you take a bunch of disparate data, cobble it together with some expensive, fancy, hardware, run it through some magical data washing machine and out comes a pearl of wisdom that is "completely news" to you.

The expensive hardware, the costs of meetings to determine what data to cobble together plus the cost of the data processing software that spins this all together has an ROI cost that's stratospheric to most companies.

What I think they really want is "big answers", not "big data" and definitely not the "big costs" associated with it.