Conversational Web, AI & a Trillion Dollar Bubble

The conversational Web, AI and a trillion-dollar bubble.

At MoNage, we explored the future of the conversational web and the convergence of computing, cryptocurrency, AI, Communications, messaging and their underlying ecosystems.  I spoke about trillion dollar opportunities and my concerns that tomorrow’s conversational web may well be compromised by today’s failure to fully encompass diverse tech teams.

#MoNage Keith Spiro Barbara Clarke photo

Joining me on stage was Barbara Clarke, an economist and co-founder of The Impact Seat. Together we read Letters to MoNage – a real time compilation of comments coming out of the multi day presentations and together we represented a clear visual cue of diversity in front of a mostly male audience.

I challenged developers, corporate leaders and brand advisors to deeply consider the work of Eli Pariser who grew up in Maine and delivered an impressive TED talk called The Filter Bubble.

In a book of the same name, he outlined a growing concern for the web isolating us rather than bringing us together. He spoke of the filter bubble as intellectual isolation. That the personalization of Google search and personalized Facebook, Twitter and other “community” feeds, end up “showing us what they think we want to see and not what we need to see.”

He spoke about algorithmic editors needing to have human ethics embedded and not just using a relevance index to feed us what we like but also to include exposure to what challenges us or what will even make us uncomfortable. There is a need to seek differences and not just settle for reinforcement of your favorite point of view.  Most importantly he stressed a need to see future online interactions built transparent enough so we can see the rules of what gets through and what does not get through to our personalized feed. If not, then we risk making these bubbles of isolation even more pronounced than they are today.

So that is why I challenge the developer community to test for what I call trillion-dollar missing links. Because, in every process they create, they need to examine, more closely, potential points of failure in:

  • Efficiencies –which might really stand for creating exclusions
  • Personalization – which David Meerman Scott calls the “Enemy of Serendipity”
  • Experiential – if a wide human range of expectations and cultural nuances are ignored
  • Hidden Bias – goes well beyond the word – diversity – (a word which causes some eyes to glaze over) Hidden Bias is easily found in areas of age, ethnic and gender exclusion or absence (from the building process).

actually that 1 T monage twitter captureHere are just two simple and visible examples of concern:

  1. Latinx. Nielsen- a company that prides itself on reaching inside consumers and homes -points to the projected Latinx buying power of nearly $1.5 Trillion. Annually. With 86% of that community saying the woman is the primary shopper, here are clear gender and ethnic differences to consider.  Do you understand their cultural norms?  They are not on Linked In. They have begun to create their own social media/social business platforms. Do you understand why? I hope teams look into it. This disconnected bubble is worth $1.5 Trillion a year.
  2. Baby Boomers. Let me speak as a member of a different Trillion Dollar bubble. Baby Boomers.  Each year, for the next thirty years, we are looking at the potential transfer of wealth of nearly $1 Trillion dollars. One Trillion Dollars a year.  Look closely at our experiential web & AI interactions.  There’s a backlash happening. Note the mentions of Facebook Timeouts and a more shrill shouting rather than dialog taking place nearly everywhere.  We are all quite capable of breaking relationships with our banks and the airlines we use. The old fashioned hooks that held us to a business relationship are gone. I want to have an enjoyable user experience. I will find it – if not with your business – than somewhere else.

How many of us have had enough of struggling to insure accuracy of what we write in text messages on our smaller handheld devices? There’s something about autocomplete that leaves me wanting. Predictive completion is not my friend. Chatbots that don’t understand my nuances annoy me enough to find another vendor.  I find this transactional drag on communications totally unacceptable. And so, the word trust begins to grow as a decision point for my spend. If I don’t trust you or your system, I will not be your customer. Ever. My future personal chatbot will duly note that and may block you no differently than today’s email spam. Advertisers take note.

So, here’s a very simplified approach to fixing problems that exist and to pre-emptively prevent future gaffs. Just look around you. Look at your project team, look at the consultants that you hired and the people running surveys for you. If you look around and everyone looks like you and the individuals delivering the message and answers you’ve asked for looks just like you, You. Have. A. Problem.  You don’t need any more bubble based positive reinforcement, you need to be concerned about the people who are not in the room with you.

Don’t let an unpleasant user experience result in the customer or human intermediary shutting down on one another.

Diverse teams deliver better results.

Diverse leadership insures more points of view are heard and acted upon.

Diversity should be obvious.

Your project/business/appeal either is or is not.

There is no maybe.

Keith Spiro Boston & Maine Connection news column photo

This post is an expansion on the article originally appearing in The Cryer.

 

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Urgent v. Important; A Facebook Time-out

Urgent vs. Important – or equally well known in parenting and business circles as the Facebook timeout. I’ve been hearing from many folks lately with complaints about valuable time wasted or lost but only realized once they’ve emerged from one of the many daily trips down the rabbit hole of social media. Much of the criticism is pointed at Facebook where daily usage by over 1 billion people does appear to make it the watering hole everybody must stop at to take a daily drink. Some call it Facebook Fatigue. You emerge dissatisfied and find yourself diverted from your daily goals.

Now is the right time to revisit the growing dilemma of dealing with Urgent vs. Important tasks in your day. Let’s start with an internet search (of course) of the phase “urgent vs. important.” I was surprised to see “Eisenhower Box” among the top offerings along with a ten year old Harvard Business Review article. But look up “Facebook sabbatical” or “Facebook timeout” and a massive variety of choices are offered up.

Eisenhower Box.uploadjpgThe Eisenhower Box was a wonderful representation of how to process “inbound” demands on our time and it represented the “how” of time management skills and techniques in a world long vanished. Today, few people ever lift their faces up from the device that has become as addictive as opioids. This device (I hesitate to call it a phone) is where selfies become the default camera mode and human beings can become human doings if they’re not careful.

The addictive nature of these devices plays to the very human need to be acknowledged by others. This is the principle that most social media platforms exploit and therefore it is important to explore the “why” of today’s dilemma of Urgent vs. Important

Seth Godin rightly points out that responding to Urgent makes us feel competent – we must reply to an email – we want to acknowledge another immediately upon seeing their post. And it is so easy to act. A single touch of “like” or “swipe” triumphantly meets the urgency head on.

But is it important, this inbound missive?  Does it help create something of value?  Doing important work takes time and continuous focus.  Developing a drug to combat deadly disease takes years if not decades. Building an inclusive society that doesn’t leave behind the poor, the elderly and the differently-abled means taking risks and standing out from everyone else.

If Urgent makes us feel competent then important is likely to be a time elongated task shadowed by fear and uncertainty of outcome. Will the project succeed? Will the time invested prove valuable? Will real jobs be created? We may not know for years if the path taken is the right one to a measurable success. Would Thomas Edison be encouraged in his work today?

He was famously known for saying “I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work” on his lifelong way to creating 1,093 patented inventions. But equally important was his belief that “The most necessary task of civilization is to teach people how to think.”

Are we thinking about why disruption in the marketplace is so rewarded? One should question today’s reliance on MVP (minimum viable product) that is often an excuse to build a concept company to be acquired or flipped. Is the focus really a scalable startup that will deliver the creation of important jobs for the future? We are just a few years away from self-driving vehicles and chatbots taking over many tasks while providing predictably “correct” answers to our questions. But as business and society moves forward, the most important questions will not be answerable by search.

Consider then, the heretics who want more than just a world dummied down into the simplicity of swipe right, swipe left.  A former manager of mine talked about chipping away each day at the big tasks – of building trust, of being present and listening more than speaking.

When it comes to “Important” will you take the time to build the future – or will you swipe away the hours with all the idle time soon to be presented to you?

I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Video is Now

Amanda Palmer sings with Keith Spiro

Why video? Why now? Because studies by Animoto, Google and Hubspot support the proposition that marketing is moving to video and visuals at an ever accelerating pace. Here are some baseline statistics:

4X as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it. (Animoto, 2015)

Almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store. (Google, 2016)

53% of smartphone users feel more favorable towards companies whose mobile sites or apps provide instructional video content. (Google, 2015)

Some 45% of us watch more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week (HubSpot, 2016) and

An astounding 100 million hours of video are watched everyday on Facebook (techCrunch 2016).

82% of Twitter users watch video content on twitter  and 90% of Twitter video views are on mobile (Twitter 2015) Source: https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics

So, the message is clear. We have moved into an age where people watch and listen rather than read and we tend to prefer to consume information in video sound bites.  More video is posted each day than can be consumed in any one lifetime!  Most people agree that a video of one minute or shorter duration is the generally preferred length of engagement.

How do you get to participate in this movement without investing a whole lot of money?

Today it is easier than ever to create your own video broadcast.  Streaming platforms are everywhere and the simplest one is Facebook Live streaming. Click a button or two and you’re off to the races. Want a more professional look? Take the time to plan out a script.  As so many of the early adopters will tell you – just “press start” and do it. You can bring in the professional teams later. Most consumers today look for authenticity over commercial polish.

But beware, 70%  say they dislike mobile ads and 81% of consumers have closed a browser or exited a website because of a pop-up ad. So don’t buy into some fancy proposal that uses interruption techniques to push something in front of potential customers.  As I have said many times before, there are new rules of sales and marketing at work today. Content is king but it needs to be content that is useful to the consumer and not click bait or disruptive if you want to make a positive impression.

Today, video accounts for more than 50% of all search online. Many customers would prefer to see a video of a product in action before they get into the buying mode or walk into a store. Is your business ready to inform and educate rather than sell and push?

Here’s how to get started with video if you are not already using it in business:

An easy first step is to reach out into the 1 billion daily users of Facebook and try Facebook Live. You can narrate a story, a product introduction or a client testimonial. Be aware that this happens in real time and goes live immediately. So start simple. Keep to a particular goal and stay on only long enough for a few friends to check in on what you’re up to. Then shut it off. It doesn’t matter if only a few people were there live. The power of streaming is that it will be there for others to come across or for Facebook algorithms to serve up to others.

There are many new tools to help integrate video into your business. Your basic smart phone today can record video that you can post as is or edit for later uploading to Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

Here are just a few ways to introduce video to your customers:

Introduce a new product or a new employee.

Tell a story about the business or the culture and interview someone who is comfortable in front of a camera.

You can even create visual press releases and updates from senior management.

As you become more comfortable with the basics, you will want to consider things like lighting and backdrops. Here’s a great video from Wistia with tips on how to setup your own video studio for less than $100.  https://wistia.com/library/down-and-dirty-lighting-kit.

If you’re still shaking your head but game to try it, give me a shout.  I can put on my professional photographer hat and get you going faster than you think possible. Pay attention to the statistics – it is worth your investment of time and grappling with the learning curve.

Hey, What you guys doing?

KSPcW_B&M_DSC9370_©KeithSpiroPhoto

Hey, what you guys doing? It’s a complex question asked in a simple way.

While it came from the mouth of a two-and-a-half-year-old as he toddled over to see what his big brother and big sister were doing, the significance of the question sheds light on a basic human need.

“What are you guys doing?” expresses the very human need to know. Whether it’s curiosity, fear of missing out, desire for inclusion, belonging to an established group or as an ice breaker into a new group, the question opens the door to joining in and building something together. Repeat the act more than once and you have the start of a community, the most successful of which take all of the previously mentioned elements into consideration.

From a business point of view, how do you take this basic human need and combine it elegantly with the myriad of social media tools out there to make a powerhouse team of cheerleaders and ambassadors for your business?  The answer is that you need to hire a community manager whose role it is to encourage a growing audience that self-selects by choosing to engage with your business. Use the full power of the internet and real time interaction to nurture and grow the active space with a leader and guide who knows the needs of the audience and matches the goals of the company to fulfill those needs.

A key new element that can dramatically improve engagement is video with its power of hooking into the visual cues we humans have evolved to depend upon for our survival. Are you friend or foe? Is your message truth or fiction? We humans intuitively determine this in a flash of cognition taking into consideration body language and other visual clues in the interactions between two people. For my own professional dealings with far flung client locations, I often choose to meet in online video conferences where I can fully engage in that human face to face connection. I find it far superior to and much more satisfying than text messages and emojis. Those keyboard characters are cutesy but imprecise and can be manipulated. The eyes rarely lie.

As we engage broader audiences geographically and work with more widely dispersed teams, we run the risk of disrupting that all important personal connection. A globe traveling CEO I work with talked about the speed with which she could establish powerful connections in person over the long slow process of clarification needed in text messaging and emails.  In the end, trust never really gets established until you have the chance to meet face to face. And what I have been proposing is using the video tools available to build that trust and rapport faster and in real time.

Android and iPhone offer many ways to start at low or no cost. Here are some video conferencing tools you might want to check out: WebEx, Fuze, GotoMeeting,  Blue Jeans, Skype, Zoom, Face time, We Chat and What’s App.

Old fashioned TV style of “one, speaking to many” can be achieved by Periscope, live streaming and Facebook live. They are easily launched but not nearly as satisfying for interactive experiences but all of them feed the human craving for acceptance, certainty and comfort while removing the fear of the lurking, unseen stranger. I’ve been developing ways to create content, messaging and brand advertising opportunities on low budgets. Go video and experience the difference for yourself and your business and give me a shout if you want support on easily integrating video into your business communications tool bag.

 

Dr. Chatbot or AI meets the Botniks

I recently read an article about the National Health Service in England beginning a collaboration with a digital media company to build a Chatbot that can interface with patients.

One of the biggest issues in the British Healthcare System is how long a patient waits to see a doctor and in parallel with that wait, how much of their time doctors spend diagnosing and dealing with relatively simple repetitive issues and basic information transfer.

With artificial intelligence and a chat bot that can take care of doing the routine and mundane tasks of a first-line general practitioner, the physician is freed up to concentrate on the more challenging medical issues her patients face.  Welcome Dr. Chatbot.

a version of a Dr. Chatbot circa 2012

a version of a Dr./Chatbot circa 2012.

Here are a few of issues this quasi medical newcomer must address:

  1. Human like – Studies have shown a higher utilization rate of the tools when there is a more human-centric response. Terminals at a human’s height are most effective. Think of the banking industry deployment of digital assistants in branch.
  2. User Experience – combining big data synthesis and human comfort to hone in quickly on the real problem underlying how the patient presents.
  3. Compliance – it is a well known fact that clinical trials have a high, 50% or higher, fail rate because of failure to “follow as directed.”  This leads to the need for human interaction and a true human intervener to ask the questions listen to your concerns and yes, touch your hand to improve compliance.

The Hawthorne effect is a well documented phenomenon of improved results because the subject knows they are being watched. There is a new startup company called Hawthorne Effect looking to do just that. They are providing  human interveners with the hopes of providing better and more accurate results in clinical trials.

The premise is a sound one in that trusted human professionals go out to patients who are in need of real time real personal interaction  and focused follow up. The patient  may need a reason to see the trial through completion or to “take as directed” the actions or medications to improve efficacy as well as accuracy.

The potential for widespread health breakthroughs with the Dr. Chatbot concept comes from the underlying technologies of machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Newer studies are showing that there are predictors of disease that show up statistically before any one human doctor is likely to reach the diagnosis. The ability to provide an alert to a physician and do the high end mathematical permutations that lead to better and earlier interventions holds tremendous potential. But it will be the user/patient experience that determines compliance. I hope the tech people creating these machine driven interfaces pay particular attention to the human experience (or user experience -as the new discipline is called). Jeff Pulver has called for a move away from the term Chatbot to the more hip, creative and human like Botnik.

Indeed, we need to think of them as Jeff does, ““Botniks are creative, artistic, & rebellious just like the Beatniks” The time is right. There is a shift in thinking from what might work to how elegantly we can begin to deploy the tools. We have entered an era of intense focus on AI, machine learning and robotics and the best winners in this emerging category will be those that enhance the human experience.

Full disclosure: I am a cheerleader for and investor in Hawthorne Effect. I am betting that the human creative can direct the machine and not the other way around.

Busting Stereotypes – Bankers & Bikers

B&M monthly column by Keith Spiro

Also known as Being seen, Being heard and Being found – for all the right reasons.

Bankers & bikers bring certain images to mind. Some are not flattering and others are not exciting. What do you think of when you see that leather jacket with colors on the back?

Bikers, or more correctly ‘motorcycle enthusiasts’ come from many walks of life. What members of United Bikers of Maine share is the love of the open road, all drivers educated in safe road etiquette, and the protection of motorcyclists rights. Educate not legislate is one of their themes. They aren’t looking for a lot of attention but they would like to increase their membership among the younger riders who are not affiliated but could benefit from the experience of seasoned riders who care beyond just themselves.

UBM is a motorcyclist rights organization celebrating many years of providing camaraderie, education and events across the State of Maine; a group with whom you can go out and ride while raising funds for community non-profit organizations.  This past month a few folks from UBM’s Sagadahoc County chapter got together and in less than an afternoon raised nearly $1,000 for Maine Children’s Cancer Program. They’ve done similar things for local food banks. They help kids and families and the less abled.  They are not alone. There are chapters across the State of Maine – one for each County. This is home and they aim to make things better for their neighbors as well as their fellow riders.

Down the other end of the rail line, down Boston way, Eastern Bank just celebrated its 200th anniversary with a big kickoff party. Keith Spiro Photo Eastern Bank Join us for GoodThey are the oldest and largest mutual bank in the country. Banking and the movement of money has seen tremendous change. There’s a whole new generation of wage earners that may have never stepped into a bank except perhaps online. Eastern, like UBM would like to draw from that younger more diverse universe of potential customers who could benefit from associating with a group of seasoned bankers who care beyond just themselves.  You see, mutual banks are owned by their depositors.  They don’t have Wall Street shareholders looking over their shoulders for big ROI. They can call their own shots and this bank has been doing that for years through the Eastern Foundation. They take actions that other types of financial institutions might not want to or be encouraged to take.

When the CEO of Eastern bank walked into that kickoff event wearing way cool shades and a leather jacket, he gave off the air of someone you pay attention to and don’t mess around with.  From those two stereotypes of bankers and bikers, he announced “Join us for Good” a program already reflected in their actions as a bank operating within the communities they serve. At a time when community stakes have never been higher, this bank, like those bikers, simply let the world know the actions they were taking and then followed through. Check out just how many groups Eastern Foundation helps with funding. In 2016 they gave $7 million across 1600 non-profits. On average, they donate 10% of net profit annually to community non-profit organizations. Look at the demographics. CEO Bob Rivers noted both in his report. Smart move.  If you want to appeal to younger people, you need to show with actions and not words, where your heart is.  Time, attention and focused actions speak louder than words.

So, about busting those stereotypes! You and your organization can do the following:

Understand how others perceive your organization (rightly or wrongly)

Know that people develop those attitudes based on unchallenged perceptions

Take action that yields visible results – a motivated team can do wonders in short periods of time

Learn what your community cares about and if you are community centric, do those good deeds and make a bit of noise about it. It’s OK. As the motorcycle community says, “loud pipes do indeed save lives (on the road).  There are lots of distractions, alternate facts and shiny objects out there that can put you at risk. Take action and invite others to pay attention for all the right reasons.

Handing off the Torch in Boston

On 1-11 (2017)

At 1:11 (pm)

In 111 Dartmouth Street (Boston)

We empowered our friend and Open Hub Co-founder

To help take Epicenter Community to the next level

Open Hub Boston was formed in April of 2013 to continue the good work of Boston’s longest serving mayor, Mr. Tom Menino. Where Boston World Partnerships ended, our group of engaged active citizens continued. Mayor Menino’s view that “visionaries don’t get things done” propelled us to take the remaining funds of Open Hub and donate them to help Epicenter Community accelerate its growing success under the strong leadership of our fellow member, Malia Lazu.

This is what Joy looks like from that random arrival of a check that helps to make a difference (click on the photo for a brief excerpt of Malia’s remarks):wdsc_0007_keithspirophoto

Open Hub was a grand adventure of working together on community supportive projects and while we have individually moved on to new adventures, many of us continue to stay connected.

Here then is our short history and photo finish:

Open Hub’s launch event took place June 6, 2013 at the offices of Sherin and Lodgen.

Open Hub was formed to “welcome, inform, connect and service our beloved Greater Boston Community and beyond.”

Some 14 of us signed onto that welcome letter including

David Cutler, Debi Kleiman, Mark O’Toole, Danielle Duplin, Mike Lake, Chris Rohland, Bill Ghormley, Malia Lazu, Joshua Hurwitz, Jed Willard, Patty Katsaros and Chad O’Connor. Also joining were Susan Houston, Michael Flint, Lennox Chase, Shannon O’Brien and Phil Budden.

We opened an account at Eastern Bank because of their history as a community focused bank and because Bill and I both respect their now chairman Bob Rivers who turned to disruptors to change bank culture in Eastern’s fight for relevancy and survival. wdsc_0142_keithspirophotoWe liked his spirit then and still do now. The check we handed over transferred from one Eastern Bank account to another. Great leaders think alike.

 

Whatever small steps we took as a group was amplified by our friend and partner Malia Lazu who always said “there is nothing transactional about building social justice.” Epicenter Community is her next step to go bigger and bolder for Boston.

“Give people a different way to create civic space and they will do it. Getting it done, finding each others humanity and telling each others stories” is what makes Malia’s leadership so impactful.

And so, at 1:11pm on 1-11 of 2017 at Brownstone, 111 Dartmouth Street many of us in person, and the rest of Open Hub in spirit, transferred the remaining funds to Epicenter Community to carry the torch forward with the strongest embodiment of the original vision.