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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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.

Trust

Boston & Maine connection post on TrustDoes your business engender trust with your customers and your vendors?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this word trust lately. It was a pivotal word influencing the outcome of the national election. It also played prominently across all the presentations at Xconomy’s recent conference, What’s hot in Boston Health Tech.  Boston contains a high concentration of expertise in health, research and digital/mobile technologies. The whole concept of precision medicine relies heavily on shared data moving quickly away from protected silos.

Healthcare is ripe for disruption. A consistent theme across the presentations was how the use of technology can cut through duplication, waste and bureaucracy.  The stats on current drug efficacy, for example, show that at best any number of them fall off before the 50% mark for a variety of reasons that also includes “failure to take as directed.”  Would you invest in something that only has a 25% chance of being successful? Perhaps you might when it comes to cancer treatment but not in most other areas of health. Yet, patients are forced to play healthcare roulette every day.

Who do we trust most? Who do we trust least in the health arena?  For many, Facebook holds greater sway over us than our health insurance providers.  Yet, it is these very same providers that are driving Telemedicine.

What does it say about our society when we appear comfortable sharing our personal HIPAA confidential information freely on social media channels but run into roadblocks due to regulatory or HIPPA compliance threats.  Is there a misplaced sense of trust as we share personal aspects of our lives on the very networks that are scraping this information for future use?

Because of the constraints on information flow between researchers, attending physicians and patients (and exacerbated by vested profit centers), we overspend and under deliver on health outcomes.  The patient, of necessity, became the keeper of all data. How good are you at maintaining the continuity of your health records?

How about a different approach? One where patient outcome is the measure that provides payoff to all involved?

Check out Iora Health and its Co-Founder and CEO Rushika Fernandopulle. Rushika Fernandopulle CEO of IORA HealthHe imagined and has delivered Patient-Centric Healthcare and the results are impressive.  I met Rushika when he first started out –nearly 7 years ago. His small team was looking for business cards and print communication tools for his fledging organization. Now there are more than 22 practices, spreading across the country with hundreds of employees and thousands of patients served. Trust runs high when you know your physician’s compensation is based on your health outcome. Decision making and health coaching are in sync. Trust takes time and relationship nurturing.  The results are real with documented reduction in cost and better health outcomes.

Build trust for your business and use new approaches.  Imagine ways that your smart device can help build that trust. It’s important to do so. Tools like Skype and Zoom can put you face to face with a client and eliminate the issues of distance in real time.

One note of caution. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose.  Don’t let it be damaged by failure to be vigilant in protecting your reputation. Address issues immediately.  Build a community of supporters around you and share openly and timely. You can’t orchestrate a business plan in a real time world. Be flexible, transparent and authentic. Always.  The media landscape has changed dramatically. The old ways of old school PR and marketing and master planning are overrun daily by the instantaneous nature of communication across individuals not hindered by editorial boards, rules or restraints. Consider your past achievements but grow your real time resources.

from my recent series of posts:

Inspiration + Communication + Validation + Trust = A Seat at the Table

My Three Words: 2017 Focus Filtered Fluid #my3words

Focus, Filtered & Fluid.  My Three Words for 2017

Way back in 2006, when I was struggling to hold it all together in a corporate world heading off the rails, a guy by the name of Chris Brogan quit making New Year’s resolutions. Instead, he chose three words he would use as a guiding principle for the year. I didn’t know it back then but within just a couple of years our paths from Maine would begin to cross regularly in Boston. Back in that first year of new actions, the words he chose were: ASK. DO. SHARE.

Like a beacon, they prompted him throughout the year to Ask more questions and ask both to help as well as ask for help. He got good at sharing what he learned and in that sharing our paths crossed and I’ve replaced resolutions with actions ever since.

In 2016, my words were:

  • Community
  • Communications
  • Commerce

And it made a huge difference in what I accomplished. But the real time web cuts no slack. Were you caught off guard by the 2016 political outcomes? Everything and nothing surprised me about the presidential elections. Talking heads got it wrong. Strategists missed the mark. Alliances now shift loosely and widely, driven in large part by spontaneous combustion on social media.  It is just so clear that we now live in a real time world that adjusts and disseminates new information rapidly. “Expecting the unexpected” doesn’t even begin to explain what is happening.

So for 2017, as we roll into uncharted territory, don’t agonize over deep analysis. Just “DO IT.” Stay nimble and your business can thrive.  My three words to guide me through 2017 are appropriate for the times and the challenges ahead:

  • FOCUS
  • FILTERED
  • FLUID

Focus – Yes, we each still need a plan of where we are going and what we want to accomplish in a year.  Having a written plan allows you to check in regularly and see if you are on target. And, in today’s world – when your target has moved – you get to readjust how to approach your new day.

Filtered – I have too often gone to the internet to search for something specific and found those shiny objects and distractions that divert my attention and send me down rabbit holes from which I emerge dazed, sometimes hours later. Have you ever gone onto Facebook or searched on Google for one thing and found yourself unexpectedly somewhere else? Fight back by organizing your time. Let the filters of search do their job and just bookmark those other things for later.

Fluid – I am learning to recognize that Google and Facebook are not my friend. They are advertising engines designed to hook me and sell me something. There is no such thing as free. Time is our most valuable possession.  When I come up against a time zapper, I am going to flow around it like water and keep going. This will not be easy. But instead of screaming into the phone “operator, operator, get me a human,” or pounding “0” a few times, I’ve learned to recognize that I am dealing with a computer algorithm not a person. I’ve learned to hang up – call the customer service line and ask- in a calm voice – for help from the human that answers in real time.

wc_my3words-bots-dsc_0003_keithspirophotoWe will hear lots about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chat Bots in the coming months. They are taking over. No – actually – they have taken over. Most of us just haven’t thought about it that way yet. Think speech recognition and that lovely voice that offers to help you with your account; those friendly helpers with names like Siri (Apple), Julie (Amtrak) and Alexa (Amazon) that stand sentinel between you and a real person. Those are the entry points to chat bots. They save time for the business at the other end. They do repetitive tasks and they are going to eliminate millions and I do mean millions of jobs. More than will be created by new technologies. We can’t stop this process change and so, for that reason, I am going to be fluid – and simply work around the obstacles that are thrown at me – in a creative way (because we have that over bots)  and I will keep going.

I hope you do the same. Let’s make 2017 a great year!

(originally published in The CRYER January 1, 2017)

A Seat at the Table

cryer-bm-seat-at-the-table

Do you stress over getting a seat at the RIGHT table? Are you suffering from FOMO? This post was inspired by dinner on an overnight train to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We were seated with strangers just north of Baltimore but found ourselves celebrating dessert with these randomly created new friends in Washington DC, without ever getting up from the table. This is a rare occurrence. More likely, these days, we’d do an online search for information about a person before we’d meet with them. Our opinions shaped, not by what they say, but by what others say about them.

KeithSpiroPhoto of Jeff Pulver #MoNage interviewing Jack Dorsey

Jeff Pulver #MoNage interviewing @Jack Jack Dorsey co-founder of Twitter

I’ve just come back from MoNage – A conference looking at the age of messaging as communications on the internet. My friend, Jeff Pulver, has been exploring the future of communications with some of the best thinkers, active innovators and disruptors on the planet. Presenters came together from as far away as England, Israel and New York as well as a couple of well known locals in Boston.

Keith Spiro Photo Chris Brogan & Christopher Penn at Jeff Pulver #MoNage

Local favorites Chris Brogan and Christopher Penn share a conversation onstage at #MoNage Behind the humor were amazing insights of change since they co-founded PodCamp some ten years earlier.

Remember the 1960’s? Back then, AT&T made it possible to reach out and touch someone. Nobody is really sure just how to go about doing that today!  With so many social media platforms and tools, we are all a bit unsure as to how to find our connections let alone feel confident that they have even seen our messages.  Jeff Pulver says that  Facebook today is the AT&T of the 60’s  but also that we have become a society of swipe to the right – where one can block somebody online or unfriend them with just a simple hand motion. Doesn’t say much for relationships but it does seem to create a forum for incivility and bullying.

Let’s face it, marketing has changed dramatically. Chris Brogan and Chistopher Penn, two giants in the world of digital communications and messaging, co-founded PodCamp ten years ago. Ancient history that became part of their wild and wide ranging conversation on stage about the changes in media and community.  As I see it, going back those ten years, everyone had access to the same amount of space, gated mostly by the size of the screen with which a viewer went online. Podcasts were unique with radio-like portability.  Today, portability is the device in our pockets. There is an explosion of ways people communicate. What’s formal? What’s a chat between friends? How do Millennials differ in their use of communication tools at work and with friends?

Social media platforms have moved to a pay to play model with Facebook and Google dominating and owning so much data, they can control how to dole it out and at what price. Since brands can’t be sure of how they’ll find us, they pounce at every opportunity. The more primitive forms are via remarketed ads and social media “suggested posts & tweets.”

Overall, there is a sense of desperate overload; too many platforms, too many places where you might find your prospects or your friends. How many apps do you need just to get access to the people you regularly talk to, if you even call it that anymore?

To be effective, marketing must be real, trustworthy and transparent. We are more likely to listen to our peers than to any marketer’s message. Brands are learning this. We all need to be aware of how our “likes” are being used.

These days, “The Google” knows all. It has an answer to nearly everything and it has the ability to match up our search patterns with marketers.  This makes us complicit in the skewed results we see. We each live in our own personal bubble of internet search serving up only things that we are likely to click. If we like something, we will only see positive things about it. If we dislike someone, we will only see negative things about them.

With all the online access points and nearly 2 billion people on Facebook, there’s a false sense of anonymity. But just a quick google search for my name yielded 395,000 results in less than half a second. How do you fare? Have you done a search for yourself online?  Try it.

Our future is fully dependent on the digital reputations we build daily. This is not necessarily the reputation we want to have but the one that more correctly reflects the expectations of the seeker. The one thing we all want in life and in business is acceptance. A virtual or real seat at the table.