Jul 222014
radio discussion on technology, social media and cloud computing

I was asked by ABC Radio Newcastle today to talk about the dark uses of social media – spreading propaganda.

This is an topic that’s come to the fore with the troubles in the Gaza Strip and the downing of MH17; all sides are using traditional propaganda techniques with a thick overlay of new media.

A key part of the social media aspects of the modern propaganda methods is those who want to spread their message only need to confirm the prejudices of their loyal followers.

In turn the loyal foot soldiers will then spread the word through their Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr feeds; a modern Goebbels doesn’t have to control the media, they just need enough useful idiots.

It’s also worth noting the new media tools complement the old broadcast and publishing methods with the most effective modern propaganda – and marketing – campaigns cleverly using the strengths of each medium to create an amplifying effect.

Propaganda is nothing new, many of the Ancient Greeks’ stories were written to discredit their enemies, and every technological advance has seen new ways for people to spread misinformation.

In that respect it shouldn’t be surprising that we should take with everything we read on, or off, line.

Jul 182014

Google’s quarterly results are in – revenue up 22% on the previous year with a gross profit margin of 300%.  Although the adwords river of gold still makes up 90% of the company’s income.


While spectacular, such a reliance on one product line is a vulnerablity. It’s not surprising Google’s leadership is experimenting with new businesses.

It’s also notable that payments to network partners fell as a proportion to revenues, which explains some of the pain sites that rely on Google Adsense checks are feeling.

Jul 112014

From a PC on every desktop to a services and devices company and now “productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s long missive lays out where he’s taking the company.

It’s a radical shift from the company of the Gates and Ballmer years.

In order to deliver the experiences our customers need for the mobile-first and cloud-first world, we will modernize our engineering processes to be customer-obsessed, data-driven, speed-oriented and quality-focused. We will be more effective in predicting and understanding what our customers need and more nimble in adjusting to information we get from the market.

This describes a very different company from five years ago; it implies an end to bureaucracy and management conveniences like stack ranking; if Microsoft is really going to be more nimble, then it means a smaller, more focused management.

In 1995, Bill Gates turned Microsoft around in a few months when he realised the strategic mistake he’d made in underestimating the impact of the Internet, so the company has adapted quickly to dramatically changed times in the past.

Whether Microsoft can adapt and maintain its position in a computing world very different to the one it once dominated will be among the great business studies of our time.

Jul 022014
The internet has changed booksellers' business

Today design site Canva hosted a media breakfast with their founders and chief evangelist, Guy Kawasaki.

One of industries Canva cite in their case studies is designing book covers as part of the publishing industry which Kawasaki points is an area where incumbent giants are falling down badly.

In Kawasaki’s view services like Canva, Amazon and the various publishing tools have made the major publishing houses redundant.

Publishers were once necessary to get a book to market; today there’s little a moderately well funded individual can’t do.

For publishers, it means they have to lift their game – automate their processes, harness their corporate knowledge and help good products get to market.

Instead most are riding a dying business model as cloud based services make it easy and simple to get a project to market.

Jun 152014

Jonah Peretti, the founder of Buzzfeed and formerly of the Huffington Post is widely thought of as one of the smartest thinkers in digital media.

In a long interview with the Felix Salmon, the former Reuters journalist and himself one of the savviest commentators on the online space, Peretti discusses the direction of both online publishing and business in general.

“Why do they need so much revenue?” is one of the questions Peretti poses about the recent New York Times’ innovation report and it’s a question worth posing of many organisations – particularly those that are in sectors with declining revenues and margins.

Reinventing organisations

As Yammer founder and now Microsoft employee Adam Pisoni told Decoding The New Economy last year, modern collaboration tools mean modern businesses don’t the need the management layers and staff numbers that older companies needed, this is something that has been lost on many modern media organisations.

Peretti’s views about communications and how stories turn viral is a worthwhile read in itself while his points about fundraising are very pertinent, particularly where he observes that venture capital investors have been reluctant to fund startups which pay writers.

What stands out in the interview is Peretti’s charitable view towards others in the industry, here’s his view on the New York Times’ innovation report.

I did read it. There were a lot of interesting things in it. I think in some places, they were a little bit overly critical of their tech and product team. When you look around the industry, The New York Times has a really great website. They’re building lots of things themselves and integrating them. It doesn’t feel like a Frankenstein website with things bolted on from millions of other places. I was a little surprised at the tone, how critical they were of their web products.

The key question Peretti asks is how do we re-imagine our industries: “What would this be if the readers and the publishers were not focused on making something similar to print?”

Reinventing industry

While Peretti’s question is asked of the newspaper industry, it’s a question that every business can ask itself as manufacturing, marketing and supply chains are being reinvented.

Following that point, Peretti points out the risks in focusing on simple metrics; too much emphasis on one figure can lead to perverse results in the publisher’s view and following a mission rather than chasing a number is a much better strategy to long term success.

As Salmon says in the introduction, there’s a lot to learn from Jonah Peretti about where the internet and digital media is taking the publishing industry and the business world in general.