Archives for category: Technology

Dublin is booming at the moment. Over the last 2o years or so that I’ve lived in Ireland, I’ve noticed a genuine boom-bust flow to the economy here, which makes it very difficult to plan for the long term, as any government will tell you.

In the mid-to-late 90’s the tech industry in Ireland exploded. By the end of 2001, and the introduction of the Euro at the beginning of 2o02, the dot com bubble had burst and the country was in recession. By the mid-noughties, it was flying again. Then came the tumultuous global meltdown of September 2008 and we were all sent to the brink, our pension funds destroyed. Construction, which had formed 25% of GDP, stopped overnight.

Dublin rebounded more quickly than the provinces, and now it’s booming again. I was waiting for a meeting to start on the 3rd floor of an office on the north quays recently, overlooking the river Liffey and the south side. Out of this narrow window I could see 9 cranes. 9 cranes within my view is a sure indication of a booming city economy.

I wish some of this productivity and boomingness was a bit more equally divided across the country, which is not doing anywhere near as well as the capital. Dublin is full. It’s roads are full, its hotels are full, it’s hard to get around. Not so in the provinces. The prosperity, tech hubs and inward investments are starting to flow to the regions, slowly but surely.

But, for now, Dublin is top dog. It’s booming, at least until the next bust…

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With advances in technology, the cost to produce sensors has come down and so they have proliferated. There are so many devices that have sensors: machinery like our cars, appliances like our dishwashers, security systems and so on. This is only set to continue with the Internet of Things, with billions of connected sensors.

The thing with sensors, though, is that they’re very good at sensing. They’re sensitive souls.

Let me give you three examples. Firstly, 20-odd years ago I had a company car and it was a German make, complete with loads of sensors and a computer diagnostic panel under the bonnet. One of the sensors kept picking up a signal that a tyre needed replacing, when it didn’t, and flagged a warning light in the dashboard. What did the engineer do? The path of least resistance; he disconnected the sensor so that I would need to check manually for tyre tread, which defeats the purpose of investing in a better car with more technology. Incidentally, the panel was also prone to letting in rainwater, which also made for occasional trips to the car doctor.

Secondly, about 15 years ago I took delivery of another shiny company car, compete with an alarm system that would sound if someone tried to move the car. It would even sound if someone tried the driver’s door-handle. On my first day with the new car, I parked in the company car park, which was separated from a busy road by a low wall and, above it, a robust hedge. Every time a truck went past on the main road at speed, the displaced air would travel through the hedge, rock the car slightly, and activate the alarm. The car went back to the garage to be desensitised.

Thirdly, as I write this post, our brand new shiny integrated dishwasher – it was installed a couple of days ago and completed its first run yesterday – is currently out of action and awaiting an engineer. Of course, as a snugly integrated appliance it’s a bit of a bugger to get in and out so you want to minimise these kinds of events if you can. A sensor has tripped a warning light, and an error message. Sensitive thing…

By how much will this kind of event be multiplied when we’re well and truly in the IoT era?

Ah, email, the scourge of modern lives, both work-based and social-based. It’s no wonder that the young are not embracing it as a communications vehicle in anything like the numbers that the older generations have.

Emails can represent both a time-suck and an intrusion into our daily lives. If you’re like me and you subscribe to suppliers’ mailings, or have simply bought something from a company which has your email address, you’ll know what a chore it is to wade through email subject lines from organisations you don’t want to unsubscribe from, in case the occasional email provides something of use to you.

Email has its problems. A large percentage of knowledge and intellectual property is buried in email, often not archived or indexed properly, and it can be difficult to find and retrieve. That’s not particularly efficient. Email intrudes on a regular basis, with a ping here and a ping there, and business gurus are lining up to tell us to ignore 80% of our email and do our necessary email work in batches so that we stay productive.  Businesses are soon to be subject to the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which places more stringent requirements on those companies that collect and use data on us, like our email address. Here’s a nice summary by a marketing automation provider on GDPR implications for companies that email their customers.

Email marketing has been trending down for some time, as search engine optimisation / marketing and social media have been trending up. By 2020, according to Forrester and CMO, email will account for only 2,5% of our digital marketing spend.

It’s not all bad for email though. For example, a couple of years ago I called a couple dozen customers of a client of mine and asked them what their communications preferences were, both as prospective customers, and as active, ongoing customers. The overriding preference? ‘Email. Yes, I get loads of them, but if you send me one that I know I need to read, from looking at the subject line, I can leave it in my inbox and get to it when I’m ready.’

So it seems that, at least for non-millennials and business folk, the hugely prevalent mechanism that is email is still the best of a pretty bad lot when it comes to written communications.

The fantastic end-to-end experience we get when we shop at Amazon has serious repercussions for our experiences when we shop on other ecommerce sites. This is especially true for us in Ireland when we want to shop on Irish websites.

I was reminded of this recently when I was trying to buy two items on the Currys PC World website. I selected the two items and went to my basket to check out. The first item, incredibly, was not available for posting to me – WTF! – so it offered me click and collect. I selected my closest store and it said it was out of stock. Yes, I was at the checkout stage. The closest store was in Dublin, over 100 miles away. S0 that’s €30 on fuel and a full day to pick up an item that cost €30…

I moved down to the second item. This was not available for click and collect – why not? – but was available for online delivery. With me so far? I filled in my billing details and clicked ‘continue’. No good, WTF! 2. I had to go back up and delete the first item that was only available in practically the next time zone. When I deleted the top item the page refreshed and left the bottom item in the checkout but wiped all of my hitherto completed payment details – WTF! 3.

None of these WTF! moments would have occurred on the Amazon site. I left the Currys PC World site feeling that its experience is so excremental compared to Amazon. We become so conditioned to how good the Amazon buying experience is, and the experience itself, by which I mean the shopping process they take us though – that it negatively predisposes us against other vendors.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I do the vast bulk of my online shopping on Amazon and why they’re hoovering up business.

When my Dad died, about 12 years ago, there were a number of pieces of paperwork we had to complete. I say paperwork because the forms we had to fill in were just that, paper.

Dad was truly pre-digital. He didn’t have a mobile phone, an email address or an online bank account. He didn’t have anything digital. Heck, the guy didn’t even own a pair of jeans. When he died, we wrapped up his affairs in a 100% offline way. And that was it. He generated no more paper. He didn’t write any more letters.

Nowadays a good portion of us are digital. I’m sure you are, reading this blog post. When you die, what will your digital death be like? Will someone set up your email out of office for you? ‘I’m sorry, but Paul is not in a position to reply to your email, ever. You see, he’s dead.’ Will someone close your Facebook account, your other accounts, your online subscriptions? Will they even know where your passwords are, if you’ve committed them to offline or online sttorage somewhere? There’s guy I’m connected to on LinkedIn who hasn’t just retired. He died along time ago, and I get his work anniversary notifications, which is a bit surreal.

Your digital death extends way beyond your physical death, perhaps forever. When you die, you’re not just in our hearts and minds, you’re still around in the ones and zeros.

Blanket banner advertising

Online advertising is getting more and more targeted, as you’d expect. Companies and websites are getting better at collecting and mining customer information so that they can deliver more targeted ads which have a higher chance of converting, since in theory they resonate and are more relevant.

That doesn’t stop the odd bit of blanket advertising. Here’s one I got earlier in the year from M&S, promoting their Big & Tall range. I’m far from big and I’m far from tall. Surely if this is just a bulk buy from hotmail then it’s not appropriate for a section of the population in the high 90’s per cent?

I get lots of such ads to my hotmail account. I can tell you that they’re not remotely targeted. The only ones that are targeted are when I’ve abandoned a purchase on an ecommerce-savvy website like Amazon, and then it presents back to me the exact product I was either researching or declined to purchase.

To understand why companies still persist with untargeted ads and their microscopically small click-through rates, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Perhaps they don’t get the data from the owner of the space. Perhaps the click-through rates are still worth it. Perhaps the front-of-mind awareness, which has always been so hard to measure in the traditional offline world, is good enough for them.

Either way, it’s hard to believe that this form of untargeted online advertising has much of a shelf life.

 

Are you a ‘State of the Art’ person or ‘State of the Ark’?

State of the Art people love trying and owning the latest hot tools and playthings. They’re always on the lookout for the fresh and the new. They don’t mind paying a premium for being at the front of the queue and in some cases they’ll tolerate the kinks and bugs before they get ironed out.

State of the Ark people are quite happy with their outdated device, since redundancy or obsolescence don’t faze them too much. It works well for them, and if it isn’t broken then they don’t want to fix it. For them the gains in pleasure or productivity don’t offset the pain and effort of scaling the learning and adoption curve. Let the guinea pigs deal with the problems; we’ll take it when it’s 100% ready to go.

Much of this depends on where we are on the adoption life cycle for new things, toys and technology. It’s a kind of bell curve with innovators and early adopters at one end, and laggards at the other. In the main part of the bell curve are the early majority and the late majority who make up the vast bulk of us all.

It’s not just gadgets and gizmos though. The adoption lifecycle works for anything new and our place on it says a lot about the kinds of people we are and our attitude to change.

I’ve been travelling on Irish trains for 10 or 15 years. On the whole they’re reasonably comfortable and reasonably reliable, and quite expensive, perhaps because there’s a lot of fixed assets to maintain and a lot of staff mouths to feed. It being a state body, I imagine there’s a quite a lot of fat on the business that can’t be easily trimmed.

Irish Rail trains have these automated train announcements for their inter-city routes. The announcements come on at various points in the journey. I thought they were perhaps driven by GPS, so that when the train was a certain distance from a station, this triggered the ‘in a couple of minutes we’ll be in X’ announcement, and so on.

I don’t now think this is the case, because the announcements have been coming in at oddest the times, for quite a while. Recently I was on a Dublin-to-Galway service that was announcing we were coming to the various stops before we got to them – which is good – while we were at them – not so good – and after we had left them – not good at all.

Also, Irish Rail would do well to listen to the announcements of other operators like Gobus, whose messages are much more friendly and positive rather than negative. Irish Rail announcements have rather too much ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ about them. What’s wrong with saying ‘please avoid sitting in pre-booked seats’ or ‘please keep your feet off seats for the next passenger’? It’s less negative and conveys the same request. Theirs comes across as a bit semi-state and antiquated to my mind.

Finally, before I fall off my soap box, there are ticker tape-style notices on each carriage which display what the audio announcements say. On one of them, there has been a typo – an extra space like this  ‘please do not put your  feet on seats – for years and years. It must appear on every train, on every route in the country. You can’t tell me no member of Irish Rail staff has never noticed it and thought to get it fixed? It’s the detail that counts in the service business.

I’m going through a period of frustration with my iPhone’s texting function at the moment. With the latest release it seems harder, rather than easier, to get a quick text away.

The typepad is still incredibly small and the individual letters about a third the size of my finger tips. When you flip to landscape to use your thumbs it’s no better because although the letters are a bit larger, so are your thumb tips compared to your finger tips.

The autocorrect function seems to have had a wobble too. The other day I meant to type ‘did you’ and when I glanced up to the screen the application had offered ‘didymium’. Didymium? Is that even a word? Well, it turns out it is, and it’s unrelated to the small swinging parts key to male reproductivity – as in epididymitis. No, it’s some kind of chemical amalgam.

While I felt a very marginal gain in acquiring a new word, I also wondered why the autocorrect algorithm was set up to prioritise a highly obscure material ahead of a slightly mistyped ‘did you’ which must occur across devices a few million times a day.

I wrote recently about how many of us are in front of a device keyboard all day and manage to get by with 2 or 4-finger typing, rather than potentially the 10 digits at our disposal. When was the last time you saw a job ad for an predominantly office-based role that wasn’t for a PA or secretary that said ‘since the majority of your time is desk-bound, you must be able to type 50 words a minute or more to apply’?

When I had a few months off between jobs about 15 years ago, I went to a typing course. I didn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Even though I wasn’t working, I couldn’t spare the lost productivity while my typing speed was cut into a quarter of ‘slow’. I didn’t have the time to engrain the behaviours to see the long term benefit.

Because I’ve probably typed a million words since then, I’ve improved my typing ‘organically’. I’ve made it up as I go along. My organic typing is now a flurry of activity as hands cross over each other and fingers overlap. I look like a piano player when I type, and it’s hardly a virtuoso performance.

Interestingly, one of my brothers can type properly, and he’s had some issues with RSI – repetitive strain injury. I wonder if the act of anchoring your wrists down more and being more regimented with the spaces your fingers occupy makes you more prone to these injuries of ‘isolation’ compared to the organic way of letting the fingers go where they want to and damn the downturn in efficiency.