Sunday, February 12, 2017

Another giant leap for Apple / Wintel interoperability !!

Because so much of my work these days consists of interacting with colleagues who are much more creative than I, we occasionally run into issues of technical compatibility. For example, they may send me a file in Keynote, while I only use Powerpoint.

My coworkers are quite accommodating of my technical ineptitude when I ask them to convert their Keynote file into Powerpoint, but I do have several concerns - why advertise our incompatibility? why make them do the work - after all, isn't the incompatibility my problem, not theirs? and finally, why broadcast my use of the retrograde Windows system? Some valid concerns; some less so.

In any case, I found a great solution to this problem - Zamzar. For today, I used it to create a Powerpoint out of a Keynote. Tomorrow, who knows? It's so exciting, at least for someone like me who spends way too much time online!

More hints, tips, and possibly even useful advice to come. Watch this space!

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Trust and/or Competence ??

I once had a boss, who will go unnamed, who had a tendency to hire people based primarily on the credentials in their resume. Granted, this probably helped me get hired in the first place - all modesty aside - but that practice looked very different from the inside.

After I was on board, I found that our hiring and recruiting proclivities diverged wildly. Whenever we had a senior-level vacancy, he looked for someone who had the best resume, worked at the most prestigious organizations, etc. My sense of it was that he was using the credentials as proxies:
  • The credentials were a mark of competence - after all, if the candidate worked for Company X, he/she must be very good at what he/she does.
  • The candidate's stellar credentials would bring luster to our organization.
In other words, competence, or at least perceived competence, was the key, if not the only, factor.

I, on the other hand, preferred to hire people I knew or those who were referred to me by those people whom I knew. Of course competence and skills were important, just not solely important. I developed the philosophy, therefore, that I would prefer someone who had, in general, the skill set I was seeking, even with gaps. My familiarity with them provided me sufficient comfort that hiring them was the right choice: I was comfortable that they would do their best, despite the gaps, or that they would make the effort to close the gaps in their knowledge.

As usual, I concluded that I had come to this brilliant conclusion entirely on my own. And, as usual, it turns out that someone smarter than I had thought this through and taken my meager intellectual efforts to an entirely greater level. If nothing else, however, I might as learn from each such experience and benefit from someone else's feverish mind contemplating the same issue.

This article from Business Insider, citing the book Presence by Harvard professor Amy Cuddy, encapsulates the question with which I had been wrestling and shines a light on the question:

A Harvard psychologist says people judge you based on 2 criteria when they first meet you


Professor Cuddy posits that the two criteria are Trust and Competence. She argues that most people assume that Competence is more important, but that Trust must be established first.

amy cuddy

The question is particularly interesting when we consider that we are often on either side of the trust/competence question. If we are doing the hiring, we are looking for trust before we get to the question of competence, at least according to Professor Cuddy as cited in the article.

If, however, we are looking to be hired, we try to establish our competence in our interview, perhaps neglecting the need to establish trust first.

In other words, depending on which side of the conversation we are on, we may behave in a way that we would find unacceptable if we were on the other side - the interviewer wants to trust the interviewee, who is however concerned about establishing his/her competence! Talk about not being self-aware!

This is an interesting lesson because it applies to so much in life. While the prior episodes from my career that triggered this thought process were about hiring, it really applies to sales, dating and virtually any human endeavor involving more than one person - establish rapport/relationship/connection first, the rest will follow. 

Do you trust me on this ?

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Is Privacy Dead ?


Introduction: The day's topic was a provocative question that, in turn, generated more, equally provocative questions: How much privacy? For whom? From whom? And, as host Gordon Platt of Gotham Media put it, in kicking off the September 26 event: Does it matter?

Gotham Logo 

Moderator Greg Boyd, partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, introduced additional complications: the depth and breadth of the topic, exacerbated by rapid changes driven by societal values and technology and legal and regulatory differences in jurisdictions that have to work better and work better together.

Privacy (or lack thereof): Benefits vs. Costs

There was a divide among the panelists between (a) those businesses reliant on greater freedom of action who decried a lack of understanding by the public/government/media and (b) those more cautious about the shifting landscape - the media and operating companies.

Emily Steel, the U.S. media and marketing correspondent for the Financial Times, discussed her beat, which includes data and privacy, and served as the media representative, bearing the criticism of the marketers and defending the venerable fourth estate.

John Montgomery, the CEO of Group M Interaction, a media investment company, argued that consumers benefit by providing their information to advertisers and marketers.  He pointed out that the business is built on data and cited Internet guru Vint Cerf to the effect that there is no privacy.  Furthermore,  nothing on the Web goes away or is unnoticed.   He argued that his industry has done badly re: educating consumers and society.  A major theme is that regulation is not the answer, unless we want to shut the Internet down.

Similarly, Kevin Lee, the CEO of Didit, a search engine and digital marketing agency, made a distinction between privacy issues and anonymous tracking of online users, a distinction he felt was not understood by Washington and the news media.

Ellie Boragine, the advertising and commercial counsel at JetBlue Airways, represented a company inadvertently caught in the privacy wars.  As she put it, privacy issues had not previously been considered part of the airline business. Privacy had become a big issue lately as part of their marketing and PR efforts, especially as the interests of their passengers collided with those of national security - who is traveling where, when, and paying for it how?

Self-Regulation or Benign Regulation from Uncle Sam ?

Montgomery argued on behalf of marketers that privacy should be self-regulated, not regulated, in order to keep the benefits to consumers and advertisers.  After all, 99% of the web is free, supported by advertising, which in turn depends on information about consumers, supplied voluntarily or otherwise.  To provide an idea of the value at stake, he offered an MIT study - an opt-in campaign is 65% less effective, and if mandatory, would cost the ad/marketing industry $30 billion.  Contrasting regulation with the needs of marketers, he argued that things move slowly in Washington but quickly in this industry.  Making things even worse, he contended, regulators don't understand this space.

Steel pointed out that, understanding or not, regulators are moving ahead.  There are at least three Federal  investigations, led by the Federal Trade Commission, Senator Jay Rockefeller, and the Government Accounting Office.  As an example of how quickly the landscape changes, since Senator Rockefeller began his investigation in October 2012, mobile traffic has doubled.

A major issue discussed was that of profiling consumers, which could be discriminatory.  It was pointed out that Europe is more sensitive to privacy, partly due to historical abuses by governments, but concern certainly seems to be growing in the U.S.

Montgomery admitted that the NSA's PRISM program hasn't helped his cause as many issues relating to privacy are being tarred with the same government surveillance brush.  He of course viewed his activities as benign: he just puts a cookie on users' browsers to track them and serve them relevant ads.  He argued that a cookie does not constitute the dreaded Personally Identifiable Information, since that is not his business model.  Therefore, people are unjustly concerned more about possible negative ramifications of his information collection instead of appreciating the wonderful benefits of the online ad business.

He also argued that much of the concern was created by the news media, which likes a good fight. 
Because the news media is not covering the value side - a free ad-supported Internet - but only the bad side of privacy issues, it is creating a backlash among the public.

Kevin Lee agreed that the news media likes to cover a fight.  He also argued for a distinction between truly personal information vs. what consumers perceive as personal.  He did concede that not all proposed guidelines were unreasonable, perhaps such as ones that cover disclosure and consumer control of information.  Furthermore, he admitted that even members of the tech community can have difficulty comprehending nuances in the overlapping areas of technology, consumer preferences and government regulation in a constantly-changing environment.

As an example, Ellie Boragine listed how privacy concerns have created additional regulatory obligations for airlines such as JetBlue.  For example, national security requires the airlines to disclose passenger information.  At the same time, however, while that passenger information is valuable to advertisers, it has not been disclosed to potential advertising partners.  Of course, while the airline attempts to explain this distinction to its consumers, the audience may or may not understand such nuances.

It's All the Fault of the News Media:

Moderator Boyd returned to the issue of the press's role in covering these questions.

Steel argued that j
ournalists need to explore and explain.  As she put it, the online ad industry "operates in the shadows." Before the press took a closer look, nobody knew how much tracking was going on or how many companies were receiving the information.

Furthermore, someone needs to safeguard the industry's self-regulatory actions.  Acxiom, which is supposedly revealing what they know about consumers, actually failed to disclose lots of information, including the calculations and conclusions being made about people.  Also, Capital One uses data to present different offers to different classes of consumers.  When does making distinctions among consumers  become illegal discrimination?

Montgomery argued that today's issues are nothing new: marketers have always been profiling, but of course that they should be called out if they are discriminating.

Is It All the Responsibility of the Consumers ?

If people do understand the trade off between benefits and costs of online privacy, as Emily Steel argued, then, with sufficient transparency, consumers can make their own decisions. 

Montgomery questioned the concept of "harm," beyond one Senator's characterization of the invasion of online privacy as "creepy."  Since AdChoices provides consumer information in every behavioral ad, then have they provided the twin Holy Grails of transparency and choice?

As somewhat of a counter-point, Kevin Lee argued that people don't read privacy policies.  But does that mean that people don't care or that they should be protected from themselves?


As Boyd pointed out at the beginning of the session, the topic of online privacy is complicated, frustrating and wide-ranging.  The question - Is Privacy Dead? - was never really answered.  In such a brief session, it's unclear what is the definition of privacy itself!  Of course, that is not going to keep this topic from being a critical and loudly-argued one for quite a long time to come.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bits, Bytes, and Bombs: The Uncertain Law of Cyber-Warfare

Professor Matthew Waxman, Faculty Chair, Roger Hertog Program on Law and National Security
Columbia Law School Alumni Breakfast, May 22, 2013

Last month, Professor Matthew Waxman of Columbia Law School spoke about cyber-security to a gathering of law school alumni.  The topic certainly seemed to be of interest to alums – the session hosted by Kirkland & Ellis attracted over 50 attendees – and Professor Waxman noted that cyber-security was the legal topic that generates the most interest at Columbia Law School.

I. Is Cyber-security a threat?

Professor Waxman was quite unequivocal on this point: cyber-security is the number 1 threat to US.  Of course, “cyber-security” is a broad term, which he defined as broadly including four different types of threats:

- malicious hacking, often done for fun without broader motives
- cybercrime
- espionage – for political or corporate reasons
- cyber attacks – which would essentially be cyber-warfare, with the intention of crippling our ability to respond to an enemy via attacks on our infrastructure, financial systems, etc.

There is something of a vocabulary problem - what is a cyberattack, especially in something other than a country-to-country context?  Professor Waxman argues that unless it is a massive effort, such as a Distributed Denial of Services (DDOS) meant to cripple or take down a company or institution, such activity does not really constitute a cyberattack.

For example, is spam disruptive or criminal?  In this situation at least, the solution likely not to be legal, but based in the private sector, e.g., email providers have algorithms to filter out spam, and those algorithms are always being improved.

Professor Waxman felt that, while there are often warnings in the news media from the government and other commentators about a large-scale cyber-warfare assault, he feels that a massive attack – what is often termed a “cyber Pearl Harbor” – is unlikely in near term.  The real threat to the U.S. is instead “death from a thousand cuts” – small-scale attacks, thefts, intrusions, etc. that can create a tremendous amount of cumulative damage.  These sorts of attacks have apparently been going on for quite a while, but the extent of their damage is not known, perhaps because not all victims are aware that they have been infiltrated or damaged and because victims who are aware – whether private-sector or governmental – are reluctant to discuss such matters.

One additional point that Professor Waxman raised about cyber-warfare – the U.S. is conducting a lot of cyber attacks – the federal government is just not talking about it.  Referring to his experience as part of the national security establishment at the Departments of State and Defense and the National Security Council, he said that the highest levels of secrecy and confidentiality were found regarding the offensive cyber capabilities of the U.S.

II. Domestic law

This is a critical but not well-defined area in cybersecurity.  Since the U.S. is a global technology leader, it is dependent on its digital infrastructure for the workings of its governments, private enterprise, and the society in general.  Furthermore, the U.S. in general is dependent on private players to supply, maintain and improve the critical elements of our technology infrastructure – phones, Internet, etc. – with 85% of digital infrastructure being in private hands.

He argues that we could strengthen our technology infrastructure by encouraging the private sector to provide higher security standards and to share more information between and among private and government players.  In addition, the government could play stronger role in private sector cyber-security, but this of course would be controversial.  He cited the NSA are being the most capable government agency in this arena – of course, this discussion from Professor Waxman was before the Snowden leak controversy.  It’s difficult to say whether this scandal demonstrates the heightened need for private-government cooperation in cybersecurity or the potential pitfalls of such cooperation.

In any case, Professor Waxman cited several counter-pressures that existed pre-Snowden that argued against increased private-government cooperation.  For one thing, the technology industry is reluctant for the government to do anything to stifle innovation, and we do have a general national interest in promoting innovation.  There is a general concern among the public about regulation, and the various scandals since Professor Waxman’s talk have only heightened the public’s sensitivity to regulations.  These scandals have also exacerbated Professor Waxman’s third roadblock: civil liberties concern of increased government involvement in private-sector cybersecurity.

As a result, he feels that information sharing has been “patchy.”  Sharing with the government raises concerns about liability and privacy.  Sharing among companies is also problematic since they are often dealing with competitors.  Furthermore, the interests among companies and government are not necessarily aligned – sharing with the U.S. government may discourage other countries from doing business with those companies.
One additional item impeding increased governmental action in this area not mentioned by Professor Waxman is that the technology industry is not a monolith with a single set of objectives and interests.  Often, there are competing sets of interests that pit industry sectors against each other.  For example, the heated disputes of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the issue of Net Neutrality demonstrate that government actions on behalf of one group of industry participants are often viewed as harmful by another group.

As a result, Professor Waxman does not expect any radical federal reform in this area any time soon.

III. Is international law therefore a solution?

Professor Waxman does not expect radical reform, e.g., a cybersecurity treaty, in the international area either.  As with obstacles to domestic law reform, the major states don't have aligned interests.  As he put it, half the world wants an open Internet, and half wants to control the Internet – primarily Russia and China.

Therefore, we are more likely to see attempts at "translation" of existing international law applied to the new technology, which of course had not been contemplated at the time of the formulation of international rules of behaviors.  For example, while there is well-established international law on use of military force, there is not such a body of law on cyber attacks. 

Therefore, when is a cyberattack a military attack?  One point of view is that the answer is Never, since existing law talks about bombs and bullets, not bits.  Professor Waxman disagrees with that view, and prefers to look at the effect of a cyberattack, e.g., the use of a cyber attack to bring down airplanes or to cause a power plant to explode.  In other words, to create damage that is the equivalent of that which could be done by a traditional, physical, military attack.

This can be helpful in some situations, but not all.  What if a cyber attack were to cause something bad, but nothing blows up – i.e., it is not the direct equivalent of a traditional military attack?  For example, what if someone directly causes a 10% decline in stock market?

There are additional problems related to trying to equate cyber and military attacks, such as attribution in a provable way.  While this can certainly be the case in a physical attack – e.g., who actually planted that bomb? – the ephemeral nature of cyberspace likely compounds the problem of reliably proving the source of an attack – just as China denies such activities while the U.S. has pinpointed a single office building in China as housing the Chinese Army unit responsible for such activities.

Despite those denials, Professor Waxman cites Chinese attacks as creating the biggest threat of cumulating low-level intrusions cited above.  He argues that biggest current threat from China is theft of data relating to financial, technology, government secrets.  They are, however, also looking for potential vulnerabilities in our infrastructure that could be exploited at some point in the future.

The U.S. response to date has been so-called “naming and shaming,” which he does not think it's a good solution.  The most hopeful comment he made on this topic was that China is not likely to attack the U.S. in a massive way since they own so much US debt.  Depending on economic considerations to outweigh Chinese political and military interests does not seem to be a long-term solution.

The other irony in seeking clarity, as mentioned earlier, is that the U.S. is quite powerful in this area.  It may have been the first to cross the line and have committed the potential act of war with the Stuxnet virus, which allegedly infiltrated the control system for Iran’s nuclear reprocessing facility and caused centrifuges to blow up.  If someone did that to us, we would probably view it as a act of war, justifying the use of military force in self-defense.

As a result, it is probably in the interest of many companies, including the U.S., to not call attention the Stuxnet incident.  General reaction from rest of international community has been, as he puts it, "anxious hand-wringing."  Most countries probably prefer the Stuxnet incident as a preferred alternative to either an Iranian nuclear bomb or a direct attack by the U.S. or Israel on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Stuxnet does, however, open a Pandora's Box for the future.  For starters, we don't know what other countries are capable of.  There have been official denials from U.S. and Israel, and a low-key response from Iran.  Presumably, Iran is embarrassed about its vulnerability, but it does not want to make problem worse by providing information about what was or was not done, how it was detected, etc.

Professor Waxman cited a pattern of weapons development and usage in military history.  First, international players try banning the weapon, but that generally doesn't work.  Then, everyone tries to find out how it will change warfare – but of course, forecasts usually vary widely and generally miss the mark.

The recent NSA scandal also hints at the extent of U.S. cyber capabilities.  Further, to the extent that the federal government’s defense of its activities is that it did not spy on U.S. citizens, only foreign ones, that is unlikely to make other governments very comfortable.

IV. Private sector remedies

If you are being hacked, what are your rights? Can you hack back? What about in self-defense? Professor Waxman noted numerous questions in the current law as to where to draw the lines.   He felt that the private sector is drawing the conclusion that government can't provide security in the private sphere the way it can in the public sphere, e.g., with police on the beat, courts, armies and other law enforcement and defense infrastructure.

There may be areas, such as cybersecurity compliance, where incremental progress can be made on topics where there is general agreement.  For example, requiring disclosures of data breaches, and instituting liability for the misuse of stolen data.  Fear of liability, especially for exposing security breaches, have held back progress in this area even where the general public could benefit.  For example, increased information sharing would strengthen the system overall, even though there are disincentives to sharing individual experiences.  This could potentially be addressed through legislation to incentivize information sharing, and possibly even provide safe harbor for liability from such episodes

Unfortunately, it will be difficult for the law keep up in an area of rapid technological change.  Changes in law usually take time, and well-funded competing interests make sweeping solutions difficult.  

With regard to self-help in the meantime, Professor Waxman admitted that he assumes his personal computers have been hacked and hijacked.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Gotham Media: “Content and Commerce – Media Online”

Gotham Media had another of its great Digital Breakfast seminars on April 17.  This one was: “Content and Commerce – Media Online” – certainly topics that keep a lot of people occupied these days.

This was the official description of the event:

“Online media remains a business without a universal business model. Various models - subscriptions, display ads, product placement, pre-rolls - have worked well for some but not for others. Many media outlets are now trying to incorporate advertisers directly into their editorial stream - turning advertisers into content producers. This so-called native advertising or content marketing is further blurring the lines between content and commerce. The results have sometimes caused confusion among publishers and consumers alike. This panel of content and advertising experts will examine the resulting tension between paid and editorial content.”

The panelists were:

Rick Kurnit (Moderator/RK) - Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

Glenn Hall (GH) - Managing Editor,; Fmr. SVP and Editor-in-Chief,; Fmr. Chief Innovation Officer, The Orange County Register; Fmr. Managing Editor (Washington) Bloomberg News

Eason Jordan (EJ) - General Manager, NowThisNews; Fmr. Exec in Charge of Newsgathering, CNN

Robert Rasmussen (RR) - Chief Creative Officer, Story Worldwide

Rebecca Sanhueza (RS) - Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Director of Business Affairs, TV and Video at Time Inc.

Rick Kurnit (RK) started the discussion about the blurring of content and commerce among media companies online by pointing that traditional publishers have been entering the world of advertising, seemingly quite successfully.  The evidence is that the 19th largest ad agency in 2012 was Meredith, with the 20th place being taken by Conde Nast.
The questions he posed to the panel, based on this and similar changes in the business, were:

1. What's next in the movement to finance content through brand support?
2. Response to Andrew Sullivan, launched a subscription-only website, being aghast at brands sponsoring stories?
3. Will major content creators survive? If so, what will be the role of advertisers?  Will it be based on original content or content aggregation?

Glenn Hall (GH) pointed out that the original business model of media depended on scarcity, generated by monopolies and exclusivity.  Now there is an abundance and ubiquity of media.
Looking at the basics of the business from the perspective of the media companies:

·       What are we selling - content or advertising?
·       Niche markets could work for publishers at small scale
·       Could media companies re-create exclusivity via pay walls - can the economics support all of the operations of a publisher, especially, if, for example, smaller advertisers may not be interested

From the perspective of the advertisers, they may perceive that advertising is not creating as much value in content, especially in addressing their priorities:

·       They want to get their message out
·       They are looking for scale

One approach that many publishers and advertisers are taking lately is sponsored content, about which Glenn said:

·       It’s not new – ads have always subsidized content
·       Question is still open as to how to create value for both advertisers and consumers
·       Publishers are trying to match content with advertising as they were doing anyway with advertisers – their gun control article’s sponsorship link was clicked more than the sponsor’s brand messages

Regardless of the approach, it’s important to have transparency

Eason Jordan (EJ): is positioned as the video news destination for the social mobile generation.  In contrast, the average viewer on CNN is 63 years old.

The business model is primarily syndication and ad revenue.  There is, however, no preroll ads because the consumer experience comes first, and preroll violates that approach.  His feeling: you can't force feed consumers advertising.

Re: the question about Andrew Sullivan, EJ felt that Andrew Sullivan is not against sponsored content entirely, but feels that it has to be appropriately flagged.

By the same token, he felt that the recent Atlantic piece (advertorial?) about Scientology was not appropriate for that media brand.

He is also looking to his audience as the final arbiter and distributor of his content.  Regarding social advertising – If the content is not worth sharing, then it shouldn't be shown to the NowThisNews audience in the first place.

Robert Rasmussen (RR) took a marketer’s approach to the question of content, commerce and brands.  He felt that Nike provided inspirational content to differentiate products.  The result was a two-way relationship between the brands and consumers: "Brands do something for consumers and consumers do something for brands"

With regard to news and media, he felt that consumers today want to be their own curators of news, rather than depending on media companies, as they have in the past.  At the same time, brands want to create content  but they don't necessarily have the legitimacy.

In addition, to create content, brands also need a point of view.  Brand stories have to be consistent with the value that they provide to consumers, including actions they take outside of the content they provide, as well as providing content.

He thinks that is makes sense for entertainment properties (presumably, movies, television shows, etc.) to merge with advertising, in addition to – or perhaps instead of – news brands.  He does not, however, think that such a merger is likely to happen, due to his view that entertainment doesn't respect advertising

Scott Kurnit (SK) feels that everyone wants to obfuscate the line between content and advertising.  Regardless, the effort by advertisers to view advertising as content will backfire.  He expects that the backlash will be so severe that the effort will self-regulate itself because people will shy away from it.

He said that it should be clear that business now is commerce – he is tapping a trend he called “crowd sourced social commerce” through businesses such as  This approach is located in the middle of the demand funnel – that interested consumers will share information with their friends.  He views it as the new version of Home Shopping Network for today – that the content is  clearly commerce.

He cited another ecommerce platform, Swizzle, through which consumers can invite advertisers into their email.  As he put it, Swizzle is:  not blending content and commerce, but  probably more importantly, not "trying to trick the consumer"

Rebecca Sanhueza (RS) concluded the initial discussion by reiterating key principles for publishers:

·       Transparency is key
·       Have to avoid approaches that could be viewed an effort to obfuscate and blur lines
·       Publishers have always served both advertisers and consumers, so the potential conflict between their interests is nothing new

When the question was asked as to whether magazine publishing in general, and Time Inc. in particular, would survive, Scott Kurnit made the following points:

·       Time Inc. won’t survive since it is not really serving advertisers and it cannot otherwise support the cost of its content
·       Ads suck, by definition since annoyingly interruptive
·       Magazine publishers have not been able to make ads work on the web
·       Publishers have therefore moved to gimmicks such as content marketing in order to trick consumers

RS countered that consumers want ads as part of the magazine, so that part of the business, at least, seemed solid.  She did concede, however, the Web and mobile experiences might be different with regard to the advertising expectations.

GH pointed out that media companies that Hall that have credibility with their audiences can partner with advertisers.  For example, people who serve as the voice of the content can include credible advertiser messages without necessarily sacrificing credibility, an approach which is certain common on radio.

RK pointed out that branded entertainment is a large business.  For example, fashion advertising is generally viewed as content – it tells consumers what's in style.   Furthermore, brands can get credibility as a trusted contented provider – the examples cited were Dove and Nike.

GH agreed that trusted content providers can create similar trust in the right brands for their audiences.  He cited a story about the 2012 Aurora, CO, shootings, in which an ex-Navy SEAL, in providing self-defense tips, suggested carrying a high-luminosity flashlight to blind potential gunmen – certainly a good match for brand and content.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Augmented Reality

January 21, 2010

My friend Bill Sobel, founder of Sobel Media, formerly known as NY: Media & Information Group, held his most recent event on Thursday, January 21, at the Samsung Experience in the Time Warner Center. The topic was Augmented Reality, which seems to have burst onto the scene as a consumer application.

My notes are below, with the caveats that they are my best rendition of the discussion, with no claim to accuracy; much of the discussion has been paraphrased, rather than being a direct quote of the participants. I bring my own viewpoint and perspective to this discussion, which inevitably and inescapably influences my perception of the discussion. In other words, I am not contending that my write-up is “Fair & Balanced.”

The session began with a presentation by one of the sponsors, Definition6, with whom Bill is also associated. Definition6 is an integrated integrated marketing firm with 17 years in that space. They just created Coca-Cola’s Happiness Machine viral video which has over 1 million views on YouTube and can be seen at

The main topic of the session was Augmented Reality, which has burst onto the scene as a consumer application. The basic definition seems to be a combination of realtime digital media overlaid onto real reality.

Esquire magazine created an AR application for its December 2009 issue. David Curcurcito (DC), Creative Director at Esquire, did a live demonstration in which the AR brought the AR magazine to life. Since it’s easier to understand by seeing rather than me trying to explain it in text, a demo can be viewed on YouTube at:

Granger said that Esquire had been looking for new ways for readers to interact with the magazine. They consulted with Barbarian Group, who suggested AR. The application is triggered by holding the magazine cover, which displays a special code, up to a webcam. The reader can further control the AR interaction by tilting the magazine at different angles. For example, the main application involves the actor Robert Downey Jr. Other AR features brings the “Funny Joke from a Beautiful Girl” column to life. A further refinement is that she tells a racier joke after midnight.

In seeking more than a novelty, Curcurcito pointed out that with AR, the editors can expand the number of images and other content since they are not limited by the number of physical pages. It also lets them provide added value. For example, a story about a jazz musician includes the ability to listen to their music while reading the story.

Afterwards, Richard Carey, the moderator (Mod), introduced the rest of the panel: David Polinchock (DP), former Chief Experience Officer (CXO) at the Brand Experience Lab; Adam Broitman (AB), ringleader at; and Doug Dimon (DD), Creative Director/Broadcast Design at Creative Bubble/NYC.

DP said that he had started with virtual reality with online pioneer Jaron Lanier in 1991 - virtual reality being a totally immersive, digital experience vs. the digital/physical world connection of AR. He started the Brand Experience lab 6 years ago and saw his first AR demos about 5 years ago. He was very excited about the opportunity to create new levels of information and new functionality, such as building motion-capture into movie theaters so that the audiences could play a
video game together.

AB said that Circus is less than a year old and that he had come from Virtual Worlds. He viewed the mandate for Circus as innovation, and the firm had created projects for The 5 lives of Criss Angel, Cisco, Carl’s Jr. and others. He felt that many brands now want AR as part of their marketing repertoire.

DD said that it was 10 or 11 years ago when he had his first experience with AR. It had started with on-field AR for the XFL. The now-defunct football league wanted to make the viewing experience more exciting by having players running through walls and explosions, and so on. The XFL was ten years too early.

DD felt that a major issue for AR is how to make the digital/physical interface disappear so that you feel that you are part of the experience.

Mod asked, so AR has been around for 10 years?

DD: Not exactly. AR was not called that 10 years ago. It has now progressed to the point that when kids now see AR applications, it does not occur to them that it would not be part of the experience.

Mod asked what’s the palette for AR?

AB said that the term AR had been coined by Boeing in 1990. It had created a heads-up display (HUD) for fighter planes which had digital information overlaid in real-time on a windshield so that the pilot could get critical information without looking down at the dashboard. The basic definition of AR: live direct digital information delivered in a video stream, blending the virtual world and the real world

DD phrased the question as: what are the executable possibilities now? Esquire took existing technology and created a new user experience for the magazine readers. The traditional use of AR is as an overlay of information through a viewing system. A new approach is to make the experience mobile via GPS functionality. Clearly, the definition not always crisp, partly because the technology and functionality of AR is dynamic, not static.

Esquire certainly felt that AR would be a fun brand extension for the magazine and would create a “Wow” factor for the magazine. It was not seen, however, as a gimmick since it allowed the magazine to create more content and in more formats, such as video and 3-D animation

DD pointed out that the U.S. Postal Service had a version of AR that was an early execution of the technology, but that it was not exciting - it allowed customers to align the size packaging boxes with the material they wanted to ship.

Mod: why has it taken so long for AR to reach the public? Where is it going? Is it a gimmick?

DP answered that the technology for AR is now catching up with the development of webcams and mobile phones. These allow developers to take AR away from being tethered to the desktop computer. He also felt that AR is viewed as a fad by the advertising industry. But he predicted that the world will develop into an AR world in everyday uses, including shopping at the grocery store, fixing your car, and in medical fields since technology now allows distance medicine through AR and robotics. The technology is here to stay.

AB said, that in response to the question of why now?,. that the consumer explosion was due to an open-source tool kit for developers. Barriers to entry were brought down so that make it easy for digital agencies to create new applications.

DD also felt that the technology has caught up with the vision. He said that Esquire’s application works because there was a downloadable file to get the experience. It also uses a simple execution to make sure that the technology works. Eventually, people will want to just use it on their phones, etc., probably without a download or other hurdles to easy use.

Furthermore, Esquire had been concerned about the 5-minute download time on the PC. Also, the application had a number of bugs, and it took a lot of time to create the execution.

Mod: will downloads be required>

DD said that many applications may just run over the web, including their AR-enhanced Xmas card.

There are also limitations due to bandwidth, processor speed and other constraints, such as the quality of the webcam.

Another question is that of customer engagement - the developer has to weigh how invested their customer base will be in the experience. For example, will the audience conform to the requirements necessary to make the application work properlyt? If the client is seeking a mass market audience, then they want the marker to be as simple as possible. Burger King’s marker was a dollar bill, after which the user’s face becomes marker and can be enhanced by a Burger King crown and other gimmicks. In such a case, the client would want the execution to be passive as possible.

In another case with an unnamed client, the application requires a specific iPhone app, specific lighting, and many other instructions, all of which was within the comfort level of the client.

DP pointed out that one issue is that of asking consumers to do lots of work in order to get an ad. People don’t want more ads. Unique content and new experiences, however, could be considered worthwhile.

Mod.: what about mobile apps?

AB felt that iPhone apps was inadequate and not user friendly. They are, however, paving the way for cool things. He asked rhetorically whether Yelp’s monocle was used more than once by anyone who downloaded it. The user experience was apparently interesting but not practical. At the same time, such applications do help the world adapt to engaging in that type of behavior.

He pointed out that even Yelp is improving the experience for future iterations.

DD thought that location-based applications could be useful, but that they are not critically dependent on AR. Generally people who downloaded them use them once or show people but that such applications are not really being used on a regular basis.

He felt that part of the issue was the transparency of the interface.
The more passive the experience, the more usable it is and the less odd you look using it. The example he cited was one that required holding an iPhone in front of the user in order to use the application - inconvenient and potentially embarrassing.

For Esquire, the challenge was to create an interface that could provide an experience via the magazine that people can not simply download onto their computers.

He felt that AR is a good match with print media because you need a marker if the application is not using GPS. Some consumer products companies are using their products as the markers.

People want to feel that they are getting something special or something that they can not get some other way. He expects that we will see more executions in magazines.

While Esquire advertisers have used AR, Esquire was first magazine to use AR as a content extension.

Mod: what is the applicability for games.? Is the social network Foursquare a platform for AR?

DP said that Foursquare could be in the future, but that it was not a use of AR yet. Through “socialization of place,” Foursquare tells users that certain people are at a location, but apparently does not allow users to contact them.

He cited the example of a Kim Possible game created by Disney at EPCOT. His 8-year-old daughter signed up to be a Kim Possible helper. She received a cell phone that gave her instructions for solving a case. The cell phone allowed her to interact with location-based clues.

DD pointed out that, as with so many of the attractions at Disney World, the experience was created to help get visitors into the stores.

DP agreed, but also pointed out that Disney was trying to create a unique experience that becomes a memory to drive people to repeat or tell their friends, to generate word of mouth.

He cited another AR game using GPS - Zombie Run - which is an Android game that chases you with zombies while you are in your car.

The example of Zombie Run prompted Mod to ask: is AR a hazard?

DD pointed out that AR can augment reality but that it can also push you out of your reality. For example, HUD in cars is intended to be a safety factor. One execution, however, was to play a TV or movie on windshield. Projecting the dashboard onto windshield may make more sense.

DP said that AR allows you to tag the world you’re in. That does, however, raise concerns about privacy and ownership - who owns the information? What about sharing the information correctly?

Alex pointed out that brand marketers need to pay attention because people are tagging things, and brands are already having trouble dealing with social networks and the direct consumer input they allow. Soon, people will be adding additional information to products via tagging.

DP cited MIT’s Sixth Sense project that allows consumer to project information onto products in the real world, which can not be controlled by the brand.

Transparency will be everywhere, whether the brand wants it or not.

Q for DC of Esq. - what are the implications of having to download the AR application?

DC said that Esquire had printed a million copies and had gotten about 45,000 downloads. Some of the impediments to use of the AR were that users need to have a webcam, many PCs have old software and some consumers simply have old PCs. [Note: I tried to use the application on my netbook. After downloading a 7MB file, I was told that I did not have the graphics capability to view the application, whereupon I downloaded the app to my desktop.]

DD said that they can track downloads of executables, but can not track how many downloads were actually used. Also, the execution of the AR can be viewed on YouTube:

Q: The bad news is that AR is currently on the “bleeding edge.” The good news is that AR is here forever. What are possibilities created by AR that are not otherwise possible – after all, for many executions, a button to start function in AR can just be pressed via the PC?

AP said that the theme is the exploration of The Information in Everything. AR outlines types of technology and there is no simple list of capabilities. He promised that he will release a whitepaper in a month.

He pointed out that everyone is figuring it out together. There is no definitive source of information on AR.

DP said that there are some twitter feeds covering AR.

Q: What the story you’re trying to tell? Then, how can AR help you tell your story?

DD wanted to maintain creative freedom and said that he did not want a list of AR capabilities that stifles possibilities.

DC said that he had pushed the concept as far as he could, then technology gave them the end result.

Q: What are the audio possibilities?

DD cited the example of the GE execution that has audio control input for windmills in which blowing on the microphone made the windmills spin.

In addition, audio can function as output - walking around with a smartphone and generating audio output would work better, and probably be safer and look less weird than walking around using video output.

Q: Convergence of media platforms. How can AR be integrated into other platforms? Using the example of the New York Times moving to a partial pay model, is publishing going to move to the app model, updating content across platforms and locking it down?

DC said that Esquire had just launched an iPhone app and was trying to do something with AR

AP cited the example of Moviefone having created an API so that others can interact with their information. An API for Moviefone or other applications could enable you to interact with existing content as well as the physical world you are in. It would essentially create another information layer for the real world.

Q: What is the TV interaction with Shazam? [Note: I’m not sure I understand the question.]

DD said that the Google Goggles search function was the opposite of AR because it brings up information based on picture. It does, however, have some building blocks of possible AR execution because it brings the user information about their environment.

Harking back to the earlier question about the possibilities or limitations of AR, he felt that the approach should be to not ask what can be done. Instead, ask what it is that you want to do.

Mod: What is the potential of consumer HUD?

DP said that he has seen experiments using a computer in a shoe that projects information onto the wearer’s glasses.

AP said that not only are new glasses being released, but that there has been discussion of AR contact lenses. In 5 years, Google will be comparable to the Dewey decimal system due to development of how we search the world around us. Search will be visual and passive, based on the environment rather than going online and typing search terms

DD likened the future to that portrayed in the movie Minority Report, in which all the information you want can be made available. That raises, however, the issue of privacy, for example, of being tracked.

DP said that it might be more akin to the situation of the bar in the TV show Cheers where “everyone knows your name,” which was certainly not regarded as an invasion of privacy Instead, customers would be comfortable with that situation because there is a value proposition where people recognize you. The privacy issue arises because advertising does not create value. Just-in-time marketing might be seen by consumers as useful, rather than just more ads being pushed at us, which is more likely to trigger privacy concerns.

Q: What is the opportunity for mobile? Physical platforms of magazines and retail stores can build on the online experience but had generally been written off at online platforms. Zagat, however, already has a marker in every restaurant.

DP said that eventually additional information can be made available via AR based on physical location.

DD said that clothing stores should have AR changing rooms so that customers can virtually “try on” clothes and get feedback from friends via email or social networks. It is the opposite of a passive experience if a consumer is committed to taking action to get the experience.

DP pointed out that retailers want to be engaged in social marketing, but that customer service is often lacking at their physical stores. AR could therefore be helpful to retailers because shopping is a social experience. An AR dressing room might be able to generate results that could be sent to the customers friends for comment via email or social networks.

Q: Google QR codes can be too complicated. Why not just have text codes? Is this an example of over-engineering?

DP likened the situation to the Beta/VHS battle. Everyone is creating their own mechanisms for codes, devices and triggering. It took a long time just to get standardized bar codes. It may come down to whose software works with the most applications. He expects standardization in 12-18 months but agrees that it is a huge problem now.

AB said that QR codes are popular in Japan but he expected that the US will skip QR codes due to advent of AR. He also wondered why one would not just type in a triggering code. It could certainly take out steps of the process of taking a picture of the code.

DD wants pattern recognition so that the phone can sees what he sees. Unfortunately, phones are not yet powerful enough to do that.

Q: What are the applications for TV and AR beyond football down and distance markers?

DD thought that there would be tremendous potential with TVs increasingly being Internet-connected. He felt that TV viewing is becoming less passive. Applications for TVs could also be location-based. Otherwise, as he pointed out, TV already isn’t reality

DP said that AR might allow advertising to be more integrated with programming. For example, AR could provide additional information without interrupting the program.

DD pointed out the tradeoff between privacy and added value. In effect, the TV could be watching you while you’re watching it. It could even know what part of the screen you’re looking at. It could know if you got up and left the room.

DP thought that there could be opportunities with Microsoft’s Project Natal, which involves face-recognition.