Digital Is Forever

In the last of my looking back series – celebrating 10 years of this blog – I’m looking at post I wrote back in 2009 about what happens to your digital presence when you die. A cheerful thought.

The Legacy Locker I mentioned in my original post no longer exists. So what has changed? (Don’t panic: there are other services available. )

Two other big changes; legal firms recommend you appoint a digital executor and platforms have developed their own polices and processes in the event of a user’s death.

For example, facebook have acknowledged the reality of our digital forevers with the option to memorialise accounts, and even give you the option of appointing a legacy contact. Twitter will work with families, or next of kin, to deactivate the account.

Since my blog post two friends have died, and in both cases Facebook was used to organise memorial meetings. Both their accounts are still live and we, as friends continue to share memories on their pages. Given that both these friends have friends and colleagues from around the world it’s a wonderful way for us to keep some memory alive.


What happens to your web presence when you die? Does it hang around forever? With much of our personal administration done online how do our families handle those accounts? And now that we have “virtual” friends and relationships online, does a withering avatar inform them of our demise?

digital_tattooThere’s a new service to be launched next month, called Legacy Locker, which provides storage of all your online profiles, logins and passwords and will release them to a family member in the vent of your death (and on provision of a death certificate and other documentation).

It will certainly easier to go through this process once, rather than multiple times with each social networking/blogging/email/service website.

They’re not the only ones to contemplate this issue, a Dutch networking site Mediamatic has been contemplating it more from a philosophical point of view. They’ve created an exhibition “Ik R.I.P” (Ik = I in Dutch), which is billed as “an exhibition about death, internet and self-representation”. There’s a matching website where you can leave a sort of digital will, linked to one of several online profiles. The focus here is more on the social aspect of what happens after your death, whereas Legacy Locker looks at the very practical problem of your personal information and services online.

Given how much of my life is now online, it makes sense to plan for aspects of my death online.

iPad Revisited

The iPad was announced in January of 2010, and launched in April. I was scathing. I couldn’t see what it was for, there was a lot it couldn’t do and I thought the name was terrible. Six months later I bought one, and I still have it. It’s still limited, but as a portable home entertainment centre it works well.

But it’s funny to read how negative I was about it. Mind you I wasn’t alone, Gizmodo, NY Times and Jezabel also saw the same issues.

Here’s the original post.


So the iPad was finally announced after a run of rumours over the last month or two. It won’t be launched until March/April, but there’s already a fever of anticipation on twitter, with about 1000 tweets per minute.

As far as I can tell from the launch video the iPad = kindle + iTouch – iTunes wrapped up in Apple’s high design ethic.

There are already big theories about what it will do, including making higher education irrelevant. The scenario described is more or less using iPad as a tool for eLearning – but eLearning is already used in masses of university and executive education that I don’t see having a new tool as an obvious game changer. If Apple can get enough of the educational material online then perhaps it will transform educational publishing – that is not the same thing as higher education.

So what will it transform? It’s finally a competitor for Amazon’s best selling Kindle, and it’s priced to compete with Kindle, sort of. Kindle is at 259USD and the iPad starts at 499USD, there’s a quality difference and then there is the usual “apple premium”. So although Kindle has already developed a market share, and developed agreements with publishers to ensure a steady stream of new content, they might be pushed to improve the reading experience.

I suspect the transformation will hit the publishing industry and the web/design industries. Both will push the boundaries of current web design to create content – including video and apps – that will be worthy of the iPad – because it is a thing of beauty. The flow of content might follow the example I wrote about earlier this month regarding Digital Magazines.

There are issues, lots of them; some, like the lack of Flash and limited browser, can change relatively easily. But the biggest we-are-all-12-years-old-again issue is the name, calling this iPad just shows they have too many boys in their marketing department. Women immediately connect the name to menstrual pads (see list of twitter trending topics above). Ignominious start for something billed as “the best web surfing experience”.

More than Reality; Augmented Reality

Remember when swarms of people were rushing through parks, causing traffic accidents, invading museums in a quest to capture invisible creatures? That was Pokemon Go,  an augmented-reality game that used your mobile phone to superimpose a layer of visible monsters on your smart phone. If you were under 30 it was a fun way to get out side with a bunch of people, if you were over 30 it was an incredible waste of time, and if you were over 60 (hi Mum!) you couldn’t understand it at all. Pokemon Go turned 1 year old last month.

So far Augmented Reality, and it’s big sister Virtual Reality, seem to be technologies looking for a purpose. But what if you could find a good use for them?

Social Issues

The BBC radio programme Click report on the use of Virtual and Augmented reality in the world of art and social conscious raising, it’s worth listening to, although not all that easy to imagine the art under discussion – it’s challenging our knowledge of history, relationships and empathy. They talk about some of the technical challenges of making the experiences work for international audiences.

Clouds over Sidra, is a Virtual reality film that aims to transport you to the experience of a refugee camp, and it was created by the UN to highlight the plight of refugees, now more numerous than ever.

There’s a an old adage that history is written by the victors, as a result the statues of the good and the great tend to be of white men. There are no statues of real women in New York’s central park – but 26 of men, and it’s the same pattern across the world. It will take generations to change this. In the meantime Y&R is bringing women into the landscape in an augmented reality app called “The Whole Story“. It’s a great way to be more aware of who is missing from the landscape, this is focused on the missing women of history, but the same technology could be used for unrecognised men. It could also be used to update the history of those great men who, in current times, aren’t viewed in quite the same light.

Medical Uses of Augmented Reality

(1) Training doctors on anatomy,  Microsoft has worked with their HoloLens product and medical experts to build a 3D interactive anatomically correct model to train students.

(2) Headsets using virtual reality could help visually-impaired people have independence, helping them navigate their way around cities even in low lighting.

(3) Using wearables to train surgeons in remote locations

(4) Performing surgery – remotely – already exists, but it’s only a matter of time before the surgeon’s experience becomes more virtual.

Advertising/Entertainment

There will be lots more  experimentation with advertising and entertainment uses of virtual or augmented reality, my favourite so far is this, from Pepsi. How freaked out would you have been if this had happened at your bus stop.

The equipment for virtual reality is expensive and clunky which keeps it in the realms of specialists for now, but augmented reality via your phone represents a real opportunity beyond catching Charmeleons and Venusaurs.

World Earth Day

CM2017_04_earth.png

Saturday is World Earth Day, this year’s theme is “Climate Literacy” which is needed more than ever. I have been reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History which is scary warning for all that is going wrong with our natural environment.  It essential, if depressing, reading. So I started to look for some signs of hope, technology that is making things better, and simple ways to make my habits more sustainable.

Food

One big impact on our environment comes from what we eat, the high level of meat in our diet has a negative effect in terms of land use, water use, pollution and green house gas emissions. Some experts conclude that we just need to eat less meat, according to Mark Bittman in a TED talk from 2007 “Less meat, less junk, more plants”. There are a couple of answers for the future that don’t require you to give up all the bacon.

Cultured Meat

Also called synthetic meat, fake meat, clean meat or in vitro meat, depending on the view of the writer. It has given rise to all those stories of the World’s Most Expensive Burger, tasty Chicken treats, and pet medication. As far as I know there’s no synthetic bacon that passes the taste test – yet.

Insects

I have eaten scorpion.

What we eat is largely culturally determined, and while in the west eating insects has a high cultural barrier around the world thousands of people eat insects – deliberately.

So where did I eat scorpion? In China, there was a translation issue, or a pronunciation issue since the word for scorpion (xiēzi) is quite close to the word from eggplant (qiézi). Or perhaps it was the waiter’s little joke on the foreigners. The scorpion is technically an arachnid, rather than an insect, but the idea is the same. They come deep fried, which denatures the poison and they’re, um, crunchy.

If you feel ikky about eating insects it’s a barrier you can overcome, indeed we may have to.

What can you do?

  • reduce the amount of meat you eat, experiment with meat-free Mondays, or only eat meat in the weekends.
  • pay attention to the source of your meat, if you’re eating less you can pay more for meat from animals that have been grazing outdoors.
  • learn to cook vegetarian meals, the lentil is your friend.
  • plan your meals so that you reduce food waste.

Clothing

Fashion has evolved a ‘fast fashion‘ ethos, where we add to our wardrobe continuously with cheap clothes designed not to last. This consumes resources and creates waste as we throw away clothes after relatively few wears. The waste created is reaching crisis proportions, with Americans discarding 35 kilograms of clothing per year. Some estimates reckon that clothes on the fast fashion cycle stay in a woman’s closet just five weeks. There is a lot to think about in the quest to buy sustainable clothing.

coffee grounds

There are advances being made in the actual composition of the fabric used in clothing, using soy, recycled nylon, or coffee grounds.  Some of the companies are also developing closed loop systems so that everything developed will be recycled again.

There are also entrepreneurs working on new crops for fabric, bamboo is promising as a source but it’s manufacturing process seems to be a problem. Alpaca, wool and hemp also provide sustainable options, in each case you need to now about the source and the processing to be really sure.

What can you do?

  • pay attention to fabric type and source, avoid toxic fabrics
  • check manufacturing process, ask who made your clothes
  • when buying a garment ask yourself if you would wear it at least 30 times, this is the #30wears campaign started by Livia Firth. (Hat tip Mathilde Teuben)
  • repair your clothes, you should be able to sew on a button yourself, but there are tailors in every city. Two winters ago I paid for a winter coat to be re-lined, I think it cost 50 euro but that was cheaper than a replacement coat and it’s lasted two more winters.
  • consciously recycle, if you research where discarded clothing goes, it’s often landfill.

Energy

The two best options for large scale sustainable energy use are solar and wind.

Solar Power

Tesla Power wallTesla has created the Powerwall, a system to harness and store solar energy. Designed for domestic use sales were were high through last year, and this provides a good option for small scale use, but is limited when it comes to those of us living in apartments – I don’t have any roof space on which to install solar panels.

If solar panels on roofs aren’t a full at-scale solution what other surfaces could be used for solar panels? The Netherlands is midway through an experiment on using a solar bike path, results in terms of user testing are positive, although the surface probably isn’t strong enough for use on a roadway. However at a cost of about 3 million euro to build a 70m stretch of bike path we’re a long way from a convincing business case.

Wind Power

wind powerThe Netherlands has offshore windfarms, you fly over them if you’re arriving from the UK. I had naively thought that Europe was doing well on installing wind power as  form of renewable energy, but in fact China is doing better than any other country.

China is the biggest installer of new wind power capacity, installing about half of the new wind power capacity each year. In fact wind energy has become a major industry with at least six turbine companies.

We’ll need a much faster growth of renewable energy options in the west if we’re going to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbon energy forms. This matters for two reasons:

  • we will eventually run out of hydrocarbons, we’re already struggling to sustain supply without damaging our environment and resorting to fracking, arctic drilling and deep sea drilling in pristine environments.
  • the pollution from the use of hydrocarbons is poisoning our oceans, and our atmosphere.

What can you do? Reduce your energy consumption:

  • Take public transport
  • Ride a bike
  • Lower your central heating and put on a sweater
  • Insulate your house – even closing the curtains at night lowers the energy needed to heat your apartment.

Plastic

We have known for a long time that plastic (incidentally often made from oil) do not biodegrade and that they create pollution.  Plastic is a major component of landfill, and in our oceans it has created a floating rubbish patch in the north Pacific. There are municipal recycling schemes in Dutch cities to encourage recycling of plastic, but total plastic recycled is still less than 10%.

Some work has gone into making biodegradable plastics or packaging. The latest is an algae membrane used to package single serves of water, the packaging is even edible. It works as a single serve option but it’s a flawed solution, and will never replace the existing options.

What can you do to lower your plastic use?

  • carry a shopping bag
  • shop at a market that doesn’t package fruit/vegetables
  • carry a water bottle
  • avoid drinking straws and plastic packaging (I am sitting in a cafe that is making the change to no plastic, starting with paper straws)
  • more ideas on the Trash is for Tossers blog

Activism

Companies and governments change on the basis of what people want, eventually. I know it may seem hard to believe some days. So tell them.

  • refuse the plastic straw at the bar and say why
  • buy from companies who are sustainable
  • talk to companies about what they could do better: by phone, letter, email, Facebook or twitter
  • boycott companies that don’t improve – and tell them
  • support an NGO that works on sustainability issues with a donation, your time, your voice
  • tell others about companies and initiatives you’ve heard of that are sustainable.
  • recycle your rubbish
  • call on your city to provide recycling measures
  • call on business to support recycling measures

The Answer

There’s no easy answer here, everything we do has an impact on the planet, all we can do is make choices to reduce our impact. Reduce what we consume, re-use items, re-purpose others, recycle as much waste as we can.

And speak up, tell companies that you expect sustainable products, tell your elected officials that you want a world for the next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after…

Image:  Earth  |  Kevin Gill  |  CC BY-SA-2.0

Zombie Project

If you’ve ever been in a project that limps along with extended deadlines, never taking off but never quite failing you may have been on a zombie project. I admit I’d never heard the term until a friend used it in a bit of a rant recently.

Projects are started with the best intentions; a good idea, a business reason, feasibility analysis, management sign off and resources allocated.  Some projects never really take off and make the expected progress, for a multitude of reasons – I’m sure you’ll recognise one or two of these;

  • a change in the business environment affecting the company’s finances or priorities
  • a competitor does something unexpected
  • management support dwindles
  • technology doesn’t work as planned
  • a key stakeholder withdraws
  • legal/regulatory/risk concerns start to slow progress and/or outweigh the project’s potential benefits.
  • competing priorities from other departments/teams

Often the momentum of a project will carry it on through some of these setbacks and it will go on to be successful – even if it’s delayed. Sometimes the delays accumulate and the momentum drops, progress meetings become further apart with much less to report. But the optimism behind the initial idea makes it hard to kill the project and it lives on in a strange half-life – your project just became a zombie.

We’re good at ignoring bad news, and bad at acting on what, to an outsider, might seem obvious. Our initial optimism and emotional investment in the idea make us reluctant to point out when something is not working. In addition failed projects have a way of being penalised when it comes to performance review time.

However zombie projects consume resources, and therefore have a drag on the companies bottom line. Logically companies will want to review their project portfolio and kill any zombie projects. One way to do this is to hold a “zombie amnesty”, where projects are reviewed and if they no longer promise value to the company are killed. In one HBR report a company found 20% of its IT projects fell into this category. For this to be successful you will need;

  • transparent criteria for the assessment of each project, you should ignore sunk costs and look at the cost and benefits from today
  • an independent reviewer or review team, it’s hard to be objective from inside the project
  • a “celebration” of the projects that are closed, you need to communicate the reasons for stopping the projects, and the benefit to the company as part of the no penalty clause and as a way to encourage future zombie killings.

In your assessment you may find some projects that are languishing on the border of the zombie zone but they have potential to provide value. You then have a choice to kill or relaunch.

Don’t relaunch just because there is value, check all the issues that led to the project failing. Change it up, add resources, tighten the governance, get a new – more demanding – executive sponsor. It needs to feel like a new project.

If the project is killed it may be resurrected in a shiny new form in a year or two. Try not to be the person that says “we tried that already”, but examine it as a new project.

I’ve talked about this from a manager’s perspective, but I promise you the people on the zombie projects already know that their work isn’t valuable to the company. If you can edit the projects and focus on the ones that will provide value they’ll thank you for it.

From the perspective of a project team member try to avoid these projects, they’re draining and will never reflect well on you. If it’s unavoidable then be brave enough to call time on the half-dead.

 

Image: Businessman Zombie  |  Lindsey Turner   |   CC BY 2.0 

 

Book of the Month: Non-Obvious

I have both the 2015 and 2016 editions of this book, it’s not necessary to buy both as the 2016 edition covers everything in the 2015 edition. This is book of the month for May.

Non-Obvious 2016 Edition – How To Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict The Future

By: Rohit Bhargava

This book tries to do two things; teach you how to collect your own trends and secondly discuss the trends they’ve collected and see as important. Maybe I’m too lazy to be a trend curator – I preferred the second part of the book.

In the mass of news it can be challenging to sort out trends for fads, which Bhargava recognises in naming his method “The Haystack Method”. He likens the mass of information to a haystack, but considers the insight you apply to the information to be the needle, and sets out five steps for trend curation.Trend Curation Process

Gathering is simply saving interesting ideas from the mass of content that surrounds his, he prints out the ideas and labels them with a sharpie, finding this easier to work with in the aggregate step than online options. (I’m a fan of online options – Pocket being my current favourite).

Aggregate is grouping the ideas into clusters, looking for broad ideas affecting multiple unrelated industries, perhaps focusing on a human need rather than a technology. Give each group a working title that conveys why the grouping is interesting.

Elevating is looking for the big ideas across your clusters, connecting ideas from different examples and determining which ones represent a shift in business practices. It’s the toughest step, and may result in you disturbing the clusters from step 2.

Naming a trend in a way that is both understandable and memorable. Bhargava often uses word mashups, alliteration and twists to create something that works. Examples in the 2016 edition include “B2Beyond Marketing”,  “Reverse Retail”,  and “The Reluctant Marketer”. I’m generally not a fan of the word mashups.

Prove check that the trend you’ve identified really is a trend. Bhargava looks at the strength of the underlying idea, the impact on behaviour and the potential acceleration of the idea.

In each section he provides tips and tricks to help you follow the process, and provides some examples of how he’s approached each step. Even so the guidance is rather high level, and since the underlying assumption is that you collect ideas and read widely I’m not sure that this really works as  guide.

The second, and larger, part of the book discusses the trends, and this I enjoyed more. Each trend is explained in context, with industry examples and closes with “How to use this trend”, which mostly made me want to do more research.

My two favourite trends for 2016 were I’ll point out a couple of the trends that appealed to me.

Mainstream Multiculturalism

Mainstream multiculturalism

My worlds collide in this one trend, I’ve now spent more of my adult life outside my home country than in it, and I’ve lived in five different countries, my friends are from all over, and speak all sorts of languages so I never really fit the mainstream wherever I am. I think the patterns of migration, the rise of the children of migrants and the increased opportunities all feed into this.

The other side of my life, the geek side, makes this all possible; technology now delivers a range of platforms where anyone can contribute, so we have more “voices” in entertainment.

But the trend goes beyond entertainment, into our food and our politics with Justin Trudeau commenting that the make up of his cabinet, and specifically the gender balance was important “because it’s 2015”.

In “how to use this trend” Bhargava points to new hiring practices, instructing you to hire for unexpected diversity, but is light on the “how”. I saw an interview with a filmmaker recently about building more diversity in films who made the very good point that it’s not enough to just hire diversity, you need to mentor and train and listen to the stories being told.  (I should have written down the filmmaker’s name, I only remember her words!)

Strategic Downgrading

Strategic downgrading
Our consumerist mentality assumes that the new shiny thing is better, that more functions are better, that more data/information is a good thing. But some consumers challenge that, rejecting complicated functionality, or valuing one characteristic over all others or favouring single function devices.

Farmers apparently are rejecting the most technologically advanced tractors, favouring instead a more robust model, perhaps one that is easier to use and easier to fix.

Consumers valuing privacy may choose the “Blackphone”, which puts privacy first. There are a number of “un-smartphones” out there with no internet functionality and no camera – but battery life greater than 24 hours.

I could read e-books on a laptop, a tablet or my phone, I don’t, I choose to read either paper books or on my kindle, because when I read I want zero distractions. We’ve recently seen a rise in sales in print books, perhaps as people rediscover the joy of being absorbed in a book and rejected the screen experience.

I doubt I’ll ever be a trend curator professionally, however I found inspiration amongst the trends discussed and some reassurance that my chaotic collecting of ideas might be useful. I like the presentation of the trend chapters with the wide range of industries covered, the blending of ideas in to a human trend and the “how to” sections to guide future use of the trend. I think the “how to” sections following each trend should be seen as inspiration for your next steps rather than specific actions to take.

I did find several errors in the book that seemed to hint at overly-fast production. The diagram of the Haystack method has the steps in the wrong order, and Noma is mentioned as being in Amsterdam (it’s in Copenhagen) are two that grated.

Overall the book is thought-provoking, the trends are characterised on a human need level – rather than the tech-heaving “VR is big” type of trend often seen – and cover a wide range of industries. I think this makes it easier to see applications of each trend across other businesses.

Artificial Intelligence

“The intelligence exhibited by machines or software”, artificial intelligence holds a lot of promise in making machines smarter using tools of natural language processing, reasoning, computational intelligence, robotics etc. The commercial potential includes customer service, self driving cars and personal care.

Microsoft launched an experimental chatbot based on AI last week. On Wednesday Tay was born, an artificially intelligent chatbot with the personality of a 19-year-old female American, with the aim of “conducting research on conversational understanding”.

But it quickly went wrong, within hours Tay’s twitter account was supporting conspiracy theories around 9/11, espousing right wing views to vie with Hitler or Donald Trump. Tay’s life was short, Microsoft took her offline by the evening, and the worst of her tweets started disappearing. (Not before loads of people took screen grabs).

In the same week FastCompany reported on Whisper’s Arbiter software which ensures that nothing untoward is published by the company’s user-base. Whisper is anonymous and combines text with images, a virtual version of PostSecret. Their filter software is build on masses of data, but they still use human moderators to make sure that their user generated content stays on the right side of the company’s policies. This is particular challenging in an environment of anonymous accounts and sneaky attempts to subvert the algorithm.

So why didn’t Microsoft do the same? This “troll” phenomenon is well-known and well documented, and Microsoft has significant experience using social platforms, certainly enough to predict this.  WIRED report that Microsoft advised them in an email “We have taken Tay offline and are making adjustments” so perhaps when Tay comes back online she’ll have learnt from the first experiment.

There’s an oft quoted saying “artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity”, in this case Tay learnt from us, she copied patterns of speech and opinions from the humans who interacted with her. She’s a human creation in more ways than one; to make artificial intelligence better, we need to be better humans.

Image: digitization via pixabay