The Gig Economy

We’re in the gig economy, we can order food, dinner delivered, or cookies delivered at midnight if you’re in New York. We can share our spare room for cash on AirBnB, our trips with Uber, or garden tools we’re not using.  We can have someone visit us to hang a picture, build a bookcase or unblock a drain. In France you can have someone do your homework. The people providing the platforms say it unleashes innovation and offers exciting opportunities, it’s supposed to be good for us.

The companies offering platforms to enable all of this are lauded as disruptive and for a long time new companies were launched and cited as “the Uber of X“, there is even a book called “The Uber of Everything” which has the positive-sounding subtitle “How the Freed Market Economy is disrupting regulated industries and delighting customers”.

I’m all for disruption, but sometimes the disruption isn’t where you expect. Take AirBnB, there are a lot of articles about how AirBnB is disrupting the hotel industry, and it’s a service I’ve used in half a dozen cities. But it’s not the hotel industry that’s feeling the impact in Amsterdam, hotel nights are on the rise up 7% in Q1 2016, and numerous hotels have opened since airBnB launched in 2008. What has been affected is the rental market, with hundreds of apartments taken off the rental market. Amsterdam is not the only place to see an impact on the stock of rental apartments, and the city has now put limits in place.

Uber started out as a ride sharing platform, and it has a lot of benefits in terms of lowering congestion, lowering car pollution, reducing parking problems in cities. It has, according to some reports, lowered the rate of drink driving. There are a lot of positives. But there is also a downside. The industry that Uber set out to disrupt is the taxi industry seeing it as over-regulated and ripe for reform. When I hear the term “regulated industry” I always myself “who benefits?” In the case of the taxi industry there was a certain amount of industry protection to stop new entrants into the market, which maintains higher taxi prices. However it also protected drivers, allowing them to have a reasonable work week, and it protected passengers because drivers were licenced – as opposed to the ‘random driver‘ you might get as your Uber driver. Uber drivers started out as freelancers, part of the gig economy, but many of them now depend on their Uber income and are starting to fight back with attempts to unionise in Seattle and New York.

If we follow the money, it’s accruing to the platform owners. Uber’s revenue in 2016 is around USD6.5billion and AirBnB’s reached USD1.7billion. These two companies are doing very well out of the sharing economy. But there’s one platform that’s doing even better, Facebook earned almost USD27billion in 2017 almost all from advertising.

Other platforms began in one form and have evolved to others. Amazon began as a retail outlet and Netflix as a movie subscription service. Both have evolved into content creators each with a huge, somewhat overlapping, customer/subscriber base.  Although some local competitors exist, it would be almost impossible for a new entrant to compete with either platform on a global scale. This is fast becoming detrimental to those who work in creative fields.

For digital platforms the economics tend towards a “winner takes all” outcome, that is we end up with a single monopolistic player in each type of platform that evolves. This is because even if there’s room for several players in a market, ride-sharing for example, a platform can outspend –  or outsmart – competitors to acquire all the suppliers or all the customers. Once it has all the players on one side of the transaction it’s almost guaranteed acquisition of all those on the other side.

Stakeholder management theory says that a company must balance the interests of employees, customers and investors otherwise business model not sustainable, but in the case of platforms there is an imbalance of power allowing them to focus on the interests of investors, particularly prior to IPO when they must satisfy the demands of the Venture Capitalists. It’s taken new regulation to protect the interests of consumers, employees and others affected by the platform’s success.

The gig economy is good for business, it’s not so good for workers.

Right now I could order dinner to be delivered to me via Thuisbezorgd (the local incumbant), Foodora, Hungry, Deliveroo or Uber Eats. I predict that in one year’s time there will be just one platform.

Image: Lost in the Gig Economy?  | Tankesmedjan Futurion  |  BY-NC-SA 2.0 

 

Digital Governance

CM2017_05_governance.png

Governance is a difficult discussion in a company. For people who like creativity it tends to make their eyes glaze, meanwhile those driven by order and rules sit up and start planning. But governance is just about how you make decisions, and good decision making is essential in any organisation.  In many large companies their digital and social media presence began in a rather ad hoc way, starting in pockets of expertise around the company and only later were pulled together. Sometimes it’s only after a crisis that a real need for good digital governance emerges. Too much governance can restrict and slow an organisation’s decision making, and too little results in chaos. So what does good governance look like?

An Australian organisation aiming to help local governments have better governance created a list of characteristics of good governance. These characteristics also apply to decision making in organisations.

Good governance is;

  • accountable
  • transparent
  • lawful
  • responsive
  • equitable and inclusive
  • effective and efficient
  • participatory

Good digital governance will cover;

  • framework of roles and responsibilities, this is sometimes called a RACI matrix, and it sets out who is responsible for doing the work, who has the decision power, who needs to be consulted or informed. Defining roles for the processes around digital content will give team members some certainty about who does what.
  • digital strategy, define and document the strategic approach you’re making in digital and how it meets business goals.
  • digital policies, these should cover high level management direction such as use of the company logo online, setting up social media accounts, privacy policies.
  • digital standards, minimum acceptable standards, often applicable to the technology, could include defining the maximum acceptable downtime of a website for example.

It’s a lot of detailed focused work to set all of these items up, and they need a regular review – at least annually. It’s important that there is an annual review because digital world changes and what makes sense now won’t in a year.

Your digital presence is about representing your brand, but you also need to do so without creating unnecessary risk. Every project you undertake in a company needs to consider potential risk, here are some  of the brand building initiatives and the risk avoiding steps to be considered. Sometimes it’s the same activity.

Represent Brand Avoid Risk
Consistent branding; strong guidelines Monitoring for content that is incorrectly branded
Asset repository, so that brand is always well represented Monitor for misuse of brand name: phishing sites, false claims etc
Respond to comments and social media posts with brand’s tone of voice Response matrix (examples)
Policies on publication including privacy, content, tone of voice Monitor content published to your social media accounts or as comments on articles you publish
Trained staff working on sites and social media accounts Control access to accounts, name the people who are posting to maintain accountability
Strategic acquisition of domain names Monitor for launch of new top level domains

People like flexibility, and sometimes people have the idea that governance just means lots of rules, and it’s true, there will be rules – or standards or policies. But without governance every decision will be agonising and slow. On an operational level you will create inconsistency, legal risks, and confusion for your audience.

Good governance should be a starting point for your digital teams to do their work. It should put in place policies, standards and decision processes that give the digital experts the guidance they need to do their job well, in a way that builds your brand. It should include a review cycle, particularly digital governance since the platforms change frequently and there are legal changes that you will need to include. Build your governance framework to be flexible, it will then be a more resilient to changes. Think of a tree that bends in the wind, at the end of the storm the tree still stands.

Image:  Lone Tree Wind Sculpture   |   Nick Fullerton   |  CC BY 2.0

 

So it’s Valentine’s Day

CM2017_02_love.pngSo it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m going to talk about sex. This post may be NSFW, and the same caveat goes for the links.

I was watching Grace and Frankie,  one of the few TV (OK Netflix) shows to star post-menopausal women at the centre of the story. In the final episode of season two Grace finds that sex toys aren’t made for older women, they aggravate her arthritis. The two resolve to start a business making sex aids for older women.

Yep sextech has made it to tv.

Sextech is the attempts to bring the adult entertainment industry into modern life via technology. My first exposure to the sextech industry was a presentation at one of the WebSummits, where a startup had created an app that allowed separated couples to give each other intimate good vibrations. The presenters managed to explain exactly how it worked in PG-rated terms, quite a feat.

As you might guess it’s a male dominated industry. But there are some women working to change that, often by focusing new devices.  In fact the sextech industry has focused on devices, from artificially intelligent vibrators, to men’s pleasure training tools, to an orgasm tracker – a fitbit for sex. And who knows what VR will bring to the bedroom.

There is one notable exception to the device trend; Cindy Gallop is addressing the impact of the pervasive story-line of porn. In this TED talk she explains how bad we are at discussing sex, and asks us to be better at it.  (And the video is NSFW)

Cindy Gallop is driving a social sex revolution, where we become better at talking about sex, more honest about what does turn us on, less reliant on a single-story-line-porn version of sex. She’s gone from being annoyed at the limited view of sex offered by porn to inviting everyone to join the social sex revolution via a documentary.

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-14-57-50I know Valentine’s day is supposed to be about romance rather than sex, but isn’t romance just foreplay to the foreplay?

To be honest I’m not really on board with the Valentine’s day thing. It’s true that I’m female and single so you can go ahead and label me as a bitter spinster for that but even when in a relationship I hated the forced feel of Valentine’s Day. One memorable Valentine’s Day the man-du-jour gave me a cactus. Not at all romantic; I appreciated the political commentary of the gift.

Images: Hearts |  Suju via pixabay  |  CC0 1.0 

Cactus  |  Sue Kellerman  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Privacy and Data Protection

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There are no surviving letters from Captain Cook to his wife, she burnt them saying they were “too personal and sacred”. We’re losing the idea that some things might be worth holding as personal and sacred. Part of that is our own doing, we’re sharing more images, texts and posts than ever (today’s count = 2 blog posts, 5 images, 4 links, spread across seven accounts). But a bigger part, a scary part, is from the technologies we use and the changing government rules.

Governments are taking more and more of our data. Last year the UK government expanded its surveillance powers last year with the passing of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which creates a government database to store the web history of every citizen in the country.

But perhaps the most insidious increase in data collection is via our mobile phones. I don’t share personal information on Facebook itself (I lied about my date of birth), but if I leave the application permissions on default then I grant Facebook the right to data from my calendar, camera, contacts, location, microphone, phone, sms, and storage. The location data means that Facebook knows where I live, where I work, and where my favourite cafe is. The contact data means they potentially know my mother’s home phone number.

Your phone knows more than you realise, health data from your fitbit, stored passwords for your banking account, your exact location – either via the location app or via wifi pings. And beyond Facebook we install dozens of apps and grant them permissions, in this edition of the BBC’s “Click” programme they report on an app that collects a frightening amount of data, which happens to have been downloaded 50M downloads.

In general it doesn’t really matter if someone knows where I work,  I publish that information on LinkedIn anyway, and it probably doesn’t matter much that someone finds out where I live. But it might. For vulnerable people – those escaping domestic violence, refugees, protesters – this is information that they definitely want to keep private.  (Here are some practical tips to secure your phone, from encryption to app management. )

In fact the EU Charter on Human Rights asserts that data protection is a human right with the words “Everyone has the right to the protection of personal data concerning him or her” and there is debate on whether this should be a global human right.  If you think we have a right to privacy then it’s a pretty short step to thinking data protection must be an important part of that.

Tomorrow is Data Protection Day, celebrate by adding two factor authentication to your accounts, checking app permissions and adding encryption to your phone.

Image: Occhiata   |  Franco   |   CC BY 2.0

 

Learning about Digital

It’s a digital world. I was reminded recently of just how digital it’s becoming speaking to a retired friend who doesn’t have a computer. It’s going to be almost impossible for her to pay her rent by the end of the year. Because I spend so much time with people who are digital savvy, if not digital natives, I tend to forget just how many levels there are to digital learning.

1 Beginner

Familiar with tools like word and excel, can use the internet, understands the risks and knows what signs to look for to check that a site is safe.

Learning focus = tools.

2 Effective

Can use all the tools, websites and apps in daily life.  Can do basic trouble-shooting when things go wrong.

Learning focus = autonomy

3 Mastered

Can use tools independently and teach themselves how to use new tools, can find new information and tools, can contribute online to social media or discussion groups, understands “netiquette”.  Has strategies to avoid trolls, scams and social engineering. Can work with colleagues online

Learning focus = behaviours

4 Professional

Your role at work is around digital, either in producing content, running digital campaigns, online marketing, digital projects or change management for digital transformation.

Learning focus = delivering value

5 Mentor

Leading digital transformation or development of new ways of working in digital. Expert at using the collaboration techniques including Work-Out-Loud and Results Only Work Environment.

Learning focus = helping others increase their digital knowledge

Do you agree? Are there other levels or things you’d add to these levels?

Let me know in the comments – I feel a series coming on.

Image: Kids these days | Louise McGregor  | CC BY-4.0

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; 404 Errors

What does the 404 error on your site look like?

  • Start with 10 points.
  • +5 for a search engine on the page
  • +3 points if there’s any ‘sorry’ or empathy expressed
  • +2 points if there’s a home page link
  • +1 point for any other useful link, up to a maximum of 5
  • – 5 points if the layout is confusingly similar to all other pages on your site
  • – 5 points if you return to the home page
  • + 25 points for any humour or demonstration of your brand values.
  • Lose all points if it mentions 404 anywhere on the page

How did you do?

Here’s how some of the smartest brands score, with the page that inspired me to look into this as the final example.

Etsy

10+5+3+2+0-0-0+25 =45 GOOD

There’s some empathy shown, a search bar, a homepage link, and a cute sketch connected to their origins as a sales platform for craftspeople.

404etsy

Nike

10+5+0+0+0-5-0+0=15 MEH

Very boring generic page, looking very similar to every other product page, at least they blame themselves. Nike are such heroes when it comes to branding I’m surprised that this is so dull.

404nike.png

Unilever

10+5+3+2+1-0-5-everything =0 BAD

The page is text heavy compared to others, and the search is under a link, rather than a simple search box, but they lost all points for saying it was a 404 error. It’s a correct statement, it’s just not helpful.

When I first looked for the 404 page I typed unilever.com/404 into the URL bar, and was automatically redirected to the homepage, this was the only site I found that did this.

404unilever.pngLego

10+5+3+2+25=45 GOOD

As you’d expect from the brand behind every geek’s favourite toy, Lego have a suitable graphic using Lego minifigs. There’s a search engine in the header bar, and a link to the home page. My only quibble is that the explanatory text below the image is tiny, it would make more sense to take that text and replace the “Page not found” text which is slightly technical

404lego.png

 

Apple

10+5+0+0+1-0-0=16 MEH

A totally simple flat functional page. I wanted to take points off for using the passive voice in the sentence but I haven’t.

404applesite

Amazon

10+0+3+2-0-0+0=15 MEH

Functional, only one action you can take. Amazon are incredibly data driven so the lack of any apparent thought in the design of this page suggests to me that it’s either super low traffic because people use the search box rather than type URLs, or that Amazon don’t see any opportunity for conversion to a sale from this page.

404amazon.png

Ben & Jerry’s

10+5+3+0+0-0-0+25 = 43 GOOD

Ben & Jerry’s are a fun-filled brand and it’s spread to their 404 page. Not only have they got the search engine, they’ve suggested a brand name for you to search. Very cute image that matches their text. And, now I want ice cream.

404benandjerrys.png

Siemens

10+5+3+2+1-0-0-0 = 18 MEH

I’ve included Siemens as an example as it has solved an issue many European countries face, a multilingual audience. In their case they’re a German company, but with international customers so the information is presented in English and German.

There is a small joke on the page as well, the coloured pixelated image moves, giving you the impression of a TV screen that’s lost its connection, geek joke.

404Siemens.png

Tech Crunch

10+5+3+2+1-5+0=16 BAD

I deliberately looked for these pages in a browser without an ad blocker. I understand that ads give sites like Tech Crunch the revenue to keep going, but in this case it makes it very difficult to see what I should click on. I’d suggest forgoing the revenue on this page and just helping people find their way. Likewise the most popular article list, obviously I don’t have data and Tech Crunch do, but it’d be interesting to see how many people clicked from this page to a “latest” article.

404techcrunch.png

Mashable

10+5+3+2++0-0-0+25=45 GOOD

It’s helpful, easy to read, funny and right on brand.

404mashable.png

You can check the “you’re lost” page (aka the 404 page) of any site by typing “companyname.com/anywordyoulike” into the URL bar, so mashable.com/wearefunny for example. See if you find it helpful – that’s the first test – then look at whether it’s on brand or offers some brand experience for any lost visitor.

Postscript

I just found the Virgin’s 404 message,  it’s the cheekiest yet.

201601_404virgin

Image error via pixabay

TNW in Review

I’ve just got back from “The Next Web Europe” conference, there’s a good chance the conference is still going on, at least the drinking/partying fun part of the conference. A few of the speakers triggered my thinking so there will be a few more posts in the coming 1-2 weeks but here’s my summary of the conference.

Location: Westergasfabriek is cycling distance from my house, so that scores it a bunch of points on my unscientific scale. But there are other advantages as well, it’s close to the centre, and set in a park. We were lucky to have sunny days so it was a joy to wander outside in the breaks. The venue for the red stage is an old gas storage silo that’s now been rebuilt, it makes a great shell to stage events.

Organisation: Top. A lot of thought had gone into the details, clever branding throughout, lots of exposure for partners, presenters were taken care of, the MC did a great job, clear signage, there were loads of people on the “TNW” team – and all the ones that I spoke to were helpful. Oh, and the wifi was great, and held up throughout the two days. So a big congratulations to the organisers and the event team.

My only minor complaint; a book giveaway was announced to start at lunchtime, but in fact started at the end of the speaker’s talk. So those who believed the announcement arrived at lunch to be told the freebies were all gone, but you can buy a book and the author will sign. No thanks, I like the guy but his signature isn’t worth the 22 euro price differential (from a kindle edition).

Speakers: This is my subjective judgement, I think there’s a big difference in the American style of presenting and the European style of presenting. Americans seem to go for big statements, dramatic conclusions, and value passion as a speaker. I think European speakers structure their speeches to tell a story, provide evidence, and value charm and audience connection as a speaker. Thus there were a couple of speeches that I really wanted to hear but felt like I was being yelled at. The worst in this category for me was Stefan Molyneux, who is very angry with banks and governments. Granted there’s a lot to be angry about, and since I used to work for a bank I’ve probably heard more of such rants than is good for me but it just felt very… 2009.

I think the speaker I enjoyed the most was Dale Stephens, the founder of uncollege. His parents let him quit school when he was 12 and start managing his own education. I’ve felt for along time that our current education system isn’t fit for the future, and the existing university system is increasingly a very middle-class rite of passage rather than a real education. I’ll have more to say about this in a later post.

Audience: Mostly young, digital natives or near natives, hipster beards abounded. Mostly men – it’s one of the few places I’ve been where there was a long queue for the men’s toilet and none for the women’s. Generally they were enthusiastic about good speakers, but also quick to walk if a speaker wasn’t delivering what they wanted (except for me, muggins, who sat through to the end in hope). I’m a little sad that the audiences don’t stay in the room for the various awards and support their industry colleagues, perhaps next year those awards could be between two draw-card speakers to reduce audience drift.

Stuff I didn’t see: One of the problems of these megaconferences is that there is so much going on that you can’t see it all. So I missed out on some great speakers in the green and blue rooms, a hackathon full of brilliance, and talking to some cool startups.

Purpose: I’ve been to the Dublin WebSummit a couple of times, and left feeling I’d heard from people who are building the digital industry, I didn’t get that at TNW Europe.

It felt more like there were more researchers and commentators on digital than practitioners, this may be partly due to my choice of the red room. I certainly learnt from many of the speakers, but for thinking about “The Next Web” – which is after all the title of the conference – I think the Dublin WebSummit does a better job.

Best Moment: coming back into the room and finding anonymous masks on our chairs. It made the point that we were about to discuss those difficult issues of private vs public.

Plus it led to a rash of selfies, that’s my first ever “selfie” on the left.

The first part of this session was the story of Shawn Buckles, who sold his personal data to the highest bidder – for 350 euro.

At the end of which all those with masked stood for a great photo opportunity.

I guess the ultimate test of value (especially as I pay my own way for conferences these days) is would I go to the next one; yes, I would.