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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

GPS Tracking

Had a great conversation with Rob Schwartz. He is CEO of TrackAmerica. They have a number of quickly mountable, good value GPS tracking solutions for assets and conveyances. They also have a selections of web based software solutions to utilize this data. Check out his site for a more details.

Reckitt-Benckiser Invests in Web

Noted Consumer Package Good maker, notable for its Lysol brand: From AdAge: " Reckitt-Benckiser will Shift $20 Million to Web From TV ... will cap off its fifth straight year of organic sales growth with a new recession-approved media strategy: moving TV dollars to online video ... ".

Common Knowledge

A blog: Common Knowledge, that discusses the issues behind a Science Commons.

Emerging Marketplace Simulation

Thinkvine has announced their Emerging Marketplace: Marketing Simulation and Planning Software. The link includes case studies and overviews. Reviewing.

" ... The Emerging Marketplace™ is the first Marketing application that helps businesses identify and maintain the right balance of Marketing, Media Mix and Advertising across both traditional and non-traditional marketing, closing pertinent gaps that exist with classical approaches ... puts the power of scenario planning into the hands of Marketers, allowing them to run "what if" scenarios and identify emerging customer behavior. This invaluable marketing application produces fast, actionable insight and helps businesses plan for both the anticipated and unprecedented reactions of consumers in today's complex & dynamic marketplace... "

Modeling and Simulation

David E.Goldberg passes along a slideshow describing an interdisciplinary course on modeling and simulation at the Olin College of Engineering. Well done.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Laws of Simplicity

Reading John Maeda's 2006 book The Laws of Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business Life. Nicely done so far, and simple. I am reminded of Einstein's quote that solutions should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. Some good examples, mostly for designers rather than engineers. Engineers sometimes have to address complexity head on.

He also has a blog for the book, but it is little updated. Since he became President of the Rhode Island School of Design, he blogs mostly at their site. Also on Twitter. And see his June 08 TED talk.

Colgate's Mini Disposable Toothbrush

Colgate continues to do very well. " ... Colgate thinks it could score with the Wisp, set to debut on Apr. 6. Several years in development, it's a disposable mini-toothbrush with a "breath-freshening bead" in the bristles. The bead dissolves during brushing, eliminating the need for toothpaste, and people who have used the product say there's no need to rinse, making it easy to brush at work or on the go ... " . Clever innovation idea.

Google on Emotion and Computing

All intelligence has an emotional component. Thus it is not unexpected that artificial intelligence has an emotional element. We all experience it. The frustration of setting up or learning a new system. How that system changes the way we can communicate with other systems and people. Google posts an item in their research blog about some of their work underway.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fun not Fear

Barb Didrichsen points me to a new site by Phil Terry: Fun not Fear. " ... The science and math behind 'bad news' With the "fun not fear" Facebook campaign, we are combatting the culture of fear with good news, good acts and a focus on the importance of everyday creativity ... ". Many have probably heard of this, but once again Phil puts together a good idea. Goal to get " ... 1,234,567 Facebook members by April 1, 2009 (then we go for 128 million by Jan 30, 2010) ... "

BusinessWeek on Business Intelligence

Fairly good piece on Business Intelligence, saying its time is now because it will be the method to get the kind of efficiency that will be required to survive in tougher times. Thus will be a top priority for CIOs. Not bad, but I think there is more than just scraping more data, which is what BI is mostly about. The assumption should be that there will be better models, properly applied. To me that is more about analytics than it is about business intelligence. BI can be used to find patterns, analytical methods overlay better patterns on data and drive towards predictability. Companies should be doing both. BI is simpler, but not always better.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Improving your Linkedin Profile

Short CIO article on improving your Linkedin profile. Largely obvious, but a useful checklist, especially to those new to Linkedin.

Microsoft Augmented Reality

Interesting piece I just got to on augmented reality work at Microsoft. Augmented reality has always been of interest to me as a way to overlay data in retail environments for the context of the observer. So a shopper would see promotions that are appropriate for their lifestyle or needs. A store manager would see outages that influences their profitability. A category analyst would see useful product affinities they can deliver. Lots of opportunities for the future.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Free Software and Copyright Law

Legal thoughts from a presentation by Richard Stallman. Once again the very odd implications of copyright law.

Haptic Jackets

Haptics are the study of using touch as input or output. Touch is a hard sense to deliver or detect precisely. Now the promise of a 'haptic jacket' which will add touch feelings to media. You could wear a haptic jacket at a movie for example. You won't have to sit in wired seats dubbed as 'Percepto' in the 1959 Vincent Price movie The Tingler. Same idea though.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Click to Buy on Image

An interesting new startup that combines crowdsourcing with the ability to click on pictures within images to order products. I have heard of something like this before.

Blog Typology Analysis

Archetype analyze a blog. This blog is classified as INTJ (Introversion, Intuitive, Thinking, Judgemental), not surprising, a classic Jungian-based Myers-Briggs typology. Though I never heard these called archetypes. In the enterprise we participated in this kind of classification any number of times to better 'understand' each other. Was interesting the first few times, but overplayed. I see that this is powered by UClassify, which I previously covered here.

Profile Update

I just updated my Linkedin Profile, including a new recommendation. As part of some of my previous work I maintain a presence in a number of social networking sites, but Linkedin is the only place where I maintain an up-to-date and detailed record of my past and current professional experience. Contact me!

Freeman Dyson

Good NYT mag piece on my long time, very iconoclastic hero, physicist Freeman Dyson. His WP article is also a good summary.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

One Version of the Truth in Business Intelligence

From eCommerce Times:

" ... After spending lots of time and money on business intelligence reporting and analysis, many companies often find themselves with multiple versions of "the truth" and seemingly few ways to tell which is the most accurate. Coming to a single version of the truth is possible, though it requires great care and attention from start to finish, writes Aberdeen's David Hatch ... "

Charmin Social Network: Sit or Squat.

From AdAge. Clever idea. Also interesting is that this is described as a wiki.

"Charmin social network finds and rates bathrooms
SitOrSquat.com, a mobile social-networking utility by Procter & Gamble's Charmin brand, locates and rates public restrooms for iPhone and BlackBerry users. It was launched in December and so far has listings for more than 52,000 toilets in 10 countries... "

Motionx by Fullpower

I recently posted about the Fullpower Motionx GPS application. I just took a look at their site and saw this page about a number of applications they are concentrating on for cellphones. A nice set of sensor goals. And much more there.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

MIT Open Access Policy

MIT is backing an open access policy to make all papers authored by its students and faculty free and openly accessible on the Web. They say this will move control of scientific knowledge from publishers to academics. And access to anyone interested. Some believe this will be a tipping point which lead to most scientific papers being accessible.

Nurturing Good Ideas at Unilever

Its not just about finding new ideas, its about nurturing them. It is about connect and develop. An abstract about an article in the HBR about how consumer product giant Unilever does it. I don't yet have the full article. " ... Managers know that simply generating lots of ideas doesn’t necessarily produce good ones. What companies need are systems that nurture good ideas and cull bad ones—before they ever reach the decision maker’s desk. Our research shows that tapping the input of many people early in the process can help ensure that the best ideas rise to the top ... "

Future of Machine Intelligence

A report on the future of machine intelligence. What is now being called AGI ... artificial general intelligence. Contrary to what has been called narrow AI, which seeks to solve specific problems. Narrow AI is out there today, embedded in lots of things we use today. Though notably that field can chose the problems it is able to solve. Very good overview of the conference and the current state of affairs. Lots of good links.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bloom Concierge Cart Technology

From SupermarketNews, this was a device I looked at a few years ago called the Concierge cart from Springboard Networks. This appears to be the first actual implementation of their smart cart idea. I have followed a number of other implementations of the idea both in the news and in test applications. The article says that it uses GPS for location, though it is unclear how this can be reliable in an indoor location. Contains a barcode scanner and a proximity indicator to say when promotions are nearby. That makes it open to a number of first-moment-of-truth engagement applications, especially when connected to a loyalty card system.

In most recent examples the cart mounted approach has been used primarily for pre-checkout when it contained a scanner. Without the scanner it limits the ability to communicate with the shopper and items on the shelf. It will be good to see a more complete implementation with full screen and scanner. Bloom is optimistic in their statement saying that they plan to roll it out to other stores.

P&G Site for the City

P&G has launched a recruitment site, both for the company and the City of Cincinnati. Good idea for those out of the way Midwestern cities that I have come to love after a mere 31 years! Longest I have lived anywhere.

Smart Phone to Become Universal Remote


In the NYT: The Universal Remote Dormant in Your Smartphone . In the 80s I recall seeing people having stacks of remotes on their couch arms. Then these were replaced by the universal remote, still to be found in most stores that sell electronics. As a big proponent of a single device world, this caught my eye. It was pointed out that most TVs these days are still controlled via IR, and only about a third of phones, as I recall, have IR output. So we have to wait until the controllable devices are all on the net. Though one example of an IPhone add-on to do IR is mentioned though still in very early stages. Good overview of some of the ideas under way.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

J&J Marketing Unleashed

I was just reminded of J&J Global VP Gary Bembridge's Marketing Unleashed Blog, still very active and interesting. He also has a Twitter presence.

The Middle Way

Colleague Barb Didrichsen has a blog called the Middle Way. She is a fine writer.

Primates on Facebook

Somwhat dated from the Economist, just brought to our attention:

" ... That Facebook, Twitter and other online social networks will increase the size of human social groups is an obvious hypothesis, given that they reduce a lot of the friction and cost involved in keeping in touch with other people. Once you join and gather your “friends” online, you can share in their lives as recorded by photographs, “status updates” and other titbits, and, with your permission, they can share in yours. Additional friends are free, so why not say the more the merrier? ... ".

Saturday, March 21, 2009

PC in 2019: What's Next?

I recent posted about the Sixth Sense projector plus gesture interface. Computerworld writes about this and what other things we might expect to develop in the next ten years. One interesting quote: " ..the PC of 2019 won't look like today's laptops .... I'm not seeing people carrying anything that looks like a book ... It would be like a phone or a ring or a watch. It will probably take multiple form factors ... " says Dan Siewiorek, director of Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Looking forward to the new experience.

Tribalization of Business

Tribalization site and study. " ... Online communities are proliferating as companies look to harness the collective wisdom and ideas of their employees, customers, and other constituents in order to innovate faster, reduce costs, and create the relationships that will grow their businesses and bolster their bottom lines ... ". Sponsored by Beeline Labs, Deloitte and the Society of New Communications Research.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Inside the Mind of the Shopper

Herb Sorensen has a book coming out in May: Inside the Mind of the Shopper: The Science of Retailing, from Wharton School Publishing.

I am now reading it in preprint. Very good so far, covers lots of the domain we worked with in our innovation centers. Covers insights he and Peter Fader at Wharton developed, apparently with some contributions from Unilever. I will review here when I finish it. I often cover Sorensen's work in this blog.

And below a pointer to some of his current online work, always insightful:

Zero Based Retailing by Herb Sorensen
For planning purposes, most countries, businesses and individuals take their current situation as some kind of baseline, upon which they build their planning for the future. This is a seriously flawed approach, particularly when the enterprise is under severe stress. Sometimes, for planning purposes, it is better to sweep all away (conceptually,) and begin anew from scratch. This is the basic element of "zero based budgeting," the concept of starting with a zero budget, considering the mission and its scope, and then allocating exactly the right amount of resources (personnel, facilities, etc.) needed to accomplish the mission, without regard to past or present allocation of resources..... "

ThinkVine Named Cool Vendor

Thinkvine, a local advanced analytics vendor that I have met with a number of times:

Gartner Names ThinkVine 1 of 4 “Cool Vendors” in Consumer Goods, 2009
... ThinkVine, a marketing simulation & planning software provider, has been named a 2009 “Cool Vendor” by Gartner in Consumer Goods. The 2009 research report highlights four vendors from around the world whose technology helps Consumer Goods manufacturers improve revenues while decreasing costs.

Advanced analytics and internal collaboration are central themes in this year’s ‘Cool Vendor Report’ as Consumer Goods companies seek to improve their advertising, forecasting and product development capabilities in response to a difficult economy. ThinkVine’s Emerging MarketplaceTM helps marketers understand the collective impact of traditional and non-traditional marketing on the consumer and provides a means to capture ROI from advertising.

Gartner defines a “Cool Vendor” as a company that offers technologies or solutions that are:
Innovative: Enables users to do things they couldn’t do before
Impactful: Have, or will have, business impact (not just technology for the sake of technology)
Intriguing: Have caught Gartner’s interest or curiosity in the past 6 months

“We are excited to have been chosen by Gartner as a cool vendor,” said Damon Ragusa, Founder & CEO of ThinkVine. “As the report points out, Consumer Goods companies have never faced a greater need for better tools to understand the impact of advertising and promotion in the face of economy-driven shifts in the marketplace.”

The “Cool Vendors in Consumer Goods, 2009” report is available at http://www.gartner.com.

... ThinkVine helps some of the world's most respected companies better align marketing & advertising with consumer behavior. Our application, The Emerging MarketplaceTM, simulates the interactions between different mixes of marketing and consumers in a virtual environment that mirrors the “real world.” Built on an agent-based modeling (ABM) framework, The Emerging MarketplaceTM lets marketers run “what if” scenarios and turn marketing/media planning into an iterative exercise versus a “one shot” approach. ThinkVine is currently deployed in consumer packaged goods (CPG), food & beverage, pharmaceutical, technology and other vertical markets ... "

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Data Visualization Reinventing Online Storytelling

Nice AdAge piece about the topic. I think that this can be taken further than just making data accessible, but also making it more valuable by making it interactive. Some Business Intelligence vendors are helping, but more can be done. A number of good examples in the article with links that I am exploring.

Data Visualization Is Reinventing Online Storytelling
Marketers, agencies and media companies have a lot to gain if they can make sense of the daunting volume of digital data and information ... "

Google and WPP Fund Neuromarketing Work

The post includes other links and brings up ethical concerns. They have been working on eyetracking for years. Have seen impressive presentations on that work.

" ... Among the research efforts given funds are projects that will “analyze internet users’ surfing habits to determine their thinking styles, such as whether they are most influenced by verbal or visual messages or if they are more holistic or analytical, and how to tailor ads accordingly” and an “analysis into how online ads effect blood flow to different areas of the brain ... "
Previously it has been mentioned that Google was working with Neurofocus on neuromarketing.

Outline of Predictably Irrational

An outline of Dan Ariely's book: Predictably Irrational, which I previously reviewed. Via the Noisy Channel. Nicely done.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Brand IP Interview

Interview with Keith Harrison, Supply Chain Strategist at P&G, A lesson in brand Intellectual Property. How does a supply chain strategist think about brand intellectual property?

Shopportunity Book

Read Kate Newlin's 2006 book: Shopportunity: How to be a Retail Revolutionary. She is a former president of Faith Popcorn's company: Brainreserve. She also worked at P&G during the late 70's, as I did. The book is directed at the consumer rather than the retailer or manufacturer, but it does make some useful points. Along the way she builds up a set of 21 steps to be a retail revolutionary that are worth considering.

Some of this book is about selling and buying experiences with women's clothing, which I know little about. Yet there are some good tales and insights along the way. The Vlasic Pickles $2.97 Gallon jar example of Wal-Mart and its suppliers is well told. That also leads to the destructive influence that low price and perpetual promotions have had on the department store. Some good historical points about how department stores started and evolved. She also tours upscale and downscale specialty stores. Newlin says that good design, in specialty shops or department stores is rare.

She praises P&G and their Gillette acquisition, if only to provide ammunition to fight Wal-Mart. She is relentless in criticizing Wal-Mart from a number of directions. She suggests that at the end of the day it can be about the thrill of the hunt and that companies like Whole Foods and Wegmans do this very effectively. Part of her advice to consumers is to always shop above your budget (but not necessarily buy). Probably not advice for the Wal-Mart shopper.

They had a shopportunity web site, but it is no longer online. Newlin's consulting company.
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Linkedin Advice

A blog of practical Linkedin advice, in general of the more advanced kind. Useful for anyone trying to understand how Linkedin works.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Costs of Print vs Online

Economic comparison: Printing The NYT Costs Twice As Much As Sending Every Subscriber A Free Kindle. Printing will not go away, but will it exist only in much smaller specialty domains?

Wal-Mart Enhances Private Label

From the AP, Wal-Mart introduces a number of new private label brands, refreshes others. In general, private label brands are much more profitable to retailers than national brands.

Virtual World Data Environments

Something I had explored since well before virtual worlds were common. The idea was that you could explore data by flying through a 3D space. There were several problems. One is that a 3D does not provide lots of additional resolution for exploration and there was little opportunity for precise manipulation.

The results showed little benefit beyond carefully designed 2D data representation. In fact while some BI packages today include 3D visual metaphors but they seem to be rarely used since motion is required to understand the data relationships and it is hard to understand dimensional interactions. Experts in data design push simplicity rather than increasing dimensions. To be clear, I am not saying this is not a good idea, but that current interfaces are insufficient to make it work.

A new example explorable in beta:
Glasshouse by Green Phosphor is a gateway which can take a database query or a spreadsheet and place a 3D representation of it into a virtual world. Users can see data, and drill into it; re-sort it; explore it interactively - all from within a virtual world. Glasshouse produces graphs which are avatars of the data itself ... "
Update: A video tour of the technology.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pre-Businesses

Considering non-monetizable pre-businesses whose 'cool clock' may be ticking. Can you guess what social network that ZDNet is talking about? A good piece on the dilemma.

Lower Inventories

Lower inventories in retail are likely to cause more out-of-stocks. Yet it will also cause retailers to be more creative in understanding the problem in general. Also it will drive retailers to understand their profitability in more detail.

Intuit on Small Business Innovation

Steve King outlines the Intuit Future of Small Business report and points to a just released research brief on innovation in small business. If you run one or work with small businesses this is interesting. A sample finding:
" ... Small businesses are often natural innovators who use a mix of incremental, market sustaining and more radical market changing innovation in their businesses. Our research shows small business innovation is not limited to tech or high growth firms, but used broadly across the small business sector ... "

Culinary Innovation Center

Interesting work by Wegmans. Has some connections to other innovation center work. There is lots of interest in North America about innovative food preparation and the explosion of TV food networks and the idea of a 'foodie'. I like the idea and think it could be taken beyond a center. Why not invite the public in and allow them to experience the idea broadly? What Wegmans is doing appears to be mostly about bulk food preparation. Its done in some small chains I know, but not very well and only intermittently.

Smart Phone GPS

Have been experimenting with a number of walk tracking methods on my IPhone. There are many pedometer style applications, which work fine but need calibration. Now that I have a GPS phone have looked at several GPS applications as well. Installed MotionX GPS. Cheap at $2.99 from the App store and works well. It has a hard time acquiring a satellite indoors, while my Garmin gathers an indoor signal readily. It overlays any path you take onto a set of open source street and topo maps.

Accuracy is very good, very similar to my Garmin, it readily tracked which side of a suburban road I was walking on. Has a virtual compass, route management and sharing software, waypoint analysis, timing, etc. You can take pictures with the phone, then associate them with a waypoint and send the pictures via email to record your trip. Does not have turn-by-turn directions, not meant to replace a car GPS. I figured the interface out fairly quickly. Only problem discovered so far is that the GPS drains the IPhone battery quickly. So may not be good for a very long hike in the woods. I will be doing some tests on my usual round-the-lake walks in the coming days.

Another review.

Net-Map

From Visualcomplexity, something called Net-Map which allows users to manipulate the relationship of players and decisions. What is interesting here is that the approach is not technological, but more of a touch, paper and pen method to understand a complex system. Sure, we do have lots of computers these days, and mapping capabilities of many kinds exist, but we had discovered that the physical touching of maps can sometimes promote ownership of a particular solution. Low tech can provide some startlingly alternative solutions. And when you are done you can always take a digital photo of the result.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Borders Backing from E-Commerce

In StorefrontBacktalk: Borders was originally trying to cleverly integrate online and bricks. Though that did not draw me there. Now they are pulling back, likely a victim of Amazon. The local brick Borders, a longtime favorite bookstore of mine, recently closed.

Sweet Success of Smell

On scents in environments:
... “Strategic scents have been proven to increase the shopper’s dwelling time by as much as 40 percent in a retail environment” ... C. Russell Brumfield, and more on EcoScent ... . .
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Working Habitats : Office Evolution

Herman Miller, the creator of the widely praised, iconic Aeron chair, was one of the collaborators with our early innovation center projects. We tested office novel office space designs with them. Now they are talking about ...

" ... an approach that allows for physical buildings to dynamically evolve and support change. ... The initiative, Programmable Environment, is a spatial system designed to evolve over time, interact with the users who inhabit it, and enable a more sustainable building infrastructure. The company created a subsidiary, Convia, to specifically focus on this vision ... ".
The problem with offices in the enterprise is that as people become more powerfully mobile they don't need to be in offices. If this kind of interface takes off the trend may accelerate. So the number of offices and thus furniture requirements have been dropping. Remote interaction options are also increasing and evolving. Here is an advanced example: Qwaq. If an office could be set up to greatly increase efficiency, there would be additional value. But if I have to be in an office, the Aeron chair I am sitting on now sure is comfortable.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Web Concept is 20

Hurrah Berners-Lee! Web celebrates 20th anniversary
Analyst: A single paper written 20 years ago today became a great 20th-century idea.

Beyond Minority Report Interfaces: Sixth Sense

Very interesting TED talk presentation on gesture driven wearable devices by Pattie Maes group at MIT. What I found particularly interesting is the inclusion of a projector that can use any available surface. (at the right the hand is used as a projection surface) Examples are shown where product packaging is used to display additional information in the store, extending the package. Or use a paper book to display its own current reviews. In effect this takes the interface beyond 'Minority Report'. Work is still in progress, but very impressive. More.

" ... This demo -- from Pattie Maes' lab at MIT, spearheaded by Pranav Mistry -- was the buzz of TED. It's a wearable device with a projector that paves the way for profound interaction with our environment. Imagine "Minority Report" and then some .. "

Google Voice is Coming

I have used Google-acquired Grandcentral for about a year now. It has been very useful, especially if you need to consolidate multiple numbers such as landline and mobile. Good for the very mobile small business. Only problem has been effectively linking it to my too-many contact lists. Working on that now. Will Google end up dominating voice as well?

Now they are expanding Grand Central to Google Voice, with a number of new useful features including voice to text, international calling, conference calling and more. I will report back when my account is converted to 'Voice'. For now available only to current GC users but they say it will be generally available for free soon. A video tours here. And the Google Voice blog. And commentary from CW.

Update:An end to privacy?
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Neurofocus Expands

Nielsen funded Neurofocus has announced its purchase of European based Neuroco to form what is likely the largest consulting company that is applying Neuromarketing concepts. More and link to press release.

Skittles Data Mining

Data mining the Skittles social media experiment by Manya Mayes, SAS text mining strategist. Not a lot of results yet, indicates more to come. Good pointers about how to do this. The blog: The Text Frontier, is worth following.

Sony TV Includes a Scanner

Storefrontbacktalk posts about a new Sony TV's remote which can act as a touchless RFID scanner. Nice idea.

Tide T-Shirts for Disaster Relief

Buy a T shirt in the Loads of Hope program and provide proceeds for disaster relief and advertise the idea. The idea is going viral and seems to be working. I know some people may see this as a kind of advertising ploy. Yet companies like Procter provide large amounts of consumer goods for disaster relief. This is a social experiment to see how the private sector can provide relief with minimal effort. It can work. You can order until 11AM tomorrow (Thursday). US Only.

Update: An update of the event.

Update: From AdAge: P&G gives its Marketers a crash course in social media and a participant's view.

Dave Fox provides more commentary links. And another insider view.

And a more critical take.

And yet deeper critical look with good comments.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Universal Access to Knowledge?

See In O'Reilly Radar, by Linda Stone, about the recent settlement between Google and publishers regarding the scanning of books. There now appears to be some concern that by paying for the scanning of books and the subsequent legal settlement, Google will be able to tie up the ownership of orphaned works that should be in the public domain. Some believe the settlement effectively gives access to these works to Google alone.

This would be OK for now, since Google is making these works freely available, but is there anything to prevent Google at some later date from charging for them, or otherwise restricting access? Could that portend a future that is less than the goal of universal free access to knowledge?

Analytics Based Reasoning in Tough Economy

Register and Info here:
Tomorrow at 10AM EDT: " ... IDC's Dan Vesset will present market research showing that increased analytic orientation leads to improved organizational performance. In the current economic environment even slight improvements in performance over competitors can mean the difference between survival and success. Incremental investments in analytic solutions that include both information access and predictive analytics tools can enable decision making based on insight rather than intuition ... "

Best Buy Gets Results from Social Networks

Short piece on Best Buy and Social Networks:

" ... the intent of the developers was to create a network that could help flatten the organization, promoting the exchange of ideas among employees at all levels, including clerks on store floors. Such exchanges could help development personnel, managers and other employees find out what customers were saying about Best Buy products and services ... "

Don Norman on Happy Design

Don Norman's March TED talk : "Three ways that good design makes you happy".

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

3D Patient Record Interface

A clever 3D patient record interface by IBM Research Zurich. Obvious in the sense that it uses a 3D manipulable image for something that is complex and 3D: the human body. Acts as a front end for multiple dimension patient databases that are usually confusing for both the patient and doctor. Why not add visualizations and models about how parts of the body interact? Give patients access to the model. You could take this a step further and use it as a means to gather data aggregations from multiple people. Lots of potential next steps. Video about the concept.

Skittles Marketing Experiment

A recent experiment by Mars using a number of Web 2.0 services on their site is nicely summarized by Paul Gillin: Skittles' Bold Social Media Experiment. The idea started by using Twitter to increase buzz about the candy and apparently succeeded. As the idea became viral it was invaded by trolls and Mars had to adapt. Net, he believes it helped Skittles. They are awaiting sales figures.

Paper Water Bottles

In a conversation with the design company Brand-Image I was introduced to their design concept: the paper water bottle. An example at the right. Some true alternative thinking to make paper containers for water. With a close eye to sustainability criteria. Much more detail and images here. Contact them for more

Monday, March 09, 2009

Guidelines for Behavior Ads

From the BBC, a new trend?

New guidelines on behavioural ads
UK ISPs stand to make a lot of money from targeted advertising. The online advertising industry has launched a set of guidelines for a genre of adverts that have been causing controversy. The code of practice drawn up by the Internet Advertising Bureau looks specifically at behavioural advertising. This form of advertising delivers ads based on people's browsing activity and is therefore far more targeted.... "

Cruising, Searching and Selecting

Herb Sorensen of TNS takes a scientific look at shopper behavior in their habitat: Deconstructing the Shopping Trip (so far!). Another excellent read.

He also reminded me of work at Wharton about how people efficiently (or not) shop retail spaces. I wrote about this in 2006. Their paper, The 'Traveling Salesman' Goes Shopping: The Efficiency of Purchasing Patterns in the Grocery Store by Peter Fader, Bradlow and Hui where they show that 'cruising' comprises about 60% of a shoppers behavior, as opposed to the other 40% comprised of 'search and select'. This was the first careful numeric and statistical analysis of tracks of grocery store behavior. Leads to lots of thoughts about what really occurs when an impulse buy is made. We need more of this kind of analysis in the lab and in real environments. Above and to the right a single shopper track from a large database.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Creative Destruction and the Notificator

Not sure I would bet on Google being soon upended by a new challenger. Yet this piece makes some interesting historical comparisons. Things also do change rapidly on the web. I don't think that Twitter, in anything close to what it is today, is a challenger.

Visual Think Map

Intriguing site: Visual Think Map. A nice set of examples of information design. " ... Exploring creative innovative modes of visual communication of information..." . Some of the examples have the design getting in the way of the clear presentation of the information. Still useful to take a look at this design site.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Cable Targeting

Good short piece in the NYT Business section on increasing use of cable company ad targeting. This is likely to continue to expand.

Targeted Media

More word of targeted media using a system we originally helped design and test. Here in Progressive Grocer. These systems are usually installed first for shopper convenience but have obvious use for directly engaging shoppers with promotion and targeted media. Stop & Shop continues its test of the idea with increasing analysis rigor.

" ... Stop & Shop features the Scan It! System in over 150 stores. Based on the Modiv Shopper system, Scan It! enables customers to scan and bag their items while they shop, and delivers relevant coupons and promotions based on individual shopping histories and in-store behavior. The Quincy, Mass.-based Ahold USA division also employs Modiv DeliVision, which combines queue optimization, convenient self-service kiosk ordering and targeted promotions delivery in the deli department ... "

Friday, March 06, 2009

Robots Start an Evolution

Interesting piece, though it is not saying that the physical aspects of the robots are evolving, only the algorithms that drive them. When a robot starts to be able to add physical extensions to itself we will have to start being afraid.

Also, " ... artificial intelligence engineer Christopher MacLeod and his colleagues at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, UK, created a robot that adapts to such changes by mimicking biological evolution. "If we want to make really complex humanoid robots with ever more sensors and more complex behaviours, it is critical that they are able to grow in complexity over time - just like biological creatures did," he says ...

The Dynamics of Being Sorry

From Knowledge@Wharton, a good essay on the power of being sorry for unforseen circumstances. Early on in my enterprise career I was told that I used 'sorry about that' too often in talks. The piece gives a number of examples in the health and financial industry that could help current day problems. He is suggesting a law in Pennsylvania:

" ... to pass a law permitting medical professionals to “acknowledge, express empathy for, and take ownership of unforeseen outcomes” without risking a lawsuit based on the fact that they apologized. Shapiro points out that numerous studies have shown that “anger – not greed – is the driving force behind most medical-malpractice suits.” In one study, he says, “more than a third of those who filed suit said they would not have done so if they had been given an explanation and an apology.” ... "

Eponymous Numbers

Eponymous means, of course, something that is named after something else, usually a proper noun or person's name. I have explained this a number of times. Not always successfully. So Pittsburgh is named after William Pitt. Sometimes inexactly. So this blog is named after, well in a sort of tongue-in-cheek way, well you see ... some people do.

Now the Numbers Guy talks about naming numbers after yourself. You have heard about naming distant star systems after someone, without the obvious permission of any local residents. What numbers have given names? Usually they are not the run of the mill ones, like 1,2,3 ... that would be hard to compete with, but they are things that are useful combinations, limits, constants, etc. Read the article for more details. I like the idea in a geeky way.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Wolfram Announces Intelligence Effort

I was a long time user of Wolfram's Mathematica in the enterprise. I also read parts of his epic book: A New Kind of Science (NKS), which is now online in its entirety. Neither of these two sources, though remarkable, are very friendly to the average business user. Mathematica requires the knowledge of a modeler. NKS understanding requires mathematical knowledge and the perception of a physicist.

In today's Wolfram Blog Stephen Wolfram announces a new mega effort called WolframAlpha to be released in May. He writes: " ... I had two crucial ingredients: Mathematica and NKS. With Mathematica, I had a symbolic language to represent anything—as well as the algorithmic power to do any kind of computation. And with NKS, I had a paradigm for understanding how all sorts of complexity could arise from simple rules ... ".

What he talks about next is the ability to combine existing data and algorithms to create useful knowledge. " ... It’s going to be a website: www.wolframalpha.com. With one simple input field that gives access to a huge system, with trillions of pieces of curated data and millions of lines of algorithms ... ".

What exactly this means is still unclear. As a former AI practitioner, this appears to mean that you will be able to enter something simple, like a natural language request and that the system will combine data and algorithms to produce results. He does not mention AI, but implies it. Semantic tagging is also mentioned as a method being used.

He goes on to say:" ... I’m happy to say that with a mixture of many clever algorithms and heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs, we’re actually managing to make it work ... ".

This is a project I will watch closely. It suggests something very big. Until we can see if natural language queries can be unambiguously entered by a non mathematician and converted into a algorithm and combined with mega data sets to provide useful results, it is hard to say. Or is this just a way to search for the parts and you as a modeler get to assemble them? In practice the assembly is usually the much harder part.

My own artificial intelligence experience in the enterprise says that the former is a very hard thing to do. If anyone could do it, and has the tools to work with, it would be Wolfram and his group. I remain skeptical.

I have asked for a look at the package, if I get such a chance I will follow up with an early look.

Update:I was left still pondering about how research from Wolfram's 2002 NKS book could be applied to this kind of problem, since it was mostly about how simple automata could be used to model physical processes. So I found my paper copy of his book to see if I had missed anything. Not unlikely since it is 1100+ pages long. No, not that I found with a quick look, though I guess anything can be modeled by anything ... it is just not efficient enough to use. Please point me to anything that may be insightful.

What if?

Ken Karakotsios has a new post in his simulation blog called What if?. There he outlines the nature of models and simulation in a non-technical way. Over the years I have found this much misunderstood by both management and clients. Ken is a game builder and has a particular insight into how people interact with models.

Amazon Exposes a TeraByte

Article on Amazon's public data sets, worth taking a look:

" ... Amazon.com changed the retail world. In the process the company built up so much surplus computing power that it started a dirt cheap "computing in the cloud" business that changed the computing world. This week the company's newest project Public Data Sets on Amazon Web Services began offering more than 1 Terabyte (1000 GB) of fascinating public data for developers to access on the fly through Amazon's cloud computing service ...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Kindle on the IPhone

I have mentioned here several times that I was not willing to drag around yet another device and so was not interested in buying a Kindle. I have tried a number of book reading devices including several on the IPhone such as Textonphone, which I liked.

So I was interested in seeing how the IPhone book reader for Kindle books worked. I was all set to wait until I needed a new book but decided to go ahead anyway. It turns out you can test the basic idea at no cost at all. The application is free. The Amazon Kindle reader store has many free versions of books that are in the public domain.

For example, searching for 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' quickly gets you a version at no cost. The whole process of getting the application and order a book took a few minutes. There are also many versions of the same book for a few dollars. That does not help with newer books, but then not all books are on the Kindle store either. They say they have 240K books.

The application uses the full screen, which maximizes the text size. That works very well for me. Black on white, lots of contrast. Took it out in the sun and it was readable there. Other readers I had tested used only part of a page, which was annoying .... too much page turning. You advance the search by swiping the page like with their image interface. The sync to the phone is very fast, though it looks like you have to be online to advance.

I don't see a search, and that would be useful for technical books. Nor can I copy text and send it to someone. You are probably already used to that limitation on an Iphone! Overall good, simple and easy to use. I will try it next for a book with more detail and that contains images and even equations to see how that works.

Designing the User Interface

A good review, which describes what is new in the book: Designing the User Interface, 5th Edition by Ben Shneiderman and Catherine Plaisant. I have a much earlier edition, which I found very useful. This edition is said to contain much more about the interface in a rapidly changing online world.

ConAgra Looks at Store Marketing

An interview with ConAgra on in-store marketing.

Institute for Large Scale Innovation

Just founded by John Kao and Deloitte, of interest:

The Institute for Large Scale Innovation (ILSI) is a non-profit organization founded to address three key questions:

How can innovation be fostered most effectively at a societal level (country, region, city)?

How can innovation be harnessed to address complex global challenges, and how should innovation stewardship work at a global level?

How can international collaboration and alignment be encouraged in explosively growing new areas of scientific, technological and human design innovation, such as cleantech, nanotechnology and others? ... '.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Caromatherapy

The Whiff Guys, sensory specialists, report on caromatheraphy experimentation by Mercedes-Benz. Read it as car-aromatherapy. Admittedly only in the luxury limo division, but more about personalizing contexts in which we live. See their site for more advances in sensory marketing. Also see their book: Whiff!: The Revolution of Scent Communications in the Information Age.

Sites that Excerpt: Legal?

Excerpts from the NYTimes like the one below from the article: Copyright Challenge for Sites That Excerpt, are coming under fire. It is true that most of the challenges are for much larger pieces of screen scraping and some that precede general release. But I have been asked for internal enterprise blogs, what exactly is the limit for a quoted excerpt? 50 words, 100 ... a thousand? Somewhere in there. The answer for the fair use question is ... whatever does not provoke a lawsuit. Inside an enterprise I was told to beware. Big entities can always be targets of lawsuits. Small bloggers LIKELY not. There seems to be no precise answer.

Later I found this excellent article in Plagiarism today that quotes a suggestion: Always include a link to original article, use less than 50% of the original article AND 100 worlds total or less in the quote... . I always do the first two but have violated the last rule of thumb.

" ... Generally, the excerpts have been considered legal, and for years they have been welcomed by major media companies, which were happy to receive links and pass-along traffic from the swarm of Web sites that regurgitate their news and information.

But some media executives are growing concerned that the increasingly popular curators of the Web that are taking large pieces of the original work — a practice sometimes called scraping — are shaving away potential readers and profiting from the content ... "

The Psych Angle of the Netflix Prize

The Netflix prize is a well known example of pattern recognition from a large database. $1,000,000 to anyone that can improve Netflix's movie rating system by at least 10%. In Wired, the non-technical telling of a new approach, adding psych knowledge to getting a better solution. The idea that there is value from what has typically been considered a soft science, psychology, and then combining that with mathematical methods to result in better solutions. It reminds me of methods we used in our enterprise artificial intelligence days. Link from Wim Van de Velde.

Useful Sketch Tagging Examined

I recently mentioned the service called Sketchory, which contains 250K free-to-use sketches. Like the image on the right which I got when I asked for 'abstract'. Nice service. I have been involved with the problem of tagging images. In particular choosing among a number of image types. In Sketchory I noticed that it was difficult to get to useful sketches. They were asking for aid in helping tag. So I played along, tagging a few dozen images.

It's clear after doing this why it is hard to classify. People mostly sketch images of people and animals. Sometimes fanciful things, but rarely abstract ideas and even more rarely processes that I would like to have an image of. At the right and below is an image that was retrieved, of only about a half dozen, with the term 'writing'. Even people who are trying to do this kind of tagging usefully do not do it very well. I quickly started to use the simplest nouns to tag the sketches. These, like the tags that they have already are not very useful.

So there are 250K sketches, but it is hard to find the right ones.

It is still very hard to solve the automated general tagging problem. An AI problem. A number of attempts have been made at creating tags with 'Human Intelligence Tasks' (HITs), most notably with Amazon's Mechanical Turk. It is probably better to include some prefabricated classification capability that describes a number of useful classifications. Then have the person search among many examples. Google also has an image labeling game.

See Gene Smith's good book on the subject: Tagging.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Trouble for In-Store Marketing?

Are more decisions being made at home? So says AdAge in a new post based on a survey. Trouble in Store for Shopper Marketing?. Survey: Recession-Hit Shoppers Decide at Home, Avoid Buying on Impulse ... '.

Based on my own behavior and observation I do not agree. I am now looking for more opportunities at the store than I did before. I will notice the promotion, the new price-saving idea, the better value. It is not about not acting on impulse, but the specific value proposition that is provided by shopper marketing. Shoppers are still going to the store, no? Always beware of planned behavior surveys.

Pinker on Genomes

One of my favorite writers, Steven Pinker in the NYT: My Genome, My Self. " ... I had my genome sequenced and am allowing it to be posted on the Internet, along with my medical history. The opportunity arose when the biologist George Church sought 10 volunteers to kick off his audacious Personal Genome Project. The P.G.P. has created a public database that will contain the genomes and traits of 100,000 people.... ". He writes about the implications. And of course, for the understanding of the brain.

Fantastic Architectures

A collection of fantastic architecture images.
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Washing Machine Model

An example of a washing machine designed for the third world. A few years ago I was part of a panel for the World Bank that judged investment in inventions like these. Locally built, sold and used. Much better than throwing billions of dollars onto these efforts, which always results in corruption.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Copyright and Songsmith

On the death of copyright by capabilities like Microsoft Research's Songsmith. Downloadable system that lets you accompany yourself, with some adaptation AI embedded. The article considers the further legal implications of the Web and copyright. The author states: ' ... That there is copyright infringement here is almost beyond dispute. Let me put it this way: as a copyright lawyer myself, I would not want to be defending [the user's] side in an infringement suit ... '

This alerted me to the fact that there has been a flurry of activity using Songsmith. Seems like anything that makes an amateur look good at a socially interesting skill is an attractive concept. A kind of human augmentation. Blogging has worked.

In Store Decisions

What triggers in-store purchase decisions? To state the obvious: many things. (registration required)