Monday, 19 December 2011

We need to talk about infographics

I blame Wordle. It's not fair to blame Wordle, but marketing's obsession with infographics got well out of hand at some point and I think it was around the same time that pretty word clouds came within reach of every bored account manager with a slide to fill.

I actually like Wordle a lot, so on second thoughts, maybe we should blame the infographic's leap to fame on marketing's discovery of Wordle rather than the tool itself, which has been around since 2008. A quick check of Insights for Search shows that the world went infographic mad a bit later than that, starting in 2009-2010.

Google searches for "infographic"

That growth line really isn't slowing down is it?

In case you hadn't guessed yet, this post is developing into a rant about infographics. To be more precise, infographics as they are used in marketing. I'm a little concerned though, that I may have just used an infographic to illustrate my point. Except that I'm pretty sure that's not what the image above is. It's a chart. If you're being pretentious, it's a data visualisation.

Data visualisations have a purpose; they exist to communicate data more effectively than text could. But could they still be the same thing as infographics? Maybe infographic is just short-hand for data visualisation?

Here's what Wikipedia thinks an infographic is...

"Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly, such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. With an information graphic, computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians develop and communicate concepts using a single symbol to process information."

I really like the idea of the infographic as a sign. It differentiates it from a data visualisation and gives it a purpose. You could list all of the exits on this roundabout, with a paragraph for each that describes where they go, but you'd cause an accident as people tried, at 40mph, to read what you'd written. Infographics - by the Wikipedia definition - are useful to communicate a lot of information at a glance.

Let's be honest though, marketing infographics don't often look like that road sign. In marketing and journalism at least, the Wikipedia entry is out of date and the infographics we see today are a very long way from doing that job.

Let's pick on the IAB. That's not really a fair thing to do either, but they've been known to publish infographics and yesterday, they published this one.

Now that's a marketing infographic! Much more like it. Lots of charts all blended together into one big image and pretty typical of what you can see shared far and wide on Twitter every day.

It's quite pretty.

Probably took quite some time to draw.

My question is why draw it? Other than being link-bait for all those Google searches, what is an image like this for? Maybe it's art? Then it wouldn't need to be for anything, but I don't think it's art.

It needs a purpose, but I can't work out what its purpose is. For the time it takes to make one of these, it needs to be better at communicating than writing a short article and illustrating it with charts, but it just isn't. Infographics like this let you throw unstructured data at your audience (in a pretty format) in the hope that they'll draw some insights of their own from it. You're hoping that your audience will do the analysis for you.

In all honesty, I think this is what's been responsible for the infographic explosion. Facts are easy to get your hands on. They're everywhere. Original insight and analysis is hard and that makes the infographic perfect blog fodder. Take any topical subject, plus a bit of Googling for some relevant numbers, plus a few hours in Adobe Illustrator and you've got yourself some high grade link-bait.

Contrast the infographic above, with this lovely piece of data visualisation from The Guardian.

The Guardian's work makes a vast number of tweets more comprehensible than they would have been if you'd just thrown raw data about them at the viewer. The infographic on the other hand, throws large amounts of almost-raw data at the viewer.

Comparing between these two is undoubtedly unfair, as one is the product of a hell of a lot more work, but what's important for me is the scope of what they're trying to achieve. Only one attempts to aid your understanding of a subject. And only that one is worth your time and effort to decipher.

Feedback on this article from The Register, which recently started dabbling in infographics (the modern 'throw a lot of data at the page and see what sticks' versions) make me think that I'm not alone, but maybe you like the current direction? Have you seen any marketing infographics that you still find useful and refer back to? That did a better job than simply writing an article would have? I'd love to hear about them. Somebody's generating all those Google searches too, so if you're a sucker for an infographic, what is it about them that's so appealing?

Right now, the word infographic to me means "presenting data in a pretty format that makes it difficult to use" and until they go back to following that Wikipedia definition, I'll be steering well clear.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The other reason for Google+

I'll start this one with admission; I like and use a lot of Google's products. I've got an Android phone, have been singing the praises of Google+, Google's my default search engine and GMail is fantastic.

Like US
antitrust regulators though, I'm starting to wonder if Google might have too much power. If Microsoft had a case to answer in the way that Explorer was been bundled with Windows, then wouldn't Google have similar issues with the increasing integration between its products?

Google has a large suite of products, despite recently closing down
Labs and many of them are tied very closely to its search engine.

Search Google for any term that could reasonably return a map and you'll get a map included in the results. A Google map, naturally.

That's fair enough; I was looking for Leeds and Google fetched me a map of Leeds. Maps can probably be included in a legitimate list of the things I might have wanted. Unless you really want to get picky (and if you're
Streetmap, then you probably do,) all Google's really doing is returning a graphical result rather than a text based one.

The trouble with this type of justification, is that you can push it into almost any sphere that the web touches. And the web now touches virtually every part of our lives. If I want to do
anything then you can say that I'm looking to do it. Which means I'm searching for it. Which means it's a legitimate product for Google to develop and cross promote from its search engine.

This is exactly the argument that Eric Schmidt is
pushing with regulators in the US.

"[W]hat is crucial to understand is that universal search results are not separate 'products and services' from Google.

Rather, the incorporation of thematic and conventional results in universal search reflects Google’s effort to connect users to the information that is most responsive to their queries.

Because of this, the question of whether we 'favor' our 'products and services' is based on an inaccurate premise.

These universal search results are our search service — they are not some separate 'Google content' that can be 'favored'."
(Eric Schmidt. Quote borrowed from The Register)

Google's search market share in the UK is over 90% according to Hitwise. That's a hell of a lot of potential abuse of a dominant market position. I'm not saying that Google is abusing its position - the legal work on my house move is costing quite enough - but if everything Google builds can be integrated into search because it's all one product, then where do you stop? Taking a broad definition of the term, virtually everything starts with a search.

If want to know about a location then I need a map, Google has maps so Google directs me to its own maps.

If I need a flight, Google has a new flights product, so I can be sent there rather than to Skyscanner.

If I'd like to call someone, Google has phones and voice and video chat.

It's difficult to think of any service-based category that Google couldn't decide to enter, develop its own product, cross-promote it from search and use that same Eric Schmidt argument as a justification. Google Legal? Google Estate Agents? Music? News? Why not? You're searching for information and content.

As much as I like Google+, I missed one of its primary benefits to Google the first time around and it only became clear when the black product bar arrived, that now sits on top of just about all Google products.

By closely integrating their product offer - essentially by making it all one product - Google are playing the same game that Microsoft tried to play with Internet Explorer. Compare Schmidt's argument above, with this Microsoft justification for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows.

"Microsoft stated that the merging of Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer was the result of innovation and competition, that the two were now the same product and were inextricably linked together and that consumers were now getting all the benefits of IE for free"
(Wikipedia link)

Sound familiar?

Microsoft ended up in a compromise with regulators, that was likely a much better outcome for them than if they'd just stubbornly refused to un-bundle Explorer from Windows.

Google seem to be playing the same strategy: Integrate your products so closely that you can argue they're not actually separate products at all. In that context, Google+ needs to be a window onto everything that Google does. It also explains why you'd ruthlessly kill off Labs, which might otherwise be cited as hosting examples of off-shoot products that have nothing to do with search.

Google won't get away from an antitrust investigation completely unscathed but it seems to be a good strategy to ape Microsoft and try to avoid a ruling that's heavily weighted against what they want to do as a business.

For their part, US regulators need to recognise Google+ for what it is: not just an aggressive move into social, but a very clever defensive move to counter a future antitrust ruling.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Book Review: Moneyball

Continuing Wallpapering Fog's series of occasional book reviews, we have Moneyball, a book about baseball statistics and a team called the Oakland A's that I picked up on the recommendation of @AdContrarian.

I know very little about baseball, other than that I watched a game on TV in a hotel room in New York once and found it quite dull. Before reading Moneyball, I'd never heard of the Oakland A's, but none of that matters. Moneyball is a stunning piece of work.

Baseball is the background for a story about how to change a business. The huge number of games that get played and the set-play nature of the games make baseball a statistical goldmine, where a few amateur analysts had noticed that a lot of long-standing, established wisdom about the game, was wrong.

One team - The Oakland A's - take this knowledge, which was freely available to anybody with an interest and set about building a team based on what they can prove about the tactics and the types of players that win games. They turn on its head the idea that the team with the highest paid players will always come out on top.

Michael Lewis works potentially dry statistics into a fabulous narrative, interspersed with the life stories of Oakland's oddball players, who don't look like athletes and would be rejected on any traditional evaluation of whether they're suited to the game. Overweight, old, injured and with bizarre throwing actions, they're mainstream baseball's rejects, but they've got stats that say they can hit...

As I read Moneyball, comparable problems from business, marketing and other sports kept jumping out. You find that you break from the page to wonder if the management at Stoke City FC have read it, or to curse (having worked for a year at EMI) that more people in the music industry haven't. You can't help wondering how many of our own established marketing practices are wrong and which ones we could prove definitely are. Baseball's brimming with statistics and yet the task of breaking established ways of doing things is incredibly hard, even when the evidence is staring you in the face. Marketing's a black art at the best of times, where it's much harder to produce the battering ram of hard stats that at least point the right way.

For me, as a statistician, Moneyball inspires, by showing just what can be achieved by dispassionate analysis and is daunting in its illustration of just how hard you have to work, to make the changes you've proved need to be made. Baseball went thirty years before anybody with money and control of a team paid attention to the hard evidence that established tactics and the usual metrics that were used to value players actually harmed your chances of winning.

Once one team picked up this knowledge and started to apply it (via a General Manager who couldn't care about who he needed to fire, intimidate or cajole to get his way), years went by before other managers started to ask how they were being consistently out-performed by a team with only a third of their player budget.

In short, read Moneyball. You don't need to know anything about baseball (though a little understanding of a few key terms, like base stealing, helps) and I promise by the time you've finished it, you'll want to make changes to the way that you work. It's the best non-fiction book I've read this year, by miles.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

How to increase your marketing blog traffic

Want to know the secret formula for writing successful marketing blog posts? Then you've come to the right place.

If nothing else, this graphic might explain Wallpapering Fog's frequently disappointing traffic figures...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Chase success

You see this deceptively simple marketing question rear its head a lot, both in agencies and client side. I'd love to know what answer is taught on marketing courses, or even if a straight-forward answer is taught at all, because marketers seem to jump to the wrong conclusion so frequently.

The basis for my answer comes through in statistical models of marketing response, but also fits with a simple view of what can be achieved by marketing. For me, these are all fundamentally the same question:

"We've got a loyalty card and our card-holders don't often redeem their points for certain of the rewards on offer. Should we feature those rewards more prominently in the brochure to boost their take-up?"

"Most of the shoppers in this store come from the east side of town. Should we run some marketing in the west, to let those people know we're here?"

"Some of the holiday packages that we offer are selling much faster than others, should we 'fix' the under-performing ones by marketing them?"

The question being asked in all three of these is, "should I try to persuade people to do something that they don't seem to want to do, by marketing to them?"

The answer - nine times out of ten - is, "no; absolutely not."

It sounds obvious when the question is phrased like that, but think about how many times you've been asked to market an under-performing product, in order to 'fix' it.

Whether a product is selling or not is the single, best piece of market research that a marketer can lay his hands on. If it's not selling to a group of people, then they don't like it. Telling people about products that you already know they don't like, is just throwing your money away.

The basis for trying to boost an under-performing product comes from an over-estimate of the magic that marketing fairy dust can sprinkle onto a product and also a belief that the product you're selling should fundamentally appeal to a wide audience. Both of those come from being too close to the product that you're selling. People who aren't close to your product, who really don't care about your product but are being asked to buy it, have already told you what they think.

The only exception to this rule is if you can genuinely say that people might not be buying your product because they don't know about it. Before you decide that lack of awareness must be the issue and splash the cash on some marketing though, look at the products you've got that are selling. Do people really know that much more about those?

The reward card example I used above is a real one; the marketing team thought that more people should want to redeem their loyalty points for music CDs and wanted to push that message. Unfortunately, up to that point, music CDs hadn't been starved of marketing coverage compared to the other options available and people still weren't choosing music in large numbers. That's a loud and clear piece of the best market research money can buy. You offered free CDs to millions of people and only a few said "yes, please."

It's the same for the store that appeals to only one side of town. People on the other side either can't get to your store easily, or they don't want to. You can tell them all about where you are and they'll just keep on ignoring you.

For me, when a product is under-performing, you've got two options.

1. Save your money and stop pushing it.

2. Find a way to change the appeal of the product. (That's likely to be a product solution before it's a marketing one)

The reverse of all this gives a key piece of marketing advice. If you haven't completely saturated the market, then always chase success. Support your biggest sellers and make them even larger. People are telling you that they like these products - not just by saying nice things in focus groups, but by spending their own money on them. Your marketing will be much more effective if you listen.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Never let anyone tell you that it's too complicated to explain

Sayeeda Warsi was on BBC Question Time last night, giving the Conservative viewpoint on quantitative easing.

Baroness Warsi has a remarkable ability to get my back up at the best of times, but after an explanation of QE that didn't really make sense - to this economist at least - where she said that it "feeds demand... will keep interest low, mortgages low... and gets this country moving again," she went on to conclude that "it's complicated".

A lot of things are complicated. Dark Matter is complicated, but I saw a perfectly watchable Horizon programme about it last night. Econometrics is complicated too, but I don't try to sell it to clients, by rambling something about statistics and then saying "it's complicated".

Shortly after our ability to understand quantitative easing was dismissed with "it's complicated", @Natt tweeted this little gem.

"It's not complicated. You're just devaluing everyone else's money to keeps banks afloat."

And in one short sentence, swept away a tidal wave of bullshit.

Never, ever let anybody tell you that something is too complicated to explain. They're either avoiding telling you the truth, or as Einstein famously said,

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Do you ever see a TV ad...

... and suspect that a creative had an idea that they've been just dying to dying to use somewhere? Anywhere? Pitched all over the place before finally, a brand agrees that a cartoon lady adrift on the ocean, who finds her cartoon twin on a desert island just screams "you really want to buy our tea."

It is a nice cartoon. Maybe I'm just too cynical.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Dashboard software - why we chose what we chose

Some time ago, I wrote a post that laid out what I want from a piece of dashboarding and data visualisation software. We had just finished going through the process of selecting a software platform and I'd intended to lay out over a series of posts the different options that I looked at and explain how we made our final choice.

Apart from a review of Excel Services (summary: it's sort of ok, but you can do much better for the money), the series didn't get very far. Due to the overwhelming volume of emails Despite a complete lack of emails accusing me of being a lazy so and so who doesn't finish what he starts, I'm going to quickly wrap up the conclusions here.

First, the contenders. Some of these I looked at for longer than others and I can guarantee a few first round knockouts.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the blue corner etc.



Qlik View

Excel Services


Microsoft Analysis Services



We'll start with where I started the process - looking for a cheap but capable solution, that would work for a medium sized business. I'm not looking at six figure software budgets here, or at running the back end for the Tesco Clubcard.

With that in mind, I went looking for an open source solution and found Pentaho. There are other 'free' platforms, including customized Google Docs, but all require programming and we need a drag-and-drop front end that analysts can use to build dashboards. For that requirement, Pentaho seems to be what's available.

First impression is that it's not bad at all. A little rough around the edges as you might expect from an open source project, but I had some simple dashboards up and running on a demo server pretty quickly.

These demos were enough to show a few senior managers and to explain why we should be buying a dashboard platform rather than building our own, but then things started to go wrong. If you're going to do anything more than a few simple charts, then you're going to end up doing some programming, which means as an analyst that you need IT's help. IT's help brings change requests and (long) development time-lines and all the joys of not being able to put data labels on a bar chart by yourself. Scheduled refreshing also looked like it was going to be trickier than it needed to be.

Once you're building and customising with your own IT department, you're incurring extra costs, so it was off to the commercial software world to see if off-the-shelf was a better idea. It was.

When you head for a commercial piece of dashboard software, you find out that there are at least tens available and probably hundreds. Most are rubbish. You also get into some very frustrating conversations with salesmen about licencing costs, but more on that later.

Let's eliminate a few contenders quickly here, pretty much as quickly as I dropped them during the assessment process.

I've already reviewed Excel Services in detail so won't go through that again. For the price, it isn't good enough and it's awkward to use.

Analysis Services is much more capable, but it's got that Microsoft feel. You know what I mean; it makes things hard that should be easy. Options are hidden, it's all tied into SharePoint (which I hate) and you end up writing loads of custom SQL - which will be a nightmare to maintain - in order to work around things that Microsoft either doesn't want you to do or hasn't included as standard. The final dashboards also feel like a tool for analysts rather than a tool for marketing managers and if you're not at least a little geeky, they can be quite intimidating. Rejected.

LogiXML and Microstrategy were very much the also-rans in this race. LogiXML, because it's bloody awful and Microstrategy because it's just not good enough to be up with the front runners.

Here's a LogiXML demo dashboard. Apparently they're proud of it and if you can't see why that's a problem then go ahead and buy a copy! I'm being deliberately harsh because they keep sending me junk email. Petty revenge is sweet.

Microstrategy sounds pretty exciting when you read the blurb on their website. The demos aren't front and centre on the site though and you have to dig a bit to find them. That's a warning sign for me. If a software company knows that it has a good product, you'll find links to the product itself featured prominently. Microstrategy has a lot of claims about what it can do on the homepage and then a few clicks and some searching around takes you here...

I'm sure it works ok, but the looks are five out of ten at best. I did download the demo but it took ages to install and the dashboards are slow to load on a browser too. All in all it just didn't feel like a smooth, slick piece of software and I couldn't see the visuals impressing a marketer. Another one bites the dust.

Now we're onto the serious contenders: Spotfire, Tableau and Qlikview.

Spotfire first, because it didn't make it quite as far as the other two. Spotfire is undoubtedly a tremendously capable piece of software but at Brilliant Media, we're building dashboards for marketers and they need to present data, more than they need to make it available for investigation by an analyst.

With that purpose in mind, Spotfire suffers from some of the same issues as Microsoft Analysis services. It's less awkward than Analysis Services, but in use it feels like it was built for an analyst. It's the sort of software that would be great to sit on top of a loyalty card database for an analytical team to use as their tool for day-to-day interrogation. It's not what we need to present relatively top-line data to marketers.

Take a look at the demos and you'll see what I mean. It's good software, but not for us.

Spotfire has another major problem and that's Qlikview. If I wanted what Spotfire does, then I probably wouldn't buy Spotfire, I'd buy Qlikview. It's an amazing piece of software.

I've been playing with Qlikview demos on and off for a few years and it has a few stand-out characteristics. It runs like lightning and the data engine is fabulous - importing your data quickly and making intelligent guesses about how it's structured. You need ten minutes guidance to get used to how the dashboard front ends work, but once you've got it, then Qlikview is very simple to use.

Admittedly there are a lot of options for customising views and you get to them via large, complex options windows, rather than by a quick right click on the thing that you want to change, but fairly quickly you get used to where to find what you want. The positive side of all of these options is that you can create virtually any view that you might need.

Qlikview was a runner up though, based on cost. Actually it might have been dead last based on cost, because I never managed to find out how much it is. One of my criteria for software was transparent pricing and Qlikview's reps are a nightmare to talk to (I've had a few friends in IT back up that opinion too.) They want meetings; they want to know all about your business; they promise free copies of the software. What they absolutely will not do is give you a figure for how much it's going to cost to deploy the software onto x analysts' desktops and allow them to publish to a server.

It's a shame, but Qlikview was rejected on those grounds, even though I loved the demo.

Edit (22-1-13): Qlikview has moved to transparent pricing since this post was written (pointed out in comments below.) That's great to hear. Prices here.

Initial impression? The product mix looks a little over-complicated and pricier than Tableau. I'm not sure if Qlikview is targeting larger, more complex deployments than we've built, but I wouldn't change the conclusions below, based on anything I've seen over the past year or so.

Which brings me onto our winner. Tableau. Of course it's Tableau.

Tableau seems to be a well kept secret for now among analysts who've done their homework, but I can't see  it staying that way for long. It's a joy to use - simple, fast and powerful.

The software's actually quite restrictive in the way that it will allow you to present data, but that's a very good thing. It's like a best-practice data visualisation engine. No you can't draw 3D pie charts. Dashboard creation is simple drag and drop and the best way I can describe it is as if somebody took Excel Pivot Tables, made them nice to use, made them look good and then gave you the ability to publish them to the web.

Pricing is transparent (and very reasonable.) The desktop dashboard builder software has a simple cost per user. Not an ongoing licence fee, but a one-off cost, although you can pay for ongoing support if you want to. The server also has a one-off cost per user and that's it. No OEM nonsense and easy to work out pricing for scale, buy it once and do what you want with it. Perfect.

Other dashboard vendors really need to take a leaf out of Tableau's book on pricing. It's so much easier to pitch the idea to management of investing in software when you've got a clear idea yourself of exactly what it will cost over the next three years. If the dashboards you build are a runaway success then how much is an extra five desktop licences and twenty server logins going to be?

If you haven't tried Tableau yet, then give it a go. There's a free version for bloggers that's great for trying out some data vis and publishing it to the web. I feel like I'm giving away a trade secret here, but what the hell, you're going to hear about it from somewhere soon anyway. Tableau has very quickly become an essential analysis tool for me alongside Excel and if you try it, I'm willing to bet that it will be for you too.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Winning awards is winning sales

For anybody who missed it, James Aitchison at WARC has published a great summary piece contrasting all of the entries to this year's Cannes Lions with those that were shortlisted (paywall link)

As an analyst, these two tables were really heartening to see. David Ogilvy famously stated, "We sell, or else" and objectives for the shortlisted entries are dominated by sales metrics and by proven uplifts to those metrics.

78% of shortlisted entries had "Increase sales" as an objective, compared to only 40% of entries as a whole. Unless combined with a sales link, "Increase Awareness" - the most common objective for all of the entries - is dangerously close to that classic woolly objective, "make a noise", which to be honest I usually read as "waste some money".

We sometimes think that award winning ads and effective ads aren't necessarily the same thing, but it looks from this paper as if we sell, or else don't win awards too.

Top 5 objectives from all entries to the 2011 Cannes Lions (% of entries.)
Note the relatively low number that target increased sales and also social / non profit creeping in at #5.
And top 5 objectivesfor the shortlisted entries.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Social media as a source is a dangerous game for newspapers

Many commentators have described the conditions currently facing the UK newspaper market as a 'perfect storm'. The increasing share of advertising budgets taken by the web, rising print prices and a recession are combining to put pressure on printed news as never before.

Alan Rusbridger recently explained The Guardian's price rise to £1.20 in these terms,

"All newspapers are being buffeted by a number of forces, not least the digital revolution, which is competing for attention and sucking advertising, especially jobs advertising, out of print. If fewer people buy newspapers (and our bit of the market has shrunk 9% over the past six months) that's less revenue. If, because of a tough economic climate or changing technologies, fewer people advertise in print, that's less revenue still."

I'm not going to try to claim I have the answer to these problems. However a trend is emerging in the digital versions of our traditional news outlets, which I'm certain is not the answer.

I reviewed the excellent Flat Earth News a while ago and that book makes a fantastic case for the churnalistic echo chamber that our news outlets have become. If one paper reports a story, then all can report it as fact, referencing the first that ran it. If it's sourced from a wire service, it's gospel and need not be checked, even though wire services are under huge financial pressure themselves and so are cutting back on their own checking.

Traditional news outlets are trying to use their presence on the web to position themselves as a higher quality source of information and debate than social media. You'd expect more reliable information and a better standard of debate from The Guardian or the BBC, than you'd find on Twitter. It's a sensible strategy.

Unfortunately, cost cutting and a desire not to miss out on information that people can source from outlets like Twitter is also seeing their quality eroded.

At the moment, this is largely visible in news outlets' Live Blogs. Take this example from the BBC's football transfer deadline day coverage.

Transfer deadline day is very much silly season for rumours, but if I want pure speculation, there's plenty to be found on Twitter. If the BBC's only bringing me the same speculation I can find elsewhere, then what is its purpose?

An example on a more serious story appeared on The Guardian website yesterday in their coverage of the Dale Farm eviction case.

Several commentors on the article (inlcuding me) had argued that even though plenty of reporters were present at the site, we'd heard very little from local residents' on their opinions of the planned eviction. Plenty from lawyers, politicians, celebrities and the travellers who live on the site; almost nothing from their neighbours.

Eventually, the writers of the Live Blog cobbled together a few opinions from people commenting on the article who 'claim to be local to the site'. It was a weak solution to an element of the story that the reporters could see they needed to cover. Crucially, it's only the relatively low volume of comments on Wallpapering Fog that stops me from doing exactly the same thing here. If I hit any one of the multitude of current affairs forums and nicked a bit of content, I could do exactly the same thing here. For The Guardian to stand above social media, it needs to do more.

It's a small symptom of a growing problem. When our news outlets just serve commentary that they've sourced unchecked from social media, what is their purpose? I can visit social media directly and I can't easily check the claims made there either.

This sort of tactic will work for a while as organisations like The Guardian are able to live on their reputations, but gradually, those repuations are being eroded. Like a brand that becomes addicted to price discounting, they buy cheap sales now, at the expense of the future value of the company.

Our traditional news media need to cut costs and to adapt, but if they don't set themselves apart from social media by differentiating on quality then they'll have no future at all.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The elevator pitch for analytics

I tweeted a link to this thread on Linkedin last week. It asks, "What's the elevator pitch for analytics?" and quite a few of the answers are a disaster.

A few gems include...

"foresights" based on statistical analysis of data for proactive decision making. 


Identify exceptional insights and value through measures derived from business initiatives.

Well I don't know about you, but I'm sold. Where do I send the cheque?

It's language like that which scares marketers. It should scare anybody! Plain English is a beautiful thing.

Actually, I think the question makes a fundamental mistake and a lot of the confused, jargon filled answers in the thread stem from there. We should never, ever try to sell analysis. Analysis is a means to an end and you sell the result, not the method. If you don't know what end goal you're trying to achieve, then you can't sell the work that's going to be needed to get there.

So as a marketing analyst, what's my elevator pitch?

I'll make your marketing budget work harder, so that you have the choice to either win more customers for the same money, or spend less on marketing without harming your business.

I'll do that by measuring how your customers react to the advertising that you run now, and then forecasting what will happen if you make changes.

And that's about it. For a Marketing Director rather than a CEO or FD, you might even want to leave out the bit about saving money. I've never met a Marketing Director yet who wants to prove their budget could be cut without damaging sales...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The chart you should never see on a dashboard

This chart communicates two data series pretty well. It's not cluttered and it's definitely not a pie chart.

Unfortunately, it's also an almost guaranteed sign of a dashboard that's looking for a purpose and that hasn't been designed with a task in mind. A dashboard that won't help you.

Dashboards are for monitoring data that you already understand. Data, which you very likely already know how you'll react to when it changes. This chart is for analysis - it compares data, looking for a relationship.

Take the term 'dashboard' literally for a minute and think about the data that's displayed on the dashboard in your car. Your speed is shown on there, because you need to know it and because you already know how to make it change when it's too fast or too slow.

You have a petrol gauge too. That's useful data to avoid an embarrassing call to the AA from the hard shoulder because you've run out of petrol. Again, when the gauge drops, you already know what to do.

A lot of data about your car isn't on the dashboard. There's no report on the mix of gasses coming out of your exhaust for example.That's useful information to know whether your engine is running efficiently, so why isn't it there?

It's not there, because if it's out of line, what are you going to do about it? If you're like me, then you probably don't even know what out of line might look like. It would be a distraction from driving at best. There might well be a warning light on the dashboard that says 'see a mechanic' when the exhaust gasses aren't right but that's a very different concept to showing you all of the data and hoping that you draw the right conclusions.

Back to the chart then. It's a classic sign of a dashboard that's trying to be used for analysis, rather than for keeping an eye on indicators that you understand. We had a client recently ask for a chart of their sales vs. the weather and it's very much that kind of chart. The client didn't really want a chart of their sales vs. the weather; they wanted to know if their sales were affected by the weather and they thought that the chart might tell them.

It wouldn't.

You need a mechanic for that. In marketing, we call mechanics analysts.

Dashboarding large amounts of data that you don't already understand in detail, won't help to improve your marketing. It will distract you from driving.

Monitoring a lot of statistics and hoping to spot relationships between them won't work. You need to be a mechanic, or at least to want to learn to be one.

Dashboards are for metrics that you understand. That you already know how to respond to. Everything else is analysis and it doesn't belong on your dashboard.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Chasing the ball

England seem to be quite good at cricket for a change. That's assuming India aren't very bad at it anyway and all the press coverage reminded me of a nice marketing cricket analogy.

Cricket fans sometimes talk about captains "chasing the ball". It means that when your team is fielding, you constantly rearrange your fielders to cover where the batsman hit it last time.

It's not a good strategy.

Captains who do it, tend to find that the ball will keep finding the spaces between their fielders as each gap you cover, opens up a new one for the batsman to exploit.

A good captain on the other hand, analyses the strengths of his bowlers and the strengths of the batsman, then forms a plan to force the batsman into playing the loose shot that he wants. He works the opening over a number of balls, knowing that his fielders are placed correctly for when his plan delivers. If it's not working after a few overs, fine, you might change the plan but you don't abandon it just because one ball found a gap.

It's very, very tempting to run your marketing by chasing the ball; seeing sales drop this week and running tactical press ads to try to recover, or piling your budget into a product that's selling well this week without understanding why it happened.

A good marketer is like a good cricket captain and analyses his and the competition's strengths, forms a plan and then gives it the chance to succeed. Statistical analysis of the past - a few years' past, not just a week - can give you insights that help to develop a good marketing strategy, in the same way that analysing a batsman's play over a season will give you a better chance of bowling him out than chasing where the previous shot went.

In marketing, just as in cricket, analysis is rewarded, while chasing the ball is ineffective, frustrating and ultimately, will lead to defeat.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

There's something special happening in the PS3 store

I like the occasional computer game. Not as a hardcore gamer - more as somebody who likes to drop in and be entertained now and again for an hour.

With that in mind, it's been a gripe for a while that there's very little originality in console gaming. Games are such huge investments now that they retail for £40+ and like Hollywood blockbusters, studios aren't willing to risk multi-million pound budgets on weird ideas.

In film, we have indie studios and I've been wondering where the indie game studios are? Where's the weirdness?

Just another great looking first person shooter or just another driving game seems a waste when you have an entire world to manipulate. It's a console - you can create any world you like, free even from the constraints of film - and with that freedom, doesn't creating a faithful reproduction of a Porsche seem a little, well, unimaginative?

There is an undercurrent of strange and occasionally brilliant flash-based games but they're far from well known. Try Today I Die as an example. Better with sound, so if you're at work - dig out some headphones.

The online Playstation 3 store is giving smaller developers a route to market, with products that typically cost £7-8 rather than £40 and something rather special has happened.

A series of games like Flower and Limbo provide experiences beyond frenetic arcade action that are geared to an emotional response. They're strange, surreal and feel more like art than what we're used to as games. They have a common theme with the flash games in that they usually don't come with instructions. They drop you into an unfamiliar world and then draw you further in, by making you work out their rules without help.

I think we could be looking at the creativity that will lift games to a new level and to a new audience. The most popular of these smaller low priced games will be re-made with bigger budgets in the same way that Hollywood has aped indie successes like The Blair Witch Project.

You'll also see some of their creativity and themes 'borrowed' into online marketing campaigns.

For now, I'm just enjoying the diversion. If you own a PS3 and you haven't tried Flower or Limbo yet, give them a go. Give them to somebody who doesn't 'do' gaming to play and see how they react. It's a world away from lapping the Nurburgring with slightly improved graphics in a slightly more realistic Porsche in yet another driving game.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The ad-man has a crisis

A day in the life of a British Prime Minister an ad-man during a crisis.

Woke up this morning to beautiful Italian sunshine. Lots of messages on the work mobile saying there's some kind of client crisis back home.

Breakfast. Croissants and coffee. Cheeky dollop of strawberry jam on the pastry.

More email messages from work. The back office staff are getting twitchy, saying several of our big clients have had a PR disaster and that they're snowed under with requests for information from the press.

Back to bed for an hour and then I think a walk in the Tuscan hills and we might hit a cafe for lunch. Nice bottle of white and a pasta something.

I'm starting to regret saying the entire board and all of the senior management could all go on holiday at the same time. It sounds like things back home are getting pretty hectic and the account execs are struggling to cover for them.

Lunch was good though. Had my picture taken with a pretty Italian waitress!

OK, I'm going to have to phone the office. Wife not pleased.

Christ, they're panicking back home. The campaign we're running has caused a huge PR disaster and most of our clients have had their offices smashed by chavs on the rampage. I'm sure the execs can cope though - they've got interns to help.

Organised a day trip to Rome. Should help get me back in the wife's good books after that waitress photo.

The police have been in touch. Large groups of youths are gathering to go and smash up our clients' head offices. They say our recent campaigns might be the cause.

Call Marketing Week. Tell them the ad campaigns won't change and I've got no plans to come home.

I'm going to have to fly home. Wife furious.

Sod it, if I'm having my holiday ruined then the rest of the board can jolly well come home too. Set up a board meeting for a few days' time. No sense in rushing.

George (our FD) has decided to come back too. In an unrelated crisis, apparently the agency might be bankrupt. If that's true, then to be honest I'm not sure he should have gone on holiday in the first place.

Open the emergency scenario plans and set up a meeting for tomorrow morning back home. 9.00am. Damned if I'll go in early - I'm supposed to be on holiday.

Head of our London office tells the press we should change our campaign in the light of all the violence. Floppy, blonde haired, attention seeking pillock. Never liked him anyway. I'll cut his budget when I get home, that'll teach him.

Quite a few clients are talking to the press, saying the whole board shouldn't all be on holiday at the same time, it's all our fault and they're seriously thinking about re-pitching their accounts. This could be a problem.

It'll be fine. Few handshakes, some free press inserts and a couple of good dinners (on the client's expense account, obviously) will smooth things over.

Late supper and a good bottle of wine. Feel better. At least advertising's not that important in the grand scheme of things. It's not like I'm running the country

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The looting brand index

Look out Millward Brown, I've got an idea. Here's the Wallpapering Fog 2011 Looter Brand Index. Which advertiser's branding has created the most looting intent in Britain's underclass yoof?

It's a work in progress and we're still working out how to update for 2012 without inciting a riot.

(With thanks to

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Quick conclusions from the riot coverage

I watched the riot coverage across a variety of outlets until too late last night. Here are a few thoughts...

  • The rioters didn't organise using Twitter, they used Blackberry Messenger. People watching used Twitter.

  • Did you hear that Daily Mail? BBM and Twitter are not the same thing.

  • During a developing story, Twitter > Sky News > BBC News

  • During a developing story, you're better off following interesting journalists on Twitter than reading the content of theirs that makes newspaper websites

  • If TV news channels haven't got helicopters up, they won't be showing any coverage that you haven't already seen

  • Somebody really needs to tell our news outlets about UStream

  • What happened to webcams? I swear there used to be more.

  • If it was truly Armageddon, somebody would still be posting marketing news to your Twitter feed.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Citizen Journalism

Our news outlets are all running around today, trying to source pictures and video of the bit of North London that was on fire and being looted last night.

If you've got a fuzzy shot of a burning bus, then I can understand mailing it to the beeb. If I had anything better than that though, I'd be on the phone to newspapers selling it - not giving them great content for free.

News outlets aren't charities and they want the pictures to sell papers. These are the terms and conditions for uploading to the BBC news website and frankly, I think they're taking the p*ss. You're lucky even to retain the copyright.

In contributing to BBC News you agree to grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide. This may include the transmission of the material by our overseas partners; these are all reputable foreign news broadcasters who are prohibited from altering the material in any way or making it available to other UK broadcasters or to the print media. [See full Ts & Cs]

It's important to note, however, that you still own the copyright to everything you contribute to BBC News and that if your image and/or video is accepted, we will endeavour to publish your name alongside it on the BBC News website. Please note that due to operational reasons this accreditation will probably not be possible with video. The BBC cannot guarantee that all pictures and/or video will be used and we reserve the right to edit your comments.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The value of teaching

I've been learning to play the guitar for years, on and off. I picked it up at university because I had loads of free time and even as a student, there's a limit to how much of your day you can spend drunk, or asleep.

I learned the basics from a couple of beginner blues tuition books.

I learned a lot more by trying to work things out and by using tablature (written music for people who can't read music) from books and the web.

Over the first few years, I learned a lot and improved very quickly, but after about five years, I stopped improving and only played now and again because there was nothing new to learn.

Actually, re-phrase that; there was loads more to learn - I'm still average at best - but I didn't know how to get better and was bored with just learning more songs, without improving my technique. There are loads of resources on the web (of varying quality) for beginner and intermediate guitarists, but very little that can take you to the next level.

A month ago, I decided to pick up playing again and try a new tack. Getting lessons. Radical way to try to learn something, I know.

Today, I'm excited about playing again, practicing almost every night and have learned more over just the past few weeks of lessons than in the past few years of self-teaching via books and the web.

There's a similarity here with how we learn to do our jobs. With how we learn about anything really, but this is a marketing blog and needs a marketing angle. Marketing people are also very fond of the internet. Surely you can learn anything online?

We have lots of courses and resources for complete beginners, via organisations like the IPA and MRS. From a standing start, somebody new to marketing or market research can learn a lot by self-teaching, and using online resources.

That will keep a new graduate occupied for the first couple of years of their career. They'll enjoy themselves and progress quickly.

Then what?

Marketing courses for people who've been in the job for more than five years are, by and large, crap. Or they're non-existent.

Management technique and presentation courses are all the same. With a very few exceptions, seen one - seen them all. There's always a bit on personality profiles, maybe a memory game or two, if you're lucky a little bit of presentation structure and job done.

Advanced Excel training? The syllabuses I've seen are shocking and it's the same for most other software training. A one-day training course isn't teaching either.

Teaching works, so where are the quality teachers? They're certainly not offering evening classes.

You can find them on the web, blogging and speaking at TED and you can be inspired. That's like watching a skilled jazz guitarist on Youtube though, or downloading a piece of complex sheet music. Amazing to watch and makes you want to be able to play like that. Absolutely no use at all in helping you to get there.

The best teachers are mentors. Unlike in the world of musical tuition, in marketing their experience is largely not for sale. To a client it is; to an aspiring graduate, not so much. Maybe it's because marketing as a day job generally pays better than music. Rory Sutherland's not going to help you refine a pitch for £25 an hour on a Wednesday evening.

You can only improve by working with the people you find inspiring. Otherwise, you get bored after a few years and start changing jobs looking for something different, or leave marketing altogether.

The web is a valuable learning tool, but it will only get you 50% of the way and the web is much, much better at inspiration, than at teaching.

If you want to know who are the best people in the industry and what is the best work, the internet can show you. You can be the music fan who sends amazing new stuff to their mates, that they haven't heard before.

If you want to learn to be the best in the industry and to produce the best work, only a good mentor can show you. Seek them out, in real life, not online and make them teach you.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Five improvements for Google+ v1.1

I'm still backing Google+ and rapidly finding that I post there now, rather than on Facebook. That said though, there are a few things about it that need a tweak, so here's what I'd do next if I was in charge at Google HQ.

Incoming just doesn't work for me. Random people add you and then shout about whatever's on their mind, which is usually some waffle about social media being awesome. If they were interesting, I'd put them in a circle.

I can see what Google were trying to do and there's a good idea hiding in there, that you might like to have a place where you can see posts from the people who follow you, but you don't follow. The trouble is, people who follow you but you don't follow, tend to be the sorts of people who spam out social media and marketing links to every story they can find. They follow everybody! I don't follow them back because they're not adding value - there's no opinion, no insight and no personality.

Incoming in its current form doesn't work and once the platform's open to all, it's going to be a recipe for spamming. I'd be tempted to combine it with Sparks, which brings me on to...

Anyone use these? Thought not.

If Incoming can be a little annoying, Sparks is pretty much irrelevant. It's a news scraper and tracker in a social network, which ignores the principle that Google have got so right with Circles. I like to keep my news and my friends' opinion about the news separate. Sparks should just show me what Google+ users think. Google have got a great product already that can find me mainstream news stories.

From these first two points then, I'd

- Restrict sparks to just contain posts from users of Google+

- Then add filters to Sparks, to select either posts from all of Google+ (including brands), just personal users of Google+, only your circles or from your extended network.

- Now you can dump Incoming. You've got the pull model for topics that the web is so brilliant at, so you don't need people to shout at each other.

Hashtags, please
They work on Twitter and they'll work here. The updated Sparks will work better if people can flag up topics and then search for them with tags. How about a little plus sign in front of a word, if you want to announce it as a topic? That would be lovely.

An API for photos and video (and other things creative people make)
I like Picasa, so Google+ using it as a photo hosting service works for me. I don't use Google's video hosting because I like Vimeo (paragliding videos anyone?) This is a mistake Facebook made but Google can go one better. Don't only allow people to post things to their feed that they store in other places. Build an API and tie them in to profiles, so that it doesn't matter where I choose to host my content.

As clever as Google+ might turn out to be, it can't be a one-size fits all solution, because people are different. Let them be different and then pull the results of whatever they make into your platform.

As well as photo or video, with the right API, I could have a music tab on my profile, for music I like and music I've recorded. You've just jumped into the only territory that has kept Myspace staggering along for the past few years. Open your content platform up and see what people invent. Be the network that joins it all together.

It's time to let everybody play
If Google aren't just about ready to open up access to Google+, then they launched it too early. I like that it was launched with an invite-only wall as it helped to create a buzz around the product. It also made sure everybody had somebody to share with when they first arrived. If you're going to avoid people drifting back to what they did before, then you need to let everybody in now.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Spooky Gmail

I've been mailing back and forth on Gmail this morning, discussing bids on a house that my girlfriend and I are looking at.

Google sent me a calendar invite for this afternoon, suggesting we up our bid and meet them "in the middle." My girlfriend didn't send me that. Google did. It's taken us a little while to work that out.

It's very, very clever (and not a little spooky) but I think it might have got the wrong end of the stick on this one.

Here's the email that sparked off the Google machine

"Or we say we'll meet them in the middle at 210, but we cannot go any higher. If they say no to that then we just leave it with them (and dare I say it, walk away if we need to.)"

And what Google did!

Google just passed the Turing Test. Even if it didn't realise it was joking.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Seven reasons why Google+ is going to win

Last week, I said that it was far too early to judge whether Google+ is a Facebook killer. Here we are just a week later and I'm ready to stick my neck on the line. Google+ is going to win. By miles. Here's why.

Shiny, happy people
Google+ looks good. It's uncluttered and it has plenty of white space, like a good website should. I had a revelation after spending twenty minutes or so on Google+ last week and then quickly flicking over to Facebook. You know what doing that feels like? Like going back to your old Hotmail account from Gmail, that's what. How's Hotmail doing on the new users front recently?
That impression is with an ad-blocker on my browser too. Facebook's even more grim if you turn it off.

You can't square a circle
We all know that the big selling point of Google+ is circles. They work. After a week, I've already got colleagues, friends and random interesting people on Google+ and I'd never have done that with Facebook. With Facebook, you always have to choose between merging work colleagues, friends and family into one group and sharing everything with everybody, or keeping your network restricted. As a result, Facebook is 'only' most people's social network for friends and acquaintances. There's no choice to make with Google+; you just add everybody even vaguely interesting and throw them into a bucket that you won't share your stag party photos with.

I've read in a few places that Facebook's developers could just add circles, but I don't believe they can. Circles will only work if they're central to the whole platform - you can't bolt them on as an afterthought. If Facebook want seamless, easy to use circles, they're going to be in a constant battle with their legacy database structure. They also need a whole new friends maintenance front end. By the time they've fiddled with the current structure and failed once, Microsoft have got involved and wanted to tie Facebook circles to MSN, they've failed again and finally decided it needs a ground up re-engineering, it will be mid 2012 and far, far, far too late.

Yes, Facebook has sharing settings, but that's exactly my point. They're a bolt-on rather than baked into the core of what the platform does and so they're a pain in the neck to use.

The Germans say they're handy
Social networks work brilliantly on smartphones. You get notifications instantly and you can share instantly. We're only just getting started with the potential for instant photo and video sharing for example.

You might have noticed that Google is quite good at mobile. Even if Facebook build fantastic mobile apps (which they don't), Google will always be ahead, because they know what's coming up in the next version of Android. The next version Google+ app can incorporate new Android features before Facebook even knows they exist.

All that and the Google+ Android app is already better than Facebook's

A picture says a thousand words
Let's face it, Facebook's photo storage has always been pretty poor; low quality pictures and the galleries aren't great. Picasa is very good and tied into the heart of Google+. Photographers like things like Picasa keeping EXIF data from the photos rather than stripping it out. You can actually use Picasa as a proper photo storage tool rather than a toy that's just for sharing quickly.

Back to mobile, if you don't strip the EXIF data off, you can locate and map geotagged photos. Powerful? Oh yes.

Show me the money
Facebook really needs to start showing it can make money. Or rather profit. But every time it tries, there's an outcry about privacy, or obtrusive ads. Let's be honest, Google can run Google+ at a loss if they like and tailored search based on user profiles will make them money even if they never actually advertise directly on the platform.

Not being a slave to ads on the network is a hugely strong position. Google can make Google+ work for users. Facebook, first and foremost, needs to work for advertisers.

And back to mobile once more... There isn't much room for advertising on a mobile phone screen, so not needing to run ads is an even bigger advantage.

Lock 'em up and throw away the key
If it's so great, then what's to stop you migrating to Google+? Absolutely nothing. You don't need to take anything with you - not even your Facebook photos as they're low quality and were shared in a moment, not stored there as a long term solution. All Facebook has is knowledge of your network and judging by the speed that my contacts are finding each other on Google+, a lot of people have misjudged how valuable that is. Give people a cool animated circle and they'll rebuild their network in a few hours one evening, just because it's a fun thing to do.

Zuckerberg is terrified
Why else would Facebook be shutting down export routes for your data as fast as developers can set them up? That's not the sign of a company which believes it's got the strongest product and it's not the way to persuade people you're the best and most trustworthy guardian of their data.

The only thing I can see that would halt the Google+ bandwagon is an antitrust ruling, but if Google are going to be slapped down by competition regulators then it will take ages to happen in either of Europe or America, never mind both. The regulators have also got their eye on search dominance, not social, and by the time they get moving, Google+ will already have won.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Too big to fail?

Since I wrote this post on the Brilliant Media blog, I've heard one argument a lot, in various forms, in favour of Facebook being with us for good.

People seem to divide broadly into two camps...
  1. People who think - even want - Facebook to disappear and are waiting for the crash (in case you hadn't guessed, I'm in this one)

  2. People who think Facebook isn't going anywhere, because it's now 'too big to fail'

As an example of this second camp, the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones gave us a quick mention on his blog (thanks! That will do wonders for the SEO) but dismissed the argument that Facebook was now vulnerable and could go the way of Myspace, saying

"I don't really buy that - Facebook is far more widely used and cemented into millions of people's social lives than MySpace ever was."

Essentially, Facebook won't fail like Myspace did, because it's bigger than Myspace ever was.

This is going to be pure opinion - no data this time, sorry about that - but I'd like to expand on why I don't buy this 'too big to fail' argument.

Firstly, I've seen no evidence to say at what size something becomes an inevitable part of our lives for at least the forseeable future, particularly on the web. At the time, everybody thought Myspace was pretty huge and Newscorp paid $580m for it, so at least somebody thought it was a good bet for the future. Facebook is bigger, of course, but the fundamental model of what it does is the same. It just does it with real names and a better user interface.

We think Facebook's huge, but it only really covers the private aspects of our lives. Work networks are what Linkedin is for. Imagine a platform that did everybody's working and private relationships (Google +? At this stage, who knows?). It's just an example, but that would be a far better commercial proposition and potentially be far bigger than Facebook. I'm not saying it will happen, just showing that there is a potential network out there that's bigger than Facebook, so the 'this one's too big' argument doesn't wash with me. We may not know what 'big' looks like yet...

By training, I'm an economist and so I'm interested in the motivations for why people and businesses do what they do. Rather than looking at something big and saying 'wow, that's huge, it will be here forever!', I'd rather talk about why people use it now and whether that might change. Economists talk about barriers to entry - how easy is it for a competitor to set up and to do what you do, only better?

So why do we use Facebook?

That's easy, it knows our network and who we like to connect with. Once you're connected, it can do messages, photos, chat, games... all the things we like to share.

So I use Facebook to share. I use Facebook to share because everybody else uses Facebook to share. And so do you.

The single barrier to entry for a competitor is that it's hard for somebody else to duplicate your network and that even if they built the world's most stunning social platform, it's no good unless your friends are on it too. Statement of the obvious, I know.

Other web tools have better lock-ins than that. Flickr has a massive storage of photos, that it would be a pain to move. For me, Blogger has this blog, which I'm unlikely to put in the effort to migrate (I still might though.) Facebook, almost by definition is very current. Its content is transient and I don't need to take any of the stuff it stores with me when I go, except for the network. Sure it stores lots of photos, but it's not very good at it and I only used it to share them quickly. They won't need uploading again or they 'd already be held somewhere better and just linked to from my Facebook page. Do you love Farmville that much? Or was it a diversion for a few weeks before you moved on.

Regardless of some people now actively wanting Facebook to fail - which I think is a dangerous sign for Zuckerberg - I don't think that network effect alone is strong enough to insulate Facebook.

Let's take Google+ for a minute. I'm absolutely not saying it 's the Facebook killer (see my last post) but it's a useful example. Google are taking a softly, softly approach to social this time and I think that's the right way to go. As a start up, you can't compete with Facebook all at once, but you can attack chinks in its armour through micro-networks.

Looking at a few personal examples, my sunday league football team tried to use Facebook to organise games and practice sessions, but gave up. It doesn't matter why it didn't work, but it didn't. We drifted back to email and I'd say Facebook's vulnerable for organising teams and events. Interestingly, Wave could potentially have done a cracking job, but never quite got going.

I paraglide whenever I can and love to share photos and videos with other pilots. Quality is important here and Facebook's just not up to the job. I'd also like to be able to build a looser network, who I wouldn't want as Facebook friends because they're acquintances at best, but I'd like to see their videos and read their tales of good flying days and they'd like to see mine (I hope.) Facebook can't do that. Google+ might be able to and it's definitely another chink in the armour.

My prediction is that Facebook will start to see it's base nibbled away at, by better organisation of micro-networks until somebody else builds a critical mass and then they'll see their traffic drop off a cliff over a couple of years. The Brilliant Media blog post was intended to show why I think we may just have reached the tipping point, where Facebook becomes vulnerable. Yes, Facebook could build those features, but their platform is starting to feel big and slow and complicated and there's no way they'll be contemplating a re-write from the ground up. It's the same problem of inertia that means Microsoft can't do phones and tablets.

By all means argue. I've been wrong before... But I'm interested in hearing why it wouldn't or couldn't happen, beyond 'Facebook's too big'. At least lets discuss what 'too big' means. Which parts of Facebook are now so big they're invulnerable?