Glenn Greenwald, ducking the issue on privacy

softball

An example of some of the hard-hitting questions at the TED Global conference.

Last week, the TEDGlobal 2014 conference was held down in Rio de Janeiro. Among the global luminaries delivering the brief nuggets of info-tainment that has made TED so famous (and somewhat infamous) was Glenn Greenwald, the journalist and erstwhile attorney, who rose to fame last year when he and Laura Poitras helped leak classified documents from the NSA with the help of Edward Snowden.

Greenwald’s speech was largely a spirited argument against the familiar trope that “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear” from government surveillance. Greenwald attributes this argument to people like Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose respective companies he likened to Bentham’s Panopticon, the home monitors in Owell’s 1984, and even the Abrahamic god for the pervasiveness of their products’ visibility into their users’ lives. In Greenwald’s view, not only is this argument deeply cynical when deployed by wealthy technology tycoons who have the resources to essentially purchase their own privacy, but it’s also inimical to modern notions of liberty.

Of course, he’s correct on both accounts – but it’s utterly irrelevant, because Greenwald’s speech was also a classic example of skilled rhetoric: presenting an odious straw man as his opponent, making obvious points cutting it down, and claiming a moral high ground with maximum indignation to boot. (My high school debate coach would’ve scolded me for such an obvious strategy.) In other words, Greenwald swung at a softball. Here’s the real, and more challenging, argument that Greenwald could’ve used his global platform at TED to grapple with.

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Salesforce/ExactTarget is about to shake up the digital marketing and analytics space

Some pretty interesting news came out of the Salesforce/ExactTarget Connections event in Indianapolis the other week.

sfdc

The first, nearest and dearest to my own heart, was the announcement of new web and mobile analytics features in the “ExactTarget Marketing Cloud,” as well as new enhancements to the Journey Builder application, which uses Salesforce CRM data to personalize mobile application experiences. Interestingly, SFDC/ET has chosen not to brand their digital analytics module. It’s simply an “embedded” (read: standard) feature in the ET Marketing Cloud. Analytics, once again, as table stakes to the marketing platform.

The second, and potentially more groundbreaking, item was less of a formal announcement than it was a clever form of “leak” from Marc Benioff via Twitter:

There on Wednesday, October 15th, the first major product keynote of Dreamforce 2014 is titled “Analytics Cloud Keynote.” Yep – Salesforce is about to (formally) get into the analytics business.

These developments are directly related, and aimed squarely at incumbents like Adobe, IBM and Google (in different ways).

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Some real talk on the question: “Should I get an MBA?”

Recently, I’ve been asked for career advice from a couple of undergraduates and recent grads who are interested in technology and analytics. I’m always happy to talk with these folks – it wasn’t so long since I was in their shoes, and in the years since, I’ve enjoyed the benefit of some very generous professionals who were happy to share their experience and career advice with me. I believe it’s very important to pass the favor forward.

MBA

One big question that I hear a lot is: should I get an MBA? (Sometimes, another graduate school program is mentioned, but the MBA is far and away the most frequent.) If so, when? And from what school? Do I have any tips or advice for getting into School X?

There are any number of viewpoints on this question: myriad online MBA applicant forums, recruiting networks, and a whole cottage industry of application and GMAT consultants (not to mention the test prep textbooks). I am, of course, not a part of any of those, and as such hold a relatively contrarian view of the grad school question.

Nevertheless, my advice comes down to a supremely unsatisfying: it depends. A person’s suitability for an MBA program depends on a lot of factors which I’ll try to outline in this post. Here goes.

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Scaling social, and the future of the social web

Sometime over the summer, Facebook officially surpassed IBM in market capitalization:

market cap

I’ve been thinking about this rather momentous shift in market value for a while now. There are interesting business dynamics behind it, which I’ll address in a moment; but what I’m particularly fascinated by is how the surge in market valuation of this (very) young company reflects the rapid maturation, and bright promise, of the social web itself.

It’s increasingly clear that the consumer web of the future is being built around what we today call “social” frameworks. This is being driven by two key trends:

  1. Changing user behavior that builds on the network effects that social platforms encourage; e.g. as more and more of my friends and family adopt Facebook as a central node for communication/coordination/sharing, I too communicate/share more; and
  2. The steady increase in new users, across diverse markets, quarter on quarter.

This is key to the major social companies’ strategy to create virtuous cycles within peer groups: capture more new users, offer them appealing new services (all free!), and get those users to “engage,” which exerts greater pressure on the rest of the peer network to also join the service. There is abundant evidence that this strategy is working (though certainly more for some companies than others)

As social scales, in both terms of “breadth” (market penetration) and “depth” (pervasiveness into the web experience), how will it change? And what does this suggest about the social web just a few years away?

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Apple Pay – and the missing link in mobile payments

apple payWhat Apple unveiled at their big September 9th event was, without hyperbole, revolutionary. I’m not talking about the watch (I remain a skeptic there). I mean Apple Pay, the company’s new mobile payments service.

Let me go on record: Apple Pay is a big, huge deal. Most of the early reviews/criticism have focused primarily on its applications for in-store purchases (and indeed, Tim Cook cited big retailers like Disney, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Whole Foods and, of course, Apple itself as examples), but the real implications – and biggest value – of Apple Pay actually go much, much further than that.

Apple Pay really represents Apple’s strongest move yet into online commerce and identity brokerage. It’s a sharp elbow in the ribs of Google and Facebook (in different ways), and a beautiful example of some of the smartest strategy in the industry. It’s also a clear call to action for merchants and marketers: true mobile commerce is nearly here. Start getting ready. Now.

More after the jump.

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How SaaS is driving remote working

punchI recently wrote a post about how SaaS and mobile technology have completely changed the landscape for enterprise productivity. It’s just another example of how “software is eating the world” – in that case, untethering the means of “doing work” from traditional modalities (like a perpetual license OS and hardware stack). What I want to talk about today is how we’ve effectively untethered productivity not only from how it used to be done, but also, increasingly, where.

In the last several years, we’ve seen tremendous growth in cloud-based productivity software: everything from CRM to marketing tech to bread-and-butter tools like word processing and spreadsheets. This is opening up new use cases that just weren’t possible before, driving prices down, and drastically changing the way many organizations collaborate. But it has also had another effect whose impact has just begun: changing the way companies think about localized office environments, versus remote working.

In the same way that industrial-era concepts like “punching the time card” or “being on your lunch break” don’t really fit the reality of the world many of us live in today, the traditional office-worker model is quickly tracking towards obsolescence. The arguments for it are mostly driven by executives’ traditional cultural choices rather than business requirements – not unlike wearing a suit and tie to the office used to be. In the same way, I believe we’re living in the twilight days of the centralized office working model.

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“So where do we begin?”

Even for major vendors, the marketing technology space can seem like a confusing place sometimes.

roadBroadly speaking, I see ever-increasing numbers of three types of “martech” vendors: highly focused point solutions; mostly point solutions whose marketing overstates what their solution specializes in; and the truly integrated suites. Vendor name recognition increases accordingly: in the first category, you have all of these guys (good luck keeping track). By the end, you’re left with the familiar names: Adobe, IBM, Salesforce, Oracle, etc. (Check out my high-level tally of big vendor acquisitions.) Keeping track of who does what has become harder and harder.

Every year, more and more companies realize they’re outgrowing their basic tools and want to explore what else is possible to elevate their marketing; or they want to improve or change strategy in a specific tactical area. But the cacophony of marketing tech vendors results in both confusion and paralysis of analysis, and it’s generally a mess. Leaders in these companies often have a simple, common sense question: “where do we begin?”

I’m going to propose an answer to that question.

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Happy Labor Day

I spent most of last week hiking Glacier National Park with one of my best friends. Here are a couple of pictures we shot. Two things:

  • If you are one of those people who does not take “real” vacations – meaning a week or more at a time – I would urge you to do so. It does wonders for your personal health and perspective.
  • Go see Glacier National Park. I can confirm that it truly is “the shining jewel of America.” Simply incredible.

Pictures after the break.

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To blog, or not to blog?

Should your company blog?

Probably not. But like anything, it depends.

skull

Corporate blogs have sort of become one of the new table stakes for any company trying to seriously “do digital,” particularly in the software field. (Particularly in the marketing tech space. I’m looking around at all of you folks.) It’s easy to see why. A company blog has a sort of no-brainer quality to it: after all, a blog is fast and cheap, if not free, to set up, has an enormous potential audience, and is a simple way of getting new information out… right?

Free… enormous audience… simple. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, indeed it is. In reality, what I’ve found is that all of those descriptors deserve a big, fat asterisk attached. In fact, I’m becoming less and less convinced that corporate blogging is a good idea for a lot of companies, both big and small – including many marketing tech vendors. Hear me out as I explain why.

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The shared digital future of media

If you’ve kept up with the slow-moving implosion of the journalism industry over the last several years, it’s hard not to think you’re seeing the same story set on repeat. “Dead-tree media” publications seem to spin endlessly through a death spiral of shrinking subscriptions and advertising rates, leading to editorial cuts, contributing to crappier content, which leads to shrinking subscriptions and ad rates, and… so on and so forth into utter irrelevancy.

dead tree

The old giants of journalism are being slowly picked apart by digital native competitors like BuzzFeed, Vox, the HuffPo and more generally by the constellations of blogs (woohoo!) and independent websites out there as well. This is part and parcel of a broader, tectonic shift in how our wired society accesses, consumes and even creates “news” that is driven in large part by new technology.

I wrote a while back about how many legacy brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling with the rise of digital commerce. Today, I want to talk about how the same is happening in media and journalism, because many of the same dynamics apply: namely, institutional inertia, failures of leadership, and a misunderstanding of how central digital analytics are to a competitive media enterprise are steadily winnowing the field by basic natural selection.

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