Lest We Forget…

One of my favorite Youtube channels is Whatifalthist. I’ve been spending a lot of time on Youtube lately, as I’m sure a lot of people are, enthralled with the content and appalled by the horrid advertising. The time when professional advertising comes to youtube, if advertising must come, cannot come soon enough for me. But that’s a topic for another day. This article concerns a video from this channel  appropriately titled as follows:

Why is the World Crazy Now?

Youtube Channel: Whatifalthist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTWOXRCyOY4

This caught my eye because, as you know, if you’ve been reading these articles, I like to bundle up technology, economics and history to make the world a better place, or at the very least, these articles more interesting. But 2020 seems to be a cathartic year for humankind and something about all this feels somewhat familiar.  It’s hard to explain, but if you take a different point of view from the “normal” perspective and make one simple assumption as follows:

The world has always been crazy, it has just been a matter of degree and awareness.

My field is the media and one of the most obvious drawbacks to today’s media stream is its “nowness”. We in modern societies find ourselves perpetually drawn into the world of right now. 

Not just immediate gratification, which is bad enough, but immediate everything! The individual of today, no matter what age, race or gender, can barely grab the next breath before being swallowed up by CNN or Twitter.  We feel frustrated and insecure in a world where we should be satisfied and content, but we’re not. We are constantly being bombarded by bad news and fear, boogie men and pandemics. But believe it or not, this is nothing new. This has been the driving force behind civilization since, well, civilization. 

 

Human beings, no matter how intelligent we think we are are emotional beings. Our instincts for fear and self-preservation are as much a part of us as our fingers and toes, but for some reason, for all our vaunted ability to think, we still rely on primal instinct. An instinct, that almost all forms of media can tap into and manipulate, good or bad, right or wrong, true or false. And the most powerful emotions, at least in the short run, are the negative ones.

“Emotionally satisfying that your one enemy, hopefully with a name of only one or two syllables is the one to blame for all the world’s ills….in reality these are all players struggling in a harsh world beyond their control…”

And when we do seek the positive we have a tendency to shroud it in a healthy dose of vanity and self denial.

Whenever every field tries to understand the present to predict the future…they always emphasize the importance of their own field. 

Technologists tend to trumpet their own favorite technology  while forgetting single technologies  usually run out of steam after a generation or two. Economists tend to look at economic factors while ignoring  they are entirely dependent on the political and social factors around them.

This I know first hand. Historians too have their biases but they also have one big advantage. Historians see the world over a long period of time, seeing what makes the present differ from the past, but also, how it is so much the same. They too will have their biases; they too will see only what they’re looking for, but at least they have the broad canvas of thousands of years to draw their conclusions. 

According to Whatifalthist, there are Four Root Causes of what is happening today based on the cycle of history repeating itself. As the saying goes..”Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it”. Remember, these events which we consider today, have all happened somewhere, sometime before in human history. Keep that in mind. Even item 4, which seems specific to the US and this specific time, isn’t. Ask Egypt, Greece, Rome…the Romanovs, the Mongols, Exxon …well you get the idea…

Four Root Causes

  1. Population Growth
    1. As population grows, more competition for resources
    2. Governments inflate currencies causing inflation
    3. Inflation helps the wealthy and connected/negates wages of working and middle class
    4. Corruption becomes endemic to protect the privileged
    5. Politics become more partisan and extreme (generally negative)
    6. Governments try to get an edge on neighbors/Wars become endemic
    7. These issues CAN be managed but only after some cataclysmic events
  2. Decline of traditional religion
    1. Humans have to believe in something
    2. Every topic and policy becomes a new front in the culture war
    3. Politics and social issues take on the guise of religious fanaticism
    4. There just isn’t much to believe in/Inability to truly understand human nature creates false morality
    5. Few goals to chase other than money/gratification
  3. The Information Revolution
    1. Not unique to our era/Printing press vs Internet
    2. People in poor areas know how poor they are
    3. Broken social groups/humans need real human relationships/loneliness and anxiety
    4. Greater irrationality and desperation
  4. The decline of Western hegemony
    1. US Golden Age as an aberration
    2. Rise of China
    3. US withdrawing from World policing/painful period of self-examination

Hmmm..any of this sound familiar?

 

“I See…”, said the Blind Man

I’ve spent a lot of time lately observing the events that are going on around me very carefully. Since my business is business I’ve become particularly fascinated with economic theory. I’ve been into that since college but kind of in the background. I took the freshman classes like everyone else but only cared so far as it was being able to explain what I saw on television news. Not the loftiest of goals but at the time, that was the level of my interest. That was many years ago, life experience has taken that interest to all new levels. At least in my own imagination.

Throughout my own up and down career I’ve subconsciously kept in the back of my mind, so this is what Jonathan Carr and Milten Friedman were talking about. And slowly but surely I could start to see why “statistics” and “indicators” and “benchmarks” are so important..why the “economy” is so important. So much of our individual lives depend on it almost for life itself. This is pretty ominous when you think about it and it also explains a lot. It can easily explain why we treat others as we do, behave and the way we do and believe what we believe. I personally don’t believe any economic model can predict anything remotely useful if there are no “human” elements involved, i.e., humankind’s quirky, excessive and completely irrational side that defies any algorithm.

But still, you can see things coming if you just take a look. I’ve been wondering with all money that being printed out there, I ask two questions:

  1. Why isn’t any of it coming to me?
  2. Where’s the inflation that usually comes along with it?

Well, I can’t answer the first question, but I think I can take a shot at the second. Take a close look at the illustration above.  It is a screenshot from the US Bureau of statistics Consumer Price Index for August 2020. (https://www.bls.gov/charts/consumer-price-index/consumer-price-index-by-category.htm#)

Simply put, the things above are what the prices were on what people bought in August neatly broken up into “All Items”, “Food”, and “Energy”. For now we’ll forego the “All items except food and energy”. I have been shopping  for a lot of food since covid, like everyone else and noticed a sharp rise in prices over the last 6 months. Isn’t that inflation? Yes, but it’s well within the acceptable 1% – 2% range which is the government’s actual goal. So all that extra money stimulating the economy doesn’t seem to be doing much damage.

But what I didn’t know at first, wasn’t clear until I looked at “Energy” on this graph, it was literally a picture painting a thousand words. Now it all made sense. Now I knew what was really going and I don’t have to be an economist to see it. Basically, gas is still “cheap”.., unbelievably cheap, cheap enough where we can carry on our daily lives, whatever that means to you. To me it means going to the grocery store to constantly buy more food. And just in the nick of time.  Next question, is low energy costs the future? How long will it last. What are the benefits. What are the consequences. Again more questions. You gotta love economics!

…Not in our Stars…

An algorithm  is a finite sequence of well-defined, computer-implementable instructions, typically to solve a class of problems or to perform a computation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algorithm

That is one way of putting it. In tech, an algorithm usually refers to what code is supposed to do like find an address, load a video, connect with a friend. Software engineers spend their whole careers using, creating and improving them.

In the more abstract world of mathematics, they lay the foundation for iron clad truths describing the fabric of existence.

In everyday life, they can solve Rubik’s cube…and apparently much much more.

There is no escaping how much of our lives will now be spent online, in some form or another. Whether for work or play or education, it is now and will be for the foreseeable future, the world we live in. And as our “social” networks become electronic and well beyond just friends and family, the view we see of that world is brought to us by the now God like Algorithm. We must please and conjole it, lest it becomes angry and does not share its blessings. I may be laying it on a bit thick, but think about it.

Like the electromagnetic waves that once brought us television, everybody takes them for granted, but no one really knows what that means. How many people do you know that can explain how television actually works from beginning to end? It doesn’t matter to most people unless you manufacture televisions or television cameras. The same is true with the all-powerful, all-mystical Algorithm. Why should you know, unless you’re a software engineer, a mathematician or a Rubik enthusiast. But you better learn quick. For if you don’t control the Algorithm, the Algorithm will control you or, at the very least, what you see…and at the very worst, what you CAN see.

An algorithm is a mathematical set of rules specifying how a group of data behaves. In social media, algorithms help maintain order, and assists in ranking search results and advertisements. On Facebook, for example, there is an algorithm which directs pages ad content to display in a certain order. (digitalmarketinginstitute.com)

I could go into rigorous detail on how computational algorithms work and what they do but that is not the point I’m trying to make. No one needs to be reminded of the enormous power of the biggest social networks, captivating billions of people and dominating the entire Internet. With dominance comes power, a new, transfixing kind of power that the world has seen before, but only in isolated doses. This time, its ubiquitous. Its the world. Its everywhere…an awesome responsibility. Hence the daily barrage of what Zuckerberg or Bezos did or didn’t do today. Each social network has its own algorithms that seeks its own purpose, usually to grab and hold your attention. But  when you factor in human nature, well that’s where the trouble starts.

The social networks…began to see themselves as a conduit for news distribution. They changed their algorithms to suit this shift especially as more people began to receive their news via them.

In stead of chatting with mom or cousin Liz, how the minions were being told what was happening in the world at large. Nothing wrong with that, news is news, facts are facts. No one denies that.

Then something happened.

Clickbait articles, fake news, bots, trolls and political warfare began to dominate the platform. The Facebook algorithm, perhaps the most famous algorithm in the world, was at the center of it.

Human beings are not generally attracted to peace and harmony, despite Coke-Cola commercials. They like gossip, they like partisanship, they like to feel outraged whatever the cause. This, more often than not gets  all the attention and hence feeds the gluttonous Algorithm to disseminate to all the like souls it can find on the network. And we eat it up with a spoon. However, an algorithm, has no moral standing or conscious, it has no right or wrong…only true or false. Only humans can determine right from wrong. The only problem is, we’ve yet to discover an algorithm for that.

 

The Democratization of Ad Tech – Part 1

To find out more about TyrionHT consulting:
https://sonyainc.net/tyrionHT

I’m a digital marketer. What do digital marketers do…we sell things on the Internet. This gives us both a tremendous advantage and a tremendous challenge. It’s a big, big world out there and the reality of all this is that we live in a world controlled almost entirely by technology. It’s natural. Once it became “safe” to buy things on-line it became safe to sell things on-line and that’s what us digital marketers have to figure out for ourselves…pretty much one day at a time. But the irony of it all, because it is all “hi-tech” and therefore mystifying, everyone finds themselves in the same boat. And when I say everyone I mean everyone. We are in the midst of an era. The transition from one way of life to another, a transition that rivals our evolution from the steam engine to the combustion engine. Whether I’m Procter & Gamble or LittleGuy Advertising, we now have the same tools and the same playing field. That means that if Procter & Gamble and LittleGuy were ever to compete in the same arena, the 20th century model, based entirely on deep pockets, would quickly favor a P&G.

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be room for deep pockets in this business, but even in today’s age of economic disparity, there is a certain revolution going on…re-asking a very old question. Can money buy everything?

It can buy talent, it can buy equipment, it can buy large swaths of land. But can it be sure that cute little Facebook or Instagram ad wll have whatever it takes to create a short-lived but potent viral effect? Will Proctor & Gamble ads have a greater impact on a teenage audience because they have deep pockets? Maybe yes and maybe no. The keyword here is “maybe”. P&G can pump millions of dollars into the ad machines that determine what gets seen where. They will be seen by millions…but with lackluster results? Very possible. While LittleGuy ads spend $1000, go viral, sell whatever they’re selling like hot cakes, and everyone’s happy. Maybe…maybe not.

The certainty of big ad agencies or big marketing companies or big anything…no longer exists. Some may find it disconcerting and I can understand why but others will find it quite liberating. In high school physics we were taught about simple machines and the mechanical advantage they create that make doing a tough job easier. The lever, for instance, one of my favorites, could allow a single person to move a rock or a dead animal 2x or 3x their own weight. The “amount” of mechanical advantage being 2x or 3x the weight depended on where one placed the fulcrum…the balancing point.

In my opinion, what the internet has given us is the opportunity to build our own levers to lift what we need to lift with the added advantage of choosing our fulcrum anywhere we want.
But keep in mind, the lever works the same way for EVERYONE. It doesn’t divvy out its mechanical advantage based on who’s rich and who’s poor. And like the Muses chooses to give her secrets only to the virtuoso…the most skilled of artists and craftsmen. In coming articles, you’ll see what I mean.

The Collapse Of The Traditional Brand Agency – Part 2

“They are the part of our business that is most under pressure as clients shift their budget away from ‘the traditional’ towards ‘the new’ [areas such as digital advertising and marketing technology],” Mark Read, WPP’s new chief executive, has admitted. (campaignlive.com)

In my last article I wrote about the decline of traditional brand agencies in light of the technical changes of between the 20th and 21st centuries. Since most of use live life on a daily basis our point of view on the changes of society seem extended, drawn out over many years, when really most “eras”, the Jazz Era, the Depression Era, the War Years, the Eisenhower Era, the 50’s the 60’s etc…are really only decades apart, but each stands separate and unique in the eyes of history, like the Renaissance or Ancient Rome. But people who lived in the  60’s but were born in the 50’s didn’t see the changes around them as the beginning or end of an era. It was just life. The only difference was changing trends in fashion, television shows and culture. Moving from Elvis Presley to the Beatles was simply a natural progression if you are a fan of Rock and Roll. These changes were notable, interesting and even exciting but certainly not historical, at least not at the time, but only if you confine yourself to Elvis and the Beatles, If you were born in the 50s chances are you know nothing of the “Big Band Era” or Beethoven during the Napoleonic Era. Historians, Sociologists and even Economics love “Eras” and are always eager to discuss them and expound on them no end, especially if it’s a reflection of the progress we’ve made compared to the past. In other words, we’re enamored of the past BECAUSE it is the past. We seem much less enamored when it is the present. 

DURING an era, the social impact of change becomes noticeable and usually in some unflattering ways. The rise of robotics means wholesale loss of jobs, the rise of technology means the end of manufacturing. In other words, society is ok with change as long as it maintains the status quo. But by its very definition, change cannot maintain the status quo.  So when expressed in the media, the gradual market change from media based brand advertising to digital brand advertising is not a gradual transformation but a “collapse” a “decline” or a “meltdown”. Don’t get me wrong, these effects are real, but as I understand destructive capitalism, aren’t as catastrophic as people make them out to be. (http://sonyainc.net/wordpress/totally-awesome-dude/),

When

 one door opens another closes. Granted it takes time for the pendulum to swing and it’s easy to get caught unprepared for the transition. In my last article I mentioned if major brand agencies cannot make the transition from media to digital they will go the way of the horse and buggy. This may seem unfair, however, consider the following:

In 1900 there were only 4,192 passenger cars built in the US (the only country to be manufacturing cars). There were no buses or trucks.

By the early 1910s, the number of automobiles had surpassed the number of buggies, but their use continued well into the 1920s in out of the way places

The economic turnaround of destructive capitalism today doesn’t seem too different from a hundred years ago, even though the “Internet Era” is supposedly faster, more immediate and, to borrow a phrase from manufacturing…JIT (Just in Time). The industrial and digital revolutions engulfing our lives and the lives of our forefathers took a good deal longer than the  “social” revolutions that took place in the U.S., France or Russia. THOSE were revolutions. 

My point being, The world is changing and will continue to change. As is always the case, some will benefit some will be hurt, who knows if it will be in equal measure or not. All we can do is ask ourselves are we in a better place than we were 100 years ago…200 years ago…1000 years ago? Of course, we are. The trick is to filter out the progress from change. And THAT is what eras are for!

The Collapse Of The Traditional Brand Agency

Why the Traditional Agency Model Is Struggling to Keep Up With Demand (adweek.com)

The great lamentation for the traditional brand agency goes on, as a fixture of the American economy and culture for 150 years, an industry that in the latter half of the 20th century was a global beacon of growth and prosperity.  What happened?

“Traditional agencies and holding companies like WPP are built around solidified structure and a foundation of the siloed legacy model. They are designed for long term client partnerships and marketing plans that often stretch over years. The steady stream of income this provides is essential to their operation.”

I began my career in advertising in the 21st century, but my career in technology began  in the 20th century, for which I am grateful. Technology to me is something much more than writing code or creating gadgets. It is about the endless pursuit of pursuit. Which, when you think about it, is the driving force behind the new “world” economy…and it is new and it is global. How do I know? I personally participated in watching that pursuit to make things smaller, faster, more accurate, more cool, more…whatever. The 20th century was all about certainty, dependability and security…emphasis on security. That’s what it was all about, large independent companies hiring thousands, putting them to work doing useful to fuel the global economy with a never ending supply of consumers to consume all those products being made by the large, independent companies. It was a simple formula and it worked marvelously for awhile. The 20th century was truly the time of “milk and honey”. 

Ironically, it has been technology that has brought all that to an end. Impoverishing some and enriching others. 

Since “technology” is no one particular “thing”, it is hard to pin down exactly what it is. It’s not like a natural resource like diamonds or oil, measured by both its usefulness and quantity.  There’s no scarcity of technology, but is it useful? But when it is useful it is VERY useful and very valuable. But there is a broad gap between the technologies that succeed and those that fail. How do we bridge the ever expanding gap. For that matter “successful’ has taken on a whole new meaning itself.  But I’ll get into that in another article. In the meantime, I can only suggest one simple thing. Be “creative”. Which, of course, “creative” agencies are supposed to be good at. But if only it were that easy.  

My early days in large brand agencies..as a “techie”.. was odd to say the least. Accounts and Creative never quite understood their “techie” brothers, looking at them across the way wondering if they should feed them or just leave them pecking around the benches looking for pieces of bread. Which is understandable. That huge gulf between the tech haves and have nots is there for a reason. Technology is hard. It takes a lot of curiosity, perseverance and stubbornness to write the simplest programs. Seriously. All you hard core developers know exactly what I mean. To anyone out there, I dare you to sit down at the computer, go to youtube or google “simple programming tutorial”, take your pick of any number of listings, text or video, and go to it. Stick it out all the way through until you have some kind of working application, whatever that may be. Then tell me if it  was in any way “easy”. That’s all I’m asking. Try it, seriously, you will see what I mean. 

Now that’s just the scale of you and me. Multiply that by 1000 and you will see the reason for the collapse of the  traditional brand agency. I don’t know if many of those account people or creatives have or will suffer through the boundless frustration of tackling  even the simplest program. Not that they’re lazy or stupid or unmotivated. Programming is not a hard thing to do because you’re not smart. It’s hard to do because we are human. I hate programming. I hate it with a passion! I’ve been programming since high school. I hated it just as much then.  I’ve always hated it. Why? Because code is just programming logic to a machine. I like to think I’m a highly creative human, very imaginative and, of course, very clever. And every time I write a line of code that comes back “error”, “problem”, “sorry not going to work” I want to scream at the vicious beast for thwarting my brilliance at every turn. 

But eventually I get through. It always takes hours, days or weeks. It’s never a “snap”. Never has been, never will be. But that’s the point. That’s the way ALL agencies, traditional or not, have to look at their business. The 20th century ad agency was about creating ideas and bringing them to life  with video, images and text. The 21st century ad agency has to do the same thing, only in javascript, html and css. If they can’t make THAT transition, then their time simply has come and gone, like horse buggy manufacturers. It’s that simple.

Adtech & Social Networks In Politics

Call for social media adtech to be probed by UK competition watchdog (techcrunch.com)

There’s an old saying…”Ignorance is bliss”! I’ve always wondered about the validity of that statement. It’s been my experience that ignorance is anything but bliss. It inevitably leads to confusion, anxiety, stress and, if nothing else, MORE ignorance.  Over the last 10 years the role that social networking and programmatic advertising (adtech) has played an increasing role in the election process nationally and internationally. That role is more or less the same as the role radio and television played in electing political candidates in the 20th century; it’s a means of reaching mass audiences with a message or messages from a specific candidate or candidates. Elections are obviously based on numbers so the higher the numbers the further the message goes among the “voters”, whoever, wherever, they may be. Mass media in general is about information, and ideally the more information people have to make choices, whether for which soap to buy or which president to elect, the better choices they make. I said ideally. In reality, in my opinion, life works entirely the opposite way. The less information people have the easier it is for them  make decisions. 

In the book,  Paradox of Choice,  Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. Autonomy is critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. But thats for buying dish soap and cars. But what about people? Obviously when it comes to elections people still want simple clear cut choices, particularly in the U.S. We feel comfortable with two party systems because they give us a simple clear cut choice…candidate A or candidate B, Whig or Tory, Republican or Democrat?  Political jargon has always paid lip service to “issues” and policy, but most people usually pay little attention to these things. Issues come and o go , some are complex and some are simple. But in general people are swayed simply by what they see and hear. FDR captivated a nation through radio The handsome, charismatic John Kennedy edged out the more experienced but shady looking Dick Nixon in the most famous election of the 20 century. 

But the 21st century  is a different animal altogether. With the advent of social media we no longer make our decisions based on what we hear or what we see, but on what we THINK!. Educated or ignorant, rich or poor, liberal or conservative, old or young, we all have a “profile”. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, whatever, all have a basic footprint of what we like and what we don’t like, what we do and what we don’t do. Tik Tok and Youtube know more about your viewing habits than you do. Why? Because YOU tell them, the active and willing participant in these “social” networks. They are fun. They are interesting. They are entertaining. 

But are they nefarious, manipulative, and mind-controlling? Of course not! Hitler mesmerized an entire nation into mass murder and world war but I don’t see anybody blaming the radio! Hitler succeeded because he was Hitler and the German masses were mesmerized because, for whatever reason, they agreed with what he was saying. Television is loaded with negative images, false statements and pure propaganda, just watch Fox News for a day, but I don’t see anyone rushing to “regulate” it. 

It’s the old “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. I’m not a gun nut and by no means not pro-NRA, but I do know that if all guns magically disappeared from the face of the earth people would STILL find ways to kill each other. They always have and always will. But how do “regulate” people? The simple answer is you CAN’T. There will always be unscrupulous people willing to use any tool necessary to achieve their own goals at the expense of others. In other words, just because Cain slew Abel, do we regulate stones?

Unchartered Territory – Part One

Atoms

Genes

Bytes

 

The fundamental building blocks of our universe and pretty much the foundation of what we humans now consider “consciousness”. I stole the notion from Siraj Raval, who’s quickly making quite a name for himself as the international  spokesman for “Artificial Intelligence” and deservedly so. As far as technology goes, AI couldn’t have a better spokesman. But the consciousness part is my own idea. At least I think it is. Having reached the point in my life where I can clearly see the “Big” picture in terms of where I think all this explosion in technology is taking us and where we as humans need to go if we are all to survive and prosper. Being an optimist I can only anticipate the panacea of good that we would like to forecast for the future of humankind; being a pessimist, any tool that others can use to subvert and control others WILL be used to subvert and control others. As always the two go hand-in-hand. The only difference between the two is in how each of us, in our own personal lives on a daily basis, deal with that. Salvation and Temptation are always side-by-side.

But back to the matter at hand. A long unanswered question has been what is “consciousness”? It’s more than being awake, but less than being all-knowing. “Incognito ergo sum”…seems to be the closest we can get to so far.  But let’s Screen Shot 2019-03-22 at 3.32.11 PMbreak it down. Atoms are the basic building blocks of all matter. Everything we taste, touch and feel is made up of atoms. Our entire universe is made up of atoms. We can quibble about subatomic physics but this is not what this all about. So moving right along… next come genes, the building blocks of life itself. Everything we ARE. From a computer scientists’ point of view, the most remarkable data store in the universe. A single microscopic strand of amino-acids can contain trillions of bytes of information

Ah and there the last and final piece…the byte, the building block of that ever increasing digital world we find ourselves buried in.. up to the neck. Apparently being the dominant force what we “incognito” and in doing-so, eventually shaping our “sum” as well. And here we are…the 21st century, where these 3 fundamental building blocks are coming together to either elevate all of humankind or ultimately bring it down…only more time will tell. But we are where we are right now at that’s a world rapidly getting lost in a SEA of information… correction, all seven seas and the major oceans as well…and it’s just beginning. More to come…

 

The Right Business Model for Blockchain

Why is this so hard to get right?

Here we go again. When the business world, and especially the Western business establishment, engulfed in its own media based hypertension, smells a good deal in the air, the world turns into one great big gold rush. Whether that was the Internet as it once was 30 years ago or now with blockchain technology, being both sought after and reviled at the same time, the same pattern is reemerging. Since the “Bitcoin Affair” last year where the value of Bitcoin with through the roof (… and to this day no one really knows why) and fell just as dramatically, the quaint notion of a “Bitcoin Billionaire” has entered the business lexicon of America if not the entire world. As block-chainsuch there are more buzzwords, hype, paid-for drama and nonsense around cryptocurrency than common sense, practical and  useful applications. When you get right down to it…we’re not talking about gold or silver, soybeans or crude oil here, this is just another form of technology. JUST technology. It’s not going to cure a rainy day or cause a flower to bloom, but as we all know, technology can be a pretty handy thing, however, it’s still up to humans to put it to good use.

Almost 30 years ago, a new “technology” entered the scene call the Internet. The Internet had existed for quite awhile but it wasn’t until it was available for commercial uses, that it became the darling of Wall Street via the infamous “Netscape” IPO. Thus the quaint notion of “Internet  Billionaires” was born and an hysteria similar todays “crypto-madness” took hold of the business world and everybody and their mothers suddenly had a “Dot.com”…raising millions of dollars from investors and ready to go public any minute. Seriously, there is practically no difference between then and now. None. Everyone wanted in on the deal but no one at that time really knew what the “deal” was!

Look at it this way, if you’re a shoe maker and you create a site, “shoemaker.com”, what  exactly does that mean? Does shoemaker.com help make betters shoes, sell more shoes, increase interest in shoes? Valid questions and ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????almost always ignored. Why did all that matter if you had a big office, a few million in funding and Goldman Sachs to underwrite your IPO? Seriously this was about as close to a business model  most dot coms got to regardless of what they wrote in the “official” brochures and reports. What all the financial experts didn’t seem to notice was that Netscape, itself, the IPO that started all this frenzy, was not a “Dot.com”, per se. It was a technology company who developed a useful  browser and  at the time a popular one. This was a time when HTML based technology was crude by today’s standards and accessing the Internet at all was a pretty big deal. Basically, the Internet wouldn’t be of much commercial value if people couldn’t use it. Netscape helped people do just that, find sites, organize bookmarks, etc., and was a pretty big deal in the “early days” of the Internet.

In other words, the success of the “Netscape” IPO was because it provided an actual product that people could use on a daily basis, en masse, providing true value…the necessary ingredients you find in any business school course. But for some reason, when people think of “value” and “money”…money is almost always the only thing people hear. So the Dot.com bubble grew enormously until the bubble burst and everyone was disappointed and far more money was lost than gained. So it goes…

But a few of the more infamous,  “Dot.coms” survived because their vision was a little different; some of these dotcom_bubble“visionaries” saw that true business advantage of a network the size of the Internet was the size of the Internet; they saw economies of scale, ie, the bigger the better… Amazon, Google and, eventually, Facebook..they are all about the numbers and how many they can get their greedy little hands on. The rest is history.

But this article isn’t just about history it’s about the future and the way the past has a habit of repeating itself. Again, when it comes to blockchain business models I have seen examples of blockchains, replacing, imitating, supplementing…etc., all kinds of products and services, in other words, trying to “fit-in” into old business models that people are comfortable with, but not really realizing any real value simply due to the technology polar-bearitself.  To unlock the power of the blockchain is to let the blockchain BE the blockchain but to scale. The real value of the  blockchain is its immutability. That should be more than enough if enough people use it simply for that. Let’s put it this way, we can  try to teach a polar bear to ride a bicycle. Neither one really adds “value” to the other, unless you’re into that sort of thing. A bicycle is funny when you see a polar bear riding it, but its true purpose is transportation, getting from point A to point B. There’s a lot of people in the world that just want to do that, far more than polar bears do!  We need to let blockchain do what it does best and not concentration on making something else  “better”…

The Age of Adtech “Quants” – Part One

As the ” mystification” of technology continues as we also grow ever more reliant on it, the real ” Digital Gap” is no longer who has access to technology and who doesn’t but who UNDERSTANDS it and who doesn’t. And believe me, that gap is getting greater and greater every day.

I’ve been in technology almost 30 years now, the last 15 in advertising alone and there’s always been a ” gap” between those who don’t know (managers) and those that do (programmers), but back in the old days managers had the decided advantage. who-knowsProgrammers were the willing slaves to business, a ” cost center” to keep the computers running. The ” tech guy” you called when you needed software installed on your PC.

But now it is the  21st century and technology has made a full swing from ” cost center” to ” profit center” and as large businesses continue to shrink and small businesses continue to grow because of the one buzzword everyone around the world knows and understands…technology. Our finance, media, advertising and now even retail, are all technology driven. Computers talking to other computers. Programs talking to other programs with only the programmer in between that knows what actually is going on between all those electrons, even though the effects, as proven by the financial industry fiascos, everyone on the planet in some way or another.

In so saying, the status of ” programmer” has skyrocketed from lowly nerd with a pocket protector to near god-like status.  Big business needs and embraces technology in all of its forms. Using advertising as an example:

” Reasons Hackers Build Adtech: See opportunities for better automation and more efficiency; to scale existing, inefficient business models; to disrupt agencies or existing products with fat margins and low quality or weak competitive advantages (ginzametrics.com)quantcast-machine-learning-bidding-systems_uucvload-tech

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Using programmatic advertising as an example you can wade knee-deep in all this jargon for years to come and still have now idea how any of this actually works. In other words, what to do programmers ACTUALLY do?! Without going into too much detail, they simply tell computers what to do, in multiple languages in multiple ways. All programs take data (data can be just about anything), do something with it, and spit something out, either to a person or another computer. In short, that’s pretty much it. But the magic is in HOW they do it..after all computers are just dumb machines really. In the end it is the human imagination that determines what goes in and what comes out. The ” HOW” , in computer terms, is called algorithms. Algorithms are the secret sauce. The Magic!

Algorithms are usually based on theoretical mathematical concepts that have been ” proven” . That is, we can prove mathematically that if you put in X you will always get Y, EVERY time and that’s what makes them so valuable. Most of these algorithms (and their proofs) have been floating around academia for decades and more are being ” created” every day. Some are obscure, many unfathomable to the ” common” man, and sometimes beyond the reach of even the ” common” programmer. Hence, the need for ” Quants” . Originally, associated with Wall Street, Quants, if not everywhere now, soon will be. Or, at least, they’ll be in great demand.

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