The Customer is not a Robot. She is Your Wife. 3 Tips on Improving Customer Experience.

David Ogilvy famously said “The customer is not an idiot. She is your wife.” back when advertising was less about media budgets and more about customer understanding and providing ads that use the type of message your customer actually wants to hear.

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Ogilvy was also famous for his approach on advertising. When all others were ignoring research he took an almost religious approach in discovering customer insights so that his ads can deliver information rather than boring or obnoxious advertising.

Years later the world has changed. 2012 meant an increase of 21.1% in global ecommerce. The total ecommerce sales have reached $1 trillion for the first time in history and are still going strong, according to eMarketer.

World's biggest in terms of ecommerce spending.
World’s biggest in terms of ecommerce spending.

The revolution is here and both retailers and customers have started looking more careful into online shopping. Yet again we find customers are still not being treated as they should be. In the world of bits and code lines we started expecting users to act like robots. Click here! If this than that! Choose now! Rather mechanic, don’t you think? That can improve and below you will find 3 tips on how to improve your customers’ experience.

1. Be relevant

Customers still like  offline stores better than online stores. Why? Basically they are more accustomed with this type of shopping experience. They’ve done this all their life and feel better about shopping offline. But we, as marketers and retailers, know that “classic retail” is just as artificial as online retail. Of course there are people around doing the same thing, you have the store associate there to help when in need but most of all you have relevant merchandise and relevant stores.

How often had you walked in a supermarket only to buy groceries and had one of the sales people jump in front of you yelling they have a 70 percent discount on a certain brand of TVs? Well you hadn’t – that would be creepy but it does happen all the time in online stores, especially those dealing with a certain not so smart selection of merchandise.

We once had a customer that dealt in fashion. They had huge success online and thought about expanding to other areas. First accessories. We thought – well a nice dress is nothing without a pair of earrings to match it. Then came travel. Mmmm… fashionable people need to … travel? Next came electronics, household appliances which was weird enough for fashion retail but the “piece de resistance” hit the fan when we noticed, standing graciously underneath a beautiful pair of shoes: a jar of pickles. On discount.

Needless to say that is NOT the best way to stay relevant to your customers. It’s hard enough to build a brand on a single industry and unless you can magically profile users like Amazon or Facebook do, you will not be able to jump wagon to another industry.

2. Be more than Online, Offline and Mobile. Be Connected Across Channels.

In a recent study by Accenture focusing on customers’ habits of shopping seamless research showed that users feel they need to be treated the same online, in store and on mobile interfaces.

Integration of  the Big Three (Product, Promotion, and Price) across channels.
Integration of the Big Three (Product, Promotion, and Price) across channels.

That is, of course, pretty intuitive. We believe that we have the right to be treated the same no matter where are we shopping. As customers we feel that we should be earning loyalty points for both online and offline.

As retailers and marketers though we find that connecting online and offline operations (usually treated as two separate divisions or even companies – as was the case with Walmart and Walmart.com) is a bit of a hassle. It’s not really easy integrating informational systems to serve the customers as they would like to be served. That shouldn’t stop us as 49% of customers expect seamless treatment across platform when it comes to promotions.  Moreover 43% have a unified account when it comes to their favorite brand and expect to use this account to shop faster across channels.

“Webrooming” (the practice of getting information on products online and than purchasing offline) has been growing steadily, with 83% of customers reporting they purchased a product in store after previously researching it online. That’s just a little part of the changes multichannel shopping brings aboard.

3. Make it Simple

How many products does Amazon sell? Probably millions. Chances are you will be seeing a tiny fraction of those whenever you feel like shopping there. Even more – those are the products you are actually interested in. How does the company do that? It keeps tracks of your purchases, visits, ratings, and a couple of other indicators you can read about here. It then matches these options with other’s to return a sorted product list that you are most likely to enjoy and buy. Presto! Simplicity.

The thing is customers are not robots. They have a very short attention span compared to what most online retailers expect them to. They need a simple way of getting to their desired products. A couple of things you can do to improve on these are:

  • track users behavior and predict their purchase intentions
  • improve search according to semantic searches (human talk – ex. “looking for a blue, casual shirt” might return all shirts that are blue, and casual)
  • hide any products that are not in user’s interest area.

As a conclusion – treat your customers as human beings. They are not purchasing machines. Facts and figures are great tools but make sure you treat your customers as you would want to be treated. Our technology has evolved a lot but our minds have not.

Bridging the gap in multichannel shopping

Online retail is the wonder kid of retail – it is young, energetic, it is growing fast yet it is still in its infancy. Based on 2010 estimates online retail amounted for no more than 7% of total retail purchases, as seen below.

Evolution of online rtail share
Evolution of online retail share

The figure may not be exact as it amounts for purchases that happen exclusively online. Users tend to mix retail channels in their quest for a better shopping experience. They might know the brick-and-mortar store brand and order online because it is more convenient. They might also discover the online store, find the product best suited and than “feel” it in the physical store.

Multichannel tracking has not changed that much since the days consumers would receive coupons in magazines and advertisers would track these coupons to get a better view on what’s efficient and what is not in their marketing efforts.

What is Multichannel Shopping?

First and foremost – what is Multichannel Shopping? As you probably have noticed or done so yourself, shoppers tend to use multiple ways of combining online and offline activities. Here are the most important:

  1. Shopping across multiple channels (brick-and-mortar stores, online shops, mobile apps, phone order etc.). Consumers will try to use the best channel available at the time. Say you are a avid online shopper but this evening your brother celebrates his anniversary and you forgot to buy him a present. You will rush over to the closest store and buy something from there, after you have searched for that store and the gift online.
  2. Using more channels to purchase goods from a single retailer. Users that are accustomed to a certain brand will try to buy as often as possible from that particular brand. They will mix offline and online purchases, depending on the specific occasion, while staying loyal that brand.
  3. Using multiple channels to complete a purchase. Users will use multiple channels sometimes, to get the best deal / the easiest way to get the goods. They might browse the online store, order the product on the phone and purchase / pay for it in the brick and mortar store.

How can we track Multichannel Shoppers?

As retailers increasingly look for new ways of tracking consumers and increasing sales they use a combination of old(er) and new(er) strategies, such as:

  1. Multichannel loyalty programs – this programs are usually extended CRM programs, using identifiers such as member cards, phone numbers, unique ID’s or others. Consumers are encouraged through loyalty points incentives to use their ID’s on the different channels
  2. Multichannel consumer life cycle – tracking the consumer through different channels by combining online and offline purchase steps (Ex.:buy online, pay offline, support on the phone)
  3. Track users through wi-fi and mobile use – a rather cutting edge yet extremely promising strategy of trading free on-location internet (everybody wants some), combining it with personal online data (such as Facebook user accounts) and seeking trends in collected data, in order to increase sales and understand the consumer life-cycle better.

What is your take on multichannel shopping?

(II) Ogilvy to Zuckerberg: How did Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google change consumer research and targeting ?

In my last post I talked about the shift in consumer targeting that happened once the Internet went mainstream. Several highlights were the short history in consumer targeting, information regarding Amazon’s personalized recommendations and Apple’s usage of consumer data to increase music and app sales.

Now we’ll have a look at how two of the largest and fastest growing technology companies use consumer data and behavior to deliver ads. As Facebook and Google’s business model heavily relies on advertising they have to make sure ads are delivered efficiently to increase revenue.

However, trying to increase ads relevance and user experience can sometimes lead to unexpected (?) outcomes. Both companies had had their fair share of legal troubles regarding users privacy. For example last year Facebook user tracking practices lead to a request by US congressmen for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company. Apparently Facebook would track users web traffic even after they logged out. By linking browsing history, location and time of visit  to account information (list of friends, preferences, browser) the company could potentially extend its user profiling to some very intimate data. Apparently the issue was corrected and now Facebook stopped linking browsing data to user profiles. Even so, the anonymized data can provide the company with some very good insights.

What are Google and Facebook’s revenues?

As stated above both companies rely heavily on advertising revenue. 96% of Google’s 2011 $37.9 billion revenue came from advertising. Industries that pumped most money in Google’s Adwords program were Finance and Insurance ($4 billion), Retail ($2.8 billion), Travel and Tourism ($2.4 billion) – source.

Meanwhile Facebook reported “only” $3.1 billion in advertising revenues last year. Even though the numbers are visibly lower than Google’s, Facebook advertising revenue increased 69% and topped Yahoo in 2011.

Just to give you a perspective on how big this figures are Publicis, the largest advertising group, a 86 year old company, operating in 104 countries reported a $7.7 billion revenue in 2011.

Having established that online targeting leads to generous revenues, let’s have a look at how Facebook and Google manage to efficiently target consumers using technology:

How does Facebook target users?

facebook logoFacebook increase in popularity coined the term “social media”. This term describes web and mobile platforms where organizations or individuals communicate through different types of media (text, image, video etc.). As more and more users started using Facebook the available content increased, social links improved as users added more and more friends.

Facebook recognized the opportunity in consumer targeting using social preferences (Ex. “Your friend likes X Brand. You should too.”). Interestingly Facebook managed to give user profiles a real – life feeling by encouraging people to bring their friends along. Of course few people could recognize nicknames such as “MickeyMouse1982” so users started adding their real names, than their birthday, location etc.

Soon enough Facebook had a few hundred million demographic profiles at hand. These profiles were interconnected so influence groups could easily be determined. In a genius move Facebook introduced the “Like” button and later “Share”.

By using the “Like” button users would essentially hand over to Facebook their personal preferences.

As publishers saw that articles posted on Facebook were more likely to become viral and increase traffic they adopted the Like/Share widgets and later the Facebook Connect signup system. As these widgets could track user behavior by transferring traffic data back to Facebook the social network now knew what users were interested outside the platform.

Combining this data Facebook launched and improved in time their Facebook Ads platform. With more than 20% of all web traffic plus data on web traffic outside its social network, the company could potentially target ad delivery better than most other media companies. Let’s review what kind of data Facebook has at its disposal to target users:

  • consumer demographics: users enter their demographic information during signup or later as they use the social network
  • social networks: Facebook knows who is a friend of who, who is more likely to have his or her posts liked, shared or commented on. Basically it knows who is most likely to influence their peers actions with a granularity almost impossibly to achieve by others
  • consumer preferences: every time a user clicks a like or share button, comments, posts a status, photo or video it basically signals Facebook on some of his or her preferences regarding a wide array of things (music, products, news) that could later be used to show relevant ads.
  • web traffic: by tracking user behavior through like, share or social widgets Facebook registers data that even anonymized can show insights on a scale that no other company can

These are the most important factors in Facebook efficient ad targeting. Weather advertisers choose to use classic ads, sponsored stories or promote several posts the company takes into account this data to maximize exposure and engagement.

How do Google ads become “contextual”?

google logoProbably the most disruptive technology company in the past two decades, Google relies on user data, behavior and semantics to deliver the contextually targeted ads.

To deliver ads, Google needs data. Where does it get it from?

Where does Google get data from?

  • indexed and ranked web pages: even though the number is not really known as Google is secretive about its data centers, it’s estimated that indexed data is stored in more than 30 data-centers. These data centers hold 35 to 50 billion pages at any given time. They are ranked according to an algorithm initially designed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin and improved in time.
  • web page analytics: Google Analytics is used by more than 10 million web sites. As Google hosts data regarding traffic and user behavior on these sites it can predict user behavior and ads most relevant to potential consumers.
  • email information: even though information is anonymized Google makes good use of mails hosted on it Gmail platform. With more than 350 million users in Jan 2012 the data flow through Google’s emailing platform is astonishing.
  • searches: Google responds to almost 3 billion searches every day. By analyzing searches and user paths Google can determine what are the most popular search results and how can this information be used to optimize ad targeting and delivery.
  • Google+ is the company’s response to Facebook’s rise in popularity. It already has more than 170 million registered users (mostly active). Having answered the need for information in social networking targeting Google further improved its advertising targeting capabilities.
  • Android is Google’s mobile operating system. Though buggy at start, Android is now on its way to world domination in terms of mobile operating system.

Basically Google knows a lot about a lot of potential consumers and uses these data to increase efficiency in ad targeting.

Having a look at how the likes of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google use research and targeting , we can surely say that conventional (old ?) knowledge on the matter is becoming increasingly obsolete. As technology replaces human input research and targeting becomes real-time.

Unfortunately some privacy issues arise when people become “users” or “consumers”. On this matter – soon.

Internet Economy to reach $4.2 trillion by 2016. 5 reasons this figure is an understatement.

In a report made public earlier this year Boston Consulting Group stated that the Internet Economy in G20 countries is expected to reach $4.2 trillion by 2016. The company also expects the number of internet connected users to reach 3 billion (just for the record – there are now approximately 2.2 billion).

At first sight this might seem like a huge figure but I believe that the company understated the importance and potential growth of the internet economy. Yes, I believe $4.2 trillion is an understatement. Why?

1. $4.2 trillion means less than 7 times Apple’s market cap. Yes, Apple might be the largest company ever, in terms of market capitalization but it’s just one company and it means the combined brain and sales power of less than 50.000 employees.

2. The internet economy is still in its infancy. We have just began discovering viable business models that work on the Internet. Companies such as Apple, Google or Amazon innovated and improved on existing business models but are yet to reach their full potential. Amazon for example, has launched its first Kindle device 5 years ago. After half a decade its customers are buying more ebooks than printed editions. This kind of growth could not be expected or planed.

3. We do not have the economic models to understand Internet’s impact. Most of our economy is based on theories that were thought of and published in a time the concept of Internet was closer to science-fiction than academic research. More recent economic theories such as the behavioral economics approach are closer to reality and better at predicting the evolution of the internet economy.

4. The report understates the economic importance and impact of mobile internet. Fixed lines have helped us reach a 32% internet penetration. Mobile connections exceed in many developed and developing countries 100%. Smartphones and internet connected devices will replace older mobile devices. In less than 10 years I expect Internet penetration to reach past 70%. With such a high adoption rate Internet Economy is bound to exceed greatly the $4.2 trillion figure.

5. The figures are probably based on current growth and vastly underestimate innovation. Innovation is the key factor in understanding internet economy growth. The large ecosystem comprised of entrepreneurs, investment funds and talented engineers has taken the world by storm for the past 20 years. Ever since the dot com bubble this ecosystem has had its fair share of skepticism that is still deeply embedded in the economic world. Year after year pundits are proven wrong by this ever increasing sector. Innovation can’t be planned or measured very well for now but it is there and companies that foster innovation manage to increase their market share.

The internet economy has already surpassed in some of the G20 countries some very heavy economy sectors such as energy, agriculture or automotive. This trend will continue. By 2016 industries that have not been surpassed by the Internet will be the exception, not the rule.

5 consequences of the Apple vs. Samsung trial

In a historic decision the San Jose, California courtroom ruled that Samsung did infringe in some of Apple’s patents. The court ordered Samsung to pay over $1 billion in damages for patent infringement.

Steve Jobs wanted to go thermonuclear on Android. Image source: SiliconAngle.com
The court ruled that Samsung did, at times willfully, infringe on some of Apple’s iOS patents: the bounce back on lists, pinch to zoom etc. As a post-trial response Samsung announced it will fight this decision and that the court ruling affects the consumers.

In a historic decision the San Jose, California courtroom ruled that Samsung did infringe in some of Apple’s patents. The court ordered Samsung to pay over $1 billion in damages for patent infringement.

steve jobs thermonuclear android
Steve Jobs wanted to go thermonuclear on Android. Image source: SiliconAngle.com

The court ruled that Samsung did, at times willfully, infringe on some of Apple’s iOS patents: the bounce back on lists, pinch to zoom etc. As a post-trial response Samsung announced it will fight this decision and that the court ruling affects the consumers.

While it’s pretty obvious that Samsung borrowed, to say the least, some of Apple’s hardware and software design and interface elements the decision is clearly going to have negative consequences on the mobile phones and mobile applications market.

The court ruling changes everything. Again.

1. Apple will continue its growth, having secured its proprietary hardware and software design – Apple is already the biggest company ever, in terms of market valuation. After Steve Jobs’ demise many wondered if the company will continue to grow. It did. This year saw the rise of incumbent Android based mobile devices which were growing at a faster rate than iOS based ones (Android is the dominant mobile OS in the US) and threatening Apple’s hegemony. Samsung was the biggest challenger in terms of hardware development. Having taken a massive shot at the opposition Apple can continue focusing on innovation and expanding its market share.

2. The mobile market will suffer from this decision. Samsung is one of the biggest competitors to Apple. As the smartphone market is ever increasing Apple just made a very large step to a de facto monopoly on this market. While they couldn’t do that by economic means, they showed they can do it through legal arguments. The decision to punish Samsung on adopting the interaction methods Apple “invented” is like ruling that only one PC manufacturer can ship PC’s that use keyboards and mice for user-to-computer interaction.

3. The target is not Samsung. It’s Android. Apple doesn’t care that much about the fact that Samsung has copied its products. It was just the easiest target. Otherwise they could have just sued every other smartphone manufacturer – it’s easy to see that the iPhone shifted the entire mobile industry to a different direction. One that Apple holds patents on. What Apple is really worried though is the Android OS. It’s popular, reliable and it is growing way faster than the iOS. Of course Apple still rules the market in terms of revenue but not for long. Amazon is already generating 89% of Apple’s App Store Revenue through its own Android store. This leads us to…

4. Everyone sees the jury decision as Microsoft’s chance to shine. But it’s Amazon that will benefit most. Microsoft can try and try to reinvent themselves. They won’t. It’s a corporate dinosaur that lacks innovation and courage. You know who  does have those things, plus a ton of cash? Amazon. Amazon has had an amazing trajectory the past 5 years having reinvented reading with Kindle and now challenging Apple’s reign in the mobile app area. They are closing in to Apple in terms of mobile – generated transactions. With Samsung out of the picture they will be able to lead the Android revolution.

5. Apple’s actions might backfire. Remember the days when Microsoft ruled the IT world with a iron fist? The were used to buy smaller competitors, drive them out of business or sue them out of the game. It didn’t work so well after all. Right now people are buying Apple products because they love the brand. If the brand shows its money hungry face, the feelings towards the brand might be affected and turn into decreased revenues and company valuation. After all – the market is all about perception.

In my opinion the Apple – Samsung dispute should be resolved by the markets and the consumers, not in a courtroom. It is a dangerous precedent that harms an young and fast-growing industry. Patents or no patents there are millions of Samsung users that will suffer from this decision.

Social gaming architecture

“Your friend sent you a request” says my Facebook notification. That must mean one of my Facebook friends is playing one of Zynga’s or Konami’s social games. You know the type – manage a farm, a city or something close to that. You’ve finished building a windmill – what an achievement –  share it with your friends. Need your crops faster – oh, no – share it with your friends.

Zynga’s top brand: Farmville

These type of games, however annoying are highly addictive (at least for a moderately short period of time), highly viral and for a while they seemed to be the grim future of the gaming industry. After a fast growth period Zynga reported a loss of $400 million dollars in 2011. Not because of how bad its games were doing (Zynga owns 2011 top 5 most played games on Facebook and its revenues were $1.14 billion dollars). No, they payed “stock-based compensation expense for restricted stock units issued to employees”.  $510 million dollars in stock-based compensation it did not had to pay until it went public.

However bleak Zynga’s future might look they still own some of the most popular social games and they started to adapt to the rising trend of mobile-based gaming (tablets and smartphones).

Its main competitor, Konami, is not doing too bad, either. Actually Konami’s social gaming division reported a 77% increase in revenue. Given the sharp rise in Zynga’s and Konami’s revenue we can see clearly that social gaming is a great investment . What makes it so?

Social gaming is highly addictive

Social gaming makes use of some incentive design based on social activity and achievements. Social gaming companies use human psychology to create levels of addiction close to gambling and these games usually have slow learning curve, use many motivators to commit users to revisit the game (plant a crop, come back after 10 hours to use it) and use instant gratification to convince users to purchase upgrades.

Behavior economics in social gaming

Interestingly, most of behavior economics principles can be found in these type of games: from peer pressure to “doing the right thing” (don’t let your crops die) and clearly seeing the outcome of one’s action – all add up to a picture where behavior economics seem to be the baseline for virtual economic architecture in games such as Farmville.

The virtual life in social games

Collectible real-life World of Warcraft coins

Reality perception is altered when such games are played and playing the game seems to be more of a daily task then entertainment. To understand the high interest users have in this type of gaming we must remember that in our day to day life few things seem to add up like the virtual life in social games does. Click a button – start building a farm. Click another – plant crops. Come back after a day and you can cash in your hard earned coins that you can reinvest. It is a little harder to do that in real life. Sometimes – no matter how hard we try achievements don’t seem to pup-up.

We expect an end to our actions. If possible a fortunate one. We have been planting crops and harvesting them for thousands of years. Our bed time stories always have an end. The movies we watch program us to expect an introduction, action and the grand finally. Our lives don’t usually have that and this is one of the causes of modern stress and depression. Having a secondary life where everything is simpler and more colorful is a reward in itself.

The architecture of social gaming

Most social games have a pretty simple story that gets you hooked. The first form of profitable social games were the MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) where you played a character and took possession of his actions. Other players would join in and you would search for coins, artifacts and battle different monsters or other players.

What are the lowest common denominators of most successful social games?

1. The story – as we are used to stories from infancy we best deal with adopting a new concept if we receive it in a story. Weather you are living in a future where aliens are threatening to take over the universe, a village where your survival depends on how well you manage your farm or a fantasy world where elves and trolls are trying to get you – you need a story. Without a story no game-addiction can develop, there is no understanding of one’s actions and the game flops.

2. The setting – the environment is really important as that is the context for the players actions. If you are in a farm you don’t usually battle star ships. There is no need for extra mana to cast a spell and there are, usually, no monsters you have to slay.

3. The character – people play games to foster their imagination and to escape the usual reality. That’s the same reason we watch movies – we need alternate realities where we can embody some other character.

4. The economy – whether players are searching for extra stamina bottles, artifacts, coins or other incentives they do that because they understand the need for an alternate economy. Economics are so well embedded in us that social games that have no economic notion can never become mainstream.

5. The limitations – social games have to have limitations. Without limitations there are no achievements. Without achievements there is no psychological  gratification. No limits – no endorphin.

6. The incentives – what makes users tick? Incentives. Search for an artifact and you can defend your castle. Develop more farms and you can buy more land. Upgrade your ship and you can win the battle you previously lost. Incentives makes people act. Just as the real world economics incentives are the carrot that works better than the stick.

7. The social features – imagine playing tag by yourself. It isn’t too fun, is it? We are deeply social animals and everything we do is based on how other people react to our actions. Social gaming evolved so fast that it makes it so easy for users to attract peers and develop common interests.

What social gaming lacks right now?

Most of what we now call social games have developed strong social ties, a great system of incentives, some kind of limitations, some kind of game economics but they lack the story and characters. It’s not all about the graphics. The user has to understand the back story and understand who is he in the game. Just like our real lives the most important things about how we relate to the world are the things that shaped us, who we are and who will we become.

Zynga’s social games lack the story and the characters which is not much of a problem right now but people will get bored with the shiny incentives and peer pressure. For a long term user retention social games need to develop personas and epic stories.

Thomas Metzinger, a German philosopher, stated in “The Ego Tunnel” that we understand reality through a scaled down replica of the reality surrounding us. He based his research on neurological research, human psychology studies and artificial intelligence tests. Why is that important for social gaming? If users are not fully immersed in the gaming reality – they can easily abandon games. The game world is not really a personal perception of reality. Social games are shifting the perception of what is real and what is not but only for a limited time.

In the future I expect social games to develop the social gaming worlds to an alternate reality and developing characters. It’s happening right now with World of Warcraft. There are 10.2 million paying subscribers, fully immersed in the story and characters Blizzard created.

Bonus takeaway

In 2010 we wrote a study on Facebook Gaming. Most of the assumptions and predictions turned out to be right. Here is Gaming on Facebook .

Part two of this article will come soon and will focus on the economics of social gaming.

 

Does internet help education?

“The printing press helped education”. It’s pretty hard to argue with that. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press he had a simple idea in his mind: to help more people read the Bible. Also – make some money out of it (Gutenberg was a goldsmith so we might assume he had some economic motivations).

The printing press helped Europe escape the Dark Ages

 

The printing press

Back then The Church held a monopoly on Bible printing and distribution. Most of the Bibles were hand written in Latin and it was frowned upon, to say the least, to translate or own one. There were few people able to read, let alone read Latin, so the Church held the absolute truth as priests were able to interpret the Bible in any way they found it appropriate.

Johannes Gutenberg changes all that in 1440 with his invention of the printing press. He is credited with having printed the world’s first movable type book, a 42 line Bible.

The context was favorable as Europe was seeing a post-medieval rise in learning, the early notions of capitalism appeared and manifested themselves through a high interest in product efficiency. In just a few decades the printing press spread throughout Europe. This is not as impressive now as we take book publishing  and distribution for granted, we read our books on tablets or the Kindle but back then it was unheard of any technology to spread that fast. In under 4 centuries the book printing output rose from one million to over one billion books.

Soon people began printing more than Bibles. Authorship actually started meaning something. Back when the printing press did not exist the author was not really important. A copy of Platon’s Republic in Paris may have been entirely different from the one in London. Authors where sometimes unknown and most didn’t find any interested in writing something that brought no profit or recognition in return.

The sciences blossomed as people were able to exchange ideas in writing. The arts started blossoming as literature was finding its way to the masses. The first newspaper was printed in 1620, almost 200 years after the invention of the printing press. Illiteracy dropped as educational means were now available and the life quality increased.

We may never know how important the printing press actually was to the evolution of mankind but  we can guess that were it not for the printing press we might still be living in the dark ages.

There was a time when we didn’t have internet access

Imagine the world without internet. It’s pretty hard to do that now as you have probably spent at least an hour today sending and receiving emails, using Google, shopping online or reading the news on your favorite news portal. If you are older than 25 you might remember a time when the Internet was something closer to science-fiction than everyday utility. There was a time when you actually had to wait more then a few days to send a letter to someone across the globe.

How did the Internet came to be?

ARPANET

Back in 1950 a point to point computer communication between mainframe computers and terminals was developed. A decade later this led to the development of several networks and in 1970 one of these networks, the ARPANET, a military developed network, developed the concept of internetworking, basically a network of network. 1982 saw the implementation of TCP/IP, a protocol to allow interconnection. A few years later ARPANET was decommissioned and in 1995 the internet was commercialized.

Bam! Everything exploded! Well – not actually. At that young age the internet was still mainly used for scientific purposes and information exchange.

Soon, though, people started experimenting with email systems, eCommerce, self-publishing, and others such.

A big breakthrough in research and education were the search engines. Before Google there was Altavista and Yahoo. Yahoo was actually a web directory that helped users find websites based on interests. The development of Google meant people didn’t need to browse for hours to find what they were looking for (we might remember the days when a 64kbs dial-up connection was considered a luxury).

The internet and education.

Altavista

Now we can find almost any kind of information online. The search engines crawl billions of webpages on a daily basis, everyone with an access to a computer and  internet can easily publish an article and Amazon is already selling more instant-delivery eBooks everywhere in the world.

Some of the most important universities in the world now have free access to online courses. Have a look at this list to get a glimpse into how much information is available to anyone willing to spend the time to learn.

As  mobile internet consumption rises new education approaches emerge. Apple launched iTunes U, a collection of higher education courses in audio or readable format.  Hard to reach populations are actively taught through mobile internet connections.

Some of the most prestigious universities in the world have online courses that offer a degree with lower education costs for those in less economically stable areas.

The Wikipedia

Yes, “THE” Wikipedia is probably the greatest education feat in the human history. Human knowledge is now accessible for free to those that want to learn more, understand more. It features more than 4 million English articles and is available in 278 languages.

Wikipedia drove the paid print version of Encyclopedia Britannica to extinction as generous article contributors have made Wikipedia the go-to place for fast research.

Internet has changed many things for the better but education is the field that changed most. Never in our history has so much information been available to so many. I believe in a future where individuals are empowered, informed, educated. Internet has mad that possible as education and information became publicly available.

 

What is Shopkick?

Physical stores have a greater conversion rate than online stores. Conversion rate for in-store traffic is 20% in fashion, 50% in electronics and 95% in groceries. Physical stores are therefore superior to online stores in terms of conversion rates where a 5% conversion rate is considered very good. Even though classic retailers benefit from a high conversion rate the traffic is way lower than online.

Shopkick gets traffic to brick-and mortar stores

Shopkick is a company based on a mobile product that works on iOS and Android mobile devices. It uses different in-store incentives (discounts, freebies) to reward potential consumers that choose to check in using the app in the partner stores.

The check-in, incentive redeem technology is quite impressive. It does not use, as one might expect, GPS features as these are not accurate enough. Founder Cyriac Roeding, explains just how accurate GPS on smartphones is: “It is so inaccurate that you could check into a Starbucks two blocks away”.

Instead Shopkick uses sounds inaudible to the human ear to check you into stores. The technology is patented worldwide and Shopkick founder says they are doing great with over 7000 large retail stores.

What is Shopkick after all?

Simply put Shopkick is a mobile based company. But if we think about it – Shopkick is much more than that. It is the bridge between online and offline retail. Its incentives increase real traffic in stores, increase revenue and all with a simple mobile solution.

Shopkick is doing way better than Foursquare in terms of growth acceleration and revenue per user. After all it has real, tangible discounts. While Foursquare offers you electronic badges and peer recognition (“Look buddy, I am the mayor of this place”) Shopkick’s incentives engage users and marketers even more. The numbers are clear on this: with 3 million  monetize – able users Shopkick is here to stay.

Why did George Soros buy Facebook stocks?

George Soros buys 341.000 Facebook Shares

As you might have heard George Soros, the Hungarian – American investor known for his 1 billion $ profit in the 1992 “Black Wednesday UK Crisis”, is reported to have sold his stakes in financial companies such as Citigroup, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo, and bought 341 000 Facebook Shares.

Why would Soros buy Facebook stocks?

The decision to buy Facebook stocks that have been steadily falling since the IPO  is at least intriguing as the share price dropped 45% since the 18th of May 2012, the day when Facebook went public. Even more intriguing is Soros’ decision to sell his financial companies shares over Facebook.

Let’s look at the chart and then a quick set of facts:

Is this the end of Facebook stocks nightmare?

As you can see the drop in shares price seems to have leveled out. I suppose that might be the lowest point Facebook will see in a long time. After all the company is doing great in terms of users and revenue (next to 1 billion users, Q1 2012 revenue up 45% from Q1 2011).

LATER UPDATE: Facebook unlocked its inside investors shares and the share price dropped 6% and than bounced back to ~$20 per share.

What does George Soros know that we don’t?

George Soros is known as a very informed investor. He knows when to sell and when to buy. He also sold his minor stakes in Intel and Dell.

I can only assume that George Soros bets on one of the following:

  1. A large partnership Facebook is about to join. Last week I’ve noticed some Apple-Facebook motion and discussed the possible implications. Such a move will have positive implications on Facebook’s stocks.
  2. Facebook stocks will begin to rise as the company will provide the market with evidence of its increase in revenues, in the future.
  3. George Soros’ is attempting to trick the market into increasing demand for Facebook stocks. His actions can be enough to increase the Facebook stock price.

I believe that by the end of the year Facebook stocks will see a positive trend and pass a 25$ /share price. After all Facebook is a very valuable company and will continue to be so in the future.