quarta-feira, junho 25, 2008
We’re in the midst of a boom in devices that show where people are at any point in time. Global positioning systems are among the hottest consumer electronics devices ever, says Clint Wheelock, chief research officer at ABI Research, a technology market follower. And cellphones increasingly come with G.P.S. chips. All of these devices churn out data that says something about how people live.
Such data could redefine what we know about consumer behavior, giving businesses early insight into economic trends, better ways to determine sites for offices and retail stores, and more effective ways to advertise.
It’s hard to make sense of such data, but Sense Networks, a software analytics company in New York, earlier this month released Macrosense, a tool that aims to do just that. Macrosense applies complex statistical algorithms to sift through the growing heaps of data about location and to make predictions or recommendations on various questions — where a company should put its next store, for example. Gregory Skibiski, 34, the chief executive and a co-founder of Sense, says the company has been testing its software with a major retailer, a major financial services firm and a large hedge fund.
Tony Jebara, also 34, the chief scientist and another co-founder of Sense, said, “We can predict tourism, we can tell you how confident consumers are, we can tell retailers about, say, their competitors, who’s coming in from particular neighborhoods.”
Mr. Jebara, who is also an associate professor of computer science at Columbia University, says the key to drawing such conclusions starts with having very large sets of data that go back several years. Sense’s models were developed initially from sources like taxicab companies that let it look at location data over such a period. Sense also uses publicly available data, like weather information, and other nonpublic sources that it would not disclose. “We had three-quarters of a billion data points from just one city,” Mr. Skibiski says.
Mr. Jebara’s statistical models interpret those patterns and look at whether they correlate with things in the real world, like tourism levels or retail sales. The algorithms are complex. Even so, the model doesn’t work for everything Sense tries it on, often because more data is needed. But Mr. Jebara says that when it has the data, the model works well. Several hedge funds made an investment in Sense earlier this year.
The Macrosense tool lets companies engage in “reality mining,” a phrase coined by Sandy Pentland, an M.I.T. researcher who was also a co-founder of Sense and now advises it on privacy issues.
Sense is not the only company engaged in reality mining. Inrix, a Microsoft spin-off, uses traffic data to predict traffic patterns. Path Intelligence of Britain monitors traffic flow in shopping centers by tracking cellphones.
There’s little doubt that products we use everyday, like our cellphones or cars, will increasingly allow for us to be tracked. And after years of hype, there also seems to be demand for services built around location. Gartner, a technology researcher and consulting firm, says that the market — which includes various navigation and search devices and subscriptions and services — will nearly triple in revenue this year, to $1.3 billion from $485 million in 2007, and will reach $8 billion in 2011.
Annette Zimmermann, a Gartner analyst, says Macrosense seems to have a novel offering, one with a potentially large market.
“So many companies are just sitting on data” that they can’t do much with, she says. That could make Macrosense a powerful tool.
Still, Sense’s model is not a sure thing.
“The reality is that location data is new, and we don’t have 10 years of history to work from,” says Ted Morgan, the chief executive and founder of Skyhook Wireless, which sells a service that lets people use WiFi network access points to get information about their location.
terça-feira, junho 24, 2008
Celebridades como motor de vendas - A mutação
BEYONCÉ is hot. Red hot. The numbers prove it.
On the Davie Brown Index, an independent online rating system that was started two years ago to track the marketing power of celebrities, the singing sensation scores 81.31 on a 100-point scale.
The index bases its score on eight metrics, including influence and trendsetting abilities, and is used by corporate marketers to pinpoint desirable boldface names. With that score, Beyoncé is 27th among the more than 1,800 celebrities that the D.B.I. tracks. (The top five are Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Michael Jordan, Morgan Freeman and George Clooney. The presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain are 9th and 25th, respectively.)
One Davie Brown category in which most celebrities appear vulnerable is trust. Celebrities are recognizable and appealing, but are often viewed with skepticism. “Trust always seems to be the lowest score among celebrities,” observes Matt Fleming, a Davie Brown account director who helps brands evaluate celebrity talent.
SO if some consumers don’t really trust celebrities, why do they still run out to buy their perfumes or fashions? The answer, some analysts say, has its roots in two seismic shifts in the cultural landscape that began in the late 1990s.
First has been the emergence of Web sites and magazines that chronicle the mundane, daily activities of stars on a 24/7 basis. A voracious public eager to peek at Hollywood celebrities shopping for shoes and buying coffee wanted, in turn, to buy those shoes and drink that coffee themselves.
The other new force has been the explosive growth and mainstreaming of urban hip-hop music and marketing moves by artists like Mr. Combs, Shawn Carter (better known as Jay-Z) and Jennifer Lopez to slap their personal brands on clothing lines, fragrances and other goods. After hip-hop impresarios narrowed the divide between popular music and blatant hucksterism, other popular musicians followed suit.
sábado, junho 14, 2008
The Rise of the Commentariat
n the past, a web user’s comments were trapped on the site or blog where they posted them. Now, services are allowing commenters to establish their own identity and reputation and to aggregate in one place the remarks they make all over the web.
A new wave of software and services, including coComment, Co.mments, Commentful, Disqus, Intense Debate, MyBlogLog, Seesmic and SezWho, enable users to create profiles, earn ratings for their comments and track their contributions and those of friends across the internet.
As an example, coComment allows users to install a “plug-in” in their browser that captures any comments they add to blogs and forums. On coComment’s site, members are presented with a list of all the conversations they are involved in and can track the progress of the discussions.
“The way services like ours and others are starting to frame it is that the blogger is only the initial person starting the discussion,” says Daniel Ha, co-founder of Disqus. “Everyone else is an equal participant and commenters can be seen as bloggers without a dedicated blog to express their thoughts.”
He expects the best commenters to establish their own brands and be treated like pundits interviewed on television. Bloggers themselves are reaping some benefits from the new services, with readers more willing to add comments in the knowledge that their thoughts will be distributed more widely.
About 150,000 commenters use Disqus and it is integrated into 17,000 blogs. Many bloggers are dedicating more time to commenting themselves. The source is also referenced, says Mr Ha. “This takes down a lot of barriers. They are able to promote their site through our entire network.”
Other users of the networks include public relations firms that track discussions about their clients and marketing experts investigating consumer opinions and the most talked-about brands. “This is the first time that you can do a pure brand measure, finding out what is the unprompted awareness of a brand,” says Mr Colbourne.
For Mr Le Meur, online conversation is now shaping every consumer choice he makes. “I am not buying any product or service without asking my friends first and based on their comments I will select this or that brand,” he says.
“We are entering a new age where the conversation is permanent, people will use it for recommendations, and brands will have to learn how to monitor all those discussions.”
The fight to be the aggregator of your social data
A new generation of social networking sites is gaining support in Silicon Valley, challenging the established models of leaders MySpace and Facebook.
FriendFeed, a service founded by the creators of Google Maps and Gmail, is at the head of an anarchic counter movement of “lifestreaming”, where users themselves aggregate and order their online social activities from multiple sources.
But he warns that the established larger players will not give ground easily.
“Facebook, MySpace and Google are all fighting to be the aggregator of your social data. Being that social data backbone gives the ability to monetise. I think this is going to be a big battle and in many ways it’s the battle for the future of the web.”
Mr Buchheit admits FriendFeed’s strategy has similarities to Google’s mission to organise all of the world’s information.
”We’re looking to use social mechanisms to help organise information and to bring [attention to] new things that are interesting,” he says.
FriendFeed works by pulling in and aggregating all of a user’s online social networking activity into a feed or list of events from as many as 35 services.
Examples would be an SMS-style text ”tweet” from Twitter, a photo uploaded to the Flickr sharing service or a blog note posted.
This ”newsfeed” was first popularised by Facebook but FriendFeed also adds the ability to comment next to anything posted, touching off lively discussions.
The service has been criticised as being hard to master for mainstream users and Mr Buchheit admits it is still in its early stages of development.
sexta-feira, junho 13, 2008
Sustaining growth is the century’s big challenge
Is it possible for the vast mass of humanity to enjoy the living standards of today’s high-income countries? This is, arguably, the biggest question confronting humanity in the 21st century. It is today’s version of the doubts expressed by Thomas Malthus, two centuries ago, about the possibility of enduring rises in living standards. On the answer depends the destiny of our progeny. It will determine whether this will be a world of hope rather than despair and of peace rather than conflict.
This – not the effectiveness of its particular prescriptions – is the biggest question raised by the report of the growth commission discussed here last week. It is also the focus of a powerful new book by Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute*.The challenge is stark. World real incomes per head could rise 4.5 times by 2050 and world population by 40 per cent. This would mean a sixfold increase in global output, concentrated in the developing world (see charts). Is such an increase feasible?
One might not be quite as optimistic about the cost of the solutions. But one must recognise the salience of the challenges. If economic growth halted, conflict among the world’s people would risk becoming unmanageable. If the environmental consequences proved overwhelming, the costs of growth would become unbearable. We are the masters of our planet now. The great question for the 21st century is whether we can also become masters of ourselves.
*Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (Allen Lane, 2008)
More columns at www.ft.com/wolf
There is no doubt that Mr Jobs is trying to lead a third revolution in consumer technology in his lifetime.
Finland's Nokia sells the most “smartphones”, capturing 45% of the world market in the first three months of this year, and Canada's Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the famous BlackBerry, is second, with 13%. Even in America, where Nokia is weak, RIM leads, with 42%, followed by Apple with 20%.
But Apple's impact on the industry has been greater than its market share suggests. The iPhone has set new standards in design and ease of use. A telling statistic from Mr Jobs is that 98% of users browse the web on their iPhones, 94% use it for e-mail, and 80% use ten or more features—including, of course, the built-in iPod music-player. As Mr Jobs joked, many users of other smartphones, with their clunky menus, cannot even find ten features.
This points to the ultimate role of the iPhone for Mr Jobs, Apple and the industry. There were personal computers before 1984, but it took the Macintosh, which Apple launched that year, to popularise the icon-based graphical interface that others copied, kicking off the PC era. There were digital music-players before 2001, but Apple's iPod made them both ubiquitous and user-friendly. In the same way, says Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies, an analyst who has followed Apple throughout its history, the iPhone, with its elegant touch-screen interface, seems likely to be the gadget that sets the direction that others will follow in the era of mobility.
To bring that about, Apple is now turning the iPhone into a hand-held computer and allowing other firms to write software to run on it. Other handset-makers are doing the same, but the iPhone's operating system and programming tools, on display this week, are better than theirs. There is no doubt that Mr Jobs is trying to lead a third revolution in consumer technology in his lifetime.
sexta-feira, junho 06, 2008
Technology to the rescue... part 2
The world needs to spend $45,000bn on green technologies in the next 40 years, or 1.1 per cent of annual global economic output, to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency said on Friday.
The investment – much of it needed to accelerate development of new technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells and carbon storage – is roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of Italy, though the IEA said it represented “a re-direction of economic activity and employment, and not necessarily a reduction of GDP”.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an advisory body to world leaders, concluded last year that global carbon dioxide emissions would need to fall by 50-85 per cent by 2050 to prevent average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees centigrade.
Among the G8, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and Canada – but not the US or Russia – have endorsed the goal of cutting emissions by half.
The IEA report, commissioned by G8 leaders at the Gleneagles summit in 2005, said reducing carbon emissions by half would require commercialising technologies now deemed too experimental or expensive given the present economic costs of polluting.
European emissions credits, for example, currently trade at about $30 a tonne, but under the IEA’s scenario could rise to between $200 and $500, depending on the rate of technological advance.
The agency said meeting the reduction target would require building 32 new nuclear plants and 17,500 wind turbines a year, and outfitting 35 coal-fired power stations annually with carbon capture and storage equipment. It added: “Nearly 1bn electric and fuel cell vehicles need to be on the roads by 2050.”
quinta-feira, junho 05, 2008
Technology to the rescue...
It is all very awkward. China and India are getting richer. And it appears their new middle classes want all the things we want: cars, washing machines, even meat. Here in the west, we have to restrain ourselves from saying: “Stop. You can’t live like us. The planet can’t stand it. And our wallets can’t stand it. Have you seen the price of petrol?”
The moral quandary is made all the more tricky by the fact that the stock of man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – the source of today’s global warming – is overwhelmingly the product of two centuries of western industrialisation. But now that it is the developing world’s turn, the west says it is time to stop. As one Brazilian commentator puts it: “It’s like my rich neighbours have been having a huge meal. They invite me in for coffee. And then they ask me to split the bill.”
So – with food, as with climate change – we shall have to hope that technology rides to the rescue. It has happened before. At the beginning of the 20th century, the discovery of nitrogen-based chemical fertilisers massively expanded world food supplies – just as experts were fretting that the world’s booming population would lead to famine. In the 1960s, the “green revolution” allowed for a further leap in agricultural production.
The trouble is that the new technological fixes are elusive. Wider tolerance of genetically modified crops might help with food. But many of the technologies touted to cut global warming – such as solar power and carbon capture – are far from fruition.
Politicians can help the process by providing incentives for behaviour changes and investment in new technologies. However, there will be a very difficult transition as the world adjusts to higher food and energy prices and waits for new technologies to emerge and flourish.
But what is the alternative? Any solution that is based on asking India and China to stay poor is politically and morally unsustainable.