Is TikTok the Future of Walmart?

The Chinese version of TikTok, called Douyin, is an example of what Walmart and TikTok could do together. Douyin has a deeper e-commerce integration for shopping than TikTok currently does, including strength in live-streaming video commerce, which allows app users to watch live as their favorite personalities or brands show off new merchandise and then have an easy way to buy what they see. Such online shopping trends — a more interactive version of QVC for the digitally-savvy — are already popular in Asia.

Source: Why Walmart thinks TikTok is the future of its business – Vox

I remember sitting in the audience of a presentation at a marketing conference discussing coming trends in buying, selling, and shopping. If I remember correctly, it was 2006 or so. The speaker was describing the use of mobile devices (pre-iPhone and mainstream Android world) and QR codes to purchase everything from groceries to couches on the spot in Japan.

I thought she was crazy and knew there was little chance Americans would ever use a mobile device to purchase something like a couch at a store (or sight unseen).

I was totally wrong.

Although I personally am not a huge user or fan of TikTok, the example of Douyin here reminds me of my pessimism towards mobile shopping and QR code implementations here in the US>

Embrace Spontaneity in Your Zoom Calls

Most surprising, he said, was how much his students came to enjoy brief appearances from his pug puppy, Gus. Warner hasn’t decided yet whether Gus will continue his cameos, but the response was a good sign that spontaneity still has a place in Yale’s classes.

“It acknowledges that we’re all doing this from various spaces and that we can embrace it,” Warner said.

Source: A look at Yale’s classes, labs, and libraries for fall 2020 | YaleNews

As I’ve been living on Zoom and Skype and WebEx and Google Meet when it comes to client conversations these last six months, I’ve come to embrace the fact that our Great Dane or 19-month-old or 4-year-old will inevitably make an appearance.

Wear a tie and a jacket if you feel the need, but don’t make your Zoom calls so stagnant that they are sanitized beyond the point of engagement. All of our brains are still adjusting to this, and the appearance of pups or kids or spouses won’t lead to you losing a deal.

“Reopen” Domain Surge

Propaganda and misinformation are easy to propagate on the web as one of my mentors, Wayne Porter, would frequently show me. Now is not the time to let our guard down.

That lookup returned approximately 150 domains; in addition to those named after the individual 50 states, some of the domains refer to large American cities or counties, and others to more general concepts, such as “reopeningchurch.com” or “reopenamericanbusiness.com.”

Source: Who’s Behind the “Reopen” Domain Surge? — Krebs on Security

Google Slashing Marketing Budget

Read the tea leaves, folks. Things aren’t “re-opening” anytime soon. This is a long term situation and those at the top of the food chain are very much aware of the coming choppy waters…

Google is slashing its marketing budgets by as much as half for the second half of the year, according to internal materials viewed by CNBC.

Source: Google to cut marketing budgets, hiring freeze expected

When companies like Google start slashing marketing budgets, it’s a direct pointer to the tightening of belts and awareness of bad things ahead.

Buckle up.

Thoughts on AirPods Pro

I was going to pass up on the AirPods Pro. I was incredibly impressed by the first generation of AirPods. In many ways, the AirPods became the revolutionary technology that we all thought the Apple Watch might be. The integration with Siri and the ability to interface with a voice-first assistant set the devices apart, however. There simply was nothing like them before or even now. It’s like a prequel to Her.

Today I received my AirPod Pros. I was skeptical. After about 4 minutes on a call, I’m no longer skeptical.

This is a game-changing device. Where the original AirPods were fantastic for “cord-free” audio for your iPhone, the AirPod Pros are beyond a step up. I’ve been testing them all night with podcasts, audiobooks, music, and most importantly phone calls. For those of us who still live in a world where phone calls matter, these things are a game-changer.

The noise cancellation features is super intelligent. The quick interfacing with an iPhone or iPad is admirable. But the sound quality is up there with what I’d hope for earbuds this expensive.

The future is voice computing. Apple’s most “Apple” device since the iPad unveil in 2010 is definitely the AirPods. The AirPod Pros completely live up to their name. I’m completely on board with this amazing technology and love the innovation.

Build your own website and stop using Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for your personal online persona.

There’s another option for developing an online presence that doesn’t leak any data you don’t want it to, if you’re willing to put in the effort: a personal website. Last year, a Vice reporter, Jason Koebler, made a compelling case for bringing personal websites back into style. Before Facebook, setting up your own page on sites like Xanga or LiveJournal was common, and the data controls were simple. This technology is still available to us, easier to use then ever, and gives you control over the privacy levers. Just don’t share a résumé with your phone number on it.

Source: Opinion | Build an Online Presence Without Giving Up Privacy – The New York Times

YouTube and “Reinforcing” Psychologies

“The new A.I., known as Reinforce, was a kind of long-term addiction machine. It was designed to maximize users’ engagement over time by predicting which recommendations would expand their tastes and get them to watch not just one more video but many more.

Reinforce was a huge success. In a talk at an A.I. conference in February, Minmin Chen, a Google Brain researcher, said it was YouTube’s most successful launch in two years. Sitewide views increased by nearly 1 percent, she said — a gain that, at YouTube’s scale, could amount to millions more hours of daily watch time and millions more dollars in advertising revenue per year. She added that the new algorithm was already starting to alter users’ behavior.

“We can really lead the users toward a different state, versus recommending content that is familiar,” Ms. Chen said.”

via “The Making of a YouTube Radical” by Kevin Roose in the New York Times

A Week Without Twitter (or Facebook)

I made the decision last week to attempt what I previously thought was relatively undoable for my business and/or personal life and pull out of the Twitter stream and Facebook world, and Instagram performance art gallery. Some of that was due to this liturgical season of Lent and some of that was my constant need to try on new “thought technologies” that helps me explore more of this life.

After a week, I can say a few things that have struck me as personal revelations.

First, I am more focused and “get things done” work-wise in a more deliberate and intentional way. It’s not that I was skipping over things a year or a month ago, but the silence that comes from not having a constant TweetDeck tab open in my browser window (or on the large screen that was dedicated just to TweetDeck) has made a marked difference in my workflow as evidenced by my time sheets and my client ticketing system.

Second, I find myself reaching for my phone fewer times during the morning, day, and night. I would constantly be scanning Instagram or Twitter when I had a few spare moments or minutes during the course of a day. Now that I don’t have those time sinks, I find myself scanning Feedly for news or longer form articles or just doodling on paper for 30 seconds.

Third, I’m blogging here more. I feel more “creative” in general to be honest. Being away from the constant stream of short takes on the latest political scandal or presidential tweet or funny meme has made me recognize how much I’ve pushed down my own voice inside of my head (as much as it is an unreliable narrator sometimes!). But I feel like we’re picking back up the conversation after a long 12 years on Twitter and as a heavy user of all things social. I feel more creative and less anxious in general.

Most importantly, I have space to be more mindful about my place here. I already feel a change in my outlook on issues and things I need to give or pay attention to. I’ve found myself turning off notifications on my phone from Slack and Email (heaven forbid!) and even our ticket support system. Could I make do with a flip phone? Who knows. But that mindfulness and a better sense of presence does feel different than it has the last few years.

Coincidence is not causation, so we’ll see how this happens as I keep up with this thought technology of being mindfully and spiritually situated in specific places and times rather than floating through the matrix of performative attention.

The Sublime and Silicon Valley

The sublime—whether a feature of the natural world, or of UFOs, or of religious experience—is a sense of our own vanishing smallness before something impossibly vast: a mountain range, a churning ocean, the universe, God. What we get in return for being so existentially demeaned is freedom from the tyranny of our own personalities, a sort of liberating oblivion. But data-extracting platforms don’t sublimate our personalities; they multiply and magnify them. And the Data Sublime, far from making the internet feel thrillingly big, has conspired to make it feel smaller, claustrophobic, and profoundly boring. As Facebook and Google metastasize, the more interesting destinations on the internet are dying off; recent sweeping media layoffs were also largely the result of Facebook, Google, and Amazon’s stranglehold on advertising revenue. The sublime promises a sort of redemptive immensity, but Silicon Valley strives to compress all of digital experience into a single, monotonous feed, mainlining capital into the pockets of billionaires.

— Read on thebaffler.com/latest/close-encounters-of-the-tech-kind-harnett

Does Your Nonprofit or Church Need an Alexa Skill?

Anyone can create a trivia game and share it on the Alexa store.

Source: Amazon opens up Alexa store for anyone to create and publish custom skills – The Verge

Nifty new capability now for anyone to script out an Alexa Skill. I’ve been telling clients that they should really consider “voice first” capabilities when thinking about their messaging and marketing. It’s not a bad idea to really think about the possibilities for churches and nonprofits as more and more people adapt to the Alexa / Google Assistant / Siri paradigm of computing (and it will inevitably be the main form of home computing).

Apple Cripples Facebook’s Internal Apps

What an insane story. Good on Apple…

That means Facebook isn’t able to distribute internal iOS apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger for testing purposes, and internal employee apps for purposes like food and transportation are nonfunctional.

All of the apps that used the certificate “simply don’t launch on employees’ phones anymore,” and Facebook is said to be treating the issue as a critical problem internally.

Via MacRumors

Putting the Days to Bed (My Paper Notebooks)

If you’ve met me IRL, you’ve probably noticed I have a notebook either in my shirt pocket or in my hand (or a stack of index cards tucked away somewhere). All of them make awkward appearances when I hear a good quote, someone has a question I need to look up, if I was trying to record a student’s robot time trials, or if the spirit moved me.

I’ve long been a doodler since my time in Mrs. Hinson’s 3rd Grade class where we learned that sketching helped with creativity (I might have made that up… but it stuck). When I got to Wofford College, my mentor Larry McGehee kept that alive by talking about his doodling process during staff meetings and other such nonsense. That was inspiring to me at the time, but his tips and tricks on the doodling life hack helped me survive countless staff meetings as a teacher myself as well as Board meetings and team meetings and all the meetings we have to go to when we decide to throw ourselves into grown-up world.

I’m at the point in my life now where I don’t have to attend so many mandatory meetings and for that gift I feel blessed (looking back, I do feel some regret for how immature/bored/inattentive/distracting I was during teacher staff meetings… I’m sorry Dear Administrators, but I do feel that I added spice to our gatherings by throwing out bombs to get everyone riled up and awake such as whether cursive was really necessary in Middle School). But with that gift comes a clear place of loss in my creative process. I have to make time to doodle now. It’s weird how you spend years thinking “Oh great, another meeting… it’s Doodling Time!” and then you find yourself secretly giddy because you know you’ll have 4 extra minutes to sneak in some surreptitious doodling while your toddler finishes their breakfast. But here I am.

So I’ve been thinking a good deal about my paper notebooks and my doodling and my journaling and all those Instagram posts that I heart on a daily basis displaying some young person’s admirable bullet journal or Panda Diary or a Mom’s Moleskine Menagerie (wow, that’s a great name… Moleskine can run with it… I’m just the idea guy). I’ve spent too many hours thinking over this issue and watching YouTube videos comparing GoodNotes and Notability on the iPad Pro while jogging off the extra weight I gained sitting in meetings and doodling and reading blog posts that compare paper journaling to “digital” journaling.

The issue is complicated by the fact that I’m typing this on an iPad and I do love this form factor and device. The iPad Pro really has become my main computer when I’m not chained to a laptop working on a piece of code or having to review artwork in Adobe Illustrator for a brand client (but the iPad is getting there!). I’ve always been the “digital” guy or “techy teacher” or the preacher that preaches with an iPad (I’ve also preached from a Blackberry, a Palm T5 (loved that thing), and a Palm m100 over the years), or the consultant who has all the fun tech toys. So when I show up with a paper notebook, it’s a little jarring to some people and frequently leads to a conversation about my note booking style or journaling preferences or the types of pens I prefer. I’ve bonded with many clients over the benefits of a Pilot G2 Extra Fine 0.5mm refill cartridge compared to the competition.

But year after year I go back to my paper notebooks when it’s time to put the days to bed on another year. This year is going to be no different it seems. I’m an old man stuck in his ways, what can I say? “I’ve got my drip pan, ready for my nap” as Lightning McQueen says at the ends of Cars 3 (again, I have a toddler). But there is magic in opening a new journal and getting ready for the year while looking back at all the collected thoughts, doodles, dreams, failures, completions, incompletions, interceptions, and incantations from the previous trip around our closest star. It’s really magical in a self-serving and privileged way to pull down a notebook from ten or fifteen years ago and do the same. There is probably some magic in doing the same with a backup file in Dropbox of a PDF exported from GoodNotes in 2013, but magic, like notebook and pen preferences, is subjective.

So my prayer for me and for you in 2019 is… Blow up your tv, throw away your Twitter, go to the country, find you a home, eat a lot of peaches, try and find Jesus on your own… and do some doodling.

You’re not “addicted” to tech and why it’s dangerous to say you are

As a teacher from 2001-2006 and then from 2008-2012, I had the chance to work with dozens of young people and their parents at a time when so much we knew and thought about education and transmitting information was changing. There was a rapid cultural shift in that decade that was primarily driven by “technology” and the internet.

One theme that remained constant going back to the first time we set up a class blog in 2003 was the notion of “tech addiction”. It remained a constant question and concern of parents and education colleagues (particularly my administrators) over the years.

Since 2012 as a marketing and tech consultant primarily working with religious orgs, nonprofits, and community groups, I’ve encountered the same concerns about tech addiction and young people. From MySpace to Instant Messaging to World of Warcraft to Instagram to Facebook to Fortnite, the boogeyman of evil tech hellbent on ruining our children’s minds and attention and willingness to go outside and play stickball keeps a constant current over time.

However, tech addiction (in the mainstream cultural sense) is just that… a boogeyman. It’s much better to focus on our responsibilities and usage patterns… as adults and parents and community members… rather than blaming Zuckerberg for our lack of accepting personal agency and being responsible people with our choices.

Good piece here that says all this in a much nicer and more approachable way:

Nir says the idea that technology is “hijacking your brain” or that the general population is “addicted” to their phones is rubbish.“Yes, there’s a very small percentage of people that very much are addicted—which is a completely different conversation—but this ‘addiction to technology’ is not the generalized disorder the media and others would have you think it is.”

Source: You’re not “addicted” to tech (and why it’s dangerous to say so) – RescueTime

United States of Amazon

“The company’s focus on Washington as its most lucrative customer was reflected in its decision earlier this year to choose nearby Arlington, Virginia, as one of its two new US headquarters, along with Long Island City, New York. “Amazon wants to be the interface between all government buyers and all the companies that want to sell to government, and that is an incredibly powerful and lucrative place to be,” Mitchell said.”

Exclusive: Emails show how tech firm has tried to gain influence and potentially shape lucrative government contracts — Read on www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/26/amazon-anne-rung-government-services-authority