Current Events

Automatically Familiar

More from the ever weirder frontier of automated humanity.

The Atlantic has a fascinating piece on how the telemarketing industry has evolved to marry call scripts and recorded snippets of smooth-talking sales people to create what the author calls, “cyborg telemarketing”

avatar uiThe company that made the UI above is called Avatar Technologies. They turn the telemarketer’s sales call into a series of clicks on the buttons above. The company’s catchphrase is, “Outsourcing without the accent” and is geared towards operators of overseas call centers but once you visit their site, it’s clear they are setting out to solve more than just accents. In their words,

Our Avatar software takes the complexity of a sales pitch and reduce it to the simplicity of just pushing buttons. Once the recordings are loaded onto the Avatar soundboard, our Avatars enhanced agents are instantly master salespeople. Our agents only need to be effective listeners. There is no reason to train them on how to sell because our Avatar Software does the selling for them.

It’s sad to see a persuasive pitch parsed into a formula but it’s inevitable when we join man to machine. Witness  spam comment templates that’s have been floating around such as:

Wow, this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} is {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious}, my {sister|younger sister} is analyzing {such|these|these kinds of} things {so|thus|therefore} I am going to {tell|inform|let know|convey} her.|{Saved as a favorite|bookmarked!!}, {I really like|I like|I love} {your blog|your site|your web site|your website}!

There’s a whole doc full of this stuff that can be wired up and set loose on all the lonely bloggers out there in hopes of picking up a response like those scary Sentinal bots in The Matrix.Sentinel_V01_03Earlier in the month I posted about the robotic phone greeters in Japan that has been raised to an art form. Later, Google buys Boston Dynamics and I dug into how that company and others looked at nature for inspiration on how to evolve more efficient robots. This appears to be an on-going theme.

When will we tip the scales too far and realize that in the pursuit of efficiency we have lost our humanity?

Current Events

Robots copy Nature

As soon as Google announced it was acquiring the scary mechanical cheetah company Boston Dynamics, twitter exploded into a series of snarky comments about self-aware robots from a company that knows everything about you chasing after you to watch more YouTube.

Say what you will, Boston Dynamic is a fascinating company. I’ve marveled at BD’s robotics and have watched all the videos as they came out (Boing Boing has a nice collection of them) but David Pogue’s Making Stuff series on Nova has a segment which goes into a bit more detail along with an interview with the company’s founder.

The entire episode is fascinating but the Boston Dynamics segment starts at 19:30.

Other projects mentioned in the video include Festo’s Bionic Innovations

Festo BionicOpter

and UPenn’s GRASP labs research on swarming nanobots.

Current Events

Make it So

A disarmingly charming story of a young lady and her adventures with a Captain Picard action figure comes with a nice message on the power of communities.

Current Events

Visualizing the Uninsured

Mapping the Uninsured

Another data map for you. This one by the New York Times based on the most recent census data shows the percent in each region that have either public or private insurance or are uninsured at all. Be sure to allow your browser to read your location and you’ll shortcut to your local region.

Current Events

See and Say in the San Francisco Bay

See or Say, San Francisco Bay

I’ve written about Eric Fischer’s work before (Digital Cartography, Digital Contrails). His work takes massive amounts of data and plots them geo-spatially to create beautiful maps. His latest piece shows Twitter and Flickr around the San Francisco Bay.

Red dots are locations of Flickr pictures. Blue dots are locations of Twitter tweets. White dots are locations that have been posted to both.

Interesting to see how much of the activity, especially Twitter, are located along major streets. Looks like a lot of Tweets are being sent from behind the wheel.

Current Events

iPhone users are Misunderstood

This commercial could apply to any teenage cell phone user. It’s not just about CandyCrush and Snapchat, the phone is also a tool that can bring families together.


Blogs as Personal Aggregators

Om blogged some thoughts after 12 years of blogging and came to the conclusion that one’s blog is one’s digital home. It is not only where you start new conversations, it should also be where you aggregate and archive the fruits of conversations you participate in out on various social web platforms.

And while I embrace every new social platform with gusto, I find it frustrating that my point of view is spliced across various networks. I think the blog is the one that ties it all together — a central location where you fit together all the Lego pieces.

– Om Malik on the role of blogs, In 12 years of blogging, the more things change, the more they stay the same

Most blog platforms support widgets which can bring in streams of your updates from various services. It started with flickr, delicious, and but soon all the other social services joined in. Twitter widgets are the latest incarnation of the sidebar social widget which you can install today.

Before Facebook arrived to suck out all the oxygen from social aggregator services there were a number of services, most famously FriendFeed, which would pull in all your updates from across the web on to one page. MyBlogLog was another.

While I was working with the MBL team we were hard at work pushing forward the aggregation feature but with one unique twist. While you could go to your MBL page and see anyone’s profile along with their newsfeed (we called it “New with you”), we also gave you the option to grab the javascript that let you run this widget on your site as a “full page widget”

MyBlogLog full screen widget configuration page

I have yet to see a suitable replacement for this code. I run a plugin called Social Stream on my site but it’s doesn’t quite do the trick. Efforts such as the Locker Project and it’s hosted cousin Singly seem to have lost momentum.

The web is a collection of digital artifacts. Text, photos, sound files are by-products that are digitized and indexed. We use search engines to locate these artifacts but no one has built a way to tie all these artifacts back to their owner. Until you tie the collective digital artifacts of a person together in a unified way and follow it over time, you don’t really know that person.

I’ve written about this before but the pendulum swings back and forth between the convenience of social networks on the one hand and the independence of owning your own domain/blog on the other.

Which Network do I Use?

  • Instagram Direct vs. Snapchat
  • Facebook vs. Twitter
  • AIM or Yahoo Messenger or MSN Messenger

Once the commoditization of the latest communication protocol has proliferated, the pressure to consolidate identities pushes the updates to a neutral platform which is always the blog.

This is why I always maintain my own domain and host my own archives. is a digital representation of my life, my virtual self. I have posts about my marriage, my children, my career, observations on places I’ve lived – all other matter of stuff. It’s too important to put under another brand’s name, it’s too precious to be held ransom by anyone’s monetization strategy.

Go ahead, play around with the latest social shiny thing but be sure to save the best for your blog. You’ll be thankful you did.

Further reading:


Current Events

The Importance of Being Human

The New York Times has a front page story about the All-Japan Phone-Answering Competition. In this day of automated voice mail trees and customer service forms, Japan still stresses the importance of having a human answer the phone  promptly and efficiently.

Reception desk at NTT Docomo
Reception desk at NTT Docomo

What is ironic is that, to the Western ear, the high-pitched tones and honorifics used by the people that answer the phones sound almost saccharine in tone (check out the video). There are strict protocols on how to address the caller that come from a long tradition of customer service in Japan. The customer is not only always right, in Japan, the customer is God.

As an American, it’s tempting to poke fun at the robotic, rule-based behavior of the elevator operators and department store greeters but look at us. The West has automated itself to the point where many hi-tech firms do not even advertise a phone number or, if they do, have re-directs on their voice mail instructing you to shoot off an email into the ether.

Which would you prefer, a person that sounds like a robot or an actual robot?

Current Events

Lucid Stead

Lucid Stead

Beautiful installation on an old homestead in Joshua Tree. Check out the video of the how & why.


Reach out and touch someone on Instagram Direct

Instagram Direct

One line stood out on today’s announcement about Instagram Direct.

Photos and videos that you receive from people you follow will appear immediately. If someone you’re not following sends you a photo or video on Instagram, it will go to your requests so you can decide if you want to view it.

This is an open invitation for marketers to participate on Instagram in a more personal, direct way with Instagram users. Sure, the service is limited for you and I who can only send a direct message to up to 15 people at once but wouldn’t Instagram/Facebook open this up to the right partners to send to more people as targeted advertising? This is more subtle than the advertising program announced earlier this year. It’s an invitation to connect.

Louis Vitton in Venice

A couple of weeks ago I saw a full page Louis Vuitton advertisement in the New York Times with a QR code in the corner inviting me to install the LV app where I would gain access to exclusive content. It was the image in the advertisement that captured my attention and on a whim I installed the app which came bundled with links to behind the scenes footage from their Venice mini-site. It’s easy to imagine brands using Instagram Direct as an invitation to interact with a brand. What if the image above came via Instagram Direct with a discount code (not that LV would ever discount) and a link to the nearest LV shops?

Brands are trying to evolve their marketing methods to match the way people communicate today. We’ve moved from a broadcast world which was well suited to mass marketing, a single, highly produced message designed for maximum distribution. Think Super Bowl ad. Facebook and Twitter are experimenting with Sponsored posts/tweets that brands use to segment their audience and customize messages for each segment. Even Google Ad Sense is experimenting with new ad units that are designed for sharing.

Many view Instagram Direct as a copy of Snapchat’s point-to-point messaging feature but I think that misses the point. Instagram Direct messages are not ephemeral, they stick around . They are conversations hatched around an image. As you open and view images from brands, they enter into your social feed. Instagram Direct is an important step towards transforming your social feed into the likeness of a traditional magazine complete with large, glossy brand ads from companies that you have invited in to participate and an important way for Facebook to go after monetizing it’s increasingly mobile audience.