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Business Technology

Questions and Answers About ‘Tile’

The other day I came across this new crowdfunded gadget: Tile.

The idea behind it is one I’ve wished existed for many years. Long and short: It’s a tiny little Bluetooth powered location tracker that you place on your keys, luggage, bag, bike, etc. The benefits of this are great, and their video does an excellent job of selling it.

I’m intrigued that it will prevent me from ever misplacing my keys in my own home again. However, as with any advancement in technology: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This product raises some technical and privacy questions. The company’s FAQ seemed to exist mainly to satisfy angry Android customers, so I fired off an email to their ‘contact’ address, and here are the results.

You have your introductory price, but what will the second year cost me? / Will you offer a recycling discount for sending you our old Tiles?

Tile replacements are likely to be discounted for customers, but since we are still in development phase the final cost is not yet determined. Replacement Tiles will come with a return envelope with postage paid. All Tiles are recycled or refurbished depending on condition.

Tile requires no battery charging or battery replacement hassles, ever. It’s all about ease of use and being cost effective as compared fo similar solutions. You could buy enough Tiles to last you three years before you would match the cost of buying other solutions that require constant charging and are quite bigger, and not waterproof.

If I buy a Tile, when does the year start? At manufacturing, order, or do I “activate” it somehow? If I buy two tiles now, can I hold off “activating” the second one until my first one dies? Will it hold a charge until this hypothetical activation?

A Tile’s year of use starts when you take possession of it. Withholding use of a Tile does not prevent a drain on the battery. Use them for a year and then replace. Easy. Also, Tiles are registered via the Tile app.

What kind of access to my tile data do you have? Could the NSA, in theory, demand access to your servers and see my Tile’s location history? Or, with your permission, use another Tile to locate my Tile like your video shows with the bike?

Tile is still in the development phase, so we have many areas to address in our product plan, including a privacy policy. That said, like many devices and product features available today, our objective is to offer an unique and helpful experience to improve the lives of our customers. We have no intention of acting improperly, or without transparency, with any information that results from the operation of our product.

There you have it. While I’m not thrilled by the number of companies going live without privacy policies set in place, I respect that they answered the question at all. For now, I’ve decided to purchase a Tile. We’ll see how I feel about it when year 2 rolls around.

Categories
Business Technology

3 Reasons Klout’s Algorithm Is Bogus

Labeling itself “The Standard for Influence,” Klout has worked to become a relevant influence-measurement tool for businesses and individuals.

While every marketer would love a way to quantify social media influence, is there really any substance behind Klout’s numbers? Does a high (or low) Klout score really have an impact on whether you can influence others’ behavior — or is Klout simply an imprecise measurement of one’s social media prowess? Here are three reasons Klout’s algorithm is probably more alchemy than science.

Measuring the Wrong Things

A pie chart graphic from Klout.com


One of the main problems of Klout is that it relies on third-party APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to get data from the networks it scans — and those APIs have limits. A good example of where this falls short is that Klout has no way to monitor click-through rates. The service has no way of knowing what volume of traffic flows through the items a member posts, or if these posts actually lead to any action offline. How can a service claim to monitor influence adequately with such a huge blind spot?

Another issue is what Klout actually tracks and how it tracks it. With Twitter, scores are determined by monitoring things like follower counts, mentions, and retweets. However, it doesn’t give credit very well for those using Twitter’s native retweet system. When a member retweets something, Klout gives credit back to the original account, even if another user’s retweet exposed it to a larger audience.

Some Twitter members don’t like this and have devised ways to game Klout’s handling of this metric. These individuals choose to use the older manual “RT @name” style retweets instead of the native Twitter system. This way, when the post is retweeted by their audiences, they get the score boost and increased visibility instead of the original user. This is essentially a way of stealing influence, and Klout’s algorithm (as it is today) encourages it.

An Ever-Shifting House of Cards

Image credit: Peter Roberts

In February of last year, an infographic made the rounds on the web highlighting a Justin Bieber Twitter spam account with an astoundingly high Klout score. This illustrated some major flaws with Klout and served to embarrass the company briefly.

To combat the loss of confidence in its service, Klout has attempted to iterate and improve its scoring dramatically over the past year. However, it has often done this without notice or explanation. It was not uncommon for members to log in and find that their scores had plummeted by tens of points without explanation. These changes, while aimed at improving the service, essentially stomped all over Klout’s credibility and gave the company a boy-who-cried-wolf reputation with each new algorithm upgrade.

Perhaps most damning is the way Klout has de-emphasized and removed certain metrics in its latest redesign. For example, the latest revision has removed things like user classifications and score analysis. The company has even hidden the ability to track changes to certain metrics over time. If Klout felt more confident in its algorithm, it would expose more of this data, not less.

Topical Misunderstanding

Klout’s system of topics are, in many cases, baffling. For example, having one tweet including the words “Paparazzi” and “Matt Damon” retweeted by someone Klout deems of greater influence can get you labeled as influential on those topics. This can happen despite that tweet being the only time you ever mention those topics. It doesn’t matter if you have many other tweets pertaining to broader topics, such as politics or technology, that achieve a broader reach.

It appears that Klout matches its “topics” to keywords used in social media posts alone, instead of using actual, objective, topics. It also appears that Klout’s algorithm is not smart enough to understand and classify posts based on context—without the usage of such keywords directly. These are some of the flaws of automation. Algorithms cannot understand things like sarcasm and tone, and they have an especially hard time with nuances of language and meaning that only humans would pick up.

At the end of the day, Klout is trying to quantify something as inherently subjective as influence. But while some metrics can be helpful to understand audience reach, influence cannot be distilled into a single number. While Klout’s promise is tantalizing for marketers, it will always need to rely on a certain amount of assumption and fabrication to seem legit, thus leading its value to be questionable at best, and bogus at worst.

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Business General Photography Technology Travels

Grid Meets Road – World Travel in the Digital Age

On the 19th of September, I will embark on an adventure that will almost certainly change my life. I am heading overseas to Europe to travel full time until February of next year.

Along my way, I will use digital devices and social media tools to explore and find what to do in each respective city. I will document my experience on this blog, Flickr, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, FourSquare, Gowalla, Tumblr & maybe even YouTube. I will attempt to find places to say either with friends from these services or using sites like CouchSurfing and AirBnB.

The idea is to “crowdsource” my adventure, asking for you, the reader, to supply me with input as to where to go, what to see, etc.

My end goal will be not just to explore the world but to really test the limits of our global communications network, the so-called “global community.” Can we, “the internet,” actually supply what one person needs to know on such an adventure? How connected are we really through these services, and how easy (or hard) is it to maintain the relationships with your loved ones while traveling full time?

I have also submitted a panel to next year’s SXSW Interactive Festival and hope to share the results of my trip with you there and eventually publish a book on the experience.

I will share more details about the trip as we get closer to leaving, but for now, I could use your help.

Please do me a favor and vote for my panel to be accepted to SXSW… the voting period ends tonight, Friday the 2nd, at midnight. You can do that here.

Also, if you’re interested, you can donate to my experiment as well here.

Anyone who donates me any money (it doesn’t matter how much or little) will have their name on a slide at our SXSW presentation should it be accepted. Thanks!

Categories
Business Technology

On Apple Rumors: A Tale of Two iPhones?

In the time I spent working for Apple Retail, I was constantly asked about rumored product releases, and more often than not, the customer asking would fail to believe that we employees didn’t have any sort of advanced knowledge. That really was the case, and even if we did know something, we couldn’t tell them anyway, so why bother asking?

I guess because that wasn’t 100% true.

The thing is, while we almost never had advanced knowledge confirming new products, we were all engrossed by the Mac news/rumor sites. Although we were contractually obligated not to contribute to them, nothing stopped us from talking and speculating to one another during lunch or at the bar after work. As an employee, you get to know Apple’s psychology pretty well, and it was often easy to tell which stories were real and which were fake.

So while we didn’t officially know what was coming down the pipeline, it was often the case that we “knew,” but we still couldn’t talk about it. There is a certain amount of buzz to rumors combined with timing and the company’s actions that would make it clear that something was up.

Recently sites have been talking about the next iPhone being only a mild upgrade and referring to it as the “iPhone 4S”. For as long as it has been around, I’ve HATED this rumor.

There seems to be an assumption that because there was an iPhone 3Gs to follow iPhone 3G that Apple is going to repeat this pattern and even call it the “iPhone 4S”. The major flaw in this conclusion is so obvious it boggles my mind that sites miss it.

The iPhone 4’s “4” in its branding is different than the 3G’s “3”. The 4 in the iPhone 4 represents it being the fourth model of iPhone, whereas the 3 in the iPhone 3G represents the 3G speed of its connection.

Apple is a company tightly fixated on branding. Even if the next upgrade were a small one they simply wouldn’t just slap an “s” on the end of the “iPhone 4” and call it a day instead of releasing an iPhone 5. Regardless of what the marketing name would be, it would still be the 5th model of the phone. They especially wouldn’t then just call the next phone the “iPhone 5” the following year as it would actually be the 6th version and so on. The logic is broken.

Branding aside, it also seems clear to me that after waiting more than a year, Apple’s going to do more than a modest bump to the iPhone. While the iPhone 4 is doing exceptionally well after 15 months on the market, the changes will need to be significant if only to keep consumers interested and competitors behind. The rumors of a larger screen, better camera, and a tapered form factor seem to gel with that.

Meanwhile, the now two-year-old iPhone 3GS is the second best selling phone on the market. It is clear Apple benefits from giving customers the choice of a lower-priced option. This one-two punch has served them well at retaining market share in the face of Android so the logical conclusion would be that an iPhone 5 will be announced this fall, and Apple will keep the iPhone 4 around discounted like they did the 3GS.

But the rumor is that the next iPhone is also now coming to Sprint and T-Mobile too, which would make sense. The problem is T-Mobile’s 3G network uses a different frequency than AT&T, so if Apple wants to support them, they need to introduce either a separate phone for their network or a phone with a chip that is compatible with both networks. Meaning they’d have to manufacture three different iPhone 5s for the 4 different carriers, and that’s not counting storage sizes or colors and this still leaves them without a low-cost option on T-Mobile’s network.

Then I start thinking about this and the fact that before the Verizon iPhone 4 was launched, there were all sorts of antenna redesigns that leaked that contained SIM card slots, which the Verizon phone does not and now suddenly similar things are showing up again.

All signs seem to be pointing at it, but no one seems to notice. My gut says that Apple is planning to launch not one, but two new iPhones this fall, and both will be available on all four major US carriers. I believe we will see a mildly revamped iPhone 4 and an “all-new” iPhone 5.

Apple will, however downplay the 4’s revamp with a comment like “the iPhone 4 has proven to be the most popular phone in history, and it’s not slowing down so today we’re making it available to T-Mobile and Sprint customers too”. No new name, and no upgraded specs, they’ll want the press to focus on the iPhone 5, not a bunch of internal changes to a 15-month-old device.

How will they do this? Instead of individual models for individual carriers, I believe that both the revised four and the new five will have both CDMA and GSM chips in them will be compatible with all four carriers right out of the box.

Externally this does away with customer confusion as most people don’t know/understand/care about the differences between cellular networks and frequencies; they simply want to buy a phone and have it work. Secondly, this dramatically simplifies their product line, inventory, and manufacturing and allows them to further leverage the economies of scale that CEO Tim Cook so masterfully does already.

Wouldn’t be half bad for his first public move as CEO either.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Categories
Business Chicago Technology

SEO Food For Thought: Critical Mass Chicago

In Chicago there are two prominent “brands” that operate under the name “Critical Mass.”

One is a digital PR agency.

The other is a monthly gathering of cyclists who flood the streets with bikes on the last Friday of every month.

One represents brands such as Clorox, Nissan, AT&T, and Rolex on the internet. Including brand monitoring and campaign management.

The other has no branding, no official leaders, and a very loose digital presence.

Guess which one has better SEO?

Excuse me, I’ve got a bike to go ride.