Is Pivot a Turning Point For Web Exploration?

One of the wonderful things about the internet, is that there are so many wonderful people finding solutions to problems.

Just recently I’ve been thinking about what the Economist calls the Data Deluge. Someone recently said that data is the new pollution. Simultaneously, there are more data visualisation artists doing some wonderful things with all the data out there.

And then I saw this presentation by Gary Flake on TED.com. Called Pivot, it’s a new way of navigating the web, although it’s not even really navigating…. it’s more like giving us a bird’s eye view of all the relevant content on the web and allowing us to dip and dip out and rearrange the presentation of that content according to how we want to see it.

‘We think it changes the way information can be used’ says Flake. Instead of navigating from one thing to the next, we can go from many things to many things and be able to see the patterns that were otherwise invisible. Which is a very exciting proposition indeed.

Books: The Decisive Moment

Verdict: Everyone should read it.

I’ve just finished reading The Decisive Moment by Jonah Lehrer, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The author conveys pretty complex information in a way that’s really easy to mentally digest. The thing about the workings of the mind is that, because we all have minds of our own, we have an idea about some of what he says. You’ve probably said ‘It’s so much easier to spend on the credit card than on cash’ and ‘Sometimes I feel like my brain is over-loaded with information.’ Other times you know in hindsight that you’ve made a good or bad decision, you just don’t know how or why you made that particular decision. Well, this is the theory and the reasoning why, along with helpful tips and insights into how to maximize your good decisions.

There were a few key learnings I took out, which can be applicable to advertising and communications and also just to general life and every day decision-making, so I’m going to list them here so I can refer back to them when I’m in need of some wisdom. Most are direct quotes, some are just paraphrasing for the benefit of brevity. None of this is of course a substitute for reading the book.

1. In the brain, “dopamine neurons constantly generate patterns based on experience: if this, then that…. The cacophony of reality is distilled into models correlation that allow the brain to anticipate what will happen next… After refining this set of cellular forecasts, the brain compares these predictions to what actually happens…. The brain is designed to amplify the shock of these mistaken predictions. Whenever it experiences something unexpected… the cortex immediately takes notice. Within milliseconds, the activity of the brain cells has been inflated into a powerful emotion. Nothing focuses the mind like surprise.” (p42)

2. Our feelings often work out patterns first, before we are consciously aware of them.

3. ‘Loss aversion’ is actually a mental defect. When a possible outcome is stated in a loss frame people are more likely to take a chance in order to try to avoid a loss. If  the same outcome is presented in a loss and a ‘gain’ frame, more risks will be taken to avoid the loss. “Loss aversion is now recognized as a powerful mental habit with widespread implications. The desire to avoid anything that smacks of loss often shapes our behaviour, leading us to do foolish things.” (P78)

4. “Loss aversion is… part of a larger psychological phenomenon known as negativity bias, which means that, for the human mind, bad is stronger than good. This is why, in marital interactions, it generally takes five kind comments to compensate for one critical comment.” (P82)

5. When humans contemplate a reward in the future, brain areas associated with rational planning such as the prefrontal cortex are more active. When we start thinking about getting that reward immediately areas of our brain associated with emotion – such as the midbrain dopamine system – are activated.

6. The focus group is a crude instrument, because people tend to favour the familiar. After the TV series Friends became a hit, other networks tried to imitate the formula with shows of their own, many of which researched very well in audience focus groups, but didn’t actually perform well on air. The reason was that the other shows researched well because they reminded research subjects of Friends – a show they liked – not because they like the show being tested.

“The conscious brain can only handle about seven pieces of data at any one moment.” Efforts to memorize more data draws cognitive resources away from the part of the brain that normally controls emotional urges. “Because working memory and rationality share a common cortical source – the prefrontal cortex – a mind trying to remember lots of information is less able to exert control over its impulses.” (P148).

7. When a meaningless anchor, e.g. a random number, has an effect on decisions, it is called the anchor effect. An example of this is car dealers putting prices in the car windows, even though they intend to sell the cars for far less. The anchoring effect works because of “the brains spectacular inability to dismiss irrelevant information.” (P153)

8. “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” – Herbet Simon

9. Even mundane choices emerge from a ‘vigorous cortical debate’. In making a choice, each option activates a subset of competing thoughts. Each distinct claim triggers a particular set of emotions and associations, all of which compete for conscious attention. The stronger emotions and more compelling thoughts win over the weaker ones. (P192).

10. When you are shown an item that you have wanted for a while, it is your nucleus accumbens (NAcc) that is activated. “The NAcc is a crucial part of the dopamine reward pathway, and the intensity of its activation was a reflection of desire for the item.” If you are shown a product that you already own, your NAcc won’t be as excited as for something you have desired for a while. But when you are exposed to the price of the product, it is the insula and prefrontal cortex that are activated. The insula produces aversive feelings. “In general, we try to avoid anything that makes our insulas excited. This includes spending money.” In experiments, the prefrontal cortex gets most excited when the cost of the item is significantly lower than normal. It is thought that the prefrontal cortex is a ctivated as it is computing the numbers, trying to work out if the price is a good deal.

11. Isaiah Berlin identified two types of thinkers: hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs know one big thing, while foxes know many things. “While the hedgehog reassures himself with certainty, while the fox relies on the solvent of doubt. He is skeptical of grand strategies and unifying theories. The fox accepts ambiguity and takes an ad hoc approach when coming up with explanations. The fox gathers data from a wide variety of sources and listens to a diversity of brain areas. The upshot is that the fox makes better predictions and decisions.” (P231).

12. “Mark Jung-Beeman, the scientist who studies the neuroscience of insight, has shown that people in good moods are significantly better at solving hard problems that require insight than people who are cranky and depressed.” (P235).

Guardian’s Digital Trust Survey

A few interesting facts from a recent Guardian and First Direct poll:

89% of people trust their friends. Only 80% trust their family.

19% of people strongly trust the things they hear and see on TV, against only 6% who strongly trust the internet. However, 65% trust the things they see and hear on TV ‘just a little’ against 73% of people who trust the internet ‘just a little’.

Specialist information services (eg nhs direct) and internet experts (eg martin from money saving expert) are the most trusted sources of information, with friend recommendations on social networking sites coming third.

It’s an interesting report, and the data is visualised fairly usefully. Take a look for more here.

There’s also an analysis piece, which looks at the data based on age of respondents etc, so for instance they point out

“friends’ recommendations on social networking sites were trusted far more by people aged 18-24 (75%) than those over 65 (54%)”.

Much of this information is nothing new, but it’s always good to have a credible point of view that isn’t just your own.

Jamaica Uses Bad Dancing to Promote Tourism

Following on from the enormous success of Queensland Tourism’s Best Job in the World campaign, the Jamaican tourism board has also identified digital as a way to promote tourism, and has taken an approach that goes beyond a website and some banner ads.

Anchored in the insight that kids play a big role in deciding where the family vacations, www.totallydaddancing.com invites kids to submit videos of their fathers dancing. The most popular video wins a vacation to Jamaica, runners up are in line to win an ipod.

It will be interesting to see whether there is any promotion behind this campaign to generate awareness, or whether they are relying on the Twitter, Facebook, Bebo and MySpace connections for people to spread the word. But I think the campaign is fun. It’s based on an insight, the idea is as irreverent and fun loving as you would expect Jamaica to be, it taps into a product intrinsic of dance and rhythm, and it’s executed in a way that kids will most likely respond to positively. I for one am looking forward to watching more of the ridiculous ‘dad dancing’ videos.

Lost in Translation

It’s not often I find anything about South Africa’s current president funny. Between corruption charges, the heavy handedness of his security outfit, his 20 children from seven different women, his five marriages, three women of which he is currently married to, his lack of leadership with regard to sexual restrain as leader of a country with one of the highest AIDS rates in the world, that he took a shower to prevent catching HIV from an infected woman, his plain old simplicity and lack of stature or integrity… the list goes on.

Most recently the local press had a field day over his fathering of a child with a woman young enough to be his daughter, and in fact is the daughter of one his close struggle comrades.

So the independent.co.uk’s report on his visit to London this week really did have me laughing out loud. For anyone not South African, some explanation is probably necessary. In Afrikaans, the word ‘pomp’ means pump, and also is a moderately rude word to explain the sexual act.

The report said that South Africa’s “first openly-polygamous President, Mr Zuma will be received with the usual pomp by the Queen and Prime Minister Gordon Brown“.

Oh dear. South Africans seem to be all over the UK, but clearly none were working as sub-editors on that particular edition of the newspaper.

Music Marketing

Went to see First Aid Kit at the Union Chapel the other evening. It was brilliant, and a little surreal – watching under an awesome dome, everyone seated in pews, no alcohol in the venue. Brilliant acoustics too!

Anyway, they asked the audience how many people had discovered them through YouTube, and turns out a number of people had. Which got me thinking about some of the music marketing I’ve seen or heard about lately, and how there are so many different approaches and different budgets involved in promoting a band and some interesting ideas too, so I’m going to list a few. (I’m using what I’ve seen and heard rather than documented fact, so I could be a little wrong here or there).

Lady Gaga and Lily Allen: Self-promotion. Probably MySpace’s two most famous alumni. Both apparently grew their following in this social media space before being signed.

Mumford & Sons: Mass media. The first I heard of them was an ad on Spotify (not premium). I then saw posters advertising their new album in tube stations. That evening I went out in Camden and saw a giant billboard promoting their album. Decided to have a listen to them on Spotify.

First Aid Kit: Identified a target audience. They did a cover of a Fleet Foxes song (very well) and posted in on YouTube. I heard about them when I was having a drink in a pub across from the Round House before the Fleet Foxes gig. They were doing a gig at the pub – across from the Fleet Foxes on the same night.

Mimicking Birds: Email marketing: Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and friends have released a new album under the name Mimicking Birds. They emailed the Modest Mouse fan base with the offer of a free MP3 download in return for signing up to the Birds’ mailing list. They used a system called FanBridge which ‘provides email and mobile fan list management services for bands.’

And then of course there was the Rage Against the Machine vs X-Factor for Christmas Number 1: This wasn’t a new band trying to build a name, and the campaign wasn’t even arranged by the musicians themselves, but by two music fans. But it was a grassroots movement started, I believe, on Facebook.

I’m writing this while listening to Spotify (still the free version). I’ve got My Morning Jacket’s album Evil Urges playing and I’ve just been served an ad for an internet dating site…. I do hope it’s just a coincidence!

The Battle of the Streaming Sites

Guardian.co.uk had an interesting piece on new music streaming service MOG, currently only available in the US but set to give Spotify a run for its money when it arrives in the UK.

MOG sounds like a brilliant merging of Last.fm and Spotify in one service. And for me, Last.fm and Spotify used together make each other better – Last for finding new stuff, and Spotify for being able to have a proper listen to an entire album, the Last for finding when any of your preferred bands are going to be performing close by.

So there’s a lot of debate about which site will be better, what business model is going to be better, which – if any of them – are going to be able to pay artists fairly in order for them to continue doing business. All good questions. But I enjoyed one of the reader comments at the bottom, which  I’ve copied and pasted:

It’s worth asking why people would subscribe to a streaming site in the first place.

Is it:

(a) To replace traditional music purchases, be they CD or paid-for downloads, to save wasting money on albums that turn out to have too many weak filler tracks.

(b) To replace listening to the radio, without inane DJ prattle or annoying ads, and music more closely aligned with your own tastes.

(c) To investigate and discover new music which you may then go on to purchase.

(b) and (c) imply very different pricing and artist compensation methods than (a).

Yes! If we consider the user / consumer / listener / customer / subscriber, it becomes easier to start narrowing down the options and settling on a viable solution. I wonder of the commenter is a Planner…