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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Beyond search: a lesson in lean

A great proposition means nothing if no-one ever sees it. It doesn’t mean much more if only a few people see it. Without sufficient numbers, you can’t draw valid conclusions about whether your proposition sucks or whether you’re just showing it to the wrong people.

It has taken me a long time to learn this lesson, despite a few good people trying to steer me in the right direction. This is a lesson of the latter end of the current internet age. The age when the global competition for eyeballs means that however beautifully you build it, there is very little chance that they will come. If you want your enterprise to rise above the spires of the downtown internet elite, you need to work really hard to make yourself visible.

Who wants a futurist?

This is both a general issue that I hear from start-ups, and a specific issue that I have faced in my own business. Growth is the hardest part of any new business, much more so than good ideas or even, I would argue, good products. In the past, my attempts to solve the problem of limited traffic have been focused on overhauling site structure and content, making technical SEO tweaks, or re-trying now-traditional forms of outreach: typically various forms of search-driven ads.

The results? Negligible. Sometimes, particularly when you’re doing something new, people just aren’t searching for the keywords that describe your business or services. Or even for the topics you write about, in the way that you write about them.

In my case, I could change the way I write to be more search-friendly, even targeting my posts at attractive phrases. But I don’t want to. I’m pursuing a course that is interesting to me, and I am confident will be valuable to others. Is that arrogant? Maybe. But maybe a little arrogance is useful in these situations.

Social reach

The good news for those afflicted with arrogance and no audience, is that there is an alternative now to search. As Wakelet proclaimed across taxi-cabs, billboards and t-shirts, ‘the humans are coming’. In reality, the humans have always been there. They lost a little prominence in the rise of the robots, the search and social algorithms powering Google and Facebook. But human powers of discovery,

We’ve proven this to ourselves recently when moving The Loadout, our reviews blog on ‘tech for tomorrow’s professional’ to Medium. Yes, Medium is probably more attractive from a search point of view than our own site. But the 7x increase in traffic that our posts are seeing — admittedly from a low base — is coming primarily from the human recommendations built into Medium, rather than search.

Now the time has come to move our main blog, this one, over to Medium, a process we’ll be starting shortly. Medium has looked a little shaky in the light of recent announcements, but it looks to be the best place to continue the process of building awareness of applied futurism.

Medium is a place for writing, not for promotional websites, so we’ll be dividing the pages of the Book of the Future website between two new sites. Futurism-Tools.com is where we will continue to host and promote the Applied Futurist’s Toolkit, as well as some new professional development services we’ll be announcing shortly. Consulting, speaking, media and content work has always really been about me, not the wider brand, so that moves to TomCheesewright.com.

Rethink your funnel

If like me, you’re trying to sell a product based on a new idea, I think there’s a strong argument to refocus effort and investment away from the conversion process and onto any platform that at least starts a conversation. This is not a new idea, but it’s one that hasn’t penetrated far past start-up land. And even for people like me, so exposed to the start-up mindset, it’s one that is hard to truly get to grips with.

Part of this means putting your effort into building awareness and understanding amongst a human audience, before you begin to focus on the algorithms that might bring greater scale.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Why I Hated the iPhone, and What Amazon Can Learn from It

Ten years ago, Apple launched the iPhone. Not long after, Apple offered to loan me an iPhone for review. I hated it.

By this point, I was a few years into smartphone ownership. Not only that, I had helped to launch a smartphone that was pretty revolutionary in its own right.

Working on the marketing campaigns of a range of tech firms, I had attended the enormous Mobile World Congress conference for probably five or six consecutive years. One of our clients there provided the OS for a new smartphone from a Finnish start-up. This phone combined a full touch display, gyroscopic controls, and a browser that neatly handled full web pages. So many of the things that would go on to form part of the iPhone story.

This was 2003.

For all our efforts, the MyOrigo MyDevice, as it was called, flopped. It couldn’t get approval to run on enough mobile networks (a slow and painful process then) before the start-up ran out of cash. But it set my expectations for what a smartphone should be.

Without this device, I stuck with Handspring Treos. Bulky, but very effective business tools. There were even a few games for them thanks to their extensive Palm heritage.

Then the iPhone arrived.

By 2007 I was used to having two key features on my smartphones: 3G connectivity and the ability to add new apps. The iPhone I tested had some clear benefits. The touch screen was great, the software was slick and the design was slim. But no apps? No 3G? This seemed like a massive retrograde step. I was happy to stick with my chunky Treo, and later chose a SonyEricsson P1 over the iPhone because of the lack of these — to me, at least — core features.

Of course, eighteen months after the launch of the first iPhone, Apple had introduced the 3G version and the App Store, not just addressing my objections but crushing them. The App Store particularly has been revolutionary, giving anyone a simple, trustable experience in installing additional software.

Steve Jobs initial assertion of ‘desktop class’ apps may have been slightly overselling it. But from that point the iPhone became a serious productivity tool and entertainment device. And now the smartphone, that has always followed this initial template, is the primary platform for all our computing interactions.

What’s next?

It’s interesting to examine Amazon’s Echo/Alexa in the light of these objections. What needs to be added to take Echo from an interesting and clearly popular product, to the template for a class of device that may reach smartphone scale?

I think there are three problems to solve.

1. Connectivity

This time it’s not about data, it’s about interaction. The smart home is a very clunky construct at the moment. If Amazon can smooth the interactions with a wider range of devices, it would be welcome. This is not unconnected to…

2. Apps

Alexa seems to be reaching the scale where everyone will want/need to be part of its app/skill store. This would be hugely beneficial to users. Finally, there will be one interface to unite the disparate devices around the home. And the many services we have become used to accessing through distinct apps.

3. Discovery

Of course, none of these capabilities have any value unless people know they are there. How do you discover skills and interconnection options on a screenless device? It feels to me like there is an Alexa-initiated conversational element missing here. It would need to know who is in the room, not just that someone is there. But imagine a conversation like: “Hi Tom, I’ve detected a Fibaro home automation system on your network. Would you like me to connect?” That would be much more satisfying than the current app-driven controls.

Tom Cheesewright