Our Lives, Reduced To Data

Published in Online Spin, December 6 2013

It may or may not be true that, in 1899, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” But surely by now, technological innovations can no longer surprise.

We have landed on the moon and had cars cover half a million miles with no drivers. Amazon is planning to deliver packages via drone, and Google will do it with robots. Our phones contain the computing power of 2,500 Apollo 11s, and we’ve invented a mind-controlled communication device for people paralyzed by ALS.

So what does the future hold when everything is possible?

The Value Of Doing Nothing

Published in Online Spin, November 22 2013

I spent a few hours today talking with someone whose job is to do nothing. Let’s call him James.

To be honest, James’ job isn’t to do nothing, exactly. Just not something. Which is totally different, if you think about it.

When people in James’ community are having a hard time, he listens to what they have to say, finds out what they need, and then connects them with the right people or agencies.

He doesn’t just give them the phone number, either. He actively makes the introduction, ensuring people actually make it through the maze of bureaucracy and get the help they need.

The nonprofit he

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A Plea To UX Designers: Make My Old Age Easy

Published in Online Spin, 15th November 2013

This is what it’s like when I Skype my grandma:

I see she’s online. I dial. It rings. She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. She says, “Hello?” She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. She says, “Hello?” Her video is not on. I ask, “Can you turn your video on so I can see your pretty face?” She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. “Hello?” I see the spinning icon; video is on its way. Her face appears. “Don’t click anything!” I yell. She hangs up on me.

It’s not her fault. Skype is not particularly user-friendly, and video Skype even less so. It’s impossible to know

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The Non-User-Centric World Of Facebook Messaging

Published in Online Spin, 8th November 2013

In November 2010, the then-26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg sounded the death knell for email. Email was too slow, he said, and too formal. The youths don’t like it.

What they would like, apparently, was Facebook’s new messaging service. This magic system would work with email, direct messages, and texts so that people communicated through a single channel, yet used whatever method they chose.

Nothing like an upstart billionaire attacking a venerable institution to spawn a media frenzy. Was the service going to be a Gmail killer? Was email at death’s door, or had it actually crossed the threshold into the hereafter?

Zuck’s proclamations notwithstanding, email is still looking rather healthy. A year after the announcement, Visible Gains posted an infographic that calculated the number of email accounts at 2.9 billion (almost four times the then number of Facebook accounts). The number of emails sent in 2010 was 107 trillion, a 19% increase

IT People: A Call For Compassion

Published in Online Spin, 1st November 2013

Imagine for a moment that you are a magician. You have worked hard to become an expert in your craft: making bunnies disappear, sawing ladies in half, reaching your hand through a glass display case to grab a watch.

People are awed by your performances. They have no idea how you do it. They want more. Thinking you are capable of anything, they start making unreasonable requests: Walk on water! Through a brick wall! Jump out of a plane with no parachute!

You begin to resist. Just because you can levitate a few inches doesn’t mean you can fly. But your fans don’t understand this. They start to become angry with you. They accuse you of intransigence, of unreasonableness, of saying no to every simple request. To them it seems obvious that you should be capable of these feats. After all, you work magic. That’s your job, right?

These Invisible Blind Spots Can Completely Derail Your Work

Published in Online Spin, 25th October 2013

These Invisible Blind Spots Can Completely Derail Your Work “Here, stand up against the wall,” said the optometrist. “I’m going to measure your blind spot.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but complied willingly enough. “Let me know when the eraser disappears. There? Cool. And reappears there? Excellent.”

I looked at the marks he had made on the paper. They defined a circle about the size of a golf ball -- a circle that represented an area of such total invisibility I hadn’t even known it existed. When I look around, the world seems contiguous to me, but that’s because our eyes work together and in constant motion to piece together a cohesive picture. The illusion that we are seeing everything there is to see is near total. As the optometrist wisely noted, “We cannot perceive what we cannot perceive.”

I was reminded of our invisible blind spots today by an

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After The First Idea, Think Bigger

Published in Online Spin, 18 October 2013

In just a few short hours, the curtain will go up on our fourth major TEDx event in my home city of Christchurch, New Zealand (you can watch it, if you like). Over the past year, the team’s been developing a program that includes comedians, a toxicologist, musicians, a futurist, and a guy who investigates sex trafficking, as well as tech demos, a MakerCrate/fabrication lab, and more.

I’ve been working with our speakers for months now, to make sure they shine as brightly as they possibly can on our stage, and there’s something I’ve noticed: the first idea is generally not the best. Often it’s not fully formed and needs evolving. That's to be expected. But often in the process of evolution, the idea changes altogether, taking an unexpected turn and morphing into something wholly unrecognizable from

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Mailchimp Founder Says Love Your Customers, Forget The Funnel

Published in Online Spin, 11th October 2013

Have you ever tried Mailchimp? It’s pretty awesome, right? It feels good to use: the clean interface, the sensible reports, the cheeky copy (“Prepare for launch! You’re about to send a campaign… This is your moment of glory.”)

Mailchimp is one of the most widely used email service provider around, and they’ve always had a quirky, delightful approach to both their product and their service. A few years back I logged in to see a message that they wanted to send me a T-shirt, randomly, for no reason. That’s the kind of thing they do, but not on autopilot -- I've never gotten another T-shirt offer from them, for example. I also don’t get marketing emails from them, which is kind of surprising. If email campaigns are so often the start of the sales funnel, why isn’t the email marketing company sending me emails?

Mailchimp founder Ben Chestnut offered the answer recently in a post called ”Why I Hate Funnels.” As far as Ben’s concerned, the funnel approach takes your website visitors, figures out which ones are leads, and auto-spams them until they can’t help but become customers. He suggests -- and I concur -- that this process is more

The Right Kind Of Real-Time Marketing

Published in Online Spin, 4th October 2013

Last week, we spoke about the Federal Reserve and the challenges that exist when financial trades are happening in milliseconds. But the financial markets aren’t the only arena suffering from an overemphasis on speed. Ever since Oreo won the Super Bowl(well, the advertising aspect of it, anyway), marketers have gotten in a tizzy of excitement over the idea of responding in real time.

Will and Kate’s baby. The 9/11 anniversary. The ”Breaking Bad” finale. If there’s an event people are talking about online, there are marketers doing their darnedest to butt into the conversation.

A fair amount has already been said about how inappropriate, ineffective, and crass real-time marketing -- aka “RTM” -- can be. Just yesterday, Ad

Fed Offers Wrong Response To Millisecond Heist

Published in Online Spin, 27 September 2013

There’s a kerfuffle going on. Here’s how I understand it: last week, the Federal Reserve announced that it would “not be tapering its bond buying program.” This information was released at 2 p.m. precisely, from the Reserve’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. This is known as “market-moving information,” in that it will have a significant effect on stock and bond markets, and, as such, its release is tightly controlled.

Milliseconds after the announcement, trades were initiated in response. But some trades seemed to happen too quickly. Specifically, trading started in Chicago just 2-3 milliseconds after the announcement -- despite the fact that information ought to take 7 milliseconds to get there from DC. So how did the Chicago traders get access to the information? Nobody knows.

The Fed, of course, is investigating. You don’t just yoink 4-5 milliseconds off the central banking system of these United States of America without incurring a bit of wrath. But they’re investigating the wrong thing. The problem isn’t how the folks in Chicago got access

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