Is mobile fit for brand advertisers?

By now, I’m presuming that many of you have seen this year’s Mary Meeker presentation on the state of technology, digital and the world. If you haven’t, do it now. It is breathtaking. Unsurprisingly, according to Meeker 2013 will be the year when the smartphone + tablet installed base will exceed desktops + laptops.

Also, it seems that 10% of the total media consumption time is now on mobile & tablets, but just 1% of ad spend is going into mobile. That means 9 out of 10 times we’re consuming media on a mobile, there’s no ad. So over the past few days I’ve been looking at campaign data we have at Brainient in order to see whether this discrepancy exists because mobile doesn’t perform or because it’s just a new medium and it takes time for advertisers to ramp up their spends across mobile.

According to a campaign that ran in Nov + Dec across a multitude of media owners online and on mobile, here are the brand stats that we’ve collected:

Mobile: 63.3% engagement rate, 1.4 engagements / user, 19.8% video completion rateOnline: 9.5% engagement rate, 2.7 engagements / user, 33.3% video completion rate

Now, this data is very interesting. Engagement rate is 6 times hire on mobile than online (touch, touch, anyone?), but there are less engagements per user and less viewers watching the entire video (probably because videos are slow to load over 3G). If the videos would load faster, I’m certain that completion rates would increase as well so as LTE / 4G technology will be released by operators in 2013, completion rates should increase. Combined with the amazing engagement rates we’re already seeing, it will make mobile the perfect medium for delivering brand-centric interactive video campaigns. Together with the fact that we’ll finally have the same number of mobiles + tablets as desktops + laptops, I think it’s quite obvious where advertisers should be putting their money next year.

The death of the phone number as we know it

I’m currently spending some time in the US and in order to avoid the obscene data and voice roaming charges, I decided to buy a pay-as-you-go US sim card. I’ve been doing this for years, usually carrying two phones: my UK iPhone and an Android I use for traveling.

It so happens that my Android phone was stolen a few months ago, so when I went to T-Mobile yesterday I had to make a decision: buy a new phone or just take out the UK sim out of my iPhone and plug in the US one. After thinking about it for a couple of minutes, I realised that I mostly use my phone for email (Mail App and Sparrow), texting (WhatsApp), international calls (Skype) and a bunch of news / social media apps, none of which are actually linked to my phone number. I do get a lot of phone calls as well but people who urgently need to reach me have other ways of doing it anyway.

I decided to replace the sim in my iPhone, more as an experiment to see what happens if people can’t reach me on my UK number. So far so good. And it wouldn’t surprise me if five years from now phone numbers will be carrier-independent and would solely act as routing mechanisms. Kinda like Google Voice but with international capabilities. It would have an interface that enabled users to link it to Skype, and any local phone numbers I may have and then easily switch between them. Someone should build that.

Big data, big paycheck

If I had a 10 year old today (which to my knowledge I don’t) I’d encourage her to start learning statistics. Looking around, a good data scientist nowadays can make a fortune while solving fascinating problems. Some of our generation’s fastest growing technology companies – Google, Facebook, Twitter – are data companies at heart. Google with PageRank, Facebook with Social Graph, Twitter with Firehose, and so on. Everywhere you see a successful company, you see data.

But it’s not the data that’s valuable because most of it can, ultimately, be bought. The biggest challenge is creating the right algorithms to make sense of your data. Google created AdSense. Facebook created Facebook Ads. Twitter hasn’t figured it out yet, but I’m sure they will, provided that they find the right – you guessed it – data scientists.

The thing is that big data, as they call it these days, is such a new field that nobody really understands it. Ten years ago the only organisations who had access to big amounts of data were universities. These days, startups go from zero to millions of users and billions of data points in a matter of months. And most startups make very poor use of that data, if at all. Not because they don’t want to use it, but because there’s so much scarcity when it comes to people who actually know what they’re talking about.

So if you’re a techie, mathematician or geek who’s not sure which way to go, grab a statistics book and get going. Oh, and drop me an email as well because Brainient is hiring – you guessed it – a data scientist to work on some really interesting problems in the video advertising world.

The rebirth of the mailing list

“Does anyone want to come and speak at an event in Astana, Kazakhstan?” said an email in my inbox yesterday. Now that’s an offer you don’t get every day. What are the chances, really? But much to my amazement, someone who IS actually organising an event in Kazakhstan emailed Milo Yiannopoulos to come and speak. Milo forwarded the email to one of the mailing lists I’m on and that’s how I got to commit to a trip to Kazakhstan.

On a slightly different note, a few months ago I scored $24,000 in free Rackspace credit over 12 months because a member of another mailing list I’m on got us a group deal. And I can’t even remember how many discounts I’ve gotten for various web apps and services, just by being active on a handful of mailing lists.

It’s not just freebies and unique event invites, though. Mailing lists have this inherent attribute that makes them really unique in today’s world: they’re closed and selective, which means that people on the list feel comfortable with sharing information and thoughts they otherwise wouldn’t. I’ve seen discussions ranging from which VCs one should never deal with to who’s dating who in the tech world. They’re tons of fun, too.

Usually revolving around one or a handful of individuals and having under 150 members, they resemble the 19th century’s fraternities in the digital age. I can’t think of a better way to keep a group of people communicating actively and give them an environment where they can share information they otherwise wouldn’t. So next time someone mentions a mailing list, find a way to get on because you’re missing out. Big time.

How Justin Bieber almost ended up on my Facebook Wall

Oh my God. “This is scary”, she said while turning the laptop towards me so I can see the screen. I glanced at it and saw her Facebook Wall shouting:

Sabina and Peter Ward are now friends after both attending Langer & Wardy’s fancy dress & pool party birthday extravaganza.

Now, Sabina met Pete some time ago, but after seeing him at Langer’s party the night before she decided to connect online as well. Facebook very intelligently (albeit wrongly this time) guessed that they might have met at the party. Which is scary. Not because of this particular harmless association, but because it points towards how much effort Zuck and the team put into making use of every single bit of data they have about us.

I guess it’s all fine when you voluntarily decide what you’re going to share. The problem, however, is that Facebook’s newest open graph protocol enables app developers to share anything we do in their apps, automatically, in the background. For example, every now and then I entertain myself with a bit of Justin Bieber, which is what I wanted to do this morning on Spotify. Luckily, I remembered that everything I do in Spotify is now automatically posted on my Facebook Wall (and Timeline) – right before pressing play (so I didn’t). I wouldn’t have minded the banter and pokes I would’ve gotten from my friends for doing such an atrocity, but I would go crazy if Facebook started inviting me to Justin Bieber concerts in London. Now THAT would be scary (not to mention stupid) so I’m starting to wonder if the new open graph protocol is such a good idea after all.

United States versus Europe

If you haven’t yet read Marc Andreessen’s WSJ article about why software is eating the world, you should. While at it, I also think he nailed the reasons why most of the world changing technology companies today are American companies:

“It’s not an accident that many of the biggest recent technology companies—including Google, Amazon, eBay and more—are American companies. Our combination of great research universities, a pro-risk business culture, deep pools of innovation-seeking equity capital and reliable business and contract law is unprecedented and unparalleled in the world.”

In Europe we have the talent and the universities but have a long way to go on all other fronts.

Why I think Social Media is the new TV. And that’s not a good thing.

This morning I almost fell off the chair while looking over my RescueTime stats. Apparently I’ve spent nearly 10 hours on Facebook, 4 hours on Twitter and 16 minutes on Google Plus in the past 30 days. That’s one whole day spent zapping news feeds, liking and commenting on social media sites. Outrageous, really.

It reminds me of when I was a kid. I would come from school, do my homework, write some code, play some games and then watch cartoons, M*A*S*H or Police Academy for about an hour. I didn’t do it every day, so I’m assuming I was spending about 15 – 20hrs per month in front of the TV. I was a kid back then so wasting time in front of the TV wasn’t such an outrageous thing, but it’s amazing how much my social media behaviour today resembles what I was doing with TV as a kid.

Firstly, social media, as TV, stops my brain from thinking about stuff. I remember that when I was watching TV as a kid, my consciousness would stop thinking about school, homework and all the stuff I actually needed to do. Hence I almost never got anything done on time. Secondly, not a lot of interesting stuff ever came out of that TV box. Yes, TV documentaries were sometimes revealing in the same way social media helps me discover interesting news and events today, but that probably only happens in 10% of the time spent on either.

However, the most interesting thing I’ve noticed while looking over the stats this morning is that I consume social media all day long. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s bad, that’s real bad because it’s incredibly distracting. As a kid, I only watched TV in the evening. Which means that, during the day, it wasn’t a distraction. Social media on the other hand interrupts me every other hour, according to RescueTime.

Now, there’s one more thing I remember from when I was a kid. I was in my last year of high-school and had managed to get myself quite busy by doing freelancing work, preparing for final exams and starring in a TV show. I tried cutting back on my TV time, but found it impossible until I made quite an extreme move: threw it out of the flat. And now I’m wondering if I should take the same approach with social media.