27 November 2010

So Exactly How Many People are Drinking This Cool Aid

Back to the rant section of the choir...

I get the impression that there is something of a marketing effort by the Gnomes of Social Web to make me drink the CoolAid. Being something of contrarian - the adoption of Social Media sometimes feels more of hype than of substance.

As with many forms of hype - the definition of Social Media is still very woolly and decidedly open to misinterpretation. And I cannot shake the feeling that perhaps the hype is going to outlast the substance.

Just so we are clear - I do value the Social Web. I use Facebook and (Lord Help me) Twitter for specific uses. My team even has a Tweet engine we have developed for promotional services - very cool even if I say so myself.

But I still hold the Social part in healthy skepticism. Not least of which because every time I have tried to use a commercial application for personal benefit - e.g. Trip Advisor - I have found it lacking in value. or in many cases - just out and out wrong. Yes the "factual" data is often wrong from the direct purveyors to their surrogates or frankly people who should know better.

One thing that does bother me a lot is that no one is held accountable for mis-leading or wrong information, but this is not confined to Social Web data alone.

The now much quoted Sheraton Study on Social Media is being used to prop up the view that Social Web is just so darn essential to our lives. The 39% of respondents (who clearly have no life) said they could not do without their Social Media doses. The study ludicrously places Social Media up there with Life's real essentials:

"Overall, survey respondents ranked social media somewhere near air and water as a must-have in their lives"

I recall my headmaster in school when confronted with a parent (British version) who said: "O Levels are the most important part of my son's life" to which he retorted within my earshot - "Then the trip down the aisle is going to be a bit of an anti-climax".

Yes Social Web has its place and the media provided is a part of the fabric of our lives - intentionally or not as the case may be. But to have it become the be all and end of our existence is just unwarranted.

Context, objectivity and rationality must not be lost.

With thanks to Sodahead for the image.


Mummy, I know I should but do I have to?

Mummy Dearest!

Oh but do I really have to do this Social Media thing. I don't like those people and they dress funny.

Mummy please don't make me go to this party. I don't like them. They make me play weird games and everyone has to "join in".

I hate it when I can't just be myself and play with my dolls and the dog.

Oh Mummy PLEASE don't make me go..

(Queue sound of sobbing child)

I don't care what the people at Ketchum and Fedex say... what do they know about me?

They think I am just like them - Oh Mummy why can't I wear my wellies to the party. Why do I have to wear the same dress as everyone else. I don't even want to colour my hair purple even though 90% of all people do it.

And another thing Mummy dearest - I never liked My Little Pony....

Is Search Social, or Even More?

Following on from my theme of yesterday which was asking the question if Search was dead - I have some more thoughts on the subject.

Consider this the nicer and more proactive version vs. my more "rantful" version of yesterday. I am trying to work on other ways to butcher the language since we were encouraged to make our brand names into verbs by Rich Barton. Still working how to create a verb out of Professor Sabena - but I am trying. (Suggestions accepted including Mr or Ms Anon who doesn't like my use of Grammar. - Guilty by the way!)

The merging of Social Media and Search is a natural given the strength of the values that their respective proponents have ascribed to these different disciplines. There is some good data to back this up. I suggest you take this research poll into account. Check out the article in eMarketer with data from Covario.

The sleepy market for SEO indeed any SEM has been shaken up but Google's fundamental changes over the past year. Of these the most significant is Google Instant. But there are now other parts of the tableau that Google is revealing that is going to change Search significantly. Google sees the threat from Facebook in a wide number of areas... I find this battle fascinating having watched both Google and Apple pass Microsoft (my Alma Mater) and leave the former Redmond Behemoth in the dust. With the current battle focused on the Social Web.

But is this clash of the Titans actually benefiting either the consumer or the marketer? I don't see this as the war but rather just another battle in the long term war. Which personally I don't see ending until someone at Justice wakes up and decides Google has overstepped its mark.

I have to say that I still see that survey data and performance do not match in many cases. But who am I???

In my thinking I have been contemplating (over rather too much turkey and some very nice wines) the issue of what comes next. Long term readers of the Professor's Wisdom know that I believe that web 3.0 is harnessing focused wisdom through experts as opposed to crowd control.

Interestingly we are now seeing Google Labs start to push out some very interesting stuff. A shout out to Professor Joe Buhler for picking up on the new Boutiques.com test site from Google.

Check this about section:

Boutiques.com is a personalized shopping experience, brought to you by Google, that lets you find and discover fashion goods through a collection of boutiques curated by taste-makers -- celebrities, stylists, designers, and fashion bloggers. Boutiques uses visual technology to help fashionistas discover and shop their look and creates the opportunity for designers to showcase their collections and latest inspirations online.

Boutiques.com is built on technology developed by our team of fashion experts who work with engineers to “teach” our computer systems to understand various patterns, pairings, and genre definitions. When signed into your account, Boutiques.com learns about your style and preferences and in turn, provides you better results and recommendations over time. Ultimately, Boutiques.com will provide shoppers with a much richer and interactive shopping experience and help drive traffic to retailers' websites.

Global search and replace the word "Fashion" with "Travel" and you will see what I mean.

The Googleplex rulers clearly expect to get Travel under its belt as a scalp once they complete the acquisition of ITA Software.

Google is clearly keeping an eye not just on the "social side" of the web but also the next generation of "moderated/guided mode". As Google states:

..."by taste-makers -- celebrities, stylists, designers, and fashion bloggers."

So now you need to start thinking about that... consider yourself warned


26 November 2010

Is Search Dead?

Mindy Joyce has a blog entry that has been Tweeted and RT'd quite extensively. In this report from PCW17 the underlying theme seems to be that search is dead long live share/social.

Despite the less endearing qualities of the dominant search provider (You Know Who) search is still intuitive and the best way to find things.

So to say that Share is the new Search doesn't resonate with me nor I suspect with the general populace. The underlying theme behind my post here is the hihacking of search by the Googleplex and the resultant poor experience we are now getting from Search hurts Search. Personally I want less of Google telling me what I want and filtering everything through GoogleLenses and more access to a definable set of parameters. Are you listening Bing? IE just because its bad (and getting worse) doesn't mean you have to throw everything out.

Search is a utility. To my weird way of thinking the way Google serves Search up today almost makes me feel like the Power Company wants to tell me how (and when) I can use the power they provide. Excuse me boys and girls but most of the world is not Iraq. (And no disrespect to the fine and long suffering people of Iraq - but there power is a luxury when it should be a utility). But does that make Search itself dead or bad?

The other concept I am also having a problem with is the constant notion that people need to have validation for every decision that they make. Did we create a generation of coddled humans who have to seek validation at every step of the way from their peer group? I sincerely hope not. We have enough trouble not getting things done in regular business and life because we have to wait for other people to get their validation and their feelings smoothed over. Oh Lord help us from the Nanny state and PC! What about people being able to make decisions on their own based on their own judgment? If we carry that metaphor on, what would we see? - I shudder to contemplate such a world where we will have more and more decisions based on shared crowd think and far less on intellect and common sense.

If that is the case - why not go the whole hog and have virtual everything - see everything before you travel via virtual and augmented reality and therefore the joy of the experience is lessened.

Who can say that one can replicate the total assault on the senses that walking in Hong Kong, New York, Mumbai or Bali? May I be long dead and buried before someone creates a machine for that. Then I will just have to call up Zagar and Evans vision of the earth in 3535 that the being there means.

I actually think that Search will mature and that the rather horrid experience we have in general Search from Google and the legacy GDS defined based restrained Travel Fare Search will evolve and smart people will figure out a better way for us to get better results. Perhaps this is why Google really wants to buy ITA. They fear those smart people getting ahead. And what they really want to do is to keep the populace fat dumb and happy.

"In the year thirtyfive thirtyfive
Ain't gonna need to tell the truth tell no lies
Ev'rything you think do and say is what Google gave you today.

With apologies to Zagar and Evans but not to anyone else.

25 November 2010

Brits Have No Loyalty - Why Should They...?

People get all agitated that there is no loyalty online. But before we get critical of the behaviour perhaps we should consider why and if there is indeed anything that can/could be done about it.

There was an old adage in the UK Travel Trade that the "punter would cross the street for a quid". Translation for those of you who didn’t know was that a retail shop windows were the primary advertising vehicle and if a customer saw a headline price of say 199 and across the street was essentially the same package for one pound less - he would walk into that shop and buy in that outlet.

Tealeaf is a company that studies customer behavior and they have recently released a study on the UK market. You can get it here from etid: . The study is entitled “The ebooker: understanding how travel customers use the web. A whitepaper by Tealeaf and carries results from a pretty big spectrum of customers who responded to it. The study was conducted by Harris Poll UK and published on November 19th.

Tealeaf because they focus on the Customer (read user) Experience – UX – naturally focuses on the areas where web site experience can be improved. And the number of examples of effective practice are legion. It still amazes me that with all the money that some companies spend bringing punters to the front door of their website only to scrimp on the User Experience. And yes you know who you are!
All the money spent driving customers to the website and then the guy looks in the shop window and sees a poor experience and crap. There is little incentive on his side to stay with you – ie to close the sale...

I have written many times that the performance of the site’s User Experience is not easily gleaned from asking the users what they think. It has to be gathered from their behavior. Shock Horror! People lie! But frequently the surveys themselves are badly worded and the consumer cannot express himself adequately. Focus Groups also don’t do the trick. (Remind me to tell you one day about professional focus group participants!). More sophisticated testing and A/B type studies are needed. This is only wise. Hire companies like my consulting firm or a specialist group like Tealeaf to assess your User Experience. This is wise not just a plug for my business.

I would also like to dive into the other reasons for this lack of loyalty by the customer. The Brits are no worse than other markets. However they have a very short tolerance for screw ups. Probably more so than their brethren in other markets. And another possible reason – the UK websites are actually pretty bad and have done little to do a good job in the User Experience. Most Website managers are either copying the US models (which don’t always translate) or just don’t have time to focus on it. In my view the UK is populated by people running websites of circa 2000 vintage web 1.0 varieties. Localization is not changing words – it is deeper and more fundamental. There is very little appetite of the user to put up with this lack of attention. He/she punishes you by clicking away. And don’t forget that he wants a complete experience. One of the worst things is to tell him (as I know more than one UK site tells its users) “our customer service agents use the same information and don’t do better offline than online.” And then proceed to prove themselves as liars on the same call!!!

There is an interesting factor in the study – something Tealeaf calls “Social Acceptance”. This is a factor that few have so far grasped. However don’t interpret that to mean that the Social Acceptance can be assuaged by something in Facebook. No – again it is the whole package. Thomson UK still suffers a certain degree of social stigma from being the cheap brand. No studies I have seen address this issue. Further the lack of brand delivery against a promise is one of the consistent mistakes a Website makes. IE Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Brand Lies…. They fall into the same category. Consider the opposite end of the spectrum with Ryanair that does not give a thought for its brand and does everything based on price. While Marketeers may scoff – Ryanair delivers against its premise time and time again.

The effort of so many companies and brands now to get people to “like” them creates a false sense of brand loyalty. So we are clear – “like” does not equal “brand value.” The only reason they are clicking the like button is so you will give them a banana.

Finally let me remind you of something that most people forget. A customer is far more likely to distrust than to trust. Start there and work on proving him wrong.
More likely to distrust than trust

24 November 2010

The Washer Did It!

So now we have the answer to one of the more intriguing whodunits in a long time.

How come the fire in the Test Boeing 787 was so catastrophic and what caused it.

It was the washer. Apparently a small washer caused an arc across the electrical circuit and caused the fire. Other sources say that it was foreign material including paper and tools left in the panel which caused the fire. Of course the French company Zodiac

So no need to panic chaps - the schedule will be back on... right?

Oh I am not so sure... let's wait and see what Boeing says the schedule is after it restarts.

Here is the story from Seattle's Local NBC Affiliate. KING5

Boeing has a special condition imposed on it but the FAA. According to the Seattle Times quote "The Federal Aviation Administration in 2008 issued a "special condition" for certification of the 787 that requires Boeing to prove the airplane can fly safely and land even with the two main engines and the auxiliary power unit in the tail inoperative."

This is a bit of good news bad news.

If they meet the basic requirements then the special condition will be relaxed. If they dont then the conditions will be tightened and that may in turn require a further redesign.

And yes this was the same company that makes those nice rubber boats. Now spun out separately under the Carlysle Group.


A slow recovery but a steady one in DXB

The recent numbers are starting to look good for Dubai. The rot may have stopped and traffic is making a come back. Tourist arrivals were up by 9% in the first half of the year, with more than 4.18m visitors, while hotel revenue rose by 6% to $1.87bn. Occupancy rates were also solid, at 71%, this despite the fact that there had been a 7% increase in the number of hotel rooms on offer.
There was more tourists and they stayed longer than in 2009 with an 18% rise in the number of nights rooms were occupied. Guests stayed for 12.46m nights in total, up from 10.5m in the first half of last year.
These figures suggest that Dubai is well on its way to passing 2009’s lackluster 6.1m hotel guests, a 1.3% fall on the 2008 total. Tourism accounts for around 19% of the emirate’s GDP at present. According to the EIU, overall Oil is predicted to decline from a total of 40% of GDP to 32% of GDS in UAE by the end of the decade. Tourism of course is the big strategy for success going forward.
The desert seems to have come off its lows and there is cautious optimism. Real estate values have stabilized but don’t expect to make a killing in this markets.

So for now – EK is going to be a big driver of revenue so hopefully the rest of the economy can at least find a way to keep some of the way up.

23 November 2010

Latest ATA Stats Show Underlying Trend

The latest stats out of the US Airline group ATA shows the tenth month of revenue and yield growth.

However we can now see that the growth indeed most of the profits are coming from the Ancillary revenues.

The impact is therefore clear. The model for commoditized airline singular results clearly shows that there is a need for differentiation. This is where the holistic one size fits everything model falls apart.

So the collision course that the airlines on the one hand and the GDS on the other is inevitable.

The recent post deadlines submissions to the US filings on disclosure of fees indicates give some indication as to the depth of the issue.

Go to DOT.Gov and type in this



21 November 2010

Brace Yourselves. 787 Delay #7 - 2012?

I was joking the other week with a colleague who spends way more time sniffing Kerosene than I do. In fact it was prior to the Electrical Panel Fire in Laredo. My friend who follows these sort of things said 2012 before Boeing starts delivering 787s.

I said - "you mean full bore production deliveries" - he replied "No. Deliveries period."

Seems like he was being a bit prescient.

Latest news coming from the Oracle of Aviation, Air Lease Corp. founder and CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy, was that the delay is going to be 9 months. Others are now whispering even more - last week, Morgan Stanley aviation analyst Heidi Wood forecast that Boeing would not be able to deliver the 787s until 2012 in a worst-case scenario, as flight testing won’t resume until early next year. Wood’s base case assumption is second half 2011. So far the aircraft has been out of testing for several weeks. Surely 2 months delay shouldn't translate into 9 months or possibly even a year - can it?

Well there are several factors at work here. The troubles at Rolls Royce are not the least of them. The many design changes on the aircraft as a result of Boeing's unfamiliarity with the multi-source concept. Let's face it the 787 is no Smart Car. It a exponentially more complex.

So the delivery date answer is now anyone's guess. Clearly the production schedule cannot survive in any shape or form. Boeing is going to (read has no choice)have to modify it and has no choice but to lower the ramp of the production schedule. It will need to tune the production process until everything is set to be stable. I think that this confirms my earlier assumption that the earlier aircraft are not going to be representative of the production models. Difficulties abound for the suppliers. The Japanese must be kicking themselves over become risk partners. They have been ready for more than 2 years. And even now Boeing may have them make modifications and save weight that cannot be gathered from other parts of the aircraft.

What would have happened if they had gone ahead with the Sonic Cruiser?

So now perhaps things don't look so bad for Airbus. This further delay is going to force more A330s to be ordered. Even the now delayed a little bit A350 will end up being only 2 years behind the 787 service entry date. For people wanting new aircraft that means that available slots on either aircraft are about the same. So its a fair fight between the two now.

This is really rather sad. I wonder if heads will roll at Boeing again?


Do We Really Need More Information?

I am sure like many people - I am suffering from WAY too much data. In fact I think I am drowning in the stuff.

Regular Readers know I have this sense of the greater progression...

Data--> Information--> Knowledge --> Power

In my mind you need intellectual horsepower to get from the 3rd stage to the fourth. However the mind can no longer accommodate easily the synthesis of the first two stages of the progression.

The firehose drinking used to be so easy. I learned how to use a library as a teenager and had a great knack of being able to dig out the right information to make good decisions. In my early career that helped me enormously. Information acquisition was driven in large part by being able to find quality sources of data.

That skill is largely useless these days as we have so much access to data and easier ways to get at it so thanks Google for making that part of me useless... (just a note in case anyone thinks that is a driver of my crusade to make Google a better corporate citizen - it isn't). The first generation of the web in my view was all about access to data. Particularly as far as the Travel vertical was concerned.

But what now is required are better tools for qualitative assessment of the data we are presented. We suffer from the lack of these. Web 2.0 was supposed to bring nuance and qualitative measures to the flow of data. It hasn't in my view. Rather it has further complicated matters. Making the task of assessing data to extract the nuggets of information in fact harder not easier. And those of us who are waiting for better tools are going to have to wait a long time.

The primary editor of data these days is Google. And with that comes an incredible responsibility. One that in my view Google is failing to maintain in a balanced and responsible manner.

Gerry McGovern's weekly piece has an interesting spin on it. But the questions he asks are really appropriate:

"The other problem with the better filter approach is poor quality information. If the information is out of date or plain wrong, then how do you filter it? If the information is badly written and confusing, then how do you filter that? If the information is badly organized and has no metadata then how do you filter that? Filters are not magical."

His solution however is naive in its sincerity. We already lost this battle. he continues:

"There is a greater need today than ever for professional editors and librarians. People who can maintain quality standards when it comes to content. People who know how to organize a website from the point of view of the customer. When it comes to information, we really need to shift back to a focus on quality, not quantity."

In my view we all have to be honest and clear whenever possible. That means that as Bloggers - which I guess I can now claim credentials - we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard than just writing opinions on Facebook.

I hope that you dear reader will see that I try and do that. You can only be the measure of my success. One of the best quotes about writing I ever heard was this one. It took me a while to find it but did in the end. (I thought it was attributed to HG Wells!!!)

There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.
- Brian Aldiss

In the third generation of the web - I hope that we can bring back some of the harnessing of the human collective intellect (as opposed to simple mass behaviour) to the machine available horsepower. Am I hopeful? Yes... but also skeptical. I hope that I can make you both think and wonder. Because wonder is that childlike quality that I hope we can all strive for.


Click Thru Rates Stabilize, Good News?

Click Through Rates (CTRs) have been falling consistently over the past 3 years. Much of this is due to the decline in effectiveness of the Banner Ad. Despite recent reports that there is good news for media owners and advertisers (actually mostly agencies) I don't think anyone should be a Hootin' and a Hollerin'. For a recent report from eMarketer on the subject go here. Indeed as Rich Barton stated at the PCW conference last week "don't spend money on advertising because it lets companies get lazy about product". The basic model for advertising continues to evolve but fundamentally the old fixed Ad model is less and less effective.

So when Rich said don't spend money on advertising he was not saying don't spend money to promote your product just don't expect to cover your product's inadequacies through a brand building exercise. You will get trapped and there is almost no way you can spend yourself out of that battle.

In my personal view getting a mix of Ad spend and product right is absolutely essential. Anyone who tries to decide whether to spend money on advertising or product should be taken out at dawn and shot. Product every time. However what about rewarding channels for helping you to acquire customers? Yes - so what I am saying is that we should be moving more to a CPA model. A truer pay per play model.