Big Data

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Use for Big Data

Everyone is talking about Big Data these days (in between conversations about Kate Middleton pics, the 2012 election and, of course, the iPhone 5).

Big data is a buzzword, and I’m not even sure most people know what it means. See Chris Moschovitis’ and my interview with Media Post’s Charlene Weisler. ( Shorthand it means crunching the numbers we have on our users to come up with things of value or actionable strategies.

Think of all the data Facebook potentially knows about me, for example. I’m a middle-aged woman in Manhattan whose interests include both horses and dogs, who has a friend who is a jewelry designer and who has an unusually large number of relatives. Multiply that by the 47 kazmillion Facebook profiles and what you have is Big Data.

But is anyone set up to really use big data in a meaningful way? If, for example, you wanted to do target advertising, could you do it effectively? Is it really “targeting” if your creative doesn’t align with your segmentation? How is that creative alignment even possible at this level of big data?

These are just some of the questions that come up around big data. Today, however,  I was thrilled to receive evidence of a small but meaningful use of big data. noticed that I was consistently deleting their AmazonLocal emails. So look what I got…

Amazon is crunching the data to produce a better user experience and stop sending useless emails.


How the Chinese are Winning the Cyberwar

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Is your company’s security as good as Google’s, Nasdaq’s or Lockheed’s?

Let’s all hope it’s better. Because all of the companies named above have admitted to being victims of cyber-espionage. Estimates revealed in congressional testimony suggest ninety-four percent of companies have been hacked. FBI Director Robert Mueller says that cyber-attacks will soon replace terrorism as the agency’s number-one concern.

So why aren’t we hearing about it?

Because all our major institutions—government, the news media, and business— continue to suffer from technology deficit disorder. Look at the Stop Online Piracy Act—the one Wikipedia protested by going dark. Lawmakers so fundamentally misunderstood the issues at stake in online piracy and privacy that they were forced to withdraw the bill.

As for the news media, I have already written more than my fair share about their fawning and sycophantic position towards Apple Computer, one that has mostly ignored everything from device flaws to (until recently) unconscionable labor practices.

Nor have business leaders educated themselves on technology—which is more and more the backbone of modern business. If CEOs tune in at all to their technological advisers, what they hear is the soundtrack of Charlie Brown’s teacher.

So while we rattle our sabers at Iran and North Korea, American companies continue to pay for research that Chinese companies are regularly hacking and stealing for free. We need to acknowledge that there is a different war, a modern war, being waged and won right under our noses.

How Business Jargon Hurts Business and What You Can Do about It

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“What do you mean the helpdesk program won’t cover all systems?” my most valuable customer said.

“I thought we were only talking about the main system,” I stammered, confused.

“All systems. All systems,” he repeated. “We covered this on the conference call last week!”

Immediately I knew what had happened. My customer and I had run aground on the rocks of business jargon. He is a great guy, and we have had a ten-plus year relationship. However, he is one of the worst business-jargon offenders I know.

What he said to me was undoubtedly something like, “We need to think value-add here. An extensible program. So that at the end of the day we can provide a 360-degree solution to the customer.”

The message, “Please expand your helpdesk proposal to cover all systems,” was obscured in a fog of non-communication.

Any of these sound familiar?

At the end of the day

On a go-forward basis

Learning as a noun. (Our key “learnings…”)


Manage expectations

Low-hanging fruit

Break down silos

Take a 360-degree view

Think outside the box

Out of pocket

Solutions provider


Tee up

Circle back

30,000-foot view

Value Add

Best practice


Core competency

Take offline

For any of these phrases, there is a more direct way to say what you mean. “Take offline,” translates to, “You and I need to speak privately.” But do all hearers of “take offline” really get that? Worse, I’ve noticed many users of the “take offline” phrase are simply parroting business jargon to bat away an issue they’d rather not deal with at all. (A fun exercise would be to evaluate all of the above for both their real meaning and their misuse.)

As a former English teacher, I am ashamed of how much business-speak creeps into my own talking and writing, no matter how much I strive to resist.

Why is it so hard? Why do we do it? Some key reasons…

Ego—We think it makes us sound smarter.

Fads—At first, a phrase sounds cool, and it’s picked up. Think of how viral “at the end of the day” became.

Lack of thought—It’s hard to search for a word. When pat phrases are sitting right there, you grab for them.

Cowardice—We fear making a direct request or statement, so we cloak it in jargon.

Because of what occurred to me this week, I realize the cost of repetitive, jargon-y, indirect speech is not just the annoyance or irritation it causes to grammarians and linguists. If you are not clear, important things you need to get done don’t.

Years ago, the famed William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well was the bible for up-and-coming writers and editors. Zinsser’s manual is a how-to on eliminating jargon, unnecessary repetition, and tuning words for clarity. I recommend it.

Apple vs. Amazon; Device vs. Content

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The word “content” is used six times in this 448-word article on the Kindle Fire. Out-of-the box content, the article asserts, along with a decent price, is what accounts for the Fire, clunky as it is, being second only to the iPad in tablet sales. Coincidentally, the article also notes that Amazon is second only to Apple as consumers’ favorite brand.

The Apple vs. Amazon question is, essentially, the Device vs. Content question. Apple is the standard bearer of the device. A gadget-maker, Apple’s goal is to get devices into the hands of the consumer. To Apple, content is leverage. Its strategy is to hold content hostage (iTunes) in order to sell devices. As for the printed word, Steve Jobs once famously said–and didn’t seem to be bothered by saying– that people don’t read anymore.

Conversely, the Amazon strategy is all about providing content, with a solid foundation in the book. The company removes the friction for consumers to get and pay for the content they want. It puts cheaper and cheaper devices into their hands to do this. Amazon doesn’t seem to care if their first generation devices are thought of as “clunky” (Kindle version 1 and Fire version 1.) Interestingly, consumers don’t seem to care either. While Apple devices are rightfully lauded for hitting a design pinnacle no one has been able to achieve before, Amazon devices are snapped up by content-hungry consumers, glad to have a “good enough” access point to the content they want. And the voracious consumption of Kindle books contradicts, of course, the aforementioned position on reading.

It will be interesting to see how the contest between these two companies shapes up. As for me, I will be rooting for the content. Because it is content, not devices, that keep culture and civilization alive.

Is Steve Jobs Jesus?

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See my post today on open salon.

In the early days, Steve Jobs came to a company Halloween party dressed as Jesus (NYT, link below). Now, after his death, the media and fans are treating him like a dead messiah.