Data exhaust trails

Another useful insight from Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think:  

A term of art has emerged to describe the digital trail that people leave in their wake: “data exhaust”. it refers to data that is shed as a byproduct of people’s actions and movements in the world. For the Internet, it describes users’ online interactions: where they click, how long they look at  apage, where the mouse-cursor hovers, what they type, and more. Many companies design their systems so that they can harvest data exhaust and recycle it, to improve an existing service or to develop new ones. Google is the undisputed leader. 

As datafication continues, our data exhaust trails get larger: cameras and other sensors, carried by people and installed in .

Cisco’s Chief Futurist says shops’ CCTV will become the equivalent of web analytics to examine how shoppers are making their choices and allowing shops to optimise their layouts and even their offers in realtime… 

As video pixel counts increase, retailers will use video surveillance to hone in on shoppers with new levels of precision, determining demographic traits like, age, sex, and more. In-store activities can also be monitored with video, including display effectiveness, customer traffic patterns, and aisle dwell time. All of this data can be assessed in real time to adjust store operations dynamically. For example, the number of open registers could be increased based on an the number of shoppers in the store; heat maps will show which aisles attract the most traffic; and object detection can figure out which items shoppers are interacting with most.

This trend is at once exciting from a business and data strategy point of view and concerning from a personal point of view. How can we manage our web shadows when we aren’t even sure what data we are leaving behind us? 

Business model prisoners

While most companies become prisoners of their business models, one way to deal with this is to have a strong strategy that means you know when shift to new models and products when the time is right. 

Broadstuff’s “All you need to know about Apple in 3 easy steps” suggests that the Cupertino giant may have this kind of strategic fortitude, with the consequence that financial markets get huffy because it means quarter-on-quarter performance is not the first priority. 

look at Apple over 35 years and you will see that they:

1. Are typically a very early entrant, integrating a variety of existing systems in a hitherto poorly served early adopter sector with promise, to create an easy-to-use product.

2. Use great design to create a demand for a high margin product. In recent years they have also become “cuter” at doing software as well as hardware after being caught out by the MS-DOS ecosystem

3. As that market matures, retreat to the highest profit quartile. Follow the money, not the volume.

So great has been Apple’s performance in recent years that the markets have created their own expectations bubble about performance. 

Google Glass and privacy


Jan Chipchase blows away the froth around the Google Glass/privacy conversation: 

As a product that is both on-your-face and in-your-face, Glass is set to become a lightning rod for a wider discussion around what constitutes acceptable behavior in public and private spaces. The Glass debate has already started, but these are early days; each new iteration of hardware and functionality will trigger fresh convulsions. In the short term, Glass will trigger anger, name-calling, ridicule and the occasional bucket of thrown water (whether it’s ice water, I don’t know). In the medium term, as societal interaction with the product broadens, signs will appear in public spaces guiding mis/use1 and lawsuits will fly, while over the longer term, legislation will create boundaries that reflect some form of im/balance between individual, corporate and societal wants, needs and concerns.

In Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants thesis, Google Glass is an inevitability – we could see it coming a mile off. Ban it if you like, ignore it if you like, but you can’t un-invent it or the technologies it bundles together. 

We are surrounded by thousands of cameras and microphones everyday in the hands of our fellow citizens. Some even play with surveillance drones at the weekend. 

All of this technology will only get more common, cheaper, smaller. 

What are we going to do about it? 

Agency innovation, infographics and growth: Brilliant Noise posts and news

Over the last couple of weeks the blog at Brilliant Noise has really taken off – mainly because we’ve been joined by some talented bloggers with interesting things to say. Inspired by them I’ve also written a post I’m really pleased with!

There’s no elegant way to cross-post stuff here, so I’ll furnish you with some links to the posts – let me know what you think…

Can agencies innovate? by me…

Talking at Google Firestarters – an event for the agency planning community in London – last week, I was one a of a bunch of people briefed with provoking debate about agencies and innovation. Playing on the structure and sentiment of Netflix’s brilliant strategy (“…become HBO faster than HBO can become us”) I suggested that agencies needed to innovate their business models to…

”[…] become McKinsey faster than McKinsey can become us.”


This is pithy way of saying embrace disruptive innovation. Embrace it because the times are a-changing, because if you don’t do it, someone is going to come and do it for you. Disrupt your own business models, find new ones, think about how marketing services are going to change – and then become the change. Invent your future.

Pleading the case for bread and butter content by Lauren Pope

Speaking at the brightonSEO conference a week or two back, Lauren made a strong case for content marketing to prioritise content that is actually useful to customers…

By bread and butter, I mean static or evergreen content; the stuff that answers questions like who, what, where, when, why, how much, and helps users to accomplish the task they came to your website with in mind. Affordable, practical and sustaining – it should be the staple in your content diet.


If the content I’m talking about is bread and butter, then I think viral content is jelly beans: it’s tasty and gives you a sugar rush, but not healthy in the long-term. But despite this, I think bread and butter content is sometimes pushed to the edge of the plate at the moment, in favour of the more colourful and exciting project of trying to ‘go viral’.

It’s great when you’re straight(forward) – yeah! by Ross Breadmore

Ross picked up Lauren’s theme and expanded it to marketing strategy, pointing out a number of factors that keep marketers addicted to the spectacular, when customers are just looking for brands to do their job and keep their promises. For example “presentation-ism”:

Bread simply isn’t sexy. It’s not as appealing to stand at a conference and explain how you understood the needs of your average user and then redesigned the IA on your product pages accordingly, when you could be showing impressive download stats of a mobile app created with a spurious campaign in mind. Likewise when sending round the measurement report at the end of the quarter, would you rather tell stories of incremental shifts in customer satisfaction through a social customer service portal, or report a massive spike in ‘engagement’ caused by some zeitgeist-y activity and a chunk of paid advertising?

How to create a good infographic by Beth Granter 

On a very practical note, our data specialist, Beth gives a useful run-down on how to make an infographic that’s (a) actually an infographic and not an illustration and (b) engaging and useful. Especially useful if you’re not a data expert yourself, as it gives you some god hints on how to brief designers.

Meet the team… 


Lastly, the Brilliant Noise team has been growing in recent months. I’ve put up some posts – but here’s some links…


Artefact Cards and liminal states: creative thinking breakthrough tools


There’s a long, long list in my subconscious that I hardly dare look at: Things I Should Have Blogged.

The items comprise three types:

  • Important ideas that have taken up residence in my head. For instance, liminal states.
  • Useful tools and ways of working. For instance Artefact Cards.
  • Opinions taking shape. For instance, just because a system like digital advertising is  corrupted doesn’t mean it won’t be with us for decades to come.

I may come back to the third and pot it out in the nursery of ideas here on this blog, with a media agency-proof fence around it to give it a fair chance of developing or not, but for now I’ve got a chance to right the first two examples in one post.

This week, I had a lovely conversation with John Willshire, who developed the Artefact Cards product, about how I have been working with them. You can listen to the whole thing here as John recorded it with a very snazzy microphone and iPad Mini set-up.

Artefact Cards are a really simple tool. Playing card size bits of card, white on one side and coloured on the other. You draw words and pictures on them with a Sharpie pen and them lay them out, re-arrange them and in this way organise thoughts and ideas.


As we talked, we got onto the subject of the liminal state in the creative thinking process (which for my money includes developing strategy). My friend Jim Byford introduced me to this immensely useful concept.

In the context of creative and strategic thinking, the liminal state is what you find yourself in just before you have a breakthrough, or just before you fully understand something, make it yours. For instance, if you can recall trying to learn your lines for a play, the liminal state is where you are just before the words settle and take up residence in your memory – and then you can start using them, adding your inflections and emotions, making them your own.

I’ve very often found the thinking at this point in the creative process intensely uncomfortable. Whether writing a book or a plan or a pitch – it’s a kind of temporary agony, a dark tunnel I pass through where I think you know nothing and will never have another good idea again, and then it passes and there’s the the idea I need, the answer that fits.

Knowing that this is something called a “liminal state”, it makes it easier to handle. In psychology / neuroscience, this is an example of “affect labelling“. If you can name the feeling you have, you can put yourself slightly outside it, understand what is happening to you and that it will pass.

The other thing that understanding the liminal state does is help you to stop trying to “jump to the answer”, as Jim put it to me. Because liminality feels uncomfortable, you want out – to end the feeling and go with the first idea, the obvious one, the easy one. The danger here is that your creative/strategic solution will be mundane, run-of-the-mill and doomed.

You have to go through the confusion, live with it for a little while, sit still while the ideas and thoughts, disconnected and jagged, whiz around your head.

Then they settle. Then you see it: what it is all about.

It’s simple, it was there all along… as Duncan Watts points out, it feels obvious once you it is something that you understand. You pitch it to yourself: it works. You pitch it to a colleague: they don’t hate it, maybe even like it. With each airing the idea gains coherence, legitimacy – becomes more eloquently and credibly articulated as you and others breathe belief into the thing.

Speaking with John Willshire about how I had been using his Artefact Cards, I realised that I like them because they are a good tool for helping that settling process, of working steadily through the seemingly nonsensical maze of thoughts, ideas and concepts and helping some kind of order emerge. Much like throwing down ideas on a white-board, scribbling out mind-maps or any other visual thinking method – but they feel slightly more agile – you can move ideas around, try them in different shapes more rapidly.

In the example I talk about, it’s not even that I reached the solution – the outline of an ebook in this case, but I was able to move on to that only after I had made sense of all of the ideas. Seen their shape laid out in this way. That’s something John says is a recurring theme in people’s use of the cards – seeing the “shape of ideas”.


Artefact Cards are another tool in the box for thinking, perfect sometimes for working through those liminal states. Worth a spin with the trial pack, I reckon.

Trying out the Logitech iPad Mini keyboard

I really liked the Logitech Ultrathin keyboard for the full size iPad (which I blogged about previously), so I thought that investing in the mini version would be a good idea, now that I am utterly devoted to my iPad Mini as a reading and note-taking device.



Image: The hands of a giant! 

It takes a little getting used to, to say the least, as the keyboard is definitely more compact. At first, I felt like I had regressed several decades as a typist and needed to spend 70% of my time looking at the keys to make sure I was hitting the right ones. How useful this accessory is depends on how quickly one adapts to mini-typing…



Image: The ultrathin keyboard beside a full-size Apple Wireless keyboard.

However, for me, the switch-over progressed quickly, paragraph by paragraph, and the thing makes the iPad into the cutest little computing device I’ve seen since that late-90s Cambrian explosion of devices when Windows CE launched (my favourite was the tiny, laptop version of the HP Jornada series and apparently part of my gadget-loving soul is constantly seeking out a replacement for that lost writing machine. Because writing device was what it was, more than a decade before MacBook Airs and their ilk – a slim, light, long-battery life writing machine.

ZZ2CF2A036Image: A 1990s HP Jornada, the Windows CE device I still have a geeky soft spot for… 


Google’s “Yay” vs. Twitter’s nuanced view

A Broadstuff post about the Summly acquisition by Yahoo! looks at the story as a test for how well Google works as a search engine vs. Twitter. 

Now, Google works better than anything out there if you know what it is you want to find, but Twitter, Broadstuff asserts, is where you go to understand what’s really going on… 

Read Google, and you’d barely know anything about Summly because the first 7 pages comprise of press regurgitation and it has utterly failed at telling you anything useful about it….

…But search Twitter, and you get a totally different story. Twitter, despite a reputation for being celebrity and inanity obsessed, is in fact – on the basis of my search anyway, far less so than Google. What is certain is that Twitter gave me a far fuller picture, within the first page I got, and, in this case anyway was the better search engine by far.

The whole media world optimises for Google, it goes on to say, which is making it less useful.

Visual notes and video


John Willshire‘s video review of The Sketchnote Handbook is lovely in a number of ways: 

  1. It’s a good, thorough review of how it may be a useful book. 
  2. It shares some of the insights from the book – my favourite is how sketch-noting can create a “concentration forcefield” for the note-taker…
  3. It’s a nice format for a video blog post, using John’s own Artefact Cards (something I’ve been using myself for mapping out ideas – must blog about that soon…).

Here’s the video:

I spotted the video via Andrew Sleigh’s blog, who has some interesting things to say about using simple, short online films as a format.