Google’s car only solves half – if that – of the problem

I’ll admit that yes, Google’s self-driving cars, which the press got a look at yesterday and were able to take a spin around in, are pretty cool. I love the idea that cars can be made more safe, at least in part – by taking human error out of the equation. I know that there are still risks – Garbage In, Garbage Out is one thing when you’re talking about a computer program but another thing when you’re talking about a program that puts a ton of metal and machinery out there amidst kids and other pedestrians – but it’s at least an interesting bit of innovation.
But, building off that last bit above, it’s only half the innovation that’s necessary. The most disappointing thing about the Google car is that it looks so very, very much like a car. When I think of how transportation needs to evolve I think of two things being necessary:
First, we need to dispose entirely of the internal combustion engine. This is technology that, while it’s become slightly more efficient, hasn’t practically changed since it was introduced. I’ve long felt that this needs to be less the realm of radicals like Elon Musk and more a national priority on the level of NASA in the 1960s. The automobile industry was important enough for the federal government to bail many of its major players out during the financial crisis of a few years ago, so it stands to reason that the government should show some leadership and assign the best and the brightest resources available across the nation to sustaining it into the rest of this century, something that will require we abandon the idea of burning oil for the sole purpose of being able to $5 off a haircut.
Second, we need to radically rethink the infrastructure of this country, and the idea of a self-driving car is the perfect opportunity to do that. Is there anything good about how things are setup right now? There are too many roads that have too many maintenance and construction needs and too many opportunities for a serious accident that, at best, can lead to major costs associate with repair of the car itself or some other piece of property or, at worst, injury or death to a person whether they’re in a car or walking alongside the street. These are serious problems that our current infrastructure creates and there’s nothing that’s really being done to alleviate them.
There are so many solutions here – more small businesses, fewer planned communities that require five minutes of driving just to get out of and which are devoid of any shopping or entertainment that are within walking distance, more emphasis on public transportation – that the mind boggles when I consider their obviousness. But all this will require a national rethinking of what our priorities are followed by consumer demand for these solutions. Businesses aren’t going to do any of this without knowing it’s what people want. So it’s time for people to start wanting them. The government – be it federal, state or local – can provide leadership in these areas, but ultimately it’s time to vote for a better infrastructure system with our wallets.

This Is Where I Leave You trailer

I know this seems kind of corny – a lot of people on Twitter have been calling out the fact that it’s about yet another family of well-off white people who are having relationship issues, a topic that’s been covered on film extensively – but darn it if I don’t dig this trailer. In particular what jumps out at me is Tina Fey, who seems to be channeling some cool, uber-natural type of performance that’s free, at least as far as I can see here, of ticks and quirks. Combine her with Jason Bateman you have a movie that’s almost scientifically guaranteed to be one that I’m inclined to see. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Current Status



Why I left Secret

For the last couple months I’ve been trying out Secret, the popular app that allows you to post anonymously and, as the name would imply, then safely share secrets you wouldn’t post to Twitter or otherwise say publicly. But about a week ago I decided I was done with it and deleted it from my iPhone. Here’s why:

To some extent I was getting zero value out of what I was reading. Occasionally there was something funny someone shared, but overall nothing there was all that interesting to me. I agreed with some of the comments people made about tech or PR industry culture, but that was about it.

But the primary reason I left is that I felt little to no need to actually be anonymous. I found the things I was posting there were just kind of…dumb. Yeah, they were things I couldn’t say on Twitter because they were likely to be found politically incorrect (either societally or within my industry) and would just cause problems if I said them publicly. Some were mean. Some were said out of frustration at one thing or another. None were exactly secrets, but they were all some level of rant.

And I realized that participation on Secret went against a principle I’ve maintained since I first started getting involved online 15+ years ago: That when I say something and take a stand I put my damn name on it. There’s a good case to be made for anonymity online in a number of situations, but if I’m going to state an opinion I should have the courage to stand behind it, and putting my name next to it is the most solid way to do that.

It comes down to a mix of having the courage of my convictions and the basic concept that if I don’t anything nice to say, then maybe I just shouldn’t say it.

I’m not questioning the value of Secret or other apps/networks based on anonymity. I’m just saying it wasn’t for me because, while it may sound a tad pretentious, I fancy myself a bit better than what it offers.

Twitter’s Mute Is Bad News for Brand Reach

twitter-bird-blue-on-white.pngLast week Twitter rolled out a new feature that’s as much good news for the everyday user as it is potentially bad news for brand publishers: The new Mute button will allow people to essentially hide updates from an account that they feel over-publishes or has otherwise become an annoyance more than a source of new, interesting and engaging material. This may be that person you met at the airport last week and who you now know is a fan of the most extreme theories on every topic. Or, more troubling for brand publishers, a brand account that someone has now lost interest in.

What’s problematic for brand publishers are a couple of things:

First off, some metrics will stay the same while others could change drastically. The number of people Following an account will, presumably, remain the same but the number of people who are actually seeing those updates will be much less, thus making that Followers metric even dicier than it was before.

Followers have always been a weak number since it never truly represented the number of people who see published updates. Reach has been slightly better, but even it isn’t perfect. That’s why it’s been so necessary for so long that Twitter start providing better native metrics that better show the number of users for whom a particular Tweet was actually loaded or something similar.

Second, there does not appear to be a way to see who’s muted an account’s updates or how many have done so. There’s an opportunity here for a metric that, while it may not be the most positive, is still an important number to learn from. After all, these are people who have signaled, in a round-about way, that an account is still important to them even if they don’t want to receive their updates.

Along with that, there’s no way to contact these people outside of a DM, which may not be welcome considering they’ve muted the account now trying to DM them. So there’s no way to ask them what the reason behind the Mute was or make an appeal for them to come back. That means not only is a lot of interesting feedback being left on the table, but that person may not ever think to unmute an account unless they see it in someone else’s update.

With all that in mind, this is a good time for brand publishers to take another look at their Twitter publishing strategy and make sure it’s working, not just for themselves but for the audience as well. This is a question publishers should be asking regularly, but given how the audience now has a whole new way of signaling their discontent with content volume, tone, topic or other factors.