Alternate Universe Plot Twist: Twitter Earnings Call Stunner

Twitter finally goes hard at @Hottopic, launches pop-up mall retailer ‘#TrendingTopic’, to sell Vine celeb merch + 3D printed accessories. ‘they’ve been riding our realtime coattails for too long over there,’ said @dickc, in well under 140 characters. ‘starting now, if it trends, we vends.’

Analysts rejoiced: ‘we all wondered when Twitter was going to take a swing at the cash pinata that IS mall retailing…I can speak for the street when I say Cinnabon and STRONG BUY, baby!’

yes, I’m kidding.

“CSI: Algorithmic Justice” will be really boring but maybe important

Hearings are being held by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee, led by Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich), to explore whether Computer-Driven trading and “Conflicts of Interest” are “eroding investors” confidence in the stock market. (sarcastic comment goes here)

The pull quote in today’s WSJ piece by Scott Patterson (“Venues That Pay Get Orders: Broker“) caught my attention: under the photo of Flash Boy-famous Brad Katsuyama on C1, Senator Levin is quoted:

“We’ve got to rid our market of conflicts of interest [COI] to the extent that it’s humanly possible.”

the piece ends with Katsuyama:

“Disclosure and transparency will help people make the right decision” about how they trade, he said. “Right now a lot of it is opaque.”

But this isn’t about humans or people. High-Frequency-Trading fueled boom/busts are the logical (if to a human, occasionally irrational) results of algorithms executing their instructions with ruthless precision at speeds faster than ‘humanly possible‘. Software’s conquest of Wall Street has reduced reliance on slow, error-prone, occasionally-moral human cognition to drive profits: the algorithms (self-correcting, self-optimizing) are out there, working for the “haves”, dimly visible only when they cause a trillion dollars to disappear. Logically, of course.

clement valla

Google’s Algorithms bring the merger of satellite images and topographic maps to their logical conclusion in Clement Valla’s “Postcards from Google Earth” series

Does the Permanent Subcommittee hope to hold code accountable for its actions? Perhaps you could bust the creators on the first rev of the software, but assuming a few generations of self-optimization, will the code’s functional autonomy insulate its creators from culpability? Holy legal fees, Batman.

PS: doesn’t the human-driven financial industry have a history of growing rich exploiting holes in systems? If algorithms are simply faster to those holes, but operate within the “rules”, can you blame them? and who (or what) will go after them? And what will we do if we “catch” them? Next up, a really boring “CSI:Algorithmic Justice”?

Engineering morality – and human values – into code is the debate behind autonomous cars deciding who’s life matters more, thermostats spying on you and financial algorithms causing trillions to evaporate. This ain’t going away, as we rely on software and algorithms – known and unknown – in more and more of our lives.

But here’s the thought experiment: Will an algorithm ever be prosecuted? What will the statute of limitations say about code that self-optimizes itself into an entirely new form nano-seconds after a ‘crime’? and what will the sentence be?

“Early Stage”

PIE startup KS12 has unveiled “Early Stage“: a videosprint about startups, startup ecosystems, entrepreneurs and storytelling.

“Early Stage” weaves the stories of the recently graduated class of PIE startups – AppThwackCode ScoutsLittle BirdLytics, KS12, and Stublisher – with insights gathered from a mix of entrepreneurial-types and PIE alums including David Embree, CEO of AthletepathAndy Baio of XOXO fame, Brad Feld of Foundry Group and TechStars, entrepreneur and former investor Robin JonesUrban Airship CTO and Co-Founder Michael RichardsonGeoloqi CEO and Cyborg Anthropologist Amber Case, Global Executive Creative Director of Wieden+Kennedy John Jay, and myself – and culminating in the PIE class public launch on Demo Day.

PIE has successfully incubated some great tech companies, but this year marked the first effort to bring in storytelling start-ups that served up more content with their technology, and “Earlystage” is further evidence that in an age of rapid change, storytelling is both a deeply human need and a business-critical skill.


we are hard-wired for ‘same day’

Much of the heat around the Walmart and ‘eBay Now‘ plans to test same-day shipping has been generated through the positioning of these efforts as a ‘retail/e-tail battle royale’ with pretty much everyone against Amazon.

Rebecca Greenfield at The Atlantic writes: “Walmart will send Internet-purchased items to you the very same day as online check-out, in 5 select cities…Amazon already offers that same quick delivery time in 10 cities…Walmart [has] 4,000 stores primed for this delivery option…Amazon…40 warehouse distribution centers. That means Walmart could offer same-day delivery to a lot more people in far more obscure places.”

Game on!

There are operational and logistical hurdles to overcome (and Amazon’s done this “e-mmediate” thing before – remember Kosmo?), but with the global near-ubiquity of mobile, marketers should pay close attention: when you can impulse-buy anywhere there’s a data up/down, every brand impression is a potential point-of-sale.

Imagine: on your lunch break, you see a Coca-Cola awning – a minute with your mobile, and Amazon ‘Same-day’ has a case waiting on your doorstep when you get back from work. All the light touches that add up to our personal brand experiences – vending machines, retail signage, delivery trucks, packaging, social media, and yes, advertising – are purchase-enabled product shelving in the infinite aisle of Amazon.

(And people LIKE instant gratification – the more instant the better. We are hard-wired for same-day. That’s why 3-d printing is the next industrial revolution and all this will change again.)

Granular sales attribution to individual brand expressions may be hellish, but if Amazon, eBay and Walmart (and their partners) enable infinite-shelf impulse-buy, could this be a way for CMO’s to use their brand footprints in entirely new ways to drive revenue? Could an unintended consequence of “Same Day” be a reconsideration of the right column for ‘Marketing’ on the P&L (revenue, instead of expense?), and with it, a reconsideration of the value of brand communications in the overall revenue mix?

I think it’s cool to get stuff the same day. Or even better: yesterday.

what do you think?



PIE unveils six new startups @ Fall Demo Day 2012

Begun four years ago as a collaboration between Wieden+Kennedy, entrepreneurs, technologists and brands, PIE is a constantly evolving tech-fueled experiment in business and creative innovation. After an intense three-month program, six members of PIE’s current class (codename: #blueberry) took the Gerding theater stage to show their stuff on October 5th, 2012.

If you couldn’t join Friday’s #demoday in person, you can get a taste of the event through photos, the livestream recording, or the individual presentations onYouTube.

Here was the run of show:

Little Bird – brainchild of @marshallk@mikalina@tylergillies (aided and abetted by @DGaff, @xolotl@brennannovack@peat) – identifies influencers by the quality (not quantity) of their connections. Just before coming on stage, AdWeekTechcrunchThe Next WebAll Things DVenturebeatBetakitDigital TrendsGigaOmWired, and the WSJ noted that Little Bird closed a $1MM round – led by Mark Cuban. Watch Marshall’s #piedemo presentation here.

Next up was a company that put the “experiment” into Portland Incubator Experiment: Code Scouts, PIE’s first non-profit startup. Founder/Exec. Director Michelle Rowley created Code Scouts to tackle both the worsening developer shortage  AND the chronic lack of women coders with a flexible training regimen + internship opportunities meant to “change the face of technology”. She used the #piedemo stage to describe the pilot program’s success and how she intends to refine and scale the offering nationwide. (see her presentation here.)

KS12 was another experiment for PIE: our first content-based, “social video” startup. KS12 co-founders Patrizia Kommerell and Gabriel Shalom want to build the future of events – starting with how they are documented – through a collaborative, on- and offline content-generation process they call a “videosprint“.  Onstage at #piedemo, they unveiled #earlystage, their current piece tracking fellow blueberries through PIE and the broader startup ecosystem. The finished ‘sprint’ is to be unveiled November 16th (follow their sprint liveblog here, and see their #piedemo pitch here.)

Appthwack co-founders Trent Peterson and Pawel Wojnarowicz are ex-Intel guys who saw the tidal wave of mobile app development blow all to hell on the cliffs of Android ecosystem fragmentation and built a testing solution for Android apps so good that Mozilla has made it a mandatory QA step for all Firefox-for-Android releases. Appthwack used the #piedemo stage to unveil their plans to expand their offering to serve mobile web (done, check) and iOS testing (in the next two months). “makes big data useful”: CEO James McDermott and CTO Aaron Raddon saw lots of reports coming out of current analytics platforms, but didn’t see that data making software smarter. Anyone selling anything is now competing with Amazon and its big data – Lytics offers businesses a chance to level the playing field in terms of personalization and automated business decision-making. Aaron tells how Lytics can be YOUR “Moneyball” here.

Stublisher CEO Kyle Banuelos believes collective experiences like concerts and sporting events are our  shared social roots, and the Stublisher team wants to reinvent how we experience events before, during and after, using geo-fencing and social streams to tell new kinds of stories. “What Wikipedia did for knowledge, we’re doing for experiences.” Kyle tells the Stublisher story here.

Oh: and this time, we HAD A BAND!

Sans Yoko, Sneakin’ Out, the #piedemo house band KILLED: click, hear

Nice Package, Amazon Media Services

Amazon’s ‘Advertising Week’ splash revealed the worst-kept secret in online media and marketing: Amazon’s ambition to be a media/marketing powerhouse open for brand business. Adweek reported that Lisa Utzschneider (Amazon’s VP-Global Sales) “pitched Amazon’s ecosystem of websites and devices and showed off ads with Amazon’s familiar buy button” to a standing-room only crowd. “When it comes to advertising,” Ms. Utzschneider said, “we have applied many of our core tenets by starting with the customer and working our way backwards. We are actually running ads we are proud of.”

And then today, I received this:

COD Amazon Mailer

Amazon’s COD-branded packaging

Was this a part of the new offering for advertisers? The messaging outside seemed completely unrelated to the item I’d ordered (FYI: a copy of Tim Harford’s ‘Adapt‘). Is Amazon now delivering packaging custom-printed to age/demo/interest targeted recipients? Can you buy based on reach, frequency, DMA? We’ve seen what happens when systems get behavioral targeting wrong…now imagine the most questionable thing you’ve checked out on Amazon – or dodgy site “your friend” browsed while using your Kindle – and translate that into “behaviorally-targeted” product pitches in HUGE PRINT on the side of your mailers. Awesome.

But think of the creative possibilities an Amazon palette could enable: Time-targeted, geo-fenced, purchase and browser-history aware, behaviorally micro-targeted, personally ink-jetted messages and experiences? Exxxxcccellent, Smithers.

Just start from the customer and work backwards.

I’m hoping to connect with Ms. Utzschneider – more to come.



Bitcoin fluent mercs/hitmen for good

Exceptionally fit “gold farmers” selling grey-market Nike Fuel

goldfarmer (before)

goldfarmer (future)


“guilt by NFC”

data shadows and “acceptable levels of creepy”

automated social net “relationship decay

“denial of insight” database attacks

Adam Harvey, Dark Objects – “When is an Apple not an Apple?”


Renny rambles about things he likes, but mostly technology, culture, and marketing. Any resemblance to anything that seems like something his employers would condone is purely coincidental. As is his consistent and annoying use of the third person. Which he should stop.