Category Archives: Innovation

Dynamic Clustering, a new ad targeting methodology

This article is a summary of my proposed methodology to targeting web users with relevant ads, but without intrusion, e.g. without third-party cookies. The original version, including a broader depiction of the context, is a longer post in French : “Le régime sans cookies, le nouvel âge du ciblage sur internet

Basically, as related in many articles, including previous posts on this blog (see for instance “Giving up cookies for a new internet… The third age of targeting is at your door“), the usage of third-party cookies is bond to dwindle, if not to disappear. Some solutions have already been submitted, such as fingerprinting (still intrusive though) or unique identifiers (but too much linked to the major existing internet companies).

So, we need a non-intrusive contextual targeting solution, which takes privacy protection into account. This is the core idea of my proposed solution, e.g. “dynamic clustering“.

Ciblage_Données

How does it work?

  1. Based on ISP and/or Operator log files, browsing data will be collected and anonymized (for instance through a double-anonymization filter) so as to protect one’s user privacy; Anonymous
  2. Files will be cleaned (“noise-reduction” processes), and organized at various categorization levels, so as to generate multiple dimensions, all of them rich and flexible. This will allow to create “outlined profiles” for each unique anonymous user; Categorization
  3. Using these dimensions, clusters will be generated, made of users with similar usage behaviors, based on each advertiser’s hypothesis, creating hence an infinite number of target groups, whose volatility is an asset, as it will always cover the client issue of the given moment.

ClusterSo yes, the no-cookie diet is possible… And it goes along with a more virtuous targeting of the internet users…

Convinced by this new diet? Willing to collaborate to the recipe development? Let’s meet!

Data Privacy, between a rock and a hard place

How are we to handle Data Privacy? Through goodwill, as original free internet promoters would like to? Or through coercive regulation measures, as government bodies are prone to? This definitely is no easy dilemma…

The Marketing Mobile Association in France has been willing to put the question on the table, last Wednesday (Feb 12th), on the very same day when the US were having the so-called “safer internet day”. The meeting venue was more on the goodwill side, as the event has been hosted by the Mozilla Foundation in their Paris office. A nice place, by the way, see for yourself…

Mozilla Meeting Room

The discussion panel was more balanced, with Etienne Drouard attorney at K&L Gates, specialized in Privacy matters, and Geoffrey Delcroix, CNIL Innovation Director (CNIL being the French Internet Regulatory Body), as well as Hervé Le Jouan, CEO of Privowny, and Tristan Nitot, Principal Evangelist Mozilla Europe (a brilliant coffee brewer as well…), the whole thing being moderated by Bruno Perrin, Media & Entertainment Leader at EY.

Between tools to manage oneself’s privacy (see my own selection at the bottom of this post) and various comments to the Privacy Laws, the main impression that remains from this panel discussion is that handling Data Privacy is like walking on a tight rope…

Two opposite views are currently cleaving the internet:

  • On one side, the “libertarian” internet promoters, with their concepts based on freedom as wide as possible (net neutrality, open data, open source, etc…), whose view of privacy is linked to each person individual right to protect one’s privacy. A global “do-not-track” by default would certainly please them, especially if companies are to respect it forcefully…
  • On another side, at the opposite of the scope, we have the state bodies, willing to set more control on the internet, as this is something that they do not only misunderstand, but also fear; in this respect, they wish to instate regulations, privacy by design, control over content, etc…

And, in the middle, the so-called “new economy”, all these companies and people trying to make a sensible use of the internet… Not easy, mmh? What I understood very clearly from the panel discussion is that none of the extreme behaviors depicted above would give internet a chance. Setting “do-not-track” by default would simply lead companies to ignore it, and hence kill the idea. And on the other side, regulating the market by law would technically make it die, in the end. Hence, the tight rope strategy is the only one that remains, with a difficult balance between market freedom and people’s protection, between business and privacy…

So what are we left with? We can try to manage our own privacy, and ensure it does not go beyond the borders we have set. Nobody lives in a cave with no contact to the outside any more (as this would probably be the only way to fully protect one’s privacy…). But nobody wants to live constantly under the eyes of watchers, as in a personal Truman Show, especially when your information is wanted for their business… We may go on using internet, conscious that we are watched, but managing this, and knowingly give our consent wherever we believe it makes sense, blocking all other non-sollicited requests…

There are many tools to do so. Probably too many. I personally use five.

  1. An ad-blocker: this is not a must have, but it may be useful , especially to speed up your browsing. I use AdBlock, a Chrome extension. The disadvantage of this, is that most ad-blockers do not offset the changes in the layout of the website, making it sometimes barely readable (as for instance my favorite sport page, Sport24). And do not forget that most sites earn their money thanks to the ads… So I disable it now and then, especially when visiting sites with less audience.
  2. A user/password manager: this is highly interesting, to ensure you know what and where you have been logging in, and ensure nobody is using some of your identities without you knowing it. I am using the Privowny tool bar, a very useful add-on.
  3. An identity verifier: this is for Twitter in particular. To avoid being followed (and spammed) by robots and fake followers, I am using TrueTwit, a simple (and not so expensive) tool to filter and verify any Twitter user. I have less followers now, but only real people…
  4. A do-not-track option: I also use, now and then, the do-not-track feature in my browser (Chrome). This I do especially when shopping or banking online, so as to minimize the amount of cookies shared by these companies that also own very personal information of mine. I know, this is more a wishful thinking, but at least shows that I am not ready to let everything leak.
  5. A graphical cookie tracer: I have uploaded CookieViz from the CNIL website, a free software to visualize your browsing, and the cookies that have been shared with third parties. At least, when you browse websites, including your favorite ones, you know what you are at… Below a short description of this tool (currently only available for Windows OS, soon to come for Mac and Unix).

CookieViz example

The picture shows a session for 7 browsed sites (9 views total). The 7 websites are “circled” with red pentagons. Up right is Sport24 (link provided above), below e-commerce website CDiscount.fr and information website LeMonde.fr.

At the bottom, from right to left, a gaming website BigPoint.com, my About.me profile and this blog’s dashboard page. In the middle, Avinash Kaushik’s blog (Occam’s Razor), showing that even the blog of a respected digital evangelist like Avinash may share third-party cookies…

The graph is, I believe, self-explanatory; the visited websites (red pentagons) are generating cookies (all blue round spots), which are kept for first-party usage (blue links) or shared with third-party (red links). To be clear, I have disabled the AdBlock to generate this graph, so as to prevent partial representation.

This tool is highly interesting in my eyes. It does not block anything, but shows you everything. At least, the user knows what happens when he/she visits a website, and may decide to go on browsing, or choose alternatives websites with a better sharing policy, especially regarding third-party cookies.

A better informed customer always makes better choices.

Telecom Operators: dinosaurs or mutants? Wanna know the answer? Really?

On Monday June 24th in the evening, I have attended a promising conference about the Telecom Operators 2020 agenda, organized by the G9+ think tank (Twitter: @InstitutG9plus). Top flyers on stage, top attendees in the room, alumni from the best French schools, I was expecting high-level discussions and impressive insights for the future.

How can I tell? Except for some bashing on Twitter (hashtag: #G9plus), the talks have been formal and conventional, focused on technical issues, and especially on the carrier mission of the Telecom Operators. As stated by John Stratton, President Verizon Enterprise Solutions, in a pre-recorded interview, “my core is still my core”; blatantly, Verizon does not expect to become some kind of software vendor or content provider, but will remain mostly an infrastructure company.

Same during the panel talks, including namely Thierry Bonhomme, Senior Exec VP Orange Business Services, when 90% of the talks have been focused on the communication pipelines, such as LTE/4G or Fiber, and only in the very last minutes, the contents have been mentioned, mostly to say that this is none of the Operators’ business…

So, are Telecom Operators dinosaurs or mutants? Clearly, undoubtedly, Dinos.

This is a bit scary for the future, I must say. as Telecom Operators currently use most of their power to prevent anything dangerous to happen, and to protect their positions. See Benoit Felten paper on ZDNet (in French…) about the will of the Telecom Industry to promote more Protectionism in Europe, and you will get my point…

Telecom Operators are acting like Automakers who would promote their cars solely by taking the breadth of the road into account, so that more cars would be able to drive at the same time. But clients do not care for broader roads, they care for better cars, less costly, less consuming, more sustainable, more user-friendly…

A lot of possible innovations and development options for Telecom Operators are still open, should they believe that their fiercer competitors in chasing the Telecom client added value are not other Telco’s but are rather named Google, Apple, Samsung, Amazon…

So, what next? Just yelling at Telecom Operators, I shall use Solofo Rafeno’s sentence (adapted from one of his yesterday’s Twit): “Gentlemen ! What if you talked about your future, Added-Value Services, Cloud, Apps, new forms of distribution, affiliation, instead of bits & bytes…”

Penny-pinching innovation vs. sustainable profitability (further thoughts)

In my initial post on Innovation, I have insisted on how a successful organization comes to delaying innovative initiatives, as it may endanger its profitability, especially in the case of a new generation of managers. I have read this morning a post by Seth Godin on Seth’s blog, dealing with this same topic: “Urgency and accountability are two sides of the innovation coin“.

His blog post starts with this sentence: “As organizations and individuals succeed, it gets more difficult to innovate.”

I cannot agree more. But I believe Seth has a romantic view of the fading innovation spirit within successful organizations. “Fear of failing” is not enough to describe this. Fear of losing money would be much appropriate, even though it is highly down to earth!

People who have built successful organizations usually are entrepreneurs, highly prone to introduce breakthrough innovation, push new ideas, make swift decisions on investments. They are willing to endanger the current situation is they believe the next innovation may bring something better, another horizon.

Steve Jobs has been a very good example for this; if one only considers the recent time periods, introducing the iPhone when most of the market was dealing with mobile phone miniaturization was a change of paradigm. Once this had worked, he launched the iPad, when everyone was conjecturing about netbooks, taking again everyone wrong-foot. The fact that the visionary Steve Jobs is not here any more, combined with the public listing of Apple, implies many doubts on the possibility for Apple to keep this innovation edge on the long-term (at least when all projects stamped “initiated by Steve Jobs” will be achieved, if they ever are).

And still Steve Jobs has also failed (see this page for awesome Apple failures: http://www.oobject.com/category/12-failed-apple-products/). But he never gave up, did not have fear of losing money, when he believed there was something to win behind some concepts. And some of these failures, actually, are successes nowadays…

So, for entrepreneurs, fear of failing is not a limitation for innovation, it rather is a stimulus to do better, as they are not accountable for someone else, only for themselves and their own profits.

I believe that innovation is made much harder, when the second generation of managers inherits a profitable situation, for which they believe to be more accountable than for the entrepreneur spirit of the company. And with such an administrative management, the company will have to deal with a dwindling will to innovate, not for fear of failing, but rather for fear of jeopardizing that comfortable bottom line. So the inevitable consequences: required consensus, evaluation committee, long-term planning, short-term ROI… All those tepid decision processes that in the end conclude it is urgent not to decide.

So that is not the fear of failing, that is the fear of losing what predecessors have won. Administrators vs. entrepreneurs.

To regain an innovation spirit, you either need a looming catastrophe or a furious competition breakthrough, usually coming from a small entrepreneur, who has not only nothing to lose, but most certainly everything to win…

So my question from my previous post remains:

Is innovation still compatible with profit-making policies within such companies, especially for those that are public-listed? Or are big companies bound to innovate solely through the buyout of small innovators’ businesses?

Still looking for some answers…

Penny-pinching innovation vs. sustainable profitability

As it seems, being successful in an Innovation division within some profitable companies may somehow be difficult, if not impossible. Let me elaborate.

I have attended in Paris – a few weeks ago – a very interesting conference on Innovation, by Francis Pisani, following up his 10-month world tour of Innovation (links to his blogs at the bottom of this post). Francis told us of vivid examples of highly refreshing ideas, most of them very simple, some of them somewhat unexpected. At this occasion, I have learnt about “serendipity“, a very interesting concept I must admit I did not know before, which seems to be – unfortunately for innovators – a key factor in the discovery of new trends and products…

Still, all of these initiatives have been led by people who are totally convinced of one thing: only innovation will allow them to solve the issues they are facing. So continuous investment in innovation is the key, and the one who goes asleep is bound to decay and eventually to die.

I knew several people in the audience, and while listening to their comments and experiences, I could realize that Innovation is an area where jobs are especially under pressure. A whole lot of them are experiencing drastic budget restrictions, if not cuts, like myself, and this for very different sectors (Food, Beauty, Consumer Electronics).  For those with remaining significant budgets, a strong ROI controlling is behind their back, and this at the earliest stages of their projects.

A specific case in the food sector was namely related and is illustrating this. Should innovation’s newly developed product fail to reach pre-defined sales rates in the very first weeks of their on-shelf presence, they would be rejected. Even if user pre-tests are satisfying, even if new clients are acquired, even if a niche has been detected. The driving word is ROI, but not on the long-term, to help defining new ranges of products and new business opportunities, but on the short-term. Cash-flow first.

There may be several reasons to such behaviors and budget reductions (business decision, financial strategy, economic environment), but I do believe this is mostly due to the disappearance of the entrepreneurial spirit. To counterbalance the cold reasoning of a finance director, there is a need for vision, a will to look over the hedge, to find new grounds for development and even adventure. Let me give an example: in the nineteenth century, if American settlers had looked first at the danger of moving westward, the US would be highly different nowadays… But the hope for something better was so much bigger. That was all about entrepreneurship.

In most innovative companies, there is a turn of tide when the original entrepreneurs leave, especially if this happens in a rather short time frame. Often a new generation of financial administrators is hired to replace them, so as to ensure the initial success is not spoiled. The risk is then to alter the perception of innovation within the company. When, in the past, innovation has always been identified as a key long-term development feature, it is now more balanced with the short-term costs it may induce, and the risk of degrading this magnificent margins shaped by the previous management. While balancing, the world, especially the digital one, is boiling with thousands of initiatives. Too much balancing, too late…

Protecting one’s profitability may then lead to postpone innovation investments until a moment when developing them does not make sense any more. The typical case of Kodak missing the digital camera age to protect its highly profitable core film business… Think where Kodak was, and where they now are.

So, eventually the company will seek for a rebound, and has no other choice than finding somewhere else the ready-to-use innovation that it could (should) have developed by itself much earlier. The lead may be lost and the final cost will most probably be higher…

See Nokia. So as to protect their worldwide leadership and their dominant Symbian OS, their management ignored the first tactile phones prototypes developed internally and only reluctantly came to the SmartPhone revolution, missing both initial waves, the hardware (iPhone) and software (Android) ones. Thanks to Microsoft’s Windows 8 success on mobile devices, especially in North America, they have a third chance, and may thus narrowly escape disaster…

So my question:

Is innovation still compatible with profit-making policies within such companies, especially for those that are public-listed? Or are big companies bound to innovate solely through the buyout of small innovators’ businesses?

Looking for some answers…

Francis Pisani blogs: