Author Archives: Don Pierson

Don Pierson

About Don Pierson

Don Pierson is the founder and president of Flypaper, where he is responsible for delivering interactive e-learning, digital signage, and marketing content to corporate clients. Pierson has two decades of experience in the interactive communications industry. In 2003, he founded Interactive Alchemy, and as CEO drove a successful services business that fulfilled the communication and training needs of marquee clients including MetLife and United Airlines. Using the proceeds from the success of Interactive Alchemy, Pierson created a collaborative development tool called Catalyst. By 2006, Pierson identified a broader applicability for the Catalyst solution, and set out to develop what is now Flypaper. He holds a BA in management from Arizona State University, with honors.


Facial Recognition Coming To A Store Near You

Last month, in my post, “Maybe a Little Big Brother is OK,” I wrote about behavioral marketing on the Web. By that I mean when technology tracks what kinds of things we seem to be interested in by our Web browsing behavior, and then serves up advertising tailored to our apparent interests. I talked about how what at one time seemed somewhat scary now seems benign and even helpful. At least I certainly find it helpful and most people I talk to feel the same way to the degree that they notice it at all.

But that’s on the Web. Now new technology is being brought to market that has the potential to change the way we experience brick-and-mortar shopping — shopping in stores — just as significantly.

Last month, at Digital Signage Expo 2011, we (Flypaper Studio) got a lot of attention when we demonstrated a Flypaper/Intel solution that served advertising content on digital signs to passers-by based on their gender and estimated age. It’s an example of facial recognition technology. It uses a camera built into or attached to the sign. In our case, the camera was delivering the video stream to Intel’s AIM Suite software, which would assess if anyone were actually looking at the sign. If anyone was, either individuals or groups, the software would determine their gender and estimate their age. It would then send that information to the advertising content that had been built in Flypaper, and the content itself would determine which ad or ads to display.

The benefit to the viewer of the sign is that they see advertisements (or information) that are more likely to be of interest to them. The 65-year-old male doesn’t see a Baby Gap ad, for example. The benefit to the advertiser is that their ads are displayed to people who are more likely to be interested.

When the digital signage is touch-screen, as ours was, the possibilities are even greater, because the content can measure effectiveness and utility. For example, of women ages 30-40 who were shown version A of an Ann Taylor ad, only 25 percent approached the sign and began interacting with it. But when they were shown version B, 35 percent did so. Again, both viewers and advertisers benefit.

This is only one example of the types of things that are becoming possible. In future posts from time to time I’ll describe how loyalty programs (think VIP cards for grocery stores), mobile devices like smart phones, and digital signage can all work together to improve shopping experiences out in brick-and-mortar land.

Online browsing

Websites That Keep Track Of Some Of Your Information Aren’t All Bad

This weekend my wife and I went shopping for lighting — fixtures and lamps for some redecorating we’re doing. There’s a particular style we like and we found some things in different stores in town, but not a huge selection in that style. So, of course, the next thing I did was go online to see what else is available. I found options at quite a number of online sites and “stores.”

The next day I was online doing research at various sites, many of which are ad-supported. While browsing about I noticed an ad in the banner at the right of the page. It was for a terrific table lamp in just exactly the style we’re looking for. It was even at a good price!

I think most of us are at least vaguely aware of that type of thing. On at least some level we recognize that when we’re browsing online we’re constantly being shown products and services that our past browsing behavior indicates might interest us. And I’m guessing that most of us view that as a real service. After all, if we’re going to be marketed to — and by browsing ad-supported content we’ve “opted in” to being marketed to — it’s a whole lot better if it’s something we might be interested in than if it’s just more commercial noise, isn’t it?

It’s called “behavioral marketing” and I can remember when it was a scary concept. The idea that our browsing behavior might be tracked and the information collected might be somehow used without our knowledge was chilling. It sounded vaguely Big Brother-ish. We had to keep those “cookies” off our computer!

But over time our attitudes changed. Browsers have settings that allow us to control cookies, or even keep them off our computer altogether, but most of us don’t use those settings. Perhaps for some that’s because they don’t even know they can, but I think most people wouldn’t regardless. And I think that’s because we recognize the value we receive in return.

It happens in varying degrees. The example above is pretty innocuous. Consider what happens when you log onto a site? Now the connection becomes even more intimate and the information shown even more targeted. For example, as soon as I log onto Amazon, I see any number of “Recommendations for You.” These recommendations are based on my previous buying and browsing behavior, and how it compares to others with similar tastes and behaviors. Another example is when you see things like “People who bought this also bought …” Or music services that suggest things I might like based upon what I already listen to. All these are examples of things that are only possible because the computer collected some information about myself and millions of others, and then drew inferences.

And do you know what? I think this is great! I find it very valuable. I think it improves my life in subtle but significant ways.

How about you?

Twitter Screen Shot

Has Twitter Peaked? A New Study Questions The Relevance Of The Social Media Form

I love year end lists. ‘The 10 This …’ and ‘The Top 15 That …’ This year, one that I enjoyed was on, in the business section, about “The Five Most Underreported Stories of 2010.” There’s some great stuff there about Apple’s “slow and clumsy move into the cloud” and “How Amazon saved the Kindle.” There’s even a mildly reassuring piece that argues there isn’t actually another tech bubble going on — though I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach to that.

But the one that really caught my eye was, “Hype aside, Twitter isn’t mainstream.” Like all of the items it was brief, but it pointed to a Pew study that’s fascinating. Some of the most interesting facts:

  • Only 8 percent of American adults use Twitter.
  • Less than a quarter of these, or 2 percent, are heavy users.
  • Half never listen to what anyone else tweets

There are a number of other interesting stats in there, but those were the big ones for me. Interestingly, while the article’s attitude toward the percentage of adult American users was negative — only 8 percent — I actually thought that seemed reasonable. I know we hear more and more mainstream references to Twitter, but it’s never felt even close to the type of critical mass that Facebook ultimately hit.

Out of curiosity, I decided to compare it to Facebook. That turned out to be harder than I thought. But I did learn that 27 percent of Americans use Facebook in the bathroom! Now, we’re somewhat comparing apples (American adults) to oranges (all Facebook users), but it’s still somewhat startling. Roughly three times as many people are using Facebook in the bathroom as are using Twitter at all. I’m not certain what that tells us, but it certainly seems like it tells us something! I’ll leave it for the social historians to figure out what.

The real question, though, is “has Twitter peaked?” I have had a Twitter account for a couple of years, but I never use it because to me it just feels so narcissistic. I feel odd broadcasting personal observations in 140 characters or less.  And as for reading tweets, the types of things I’m interested in hearing, from the types of people I’m interested in listening to, most often can’t be communicated in such limited form. The statistics seem to indicate that Twitter is most popular with people who are eager to share their thoughts with others, but have no interest in what others are saying. That just doesn’t seem to me like a formula for lasting relevance.

Worried about Wikileaks

Should We Be Worried About Wikileaks?

“There’s something happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, tellin’ me I got to beware.”

So begins the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth,” written by Stephen Stills. It’s a song that’s remained popular through the decades since the ‘60s, and is timeless in the feelings of suspicion and unease it evokes.

So maybe that’s why it popped into my mind as the Wikileaks saga began to unfold. Once again, there’s something happening — and there seems to be someone with a “gun” telling me I have to beware. But most of all, it sure as heck isn’t clear to me what’s happening, who I should be rooting for and against, or what exactly I should be concerned about. But it seems very clear to me that I should be concerned about something.

As someone who was at least somewhat aware in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, at first glance there seem to be many parallels between the Wikileaks saga and what happened then, especially relating to the Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. For those playing at home, back then there was “The Establishment” (bad), its insidious leader, Richard Nixon (badder), “the counter-culture” (good), and Daniel Ellsberg (good), who leaked (good) top-secret government documents about the Vietnam War (bad) showing that the U.S. government was lying to U.S. citizens (very, very bad) about how it was conducting the war. The infamous White House Plumbers (actually named the White House Special Investigations Unit) were a covert group tasked with “stopping the leaks,” and their illegal break-in of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist kicked off the activities that led to the Watergate break-ins and the ensuing scandal, culminating with Nixon’s resignation — and good triumphing over evil.

So, now we have Wikileaks, led by Julian Assange, leaking government secrets (not just U.S. this time) and the U.S. government vociferously protesting. Must be the same thing, right? Which means Wikileaks is good, Assange is good, etc., etc.

But as the story unfolds, drawing simple conclusions becomes increasingly difficult. For one thing, Ellsberg didn’t release secret documents indiscriminately. He released only those documents showing that the government was lying. Wikileaks releases documents simply because they are secret. So is that a good thing or a bad thing? How should we feel about the implication that any secret is a bad secret?

Another jarring element is the James Bond-esque bunker where Wikileaks’ data center is stored. Who can view pictures of the retro-fitted former Cold War bunker in Sweden without imagining it as a suitable home for a Bond-ian villain? Dr. No, anyone?

And finally, there’s Assange himself. Is he a selfless crusader for freedom of information and speech being smeared for alleged sex crimes? Or a megalomaniac with an agenda?

In the ‘70s, the truth was ultimately revealed. No doubt it will be this time as well. But when? And what will the truth ultimately be?

Google Cars

Google Introduces Technology That Drives Cars By Themselves

Next time you drive, you can just sit back and relax. Play with your iPhone or iPad, or use Google Apps to get some work done. Heck, your next car might BE a smart phone, but more about that in a minute.

Forget Wal-Mart, Google basically owns the world. It reinvented the search engine, pretty much owns Internet advertising, keeps bringing cool things like Google Maps and Google Earth to life, tried to break Microsoft’s desktop monopoly with Google Apps, outflanked Apple with the Android operating system for mobile devices, and even came out with their own phone. They’re all about software for the Internet and mobile devices, right?

Well, it appears that they view themselves in a much broader context. In October they announced that they have developed cars that drive themselves in traffic. I have to admit, that one came out of the blue! My first reaction was something like “What? Google? Cars? What?” My second reaction was a tinge of fear: “Is this the beginning of a play for complete world domination? They’re so big, yet so nimble! It seems they’ll stop at nothing!” But my third reaction was: “COOL!”

Now, I’m not a big science fiction buff, but, as a kid, who didn’t fall in love with the ideas of interstellar travel, “beam me up Scottie,” and flying cars? They’re all about freedom. Heck, the Jetsons had a robot maid and a microwave oven in one.

I’m still waiting for interstellar travel, Star Trek-like transporters and flying cars, and the Japanese are still working out the kinks on domestic robots. But a car that can drive itself? Now we’re getting somewhere. And I like driving.

Moreover, these things have actually been tested and really work. They’ve been driven over 140, 000 miles in California under all kinds of traffic conditions; including the severest test of driving skills known to humankind: the California freeway. Even in Santa Monica. And guess what? One accident. Human error. Caused when a test car was rear ended at a stoplight.

They say the technology is at least eight years away from market, but I’m curious to know how long it will really take to take hold, if ever. How long will it be before people will turn over their driving to a computer?

My guess? Never. Even though I’d feel a LOT safer if the rest of you were letting the computer drive for you. Me? I’m keeping my hands on the steering wheel.

HP PC Tablet

Getting Touchy with Tablets

I just heard about something that I think is not only really, really cool, but has a real chance to impact the nature of how we interact with computing devices in the future.

It’s called TeslaTouch. If you’re a user of a touch-pad device like the iPad or, to a lesser degree, if you’re a user of a touch-screen smart-phone, you’re familiar with the problem it addresses. When you use one of the glass screens on these devices you can see what’s happening, but you don’t get any tactile feedback. This can be an especially big issue when you’re typing. If you’re a touch-typist with any proficiency at all, trying to type on a glass screen can be an extremely frustrating experience. Instead of focusing on your thoughts and having the words just appear you’re often reduced to some form of “hunt-and-peck.” At the very least, you frequently have to stop and make corrections. The reason is that you don’t get the tactile feedback from the glass screen that you get from a physical keyboard.

The keyboard often has special keys where the “f” and “j” keys are so your fingers know that they’re beginning in the appropriate “home row” position. And from there, your fingers know immediately when they’ve missed a key you’re trying to press, or when you’ve pressed two at once. But with a smooth glass screen everything feels the same, including the spaces between keys. This problem was by far the most critical deciding factor for me choosing an HP EiliteBook Tablet PC over an iPad recently. The iPad is much lighter, lasts much longer on a charge, and is just all around much cooler… but doesn’t have a keypad. There was no way I could use it as my primary computing device without one.

But TeslaTouch fixes the problem by using small electric impulses to change how the screen feels at different places. Touch one place; receive on sensation. Touch another; receive a different one. So, for example, the “home” keys could have a different sensation than other keys. And the space between keys could offer no sensation at all. Touch-typing problem solved!

Not surprisingly, there are numerous potential uses beyond more effectively emulating a keyboard. For example, objects on the screen could be made to “feel” heavier or lighter relative to others. For example, large files could “feel” heavier than smaller files. Very useful to know when you’re trying to download or transfer files over a connection. Or “rubbing” a folder might convey to you how “heavy” its contents are. Dragging and dropping items could be enhanced too: successfully dropping the item on the target could be felt as a “snap.” If you don’t feel the snap you know immediately you missed. Certainly you’re getting the visual feedback as well, but adding the tactile feedback creates a much more holistic feel to the interaction.

We’re already in the midst of an accelerating transition away from keyboards and mice to a more direct interaction with objects on the screen. TeslaTouch, if successful, could dramatically speed up that transition. If the iPad were equipped with TeslaTouch, I’d probably be on my way to the store right now.

close up of broken control key on keyboard

Microsoft Needs To Get Moving Or It Could Get Lost

If you’ve been following the chatter among the techno-literati, it’s become almost fashionable to predict Microsoft’s demise. We see headlines like: “The Odds are Increasing that Microsoft’s Business Will Collapse.” At first blush that seems ludicrous to me. But could there be some truth to it?

Not so long ago, Microsoft seemed unassailable. Even now, the Windows operating system exceeds 90 percent market share. Internet Explorer owns 60 percent of the browser market. And Office — where Microsoft really makes its money — still owns over 95 percent of its market.

But Microsoft has become synonymous with “slow” and “stodgy.” Which brings to mind a possible precedent: IBM. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, IBM was by far the dominant player in the computing world. It felt like they had invented the category and they certainly were a marketing juggernaut. IBM was so dominant that there was a well-known catch phrase that went, “no-one ever lost their job choosing IBM.” In fact, it was more than a catch phrase. It was the commonly accepted wisdom.

But by the early 1990s IBM was in crisis. The world around had changed and they’d been unable to keep up. There was speculation that they wouldn’t be able to survive. They did, by radically changing their strategy to one that is largely based on services. Now they’re still huge and successful. But also largely irrelevant.

Could the same thing happen to Microsoft? In the late ‘90s I did some work with them. They were top dog but acted like they were running scared. They said it was an essential part of their corporate culture and was critical to them remaining on top. But now I can say from personal experience that the healthy paranoia is completely gone, replaced with an attitude that Microsoft can’t truly be threatened. The only thing that truly matters is hitting the numbers that determine your annual bonus, and it’s OK to do that at the expense of other parts of the organization.

Now, I don’t believe for a second that there isn’t a level of paranoia building at the highest levels of Microsoft. But it’s going to be a massive undertaking to do at Microsoft what Steve Jobs was able to do at Apple, meaning completely turn the company around. Microsoft’s incredible financial strength gives them a lot of breathing room, but without wrenching changes, they’re in danger of becoming just another IBM. Huge. Successful. And irrelevant.

Apple officially launched the iPhone 4 with its usual mastery

Apple’s iPhone 4 Fumbles

What a crazy summer it’s been for Apple.

On June 24, Apple officially launched the iPhone 4 with its usual mastery. In April, there had been the prototype that was “accidentally” left in a bar and ended up in the hands of Gizmodo’s editor, Jason Chen. The subsequent police raid on Chen’s home a few days later gave new life to the story just as it was beginning to fade. In May, another prototype popped up in the hands of a Vietnamese businessman. Now the renewed speculation had the added spice of mystery: How could Apple lose two prototypes so close to the anticipated June announcement? Were these accidents or a ploy?

The ensuing announcement on June 7 by Steve Jobs answered all the questions about features and everyone now knew when they’d be able to get their hands on the phone: June 24. Some began waiting in line days early, and in Manhattan a few sold their spots in line. The lines were so long, that in places it got ugly. In Los Angeles, 2,000 people were incensed that Jason Bateman was able to jump the line for his iPhone.

And then it really got interesting.

There were immediate reports of a problem: poor reception and dropped calls. At first, Apple let people blame AT&T, an easy target. Next, they said that the problem was with the software in their phone, which was over-reporting the actual signal strength. In other words, ‘”we made a mistake but the real problem is with AT&T.” As evidence mounted, Apple finally acknowledged that there was indeed a design problem: If you held the phone in your left hand to make the call you compromised the antenna. But they also had a ready answer: “Don’t hold the phone like that.”

Gee thanks.

Many Apple customers were understandably incensed. As they were with the suggested alternative: buy a case from Apple. As the anger mounted, Apple tried again. This time masterfully. With misdirection. “All smart phones suffer from this problem,” announced Apple. “It’s called the ‘death grip.’”

Apple’s partly right: the “death grip” problem is a common problem to at least some degree with most smart phones. But the misdirection is this: the original problem is completely unique to Apple. When Consumer Reports called Apple’s bluff, Apple finally relented and announced free iPhone covers that fix the real problem.

Thanks Apple. That was easy.

Steve Jobs Takes On The World - AZ Business Magazine Jul/Aug 2010

Steve Jobs Takes On The World … Again

Steve Jobs — the guy who famously flew a pirate flag over the building where the Macintosh was being invented, thus rescuing Apple from oblivion — is at it again. This time the fight is with Adobe, makers of the Flash platform that is currently the dominant software for playing interactive and video Web content.

Some truths about Steve Jobs are undeniable. He’s obviously brilliant, an iconoclast, and supremely successful. He’s so successful that Apple recently passed Microsoft in terms of market value. That’s right, Apple, the company Jobs rescued several times, keepers of “cool,” has passed stodgy Microsoft. Sure, Microsoft owns more than 90 percent of the desktop computer operating systems market with Windows, and an estimated 80 percent of enterprises use some form of Microsoft Office. But the market is betting that “cool” is more valuable than “foundational.” It’s betting that Microsoft won’t be able to innovate fast enough, even as Apple has become synonymous with innovation.

So it’s no wonder that when Apple — meaning Jobs — refused to support Flash first on iPhones and then on iPads, the tech community paid notice. The guessing began. What’s Jobs up to? Will Apple launch a competitor to Flash? What’s Jobs really trying to achieve at the cost of ignoring such a dominant standard? Is it all about controlling the App Store?

In the past few weeks the fight became more public, with both Jobs and Adobe stating their cases. On April 29, Jobs released a statement saying that Apple wouldn’t support Flash because a) it’s not an open standard; b) Flash is unreliable, has security flaws, and lacks performance on mobile devices; c) when playing video on mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad it drains the battery too quickly; and d) it didn’t originally support touch screens, though it now does. Finally, Job’s stated “the most important reason” — Apple insists on controlling the hardware and software platform all the way up to the developer. In other words, the developer must use the software tools and development libraries that Apple provides. Period.

Adobe’s official response came in the form of a statement from Adobe’s founders Chuck Geschke and John Warnock entitled, Our Thoughts on Open Markets. In it they said, “As the founders of Adobe, we believe open markets are in the best interest of developers, content owners, and consumers. Freedom of choice on the Web has unleashed an explosion of content and transformed how we work, learn, communicate, and, ultimately, express ourselves.” And, “No company — no matter how big or how creative — should dictate what you can create, how you create it, or what you can experience on the Web.”

It’s not a completely black and white situation of course, but I think that it’s pretty close. The first several reasons cited by Jobs are simply misdirection. For the most part, they don’t hold up under scrutiny. The real reason is the one that Jobs called the most important: control. And while Flash isn’t a completely open standard, my company, Flypaper, exists because it’s close enough. So the real battle here IS really “open” vs. “closed.” And I’m surprised that Jobs has taken the position he has. I’m old enough to remember a time when Jobs was at a similar fork in the road and made a similar choice — and nearly lost his company as a result. Most people don’t remember that the Mac, with its graphical user interface, preceded Windows into the marketplace. For some time it had a larger market share than Windows. But Apple chose to pursue a closed, proprietary strategy that limited the number of software titles available for the Mac. In contrast, Microsoft chose an open approach; software titles proliferated, and soon Microsoft’s market share was in the 90 percent range. Microsoft came to dominate the corporate space, while Apple’s market share hovered around 10 percent, much of it in the educational space. In the marketplace, “open” dominated “closed,” and Apple suffered through nearly a decade of tough times as a result.

It’s a situation rich with irony. Decades ago Apple and Microsoft faced off on this very issue and Microsoft won. Now Apple, having finally passed Microsoft in terms of value and faced with the same choice, is making the same decision. Will it work this time? I don’t think so. But the winner this time won’t be Microsoft. It won’t even be Adobe. At least not directly. The real winner will be Google. Google is the new champion of “open”’ And most people don’t know that sales for mobile devices based on Google’s open Android operating system recently passed sales of Apple’s iPhone. Right now Apple’s market value of about $227 billion is about $70 billion more than Google’s. As always, the market will ultimately decide who’s right. I’m betting on Google.

Arizona Business Magazine Jul/Aug 2010