Monday, May 01, 2006

QR codes conquering Asia by accident?

QR codes are continuing their progress through Asia. Japan has been converted for a while, and recently Taiwan got added to the response efficiency crowd.

Some additions happen by accident, it seems: Vodaphone just introduced a QR capable phone in the Philippines. It looks like an accidental launch, however, since it's one of Toshiba's Japanese phones, with QR readiness buried deep in the mostly Japanese-language manual.

But Philippino marketers, don't be deterred by this: you've got the tools now, so starting using them!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Birth of a new advertising medium

Of course this was unavoidable. Google Earth makes viewing the Earth's surface from above so easy that it becomes an advertising medium.

Only the scale of this (75-by-110ft) is a bit disappointing. C'mon guys - you Americans can do better than this. I'm thinking a few square miles of coloured sand in the Nevada Desert here - in the shape of a roulette wheel, of course.

The Emirates pioneered the idea, with the Palm Islands. Who follows? Giant Olympic Rings circling the mountain tops around the Great Wall?

Plus, we need a descriptor. Earthboards? Adscapes? We're open for suggestions.

If Business Class becomes more business-like, what about Cattle Class?

For years we've been drooling now over proposals from aircraft builders and their interior design suppliers, promising us dramatic improvements in on-board space and luxury. (See Goodbye to Red-eyes, say hello to Dreamers and Beemers and As we're expecting turbulence, may we request passengers to leave the bar, restaurant, sauna and fitness club and return to their seats?)

But this one seems to go the other way: a NY Times article about standing-room-only "economy class seats" (free registration required). Looks like Cattle Class is becoming an increasingly apt descriptor.

Of course we should've known: all that extra space in Business and First in the future has to come from somewhere. And there's no such thing as a free lunch. At least, not in the Economy Class of the future.

Airbus, the NY Times reports, is working on a proposal in which passengers in the standing section would be propped against a padded backboard, held in place with a harness. "To call it a seat would be misleading," said Volker Mellert, a physics professor at Oldenburg University in Germany, who has done research on airline seat comfort and has seen the design. No kidding.

Fortunately all of this is still on the drawing boards. But even current cattle class is getting more cramped as we blog, as new materials allow thinner seat backs that still fulfil strict safety regulations. Originally these seats were introduced under the motto "More Room Throughout Coach", but cost cutting measures put an end to that. Seats have been slid together and the campaign has quietly been withdrawn.

Anyway, let's hope it won't come to The Onion's take on Air India's Untouchable Coach Class, 'which is towed behind Air India jetliners in a giant burlap sack.'

Air rage pandemic on its way

Airbus subsidiary OnAir announced plans to release a GSM network for making and receiving calls on board of airliners. TAP and Air France have signed up to the service, to start operations in 2007.

Not sure if this is a good idea. For starters, I don't like the grin on the guy's face in the publicity photo. Neither does the girl next to him, it seems.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"Comrade Hu, instead of jailing human rights activists, why don't we let them hold Tupperware parties?"

Everybody who has followed the news around Google's, Yahoo's, and more recently, Skype's activities in China knows it: people who think they can publish freely are bound to get into trouble. Big trouble. Off-limits subjects cover a wide range: democracy, human rights, Falun Gong. And indecent material, of course.

Unless you're doing it for commercial purposes, that is. Real estate developers in Shanghai enlist models wearing body paint and very little else to sell apartments, a Changchun fish restaurant pins menus to its waitresses breasts so patrons have an excuse to ogle them, and Hooters' first China branch is doing brisk business.

On more than one occasion censorship in China has used porn as an excuse to block foreign websites. This farce was effectively undone when the Washington Post and other media obtained a list of keywords for filtering web content that didn't contain any type of indecent expression (apart from the quite intriguing "Hire a killer to murder one's wife").

It now seems this chink in the armour has been picked up with gusto by China's ever-entrepreneurial commercial sector. Another sign that commercial interests are driving significant change in China's society, despite the fact that commerce and politics are being kept strictly separated.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Carrefour means "you're toast" in Chinese

For years Western governments and companies alike have lambasted China for its lack of protection of -mainly Western- brand names, resulting in rampant piracy. If you've ever set one foot on Shanghai's Nanjing Road or Beijing's Wangfujing Avenue, you know how ubiquitous and easy to obtain fake goods are in China, from $10 Rolex watches to $5 Louis Vuitton bags and Hermès scarves.

Even with new brand protection laws in place (a condition for China's much-desired WTO membership) suing sellers of fake goods is nigh impossible, as most of these are fly-by-night operations and the Chinese judicial system isn't the most efficient in the world either.

So it's good to see that finally luxury brand maker Louis Vuitton has succeeded in getting a favourable verdict against a seller of fake LV branded handbags, getting awarded Y300,000 (US$40,000) in damages from ... French supermarket chain Carrefour.

Turns out, roadside sellers of gazillions of fake watches, handbags and scarves are untouchable in China. But a global retail chain with 37 fake LV bags on the shelves of its Shanghai hypermarket is an easy target.

As the old Chinese saying goes: life ain't always fair for a sitting duck.

Google discovering Chinese word for 'minefield'

Google's Chinese search engine wasn't born under a lucky star, it seems. First we had the brouhaha over Google's conformity to Chinese censorship (see Suggested new motto: "Don't Be Hypocrites", Brin to blogosphere: "Forget about Don't Be Evil. We're now going for Do Be Practical", OK. Who ordered the 'Google #1 Hypocrite' mugs? and "No, we're not evil. And we don't want to talk about it"); and now Google's recently unveiled Chinese name has attracted the scorn of its Chinese user base.

'Gu Ge' are the newly chosen Chinese characters, which means as much as 'Valley Song' or 'Harvest Song', and they have undoubtedly been chosen for their combinination of sound similarity with 'Google', and a positive meaning.

Choosing a Chinese name for your brand is a tricky game, much like navigating a minefield. A cause célèbre are Coca-Cola's early Chinese years, during which it was marketed under four characters with the correct Ko-Ka-Ko-La sound, that unfortunately meant something like Bite Your Wax Tadpole. The story goes that the name had been chosen by a Cantonese-speaking secretary in Coca-Cola's Guangzhou head office, who had no idea what was at stake.

Sinds the early 90s Coca-Cola in China is known as 'Ke Kou Ke Le', which is a pun on 'Tasteful Soft Drink' and 'Happy Tasting Drink' respectively. 'Ke Le' has even become the Chinese word for 'soft drink'.

Over to Google, whose advisers must've been keen on avoiding a blooper like this. But alas, a minefield has many mines. 'Valley Song' doesn't only sound rural in English, but also in Chinese. Which is decidedly uncool in the eyes of Chinese digerati, who populate the glass and steel canyons of Beijing's and Shanghai's business district and do not like to be reminded of the undeveloped, uncivilized and utterly poor agricultural hinterland that still takes up most of China.

Unhappy Chinese Google fans have even set up an online petition under the unambiguous name, where thousands of signatures have been collected since its inception last Wednesday. Google should be cool, and 'Gu Ge' doesn't cut it.

Doing business in China ain't easy.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Rolex: the men's watch women prefer"

Rolex, the company that practically invented wristwatch marketing a couple of decades ago, has since studiously ignored just about every trend in watch land. The model lineup, with legendary models like the Daytona chronograph, the Sea Dweller diver's watch, and the President gentleman's watch, has remained basically the same during the last, say, 40 years or so.

The most eye catching trend in watches is their increase in size: whereas average men's watches used to measure typically 30-35mm in diameter 15 years ago, 40-45mm is now the norm. Women's wristwatches grew from 20-25mm to 30-35mm.

Apparently this is starting to become a problem for Rolex. So what do you do in such a situation? Either one of two things:
  1. Redesign your complete model range (expensive and risky); or
  2. Tell the world that your 30-35mm men's watches are actually women's watches (brilliant and cheap).
Marketing can be amazingly simple.

"Leave the tomatoes. Take the Da Vinci QR Code T-shirt"

Yesterday Taiwanese mobile operator Far Eastone Telecommunications (FET) unveiled its first QR code capable handset, the Sharp WX-T91.

Funny enough, of all the possible examples how QR codes can be used, FET chose the ability for consumers in supermarkets to do a background check on tomatoes. It's not the first I'd personally think of, but fortunately printing the codes in magazine ads and on outdoor posters and billboards for generated spectacularly efficient consumer responses get a mention as well.

FET will launch the QR code phone with a marketing campaign linked to the Da Vinci Code. Customers who sign up for a contract including the Sharp WX-T91 will be able to participate in a treasure hunt, with prizes like a luxury Da Vinci Code trip to France for two, movie tickets, or goodies with 'Da Vinci Code Classic Paintings' printed on them.

FET claims that QR is the emerging standard for mobile response in Taiwan, which makes it the second QR market after Japan, where QR codes are taking off in a big way with tens of millions of handsets already QR capable.

The third market could be Singapore, where Sistic, the ticket agent responsible for about 80% of theater and concert ticket sales in the island state, has announced the intention to move to a completely QR based ticket sales solution.

With numerous technologies for mobile response evolving all over the globe (here's a small list) it's still early days to claim victory for QR.

But de facto standards are all-important for consumer acceptance, and it certainly looks like QR is a serious contender.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Of course we have ways to make you participate in our survey

Shame on you, United States: China has just issued an official methodology for collecting e-commerce statistics, claiming to be the first country to do so.

The methods have first been put to use in the 2004-2005 China E-Commerce Report, a survey that covers 6 industry sectors across all of China's 31 provinces. Being the first major country where such a reporting standard is implemented may sound impressive, although China probably has a better starting position than others in enforcing compliance.

Still, it's a major achievement and an example that deserves following. Both the report and the claim come on the back of recent reports that the number of Chinese internet users has surpassed that of the US, possibly even by 50 million.

Should the United States start to worry? Only when the Chinese come up with an equivalent of Silicon Valley as well, I guess. Forbidden Silicon City, perhaps?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Doctor, I keep hearing these voices. Is something wrong with me?

Things are really starting to happen in the outdoor advertising space. Change was in the air, considering the number of new technologies that can make posters interactive:
  • Bluecasting, Hypertag, and others: installing a small Bluetooth server that interacts with passers-by's mobile phones;
  • QR codes: printing two-dimensional barcodes on a poster or ad that can interact with camera phones;
  • Colorzip: same as QR codes, except that the interactive patterns can be 'hidden' in coloured pictures;
  • AdRunner: a system for mobile media on taxis or buses that adapts the message according to the surrounding demographics, with help of GPS and a mobile phone network;
  • Embedding RFID chips that can interact with RFID carrying passers-by;
  • And many others, as startups around the world race to provide the market with the killer targeting app that will give us the next Google. Speaking of which, I wouldn't be surprised if Google itself wouldn't make a move into this space, given the richness of their data and the fact that they don't shy away from going into radio advertising either.

Mainstream media are picking up on this trend, too, judging from a very informative article in this week's Time Magazine, and an article in Planet MultiMedia about AdRunner (Dutch language) last Friday.

As is pretty much the fashion in articles about this subject, it closes off with "Pretty cool stuff — and maybe just a little scary." Scaremongering? Well, it does tell you that there's a touchy nerve among consumers that can easily turn into antagonism and damage responsiveness after the newness has worn off - call it the Minority Report effect.

But these are fascinating techniques, and it would be a pity if the opportunity to better target and lower annoyance levels in this advertising-soaked world would be spoiled by privacy scares.

For that reason perhaps it's better to stick to techniques that leave the initiative with the consumer. QR and Colorzip codes leave it up to the consumer to point his or her camera at the ad and click to download the information in the code, rather than suddenly finding something's going on in your phone and wondering where the Hell it's come from. And what about the Seattle experiment in which storefront loudspeakers start blaring personalized messages when you pass by? Creepy...

To be continued.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

'Synovative' approach to market research

More news from the marketing frontlines in Singapore: here's the outcome of a small war between two of Singapore's, erm, "No. 1" society magazines.

Singapore Tatler claimed the title in a brochure calling itself "the best magazine for advertising" compared to Prestige and The Peak, its two nearest competitors. Tatler based its claims on research by Synovate, a global market research firm.

Both competitors sued. The Peak settled out of court last December, but Prestige pressed on. And after six embarassing days in court, Tatler threw in the towel. Total damage: S$300,000 (about US$200k), as Tatler will pay Prestige's legal costs as well.

Turns out, Synovate's research was conducted only among people attending Tatler's events. Synovate, that touts itself as one of the world's top global market research firms, should be the most embarassed party here. To conduct an exit survey at Tatler's events and report the results is one thing. But to actually use these results to corroborate claims about your market position (Synovate actually vetted the brochure and wrote the introductory letter!) is something else indeed.

Should future dictionary makers need a clear example for the lemma 'bias', this looks like a good place to start...
(Source: The Straits Times)

Mobile spam in Singapore: $150,000 fine

Singapore has its way of sending signals to the business community. Fining a small firm S$150,000 is one of them.

It all started on Chinese New Year, when MyGlobalFun, a Chinese client of mobile services provider mTouche sent 300,000 MMS New Year Greetings to mTouche's subscriber database. That's a privacy violation in itself, but things went rapidly downhill two weeks later, when $1 charges started to appear on the recipients' phone bills.

MyGlobalFun's messages were not intended to be free, as it turned out. Protests were rife and after angry letters started to appear in the newspaper, the local telcos (SingTel, M1 and StarHub) quickly reversed the charges. But on February 21st mTouche was slapped with a six-month suspension to conduct business in Singapore, and now there's also the S$150,000 (around US$100k) fine.

Meanwhile, fly-by-night operation MyGlobalFun has disappeared from the radar screen as quickly as it turned up. And the phone number list circulates somewhere in China.

Singaporean subscribers don't need to be too worried, though. The IDA (InfoCommm Development Authority of Singapore) has warned the telcos to prevent illegitime billing via their monthly statements in the future. Trust me, they'll all remember mTouche.
(Source: The Straits Times)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

12 Years ago today: Canter&Siegel enter Internet purgatory as inventors of spam

Would you believe spam is only 12 years old? On April 12th, 1994 Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel decided to blanket the entire Usenet population with their infamous 'Green Card Lottery'.

It wasn't the first Usenet spam, nor was it the worst of all - that was Global Alert For All: Jesus Is Coming Soon, which brought Usenet to a virtuall standstill on January 19th, 1994.

But as far as I can see this was the first junk email that was actually called 'spam', a name that was derived from the famous Monty Python sketch in which the word 'spam' is used 94 times. The unfortunate couple unleashed a torrent of criticism with their actions, even giving rise to the invention of special cancelbots that were sent out on the Usenet with the specific purpose of deleting Canter&Siegel messages.

Were Laurence and Martha embarassed by this backlash? Were they sorry? Did they mend their ways? Nothing of the sort. They even published a manual so that others could copy their 'success', How to Make a Fortune on the Information Superhighway, contributing actively to today's staggering number of 12.5 billion spam emails per day.

April 12th, 1994 was a sad day in the history of the Internet.
(Source: 'Woensdag Gehaktdag' (Dutch), column in Planet Internet, Sept 17th, 2004)

Dutch using cows and sheep in advertising?

I'd expect nothing less. But to see taxis dressed up (or rather: down) as cows in Singapore is a bit baffling. But then, what would you expect from an outdoor media company called Moove?

Dotcoms still busy redefining mobile media

No comment.

UPDATE 4/12/2006 5:48PM: The mayor of Skarsterlan, the small Frisian municipality in which this pastoral ad tableau takes place, has ordered the immediate removal of the sheep ads. Skarsterlan fears that motorists will be overly distracted while navigating the motorway. (Thanks Molblog)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Disney definitively starting to connect with Generation C

Disney's Bob Iger is definitely getting the hang of it. Not only was Disney the first of the majors to cut a deal with Apple making TV series episodes available for download on iTunes, it now is first to cross the line making full-length TV shows available on the Internet, free of any restriction.

And that's not all of it: the media giant is breaking ground on a new business model for advertising breaks as well. According to the Wall Street Journal (paid access) a choice of ads will be offered during commercial breaks, all from the same advertiser. The viewer can choose between several types of commercial, with varying degrees of interactivity.

This is a novel approach, obviously aimed at capturing the interest of "Generation C": consumers who increasingly want control over creative content, whether it be entertainment or commercials. Possibly something for mainstream TV advertising by the time DVRs become ubiquitous?

Looking at this from a different amgle, this is another shot at something General Motors tried to do recently as well, with, ehmm, mixed results. GM offered consumers a menu of choices with which they could build their own Chevy Tahoe commercials. From a viral distribution point of view the exercise was a hit, except for the fact that the Tahoe quickly became the whipping boy of car commercials.

Ah well, you go out and experiment, you win some and you lose some, as they say...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Bikini War alert: Phase Orange?

The Muhammad cartoons took around four months to develop into a full-blown worldwide international incident, from their posting in Jyllands-Posten on September 30th, 2005, to the eruption of riots in the beginning of February, 2006. (See the excellent summary on Wikipedia and there's even a website that keeps tally of the Cartoon wars' body count.)

So it'll be interesting to see how long it takes for protests to erupt around the display of bikini designs based on the national flags of participants in the 2006 World Soccer Championships, among which numerous flags of Islamic nations.

The display took place during the 14th China International Fashion Week in Beijing. Asia Pundit was the first to report on it in an April 5th post.

The Cartoon Wars were triggered by a group of Danish imams who spent a lot of time during a tour of the Middle East distributing a dossier on the offensive materials. Will others go to the same lengths to trigger Bikini Wars?

Web karaoke: China takes the lead in a new trend

Looking back, you wonder why this took so long. All the ingedients were there: Asia is the home of karaoke, the art of lip synching in front of a private audience and a TV playing sound tracks; and then there was the aftermath of the Tammy NYP affair that showed that even Singaporean youths are not afraid to put their most intimate moments on video and on the web.

So here's our next Big Trend: combining karaoke with a web cam.

Cute indeed. And quite a bit more innocent than posting sex videos, one could say.

As an added bonus, the Back Dormitory Boys, as they are known now, show that you can become a celebrity in the process, not only with dedicated fan sites but even with your own TV show.

Watch this space, we'll see more of this trend.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

New media, old censorship

Singapore is not a free country. Normally you don't notice this. It's a transparent society, you can move around freely and you can write what you want as long as it's not about politics. Actually, not a bad place at all. So where's the lack of freedom?

In daily life, mainly in the fact that you're not allowed to form a society or association, or speak in public, unless you have the explicit permission of the government. Which doesn't bother you very often, since most people don't make a habit of that.

There are the little things, of course. As a member of the Association of Dutch Businessmen I once asked the Chairman why his monthly foreword in the society's magazine was in English, while it was written by a Dutchman and only read by countrymen? The answer was simple: had to be in English, otherwise the censors couldn't read it.

But now it's General Election time, and that's when the lack of democracy really shows. Today, in the face of the impending election campaigns Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Balaji Sadavisan, laid down the law. After all, we don't want misunderstandings, what with all those new media around.

So here are the rules: campaigning is allowed in chatrooms, discussion forums and websites, but not in podcasts, videocasts, or blogs. Furthermore, websites and blogs that want to make a habit of publishing political contents (the occasional outcry is apparently exempt from this, so this post is probably OK) have to be registered with the Media Development Authority (MDA). The MDA will monitor these sites and screen them for election advertising, which is not allowed.

Email and SMS can be used under similar constraints, but Dr Balaji added ominously that "However, individuals seeking to use mass email and mass SMS to influence people, or to affect the outcome of an election, should realize that they are still governed by the laws of the land. And these include libel."

These last four words carry special weight in a country where opposition leaders in the past have routinely been driven into bankruptcy by libel suits brought by senior members of the ruling party, the PAP.

Interesting modus operandi for a country that seeks to play a prominent role in the use of new media.
(Source: The Straits Times)

US Data Protection Deficiencies becoming pretty obvious

It's flattering to see that this blog is read at Business Week's editorial offices. Either that, or BW have identified the same problem plaguing US privacy issues as this blog did yesterday (see US privacy legislation becoming an inextricable mess of inexplicable measures).

Business Week calls it Dazed and Confused: Data Law Disarray. We get the picture.

Don't Be Evil. Just Do As We Say

First Google lost its virginity. Then it lost its innocence. And now, to add insult to injury, it's losing its coolness.

Google has joined the hordes of companies that employ the vermin of Capitol Hill: lobbyists. You can just see the famous motto "Don't Be Evil" hanging askew in a dark corner, in a cracked frame on a rusty nail. Cobwebs partially obscure your view of the statement that once proudly adorned Google's gleaming lobby.

The rationale for this move is evident: privacy is rapidly becoming a major issue, in the US as much as elsewhere. And Google is sitting squarely in the middle of it. It wants to organize and hence store and handle the world's information, much of which is of a personal nature. Pictures, videos, emails, your search and surfing behaviour, together they form an increasingly complete picture of your life.

Google (so far) has no design on all that data but others do, as the US Government is already showing. Other governments will follow, not all of them as democratic as you'd want. So will organized crime (see Anatomy of a phishing attempt).

Google is headed straight for a position in the middle of a tug of war between maintaining privacy and giving others access to private data. It is continually signalling its intention to handle this in the consumer's best interest.

So far, so good. But Google is also consistently indicating that it will figure out our best interests on its own, without others looking over their shoulders. Hiring lobbyists fits that picture. So far, not good enough any more.

Monday, April 03, 2006

US privacy legislation becoming an inextricable mess of inexplicable measures

Europe has universal privacy and data protection legislation. Japan has such a law since April 1st last year. China is working on one. Meanwhile the US privacy and data protection landscape is rapidly turning into an inexplicable mess. Let's look at a few examples.

As it turns out, shady privacy detective-type agencies are in the habit of bribing telco employees into handing over telephone records of people they're stalking. This is a blatant violation of privacy rights by any measure. What is US legislators' response? Propose a bill banning sales of telephone records. Well, that clears that up.

Next one on the list: how about your tax advisor selling your most intimate financial details to the highest bidder? Shouldn't citizens of the country with the most complicated and intractable tax code of all time be able to trust their tax statement preparers completely? No, not at all: it's common practice and you better watch those tiny tick boxes at the bottom of your acceptance form. And unaware of the need for more privacy and protection against identity theft, the IRS now proposes to make this even easier. Will the US legislature start wasting its time working on a special bill to prevent that too?

Not that we're talking about marginally necessary or luxury measures here. A recent survey reports that two thirds of FTSE100 companies are failing the most elementary privacy and data protection standards.

Regular readers of this blog know that we're not talking peanuts, either, where security breaches are concerned: for the most recent crop, see Data protection? You mean we have to lock our cars?, "Next time you break into our database, could you please leave the Californians alone?", There are morons, there are criminal morons, and there's Deloitte, and Every minute a sucker is born, with a one in two chance of being robbed of his identity.

Privacy is well on its way to become the most important human right of the 21st century. In an increasingly information-based, nay information-dependant society, no civilized country can afford to fail its citizens in protection against identity theft and other abuses of their personal data.

The US needs an umbrella privacy and data protection law to guards its citizens' rights to a life without fear of being invaded, robbed of their identities, or having the most intimate details of their lives exposed. And it needs it now, lest it becomes the 'Dirty Old Man of Privacy'.

With a CEO like that, who needs enemies?

OK. So if you're the world's biggest and most successful software company the word "PR disaster" doesn't hold the same meaning for you as it does to other, more vulnerable creatures.

One can only imagine what kind of thinking leads to behaviour like this. Does Steve Ballmer think he has to compensate for his Lord and Master's famous lack of on-stage charisma?

"PR Disaster" is one thing. But with a CEO like that the word "PR liability" springs to mind. And don't even start on the subject of chair-throwing.

I think it might be time for Microsoft to start winning developers' hearts and minds, rather than bullying them into thinking this is anywhere close to a role model...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Engrish: so close, and yet so far away...

Found in C.K. Tang's department store in Orchard Road, Singapore. Quite endearing, to be so close to your customers that you feel the need to apologize.

Muhammad cartoons not the first Danish attempt to disgust Muslims

For people who think Danish insensitivity to islamic beliefs is a recent phenomenon: here's a golden oldie, a commercial for Danish bacon that should put you off heavy breakfasts for a looong time.

(Warning: content possibly objectionable to vegetarians)

Doing business in Singapore

Back to blogging after ten days in which the day job got the upper hand. This was my first project in the city where I live, and an opportunity to see the city from another side. This view is towards the Central Business District from Suntec City, across the river.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Google caught rewriting its corporate history

Yesterday Google launched its newest offspring, a less-than-impressive Google Finance site.

But wait, what was that remark in Google's 'Ten Things' Philosophy?
"2. It's best to do one thing really, really well.
Google does search. With one of the world's largest research groups focused exclusively on solving search problems, we know what we do well, and how we could do it better."
No, that's not how I remember it. Fortunately there's the Wayback Machine. The previous (April 1st, 2005) version of this page says it all:
"2. It's best to do one thing really, really well.
Google does search. Google does not do horoscopes, financial advice or chat. With the largest research group in the world focused exclusively on solving search problems, Google knows what it does well and how it could be done better."
Ah, that's more like it. Let's see - chat, financial advice... Wonder when Google Horoscopes will hit the market?

Monday, March 20, 2006

As we're expecting turbulence, may we request passengers to leave the bar, restaurant, sauna and fitness club and return to their seats?

The previous post in this blog reminded me of the Airbus A380, whose humongous space offers hitherto unknown possibilities for spectacular aircraft interior designs.

Interestingly Singapore Airlines, despite making a lot of hay about being the first to fly A380, offer an extensive picture gallery plus video with everything but the interior in it.

Fortunately Airbus themselves are less secretive. Only question remains, how much of this showroom will end up in SQ's A380s, at the end of this year?

Goodbye to Red-eyes, say hello to Dreamers and Beemers

To Boeing the honour of coming up with the idea of advanced cabin lighting first (for its soon-to-be-launched 787 'Dreamliner')

but to Airbus the honour of taking the concept a big step further. With the help of BMW, no less. A350 Beemliner, perhaps?

Personally I can't wait for one of these concepts to hit the market. Red-eyes will become so much more bearable. Maybe even sooner, in Singapore Airlines' new A380 please?

"I'll have 'A west bean pays the fish a soup' and retchup to go, please"

From time to time this blog reports on the little morsels of Engrish that are an inevitable part of traveling in Asia (see Fondle me admiringly, Asiana Airlines and the art of omission, and Et tu, Brute).

But morsels they are, and I acknowledge my master for here is a veritable feast. Lucky blogger Jon Rahoi ran into the "Edinburgh Western Chinese Restaurant" in Foshan, and put the menu on his blog.

Have a look and feast on things like Cowboy Leg with Retchup, Benumbed hot vegetables fries fuck silk, and many many more. Enough Engrish here to last a lifetime!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

"You forgot your password and tried WHAT??"

Urban nomads travel, and they carry data around. And just like companies who don't want to rely on lobbyists for protection against security breaches they suffer from security breach anxiety.

Fear no more, Kingston to the fore: here is the DataTravel Elite Privacy-Edition. Kingston's unfortunate naming habits aside, this memory key not only offers 128-bit data encryption, but also wipes itself clean after 25 failed attempts to access. Cool.

"Even one renegade (or lazy) employee presents a compliance risk," Kingston's press release reads. Guess they read this blog. Available in various sizes, from 256MB to 4GB.

Personal data at risk? Quick, call in the lobbyists!

Seems the Laziness Lobby in the US is stronger than the need for personal data protection. At least that's the only logical explanation for what happened in the US House Financial Services Committee last Thursday.

Case in question is a proposal of law that shamelessly waters down disclosure laws requiring companies to disclose security breaches that put personal data at risk (see "Next time you break into our database, could you please leave the Californians alone?". The House Committee voted 48-17 for a law that leaves it up to companies themselves to determine whether a security breach is harmful enough to warrant disclosure. The law would also neutralize existing disclosure laws (currently 11 States have them) that mandate disclosure after any privacy-sensitive data breach.

The irony is that the legislative effort in question was triggered by a serious incident at data broker ChoicePoint in february, 2005, where criminals accessed 160,000 records and robbed 800 of them.

And it's not as if Corporate America has been particularly careful since: security breaches seem to get sillier by the month (see There are morons, there are criminal morons, and there's Deloitte).

Friday, March 17, 2006

Google China's true translation

The gazillionth take on Google's Chinese search site. But too funny to miss, so here it is. (Thanks BlogNoot)

Why sue Google when a bit of cash will do the trick?

Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad opens today with a spectacular-sounding story on how Google helps child porn surfers find the right keywords (in Dutch).

Searchers for child porn, it seems, have their own jargon, which is not always easy to follow for outsiders (which is what jargon is all about, of course). But don't panic, Google's here to help. Just use Google's Adwords Suggestion Tools, and for a few dollars you'll be handed the right synonyms on a golden platter.

Funny, that. The US Federal Government at this very moment is suing Google for precisely that kind of information. Did anyone tell them that all they need to do is log in on their Adwords accounts and pull their creditcards?

UPDATE: I went a bit off course here. The US DoJ are suing Google for information on 'innocent' searches, as they want to find out how many of these yield porn and other stuff you don't want your children (or the DoJ) to see. The AD report describes a method that would lead the DoJ to demanding searches from Google. It's quite a scoop, thanks to Dutch search expert and AD editor Henk van Ess.

Van Ess suggests that prosecutors in general and the DoJ in particular should make more use of this type of method, as it can lead them to many kinds of questionable activities, such as drugs and money laundering. An additional bonus is that Google's service also supplies translations in many languages, enabling the user to conduct his research across borders.

Although the service is of at least as much use to criminals as it is to those who hunt them, an idea would be to just remove the objectionable synonyms. This would make life decidedly more difficult for child porn surfers, drug users and the like. In a first reaction, however, Google Netherlands denied it's an issue for them, citing Google's neutrality. (Thanks Peter)

In Hong Kong, Big Brother turns into Big Crook

Due to increasingly popular disclosure legislation in the US data security breaches are almost starting to look like an American problem (see Every minute a sucker is born, with a one in two chance of being robbed of his identity).

But of course life is more cruel than that. Earlier this week a serious incident was reported in Hong Kong, where 20,000 confidential police complaints appeared on the Net, apparently because somone wanted to work on them from home. But it does look like Hong Kongers have more of a sense of humour about it. After the breach came to light the website containing the complaints was swiftly taken offline, and with Google's help even removed from the Google cache.

But on Tuesday a poster in a local newsgroup, using the alias "Big Crook", pointed out that the complaints file was still doing the rounds on BitTorrent having been downloaded more than 200,000 times.

"Big Crook" is a familair alias in Hong Kong: it used to belong to Chan Nai-ming, who was convicted of copyright infringement last November for sharing movies on the BitTorrent network.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

RFID arms race officially started

RFID tags haven't really hit the consumer space yet (and hopefully never will, because better alternatives are available), but the arms race between sneaky taggers and privacy-conscious consumers has already started.

And DIFRwear intends to become a major arms supplier on the consumer side, with blocking apparel based on the venerable principle of the Faraday cage. The company's first products are a wallet and a passport case.

This is a signal that should be picked up by everybody who considers building tracking techniques into their service model. People are becoming increasingly conscious of their privacy, and it doesn't help if tracking their behaviour becomes more intrusive than strictly necessary.

You don't need to tag everything and everybody in order to optimize your business: you can often use other techniques, such as QR codes or Colorzip icons.

There's a simple rule of thumb here: objects don't act, so these need to be tagged; they also don't need privacy. People can act on their own, so you want their cooperation. Make them react to your offers or instructions of their own free will; that way you create committed customers and you don't unnecessarily invade people's privacy.

And people won't start using large-scale countermeasures. Be warned.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lust Pigs beware: Big Brother's on his way

The cat's not completely out of the bag yet, but the judge has announced to open it just a little.

That, at least, can be concluded from US District Judge's James Ware's announcement that he intends to give the US Justice Department access to a sample of Google's search records.

The Judge's upcoming decision is driven by the fact that the Feds have finally asked someone with a freshman's course in statistics, finding out that 10,000 URLs and 1,000 search queries would do just as fine as the initially requested 1 million of each.

But an important bridge is being crossed. The Justice Department wants the data to illustrate what everybody already knows: huge numbers of people use search engines to find naughty pictures. I can't help wondering what's going to happen when all these people find out their searches are being recorded.

Fact is, a big majority has no idea they're being watched while happily trolling for porn. Chances are, the publicity around Google's handing over data to the Federal Government will let that cat out as well, causing a major privacy backlash.

Google better start preparing their damage control plan for when that happens.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

And don't forget...'s Pi Day. In remembrance of Archimede, whose constant it is, and Euclid, who did all the hard work.

And for those who have nothing better to do: you can also watch the giant Pi drop, at 1:59PM EST and again at 1:59PM PST.


After sex videos: nude wedding photographs

Why didn't I see this coming?

After this year's fad in Valentine pictures of couples in the nude the same thing turns out to be happening in wedding photography. At least that's what the China Daily reports, in a derisory article that calls "such exhibitionism [...] a surprisingly common feature of modern Chinese life." The newspaper quotes an angry mother who discovered one of these 'personal statements of modernity' in her daughter's album, besides the official wedding photographs in full drag.

Since most studios use digital cameras these days, you can just wait for some particularly juicy specimens to find their way to the internet, as happened with the now infamous Tammy Nyp video.

Apparently this already happened, as a little surfing shows here and here...

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Hi, this is my daughter. She's just wondering about your position requirements"

Everybody who's visited China knows the phenomenon: the Little Emperor.

China has had its famous one-child policy for decades, and enforcement has been particularly effective in the well-structured cities. And it's those cities that have seen a spectacular rise in wealth and buying power as well.

The result? One-child families that have more money than they ever dreamt of, and only one child to spend it on. If you've ever been in one of the glitzy shopping centres in Shanghai or Beijing you've seen these little groups: a single well-dressed and well-fed child, surrounded by two proud parents, at least two grandparents, and possibly an aunt or two. All of these adults are continuously monitoring the child's every possible need.

This generation is now leaving school and starting to look for jobs, as this hilarious article in Shanghai Daily describes. Turns out, the parents' habit of sorting out anything their Little Emperor needs is not easily shedded. Recruiters complain of finding one job applicant after another in their offices, accompanied by a parent who acts as their spokesman, personal manager and chaperon in one.

Very funny, but for the alert marketer also a great opportunity. Here's a generation with unprecendented spending power not only because of their education and resulting job levels, but aso through their doting parents.

With the right tone of voice, communication channel and marketing message 'Little Emperor Marketing' can be a unique way to tap into the vast potential of China's evolving consumer market. Any takers?

When will they ever learn?

Yesterday this blog mentioned the increasingly popular Demolish-Your-Own-Privacy soap series.

That was meant as a joke, people! But like so often in these gadget-rich times, reality overtakes imagination. You'd think the Tammy affair would've been a warning signal to teens with videophones. And to many it probably was. Indeed, an increasing number of Singaporeans is showing signs of worry about pictures circulating in cyber space, even ones taken surreptitiously by passers-by.

So it's interesting to see that a warning signal to many is a follow-me signal for others: the Tammy video has drawn out quite a number of wannabes who think it's cool to make sex videos of yourself, and share them with others. The Straits Times reports at least seven of them, circulating on the web, on file sharing services like, or on peer-to-peer networks like

There's even a naming convention: the kinky thing to do seems to be naming the video after the location where it was filmed (surreptitiously, no doubt - after all this is still Singapore). Fo avid searchers: the most popular ones out there are Bukit Batok and Airport. (No, not the 1975 movie.)

To each his own, as they say. But it puts yesterday's M1 WebCam value Plus ad in an even shriller light...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Teens distributing home made sex videos? Let's hand out webcams to their parents!

Hardly has Singapore recovered from the shock of the 'Tammy' sex video, or mobile phone company M1 offers the next instalment in the increasingly fashionable Demolish-Your-Own-Privacy soap series.

The Tammy Nyp affair tells us two things, loud and clear:
  1. Tech-savvy teens badly need to learn how to match technology skills with data protection;
  2. Their poor tech-unsavvy parents don't have the faintest clue what's going on behind the wallpapers on their kids' screens, or what to do about it.

So what's M1's answer? More webcams! Let's give them away with mobile phone subscriptions, so they can broadcast their videos right away! And guess what? Let's hand them out to people who are least capable to use them and are likely to wreak most havoc on both their own and their kids' privacy!

Actually, M1 says it so much better in the ad found in today's Straits Times: 'Want to see what your angel's been up to when you're not there? Now you'll never miss a moment's action with M1 WebCam Value Plus. No kidding...

I have no idea what M1 has in mind with this large-scale distribution of accidents-waiting-to-happen but boy would I like a quick word with the Einstein who thought this one up.

Great design from Singapore

No more jokes about Singabore. With bar top dancing now allowed and two giant casino resorts on the way, Singapore finally enters the world class design fray as well.

Lo and behold, Jaren Goh's take on one of Sony Ericsson's camera phones. It's arguably one of the sleekest handphone designs the world has ever seen, featuring state of the art technology with a borderless OLED screen and making Nokia's ludicrously overpriced Vertu phones look like the clunky pathetic things they really are.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Engrish in Germany

Engrish is not beholden to Asia, as this absolutely hilarious video shows. Great commercial from Berlitz, a company that promises to solve all your Engrish problems, be they German, Japanese or otherwise...

(Thanks Danie).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

If we copy Nokia's cleverness and Apple's marketing style, how can we go wrong?

So Microsoft tried to play the Apple game, and succesfully, too.

Today it unveiled the Origami, and both blogosphere and traditional press went for it, lock, stock, and barrel. Teaser sites, teaser videos, the rumour mill, no means was shunned and boy did we go for it. Heck, even I am writing about it, ain't I?

Having said that, what on Earth makes the WinTel partnership think this hybrid in-between-pocket-and-portable will succeed where Newton, PDA and Tablet PC failed?

Unless it's the unexpected success of the Nokia 770, of course.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ignorance and greed leave F1 fans in need

Formula 1 fans have a host of very capable websites available, giving them access to any type of news, backgrounds, results or whatever else they want to know about the sports, the races, the cars and the drivers. is arguably the most greedy of these. The site's news articles provide a watered-down version of reality that go nicely together with the ubiquitous F1 politics, but by virtue of being the official F1 site it has one single advantage: it's the only site that offers a live feed during races.

The most annoying aspect of the site is its utter greediness: right-click your mouse anywhere over its pages and you see this message. No copying of any kind is allowed, not even a quick copy&paste of a bit of text into an email message to a friend.

But wait, there's news! has now taken greediness to the next level: it offers text and picture messages on your mobile phone!

Rejoice, until you see the rates: $6.50 for one race delivers you 15 text messages; pay $4 extra and one fuzzy low-res picture will appear on your tiny mobile phone screen! And as a sign of's boundless generosity, you're offered big savings, too: $120 for a whole season!

My cup runneth over. This will be a predictably short-lived initiative. Clearly, have a lot of learning curve to cover in the realm of mobile marketing...