I Know What I ‘Like’, Or Do I?

Somewhere in the steamy streets of Dhaka an earnest posse of veiled women and young men are busily becoming admirers of a bevvy of stars and businesses around the world.

They are employees of what are euphemistically termed ‘click farms’; a sort of agricultural production line of fake ‘Likes’ that pepper Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

In the good old days we had automated bots that did this job and social media companies such as Google waged a war to counter the automated trend.  To a certain extent they won the battle, but the fake brigade still smelt money and re-focused  their operations on human keyboard-tappers instead.

While the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, is a recognised hub for click farms so are other places such as Cairo and Indonesia.  It is no coincidence that these centres are located in countries where workers get paid a pittance.The Guardian reports

For the workers, though, it is miserable work, sitting at screens in dingy rooms facing a blank wall, with windows covered by bars, and sometimes working through the night. For that, they could have to generate 1,000 likes or follow 1,000 people on Twitter to earn a single US dollar.

Another dubious example is Shareyt, whose owner Sharaf al-Nomani, told the same newspaper that: “around 30% or 40% of the clicks will come from Bangladesh“. The Guardian equated this statistic to 25,000 people in Dhaka repetitively punching their computer keyboards, hour after hour, to enhance the visibility of a client’s product or service.

But these sweatshop conditions doesn’t seem to deter well known clients; some of which may surprise you.

For example, the USA State Department recently had its knuckles rapped for spending US$630,000  to boost its Facebook fan following.  Most of these new fans came from Cairo, which given the current political sensitivities has an aura of the absurd.

There is nothing covert about click farm companies and the ‘Likes’ they generate are quite genuine, in the sense that a human being created the action.  Take a company such as WeSellLikes.com. Its domain name choice is clearly not attempting to mask its activities.  If I was so inclined I could buy 10,000 ‘real worldwide likes’ for less than $US100.

Practical yes, ethical…barely. So why do businesses indulge in such activities?.  

The greatest motivation is fear. Fear that their enterprise will look pathetic with its 200 genuine Facebook Likes compared to Competitor X down the road who has 10,000. A common belief is that customer perception of their brand might be adversely affected by such a discrepancy in numbers.

While there may be an element of truth in this assumption (according to  research 31% will check out reviews, ratings, likes and followers before buying), buying 1 million twitter followers from an Indonesian web entrepreneur for $US600 for your farmhouse cheese brand, isn’t necessarily going to solve your online marketing woes.  

Customers are becoming increasingly aware of the ruse and the more savvy they become, the less effective these click farms buy-ins will be.

But one business often begets another. Click Auditors are the new breed, with London’s Status People being one such service provider. They assist companies to block out the fakes for as little as $US5.50 per month.The real trouble for a business begins when you start to believe your own marketing hype and strategically plan based on false social media analysis. I would like to say that such folly does not exist but regrettably it does.Of course this being a genuine blog post I would welcome genuine ‘Likes‘ and ‘Followers‘ – although it is highly doubtful that Mr Sharaf al-Nomani, will do so personally.


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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Memristor Moments & Hurricane Hunting – A Peek At What 2014 Will Bring

It’s always good to take a punt on what might happen in the future.  Forty years ago the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote that you might find the following in a 2014 World Trade Fair, and he is not too far off the mark as some of his predictions show:

“By 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony”

“Men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better”

“Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare automeals”

“It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the “brains” of robots”

“Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with “Robot-brains”*vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver”

“Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books”.

If anything the pace of change has increased significantly since 1964 so what trends and developments might we expect in the year ahead?  The following are the results of my crystal ball gazing.

The Way We Work

The debate about the merits of remote working will continue to ebb and flow, with no clear cut decision either way. The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach will bring with it  a huge surge in the growth of the mobile workforce.  This will be coupled by a corresponding growth in the need for data and device security as imported malware on personal devices will pose any even greater threat to company security.

As businesses evolve into ‘any-time/anywhere’ enterprises the change will bring with it a huge societal shift, as new technologies increasingly blurs the line between ‘work’ and ‘play’.  The need to reinforce a work/life balance in the workforce will be greater than ever as the realisation sinks in that the new work practice is not simply about handing out smart devices to employees.  Companies will also need to become less risk averse if they are to succeed.

Mobile But Not As We Know It

Mobile will continue to be one of the dominant trends in 2014 and we will have even greater dependence on our mobile devices. Marketing will increasingly focus on mobile and mobile content marketing strategies will separate out those who succeed in the marketplace and those who do not.

Mobile Apps will be more carefully targeted and smaller.  Their development will surge ahead at the expense of applications.  There is a prediction that app developers will be looking for ways to snap together apps to create larger applications.

It is probable, but not definite, that augmented reality glasses such as Google Glass will finally go mainstream in 2014, as the march towards wearables continues. Smart watches will become ‘de rigueur’ in all the smartest circles and will live up to their name by becoming even smarter than the existing prototypes we have today.

Transformative Technologies

There are several of these either in use, or in the offing.  Here are my top picks for the year ahead:

  • Bitcoins
    Although I have written previously (with guarded skepticism) about the merits or otherwise of Bitcoins, it is clear that there is continuing adoption of the alternative ‘currency’. But it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’ as, while is has apparently been a boon for online drug peddlers, its value fluctuates widely. Between November and December 2013 Bitcoin’s value rose from $US 200 to $US 1,200 only to lose half its value by December 7th.
    Little wonder then most holders of Bitcoins are keen to change them into more tangible assets such as bullion. According to Business Insider nearly $US 7 million of bitcoins were spent on Black Friday and a large proportion of them were traded for silver and gold coins and bars.
  • Drones
    Although both loved and loathed in equal measure depending which side of the political fence you are on, robotics and drones in particular are more and more invading our lives.  Miniaturisation and new nano material technologies make this feasible and affordable.
    While military uses of drones are well known, the recent announcement by Amazon.com that it would use drones to convey book orders to customers broadened the debate about their use.
    Other uses include Tijuana authorities using them to monitor traffic, locate landslides and control wildfires. The US uses them to hunt hurricanes, undertake 3D-mapping, monitor the condition of farmer’s fields and offer a degree of protection for wildlife.
  • Get your DNA sequenced for just $100
    Surprising as it may seem this is not as revolutionary as it at first sounds.  A new nanofluidic chip developed by BioNanomatrix makes this such cheap sequencing possible.  In the future personalised medicine will mean that your doctor will be able to determine (for example) genetic changes in a cancerous tumor with increased accuracy –  and for the what it would cost you today to have a chest X-Ray.
  • The year of the Memristor
    Your cat is smarter than a supercomputer;  its synapses switch on and interconnects thousands of neurons, modifying brain circuits and boosting functions such as facial recognition. University of Michigan scientist, Wei Lu, told The Register that he believes that “Memristors can potentially learn like synapses and be used to build human brain-like computers”.
  • VoIP phone calls (made via the Internet on platforms such as Skype) will surpass the use of standard land-line connections in 2014
  • Your check out operator at the local supermarket will become an increasing novelty as retail turns increasingly to automated systems
  • Apple’s Touch ID technology will; find greater use in other applications and products
  • 3D Printing which has already ushered in a new ‘industrial revolution’ will expand it use exponentially in 2014

..and remembering another 1964 prediction of Isaac Asimov,

“Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing”

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