Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street Journal’

Social Scraping

Monday, October 18th, 2010

What are the ethical boundaries?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal got our attention. The article is titled “Scrapers Dig Deep for Data on the Web”.

This article begins by talking about a “break-in” at a web site called PatientsLikeMe in May of this year. A new member was using sophisticated software to scrape or copy information from private online forums. PatientsLikeMe was eventually able to identify and block the intruder. The company did inform its members of the break-in.

It’s a fact of life that there are companies out there actively scraping data from social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Scraped or not, there is a lot of valuable information on social networking sites companies want and will actively seek. The question is should there be limits placed on what information is available for companies to collect or analyze. There are certainly ethical and legal challenges that need to be addressed.

For the ethical and savvy marketers, information from social networking sites can provide a wealth of customer insight. Social networking sites also have become an extension of customer service and support. Some companies have staff monitoring the sites and in some cases are responding to service problems through social media sites. The use of social networking sites and the information from these sites will only increase over time. According to the Winterberry Group, spending on data from online sources will more than double to $840 million in 2012 from spending of $410 million in 2009.

Users of social networking sites expect marketers will gather and use their data. A survey conducted by Webtrends indicates half those surveyed who use Twitter expect brands to use their information. However half also indicated they would leave social networking sites if they became too commercial.

So how do we ensure collecting this information remains within ethical bounds?

The answer may rest with the social sites and the collectors of this information. For example, Facebook is putting a strong effort into data security. It is important for them to lead the way to taking this issue seriously. Nielsen says it no longer scrapes data from sites requiring individual account access unless it has permission. These are examples on both sides of the issue.

Social network scraping can remain within reasonable bounds that protect information that needs to remain confidential. However, it will take the social networking industry leaders to invest in data security and markers to abide by ethical practices. This is yet another stage in the evolution of the digital world. And, unfortunately, there will always be some individuals and companies that attempt to reach beyond the areas of reasonable ethical behavior. It is up to all of us in the digital world to call their actions into question to protect this valuable world of information.

So how are you making use of social networks in managing your business in the digital world?

That Sign Can See Me!

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Where is recognition technology taking direct response marketing?

How would you feel about this scenario?

You walk up to a beverage vending machine. It is a flat screen monitor with high resolution images of your beverage choices. After a second or so of standing in front of the machine, the machine TELLS you what beverage selections might suit your taste and they begin to flash on the screen.

We have all probably seen this technology to some degree in our everyday lives. Whether it’s the camera at the ATM machine or toll booth, in-store digital displays, the voice at the self-serve gas station telling us to reposition the pump…well I am sure you get it.

But this new technology takes things many steps further. It actually profiles you on the spot to determine gender, age, ethnicity, and level of attentiveness. According to NEC digital signage group, these signs can identify the right gender 90% of the time and age within 10 years 70% of the time. This is the transformation of digital display boards into powerful direct response marketing tools. Japan is taking the lead in using this technology for digital public displays. They are also incorporating mobile technology into the display boards to make them even more interactive. The Wall Street Journal has an article titled “Billboards That Can See You” that provides more detail on what’s happening in Japan with this technology.

For privacy advocates, this can be construed as a scary thing. In particular, there are the demographic profiling aspects of the new technology. It has all the possibilities of taking our concerns about internet privacy to another level. We are in the midst of increased consumer sensitivity to privacy issues.

So will there be acceptance of this new technology? Retailers may be motivated. They are already investing in Smart Networks that do not have this extra functionality. A Walmart revealed at the Digital Sign Show this past February revealed there is a sales lift in departments which featured Smart Networks:
• Electronics – 7 percent
• Over-the-counter 23 percent
• Food – 13 percent
• Health /Beauty – 28

It is inevitable this kind of technology will become more main stream and retail will continue to invest in-store digital networks. With the advances in displays, recognition technology, mobile, etc. and the Generation Y or the Millennial Generation who grew up using this kind of technology becoming major consumers, it will become part of our culture.

The question will be how consumer privacy is integrated into the implementation of this technology. The lessons learned from the online privacy should heighten awareness of the need to deal with privacy up front.

Okay. So how will interactive display technology impact you as you manage your business in the digital world?

More News about Digital Content

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Did you hear what’s happening with your dictionary and the espresso machine?

Recent articles in the Wall Street Journal brought to light changes in content delivery that are impacting an old traditional publication and how on-demand paperbacks are going direct to the consumer.

The Oxford English Dictionary may not be printed again.  This is a 126-year-old dictionary.  According to the WSJ, the online version of the dictionary gets 2 million hits a month from subscribers.  The cost of the online subscription is $295.  The full printed version is 20 volumes and weighs 130lbs.  The cost is $1,165 and has sold 30,000 sets since being published in 1989.

With its online subscription and the availability of free sites like, your “oxford” is your laptop or smart phone.  This is another example of a business model that has been turned on its head by the digital world.  It will be interesting to see how Oxford University Press, publisher of the dictionary, evolves its business.  Old reference books that have gone online like Encyclopedia Britannica have fallen far behind Google and Wikipedia as online reference tools.

Another change in the traditional world of books is the on-demand book. These on-demand books are not produced at the printer but at the bookstore thru what some have called an “ATM device for books”. One of the direct to consumer printing machines available is called the Espresso Book Machine.  It is manufactured by the New York firm On Demand Books, LLC and has sold 51 machines so far placed in 50 locations. The fully configured machines cost between $100,000 – 150,000.

A three hundred-page book produced by these new on-demand machines can be printed, trimmed and bound within 4 minutes at a cost of pennies per page.   On Demand Books claims access to over four million public domain titles provided in part through a partnership with Google for access to public domain titles and Ingram Content Group for in-copyright titles.  If you’re in the Boston area, you can check it out at the Coop in Cambridge.

According to Interquest Research Group, digitally printed books currently represent about 4% of the market and are expected to grow to 15% by 2015.

Okay.  So how will the evolving world of digital content impact how you manage your business in the digital world?