Connectivity: It Ain’t What You Do…It’s The Way That You Do It

There has been a bout of mini-hysteria in response to the latest gizmo to come out from those clever chaps at Google Research. In what amounts to an academic paper (co-published with Michael Fink of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), they describe how they can pick up the audio output from TV programmes on the microphone of a viewer’s laptop. The laptop then ” _irreversibly_ compresses the viewer’s ambient audio to summary statistics” (their italics). The Google lads then decode the stats to determine the programme and provide a 4 key services (described below) to the viewer.

In a nice turn of phrase, they describe this as _mass personalisation_ as it combines the mass media of broadcast TV with the personalisation of the Internet (they provide personalised services to people based on what they are watching).

I want to quickly put aside the privacy/security issues that many people are wailing about. “This is big brother” and “They are eavesdropping” seem to be the big cries. Well, firstly, they make it pretty clear on page 1 of the paper that the computation to turn the audio into statistics is done locally, and irreversibly (by the viewer’s PC), not by Google.

Secondly, even if they **could** eavesdrop on conversations, is that so very different to today’s Telco Operators? Operators **could** eavesdrop on our calls all the time. In some parts of the world they are discouraged by legislation, in others I suspect they are positively encouraged to do so by the state. Surely, it wouldn’t be too tough to protect us with similar regulation or legislation from what Google proposes?

Sorry to be unfashionable, but I think that what they have done is pretty smart. It demonstrates why they are light-years ahead of many Telco’s when it comes to the Telco’s own core competence: Connectivity.

To explain this, it is worth looking at the 4 applications that the Google researchers suggest could exploit the technology:

Personalised Information Layers

Once the technology has recognised what is on TV (in their example it is that Hollywood mini-hunk, Tom Cruise), then it can search a database for relevant products and services that might be relevant to the user. This can be further refined by cross-referencing with the viewer’s own preferences or demographics. ‘Get a signed photo of Tom at www…’ for a teenager, or ‘Tom is wearing a Gold Rolex…’ for the minted middle-ager.

Advertisers, of course, could join the party by leveraging Google’s core business, Paid Search, and bid for the right to pop relevant advertisements to the viewer (on the laptop).

Connectivity Lesson:

Google has developed a terrific tool for connecting users with relevant products and services that is based on context + user preferences. Advertisers are connected with their potential customers contextually as well because the advertisements can change to match the action on the screen.

Thus far, most Telco’s have only scratched the surface when it comes to personalising product & service offerings on their portals and in their device menu structures. A few enable the most used services to ‘bubble up’ to the top of the menu structure, or to display more prominently in the portal, but their is little attempt at making products and services contextual – e.g. when two users are SMS chatting, why not screen pop something that says ‘Call [friend’s name] now’. As for contextually advertising, Telco’s have yet to start.

Ad-hoc Peer Communities

Flickr, MySpace, Yahoo!’s My Groups and other social networking websites have proved that people like to interact with others with similar interests. Google propose using their technology to give people **real-time** access to communities of people who have similar interests and/or are doing the same here. For example, viewers could join a chat group of other people that are watching the programme.

Connectivity Lesson:

This is a great example of connecting people. This is what Telco’s do for a living. The difference is that Google is helping to get _groups_ together – something that Telco’s have often talked about (Calling Circles & Buddy Lists etc.) but done little about. Currently, I can talk to friends I already know (assuming I have their number), but I can’t easily find a way of chatting to people on my phone who have the same interests as me, or are doing what I’m doing. The reason, I think, that Telco’s find this hard is that they have traditionally had very poor CRM systems because they have been delivering a single commodity product – plain Voice – and have not really had to segment their customers beyond what can be achieved by a few tariff plans. In the new Telco 2.0 world, this will need to change.

Real-Time Popularity Ratings

This will enable people to see how popular a particular programme is at anytime (and for their particular demographic group or interest segment). Also useful for advertisers to see what types of people are watching what programmes (and adjust advertising messages accordingly)

Connectivity Lesson:

I don’t want to repeat myself – this is clearly about giving people and businesses the information they want to make better decisions about what, or who, they connect with.

Video “Bookmarks”

Viewers can press a button on their laptop to record all, or part, of a programme they are watching and produce a personalised video library. They get the content they want – a kind of ‘Video-Storage-on-Demand’.

Connectivity Lesson:

I think you’ve got the idea now. Content/Advertising/Voice & Messaging is all about Connectivity.

Now here’s the tricky bit: My editor told me to write about ‘Content 2.0 – Advertising & Attention’ but this piece is as much about the connectivity associated with Voice & Messaging 2.0. I suppose this shows how Telco 2.0 is all about breaking down the barriers. I’ll sling this in the content bucket and be damned…