No Internet? No Problem for New Peer-to-Peer Social App Outpost…

Unless you’ve been completely off the grid for the past 12 months (actually that’s the perfect environment for Manet & Mesh’s Outpost app but we’ll get to that in a bit), you’d have noticed that there’s a cultural revolution afoot at both ends of the political spectrum. The U.S. electorate has made it known that they have lost patience with the establishment and its relationship with business. It’s not just here in the U.S. either. A similar sentiment exists in the United Kingdom and other European countries. Folks have had enough with the status quo, big business, big brother, big bills and, well, just big everything!

While much of the current discourse concerns the relationship between the political establishment and big business, the anti-establishment feeling runs much deeper in the broader population. Large consumer software companies like Apple, Google, Facebook etc. have not been spared. To protect their futures, and in order to remain relevant, they have made headline acquisitions of fast growing young companies that have apps popular with younger users. Millennials and Generation Zs have already left, will soon leave, or will never use the likes of iTunes, Facebook and Skype, in favor of new apps and services, many of which are yet to be created.

Five years ago Tech Crunch’s Sarah Perez penned a harbinger article “The New Social Network: Who’s Nearby, Not Who You Know,” concerning the emergence of a new kind of social network based on geographical proximity. Sadly, some of the pioneers in this area mentioned in the article, like Mingle and Igobubble, are no longer with us. However the point Sarah made that ‘It seems like each service could be a part of a bigger whole – a new proximity-based social network that puts location first, people and content second’, was an insightful prediction.

The experience of pioneers in this area, combined with the use of new technologies such as off-grid mobile mesh networking, more robust peer-to-peer connectivity protocols, including Bluetooth 5, and end user’s appetite for new tech experiences, provides a perfect platform for a new breed of social apps. Combine this emerging platform with growing end user aversion to the status quo and you have the perfect set of conditions in which a new type of social communications app will take off.

Bluetooth 5, which is due for release late 2016 will quadruple range, double speed and increase data broadcasting capacity by 800%. This will allow far greater peer-to-peer range and content sharing over Android and Apple peer-to-peer frameworks. Early peer-to-peer messaging apps “FireChat and  Jott” have certainly found niche markets but a peer-to-peer social app has yet to emerge.

Enter Manet & Mesh’s Outpost app.

In much the same way as Pokémon Go changed the rules of the game by using geo-based augmented reality content for its phenomenally successful game play, Manet & Mesh’s Outpost app represents a seismic shift in social apps: It doesn’t depend on an internet connection to connect users or to exchange data and information.

You can download the app in remote locations where no internet connection is available. It uses ad hoc mobile mesh networks made up of users’ devices and WiFi networking devices. The company is pioneering the development of what it calls ‘Data Beacons’ which add storage and connectivity to local mobile mesh network infrastructure. Outpost allows users to connect with others in their local  proximity to message, share data, based on common interests, and engage in social interactions.

While the company is at an early stage its founders are no strangers to start-up challenges. Oscar Jenkins is a native Australian who moved to the United Kingdom in in the early 1990s. He started and ran a series of pioneering award-winning internet and mobile companies. He moved to the U.S. in 2015 and has been waiting for the right opportunity and to meet a technical business partner for his next business.

“Manet & Mesh Tech is perfectly placed to take advantage of a seismic shift in how younger users and early adopters will interact and share data securely and directly rather than via Internet. This is by far the biggest opportunity I have seen in my 25 years at the forefront of tech and internet development”. Oscar Jenkins

Joe Chavez, Manet & Mesh Tech’s co-founder, recently met Jenkins in Reno for beer and a chat about an idea Jenkins had been mulling over since Burning Man 2015. At this first meeting they clicked and immediately realized they were completely aligned on a vision for off-grid apps and services. Aside from his day job as a principal software engineer, Chavez has designed and developed mobile mesh systems for communications, gaming and IoT verticals. He is deeply involved in Space Apps Reno, a hackathon organized by NASA, and through his work on beacon technology holds a patent concerning beacons that contain relative directional vectors that point to location or objects of interest.

Jenkins and Chavez have bootstrapped their company to date and are now searching for investors on AngelList and Gust, from whom they are looking to raise $1m in seed funding to take business to the next stage and beyond. The pair’s unique blend of experience and creativity is a solid foundation for a tech start-up and their passion to realize their imagined future is extremely contagious. Manet & Mesh Technologies certainly is a  young tech company to watch.

AngelList: Manet & Mesh Technologies Inc.

Gust: Manet & Mesh Technologies Inc.

Website: www.manetmesh.com

Oscar Jenkins LinkedIn

Joe Chavez LinkedIn

 

The Google AdWords Trap

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Back in 2004 when Google had just moved to the Googleplex, had less than 1000 employees and did its unusual IPO for $85 a share, I was in the United Kingdom pulling my hair out because Google AdWords was ripping me off. I couldn’t believe I was the only small business with click rates on my ads that exceeded the number of ad representations I was getting. I spoke to some colleagues in my industry. They confirmed they were having the same issue, so I contacted the press.

I’m pretty sure my experience revealed the world wide issue of Google AdWords ‘click fraud’ when on December 6, 2004, the article Advertisers’ budgets hit by growing cost of ‘click fraud’ was published in the Financial Times, authored by IT Correspondent Maija Pesola.

I’ve had a love hate relationship with Google AdWords ever since. I’ve recently dusted off my rusty AdWords skills, in my capacity as a marketing consultant for a client. Yes, AdWords has certainly grown up a great deal since I last used it but I’m afraid to say I’ve confronted a whole new set of challenges and one of my quotes back in 2004 still rings true,

“When it works, it works really well, but the whole system is based on underlying honesty. Once that is undermined, the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards.”

However this time the ‘honesty’ issues, or perhaps competency issues, are due to Google’s unimaginable success.

I set up a new AdWords account earlier this week. Slick. I got a short list of keywords and phrases together and knocked up two ads. That’s when my difficulties began. Not slick. Both of my ads were rejected for various capitalization issues. I addressed these but then both ads were disapproved because the destination site, to which the ads were connected, threw up the following issues ‘site violates policy’, ‘site not working’ and ‘malware’. I reviewed the policy and our site. I could not for the life of me see where, or how, we had fallen foul of the rules, so I called AdWords support.

A pretty standard automated routine took my details, including my AdWords Customer ID. I was then routed to a call center in Manila, where I spoke to Lizzy in her hard to understand English, I had to go through the whole process of providing the details I had just proffered during the automated process and gave her details of my issue. Lizzy then told me her job was to get me to the right person to help. Arrrgggghhh…

After being placed on hold for a few more minutes, I was connected to Balla in India. Guess what? I had to provide all my details again and explain my issues. By this time I had been on the call for over 20 minutes. Balla told me that our site contained the word ‘Guarantee’ and because Google was trying to ‘cut down of gimmick site promises’ this word was not allowed. Rather than argue the point with a contractor in a call center in India, I resolved to edit our site.

Frustrated with the service I received I decided to leave feedback in the ‘short automated survey’ I was offered at the end of my call. As a native Aussie I have no problem with the Aussie accent, but the female Aussie voice that greeted me, and walked me through, the survey was so thick and shrill I had difficulty understanding her instructions and really did just want to hang up and end my Google call torture. I was brave and held out. ‘Please enter 1 for satisfied, 2 for dissatisfied’ I hit 2….. ‘Please enter 1 for satisfied, 2 for dissatisfied’…. I hit 2 again……‘Please enter 1 for satisfied, 2 for dissatisfied’. I gave up.

Upon checking our website, there was no instance of ‘Guarantee’ in our copy, images or code. A previous version of our site, which had been replaced over a month ago, did contain ‘Guarantee’ so I realized Google was probably reviewing a cached version of our site. I then went through the online process of getting a site review. The site review resolved that we still violated Google’s policies and we were no further forward.

I took a break for a day getting my energy back and courage up to deal with Google AdWords support again. That time I had Bella in India to begin with….You can see where that went and I still had two suspended ads and no way of navigating this insane situation.

You’d hope that companies that allow this sort of customer service nightmare would be subject to market forces and go the way of the dinosaur, but what are the chances that will happen to Google? I’m glad I have the weekend to gather the strength to have another go at sorting this out on Monday.

Google set out to disrupt the search market and in so doing has changed the world. As a company it has historically advocated interest of the little guy, but tellingly at the end of last year, the company dropped its “Don’t Be Evil” mantra from its code of conduct. Should we be worried about a soon to be 21 year old Google reaching the legal drinking age?

Of course any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Advertising Model Alternatives?

So Online Advertising is big business! But is it sustainable, and more importantly, is it effective?

There is no doubt that the short answer to both of these questions is “YES”. However, while some forms of online promotion are both sustainable and effective, like SEM and contextual messaging, in my opinion, online display advertising is reaching a dead end.

According to Wikipedia, in 2012 online Advertising revenues in the United States totaled $36.57 billion, a 15.2% increase over the $31.74 billion in revenues in 2011.[1]:4–5 U.S. internet ad revenue hit an historic high of $20.1 billion for the first half of 2013, up 18% over the same period in 2012. [2] Online advertising is widely used across virtually all industry sectors.

The famous John Wanamaker observation “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half'” may have held true pre-internet, but online advertising is fully accountable. Online advertising comes with the tools to assess the effectiveness of all online promotions. Average online display advertising costs have steadily reduced over the past decade, along with response rates, and supply outstrips demand in most situations. Yet, advertisers doggedly refuse to give up on traditional techniques, which are not well suited to the online medium and represents another classic example of #OldTechvsNewTech.

I for one, shy away from sites that interrupt me with advertisements. More often than not this is not a single site either. Ads chase you from one site to another in a hope that a search term you used on site A, may be a good hook for an ad on site B, or C and so on. I find the video ads on YouTube, and other video sites, pointless if you can choose to avoid them, and loads of my apps seem to be now sporting display ads. I have abandoned my Accuweather app because when I try to look at long term forecasts, for example, as I scroll down to review the information I’m seeking, the ad follows me down the page preventing me from seeing the very information, for which I am using the app – Aghhhhh!  I’m just not interested!

Here’s another personal example of what I’m talking about. I’ve recently cut the cord and now my family and I consume all our TV from the Net using ROKU boxes. While there’s still some advertising, most has gone. What a relief! Its like a background noise stopping – you don’t notice it was there until it’s gone. I think online audiences are at a point where they will start saying NO to ads and vote, like we did, by taking their business where the ads aren’t. This presents a big problem for publishers and broadcaster, among others. I expect whether or not content is accompanied by advertising is a key driver in this #OldTechvsNewTech battle involving traditional production, broadcasting and cable #OldTech companies, for, and #NewTech companies like, @NetFlix, @Amazon, @HuLu and @Aereo, against, advertising. This battle is heating up and my money is on the latter seeing off the former or the former embracing the @NewTech approach.

Is there an alternative to this model of internet advertising, which can support commercial online endeavors? YES, there are other ways to generate revenue and not interrupt  your customers’ user experience. Subscription is the obvious alternative, and it is being used both online and via apps. Another, less familiar model, is B2C Over the Top (OTT) mobile messaging. Revenue generated from businesses sending simple text messages to consumers, who have agreed to receive such messages, is a well regulated, cost-effective and an incredibly successful medium. The global mobile network operators jealously guard this market, which is worth in the region of $50b – $100b annually. Its time for the #NewTech companies to get in on the action by working with mobile messaging aggregators, who are the intermediaries between the mobile networks and the businesses sending B2C mobile messages. How does this model work? Simple, in exchange for content a user gives permission to the publisher to send relevant commercial messages to the customer’s mobile device from time to time.

One may argue that this is simply interruption advertising in all but name, but I would counter that the messages being sent do not interrupt the content being consumed. Furthermore, when received by the recipient, they accord with marketing best-practice principles; namely expected by the recipient, relevant, valued and timely.

Your thoughts and comments on this developing situation would be greatly appreciated and will help me flesh out future posts on this topic.