Navigating the new world of work

Category: Technology & Society

Duplicitous Data

This is LinkedIn’s latest crafty attempt at trying to get you to hand over your data. They’re ineloquently asking for it outright, rather than trying to mine it somehow. I suppose that makes sense. So, what’re they doing? By providing your salary amount, they promise to tell you if they think you’re not getting paid enough but you’ll also get free general salary insights for an entire year. Intriguing.

For now, I’m sure they’ll tell me that employers or recruiters aren’t going to be able to see that. In fact it says that at the bottom. And I’m sure eventually, at best, they’d get a band or range, or an anonymous aggregated average. But I can see a time in a not too distant future where recruiters will be able to work out how much they think they ought to be paying you initially based on an average… but potentially then based on what you’re getting paid now and what they think they can get away with paying you.

There’s an obvious problem with this. Taking the above example of a Marketing Manager. The salary range for this could be vast depending on the size of company or the size of budget or the team you’d be managing. I can picture scenarios where people are being told they earn a lot more, or less than others purely because of the nature of the job. It would make a lot more sense for more generic jobs, but they’re not the sort of jobs you usually get here – most of the jobs on LinkedIn are fairly nuanced in terms of role and responsibilities. I suppose LinkedIn could get a little cleverer the more data it collects… And that’s the idea. I’m still not giving them my salary though.

Should you always listen to your customers?

As I’ve been doing some research about implementing innovation as a consulting capability – I’ve started with some classic books. I’ve just finished ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ by Clayton Christensen and it was really, really interesting. It’s an old book by digital standards – it was written in 1994, but it’s still just as relevant today.

The Innovator's Dilemma

The Innovator’s Dilemma

I’ll tell you about one of my biggest takeaways from the book. It’s from a case study about Eli Lilly, a large pharmaceutical company headquartered in the US.

Eli Lilly is a world leading insulin manufacturer – insulin for diabetics. Back in the 1970s, research funded by Eli Lilly experimented with the use of synthetic insulin in order to replace that of the insulin that was currently being extracted from the ground-up pancreases of cows and pigs. Animal insulin caused a fraction of diabetic patients to develop a resistance meaning it was rendered useless. Eventually, in partnership with some other technology companies, they managed create insulin proteins that were the structural equivalent of human insulin proteins which were 100% pure and did not cause a resistance build-up.

However – it didn’t sell. Or at least, not very well. Eli Lilly found it hard to sustain a premium price for the ‘Humulin’ instead of using cheaper, animal insulin. Growth was slow.

On the face of it, this just looks like a classic case of supply and demand. In fact, consumers were quite happy with insulin from pigs and Eli Lilly had offered a premium price product where there was actually no need.

Instead of focusing on the insulin itself, Novo, a much smaller company started developing insulin ‘pens’ to provide a much more convenient alternative to the fiddly and potentially dangerous process it was at the time. Instead of taking out all of the equipment, measuring the correct amount, flicking the syringe and finally inserting it, the pens meant that you can have multiple days supply of insulin in one pen and it measured the amount itself. All you had to do was press a button for easy application.

It was due to this that Novo increased its share of the market substantially – across the world, leaving Eli Lilly in the dust.

With the benefit of hindsight it seems obvious that Eli Lilly made the wrong decisions, after all only a fraction of people with diabetes develop insulin resistance. If they’d done some more research, wouldn’t they have found out from patients that what they really want is something easier to use?

Christensen relays some of his students’ comments on the matter:

“What is obvious in retrospect might not be obvious in the thick of battle. Of all the physicians to whom Lilly’s marketers listened, for example, which ones tended to carry the most credibility? Endocrinologists whose practices focused on diabetes care, the leading customers in the business. What sorts of patients are most likely to consume the professional interests of these specialists? Those with the most advanced and intractable problems, among which insulin resistance was prominent.

What, therefore, were these leading customers likely to tell Lilly’s marketers when they asked what should be done to improve the next-generation insulin product?”

Eat Cookie?

Okay so I’ve been slacking. But I’ve had a busy May and I attempt to recount some of the things I’ve been doing very soon. But I had to post about this today because it’s so relevant. I came across the first instance of the implementation of the new Cookie Law today.

I’m glad so many companies are taking it so seriously, so quickly. But is there any research on how much consumers really know about what companies are doing with their data? And is this the best way of getting consent?

Big Fan of Instagram

Lately there’s been a lot of hype over the app instagram. An iPhone app that allows you to take and store pictures using a variety of filters as if you had different camera lenses. It also allows you to share and view other photos with other people and view those that are popular and highly rated. So, as these new instagram photos kept poppin’ up online, I couldn’t help feeling that they were the sorts of photos that d like to be able to take if I could ever bothered to buy and learn to use an SLR. Since I’d never got round to having the time or money, I thought this could be a nice compromise, considering I already have an iPhone.

A day out in London during the Christmas holidays that didn’t involve going to uni was a good chance to try it out. So I begin with some probably fairly random pictures of London, featuring the Royal Arcade and the Museum of William Morris Wallpaper.

Next I took some pictures of an exhibition of glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly at an exhibition in the Halcyon Gallery. Pretty weird stuff.

I also went to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and took some pictures there. I was really pleasantly surprised at that park. Although there were a lot of people it didn’t feel too overcrowded and there were so many areas for food and drink that you didn’t have to queue. Do wish some of the other German Markets would take a leaf out of it’s book.

Although I think I’ve taken some really nice pictures from my day trip, I’m well aware that my photography skills are greatly lacking and could do with a lot of work, especially when compared to what’s already out there on instagram. It’s really well worth a look. The question now of course, is what impact these sorts of apps and other photography apps like them might start to have on the sales of the digital camera. We already know the Kodak has suffered irreversibly from overlooking the potential of digital. I guess soon others such as Canon and Fujifilm are going to have to innovate or die…

Anthropomorphic Accounts

Recently I’ve noticed a trend with some of my accounts. When they’re trying to tell me something they’re increasingly using more emotive language, in an effort to get me to feel something and therefore complete a call to action. Here is an example from Dropbox:

They’re showing me a before and after sketch representation of my Dropbox and what it looks like right now, and how I can make my Dropbox no longer feel ‘lonely’ and brighten it up with some greenery and flowers by using it a bit more. I’m unconvinced as to whether making my little box of cloud in the sky ‘lonely’ is going to make me want to use it, especially since the ‘cloud’ is kind of like the files are floating around in the ether, and it doesn’t feel like something in particular has them and has emotions itself.

Of course I’ve seen it been done before, here’s a familiar image from Twitter, with a cute robot type thing that’s lost his hand. Which is for some reason a lot bigger than the other one.

I’ve also recently come across this one from yfrog. Why is he incased in ice? I have no idea.

This one genuinely made me smile, with no picture required.

Moo is a sticker printing company and I sent an order for company stickers a few months ago, and this is the response I got. It’s written from first person perspective which makes it sound like it’s a more personal email, even though I’m well aware that it’s an automatic confirmation email after confirming the purchase.

Anthropomorphic technology is an interesting concept. With the addition of the ‘talking’ computer Siri on the iPhone 4S, is Apple paving the way for the introduction of the feeling of normality when talking to your phone? We know from history that people can be easily fooled with examples such as Eliza and even automated telemarketing on the home phone can still confuse some people…Some others also prefer to talk to someone when searching for something online, such as those avatars on Ikea’s website that act a bit liked a glorified search engine and are completely automated, they just have a friendly face slapped on them. A lot of people are saying now that technology needs to be more ‘personal’ more ‘soft’ and some would even say more human. And there are exhibitions such as the current one at the Science Museum, the proving that Artificial Intelligence is becoming ever more human-like, or at least attempting to allow robots to respond to humans in a more natural way.

But where do you draw the line? Is further blurring of the line between computer and animal a welcome direction for technology to take? Or do we want to keep what’s human… human?

In the Business of Biometrics

As a requirement for one of my current pieces of coursework I have to compare some different types of biometric devices. These sorts of devices include such things as iris scanning devices, palm scanners, hand geometry, fingerprinting scanning, voice recognition and retinal scanning. One of the issues that arose from my research was the problem of social acceptability of these technologies; with a large emphasis on trust.

When I thought about it, I realised I’m come into contact with this information a fair amount. For example, I used to go to a nightclub in Sydney, Australia where they took finger prints and matched them with your ID. That way you wouldn’t have to remember your card, you could just rock up and plant your finger on the device and they’d let you through, complete with the personalised greeting ‘Hi Bella’. Another example, was when some friends and I were visiting a couple of theme parks in Tenerife and had bought a double ticket in one, in order to go to both. By giving them our finger prints after visiting one, we didn’t have to bring the ticket a second time – they just took our finger prints instead. Pretty nifty.

After talking to a couple of people about the idea I realised my stance was fairly relaxed in comparison to others. Most of them had only ever seen this kind of thing at border control in their airport. Their main concerns were regarding how secure this kind of information was from being hacked if it was within a system, such as room access. It’s possible to create fake hands to bypass verification, or small stickers to put over the tips of your fingers with the fingerprint of someone else. There was also another concern… Do you trust the company you’re giving this data to? Do you trust them not to sell it to anyone else? Or use it to inform demographic studies on your behaviour…?

I remember one occasion a good number of years ago when a Russian family friend came to visit, driving over in his BMW. He wanted to show us some of the technology that the car had, automatic doors (similar to your fancy kitchen ones that close on their own) and its own GPS system (I had never seen one in a car before) and a phone attached near the handbrake. It also had fingerprinting technology in order to start the ignition. Which was pretty impressive, so I asked ‘Why don’t be have that technology here instead of keys?’. To which came the reply ‘Car theft is particularly common in Russia, so people often get their fingers chopped off in order for thieves to drive away with their vehicles. I think that’s why they don’t have it here.’ Never really forgotten that.

So is this collection of biometric data really a good idea? Particularly when hand data could be difficult to verify. In the cases of palm scanning or hand geometry, you could get blisters, cuts, scars, or wear a ring or simply change shape as you get a little older… Iris scanning is far more reliable – it never changes and is very quick to verify. But, that’s just it – it never changes. Meaning that if someone steals your data they’ve then stolen a part of you, and it’s not like a password which you can easily reset.

Sometimes when a new technology is developed and becomes more cheap to implement there’s a tendency to try and uptake some of it as much as possible with the preconception that it will make life easier and more convinient. But in reality, sometimes it’s important to look at the implications of a particular technology and the impact it can have on society as a whole.

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