Thursday, September 30, 2010

Like an iPod, only Paddier

By the time Apple launched their tablet product, just about the only surprises were the name..... and the lack of USB ports.

Mr.Jobs closed the circuit in two respects here- firstly the pundits were betting on iSlate or iTab(let) as front runners, amongst a couple of other names: you can run the stats month by month on google advanced. However the second closed circuit I refer to was the channel and platform. What are the implications of a channel ( iStore) oriented web-book running a low-performance operating system?

Hype for an Underpowered Netbook?

Now we are getting a lot of hype about the iPad here in Norway, with its launch only a few weeks away to the local retailers. However, an astonishing 30, 000 have winged their way here already: mainly bought abroad by iPhone addicts, apple employees, app-developers and the largest group perhaps are journalists. That number is astonishing because it is nearly 1 % of the population BEFORE marketing actually have an iPad here.

Why are Journalists so Interested?

The traditional news media and publishing houses, finally see a controllable channel which will provide them with closed loop marketing and little copyright infringement: no more cut-n paste, no more hollow promises of XML, RSS feeds and syndicated news based on evapourating and thin ad' revenues. Apple hope to make a good take from the media houses and publishers through the iStore. At last, they have a socially acceptable and a corporate-brand-able channel button: the iPad "App" as a closed-circuit media delivery environment.

I hear the whining cry of superiority from the nerds in Linux, C++ and java land: it isn't as good, lacks the power, lacks the potential for developers, lacks the freedom.....well people trust those f##¤%ing litte app buttons on their iPhone to do something reliable and good for them...they will even pay a little for something that maybe could otherwise be free......if they can trust it.....that my whiny little geeko, is branding.

Wait up though: now the cat is well and truly out of the bag, with quite imodest goals! World media dominance no less?? Replacing the paper cover price with pay-to-read internet. News will no longer be free. Windows 7 / IE users will be teased over to the platform : "read the full story on your iPad". But can Apple repeat the iTunes success now with written media?

Jobs and Murdoch: Bid for World Dominance of the Written Word?

iTunes kind of crept up on us all: there were many sources for MP3 sales on the internet and the whole Napster thing: but iTunes brought branding for the music sector firmly back on the internet: a trusted source of qaulity product at a reasonable price, if you exclude the over priced iPod range itself! Perhaps the competition never got the critical mass they needed to be a serious threat to iTunes, but let's face it, when Spotify and maybe a major US player go on line in north America with on demand streaming, then were will iTunes stand?

Back from the tangent on music: the traditional print media are queing up - allegedly - to get in on this channel, direct to the shiny new pad on your lap. iStore will deliver closed loop apps But so will other channel players who will want to access millions already on mobile and windows devices. I think we will see more developed closed loop, non copyable user interfaces to pay-for published material running on a new type of browser and only exisitng in the clouds at MS and google.

Tablet, shortbread, palm oil?

But what about convergence mobile to data? Will HTC bring out something half way to a tablet: I mean their HD2 is huge, almost palm pilot size.

I mention good old Bill Gates and his almost fully functioning OS's. Perhaps android running on a linux background will threaten MS enough in the explosive tablet sector that Mr Gates will really pull out the stops and make a scaleable compact windows 7 or CE v8.0.

Missed Opportunities for Apple

Personally I think Apple should have gone for a hand held. Bigger than the iPod Touch but still pocket sized, or at least handbag or laptop side pocket sized. Remember the Apple Newton anyone? Not a bad product, ahead of its time, not at all profitable.

I guess we may see such a 2010s product from Apple but more serious contenders to the Pad GUI in palm size will be appearing at a hastened rate now: Android is going where microsoft CE failed, but I dare say Mr Gates will be pushing small and mid platform perfection for mobile telecoms and palm type machines.

2011 will be the year of the tablet, hand-and-lap-sized, and I can see why: touch screen has become normalised with you and I. Virtual keyboards are even PREFFERED by many punters

Missed Photo Opportunity

Where Apple have missed a trick is in providing a serious workhorse for Photoshop and their own image manipulation software. There are mobile versions of PS now, and an iPhone app but let us see this on a tablet! Why? well it will revolutionise how we handle pictures to becoming a far more immediate and tactile user controlled experience, leveraging Apples qualities as an image platform.

The iPad is not really powerful enough for running full PS, Corel or Gimp: it is less able than the average netbook. That is a major criticism of the product: you get a big iPod touch, only paddier.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Short History of Consumer-Generated-Media


Social Media, aka Consumer Generated Media: the latter is preferable to the author in context of marketing.

Social - people being erm, sociable, erm.... people communicating in an unofficial atmosphere

Media - The king of Medes and his Persian enemies predate even the use of the word in latin to describe the written capture surface, the network and the nodes there upon. In his case the papyrus letters, the couriers and the writers and recipients of politcal information and commands.

Social Media is definable by to necessary conditions : distrubtion via a network and dialogue.

In other words, if a blogger bloggs and no one reads it, did they ever really write it?

A Brief History of Social Media

When was the first network available for dialogue? Depends what you see as a network: when was the first electronic network available to enable social media to happen?

According to some commentators, you can trace social media back to the early days of interlopers on the phone network and modem based systems: the phone phreaks and the hackers.

However, if you think about it the very first illicit social media e-comms go way back before then: to the first telegraph operators and Marconni's transatlantic preambles. The official version will be the press release and "only for serious communications" but you can bet these guys along the "railroads" tapped out " hey , how are the wife and kids doing?" in 1845.

There are of course some more alley ways and oddities, like ICQ and messenger, which relate to tweeting today and you can read more on great blogs like this link. Here I give a pretty personal account, your honour, of my honest experiences with Social Media and monitoring there of.

Growing Up WIth Social Media

I can actually say that I have matured alongside social media: back as far as doing a bit of phone phreaking myself in 1986, and seeing my first green-screen e-mail in 1988.

The first sign for me that social media had arrived was when I worked in an early University internet department, mainly dealing with the intranet as it was even called back then. Newsgroups by then were well established, and had predated the www and even internet protocol per se.

Newsgroups were a special area accessible by early e-mail clients like GOPHER and the early Netscape. Despite their unglamerous text based appearance, they were really the most interesting area available through the new browsers to many like me: they were REAL people expressing opinions from around the globe.

For me, these newsgroups encompass all that we would recognise as social media today: discussion, micro blog alerts ( the twitter "glue spots" as I call them), closed or open social contact networks and blogging.

Newsgroups quickly went http/www and became franchised into yahoo who maybe even dominated a while, some other independent http and POP mail providers and then google groups which is maybe the most active today with perhaps the longest living newsgroups surviving in this media.

Bulletins and Jumpers

With http, and it's predecessors from dial up modem days ( one at a time user postings and readings), another type of media surface appeared; the bulletin board and a closely related species, the jump station. The subtle difference from newsgroups was maybe anonymity or lack of e-mail alerts : bulletins were organised like web pages or even forums of today, and gave useful updates or just chatter. Jump stations gave firstly address and telefon numbers to other "communities" and then later www. links. In a way they were like search engines and today you can compare jump stations to Twitter and people posting links in FaceBook.

Newsgroups evolved fully into the forum with threaded and embedded discussion, just as newsgroups had in 1992. Also they mostly still retain e-mail alerts which was ther back in 1995 at least.

The Birth of Social Media Monitoring

Certainly by the time I was working with web sites in all earnest, we had started to pay good attention to forums. I would have at a guess that the FBI were pretty interested in Phone Phreaks. Probably the CIA and KGB were looking into the quirky little communications programmers on the early military and governmental networks made: maybe even tolerating them in order to give themselves some more work to do, or even placing double agents in the loops.

In 1998 I was required to look into a forum and newsgroup the company I worked for had just taken over the DNS address for and advertising revenue. We took pretty good care to walk the legal line then; don't get caught interfering with social media as a host! As soon as you started policing the forums, you took a responsibility to continue doing this. Legal precedents were still in their early days, some lawyers would argue no doubt that this is still and inconclusive area steered by purely case law and libel. Forum rules were to be self policed as has been the standard means of keeping ISPs and hosting companies out of jail ever since.

Anyway, we monitored the forum and reported back to our clients, the advertisers and some other trad' media ones on what people were saying about them. This was done purely on a verbal basis as far as I was concerned.

We also had an internal use only, atomz search engine IIRC, and I guess we could well have started doing stats on brand name hits, certainly we did manual sentiment rating on threads and brands! By 2000 we were delivering crisis management reports and closing forums if anything went out of hand. Redevelopment or loss of original data were the publicised excuses for pulling contentious and libelous issues.

So really there is nothing all that new in social media or spying on SM, it by in large has been done before.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Social Media Watchers

I was reminded on the danger of over-analytics when I visited a forum myself recently.

My favourite camera manufacturer is going to focus, punnily enough, on smaller cameras and put a hold on new R&D in their older, larger lens system. This has resulted in a hole shit storm of over reaction in forums. They are just shifting focus according to their management.

For consumer electronics, forums are still the place to gain detailed insight into consumer opinion. Facebook is often left wanting for involvement with the groups, as they just never seem to get a critical mass for even large consumer gadget pages. Twitter and the other web SMSs can help with gaining a barometer view of consumer opinion and help firefight crisises. Perhaps the annonymity of forums (most use a handel with a similarily obscure hot- or G-mail address apparently) leads consumers to speak more candidly.

With the former, the one forum, dpreview, has over 29 million posts, but once you get granular on brands or sub forums, and look at recent posts, then you realise that analytic tools can be misleading. Looking at fluxes in consumer hits on brand keywords can be somewhat misleading, when there is a strong undercurrent of discontent or potential for NPI ears to listen.

It is in other words, often better to identify the key forums and just have a junior marketeer keep an eye for trouble and summarise threads rather than go employ a company to show you some key word hit counts and what happened long before you needed to know it happened!

With Twitter too, so far the tools are pretty useless and manual labour to identify keywords, tweet structire, retweet rate and then sentiment are so far a better bet. Very soon though there will be good sentiment analytics, but they will need continual manual tweaking to catch sentiment in the abbreviated tweetspeak world.

The value of analytics has to be balanced with the value of just reading the stuff and tracking the lead influencers manually, especially in "issue management" as fire-fighting is often called in the ePR world now. Over time, brand tracking and sentiment rating is of value, but must be seen in context of the development of the media itself and always related in relative terms to competing brands and some other benchmark brand arena.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Photo Time: Simulated Depth of Field, blurred in GIMP

Simulating Shortened Depth of Field : Making a mask and applying it to layers to blur the background.

In the old days, most quality cameras could produce nice portraits with the background brlurred. These days the smaller digital cameras create a vert deep depth of field because of the short distance to the sensor chip from the lens, so the background is often very sharp. On dSLRs too, some lenses don't «stop up» enough to give an open enough aperture to «throw the background» either.

However help is at hand because t you can make up for this in PS or GIMP etc, by drawing out a mask and using it with layers to paste a blurred background onto your original sharp foreground. In the image above you can get the idea!

I had a go at the GIMP GURU's excellent tutorial, but found for GIMP v2.6 that there were a couple of functions that either differed, or were desirable to use.

WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO: Work-in-porgress Images are at the bottom of the blog: you are going to make a couple of copies of the original, and then on one make a "mask" which will be the area the original, sharp background will shine through, so to speak. You will blurr the edges of the white mask so it merges to the soon to be fuzzy background, and then invert the colour to black. This mask is then laid ontop of the other copy which is first blurred in the software options. Finally you merge the mask to the blurred layer using " apply mask" and then stack this ontop of the original so the person or object appears sharp on a blurred background.


Small errors in the Layers Dialogue box can cost all: you have to take care to do things in the right order, with the correct settings for the "apply mask" and remember to stack them in the right order so the mask is on top.
: worth saving WIP copies as you go as xcf files.

"toggeling" between selected area after cutting and background on the mask build, then both in order to go through "cutting" the mast needs to be done fully awake!

It can also be difficult in cutting the mask and then blurring it's edges to get a natural fade into the background, with no halo and no sharp, unnatural edge or vignetted outline areas. Also, getting the right amount of blurring on the background


> Copy Original > Lasso Select Sharp Object e.g. person!

> Blacken bacground with paint can fill

> Work up mask in white with an underlying orig' image as guide in BW >

> Blur the edges very slightly to 4 or 5 on gausian, invert to black on white [SAVE A COPY!!! ]

> Open a copy of the original image and blur it to more than '20' on gausian

> [Add Layer Mask] to the blurred image ; NB as ['white opaque']> paste on the mask to this layer in layer's dialogue box

> Open the original as a layer in the window> move it down the stack order in the dialogue box

> merge down the stack to end with. [SAVE as jpeg]

In Detail: On GIMP v2.6

  1. Open image File, then CTRL D to make a duplicate GIMP window as a jhandy back up / reference

  2. Make a new layer as follows: [Pull Down]Layer>new from visible> duplicate this layer with CTRL D while in the layers dialogue box > rename the duplicate "Mask"

  3. Use the lasso to clip out the foreground or objects to be sharp. Go to a black and white view or a colour channel ( [Decompose], see GIMP GURU) if you need a clearer outline to work on ie more contrast between subject and background making it easier to lasso correctly

  4. Once the area is drawn around, double click/click on the lasso in tool bar. The area should now be selected inside a hatched line. Press [CTRL-I] to select background.

  5. Select FILL tool ( paint can) on black and fill the background

  6. Save a copy once you are here as an xcf file

  7. Now we want to try to force the outline of the subject to white. Right-click in the image and choose (Image/Colors/Threshold). Drag the middle pointer on the 0-255 scale left to extend white over the white areas

  8. If you have the image (copy from start) open as a layer, then make it grayscale: otherwise make a new layer and paste ALL of the original image onto it, anchoring the floating layer with the little anchor icon in the Layers dialogue window. Choose this new layer and reduce opacity to about 50 -60% such that you can see a ghostly effect : now you can check the mask fits and captures the area you want sharp. Once done, delete the mask guide layer by right clicking and selecting delete layer.

  9. Now apply a gausian blur to the mask layerAT ONLY 4 to 6 pixels: this blurs the edges of the mask such that it will run into the to-be-blurred background and avoids obvious lines. Once computed, choose COLOUR>INVERT to now make the image Black on White as the actual mask. Save this and save an xcf or jpeg copy.

  10. In the Layers dialog, select the original image in the drop down box if you have it or paste and anchor from the other original open. Then click the Duplicate Layer buttonDouble-click on the name of the top layer. In the Edit Layer Attributes dialog, rename the new layer “Blurred”.

  11. I (Filters/Blur/Gaussian Blur )). Experiment to find a value that works well for your desired “depth of field”. Generally you won’t want to go too crazy with this or the look will be all wrong.Try 25 for a partial blur and over 40 for quite unsharp.

  12. SAVE A COPY of the WIP at this stage such that you can rework the blur if you feel it is not blurred enough or vice versa

  13. Go back to the Layers dialog and right-click on the “Blurred” layer; select “Add Layer Mask”.NB: At this point the next radio button selection is vital ! In the Add Mask Options dialog make sure White (Full Opacity) is selected. Then go to the black mask and select all and paste onto the blurred layer ONTO IT IN THE DIALOGUE BOX. Anchor it and deselect the eye on the mask itself

  14. You should see that there is a mask marked out in grey checker pattern over the area you want sharp and a nicely blurred background. Work back with CTRL Z if it is not to your burry liking!

  15. Open the original as a new layer. Move the orignal down on the list in the dialogue box so it is under the mask-blurred, and therefore will appear as the layer beneath on the final image. This shouuld now fill the masked area but be written over outside by the nice blurr you have created ! Jobs a gud'n.

  16. (delete the «mask»). Select the top layer, Blurred with mask, and then Choose Layers: Merge down save the image as a jpeg.

TIPS! When practising, reduce the image size and resolution to a web snap shot: this will make all the rendering and saving of your trial and errors a lot faster while you learn, and then you have a web ready series of shots!

TIPS! Be careful with the lower edge in portrait shots. When "cutting" ie outling the area to be the mask, check there is no foreground object to be blurred: short depth of field means it is just a slice into the distance which is in focus.

TIPS! It can be wise to give a margin to the figure for the edge blur: but if say it is a close up of a head with some diminishing depth of field on the person being good, then you can cut to the edge. This will vary with images : for instance, I find those with shadow from flash on one side need more there so that the shadow is softened. Trial and error will show you what works best, but it is difficult to extend a mask once «cut out».

TIPS! In GIMP 2.6 at least, when you have outlined the mask, and chosen to invert to background [CTRL I ] if the paintcan fill does not fill with black totally, then you can select a huge brush size and just go over it all in black: the foreground selected object will not be painted on as if it was "waxed". To fill in the mask itself, reverse with CTRL - I and then use white of course to remove any small specs or detail.

TIPS ! With similar images and a good contrast / edge to the background you do not really have to bother with an underlying black and white "ghost" to guide your fine working of the edges of the mask.

Footnote: Following on from that last tip:: According to GIMP GURU though " The best contrast between items can often be found in the green channel. It’s a good place to start looking, in any case. So the first thing we will do is decompose to individual RGB channels." as follows:

"Right-click in the image and choose (Image/Mode/Decompose). In the Decompose dialog box, choose RGB and click OK, Examine each channel to find which has the best contrast for isolating the subject. In this case the green channel image was the best. Close the other two images that you aren’t going to use. With a little work this green channel image will become our mask."



Too sharp

: too much detail in background to make the people stand out. The father is a little lost because the eye/brain places him more with the sharp sofa in the background

Mask WIP with blurred background. As you can see, the mask is not terribly detailed on the edges, but in this case it is quite sharp into the bodies with only a 3 or 4 pxl blur on the mask edge.

NB I have also been careful to exlcude foreground objects from the people so the foreground is also blurred, and been careful with the table edge and books: a lower edge should be checked for this in head-shoulders shots.


The eye now picks out the girls much quicker as being that to spend time on looking at, and the father is then pulled out more from the background detal.

The more you look at this shot, the more your eye-brain brings out the people from the background it now considers uninteresting!

I have put on an info dot to track any missuse of this photo. Pleas PM me before you copy this image for use.

Final with Crop

I like to crop! Here I could have used GIMP to "clone" out the light cabel/switch into to the beige wall in order to have a really clean image.

Note also: the fine detail on the LHS girls hair is not actually cut to a very fine mask detail: the eye/brain make the detail stand out more from the background now the rest is blurred but if when this is enlarged, the rough work shows in the hair and on a slight halo round the man's head.

Original cropped for comparison

All images (c) 2010 author. All text not quoted from GIMP GURU is original (c)2010 author

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Hard Work! Repeat ! Work Hard"

Now I note that it is time for a new intake of masters students to the 2011 MSc Marketing course.

Firstly congratulations on landing a place on a course which will give you a head start in your career in marketing or business otherwise, in providing you with knowledge, skills and not the least attitudes to suceed.

In terms of your career, marketing is not for the faint hearted. It requires a lot of percieverance just to get a career started, even to get interviews or work experience to get half way up to the first rung on the ladder. You have to be very tough or very lucky to get on and in my experience all too many Msc graduates have vaguely wandered into marketing because it sounds interesting, without knowing that it is very, very hard to get into once you finish.

The freddy blog seems to have been read a lot by previous graduates and I will stress again upon the new students, that marketing is a very, very, propostorously competitive profession to get into and then progress within. Please read back over my previous blogs on job hunting and how to get on: your job hunt preparation begins now and will start in earnest in October if you want to make the best possible head way against the larger brand companies.

Marketing is so extremely tough to get into because so many people want to work in it, not just qualified marketeers. Many of those general business graduates want in, many sales people want to move in(degree or no degree) and then you also have all and sundry BA, BSc, for example many psychology graduates, wanting a piece of the action. Then of course, there is the whole oxbridge bunch of medieval historians or theoretical economics who seem to be able to slide into plumb jobs. They have a head start because so many previous brand managers came from the UK's own "ivy league" and follow the "model for success" by recruting back from Oxbridge, Durham and so on.

You will need your luck, but the harder you try in your studies, job hunt and network building, the luckier you will get.. My career languised until one day I took a call and it was the golden opportunity to get a real start. I seized it, although it was pretty mediocre pay, and worked darn hard to learn the practical aspects of marketing on the shop floor of a "through the line" ad agency. After two years, the world so to speak was actually my oyster because the big agencies had stopped training new graduates and prefered experienced people from even much smaller agencies. I moved on to a decent wage and company car and later had the option to move "client side" for fewer working hours.

Read back through my advice and take it as highly opinionated, personal stuff, but remember it is based on the realities of job hunting and building a career. I have worked for 15 years with internet marketing for example, so new technology does not take over from the human hum-drum of pressing flesh and getting yourself a job these days.