Algorithms Explained in Plain English

Algorithms Explained in Plain English
All too often we hear startups pitching their product as having “algorithms” and therefore Artificial Intelligence or AI. The term AI and algorithms are tossed about like popcorn in a movie theatre. And algorithms are simply the butter you lavishly heap on your popcorn; makes it taste better, but it’s not AI. So what are algorithms and how do they apply to AI? You can’t have AI without algorithms, but they aren’t AI in and of itself.
An Algorithm Explained
Quite simply, an algorithm is nothing more than a recipe. It’s not the ingredients that go into the recipe, it’s the process, the steps in a recipe. An algorithm would tell you the process to make a stew through each step; cook stew meat, finely chop vegetables, add beef broth, add in broth and vegetables to meat, heat until ready. You can use the same algorithm every time you make the stew, except you may add different spices or vegetables, which is the “data” or ingredients. Humans have been using algorithms for thousands of years.
Getting to Artificial Intelligence
Algorithms are at the core of AI. Laid over top of algorithms are probability calculations. These calculations use data and today, often massive amounts of data, what we now call Big Data. Then there’s machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks, cognitive computing, pattern recognition and so on. AI can consist of these various elements mixed together in different ways. Algorithms are the processes of bringing all these ingredients together and telling them what to do.
This is a highly simplified explanation of what makes up AI and the role of the algorithm. But an algorithm alone is not AI.
The Rise of the Algorithm
As our physical world has become fused with the digital world (phygital if you will), algorithms play an ever more important role. It is algorithms that are the secret sauce for Google for their search engine. For IBM Watson and other advanced computing platforms. Their importance can’t be overstated. Creating really good algorithms is an exceptional skill that pays very well if you are good at it.
To a large degree, the word “algorithm” has been latched upon by marketers (I’m guilty of this) as well as startups and news media to the point it’s almost become a sort of meme. If you understand the place and role of an algorithm however, you can better understand how emerging technologies are being pitched and packaged.

Are Software Engineers Endangered?

Are Software Engineers Endangered?
So that’s a bold statement to open with. But by 2025, or perhaps earlier, most anybody who can use Microsoft Office will be able to build their own software apps, for desktop, mobile or well, to launch across the enterprise.
ICT’s And Their Purpose | Context
The primary function of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) is the movement and management of information. We use mobiles, laptops and desktops to create and move information. Companies develop software to sell to move information and others buy it to improve the movement of information and automate processes as much as possible. Increasingly, devices that didn’t connect to the Internet before, now do and often with a sensor. That’s software too.
We’ve Built Up So Much Code
There is so much code out there today that even GitHub is developing new ways to make it easier to find and use. Software developers and engineers often incorporate existing code that they modify to their needs.
With Apple’s Swift and new Android tools, developing an app for a mobile device is a lot easier than before. It is almost the same for Enterprise software and computer apps.
The Age of Drag and Drop Building
As this code repository has grown and continues to grow and as ICTs become easier to use, so will come the time when building a new app to deploy across the enterprise will be done not by the IT department, but by the marketing team or perhaps even the HR department who wants a new way to manage the recruiting process.
We already see this in tools like Slack or Podio. They can be quickly customized without the need for the IT department. They will become more powerful and adaptable as time progresses.
The Software Engineers Will Go Deep 
In the future, where software developers and engineers will be needed is on the deep-end of things. To keep those primary surface apps running, manage the massive database systems and ensure network deployments are smooth…and step in to fix broken things. It’s software, it breaks. They’ll also have to manage the transitions and interface between new easy-to-use software and the old legacy systems that will persist for a long time yet.
But it won’t be long before there is an enterprise system that is so flexible that each department and team can make their own apps in a few hours. The software engineer isn’t entirely endangered, but their roles will undergo a fundamental and more important, shift in the years ahead.
What do you think?

Marketing is a Proper Mess. This is Good.

Marketing is a Proper Mess. This is Good.
I’ve spent over 20 years marketing, the past 17 employing the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) hybrid model. For public and private companies around much of the world. Today, marketing as a profession has become much more sophisticated, largely thanks to the internet and technology. Universities are struggling to keep up and many a marketing practitioner has to self-educate post graduation to remain relevant in their skills. It was a blog post by Proposify CEO Kyle Racki that got me to pondering on the state of affairs in marketing.
Measurement: The Deadly Blackhole
About 17 years ago, technology was just creeping into the marketing best practices realm in a serious way. Marketers were developing complex spreadsheets to incorporate CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) with CRC (Customer Retention Cost) along with field sales data, survey results and website data. That was about all you really had. Then along same SEO and SEM. Then social media and the (still) raging battle on measuring “likes” and sentiment.
Now we have a complete sub-sector of marketing called MarTech or marketing automation. Tools that enable you to digitally push your message 24/7 via social media, websites, email and in other digital channels.
Measurement. Every step of the way. This is good. It’s a boon to marketing that struggled, not as badly as public relations, to justify departmental spend. Now we talk about A/B testing, cohort analysis, personas and engagement data etc.
All of which is good, but with many of the CEO’s and CFO’s I speak with when we discuss the marketing component of their corporate digital strategy, they are left more confused than ever. Startup CEO’s live and breathe much of these metrics via new approaches to marketing and fare much better. Right now, however, marketing has become an increasingly complicated practice. Some may say marketing has become less creative just when it needs to be more creative.
Why This is Good
All of this mess, this extreme quantification of a practice that remains largely about human behaviours and psyche that will always be qualitative, is a good thing. Marketers are starting to figure out what works. Leaders like HubSpot and SimplyCast are improving their tools. The application of behavioural economics and ethnography through digital anthropology are starting to bear fruit.
As with most any profession, marketing has gone to the extreme in attempts to quantify almost everything. Now it will begin to pull back, like an elastic and the tools will get better. It is a fascinating time to be a marketer and developing marketing tools. Marketing needed to be shaken up. It has been. Now it’s time to turn this mess into something more comprehensible. But it will be messy for a while yet.

Is Iceland The World’s Best Data Centre?

Is Iceland The World’s Best Data Centre?
When most people think of Iceland it like involves glaciers, fisheries and faeries. In the sense of tourism, that’s fairly accurate. But as a data centre? Yes. In fact, Iceland may just be one of the best places in the world for a data centre. And data centres are only growing in importance as we create more and more data every day. So, why a small, remote island in the northern Atlantic Ocean?
The Energy Factor
Most of the world’s aluminium is made in Iceland. Because it takes an enormous amount of electricity to make aluminium. Iceland has the cheapest electricity in the world because it sits on a huge renewable source of energy – geothermal energy. Data centres require a lot of cooling because there’s a lot of processing going on. Electricity is plenty, cheap and environmentally friendly in Iceland.
The Island is Well Connected
There are enough data pipes going into and out of Iceland that latency between North America and Europe; two of the world’s largest creators and users of data, that latency isn’t an issue. There are 4 large submarine fibre network pipes going into Iceland at over 625 Gb/s. The island residents are well connected with FTTH fibre connectivity.
It’s Really Cool
It’s one of the coolest countries I’ve had the pleasure of doing business in. Iceland also has a cool climate (yet a nice climate) and glacier and cold ocean water and the climate stays within a fairly defined range. Data centres need a lot of cooling; which adds significant costs.
Geopolitical Stability
Increasingly, geopolitics play an important role in deciding where data needs to live for Cloud services, backup and processing. Iceland has a strong democracy and is very stable. So another check.
There are already a few data centres cropping up, Verne Global being the largest of them and the Iceland Data Centre. The government too sees the opportunity and is considering lowering corporate tax rates for data centres. Bring all this together and it’s a compelling story. The main challenge may be finding talent to run the data centres, fortunately not a lot of people are needed.
What do you think?

Burning Phones: Is it time for a slowdown?

Burning Phones: Is it time for a slowdown?
As pretty much everyone knows, Samsung has halted production of it’s Note 7 due to the phones burning. Perhaps this is a uhm, smoke signal, about technology as a whole today.
The Mad Upgrade Cycle
Apple has for years worked on a tick-tock cycle. Hardware ramp up one year, software focus the next. Just before Apple announces it’s cash-cow iPhone upgrades, Samsung typically comes out with its newest version. HTC and others follow. It’s an insane cycle that has infected almost the rest of the technology world. The mad push to “get something new out.”
Why This Has Become Pointless
This mad rush to slam new devices hard into the market and the insane pundit and consumer rants over which device is better, is no longer really viable.
Research has shown that consumers have moved away from upgrading every year and are now keeping their smartphones for 2-3 years and it’s even worse with tablets. The upgrade incentives on all these products, even laptops and notebooks are no longer as significant as they used to be. I blogged a few months ago on the technology plateau we’ve hit…improvements now are incremental. Many app developers are then also forced to update their apps to platform improvements, yet are slower to do so.
All smartphone makers are seeing only marginal lift in sales with new devices now. Even laptop sales have flattened, at best.
Can We Move to a Two Year Cycle?
Ideally, Apple, Samsung, HTC and all the others, would move to a two-year hardware upgrade cycle and maybe a software push each year? This won’t happen. Shareholder and pundit pressure, the fear of competitor tactics. One could argue that this kind of pressure forces innovation, but perhaps frustrates it more?
The Benefits of a Two Year Refresh Cycle
Here are what I see as the benefits to a two year cycle of major device upgrades…
  • Cybersecurity: More time to test for weak points and fix them before they hit the market and consumers suffer.
  • Better Revenue Leaps: As consumers keep devices longer, this two year cycle will have more of the market ready to upgrade.
  • Ecosystem Improvements: Software companies and accessory makers will bring more products to market. Software processes can improve and the hardware manufacturers that have ecosystems (Google, Apple, Microsoft) can generate better incremental (IRR) revenues.
  • Less Consumer Disruption: Consumers are growing increasingly frustrated with constant app and platform fixes and updates.
There are more, but this sets the tone. No, this likely won’t happen, but we’d probably have less exploding phones. There are even problems with Apple’s iPhone 6s plus having failing touch screens. These devices aren’t cheap. Manufacturers are increasingly taking risks that could decimate them. Apple could survive a Samsung level catastrophe, once. Samsung may survive this one. But they won’t survive a second.
What do you think?

Are VR & AR Margin Technologies?

Are VR & AR Margin Technologies?

Virtual Reality launched into the stratosphere of hype in late 2015 through early 2016. Sony made much fanfare as did Facebook with its investments into the world of VR, although no one can seem to point out exactly why. Now VR is suffering some dizziness as people get ill after extended use. Augmented Reality sort of sparked and popped a few years ago…and sputtered along in the fringe of tech as a marketing wow tool. Google Glass didn’t do AR any favours either. Then along came Pokemon Go and AR had its biggest boost in years, except no one really talked about the AR that made it al possible. These two technologies have been percolating in the tech world for a few years now with occasional bursts of pundit-driven hype.

Why Does Augmented Reality Struggle?
It’s not an easy question to answer. The first push of AR technology into the real-world was Google Glass. Its adherents were promptly labelled “Glassholes” and shortly thereafter, Google Glass became marginalized. Other companies tried to jump on the AR bandwagon with glasses, all remain in that delicate life and death balance on the thin rim of bleeding edge technology. Based on my 25+ years on the front lines of technology, AR just isn’t seen by the consumer market as a “need” or really even a “want” as it doesn’t have a strong value proposition.

Is There a Market for AR?
Yes, very much so. In fact, there is some very real, very profitable opportunities for the use of AR. Most of these rest within the manufacturing, healthcare, law enforcement and similar industries. Police could use AR glasses to collect evidence and show information. Mechanics can use AR glasses to overlay instructions for machinery when working on repairs. AR is very useful, but probably not in the consumer market for sometime. It needs social acceptability which isn’t there yet.

Why Does Virtual Reality Struggle?
No one wants to walk down the high street with a massive object on their face. That’s obvious. For the most part, these devices are large, clunky and uncomfortable over long periods of time. Then there’s the whole spatial sickness thing (although that problem is being solved.) VR struggles because consumers perceive it to be only useful for video games. Because that’s who’s largely using it.

Is There a Market for VR?
Just like AR, there is some great market potential for VR. Training for police and military, surgery, emergency responders, nurses…VR can be an excellent training product. It may help in explorations as well. But broader consumer adoption that sees lower price points and massive volumes is, I think, a few years away yet.

Both AR and VR are excellent, nascent technologies. But they will remain niche applications for sometime. Consumers are only just beginning to realize the power and potential of SmartPhones and right now, that is the dominant tool to most consumers and professionals. Yes, VR can be adapted to use with SmartPhones, but it’s clunky at best. AR is inherently available through SmartPhones as well and that may be how they slowly gain acceptance.

What are your thoughts?

A Review of New macOS Email Apps 2016

A Review of New macOS Email Apps 2016
Email. The bane of business communications. Despite the advent of tools like Slack and Trello, it’s still the killer app of the digital world. Microsoft’s Outlook has held sway for decades. But over the last couple of years, some contenders have popped up in the Apple ecosystem. Old stalwarts like Postobx are still around. Mailbox was bought by Dropbox and sacrificed on the digital altar not long after.
Here I take a look at what are the new and newish contenders for email apps.
Airmail 3
Born out of some smart brains in Italy, Airmail 3 is available on the App Store. It works in iOS for iPhone and iPad. The integration across Apple devices is slick and fast. Their website here.
The Upsides
The US design is quite nice, but the squiggly icons are a bit comical. The incoming email sound of an airport announcement is fun…but hey, I’m one of those odd types that likes airports. Airmail 3 is loaded with features and  is highly customizable. It handles Gmail keyboard shortcuts and Gmail set-up is wonderfully simple. You can snooze emails until later, archive them and set up folders quickly and easily. Airmail 3 has great integrations with other apps like Evernote and Fantastical, Dropbox, OneDrive and more.
If you use Office365, it can be a bit awkward, but that’s Microsoft being cranky, not the app makers. This is a power users email app, so it takes a bit to get used to and customize to your liking. Like other email apps, there’s no calendar function nor contact management built in like Outlook.
If you’re a heavy duty email user and you use email like a ninja, this apps for you. It costs $10.99 in the US and $13.99 in Canada. You also have to pay for the iOS version (I’m not impressed with that.) Outside of Outlook it’s tops. Needs some work on the UX with the silly cartoon icons in my view and with a Dark Mode would be great at night. Tech support is quite good and friendly.
Airmail App
This app just went live July 21 on the App Store. I’ve been using the beta for a few months on iOS and macOS. Like Airmail 3, seamless and fast integration across devices. Right now it’s free. I’m sure they’ll charge for it and that’s okay. Their website here.
Polymail design is what Airmail would look like with better design. I personally prefer the design of Polymail, it’s cleaner. Another nice little feature is “contact profiles” which brings in contact information, including public LinkedIn profiles. It’s slick and you can hide it when you want to. The “Contact Profiles” also gives you the email strings associated with that contact on the lefthand side and this is a very powerful feature. I find the placement of the icons to be used for productivity helpful and well placed. You can schedule when you want to send emails….so you can go to bed at 9PM and send them at 2AM so it looks like you’re a night owl. You can also automatically unsubscribe from email lists. Sweet.
It’s not as customizable as Airmail 3, but pretty close. No DarkMode. No calendar either. No integrations to apps like Evernote or Fantastical, Dropbox, OneDrive etc., which Airmail does exceptionally well. The new emails column can be a bit hard to read.
Polymail is a very nice email app. I’ve actually moved away from Airmail to Polymail and NylasN1 for the most part. The Airmail cartoonish icons just annoy me too much, but that’s personal design taste. For a first-build fresh off the DevOps cutting floor, this is a very nice email app and the Contact Profiles is very useful if you’re a business user like me. I deal with clients all over the world and Polymail is somehow, good for multiple timezones.
This is an Open Source email app for macOS. They call it “extensible” and it’s a nice app. It’s an email app that isn’t for the feint of heart. While it’s not buggy, it will likely appeal to hardcore coders and geeks for now. Supports Exchange, iCloud, Gmail and Outlook. Their website here.
It has an awesome Dark Mode (image below.) That is very nice at night on the eyes. Seamless Gmail implementation but not Exchange. They have what they call Enriched Contacts, similar to Polymail’s Contact Profiles, but not as good in my view. Customization is good and somewhere between Polymail and Airmail 3. You can get “read reciepts” like Polymail (not available on Airmail 3) so you know when someone got your email. It has plug-ins so as people in the open source community develop plug-ins, you can install them. Pretty cool. The Mail Merge feature is very nice and easy to use. The Send Availability is cool too and they’re doing some stuff on end to end encryption, if you’re on the heavy duty privacy side of things. Nylas also has snooze and meeting set up features. Very nice UX though.
While it’s definitely stable, I find it takes a while to launch. There’s also no calendar function. It’s not as customizable as Airmail 3 or Polymail, but lots of extensions seem to be coming. There’s no iOS version. It’s not on the App Store and so you’ll have to allow it to bypass Apple’s gatekeeper system. They have a free trial, but it’s annual subscription after that which doesn’t impress me. I’m not sure an email app is a subscription type of thing, they’re just not sticky enough.
Nylas is a great email app. Personally I like how they’re enabling extensions to increase the power of the app. Polymail and Airmail should take note. Of any of these apps, I bet Nylas could build in a calendar function. That would be very nice.
Webconomist - Giles Crouch
Overall Review
Over the last few months I’ve moved away from Airmail 3. The UX is the main reason. It’s packed with excellent features and seamless across all Apple devices. Poymail is clean, better UX than Airmail 3 in my view. Would like to see it have Dark Mode like Nylas. And of Nylas…I went through beta and now have the first year. I like using it at night the most. The UX is very well done and it’s a powerhouse. Only downside is no iOS version.
All three apps have very good productivity features and actually make email much easier. Trying to get to Inbox Zero with Outlook or Mail App by Apple is tiresome at best. The only downside to ALL these email apps is no calendar functionality. While Airmail 3 has integration with Fantastical, I’ve had nothing but trouble with the Fantastical iOS app which has never synched for me. Email apps need to figure out calendaring better and integration of contacts…neither of which are simple or easy. If you want your contacts and calendar integrated, stay with Outlook for macOS. Otherwise, well, Nylas if you’re comfortable with Open Source tools, Polymail if you want nice design that’s easy to use. Airmail 3 if you want a lot of customization and you’re a heavy user of Evernote, Dropbox, OneDrive etc.
SparkMail: There’s also SparkMail. I’ve never used it so I have no comment.
Mail Pilot: They’ve left the App Store and I can’t find how to download it off their site. I had so many problems with it anyway. Very innovative, great UX. Maybe the new version will be better.
A Thought on Outlook
Microsoft has made some tremendous strides lately, including with UX design. When it comes to Outlook, the new design is better, but still lost in the land of corporate mediocrity. The great thing about Outlook is that it includes calendaring and contact integration. While Microsoft claims to play nice with Google email integration, the reality is quite the opposite. With a little work, Outlook could be truly awesome.
What’s your experience with email apps for Mac? Did I miss a great one?