Now and then a mobile game will spark a good deal of discussion, as Angry Birds and Flappy Bird did in 2013. Pokemon Go is different. Businesses around the world have benefited from the app, with patrons flocking to their stores or restaurants to catch Pokemon and then staying to eat or shop. Some areas have experienced reduced crime rates because of an increase in foot traffic, with criminals or being caught in the act or being discouraged from acting at all due to a lack of privacy. Pokemon Go has even improved the health of many of its users by encouraging them to walk long distances to find valuable Pokemon. The app has entered the public consciousness in a major way, being reported at by every major media outlet in the country. In the process it has sparked a discussion about the budding world of augmented reality. Can the technology used in Pokemon Go be successfully implemented by companies to drive sales? One thing is certain: the potential of augmented reality as a marketing tool for businesses has never seemed so bright.
In January of 2014 I wrote a piece for this blog entitled The Advantages and Disadvantages of Wearable Tech.
In it, I made a few informed guesses about a burgeoning, and very intriguing, market. Google Glass had just been released in a limited capacity and companies like Microsoft and Apple had already begun work on competing products. Since then we’ve gotten items like the Pebble smartwatch, the Apple Watch, the Fitbit and the Microsoft Band, to name just a few.
Testimonials are one of the most powerful tools a business can possibly have at their disposal. After all, the average person puts a tremendous amount of stock in the personal opinions of other consumers. You can talk about how great your business is until you’re blue in face. The fact of the matter is that potential clients expect you to say that. No matter how good a game you can talk, the customer will always know in their back of their mind that even if your business was entirely unimpressive you’d probably be saying the same things. However, if the potential clients hears the same kind of claims not from a business owner but from an average consumer like them they’ll often start to really pay attention. It stands to reason that a recommendation from a stranger wouldn’t carry as much weight as one from a trusted friend or loved one, and yet it seems that this is largely not the case. According to a study by BrightLocal, around 88% of customers trust online reviews from strangers as much as they would trust a personal recommendation from someone they actually knew. Combine this with the fact that 88% of consumers also bas their opinions of businesses, and their merit as potential recipients of their money, on online reviews and you can begin to see just how important positive reviews are.
A few months ago I wrote a post about wearable tech and the societal impact it might have, both upon the wearer of said tech and the people around them. In it, I mentioned that early adopters of these items might be ridiculed and stigmatized by those who did not fully understand the devices and what applications they might have. Now, a new survey by the Pew Research Center has shown my prediction to be accurate. More than half of the people they surveyed said that they believed that wearable tech would have a negative impact upon society, and women seemed especially wary of these items, with the huge majority of those surveyed responding negatively to the idea of items like Google Glass. However, these questions were only a small part of a much larger study. Pew, in conjunction with Smithsonian magazine, recently interviewed 1,001 Americans across the country, asking them for their opinion about various future technologies, most of which are expected to be here rather soon. The results of their study are fascinating, and the implications of their results are certainly interesting to ponder.
Most of us realize that transmitting information over the internet has its share of risks. That’s why so many of us only share sensitive information, like credit card and social security numbers, with so-called “secure sites,” otherwise known as 'https’ at the beginning of a web address. However, as we learned on April 7th, 2014, even secure sites can fail us from time to time. In fact, as we soon were made aware, millions of secure sites had in fact been failing us, for more than two years. A full two-thirds of websites rely on a program called OpenSSL to encrypt user information, making it possible for visitors to complete credit card transactions and other similarly private tasks without fear that their information could be stolen. What most of us didn’t realize until April 7th was that there was a small error, since nicknamed the Heartbleed bug, in the coding of OpenSSL. It had been there since the very beginning, December of 2011. By abusing this error, hackers could gather some of the information OpenSSL had been put in place to encrypt. In other words, all of that information you shared in confidence, safe in the knowledge that the site you were using was secure, was seemingly up for grabs.
For some, SEO might seem like a shifty concept. After all, they reason, isn’t SEO, or “search engine optimization” built around the notion of manipulation? Isn’t it about using search engine algorithms, formulas meant to benefit the user, for your own devices? Those who think this way about the SEO industry in general are simply misinformed. Yes, there are those who use SEO immorally, but that’s no reason to demonize every SEO company out there. The fact remains that most professional SEO companies do not utilize manipulative tactics. Search engine results pages, or SERPs, are organized to place the most relevant sites at the top. Type a keyword into Google and the results will show the sites most strongly identified with that particular keyword. Therefore, the best way to build SEO is to increase a site’s relevance, both to the keyword in question and in general. And it stands to reason that the more relevant you make a site to a particular keyword the more beneficial that site will be to a user who inputs that keyword. As such, most white hat SEO practices are truly beneficial to both the companies who utilize them and the users who depend on SERPs to provide them with accurate information and trustworthy services.
For a long time, wearable tech has been little more than an intriguing concept. We already augment our bodies with various peripherals, using watches to tell time and glasses to protect our eyes or correct our vision. But what if those devices, and others like them, could do even more for us. What if our watches and glasses and jewelry could do what our smartphones do, and perhaps even more? Perhaps the most notable piece of wearable tech available today (albeit on a limited basis) is Google Glass, a pair of glasses augmented with a virtual display which adapts to your environment. It can record whatever you require, translate signs in other languages, give you facts about your surroundings and answer questions on the fly, among many other features. Basically, it’s like constantly having Google in front of you, allowing you to interact with it in real time without the barrier of a computer screen. What some might not realize is that Google Glass is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many pieces of wearable tech currently being developed, everything from interactive fitness equipment to bracelets that tell you when you’ve received a Facebook message. The only question is how soon these items will catch on and how successful they will truly be.
Back in April of 2013, the Associated Press sent out a horrifying tweet: there had been two explosions at the White House and President Obama had been injured. Naturally, the tweet claimed a great deal of attention, with as many as 4,000 retweets in the span of a few short minutes. Now, if you’re reading this wondering how you completely missed that time in April that somebody tried to blow up the president, you’ll be relieved to know that the incident never occurred, a fact which the Associated Press itself picked upon very quickly as they soon removed the offending item and released a simple statement of apology. The tweet which had alarmed so many, especially considering its proximity to the recent Boston Marathon bombings, was nothing more than a prank perpetrated by a hacker. However, as far as pranks go, this one was considerably more impactful than most.
As stated above, it only took a couple of minutes for the Associated Press to notice and remove the falsified tweet. Within that minute span of time, this single tweet caused the Dow Jones industrial average to drop by around 150 points. That’s around $136 billion dollars, gone in the blink of an eye. That’s the kind of event that can cause a depression. Fortunately, the market rebounded a few minutes later when the report was revealed to be a hoax and all was as it had been before the insanity. We didn’t spiral into a financial meltdown, though that’s certainly where we’d been heading. And that’s the end of that particularly distressing story, until it happens all over again.
Sure, it’s scary to consider what might have been had things played out differently, but it’s even scarier to consider that it could very easily happen again. High frequency trading is big business. Those who participate in it are tasked with placing hugely important bets, the kind of bets which can have a huge impact on the entire world, within milliseconds. These traders make such a miniscule amount of profit on each trade that if they want to make any money at all they have to make thousands or even millions of trades a day. Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to see why they have computer programs to do much of that trading for them. These computers, working from a list of selected keywords like “bankruptcy” and “Barack Obama,” comb through hundreds of news sources, including some of the more “reputable” Twitter accounts out there, looking for data which might influence the market. It’s understandable that an explosion at the White House which injured the President could fall within those parameters.
After the dust settled and everyone made their apologies traders began to sift through the wreckage and attempt to figure out what had just happened. In the end, they came to the conclusion that perhaps they had been a bit too hasty to make Twitter such an integral part of the trading process. As Jack Ablin, the chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, put it, “False reports due to the account hacking undermine Twitter’s credibility in some respects. We have to recognize Twitter for what it is, a social media site and an unfiltered news source.” On one hand, this “revelation” seems completely absurd. These people didn’t realize that Twitter wasn’t a perpetually accurate information machine? You’re going to trust the people of this site, where a few months later hundreds of Twitter members converged to express their amazement that the Titanic was a real ship, with something as hugely significant as the stock market? On the other hand, it’s really not that simple.
If a random Twitter account had started this whole mess it’d be much easier to point fingers and place blame. However, the tweet that sparked this event was sent out through the account of the Associated Press, the people who we rely on for most of our news. These trade-making programs don’t accept just any news story, but if it seems reputable enough they’ll include it. The program makes this judgment call based on a complex algorithm, and the huge majority of the time its findings are right on the money. This time they weren’t, but how could the program have known. The story seemed airtight. It was reported by the Associated Press, a widely trusted organization depended upon by news organizations across the country (and even the world), it was retweeted by several noteworthy and generally trustworthy journalists and it got a huge response, with almost 4,000 retweets within the span of a few minutes. If you’re a trader and you see information like that come across the wire you make a move fast. There’s simply no reason why you wouldn’t.
In the end, the question really is this: should these traders have trusted Twitter in the first place? As a tool to aid successful trading, Twitter seems to good to be true on the surface. It provides short, straightforward bites of information in real time from potentially thousands of sources at once. But the difference between getting your information from Twitter as opposed to getting it from some business publication is that generally before you submit something to a publication of any time an editor has to read it and check the facts contained therein. That’s not necessarily true of tweets. We’d like to think it is, particularly when it comes to the tweets of hugely important organizations like the Associated Press, but the fact is that there’s no way to guarantee that. Of course, factual accuracy isn’t a guarantee in any medium, but it’s much easier to publish a fake tweet than a fake news story. The fact is that Twitter gets hacked far more often than any of us would like to believe. Here are a few of the more notable hacks perpetrated within the last year:
- In February, Burger King’s hacked account said that they’d been bought by McDonalds, saying (sic) “FREDOM IS FAILURE.”
- Jeep’s account was hacked as well, causing the company to report that it had been sold to Cadillac and to explain that their name was actually an acronym which stood for “Just Empty Every Pocket.”
- In September, the Syrian Electronic Army (or SEA) essentially shut down Twitter for about 90 minutes, making the site virtually inaccessible to most users.
- In October, the SEA altered a tweet made from Barack Obama’s twitter account. The text of the tweet read “Immigration is a bipartisan issue.” This statement was followed by a link which was meant to go to a related article by the Washington Post. Instead, the link was rerouted by the SEA to go to a page about the terrorism-related problems faced by Syria. Following the hack, the SEA sent out a tweet of their own reading “We accessed many Obama campaign email accounts to assess his terrorism capabilities. They are quite high. #SEA”.
Considering these hacks, Twitter is not the secure news source we all want it to be. Following the events of April meetings we called to decide whether or not we should guard against social media’s potential impact on the stock market. What did they decide? Well, let’s put it this way: four months later billionaire investor Carl Icahn sent out a single tweet saying that he though the company was “extremely undervalued.” A few minutes later, Apple’s stock was up by a gain of approximately $17 billon. And if you think Twitter is the only social media site that traders are watching, consider this: in July, Reed Hastings, the CEO of popular video streaming site Netflix posted a status on his personal Facebook page containing the following statement: “Netflix monthly viewing exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time ever in June.” Soon after that status was posted the value of each Netflix share increased by more than $11 to a final price of $81.72. Clearly, the influence of social media has not lessened since April.
The fact remains, no matter how scary it might be to some (me included), that social media does have a huge influence on the stock market, and it will likely continue to for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the oddest thing to consider in all of this is that Twitter can actually be used to predict the stock market, though in a different way than it is currently being utilized. That’s according to the findings of Indiana University’s Johan Bollen, who analyze 9.7 million tweets by 2.7 million users between March and December of 2008 and found that the level of calmness contained therein (as determined by an algorithm called the Google-Profile of Mood States, or GPOMS) could predict the movements of the stock market 2-6 days later with an fairly astounding accuracy of 87.6%.
Of course, there are some issues with the study. 2-6 days is a pretty big window, big enough that skeptics could believe it all to be nothing more than coincidence. Plus, for some reason Bollen and his colleagues included 2.7 million random users in their study, including many that aren’t even based in America, and while some teenager in Australia might have some tangential impact on some unimaginably tiny fraction of the US economy the study would have certainly been better served by limiting results to US citizens only. Regardless, it’s undeniable that, if all goes well, social media sites can be a great tool for investors, but it’s also undeniable that they could very easily be a detriment as well as an aid. Who knows how much worse the situation might be next time something like the April “flash crash” occurs. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.