Posted by Jeevan Jayaprakash

Image source: The Next Web

In this issue, we take a look a book at the big announcement made at Facebook’s developer conference, Amazon’s new controversial product and a US startup’s interesting approach to driving sales on social.

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On a side note, you may have noticed that the Digest hasn’t been as regular over the past few weeks. We apologise for that! We have taken the decision to deliver the Digest every two weeks from now on. This larger window will mean more tech news for us to survey and it also gives us the opportunity to inject even greater focus into delivering higher quality content and analysis to you, our lovely readers.

We hope that is ok with you all!

Have a great week and see you in two,

Hi Mum! Said Dad.

Facebook F8 event: Zuckerberg vows to push AR forward

Mark Zuckerberg has apparently always been bummed that Facebook wasn’t able to create its own mobile operating system to rival iOS and Android. Since the mobile ship has already sailed, Zuck has been waiting for the next big platform shift that Facebook could call its own. Whilst waiting for the tech to ripen, Facebook had a go at trying to create a platform within a platform — i.e. Messenger and its ecosystem of chatbots on iOS/Android. Unfortunately, this hasn’t quite cut the mustard…not yet anyway, but it’s still a work in progress that the company is fine-tuning.

As we have mentioned before on the Digest, the prime candidates for the next big platform shift are voice and AR. With regards to the latter, Zuckerberg had made the assumption that glasses would be the first mainstream platform for AR. However, his good friends over at Snap Inc. showed him that he may have missed a trick by making a success of what we would describe as AR-lite (those cute, entertaining filters aren’t quite full on AR) on the smartphone. Snap saw what Facebook didn’t but it seems that Snap may have just poked the beast out of its slumber.

Zuckerberg strolled out on stage at Facebook’s F8 developer conference just over two weeks ago and dismissed Facebook’s recent blatant (and frantic) copying of Snap across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp as merely “Act I” in a much bigger move that has apparently been in the works for some time (did you really expect him to say anything to the contrary?). He boldly claimed that Facebook is ‘making the camera the first augmented reality platform’ in a way that Snap hasn’t or maybe more importantly, is unable to.

Unlike Snap who currently dictates its relatively simple AR experience through the filters it rolls out, Facebook is going to leverage its years of unique experience of building and honing platforms to draw in third party developers to quite literally create a world full of experiences for its 1.8 billion users. Facebook calls this the ‘Camera Effects Platform’ and showed off some of the effects from its launch partners such as Nike who are using scripting APIs to overlay a sweatband on your head along with a map showing your recent run route with accompanying stats.

Snap started things off but this was very much Facebook’s way of saying “Ok you have had your fun but the adults are going take over now and see this one through to its conclusion”.

Other notable mentions from F8 include Facebook’s attempt to counter the notion that VR is anti-social, parametric QR codes to make the entry into its Messenger bots easier and Facebook is looking into brain-to-computer interfaces so that we can type at 100wpm with our mind (oh you thought we were just sharing the escapades of a hotshot billionaire with more money than sense in the last Digest? Nope, this is the real deal. Make no mistake, Silicon Valley is going after this).

Amazon adds the Echo Look to its suite of smart hardware

Amazon has just made a rather peculiar addition to its product line in the form of the Echo Look Device. The device acts as a camera that allows users to take photos and videos of themselves in order to check their fashion choices for the day. Users are able to issue voice commands for Alexa to take a picture or to capture a video recording with the captured photos and videos viewable immediately viewable on the user’s smartphone. Amazon even offers a service which uses machine learning alongside advice from fashion specialists to provide users with a second opinion on their choice of clothing.

Again, this may be following a similar model to other Echo devices whereby the focus is on building a critical mass of users by selling the hardware at a loss with a view to monetisation further down the road. In this particular case, the accompanying Echo Look app makes fashion recommendations to users which then drives them back to Amazon to conveniently complete their purchases, which is a slightly more aggressive monetisation stance than is the case on Amazon’s other smart speakers.

The reaction to the device has been mixed. First and foremost, it must be said that the Echo Look doesn’t strike you as a mass market product but something that is very much targeted at a niche subset of consumers. However, much of the talk regarding the device has been around privacy issues, especially as the Echo Look is bringing cameras into people’s homes (admittedly, this isn’t anything completely new — after all, your smartphone has two cameras and is connected to the internet almost 24/7).

Zenyap Tufekci, an assistant professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina claims that “with this data, Amazon won’t be able to just sell you clothes or judge you. It could analyze [sic] if you’re depressed or pregnant and much else”. The fear is that the inclusion of machine learning algorithms as part of the service allows for the inference of things that people did not explicitly choose to disclose, which then can be used by the likes of health insurance companies or prospective employers to discriminate against them.

Amazon has also confirmed that images and videos taken by the Echo Look will be stored indefinitely but has tempered this by saying it will not share any personal information with advertisers or third party websites. So, that begs the question, why store images and videos indefinitely on the cloud then?

Make of that what you will.

Image source: WhatMobile

US startup MikMak floats the idea of ‘minimercials’ in order to drive sales from social

Scroll through a Snapchat advert or an Instagram story from a retailer and you will find that you have the option to swipe up to purchase the product in question. Swipe up and you are taken to the item’s product page where you can purchase said product. At first glance, this may, so far anyway, sound like a relatively joined up and seamless customer journey. However, some retailers have seen bounce rates of up to 90% when someone arrives on a product page from the usual suspects.

So, what’s the problem here? MikMak claims that the problem is a lack of continuity in the journey — retailers have committed the cardinal sin of assuming that making the path to purchase easier will drive conversion. Making the path to purchase easier is certainly necessary but it is not sufficient. What retailers have failed to do is to take a step back and empathise with a customer’s mindset when they are mindlessly flicking through social media. Simply put, people tend to turn to social media because they are bored and in need of entertainment and therefore, an abrupt transition to a functional looking product page can be a big turn off.

MikMak’s ‘Attach’ feature aims to bridge this gap by surfacing customers with ‘minimercials’ or ‘infomercials’ related to the advert that they swiped up on. This is a subtle, nifty compromise because these minimercials are couched as entertainment that embody the fun nature of social media whilst simultaenously relaying useful information about the product (information you would typically find on a product page). Customers are then able to add to basket from the minimercial. In theory, how this could work seems to make sense but is its efficacy borne out in the data? The brand Dr. Brandt have been early adopters and claim to have seen a 500% increase in conversion from Instagram stories alone.

The jury is still out on MikMak’s solution but the takeaway here is the nature of the thinking behind their solution. Their thinking started with empathy — i.e. make implicit or explicit assumptions at your peril. It will be interesting see whether MikMak can replicate its Dr. Brandt numbers across a larger number of brands.

Image source: Circa

Originally written as part of Hi Mum! Said Dad’s Weekly Digest.

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