The Digital Gist

The Digital Gist

Friday, April 29, 2016

Spending Time with

I work to stay as in-the-know as possible on mobile app trends and emerging social applications. As I get older, I'm coming face-to-face with the stark reality that I'm no longer the target market for an application like Give my passion for technology, it doesn't change the fact that I want to learn as much about it as possible. 

Before received significant mainstream attention, such as being featured on Good Morning America, I heard about it from a handful of high school students that I presented to a few months ago. 

Given that my talk was about social media, I naturally asked the question, "What social media apps are you using?" Almost all of the students said they were on Snapchat, followed by a large majority on Instagram, some on Twitter, a handful on Facebook, and a few using Musically. At the time, the way they described it made me think was just a social network for sharing music. It's much more than that. 

I took the opportunity to dive into this week. After doing so, I am not at all surprised about its meteoric growth with teenagers. At its surface, is an app for creating instant music and lip-sync videos. In a similar vein to Instagram, Vine, Periscope, and now even Snapchat, the app is as much about its social community and content discovery than creation. gives users the ability to experience and play with music in a new way. It turns music listening from a one-way experience into an interactive one. is Dubsmash meets Snapchat and Youtube. By blending video creation, music, and lip-syncing, is creating a new crop of social media stars. The great thing about is that its learning curve is pretty shallow. Someone could go from downloading the app to creating a video in a matter of minutes. is designed as much for consumption as it is creation. I would argue that it's network-focused elements are what makes the app so sticky. In addition to a curated "Featured" section, it has a fairly robust search area (with a focus on hashtagged topics and contests). It uses a daily leaderboard of "most liked" to feature top "Musers," functioning as a powerful discovery mechanic and an aspirational device.

With over 60 million downloads and counting, is well on its way to an acquisition. The usual suspects of Facebook, Twitter, and Google immediately come to mind. I think that they would all be well-served to tap into the millennial and Gen-Z wave that the app has captured.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

How Digital is Our Future?

Our mobile phones currently serve as the remote controls for the world around us. They function as the defining lens through which we unlock digital information about places and objects that we encounter in our daily lives. It's amazing to think about how often we pull our phones from our pockets and access content that is designed to enrich the way that we experience the world. From social media posts to breaking news alerts and messages from our closest friends, our mobile devices serve as gateways to infinite paths of information and media.

Thanks to mobile, the physical world is no longer limited by its own boundaries. It is an ever-expanding landscape that can be augmented by each person that walks through it. We capture moments, share information once confined to physical books, and make digital connections that forever change the relationships that we have with physical spaces. 

How we choose to use our mobile devices as we move throughout the world can have a lasting impact on our daily experiences. Are you playing mobile games as you move through a city? Are you answering emails? Did a shirt in a retail store window catch your eye, and now you're ordering it online? Each of these actions would have been impossible before cellphones. Some may even argue that we're losing ourselves in our screens. But, it's impossible to argue that the technology doesn't enrich our lives. 

Do we have shorter attention spans than previous generations? Probably. Are we achieving more thanks to technological innovation? Of course. I have said that mobile is the Rosetta Stone for the world around us. It instantly translates language, media, communication, physical environments, and things that are imperceptible to the human eye. We are entering a fascinating time for humanity. Will technology make us slaves to our devices (some would say we already are), or will it continue to open the world to new possibilities? 

Does technology's value to humanity have a half-life? Is there a point at which more technology is a hinderance rather than a benefit? These are questions that we are pushed to explore through innovation. I am constantly awed by technology. I am a wide-eyed kid when it comes to things like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and autonomous vehicles. I believe that we have only begun to scratch the surface in ways that technology will transform our world. 

I have long explained to people that my interest in digital signage grew out of the belief that connected screens are digital gateways. With the evolution of the smartphone, these screens became landmarks through which people could create digital pathways. I realize that this is an idealistic view of technology that predominantly serves as an advertising medium. That's what I see. Just like television, radio, and the Internet are more than the advertising that fuels their capitalization, so too are digital signs and mobile devices more than the paid media that flows through them. 

Where does that leave us? We are weaving technology ever further into our lives. For that, I am optimistic. What about you?

Why DOOH Networks Should Look to Snapchat

Snapchat is much more than an app for sending self-destructing messages. It is a platform for creative expression. Even though it started its life as a messaging app with a unique twist, it has since grown into a community of talented content creators. Since its mixed media stories must appeal to short-attention spans, its actually cultivating a new world of visual storytelling. It's for this reason that I think the DOOH world needs to take notice.

I have seen countless examples of incredible short-form content on Snapchat, with unique styles and creativity that are a rarely seen on DOOH networks. Snapchat Discover is one of the best ways to experience content that speaks to a new generation of consumers. If you go there expecting little more than mobile grafitti, you are going to be shocked by what you find. It is populated with daily stories from a select group of publishers. From the National Geographic to Refinery29, these stories showcase what's possible when design-first thinking, entertainment, and journalism meet. Such is what our world requires to cut through the visual clutter from our ever-growing social media feeds.

I'm not recommending that you go and hire a team of Snapchat-loving millenials to take over your content creation...just yet, anyway. I am imploring you to spend time on Snapchat. It's a great place for you to experience media in a new way. You don't need to send a single snap. Just swipe over to the Discover section and start consuming content. I promise that you will be amazed.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why I Support a Twitter Buy-Out

I'm all for it! I think the company is getting beaten down by public markets based on a limited view of its overall business. Twitter successfully created a new paradigm for communication and information exchange. There are so many different ways that Twitter could be realigned for profitability and significant growth.

Yes, user growth and engagement is an issue. But, only when you consider that in terms of specific Twitter site activity. In the universe that exists outside of and its mobile apps, the company's tweets, videos, and live streams can be seen far and wide. This audience can be further monetized through syndicated ad placements. The company has already begun doing this with partners like Flipboard and Yahoo.

I am an unabashed Twitter fan. On numerous occasions I have espoused the benefits of the platform in sharing content, discovering great articles, communicating with people who have shared interests, following real-time news, accessing snackable content...the list goes on and on. Advertising revenue is growing, but user growth is slowing. I think that with the right tweaks, innovations, and marketing, Twitter can garner the mainstream growth that its shareholders have so desperately yearned for.

In my opinion, this growth may not come directly from the Twitter app.  I think there's a good chance that Twitter's long-term answer could come from its developer community. Twitter is a platform. Instead of adopting closed-network philosophies that more align with Facebook's strategy, Twitter should embrace its position as the foundation for innovative news services, big data companies, messaging services, etc.

The problem with Twitter continues to be the overwhelming amount of content that flows through its network. The company has made some strides with its Moments feature. It should, however, be looked at as a tool that's part of a larger set of innovations, as opposed to the sole answer to Twitter's problems. Twitter continues to suffer from a marketing and perception problem.

The company has struggled to codify its message in a way that is digestible to a giant pool of potential mainstream users. For such potential users, the core Twitter service needs to be reimagined in a way that effectively separates the signal from the noise. Even though it would be a somewhat risky proposition, there's nothing wrong with releasing a completely streamlined app and user experience targeting this group. It doesn't even need to bear the Twitter name. It could be a unique experience all its own, "powered by Twitter."

Such an experiment would allow the company to test different presentations of the Twitter stream, content types, and user engagement options. This is the reason why Facebook acquired Instagram and Whatsapp. The core Facebook experience isn't the right fit for all users. Instead, Facebook is learning from its community by branching out into other areas while still maintaining a connection to its core social network principles.

Either way, Twitter's place in the worlds of news and media isn't going to change anytime soon. The company has built an incredibly strong foundation of power users, brands, media entities, celebrities and influencers. Twitter has a unique opportunity to leverage its existing strengths to exponentially grow its reach across a range of sectors. To do so, Twitter has to be willing to step away from its island and trust its users and partners to elevate the company.

Friday, April 24, 2015

How I Know the Apple Watch Will Be a Success

I don't imagine I'll be part of the first wave of Apple Watch owners, but I absolutely believe in the future of the device and the overall smart watch category. Apple recently announced that over 3,000 apps have been developed and approved for the Apple Watch App Store. Sure, a majority of the apps aren't going to be very useful, but I  believe that enough will be valuable to make the device incredibly successful. Even though our smartphones are just a reach away, it's impossible to deny the sheer convenience of turning your wrist instead of pulling your phone from your pocket.

There are countless times that I just need to glance at my phone, whether to check my calendar or verify walking directions. There are numerous tasks that fall into this glance or quick use category. There are some apps that are just better suited for your wrist. Countless fitness and health tracking apps come to mind.

As an avid golfer, I can't deny how useful I would find the Apple Watch to be. Enough so that I will definitely buy the device at some point. If you have ever used a distance finder golf app, you know how annoying the wake up phone and swipe to unlock process is when you do it multiple times per hole. Simply accessing the information via a smart watch would not only save me time and aggravation, it's just a much better experience. Add in the fact that there will surely be apps that take advantage of the device's motion sensing capabilities to provide athletes with untold insights into everything from their golf swing to their football throwing motion, it becomes impossible to deny the device's potential success.

I am excited to see how the developer community will expand on the Apple Watch's potential. I envision that this will occur in the same way that developers have transformed the smartphone from a connected device to browse the web and make phone calls to a taxi hailing beacon, a virtual assistant, an on-demand doctor, a translator, and a camera with infinite possibilities. 

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Monday, March 16, 2015

My Thoughs on the DOOH Strategy Summit

This week marks my return to the east coast from the Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas. Before jumping into my thoughts on the entire show, I wanted to offer my thoughts and feedback on the DOOH Strategy Summit. The pre-show event offered unique insights from media professionals and network owners. There were some great quotes and one-liners from the day’s panelists, of which I have listed some of my favorites below:

- End product and message has to be relevant and useful when tapping into large data store

- Think of programmatic buying versus a buying platform (short-term vs long-term buy)

- We don’t want someone to experiment with OOH via programmatic and only purchase one spot

- Just because a consumer can connect to a smart screen, doesn’t mean that he wants to

- Contextual relevance is the next step up from big data – Needs to be relevant to a large enough audience so as not to be creepy

- Colossal Media – Billboard painting artists in New York City equipped with GoPro cameras: Awesome example of OOH media company activating social media

- Location with exceptional accuracy is a game-changer

- Video is the new day-part: Agnostic to platform

- Media planners are still biased to channel planning – digital place-based is not its own channel yet (just seen as an extension)

- Change doesn’t happen because you convince the doubters, but rather because they die

As you can see, there were some really great takeaways from the all-day event. My favorite session had to be the one with my friends Josh Cohen of Pearl Media and Rishi Shah of Context Media. They joined Adam Oliveri from Six Flags to discuss the inherent challenges and opportunities in managing successful digital out of home networks.

After initially questioning his motives to build a capital intensive DOOH network, I left very impressed with Pearl Media’s new network dubbed “The Feed” installed in New York’s Chelsea Market. The level of thought and pre-planning that Josh and his team put into “The Feed” became evident throughout his presentation. Even though the network only reaches 31,000 people a day, it’s clear that it reaches the RIGHT audience. 

By taking a very strategic approach to network design, content, architecture, and overall implementation, Pearl has built a network model that can now be scaled to other locations that offer a similar audience profile. As he said multiple times throughout his presentation, Pearl’s focus is on the AUDIENCE not the VENUE.

As is always the case when Rishi Shah, Context Media’s CEO and Founder, takes the stage at an industry event, he highlighted his company’s operational success to articulate best practices that all DOOH networks should implement. When a DOOH network CEO says that his company is projecting $50 Million EBITDA for the current fiscal year, without taking on any outside investment, every network operator should sit up in their seats and hang on his every word.

Rishi spent considerable time talking about the unit economics behind his business, and how that data supported Context’s overall model for success. He illustrated the scalability of his core business while imploring all network operators to attempt to achieve the same. 

Even though he is a venture capitalist who heads a digital place-based media company, Rishi commented that he has not made a single investment in the sector because most DOOH networks lack unit economics to make them investable.

Overall the event was a good one. Perhaps a little longer than it needed to be, but I think the educational content and networking opportunities made participation worthwhile for all who attended.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why to Participate in World Cup Social Media

It's safe to say that America has World Cup Fever! Between ESPN and Univision, over 24 million people watched the United States'draw with Portugal. Because of the World Cup's significance as a global social media event, I challenge you to jump in and get involved in the action. To experience the breadth of content being posted on social media, use the hashtags #WorldCup, #WorldCup2014, #Brazil2014, #USMNT, and #OneNationOneTeam.

Millions of tweets, photos, and videos are being posted globally about every single World Cup game. In the same way that the Super Bowl is an ideal opportunity to see how fans react in real-time to game action, brand participation, and news commentary, the World Cup is a global phenomenon that speaks to how significant social media is to our society.

The World Cup has already broken Facebook engagement records just one week in to the tournament. Check out how World Cup activity on Facebook stacks up against the Super Bowl and the Olympics. It is a true Global and Social event.

- World Cup Week 1 (June 12–June 18): 141M people – 459M interactions (posts, comments & likes)

- Super Bowl XVIII (Feb. 2): 50M people – 185M interactions (posts, comments & likes)

- Sochi Games (Feb. 6-23): 45M people – 120M interactions (posts, comments and likes)

Check out this USA World Cup Vent, a professionaly moderated collection of photos, videos, and Tweets about Team USA:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grab A Wireless Charge at Starbucks

How cool is Starbucks' recent announcement that it's going to install wireless charging mats in all of its stores?

Given the role mobile phones play in our lives, maintaining a charged device has become a challenge we all face daily. I can't tell you how many times I've gone searching for an outlet when away from my office. I've scoured train stations, restaurants, airports, and stadiums for that elusive wall outlet. When you finally find one in such a desperate search for a quick charge for your device, the outlet's smiling face stands as a prize for your triumph.

The reliance we have on our mobile devices has turned public power outlets into valuable assets. I've waited in coffee shops for a venue's single outlet to become available. I've endured awkward seating situations, the limited length of my iPhone's power cord forcing me to sit a little too close to the stranger whose cable occupied the stop slot on the wall outlet.

While physical power charging stations are popping up in public environments like malls and airports, they're too few and far between. Also, they require a person to be separated from his device, which, despite the security measures in place, just feels unnatural.

Embedding wireless charging mats into guest tables, as Starbucks is doing in cooperation with Duracell, is a righteous solution to a growing problem. It allows a patron to seamlessly charge his device by just placing it on a designated spot on the table. It delivers utility by taking advantage of a natural guest behavior. For an undisclosed fee - I'm guessing in the $5 range - any Starbucks customer will be able to quickly charge his device. Given the pervasiveness of Starbucks' mobile app, which is a darling in the world of mobile payments, I'm sure Starbucks' app and loyalty program will play a role in giving customers discounted or free access to the power mats.

Without getting too far into the technical aspects of wireless charging, it is important to note that Starbucks solution requires most people to attach a small dongle to their device for the charging pad to work (Starbucks has said it will loan such dongles to patrons). In the future, more devices will have the necessary technology built directly into the handset thus negating the need for a special case or piece of hardware to wirelessly charge.

This move from Starbucks, following successful pilots in Boston and Silicon Valley, is sure to motivate more hospitality operators to follow suit. In addition to coffee shops and quick service restaurants, I could see  the technology finding a comfortable home in bars. In addition to being a powerful value-added service, it would serve as a new revenue stream. Its most significant benefit is as a draw that naturally forces a guest to spend more time in one's establishment.

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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why Sports and Mobile are a Perfect Match

Mark Cuban made a comment a few months ago that he wished people would put their phones away while in the Mavericks stadium. I have great respect for Cuban, but, in this case, I think he is way off base. For someone who is such a forward thinker when it comes to technology, he is missing the point of what mobile means to the overall sports viewing experience.

Many fans use their phones as a gateway to an enhanced stadium experience. That experience includes real-time stats on every facet of the game, on demand replays, trash talking on social networks, and sharing highlights with their closest friends. Cuban argues that fans use phones in stadiums when they're bored. While this is
 true for many people and situations, it's not an all-inclusive statement.

There are too many benefits to the fan experience that come from tapping in to the power of mobile for Cuban to ignore. It's arguable that fans using their phones in stadium are more engaged. They could be using their mobile device to upgrade seats, order food, view player statistics, share pictures to social networks, and check the status of their fantasy teams.

Let's say a fan looks to his phone because he's bored with the game action, the optimal mobile experience could serve to re-engage him. There are natural lulls in game action. Depending on the sport, a fan's mobile device can be a savior to an otherwise arduous activity. When was the last time you sat through a 4 hour baseball game without looking at your phone?

For many football fans who are proud season ticket holders, their mobile devices allow them to enjoy the game while being connected to their fantasy rosters. I couldn't imagine attending an Eagles game without my phone. 

Today's sports fan is comfortable with multi-tasking. He or she can watch the game, send a message to a friend, post a game photo to Instagram, and respond to a Tweet, all without missing a single thing. This is the sports experience that Cuban needs to cater to.

Every fan is unique. And, it's through our mobile devices that teams can deliver the best possible experience for each person. 

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Apple and Shazam Partnership to Disrupt App Store?

News circulated recently that Apple may be planning to integrate Shazam's song identification technology into its native iOS platform. While this may appear to be a simple integration announcement, it's much bigger than that. Integrating Shazam into the iPhone's native feature set could represent a sea change in how Apple views these kinds of enabling technologies. 

With over 400 million downloads, Shazam has grown into one of the most popular utility apps in the Apple App Store. While I am a loyal and longtime Shazam user, I really only launch the app about once a month.

Even though opportunities arise to use Shazam more, there's a usage barrier that prevents me from doing so. I need to launch the app, which is a small challenge, in itself, as I have well over 60 apps on my phone. Then, I have to press the song identification button in a short enough period of time to recognize the song playing. Such is the challenge of Shazam. It has great utility, but it requires a few steps before a user can get to the payoff.

Integrating Shazam technology into Siri would be a game changer. Not because song identification technology is that important, but rather because it shows that Apple recognizes the value of such a utility to its native platform. Just asking Siri, "What's the name of this song?" is much easier than navigating to the Shazam app individually.

Such an integration could foreshadow Apple leveraging more enabling technologies within native iOS functions. Imagine if QR or barcode scanning capabilities were integrated into Apple's camera app. QR codes would get an instant boost in relevancy and usability. This seamless integration would have a ripple effect across a number of industries, including advertising, payments, and retail.

Could a Shazam partnership be the start of a major shift in Apple's core apps? 

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