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Following the big tech events from Facebook, Google and Apple – Alex Pearmain reviews the key takeaways

‘The London Season’: Chelsea Flower show opened it, and the well-heeled are looking ahead to Henley and Ascot… but for internet companies, their ‘season’ is nearly over.

The tech season has three major markers, with more T-shirts and fewer blazers than high society’s: F8 (Facebook’s annual developer event), IO (Google’s equivalent) and Apple’s WWDC. The last few weeks give some short-term headlines around product announcements, but if you listen closely, you get the less dramatic, but more important strategy and product direction for the Titans who determine our everyday existence.

So, first things first, what were the key product announcements?

  • Facebook to introduce a dating feature
  • Instagram stories gets loads and loads of stuff: as much as anything the focus here is that Instagram IS increasingly Stories, not the grid. Plus more cloned Snapchat stuff, obviously. And video calling... In case you were short on ways to do that already
  • WhatsApp introduces business features and yep, Stories…
  • Google Duplex, AI (Artificial Intelligence) which makes calls and can interact like a human…
  • Gmail gets AI through Smart Compose – making your emails sound, erm, more human
  • Android P – with lots of things, but a dashboard showing app usage (to help you better manage your screen time)
  • A Google news overhaul, feeling magazine like, with subscriptions and ML (Machine Learning) to surface ‘credible’ publications
  • Google is improving transcriptions for disabled people with ML
  • Apple is bringing in AR kits allowing companies like Lego to size objects, so you can see whether a kit would fit on your kitchen table
  • Apple is building permissions into Safari to prevent Facebook tracking you...

What were the themes?
Listen harder, and you get the strategies. These can be clustered into some key themes:

  1. Time-limited content: Snapchat began the idea of content which implodes after 24 hours, but Facebook has made it scale. Why, however? Connect it to other announcements: people are struggling to wade through content/information. It seems counter-intuitive to want more ephemerality, but people want depth with people they know. It addresses what Facebook calls ‘context collapse’ and also underpins its ‘return to friends’ newsfeed strategy, to make you feel like it’s not a platform for brands, but for people.
  2. AI/ML: specific, smart applications. We’re seeing this move from hype to consumer application. This a shift from where other tech companies have discussed AI as an omnipotent layer, into defined purposes you need in daily life.
  3. Privacy: notable in its absence for some, and overwhelming presence for others... social responsibility, however, is in there for all, as with showing you more about how you use products, but note the flavour of ‘putting it in user’s hands’. No signs of paternalistic capitalism here, we’re empowering users, not stopping them, is the message – one of many reasons the EU is philosophically struggling with big tech so much more than other Western markets. Then on privacy, specifically, Apple is focusing on this, and specifically calling out Facebook as its punching bag. This is as much a battle for the business model of the internet (free with ads vs subscriptions) as a battle for hegemony.

So, what does this mean for marketers and communicators?
More content. Yep, seriously. But it’ll be less glossy, more ‘real’, as it’s designed not to endure, but to engage in the moment.

Stimulating real advocacy – you need real people to say it, and do it, as the focus is on person-to-person, not brand-to-person organic communications.

Win in a world of ML/algorithms. The days of editors being people and curating are receding. Code will do it, personalised for individuals behaviours. Understanding, and optimising for these algorithms is key. Not launching the human who (no longer) curates.

Now I’m off to get my current voice-assisted AI products to actually understand what I’m saying to them. Sometimes the future reality doesn’t fully match the future vision.

Written by Alex Pearmain, co-founder of digital marketing agency OneFifty.

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