One reason why Google+ may not succeed

Tim Berners-Lee was right when he said that Facebook was anti-web. The Comscore chart below shows the almost exponential rise of Facebook, and the almost inevitable decline of The Web as we knew it. A decline of 9% in fact. Given that Facebook has essentially created their own web, within the web, how will Google+ compete with that? Many users are effectively locked in to Facebook and need a massive incentive to move social accounts. Google+ has great functionality, but Facebook is a past master of implementing good technology and doing it quickly. The chances are, Facebook will simply implement similar features to Google if they appear to becoming successful. Google do search brilliantly, and did mobile (Android) surprisingly well, but when it comes to their ability to do social, the track record isn’t so great. At best, Google+ will be for the real social media geeks and not a true mass market product.

One reason why Google + might just succeed

Google have failed at a social media a few times already – take Buzz or Latitude, for example  – however, Google + has lots of whizzy features that make it useful – Circles looks like a good concept. But there’s one key point about Google+ that may actually make it successful. It’s not Facebook …

Now see one reason why Google+ might not succeed >

43% of people in the UK have had a spam text (and 30% in the last month)

Whilst many a mobile marketer is developing whizzy apps, using QR codes and creating great mobile sites, the truth is that in the UK most consumers’ experience of mobile marketing is spam. The particular problem has been spam for accident claims, debt management and PPI claims. A new study by the DMA found that nearly 43% of the UK adult population have received such a message. It would also seem that the problem is getting worse, as 30% of people have received such a text in the last month.

The problem of the ‘text pests’ was reported on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph. Along with previous radio reports and a campaign by Money Saving Expert, the issue is becoming very high profile indeed. In the Telegraph report, John Spencer, Vice Chair of the Motor Accident Solicitor’s Association called for a ban on referral fees. Given that 3% of people have replied to such a text, the ‘claims farming’ industry is worth millions of pounds. Removing the incentive would certainly help. However, it won’t solve the problem of spam SMS. We have already seen the spammers switch to generating leads for Debt Management Orders and PPI claims. The MO is the same, and is clearly carried out by the same people. It is therefore essential that the whole of the mobile marketing sector works to removing the spam SMS, creating a clean, permission-based channel.

With my DMA hat on (yes, you get a hat when you join), we’ve been working to address the issue. A month ago we sat down with all the key regulators as well as some industry representatives to work out how we can stop it. Part of the problem is the bureaucracy of the regulators and the operators who can be both slow to respond or take concerted action. We identified seven different sets of regulations that are being breached by these messages. However that actually makes enforcement more complicated. Regulators who could enforce this are the ICO, MOJ, OfCom, OFT, The Solicitors Association and the ASA, but many of them will simply pass the buck to another regulators. Similarly, although some operators are very concerned about the problem, the ones we invited didn’t come to the meeting.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore that the DMA study found that 46% of consumers didn’t know who to complain to. Of those who thought they would know where to go, OfCom was the favoured one (20%). Unfortunately OfCom have no information or reporting procedures for this on their website. In our meeting it was clear that they had no interest in tackling the issue. Many would complain to their operator (17%), but our experience is that customer services rarely know who in their organisation they should pass the information to. In fact the two organisations who are most relevant to the accident claims texts are the ICO and MOJ. They scored the lowest of the organisations that consumers would go to.

So what’s the solution? It seems remarkably simple. At the sending end, the operators need to respond more quickly to block spam texts. At the receiving end, all of the regulators need to take a more concerted approach to enforcement. They should also be providing a clear, simple set of consumer guidelines. The ICO have some information here. There is also some useful information on Money Saving Expert.

Nokia Goes Meego with the N9

According to information given to Engadget, Nokia’s new flagship handset, the N9 will be based on the company’s own new OS, MeeGo. So, in spite of the fanfare over their tie-up with Microsoft’s mobile OS (by Nokia at least), it looks like the Finish handset manufacturer’s first offering outside of Symbian will be a MeeGo one. The handset shown on Engadget is a fully featured smartphone which is entirely touch screen (ie no buttons), save for the volume rocker switch, the screen is 3.9 inches and comes with an 8 megapixel wide-angle camera. Oh and it has NFC.

‘What about apps?’ I hear you ask. Well there’s the NFC enabled Angry Birds Magic for starters. Nokia have also been porting over many of the OviStore’s most successful apps, whilst social media integration comes as standard. Whilst supporting Nokia doesn’t seem particularly fashionable at the moment, it actually looks like the company has produced a decent handset with a more than reasonable OS.

The exact plans for the roll-out are as yet unknown, but rumours are that in the UK at least, the N9 will be the ‘hero’ handset for some of operators Xmas campaigns. Nokia have been loosing sales in the smartphone market in the last 12 months, largely to Android. It remains to be seen if the new MeeGo offering will provide a suitable competition to Samsung and HTC’s Android handsets.

Waiting to pay your bill in a restaurant? Don’t worry, you can now do it by phone

In a joint venture between PayPal and Pizza Express, the two companies will now let you pay your restaurant bill from your phone. No waiting for staff to bring your bill, you can do it from the table via your mobile. This is obviously a trial venture and the app is iPhone only, PayPal users only and Pizza Express only. That doesn’t seem to be a vast audience, but PayPal seem to be pretty confident of the popularity. The sentiment is certainly a good one, as Mark Angela, Chief Executive of PizzaExpress said in a joint press release with PayPal, “We knew there was no point just launching an app for the sake of it, so we waited until we had a system that could genuinely improve our customers’ experience of eating out at PizzaExpress.”

Shazam offers brands the opportunity to engage with audio

There’s more than one way to get a response on mobile from advertising. We’ve seen SMS widely used – over 30% of people in the UK have responded by SMS, we’ve seen great MMS campaigns. There’s also visual response. Brands keep plugging away at QR, and new image recognition technologies will take this forward. But what about audio as a response mechanism?

Last year Shazam, the music tagging software, tied up with Faithless in the UK to allow TV viewers to tag their ad taking them to their concert ticket buying page. Take That did something similar with their first single release from their new album. But it’s not just music acts, Shazam has now created tie-in’s with Honda on their video channel, and Strabucks. Both brands had a gamification element, where the tagging was used as part of a discover or treasure-hunt. In the case of Starbucks that was with SCVNGR.  Future brand tie-ins will include Paramount Pictures, P&G and Progressive insurance.

Shazam’s brand friendly approach means well may well see some exciting examples of audio-based consumer engagement.

More on Shazam’s brand offering here.

Accident Claims (PPI and other) SMS: why can’t they stop them?

Millions of people … in fact ten’s of millions of people in the UK have received unsolicited messages along the lines of ‘FREEMSG: Our records indicate that you may be entitled to £3750 for your accident … ‘. In my DMA capacity we have been working closely with the regulators, operators and SMS aggregators to both stop the messages and identify the culprits. Here are the answers to a few questions that I’m commonly asked about these:

Who’se Doing It?
The exact identity has been very hard to establish (more on why that is, later on) but they are commonly called ‘Claims Farmers’. They solicit leads which are then sold on to lawyers and other accident claims management firms who work on a no-win no-fee basis.

Why are They Doing It?
In short, for the money. They are paid by the solicitors for each lead they send. It would seem that enough people reply to these texts, and from there, they find enough people who have a legitimate claim to make money.

Are they trying to defraud people?
No they are not. What they are doing in terms of the SMS is not legal, but once passed through to solicitors as a claim everything is above board. They are not trying to elicit money from people they are texting.

But surely it’s against the law?
It is. In fact we have identified seven different pieces of legislation which are being breached. However that’s part of the problem. They are enforced by different regulators.

Why can’t anyone catch them?
The problem is that they refuse to identify their company. By the time it reaches the solicitor or claims company the lead is perfectly legitimate.

Can’t you trace them through the numbers they use?
Unfortunately it’s not that simple. The only numbers they use in the SMS are pay as you go SIM cards. They aren’t registered to anyone.

Surely the mobile operators can stop them?
They’re trying, but it’s proving difficult. As the spammers are using pay as you go SIM cards (hooked up to a PC via a SIM bank), they send a batch of messages, then switch to another SIM card. The operators are blocking the numbers as soon as they spot the messages, however it’s quite difficult to find them. There are 9 billion text messages sent every months in the UK so monitoring them all is not an easy task.

What about the call centres that handle the claims?
The problem is that the callers refuse to identify themselves. As with the mobile SIMS the numbers used frequently changed, and subscriber information is often incorrect. Where numbers have been identified, the call centre claims that they were not the ones who sent the SMS. The typical response is ‘we represent a network of over 3000 companies’.

So if it’s not the operators or the call centres, how about the solicitors, surely they can identify the culprits?
It is a requirement under the Ministry of Justice rules that solicitors know where a lead has come from. That lead must also be obtained in a legal way. Solicitors have provided the name of the companies who supplied the leads in the past. However, once the companies are contacted they no longer have the information as they do not keep records on file on the grounds of ‘data protection’.

But surely the regulators know who is sending these and why can’t they prosecute them?
They have a good idea who they are. However, to make a prosecution requires evidence. As the spammers are hiding their identity, finding the evidence is difficult.

Where are they getting the numbers from? Surely it’s possible to find the people who give them the mobile numbers?
Identifying the source of the numbers is difficult. They are not getting them from any legitimate sources. There’s no evidence that they are coming from the operators – they are very protective of that data and risk prosecution if they fail to do so. It is possible that the numbers come from less than reputable websites. The most likely answer is that they are using number generation. There are lists of all the UK operator codes, so all they need to do is to generate the last six digits. Given that they are using PAYG SIMS with unlimited texts it’s not an expensive way to do it.

What about the emergency services? There were reports that some of them had provided numbers of accident victims?
There is a newspaper report about this, but according to the Ministry of Justice who investigated the matter it is only a handful of numbers. Also, this information would be sold directly to the claims companies and not the claims farmers who are trying to create the leads through these messages.

So what’s the solution?

First and foremost, even if you have had an accident (or are in debt or have a PPI claim), don’t respond to the message, even to request STOP. If you need to make a claim then, only use an accredited company. For accident claims, there is a list on the MOJ website If consumers stop replying to the messages then they will stop doing it. There’s no point unless they get their leads.

As for catching the spammers, there is a lot of work going on between the regulators, mobile operators and SMS aggregators. They are improving the lines of communication so that information can be passed back much more quickly. The operators are now trying to cooperate more closely to address the problem of the fast-changing SIM cards.

In the meantime, if you have received a message along the lines described here, then forward the message and number it came from to the MOJ on or the ICO on