I saw a couple of interesting Tweets last week that reminded me, that I should do an update of how mobile is in one of its magical abilities, as a measurement tool. As I teach in my workshops around the world, among its many amazing powers, Mobile is a Magical Measurement Machine. And yes, we now have fresh evidence that mobile can achieve cool and weird measurement achievements, from faster and more accurate measurement of trees, to accurate measurement of bra sizes for women.
Obviously mobile being digital and interactive, it can be used to measure its own consumption. So we can measure the amount of downloads of our app or ringtone, the response rate to our message or the click-through rate of a given banner ad etc. That yes, mobile’s own content can be measured and some of it is collected to absurd level of accuracy, automatically by the system. The value of a single domestic phone call in our network in our home town, that runs a minute, can cost say 10 cents in the Industrialized World or something like 3 cents in Emerging World. Yet the billing system will often measure that call’s duration by second. So the increment of detail is collected up to the value of one sixth of one penny in say Europe and America, and down to value of one twentieth of a penny in many Emerging World countries. And for that ridiculously low-value activity we collect the full phone number of the caller, including country called from, network called from, the physical location of the call typically to the accuracy of a neighborhood in the city, then the duration of the call, and then the called number, that person’s network and country, and if it was within our network, also the neighborhood of the city where that caller was when he or she received the call. Plus plenty more details are collected in case its a specialized call type like a premium or free call, etc. And all this data is collected for every one of us 7.6 Billion mobile phone accounts on the planet of 7.2 Billion people, for every one of our 3.3 calls on average placed per day, automatically. And yes, if its a short local call, the value of that call is less than the cost of one paperclip.
We do, yes this industry, collect enormous value of data on items up to that level of meaningless value, as the cost of a paperclip. Even paperclip makers do not collect that kind of detail, they don’t bother to track their business to less than boxes of paperclips. The telecoms billing system for mobile is the most complex and detailed and powerful data-collection machine ever devised, at whole orders of magnitude more detailed and powerful than the data collection systems at banks, credit cards, loyalty card programs etc. And they also collect incredible amount of detail about our behavior. But nothing comes close to the data that the 600+ mobile operators/carriers in the world do, automatically and in their normal daily business. But thats not what this blog is about. That is just a comment on the fundamentals. There is nothing as powerful as the mobile telecoms billing systems to collect consumer data. It is not by any means ‘optimized’ to collect the most useful data, most operators/carriers are woefully inept at capitalizing on the data they can collect, and they are utterly hopeless at monetizing that ability. But lets not kid ourselves into thinking that some online web service can hope to collect the same level of detail as accurately and thoroughly as mobile telecoms can. Not even Facebook or Amazon (while they can collect enormously valuable information far better than anything that existed before the internet).
I led the project that created the world’s largest multi-operator billing system early in my career when I still worked for the carrier/operator side of this business in Finland in the 1990s. So I got very deeply indoctrinated into what all data we can collect into our ‘CDR’s (Call Detail Record)s and explored early ways to expand that ability such as adding the number of data items that could be collected into the same CDR string as we as an industry back then were going from numeric to hexadecimal etc. (the same two digit ‘code’ if using only numbers gives you 100 choices, or 99 choices and ‘none’ ie zero, while hexadecimal uses the same two digit space but expands the data items collected to 256 choices ie 255 actual items plus zero). So yeah, I rolled up my sleeves and got my hands dirty doing really that level of project, a multi-operator (multi-carrier) billing system across systems from multiple vendors and produced the world’s largest multi-operator billing at the time, a world record. And later when I was leading Nokia’s Global 3G Consulting Department, that knowledge was very valuable in what kind of data a carrier/operator could capture - about its own services or those services it co-developed with partners.
USE MOBILE TO MEASURE OTHER MEDIA
I kind of forgot about the billing for a while, as the mobile internet and related mobile data capabilities brought us vast new technical abilities. But then about ten years ago, I got back into looking at data collection, when it became obvious to me, that mobile could be used to measure other media. Some of the early uses were for example from New Zealand, where a TV station ran a contest to let viewers win nice prizes including cars. What viewers had to do, was to send in an SMS text message whenever they spotted a given logo on the TV screen. Now, the consumers had to pay regular consumer-rate SMS costs for these messages (they were not like votes on American Idol where we pay extra, ie ‘premium SMS’) but still, as the TV station flashed those codes several times per day on its two channels, a consumer might quickly run up surprising SMS costs on the phone bill. So to compensate the TV station also sent by return an equivalent value in digital content, so if you sent say 10 messages, you had earned enough credit that you could then buy a ringing tone etc. This meant, that the consumer felt the service was essentially ‘neutral’ in its costs.
What did the TV station learn? Gosh, this was far more powerful than anything that Nielsen boxes could ever hope to capture. Now they knew not just if the TV was on, but was the consumer actually watching the TV show. Because we don’t share our phones with others, not even our spouces, they got perfect viewer data on whether one family member watched the whole time or one left, and another came in to watch. They could flash the logo at the beginning of a TV show and the end of it, to discover if the same person watched the show from beginning to end. They could run the logo on the ad break, and see - measure - accurately - how many of the viewers of a given TV show actually stay to watch the advertising. And as TV shows program sequential programming, ie they hope that we stay after a popular TV show to watch the new show that comes right after it, they could also measure that. In other words, of all who watched the TV show from 8 to 9, how many stayed on to watch the next show that starts at 9. And the sample audience was enormous, far far bigger than any Nielsen or other TV audience survey ever before in history. Massively bigger meaning the sampling errors were reduced to infinitessimally small.
That was when I became convinced that mobile is the most accurate measurement tool for any media. This can just as well be done for radio or newspapers or magazines or even billboards and cinema. Even the internet can use mobile to measure its audiences. And about this time, Tony Fish's company AMF Ventures also came to the same conclusion, when they compared the accuracy of media measurement. They said that on TV about 1% of the audience can be measured accurately. On the internet about 10% of the audience can be measured accurately (we use multiple accounts, delete our cookies, sit behind firewalls, use multiple devices, access from many locations, and many people share the same PC especially for home PCs in families with kids). But on mobile AMF Ventures found that 90% of the audience can be measured accurately. No, mobile is not perfect but it is awefully close. And nothing else is anywhere near as good. Mobile is a whole order of magnitude more accurate than the internet, two orders of magnitude better than television. And let me just mention here Tony's brilliant book My Digital Footprint if you want to read the best book on what mobile data is, and what it can do by someone who really understands this industry, not by some misguided American 'big data' dude who is clueless about the true power of mobile.
But it then went beyond mass media, and my next astonishment came from Japan, Lars Cosh-Ishii of Wireless Watch Japan told me about a Marlboro campaign, about 8 years ago. Marlboro which sponsored Formula 1 and Ferrari at the time (this was when Michael Schumacher was still driving for Ferrari) had a very special competition, every time you opened a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, under the lid of the box, there was unique code which you needed to send to Marlboro via mobile messaging. The codes were unique per cigarette package of 20 cigarettes. And every time you sent another code, increased your chance to win a prize. The grand prize was a visit to Maranello Italy as Ferrari’s guest, a factory tour, of course seats at the Monza Grand Prix, and meeting Michael Schumacher.
Cool contest, yeah. But can you see what Marlboro was doing? It never knew its end-users personally, nor how they consumed the cigarettes. Now as they got per mobile phone number, the unique codes per box, they knew what type of cigarettes you smoked. They knew how much you smoked. But they also knew if you bought Marlboro by the Carton (you personally sending in all codes of the packs of cigarettes in one carton) or bought the packs individually. They could then further tabulate data on whether you tended to buy your cigarettes from a vending machine or a store, and how many differrent stores you might use, when they cross-tabulated user data by store-data of where the given cartons of Marlboro had been shipped. Etc etc etc etc etc. The most thorough and valuable and accurate consumer data ever collected in the cigarette industry.
Today we see this all the time. That is why Pepsi asks us to scan the QR code on the bottle or their advertisement, why there are SMS codes under the bottle top, etc. Its a variation of that same idea, but yes, mobile is a magical measurement machine. One of the ways we can measure, is if we incentivize our audience to participate in some interactive campaign or contest and we can collect amazing data from them on their consumption. And what comes next? This is what Omo the detergent from Unilever did in South Africa in 2013. They ran a similar ‘text to win’ campaign with every package of Omo detergent purchased. As they knew the size of the detergent package and the frequency of that specific housewife’s purchase pattern, they started to send reminder messages a little before the current package ran out. Was it successful? Try this: 60% increase in repurchase rates!!!!! That is why Winston Wang, the Director of Innovation at Anheuser Busch InBev (the world’s largest beer brewer) says “Mobile is measurable like nothing before.” And it is what for example author Peggy Anne Salz now writes in her latest book, The Everything Guide to Mobile Apps that app developers should use SMS (and MMS) to engage with their users.
Well, we all know how much I love SMS and mobile messaging but we can do far more with mobile as the magical measurement machine than just ask our audiences to interact with us. Obviously we can spy on them with apps. I am not going to bother with that here now. But let me show some more magical things we can do. I was just in Sweden earlier this year to watch the Stockholm Marathon (to support my nephew running in it) and stayed at one of the Clarion Hotels right in downtown Stockholm. That was one of the first hotels where they let you use you smartphone (if it has NFC like now finally Apple is also bringing to iPhone 6) for operating the lock on the door to your room. No need for plastic key card. That is one level of measurement, we can assign digitally (and even turn on and off remotely) the access rights of a key to a hotel room (or office or rental car or our home). Assa Abloy the world’s largest lock-maker has been offering NFC phone operated locking equipment for many years now.
And then really, seriously, mobile is powerful at very simple levels too. It need not all be Sci Fi iPhone 9 time-travel and teleportation stuff. We don’t need to go for NFC or an app. Somethings can be so very simple. Like the pharmacist chain in the USA, Rite Aid. they noticed that all of their customers had mobile phones. So they created a parallel number for their loyalty card. You could register your cellphone number as the alternate number to the loyalty card, and then stop carrying the plastic loyalty card. As there are no identical mobile phone numbers in use on the planet - yes the mobile phone number is the nearest thing to a universal identity number - Rite Aid lets you now just quote your mobile phone number at the cash register, to collect your loyalty card benefits. The flip-side is, that Rite Aid now has a direct channel to your pocket, and will for example send you reminders when your prescription is running out. So understand how powerful mobile can be, and that we don’t need to always make it Augmented Reality or NFC or QR Code or something fancy. Even just the basic mobile phone number has incredible value and can help identify us. In other words, to help measure the loyal customer behavior...
And what can we do with this? Gosh, if the phone is that accurate it can identify us, it can be used for example as legally-binding signature for contracts, as they do in Spain and Turkey for example. Yes sign a contract by sending an SMS text message! How efficient is that? How much faster than faxes or couriers. Then in Norway you can file your taxes by SMS! Again, how much better is that than any alternative (as long as your tax return is not very comples with international holdings and various trusts and corporations etc haha). And the ultimate was in Estonia. The first national election where you could vote by SMS! Every eligible voter in Estonia when registering, could opt in to register one mobile phone number as their official voting phone, and then use that to do the vote. Of course this is safer easier faster and more accurate than any other paper or machine we have for voting. Why isn’t every country doing this?
So lets go back to Sweden, I was there a couple of years ago delivering a keynote to the Location-Based Services industry event in Malmo and learned of another interesting measurement. In Sweden the traffic authorities noticed that they can get extremely accurate traffic data by monitoring the speed of handset movement from one cell site to the next. Blackberry was one of the first to deploy a commercial system that generated this type of data for municipalities. So rather than install radar guns at various points on the roads, they could just take grouped data of say 10 mobile phone numbers at a time, take the average of what speed are they moving from one cell site to the next. Any which moved at walking speed or say bicycle speed are removed, and the remaining numbers are averaged. We get essentially perfect average speeds on highways in current real-time data. With a little bit of tweaking, this kind of measurement can get essentially a perfect traffic picture for any city (with obviously the help of at least one major operator/carrier which would need to provide access to this type of data).
Note we are not spying on the consumers, nobody’s privacy is invaded, nothing is pushed or sold at the consumers. We don’t need to know even the real phone numbers of the people, so the carrier can create virtual phone numbers or virtual identities, just so, that the one same phone number is tracked on one journey, and when it is moving clearly on highways, we measure that movement. If that one phone suddenly slows down while most others on the same route continue at normal speeds, we know that one driver now pulled off to a petrol station or something else, so we stop counting that phone for hte highway average speed. But if there is an accident, then all cars on those lanes suddenly stop, that is cause for traffic monitors to find out what happened and send a police helicopter to go take a look etc. There are plenty of commercial applications of this type of technology, for example many car insurance companies are now starting to offer ‘pay as you drive’ insurance plans that then monitor the actual driving behavior (with GPS and cellular data obviously and with sensors both in the car, and synchronized to the driver’s mobile phone number).
That all is still very obvious and not that ‘magical’. Now lets get to the magic. The first really cool or weird, depending on your viewpoint, way to use mobile telecoms data for amazing measurement is with an American data analytics company called Cignifi. They say they can calculate a credit score based on our mobile phone behavior. Note, they are not trying to spy on our calls or messages by reading them or listening to us. They really do it by the communication pattern. So, a person with a healthy credit status will behave in a certain way, in terms of incoming calls, outgoing calls, returning calls, etc. A person who is on the brink of bankruptcy behaves very differently, clearly avoiding certain calls, not returning certain calls, and calling some numbers frequently etc.
Now, I have no knowledge of how accurate Cignifi is in reality, but they claim they can calculate an accurate credit rating by analyzing just the last month of phone records data. The Cignifi system is already being used in Brazil and Tanzania. But imagine specifically that problem for a credit card company or a bank. In the Emerging World there is considerable need for credit, there is plenty of new affluence but there is very little ability to prove credit-worthiness. Issues of identity, address, employment, taxes, etc are all murky at best. So where we in the West can rather easily see how an adult person will have collected ‘credit score’ data like changing jobs, making payments on some credit instruments or having history with salaries, bank accounts etc that kind of info is very rare in the Emerging World and very many truly credit-worthy potential customers can not be accurately assessed. Until mobile. Mobile is a Magical Measurement Machine.
CAMERA AS MEASUREMENT INSTRUMENT
Again, I could go on and on about this, but lets move to the less obvious sensors. We can of course imagine using the network data, the location-data, the telephone and messaging history data to create inputs for our measurement. But what about the other sensors on the mobile? We can use the microphone (there are security systems built around voiceprint). Shazam was the first company to use the mobile phone microphone to listen to music and then compare that to their database of recorded music, to identify the song that is playing. And so forth and so forth. So lets move to the camera. Now we really do get magical stuff.
My first fave camera-as-measurement example came from Japan a few years ago, when NTT DoCoMo introduced its cameraphone calorie-counter. Their engineers had created an artificial intelligence based system that identified the 1,000 most popular dishes eaten in Japan ranging from sushi to a Big Mac at McDonalds. And the system very accurately identified what was on your plate just by snapping a picture of the food you were eating. Then the system automatically calculated the rough amount of calories in that dish you were eating. Wow, this is cool. This is magical. You can just take a picture of what you eat, and the system collects the calorie-count for you. Mobile is the Magical Measurement Machine.
BUY WHAT SHE IS WEARING
So then even more Japanese cameraphone magic. Our Alan Moore (co-founder of this blog and my co-author to the signature book to this blog, Communities Dominate Brands) writes about Tokyo Girl (aka Girlswalker) the youth teen mobile magazine in Japan, in his latest book No Straight Lines. The service is just amazing on every level but let me just skip to the cameraphone magic. They run twice a year the fashion show in one of Japan’s largest indoor sports arenas, packed with screaming teenager girls all crazy about the latest fashions. So, one of the gimmicks is, that when the fashion model walks on the catwalk, you can snap a picture of the dress with your cameraphone, and click-to-buy the item, in your size, in the color you want. How magical is that? If you like something the fashion model is wearing, just point your phone at it, and buy (obviously these girls have the Osaifu Keitai mobile wallet on their phone, as I explained in my blog about mobile money around the world. This is what the iPhone 6 is bringing now to America, Japan has had it for literally 10 years).
But yes, how is that possible? Teens at the back of the stadium pointing a cameraphone at the stage will only see specs, how can it possibly identify the model on the catwalk and get us the right clothing? Its a trick! They don’t use the camera, it only seems like it. They are synchronized to time. The show producers know which model, wearing what clothes, is on the stage at any given point. If you click then, you are served the link to the clothes of who is scheduled to be on right now. They don’t need to ‘see’ who is on the stage. But teenage girls don’t need to know this. They just know, take out your phone and be ready to snap a picture when nice clothing is on the stage, you can buy it on the spot.. Isn’t that cool? We don’t necessarily even ‘need’ accurate camera images to use the camera as a sensor haha.
MEASURING FOR BRA
Which brings me to my two newest fave stories. First lets go to naked women... Apparently (I don’t know as I’m a man) 80% of women wear ill-fitting bras and they mostly do it because measuring for the right bra is a cumbersome procedure with strangers measuring you very intimately. So cameraphones to the rescue! An American company called ThirdLove has developed an app that requires taking a couple of pictures of the chest of the lady (naked, in private, via selfie, without discomfort, at home) after which it then calculates the exact proper bra type. The app was built by an ex NASA engineer and the company includes some ex Google staff, it seems pretty sold. Apparently women hate bra shopping so much they’d rather have their eyebrows waxed haha... (Again, I can’t comment, we men don’t have either of those problems). So. Measuring by the camera sensor? That is magical. We can measure food, we can measure ladyparts and if you think thats too touchy-feely, you want something robust to measure. How about industrial forestry?
Finland is one of the big forestry, pulp and paper producer nations in the world (70% of Finland’s surface area is forested). At one point in the 1980s, we said in Finland that the Times of London, the New York Times of the USA and Pravda of Russia were all printed on Finnish paper. If your tennis racket or hockey stick is made of wood, there’s a good chance that wood came from Finnish woodmills. Nokia was once selling toilet paper (among its many product lines before it decided to focus on telecoms). Some of the world’s largest paper and woodmill companies are Finnish with operations from Canada to Indonesia. Now trees are particularly ‘non digital’ goods. Most things that come out of factories can be marked in some way that can include bar codes or NFC chips or something but trees, gosh, they just grow in the forest. So if you are a forest manager and need to run your business professionally, you do need to know about your tree inventory and their age, when to cut the trees etc. And measurement in the past meant sending experts into the forest to count. A tedious manual process.
So enter the cameraphone. Finnish company Trestima has built an app that uses the camera to take pictures of the forest to be measured. What normally would take a whole day of inventory work can now be done by 40 minutes of work taking pictures. The system is smart enough not only to detect the types of trees and their ages and their density, but also far more accurately. Accuracy is more than doubled compared with traditional methods. Mobile is faster, easier and more accurate. By using the camera. Mobile IS the Magical Measurement Machine.
As we head to the information age and we approach ‘big data’ etc, there will be lots of ways we can collect data and many sources for it. But mobile is the most prevalent sensor network today (3 times more mobile accounts than total internet users globally). Facebook is nice but SMS is 4 times larger by active users than Facebook. Cameraphones have ever more powerful sensors the Nokia 808 Pureview and Lumia 1020 have their monster 41 megapixel sensor if you wanted really sharp detail like say magnifying tiny print on a page. This is called ‘megapixel microscopy’ ie using the mobile phone camera as a magnifying glass. Similarly now the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom and for example Sony’s accessory lenses for the Xperia, offer 10x optical zoom - thats a genuine ‘binoculars’ effect in your pocket, every day, everywhere you go. There are infrared and microscope attachments to smartphones already.
If current cameras can do this kind of magic, where are we in a few years. The number of sensors on the mobile phone make it an incredibly powerful instrument for collecting data. The connectedness allows it far more utility and power. We are very early on that journey to what all the mobile phone can measure. And as management discovers the power of mobile as a measurement machine, it will embrace it, because anything that can be measured can also be managed.