Monday, 28 January 2013

A bullshit-soaked lecture by AOL Digital Prophet David "Shingy" Shing reminds me why I gave up chairing digital media conferences

When I started working in what was then called New Media 15 years ago, I found myself attending meetings with people whose sole function seemed to be to spout jargon-laden drivel designed to prove that they knew more about what was happening in the exciting, whacky new digital world than the rest of us clod-hoppers. They never proferred any useful advice, they never produced any actual services, they didn’t manage any projects, they didn’t promote existing services, they didn’t control a budget, they didn’t write any code, and they didn’t have any staff to manage.

Although the term “strategy” often appeared in their job titles, they never seemed to produce anything resembling a strategy. I tried not to speak to any of these wankers during my first year, because I already felt sufficiently inadequate to the task facing me without their help. But when I moved into interactive TV I asked the most useless – and rebarbative – of the breed over for a chat. “How do you see interactive TV developing over the next five years?” I asked. Maybe it was because I had never previously exchanged a civil word with this particular blister, but a look of terrible confusion wracked his features, and after burbling incomprehensibly for a couple of minutes, he fled – mercifully, never to return.

I was reminded of all this when I recently happened upon a Telegraph article by Mic Wright about what a waste of time and money technology conferences are (read it here). This led me to search out the following presentation by David Shing, AOL’s Digital Prophet (his actual job title). To be fair to the BBC, by the time I left most of the non-job guru-types had been sluiced down the plug-hole, but I still encountered examples of the breed at the conferences I used to chair on a regular basis. This is the kind of stuff I used to have to sit through on a fairly regular basis - lean back (or lean in) and enjoy being baffled:

If you found watching the video unbearable, here are some of Dave’s insights, interspersed with a whole series of apparently meaningless ejaculations, including: Intriguing! Awsome! Really? Love it! Crazy! Hmm... (that’s apparently to indicate that he’s just said something like, rilly profound) and, of course, Rockin’!:
Picking up the telephone and calling somebody’s cliché. In fact, if you were to call my desk phone in New York City today, it forwards to a florist in London. (Why?)
Who’s winning in the liking space? (Well, not you, mate - that’s for sure.)
Work and leisure have blended together into this thing called life. (Wow! Who knew?)
We are just one click away from our personal most inner thoughts – that’s the world that we’re in today. (Huh?)
Personal expression is the new form of entertainment – that’s what social [media] has taught us. (Oh, do me a favour!)
The new “new” is utility… If you’re useful in a brand, people will participate in your brand more often. (Apparently, we don’t buy stuff any more – we participate in brands.)
It’s no longer 2007… (thanks for the heads-up, Dave).
Data-soaked (still, a good stain-remover will probably get rid of it).
We’ve gone from lean-back to lean-in to lean-back (or straight to comatose).
They tend to convert higher. (Er…?)
People discovery (or, as in Dave’s case, arsehole discovery.)
We sort of think we’re tapped out in apps in terms of checking in and being able to actually find out where you are digitally, but there are actually apps now that allow you to find out people who you identify with who are now leaning into a location that you’re at. But that’s not enough… (Oh, I think it probably is, Dave.)
Attention is the new currency (I’m sorry, I was miles away).
Great story-telling. (Oh God, I seem to remember using this phrase in my own guru days.)
We’re going to see ads that are going to be very harmonious. (I think he means contextually relevant.)
The brands that are remarkable, reactive and relevant are going to win in this game in my mind. Hmm. It has to be authentic and it needs to be active and that engagement has to be really authentic (and soaked in authenticity, of course).
So instead of going outside-in, you’re going to go inside-out (I’d love to see you go inside-out very suddenly, Dave.)
Our job as marketeers is to build liquid content (presumably by making your users vomit).
Curated nicheness. (Run that by me again? Actually, don’t bother.)
Don’t think about social as a place you go, think about it as a thing you do – think about water and electricity today… (I’m pretty sure he’s just spewing out random words at this point).
Although we are a connected generation – crazy, right? – I don’t necessarily think we are a connection generation. (Oh, for fuck’s sake.)
The next phase we’ll go to is using the internet to make us more human. (If I were you, I’d try anything.)
In case Mr. Shing should wake up in a litigous mood one day, I had better make it perfectly clear that I am not, of course, suggesting in any way that he doesn’t make a valuable contribution to AOL’s business. I have no way of telling whether he does or not. But in the unlikely event I should ever happen to meet the chap, I will either slap his face or beg him to stop destroying the English language (or the Australo-American version of it) by talking nonsense. Or I might be tempted to do both, because anyone who regularly addresses people they don't know as "my friend" really is asking for a slap.


  1. Here is Peter Vander Auwera answering the question Who am I really?:

    We probably have to invent a new word for this “one environment of me”: maybe the word “Dysical” – as a contraction of Digital and Physical – could do the job? But it is more than one word we need. We need a new language, a new vocabulary, a new grammar; new ways to create the sentences and the narrative that can capture this new form of being. And when we have developed basic literacy in this new language, we’ll perfect it like art, like literature, like poetry, for deep and rich self-expressions ...

    And here is Jamie Beckland explaining how this is The End of Demographics: How Marketers Are Going Deeper With Personal Data (or is it a joke?):

    Psychographics look at the mental model of the consumer in the context of a customer lifecycle ... Are customers who kayak more likely to buy water shoes than those who canoe? ... ad networks and clickstream data aggregators will work together to trigger when a customer moves forward in a mental model toward a purchase event ...

    Heaven, can you imagine, a debate between the three of them, Beckland, Auwera and Shing ...

    I met Simon Phipps once, tremendous chap, chief software evangelist for Sun Microsystems.

    1. If anyone could get these three geniuses on stage together, this particular customer would certainly don his water-shoes, jump in his kayak, and move forward in a mental model toward a purchase event, having been careful to adopt a new language, a new vocbualry and, of course grammar a new.

  2. I think you have been humbugged. Mr. Shing is, in fact, Australian comedian Chris Lilley ["We can be Heros"]performing his character from the Chinese Musical Theatre. Surely a large audience could not be so collectively stupid or an adult male spout this relentless, meaningless non-sense wearing an outrageous comedy wig and be genuine?. Mind you, having spent many years watching presentations from assorted management consultants and marketing gurus/charlatans I have a residual doubt. The latter always presented themselves as serious homos. Mr. Shing does not.

    1. As a great admirer of Chris Lilley - in particular his Ricky Wong character - my suspicions were also immediatley aroused, especially when Shing claimed to be married. So I did some serious online checking and I can report that David Shing is indeed an actual human being. Of sorts. Like Ricky Wong, he also has a long felt creative want - in fact, he has released an LP. You can find it here:
      As the website is very badly designed, I should tell you that you need to click the right-pointing arrow above the song-title "Lullaby" to sample his work.

  3. SDG. Please. Things have moved on. For goodness sake. Here in the quantified self space we now have wireless scales. And live mentorship (previously dead mentorship?):

    Another Win For Quantified Self And Big Data Startups: Weight Loss Platform Retrofit Gains An $8M Series A Round Led By DFJ
    The weight loss and health industries have collided head-on with the tech world, with even the most mainstream depictions of startup life pitching products to help people stay trim and out of the doctor’s office. In one of the more interesting developments, Retrofit, a Chicago-based weight loss program designed for busy professionals that incorporates peripheral services like Skype, Fitbit and connected, wireless scales, along with live mentorship from “wellness experts,” is today announcing that it has picked up $8 million in funding led by Draper Fisher Jurvetson to take its product national and to new areas of service. The Series A round brings total funding for Retrofit to $10.7 million, with other investors including Correlation Ventures, Hyde Park Angels, New World Ventures, and I2A Fund.

    1. As I'm pretty sure penning the occasional blog post and watching too much tennis on TV doesn't allow me to desribe myself as a "busy professional" these days, I can't sign up for Retrofit, even though I'm excited by the thought of hyphenless "mainstream depictions of start up life pitching products".

      Damn and blast!

  4. This looks like a rehash of all 90s BS visionaries during the dotcom days! I can't believe people are actually falling for it all over again!

    1. You're right - I thought digital media would have grown up now that it's become a huge business. The weird thing is this sort of stuff was beginning to make professionals smirk by the time I retired four years' ago - I too am amazed it's still going on.

  5. I've heard of Shingy but I've never heard of Scott Gronmark. I even googled you, found nothing. Jealous much? loser

    1. If you imagine that not being "heard of" is a measure of "loserdom", you must have a very warped set of values. Out of interest, I just googled myself and was amazed by the number of results - are you a liar or just incompetent?
      As you've chosen to cower behind a mask of anonymity, I have no way of measuring just how much of a loser you are (using your preferred criterion) - but from the nature of your contribution, I can guess.

    2. You’re a loser because you didn’t fully grasp the Shingy lecture and proceeded to call it “bullshit”. And it’s pretty apparent to everyone that reads it, that you suffer from career envy. You’re too old to be that petty. Don’t bother responding to me, I want be back to this irrelevant blog. LOSER!

    3. 'I want be back'? Is that meant to be 'I won't be back' or 'I want to be back'? Please opt for the latter because I have a feeling that you are going to provide excellent comedy value.

    4. Oh dear. I've been found won'ting by one of life's WINNERS!

    5. Do you, ex-KCS, like me, detect something of the General Douglas MacArthur in Anonymous's pledge?

      (No further J Arthur references from a certain quarter, please. What the shing is that all about anyway?)

    6. Indeed. I suspect that his inventive omission of key parts of the sentence mean that he is keeping his options open. Still, if this is his final appearance at least he's taught me something. All these years I've been operating on the basis that a well articulated exposition of an evidential case is the best way to advance an argument. Now I know that all you have to do is WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS, life should be a lot simpler.

  6. Anonymous. When Peter Ustinov [playing Nero] was making "Quo Vadis" [1951] he turned to the director Mervyn Leroy and asked for some psychological insight into the Emperor's character. Leroy thought about it for a long time and then said: " Nero was the kinda guy who played with himself nights! "

    1. Surely, SDG, you're not accusing Anonymous of bashing the bishop! You must be jealous much of him.