It was the second afternoon of the last EASDP annual conference, last Friday in Amsterdam. The Big Business of the day was said to be over, in that at their General Council EASDP, representing Europe’s directory publishers, had voted to merge with EIDQ, Europe’s directory enquiries services. Sic transit the glory of the yellow page players. I was sad – EASDP in its heyday ran some of the most entertaining meetings in Europe. I was happy, since I had lost a night’s sleep en route to Amsterdam and was approaching going home time. And then he threw this thunderbolt across the stage and rocked us all back in our seats, “You may never visit a native website again!”

The line had added impact in that it came from a former CEO of Experian’s B2B services, Phil Cotter. He was speaking for BIIA and his own consulting interests, and addressing the issues posed by predictive analytics. And he was skilfully piling up the arguments around a machine-to-machine future, the role of the intelligence in the network, the ability to track and map our activities as predicted by the past activities of ourselves and others like us. And suddenly, all of the chat about behavioural targeting and the future of advertising on the web crumbled into dust for me. The website now becomes a totally different proposition. This is not the display table, advertising driven, designed to bring users to your goods and services. This is the storehouse of your advanced metadata and this the key to your discoverability. Mostly you will get discovered by machines, so you need to be very aware of how to tell them who you are and what you are about in language they can understand and use. As it happens I am moderating a session at the Frankfurt Book Fair ( where some of the best brains in STM will address this issue: yet Phil makes me realize that this is not just an issue for the advance guards of science and technology publishing: it is about to crash, with frightening speed, on your shore as well.

Later in the session, as Phil was explaining the way in which the LAPD use predictive analysis to create patrol patterns for police cars, a hand shot up. “If patterns of crime exist so that you can say where the next lookalike crime will occur, after a few nights the cars will be entirely in the wrong places” Phil explained gently that this was why the analysis was run every day, and thereby gives me a second insight into what is happening. We are still thinking at our own speed about real world cycles of change. It does not matter to the machine that we are so slow to process: predictive analysis can be run repeatedly to catch nuanced change in activity if that activity is important enough to justify it. Then again, most of the apps that run predictive analysis are going to lodged, for consumers and for commercial users, on the advanced smartphones of the future. There the emphasis is likely to be upon rapid decision-making in an increasingly time-constrained society. Predictive analysis only needs to be “right enough” to allow a decision to be made.

And, of course, intelligent predictive analytics software is everywhere you look. SAP and SAS have history here: IBM and Oracle have serious offerings: TIBCO and Orange have activity here. But have a look at WEKA from Waikato in New Zealand ( for some fascinating stuff on machine learning, and kick the tyres of specialist players like Foresee ( or This is a fast-changing world and the time between research lab and application grows ever shorter. Meanwhile I heard a good interview on the radio last week. An independent television producer was complaining that the advertising muscle of major agencies like WPP was being used to compel the co-financing of the TV they wanted – no shared deal equals no advertising was the implication. And we were expected to disapprove of the power of advertising being used in this way. But what if the agencies simply have a realistic view of the future of advertising and want their business to migrate to different places in the value chain. They will discover in time that content production is not the route to riches, but maybe they have already worked out that advertising is unlikely to go to the networks without being wholly changed – by predictive analysis, by recommendation engines, by community buying and countless other network driven expedients. Once again, the power migrates in the network to the user.

Then Laurie Kaye, now at Shoosmiths as their lead man in media legal pyrotechnics, came on stage and told us about the “right to be forgotten”. Not a good day for advertising and lead generation – in a conference dedicated to advertising-based directories and marketing services. The world is moving too fast to allow for the realtime re-calibration of the trade associations.

I often get questions about the future role of mobile, many of which stump me, since if you had really wanted to design a less adequate content carrier than the smartphone you would be hard put to know where to start. It is adequately inadequate for reading novels. It has great limitations as a platform technology and if it were not for the fact that we are surrounded by ubiquitous bandwidth and all want to walk and talk at the same time, it is hard to see why we got where we are. I generally mutter words like “transactions” and “fulfilment” and move to the edge of the group in the hope of picking up a hint. OK, I get the tablet and the phablet and the mini-tablet, but I was last completely clear ten years ago when N Negroponte and others said that convergence would take place and everything we did on the move would go into one nano-box. It hasn’t happened, and I have lost the belief that it will. So how will the smartphone transform our lives? My current bet is that it will enable us to talk to the network of objects – and get answers. Lets start with the motor car aka automobile.

Or should I say aka computer? Even my aged machine (I call it Humphrey, fondly imagining its demented efforts to go where it will, not where I am trying to direct it, are pale imitations of civil service passive aggression to my Prime Ministerial decision-making) is a processor that gives up its secrets only to the right people. But OBDII solutions are getting cheaper, as are the scanners that read what the car is thinking about through these interfaces. I am certain that we therefore approach the time when, as you start the vehicle, you smartphone will tell you, having recognized the relationship of owner and driver and activated the Bluetooth, how worn the brake pads are, and that the oil change cannot be further delayed. Indeed, your virtual personal assistant may be already making the appointment. And as your car increasingly morphs into a driverless vehicle (this will relieve Humphrey of a lot of his current uncertainty, since he not me will be reading the satnav, which is an embedded smartphone feature) so your need to talk to it will grow greater. How otherwise will you know about the recall for suspension repairs, or the best place to get snow tyres, or indeed that your tax disc is running out? Increasingly the networked world will talk to your car as well, and that talk will be reported to you as decisions to be made. I believe that we will communicate those decisions mostly by speech: we are poor respondents to email and the power of advertising in conventional media is diminishing. But if the car says, via the smartphone, while you are driving along “Are we getting snow tyres this year, because I have a file here with all the offerings?” we can either say “Yes, bring it on” or “Never mention this in my hearing again, Humphrey”.

So we have a smartphone with satnav and OBDII scanner and we chat away, the car and I, in perfect amity. But where is the factor on the internet that makes all change work? The combination of productivity gain, improved decision making and better compliance that feeds every successful innovation with cost and time reduction that makes things work? I was stumped until this morning, when I chanced upon an announcement from Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions (, who have launched Lexis Nexis Telematics Mobile. Their target is the insurer, and the potential future growth of UBI – Usage Based Insurance. Now, if you paid insurance by the month, and your insurer had an interface which showed him how you drove, as well as what your driving record was and how your car was maintained, there would be incentives for careful drivers with properly serviced vehicles to get progressive discounting. Along with greater security from theft, users will for the first time experience vehicle insurance which is not a commodity, based on their address, or their age or gender, but which is a personal reflection of their behaviour. And the monitor for all this, both for the insurer and the user, will be the ubiquitous smartphone.

Now, take this scenario out of the auto world and put it in the context of every day life. When we say that eventually a networked world will change the fundamentals of the way we live, and the smartphone is at the heart of that, then this is what we surely mean. Connect up all those wearable computing devices that measure your heart, your steps, your energy or your brainwaves – and put all those environments into the smartphone, and add the medical insurers. And do not stop until you have covered every human function, extension and attribute. And then calculate the sheer “publishing power” which will be needed to resource and update all these apps, and the software development needed to turn the workflow of life into a conversation with your smartphone, and you are beginning to feel the edges of the cloth from which the future of the information society will be fashioned.

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