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Working holidays

What did you do on your holiday? Did it include working?

Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails.

German car manufacturer Daimler has been in the news with its employee app that deletes emails from the inboxes of staff when they are on holiday. Employees can opt in or out of the system which has been developed so that employees can experience the ‘emotional relief’ of starting back at work with an empty inbox.

Volkswagen has a rule in place to prevent emails being sent once shifts have finished. Deutsche Telekom and Porsche also have guidelines saying that employees are not expected to be contactable outside their work time.

Meanwhile in the UK, figures suggest that only one in three workers take all the leave they are entitled to. 44% of those surveyed admitted to working on holiday. Nearly one in five had been contacted by a colleague and 13% said their boss had contacted them.

Even if they are not accessing work emails, British holidaymakers in Europe are very busy on their mobile devices. They are posting over 21 million pictures from their holidays every year; sending 44 million text messages and posting 20 million status updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Are employees right in thinking that taking all their holiday entitlement will cause them problems at work? In the US research suggests that 13% of managers are less likely to promote workers who take all of their vacation time; and employees who take less than their full vacations earn 2.8% more in the subsequent year than colleagues who took all of their allotted days.

Sources: Harvard Business Review; The Local (Germany); ITProPortal; Yahoo Finance.

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Experimenting with emotions

Dating website deliberately mis-matched users; art gallery ‘sells’ art to the emotional.

Earlier this summer, Facebook admitted it had been conducting experiments on ‘emotional contagion’.

Now OKCupid has announced it has been experimenting on users to find out more about how people rate each other on the site and about how ‘perceived compatibility’ works

One experiment removed all images from the site, resulting in less activity but an increase in responses to first messages.  Another test discovered that people tend to ignore profile text and base most of their response on profile pictures.

But it is the compatibility experiment which is attracting headlines.  The site told a number of users that they were strongly compatible with people when they weren’t. Users believed what they were told about compatibility, even when the profile evidence was set out in front of them – an example of people incapable of looking beyond a ‘headline’ to analyse or even read the information provided for them!

The emotion of art

Meanwhile in Sweden an art gallery has held an auction of sculptures worth up to 15,000 euros.  However, no cash changed hands.  Instead members of the public were hooked up to heart-rate monitors and their emotional responses to the works measured.  Those with the highest emotional response won the auction.  You can watch a video of how the auction went on YouTube.

Sources: The Local; The Guardian; Harvard Business Review;

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Top of the apps

Popularity driven by world sporting events – and the weather.

Figures released by App Annie for June 2014 show top performing, non-gaming, apps around the world.

The top ten worldwide apps include some familiar names (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Skype) and new, ‘superstar’ apps including MYOTee, an app that lets users develop and share their own avatar.  MYOTee originally launched in China at the end of 2013 and has become a viral success.  Its top ten position reflects its popularity in China – it has yet to make an impact on the rest of the world – as yet.

The FIFA official app also made it to the top ten, reflecting the popularity of the football World Cup.  The app was downloaded 18 million times in the first three weeks of June and it was the number one app in 135 countries and territories in June.

Other top performers in June were China’s search engine Baidu and battery-saving app DU Battery Saver, which in particular experienced growth in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and the US.

Music company Pandora was the second most popular app by revenue and experienced rapid growth in Australia and New Zealand. It now has two million registered users.

How the UK market differs

In the UK, the popularity of FIFA indirectly led to growth for ITV Player which offered live streaming and on-demand coverage of World Cup matches.  Other video content providers were performing well in the UK in June.

The charts seem to suggest that UK users take security more seriously.  While the UK has a security app in the top ten, this is not the case in the worldwide or US figures.

Three apps in the UK top ten are newspapers.  40% of The Guardian’s digital traffic now comes from mobile devices and a new update in May means the newspaper has attracted 300,000 new downloads worldwide.  The Guardian joins The Times/Sunday Times and The Telegraph in the UK’s top ten apps.

The figures also show that when the weather turns warmer, users turn their thoughts to romance (strong performances reported from dating apps including Match and Grindr) and fitness (the 30 Day ab challenge has been performing well in the rankings throughout June.

More on the app performance charts from App Annie.


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Internet security 2014

Symantec declares 2013 a year of mega-breaches and targeted attacks.

The Symantec Corporation has published its Internet Security Report for 2014.

Symantec’s data monitors threat activity in 157 countries and territories.  The report features a time-line of security breaches from around the world and analyses the number of targets of each attack.

Key findings

  • The total number of breaches were up 62% from 2012
  • A total of 552 million identities were breached in 2013 – an astonishing increase of 493% on 2012 figures
  • Data exposed included credit card information, birth dates, home addresses, medical records, logins, passwords and email addresses
  • Real names, birth dates and social security numbers are the top three types of data breached
  • Mega-breaches – Eight breaches exposed more than 10 million identities each
  • Massive growth in ‘ransomware’ – scammers acting as ‘law enforcement’ to levy fines up 500%
  • The Internet of Things – attackers are targeting medical equipment, baby monitors and smart TVs
  • Big Data is also attractive to cybercriminals

Social Media and mobile threats

Fake offers and click through online surveys are the most popular form of scamming used on social media platforms.  Other scams include fake apps, which require login information to be entered which is then stolen.  Malicious app developers find it relatively easy to persuade users to grant them unnecessary permissions.  The attraction of attacking mobile devices is that so much data is available once an attacker is on the device.

Reducing threats – best practice for businesses

  • implement a removable media policy
  • restrict email attachments
  • enforce a strong password policy
  • educate staff and users on internet security protocols
  • monitor for incursions and vulnerabilities

Reducing threats – best practice for consumers

  • Think before you click
  • Update your antivirus software regularly
  • Guard your personal data

 The full White Paper is available to download from Symatec.

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Time wasting at work

How much time is wasted at work being non-productive – and what can be done to improve the situation?

In Sweden, several employees of the Social Insurance Agency have been discovered browsing on the job.  The Agency found that employees had been visiting non-work related websites while being ‘inactive on the work system’.  One employee spent 50 hours of work time visiting 350 websites while another spent 47 hours on non-work related browsing – mostly on Facebook.  One of the employees was fined half a month’s pay.

Meanwhile, self-employed entrepreneur Maneesh Sethi, has been measuring his own non-productive time at work.  Using an app called RescueTime, he discovered he was spending up to 30 hours a week on non-work related sites such as Facebook and Reddit.  Looking for help to keep him focused, he advertised on Craigslist for a ‘faceslapper’ to hit him every time he attempted to visit his social media sites.  He reported a massive improvement in his productivity.

Since that experiment, he has gone on to develop a wearable device that will monitor the wearer’s ‘bad habits’ and give them an electric shock if they slip into their old ways!

Research published by CareerBuilder looked at the obstacles to maximising productivity in the workplace. Mobile phones, gossip, social media, noisy colleagues, meetings, speaker phones and email are all cited.  73% of the participating organisations had attempted to implement measures to mitigate time-wasting at work, including blocking some websites, monitoring internet usage and limiting meetings.

But what if you want to be distracted at work?  Helpfully, econsultancy has provided a list of 11 websites and Twitter accounts that can help you fill your days unproductively, including the useless and ironic time-saving tips of @TwopTips – example:

Make yourself feel more important by referring to your tweets as “content”.

A simpler life – the secret to happiness?

Survey of 16,000 people around the world explores contentment.  Is a simpler life the key to happiness?  Or is it being Danish?

On average, 77% of respondents from 20 developed countries* declared themselves to be ‘happy’ and the rate rose in the world’s three happiest countries, Sweden (88%), Canada (86%) and Australia (85%).

Happiness levels were lower overall in Europe and the Spanish were the unhappiest of all – only 59% reported themselves to be happy.

In contrast to their current levels of happiness and their feelings of optimism for family and community, only 22% of people said they were optimistic about prospects for the world as a whole, a proportion that fell to 20% in the US, 15% in the UK and 6% in France.

A simpler life

Many respondents reported they felt the world was changing too fast and over half of them wanted to slow down the pace of their lives.  64% said that people ‘led happier lives in the old days’.   Many complained about the intensity of their digital lives – 78% of Chinese and 71% of UK respondents agreed “I am constantly looking at screens these days”.

However, 61% of the respondents felt that technology was part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Another route to happiness – be Danish?

Does Danish DNA hold the secret to happiness?  Researchers have been exploring the link between gene mutation and happiness – and are calling for further research.

* Ipsos Mori questioned people in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK, US


The future of bookshops

I like writing about bookshops.  In fact I wrote about ‘the perfect bookshop’ for the Sunday Observer when I was a teenager.  It was my first time ‘in print’.  I’ve not seen a copy of the article for years and can’t remember what I wrote.  I like to think that I described a bookshop with sofas and cups of tea and that I was years ahead of my time and that I invented Waterstones.

Can bookshops survive?

But how are these ‘bookshops of the future’ faring now?  In the US, according to the latest statistics, publisher revenues from digital products have outstripped those from traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ shops for the first time.  Revenues from downloaded audiobooks, for example, were up almost 20% in 2013.

Other changes in digital reading

The US is also experiencing a decline in the dedicated e-reader market.  People are increasingly reading on their tablets or smartphones and are not using dedicated e-reader devices.   Multi-feature devices are killing off the specialised ones – and this is a problem for publishers.  Writing in New York Magazine, Kevin Roose says that those using e-reader devices benefit from a more immersive reading experience – and are reading more.  When they are reading on their iPhones or tablets a range of other information is competing for the reader’s attention.

Digital in-store and re-inventing bookshops

Meanwhile in London Foyles the Bookshop has relocated to a new site on Charing Cross Road and undergone quite a transformation. You can see a nice time-lapse video of half a million books being moved on YouTube.   In this article, Ben Davis visits the new store to test the digital in-store experience as he set out to find a specific book.

A feature in [The Economist's] Intelligent Life asks architects and designers to design a bookshop.  Their responses include: download and vending walls; literary sommeliers; social reading experiences – the bookstore becoming (like the library) a social experience rather than a place purely for commercial transactions.


If anyone can help me locate a copy of my Sunday Observer magazine article, I would love to hear from you!

Sources: The Bookseller; Publishing Perspectives; econsultancy; Mashable.


Spammers, spam – and Monty Python

Research explores how key spam players interact.  Canada’s new anti-spam legislation came into effect in July 2014. 

It is estimated that over 14 billion spam messages are sent around the world every day.  Researchers at Aachen University in Germany and the University of California, Santa Barbara explored the three key elements required in a spam campaign – the list of victim emails, the content, and a botnet.

Experts specialising in each of these three elements have emerged, selling their expertise in a ‘prosperous underground economy’ and building their own versions of customer loyalty. By seeking to better understand the relationships between the key players, it’s hoped that researchers can develop more effective anti-spam measures.  (You can download their findings here.)

Meanwhile, Canada has rolled out new legislation that aims to tackle the issue of spam.   The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is outlined in summary here.  Although the potential fines are high, the fact is that any organisation following good practice will not fall foul of the new legislation.  You should have clear unsubscribe processes, and have the permission of the recipients to send them commercial messages.

And of course, the legislation is only relevant for email addresses in Canada (.ca)

And now for something completely different

Spam of the edible kind features in a famous Monty Python sketch (described in this humourless Wikipedia entry).   In July 2014 the surviving Monty Python cast is taking to the stage for the first time in decades.   The 20,000 tickets for their opening night at London’s O2 Arena sold out in a record breaking 43 seconds.

The ‘Tour’ is embracing social media. Fans can follow the Tour on Twitter and appear on the fan wall by using the Tour Hashtags.  They can also treat themselves to a Ministry of Silly Walks app and  join the Python Spam Club.  Which begs the question, what if your spam is about the spam club?

The economic value of public libraries

Evidence review of the economic contribution of libraries

The Arts Council has just published an evidence review which looks at the economic contribution of public libraries. The report aims to be an ‘important first step’ in understanding the direct economic contribution that public libraries can make, as well as the indirect contribution generated by social and educational benefits for individuals and communities.

The report summarises the available evidence from a variety of international sources, and examines the methodologies which might be applied to what is clearly a complex issue. It does not try to establish a single monetary value for libraries, but instead looks at different ways of assessing economic contribution, for example ‘place-based’ economic development:

Libraries can be anchor tenants in mixed-use physical developments and regeneration initiatives, potentially boosting the footfall, buzz, image and profile of a neighbourhood or area … where specialist services are provided, they can also support local economic development through business advice and support for individuals, micro businesses and SMEs.

The report also looks at the wider educational and social impact of libraries across five key areas: Children and young people’s education and personal development; Adult education, skills and employability; Health and wellbeing; Community support and cohesion; and Digital inclusion.

The report notes that there are limitations and weaknesses in the existing literature on this topic, including a lack of longitudinal studies and surveys and studies with large sample sizes, and the difficulty of establishing causality between library usage and outcomes. At the same time, the report points out that

Evidence is already sufficient to conclude that public libraries provide positive outcomes for people and communities in many areas – far exceeding the traditional perception of libraries as just places from which to borrow books. What the available evidence shows is that public libraries, first and foremost, contribute to long term processes of human capital formation, the maintenance of mental and physical wellbeing, social inclusivity and the cohesion of communities. This is the real economic contribution that public libraries make to the UK. The fact that these processes are long term, that the financial benefits arise downstream from libraries’ activities, that libraries make only a contribution to what are multi-dimensional, complex processes of human and social development, suggests that attempting to derive a realistic and accurate overall monetary valuation for this is akin to the search for the holy grail. What it does show is that measuring libraries’ short term economic impact provides only a very thin, diminished account of their true value.

The Arts Council says that in the next 12 months it will be investigating further areas of impact and asking how libraries contribute to healthy lives and what that represents financially, working with partners such as the Society of Chief Librarians, the British Library and the Local Government Association.

You can download the full report here.

Access to the Internet

Google wants to use satellite technology to improve connectivity

At the beginning of 2014, there were estimated to be between 2.5 and 3 billion internet users around the world – that’s around 35% of the world’s population (data for some countries remains patchy, hence the range in the estimate).  Mobile connections account for the vast majority of new sign-ups.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google is planning to improve access to the internet by launching a series of satellites which can help broaden internet access. The plans would cost Google anything between $1-3 billion.

Both Google and Facebook have been exploring a range of technologies to improve connectivity – including drones, satellites and high altitude balloons.   The current Google project is exploring the use of small, lightweight satellites.

Meanwhile, residents of Löwenstedt , a village in Germany, didn’t wait for Google to launch its satellites.  The village has built its own super-fast internet service because their population was too small and scattered for national internet operators to bother with.  Businesses, individuals and villages collaborated to build the network.