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8 Subconscious mistakes our brain makes everyday

It’s fascinating to learn more about how we think and make decisions every day, so let’s take a look at some of these habits of thinking that we didn’t know we had.

1. We surround ourselves with information that matches our beliefs

We tend to like people who think like us. If we agree with someone’s beliefs, we’re more likely to be friends with them. While this makes sense, it means that we subconsciously begin to ignore or dismiss anything that threatens our world views, since we surround ourselves with people and information that confirm what we already think.

This is called confirmation bias. If you’ve ever heard of the frequency illusion, this is very similar. The frequency illusion occurs when you buy a new car, and suddenly you see the same car everywhere. Or when a pregnant woman suddenly notices other pregnant women all over the place. It’s a passive experience, where our brains seek out information that’s related to us, but we believe there’s been an actual increase in the frequency of those occurrences.

It’s similar to how improving our body language can also actually change who we are as people.

Confirmation bias is a more active form of the same experience. It happens when we proactively seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.

Not only do we do this with the information we take in, but we approach our memories this way, as well. In an experiment in 1979 at the University of Minnesota, participants read a story about a women called Jane who acted extroverted in some situations and introverted in others. When the participants returned a few days later, they were divided into two groups. One group was asked if Jane would be suited to a job as a librarian, the other group was asked about her having a job as a real-estate agent. The librarian group remembered Jane as being introverted and later said that she would not be suited to a real-estate job. The real-estate group did exactly the opposite: They remembered Jane as extroverted, said she would be suited to a real-estate job, and when they were later asked if she would make a good librarian, they said no.

In 2009, a study at Ohio State University showed that we will spend 36% more time reading an essay if it aligns with our opinions.

Whenever your opinions or beliefs are so intertwined with your self-image that you couldn’t pull them away without damaging your core concepts of self, you avoid situations that may cause harm to those beliefs. –David McRaney

2. We believe in the “Swimmers Body” illusion

This has to be one of my favorite thinking mistakes. In Rolf Dobelli’s book, The Art of Thinking Clearly, he explains how our ideas about talent and extensive training are well off-track:

Professional swimmers don’t have perfect bodies because they train extensively. Rather, they are good swimmers because of their physiques. How their bodies are designed is a factor for selection and not the result of their activities.

The “swimmer’s body illusion” occurs when we confuse selection factors with results. Another good example is top-performing universities: Are they actually the best schools, or do they choose the best students, who do well regardless of the school’s influence? Our mind often plays tricks on us, and that is one of the key ones to be aware of.

Without this illusion, half of advertising campaigns would not work.

It makes perfect sense, when you think about it. If we believed that we were predisposed to be good at certain things (or not), we wouldn’t buy into ad campaigns that promised to improve our skills in areas where it’s unlikely we’ll ever excel.

This is similar to the skill of learning to say no, or how our creativity actually works: Both diverge strongly from what we think is true, versus what actions will actually help us get the result we want.

3. We worry about things we’ve already lost

No matter how much I pay attention to the sunk-cost fallacy, I still naturally gravitate towards it.

The term sunk cost refers to any cost (not just monetary, but also time and effort) that has been paid already and cannot be recovered. So it’s a payment of time or money that’s gone forever, basically.

The reason we can’t ignore the cost, even though it’s already been paid, is that we wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow:

Organisms that placed more urgency on avoiding threats than they did on maximizing opportunities were more likely to pass on their genes. So over time, the prospect of losses has become a more powerful motivator on your behavior than the promise of gains.

The sunk-cost fallacy plays on our tendency to emphasize loss over gain. This research study is a great example of how it works:

Hal Arkes and Catehrine Blumer created an experiment in 1985 that demonstrated your tendency to go fuzzy when sunk costs come along. They asked subjects to assume they had spent $100 on a ticket for a ski trip in Michigan, but soon after found a better ski trip in Wisconsin for $50 and bought a ticket for this trip, too. They then asked the people in the study to imagine they learned the two trips overlapped and the tickets couldn’t be refunded or resold. Which one do you think they chose, the $100 good vacation, or the $50 great one?

More than half of the people in the study went with the more expensive trip. It may not have promised to be as fun, but the loss seemed greater.

So like the other mistakes I’ve explained in this post, the sunk-cost fallacy leads us to miss or ignore the logical facts presented to us and instead make irrational decisions based on our emotions–without even realizing we’re doing so.

The fallacy prevents you from realizing the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not which one negates the feeling of loss in the past.

Being such a subconscious reaction, it’s hard to avoid this one. Our best bet is to try to separate the current facts we have from anything that happened in the past. For instance, if you buy a movie ticket only to realize the movie is terrible, you could either:

  • A) stay and watch the movie, to “get your money’s worth” since you’ve already paid for the ticket (sunk-cost fallacy)


  • B) leave the cinema and use that time to do something you’ll actually enjoy.

The thing to remember is this: You can’t get that investment back. It’s gone. Don’t let it cloud your judgment in whatever decision you’re making in this moment–let it remain in the past.

4. We incorrectly predict odds

Imagine you’re playing Heads or Tails with a friend. You flip a coin, over and over, each time guessing whether it will turn up heads or tails. You have a 50-50 chance of being right each time.

Now, suppose you’ve flipped the coin five times already and it’s turned up heads every time. Surely, surely, the next one will be tails, right? The chances of it being tails must be higher now, right?

Well, no. The chances of tails turning up are 50-50. Every time. Even if you turned up heads the last 20 times. The odds don’t change.

The gambler’s fallacy is a glitch in our thinking–once again, we’re proven to be illogical creatures. The problem occurs when we place too much weight on past events and confuse our memory with how the world actually works, believing that they will have an effect on future outcomes (or, in the case of Heads or Tails, any weight, since past events make absolutely no difference to the odds).

Unfortunately, gambling addictions in particular are also affected by a similar mistakes in thinking–the positive expectation bias. This is when we mistakenly think that eventually our luck has to change for the better. Somehow, we find it impossible to accept bad results and give up–we often insist on keeping at it until we get positive results, regardless of what the odds of that actually happening are.

5. We rationalize purchases we don’t want

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. How many times have you gotten home after a shopping trip only to be less than satisfied with your purchase decisions and started rationalizing them to yourself? Maybe you didn’t really want it after all, or in hindsight you thought it was too expensive. Or maybe it didn’t do what you hoped and was actually useless to you.

Regardless, we’re pretty good at convincing ourselves that those flashy, useless, badly thought-out purchases are necessary after all. This is known as post-purchase rationalization or Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome.

The reason we’re so good at this comes back to psychology of language:

Social psychologists say it stems from the principle of commitment, our psychological desire to stay consistent and avoid a state of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we get when we’re trying to hold onto two competing ideas or theories. For instance, if we think of ourselves as being nice to strangers, but then we see someone fall over and don’t stop to help them, we would then have conflicting views about ourselves: We are nice to strangers, but we weren’t nice to the stranger who fell over. This creates so much discomfort that we have to change our thinking to match our actions–in other words, we start thinking of ourselves as someone who is not nice to strangers, since that’s what our actions proved.

So in the case of our impulse shopping trip, we would need to rationalize the purchases until we truly believe we needed to buy those things so that our thoughts about ourselves line up with our actions (making the purchases).

The tricky thing in avoiding this mistake is that we generally act before we think (which can be one of the most important elements that successful people have as traits!), leaving us to rationalize our actions afterwards.

Being aware of this mistake can help us avoid it by predicting it before taking action–for instance, as we’re considering a purchase, we often know that we will have to rationalize it to ourselves later. If we can recognize this, perhaps we can avoid it. It’s not an easy one to tackle though!

6. We make decisions based on the anchoring effect

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist who gave one of my favorite TED talks ever about the irrationality of the human brain when it comes to making decisions.

He illustrates this particular mistake in our thinking superbly, with multiple examples. The anchoring effect essentially works like this: rather than making a decision based on pure value for investment (time, money, and the like), we factor in comparative value–that is, how much value an option offers when compared to another option.

Let’s look at some examples from Dan, to illustrate this effect in practice:

One example is an experiment that Dan conducted using two kinds of chocolates for sale in a booth: Hershey’s Kisses and Lindt Truffles. The Kisses were one penny each, while the Truffles were 15 cents each. Considering the quality differences between the two kinds of chocolates and the normal prices of both items, the Truffles were a great deal, and the majority of visitors to the booth chose the Truffles.

For the next stage of his experiment, Dan offered the same two choices, but lowered the prices by one cent each. So now the Kisses were free, and the Truffles cost 14 cents each. Of course, the Truffles were even more of a bargain now, but since the Kisses were free, most people chose those, instead.

Your loss-aversion system is always vigilant, waiting on standby to keep you from giving up more than you can afford to spare, so you calculate the balance between cost and reward whenever possible.

Another example Dan offers in his TED talk is when consumers are given holiday options to choose between. When given a choice of a trip to Rome, all expenses paid, or a similar trip to Paris, the decision is quite hard. Each city comes with its own food, culture, and travel experiences that the consumer must choose between.

When a third option is added, however, such as the same Rome trip, but without coffee included in the morning, things change. When the consumer sees that they have to pay 2,50 euros for coffee in the third trip option, not only does the original Rome trip suddenly seem superior out of these two, it also seems superior to the Paris trip. Even though they probably hadn’t even considered whether coffee was included or not before the third option was added.

This mistake is called the anchoring effect, because we tend to focus on a particular value and compare it to our other options, seeing the difference between values rather than the value of each option itself.

Eliminating the “useless” options ourselves as we make decisions can help us choose more wisely. On the other hand, Dan says, a big part of the problem comes from simply not knowing our own preferences very well, so perhaps that’s the area we should focus on more, instead.

While we know that our decision-making skills as people are often poor, (more on this topic here), it’s fascinating how the term free can affect us. In fact free has been mentioned before as one of the most powerful ways that can affect our decision making.

7. We believe our memories more than facts

Our memories are highly fallible and plastic. And yet, we tend to subconsciously favor them over objective facts. The availability heuristic is a good example of this. It works like this:

Suppose you read a page of text and then you’re asked whether the page includes more words that end in “ing” or more words with “n” as the second-last letter. Obviously, it would be impossible for there to be more “ing” words than words with “n” as their penultimate letter (it took me a while to get that–read over the sentence again, carefully, if you’re not sure why that is). However, words ending in “ing” are easier to recall than words like hand, end, or and, which have “n” as their second-last letter, so we would naturally answer that there are more “ing” words.

What’s happening here is that we are basing our answer of probability (that is, whether it’s probable that there are more “ing” words on the page) on how available relevant examples are (for instance, how easily we can recall them). Our troubles in recalling words with “n” as the second last letter make us think those words don’t occur very often, and we subconsciously ignore the obvious facts in front of us.

Although the availability heuristic is a natural process of our thinking, two Chicago scholars have explained how wrong it can be:

Yet reliable statistical evidence will outperform the availability heuristic every time.

The lesson here? Whenever possible, look at the facts. Examine the data. Don’t base a factual decision on your gut instinct without at least exploring the data objectively first. If we look at the psychology of language in general, we’ll find even more evidence that looking at facts first is necessary.

8. We pay more attention to stereotypes than we think we do

The funny thing about lots of these thinking mistakes, especially those related to memory, is that they’re so ingrained. I had to think long and hard about why they’re mistakes at all! This one is a good example–it took me a while to understand how illogical this pattern of thinking is.

It’s another one that explains how easily we ignore actual facts:

The human mind is so wedded to stereotypes and so distracted by vivid descriptions that it will seize upon them, even when they defy logic, rather than upon truly relevant facts.

Here’s an example to illustrate the mistake, from researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky:

In 1983, Kahneman and Tversky tested how illogical human thinking is by describing the following imaginary person:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.

The researchers asked people to read this description, and then asked them to answer this question:

Which alternative is more probable?

  1. Linda is a bank teller.
  2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Here’s where it can get a bit tricky to understand (at least, it did for me!)–If answer #2 is true, #1 is also true. This means that #2 cannot be the answer to the question of probability.

Unfortunately, few of us realize this, because we’re so overcome by the more detailed description of #2. Plus, as the earlier quote pointed out, stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in our minds that we subconsciously apply them to others.

Roughly 85% of people chose option #2 as the answer. A simple choice of words can change everything.

Again, we see here how irrational and illogical we can be, even when the facts are seemingly obvious.

I love this quote from researcher Daniel Kahneman on the differences between economics and psychology:

I was astonished. My economic colleagues worked in the building next door, but I had not appreciated the profound difference between our intellectual worlds. To a psychologist, it is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.

Clearly, it’s normal for us to be irrational and to think illogically, especially when language acts as a limitation to how we think, even though we rarely realize we’re doing it. Still, being aware of the pitfalls we often fall into when making decisions can help us to at least recognize them, if not avoid them.

ORIGINAL SOURCE: Fast Company article 8 Subconscious Mistakes Our Brain Makes Every Day by Belle Beth Cooper is a content crafter at Buffer, a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Follow her on Twitter at @BelleBethCooper

2012 Top 10s of everything

The year 2012 is drawing to a close (where did it go?) and the world did not end. Lots happened and as always here’s my little collection of top 10s… please note they’re in no particular order and just my own subjective opinon:

1 – Books

  1. Charlies Bronson – Bronson – Compelling reading. Frightening but a page turner. More an overview of the failings of the prison system than a memoir of a total loon.
  2. Bear Grylls – Facing Up
  3. Jon Krakauer – Into Thin Air – A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster in 1996
  4. Oscar Pistorius – Blade Runner – Never a more moving and inspiring story written!
  5. Wade Davis – Into the Silence – Haven’t finished reading it yet, but it’s shaping up to be my favorite book of the year.
  6. Simon Yates – Against the Wall – Not a page turner and pretty repetitive, but it’s still a good read if you’re into climbing books
  7. Michael Crichton – Jurassic Park / The Lost World – I’ve read them before but wanted to revisit. Well worth it too. Still two amazing books. Jurassic Part far superior.
  8. Mark Johnson – Wasted – This is the big one for me. A truly remarkable book. Absolutely engrossing and moving.
  9. Keith Richards – Life – Just an ‘alright’ rock biography full of the anecdotes you’d expect but nothing that really made me go “oh wow”
  10. Walter Isaacson – The Authorized Biography of Steve Jobs – Took me a while to get through this. It’s not an easy or enjoyable read. But worth it. RIP Jobs – I think few men or women get to say they actually ‘changed the world’… Steve Jobs was one of them.

2 – Most visited websites in order (officially – I kept stats!)

3 – Music (albums)

These are the albums that weren’t necessarily all released just in 2012, but the ones I discovered and played the most;

  1. Chicane – Thousand Mile Stare – An unbelievable return to form
  2. Deus Ex Human Revolution Soundtrack – What an amazing thing… a computer game soundtrack made it into my top 10. Seriously good album. Almost Bladerunner-esque
  3. John Murphy – Sunshine Soundtrack – Again. A bit of a weird edition and no real explanation other than that I listened to it loads.
  4. Sucker Punch Soundtrack – ANOTHER soundtrack. The horror. A bit different this time though… some very very cool covers of some very very cool songs by the cast of the movie. A great selection.
  5. Robbie Williams – Take the Crown – ALRIGHT… I admit it… this is my guilty, uncool addition. 3 songs I skip on an album of 10 tracks is pretty good going.
  6. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Got a lot of air-play in the Trainor house. I’m glad he left Oasis & went solo. He’s better on his own.
  7. Keane – Strangeland – It’s not a guilty pleasure when it’s an album of this quality. Some big tunes.
  8. Toploader – Only Human – Technically released in 2011 but it only hit my ipod in 2012 and I listened to it religiously for MONTHS.
  9. Muse – The 2nd Law – Sometimes ridiculous but always rewarding. I fear Muse are starting to morph into a slight parody of themselves, but for now they’re still turning out big rock.
  10. Beastie Boys – The in sound from way out – When co-founder Adam Yauch Dead this year I went back over all my old BB albums and I found this little gem. Just a straight up Funk Jazz album. It’s massive.

4 – Music (individual songs)

  1. Keane – Sovereign Light Cafe
  2. Robbie Williams – Into the Silence
  3. Chicane & Vigri – Sòlarupprás
  4. The Envy Corps – Rhinemaidens
  5. Ki:Theory – My Thoughts
  6. Muse – The 2nd Law / Unsustainable
  7. Coldplay – Don’t let it break your heart
  8. Grouplove – Colours
  9. Chicane – Thousand Mile Stare
  10. Public Enemy – Harder than you think

5 – Films

  1. The Dark Knight Rise – Disappointing conclusion but it was a slow year for films so still made it in.
  2. The Avengers – Dumb & I loved it.
  3. Skyfall – The jury is still out on this one.
  4. Prometheus – I actually really enjoyed it despite the scathing reviews
  5. First Ascent – A climbing film… about first ascents…
  6. Sucker Punch – So it wasn’t amazing. But it did entertain me on a plane.
  7. Warrior – A film about mixed martial arts????? Ughhhh… How? Amazing.
  8. Super 8 – Just a really interesting film. Not brain taxing, but is represents what cinema should be – silly escapism.
  9. The Amazing Spiderman – OK… a reboot wasn’t really necessary so soon. However… it’s a much better film than any that Rami (the horror) was able to create & it’s got all the component parts for a great superhero flick.
  10. The Devils Double – We rented this off the Box Office and found ourselves pleasantly surprised. A really great movie.

6 – TV Moments

The first 3 are all episodes of the same TV series. Justifiably so… First Ascent is in my mind one of the greatest pieces of TV that I’ve ever seen. The missing episodes were equally amazing but it’s these that really blew my mind.

  1. First Ascent – Episode 3: Alone On The Wall – Alex Honnold usually a bumbling, slightly geeky kid, becomes poised and graceful when free solo climbing. He sets his sights on scaling Yosemite’s iconic 600-metre Half Dome wall.
  2. First Ascent – Episode 4: Brothers Wild – Professional climber Timmy O’Neill and his brother Sean, who is paralysed from the waist down, rely on their skills and tenacity to climb huge walls like El Capitan and remote Alaskan mountains.
  3. First Ascent – Episode 5: Point Of No Return – Two top alpine climbers and a cameraman go on a fateful journey to a dangerous mountain in south western China. There’s an unbelievable twist in this story that really almost had me in tears.
  4. The Paralympic Closing Ceremony – So what if it was essentially a great big Coldplay gig. It was amazing. The best of the games ceremonies this year.
  5. Game of Thrones Season 2 – Epic. Just epic.
  6. The Walking Dead Season 3 – Taking the action up a notch. Thrilling & big value TV.
  7. Grand Designs – More compelling wackiness. Some great projects. Some absolute stinkers. All great to watch.
  8. The Killing Season 2 – Much pacier and more enjoyable than the first (which I wasn’t a massive fan of).
  9. True Blood – I raced through all 4 seasons this year. Was never expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Great TV.
  10. Homeland – It’s not grabbed me as much as the wife, but it’s still good to get into a regular show. It’s made Sunday nights better!

7 – Interactions / Experiences

  1. Nike Fuel Band – Nuff said.
  2. Photos To Art App – Smart. Clever. Easy.
  3. New MySpace – This one had me excited right from that teaser video & it’s delivering. The search on it’s own is one of the coolest things I’ve seen all year. Pure amazingness.
  4. SF Dok – 360 Langstrasse Zurich – It’s not new but it is amazing. I saw a new way of navigating when I found this, so I learn some new tricks.
  5. – It got easier, it morphed, it was tweaked…
  6. eBay iPad App – It’s marmite. You’ll be in love with it or you’ll hate it. I found all it’s weird little interactions amazing and compelling. Like developers had just been told to ‘go and play’.
  7. Isotope from MetaFizzy was a defining library of code for me in more ways than one. For starters this blog you’re reading right now is built using it (amongst other project). It’s also been my ‘sort’ function of choice in 2012.
  8. Responsive Web Design – It’s no silver bullet. It’s mis-used. It’s over-sold. But it was the big thing in 2012 and will continue to be so into 2013 and beyond despite what the naysayers predict.
  9. Maily – You know when you see something & think “sh*t, I wish I’d come up with that”… this was that moment for me. My son Charlie LOVES it and so do I.
  10. Roambi become one of my most used references for Data Visualisation (real, not creative) and it inspired a lot of conversations with a lot of clients and colleagues.

8 – News stories

  1. President Barack Obama earning a second term as President of the USA after defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney
  2. Facebook’s much-hyped initial public offering was the biggest in Internet history. It gave the company a market cap of more than $104 billion but then went on to flop.
  3. The crisis in Syria has escalated through 2012 as the government of Bashar al-Assad continues its extreme crackdown on Syrian rebels and protesters. The U.S. and the international community have come under increasing pressure to act.
  4. Great Britain’s Andy Murray took Olympic gold over Roger Federer at Wimbledon… made so much sweeter by the fact he lost in the Wimbledon final to Federer in June. An astonishing comeback.
  5. Jessica Ennis really proved why she was our Olympic poster girl after she clinched the Olympic heptathlon title in style.
  6. The Curiosity Mars Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011 aboard the MSL spacecraft and successfully landed on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6, 2012. We just loved the fact that the Rover was ‘Tweeting’.
  7. Apple axed the ‘Maps chap’ and Jony Ive took over software design – Which is going to mean some astonishing things. Mr Ive also visited the palace in 2012 and was Knighted. A remarkable achievement.
  8. The SOPA Blackout On January 18 – Wikipedia, along with many others, orchestrated a service blackout. The sites shut down for the day and put up banners explaining why they weren’t operating and instructing people to sign petitions against SOPA.

 9 – Most used App (iOS)

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter (most used by a country mile)
  3. Instagram
  5. LinkedIn
  6. Ebay
  7. NatWest
  8. IncrediBooth
  9. Nike Fuelband
  10. CineXPlayer

10 – People

  1. Jony Ive – The man who shapes my tech.
  2. Tom Hardy – The actor who appeared in 2 of my top 10 films (Warrior & Dark Knight Rises).
  3. Kim Jong-un – The funniest politician on the planet.
  4. Barack Obama – The guy did good. Again.
  5. John McAfee – What an amazing news story.
  6. Oscar Pistorius – For me, the elite Athlete of the last 10 years.
  7. Bashar Assad – The man who just keeps on keeping on.
  8. Sebastian Vettel – Answered the critics (much like Andy Murray) and for me, he is the sportsman of the year.
  9. Hans Rosling – He made me fall in love with Data this year.
  10. Mark Zuckerberg – He is still the most influential man for my social circle.


And that concludes my 2012 10×10. Really nothing AMAZING and controversial this year (with the exception of me admitting to like Robbie Williams new album) but still a year of some great events and media consumption. A steady year, not an explosive year.

iPad usage by numbers

The “now” generation wants their news, entertainment, information and access to online stores instantly whether that is on the bus, bedroom or even on the beach.

A recent survey by announces some rather rather revealing stats on how the iPad.. which is the fastest selling technology hardware device in history with 15 million sold in 11 months, is impacting our media consumption habits both online and offline. The iPad buyers are not exclusively early adopters as is often assumed, as 63% describe themselves as people who normally wait for a gadget to become established before they buy it.

So what are the iPad statistics that you should take notice of ?

iPad’s Time Usage

This has implications on how publishers should be developing content so it is optimized for the appropriate device

  • Use of desktop computers is down for 35% iPad owners since they bought the device
  • Use of laptops is also down since they bought an iPad at 39%
  • 87% of owners are using it every day of the week
  • 26% for half an hour to an hour per day
  • 32% for 1-2 hours per day
  • 24% for more than 2 hours a day.

Where do they use it?

Its versatility makes it a flexible and ubiquitous device with

  • 69% of respondents using it in the bedroom
  • 42% in the kitchen
  • 20% of men can’t be parted from it in the bathroom

The last statistic certainly show that men’s habits for reading in the small room have not changed just the device!

What do they use the Apple iPad for?

  • Accessing the web – 75%
  • Emailing -63%
  • 53% of iPad owners say they use their device mainly for entertainment
  • Playing games – 48%
  • Social networking – 41%
  • Researching products and services – 29%
  • Reading books – 25%
  • Listening to music – 21%
  • Shopping – 19%
  • Reading magazines – 13%
  • For work – 13%
  • Watching TV – 11%

What is interesting to note is that 51% who have read magazines in print and in interactive format on the iPad say they prefer it on the iPad, vs 23% who prefer a magazine in print.

The Stats on Apps on the iPad

The apps market that started with the Apple iphone has not diminished but has continued to grow into the iPad market place. Content is the key driver in app purchases. The survey shows that this is more important to consumers than the price of the app when making a purchase decision.

  • 16% have bought a branded app from a company
  • 84% of respondents would be very interested in an app from one of their favourite brands, if it was free and non-subscription.
  • Free apps are almost twice as popular among iPad consumers as paid-for (the average iPad has 18 free apps on it and 10 paid-for)
  • Buying an app is most strongly influenced by the app’s perceived usefulness at 64% of owners
  • Content is very important when buying the app at 47%
  • Price comes third at 44% when considering buying
  • Friend recommendations is important at 27%
  • 15% say that recommendations by industry experts are very important when making an app buying decision.

Taken from the Jeff Bullas blog-post.

Viral Loop – Pass the bucks

I’ve mentioned Viral Loops before in a couple of posts. Since I started talking about it a lot of people have been asking me to ‘do it for them’ like it’s some sort of silver bullet you can just load into any digital gun & fire at a target which makes me chuckle every time. In reality my theory is that sites and content that go viral are more a product of the ‘when’ and ‘where’ rather than the ‘what’. It’s about being in the right place at the right time – call it ‘fluke’ if you want. Most videos that go viral on YouTube were never designed to do so & the ones that were engineered by an agency and go ‘viral’ have spent money with a company like Rubber Republic to get people to view them and I don’t classify those as viral, I classify that as paid-for-media (old school advertising to you & me!). Most websites that go viral have a built in loop for sure, but there is also a lot of luck & right-time-right-place about them.

There are obviously some conditions you can promote within your agency or organisation or start-up that MIGHT have the desired effect… but don’t put all your eggs in these baskets because chances are if the time that you launch isn’t ripe for you product or content it won’t make any difference how potent your viral idea is or how rigorous your viral loop mechanics are:

  • Viral content has to be web based – It just belongs in the frictionless world of the internet. Too many people are asking me how they can create an offline viral idea… sure you can seed stuff offline to raise awareness (more paid-for-media / advertising!) but don’t bother trying to create an offline viral loop. It’s just silly. Use the internet – it’s what it’s there for!
  • It’s GOT to be FREE – Users need to consume your product or content at no charge; after aggregating a mass audience you may be able to overlay various revenue generators… but nothing that you had to initially pay for ever went viral. Fact.
  • Think about organizational technology – The kind of sites that don’t create content, their users do. They simply organise it, but facilitating can lead to a mass audience – just ask Google!
  • It’s almost always about the network effect – The more people who join, the more people there are to have an incentive to join… Every time I talk to clients or colleagues about viral loops I keep on hammering home the point that it’s NOT about the person you recruit to your website, it’s about the people that person knows.
  • Your site HAS to have built in virility – Users will spread a product purely out of their own self-interest and, in the process, offer a powerful word-of-mouth endorsement to each subsequent users… but without the thought about how that invisible virility works right up front you’ll probably lose the opportunity. Apple have recently done it to perfection with PING. I happen to think it’s growing into something of an interesting product is that PING thing (and with the looming downfall of Spotify it’s set to take the main social music crown) because for months now I’ve been sending out Tweets from Itunes and I didn’t even realise I was doing it… how crafty is that… It’s damn annoying but quite quite brilliant. I was telling my 600 odd followers on Twitter what I was buying on iTunes and I had no idea.
  • Remember that a point of non-displacement (or a tipping point to quote Gladwell) is that moment when it’s nearly impossible for a competitor to take a company down. Here’s the harsh facts of life amigos… if you’ve got this big bold viral idea (be it content or a new service) and someone is already out there and it’s got a million subscribers or it’s had a bajillion hits… then don’t bother wasting your time doing it yourself. I’m serious too! The point of non-displacement is a serious fact and reality. You cannot displace something that’s already ubiquitous in peoples lives even with an idea that is 100 times better.

There’s not much more to say really except give up on the idea of ‘planning a big viral event’. It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t BUY virility (well you can, but it’s not viral at all, it’s advertising – a rose by any other name blah blah) and you can’t spoof it. It won’t JUST HAPPEN and if it does it’ll probably happen by accident. So stop trying, sit back, do creative things & play by the rules… you never know, it might happen by accident and all that glory will be yours!

Mobile by numbers

I’m fascinated by mobile. The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it… and I genuinely believe the digital world will change unrecognizably in the next couple of years because of mobile. A typical mobile user is on the go in an unpredictable environment, interested in quick glance-able information, focused on discrete individual tasks and is often distracted, so we’re already having to rethink our traditional approaches to accommodate this kind of behavior.

Mitch Joel at TedX Montreal made this brilliant statement; “We’re in a world of one line of connectivity. That’s us. You see… we don’t have to “go” to the internet any more because the internet is now an intricate part of our lives” which I think sums up effortlessly the UX we’re creating now. Context is King so circumstances or conditions that surround a person, place or thing affect behavior because content is of little value it it does not address the context of where you are. User Experience isn’t about lines & grids & boxes anymore, it’s about making sure content flows ubiquitously around users digital lives in a way that makes (common) sense.

2010 estimates put the world population at almost 6.8 billion inhabitants and it’s growing by 1.14% year on year. Eric Schmidt from Google estimates that there are about 35 billion devices connected to the internet at this junction in time and the U.N. Telecommunications Agency estimates that 77% of the population of the world own a mobile device. Soon there will be so many that we’ll probably stop counting.

There’s more to this as well… Former adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Professor Manuel Castells from Cisco predicts that by 2014, the number of mobile internet users will surpass the number of users browsing the internet via a desktop computer and a Morgan Stanley mobile report from 2010 backs this prediction up. Statistically modeling that if current rates continue by the middle of 2013 we’ll be using more mobile data up than fixed lined data.

Cisco also predict that mobile Internet traffic is expected to quadruple to a whopping 767 exabytes (one exabyte is equal to one billion gigabytes) a year by 2014.

So what was the tipping point? Well obviously smartphones have played their part in moving us forward into the a new mobile internet world, but it’s that pesky iPhone that made it ‘easy’. Increasingly, mobile phone usage is about Data not voice. An average mobile phone user uses their phone for 70% voice whereas an iPhone user is only 45% voice. The thing about mobile that’s so brilliant is that people can reach for the internet using whatever device makes sense to them at that time and where ever they may be.

Let’s look at some other fascinating numbers from a MediaScope Mobile Population Study conducted in 2010. In the UK, 76% of the population owns a mobile phone. The biggest market in the is the 14 to 24 age group and 87% of this age range own one or more mobile devices. A 2010 Mobile Shopping Study by Yahoo/Nielson revealed that 30% of respondents believe that mobile internet is more convenient than a home connection, sounds obvious but it’s still a relevant number because it proves users mental models are changing. 80% of people in the same Yahoo/Nielson study said that they use mobile during miscellaneous downtime and 76% use stated that they use mobile while waiting in line or for an appointment. 62% said they DIDN’T have time to interact with brands on phones unless it ‘got straight to the point’. 59% sometimes visit a site on a mobile and then follow up on the desktop and 34% visit a site on a desktop and follow up on a mobile. So users are starting to time-shift. 69% said that they use mobile for point of sale research while shopping and 62% use mobile while watching TV… So people are starting to interact with TV via their phones. Largely down to services like Twitter if we’re being subjective about this.

In 2010, 9 percent of Superbowl ‘Ad Blitz’ views were on mobile devices, which is why YouTube made the site mobile… In 2011, 23 million, 481 thousand & 693 people viewed Ad Blitz… with a staggering 3.45 million of those views coming from mobile… up to a cool 15% of views from last years 9%.

Simon Mainwaring, former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy said “[In the future] brands will no longer be places you visit, but people you meet along the road” which I think is an interesting way at looking at the new mobile trends and what that’s doing to brands.

…and get this… the most expensive item sold via ebay’s mobile app was a 1985 Piper PA-46-310P Malibu airplane for $265,000 according to Mashable and Marketing Week told us in January that the largest purchase on the M&S mobile website at Christmas in 2010 was two sofas costing over £3000! People are making serious purchasing decisions straight from their pockets now. Something we never would have seen a few years ago. The sleeping dragon is awakening.

What about who people are currently using to interact with the internet? I’ll let the brilliant guys at help me there with this mobile infograhic:

Good stuff. Apple clearly have the market wrapped up… but for how long I wonder. There’s that free platform that will easily interface with low cost components and it’s called ANDROID… I predict the market will change dramatically in the next 18 months because totally new handset manufacturers will have the ability to start to pop up running on Android. Put it like this:

a free operating system (Android)
+ dual core ARM 9 @ 416MHz2G GSM/EDGE
+ 2.8” QVGA resistive touch screen
+ 2MP camera
+ WIFI and BlueTooth silicon
= $90 components + plastic case
4 weeks to market!

Looks easy doesn’t it. Apple might be the giant, but the Google beast is going to be fighting them hard very very soon.

How about an interlude… let’s look at 2010 in a format that’s more digestible. This rapid-fire tour of 2010’s key consumer and technology mobile trends shows the staggering growth in consumer mobile usage across a dizzying array of applications and social media platforms.

Looks amazing doesn’t it. Summary:

Massive increase in apps downloaded

  • FIVE BILLION apps downloaded — up from 300 million in 2009

Whopping expansion of location-based services

  • FIVE MILLION Foursquare users — up from 200,000 users in 2009

Surge in mobile social media platforms

  • 347 PERCENT growth in Twitter mobile usage
  • 200 MILLION mobile Facebook Users
  • 100 MILLION YouTube videos played on mobile devices everyday

Ongoing explosion in data traffic

  • 3,000 PERCENT growth in one carrier’s data traffic since 2008
  • 3,339: average number of texts sent per month by US teens.

Unprecedented competition and choice

  • 96 PERCENT of mobile users can choose from 3 or more providers
  • 92 PERCENT of mobile users are satisfied with their provider
  • 4 CENTS: average voice rate per minute in the US
  • 77 MILLION: number of smartphones shipped in the fall of 2010.

So tell me I’m not going mad. The mobile world (mobile is beyond phone and encompasses anything internet connected away from a desk by the way – I’m mobile now & on my laptop!) is an exciting and potentially game changing one.

To be continued.

Freemium, what does it mean?

So what is freemium?

Oh yes, it's FREEFreemium is a business model that works by offering basic Web services, or a basic downloadable digital product, for free, while charging a premium for advanced or special features. The word “freemium” is created by combining the two aspects of the business model: “free” and “premium”. The business model has gained momentum in the last few years and is becoming the most popular business model among Web start-ups. Some of the most popular services, such as Pandora, Flickr, LinkedIn, Spotify and Skype use the freemium model. It’s a very simple economy to create:

Give your service away for free, possibly ad supported but maybe not, acquire a lot of customers very efficiently through word of mouth, referral networks, organic search marketing, etc., then offer premium priced value added services or an enhanced version of your service to your customer base. As the theory goes, if you convince enough of your lower tier users to move into the premium tier you’ll cover your losses in the lower tier.

The freemium model is simple to employ and as your free customer base grows, so will your paying customer base. Even if a small percentage of your free customers upgrade to your paying plan (say, 1%), you’ll begin generating much needed revenue to pay your bills and do very well. In theory.

Finding the balance between what to offer for free and what to charge for is not easy. The trick is to put enough in the free version to get traffic and usage, but not so much that there is no incentive to upgrade. Companies who use the freemium model need to integrate their free service or product into someone’s routine so fully (either by making sure it’s accessible on their computer and on their mobile phone, for example) that users reach the point where they feel they simply must pay.

As utopian as very smart people like to make out the freemium model to be there are equally as smart people who warn that this is a dangerous road to travel down and one that could come back to bite you on the ass.

In April 2010 popular Social Network ‘Ning’ sent out a press release, noting that 75% of its users do pay for some sort of premium service. It may well be then that Ning’s announcements are less a reflection on the freemium model than on the company itself. Despite over $120 million in VC funding, Ning has been unable to develop a sustainable business. The announcement about the end to free Nings was accompanied with news that 40% of their staff would lose their jobs – an indication perhaps that the company’s overhead was simply too high. It’s a cautionary tale about how people are over-estimating users willingness to pay once they had the service in some shape or form for free. Actually the user tendency, especially in today’s economic climate is to use a service for as long as it’s free and then when they need or are asked to pay for something they simply move on to another new, free service. It’s like following the 0% balance transfer around on credit cards. If you’re smart and you put in the effort you’ll never need to pay. More to the point, why would you?

Andrew Parker on his blog The Gong Show also points out how this freemium model could end up alienating the very advertisers that are keeping you alive in those beginning times:

This revenue model seems silly to me. Advertisers pay a premium in order to reach people in their specific demographic with disposable income. This idea of people paying to remove ads ensures that the audience for your ads are actually CHEAPER than the average internet audience. Why? Because the people in your audience with disposable income who are willing to pay for web services are the ones that will self-select out of your audience for your ads because they are willing to pay for your product. So, all that remains in the audience for your ads are people that are too cheap to pay for your service. That doesn’t sound like the audience that Disney, Coca Cola, or even your average direct response advertiser wants to reach.

What about the other effect of Freemium on actual market-places like the music industry? As early Napster and BitTorrent and other illegal file-sharing websites have demonstrated, many people are no longer willing to pay for music in an age where everything can be cracked and obtained for free online. So why not offer them free music legally? The ad-based model works on the assumption that, every few songs, the service inserts an advert, the revenue from which is, in turn, distributed among the record companies whose songs are being played.

SpotifyEarlier this year, a claim emerged from songwriters in Sweden that Lady Gaga was only paid $167 (£108) for a million plays of her smash-hit ‘Poker Face’ on Spotify. This figure was later proven false – the figure didn’t represent the entire sum, only a part of the share given to the song’s Swedish co-writer. However, despite whatever discrepancies there may have been, the figure remains shockingly low. This is one parachute starting to show a few holes.

In the subsequent weeks, reports started to fly around on the internet (as it does) surrounding these figures and how close they are to the real numbers. A Billboard analysis of revenue from recording royalties from non-interactive streaming services (such as internet radio services, as offered by, revealed that in the US in 2009, only ten artists made more than $2,000. For on-demand services like Spotify and We7, only 25 artists made more than $1,000 – Michael Jackson posthumously taking the top spot with $10,000.

So, while the popularity of internet streaming sites soars, and superlatives are thrown around on press releases and in internet forums, a bitter taste remains. Utterly limitless, free music, with only a few adverts here and there? Some things are just too good to be true.

There’s a mental state that Freemium is creating too which is that in life things can be obtained legally, for free now. We don’t HAVE to be pirates to get our fix of music or movies and there is such a thing as a free lunch afterall – Hallelujah. In reality though it devalues the act of owning if you never really bought it. Users aren’t stupid, far from it, they’re very smart and they deserve to create their own capitalism. We’re all prosumers now remember? But if you’re not paying how are the people distributing earning anything? It doesn’t work, right? Ad-supported networks don’t work, people have ignored adverts for years now. So give it some thought, how do creators of content get a wage from nothing??

“Freemium streaming services are clearly not net positive for the industry and will not be licensed” according to Warner Music Group Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. who stated bluntly in February that he was adamant Spotify’s ‘freemium’ business model “is not the kind of approach to business that we will be supporting in the future.

Tough words.

Here’s another very interesting thought: The original illegal sharing networks all ran on the system of P2P – Peer To Peer – but within the industry of file sharing the term P2P was actually credited with the meaning “Power to People“. It was truly believed a revolt against ‘the man’ was taking place. It was a big f’off to the capitalists that had drained our wallets dry for so long. If enough people were doing it then how could it be stopped. It’s a digital coup de force. A revolution. A rebellion. We stand united and we cannot be stopped. Now take that mentality and apply it a service such as Spotify who has a reported 7 million users now. That’s 7 million really pissed off people if the service is stopped by the industry it’s crushing. It holds the cards in the form of mass market. Shut it down and they’ll simply go somewhere else. They’re legally doing what they used to illegally do. People power will dictate Freemium, not industry.

The model, although technically unsustainable does have it’s heroes though. The people who on the whole have got it right. Flickr for example. You probably never even realised it was Freemium or made the connection. There’s a free service there and it works really well for the normal man on the street. But it also has a premium subscription service that the pros out there love, relish and are more than happy to pay for. But more importantly it’s a Freemium service that doesn’t run off the back of someone else hard work. It runs off the back of the users hard work. It’s the kindest form of UCG. We pay to populate it, not pay to drain it dry. So I say long live the Freemium economy for some things, and curse it in others. It’s the proverbial double edged digital sword.

Thanks goes to all the people who I got source material from for this article: Gair Rhydd, Read Write Web and of course that fountain of knowledge Wikipedia.

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