What is Sony going to do next after the major PlayStation hack?

What can you do after discovering that hackers have gained access to personal details of more than 70m PlayStation users!? The PlayStation online network has been down since last week, after the discovery of a serious hacking incident.

Even though the PlayStation blog claims that “there is no evidence at this stage that credit card data was taken” it does not rule out the possibility. It looks like other personal user data like users’ names and email addresses have definitely been obtained by hackers. It raises the question what Sony PlayStation is going to do about this or whether there’s anything it can do about this in the first place:

  1. Trying to inform and advise users – Although I’m not entirely convinced by the quality and frequency of its updates, PlayStation is trying to inform its users on ongoing basis.
  2. Investigate, reassure and improve – This clearly is a massive disaster for Sony and PlayStation, both from a PR and commercial perspective. You can imagine they will be pulling all the plugs in communicating and assuring the public.

Main learning point: the scale and the impact of this hack is clearly very significant. It will be interesting to learn more about how Sony PlayStation will handle this disaster, both from a PR and a ‘lessons learned’ point of view. More importantly, will it put users off from playing the PlayStation?

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UPDATE on 3rd May 2011: Last night Sony revealed that hackers managed to break into their servers on 16 and 17 April, stealing data from approximately 24.6m of its Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) users …

The personal data from the SOE accounts includes name, address, email address, birth date, gender, phone number, login name and hashed password. The data from the 10,700 debit card records that may have been stolen by hackers includes bank account number, customer name, account name and customer address. All SOE accounts have been suspended whilst Sony continues to investigate this matter.

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Wal-Mart and Tesco are going digital

This week has seen two intriguing acquisitions take place: US retail giant Wal-Mart and its UK counterpart Tesco both acquiring promising digital businesses. Last Monday, Wal-Mart bought social media firm Kosmix based in Silicon Valley and yesterday Tesco announced its purchase of a 80% stake in Blinkbox a UK-based online video streaming business.

It looks like we have a got a bit of a trend on our hands here: established retail companies buying into digital expertise and technology in order to successfully exploit the opportunities that social media, video and mobile have to offer.

“We are expanding our capabilities in today’s rapidly growing social commerce environment,” Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman at Wal-Mart, said in a statement on Monday. “Social networking and mobile applications are increasingly becoming a part of our customers’ day-to-day lives globally, influencing how they think about shopping.”

Wal-Mart, a company that already has a strong track record in e-commerce and tracking how customers spend their money, is now looking at social media as another channel to generate revenue from. Kosmix is a social media filter aggregating information by topic from web sites, tweets and other online sources in real time*. The underlying idea is that this acquisition will provide Wal-Mart with valuable customer insights as well as provide a platform to further engage with customers.

Even though it’s a different kind of transaction, Tesco taking a significant stake in video streaming business Blinkbox, demonstrates a foray into “multi-channel retailing” similar to Wal-Mart’s purchase of Kosmix. Blinkbox offers TV and films for streaming and downloading with both ad-supported and paid-access models. It claims 2m monthly users and a 9,000-strong content catalogue and aims to significantly expand this catalogue.

I wonder how anxious the likes of Amazon and Sky felt when they found out about retail colossus Tesco venturing into video streaming. It has only been a few months since Amazon bought Lovefilm in a serious attempt to create a strong foothold into this very promising and lucrative marketplace. “We can link physical purchase of a product to the building of digital collections in a new and seamless way,” Tesco’s UK head, Richard Brasher, said. With Tesco’s current market power, it will definitely become an online video force to be reckoned with.

In short, these are the main things I have learned from both acquisitions:

  1. Social media and (online) retail form a very good combination – Whether it’s Groupon or Kosmix, social media based applications are no longer seen as just an extra marketing tool but as a business opportunity in its own right.
  2. Data is still king – Perhaps less so with the Blinkbox acquisition, but the depth of consumer data that Wal-Mart can potentially derive from using Kosmix technology seems massive.
  3. It’s all about web-based retail services! Both Wal-Mart and Teso are working hard to really grow their revenue from online retail. For instance, the Blinkbox move plays an important part in Tesco’s strategy to create its own online market place for content.

Main learning point: predicting that there will be a wave of acquisitions in the online space is not rocket science. Deals like the ones for Kosmix and Blinkbox, if anything, clearly show that established “brick and mortar” companies are increasingly looking to expand online and tap into the digital talent and technology already out there.

I’m not a technical guru but my developer peers keep telling me that even with ‘real time’ there is going to be a (minimal) time lag. Noted.

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Facebook is going to do it: real-time targeted ads

Yesterday I learned about Facebook looking into rolling out targeted ads, aiming to utilise the vast amounts of real-time user information it has access to. I have to say, it is quite a scary prospect to think of Facebook monetising user data (think “Likes” and specific detailed demographic data):

  1. Real-time ads could be massive – Analysts say this move could make Facebook one of the most powerful marketing tools created EVER.
  2. How will the real-time element work? It will be interesting to see exactly what real time information Facebook’s new software will pick up and how this will be converted into (commercially) meaningful targeted ads.

Main learning point: I need to find out more about this! Surely, Facebook must already be doing a lot of stuff in the area of behavioural targeting, making the best use of the wealth of consumer data at its disposal. There will be lots more to learn about the kind of demographic data Facebook will be targeting and the ways in which it will convert this info into meaningful marketing insights for its blue-chip clients.

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Simply Tap: how the Mobile Money Network aims to make mobile shopping easier

Mobile Money Network sounds like a great name to me. I had started envisioning a new rap group and crazy videos but then found out that it has everything to do with payment transactions conducted through mobile phones. The Mobile Money Network (MMN) is a new UK retail alliance, created by Monetise, Best Buy Europe and Charles Dunstone, the founder of Carphone Warehouse. It aims to make mobile payments both easy and accessible, trying to get leading High Street retailers and financial institutions on board.

MMN introduces a new platform aimed at creating a single user experience, simplifying consumers’ interactions with retailers, advertisers and banks via their mobile phones. The first service it has launched is an app- and SMS-based mobile payments tool called Simply Tap which enables customers to buy things via their mobile, without having to enter their personal information or card details each time to carry out a mobile purchase.

These are the main benefits of a service like Simply Tap that I learned about:

  1. For consumers – The promise of secure and simple transactions via your mobile.
  2. For retailers – To be part of a network that uses a common mobile platform and being able to measure your sales via mobile.

Main learning point: I do firmly believe that mobile and other handheld devices form an important part of the future of (online) retail. The Mobile Money Network’s mission to improve the customer experience on mobiles and to provide retailers with a solid mobile platform is therefore a very exciting one. I’m curious to see how Simply Tap will fare and how any future MMN products will be adopted by consumers and retailers alike.

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Will streaming TV take over from cable?

Earlier this week, Toronto-based Convergence Consulting Group released a report on the (future) split between watching TV on cable and online in the US. Streaming businesses like Netflix and Hulu have already seen an impressive rise in their revenues due to the increasing popularity of streaming TV, and this report now indicates that online viewing numbers will continue to grow.

These are the main things I learned from the Convergence report:

  1. By the end of this year about 2m US viewers will have abandoned cable TV for the Web.
  2. The report estimates that Netflix and Hulu will be generating a combined $800m from online-only subscriptions in 2013.
  3. According to the report, 20% of US viewers are expected to view full TV episodes online by 2013.

Main learning point: even though only a small percentage of US viewers has ‘cut the cord’ with their cable companies, the likes of Netflix and Hulu are already doing pretty well out of the viewers that watch cable TV and download episodes online. It would be interesting to see similar figures for the UK; how well are streaming services such as BBC iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4od and Lovefilm doing in comparison to their US counterparts?

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From music discovery to music sharing

Tools like Shazam and Soundhound are great for discovering music. Call me geeky, but I do enjoy sitting in a coffeeshop finding out through using my phone what song is playing in the  background. Now that music search and discovery seem to have been nailed, the likes of Shazam and Soundhound have started exploring new avenues. I’m currently learning about two significant developments in this area.

The first one is a tendency to extend music discovery to new devices. A good example is Shazam’s recent venture into TV ads. It seems a logical move and not just from a purely commercial perspective (the TV ad space is still a very lucrative one!). As Shazam’s CEO Andrew Fisher explained “mobile and TV are the two devices that people most engage with.” Shazam has partnered with Grace Note to create a service which enables users to simply click on the TrackID button on their TV each time they hear a snippet of music in a TV ad. Shazam will then show the song results on your phone.

Social music sharing is the second big trend of the moment. We already had photo sharing (Instagram), location sharing (Foursquare), TV sharing (IntoNow) and now you can share your music wherever and whenever you want with Soundtracking. This new tool enables users to fully capture their “music moment”. It’s not only about sharing a song; telling your friends about what you are feeling whilst listening to the song and adding a picture are equally important parts of the Soundtracking experience.

How to best summarise these new developments?

  1. Cross-platform music discovery – It makes sense for Shazam to link up with other devices such as TVs, tapping into bespoke technology already created (come in Grace Note and TVTak).
  2. Social music sharing – Shazam’s new Shazam Friends feature on Facebook, Soundtracking and WhoSampled are all important steps in creating a community around music discovery, with the focus shifting from pure music identification to sharing music (and the ‘context’ around it) with your friends.

Main learning point: it’s really interesting to see the link-up between TV and mobile and users being able to learn more about the music they hear in TV ads. However, the concept of “social music sharing” is the thing I’m most excited about, I feel it will add a whole new dimension to how fans experience their music. I will keep my eyes (and ears) out to see how this trend will develop over the next few months and to find out whether (and how) the music industry will tap into this.

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It’s all (Social) GO for building personalised networks

Today I learned about SocialGO a tool that enables users to build their own personal social networking sites. I found great examples of Cheryl Cole fans and the Bible Baptist Church of Marilao who used SocialGO to create their own networking sites. What triggered my attention was the news that UK-based SocialGO has swung into profit for the first year. It saw its revenues rise by 183% year-on-year and generated profits of £238,000 in 2010, compared to a £24,000 loss in 2009.

I guess enabling people to build their own sites is nothing new. However, the social network aspect makes it a lot more interesting:

  1. It’s social! – The platform that SocialGO enables you to build is all about connecting, sharing and commenting. For instance, French presidential hopeful Dominique de Villepin is using SocialGO as a central platform for his supporters in the run-up to the 2012 French presidential elections.
  2. People are getting into it – More significantly from a commercial point of view, big brands like Hilton and Levi’s are starting to buy into in the concept of using personalised social network sites to engage with customers.
  3. SocialGO is looking to launch a Version 2 – SocialGO has already released some screenshots of the new, improved platform and aims to tailor its tools more to the needs of group and business sites.

Main learning point: the rise of SocialGO hints at an interesting point; although Facebook is still the place to be for groups and businesses alike – both in terms of profile and scale – there is a growing market for creating your own customised social networking site. New platforms such as Diaspora and SocialGO certainly seem to be make making all the right moves in that direction!

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