Machine Learning in Advertising

Innovations in Machine Learning are having a radical effect on how consumers and brands interact. Machine Learning also greatly expands the toolkit companies have, both to gather analytics, and to use that data to craft a deeper understanding of their consumers. Better customer profiles lead to better sales and happier customers, but there are pitfalls to be wary of too.

Machine Learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence, consists of algorithms that can iterate through large sets of data and then make smart conclusions and helpful correlations that would be difficult for a real person to detect. They can also learn over time to become better at their given task and improve their results with more exposure to data. These algorithms can digitally replicate the mind of a consumer, or the mind of an advertising researcher, or they can be utilized to communicate with consumers on behalf of brands. 

Gone are the days when armies of support staff wearing phone headsets are the only option companies have to communicate with inquiring customers. Now chatbots are the norm for many companies; Machine Learning allows chatbots to converse with human beings in a natural, human-like way that doesn’t frustrate users. The algorithms used by chatbots are able to pull bits and pieces from previous interactions and use them to infer answers to future questions, so they only get more effective at communicating over time. Chatbots are attractive to brands because they greatly reduce the overall costs they spend on customer service. Chatbots provide fast answers to the day-to-day queries of customers, resolving their queries immediately and simplifying the user decision process. Suppose a customer comes to your site and has trouble locating a certain product. In such a scenario, a chatbot on your site will solve the customer’s dilemma quickly. And unlike human agents, chatbots provide round the clock services.

Machine Learning can be used for a lot more than just chatbots though. Predictive targeting is a marketing technique that uses Machine Learning to predict customer decisions based on behavior patterns. Algorithms iterate through large data sets to predict the probability that a customer will take a certain action. They can help answer questions like: will a customer likely purchase this item or that? Will they be interested in engaging with a certain campaign, or would they react negatively to an advertisement? Machine Learning tools can help advertisers analyze the performance of ads, or help optimize marketing content, or they can analyze images posted on social media.

Social Media platforms can be an incredible source of data for advertisers. People tend to use Social Media to talk about their interests, comment on the places they have visited, and share their personal experiences with products and services. For example, a system that uses Machine Learning might conclude, after analyzing some social data, that young women who like a particular tv show and who are also interested in a certain celebrity are statistically more likely to purchase tickets for a certain vacation package. That could be very handy information for a brand. Suppose instead that you wanted to search through photos posted on Instagram to find images that contain your branded products: Machine Learning based tools could do this, and then analyze the content of those images to form a complex customer profile by observing characteristics about the people and environment in them. Using these customer profiles, a company could then launch new advertising campaigns that are more persuasive to this finely targeted audience.

There are however some potential downsides of using Machine Learning in advertising. For instance, Machine Learning only works with very large data sets, which will have to be harvested before any analyzing can take place. Machine Learning also struggles to reliably analyze sentiment because, despite advancements, algorithms simply aren’t capable of human intuition. Some tasks that are simple for humans are very difficult for a program to replicate. Sometimes AI is not a human enough replacement for an actual person. There are also companies who use machine learning in less-than-ethical ways. For instance, by sending out bots that can post deceptive content on social media platforms to falsely promote their brand, or falsely besmirch a competitor.

Despite these challenges though, there are many tasks that better suited for a Machine Learning based approach, and there is great potential in this emerging field. As the technology advances, there will be lots of new creative ways for advertisers to capitalize on the unique benefits of Machine Learning. Companies will need to adapt to these new methods if they are to stay competitive in the marketplace.  

Virtual Reality Advertising

Virtual Reality (VR), often the plot device of futuristic science-fiction stories, has actually been around for some time now. Both YouTube and Facebook have been supporting the adoption of 360-degree videos since 2015, Nintendo’s ill-fated “Virtual Boy” was released way back in 1995, and Oculus (a company Facebook would later purchase for $2 billion) debuted their popular Rift VR headset on Kickstarter in 2012. Even so, VR should be considered an emerging market, as only now has the technology finally caught up to the demand. And as consumers are introduced to this new medium, there will be a virtual gold rush as advertisers seek out new ways of engaging with users.

VR content can be viewed in multiple ways. Smartphone users can view 360-degree content (content that has been recorded on omnidirectional cameras) by moving their phones around in real space, allowing them to view videos from different angles. The effect can also be accomplished on a computer by moving a mouse around. While using “low-cost” options like smartphones and computers can often be a fun way to interact with content (and has helped spark interest in VR), these options only offer users a limited VR experience. The driving appeal of VR is in its ability to create fully immersive experiences that don’t need to be grounded in reality, but in order to experience the full extent of what VR has to offer, users need to use a Head-mounted Display (HMD). These headsets combine many advanced technologies, like gyroscopes, motion sensors, spatial audio headphones, HD screens, and fast computer processors. The gyroscopes and sensors allow very sensitive tracking of the head, body, and hands. This allows the crisp HD screens to show a simulated world that responds to the user’s physical movements, just like the real world. Headphones with spatial audio capability allow directional sounds that envelope users. These components are important for creating immersive experiences that feel “real”; however, they have historically also raised the price of HMDs out of reach for the average consumer. Even though VR enjoyed lots of early hype, by 2017 reports showed consumer interest in VR was declining as a result of the high cost of the technology. Since then though, companies have been able to lower the cost of adoption drastically, while at the same time improving VR hardware and software significantly. This has caused a renewed spike in consumer interest as the hardware has now become affordable and accessible. According to Grand View Research, the global VR market will grow to 62.1 billion dollars by 2027. Currently, VR is most commonly used for entertainment applications such as video games, 3D movies, and social worlds. According to a study from Ericsson Consumer Lab however, shopping was the top reason users were interested in VR. Interestingly, 64% of respondents stated that their interest was in “seeing items in real size and form when shopping online”. That should be a call-to-action for advertisers.

We live in a distracted world. For example, an in-home eye-tracking study Facebook IQ commissioned revealed that 94 percent of participants kept a smartphone on hand while watching TV. This can make it difficult for advertisers to reach consumers, as their content often gets tuned out. However, VR creates a new world around users. A world free of distractions, with a tailored focus of attention and obligatory user interaction. More than that though, VR promises to re-define the advertiser-consumer relationship. In essence, VR could mean an end to the enraging ads of the past. Lithium Technologies recently polled 2000 customers aged 16-39, and the results showed that 74% of the interviewees found the advertisements in their social media feeds intrusive and irritating. Intrusive advertising alienates customers, however in the modern landscape it can be difficult to attract attention without becoming intrusive.

Unity believes the answer to intrusive ads is a “virtual room” users would be transported to for brief periods of time. This would allow users to experience advertising without it becoming a distraction to games or movies. While inside this room, users would be immersed in a fully interactive branded environment where they could engage with products or services. These ads could be targeted, allowing users the chance to interact with the ads they would likely be the most interested in. And creating in-person experiences will drive empathy, allowing advertisements to have a deeper impact. This won’t be the only method for advertising with VR, however. Product placement will allow advertisers to seamlessly embed ads within VR gameplay. For example, game characters could wear branded apparel, and in-game posters or billboards could portray real-world brands. VR could potentially change the hospitality industry as well by allowing hospitality brands to recreate aspects of their travel experiences in VR. Imagine being on the fence about what your next vacation should be, and then spending a few minutes enjoying a virtual luxury cruise: enjoying the sun, waves, entertainment, and service. This might be just the push a consumer needed to go ahead and book the cruise, and how convenient that they can order the tickets without even taking their headsets off!

VR Advertising is not without its limitations, however. Laws tend to lag behind technological advancement, but eventually they do catch up. We know already that the ASA treats video content with greater sensitivity than still images when it comes to rules on “harm and offense” or “social responsibility”. We should expect that VR ads will be scrutinized more severely do to their more immersive design. Precautions will need to be taken by advertisers to make sure ads are VR appropriate, as well as age appropriate. Another challenge is that the act of using HMDs is often culturally viewed as “dorky” due to how large and clunky the headsets tend to be, and how clumsy users can appear as they play virtual games. In order to achieve widespread VR adoption, advertisers will need to market the technology with positive traits like intellect, youth, and success. The focus will need to be on the content and experience of VR, and not how users look while they are wearing the tech. Also, as with any connected technology, it is only a matter of time before cybersecurity issues are raised. Up until now, VR hasn’t been widespread enough to attract the attention of hackers, but as adoption rates grow that will likely change. New technologies will require new best practices to be formed around cybersecurity, and users will have to choose how much risk they are willing to accept.

Even with these challenges, the benefits of creating immersive advertising for attentive users is too good an opportunity for advertisers to miss out on. Brands that are able to capitalize on this new medium will set themselves apart from their competitors. They will also have the opportunity to re-imagine the relationship between advertisers and consumers moving forward. 

Hyper-personalization in Advertising

Hyper-personalization utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) and data harvesting to deliver targeted advertising content that is closely tailored for each user. It can be a useful tool in an advertiser’s toolbox; however, it also raises several privacy concerns, and there is an inherent risk of alienating consumers.

Hyper-personalization is an evolution of personalized marketing, which consisted of such practices as adding a first name to an email opening line. However, personalized marketing never attempted to understand the individual preferences of each customer. Instead, it merely created the appearance that marketing messages were aimed at the individual. On the other hand, a hyper-personalized version of that same email might take a customer’s browsing behavior and location data into consideration, to offer products or services that would likely be of more interest to that particular customer. A hyper-personalized approach could also make use of real-time data, to make recommendations that were perhaps only relevant for a small window of time. For instance, a person who spent their morning googling car reviews, might be more receptive to an ad that promoted a local car dealership.  

Before venturing into hyper-personalization, relevant consumer data must first be gathered. This data can be harvested from a variety of sources, including social media, browsing tracking, purchase history, consumer trends, and data from IoT (internet of things) devices. Take Amazon for instance: their hyper-personalized recommendation engine is responsible for over 35% of their conversions. The engine’s algorithm is called ‘item-to-item collaborative filtering’ and it suggests products based on four data points:

  • Previous purchase history
  • Items in the shopping cart
  • Items rated and liked
  • Items liked and purchased by other similar customers

Using these data points, all harvested from their own site, Amazon can create a detailed user profile and then email this user ads that are specifically relevant to them. Thus, greatly increasing the likelihood of success.

Once consumer data has been collected and analyzed, companies can then segment their consumers into different subgroups. These subgroups can be based on a variety of factors, including demographics, location, brand interaction history, satisfaction, average amount spent, etc. Segmenting will allow for targeted communication, which will increase the potential for conversions. When customers are given offers that are unique to them, it’s likely that a solution will surface to their problem.

Returning to the idea of using hyper-personalization to promote local car dealerships, let’s take a look at an innovative way it could be used. Imagine a car dealership wanted to increase sales, they could target local consumers who had recently searched for car reviews, directions to a car dealership, or directions to a mechanic (if they are experiencing car problems, they may respond positively to messages to buy a new car). Once the car dealership had a group of local consumers that were likely interested in buying a car, they could then segment this group into subgroups based on their income levels, demographics, and browsing behavior. This would allow the dealership to send promotional content that included the specific vehicle (perhaps even in the specific color) that would mostly likely appeal to that consumer. 

There are challenges when it comes to hyper-personalization, however. Hyper-personalization requires a modern digital infrastructure. Most legacy systems fail to offer this capability, so many traditional mom-and-pop retailers (who may not have the resources to overhaul their existing platforms) have trouble adopting this new approach. There are also huge limitations that come from increasingly strict privacy regulations and consumer adoption of data protections. Consumer privacy laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are putting cookie tracking at risk (the key component to tracking consumer behavior online). Free adblocking plugins and proxy servers can also be utilized by any consumer concerned about their data privacy, nullifying data collection and making hyper-personalization impossible. Users also often share devices, making it difficult to create a reliable user profile based on browsing behavior in those cases. Then there is the danger of eroding trust in brands if they appear to be too invasive. A poorly designed hyper-personalization campaign could push consumers away, if the communication makes it seem as though the brand has been spying on them. A recent survey showed that 86% of consumers are concerned about their data privacy, with 40% claiming that they don’t trust companies will use their data ethically.

Even with these challenges, hyper-personalization can be a profitable tool when utilized intelligently. Knowing the behavior and interests of your audience in real-time is very valuable, and new methods of capitalizing on this information are still being developed. Brands who are unwilling or unable to put hyper-personalization to use in their advertising strategies, will be at a disadvantage to brands who use it successfully to cleverly communicate with their audience.

Advertising: Research Vs. Creative

Louis Cheskin (pictured above reclining in his chair, mid-thought) was an innovative marketing researcher who spent most of his life advocating for the benefit of using research to determine successful packaging and advertising. In the 1930s, he founded the Color Research Institute of America in Chicago. He also authored many, many marketing books that are quite difficult to track down now (I’ve only managed to find three so far). In his books, Cheskin makes the claim that the success of advertising can be accurately determined beforehand through research, and it seems that he was renowned in his day for his accurate predictions and startling ROI. His research methods focused on analyzing the unconscious psychological responses of test audiences. In his writing, you can feel the utter contempt Cheskin had for the prevalent notion that advertising should value artistic merit foremost, and blamed bad advertising on creatives who tried to express themselves artistically instead of promoting the brand using quantifiable methods.

On the other hand, there is Luke Sullivan. Sullivan spent 32 years in the ad business at elite agencies like The Martin Agency and Fallon, was afterwards a professor of advertising for many years, and authored the popular advertising book “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This“. In his book, Sullivan takes the exact opposite stance from Cheskin. He found no merit in researching ad campaigns beforehand to determine their likelihood of success. Sullivan found research a pesky thing that only created road blocks to his creativity. Instead, Sullivan advocates that ads should value creativity over profit; that even if an ad was successfully profitable, if it doesn’t have artistic merit then it should be thrown out. He states that the alternative would be a world full of annoying, soul-draining (even if ultimately effective) ads.

Who was right? My inner artist wants to side with Sullivan; a world full of uncreative, uninteresting advertising seems terribly dull, and there is something special about an ad that transcends its original purpose to become recognized as a work of art like early posters now are. But art at the cost of profit is too high a price to pay. Cheskin valued applying the scientific method to advertising so that each move was calculated and precise, with results that were predictable and profitable. Though Cheskin recognized value in ads also being creative, he determined this was only beneficial if creativity was used to make an advertisement more effective. I think Cheskin’s approach is the logical one.

History of Distributed Teams

The concept of Distributed Teams is not a recent invention. Militaries have long employed the best communication technologies of the day to strategize with and command distributed teams of soldiers across great geographical divides. Two hundred years ago, the Battle of Waterloo was directed with the use of flags and bugles communicating prearranged sequences of coded messages. Later developments in radio technology allowed soldiers to communicate more complex messages, over longer distances. This granted a greater degree of managerial control on battlefields.

Over time, communication technologies evolved further, and recent advances have made it easier than ever to keep teams connected virtually. The widespread availability of high-speed internet creates a platform for applications specially tailored to connect people regardless of location. Many companies now take advantage of these advancements to save themselves the cost of physical offices. For example, companies like InVision and Automatic have decided to forgo offices altogether and staff their companies entirely with remote employees. In 2018, a Facebook official was quoted saying that the company wanted as few employees as possible to work from home, because they were concerned productivity and accountability would suffer. Facebook recently changed their philosophy though and are expecting over half of their workforce to go remote by 2025.

Many employees favor this arrangement as it saves them commute time, but also because it is inline with the current cultural practice of constant job-hopping. Previous generations were more likely to stay at one company for prolonged periods of time, and companies often frowned on applicants who were shown to change jobs rapidly. However, younger generations are more likely to change jobs frequently, and companies can make themselves more attractive to prospective applicants by offering virtual positions. These virtual positions not only open companies up to a larger pool of applicants, but it also allows employees the freedom to change jobs without the expense and frustration of relocation.

O’Duinn, J. (2018). Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart. Release Mechanix.

Gupta, A. (n.d.). The History of Remote Work: How it Came to be What it is Today. Sorry, I was on Mute!

Hokusai Reimagined

For a class project, I decided to reimagine Katsushika Hokusai’s seminal “Red Fuji” as ASCII art. Essentially, I wrote a Python script that converted Hokusai’s “Red Fuji” into text art using only the letters in Hokusai’s name. Since different letters have different visual weights, you can use them for gradations of shading. The script converts the image into black and white, then assigns a numerical value to each pixel depending on how dark the shading is. Then it replaces each pixel with the letter assigned to that shade range. I like how it turned out.

Red Fuji

Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849). South Wind and Clear Sky (Gaifū kaisei), also known as Red Fuji, from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, ca. 1830–1832, Edo Period. Size: 15 3/4 x 10 1/2 in. Color woodcut; ink and color on paper.

This print can be viewed at several museums, including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Harvard Art Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The British Museum.

Katsushika Hokusai’s seminal “South Wind and Clear Sky”, commonly referred to as “Red Fuji” for obvious reasons, was made in the Edo Period (ca. 1830-1832) as part of the artist’s series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji”. Red Fuji contains a depth of meaning, both historical and cultural, that may be missed by a casual observer who is unaware of Japanese history. Strangely enough, this piece also owes its existence in large part to tourism. In previous periods, casual travel in Japan was not common as Japanese citizens by necessity were focused on the harsh demands of their daily lives, with little time or resources leftover for leisurely pursuits. However, in the Edo period, Japan now enjoyed an unprecedented economic prosperity and political stability, which allowed them a degree of newfound leisure. Even though travel was technically illegal during the Edo period, there was a simple workaround: a would-be tourist only had to declare that they were on a pilgrimage to a holy temple and then they could travel freely. This led to an increase in travel and tourism became a popular activity for the first time in Japan. Along with the increased popularity of tourism also came growth in the tourism market. Publishers realized the potential of commissioning art that could be easily copied as woodblock prints. These could be sold to tourists for a relatively low cost and allowed travelers a physical representation of their experiences traveling. Thus, woodblock prints became a popular souvenir for this new tourist demographic. Scenes from the infamous Yoshiwara Pleasure District were popular choices for prints, as were Kabuki Theatre scenes and portraits of beautiful women, however tourists were also attracted to landscapes depicting Japan’s natural beauty and iconic destinations, such as Mount Fuji.  

Hokusai was seventy years old when he began to artfully depict Mt. Fuji. In the next five years, he created 46 designs for the print series, Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji. The mountain, located near Fujinomiya, is an active volcano, although it hasn’t erupted since 1708. It is notable for being the tallest mountain in Japan (12,389 feet), and on a clear day it can be seen as far away as Tokyo. In Japan, Mt. Fuji has long been cherished as a sacred site for the Shinto faith, oftentimes being a recurring motif in Japanese literature and poetry. Many artists and writers have tried to capture the power and epic beauty of the summit; however Hokusai’s woodblock print series showing the summit through different seasons and weather conditions is perhaps the most famous attempt. Hokusai was a ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period, and is the most famous of all Japanese artists. In a long and successful career, he produced over 30,000 paintings, sketches, and woodblock prints. None were so successful as his Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji, which contained his most famous prints: Red Fuji and The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. These now iconic artworks secured Hokusai broad recognition in Japan and overseas.

Japanese printmakers in the Edo Period used a limited range of colourants. This is because, when creating woodblock prints, colourant particles need to be fine enough to sufficiently penetrate the paper when they are applied, but not so fine that they run through the paper and bleed out the other side; this leaves a limited amount of colourants that are suitable for the purpose. Hokusai created his Red Fuji using only four colors: bright red was used for the mountain, contrasted with a bright blue sky, a soft white was reserved for clouds and snow, and deeper shades of green were used to create foliage at the base of the mountain. The colors are bright and punchy, as if the day recorded here was bathed in sunlight that over-saturated the scene. The image has a flat, static quality. Though rows of overlapping clouds dipping behind the mountain and a strong hierarchy of color do create some sense of depth, the overall impression of this stylized piece is that this is a depiction of a flat two-dimensional space. The focus of the artwork is Mt. Fuji itself, which is placed off center to the bottom right of the image, cutting diagonally up, and takes up an even half of the visual space. The cloudy sky is a balanced element that uses up the remaining visual weight, diagonally controlling the top left quadrant of the piece. As such, the piece is quite balanced and symmetrical. Each individual element is depicted simply with minimal detail, to an almost cartoon-ish effect. Fuji isn’t being recorded in all it’s fine detail, rather the idea of Fuji is the subject here. The emotion of witnessing Mt. Fuji is invoked by this piece, but maybe Mt. Fuji’s symbolic meaning in Japan is what Hokusai was really focused on. The artist successfully captured the depth of meaning of Mt. Fuji in a way that a photograph perhaps could not.

Though the summit is colored in a bright, fiery red (a color that is typically used to express anger or danger), this piece somehow remains a calming, tranquil image. There is a sense of peace and stability in the artwork that is a somewhat ironic method of depicting an active volcano. This is no doubt intentional though and is typical of how Japan symbolized Mt. Fuji as an enduring, unchanging entity. In fact, the summit was often associated with the notion of everlasting life. Hokusai, who himself was obsessed with finding eternal life, may have found a source of inspiration here. That may explain his intense fascination with Mt. Fuji. In his colophon to Volume One of One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji, Hokusai describes his ambition:

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the forms of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of seventy, nothing that I drew was worthy of notice. At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects, and fish. Thus when I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine prove not false.

Hokusai sadly did not live quite long enough to achieve this lofty goal, his life finally reaching it’s end at the age of 88. However, he achieved in his lifetime a sort of immortality, as his work lives on and has only grown in popularity over the years. His Red Fuji is still the most recognizable artistic depiction of the mountain, even after all this time. It’s historical and cultural relevance endures as steadily as Mt. Fuji itself.  

“Hokusai’s Mount Fuji.” RISD Museum. August 17, 1991.

Jamieson, Anna. “Iconic Hokusai Prints: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.” Japan Objects. May 18, 2018.

Korenberg, Capucine et al. “Developing a systematic approach to determine the sequence of impressions of Japanese woodblock prints: the case of Hokusai’s Red Fuji.” Heritage Science. February 26, 2019.

Thompson, Sarah. “Hokusai.” Boston: MFA Publications. 2015.

Posted in Art

Slack Versus the Competition

Slack is an internal communications hub that conveniently connects teams together, regardless of physical distance. I worked for several years as a web application developer in a department that relied heavily on Slack for all employee interaction, as our team was distributed across a large college campus and it was rarely possible for employees to have any face-to-face conversations. My team needed to be able to communicate quickly and easily, so we began using Slack exclusively for this purpose. We found that it was a great benefit to the unity of our team.

Essentially, Slack acts as an instant messaging system, with the added benefit of optional add-ons. There are two methods of chat in Slack: channels (group chat), and direct message (person-to-person chat). Direct messaging is a great way to connect one-one-one with colleagues, while channels allow the right people to get the right information in the fastest method possible.

When Slack came along, there were no real competitors in the market, however as the popularity of digital communication in the workplace grew, so did competition in the communication tools market. One current alternative is RocketChat, a communications platform that allows users to tailor its look and feel to their own requirements. Both platforms allow users the option of one-on-one and group chatting. However, unlike Slack, Rocketchat is a free, open-source solution. One of RocketChat’s most prominent features is how easy it is to migrate to: a user can export their existing files from Slack and upload them directly to RocketChat, making them a convenient option for dissatisfied Slack users.

Another popular Slack alternative is Chanty, a simple team chat tool for small and medium-sized teams that doesn’t limit its searchable message history. Chanty organizes a user’s files, links, tasks, and conversations into folders in a feature called Teambook. Compared to Slack, Chanty is also faster and more affordable (up to 75% cheaper) and it offers twice as much storage compared to Slack. Also, while Slack limits users to 10,000 messages in their free plan, Chanty offers unlimited messages in all their plans.

Regardless of which digital communication hub one employs to stay connected to their respective team members, the fact remains that no point in history has had such an abundance of choice when it comes to long distance communication options. Users can now select whichever platform suits their particular needs best.

Fallavena, L. (2020, December 14). We’ve Tried 4 Different Slack Alternatives & Here’s Our Conclusion.

Mykhoparkina, O. (2021, February 5). We’ve Tried 8 Slack Alternatives.

Benefits of Distributed Teams

One of the costs of maintaining a physical office space rather than a distributed team is a limited pool of job applicants. The business must settle for job-seekers who happen to live within a convenient commute to the company’s physical location, and those candidates may not be as suitable or talented as applicants in other parts of the world. It is even possible that a company cannot find any suitably skilled candidates in their area, and this is especially true for positions that require very specific niche skills.

By employing a distributed team instead, and thus removing the geographical boundaries imposed by a physical location, a company has a much larger pool of applicants to choose from. This allows for greater diversity of experience and potentially more talented employees. A distributed team approach also lessens the risk of a company having trouble remaining adequately staffed, as some physical locations may not have the populace required to maintain staffing needs and could thwart company expansion.

However, there are also benefits to maintaining a physical location that cannot be replicated with a distributed team. For example, physical locations anchor a company to a local community. In some fields, that anchor is required for creating brand loyalty and awareness. Employees who live together in a certain community are also uniquely aware of the community’s needs and wants, and those employees are more likely to share some cultural experiences that could aid with communication and relationship forming within the company. Building and maintaining relationships within a distributed team is uniquely challenging; Sometimes communication is more easily achieved in close physical proximity rather than digitally, and a sense of shared community certainly aids the process.

O’Duinn, J. (2018). Distributed Teams: The Art and Practice of Working Together While Physically Apart. Release Mechanix.

Breu, K., & Hemingway, C. (2004). Making organizations virtual: the hidden cost of distributed teams. Journal of Information Technology, 19, 191–202.

Digital Privacy Policies

Humans are naturally entitled to a degree of privacy in their lives, and that applies to the digital sphere as well. However, data has an inherent value, and unfortunately in the pursuit of valuable data certain threats have evolved. For instance, both personally identifying information and non-personally-identifying information (such as your behavior on a website) may be collected and analyzed by interested parties. Hackers can also gain access to a user’s accounts and data with nefarious intent. These threats require users, and by extension workplaces, to take action to protect their digital privacy.

Some digital threats include: tracking cookies, government surveillance, and identity theft. Users may fall prey to these threats when they use the same password on multiple websites, fail to logoff sites, don’t read service terms when creating accounts, or open email attachments from addresses that they don’t recognize. These threats can be greatly minimized with a few simple precautions. For example, users can block Flash Player as it has many vulnerabilities hackers can take advantage of to steal information from a device. Blocking JavaScript, a programming language that allows browser interactions, can also enhance security as hackers often make use of it as well. Using the browser’s Privacy Mode can protect users from Tracking Cookies that exist to collect user data for various purposes. Turning off the browser’s password storage feature makes it more difficult for hackers to gain access to your accounts. Finally, using a strong antivirus program that includes real-time scanning and protection can protect users from malicious downloads.

By carefully adhering to strict digital privacy policies such as these, both users and workplaces can enjoy a degree of safety as they make use of the amazing technological tools that are currently available.

Shahid, H. (2021, September 22). What Is Internet Privacy & Why It Matters so much in 2021? PureVPN.

Shahid, H. (2021, March 22). What are Internet Cookies and How They Invade Your Privacy? PureVPN.

Shahid, H. (2020, June 22). A Beginner’s Guide to Web Browser Security. PureVPN.