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Google is Evil

Oscar Foulkes January 29, 2014 Digital No comments
I’m struggling to come to terms with Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto, following a recent experience at the hands of AdWords.

I received an mail from Google offering me a R600 AdWords voucher, so I updated my card details and started a campaign. After a few days I paused it, with the thought that I needed to change the wording of the campaign.

Out of the blue I received an email advising me that the account had been suspended, without any explanation. I then contacted AdWords help. Unlike the rest of Google, there is the facility to do an online chat with a representative (amazing what companies will do when there is money involved!). Usually, Google’s sole method of getting support is for people to fight their way through voluminous FAQs.

The person I chatted to was unable to assist, but offered to escalate the matter. Before long, I received a mail with the following content:

Our specialists have re-reviewed the account and confirmed that it is in violation of our AdWords policies. Since this decision is final, the account will not be reinstated. Please avoid creating additional AdWords accounts, as they will be subjected to the same suspension.

Our support team will not be able to able to give you any more specifics on the suspension.

No mention of which policies I was allegedly violating, or how I was doing it, nothing. All I did was give them my credit card details, and set up a campaign in good faith.

Surely transparency is the first step to not being evil?

I happen to believe that Google’s cloud-based services are an amazing resource. As a business, Google is at the cutting edge of the internet. Yes, they have failures, but from a cloud perspective they are way ahead of the likes of Microsoft (in my opinion, of course).

But now I’m gun shy. Imagine if I move my entire business onto the Google suite (Drive, Apps etc), and they unilaterally decide that I have violated an unknown policy in an unknown manner. If they closed my account that would be disastrous. Knowing them they way I do now, they would probably prevent any further access to stored data.

I know it’s a stretch to imagine them doing that, but they have undermined my trust.

Google, there are many things I admire about you, but you are evil.

UPDATE: In the original email there is a link I’m invited to follow if I want to understand AdWord suspension policies:
(, but the page does not exist.
This content
( suggests that I would/should be given the reasons for the suspension, as well as the opportunity of fixing the ‘violations’.


Digital Money Utopia

Oscar Foulkes September 24, 2013 Digital No comments
Frustration is the mother of invention. In my case, the frustration was caused by the friction (i.e. various charges, some overt and some hidden) in international currency transfers. On small transfers – under $1000 – the percentage cost can be enormous. In addition, the bank widens the bid-offer spread on the currency exchange, which adds a couple of extra percentage points to the cost.

I spent months evolving something I called MoneyWithWings, which was based upon a system of ‘vouchers’ purchased locally. These could be exchanged online, thereby facilitating cross-border transfers. The plan also relied upon the use of my vouchers (DollarWings, YenWings etc) in completing ecommerce transactions. This would be the Skype version of Visa, I told my friends.

I soon realised that there was a name for what I was proposing – electronic money – and that it was the subject of lengthy legislation by the EU. I soldiered on, but eventually I put the concept on ice. I was just too busy with other things at the time, the bureaucratic maze looked daunting, and the success of the venture would require achieving critical mass quickly.

I remain convinced that some form of digital money will enter the mainstream. However, achieving utopia – and digital money does represent a form of economic utopia – is going to require finding elegant solutions to the following critical issues:

  1. Funds need to enter – and leave – the platform at little or no cost. There’s no point incurring the costs of processing credit card payments to credit user accounts.
  2. Cross-border transactions need to happen without meddling from authorities that are paranoid about money laundering.

It goes without saying that there need to be sufficient ways of using the digital money.

There are several very successful examples of exchanges based upon something other than cash, but these are generally closed systems. Airtime is used as a form of currency in several countries across Africa. Loyalty or points systems that involve multiple retailers also approximate a kind of parallel economy.

Skype wasn’t – and probably could never have been – started by a telecom. Similarly, I’d be very surprised if a mainstream bank was behind the creation of the world’s first truly successful digital money.

Facebook could have been a likely candidate – giving itself an interesting revenue stream in the process – but its Facebook Credits were conceived for a different purpose, and possibly didn’t have a passionate advocate for disruptive digital money behind it.

I am not convinced that Bitcoin is the solution, but what it does prove is how ready the people of the world are to transact in different ways.

I haven’t used Dwolla (it’s available in the US only), but it has the appearance of being very close to the system I envisaged. Funds are held in one bank account (Dwolla’s), and transactions between users simply re-assign the right to draw on the funds.

All fiat money, in effect, operates under a voucher system, in that it is backed by the reserves of the central bank, so Dwolla is like a central bank for its users (without printing money), disintermediating commercial banks.

Dwolla appears to have cracked domestic exchanges. If they can work out a way to do international money movements as easily, they’ll have achieved something close to utopia, as far as digital money is concerned.

Xoom is another service I’ve never used, but it’s website makes a big show of how quickly and inexpensively it handles international transfers. However, once again, this is available to US customers only.

Digital money is going to be very interesting space to watch, and even more interesting to be involved in.


Horse Racing’s HUGE opportunity

Oscar Foulkes September 20, 2013 Digital, Social media No comments
This piece was first published in Parade magazine.

Risks and hazards. Two apparently similar words, in that the outcomes are similar, but with substantially different meanings.

A risk is an event that is possible, but unpredictable, like the car that comes crashing off the street, through the large window, and into a restaurant, where it critically injures unsuspecting diners.

A hazard is the same restaurant, where uncooked ingredients are not kept in the cold chain and kitchen hygiene is poor, with the result that diners get food poisoning. Hazard is the rusty chain links on the playground swing, the faulty brakes on the bus transporting 80 passengers. You get the picture.

Horse racing is facing an uncertain future, which requires the assessment of a variety of risks. However, the industry also faces substantial hazards. The first, as raised by Brian Kantor at the Investec Summerhill conference, is one of insider trading. I’m not avoiding the issue, but I’d rather park that discussion for another time. The second, the subject under discussion here, involves the industry’s digital preparedness.

By digital, I mean all online activity, whether it is on websites, social media or apps. It includes communication, commercial transactions, and research.

By every measurement possible – and the beauty of digital is how measurable everything is – anything to do with digital is growing. Take your pick of online shopping, social media, or YouTube videos, not to mention the number of mobile phones with internet capability. Even if you aren’t on Twitter, Facebook, or buying your groceries online, you can be fairly certain that almost every person under the age of 30 is.

For the next waves of consumers, if it isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. Not being digitally active in a meaningful way is like making the decision that you’re getting ready to close your business.

It is a common lament that horse racing has suffered from diminished mainstream media coverage (i.e. newspapers, television and radio). Guess what, digital gives us the opportunity of delivering a richer experience for our customers, with a deeper level of engagement. Plus, it’s almost instant, and dissemination is effectively free, once the platform/channel has been established. The value of not just creating a good flow of information, but owning the media channel as well, is enormous.

Instead of a static list of races and runners, newspaper style, you can have a dynamic system that allows for deeper form study. You can have videos of past races, and people can bet directly off the platform. Plus, because the number of column inches allowed in the newspaper’s budget does not constrain you, there is hardly any limitation on the amount of information or interpretation you can deliver. With a little extra coding, you can write wizards that enable punters to implement their own strategies or models. And, this can all be delivered via a smart phone app.

Combine this with social media tools, like Twitter, and you have a very powerful, real-time communication platform. Every race gives opportunities for generating content for ‘the stream’. Other social media tools, like Facebook and Instagram, are tailor made for the ‘faces-at-the-races’, social and glamour components of a race day.

YouTube is already in its ninth year. Considering its relative maturity, its growth rate is extraordinary. The company announced recently that its users are now watching 6 billion hours of video every month, up from 4 billion a year ago. That is a 50% leap, which is probably part of the reason why YouTube has set up its own professional production studios in Los Angeles to enable content producers do an even better job. So, hard on the heels of the cable networks taking on Hollywood, YouTube is doing the same. The bottom line: people love consuming video.

The beauty is that it’s very easy for horse racing operators to be active in video, with their own ‘channels’. With all that action content being generated every day, it’s a no-brainer. The other opportunity is for short, sharp previews and reviews. I’m talking about 60 seconds, maximum, in which a race is discussed, or an insightful post-race interview is delivered. Apart from the fact that Tellytrack sits on a subscription service and is therefore limited in its reach, one has to watch it all day to catch the gems. A well-curated YouTube channel would enable people to remain in touch and informed by dipping into the source for just a few minutes per day.

Social media offers additional opportunities, beyond telling punters about last-minute jockey changes or overweight declarations. I’ll acknowledge that a Twitter account in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing. But, what it could do is to enable ‘relationships’ to be formed with jockeys, who are a huge untapped opportunity for celebrity. Trainers fall into a similar bracket.

Yes, celebrity may well be superficial, but it’s a fact of life on the marketing landscape. Celebrity sells.

Horses can be celebrities – look at Frankel and Black Caviar – but they’re around for a couple of years and then they retire. Jockeys are superb athletes, who can perform at the highest level for decades (golfers do something similar, although they generally carry a lot more condition!).

Digital is clearly a solution I’m passionate about. Even if you think it is an exaggeration to say that failing to embrace digital would be hazardous for the future of the horse racing industry, surely you agree what huge opportunities it brings?