On Marathons and Advertising

This one has been due for a long time. I'd saved this in my Drafts folder thinking that I'll write about this in detail but I've now resolved to write out things as quickly as possible. Originally, this post was meant to talk about unique advertising or what I'd like to call super-contextual advertising that I noticed during my first 25km marathon. I'll still talk about that but just to point out that since then I've completed a full (42.195 km) marathon. It wasn't the best run imaginable primarily because of the heat and humidity in Singapore and my lack of training but soon enough, I'll be going back to the drawing-board to try and finish a full marathon in under 4 hours. Hopefully, I'll do that run outside of Singapore (someplace much cooler preferably). Anyway, onwards with the original post:

I recently completed my first full 25km marathon in the 100 Plus Passion Run 2010 in Singapore. Amazing experience that and I'll chart my progress in maintaining a healthy lifestyle in a separate post. I wanted to make a note of some great contextual advertising I saw along the way.

1) Every pit stop I made, I noticed that the water served was tepid but the 100 Plus was chilled to perfection. When you're running and sweating like crazy, you can't help but mentally associate the isotonic drink with the perfect thirst quencher in the midst of rigorous exercise. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not. However, it did leave a mark with pretty much everyone I spoke with.

2) At the 20 to 22 km mark, I saw this banner ad for a sailing club in Singapore. I didn't take a snapshot of it (I couldn't given my condition in the last 30 minutes or so!) but I vaguely remember the message on it: "If you think this is tough, wait until you start sailing". Remember, this was the final stretch of the race and pretty much all runners were exhausted at this point but more importantly, they were on a high considering the achievement that awaited them across the finish line. For most of these adventure junkies, a message like that simply reinforces other activities that they've simply sidelined (or not considered). Certainly gave me a chuckle at that time and given that I still remember this after a year or so, it has certainly proved to have lasting appeal.

Some people might call this manipulative but that's an argument for another day. The point is that this sort of advertising is what is needed across the board. Online advertising, in my opinion, is useless in its primary task of promoting products. I had hoped that the Apple iAd platform would re-invent online advertising but it seems to be playing out in a niche market though the amount of attention Apple has paid to ensure that ads "look and feel good" is commendable. I'll certainly write in more detail about this soon.

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Google Calendar

I've been using Google Calendar for task and schedule management for my personal life. Yes, I need to schedule things now in my personal life given that there's so much going on and I need to ensure that I stick by deadlines (e.g. manuscript submissions, day-t0-day work on my bootstrapped projects etc). I highly recommend this for everyone. The interface is clean and simple and the best part is that it's easily accessible from everywhere. On the iPhone, you can simply integrate this with your regular (or work) calendar. I like to keep my personal schedule separate from my work schedule and so I use this nifty little app called Calengoo on the iPhone. Again, highly recommended.

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On Privacy Protection

I'm in the midst of writing an interesting post related to my recent online content acquisition (browsing in common words!) and I thought I'll take a brief pit stop to talk about our privacy in the current world climate. I've never really cared much for privacy in terms of my own identity. It's habit I suppose. I've never questioned the "whys" i.e. why do you need my Identity Card number for this purpose or why do you need to know my home address/phone number etc. I think I grew up on a trust-based system which was further supported by the perception that whoever's handling your information is primarily going to dump it in some box that will never see the light of day. This was in the days of paper-based identity management. Now, with all the issues surrounding online (and offline) identity thefts, I've started questioning things again.

Just recently I had to apply for a visa for Indonesia and Tanzania (mountain climbing trips and I'll definitely post more about these treks in future). For both these cases, I had to provide a laundry list of documents including a full back-to-back copy of my passport. That's regulation for Pakistani nationals and if you want to travel you have to do that i.e. I'm not in a position to negotiate the process. I signed up for McDonalds online delivery and had to provide a lot of information there as well. Pretty much anything you do online now (and I'm sure you'll all agree) has to be supported with an increasing amount of personal information divulgence. However, after the recent hacking of Sony's servers and hearing of various cases of forged documents (ala identity theft) I wonder if it's time to re-think the way we manage identity both online and offline.

Let me be clear, I'm not insinuating that anyone who's acquiring this information is doing so unnecessarily (at least intentionally) or with malicious intent. I'm also not saying that what I'm talking about is something unique and hasn't been a cause for concern for people or organizations. I'm making two points here: a) how I feel people who grew up in the offline world are perceiving this and b) is this issue somehow manageable with technology.

The thing to note is that I still give as much (if not more) information that is required in such cases. And I can't really explain why I still don't question it enough. Perhaps it has more to do with how I was brought up where trust was given by default. However, in the world I'm in now (which is vastly different to the one I was brought up in), whenever I have to volunteer information, I'm left with an uneasy feeling. The feeling of: what if?

Has any organization (cue the leading technology companies) really thought of how to manage this? Are there technological solutions that can address any of these issues? Can we have authentication done against a central authority where all organizations requiring any authentication on a person's behalf simply need to get an "ok" or "not ok" from this central authority? If so, can we trust this central authority with all our personal data? What is the right way forward in this area which I feel will become increasingly more convoluted and important in the coming decades. Any thoughts?

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