Was the AWS outage a big deal?

When relying on the public cloud, the health of your business could be beyond your control.

On November 25, 2020, Amazon’s AWS operations in North America were extensively disrupted, impacting wide swaths of businesses and in turn, their customers.

The outage hit AWS clients for a very large part of the day and even into the evening. Ultimately, Amazon reported complete problem resolution early the next morning.

AWS service health dashboard on November 25, 2020

High-profile companies such as Adobe, Twilio, and Roku were affected, along with countless smaller business operations that rely on AWS to keep themselves humming along.

If you had problems signing on to one of your online accounts, or trying to make an online transaction, or noticed a smart device in your home wasn’t functioning properly, then chances are you were directly affected (as I believe I was).

Just imagine a vaguely similar but far larger-scale impact to a manufacturing facility’s sensitive software systems reliant on AWS. Think about the hours or even a full day’s worth of lost productivity and business revenue!

Is this really a big deal?

In the grand scheme of things, IT system-related outages are not unusual at all. They happen all the time, whether public cloud infrastructure, an on-premises data center, or an individual server.

While multi-hour service disruptions are not uncommon with cloud or online services, they’re also not exactly desirable, either. In the IT world, “five nines” or 99.999% reliability is the gold standard. But achieving high availability on that level would mean downtime of no more than 5.5 minutes per year.

“Three nines” or 99.9% is more achievable with up to about 9 hours of allowable downtime. This is probably close to realistic expectations for AWS’s uptime reliability.

There hasn’t been notable disruption to AWS’s reliability or service for about two years. But when it does occur, it always should serve as an important reminder:

AWS, by far the largest cloud computing provider by market share, has the remote but non-zero probability of taking down tens if not hundreds of thousands of clients along with it – including corporations valued at billions of dollars.

Many companies have, or are seriously considering, distributing their operations between multiple cloud providers for redundancy and fail-safe reasons.

Another common approach is to have at least some of the system architecture housed within the on-premises data center.

It’s vital to remember that if your business runs on the public cloud, and something happens to it, your customers don’t care that it was the cloud’s fault – or that it’s beyond your control.

All they think about is the fact that your company screwed them over in some way.

A special case of branding with two logos

Last April 2020, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) made the notable decision to bring back its “worm” logo, first introduced in 1975 to replace its original logo (known affectionately as the “meatball”).

NASA "worm" logo and photo montage featuring this logo
The NASA “worm” logo. (Image credit: NASA)

The worm was subsequently retired in 1992, when NASA decided to bring back the meatball to replace it.

Original NASA "meatball" logo
The original NASA “meatball” logo. (Image credit: NASA)

The worm had always been a cult favorite among NASA fans, adorned on clothing and other memorabilia. Now, NASA has officially readopted the logo after an 18-year hiatus.

Interestingly, the worm now serves as a secondary branding alongside the original meatball, which continues to serve as the organization’s primary insignia.

What made the worm significant back then

For myself as an American, and surely many, many others, the introduction of the new worm logo in the 1970s signified an exciting new rebirth in the US space program with development of the Space Shuttle, and the eager anticipation toward its eventual deployment into space. Its introduction also marked the conclusion of a highly successful chapter in US space history with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo rocket missions.

The worm logo continued to serve as a significant branding element with the historic first launch of the Space Shuttle in 1981, and the many subsequent launch missions throughout the 1980s.

However, the worm logo wasn’t really popular internally within NASA, and eventually it was retired in 1992 in favor bringing back the original meatball – part of a broader measure to boost morale which had suffered since the 1980s.

What makes the worm significant today

NASA’s decision to bring back the worm in 2020 signals another rebirth of US space missions with the introduction of Commercial Crew and future programs to bring astronauts back into space – ending a nine-year gap dating back to the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011.

You now can see the worm prominently on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as well as the astronaut uniforms.

NASA SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew-1 spacecraft
NASA meatball and worm logos on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. (Credit: NASA)

It’s highly unusual for any organization or company to rationalize a dual-branding approach. Here’s a rare example of adopting two different logos to great effect!

If you’re still curious, NASA has made available, for your reading pleasure, the original graphics standards manual for the worm logo.

Being data-driven isn’t necessarily helpful

In fact, being overly reliant on data can be a great setback and a tremendous waste of time and resources, both for you and your company.

At the very least, leaning blindly on data can really lead you astray in your design or marketing efforts.

The bad news to all this is that data by itself is at best meaningless, and at its worse, misleading. In most cases it will tell you very little or nothing about what to do.

Bill Pardi

I tend to be of the very strong opinion that too many people use data as a crutch to compensate for a lack of competency in essential skills such as content creation, as well as the motivation to carefully analyze and critique what they’re doing.

Let’s consider an example: customer personas. Personally, I despise the term “persona” as it implies a simplified, hypothetical assumption of the buyer profile based purely on data collected from customers (usually via surveys).

In tech-driven companies, especially startups, collection and usage of data is all the rage. Send out surveys to your customers and entice them to respond to a series of pointed questions about themselves.

Then collect the data and use that the basis for creating your so-called “personas,” the presumption of your understanding about the customer and how to best market or create a product for them.

The critical point of failure is that you’re not combining data without sufficient understanding of your products, how they’re sold, and how they’re adopted by your customers.

In other words, you’re using data without proper context and insight – along with some creativity and instinct to help solve problems that benefit your sales team. That’s not only just plain wrong, it’s also likely to make your efforts meaningless to your company.

… data is meaningless only if we are expecting objective truth from it without factoring in our perceptions and assumptions and getting past those with our creativity.

Bill Pardi

And when that happens, you’re also not adding to your authentic value proposition for your company.

The problem is that so many of the younger generation of marketers want to “cut to the chase” and deliver vanity metrics with very short-term goals of making themselves look good to management.

To them, understanding the product and business functions of the company is but a secondary priority behind generating flashy metrics. It’s something on a “I’ll get to it when I have time” basis.

That’s a half-ass backward way of doing marketing, and boy, what an incredible waste of resources and spend for the companies that employ them. But it’s what so many have been able to get way with in a free-spending environment with gobs of investor capital to burn.

The ad industry is hitting major speed bumps

2020 has been really tough on many industries, advertising well among them. But the ad industry has already been in the midst of a series of unfavorable changes – aimed at curbing abuse and protecting user privacy.

It sucks to be in the ad business.

Big corrections are here… and continuing

Signs of looming cutbacks are widespread. There is talk of 25 percent downturns in ad business revenue, prompting substantial layoffs and budget trimming. Forrester is predicting as many as 52,000 job losses among ad agencies in 2020 and 2021, with half of them never returning.

Twitter is even considering the idea of paid subscriptions to make up for lost revenue. And there’s growing acknowledgement that marketing operations are generally way too big and way too inefficient.

“They’re now having the realization that they can do twice as much with half as many people,” said someone in a New York Times report.

iOS 14 has a major stinger in store

The next release of iOS is very likely to have significant effects rippling across the digital ad ecosystem. Specifically, it’s a new feature that will greet users with a pop-up modal asking for permission to be tracked across apps and websites.

The modal states that user data will be used for delivering personalized ads. The user will be granted the choice of allowing or blocking the ability to be tracked.

This change could really hit Google and Facebook and their networks of digital ad purveyors. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if their execs are in a state of constant lobbying to try and win concessions from Apple.

Facebook’s CFO openly admitted that material effects of this change are expected to hit the social media giant by the fourth quarter of 2020.

A silver lining may be in store

If you’re a marketing or content creation freelancer, or a small / boutique agency, you could stand to benefit plenty as companies look to slim down their budgets and reduce their marketing spend with big-time agencies.

Creating content requires great effort and time

I’ve been working in marketing for 16 years. I can tell you that by far, the greatest challenge in marketing is…

… creating quality content.

Content creation is the single most important aspect of any company’s marketing initiatives.

It always takes more time than you think, and involves more effort than you might have imagined. Everyone believes they’re able to create content, but few do so on a regular basis.

Because of this, most of us don’t have good visibility into what it takes to create content, and very good quality content at that.

As content creators we all go into a project thinking it will take maybe a few days, when it ends up taking a week or more. We all think, “it just takes 3 or 4 steps to complete” when it’s really more like 10 to 15.

Recently, I’ve been hearing some YouTubers lament about the time and sheer amount of work it takes to create a polished video.

A video production requires planning, scripting, shooting, editing, color grading, creating B-roll content, and bringing it all together for the final rendering with transitions, opening and closing titles, bed track for background music, etc.

All that can add up to as much as 40 hours for a start-to-finish production for a 10 to 15 minute video clip. That’s in the range of what I’ve actually heard from some YouTube creators.

Even an 800- 1,000 word copywriting project can take the better part of a day. I know this darn well, being a professional copywriter for many years.

If you don’t create content regularly, you think of the process as beginning with typing your first word and continuing, linearly and consecutively, to your 1,000th. No interruptions in between.

Try sitting down and writing a 1,000 word piece on your own. It has to be something related to your business, not one of your hobbies in which you can just ramble on with casual babble.

If you can consistently type away from start to finish with no editing, re-reading, refining, iteration, or re-scoping – and the final result is always perfectly structured and business communication-worthy – then congratulate yourself as an incredible genius.

You’re clearly in the wrong career.

Being dependent on SEO can badly hurt you

In case you haven’t noticed, a typical display of Google search results these days isn’t anywhere what it used to be.

Until pretty recently, search results were a listing of relevant web links and descriptions, with paid web links (ads) displayed up top.

But now, it’s very often something wholly different. Instead of a parade of web links, you’re now fed a bunch of Google’s own generated content, whether a culling of what it’s collected across the web, or a gallery of temptations to lead you into their various properties (including e-commerce).

The result is that on mobile, depending on the popularity of the search query, you can kiss goodbye to appearing on the first page of organic search results. It’s all dominated by whatever Google is choosing to throw on it.

Typical Google search results, with their own content stuffed before organic search results
Dude, where are my search results?

(Of course, paid search results – ads – will continue to be shown before anything else – since that’s where Google’s money is made.)

Many businesses are now reporting they’re negatively impacted by the Google-imposed changes to their SEO, to the extent of even seeing their revenue “killed” over time. This is especially true for companies with products that compete with Google in some way.

Yes, there is the possibility of legal ramifications stemming from anti-competitive business behavior and the questionable practice of scraping content from other websites. But nothing is certain at this point.

The only thing that can be certain is something I’ve been saying over and over again. Put all of your eggs in one basket – in this case Google – at your own peril.

It all seems like a great success and a fruitful partnership, until you realize your partner never really cared about you to begin with.

Don’t work for a company that deceives!

News has just emerged from inside sources about ScaleFactor, a tech startup with an AI-based software solution to accounting challenges at small to mid-sized businesses.

There was a boo-boo with this company. A big one, in fact. This company wasn’t really using AI but instead was using human accountants (partly from an outsourced firm in the Philippines), despite raising $100 million in venture capital around its purported AI-driven product.

ScaleFactor had recently begun the process of winding down, supposedly due to COVID-19. But it’s now believed the underlying reason is a deceptive, unsustainable product leading to the ultimate downfall.

I mention this to caution anyone against working for a company with the knowledge of deception behind their product.

This is especially true if you’re in marketing. If your professional history includes working for a deceptive company and its reputation suffers badly as a result, then that very same reputation can follow you for the rest of your career.

Do you want to have to explain yourself out of very uncomfortable questions in job interviews for years to come? Sure, you could use the NDA as your excuse not to be transparent, but you also face the very high risk of cutting yourself off from any hiring consideration. You’re basically locked in a no-win situation.

Bottom line: if you knowingly are marketing products that are deceptive, or worse, possibly fraudulent, then get the hell out of there before you go down with the company. The risk you’re taking just isn’t worth it.

What will the transition to Apple silicon mean for Mac users?

In a nutshell, you’re going to benefit a lot if you’re someone with both feet in the Mac and iOS camps, someone who cherishes the mobility of a laptop, and someone who develops apps and websites on a Mac.

macOS Big Sur desktop screen shot
Source: Apple

Let me explain a bit further.

  • With future Macs, iOS developers will easily be able to make available their apps with no extra development effort. Your Mac in effect becomes another iOS device so you can readily access the same productivity and entertainment apps you use on your iPhone and iPad.
  • Apple is promising dramatically better computing efficiency from their future Macs over Intel processing technology. If this pans out, then it means you’ll be able to get much better battery performance, and hopefully with less heat radiated (leading to longer life). This could be great if you consider yourself highly mobile and constantly need “all-day” availability from a laptop.
  • The new Macs will not only offer the benefits enjoyed for years by software developers, but will also allow virtualization for running Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, SUSE, or Fedora. If you’re a Mac person that also wants or regularly needs ready access to Linux, then this will make you feel right at home.

There are two more potential benefits to the future Macs running on Apple silicon: the ability to provide custom features and capabilities specific to the new chips, and also develop and launch new Macs with greater control over supply chain availability. The latter means Apple won’t have to rely on a third-party (Intel) to make new Macs available to their customers.

Unfortunately, there are going to be some downsides to consider, as well – at least in the two-year transition Apple has defined for moving away from Intel.

  • You’re going to be relying on developers to update their x86 apps to run natively on Apple silicon (ARM). If not, there is still a path forward via emulation, but performance may be compromised somewhat.
  • Generally speaking, you won’t be able to run Windows on your future ARM-powered Mac. Apple is still going to be supporting its Intel-based Macs well into future and is working on new ones as well, so you won’t feel the need to rush into the transition.
  • Just speculation at this point, but power Mac users are likely to have to rely on their beefy Intel-powered machines for at least a while longer – it’s likely the first Apple chips will not yet be as capable.

Apple is not abandoning Intel anytime soon

Despite all the excitement and grandeur around Apple’s long-anticipated announcement that it’s embarking on a two-year transition to Macs powered by its own ARM-based processors, Tim Cook did let slip out the following at the very end:

In fact, we have some Intel-based Macs in the pipeline that we’re really excited about.

(Cook also affirmed that Apple will continue to issue OS updates for Intel-powered Macs for years to come.)

So, why then is Apple is even bothering to launch more Intel-powered Macs, despite expecting to ship their first ARM-powered Mac at the end of 2020?

Benchmarking may hold the answer

The reason may lie in one thing no one is yet able to do outside of Apple: benchmark Mac performance in a head-to-head comparison between Apple and Intel’s processing capabilities.

This is a just a guess, but I’m sensing there’s enough of a concern right now that Apple’s processors, while more than capable to power future Macs, may currently still fall short of the most powerful Intel CPUs.

Once they’re able, techo-geeks are sure to scrutinize the capabilities of the new Macs, just as they would any other new computer.

What this possibly means is that for the foreseeable future, the real die-hard content creators demanding ultra-powerful computing will still need Intel-powered Macs, thereby compelling Apple to cater to them.

The other reason for Apple to keep selling Intel-powered Macs has to do with maintaining revenue. Many hardcore users rely on the x86 architecture to allow running Windows in a dual-boot or virtualization scenario.

Cutting off these users would likely just make them jump over to Windows for good.

I’ve been busy… creating

I have been out of action for some time – that is, not blogging lately. Nor have I been able to make new videos.

It’s been pretty frustrating. Much of this has to do with the fact that my work schedule had become very busy as of late. Despite the economic downturn, we’ve been really hard at work with two major marketing initiatives.

Another reason for my absence is that I’ve been wanting to refocus more of my blogging efforts around creating content – rather than just writing about marketing trends and news.

The fact of the matter is that in marketing, nothing really matters more than creating content. Without content, marketing simply doesn’t exist.

It just so happens that I really enjoy making new content. From copywriting, to sketching out ideas for illustrations and diagrams, coding out things for the web, and even making production-quality artwork on occasion.

I’ve really been wanting to write more on my blog about tips and insights on crafting content, providing both practical advice and (hopefully) small bursts of inspiration.

But in order to write about creating content, you need to be actively making content, too, so you can tell the stories about what you’ve just made.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do lately.

The problem, however, is that creating content takes time, and very often, much more time than you would like or anticipate. So that in turn slows down the ability to blog about the stuff you’re making.

Making content on the side

When I’m not working, I enjoy learning new stuff about creating, and making my own things – for my website, or producing a new video.

I really have a lot of fun in the process, and it also serves as a great opportunity to acquire new skills, get some much-desired practice. Quite often, what I do on the side ultimately benefits my primary marketing occupation.

So now, let me share what I’ve been working on lately: a personalized dashboard for things related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Below is just a work in progress.

My personal, custom COVID-19 dashboard

It’s basically a collection of charts I’ve customized to my own interests, including specific US states I’ve chosen to track closely.

In addition to serving as my very own, one-stop information resource, I’ve also been able to stretch my web development know-how in several ways:

  • Getting familiar with the popular ChartJS library for creating data visualizations.
  • Using CSS Grid for fast, super-simple web content layout .
  • Beginning the process of getting up to speed with modern JavaScript coding.
  • Accessing a third-party data source API. I’m using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

As I stated earlier, this is still just a work in progress. There is much more to do, like better styling for the charts, and bringing in data from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. I’m actively following key economic trends related to COVID-19.

Get in there and do it!

In the end, there really is no better way to gain experience and comfort with content creation, than actually doing it yourself!

Even better is when you’re having lots of fun through it all. It’s always satisfying to see what you’ve accomplished with your latest creation, whatever it may be.