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Two kinds of Smart City – Hi-Tech Cities and Efficient Cities

When we say Smart City, what do we mean?

It’s now something of a buzz-phrase, though it never used to be. The terms returned thanks in part to high profile projects from companies like Alphabet (Sidewalk) and Microsoft (Bill Gates’ Belmont). That and the growing accessibility of technology.

Buzz or no buzz, making our cities the best they can be is important to a sustainable, livable future. But what does Smart City actually mean?

From my time in the Smart City space, I’ve seen people use the term in two ways.

Cities built smart

One, perhaps more ‘classic’ idea of a of Smart City is about design and planning – a city that’s built in a smart way. For clarity, I’ll call this the Efficient City.

What matters in an Efficient City is different for everyone, but there are some common themes. Low-impact infrastructure delivery is generally emphasised, as is efficient transport – although not everyone agrees on what efficient transport is.

Cities that are smart

The second definition of smart cities refers to cities that are smart – where the city actually thinks. Of course that ‘thinking’ is dispersed across lots of small processors installed into bricks, concrete, and steel. I’ll call this the Hi-Tech City.

The Hi-Tech City could feature everything from phone charging stations and public wifi, to road sensors and motion detecting street lights.

Which smart is the smarter smart?

Today most people associate Smart Cities with the Hi-Tech City concept. That’s partially thanks to the growing visibility of the Internet Of Things (IOT), cheap mobile internet to power the IoT, as well as the smart-home movement.

But this thinking isn’t always good for cities. At least not by itself.

No doubt, Hi-Tech Cities offer huge promise for the future. This ranges from the super sexy to the mind-numbingly boring, from game-changing importance to complete distraction.

A two by two matrix plotting the Smart City projects. The x axis measures importance, the y axis measures sexiness. Projects in Sexy and important include on-demande transport and self driving car research, while boring and important includes 5g networks, remote sensors, self driving car policy and transport modal shift.

If the sexy-distracting box is Facebook to planners and futurists, then the boring-important box is their homework.

Tech for tech sake is a mistake

When we build better cities – smart ones or otherwise – we need to use the right metric to measure success. You might notice most of the tools in the Important boxes above have something in common.

They’re all human-related. If something doesn’t have a human benefit, beit direct or indirect, then it just serves as a distraction from something more important. I admit, 5G networks and remote sensors take are a few steps from direct human benefit, but the rule generally holds.

Efficient Cities have been lucky to have this baked into them from the start. City-efficiency has always been about moving humans quickly and effectively.

But Hi-Tech Cities risk losing this focus, instead hi-tech solutions for their own sake, whether the problem they’re solving requires them or not.

Let’s design for humans

The good news is that most Smart City practitioners are on the same page when it comes to building cities. There are many standards by ISO and the EU, among others, that most folks involved in designing or building Smart Cities are working to.

The risk will come when the public focusses on Sexy-Distracting projects, at the mercy of politics, big personalities, or savvy marketers. These idea bubbles suck up the oxygen needed to fully engage with Sexy-Important and Boring-Important projects.

As such, here are the lesson to learn for Smart City Thinkers and Smart Citiyzens:

Smart City Thinkers:

Don’t lose focus on what’s important for what’s sexy – if you can’t get the priorities right then how can anyone else? Explain to anyone who’ll listen that it’s not about the tech itself – tech just gives us smarter tools to facilitate dumb solutions.

Smart Cityzen:

Don’t focus on the technology, and apply the people-first mindset to everything you think about. If you hear about a new Smart City Widget, consider whether it really makes our cities better for humans, or is just tech for tech sake. Also, make sure to share your insight with others.

Further reading (that I’ve summarised for you):

  • This article on Designing Buildings Wiki does a good job of talking through how we can measure the ‘smartness’ of a city. It doesn’t come to a single conclusion, but it makes a good case that the population of a city is only one factor for how smart it’s likely to be – and larger cities are not necessarily the best performers thus far. It suggests 100,000-150,000 people might be a ‘sweet spot’ for Smart City development.
  • For actual metrics to measure a Smart City by, you could look in a few places. A standard as good as any is found in the European Smart City Model. It uses six factors to measure how smart a city is; Economy, People, Governance, Mobility, Environment, and Living. The rest of the report is fairly convoluted, but those six factors are a good indicator for the sort of KPI’s we should be thinking about ranking Smart Cities on, rather than just how Hi-Tech they are.
  • This Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Trend Paper is a deep drive both on the specific technological trends they identify as key to the future. It’s fairly technical, but it’s an insight into the level of details engineers are working on the Smart City movement. It also identifies key components we may miss if we come from a non-technical background, like the significance of 5G networks and the physical network of IoT connected devices. It also keeps to the commendable theme of designing Smart Cities for humans first, rather than for tech first.

Google digital garage marketing course review

Google is expanding its product line with the enthusiasm of a 17 year old with a fake ID, but it still makes most of its cash from marketers. 27/31sts, as a matter of fact.

So why would Google build a free marketing course? Well, for every small business owner and novice marketer that completes it, Google score themselves a worthy advocate.

Honestly, Google will soon be to marketing technology what Google is to search engines. If it isn’t already.

Get on board.

What is the course?

The Google Digital Marketing course teaches the absolute basics of online marketing. You’ll learn when you need a website, how you might use social media, and the basics of search engine optimisation, Google advertising, and local search.

The course takes a familiar format. Each lesson features a video with a very slow speaking actor. A single question quiz after each video and a topic test every few wins you a badge. Score 26 for a certificate!

Well, a pdf. It’s not a real certificate.

The Google Digital Garage Cliff’s notes

The course covered a lot of ground, but there was no way it could go deep. 10-20 hours of work gets you a solid understanding of the various facets of digital marketing. Even if you’re not totally sure what each one entails.

Here are the eight modules, with my comments on each.

  • Taking a business online – A basic intro topic. Useful if you’re fresh out of the ground, but not that useful otherwise. Feel free to test out if you can.
  • Make it easy for people to find a business on the web – Actually not bad. Reasonably deep dive into search engine visibility and online advertising. This is a good module.
  • Reach more people locally, on social media, or on mobile – This is the next really valuable module. It covers local search, which thanks mostly to Google is becoming super important in doing business online. The social and mobile lessons are also good.
  • Reach more customers with advertising – Ah, the soft sell! Decent coverage of the basics of search and display advertising, but stops short of discussing any specific tools or tactics.
  • Track and measure web traffic – Pretty brief introduction to analytics. I’m not sure how useful this would have been for me if I wasn’t already using Google Analytics everyday.
  • Sell products or services online – Very basic coverage of ecommerce. Too vague to be particularly relevant to me, and it wouldn’t go into enough depth to actually be useful to an ecommerce business.
  • Take a business global – This felt like lesson stuffing honestly. Nothing in the last two modules is wrong or bad, just not very useful without more detail.

Admittedly, the course doesn’t claim to be a marketing degree, nor should it be one. However, the lack of detail in the final modules will frustrate curious learners.

What does the course does well

Despite my complaints, I really like this course. The topics were dry, but still accessible.

What I really liked was the localisation – I had Australian actors and local case studies. Both actors were very white, but I can overlook that for now.

What Digital Garage could do better

This is a breadth course, aimed to get new marketers up to speed, or small businesses online. If you’re curious like me, jump into a more specific course once you’re done.

Unfortunately, this course doesn’t put you on that path, which would be useful. In fact, the whole course could make better use of external resources to make up for its lack of depth.

Who is the Google Digital Garage course for?

A week after I finished this course, I recommended it to a friend who just scored a marketing gig with a not for profit. She was a journalist like I was, so had great communication and writing skills, but was new to marketing. The course was perfect for her.

If you’re new to marketing or want to take your small business online, do this course. If you dream of making extra cash online, do this course. If you want to better understand how money is made online, this course is a good start.

Has the course helped me yet?

I did the course six months after my switch from journalism to marketing, still a marketing noob. I wrote this review over the following weeks, so I don’t have a lot of data to go on.

For what it’s worth, I did get a HR bot offer me an interview the day after I put the certificate on Linkedin. That’s only happen a few times for me.

And I apparently appeared in a search for a Google employee. But I also appeared in searches from City of Darwin and the Australian Tax Office staff. So I’m not reading into that.

So no, it hasn’t done a lot for me yet, but that’s not why I did the course. I did it for a minor bona fide I could put on my Linkedin, and to fill in some jargon gaps.

Should you take the course?

If you read this far down then yes, you should do the course. If you’re interested enough to do this much research, then you might as well go and finish the course itself.

Do yourself a favour. Stop reading reviews like this. Instead of getting other’s opinions, get your own. Put the certificate on your Linkedin when you’re done and wait for the HR bots to roll in.


The problem with content (or ‘Stop calling it content’)

The word Content deserves to be a lot more controversial than it is. While it shouldn’t be up there with Synergy, Integration, or even Agile (which is a bit useful), it’s marketing jargon that you should stop using so much.

Here’s the quick version. Stop calling what you produce content. At the very least, stop using around people who you need to explain the term to.

I write this from a background as a generalist (wait for it) content creator, rather than a purely business background. There’s a conversation about focusing on content marketing or product, but that’s another issue.

The slightly longer story of content

It seems ubiquitous now, but the term content is a new one. Before the internet increased communication speed and technology reduced the number of people required to put out a publication, roles were more specialised.

As a result, most creatives could easily explain our jobs by describing out output. James is a photographer, he takes photos for National Geographic. Jill is a journalist, she writes articles for the New York Times. David is a television presenter, he hosts game shows on Channel 7.

But the content specialist is becoming rarer, and creative individuals boast much more varied portfolios than their predecessors. My most recent full time job was as the ‘Content Producer’. That effectively meant I wrote EDMs and the monthly newsletter, managed the social media accounts, wrote and edited the company blog (while developing a content SEO strategy), and was the in house photographer and videographer.

Admittedly that was an in house role in a company of only around 100 employees. But even at the ABC, the Australian public broadcaster with thousands of employees, staff would regularly juggle two or three roles, publishing for online, social, radio, and TV.

Within creative industries, that’s lead to the need for a larger word to describe overall output, which content seems to fit. An interesting example of this is in radio broadcasting, another life of mine. Where stations used to have a Program Director that called the shots about what went to air, the preferred title is not Content Director. The main reason for the change was to bring the essentials of web publishing under the umbrella of their production teams.

So the term content is useful and appropriate. What’s the problem?

For marketers, YouTubers, bloggers, or photographers, Content refers to their overall output. When that output straddles multiple media types, Content is a perfectly legitimate term to use.

The problem is Content doesn’t really mean anything out of context. It’s literally means the same thing as Stuff.

So when you describe yourself as a Content Creator (one of my least favourite terms) you’re not actually telling me anything. Tell me you’re a YouTuber, a novelist, or a copywriter, and we’ve at least got somewhere to start.

But what about Content outside of a job title? I believe the same rules apply. By using a term that is synonymous with Things, you’re not actually communicating anything of substance. If you say you’ll ‘create content’ around a product launch, you’re not really describing anything at all.

Of course, sometimes abstraction is important, which is why there is a place for the term. But that place is internal, higher level conversations. If you’re building a content strategy, or referring to the overall reach of a wide variety of work, then Content is likely a useful word.

But what do we call words that mean nothing outside their industry? Jargon. And that’s exactly what we should see Content as.

Tim. This argument doesn’t seem very important.

I know we’re arguing semantics here, but this practice does cause us to lose something.

Firstly, using words to say nothing is inefficient, and makes you a bad communicator. You’ll be a bore at parties, and you could be getting less work as a result. Quickly identifying your skills could be the difference between landing a job and not.

It also devalues your work. When you use a term that means nothing, you risk saying your work means nothing.

There’s another point about wanting to box oneself in. By calling yourself a Content Creator, it feels like you do more than just write blogs, make videos, or post photos on Instagram.

But that’s something to be proud of! Wear your skills on your sleeve, and let people know who and what you are from the very beginning! Creation isn’t something that comes easily, and in 2018 no one worth impressing will disregard what you do as childish or an easy ride.

The anti-content challenge

Here’s something you could try. Start being conscious of when you use the word Content. You don’t have to not use it, just make a mental note that it came up.

Next, start figuring out whether a more specific term would communicate your point better. Think about what you’re trying to say, and who you’re saying it to. Content might still be the right word a lot of the time. But if it’s not then you shouldn’t use it, for the reasons above.

If your audience is outside your industry, they might understand you better if you’re more descriptive. If you’re at work, you might make a better point if you can help someone see a clearer picture of what you’re proposing.

This is a good practice for any crutch word, I used it all the time as a radio presenter.

Of course, sometimes you need an outside opinion to realise which words you’re over relying on.