Digging through the backlot of my blog posting software, I discovered several items I had written but never posted. Here is one, written after I came back from Autodesk University 2012.
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I was puzzled why Autodesk this year added a pair of commands to AutoCAD 2013 and its other CAD software that lead to NSFW sites, Facebook and Twitter. It seemed like an anti-corporate move. After all, when design firms remove USB ports from workstations (to prevent IP theft), they're not going to then allow employees to catch up on company time what their friend's cat ate for lunch.
After attending AU, I understand that those two commands -- ai_open_facebook_with_product and ai_open_twitter_with_product -- were just a first experiment in social computing. Facebook and Twitter provide no-cost environments for companies like Autodesk to experiment with social. Can we get lots of fans, and be associated with today's cool thing.
The drawback to for-profit corporations being on Facebook and Twitter is that these two collect all the advertising revenue. In response, Autodesk decided to acquire and build its own social network.
So at the Media Day and at AU last week, Autodesk emphasized that social was important (plus a couple of other pithy words I've since forgotten. Cloud? Could be this was another of them.) They boasted repeatedly of having now 95 million customers [now 130 million]. (The number does not include the 78 million customers that fled SocialCAM between June and October.)
Members of the media, some of whom have been in the CAD business longer than most Autodesk employees, asked a pertinent question:
If your CAD software sells for thousands of dollars a copy, and if social software sells for free or a few dollars at most, how do you plan to make significant revenues from social media?
Autodesk has a number of sources in mind, Mary Hope McQuiston told us. She is the new director of marketing and business development at Autodesk's consumer group. The source that stuck with me was advertising.
Now, nowadays you don't just stick an ad somewhere and hope that people notice it. That's the old model and it's causing a lot of newspapers to fail and many magazines to fold. No, the new way is to learn as much as possible about each person and then target their socio-economic-status-desires-friends -- plus anything else that in the past was considered none of your business.
In the past, this was called "one-to-one marketing," and today it is still is sufficient immature that much of the time it doesn't work out well. (Ads from Staples, for instance, keep following me around on Web pages like a lost cat, even though I bought that new laptop or the new 32GB USB drive from other stores.) It is scary to think what targeted advertising will be like once it is no longer immature.
Autodesk's plan is to mine the personal data of its 95 130 million customers (give or take 78 million), sell the information to advertisers, who will then bombard the free Autodesk apps you're running with information relating to the hundred thousand hot singles available in Russia. Maybe the ads will even appear in AutoCAD.
For we customers, our solution is to become more opaque to the data miners:
- Use multiple browsers
- Turn on the privacy mode in browsers
- Employ multiple email addresses
- Give real looking information that's fake, like [your area code]-555-1212 for a phone number
- Turn off WiFi when playing games on your smartphone (a tip from my daughter).
- Oh, and perhaps pay for apps to turn off the ads.
What once was none-of-your-business is now the business of advertising. That's why Autodesk is hot on social, and why Autodesk loves the cloud. Without the cloud, it could not bombard us with targeted advertising through its apps, whether on the desktop or on mobile devices.
And so you know why Autodesk ceo Carl Bass says all software needs to move to the cloud. The "A" in Autodesk now may well stand for Advertising.