Will Dean's Ideas Factory: Tracking phone call lengths


It is, once mused an actor of east-endish origins, good to talk. Since mobile phones tipped into the mainstream in the late Nineties, we've had voice contact with everyone from loved ones to the local pizza delivery place a pocket's distance away.

But, according to the CTIA, the trade group representing the US wireless industry, the average length of our mobile phone calls has dropped drastically in the last six years. In 2006 the average call was 3.03 minutes long. By the end of 2011 they were down to 1.78 minutes. Why have we stopped talking? (Or, at least, paying to talk.)

The answer, at least according to a lengthy report in The Wall Street Journal, is – like so many things – down to Apple and its 2007 release of the iPhone, which allowed users to communicate via numerous non-call routes including voice-over-internet protocol, email and, latterly (the fee-free) iMessage. The other smartphones that followed Apple only furthered this troublesome development for the phone networks (who will counter it with increased unlimited-call packages).

It's not just smartphones, though. Since 2006, Facebook has gained as many users as there were on the entire web at its inception in 2004. Twitter has no doubt eaten into the SMS market, too. Do we need to ring cousin Dave to see how his newborn is doing, when we can see pictures of the baby on Facebook and get instant updates from the delivery room? Possibly not. But we won't stop chatting. This week sees the launch of Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning's peer-to-peer chat network Airtime, which hopes to do to the phone industry what their Napster did to music. Which could be great news, unless you own shares in 02 or AT&T.

More: on.wsj.com/M7yFlA

A Napoleonic approach to brands

There was much amusement this week after a blogger Philip Howard (the author of a genteel account of life on a North Carolina island) noted that his e-reader – Barnes and Noble's popular own-brand Nook – had replace Leo Tolstoy's various mention of the word "kindled" in War and Peace to "Nookd" as a riposte to its Amazonian rival, the Kindle.

The error was a mistake by the manufacturers, obviously. But it points to an interesting juncture where corporations try to get users to make their products verbs – ie, "let me google that".

Indeed, the recent TV remake of Hawaii Five-0 may never recover from one its characters proclaiming: "Don't believe me? Bing it!" But owning a verb can be dangerous ground. As The Independent's Rhodri Marsden wrote last year (ind.pn/genbrands), if a brand name became generic – if we referred to having read an e-book as having "Nookd" it– the branding could potentially lose all its value. Which is why Larry and Sergey rarely "google" anything. And not only that, it might ruin one of the greatest pieces of 19th-century literature.

Bring out your dead... sports shoes

If you're anything like me, the bottom of your wardrobe is likely filled with old trainers that are too healthy to bin, but too knackered to wear outside.

Not many retailers offer a chance to return worn old goods, but sportswear brand Puma has recently added "Bring Me Back" bins into its stores so it can recycle and repurpose old pairs of King football boots and whatnot. (Other clothing brands are also accepted). Of course many local councils will gladly recycle old clothes, but if the cool of a global brand encourages more people to do it it's no bad thing.

Indeed, Puma has quite decent form for its environmental work. In 2010, it became one of the first companies to put a monetary value on its environmental impact and list it on an environmental profit and loss sheet.

More: bit.ly/pumashare