Inspire me
23rd September, 2011

True to form, yesterday Facebook rolled out a whole host of new features at its F8 developer conference. The pick of the bunch was a new timeline (see what mine looks like on the right) and closer integration with music and media services. The latter will now be integrated into the platform through social apps.

A central part of this last development is that anything you do on these services – I’ve installed Spotify and the Guardian so far – will be automatically shared on your Facebook profile and through the new Facebook Ticker. This means every track you listen to, every article you read will be shared. The service is opt-out, so most of what you do will be shared automatically.

Selective v. forced sharing

Selective sharing – where you decide what you want to share with others – is how it has always been on the web and there is a lot to commend about this approach. But for Zuckerberg, it is clearly not enough. And, while social media cheerleaders will happily be pumping every Spotify track and Yahoo News article they read in front of their poor friends/subscribers/fans, I suspect the vast majority of Facebook users will be less enthusiastic.

Forced – or what Zuckerberg calls ‘frictionless’ – sharing will bring about a stream of consciousness, pulling in everything you do on the web.

I think there are a number of key problems with this approach that might come back to bite Zuckerberg in the arse:

  • Information overload – an obvious one here, but the increase in the amount of content will merely add to the sense of information overload. Will Facebook’s algorithms be able to effectively pick out the gems (in your eyes) from the tosh?
  • Privacy – Privacy has often been an issue for Facebook and the reason for this seems to lie in the fact that Zuckerberg’s vision – where everything should be seen by everyone – is at odds with what most users want and also how the site was initially constructed. It’s not hard to see how these latest feature changes make privacy harder and harder to control…
  • Lack of curation – but perhaps the most important issue I have with all this is the lack of curation, the lack of quality control. Some of the stuff I listen to on Spotify is awful. After a few seconds I regret listening to it and move onto something else. But my fans on Facebook won’t necessarily know that. Sharing works best for me when people I am linked up with identify something they think is great and actively make a decision to share it with others. This new forced sharing approach seems to overlook this fundamental process. And that is something that, for me, makes sharing less useful.

continue reading: Facebook’s risky new approach to (forced) sharing...

14th December, 2009

Anyone that knows me, reads this blog or follows me on Twitter will know I’m addicted to my iPhone. Why is it so great? Simple; it’s all about the apps.

The iPhone isn’t a phone at all really, it’s a mini computer giving me access to the web, Twitter, games, news etc.

The Guardian iPhone App

So the launch today of the Guardian’s iPhone app is exciting (especially as this is my paper of choice).

And the app is great. The Guardian have been a bit late to this game, with other national newspapers releasing apps a while ago, but it seems they have been using the time to create an app that is slick, very functional and user friendly, packed with a range of great features.

There is offline reading and audio playback, the ability to favourite articles and even customise the homepage, picture galleries with full screen viewing and the option to browse by subject and author or look at ‘trending articles’.

There are some aspects missing. I’d love to see a ‘share on Twitter’ function and also the inclusion of article comments - however, in an interview I did with him over on the Wildfire blog, Guardian Product Manager Jonathon Moore advised this will come.

There is a cost however: £2.39. For me, this is a small amount to pay. I know that all this content is available for free online via a browser, but there are additional features (e.g. offline browsing) and a better interface that I would happily pay for.

The ‘free’ debate

So how does this affect the paid-for debate around news content. I’m happy to pay the equivalent of three print newspapers for this app – for me, that equals value. And surely value is the key thing here. I’ll pay for something if I attach value to it (as long as the value assigned equals the value I attach to it).

The Guardian has said it is unlikely to put up a paywall and I would support this strategy. I don’t think across-the-board paywalls are the answer for newspapers. And I think the Times will suffer with theirs.

Papers needs to work out where they can really add value in contrast to their competition (other papers, bloggers etc.).  The Guardian app seems like a good example of how this can happen in practice.

continue reading: At £2.39 the Guardian iPhone app adds value...

12th October, 2009

I’ve always thought there was a real gap for someone to come in and revamp the way we read and discover local news. It’s widely known that traditional, local media is in turmoil with papers disappearing on a regular basis. But surely there is a need for good quality local communication? Surely there is a market for it?

My local online news source Surbiton.com does a good job and has a loyal readership, but I think there is more that could be done in this niche.

So it’s interesting to read today that the Guardian is planning to launch a local news project in a small number of locations – Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh:

“Guardian Local is a small-scale experimental approach to local newsgathering. We are focusing on three politically engaged cities and we expect to launch in early 2010,” said Emily Bell, the director of digital development at Guardian News & Media. Sarah Hartley, the Guardian Local launch editor said: “While researching developments at the grassroots of community journalism, I’ve been impressed by the range and depth of coverage from local websites and blogs. This experimental project reflects both the shifting nature of journalism and the reality on the ground.”

The challenge of course lies in the business model, but it is a bold move and one that, done correctly, could prove very profitable. The social media potential too is obviously limitless…

continue reading: The fight for local news...

15th July, 2009

Mike Butcher’s written a great piece on Techcrunch in response to Paul Carr’s latest column in the Guardian, which lambasts the state of London’s start-up scene. Mike’s counter argument is both well thought-out and winning (which you would expect given his job and stature).

But it’s his comments about the media industry in general that I really want to cover. He flags up Paul Carr’s announcement (via Twitter of course) that he’ll no longer be doing his Guardian column: “The Guardian has slashed its freelance budget. Result – no more column from me. Thought about writing it for free, but meh.”

I think Paul Carr’s great (and I know many don’t!). Yes, he’s arrogant, big headed and likes to name-drop. He’s also prone to putting the cat amongst the pigeons. But that is all deliberate and, whilst I sometimes don’t agree with the point he’s making, it makes you think and is often the start of a wider, more useful debate (of which this is a good example). His column also fills a gap in the Guardian’s output and, as far as I can tell from the sheer volume of comments and tweets, surely drives a significant amount of traffic.

So why is he going?

Well, declining print ad revenues etc. etc. mean less money for expensive freelance columnists – and I imagine that Paul Carr certainly fits into that bracket. Which does seem odd considering his popularity. But, as Mike states:

“…here’s a newspaper culling a column that almost certainly punched above its weight in terms of traffic, and probably got a lot more comments and reader interaction than the average post on that site. How many traditional journos would get this kind of reaction?

“That’s significant because at the same time “traditional” journalists (some of whom are my best friends btw) are doing their best to try and grapple with writing stories, blogging, posting videos and metaphorically washing up the boss’s coffee cup in the staff kitchen at the same time.”

Paul’s words aren’t lost forever! He was well-known before writing for the Guardian, and being on their books won’t have done his book sales any harm at all. But it is yet another indictment of the decline of ‘traditional media’ and the power and rise of bloggers and media ‘personalities’ who don’t need a publishing house behind them to be successful. And that’s great for people like Carr. It’s harder though for less forthright journalists.

UPDATE: Interestingly, Carr has posted an update on his blog:

“Initially I mooted the idea of carrying on writing for free until the economics started to look better but, yunno, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that would be a bad idea.

“The truth of the matter is, I’m rubbish at writing for free. You only have to look at how infrequently this blog is updated, and how badly it is when it is, to see the problem.”

He also suggests that he is likely to be ‘back soon’:

“Flatteringly, since Twittering the news of my most recent parting of ways I’ve had a few interesting offers – both online and off – which would allow me to continue the column. I’ve dismissed a few, shortlisted a handful and am seriously interested in maybe three.”

continue reading: Farewell Paul Carr?...

16th June, 2009

There’s lots of digital news going on today and so it would be easy to miss a blogging story that should really be given more attention. The Times has reported that it has won a landmark verdict in the High Court allowing the paper to reveal the identity of police-blogger NightJack.

The verdict has forced the blogger to close the site and delete the content.

The NightJack blog describes described, worts and all, on-the-beat policing, featuring some stinging attacks on the organisation and the government. But it was the insights into everyday policing that lead the blog and the blogger to be awarded an Orwell Prize in April. As a Guardian editorial put it:

“This is life as the police see it. Read it, even if only to disagree.”

Well, disagree The Times did and reporting on the case it disclosed:

“In the first case dealing with the privacy of internet bloggers, the judge ruled that Mr xx had no “reasonable expectation” to anonymity because “blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity”.”

Blogger Zoe Margolis who was also unmasked by the same newspaper blogs:

“There will be others, of course, who’ll applaud this judge’s ruling for upholding “freedom of information” and “openness and transparency” for the “public interest” stories covered by journalists.  But those of us who have chosen to be anonymous online, have done so with good reason; so after losing my own anonymity, and experiencing first hand the ruthless behaviour of some elements of the press, I will continue to fight for the right of other bloggers to keep their identity hidden.”

For some anonymity empowers them to say and expose things they might not otherwise say or expose, as Jemima Kiss states, “there are occasions when anonymity is a powerful and necessary tool and a right that protects whistleblowers and brings important issues to light. A blanket ruling that disregards that right is very bad news indeed.”

I’m not au fait with the political and legal ranglings of the case but I do know that at a time when bloggers are exposing great injustices in the world, it is sometimes necessary to write behind a veil in order to reveal what is really happening.

continue reading: Goodnight NightJack...

10th June, 2009

The Twitterverse was today privy to a debate that, in pre micro-blogging days, might well have taken place behind closed doors.

The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger and outspoken Labour MP (and blogger/Twitterer) Tom Watson engaged in a bit of tweeting on the subject of the Guardian’s treatment of Gordon Brown and Rusbridger’s own anti-Labour editorial last week:

Oh to be a fly on the wall at that morning conference (the daily meeting where the paper’s editors gather to discuss and plan the day’s coverage).

Later, Rusbridger also confirmed that Watson would be writing for the paper tomorrow as well:

Great to watch the media v politics drama unfolding and kudos to the two protagonists both for the offer and the acceptance!

Read the coverage of the story on the Guardian and Journalism.co.uk

continue reading: Ding ding – Rusbridger v. Watson...

3rd May, 2009

Yesterday on the Guardian website, Hazel Blears sent out a (thinly) veiled criticism of Gordon Brown and, in particular, his recent YouTube video (above), the reception to which has been pretty poor to say the least.

Blears comments:

“People want to look their politicians in the eyes and get their anger off their chests. We need a ministerial “masochism strategy”, where ministers engage directly and hear the anger first-hand. I’m not against new media. YouTube if you want to. But it’s no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up a stall in the town centre.”

In uttering this statement, Blears demonstrates her ignorance of social media (done properly). Say what you like about her communication strategy (some think this was a perfectly timed outburst for the Blarite, others feel it will do her own career a great deal of damage), but her real attack here is not against YouTube, but against the way it has been used.

Pick the right medium for the right person for the right message

Putting Gordon Brown on YouTube, where he clearly doesn’t feel comfortable, is as much a mistake of his publicists and spin doctors than anyone else. And the above is essentially political suicide. Especially when the comparisons with Mr Obama are plain and just too easy to make. That is a battle the PM is never going to win.

So perhaps Blears is onto something. Brown should focus on what he knows and is comfortable doing. Whatever you think of his policies (and I fear he won’t last the summer), you have to admit that this does him no favours at all.

I don’t want to suggest that politicians should focus on trying to become public-friendly celebrities or that they should be PR-ed to the hilt (that did and didn’t work for Tony Blair). But a little bit of positive coverage could be vital for the beleaguered PM.

Thought leadership without a thought leader

But then perhaps the problem lies deeper. Perhaps this isn’t about mediums or personalities.

As PRs and marketers, we are all working with what we have. Is everything marketable? Only to a certain extent. Don’t expect someone to write about your product if its not a purple cow. You can’t sustain thought leadership without a thought leader.

Far too often, we try and take something mediocre and put a (false) gloss on it. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t. And you feel that part of the ‘bad press’ the PR and marketing industries get is purely down to this.

And, increasingly, social media is being seen as a magic wand for this stuff. Traditional techniques aren’t working, so let’s just set up a YouTube channel or start twittering or blogging.

This is a dangerous strategy, where the ‘online world’ is less forgiving; Number 10 has been forced to close comments on the above video! This is especially dangerous. Why use social media if you disable the ‘social’ element. And this from a government that harps on about transparency.

The desires of Ms Blears – We need a ministerial “masochism strategy”, where ministers engage directly and hear the anger first-hand – is easier to do with social media than anywhere else. But not when the strategy and its output is so shortsighted.

So what does this tell us about the above video, the Prime Minister and the current government?

Something is wrong here. Is it the message? The messenger? Or the medium? I expect YouTube will still be around, long after the current PM and his policies have been confined to the history books.

continue reading: Oi Blears! Dont blame the medium...

4th March, 2009

Poor old ITV. Just when it looks as though they might be getting it together, it all goes wrong.

Today’s announcement is hardly surprising considering the nature of TV, TV advertising, advertising in general etc. and, of course, the ‘economic climate’.

I don’t really watch ITV – only really the football (and even that is in trouble) – and rarely rarely rarely visit the website.

Over at the Guardian, Jemima Kiss has a nice analysis of exactly what today’s ‘restructuring’ will mean for the company:

“With a share price already at a rock bottom 23.75p, ITV has been forced to take some drastic action. But ditching digital and abandoning investment in the most innovative parts of its business is extremely short sighted. If you think of a business as a family, these young digital businesses are the children that haven’t yet achieved their full potential, and ITV has given up on them already.”

And for the most part I agree with this viewpoint, although getting rid of portals like Friends Reunited is hardly surprising. What is surprising is that ITV has simply failed to find a niche in this new fangled digital world.

The local video arena that Jemima mentions is an interesting one and is certainly ripe for the taking. Especially with the demise of local media in general. Over in the US, the NYT is launching a new blog network to try and capture local news. In my mind, ITV are ideally placed to do the same here in the UK. But can they? Will they? Doesn’t look likely after today.

continue reading: What next for ITV?...

16th February, 2009
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/santos/45551194/

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/santos/45551194/

You may have read the article in the Guardian today from Marketing’s editor Lucy Barrett.

In it, she highlights a new site from KitKat:


Don’t bother visiting – it does (or not) what it says on the tin – a bit lame if you ask me!

HOWEVER, the real story behind this, which Barrett seems unaware of, is that KitKat initially registered the URL incorrectly:


The correct URL then proceeded to get cybersquatted!

KitKat seems to have recovered the situation as both URLs are now under their control. But it is still quite funny! Ooops!

Hat-tip to Briman1970 on Namepros.com – no-one else seems to have picked it (or his/her post) up…

continue reading: Y Speling Mattrs...

11th February, 2009

Oh dear.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged €600m (£565m) to help the country’s troubled newspaper industry. Ok, not too bad, news in certainly important.

But, he goes further….

He had added that he will give every teenager a free, one-year, state-subsidised subscription to a daily newspaper of their choice, as an 18th birthday cadeau.

Non? Oui. His words:

“The habit of reading a daily paper takes root at a very young age.”

Ok, so just forget about all the issues surrounding free press etc. etc. for a moment. I can understand the need to preserve the media. If state aid is the way to do this then fine. But why encourage youngsters down the route that will get media companies into the same situation again. As the lovely Guardian says:

“Sarkozy said he would increase sales points, loosen rules and pump aid into distributing papers to readers’ front doors. The number one problem is the cost of printing in France, with printworks tightly controlled by the communist union, Le Livre, which has rigid hours and protections. Sarkozy said the state would support negotiations with printers’ unions to reduce the costs by 30-40%.”

Ok, so printing is a problem. Ummmm…. Hmmm….. I wonder what could solve that?

This Week in Tech had an interesting discussion this week. They were reporting on a story from Business Insider which claimed that it costs the New York Times twice as much to print and deliver the paper each year than it would cost the paper to send each of its subscribers a free Amazon Kindle [with which they could read the digital edition].

They estimate that to print and deliver the NYT, it costs $644 million per year! Ouch!

So M. Président, by all means bail out the media companies. But put in place a caveat that they need to start investing in the modern day infrastructure that means they can start running a well-oiled business that is fully self-sufficient and realises when to change, move on and develop its ways.

Don’t believe me? Read what other [younger] people think (courtesy of the lovely Guardian again).

Ça va?

continue reading: Non, non et non, Monsieur le Président...