Friday, 23 November 2007

Getting coverage on blogs

It's a terribly belated write-up (I've been moving house, I have an excuse) but I very much enjoyed the discussions at last week's Social Media Club session on how to get coverage on blogs - thanks to Niall Cook, Ronna Porter and Lloyd Davis for organising and facilitating it.

I no longer work in PR, but I do blog here and elsewhere, and I sometimes get sent press releases by misguided souls who probably don't realise that this blog only gets about 25 unique visitors on a good day, so I'm quite interested in this emerging discipline of 'blogger relations'.

It was especially interesting to learn that even people who work in online PR on a daily basis are still very much in trial and error mode when it comes to getting bloggers to write about their brands and products and companies.

However, it does seem that the bare bones of the discipline are starting to come together now, and it's nice to see the knowledge being shared across the industry thanks to the act of blogging itself. The other day, for example, Drew Benvie at Hotwire drew (no pun intended) my attention to a very useful post on the Pro Blogger blog that lists 21 tips for pitching to bloggers.

Then there's the useful feedback from bloggers on how they do and don't like to be pitched - if indeed they tolerate being pitched at all. Tom Coates's and Charles Arthur's outbursts on the subject are probably required reading now on every PR degree course in the country.

Anyway, as my own little contribution, I've made a list of five potential ways to secure coverage *without* pitching to bloggers directly, which came out of the discussion at last week's event:

1. Become a blogger yourself. You're much more likely to earn the trust, respect and attention of other bloggers if you have a decent blog too. You'll soon understand what works and what doesn't, and you'll meet some really interesting people into the bargain.

2. Get to know other bloggers. The more that bloggers know you personally, trust you and understand what you're doing, the more they'll be inclined to write about you. And if you think "they're not supposed to be writing about me; they're supposed to be writing about my company", you need to think again. In blogosphere, you *are* the company. PR people are used to being an invisible link between the brand and the media, but that doesn't work in the blogosphere, so get out there, comment on blogs, meet bloggers at events, have interesting discussions, write those discussions up on your own blog, build relationships.

3. Get some media coverage. This may seem counter-intuitive, and quite a few bloggers would probably shout me down for saying this, but a lot of what bloggers write is driven by what they see in the mainstream media. A quirky story in a popular online publication (it must be online, so that bloggers can link to it) can net you no end of secondary coverage and commentary on blogs.

4. Create the content yourself. If you write an interesting enough blog post, put an interesting enough photo on Flickr, or an interesting enough video on YouTube, people will find it, write about it and link to it. You don't have to spend millions on a viral campaign - just create something that the right people will find interesting.

5. Make the most of social networks. If you post your interesting blog post, video or photo to your Facebook account, it'll automatically be seen by all your friends, who might want to share it with their friends, who might want to share it, etc. etc. There are bound to be bloggers somewhere in your network, and this is a great way of bringing content to their attention without trying to 'persuade' anyone to write about anything. (If it doesn't get picked up, it probably wasn't interesting enough - have another go)

More reports from the Social Media Club session available at:

Richard's Blog - Last night's Social Media Club event

Renaissance Chambara - Event: SocialMediaClub London

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Social Media Club, tonight, H&K, Soho Square

Tonight I'll be putting off finishing the packing in order to attend the Social Media Club debate organised by Hill & Knowlton (where I used to work once upon a time) in their office bar in Soho Square.

The event has a very topical theme: it's a discussion about how (if at all) PRs and marketers should pitch to bloggers and podcasters.

Here's the summary:

Pitch Off! The Love-Hate Relationship Between Bloggers and Marketers

In this session, we'll explore the changing relationship between bloggers/podcasters and marketers. Do bloggers want to be 'pitched' to by companies eager to tell the world about their latest, greatest products, and if so how should this be done? And what about the marketers – at what point does building relationships with bloggers verge on spamming? By bringing together the 'pitchers' and the 'pitched' we'll try and identify some mutual common ground.

I've been both pitcher and pitched in my time, so it should be interesting. Plus it's free to attend, which sounds like a bargain to me! You can view the attendee list and sign up here.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Online video: the cause of, and solution to, all of US TV's problems?

Since I've been writing this blog I've noticed a recurring theme: while almost everyone in the media and entertainment sectors agrees that the internet represents the future of their industry, no one yet knows how to build a profitable business online.

Whether you're the head of a music label, a movie studio executive, a TV network boss or the new owner of the Wall Street Journal, you all have the exactly the same problem: how can you sell something online when it's already available there for free?

That question is at the heart of the industrial action that's currently bringing American television to a halt. Television networks - represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers - say they won't pay screenwriters any residuals (royalties) for any of their work that gets shown online, because the networks aren't making any money from it themselves.

TV writers - represented by the Writers' Guild of America - argue that the networks may not be making a lot of money from digital content now (although this fact is in itself debatable), but they have every intention of doing so as soon as they figure out how. The writers want to be sure that when the networks do start making serious money from online content, they'll get their fair share too. Until they get some assurance to that effect, they'll remain on strike.

With no rapprochement yet in sight, US television programmes are starting to shut down as they run out of scripts. Topical shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are having to run repeats, while production schedules on dramas like Desperate Housewives and 24 have apparently been delayed. If the strike goes on for months - as the last one did in 1988 - the impact on US television scheduling is likely to be severe.

For social media commentators, this is where it gets interesting. If there's going to be a vacuum in US broadcast television, what's going to fill it? The top social media bloggers, not surprisingly, think that online video holds the answer. Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine suggests that the TV networks should be trawling the internet for talented amateur videos to fill the gaps in scheduled programming, while Duncan Riley at TechCrunch thinks that more people will start watching online video if there's nothing new on TV.

But Jarvis and Riley are naive to think that online video can be a like-for-like replacement for professional television programming. A few online-only productions, such as Bebo's KateModern, have proved their quality by drawing millions of fans. But they're the exception, rather than the rule. In August, I looked at Where Are The Joneses?, an online-only sitcom created by Steve Coogan's production company, Baby Cow. Despite its impressive comedy credentials, the show has still rarely garnered more than a thousand viewers per episode.

And even when an online-only show is produced by a major network and stars one of the hottest comedy properties of the moment, it doesn't mean it will be a roaring success. Clark and Michael, an American web-comedy produced by CBS and starring Arrested Development wunderkind Michael Cera, only counts its viewer figures in the tens of thousands - and that's across the entire globe.

These shows are the cream of the crop of online video: professional productions employing experienced writers, who would undoubtedly refuse to cross picket lines to fill scheduling gaps created by their striking colleagues, even if the TV networks were to heed Jeff Jarvis's advice.

The idea of amateur online video - whatever its inherent qualities - being able to replace prime-time TV programming is laudable, but laughable. Broadcast TV and web TV may become interchangeable in the future, but that day hasn't come yet.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Britain's shrinking army of bloggers

In today's Guardian, Bobbie Johnson salutes 'Britain's community of bloggers', which has 'grown to an army of nearly four million', according to a new survey by Garlik.

Is this the same 'growing' army of bloggers that last July numbered seven million, according to the same paper?

I suppose it all depends on your definition of 'growing'.

(Via The Urban Woo).

Women not techie enough for online media, says Times Online chief

Here's an extraordinary thing: the head of the Times of London's online arm, Times Online, is a woman.

No, that in itself is not the extraordinary thing. The extraordinary thing is that the head of Times Online, Anne Spackman, said on Wednesday that in future there will be fewer women in senior journalistic positions like her own. And that this is because women lack the 'technical skills' to publish their work in new online formats.

Speaking at the Society of Editors conference, Ms Spackman said:

What we need now is a level of journalistic creativity combined with real technical skills. [...] We'll see less of those people driven to journalism through their curiosity about other people's lives, and it will be those people at the junction between editorial and technology that will have the exceptional value.

The vast majority of those are men, so as a result there will be an industry more full of men than there are now.

It's difficult to know where to start with this. Perhaps with some figures: when the Pew Internet research project surveyed 7,012 Americans in 2006, it found that almost half (46%) of Americans who publish a blog are women. Studies by six different research firms agree that there are now more female American internet users than male. Here in the UK, Ofcom's latest report in August revealed that 'among 25- to 34-year-olds, women now spend more time using the internet than men'.

Using the internet is clearly not a problem for women.

'Ah,' you might say, 'but *using* the internet and *publishing content* on the internet are different things. Women might lack the technical skills for the latter.'

To which I would say: 'what technical skills?' Five years ago, I started blogging because I thought it would help me to learn HTML. Disappointingly, I quickly realised that I hardly needed to know any HTML at all. Nowadays, using a blogging tool like WordPress or Blogger, or a content management system, is barely distinguishable from using a word processor. Taking and uploading a digital photograph is about the easiest thing imaginable. The 'technical skills' needed to create online content are negligible, and becoming more so by the day.

That's not to say that there are no skills involved in creating good online content. There are plenty. It requires strong editorial skills, an understanding of what makes a compelling story, and the ability to tell that story in a way that will make people want to read or look at it online. These are all skills at which women and men excel in equal proportions.

So the sooner we get away from the notion that new media is for 'geeks' who 'love technology', the sooner we'll see more journalists - of both genders - embracing the online world and delivering great online journalism. I would have expected someone like Anne Spackman to be doing her utmost to dispel the tedious myth that online publishing is the preserve of techie blokes. Instead, she seems to want to reinforce it. Disappointing.


Right, I'm putting this blog on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I move to Cornwall and get myself sorted out*. Back in December. See you on the other side!

* I realise this makes it sound like I'm going into rehab or something. I'm not. I'm just moving house and setting up a new company. More on that story later!

UPDATE: It appears that I'm back from my hiatus now. That didn't take long...

Friday, 2 November 2007

And finally...

I'm sad to say that today is my last day in the office here at Prompt.

Yes, in the manner of Stephen Duffy leaving Duran Duran just before they hit the big time, I'm off to the West Country to noodle on a mandolin while the others go on to marry supermodels and ponce about on yachts in the Caribbean wearing lime green Armani suits.

Actually I think that analogy broke down somewhere around the word 'mandolin', but never mind.

I've been at Prompt for three and half years, and in that time I've watched it grow from a small four-person PR agency to the 20-person, transatlantic, integrated PR and marketing consultancy it is today. I'm deeply proud to have been a part of that, and I wish Hazel and all my colleagues the very best for the future.

As for me, I'm off to live by the seaside in Cornwall, where I'll continue to write for money. If you have something you want written, and you have some money, and if no one else can help, you know where I am*.

* Clue: I will still be here at this blog.

Professional journalists at loggerheads over social media

At the B2B Marketing Awards last night, my colleague Lance and I were explaining Prompt's (award-winning!) social media monitoring service to one of our fellow gala diners.

"Well, that all sounds marvellous," came the response, "but it's beyond me. I barely know how to text."

Now you might think that with blogging celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year, and Facebook being touted as the advertising and word-of-mouth marketing platform du jour, today's marketers might be more clued up by now about the importance and value of social media.

But if you're more like our table-mate from last night, you can at least take heart that a lot of journalists are equally confused about the 'participatory internet'. The past ten days or so have seen an extraordinary exchange of views about the impact of Web 2.0 on professional journalism, resulting in a high-profile resignation from the National Union of Journalists.

It all started with an opinion article in The Journalist, the NUJ's official publication, entitled 'Web 2.0 Is Rubbish'. In it, the union's National Executive Council representative for new media journalists, Donnacha DeLong, argues that media organisations that embrace Web 2.0 are undermining professional journalism by burying 'authoritative' content under deluges of comments from 'average people' (that's the readers, viewers and listeners), to the extent that some organisations (DeLong doesn't specify which ones, but I imagine the Guardian's Comment is Free site is one of the intended targets) seem to want to remove the journalism entirely and just post comments from readers.

Like Andrew Keen, DeLong appears to believe that only professional journalists are qualified to provide authoritative news and comment, and that amateurs with blogs and digital cameras should not be allowed to assume the role traditionally played by journalists. His position plays into a larger debate about whether journalists should be required by their employers to become multimedia experts, capable of taking and uploading their own photos, editing their own videos and podcasts, and writing blog posts, in an effort to mirror the way that online publishing as a whole is heading.

The NUJ appears to want to protect its members against having to learn and use these new skills, but many journalists believe that the union should instead be helping its members to embrace new Web 2.0 techniques and technologies, otherwise their jobs will be at risk. The Telegraph's online communities editor Shane Richmond and Guardian columnist and blogger Jeff Jarvis both provide critiques of the NUJ's perceived reactionism, while Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade has gone one step further and resigned publicly from the union.

So for any PR people out there struggling to deal with the new world of social media, don't forget that things aren't all that clear-cut on the other side of the fence, either.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

European governments move to control Web 2.0

For a long time, the blogs, virtual worlds and social media sites of the Web 2.0 world have been legislative no-man's-lands: too new, strange and complicated for governments and regulatory authorities to understand.

I'm talking about Western governments, of course; governments in less tolerant places like China, Egypt and Burma have had no qualms about shutting down dissenting blogs, throwing bloggers into prison or even pulling the plug on the entire internet when things go wobbly.

Here in the West, though, we cleave to quaint notions of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech, which is why our governments are having a hard time figuring out what to do about the fact that when millions of people are let loose to express themselves online, unpleasantness inevitably results.

Following then-Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell's appeal in May for British bloggers to behave in a more civilised fashion, the Times reports this week that the UK government is sharpening its interest in illegal goings-on inside virtual worlds, including identity theft, sex offences and - somewhat ominously - 'anti-social behaviour'. Lord Triesman of the Ministry for Innovation, Universities and Skills said at this week's Virtual Worlds Forum that there was "a certain inevitability" about the prospect of increased government control of online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, although he didn't say whether any specific legislation was planned.

In Italy, meanwhile, bloggers have been up in arms about a proposed new law that appears to require anyone with a blog to register with the country's communications regulator as a media site. The act of registration would involve the purchase of official stamps, which is being interpreted as a tax on bloggers. Many Italians see the draft law as a personal vendetta on the part of the government against Beppe Grillo, an influential political blogger known for exposing government corruption. It remains to be seen whether the law will be enacted, and if so, whether it will indeed render any unregistered blog illegal, but it does suggest that the Italian government has been looking at blogs and not liking what it sees.

The main sticking point in both cases is whether a blog or virtual world that is hosted outside the country can be subject to that country's laws. If a blog is hosted on Google's US-based Blogspot servers, like this one is, can the Italian government exercise any jurisdiction over it? The same goes for Brits behaving badly in Second Life - and that's without even considering the difficulty of correctly identifying and apprehending a real-life perpetrator who is masquerading under another name in a world that has no physical substance. For a lot of police officers and government officials, I suspect that real life's already complicated enough.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

And the prize for shortest awards ceremony goes to...

...The Flackenhacks, which by my reckoning took about 15 minutes from start to finish.

Some of this was thanks to the speed-compering skills of Weber Shandwick's Paul Wooding, who was selected on the basis of an impressive ability to tell computer jokes to firemen.

It was also partly due to the fact that in some categories (mainly 'Hacks' Choice of PR Person of the Year' and 'Loveliest Client') there were no nominations whatsoever. Read into that what you will.

Still, hearty congratulations to the winners, and a special round of applause to Microsoft's Phil Devery for the best acceptance speech I've ever heard.

I nicked off to the pub afterwards, but the party seemed to be still in full swing when I passed the Audi Forum in a taxi just now. Good work.

Best consumer tech publication goes to...

...Stuff, who, like most of tonight's winners, couldn't be here in person, but sent a text message of gratitude.

Oh, the glamour.

Best staff hack gong goes to...

...Phil Muncaster of IT Week, who should definitely have won Best Haircut as well.

It's getting very hot in here now

No sign of Stephen Davies, the mysterious 'Third Man' of tonight's blogging troupe. That just leaves the tag team of myself and Mr Smith, and he's got more gossip than I have. Must... make... something... up...

Ooh no, the awards have started!

Peter Kirwan is on stage...TWL still apparently missing in action...wonder if he will put in an appearance at all...

Oh god, the pressure...

Well, here I am at the Flackenhacks - I'm not sure I like this blogging in public the keys are made of metal and only let you type at the rate of one word a minute, so if anything exciting happens, it'll have to happen really slowly.

Also, I've already broken the monitor.

The place is filling up though, and apparently an extra 50 tickets were sold this very afternoon to the great and good of the UK tech PR industry. No sign yet of 'mystery' blogger TWL, although I'm hoping for a dramatic unmasking later on, in the style of a classic Scooby Doo dénouement.


Let the Flackenhacks liveblogging commence!

Lest anyone forget, tonight I will be part of a select team of crack bloggers (not crackbloggers, they're different and more scary), hand-picked to liveblog the Flackenhacks, the self-styled 'alternative awards for the UK's technology PR and media community'.

Promisingly, the event organisers, anonymous blogger The World's Leading and Peter Kirwan of Fullrun, have already generated some controversy by shortlisting one young whippersnapper for the probably-not-very-coveted 'Tech PR Fuck Up of the Year' award, and then withdrawing the nomination when the nominee cried foul.

(I'm not going to name any names, but you can read the whole sorry tale unfolding in the comments here.)

As an aside, it's interesting that this individual was singled out for an award based on his apparent misogyny, as I'm not sure that The World's Leading is entirely squeaky clean on this issue himself. For a start, he's recently been decorating his blog with stylised drawings of male genitalia and pictures of scantily clad women. The fact that tonight's event is taking place in the undeniably laddish Audi Forum makes me even more suspicious.

Anyway, I very much look forward to taking my seat on the blogging flightdeck this evening, alongside Messrs Smith and Davies. Festivities kick off at 7.30pm. Stay tuned for updates...

Monday, 22 October 2007

BBC R4 launches new blog programme - iPM

As noted previously, BBC Radio 4 is now about to launch a new weekly programme devoted to rounding up the best of the debate in the blogosphere and elsewhere in the social mediasphere.

It's now called iPM, and the first programme is due to be broadcast on Saturday 10th Nov at 5.30pm UK time. You can read more about it here, including information about how to nominate online content for inclusion.

iPM also has its own blog at

Friday, 19 October 2007 the DNA database it's fun to be on

Tired of the surveillance society never giving you anything back? Now you can get something nice in return for handing over your most intimate information.

Thursday's Telegraph reported that geneaology website has built a huge DNA database that enables people to trace long-lost family members, and it's proving very popular:

Visitors to simply take a swab of saliva from inside of their cheek and send it off for analysis.

"DNA testing in family history is reaching critical mass," said Megan Smolenyak, the site's chief family historian.

"As more people add their results, the DNA database becomes a powerful asset for users to make connections and discover their family tree."

UK government take note: all you need to do to persuade people to hand over their DNA details (or any other deeply personal information) is to make it seem like fun.

Alternatively, wait for the inevitable widget for Facebook, then plunder the whole lot at once. Surveillance has never been so easy.

Friday, 12 October 2007

The influence of blogs: greater than the sum of its parts?

We've been having numerous discussions with clients recently about how to measure the influence of blogs on buying decisions.

For corporate communicators, measuring influence is an essential activity. Assigning a quantifiable degree of influence to individual publications and journalists has allowed them to concentrate their limited resources on those that are the most influential, and to discount those that are not.

It also allows them to quantify to some extent the value delivered by PR. 'We had a mention in the Wall Street Journal, which is read by 2 million business decision-makers,' they can say. That 2 million is a nice, high number, likely to convince the powers that be that PR is getting the company message across to the right people.

Of course the more pertinent, but infinitely more difficult, questions are: 'how many people read that particular article?' and 'of those people, how many were moved to buy our product?'. These aren't easy questions, and finding the answers costs the kind of money that few PR teams are able to spend.

If the exact influence of the established media is difficult to measure, the influence of blogs is even trickier. It's rare for a blogger to reveal how many readers they have, and when they do, they rarely seem impressive. This week, techblogger Robert Scoble (the 36th most popular blogger in the world, according to Technorati) revealed that he gets 6,000-22,000 visitors a day. Compared with the Wall Street Journal - hell, compared with the Aberdeen Press & Journal - those figures are tiny.

And then there's Jeff Jarvis, who infamously created a PR nightmare for Dell in 2005 when he wrote a post (actually a series of posts) about Dell's customer service practices. It caused so many other people to weigh in with their own comments, links and blog posts that it was picked up by the mainstream media. But it wouldn't be accurate to conclude from this that Jeff's blog is always influential. I know this because he once linked to a post on this blog (which I was very excited about, because I thought it would lead to unimaginable popularity and possibly also free gifts), but only a handful of people clicked on it.

What made Jeff's 'Dell Hell' story influential wasn't necessarily that it was written by Jeff Jarvis, but that it struck a chord with a lot of people. And the beauty - and danger - of the blogosphere is that a story that strikes a chord with a lot of people rapidly gets taken up by a lot of people, creating an amplification effect that can quickly become larger than the sum of its parts. It only needs one other person to write about it on their own blog - or 'share' it on Facebook, or Digg, or - to start a snowball effect that may see it filter all the way into the public consciousness.

So perhaps we shouldn't be asking 'how influential is this blog?', but 'how influential is this story?'. If it's interesting enough, it will be picked up and amplified. If it isn't, even if it's written about by a 'top' blogger, it's unlikely to make a difference in the grand scheme of things. PR folk, then, might be better off thinking about how to write their own stories on the internet that other people will want to read, comment on, circulate, 'share' and write about.

But that's a topic for another time.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Bloggers strike for Burma - but what did it achieve?

You may not have realised it, but yesterday there was a worldwide bloggers' strike.

Orchestrated by a group called Free Burma, the aim of the strike was to show support for the Burmese people protesting against their country's ruling military junta. Free Burma called on bloggers to 'refrain from posting to their blogs' on Thursday 4th October, and instead to display a single banner image reading 'Free Burma'.

The exercise seems at first like a nice case study in the use of social media to organise and stage a global event. Free Burma used the 'events' feature of Facebook to spread the word quickly about the strike, relied on bloggers recruiting other bloggers in their social networks, and made it easy for people to participate by giving them a piece of code to paste into their blogs to display the banner image.

By 8pm yesterday, more than 10,000 bloggers had apparently taken part. By some measures, this would be classed as an enormous success and a testament to the word of mouth marketing power of social media. Most marketers I know would give anything to attract 10,000 people to an event without printing a single flyer, making a single call, or renting a single list.

But what has actually been achieved? Those 10,000 blogs displaying the 'Free Burma' banner can't be seen by the Burmese people, because their government has blocked internet access. As a gesture of solidarity, then, it's all but useless. As some bloggers have noted, by encouraging bloggers not to post, Free Burma effectively shut down a potentially powerful worldwide lobby for 24 hours, creating 'dead air' in the blogosphere and nothing of note for the mainstream media to report. Which is why you probably weren't even aware the strike was happening.

And by 'making it easy' for people to participate, the group may inadvertently have made it too easy. Cutting and pasting a piece of javascript into a blog takes seconds. Joining a protest group on Facebook only takes a single click. People are being made to feel that by pasting and clicking they've done something to help, but in reality I doubt they have done anything to affect the situation on the ground in Burma.

But there's one way the strike might have been successful: by using social media to raise awareness of important political events among the growing number of (mostly young) people who don't watch television news or read newspapers. And if that motivates people to examine the world around them and to try to make a positive difference, then social media will indeed be fulfilling an important role in society.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

I bet Robert Scoble never has this trouble.

Another day, another social media-related ignominy.

I've now been press-ganged into liveblogging at an event themed with a giant purple and yellow penis, at which drunken PR people are being actively encouraged to taunt me, fight with me and 'stroke my multi-coloured fur'.

I was thinking of asking to be put in a cage for my own safety, but I have a feeling that might not raise the tone of the proceedings any.

Fortunately my good chum Andrew Smith will be on hand to keep the crowd at bay, armed with his natural wit, gravitas and profound insight into the dynamics of the modern technology public relations industry.

I just hope I manage to post something decent before I'm bottled off the stage with a free sample of Dogs Bollocks Reserve Premier Cru.

(If anyone reading is attending the Flackenhacks on 23rd October, I look forward to seeing you there, and to documenting your antics for posterity.)

Thursday, 27 September 2007


We interrupt this programme to bring you the text of an email from Fox News which has just arrived in my inbox, verbatim apart from the phone numbers, which I have redacted:



JACK SAVAGE/ FOX NEWS NYC (xxx) xxx-xxxx (CELL PHONE (xxx) xxx-xxxx








I can't think why, but I'm imagining Jack Savage as looking something like this chap on the left:


UPDATE: I see that Fox News are now calling me a 'Web addict', for whom 'Facebook suicide' is the 'only way out'.

Here is the text of the email I sent to Jack Savage in reply to his interview request:

Hi Jack, many thanks for the invitation, but I would feel wrong about appearing on a segment about ‘Facebook suicide’, as I think that term is really far too emotive for what amounts to simply deciding to stop visiting a particular website.

As I explained to the journalist who wrote the original London Times article, I rejoined Facebook not long after I initially left it, but she chose to leave this information out of the final piece.

Kind regards,


For the more rational and much less sensational (but much more accurate) version of this story, see this post.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Polyvore: it's Web 2.0 for girls

(I've been watching the other half mowing down splicers in Bioshock all week, so I reckon I'm entitled to go a bit girly for a moment.)

I came across this fantastic site Polyvore yesterday, via this story on Valleywag.

Polyvore lets you build really quite lovely fashion-mag-style page layouts (or 'sets') out of pictures and patterns sourced from all over the internet, including online retailers, royalty-free stock photos, Flickr images and more.

The site says you can use it to see how clothes and accessories from different shops might look together, or to try out new interior décor themes. Me, I think it'll provide hours of unadulterated pleasure for anyone who reckons they could easily have been the art editor of Vogue or Elle Decoration, if only they'd managed to get the hang of Photoshop.

Here are a couple of examples of user-created 'sets':

Pretty, eh? You can browse more here, and start making your own sets here.

And it's Web 2.0'd up to the eyeballs, of course, so you can also upload your own images, comment and vote on other people's sets, embed sets in your own blog, tag images and sets, and make new friends in the Polyvore community.

I like.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Sisters are doing it for themselves

One of the great things about blogging, as I mentioned on Saturday, is that it can be used to counteract misrepresentation in the mainstream media.

When Cate Sevilla, curator of the Cupcate blog, was asked to be in an Observer feature about modern feminism, she felt delighted and honoured to have been selected to represent the new generation of feminists in a national newspaper.

Delight turned to dismay, however, when the resulting feature came out in the Observer Woman supplement a couple of Sundays ago. Cate discovered that her 30-minute interview had been reduced to tiny soundbites, some of them not even things she actually said, and placed on the kind of grid that's usually used for comparing the relative merits of different sorts of makeup.

Cate's frustration - shared by some of her fellow interviewees and Observer readers, if the comments on the Observer Woman Makes Me Spit blog are anything to go by - was compounded by the fact that elsewhere in the same supplement, a whole 3,000 words had been dedicated to exploring the mindset of a supposed new wave of misogynist male bloggers in the US.

In pre-Web 2.0 days, Observer readers would have had no way of telling that Cate had been misquoted and misrepresented, unless she'd written a letter to the editor that had then been selected for publication; a process largely beyond her control.

But fortunately for Cate, she has a much more effective way of setting the record straight - her blog. She relates the whole episode in a blog post, explaining how the interview was conducted and the inaccuracies in the resulting 'article':

But not only were the answers I used for one question, used for another, but the quotes were just like lazy, thrown together regurgitations of what I said. This is even more concerning as my interview lasted at least a half hour, and was bloody tape recorded.

In the ongoing bloggers vs. mainstream media debate, journalists often argue that the professional media are legally obliged to check facts, while bloggers can pretty much write what they like. But factual accuracy is only one aspect of truth - impressions are equally important.

Without delving too deeply into philosophical notions of 'truth' and 'reality', if a newspaper creates an impression of an interviewee that the interviewee knows to be untrue, the newspaper has arguably falsified its article. Now that we have blogs allowing interviewees to set the record straight, the current debate over truth in media is going to get a lot more interesting.

UPDATE: Another OWM interviewee, Jess McCabe, has posted up the full transcript of her interview on her blog.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Everyone's on the Web TV train, but no one knows where it's going

Just back from Chinwag's Web TV Takeover event, which explored emerging business models and the likely winners and losers in the internet TV melée.

It's a bit beyond the scope of this blog as I really only deal with user-participation stuff, but it's still a fascinating area, not least because no one seems to know yet what's going to work and what isn't.

The television industry (which includes traditional broadcasters and new entrants from the Web 2.0 world) is currently in an era of 'massive experimentation', according to one presenter panellist Alan Patrick of Broadsight. No one is yet sure how people will watch TV in future, whether they'll be prepared to pay to view or download episodes, how long an ad should be (indications are that future 'TV' ads will be no more than ten seconds long, and probably less than five), or even whether the whole nascent IPTV market will end up being strangled at birth by ISPs refusing to bankroll the bandwidth needed for massive file downloads and online video streaming.

(This last debate almost caused a fight to break out in the audience, which was quite exciting.)

For those of us who grew up with four super-powerful terrestrial TV channels acting as a sort of cultural superglue holding the country together, watching those same broadcasters floundering and panicking is a disconcerting experience.

There's no indication that the floundering and panicking will subside any day soon, either. Asked if there was any reason why Channel 4 viewers should pay to download episodes of Peep Show from 4OD, its video on demand service, when they could get them (illegally) for free from BitTorrent, 4OD's Head of Product Development Cosmo Lush simply replied 'no reason'.

The panel also featured Paul Pod, co-founder of a soon-to-launch aggregator called Tape It Off The Internet (TIOTI). TIOTI will aggregate broadcast content from wherever it's available on the internet - legally or illicitly - giving Web users a single place to search for TV programme downloads.

With sites like TIOTI on the horizon, combined with the undeniable 'flight to the internet' on the part of former broadcast advertisers, the likes of C4 and ITV will have even more to keep them awake at night.

UPDATE: More perspectives on last night's discussions available from:

paidContent: Video ad demand burgeons but C4 expects prices to fall
paidContent: P2P TV Net neutrality: are we heading for war?
Eaon Pritchard: The revolution will be televised
Rags Gupta: Wag the Chin: Web TV panel in London

Saturday, 15 September 2007

I am not a technophobic loon

It's not every day that a national newspaper suggests that I need counselling, or that I get called a 'complete technophobic loon' by Valleywag.

But apparently the fact that I deactivated my Facebook account for a few days in June makes me both a nutcase and a Luddite. I'm not either of those things. In fact I've just spent a very pleasant day reading In The Beginning Was The Command Line and then having a nice amble round the V&A, neither of which really suggests that I hate technology or that I am in danger of taking my own life.

It's true that I did deactivate my Facebook account, for reasons given in this blog post, and it's true that today's Times article quotes from that post. What's also true, but not reported in the Times, is that I rejoined Facebook some days two weeks later, for reasons outlined in this post, and have been on it ever since.

When the journalist said that she wanted to quote from my original blog post in the article, I agreed, because I think that my concerns about Facebook - the regrettable indiscretions, revealing too much to too many people, etc., are still valid ones. But I also said that I had rejoined Facebook quite soon after, and pointed her to my later blog post explaining my reasons for doing so.

Obviously this doesn't make nearly such an interesting story, so I wasn't surprised to receive a reply from her to say: 'I just wanted to let you know that I have quoted you in my article for the Times although I haven't said you re-activated your profile - basically just made the point that you felt you didn't want to mix your personal and professional lives.'

Fair point, thought I, and if I feel I'm horribly misrepresented in the final article, I can always rebut it here on my blog. That's one of the great things about blogging, after all - it gives anyone a right to reply, something that was all but beyond our control in the old days of letters to the editor.

So the truth is this: I am still on Facebook, I am not a technophobe (I've worked in the tech industry for the last eleven years, and I fully expect to be working in it for the next eleven), and I'm not in danger of taking my own life because Facebook made my friendships with people seem less meaningful than I had previously thought.

Facebook hasn't actually altered my perception of my own friendships in any way, other than to cause me to note in passing - just like hundreds of other bloggers, journalists and social commentators - that Facebook and sites like it are rapidly changing the meaning of the word 'friendship'. I'd like to reassure my friends and family who might have read the Times article that the evolving nature of the English language has never yet caused me to think suicidal thoughts.

(I am, however, aware of the massive levels of irony implicit in the fact that a national newspaper in which I agreed to be pictured quotes a blog post of mine in which I say that I am terrified of being tagged in a photo for all the world to see what I look like. Not entirely sure what I was thinking there, to be honest.)

UPDATE: I had a very nice email from Megan McCarthy at Valleywag overnight, confirming that inspection of my blog reveals that I am not a technophobic loon after all. Phew.

It's still the second best thing I've been called on the internet, though.

Friday, 14 September 2007

New Prompt client brings social networking to pet owners

[Cross-posted from the Prompt blog]

My colleagues at Prompt US are excited to have signed a new PR client, SNIF Labs.

SNIF Labs is headquartered in Boston, Mass., and was formed by graduates from MIT's Media Laboratory. It has developed the world's first pet accessory that combines wireless sensing and social networking technologies to enhance the lives of dogs and their owners.

The SNIF Platform blends real-time activity monitoring for dogs with online social networking for humans to improve insight into the lives of dogs while enriching owners' relationships with other pet enthusiasts.

Prompt will service SNIF Labs from its Boston office, with an account team headed up by Prompt divisional director Maryellen Cronin.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Citizen journalism: 'interesting' is not the same as 'important'

The Financial Times noted* yesterday that news stories that are popular with Web users have little commonality with the stories deemed important by professional news organisations.

The FT was reporting the results of a week-long study conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), which compared top headlines from the mainstream media with the highest rated stories voted by users on three leading 'citizen journalism' sites: Digg, Reddit and These sites have no editors; instead, Web users submit stories they find interesting and other users vote on them.

The PEJ study found that the major mainstream news topic in the week of 24-29 June was the immigration debate taking place in the US Congress. By contrast, the most popular topic on the user-driven sites was the launch of the Apple iPhone.

Such a study inevitably has major flaws. People who use Digg, for example, tend to be the kind of technology geeks for whom the launch of the iPhone was indeed a major world event. But just because the iPhone was popular on Digg doesn't mean that everyone in the wider world cared about it. Indeed it's interesting to note that the iPhone launch rated significantly less highly on Reddit and on, suggesting that the user bases for these two sites are less technology-focused than Digg's.

The study, and the FT's coverage of it, also fails to make the crucial distinction between 'interesting' and 'important'. People use Digg, Reddit and to share stories they find interesting. But because the sites have no editors, there's no onus on anyone to decide how important any of the stories are. Britney's sparkly pants are interesting, in their own special way, but outside the realms of pop culture academia, you'd be hard pressed to make a convincing case for their importance.

The 'wisdom of crowds' is useful for the mainstream media, but only up to a point. Thanks to the web, news media organisations now know which of their stories are the most read and the most talked about. News sites, including the BBC, now display that information on each page, no doubt creating an artificial positive feedback loop whereby the popular stories become even more popular.

But media organisations shouldn't dwell too much on this kind of data. Their role is to distinguish the important from the merely interesting, and to make sure that we, the news readers, recognise that distinction too. News media must be careful not to make the interesting seem important, as is the case with the user-generated sites, but to make the important interesting enough to make people want to read it.

UPDATE: For more views on this story, read Roy Greenslade at the Guardian, and Graham Hayday at Digital Pebbles.

* Subscription required.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Facebook to knock down garden wall

Long criticised for being a 'walled garden' that doesn't share its data with the wider internet, Facebook is now preparing to make its members' profile information searchable by Google.

While some will see this as a victory for transparency and information-sharing, others are more circumspect. I'm already wary of 'people-search' engines like ZoomInfo that aggregate data about me (and you, try it) from various places on the internet and pull it into one place to create a spookily detailed profile.

We recently placed an article for our client Complinet that talks about the risks of identity theft from Facebook. Now that your personal information is becoming even more public, the risks are becoming even greater. Be alert.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The curious incident of the female bloggers in the night-time

CNet reports that last week's BlogHer conference for female bloggers was a media wash-out, with only three pieces of coverage in the local Chicago press, and none in the national press. (via Deep Edition)

"While a 2006 Pew report found that the blogging population is young, evenly split between women and men, and racially diverse, women still struggle to receive equal media coverage of their online activities. Pozner cites the recent YouTube/CNN Presidential candidate debate as a significant example, in which CNN chose to have 70 percent of the questions asked by men."

I'm in two minds about this. Just because a blogger is female, does that automatically make her worthy of attention? Being female isn't exactly a remarkable thing in itself, and neither is being a blogger. Many people are eminently capable of being female *and* writing blog posts without demanding nationwide recognition for their ability to tap on a keyboard.

But on the other hand, I do get a creeping suspicion sometimes, in reading the business and national media here in the UK, that women are indeed often simply ignored.

I've started looking at the letters pages in the Guardian, for example, and counting the number of letters written by women compared with the number of letters written by men. And leafing through the Economist and the Financial Times, comparing the number of pictures of women with the number of pictures of men.

I probably don't even need to tell you how these completely unscientific experiments pan out. Let's just say it's not a close-run thing.

The letters pages of the Guardian and the pictorial content of the Economist and the FT are the result of editorial decisions, not of chance. So you could accuse all three publications of being biased towards men. But, at least in the case of the letters, it could be that far more men than women write letters to the editor, so the distribution is naturally balanced in favour of men.

So it's difficult to prove that a group is being deliberately ignored by the media: it's like Alderaan, or the dog in the night-time, where the absence of something that ought to be there is the only observable phenomenon.

But as much as I detest it when women claim they deserve praise and attention for doing something just because they're female, at the same time I can't help but feel that CNet might be on to something.

Can social media save local media?

Via Cultural Snow I recently came across an inspiring story from the BBC in India.

The BBC reports that Gaurishankar Rajak, a barely-educated washerman, has dedicated the last 21 years to publishing a handwritten local newspaper, Din Dalit, exposing corruption and discrimination in his home town of Dumka.

Rajak decided to create Din Dalit after trying in vain to interest his local media in covering government discrimination against the poor. As well as highlighting local issues and providing a focal point for public debate, Din Dalit has made a concrete difference by helping at least one Dumka resident to obtain social security payments, according to the BBC's article.

As Rajak has discovered, Din Dalit meets a need for dedicated community reporting that should be fulfilled by established local news media organisations – not just in India, but also in the US and the UK.

Yet here and elsewhere, local news media are in crisis. Advertisers are preferring to spend their money with Google or advertise for free on sites like Craigslist. Falling circulations and rising running costs are forcing local papers to scale down or amalgamate, so that 'hyperlocal' issues are no longer featured. And professional journalists often have an eye on more prestigious outlets, leaving local reporting to rookies, no-hopers or retirees.

The impact may be profound: without their own media, neighbourhoods can lose their identity and feeling of 'togetherness', contributing to a deterioration of the shared sense of place and belonging that holds communities together.

Could amateurs step into this breach, as Rajak has done? The growing use of social media like blogging and online social networking makes amateur community reporting a very viable proposition. Could bloggers become hyperlocal reporters? And could local news media collaborate with those bloggers to reinvigorate hyperlocal coverage?

Or perhaps the recent successful Facebook campaign against HSBC's overdraft fees could be replicated for hyperlocal community issues, like this out-of-order parking meter I photographed in a quiet Hammersmith street last weekend. A Facebook group of annoyed local residents could bring the issue to a wider and more influential audience than an angry note stuck on the source of the irritation:

Media commentator Jeff Jarvis is convinced that if local media start partnering with bloggers, the decline in local reporting can be halted and even reversed. Author Steven Johnson, meanwhile, has created Outside In, a website that aggregates blog posts about specific postcodes, drawing individual bloggers together to form ad-hoc local reporting communities.

And with Facebook proving to be a hugely fertile forum for single-issue groups and campaigns that – for the moment at least – are capable of garnering significant mainstream media attention, the internet may yet turn out to be the saviour of the local community, rather than its downfall.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Keeping up with the Joneses

You don't need to have read Jeremy Paxman's soul-searching MacTaggart lecture from the recent MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival to know that the British television industry is in a bit of a flap.

Shrinking audiences, more channels competing for the same viewers and the increasing popularity of the internet, mp3 players and mobile phones were making life difficult for broadcasters even before the recent phone voting and documentary falsification scandals.

But while some are wringing their hands, a number of producers, entrepreneurs and advertisers are trying to recapture lost TV audiences by injecting professional television content directly into the world of online social networking.

June saw the launch of Where Are The Joneses?, a YouTube-hosted 'webcom' created by TV production company Baby Cow and digital agency Imagination. And earlier this month, social networking platform Bebo launched its teen drama KateModern, produced by the team behind hit YouTube drama lonelygirl15.

The Joneses are sponsored by Ford, whose S-MAX car features in every episode, while KateModern has struck deals with a number of household brands whose products will be written into the script, just like in the original 'soap' operas.

Both programmes air in 2-5 minute episodes and are highly interactive, with viewers able to suggest programme ideas and, in the case of the Joneses, submit scripts via a wiki and even appear in the show. The Joneses is a particularly comprehensive case study in using social media to engage and involve viewers, with the characters writing blog posts, sending Twitter updates, mapping their whereabouts on Platial and networking with their fans on Facebook.

(Yes, the characters aren't real people, but the internet makes such ontological niceties largely irrelevant. One of the most interesting things about lonelygirl15 was that after it was revealed to be a fictional drama, rather than the actual videoblog of an actual 16 year-old girl, viewers happily carried on conversing online with the character in full knowledge that she wasn't real and that their comments were actually being answered by the show's two male writer/producers.)

Despite their similar approaches, the programmes have fared very differently. KateModern saw 3 million hits in its first three weeks and has amassed what looks - if you can decipher the text speak - like a genuine fanbase. The Joneses have fared significantly less well, with viewer figures for each episode rarely exceeding 1,000, a Facebook fanbase of 368 people, and just 136 followers on Twitter.

This may be because KateModern is firmly embedded among its target audience of teenage Bebo users, while the Joneses have to compete for attention in the wilds of YouTube. And while dramas tend to unify audiences, comedies are divisive; different people find different things funny. I'm also not sure that the Ford logo looming over Where Are The Joneses? does it any favours: what discerning comedy enthusiast wants to feel like they're watching an extended advert?

But it's early days for 'television 2.0', and the makers of Where Are The Joneses and KateModern are charting a course that will deliver valuable lessons in how to keep audiences entertained in a fragmented, multi-platform world. Whether Ford will see any sales from its (surely considerable) investment is a different matter.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Facebook, puppies, and freedom of speech

I had a comment yesterday on my 'Facebook no more' post, from a person claiming to have been the creator of a Facebook group called 'Stop Dalhousie University from murdering dogs and puppies'.

The group was set up in protest at alleged animal testing taking place at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and had apparently attracted several thousand members before Facebook took it down.

Briana, in his/her comment, suggested that the fact that Facebook had taken down the group was a compromise of his/her right to freedom of speech.

I followed this up, to discover that the university had issued a statement denying that it carries out tests on dogs and puppies. What interested me more, though, was that the statement also said that the university had initially tolerated the Facebook group, and even joined in the discussion on the group's 'wall' to address the accusations and point out the factual inaccuracies.

The university says it only complained to Facebook after the group's moderators removed the discussion wall, thus denying the university its right to reply to the accusations:

"The tipping point, from our perspective, was when the group's creator removed the discussion wall," said Jim Vibert, Assistant Vice-President of Communications and Marketing. "Originally, there was energetic discussion taking place in the group, with several Dalhousie students questioning the accusations. Given the open discussion, we had no problem with the group continuing at that point.

"But when the group's creator took down the discussion wall after people were criticizing the inaccuracies, the content that remained was just flat-out wrong, and that's something that our university simply could not tolerate."

I see that the story has now started to gain some coverage in the Canadian press. But while spokespeople from the university have been widely quoted in the articles I've seen, I see no representation so far from Briana or any of the group's other officers. The Montreal Gazette says that 'Amy Scott', the group's founder, and who may or may not be my commenter Briana, 'could not be reached for comment'.

My message to Briana (if Briana is indeed Amy) is: if you truly want to exercise your right to freedom of speech, don't comment anonymously in the back of a blog that hardly anyone reads - take those press calls and put your side of the story across!


Thursday, 23 August 2007

No time to think?

The 'is blogging dead?' debate continues, with Drew Benvie noting that Guardian tech reporter Bobbie Johnson has given up his blog.

Johnson - whose relationship with Little Red Boat's Anna Pickard made him half of one of UK blogging's top power couples - says there's 'too much else going on' for him to be able to continue writing it.

I think this is one of the major dangers of Web 2.0 - there's so much information and so many opinions coming at us that it feels like there's no time to stop and think. And when it feels like there's no time to stop and think, it definitely feels like there's no time to stop and craft an 800-word blog post.

But as I tried to argue to an anonymous commenter on my earlier post, a world in which we attempt to express our every thought or opinion in 'microblog' posts of 140 characters or fewer is going to be a very poor world culturally.

Johnson, luckily, still has to stop and think in order to produce considered and balanced articles for the Guardian. The rest of us need to be careful not to start believing we no longer have any time for thinking, reasoning and writing.

Friday, 17 August 2007

How dare you call me inhuman!

For reasons I've yet to fathom, Google has decided this blog is a spam blog. Every time I edit or post something, I have to type a word verification to prove I'm human. I've actually had to request that a Google employee comes to look at it to check that it's authentic.

So all the while I've been wibbling on about what a great writer I am, it turns out I can't even pass a Turing test. It's an odd kind of modern-day humiliation, being accused by a machine of not being human. It almost makes me want to chuck it all in, join the dark side, and breed an unholy army of super-bots to take over the world.

Although probably I'll just go and do a bit more editing.

Not with a bang but a food fight

According to Facebook, I have 52 friends.

This is extremely modest by Facebook standards. I'm clearly no Robert Scoble, who has amassed more than 4,500 chums since Facebook opened its doors to the hoi polloi last September.

Scoble's enormous posse illustrates the way the meaning of the word 'friend' is shifting at internet light-speed. It won't be long before we'll need a new word to denote the people we go to the pub with, who console us with soothing words when we're sobbing in the toilet, or who let us stay in their spare room when our relationships go awry.

I've never met some of my Facebook friends, and I'm pretty sure that some of them wouldn't recognise me if they did encounter me sobbing in a toilet. But I do know who they all are, because they're listed under their real names, with real photos of themselves beside them. There's just one exception – a chap with a fake name who's chosen to illustrate himself with a picture of a monkey, and whose own list of 'friends', in the sort of postmodern twist that's commonplace on the internet, includes himself under his real name.

My monkey-friend isn't just an exception on my friends list; he's an exception on Facebook as a whole. Back in 2001, a chatboard I used to frequent carried the disclaimer: 'No one here is who they say they are. All celebrity postings are impersonated...badly.' On Facebook, you can be pretty sure that everyone is who they say they are, and that all celebrity postings are actually typed by the actual celebrity's own starry digits.

This may be why Facebook is proving popular with people who wouldn't ordinarily hang out on the internet. Rather than being a dangerous no man's land where girls who are boys like boys to be girls (and worse), everyone is exactly who they claim to be. It's a perfect, shiny, reassuring mirror of real life.

I think it's rubbish.

I'm already deeply nostalgic for the days when you had no idea who you were talking to online, when no one really did know - or particularly care - if you were a dog or a monkey or Christine Hamilton or that bloke out of Belle & Sebastian. When everyone had names like Wooden Spoon and Joss Ackland's Spunky Backpack and Backstage with Slowdive, and you could spend weeks flirting with a lego minifigure with half a raspberry on its head before finding out it was actually your mum.

Yes, a lot of that still goes on. But looking at Facebook, I can't help but think I'm seeing the future. And the future seems to consist of lots of neatly ordered photographs of people kissing their babies, looking content, and politely throwing pretend hamburgers at each other in a carefully sanitised play area.

It's hardly the dark, messed-up cyber-future I'd come to expect from reading Neuromancer and Snow Crash. If the state is indeed 'pooing its pants about the digital revolution', as Rafael Behr put it in last Sunday's Observer, its bowel movements may be in vain. We seem to be tidying up the internet, shelving our elusive alter egos, and obediently consolidating our online activity around our actual real-life identity - all without any encouragement at all from our apparently terrified government.

There are some people for whom this moment hasn't come too soon. I don’t think I'm one of them.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

The Herman Miller Index

Spotted twice in two days in Chiswick High Road: a huge Herman Miller lorry bringing Aeron and Celle chairs to West London's digerati.

I propose a new Herman Miller Index for measuring a previously frumpy neighbourhood's accession to nu-meeja wankiness. With a Herman Miller Index of 2/2, I reckon Chiswick definitely has the edge over, say, North Acton.

Foxtons have been informed of the dual sighting, and a two-bedroom flat on Turnham Green Terrace now costs eight million pounds.

Rock on, Chiswick.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Prompt shortlisted for B2B Marketing Awards

[Cross-posted from the Prompt blog.]

Much excitement at Prompt today at the news we have been shortlisted for the B2B Marketing Awards, due to be held in November.

We entered our Blog Monitor product in the category of 'Best New B2B Marketing Product or Service'. The Prompt Blog Monitor is a web portal that we customise for each client, which lets them track coverage of their brand and products across a wide range of social media platforms, from blogs and podcasts to online video-sharing sites, photosets and 'citizen journalism' sites.

We provide each subscribing client with daily email alerts and weekly reports to let them know who's talking about them, and how influential those people are. We also make recommendations for engagement when appropriate.

We're chuffed to have been shortlisted as we've put a lot of thought and effort into building this product. We're already helping a diverse set of clients to understand what's being said about them in the social media world - which is the first step towards engaging with audiences on social media platforms.

For clients who choose to engage further, we offer a portfolio of social media services ranging from blogging consultancy to the creation of professional podcasts and advice on the most effective use of social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

The awards ceremony will be held at The Brewery in the City of London on 1st November this year. Wish us luck!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Every blog has its day

There's been a lot of online discussion recently about whether blogging has had its day.

There's certainly evidence of a 'cooling-off' in the medium. In April, Business Week reported that while Technorati publicly states there are 70 million blogs worldwide, the real story is that the number of 'active' blogs levelled off last October at around 15 million.

More recently, popular bloggers like Shel Israel have reported a drop in readership figures, prompting an outbreak of navel-gazing of the kind bloggers specialise in.

One view is that the decline is due to shortening attention spans and the rising popularity of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr and Jaiku. People can no longer be bothered with long, ponderous blog posts, goes the argument, when there are new services available that let people post short statements, questions and links.

There's a lot of truth to this. Posts on Twitter and other networks are communicated instantly to 'followers' by email, SMS and/or RSS, increasing the sense of interaction and conversation that is characteristic of communications in the Web 2.0 world. For the networked generation, it's an ideal way to stay in touch.

But to think that blogging is 'over' is to misunderstand the differences between blogs and social networks. Blogs provide an outlet for more considered writing, while Twitter and its ilk are really only good for dashing off statements of one or two sentences.

It's a nuance that is well understood by Steve Rubel, author of the popular Micro Persuasion blog. Rubel says that from now on he will only post more thoughtful pieces on his blog, using Twitter to keep in continuous contact with his online social network.

Over time, the rise of Twitter, Facebook et al should lead to an overall rise in the quality of blogs, even as the number of active blogs declines. Why? Because people who are not writers by nature will gravitate to alternative social media, while the domain of blogging will increasingly be left to people who are prepared to put more care and thought into their posts.

It's good news for marketers, I think – a less crowded blogosphere will mean less competition for attention, leaving marketers who excel at written communications a clearer field for interacting with audiences.

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Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Facebook revisited

If only I were capable of effecting such a neat three-point turn in real life: I have completely reneged on my earlier post and rejoined Facebook.

I'm still very uneasy about the coming-together of my personal life and my professional life in one public place, not to mention the coming-together of my online life and my offline life (which, just to add to the general ambience of Baudrillardian fragmentation, are not the same as my personal and professional lives).

But for god's sake, I'm in charge of social media at Prompt. I can't just run away from what is possibly the most successful online social networking platform yet, simply because it makes me feel uneasy. Why, with that attitude, the crew of the Nostromo would never have gone to investigate that distress signal, and...oh, right.

Having operated under many different internet pseudonyms for years, I still can't quite bring myself to commit to a single online identity, so I've got a different name on Facebook. But on Facebook I am.

(Personally I give Facebook another six months before it becomes so clogged with widgets and 'mood applications' and other third-party tat that all right-thinking adults come to their senses IN THE NICK OF TIME, just like in that episode of Star Trek TNG.)

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The sleep of reason produces stationery

While I was on holiday last week, Jeff Jarvis appeared to me in a dream. (This is true.)

Did the uber-media-blogger and proponent of all things 2.0 want to impart his wisdom about the democratisation of political debate, the future of local reporting, or the potential of Facebook to provide people with a single identity across the whole interweb?

Sadly not.

But he did give me a goody bag of BuzzMachine notebooks, presumably in which to record my own fifth-rate thoughts on the future of society and that.

Thanks Jeff.

Still, paper, though - not strictly very 2.0, is it?

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Ending paid-for content a risky move for

Quality media websites are increasingly abandoning subscription fees in favour of freely accessible content supported by advertising, but it's a strategy that may be compromised by their first tentative forays into social media.

Today's Technology Guardian reports that has followed in the recent footsteps of the Economist and the Wall Street Journal in doing away with online subscriptions and making its content available to everyone online.

The assumption is that advertisers will stump up more cash if the publication has a larger community of online readers. But for quality publications like the WSJ and the Economist, the move to free content carries a high risk of damage to the publication's 'brand', especially if the publication actively involves readers in generating the site's content.

At the Blogs and Social Media Forum in June, publisher Ben Edwards said that the quality of Economist readers was such that there was little danger of comments threads on the site's new social media sections descending into unpleasant flame wars or ad hominem attacks, as is so often the case elsewhere.

Specifically, he contrasted the high quality of reader commentary on with 'partisan and nasty' comments evident on, saying:

What I want to create is an experience that reflects back to my readers, my customers, the sort of experience they expect when they come to the Economist [...] The Economist is quite formal, it’s a little bit stuffy, it can be irreverent, the readers would consider themselves, I think, clever, worldly, intellectually curious, and I suspect – I don’t know this, but I suspect – that what they’d like to see on is all of those attributes reflected back to them in the reader-generated comment and content that we attract to the web property.

[A video of Edwards's presentation is available at]

Not only was Edwards relying on his 'clever, worldly, intellectually curious' readers to reflect the Economist's high editorial standards in their comments, he was actively using these attributes as selling points to attract advertisers:

I tell my advertising clients that my readers are in positions of power and influence, and they have average household incomes of $160,000 a year, and they are three times more likely to be driving a luxury car and so on. Actually this sort of [reader-generated] content validates my message back to my advertising clients, that yes, look at the quality of my readership.

This attitude was all and well and good when was subscription only. After all, no one is going to fork out £23 a quarter to mete out online abuse when they can do that for free on, Comment is Free or any number of openly-accessible media sites that allow user comments.

But with now freely accessible, comments threads are now open to everyone, not just thoughtful Economist readers with their comfortable incomes and luxury cars. The paper no longer has any control over who reads the site, and with its apparently laissez-faire moderation policy*, it also seems to have largely opted out of controlling who contributes to it. For financial reasons Edwards wants to make the fledgling community self-regulating, because 'if you don't do that you're going to be ending up employing lots of people'.

At the time of writing, the letters to the editor pages (the first on the site to be comments-enabled) are almost completely devoid of comments, suggesting that so far, the paper has failed to create any sort of online reader community, whether respectful, abusive or otherwise. With the opening up of its content, it may find its self-imposed task of creating an online 'community of letter-writers' to be an easier one, but the quality of those 'letters', the quality of the advertisers it is able to attract and the integrity of the Economist's brand may all suffer as a result.

* Reading out's stated policy of not publishing letters that the paper judges 'are not intended for publication, or are otherwise inappropriate', Edwards added 'I'm not quite sure what that last phrase means.' If he doesn't know, I wonder if anyone at does.

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Thursday, 12 July 2007

The new boss, same as the old boss?

When Time magazine chose 'you' as its person of the year back in December, it looked like a historical moment.

It looked like an admission that the mainstream media had lost control, and that 'the people' were now in charge. It looked as though blogs and amateur videos were taking the place of newspapers and TV. In Marxist terms, it looked like Time had cheerfully surrendered the means of production to the masses.

Now, though, it looks as if the glorious revolution was just a dream - at least if this week's MediaGuardian 100 list is anything to go by.

Billed as an indicator of a massive shift to web 2.0, the list of the most influential people in UK media is actually very conservative. Sure, Google CEO Eric Schmidt is in first place, but Google isn't dictating any sort of media agenda; it's just taken custody of the world's advertising revenues. The rest of the top 10 - and indeed the rest of the list - is occupied by the usual suspects: two generations of Murdochs, BBC director-general Mark Thompson, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, and so on.

Individual fortunes rise and fall (it's been a bad year for Channel 4 execs following the Big Brother racism furore), but there's no question that, in the Guardian's eyes, media power is still concentrated in the head, rather than in the long tail.

So what of the shift to Web 2.0? YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steven Chen are at number 14, but the assumption seems to be not that user-generated video is the new television, but that YouTube is a new way of distributing mainstream broadcast entertainment. In other words, YouTube's influence lies in its technology, not its content.

This focus on infrastructure, rather than content, permeates the list; the Telegraph is praised for its whizzy new digital newsroom, Guardian digital director Emily Bell for overseeing the paper's online growth, and BBC Technology boss Ashley Highfield gets a cautious mention despite the Corporation's failure to launch its iPlayer technology.

Buried at number 81 is a lone outsider: political blogger Guido Fawkes. He claims to write stories that mainstream journalists are too scared to write in case they lose access to political figures. Last December, it looked like Guido Fawkes was the future of media. Now it looks like bloggers still have a long way to go.

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Thursday, 5 July 2007

All the world's a stage...

Less than ten years ago, the idea of someone's life being broadcast to the world 24 hours a day was still in the realm of speculative fiction.

In 1998, Truman Burbank was just a movie character, unaware that his whole world was contained inside a giant television studio surrounded by cameras, cranes, lighting rigs and production staff.

Today, Truman exists in the real world, in the guise of Justin Kan. Justin began broadcasting his life over the internet 108 days ago, by means of a webcam strapped to his head and a laptop stowed in a backpack.

Visitors to can watch what he's up to at any given moment, wherever he happens to be, unless that place doesn't have internet access. And yes, that includes all the things that only fetishists really want to watch someone else doing.

But while Justin is still a novelty, he isn't alone. His site isn't just intended to show his own 'lifecast'; it's also a hosting platform for other lifecasters. And with the cost and technological barriers to lifecasting tumbling rapidly, more people are donning webcams and backpacks and broadcasting their lives to the world*.

The implications are far-ranging. Media blogger Jeff Jarvis thinks it will become more likely that breaking news gets streamed live over the internet by lifecasters before mainstream media outfits can get their cameras, reporters and satellite dishes to the scene.

I can see a day when social networking platforms like Facebook are made up of thousands of people broadcasting their lives to each other in real-time. Searchable archives of video footage will render the notion of personal privacy obsolete. The blog anticipates this scenario when it says: 'Tips [archived clips] are a great tool for identifying the most compelling content of Justin's life so that it can be viewed and shared at a moment's glance.'

The mania for continuously updating one's Twitter or Facebook status with the most staggering banalities suggests that many people have a strong appetite for living life in public. It sounds like a horrible Orwellian dystopia to me, but in another ten years, broadcasting your entire life over the internet might be completely normal.

* For more on how it works, the Technology Evangelist blog explains iJustine's lifecasting equipment.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2007

The Blog Prog

Word has it that BBC Radio 4 is recruiting staff to work on a new programme called (possibly slightly condescendingly) 'The Blog Prog'.

Details are sketchy, but the programme will apparently aim to 'recreate the best of the debate from the blogosphere', or words to that effect.

I'll be intrigued to see how they manage to recreate blogosphere debates via a one-way mass audio broadcast medium. Perhaps by getting bloggers and their commenters to come into the studio and read out choice slabs of sophistry?

I also wonder what bloggers will make of it. The last time BBC Radio ventured into blog territory, the results didn't go down too well...

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Friday, 29 June 2007


I was sad to read today that FOPP, the high street music chain for geeky types, has called in the administrators.

Like King Arthur in his final battle, FOPP mounted an admirable but ultimately unsuccessful last stand against the relentless invasion of mp3s, peer-to-peer file sharing, iTunes, mp3 blogs and digital music in general.

While HMV and Virgin have tried to keep people coming to their physical stores by focusing on the customer experience, FOPP focused on its stock. Its decision to stock more obscure, more indie-ish albums, art-house DVDs and intellectual books carved it a niche as the high street music store for more cerebral, older customers.

Its policy of selling back catalogues of indie, hip-hop, dance and electronica artistes for a fiver each seemed like a stroke of genius - I can't be the only one who eagerly bought back all the albums I loved in my teens and early 20s but had subsequently lost.

As recently as May 15 this year, the Financial Times [subscription required] ran a profile of FOPP, lauding its strategy of marketing to discerning (and, apparently, male) thirtysomethings.

But you don't have to have read The Long Tail to know that FOPP was fighting a losing battle. Recorded music is just data, and data is incomparably easier and cheaper to distribute and buy over the internet. iTunes and its ilk don't need to pay for premises, shelf space or counter staff, and they can stock as many titles as they like. Even Amazon, which still sells physical CDs, can afford to stock many more titles in its warehouse than FOPP could ever afford to do in its stores.

They say no medium kills the one before it, but that's wishful thinking as far as music retailing is concerned. Today's Times also notes that HMV has reported a 73% decline in profits, and it can't be long before it and Virgin Megastore are both consigned to high street history.

For people like me who grew up thinking of record shops almost as pilgrimage destinations, it's a sad day indeed.

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