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.