Monday, January 22, 2007

Reality Television and thoughts on UGC

I’m finding all this Celebrity Big Brother stuff rather interesting from several perspectives. It could easily be argued that the unstoppable trend of User Generated Content in the web is a natural extension of Reality Television which started with BB.

One of the things I’ve been wondering about UGC is how to verify an uninformed opinion about things to an informed audience. Currently the Web is being somewhat self selective but as we move out of the early adopter phase (which I will argue unfairly, is biased towards intelligence) and move into the mainstream, there are all sorts of questions requiring answers as to whether UGC will have real meaning or if it will become a mire of bigotry and reactionary jingoism. The obvious warning is that a brand’s success or failure could be adversely affected by opinion which is not informed, and that is not a million miles away from what has just happened on CBB.

Whether Jade Goody was or was not overtly racist is largely irrelevant she certainly made another contestants life difficult and did so from a position of ignorance. The suggestion is also being made (with what appears on the surface to be some fairly good evidence) that producers and directors intervened to ‘stage’ a forgiving reunion and prime Ms Goody for her interview. I saw the eviction and there was not a hint of surprise on her face when she saw that there were no crowds to greet or jeer her, and that to me was quite telling.

So where does that leave the reality show that started it all and what lessons should be learned for the Web as more and more sites open themselves up to their audience. We have all seen the ‘fake’ UGC examples and how the blogosphere has turned against them, and outed them. TV took a turn towards dumbing things down a long time ago now and the ability for TV to make a celebrity of an uneducated moron seems finally to be backfiring. I can’t help feeling that web 2.0 has a few important points to take from this and that TV should also learn a few lessons.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Seven Degrees of Viral Separation

I get loads of viral messages every day. I read them quickly because im always looking for something that will inspire an interesting idea of my own. Most of them get deleted very quickly but I got one this morning that stood out.

The link is http://www.lost.eu/9629

The reason it stood out is because it is a game to prove the concept of seven degrees of separation and I quite like that idea. Most networking sites could provide a network 'spidergram' of connections but don't, so this one is setting out to establish how 7 Million people could be linked together through their various connections.

First prize for the person with the most connected network also gets £500 but out of 7 Million players that sounds like a lot of effort for comparative little reward. There are other prizes as well but the main point is to play the game and get networking to prove the theory.

Have a look, its actually very well done.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Google to take a stake in ClearChannel

Reading Brand Republic this morning I found an interesting article on the latest Google move. Apparently Google may be set to buy into ClearChannel and take a stake. The full article is here

Way back in 1999 I was involved with a project for a client called AMFMi which was owned by Chancellor Media. The project gained a lot of attention and soon Chancellor was bought by ClearChannel.

The project involved redefining radio as a radio broadcast media form to a web based media form using application farms to deliver rich content to all stations in all markets and all areas. It meant that even a small minority radio station with a minimal audience had the capabilities to stream music, display the current tracks name and give listeners the ability to purchase either the MP3 or the CD, as well as delivering targeted local content from a national content delivery system. It really was Radio Utopia and would have set-up radio very well for the move across to digital. All in all it was designed to service something like 800 radio stations across America and include everything from Top 40, Rock, Gospel, Classical and Jazz. Unfortunately like a lot of projects it started to have to fight for funds after the economy turned and the bubble burst in 2001 and was finally (as far as I’m aware) killed off in early 2002.

It was a real privilege to be involved in that project which included some of the most forward thinking people I’ve ever met, and I’ve always wondered what would have become of UK Radio markets if the project had carried on and a model existed for UK markets to follow. I’ve had discussions over the years with UK Radio companies but my impression is that the differences in market conditions don’t breed the same forward thinking attitude here as it does in the US, and my experiences have been less than inspiring.

ClearChannel then in my view does have a forward thinking and innovative approach to its markets and so potentially getting involved with Google for Radio does seem to me to be a fantastic fit. It also opens up a few questions on the future of board advertising especially with the move towards Bluetooth enabled boards. I await what happens next with interest.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Article on USabillity and online marketing communications

It looks like its the month for magazine articles. I've also been asked to contribute on an article relating to usabillity in online marketing communications.

It's a subject I feel pretty strongly about and so my piece below could well put the cat amongst the pidgeons if it is printed.

The issue of usability has been ignored in online marketing communications for far too long. It is largely an ignorance issue with far too many people involved in the production of online materials either not understanding or ignoring the finer points of cross browser, cross platform, multi-resolution display and best practice HTML. Whilst they speed production up, visual design HTML tools can lead to bad habits forming and Microsoft’s Frontpage tool is probably the worst offender of all. People who code in HTML should be able to do so using nothing more than a text editor, and I definitely wouldn’t employ someone who could not.

Good standards of HTML are essential for producing web pages and HTML emails but on their own, they are not enough, it is also understanding the media from a design point of view. Far too many times, emails are designed in the same way as print ads, and then perform badly both for open and click through rates. It’s about thinking and understanding that your piece will be seen in a variety of ways, even without graphics loaded. At WDMP we don’t just look at how our emails look as text only and with graphics loaded but also with graphics not loaded and in all of the major email and webmail clients. We have achieved double the industry averages for our clients which proves that this approach works.

The next design issue concerns how much of the email you can see at any given time. Email clients such as Outlook and Thunderbird, have a summary display mode which shows a little of your email to the user and lets them decide whether they want to open it or not. It does depend on the resolution of the screen that you are working on but we can get a good idea of how much you can afford to tease the client with in that small space. Basically you want to get them to open it up, and that’s your sole goal at that point.

Once it is opened more content is available and here the primary focus is to make the user want to read all of it, whether it is displayed full screen or with a scroll bar. Its about teasing the user with your copy and graphics and bringing them in to your email to the point where your call to action is an obvious extension of the user’s activity.

It sounds simple but getting the finer points of this concept across to offline creatives who are used to permanent sizes and folds can be difficult and clients are not prepared to be used as guinea pigs.

All too often I receive emails that look great when I open them up at full resolution, but lose their impact in my summary window without graphics. The result is that I don’t open them, and this is true of a lot of users.

Of course this is a lot to do and a lot of clients also need educating that there is more going on, than creating ‘just a simple email’. Putting the extra work in to attain higher open and click through rates can increase the price of the work and so trust is a big factor. We have clients we’ve been working with for a while and they are very happy that we use this approach, but it can be a difficult concept for clients who don’t know you to grasp, particularly if you are up against a competitor who says these things can be knocked out in five minutes and cost a hundred quid. Our response is to look at what the client wants to achieve and demonstrate the ROI to them.

For Websites the issues are even bigger, because of laws concerning accessibility. There has been no test case yet and so the law hasn’t been tested, but there are still so called Internet design professionals out there who have no idea how to design usable and accessible sites. They are still stuck in the late 90s mindset of creating all Flash sites. What is hysterical is that some of them even think they are being innovative and clever. Personally I don’t think it’s very clever to commit your client to an expensive pay per click bill each month in order for search engines to pick up the site. I know a lot of people in the industry switch off when accessibility is mentioned or consider it a technical issue that they don’t understand but usable sites are accessible and everyone in the industry should be supporting these standards.

Flash can be an extremely powerful tool to use but for every flash element that is created there should be a non flash alternative. Hybrids of this nature are really the utopian dream and we worked hard to get this effect on our own site when we redesigned wdmp.co.uk recently. When you can demonstrate it to a client and show the benefits then it’s much easier to explain the ROI.

Planning your site correctly solves a lot of the problems and site maps and wireframes are key tools in making sure that you plan the navigation and don’t leave key areas hidden from users. They also ensure that you split up the screen and give weight where its needed. Placing a key piece of information below the scroll line in order to accommodate atmospheric graphics is just dumb.

Screen resolutions have always been the big issue with web design. A designer wants to use as much screen real estate as possible and at their best they do stand as pieces of art. If the user is baffled though or doesn’t understand quickly enough what they are supposed to do, then all that art is pointless. Clear instructions and intuitive ever present navigation are essential to any website. I still see sites around where the look and feel suddenly changes for a new section or the navigation changes its style, and sometimes disappears altogether. There’s no other way to say it, this is just bad design, and I’ll bet that the usage stats prove it.

All too often business to consumer sites sacrifice usability for design and its so unnecessary. The odd thing is that Business to Business sites tend not to make the same mistakes and my observation is that the best web designers have a mix of B2C and B2B experience or even purely B2B.

What it all comes down to is knowing the industry standards and how best to implement them. The pay off is that clients get sites which have high and regular usage which facilitates relationships. I’m talking as though this is a hard thing to do but it really isn’t rocket science. One of the best things about the web is that anyone can design a webpage and the single worst thing about it is that anyone can design a webpage, just because something can be done it really doesn’t mean it should be, and web professionals have a duty to understand the standards associated with their profession.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tesco enter the Software Marketplace

On another Note, Tesco have decided to enter the home software market with an office suite, anti virus and drawing program. The suite is going to be marketed as a budget product around £20 compared to MS Office which has a basic retail price of £199. I can't make up my mind if this is an incredibly clever or incredibly stupid move.

On the one hand going up against a Microsoft dominated marketplace could be seen as a foolhardy move, especially with an Open Source product also in the marketplace, and on the other hand the purchase channel for a perceived low spend user is understood by this segment and so it might just work. If it works there could be interesting responses from other retailers in the sector, perhaps even Sainsbury's becoming a channel for MS OFfice, or maybe even a low entry level version of MS Office appearing in Somerfields . I'm going to watch this one with interest because I freely admit to not knowing what will happen next. Tesco are used to picking fights with people but even they could take lessons in bullying from the Redmond boys.

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The Whys and Wherefores of Corproate Blogging

I've been asked to contribute a piece for a magazine article on the whys and wherefores of corproate blogging.

My first effort needs editing down but I'm quite pleased with it as a first draft.

The blogging phenomenon has actually been with us for quite a few years and has only recently reached the point where it is accepted as a corporate tool. I started the first of my blogs in 2000 and I expect the early adopter blogging companies of today to become more sophisticated in their blogging use in the coming years with blogs for internal staff, blogs for customers, partners, suppliers and the rest of the world.

Currently there are two industries leading the blogging charge, technology companies and marketing/advertising agencies. This isn’t altogether surprising given that these two industries are the ones most affected by the Internet and Interactive Media. Close on the heals though is the entertainment industry with particular emphasis on film, television and music. There is a lot of debate currently as to whether a blog written to promote a film should declare that it is a work of fiction or not with the latest example being lonelygirl15, which also opens up the idea of video blogging. Another example which brought derision down on the company which made it concerned the video blog by Agency.com for a pitch for Subway sandwiches. In both cases the video blogs were recorded according to a script rather than being genuine accounts of what happened at the moment. It is the difference between a genuine reaction to something and an attempt at acting.

Blogging does open the doors to your organisation and make you transparent which is recognised by most as a good thing, but you don’t want to give your competitors an edge by tipping them off with sensitive information at least until your clients and partners have been fully briefed (most corporate secrets fail to stay secret after that point usually).

Of those that blog there are two distinct approaches. The first is companies who encourage their staff to keep personal blogs about their working life hosted by the company and therefore give a personal lens view of the organisation. No two lens views will be exactly the same but overall a picture forms of the orgnisation. Microsoft and Google in particular are very good at this, encouraging staff to keep personal blogs and also read each other’s, whilst also reminding staff of their contractual obligations not to make sensitive information public. The Mark Lens firing by Google following entries in his blog stands as a warning to all, but has not resulted in mass firings for those who do not tow the company line on their blogs. It did however make people sit up and raise a few eyebrows at Google, and the technology giant did seem to come off worse in the blogging PR stakes after the incident. It seems though to have been an isolated case with lessons learned and most companies choose to deal with any hiccups privately rather than with public disciplinary procedures. When Robert Scoble left Microsoft his exit interview was recorded on the Microsoft blogging ‘network’ for all to see and many of his comments reveal a lot about how blogging inside a large corporate is viewed by the people actually keeping the blogs. His interview is at :

http://channel9.msdn.com/Showpost.aspx?postid=213207

Within Microsoft a ‘blog smart’ ethos was developed but with over 2.5 percent of this enormous company’s staff blogging, it cannot be ignored that the perception and reputation of Microsoft amongst developers and customers has not been higher for over ten years. Much of this is attributable to blogging. IBM and Yahoo have followed a similar pattern with similar guidelines but interestingly enough their reputation in the marketplace has not increased to anywhere near the same extent. There will always be some who will question whether a company like Microsoft can ever be trusted fully to present itself truthfully given their history. I must admit I am one of them.

The second type of blogging company has an official blog in the company name, which designated members of staff can contribute to on a daily basis. Typically this is how smaller companies handle blogging. Some set this for senior management and department heads whilst others encourage the entire organisation to contribute. Wieden Kennedy’s blog “Welcome to Optimism” is a good example of this. They keep write-ups of pitches they have done, new work just released, company night’s out, late nights at work, new hires, and really show what its like to work with this extremely talented group of advertising people. It therefore serves as a recruitment tool but also showcases work to clients and prospects alike. A new prospective client gets an extremely good view of the agency and gains valuable information as to whether this is a team that they want to work with. The question though in these circumstances is whether clients really want to know what it is really like to work inside an agency or whether this is more truth than they can handle. Wieden Kennedy’s growth for the year seems to indicate that this isn’t the case and the rest of the personality of the agency is clear for all to see whilst the industry reads their blog hoping to pick up some tips on how they produce the excellent work they do.

It is difficult to say which companies in this area are handling blogging badly because there does not seem to be a right or wrong way to do it, only a choice as to how much you share and how regularly. There does however seem to be a lot of companies who are not blogging at all and seem to be oblivious to the tool which is surprising given the amount interest coming from clients. Certainly an agency that is not blogging shouldn’t really be giving advice to clients on the subject, and any blog by a company which attempts to hide it’s identity in favour of promoting it’s products is seen in the blogosphere as dishonest and those that have tried this approach have very quickly been out-ed with resultant damage to their brand.


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Friday, September 08, 2006

Lynx Sprinkler

It’s not often that I’ll look at an ad and think that it is going to have a counter productive effect on the brand but I find myself doing exactly this with the new sweat everywhere ad from Lynx for their Lynx Dry product.

Now the ad was originally created in Argentina by VegaOlmosPonce and adapted for the UK by Lowe London and so there may be some International travel issues with the ad from the start but my biggest problem with it is that it doesn’t seem to have the same underpinning values of previous Lynx advertising which on the whole I’ve thought has been perfect.

Now it could be a generation thing but I remember being told at school that anti perspirants work by clogging up the pours and so they were actually going to make you sweat more not less, and the products you should be using were deodorants. At that time there were a lot of anti perspirants around and so finding a deodorant took a bit of doing, but that very soon changed. Naturally I cynically wonder if this all was conceived at a 80s planner’s desk but even if it did, it worked and sales of deodorants went through the roof.

It therefore seems very odd that this story is told of Mr Sweaty and the solution is an anti perspirant. It doesn’t fit what was ingrained. Second to that the whole Lynx Effect is missed, and a very somber girlfriend is still nervous to be around her man when he raises his arms. Not exactly the babe-magnet-towel-twirling-all-you-need-to-be-dressed-and-pull-is-Lynx message of their shower gel product.

I just think that this ad misses the core Lynx values and as such is neither pleasant to watch or reinforcing for the brand. I watch it and nothing makes me want to go out and buy Lynx Dry (admittedly I'm not the target marketplace but I always try and get into the mindset of the intended customer and on this occasion I'm failing).

Maybe I’ve been doing this far too long and looking way too deeply but that’s what struck me.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Anti Extinction Mode and why its pointless

I’m a big fan of Blog Maverick. In one of his recent posts he hits on a topic that infuriates me about the world. In it he takes the example of the Cinema industry and argues that instead of spending money to stop pirated films and downloading the industry should spend the money on improving and extolling the positive experience of going to a movie theatre. You see this attitude everywhere, from Politicians “Don’t vote for the other guy he’s crap”, to software companies “I’m patenting every syllable in the English Language so I can sue anyone who might ever make a complimentary product to me” to advertisers “Use our product its got a very tenuous link to a hot topic even though we can only suggest this rather than stating it overtly because then our ad will get banned”. I have to admit that I don’t go to the cinema as much as I used to and have missed several movies in the theatre recently that a few years ago I would have seen. My rationale is to wait for DVD release but if I wanted to I could just as easily pick up a dodgy download. Some of my cinema experiences recently have not been good, with dirty theatres, surly staff and audience members who seem to think its ok to chat during the movie.

It’s all rubbish really isn’t it. Everyone running around in anti extinction mode instead of evolving into a positive force for the future. It probably wouldn’t take too much to turn me and many others back into a regular cinema goer again, but the industry seems to be uninterested in doing these things.

I remember reading recently that climate change has had such an effect on the habitat of polar bears that there are now documented cases of male polar bears becoming so hungry the they have attacked, killed and eaten their smaller female counterparts. To my mind this is exactly the same response as the examples above, but we as human beings really should be able to reason our way to the correct conclusion that this kind of response has no real benefits beyond immediate gratification and is actually counter productive in the long run. Unfortunately for Polar bears they do not have our capacity to reason in this way, but politicians, corporations and advertisers have no excuses.

It will be very sad to live in a world without polar bears, and equally sad to wander through Leicester Square without seeing a cinema, but unless both entities wise up and develop effective responses which actually address their problems, both of these outcomes could become reality before long.

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Visions Visionaries and Evangelists

There is a word that is being banded around a lot at the moment and I have to admit that I am extremely uncomfortable with it. The word is ‘visionary’.

To me a visionary is someone who without clues literally dips into the future and has a vision of how the world will be. It requires a huge jump of faith as the infrastructure required to create this vision doesn’t exist and largely needs to be thought up by the individual (at least at a conceptual level). None of this is easy which is why there are so few genuine visionaries around. Ten years ago was a time for ‘visions’ because all the things we take for granted now (database driven websites, traffic analysis, personalised delivery of content etc) either didn’t exist or were no more than glimmers. I can even remember thinking up how some of these things would be done myself, but it really was a time for visions then and many people all had the same visions at the same time.

Some of them actually pursued those visions and created real tangible products and services which then gained market share and are now used the world over. That’s visionary. Me and everyone else who had an idea at the same time but didn’t make it real, or gain market share has no right to the visionary term. Instead we are evangelists. We look at the early formed visions of others and see the potential of how that vision can benefit us and everyone around us. We then take this message to anyone who will listen, and sometimes even adapt it in order to make it more relevant to our particular audience. This is a very cool thing to do and also requires skill, because meme’s of this kind require clever people to evangelise about them. It’s very cool to be an evangelist, but lets not confuse it with being a genuine visionary.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

The Class of the New

On a shorter post. Have a look at a book by Richard Barbrook called The Class of the New.

The book looks at who the great innovators in society are and have been over the years as technology advances with a particular line taken from Adam Smith towards the Internet and wired generation of today.

I was lucky enough to sit down and have a drink with this supremely intelligent character a few weeks ago and can receommend the book to everyone.

Object Based Sociality or your first box?

'm actually off sick at the moment which has enabled me to catch up on a lot of reading that was getting put off due to pitches and all the fun work stuff I need to do to keep things rolling.

Consequently there is a lot I want to comment on:

This post from James Cherkoff pointed me at an Essay by Jyri Zengestrom in which he talks about Social Networking sites and why some work and some don't. His solution is for sites to be centered around objects in order to succeed and he calls these Object Based Sociality. Personally I agree with James that this is a horrible term and somewhat meaningless. My offer would be to call it 'toys' but thats another conversation.

The point is that the web in its earliest form was a group of communities with disparate people coming together and meeting in various villages online. Those villages had names like Usenet, and IRC and in their earliest forms brought people together based on topics of discussion. The stronger the topic of discussion was or the more niche and 'otaku' oriented it was the larger the traffic and greater the take-up became. This is why such seemingly impossible communities as alt.vampires grew to have such a huge presence online with many many subscribers contributing daily. On the other side of the coin alt.scuba (I could be getting the name wrong here but you get my point) became another highly sought after community with many people sharing ideas on scuba diving equipment and dive destinations which had not been possible pre web. Divers are not on average short of a few quid and also tend to be very obsessive about their hobby and so this ticks all of the main boxes for a successful community.

Meanwhile over on IRC people were getting together in virtual cafes to share life experiences in these little communities. Here though it didn't seem to have a toy to base things around instead it was more about entertaining each other in the best way you could with the best stories you could. To me this is sounding a little like blogging communities and Livejournal, but the IRC communities typically took this a few stages further with real time communication, friendships and relationships forming and all brought together under this virtual roof of a cafe. I don't think its exaggerating things too far to say that members of these communities were transplanting themselves and their online lives into soap operas and I am wondering just how much of today's reality TV schedules owes it's inception to these IRC communities.

My point is that human beings will naturally try and find something to talk about and so sometimes using a toy is going to be a false dawn and maybe even detract from what could have happened if things had been left alone. I also think that social gatherings change place by nature over time. Ten years ago I was hanging out on IRC, today I write a blog and am not sure if I even have an IRC client loaded on my machine (I checked and yes I do but I have never used it).

Social Networks if they are to stay relevant need to constantly adapt. Yes MySpace is the flavour of this month but in Internet terms this month doesn't last very long and so will need to keep adapting to what its users want, not what it wants to give them. 'Toys' will not be the answer to the problem overall, however letting the users create their own 'toys' will be. Music is currently a great toy and users are exploring this toy on MySpace very well, but what happens when people get bored of that toy and want another one? Im not actually disagreeing with Jyri through this, I'm just remembering watching children on Christmas day open the really big present and instead of playing with what is inside, they spend the next month playing with the box. Do you remember your first box?

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Yesterday it was Google, Today its Apple, Roll on Ragnarok

I can't help feeling that either the world is going a little bit mad at the moment or just has too much time on its hands spent in airport departure lounges with no prospect of actually getting on a plane with your hand luggage.

After I remarked yesterday that Google is threatening to sue people who use the company name as a verb, I read in today's Brand Republic that Apple is sending out threatening letters to companies who use the word Pod in their products such as the Profit Pod and the TightPod. Now to be honest I had never heard of either of these products before reading today's news and still can't find a Google search result (Ha! no sueing me you uptight bastards!) for the Profit Pod that isn't about Apples letter to them, so I'm guessing that this product isn't in any immediate danger of eating into Apple's millions. The TightPod on the other hand looks like a really good idea and I fail to see how anyone could confuse it with an MP3/music player.

I suppose there are farmers all over the world who are about to be sent cease and desist orders from Apple in order to protect their market from Pea Pods (hey its a very similar name if you ask me!), and sci fi writers who are going to have pay royalties to Apple for creation of their Kryogenic Sleep Pods. Actually maybe then the same farmers should counter Sue Apple on the grounds that it will confuse their customers from buying Granny Smiths (it's an idea!)

I don't often resort to pure abuse on this journal but certain multi billionaires in this world really should get the fuck over themselves and find better things to do with their time. Maybe then we might find a cure for cancer and relief from Colplay.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I Google, You Google, He/She/it Googles

I've been lucky enough to work from some really good companies over the years and also some pretty shoddy ones. Out of the good ones though there has usually come a ;point where people stop striving forward to grow and better the company and instead seem to develop anal ostrich disease. To elaborate a probably already transparent analogy companies start preoccupying themsleves with stupid things and end up with their heads stuck up their assholes.

I can't help feeling that Google's latest outburst really is losing all sense of proportion. To go to the trouble of actually sending out legal letters in order to stop people referring to Google as a verb suggests that the merry search gurus have run out of things to spend their money on. Not just that though, to my mind it's counter productive. How much value was there in a brand when people walked in a shop and asked to purchase a 'Hoover' or an Aspirtin or travelled on an 'escalator'. Most brands would give their vital organs to have such a strong position that people actually asked for their product by name instead of the type of product.

Way back in 2001 I remember seeing an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when the completely delicious Allison Hunnigan solved an identity mysteruy by 'Googling' for the person they were looking for. How can that be bad for a brand when you have a prime time TV show referring to your industry by your brand name.

Google is possibly the greatest company that the world has ever seen, and it would be a great shame for such a fantastic company to disappear up its own asshole, when there is absolutely no need to do so.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Nokia's purchase of Loudeye

The announcement a few days ago (which I saw reported in New Media Age) that Nokia is to purchase Loudeye is both bold and brave and certainly something that I think everyone should sit up and take a look at.

In the mobile music space you have iTunes sitting pretty with Napster version 2 looking to make an impact. Offerings from HMV and Virgin do not seem to be making much of an impact against these two (and specifically iTunes) whereas you then have the web2.0 offerings typified by Pandora, and the Kazaa p2p file sharing network that has recently pledged to go legitimate.

Meanwhile you have a sleeping giant in the form of Sony with their Walkman brand.

Nokia's bid looks to me like a concerted effort to remain a player in the overall entertainment mobile space which only really Apple can claim to have done anything approaching this scale. In many ways I'm a little dismayed that it wasn't Sony who put the bid in as then you would have the streaming content, the rights and the method of delivery all together in one package. Nokia have definitely decided to do something to shake things up and I hope that this move wakes a few other people up in the space, because at the moment there is an awful lot of people who just seem to be giving up instead of fighting for their marketplace, and to my mind that is a case of coming up with innovative ideas for the marketplace rather than simply looking at how to market whatever products they currently have.

My biggest issue is that music downloads seem to be focused very much on the 'single' and I don't see anyone taking the album seriously. That is a natural path to take when your market is the single buying teenage marketplace but that has never really been what the real music business was about. The great seminal works were always albums. People bought Rumours, not simply the Chain. They also bought Disintegration and not simply Lovesong. I think there is a massive opportunity for someone to own the album buying download space and make what I suspect will be some very impressive margins.

Its interesting that Radiohead used this argument against iTunes and refused to provide their content to Apple, and I can remember having this conversation years ago with Midge Ure when he pointed out that great bands were a result of nurturing which then led to enormous record sales at the third or fourth album. His argument was that somewhere out there was the next U2 and that the business was geared up to miss them because they couldn't produce quick wins.

These days with Myspace producing the next big thing I still think there is room for the album buying public to have a channel left open to them. I will be very interested what happens next.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Agency.com's Subway Pitch

Back in the boom of the last Internet explosion something happened inside most agencies. That something was that a lot of people's heads got a lot closer to their assholes and the aromas found there were declared to be of the finest bouquet.

The arrogance that led to this was something that a lot of clients were incredibly pissed off about when they were handed proposals with prices equating to third world debt and no ROI model to even attempt to justify the cost. It was literally 'take it or leave it and if you leave it your competitor will take it and you'll be out of business.' I can remember sitting down with a project manager who argued with me that 150K was nowhere near reasonable enough a price for 12 week project to show a profit.... Oh really? I hated that arrogance then and I have zero tolerance for it now.

So I'm actually sitting here wondering what it is about the Subway viral pitch release from agency.com that is really annoying me. I think its the very public arrogance of saying "Look at us, this is how we approach a pitch" and god help anyone who sees this as a masterclass. There does seem to be a need inside agencies to become celebrities and the rule I've held up to be true over the years is that when the film crews enter the office to start filming, its usually time to get the hell out because people will develop diva status afterwards and the part that is always lost is that the client is the boss and that we exist to serve their needs as best we can. That doesn't mean you have to become a slave, it just means that you should remember that we are a client led business. If clients trust you they ask your opinion, if clients feel valued they share insight with you, if clients believe in you, they will listen to what you have to say. That's called having a relationship with a client and no amount of glitz and glamor is ever a substitute.

I am aware that what I am watching is canned because the movie tells me, so the whole argument of user based content and being caught in the moment that YOUTube and Flickr exemplify is lost. We are back to the idea of a film roll to support a pitch and this is hardly new. Sure instead of the neat graphics and tripod precision shots of yesteryear we now have hand held cameras but you watch it and think to yourself how many takes did that shot take to get 'right'. I'm feeling like I'm watching a bunch of middle class parents from Long Island try and prove how Brooklyn they really are with very little success.

Just about every part of it seems insulting to me from the initial stilted dialogue (anyone who walks up to me and says corner office without explaining why is likely to get a double espresso hurled at their precise coordinates), to the false cheer leading high fives and the deliberately vague power words on the board. Come on guys if you really are going to live life in front of the camera at least have the guts to actually do it honestly. Your ideas would then have been preserved for posterity in copyleft (anyone who did try and steal them would instantly be found out because its been committed to film on the web doh!).

So of course what we then do is send some of the team off to Subway to work there and stop people in the street to ask them questions about the brand. Might it not have been more honest to stand in the store and ask people why they bought that sandwich and not another? I mean how arrogant do you have to be to ask some poor delivery boy what the best thing about working for Subway is? At a rough guess I'd say that most delivery boys would answer that they pay him and that he finishes in enough time to go and start his second full time job of the day. It's fast food guys, not Gordan Ramsay.

Its just so arrogant-agency-with-head-inserted-in-asshole that its untrue. I can only imagine how much Kleenex was required after this particular masturbation session.

User based content and and viral messaging is an important aspect of the mix these days but if you are going to extol your knowledge of these disciplines then go out and actually demonstrate it. Subway as a brand could very well benefit from viral and social media, but nothing in this piece persuades me that Agency.com understands either discipline or that they have the ideas to implement in order to produce an ROI to Subway. Fans will of course say that it has worked because I am commenting on it, but I am commenting on how bad it is not how good it is. None of this can possibly be of benefit to either Subway or their pitch so as far as I can see it fails at each point. Somehow it is just too perfect that Subway asked for no more than five minutes and the entire piece lasts for 9 minutes. That is too perfect on so many levels.

I guess the point Im making is that if you are trying to show how down with the kids and close to the street you are, its better to check your street cred ranking before booking air time.

Edit

Another Old timer, David Bently puts it better than I have

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Alexa's ratings algorithms and systems

I've recently become a bit of a fan of Alexa.com. Looking at trends and comparing competitors traffic levels has become a bit of a fun piece as part of my pitches these days.

Over on Recognized Design I found this post which is not quite as praise worthy, and questions the entire validity of algorithms like Alexa.

Not sure if I completely agree with everything being said. I mean data on its own is neither good nor bad and whilst the algorithm maybe suspect I have definitely seen some interesting trend patterns appear on the analysis i've done but I also take the point that a lot of it is largely guess work. I suppose the point is not to put your faith whole heartedly into things.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Noble Sales and Ignoble Sales

It has been a weak of business development and pitching which has mean that the server has been feeling a little bit neglected, and I can hopefully put that right today at some point.

On another note though I saw over on Seth Godin's blog this post.

Now I've worked at the sharp end of sales, at the marketing coalface and even on the production room floor so I do feel qualified in commenting on this.

The problem is that sales isn't a bad thing, it is just all too often done badly by people who have no real bond to the company or the services beyond their commission cheque each month and even less regard for their clients and customers. I have seen it all too often and frankly I despise that kind of sales person with the kind of passion I usually reserve for traffic wardens, and London Transport.

The reason for this is because I think the real skill of selling is not winning the first order, but to keep my own phone ringing from existing customers so that I get the second, third fourth etc sale with little or no extra effort, and to my mind the only way to achieve that is by listening to what clients want and delivering that within a fair budget. All too often I’ve heard comments like “No matter what the customers problem, the answer is rip it out and put in new stuff” or “I’m a firm believer that you can sell any rubbish just as long as you tart it up enough”.

Now of course there are some environments where this kind of sale is probably desirable. These usually result in a single sale transaction between the customer and the supplier and the sales person is likely to be working somewhere else by the time that the customer needs to purchase again. In this model, the Car salesman, the insurance salesman, the ad space salesman, the door to door salesman and the estate agent are born. It’s easy to see why the caricatures of these people is so negative, but sadly its true that if the customer feels ripped off there is usually nothing that can be done about it and so these sales professionals are already looking for their next prospect.

All of these however are focussed on that single transaction for a product that has a long ownership life. It all goes out of the door when you are selling a service. For a start you don’t have those neat little crib sheets anymore showing you the advantages over competitors because there is no finely crafted product, there is only your own ability to listen and help the client define their needs and then come back with a solution that meets it. This is the truly great skill of selling, and it requires real knowledge both of the clients situation and of their business needs. So your not selling a vase anymore you are hearing about your client’s need to create a pleasing environment and then getting designs created to demonstrate the clients perfect idea of what a vase should be. This is when it gets tricky, because you not only have to get into the clients head of what they want but also be eloquent enough to describe it adequately in order for the client to give you the order.

Of course you could go and get it made for them but then you are incurring costs and if a particular vase costs thousands and thousands to make then you have to be careful about that. Similarly you have to have knowledge of the vase making process, how long it takes, where to source materials, the availability of a potter, and a painter who work and are experienced in the particular techniques required to make this particular vase for the client. All too often sales people assume that one is exactly like the other and carry on regardless.

This leads to setting the client’s expectation of prices and promises made on delivery timescales. If you are not sure of the answer, either find out or take someone with you who is sure!

For some reason though when the sales person comes back and talks about this great new deal they have signed it is always someone else’s problem to fix these misconceptions and inaccuracies, and because money is now at stake, the salesperson sides with the client with the result that either a sub standard service is offered by cutting costs or the company takes a swan dive on the margins. Oh and god help anyone in production who cannot stick to unrealistic deadlines which were promised to the client without anyone else’s agreement or consultation.

This is sales done badly

Sales done well is so very different. In that model records are kept of every conversation and these are open to anyone in order to follow the thought process of how the project came about. The sales person is either a senior production person who has swapped across to handle sales (and gained the additional skills to do so) or they are accompanied by a competent production person who understands the complexities of the tasks required.

The price and deadlines are set in consultation and based on full disclosure of the jobs scope. Sales and production are therefore working together for the benefit of the client and the client has an expectation set in keeping with the actual scope of the project. Now to me this is noble sales, and professional sales and it is undertaken by a professional who not only enjoys the thrill of the chase and the excitement of the kill, but someone who also loves their industry, is knowledgeable and who has respect for their clients. In short this is a salesman whose job is to make sure that their phone is constantly ringing with clients asking for repeat business. Anything marketing does on top is naturally a bonus. Oh and in that model it’s not just the sales person who can be asked when the project will close, it’s the client, because it is in their interests as well to get this moving. The day when that kind of salesperson can be replaced by anything mechanised is a few generations away yet.

The other kind of sales person probably should be replaced by website and as soon as possible.

Edit : It seems as though Michael thinks along the same lines as me

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Finding the SUN - The birth of a Sun Fire T2000 Sun Server - Day 5

Day five found me with a plan attack to get things moving.

3 hours of manual reading last night revealed that I had a fundamental misunderstanding of console command. I was viewing it as a command which launched a mini application whereas it is more along the lines of a toggle between the System console interface and an information printout of what the server is doing. When I thought it had hung what was actually happening was that it was simply not reporting any errors or diagnostic information.

I was also having problems logging in on telnet as root on the main server login which was giving me all manner of frustrations.

A word with people far more knowledgeable about these things than me revealed this as a security measure which prevents root logging in via telnet.

The solution was therefore to create a new user from SC and then telnet in and log in to as this user and then run the 'su' command to make changes to the IP setup using 'ifconfig'.

The only fly in the ointment was that I had been unable to find a mini network hub capable of stacking with others to give me the full number of network ports I required, but my logic told me that if I had inadvertently configured two ports to have the same IP address that as long as I only connected one at a time, I should still be able to telnet to it and my experiences yesterday proved that I could.

Unfortunately today when I telnet into the Network SC port I can see it, replacing the cable to the network card I configured doesn’t seem to result in anything. Ping proves that the port is not broadcasting and all packets are lost. Nothing has changed and even a reset reveals no change. I have no idea currently why this worked yesterday and not today. Could it possibly be that telnet attempts using root somehow disable the port if it is tried too many times? I honestly cannot think of any other reason.

All in all this gives me something of a problem because I don’t know how to configure it without first accessing it. There must be a way, I just don’t know what it is. Looks like its back to the books.

Later:

At the time of writing the piece above I was well and truly stuck, but a breakthrough came along with a bit of luck.

Whilst flaying about blindly on my system console and switching between SC and console I was suddenly confronted with a Login prompt. Thinking about it now I do get what the console command does and my woes would have been sorted out a lot sooner if I had got this. The console is the same as any other terminal with the exception that it displays diagnostic information, consequently whilst trying to enter a command I suddenly got a Login prompt and all became clear to me.

I was then able to get in and use ifconfig to work out what wasn't working. Now I knew that in a unix system everything is basically a file which relates to a device and in order to work, the device has to first be initialised and loaded before it can be given settings at which point it works. It therefore wasn't surprising to find that the problem with the network card was that it wasn't initialised. I'm not sure how it had managed to get uninitialised but I’m guessing if there was some kind of conflict or error during a reset then that could have done it. Anyway what I was then able to do was search out the commands to initialise the card and then to give it its new settings.

I tested it and low and behold I could connect to the network card. The problem still remained though that I couldn’t log in as root over telnet. Going back to the system console I then decided to create a new user . I checked and the user was created and then used the passwd command to set a password.

Success! I was able to telnet in as the user. Taking Graeme's advice again I decided to setup secure shell access by first editing /etc/ssh/sshd_config to set PermitRootLogin yes . Naturally this first required a refresh of commands for the vi text editor

Another check meant that I could ssh as root to the server and telnet as the new user.

This means that I am finishing my first week with a T2000 with a working base system. People with experience of these things will no doubt achieve the same thing in a single day but as I said in the first of these posts, I am far from being a techie and have never had any kind of machine as big as this before so to be in this position at the end of week one is a major achievement in my book. I have definitely cocked up but I'm kinda on top of where I’ve cocked up and by cocking up I’ve been able to learn what went wrong and how to fix it. All experience whether good or bad is good.

Now on to application setup.

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