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.