The life of Riley

I know it’s a sort of liberal utopian wet dream and I keep going on about it, but a number of things today have pushed me towards the view that our future will move significantly away from mass media, and that the change will happen much faster than most people currently expect. Indeed, the speed of progress in this change is really starting to accelerate, to become wholly entwined in the daily life of our media, and a frame of reference with which even the latest to adopt are becoming very comfortable.

The first thing is the sad story of the death of Olive Riley, the web’s oldest blogger.


Here’s an extract from an early entry:

“You 21st century people live a different life than the one I lived as a youngster in the early 1900s. Take Washing Day, for instance. These days you just toss your dirty clothes into a washing machine, press a few switches, and it’s done.

I remember scratching around to find a few pieces of wood to fire the copper for Mum.


Some time later, when the fire had gone out, Mum would haul the clothes, dripping wet, out of the hot water with a strong wooden copperstick, and that was jolly hard work. The clothes weighed a lot more sopping wet than when they were dry.

Then she would feed the wet washing into a machine called a mangle. It had two large rollers with a narrow gap between them, and a big metal wheel that had to be turned by hand. That was my job – and it was real hard work for a small kid.


Thank you to all my good friends who have sent me interesting emails and loving hugs by commenting on my blob [sic]. Love to you all, and please keep writing those comments.”

The second thing is a small thing. And it’s not, in itself, anything remarkable, but somehow it struck me particularly today. For a brief period years ago, I worked alongside Amelia Torode, who has a well-known blog. Amelia’s always had interesting things to say and often novel viewpoints on the things I’m interested in, so I read her blog and follow her on Twitter. This evening I saw this in a twitter gadget:

google stupid

The link takes you to this post on her blog. It’s exactly the sort of thing Hugh Macleod does all the time, and Scrobble used to do right up until I deleted him from Twitter and Google reader because I was having an overload problem. The post itself is really interesting and I’m glad I followed the link. But it got me thinking: isn’t this cross promotion actually a bit like this:


And this:


I don’t know how many people read Amelia’s blog, or follow her Twitter, but they’re all pretty interested in what she says in those places. And so, it’s probably a  pretty successful advert.

In the same vein, several million twitters promoted the iPhone last weekend,. Could brands really think of any places they’d rather be promoted? Even including search.

The third thing is Twitter’s acquisition of Summize, a small search-engine technology. Why is that interesting? Well look here or here, or here. This is the technology which will make twitter content available to people who don’t know the contributor (strapline: See what the world is doing — right now.”).

What will I be telling my grand kids when I’m 108 (assuming medical science figures how to reconstruct brain cells in the next 70 years)? ‘Well Johnny, you wouldn’t believe what we had to do in the old days. We had to promote all our blog entries on Twitter manually.’

Dead bloggers’ society


Damien Mulley is a fabulous Irish blogger who came over to London to attend Interesting 2008 recently. On his way there, he stopped off at Conchango (where I work)  to talk to us about the effect blogging was having on newspapers in Ireland. It was an interesting presentation, although – for me at least – the most interesting thing was Damien’s passion for what he’s doing (as a hobby) and his disdain for the laziness of journalists, and the speed at which they appear to descend into a very cynical approach to news gathering.

So far, so 2.0. I have absolutely no doubt that journalists will come to use bloggers as primary sources, just before their jobs vanish completely in a puff of disintermediation. That’s not to say we don’t need guides and editors. If anything we’re seeing a rise in the need for curation. But that curation can and will come from different mechanics. Anyone who is close to a national newspaper these days will see this trend being enacted inside their walls as well as outside.

But the thing that Damien said which really intrigued me – shortly before I left him to a predictable fate with Conchango’s harder-core of drinkers – was about the future of internet content after the author’s demise.

Sorry, it’s not cheery, but it’s also not something that I’ve ever really heard discussed. And it’s going to become a big question very soon.

In the old days, when a famous author would pass away, his or her editor and publisher would have decisions to make, as might benefactors, as the intellectual property of the work may be vested to future generations. Time for a retrospective perhaps, or – for the Presleys – some serious consideration about what rights must be reserved.

Damien’s comment was that he had been asked to will his (Google) page rank to another company. Damien is – I believe – a top 20 blogger in Ireland, and his site has a lot of Google juice. That juice is worth a lot of money in the right hands.

But a wider point also exists for those of us who don’t have top-flight blogs (which certainly includes me). What about all those bits of content we’re all chucking up on the web nowadays: Flickr albums, Facebook profiles, Ugly MySpace pages, blogs, twitter statuses, all that. What will happen to those when we’re no longer sucking in our breath? Should Google, WordPress etc delete them, conceal them, mark them ‘deceased’, keep them forever? Will it become part of an executor’s job to edit the ‘about us’ pages of blogs to amend ‘Tom is no longer with us’?

Who owns the page rank? Can my next of kin add loads of Viagra CPC ads to my blog?

And more to the point. When we have 5 generations of bloggers who are no longer on this mortal coil, how will Google manage to tell apart content from the living?

Inside out

Why Corporate Blogging works by Hugh Mcleod

Stumbled upon this very good summary from James Gardner of Lloyds TSB of the questions that face enterprises in deciding if they should ‘unleash’ the power of web 2.0 inside their corporations.

My favourite insight into all of this – which I think I originally heard from Euan Semple and James also mentions –  is when managers say, ‘Should we really be giving our staff this level of ability to publish content?’

Of course, this is the illusion of a decision. Staff already have the power outside of the firewall and will use it as they see fit. And they’ll put their own systems in to do it internally – in Euan’s case several thousand BBC staff were, as I understand it, taking part in discussion groups running on a computer sitting under his desk.

And, since when did we enter into a pitch battle with the people who work in our companies? If you read any piece of corporate literature written in the 90s, you’ll undoubtedly find some contrite aphorism that “our people are our strongest (or only) assett”. Well shouldn’t we start acting like that?

The image at the top of this post (taken from Gaping Void like all of those in this article) is part of Hugh MacLeod’s great porous membrane post. Area B is the conversation which is happening about the company in the real world. Area A is the coverstation that is happening about the company inside the company. Besides the fact that you can prove any point using Venn diagrams, Hugh’s argument is that the membrane “X” is being eroded, whether corporates like it or not, every day. And surely that’s the way it should be. The question for companies isn’t “should we play along?” but “how do we get involved with this so that people understand what it is we care about?”.

A few other great cartoons from Hugh while we’re at it:

(I’ve never understood Creative Commons but these are all from Gaping Void and all the genius is Hugh‘s)

Geroge is changing the system from the insideCluetrain for retards

Waiting tables is just a day job. My real love is telling people like you to go fuck themselves.

See what I meme

Thinking blogger awards

Unlike most pyramid schemes, if I break the chain of the “thinking blogger award“, I don’t end up with a life of unhappiness or the loss of multiple limbs.

Nevertheless, it’s a great honor to make Amelia‘s list and it is a pleasure to name some more blogs which inspire me. Obviously these are the tip of a large social-media-shaped iceberg, and not one of them matches up to Amelia’s own posts, which I await with a feverish anticipation normally reserved for teenage girls on the eve of  a new Busted album.

1. Antony on Open. Inspirational and persistent. Spent a year telling me again  and again why blogs weren’t just newsgroups from the 90s with a new name, and didn’t say “told you so” when I started my own. Constantly full of new takes and a resolute understanding of what’s going on.

2. RMM London. Consistently fascinating, witty and understated.

3. Creating Passionate Users. I don’t know how it ended up in my reader. Looking for a quote about usability I think and then I found this amazing repository of thinking which extends design from functional basics to the most fantastically sophicated thoughts about usability and user engagement. I still refer back to Kathy Sierra’s posts regularly. There are some real classics. I hope with time she will feel she can return to bringing us her beautiful insights.

4. AdLiterate from Richard Huntingdon. Pound for pound, the most insightful blog on the internet. Sometimes caustic, always engaging, brilliantly written and with fab illustrations. 

5. Russell Davies, of course. I’m sure I can’t be the first to nominate him.  Fascinating thoughts, beautifully written. I’d love to know what his five are.

Right guys, keep the chain within five days or your coffee will curdle and your wallpaper will peel.

Being optimistic

Welcome to Optimism (W+K London)

I’ve been watching with interest the blog posts on Welcome to Optimism – Wieden + Kennedy’s official blog out of London – about their progess on the Ikea pitch. They talked about the build up, the staff working the weekend to get it done, and now the fact that they’ve lost the pitch to BMB.

What’s the rule about damage limitation? Get it out fast, get it out first and get it out on your terms? Is that what they’re doing? I don’t know. I don’t get it. The post itself is magnanimous, although they’ve dropped in a no-pitch win rather bizarrely (if you worked at the Observer, would you sign off that coverage?) This has made me wonder, how did all this functionally get delivered? Did the client know? Our trade press is desperate to have scoops of all of this sort of stuff. So keen in fact that they seem happy to make half of it up (“xxxx is looking for a digital agency….”). If we’re all going to just tell everyone, what will Campaign be for?

The machine that changed the world

Mass production car plant line

I’ve been reading the fantastic The Machine that Changed the World. The book was first published in 1990 by a team of economists from MIT in response to the whacking which American car producers were receiving from the Japanese.

Machine that changed the world (book cover)

It had been widely assumed that the system the Japanese were using to simultaneously deliver higher productivity, higher quality, quicker plant turn around, faster product development and greater innovation were deeply rooted in particularities of Japanese culture and ethos. Anyone who has visited Japan will know that the culture is dramatically different from the west with significantly greater emphasis placed on the role of the group and social responsibility. Weren’t these the factors that were allowing the Japanese to beat the US at their own game – large scale car production as it had originally been devised by Henry Ford in the 20s?

In fact, Womack et al. establish through detailed investigation of the Toyota Production System (TPS), as well as detailed on-site analysis of many US, European and Japanese car plants, that the new ways to produce automobiles on a large scale – dubbed “lean production” – are in fact simply better than the “mass production” techniques we are all taught to believe are best-in-class. Whatsmore they can  be implemented anywhere. The proof being the American owned and Japanese owned lean-production plants which now exist in the US and Europe.

Unlike mass production, lean production returns responsibility for the smooth running of the factory to the staff that actually work on the production line, it places an emphasis on immediately removing all defects and minimising waste, involves customers in the design process and it is based on the understanding that it is not always best to try and make all project decisions in advance. It is a revolutionay way to look at processes and governance.

I strongly recommend the book which covers all of this in a very digestible manner and is very engagingly written too.

I’ve been introduced to all of this by the adaption of these principles to software engineering (the Agile Movement) at Conchango, and so I’m going to pick up my points on this subject on my new, and not very shiny blog over there. There’s a lot to talk about and this book review will be the only post I put on both blogs. I’m intending to look both at the key lean principles but also about how they could be implemented in all sorts of places in today’s ultra-competitive and ultra-open markets.

And if you’re thinking this is all about cars. Think again. Here a story about the Wii whipping the PS3. The PS3 is (despite being Japanese) a classic product cycle development. Wii is innovation. Innovation requires lean thinking.