Geek Olympics

 Daley Thompson pixels

Another great post from RMM. This time from Dan O’Connor about potential web 2.0 olympic sports. And fully in tune with inevitable Nonsense 2.0 we are about to receive in our crazy summer.

Not, of course the sort of computer sports that we remember from being 11 and having to hammer on the “k” and “l” keys to win the race, but some nice reality and sarcasm about just how happily we’re really co-existing with modern technology.

I particularly like the Wikipedia challenge where you have to keep reposting your Zionist conspiracy theories as many times as possible before getting officially banned.

My entrant is holding a “future of advertising” summit where the winner is the last one to say the G word.

Summer madness

I know it’s not summer yet. But it’s going to come soon and it’s going to be full of crazy people. And the crazy people are going to work in marketing agencies and they’re going to be trying to reinvent the interweb. Here are some early starters:

Thompson ad 

Firstly some klutz at JWT clearly doesn’t know that Google Earth is a product name and not a generic. Rather more importantly is this candidate for most patronising and inelegant phrase I’ve heard for a long time: ‘read what people like you made of it’.

The site itself has some nice features and UI bits and pieces, as well as a (not bad) custom virtual earth. I can only assume they’re still working on the content. When you roll over the continental United States you get one clickable link which opens up to say: “Holidays in the USA will offer you the warmest of welcomes, the biggest of portions and lifetime of memories”.

Thompson Earth

Well I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve been there before I even got on the plane. I might explore more with some user generated content. Although Thompson would like to make it very clear that any resemblence to trusting their customers is purely accidental:

THompson Flickr

Well they can’t be too careful what people like us might upload.

The ad was in good company. The newly updated information revolution ad was right next to it. Remember boys and girls, Google is too powerful so you should use That’s the same that only exists now because it ran Google ads for the last five years.

Ask - the other search engine.

Passion and hatred

Kathy Sierra standing infront of slide saying ‘not rational’ 

 On Friday 6 April, Kathy Sierra posted a follow-up on the ‘death threats’ nightmare that began on 26 March when she was forced to cancel an appearance at the O’Reilly ETech conference. Here is the original post related to that.

As a high profile blogger, Sierra had been subject to criticism, including the occasional abusive post. The crucial difference was when the posts became overtly misogynist and began to threaten violence.

Similar posts threatened Maryam Scoble, and Sierra became so concerned for her own safety that the police became involved.

At first it appeared that several bloggers who had been critics of Sierra’s were responsible for the offensive comments. It later turned out that this blame was wrongly assigned with the offensive posts the work of still anonymous hackers, looking to stir up trouble between Sierra and her opponents.

One of those initially blamed Chris Locke, released a joint statement with Sierra on Monday 1 April to clarify some of this.

What is truly truly sad about all of this, which is highlighted in Sierra’s post on Friday is that she is now afraid to continue either her speaking engagements or her (fantastic) blog.

This is a talented author, speaker and incredibly insightful thinker. Sierra is not a politician or a pundit, she is advocate for a modern approach to brands and consumers in the electronic age.

How can we have rewarded her open, sharing and intelligent input with nothing less than an open-air mugging?

And, like all violent crime we leave a victim who will constantly be on the look out for the next attack. Her post from immediately after the incident said:

“I have cancelled all speaking engagements. I am afraid to leave my yard, I will never feel the same. I will never be the same.” 

The whole episode has perhaps left Sierra over-sensitised to misogny and hate, although it would be difficult not see those characteristics, particularly, lurking in the background of much of the IT industry.

Most galling is that there doesn’t seem to be a single thing we can do about it. No-one is defending the posts themselves because they were essentially acts of vandalism. This is not a free speech debate. This is not  a question of a blogging code of conduct.

The only answer can  be a zero-tolerance for abusive content and abusive motive. And if the hackers can be found, they should be treated no differently than if the threats had been sent by post or written on the outside of Sierra’s house.

Apart from that, all we can do is pray that Sierra has the courage to go on and does not loose faith in power of people to do good and help each other, and the role the web can play in enabling that.

Gadget and a half

The filter - desktop interface

New gadget I’ve just downloaded: The Filter from Exabra is excellent. It mood filters your own record collection (as well as pointing you in the direction of tracks to buy should you wish). I tell it I like Concrete Sky by Beth Orten and it creates a playlist including “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” by St Etienne and “And She Was” by Talking Heads. Brilliant.

(I promise I’ve only just noticed in writing this that my new company Conchango is part of this. Even better!)

Incidentally, and it really is a very small grumble for such a good product, why do people say things like this – taken from the download page – “The Filter makes listening to music easy and enjoyable”. This is the language of hype which is simply unnecessary. They’ve got the tone on the first page: “those playlists you never get round to making… this gizmo does them for you”.

Necessary but not sufficient

Jim Tucker and Sir Humphrey in Yes Priminister

There is a great episode of Yes Prime Minister where Jim Tucker thinks he’s solved a difficult international diplomatic problem and Humphrey explains in his normal obsequious tone that Jim’s logic amounts to the same as “all cats have four legs, my dog has four legs. Therefore my dog is a cat”. (He phrases Jim’s original solution as “we must do something, this is something; therefore we must do it”)

Anyone who knows me will find this hard to believe but I studied logic at University. Of those three years this is one of two bits of logic I can remember: the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions (i.e. to be a cat means to have four legs but not the other way round).

Surely no one is stupid enough to make these mistakes in real life. Well do any of these ring a bell?:

  • My Space is really popular, I want my brand to be really popular. Therefore my brand will re-invent MySpace.
  • People love blogs. I want people to love my brand. Time for a brand blog.
  • The forums on Money Saving Expert  are really active and that creates passionate users. I want passionate users, so I should add forums to my site.

Our challenge for today is to nominate a brand-related site which has entered into the spirit of enabling users without wearing the clothes of a digital brand.


don't screw up, don't screw up.

Well how annoying, Nicola’s blog has only been up five seconds and she’s already getting more traffic than me! Must be the styling. And it’s funnier! I particularly liked the piece on America’s dumbest quiz show contestant (image above).

Well speaking of daftness, New Media Age reports today that agency DNA is looking to move further into the web 2.0 by appointing former head of interface as a creative director (pay walled). 

Clearly what the original press release is trying to say is two fold:

  1. that usability is as important as creativity
  2. that DNA is a really “web 2.0” agency

OK, so (1) usability is as important as creativity: Are they really bragging that they’ve just recognised this today – ten years in? Are they saying to their clients ‘Up to now we just used to give your customers a load of nice-looking stuff that didn’t work and they couldn’t use but was very creative. That’s about to change’. And the fact that ‘creative director’ is given almost as an honorary title but one which doesn’t require any skills is not exactly flattering to anyone, but does indicate who wears the pants in that family. Why don’t they promote a creative person to head of usability!!

(2) The implication is that Web2.0 is about how you do presentation layer, that by making changes to and adding features to a front-end you can improve usability and engagement. This is where we really lose touch (“I’m going to have to go with my instincts… is it Elephant?”).

Let’s not forget that the best interfaces are invisible and utility is not a product of implementation. Ajax and other “2.0” front end styling conventions and interfaces are obviously not solutions in themselves, they are techniques used in solving user problems. You can have a competely unusable site jammed full of 2.0 techniques and a fully usable site without one in sight (erm… Google anyone).

I agree that there is a polarisation amongst agencies: technically good ones and creative ones. But this sort of tokenism and knee-jerk reaction serves to highlight the problems not solve them.

Wobble 2.0

Pannel for Chinwag Wobble 2.0

It was a pleasure to attend Chinwag‘s inaugral live event “Wobble 2.0” at the Slug and Lettuce on Wardour Street on Tuesday (6th Feb).

The little speeches by the panel were alright, although not broadly on the topic but more a potted elevator pitch from each one’s

Mike Butcher was suprisingly nervous but great during the actual question and answer bit. He started out reading opening remarks – a little potted article that included some funny reminiscences from the last time round and the craziness of the late 90s.

Dave Nicholson from Zopa gives good elevator pitch but his enterprise isn’t really a bubble candidate since it’s in banking and a genuinely good idea.

Ryan Carson (silly hat) co-director (and presumably global executive president) of Carson System, had a very funny argument that .coms need to be financially viable before explaining that his wasn’t, and funnily enough then complaining that the was having trouble selling it at a 12:1 P/E ratio.

At least they all agreed that .coms needed immediate strategies to be profitable.

The best by miles however was Andrew Orlowski from the register who was fantastically acerbic making the following three observations that I wrote down:

  1. A lot of web 2.0 is people trying to solve general or technology problems with front end solutions (he actually said presentation layer solutions)
  2. A lot of .coms try solve problems that don’t exist (e..g. DocMartens reinventing MySpace, all those websites to store your friends birthdays and stuff). This certainly has an impact on brand-utility questions.
  3. His finest point. People assume that the connectivity improvements that are possible using the internet expand the field of human expression, contact and discourse. He questions this. His example is that he can go to a party and end up in a discussion with someone who disagrees with him on a range of points but they end up getting on and continuing his discussion. This, he points out, will never happen online. So we do need to make sure we don’t reduce the debate through the consensus-filtering that blogs so often apply.

on Open!

I think it says something about where we’re going that I feel peculiarly famous to be mentioned on Antony’s fantastic blog Open. If by some miracle you’ve seen my blog but not his, Open is the single most useful and thoughtful commentary on social media that I have found. Enthuiastic but not over-hyped! It’s a rare balance.

This blog on that blog (Usable Interfaces on Open)

Antony also posts a very interesting article right before his lovely mention of “Usable interfaces”. Google has published a 2006 zeitgeist. They’ve picked out the ten most common search phrases of the year:

  1. bebo
  2. myspace
  3. world cup
  4. metacafe
  5. radioblog
  6. wikipedia
  7. video
  8. rebelde
  9. mininova
  10. wiki

Antony takes from this the fact that 8 of them are social media related. True and entirely relevant. More interesting for me, over half of them are people trying to get to a website they *know* the URL for, but they no longer make a distinction between typing in the URL itself and typing a bit of it into Google.

Do people understand the distinction? Maybe some of them do. But if they won’t type in “.com” to get to myspace; how much time do you think they’ll be wanting to spend on your “skip intro”

Nike setting the example yet again

Nike has always been a formidable marketing organisation so it shouldn’t come as a suprise that they continue to lead the way when it comes a richer more three-dimensional branding. Indeed the entire concept of RunLondon or RunNYCity, took them into a space they could easily own and imprinted their values on it. The sight of 10,000 Londoners wearing identical blue Green and Orange tops in Hyde Park a few weeks back couldn’t have left us in any doubt of that.

 Run London 2006 start

Well their latest move makes RunLondon look like nothing. Partnering with Apple of all people, they’ve produced a system that turns any iPod into a complex run monitoring piece of kit (when partnered with certain Nike shoes). As you run, you get audible annoucements telling you how far you’ve got, your average pace etc.

Even better, when you get home you can see exactly how you did mile by mile with a graph (see below, I don’t know how it knew I was wearing a red top).

Nike Plus (Nike + Ipod)

You can then compare your times, track your progress, even compete with others around the world.

 Definitely one to file under “wish I’d thought of that”.

 MINOR UPDATE: I just got back from another cold and wet run. When I finished the ipod+Nike session, I got a voice update from Paula Radcliffe: “hi this is Paula Radcliffe, you’ve just completed your personal best mile” (although still a shocking time!). How cool is that!?