Freelancers have feelings too. Oh, and we need the money.

Stop wasting time. Click image for source.

Stop wasting time. Click image for source.

Being freelance is good. You get to have interesting conversations with people at the top of their game, often accompanied by coffee and nice biscuits. You walk away from the meeting feeling fresh, galvanised and optimistic. And so you should: you pitched for and landed another deal, and can look forward to another week or month of work with a nice pay cheque at the end of it.

But being freelance is also bad. Most of the difficulty arises from not being around. So people forget you because no matter how many emails or phone calls you make, it’s not the same as being in the building or in their face. If they have a choice of completing work for the guy next door or you on the other side of the country, they’ll sort him out first.

And this is the real problem: freelancers aren’t paid for twiddling their thumbs. We make time and space for work coming in, so if you then give priority to the guy next door – who is paid for twiddling his thumbs, actually – then we’re left high and dry.

So here’s a call to all you lovely people out there who pay our freelance wages. If you want to help us make a living, do this:

  • Remember us. Don’t have a brilliant, positive, energising call with us about wonderful things, then just forget us. In particular, don’t forget us twice. Moreover, don’t forget us three times. If we’re organised – and most of us are – we’ll just keep coming back, which will irritate you, and give us less and less confidence in your ability to provide us with work. Apart from anything, it’s rude.
  • If we’re working for you, be around for us. If you’ve said you need the work ‘now’, we will believe you, move heaven and earth to get the work to you, then wait for baited breath for your feedback only… to be told you’ve gone on holiday. Or you’re on a training course for the week. This is not good. It’s all about relationships and they need to be two-way. Our patience runs thin eventually but we’ll obviously carry on being nice to you because we’ve struck a deal. We just won’t necessarily mean it any more.
  • OK, so our invoices say ‘payment within 30 days’. This is a formality and while everyone needs to make their money work for them in these straitened times, there’s a world of difference between a corporation with thousands of pounds swilling around and a freelancer trying to make his monthly mortgage payments. You can wait for the full thirty days but we will not necessarily love you for it. When we say ‘prompt payment appreciated’ it means ideally before the very, very last possible day you can pay it.

So there you have it. Am I whinging? No. As I said, freelance is good too. I mean, look at me: today I get to take my cat to the vet with his knackered paw, which will probably involve a cursory examination and very expensive jab. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I worked full-time. Joy.

What I’m saying is that most of the freelancers’ annoyances come from wasting our time, and it’s so easy to fix. Just don’t waste our time, because at the end of the day you’re wasting your time too. It’s not until you go freelance that you realise how much time most companies haemorrhage. And time is money – really. The reason it’s a cliché is because it’s true.

If you’re a member of permanent staff it’s ok to put off that draft review till next  Monday, or put that invoice at the bottom of your pile, or go on holiday. If you’re a freelancer, the consequences of your doing so can range from mild annoyance to serious money problems.

Never forget: freelancers can be really useful people to have around. The problem is, we’re not around. So please don’t forget us.

Humans do it better – but do they scale?

Its not right, is it? Click image for source.

It's not right, is it? Click image for source.

Today, two seemingly unrelated but actually very similar discoveries: socialmention is offering sentiment analysis among other metrics; and SpinVox uses people to transcribe messages.

Humans as machines

First, the second. SpinVox.They offer voice-to-text conversion which is something of a holy grail for computing, and given my past interest in AI, I found the proposition fascinating. I haven’t used the service myself but I’ve followed their progress keenly over the past couple of years, having actually done some work for them. At the time, I met Daniel Doulton and Christina Domecq, and they were a powerhouse. You got the feeling that everything, and anything, was possible.

And it turns out that yes, everything was possible, both good and bad, because news is out that their systems aren’t purely tech. They use people to transcribe, in call centres dotted around the world. This is a revelation to me and kind of damages their core proposition. People on Twitter seem to think so too, as does Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC who sees SpinVox not so much spinning as unravelling.

Quite apart from potentially being in trouble by having a call centre in Egypt, contrary to their claims of working within the European Economic Area, it implies to me that, far from having systems that scale, they have human beings that do not.

If their solution truly worked entirely with speech recognition then it would be gloriously easily – and a compelling business model – just to plug in server farms and data centres when load grew. But the ultimate corollary of human transcription is that you have half the world calling, and the other half transcribing. It doesn’t compute.

This would account for their other large headache: money. They’ve been asking staff to take share options instead of money, which was probably ok for Apple in 1960s, but times have changed since then. A while ago I heard Christina Domecq on Radio 4’s Bottom Line programme in which she implied the recession was a huge opportunity.I wonder whether she still thinks this?

She also said her systems ‘learned’. From what we now know, I guess this was the truth but maybe not the whole truth.

Machines as humans

Secondly, the first: the search engine socialmention which scans the social media space - blogs, forums, microblogs etc – for your search terms.

After reading about SpinVox I decided to use socialmention to see what people were saying about it. I noticed with interest that socialmention has some metrics I haven’t seen before (admittedly because I haven’t used it in a while). One of them I ‘get': reach is calculated as the number of unique authors divided by the number of mentions. But the other three – strength, passion and particularly sentiment – I do not.

Strength is ‘phrase mentions within the last 24 hours divided by total possible mentions.’ Total possible mentions? What does this mean? Surely the total possible mentions is virtually infinite?

Passion is ‘the likelihood that people talking about your brand will do so repeatedly.’ This is maybe a bit clearer in that it probably uses frequency of mentions by unique authors. Or something. Again, it’s not particularly clear.

But sentiment is what truly gets me. It talks about ‘generally positive’ and ‘generally negative’ and, being free and openly available, it’s probably doing something similar to Waggener Edstrom’s twendz twitter sentimenting tool which, it seems to me, just uses fairly crude keyword proximity algorithms rather than anything rigorous.

That is, figuring out sentiment, but fairly badly. I used the tool as a test when Jade Goody died. I noticed it would class as ‘negative’ tweets that said “sad that Jade Goody died” – clearly figuring that the proximity of ‘sad’ to ‘Jade Goody’ implied negativity. Wrong.

I’ve done sentimenting myself in the past. I’ve been through search results for clients and figured out whether they’re positive or negative by actually reading them. But I can only do so much, often restricting myself to only a few pages of search results. Machines can do much more – they scale – but can they do it better?

I’ve recently been working a lot with PR measurement, and have had my eyes opened to the crudity of some measures out there. AVE for example, is only good for impressing people. That’s why some PR companies use it to impress their clients, and their clients, in turn, use it to impress their bosses. But it’s total bollocks.

So given the importance of accurate measurement, I would argue that tools like socialmention are actually dangerous. Some people out there might actually be using it to gain insight, and they will be doing so in a wholly unaccountable way. The conversation goes thus: “We’ve found that people are overwhelmingly positive about your brand.” “How do you know that?” “Socialmention says so.” “How does it know that?” “We don’t know.”

They’re not the same (not yet anyway)

On the one hand, perhaps it’s better that SpinVox is using humans because they understand language better than computers, at least for the time being (quite apart from also being naughty by posting their SpinVox grievances on Facebook). On the other, they have some explaining to do because they’ve kind of sort of perhaps maybe possibly led people into believing they were a tech solution, which would imply a much more effective business model if less effective transcription.

Meanwhile, socialmention is an unashamedly tech solution. But it’s claiming to do what humans do, and I just don’t believe that is the case. If they could, SpinVox would be using them, right?

Music to my ears (or rather, ear, since one of them’s deaf)

How cool is this? Click image for source.

How cool is this? Click image for source.

Isn’t it strange how things come around?

About two days ago, after moving house (again – permanently, this time) I put my home studio back together again. It’s nothing to shout about, just a keyboard, mic and acoustic guitars plugged into a laptop, but I can honestly say I’m at my happiest sitting on the floor plugging bits of hardware together in cruel and unusual ways. It’s probably a hangover from my days as an only child (yes, it shows, doesn’t it?) spending hours engrossed in Lego Technic sets. The similarly minded among you may remember the fork lift truck, the motorbike with sidecar, and, the apogee of technic, the car chassis with differential steering, adjustable seats, gears and suspension.

I digress. So, after a few false starts the studio is back up and running. Press a key on the keyboard and you get a thunderous noise coming from the monitors. And once you stop the feedback, you get a nice noise coming from them.

It’s strange, then, that three music-related things happen over the next couple of days. To wit:

See what I mean? I feel a ‘musicy’ episode coming on.

Given that this blog really should be about copywriting with a smattering of social meeja thrown in (and, it seems, me tripping out on my own ego, in this post at least), I should add that I recently discovered I’m the top hit for social media copywriter on Google (I’ve set up a Google Adwords account for that term too, just so I can get to grips with Adwords a bit more).

This astonishes me, but moreover, gives me a way to find out truly how much this blog is now worth. I need to find out a) how many times that search term is used and b) how much it would cost for me to appear top every time it is used.

But, seeing as I’m still getting to grips with Adwords I’m not absolutely sure how I would find either of those things out.

Any ideas?

* In case you think I’m being a bit high-brow here, I also bought the entire Star Trek movie set.