links for 2009-10-29


Meet Concorde the Tortoise

If you’ve been following my Twitterfeed recently, you’ll know I’ve welcomed the pattering of tiny feet into my home.

Tiny, clawed, scaly feet. Four of them. And a nicely mottled carapace.

And a beak.

This is because my partner bought me a tortoise for my birthday. A tortoise!

I’ve always wanted one, mainly because they live for donkey’s tortoise’s years and so you get very good value out of them. I still think a tortoise is the best christening present you could ever give a baby. It’s a present for life!

So while this blog really should be about copywriting and social media, for once I’m going to allow a bit of personal stuff in. This isn’t purely self-indulgent either: several people asked how Concorde was getting on at the Jackenhacks recently, so I thought I’d let you know.

He’s doing fine! And here he is:


What a beaut. Although he’s a bit out of focus because he was struggling at the time I took the photo. They do that, you know, tortoises. They do tend to struggle. Well, don’t we all?

When I say ‘he’ I’m not sure if he’s a he or she’s a she. I’m not sure how you tell without getting unnecessarily intimate. The shell must be there for a reason, and I say that reason is to hide a tortoise’s modesty. Besides, the name Concorde works either way. It expresses elegance and finesse well, don’t you think?

A story: when the delivery man turned up he looked a bit nonplussed.

“It says ‘Live Reptiles’ on ‘ere”, he said, pointing at the large label saying ‘Live Reptiles’ on the box.

“I know”, I replied. “It says ‘Live Reptiles’ on the box.”

Then he dropped the box.

“But I don’t think they’re ‘live’ any more” quipped I. My, how we laughed.

He picked up the box. “I fink it’s a tortoise”, he said. And dropped it again.

At least now we were more informed. He didn’t have live reptiles, he had dead ones, specifically one dead tortoise.

Eventually when I’d rescued the animal from Royal Mail I took him (for the sake of argument) out of his little box. He thrashed about a bit – well, you would, wouldn’t you, especially if you’d been dropped twice in one morning – but eventually we managed to contemplate each other.

I admired his colouring and his scales, while he blinked and hissed at me. Then he hissed and blinked at Milligan the cat, who just sat there wondering if he would taste nice.

conc5So that was a couple of weeks ago. Since then I’ve set up his little tortoisery complete with heatlamp (see left).

I’ve also been feeding him rose petals and spinach with a calcium supplement, giving him a little bath once a week (apparently you need to do this to help them hydrate properly, plus I don’t really want a dirty tortoise as a pet, I want a nice, clean one), and letting him gallop around the room for an hour or so at lunch.

conc3I can’t really tell if he likes his bath – he just sits there looking a bit glum – but he does seem to perk up when he’s running around (see right). OK, crawling. To give him his due he can crawl quite quickly, like some sort of Mars explorer running off solar energy.

But then I can’t really tell what’s going on in his head at any time. I can’t tell if he’s happy or sad, or bored, or delirious. Let’s face it, I can’t even tell if he’s male or female.

conc4But it doesn’t matter. He’s a tortoise. Actually, he’s a mathematical tortoise. Count the plates on his shell (see left).

Do you see what I see? Three plates at the top, then six each side on the next row, then 12 on each side along the bottom. Clever little tortoise! If I find any more evidence of fractal design in him, I’ll let you know.

So, there you go. I might put some more pictures up as he grows – he’s only a hatchling, two years old, about the size of my fist, bless – and there may be videos to come if you’re interested. CarapaceCam? TortoiseTube? You decide!

Facebook? Facelift more like.

Another Facebook Facelift. Grrr.

Another Facebook Facelift. Grrr.

Why oh why oh why oh why oh why does Facebook keep changing?

I recently had call to get back into Facebook for a new business pitch (post-edit: we won). I knew it had changed and needed to clue up on the differences. It was broadly similar but, well, different. And on looking back at work I’d done in the past, I could see that the changes materially affected those Facebook pages too.

This was an annoyance for me, but I could imagine plenty of people out there trying to do the same thing as me pulling out their hair with frustration. You get a strategy together, you figure it all out, you build a beautiful page – and then it changes. So you have to adapt it all.

So it’s with further annoyance I just came across Techtree’s announcement that Facebook has changed yet again. As it says: “Facebook has tweaked its Live News feed to display only those posts that Facebook thinks would be useful for you and your network of friends.”

I’ve only just read this so I don’t know what implications this will have. But I do wish Facebook would get a grip. It imposes the Beacon advertising system. Then Facebook drops Beacon after howls of protest. Then Facebook says it owns everything on the site. Then Facebook changes its mind again, and takes the exact opposite tack of letting its users decide its terms.

Then decides to hell with that and changes anyway.

My life! When will this stop? The permanent beta’s annoying enough, and human beings don’t work that way. No matter how much we’re told we should embrace change, we find it annoying, stressful even. Just ask Alvin Tofler.

But I see something more fundamentally wrong here. Which is: Facebook don’t have a plan. They don’t know where they’re going or what they’re doing. So they make changes here and there to make the service ‘better’. It’s not ‘better’, it’s just ‘different’, and people don’t like ‘different’. How can we build ‘different’ into our strategies? Put in milestones every month or so entitled “Check whether Facebook has changed again”?

Honestly Mr Zuckerberg. Have a heart. Leave well alone. 300 million active users can’t be wrong can they?

Epoch’s Hothouse is hot!

I’m the digital associate at Epoch PR, until recently CMP Communications. It’s going great so far – we’ve won business together and they’re a lovely bunch of people with some brilliant ideas. But I didn’t realise how brilliant until I attended one of their Hothouse lunches recently.

Hothouse is the name they give to their programme of ideas. Programme of ideas? Dead right. Epoch’s take on PR is that they want to know what’s happening next as well as now. Sounds great, and I thought I may as well go along, especially as it might help me get over the exertions of the previous night’s Jackenhacks.

The ‘occasion’ was the 40th anniversary of the internet so we had people with unique, informed and extremely far-reaching views of what the internet was, what it is now, and what it could be in the future.

We had the editor of Wired UK, David Rowan. He introduced ten trends in ten minutes. Nice.

They ranged from the nature of Web 2.0 to, essentially, the nature of humanity. Take this: he talked about mapping thoughts digitally and the slightly worrying possibility of introducing viruses to that mapping and re-injecting them into people’s psyches. Sounds far-fetched? Latest word in cyberspace is that you actually can have people ‘reading’ each others’ thoughts across the interweb. It could be the first faltering steps in that direction. The thought-web. The web as thought. Good God.

We had Nico MacDonald of He talked about the importance of design in the future web, how we’ll expect to interact with it in much more intuitive ways than we currently do. For example, tactile response is important. We can already see rudiments of this with equipment such as the Nintendo Wii, and I guess his take tied in with David’s in that the ultimate interface would be, well, thought. Good grief.

Where they differed was in their view of Web 2.0. Nico’s take was that it’s purely marketing, and doesn’t really represent anything new. David’s was that there is a definite qualitative difference in Web 2.0.

I tend towards David’s view. If you want a tech definition, Web 2.0 is the application layer of the ISO model being transmitted over a network. In practice what this means is that whereas we once had networks that could just about send small amounts of data, we now have a worldwide network that is fast and reliable enough for us to share entire applications. We can run word processors and spreadsheets on other people’s machines – that’s what cloud computing is, at essence – and a by-product of this is that we can run applications that let us share stuff. That’s what social media is.

So you could think of the 2.0 in Web 2.0 as ‘two-way communication’. That’s how I explain it. In truth there’s probably some marketing in there too, as in ‘we’ve moved up a gear so give us more money’. But I do think Web 2.0 represents a change. There are many definitions of what Web 3.0 might be, and I think the best of those is that it’s mobile. Again, a definite, qualitative change. And here, the 3.0 could be ‘three dimensions’, as in, no matter where you are, you’re connected, with rich multimedia and sharing.

We also shared a table with Claire Fox. Now, I knew I recognised the name, and I sort of recognised… the voice. It wasn’t until I looked her up online afterwards that I knew why. She’s a regular on The Moral Maze on Radio 4 and made her name by laying into Michael Mansfield QC. Wow. As the director of the Institute of Ideas, she was certainly someone who brought something to the table, quite literally.

So the discussions were fascinating, and the food was great. I even managed a couple of glasses of wine after reconstituting from the Jackenhacks, on water and copious amounts of fresh air beforehand.

Why am I telling you this? To promote myself/Epoch/Hothouse? In part yes, but also because I think it’s very important to realise that what we see around us today holds the seeds of what might grow in future.

Futurology could be a load of old rowlocks – who could have predicted the rise and rise of texting, for example? I was shocked at my recent discovery that no one in PR talks about PR any more. And, on the flipside, we still don’t have jetpacks.

But it’s still worth thinking – and talking – about.

I’m no visionary but I do remember my sneaking suspicion that blogging would be important for PR about three years ago. RSS monitoring likewise. That’s why I now have blogging and monitoring as services complementing my copywriting, if you’re interested.

And for what it’s worth, I think the future of the web is going to be mobile and integration – that is, Web 3.0 will be about mobile connectivity integrating both human- and computer-generated information, so you can ‘talk’ to your IP-enabled car or call up augmented reality when getting lost in Vienna.

The ramifications for marketing communications? How about location-based advertising in your augmented reality? How about recommendations from corporate sponsors when you’re driving? If it’s done right, it’ll be unintrusive and will actually, genuinely help you.

When I was peering at Google Maps on my mobile phone’s tiny LCD screen in the rain when I went to Vienna last year, trying to figure out how to get back to my hotel, I could certainly have done with something that could just point me in the right direction and offer to find me a decent restaurant in the mix.

And given that I’m the kind of person who likes to go ‘wow’ a lot – at talking pianos, for instance – I’m certainly looking forward to future Hothouse lunches.

The only downside is that I can’t really give you a decent link on Epoch’s fancypants website for more details. This is something we all intend to remedy. One day you’ll be able to see what went on. And hear it. And, you never know – think it too.

PS And if you think this post is too verbose, you’re right. I’ve got to start cutting down…

Just about wraps it up for the Jackenhacks

So the Jackenhacks came and went. I met lots of nice people, notably Giles from Realwire who lives just down the road from me, and who I bumped into at the train station. I met Melanie from Fake Plastic Noodles who was very lovely and chatty, the inimitable Wadds, Michael Litman (colleague of my ex-colleague Paul Borge) who won the Twitter Twat of the Year – don’t knock it Michael, it’s an award and that’s what matters –  and the gang of reprobates from Porter Novelli. And several other nice people. Lovely people. Nice, lovely, drunk people.

I did actually manage to have some half-sensible conversations. One of them was with an editor and we talked about the influence of social media on journalism. I think we kind of agreed that a possible direction for journalism is one in which they’re measured by the number of followers they have online. So, while offline journalism is all well and good, at some point we could envisage a time when online metrics come into the equation. As in: so you want to work for The Guardian? Only if you have X,000 subscribers.

This is something Technorati is  already doing with its bloggers, and given that it recently revamped to become much more media-friendly, perhaps Technorati’s ambitions lie in that direction too.

Of course, most of the conversations were very loud and nonsensical, but still enjoyable nevertheless.

In fact, it wasn’t until I was testing my social media search engine enhancements today that I found Mel’s post on Fake Plastic Noodles, featuring this photograph of me (I’m the one underneath – visible in khaki from the neck down):

I dont really understand how this situation came about. Click image for source.

I don't really understand how this situation came about. Click image for source.

Now, I actually don’t remember this happening. And despite what Mel says in her post, the guy on top of me isn’t Tim Hoang – Tim is the one standing up laughing. I don’t know who is on top of me. So I don’t really understand how this situation came about. Too much drink perhaps? Or maybe not enough…

As for the event/venue, well they did suffer the old problem of the PA system not being loud enough again, but it has to be said that everyone does chatter on when they should be listening. Not sure what they can do about that.

Anyway, off we all went to a karaoke bar, at which point I found myself wearing someone’s cycle helmet with biros sticking out of it. Then I missed the last train home but managed to get near enough that I could blag a taxi the rest of the way.

The next day I was fresh as a little daisy, and ready to attend Epoch’s Hothouse lunch. And I managed not to faint or throw up.

Oh, the life of a PR rock star…

Five top tips for flagging freelancers

Are you flagging? Click image for source.

Are you flagging? Click image for source.

Do you flag? I do sometimes. Here are some suggested fixes…

Working freelance, you get to work from home. It’s nice. No commutes. No annoying people. Peace. Control.

I work in an annexe – a fully functional, separate building from my house, complete with shower, toilet and storage space – so on a good day I can spend all day there, without ‘going home’. Even when I worked in a study within a house I was largely able to confine myself to one half of the house and keep out of the lounge. It’s important. You need that imaginary line to separate work from domesticity.

But there can come times when your willpower flags. I’m finding this happens after lunchtime particularly. You know how you feel a bit tired around 2:30pm, and wish you could have a nap? Well the same thing happens to me, at home. You wish you could have a little lie down? Well imagine how much more tempting that sounds when your nice, soft bed is a staircase away!

So here are my tips for rallying yourself when you can’t go and annoy other people at work instead:

  • Change your work environment. I work on a PC but I also have a laptop, so I just transfer work to that and carry on somewhere else. This can be the house or, rarely given this year’s summer, the garden. It’s amazing the difference it makes – you just perk up and get on with it. There are various ways you can do this. Copy the work to a USB stick and physically transfer it. Mail it to yourself as an attachment on GMail or some such thing then download it to the laptop. Or, work in a cloud environment such as Google Docs and carry on as if nothing happened.
  • Go for a walk. Again, the change is astonishing. Even just round the corner or, if you’re lucky like me and live in the country, out into the fields. Sometimes it might seem like a bind to get the boots on and get out, but when you do, within a minute or so you feel great. Again, you get back, you feel up for it.
  • Work on something else instead. Copywriting is especially hard when you reach a block – not necessarily a writer’s block, but you can sometimes just feel so into something that you can’t get out of it. So get out of it. If you have other work, and you’re not pressed for deadlines, it can free you up and you feel better for it. If, like me, you’re enamoured of anything digital, give that a go because it uses the flipside of your brain. I find Yahoo Pipes perfect for that. But don’t get too involved in it because, as King Lear himself said, that way madness lies.
  • Give up. This is where being a freelancer really means free. If it’s just not happening, clock off. Work earlier the next day, or later that day, or both. Practice that golf swing instead. Fix up the house (my less preferred option). Or just stare out of the window absent-mindedly stroking the cat (my preferred option).
  • Longer term fixes could include hiring a hotdesk, so you’re working in people’s company and can annoy them instead of getting on with stuff. The Hot Office has some attractive locations and fees, so check them out. You could also consider popping down to your local coffee house and make use of their wifi (comes under the ‘change your work location’ I guess), or, if you can, maybe think about working on-site for a client if there’s a full day or two of work from them.

You can probably add to that: “write a blog post about it”, which is what I just did. But there are mitigating circumstances: I’m off to the Jackenhacks (née Flackenhacks) in about 30 minutes so I’m getting excited about it. I may post about it tomorrow. With pictures. And video. So watch it.

Do digital natives think the virtual world is flat?

Does Generation Y understand social media?

Two interesting recent conversations:

  • On asking a twentysomething about her take on Twitter: “Oh, it’s just for celebrities.”
  • On discussing the results of a student exercise on marketing: “Of 10 groups, none of them mentioned social media.”

It’s true that Gen Y are the ‘digital natives’. They’ve grown up with the web all around them, and they use social media to chat with friends, share photos, arrange meet-ups etc.

I’m Gen X, so I’m the generation that first got into mainstream tech and started using the web in its initial, one-way, non-social form. We’re fairly comfortable with computers – today it’s as essential as the three ‘Rs’ – but the older generation can, on the whole, still have problems with it. I’m convinced my mother thinks there’s a little homunculus inside the PC doing all the work for her.

Youve got to go there to find out. Click image for source.

You've got to go there to find out. Click image for source.

Back to Gen Y. OK, these were just two conversations but they surprised me, especially the results of the student exercise. It’s as if they’re so familiar with the ‘social’ of social media that they don’t see the ‘commercial’.

This is endearingly naive and while I don’t advocate they all become cynical mercenaries bent on monetising every conversation in the social-media-sphere, if the next generation of marketing professionals are going to help people market themselves, they’ll need to break out of this.

I think it’s part of a bigger, universal theme. If you’re inside something, you can’t see outside. I’ve seen it happen with companies who claim to have rebranded themselves, and when I see the work they’ve done, it’s immediately obvious that they haven’t had external input. All their comments on the competition are negative. They tout ‘unique’ offerings that aren’t unique at all. They don’t see what they’re doing wrong because they haven’t looked from the outside in. And, in one case, I knew they were regarded by some as too expensive and offering disappointing results but they simply didn’t know this.

So perhaps Gen Y should get a bit more savvy. Maybe as digital natives they need to walk around the virtual world more and explore it.

They already know how to use the platforms but they need to step outside how they use it, and how they think, and be aware of how other people do. That’s the essence of marketing, and never more so than in the social media world.

I could be disastrously wrong however. See video below, from 5:59 to 6:23…