links for 2010-05-29


Social media obeys physics too

It's not rocket science but it does obey physics. Click image for source.

Social media isn't rocket science but it does obey physics. Click image for source.

Estimated reading time: 1 minute

Time and again I hear this:
1. What will we get as a ROI on social media?
2. We don’t have any time/resource/money to spend on it.

Now, this is obviously not a sustainable position to take! You won’t get any return if you don’t allocate any resource.

Social media is not black magic. It’s not a weird science. It adheres to the same laws of physics as your car – if you don’t put any petrol in it, it won’t go. Anywhere.

Social media offers you a new way to market yourself. You really don’t have to do it. Really, you don’t. Just because other people do it, you don’t have to.

But if you do, you’ve got to think about it in the same way you would about all your other communications. How do you measure it? What does it plough into the business? And, from that: how much resource can you allocate to it?

If, however, you don’t measure any of your communications; or you don’t market yourself; or you don’t really know who you’re competing against or who you’re selling to, then, well, social media ain’t gonna save you. Sorry.

What’s the sum total of all the computing power in the world?

Not a wind-up, honest. Click for source.

Not a wind-up, honest. Click for source.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

OK, so it’s the kind of question a child would ask, but I do have a child’s mind, especially on a Friday.

Actually I should have posted about this yesterday because, according to my new blog schedule Thursday is tech day, but I forgot.

Actually, that’s a lie. I was too busy to post, then I fell asleep on the sofa, woke up in a pool of dribble, and went to bed.

Enough. Back to the question. It started off as an idle thought but then the more I thought about it – and the more I discussed it with Giles, my mate who works at Realwire and often sits opposite me at the Hot Office – the more interesting it became.

So, my thought was: how much computing power does the world have?

Imagine a world in which we needed to harness all the computing power in the world to solve a particular problem because our very existence depended on it. Or imagine there were some critical point of complexity and size beyond which technology became conscious.

OK, so these are slightly ridiculous teen-level sci-fi musings, but the question still stuck in my head, so let’s imagine instead that it’s just an interesting question for its own sake.

Obviously it’s growing all the time – probably grew a lot while typing these words – and it’s probably a useless question to ask anyway. But it raises all sorts of little questions, little, tiny questions running around on the floor, occasionally pricking your shins with needles then scurrying away under the sofa.

First stop: I type it into Google. Like this.

First hit: the top 500 supercomputing sites. Now if, like me, you grew up watching Sesame Street, you’ll have great difficulty comprehending the word ‘supercomputing’ without thinking of ‘SuperGrover‘ (and the same goes for the word ‘phenomenon‘). This looks promising but I don’t really understand what it’s telling me. I see a lot of numbers and start getting panicky and want to run away.

So, next up: Wikipedia. This tells me what the top 10 supercomputers are. This is more like it. I try deducing total power by cross-referencing these lists, so that, for example, if Lawrence Livermore has 5.4% of the total power across all those sites, and the total power according to Wikipedia of the top ten sites is 7,360 Teraflops, then you could say, maybe, that the total power is around 14,719 Teraflops.

But that’s grossly simplifying an ever-increasingly intriguing question. Which is: what do we mean by ‘computing’?

So I add my laptop, PC and music PC together and I get something like about 8 GB of RAM and 10,000 Mhz of processing power (I think).

But my washing machine has a processor, and probably some RAM. So does my alarm clock. And my mobile phone. Even the cats are microchipped. Are they computers now?

My car has a CD player in it. Do we class that as computing power? How about the engine management system? That’s a powerful computer, even if it is a Toyota.

Other cars – let’s face it, better cars – have their own IP address.

And suddenly this isn’t a simple question any more.

I know what you’re thinking: this is a futile question because there are different types of processor, different types of RAM, and whereas a lot of them talk to each other, not all of them do, or even can. There’s no way I’d be able to get my TV to run Excel, for example (not yet, anyhow). But my TV is a computer.

I really wanted to post an answer to this today, but Giles has noticed that I keep scratching my chin and making funny noises, which is what I always do when I’m thinking a bit too hard. So, I’m going to leave it for now and maybe try and work this one out for myself.

I envisage a huge spreadsheet with things on it. The things on the left will be ‘Total number of washing machines globally’, and the things  on the right will be ‘Average processing power’ or ‘Average RAM’. Then I’ll add the whole lot up – laptops, PCs, mobile phones, supercomputers, cats, cars and washing machines – and tell how how much, roughly, we can process as a planet. Should we ever want to know, or use it.

If anyone wants to help, feel free. If you’ve already figured this one out, even better – tell me. If you think it’s a futile or ridiculous task, let me know. And if you have anything else to add, let me know. All three of you. I’m all ears.

Everyone needs to get out more

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

So today is Wednesday which means I write about… hang on, let me look it up… tum te tum te tum… ah yes, here it is. Social media!


Over the past month, in the UK, we’ve been subjected to the constant advances of politicians throughout the election. Thankfully it’s all stopped,  but at the time I did notice a phenomenon that I keep seeing around me and that I think is significant.

Which is: when you’re inside something, when that something is your world, there’s a tendency to think it’s the same for everyone else too. And the reality is, that it isn’t.

To take the political example, I have a strong feeling that Cameron, Clegg and Brown woke up every morning thinking that the world is a world of politics. They would meet their aides, shake people’s hands, look interested when being shown lathes, and generally be in that world till they fell asleep and night and dreamed of kittens.

But for someone like me, it isn’t a world of politics. I’ve never even met a politician, that I’m aware. I’ve never been to a political event. I voted, sure, but I count myself among the people who think that politics is pretty irrelevant to their lives. It all seems so pragmatic, so ineffectual when considered against seemingly overwhelming global forces.

Enough of the politics. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a tendency to believe that what you’re doing is treated with equal significance as everyone else, even when it’s something as (supposedly) important as politics.

And I see this in social media too.

The people I follow on Twitter, tweet about it. The bloggers I read, blog about it. So there’s a real possibility that, working in social media, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a world of social media.

It isn’t.

I know it isn’t, not just because there are trees, birds and sky out there, but because during the election, despite sky-high ratings for Clegg, he just didn’t cut it in the real world. If it were a world of social media, he’d have won hands down.

Is this post making sense? I know what I’m trying to say, but I’m not sure it’s coming across. Basically, as communicators – whether politicians, PR people or social media types – we need, often, to break out of our little world and see it from someone else’s point of view. That way, we start to appreciate what’s really going on, rather than what we think is going on.

I’m lucky. I do something else too – that is, I write. OK, so I write about social media, but I like to think that I can do this from the outside in, as well as the inside, um, in. So should all communicators. It’s not a world of PR, or of advertising, or of social media. We need to get out more.

Copywriters can write about anything – but don’t ask them about it next week

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

So, today is copywriting. If you want to know what that means, it means that I’ve decided to try a blogging experiment. I’m going to write to a daily schedule so that on any given day, if you want to tune in, you’ll know what to expect. Plus, I make sure I cover everything I do and learn from it. And the schedule is:

  • Monday – media
  • Tuesday – copywriting
  • Wednesday – social media
  • Thursday – tech/digital
  • Friday – not decided yet but it might just be ‘stuff not covered elsewhere’

Let’s see how it goes.

So, with that preamble out of the way, now the first sentence makes sense. Today is copywriting.

I started out as a technical author, and that would range from the mindlessly tedious through to the fairly interesting. Then I ‘grew up’ to be a fully paid-up copywriter. That’s where the fireworks started. This ranged from the improbable to the impossible.

By which I mean: on any given day you could be writing several different pieces. These ranged in form and content. The form could be press releases, bylines, features, competition entries, web copy, blog posts, and everything else. The content could be the best paper to use in a printer, the advantages of cloud computing, the shaving habits of the Belgians – and, again, everything else.

So is any copywriter particularly knowledgeable about printers, servers and Belgians? Of course not.

But that’s part of what a copywriter ‘does’. As in: give a copywriter a brief to explain the second law of thermodynamics to, ooh I don’t know, five year-olds. As a blog post. What a copywriter will then do is immerse himself or herself in the subject matter, fill up their heads with the stuff, then write about it (actually, the good copywriter will offer creative alternatives and the excellent copywriter will ask what you’re trying to achieve and why).

Then – the copywriter will forget it. It’s done. Sure, bits of it will stick, but a week later, ask that copywriter what is meant by that statement that “the entropy of an isolated system which is not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium”, and you’ll be met with a blank stare.

Is this a bad thing? No. What it means is that good copywriters can write about anything. If they’re doing it right, they’ll recalibrate their heads and ‘become’ that expert in that particular, specific subject matter for that particular, specific period of time. Then they’ll delete, expunge, dormant that information until or unless they need it again.

So next time you’re startled because a copywriter cannot remember something he or she wrote about last week, don’t be. It’s because this week, they’re an expert on something else. As well as copywriting, of course.