Archive for January, 2008

Makin’ pants

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Another night of less than five hours sleep. Normally I can take one or two in my stride, but it feels like I’ve been doing them back to back for at least a couple of weeks, and it’s definitely starting to take its toll.

The rididulous thing is, it’s not even because of Ruby. She sleeps WAAAAAY better than I do; she’s sleeping as well as you could hope for a newborn. The problem is fitting in all the other stuff. As well as working through a full roster of existing work we’re pitching for multiple campaigns through Q1 and Q2 ’08.

Now’s the time to get the work in, if you want a nice busy summer. You can’t just sit around until spring has sprung before you start asking after the tentpoles, not any more. Not when a stand-out online campaign needs to run for 2-3 months, rather than the traditional 2-3 weeks.

On top of the work, I’ve got a wife, two kids, a garden and a blog to look after. Or thereabouts. The reality is that Ems pretty much looks after me; she was back on her feet within about 15 minutes of Ruby’s arrival, but that’s just the way she’s made. Lola is increasingly learning to look after herself (She just marched into the room wearing a pair of knickers back to front and proudly announced that “Lola makin’ pants”). And my dad’s brought some much needed backbone to the garden, as you’ll see from the latest installment (below).

So, in amongst it all, I’m just about finding the time. It makes me realise that in this day and age, more than ever, time is of the essence. But that’s for another time. For now it’s just a case of don’t worry, don’t hurry, and don’t forget to smell the flowers.

Hackney Garden – Compost Bin

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Oranjeboom is not the only fruit

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

PPC’s impressively proactive PR firm, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry (AKA “The Lorries”), have been back in touch. Turns out they quite liked the last opinion piece I posted for them, so I’m doing another one.

This piece is about ‘mobile social networking’, whatever that is. It seems to pertain to social networks that are only accessible through mobile devices. That seems a little odd to me. Why would you do that? It would be like only drinking lager out of cans, standing on street corners.

Reading on through the notes they passed on I found a reference to some ‘thriving mobile-exclusive social networks’. I’d never really come across such things, which I found odd and slightly alarming, given that my endeavours in international movie marketing have required me to acquaint myself with pretty much all of the world’s most popular social networks. A quick trip to Wikipedia yielded the names of two such mobile-exclusive services; Jumbuck and airG.

Cue a trip to the Jumbuck homepage, and the immediate realisation that Jumbuck isn’t so much a social network as ‘the world’s largest provider of mobile community services’, offering white label products including Power Chat, TXT Chat and Fast Flirting. I’m thinking I’ve got their number (and, thanks to a drunken run-in with The Flirt Hotline, that they’ve got mine). The realisation that I may be one of their 15-million-strong global user base – and that until a few seconds ago I wasn’t even aware of it – undermines the suggestion that they are a social network, in any useful sense of the term.

Further examination does yield Chat Del Mundo, a ‘dedicated mobile chat and picture community for Spanish speakers in the South and Central America, the USA and Spain, with over 1 million active users’, owned and operated by Jumbuck. Reading about Chat Del Mundo I was reminded of a presentation at last week’s Media Summit, at which one of the speakers noted that, globally speaking, far more people have internet access through mobile devices than via PCs.

The speaker was Bob Greenberg, Chairman of interactive agency R/GA. Anticipating that 2008 would see the ‘third screen’ (by which he meant that of a mobile device) well on its way to becoming the first screen, surpassing PCs and television along the way, Greenberg called upon various statistics to illustrate the accelerating proliferation of mobile devices. One stat I do recall is that in the UK there are more mobile devices than people. Greenberg himself professed to carrying three mobiles about his person ‘at all times’.

In defining the difference between the three screens Greenberg argued that television was a medium designed for the delivery of narrative, that PCs are best suited to interaction, and that mobiles are defined by context. This was a theme that was later picked up by Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy, who saw mobile media as defined by its location-specificity, ‘much like Pernod. Outside a rustic French cafe; heavenly. Inside a small London flat; piss.’ Indeed, beyond greater levels of global accessibility, this is where I could see mobile social networks offering something extra to the end user.

Suppose I’m in LA. I’m out and about in Venice Beach on a friday night and I want to settle in at a decent bar. I could try and find something searching listings through WAP, but that’s not going to give me any real indication of quality, or whether it would be my kind of place. How about if instead of that I could pose the question to friends of mine – and friends of theirs – using Facebook mobile, even providing them with a map using GPRS to pinpoint my exact location at the time?

If you take my 150 ‘friends’ and, allowing for overlap, reckon that each of them brings a further 50 uniques to the mix, I have the potential to hit 7,500 people, each of whom would know me, or someone who knows me. Filter that down to people living in LA, and you’re probably still in triple figures. A few of them are probably going to know somewhere decent to drink in Venice, some of them might even be out in the area and up for meeting up, and, who knows, if I wasn’t happily married I might even enjoy a night of consequence-free sexual intercourse with one of them. A long shot, perhaps, but I’d take my chances over The Flirt Hotline.

This is just one scenario in which mobile could add real value to social networking for the end user. And this is the problem I have with the idea of a mobile-exclusive social network. Restricting access to any service to mobile devices can only really benefit the service provider, by enabling them to drive more revenue through reverse billing and micro-payments. Where mobile social networking can succeed is by recognising and monetising the opportunities created by context for yours and my benefit, not at our needless expense.

Something for the weekend?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

PPC’s latest widget, promoting Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd for our friends at Warner Bros:

This is the third of the widget’s we’ve created for WB, following on from Beowulf and I Am Legend. One nice touch is that the people who grabbed the widgets for these previous titles can update them to feature content for new movies.

Looks like Depp can sing a bit, and I never tire of Burton’s style. Looking forward to watching it.

Seesmic shift

Monday, January 21st, 2008

In amongst visiting family and parental duties I spent much of this weekend tinkering around with Seesmic – a new invite-only video blogging community I’ve been given access to. On Saturday I decided to combine this with my new found culinary ambition, and cooked up the following posts:

[ Time passes. Dan moves onto The Red. Pies cook. More time passes. ]

Given that the laptop is my recipe book, and sits on the ironing board in the kitchen when I cook, it was quite easy to create these. I’ve never video blogged before, but it makes it very easy, at a purely logistical level. You just hook up your webcam and microphone – turns out my laptop has both built in – and record.

It’s more challenging in terms of what it requires of you as a communicator. You have to organise your thoughts and have a clear sense of what you’re going to say in advance, in order to avoid ranting interminably and getting drawn off on innumerable tangents.

Where the real value lies is that it represents true communication, harnessing speech and body language. It’s amazing how much extra information your face and hands deliver when you speak, orchestrating the emphasis and emotional tenor of what you have to say.

I’ve since posted my thoughts along one or two of the discussion threads happening within the Seesmic community, particularly in relation to the fall-out from the now notorious Facebook article the Guardian ran last week (referenced in one of my recent posts). I managed to run over the ten-minute time limit, so it comes in two parts, which can be found here and here. Somehow I manage to acquire a newborn baby at some point in between.

As with the best of the sites and services emerging in the space, the character of Seesmic is being defined by that of the community it supports. By operating an invitation-only policy the Seesmic’s developers can have it alpha-tested by the early adoption crowd; extrovert geeks, sympathetic to the realities of software development, creating experimental content through Seesmic then driving conversation about it through other channels. This approach also has the happy benefit of making it far more intriguing and aspirational from the outside, as well as controlling bandwidth costs.

Overall I’m very excited by Seesmic. It’s a very well engineered interface orientated around allowing me to do one thing easily and enjoyably, rather than being a broad set of imperfect tools reaching an equally broad and disparate audience. And, rather than merely incubating my established relationships, it offers the potential for me to connect and develop relationships with new, like-minded individuals. That’s what I understand by ‘social networking’.

Hello Seesmic. Nice to meet you.

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

I managed to get hold of an invitation code for Seesmic. This is my first post:

The Media Summit 2008

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

I was at The Media Summit today at the British Film Institute on Southbank. With 12 unmissable speakers it was a bit of a marathon, but immensely valuable, and a great opportunity to put Twitter through its paces. Here’s a transcript of all the day’s tweets, starting on the train in:

  • Reading in Metro that Hasbro and Mattel now threatening to sue Facebook if Scrabulous is not removed. PR suicide.
  • At Media Summit. Loving the way Ben Pyne (President of Global Distribution, Disney) calls it ‘iToons’.
  • Lyne: ‘digital natives’ – generation of consumers fluent in tech, fragmented by preference and cultural origin
  • Joanna Shields (President, BEBO): Kate Modern massively popular, but no-one likes Kate. Solution: kill her off. (seriously. they’re killing her off.)
  • Shields: UK online ad spend to exceed television within two years
  • Shields: ‘hard to track impressions on first series of Kate Modern.’ WHAT?
  • Ultimately Shields frustrates. BEBO still comes across as a Facebook-style friendship incubator.
  • Wish these people weren’t so intent on selling their own story at the expense of insight and objectivity. Bit of a kabal atmosphere emerging.
  • Bob Greenberg (Chairman, R/GA): content creation AND distribution being democratised
  • Greenberg: third screen (mobile) becoming first screen
  • Greenberg: television – narrative; pc – interactive; mobile – contextual.
  • Greenberg has 3G ‘on two of my phones’. He carries three with him ‘at all times’.
  • Scott Cohen (Founder, The Orchard): ‘people will not pay for digital content’. His solution – ‘collect at the connection’.
  • Cohen: if we’re all criminals is there a problem with the people or a problem with the law?
  • Cohen: music industry has enjoyed 50-plus years of ‘unsophisticated business’.
  • Cohen: networks providers are like gyms. They don’t actually want you to use them, just to go on paying the fees.
  • Jeremy Allaire (Founder, Brightcove): ‘reach consumers where they are, not where you want them to be’.
  • Allaire: establish managed syndication with major partners, as part of blended distribution strategies.
  • Allaire: empower consumers to become distributors.
  • Just got told off for taking a photo of a slide about user-generated content. Is that ironic?
  • Vue Cinemas see live concert, sport and comedy broadcasts – using Digital 3D – as a major revenue stream. Kylie signed up for 2008.
  • Vue Gaming also piloted well in 2007, with a multiplayer and multi-venue opportunities.
  • Vue trialing a concept ‘Evolution’ cinema (in Thurrock?!) with a bar and licensed auditorium, enlarged seating, bean-bag seats and ‘sofa pods’.
  • Rory Sutherland, Ogilvy: ‘post-scarcity economics’. Read-write culture not read-only. No IP on jokes. No knock-knock mansion.
  • Sutherland: if web is anything it is half a million peculiar acts of generosity every day.
  • Sutherland: advertising must embrace ‘big ideal, not big idea’
  • Sutherland: adult film industry being destroyed by volunteerism
  • Sutherland: chips – food 2.0 (made to share)
  • Sutherland: some people buy organic to reduce choice and simplify process
  • Sutherland: more contextual (location-specific) media emerging. Like Pernod. Outside a french cafe, lovely. In a london flat, piss.
  • Sutherland: new media is pinball, not ten-pin bowling.
  • Lost my notepad. Thank [email protected] for twitter.
  • Henrik Werdelin (joost): entertainment is social. It’s about more than just watching.
  • Yair Landau (President, Sony Pictures Digital): you believe and feel as much in a great CGI moment as you do in a live action moment.
  • Landau: if you can imagine it, it can be created.
* * *

This is the photo I got slapped on the wrist for taking. It was a slide that struck me as really capturing the opportunities social media present for marketers and distributors. It reads as follows:

Embrace end users as:
viewers, fans, critics, programmers and producers

Support media and brand exposure in their online homes
blogs; social networks; communities of interest; RSS readers

Allow end users to become programmers
Favourites; playplists; viral sharing; embedding; social bookmarking

End users as producers
Simple: allow end users to upload video to you
Powerful: allow end users to remix and refactor your brand

Citizens of the web, FRAGMENT!

Monday, January 14th, 2008

I’ve spent much of the last twenty-four hours chewing over two articles twittered by friends of mine, each of which has accelerated my growing disillusionment with Facebook. Indeed, as I will come to explain, I have decided to take action.

The bigger picture
The first of the articles, entitled With friends like these…, is written by Tim Hodgkinson, and ran in The Guardian’s Technology supplement. It’s a long piece, and well worth reading in its entirety, but for the purposes of this post I’ll offer the following précis.

Hodgkinson starts by making the point that, far from connecting people, Facebook is increasingly responsible for isolating us in front of our computer screens, on the pretext that conducting relations through their site can be construed as socialising.

On the contrary, he asserts, we are being commodified, and the relationships we individually cherish are being intensively harvested so that the economic value can be extracted out of them and made available to the highest bidders, be they corporations or governments.

This in itself is nothing exclusive to Facebook. Their only distinction is that they’re currently the market-leading exponents of this dark art. However, having established this, Hodgkinson examines who’s behind Facebook’s operation, financially and ideologically, and challenges us to evaluate whether these are people fit to be in charge of what is effectively their own country, ‘a country of consumers’.

In terms of the key players, we’re talking Mark Zuckerberg, the geeky front man given to appearing provocatively self-assured about pretty much everything; Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist, libertarian, neocon activist, futurist philosopher and chess master who recently pledged £3.5m to a Cambridge-based gerontologist searching for the key to immortality; and a host of investors, including In-Q-Tel, the venture capital wing of the CIA. Yes, that CIA.

I don’t know about you, but I’m edging towards the door the minute I find out that the guys who put one in the brain of JFK have a stake in my social calendar. Already I’m think that, just because I’ve gone and said something not-so-friendly about them, I’m going to start landing really crappy Scrabulous hands. Bringing me neatly on to…

The killer app
The second of the articles is a piece on by Josh Quittner entitled Will somebody please start a Facebook group to save Scrabulous? At least a dozen people have, include one the logo of which combines that of game manufacturers Hasbro and that of the Nazi party.

This is a response to the news that Hasbro have finally decided to acknowledge the existence of Scrabulous, a Facebook application recreating scrabble tile for tile for a user base of approximately 2.5 million people, a quarter of whom use it every day. Indeed, they’ve announced legal action against its developers, two guys from Calcutta named Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla (aged 21 and 26 respectively).

I can’t summarise it better than Quittner:
If I were an evil genius running a board games company whose product line spanned everything from Monopoly to Clue, I might do this: Wait until someone comes up with an excellent implementation of my games and does the hard work of coding and debugging the thing and signing up the masses. Then, once it got to scale, I’d sweep in and take it over. Let the best pirate site win! If I were compassionate, I’d even cut in the guys who did all the work for a percentage point or two to keep the site running.

Scrabulous is my only remaining reason for signing into Facebook on a regular basis. Without it, I’d probably lose interest altogether. Not because it doesn’t offer me anything of value, but because, following on from my realisation that social networking is actually more akin to social publishing, I’m embracing tools like Blogger, Twitter, and Google Mail (whose spam filtering seems to have suddenly gone up a gear), all of which give me more freedom to express myself, and offer more back in return.

I use these tools and services, not the other way around. They are genuinely vibrant and community-oriented, igniting exciting new relationships, as opposed to incubating existing ones or rekindling old flames (flames that generally burnt out for a damn good reason). It occurs to me that there’s actually very little that’s creative about Facebook – it’s far more about logistics.

So, could I do the unthinkable? Could I leave Facebook?

Probably not. Two reasons. One, I have an intractable professional need to be familiar with Facebook as a marketing medium, and on that basis alone I will probably never be able to bow out completely. Two, it’s practically impossible to delete your account. Steven Mansour seems to have gone to hell and back in the process of trying to do so, and with only limited success.

I have to do something though. More than ever I see myself as a citizen of the web, not as the subject one particular service layered over the top of it. So I’ve decided to try something different. I’m going to start removing the people I really care about (or people I’m already connected to through other better channels) from my friends list. Not all at once, but every time I realise that our relationship doesn’t need to be defined in such narrow terms. So, if you really like me, and you hope that I like you too, let’s de-friend.

* * *

Cartoon reproduced from without the kind permission of the author.

A bar called ‘Daytime’

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

I hurried through Lower Clapton, fleeing from the clutches of someone. Or something. The night was cold, dark, full of strange metallic objects, and I had none of the direction or purpose you would expect to assume as one in flight. The scene stole from Graham Green, and owed much to Fleming.

I ducked into a nightclub, tucked away in a basement decorated by nothing more than neon light and exposed brickwork. It was as much bar as nightclub, hell, I can’t tell the difference any more. Unusually for whatever it was, everyone was up to their knees in water.

I waded up to the bar, and took a hard fast slap in the face from the price list. It’s no wonder everybody’s on the gak these days. It’s not cheap, but at least you get to piss your money away in the privacy of a toilet cubicle.

I gradually became aware of one particular group of punters over in the corner. They were being increasingly vocal about one another’s various moral shortcomings, and how these blended into one moribund morass of deceit and sexual deviance. Everybody could smell blood; it was going to spill over into violence at any moment. We were spellbound.

At one point, just as they were starting to get somewhere, a barman leapt up onto the bar, kicking a couple of his customers’ overpriced drinks into their laps. He lobbed out some provocative pronouncement, an observational hand grenade, and sent them back into a dizzying nose-dive of acrimony and mutual recrimination. He was a cocksure character – in fact he oozed cockcertainty – and had a mean streak a mile wide. The best you could say about him was that he seemed to have a decent sense of dramatic timing.

We all frowned and appeared to disapprove, but none of us wanted it to stop. The water level wasn’t rising, and the place would have quickly grown tedious without them, this bar called Daytime. They were awful people, and no-one really understood why they had decided to parade this fact for our edification, but it certainly made us feel better about ourselves. By the end we were all patting one another on the backs. “We may be bad, but they’re much, much worse,” our faces said to each other. For once, our faces were right.

I woke up. I had fallen asleep on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon. On the other sofa sat Emma, buddha-like, breastfeeding and watching The Jeremy Kyle Show.


Thursday, January 10th, 2008

I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken Run this week, and am giving my wholehearted support support to his CHICKEN OUT! campaign. For the last few years Emma and i have bought free-range chicken when we’ve been planning a roast, but I dread to think how much of the no-range variety has slipped through in some processed form or another. Not any more.

One of the things that really caught my attention was the meal he managed to put together using the remains of a roast. I opted to try and do the same with the leftovers from a bird we cooked a few days ago. I picked over the remains and mustered a good plate of scraps, and put the carcass to one side for the stock.

I googled for recipes, and found both the risotto and a stock on a cracking little blog called The Cottage Smallholder. I’d noticed that Whittingstall had included sweetcorn, stripping it straight off the cob, so I searched for tips on how to do this and got some indispensable advice from another blog – Something in Season – as to how to ensure that you don’t lose any flavour. These are the type of blogs that I tend to get excited about. They show little pretence of being anything more than one person’s perspective, but with information and insight of potential value to a broad audience.

The risotto was bloody delicious – as my own addition to the recipe, I found that a little fresh lemon juice added to just before serving sharpened it up to taste, and played well off all the ingredients – so I decided to prepare food again tonight. As a result I have a jumbo fish pie downstairs in the fridge, ready to be cooked and eaten tomorrow. Buying the fish for the fish pie, I was careful to select an alternative to cod and haddock, both of which are currently severely overfished. I ended up buying some fresh coley (part of the pollock family) as an excellent alternative.

It’s not in my nature to do little more than sit around watching The Jeremy Kyle Show all day. Cooking is proving an excellent way to keep myself busy during paternity leave (above and beyond the rolling nappy changes, and the inexpressible nirvana of drifting off on the sofa in the middle of the day with your assorted progeny curled up next to you). Apart from anything else, the need to procure fresh ingredients has made for some nice local excursions with Lola, and has really got me thinking about consumer ethics. Emma and I already relish the fact that we live in a borough where recycling is mandatory, not least because this seems to me to be the exactly where local government can make a difference, and are making an earnest effort to start growing some of our own produce, but it is undoubtedly as paying customers where we can exert the greatest influence for good.

I know that the well-trodden response of the intensive farming apologists (of whom I’m certain that Kyle, below, is one) is to point to the fact that this approach makes chicken affordable to a large number of people on extremely tight budgets. For my part I can’t help looking at the number of large people taking advantage of Tesco’s two-for-a-fiver chicken offer and wondering whether actually they’re simply eating two whole chickens where they might have done quite well to settle for just the one.

Part of the problem seems to be the perception that the only alternative to the two-for-a-fiver option is a twenty quid free-range bird that’s spent its long and happy life attending gala luncheons in Kensington Gardens. Well, galvanised by Whittingstall’s endeavours, I made a fist of Jamie’s Fowl Dinners earlier tonight, and (amidst Oliver’s trademark melange of inarticulate smugness and self-aggrandisement) was pleased to learn that there is a very viable halfway house – the ‘higher welfare’ chicken. These cost about a pound more than the cheap-as-chips bird, in exchange for which the chickens have a roomier environment with objects to clamber over and balls to play with; think The Great Escape rather than Schindler’s List.

Ultimately the onus is on the consumer to show that he or she is prepared to fork out the extra cash. Change isn’t something that can be led by the British farming industry – this would merely open the way for importers to satisfy any continuing demand for ultra-cheap meat. And, even though supermarkets have a responsibility not to endorse unethical farming methods, they’re also answerable to consumer demand. It ought to be tremendously liberating for this power to so clearly reside in yours and my hands, but the reality is that we human beings seem to have a phenomenal faculty for cruelty, especially when we get to enjoy the benefits without having to witness its enactment first-hand.

On wednesday my father and I were lamenting the fact that some of the poor choices we make as consumers may stem from the decline of home economics as a subject taught within schools. Being that the human ecosystem appears to be under greater threat than at any stage in recent history, and that many of the problems stem in one way or another from the methods of mass production we embrace as capitalists and endorse as consumers, is there perhaps an argument for reinventing home economics as ‘eco-economics’, and getting this back onto the curriculum?

I have no idea what they teach in schools these days, or whether something so subjective could be approached in an objective way, but I wouldn’t begrudge someone the right to spend a couple of hours each week trying to encourage my children to explore the choices they can make in seeking to recognise their responsibilities as a consumer, and paid-up resident of planet Earth.