Archive for February, 2008

“Hateful”, “threatening” and “obscene”

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

This morning I got in to work to discover that Facebook had deleted the page we created to promote UNTRACEABLE (left).

This worked on the basis that we would show more of an extended torture sequence from the movie as the page attracted more fans.

We updated it late last night and sent a mailshot to the 300-odd existing fans to tell them that the clip had been extended.

When we got in this morning there was nothing left except a message explaining that ‘pages that are hateful, threatening, or obscene are not allowed’.

As a response to this we today issued this press release. The torture sequence can now be viewed here, and will be extended as this site receives more hits. If and when we reach 10,000 we get to show the first 10 minutes of the film.

The movie’s out on friday. It’s going to be fascinating to see what (if anything) happens between now and then. I’ll keep you posted.

Nobody watches… nobody gets hurt (pt 2).

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Please note: this post includes further graphical depictions of violence and torture.

So, where was I? Ah, yes, the point at which Vinvin Skyped me and asked us to kindly stop posting faux snuff movies into their fun-for-all-the-family video blogging community. He was very charming about it, as you would imagine a proud Frenchman to be, and was kind enough to compliment us on a job well done.

It’s probably worth explaining at this point that this activity had been undertaken to promote a movie called UNTRACEABLE on behalf of Universal Pictures, a movie in which a serial killer creates an “untraceable” website where he conducts violent and painful murders LIVE on the net.

It transpired that one of the Seesmic moderators had taken rather fervent exception to the nature of the content we were posting, and was threatening to delete both the videos and the account. Whether this was because she thought she was witnessing a genuine electrocution – or because she considered our script and special effects to be criminally awful – is not yet clear. Whatever the case, the situation had quickly escalated to the point whereby they felt compelled to act.

We’ve since had a good natter, and have some plans for next week, the nature of which will become clear as they unfold. At their heart: a shared interest in trying to understand what you have to depict in order to cross the line. Perhaps the Seesmic community holds the answer.

In the mean time, here is the last of the (not so) live webisodes, posted here for posterity, on the back of an agreement not to pollute Seesmic with any more of our horrorshow filth:

Social Media Cafe

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

I picked up my twitter feed yesterday morning and spotted that @jangles (aka Neville Hobson) was on his way up to London for the 4th Social Media Cafe. This is an event that takes place upstairs at the Coach & Horses in Greek St, and serves as a coming together for some of the great and good from the UK blogging scene.

As soon as I arrived I recognised a couple of faces from Seesmic, particularly those of @sizemore (left) and @yellowpark (aka Mike Atherton and Chris Dalby). I gather that Mike Butcher from Techcrunch UK was also there, as was Lloyd Davis, the organiser of the event, who kindly took some time to talk me through the pub’s notorious history as a sixties hangout for hard-drinking hacks.

I also had an excellent conversation with Josh March, commercial director of a specialist social media marketing agency called iNetworkMarketing, for whom this must have been an invaluable networking opportunity. It was great to challenge him on the question of whether Facebook is actually good for much of anything, and to find that he shared my evolving view that it best serves an increment of the relationships in your life that are neither the most nor the least familiar, but somewhere in between.

I understand that somebody was giving a demo of a site that hasn’t gone public yet – I think it might have been called BuzzSpotter – that mashes up Twitter and Google maps to create a kind of conversation geolocator. I missed the opportunity to get a peek at that, but from what Jangles was saying it sounded pretty cool.

This Seesmic by Sizemore gives a pretty good sense of proceedings. For my part I could have happily continued pretty much every conversation I had through lunch and well into the afternoon; some have already carried over into Twitter and Seesmic. All in all it was great to see some names, voices and faces crystallize into such an amiable and energetic occasion.
___

The photo above is taken from this set by Thayer18 – aka Thayer Driver – a lovely young lady who gave me both a delicious rum truffle (which, technically, was breakfast) and a hug through the course of the event. It is reproduced here without her kind permission. Sizemore has already described it as looking like a shot from the production of a social media Lord of the Rings. I can’t improve on that.

Nobody watches… nobody gets hurt (pt 1).

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Please note: this post includes graphical depictions of violence and torture.

I’ve just come off a hastily arranged Skype call with Cyrille de Lasteyrie – a.k.a. Vinvin – VP of Seesmic inc. Alongside Loic Le Meur, Vinvin is one of the co-founders of Seesmic, an invitation-only video blogging community looking set to become a serious force in 2008.

Loic’s just published a tidy summary of the story of Seesmic so far, including details of how they’ve managed to raise $6 million in initial funding. All this with a user-base of little more than a 1,000 viewers, and approximately 200 regular contributors, of which I am one. [UPDATE 15/03/08: Turns out these stats are way out of date – Vinvin has been kind enough to post the latest figures in a comment on this post. 8,000 viewers, 800 very active!]

I first spoke to Vinvin a couple of weeks back, after emailing Loic to find out about opportunities for PPC to promote films within Seesmic. I had one particular campaign in mind, and even went so far as to outline a couple of ideas we were playing around with. I wasn’t looking for any explicit endorsement; equally I didn’t want to act without giving them the heads-up. Vinvin promptly gave me his blessing, and he was kind enough to throw in a few invitation codes for good measure.

A few days later a new member joined the Seesmic community, going under the name of Sharpeshooter. This was one of his first posts:

In the days that followed Sharpeshooter posted a few dozen times, initiating some discussions and contributing to others, touching on everything from politics to prostitution.

Just before last weekend, Sharpeshooter went quiet.

On tuesday the following clip appeared, posted using his account:

This was just two days ago. The following morning, the hooded figure was back:

Then, last night, Sharpeshooter suddenly reappeared, albeit under duress:

All through last night and this morning clips like this appeared within the public timeline. Then, at around 6pm this evening, the situation started to change rapidly. The clips were posted, about 30 minutes apart:

It was at this point that I received a very polite email from Vinvin, asking if I could jump into Skype for five minutes…

TO BE CONTINUED

MyCBBC – ‘Facebook for kids’

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Diligent as ever, The Lorries have asked for another opinion piece – this time they’re after a response to the news that the BBC is launching a social networking site for kids called MyCBBC, filling the gap left by sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo who set their lower age limit at 13.

Marc Goodchild, head of interactive and on-demand at BBC children’s, is bullish about the opportunity here for the BBC: “There is a commercial market failing in the children’s space because they don’t want to take on the responsibility for younger users. The only player which can do this has to be a public service broadcaster.”

This may be true, but the BBC will need to move beyond this traditional remit considerably if it is to succeed in delivering a genuine social networking experience. It will be interesting to see whether they can overcome their instinct to broadcast and embrace the aspects of the web that best characterise social media; aspects that differentiate it from their traditional haunts of television and radio?

I’m talking about personalisation, at the expense of brand integrity; user-generated content, at the expense of quality control; and, most importantly, using the web as a medium for the free exchange of ideas between ‘audience’ members, rather than as a mechanism for their delivery from a single, central point of origin.

It would be easy to imagine that this somehow doesn’t apply for kids, and that they will settle for less. Less freedom, less creativity, less of a platform for their imaginitive energy. Yet when is your creativity less inhibited, and your urge for self-expression more exuberant, than when you are a child?

Bebo recently declared itself a ‘social media network’, and, with reality shows like The Gap Year, appears to be moving inexorably in the direction of becoming a web-only broadcaster. As reality TV and interactive media blur at the edges, it will be fascinating to see if the Beeb is capable of moving far enough fast enough in the opposite direction.

<!–Indeed, there are very few commercial players in this space at the moment. Disney-owned Club Penguin is probably the best example. Last time I was out in LA I had the chance to find out a thing or two about Club Penguin, over a huge rack of ribs at Houston’s enjoyed with my good friend Mary Hunter, her daughter Amy and her two grand-children, Hannah and Lucas.

They key challenge facing any kids’ social network is how to facilitate

Hannah and Lucas are both ardent members of the Club Penguin community, and delighted in telling me all about it. It emerged that they had

What really struck me was how in touch they were with the nuances of the community

When I was last out in LA I had the pleasure of taking my good friend Mary Hunter and her family out for dinner. The party included two grand-children who are ardent Club Penguin users. What struck me was how readily they’d grasped the nuances of community safety. Both took active pride in their secret Club Penguin ranking, by which they had been given their own small share of responsibility for reporting any inappropriate behaviour. Will MyCBBC operate a similar decentralised moderation model, rather than simply limiting infractions by curbing freedoms?

Much of the initial focus is on the inevitable balancing act of enabling community members to send private ‘unscripted’ messages without being able to make ‘unscripted contact with strangers’. I hope they have the courage and faith in their audience to do so.

However it is they go about reconciling the need to facilitate communication and interaction in a way that pre-emptively prevents net predators from ‘grooming’ potential targets, the greater challenge facing the Beeb is a more fundamental one.–>

Graze

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

PLEASE NOTE: This post was heavily updated a couple of days after I first published it. With everything I’ve added, I’d like to think that it deserves re-reading.

After keeping his cards very close to his chest for the last few months Tommy P finally spilt a handful of beans on the new venture he’s going to be involved with in 2008 – www.graze.com.

The site currently consists of little more than a mailing list, some nice sweeping images of greenery and healthy goodness and the promise of ‘nature delivered’. Nice to see that it’s already showing some class – the data capture is carefully graded, allowing you to leave as much or as little useful info as you want, accompanied by the promise that ‘we hate spam’.

I haven’t been able to prise out of Tommy exactly how Graze will work, but it’s looking like some sort of online grocers. The venture is the brainchild of a former colleague of his from Lovefilm, which offers some clues as to the business model behind it. As with Lovefilm and the home entertainment industry, the internet undoubtedly has the potential to revolutionise the mechanics of grocery shopping, through the creation of more efficient mechanisms for ordering and fulfilment. Unlike Lovefilm (in its current incarnation at least) fruit and veg aren’t about to be rendered redundant by people downloading their nutrients on demand.

Several of the established supermarket chains are already well underway with the process of adapting their business models to begin realise this opportunity. As of 2007 the online grocery sector was still dominated by major supermarket chains including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, ASDA and Waitrose, of which Tesco is a comfortable front-runner. The closest thing to a successful internet-only brand is Ocado, a warehouse-based retailer partly owned by The John Lewis Partnership, which is steadily expanding its area of geographical coverage and has become another leading player in this sector.

Whatever headway has been made in fulfilling demand for online grocery shopping, the extent of the demand will always dictate the pace at which the opportunity can be brought to fruition. Consumer behaviour can be influenced by advertising, marketing and public relations, but any internet business forgets at its peril that the foremost casualties of the dotcom bubble were businesses failing to account for the extent to which we consumers are irrational, creatures of habit, not about to change our habits overnight for the sake of raw fiscal or logistical incentives.

A recent report found that 15.9% of respondents purchased groceries via the Internet at least once in a year, with 3.2% making online purchases at least once a week and 2.7% making them two or three times a month. The largest proportion, 4.5%, purchased groceries online one or two times a year. The UK Internet grocery market, considered to be one of the most developed in the world, is expected to increase its current value by 80% within the next 5 years. When one considers how uniquitous a requirement groceries represent, these must be regardeded as nascent levels of demand, leaving plenty of grocery shoppers whose allegiances to their local supermarket chain are there to be tested when they make the transition to ordering online.

Indeed one wonders how much of a hurry established chains are in to see their customers drifting online. An internet shopper is less likely to make impulse purchases outside the scope of a shopping list; less likely to buy weekly magazines, and certainly daily newspapers, as part of a fortnightly or monthly order; less likely to buy music and DVDs from an outlet who can’t compete with Amazon on price; less likely to buy clothes without being able to try them on; less likely to be seduced by point-of-sale leaflets advertising loans and other financial services; and far less likely to buy fuel for their car when they no longer need to make the trip. No, the chains will always prefer their customers in-store rather than online, for as long as their core business isn’t being threatened by upstart start-ups offering an improved, exclusively online alternative.

There’s no inherent reason why the chains shouldn’t be challenged in this way. Amazon itself has succeeded in establishing itself as an online retailer leading multiple markets ahead of existing businesses who’ve attempted to make the transition from high street to information super-highway. Seth Godin examines Amazon’s success in his latest book, Meatball Sundae, ascribing it to the very fact that Amazon was built from the ground up, conceived for the medium of the web and free from the baggage of an established bricks-and-mortar business.

Certainly anybody wanting to compete in this space faces some substantial barriers to entry. These include high start-up costs, efficient stock-picking and replenishment systems, comprehensive delivery networks and user-friendly website design, assuming the start-up adopts the same basic business model. Of course, every now and then some bright spark affects a paradigm shift, re-envisaging the way a service is offered and a need fulfilled, and managing to clean up off the back of it. I’d love to think that Graze is about to do just that, but until I hear otherwise I’m assuming that they’ll be competing with the big boys on roughly the same terms. If so, the key to their success will be the little differences, and how they communicate them to make one big one.

Indeed, I think there is an important opportunity here, growing from a grassroots disillusionment with the chains. There is a strengthening consensus that a steady decline in UK food standards – and the corresponding woes of British agriculture – can be ascribed to disproportionate influence exerted by supermarkets over customers and suppliers. I can’t help feeling that they’re well overdue a comeuppance in this respect – the kind of sudden, sweeping retribution that only this new industrial revolution can inflict – and I think that Graze will quickly engender some precious goodwill if it’s seen to be reasserting the primacy of the relationship between consumer and producer.

The tyranny of Tesco was one factor in Emma’s and my decision to start having a box of organic veg delivered by The Organic Delivery Company. This comes once a week, and contains a selection of stuff selected by the delivery company based on what’s in season. Putting our current raw beetroot surplus to one side, this is a great way to get your veg. It reminds of a comment Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy made in his presentation at The Media Summit a few weeks ago, to the effect that people have been found to be shopping for organic food because there’s a smaller selection to choose from, and in this context choice is sometimes perceived as burdensome. I think Graze would do well to consider how they can enable time-starved grocery shoppers to relinquish this burden, putting it in the hands of a responsible supplier using technology to better understand our needs and act on our behalves.

It will be interesting to see how Graze unfolds, but it certainly looks like a project Tommy will be proud to be a part of. We’ve worked together building websites and interactive applicati
ons since 1998, most notably developing Ploggle together from the ground up, and collaborating on all manner of ground-breaking projects for PPC. As developers go he’s a natural, and as hard-working as anybody I know, which is a potent combination. I hope this venture allows him to finally turn these talents into wealth beyond his wildest dreams, but, more importantly, that everyone involved has a blast making it happen. For my part, I’ll keep tapping him up for titbits, and I’ll keep you posted.