Sunday, 15 December 2013

Does Silicon Valley hate the homeless?

Eddie Murphy Trading Places


A lot has been written about the problems in San Francisco and the Silicon Vally area – regarding house prices, infrastructure, and the growing gap between rich and poor, which has resulted in a form of 'hyper-gentrification' that has forced many normal residents (the ones without IPO cash or well-paid jobs at Google, Twitter or Facebook) to leave town.

But one thing that many people have failed to spot in amongst all of these separate (though interlinked) issues is one glaringly obvious truth: many of the rich denizens of Silicon Valley hate poor people.

This was illustrated recently when Greg Gopman of AngelHack (which runs on the successful formula of taking two overused words in the startup lexicon and mashing them together) typed out this charming missive on Facebook:

Just got back to SF. I've traveled around the world and I gotta say there is nothing more grotesque than walking down market st in San Francisco. Why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue. Each time I pass it my love affair with SF dies a little. 
(Emphasis added from ValleyWag)

He later apologised for this rant – which is pretty meaningless considering that he got a certain distance in life actually thinking in this way – but some of his friends immediately took up the poor-bashing baton and ran it to it's logical conclusion:

"Don't apologize to those bleeding heart liberals out there. They are part of the problem because they condone parasitic behavior [SIC]. I've traveled all over the world (including third world countries) and San Francisco is the only place where I've seen people (the homeless) taking a shit on the street. If it were up to me I'd put them all in labor camps. Speak your mind and don't be afraid of offending others. Remember what Dr. Seuss says: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." 
(Emphasis mine)

Using Dr. Seuss to justify the fact that your friend is a prick is a great bit of positioning.

So why all the hate? I'll tell you why: it's because they're scared.

Homeless people, poor people, normal people – they're horrible to some techies. They represent a future that they may one day experience – some people get rich, some people lose everything, some people just do okay. Western capitalism is a sickening, scary game sometimes, and these precious little snowflakes would rather not be reminded of it.

When you're trying to cultivate a bubble, and 'failure is not an option' to you, being presented with your worst nightmare every day (being normal, not being privileged, being unlucky, not being white) snaps you back into the real world, and the attendant problems that it has.

Being poor is scarier to them than the vampire from Salem's Lot – and the kicker is that they just can't close the book or stop the movie.

Salem's Lot Gif


But rather than do something about it, and maybe try and get an effective insurance policy in place should they be unlucky (invest in improving public services, look at how to actively reduce poverty, look at how they can make their city a cleaner, safer place to live for all), they would rather 'disrupt' the current homeless and less-well-off population by moving them out, so they can live in their own private utopia. By all means come on in, serve us our coffee, drive our busses and clean our toilets – but wipe your feet before you come in, and close the door on your way out.

Unfortunately for everybody in this situation, you can't disrupt reality. You can, however, improve it. Poor people exist all over the world. Homeless people exist all over the world. Displaced people exist all over the world. Putting them in work-camps is not the answer. So what is?

You guys are smart – work it out. Find us an answer. It could be the best thing to come out of the San Francisco since Harvey Milk.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Well done Twitter

Twitter


That's it. You're rich now (and no, this isn't the start of an open letter - I think we've had enough of those for one year) - and your new-found riches are doubtlessly going to cause all sorts of chaos in San Francisco.

I'm not against you making money - in fact, you're a useful service, so you deserve to make money. But like this?! Just floating a site which has no long-term strategy or half-decent monetisation plans?

It's crazy.

And it's going to have a bad effect on where you live. Rule number one of living in a city, whether it's San Francisco, New York, London or Norwich, is that you don't shit where you eat. Ever.

But you have. You and the rest of the entitled arseholes that are moving in are buying up and forcing out generations of people in a form of hyper-gentrification which is forcing out many of the people that bring the value and colour that you love so much to your city. The teachers, the shop-workers, the record store employees, the bus-drivers, the plumbers, the electricians the ordinary, day-to-day 'just getting by'-ers - they're all being priced out.

I picked a broad range of people in that last part, but one thing tends to unify them beyond anything else: they do jobs that may not be sexy, exciting or gilded with the riches or the inherent privileges that your job at a start-up may get you, but fucking hell, they're pretty vital. What's going to happen if they're priced out of the the city they work in? Do you think that the further they move out, the more likely they are to bus their arses into work to serve you your special coffee, to make sure you get your hands on the new Yo La Tengo 12-inch, to fix your toilet and teach your special little snowflakes how to read and write? They're not. So work on fixing that housing bubble you've made for yourself there.

I live in London - like most of the UK, it's far from perfect. But one thing that makes me happy about the place is that it's big enough to accommodate everybody. The same battles are being raged over here, that's true - part of the reason that I'm writing this blog is so that in a couple of years time I can recycle it when the guy from Moshi Monsters floats his pester-powerhouse on the stock exchange, makes several billion pounds and buys the whole of North London. But as of yet, looking out of the window, my favourite Turkish shops, takeaways and greengrocers are all still open. Thank God. Long may it continue.

So Twitterees - now you're rich. Well done. But what good is being rich when in the back of your mind, there's this niggling feeling that all of those promoted Tweets you're offering won't make up for the fact that you're forcing normal people out of the city they've lived in their whole lives, whilst you enjoy a tax-break which is costing the city you live in approximately $55 million?

You've made your money. Now look at yourselves. What are you going to do with it to make the world a bit better, apart from donating to non-profits purely to alleviate your tax burden? Because you didn't enable an Arab Spring, you didn't destroy the super-injunction, and you weren't solely responsible for the enduring popularity of Stephen Fry. The people that use your site did that. The meatbags that log in every morning to swell your servers with selfies, bon mots and news updates.

You don't like having the government involved - people in tech rarely do, so why not just use some of that vast pile of post-IPO money to ensure that you live in a fairer city, somewhere everybody can live. And focus on how you can make some more. And then invest. And then make more. And then invest. Become a successful business. Because at the moment, all you've done is made more money to piss up the wall.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Facebook and its (violent) image problem

Scumbag Facebook Picture
 
Last week Facebook relaxed their temporary ban on graphic images of violence on their site in quite some style - by allowing a video of a woman being beheaded by a masked man.

To quote:
As part of our effort to combat the glorification of violence on Facebook, we are strengthening the enforcement of our policies.

First, when we review content that is reported to us, we will take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video, and will remove content that celebrates violence.

Second, we will consider whether the person posting the content is sharing it responsibly, such as accompanying the video or image with a warning and sharing it with an age-appropriate audience.

In doing so, they re-sparked a debate that has been raging across the site for months. The positioning of Facebook as our self-appointed guide in the moral maze of life.
You see - I wouldn’t have a problem with this if they were consistent. The problem is that essentially, they’re doing such a cack-handed job of it.

Firstly - if you are looking to combat the glorification of violence, pornography and other on Facebook, taking an approach of zero-tolerance against most forms of nudity, however mild, needs to be reigned in. My nipple isn’t that offensive. The nipple of a woman feeding her child isn’t offensive. So why is there some kind of nipple-detection system on Facebook which monitors the sharing of these types of images?

As a rule of thumb, I’d rather not see any nipples on Facebook - but the decision to censor these images, yet look to take a more ‘holistic’ view on the circumstances around a beheading video being shared - just makes them look like they have slightly-askew policies - like one of those single-issue nutters you see on telly that want the Isle of Wight to become a principality. As long as there are no nipples, Facebook’s cool with pretty much anything. I’m not.

Secondly, breast-feeding isn’t wrong. And neither are nipples. But beheading somebody is.

We generally accept that murder is A Very Bad Thing.

We also accept that rape and abuse are uniformly Very Bad Things. Genital mutilation? Self-harm? Pro-anorexic content? I don’t need to see it to know that I think it’s wrong. What sort of moron would?

This is not about television, music, video games or movies. This is the real world. This is not a moral panic caused by Linda Lovelace, The Sex Pistols or Quentin Tarantino. This is a real, terrified person being beheaded on camera. And it’s fucking horrible. What sort of misery-tourist would want to watch that?

It’s a complex and nuanced argument - I accept that. These are just my thoughts, and as always, I could just be stood here pissing into the wind of indifference.

It’s a topic that we’ll probably be discussing until our alien overlords show up. But one thing I don’t buy is that Facebook can be an effective moral arbiter.

By now adding a warning to the videos
, they're essentially saying that they're happy for eyeballs to remain on the violent real (not imaginary, not fictional) images they're hosting, without having to claim responsibility for their platform, or what people upload. And that's a massive dick move.

Hey Facebook Y U No Remove Violent Images

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

On taking a break

Hello again.

Apologies for the unexpected break in blogging - I would like to reassure you that I haven't been sucked into the web, Lawnmower Man style. Not that I would have expected you to notice - I'm a blogger, not your mum.

Picture of Lawnmower Man

The fact is, I've been, and still am, incredibly busy working on an exciting new challenge here in London for TES Connect - and I'm loving every minute of it. I also managed to get away on holiday for a couple of weeks with Ana and our mates too, which was fun, even though we hit a pig in rural France. It's a long story, but fortunately we can all laugh about it now - even the pig.

Working in social media can be an immense challenge at times, but I never forget how lucky I am to be working in a field that allows me to talk to different people all over the world on a daily basis.

I've encountered a fair few challenges, but I'm really lucky to be working with some marvellous people at the moment, and long may it continue.

It's very early days, but we've been trying to balance the serious journalism (not from me) with little bits of mucking about using social media (from me), like this article, The 10 best maths jokes ever, as nominated by teachers and Twitter

I'm back now though, and I'll be posting once a week.

Until my next post, here are some bullshit tech quotes I found to keep you occupied:

Milward Brown Marketing

Milward Brown Paywall


So there you have it - even though I've taken a break, the bullshitters have still been beavering away. Reassuring, isn't it?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The future: Old Detroit or Delta City?

Robocop - Delta City
Where would you rather live - Detroit or Delta City?

I think that there’s a lot to be said for the onward march of technology in our lives. There are people working out there in the field who are really want to make the world a better place.

I love the film Robocop. The original, by Paul Verhoeven, was based on the idea that the private sector of the near future would look to ‘disrupt’ the ‘broken’ infrastructure of our towns and cities for profit. A chilling image in my mind. 

For me, the saddest thing is that the film is a big favourite amongst the big-wigs in Silicon Valley. They see Robocop as a triumph of technology over the flaws of a unionised police force. I would argue that the whole premise of the film is humanity succeeding with, and sometimes despite, the technology on offer.

Here's a brief synopsis of the world that Robocop takes place in, courtesy of Business Insider:
In RoboCop, economic life is deformed by extreme poverty and recession. The only decent paying jobs, it seems, are as ruthless corporate chieftains, police officers or drug lords. The cops are on strike. The capitalists want to destroy the city. And the gangsters are enjoying every minute of it.

Alex Murphy is a human being, a police officer callously murdered by criminals, then callously reconstructed by mega-corporation OCP, to uphold the law, and to make the boffins, middle-managers and shareholders money.

As much of his external identity is stripped away, the strength that is given to him through his metallic body, as well as his moral compass (yes, I’m straying into morals), allow him to defeat not only the criminals leaching off of the misery of Detroit, but also the corruption within the boardroom of OCP, which in many ways directly and indirectly needed the criminality rife in the city to push through the profitable ideas they proposed for the city (including union-busting).

I love technology, and I always feel the need to say this when I write a blog of this kind. But what I don’t like about technology is the notion that everything in public life needs to be ‘disrupted’ by it.

Case in point: strikes. Last month in San Francisco, the transport unions of the city decided to go on strike. The reasons for this strike included pay, working conditions and safety concerns. For everybody. Surely that’s got to be worth fighting for? Wouldn’t you like the power to be able to do that where you work if you felt that you were being dealt a bad hand?

Sadly, in Silicon Valley, these acts of collective bargaining are seen as scummy and inefficient. Other people’s pay and conditions should have no impact upon your own life. Sarah Lacey, mouthpiece of the rich and influential in The SiliDigital Vallalleybout, was disgusted by the strike action, wishing that somebody would “Work on disrupting BART [the union in question]”.
“If I had more friends who were BART drivers, I would probably be very sympathetic to their cause, and if they had more friends who were building companies they would probably realize we’re not all millionaires, and we’re actually working pretty hard to build something. People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions.”
To my mind, collective bargaining, or ‘crowdsourcing support’ is an innovative idea on which some of the core tenets of social technology is built. You want a better deal? You get together and you unlock it. You enlist your friends. It’s a lot like any daily deals site you can think of - the difference being that it’s not (always) a hokey operation. Real life bargaining can bring about genuine social change, and the internet can help to facilitate this.

If you stand against this, you stand for the very values of the corporation that stands at the centre of the corruption in Detriot.

You can either stand toe-to-toe with workers, or you can stand with Lacey and her friend Richard White, who'd rather have a transportation system without the need for these troublesome humans.
“One of the guys on our team said he's putting in his two-weeks notice once he found out what he could make working for BART,” White said, joking. His solution to address those disgruntled BART workers? “Get ‘em back to work, pay them whatever they want, and then figure out how to automate their jobs so this doesn't happen again.”
Sometimes the disruptors like to think they are the Robocops, when in reality, they’re all just in thrall to OCP.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Education? It's not a big deal to Peter Thiel

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world - Nelson Mandela

Education is important. Duh. There’s a statement to open with. But it’s true. As Nelson Mandela once said, it’s the ‘weapon which you can use to change the world’.

If it wasn’t for education, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am very aware that there is a ceiling when it comes to achieving what you want to achieve in life, and it’s not always fair, but I have always tried my best to crash through it. It’s what drives me. Knowledge and tuition has helped me with this when the outside world has been found wanting.

So it does annoy me when a collection of Ivy League-educated venture capitalists claiming that the education system that spawned them is broken.

Broken. Let’s dwell a second on that word whilst we hear a story about Paypal founder Peter Thiel's latest idea. Just to refresh your memory, Thiel is a man so in love with the Randian idea that this world is broken and beyond repair that, rather than ‘fix it’, he wants to build his own island for rich people.

His latest wheeze? He’s set up a scholarship programme that rewards people for not going to college.

The outcome so far? $34 million dollars in money ‘raised’ (borrowed, in other words), no doubt from Thiel’s venture capitalist buddies, and a sprayable caffeine idea that sounds like a bad idea from a late-90s sci-fi show.

Two things frustrate me about Thiel’s approach:

Firstly, he graduated from Stanford, therefore he completed his education. I don’t care what he says, that must have been an influence on his future success. Frankly, if he suggests otherwise, he’s bullshitting us all - himself included. So technically he can claim he succeeded despite the help of a lavish college education at one of the finest institutions in the world. Bully for you, Pete. I'm sure your gold-plated education has nothing to do with your success.

Secondly, he’s waving money in front of teenagers (who are notoriously scrupulous with their money - I am speaking from painful experience here) and asking them to gamble their future on an idea - the problem being that more than a few of them sound incredibly vague, or a product from a home-shopping channel.

Let’s be honest, the relative success rate of entrepreneurs makes for depressing reading. For every Mark Zuckerburg and Peter Theil, there are a hundreds of thousands of people who didn’t quite make it. Tellingly, none of Thiel's kids have made any money yet.

Asking kids to mortgage their own future at this stage in their lives, when they should be hanging around with people their own age and having the freedom to fail when the stakes are much lower, is manipulating their naivety at best, and piggybacking on their ideas at it’s most cynical.

But then again, exploiting teenagers ideas is no big deal when you’re Peter Thiel - if he had his way they’d probably all be working on his island for less than minimum wage.

Good luck, Thiel fellows - you're going to need it. Just don't count on too much assistance from the man himself - he's probably going to be too busy lecturing at his old college for you to get hold of him.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Review: #FakeFans by @C4Dispatches



The latest Channel 4 Dispatches programme, 'Celebs, Brands and Fake Fans' has managed to cause quite a stir in social media circles over here in the UK. It's not a new practice - in fact, I've written about it before.

Like many people working in social media, the most upsetting part of the programme for me was finding out who the businesses and agencies  that are actively taking part in blatant dishonesty and rule bending.

It's frustrating to see them do it, but really, it's not surprising. Often, the first question that less socially-savvy business minds ask you when they come to see you is 'How can I get more fans to like our page', closely followed by 'This global super-brand has XXX million followers, I want my tyre company to have the same amount'. Often, they will ask you if they can just run a Facebook competition - normally one that blatantly breaks Facebook's terms and conditions.

If you say no (which, fact fans, is the RIGHT answer), they'll come back with an answer something along the lines of 'Well, my mate runs a business, and he did it'. You'll then explain that they shouldn't have done that - which is not the answer they'll want to hear. Often (thankfully), they'll just pick up sticks and go and find an agency or a business that will do it for them, and you'll get to wash your hands of their slightly dubious business practice. I've experienced it a few times (times, locations and businesses will, as always, remain anonymous), and I always advise anybody I work with that it's not a good idea. I'm very proud to be associated with some really honest people that work in this industry, and I intend to keep it that way. But sadly, our honesty is why businesses like SM4B and Dynasty Media (UK) exist - they'll make money off of the less ethical stuff, because that's their business model. They're like the dodgy market traders of the social media marketing industry - the bottom-feeding barnacle on the hull of digitally-minded businesses and individuals.

But what are the real revelations?

That celebrities, like most of us, get a bit greedy when presented with lots of free stuff? We knew that already.


That brands pay for fans? Yeah, we know that too. It's shit. But less of them do it than you think.

That the documentary makers have no problem with calling women 'Whores' in Italian? Not cool, Channel 4.

It's all a bit grubby, and I have to say that I really enjoyed the show - and I am very glad that the public have more information on the subject now, as knowledge is power (and all that).  But I felt a bit dirty after watching it. Like the industry that I work in had been soiled in some way.

However, with all that said, the biggest learning that I took away from the whole situation was from this article in The Drum, where I noticed a trend of creative agency heads trying to look edgy by having their picture taken with, or near, a brick wall.






Surely that's got to be worth at least a Tumblr blog? 


Monday, 5 August 2013

Why #TwitterSilence is not the solution

Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

This past Sunday, in response to the threats received by a number of women, Twitter, that great echo chamber of our age, made an attempt to be silent.

It didn’t work - because silence on these matters is, to put it simply, very divisive. For example - I don't believe in silence on these matters.

And neither does Tracy Clayton of The Root, who wrote an incredible response to the campaign today.

“On the surface, the protest (tagged with #TwitterSilence in discussions) just flat out didn’t make sense, because removing women from public spaces, online and off, is exactly what misogynists want. Speaking up and speaking out against violence against women seems a much more proactive course of action. There was a large outcry among those who argued that urging women to be quiet in the face of suppression is a step backward. As Zora Neale Hurston said, "If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it."

But that wasn't the only hiccup in this plan. Aside from the protest not making sense, it alienated and excluded marginalized women -- poor women, transgender women, women of color, etc. -- who don't have the luxury of choosing to fall silent because they don't have much of a voice to begin with. That requesting the silence and invisibility of women who are historically and ritualistically ignored, discarded and dismissed was ever a good idea to anyone is a testament to the fact that this protest was not designed with them in mind. It illustrates the ignorance of intersectionality in mainstream feminism, which leaves out women whose experiences don't mirror those of the white folk running the show. It is the great folly of feminism that only certain kinds of women are seen as worth the trouble of fighting for or listening to.”

Anybody who chooses to use a platform such as Twitter has a right to interact in an environment free of abuse. That is an inarguable moral right in my eyes.

But the nastiness on display there, from people across the gender spectrum, is endemic of a much wider problem.

Twitter is not the cause of the problem. We are - the users. It is not a problem with social media. It is a problem with our society - what we deem 'okay', and what we deem 'not okay'. Going silent for a day does nothing to help this.

Online aggression is fed and created by our external experiences - chemical reactions in us from our surroundings. Twitter as a platform doesn’t create the behaviour - it just provides an outlet. Just like a phone. Just like paper. Just like a pen. It was wrong to not have a ‘report abuse’ button on there - but then again so is Tumblr for allowing pro self-harm, pro-anorexia and underage pornography to flourish on their site, purely because (a) it boosted their user-base, making them more valuable and (b) it would be too much effort to implement these safeguards.

But once again, anorexia, self-harm, underage exploitation and abuse are problems that stem from us as a society.

We are not a ‘sick, sad world’ that is on it’s way to Hell in a hand-cart. I just worry that by fiddling around the edges by having a silent protest on Twitter, a platform that has already complied with our wishes, we are letting ourselves off the hook somewhat as a society.

Let’s get some real world solutions involved (not that easy - I know). Let’s educate people offline as well as online in the way that we should talk to one another (challenging). Lets rely less on television shows about the less well-off in society to make ourselves feel better, because as we all know, it’s easier for us to be lazy and kick downwards than to show initiative and push upwards (bloody hell). Let’s talk about these issues face-to-face, and tackle them head-on. It’s hard, but it needs to happen.

Remember when everybody in the UK was scared of Nick Griffin and the BNP? It turns out, that rather than ban, block or try to silence him, if we brought him into our world, and put him in front of an audience, he’d collapse in on himself like a burning straw-man of hollow, bigoted rhetoric. Griffin’s one appearance on Question Time did more damage to the British National Party than years of unofficial censorship. The same is currently happening with Tommy or Steven Robinson or Lennon of the EDL. His appearances on Newsnight, and countless other current affairs programmes, has further solidified the view held by the majority of the 63 million people living in the UK that he is little more than a f*cking berk.

There are bullies to the left, in the centre and to the right of politics. Look at a number of political bloggers out there. You’ll soon see who they are.

They are at work.

They are in schools.

Sometimes, unfortunately for some, they are at home.

What are we as a society going to do about it? Are we going to stay silent on Twitter for a day in a show of hollow slacktivism - or are we going to do something more tangible?

You can report a troll with an abuse button. That’s a positive step. You can report threats to the police. That’s another positive step, and the right thing to do. But whatever you do - don’t be silent. Speak out.

But please remember: whatever you’re doing - make sure that you’re not silent. Because they want you to be silent. They want you to just sit back and take it. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Why does Twitter allow people to be harassed on their site?


Someone Tweeted

I'm troubled by the recent developments over on the dark side of Twitter, where a woman by the name of Caroline Criado-Perez was subjected to threats of sexual abuse after successfully campaigning for, of all things, a woman to appear on the new £10 banknote.

Abuse of any kind is awful, and society as a whole needs to take responsibility for the actions of the minority in this case. Why do we produce these morons? Where do they come from?

But Twitter must take a hefty share of the blame for refusing to acknowledge something that even Reddit is good at: that good reporting tools and administration systems allow both victims and alleged perpetrators to go through a regulated digital system.

What annoys me most about this case is the classic Silicon Valley brand of libertarianism that Twitter are displaying in telling Criado-Perez to contact the police to lodge a complaint regarding abuse happening on their platform, because, essentially, it's not their problem. They only created the model. They don't have to manage it.

It's no different than the banks turning to the governments back in 2008 when the economy went to shit. They're relying on a regulatory body they don't even respect to clean up their mess, and ultimately we all end up paying for it.

We know that the police can act on crimes and threats against individuals, but it is also the responsibility of the platforms to have proper reporting systems in place.

The fact that Twitter try to set themselves up as a bastion of free speech and open discourse is admirable. In fact, I support any platform than allows such diverse figures and groups as The Dalai Lama, David Icke, The EDL and The Westboro Baptist Church to be able to have their say, no matter how right, wrong, purple or green they are.

But being able to have a sensible, balanced debate is quite different from being on the receiving end of threats and abusive messages.

I'm not going to start misquoting Voltaire here, but I think that a platform that allows lots of diverse views to be aired, but also to be challenged and debunked if needs be, is fundamentally A Good Thing.

We mustn't get confused between reporting abuse and censorship. We need proper abuse reporting on Twitter, and we need it now.

Token regulation when creating a platform and expecting an external system that your ideological beliefs barely tolerate to manage it is lazy at best, and dangerous at worst.

Ultimately, I believe that Twitter believes more about a user base, and monetising that user base,  than the personal safety of an individual user using that platform. And until they have proper reporting and blocking systems in place, they won't be convincing me otherwise.

If you believe that Twitter should introduce proper, robust reporting tools, then please sign this petition and make your voice heard.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Matthew Wright's Twitter Meltdown

Well, not quite. Sorry, that's a bit of a misleading title.

I think that this picture pretty much says it all...


Who did Matthew Wright and Channel Five leave in charge of their Twitter account on the 10th & 11th of July? Reading those tweets made me feel like I'd been shouted at across the office by a regional sales rep called Wrighty. I know that's quite specific but I'm sure you get the picture.
"DOES SMASHING STUFF UP MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER?"
No Matthew, but clearly you could do with a few trips around John Lewis with a baseball bat.

In fact, the whole episode put me in mind of this nugget from the past...


And who wants to go back there?

Remember everybody - CAPS LOCK IS FOR SHOUTY WORDS.

STAY SAFE OUT THERE.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Richard Dawkins breaks the meme


I can't quite figure out if this is the ultimate meme, or the death of traditional internet meme as we know it.

It's undoubtedly a funny and surprising watch, but it's also poignant, as it's the final piece of proof that we were all looking for that advertisers have cottoned on to the power of the traditional internet meme. Or maybe he's just trying to prove that a meme, no matter how good it can be, can't be created by creative agency group-think.

Either way, I think this video marks a key evolutionary moment in internet memetics.

Monday, 24 June 2013

In praise of Valleywag


 I'm really pleased that ValleyWag is back in action.

After it took few years off, it seems that the tech industry has grown into the gold-plated, smoothie-drinking,  monster that it was towards the end of the last century.

The sort of place where a Facebook billionaire can spend 10 million dollars on a wedding without having to ask permission to tear up portions of redwood forest.

The sort of place where a business like Tumblr can sell for a billion after posting profits of $5 million.

Where the same company can make people redundant on the same day it shows off some swanky new offices.

Burn-rates, sky-high funding rounds, exits and IPOs seem to have become the prime focus for the industry now, and the so-called mavens living at the top of the pile (with their own private bus routes and juice bars) have all but forgotten in the pursuit of the almighty dollar that they need to build a useful or fun product.

So having Sam Biddle and co. around to prick bubble of pomposity is a good thing in my books.

Long may they reign.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

All change

 

Apologies for the radio silence for the past few weeks. A few things have changed here, and I’m happy to say that I’m typing this from the comfort of our new place in north London - which really feels like home.
 
Why? Well..
 
About seven weeks ago I accepted the role of Social Media Manager at TSL Education - the biggest network of teachers in the world. It’s a really exciting challenge and I’m loving every second of it.
 
Manchester was a fantastic place to live for the past 2+ years. I met some wonderful people, Ana and I bought our first house, and we discovered a laid-back, friendly lifestyle that’s second-to-none in the UK. People in Manchester are genuinely brilliant, and are not afraid to stop and chat. Although, I’m not going to lie, I’m not missing our next door neighbour Pat telling me about her week-long dose of the norovirus after Christmas (‘It was awful. The toilet was full to the brim’).
 
I’d like to thank Real and Smooth Radio for two and a half years of great fun, great work and the opportunity to meet so many brilliant people.

And I’d like to thank everybody at TSL for making me feel so welcome.
 
Normal service on the blog will now be resumed. Whatever that means.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

500 Startups, and not a good idea between them

Ever wanted to see a load of startup kids disappear up their own arse? Ever wondered why people are starting to get tired of 'entrepreneurs' that spend more time making viral videos than focusing on solving problems or launching something tangible?

Behold - the moment the tech scene in the states disappeared up it's own hoop (again).


Pass me the sickbag.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Stickers won't save you now


One of the funniest things about looking into the tech and social sphere from the outside (well, as a somebody that uses and manages on, rather than builds their services) is seeing the sort of mundane, everyday things they present as somehow revolutionary.

This week? It's Facebook and clip-art. You know, the images you send to your mates in an email conversation to try and sound less like you are machine-gunning words at them? Well, now with Facebook Messenger, you can attach a clip-art sticker to your message - meaning that you can now wink at people using a cat, rather than a smiley face, or lines.

This is a development right up there with Peter Frampton's talking guitar in terms of it's novelty-value. But no doubt, this is a way of introducing another 'revenue stream' into the Facebook experience, by inviting users to 'buy' more smiley packs.

From a finance perspective, it makes perfect sense. It'll keep shareholders happy.

But let's not get carried away with the hyperbole, as Engadget has, talking about the 'crippling visual limitations of emoticons in textual communications'.

Crippling? Crippling?! Come on. We've managed thus as a species thus far to get by not having an image of a winking (I said WINKING) pirate rabbit to send to our mate. Take off your Google Glass and apply a reality filter to what you're saying!

The worst thing about this re-heated idea? It's a re-heated idea stolen from another app - Path. You know, the one that steals contact information from it's users?

I've long suspected that the tech scene over in America (and by extension over here) have been engulfed and slightly deranged in it's own hubris, and believes that everything that it does, or every problem it 'solves', is life-changing.

Checking in at a location is fun - it's not life-changing.

Sharing photos with your friends is nice - it's not life-changing.

Creating cartoon characters for kids that you can buy upgrades for? It's a bit craven (like most advertising aimed at kids) - it's not life-changing. It solves nothing!


Updating your status or sending a tweet is brilliant - but we're not solving world hunger or complex social injustices. We're just easing the daily grind for people fortunate enough to be born into the western world. Making things a bit easier. And that is valuable. Enabling frictionless communication is a wonderful thing, and it's what the internet I love is all about.

But let's not all drink from the same fountain and start thinking that adding stickers to an app is important or news-worthy in any way. They're only stickers!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Hyundai: Not the Korean for 'has a heart'

If the definition of something going viral is that it rapidly causes nausea and a general feeling of queasiness, the Hyundai are to be congratulated with their latest piece of viral marketing - it really hit the spot.

Featuring (get this, it's a real laugh riot!) a middle aged man unsuccessfully trying to commit suicide in their eco-friendly car, the advert has quite rightly raised hackles across the internet.

It’s a dreadful advert. It reminds me of the dystopian advertisements in a Paul Verhoeven film- the sort of thing that you can imagine a young, naive creative may think is funny when he or she is chortling down the pub with mates, but is much less funny when you realise that your intended audience (your ‘hilarious’ mates, who will happily stick up for you anonymously in comment sections of websites) can’t afford the car in question, and the rest of the people who see it feel that the world has just got a little bit crueler for having the ad projected into it through our own personal Black Mirrors.

And the fact that Hyundai tried to weasel out of any controversy was just as sad - especially seeing as the creative agency that made the video is owned by the Chairman of Hyundai. It’s conceivable that he didn’t see it, but then that’s not really an excuse.

As a disclaimer, I should really point out that I’m an supporter/helper-outer of the charity CALM (a suicide-prevention charity based in the UK), but to be perfectly honest, I’d object to the cruelty of this video even if I wasn’t. It’s mean-spirited, cruel, and leaves you feeling a bit dirty.

Hey, Hyundai - make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Next time, try and make something that appeals to the best elements of humanity, rather than this dreck. And read this.

On your website, it states that ‘At Hyundai, we ask ourselves the important questions every day. And, every day, we seek the best answers. It’s what makes us grow as a car company.’

Clearly, the question of ‘will this upset anybody?’ wasn’t asked once. So you're clearly not asking enough.


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Google Glass: a warning from history

Sinclair C5

I’m not a fan of Google Glass. There, I’ve said it. If you’re a fan of it, feel free to start throwing rocks at me right about now. Frankly, I don’t care.

Normally, I’m a big fan of change, and innovation. It’s what drives an economy forward, what creates new opportunities, and it feeds itself. To me, the phrase ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ is a cop-out of massive proportions. It’s the easy way out of having to do anything, and it’s often used by people who are scared of change, and want the world to stay exactly the same. If that was the case, I don’t think we’d have ever invented fire, the wheel, or allowed Breaking Bad to mature into one of the greatest TV shows ever produced.

But am I the only one who thinks that Google Glass is just a creepy load of old cack?

For starters, I’m yet to see one person wearing a pair of them that doesn’t look like a prat.



I mean, come on! They may look okay on a model, or on Sergei Brin (aka not-quite Tony Stark), but on you and me? I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to end up looking more like a Bullseye contestant.

Bullseye

Also, Robert Scoble wears them. In public toilets. And whilst he’s not a pervert, I’d certainly get a bit creeped out having somebody standing next to me at the urinals wearing one of those. I’d get pee-shy if I knew there was a risk I could end up on the internet. Seriously, the potential for perving with these bad boys is huge.

Also, think about how people would react around you. Yes, the world is becoming more technologically advanced by the nano-second, but don’t forget that some people are still fundamentally a bit scared of having their pictures taken, let alone being recorded. These aren’t just insecure wallflowers - these are people who value their privacy. Who would like to perhaps have a conversation with you without having to worry about their vocal mannerisms, their nervous tic, or even just wanting to have an off-the-record chat? Yes, I know that products are designed with the vast majority of decent people in mind, but this is still a bit of a kick in the face for good old-fashioned privacy.

With that said, I don’t think wearable technology is a fad. Clearly it isn’t. It’s here to stay, and we’ve been augmenting ourselves since the dawn of time with wearable innovations (shoes, clothes, glasses, watches). But that doesn’t stop me from wondering why a pair of goggles is being seen as something truly groundbreaking. I’d prefer something less intrusive, less showy. A bit more refined. This is a bad use of wearable tech.

In the confines of Silicon Valley/Roundabout, walking around with a pair of interactive goggles on marks you out as a real trendsetter, surfing the bleeding edge with gay abandon. I’m imagining walking around with this technology in Manchester, other areas of London. Not quite so cosy and new-tech now, is it? Now you just look like a simpleton with some lenseless specs.

Google, remember: to Sir Clive Sinclair, the C5 seemed like a great idea at the time. To Alan Sugar, the GX4000 and the eM@iler seemed like great ideas. History is telling you something, Google: Don’t get carried away by the limited success of your other hardware products and think that you are above a failure of this magnitude.

Every tech disaster was a ‘great idea’ at some point.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Viral videos: anecdotes for the illiterate?


Internet Granny

Frank Skinner, who is for my money one of the most naturally funny comedians around, made a very interesting comment on his radio show last Saturday (which I'd recommend catching up with on iTunes).

When talking about viral videos, he referred to them as 'anecdotes for the illiterate' - meaning that simply sharing a video or a picture on a social network is a way that idiots can share something funny without thinking too much about it.

Up to a certain level, I agree with him - you only have to look at the silly posts flying around in the wake of the tragic events in Boston this week, and in countless other events in the past, which I covered in a blog post last week.

But beyond that, I don't. I know that Frank is being flippant, and his disregard for social media is on record, but story-telling in this manner (using pictures) is just a modern way of sharing information and building ties with others.

When we share an interesting video or picture with our friends on social media, we are participating in a practice that goes back millions of years. From caves to campfires, churches to cinemas, Youtube to Vine - we are telling stories to each other, whatever the medium.

It's a clunky metaphor, but when we're sharing videos and pictures online, we're simply daubing our digital caves in paint. The only difference nowadays is that more people have the opportunity to see it.

So share away, and share YOUR way - but do so responsibly. Remember that, to a certain extent, your online identity, your work and your personal, have been inextricably linked like never before in this hyper-connected world we live in.

Friday, 5 April 2013

From Sandy Hook to Derby: Facebook memorial fraud, the dark side of online catharsis

This week has frankly, been a pretty horrible one in terms of news.

The tragedy of what unfolded in the home of Mick and Mairead Philpott in May 2012 should not be excused or blamed on a culture of any kind - benefits, working class or any other. It was a shocking, terrible crime with an equally tragic outcome.

Sadly, as per usual, the unedifying facts of the case, and the outcome, has brought out the more odious elements on our social networks here in the UK. Like lifting a rock to find all kinds of creepy crawlies underneath, our newsfeeds have become flooded with images and updates we'd rather not see.

Who really gained anything from posting this?

Philpott Facebook

Or this?

Philpott Facebook

Sadly, somebody does gain out of it. What upsets me about this kind of expression is that the people who cooked up these memes don’t do it because they want people to be able to express grief, or indulge in any form of social catharsis (rightly or wrongly). Most of the time, the memorial pages that create this content are set up and moderated by individuals who are trying to ‘farm’ likes and shares on Facebook, in order to grow a page which will then be sold to the highest bidder.

It has happened before, with the precedent being set during the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting in December - lots of hoax memorial pages set up on Facebook to exploit people’s genuine grief.

Here’s an explanation of the phenomena from a recent episode of BBC’s Saturday edition.



So in short? Please be careful of what you share. Chances are the people sharing these images and liking these pages are being exploited by those wanting to make a pretty penny.

So what can we do to try and stop these hoaxes spreading NOW?

Report them - but please don’t feed the pockets of online fraudsters by sharing these images.

No ifs, no buts - it has no place in society. We need to show now more than ever that social media can be a tool for real, positive change - not just in getting the big things right, but in setting right the injustices we see in our collective newsfeeds every day.

Let's take our social media back from the fraudsters! 

Fight back against the hoaxers - and remember, together the ants can conquer the elephant.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Search for the purple cow, not the grumpy cat!

Grumpy Cat

Do we really need social analytics to know what’s a good post, and what’s not? Are we too hung up on stats?

Are you focussed on what’s best for your community, or having the best stats in the industry?

I think sometimes as Community/Social media managers, we get the two mixed up.

Hulk Smash
It’s always fun to compare yourself to a competitor, and notice that you are smashing them to bits on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Here in the UK, in certain industries, it’s not particularly hard. I think we’re going through a bit of a creative fallow period at the moment, with too many brands and businesses posting too much of the same stuff. There are only so many ‘IT’S NEARLY THE WEEKEND!’ posts you can take before my eyes shrivel up and fall out of my head.

We all look for the purple cow, as Seth Godin likes to call it. But if you’re looking for it in the same field as everybody else, you’re not going to find something unique, because everybody else will see it!

Look for what’s unique to you. To your audience. That’s where true success lays.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Coca-Cola: the 's' in social media stands for 'no shit, Sherlock'


Coca-Cola: the 's' in social media doesn't stand for 'sales'


No shit.

Coca-Cola are telling us that they can’t account for a single person who has bought a can of Coke as a result of their social media campaigns.

Well, that means that it must be useless, doesn’t it?

We all know that social media, like print advertising, advertisements on busses, television adverts, and anything that isn’t related to, or can’t be plugged into a Google Analytics platform, can’t be measured in cold, hard, cash-generating metrics.

Most marketers know this already. Most PEOPLE know that already. Let’s not kid ourselves.

Or do we? Am I being too dismissive here? Let’s re-think this.

Ah! I’ve got it.

There is a model that can fix this broken world. That can turn social media into a tangible and sexy ROI magnet.

In order for a successful social media conversion to take place, I would simply need to go through the following steps. The Social ROI Stairway to Heaven. It has 26 steps.
  1. Wake up in the morning (small step, but believe me, this is the first step in the marketing funnel)
  2. Pick up my phone, see what’s happening on Facebook/Twitter/Google+
  3. See an update from Coke saying ‘Hey! Check out our flogglesworthy drinkalinks’
  4. ‘Oh!’ I say, ‘That’s nice, I could sure do with something flogglesworthy at the moment’
  5. I get up, get dressed for work, and head to the train station
  6. I go into the shop on the corner
  7. I pick up a can of Coke
  8. I go to the counter - the man behind the counter looks at me
  9. ‘Mmmm,’ I say ‘this Coke is going to be a truly flogglesworthy start to the day! And to think, I would never have thought to do this if it wasn’t for that FacebookSlashTwitterSlashGooglePlus update I saw when I woke up this morning!’
  10. I pay for the drink
  11. I get a receipt
  12. I leave the shop (I’m now barred - THANKS COKE)
  13. I head to work
  14. I take out my trusty pen and paper to compose a letter
  15. ‘Dear Coke,

    How are you? I am fine.

    How are you, Coke? Are you fine? I hope so.

    Please let it be known that thanks to your Facebook update at 6:45am his morning, I purchased a Coke at my local corner shop.

    I would like you to register this as a conversion with your social media team. I have included the receipt should you wish to verify this transaction.

    Thanks to you, I have now enjoyed a flogglesworthy drinkalink with which I can start my day.

    BRAVO! MONTO BENNY (sic)!

    Ben’
  16. I take this letter down to the postroom where I work (with my own stamp - I’m not a thief)
  17. I post the letter
  18. I turn into a dragon
  19. [REDACTED]
  20. [REDACTED]
  21. [REDACTED]
  22. Coke receive the letter
  23. It gets forwarded to the social media department
  24. The head of social media reads the letter
  25. The head of social media heads to his whiteboard, and marks a solitary ‘I’ under the field named ‘Social Media Conversions’
  26. The End

And there you have it. That’s how you actually measure a conversion from a socia media marketing exercise.

I hope that’s cleared things up for you.

You know what the beauty of this method of measurement is? We can apply it to EVERY ELEMENT of our lives. From making toast in a Breville toaster, to seeing a PPI advert on the side of a bus.

All we need to do is follow my simple 26-step conversion registration system, and all will be well. We can all sit back and be the little Winston Smiths that Coke secretly want us to be.

Sorry it hasn’t worked out that way.