On line and on heavy rotation

I got sent a link to the Seventh Information Architecture Summit and found this map of the Yahoo! network (the different properties like astrology, news, finance, search etc that make up the Yahoo! portal) it would have been damn handy to have it when I was working there!I picked up some choice cuts from the nice people at Phonica and ran into my old friend Freddy ‘Love’ Garcia who is now working at Vinyl Factory.

Franz Ferdinand – Outsiders (JD Twitch remixes) – Dominion Records. Despite being a bunch of Roxy Music wannabes who shop in thrift shops, their song Outsiders is polished into a gem with the touch of a skilled remix team.

Peech Boys – Don’t Make Me Wait – TMT Records. Don’t make me wait another night, tonight I want to love you… sampled to death and still sounds as good as the first time I heard it on a club sound system a couple of decades ago. The big disappointment is that the pressing doesn’t feature the Larry Levan mix, but don’t let that stop you from stocking up.

Onionz – If only I had a brain Industry Records. Ok, I am biased I am a great fan of Onionz production, he seldom does a bad tune and this one proves the rule: a jacking title track and a hip-house tinged b-side. If this doesn’t pack your dance floor, retire and go become a chef.

Maurice – This is Acid – Trax. The low-pitched vocals and 303 sound as fresh today as they did in 1988. Freddy said that 1988 is the sound of now, getting away from all this electro 80s stuff, I told him acid had never gone away

DJ Said & Hideo Kobayashi – Children Of The Drums – Chez Recording. A new fresh sounding house track, quality tune; a solid kick drum and a trippy groove that would fit in most sets.

The Clash – Rock The Casbah/Mustapha Dance – CBS. Ok so The Clash were punks, but the music had dance floor sensibilities, buy this for the dub of Rock the Casbah called Mustapha Dance.

Finally, this Bell South clip below is great despite the fact that is was obviously seeded by professionals rather than kids who had pirated it off their TiVO box, proving that the most subversive media channels are being taken over by the man.

Jargon Watch: Voice 2.0

Voice 2.0: The integration of voice telephony into web services, voice is an attractive proposition for everyday users; with mobile phones voice is still the predominant use of these devices.There are many businesses who believe that voice is something which you build a business offering on top of rather than out of (which is the reason why Vonage’s share price headed south on IPO).

A classic example of this would be having web ads and integrating call through to the supplier via VoIP or

Jangl, an ad-supported service that provides one-time anonymous phone numbers to people that they could us when meeting new people in a bar, selling on Craigs List or eBay. Its not only a consumer play however, McKinsey has found in its regular surveys of CIOs that they are looking for integration between telephoney and business applications as well (more information here).Providing voice over IP networks does run into the risk of the carriers interferring with the quality of service officially like SBC’s quest to end network neutrality, or unofficially using tools like Narus to monitor data at the application level and then altering the quality of service applied to it.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me (much)

I was walking down Oxford Street and struck by how the LG Chocolate stuck out from the rest of the phone models in phone shops that seem to have sprung up like weeds right along the road from Regent Street to Tottenham Court Road tube.I am not a number, I am a free man

Whilst I am sure that LG would assure me that Chocolate is the cats meow, and I am sure that they have bought prominent placement with discounts and shelf space payola, I think that it stands out cleverly because of its name.

Motorola has played at this with the SLVR, RAZR and PEBL; an ironic take on text-speak and talking about the tactile properties of their phone. LG with its challenger status as a mobile handset manufacturer can afford to be daring and has gone much further.

Chocolate implies:

  • A certain size and is an interesting (maybe unintentional) reference to the way customers used to describe the Sony CMH 333 a decade before and the industry term of ‘candy bar’ to describe the classic Nokia form-factor of the late 1990’s and early 2K’s
  • An affordable luxury or indulgence providing the product with a certain cache
  • Implies the easy-to-hand convenience that a mobile phone provides to on-the-go lives, which the role chocolate plays for them as food

Product naming is a tricky and lucrative business with people who advocate numbering pointing out the success of BMW. Numbers also prevent arguments based around subjective criteria that everyone who can be bothered getting involved has an opinion about; I launched a web-based product where senior management changed the name of the product 72 hours before launch.

Bringing a consultant, usually a move to get around the internal choke points outlined often just makes the whole thing worse as the Royal Mail / Consignia debacle proved.

However for every BMW there is a 100 companies that you know the company name but the products themselves don’t have a distinctive brand personality (the Sony CMH 333-example being a case in point). Only my most nerdy friends would be able to tell you what model number of Motorola StarTac phone they had, but they remember that they had a StarTac, I bet it will be the same way with the RAZR.

I remember when I was working on the launch of the Palm m100, Palm’s entry-level PDA designed for college students and first-jobbers; its project codename was Kelvin.

We hoped that it would launch with this name as Kelvin gave it a personality that matched what the product wanted to be.

Eventually the company adopted what are to my mind bland and meaningless range names: Tungsten and Zire and then inherited Treo from the Handspring acquisition; but what do these names mean to the average consumer?

If you want to continue the debate on names or numbers, free free to leave a comment below.

Spin Sinners

The New Yorker magazine has a interesting article on how the debate surrounding the lacklustre DeVinci Code film is being managed on behalf of Sony Pictures in the US, by a specialist PR agency who has managed corral the debate on to a specially-designed website that sounds like a parody of participation media.The employment of a reputation management agency is an interesting one for promoting a new product; usually employed by brand leaders who naturally attract attacks for being the most visible organisation in their sector like a lightning rod on a church steeple.

The article claims that Sony Pictures desperately needed a success at pretty much any cost since it has had a poor success rate in turning out blockbusters over the past few years.

Anyway, interesting reading here: Hollywood Heresy by Peter J Boyer.

A nail in the coffin of eBay


There is a link going around at the moment, I received from both HolyMoly and B3Ta newsletters regarding an allegedly missold laptop on eBay.

The purchaser took retribution by posting the previous owners personal information on the blog including his email address, family pictures, terrorist attack pictures, a doctored passport scan and an alleged fetish for gay and hosiery pornography presumably obtained from the browser cache on the machine.Whilst immensely funny, the blog illustrates all thats bad about eBay, something that this weeks announcement of a partnership with Yahoo! will do little resolve. Its the online equivalent to the wild west and it is starting to have a trust deficit, despite its free markets are self regulating creed.

Raiding the Radar

I had originally surfed over to the O’Reilly Radar blog to find out how they were handling the controversy over the Web 2.0 service mark dispute with IT@Cork.The dispute seemed to be out of character for O’Reilly Media and was in danger of alienating some of their customers even if they hadn’t heard of IT@Cork before.

I had a little bit of dealing with IT@Cork which organises small grass roots quality events for local IT managers, and given their profile which I considered wouldn’t be sufficiently worthwhile for the spokespeople I played gatekeeper for.

This was down to scarce resources (time and people), when I looked at factors like:

  • The amount of time required to attend
  • Diary schedules
  • Direct relationship between the audience and the business

So hardly a threat to the O’Reilly/CMP Events combination.I have also dealt with Josette Garcia, the PR manager at O’Reilly UK, so I knew how out of character the whole dispute was.

Thankfully common sense prevailed, but it will take a little while for stain on O’Reilly’s reputation to fade away as the media will not be covering the amicable settlement with as much ink (or pixels) as the original dispute.

While I was over there, however I found a couple of interesting postings:

Where 2.0 (the integration of geographic data and the web) has started to gather more and more heat around it, facilitated by work like Dan Catt‘s geo-tagging efforts at flickr, the proliferation of GPS-enabled handheld devices and open API systemic in the best web 2.0 enterprises.

In truth you could claim that Where 2.0 is already with us, based on tracking applications online by FedEx, UPS et al.

Geocaching
has already become a sport amongst geeks, part real-world adventure game and GPS orienteering exercise. The pastime was homebrew entertainment. Well Microsoft who turned homebrew software into the commercial PC software industry we know today with an open letter to hobbyists on software piracy in the Homebrew Computer Club newsletter; has managed to turn the geocaching meme, mash it with a hen party‘s ‘taking photos of people doing tasks’ theme and mould it into a commercial product with Pixie Hunt. You may also want to have a look at the Go Game and Caterpillar Mobile ;-)

Ok, question time, with gadget data exportable to the web including location, weight change and mileage; where does privacy come in?

The Radar team also blogged about how Disney is using virtual worlds to sell its theme parks, the bit that really got me was that kids are arriving at the theme parks knowing their away around. Simulation technology once developed for training pilots and soldiers is training kids to have fun, which made me feel uneasy. It is interesting how the line between the real and digital world is blurring in both these examples; which is where I think the real power lies.

Parody Central

Social enterprise networking firm (I kid you not) Cerado has a series of quizes for the web weary, work out which is a web 2.0 start-up and which is a crap character out of the Star Wars franchise, or alternatively work out which of these web 1.0 efforts were purchased or are nothing but a faded logo on a vintage t-shirt in a sysadmin’s laundry basket? There is a certain symmetry to their buzz-word compliant offering and the knowing humour of what I guess are viral campaigns for their product Haystack.Talking of classic parodies, Stephen forwarded on this fantastic spoof of that Sony TV ad. San Francisco is swapped for Swansea and a mountain of fruit that brings to mind the old EEC agricultural intervention policies. For the completists amongst you, here’s a link to how the original Sony ad was actually done.

Predicting technological success

Forrester Research have a new product to sell its customers; a silver bullet solution called TechPotential to help reduce the risk of launching unsuccessful consumer products and services by being able to predict future sales.

The TechPotential methodology is based on examining three elements:

  • A prediction of consumer demand based on a sophisticated estimate (which I am sure will involve market research)
  • An assessment of the design and usability factors of the product, this is described as the key factors that encourage ‘word-of-mouth’ promotion
  • A realistic evaluation of other factors such as marketing and distribution

Forrester describes the kind of product benefit attributes that can be seen in successes such as the iPod:

  • The benefits need to outshine the technology, really successful technologies (like radio, television or electricity) become invisible
  • The benefits must be in line with costs – whilst Forrester defines the cost in purely monetary terms it would also be the amount of effort required to get the product up and running, for instance putting your contacts in a PDA or ripping your CDs to iTunes
  • Benefits must be simple extensions of existing behaviours – this explains why so many web 2.0 services will fail. Since users don’t see their relevance and they would require behavioural adjustment. However this doesn’t take account of the kind of behavioural changes that has made blogs and services like flickr so popular or really disruptive technologies.

Forrester then goes to illustrate how its approach predicts existing successes like Netflix.

Ok so what’s the value in this approach? Well, from a marketing person’s point of view the ability to point the finger of blame elsewhere that they’d done everything possible to ensure a successful product launch.

The thing of it is that even though companies may not apply this rigorous technique, their is often the internal wisdom that knows when there is a disaster in the making.

David Pogue in one of his columns for the New York Times discussed about how people within a company often know a disaster is in the making but don’t stop the project before launch because of three factors:

  • It would be rude to or rock the boat to say something
  • They need the money, so will keep the show (and their jobs) on the road for as long a possible
  • What if they were wrong, there is a still a certain element of senior management knows best

I’ve worked with people who have known a product or service is a dog, but has been driven on to the market by the will of a senior management champion. News of its failure is dampened internally and the search for the new, new thing starts again.

I guess that’s why Andy Kessler has been quoted as saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Putting the HOO! in Yahoo!

I just had to share this mad up Japanese clip that an ex-colleague shared with me which is supposed to be doing the rounds internally.I am not too sure if this is a PR stunt or not. The main character is called Razor Ramon HG, being Japanese culture he isn’t a straightforward camp comical character a la Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno; since it is taking a swipe at WWF wrestling and western culture in general.

If you want to see more of the character featured in the clip go here for a chaotic forum of HG fandom.

To RSS or not RSS? That is the question


I had a quick chat with long-time Reg Hardware editor Tony Smith and the use of RSS feeds for PR came up.I was interested in his opinion as others like Tom Foremski and Charles Arthur have argued that this is the way forward for PR material delivery.

Tony felt that there was too many feeds now that he had to keep track off and would only really be interested in it for dynamic data like price changes on products (I guess rather like an old school tickertape).

The RSS feeds present exactly the same problem as traditional PR’s deluge of press releases via email has on journalists.

Now if someone came up with a news reader that understands context and user intent to help.

Link of the Day


Hyp2
Originally uploaded by renaissancechambara.

Ok, so I have left Yahoo! after being made redundant and about to start a new role agency-side (which is both exciting and kind of scary all at the same time), I now feel that I can now say nice things independently about the Yahoo! family of products on here, without it being construed as the insepid scribblings of a paid shill (I’ll have you know I am a damn good shill thank you very much). I used to be a European PR manager working on various bits of the business including Yahoo! Search, My Web, Answers, Delicious, 360, Flickr, Research and the technology development team which put me pretty much right at the centre of the web 2.0 vortex.

You can find some of the good stuff that was happening here.

Not so much a product big-up but Carole McManus – community manager of Y!360 in Sunnyvale has put up a useful posting on how to blog. Obvious I know, but some good tips on writing style and getting around writers block (also check out the comments section on the posting).

Ok, a question to leave you with: how can the scribblings of an engineer like Robert Scroble or Jeremy Zawodny be considered to be great communication but a PR person’s postings be always viewed with suspicion (except when discussing the dark arts of misdirection and deception)? Answers on a comment below please.

The picture came from a number of photos that I took at this years Breakin’ Convention in Sadlers Wells which as the young people would say was ’nuff wicked scene or rather good.

PR 2.0 part four: Bubble 2.0 is not like the dot com era, they’ve read too many books.

OK, so as a PR consultant you’ve found a potential client. A bunch of people with lots of money and a triple-A business plan. You may even genuinely believe that you want to use their product, whether you win their retained business or not. Then things go horribly wrong; one of the ‘Man at Gap‘ clones that makes up the management team has read a book with a day-glow orange sleeve called The Cluetrain Manifesto and tells the rest of the group that they don’t need PR.

What is the The Cluetrain Manifesto?

In 1999, a bunch of technology guys kicked around how the web was affecting business, the method of communicating with each other and how people can make money. Out of this forum or conversation came some 95 theses or principles. Some of it was new, some of it was common sense wearing new clothes and some of it was hokum.

Like the bible its full of contradictions: take 19: Companies can now communicate with the markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance. So no pressure. Yet 21: Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humour.

Should you be concerned?

The Cluetrain Manifesto has a number of concepts that go against what you would normally do in PR. It complains that companies often don’t have a ‘human voice‘, it rails against the ‘homogenised voice of business, the sound of mission statements and brochures‘.

Most importantly number 26: Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

How do you sell-in to these types of people?

Well for starters the book is based on the misunderstanding that PR is media relations with a bit of speaking to analysts now-and-again thrown in. So correct this misunderstanding, I recommend including this definition in your presentation to them: ‘Public relations is the art and science of building relationships between an organization and its key publics.’ The source of this gem is Wikipedia so in the audience’s minds it must be true.

Put simply you co-opt some of the good ideas in The Cluetrain Manifesto and blend them with best advice from a PR point-of-view. Developing conversations directly with the consumer, I’ve put some ideas below:

  • Research- does the client know who their key influencers are? Is there an ecosystem of key influencers for them? Often in Europe there may not be, but research can provide the client with peace-of-mind that they’ve covered their bases. You can also repeat it on a regular basis to look for trends.
  • Getting the client to write a blog, they may know their product and have the technical know-how to make a pretty blog, that doesn’t mean that you can’t sell their engineers creative writing courses and develop an editorial style guide cribbing all the best ideas from the 95 theses to cover items like tone-of-voice.
  • Trade show participation, its horrible old school, but what better way of engaging in one-to-one conversations with your consumers? You can sell in all kinds of buzz marketing activity around this ideally including booth babes.
  • Open days or parties. So your client can’t spring for a 30,000 GBP trade show spot, how about throwing a basic party during the summer months with pizza, drinks, Frisbee and as many users as can make it to interact with the management? Gauge how much of a success this is going to be by sounding out readers of the company’s blog with a post asking if they want to do a ‘meet-up’ before you go ahead with it.
  • Speaking bureau: admittedly this only tends to work when your client has a star techie on board who is a celebrity in their own right or they have a sponsorship package already negotiated and paid for with a show
  • Creative ways of interacting with key bloggers: (basically pre-briefing these wannabe Bob Woodwards, pander to their egos. Remember they were probably bullied in school so now want to make everyone else jump through hoops on their behalf.)
  • Partner with a decent digital creative agency to sell viral campaigns so providing hooks around which the marketing conversation can happen

Much of the rest of it is common sense, the kind of stuff that you would advise clients to do if you were in a crisis situation: keeping the channels of dialogue open, not trying to keep things secret, being seen to be open-and-honest. Just get a hold of the book and use it to mirror the client vocabulary.

Jargon Watch: Textcasting

Textcasting – Created by the nice people behind Slate.com, what if rather than listening to inane stuff on an iPod you used it to read articles like summaries of the key issues that is in the mornings news?Wouldn’t that be more convenient than trying to open a tabloid or berliner-sized paper on the tube?

OK, so I may prefer to listen Public Enemy’s

Fight the Power on the way into work; but I have to admit reading the key news stories would be cool. Apple hasn’t tricked out the iPod as an e-book reader but Slate have put the text in the description field of a 15-minute silent audio file. Well if you can watch the Matrix on an iPod why not read smallish articles?

Also providing content to an already established ecosystem of devices like the iPod through an established channel like the iTunes Podcast service is going to be a lot easier than trying to sell e-books and readers to consumers like Sony is currently attempting.

Over at SourceForge the Encyclopodia project is putting Wikipedia on an iPod.

Honey, I think I’ve caught something…

If you’ve seen the recent Mac vs PC adverts you’ll have probably noticed the spot about viruses (or should that be viri?). Basically due to its popularity and fundemental flaws in the design of the Windows platform, it is under threat from thousands of different malware applications. McAfee and Symantec have issued warnings about the risk that unprotected Macs present (info here). Saying that McAfee make it nigh on impossible for a responsible consumer to purchase its Virex software and have been slow to keep up with developments in the Mac platform.

With all this in mind I came across Mark Allan’s implementation of open source anti-virus software ClamAV. Mark has put a user-friendly GUI on the software, instead of users having to hit the command line. It also monitors the users email, something that Virex failed to do. Mark does ask for donations to help him keep going (particularly for hosting and bandwidth which I think is only right and fair given the quality of the product that he’s put together).