The BlogBook

PR Week (subscription required) published the PowerBook this week, featuring 500 of the most prominent people in PR, it had a selection of questions that painted an interesting portrait of the people listed. BlackBerry’s at the ready, with leisure time facilitated by iPods and TiVo-equipped home entertainment systems, they are used to dining in London’s best restaurants – there wasn’t too many surprises amongst the preferences of the 500.

It also struck me that the same questions could paint an interesting picture of the PR blogosphere like Jonny, Mr Hopkins, Drew and James.

Name: Ged Carroll

Job: Lead consultant (EMEA), Digital Strategies Group

Address: Waggener Edstrom Worldwide 10 Southampton Street London WC2E 7HA

Telephone: 44 20 7632 3800

Born: 1970

Place of birth: Liverpool

Lives: London

Family: No

Best career move: Getting made redundant from my blue-collar job in the oil industry, which set me on my current career path.

Which company / brand do you most admire? Rolex

Which business / organisation leader do you most admire? Larry Weber (W2 Group)

Boss who most inspired you: Kirsty Leighton

Most essential read: Wired magazine

Most essential viewing / listening: Wall Street Journal Tech News Briefing podcast

Favourite web link: pbs.org/cringely

Favourite gadget: Apple MacBook Pro

Most respected journalist: Robert X. Cringely (aka Mark Stephens)
Most respected politician: A toss up between former president Mary Robinson, Moshe Dayan and Michael Collins (and yes I do know the last two are dead).

What is your favourite place for lunch? Wagamama

Name one thing about yourself that may surprise others: I used to be a shift leader in an oil refinery

Guilty pleasure: too many to mention including vinyl records, vintage adidas and mechanical watches

Your ideal epitaph: to not have an epitaph.

User generated content is fine, but put a bouncer on the door

Sites like flickr owe as much to the community management skills as gifted coding. Wired magazine put the latest list of its annual Wired 40 on the web and allowed users to input by rating the decision. However I snapped the following screen picture near the bottom of the list as users have introduced jibberish.

wired pwned.jpg
If Wired is going to harness its readership, it needs to think more carefully about how it manages its constituency and keeps out the riff-raff.

Why Internet bubble 1.0 isn’t like the current market from a PR perspective

VC and pundit Andy Kessler apparently said that ‘history doesn’t repeat, it rhymes’ and for most PR agency people this time the current crop of web start-ups are a discordant verse of haiku.

  • There isn’t a belief that the laws of economic gravity have been suspended (though you could argue this one, with sites like Tape It Off The Internet (TIOTI) not coming under the cosh of big media). The bootstrap mentality of most of these organisations
  • There are no longer incubators like Jelly Works and Oxygen throwing out a raft of businesses (most of which were delivered stillborn), instead the cost of implementation is a lot cheaper and the business may not require external funding until it seeks to go international or needs to scale to match success. However, MyBlogLog with its purchase some five months or so after it was launched does have some incubation traits
  • With the exception of some notable examples like Jobster, start ups are looking to get funding well below 10 million USD The role of venture capitalists have changed from being the money man to being super connectors. I even heard one VC say that allowing his firm in on a deal would give ‘companies all the PR they need’ by nature of being involved with their high-profile firm
  • Conversations that I have had with a number of start-ups have indicated that they are unlikely to use PR as part of their marketing mix
  • Sarbanes Oxley means that for most investors an IPO isn’t an exit strategy, so companies only need enough visibility to get on the radar of the corp. dev. teams at Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft
  • You can register with TechCrunch to give them the skinny on your business without using PRs as an intemediary and the self-confidence of entrepreneurs will allow them to believe the awareness will suddenly come from their blog

With the exception of bandwidth and pizza-box servers there isn’t the same financial feeding frenzy that accompanied the last bubble, management consultants are left to sharpen their pencils as these start-ups follow what is effectively a fast-failure model. Players like Sun have had to rearchitect their offering to an even lower price in order to engage with this new breed of internet entrepreneurs and Amazon’s S3 service allow with Yahoo’s UI API library have allowed entrepreneurs to treat infrastructure as a utility. The media that really matters is not a sophisticated business magazine like The Industry Standard or Red Herring, but micro media often ran by individuals like John Battelle or Michael Arrington.

Venture capitalists are still searching for places to throw their funds under management (whether its viable or not) because the demand from the web is not enough, hence the new focus on green energy and the biosciences: both of which are much more capital intensive.

What does all this mean for PRs?

Well, we will make money as we (and our current clientbase) adapt to the new web realities of a super fragmented media and real-time direct customer interaction, there may even be incremental budget increases to somewhat compensate for the frozen budgets and billing rates that haven’t increased in a decade.

However we are likely to be fought every foot fo the way by advertising agencies and marketing agencies eager to claim this ground for themselves. Soon, probably sooner than many people think an evolution in PR will happen, rather like the way PR adapted to the move from sending out press releases by post to fax blasts and on to email.

There will be few opportunities for working with web 2.0 companies in general, though this may change if they require crisis communications.

I personally think that real opportunity for PR over the next decade will be in brand communications. We have marketing money being poured into transactional marketing, this is based on price. The price of Google Adwords and the price of getting pace on shelf or on web page. With transactional marketing comes less perceived differentiation and lower margins.

Online communications, alongside product and packaging design allows customers to build up a rapport with a brand unencumbered by the media and reduces cognitive dissonance by providing consumers to build their own ’support networks’ through a community of like-minded users. I already have access to this, through the support forums that Apple and Nokia host when I go and look for support information on my MacBook Pro, or my Nokia e61. Companies seem to see things that way themselves with IT directors emphasising the role of web 2.0 as a way of interacting with customers and providing automation. It’s going to be an interesting time.

Rated: Useless?

Jonny Rosemont had a recent posting on his old blog (his shiny new one is here) about three blogging tools that he rates and three which he thinks are tired.

I have a slightly different stance since I got into post-widget stress disorder some 18 months ago and have cleared many of the products he talks about from my blog.

They make the code template messy and often don’t play all that nicely. I ended up with a blog front page that looked like a racing driver’s Nomex boiler suit; covered in all his sponsor’s patches like a psychedelic chess board.

My three rated items would be:

  • Feedburner – I’ve had some hassles with it but its a great service for aggregating both feed and blog traffic numbers, the flares that can be put on posts are useful as well
  • Bloglines – It has a very useful public profile section that is a simpler, more elegant way of maintaining a blogroll (for example)
  • Flickr – provides an elegant way to host my own images, or find someone else’s that would add to a post

The thinking man’s radio station

I have been throwing my iTunes playlist data into last.fm since I found about the Audioscrobbler plug-in before the last.FM brand took off. I found it a useful way to add content on my website and get recommendations from friends playlists.
It was only the other week that I really discovered the value of the service as I had been used to listening to Internet radio stations like Unknown FM or using the Yahoo! Launch (sorry Y! Music) service which runs buggy on my Mac.

I tried last.FM’s service and it was a revelation in terms of music discovery. One of my first finds was the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra – a Tokyo band that does what it says on the tin.

I went on to buy some of their albums on Amazon via the in-player link, something I never expected to do.

Last.FM’s approach with its discovery element proved to be much more compelling existing services.

Contrast to this to the tamer playlists on music services and its like the impact that the iPod had on ClearChannel. According to last.FM’s presentation at FOWA 2007 (Future of Web Apps) this service is based on a relatively meager 700,000 tracks, but in the same way that you are more likely to find the image you want on Flickr than on Google Image Search last.FM’s player comes up with the gold.

Vine to bear mobile 2.0 fruit

Thanks to an introduction by Wireless Foundry founder Ian Wood, I met up with Daniel Appelquist of Vodafone Research & Development.

Daniel is a web veteran having worked at Vizzavi and the UK arm of TheStreet.com during the first wave of web businesses and services.

He is currently working on an interesting public facing project at the moment that deserves more attention. Vodafone’s R&D lab has built an ‘open collaborative R&D space for mobile and internet communications’ called Vodafone Beta Vine, think Y!DN for a wireless world.

The community is at an early stage of development, but developers have already uploaded a number of applications for a range of mobile devices.

The site is designed to reach a broad church of developers including S60, UIQ, Windows Mobile and wireless connected PCs. There are plans to open up APIs on things like SMS communications, but before you get all excited about having a free-to-air SMS marketing platform – messages will be licensed on a credit system and more credits can be requested from the site administrators. This allows web entrepreneurs to try out services before committing to go with an aggregator like Bango, making the site ideal for developers who want to follow in the footsteps of Twitter and provide services across multiple web and mobile platforms.

Dialogue amongst the contributors is facilitated with an in-built blogging platform and a common-sense ToC to help prevent spamming or puerile flame wars.

Daniel told me about the features that they were putting in to allow developers to choose a licence for their application at the click of a button or upload their own license. Vodafone isn’t claiming ownership of the code, and if they wanted to; rivals Orange (France Telecom) Hutchison or O2 (Telefonica) could participate as well.

The site is Vodafone’s way of dipping its toe into the water of community, UGC and web 2.0 services and is a small but significant step forward. Developers participation is a way of sending the ‘come on in, the waters nice and warm’ message to the corporate powers-that-be.

It sounds as if they are doing it not a minute too soon, management consultancy Arthur D. Little claimed that telcos should ignore mobile web 2.0 at their peril.

Jargon Watch – Akiba-kei

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akihabaraOriginally uploaded by ivva.

Akiba-kei – A Japanese word meaning related to Akihabara. Akihabara is the part of Tokyo famous for its electronic and computer stores. It is also becoming known for catering to other geek consumer tastes including anime, manga and cosplay – think a cuter version of a Star Trek convention.

Thanks to Peter Payne and the J-Box newsletter.

Lovely Jubii-ly

 

Jubii

The story of Lycos is one of the more interesting tales of the web 1.0. It was home to one of the original search engines and then became the Yahoo! of its day with presence in some 40 countries. The company had a successful IPO and it was sold on the cusp of the dot.com burst to Terra Networks, then a subsiduary of Telefonica for 20-times its IPO price. Terra Networks sold on Lycos to Korean company Daum for cents on the dollar of their initial investment.

Lycos Europe was a joint venture between Lycos and Bertelsmann and had a separate corporate structure. This meant that the Lycos brand became fractured and could not build a truly global presence.

Lycos Europe, despite its heritage has introduced a number of products that deserve a great deal of attention: Lycos IQ is the Apple Mac to Yahoo! Answers PC-DOS. The product encompasses quality answers and leverages in an elegant way most of the buzzword-compliant web 2.0 technology like bookmarking, tags and social search. This was a hint of what was to come. IQ wasn’t developed by some Silicon Valley tiger-team, but developers in Germany and Armenia.

Under a new brand Jubii (its actually a Danish brand that Lycos owns), Lycos Europe has entered the US marketplace with a cool GMail and GDrive killer. 10 GB of storage and email in a simple account, allowing you to share music, images, video or documents easily.

The downsides to the product:

  • An honest legal user agreement that makes it clear you are a click-monkey
  • Limited compatablitiy with anything other than Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox (but thankfully OS agnostic)
  • A look and feel that is more XP than OS X or Vista

Get on board and grab yourself a decent user name before someone else catches on.

Uploading innovation

Uploading Innovation was an unconference organised by Policyunplugged and NESTA. I was invited to attend by Steve Moore; I had no expectations about what to expect. After a short stand-up lunch that allowed me to meet a couple of the attendees. Compared to other events that I have been to, there was a high proportion of attendees from the NGO and charity eco-system; with a substantial interest in leveraging communities for social good.

I came across some familiar faces like Oli Barrett, Suw Charman and Lloyd Davies.

NESTA - Policyunplugged Uploading Innovation

There were some initial presentations to get things going: I particularly enjoyed the talk by former FT journalist Charles Leadbetter. Leadbetter correctly pointed out that many of the web 2.0 cultural traits actually look back, rather than look forward. Commons and the folk ‘art’ ethic go back to pre-industrial time, the countercultural look of the internet goes back to the 1960s. The theme of the old having a recursive relationship with the new, new thing was a meme that echoed through many of the discussions.

Sam Sethi made a brief personal appearance.

NESTA - Policyunplugged Uploading Innovation

I sat in on a discusson led by Matt Hanson and Jeremy Ettinghausen. Jeremy is in charge of the A Million Penguins wiki-book site and had some interesting anecdotes and datapoints from the exercise. Matt is in the early stages of getting a film made that involves a base of subscribers to commission a $1 million movie that can then be given away under the banner A Swarm of Angels.

Penguin had leveraged their brand to launch the wiki. A press release to the Guardian and outreach to six blogs was all the proactive effort needed to get an overwhelming amount of site traffic. At its peak some ten people per second were logging on to the site. Some 25 people had been banned from the Penguin wiki and there are about a 100 regular vandals. The wiki had become the centre of a new meme about bananas. The word banana had been inserted at strategic places in plot. The wiki then became a dadaist art form as editors left the bananas in.

Some of the art in the wiki novel is actually the hyperlinks, so the book is unprintable. Penguin are still working out how to publish this in electronic format. In the end I had the impression that Penguin tolerated the experiment more as a publicity vehicle and asked myself will Pearson Publishing reflect in ten years about whether A Million Penguins was the point at which they should have looked to change their business or continue in the decline of mainstream media.

From a marketing point-of-view it was interesting to hear how Penguin encouraged non-fiction authors to write a blog and build a community up to two years prior to their book being published.

A Swarm of Angels was interesting for a number of reasons: first of all the subscription model was designed as much to only encourage serious participants as much as funding the project. Matt avoided PR and conventional media relations as he had found from his work launching multimedia film festival 1 dot zero that journalists were just not open to new ideas. However the involvement of Cory Doctorow and frantic digging by early participants gave the site the exposure that it needed.

Observations from the banal to the deep

There were a number of consumer patterns that leapt out: those that had computers to blog about the event were split roughly 70 per cent Mac, 30 per cent other PC. Many of the Macs were covered in stickers that ruined the clean product design of the machines.

Of the business cards that I received half of them were MOO mini cards with the artwork from the back derived from their flickr image accounts.

Many of the participants were from the third-sector and there was a real DIY media attitude akin to punk in its truest form, whether the participants manage to move the needle is another matter. Web 2.0 was been seen as a panacea, many of the people that I spoke to were looking to solve big social issues from food education to developing a new capital model based around a kind of cooperative structure for businesses catering to third sector organisations.