We only have a month to save the UK

When I worked in the chemical industry sulphur and chlorine were the building blocks of the chemical industry and that in turn helped to drive manufacturing from circuit boards and plastic toys to pharmaceuticals and washing powder.

In the information economy the ubiquity and bandwidth of business and consumer internet connections plays a similar role to sulphur and chlorine in manufacturing economies.

Think about the way that Wi-fi, 3G networks and mobile email has changed the productivity of knowledge workers by breaking down the boundary between work and downtime. Previously unproductive time on a plane or in an airport lounge is made productive.

If I think about myself, I’ve uploaded pictures from half-way around the world, done video calls with a friend in Hong Kong from my living room and blogged from airport lounges on three continents.

Connectivity changes and allows the creation of products, services and ways of working that we can’t conceive. Its a source of competitive advantage like continuous quality process improvement and just-in-time stock management was for manufacturers.

Unfortunately the UK is falling far behind countries like Japan and Korea, (you can read what progress other countries are making here) we won’t be able to reap the benefits and are likely to see whole industries fade into history joining British shipbuilding, motorcycles and engineering.

But there is something that we can do about it, there is a petition to the Prime Minister to Give BT government insentive (sic) to provide fibre to every UK home. This petition runs out of time on February 26. So we have less than a month to get it signed by enough people to make Gordon Brown pay attention.

Now I know that it isn’t as sexy as getting Jedi recognised as a religion on the next census or getting an extra days bank holiday in November to balance the year out a bit better, but it is very important. So here’s what you can do:

  • Sign the petition (it takes 30 seconds)
  • Share the petition weblink with other people through your social bookmarks
  • Twitter that you have signed it and provide a link to it
  • Blog about it and tell people why you feel its important
  • Talk about it over the kettle, by the water cooler and vending machine at work

Here’s the URI for the petition http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/fibretothehome/ and here’s a short version http://tinyurl.com/24neog

Country brands and trust

Edelman launched their Trust Barometer research earlier on today, I haven’t had a chance to read through the summaries and materials.

But one of the most interesting things that came out of the few YouTube-hosted videos from the event was how much the country of origin reputation mattered so much when we assess the trustworthiness of multinational corporations.

So if you are a US, Chinese, Mexican or Russian company you are fighting an uphill battle on trust regardless of how you perform as a business.

  • Is there a real need for country-funded reputation and ‘country social responsibility’ campaigns?
  • Would these country-based campaigns be more cost effective lifting the tide of all boats, rather than companies from these countries acting individually?
  • Is there a sweet spot for countries between nice and nasty which provides maximum economic benefit?

Magazine Rack

On the way back from Hong Kong I wanted to have some magazines to read. So I went along to Great Food Hall in Pacific Place. I picked up three magazines:

  • Wired – I already have a print subscription for Wired, but my copy seems to take the scenic route to get to me at home. Even though all the content in the magazine is online, the graphic design means that the print edition is always a pleasure to read
  • Portfolio – is a Conde Naste magazine that sits somewhere between Monocle and the Economist with articles on why the price of oil will drop and a report from inside Zimbabwe
  • Geek Monthly – is published by a small US publishing house that has all aspects of geek culture including streetwear, gadgets, anime, science fiction films and DVDs with some cool feature articles

I love the web, but there is still something about print publications – at least the better print publications.

ThinkingAloud: The Twitter Man

I had a long caffiene-filled weekend chilling out reading old Wired articles on counter-culture, prediction markets and social media when an idea came to me.

Why not combine the approach of Luke Rhinehart’s novel The Dice Man with an ad-hoc prediction market being substituted for the pseudo-chaotic responses provided by a pair of dice.

Like the dice a number of possible decisions could be created and then a prediction market could be used to decide which decision to take.

Then it struck me that Twitter would be an ideal vehicle for this:

  • The Twitter Man could have a closed set of people who they follow in the prediction market (a kind of advisory board based on the their social graph), which would hopefully provide the optimal decisions
  • 140 characters of Twitter would keep the options simple, closed, inambiguous in nature and enable simple responses; improving responses and making tallying up the results easier
  • Responses should be short, taking up a minimum amount of time and allowing for immediate gut reactions rather than an overly-analytical response

There is also a certain circular reference in this as the proto-online social network The WELL, can trace its history back to the Whole Earth Catalog and the back to land new communalism movement of the 1960s and early 70s which tried to create a collective mind similar to that occurring in a tribal people.

On the other hand it could also pander to the darker modern phenomena of self-centred wannabe micro celebrities.

Sugar Rush

August Rush is a saccharin sweet musical that Americans do so well. Its so inoffensive, the only people you couldn’t bring along to watch it would be an Al Qaeda bigwig (mainly because they would be too busy watching Man Utd game re-runs instead).

 

The story centres around an orphan who is an Oliver Twist-like character with a trippy outlook on life and music who . What is interesting however is the way the story narrative flips backwards and forwards in time and there is a series of apparently chaotic coincidences that move the story along.

Don’t watch it for the story or how it makes you feel, do it for the structure.

Sakura KitKat

Talking of things sweet Peter Payne has details of a new flavour of Kit-Kat in the Japanese market. One of the most beautiful time of the year is cherry blossom season (sakura is what the Japanese call cherry blossom) and is also the time of the year when Japanese students sit their university examinations and Kit-Kats are eaten by students as a kind of good luck charm.

Kit-Kat is close to the Japanese for you will surely win. This happy coincidence of events means that we get this funky packaging.

Keeping it gangster

Hong Kong is familiar to many westerners as a backdrop for gangster films from Enter the Dragon to Jackie Chan’s Police Story, PTU and The Internal Affairs trilogy.

In fact, the society is much more organised and less violent than the likes of the UK, even the housing projects in Aberdeen don’t really compare to south London. However, why let the truth get in the way of a good story which is why the Beijing Olympics mascot Jingjing made me laugh.

Olympic mascots - check out the gangster panda with the hand-gun

You can see Jingjing giving it the full gangster style in shooting. And he is also an accomplished fighter and tasty with a baseball bat.

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On a more serious note the games event pictograms are an interesting organic interpretation of what Otl Aicher did for the 1972 Munich Olympics. You can see them in this surround at the Bank of China building (click on the picture if you want to see in more detail.)

Bank of China

Further tales from the mall and etch-a-sketch

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This post follows on from earlier retail observations a few days ago on HKG life:

  • Copywriting – is so different to the UK. Even though it comes across as a little odd, Hong Kong copywriting like the the MTR advert above always puts a smile on my face. For that alone, I think that we can learn from them. (Click on the image if you would like to see it in a larger size)
  • Bespoke versus tailored – Westerners who come out to Hong Kong are a sucker for the tailored suits, however locals love swish off the peg garments and Italian designers are particularly favoured. Ermenegildo Zegna is a particular favourite. They also like Bally shoes and for casualwear men over a certain age favour US-style golf attire like Ashworth Golf Company and Ralph Lauren
  • Something for free – I lost my sunglasses and struggled to find another set of Oakleys, I also picked up a sweatshirt because the flight out was a bit chilly. As I was paying my bill at the counter, I was asked was I a Hong Kong resident and then ten per cent came off the bill and was then told that I get a free gift. The gift in this case was a Mickey Mouse Club travel towel. What is most interesting about this was that a) I got a free gift and b) They didn’t actively promote the hell out of it before you got to point-of-purchase, which I guess was a way to ‘delight’ shoppers and blow post-purchase dissonance out of the water. On further enquiry I found that most shops were giving gifts themed around the forthcoming year of the rat celebrations

Hong Kong isn’t known for its online and web start-up community, so I thought I would link to the details of a site that I got sent by email the other day. Sketchplanet is a very primitive way of sharing doodles (done in an etch-a-sketch style) with other people on the net. Maybe enough to provide a bit of amusement on a three-hour conference call when you are noodling on a sudoko problem.

Tales from the mall

Olympic Mascots

Wandering around the Time Square complex in Causeway Bay yesterday gave me some food for thought:

  • Personal wellness here is big business – there is a couple of shops dedicated to mechanical massage machines. Some were like white leather lazy boy chairs, others looked like a foot bath. Add to that at least six shops that sold just a handful of skincare products including drinks (crossing the line into what would be considered OTC drugs in the UK), creams and other treatments
  • Electronics – HKG likes its TVs big, bigger than the UK. In mobile phones there was much more of a focus on feature phones rather than smart phones and the de-rigeur fashion accessory for the busy business executive is a leather mobile phone holster – nice…. Nokia has a huge presence as does Samsung under the Anycall brand
  • Brands – Causeway Bay is primarily providing shopping for the Asian locals rather than ex-pats so western sizes aren’t catered for. I couldn’t get a set of UK size 10 (US size 10 1/2, JP size 285) trainers in the four shops that I tried, let alone in the fly colourways that were available on the market here. If you are out here, its worthwhile checking out D-Mop in the Time Square centre for streetwear
  • Marketing – Some weirdness to the advertising here. HMV seems to only advertise in English and many other local brands only advertise in Chinese. It is the exception rather than the norm for dual copy ads. Chinese adverts use a lot of western models in the photography. Where there is an Asian model in beauty product pictures, her face is so made up that it looks very flat. I got lunch at a juice bar and all the packaging and signage was in English. Chinese speaking customers though welcome would not know that the clear plastic cup was made of corn starch and ‘good’ for the environment along with the rest of the packaging
  • Electronic payment – many of the main retailers including HMV and the cinema chains sell credit card-style gift vouchers on behalf of each other. I bought cinema tickets to go and see Blueberry Nights and there was a rack of cards from different retailers for sale. In addition, Octopus (the HKG version of Oyster) can be used as payment at the popcorn stand in the cinema
  • PR – PR is very different in HKG. Swarovski were launching a collection of crystal panda ornaments and had a bamboo-themed display in the lobby of the shopping centre. They did a launch which was five minutes of a blonde model holding the pandas, a speech by a Chinese gentleman and an over-excited Chinese lady. This merited six TV crews and a mass of reporters (I have an aerial shot of the press event here)

The picture on this posting is of the different Beijing Olympic mascots, there is a hoarding in the airport that shows the panda demonstrating shooting (an olympic sport) that I want to get hold of because he looks gangster :)

Memewatch: Adventures on the front-line

Dawn in Hong Kong

I safely landed in Hong Kong but then the technical gremlins kicked in. Hong Kong International airport’s free wi-fi service didn’t like my email account.

The broadband connection here at my friend’s apartment only works in the early morning (guessing contention ratio issues) and I can’t get my (T-Mobile) voicemail on my mobile phone (a PIN number that I don’t have).

I also have weather that is in the mid-20s celsius and lots to see so can’t complain.

Thanks to David, Paul and Charlie who have commented on the Facebook posting I put up the other day, we’ll how much good Facebook joining the data portability industry working group does.

Stephen Davies has tagged me on eight things you didn’t know about me, a bit tricky this because of how long I’ve been blogging and because the about page on this blog gives a pretty good summary of me.

  1. My all-time hero. I don’t have one, several have influenced me Stewart Brand, Steve Jobs, Michael Collins, Moshe Dayan, Robert Pirsig, Sun Tzu and Mary Robinson are the few that I can name at a first push
  2. I’m an accidential PR person, I fell into the game via meat packing, DJ’ing, nightclub promotion and being a shift leader in an oil refinery
  3. I developed four products which were patented and my name appears on none of the patents; mainly because the company that I worked for at the time wouldn’t allow anyone who didn’t have at least a masters degree to appear on a patent application
  4. I shave my head every day, the bit you didn’t know is that I use an application of hair conditioner and a Gillette Mach 3 to get the required egg-head effect
  5. I am not particularly passionate about technology: but quality and tools that can be used in an appropriate way
  6. I am crap at DIY
  7. Like Stephen Davies, I love afternoon naps and in fact would love to have slacker as my job title, but for the fact that it doesn’t pay too good and wouldn’t keep me in fine Swiss watches, Stussy t-shirts, carhartt jeans and adidas trainers (US English: sneakers)
  8. I once declined a job offer to help some ‘business people’ from the neighbourhood set-up and run an LSD lab. I didn’t fancy a visit to the big stripey house so I declined their offer

I’m going to tag Lloyd Davis, Jackie Danicki, David Brain and Piaras Kelly.

Oprah Time: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

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In common with the previous volumes of LOEG, Moore and O’Neill have come back with a strong interpretation of a ficitonal world based on fictional characters co-existing in the same era, a Wold Newton-type technique.

This time the era is the 1950s, a post-Big Brother totalitarian UK that reminded me of Moore’s V for Vendetta and resonates with a modern war-on-terror Britain and US.
I don’t think its an accident that this story brings back Moore’s criticism of authoritarian regimes seen in The Watchmen and V for Vendetta.

The book moves away from between a standard graphic novel format and writings in the style of authors from PG Woodhouse to Jack Kerouac and even a Tijuana Bible (an eight-page blue comic that was popular in 40s and 50s America) and a 3D comic.

Part of the fun is trying to work out the literary and popular culture references as Moore mixes the well-known with the obscure to cook up a heady story. James Bond changes from blond beef-cake Daniel Craig, to the ruthless psychopath that Fleming originally intended. In Moore’s story Bond’s character has an additional dimension: treason.

Now for the bad news, according to reports around the web, The Black Dossier isn’t going to make it to the UK because of copyright considerations. However the high production values also mean that it would be very expensive to publish a UK edition. Thankfully books don’t incur VAT and can be imported via Amazon US.

Why Facebook is a dead man walking

Art of Can part three

Ok, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. I still believe in the social web, I believe in the power of social networking; I will still use Facebook as a tool for my clients where I believe it to be pertinent.

But I am seeing flaws in the way Facebook are doing things that makes me think that they will pass from dominance like Friendster, Orkut and Friends Reunited before them. I am not saying that this will happen overnight, but it will happen.

It is these factors that this post is about. Some of these factors that have already caused me to re-evaluate my personal usage of Facebook from engaging with my community using the service to piping content from other properties like this blogs RSS feed, Twitter, delicious and flickr to provide the semblance of an active profile without real engagement.

Secondly, to all those people who think that I am just a hater, yes I do realise that since I am bearish on Facebook so no matter what happens I will be eventually proved right, nothing lasts forever. It’s like an IRA spokesperson once said ‘We only have to be lucky once, they have to be lucky all the time’. I have physics on my side: the second law of thermodynamics.

So let me count the ways that indicate the reasons for Facebook’s decline:

  • The money – with some noticeable exceptions the vast majority of marketing campaigns don’t use Facebook well. Now some people do it successfully and last October I heard Ian Jindal talk about a great hostel-booking application and Will McInnis can tell you how to build a highly effective widget. However, when you have people like Sony making failed campaigns on a regular basis, neither the marketing manager or the agency are going to admit that they made a mess. They’ll at best not use Facebook in the future or, at worst, throw Facebook under bus with their peers in their organisation. Word gets around and soon Facebook is fishing from a smaller pond thanks to realpolitik
  • The culture – I don’t work with Facebook, I can only go on the way that the company presents itself and judge it on its actions. But from this I can make some deductions. Its terms and conditions particularly the ownership of any user data is much more onerous than the likes of Google and Yahoo!. With Yahoo! you grant them a non-exclusive license to your content; you can choose to remove the material when you want. With Facebook, they own your data period. This isn’t about putting their business on a legal footing but serving the audience up with a price on their head, and showing a lack of respect for their audience. And I haven’t even talked about Facebook’s privacy infringing marketing practices, of which Beacon was the latest high-profile example. As the saying goes ‘A fool knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. You don’t respect the audience and you lose the audience, you lose the audience and you lose the marketing dollars
  • Developers, developers, developers, developersSteve Ballmer understands the importance of the development community to a platform and part of Microsoft’s success has been its courtship of its development and systems administration communities. Their skills and bank of software has kept Microsoft in its enterprise desktop heartland in the face of free software. Plaxo had to scrap Facebook contact details from analysing images, which is the reason why Robert Scoble got bounced from the network. The company takes a Hotel California approach to APIs (your data can enter, but it can never leave). Add to this the control that Facebook is going to put on developers in 2008 – not exactly right neighbourly now is it? Even Apple bows to their influence and had to give developers an SDK (software development kit) for the iPhone. Also remember that developers are the kind of web influencers who can make and break a service: they lead people on and they can lead people elsewhere
  • Negative network effect – I can’t take credit for this, Ben Brown calls this down much more effectively and with the right amount of bile; but I have noticed that Facebook has become less useful the more people and applications have come on to it. I am so sick and tired of receiving vampire bites, invitations to become a zombie, group messages and event invites that I have to log-in to read or wall-postings that the person never actually sent. I have backed out of my engagement with the site and as Ben mentions he knows a group of his friends that were planning to jump right out of Facebook together
  • User experience – Those of you who use social media read this article and try and put your head in the role of an average consumer. Now with this in mind, navigate your way through the menu and try and find your different pages and information. Try and alter your settings. Try and get your head around the difference between a group and a fan page. Do I need to say more?
  • Innovation – Twitter is light, lean and increasingly the day-to-day choice for early adopters, Korean social network sites Nate.com and CyWorld provide a perfectly integrated experience between web, mobile web and the real world and Facebook becomes clunkier by the day. Even non-players like Yahoo!’s Mash network is slicker, easy-to-use and has some consumer pleasing features from a easily customisable theme and background that doesn’t end up looking like a bit riot the way a MySpace page can, a kaleidescope and a virtual pet

By the time you get to read this I will be touching down in Hong Kong, I realise that you may disagree with me so feel free to shoot me down or add your own reasons for Facebook future demise in the comments section below or post your own viewpoint.

On the sofa: Quality of Life

Quality of Life is an indie produced film that focuses on two San Franciscan generation-Y slackers (Heir and Vain) that work as house painters during the day and do graffitti at night.

The actors have the fluid style of experienced graff artists and it was nice to see the posh areas towards Pacific Heights, the delapidated factories of the Industrial City and the boho-meets-underclass vibe of the Mission district.

They get busted and this put a strain on their friendship. The film shows all aspects of the graffitti artists life including boosting paint from a shop, getting processed in a police station and the arguments between Heir and his father went to the core about the artistic, political, economic and criminal nature of graffitti.

The directors had an eye for detail and managed to accurately capture the atmosphere of a blues. The film catalogues the strains in the relationship between the two graff artists as Vain goes off the rails and Heir struggles to stay on the tracks.

And of course it wouldn’t be San Francisco if there wasn’t a thread of Buddhist philosophy in the story as well. Quality of Life is a compelling film, especially if you have been in the life or tried to achieve something creatively whilst holding down a dead-end job.

I’d go as far as describing this as a graffitti or even a hip-hop classic (graffitti is one of the four pillars of hip hop along with breaking, DJing and rapping) classic, it beats the crap out of of graff films like Turk 182.

Also check out the extras for the behind-the-scenes epilogue section in which they producer talks about how they used the web to help the word-of-mouth process for the US launch of the film – using interns to update their MySpace page and interact with the online audience around-the-clock for a week prior to the films launch in New York.

JargonWatch: The Intractables and the Urban Playboys

 

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Two similar but divergent parts of UK society were defined in the media:

The FT wrote about how 500,000 young people in the UK are unable to work since they are signed off as long-term sick. These young people are described as The Intractables; a combination of generational unemployment, poor health and substance abuse means that these young people and their offspring may never work a day in their lives (The intractables: ill, jobless and young January 3, 2007 by David Turner)

Meanwhile, Arena was reinventing their well-heeled brethren from being Lads to Urban Playboys. Apparently they are gadget-obsessed, entrepreneurial and like sharp tailoring which I guess means they have an iPod and a reasonably up to date mobile phone, an eBay account and have moved on from wearing Kickers, Nickelson and Fred Perry branded clothing to have at least one Ted Baker item in their wardrobe. Arena would have us believe that they have become Yuppie Mk II.

I personally think that its a cynical way to replace volume sales (of magazines and advertising) with a higher page price as circulation figures have been in decline.

Editors at Arena’s peers GQ and Esquire magazine poured scorn on the concept. (The lad vanishes as urban playboy rides into town January 2, 2008 by Vincent Graff, Daily Telegraph)

Oprah Time: The Tin Roof Blowdown – A Dave Robicheaux novel by James Lee Burke

I needed a bit of light reading for some travel before and during Christmas so I availed of Amazon’s Vine project to get some light reading. The Tin Roof Blowdown is your classic tangled detective story.

What made this book stand out was the obvious love the author had for New Orleans. He loved the city, the way James Ellroy’s love of Los Angeles comes through in his writing.

The story revolves around hurricane Katrina and the deeds misdeeds done by the city inhabitants during and after the event. Ineptitude, bureaucracy and rampant corruption provide a backdrop for the personal heroism and rampant criminality of the story. Throw in vivid descriptions of hurricane damage and Vietnam veteran flashbacks to paint a vivid picture.

In common with this genre, the book is written in an easy way and the story zips along at a decent speed.