Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week

Within hours of my having published my last Five for Friday McDonalds published an unfinished Thanksgiving tweet. The marketing world went wild.

McDonald's Twitter faux pas

Amerigo Gazaway usually pops up in my shuffle play when working. He has dropped a Thanksgiving track that features Rick James, The Roots and Jay Z

Google did a great talk with him. Listening to him the time stretch features in Ableton Live are very similar to the functions in the Akai samplers from the early 1990s onward. However I would have more time for the Akai A/D and D/A conversion silicon than the crap on a PC motherboard doing the job.

New Zealand Police Service have put this really high quality production together for recruitment purposes. It won’t have done any harm to their wider reputation within the community either.

Chemistry is hard. I started working in running pilot plants for plastics including bulletproof glass laminate and materials for Bentley headlight surrounds. The margin between success and failure was very slight indeed. You get a sense of that in this video.

Mixes – Buzzin’ Fly – what I’ve been listening to this week

Marketers: you are not a goldfish and neither is anyone else

I have grown tired of a ridiculous statistic being used so frequently that it becomes marketing truth. It’s regurgitated in articles, blog posts, social media and presentations. The problem with it is that affects the way marketers view the world and conduct both planning and strategy. The picture below is a goldfish, his name is Diego. If you’ve managed to read this you aren’t Diego.


I realise that sounds a little dramatic, but check out this piece by Mark Jackson, who leads the Hong Kong and Shenzhen offices of Racepoint Global. It’s a good piece on the different elements that represent a good story (predominantly within a PR setting). And it is right that attention in a fragmented media eco-system will be contested more fiercely. But it starts with:

Over the course of the last 20 years, the average attention span has fallen to around eight seconds; a goldfish has an attention span of nine! The challenge for companies – established and new – is to figure out how to get even a small slice of that attention span when so many other companies are competing for it.

Mark’s piece is just the latest of a long line of marketing ‘thought leadership’ pieces that repeat this as gospel. The problem is this ‘truth’ is bollocks.

It fails the common sense test. Given that binge watching of shows like Game of Thrones or sports matches is commonplace, book sales are still happening, they would have to be balanced out with millisecond experiences for this 8-second value to make any sense as an average. The goldfish claim is like something out of a vintage Brass Eye episode.

To quote DJ Neil ‘Doctor’ Fox:

Now that is a scientific fact! There’s no real evidence for it; but it is scientific fact

Let’s say your common sense gets the better of your desire for a pithy soundbite and you decide to delve into the goldfish claim a bit deeper.  If one took a little bit of time to Google around it would become apparent that the goldfish ‘fact’ is dubious. It originally came from research commissioned by Microsoft’s Advertising arm ‘How does digital affect Canadian attention spans?‘. The original link to the research now defaults to the home page of Microsoft Advertising. Once you start digging into it, the goldfish wasn’t actually part of the research, but was supporting desk research and thats when its provenance gets murky.

PolicyViz in a 2016 blog post The Attention Span Statistic Fallacy called it out and provided links to the research that they did into the the goldfish ‘fact’ in 2016 – go over and check their article out. The BBC did similar detective work a year later and even went and asked an expert:

“I don’t think that’s true at all,” says Dr Gemma Briggs, a psychology lecturer at the Open University.

“Simply because I don’t think that that’s something that psychologists or people interested in attention would try and measure and quantify in that way.”

She studies attention in drivers and witnesses to crime and says the idea of an “average attention span” is pretty meaningless. “It’s very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is.”

There are some studies out there that look at specific tasks, like listening to a lecture.

But the idea that there’s a typical length of time for which people can pay attention to even that one task has also been debunked.

“How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation,” explains Dr Briggs.

“We’ve got a wealth of information in our heads about what normally happens in given situations, what we can expect. And those expectations and our experience directly mould what we see and how we process information in any given time.”

But don’t feel too bad, publications like Time and the Daily Telegraph were punked by this story back in 2015. The BBC use the ‘fact’ back in 2002, but don’t cite the source.  Fake news doesn’t just win elections, it also makes a fool of marketers.

This whole thing feels like some marketer (or PR) did as poor a job as many journalists in terms of sourcing claims and this ‘truth’ gradually became reinforcing. Let’s start taking the goldfish out of marketing.









On Writing

This post was prompted by reading A Time To Write by Wadds, open it in a new tab on your browser and give it a read.
Cover on my old book
Given Wadds’ post I thought I would reflect briefly on my own process.

Why I write?

Wadds describes his writing as a kind of mindfulness.  For me writing serves a number of purposes:

  • It cements things in my memory, a bit like revision at school
  • It helps me work out ideas and my stance on them
  • Its a good platform for experiments. I started off my blogging to work out how it could help clients that I couldn’t get media coverage for. This was back before social media was a thing. At the moment I am using this blog  as part of an experiment on LinkedIn Pulse as a source of traffic. More on that when I have a decent set of data
  • Occasionally decent conversations spark of these posts, some of my good friends are online
  • There is a more talented fighter than I, also called Ged Carroll. I like to have a clear differentiator from him
  • My blog is also a marketing calling card, I have got jobs from it over the years.

Wadds talks about why people don’t write, he describes it as effort and bravery. I suspect its a bit more complex. Yes life does get in the way for many people, but many of my friends have their own creative outlets: painting, photography, the art of social conversation, mastering video games to name but three.  For me writing extends out of curiosity, it is a natural progression – otherwise ideas would vanish into the ether.

In terms of bravery, Wadds talks about the willingness to share private or personal subjects. I generally don’t, the reason is quite simple. Growing up in an Irish household, my time was predominantly spent in the UK during The Troubles, I grew up with the idea of the pervasive, invasive surveillance state. I grew up with a personal perception of what could be called ‘operational security’ (Op-Sec). The future has finally caught up.


You can break my workflow down into four sections:

  • Ideation.  Ideas broadly come from reading something or the world around me. If it is something on the world around me, I will make some bullets in the notes application of my iPhone.  If it is a talk I will have likely recorded it using Olympus’ free dictation app for the iPhone. If it is from reading a book, I am likely to put post-it notes on the relevant pages with some notes and then flick back through this as I write a post. I have aversion to writing on the books themselves. I have found that I don’t get much out of reading on a Kindle, so only use that for leisure reading now. If  I am inspired by something I have seen, there will be a picture on Flickr, which also serves as the image hosting platform for this blog. I have about 46 GB of images in my Flickr account – it would take a major tectonic event to persuade me to move to another platform like 500px. I have a Twitter account with a set of lists that provide inspiration and use Newsblur as an RSS reader as well. Newsblur is invaluable. I am currently trying Breaking News, an app recommended by Richard Edelman and occasionally dip into Apple’s own News app. When I have online content that has spurred a writing idea I will notate it in my bookmark service
  • Writing. My writing method varies based on two criteria; the regularity of the post and the length of the post. If you’ve read my blog for a length of time you will see that there are repeating themes. Every two days is a collection of interesting links from around the web. These posts are based on content that I bookmark. There is a post on Friday for interesting creative or useful things, again this pretty much writes itself based on my bookmarks as I ingest the web. At the moment I am publishing slides of data that I have collected on a monthly basis, I usually write a bit of analysis on the some of the data that I have surfaced. This just flows out easily. For short irregular posts they are often a stream of consciousness with minimal editing directly into WordPress. Longer posts are often mind-mapped onto engineering squared paper and then written into Hemingway
  • Editing. Unlike Wadds, I don’t have an editor. I use Hemingway app as a machine-based editor. My fact-checking happens before words are committed to the posts in my reading around
  • Syndication. I syndicate my content using plumbing that I have put int place using IFTTT and WordPress’ own JetPack plug-in. When I syndicate to Medium and LinkedIn this is done manually.

Wadds’ talks about mindfulness in writing. I don’t necessarily think that its the same for me.  That feeling of being in the zone is something I get more from DJ’ing ironically, or focusing on a mundane task. Writing is more about making fleeting ideas permanent. It is also written with at least half an eye on my work.

More information
Olympus Dictation app
Twitter lists
Breaking News app

How the #PanamaPapers story broke online

The Panama Papers are 2.6 TB worth of documents provided to German paper Sueddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source in August 2015. The documents cover 40 years of work by a Panamanian corporate law firm Mossack Fonseca on behalf of clients around the world.

The documents detail corporate services provided to the rich and powerful around the world. The first stories from the data trove were published on April 3, 2016 with more expected by early May 2016.
Mentions by medium
Looking at social media listening services we can see how the story rolled out online.
Forums gave an early ‘canary in the coal mine’ for the story, but Twitter was a massive accelerant.
Mentions over time
Mentions over time
A secondary effect was the way the story cemented Edward Snowden’s place as a media brand specialising in privacy and transparency – he was the most retweeted commentator in the first 24 hours of the story being out there.
The story in one tweet
Understanding the retweeters
About me
More on Slideshare

#VS250 – Inside Virgin Atlantic’s online racism crisis

Virgin Atlantic had a tough finish to the week as Chinese social media users and their overseas counterparts united to hit the airline hard. The problem had percolated for the previous two weeks on Chinese social media as netizens fumed at the way cabin staff had allegedly treated a Chinese woman traveller.

Chinese social media users are known for their direct co-ordinated action such as the ‘human flesh engine’ in a way that is similar to Anonymous or Reddit readers – but at a greater scale.

Looking at the social data we can see that there were two concerted pushes on social media. The first one happened on Twitter at 4am – 5am and then hours later it landed on Facebook. The surge post volume would be enough to stress even the largest and most sophisticated customer services team.

Key lessons for brands:

  1. A Chinese market problem has the potential to be an international one. The Virgin Atlantic team had a good two weeks to either shutdown the protest through a quick resolution or prepare for the Chinese netizen onslaught
  2. The Great Firewall will not keep the protest isolated
  3. Expect a more co-ordinated approach if the protest jumps the firewall. It can be diagnosed by looking at realtime data
  4. Chinese netizens can effectively drive international media coverage, despite western scepticism or possible concerns of state collusion. (They often give the Chinese Communist Party too much credit, and not enough credit to effective adhocracy Chinese netizens create)
  5. Sentiment analysis doesn’t seem to be a good trigger / escalation vector in this incident as the tweets mostly seemed to register as neutral based on the analysis tools that I used. On their own it wouldn’t indicate anything untoward – which negates some of the pretty command dashboards you see

More information
Trail of conversations on Sina Weibo – you need an account to log-in and see the content
Virgin Atlantic targeted after racism accusations | Global Times
Woman Was Called “Chinese Pig” on Flight by Passenger, Only to be Threatened by Crew to Leave the Plane in Mid-air | People’s Daily – probably the best write up of the incident by Chinese government’s paper of record
Virgin Atlantic investigates abuse case as story goes viral | China Daily – London bureau breaks the western social media debacle for English language readers
Chinese woman claims flight attendants ignored her after man called her ‘Chinese pig’ | asiaone – asiaone is a Singaporean news aggregator owned by SPH who own The Straits Times
Richard Branson sends apologetic tweet after woman claims she was called a ‘f****** Chinese pig’ on Virgin flight by fellow white passenger… but cabin crew threatened to kick HER off the plane | Mail Online – the Mail Online piece is particularly importance as it validates the story for western audiences and other media such as The Metro
Richard Branson apologises to woman called ‘Chinese pig’ on Virgin flight |