November 2005 Archives

Jeremy Pepper's spidey sense tells him that a PR was instrumental in BusinessWeek running a piece on blogging, largely built around the experiences of investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein with wikis as an alternative to emails with enormous cc lists. As a PR, Pepper noticed one thing most people not in that industry would not have bothered to think about: the name of the supplier of the wiki to DRKW was missing.

In the world of wikis, this maybe should not be a surprise. Most of them are open-source, freely downloadable chunks of software that DRKW could have installed without any outside help. However, a few quick checks indicated a vendor was involved in the wiki project. The pesky hack had simply left their name out. However, that did not seem to tick the supplier off too much, judging by the way they flag up the piece on their website, found after a quick Google.

You think it, we own it

25 November 2005

Presumably as it falls in with Jeff Jarvis' view of the world that anything remixed or mashed-up by the people has to be good, the former mainstream-media editor turned citizen-everything advocate, has declared the Washington Post's decision to launch a remix page as a thoroughly good thing. Of course, he chides the WaPo for not going far enough and putting up the contents of reporters' notebooks, lunch receipts and innermost thoughts for the world's citizens to pore over and mash up as they see fit. But he sees the newspaper's effort as a "great first step" with the "perfect attitude".

I presume Jarvis has not actually read the terms of service that the WaPo has applied. The newspaper is not being entirely altruistic about offering up RSS feeds for a bit of Web 2.0-style remixing. Like the first commenter at the remix terms of use page, I understand that the newspaper would like to retain copyright. However, the third condition is perhaps pushing the idea of making the world your serf a little far. Not only do not get anything from the WaPo for doing something funky with its news feeds, "Washingtonpost.com may incorporate your ideas into future projects it develops". The commenter, quite charitably, would just like some attribution. I think the ability to negotiate terms of use with the newspaper would be nicer. On the bright side, at least the company has not demanded indemnification against any possible legal nastiness, unlike organisations such as CNN. Not yet, at any rate.

On closer inspection, even in return for giving up your first-born, you still only seem to be able to access RSS feeds. There is no direct API as yet. Gotta hand it to The Man.

Stunning phrases

25 November 2005

If a company told you it made "electronic control devices", you'd probably think it specialised in thermostats or the computers that manage a car's fuel injection system. In fact, this description is so anodyne that when one company used it, I wondered whether I was looking at the right company. A provider of "electronic control devices for use in the law enforcement, military, private security and personal defence markets" in the boilerplate of a statement narrows it down a bit. Yet the name of the company, which is fighting delisting from Nasdaq for not filing its third-quarter 10Q on time, gives the game away immediately: Taser. I wonder how long it took the publicity people to dream up "electronic control" as an alternative to "stun gun".

If there is one thing that ticks off hacks, it is the buzzword-loaded language that finds its way into business presentations and releases. Some of it is material so devoid of content that you feel as though information is being sucked out of your head when you read it. So, we moan about the language with a regularity that leads PRs to collectively roll their eyes. It is not as if the Web is not short of articles written by PRs telling each other that they just cut out the claptrap. From the hack's side, this week it was Stephen Baker of BusinessWeek who publicly took exception to the word 'solution', a word that now permeates the world of business-speak. PRs responded, claiming they do all they can to eradicate jargon, but that it's hard to translate technical stuff into English, in the view of PR John Wagner, and even that, according to Tech PR Gems, some people like it that way.

Unfortunately, the PRs who commented on yet another plea for plain language claiming that they really do try to technical lingo into English have again confused jargon with the weasel words that get used to pad out press releases and presentations. And those are the bits that drive most sane people up the wall.

Hacks' newspaper Press Gazette does not want to overestimate the intelligence of its subscribers. Just in case a hapless journo wants to sign up for sub with a credit card and isn't sure what all that mumbo-jumbo on the card means, the publisher has a pointer or two. Underneath the form field for card number, some text helpfully points out that the card number is made up of "the large numbers across the middle of the card".

Glad I'm clear on that one. Now just another, if you'll indulge me. The expiry date, would that be when the card runs out by any chance? I'm not sure I've got the hang of this e-commerce malarky.

When you've got a hammer...

10 November 2005

In his search for yet another nail to whack with his mighty Bloghammer, Steve Rubel takes aim at a piece in Businessweek on the imminent death of the focus group, the market research tool that involves sitting people in a room and then asking them questions about whether they like their chocolate bars crunchy or chewy.

Apparently, marketing people are getting fed up with focus groups because they get misleading answers from them. But marketers have been fed up with focus groups for a long as I can remember. The difference now is that they have an alternative: direct contact with punters through the Internet. This is where Rubel wields his Bloghammer: "shockingly [the story] ignores monitoring blogs and other consumer channels".

Quick, call the blog police. An online article that does not mention blogs? That has to be stopped, clearly.

I'm a bit late to write about this one, but I got an email from Daryl Willcox Publishing, the company behind Sourcewire, the other day. The company has gone from offering a just a set of pre-packaged RSS feeds for press releases to providing alongside a roll-your-own feed, similar to the one offered by Businesswire but not, unfortunately, PRNewswire.

One little twist to the custom feed idea that Sourcewire has added is the ability to use keywords to either filter the basic categories you have selected or pull in releases from other sectors you don't normally cover if those keywords pop up. The second option is potentially handy as it should come up with material from companies who you would normally not bother with, but who might on one occasion have something in my area that is worth covering. I'm not sure how useful this particular feature will prove to be in practice but it's worth a try.

When RSS first happened along, I had some difficulty working out why it was so great. OK, it told me when a website was updated but the thing that troubled me was the issue of filtering. There was no readily apparent way to filter the feeds themselves, only subscribe to ones that kind of fit my needs and unsubscribe from those with too much irrelevant junk. I still have to categorise my feeds manually in NetNewsWire rather than rely on tags or content matching to sort things into the right piles. And it does not look as though things are going to get better. More people are noticing that feed tracking is chewing up way too much time.

Blogebrity pulled a few posts together that noted the problem. Fred the NYC VC asked about the saturation point for feeds as he struggles to keep a lid on the number of feeds he subscribes to. Om Malik has apparently been chopping the list he uses down to a bare minimum. Fred has called what is happening "the looming attention crisis":

I am way past the point of saturation and I keep adding feeds. At this point, I have over 100 feeds subscribed to in various readers. And I have frankly stopped paying attention to most of them...I feel in my gut that we are facing a "poverty of attention" and something is going to give.

This is clearly not good news for Steve Gilmor, who has yet to get his attention economy off the ground. Gilmor, you may remember, was the man who wanted to kill off hyperlinks and replace them with feeds because links were no longer good blog currency. And there lies the root of the problem: financing the blog. In the same breath that some bloggers condemn the old ways of magazines and the bad old MainStream Media (MSM), they worry about how they themselves become mainstream. There is a lot of talk about the Long Tail; about how everybody has a voice. But the concerns that shine through many blogs are about building an audience, aggregating content, getting money for it. The things that the MSM has been trying to do for the last couple of hundred years. The only thing that has changed in between has been the technology.