May 2006 Archives

I'm not sure whether Tom Foremski has had a look at the new-format press release that his February tirade set in train, but I can't help feeling that the result that Shift Communications came up with was not quite what he had in mind. Maybe it's a bit like Christmas where what you hoped you were getting turned out to be a chartreuse and puce Fair Isle sweater with three sleeves. "Mmm, thank you. How...different."

Personally, I have no problem with the existing format of press releases. It's what goes into them that is the problem. All that Shift has done with its format is split all the bits up and reorder them, and add in some social-media fairy dust for a bit of extra gloss. It does not address the central problem of companies telling you how great they are without actually providing any evidence. And no format is going to do that, only an understanding of what gets a release picked up.

One of the most curious things about the PR-journalist relationship is how PRs try to make amends for things going wrong. An interview meant to happen yesterday did not materialise in time to hit a deadline. I did not find out it was not happening until the deadline ran out. This was after giving the company something like eight working days to come up with someone qualified to talk about the subject of a release issued by the very same organisation.

I had to go out straight after the deadline and found, on my return, a voicemail and an email. Both said sorry. But in the email there was something to make up for all the hassle, which actually goes back a lot further than this incident - this is not the first time that the company has failed to deliver anything useful, and in response to some pretty innocuous requests. The most I have got out of them recently was an earful from the US marcom about untrustworthy British journalists. But that's another story.

It's curious. When a blogging lynch mob forms, you have all manner of PR bloggers calling for the victim company to blog more. "Oh, if only Kryptonite blogged, peace would have broken out, rather than this nasty riot". Yet, it's spookily silent. That might be because blogging in the latest instance actually made the problem a whole lot worse for O'Reilly and Associates.

Originally, IT@Cork was threatened with a nastygram from CMP, the owner of a couple of applications for a service mark on the phrase "Web 2.0" - something the company protected assiduously by putting the mark on a slightly different phrase. One of the organisers published the letter on his blog and a veritable storm burst. But not over CMP. Over O'Reilly. The book publisher was named as the prime mover behind the warning letter, although the letter clearly came from CMP.

Because a soirée is an event and CMP Media has a trademark on it. Well, sort of. The reality is a bit more bizarre.

The story so far is that CMP sent a letter to a not-for-profit IT group in Cork, Ireland, which has a half-day conference on Web 2.0 in early. Foul, cried the CMP legal team. Web 2.0 is our trademark (at least for events). It's our precioussss and we was gived it. Evidence was preferred of a service mark application to the US Patent and Trademark Office, made in 2003. Later, they followed up with one made in Europe under the harmonisation rules - but not until March of this year.

Oddly enough, there was a "Web 2.0 - Hip or Hype" seminar that was scheduled to take place only two days later. It was not organised by CMP or O'Reilly, the other company involved in this little wheeze, I might add. Oh dear, it seems the company might be trying to trademark something in Europe that is already a generic. But it gets better.

Clicks of doom

21 May 2006

Spanish antivirus firm PandaLabs dropped a bombshell on Google and Yahoo just before the weekend (covered here initially): announcing that it had uncovered more than 30'000 zombie computers running software that generated fake clicks on pay-per-click adverts. The number looks scary. The story appeared just days after the SANS Institute wrote about a Google-specific botnet.

The PandaLabs figure looks like a whole lot of compromised PCs. But the number by itself does not mean all that much in the world of pay-per-click. A botnet measured in tens of thousands of machines could mean that the sploggers running the botnet are making out like bandits - well, they are bandits - or that is how big a botnet you need to make any money out of click fraud. There is a pretty wide gap between the two. The SANS Institute figures indicate that this is a big network designed to liberate cash fast. Swa Frantzen reported a small botnet of just over 100 machines, each running producing just 15 or so clicks while monitored.

Sometime in the 1990s, management gurus decided every company needed a mission statement. Something that said something about leadership and excellence and stuff. The statement would generally appear as the second or third foil in Powerpoint presentations. The exec would read it out, everybody would ignore it and life would proceed. Well, once the obligatory org-chart was out of the way.

Today, both the mission statement and the org-chart have gone the way of the executive desk toy and Filofax. Maybe companies spend so much time reorganising they dare not put up org-charts for fear of listing entire departments that got merged or were deleveraged or whatever only weeks before. Now, life is simpler, every company just needs a snappy slogan. A one-liner to slide neatly under the recently redesigned logo. Intel moved its famous dropped 'e' - in the early 1990s it was wicked, know what I mean - to let the company add the "Leap ahead" slogan. HP told us to invent. And AT&T told us it delivered the world. Now that's ambition.

Some other technology companies have not been so lucky with their slogans. They started off bravely enough but something went a bit wonky on the way.