June 2006 Archives

The rise of the blog has made people very sensitive about the communications from PRs. The PR people at the Bad Pitch Blog berate other PRs for daring to send releases without a covering note or personalising the messages. The horror. It must be hard to be on the receiving end of those. Back in the real world, the real problem with most of the stuff that comes in is its unremitting dullness.

Update: 25 May 2007
I today received a threat of legal action from a 'Mark Bowness', claiming that comments under this entry were libellous and that he had been in touch with a solicitor, noting that he will be "forced to take matters further" if nothing happened. (He also referred to an earlier communication that I did not receive.)

However, Bowness did not specify any statements in those comments as being libellous, only claiming that some of them were. I do not believe that any were but, given the way that UK libel operates and that Bowness seems unable to indicate what actually offends him, I have taken the precaution of temporarily removing all comments, which includes those from 'Mark James', the name under which Bowness operated at Tribewanted until recently and under which he commented to this blog. I do not believe that any of the comments that raised concerns about the organisation of Tribewanted are in fact libellous. But I shall wait to see what Mark Bowness has to say.

Update: 27 May 2007
'Mark James Bowness' (rather than plain old Mark Bowness) replied in Friday, but I've only just had time to deal with this having had to deal with both a dead ADSL router and a laptop suffering from infant-mortality syndrome in quick succession.

The upshot was that Bowness didn't like two comments that appeared under this post. One of those comments referred to Bowness' selective use of his name in connection with Tribewanted (in correspondence, one day he's Mark James, less than a year on he's Mark Bowness, and then, on being challenged over the discrepancy a few hours later, Mark James Bowness). However, the way that comment was worded means that it was factually incorrect, if you chose a narrow interpretation of its meaning.

Why was Bowness worried about that? He replied:

"My name is Mark James Bowness, I never changed my name I simply dropped my surname rightly or wrongly as I was concerned that with my previous association with Christian work tribewanted would be labelled as a Christian operation, which is isnt.

"The reason that I have contact you now is because we have spent a lot of time building integrity and credibility with tribewanted, which we have, it is going well. The reason that I am contacting you now is because I am developing other projects and your post comes up in google which states that I changed my name which is untrue. As far as I am concerned we have worked hard on tribewanted and people still ask me questions about changing my name, which I havent and I explain this at the level that it happened and it makes sense to people."

I had a quick look at Tribewanted.com to see that Bowness has had his entry changed there to reflect his full name (Mark James Bowness) rather than the truncated version (Mark James) under which he, until recently, publicised his activity there.

I should point out that when the company was founded, he used the name Mark James Bowness to register as a director at Companies House. But, when the site started, and for a good long while after, he wanted to be known as Mark James and admits he had reasons for doing so. You can see that in the Wayback Machine. (Internet caches are a bitch aren't they, Mark?) However, he takes issue with a comment, based on a narrower interpretation of what was written than the commenter probably intended, that pointed this out and then uses threats of legal action to try to change his Internet footprint.

The other comment asked whether 'Mark' had been writing blogs and comments under the name 'George'. Based on the IP addresses of comments here and writing style, there is no evidence I can find they were written by the same person.

If you've waded through that lot, the original post on Tribewanted is below.

My initial reaction to seeing the coverage of Tribewanted's plan to build a "sustainable eco-community" on a tiny Pacific island was: "Oh look, Lord of the Flies for grown-ups." Then I worked it out: it's NGO Fantasy Island. Perhaps misled by the apparent ability of the characters in Lost to live on an island for close to 50 days on the contents of the aircraft bar and the odd fish and bit of fruit, about 700 people out of the 5000 needed have signed up to claim their bit of part-time community construction.

For the lords of obscure business models, Bubblegeneration, the plan to have people organise a part-time community on a remote island has everything: "blurring the boundaries, plasticity, microchunking and preference-trading in a micro-market...you know the score". No, I'm afraid I don't know the score. I'm not even sure that Bubblegeneration co-writer Mahashunyam does, given that the link is to a piece that appears under MSNBC's "What were they thinking?" column. The more I look at Bubblegeneration, the more I think it's a revival of the thinking that gave us the business model of "carrying on an undertaking of great importance, but nobody to know what it is" from another, much earlier South Sea-related endeavour.

The blog slanging match over books just won't go away. Thanks to Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 for finding a single link that sums much of this one up. He decries the polarised arguments. In the red corner, we have people who believe that authors suck and need to be replaced pronto by the audience. There's nothing that can't be fixed without a mashup. In the blue corner, people who think books are just fine and those who want to have their comments and annotations scribbled all over a web version just haven't learned what reading is all about.

Personally, I'd take a position quite close to the blue corner. However, what is most striking about this debate is its age. To read the stuff being posted now, you would think no-one had visited this topic before. All that's happened, with perhaps one important and probably unfortunate addition, is that the web has made possible some theories that literary theorists had 30 or more years ago. Roland Barthes, in 1968, argued that authors don't matter, only readers. He wanted the 'writerly text', where the audience effectively creates the book, inserting all the meanings: "...make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text". OK, S/Z is not the most accessible book ever written, but the deconstructionists did have a good go at promoting the idea of user-generated content, and used made-up words for the purpose - another phenomenon of the current 'media revolution'.

Paul Conley wrote yesterday, after seeing coverage of a report on the much maligned press release overtaking trade mags in importance, that it was a bad day for B2B journalism*.

I think it's the reverse. Unfortunately, it's a good day after quite a few bad years. It means trade magazines have a lot of fighting back to do but if it means giving the majority of releases the heave-ho rather than paying lip service to dealing with them, I'm happy. The releases can go straight to the search engines - I don't have much of a problem with that. It means that those publishers who sell purely on the basis of selling ads to people their magazines cover are in deep trouble. Those that either concentrate on readership for more independent material or on being more efficient, comprehensive aggegators than the horizontal search engines have more of a business model. Curiously, the report says, according to Information Week, that search does not work all that well - which makes you wonder how the respondents were coming across those releases.

There is one other point to bear in mind about a survey like this. The answer you get depends on how the original question is phrased. I know from experience of surveys done by publishers that the results can vary dramatically. Asked about information that is important, B2B readers will often point to the little-loved product section of a mag - often just a collection of barely edited releases - saying "they need to keep abreast of products and services that are useful to them". Ask them what they spend the most time reading or want to read, that section is rarely high on the list.

That is why I always distinguish between need-to-know and want-to-know material when planning magazines, features or news. The two are very different and, luckily, want-to-know material coincides more often with what successful magazines produce. Directories and automated services more often fall into the former category.

* A quick footnote as I suddenly remembered that it was not just the report that Paul Conley was referring to, but the closure of Amusement Business in the US. So, it's not all good. But, then again, mags do reach the end of their natural life for reasons other than the Internet. I would imagine Gaslighter's Gazette kind of ran out of wick quite quickly.

On Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Omen remake director John Moore defended the decision to have the movie open on the supposedly numerologically significant date of 6/6/06. He declared: "Some people say it's a cynical marketing gimmick. To which I always answer, show me a genuine marketing gimmick."

Tim O'Reilly's response to the Web 2.0 trademark bust-up was curious in several ways. One of the most striking was his use of classic public-relations tricks such as deflection and outrage at his critics.

This was in stark contrast to the promotion that O'Reilly received from bloggers who know him, claiming that his straight answers would set everything right. A week on, and things are still rumbling along. If you take out his broad attack on bloggers, what he said did not differ substantially from the comments made by Sara Winge who brought much of the trouble down on the company. Yet, having them come from O'Reilly himself was enough for people to say: "Right you are guv, sorry to have doubted you." Maybe he was right to claim bloggers should read a bit more and post a bit less.

However, the funniest part of his post was the criticism of bloggers, who have done the most to promote his Web 2.0 agenda. It seems that bloggers are OK as long as they don't criticise O'Reilly. Then they're really bad people. And he wrote this without any sense of irony.

The substance of the post concentrated on the sequence of events that led to CMP owning the application for a trademark on the phrase "Web 2.0" as applied to conferences. But buried in there was an admission. He declared that businesses find trademarks to be important. Nothing to quibble about there. He said MediaLive routinely filed for trademarks. Yet, and this is the odd bit, O'Reilly declared he was ignorant of the trademark application for Web 2.0 until February of this year, after CMP had bought Medialive.

Think about that for a moment. You sign a deal with a conference organiser on a term that you claim to have come up with jointly. The organiser then trademarks the term without your knowledge, we are asked to believe. However, it's not as if Medialive had kept it secret the fact that it was going after a trademark on the conference. The company had, after all, printed as much on press releases for the conference - although Medialive was misleading in what it claimed to be protecting. I can only assume that Tim O'Reilly pays as much attention to press-release boilerplate as the rest of us and, despite believing that trademarks are important, did not consider checking on his business partners. Even so, I am surprised that O'Reilly claims to have had no knowledge of the trademark until this year, after CMP got involved.

If you believe that trademarks are handy to have, it seems a bit careless not pay attention to what your business partner was up to. Maybe the deal between CMP and O'Reilly means the two companies can never part company on the Web 2.0 Conference. But if there is a break-up, CMP is in a somewhat better position than O'Reilly Associates to maintain control over events called Web 2.0, no matter what Tim O'Reilly believes about "moral rights" to the phrase that both companies might have.

A recent release from what used to be Logica reveals the consequences of companies messing with the English language and SmackingWords together with arbitrary capital letters just to make their logos look all purty. In newswire-style, the headline was capped-up. That is, in itself, a pointless exercise if you want people to read it easily but it revealed the problems caused by companies trying to mess with typography:

LOGICACMG LAUNCHES GLOBAL TESTING INITIATIVE...

How does it make sense to have it look as though the name reads "Logicacumug" rather than "Logica C.M.G."? Having it as two words makes it all a lot clearer, but I bet writing it that way gets the branding police on your back.

In fact, it's worse than that. I checked on the Companies House database and the company really is registered as "LOGICACMG": company name registrations are generally all in capitals. I wonder whether anyone thought as they registered the names of the various subsidiaries: "You know, this looks a bit daft."

Don't mess with copy

4 June 2006

The headline sums up one of the most important rules of the newsroom (actually the real rule is not quite as polite). And it's one that a lot of PR operations should embrace pronto if they do things the Greenpeace way.

Greenpeace is not the first organisation to issue a half-finished release and then wonder why everybody was laughing at it afterwards, but few of them could have done as much damage as the missive sent to the Philadelphia Inquirer.