July 2006 Archives

caution.jpgSpotted at the Barbican cafe, London.

I can understand labelling cakes with warnings about nuts for allergy sufferers. But you have to wonder what made this company decide they had to put this warning on top on a packet of butter. I'm going to start checking pints of milk to see whether anyone has decided to put "Warning: This product contains what it says on the label" to hammer the point home to anyone who might be a bit lactose intolerant. Or has the campaign of I'm Quite Sure It's Not Butter been just too successful?

Compare at your peril

13 July 2006

Shame on Nielsen/Netratings for uttering the comparison that must never be made. Robert Scoble (having gone podcast-happy) and Jon Watson, another podcast blogger, for having the temerity to point to two small numbers being quite similar. Which is the kind of thing small numbers have had to endure for centuries. Somehow this has turned into a Techmeme-assisted blog flurry.

Although the press release that caused the kerfuffle did have some other problems, Watson steered straight past those and claimed to be "embarrassed for Nielsen" for saying that the number of people who download podcasts, as a percentage of US Internet users and not necessarily podcast listeners, is not far from the proportion of Internet users who are bloggers or people who use Internet dating services. Watson ignored the lonely hearts and took Nielsen to task for somehow confusing bloggers with podcast users. Err...right.

"I very clearly see a comparison of two unlike activities here," Watson wrote in his comments to Brian Sullivan, who patiently pointed out that Watson might be reading a little too much into the Nielsen release. It was the specialist site Podcasting News, to which Watson linked, that did the damage, it seems. The site wrote a headline claiming that podcasting is bigger than blogging (but not the Beatles or Jesus). What the site maybe should have pointed out instead, although that goes against the podcasting-is-big thesis, is that all of the things that were compared in the first couple of lines are very much minority interests. Around 5 per cent of US Internet users is a small minority in my book.

Many bloggers say the most important thing in blogging is to listen. I'd say reading is the skill some really need to master.

It's funny how apparently innocent words become insults. Lit-crit types have been thumbing their noses at each other with accusations of "Leavisite" for years. Poor old FR Leavis: you turn lit-crit into a serious subject and end up becoming the top insult for drunk English students. The political left wing used to be fond of the old standby of "reactionary", sometimes expanded into "reactionary running dogs of the imperialist aggressors" among the more hardline members. I remember being told by a teacher how children had managed to turn the politically correct term of "learning difficulties" into a playground slur thanks to its contraction to "learndiff". Now, it seems that the world of blogging has its own: "contrarian".

Barely pausing to wipe the spittle from his mouth as he lay into computer maker Dell's rather bland blog, Jeff Jarvis decided to round on other bloggers, such as Nicholas Carr and Scott Karp. Carr is fast approaching enemy-of-the-people status given the number of times people have levelled the contrarian accusation at him. In this case, the thought-crime was to wonder whether it was simply too early to say that the company's initial efforts at blogging just needed some time to bed in.

Those critics? Why they are nothing more than...contrarians. Jarvis is by no means alone in using the word to label anyone who disagrees with a point he has made. But it is a bit odd when you consider that Jarvis' central theme in just about every blog post he writes is that blogging is about conversation, whether it involves agreement or disagreement. I conclude that Jarvis believes in only half of that. No prizes for guessing which half.

I wonder what Jarvis will have to say to 'Jack', who posted a comment on the first of three entries about Dell in the same day, asking the former Dell user and recent Apple convert what he thought of Apple's corporate blog. Given Jarvis's decision to reprint an open letter to Michael Dell about how the Texas PC maker should blog and blog often, and his apparent satisfaction with all things Apple today, he must be very impressed with the blogging output of Apple Computer. A clear sign that less truly is more when it comes to blogging. Maybe Dell should emulate the example set by Steve Jobs and his company.

It was only a matter of time before this happened - another unfortunate collision of technology with the telephone. I got a call at home at about 19:30 from a company on the pretext of asking about satellite dishes. Nothing strange about that, other than the fact that the number called is registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which is meant to stop unsolicited telemarketing calls. And the voice at the other end was a recording played by a computer. That was more worrying, especially when my silence at its first question (did I receive satellite TV through a dish) was met with a "Hello, hello are you still there?" before the machine cut the call off.

One of the things that puts a limit on how many cold calls you get comes down to the cost of paying people to talk to supposedly potential customers. That has become a major factor as the cost of placing calls has shrunk rapidly. With a computer doing all of the work, suddenly the marginal cost of placing each call plummets, even compared with farming out those jobs to low-wage countries. Letting computers call people without your expressed permission is something that needs to be stopped. In principle, it is already illegal in the UK. But that is not what Data Partnership Solutions of East Sussex believes.