November 2006 Archives

It's the only conclusion I could draw as I picked up on a thread about a PR going into high dudgeon about being 'prevented' from blogging about a meeting held under "Chatham House rules". It's not as if Chatham House does not make it clear what the rule actually means. Note that there is only one rule:

"When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed."

OK, that the debate was about freedom of information does tickle a couple of irony bones, but the rule is no gagging order. You can write what you like about the meeting - you just can't attribute quotes to anybody. Now, that might not be all that useful to a journalist but, if you think you're going to learn more by accepting the rule rather than staying outside the room, it is not too painful a compromise.

I may have missed something, but has someone published a book along the lines of "Jedi mind tricks for dummies"? Because there is a growing band of marketing managers who seem to believe that saying something along the lines of "these are not the droids you are looking for" is actually effective in real life.

The phrase they are actually using right now is: "Our customers don't want to know about that". It roughly translates to: "I'm not telling you that because that information is off-message and I'm only authorised to provide on-message messages". You might as well say: "Look, if you can't just parrot the Powerpoint bullets, we don't want you here".

You could always try something entertaining. When asked about the processor inside his company's competitor to the Newton, Amstrad's Alan Sugar retorted: "A rubber band". It was not much appreciated at the time but, as it turned out, a rubber band would have been about as effective as the Z80 the company actually foisted on the early-1990s $0bn PDA market.

However, the weirdest answer that comes up quite commonly - it's a particular favourite of Microserfs - is: "We haven't disclosed that". They then look confused when the response comes back: "I know, that's why I asking".

Power to the (right) people

25 November 2006

OK, it's a good month after it first went out, but I was struck by Umair Haque's use of a Lenin quote to kick off a post about the user-generated content revolution:

"...Comrades, working people! Remember that now you yourselves are at the helm of state. No one will help you if you yourselves do not unite and take into your hands all affairs of the state.... Get on with the job yourselves; begin right at the bottom, do not wait for anyone."

According to Haque, when talking about Web 2.0 and the apparent rise of user-generated media, "the great Communist experiment is an almost perfect analogy to draw". I think he's right with that claim but not in the way he intended. The 1917 revolution is a prime example of how people will not only willingly submit to a dictatorship but will help it along given the right encouragement. I've always been more interested in the bits that Haque removed from the November 1917 Pravda editorial.

"Your Soviets are from now on the organs of state authority, legislative bodies with full powers.

"Rally around your Soviets. Strengthen them. Get on with the job yourselves; begin right at the bottom, do not wait for anyone. Establish the strictest revolutionary law and order, mercilessly suppress any attempts to create anarchy by drunkards, hooligans, counter-revolutionary officer cadets, Kornilovites and their like."

Lenin's tenor in that speech - a clear indication that he knew better how to rule than the people he claimed were in charge - has many parallels in the people who tell us that users are now in control of media, when all they are doing is striving to build their own empires. Convincing people they are in charge when all they were doing is reinforcing their own thraldom has proved to be a successful strategy for acquiring and maintaining power, although not so successful at actually feeding or clothing those people.

As the torturer O'Brien opines in 1984: "The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes a revolution in order to establish the dictatorship."

Or as The Who summed up: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"

Is there a style guide for trade-PR case studies? They all look the same, even though they clearly come from very different sources. It may be that there are some stylistic tricks that one or two writers spotted early on in their evolution and others have been copying ever since. One of the most important elements of the PR-supplied case study is to get the product's features in alongside the quote where the users explain how delighted they were with the performance of the "seamless high-functionality solution".

The question is, which sentence do you try to squeeze the features into? In the case of one case study that passed my way, this sentence probably wasn't the one:

When IPCS discovered Digi’s NS9360 microprocessor, its 32-bit, 177MHz performance was exactly what IPCS needed.

176MHz? Too slow, boys. 178MHz? Too hot to move. 177MHz - yep, nothing else will do.

Monomania's public face

25 November 2006

If there's a curse to blogging, it's that it immediately sets you off on a path to monomania or a public display of attention deficit disorder. There is very little in between. It's easy to tire of the ADD bloggers - punching out opinions on every near-irrelevant bit of Internet flotsam carried into their inbox. But the ones that fascinate me are the monomaniacs, the obsessives who manage to fit the same parable to anything that floats by them.

In my list of feeds, Jeff Jarvis is truly the monarch of monomania. There is no post on media in which the slightest deviation from the true path of user-mediated content won't be met with an admonishment from this self-styled guru. Any There used to be the odd digression on Iraq but, increasingly, his blog just bangs away at the often-imagined iniquities sprung on us by big media, not quite realising that having Jarvis snap away at them is the least of these companies' issues. His "the crowd is always right" schtick is approached with the zeal of someone who only got as far as the dust cover of James Surowicki's book. Why do I keep his blog in my feed-list, you might ask? I should really delete it. Yet, it's strangely compelling the way to read something where you know what's going to come next.

Take the recent post about the BBC's latest foray into user-generated news set to air on News 24 next weekend. First, for Jarvis, they're not users, of course. They're "the people formerly known as the audience". It's called Your News, which naturally and predictably offends Jarvis: "Hmmm, Not so sure about that second-person plural".

Strangely, the 'you' in YouTube was fine. But that was, until recently, independently owned. Not a product of the big bad media machine, where any suggestion of a 'you' and 'us' distinction must be mercilessly wiped out. I can only assume that the title deemed acceptable by Jarvis would be something along the lines of: "The people rise up to reclaim their news and tear down the artificial walls of cultural hegemony that pollute our airwaves" or something snappy like "The people formerly known as the audience show numbnutty TV execs how it's done (with new improved Shakycam)".

The reality is that Jarvis has become what he most professes to loathe: the lazy newspaper columnist, eager to pick up on any piece of news over which he can ride his hobby-horse. Long may it last. As newspaper editors have known for years, knee-jerk columns that makes readers come close to bursting blood vessels with apoplexy or cheers from the fan base get lots of letters. And they get read.