March 2007 Archives

One-way ticket to noo-TV

30 March 2007

Web video producer Loren Feldman's feels that, when it comes to the moving image, Jeff Jarvis's tanks are on the wrong lawn. They're generally on someone else's lawn, and recently it's been video's turn. There's only one problem with Feldman's approach. Actually there are two: Feldman's ranting style makes you start to feel he's being a bit hard on Jarvis, who is only one of many who seem to think the Internet magically transformed video into some new art form in much the same way that Web 2.0 fanboys somehow believe that putting comment forms on websites instantly transforms people into models of behaviour and etiquette.

But back to point one. If you're running a video company, I'd have thought you'd want to spend more time with, well...the video. The problem I have with video diaries or video responses is that they are really radio with moving pictures. It might as well be a podcast because everyone doing this stuff is not taking full advantage of the medium. It's not a big deal but a little jarring when someone is sounding off about another commentator's lack of understanding of video. The "um, well, um, (sniff) I have to comment on..." intro of many of these responses - Feldman's not the only one - also quickly become an irritant. Say your piece, get on with it. We know what the form is.

That said, the line about how it doesn't take a pile of conferences to work out what's wanted from video - "make interesting shit that people want to look at" - is worth the price of admission alone. I watch and read almost open-mouthed as self-appointed experts wibble on about how Internet video is a new medium and how different it is from TV. Yes, it's different from TV. But it's almost indistinguishable in most usage from a personal video recorder. You can't make video interactive just by playing it on the Internet. It remains stubbornly linear whatever you do with it.

OK, I can comment on it on a website that hosts the video. Or maybe some other website. But I can no more influence the video than I can a broadcast transmission, short of breaking into the studio and messing with the U-matic. Sticking my head out of the window and bellowing, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore", will not cause the video stream to take a sudden new direction.

But there is nothing wrong with monologues if done well. We don't need to ram interactivity into everything. But if you keep blogging you will at least get on the A-list.

Microsoft's news that it sold more copies of Vista in a month than XP did in two months makes it sound as though everything is going great guns at the world's largest software company. Mary Jo Foley wonders aloud whether Steve Ballmer telling the financial community not to get too excited about Vista sales was just a bit of expectation management for investors rather than a clue about how the company feels about its latest offering.

But step back a bit from the headline figure of 20 million copies of Vista sold in one month this quarter, versus 17 million of XP shipped in two months of the autumn of 2002. The vast majority of Microsoft's licence sales come not from people walking into a shop and picking up an overpriced shiny DVD. Some 80 per cent of the company's quarterly sales of Windows products - about $3bn a quarter in recent years - comes from Windows pre-installed on OEM PCs. Consider that, in Q1 last year, some 53 million PCs shipped worldwide according to IDC: 17 million per calendar month. A total of 230 million were sold last year in total. And PC shipments should have grown another 10 per cent or so since this time last year. Factor that into the Q1 sales from 2006, that growth would take you close to 19 million before we start to factor in other sales - assuming of course, that everything shipped in February was sold with some form of Vista.

There's nothing like getting your retaliation in first. There was Ryan Jordan (or at least I think that was his name) acquiring a fake persona to avoid stalkers on Wikipedia long before anyone thought of stalking anyone associated with Wikipedia. Now, we have the curious case of a US pastor who has foresworn Technorati because of the bad words people have for him in their blogs. He decided to ignore what blogs write about him because, according to him, they have said nasty negative things about him. Those negatives thoughts might cause him to leave his ministry. I have always been deeply suspicious about people who say: "I try to stay away from negative people." They often know how to judge people, and not in a good way.

The strange things is, up to March 19 when he announced his decision, it was hard to find any slings, arrows, sticks, stones or even mild chastisement in blog posts that might have caused the pastor to take Technorati out of his bookmarks list. To be honest, it still is. So, why do it? Publicity stunt? The move has, after all, temporarily propelled his name to the head of Technorati's top ten searches.

The UK Ministry of Defence has published the rules that inventors need to obey if they want to get involved with its own version of the DARPA Grand Challenge. Although the rules were only made public last week at a launch conference for would-be teams, the MoD is sticking to its May 15 deadline for applications and a chance of getting your research paid for.

During his speech, defence minister Lord Drayson was keen to stress that anything goes in this competition, although as a former roboticist, he pointed out that he thinks "robotics has a big part to play in this challenge". However, if someone has come up with some sort of long-distance magic ray that you can point at a town to work out if there are roadside bombs or snipers hanging about, the MoD will not turn them away. The ministry is keen to stress that there are no restrictions on what the winning approach can use.

Well almost. There will be no sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads. Or, as Dr Paul Hollinshead, director of science and technology policy at the MoD, put it: "No animals. No dogs with cameras on their heads or cats with grenades strapped to their backs, that sort of thing."

Just in case you were wondering.

I hadn't realised quite how self-delusion powers the Ask.com Information Revolution wannabe guerilla marketing site. From the latest blog entry:

There’s more to life than pages and pages of “ten blue links”. That’s the experience most of us have with search engines today: a list of millions of links, ten at a time, in ranked order. That’s pretty much it - you’re on your own after that.

Now try searching at Ask.com. Count those links. There's no prizes for guessing how many turn up. In blue.

I'm a bit sorry I didn't look up the Information Revolution site before - it has all the hallmarks of a slow-motion Interweb car crash. The posts keep coming about how well the revolution is going while, below, the people commenting do nothing but lay into them (or post spam).

When the Information Revolution ads first appeared on London's tube trains, saying there was some kind of monopoly on information and 75 per cent of it goes through one company, my first thought was whether someone was having a pop at Google. Then I thought it must be some large telco trying to make it out it was in charge of the world's information because it owned a lot of pipes, largely because 75 per cent of the world's information does not come through Google, which one of the ads suggests. It was only the other day that I saw an ad online and bothered to click on it to work out what the wannabe Banksies were actually trying to say.

It turned out my first instinct was closer: it's all about the infighting between search engines. As the blog at Curverider by Ben Werdmuller points out, it's apparently paid for by Ask.com. The text tells you that 75 per cent of people in the UK use "one search engine" - oh, now you tell me what the 75 per cent is all about - carefully not naming Google. Why not? Is it a state secret?

Some people are annoyed about the underhand nature of the campaign, pretending to be some grass-roots movement rather than a plug for a non-Google search engine. For a long list of ticked-off punters, check out the comments to the site's own blog. This one stood out:

"It amuses me that you pitched your campaign at the very demographic that would be most disgusted when they (quickly) realised the site was simply a thinly-veiled marketing front."

To me, it's just a waste of money. At no point did the real-world ads make me want to go and find out more - it was clear it was a plug for some company that wanted to look cool. Those companies are best avoided.

Early on in David Cronenberg's Scanners, before Michael Ironside blows a guy's head up by frowning dramatically, a scene shows the plight of the movie's hero. He is lost in a sea of voices that he can't block out. Uninvited bits of minutiae ripple through his poor brain because he is a telepath who can't control his gift.

It seems we don't need telepathy to be cast adrift in a sea of idle, pointless thoughts, just a computer. Thanks to Twitter, we can find out about how nice that last muffin was, who is waiting for a bus and the latest antics of the pet cat. Fantastic.

Even better, we have people telling us that Twitter is the culmination of interpersonal communication, largely because people were able to tell each other they were in the same room at SXSW without having to look around with their eyes, or wave to each other or something so 20th Century.

Steve Rubel wastes no time in breathlessly telling us, among other Twittish things, about how you can map Twitter users - just as long as they can read their co-ordinates off a GPS and enter it on a form. Now that's progress. Even better, Rubel tells us that he is becoming some kind of Lifehacker guru for the marketing set, using gadgets like this to become a "smarter marketer". If by "smarter marketer", he means someone who hitches a ride on every passing techno-bandwagon in order to score some trackbacks, I think I know what he means. Because promoting ways of having random brain lint texted to you doesn't strike me as smart in any context, let alone marketing. Unless you want to see how much flotsam your brain can absorb before it explodes.

As a gadget that lets your mates know where you are of an evening, I can see the point of Twitter. As some kind of ultra high-frequency blog for people who don't really know you, this is one fad that's surely destined for the bin. It doesn't even do a good job of conveying presence the way that IM interfaces do.

I'm drinking a nice cup of tea, by the way, and the cat's on my lap. That is all.

sentec1.pngI never cease to be amazed by the willingness shown by some people in the PR industry to use technology to truly cock things up. Take the humble, much-maligned and ill-loved press release. It's not all that complicated. You write stuff down and send it off to people in the hope that they will think: "Blimey, there's a story in there." Or at least, "I've got a single column, 6in hole to fill. I suppose this could be massaged into shape."

But that's all too easy. Where's the corporate image in that? Better get the client's logo in and knock up some email "stationery" to drive the message home that the hacks are not dealing with amateurs. It is the kind of thinking that leads you to this gobsmackingly daft example of the art. I don't know what Elements PR has done here to turn the logo into wallpaper when displayed in Entourage. And I really don't want to know. Just understand that not everybody uses Outlook to receive email - and being clever with release layouts will make you look really stupid to people who receive an email looking like this.

Oh, and by the way, I had to fish it out of the Junk mail folder.

Some people really can see into the future, it seems. I kicked off yesterday with an interview in town. I had just written down the names of the people there and put in the date when one of the people I was about to interview piped up: "I've never met anyone who could do shorthand before."

I looked at my notebook. All the writing there so far was in glorious untidy longhand: it's how I record names as shorthand is not a good way of recording accurate spelling. And then I looked back up at him, replying: "Er, I haven't started yet."

Of course, it could just have been down to the "briefing notes" on me prepared by the PR company ahead of the interview.

Comment snafu

13 March 2007

Apologies to anyone who tried to post a comment here over the last few days and got nothing but a 403-Forbidden error for their pains. The gremlins crept into the system and decided it would be fun to alter the permissions on one of the blog software's folders. Normal service has been resumed.

Compare these two statements and you will quickly see why Ryan Jordan's 'apology', which was only an apology to Wikipedians I might add is just digging the fake professor into a deeper and deeper hole. Further, Wikipedia chief and Jordan's employer Jimbo Wales appears to have no problem in this guy spinning a yarn to cover his back.

First the bit of the apology where he lays the blame on Stacey Schiff, who wrote the piece in the New Yorker in July last year:

"I spoke with Stacy Shiff [sic] for over eight hours; in that time, she asked me about a variety of subjects related to Wikipedia and I have her much to write on. (Those who know me will know I am rarely ever brief in my comments.) That she chose to focus on two rather trivial reverts to Justin Timberlake and what my userpage said came as a complete surprise to me; it was, quite honestly, my impression that it was well known that I was not who I claimed to be, and that in the absence of any confirmation, no respectible publication would print it."

Notice the part about not quoting the right bits: not an uncommon complaint among interviewees. But the sting is in the tail, where he seems to be under the impression that Schiff was aware that his identity was false. Yet, only a few weeks ago, in reply to a question of how the New Yorker was taken in, he bragged of how convincing his private university cover story was, in his six hours with Schiff and two hours with a fact checker (note the eight hours total):

"My question is how the New Yorker hasn't gotten its butt kicked for publishing it as fact without the slightest fact-checking. Night Gyr, 03:45, 6 February 2007 (UTC)

"Actually, I did six hours of interviews with the reporter, and two with a fact checker, but I was really surprised that they were willing to do an interview with someone who they couldn't confirm; I can only assume that it is proof I was doing a good job playing the part. Essjay 05:25, 6 February 2007 (UTC)"

Both of these statements cannot be true. Either he played the part all the way through the interview or he made it known that he was not who he claimed to be. Also bear in mind that the reason why Schiff went to Essjay/Jordan for an interview was because other senior Wikipedians recommended it. However, that's according to Essjay, so take it with a pinch of salt.

The user KillerChihuahua replied, "you were set up by your fellow editors! Seriously, they chose well when they chose to interview you. We could not ask for a better representative".

With hindsight, 'better' is not the right word. Perhaps 'more appropriate' would fit now given the support he is receiving from Wales and other editors.

Deceit is everywhere this week. Not least on Wikipedia where would-be "tenured theology professor" Essjay turned out to be nothing of the sort. Unlike the PR industry, much of Wikipedia's upper echelon seem unperturbed by representatives misrepresenting themselves.

One of the excuses that has been trotted out over the past couple of days since the New Yorker published its correction of Essjay's position is that the fake identity was created to stymie persistent Wikipedia critic Daniel Brandt. The self-styled wikihunter has been publishing the identities of a number of Wikipedia admins since SlimVirgin, a Wikipedia admin, started an entry on him in the online encyclopedia at the end of September 2005.

It seems that Essjay was not just miraculously blessed in the academic department, he had the gift of foresight. Because three months earlier he was proudly telling correspondents of his position as an academic. In response to someone asking whether he is a Jesuit, Essjay replied on the 26th June 2005: "No, I'm not a priest or a Jesuit; I'm a professor at a private university in the US, and the Catholic Church is one of my areas of expertise."