Meeja: October 2007 Archives

Chris Anderson's decision to post online the email addresses of PRs who decided that the editor-of-chief of a heavily staffed magazine was the obvious place to start with getting a launch covered made sure his anguish got noticed. It drew someone else who revealed that they have started to quietly blacklist PR emails. There could be a lot more of those people.

In the distance, a low rumble accompanies the law of unintended consequences grinding into action.

Here is the problem. People who think bypassing section editors to pitch the editor-in-chief of any book using his or her named email address aren't suddenly going to get a clue because their own email addresses are now online ready for any passing spam harvester. However, what they will be aware of is a large number of messages underneath the original post saying: "Pick up the phone, build a relationship."

What they will understand is the first bit: "Pick up the phone..." I can say with certainty that a dull, misdirected pitch delivered by email is ten times worse delivered by phone. Emails are easy to kill. Phone calls are another matter.

Jakob Nielsen reckons it's time to rehabilitate the passive voice in writing. And it's all in the name of search optimisation - as opposed to search engine optimisation (SEO). It's an approach that might have legs but is more likely to result in a lot more gibberish appearing online.

The idea is that people surfing, and especially shopping online, scan web pages in a cursory way that favours words over to the left. By altering a sentence so that key words come first - something that probably involves using the passive rather than the active voice or, in rare cases, flipping the word order round – you can capture their attention for longer. If you look at the results they got from capturing users' eye movements, readers also seem to favour short measures. So, it is at least good to know that conventional newspaper and magazine layout ideas were right all along. It's the reason why this blog has such a narrow template. (OK, it's a sample of three at Nielsen's site, with just one piece of running copy, but it fits my prejudice.)

The passive voice has its uses. It provides a handy way of altering the rhythm of a paragraph amid a lot of active-voice sentences. It is also dangerous.

Some 18 months ago, Tom Foremski called for the death of the traditional press release. Not long after, PRs such as Todd Defren and Brian Solis thought the response should be what they called the social-media news release. Then people started arguing the toss about how social a press release can be. They are still talking about it.

Various people have come up with their own interpretations only to have Defren and Solis swing by to declare that it's a "good effort" but not a social-media news release. For them, unless it has support for comments and trackbacks, it ain't social. Like it matters.

For Rogers Cadenhead, bloggers such as Michael Arrington have "sold their souls" to PR and become beholden to the hype machine in the same way as magazines.

Cadenhead points to a piece from Robert Scoble that claims some of the more popular tech bloggers are being offered, and taking, embargoed briefings so they can break the news about some new product the minute the company says it's OK: "According to Scoble, A-list techbloggers have become just as desperate for inside access, even to the point of honouring an embargo intended to benefit another blog."

What's that noise? In the background, Pete Townshend is stabbing at an organ hypnotically, trying to channel Terry Riley on an all-nighter. A couple of quick windmilling power chords and a scream from Roger Daltry and the blog revolution comes flying off the wheels. All together now: "Meet the new boss..."

Cadenhead's argument is that the tech product magazines were effectively neutered by the need to keep in with PRs to ensure a steady stream of embargoed stories so that they need not be gazumped on news by the competition. The effects of embargoed news are more subtle than that - it's too blunt an instrument to be wielded in the way that Cadenhead describes.


16 October 2007

On Monday, Tim O'Reilly demonstrated that the Web 2.0 world has so wholeheartedly disappeared up its own arse it has now reappeared at the other end. Only a bit grubbier.

In a post that actually decries an environment he cheerleaded for the last few years, O'Reilly takes aim at herd behaviour. It's not hard to find examples of herd behaviour on the Interweb, although his prime example is from the place where all the best people like to flock: finance.

O'Reilly notices, thanks to a bit of research posted on another blog, that quantitative hedge funds didn't actually do all that much hedging in practice. Or, in other words, it's hard to bet against the market when everybody else decides to do the same thing as you. This, apparently, is a bad thing. Is it? Only if you invested in one of these funds. A bunch of other people did very nicely thank you out of not getting involved in stupid trades and, in effect, picked over the bones of the quants.

Here's a handy tip for PRs. If you were giving your next release or invitation a little bit of 2.0 action, think again. Hoping to profit from a little Web 2.0 shine (which has tarnished quite badly in recent months), people have decided to tack on the tag "2.0" to any old topic that might be in need of a warmover, generally in anticipation of some marketing veep or CEO landing nearby for tea and Powerpoint.

With me, at least, it's having the opposite effect to what was intended. Rather than making me think: "Wow, I must find out the changes that usher in the age of Cauliflower 2.0", it's more of an "oh look, no sizzle, no steak, no I won't be going" response. Actually, it's more of an FFS response.

By the way, going to version 3.0 isn't going to help. Just in case you were wondering.