Meeja: July 2008 Archives

Yesterday, yet another in the wave of "press release distribution companies" sent me by email a release for femtocell-maker Ip.access. So far, so good. "Femtocells," thinks I. "I'm writing something on femtocells, better have a look."

It's nothing more than saying the company has a white paper on how funky femtocells will be. But, there is a chance there could be something useful in it and I was just beginning to line up interviews. So, I first went to the link to download the file...and found out I need to fill in a form to get it. I'm not over-fussed about filling in a form but, as this is likely to go into some form of CRM system, I figure it's just as easy to save a salesperson a call and get it from the PR. Who, of course, will be named at the bottom of the release and set up the interview at the same time.

I hit Reply and start banging out the email only to notice an odd bit of text in the introduction "...please do not hesitate to contact them via the details below". Then I realise that Neondrum, who sent the release is only distributing the release, with all the usual disclaimers: "[We] cannot accept any liability whatsoever for the inaccuracy or otherwise of any information contained in this news release" etc. All they're going to do is tell me to contact the client. OK fine.

But there are no other contact details.

I asked Neondrum to send them over. Ten hours later (in the meantime, I'd found that CompanyCare had been looking after Ip.access and contacted them directly) I got a reply:

"Sorry, the introductory message was badly worded - ip.access haven't provided a specific contact for this media advisory, if you want to find out more you need to download the paper."

Thanks. That's so helpful. And from a company that publishes a booklet that it claims contains ten top tips for online PR. I wonder if "always provide a contact number" is in there. I'd find out, but you have to register as a client at Neondrum to stand a chance of getting it. If someone has a copy, send it over, I could do with a laugh.

The hype cycle works quickly these days. At about 9pm US Pacific time, Techcrunch published its first story on the search engine startup Cuil. It was far from being the only site with the story around that time: the company had told a bunch of bloggers and journalists about its plans the week before with the aim of seeing it all come out in a big splurge on Monday, 28 July, 12am US Eastern.

A few hours later, the Cuil site died. Oops. But, no mind, just the effect of thousands of people hitting the site to see how it performed versus Google. "Flatlining right after your launch is more of a rite of passage than an embarrassment."

A day later and the euphoria had gone. "The story quickly turned from Google killer to Google's lunch."

Getting a backlash so quickly? "This was entirely the company's own fault. It pre-briefed every blogger and tech journalist on the planet, but didn't allow anyone to actually the test the search engine before the launch," complained Erick Schonfeld.

And you're surprised? Who says the old promotional tricks don't work?

Although Seth Finkelstein has debunked the idea that Knol is being promoted too heavily in Google's search listings, a lot of people reckon that the number-one search engine is rapidly losing its way. That Knol is a big mistake that results from policies that favour Google's ad business over its search service.

Knol is a magnet for the get-rich-quick brigade who reckon they can siphon off a load of money through ads for dodgy health supplements. It might work as a competitor to Squidoo, Mahalo and even Wikipedia. But, a lot will depend on the image that Knol attracts in the short term. It's got a good chance of becoming the .info of information and quick reference sites, where the only people who show up are spammers with slightly more original content.

But does that matter to Google? Regarding Google's business as being in search is a mistake. It's an advertising business. And one of the unfortunate drivers of the online classified ad business that the company now effectively dominates is that a bunch of people are only too happy to click on ads for the 'health supplements', teeth whiteners and other kind of products being actively promoted on Knol pages. They may well be the most active ad-clickers around.

There's a good chance that Google will make more cash out of the dodgier Knol pages than the ones designed to look more like entries in an encyclopedia.

People are misreading Google's slogan, "Don't be evil". It's not a slogan. It's an admonishment to those sucking on the Adsense teat: "Don't be evil...or we'll kick you off the search results pages. You can be a bit naughty, mind."

While things are good for Google, nobody will really care:

"You show them you have in you something that is really profitable, and then there will be no limits to the recognition of your ability. Of course you must take care of the motives - right motives - always." - Mr Kurtz, Heart of Darkness

In the case of Giles Coren's purple-tinged prose, the Times subs were right anyway. He complains that by interfering with the onanistic euphuism of his final paragraph, the subs ruined the money shot. Removing an indefinite article led to a premature conclusion. There was no firm climax for Coren, but the whimper of an unstressed syllable.

In the letter, Coren lets the Times, and now us, know that Soho is associated with sex. So the whole thing about "wondering where to go for a nosh" was very important. Should they ever resurrect Round the Horne, I'll be sure to point them in your direction.

The first commenter at Guido Fawkes (and no doubt commenters at other places, I didn't look that hard) pointed out that if dear sensitive Giles wants his glorious copy to never feel the cold caress of a sub-editor, he should give up writing for the Thunderer and just post reviews to a blog. He can be secure in the knowledge that no-one will ever cause him to be seen finishing a review with the indignity of an unstressed syllable.

I can just imagine the subs now doing all they can to ensure that Coren's promise is never broken. He will always go out with a bang. In the meantime, maybe the Guardian's Media Monkey can expect a spanking from the pishkeh of epistles.

If you read the paper by Masahiko Inouye and colleagues at the University of Toyama on their production of the first lengthy chains of double-stranded artificial DNA you wonder how analyst Ruchi Mallya managed to come up with the idea that this stuff might be the future of green IT.

Mallya postulated "a biochip that will make standard computers faster and more energy efficient".

If you read the press release from the American Chemical Society, the publisher of Inouye et al's paper, you begin to see where that idea came from. However, there is a subtle difference in meaning:

"The finding could lead to improvements in gene therapy, futuristic nano-sized computers, and other high-tech advances, [the researchers] say."

The claim on the release is slightly more believable - we're not talking about trying to reinvent conventional computing here. But even that is a stretch from what the researchers themselves claim in the actual paper:

"The artificial DNA might be applied to a future extracellular genetic system with information storage and amplifiable abilities...This type of research is primarily motivated by pure scientific exploration and eventually directed toward biomedical applications."

When memes attack

18 July 2008

If you've seen a blog in the last week or so, you've probably noticed people going through a list of 100 books supposedly put together by the US National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read programme. I first came across it at the Diary of a Wordsmith, who has spotted two versions. One is the "US version" and one is the "UK version". But, there is no US version.

The blog meme has become the social networking equivalent of the chain letter and, often, contains about as much truth. The claim behind this top 100 list is that the NEA has put out this list to publicise a reading programme, claiming that the average American has read only six of the hundred titles the "NEA has printed".