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Aspiring Digital Raconteur

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Archive for the ‘Insights & Opinions’ Category

Ideas, opinions, or just questions. What I think of the things I see around me.

The Snow v The Servers v The Trains

Posted by guesto on February 3, 2009

I have to slightly disagree with Jemima Kiss’s opinion that Fortunately, the internet is entirely snow resistant, as she commented on how the internet allows us to work from home. That’s true, but the weather did lead to the crashing of the two sites I most wanted to read yesterday, namely TFL and NationalRail.

Yes, in an ironic show of solidarity with the transport systems they represent, both these sites completely shut down on Monday morning as commuters tried to find information about whether or not they could get to work. Perhaps this is understandable, as Hitwise reports that National Rail got 3 times it’s normal traffic, and TFL 5 times it’s normal.

Traffic to TFL and National Rail on snow day

I can imagine the conversation with the techies on this one – 5 times normal traffic is way beyond their burstable limits and it is unreasonable to expect the site should be able to cope with such a spurious event. There is probably a techy or account manager somewhere that suggested that the site should be equipped to cope with that much of a freak traffic day, but that suggestion would have become a cost estimate, which would have found it’s way to the budget holder’s desk, who would have said “no way”.

So perhaps it is reasonable to apply the same empathy to the transport systems themselves? After all, 5 inches of snow is 5 times the norm for London. And whatever the final recorded amount was, I heard it was the most for 18 years. So applying server logic to the actual transport system, would we want public money poured into providing “redundant capacity” in unused train tracks, snow ploughs and snow chains for buses? I very much doubt it. The press would have a field day with that too!

But don’t worry, I’m not completely excusing the transport authorities, who really should try harder. After all, as Haroon Siddique summarises, it’s not like nobody knew it was coming.

But instead I’ll refrain from ranting about what happens on one day out of 6,570 days, I’ll rant about what happens on way too many normal days of the week:

Dear First Capital Connect,

I understand why it can be an operational challenge to run more trains than you already do per hour through central London. But there is NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for only running 4 carriage trains at peak times. Have you ever tried to get a northbound train from Farringdon during evening rush hour when only 4 cars turn up? I’m beyond worrying about getting a seat, I just worry about fitting on it at all! We commuters (that pay your wages with our fares) get squeezed on like cattle, tempers fray and you wonder why people see fit to take it out on you?

4 Carriages = 1 timetabled slot = 1 driver
8 Carriages = 1 timetabled slot = 1 driver

That’s like double the efficiency in terms of passengers per slot and better economy of scale. Is there something that stops it being that simple that I don’t know about? Please tell me.

Alternatively, could we have an option to only pay half our rail fare if you only provide half the passenger capacity?

And don’t even get me started on your plans to raise prices AGAIN despite the worst recession in a generation.

If First Capital Connect were my client…

…I would love to see how they like me servicing them the way they service me.

  • At their busiest hour I would switch off half their servers without reason or apology
  • I would wait until they had serious financial problems then raise my prices beyond double the rate of inflation
  • I would make redundant half my workforce that allow them to pay for my services, make them wait in long queues, then hit them with penalty fares for not paying
  • I would do all this, then put up posters around my office threatening them with legal action if they complain too aggressively.

Now, I would not exactly be the world’s most successful agency if I were to do that now would I? I imagine they and other clients would go and do business elsewhere.

UNLESS of course I were to somehow have a completely unchallenged monopoly over the entire sector in their area, then I COULD behave in exactly that way and they’d have to accept it!

Hmmm, I wonder if the government will grant ME a monopoly like they did the train companies. That sounds like great business!

Posted in Insights & Opinions, Rantings | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Twitter gets the spammer treatment

Posted by guesto on February 2, 2009

Having decided that Twitter is now mainstream, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised to have received my first twitter-based spam today. If even mainstream brands and daytime presenters are enjoying the reach of Twitter, it’s inevitable that spammers will rolling up their pikey sleeves and flexing their dirty little fingers too.

It came in the form of a “spammerscum is now following you on Twitter” email. Naturally one clicks through to see who could possibly be interested in my drivvel, only to find a photo of a suspiciously good looking girl and a single tweet offering the chance to earn $2,000 a week working from home. I won’t include a link – lets not give them the publicity they want.

It made me think how they intend to broadcast through twitter. As they are following me, they only get to darken my inbox once if I decide to check who is following me. Thankfully they don’t get into my own updates feed, unless they @message me, which would be very time consuming.

I guess that initial single view of their page and URL is all they want really. And as there is little to stop them registering new profiles, they can just keep doing that as much as they like. Hmm, this could get messy.

Oh spammers, why do you have to go and ruin everything? Does it really ever work? Honestly?

It’ll be interesting to see what twitter do about it. It’s not exactly been built with as much protection as something like Facebook has. So they’ll probably have to start investing in upgrades to put in extra security measures and stop the few spoiling it for the rest.

Looking at that one loser’s profile, it shows that they are following 457 people, and only have 5 followers themselves, presumably them too. Perhaps a watching-to-watched ratio that unbalanced in the watching direction could trigger a spammer alert to Twitter moderation? After all, nobody can read 457 people’s updates.

So is this to be Twitter’s downfall? Is it to be a victim of it’s own success? Or are they deliberately operating a policy of allowing it for as long as possible? It certainly does fuel the success to keep it easy to signup, allow traffic (and PR) to grow.

Posted in Digital, Insights & Opinions, Rantings | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Twitter seems to be going mainstream

Posted by guesto on January 23, 2009

I’ve seen lots of evidence in the last couple of weeks that “Micro blogging” site Twitter may have reached it’s tipping point and is now breaking into mainstream use by “normal” consumers (EG, not just by early adopter internet nerds or kids). It’s been a site of interest for a while of course, but quite easy for a blue-chip client to ignore, or dismiss as not being used by a mainstream audience.

Here is a round-up of some of the key indicators that I’ve noticed recently.

Channel 4 News report on Hudson River plane crash


Writing in the daily “snowmail” email for Channel 4 News on 16th Jan, Alex Thompson writes “Incidentally you may have noticed in recent weeks and months Channel 4 News tweeting away on Twitter and it’s worth noting that one of the first images of the crash appeared on Twitter within minutes of it happening. After similar “news reports” from big stories such as the Mumbai attacks. There’s clearly something going on here that we’ll have to keep our eyes on.”

Take out: The immediacy of being able to “tweet” an event (even faster than blogging) combined with the accessibility with which anyone can do it (as easy as texting) means that citizen journalism on an event can be instantaneous. A news channel like ITN (who provide Channel 4 News) always need reporters “on the ground” so Twitter provides an opportunity not just to find out immediately what is going on where (like an early warning system) but also leverage the content and opinions of those that are tweeting.

The celebs get on board
I’d seen loads of reports on my feeds about mainstream celerities using twitter to connect with their audiences. Jonathan Ross being the one to get the most media buzz about the event. Last week my colleague at AKQA Rick Williams wrote on his own blog a list of just some celebs that are tweeting:

Oh my god – Philip Schofield is on Twitter!

Is it the beginning of the end for Twitter…or is Twitter more than a fad?

Philip Schofield – http://twitter.com/schofe (2,366 followers in a week after that little piece to camera on This Morning)
Jonathan Ross – https://twitter.com/Wossy (13,933 followers)
Stephen Fry – https://twitter.com/stephenfry (51,000 followers)
Alan Carr – https://twitter.com/AlanCarr (4,018 followers)
And Dancing On Ice (wtf?!?!?) – http://twitter.com/dancingonice

Rick’s Takeouts: “Twitter’s got some real legs when it comes to TV in general. or Dr. Who…What if you could follow the Doctor and get his thoughts whenever he’s not in a scene – The thoughts & emotions of the Doctor when he’s not in the scene; after a big argument for example or by adding a quick retort out of ear shot?? You could get the Doctor to ask for advice and get the audience to reference material online that could help him…Good for spin-offs or integrated two-way ARGs. Some fool out there is calling this Transmedia, but essentially it’s just a different way of telling a story….”

Then, there was the mildly significant event that was Obama finally taking over the White House.
Obama already had a Twitter account @barackobama but for the inauguration day his team also set one up at @obamainaugural for people to specifically follow the day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the inauguration led to an unprecedented spike in people “tweeting” as shown here by a “tweetscan” report for “Obama”.

Mentions of "Obama" on Twitter, Jan 09

Take outs: Twitter is a useful barometer for events of significance, or just for guaging how significant an event is.

Hitwise report a 974% increase in UK traffic to twitter.com
Hitwise UK research director Robin Goad reports on his blog that traffic to Twitter in the UK has increased almost ten fold in the last year.

“UK Internet traffic to the site has increased 10-fold over past last 12 months. For the week ending 17/01/09 http://www.twitter.com ranked as the 291st most visited website in the UK, up from a ranking of 2,953 for the week ending 19/01/08. UK Internet traffic to the website has increased by 974% over this period.”

It is also worth noting his point that this ONLY measures traffic to the website, so does not include all of the interaction from mobile devices, widgets etc where much of the interaction will actually occur.

Blue-chip brands get involved too
Mashable has published a great article showcasing 40 good examples of brands engaging wih consumers in twitter.

One of the simplest examples in the list is Home Depot, who are using it to quickly respond to customers who mention them in their tweets:

And there are plenty more newbies
Even my step brother popped up on the site the other day which I didnt expect. His first tweet?

“Trying Twitter, not too impressed so far so going to cycle home in the cold. “

Genius

Posted in Digital, Insights & Opinions | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Consumers fight retailers in a war of attrition

Posted by guesto on December 24, 2008

As I speed-shopped around Carnaby, Regent and Oxford street on Saturday, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a war of attrition with Diesel and Ted Baker.

I really really need a new pair of jeans and a new jumper – even to the extent that I have embarrasing holes appearing in my current threads. I’m hardly a pauper, so I should not allow myself to get in such a state, but I KNOW that there are big sales coming, and I don’t want to pay £100 for a pair of jeans that are going to be £50 in a few week’s time.

And I’m clearly not the only one thinking this way, as consumers come to expect retailers to start their discounting earlier and earlier. The more people do this, the more desperate the retailers become and the bigger the discounts offered.

The trend of sales starting earlier is not a new one. I remember when “January Sales” meant just that – sales that started in January, once Christmas is out of the way. That seems a distant memory now with all but a few sales now starting on Boxing Day or the day after.

Retailers have inadvertently set this expectation for consumers now, with Hitwise reporting that there were almost as many searches for “boxing day sale” in 2007 as there were for “January Sale”, suggesting a key shift in consumer perception. Boxing day is also now the highest-traffic day of the year for most retailers, as the following Hitwise chart shows.

This year there have been rumours of retailers offering up tp 75% discounts from Christmas Eve – which offers excellent value to consumers, but surely destroys retailer’s profit margin as they pursue short term cash flow.

So what can retailers do in response to this trend?

Flash sales
Flash sales – one day store-wide discounts have been on the high street for several years now, albeit in a fairly understated way. 2008 has been the year when M&S and Debenhams in particular hit the headlines by offering 20% discount across almost their whole range for specific days only. This is quite a good move when you think about it, as it gives consumers their fix for a bargain to keep the cash flow coming, but limits the exposure to a few days that would probably otherwise be quiet anyway.

Sneak previews
John Lewis have pre-launched their last few sales online and offered a sneak preview by email. While this does announce to their competitors what some of their deals are and exposes them to price matching, it also gives them a chance to speak to consumers early and communicate their deals before they get lost in the noise of everyone else’s. Maybe they are inadvertently encouraging shoppers to hold-off purchases even more – but perhaps they would do anyway?

Online only sales
Hot in my inbox is an email from M&S announcing that their sale is starting on Christmas Day! But online only. This is actually a great idea, because it allows consumers to keep shopping and gets their products bought first, while nobody except a probably IT support team need to be in and working until a few days later.

Vouchers
And then of course there are discount vouchers. Now distributed more widely online than ever before. These also give the consumer the perception that they are getting a bargain to entice them to shop more, but again limit the retailer’s exposure by being time limited or even limited run.

Who will win the war of attrition?
Consumers need to buy food, presents and clothe themselves, but with a shortfall in credit I think it is the retailers that need to buckle first, because unless the cash keeps flowing through the checkouts, they will struggle to pay wages and debts and end up going the way of Woolworths.

CONSUMERS OF THE UK UNITE! and let’s force them into giving us a good deal. I’m going to start now by ditching this post and getting down the west end.

Happy Christmas!

Posted in Insights & Opinions | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

iPhone makes other products redundant

Posted by guesto on November 25, 2008

In his speech about the next 5,000 days of the web, Kevin Kelly made the observation that “what’s amazing, is that we are not amazed” (with the web). Well having owned an iPhone since the first day of release, what amazes me most about it is that more than a year later it still continues to amaze me more and more.

One thing I’ve noticed since the release of the 2.0 software and 3rd party apps, is that my iPhone seems to be making other products that I own redundant.

Chromatic Guitar Tuner

Chromatic Guitar Tuner

I first noticed this with my Guitar Tuner. I have a circa 10-year old analogue tuner that is reliable, but only works for the basic six notes. I was about to buy a new digital tuner, but instead found and downloaded “Guitar Toolkit” from the iPhone app store.

This uses the iPhone’s microphone to listen to the guitar, automatically senses all standard, flat and sharp notes and gives a visual readout that is surprisingly accurate. Not only do I now not need my old tuner, I can now finally do the wierd tuning needed to play Radiohead’s “Jigsaw falling into place” without needing to buy a new tuner.

Of course, the “basic” apps that come pre-installed on the iPhone create quite a bit of redunancy themselves. Who needs a calculator when the iPhone finally brings a decent calculator interface to a phone.

Redundancy too for bigger, more expensive products like GPS/Sat Nav. I don’t drive at the moment, but as a passenger the other day I was easily able to navigate our way to a wedding in a remote location in the English countryside using iPhone’s Maps software.

Until yesterday, my favourite app has been Apple’s iRemote which is making my bedroom and living room stereos – and all my CDs redundant. Now, with both stereos plugged into Apple AirPort Express hubs, I can stream music to either room from the iTunes library on my big PC downstairs. Impressive enough, but with iRemote I can now call up all 85-odd gigs of music from downstairs on my phone, and select to play it out through the speakers in my lounge or bedroom. Perfect for waking up in the morning!

This makes me grin with glee everytime I use it and marvel at the ability to have control over so much music in the palm of my hand, with an easily usable interface too. But yesterday I discovered Simplify Media, which gives me all that – but outside of my house too!

The core functionality is already something that I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover. It means that when at work, I can call up the entire 85GB of music on my home PC and browse and play it through iTunes on my laptop. The whole library appears as a shared library in iTunes, exactly as it does when you are on the same network. Today’s test reveals that that streaming performance is pretty good, but I guess some people will be at the mercy of their broadband provider on this one.

Simplify Media Screenshot

Simplify Media Screenshot

But the best bit of all, is that Simplify Media also offers an iPhone app, which means that I can access the entire month’s worth of music on my home PC, from my phone, from anywhere I can get a signal. That includes when walking down the street, waiting at a train station, or plugging into the stereo at a mate’s house. And it even scrobbles everything to last.fm !!!

This practically makes me cry with joy. But I’m wondering if it is also now going to make my old iPod redundant? I previously still carried that around with me as well, because even 16GB of music on the iPhone is not enough to keep me content, I want the full 60GB of choice my old model offers. I’m not about to freecycle it just yet though – let’s see what happens to my electricity bill when I start leaving my home PC permanently on!

Digital and product convergence

The iPhone must surely be the most preeminent example of the convergence of product design and digital design that our industry has long predicted. I wonder how far such leading “converged” products can go in further commoditising and making redundant other less holistic products? I certainly don’t believe that there is much room in consumer’s lives/budgets for multiple super-products that do everything. Perhaps therefore, it is the first product within key categories to acheive this status that will rule the roost for some time thereafter.

Thinking back 8-10 years to when I was a Product Design student in Southampton, I remember that we were not allowed to design “black boxes that did stuff”, we had to design and show how the physical product would perform a function, not just assume that some wizardry would happen on circuit boards within. But what the web has taught us in those last 8-10 years is that by harnessing the wisdom of crowds and encouraging collaboration and contribution from 3rd parties, so much more can be acheived. Who ever’s job it is at Apple to review and approve all these 3rd party apps must be rubbing their hands with glee as they see so many companies and individuals produce work that just makes their product better and better.

What I think the product designers of the iPhone did excellently well was to design key controls – like the microphone, or touchscreen, or accelerometer – that can be accessed by 3rd party apps and used for new purposes. I doubt that the original designers were even completely sure what to do with the accelerometer when they created it, but it doesn’t matter, because they just need to unleash the box of tricks and let everyone else find new and innovative ways to make us smile.

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What to blog about?

Posted by guesto on July 29, 2008

I wonder just how many bloggers have asked themselves that question at some point?

You see when explaining blogging to a client yesterday, I realised that although I contribute to the impressive-sounding statistic about number of blogs in the world*, I do not contribute to the positive number of active blogs, but instead to the woeful number of blogs that die after launch due to lack of content. (apparently only about 20% of the total number are active, where people still contribute)

One reason that I am not currently blogging as much as I would like to is that I am not really sure what I should blog about. Seems ironic seeing as there are so many blogs dedicated to what one should write about to get to the front page of Digg, including some written by my favourite bloggers. But as one of them argues, it is better to write about what you feel sincere about, rather than write for the sake of getting on Digg or similar. After all, I have never chosen music by what the charts say, so why should I dictate my writing by what others may like?

Plus I have to ask why I would blog at all. To be totally honest, my last spurt of blogging a year ago was partially because I was interested in PRing myself for a new job, which I can honestly say that I’m not at the moment.

I do like finding new stuff (Ideas, technologies, trends etc) and writing what I think about them, but I prefer to prioritise sharing them with my team and clients before sending them into the general ether.

I am fascinated by my job (Senior Account Director at AKQA) – the things I learn and the business challenges I need to overcome. I think an enormous amount of it would make great blog fodder, but everything I consider blogging would probably break confidentiality or compromise competitive advantage. So I wouldn’t be much of a professional if I did that.

I’m also fascinated by the subject of digital and enjoy sharing new trend and technology findings, together with my opinions on them. However I must prioritise sharing these with my own team first, and of course with my client, for whom I oversee a private knowledge sharing blog.

Another thing of course that makes good blog fodder is contentious or contraversial opinion on a subject. I don’t feel the need to upset or provoke people for the sake of it, so I can’t see myself doing that without good cause or conviction.

So… in full recognition of the fact that I have effectively caveated this to be THE MOST BORING BLOG EVER, what do I intend to write here, and what is the point of doing it at all?

The single most important reason is that I enjoy it. I seem to have an increasing number of personal insights, moments of epiphany and open-ended opinions for debate. The natural home for such debate is, of course, the boozer. But my one attempt to transfer a pub-rant to the blogosphere – my last.fm vs MySpace post – seemed quite popular, so perhaps I should continue.

So frequency unknown, quality unknown, but lets see what happens.

*128 Million, according to technorati

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