Monthly Archives: January 2010

Be prepared ! Things you need to know before letting your kids on Facebook and Twitter.

My children belong to the first fully on-line generation.

The kids shows they watched on Cbeebies all had web sites, they learned to  use a mouse at the same time as a pen. They regularly catch-up on programmes via the I-player and clamour for e-mail, MSN and a Facebook page. (The answer is no by the way, still too young.)

While schools are very good at teaching children to deal with the threat of cyber bullying and the dangers of chat rooms I wonder how thought-out their policies are on the entirety of our children’s on-line lives.

Personal branding wonks would have you believe that every student needs an on-line presence. If you’re looking for work and you can’t be Googled then you’re no-one. You need a shiny Facebook page with all your Duke of Edinburgh awards and your voluntary work up there. But when does all this start ?

If I say yes to Facebook in a couple of years time, how much damage is my daughter going to do to her ‘on-line reputation’ before she is 18 ? I already have a couple of teens as friends on Facebook. I think they thought it was a really cool idea, but I can see what they are up to, I really can !

Our data, our thoughts, our activities, it’s all out there and the technology certainly exists to collect it and use it. Whether that ends up being for against us is a moot point. In a ‘1984’ style world then we’re all doomed. Then again if you knew that a crime was being planned on-line wouldn’t you want the security services to use that information to stop it ?

It is happening already by the way. See this article from Wired  US Spies buy stake in firm that monitors blogs and tweets

It is far more likely that our data will be used, in increasingly inventive ways, to sell us things.

I want my children to know all this and to be prepared.

See this article from PC Advisor which lists ten of the risks of sharing information with people on Facebook and Twitter and talk them over with your kids before you let them sign up.

10 Facebook and Twitter Privacy Faux Pas and how to avoid them.

Someone is stealing my stuff.

Someone is stealing my stuff and I’m not too pleased about it.

It’s not like they broke into my house and took my computer but just the same theft is theft isn’t it ?

Here’s what happened. I was browsing on Google to check out how my blog was doing and I came across a post I did a few weeks ago. It was on a site dedicated to dogs. Now I did mention the Dog Whisperer Cesar Milan in a post about Malcom Gladwell’s new book, but it certainly wasn’t a post about dogs and I should imagine anyone coming across it while browsing for a little light canine reading would be very disappointed.

So why is someone scraping up all the blogs which mention dogs in some random way and putting them on a website ?

To make money of course. Money out of my and other people’s words.

I sound naive don’t I? People make money out of any tiny niche going. It’s the way of the world. I do know this. I know this because I have seen people selling courses on how to make a pitch at a networking event which exists to try to help people meet other people who might know people who might buy their stuff.

But selling ads round a load of dog blogs which in my case isn’t even a dog blog ? Come on.

The wise thinkers of the internet say we need to let go of our intellectual property. We should have the confidence to put our ideas out there. Post up your writing, your music, your business ideas all for free and then reap the rewards …er they always lose me when it comes to where we get the rewards from. Malcom Gladwell did a brilliant review of Chris Anderson’s book Free, the Future of a Radical Price in the New Yorker taking down a lot of this argument.

They argue that ‘Information wants to be free’. But does that mean free to be plagiarised or sold on as something else ?

Getting exposure for your ideas is seen as the holy grail, so if  dog loving eyeballs rest on my blog shouldn’t I perhaps be grateful ?

Well I love it when my blog comes up in directories and search engines just as much as you do but I’m not yet so much of a media tart that I want my stuff out there at any cost and what’s more the people searching for relevant content are being short-changed.

To that end I promise to look at the way I tag my posts to check they are relevant.

Zen and The Art Of Household Maintenance.

Never in the field of human endeavour has anything cost so much and given so little pleasure.

That was me when I realised that we really are going to have to carry out vital repairs to the outside of our house.

Spending large sums of money on anything brings me out in a cold sweat and I can see the point in lovely new floorboards, a fireplace or door handles, but brickwork re-pointing ? It’s just not that alluring is it ? When they compile the league table of sexy repairs it’s not going to be up there.

Well take a deep breath, get into Zen mode and focus. Structure is really important. Walls don’t give a lot of joy in themselves but if they fall down the door handles are pointless.

You can apply this to anything you like, from a blog, poem or song to an entire business.

And Robert M Pirsig, what did he think about it ? It’s a long time since I read the best-selling  Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but he thought you could achieve a balance between the rational and the romantic in life.

So if I’ve got this right, the rational is all about diagnosing the problem and   getting the work done as Persig did with his motorbike. And the romantic ? Well maybe when he’s done with the repairs I should get our builder to buy us some flowers with the proceeds ?

Don’t Stop Believin’. The backstory.

When I am not blogging about social media, journalism and PR I am obsessing about music.

Never more so than this week when the same song hit the UK top ten not once but twice.  ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ is at number 5 and 6 on the chart sung by the cast of teen show Glee and the MOR band Journey who released the original in 1981. Think blokes with a big song and big hair.

The question is why ?

I have been around long enough to know that the Zeitgeist is rarely as mystical as we think. Co-incidences usually have an explanation, the Freakonmics guys have taught me that. So rather than let it eat away at me I have been doing some digging and this I what I found.

Don’t Stop Believin’ is not an obscure song. We may not know it well in the UK but in the States it has been a karaoke staple for years. In fact it has become something of a show-closer with many a dance or prom ending with  Journey as the big home-time finale. Here, we are more likely to revive quirky oldies like ‘Show me the way to Amarillo’ but in the States this Journey song is nostalgia on a plate.

So with this in mind we move to the next step on our ‘Journey’ (sorry.) The song was used in the final scene of the Sopranos (2007), a show that takes  irony  seriously.* Tony Soprano was always an ordinary Joe with family worries as well as a mafia boss. As we see him for the last time, eating in a restaurant with his family, we are reminded again of the clash  between the dark nihilistic world of mafia hits and the hopeful positive world of Journey where we must never stop believing (that it’s going to be ok). A suspicious guy glances at Tony and goes in back to the bathroom. The slam to black at the end says it all.

Now our road splits in two as Glee and American Idol come on the scene. One is a high school spoof, the song is at the centre of its pilot episode. The other is a TV singing contest. The cast sing Don’t Stop Believin’ as the finale of their live show.

Enter Simon Cowell, American  Idol judge and man behind the UK’s massive X Factor. He took the song with him to X Factor and gave it (via Cheryl Cole) to Joe McElderry, who incidentally, went on to win the show. Simon Cowell said at the time that the song was little known. What he meant was little known in this country.

Kids here with unprecedented access to music via computer then began downloading  the original having enjoyed Geordie Joe’s version and it was a hit before Christmas. I heard that  Joe’s people wanted to release his version but weren’t allowed. something to do with Glee ?

This January Glee premiered in the UK amid a huge amount of hype and the High School version of Don’t Stop joined the original in the top ten. (Presumably bought by kids for whom big hair on a man is still a step too far.)

And there you have it. The anatomy of a phenomenon.  If you have any more insights I don’t claim this as the definitive version and would love to hear from you .

* Journey’s keyboard player, Jonathan Cain, doesn’t credit “Sopranos” creator David Chase with the revival. He credits Adam Sandler who has a brush with the song in 1998’s “The Wedding Singer.”

Newspapers V Twitter

I don’t often buy a newspaper and nor it seems do my friends.  I do still get a Guardian on Saturdays though.

This weekend I was enjoying half an hour with the news pages when it struck me that this was not news to me at all. I knew it all already.

OK not every last story, but a significant number of articles were based on items I had already picked up on Twitter during the week.

Let’s look at them.  The Haiti earthquake, obviously. Then there was a piece about Fox News and Rupert Murdoch which was basically a re-write of something I had already read in the New York Times. I was directed there by someone on Twitter.

There was a story about the big dairy companies failing to pick up milk from farmers during the snow. This I knew already because I go walking with someone who knows someone who works for Dairy Crest.

Then there was ‘Bad Science’  a column by one of my favourite writers Ben Goldacre, who already tweeted his source material during the week….a very funny spoof piece about Woolworth stores lining up on ley lines, do check it out. But this meant his piece came as no surprise either.

Now I’m starting to wonder what’s going on and how I feel about it. It would appear that throughout the week I am my own editor. I have selected the news that interests me via Twitter. I have also talked to real people who have told me things. I am my own journalist.

Do I wish I had not devoted half an hour of my life to reading this again, this time on newsprint ? No, because it is actually quite re-assuring. My newspaper of choice has selected the stories that I am interested in, it has confirmed my identity, ‘I am a Guardian reader.’

This is an important function of newspapers today. To re-assure people about who they are. To confirm their choices and in some cases their prejudices. People like to read reports about the snow not because they don’t know we had a blizzard and got snowed in, but to re-assure themselves that it did indeed happen and our inconvenience was real.

Raw news picked up from Twitter may inform our minds but does it feed the part of us that wants to be told who we are ?

Boot into Boden ? Not today.

My friend Jane wants me to stick the boot into Boden after getting a glossy catalogue in the post full of tropical swim-wear. It’s the middle of winter for hell’s sake ! Porn for the polenta classes ? You bet.

But at least they ‘re honest about it. They just want to sell us clothes while we’re stuck indoors dreaming of summer.

And boy do they want to sell us clothes. They have one of the most persistent marketing strategies I have seen outside Pizza delivery firms, hitting you several times at key points during the season until you have a stack of catalogue, each subtly different.

The one that comes out in the bleak midwinter tactfully puts its flimsy dresses towards the back and pushes the cardies up front. Later on we get a few new headline items and a re-jig of the clothes. That can’t actually cost them that much as the clothes appear to be shot in one batch, sometime last year.

Considering how annoying over-persistent campaigning can be, this is remarkably effective. Boden has become a by-word for middle class style (smugness if you’re feeling satirical) with annual profits of 22 million pounds. Michelle Obama is a fan. Hell I have been known to make the odd purchase although it makes me feel too much like a yummy mummy for comfort.

So, I won’t be sticking the boot in today. Instead I will be observing that shouting about what you do on a regular basis, mixing it up a bit to keep it fresh but essentially delivering what your customers want, seems to be a   recipe for success.