Jan 2012

Ofsted: Schools are no longer “satisfactory” they “require improvement”

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First AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) change the GCSE assessments for many subjects, then they plan to drastically alter ICT lessons. Now the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted)  are looking to change the language they use in school inspections. The idea is to toughen up on the standard of education across the UK, and push the lower performing schools into bettering themselves.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb 2011

Are governments scared of social media users?

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After reading an article today on Joseph Estrada, former President of the Philippines, and how a million-plus-strong protest organised by texting managed to force the government to impeach the unwanted leader of the nation, it’s hard not to think about the government’s stance on communication between the little people.

If you look at Manila, at Cairo, at anywhere with civil unrest, a pattern begins to emerge if you focus on the protests themselves – they’re all organised by the rapid communication of the public, an ability granted them by the use of modern technology. And, let’s be honest, that’s got to be seriously inconvenient for the governments being negatively (in their eyes, at least) affected by it. It’s all well and good to assume that the USA can march on down to Twitter HQ and demand to see the private information on the WikiLeaks Twitter account. But the reality is that it happened, and Twitter said no.

Free speech is incredibly important, and Cairo’s ongoing chaos is evidence that the only way to silence free speech in the modern day is simply to deactivate the internet. The fact that a government would choose to do so is extremely worrying, and one can only hope this practise doesn’t spread any further than Egypt. However, the moment communication came back up, the flood of information was immediate. Journalists attacked. People dead. Warring between citizens on the street. Water cannons and gunfire.

But how do you call a government out for the poor handling of a political matter? Sending letters does not work unless thousands of people do it simultaneously. There are no alternatives save for taking to the internet, and this people do with gusto. Infrequently updated political blogs, the odd bitter hash-tag on Twitter – it happens, but unfortunately it only happens in drips and drabs, occasionally reinforced with the odd spike when something big happens in the form of a trending topic.

But when people do it all at once – if everyone on Facebook were to simultaneously slam a leader? 500 million bits of bad press isn’t something even Obama can recover from. To utilise the viral nature of the internet for political purposes is as daring as it is noble, and the idea that a president could be impeached, that a government hearing could have its key decision reversed because people were using mere text messages, is mindblowing. Imagine if they were all equipped with smartphones? Seven million text messages. Seven million tweets. A trending topic that would last for months. Global attention, rather than small amounts from specifically interested news outlets.

Social media is a sucker punch we’re not using. It’ll be interesting to see how important the issue of being put on trial becomes for controversial leaders like Berlusconi, who is likely to become the next dodgy leader to be booted out of the top job after too many individuals throw in the towel with the shifty acts of a government clique and take up arms, albeit legal and digital. We’ll just have to wait and see, but for now, the concept of a political revolution that stays in the digital ether is an exciting and formidable storm on the horizon.

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Jan 2011

Is Egypt blocking of social media a cause for revolution?

Posted in News, Online PR, Social Media | 0 Comments

It would seem that as of this morning, all social media websites, and even Blackberry services, have had their access from within Egypt completely blocked. Seemingly responding to a slew of protests on Twitter and, presumably, the other social media sites too, the Egyptian government has blacked out all informal means of communication that could be used to criticise the President.

For the President’s PR team it’s a horrifying solution to a problem. But it indicates that, without a doubt, the new form of nationwide consciousness raising comes in the form of tweets, status updates, the odd email and blogging. In terms of online, polls, forums and emailing into news networks are, for the most part, dead.

There’s a revolution coming in your country – there always is, beneath the surface, a multitude of the angry, the broken and the betrayed – and when the wave breaks against the shore, it’ll be hash-tagged to high heaven.

Do you wonder where the big reactions to news are, why there are no longer spiels of LiveJournal entries and forum threads about the raising of a terror alert to orange? Because it’s all flooding through Twitter at breakneck speed, everyone shouting into the void at once. Blogs are singular entities. Seeing an endlessly-updating feed of people hating your governance of an entire nation is going to hit you fifty times as hard, because you’re looking at the digital equivalent of people protesting outside your house, rather than just sending a strongly worded letter to your office.

The pictures, as I speak, are beginning to flood in, and things do not look great. Thousands of protesters and seemingly almost as many riot police are clashing in nonviolent and very violent ways. Mostly it seems to be an offensive – photographs would have us believe, at least – on the part of the police. And tying this in with the lack of social media access seems a little too sinister to be unlikely. It’s sad that this is spreading across Twitter’s non-Egyptian contingent, and definitely showcases how much modern governments fear the internet’s capacity to allot their citizens (with access to the web) “free speech”.

I’d love to say it actually was, but realistically, it’s not as free as we’d like to believe. Sarah Palin’s facebook page is evidence enough – say anything negative, it vanishes in minutes. Say something positive, it stays permanently. With the Egypt stuff, it’s likely they’re monitoring internet usage pretty firmly, and evidently people are smart enough to be using proxies and other work-arounds to get the word out. But it’s clear evidence of our over-reliance on social media – when it’s gone, we flop around like fish on the dockside, the hook of the ban firmly embedded in our cheek, looking into the eyes of the fisherman as we desperately reach for keyboards that are drifting down to the sea bed.

Alternatively, we could put it bluntly and without the excessive maritime metaphor – the Egyptian government just took the step many governments would love to, and they’ll suffer for it more severely than they seem to think.

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Dec 2010

Is Steve Jobs worthy of the FT’s Person of the Year Award?

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Today I saw that Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, the wonderbrain behind the iPad, iPhone, and any other techno-jargon beginning with P that’s had a lower-case “I” stuck on the front of it has won the Financial Times‘ Person of the Year Award. The FT‘s Richard Waters and Joseph Menn call him “the tech industry’s first rock star”. A man who can sell a ridiculously overpriced computer and actually argue its benefits to the point that the price seems reasonable (I’ve no qualms about dropping cash for a Macbook Pro, the keyboard and OS alone are worth the investment, as a writer and multi-tasker).

But Person of the Year? Out of every single person in the finance sector? Not Zuckerberg, even, TIME Magazine‘s Person of the Year, the man who became a billionaire before he hit his mid-20s with nothing but a can-do attitude and a degree from Harvard? No, we’re going with one of the old crowd, the reliable and the friendly-on-stage.

Jobs has become legendary for this presentations, especially after he came back to present more new technology after fighting off an extremely serious illness. He seems to know no bounds whatsoever when it comes to talking up his new stuff (recovering from illness or not) – it would be rash to suggest he doesn’t imply other technology which does the same tasks, even at the same speed, is still vastly inferior.

Apple are famously based in sunny California, one of the most desirable locations for those who’ve made the big time or hope to, some day, eventually, if they can just sell that script. Despite the sun, the design team seem to be uses solely for one purpose – constantly updating hardware. Of course, this is no different to most, and Apple tend to only release a new wave of Macbooks every few years, but at the same time, if 2011 doesn’t see at least one new iPhone 4 and iPad, I’ll be extremely surprised. Their reluctance to improve the software running on what they have manufactured and sold is one of the reasons they’re likely to get a lot of flak – Nokia may do it too, but they’re sure not charging over £400 for a phone that can’t even run Flash.

Jobs is a powerful figure, and it makes him damn cocky. He knows that people will eat up everything he says like free cake at a salad buffet, and he knows that even though he’ll never embrace Adobe and start allowing people to enjoy YouTube and games outside the App Store, people will still buy his iProducts. As the FT states, this is the “dark side of Mr. Jobs perfectionism”. Unlike other technology which has brought touch-screen technology into the future, from the laughably retro Palm Pilot (come on, guys, did you really use those things productively?) to Android, Jobs does not play nice with people who wish to explore a more open-source, liberal approach towards his iEmpire.

If you want to develop, you buy their SDK. If you want to publish, you publish the content they allow, to their rules. No adult content. No controversial material whatsoever, in fact. For most, not an issue, but for those with the socio-political depth perception to recognise the ominous stench of heavy censorship, the alarm bells were going off well before Apple booted Wikileaks out of its happy-go-lucky Eden.

“Those who have laboured under him describe him as a stern taskmaster who understands the art of the possible, rather than a long-range visionary. That means pushing relentlessly forward rather than milking old successes – even ones as significant as the iPod,” state Waters and Menn. Although this may explain his attitude to constantly releasing new hardware over software, does it really justify the constant price increases? Given the strange way the iTunes Store works and its hatred for the transference of paid content between devices without significant effort on the part of the user, is he not encouraging the profitable over the possible? We pay 10% of the price we did ten years ago, if not less, for a 1TB hard-drive. But if it was Apple, would it really cost much less over time?

The issue with nominating dominant technological icons like Jobs and Zuckerberg is that we’re constantly rewarding people whose ruthless determination is mistaken for simply being spirited. One has control over the smartphone and mp3 market, having knocked down walls even to gain access to the Beatles back catalogue, and the other holds admin rights over a network 500 million strong. Their achievements can be measured numerically and these reflect well, but does this famous drive that produces all this innovation really reflect what we, as consumers, actually want?

I want an iPhone. There, I’ve said it now, and there’s no taking it back. They’re cool. However, for all its upgrades and shiny new doodads, it’s still missing decent battery life and a low price tag. A price tag I can live with – I own a Macbook Pro. But that Macbook can do twelve hours on medium brightness with a browser and either email or IM running. That’s not too shabby, and the last time I saw life like that in an iProduct was after I dropped my third-generation iPod down a flight of stairs and the battery life suddenly tripled.

These People of the Year, these icons we celebrate and invest in, need to live up to the awards thrown at them by those who just can’t get enough of Angry Birds and Farmville. One advocates censorship and control, the other advocates liberality and control. Which would you rather throw your lot in with? Both? Then hold on, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride once the high of the “i” runs out and you’re left with ten iProducts cluttering up the house and 50% productivity at work due to an addiction to status updates. Person of the Year? I’d give that to those of you who’ve taken with gusto to Android’s open-source movement. Push Apple’s prices down through competition, people.

Well, that’s 2010 at MoreDigital’s blog, and I’ll be ranting and moaning from the 5th of January. Have yourselves a good one.

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Dec 2010

Why can’t businesses cope with DDoS attacks?

Posted in Business tactics, News, Web 2.0 | 0 Comments

Last night, I had almost completed such a monumental task, that it seemed the world held its breath, and one of the most popular websites widened its eyes at my efforts. I was working on one of the most intense tasks that can be completed using a computer, something that truly showcases cunning, daring, intelligence and drive beyond all reasonable doubt.

I had almost finished my Christmas shopping.

However, with half an hour or so to go before I hit the checkout, Amazon died. I tried reloading. Still dead. The reality dawned on me, I realised that when Anonymous stated they didn’t have the numbers to pull down, they’d decided on a “smaller” target: Amazon EU. Of course, within minutes Twitter was ablaze with Christmas shoppers, irate that one of the busiest online shopping days of the year had been interrupted for political reasons.

Now, I became pretty torn. On the one hand, I think the idea of a political hacktivist is something quite incredible. If you’re a company who severed ties with an organisation who could be said to be standing up for openness and freedom of speech (the very bedrocks’ of Western democracy), then they’re coming for you. Fine. But not when it interrupts the Christmas shopping of others, right? Then I noticed a retweet of some poor bloke who’d been stuck thousands of miles from home with no cash due to Visa getting hit hard by the Anonymous chaps.

It makes you think, doesn’t it. Why are businesses so vulnerable to the biggest modern threat to their continued operation and success? DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks are nothing new, but online stores and services are likely to collapse completely whenever they occur. I’m sure Amazon has a phone network, not to mention considerable externally hosted (I’d hope, anyway) customer support, so why was everyone left in the cold?

As it is, they deny that it was a WikiLeaks-motivated hack, but let’s be realistic, here. Amazon are in essence implying their hardware is poor rather than admit they were the victims of a DDoS attack. This is ridiculous, and if anything confirms it was Anonymous, who were tweeting about it being down, but not admitting being the culprits because they were reluctant to lose their accounts again.

As for the thousands, if not millions of customers Amazon was serving that weekend, did none of them think to ring Amazon up? Of course not, because unlike a shop that has both online and physical storefronts, Amazon has no back-up plan, and therein lies the rub. If you were, like me, on the verge of not having things delivered in time (and thankfully I’ve swung it, in the end) and there wasn’t even a phone number you could call to order your goods, you were stuffed.

If you’re a small business that sells goods in an online-only fashion, take careful, careful note. The internet is a fickle thing at best, and although none of you will be hosting WikiLeaks any time soon (though credit to you if you do), be careful how you treat your customers while your site is vulnerable to an attack against which there is no defense whatsoever.

Take care of your customers – update your error pages, offer them customer support numbers and email addresses, and reassure them that while you may be getting pushed over by the big DDoS bully in the playground, their data remains safe and the site will be up as soon as possible. Don’t do what Amazon did – deny the whole thing and never offer the majority of stuck shoppers any kind of updates or support. That way leads spoiled Christmases, and Amazon’s looking like the Grinch a little too much for their liking at the moment as it is.

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Dec 2010

Will we ever see a Wikileaks-type site targeting the marketing sector?

Posted in News, Online PR | 0 Comments

I’ve been saying this for the last day or so, and I’ll take this opportunity to say it again: anyone who’s passionate about the exposure of clandestine government activities (read: myself) must feel like every day is Christmas Day these past two weeks or so. Wikileaks has been an impressive site for years, but this time it’s really hit the jackpot.

You ever wondered why those poor people died during a helicopter attack on foreign soil, two of them Reuters employees? Well, point your fingers at terrorists no longer, the culprit was revealed in a video that was one of seventy-six thousand files leaked to Wikileaks by Bradley Manning, a man I can only refer to as a hero from this point forwards. Why is he a hero? Because he, as many other people have since said, upheld the constitution which maintains he must protect his country. And he did, by exposing the rat-like scoundrels running the show.

It’s hard to compare this level of government exposure to anything else. Watergate was largely focused on Nixon – a two-faced failure of a President, but a single individual nonetheless. This time around, there are a lot of people implicated. The responses, however, have ranged from bizarre to nothing short of hilariously dim-witted. Some government representatives have claimed this will put people’s lives at risk, which is nothing short of ridiculous. But my favourite comes in the form of America’s favourite Crazy Politician, Sarah Palin.

Her Twitter account called Wikileaks founder Julian Assange guilty of treason. As another site recently pointed out, quite rightly, treason was not quite the word. Treason, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means “the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government”.

Julian Assange is Australian, and his servers are based in Sweden. I’ll let that one sink in for a minute.

Arguably, the second definition proposes that treason “the action of betraying someone or something”. But who was he really betraying? No one, really, just exposing a government that for too long has hidden behind vague statistics and a “for the greater good” mentality that’s more dangerous than helpful. Of course, all governments are guilty of this, but as America is the country targeted by Assange, and their identity as the “world’s unasked-for police force” is everlasting, seemingly, it’s nice to see them panic.

But what if this hit the marketing sector?

Imagine the exposure of companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Microsoft, on the same scale. Of course, I’m fairly confident Steve Jobs isn’t the head of a company responsible for a six-figure death toll, but to leak this much confidential information, communication (“cables”, to use the recent governmental jargon for “messages” we’ve had to absorb to follow the Wikileaks stuff in the news) especially, is astonishing. This would wreck most major corporations, and it will be interesting to see how the diplomats representing the USA around the world will recover.

But if we exposed a corporation, would the reaction be different? We knew Coca-Cola released the Dasani water brand (tap water, just less safe – at one time anyway – and no longer as cheap as your water bill), but we all still consume their products – I drank a can of Sprite less than four hours ago. Our reliance on major corporations is becoming more crucial to our continued happiness than our reliance on the government that dictates a lot of our daily freedoms. We assume the government is a corrupt, bloated, power-hungry monster, and we go about our day, most of us, without giving it too much thought. But corrupt companies we do care about.

Now I think about it, I suppose it’s a tad hypocritical of most people to start caring about the corruption and dark side to the United States government, as most people didn’t care as much before Wikileaks hit the big one. The sad fact of the matter is, it took this much information all at once to get most people’s attention, and I’d wager the same would be the case when it came to the marketing sector. Recently, I wrote about the Beatles finally sticking their music on iTunes (I say Beatles, I mean Yoko, McCartney, Mrs. Harrison and Starr), and I noticed that even the BBC was gearing their programming towards the Fab Four.

Does this disturb us? Not one bit, and we’re happy to ignore that little advert for the Beatles on a supposedly sponsorship-free channel. Why? Because it’s easier. Don’t get me wrong, marketing is an essential part of all our businesses, but problems come in the execution. Be brazen, be open, be cocky, but never attempt to distract people from prying too deep into your inner workings. Why? Because soon a Bradley Manning will start as an intern at your company, and within months you’ll be spread across the global news network like a bad stain.

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Jul 2010

R.I.P Raoul Moat Facebook group?

Posted in Blogging, News, Social Media | 1 Comment »

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week, you are sure to have heard about the Raoul Moat vs the police story that has dominated the news.

As one of Britain’s biggest ever manhunts, the story was of course going get a lot of press time. When the situation came to a close on Saturday and Moat turned the gun on himself, what nobody expected was the subsequent public reaction.

What emerged was a Facebook fan page called “RIP Raoul Moat, You Legend”, which sent shock waves through the media, caused disgust from the public and finally being discussed by the PM in Parliament.

David Cameron speaking at the House of Commons on Wednesday said: “It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man.”

Unfortunately Mr Prime Minister, although this may be your opinion and that of the Daily Mail, it is not that of the 36,000 members who joined the group or indeed the opinion of Facebook.

A statement was released by Facebook saying: “We have 26-million people on Facebook in the UK, each of which has their own opinion, and they are entitled to express their views on Facebook as long as their comments do not violate our terms.”

However, according to the Conservative lawmaker Chris Heaton-Harris, it does violate their terms:
“We don’t want to set laws on Facebook at all, but we do want people who are hosting these sites and other pages to have some responsibility,” Heaton-Harris told BBC radio.

“What I would say to Facebook is that within its terms and conditions on this site, that its incitement goes against its terms and conditions.”

The reaction against the Facebook group has been fierce with a number of groups being set up asking for the page to be removed.

Today when searching for the group, it appears that it no longer exists. However there is a R.I.P Raoul Moat! group, which currently has 9,371 people who ‘like’ it.

The group says: R.I.P Raoul Moat! You were a loving father and an all round canny lad and No haters or you get removed from group. There is also a link to a website

What is interesting about the Wall of comments, is that probably more than half of them are against the group. And if you look at the other comments, a lot are idiotic such as “How can a ginger be a leg-end?”, others are from those who are expressing dissatisfaction at the police and the government. But a large number of them are saying that they understand what he did in the last week was wrong, but they feel sorry for him for one reason or another, including that he was let down by society, the mental health system, his family etc.

It’s not just the people leaving comments on the group who feel sympathy for him, in a Guardian blog Michael White admits to feeling ” have a twinge of sympathy for Raoul Moat the other day. Two, actually, though I didn’t post them on Facebook.”

He went on to say: “Clearly Moat was dangerous and had to be captured – one murder and two life-threatening attacks, one of which cost PC David Rathband his sight – but the scale and media-frenzied tone of the police hunt made me uncomfortable.

Then there was that 47-page letter he wrote, the one the newspapers printed at length. No father that he knew of, at odds with his mother, estranged from his kids and the girlfriend he had abused but decided was the one for him, it was a mess.”

The point that Michael White may be making is that it is OK to feel sympathy for Moat, but it is an entirely different matter to talk about it so openly.

This message appeared today from the admin of the group R.I.P Raoul Moat:

As Facebook themselves say, people should be able to express themselves, but realistically how far can this go? Would it be acceptable for a ‘Hitler – You Legend’ page? Clearly the crimes of Moat are not comparable to Hitler, but murder is murder and the glorification of it is surely unacceptable in our society?

Although the page now appears to have disappeared, the issue has divide the country, the story has become a vehicle for a variety of grievances felt by government and police haters and on the flip side a lever by those after tighter Facebook rules.

Where do you think Facebook should draw the line?

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Jul 2010

Outrageous Facebook habits of young women or outrageous sexist reporting by Mashable?

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Yesterday Mashable posted the results of a survey claiming, in short, that women are addicted to Facebook.

The study, released by Oxygen Media and Lightspeed Research, uncovered numerous interesting facts that seemed to have shocked and surprised people. The issue has also been discussed like mad across the web.

What seems to have caused the biggest gasp is the fact that as many as one-third of women aged 18-34 check Facebook the moment they wake up. Yes, even before they go to the bathroom.

‘Blimey’ I can hear you saying, but as a 24-year-old woman this barely makes me raise an eyebrow. In fact, I did the exact same thing this morning!

The survey unearthed some other interesting statistics about women and their use of Facebook:

21% of women aged 18-34 check Facebook in the middle of the night. Tick, I do this when I can’t sleep .

63% use Facebook as a networking tool. Cross, networking is not something I do full stop. But this has got me thinking, maybe I should start using Facebook to build up some useful contacts.

42% think it’s okay to post photos of themselves intoxicated. Erm, what other pictures are there?

79% are fine with kissing in photos. I wish.

58% use Facebook to keep tabs on ‘frenemies’. Tick, well, frenemies or ex-boyfriends.

50% are fine with being Facebook friends with complete strangers. What? Where did this one even come from? Are you mad?

The biggest problem with this Mashable article, or the author’s opinions, is his idea that:

“It’s not just that young women are using Facebook religiously: it’s that they’re very open with what they post and who they accept as friends. Combined, it can lead to a privacy mess.”

I disagree. It’s not a privacy problem, and it only becomes one when your nosey boss decides to have a look. If they don’t want to see what’s on there, they should look at your LinkedIn profile instead. And it’s not like we are at risk from paedophiles, so what is this big need to be so private?

As Anna Leach amusingly puts it on her post for ShinyShiny:

“No one asked your boss to go looking at your Facebook profile anyway, & what the hell did he expect to find? photographs of you poring over spreadsheets and motivational business books with your friends in your spare time?”

Of course people do have the option of making part or all of their profile private, but why should they have to? As much as people, particularly the older generation, don’t like to admit, most of us don’t care about privacy. We like people being able to find us, or to share photos of friends and being able to look at people from school and vice versa. So why should they care?

another girl who will become an addict

another girl headed to addiction

What has been most surprising about the Mashable post is that it focusses entirely on the survey results about women. We are told that ‘the study sampled the habits of 1,605 adults using social media between May and June of this year in an attempt to break down their social media habits.’ That’s ‘adults’, so it’s not just women.

What about the statistics on men? The results show that 20% of men use Facebook as a way to ‘hook up’ with people (only 6% of women do this). 24% of men, compared to 9% of women, have broken up with someone via Facebook, and 65% of men are OK with dating people they’ve met online.

Don’t men put pictures of themselves drunk online? Oh they do, it’s just that society (or this hack writing for mashable) still seems to think it is unacceptable to see women drunk. Surely if we continue to publish articles like this which focus on women, this backward attitude will continue?

What this survey really shows is that the things women do online, however ‘shocking’ people believe them to be, only affect themselves. They are not hurting anyone with their actions. However many of the things men do on Facebook can hurt others. They use Facebook to find sex and as a quick get-out from a relationship. Isn’t this more shocking?

What do you think, is there something inherently sexist in the reporting of this survey or are you truly shocked about the antics of the young women of today? Do you even think it is a problem to be ‘addicted’ to Facebook? Let me know what you think.

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Jun 2010

Email is dead

Posted in News, Social Media | 0 Comments

Is email really destined for deleted folder/recycle bin?

Email is on its way out, that is according to Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook. She made this controversial statement to what must been a flabbergasted audience at Nielsen’s Consumer 360 conference, but what truth is there in the statement?

Taking tips from teenagers

According to Sandberg: “If you want to know what people like us will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today”. She says that only 11% of teens email daily and so in the near future no one will use it at all. She believes that people are turning to SMS, Twitter and other social networks, mainly hers, to communicate.

“E-mail–I can’t imagine life without it–is probably going away,” she said.

But can this really be the case or is she over hyping her own product? It is obvious that teenagers don’t use email. Why would they if all their friends are on Facebook and they can communicate quickly and easily with pictures, videos or whatever they want really.

Email is open to all

For a business however, it is rather different. The difference between email and social networks is that email is open to everyone, you can send an email from one account to a completely different one, ie from a Hotmail account to a self-hosted email. Whereas you need to be a member of Facebook or Twitter to communicate with other people on them.

Let’s say email suddenly disappeared tomorrow, it would have to be replaced with an open, business-focussed social networking site, which any business could join to gain access to each other. I suppose something like Linkedin, but on a much bigger scale. I can’t really see that happening any time soon.

The advantages of networks

Of course, social networks are ideal for certain businesses and perhaps a better way to communicate than email is. With email you actually have to know someone’s email address, unlike with Facebook. Although you do have to be a member of the network, but there are huge numbers of users once you have signed up. As Sandberg said in her presentation, Facebook has 400 million members, 100 million of which are daily mobile users, she puts this in perspective for us by saying:

“ On any given day, you can reach twice as many people in the U.S. as watch American Idol–and that only makes up 30% of our global audience.”

Sheryl Sandberg

So for a business social networks might offer communicate opportunities. Sandberg cited a study that people who receive product recommendations from their friends are 400% more likely to buy it. What Facebook has is a ‘like’ feature. If you like something you click that and let all your friends know. The same study reiterated this point that friend-recommended products have 68% better product recognition and 200% greater recollection of brand messaging.

What future for email

But for more complicated issues within the workplace, like contracts, bills and in depth discussions, Facebook just won’t cut it. It also comes down to the appropriateness of the situation, are you really going to discuss someone’s will with them over a social network?

It is hard for us now to imagine now a life without email, it is such a big part of our lives. Even as a teenager I used email, but then again Facebook wasn’t around then. And now? I think Facebook is my biggest port for communication, I do email a few friends but only because I have their address. So maybe Sandberg has a point?

And remember how years ago everyone wore watches, it was as natural as putting on underwear. Look around your office now, how many people are wearing watches? I can’t see one person , we all just use our computer or mobiles, so things do change.

Facebook is predicting the death of email by using a demographic of non-users, is this possible? You never know, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Here is a clip of Sandberg at the conference:

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Jun 2010

The Aggravations of Aggregate Sites

Posted in Blogging, Business tactics, Content creation, News, Online PR, Social Media | 5 Comments »

Have you ever submitted your well-written, thoroughly-researched article through to an aggregate site and watched it flounder as endless top-tens and ridiculous controversy soars to the top of people’s reading lists? I can identify with you if you’re one of the many suffering from what I’d like to call “aggregate aggravation syndrome.” It’s a tough disorder to crack, but with the right content and the right attitude to summarising and pitching your content to a global, news-hungry audience, this can all change easily enough.

Realistically, it’s just a case of making sure your article looks more interesting than all the others, and I’m sure we’d all love to think it was as simple as that. Unfortunately, it’s not. Your article remains a needle in a haystack, and it’s your job to make sure it reaches the eyes and ears of every single industry-related party and all the genre-disinterested browsers it can. It’s a tough gig but there are possibilities you may have overlooked, and of course, contraversial strategies you may be using that are, much to your shock, having the opposite effect.

Bigger than Elvis

So, say you’ve written a long, sprawling article on SEO, and it encompasses research, interviews, and a level of writing rarely seen since The Guardian was released that morning. You’re happy with the work, MS Word is letting it go without so much as a single squiggly red or green line, and you’re so into your own work that sharing it with the world seems like the only viable option. So where to go from here? Why, to an aggregate site, of course!

Let me explain this logic with a sobering fact. If you’re blogging, right now, on a account, there are over 300’000 new posts today alone. That’s somewhere in the region of thirty new books full of articles, and you know at least one of them is likely to be similar to yours over the course of the week. Three hundred thousand. Let that sink in for a moment. What chance does yours have, even with tags and that awesome graph you made in Excel? Not many. In fact, one of my highest-traffic articles of all time on my personal blog was a random rant about a LEGO version of a Harry Potter videogame. A year or more later, and it’s ranked thousands of hits, and it was never submitted.

The point I’m making is that the internet is a seriously fickle thing. Take a look at the front page of Digg and tell me what you see. Today, for example, there are a range of articles, but most of them focus on three key elements of global-appeal news: danger, drama and pictures. If we drift into the technology section, as this is where you’re far more likely to turn up (or browse – all news bar the exclusive is, to some degree, regurgitation), then we begin to see a different pattern: humour, heated debate, and leaked intel on new tech. The reason the pattens change is because as news and articles become more specialist, more niche, readers are absorbing writing whose mindset, tone and texture more closely reflect their target audience.

I’d just like to say a few words

Every time you write a new article, think of how you’d pitch it as a freelance piece. I’m serious. I know no one wants to voluntarily pitch freelance pieces ever again if they can avoid it, as it’s something of a humiliating, degrading, grinding process that kills the soul and maims the ego. But it’s also a brilliant acid test – if you could pitch your article to me in ten words, using as much or as little jargon as possible, I can tell you whether or not it’ll work. Let’s take a look at a few high-ranking examples of more opinion-based pieces.

Now, to start with, I found an article that I think is relevant to anyone who works on websites that use Adobe’s wonder-project, Flash. The title is “Is Flash Dead? The Future of Adobe’s Plug-In.” Now, this is a fairly controversial thing to say, but what’s clever is the question mark placed after the opening statement itself. This is key – if you’re debating something about social media, and you had the choice between “Twitter is Pointless” and “Is Twitter Pointless?”, choose the second option. The reason for this is you’re posing as a neutral party, even if this isn’t the case. The decision as to whether or not to invest ten minutes reading an article of considerable depth and debate, and then responding in the comments thread, is often one made in the opening few moments of reading an article’s title and subtitle. By phrasing the controversial statement as a question, it invites debate without inviting wrath or apathy and zero click-throughs from offended parties who see you as a prejudiced commentator.

The second example I’d like to give as a great example of effective aggregate-site-management is “Fortune 100 Companies Leveraging Social Media (Infographic)“. Now, this may seem a tad deep and a little too serious, but this is currently the top Digg article on a search for “social media”. Social media’s a relaxed sport, at best, and not something you can cover without being a little relaxed. This is also a graph site, which suits that industry perfectly – anyone using FaceBook and Twitter is going to want new-age ways of communicating information, and nothing does this better than indicating to them that all they’re in for is a slick diagram rather than 1000 words of prosaic musing on the subject.

It also has stick figures.

Seriously, though, it’s a great way of dragging people in. Entertain them. Tempt them. Make them curious or make them mad, and let them click through to shower you with praise or hatred. One of the most irritating sites in the universe, in my games journalism days, was also one of the most successful, because it kept encouraging heated, angry debate between Sony loyalists and Microsoft fan-soldiers. With social media, why not talk about the advantages of Twitter over Facebook, or why Bebo’s a lost, pointless art? Tempt them in with your tag-line the same way you would if you were designing a film poster, and watch your Diggs soar.

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