My friend Richard MacManus commemorated the 14th anniversary of ReadWrite, an online publication he founded as a blog (then called ReadWriteWeb) in 2003, by examining blogging and how the open web has suffered with the rise of Facebook and others.
It’s worth a read, and earlier tonight I fed in the following comment.
I remember those days well, although my progress was probably the opposite of yours, and, in my circles, blogging began very selfishly. Lucire began as a publication, laid out the old-school way with HTML, and one of the first sites in the fashion sector to add a blog was a very crappy one where it was about an ill-informed and somewhat amoral editorâs point of view. For years I refused to blog, preferring to continue publishing an online magazine.
Come 2002, and we at the Medinge Group [as it then was; we’ve since dropped the definite article] were planning a book called Beyond Branding. One of the thoughts was that we needed one of these newfangled blogs to promote the book, and to add to it for our readers. I was one (the only?) dissenter at the June 2003 meeting, saying that, as far as my contacts were concerned, blogging was for tossers. (Obviously, I didnât know you back in those days, and didnât frequent ReadWriteWeb.) [Hugh MacLeod might agree with me though.] By August 2003 it had been set up, and I designed the template for it to match the rest of the bookâs artwork. How wrong I was in June. The blog began (and finished, in 2006) with posts in the altruistic, passionate spirit of RWW, and before long (I think it was September 2003), I joined my friends and colleagues.
An excerpt from the Beyond Branding Blog index page.
In 2006, I went off and did my own blog, and even though there were hundreds of thousands (millions?) of blogs by now, decent bloggers were still few. I say this because within the first few weeks, a major German newspaper was already quoting my blog, and I got my first al-Jazeera English gig as a result of my blogging a few years later. It was the province of the passionate writer, and the good ones still got noticed.
I still have faith in the blogosphere simply because social media, as you say, have different motives and shared links are fleeting. Want to find a decent post you made on Facebook five years ago? Good luck. Social media might be good for instant gratificationâyour friends will like stuff you writeâbut so what? Where are the analysis and the passion? I agree with everything you say here, Richard: the current media arenât the same, and thereâs still a place for long-form blogging. The fact I am commenting (after two others) shows there is. Itâs a better place to exchange thoughts, and at least here weâre spared Facebook pushing malware on to people (no, not phishing: Facebook itself).
Eleven years on, and Iâm still blogging at my own space. I even manage a collective blogging site for a friend, called Blogcozy. My Tumblr began in 2007 and itâs still going. We should be going away from the big sites, because thereâs one more danger that I should point out.
Google, Facebook et al are the establishment now, and, as such, they prop up others in the establishment. Google News was once meritorious, now it favours big media names ahead of independents. This dangerously drowns out those independent voices, and credible writers and viewpoints can get lost. The only exception I can think of is The Intercept, which gets noticed on a wide scale.
Take this argument further and is there still the same encouragement for innovators to give it a go, as we did in the early 2000s, when we realize that our work might never be seen, or if it is to be seen, we need deep pockets to get it seen?
Maybe we need to encourage people to go away from these walled gardens, to find ways to promote the passionate voices again. Maybe a future search engineâor a current one that sees the lightâcould have a search specifically for these so weâre not reliant on the same old voices and the same old sites. And Iâm sure there are other ways besides. For I see little point in posting on places that lack âcharismaâ, as you put it. They just donât excite me as much as discovering a blog I really like, and sticking with it. With Facebookâs personal sharing down 25 and 29 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is a shift away from uninspiring, privacy-destroying places. Hopefully we can catch them at more compelling and interesting blogs and make them feel at home.
That’s a nice conclusion. Since my previous blog post, Dr Libby Weaver’s people got back to me within 24 hours. Although no notes from her seminar were available, we decided that I should get a Dr Libby book, which duly arrived. Here âtis:
Goes to show they were on the ball when the mistake was picked up, a credit was given to me for the photo, and they were prepared to remedy things by posting a book to me. We turned a negative into a positive: a winâwin all round. Sometimes all it takes are two parties prepared to be reasonable and find something mutually agreeable. Certain world leaders would be advised to emulate that.
If you’d like a closer inspection, here’s my photo cropped roughly where hers is.
The clouds are the giveaway, and trust me, no one was standing in exactly the same position I was when I took the original.
I have called Dr Weaver out on Twitter and in a message via her website, with a proposal: how about giving me a set of the notes from the seminar my photo helped her sell, and we’d call this a winâwin? Attendees paid NZ$40 to attend her do, and I reckon NZ$40 is a fair price for a photo licence. I hope she’ll biteâseems an amicable way to get round this.
Update: Dr Weaver’s team were really punctual at getting back to me. The following morning, I received a reply from Felicity on her staff, who added my credit on the photograph caption. There were no notes from her seminar, howeverânote-taking is the attendee’s choice. However, they were happy to send me a book, and I notice this morning (Wednesday, two days after) they have asked for my address. Well done to their team on a swift response, and look out for the book appearing on my Instagram when it arrives. If it’s the sort of thing our readers like, we might even put it on Lucire.
The lesson: both sides wanted to turn something negative into something positiveâwins all round.
A week ago, Avon found an inventive way to get its brand noticed in peak-hour traffic.
I could make this about how people don’t know how to drive these days, or about the media fascination with Asian drivers when the reality does not bear this out, but let’s make it all about Avonâsince they are the ones who have actually inspired a full blog post today. To think, it could have just been on my Instagram and Tumblr and I would have let it go, since the following video is over a week old.
To be fair, as well as posting on my own platforms, I thought it would only be fair to alert Avon about it on its Facebook. In this age of transparency, it’s not good to talk behind someone’s back. I would have used the website advertised on the side of this Mazda (avon.co.nz), but the below is all I get. (You can try it yourself here.) I told Avon about this, too. They need to know one of their people is a dangerous, inconsiderate, and selfish driver who is ignorant of basic New Zealand road rules, namely how a give-way sign works and how to change lanes. And if I were in their shoes, I’d want to know that the URL emblazoned in large letters on the side of my fleet of cars is wrong.
It was ignored for a while, now my post is deleted.
Immediately I had these five thoughts.
1. Its brand isn’t that great. When you’re starting from a poor position, the best thing to do is try to work harder. As a network marketer, Avon can’t afford to have an office that doesn’t deal with complaints. I might even be a customer. In any case, I’m part of the audienceâand these days, we can affect a brand as much as the official channels. For instance, this post.
2. In the 2000s and 2010s, social media are seen as channels through which we can communicate with organizations. Going against this affects your brand. (There’s a great piece in the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing, vol. 3, no. 1 that I penned. Avon would do well to read this and integrate social media marketing into its operations.)
3. If you’re an Avon rep and you know that the AustraliaâNew Zealand operation ignores people, then what support do you think you can count on? My post will have been seen by many people, and a follow-up one todayâinforming them it’s poor form to delete commentsâwill be seen by more. It discourages more than customersâits distributors surely will think twice. (I’m also looking at you, Kaspersky. Another firm to avoid.)
4. Advertising your website in large letters and have it not work is a major no-noâit contributes to the image I (and no doubt others) have on Avon as, well, a bit amateur.
5. This is a US firm. If you’re an exporter, isn’t now a really good time to show that you care about your overseas operations? Nation brands impact on corporate ones. Now I’m beginning to wonder if Avon might not be that interested in overseas sales any more. Their new president, with his stated views on free trade, has said in his inauguration speech that they need to ‘buy American’ and ‘hire American.’ Let’s delete stuff from foreigners!
The question I have now is: wouldn’t it have been easier to apologize for its representative’s inability to drive safely, and thank me for telling them their website is dead so they can get it fixed? The video contains the registration number, so Avon could have had a word to their rep.
This is all Marketing 101, yet Avon seems to have failed to grasp the basics. I guess the folks who flunked marketing at university found jobs after all.
Above: Brave Bison’s predecessor, Rightster, left much to be desired in how it dealt with publishers, while investment commentators had concerns, too.
Twenty-sixteen had some strange developments on the publishing front.
First, we noticed Alexa rankings for a lot of sites changed. Facebook itself went from second to third, where it has stayed. Our own sites dropped as well, across the board, even though our own stats showed that traffic was pretty much where it was. In Autocadeâs case, it was rising quickly.
We checked, and Alexa had announced that it had increased its panel again in 2016. There was an announcement about this in 2014, but things improved even more greatly during the last Gregorian calendar year, specifically in April. (April 2016, it seems, was a huge month of change: read on.) This means Alexa began sampling more people to get a more accurate picture. Given that Facebook fell as well as us, then we drew the conclusion that the new panel must include audiences in China and other non-Anglophone places. It makes sense: Alexa is a global service and should take global data points. Never mind that weâve suffered as a result, we actually agree with this approach. And weâre taking steps in 2017 to look at capturing extra traffic with our content.
Alexa, when we approached them, said it could not comment about the origins of the panellists. Again, fair enough. Weâve made an educated guess and will work accordingly.
Secondly, there were two ad networks whose advertising disappeared off our sites. The first, Gorilla Nation, started dropping off long before 2016. In 2015, we asked why and were asked to fill out some form relating to Google ads. Anyone whoâs followed this blog will know why that was unpalatable to usâand we want to make sure our readers donât fall victim to Googleâs snooping, either. Iâm not saying that Google ads donât appear at allâitâs the largest advertising network in the world, and its tentacles are everywhereâbut if I can avoid opening our properties up to Google willingly, then Iâll do so.
Itâs a shame because weâve worked exceedingly well with Gorilla Nation and found them very professional.
We have, sadly, entered an era whereâas found by my friend and colleague Bill Shepherdâonline advertising is controlled by a duopoly. In The New York Times, April 18, 2016 (italics added): âAdvertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.â I donât think this is fair, as theyâre not the ones generating the content. Google has also managed to game services like Adblock Plus: theyâve paid for their ads not to be blocked. (Better has more information on why certain ad blockers are ineffective.) Itâs not difficult to see why native advertising has increased, and this is generally more favourable to the publisher. In 2017, itâs time to build up the advertising side again: two years ago we already saw quarters where online overtook print in terms of ad revenue.
Burst Media’s ads also disappeared, and we had been working with them since 1998. Now called Rhythm One, they responded, âWe recently migrated to a new platform and your account was flagged by an automated process as part of that. All that being saidâwe can absolutely get you live again.â That was April. I added one of their team to Skype, as requested, but we never connectedâthe helpful staff member wasnât around when I called in. Again, a bit of a shame. As I wrote this blog post, I sent another message just to see if we could deal with the matter via email rather than real-time on Skype.
At least this wasnât a unilateral cessation of a business arrangement, which Rightster sprung on us without notice in April. Rightster’s Christos Constantinou wrote, âIt is with regret that we inform you that from yesterday we ceased providing video content services to your account.â This wasnât the first change Rightster sprung on usâits code had changed in the past, leaving big gaps in our online layoutsâand soon after, everyone there clammed up, despite an initial email from another Rightster staffer that feigned surprise at what had happened. Mr Constantinou never picked up phone calls made since that point, and we couldnât get an answer out of them. No breaches of their terms and conditions were ever made by us.
We were only interested in a small handful of their video sources anyway, all of whom exist on other platforms, so one would have thought that it was to Rightsterâs advantage to continue working with a well respected brand (Lucire). A bit of digging discovered that the firm was not in good shape: a pre-tax loss in the first half of 2015 of ÂŁ11Â·5 million, with shares trading in October of that year at 10Â·50p per share, down from its float price of 60p. That year, it was forecast by Share Prophets that things would only get worse for the firm, and they were proved right within months. Not long after ceasing to work with us (and presumably others), Rightster became Brave Bison Group, restructured, and became a âsocial video broadcasterâ, but it was still burning cash (to the tune of ÂŁ1Â·3 million, according to the same website in July 2016).
Gorilla Nation and Burstâs slots have largely been replaced by other networks as well as ads secured in-house, while Rightster effectively did us a favour, though its opaqueness didnât help. In fact, when they didnât answer questions, it was only natural to surf online to investigate what was going on. Initially, there was some negative stuff about Burst, though my concerns were put to rest when they emailed me back. With Rightster, there was no such solace: finding all the news about the firm being a lemon confirmed to me that we were actually very lucky to have them farewell us.
We revived an old player that we used, through Springboard, itself linked to Gorilla Nation, so weâre still serving advertising from them, just in a different form. Video content has not vanished from the Lucire sites, for those who are interested in it.
How a company behaves can be linked to how well it ultimately performs, and what itâs worth. Given our treatment by Rightster, it wasnât that surprising to learn that something was rotten in Denmark (or London). Maybe that first staff member was genuinely surprised, with employees not being told about their company running out of money. And unless things have truly changed within, it could well continue to function dysfunctionally, which will give those AIM columnists more ammunition.
Iâve had a phone call and a lot of comments on this in the last couple of days: my Dad, who is 81 with early-stage Alzheimerâs, called the US presidential election for Donald Trump months ago. I posted it on my social networks the day he made his definitive call, and friends remembered it. Thank you for all your compliments.
Go back to 2015, he had called the Republican primary for Trump.
I wasnât as confident but I had Tweeted the week before the election that polls were understating Trumpâs actual support by at least 6 per cent.
In 2008, when everyone had dismissed Gov. Sarah Palin, he said that she wasnât going to go away, and that sheâd command an even greater influence in the first Obama term. While he predicted an Obama win, again quite early on, he wasnât optimistic and didnât think there would be great change in the US. You may or may not agree with that.
Going right back to the 1980s, when I was at college, and before China showed any signs of opening up, he made the call about its economic rise, and that I would be assured, by the time I was in my 30s and 40s, that many would want to deal with the country. It would be, I remember him telling me, a career advantage to being Chineseâin contrast to the racism we encountered far more frequently back then.
During the height of the Muldoon era, Dad, who counted himself as part of Robâs Mob, made the call that Sir Robert Muldoon would not be able to hold on to his power or reputation in his old age. When a documentary aired condemning Sir Robert after his death, so that he wouldnât be around to file a defamation suit, he said, âI told you so.â
Even in the elections I contested (and he encouraged me to run), while he refused to be drawn on what he thought my chances were, he was unequivocally clear that my rival, John Morrison, wouldnât win, in 2013. Dad certainly did better than some so-called political experts I can name.
And if you want to get really spooky, during the Martin Bashir interview of Princess Diana, he said that by the time she was 37, sheâd have a âreally bad yearâ. He didnât say sheâd die.
No, heâs not a Mystic Meg of any sort. Heâs a guy whoâs been around for a while and kept his eyes open.
If you want to know his secret, I can tell you that his political projections are based in part around reading. Not mainstream media, but websites that heâs discovered over the years himself. Heâs a keen web surfer and loves his news. He doesnât put that much stock in political âexpertsâ, and after having run myself, I can fully understand why.
Heâd even take in the viewpoints on Russia Today, which gives you an idea of how varied his reading was. Just today I caught him watching an address from Edward Snowden.
With Palin, it was probably the sudden rise of her fan sites set up by US conservatives. He hadnât seen such a rapid rise of sites that soon galvanized their support around the former Alaskan governor before. While mainstream media dismissed her and gave the impression that post-2008, she wouldnât matter, Dad had entirely the opposite reading. Politically centrist, and, like me, a swing voter, he kept following the sites out of interest, and saw how they morphed into the Tea Party movement. He also knew they wouldnât go away any time soon, and observed that there was a Palin effect, as the likes of Ted Cruz soon found out when contesting their Senate seats.
And, despite my own criticisms of this practice, Dad would read the comments. Sometimes he would wade through hundreds of them, to get a sense of what people were thinking.
It was his reading of media from left and right during the latest US presidential election that saw him made his calls very assertively.
Rather than dismiss certain conservatives as ill-educated, as some media might, Dad treated them as human beings. He knew they would galvanize and get behind Trump.
When youâve lived through a world war (including an occupation) and then a civil war, and saw your family start from the bottom again after 1949, you get to be good at knowing what people go through.
Heâs always been politically switched on, and had a keen interest in history and economics, the latter of which he studied at a tertiary level. But heâd always explain to me that it came down to people and their behaviour, and never rational decision-making. I might have only lived just over half his lifetime so far, but I find little fault in that statement. All new movements have plenty of power, till they become the establishment.
His thoughts on China in the 1980s could well have stemmed from that: I never asked him, and aphasia means heâd now find difficulty telling me anyway.
Sadly for the US, he finds appeal in the theory that the nation will break up, though he hasnât quite yet made the call in the same way he made the one for the Trump presidency. But as with his Trump prediction, Iâm publishing this one online.
Heâs never stated it as succinctly but he has, in passing in the 1980s and 1990s, said that the British Empire wouldnât last much longer beyond our current monarchâs reign.
You never know, we might be coming back to this post in a few yearsâ time. These are gloomy scenarios but Iâd rather put Dadâs ideas out there now, as I did with the Trump presidency, rather than tell you ex post facto how clever he was. The lesson: treat people as people, and itâs amazing how much that will reveal.
A photo posted by CARS IN NEW ZEALAND (NZ) (@kiwi_cars) on
It’s an old point, but the prevalence of cellphone cameras means it’s going to be increasingly hard to deny where you were on any given day. In this case, Kiwi_cars asked for permission to feature my number plate, as they usually blank it out. I gave my blessing, since my own rule is: if you can spot something publicly, you don’t need to censor. If you photograph something where the subject expects a level of privacy (e.g. through their home windows, even if you can see them from a public vantage-point; or when something is on private land), then you do.
And don’t we often buy a car for it to be admired? Since prewar days we’ve been conditioned into thinking how a car is not a durable good, but a fashion item that expresses who we are. It would seem hypocritical if someone does admire yours and you don’t permit it. If we weren’t interested in that, we’d all be driving Nissan Tiidas in a monochrome shade. And even some of those Tiida owners are very, very proud of their motors.
An edited version of this post originally appeared at Blogcozy.
The trouble with the graphic is that the only thing it got right was that two women were killed. Sweden wasnât having a referendum on whether to leave the EU, it was about whether it should adopt the euro. The closest British parallel would have been when then-PM John Major negotiated the Maastricht opt-out in 1991. It also claimed that the polls were for leaving; notwithstanding that that wasnât what the Swedes were voting for, the polls for and against adopting the euro were roughly neck in neck, though the wisdom was that the pro-euro camp would win. By the weekend, the result was that Sweden would keep the krona.
When I argued with some pro-Brexiters about this, they, like most pecksniffians, demanded I check my facts. I didnât have to: I have a memory that goes back further than one month, and unlike them, I know what went on in their own backyard because, in 2003, I kept my eyes open.
I should point out that I am not summarizing all Brexiters as dimwitted Britons who wanted Johnny Foreigner to go home. I count among my closest friends someone who voted leave, and for very substantial, well thought-out reasons. He felt that the European Union had become an unwieldy bureaucracy which benefited Britain little, and while I felt the benefits outweighed the detriments, I respect his opinion and his vote. At least it was considered, and at least it wasnât one that was based on the ramblings and rants of Farage, Johnson, Gove et al.
Appealing to nationalism, as the likes of Farage did, is a cheap trick in politics: it stirs a wave of nostalgia, and people might love chanting at how great their nation is, but it doesnât address the core issues that put them into the poo to begin with. Of course the UK has a great deal to be proud of; but like many countries (including ours) the globalist technocratic agenda are what have made things untenable for a growing part of the population. Itâs why real wages havenât risen yet certain corporations profit aplenty; itâs why we work more hours today than we ever did, despite futurists of a generation ago predicting all this leisure time that we would all have thanks to automation.
But is retreat the right thing to do? The remain camp believes that it wasnât: to influence Europe you must be in Europe. It wasnât that long ago that not being in Europe was fatal to British exportsâthe failure of the British motor industry, for instance, was in part due to its late recognition that the UK needed to be part of the EEC or, at least, produce vehicles there. Globalizationâs positives should be the free movement of people and of capital; and economic union to permit that greater freedom seems a sensible thing to pursue, not to run away from. The trick is how to make this work for everyday people, the growing number who are impacted by globalist forces; once there were few, now few escape them. It is, then, the role of government to either protect those who are most vulnerable, to champion (either through private enterprise or on its own accord) real innovation and industry that can create jobs, and to cut through the BS where both public and private enterprise simply reinvent the wheel from time to time, putting lipstick on the bulldog.
I am ambivalent about it because Iâve seen our own governments, National and Labour, be particularly weak when it comes to dealing with globalization, succumbing to foreign takeovers and allowing the little guy to be run over. The deals havenât been good for New Zealand in many respects, a small country that believes in its place in the first world but which can be deluded about this very fact. Our economy just isnât that solid to take it on the chin. Look at our banks, mostly foreign-owned and more unreliable than ever: remember how 40 years ago cheques would take 24 hours to clear? Yet now our computerized systems take three to five working days? Insiders tell me this is the consequence of less reliable Australian systems being foisted upon us; so much so that we have a wire transfer that has been taking weeks, and no one knows where the money has gone. Just how do you misplace tens of thousands of dollars? Why do we assume Australian bankers are smart enough to answer? And those who question such agenda donât get much truck in a media landscape also dominated by foreigners: Iâm looking at one newspaper publishing group at the least. The ways of the big countries are not always the bestâyet somehow the powers-that-be in this country have been hoodwinked by this consistently since 1984. I can’t understand it, and my initial reaction when there is such a lack of logic is to follow the money.
Brexit has made me refine my thinking: I might not like a system where New Zealandâs the little player that doesnât benefit from a level playing field, but at the same time I believe we need to find ways to influence the globalist game for the better. We love looking at Scandinavian countries because of their comparable size. They may have higher taxes but at the same time they donât seem to balk at innovation for the greater good; they believe in the freedom of movement of capital and of people, and, despite their general humility, they actually arenât afraid of creating global companies that take on the rest of the world. Look at Vattenfall or Statoil. We might not like Statoil for what it wants to do to our own environment, but we do have to ask what our equivalent is. We lost our lead in hybrid cars, which we held for most of the 1980s, but itâs an example of what we can do when government and private enterprise cooperate on something that is future-oriented. Whatâs the next big thing? Is it renewable energy tech that we can export? There are companies here already doing frictionless exports, and more need to be encouraged. Government shouldnât try to create groups of them or force mergers upon them; that can be left to the market. But there needs to be a vision or a direction that we take to create a new brand for our country where people naturally think: innovation for the greater good = New Zealand. And, maybe, to go with that, a fairer version of globalization can emerge, certainly one that is not coloured by the next quarterly result demanded by Wall Street.
Yes, there is some national fervour involved here, too, but applied correctly, it wonât be false flag-waving thatâs dependent on the past. Iâm all for being proud of your country when the victories are real and measurableâlike on the sporting field. There itâs real, and itâs often about the next game or the next season: itâs future-oriented, too. With Brexit, I canât see the vision; and the most visible foreigner among this, the Turkish-American politician, Boris Johnson, hasnât communicated one that I can discern.
And maybe this confusion is the opportunity we need for New Zealand.
After the UK abandoned the Commonwealth markets in favour of one right next door, our country found new export markets, so much so that the UK accounts for 3 per cent today. Even in 1973, when it was 40 per cent, it had been falling consistently for half a decade, if I recall correctly, and the notion that Britain would reach back out toward the Empah for trade is fanciful at best.
Being someone who has enjoyed looking at world history play out through maps, ever since I discovered a book on the subject as a third former at Rongotai College, it hasnât escaped my thoughts that this is a further retreat for the UK in terms of its global influence.
So whoâs on the rise? It might be us. The centre of the global economy has been shifting eastward in recent times and weâre well placed to take advantage of it. Weâre part of the Anglosphere so we bridge the past, where it was the dominant global culture, with those trading partners who might be on the horizon. But it has to be real. Weâre nimble enough, and I canât see why weâve been so fascinated with apeing the US and the UK for so long. Once again we need to set our own direction: we have a culture thatâs ready for it with a greater sense of identity than weâve ever had. I just wonder if we have a government, local or national, courageous enough to embark on this.
I noticed this on April 28 and Tweeted about it, tagging the New Zealand Labour Party at the time. It still hasn’t been fixed as of today. That’s supposedly Commercial Type’s Stag Bold Italic in the headline, but someone has slanted the italic. Is this a signal that Labour leans to the right more than it’s letting on? Did someone say 1984?
Still, Stag is a far more inspired, and typographically appropriate, choice than the Futura used by our present government’s political party, after years of Gill Sans. Interestingly, I seem to recall the Labour of Bill Rowling having Futura Italic in its logotype. If only modern-day Labour could get its italic displaying correctly.
Good typography wins votes. I should know.