Posts tagged ‘2000s’

There’s still a place for blogging—in fact, it might be needed more than ever


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 editor’s 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 didn’t know you back in those days, and didn’t 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 book’s 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 gratification—your friends will like stuff you write—but so what? Where are the analysis and the passion? I agree with everything you say here, Richard: the current media aren’t the same, and there’s still a place for long-form blogging. The fact I am commenting (after two others) shows there is. It’s a better place to exchange thoughts, and at least here we’re spared Facebook pushing malware on to people (no, not phishing: Facebook itself).
   Eleven years on, and I’m still blogging at my own space. I even manage a collective blogging site for a friend, called Blogcozy. My Tumblr began in 2007 and it’s still going. We should be going away from the big sites, because there’s 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 engine—or a current one that sees the light—could have a search specifically for these so we’re not reliant on the same old voices and the same old sites. And I’m sure there are other ways besides. For I see little point in posting on places that lack ‘charisma’, as you put it. They just don’t excite me as much as discovering a blog I really like, and sticking with it. With Facebook’s 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.

   I have also, belatedly, added Richard’s personal blog to the blogroll on this page.

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Posted in business, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | 3 Comments »

The big difference with the internet of the ’90s: it served the many, not the few


Above: Facebook kept deleting Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph each time it was posted, even when Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten did so, preventing its editor-in-chief from responding.

There’s a significant difference between the internet of the 1990s and that of today. As Facebook comes under fire for deleting the “napalm girl” photograph from the Vietnam War shared by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland, then by prime minister Erna Solberg and Aftenposten newspaper, it has highlighted to me how the big Silicon Valley players have become exclusionary. In this latest case, it is about how one firm determines what is acceptable and unacceptable without regard to cultural significance or free speech; it even punished people who dared criticize it, and has failed to apologize. Earlier this year, in one of my numerous battles with Facebook, I noted how a major German company falsely claimed videos that did not belong to them, yet there was no penalty. An individual or a small firm would not have been so lucky: when we file copyright claims, we do so ‘under penalty of perjury’ on the form.
   Google, never far from my critical eye, is the same. I’ve watched Google News, for instance, become exclusionary, too, or, rather, a service that prefers big players rather than the independents. When deciding to send traffic for a particular news item, Google News now ranks big media outlets more highly, and to heck with journalistic quality or any regard on who broke the story first. It’s damaging to the independent voice, as Google concentrates power in favour of larger firms today, and it’s rather disturbing when you consider the implications.
   Mainstream media can be homogeneous, and, in some cases, damaging, when bias and prejudice get in to the system. When it comes to politics, this can be detrimental to democracy itself. And why should a search engine prefer a larger name anyway? Many newsrooms have been stripped of resources, ever more reliant on press releases. Many now engage in click-bait. Some have agenda driven by big business and their technocratic view of the world, especially those that have their corporate headquarters outside the country in which they operate. Those who desire to wake people up from their slumber get short shrift. Google is aiding this world, because since it became publicly listed, it has had to adopt its trappings, and one might argue that it is in direct conflict with its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra (one which never held much sway with me).
   This is the world which Google and Facebook, and no doubt others, wish to serve up to users. They may well argue that they’re only delivering what people want: if a lot of people get their news from the Daily Mail or The Huffington Post, then that’s what they’ll show in their results. There’s little freshness online as a result, which is why people aren’t as inclined to share in 2016 as they were in 2010.
   Yet it was not always this way. The hope in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that Google et al would be tools in distributing power equally among all netizens. Started an independent online publication? If the quality is there, if you’re the first to break a story, then Google News will lavish attention upon you. If you have specialized news outside what mainstream media deliver, then you’ll pop up regularly in the search results’ pages. The blogosphere rose because of this, with people seeking opinions and research outside of what the mainstream could deliver. The reason people blog less isn’t just because of social networks making one-sentence opinions de rigueur; it is because people have found it harder to reach new audience members, and their own tribe is the next best thing.
   It makes the ’net a far less interesting place to be. Without fresh, new views, we run the risk of groupthink, or we become particularly influenced by the biases of certain media outlets. We don’t really want to surf casually as we once did because we don’t learn anything new: it’s harder to find novel things that pique our interests.
   There are potential solutions, of course. I tend not to Google, but use Duck Duck Go, so at least I don’t get a filter bubble when I search for particular subjects. However, Duck Duck Go does not have a comprehensive news search, and Google’s index size remains unbeatable.
   What we really need next is something that brings back that sense of equality online. I believe that if you put in the hours into good content and design, you should excel and get your site ranked above the same old sources. Google claims that it does that when it tweaks its algorithms but I’m not seeing this. Facebook merely builds on what people have found—so if you can’t find it, it won’t wind up being shared. Twitter, at least, still has some interesting items, but if you don’t catch it in your feed at a given time, then too bad. It’s not geared to search.
   Duck Duck Go is a start, at least when it comes to general searches. It becomes easier to find views that you might not agree with—and that’s a good thing when it comes to understanding others. Google’s approach lulls you into a sense of security, that your views are sacrosanct—and all that does is give you the notion that the other half is wrong.
   So what of news? Duck Duck Go could well be a starting-point for that, too, ranking news based on who breaks an item first and the quality of the site, rather than how much money is behind it. Or perhaps this is the space for another entrepreneur. Ironically, it might even come out of China; though right now it’s equally likely to emerge from India. What it then needs is a bit of virality for it to be adopted, spread by the very people it is designed to aid.
   We need something that rewards the independent entrepreneur again, the people who drove so many innovations in the 1990s and 2000s. This isn’t nostalgia kicking in, seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses while happily ignoring all those businesses that failed. I completely acknowledge there were sites that vanished at the time of the dot-com bust, triggered in no small part by 9-11, the anniversary of which we celebrate today.
   Society needs those distinctive voices, those independent entrepreneurs, those people who are willing to put themselves forward and be judged fairly. What they don’t need are reactionary media who want to silence them out of fear that the world will change too much for them to bear; and big Silicon Valley firms all too happy to join in these days.
   It’s high time the most influential websites served the many rather than the few again.

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Posted in business, culture, globalization, interests, internet, media, politics, publishing, technology, USA | 3 Comments »

Finding the heart on Top Gear again


Above: Chris Evans and Rory Reid talk about the McLaren F1 in Extra Gear.

Now that the new new Top Gear has aired in New Zealand, I have to say that it isn’t really there yet. But unlike much of the UK, I’m not going to dis Chris Evans, who is a consummate gearhead. The reason: I have a memory that goes back beyond February 2016.
   When Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman brought Top Gear back in its current form in 2002, it was actually disappointing. People seem to forget James May, who originally replaced Clarkson in the original Top Gear, wasn’t even on the show. My memory of the studio audience was that there were about four people hanging around Clarkson as he introduced … wait for it … the Citroën Berlingo. Which he took to France (insert Clarkson pause) to buy cheese.
   The idea of a show with a perfect complement of three hosts who got on well with each other, each playing a caricature of himself, did not exist for the first year, and even after May replaced Jason Dawe, it took a while for those personalities to emerge. It’s rare to get three hosts to play those roles as well from the get-go—Top Gear France (which is actually made by the BBC) is an exception, and every other foreign edition of Top Gear that I’ve seen doesn’t quite have it.
   But Clarkson was a ratings’ winner. When he first quit Top Gear (or ‘old Top Gear’), the series which started with Angela Rippon as its host in the 1970s, ratings fell from six million to three million. The TV environment was different a decade and a half ago. And the BBC persevered because at that time he hadn’t offended Mexicans or Argentinians, or assaulted an Irishman, or Piers Morgan.
   However, importantly, the public was quite happy letting things develop. They could have gone and watched Fifth Gear with its familiar line-up of ex-Top Gear presenters, but they stuck with Clarkson, Hammond, and whomever the third man was.
   Twenty sixteen. Enter Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc (somewhere between the ending of Friends and today, the space seems to have disappeared in his surname), both personalities who love cars. They are disadvantaged by not having been motoring journalists, but they are entertaining. The show doesn’t flow well with the studio segments, the stars introducing each other doesn’t work, and I’m nostalgic for the reasonably priced car—although at least the French have continued la tradition. However, because everyone expects the show to remain on a high, the internet jury has been nasty. No one demanded an overnight success before, but they’re out for blood now. It’s an unfair position to put Evans in.
   The absence of motoring journalism experience could have been filled quite easily. We were originally told of a huge line-up of Top Gear presenters, to which I thought: great, the BBC is going to give a big roster a go again, something that we hadn’t seen since the 1990s. In there we saw names such as Chris Harris. Yet Chris Harris and Rory Reid have been relegated to an internet-only show called Extra Gear, which is meant to serve Top Gear in the way Doctor Who Confidential served Doctor Who, with a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, deleted footage, and some sensible road testing around the test track of models not covered in the main show.
   Here’s the thing, and this has been said in the British press: these two guys have great rapport, and come across better than Evans and Le Blanc. I vote for them to be on the main Top Gear. They are more personable, humorous, and relatable. I wouldn’t be surprised if they found a way to work them both in next season, and why not four hosts?
   One thing Harris and Reid have is that they know their stuff after serving in motoring journalism. They aren’t rich guys who happen to love cars, but guys who have worked that passion into careers. Harris, in particular, put integrity ahead of kissing up to Ferrari and Lamborghini. I have tremendous respect for these two guys, and there’s simply more heart in Extra Gear than Top Gear, which at present feels a bit empty and by-the-numbers.
   I don’t blame Evans at all—the man had a herculean task. The producers probably tried to reduce Top Gear into formulaic chunks and believed that by cooking with those ingredients, they’d have a winner. This is a reminder that you cannot create heart from a formula: you can’t predict where it surfaces. Now that we know it’s there with Reid and Harris, the BBC would be wise to capture it. Let Top Gear evolve—after all, it did between 2002 and 2015—but also let these personalities do their thing.

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Posted in cars, culture, interests, media, TV, UK | 1 Comment »

The Wikipedia game


The contributors or editors of Wikipedia are often quick to make changes after errors are pointed out. A recent funny one was for the suburb of Cannons Creek, in Porirua, when Wikipedia told a friend’s son:

Cannons Creek is a suburb of Porirua City approximately 22km north of Wellington in New Zealand. The citizens attempted to expel a demon but the exorcism backfired, rendering the town uninhabitable for the last fifteen years.

This was changed within hours of my Tweeting about it, so a contributor must have spotted the vandalism to the page.
   My earlier one about second-generation Hyundai Sonatas being classified as first-generation ones in the Wikimedia Commons was also remedied, which is good. I imagine someone will eventually see that the new Hyundai i10 cannot be both longer and shorter than its predecessor.
   However, I still hold a poor impression of Wikipedia because of an incident some years ago that suggested that certain people in the hierarchy gamed the system.
   The accusations of a senior editor—who accused me of defamation and tried to force me to remove a blog post with links about Wikipedia’s faults—did not stand up to any scrutiny. The lesson is: if you want to abuse me with legal arguments on email for five days, you’d better get your facts straight when you’re talking to a guy with a law degree. (She got her wish though, because of Six Apart closing down Vox, which is where I had blogged this.)
   It highlighted a certain arrogance among some of the people high up there. I hope she is not representative of senior Wikipedia editors but the amount of errors that I find—very serious, factual ones on things I know about—is ridiculous. Her behaviour suggested that facts won’t get in the way of power trips.
   One major error that has steadfastly remained for years is Wikipedia’s insistence that the Ford CE14 platform was used for a variety of US Ford cars in the 1980s. This work of fiction has made its way all over the internet, including to the IMCDB,* a Ford Tempo fan site, and elsewhere.
   The correct fact is that CE14 was the 1990 European Ford Escort. Wikipedia states that it was used for the 1980 US Ford Escort and its derivatives (Mercury Lynx, Ford EXP, Mercury LN7) and the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz.
   This is incredibly easy to debunk for anyone who has followed the Ford Motor Company over the years, or read a book or a magazine article about it. First: Ford’s alphanumeric codes were not in existence when these US cars were being developed. Secondly, the Tempo and Topaz are not in the C segment at Ford, but the CD segment; but, in any case, they did not have an alphanumeric code. Thirdly, the E in CE14 stands for Europe, which, the last time I checked, is not in the US. Fourthly, the numbers are more or less sequential as the projects are lined up at Ford. If 7 is Probe, 11 (if I recall correctly) was the 1990 Ford Laser, then how on earth could 14 be for a car that came out in 1980? (You can point out that CD162 was released before CD132, but there is another story behind that.)
   The user who created the original, error-filled, unreferenced page has been awarded stars by their peers at Wikipedia. Well done.
   Wikipedia proponents will argue that I should go and correct this myself, but I wonder why I should. I’ve read how Wikipedia works, and a friend who tried to get false information corrected about his wife corrected confirms this. Senior editors check their facts online, and to heck with print references. What they will see is a lot of references to CE14 that back up the error (even though the error began with them), probably accuse and then block the new contributor of vandalism, and the status quo will be preserved. After all, Jimmy Wales—the man most regularly credited as founding Wikipedia—has his own birthday incorrectly stated on the website. It’s what Stephen Colbert called ‘Wikiality’: if enough people believe something to be true, then to heck with the truth.
   The Guardian cites some research at PARC:

   Chi’s team discovered that the way the site operated had changed significantly from the early days, when it ran an open-door policy that allowed in anyone with the time and energy to dedicate to the project. Today, they discovered, a stable group of high-level editors has become increasingly responsible for controlling the encyclopedia, while casual contributors and editors are falling away. Wikipedia – often touted as the bastion of open knowledge online – has become, in Chi’s words, “a more exclusive place”.
   One of the measures the Parc team looked at was how often a user’s edit succeeds in sticking. “We found that if you were an elite editor, the chance of your edit being reverted was something in the order of 1% – and that’s been very consistent over time from around 2003 or 2004,” he says.
   Meanwhile, for those who did not invest vast amounts of time in editing, the experience was very different. “For editors that make between two and nine edits a month, the percentage of their edits being reverted had gone from 5% in 2004 all the way up to about 15% by October 2008. And the ‘onesies’ – people who only make one edit a month – their edits are now being reverted at a 25% rate,” Chi explains.
   In other words, a change by a casual editor is more likely than ever to be overturned, while changes by the elite are rarely questioned. “To power users it feels like Wikipedia operates in the way it always has – but for the newcomers or the occasional users, they feel like the resistance in the community has definitely changed.”

   The late Aaron Swartz, whom I have admired, was quoted in the article:

“I used to be one of the top editors … now I contribute things here and there where I see something wrong.” The reason, he explains, is that the site feels more insular and exclusive than in the past. “In general, the biggest problem I have with the editors is their attitude,” he says. “They say: ‘We’re not going to explain how we make decisions, we basically talk amongst ourselves.’

   It appears to be why Larry Sanger, the other guy who founded Wikipedia, left. This very behaviour was something he forecast a decade ago that appears to hold true today (original emphases):

   But there are myriad abuses and problems that never make it to mediation, let alone arbitration. A few of the project’s participants can be, not to put a nice word on it, pretty nasty. And this is tolerated. So, for any person who can and wants to work politely with well-meaning, rational, reasonably well-informed people—which is to say, to be sure, most people working on Wikipedia—the constant fighting can be so off-putting as to drive them away from the project. This explains why I am gone; it also explains why many others, including some extremely knowledgeable and helpful people, have left the project.
   The root problem: anti-elitism, or lack of respect for expertise. There is a deeper problem—or I, at least, regard it as a problem—which explains both of the above-elaborated problems. Namely, as a community, Wikipedia lacks the habit or tradition of respect for expertise. As a community, far from being elitist (which would, in this context, mean excluding the unwashed masses), it is anti-elitist (which, in this context, means that expertise is not accorded any special respect, and snubs and disrespect of expertise is tolerated). This is one of my failures: a policy that I attempted to institute in Wikipedia’s first year, but for which I did not muster adequate support, was the policy of respecting and deferring politely to experts. (Those who were there will, I hope, remember that I tried very hard.)
   I need not recount the history of how this nascent policy eventually withered and died. Ultimately, it became very clear that the most active and influential members of the project–beginning with Jimmy Wales, who hired me to start a free encyclopedia project and who now manages Wikipedia and Wikimedia—were decidedly anti-elitist in the above-described sense.
   Consequently, nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will—at least if they are editing articles on articles that are subject to any sort of controversy—be forced to defend their edits on article discussion pages against attacks by nonexperts. This is not perhaps so bad in itself. But if the expert should have the gall to complain to the community about the problem, he or she will be shouted down (at worst) or politely asked to “work with” persons who have proven themselves to be unreasonable (at best).

   I do not doubt for a second that Wikipedia was started with the best of intentions. It was a really good resource a decade ago, when it attracted the best minds to the project. It does, I am sure, attract some incredibly talented people who are generous and knowledgeable. I am told the science pages are some of the best written out there because those ones have been held up to the original Wikipedia standards. But many pages seem to reflect the great social experiment of the internet: email was great before spammers, and YouTube is great without comments. Democratization does not always mean that the masses will improve things, especially in the realm of specialist knowledge.
   And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a very long-winded way of explaining why I took the word wiki off the home page of Autocade 12 hours ago. I started it allowing public edits, using the same software as Wikipedia, and these days, only specialists can edit the site. The word wiki, ignoring its etymology, is now too closely associated with Wikipedia, and that brand is just too tainted these days for my liking.

* Since I approached the IMCDB, which actually has people dedicated to accuracy, many of its CE14 references were removed.—JY

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Posted in branding, cars, culture, interests, internet, leadership, media, publishing, technology | 7 Comments »

Reality TV is not everything non-fiction


I found it very odd that Antiques Roadshow and Mythbusters were nominated for the reality TV category at the Emmy Awards. Based on the vocabulary I grew up with, these are not ‘reality TV’.
   I doubt many of us over a certain age would think of The Gong Show or New Zealand’s Top Town as reality TV. Or Britain’s Got Talent. By this token, is Top Gear a reality show? It is, after all, filmed in the real world.
   I would, however, classify the usual Survivor or The Apprentice as reality TV: shows that have very little reality to them thanks to editing and sensationalism. There should be as little scripting as possible.
   The term reality TV might stem from the fact that if you believe them, you need to get a reality check. That’s probably the easiest way to distinguish one.
   So what is the difference between what I call a reality show—to date the only one I have followed was the first season of That’ll Teach ’Em—and the rest that are based on fact?
   The term was originally given to shows that purported to show reality, as based around voyeurism. Big Brother is the archetype: the idea that you could see everything with as little editing as possible, covering a long period of time. While of course there was editing, you were invited to get a “slice of life” from observation—a bit like an aquarium but humans replacing goldfish.
   The genre extended to those that relied on heavy editing for dramatic effect. Survivor and The Apprentice are perhaps the next best known. There’s a week’s worth of footage to condense into an hour, so there’s a lot of fodder that editors can cut to create heroes and villains and play on our dramatic expectations. The Amazing Race qualifies if we use this definition.
   Where, pray tell, is there “reality” in Britain’s Got Talent and its licensed ilk? We see a performance and some background. If we argue that the background deems it a reality show, then the nightly news must qualify—it, too, provides background to a story. As does 60 Minutes. Or the Miss France telecast on TF1.
   Antiques Roadshow hardly gives us a slice of life greater than a documentary. Where is the long period of time in which we follow Jamie, Adam, Grant, Kari and Tory on Mythbusters? Should we now revise our thinking to include the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World as a reality show, as it is of a similar genre?
   For those of us who dislike the reality genre—because they take up precious time where we snobs can see some decent dramatic programming—the claiming of regular documentary and talent shows as reality TV is surely a sign that the genre has passed its heyday. If The Apprentice in the US continues its downward spiral ratings-wise, one of the biggest shows in that genre will be history, consigned to being something that was “so 2000s”.

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Posted in culture, France, interests, media, New Zealand, TV, UK, USA | 7 Comments »

The ex-Vox testimony


A phpBB forum for former users of Vox (I am one) started in September 2010. I posted there today, going through my history with the service. The below is a repost, which I thought would be of interest to readers of this blog (some of whom have come from Vox). It’s a small summary of my last seven years of blogging, geared to former Vox users.

For those who don’t know me, I’m Jack, and one of the Vox beta testers from 2006. I ran a number of groups on Vox: fashion, fashion magazines, fashion professionals, cars, Chinese (on which I was promoted to admin), RetroVox (which I was also promoted to), TV and New Zealand–Aotearoa.
   I first began blogging in 2003 at the Beyond Branding Blog, but was initially dismissive toward blogs in general. Some of those early experiences were clouded by some amateurish blogs out there—the sort that pretended to be authoritative but were anything but. Of course, these now form the majority of blogs today (!) but we have come to position them in our minds more accurately as personal journals. Back in, say, 2001, I remember some early bloggers pretending to be legit news sources and people believing that they were.
   In 2005, only two of the original authors of Beyond Branding remained at the blog, so my friend Johnnie Moore, who was a regular, but had moved on to his own space (, wanted to shut it down. By the end of the year, I decided I would take John’s lead and blog at I already had the domain, had some experience with Blogger, and gave Johnnie the all-clear once I told my last remaining author that I intended to move.
   In 2006, my blog opened. I called it ‘The Persuader’, after two sources: the old Persuaders TV show, and the book on advertising, The Hidden Persuaders. It’s quite quaint thinking back to those reasons, but more on that another time. The blog was picked up very early by some high-powered sources like Der Spiegel, but other than those initial highs, I settled back into a more personal blogging style.
   That same year, Vox started, and I had a beta-testing invitation. Initially, I did not know how to divide the use of the two spaces, but by 2007, again I had settled: Vox would be my personal musings (especially my relationships—those were set to private, which I liked) and Blogger would have my more business-oriented ones. The split worked quite well.
   Some Australians like Ninja and Snowy will remember that in August 2009, they were locked out of Vox. They were eventually allowed back in, but Six Apart never gave them a reason for the lock-out. By October, I experienced an identical bug, but Vox denied anything was wrong. It would take anywhere from a few hours to a few days before the compose window would come up. The usual blame occurred: it must be you, it must be your computer, it must be your use of your computer, it must be your ISP, etc. I travelled up and down the country and it was the same. Eventually, tired of all of this, I gave the ever-helpful and wonderful Daisy my password, and asked her to pass it on to Six Apart techs. They, too, could not get a compose window inside Six Apart HQ.

Days blocked on Vox
Above A graphic I have pasted in a few places out of frustration in December 2009: red denotes the days I was blocked from composing on Vox, and the reason more personal posts have reappeared here this year. Pink represents the days when the compose window took a few hours to load.

   Not that it was ever fixed. I put up with it for two months, because I probably had some mild form of OC and liked needling things till they are sorted. And probably because two years’ blogging habits were hard to break. (Imagine if I were a smoker!) By the end of 2009, I had decided I would return to blogging at ‘The Persuader’ exclusively, and Vox could be left as is.
   A temporary second account at came to little. I hated not blogging under my own name.
   I still took responsibility for my eight groups. I would come in and delete sploggers (I had decided by this time that reporting them to Six Apart would be pointless) and moderate comments. Eventually I shut off my blogs to comments, since all they attracted was comment spam. It was clear to me, especially with the most popular group topics being Indian escort agencies (and had been for years) that few folks gave a damn inside Six Apart, but I felt I had a duty to my group members to at least keep their blogging worlds as clean as possible. I would visit monthly (roughly), despite having a very busy political campaign.
   That was the other reason that I was happy to leave personal blogging as part of my past. In September 2009, I announced my candidacy to run for Mayor of Wellington, New Zealand, and probably the last thing I needed was an extra distraction. In some ways, I welcomed the technical problems I had. But this also meant that in September 2010, when Vox was shut, I took the easiest option possible for my old Vox blog entries: export them to Typepad. Last six weeks of the campaign, I wanted as few hassles in my technological world as possible.
   With Blogger being even bigger assholes than Six Apart could ever be (see this story for details), I moved my blogging over to a self-hosted Wordpress platform. That took 14 hours to customize and it still looks funny on Chrome, but I was quite happy starting 2010 with everything changed: no more Vox, no more Blogger (which led to a subsequent de-Googling of everything) and a new platform at (that looked vastly identical to the previous one).
   In some ways, not blogging about my private life was a good thing. Not venting meant I had to deal with my issues, but the important thing was that campaigning became part of my life in 2010. It’s hard putting the genie back in the bottle. For venting, there were always Twitter and Facebook—things that were not mainstream in 2006. They are now, and ideal for the pithy off-the-cuff comments. With all that was going on, the shorter medium of Twitter suited me well …
   Despite having left Vox earlier than many of you, I’m glad this forum exists. The greatest sadness of leaving Vox in December 2009 was breaking so many of the connections I made there. While many have become friends in other places—Linda-Joy, Pete J. and Paikea come to mind—it’s good to have somewhere that I can still talk to a few of the folks who discovered this forum. It’s good to see Snowy registered here. I hope Xmangerm and a few others will pop by, too; I always liked what Xmangerm had to say.

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Posted in culture, internet, New Zealand, publishing, USA | 6 Comments »

The “next Google” has to save the web


Spotted on Tumblr yesterday, via Dave Sparks: ‘Why Facebook Browsing Annihilates Web Browsing’, on the Fast Company blogs. The intro pretty much summarizes the whole piece:

Recent research suggests that Facebook is overtaking search engines in terms of “time spent” on the web. Want to see where the trendline is heading? Take a look at young female Facebook users, who spend as much as 5 hours on the site per day—and almost no time on the wider web. You’d better get your brand’s Facebook page in order.

   As Lucire is largely made up of female users, the above is borne out on some days, where we receive a handful more referrers from Facebook than from Google.
   The other component to this may be Google itself. Now, this isn’t a dig (as I am wont to do this year). But here at work, we’re noticing that in order to find something, we might employ two search engines and not rely just on Google.
   As I pointed out, there are things that Google just cannot find, even when freshly linked from, say, this blog.
   It all seemed to start from the days of the supplemental index, where Google hid some pages that it had crawled from the main index. This seems fair enough: the majority of searches must be connected with the Zeitgeist (a word Google itself uses when describing a month’s search-term trends), and would be about a current event. Older pages, which contain historical information, only serve to get in the way.
   But what of the researchers? I’ve posited once before that the web is, at its core, a research medium, and (the old) Google contributed to some degree to that notion. If you’re hunting for something, especially if you’re a student, the web is your first port of call. However, if certain pages are now hidden from view, then a search engine might not be your best bet any more. You might Tweet your request, use your social network to see if a peer or a “friend” has the answer, or, Heaven forbid, you might go offline to find a credible source.
   Mark Kirby, who wrote the Fast Company entry, notes:

What’s most important about this behavior, from a brand marketing perspective at least, is that when many of these women needed to look something up—information on a venue, or a band, or a consumer brand—they were more likely to look first for information on the site where they were already spending all their time: Facebook.

   The idea that young women are spending time on Facebook, and spending less time on any other site on the web, isn’t that big a surprise. Many of us have set up presences there: the latest, when I clicked through on Lucire ads today, was L’Oréal USA. It is a site that some trust, despite its callous attitude to privacy and the law. (Again, this was a prediction I made, not referring to Facebook, some years ago: that people would start flocking to trusted brands on the internet again. It just so happens some people trust Facebook’s brand, even if I don’t.)
   We’re also creatures who like our busy lives to be as crap-free as possible. Remember email? Once upon a time, there was no spam. Everyone who we were connected to via email, we wanted to be connected with. Often, these were people with that same, idealistic outlook we ourselves had. People with like minds. Not always friends, but certainly people with some connection to us. They might be what we term a ‘friend’ today, in Facebook or MySpace parlance.
   Cities that have experienced decay might be another parallel: remember how there was less crime? Remember when you could walk down Street X more safely, before the crims took over that neighbourhood? (I hear variants of this frequently from my British and South African friends now.)
   And now look at the web. Fake, automated blogs (such as those promoted in the image at left) are set up just to trick people into visiting so their owners can make a few bob from Google Adsense. (Don’t believe me? Head into Google Blog Search and have a poke around: the phonies are taking over the index. This was the sort of disease that plagued Vox before Six Apart shut it down.) No wonder publishers are doing Ipad apps and the like, where they can be assured of some quality control, and no wonder we are spending time on Facebook, hopefully to lead spam-free lives. And no wonder Technorati, which once was a powerhouse when it came to cataloguing blogs, is so very 2000s now.
   As with so many things, Google’s web search probably needs to return to its roots. PageRank is useful, but then, so is a good old-fashioned analysis about how honestly a site has done its meta tags and provided its content. Or perhaps the boffins at Mountain View can develop a method, beyond PageRank, to determine a site’s legitimacy. (I’m sure they’re already working on it; they’re doing their bit to get rid of splogs, even if many legit ones get caught up in that. Ironically, fewer splogs would probably exist if Google did not have its Adsense programme, which provides advertising income to low-traffic publishers.) It’s still a bit better than my current search engine favourite, Duck Duck Go, when it comes to interpreting the terms that are fed in (it groups them better, though it still makes mistakes), but the web, as we knew it, may be heading the same way as email. It’s there, but it’s just not the best hang-out in town.
   That might be the task of “the next Google”—the new venture that’s going to come in and define the 2010s just as Google defined the 2000s. The one engine that’s more capable of weeding out the splogs, able to spot the human-authored spaces. The new site that will save us from ourselves and the crap that now goes on to the internet. The need seems to be there.

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, media, publishing, technology, USA | 2 Comments »

Replacing a social network near you: real life


As news emerges that teenagers have spent less time on Facebook, and there are more profiles getting closed on the social network, Sony has released its newest trailer for The Social Network.

After 9-11, it’s time to tell the “other” story of the ’noughties. And if Facebook is the topic of a Hollywood film, then this could mean it has jumped the shark.
   What’s next? A new social network where privacy is respected? Or, something more radical?
   Modern kids in the first and second world might want that newfangled “real life” next, because to them, the internet is ubiquitous, not special. So why not balance what was once a novelty to us with what we once found to be normal? As we once said: try it now, do it more, things you’ve never done before. The mainstreaming of extreme sports, if you will, simplified to basic exercise and enjoying the outdoors. It almost seems new.
   Simplicity seems to be “in” in so many facets of life, whether it’s a netbook without bells and whistles, or the old-shape Audi A4 with SEAT Exeo badging. Somewhere along the line, practicality finally found its place ahead of wank. It can happen in some economic recessions.
   Real life: more valuable to the teenagers of the 2010s than we thought. It’s back in vogue.

PS.: Thanks to Stefan Engeseth for inspiring part of this post.—JY

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Beyond Branding Blog removed from Blogger today


As of tonight, the Beyond Branding Blog, where I first cut my teeth blogging, is no more.
   The posts are still there, but no further comments can be entered on to the site. The nearly four years of posts remain as an archive of some of our branding thought of that period.
   The blog had a huge number of fans in its day, but as each one of us went to our own blogs, there seemed little need to keep it going. Chris Macrae and I were the last two holding the fort in late 2005. Since January 2006, no new posts have been entered on to the site. No new comments have come in a year.
   Google’s announcement that it would end FTP support for blogs in May spurred me into action, and I advised the Medinge Group’s membership this morning that I would take it off the Blogger service.
   I altered the opening message to reflect the latest change.
   I was very proud of the blog, because it was the first one I was involved in. It was also the first I customized to match the look and feel of the rest of the Beyond Branding site, which I designed in 2003. While the design is one from the early 2000s, it has not dated as much as I had expected.
   Beyond Branding’s core message of transparency and integrity remains valid, so while the blog is no longer updated, I think the book remains relevant to the 2010s.

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Posted in branding, business, design, marketing | No Comments »