Posts tagged ‘people power’


Instaspam: has Instagram jumped the shark?

30.03.2013


The tipping-point has been reached: on some of my photos, fake Instagram account likers outnumber human beings. In terms of comments, spam outnumbers real ones. Of my last ten likers, nine were fake accounts. And we know that when some sites get to this point, they begin dying.
   Yet it’s frightfully easy to spot the fake accounts. Many have the same description, or a mixed combination of various sentences (e.g. ‘Bacon trailblazer. Friendly pop culture ninja. Unapologetic gamer. Beer enthusiast’). Many have the same photographs—both profile and content.
   The problem has gone on for weeks, even months, but on the social networks now is the hashtag #Instaspam—something Facebook’s thousand million-dollar purchase might come to be known by, if the company doesn’t get a handle on fake accounts.
   A few of the ones I reported a fortnight ago still have active accounts, so I wonder if anyone there cares.
   Yet, if folks like us can spot a fake account a mile away, how come the real experts—the boffins whose Nginx servers are being dragged down by this—haven’t been able to target them?
   But this is Facebook, I remind myself: a company that stopped caring years ago.
   I remember the good old days when I received replies from Facebook staff, from basic issues to trade mark disputes. Those days are long gone, and Instagram is now part of the big machine.
   In the last few weeks, I’ve been losing feature after feature on Facebook, with links that can no longer be clicked on, tags that can no longer be done with a person’s first name alone, and other little glitches. But we know that Facebook is broken, and even bug reports are now considered spam.
   It’s in direct contrast to Tumblr, which reached 100,000,000 users over the last week. The company is still in the habit of replying to emails and while some of those are copy-and-paste ones, at least you know something is being looked at. Since a lot of fake Instagram accounts have fake Tumblogs tied to them, I’ve reported my fair share—and received either an automated response or a personal one from Tumblr.
   It makes you wonder if Tumblr staff use their service and understand the user experience—all of its recent changes actually work and are bug-free, and are improvements on the service—while Instagram is now in the Facebook culture of “too big to care”.
   And that’s the distinction between understanding your public and being locked up in your ivory tower, dealing with only the issues at hand.
   If I deal with a company, I’d like to know that the leaders have a good grasp of their communities, as well as the world at large. If it’s just about them and their boards, then it’s a cinch that things aren’t healthy there—and, sometimes, a clue to dropping share prices.
   Even at the city or state level, that engagement is vital—which brings me to this interview with California Lieutenant-Governor Gavin Newsom.
   It’s been fascinating reading Gavin’s views in this interview, where he mirrors some of my thoughts about bottom-up governance and citizen engagement (you know, the stuff I talked about in my 2010 campaign). Sometimes, if you elect politicians, you get politics as usual. Put in someone who has had real business experience—Gavin has 17 businesses—and you might start getting ideas for real change.
   Stop engaging, as Facebook and Instagram have, and we may be looking at another Vox: a site which, in the late 2000s, also let spam get out of hand. Splogs were being set up in an automated fashion, left, right and centre. Legitimate bloggers, as I was on that site, were locked out. Eventually, Six Apart, which owned Vox, shut the place down—despite a healthy community of real bloggers. But even toward the end, things were looking less and less viable. Instagram could well have jumped the shark—and if the issue isn’t fixed, it could be to Facebook what Myspace was to the Murdoch Press.

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Posted in business, internet, politics, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


Dodge revives the Dart, while UK Delta owners revive Lancia

07.12.2011

Dodge Dart preview
Dodge Dart preview
Fiat has announced that it’s going to bring back the Dodge Dart nameplate on a compact sedan based on a stretched Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform for the 2013 model year.
   This was actually mentioned when Chrysler was going cap-in-hand to the US Government, so it’s not a total surprise. The nameplate, however, is.
   It makes sense to me, though if you look at some of the blog comments elsewhere, motorheads are coming out saying it should be used for a rear-wheel-drive sedan that captures the spirit of the original.
   The trouble is, it does. Dart was a compact beloved of schoolteachers, and even if the last one was a variant of the Dodge Diplomat sold in Spanish-speaking countries, enough time has passed for the general public not to be nostalgic for V8-powered Demons, Dart Sports and the like.
   It’s a compact sort of name, and it’s going after a general audience. And it looks too aggressive to be called Omni or Neon. A sporty little Dodge should be called Dart.
   I know that it could be very easily argued that the last time an American company resurrected a hallowed nameplate last sold in the US in the 1970s—the Pontiac GTO—and ignored the heritage, it was a sales’ disaster.
   But the Goat is legendary. Think back to the 1975 model year: did anyone really regard a basic Dart as legendary?
   We’ve already had a four-door sedan from Dodge called the Charger, the Polara name last wound up on a version of the Hillman Avenger down in Brazil, and the Chrysler New Yorker nameplate went on to a heap of different cars in the 1980s (R-body, M-body, E-body, C-body), so this isn’t exactly a company that has been looking after its heritage that well. I dare say the public is used to nameplates being recycled when it comes to Chrysler, sometimes for the better (300) and sometimes for the worse (it’ll be a long time before anyone brings Sebring back).
   The preview shots Dodge has revealed look aggressive, and since a designer is running the decals-and-flash show there, I suspect it wouldn’t look too bad.
   The other nameplate news of late, going in reverse chronological order, is the demise of Maybach. No surprises there, either: if you’re going to charge stratospheric prices for a car, it had better look stratospheric—not a rehash of a Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse. ’Nuff said.
   Finally, I’ve been meaning to blog about this little item for many weeks now: the rebadging of rebadged Lancias, if we might come full circle to Fiat.
   As many of you know, Lancias are sold as Chryslers in markets where Chrysler has a stronghold, while Chryslers are sold as Lancias where Lancia has a stronghold. That means, in Britain and Éire, the Lancia Ypsilon and Delta are sold as Chryslers.
   Car design, however, is no longer a matter of badge-engineering (even if there are certain segments where you can still get away with it, such as city cars and certain minivans). Everything about the design has to reflect the brand’s value. Cover up the grille of a Volvo, and it’s still a Volvo. But the Lancia design language is very Italian, and the Chrysler design language is very American, the insipid 200 aside.
   It is unfair to criticize Chrysler–Lancia given that these cars were penned before Fiat merged the brands, but I thought this customer-level rebranding exercise was a very interesting one on the part of Lancia fans in the UK and Éire.
   A group of enthusiasts located an Italian dealer who was willing to sell them a bunch of Lancia badges, so British and Irish owners could give their cars the complete Lancia treatment.
   It shows something I have talked about in many of my speeches: that brands are increasingly in the hands of the consumers.
   But it also shows that no matter what badge you put on the Ypsilon and Delta, they look Italian—and certain consumers want authenticity.
   Finally, it shows that in a globalized world, it’s no longer up to retailers to tell us what something is called. We have access to the ’net, and we can find out for ourselves. When it comes to cars, where there is a lot of online research, demand might start building from the moment scoop photographs are released. These Lancia enthusiasts have clearly wanted their RHD Deltas for a long time, and they have the means to make their dream come true, regardless of what the badge at the dealership says.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, design, marketing, USA | 1 Comment »


The Murdoch apology does not let us off the hook

16.07.2011

News International full-page apology

Above is Rupert Murdoch’s apology for the actions of the News of the World, to run in the UK in the wake of the resignations of Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton.
   They’re great words, and they’re straight out of the PR 101 playbook.
   Some might say they’re a trifle too late, as was Mr Murdoch’s meeting with the parents and sister of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
   Some might question whether this apology would even have been issued if the Murdoch Press could have kept a lid on the scandal, if the Metropolitan Police had not rediscovered its bottle, and if The Guardian had not been persistent.
   More telling about this apology’s sincerity is whether real steps will be taken to change the culture within the Murdoch Press.
   We still have an organization with nearly half a century’s worth of bullying tactics, skirting the boundaries of the law and allegedly breaking them, and a culture of the ends justify the means.
   Shifting that culture is going to be a tough call, not while so much of the behaviour has been institutionalized.
   It is going to take some effort on Rupert Murdoch’s own behalf, because, like all organizations where the boss’s personality is so strong, it’s going to rest on him to lead a cultural change. Allowing an insider who has always tolerated such behaviour to take the helm is not going to do an awful lot: you don’t get change by reinventing the past.
   I remain sceptical when I think back to all the scandals that the Murdoch Press not only uncovered, but had a hand in generating.
   I remain sceptical when I think back to the victories Murdoch has had over earlier controversies, and whether he believes he can weather this one simply with the passage of time.
   The world is a different place, and he may just be compelled to see this out.
   He may be 80, but he still has young kids by his third wife. Let’s hope he understands that he needs to do right by the 21st century, when people in the occident are more alert to corporate moves and their unsavoury hand in our daily lives. Given that his youngest children won’t have him around for as long as his oldest ones, what he has is his legacy—and unlike Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan and James, Grace and Chloe will spend more of their lives hearing about their Dad second-hand than first-hand.
   I think back to when we wrote Beyond Branding, and how we forecast that consumers would drive integrity and transparency through their demand. It looks like this is being played out now.
   The question I have is this: is this merely the first salvo in everyday people taking back their power, and will we sink back into disinterest in a month or two?
   Rupert Murdoch would not be in this position if we didn’t have a love of the gossip in The Sun and News of the World. We, the people, made this man rich.
   If the Murdoch that critics write about is the real man, he’s betting the farm on disinterest being the order of the day come the autumn.
   In my own world, I recall that last September, when the Fairfax Press reported on the possibility of the resurrection of the Wellywood sign, the silence on even the anti-sign Facebook group was deafening. One person even said he would vote for my rival and eventual winner, Celia Wade-Brown, because I did not do enough to fight the sign.
   All it took was five months for one man to forget that I was the only mayoral candidate who actively fought it. I am not picking on him alone, because I don’t believe he was the only one to suffer from a short memory. We all do it.
   Instead, this one issue alone, trivial by the standards of the Murdoch story, took 14 months before anger subsided enough for it to resurface in force with a new news report.
   This is the defence of the bully boss and the pompous politician: the hope people forget, thanks to our lives being harder during a recession. The tougher the economy gets, the more they think they can get away with, since they hope our attention will be swayed. Without a comfortable life, will we have the luxury of monitoring those in power?
   It’s up to us to get wiser and realize there’s more important news than what the tabloid press tells us is interesting.
   It’s up to us to realize that celebrity news really does not affect us, unless it’s truly inspirational. And 99 per cent of it isn’t.
   It’s up to us to understand that ‘sources close to’ do not constitute the truth, nor are those sources capable of the mind-reading of their subjects.
   And it’s up to us to remember the past, rather than look fondly on it with rose-coloured glasses.
   Corporate misbehaviour alone can fill a newspaper, as can the incompetence of our leaders. Yet we see little of either since advertising is affected by blowing the lid on the first, and a power base is affected by blowing the lid on the second.
   The first is what killed the News of the World, not a sudden crisis of confidence by James Murdoch, who put his name to the announcement of its closure.
   The second contributed to the delay in a Murdoch apology, in the hope that the Murdoch Press’s close ties to the Conservative government would be sufficient to weather it through the scandal.
   Look around, especially in this election year in New Zealand, and you see very similar forces at work.
   Regardless of what Murdoch does, real change starts with us.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


As News of the World closes, we might be getting better at making business accountable

08.07.2011

So James Murdoch has announced the end of the News of the World. It’s no biggie: as others have discovered, a domain name for The Sun on Sunday has been registered, and if this is by an agent of News International, it simply makes sense for the Murdoch Press to consolidate its tabloid brands and raise the circulation of The Sun.
   Chatting about it here at work today, my view was that the problems plaguing the Murdoch Press were cultural, and shuttering one paper really wouldn’t make much difference. I described Rupert’s former hands-on style and, like him or not, the man was the master of his craft for years. He knew the sort of headlines that would shock and get sales. Whether one admires the craft is another matter, though, it should be noted, it made the guy a multimillionaire.
   It’s easy to forecast that News will allow the shock of the death of the 168-year-old newspaper brand to set in, push through with the BSkyB deal, and relaunch the paper under its new name, hiring some of the 200 staff back.
   It’s not the first time Murdochs have rejigged or renamed a newspaper. Already I can envisage a ‘Reach for your new Sun’ headline being proclaimed in a Saturday edition, apeing what happened in the 1960s.
   Interestingly, another writer also believes in the cultural explanation. Simon Dumenco points to how News behaves in the US, seemingly operating in a fantasy-land.
   In Britain, on Wednesday morning, every newspaper carried the hacking scandal on the front page—with the notable exception of The Sun, which led with a pregnant Victoria Beckham. (The Guardian had all 10 papers, but The Sun’s page one has since disappeared, presumably due to a copyright complaint. I have put that front page below.) The hacking scandal appeared on p. 6. Dumenco points out that when gay marriage became legal in New York, everyone there carried that news prominently, except for the Murdoch Press, which relegated it to a bottom-of-page headline in its New York Post, and a second ‘What’s News’ in-brief item in The Wall Street Journal.
   Dumenco predicts that the public will tire of it, though, as I blogged earlier this week, in 1997 a lot of people swore off tabloids. Not a lot changed in the immediate years after that. But we can only hope: one of our predictions in Beyond Branding was that consumers would demand greater transparency and integrity. That certainly has held true for a lot of sectors. They are true, even of media, but the cycle is longer thanks in no small part to the habits some people have with news providers. Nevertheless, it is happening.
   As news consumers move online—and there is plenty of evidence of this shift—it’s possible that the audience will shift to media that are perceived to be fairer. Those wanting confirmation of various biases can find them in niche media or blogs. There are more people analysing the media, so it may be easier for people to discover critical thinking behind the stories.
   There’ll always be a mob mentality (people have banded together since they began socializing) and tabloid journalism will not disappear (there’s a sense of Schadenfreude, especially of celebrity stories, while there’s inequality in society). But this week’s example of the fairly rapid withdrawals of advertising accounts from the News of the World—Ford, Reckitt Benckiser and Renault come to mind—shows that the public has a line that shouldn’t be crossed. The internet has allowed people to group together to make their viewpoints known, and it’s refreshing to note that, more often than not, we do so for good causes and a sense of justice, rather than for divisiveness or harm.

The Sun, Wednesday, July 6, 2011

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Posted in branding, business, culture, internet, marketing, media, publishing, UK, USA | No Comments »


The ‘Wellywood’ sign: people power gets things done

10.03.2010

That was a very interesting 30 hours. I found out about the ‘Wellywood’ sign yesterday afternoon, through Twitter, and Tweeted to say I hated it. Little did I know then that there was a huge Facebook group—6,000 strong at the time of writing—where Wellingtonians were making their voices known.
   And when I got there to Facebook, I was inspired.
   While my opponents were still talking hot air, I decided to act for the good of the city. I was inspired by one comment on the larger anti-sign Facebook group, which asked: surely someone holds the copyright?
   First stop: the Hollywood Sign Trust. If anyone knew who owned the sign, it would be them.
   I received a very nice reply from Betsy Isroelit of the Trust at what must have been very early hours in California, to say that she had referred it to the correct parties.
   By the time I got up today, I had an email waiting from Global Icons, LLC, which, with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, owns the original Hollywood sign’s intellectual property. Global Icons, from what I understand, looks after this side of things for the Chamber. And would I please send them the artist’s impression of what the sign would look like?
   And that kicked it off. I mentioned this to Rachel Morton at TV3 news before I was interviewed, and she took the initiative by contacting the CEO of the Chamber for comment immediately. It turns out that he did not know that the matter was already brewing in California, but he does now. Rachel tells me that he then put the Chamber’s lawyers on to the case. That’s two for us, nil for Mayor Prendergast and the airport.
   All it took was the creativity of Wellingtonians to show something I have said from day one.
   You know, creativity? The thing that this sign does not represent, and makes fun of?
   And all it took were everyday Wellingtonians collaborating. I was inspired by the person on the Facebook group. And if I hadn’t approached the Trust and Global Icons, I wouldn’t have mentioned it to Rachel. And if Rachel hadn’t called the CEO, Global Icons would probably be going it alone. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, because the credit is, really, everyone’s. The result should hopefully be that this horrible sign does not go up because people were prepared to act—whether by making their voice known on Facebook, or making some phone calls.
   People power, not corporates, not élites, gets things done. And that includes this year’s mayoral election.

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Posted in culture, internet, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 5 Comments »