Posts tagged ‘Twitter’


Trading identities in the 2010s: when corporate branding and personal branding adopt each other’s methods

14.10.2017


Above: Brand Kate Moss was probably seen by more people when the model collaborated with Topshop.

In 1999, the late Wally Olins sent me his book, Trading Identities: Why Countries and Companies are Taking on Each Other’s Roles, a fine read published by the Foreign Policy Centre that argued that countries were trying to look more corporate, adopting the practices of corporate branding. Conversely, as corporations gained more power and their need to practise social responsibility increased, they were adopting the ideas from nation branding. There was an increasing amount of this swapping taking place, and the 21st century has seen the trend continue: more countries have finely tuned nation brands and guidelines on how to use them, while many corporations are trying to look like good corporate citizens—Dilmah and Patagonia come to mind with their work in building communities and advocacy.
   We’ve been discussing at our firm another area where a similar switch has been taking place: that of corporate brands and personal brands. Personal branding is a relatively new development, with (in my opinion) Managing Brand Me the best work on the subject, authored by the late Thomas Gad with his wife Annette Rosencreutz, dating from 2002. (Thomas, of course, founded Medinge Group.) Managing Brand Me features an excellent break-down of the four dimensions involved (functional, social, mental, spiritual) in any good personal brand that still hold true today. They were well ahead of their time given that they had written their book long before selfies became the norm, and before people were being hired by companies as ambassadors based on their Instagram or Twitter followings.
   Those spokespeople are practising their brands almost haphazardly, where some are getting to the point that they cannot be sustained. Others are balancing authenticity with commercial demands: we know that Kendall Jenner probably doesn’t drink Pepsi, and no one wants to be seen to sell out their values. Nevertheless, there is a group of people mindful about their personal brand, and it’s only a matter of time before more begin taking on the trappings of corporate brands: inter alia, guidelines on how theirs is to be used; what products can be endorsed by that brand; how it can be differentiated against others’. Kate Moss may well be one example with a recognizable logotype that appears on products that have her seal of approval. (If I can be slightly macabre, the estates of Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn all think carefully on how each celebrity can be used to endorse products today; while lacking symbols or logotypes, their faces themselves are more than a substitute. With technology democratizing, it is no surprise that living and less iconic people might adopt similar ideas.)
   What of companies? Many now find themselves on an equal footing, or even a disadvantage, to personal accounts. The biggest companies have to fight for attention on social networks just like some of the top personal accounts in the world, and they cannot succeed without speaking to the audience in a personal fashion. A corporate account that reposts publicity photographs would gain little traction except from fans who are already sold on the brand through non-social media; and there is some wisdom in assuming that millennials do not possess the same level of brand loyalty as earlier generations. They’re on the hunt for the best product or service for the price and adopt a more meritorious approach, and among the things that will draw them in will be the values and societal roles of the company. Therefore, there has to be a “personality” behind the account, aware of each of Thomas and Annette’s Brand Me dimensions.
   It has not escaped me that both Lucire’s fashion editor Sopheak Seng and I do better than the magazine when it comes to social media interaction—getting likes and comments—because we’re prepared to put our personalities on the line. The automated way Lucire shares articles on Twitter, for instance, hasn’t helped build its brand there, something which we’re remedying by having team members around the world post to Instagram for starters, giving people a glimpse of our individual experiences. The images might not all look polished as a result, but it is a step toward fulfilling the four dimensions. It is a quest to find a personal voice.
   In the wider media game, this is now more vital as news has become commodified, a trend that was first expressed in the 1990s, too. Perhaps those authors saw that most media outlets would be getting their news from a more concentrated base of sources, and demand on journalists to be first and fastest—something not helped by a society where speed is valued over accuracy—meant that whomever controlled the sources could determine what the world talked about. Global companies want everyone to see when they’re involved in an event that a good chunk of the planet is likely to see; in L’Oréal Paris’s case it’s the Festival de Cannes. If every fashion publication has its eyes on Cannes, then what differentiates that coverage? What stamp does the media outlet’s brand place on that coverage? Is there a voice, a commentary, something that relates to the outlet’s role in society? Should it communicate with its best supporters on social networks?
   Lucire does reasonably well each year at Cannes with its coverage, probably because it does communicate with fans on social networks and alerts them to exclusive content. The rest of the time, it doesn’t do as well because as a smaller publication, it’s relying on those same sources. In 1998 we would have been the only English-language online publication specializing in fashion that talked about each H&M launch; in 2017 many fashion publications are doing it and our share of the pie is that much smaller. Individuals themselves are sharing on their social networks, too. This is not a bad thing: others should have the means to express themselves and indulge their passion of writing and communicating. Exclusivity means traffic, which is why we do better when we cover something few others do.
   However, I recently blogged that Google News has shifted to favouring larger media players, disincentivizing the independents from breaking news. It comes back to needing a distinctive voice, a personal brand, and while we still need to rely on Google News to a degree, that voice could help build up new surfing habits. The most successful bloggers of the last decade, such as Elin Kling, have done this.
   These are the thoughts milling around as Lucire heads into its 20th anniversary this month, and we reevaluate just what made us special when the publication launched in 1997. Those values need to be adapted and brought into 2017 and beyond. But there are wider lessons, too, on just where corporate branding and personal branding are heading; this post did not set out to discuss fashion media. It’s not a bad place to start our inquiry, since fashion (and automobiles) are where a lot of brand competition takes place.
   Indeed, it signals to me that in the late 2010s, companies need to do well as corporate citizens and have a personal voice on social media, ideas that build on my 2013 paper for the début issue of Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing (where I discussed brands in the age of social media and put forward a model of how to manage them) as well as Thomas and Annette’s earlier research. It’s the next stage of where branding practice could go—JY&A Consulting is primed, and we’re prepared to let those thoughts loose on Lucire and our other projects. The book of the blog, meanwhile, is the next target. What a pity I’m not in Frankfurt right now.

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Posted in branding, culture, France, globalization, internet, marketing, media, publishing, Sweden | No Comments »


No surprises as Facebook slips to third in Alexa, but tech press misses it

17.04.2016


Above: Facebook’s latest move: ensuring that notifications for messages go to its own app. If you choose not to install it, tough. (Actually, you can reach your messages if you had bookmarked your old message index, and through some digging you can still get there. However, your old habit of clicking on the number won’t work any more.)

I notice that Facebook has dropped to third in Alexa this week, but none of the tech press has covered it.
   I know the usual arguments: Alexa isn’t the best way of measuring audience stats; everyone (including us) has dropped because of the way Firefox has changed its status bar, thereby omitting a lot of users from its sample; Facebook itself will have recorded no real drop in user numbers (though we also know a lot of these so-called active users are bots and spammers, as we see heaps each day); and that Alexa doesn’t capture mobile data, where people are spending far more time these days.
   It does seem rather hypocritical, however, given that the same tech press applauded and wrote heaps of articles when Facebook overtook Google in Alexa. Some hailed it as the rise and rise of Facebook. There were tones of how unassailable it had become.
   However, its number-one position was remarkably fleeting and it quickly dropped back to second, where it has been for years, apart from that one blip.
   Facebook’s position has been usurped by Google’s YouTube. I make no predictions on whether this is fleeting or not, but it doesn’t look good for Facebook. I just don’t see any YouTube hate out there. If you dislike reading the comments from the world’s keyboard warriors sitting in their underwear at home, a few cookie settings will render them invisible. YouTube becomes a remarkably tolerable site.
   Earlier this month, a report found by my friend William Shepherd showed that personal sharing on Facebook had dipped by 21 per cent.
   I have said for years that ‘Facebook is the new Digg,’ a place where news is shared, not personal updates, though it appears it has taken a while for the company to realize this. Looking at some of the bugs on the site over the years, I’m not surprised Facebook missed it: for months it acted as though its entire user base was in California, with the website stuck at the end of each month till it got to the 1st in its home state. Now it is kicking users off over fake malware accusations when it’s more likely, and this is my guess based on how the site has behaved over the years, that its databases are dying. Liking, sharing and commenting fail from time to time.
   Given this, and its many other problems—including the breach of policies outlined by some of the groups it participates in, impacting on user privacy—no wonder it’s experiencing this drop.
   I see personal updates again that I saw a day before, because relatively few of my 2,300 friends write them any more. The trend has shifted, and a lot of users must have noticed what I did many years ago.
   At Medinge Group we have long advocated transparency in brands, and Facebook’s actions run counter to a lot of what we have proposed.
   We believe that sooner or later, people wise up—something we said about Enron at one of the first meetings I attended in 2002.
   In fact, the way Facebook behaves tends to be combative, and for a 21st-century firm, its attitudes toward its user base is very 20th-century, a “them and us” model. It’s not alone in this: I’ve levelled similar accusations against Google and I stand by them. Since my own battle with them over malware, and a more recent one over intellectual property (where I was talking to a Facebook employee who eventually gave up when things got into the “too hard” basket), I’ve found dozens of other users via Twitter who have been kicked off the service, yet are running clean, malware-free machines. The blog post I wrote on the subject has been the most-read of the pieces I have authored in 2016, and certainly the most commented, as others face the same issue.
   While both giants will claim that they could not possibly have the sort of one-to-one relationship with their user bases in the same way as a small business can, it’s clear to me that big issues aren’t being flagged and dealt with at Facebook. When I read the link Bill sent me, my first reaction was, ‘Why did it take so long for someone there to realize this?’
   Let’s not even get started on the way both companies treat paying their fair share of tax.
   It’s not about the number of people experiencing any given issue, it’s about the severity of the issue that a small number of people experience. By the time a larger vocal minority experiences it, the damage has gone a lot further.
   Facebook does listen to some of these cases: I remember when it limited bot reports to 40–50 a day, at a time when it was not uncommon to find hundreds a day on the site. I complained, and after a few months, Facebook did indeed remove this limit.
   But I regard that as an exception.
   Its forced downloads of so-called malware scans that even its supplier refuses to answer for (could they have nefarious purposes?), and now the latest last week—ensuring that all message notifications in a mobile browser link to its Messenger app, resulting in a 404 for anyone who does not have it installed—are rendering the website less and less useful. In my case, I just use it less. We’re not going to download privacy-invading apps on our phone—we’re busy enough. We want to manage our time and if that means we only get to Facebook messages when we are at our desks, then so be it. Some might abandon it altogether.
   Its other move is ceasing the forwarding from www.facebook.com to m.facebook.com on mobile devices, so if you had the former bookmarked, you’re not going to see anything any more. Some browsers (like Dolphin) came with the former bookmarked. Result: a few more legit users, who might not know the difference, gone.
   If there’s no trust, then regardless of the money you have, you’re not a top brand, nor one that people really wish to associate with.
   Facebook, of course, knows some of this, which is why it has bought so many other firms where there’s still personal sharing, such as Instagram and Whatsapp.
   It knows if there’s another site that comes along that gets public support, as it did when it first started, people will abandon Facebook en masse.
   Curiously, even this past week alone, it seems intent to hurry them along. There must be some sort of corporate goal to see if it can reach fourth, just like Flight of the Conchords.

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Posted in branding, culture, internet, USA | 1 Comment »


Why Stephen Fry left Twitter, and what could be next

16.02.2016

Stephen Fry wrote a witty blog post (he is the Stephen Fry, after all) on why he left Twitter. I won’t quote the whole thing, as it’s his copyright, but I will excerpt a chunk here:

… let us grieve at what twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended—worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know. It’s as nasty and unwholesome a characteristic as can be imagined. It doesn’t matter whether they think they’re defending women, men, transgender people, Muslims, humanists … the ghastliness is absolutely the same.

   I agree with him about how damned annoying it is to deal with ‘the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended—worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know’. Political trolls are good at this, too, except they only pretend at being self-righteous in order to fuel their sociopathy. This is the behaviour that makes social media tiresome. I still don’t see this being the end of Twitter, even if some are predicting it, for the reasons outlined in this earlier post. However, the tendencies are there with Facebook, too, and what makes that site worse are the very regular outages and the tracking it does of all its users. I can deal with the self-righteousness to some degree, if the damned site worked as a reasonable person would expect.
   What does this mean? Consider the renaissance of the blogosphere. Those who have things to say might enjoy articulating them in long form. We don’t seem to need that instant gratification any more as we’ve become either desensitized to it, or we find it through many of the other sites and apps out there that act as our personal echo chamber. Linkedin’s blogging function seems to get used more and more, and many professionals, at least, have decent followings there. As lives get busier—remember, social media grew easily because people were either looking for new ways to market because of the recession, or they were simply less busy—we may find it easier to manage our time each day without Facebook. So why not something like Linkedin, if not your own blog? I’ve said for years that Facebook is basically the 2010s version of Digg or Delicious. Look at your news feed and tell me that that’s not the way it’s heading—to me, this has been evident for years. And I don’t really need Digg or Delicious now in 2016.
   When you know that, then you realize that it’s not that hard to get your time back. Twitter for short-form “social” communications, blogs for long-form—and there mightn’t be that much room for something in between.

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Posted in culture, internet, technology | No Comments »


Google and Facebook should not head “top brands” lists when consumers do not trust them

10.02.2016

I’ve always been surprised when I see Google or Facebook appear on any “top brands” lists. It’s branding 101 that a strong brand must have loyalty, awareness, positive associations, perceived quality, as well as proprietary assets, based on the model from David Aaker, and implicit in this, I always thought, was trust. You can neither be loyal to something you don’t trust, nor can you have positive brand associations toward it, nor perceive an untrustworthy thing to possess quality. According to a survey from a consultancy, Prophet, which looked at over 400 brands across 27 industries, polling nearly 10,000 customers, we don’t trust either Google or Facebook. Neither makes it into the top 50; those that make it into the top 10 are Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Netflix, Nike, Chick-fil-A, Amazon, Spotify, Lego, and Sephora. Google slots in at 55th, and Facebook at 98th.
   To me, the Prophet approach makes far more sense, as for years—long before Edward Snowden revealed the extent of us surveillance under PRISM—I had been blogging about privacy gaffes and other serious issues behind both companies.
   People may find Google and Facebook to have utility and enjoyment, yet we willingly volunteer plenty of private information to these sites. We do not trust what they do with this information. Adweek notes that in a separate survey, Facebook was the least trusted brand when it came to personal information, making it worse than the US federal government. There have been so many occasions where users have found certain privacy settings on Facebook altered without their own intervention; and I’ve constantly maintained that, with the bots and spammers I encounter daily on the social network, its claims of user numbers are difficult to accept. In fact, if you have Facebook’s advertising preferences set to reject tracking, the site will not stop doing so, compiling a massive and sometimes inaccurate picture of who you are. What it does with that, given that you have told the site that it should not use that information, is anyone’s guess. It makes you wonder why that data collection continues. At least Google (now) stops tracking advertising pref­erences when you ask it to.
   These surveys indicate that consumers are wising up, and it opens both Google and Face­book up to challenge.
   Google dethroned the biggest website and search engine in the world when it was released, so no one’s position is guaranteed. Duck Duck Go, a search engine far better at privacy, has chipped away at Google’s share; and I find so much Facebook fatigue out there that it could follow Myspace into irrelevance. When I hear those speak of these two companies’ positions as being unassailable, I take it with a grain of salt.
   We already have seen peak Facebook (and Twitter, for that matter), for when it came to Super Bowl stats this year, there was a massive 25 per cent drop in activity. Interestingly, despite the trending #RIPTwitter hashtag last week, I don’t agree with those who think Twitter is heading into oblivion, for the simple fact that the site is less invasive and seemingly more honest than Google and Facebook. Those same experts, after all, said that Google Plus would be the Facebook-killer, while I consistently disagreed from day one.
   The Medinge Group predicted correctly in the early 2000s when it was stated that consumers would desire greater integrity and transparency from all their brands, something reflected in our book, Beyond Branding. I don’t believe that we are so different when it comes to dealing with online brands.
   This is, then, a welcome challenge for all businesses, to ensure that they demonstrate transparency to their audiences. We have remained very constant in our treatment of private information: for the most part, unless you’ve agreed to it, we don’t store it at our company. There is some information that goes to our advertising networks through cookies. We admit we could have a clearer privacy policy. But for us, we don’t want to lose your trust, because in bad times, it’s the one thing we can hang on to. It’s not something Google or Facebook seem to be aware of as they tend to ignore users’ demands and queries.
   In the last 24 hours, author Holly Jahangiri found an illustration depicting child pornography on Facebook that had been reported by many of her friends—only for Facebook to deem it constantly acceptable, despite what it states in its own terms and conditions. It was only when she Tweeted about it that Facebook finally responded publicly; and only when she involved a US government agency did the page disappear. The pressure of accountability like that against dishonest companies tells me Twitter will be around for a while yet.

   The trend this year, I believe, is the ongoing rise of challengers to these two brands. When the tipping-point against them occurs, I do not yet know. But now, I sense that it’s closer than ever.

This blog post is an adaptation of the editorial in issue 35 of Lucire.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, technology, USA | 5 Comments »


How a car accident makes you grateful

04.05.2015

The trouble with all the yellow-peril reporting that’s far more prevalent than it should be in Aotearoa is when something happens to you that may get people thinking about a stereotype.
   Back in March, of course, we had one writer justifying racism toward (east) Asian tourist drivers in the Fairfax Press, when the facts show that Aussies are the worst of the tourists when it comes to causing accidents on our roads. That’s no surprise, since there are simply more Aussie tourists driving on our roads; yet, as I pointed out in March, no one really seemed to mind how many accidents tourists were causing when the bulk of them were Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans.
   Then we had another one a few weeks later from the same newspaper group that suggested the increase in corrupt practices among New Zealand companies was due to immigration from countries such as China, tying in the story to a Deloitte report to give it legitimacy—except the report makes no such claim.
   With the exception of journalists like Dave Moore of The Press (part of the same newspaper group) who prefers to cite motoring facts and back them up rather than rely on hearsay from their grandfathers, it seems pretty easy for some in the media to draw a stereotype of the corrupt, incompetent Chinese driver. Those who think that we have completely moved past drawing pigtails (I said pigtails, not ponytails) on Chinese caricatures are wrong; while there aren’t such negative portrayals in our media, it seems incredibly easy, almost a default position, for some less responsible types to fall back on unrealistic conclusions. After all, The Dominion Post said my accent is hard to understand on its p. 1 some years back, and as many of you pointed out to them via the social networks, no one in the real world knows that they are talking about. (Note: I received a Twitter apology from the editor-in-chief.)
   The trouble comes when the fantasyland concocted by some starts impacting on everyday life, which is, of course, some of the discussions that US residents are having right now over how black Americans are portrayed. The peaceful protesters don’t get covered, because they are less newsworthy; the violent looters do, and it becomes dreadfully easy for the less cosmopolitan to equate being black with being violent.
   After a car accident on Friday, where everyone was exemplary, I couldn’t help but have these thoughts go through my mind. I found myself telling friends, ‘I had an accident, but the other driver was at fault,’ even though my friends know of my love of cars, and my above-average abilities with them. I double-checked with the police officer that he clearly understood me, when I should never have doubted his objectivity. My radar was alert for anyone who might fall back on the stereotype, even though I live in a city, with an urban population that generally has more contact with minority cultures and know that the fantasyland concocted by certain people is designed only to appeal to the ever-shrinking market of xenophobes in society.
   The ages of most of the people involved were under 30, so I really had nothing to fear: the other driver, the police officer, the witnesses, and the schoolboy who, as a responsible young New Zealander, called the emergency services for us. One witness offered her lounge for us to rest and get over the shock. The officer was scrupulously professional, not letting on any emotion (the Dieter Bonrath poker face school of policing, for the Cobra 11 fans out there) as he gathered his facts; he became friendlier after it was established we were both decent folks willing to help, and there was no booze involved. The ambulance staff were ultra-friendly and we had to assure them that we were all right and they should head off to the next gig where there may be a greater need for them. The other driver was honest, considerate and took responsibility, although she was in shock (as was I for some time, though I probably hid it better), yet her first utterance was to ask if I was all right. That says volumes about her character. Not only was this an urban population, this was a young urban population for whom skin colour is far down the list of priorities. Ditto with me: I can’t tell you what races people were. I just remembered everyone sounded like me. You know, like Sir Anand Satyanand.
   But it is a worry when your thoughts go toward defending yourself from the stereotype, because years of living in a place where you are the minority have taught you to be alert. Granted, no one shoots at us, since our cops are unarmed for the most part, but I began to get an appreciation for the hands-up gesture among black Americans in their country. It’s a symbol of so much, including ensuring that no one ever mistakes you for being armed, because of the negative associations that are portrayed. You nevertheless worry if anyone around you bought into fantasyland, because you know the less intelligent do: you’ve seen it. (I hasten to add that this is not a criticism of any particular people, because I am well aware that if you go to a place where my race is the majority, there will be a certain segment of the population there that holds negative and false stereotypes of others.)
   Race relations in this country have improved markedly since my arrival in 1976, so this is heartening. I don’t see things like refusal of service to people of my colour (yes, it has happened in the last four decades), and the stories of my great-uncle and others, of having stones and rocks thrown at you by fellow Kiwis because of their colour, seem foreign and distant. Last Friday was a reminder that most New Zealanders look at others fairly, regardless of their origins. That was a silver lining. Lucy Knight’s instincts kicked in to defend a Chinese New Zealander whose handbag was being stolen by a young man, and Mrs Knight got a serious head injury for her intervention, requiring months of surgery and rehabilitation. I doubt she evaluated the race of thief or victim before stepping in, and, rightly, The New Zealand Herald didn’t care, either. Go to your social media feeds, and by and large, racism is frowned upon. Last Friday was a fantastic reminder of the good of the place I have proudly called home most of my life. A place where xenophobia is virtually dead.
   We’ve come a long way, and we just need to weed out the last little bits of this strange fantasy where it’s apparently desirous that Aotearoa looks something like Midsomer but without the deaths. The reality is that the Midsomers of this world (by that I mean any society that adopts a Luddite position in part through having its head in the sand) are terrible at trading and stagnate. We’re in a global society, we’ve a lot to gain from working with others in different nations, and we’re really not that different across the planet. As someone once pointed out to me, the Palestinian Dream looks an awful lot like the American Dream.
   And, if you’re truly proud of your country, you’d naturally want to share, secure enough in your belief about the place to know that the fundamental things about it will never change. New Zealand will always be New Zealand, with an independent, determined outlook, and those who come get it. The more we share, the more we all get it. That’s a good thing.

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Posted in cars, China, culture, media, New Zealand, USA, Wellington | 1 Comment »


In the Empah, the royal baby is 8 lb 3 oz, thank you

03.05.2015

The Cambridges with their new daughter in her first public appearance; photograph from the Press Association.

 
I haven’t followed the news of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new baby much, but I was interested to note that when Kensington Palace announced her weight, it was in Imperial only. None of this foreign metric rubbish in the Empah, thank you:

   I’m not complaining, since I still have weights and heights in Imperial in my head, being of that “transition generation” that was taught both at school. I still need to do mental arithmetic when the news tells me, ‘The suspect is 183 cm tall.’ I can tell you because of this Tweet, the royal baby and I weighed the same at birth; had they told us this in metric, I couldn’t have made the comparison.
   I am wondering if the choice not to cite the weight in metric was intentional. Judging by my feed, there are plenty of royal-watchers younger than me. Forget pounds and ounces, they might not even know who Gorbachev was. I occasionally refer to the old weights and get puzzled looks, so, outside of the United States, are they still that familiar to people?

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Posted in culture, internet, media, UK | No Comments »


The trials of being a dual national (or, Kiwis are better at this stuff than Brits)

28.02.2015

I have just under a year before my British passport expires. In the great tradition of apartheid, it’s a British overseas national passport for those of us born in the colonies, and both in 1996 and 2006, I had to use a different form to British citizens. I presume Britain was worried about overseas British subjects flooding to their country if anything happened, and as we all know, they would much rather that Johnny Foreigner from the Continent head there to get work.
   Naturally, they don’t make the renewal easy. Once upon a time, you got the form, filled it in, paid the fee, and went along to the British High Commission. It approached New Zealand levels of efficiency, which is very un-British, as it goes against the national tradition of strikes. However, I bumped into the new High Commissioner late last year (strangely, I never saw his predecessor in all the years she was here, so presently I still wonder whether she exists) and he advised me that these were all being done from the UK. It does beg the question of why we need High Commissions, just as I’m sure Gordon Brown was asking once why Britain needed all that gold, and earlier leaders why Britain needed a domestically owned car industry. You just never know what is round the corner.
   But I digress.
   I Tweeted the British High Commission’s account to ask about this, and they pointed me to www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration. It’s not terribly useful. Here was how our Twitter conversation unfolded:

   I did try the form for regular British citizens, which is one thing a search gives you. I’ve been through it, and there’s nowhere in which you can tell them you’re a BNO. This might be good news, because it means the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has started treating us the same as everyone else. Except you just know that that’s too good to be true. And the silence from the High Commission is interesting. You can always count on the Foreign Office to make you feel second-class. By telling them you are BNO, it rules out that you have any blue blood from their lot, so they have nothing to fear if you are a pleb.
   This is not atypical of the British High Commission: I had a query in 2001 on a fairly serious matter, and they ignored my correspondence. The Foreign Secretary then ignored it. The Shadow Foreign Secretary then ignored it. Thank goodness for Ms Doreen Welch of the Prime Minister’s office, who acknowledged it, to the point where I took her correspondence to Britain to show that even if the FCO were incapable, the PM accepted my viewpoint. (Who knew? Tony did good.) We return to the question of just why we need High Commissions if they actually serve no function for British subjects abroad. (The only High Commissioner who ever bothered responding was George Fergusson, because of our St Mark’s old boys’ connection, but in classic British fashion his people got the address wrong on the envelope and the correspondence took months to get from Thorndon to Kilbirnie.)
   I enquired again, this time with the Passports’ Office. I have cited the wrong link below, but at least I admit it when I am wrong.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The British High Commission in New Zealand provided me the link to your new service at https://passportapplication.service.gov.uk, and it looks very easy to follow.
   However, I am a British overseas national. I note your website has a separate PDF form for us, and a separate set of guidance notes. What your website does not detail is the process and where we send this PDF once completed.
   Most websites seem to point to the above link.
   Please can you enlighten me on the actual procedure? If it is the first link given, then I am happy to proceed through it and do it online. However, if the presence of the PDF on your website is any indication, then I suspect we have to jump through different hoops, and I would appreciate your guidance on that.

Yours sincerely,

Jack Yan

   Here is the reply. This is in full. Salutations, you see, are no longer part of FCO correspondence. That makes it officially one step down from responses from Amazon.com.

You will need to apply using the online application service. Please see the advice here: https://www.gov.uk/overseas-passports.

Regards

HM Passport Office Webmaster

   My response:

Thank you for your reply. So you are saying that there is no difference whether I am a British Overseas National or a British Citizen, and that I follow the one procedure at your link?
   This also means I can ignore the downloadable PDF on your website for British Overseas Nationals: is this correct?

   That’s the thing. There are two forms. One is the standard one, and the other is the BNO one, for which there are no instructions. No addresses are given on where to send this form. And when you ask them, no one will tell you a thing. Britain is sworn to silence when dealing with British subjects.
   Now, you might think, why don’t I just follow the link given? Sure, but this is the UK. I am happy to follow it and pay the fee but if they cock up, I pay again. It’s not like New Zealand where you can explain this to someone and they do the logical, right thing. It’s not even like Hong Kong or Singapore, places blessed with a decent civil service when the sun still shone on the Empah, but where the functionaries actually function. This is why I want to be sure. And you would think this was a delightfully simple query, innit.
   No one appears to have blogged about their experiences, hence this post. I even used my last-resort search engine Google to take a look: you know I got desperate when I allowed the NSA to know and to pass that on to the GCHQ.
   If you’re a BNO who has been through this post-2013, please feel free to comment.
   It’s in stark contrast to my urgent New Zealand passport renewal last year, which was done by the DIA in Wellington in four hours. That was not a typo.
   I realize that with electronic media somewhat difficult for this department, I will give them a call during the working week. To make sure that I get an answer, I will adopt an American accent, because we all know the British government listens to those.
   Failing that, one might have to fly there just to get this done.

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Posted in humour, New Zealand, politics, UK, Wellington | No Comments »


The descent of social media as a debating tool

17.10.2014

Jo Komisarczuk referred, on Twitter, this piece by Rory Cellan-Jones. The title, ‘Twitter and the poisoning of online debate’, gives you a good indication of the topic, and it centres around an incident dubbed ‘Gamergate’. While I haven’t followed the Gamergate controversy, I am told that it centres around sexism and misogyny in the gaming industry, to the point where, in Jo’s words, ‘women are now scared to talk about it publicly’. Cellan-Jones refers to Twitter attacks on women, including threats of rape, and:

And for weeks now women in the video games industry have been under attack. There have been death threats, “doxing”—publishing personal information online—and all manner of insults directed at women who have expressed views about gaming deemed unacceptable by some gamers.

   It’s disgraceful, though sadly not altogether surprising, that this sort of misogyny carries on in the 21st century—but when the gender gap has not closed and the way women are portrayed in media is still generally slanted against them, it reminds all of us that there is a great deal of work to do in treating everyone fairly and respectfully.
   Twitter, however, isn’t helping.

For a long while, Twitter was different, a place where people were who they said they were and were aware that a tweet was a public statement for which you could be called to account. Now though, a rash of spam and so-called sockpuppet accounts have started to poison this well too. High profile users under assault from such accounts find that they block them, only for new ones to pop up instantly.

   I Facebooked earlier today (ironically, despite my saying I was decreasing my interaction on the service last night): ‘Like so many other technologies (e.g. email) it starts off with new, optimistic early adopters. Then the low-lifes, spammers and bots start coming in.’ You could also add one politician’s wife whose sole intent on Twitter was to launch attacks.
   I saw a lot of trolling in the 2013 campaign but none in 2010, and put it down to mere politics, but to be reminded by Cellan-Jones that this happens to people who aren’t putting themselves out there to be elected is disappointing. Those of us who seek public office should, by the very act of running, expect it, but I never had threats of harm directed at me. If we’ve descended into this, having to field personal attacks and threats, then what is the point of some of these services? These aren’t even conflicting opinions, in the cases I observed last year, but people out there for the sake of shit-stirring, to be reactive—it is effectively pointless. Does this not discourage everyday people from putting themselves out there, at a time when we keep saying we want our representatives, be they political, social or commercial, to be folks who are in touch with us?
   You can see these same arguments apply to the blogosphere and Nicky Hager’s point that attacks on private citizens dissuades others from standing for public office. You can take similar arguments into other areas: if you make a position so unsavoury, then we miss out on good people who could become great leaders.
   We can’t expect people to keep migrating to new services where the trendy, friendly early adopters reside, since they never have the reach. Restricting freedom of speech goes against some of our basic values. Making your account private to only a handful means creating a bubble, and that doesn’t serve you. Confucius might say that education and self-regulation are the key, but that could depend on whether netizens want to be on these social networks to speak out against this negative behaviour in the meantime.
   We might say there is nothing new under the sun, and these latest incidents simply expose behaviours that were prevalent for years. Even if that were the case, it’s not too late to change things. We’d all prefer a level of civilized debate and a decent exchange of views—and it may be up to everyday people to simply ignore the attackers and trolls, and not give them the satisfaction of knowing that got to someone. If it gets to a point where a crime is committed (e.g. a threat of harm is made), then the authorities should be involved. As to the victims, we should convey our support to them.
   Or is there yet another way?

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Posted in culture, internet, leadership, politics, technology | No Comments »


How many Facebook bots do you see in an evening? I count over 250

09.10.2014

Last month, I Tweeted Facebook, asking them to raise the reporting limit for bots. Right now, you can report around 40 bot accounts before a warning box comes up asking you to slow down. If you do another 10, you are barred from reporting any more for 24 hours—even though you are trying to help Facebook clean up its act.
   I said that the rate of increase in bot accounts was exponential, and that raising the limit to 200 immediately might be useful.
   Tonight, the 200 barrier has been broken. In other words, in one evening, not counting click farms (which are also hitting our groups like crazy, with a growing number from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia daily), I came across 277 bot accounts on Facebook. All because I have a few groups and I was checking to see who was joining.
   And here I was, thinking that over the last few weeks, when I was seeing a maximum of six daily, that Facebook had this problem under control.
   Obviously, the bot nets found a way through whatever defences Facebook had.
   I won’t republish the list of 277 here. There might be slightly fewer as there could be doubling-up in my list—you can lose your place at night copying and pasting. If you do want to have a peek at what bot accounts look like, the second part of the list at my Tumblr blog will give you an idea. And if you’d like to report them, you’re most welcome to—though since it’s neither your job nor mine, I wonder why we should bother. Facebook loves to brag about its numbers of how many people it has using the site. If in order to fool advertisers it shows a quarter-on-quarter increase by counting the bots, then maybe we should let it be, and eventually let the site fall over (and let’s face it, the frequency of that happening has increased, too).
   All of which point to a website that is becoming less and less useful as a marketing tool—no wonder the likes of Ello saw an increase in usage in the last few weeks.

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, USA | 4 Comments »


Reacting to AJE’s Broken Dreams: are there parallels between GM and Boeing’s 787?

12.09.2014


Simpsons fans should be able to connect the above scene with the post below.

I’m sure some of you watched the al-Jazeera English documentary this week on the Boeing 787, and how there are safety concerns over the models built in South Carolina. In summary, ‘Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit and reporter Will Jordan investigate Boeing’s 787 “Dreamliner”, finding some workers with quality concerns, alleging drug use and fearing to fly the plane they build.’ Even if you don’t watch the full 48 minutes, the links on the page make for interesting reading.
   I’m not usually one to take a TV programme at face value, but I admit this one piqued my interest. Enough for me to Tweet Air New Zealand last night to ask them their thoughts and the airline responded this morning:

Safety is paramount and non-negotiable at Air NZ. We remain completely confident of the safety and reliability of the 787-9.

which does sound a bit like a press release. Hackneyed? Yes, and totally unlike the human face that Air New Zealand generally takes with its Twitter account.
   Call me cheeky, but I responded with:

That’s what BOAC said about the De Havilland Comet. Will you check into these new allegations about the Hillbilly 787s?

(I accept that that was not a good term to use and I apologize for it) and added later:

Can you guys at least watch the doco or confirm to me that someone senior enough has, and then convey your thoughts?

   The documentary was quite damning about the 787s, and the US system failing consumers these days (just think about GM), I think I’ve every right to be worried. Air New Zealand, even more so. When whistle-blowers like John Woods are fired, something is rotten. If consumers don’t trust ‘Made in USA’ any more, then we need to be assured that we’re getting the best planes made by the best workers—and traditionally, those workers are the Washington state ones.
   Surely there are parallels here. Here’s what happened to GM quality manager Courtland Kelley:

It described employees passing the buck and committees falling back on the “GM nod”—when everyone in a meeting agrees that something should happen, and no one actually does it …
   Kelley had sued GM in 2003, alleging that the company had dragged its feet addressing dangers in its cars and trucks. Even though he lost, Kelley thought that by blowing the whistle he’d done the right thing and paved the way for other GMers to speak up. Now he saw that he’d had the opposite impact: His loss, and the way his career had stalled afterward, taught others at the company to stay quiet …
   Kelley had been the head of a nationwide GM inspection program and then the quality manager for the Cobalt’s predecessor, the Cavalier. He found flaws and reported them, over and over, and repeatedly found his colleagues’ and supervisors’ responses wanting. He thought they were more concerned with maintaining their bureaucracies and avoiding expensive recalls than with stopping the sale of dangerous cars. Eventually, Kelley threatened to take his concerns to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Frustrated with the limited scope of a recall of sport-utility vehicles in 2002, he sued GM under a Michigan whistle-blower law. GM denied wrongdoing, and the case was dismissed on procedural grounds.

and what happened to Woods (who also lost against Boeing and its team of lawyers):

There was some animosity between quality and production. I would bring up a quality concern and they would say, well, that’s not helpful to production.
   On several occasions, I would go check out these repairs while they were being done and after. There are inspection points all throughout the repair process where an inspector is supposed to come over and check something and mark it down that he checked it.
   You’re never supposed to go past an operation that’s not checked off. I would see a defect and I’ll look at the inspection sheet and there was no note of it, and I know in the specifications that all anomalies, even small anomalies, are supposed to be recorded in the inspection.
   So I would bring an inspector over and show it to him and say, “Could you please note this down in your inspection?” And they say okay, so I’d walk away. Then I’d come back later that day or the next day and it’s still not noted.
   So then I would go mention it to the supervisor and go back another couple of days and still not noted. It became very frustrating on several occasions, to the point where people were angry at me for bringing it up.

   If we cannot trust the NHTSA over GM, can we really trust the FAA?
   As a New Zealander, I would like our national airline to assure us that we’re not getting lemons, and just how we can be sure that we’re not the guinea pigs for testing the planes like those early Comet passengers were.

Boeing’s response to the al-Jazeera programme can be found here.
A review questioning al-Jazeera’s objectivity with claims there were biases can be found in Forbes.

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Posted in business, culture, media, New Zealand, TV, USA | No Comments »