Posts tagged ‘World Wide Web’


Bing has tanked

24.07.2022

Well, folks, here’s someone who’s done the maths. The stats in the last post suggested as much but the sample was so small.

Maurice de Kunder at WorldWideWebSize.com has a definitive graph:
 

 

His methodology is explained at his site.

I’d say late May or early June was when I noticed Duck Duck Go queries on Lucire become largely useless. After a month of seeing no improvement, I began looking into alternatives.

No one knows why, since Bing’s not going to admit any of this. If I was Duck Duck Go, I’d be looking into alternatives smartly. Anyone want to get in touch with Alltheweb and Inktomi? Their indices in the early 2000s were bigger than this.
 
PS.: I tried to tell the SEO sub-Reddit, but no joy. It was immediately removed.
 

 
The original text:

Since June I noticed that our internal site:domain.com searches powered by Duck Duck Go were not returning many results any more. As DDG is powered by Bing, I checked it out there, and, sure enough, we dipped from thousands of entries to 50 (and even 10 at one point). This is a 25-year-old site with decent inbound links.

I did a lot of investigating which I wrote up on my own blog (which I won’t link here due to sub-Reddit rules) and came across this website, which seems to suggest Bing has tanked. The person who runs it is pretty clued up on statistics.

I have run a small sample of 10 sites through the search engines as well and these back up their findings.

At this rate, Bing is smaller than Inktomi and Alltheweb in the early 2000s. What strikes me as weird is that all the Bing licensees haven’t done anything, either, so Duck Duck Go, Ecosia, Qwant, and Onesearch have all shrunk, too. (Swisscows is still reasonably sized.)

Anyone else been through something similar in the last two months?

Why don’t they wish to know? I would have thought this was rather serious for an SEO group.

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Posted in internet, technology | 4 Comments »


Putting the search engines through their paces

24.07.2022

One more, and I might give the subject a rest. Here I test the search engines for the term Lucire. This paints quite a different picture.

Lucire is an established site, dating from 1997, indexed by all major search engines from the start. The word did not exist online till the site began. It does exist in old Romanian. There is a (not oft-used) Spanish conjugated verb, I believe, spelt the same.

The original site is very well linked online, as you might expect after 25 years. You would normally expect, given its age and the inbound links, to see lucire.com at the top of any index.

There is a Dr Yolande Lucire in Australia whom I know, who I’m used to seeing in the search engine results.

The scores are simply for getting relevant sites to us into the top 10, and no judgement is made about their quality or relevance.
 
Google
lucire.com
twitter.com
lucire.net
instagram.com
wikipedia.org
linkedin.com
facebook.com
pinterest.nz
neighbourly.co.nz
—I hate to say it, as someone who dislikes Google, but all of the top 10 results are relevant. Fair play. Then again, with the milliards it has, and with this as its original product, it should do well. 10/10
 
Mojeek
scopalto.com
lucirerouge.com
lucire.net
lucire.com
mujerhoy.com
portalfeminino.com
paperblog.com
dailymotion.com
eldiablovistedezara.net
hispanaglobal.com
Mojeek might be flavour of the month for me, but these results are disappointing. Scopalto retails Lucire in France, so that’s fair enough, but disappointing to see the original lucire.com site in fourth. Fifth, sixth, seventh, ninth and tenth are irrelevant and relate to the Spanish word lucir. You’d have to get to no. 25 to see Lucire again, for Yola’s website. Then it’s more lucir results till no. 52, the personal website of one of our editors. 5/10
 
Swisscows
lucire.net
wikipedia.org
lucire.com
spanishdict.com
lucire.net
lucire.com
drlucire.com
facebook.com
spanishdict.com
viyeshierelucre.com
—Considering it sources from Bing, it makes the same mistakes by placing the rarely linked lucire.net up top, and lucire.com in third. Fourth, ninth and tenth are irrelevant, and the last two relate to different words. Yola’s site is seventh, which is fair enough. 6/10
 
Baidu
lucire.net
lucire.com
lucire.cc
lucire.com
kanguowai.com
hhlink.com
vocapp.com
forvo.com
kuwo.cn
lucirehome.com
—Interesting mixture here. Strange, too, that lucire.net comes up top. We own lucire.cc but it’s now a forwarding domain (it was once our link shortener, up to a decade ago). Seventh and ninth relate to the Romanian word strălucire and eighth to the Romanian word lucire. The tenth domain is an old one, succeeded a couple of years ago by lucirerouge.com. Not very current, then. 7/10
 
Startpage
lucire.com
lucire.com
lucire.net
instagram.com
wikipedia.org
linkedin.com
facebook.com
pinterest.nz
fashionmodeldirectory.com
twitter.com
—All relevant, as expected, since it’s all sourced from Google. 10/10
 
Virtual Mirage
lucire.com
instagram.com
wikipedia.org
lucire.net
facebook.com
linkedin.com
pinterest.nz
lucirerouge.com
nih.gov
twitter.com
—I don’t know much about this search engine, since I only heard about it from Holly Jahangiri earlier today. A very good effort, with only the ninth one being irrelevant to us: it’s a paper co-written by Yola. 9/10
 
Yandex
lucire.com
lucire.net
facebook.com
twitter.com
wikipedia.org
instagram.com
wikipedia.eu
pinterest.nz
en-academic.com
wikiru.wiki
—This is the Russian version. All are relevant, and they are fairly expected, other than the ninth result which I’ve not come across this high before, although it still relates to Lucire. 10/10
 
Bing
lucire.net
wikipedia.org
lucire.com
spanishdict.com
lucire.com
facebook.com
drlucire.com
spanishdict.com
twitter.com
lucirahealth.com
—How Bing has slipped. There are sites here relating to the Spanish word lucirse and to Lucira, who makes PCR tests for COVID-19. One is for Yola. 7/10
 
Qwant.com
lucire.net
wikipedia.org
spanishdict.com
drlucire.com
spanishdict.com
tumblr.com
lucirahealth.com
lacire.co
amazon.com
lucirahealth.com
—For a Bing-licensed site, this is even worse. No surprise to see lucire.com gone here, given how inconsistently Bing has treated it of late. But there are results here for Lucira and a company called La Cire. The Amazon link is also for Lucira. 3/10
 
Qwant.fr
lucire.net
wikipedia.org
reverso.net
luciremen.com
lucire.com
twitter.com
lacire.co
lucirahealth.com
viyeshierelucre.com
lucirahealth.com
—The sites change slightly if you use the search box at qwant.fr. The Reverso page is for the Spanish word luciré. Sixth through tenth are irrelevant and do not even relate to the search term. Eleventh and twelfth are for lucire.com and facebook.com, so there were more relevant pages to come. The ranking or relevant results, then, leaves something to be desired. 5/10
 
Duck Duck Go
lucire.com
lucire.net
wikipedia.org
spanishdict.com
drlucire.com
spanishdict.com
lucirahealth.com
amazon.com
lacire.co
luciremen.com
—Well, at least the Duck puts lucire.com up top, and the home page at that (even if Bing can’t). Only four relevant results, with Lucire Men coming in at tenth. 4/10
 
Brave
lucire.com
instagram.com
twitter.com
wikipedia.org
linkedin.com
lucire.net
facebook.com
fashion.net
wiktionary.org
nsw.gov.au
—For the new entrant, not a bad start. Shame about the smaller index size. All of these relate to us except the last two, one a dictionary and the other referring to Yolande Lucire. 8/10
 

The results are surprising from these first results’ pages.
 
★★★★★★★★★★ Google
★★★★★★★★★★ Yandex
★★★★★★★★★★ Startpage
★★★★★★★★★☆ Virtual Mirage
★★★★★★★★☆☆ Brave
★★★★★★★☆☆☆ Baidu
★★★★★★★☆☆☆ Bing
★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ Swisscows
★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ Mojeek
★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ Qwant.fr
★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ Duck Duck Go
★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ Qwant.com
 

It doesn’t change my mind about the suitability of Mojeek for internal searches though. It’s still the one with the largest index aside from Google, and it doesn’t track you.

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Posted in China, France, internet, publishing, technology, UK, USA | 2 Comments »


How to end social media censorship

16.04.2022


Kristina Flour/Unsplash
 
This Twitter thread by Yishan Wong is one of the most interesting I’ve come across. Not because it’s about Elon Musk (who he begins with), but because it’s about the history of the web, censorship, and the reality of running a social platform.

Here are some highlights (emphases in the original):

There is this old culture of the internet, roughly Web 1.0 (late 90s) and early Web 2.0, pre-Facebook (pre-2005), that had a very strong free speech culture.

This free speech idea arose out of a culture of late-90s America where the main people who were interested in censorship were religious conservatives. In practical terms, this meant that they would try to ban porn (or other imagined moral degeneracy) on the internet …

Many of the older tech leaders today … grew up with that internet. To them, the internet represented freedom, a new frontier, a flowering of the human spirit, and a great optimism that technology could birth a new golden age of mankind.

Fast forward to the reality of the 2020s:

The internet is not a “frontier” where people can go “to be free,” it’s where the entire world is now, and every culture war is being fought on it.

It’s the main battlefield for our culture wars.

Yishan points out that left-wingers can point to where right-wingers get more freedom to say their piece, and that right-wingers can point to where left-wingers get more. ‘Both sides think the platform is institutionally biased against them.’

The reality:

They would like you (the users) to stop squabbling over stupid shit and causing drama so that they can spend their time writing more features and not have to adjudicate your stupid little fights.

That’s all.

They don’t care about politics. They really don’t.

He concedes that people can be their worst selves online, and that the platforms struggle to keep things civil.

They have to pretend to enforce fairness. They have to adopt “principles.”

Let me tell you: There are no real principles. They are just trying to be fair because if they weren’t, everyone would yell louder and the problem would be worse …

You really want to avoid censorship on social networks? Here is the solution:

Stop arguing. Play nice. The catch: everyone has to do it at once.

I guarantee you, if you do that, there will be no censorship of any topic on any social network.

Because it is not topics that are censored. It is behavior.

I think Yishan’s right to some degree. There are leanings that the leaders of these social networks have, and I think that can affect the overall decisions. But he’s also right that both left and right feel aggrieved. I warned as much when I wrote about social media and their decision about Donald Trump in the wake of the incidents of January 6, 2021. I’ve seen left- and right-wing accounts get taken down, and often for no discernible reason I can fathom.

Generally, however, civil discourse is a perfectly fine way to go, and for most things that doesn’t invite censorship or account removal. Wouldn’t it be nice if people took him up on this, to see what would happen?

Sadly, that could well be as idealistic as the ‘new frontier’ which many of us who got into the dot com world in the 1990s believed in.

But maybe he’s woken up some folks. And with c. 50,000 followers, he has a darn sight better chance than I have reaching just over a tenth of that on Twitter, and the 1,000 or so of you who will read this blog post.
 
During the writing of this post, Vivaldi crashed again, when I attempted to enter form data—a bug that they believed was fixed a few revisions ago. It appears not. I’ll still send over a bug report, but everything is pointing at my abandoning it in favour of Opera GX. Five years is a very good run for a browser.

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


Contextual targeting worked, so why abandon it?

27.09.2021

Didn’t I already say this?

   Contextual targeting worked for so long on the web, although for some time I’ve noticed ads not displaying on sites where I’ve blocked trackers or had third-party cookies turned off. That means there are ad networks that would rather do their clients, publishers and themselves out of income when they can’t track. Where’s the wisdom in that?
   I can’t believe it took Apple’s change in favour of privacy for the online advertising mob to take notice.
   This is how I expect it to work (and it’s a real screenshot from Autocade).

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Posted in business, internet, marketing, media, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


Searching for Murray Smith

09.12.2020

Earlier today Strangers, the 1978 TV series created by Murray Smith, came to mind. Smith created and wrote many episodes of one of my favourite TV series, The Paradise Club (which to this day has no DVD release due to the music rights), and penned an entertaining miniseries Frederick Forsyth Presents (the first time that I noticed one Elizabeth Hurley) and a novel I bought when I first spotted it, The Devil’s Juggler. He also wrote one of my favourite Dempsey and Makepeace episodes, ‘Wheel Man’, which had quite a few of the hallmarks of some of his other work, including fairly likeable underworld figures, which came into play with The Paradise Club.
   Yet there’s precious little about Smith online. His Wikipedia entry is essentially a version of his IMDB credits with some embellishments, for instance. It doesn’t even record his real name.
   Don’t worry, it’s not another dig at Wikipedia, but once again it’s a reflection of how things aren’t permanent on the web, a subject I’ve touched on before after reading a blog entry from my friend Richard MacManus. And that we humans do have to rely on our own memories over what’s on the ’net still: the World Wide Web is not the solution to storing all human knowledge, or, at least, not the solution to accessing it.
   It’s easy to refer to the disappearance of Geocities and the like, and the Internet Archive can only save so much. And in this case, I remember clearly searching for Murray Smith on Altavista in the 1990s, because I was interested in what he was up to. (He died in 2003.) I came across a legal prospectus of something he was proposing to do, and because it was a legal document, it gave his actual name.
   Murray Smith was his screen name, and I gather from an article in The Independent quoting Smith and his friend Frederick Forsyth, he went by Murray, but the family name was definitely Murray-Smith. Back in those days, there was a good chance that if it was online, it was real: it took too much effort to make a website for anyone to bother doing fake news. My gut says it was George David Murray-Smith or something along those lines, but there’s no record of that prospectus online any more, or of the company that he and Forsyth set up together to make Frederick Forsyth Presents, which I assume from some online entries was IFS Productions Ltd. Some websites’ claim that his name was Charles Maurice Smith is incorrect.
   Looking today, there are a couple of UK gazette entries for George David Murray Smith (no hyphen) in the armed forces, including the SAS in the 1970s, which suggest I am right.
   Even in the age of the web, the advantage still lies with those of us who have good memories who can recall facts that are lost. I’ve often suggested on this blog that we cannot fully trust technology, and that there’s no guarantee that even the official bodies, like the UK Companies’ Office, will have complete, accessible records. The computer is a leveller, but not a complete one.

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Posted in business, culture, interests, internet, TV, UK | 1 Comment »


Search engines favour novelty over accuracy and merit

01.10.2020

I was chatting to another Tweeter recently about the Ford I-Max, and decided I’d have a hunt for its brochure online. After all, this car was in production from 2007 to 2009, the World Wide Web was around, so surely it wouldn’t be hard to find something on it?
   I found one image, at a very low resolution. The web’s not a repository of everything: stuff gets removed, sites go down, search engines are not comprehensive—in fact, search engines favour the new over the old, so older posts that are still current—such as this post about the late George Kennedy—can’t even be found. This has been happening for over a decade, so it shouldn’t surprise us—but we should be concerned that we cannot get information based on merit or specificity, but on novelty. Not everything new is right, and if we’re only being exposed to what’s “in”, then we’re no better at our knowledge than our forebears. The World Wide Web, at least the way it’s indexed, is not a giant encyclopædia which brings up the best at your fingertips, but often a reflection of our bubble or what the prevailing orthodoxy is. More’s the pity.

I can’t let this post go without one gripe about Facebook. Good news: as far as I can tell, they fixed the bug about tagging another page on your own page, so you don’t have to start a new line in order to tag another party. Bad news, or maybe it’s to do with the way we’ve set up our own pages: the minute you do, the nice preview image that Facebook extracted vanishes in favour of something smaller. I’ll check out our code, but back when I was debugging Facebook pages, it was pretty good at finding the dominant image on a web page. Lesson: don’t tag anyone. It ruins the æsthetic on your page, and it increases everyone’s time on the site, and that can never be healthy. Time to fight the programming of Professor Fogg and his children (with apologies to Roger McNamee).



Top: The post Facebook picks up from an IFTTT script. Above: What happens to a post that once had a proper image preview after editing, and tags added.

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Posted in cars, culture, interests, internet, technology | No Comments »


Even the web is forgetting our history

26.04.2020


Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
   The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
   There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
   His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
   That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
   Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
   Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
   Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
   I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
   Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
   Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


The “fortress America” approach to the internet fuels piracy

21.12.2019

There are websites such as CBS News in the US that no longer let us here in New Zealand view them. US Auto Trader is another one. It’s a damned shame, because I feel it’s a stab at the heart of what made the internet great—the fact that we could be in touch with each other across borders. These two US websites, and there are plenty more, are enacting the “fortress America” policy, and I’ve never believed that isolationism is a good thing.
   Let’s start with the Auto Trader one. As someone who found his car on the UK Auto Trader website, it seems daft for the US to limit itself to its own nation’s buyers. What if someone abroad really would like an American classic? Then again, I accept that classic cars are few and far between on that site, and if photos from the US are anything to go by, the site’s probably full of Hyundai Sonatas and Toyota Camrys anyway.

   I went to the CBS website because of a Twitter link containing an interesting headline. Since we’re blocked from seeing that site, then I logically fed the same headline into a search engine and found it in two places. The first was Microsoft News, which I imagine is fine for CBS since they probably still get paid a licence for it. The second, however, was an illegal content mill that had stolen the article.
   I opted for the former to (a) do the right thing and (b) avoid the sort of pop-ups and other annoying ads that content mills often host, but what if the Microsoft version was unavailable? These geo-restrictions actually encourage piracy and does the original publisher out of income, and I can’t see that as a good thing.
   Some blamed the GDPR coming into force in the EU, so it appears CBS—which apparently is against Donald Trump talking isolationism yet practises it—decided to lump “not America” into one group and include us in it. But so what if GDPR is in force? It’s asking you to have more reasonable protections for privacy—you know, the sort of thing your websites probably had 15 years ago by default?
   I still don’t think it’s that hard to ask users to hop over to Aboutads.info and opt out of ad tracking on each of their browsers. We haven’t anything as sophisticated as some websites, which put their controls front and centre, but we at least provide links; and we ourselves don’t collect intrusive data. Yes, some ad networks we use do (which you can opt out of), but we’d never ask them for it. The way things are configured, I don’t even know your IP address when you feed in a comment.
   Ours isn’t a perfect solution but at least we don’t isolate—we welcome all walks of life, regardless of where you hail from. Just like the pioneers of the web, such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Make the internet great again.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, internet, media, publishing, USA | No Comments »


The end of US ’net neutrality: another step toward the corporate internet

11.06.2018

That’s it for ’net neutrality in the US. The FCC has changed the rules, so their ISPs can throttle certain sites’ traffic. They can conceivably charge more for Americans visiting certain websites, too. It’s not a most pessimistic scenario: ISPs have attempted this behaviour before.
   It’s another step in the corporations controlling the internet there. We already have Google biasing itself toward corporate players when it comes to news: never mind that you’re a plucky independent who broke the story, Google News will send that traffic to corporate media.
   The changes in the US will allow ISPs to act like cable providers. I reckon it could give them licence to monitor Americans’ traffic as well, including websites that they mightn’t want others to know they’re watching.
   As Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, puts it: ‘We’re talking about it being just a human right that my ability to communicate with people on the web, to go to websites I want without being spied on is really, really crucial.’
   Of course I have a vested interest in a fair and open internet. But everyone should. Without ’net neutrality, innovators will find it harder to get their creations into the public eye. Small businesses, in particular, will be hurt, because we can’t pay to be in the “fast lane” that ISPs will inevitably create for their favoured corporate partners. In the States, minority and rural communities will likely be hurt.
   And while some might delight that certain websites pushing political viewpoints at odds with their own could be throttled, they also have to remember that this can happen to websites that share their own views. If it’s an independent site, it’s likely that it will face limits.
   The companies that can afford to be in that “fast lane” have benefited from ’net neutrality themselves, but are now pulling the ladder up so others can’t climb it.
   It’s worth remembering that 80 per cent of Americans support ’net neutrality—they are, like us, a largely fair-minded people. However, the FCC is comprised of unelected officials. Their “representatives” in the House and Senate are unlikely, according to articles I’ve read, to support their citizens’ will.
   Here’s more on the subject, at Vox.
   Since China censors its internet, we now have two of the biggest countries online giving their residents a limited form of access to online resources.
   However, China might censor based on politics but its “Great Wall” won’t be as quick to block new websites that do some good in the world. Who knew? China might be better for small businesses trying to get a leg up than the United States.
   This means that real innovation, creations that can gain some prominence online, could take place outside the US where, hopefully, we won’t be subjected to similar corporate agenda. (Nevertheless, our own history, where left and right backed the controversial s. 92A of the Copyright Act, suggests our lawmakers can be malleable when money talks.)
   These innovations mightn’t catch the public’s imagination in quite the same way—the US has historically been important for getting them out there. Today, it got harder for those wonderful start-ups that I got to know over the years. Mix that with the US’s determination to put up trade barriers based on false beliefs about trade balances, we’re in for a less progressive (and I mean that in the vernacular, and not the political sense) ride. “The rest of the world” needs to pull together in this new reality and ensure their subjects still have a fair crack at doing well, breaking through certain parties’ desire to stunt human progress.
   Let Sir Tim have the last word, as he makes the case far more succinctly than I did above: ‘When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today’s world, companies can’t operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC’s announcements today [in April 2017] suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?’

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Posted in business, China, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, USA | No Comments »


How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?

06.01.2016

How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the news.com.au home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with news.com.au differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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