Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, March 31, 2008

Linkorama for 31.3.08

'Curtain twitchers, the CIA and the rise of Facebook' - Nico @ Spy's survey of social networking sites and technologies. It is a very thorough piece, and the broad ntion that those sites that allow connections around objects, eg Flickr, is one I agree with, along with the idea of your broader network of people becoming trust engines. (Disclosure: I contributed to the piece.)

The Center for Future Banking at MIT - will it lead to banking becoming more customer-centric? Hmmm...

Results of the brand junkies survey at Brandchannel - why are the responses to these types of survey always so uniform? Is that those of us who do (and used to) work in the industry are so blinkered so as not to rate smaller, more nible, less heralded brands?


Neologisms (2)

creating carbon (advb): euphemism for farting. Can be used disparagingly when describing doomed attempts to save the planet, eg 'I've just created carbon. I'd leave it a couple of minutes if I were you.'

(Yes, obviously it is nitrogen that is being produced in the main, but hey, don't let that spoil the gag...)


Publish, or be overwhelmed

A PSFK report from SXSW pointed to a remark by Henry Jenkins, co-founder of the comparative media programme at MIT. He's quoted as saying:

he always tells his children to monitor the amount of information they take in versus the amount they put out.

That is to say, if you're not reflecting and expressing your thoughts and opinions on the data that you're absorbing, you'll lose of your ability to absorb that information in the first place.

So, more than ever, writing - or speaking - your thoughts, for an audience of one, or a million, is the way to make sense of the world.


On originality: Sugar Puffs and The Mighty Boosh

So; another 'adland caught with its fingers in the creative till'-type story.

Here is a Sugar Puff's advert:

Now, I am told by people younger and hipper than myself that this actually is a take-off a style of singing known as 'crimping', first done by The Mighty Boosh (although in truth, also owing a fair bit to the music hall style of singing).

It appears that m'learned friends were to get involved, until this message was received by the Boosh camp last week:

'Honey Monster is heartbroken he upset you'

and peace is further confirmed by this message:

Which begs the questions:

a) how much can a style of singing be deemed 'original' and therefore worthy of protection; b) can a brand 'charm' its way out of accusations of creative thievery?

In the latter case, it appears so, and as such makes a refreshing change from shrill denunciations against the denunciators. As in this case.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Adverts, good and bad


Fitness First street ambient ad


V&A Friday Late Subterranea 11

Who wouldn't want to go on a secret tour?


Friday, March 28, 2008

Why didn't the people...

behind 'rickrolling' use the song below instead? It is the 'great-lost-hope-of-white-boy soul's finest moment.


Linkorama for 28/3/08

Some odds and sods that might be of interest:

1. Vote for the most beautiful objects in the world here.

2. PhotoShop goes online.

3. Channel 4's blog, hosting the debate about its future.

4. An O2 and ScottishPower case study that I contributed to has gone live, with one or two tweaks to come.

5. Estelle has some pertinent things to say about the ingrained and inherent racism in the UK music industry.

6. The three stages of how an outlandish idea becomes accepted, as outlined by Arthur C. Clarke:

First, “It's completely impossible.” Second, “It's possible but not worth doing.” Third, “I said it was a good idea all along.”

7. And you have all registered to vote in the London mayoral elections, haven't you?


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Capsule: The Masque of The Red Death


To the Battersea Arts Centre, then, in the driving rain, and roll up roll up for the great po(st)-mo(dern)-go(thic)-prom(enade)-show that is Punchdrunk’s The Masque of the Red Death.

The acclaimed company has taken over the old, Victorian era Battersea Town Hall for this experiment in what some might call social media: the crowd is collaborator and participant in this theatre 2.0 production. But even though there is no stage as such, and performers and audience intermingle around the building, the third wall is still there. The audience wears masks, hook-nosed and alabaster white; discomfort is part of the price – but at least my glasses could be slung on too. Those who had followed the exhortation to come in evening dress gave the whole evening the air of an up-market murder mystery.

This is not a play, but a universe we enter. You see performance art, dance, revue, the graphic cues of burlesque, magic tricks, cabaret, the visual signals of 1840s Paris, and lots of red, blood red all over the place, but very little by way of straight, linear theatre as you make your way through the highly-stylised rooms. A tricky task, btw – beware heels and long, flowing capes up narrow, black stairwells. Lovers and friends were identifying themselves by rucksacks, badges and A1 envelopes.

You’ll really get the most out of The Masque if you know your Poe; otherwise you flail about trying to hold on wisps of stories and fragments of dialogue, which may or may not go somewhere. And it really is physical theatre. I was grabbed by the ear twice: once by a woman in a shawl, who told me to go and hold a woman in a muslin dress, as that’s the only way she would wake up. She did, but only after a delay which made me fear I had failed; the second was when a chap called William told me to follow him, asked me where William was and then challenged me to a duel. I told him I had no sword. He laughed, and then killed himself in front of a mirror. (Does that mean I won?)

Not everything is authentic, mind. Lily Allen could be spotted at the bar of the Paris Revue, where the absinthe was watered down, and the Maurice Chevalier impersonator looked more like Kris Marshall. And in a swathe of pages I picked up, that had fallen out of a book lying on a table in a parlour, was the sentence “The BEA flight landing that morning.” Poe was good, but not that good.

The crux is this: you dip in and out of the web of stories, so all is hyper-textual and free-flowing. But this means you’re not as emotionally involved as you could be. Immersed yes, thanks to the music and the lights and the décor and the atmosphere. But you’re still a voyeur.

And after a three hours or so, the bells ring insistently, and we are told to flee flee flee, and we do, into ballroom, where a dance of death is performed under a shower of red tickertape. And thence, into the rain, again.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Brand hijack: BlackBerry

Spotted on an email I've just received:

Sent using my BlackBerry under the table during a meeting.


26 recommendations for March

can be found here.


Crazy in glove

Crazy glove stylee!
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333

Some girls buy long, dressy evening gloves. And some girls knit them. Way to go Ms V!

(And for more on the new craft movement, see here.)


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Listorama: Facebook status updates vol 6

Betarish is...

feeling well upholstered
at work
now trying to type with a cat on his lap
diving into it already
getting ready to go at it again
has new glasses now
hypertastic, baby
says, insomnia, you might try to break me, but you will not beat me!
all about the work for the next five days or so
in work for the seventh day in a row
in work for the ninth day in a row
in work for the tenth day in a row
in work for the eleventh day in a row, but it’s OK as he’s nearly out of pitch purdah
in work for the twelfth day in a row, but all is calm if not all that awake
in work for the thirteenth day in a row, but the long weekend is coming
not at work! Instead, he’s heading out to Blackheath soon
slowly recovering from the morning’s run
is thinking about what to have for breakfast
no longer thinking about breakfast
back back back
reckons 4.30am is not the best time in the world to be awake
one year and counting
something. Or other. Or maybe nothing at all
not thanking the Academy for anything at all
asking you all to think twice, because it might not be another day in paradise
has installed twitter. Hurrah!
asks: does twitter make the status update here redundant?
resting, but in a non-theatrical sense
has more to do. As always
is all about the something or other
on the way to Rockferry
is chuffed at being asked to be Matt’s best man
a diamond hoo ha man, baby
all la la la whatever really
on civvy street
trying to avoid frustration
must remember not to run if he hasn’t had dinner the night before
will most likely be blown away later
reckons something’s going on. He’s just not sure what
has forgotten himself
is about to start writing. Again.
is now wary of parfum
has too much on
is coming over the hill. But he’s not a monster. Honest
not Fallon, and this is not his brief
thinking small
thinking and writing and presenting. Or will be soon


Monday, March 24, 2008

The end of the superclub

A timely piece in this weekend's FT Magazine about how the rise of property prices in London is forcing the end of some of the capital's more notable nitespots. The future, it appears, will be either upscale or niche, member-driven, or segmented a la Fabric. Warehouse-stylee will be, it appears, temporarily in abeyance.

Beware the rise of property prices though. Creative expressions like dance clubs are one of the ways in which 'creative cities' attract people to come, stay, live, work and create. If these are disappearing into gated, moneyed enclaves, one could argue that the creative health of the city is not all that it is cracked up to be.

For more on what makes cities creative, have a read of this Newsweek interview with Richard Florida.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Friday on Oxford Street

Good Friday on Oxford Street
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333

What does Easter mean to you? To lots of us, it is pretty much the clash of commerce with some vaguely-remembered bits of Christianity.

Which this image summed up quite well.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More digital innovation

Gosh, it's not stopping at the mo. Is it a pre-Easter push? These two play with new ways of telling stories:

1. The City Speaks - Radio 4 and BBC Film Network's collaboration, where films broadcast on the latter will be soundtracked by the former. Everything's based on a Peter Ackroyd short story. The two radio plays are broadcast today and tomorrow, and the films are online now. Not sure how catch up on both of these will be possible via iPlayer, but no doubt a way will be found.

2. Penguin's 'We Tell Stories' project - six authors tell six stories, inspired by six other classic stories, using various digital tools, including layered maps. The first one, Charles Cumming's 'The 21 Steps' unfolds on Google Maps. You literally trace the steps the protagonist is taking. It's weirdly disorientating. But compelling.


Design: Two things of beauty

1. The atlas of electromagnetic space, showing the various uses to which the spectrum has been put to use. I have a related theory that the *true* communications brand will be the one that can claim a presence and deliver service across all points of the spectrum. It may happen in my lifetime.

2. The large-scale colour name mapping survey. People were asked to name colours. And then they were placed on a colour wheel. I like the way granny smith apple green is way out there on its own.

Both sourced from Protein OS, here and here.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What you might have missed today

1. The Mills & McCartney judgement. My favourite bit: "The wife’s case cannot be so succinctly summarised." God bless the British judiciary.

2. Barack attempting to heal the US' racial wounds. My favourite bit:

"Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time."

So, he's not an originalist, then?

3. Wejetset - a cool travel shop. Look at the Darth and Chewie USB sticks!

4. Phorm - further to the earlier post, the debate about its implications has moved into the mainstream.

5. Nokia embraces open innovation.

6. Skimbit, a UK start-up doing interesting things aggregating and sharing search results.


... and a new type of online advertising?

The BBC is reporting that online advertising start-up Phorm might fall foul of the RIP 2000 Act. Any thoughts anyone?


Editorial: A new type of embedded journalism

Not quite sure what this all means, but this story via PSFK piqued enough interest to warrant some investigation. Any thoughts as to whether it'll catch on?



Monday, March 17, 2008

News: An unbearable travesty of justice

Sourced from Reuters. Does the bear have grounds for appeal? And how dangerous is 'turbo-folk music'?


Macedonian court convicts bear of stealing honey

SKOPJE (Reuters) - A Macedonian court convicted a bear of theft and damage for stealing honey from a beekeeper who fought off the attacks with thumping "turbo-folk" music.

"I tried to distract the bear with lights and music because I heard bears are afraid of that," Zoran Kiseloski told top-selling daily Dnevnik after the year-long case of the bear vs. the beekeeper ended in the beekeeper's favour.

"So I bought a generator, lit up the area and put on songs of (Serbian 'turbo-folk' star) Ceca."

The bear stayed away for a few weeks, but came back when the generator ran out of power and the music fell silent, Kiseloski said, adding, "it attacked the beehives again."

A court in the city of Bitola found the bear guilty, and since it had no owner and belonged to a protected species, ordered the state to pay the 140,000 denars (1,726 pounds) damage it caused to the hives.

There was no information on the whereabouts of the bear.

(Reporting by Ljilja Cvekic; Editing by Ellie Tzortzi and Mary Gabriel)


PS: Why not find your own bear here?


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Review: Putting the social back into society

Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations
Clay Shirky
Allen Lane, £20

What do a lost mobile phone, pictures of a suburban parade and an online encyclopaedia have in common? On the face of it, not that much. But in Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky’s new survey of the landscape and potential impacts of ‘social media’, these and many other examples are cast as the first flowerings of a revolution whose importance we have barely begun to recognize.

The book is an investigation into what can happen – indeed, what is happening – when technology does away with institutional and organizational limits. His argument is simple. New forms of sharing, collaborative production and collective action are emerging, which means that activities that would have been uneconomic or impossible to try and organize through traditional institutions are now suddenly possible.

What does that mean? In the old days, large organizations – corporations, the state – were the best at trying to coordinate solutions to large-scale problems. But this meant that many activities, especially small-scale ones, were not undertaken because it cost too much to try and organize a solution, or it was too difficult to find people willing to participate.

But now, as the cost and ease of collecting, aggregating and sharing information has fallen, through the use of web-based tools like Flickr or Meetup, so has the ability to create 'groups', however widely defined these might be, ready to undertake tasks that otherwise might not get done. Planning becomes less necessary as real-time coordination becomes more possible.

As Shirky says, “As long as there us someone who cares enough to get something started, enough people who only care a little or about one specific issue will gather together, thereby creating an distinctive aggregate effect.” And the tools used to hold these groups together – blogs, discussion lists, even email – in their turn make it possible for everyone to be a publisher too.

Consider the way that Wikipedia has come into the world. A new, generally reliable, source of knowledge has been created not in a hierarchial top-down fashion, but instead in a de-centralised way, by a mass of amateurs, and with little investment on its creators’ part, over and above that of time. But this is not old-fashioned collectivism, but instead “unending argumentation”. And if an encyclopaedia can be produced in this way, then theoretically so can any other form of intellectual property, in what Yochai Benkler calls “commons-based peer production”.

Shirky also begins to explain why it is this mass of amateurs wants to participate in these sorts of activities: using their otherwise redundant knowledge; vanity; and the need and desire to make a meaningful contribution.

That said, the fact that everyone can be a publisher now does not mean that every content creator will now become famous, nor indeed that everyone makes the same level of contribution. Shirky demonstrates how the ‘power law’ applies across most social media endeavours: that they rely disproportionately on the efforts of a few users.

The price of much of this activity is both banality of content, and its near instantaneous redundancy. But then, the same accusation can be made of much mass media, pop cultural product. The important thing to grasp is that, now we can all be publishers, not everything we publish will be meant for everyone.

There is necessarily a political dimension to all this, and in an understated way Shirky suggests that we haven’t yet recognised that we are in the middle of a revolution. "Social tools provide a positive supply-side shock to the amount of freedom in the world,” he argues. They allow weak groups to practice a form of jujitsu against strong ones, as well as being able to – potentially – halt the decline of, or even increase, the stock of social capital available within a community.

If these promises are true, then there is also the tantalizing possibility that the limitations on what the state can provide and deliver can be overcome, through new forms of social and collaborative production. It is this sort of thinking and approach that is underlying some of the current thinking by the UK Conservative party on how the state might look in a post-bureaucratic age.

There are limitations to all the talk of social this and collective that. There is an assumption that the tools of social media are, or are about to become mainstream, and that might not necessarily be the case. It's also unclear whether the ‘value’ that Shirky makes frequent reference to being created can actually be quantified. At least the rapid adoption of social media tools is arguably being driven by the fact that their effective cost of use is zero. But how and where the value that is necessarily being destroyed will be replaced is as yet undefined.

And beware the air of Californian utopianism that bubbles away under the surface and emerges from time to time. "We can do big things for love," he claims, and “turn love into a renewable building material.” Must remember that next Valentine’s day.

But these are minor quibbles about what is likely to be seen as the best book currently available about social media. Shirky is one of the foremost thinkers on how the internet and its related technologies are re-shaping the way we live, and as such is a wise and sure-footed guide through the this emerging world.

Remember: The revolution won't be televised. It will be decentralized, online. And chances are, we'll all be taking part.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Editorial: Self-congratulation

You might not know this, but O2 publishes a rather nifty magazine aimed at the SME corporate. It's called Fibre, and articles from the current (and future) issues will now be published online in the O2 business blueroom.

My interest? Some of my copy for Fibre can be found here.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Behind the news

Or rather Newsnight. One could get serious and say how it's a grand example of how public service broadcasting should reach out and engage potential new audiences, but far more fun to enjoy the world weary-sarkiness. Highlight: "A trained gibbon could do it."


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mobile TV has arrived...

...just not necessarily on your mobile phone. Get an iPod Touch or iPhone, find yourself a wi-fi hotspot, open Safari and then go to the BBC iPlayer home page. Proper streaming TV. Good quality n' all. You can't download stuff yet, and the speed that the controls come back on screen when you want to pause is slow.

But still. Real, proper mobile TV. Genius.


Friday, March 07, 2008

No more news

An insightful post by Ben over at Noisy Decent Graphics about how we are drowning in news. Literally. We are swamped by the stuff.

Not much of it is that demanding, admittedly. But still: look at the pictures and then think: what if all of those headlines were replaced by poetry instead?

Maybe we need a No New News Day to go with Buy Nothing Day.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ask an adman: Some answers

To the Royal Society of Medicine on Monday night where, under the auspices of the IPA, we were treated to the reminiscences of Lord Tim Bell and Sir Frank Lowe, as well as the more pertinent reflections on today’s advertising industry from Sir Martin Sorrell. The night’s interlocutor, Peter York, was generous in plugging his film, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man’, as well as eliciting enough by way of anecdote and insight.

Some contemporaneous notes and direct quotations from the evening follow:

PY: The word ‘creative’ is en-English and embarrassing.

FL said of TB: “Dogs crossed the road to be patted by him.”

[On expressing incredulity that Tim Mason of Tesco would phone FL, and give him the Tesco account, just like that] PY: “So an enormous client rings you and says, ‘Can you open an agency just for us?’” It’s another planet isn’t it?

MS: Adland might eventually be made up of engineers. Silicon Valley is disintermediating the industry.

TB: JWT used to be run by ex-Army officer types. The best time to try and speak to them would have been first thing in the morning, when they had come to the office straight from Annabel’s.

TB: Of course, the industry was dominated by WASP-y types…

MS: …There were Jewish people in the industry. You just never could figure out who we were.

FL: Americans were the inspiration – DDB in particular. The difference was that we did it in a British way…

MS: David Ogilvy bridged the gap between the US and the UK, with humour and effectiveness.

MS: A financial director at Saatchi’s worked on TB’s expenses full-time. There was once a receipt for a £1,000 foie gras.

FL: There was a generational shift in the industry when TV came in. There needs to be a new generational shift to take advantage of digital.

MS: The impact of technology will be greater than we think…

FL: …but creativity will come to bear on the internet soon.

TB: Don’t forget, five words can transform the way that people look at themselves,

TB: The great men of the golden age, men like FL< were impresarios: they created an event, news about a product. They shook people, involved people. But it involved the product too…

FL: …and taking risks.

MS: What ended the golden age? The separation of media from creative. Geographical expansion. Technology’s growing importance.

MS: Today, have we reached the stage where the medium is more important than the message?

FL: The flotation of agencies meant that the creation of lowest common denominator work. It had to be visual, not verbal.

TB: Do you know how ads get signed off at Procter & Gamble? In a fridge in a basement somewhere in Cincinnati, there are the skulls of Mr Procter and Mr Gamble. The CEO goes down there, and reads the skulls the copy. If the skulls rattle, the ads get made.

FL: I went to Interpublic board meetings, once a month for eight years. And the number of times we looked at ads in the meetings was less than the fingers on this hand.

MS: Saatchi’s proposing to buy Midland Bank? We did get a bit too big for our britches.

TB: There are now an outrageous number of PR and advertising Johnnies in the House of Lords.

MS: You cannot assume that the UK will remain the creative centre. There is great creative work, global campaigns, coming from Argentina now. And it is the height of arrogance to assume that with so many Indian and Chinese people, there will not be creative talent there.

MS: Successful media people won’t bend the knee to creative people again.

TB: Recession? Remember what Disraeli said: “We haven’t got any money. We’ll have to think.”


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Neologisms (1)

pedantrix (n): a woman who corrects every statement you make. She may derive an element of pleasure from doing this. Sim. to editrix (n).