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Unordered: Overdue

While Brexit has either been dragging along for years with nobody actually doing anything, or lots of people rushing around doing a lot of big, important things that nobody really gets to see/understand, one thing remains constant, and that is that I'm not writing as much as I'd like to. (That is, more than about a post a month.)

So; an overdue Unordered is here... but not before a little bit of self-promotion; I did a podcast recently for work, talking about 5G, and I think I managed to sound like I know what I'm talking about. (Given the number of reports I've read, conference talks I've attended and analysis I've done, I really should do...) You can listen to it here.

Facebook's updated ad policy

Facebook have updated their T&Cs for advertisers, and now expressly forbid advertising with "false or misleading content". Which sounds like a sensible move- except that a) its a narrowing down of what was previously considered "unacceptable", and b) it doesn't apply to political advertising.

I just don't even know where to start with this. Is this supposed to be an open invitation for regulation to do a job that Facebook don't want to do? Regulation around political advertising - in the UK, at least - tends to be media-specific, and for online its pretty much non-existent. Last year, the IPA called for a suspension of micro-targeted political advertising, making the point that politics (read: democracy) relies on an open, collective debate - adverts that only certain people can even see doesn't contribute to this, and is "vulnerable to abuse".

More from The Guardian;

And, while we're in the middle of a big Brexit advertising campaign funded by the UK government and a prime minister using the Queens Speech to set out his election manifesto, "an increasing number of countries have experienced coordinated social-media manipulation campaigns. It’s now 70 in total, up from 48 in 2018 and 28 in 2017, according to a report by researchers at Oxford University."

Ben Thompson has a great post that puts Zuckerbergs' recent speech into some historical context - anything that talks about what is happening right now in the context of the impact that the printing press has had on society will always make my ears prick up.

On the topic of Facebook and politics - Rob Blackie has a Twitter summary of a presentation about Trump's 'winning' communication style and how it works that is well worth a read;

The Only Grindr User in the village

Nice piece from the BBC on dating apps/websites and small communities;

But the thing that blew me away was this embedded tweet;

To me, that is a story about a seismic societal shift going on - people don't meet through friends, or family, or work, or any of that old-fashioned "social" stuff. They either meet on the internet, or "in a bar or restaurant".

One of the (many) reasons I've long been suspicious of Facebook is the idea that it sits inbetween you and your friends and chooses who gets to see what. But the idea that the bonds that form the foundation of families in the 2000s aren't built on a shared network of friends and family - ie. the kind of support network that you need in tough times - but chance (happen to be in the same bar at the same time) and algorithms is just mind-blowing to me. I mean, I've been very aware how lucky I am that I met my now-wife at University through mutual friends and never really had to do either the "dating thing" that we did before apps took over, or the "dating thing" that replaced all that with Tinder or Grindr or Bumble or OKCupid or whatever, but "met online" is now bigger than "met through friends" has been for the last century...


(And I don't even want to think about how many of those who "met in a bar or restaurant" consider the Tinder bit that preceded it irrelevant/embarassing...)

Netflix: Bring on BARB Measurement

A bit niche this one, but Netflix have indicated that they would welcome BARB measurement for their platform. Jon Manning (a colleagure who knows a lot more than me about TV advertising and measurement) wrote a piece for Campaign magazine (UK advertising industry trade press) about how it might signal agree with Jon on this one. It probably warrants a post on its own, but given my typical speed of publication (see: time between this post and the podcast that prompted it) I'm just going to say for now;

  • Netflix need to justify their stock price above all else, and their stock price is currently predicated on a future entertainment monopoly. To do that, they need to demonstrate not just that continued growth is possible, but also profitable.
  • That means that a business model that lets users stop subscribing but still able to see the flagship shows just won't work. If they were to go with a super-premium advertising product, they might be looking at something like a £50 CPM (cost per thousand advertising impressions delivered.) Think about how many adverts would need to be delivered to compensate for a lost subscriber at ~£10 a month (the lowest UK price is currently £5.99 a month, but you pay more if you want to cover a household where more than one person might be watching at once/HD etc., and I'm thinking about where they will be in a year or two- not where they are today.) The numbers just don't add up - it worked OK for Spotify, where "adverts that irritate people into subscribing" certainly helped their growth story. But it isn't going to work in a competitive environment.
  • Part one of their story is done - they switched from "21st Century DVD rental company" to "online video platform", and it isn't hard to find numbers that show that they have a lot of subscribers.
  • Part two of the story is different though. Its not about "Netflix vs TV" - its about "Netflix vs. Amazon, Disney, Apple, HBO, Britbox, a bunch of other SVOD providers vs. TV". They need to prove not just that they have a lot of customers, but that they are their customers favourite out of a bunch of subscription services.
  • To do that, they need numbers that show not just how big their audience is, but how engaged they are. How they watch more of it than the others. How they check whats on Netflix before they check whats on TV.
  • If you want to do that, you don't do it by drip-feeding your own numbers that happen to support your story. You do it by opening up to independant, trusted 3rd party measurement that is comparable with whatever you want to benchmark yourself against. Which, in this case, in the UK, means BARB.

Again - this is a topic that I think is well worth going into in more depth- TV measurement and Netflix are very interesting to me at the moment, especially with Disney+ and the Mandalorian on the horizon.

And speaking of Star Wars, I can't let this pass without mention;

Lots for the old-school fans in there- lightsabers, Tatooine, Endor, the Falcon, the blockade runner... and the closing Carrie Fisher shot.

(I still don't really know what the title is about, but then I'm staying a lot further away from spoilers and the Star Wars online communities than I did the last time around...)

Related: the story of the kid who Alec Guinness asked to not watch Star Wars again:

Fortnite's "The End"

I watched my son spend at least two weeks getting excited about the next Fortnite event, watched the event as he watched it (sidenote: watching a First-Person Shooter when you're not the First-Person is incredibly annoying) and listened to him chatting with his (online) friends (or should that be "friends online"?) was quite an interesting experience. Some thoughts;

  • Even though it was a ten minute "event", they were still talking about 40 minutes or so into the post-event "black screen with a black hole in the middle", waiting for something to happen. I was simultaneously dismissive of them wasting their time in such a pointless way, while also being kind of jealous of the enthusiasm. Just imagining how I felt about something like a Star Wars trailer or a Grand Theft Auto launch, and how I would have felt about being able to experience it with my friends online (not just "online friends") - I would totally have spent an hour watching nothing happening in the hope that it would.
  • Also - it did! There were some numbers, that led to a secret code, with a secret message... that reminded me of when Lost was cool and mysterious and exciting.
  • I can't think of anything in terms of a "cultural event" like the Fortnite one from my lifetime that wasn't on TV.
  • I still think that Save the World is way better than Battle Royale though.

I haven't given this Untitled a number, partly because I've kind of lost track and partly because I'm taking a leaf from both Fortnite and Dan Hon's books and preparing for a Season Two reboot. So watch this space for that...


Unordered 8: Battery low

Here I am, back at it again with the random collection of things mashed together to try to compensate for the fact that they don't warrant posts of their own.

Isn't it weird how I can walk 10 metres across the office and my bluetooth headphones still play music from the phone sitting on my desk, but if I've got my phone in my left hand pocket and turn my head to the right, they cut out?

Anyway... You may have noticed another gap between posts, which I'm going to blame on a) summer happening, b) distracting computer games, c) a really busy couple of weeks at work 1, but it all comes down to "I had other things to attend to". Sorry about that. (I'm thinking that if I force myself to acknowledge the gap between posts every time, it will motivate me with a sense of urgency around the follow up, bit to be honest its kind of working the other way.)

On with the braindump…

Its an interesting time in the phone world. As I understand it, there have only really been two companies making any real money out of selling smartphones; Apple and Samsung. Apple makes quite a few expensive phones, while Samsung make quite a lot of cheaper phones.

And Google might be about to suck a lot of the oxygen out of Samsung's smartphone market. I haven't seen the Pixel phone they recently announced, although I have seen a pop-up Google coffee shop outside Euston station that took me a while to figure out that its purpose was apparently somehow linked to getting people to see the Pixel phone, but it sounds pretty cool. Probably not cool enough to pull me away from iPhones and the tethered collection of Apple laptops, Apple Music, Apple Photos etc. etc. but I'm sure people more loosely connected to the iOS ecosystem will see an appealing alternative in something built around Google's services. And at a time when Samsung's brand is probably taking the battering of its life (I imagine that being sued for millions for copying Apple is a happy memory now), the idea of their Google 'partner' cannibalising a bunch of their high end handset sales (ie. the most profitable ones) is probably pretty worrying for them.

But its the Google side that I find more interesting.

The thing is, Google makes something like 98% of its profits from adverts. The internet (read: "digital") has turned out to be a very successful platform for advertising, and no online advertising format has been as successful as search – which Google has the vast majority of.

But there is a problem. The future of the internet is mobile, and the future of mobile isn't typing stuff into a search box and looking through the results (which may or may not include a few adverts). The future of mobile is (probably) something like Artifical Intelligence powered assistants that get you stright from what you want to do to actually doing it - ask the AI for something, and it gives it to you. And there isn't really any convenient space in that kind of service to squeeze in some advertising.

So, Google's future might not be as an advertising company. It might be as an AI assistant company. Except, while not many people are likely to pay for an AI assistant, there are lots of people paying quite a lot of money every year or two for a new smartphone. And if Google can make that smartphone, sell it at a high price (or at least a high profit margin), then maybe there is a way for Google to stay true to its mission of organising the worlds information and making it universally accessible, while at the same time completely changing its business model from supported by 3rd parties paying for adverts, to selling features, but bundling it in with expensive hardware...

One to watch…

I got an iPhone 6s Plus last year, purely for the bigger battery. I like the big screen, but not as much as I dislike the massive thing that barely fits in my pockets. But I like running out of battery least of all, so it was really a simple decision. Thinking that a it would (should?) last me through a day of even the heaviest use.

Then I started playing Minecraft on my commute (well, the bits of it that don't involve cycling or walking) and things started getting pretty low by the evening.

Then something else happened, and I wasn't even making it to the afternoon. I've actually managed to hit 40% battery by the time I got to the office in the morning.

Why? You can probably guess. That old Google April Fools joke that weirdly turned real. Pokémon Go…

I'm pretty sure that by now, as the "craze" has died down (in that it isn't something that most people still care about - the question isn't "are you playing it", but "are you still playing it?") but that its still going to be a popular game for a more 'normal' number of people for a good while longer yet. Which means I feel safe writing about it, without feeling like either a "10 Things Your Business Can Learn From Pokémon Go!" LinkedIn piece or an overblown "this is the fall of mankind" article…

Batteries are really important

I think this is the one thing that Pokémon Go really shines a light on; if you had to name important technologies for the future, you would probably be thinking about super fast computers, super small computers, the internet, new places to put touch screens, wifi, 3G/4G/5G mobile internet and so on. But I think the really interesting stuff comes out of the technologies that are easy to overlook.

Right now, all the buzz seems to be around virtual reality - technology that requires a hardware platform consisting of dedicated 'wearable' screens, very modern, high speed processors and graphics coprocessors - at least a grand or so to spend on the computer, the headset, the controllers and the camera to get started on playing games… well, the killer games themselves haven't actually been made yet. To make a high end console title takes years of work. I've just finished playing Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – the credits take a 28 page PDF to list all the names of people involved, and thats a few years worth of work. The costs are in the hundreds of millions.

And that is for a console game. Sure, consoles have come on a long way in the last 20 years in terms of processing power, graphics, physics simulation and so on. But in terms of the underlying mechanics, we have gone from sitting in front of a CRT television screen in 1997 holding one of these;

To sitting in front of a (bigger, flatter, thinner, LCD) television holding one of these;

Sure; we've swapped a cable for a battery. We've added a weird touchpad thing that only ever seems to be actually used as an extra button. But the basic mechanics – the user interface between the player and the game – really hasn't seen any fundamentally new ideas for about 40 years. (Longer, if you count the joystick as the most fundamental element of the controller.)

Is that massive progress – from Elite to No Mans Sky? Well, games have got bigger, richer, deeper… the internet has made some interesting things possible (now I'm the appalingly predictable idiot getting shot on the Battlefield, instead of the guy laughing at the appallingly predictable AI soldiers.) But have we really seen advances? I'm not too sure.

But VR games have to do a couple of things;

  1. Figure out how games work best in a VR world. Is that just a new screen, but the same controller? Is it standing up and waving at a clever camera that recognises your gestures? Is it actually something that works in the home – or are we going to see a resurgence in the arcade game model?
  2. Do it really quickly, because there are a bunch of companies investing a lot of money in this space, no doubt signing up some very valuable patents along the way, who will be expecting to make money out of it. Right now, there is no "path to VR success", but if these guys don't figure it out quickly enough to build businesses out of it, whats going to be left behind them is a bunch of well-trodden paths to nowhere in particular, littered with a bunch of patent landmines.

Don't get me wrong; I think the idea of Virtual Reality is extremely compelling. I think there are going to be lots of interesting things happening in that space. I want to see Sony, and Oculus, and Steam, and whoever else is involved succeding.

But I just don't think they are going to be interesting to all that many people - people who aren't going to spend a few hundred pounds on the hardware, or even go out of their way to try it out. And without that kind of marketplace, the likelihood of the kind of software that is able to show off what it can do getting developed seems pretty slim. (And if the software can't compare to something like the LA-inspired world that took £265 million to make, then who is going to be interested?)

Virtualised Worlds

But the Pokémon game itself is doing some interesting things – and not just in terms of Nintendo's intellectual property revival. The fact that I can walk through the village with my son and he will point out a local 16th century pub – not directly because of its historical importance, but because it happens to be a Pokéstop. I'm sure that there are plenty of gamers who are used to the idea of visiting a real-world location and being familiar with it through the virtual worlds it has inspired (I found it strange visiting L.A. earlier this year and feeling like I had wandered into the Grand Theft Auto world of Los Santos) – a feeling not unlike going somewhere you're familiar with through seeing it in films.

But flipping that the other way – experiencing the real world differently because of what is happening in a purely virtual world that has been overlaid on top of it – feels like something new, if only because I don't think its really happened at this kind of scale before. When have crowds of people come together at the same time to visit an old building because of a shared belief that something special can happen there on a different plane of existence… (apart from every Sunday, obviously.)

When Foursquare launched, professional people got very excited about something that nobody was using, because of the potential that this gamified social platform driving people to participating businesses. I'm actually kind of surprised how little "professional" talk I'm hearing about something that lots of people seem to be using. (Based on anecdotal, media industry, London-centric point of view, but I spoke to a headteacher from Derbyshire who was talking about having to give an end-of-term talk telling kids to be careful when playing the game, and was also playing herself, for what thats worth...)

But the potential has certainly been spotted; smart and agile businesses were setting lures at nearby Pokéstops from the early days of its release; McDonalds were on board in time for the Japanese launch

All those mobile games before fell into a few broad categories. There were the 'casual' games, that you could play on any platform, but worked really well on mobile because of how they fit into the mobile context – for example, the game of Candy Crush that you can pause at any time because your train gets to your stop, or the person you were killing time waiting for arrived. Then there are the 'mid-core' games – not as involved as the triple-A) console games that demand a few hours of dedication at a time 1, but still requiring a few minutes of on-the-clock, uninterrupted concentration. (Example - Clash of Clans, where battles can happen at any time, but once the clock is ticking, even a few seconds distraction can be the difference between winning and losing – and something like a 20 minute wait before you can train up an army for another go.)

But Pokémon Go doesn't fit into neat categorisation – you can 'play' it just by having the app open on your phone, clocking up miles as you walk around and hatching your eggs. Or you can play it slightly more attentively, collecting virtual goods when you pass a Pokéstop. Or you can take it more seriously, going out of your way to a Gym – not just any old gym, but one where your Pokémon are the right level to make it worth spending a few minutes doing battle. (You can even coordinate your battles with team-mates – everyone has to pick one of three teams to join, no swapping after you've chosen – although this is a few steps beyond my own level of involvement at this point…)

It reminds me of a piece I read about Snapchat a while ago; like Snapchat, Pokémon isn't just a 'mobile first' application, but is something different. This isn't a game that was designed for the iOS and Android platforms (ie. pocket-sized touch screens), but a game that couldn't really have been conceived of without some important platforms already in place;

  • Ubiquitous 3G (or better) mobile internet infrastructure,
  • Cheap enough data to be able to play without worrying about the costs
  • Ubiquitous smartphone penetration,
  • GPS and compass hardware on all of those smartphones,
  • Ubiquitous familiarity with all of those technologies. (If you have to explain how to turn around in the real world to orientate yourself in a virtual world, you aren't going to understand the basics of the game).

And, of course, if you don't have good enough battery life that you can use the GPS without worrying about killing your phone for the rest of the day then you lose the ability to drop into the game's virtual world for the most casual element of the game play…

  1. Pitches are a blight of the media industry.

  1. Sometimes that long just to download and install the necessary updates to be allowed to play in the first place…

Unordered #7: Good grief

Well, its been a while. I did have another post planned, but things got sidetracked by work, then by Brexit (which made all the other stuff going on seem like a waste of time to read through my scribbles and turn them into coherent sentences, let alone try to knock it all into a vaguely shareable shape.) Then by work again. So, thats why there was no "Unordered #6", in case you were wondering.1


  • It feels like I should at least acknowledge that the whole Brexit referendum happened. I'd quite like to ignore it, but if the point of this is "unordered thoughts", pretending that my thoughts have really revolved around much else in the last few weeks would be a bit of a lie. So, consider this one to be either a clearing of the throat before I get back to the kind of thoughts that I actually want to think about.

I think the big outpouring of emotion is over, and the grieving process seems to have come to some kind of conclusion (if thats the right word.) We've gone through the denial (how can a result that close be meaningful?), anger (stupid people, believing stupid people's stupid claims...), bargaining (lets have a petition for another referendum! Maybe the question could just be "Really? Are you sure?"), depression (I can't believe I live in a country full of stupid xenophobes...) and now some kind of acceptance (if a protracted debate about Article 50 can really be called that...)

Also, I didn't know you can embed Facebook posts. Thats fun.

(Embedding rather than just recycling simply because of the excellent first comment.)

  • There used to be a tradition of newspapers appending people's names with their agest (eg. "David Cameron (49)"). Shaun Ryder used to have a newspaper column where he parodied this by putting their height instead (eg. "David Cameron (6'1")") 1. Now, every mention of a politician on the BBC website seems to be appended by whether they backed Leave or Remain. I wonder how long its going to last.

  • I think there are two slogans that, looking back, sum up the Brexit campaign. "Take back control" is the obvious one — the 'party' line, repeated at every opportunity. Order, instead of chaos. Putting power with the UK, not with Brussels. Its a strong, simple message, very difficult to argue against in principle, but pretty meaningless when you scratch the surface and try to figure out what it actually means. ("Faceless bureocrats" is probably a close second for the meaningless rhetoric prize - more "faceless" than our home-grown bureocrats? More bureocratic than our own civil service?)
    The other one is the line that I suspect Michael Gove will be remembered for/will haunt him forever; "I think this country has had enough of experts".
    (I do also quite like "Brexit means Brexit", just for the utter meaningless of it as a phrase for a Prime Minister to say and the media to report as though it actually meant anything at all, but it doesn't quite encapsulate the emptiness of the whole campaign.)

  • I think the most surreal thing on the actual night of the count was seeing Lindsay Lohan's live tweeting along. But the most surreal thing in the aftermath must be this;

    Yes, time in parliament was being spent discussing how the town of Kettering should respond to one of Lindsay Lohan's tweets about the results being announced. Because that, apparently, is what really matters to Kettering.

  • The whole idea was a stupid one in the first place. Lets have a referendum on issues that the public are qualified to make decisions on, and have an informed point of view. Would we like the shops to be open on a Sunday — how do we, as a nation, feel about the added working hours, "special" family time (unless you work in the kind of industry where you don't get "special" time, like doctors). Or the idea that we should spend billions of pounds on nuclear warheads to be patrolling the oceans, so that if a nuclear war does start and Britain gets wiped off the face of the earth, at least we can get some kind of posthumous "fuck humanity" revenge strike in. If they are going to be used in my name, I'd quite like to have a say in the matter.

Back to normal thoughts about silly internet things like Pokémon and Playstations soon.

  1. I was trying to do a look at "why I would vote Leave (if I was going to vote Leave)", looking at the other side of the arguments; the principles of being "more democratic", "taking back control" and so on. But every argument just seemed so stupid that it felt more like a straw-man attack than an attempt to see both sides of the argument, which really wasn't the spirit of the "lets try to understand why so many people seem to feel that leaving the EU is a good idea" concept that I was trying to write. And then it became increasingly clear that it wasn't just an alarmingly large minority. All of which is now kind of academic... #sigh#

  2. That is some painful punctuation right there…

Unordered #5: Back to work

  • So, when some kind of themes or patterns started falling out of the last couple of posts, I had the incredibly stupid idea that I could decide a theme for the next Unordered. Even more stupidly, I thought I could make this next one somehow related to work, pulling this a step closer toward being some kind of work-related blog thing… If you were wondering 1 why there was a bit of a longer gap between posts, well, now you know. Its because I was foolishly trying to push it into Q2 of the procrastinators matrix, which is a very silly place for a procrastinator like me to put anything they actually intend to get done.
  • Nevertheless, lets kick off with something from the world of advertising; an advert for Bodyform that has blood in it. My cynical side immediately pulled out this article on how empowerment became something for women to buy, except I think this is about something more, in that its trying to make the brand into something that works with periods instead of pretending that the menstrual cycle is nothing more impactful than a bit of a mess in your pants once every four weeks. (I remember when I was younger finding it really weird how sanitary products adverts seemed so much like nappy adverts, but with grown women instead of babies. I'm pretty sure that had a not-insignificant impact on my understanding of how womens' bodies work, given that I think my school did the thing where the boys don't sit in the lessons where they teach girls about how their bodies work – at least, I don't recall that particular lesson…) Which seems like good work being done by advertising people. Hooray.
  • Meanwhile, the media industry is currently holding its collective breath as it awaits a report from ANA/K2/Ebiquity 2 about 'non transparency' around how agencies are spending their clients money – which seems to revolve around agencies getting rebates and not passing them back to their clients. First off3, big disclaimer;4 I do work in a media agency, but in Research. As I don't work on the buying side, I'm about three steps removed from the world of auditors, so I'm happy to talk about this precisely because I'm way out of my depth and don't really understand it. And also, the report is all about the US, where the practice around rebates is apparently completely different to Europe, and I don't really understand the practice around rebates in Europe either. BUT… it feels like an issue that is just the latest wave of "digital is changing everything and it makes me scared" to hit the industry. The way media used to work was pretty simple; advertiser wanted to put adverts in front of an audience. They defined that audience using demographics - which are a very good tool for describing a big group of people5 – and a media agency bought the spaces around the stuff that audience was looking at; the breaks around the TV they were watching, the spaces around the articles they were reading and so on. If, as a media owner, you wanted to sell advertising, you needed scale because that meant having reach and being an important part of a media plan that got the broadest reach of the target audience as cost-effectively as possible. Turns out though, in a digital world that all gets flipped upside down and inside out because a) without all the hassle of limited airwaves/pages/shelf space there isn't really a limit on how big a media owner can scale (see: Google, Facebook) so combining different publishers is less of an issue than it once was, and b) when your media doesn't involve 'broadcast' technology like radio broadcasts or printing presses, but involves creating every single page on the fly for every single reader (with a different advert on that page if you like), and technology can stop you showing the same advert to the same 'person' 6 twice, "reach" turns into a totally different kind of game.7 Because now, you don't buy "an audience" as one big clump of people who see the thing that you made (think: readers of a particular issue of a newspaper, viewers of a particular channel at a particular time, people who listen to a particular radio station in the car on the way to work) who you know are likely to be your good customers because you've done your audience research, because you can use a combination of data and technology to just pick off the people who you think are likely to be your good customers from all kinds of different places on the internet without really caring about where they happen to be when they see those adverts. (ie. those adverts you keep on seeing for the thing you were thinking about buying on a website that time.) Back then, a handful of publishers owned the audience, packaged them up and sold them as profitably as possible.
    Now, the "audience" is global, there are millions of publishers - far too many for any individual to properly keep track of, and the audience relationship (as far as advertisers are concerned) is run by the data and technology side of things. But the data costs money, the technology costs money, the people who properly understand how it all fits together and make it all work properly cost money – so while the cost of the actual media (that is, the money that goes to the publisher) is doing what you would expect it to do when supply is virtually infinite and drops like a stone, so the costs of running a profitable agency take up a bigger and bigger slice of what the advertiser is actually spending.
    Now, all of this is quite probably going to look stupid in the light of the actual report, when I have little doubt that some terrible things are going to get uncovered and spread around the media industry's trade press, and people are going to think that the worst things that are being done in the US are also being done as a matter of course in the UK, which presumably is good for business for the companies who happen to be writing the report in the first place.7
    My main point here is that in 9 years in "digital" in a big UK media agency group, I haven't seen anything that strikes me as being bad practice (silly- sure, but bad- no.) In fact, from what I've seen it looks much more like the other way around; 9 years ago, I saw my digital buying colleagues being taken out for ski trips, big parties and other kinds of media jollies that just don't seem to happen very much any more because post-recession, nobody is paying for that kind of thing. Even the little freebies (branded Moleskine notebooks, bags, memory sticks etc.) seem to have dried up these days…
    But (and this is a massive but), if you are doing a good job of measuring what your advertising is doing instead of just measuring your advertising, then this shouldn't really be an issue because you should be happy that you're getting your money's worth.
  • Sorry that was a bit long, even with all the footnotes.
  • Also, I'm kind of sorry about the footnotes. I can't figure out if they are a nice way to make things skimmable if you're in that kind of mindset while also being able to throw in the extra bits that don't really need to be in there, or just obnoxious obstacles that get in the way of reading some words. Feedback welcome...
  • Remember that point about scale? Well, it seems that Facebook is going to sell adverts to non-Facebook users. One and a half billion users – which is more than even the potential audience any publisher has ever had in the history of publishing, and they want to scale up… I don't really understand this, to be honest. Facebook have a very good business involving social, mobile and video. This feels like a distraction more than anything else.
  • Facebook video views "count" after 3 seconds. Surprised? Well, this shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, and is one of the reasons Facebook video is (or at least, can be) very cheap when compared to the kind of "view" that gets counted after a longer period of time (eg. YouTube skippable video ads, which tend not to be watched in silence the way Facebook videos are.) I'm not Facebook's biggest fan, but I don't really see a problem with this one; one point six billion people should understand the implications of a video in your newsfeed and how vastly different the context is from a video on YouTube, or a broadcaster app, or a video-centric context/environment, or a publisher site, or pretty much anything other than Facebook (or Twitter, I guess.). Also, Facebook is a biddable platform; you don't pay a penny more than you think its worth, and if advertisers are measuring the outcomes instead of just counting impressions and reach (not to mention putting decent videos on Facebook that are relevant to the context), then they should have some idea if it was worth it or not, but there is a bit of tension here between how well Facebook video works when the video is something you have already seen and the first 3 seconds refreshes it in your memory verus the idea that TV adverts should be on the internet instead of on television, which I think is much more interesting.
  • Speaking of tension around Facebook and videos, this is a good appeal to Facebook to be doing a better job of policing stolen videos. Not, I should clarify, "stolen" in the sense of celebrity sex tapes being nicked from hacked phones, but "stolen" in the far less dramatic copyright-breaking content sense of the word. This reminds me of the legal dispute over 'the dress' photo, but the story is that someone made a video that you've probably seen which got over 150 million views – which, in terms of media value must be worth something in the region of, say at a £10 CPM for the sake of a realistic round number; thats about one and a half million pounds worth of 'media' value created by someone who, not meaning any unkindness of any sort, had no idea what to do to make a popular video on the internet, but still ended up making an incredibly popular video on the internet to the extent that its knocked Buzzfeed's watermelon thing into the weeds. (I'll come back to the melon video in a minute.) As far as I can see, she is enjoying the ride and doing very well, and all the best wishes to her. But the value relationship between the Facebook platform that monetises the attention of its audience and everyone who copies the video to put on their own sites and turn it into 'content' is a bit of a funny one. YouTube did very well to get out of being "the place on the internet where you can find videos of anything" to a site doing a pretty good job of processing a massive volume of video and looking out for copyrighted stuff and then having a process of what to do about it. It would be nice if Facebook could do something similar – if thats even possible…

  • OK, thats more than enough shop talk. (I even skimmed over the big piece of Star Wars pop culture for the week to talk about advertising some more…) How about a video of an Octupus attacking a crab, which has had 150 million views on YouTube. Apparently this is the only video on this YT channel – as though someone made a cool video, decided to put it on the internet, and then sat back and watched as the view count went through the roof but never got around to making any more videos to see what happened to them. (That isn't really how it works, but I'm going to pretend that it is because the reality is far more depressing and we've all had enough about digital media for one post…)

  • Speaking of octopuses and their amazing camoflague (no, not just now, it was last time, here is a master of disguise being ambushed by a master of disguise. If you're ever wondering why fish decided it was a good idea to get out of the water they could breathe in and figure out how to breathe somewhere else, its probably because this is the kind of thing that happens in the ocean.
  • How about an octopus that made itself some armour?
  • Here's a Reddit thread where you can see more cool octopus stuff.
  • Years ago, before Rod, Jane and Freddy were a trio, Rod and Jane were married, but divorced before Freddy joined. Freddy and Jane became an item a few years later, but only just got married. I imagine that for anyone under the age of about 35 that will all be completely meaningless, while for anyone over 35, adding surnames would only be creating confusion.
  • has a great robots.txt, if you're into that kind of thing. (Again, if you need any explanation then its a thing not actually worth explaining.)
  • This is mental. Plans are being drawn up for a satellite that can chuck down fireworks for the Japanese Olympic opening ceremony that will make shooting stars. Thirty million people in the Tokyo area would be able to see one of them, and its talking about taking up between five hundred and a thousand of them. Next-level fireworks…
  • Nokia is back. Or rather, some bits of the Nokia business that didn't get bought up by Microsoft (and didn't that go well?) are getting another company (run by ex-Nokia execs) to build Android phones with a Nokia badge. It feels like there should be a word for taking an old brand and sticking it on a new product so that you can claim "heritage" ("moleskinning", maybe?) — but on the plus side, its got Tomi Ahonen busy again, which will be great news to anyone who was reading his blog around the time of "burning platforms".
  • Spotify have done a deal to allow mixtapes to use the platform. partnership with Dubset. Not sure how this will impact Soundcloud, which seems to be kind of the YouTube for these kind of things, but anything that might make it easier for the next Girl Talk to get noticed and talked about enough for me to pick up on it can only be a good thing.
  • Three UK are testing out ad blocking. There's something about this that feels somewhat parasitic. It might sound like good news for Three's customers, but I'm not so sure that cutting off the business model for the publishers they want to read on the internet is really a long-term win for anyone other than the people selling the technology to sidestep the technology that is turning the media industry inside out in all sorts of ways…
  • Also on the Ad Blocking thing; Adobe/Pagefair seem to have become the de facto source of industry ad blocking stats, so the release of their latest report should be of interest to people interested in that kind of thing. (Or alternatively, people who are likely to be asked questions about that kind of thing as a part of their jobs…) I'm slightly bothered by their metric of "blocked advertising revenue" though. The idea is that if all those blocked adverts weren't blocked, then this is what they would be worth. The problem is, if all those blockers were switched off today, it wouldn't generate any additional advertising revenue tomorrow. There would be more ad units out there, and no doubt a great deal of them would be sold. But that increase in supply wouldn't lead to an increase in demand — advertisers don't have any kind of problem with a lack of online advertising inventory for them to buy and the prices going down so that inventory gets filled really doesn't feel like a positive step for anyone. I get the idea that you want to give people numbers so they can talk about how bad the ad blocker problem is and track it over time, but I'm really not convinced that it gets to the underlying problem in any way.
  • I said I would say something about the Buzzfeed watermelon video, but this has gone on for far too long already, so just see what Gawker has to say about internet video views and check out the melon video along the way, just so that you can put the whole Chewbacca thing into context.
  • Thinkbox have a presentation in the "nickable charts" section of their website, titled "The New Video World". In a nutshell; YouTube have pissed them off, and the knives are out…

Next time: I promise a faster update, less words, less advertising talk.


  1. Or indeed, noticed

  2. Basically, people who media agency's clients hire to make sure that their media agency are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

  3. Actually, I'm going to head that off with another disclaimer; the report came out between me writing this and posting it, and I can't be bothered to edit the post before I've read the report, which I haven't yet done because its still in Q2.

  4. This feels a bit like the trope; "I'm not racist, but here's a thing I think about black people", or "I'm not xenophobic, but here are some good reasons why we shouldn't be in any kind of agreement, union or relationship with any other countries that isn't purely based on selling them shit" that you say to somehow defuse the stupid thing that you're about to say. Except I'm pretty sure that in modern society, having a go at the advertising industry is very rarely considered "saying something stupid". Except… well, I'll come back to the exception in a minute.

  5. This point about demographics is actually quite a big one, and is also another one of those posts that I keep trying and failing to write, because its sitting up there in Q2 again.

  6. By "person", I mean "unique user", which is a special term the digital media industry uses to make it sound like its talking about a person when actually its talking about a machine.

  7. Also, c) If you find a successful way get other people to make the "content" that actually fills your website, you don't need to worry about paying writers, editors, journalists etc. etc. Which is the subject of another two drafts in Q2

  8. Also in Q2 is my reaction to the "everything you need to know about video" report that doesn't talk about the cost of incremental reach, and the TV industry body's all-out offensive on YouTube. Seriously, in a couple of months when future me has actually written all those posts, this place is going to be on fire...

Unordered #4: Back to the Future

  • The last post was supposed to be drawing a line under the whole "looking back" theme, but… In the last week or so, we have seen Radiohead release a new album, the Stone Roses and Super Furry Animals release new singles, the Spice Girls are apparently making a record… Nothing about that sentence would have looked out of place 20 years ago. Now admittedly, plenty of the musical artists that were big 20 years before that were still going in 1996 (its actually kind of surprising how many are still going today), but it still feels like a strangely retro-flavoured week. I'm pretty sure that if someone had told me that was what was going to be happening 20 years into the future, I would have been surprised. But I guess I would also have expected there to be other things going on in the world of music that I would at least have known about… (Albeit on a news cycle dictated by the monthly magazine publications…)
  • Speaking of which, I'm still on the fence about the new Stone Roses song. I don't think that its as good as the old stuff, but I have 20+ years of the old stuff accompanying me along all the big events in my life, I know every moment of every record backwards, so nothing is every going to be that good to me, especially after one listen. I don't think its bad… But… Well, I can't figure out why it doesn't seem to have a verse. I think my issue with it is that Ian Brown went down a pretty experimental road (say what you will about Unfinished Monkey Business, it wasn't predictable), while John Squire went down a much more 'traditional' road with the Seahorses… and I think I wish the Roses reunion had been a bit more Ian Brown than John Squire. It sounds like Ian Brown singing a Seahorses song. Oh – and if someone told me that Reni wasn't actually playing drums on the record, I don't think I would be massively surprised. Still cautiously optimistic about the idea of an album - even if its only because it feels like, given the time that they have had to play around with it, it should give everyone a chance to shine rather than be driven by a single personality. (And if there is one track that gives Reni a chance to shine, it will all have been worth it. Seriously)
  • 20 years ago, Apple Computers was in near-terminal decline, had pretty much zero market presence in the UK, Steve Jobs was gone, and it looked like the business was going to be about as relevant in the future as Sinclair. In 2016, thats where I went to buy the Stone Roses single. Didn't see that one coming…
  • Oh - I've got one recent music-related story I'm aware of; Azealia Banks got kicked off Twitter, for saying racist and homophobic things to a member of a boy band who got big by being a runner-up in a TV talent contest. Thats kind of about the world of music, even if it doesn't actually involve any music… Throw in the fact that she is a bisexual hip-hop star who is very outspoken about African-American issues and you would have the kind of story that I think my 20-years-ago-self would have assumed would make sense to me in a more enlightened future. (But doesn't really.) Anyway - the linked article about the whole Twitter thing is well worth a read.
  • Anyway – there is a general point I'm circling around here, which is that its not just hard to see what the world is going to look like in the space of a generation or so; lots that you would think would change won't, and lots that you wouldn't think would change will. It isn't just a case of predicting the winners and losers, because often the whole game changes shape. John Naughton has posted the text of a speech he made recently about the evolution of the internet1 which gives some pretty good points to think about around where this technology could be heading – or more to the point, how society could be changing shape around the technology. The key point is that the internet has become a General Purpose Technology, which means that its impact on the world goes way beyond the domain of computers or telecommunications. I particularly liked the quote about how "companies that aren’t Internet companies won’t be companies at all" (although the timescale was way off…) – a few years ago, I think the idea that electric cars would be disrupting the automotive industry and a smartphone app-based business would be disrupting taxis would have seemed like a "10-20 years in the future" kind of story; Tesla and Uber seem to have snapped that into a much nearer-term kind of future. Today, it seems kind of obvious.
    But the bit that I find really interesting is the bit inbetween; what are the small decisions being made today that are going to have a big effect on the future. When the packet-switching network was being developed in the 1960s, it was definitely not obvious that it was going to be a success, let alone what the implications of its success would be on world-wide telecommunications. But looking back, history seems much more like a straight and predestined path.
    My best illustration for the idea; what would the world be like today if Google didn't exist? 2 We wouldn't have that particular search engine dominating the online landscape, obviously… but what would we have in its place? Would another company have developed a search engine that tied web crawling with using inbound links as a measure of authority? Would the front page of the internet have stayed as it was before Google, dominated by the 'manual curation' model that the likes of Yahoo were pushing, tied to 'Portals', and driven by broadcast-like media models? What would the internet have looked like if data-driven response advertising hadn't been such a massive part of the Dotcom boom? (Would there even have been a Dotcom boom?) What about the second-order effects; if we didn't have Google's search engine technology, what would it have meant for website discovery? What would website design look like if SEO was never a 'thing'? Would Tim Berners-Lee's idea of the machine-readable semantic web have taken off if Google hadn't provided an alternative solution to the problem it was addressing? And if nothing else had been different, what if nobody had been pushing a 'free'(ish) open-source mobile operating system to compete with the closed-source models?
    Does Google (or rather, Alphabet) count as a 'General Purpose Technology'? Perhaps 'General Purpose Company' is a thing now…
  • On a similar theme, Benedict Evans has a blog post up about inevitability in technology, and those kind of counter-faactual historical questions, with an interesting look at where Facebook might be today if they hadn't picked up Instagram and Whatsapp. (Spoiler: Not necessarily #1 in Active Users.) But the key point for me is China, and how different it is to the west; "We think of the portal model as a dead-end, but half a billion Chinese Internet users suggest that it could have been otherwise. The Chinese internet is a great way to challenge your thinking on what's inevitable in technology - it's a living counterfactual."
    Also, a quote from a different Ben Evans post: "Nokia and Blackberry were skating to where the puck was going to be, and felt nice and fast and in control, while Apple and Google were melting the ice rink and switching the game to water-skiing. "
  • While I'm on the subject of parallel evolution (weak link, sorry), octopuses are crazy. I mean, "8 arms" is a pretty weird thing on its own, that gets even weirder when you discover that a big part of octopus brains are in their arms 3, they can squeeze through tiny gaps, change their colour and texture in the blink of an eye in a camouflage trick that makes chameleons look about as clever as an ostrich with its head in the sand (which is a myth, obviously), or disguise themselves as rocks but time their movement along the sea bed to synchronise with the movement of the sunlight through the waves so it looks like they aren't actually moving. And they have three hearts, which beats Doctor Who by 50%. And they have really weird parenting skills that seem to involve giving birth, stopping eating and then either dying of starvation or blowing her babies away and then dying of some kind of shock/heartache, which means that they aren't really learning anything from their parents, so all their skills seem to be based on pure instinct.
    Everything about octopuses is weird. (Further reading, and some more)
    But the really weird thing; despite evolving along a completely separate pathway to humans (being invertebrates, our closest common ancestor was probably some kind of worm-like creature about 750 million years ago), they share some key features with humans; a closed circulatory system, eyes with an iris, retina and lens (our common ancestor probably had nothing more sophisticated than some light-sensitive patches of skin), a large brain (although theirs are partly surrounding their oesophagus, and a large amount of it is out it their arms), and a similar neural network that enables them to adapt and learn; they can do things like open jars, use tools and solve puzzles. Basically, if you want a thought experiment in how completely different alien life might be, octopuses are probably a good place to start looking.
  • So, back to smaller-scale, technology-type things; I'm writing this while sitting next to my wife, with a laptop each and a digital camera. She wants to get the photos off the camera and onto her laptop. Except for some reason, plugging it in via USB isn't working. So, I plug it into mine - the camera appears, then disappears. Seems that the USB cable is dodgy, which wouldn't be a problem if it was a USB mini-B (which I've got loads of from old pre-iPhone smartphones, bits of music kit and pretyt much any gadget more than about 5 years old), or USB micro-B (which I've got loads of from newer kids toys, Blackberrys and Samsung Android phones.) But no - its… well, I don't really know what it is.4 But whatever it is, it doesn't seem to work and I don't think I have an alternative cable… But it does have the ability to transfer over wifi to a smartphone with an app installed and connected to its own wifi network, which doesn't actually help get them onto a laptop… But thats fine, because my laptop has a built-in SD card reader, which isn't going to help next time she wants to get a photo off the camera, but for now its good. I can just connect to her laptop with Airdrop and wirelessly send her the pictures… Except, for some reason, she sees me in Airdrop, but I don't see her. So, I set up a shared Dropbox folder to drop the pictures in, which means a bit of back-and-forth with emails to confirm an invitation, and I've managed to get the photos on her laptop.
    This seems like pretty normal problem-solving behaviour to me, but along the way it has involved servers in at least 2 different continents and literally sending the photos all the way around the world and back again to get them onto a laptop that I can literally reach over and touch. (I just touched it, just to make the point to myself.)
    Now, rewind 30 years to when the latest innovation in my computing world was the ZX Spectrum +2 with 128k and a built-in tape player, and I'm trying to imagine what that story from 30 years in the future would sound like to me. I'm guessing it would sound boring and pointless, and I would quickly go from wondering why whoever designed my wife's computer of the future didn't include any kind of removable disk drive to wondering why sending the photos all the way around the world seemed like a quicker and easier thing to do than either getting up and getting one of the many USB drives on my desk, or reaching across and using the 2 terabyte hard drive that is literally within arms reach, but I had completely forgotten about.5
  • Google have created a new keyboard for iOS (well, for iPhone really - apparently its crap on the iPad.) Sounds like a combination of useful features with more privacy control than you might expect from something that could let Google track every single thing you type (although policies can always change…) The thing I don't understand though – why not make this available outside of the US? I'm sure it won't take long to get a wider release but… just, why?
  • The 'brands pretending to be your friend' thing might be coming to a close – replaced with brands pretending to be artisanal hipsters. The one thing I definitely disagree with in this piece is that Costa coffee is pretty good.
  • On a similar note; Service work is skilled work. Get over it. I do think that making good coffee is in a weird position right now; on one hand, its easy for those of us who used to make cups of filter coffee for a living to mock those who are now making patterns in cappucinos… but having spent a few years trying to get the most out of a home espresso machine, I think the real point of the whole latte art thing is that you can't do it unless you've managed to do a good job of making the steamed milk; its a bit like the shamrock on top of a pint of Guinness, in that its a sign that you've learnt how to pour a pint of Guinness properly and then learnt how to do a shamrock on top. But the wider point is that there is the kind of service work that you can do when you are a reasonably irresponsible teenager/young adult where you just need to achieve basic competence (like making a jug of filter coffee and pouring it into a cup), and there is the kind of service work that takes a degree of skill to do properly (like make a good cup of coffee with a properly-made espresso, properly steamed milk, and properly combined in a cup.) I guess its a shame that for all that the coffee industry has done in the UK over the last decade or so, most coffee is still served in a paper cup with a lid on the top…
    I do find it weird that the article doesn't mention "transferrable skills" at any point though. It feels like its a pretty important issue for the topic.
  • While in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I noticed the Zynga offices - a massive building in a prominent, central location, which seemed kind of weird considering that the days of Farmville seem to be some way behind us now. Turns out, if you take away the cash in the bank, the office is worth more than the company. (I don't know if that says more about the rapidly changing San Francisco property prices or the rapidly changing casual gaming industry.) Apparently they won't be there for long though. It seems that despite the amount of money you can make by making a massively successful casual game, making a massively succesful casual game isn't actually proof that you know how to make a massively succesful casual game.
  • I saw this story shared around on Facebook, about how a woman learnt about her mother's life through her laptop. Now, on one hand it reminded me of the only YouTube comment I have ever seen that was worth reading. But on the other, it made me think about the impression someone would get from going through my laptop — the unfinished work (personal and professional), the "music" I recorded that was just me trying to figure out how my USB audio interface worked, right next to the stuff I've recorded while trying to actually figure out how to write a song… As far as I can see, there are two ways to go from this; either I consider my latop to be a kind of semi-public space, and be mindful that one day it could be my wife, my parents, or my children looking through my hard drive, reading my notes, drafts, doodles etc. Or I consider it a totally throw-on-my-funeral-pyre private thing, and make an effort to put more of my "stuff" into a semi-public space (ie. shared folders, Day One journal, paper notebooks, this blog etc.)
    The thing is, this ties in with some pretty fundamental stuff going on around privacy; personally, I think this is a really important issue, and something we need to be thinking carefully about how we protect it (or whats left of it.) For example, it would be pretty straightforward to buy a thing for your wifi that lets you limit how much time your kids can spend on the internet, and give you "insight reports" to let you know what they are up to. Sounds like a useful thing for responsible parents… except, at what point do you turn it off? Because the point where your babies turn into little independant people is probably the point where you should be respecting their privacy and letting them make their own choices/mistakes/lives, but its also going to be the point where you really want to know what is going on intheir lives that they aren't telling you about any more, so I expect the point where I should switch off the thing is exactly the point where I'm not going to want to… On the other hand, there is the opinion that privacy doesn't really matter; that its something that, in the future, will look like a load of quaint and old-fashioned scare stories.
    I'm still chewing over this one, to be honest…
  • There is one thing that you can guarantee is going to happen in the future and to make plans for, and thats dying. There is an organisation called the Digital Legacy Association, who are all about advising healthcare professionals about how to deal with their online legacy. They had a news story this week about how people stay friends with people on Facebook after they die. Anyway, it led me to think about how to make my Facebook page one less thing for someone to worry about when I die; it turns out that you can set a 'legacy contact' to be the person who is responsible for your profile after you die (it is a bit hidden away in the Security settings – I won't give instructions, because that kind of thing gets moved around on a reasonably regular basis.) If you don't want your FB page to be deleted when you're gone, but you don't want to worry about sharing your password with someone (and what happens if you change it in the future – which you should probably be doing on a regular basis) then you should probably look into this.
  • The world is designed for men. Kind of stating the obvious — the world has been mainly "designed" by men for the last few centuries, but this article explains some of the consequences. (Via Azeem Azhar's Exponential View newsletter.)

  1. His book, "A brief history of the future" is my favourite book about the origins of the internet, so I would say that he is particularly well qualified to talk about the subject.

  2. If you cut off an arm, it can still figure out what it wants to touch and what it wants to avoid, to the extent that it will avoid its own arms, but grab onto a different octopus' arms.

  3. ie. a kind of 'alternate 2016', like in Back to the Future part 2, except for 2016 instead of 1985… I'm sure you get the idea.

  4. It might be a UC-E6, which technically isn't even a USB, but I've gone past caring.

  5. Well, I'm sure there would be a period of getting to understand laptops and digital photography and wifi and broadband as well… On the other hand, my 20-years-ago-self knew what the internet was, owned a mobile phone, and would also be good friends with my wife. I do wonder which one he would want to know more about first…

Unordered #3: Backing up

  • 3 posts into this series, and I've dropped the 'list' from the 'Unordered List' title as it seems redundant - or at least, unhelpful, and possibly distracts from the key point (which isn't really "list".)
  • The previous entry seemed to have a "getting old" theme. That was partly a deliberate attempt to stop everything I write here from having a "getting old" theme, but the thing is I'm at a point where I am being told that I have to start thinking about the logistics surrounding my 40th birthday; how do I want to celebrate, what do I want to book, do my wife and I want a joint party etc. etc. So there may be a degree of reflection going on at the moment that isn't entirely representative of my usual state of mind. Maybe… Sorry. 1
  • In the past, my blogging "model" was Daring Fireball and the "linked list" posts. This time around, I think its a bit closer to Dan Hon's "Things that have caught my attention" newsletter. Its very good - you should probably sign up for it.
  • Looking back to the first one, I said that "the ones that I get past 'noteworthy' to 'actual written notes' will get turned into links to the actual 'notes'." I'm just acknowledging that I have not yet done this, and probably won't to be honest.1
  • Oh – I should probably also mention that I've finally activated the Facebook page that I set up years ago but never got around to actually enabling.1 Facebook reminded me that I've been on it for 9 years, which made me think that I should be able to use it properly by now… So, please click the link, like the page, and see updates in your Facebook feed if thats your kind of thing. I haven't quite figured out what I'm going to do with it, but I can promise that what I'm not going to do with it is spam people's Facebook feeds.
  • So, this is the week the new Radiohead album came out, and either everybody wants to know what everybody else thinks of it, or everybody wants everybody else to know what they think about it– I'm not too sure which. I'm still a bit freaked out by the fact that one day I could click on a few buttons in iTunes and get a brand new, free, legal Radiohead album. Which is kind of stupid, considering that In Rainbows was available as a 'proper' free, legal download years before Spotify/Tidal/Apple Music made it a 'thing'. Anyway, I still haven't listened to it properly1 enough to have an opinion worth sharing, but its the whole context that interests me more. Like the fact that its available on Apple Music, but not Spotify (and Tidal, but I'm still kind of internally dismissing that as an unsustainable project by some rich artists until I see a good reason to split with Apple's Music, which is more about my laziness than anything else.) But I'm wondering;
    • How many Spotify subscribers 1 care about not being able to listen to it (or Taylor Swift, or Beyonce etc.)
    • How many people who care about the new Radiohead album weren't even born when Kid A came out sixteen years ago.
    • How many people who have already made the time to listen to the new Radiohead album could identify every track from their last album. Or any track. Or even name their last album. (For some reason, I'm feeling like I should go back and catch up on it before properly digging into the new one. I think its because I enjoyed OK Computer much more after Kid A came out.)
  • The NME has a story about a new Stone Roses single that might be about to drop. I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, Heaton Park was ace and as far as I'm concerned, proves that they still have it. On the other hand, Heaton Park was a reunion; getting the band back together, reuniting old friends, going through the classics – all about going back to what was great about the old days. I don't know what to expect from these old men recording new material… well, I know what I should probably expect — a rehash of the old formula that anyone with a copy of the record could put together. What I want is the feeling that they are doing what they want to do now, and I expect that is more than just 'lets pretend that its the 1990s'. So… I guess its that pre-Force Awakens sense of cautious optimism again…
  • A reminder: back up your data. Think about what would happen if your computer broke/got stolen/exploded/etc., and what kind of stuff might be gone (photos, passwords, notes, emails etc.) Think about where your backup actually physically is, and whether something like your house burning down would it out along with the computer that its backing up. Personally, I use a USB hard drive, plus Backblaze (and also have a bunch of stuff in a Dropbox folder, and photos and videos in iCloud, and lots of copies of things in various places.1) I just upgraded to a bigger local hard drive, hence the reminder to everyone else out there.
  • That said, a story is doing the rounds about someone losing their music collection (note: they had a backup and didn't actually lose their music collection) because Apple Music apparently did mainly what it was supposed to do (replace the music library on the computer with a copy in the cloud), but partly what it wasn't supposed to do (which was mis-match some music). Which makes me think 4 things;
    1. Backups are important.
    2. I'm pretty sure that when I signed up to Apple Music, it was really clear that the music on my hard drive was going to be replaced, and I was really careful to make sure that I had backups of everything. (Partly because I had already experienced iTunes Match swapping out songs for different versions - eg. NSFW lyrics being replaced by radio-friendly versions. Partly because I remembered how long it took me to rip all those CDs. Partly because not all of my music library came from CDs I own.)
    3. Backups are really important. Don't wait until you have a data loss story of your own before you set up a backup. Fact of life; all hard drives die. Not some hard drives. all hard drives. (And USB drives, and floppy disks etc.)
    4. Perhaps more importantly, unless you have some irreplacable music of great personal value, there is this underlying point about the shift between the stuff you own turning into stuff you rent. We saw it when Amazon messed with books that were on people's Kindles. We're seeing it now with Apple Music (albeit, I believe, unintentionally.)
  • Also this week - a report says that this year, the UK's spend on renting video will overtake the amount spent on buying it. This is where we are heading. If there is a tipping point, we're well past it.
  • Related, this piece on Drifting is interesting, and talks about the consequences of 'lack of ownership'. I read something similar (which I can't find now) about how a CD collection used to be an expression of yourself; which isn't something you can do with a Spotify playlist. I'm not entirely sure that its true though — yes, it used to be fun to look through each others CD collections to see what people had, but lets face it; anyone in their late teens/early 20s at the end of the 90s would probably have had pretty much the same as anyone else; a bit of Oasis, some Radiohead, some Massive Attack, some Orbital, some Prodigy, a few Beatles albums… Nobody was saying "oh wow, you've got the Bluetones album, can I have a listen?" Or "Where did you manage to get hold of that Primal Scream CD?" But now you can go away and listen to some music that someone recommended to you without paying the equivalent of £26 in todays money to be able to listen to something of your own choosing.1 I think thats probably better, all in all. You just need to think of something that makes better furniture than a pile of plastic.
  • Just look at the incredible lengths people are going to in order to be able to watch a version of Star Wars that is closer to the 1977 original than the post-1997 Special Editions (which George Lucas seems to have done his best to erase from the historical record...) The Electric Shadow podcast has an interview with one of Team Negative One about their project. Listening to in on a long car journey, I learnt a few things;
    • My wife is a Star Wars fan, but nevertheless literally couldn't care less about this stuff. (So, if you are a Star Wars fan and wondering if you should check it out — probably not. Check out Mr. Plinkett's reviews instead.)
    • "Mr. Black" notes that spending a couple of grand on an original print wasn't really a big deal for him, because he is single and if he hadn't bought that, he probably would have just convinced himself how much he "needed" a new computer, new car etc. etc.
    • When I was younger, single and had significantly more time and less money, I spent a lot of my time involved in the online Star Wars fan community. I think its a pretty safe bet that, if I was still single, I would probably be getting involved in one of these projects.
    • There is another Electric Shadow podcast all about the opening crawl. I think I'm going to listen to that one when my wife isn't around, to avoid a path that leads to me having the free time to get involved in a big restoration project…
  • Speaking of Apple — the company is doomed, iPhone sales are down, profits are falling, the stock price is crashing, the sky is falling... There is lots of interesting stuff going on here in terms of Apple as a business, APPL as a stock, and what this means for the future of the smartphone landscape. Six Colours has all the numbers, but right now I think this tweet (via sums it up best;
  • On the topic of the basics of using a computer, there is a widget here that will tell you how good your password is - ie. how long it would take to crack it using a "brute force" guessing approach. Now, you probably shouldn't put your actual password in, but its worth looking at what kind of difference it makes having a mixture of uppercase/lowercase, digits and letters, special characters etc. (And unless you are confident that your most important passwords would be in the range of millennia to crack, you should really think about changing them.) (Note - I don't know why "jiffies" are one of the units of measurement used. I get the idea of it having a meaning) - I don't see how it fits in with this particular seconds/milliseconds usage though. </ nitpick>
  • Something happened in the world of football that was big enough that even if you don't care about football in the slightest, you are probably still aware of it. Which raises the question for thousands of LinkedIn bloggers - how can I turn this national event into "content"? (We know that its going to happen…) Well, Dominic Mills nails it in his Mediatel column with exactly what media/marketing can learn from Leicester City.

Thanks for reading all the way down to the bottom. Like I mentioned, I have a Facebook page now that you can 'like', or you can fill in the form and drop me a line.


  1. Not sorry.

  2. Also acknowledging that I totally predicted that at the time too.

  3. By which I mean listening to it while not also doing something else at the same time, like working.

  4. Actual paying subscribers- not the freebie listeners putting up with horrible adverts.

  5. Its unordered, but comprehensive.

  6. Callback!

  7. I think I got annoyed that I missed the vanity URL I wanted for the page and decided I didn't want it anyway. I know, real mature…

Unordered List #2: Getting Old

  • 3 day weekends are great, but 3 day weekends which you go into with no plans whatsoever are the best.
  • Some nice post-it note cartoons - you might have come across some of his "adult life in illustrations" cartoons that seem to have spread all over Facebook and been reblogged a million times already, but this is going back to the source of that actual guy writing them, rather than the parasitic world of syndicated content farmers that is probably my least favourite thing on the internet at the moment... (You should probably follow him on Instagram, but I'm not really on Instagram so I don't know if thats the kind of thing that people really want in their feeds...)
  • On her instagram is a video of Daisy Ridley waving a stick around. Hopefully the reason that this caught my attention is self-explanatory. How long do I have to wait to see Episode VIII? Is this showing the kind of moves she's going to be doing in Episode VIII? I kind of feel like VIII should be about her learning about the Force rather than "mastering" it, and it should be Episode IX where she gets to be the lightsaber master… but then, the obvious journey for her to be on would be a big struggle with the power of the dark side in XI, which would follow from setting her up from "raw talent but unskilled" in VII to "skills + talent = power" in VIII, leading into "power + temptation" in IX… Which reminds me that I haven't had a chance to watch The Force Awakens lightsaber fight properly 1, let alone all the DVD/Blu Ray extra features, which 10 years ago I probably would have seen about 4 times over by now. Is it weird that there isn't a commentary track? Is it weird that the 3D version hasn't been released yet? How long until a "collectors edition" that I'm probably going to buy, even though I probably won't get round to actually seeing all the extras…
    Still, I love it that there is new Star Wars going on again…
  • Speaking of which - the Rogue One teaser trailer is kind of old news now, but I'm dropping the link anyway in case you didn't watch it properly. If you can't get enough of that kind of thing, then you will probably enjoy spending 1hr 37 minutes listening to the Incomparable podcast, with John Siracusa, Jason Snell, Dan Moren and Serentiy Caldwell talking about it.
  • On the subject of trailers, the next Call of Duty game has been unveiled. Also available in a bundle with a remastered for PS4/Xbox One version of CoD: Modern Warfare, which is going to be 10 years old next year - which makes me feel very old…
  • Also this weekend, I saw a TV ad for a new Doom game, which I didn't even guess was a Doom game until the logo at the end. I never got round to playing Doom3, but this has all got me thinking about what Valve are up to in their weird offices, whether anyone there has decided to do some work on the Half Life story, whether the Source engine is being ported/upgraded for the "next gen" consoles2, what that might look like, how much of the Half Life 2 "episodes" I will be able to remember/didn't actually get round to playing, how much that will matter considering that there will probably be people playing Half Life 3 that weren't even born when Half Life 2 came out… (And again: feeling old...)
  • Back in the world of grown-ups (or maybe not), Ken Livingstone made some poorly-judged comments. The Huffington Post did a story about it. I'm not massively interested in the Labour party debate - but the combination of a complicated topic and a very simplified way of telling the story is something I find really interesting.
  • Similarly, I've found the Quartz app to be far more engaging than I had suspected. Maybe its because I get alerts for news stories that are interesting, as opposed to depressing.
  • On the other hand, I still like a good old-fashioned long read to give me an idea of what I should be thinking, as opposed to what I should know about. On that front, I thought this offered some real insight into whats going on with this current debate. (Is it a debate? Are there actually people putting forward reasoned arguments on either side? Perhaps I'm actually actively avoiding it, rather than just not looking in the right places for that kind of thing…)
  • A Quora post on the 5 most important programming concepts. Smart.
  • I really like the Reply All podcast, but this latest episode sent me through all kinds of emotions. If you haven't listened to it (and especially if I have told you to listen to it), then its a pretty good starting point. (Even though it doesn't have a Yes, Yes, No game, which is probably my favourite thing…)

  1. First time - too busy soaking in the whole "new Star Wars" thing. Second time - was more interested in seeing my son's reaction to it all. 3rd time - on a tiny back-of-an-aeroplane-seat screen and too tired to think about lightsaber styles. My definition of 'watching a lightsaber fight properly' might be a bit stricter than most…

  2. I have a PS3, so "next gen" is "next gen" until I get a PS4, then it becomes "current gen."

Unordered List #1

  • I recently got back from a 2 week holiday, and the accompanying period of self-reflection that always comes when I a) have a bit of time off work, b) get some time away from an internet connection and c) end up with some time to think instead of "read". 1
  • In an attempt to bring my drafts:posts ratio into a balance that feels a bit more like I'm getting something productive done, this is a new format that I'm playing with. The idea is pretty simple - instead of a big post, its an unordered list of 'noteworthy things'. The ones that I get past 'noteworthy' to 'actual written notes' will get turned into links to the actual 'notes'.1
  • Websites are as big as Doom. I know that it isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, that web apps, media files optimised for retina displays and video are all pushing the average waaay up, but still…
  • How to get the Prince love symbol, if you should want to drop it into a piece of text. (I wonder how many website owners are trying to figure out how to turn this into an embedded font for their sites and adding to the kind of load the previous article is talking about…)
  • The million dollar answer to the question about what was the important information on the San Bernadino iPhone - nothing of much use. So - money well spent then. (I wonder how much Apple spent on legal and PR consultancy to prepare for the court case that never happened.)
  • Lego Milennium Falcon Coffee Table. Awesome…
    • The old1 UCS1 Millennium Falcon Lego set is now highly collectible, and is now changing hands for sums well into 3 figures.
    • If you're going to have a set like that, then you probably want to a) let people see it, b) keep it very safe, and c) keep the dust off it.
    • If you can come up with a better way of doing that (or a better coffee table design), I'd love to see it.
      I'm pretty seriously tempted to try to do something similar…
  • Everything the tech world says about marketing is wrong. If you work in "media", then I think you should really know all of this. (I'm not so sure that I would say that everyone I know in media would.)
  • This is an interesting story about a man who set up a motel purely so that he could spy on the guests in what was justified as a kind of sociological experiment. It might have been because I was staying in a motel at the time I was reading it, but I thought it was a powerful story.
  • This video is a much more fun one; 'the most satisfying video in the world'. (I think the knife ones are my favourite parts.)
  • M.G. Siegler has noticed that his CDs are probably not reflective of the value they once had. Something I've been occasionally reflecting on. (Update: I still tend to buy CDs first, and still haven't made my mind up about whether my DVD collection is going to go digital, or if I'm going to migrate over to Netflix/Amazon Prime, or I'm going to start building up a Blu-Ray library.)
  • Apparently, a CD that cost £15 in 1996 would cost the equivalent of £26 today. Or to put it another way, two and a half months of access to your favourite subscription music service.
  • Photo-realistic renderings of people's poor attempts to draw bicycles are strangely fascinating

  1. I use the scare quotes because the stuff that I read in in-between moments on my phone are so far removed from the kind of reading that I do when I have a book or magazine in my hand that I wish there was a different verb to describe it. "Gaze"? "Graze"?

  2. Disclaimer: Maybe.

  3. Yes, you can still get a Lego Millennium Falcon, but the old one was much bigger, and so much cooler that the £100+ to get the 'baby toy' version feels like enough of a compromise that I would probably feel bad buying it for myself.

  4. Ultimate Collector Series