New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Thursday, June 7

New reports

Too busy to read these ATM but what's become known as the Steinberg Review, The Power of Information: An independent review by Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg, has been published on CommentOnThis.

Also, SOCITM has (finally) released Better marketed: achieving success with take-up of online services.

Don't listen to me, Dave, listen to My Mum

Parliament must listen to the blogger in his pyjamas - Cameron

According to The Register:

A Conservative Party task force examining democratic participation proposes that online petitions should help set the parliamentary agenda. The four proposals above are just some of the open petitions recently accepted by the No.10 Downing Street website. In other words, these are the sensible ones: over 10,000 have been rejected. (This one, for example, was quite inexplicably deemed to be outside the scope of Government.)

"I would like to see a system whereby, if enough people sign an online petition in favour of a particular motion, then a debate is held in Parliament, followed by a vote - so that the public know what their elected representatives actually think about the issues that matter to them," said Cameron in a canned statement.

Which drew the Reg's acid tongue:
Gentlemen - start your scripting engines.

What is it with geeks and acid tongues?

Look, Dave, I don't want to be at the head of the 'being listened to .. ' queue just because I can log on and participate. There are 15 million like my Mum who aren't near the starting blocks. Talk that one up for a change.

A piece from today's Guardian Technology seems apt to link to:
Since the 1960s, politicians and pundits have predicted the imminent arrival of a digital utopia in which robots would do the washing up and we would live in peace and harmony in an electronically connected, global village, thanks to the net.

So why are the utopian visions of 40 years ago strangely similar to the ones we hold today? Because business and political leaders have consistently pushed a carefully orchestrated fantasy of the future to distract us from the present, says Richard Barbrook, who explores the subject in Imaginary Futures - From Thinking Machines to the Global Village.


He is particularly interested in exposing the "nonsense of technological determinism", which he describes as "the theory that someone builds a machine, the machine sprouts legs and runs around the world changing it".

Wednesday, June 6

Web 2.0 - the year ahead?

14th World Editors Forum in Cape Town, South Africa yesterday.

Adam Pasick, Reuters virtual journalist in Second Life; Dave Panos, chief executive officer, Pluck; Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder, Global Voices; Facebook afficionado Richard Sambrook, director, BBC Global News; and Didier Pillet, director of information, Ouest-France (speaking in French with English translation overdubbed).

Tuesday, June 5

Bytes · YouTube transfers - Psychology of banner ads - Mash up Excel

Catching up .. clearing the scrapbook ...

Stevie Ryan, AKA Little Loca, has become the first YouTube discovery to get her own network TV show. She'll co-host reality-based "Online Nation". The half-hour series will showcase user-generated clips found on YouTube, Revver and other sites.

I hate this stuff - Al Gore's CurrentTV would be watchable if they got rid of the amateurish 'announcers' top-n-tailing some actually interesting product. Maybe that appeals to teenagers, doesn't to me. They'll be a looot more of this ... Little Loca's definitely got a demographic, girlfriend. Pour moi? One clip's enough. Later!


    The psychology of banner ads
    repeated exposure to a product via banner ads generates a positive feeling towards that product.

    repeated exposure to a stimulus that's barely perceptible can enhance a person's feelings towards what's otherwise a neutral object

    familiarity-based advertising may work best for impulse buys, where more detailed evaluations aren't likely to occur


    An OpenNet Initiative report has found - apart from what you'd think about the usual suspects
    no evidence of filtering in more than a dozen of the surveyed countries, among them Russia, Venezuela, Egypt, Hong Kong, Israel and Iraq.


    Motivation, context, and citizen analysis of government data
    Swivel is just one place showing how communities can use stats mashups. Jon Udall examines another on his blog and points at his own mash-up which, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, is publishing/explaning crime stats details.

    Talking about 'patient intimidation', he comments:
    Similarly, when your neighborhood is sick, you’ll be motivated to engage with government data, and you’ll build yourself a context for that.
    He likes Excel.

Monday, June 4

MSFT Search Skunk Works

Microsoft have just handed the development of their next generation (aka 'stealth', aka 'MSFT Search Skunk Works') search engine to 25 yo Sanaz Ahari

From Fast Company:

Ahari is widely credited with helping pioneer a new way of programming the Web. She's currently working on the Live Search team, preparing to launch her fourth new product since she arrived at Microsoft from college.

"Gadgets are making the entire Web a canvas. Gadgets (or widgets, as they're also known) are small programs that can reside online or on the desktop and perform a simple, single task, such as keeping track of your recipes. They usually extend an existing product or service, and they're primarily for the display of personalized information.

I can see a whole new level of advertising through gadgets. An early example was when Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) had that Da Vinci Code gadget--a replica of the 'cryptex,' the cylindrical decoder device from the book and movie. You could take the puzzle and put it on your Web page for your friends to discover. That was great. Create something cool, and people will distribute your brand for you. And content will become the new forum for advertising.

Users will tell you if you're doing it right. When I launched Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT), a gadget-powered home page, we released a weather gadget with only Fahrenheit capability. That was really bad of me as a Canadian--but after people complained, we had Celsius up there almost immediately. I was so delighted to really connect with customers and show that Microsoft is not a big, bad, evil thing.

Now all these startups are creating widgets. It's kind of exciting but a little out of control. Everyone has their own standards, and they aren't as portable as they should be. Users should be in control of data and be able to put widgets on any Web site they want. They also need an effective way to find the best ones for them. I don't worry about progress, though. This is still in its infancy."

Sunday, June 3

DirectGov: follow-up

Now I've seen the actual 'secret' DirectGov blog posts and it doesn't say anything about actual post content by Moi. I'm just so hurt ... [weeps, exits curtain left ... ]

It notes mine and other blogs and sounds like a lone voice (it's another Paul) trying to attract attention just to our existence ... poor sod ..

I have spotted some suspicious search patterns as well as the direct links by the way (Paul). Not that I'm bovvered of course ...

Simon Dickson quotes from their RSS Feed on his blog and has commented some more..

Bytes · Avoiding the O/S - StreetView - Gears

.. catching up again ...

The Guardian notes that 'Councils bypass Ordnance Survey for Google Maps', highlighting Brent's use and focusing on the savings against paying the ogres of Ordnance Survey.

Couple of other things:

  1. Using Google Maps gets you into the much wider world of the web, widgets'n'all and gives you the ability to tap into exemplars in a way generally not available elsewhere in eGov. It bypasses 'has a council used that? too risky otherwise'.
  2. It is risky. I could see Google charging for it, ad-free. This is why the Telegraph's dropped them.


Raf Needleman reports on Webware that Google image search recognizes faces (it's in beta, live but unnanounced)

[Do a search], go into the address bar and stick this on the end of the URL: &imgtype=face. Go to that URL and you'll see just image search results of people.

You can also search for news results: Append &imgtype=news.


Google Maps StreetView isn't new. Heard that? Virtually none of the shock-horror media seem to have noticed that A9 have been doing the same thing for ages.

Google Sightseeing has a Street View Roundup

Here’s a guy taking a pee into a bush in San Francisco!

Although, this all seems strangely familiar


Google sees Gears, which is open source and was much reported this week as a direct attack on MS, as a Standard.

“We feel very strongly about this being an industry effort and being a standard. We want this to be the one way that developers can add offline capabilities to their applications,” says Jeff Huger, Google’s VP of engineering, during the keynote for the company’s global Developer Day.

More on Tim Anderson's blog and Search EngineLand.


DirectGov search marketing

DirectGov has been in the eGov eye in the past week as an internal blog of theirs is picked up from website logs (including mine, hello there DirectGov, pay attention now, you can always hit 'anonymous' in comments ... ).

But I've also noticed them increasingly using Search Marketing, alongside some other big government agencies, especially the NHS as well as some rather odd government advertisers.

I'll just look at one term, but you could extrapolate to the general approach.

And here's what is it: happening, welcome, but not very efficient and either ill-advised or ill-directed.

I did some searches around 'pregnancy' when I blogged about Davina McCall's show on the issue of SexEd for Channel Four, two months back.

I went back and did the searches again and the results are almost the same.

Caveats: I don't do Search Marketing full-time for a living, which also means I don't have the full toolkit. Also, when your search budget runs out the ads disappear - they could have advertised against all sorts of terms and it's not showing just right now.

Following comments and from private email about the technicalities, I'd add that budgets, commercial competition and matching issues are all relevant of course - a comment about the importance of content in the search context is particularly relevant to eGov.

I've added more at the end.

Click on the screengrabs for the larger version.

Here's organic results for 'pregnancy'. At that point (end of March) the Child Trust Fund was advertising against that keyword. DirectGov appeared when you selected 'uk only' or if you came in via They're not right now and all the top results today are commercial.

On 'Teenage pregnancy', DirectGov show up (they still do, but only if you start at But this is a category title of theirs, I don't think it's much of an organic search term.

Would you search on 'teenage pregnancy' if you were a teenager? Obviously it's searched on, just probably not by the key market. I suspect this is in the list simply because it's government's metadata.

Also, the first result is for the Cabinet Office Unit (useless for a pregnant teenager), but the lack of commercial interest in this term just underlines the likelihood that users don't actually use it.

After that point though the marketing stops.

People don't just search on 'pregnancy', they search on a whole bunch of related terms, the total of which would be significantly more than 'pregnancy' and some of which are particularly relevant.

You can see this simply by seeing what gets advertised against.

A holistic, efficient campaign covers the typos too.

Terms like 'pregnancy yoga', 'pregnancy calendar', 'pregnancy symptom', 'sign of pregnancy', 'pregnancy nutrition' — even 'pregnancy test'.

But if you try 'ectopic pregnancy' (then, not now), government ads (NHS) appeared again.

This strongly suggests to me an internal hand guiding what they'd advertise against rather than taking advice (though I never discount the 'it was just a f*** up' explanation and I fail to understand how a big agency could put their name to it) because those are the sorts of internal list terms which drive eGov — not user-defined terms.

Google is not the only SE. Particular SEs have particular audiences.

The NHS, I notice, was extending to Yahoo on 'pregnancy'. MSN/LiveSearch has a skew towards a female audience.

The reason why all this is of any importance is simply because this is how people find government services. The vast, vast majority online and a rapidly growing majority for Google.

Search is the gatekeeper to Government services online, but in failing to take up Search Marketing with any seriousness government is abandoning citizens to the market for their advice at crucial moments.

This is even more important when — as a result of a wider failure around linking — government advice does not show up automatically or with any consistency at the top of organic results.

Readers with children potentially searching for pregnancy or STDs or sexuality information discreetly online might be interested to see who is actually advising them.

It's not the government.


Addendum: I don't think that the budget considerations or the technical issues involved with budget choices undermine the basic point: this is how people are finding information and where is the government?

With budgets, they need to change. As is rapidly happening with marketing in general, more needs to be spent on search marketing and less on newspaper ads.

The comments about all the issues involved are all right but that doesn't stop others from testing different approaches. You can't do that unless a good SEM can just get on with doing their job without being second-guessed.

The big issues I think are the commercial competition and how to wade in. Thinking about that makes my head spin because it's not just commercial considerations, it's moral and political and lots more.

I don't pretend there's much thought elsewhere going on about this but, at base, how long is the market going to define the terms (literally, if you think of long tail keyphrases!) by which YOUR child finds information? That's what's actually happening.

And it's good that DirectGov + NHS have dabbled. It's a start but it's too slow. Government has to either regulate (Bill Thompson's idea) or engage (or go 'lalala. can't hear you .. ' or shoot-the-messenger).

With the stuff I found, I think it's telling me that someone who thinks they're important needs to stop pretending they understand Search Marketing and hand the deciding on things like the actual spend, the terms, to someone like the commentator on this post who obviously does do it for a living (and/or fire the agency who don't).

Give the qualified SEM a realistic trial budget and let them PROVE their worth. Then share the findings.