New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, May 3

Store Wars

Will the Star Wars metaphor never end!

The Empire Strikes Barack


These clips are just getting better and better ....


Rocky owners Warner Bros. tried to stop this cut-up/parody/tribute, but failed ...

FaceBook In Reality

Have glove, will demonstrate

David Wilcox using a Uni.of Cambridge glove. It demonstrates what it's like to have limited mobility and is aimed at designers, to show them first-hand what accessibility issues they should be taking into account.

Dave Briggs has a whole load more video content, links to more and detail on the practicalities from last week's £295-a-ticket 'Social Inclusion' conference (ahem).

Tesco's employs corporate muscle

After sicing the lawyers on Thai critics, Tesco is now suing the Guardian for having the temerity to discuss their tax arrangements.

The St Albans Stop Tesco Group says it all:

As we've said before about Tesco, and this applies just as much to its ongoing other libel suit in Tesco (here's the latest news on this), the issue for us isn't so much what Tesco does - it is the fact that it can afford to spend money on legal writs and tax avoidance that smaller shops can't.

Local newsagents, grocers and market traders would love to reduce their tax demands by using overseas companies and hiring expensive tax experts - but they can't afford to. Tesco can, and can then use the tax savings to both improve its massive profits, and cut prices to drive local competitors out of business. So there goes any sense of a level playing field...

Ken's defeat: could the web have swung it?

Blogged a while back that Ken's already lost online. The web strategy was too little, too top down, too under-resourced and too late. Their heart wasn't in it and they plainly didn't give it much attention, because they thought it would make little difference. More fool them.

Yes, we do need some hard numbers to get the dinosaurs moving but the Obama campaign has already shown that the tools now available, employed well, translates into more efficient bottom-up organising and therefore more votes. See Turning web buzz into votes: how Obama does it.

60-100,000 votes would have made the difference in the mayoral election. Not that much in a city the size of London. I don't think it's overblown to suggest that a properly employed web strategy could have pushed Ken over the top. And don't tell me the resources aren't there - they find them to run expensive, inefficient giant poster adverts.

None of this happens in a vacuum - Obama is a great candidate and that makes a huge difference to his success with web campaigning. The Guardian today has a good list of the big picture reasons Ken was fatally undermined:

  1. Boris was right for the contest
  2. The incumbency factor
  3. Scandals and cronyism
  4. The Evening Standard
  5. Conservative cash
  6. Alienating the progressive vote
  7. Crime
  8. The association with Labour
  9. Johnson's zone 5 strategy
  10. The anti-Boris campaign didn't work
But just look, as I focussed on, at only #6 and you could find a big chunk of that 60-100,000. All the others could, as well, have been effectively tackled with an aggressive online campaign - perhaps pushing Ken over the top.

But when you had a scale of complacency such that only the well-known supporters were credited on Ken's website for running the, itself badly executed, banner which I had in my right hand column then one's inclined to think 'sod them'.

If Labour continues to 'miss a trick', ignore the web and operates further campaigns online like they have this one then they deserve the outcomes they will get.

Thursday, May 1

Postscript 2: Search and suicide

Now have a research author response: see below.

The responses on the British Medical Journal (BMJ) website are mounting up to the 'search and suicide' research they published and which I dissembled.

I mentioned before how a Japanese researcher responded about how they are using the web to directly intervene - Outreach in the Real World - here's a bit more detail. (NB: The BMJ may force you to sign up to view these responses in full).

Not only are online approaches expanding, but outreach-based interventions in the real world are expanding as well. The "Guidelines for Response to Advance Suicide Warning Cases on the Internet," released in October 2005, includes a statement that Internet community organizations can disclose the content of private communications to a third party in emergency situations. As a result, the National Public Safety Commission in Japan reported that among 121 cases of suicide warning on the Internet in 2007, the police identified 105 individuals based on provider information. Of these, 72 cases were intervened by police and other aid measures, while the remaining 33 cases were determined as pranks. Sixteen cases could not be identified because of access from unspecified terminals, such as Internet cafes.
I have absolutely zero problem with this - it's about saving life in the final analysis, not privacy. I can't see why the NHS cannot negotiate similar protocols in the UK. The model is there to learn from. Is that happening? I very much doubt it.

Other BMJ responses are mainly from Hong Kong researchers, but all give a very different take on where research should happen.

'Suicide and internet use levels-- the evidence is lacking', for example, says "the evidence for an association between internet use levels per se and suicide ideation are scant .. it is practically impossible to differentiate visitors drawn by morbid curiosity, boredom, transient dysphoric mood or even academic interest from those with actual suicidal intent, caution should be exercised in interpreting their results."

Another, 'Positive and negative influences of the Internet on suicide', says "the Internet may have beneficial effects on suicide and to better understand the phenomenon both positive and negative influences of the Internet on suicide should be considered." These researchers say that "suicide prevention and intervention can be provided through the Internet for those who have suicidal ideation and visit those sites".

Especially if you use the web to put your positive services in the middle, as the Japanese appear to have learnt.

An American researcher says, "we suggest further studies to be conducted by Biddle and her colleagues comparing the actual traffic to both pro-suicide and suicide prevention websites and focusing future studies on the actual online behaviors of suicidal individuals."

Too right. "Actual online behaviors" being a crucial element to any research around search.

It's very noticeable that there aren't any responses from the UK - how does Biddle et al's research get funded I wonder and why are these other countries seemingly looking at far better and more productive avenues vs. suicide and the web than the sort of web-bashing, headline-grabbing rubbish we're churning out?

NB: I have received no response to email from either the researchers ('Biddle et al') or the charity Sane, which was quoted by the BBC. Help is obviously not wanted as they know it all. Neither, it must be said, have I had much response from search industry bodies and media I contacted. As I have said numerous times before, the industry is lousy at PR. They will wait until regulatory bodies and ill-informed politicians start proposing draconian and irrational legislation before they start dealing with their social impact.

May 5th addition: research author response

Lead author David Gunnell, Professor of Epidemiology Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, has responded to my critique amongst others on the BMJ's website. I will note that I wrote to Gunnell and he didn't reply. This is relevant in the context of this response.
We are pleased to see the interest and broad range of views provoked by our paper. There appears to be consensus amongst correspondents about the potential of the Internet both to provide help and to cause harm. Several correspondents have helpfully highlighted additional approaches to altering the results of Internet searching in favour of minimising risk to individuals experiencing serious suicidal thoughts and planning suicide.

Some contributors (Grohol, Canning, Fu, Knight) express surprise at our focus on methods of suicide.
Not me, wasn't expressed by me.
Furthermore Fu points out that some suicidal web-users may have already decided on their method of suicide and be searching for technical information about its implementation. We agree. However, as we explained in the opening paragraph of our paper, we focused on methods of suicide (rather than Internet resources for suicide in general) because research evidence suggests that one of the strongest media influences on suicidal behaviour concerns its affect on the choice of suicide method used.[2,3] Choice of method, in turn, influences the likelihood that a suicidal act will result in death,[4] and so may have an impact on suicide rates. We assumed that some Internet influences on suicide are likely to be similar to those of other media such as TV and newspaper reporting. In keeping with this Fu highlights the possible role of the Internet in relation to the spread of carbon monoxide poisoning as a method of suicide in Hong Kong. Thus we chose the search terms likely to be used by individuals with serious suicidal thoughts who are planning their suicide attempt. We felt it important that organisations offering support to suicidal individuals should endeavour to ensure their sites occur high up on the list of 'hits' retrieved by searches making inquiries about suicide methods.
But they didn't focus on methods. The search terms they chose, which they didn't explain the genesis of in detail, barely included specific methods - Fu's point. If, as there is strong evidence of, people take clues from media reporting - 'copycats' - then surely it would help to look at what methods are shown/described in reporting and take cues from there? This they didn't do. And it's difficult to make recommendations - especially such dramatic ones as they did - when the initial sources "terms likely to be used by individuals with serious suicidal thoughts who are planning their suicide attempt" are so apparently weak.
We agree with Grohol and other correspondents that additional aspects of the Internet in relation to preventing and provoking suicide are worthy of academic study. Indeed this is something we wish to pursue. However, we felt in an area about which much is conjectured, but little empirical data exist, a focussed inquiry into one relevant aspect was appropriate.
In which case they picked the wrong area. Surely going to source - what is known about how suicidal people connect to information and then act on that information, taking cues from well-developed experiences like the Japanese - would be a more productive avenue. For example, what is the role of UK social networks? Where is research lacking on the actual connections prior to suicides? The assumption here was 'search engines' - and everything flowed from those assumptions. Again and again, the main issue here is researchers who aren't webbies, don't understand how the web works, make assumptions, don't talk to the right experts, then leap off with claims which are - plainly - false and suggest solutions they are not qualified to suggest and lead people down more false trails.
In a single brief research paper it would not have been possible to cover the range of aspects suggested by Grohol. We disagree with Grohol's suggestion that we painted a pessimistic picture.
Talk to the PR, what headlines have they generated? How helpful are those headlines? It is highly irresponsible for such researchers to step back here and say 'we're not responsible'.
We described a number of beneficial aspects of the Internet - highlighting advice and information sites. Indeed we report that 13% of our hits were for sites offering support or information about suicide and 12% discouraged suicide. We also highlight that in England, whilst use of the Internet has increased in recent years, rates of suicide have declined. Thus harmful impacts of the Internet on individual acts of suicide are either being offset by beneficial effects or the impact of other suicide prevention activities.
Yes, they mentioned this. But it wasn't their headline. As I showed, searches for 'suicide' appear to be going down. But this wasn't their headline or reported anywhere at all in the subsequent headlines generated from the cues they gave reporters (i.e. the press release). Look at it this way, if the media is a causal factor the researchers just failed to get the media to report the existence of suicide help and to only focus on the existence of harmful websites.
Some of the assertions made by Canning are incorrect. The sites we reviewed were restricted to the first 10 results for each search. The searches 'methods of suicide' and 'suicide methods', which, like most users, we carried out without the quotation marks, do, in fact, yield different sites.
Ok, point taken. Search engines are improving. Though results are barely different. What else makes up "some .. are incorrect".
The interview data we used to inform our search strategy referred to interviews that were conducted with people who had survived nearly fatal suicide attempts. Two of the twelve individuals we have interviewed to date used the Internet to research their methods and indicated the terms they used. We can think of few better methods of identifying search terms than from such individuals.
This detail wasn't in the paper. Two individuals? And remembering terms they used? On this headlines around the world was built? If you want 'better methods', look to the Japanese. It is actually possible to backtrack from the machine they used and find exactly what they searched on. Security services and police do this sort of thing all the time. Further, Gunnell's response doesn't take on board my point that existing industry methods will tell you what terms are most searched on. They couldn't think of methods because they didn't think to ask experts in that field.
Canning makes some good points regarding the relative use of different search engines. We agree, weighting our findings according to site use may have been more informative.
No, not doing it completely undermines the credibility of the numbers reported. Especially the headline numbers cited at the top of the paper.
We did report that searches of Google, the most frequently used search engine, retrieved the highest number of pro-suicide hits and so weighting our findings by site would be unlikely to substantially alter out findings. Canning also provides a series of useful suggestions regarding strategies for reducing the accessibility of pro-suicide sites and working with the Search Engines themselves.
Why do I have 'useful suggestions'? Because I work in the web area. These researchers don't. They couldn't 'think of few better methods' because they didn't 'think' to collaborate with people such as myself or - actually - true experts who do this sort of thing for a living.
The influence of the Internet upon an individual's risk of suicide and upon population suicide rates is currently uncertain. Our study has shed some light on one aspect of the Internet. Further research is needed to ensure there is a more evidence-based debate on the Public Health impact of the Internet on suicide.
But the paper still stands and the publicity is out there. Is this response letter going to do anything about that? Are the researchers going to take their public responsibility seriously?

This is not an academic question. Decision makers are, unfortunately, far more likely to listen to people like Gunnell than people like me. Gunnell does not indicate here that they have learnt from the reaction that further research must happen by drawing on collaborations with industry and experts in the web field.

This is defensive. This is about covering their academic asses. How does this approach help us actually deal with doing the right sort of research which will lead to the right sort of solutions and actually help those they claim to want to help?

1. Biddle L, Donovan J, Hawton K, Kapur N, Gunnell D. Suicide and the Internet: BMJ 2008; 336:800-802
2. Hawton K, Williams K. Influences of the media on suicide. BMJ 2002; 325:1374-1375
3. Schmidtke A, Hafner H. The Werther effect after television films: new evidence for an old hypothesis. Psychol Med 1988;18:665-676.
4. Miller M, Azrael D, Hemenway D. The epidemiology of case fatality rates for suicide in the Northeast. Ann Emerg Med 2004;43:723-730

NB: this response was published in full the next day by the BMJ.


One thing which I did notice on returning to the BMJ's website to look at responses is that they are carrying a blog by a breast cancer victim which appears to be doing it's job - explaining day-to-day reality to practitioners.
I really appreciate the way you are looking at things.Your blog is an eye opener. As a practising physician, it has changed my outlook towards my patients and their illnesses.
Or sortof a blog, posts form part of a category called 'From the other side', which isn't flagged at their top level navigation (and NB again, probably behind a firewall).

It's by Anna Donald.
I should introduce myself before launching into a blog which I hope is not too depressing: living in the shadow of death. This is my starting point, as I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (I lit up “like a Christmas tree” on the scans) in February 2007. It was not a complete surprise - I’d had primary breast cancer - not terribly high risk - in 2003. But disappointing that so much treatment hadn’t cured it.

I hope to write about things that may interest doctors, other health workers and policy makers about what it’s like to have life threatening disease; to be on the other side of the doctor-patient divide, and to experience 21st century health care for a chronic disease (Sydney’s hospitals are pretty similar to Britain’s), from a quality-of-care perspective.
One commentator puts the value of Anna having a voice in a nutshell:
There is a tremendous amount that we can learn from you as you write to us about your experience and insights. We all have challenges which can bring us to a brink (physically, emotionally, spiritually), and it is encouraging and healing to share thoughts and experiences. This can help us to gain empathy and become better health advocates, personally (for others and for ourselves) and professionally

How embedding video will help the BBC

The BBC has said that it is investigating embeddable videos as part of their upgrade allowing videos to be played in-page.

The screenshot above is of 'Survivors of the Titanic' audio, a radio interview from 1936 with the most senior surviving officer Commander CH Lightoller from the huge archive. It's a really good example of how allowing embedding instead of the current 'share it' options will potentially massively boost their traffic — wouldn't it help sell this content and encourage further clicks to yet more previously 'hidden' content if you could click and play this audio right here? And as they are to show ads to overseas viewers (for which the technology is now fairly well developed) embedding will, potentially dramatically, increase their revenues.

The Titanic is a subject of huge enduring interest and the BBC's online archive is stock full of gems. I wonder what the actual number of plays where it's currently located, buried in the archive, gives it. When I went to Digg it, I saw no-one had done this before. Hardly surprising.

People do create viral BBC content already.

The top one - Amy Winehouse on Jools Holland's show has 8.5m views. Currently, Mitchell + Webb clips are viral, and that show is thus being promoted on BBC World.

Their top viral - 640 blog posts is a lot and that's how the ViralVideo Chart ranks - is the Panorama show 'Sex crimes and the Vatican' from 2006. It has been deleted in the version appearing in the chart - but has reappeared elsewhere in an embeddable version. The subject area appears heavily policed on YouTube - see the number of deletions in this list - but less so on Google Video. It's hard to understand why one arm of Google removes and another allows. But with the appearance of sites like LiveLeak, policing distribution is much harder anyway.

I'm not sure whether the BBC had any role is asking for copyright material to be removed in that instance some while back but there is so much copyright material already being distributed now that the conclusion can only be that it's policy not to bother policing it. Though some have been - a Doctor Who clip and something from BBC London about the London 2012 Olympics Logo — deleted on YouTube but there on LiveLeak, the Doctor Who clip simply reposted to YouTube. Perhaps policed (not at all effectively) by others than the BBC. And perhaps that's the point, the resources needed can only come from dedicated people like the Scientologists.

What can only hugely benefit them is deliberately encouraging viral distribution, rather than forcing people back to a website to view, or hiding the viral options alongside other, less valuable, distribution methods like email. Some of the US Networks, especially NBC, are doing exactly that and get the benefit from their own ad plays, wherever the video's playing.

What these networks do is police though. They want you using their embed, not something taped off TV. This allows not just ad play but also cross-promotion and anything else you might develop and throw down the pipe - the pipe you control. Is the BBC going to be thus changing their policy and throw resources at policing once they get embedding started?

This is early days - even for, for example, networks like NBC who are leading the pack they don't seem to be encouraging complimentary marketing like these parodies of Heroes on their official site and thus helping foster a community.

The BBC said back in March, in an aside, and reinforced this in response to my comments, that allowing embedding would "eventually" happen. The BBC has so much great content, including huge amounts of archive content of huge interest like their holdings about the Titanic, which is of wide, world-wide, interest that, especially with them adding in ad plays to monetise, they just can't lose.

And it's not just attracting overseas viewers but also through UK social networks - what a great way to get the benefit potential of BBC news content being seen by younger people for example. I think this should come right up their list of priorities from asides about 'eventually' to 'by around this date' ...

NB: Neither ITV or Channel Four have any interest in allowing embedding. More fool them.

Previous: Embedding video: why isn't it obvious to the MSM?

Wednesday, April 30

Google Reader clips catch up

Not on Reader

The kids are alllrreight

'Social Citizens' is a really fascinating paper from the Social Citizens project, sponsored by the Case Foundation. It's about young people (Millennials’) and how they are using online tools to connect to, initiate and run causes — the flip-side of the MSMs obsession with the negatives about the young and the Internet:

In October 2007, Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times that young people are members of Generation Q. He meant “Q” for quiet, and inactive, on the important social questions of the day. The celebrated American globalist could not have been more wrong. This generation is making noise, whether adults can hear it or not.
You may have read echoes of this attitude in the tabloids (the 'hoodie' image above features prominently in the Daily Express).

The authors are very impressed with the scale and depth of youth engagement with change using the new technology in what they report on - just think of their impact on corporate behaviour. They go so far to compare them to the 'greatest generation' who fought WW2, and I don't think that's over the top given what we face with climate change:
One example of Millennials’ online activism is Causes on Facebook. In the spring of 2007, Project Agape posted its “Causes” application on Facebook. Within six months, more than 30,000 Causes were created on the social networking site, supporting over 12,000 existing nonprofit organizations. A brief survey of Causes on Facebook reveals an array of mainstream, apple-pie efforts, typical of Millennial activism. They are more practical than poetic, more passionate and less ideological in their activism efforts. Few could argue with the worthiness of helping orphans in China, trying to find a cure for AIDS and ALS, eradicating breast cancer, and helping underprivileged children learn to read.

However, the Causes application is different from traditional approaches because users are drawn to the cause first, then the institution (or group of volunteers if no formal institution exists). Joe Green, CEO of Causes on Face-book, describes the network interaction for causes this way: “There could be 1,000 causes aiming to help with lots of different leaders and networks and lots of people reaching out in many ways.”

The paper documents a stack of other examples; 'Invisible Children' is one, which grew from four young guys' visit to Northern Uganda.


[55' Movie on Google. 'In the spring of 2003, three young Americans traveled to Africa in search of such as story. What they found was a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them. A story where children are weapons and children are the victims. The "Invisible Children: rough cut" film exposes the effects of a 20 year-long war on the children of Northern Uganda. These children live in fear of abduction by rebel soldiers, and are being forced to fight as a part of violent army. This wonderfully reckless documentary is fast paced, with an MTV beat, and is something truly unique. To see Africa through young eyes is humorous and heart breaking, quick and informative - all in the very same breath. See this film, you will be forever changed.']

This is one of the most moving documentaries I've seen in years.

The authors see a flip side though, and speculate that this mightn't all be good:
Specific policy outcomes are not a significant component for most Millennial activist efforts. Social capital is the new commerce and the end result of many cause-related efforts spearheaded by young people.

Social action is a safe place to express a personal identity, and is much safer and easier than in the political arena with its inherent conflict and most often less-than-lofty outcomes. Danah Boyd (UofC Berkeley) explains, “We are living in a time of the elongation of childhood where kids are kept out of public life and only glimpse it through the mass media. Their lives are so heavily regulated and controlled, they don’t see a public world outside of the celebritization of political candidates.”
Is it possible to envision a very large generation of citizens who lead their lives at a great distance from government, even lives infused with causes, volunteering and a hopeful outlook about the world. Can government really be irrelevant to their lives, and, if so, is this a good thing for society? Is it important that young people are engaged in public policy advocacy? Is our tendency to connect only with like-minded people using our on line and on land social networks a good thing for activism or a critical bottleneck to the effective scaling for causes? Are social change institutions critical to the future of Social Citizens and their causes or are they becoming old-century anachronisms of top-down hierarchies that can’t survive much longer?
What draws their involvement? Conflicts like Israel/Palestine get less attention from this group as they're less clear, more grey, than ones like Darfur.

But one thing the authors don't do in discussing negative disengagement from 'government' is make the connections with the Obama campaign — perhaps because it's partisan or just because the campaign's happening now — which exists because of a/the Internet and b/the same sort of new bottom-up/shared/devolved organisations which young people are establishing. This has seen an enormous increase in active political engagement by young people - and voting - though what will happen to 'the movement' once he's elected President is a moot point.

What they do have is some ideas:
Political participation can and should be more meaningful than political campaigns, such as the possibility of careers in public service and policymaking, including serving on committees and task forces for local government efforts.

A major cautionary note for anyone interested in engaging young people in conversations about the role of government and policy issues is that these conversations must be authentic and spin-free, or youth will quickly tune out.
Now there's a big take-away for the oldies. And don't think this is just America. Most UK young people use social networks.

Go here for a bigger view than below

Read this doc on Scribd: Social Citizens Discussion Paper

NB: scribd embed script is not Blogger friendly!

Effective banner ads

This is from MarketingSherpa.

Nielsen et al have found that banner ads are typically 'tuned out' by users and this study recognises this and looks at test methods by which you can greatly increase their effectiveness.

The bottom line is that you need to running multivariate tests on creative content as part of optimisation instead of relying on industry research (is your ad provider doing this?).

Report says that creative issues were the dilemma that Kevin Kohlmeyer of Rural Cellular Corp faced.

They tried several different copy combinations but didn’t know which worked best. Nor did they know which phone product lured the most consumers to click through and learn more about their services package. Plus, they didn’t know which banner size was optimal.

“For these types of things, we had been looking at industry research to find what certain attributes existed that could be important to consumer prospects,” Kohlmeyer says. “But, we needed to take some steps to verify what really worked for us in particular.”
For Flash banner ads the test included 36 different possible content combinations.
In the end, the goal was to put together a *super banner* with the top-performing creative elements for the campaign.

The key variables are:

1. Copy

They tested four lines of copy. Each was attached to an ad with the picture of a cell phone being offered with the service package.

The copy they tested:
  • “Buy online and get free shipping on your order”
  • “Buy online and we’ll waive your activation fee”
  • “Buy online and get free shipping plus no activation fee (over a $30 value)!”
  • “Start Shopping Now!”
2. Product offered
“We looked at what products consumers were selecting once they were already to the site. It made sense that they would bring in prospects as well.”
So, they tested three popular, low-to-medium-cost phones that already were working on their ecommerce site:
  • Motorola v197
  • Motorola Razr
  • Sony Ericsson w200
3. Banner sizes

Using the right banner size will dramatically improve clickthroughs and sales. Either:
  • 300x250 (box ad/often called a “big” ad)
  • 160x600 (skyscraper)
  • 728x90 (leaderboard)
  • “Start Shopping Now” copy won out over “Buy online and we’ll waive your activation fee” by 12.2% in clickthroughs.
  • “Start Shopping Now” copy got 16.6% more clickthroughs than “Buy online and get free shipping on your order.”
“Getting rid of the ‘loser content’ did help produce a [response] spike. And, what the testing also did was validate some hunches we had or reconfirm what we had seen in the past. At the same time, the fact that ‘Start Shopping Now’ was the best performer was a surprise to us. In the past, we had assumed shipping costs and activation fees were a barrier to purchase and emphasized the fact they were free online. This appears to have been an incorrect assumption. So, we’ll start downplaying it in the future.”
As for which product won:
  • Motorola v197 beat the Motorola RAZR by 4.5%.
  • Motorola v197 beat the Sony Ericsson by 12.2%.
The big winner in the banner size proved that bigger isn’t always better:
  • The 300x250 banner (box ad) beat the second-place 160x600 banner (skyscraper) by 27.3%.
  • The 300x250 banner trounced the 728x90 (leaderboard) by an even bigger margin.
According to a January 2008 survey of marketers by AdJungle for MarketingSherpa, 300x250 ads get the highest clickthrough rate: 62.2% more than skyscraper ads and 27% more than leaderboard ads.

The data generated by the test was used to build the super banner that saw a 50.4% increase in clickthroughs in their next campaign.
“A lot of our sales -- originating from banners -- come over the phone and via other channels. Banner advertising is a significant traffic driver for our multichannel efforts. And this test has helped us improve along those lines.”

Tuesday, April 29

Eggs, potholes and Robert Mugabe's last days - we hope

The Zimbabwean underground Civil Action Group Sokwanele is proving the best source for online news about what's going on.

They are:

A civic action support group driven towards the use of non-violent actions to bring democracy, justice and freedom to Zimbabweans.
Sokwanele means 'enough is enough' in Ndebele. The non-violence is very important with comments regularly deleted or edited. They are not affiliated with the MDC.

Yesterday they posted a telling story about the Zimbabwean International Trade Fair - yes, such a thing exists and went ahead at the weekend. The sole news about the event was that local hotel managers ended up arrested because inflation is so unbelievable that they had to put up prices, which in the Alice in Wonderland economy is illegal.

Prices of eggs double in one day, from Z$100mil to Z$210mil. For a shop owner, just keeping two out-of-date yogurts on the shelves can drive them out of business. Once ended, businesses are taken over by the state and handed to Zanu-PF's allies.

Roads outside the shiny Bulawayo hotels don't have potholes, around the corner there's potholes and traffic lights which don't work. The potholes themselves are one way for starving Zimbabweans to make some money. Kids fill them in with sand and then clamor for tips when drivers slow down.

Sokwanele's blog was the first to report on the Chinese arms-carrying ship - which they now say is being shadowed by a British nuclear submarine.

And they have also set up - as happened in Kenya - a whole series of online tools.

A Google Map is marking locations of the terror campaign currently going on.

As well as a contacts database for taking action in support - currently aimed at the UN and South Africa. And a terror photo album on Flickr. And a cartoon gallery.

These last three I don't recall seeing in Kenya, although Joseph Karoki was posting lots of photos there.

Whilst Hillary and Obama bash seven types of crap ...

Whilst Hillary and Obama bash seven types of crap out of each other (for six weeks more, or maybe less, please MSM. call it right FCS) other 'progressives' are bashing the crap out of McCain online. Hurrah! And oh jeez there's a lot of material to work with ... favourite first off.


John McCain vs. John McCain

John McCain's chart-topping single "Bomb Iran"

Daily Show: John McCain's Sweettalk Express

What ABC didn’t ask McCain

The fabulous life of John McCain

“John McCain Is Older Than…”

But that's so (sob) ageist!

And here's why it's all now about Santos Vs. Vinick, sorry McCain Vs. Obama :

Another toothless Commons review of eGov web strategy

Looking at the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee's report on government delivery of online services, released today. a few things leap out.

Firstly, the PDF document I'm looking at is text images. It's not searchable and it's not 'accessible'. Yes, it's the PR version but that's hardly the point. (Though maybe good government PR is to make lengthy, text-heavy docs unsearchable ... ?) Practice/preach ...

Secondly, they keep referring to and They're not the brands, it's 'directgov' and 'businesslink'. If they don't understand this and use the right brand name what does that say about the strength of the brand?

Lastly, their main obsession is the 'digital divide' and they do ask that the government spells out that:

  1. services won't be removed for the excluded
  2. savings will feed back to the excluded
They didn't hear evidence from the civil servants who formed their witnesses that anyone seemed to be checking this and no-one could convince them this wasn't happening or wouldn't happen.

Chairman Edward Leigh (Con., Bright Eyes, Red Nose) said:
Those gazing towards the sunlit digital uplands must not forget those among our citizens - including three-quarters of socially excluded people and a half of people on low incomes - who have no access to the internet or do not use it. They must not be left behind as the government's use of the internet gathers pace.
This is good but they haven't hit the headlines with this point and they need to adopt the Dunwoody strategy if they aren't going to be hearing the same excuses next time they review. Cameron should pay attention as well, there's politics to be played.

Committee member Austin Mitchell, doing little but play politics, appears to have a particular thang about 'my constituents', 'the middle classes' (not his constituents maybe?) and 'fashion', as he said in evidence giving:
"I have now found a channel called something like which allowed people to communicate with their MPs and I am now receiving enormous amounts of abuse every day - every day there is fresh abuse! .. I get the impression that that is 'transformation of government' ... I get the impression that that has also happened with government, that it became the subject of fashion, everybody must do this ... It is only now really that [online government can provide a decent service] for those middle class people who will use it? Would that be a correct interpretation? The mistakes arose from goodwill and over enthusiasm?"
Naturally, Mitchell has comments turned off on his 'blog'. In committee, he also refers to a 'lad' who looks after his website and something else that 'my wife' looks after. Does Mitchell think the Internet is a 'middle class' thing and not for the 'working classes'? Is he the very definition of a technophobe? How is he 'excluded' from using technology? Ignorance? Fear? Can't be bovverred? It's just 'fashion' and the wife takes care of it?

Seriously, so-called champions of 'the working classes' like Mitchell should take a good look at themselves and set an example for their excluded constituents rather than shift the problem elsewhere. You are the problem, Austin. Learn how to use this instead of expecting someone else to, let alone a patronised 'lad'. You're not leading your constituents into 'sunlit digital uplands' are you? You're just acting like a luddite.

The evidence also has some gems from Government Services Transformer Tsar John Suffolk, one of which bashes Google:
We all probably use searches in this room and if you key in anything you will get two million references and [most] are useless. this is because all the search engines do not really know in a sensible way what you are looking for.
News to Google, I'm sure. And this after saying:
I am not going to pretend to bluff my way on the technology of search engines.
Because Google is useless, he argues, we need a destination 'holiday' page of directgov ... look, John, I just searched on 'passport'. #1 result on isn't UK government, #1 on UK Google isn't directgov. Past result #3 clicks drop off a cliff. Plus there's a very prominent commercial advert. This is a classic example - there are lots - of where commerce is way ahead of you and you haven't taken any strategic account of that fact whatsoever in online service delivery. Do catch up John.

Apart from some obvious points about 'customer focus' being a mirage because there's little understanding of metrics and another bang-on about accessibility in it's disability sense, one thing struck me hard about the report.

Edward Leigh said:
The time has long passed for getting a firm grip on the growth of government websites which has been almost uncontrolled. The streamlining of web services around the key websites and is a very welcome development. It is essential that the DWP, the department responsible for these sites, should arrange for regular independent reviews of how they are developing and the associated risks.
In the PR they say:
The government has embarked on an ambitious strategy to move most citizen and business facing internet services and related information to two websites, and, by 2011. These sites are well regarded by the public and industry and both have received awards.
The problem being that the strategy itself is a risk, as Helen Margetts, of the Oxford Internet Institute, told a recent conference (speech notes reported here):
Right now the UK govt has embarked on a high risk "supersite" strategy of centralizing e-govt services on two sites: DirectGov and BusinessLink (while closing down 2500 disparate e-govt sites at the same time). Both have low brand recognition and problems competing with other sources.
She's right, but the committee has just taken the strategy at face value and simply not asked the right, informed questions or invited critics.

This is underlined if you look at what evidence is cited in the report that directgov and businesslink are "well regarded" - the evidence comes from the sites themselves. It's self-serving, it's not objective evidence. A bit like the evidence cited when this strategy was launched that people wanted a portal, a one-stop shop. Very 'push polling'. Find the evidence to back up what you wanted to do in the first place rather than actually be 'customer focussed' and be prepared to iterate your strategy based on real evidence of behaviour. Like wot commercial sites do

As for the 'awards', who hands them out?

Like a lot of strategy, by the time it's adopted it's dated: 'supersites' are a bit yesteryear elsewhere and other big organisations are moving away from them (see Tesco). But just to take one example of a risk, when you centralise the side-effect is to disempower. Why should the organisation learn and become more focussed around the web if 'that's someone else's job'? Why should the actual service provider learn how to repurpose and retool? It just waits to be told and the corporate knowledge goes backwards.

One news nugget in the report is that, as I had heard rumours of, Google is talking to the Cabinet Office and this appears to follow on someone's engagement with the US government who have a cross government search portal (though not run by Google). This is good but history shows, however, that this may not end up going anywhere except into another piecemeal strategy which is dated before it arrives and fails to 'trickle down'.

So why is this report ultimately useless? No critics giving evidence, in a nutshell. Members proud in their ignorance (see Austin Mitchell). They spoke just to civil servants, critics giving evidence would immediately shake the whole shebang up. It's another version of the bigger 'walled garden' egov problem which means that progress is so bloody slow, partial and 'two steps forward' and the review function that this committee is supposed to do on our behalf is utterly toothless.

Monday, April 28

Googley Design Principles

This is just brilliant, good consecution. Read it again:

The Googley Design Principles:

1. Focus on people—their lives, their work, their dreams.
2. Every millisecond counts.
3. Simplicity is powerful.
4. Engage beginners and attract experts.
5. Dare to innovate.
6. Design for the world.
7. Plan for today's and tomorrow's business.
8. Delight the eye without distracting the mind.
9. Be worthy of people's trust.
10. Add a human touch.

No Internet, no Obama

This is part of Obama's San Francisco speech from earlier in the month, the one which yielded the much repeated 'bitter' meme. It just emphasises - and this emphasis is needed - that if it wasn't for the Internet there would be no Obama campaign. I don't seem to be reading that point. It's a revolution. These lines were missed (the audio was shite) and have just been decoded.

I want to make a point about fund raising because I think it is illustrative of what else is going on. We raised 55 million dollars last month. ... I'm sorry. We raised 55 million in February; we raised 40 million that last month. Now, these are gaudy numbers.

But, what's interesting is not the amount raised. 90% of what we raised came over the Internet. 50% were for $50 or less. Our average donation is less than $100.

Now, essentially what we've done is we've created a parallel public financing system. That using the Internet and mobilizing people all across the country - over 1.3 million donors - we've created a system where ordinary people can actually finance, can fuel, a campaign at the highest levels.

It's the same way that we've competed organizationally. We didn't have all the fancy endorsements early on. We remember - you know, we had some courageous endorsements from Barbara Williams and some other folks - but most of the big names here in ... California went the other way. And yet, we were able to compete everywhere.

Why is that? Essentially, groups formed themselves using technology. We have an Open Source system. For people to just grab onto good ideas. They start organizing their neighbors, organizing their friends. And, next thing you knew, we'd built the best political organization in the country. And that's what we have. I mean, we have the best national political organization that anybody has seen in a generation.

NSFW: F***k Earth Day

Now in catch up mode and this video from last week is extra dry droll

Sits oddly with previous post NSFW: F*** Planet Earth.

Did the detox happen?

Well I managed a week without posting but only one day with no computer or TV. I did read a lot (Matthew Parris, Edmund White and history of Islam and C19th homosexuality) and potter around the garden between showers. Completely turning off would require being somewhere without access to anything, I think. That wouldn't bother me but if it's there ...

The excuses:

  • I really wanted to check the reaction to the Philadelphia Primary, video + blogs, just listening to the BBC radio news would have me gnashing my teeth, wanting to see what's really going on.
  • Same with Zimbabwe news, which is largely on blogs although the BBC has been much better than with Kenya plus Zimbabwean blogs are much thinner on the ground.
  • I just don't watch much TV but do watch shows online, like the Daily Show and the fantabulous Bill Maher's RealTime and catch-up on BBC iPlayer (my rare forays into Channel Four's online offering just emphasise how thin it is but missing ads is great). You can't watch yesterday's Daily Show online, so you have to catch it before it expires (or wait three months). I need my satire break and UK shows don't cut it (even Bremner, Bird + Fortune most of the time). About the only 'appointment to view' TV for me for months was Glenn Close in Damages and the close-up to Tigers show.
  • I needed to check email to see if a friend was OK.
  • 'Detoxing' for me includes SimCity.
I wasn't reading much online, though, or checking feeds and as I learnt from my break last year - you don't miss that much that's mind-numbingly vitally important.

I did see my backyard birds finally start using the water that's there for them and I love this every year, the babies starting to appear. This year they haven't nested in the planters though, thank god. Seeing plants 'come back' (and what hasn't + needs replacing, I have a habit of putting several plants together and eventually one bully takes over) is lovely too + it's been warm enough to spend time outside. Boring, I know, but that was the idea of the detox I think?