Thursday, 26 August 2010

Fitting It In

We all have busy lives and whether running your own biz or just working for 'the man', I'm certain we all plug away at things outside of our 9-5's (wishful thinking).

The question many people ask is how. When I met my partner, I have to admit I was somewhat bemused and a little worried about the time, energy and stresses he went through OUTSIDE of his day job. For over 6 years he has been building an enterprise, utilising his skills and fueling his passions - but all of this ON TOP of the daily grind? Youch.

I had a lot of admiration there, but was genuinely dumb founded at his stamina to keep everything in the air... Not multi-tasking I might add. He's good, but he's still a man ;)

However, as our partnership grew, and my knowledge, understanding and interest in his emporium grew, my desire to help increased in parallel. I have skills and experiences that the business has not benefitted from in a professional sense. So most nights we can be found, post home cooked cuisine and a G&T, plugging away on the PC, iPad, MacBook etc.

My point here, is that upon reflection, and without consciously adopting more, I am working 16 hour days. Now if you were presented a contract from a new job that expected an 80hr week, I can pretty much imagine your response. However, here I am... And still alive more to the point.

The important thing to note here, is that time management is the only thing that keeps all the fires in check. You should never be scared of starting up a business, setting up a blog, learning a new skill, taking up a new hobby (or finding time for an old one). Just make sure you allocate the right time to it... In the age old saying - Rome wasn't built in a day.

My commute is for twitter, blogs (reading and writing) and emailing things of interest for those times when I have a spare couple of minutes in the day. Cue work... I'll see you on the other side of 6pm, another commute, another SM hit, and then home to tackle the next task - all in a days work.

In the same way you structure your work day, your extra curricula actinides should follow suit in a time allotted fashion. Of course, there will be days and times that override all the best laid plans - in which case you have to forgive the missed opportunities and accept that today you just don't have the time. Tomorrow is always another day, another fad, another news story, so don't beat yourself up for potentially missing something. Life will always be chewed up, swilled around and regurgitated, so you never really miss what you need to know.

As often in the nature of my writing, I am also formulating and affirming a point to myself as well. There are days and times that I just cannot indulge in my 'normal' days' plan. And this is a justification to myself as well as the world.

My point, however, is this. We are more capable and resilient than we give ourselves credit for, and one way or another we find time to tackle the dishes served up on our plates. So get to it - start a tweet, write your essays, expand your horizons, and plot your world domination... You will find time to do it.

Eastenders will not serve to provide you with a sense of achievement or fulfilment - only you can do that. I know I want my epitaph to read more than a lifetime's dedication to fictional consumption!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Redesigning for the 25th Century

My partner is currently undertaking a redesign of his online motorcycle magazine and community. Coming from a programmers' point of view, as well as an avid web digester, his approach to the redesign was somewhat different to how I would have begun mine. 

I have seen many a revision throughout the redesign process, all with differing functionality, UX, JavaScript requirements and processing needs. Ultimately, however, I still see form, composition, framing and space. I myself come from an artistic background, and although I have left the practice behind aside from a hobby, the history, technique and consumption still plays a central part in my everyday perception of interacting with design.

Together, we make a good team, as my feedback is the yang to his yin. Hopefully the consumers will agree once it launches! 

It got me thinking however about some of the best ways to approach a redesign, be it logo branding / corporate material / consumer sites or social media personas. Last night, when the energy was burning out of my partners design candle, we took a break and started looking through the past versions of the site. We had a giggle about old logos, identities, promotional assets and also the website. When you begin to evaluate the steps that have been taken to get you where you are, you gain a rounder perspective on what you are trying to achieve in moving forwards. You can spot obvious mistakes, and see what never worked... As well as what did work. You can also track the development of web interaction through the various years of website transformations; with higher quality video and image content, ever-more sophisticated JavaScript elements, social media API's and elaborate SEO qualities. 

With the nature of the web developing so quickly, the need to provide branding that is also flexible is hence highly important. Who knows when the next Twitter, Foursquare, Latitude or Hot Potato will spring up and sweep the fascinations of the world. 

Taking all of these ideas into account, however, does not belie the most important element in my opinion - interaction. I'm sure we all have a few websites or apps that spring to mind that drive us potty for one reason or another. Interestingly, most of mine are gravitated towards some of the biggest consumer businesses. Have they never heard of the fold!? No - I do not want to scroll through reams of news/media that doesn't interest me before I find something that I want to view. I am acting as a UX (user experience tester) for my partners redesign, and he has found the input invaluable. He has a lot of content to get across on the homepage, and together we have established coherent and simple formulas for getting all the top editor and user info in the fold, without losing fundamental readership experience. A lesson that be well adopted by other online magazines who bombard you to the detriment of the quality of their content.

And interaction has another string to it's bow these days. Social interaction on the web is rapidly expanding, eternally evolving and displacing the previous 'distance' between business and customer. It's time to think multi-platform and hybrid technology as I can currently see 12 different forms of media consumption on my morning train commute so far. Think iPhone, iPad, digital reader, android, blackberry, smartphone other, netbook, tethering, laptops, palm things, the list goes on. It's very rare that I get to use my desktop for web browsing - I'm always to busy. So web consumption is happening on the move - and too many websites and apps haven't thought clearly enough about how to hone their content for a tenth of the viewing portal.

I have focused heavily on web-based branding, promotion and marketing, but after reading through, perhaps you understand why. Not only are we so much more web focused and involved now, ensuring all of you PR, marketing, promotions and branding encapsulates a n exponentially expanding social media platform is essential. 

Have you got your twitter, facebook, linkedin, buzz, myspace, blog links on your signature or business card? If not, why not? They're as much your online identity as your website. Personal or corporate.

So there is a lot to think about eh? Precisely. Take your time, track where you have come from, where you want to go, AND where the web is going to go. Make sure it's user focused design as opposed to internally assumed - your customer relationships are your ticket to business conversion. Take serious time to evaluate your UX... It's more important than you realise. And finally think sci-Fi, think insane futuristic, think Avatar+Tron+iRobot+Star Wars... It ain't that far away - so make sure whatever your recreating is ready for it! 

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Ghost Blogging

Discussions around ghost blogging are a current theme among SMO bods. There have been some interesting points on both sides of the coin... However I think my view is clear.

There is an inherent reason why at the age of 5, schools begin to teach you to read and write. This concept develops throughout your education, albeit in differing modes, topics, style and comprehension. The underlying purpose however, remains the same; to digest, analyse and present your findings. What you digest, how you analyse, and what your findings are therefore totally individual based on the the variables of all three. Writing is hence our personalised way of presenting our ideas to the world, about the world. I see no loophole in this equation that would allow for another individual to copyright on behalf of another. 

When we consider who might partake in ghost blogging, my thoughts turn to those who may be less akin to Social Media or those who cannot find the time outside other business and social demands to write blogs... i.e Senior Management personnel. 

These are also the normal candidates to use services from Executive and Personnel assistants. In many cases an EA or PA is as much an extension of the executive as an assistant, but that's not to say they are in anyway the same. Other cases involve EA's and PA's handling confidential matters on behalf of the executive and providing essential administrative services to facilitate said executives day-to-day business dealings. But again, the handling of someone else's information and thoughts does by no means qualify the EA / PA as worthy of producing supposed thoughts of their executive in modes such as a blog. 

I blog because I make opinions and judgements on the material I encounter on a daily basis. I often elaborate at length in my head about these ideas. Like everyone else, however, my head is a busy place, and one that unintentionally does not always afford the room for non-constructive thoughts and ideas. In the same way we make lists to ensure we remember those things that cannot be lost in the ramblings of your head, blogging allows you to tangibly work through ideas that might otherwise get lost. You provide a record, of which you can reference later, like recalling a memory, and also share with the world in the chance that you might help another to get a different perspective on an idea, or even educate on a topic that had not previously been encountered. But mainly, I blog for myself. 

Through the process of writing, having to carefully cherry pick words to elucidate on my thoughts and ideas often makes space for new thoughts and ideas throughout the process, helping me to form rounder more substantial opinions. It is hence a very useful tool for mapping and expanding your thoughts and interests. As such, there is a merit for everyone to get blogging. It doesn't matter if nobody reads your material. It's your personal teaching and learning space. Quite how otherwise intelligent people think they can farm out a set of notes to be tackled and published by another goes against the essence of blogging and social media interactions. A skeleton of ideas does not replace the act of writing. 

As an accompaniment to this blog, the article by Brian Solis entitled Social Media's Critical Path: Relevance to Resonance to Significance encapsulates the ideas discussed here about the relevance of personal blogging and the best way (and person) to communicate those ideas on a Social Media platform.’s-critical-path-relevance-to-resonance-to-significance/ [Weds 17th Aug 2010]

Monday, 16 August 2010

Calling All Computers...

My highly intelligent sources (AKA my wonderfully talented techy partner) are planting new scenarios in my head with regards to voice-controlled computing. We are already seeing the early stages of this on smart phones, and having a bit of a giggle with it along the way as it innocently searches for pornographic content when what you were actually looking for was 'a tasty duckling'...

However this is likely to take off in a much bigger way than simple phone interaction. It's a wonderful tool for the blind and those with severe dyslexia, for those of us who's brains work faster than our fingers ever can - the list is endless. Writing this post on my iPhone is already making my fingers ache - so what a cool premise to have a faster, more intelligent way to control our devices. However - in my current scenario there is one major factor that would stop me using this technology. Privacy.

You already get stared at for mouthing the words to a song whilst listening to your headphones in public, and the world thinks you've gone mad when you start aimlessly chatting away to yourself (until they notice the headphone wire you're ACTUALLY taking to). So what on earth would people think if you suddenly continued to write up the next section of your blog / text / book / essay / e-mail via oral interaction with your computing device? Unfortunately, they'd probably find it very interesting as we all enjoy nosing in on other people's lives, be it glancing over a shoulder on the tube, to watching 'reality' TV shows on the box. Call me snobbish, but personally I don't want anyone else to hear my intimate messages to my boyfriend, or my personal emails to my doctor, or my wholly honest reports of my staff performances.

Now think about this scenario in the workplace. We are already subject to noisy environments, what with phones ringing, iPhones tinkling and whooping, heated debates, couriers, meetings, gossips laughing in the kitchen. Add to that every single employee TALKING at their devices. ***shhhhh*** I like nothing more than to disappear into my headphones when I need to put my concentration solely into whatever piece I am working on, drowning out the unnecessary work noises around me. How would you do this if you had to be conversing with your device? And more so - just how are you to concentrate when everyone around you is doing the same thing?

I work in an open plan office, with wooden floors and wooden roofs. Its a glorious place to work, but it does nothing to sound proof from area to area. We are a media office, though, so tranquillity and calm are not part of the job description, so a bit of noise is to be expected. Enter the advent of voice controlled computing devices and we would have to enter a completely different environment; consisting of solitude and grey partition walls. No more free interaction. What an daunting prospect. Granted many people already work in places like this - but in my world of marketing and media, it simply doesn't work.

As a marketing team player, and all round employee, interaction with my direct team and the company as a whole is imperative for me to do my job. I need to turn the inner workings of the company into tangible and socially digestible tit-bits, and hence need an open platform to so. I do, however, appreciate that intellectual property is a very important thing, and whilst I embrace the open-source attitude to sharing marketing principles and strategies, there are times that an idea I am generating requires my sole attention to shape and develop before I unleash it on the world and claim the recognition for it in the fullness of time. How would you do this when you are having to audibly voice your thoughts, ideas, plans and formulas at your devices? You know the age old saying - the walls have ears. 

Would it not require a whole new level to Copyright and Patenting ideas?

As a complete geek, I have just finished listening to my Peter Hamilton audio book on the iPad, filled with the most radical sci-fi fantasy and outer-world ideas. In Hamilton's world, people have evolved to datavising - a telepathic form of communication that is controlled by the dataviser - i.e. your thoughts are still private - you only communicate your thoughts when you wish to converse. I'm sure that in time (although sadly not likely in my time) we will indeed have progressed to this; beyond audible communication between devices and indeed people. In 2010 this is not the case. But voice control is very real.

Many questions hovering over what is ultimately a very cool development in the computing world. Whilst I am a big fan of innovation, I think this will be next in line of a very long line of moral dilemmas in the digital era...

Keyword Searches

I remember my first ever introduction to the Internet. It was, for all intents and purposes, a very long time ago, and taught by a techy geek with long black hair. Joyous.

Keyword searches were the buzz of the moment, using Yahoo Search Engine to find websites. The trouble was, we had NO idea just what we could find on the internet, so our searches tended to focus on things we 'knew'  were there, or things we had seen on TV etc. Searching a search engine for the 'BBC' was as pointless as asking the cashier in Poundland how much something costs.

Once we got past our initial naiveties about the true extent and power of the internet, keyword searches really became the skill to have. Knowing what to enter into the search term to draw up what you wanted in the most accurate and quickest time possible - the skill of a true surfer. We all learnt that anything porn/dirty/connotation orientated would bring up a string of embarrassing search results, and often some dodgy downloads that you REALLY didn't want to have on your family PC. So we honed our skills.

Now, keyword searching enters a whole new realm, as it is no longer a case of 'finding' the information that you want, but 'filtering' through the endless possibilities of information that you could possibly wish to find. Keyword, in a way, no longer quite covers it. Use a social media API to drive your social media accounts, and you get keyword searches that you can specify to the country, origin, spin, positivity and opinion. Not only that, you get this string of code that only a developer would understand to attempt to sift through the mountains of media. Fine, as long as these APIs stand up to the test, as I have no idea quite how or what they are doing. Ignorance is bliss in this case.

But what do you search for? Trending topics? Topics of interest? If so, things like this are a fairly easy search. But that doesn't account for development. Terminologies, genres, subjects are materializing every day, so whilst you might have your keyword searches driving the most up-to-date and current information on your desired knowledge bases, those new key words, acronyms and genres may have well missed your update completely. Blaze about your efficiency of search systems... I wouldn't be. Use them by all means, but get yourself well and truly tweet-decked to stay up with the larks on where the world is truly at.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Digital Profiles

Having just received my Tesco Clubcard vouchers, sad but true, and having just browsed through my social circle as generated by Google through your connections on chat and buzz, it got me thinking about your digital persona.

It wasn't so long ago that data protection had people in a spin about companies using your personal information to build profiles and data on you. We were livid at the idea that companies could 'buy' your stats including some potentially very private and confidential stuff. As a child of the internet age, putting information on the internet was not so daunting, as we were all savvy enough to have online profiles, managed email accounts, and knew which box to tick that said 'NO' to data sharing and consistent spamming.

To briefly illustrate this, after letting my mother loose on Hotmail and MSN (Gmail wasn't around then) she quickly got to grips with the idea of emailing and instant messaging. That's not to say she didn't use the most backward of practices to perform simple tasks - but hey, she got it. What she didn't apparently get was that every time she signed up to a service or newsletter, she was missing the all important 'tick here if you do NOT wish to receive updates and information from third parties... blah...blah'. She moved house. She had to set up the phone and broadband from scratch as it was a new build. No problem, it's not like we haven't moved like 20 times already.

Not so apparently. Despite the fact that she had simply mistyped the confirmation code for kick-starting her broadband subscription, but that is not the point of the story. I signed into her emails for her after about a month of waiting for an Internet connection, as it was driving her mad. Explaining how to disable her proxy at work so that she could access Hotmail just wasn't going to work.I created her account, so no bother to sign in, delete the crap and forward anything of importance to her work account. When I got in there was over 700 unread emails. Now to most people, this would be very normal after a month of inactivity on your account, but to a 50yr old woman who emails no more than 7 friends, and does little other than sign into Amazon, Travelzoo and TheAA Routeplanner this was insane. Every website she had ever clicked on, signed up to - spammed. So I did the honourable thing, and not only deleted the spam, but went through and unsubscribed her from everything I knew she hadn't intentionally done so herself. *Phew*

When I told her, she was shocked. As someone who just assumed that when you have an online email account, SPAM was all part and parcel, she hadn't realised that she had been tapped data-wise and has consequently learned to read those all important T&C's and tick boxes a lot closer. A procedural process to approve the use of data sharing on B2B levels, but interesting to see how many people it still fools. And as a consequence, you suddenly have this 'online persona' based on all of the information companies have cobbled together about you from shared data. And how obtuse must this data be!? 

We all innocently sign up to services that might not be in our 'typical' interest of business pattern, but for whatever reason, we do. It may be for a new venture, for a friend, researching a new project, or just via some indulgent web browsing. So when this data is farmed from company to company, business to business (assuming you forget to tick the all important tick box), it gets seriously warped in terms of the 'online persona' it has created for you.

Some of this is obvious in sites such as Amazon, where you get an 'Amazon recommends' section. Hell, I have bought most of my friends and families' presents online for the past 10 years, and I sure as damnit will never be buying the second in the serious to 'You'll Never Walk Alone, The Anfield Anthology' or getting another set of bird decorated gardening gloves, or a pair of MotoGP beer holders. Ok - they were for me - but you get the idea. So in this sense, what benefit does this profile generation do for your shopping, browsing, researching experiences online? I would argue very little.

To return to my opening line - my Tesco clubcard. I held a themed party last month - Kenya. I bought no end of Casava chips, Tusker beer, cashew nuts, Maize flour, coconut milk and other non-typical shopping items. There will have been other instances similar to this over the months accrued in between Clubcard vouchers being dispatched. So what do I get as my  'bonus point' vouchers? 25 extra points when you spend over £1.00 on blah-blah-brand bombay mix, 25 extra points when you spend over £2.00 on canned confectionery... etc etc. Great. Cheers. So if I want to reap any of the benefits you are offering me for the next two months, I'm going to have to throw another ***** Kenya party. And lo and behold - I'll probably get another set of vouchers next time singing the same tune. This extends to your 'favourites' basket in online shopping and more.

Which brings me to Google's social profile. I have just analysed mine, and it's nothing less than rubbish. I'm not particularly bothered by it, as my social media has built up in a way that I am a) nearing saturation and b) very happy with the separation of the streams via my various accounts and feeds. My social media works with me not against me. However my Google social profile is.... odd.

I tend to use my Google chat for work purposes. My MSN is reserved for family members, old school IM'ers and those few that just couldn't care less about developments in web connectivity. Fair do's. I have the typical overseas peeps on Skype, a whole list of university and business associates on Linked In, and of course twenty seven different email accounts and servers for all my million guises. They have been condensed, and I have in the past disabled and created new accounts where I can see a better way of structuring my connections (a SERIOUS task in itself), but ultimately I am different things in different places. My one sole unified presence across my accounts is my partner, of which appears to be the only one of my connections to be socially active on such platforms as to afford a Google social profile. As such, my Social profile has turned into my partner's world. Weird. And needless to say wildly inaccurate. 

How do you then build a profile on a user based on their connections/past interactions/account history? My thoughts are two-fold.

  1. You can't
  2. You shouldn't

I think I have embellished my thoughts clearly for point 1, so to discuss why I believe you shouldn't. Firstly, I find it a very backwards way of working which is misaligned with the ethos of the web. The web has exponential possibilities and capabilities, and by carving out a consumer on what they did yesterday, last week, last year is completely devoid of intelligence. Surely by pigeon holing, stereotyping and forging consumers into one particular model, businesses are limiting the potential that this person has to buy their new products, join their new networks, develop a new web service or just try something different. With my illustrations of how wrong an online persona can be, and how the marketing that is then poured at this person is most likely to be barking very loudly up a very large tree, isn't this whole idea a complete and utter waste of time?

I'd be interested to hear some success in the field, as unlike the poor stereotypes I have pointed to here, I'm open to suggestions! I will, however, be stuck with my Kenyan food themed Tesco offers for the next two months, so if anyone is interested in them - let me know. Just make sure you don't get pigeon-holed for it later.

Trending... now there's a more interesting idea...

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Hosting 21st Century Style

Quick one before the run...

I love this!

Making one right now. I love hosting, and making your guests, be it friends of old or new, comfortable and relaxed is your SOLE task. What better way to be the hostess with the mostess. Desktop Publishing programmes at the ready!

Real Time

Waking up at 7:18am this morning after a reportedly good night's sleep (thanks to my Sleep Cycle app), I did my usual sweep of twitter, RSS, email etc. I feel guilty when I see my Google Reader exceed 1000 unread posts, but alas this morning it was looking that way... time to get reading.

And then a lovely little post plopped on screen discussing the real-time web... and how it doesn't work. 

I like most love the access to the wealth of information on the web. As a student who grew up in the realisation of the web's capabilities, I was privy to the guidelines of how to shop for 'good' information. This was, however, before iPhones, Twitter, Facebook...  After re-learning how to navigate the information you WANT to read as opposed to sifting through the dross you don't, it was fairly interesting that from one evening to the next morning, I had over 1000 snippets and clips to work through to feed my guilt.... 1000?

Sure, if you pick up a paper, there are articles that you glide over without a moment's consideration - its made for the breadth of the country - and we sure as hell differ on our opinions and interests. But to have honed an information feed that ticks all my boxes and to have that amount of information to sift through with my morning earl grey tea seemed a little absurd.

This is why the article caught my specific attention. We can be online and find the most up-to-date, ground breaking news via...... word. of. mouth                ?????

OK - so its not actual spoken word, and its not a game of Chinese whispers either. It is, however, real-time. A tweet flies in on your tweet deck reporting that a building in down-town Vancouver has just caught fire sending the surrounding blocks into mass panic and littering the streets with fire trucks and police (this is not real!). Try and find that same news stream on BBC / CNN / Sky News 24 and its not there? We forget how spoilt we now are in our information and news saturated channels that we assume that the organisations actually 'reporting' this stuff need a bit of human-time to process, write, gather and publish. We've become impatient.

Are we allowed to be impatient? Is it not more exciting to consider a world without the slow press, where we can feed one another information as it breaks, at the drop of a hat, and watch the story unfold as more information is available through the power of real-time communications?

One one hand, I love this idea. I'm hellishly impatient - behind the wheel, queuing, fitness, dieting... but then again - what if I had woken at 8:18am, missed another hour's worth of posts and feeds, and the once 'breaking' news story of a couple of hours ago has become lost in the midst of more morning musings and happenings... well, then I get to indulge in my still loved printed press. Opinionated, colourful, tactile and full of other lovely things like crosswords, recipes, travel offers and stories that we would have completely missed had we been channelled purely to our own media lists.


I think I may have somewhat solved my own guilt in missing a few RSS feeds. I shall hence boil the kettle again for another earl grey tea (and possibly a digestive or two since I am off for a run thereafter), make my way through a few more posts and then mark the rest as read. If I get time later, I might revisit them. Although by then there will be a whole new sparkling list for me to magpie my way through.

In short - yes - we all have a certain responsibility to stay abreast of news, developments, opinions and events that effect us in our work and daily lives, but don't let it guilt trip you into thinking you must consume it all. I'm a big believer in luck - if I'm meant to read it then so be it. The others... ah well I'm sure someone at work will be on top of it!

Catch me on Twitter - pricetta / Marketing Buzz