Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Digital Economy Bill

In 36 hours, the UK leader of the commons, Harriet Harman, will decide whether to pass a bill into law un-scrutinised, or subject it to a line by line analysis, thereby delaying it until after the election (GB will soon head to the palace to dissolve the govt) or kill it completely.

This bill is the Digital Economy Bill, which has been creating a hash-tag storm across the world of all the work-shy people out there, otherwise known as "Twitterees". As we know from Nestles social media 'fail' a few days ago, its easy to generate a storm in the online world, all you need is a cause because people will always throw their weight behind something that requires no effort for them to support.

However, I just want to point out one thing that, was in fairness, pointed out to me by a photographer. In the digital design world, it's really easy to not see past your own nose, even into supporting fields, like illustration and photogrraphy. This I thought was surprising, then again it's not as designers are a self obsessed lot.

Its concerned with the 'Orphan works' clause, that refers to a photograph for which the copyright owner (the photographer) is unknown and cannot be traced. Publishers, can use that image and not pay royalties by claiming it as an orphan work with no traceable originator. In effect, It will open the floodgates for publishers to use images willy-nilly without payment to the photographer by claiming that they couldn't trace them. It also puts the onus on photographers to make sure their work isn't being ripped off.

Now compare this to the recording industry lobby groups on whose back this bill rides. Its main aim is to stop the supply, distribution and use of copyrighted material, mainly music and film titles in order to wrest back lost revenue from the pirates, or those that download, distribute and consume copyrighted material.

The contradiction is stark, even within the bill, to remove copyright protection for one group and ramp it up to pernicious levels for another. The only difference I see is that one group is represented by powerful rights holders and the other, is the creator of original work.

I actually plan to go down and protest

Friday, 19 March 2010

And as the Vultures pick over the decaying corpse....

Its really easy in the heat of 'battle' to lose all sense of perspective ( I am sure Sun-Tzu would have something to say about this), to forget your position relative your comrades and colleagues, to be so buoyed with bloodlust that you ignore all personal safety and drive in for the kill.

Usually, on a battlefield, its only when the fighting has stopped that the vultures, circle for the spoils, and villagers from the nearby town pick over what remains looking for objects of value. Not so in today's virtual battlefields.

Its with this i draw you to Nestlés FAIL (internet parlance) on Facebook. Their foray into social media was met with a barrage of protests about formula milk, baby orang-utans and palm oil. If social media is good for one thing, then its good for a virtual lynching. Nothing can excite a mob more than a cause, with an avenue to vent it, especially if the avenue requires little effort on their part.

Hats go off to activists who brave poor weather to protest, even more to people who devote their lives to causes. But on this sliding scale of commitment, a social media lynch mob rates pretty poorly. Its the protest equivalent of switching from "strictly' to 'Dancing on ice'. So it was with Nestle. Since it requires no effort to stick the boot in, hundreds of 'fans' all starting swarming all over Nestle like a tour group from weight-watchers at an 'all you can eat' buffet.

Now from this 'carnage' there was a number of things happened, namely, the vultures didn't wait until the battle had ended before picking over the spoils, they were there almost immediately as the battle waged. And this vulture, comes in the form of the 'social media expert', who seeing Nestlé stagger under the blows, are only too keen to offer their services.

Nestle did themselves no favours to resist these carpet-baggers, by updating their Facebook status, mid-battle, to say 'Social media - we're learning as we go'. So I guess they invited these ingrates to tea. However, it goes to show you the lack of integrity of these people (hardly surprised there).

The question I need to ask is, where did these social media experts come from? You really must question these self-styled titles, and treat them with as much suspicion as someone, like these people from "The Social Media Academy" whose only motivation to comment was to try and drum up business.

As Orwell says: Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket

Giddy up!


As the post is oh so current...her is a list (ongoing) of companies hoping to tout their services. Identified as such through their blatant posting of URL's in their comments, etc

Tank PR - http://www.tankpr.co.uk/
Contently managed - http://contently-managed.com/
RGC Media - http://www.rgc-media.com/nestle-fail

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Temporary Break in Transmission

Real work has gotten in the way of blogging.
This happens, clients actually require work doing.

On another note, there has not been much to raise my ire lately. The Argos rebrand and the expect cacophany of abuse with regards to the fee and the value for money it represents.....

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Design v Styling

Continuing the iPad theme: This feature in The Guardian featured this important paragraph, worth repeating here.

What none has managed is to imagine how it would actually work – which is of course the really important thing about any piece of technology, and one that Steve Jobs emphasises again and again. Design, he points out to journalists who don't seem to get the message, isn't about how something looks; it's not something you put onto the outside of an already-built product. It's how you build the product, from the inside out.

Guardian - http://tinyurl.com/ycv25xu

As a statement about the frames of reference design operate within, its concise and revealing. Far more revealing that a debate about what a crime the use of Papyrus was in the film Avatar....

Friday, 29 January 2010

IPad will make laptops like desktops

There is so much stuff being written about the iPad I thought I would concentrate on one thing which I think no one has mentioned yet, or most likely, I have not read yet.

It’s also easy to be seduced by art of making predictions. It’s really a great game to play because you are very rarely held accountable for the things you predict. You rarely lose, unless you say something glaringly wrong. However, most people will have forgotten what you've said by the time you predication fails to arrive. The benefit it that when you do get it right, blogs, Twitter, etc, all provide you with a date-stamped record and thereby prove to the world what a techno-prophet swinging dick you are.

But rather than talk about 'seismic shifts in the world economic order’ that this products hails, and try to make sense of whatever brave new world this product is supposed to usher in. I thought I would concentrate on what this product means to me, as an average consumer, and why I think its will resonate with other consumers.

I am sure that all one of my readers are sure to find this interesting.

Lets start by taking into consideration price and features. In the Apple product range it sits between an iphone and a macbook. Looking at this product range as a whole, I noticed the following which is shown in the headline graphic, which is a diagram showing, on a gross scale, the amount of wires and cables required to run the device. Its not a true scale, even with my iPhone I need a shed-load of cables, and docks., but the general trend is that the as you move down the product range you need more cables. Also, the further you move down the scale, the more computing power you get too, dedicated hardware, etc.

Importantly, this diagram is also a scale of how the machine is increasingly tethered to the desktop. ON one end of the scale is the iPhone which requires little or no cabling. On the other end sits Mac Pro Tower. which requires extensive cabling for monitors, keyboard and a mouse. Each product sits nicely along this scale.

When I first saw the iPad, like any consumer making a purchasing decision, I asked how much this machine overlaps with technology I already own. Most people tend not to want to piss money away, especially, now, so the reasons for buying the product need to be valid. These questions, or at least the ones I asked, were like this: "Its sort of like an laptop in size but its may not have enough power to do what I need", "its not a phone as its massive, so it cant replace that device, so what does it do', "..and it cant multitask, so I cant really do real work on it, never mind that it doesn’t really have a keyboard, etc'. All on the surface rather negative, but really an exploration into how this product overlaps with what I already own. The point that I wouldn’t fork out for a product that can be done with the devices I already own.

Then I realised, it actually does fill a need. Like most people, I work on a laptop connected to a large display at work. The reason I have a laptop is portability. I regularly am out meeting clients, working in different locations and the portability of a laptop is perfect for that. However, most of my time(around 90%) is really sitting at my desk working. My laptop is really a’ portable desktop computer’.

Laptop performances have improved greatly that now, so much so, that I don't really take a huge performance hit by using a laptop. What I might sacrifice in speed, but this is made up for in portability. A good display is far more important to me. Also bear in mind that over the last few years, Laptop sales have been improving at about 11% (according to a really inaccurate google search I did). Desktop computer sales have been heading south at about the same rate. So I am not alone in this migration away from towers to laptops.

And because this is my only computer, I regularly schlep it to and from work each day, mainly because I like do work at home in the evening but also because I like to surf, book tickets, shop, check my emails, Skype friends, play games,etc. I do all these tasks on my laptop as well because its portable and I have schlepped it from work. But the real issue is that no matter how portable laptops are, they’re not. They’re heavy, they’re cumbersome on public transport, they’re difficult to walk long distances with. If I didn’t want to use a computer at home, then I wouldn’t lug my laptop hom again, preferring to leave it at work, where I can catch cabs to client meetings, etc.

And this is where I see the iPad fitting into my life. What it is going to do is be the machine to do all the stuff i don't need my laptop for. I could do it on my laptop but I wont now, because I have left it at work and have an iPad at home. In essence the point I am making is that the iPad is a machine that allows me to leave my laptop at work.

Now add to that purchasing decision, the portability, the size, the fact that it will be an e-book reader. I can read my daily newspapers in a format and size similar to a newspaper in real life (i.e. on my lap and at arms length), then it becomes more than a partial laptop replacement and really starts to appear as a compelling thing to purchase.

And that to me is where the product sits and to a consumer, why the product will be a success. As a product,it fills a need, the need to leave my laptop at work. Laptops are the new desktops. So what happens to the desktops then?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Why treat the most important aspect of your site like shit?

I encounter this a lot, and many programmers I work with have the same issue, and its to do with a complete lack of regard for your sites most important aspect, site content.

Bear with me as I go on a ramble...

In publishing, the notion of content is alien. They write books and the 'content' producer goes by the title of 'Author' or 'writer'. You have have heard this word bandied about, but its rarely heard in digital design. Its like authorship has been forgotten, replaced by the word 'content' and with it an degradation of the implicit importance you place on writing that the title 'author' conveys. In Journalism, the importance of writing is integral to the integrity of the newspapers that prints it.

However in digital design, the notion of content as varied as the applications that are built on top of the internet. Sometimes in application design there is no authored content, simply functional executions of tasks. Other times, such as in learning resources, that's all there is. And its not always writing as its mixed in with multimedia content (audio, video and images). However, the majority of decent sites, do their utmost to tell a story, and hand-in-hand with story telling comes the importance of the author.

So why is content so devalued?

Is it because of the variety of expression available in digital output,? That there is blurring of the boundaries between application and story, utility and entertainment? Are people are seduced by the delivery that they simply forget to deliver something decent? Perhaps because of this, people forget that in some cases, they even need an writer?

Perhaps it is because authorship isn't needed all the time? As its something considered outside the core skillset needed to deliver a project on time and too a budget (never mind delivering a quality project). Perhaps in the digital arena, there aren't very many good writers?

Whatever the reason, its simply not given due importance when it is needed. It is typically relegated to the end of the process when really it should be the opposite, writing should be the first thing you do.

Which gets to my point about the post, the way people treat content is a true indicator of their standard as a professional.
Information Architects, considered by this blog as a pseudo profession anyway, regularly treat 'content' with disdain. Its seen purely as modules, inserted into a page architecture and not integral to the page itself. In some cases, wireframes show a box with the words "Content in here". This is poor.

Many times the way content is delivered is poor. Many programmers i know complain about this. A long stream of emails, each one containing 'content' hastily written to populate a site that needs to be launched in 2 days time. This isn't a time management issue here, this is a fundamental problem with the process that treats writing with such disdain, that they simply think they can add it at the end of the assembly line.

Which begs the question, why do so many people treat their most important aspect of their site like shit?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Marketing Department

Milton Glaser, in a lecture I saw at the D&AD around 2000 spoke about the 'road to hell' which was later published in Metropolis magazine. It's a series of steps, some small, some great, that would call into question the designers ethics. Some, you would think ,we're obvious. Such as "Designing a brochure for an SUV that flips over frequently in emergency conditions and is known to have killed 150 people." Others could be considered simply a product stretching the truth to jostle for position above its competitors, such as "Designing a package to look bigger on the shelf."

Glasers roadmap raises some interesting questions. Due to vary degrees of ethical transgression presented, it helps motivate designers to question, exactly where,if at all, they stand on the road to hell? In the talk, Glaser also spoke about the growing acceptability of these transgressions. Initially, you may start of with only a small infraction, but little by little, over time, they become greater and greater.

What made me think of this was what I heard this morning on the radio 4, about an upcoming episode of the show "File on 4"(8:00pm tonight), and how it would be investigating concerns about the way a bestselling antipsychotic drug was marketed. The result is that a British drug company is now being sued by more than 15,000 people in the United States over claim its bestselling antipsychotic drug caused severe weight gain, diabetes and other serious medical conditions.

Anyone who has worked for any number of years in design, shudders with revulsion when the words 'marketing department' have been used, who for the most part, are peddlers in half truths, spin and deceit

The suggestion, from the excerpt, is that there was internal research, that suggested the company did have prior knowledge of these side effects, but then chose to downplay these concerns. The show interviewed one of the companies former scientists who spoke of pressure being applied in him to make sure his research showed the drug in the best possible light.
He went as far as saying it was suggested to him that by not doing so, would be "severely limiting" to his career.

And where was this pressure being applied from?

The Marketing department.

Why was I not surprised?