Life Personal Publishing Television

On being on television…

Television is such a strange enterprise! I don’t really know how else to put it. I get an e-mail in the afternoon from Tim Levell at Sky News saying that they’re looking for someone vaguely clued-up to talk about weblogs that evening. I ask a few questions and get a bit nervous, and chat to a couple of friends and then decide that sure – even though I’m scared to death by the whole idea of live television, it’s not exactly an opportunity you get every day. So I have a shower, find a shirt that doesn’t look too bad, and scrabble around for a sweater that isn’t still damp from the wash and wait patiently for the doorbell to ring.

They’re sending a cab to collect me, which is great but still a bit weird – the journey to the studio will be about forty-five minutes, with one dedicated guy organised to drive me both to and back from somewhere west of Hammersmith. I find it difficult to believe that anything anyone could say on weblogs in three minutes would be worth however much an hour and a half taxi ride must cost, but then after two years at the BBC I find many things that go on in the world of business extravagant in the extreme. I flew Premium Economy the other day! Can you even imagine! Anyway, the drive is long and makes me sleepy and I’m stuck reading some random magazine with a big feature on Bruce Springsteen and trying to make polite conversation with the driver and desperately trying not to feel like I’m somehow an exploitative √ºber-capitalist exploiting the common man.

Sky News appears to be located in a rather depressing industrial park near a motorway, and at first impressions, the whole place is much less intimidating than I’ve been expecting. It’s a completely different kind of environment to the BBC’s news rooms for a start. Stage one is to get into the building – all you can really say is, “Er, hi! I’m coming to … er … be on the news, I guess!” They don’t bat an eyelid of course. And then – having been collected – it’s a ten-second walk directly past the studio and into make-up – the kind of walk you’d take from your front door to your kitchen. It’s that close.

The woman in make-up looks me over and asks if ‘that’s’ what I’m going to be wearing on TV, which was nice. Then I’m sat down and she starts to brush me with a variety of orange shades. “What are you going to be talking about?”, she asks. “I’m going to be talking about weblogs,” I reply. “Oh, really,” she smiles, “You have to ask sometimes, does anybody really care!?” Potentially too difficult a question to answer, I demur and we talk about where I work instead.

Tom Coates in make-up at Sky News

And then after a few seconds in an actual green room devouring biscuits, I’m out on the floor talking to the newsreader Jeremy Thompson. While the previous video feature was on he chatted to me, calming me down a bit, showing me how things worked and talking about a few of the weblogs that I’d recommended beforehand, and then I watched as he did a feature about icons of Britishness (featuring Photoshop mock-ups of the Queen). And then suddenly I’m on and he’s asking me questions and I’m stumbling a bit with my language and hopefully not looking like too much of an idiot. And then – as soon as it’s begun – it’s over! And I walk out talking to Tim again, and within a few minutes I’m full of adrenalin and back in a cab heading for Central London.

Unfortunately, I have no idea whatsoever what I was like – as my Tivo refused to record the right channel. My father said that I looked okay and that he couldn’t tell whether it was the make-up or not, but it looked like I’d shaved, which was good. Unless anyone out there happens to have access to a ripped stream of the whole debacle, the best I’ve got is a couple of photos taken by some lovely friends and posted on Flickr for people to mock:

Well anyway, there were some lovely comments on my post yesterday, so thanks for the support guys (but I don’t trust you lot either)! Anyway, there’s more detail from the other perspective over on Jeremy Thompson’s weblog (which I have now confirmed is actualy written by him), which contains some of the weblogs I recommended that might like to mention on air. I think I specifically mentioned Random Acts of Reality, Dooce and Green Fairy on air – although to be honest the whole thing’s a bit fuzzy in my head.


Potentially embarrassing TV appearance!

I’m a bit nervous about mentioning this here (just in case I look like a complete idiot) but for those of you that are interested, I’m probably going to be on Sky News this evening very briefly talking about weblogs and why they’re cool and all that jazz. Look for me around 5.45pm if you’re near a TV, and send me supportive thoughts otherwise I’ll cave with nerves.


A quick note from jetlaggia…

It’s this direction that’s the killer – not being able to sleep until 4 or 5am and not feeling awake and fresh until the middle of the afternoon. I’ve been back in the UK for a couple of days, but I’m still living in that hallucinogenic twitchy overwarm zombie space, and I suspect I’ve got at least one more day of it to go. Thank god for Christmas. Posting will be irregular until the middle of next week, I suspect. Fragments of my incoming stimuli will continue to be captured on my Flickr photostream as normal.


Update from San Francisco…

So I’m halfway through my first Yahoo-employed trip to San Francisco and I’ve been so bloody busy that I’ve not really had much of an opportunity to keep up with my e-mail or my community or with what’s been going on around the internet. What’s made the whole thing even more difficult to keep hold of has been my pernicious gut-rot, which kicked in on Wednesday evening (vomit everywhere) and has continued now for almost five days solidly. The initial grotesquery has been replaced with a perpetual sourness, recurrent belching and vicious and unexpected cramping. Other than Thursday, where I could barely get out of bed, I’ve tried not to let it stop me doing things, but it’s certainly put a tiring dampener on the whole experience.

Yesterday I was persuaded by Simon and Dinah to go for a drive over the Golden Gate to look at some Redwoods. I was initially reluctant, but with the exception of a few moments of minor inflating body horror, the whole experience was pretty special. The whole day has been carefully (and expensively) documented via MMS-to-Flickr (A day with Simon and Dinah), and here are some odd pictures below that should help capture the whole thing:

Workwise, the whole trip has been extremely illuminating – a hell of a lot has happened while I’ve been out here, including the official announcement of the acquisiton of by the mothership. It looks like a fair number of people are nervous about the whole thing, but I can’t help thinking that they’re going to be in good company near the Flickr and Upcoming crew out here in Mission College. I’m looking forward to getting the little London Tech Dev team that we’re setting up playing with the emerging Yahoo Social Software scene. We should be able to come up with some pretty neat stuff.

What else has been going on? I went to see Narnia with Cal and I’m sorry to say that I think that the critics for the most part got this one wrong – the first two thirds of the film, adapted inelegantly from the book, are pretty mediocre at best and pretty terrible at worst. The last third – barely referenced in the book – is substantially better if you’re prepared to see Lord of the Rings-style tropes slapped on the screen with little innovation or creativity. I found the whole thing disappointing, and was only pleasantly surprised by the actor who played Peter Pevensie who is the spitting image of my little brother (also called Peter). Very strange. My little brother in a movie. Anyway – hopefully King Kong or Brokeback Mountain (which I’m hoping to squeeze in before I leave) will be more entertaining.

Otherwise, to the few nerds in the city I haven’t hung out with yet – I’m around until Friday and it would be great to see you. I’m not going to make it to Syndicate unfortunately, but I’m free most evenings and really trying to plug in both to what Yahoo are up to and what’s going on more widely. And then on Friday I can fly back to London and collapse in an exhausted heap in a pile of dirty laundry and let everything sink in for the couple of days before Christmas!


In which I catch people up and sound rushed…

Right. What’s going on here. No posts for a week and a bit – my site’s decided that I no longer exist. No posts for people to read! Very confusing! I must act immediately. Right. So I left the BBC a week and a half ago – had a great leaving do with very cool people, wrote up our awesome Annotatable Audio project and then retreated back into the depths of Maida Vale to hide for a week. I’ve barely answered any e-mail, I’ve cleaned most of the flat top-to-bottom, nearly sorted out my taxes, I’ve watched a lot of TV, bought a microwave, been on a trip to the French Ambassador’s pad (very exciting) and played one hell of a lot of World of Warcraft. Here is a picture of me getting ready for the French Ambassador’s thing (with this Rocher you are really spoiling us etc….)

And here’s my other big discovery of the week – marketing is getting weirder and weirder! This arrived on my doorstep completely personalised in full colour just for me the other day. And it knows what phone I have. How strange…

Er. Well look – basically I’ve started at Yahoo! today and it’s all a bit disorienting and I’m not really back in the swing of things yet. If you’ve sent an e-mail I will get to it, I promise. If you’re waiting for good exciting posts, then give me a few days to get settled in. In the meantime, if you want to hang out on World of Warcraft, then I’m on Dendrassil as “Pentheus” and occasionally on Runetotem as “Iphigeneia” exploring this new MMORPG world that all the young kids are into or something. Hope everyone’s good out there in interweb-land!


Farewell BBC – and hello Yahoo!

Right then! It’s time to get everything out in the open and talk about some of the stuff that’s been going on behind the scenes over the last few months. First things first – and this will probably come as a bit of a surprise to a few people – I’ve decided to make a move from the BBC to go and try something new. The last couple of years have been extraordinary in a lot of ways – I’ve been lucky enough to work on (and occasionally initiate) some really significant projects around the organisation, I’ve been able to explore whole new areas of media navigation, interaction and distribution and I’ve done it all in the company of some absolutely extraordinary people.

In particular, working with Matt Webb was one of the weirdest, challenging and fruitful working relationships of my life. Similarly, playing once again with Mr Biddulph reminded me exactly how much I’d recommend the experience to everyone. If you need any freelance wizardry performed, I can’t praise him highly enough. And I also can’t say enough good things about Paul Hammond – whether he’s been driving me nuts or keeping me sane, he’s always been insightful and great company.

There are loads of other people I’m thrilled to have worked with in the organisation and I can’t possibly name them all, but various projects stick in my head and it’s probably worth opening them up a little. I had great fun on the first pass through the Programme Information Pages project (and the Radio 3 site that emerged from it), and it wouldn’t have been the experience it was without Margaret Hanley and Gavin Bell (and about a dozen other cool people). At the other extreme, rapidly building and deploying the Listen Live Widget with Duncan Ponting was enormously satisfying, as was the Phonetags project working with Webb, Jason Cowlam, Graham Beale and (again) Gavin. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention the small team I’m currently working with (Helen Crowe, Chris Bowley, Tristan Ferne, Bronwyn Van Der Merwe and Paul Clifford) – hopefully I’ll be able to talk a bit more about what we’ve been up to before I leave.

So the second major thing that I should probably let people know is that I’m leaving the BBC to go and work for Bradley Horowitz in the Tech Development Group at Yahoo! (alongside Simon Willison and Jeremy Zawodny among others). My particular special skill – I gather – is going to be the power of my social media mojo, undercut with my feral design instincts. I’ll be based in London but out in the States pretty regularly – and here’s the best bit – playing with the Flickr team and the Upcoming crew and all the folks over at Yahoo Research Berkeley (among others). Anyway, as is probably fairly evident, this is not the kind of opportunity you turn down without a very good reason, and I’ve wracked my brains and I sure as hell can’t think of one. So wish me luck!


In which I raise a weary hand and wave…

You may be wondering why everything’s got a bit quiet around here. Unfortunately, the whole flooding situation with my flat is still occupying most of my attention. I only tell you this stuff so that you’ll forgive me for not talking about Audioscrobbler and merging and relaunching (loads new features – tags, albums, redesigned – you can see my profile here). Oh, and the launch of the Participatory Culture DTV Player which I haven’t had a chance to look at properly yet. And all the fights about Clay’s work on folksonomies. And… and… and… I’m beginning to think I should write one post a day that just lists all the things that I was planning to write but didn’t get the chance. It would be longer than the stuff I actually do write – by quite a large margin.

And what have I been doing? Well mostly I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of the flood apocalypse. Now all of the carpet throughout the flat has now been removed, I’m left with bare concrete floors sporting occasional pubic patches of damp underlay. The concrete itself appears to be wet through and apparently it could take up to four weeks for it to dry. Until that happens, I am told that we can’t have a new carpet down, because it would rot from underneath. Great. Brilliant. In the meantime, I’m starting the fun process of moving everything I own into the bathroom and kitchen or under the stairs so that when they finally decide they can put in the bloody carpets, they’ll be able to find the damn floor.

On the plus side, I slept in my bed for the first time since Friday night, although it wasn’t quite the pleasant experience it used to be. I haven’t been able to get my duvets back from the cleaners yet, and I have to keep the windows open to air out the rooms. So although sleeping in the bed was considerably nicer than sleeping with my legs in a funny position on the sofa, I was still bloody freezing and that’s left me grumpy and tired and frankly unthrilled by the world. Here are some illustrations to help you get a sense of the fun I’m having:

In more positive news, I’m going to be in San Francisco for a few days from the middle of next week, and I’m eager (as ever) to hang out with anyone interested in social software, social media, media distribution, media navigation, participatory media/journalism and the like. Chuck me an e-mail at the normal address (tom at the name of this site) if you’re interested in getting together. And I’m also cooking up a number of interesting schemes that hopefully I can start talking about over the next few months as well. So that’s fun.

And in the meantime, can I remind everyone in the UK to watch Lost. I meant to recommend it before the first two episodes were shown on Channel 4 last night, but – perhaps understandably – was distracted by stupid flat-crap. It really is the show of the year, and you should all take advantage of any opportunity to get hooked on it.


In which everything gets wet…

I’m having a bit of a sucky day today. I woke up early this morning to get ready for a thing that Mr Hammond was organising, stuck on the washing machine and went back to bed. Forty minutes later, I register that the noise it’s making seems weirder than normal, I step out of bed straight into half an inch of water. The washing machine has been spurting out fluid with total abandon out of some flange I can’t even find. As a result the flat’s completely drenched, with the bedroom, hallway, kitchen and bathroom particularly saturated. After a day of mopping up with every vaguely absorbent thing in the house and unhelpful phone calls with my landlords (and enormous trips to the launderette to wash and dry things) I’ve managed to find a small damp-free patch in the sitting room where I’ll be sleeping this evening (and probably tomorrow evening too). Pretty much every other room is full of drying things or is still still completely sodden through. It’s semi-official – everything sucks.

On the upside, I’m being forced to sort out a lot of the crap in my flat – if only so I can find a relatively elevated clear place to sleep. And because I’m forced to stay at home as I’ve got to have the windows open to have any chance of the place drying out at all, I’ve been able to continue my slow plod through the excellent Learn to Program (with Ruby) by Chris Pine. It’s a bloody stunning bit of work and a great break from the horror of trying to scrape up another few pints of washing machine overflow with an old towel or rug from a cupboard.


Explosions rock London's infrastructure…

I was in a meeting when the bombs went off – which it now looks like was the cause of the explosions that have been going off around buses and tube stations around the capital. At this moment in time, the best coverage is on TV and radio, although Londonist has good weblog-related coverage. So far there has been reports of explosions at King’s Cross, Moorgate, Aldgate East and Edgware Road tube stations and on a number of buses, although at the moment I don’t know much more than that. Here’s some coverage from BBC News, CNN and The Guardian. The Guardian’s News Blog looks pretty good for coverage too. There’s not a lot more that I can say at the moment, except that the timing with the G8 summit and the Olympics yesterday makes it look like a terrorist thing. Update: The BBC now has an overview section which I can recommend: BBC News on London Explosions.


Bloggie, bloggie, bloggie, bloggie etc.

It’s Bloggie Nomination time again and I’m up for two awards this year – Best UK / Irish weblog and – gulp – lifetime achievement. And of course, typically, as soon as lots of people start linking to my site I can’t think of anything whatsoever to say – total stage-fright. Given how slack I’ve been on my site this year, and how little I feel that I’ve managed to contribute to the ongoing debates and discussions around the web, I have to say I’m surprised by the nominations. But it’s a nice feeling anyway. Thanks guys.

I’d like to say thank you to all the drunk people who nominated me in the first place. And to all the care-in-the-community folk they found to do the first-round judging – you guys are the best! Now all I need to do is to hope that the entire community of webloggers neglects to take their lithium before they vote. And with sublime confidence that this is precisely what will happen, I say to my design inspiration and creative motivator Derek Powazek and to my arch Gaybolian nemesis Erniebring it on!

But it’s not all good news. Neither Ernie nor I are up for the gay weblogger award this year. Other notable absences include Sparky, Bravo and Simon. So now the torch must pass to How to Learn Swedish, SistersTalk, Tranniefesto, Troubled Diva and Hot Toddy’s Toaster Oven. It’s up to you guys now to keep up the tradition of bitchy ironic gay gang-fighting that we’ve established over the last four years. It’s always been the most fun award to contest, even when the nominees aren’t strictly gay.

So basically, I actually really like the Bloggies. I may as well just say it out loud. I mean, it’s clear that there’s a bit of a self-involved culture thing going on and yeah a block of the same people get nominated every year – but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the weblogs are interesting and often beautiful, and most importantly it’s a set of awards that have emerged from within the culture of webloggers itself. It’s not been imposed from outside, it’s not about the weblog nation dancing for the ‘real people’ and it’s not being judged by the criteria of another medium. I think it’s cool. And Nikolai always makes the site look so nice. So in the spirit of discovery and investigation, here are my top new finds and nods to the classics that I’ve come across from flicking through some of the nominees:

  • Boudist
    Up for best New Zealand / Australian weblog – beautiful design, enthusiastically written. Also currently suffering from stage-fright.
  • Weblog Wannabe
    Up for best Asian Weblog and Lifetime achievement, Firda’s been there since almost the beginning and her site gets more and more beautiful as time passes.
  • Noodlepie
    Also up for Best Asian Weblog – and currently featuring some incredibly evocative pictures of a seafood street-stall. Mmm. Cockles.
  • Benn loxo du taccu
    Interesting audioblog from West Africa references an expansive range of music.
  • Near Near Future
    An awesomely insightful and cutting-edge glimpse into emerging and pervasive technologies that’s up for the Best European Weblog award. Must win!
  • Hick’s Design
    A beautiful site that’s in the Best British and Irish Weblog category with me.
  • Going Underground
    Fascinating – if unattractive – weblog about the London Underground that everyone based around London should be reading.
  • Siteway Weekly
    Up for best non-weblog content of a weblog site, featureing beautiful and classic design structures meshed with awesome illustrative work.
  • Tasting Menu
    Slightly inelegantly designed, but rich and thorough insight into the experience and tasting of food.
  • The Food Section
    Well assembled and thorough food news and restaurant review weblog.

PS. Vote for me!