- Web 2.0 is next week in the States, and I’m not going to be there, even though I’m completely thinking about this a lot at the moment… I really need to get the stuff I’m thinking about around this area out in the open as quickly as possible before my brain melts…
- McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Some good ones here that I really ought to try and incorporate into my daily work…
- Sub-$100 laptop design unveiled “Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Labs, has been outlining designs for a sub-$100 PC.”
- A timeline of what happens in the movie Primer Thoroughly enjoyed the movie although was a bit off my game and had absolutely no idea what the crap was going on. Need to get on DVD.
- Early Season Two **spoilers** for people fascinated by “Lost” Symbols on sharks! What the crap!?
- Salon gushes over Serenity, only pausing to lament that the only thing better than it would be to have Firefly back… “Joss Whedon’s unfairly canceled TV series “Firefly” comes to the big screen — and marvelously. But for all its wit, it’s just not the same.”
- There’s a weird article on Socialtext about how Wikipedia is eating Google and I’m pretty sure I think most of it’s rubbish. Apparently Wikipedia is linked to by lots of mediocre sites and has lots of internal links. This is why it has the world’s top pagerank. I checked. Wikipedia’s homepage has a pagerank of ‘8’. The BBC’s is ‘9’. I suspect the whole thing is rubbish.
- This is a bit random: An illustator vector mockup of the Safari toolbar for those webdesigners who build in Illustrator and may need to show off their designs in print or on a projector Basically it stops all the nasty pixellation things happening when you make things bigger. Except why do it with Safari? That’s got to be a bit random, surely?
- Mock-ups of the proposed MIT $100 laptop It’s a nice bit of design work, all things considered. I hope it’s true and achievable. At the moment it looks rather better than a lot of much more expensive machines…
Since it’s out in the States now, can I just remind all my American friends to go and see Serenity as soon as possible, and can I just add that if you don’t enjoy it, it’s your own fault for not watching Firefly first. I have no sympathy whatsoever. You’ve only brought it on yourselves. Brits, you’ve got another week left to wait, I’m afraid. And that’s just enough time to catch up on the DVD, which coincidentally I believe is on sale at HMV at the moment.
Addendum: (added October 1st 2005) I’ve just been looking at the ratings page for Serenity and it’s really surprised me. Remember, this is a science fiction action adventure – the kind of film that everyone associates with teenage boys and computer nerds like me. But in Serenity’s case, the average rating for men is only 8.2 to the massive approval rating of 9.0 for women. And in every age range (except the under 18s), women enjoyed this film more than men. Men between eighteen and twenty-nine gave it 8.2 compared to 9.2 for women. Men between thirty and forty-four gave it 8.6, compared to a mighty 9.3 for women. And even women aged over forty-five are rating the film as an 8.1, as the male approval rating drops to 7.1.
Just to give you a sense of how weird that is, I had a look at the ratings for The Empire Strikes Back, which felt like the closest analogue I could find (romance, adventure, space) and there it is pretty much men enjoying it all along the line. So if you are a woman and aren’t thinking of going to see Serenity because it’s a boy kind of movie or you just don’t like sci-fi – give it a chance. I don’t think you’ll regret it…
- Stupidity, nice people and religion: a Good Thing or not? “There’s a cause/correlation problem here – isn’t it just as possible that people turn to religion because there are these problems in a country.”
- ROLLYO – roll your own search engines where you can define groups of sites to search – and then share those groups with everyone else. It’s the last bit that makes it interesting and cool… And one other thing – while only I appear to have a clear idea of what Web 2.0 consists of, I can spot the design tropes of Web 2.0 a mile off, and they are pretty…
Right. Okay. Got one for ya. You’ll like this. Earlier today I wrote a post about my father, who I haven’t had any contact with for almost thirty years. It was a difficult post to write – it had taken me almost two weeks to build up the nerve to write it. After I got it out there, however, a number of people commented almost immediately – uniformly pleasant, supportive, decent posts. I’ll confess, it was nice. As usual some of them were a little more emotional about the whole thing than I felt comfortable with, but generally the whole thing was a positive experience. I felt positive that I’d got the message out, was hopeful that talking about the experience might make such a process easier for someone else to go through, and felt that I’d said enough for the moment. Everyone’s got something out of it. Everyone’s happy.
And then I got a comment from a man called Barry Scott. The comment read as follows:
“Hi Tom, Always remember one thing. Life is very, very short and nothing is worth limiting yourself from seeing the ones you love. I hadn’t seen my father in 15 years until 2 years ago. I was apprehensive but I kept telling myself that no matter how estranged we’d become there was no river to wide to cross. Drop me a line if I can be of any more help. Cheers, Barry”
Sounds fine, doesn’t it? Except that ‘Barry Scott’ isn’t a real person – he’s a marketing vehicle for a brand called Cillit Bang and his weblog is a barely disguised viral marketing platform for the product.
Now clearly, it was pretty difficult to believe that even a marketing / advertising organisation would be comfortable actively promoting their product in a space where someone was reporting their first contact with their father for nearly three decades. I mean, sure, there’s some limited mileage to be gained in getting a link on a number of weblogs – although with all the anti-spam tech in place now they can’t possibly have been hoping for Googlejuice. But still, that’s not an enormous benefit for such a grotesque act.
My view was that any right-thinking person would view trying to market your product on such a post as revolting, corrupt, cynical, disgusting, sick and dishonourable. And to do such thing in such an offhand, casual manner? I mean that’s got to be bordering on sociopathic. And for it to be a trick! It could only be viewed as an attempt by these people to exploit a community’s – and an individual’s – good faith to sell a few bottles of highly corrosive cleaning fluid. And it wasn’t even an automated message operating indiscriminately – this was a hand-written note posted by an individual human being.
But as I’ve said, my instincts in this matter were that no one could be that cynical, so I decided to do some exploring. Some possibilities – the guy who wrote the comment wasn’t connected with the weblog or advertising at all, just reusing the name / meme. Or maybe the weblog wasn’t connected to the brand, and was just some jokers attempt to collate and maintain some funny brand-related stuff. Maybe it was even an attempt to subvert or parody Cillit Bang.
So stage one is to find the IP address of the person who left the comment. According to Movable Type that is 126.96.36.199. And according to Sam Spade that correlates to a lon30ex01.yr.com which is owned by an organisation called Young & Rubicam. Going to the website of Young & Rubicam, I see that they handle advertising campaigns. Their site is all Flash, so forgive me for retyping some of it:
“We make connections between our client partners and their customers. We are client-focused, insightful, pragmatic. We believe in ideas. Ideas based on rigorous analytic processes and human insights.”
Hm. Human insights. Okay, so they’re an advertising firm, the comment purporting to be Barry Scott comes from their servers, the weblog looks like a marketing tool of some kind. I think we’re beginning to see a pattern. So I find their London offices and I start to ring around. They have a few offices in London under a variety of names: “Banner Corporation PLC”, “Nylon”, “Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R”, “Y&R Holdings (U.K.) Ltd European HQ”, “Young & Rubicam Brands EMEA”. I ring each in turn, they’re all terribly helpful, but none of them think they’re handling the Cillit Bang brand. So no luck there. Maybe this isn’t as cynical as we’d initially thought?
From here, it’s back to the internet. After a search for Cillit Bang and Young & Rubicam brings back very few decent answers, I try the more general Cillit Bang agency which eventually leads me to a page on kreativ online which lists the Cillit Bang account as being the responsibility of Partners J. Walter Thompson, which then leads me back to JWT.com.
From here it’s back to the phones. We’re still trying to determine, by the way, if the weblog is a marketing platform at all. So off we go to JWT’s uk offices, who are quite comfortable to accept responsibility for the Cillit Bang account but who sound very confused by the idea that the campaign might have an associated weblog, and even more surprised by the idea that people working for another advertising agency could possibly be posting comments in the name of one of their associated brand assets. They say they’ll ring me back shortly, and indeed they do – this time with another set of names including Sabrina Geremia and Marva Carty working at a company called Reckitt Benckiser. So I go and ring them up.
This phone call is a little more involving. Sabrina is unavailable, so I talk to Marva. I ask if they’re running a viral web-based campaign for the product Cillit Bang and she says, slightly reservedly, that they are and that it’s a weblog. Shortly afterwards we’re at a dead end – Marva really wants to know what’s going on before she’ll say any more. I tell her the story of the evil exploitative marketing company virally promoting cleaning products duplicitously all over the story of my reunion with my estranged father, and for some reason she starts to sound a little nervous. She’s unclear as to why any organisation would do that – I point out that people post comments all the time to try and get higher rankings in Google (it doesn’t work) and traffic from people who follow the links. She sounds very uncomfortable. She wants me to send all my evidence to Sabrina who will get back to me on Monday morning. I say that I can’t guarantee that I won’t write about this stuff in public in the meantime.
And it’s just as well that I didn’t guarantee it, because you’re reading it. One way or another – whether these specific people are directly responsible for spamming our conversations with their marketing – this whole enterprise stinks to high heaven. The fake weblogs that pretend to be real are almost bad enough – it’s an attempt to muddy the reality of a community with the fantasy world that they need to flog cleaning products and make it seem glamourous or exciting. But someone out there – associated with one marketing group or another – is also keen to directly stick their dirty little hands in the cookie jars of well-meaning, honourable people. They’re quite happy to pollute or destroy the value of the enterprise for everyone else if they can derive even the tiniest return from it.
I’m going to give them the benfit of the doubt and say that this whole enterprise is based on clumsiness and stupidity rather than evil, but we have to make a stand and make it clear to these people that if you live by the sword you die by the sword. It’s not good enough for just these marketing people to realise that they’ve screwed up and damaged the brands they were associated with – we have to keep making examples of them to stop other clumsy organisations viewing our self-created territories as nothing more than sales opportunities. Do not lie to us because we will expose you. Be honourable, or we will erase you. And all anyone will see when they search on Google for your products is that there is no depth to which you will not stoop to get another few bottles into someone’s shopping basket.
To be decent about the whole thing, I’m going to let Marva have the final word, because maybe other marketers out there will hear them and learn from them, and it will stop them making the same mistakes again. And the evidence I’m going to send to Sabrina? The URL of this post. If she sends a more coherent response back, I’ll post that too…
“Us going into blogging is a new thing – it’s a new thing and we’re not trying to do anything that could cause you distaste. If this is the kind of thing that’s happening, then we need to stop it happening. I honestly don’t believe that the effect it’s had has been at all intentional. If this is happening then it needs to be re-evaluated. This is not what we’re trying to achieve.“
Addendum (added 3rd October 2005): The people at Cillit Bang have apologised for the error of judgment and I have accepted their apology. You can read more about it here: An Apology from the Cillit Bang team.
Deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Where to start? Um. Probably I should start with the standard preamble. The story so far. Right. It’s pretty much all contained within the Family category of this site, but for those of you who just wandered in off the street, I’ve been trying to find my biological father who I haven’t seen since I was about five. A few months ago I decided to use a service called Traceline to see if he was still alive and to try and make some form of contact. To be honest, I’d come to the conclusion that he was probably dead. A couple of months ago they said they’d found him, I sent a letter for them to pass on (if he’d take it) and since then I’ve been waiting.
And then two weeks ago I got a reply. I noticed the letter on my doormat when I got up for work in the morning, but I had too much to do and so I only let it register a little in my brain before leaving it unopened on the floor. I didn’t hurry back from work, either. I can only assume I was scared. When I got home though, I opened it immediately and read it in two long gulps. My eyes caught on a few sentences of peculiar grump that reminded me all too much of myself and my clumsy mechanically articulated use of language. And then I read it again. My first contact in twenty-eight years with my father. Crap. Fuck. Wow. I felt… excited, I guess – like I was on a ride. Not really happy as such. But for a moment, everything else fell out of my head.
So this is the bit, I think where things get a little harder to write about. While my father was a creature only conjured by my mind, it seemed completely reasonable to write about my speculations. But it gets more difficult to write about a real person. And having a two page, handwritten, artifact in my hand makes him more real than I think I was expecting. And I feel more territorial about the contents of the letter than I’d expected either. I want to tell everyone about it, but I don’t want to drag the whole experience down into the mud and the murk by luridly exposing every aspect of it to any random punter who happens to troll around my site. So I’m not going to go into detail about what the letter says (just like I didn’t go into any detail about the letter I sent to him).
But I will say a few things about my sense of it as a reply and how I’m reacting to it. He sounds slightly shaken up and confused by receiving the letter, much as I have been by receiving a reply – hoped for but maybe not expected. But generally, although it feels slightly distant, I think it’s pretty much the best letter I could have expected. And I’m enormously glad that I got the gay thing out of the way immediately. Now there aren’t any nasty surprises further down that particular road, I feel that we can get on with whatever happens next. He was honest enough to state that the whole thing was a bit confusing and disorienting, but he also seemed prepared to suspend judgement. That’s a good foundation, I suppose.
I guess the main problem from my perspective is that I have absolutely no idea what to do next. I thought writing this post might help me get some perspective, but I’ve been sitting on the letter for two weeks now and trying to work out how to reply and nothing is coming to me. And as every day passes, I have a sense of him thinking about whether he said something wrong or alienated me or whatever. I suppose after talking into the ether up until this point, this has been the first moment where I’ve had to think about it as a conversation, and it’s scaring the hell out of me.
Anyway, I’d just like to thank everyone who has written to me or posted comments over the last few months sending their support. I genuinely don’t think I’d have had the nerve to continue with this process without the support of my peers out there in the wild. I’ll continue to post up general updates about my state of mind and this whole process until such a point where it feels too personal or invasive, because I’ve heard from people that it’s helping them work out whether they should try and find lost parents themselves. All I can say is that so far the experience has been unsettling and destabilising, but an important one for me, and I’m incredibly glad I’ve got as far as I have. And good luck to those of you still contemplating something similar. I hope it all works out for you.
I’m kind of in the middle of another one of my random holidays where I feel continually oppressed by not having got anything sufficiently significant done. I really really need to learn how to take time off from all this web stuff. Anyway, I’ve been thinking for a while of getting rid of the ‘recent entries’ box on the homepage and replacing it with a way of directly navigating into the rest of the site. Today I thought I’d throw up this particular rough solution and see what people thought. I haven’t always categorised my posts, and I’m still working out how to do it well, so there are lots of gaps and posts that haven’t been captured and categorised yet. But it’s a start… Any thoughts? My first one is that it gives undue and slightly troubling access to a few semi-decent posts that maybe it shouldn’t…
- Societies ‘worse off when they have God on their side’ ‚ÄúIn general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.”
- At the Labour party conference, Tony Blair enters to a Sham 69 song “If the kids are united, they will never be divided” – what a strange song. You can watch the entrance via the news player as well. Shame it’s not so easy to link directly through to the clip concerned.
- Apple admits to iPod Nano faults “Electronics firm Apple has admitted there have been problems with its new iPod Nano music player, after a string of complaints about damaged screens.”
- More 4 launches October 10th in the UK, and has a really bloody odd logo The advertising for this channel has been stunning. I just wish I understood why every organisation doesn’t put their ads online. It seems like such a no brainer…
- Words ‘can change what we smell’ – A rose by any other name might not smell as sweet, UK research suggests. Yet more evidence, if you ask me, that the entire sense is made up (but more interestingly, it may explain some of the complexities of my lack of sense of smell)
- Wow. Pretty bloody astonishing episode of Battlestar Galactica. Reboot of an old classic. Lloyd Bridges has changed a bit… Don’t look if you don’t want to be spoiled for episode ten of season two. Is all I’m saying.
- Is the GPX 2 more interesting than the PSP? Well it’s running Linux, can show photos, play music and has a MAME emulator onboard so you can play all MAME’d games. No denying an open platform portable is interesting…
- “Most of the cast of the upcoming SF movie Serenity told SCI FI Wire that they have signed on for two more movies if the film version of Joss Whedon’s canceled Fox TV series Firefly is a hit” Can I please, please, please remind people to go and see Serenity when it comes out. I really really want a bloody sequel here. The film deserves one…
- World Summit on Free Information Infrastructures This will be in London at the beginning of October. Looks pretty awesome, actually. Kind of fascinated by it.
- Wild Things Are on the Beach “A self-styled god, Jansen is evolving an entirely new line of animals: immense multi-legged walking critters designed to roam the Dutch coastline, feeding on gusts of wind”
- Turning the Pages‚Ñ¢, the British Library “Leaf through 14 great books and magnify the details” – lovely, beautiful, and a great use of rich media to do something that couldn’t be done easily with web pages alone. Not totally sure about the interface though…
- BBC News presents a multiple choice maths quiz so you can see if you’ve got any brains left Turns out there are some things I don’t remember from school maths, but not that much…
- Insight into the Google master-plan (sort of) My suspicion… No master plan. That’s all I’m saying. Lots of people doing stuff instead. Probably not a bad thing.
- Artists erect giant pink bunny on mountain “An enormous pink bunny has been erected on an Italian mountainside where it will stay for the next 20 years.”
- A nice entertaining little story about how the iPod Mini looks a bit like old transistor radios Quite how these things make BBC News I don’t know, but the pictures are nice, I work with John Ousby and it mentions Flickr which is good
- Ethical Search Engine Optimization – not bad little article this, chiming nicely with my own views about SEO (mostly bunk, build better sites) “The time, effort, and money spent on search engine optimization (particularly of the exaggerating or deceptive kind) can often be put to better use by working on improving the quality, content, and structure of the website itself.”
- Typetester ‚Äì Compare fonts for the screen Beautiful piece of work that allows to compare and explore fonts for screen use and then even get the CSS so you can use them on the web
- Liquid Sculpture – High-speed and Fine Art Photography of Drops and Splashes Stunning. Beautiful. Really worth exploring in substantial detail. And if you work in ceramics or glass or plastics, there are some forms here you should be exploring. Awesome.
- Apple may build video cams into future Macs “A recently published Apple patent application reveals that the company last year toyed with the idea of integrating a tiny video camera into the latch of a future laptop design, presumably with intentions of leveraging its iChat audio-video conferencing
- Jed’s Other Poem (Beautiful Ground) A stunning video for a Grandaddy song that uses an Apple II to create ‘expressive’ typography. Wonderful.
- Hm. Bit of a clumsy set of comments about user-generated content from my colleagues, there… Still, never mind… ‘”User-edited” versions of the talkboards will be created, said Mr Mermelstein, because he said many of the messages posted were “crap”, repetitive or boring.’
- TiVo 7.2 OS adds content protection, blocks transfers, and auto-deletes some shows Lots of discussion about this one. Basically it’s a PVR with rights controls imposed from the studios and broadcasters – designed for pay-per-view stuff…