July, 2006

Noel Edmonds

I note that the Daily Mail serialised Noel Edmonds’ new book “Positively Happy” last week, having first apologised for something they said about it. Edmonds talks about this in an interview with The Guardian today.
All very lovely, but I had a bit of a flick through the book yesterday in a shop. OK – so I’m not exactly going to be a believer of the book “Cosmic Ordering” that’s seemingly responsible for his career revival (I mean, that wouldn’t be due to an insanely popular gameshow format that was storming the world, was inevitably going to end up in the UK, and one way or another was going to need a television presenter – Edmonds being a television presenter). But even a two-second flick through “Positively Happy” reveals it to be incredibly flimsy.
I’ve no interest in the content obviously, but it costs £9.99 runs to around 140 pages, and the columns are narrow, and the lines nicely spaced apart. It’s the sort of thing you’d do if you wanted to make your essay seem really long for your coursework.
Mind you, if the Daily Mail serialised it over five days, there probably isn’t much left to read.
Incidentally, no links to any of these books, because I’d hope that no readers of this blog would ever read such tosh.

YouTube Bigger Than MySpace – But Both Full Of Copyright Material?

Today’s Media Guardian reports how Alexa is now showing YouTube as having overtaken MySpace (note to self: when you create your Web 2.0, or even 3.0, company, ensure that it’s two words with no space and two capitals – it’s the law).
I’m sure it’s fantastic news for YouTube, a bit like the way that Murdoch’s doing well out of MySpace. But both sites, in my view, have some serious questions that need answering in the world of copyright before they can be fully monetised.
I’ve been through the arguments about YouTube before, and a Napster-style takedown has got to happen at some point, sadly. MySpace is a little more confusing, but it too is full of copyright music. A lot of it is new music that bands and artists have put up there themselves, and that’s great. But what about all the copyright material that anyone can put up themselves? Even if I can only stream and not download the track, that still has to be paid for.
For example, I note today that even Media Guardian’s “Monkey” has got himself a website there in honour of Murdoch’s conference in Pebble Beech, at which Tony Blair felt it was somehow necessary to give a speech. Maybe he can come and give a talk at our company? We’re not even that far from Downing Street. We could arrange it in the lunch hour.
But back to the Media Monkey MySpace site. When you go on it, you’re regaled with Hey Hey, We’re The Monkeys, by the eponymous group. Very funny. And the hideous design is true of many MySpace sites, it’s as if nobody’s moved on from the early days of GeoCities.
I would like to know where along the way, The Monkees songwriters and performers get their cut?
Questions, questions, questions.

BBC Vodcasts

The BBC has released some news “vodcasts” of things like Newsnight and the News at Ten. Except that these are weekly highlights packages rather than full nightly editions. Still better than nothing.
But I wish I could get them to work on my PSP. I don’t have a video iPod (or a normal one for that matter), and I’d like to be able to copy them across onto the portable digital media player that I do have.
But it seems that simply renaming them MAQ*****.MP4 files as usual doesn’t work. I know I could probably transcode the file with something or other, but it seems stupid to have to do that with an MP4 file as it stands. And it’d be hoped that, like Google Video, the Beeb would offer a choice of formats for major video playing devices (and the PSP is a major platform).

Cycling Licence Plates

You just know we’re entering silly season when you read stories like this. Ken Livingstone apparently believes that getting cyclists to fit licence plates so that they could be fined for infractions like jumping red lights or cycling on the pavement would be a good idea.
I suspect that as this comment came during a phone-in on LBC, it was off the cuff rather than a fully formed idea. It’s particularly laughable that he’s come up with this at a time when Transport For London is running a heavyweight campaign promoting the virtues of cycling.
As many of the correspondents on this page on The Times’ website point out, there are far more dangerous pursuits that we should be spending money on stopping. How many motorists jump redlights – where they’re much likelier to cause serious damage? And how many people illegally hold mobile phones in their hands whilst driving? Who do you think is going to cause the most damage in a collision – a person on a piece of lightweight steel or aluminium, or someone in a metal object that weighs well over one tonne?
With cycling lanes that are full of debris pushed towards the gutter from the main road, with cars parked illegally or otherwise in the way, with stretches that last for just a few metres and with just about nobody respecting those extra lines at traffic lights that cyclists are allowed to line-up behind, I’ll quite happily ride my bike on the pavement or get away from the lights quickly if I think it’s going to keep me safer.
And Ken, you’ve done a lot of good things as mayor including introducing the congestion charge (how I laughed when I saw engineers working on the lift to the underground carpark at M&C Saatchi this morning, realising that the power cut yesterday must have left their vehicles stranded in their basement), but ideas such as this will kill off all the good work that’s already been done regarding cycling. I suggest that Ken takes to his bike for a little while and sees the kind of stuff that cyclists have to put up with.

Landis on Drugs?

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So what to make of the drug charges that newly crowned Tour de France winner Floyd Landis is chasing?
I was amazed to read that it was Landis who’d been charged. At some point yesterday I heard a vague radio report that one of the riders in this year’s Tour had been found positive for drugs. It was only reading the paper on the way home that I found out who it was.
The drugs charges arise from samples taken from him on Stage 17 into Morzine. This was an amazing stage when, after being dropped the previous day and losing more than ten minutes the previous day and dropping back down to 11th overall, he came back and rode away for 130km gaining enough time to put him back into contention. Whilst he didn’t end up in yellow, he was close enough to his rivals that by the penultimate stage’s time-trial, he was able to decisively win the tour. It was an incredible comeback after a poor day in the mountains the day before.
The drug in question is testosterone which is an unusual drug to choose in these days of hi-tech blood-doping. But it can be either injected or enter the bloodstream via a patch (much like nicotein patches do).
Landis has flat-out denied that he’s guilty, but by Monday we should know the result of the B sample which double checks the results of the first blood test.
What do we believe until then?

G24

I was wondering only the other day when G24, the Guardian’s new print on demand PDF service would start. Well it seems to have started today.
I’ve got to say that is a great idea, and just right for commuters and people at lunchtime. If it’s automated, then all the better. The content already exists and the customer pays the “production costs” by way of their toner and laser printer costs. The Guardian just reaps the advertising revenue.
Of course it may have started yesterday, but like many others in the Soho area of London, we had a powercut between 2pm and around 6pm yesterday afternoon. As a radio station, we have a thing called a UPS (basically a set of batteries), and a generator on our roof so that we can stay on air. But your average PC around the building isn’t essential. Neither is air conditioning. And our water “coolers” work on electricity too. Oh, and the toilets need power to pump water up to the tank. With no power, when that tank’s empty, toilets won’t flush.
A cynic might suggest that EDF Energy should have spent less money of sponsoring ITV’s World Cup Football coverage, and more on their central London electricity infrastructure. Still, this morning, there was an EDF lorry at Oxford Circus feeding the station power from, I assume, a generator in the back of the lorry.
“Where do they get their energy from?”

The Long Tail


You may well have heard of the Long Tail by now. It’s all based on an article that this book’s author, and Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson first published in said magazine a couple of years ago. Simply put, it’s all about the value of the “long tail” of sales beyond the bestsellers, with plenty of case studies examining iTunes and Amazon data that shows that the vast majority of their sales are in much smaller units further down the tail.
The theory is fine as far as it goes with plenty of cases where it is true. I suppose it works best when keeping a vast inventory is minimal in cost – think eBay where it’s the vendors who hold stock, or iTunes, where the virtual inventory is a bit of hard disk space. But it’s true that it doesn’t work absolutely everywhere, and I’d have liked a few more “real world” examples beyond the well examined tech companies.
The book’s relatively short, but it still feels as though the argument could have been made in slightly fewer words.
Slate had a worthwhile piece on the book the other day.

Chugging

If you walk down a central London street like Carnaby Street, most lunchtimes you’ll come across in-street charity teams who are very keen to get you to sign up a direct debit order with whoever they’re representing that day. It’s called “chugging” – charity mugging.
I’ve known for ages that these teams are not volunteer members or supporters of the charity. Instead they’re professional teams who the charity pays for on the basis of each member that gets signed up. But it does all seem to get a little complicated at this point.
I decided to have another look into this, having noticed that the charity t-shirts or waterproofs now tend to have a small logo of the company that actually supplies the personnel. In the street this lunchtime, Mencap was the chosen charity and t-shirts had a small logo for Dialogue Direct. Their website makes for interesting reading. In particular the FAQs. While there’s a lot of explanation about why this kind of charity collection is highly cost effective, with long-term donators being found, the money side of things is not that clear.
For example:
How much of the money given in the first year actually goes to the charity?
All the money raised from donations, 100% of it, goes directly to the charity, which in turn reinvests a small part of it in future fundraising initiatives.

So how does Dialogue Direct make money if that’s the case? Again, it’s not spelt out, but it seems that Dialogue Direct is paid directly by the charity on a per-donor basis.
The charity only pays for the donors they receive, instead of making a speculative spend in the hope that enough people will respond to the ad or mail-shot.
OK. It begins to make sense. But then there’s a link to another site funjobs4u.co.uk, which is where you can get a job being a “face to face fundraiser.”
Again, it’s worth looking at the FAQ section of their site:
Am I paid on commission?
All the donations you sign up go directly to the charity; we do not pay on a commission basis.

So how exactly are the “face to face fundraisers” paid? Is it a per hour wage, with bonuses for each donor they sign up? And what kind of sums are we talking about? It’s not obvious anywhere on the site what the answer to this is.
A job on the Guardian’s website suggests that someone based in the SW, SE and London might earn between £250-£500 per week.
A piece written by a “chugger” back in 2003 suggests that in fact they get paid on a per hour basis – then £8 – with targets that have to be met.
There is actually an organisation representing all those companies that supply “chuggers” – the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).
Curiously Dialogue Direct’s website features a quote from one Cathy Anderson of Greenpeace:
“DialogueDirect allows Greenpeace to reach new groups of people, people that have not been attracted by conventional marketing. Because of the success of face-to-face recruitment we have over 60,000 new supporters, all giving regular, reliable financial support to Greenpeace.”
Yet a report from The Observer back in 2004 suggested that Greenpeace were getting out of the industry.
The chairman of Greenpeace, Martyn Day, said that what the industry calls ‘face to face’ campaigning was now having a negative effect on the group’s profile and fundraising efforts. Chugging – short for ‘charity mugging’ – got an increasingly bad name after initial successes led to a flood of charities using young people to ask passerbys to donate by direct debit.
But not everyone is stopping doing it. Indeed some charities are taking it a step further and putting together in-house teams rather than relying on third-party agencies. That same article claimes that 213,000 people signed a direct-debit form in the street last year. If it cost charities as much as £100 per donor, that’d make the industry worth £20m+ a year. That seems a lot, although back in 2002 it was 350,000 so it has fallen back. That may be because everyone is already donating, or it may be because we’re all a bit fed up with having to dodge youngsters in colourful bibs and avoid eye-contact at all costs. And just to confuse matters a little further, the PFRA estimate that in fact 690,000 new supporters were found using “chugging” last year.
In the end, this article from The Guardian’s Ethical Living column is probably the most balanced. Published last November, so relatively up to date, it says that charities have to pay between £50 and £100 per donor, but concurring with the extracts from various websites, the “chuggers” don’t get paid commission.
I’ve always found it little difficult to fully grasp why some marketing folk who work for charities earn quite as much as they do. Of course charities have to be good marketeers, but it pains me to think that one person’s salary might be the equivalent of three hundred people’s annual contributions to that charity.
The bottom line is that if you want to support a particular charity, just go online and sign up. Far fewer overheads and no payments to “chuggers”. There – you’ve already effectively “given” the charity another £100!

Amazon Gorefest

Amazon is running a video commercial on their site for a book called The Death Artist. You can currently see the ad somewhere around the crime book section (I suspect that like other ads, it’s only shown a certain number of times, so it’s tricky to link directly to).
Anyhow, the reason that this is worth noting is because the ad, while somewhat amusing, is actually quite bloody – it would have garnered at least a 15 rating if it was on at the cinema, and it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t get shown on TV at all.
So what are Amazon’s internal rules about delivering such ads? Does it know that I’m an adult visitor who can take it? Just curious.

Blogging in Britain

Last week MSN released a report entitled Blogging in Britain (PDF via The Daily Telegraph) which is all very interesting and supplies lots of hard and fast numbers which I’m using for a work project. But whoever worked on the presentation of the stats in the report really needs to go back to school and learn how to accurately reflect charts.
Throughout the document, there are some nice looking 3D pie-charts. Except that pie charts should almost always represent the individual parts of some whole; all the bits added together should represent 100% of the whole with no duplication within segments (e.g. you’re only in one age-group). Yet the pie charts throughout this report show entirely different things.
By way of an example, here’s the first chart in the report:
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At first glance, it looks as though the largest part of the blogging population is under 25s followed by 25-34s. And this is the case, but a close reading of the key shows that there’s something wrong with this chart. The percentages add up to 119%. Even allowing for the odd rounding error, you shouldn’t manage that with 4 data values. What they actually mean is that 42% of under 25s blog, and 58% don’t. You could show that as a pie chart, but this one is very misleading. The data should really be presented a little like this:
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(To further see how the pie chart is wrong, consider the case where, say, 95% of the population blog, and it’s constant across all age groups. You’d end up with a pie chart divided into four neat equal segments looking for all the world like 25% each, yet each representing, somehow, 95% of their individual population segments).
This may all seem a little pointless, but it’s an indication of mathematical illiteracy at large, and a strong mathematical education is vital to strong debate.
And yes, I did spot the typo – “25-43” in the original chart.
One final note, in an interesting analysis piece on the Telegraph’s blog, Shane Richmond compares this survey with a seemingly similar one produced by advertising agency Universal McCann back in May. The two surveys have some startling differences that he does well to explain away. But he also mentions in passing that the MSN sample size was 743 internet users. Nowhere on the PDF is this explicitly stated. I assume he either contacted MSN or was working from a slightly more detailed press release. Once again, if MSN are going to put together a glossy PDF of their findings, a little detail about the methodology should really also be included.