Friday, July 24, 2009

WIll online video kill the TV star?



The Bloomberg Media Futures conference was a melting pot of trailblazing online entrepreneurs sharing ideas with an industry suffering at the hands of internet piracy. Frankly, I'm not sure if any of the 'old media guys' really get it – but one person they should be listening to is Avner Ronen, who I was lucky enough to interview and find out more about what he is doing at his internet startup, Boxee.

In this interview Avner Ronen discusses the vision behind Boxee and what he thinks the future of satellite channel bundling and pay TV may be. Crucially, he suggests that the internet is now a viable platform to support video content created exclusively for online distribution.

For me, the highlight of this interview is easy to miss. The psychological investment Boxee made in their user interface- not one line of code was committed until they had got the concept of the user interface exactly right. To my mind, it's a daring approach – and whilst old media croon about editorial content, programming & scheduling and the perils of timeshift TV – Boxee will be winning new fans from simply being easy to use.



Expect a major user interface war in next few years as the web becomes increasingly invisible to the user and the foundation for content delivery to every possible type of device.

Rebirth of Mythology: When fiction & movies collide with online



Hot on the trail of Guillermo Del Toro, Dan Hon, CEO of SixToStart is building a single-platform story engine.



"In the next 10 years, we're going to see all the forms of entertainment—film, television, video, games, and print—melding into a single-platform "story engine." The Model T of this new platform is the PS3. The moment you connect creative output with a public story engine, a narrative can continue over a period of months or years. It's going to rewrite the rules of fiction."
Guillermo del Toro, in an interview with Wired

Recently I got a chance to interview Dan Hon from SixToStart at the Bloomberg Media Futures conference. It's a long video (30 mins) but this has to be one of my favourite conversations yet – so I have included a reference index below so you can lookout for the bits of the conversation you are most interested in.

However, if you are interested in movies, gaming, online PR or social networking, I defy you not to give the entire episode your complete attention as Dan is incredibly lucid on the subject of online storytelling and Alternate Reality Gaming.

"Think about the way oral tradition became written word—how what we know about Achilles was written many, many years after it made its way around the world with different names and different types of heroes. That can happen when you allow content to keep propagating itself through different kinds of platforms and engines—when you permit it to be retold with a promiscuous form of mythology. You see it when people create their own avatars in games and transfigure their game worlds."
Guillermo del Toro, in an interview with Wired


0 - 4:25
Can you tell us a bit about six to start?

4:26 – 6:30
Can you tell us a bit about your storytelling platform?

6:31- 9:20
Is there a natural evolution of stories in this format? Do stories no longer have a beginning middle and end?

9:20 – 11:15
How do writers respond to bringing 'play' into their novels? Do they have to give up control? Do other opportunities emerge?

11:15 – 14:55
What kind of experiences can someone have through stories told via SixToStarts storytelling platform?

14:55 – 17:25
Is it compulsory for the reader to move from medium to medium?

17:25 – 19:00
What is a typical session time for a story 'read' online?

19:00 – 22:20
Do people have to follow alternate reality stories as they are unfolding in real time?

22:30 – 24:20
Are these new kinds of online stories better with more people reading them?

24:20 – 25:40
How do readers gather around your story?

25:45 – 28:20
Can you tell me a bit more about your business model? What products and services does SixToStart sell?

28:30 – 29:25
What companies are you drawing inspiration from?

29:25 - 29:50
Does storytelling drive the technology or does technology drive the story?

29:50 – end
Can you point people who want to explore the concept of Alternate Reality Gaming in the right direction?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Thanks for the interview Mike!




Had the great privilege of being able to interview Mike Butcher last friday at the Media Futures conference hosted by Bloomberg.

The editor of Techcunch UK is a tough nut to crack, if you ask me, and being poker faced on all subjects is his modus operandi. Add to that my enormous respect for the man, of whom i have been a fan of since the days of Mbites, and i would have to admit to being pretty nervous interviewing him and was terrified of failing to impress.

With that in mind i'm extremely pleased to see this interview with Mike Butcher posted on TechCrunch, and after re-watching the interview a couple of times i thought i would pick out the highlights. See below for timings:

Start - 1:26
What's going on with TechCrunch Europe?
Mike discusses the launch of awards event, TechCrunch Europas, covering startups from Europe, Israel & Africa.

1:26 - 2:25
What reasons are there to celebrate the European Startup scene?

2:25 - 3:50
What kind of successes & innovations are we seeing in Europe?
Mike discusses the current economic climate and how european attitudes are changing as young people make less traditional career choices.

3:50 - 5:20
Are European entrepreneurs getting younger?
Mike highlights a new trend towards serial entrepreurship.

5:20 - 6:40
Has the recession dampened the ambition of Europe's entrepreneurs?
Mike discusses how the blog has been growing via a strong active community.

7:00 - 11:40
How much if a role has TechCrunch played in cultivating a positive entrepreneurial culture in Europe?
Mike discusses the hunger to create a culture of 'go-getters', how he started to discover the community and what kind of reception he got when taking TechCrunch inot the heart of Europe.

11:40 - 13:20
Do European startups face problems such as language barriers and small domestic markets?
Mike provides a tip for budding European entrepreneurs who think globally and warms them off the clone markets.

13:20 - 14:15
What European startups would you bet on now?

14:15
When & where are the TechCrunch Europa Awards being held?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Why I Am Huffing Skittles Dong

OK when i first saw it i just dismissed it instantaneously. I have PR stunt blindness, and am very effectively able to selectively ignore things and call them shite before engaging with them, and essentially apart from the floating twitter navbar, the new Skittles.com had PR stunt written all over it.

A fellow SEO, ciaranj tweeted that it was the 'emperors new clothes 2.0' which i thought was an excellent summary. Some agency had literally gone and sold Mars Corp an invisible website with a figleaf for a navbar.

I got my print screen trigger finger ready to capture every perversion, oversight and PR disaster i could find. Boy oh boy, i was going to have some real juice for my bosses about how NOT to do social media. The obscene title of this post was, at the very least, intended to get a screen grab of demonstrable filthy brand soiling and specifically inspired by silver-tongued moblogger richtard's tweet to subvert Skittles.com's risky manoeuvre. (...btw i really dont think of myself as an expert on this topic; perhaps the one eyed man in the land of the blind- but often those who shout loudest, win...)

Except i couldn't find anything really worth frothing about. The brains behind the execution seem to have hit every possible 2.0 marketing goal and corresponding buzz word.


"Join the conversation"
- In an interwoven, permanently on, global communication network, brands are just a global conversation. Rather than worry about or censor what people are saying brands need only turn their ear towards it and connect it all together (that's the theory anyway). Mars Corp just went ahead and turned their corporate website into what any investor really needs to know- what does the market think of skittles - now they pretty much have that answer on tap.

"User generated content" - Every tweet including the word 'skittles' updates their homepage. That's a pretty simple content strategy! What is more i just talked about skittles again for the first time in 20 years.

"12 seconds of fame" - When the barrier to engagement is so low (i.e. post a tweet) the payoff is suprisingly high. You get the 'entire world' looking at you for 12 seconds. This is great for bloggers wanting to raise the profile (clearly i am on this bandwagon) or even just get more adsense revenue. OMG It's like a reverse digg or something :)

"Search Engine Friendly" - With blogs and twits going crazy about Skittles, it's pushing more content into Google and more links back to skittles.com. Ok so there is no site to optmise now, but who cares? Just point the domain at something else when ready.

"Be respectful of users" - They even have a notice that tells them how to escape the skittles site for confused users. Like, how nice & respectful is that?

However those things alone dont make the site totally groundbreaking - it's the corporate headshift it seems to demonstrate. Forget brand protection and 'control'. Invite engagement and dialogue.

The heads of state executed a corporate site strategy that answers the question for any potential investor - what do people think of skittles?

Some people may huff and puff about the PR disaster waiting to happen (from giving any user screen estate) or how nothing can be sold via twitter but marketing strategies are rarely aimed only at their 'actual' customer - often they are big shows and stories to bring in clients, partners & investors. Mars corp isn't selling sweets to little kids. Shopkeepers are. Mars' goal is actually to lower the cost of shelf space- their target market and undisclosed goal is shopkeepers choosing to stock skittles.

It's so effective. I would imagine most corporate bods & shopkeepers don't even have the time to find out anyway - but I think they know what a tweet every three seconds means.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Air raid over Colombo

A few weeks ago i covered the Assassination of one of Sri Lanka's most controversial newspaper editors which happened amidst the army's 'final' confrontation with terrorism.

Anecdotal reports are that activity is still really intense. A friend recently had the army burst into their bedroom one morning as part of security checks on the whole building. They just sent me this video of an air raid near the Taj hotel.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Agencies, bring your A-Game in-house



Inspired by discussions on Hugo Guzman's post and on sphinn submission, and frustrated by agencies that have pitched to me, I wanted to try and set a new ground zero for discussions on in-house SEO and agency co-operation. I hope this post offers some useful perspectives on the internal issues SEO face and some insight into how you can transform your approach to our businesses with existing SEM resources.

Resist the temptation to think that the reason we (or our bosses) have asked you to pitch to us is an admission of defeat. Here are some non-confrontational reasons why we may have invited you in:

Who dares, wins.
We're simply over stretched – we have absolutely hit the limits of our workload and would love to find a trustworthy outsource partner. The cost/benefit analysis of the saving we make by keeping the project internal, has actually been overshadowed by the unnecessary risks we are taking in under resourcing a project.

Courage doesn't always roar.
We have genuinely hit the limits of our knowledge – it's a curious fact that when you're completely dedicate to a cause, you can't see the wood for the trees anymore. We've been talking brand X for so long that we have completely lost the ability to audit ourselves against brand Y or take a wider view. The cost of your services, is outweighed by the futureproofing our strategy and we're probably in it for the duration. We're looking for a coach - someone who can help us to step up our game but not necessarily play for us - so don’t hold back in presenting your perspective.

Letting go makes you strong.
The new internal project that has recently cropped up just doesn't play to our skillset. If the company is big enough to require a full time SEO, the likelihood is that there are all kinds of new product launches and brand line extensions that require a more specialized knowledge. The cost/benefit analysis is much like scenario 1 except, we're probably quite happy for you to let you do your thing, with minimal interaction from us if you can keep us suitably upto date.

Knowledge talks, wisdom listens
We're bashing our heads against a brick wall – one issue has divided the company and we need an external point of view. This really does happen. SEO can be a real battle of diplomacy between internal departments and division heads. Just think about the average number of cosmetic, content and infrastructural changes that need to be made to a website to make it rank better on Google. Now imagine having to counter every possible objection with every possible stakeholder. Now ask me again if I need help??  Sometimes, businesses need a referee – and this is a chance for the agency to show how well they play with others and stamp their authority (hopefully without trampling anyone in the process). Nothing rallies the governing tendrils of a company like the prospect of external costs, but the benefit here is that frustration is so high, that we can no longer put a price on co-operation..

Change is as good as a rest.
We want to try something completely different – we've done well so far and now we lust to bust open the floodgates. At this point we tend to be at the mature stage of our SEO strategy and now we want to finesse it. There's nothing unique on the internal agenda, no project launches and pretty much everything else is humming along nicely. In fact, it's a little too quiet. We're asking you in because we have some unspent marketing budget floating around and we want to test our mettle and your skills. The cost is worth the new knowledge and you'll benefit from any astounding successes as, clearly, we could not achieve the same results alone.

This post has taken me longer to write than i had planned - there are so many topics in this area of how we can co-operate and collaborative which i would love to go into more detail on. Perhaps someone can kick off in the comments? And to all those who chimed in on Hugo's thread many thanks for your thoughts and getting me back into blogging about SEO!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Assassination will be Blogged



"When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me." - Lasantha Wickramatunga

Editor of the Sri Lankan broadsheet The Sunday Leader wrote his final and prescient blog post last Sunday night before being assassinated. He spoke of the troubles and corruption that grip the country and his death shows how dangerous it is to be an impartial Journalist in Sri Lanka.

His final blog post is both a balanced piece that is both inspiring and damning, but should act as a stark warning of the lengths that governments are prepared to go to in their own personal 'War on Terrorism'. Like the terrible acts in Gaza, both the Tamil Tigers and Sri Lankan government have committed terrible atrocities in the name of freedom. In his post, Lasantha Wickramatunga, denounces the President Rajapaksa (formerly his friend of 25 years) and reveals in no uncertain terms that the Singhalese government is sanctioning violence against peaceful opposition to the Government.

The BBC writes up this incident and the current situation in Sri Lanka better than i can, but what I wanted to highlight is the insight it sheds into the higher echelons and machinations of a Government at war. We take press freedom for granted in the west, but it's times like this that act as a chilling reminder of what opportunities blogging affords some people and the risks they take to get their message out there. Given we have just seen President Bush leave office, are watching an escalating war in Gaza, and news that the UK government want to outsource snooping of digital media i hope the highlighted passages provide food for thought on the kind of personalities required to maintain vigilance in this era of ubiquitous communication.

Extracts:

On political cover-ups
"In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it."

On presidency
" You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father...

...Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you.... Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish."


On freedom of speech
"People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. "

""

Monday, September 15, 2008


The Widget Returns



Widgets & SEO: Fragmentation, transformation, distribution



"He's the hero that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now…and so we'll hunt him…because he can take it…because he's not our hero… he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector… a Dark Knight."

The world of SEO is getting hairier & scarier. 10 years old, Google has appointed themselves judge & jury of ethical link building practices, causing 'Black hats' to set traps for their competitors whilst 'White hats' fight back via witch-hunt & committee. Everyone is watching each other watching each other. RSS feeds Splogs. Comment /is/ spam. Facebook in fighting. Social networks scam. Digg is a hole. Twitter tweets for crummy links.

Is there anyone, anything, we can turn to?

This session on SEO & Widgets will cover alliance building and standing up for yourself in an hostile economy.

I'm speakign at WidgetWebExpo next month on SEO & Widgets. Be There or Be Square.