Here, there and everywhere: rant

I’ve just read a story on the BBC concerning Nokia and a London-based tech startup called Lowdownapp, over the right to the word ‘here’. It’s a great example of people using words in a cavalier manner.

In summary, Lowdownapp have a check-in app that makes it “quick and easy to inform people you’ve arrived at your planned destination” according to a write-up they got in TechCrunch. You do it by hitting the HERE button, seemingly.

Ok, cool. Whatever. I’m not a fan of checking-in via apps; if I want people to know I’ve arrived I’ll probably just tell them using my voice, or maybe by waving at them. I know … old skool.

hereOne-time behemoth of the mobile phone world, Nokia object to this use of the word ‘here’ because it has a division that does something map-related which also uses the word ‘here’.

Nokia is apparently threatening Lowdowndirtydogs over the use of the word here because it, Nokia I mean, has ‘invested’ $12 million promoting the Here brand. The piece on the BBC doesn’t say how effective that $12 million investment has been. But I doubt it had garnered coverage quite like that they’ve achieved as a result of this little spat.

The BBC quotes David Senior from Lowdownapp complaining about Nokia being a massive bully: “As a small start-up trying to deliver value to users we don’t think a multi-billion dollar company will be affected by this. Life is hard enough without Goliaths squashing Davids – maybe they should focus on creating a better mapping service than Google or Apple than squishing a minuscule business.”

I find this a little disingenuous, I’m afraid; I’m just not convinced by Mr Senior’s remarks that big-assed companies like Nokia shouldn’t be worried about agile, disruptive, single-feature app startups. Of course they should be concerned.

Tech startups are frequently described as disruptive, a word I have a bit of a semantic problem with. But that’s another story. The incumbent players in any market have been warned repeatedly over the last 5+ years that, unless they watch out, some upstart startup will come along and disrupt all over them from a great height.

Have Nokia over-reacted? Yes, of course. And Mr Senior’s advice that they develop better mapping services rather than throwing their weight around is good advice, too.

But big business shouldn’t be concerned about the threat posed by startups..? Give me a break.

 

 

 

A photo for August 2014

This cross stands on a hillside in rural France. I walked past it late one evening in August 2013. I couldn’t make out, or understand, enough of the text to be able to learn who it was put there for, or by. But its presence there, quite literally in the middle of French nowhere, was touching. Whoever put it there was driven to do something in lasting memory of someone important to them. French roadside cross

A photo for July 2014

I was a boy, my bedroom faced west. I loved watching the sun set. The backdrop wasn’t the prettiest, gasometers, tower blocks, and the like.

I take a lot of sunset photos. I’d never really wondered (until now) if that was some sort of throwback to a childhood fascination. But it has to be reasonable to assume that a great many of us, even if we are unaware or in denial, are stuck in patterns of behaviour that became established when we were young.

Sunset, 15 July 2013
Sunset, 15 July 2013

A photo for June 2014

I know, I know … this is a terrible shot. But that’s not important. I took this from the balcony of The Brook, a live music venue in Southampton, last June. I’d managed to score two tickets to see Johnny Marr and his band at one of the two small-venue ‘warm up gigs’ they were doing before they embarked on the festival circuit.

I took my eldest son with me. It was his first ever gig. Johnny Marr has been a hero and an inspiration to me since 1983, so seeing him live was a really big deal. Taking my eldest son with me made it even more special.

At the gig, someone I’d never met before recognised me from Twitter and came up to say hello. The day after, this photo got Retweeted by Johnny’s drummer Jack Mitchell. It was a great night and produced some excellent memories.

Johnny Marr 6 June 2013

Why and how I’m raising money for the Brain Tumour Charity and how you can help

In May 2013, a good friend of mine – Matt Morton – lost his fight with cancer. He was just 43, and even though he had been diagnosed with a brain tumour for a couple of years his death was felt very deeply by all who were close to him.

I got to know Matt through music. I was invited to join a covers band as rhythm guitarist – Matt was the lead guitarist. I hadn’t played in a band for over a decade, but was made to feel very welcome and Matt was no small part of that. He was one of the most genuine and friendly people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

I wanted to do something to mark his passing and to raise money in his name.

matt
Mat Morton

 

I ruled out things like a 10k run or a parachute jump in favour of something I felt was more fitting, more personal … a night of live music featuring some of the people that played in bands with Matt.

And so, with the help of some fantastic people (including Matt’s widow Helen, and Adam Vickers & Justin Chilvers who also played in a band with Matt) on 26 July there will be a gig night in Matt’s memory, at which three (maybe even four) musical acts will perform, and there will be raffles, auctions and bespoke plectrums you can buy.

mfest
Plectrums will be on sale

The money we raise will be split between St Barnabas House, who looked after Matt and his family so well, and the Brain Tumour Charity, who do fantastic work in this sector.

If you can get along to the 3Bs bar in central Reading on 26 July, I’d love you to join us.

But if you can’t, please consider making a donation instead – any amount large or small will be gratefully received.

Here’s the link – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/mattfest-2014-tickets-11672622127

UPDATE: we raised more than £1,600 on the night, far more than we hoped for.

A photo for May 2014

I didn’t take this photo. It was taken decades before I was born, and shows my mother as a young woman. She’s seated on the far left of the picture. I don’t know who the other women in the photo are. I’ve chosen this as my photo for May, because 3 May would have been her birthday, and is also the anniversary of her death. I wrote this piece about her a couple of years ago.

Bella & work friends: 1940s

The end of social

I dislike predictions. But I’m going to make one… there will be no more big social networks. We’ve reached, and passed, a tipping point.

Why?

Because they’re all being strangled at birth by over-eager PR and marketing people, who – for all their impressive-sounding job titles and amazeballs CVs – seem to have completely forgotten all the basics of social.

Twitter and Facebook dominate the social landscape for most of us*. Similarly, they dominate the marketing spend of those brands that advertise on social media.

There’s a clear cause-and-effect thing going on here … first came the platform, then came millions of regular users, then (and only then) came the marketing and PR people.

That’s the way it works. The logic is pretty robust and if you felt like it, you could template it and see that it applies in many other walks of life.

Something has been lost, or forgotten, though.

Because now, when a new social platform launches, before most people have even created an account or downloaded an app there’s a slew of ill-conceived blog pieces and articles from marcomms people all treading the same tired old ground … ‘what brands should do on X…’

Almost none of them say “what brands should do is back off for a while, see if this thing gathers momentum, whether or not people will naturally gravitate to it, and if so what their behaviour can tell us about how we should use this platform – if at all.”

David Meyer wrote a piece on Gigaom which hits the nail on the head as far as the recent launch of Jelly was concerned… “Goodbye for now, Jelly – it’s not you it’s the marketers.”

And he’s right!

I’ve been an active and enthusiastic user of social media since before that term became common parlance – dig around in the archives of the Scotsman and the FT and you might even find me quoted in articles as far back as 2006 on how businesses could use social media for research and recruitment.

But it pains me when I see people in my sphere of work forever caught up in the Emperor’s new clothes outlook.

It really wouldn’t kill any of you to slow down a little, ask a few questions, be intellectually curious and maybe even a little sceptical.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, if we choose to ignore the old recipe for success, which turned the likes of Facebook and Twitter into the enormous beasts they are, we’re doing ourselves and our clients a disservice and we’ll eventually be over-taken by events – or smarter thinkers.

Your clients are – or should be – paying you for your consultancy. So be a consultant. If they just wanted to spend time in the company of someone to jump up and down on the spot shrieking excitedly, they’d get a job at a soft-play centre.

 

* – Europe, North America, the Antipodes, etc… ‘the West’ as it’s sometimes called.

The Millennials are coming – who cares

Unless you’ve been studiously avoiding them, you will almost certainly have come across articles quoting HR consultants, futurologists and even PR folk, on the rise of the Millennial.

Hot on the heels of previous generations, I have read, Millennials have very different outlooks and wants when it comes to the business of work. Consequently, the received wisdom tells us, working practices are going to have to change.

Sure they are.

Just not any time soon.

If, like me, you fall into the Generation X category you may still coming to terms with the recent news that (here in the UK, at least) you might have to wait until you’re almost 70 before you receive you retire.

So, I’m left pondering the following question… if 20 year old Millennials (for whom the workplace *must* be changed or else) will still have to wait until they are in their 50s before Gen X-ers are no longer above them in the workplace hierarchy (or are at least sharing the workplace with them), who are we kidding that the world has to start beating to the Millennial drum?

This is one of those occasions when the phrase “all in it together” might actually apply truthfully.

We need to stop polarising the issues. All of them. It’s not helping anything.

What we really need, now and in the future, is a more flexible outlook to work, personal life, success, fulfillment and more besides.

Whether it’s adjusting to the (constant) influx of a younger generation of workers, making sure we retain the knowledge and skills of an ageing workforce, or doing something to genuinely address issues like gender inequality, we all need to drop the me-opia and start empathising with others in pursuit of real, lasting improvements.

See things differently
See things differently

Stoptober – just make it stop

Encouraging people to look after their health is a good thing. Eat less fat and sugar, take more exercise, don’t drink too much alcohol and don’t smoke – all good, solid advice dished out in large helpings by doctors the length and breadth of the country.

In the UK, the NHS is running a month-long ‘stop smoking’ campaign in October. It’s called Stoptober.

While making my way through the centre of Reading on Sunday 21 September, I witnessed the local launch of Stoptober.

It was dismal. And that’s the kindest word I can find for it.

The town’s two MPs were there, as were five or six journalists and photographers, and at maybe 10 organisers/helpers. At 11am there were kick-off speeches from one of the organisers and the two MPs. What else happens at 11am on Sunday in Reading? The shops open. If you want to experience the centre of one of the UK’s largest towns at its absolute quietest, get there around 11am on a Sunday. Parking’s a breeze and shopping’s an absolute joy because there’s hardly anyone there.

What’s that, there’s hardly anyone there? Yes, hardly anyone there.

Just to recap then – two MPs, a marquee, a PA system, loads of balloons, a dozen or so people handing out balloons and leaflets, all being paid for via the public purse, but hardly anyone there.

I saw (nay, I *counted*) three members of the public standing and listening to the launch of Stoptober in Reading.

Dismal.

Why on earth coincide a launch of a month-long, publicly-funded anti-smoking campaign with one of the quietest times in the shopping week?

I can only presume the answer to that is something like “because you don’t know what you’re doing.”

If that sounds harsh, it’s meant to be harsh.

Smoking and related illnesses are a blight on the UK. In addition to the misery they cause, there’s also the cost to the health service to consider. To squander the opportunity to make a big and positive launch for such a campaign, and thereby waste the money being spent on that launch, demonstrates a lack of professionalism and accountability.

After the lacklustre speeches had finished I went on my way, only to be stopped by one of the leaflet ‘n’ balloon folk. “Do you know anyone who smokes?” she asked me, almost apologetically. I just shook my head and kept walking.

Targetting is also beyond the grasp of the gang of spend thrifts who decided on this launch, it would appear.

I don’t doubt the supine local press will find positive things to say about the launch, grateful as they are for real events to cover. But they shouldn’t. They should ignore the MPs’ speeches and the colourful balloons and they question the manner in which the money was spent on this event and how its effectiveness will be measured.

You could argue, and many people do, that if people want to smoke let them smoke, plus taxes on tobacco raise huge sums of money for the government.

I might or indeed I might not agree with that viewpoint. That’s not my point here. Once the decision has been taken to embark on a publicly-funded anti-smoking campaign paid for by smokers and non-smokers alike there is a responsibility to ensure that money is spent properly.

Not wasted, which it clearly was this morning.

Stoptober
Stoptober: make it stop

 

If you want information on stopping smoking, click here for the Stoptober website.

 

Syria: many shades of black

What follows is merely one man’s opinion – mine.

I find it desperately sad that the situation in Syria has been reduced to a series polarised caricatures. Good vs bad is such an appealing way to look at the world, and consequently we are presented with Assad vs democracy as one example, and (here in the UK) military intervention vs inaction as another.

I’m opposed to military action, as things stand. I’ve heard too many arguments from Syrians calling for the west to stay out of this, and I’m not at all convinced military intervention won’t actually make things worse. Much of that is, I freely admit, based on seeing the devastation left in the wake of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve also heard just enough voices of doubt on the origins of the recent chemical attack to make me think we need to work the evidence, and the associated intelligence, far harder before committing to acts of war.

I freely acknowledge it is entirely possible that my position on not intervening militarily may change. But any attack by the West is almost guaranteed to claim the lives of yet more innocent Syrians, and risks handing the Assad regime a substantial propaganda advantage.

But choosing not to intervene militarily should not become synonymous with doing nothing at all. I fear that’s precisely the line our current government will take, though.

Instead, I would like to see the UK now at the forefront of a vigorous non-violent interventionist strategy – freezing the financial assets of Assad and his associates, applying real pressure to stem the flow of arms into Syria from neighbouring countries, doing deals to circumvent the existing circles of international influence, whatever it takes.

Having decided we aren’t sending in bullets and bombs, now is precisely the time for the UK to redouble its efforts to end the war in Syria.

It isn’t good enough to claim a diplomatic solution is unrealistic. Ultimately there will be a diplomatic solution – history teaches us that every conflict resolves itself eventually and all wars end with ceasefires, treaties and negotiations.

There will be a ceasefire. There will be a diplomatic solution. This is inevitable.

So why not, Mr Cameron, be the person who pushes the hardest to see that happen sooner rather than later, rather than someone who opted to launch cruise missiles, or do nothing?