Archive for the 'Weblogs' Category

Tuckin’ in at Tayyabs

After inviting Chris and Niamh to sample some legendary Italian (dis)organisation and (un)hospitality followed by death by Powerpoint in Italian (and the odd dribble of olive oil); they very kindly invited me to a foodie chin-wag and nosh at Tayyabs.

The great and the good of food blogging London was there, spread over two tables like a wordy marinade and included hollowlegs, cooking the books, worldfoodieguide (bigger list here) They’d all BYO’d, except for me, who snaffled three bottles of Peroni from the Good Samaritan pub. Josh from Cooking the Book had brought a rose ‘that Waitrose recommends for a medium spiced curry’.

What followed was the classic Indian restaurant who-ordered–what-try-a-bit-of-this-ooh-that’s-nice banter, with the telling of tales and the odd rant (from me). The other diners looked on in bafflement as we all got up to photograph the special leg of lamb the chef had made us. Thus ensuring that the locomotory limb of said ovine had its 15 minutes of posthumous fame.

Then it was back to the pub, where schemes where hatched, but more on that later. Photos on Flickr.

The work / blog balance

Workign stuff out...

Nice Pen. The Pig’s Lipstick and Faces in Places work stuff out

OK slightly weird one this… I’ve just checked all my fellow ‘Channel 4 employees who blog’ websites, and none of them have yet written about the session we had this morning about how channel 4 staff handle their blogs. Maybe I’ve too much free time tonight?

Anyway, first a bit of history. Channel 4 has come a little late to the staff-who-blog policy thing. When I was at the BBC two years ago Nick Reynolds ran, in my estimation, a perfect example of how to come up with a staff blogging policy. He started a wiki, threw up some thoughts with a nod to HR and stuff, and asked us, the bloggers, to edit and tweak the guidelines. After a short debate consensus was reached and the whole lot put on a public facing page for the world to see. Nick was it that easy?

So this morning I attended a session about staff blogging for channel 4. There was a previous session which addressed the idea of an official channel 4 blogger attended by Press and Publicity, Marketing, Legal and Compliance and other interested parties. Of Channel 4’s traditional approach to media communications I will say this, and it’s an observation not a critism. Our set up, our DNA, is programmed to deal with the likes of the Liverpool Echo, not Cory Doctrow. There was talk about the channel 4 ‘line’, but the day a company of 900+ souls speak as one voice on a subject is the day we become bees. If my time at channel 4 has taught me anything, it’s that the staff actually care and have a huge range of opinions on our output, it’s just that in the past you had to go to the Barley Mow or the Greencoat Boy to (over)hear those views and that those views were drowned out by ‘the line’. This isn’t the case anymore and there are parts of the organisation that have no frame of reference for this; It could be described as the introduction of rats to a previously perfectly balanced eco-system of flightless tropical birds. Just how does the channel respond to people who blog about our content, and staff who blog about… well as it turns out, all sorts of things.

Some topics that came up from the session, and maybe my fellow workers can fill in the blanks.

Public vs Anonymity: anonymous blogging is ok, it’s often how many of us start. But hiding behind anonymity for the sake of being controversial is not very good. Many of us, myself included, hid behind a nickname or moniker. Which makes us all sound like American truckers “Cowbite this is eyedropper you got your ears on good buddy 10-4?” Let’s face it, we’re not whistleblowers, using annonymity just to be bitchy is.. well it’s a faux pas.

Say it loud: I think there’s loads of brilliant people at channel 4, with knowledge and skills and tips and experience. Everyone should feel they can talk about what they do, not matter what their dept or job title.

Staff safety: Channel 4 has a duty of care to its employees. Jon Gisby talked in he opening gambit that the ‘do right by the company and the company will do right by you’ culture is a good thing. Some of our staff are at the front line of user interaction or work in some very sensitive or controversial areas. They must be careful how they conduct themselves in the digital world because of the implications.

Other things: Channel 4, indeed broadcasting itself, has gone through a crisis in the past year. Our users – not viewers – are having the debate on our output and services. To remain silent is dumb, literally. We should engage with the debate, not in an attempt to win over anybody or fight fires, but to put our point across. People might not agree with what we say, but at least we’ve said it.

Here are some of the points we came up with.

  • Rule 1. Help us write the other rules.
  • It’s the internet, try not to make a tit of yourself.
  • Don’t smoke cigs in your school uniform.
  • Don’t ask managers, ask peers.

It was a really enjoyable session.

D-Construct 2007

D-Construct 2007

Friday saw me hop down to Brighton for the D-Construct User Expeience conference. The day got off to a bad start when I didn’t get my morning coffee until 10am. Then it got worst… Jared Spool was the first speaker. On he comes… loud… talking about MP3 players. He then goes on for 20 mins about the iPod. . . about how easy it is to use, about what a great experience it is. I look around at all the attendee’s and over 80% are typing what he’s saying on Apple Macs. Listening to him go through the numbers of how many iPods have been sold since 2001 is possible the dullest thing I think I’ve ever seen at a conference ever.

He then goes on to talk about Netflix vs Blockbusters DVD postal rental service. fails to mention or any UK version. He says two things towards the end that I bother to write down. 1. ‘You’ve got to know what you’re doing’ and 2. ‘Don’t underestimate the cultural differences’. I think he failed on both those points. After eating into the first coffee break time with a stupid magic trick I meet some of the other delegates outside for a quick chat. A girl from is equally livid. ‘that’ she says ‘was Conference spam’. I’m incline to agree. I’d never been to a Mac Keynote… until today, I’ve never wanted to heckle and a geek conference, until today. I meet Matt Jones who’s a little nicer, he says ‘that’s the presentation he gives to CEO of large multi-nationals’. Personally I think he’s totally mis-judged the audience.

Up next, is Peter Merholz who starts brightly looking at the early history of Kodak (which I knew all ready) but then throws up a slide about products being ‘cool’ and my blood chills. And sure enough he’s off talking about the iPod. He then talks about Tivo, another product/service which we’re all familiar with and yet isn’t available in the UK. My brain switches off till lunch.

Leisa Reichelt takes the stage and talks about hwo to organise projects, it’s all the standard things ‘small groups’, ‘quick iterations’ ‘washing machines are good’, etc. Only as well all know projects just don’t happen like that, do they BBC iPlayer folks? Anyway, I quick like her hand-drawn post-it note slides.

A swift pint and a sandwich at the Pub next door and I’m expecting much better stuff from the afternoon. Up comes Cameron Moll, interaction design from the LDS Church (Mormon) in Salt Lake City – where’s this going I wonder? Alas he also mentions the iPod, but at least finds time to look at a Dyson advert as another example of ‘good design’.

It’s not until after 3pm that anyone British takes the stage. George and Denise do a nice relaxed sofa chat about the early histories of B3ta and Flickr. Denise has a nice phrase of turn ‘we did what’s now called viral marketing but back then was just called fucking about’. Neither of them mention the iPod.

Quick break and I’m expecting great things from ex-beebers Matt Webb, up next, and Tom Coats. Matt runs through the A-Z of the experience stack, though I’ve seen his ‘ windows 3.1 buttons / antelope’s belly’ story back in 2005 when I was at the BBC. But he’s delivering good ideas statements and observations in quick and relevant matter.

Tom Coats takes the stage, and declares his talk to be 100% iPod free, and is his usual animated self, his main thesis is ‘you’re product is not your website. It’s everywhere it touches the network’. Which is true.

Then it’s to pub, where I’m in the food queue next to one of the organisers who asks me what I thought of it.

Far too much focus on the iPod as the only example of good design which is too lazy, there’s like a billion others, the wheel, the brick, the bic biro, and I say this as a ipod and MBP user. Difference in style: the American’s gave us preeesentations the Brits either chatted or gave us a lecture. By that I mean that I found the American’s to slow and lacking substance, that room was full of the UK’s Alpha geeks, folks who can absorb information at quite a high bit rate. I wanted zipped-up concentrated information I’ll still be thinking about days later, that’s what conferences are, some of the speakers were operating on 56k. Mid way through Jared’s talk I wanted to shout out ‘please tell me something I don’t know!’. And it’s not like I’m a tech conference whore too, I don’t eTech or Future of Web App’s, I maybe take in a couple a year.

Finally he asked me if ‘had I paid for it myself (£100) would I be disappointed?’ And I’m afraid I answered ‘yes, slightly’. Still, rather that just moan about it on here, I said I’d be delighted to feed into next years conference. We shall see.

Note: I rather liked Brighton, 50 mins to Victoria… living by the sea. tempting.

The (dis)functional BBC Media Family

So last night I started thinking about the ongoing relationship between digital media, TV and Radio, and the image that came to mind was something like this.


Actually if I were to shoot it, gobby emo teenager Future Media would furiously be trying to swipe/hug/climb on overweight balding TV but being held at arms length by TVs bigger arm. TV would be looking at itself in a hand mirror held in its other hand. Radio would be sat down on a comfy chair looking perhaps austere but actually would be a bit of a maverick, in a Paul Newman/David Bowie kind of a way. He would also be slyly helping Future Media out or nicking something from TV. Sure they’d be bickering a bit, but in the end they all love each other – like any family. Any of my Beeb colleagues dis/agree with this?

Where’s all this leading then? Well it part of a bigger question on how projects get made these days, not just in the BBC, but other media organizations. The BBC has a dream of 360º commissioning, finally realizing you can’t simple bolt on the ‘new media’ bits to an idea, and any connectivity and interactivity has to be in from the start. And it’s exactly that point that Mark addressed yesterday.

“Everybody shut the fuck up!” – Ridley Scott on the set of Bladerunner

Trouble is people from a traditional visual media background tend work in a top down way. They offer ‘their vision’ to the commissioner, client or studio. This is how filmmakers and photographers have worked since the medium of ‘film’ began. One of the main reason they can do this is because most directors and producers are skilled in the language of the people under them. They have an understanding of editing, lighting, and composition. They may refer to a Director of Photography for advice, but on the whole they understand the processes and procedures involved and so came make valid authoritative judgments. Very few of them have any internet experience.

New media projects in my experience seem to be more collaborative. They have to be, because of the vast difference in technical, editorial or design skills. The project director/owner probably won’t have the same level of understanding about AJAX or mySQL or typography or colour theory and so they have to rely much more on the judgment of others.

Now there’s good and bad points about both ways of working, If things go well or bad, there’s one point of praise for the ‘vision’ method. Where as praise and blame can be shared out and pasted around in the group way of working. Also New Media’s much much smaller than say Hollywood or even the likes of mainstream TV, so there’s far less cash, coke and ego flying about for a start.

Another sin leveled at those who commission or those who green light a project is what I’m calling ‘iglooitis’. This is where the meme du jour – in this example, igloos – are must haves for anything approved by that person’s department. At that time they’re seen as key to the goals/milestones/roadmaps/ of ‘the business’. Any would be pitcher then goes away and shoe horns some badly thought out last minute ‘igloo’ concept into there pitch only to go back a month or so later to hear “You know all I see these days are ‘igloos’..I want something fresh!” This has happened to people I know, it happens a lot in areas like comedy.

True 360º will include every output device the BBC can bring to bare, going in size from 10 ft public screens, 42” HD TVs, 21” monitors, 5” PDAs, and 1” mobiles. The content will empower users and allowing anyone and everyone to join in and enjoy the experience. And the technology will just melt discreetly into the background like a Relate councilor watching the BBC and our audiences hug each other like we’ve never done before. If we don’t get this right, it’s a bitter custody battle, divorce and years in therapy.

A blog from Lebanon

Link: the human province.

A friend of a friend of a friend who’s stuck in Lebanon. It doesn’t look good. The US Embassy seem to be making a real mess of things according to him, including making Evacuee’s pay to be evacuated.

backstage and homeless…

Yesterday, after a particularly difficult day at work, (I don’t want to hear the words ‘Doctor’ or ‘Who’ for a while) I did my first session of volunteering in a homeless hostel run by St Mungos, after this I went to the Backstage get together run by the blogosphere’s newest superhero, Ben Metcalfe, which Lee described as ‘speed dating for geeks’. If so, all the lookers had paired off by the time I got there.. so I ended up with the ol’ familiar face of Jem Stone.

TheSt Mungo’s hostel on Southampton Row houses clients that have had to be moved their from other shelters for a variety of reasons such as serious problems with substance abuse or inappropriate conduct. It was challenging experience, as when I first arrived one resident was being attended to by the staff and the police as she was being disruptive, but I think they managed to calm her down and get her back safely to her room.

I had a brief induction and met the other two volunteers, then went upstairs to the common room. After introducing myself to the four or so people in the room, I played a game of pool with a quiet old Irish man named John, he thrashed me 2-0, and did a bit of a fiendish jigsaw with another client… In all it was an exposure to people most of us never see, or if we do we pass it by. I’m hoping the the new year to start some photography workshops, as the centre has two digital camera’s and some old PCs. In all it made a real refreshing but challenging change from the world of internetery too… So if you’re feeling charitable readers, why not donate to St Mungo’s or give volunteering a try…

citizen journalism – the debate rages on

As you may know my thoughts on the whole Citizen Journalist debate were recently published in the BJP letters page (see below). It prompted a pompous and sarcastic response by Barry Beattie, Chairman, Freelance Division, Chartered Institute of Journalists.

He begins by quoting my comments, then goes on
One almost hears the combined shrieks of amazement from [his] executives [at] White City HQ (or is it Haight Ashbury these days?) at anyone who actually has the temerity to expect payment for material used.

(Haight Ashbury – ho ho ho!) He continues… The BBC’s latest website ‘scam’ is to try to get amateurs to send in their mobile phone pictures of the Notting Hill Carnival! Nevertheless, in the atmosphere of the BBC’s new age of enlightenment, I’m thinking of applying for the position of ‘Citizen Online picture editor. Of course in the sprit of ‘sharing experiences’ I would not wish to be paid for my efforts, and I’m sure Mr Webb would gracefully step aside confident in the knowledge that the BBC is a ‘porous institution’ and would soon find him something else to do. He then describes some recent case where two girls took phone pictures in court and were found in contempt, before rounding off with a final dig at me…

Oooh, hangbags at dawn! Well, here’s what I’m planning to do… in the sprit of openness and transparency, I’m going to contact Barry today and see if he’s up for meeting me for a drink and discuss the subject further in a calm professional manner… Stay tuned to find out what happens.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
April 2020