Monthly Archives: July 2009

Eight things wrong with the internet

Digital Britain was all a bit strange to me. It had very clear, positive aims but to me it
missed a lot of the bigger problems the internet is facing, instead focussing
on issues that people shout about the most rather than demonstrating a genuine
understanding. The problem with this is that it missed core issues that will
affect the long-term use of the internet.

Over the weekend I began jotting down a list of my biggest
gripes with the internet that I believe seriously need addressing. Digital Britain, understandably,
couldn’t and wouldn’t be the relevant route for addressing all of these issues,
but there are some it should have addressed. Hopefully the Government will look
into these in the future. One step at a time and all that…

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Editor’s blog: It’s no time for a lynch mob

There are few friends to be won these days by defending bankers. Or banksters, as some are now calling the Masters of the Universe from Canary Wharf to Wall Street. I’m as furious about their behaviour (and envious of their wedge) as you are. There seems little doubt that they hold the prime responsibility for the global economic mess we’re all wading through at the moment. Revolutionary fervour is in the air as Goldmans eat their cake and the rest of us struggle to find a mouldy crust in their refuse bin. Even Mammon’s mouthpiece, the Wall Street Journal, expressed some moral concern about the Goldman Sachs profits this week.

But, while there may be a few worthy suggestions within the Walker Review on policing bankers published yesterday, one has to question the value of turning the sans-culottes on the boys in the bespoke suits and marching them off to Madame Guillotine by parading (and then snipping-off) their bonuses.

The FT leader on the subject today is entitled ‘Perils of populism on bankers’ pay’ and the pointy-heads from the Pink ‘Un do indeed have a point. Walker’s proposal that the details of top bankers’ salaries and bonuses should be made public is wrong-headed. It’s pure, cynical Brownism: a kind of naming and shaming favoured by the spit-flecked, rabble-rousing News of the World when trying to enact ‘Sarah’s Law’ and provide its readers with the names and addresses of paedophiles so the righteous can pop round and put the nonce’s windows out.

If a non-publicly owned bank is making pots of money by virtue of its slickness in the casino of modern-day finance, and if it’s doing so by legitimate means and then paying its taxes, what right have the rest of us to demand to know how much it is paying its below board-level staff?

Doubters will say: ‘Yes but when they get it wrong and screw up they come to the taxpayer to bail them out. So we need to know’. But can you really tell if a bank is in peril by the size of bonuses paid to its staff? You certainly couldn’t deduce that Goldman Sachs was about to go bust because it paid a couple of million in bonus this week to some testosterone-dripping wild animal on its trading floor. Quite the reverse. I’d be more worried about the dupes who bought/sold from the Goldman guy – the one who wasn’t the smartest guy in the room. It’s simply perverse to suggest that because an organisation is paying out big bucks it’s about to go tits-up. It’s all much more complex than that. Anyway, I’m not convinced that Walker thinks remuneration lies at the heart of the problem. It just plays well to the gallery.

Everyone has nodded that Walker’s recommendations about beefing up the role and training of non-execs on bank is terribly sage. They can’t have known what was going on, and even if they did they were lily-livered. This is now an age-old chestnut. But as Robert Peston has pointed out, the non-execs at RBS were hardly a bunch of kids in shorts with the milk wet on their cheeks. The RBS line-up of non-execs, Pesto writes: ‘included three former bankers, an erstwhile treasury official whose responsibilities included financial regulation, the one time boss of an insurance giant, and the titular head of Goldman Sachs in Europe. At the time, these were not individuals who would have been described as either ignorant of finance, shrinking violets or nincompoops. Some have alleged that the non-executives were terrified of the steely chief executive of the time, Sir Fred Goodwin. This, I have to say, is less than compelling. I know some of these non-execs. And I can tell you that they are materially tougher and less pliable than old boots.’

Of course something has to be done – not just to placate public opinion but to make sure the whole finance edifice doesn’t come crashing down again any time soon – but I’m just not sure Walker knows what. Neither do I really. But I’d be very careful about slaying the now-reviled golden goose.

So to end, a couple of questions. What exactly do we want banks to do? Is it really in anyone’s interest that banks do badly by making small profits? Especially those institutions in which we the tax-payers have such huge stakes? Do we want our economy to be less reliant on and dominated by the financial services industry? And if so, what alternatives are currently being proposed for Uk plc? Making cars? Wind farm accessories? The next Google?

We need to be careful what we wish for. One almost certain result of any draconian legislation that arises from Walker will be that banking’s London-based high fliers will simply think enough is enough and decamp to New York, Frankfurt or Shanghai. They’ll be making the decision and leaving the rest of us to get on with it and cope alone with our medicocre prospects.

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No one should be bamboozled by death of Teletext

Teletext

Shock news yesterday that the plug will be pulled on the mighty Teletex service at the end of year.

Who would have thought having a news service broadcast in the shape of a screen full of text, the occasional block graphic and even different coloured fonts would ever look tired?

And this is a service in which consumers are in control. Simply type in the page number you wish to look at, wait a couple of minutes for the numbers to come around again, and er voila – the next page of text. Incredible.

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Who pays the piper?

“Compensating the artist is crucial,” said Spotify’s Jon Mitchell at last night’s Chinwag event which sought to answer the question of who would foot the bill for music in a digital world. “You’re not going to get massive new acts for nothing”, continued the sales director of the world’s favourite music streaming service.

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TV or not TV, is that the question?

Tess Alps of Thinkbox recently wrote a great post about TV’s move to online delivery, explaining why it’s not TV versus online because actually, broadcaster content is all the same. This is exactly the kind of message we’ve been sending out and one that it does well to remember. Particularly when measuring your online video campaigns, but I won’t get started on clickthrough versus brand metrics for video ads online here.

It did raise one question for me, admittedly not the biggest issue in the world, but what exactly should we be calling video content delivered via the internet? At the IAB we’re open to suggestions. TV is a familiar name, but a massive proportion of video clips viewed online don’t even originate from “TV”. Our Video Council, to date, opted to go with the digital industry’s naming of on-demand video clips, programmes and adverts. Or just ‘video’ for short. But is this causing a language barrier for traditional TV marketers in making the transition to online?

Why video

To explain why the term ‘video’ makes sense to me, I’ll use a few personal examples. In my house, I have a Mac Mini hooked up to the TV so I can watch the likes of iPlayer and YouTube on the TV already. And that’s the terminology I use, “let’s watch it on YouTube”, “it’s still on iPlayer”, “it’s on 4oD” etc. I don’t say “Let’s watch TV”. However, I’m fully aware that this is just my use of terminology and far from representative of the entire nation.

A few other random thoughts that whirred through my head about terminology:

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Editor’s blog: Goldman Sachs and moral revulsion

Say what you like about Goldman Sachs but it has an appalling sense of timing. Yesterday the bank announced a record pay-out for its staff, after setting aside $11.4bn in compensation for the first six months of the year. Today we hear that UK unemployment has risen to 2.38 million, a rise of 281,000. That’s two hundred and eighty one thousand more packets of human misery for those individuals and their families.

You don’t have to go the whole hog and denounce Goldman (as the recent famous Rolling Stone feature has done) as ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’ to feel somewhat queasy about this.

It’s no longer just the Polly Toynbees of this world who are getting seriously steamed up about such amazing profits during the worst banking crisis since the 1930s. Have we all been conned? Made to look like fools? Over in the States, politicians are livid. Jon Tester, a Democrat on the senate banking committee, has yelled: ‘They can’t continue along these lines or there will be outrage’. Even Lex in the FT speculates that ‘the government could yet opt to cut this sucker down to size. Calamari anyone?’

But what exactly does Tester want Goldman to do? Be worse at their jobs and screw it up like Lehman Brothers did? Hand over a majority of its profits to those who have come unstuck with their sub-prime mortgages? Those who work there do it because they are in love with money, and the rest of us hope for a little ‘trickle-down’. Goldman’s corporate tax-rate is apparently set at about 31%, compared to last year’s single digits – and its employees should be handing over income taxes of some $4bn should their first-half accruals turn into hard cash.

Alistair Darling can keep repeating until he’s blue in the face that very high City bonuses helped bankers to make reckless decisions that led to the credit crisis. But there’s no evidence in these Goldman results that they’ve been making any reckless decisions lately. Quite the reverse. They appear to understand risk better than their competitors, and so make better decisions. They seem to know where the money artery is, and are past masters at sucking as much cash as they can out of governments and companies now desperate to get bond issues away to raise badly-needed finance.

But this still leaves a moral revulsion that goes way beyond envy. The problem that Goldman has is that its sense of reality bears little resemblance to that of the rest of us in the real world. That’s partly because they are very publicity-shy and hate being in the spotlight. What they do is arcane and complex. If it were open and simple, we’d all be joining in. They just want to be left alone to make their vast piles of cash in peace, try to find some time to spend it and then worry later about squeezing through that needle-eye when they get carried out of the office, having suffered a stroke in front of the Bloomberg terminal.

I’m glad I’m not their PR man, which much be the most thankless (if hugely well-rewarded) of tasks. They badly need to get their head above the parapet and explain exactly why their alchemy is good for all of us. Even if, in their vampire squid’s heart of hearts, they actually believe what they do is really just good for them.

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Reading Fiction is a waste of time

By that I just don’t get any sort of pleasure reading fiction. For me escapism, characterisation, story telling and suspense (the page turner) are delivered in spades through film. Before you say it, I also have a pathological hate for people who trot out the “well the film wasn’t as good as the book” phrase which is such a shite argument and certainly doesn’t make you appear any better or more informed than the person who has seen the film. I positively marvel at telling people the film was better than the book – see Marley and Me as case study number 1.

I do, however love to read, but non-fiction only (Harry Potter is real btw) and I’m even drawn to factually based books delivered using a light fictional tone – Giles Milton being the god in this department. So I’m with Rory Sutherland 100% who vocally encourages us to read more which is ostensibly a long winded intro to the fact that I’m reading Sway – The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour by Ori and Rom Brafman.

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The Interview Dilemma

Blokes are simple creatures. Most of us naturally want to be helpful if we can. Other blokes usually ask us a question because they want an answer.

If someone asks us how to fix a carburator, or a leaking tap, we’ll try to give useful information. But useful information isn’t always what’s wanted.

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You’re revolting and it’s getting ugly for 118 800.

It seems like we’re all revolting and complaining on the web these days – from musicians making revenge song virals about broken guitars on major airlines to the latest privacy concerns over fledgling mobile phone directory 118 800. It’s a potent way to speak your mind – that’s for sure. It’s a PR nightmare too. If you come out screaming ‘boo hiss’ you’re adding fuel to the flames. It’s your customers talking and you’d better be listening! However, are all these campaigns really being instigated with the best intentions? The ones against 118 800 were founded on plenty of mischievous mistruths e.g. that every single UK mobile number is in the directory and that our kids are going to get direct cold calls night and day. Isn’t there a little bit of new found revelry in the power of the little man? After all those years being at the whim of the big brands we’re sparking revolutions here, there and everywhere.

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Scoring a birdie with Twitter

I’m fully aware that not everyone is into golf. But bear with me, this piece is actually about Twitter, and shows how the micro-blogging site can be used to transform even the most boring of brands into something interesting.

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