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Archive for December, 2010

Norman Mailer told me to stop being a fucking pussy.

I went to see him speak at the book festival and asked him a question at the end.

What did he most regret doing, what did he most regret not doing, and which was the bigger regret of the two?

I figured that if learning from somebody else’s mistakes is a rare skill, then the opportunity to learn from the regrets of someone with as many extreme life experiences as him would be doubly valuable.

He agreed to answer candidly but only if I shared my biggest regret with the audience first.

So I recounted a story from when I was 18 that, 26 years later, still lands a punch to the solar plexus of my shame, leaving me emotionally winded.

In return he surprised everyone by saying that he would give his answer to me privately over a bottle of whisky after the lecture.

Then it all gets a bit hazy. I have no recollection of his regrets (fuck!) but at some point in the proceedings before we rolled, steaming and stinking, into Centotre the following morning he definitely told me to stop being a fucking pussy.

The last thing I remember is Tim Read intervening to stop us being thrown out. Fortunately he recognised who I was with and pointed out the social media and associated SEO benefits of having one of the 20th century’s greatest authors on the premises.

Ripple dissolve…

What the hell does this dream mean?

More generally what the hell does it mean when you can remember a dream in such vivid detail?

Here’s how I think my bitter and twisted subconscious put the pieces together behind my eyelids.

1) I have been a fucking pussy over the last few days. Way too prone to stifling end of year introspection, with over a week still to go until Hogmanay.

2) I recently read this blog post – Stop Being A Fucking Pussy. The In Over Your Head blog is my most recent RSS subscription. Thanks to Rach for pointing me in it’s direction. You should check it out.

3) I gave a book to someone I care about. We had a brief chat about favourite books and Norman Mailer’s The Naked And The Dead would be somewhere in my top ten. Although the book I actually gave was this one.

4) A client sent me a link to an idea that was very similar to one that we’d discussed earlier this year. Someone else had executed it. We hadn’t. The client described it as an “ah well” moment. I replied that 2011 should be about avoiding “ah well” at all costs. Regret avoidance has been on my mind.

5) Where else but Centotre would you go after an all night whisky drinking binge?

6) I have no fucking idea why my brain flicked through its mental Rolodex of EdCM regulars and decided that it should be Tim that stepped in to help us.

What (the fuck) else could this dream mean?

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Unless stories of its demise are greatly exaggerated, the social bookmarking service Delicious is not long for this world.

This is really sad news.

It’s also a wake-up call.

It’s sad because Delicious is one of my favourite web applications. A searchable database of my favourite links, tagged by me in ways that make them much easier to find via the My Delicious button on my browser toolbar than if I had to find them from scratch on Google.

And Delicious is inherently social. Other people can search and access my links, and I can search and access theirs. Although, to be honest, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the social side of Delicious.

The fact that all my favourite links are in one place, the fact that I can access them from any internet connected device (particularly useful in client offices), and the fact that Delicious is fully integrated into my iPhone are more than enough reasons to place it in my top 5 most useful list.

The remote access thing has been particularly useful. On occasion I’ve used Delicious as an interesting alternative to Powerpoint. You decide on a bunch of links that you want to use to tell a particular story, or to make a particular point, and then give each link a unique tag relating to that presentation. Then it’s easy to call these edited links up on your own machine or your client’s and work through them. This approach has the added advantage of allowing you to be more flexible with the order of presentation than you can ever be with Powerpoint. And you can send a Delicious link to the same, uniquely tagged content so that the client can refer to it again at their leisure after the meeting.

But it looks like Yahoo is pulling the plug, or “sunsetting”, the Delicious service because it’s losing money.

And that’s a wake up call.

Like many people, I’ve come to rely on third party services and platforms such as Delicious, Evernote, flickr, Twitter et al. And this move by Yahoo shows just how fragile and non-permanent these platforms can be.

I read this post by Adam Singer on The Future Buzz with some interest when it was posted earlier this month. In the light of this Delicious news from Yahoo it seems particularly prescient.

He argues that brands should focus their social efforts on encouraging people to, and rewarding people for, opting in at source (email, RSS) to an ongoing relationship. This is safer (see above), more robust, and affords more reliable and more complete access to a warm audience than any realtime social network. The opt-in-at-source approach involves more work than placing all of your attention on Facebook and Twitter. But in the light of the turn of events with Delicious it makes even more sense.

As for Yahoo, this hasn’t been a PR disaster on the scale of, say, Nestle. But I’d imagine (actually I know) that a lot of well connected, constructively opinionated, and prone-to-writing-and-sharing people are heavy users of Delicious. And the shit is already beginning to stick…

The latest news suggests that, rather than shutting Delicious down, Yahoo is looking to sell it. Well I don’t know how much revenue it would take to make Delicious a going commercial concern but I would have definitely paid at least $20/year for the security of my account and the same level of functionality that I currently enjoy. And maybe some cleverer people than me could think up some relevant premium account upgrade features that would further increase its earning potential. Good luck to them (Delicious).

Maybe someone with more reach and influence than I could crowdsource enough grass-roots interest and support to take Delicious off Yahoo’s hands and into public ownership. It’s the sort of service that would warrant the internet equivalent of nationalisation (internationalisation?). In fact I’ve just submitted this idea as a serious suggestion to Bud Caddell via his Bucket Brigade project. We’ll see…

In the meantime I was about to start looking for a suitable Delicious alternative when Phil Dearson saved me the hassle. Phil has had his finger on the digital pulse for so long that it must be going numb by now. And, as usual, he was one step ahead in checking out new technology and applications. In this case he was checking out trunk.ly.

At first glance Trunkly appears to do everything that Delicious does, and a little bit more. I say “appears to” because it’s early days and I’m hedging my bets in terms of an all-out product review. (Hence the “I think” in the title of this post.)

The “little bit more” isn’t actually that little on reflection. Once you’ve connected your Twitter and Facebook accounts to your Trunkly profile the service will automatically save any links that you share. That is a cool feature.

And, very much like the WeTransfer service that I wrote about recently, the guys at Trunkly clearly know their UX onions. Signing up is a slick, reassuring and low friction process. And they’re clearly aware of the opportunity arising from the uncertainty surrounding Delicious right now. They have made it very easy to import links from Delicious. And they’ve made it easy to run your Trunkly account in parallel with Delicious. Once connected Trunkly will automatically update itself by synching with your Delicious account on a regular basis. Another cool feature.

Every now and again, whether it’s when your home (or office) broadband crashes, or whether it’s when a service that you’ve come to rely upon is taken away from you, you realise that this whole web and digital thing is hanging by various technological and commercial threads. There are lots of circumstances out there that are completely beyond your control.

Fortunately there tend to be clever, motivated people like the guys behind trunk.ly who are ready to tie the loose ends of those threads together and create something new, exciting and hopefully better.

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I’ve had cause to send several large, camel-sized files recently to clients whose firewalls act like the eye of a needle.

The alternative options in these circumstances include Basecamp (for clients with whom we have Basecamp communications already set up) or third party services such as YouSendIt. These work just fine. I’d even have gone as far as to say that they were good solutions.

Until I looked at WeTransfer that is.

WeTransfer is cool, slick, user-friendly and free.

No sign-up required.

It’s an elegant, borderline minimalist, point and shoot, zero friction web app for file transfers up to 2GB.

And it gets cooler and cooler the closer you look.

What appear at first glance to be a series of understated and arty wallpaper backgrounds are actually ads. But not what you or I would recognise as online display advertising.

The ads are more like sponsored art. No copy and a discreet tab at the bottom of the screen that serves the dual purpose of “branding” and a link through to the sponsor’s site.

This is advertising as busking. Buskers share some art in return for loose change. These ads share art in return for clicks.

And it’s clever.

It feels less obtrusive than conventional display advertising.

But the minimalist design of the site means that you find yourself filtering the sponsor tab in, rather than filtering it out.

And, on their information site, WeTransfer claim that “advertisers” have enjoyed click-through rates of up to 5% and site traffic increases of up to 600%.

In fact, and maybe this is just me, I think the presence of this kind of advertising is actually reassuring. When a service is so easy to use, doesn’t ask you to sign up, and is free, you wonder what the catch is. And the realisation that it’s all made possible by advertising takes that suspicion away.

It turns out though that there’s more to the WeTransfer business model than a clever approach to advertising.

They also sell bespoke, branded, advertising-free channels (including your own branded subdomain) for $120/annum.

And there is a white label option for companies that can make it work at $2,500/month.

Like Hipstamatic, here is an app that is not only very good at what it does, but which also appears to have its commercial ducks in a row.

It also has its social and word of mouth ducks in row. The service is active on Twitter, and has a very healthy community on Facebook, where there are active conversations and competitions plus some interesting content like an application that gives live streaming data from the WeTransfer servers about the file types that are being transferred.

So just as the November winner of Neil Perkin’s Post of the Month competition is a post about execution being more important about ideas, here is a classic example. WeTransfer is the same basic idea as YouSendIt but its execution is far superior in my humble opinion.

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For proud read lazy when it comes to sponsorship.

As in “proud sponsors of”.

You can tell they’re lazy.

It takes no effort to describe your relationship with a sponsored entity as “proud sponsors of”.

And if you put no effort into describing your relationship it’s a safe bet that you put no effort into working the relationship. And certainly no effort into the entity itself.

Proud sponsors pay as little money as possible to get as much profile as possible with as little effort as possible.

They want to bask in the reflected glow of somebody else’s idea.

If a sponsor wants something to be proud of, they should create that something, or co-create it, or make something happen that otherwise wouldn’t.

A short, ranty post prompted by recent encounters with proud sponsors.

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