Now posts ↓

Wednesday 30 April 2008

Google Reader clips catch up

Not on Reader

The kids are alllrreight

'Social Citizens' is a really fascinating paper from the Social Citizens project, sponsored by the Case Foundation. It's about young people (Millennials’) and how they are using online tools to connect to, initiate and run causes — the flip-side of the MSMs obsession with the negatives about the young and the Internet:
In October 2007, Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times that young people are members of Generation Q. He meant “Q” for quiet, and inactive, on the important social questions of the day. The celebrated American globalist could not have been more wrong. This generation is making noise, whether adults can hear it or not.
You may have read echoes of this attitude in the tabloids (the 'hoodie' image above features prominently in the Daily Express).

The authors are very impressed with the scale and depth of youth engagement with change using the new technology in what they report on - just think of their impact on corporate behaviour. They go so far to compare them to the 'greatest generation' who fought WW2, and I don't think that's over the top given what we face with climate change:
One example of Millennials’ online activism is Causes on Facebook. In the spring of 2007, Project Agape posted its “Causes” application on Facebook. Within six months, more than 30,000 Causes were created on the social networking site, supporting over 12,000 existing nonprofit organizations. A brief survey of Causes on Facebook reveals an array of mainstream, apple-pie efforts, typical of Millennial activism. They are more practical than poetic, more passionate and less ideological in their activism efforts. Few could argue with the worthiness of helping orphans in China, trying to find a cure for AIDS and ALS, eradicating breast cancer, and helping underprivileged children learn to read.

However, the Causes application is different from traditional approaches because users are drawn to the cause first, then the institution (or group of volunteers if no formal institution exists). Joe Green, CEO of Causes on Face-book, describes the network interaction for causes this way: “There could be 1,000 causes aiming to help with lots of different leaders and networks and lots of people reaching out in many ways.”

The paper documents a stack of other examples; 'Invisible Children' is one, which grew from four young guys' visit to Northern Uganda.


[55' Movie on Google. 'In the spring of 2003, three young Americans traveled to Africa in search of such as story. What they found was a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them. A story where children are weapons and children are the victims. The "Invisible Children: rough cut" film exposes the effects of a 20 year-long war on the children of Northern Uganda. These children live in fear of abduction by rebel soldiers, and are being forced to fight as a part of violent army. This wonderfully reckless documentary is fast paced, with an MTV beat, and is something truly unique. To see Africa through young eyes is humorous and heart breaking, quick and informative - all in the very same breath. See this film, you will be forever changed.']

This is one of the most moving documentaries I've seen in years.

The authors see a flip side though, and speculate that this mightn't all be good:
Specific policy outcomes are not a significant component for most Millennial activist efforts. Social capital is the new commerce and the end result of many cause-related efforts spearheaded by young people.

Social action is a safe place to express a personal identity, and is much safer and easier than in the political arena with its inherent conflict and most often less-than-lofty outcomes. Danah Boyd (UofC Berkeley) explains, “We are living in a time of the elongation of childhood where kids are kept out of public life and only glimpse it through the mass media. Their lives are so heavily regulated and controlled, they don’t see a public world outside of the celebritization of political candidates.”
Is it possible to envision a very large generation of citizens who lead their lives at a great distance from government, even lives infused with causes, volunteering and a hopeful outlook about the world. Can government really be irrelevant to their lives, and, if so, is this a good thing for society? Is it important that young people are engaged in public policy advocacy? Is our tendency to connect only with like-minded people using our on line and on land social networks a good thing for activism or a critical bottleneck to the effective scaling for causes? Are social change institutions critical to the future of Social Citizens and their causes or are they becoming old-century anachronisms of top-down hierarchies that can’t survive much longer?
What draws their involvement? Conflicts like Israel/Palestine get less attention from this group as they're less clear, more grey, than ones like Darfur.

But one thing the authors don't do in discussing negative disengagement from 'government' is make the connections with the Obama campaign — perhaps because it's partisan or just because the campaign's happening now — which exists because of a/the Internet and b/the same sort of new bottom-up/shared/devolved organisations which young people are establishing. This has seen an enormous increase in active political engagement by young people - and voting - though what will happen to 'the movement' once he's elected President is a moot point.

What they do have is some ideas:
Political participation can and should be more meaningful than political campaigns, such as the possibility of careers in public service and policymaking, including serving on committees and task forces for local government efforts.

A major cautionary note for anyone interested in engaging young people in conversations about the role of government and policy issues is that these conversations must be authentic and spin-free, or youth will quickly tune out.
Now there's a big take-away for the oldies. And don't think this is just America. Most UK young people use social networks.

Go here for a bigger view than below

Read this doc on Scribd: Social Citizens Discussion Paper

NB: scribd embed script is not Blogger friendly!

Effective banner ads

This is from MarketingSherpa.

Nielsen et al have found that banner ads are typically 'tuned out' by users and this study recognises this and looks at test methods by which you can greatly increase their effectiveness.

The bottom line is that you need to running multivariate tests on creative content as part of optimisation instead of relying on industry research (is your ad provider doing this?).

Report says that creative issues were the dilemma that Kevin Kohlmeyer of Rural Cellular Corp faced.

They tried several different copy combinations but didn’t know which worked best. Nor did they know which phone product lured the most consumers to click through and learn more about their services package. Plus, they didn’t know which banner size was optimal.
“For these types of things, we had been looking at industry research to find what certain attributes existed that could be important to consumer prospects,” Kohlmeyer says. “But, we needed to take some steps to verify what really worked for us in particular.”
For Flash banner ads the test included 36 different possible content combinations.
In the end, the goal was to put together a *super banner* with the top-performing creative elements for the campaign.

The key variables are:

1. Copy

They tested four lines of copy. Each was attached to an ad with the picture of a cell phone being offered with the service package.

The copy they tested:
  • “Buy online and get free shipping on your order”
  • “Buy online and we’ll waive your activation fee”
  • “Buy online and get free shipping plus no activation fee (over a $30 value)!”
  • “Start Shopping Now!”
2. Product offered
“We looked at what products consumers were selecting once they were already to the site. It made sense that they would bring in prospects as well.”
So, they tested three popular, low-to-medium-cost phones that already were working on their ecommerce site:
  • Motorola v197
  • Motorola Razr
  • Sony Ericsson w200
3. Banner sizes

Using the right banner size will dramatically improve clickthroughs and sales. Either:
  • 300x250 (box ad/often called a “big” ad)
  • 160x600 (skyscraper)
  • 728x90 (leaderboard)
  • “Start Shopping Now” copy won out over “Buy online and we’ll waive your activation fee” by 12.2% in clickthroughs.
  • “Start Shopping Now” copy got 16.6% more clickthroughs than “Buy online and get free shipping on your order.”
“Getting rid of the ‘loser content’ did help produce a [response] spike. And, what the testing also did was validate some hunches we had or reconfirm what we had seen in the past. At the same time, the fact that ‘Start Shopping Now’ was the best performer was a surprise to us. In the past, we had assumed shipping costs and activation fees were a barrier to purchase and emphasized the fact they were free online. This appears to have been an incorrect assumption. So, we’ll start downplaying it in the future.”
As for which product won:
  • Motorola v197 beat the Motorola RAZR by 4.5%.
  • Motorola v197 beat the Sony Ericsson by 12.2%.
The big winner in the banner size proved that bigger isn’t always better:
  • The 300x250 banner (box ad) beat the second-place 160x600 banner (skyscraper) by 27.3%.
  • The 300x250 banner trounced the 728x90 (leaderboard) by an even bigger margin.
According to a January 2008 survey of marketers by AdJungle for MarketingSherpa, 300x250 ads get the highest clickthrough rate: 62.2% more than skyscraper ads and 27% more than leaderboard ads.

The data generated by the test was used to build the super banner that saw a 50.4% increase in clickthroughs in their next campaign.
“A lot of our sales -- originating from banners -- come over the phone and via other channels. Banner advertising is a significant traffic driver for our multichannel efforts. And this test has helped us improve along those lines.”

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Eggs, potholes and Robert Mugabe's last days - we hope

The Zimbabwean underground Civil Action Group Sokwanele is proving the best source for online news about what's going on.

They are:
A civic action support group driven towards the use of non-violent actions to bring democracy, justice and freedom to Zimbabweans.
Sokwanele means 'enough is enough' in Ndebele. The non-violence is very important with comments regularly deleted or edited. They are not affiliated with the MDC.

Yesterday they posted a telling story about the Zimbabwean International Trade Fair - yes, such a thing exists and went ahead at the weekend. The sole news about the event was that local hotel managers ended up arrested because inflation is so unbelievable that they had to put up prices, which in the Alice in Wonderland economy is illegal.

Prices of eggs double in one day, from Z$100mil to Z$210mil. For a shop owner, just keeping two out-of-date yogurts on the shelves can drive them out of business. Once ended, businesses are taken over by the state and handed to Zanu-PF's allies.

Roads outside the shiny Bulawayo hotels don't have potholes, around the corner there's potholes and traffic lights which don't work. The potholes themselves are one way for starving Zimbabweans to make some money. Kids fill them in with sand and then clamor for tips when drivers slow down.

Sokwanele's blog was the first to report on the Chinese arms-carrying ship - which they now say is being shadowed by a British nuclear submarine.

And they have also set up - as happened in Kenya - a whole series of online tools.

A Google Map is marking locations of the terror campaign currently going on.

As well as a contacts database for taking action in support - currently aimed at the UN and South Africa. And a terror photo album on Flickr. And a cartoon gallery.

These last three I don't recall seeing in Kenya, although Joseph Karoki was posting lots of photos there.

Whilst Hillary and Obama bash seven types of crap ...

Whilst Hillary and Obama bash seven types of crap out of each other (for six weeks more, or maybe less, please MSM. call it right FCS) other 'progressives' are bashing the crap out of McCain online. Hurrah! And oh jeez there's a lot of material to work with ... favourite first off.


John McCain vs. John McCain

John McCain's chart-topping single "Bomb Iran"

Daily Show: John McCain's Sweettalk Express

What ABC didn’t ask McCain

The fabulous life of John McCain

“John McCain Is Older Than…”

But that's so (sob) ageist!

And here's why it's all now about Santos Vs. Vinick, sorry McCain Vs. Obama :

Another toothless Commons review of eGov web strategy

Looking at the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee's report on government delivery of online services, released today. a few things leap out.

Firstly, the PDF document I'm looking at is text images. It's not searchable and it's not 'accessible'. Yes, it's the PR version but that's hardly the point. (Though maybe good government PR is to make lengthy, text-heavy docs unsearchable ... ?) Practice/preach ...

Secondly, they keep referring to and They're not the brands, it's 'directgov' and 'businesslink'. If they don't understand this and use the right brand name what does that say about the strength of the brand?

Lastly, their main obsession is the 'digital divide' and they do ask that the government spells out that:
  1. services won't be removed for the excluded
  2. savings will feed back to the excluded
They didn't hear evidence from the civil servants who formed their witnesses that anyone seemed to be checking this and no-one could convince them this wasn't happening or wouldn't happen.

Chairman Edward Leigh (Con., Bright Eyes, Red Nose) said:
Those gazing towards the sunlit digital uplands must not forget those among our citizens - including three-quarters of socially excluded people and a half of people on low incomes - who have no access to the internet or do not use it. They must not be left behind as the government's use of the internet gathers pace.
This is good but they haven't hit the headlines with this point and they need to adopt the Dunwoody strategy if they aren't going to be hearing the same excuses next time they review. Cameron should pay attention as well, there's politics to be played.

Committee member Austin Mitchell, doing little but play politics, appears to have a particular thang about 'my constituents', 'the middle classes' (not his constituents maybe?) and 'fashion', as he said in evidence giving:
"I have now found a channel called something like which allowed people to communicate with their MPs and I am now receiving enormous amounts of abuse every day - every day there is fresh abuse! .. I get the impression that that is 'transformation of government' ... I get the impression that that has also happened with government, that it became the subject of fashion, everybody must do this ... It is only now really that [online government can provide a decent service] for those middle class people who will use it? Would that be a correct interpretation? The mistakes arose from goodwill and over enthusiasm?"
Naturally, Mitchell has comments turned off on his 'blog'. In committee, he also refers to a 'lad' who looks after his website and something else that 'my wife' looks after. Does Mitchell think the Internet is a 'middle class' thing and not for the 'working classes'? Is he the very definition of a technophobe? How is he 'excluded' from using technology? Ignorance? Fear? Can't be bovverred? It's just 'fashion' and the wife takes care of it?

Seriously, so-called champions of 'the working classes' like Mitchell should take a good look at themselves and set an example for their excluded constituents rather than shift the problem elsewhere. You are the problem, Austin. Learn how to use this instead of expecting someone else to, let alone a patronised 'lad'. You're not leading your constituents into 'sunlit digital uplands' are you? You're just acting like a luddite.

The evidence also has some gems from Government Services Transformer Tsar John Suffolk, one of which bashes Google:
We all probably use searches in this room and if you key in anything you will get two million references and [most] are useless. this is because all the search engines do not really know in a sensible way what you are looking for.
News to Google, I'm sure. And this after saying:
I am not going to pretend to bluff my way on the technology of search engines.
Because Google is useless, he argues, we need a destination 'holiday' page of directgov ... look, John, I just searched on 'passport'. #1 result on isn't UK government, #1 on UK Google isn't directgov. Past result #3 clicks drop off a cliff. Plus there's a very prominent commercial advert. This is a classic example - there are lots - of where commerce is way ahead of you and you haven't taken any strategic account of that fact whatsoever in online service delivery. Do catch up John.

Apart from some obvious points about 'customer focus' being a mirage because there's little understanding of metrics and another bang-on about accessibility in it's disability sense, one thing struck me hard about the report.

Edward Leigh said:
The time has long passed for getting a firm grip on the growth of government websites which has been almost uncontrolled. The streamlining of web services around the key websites and is a very welcome development. It is essential that the DWP, the department responsible for these sites, should arrange for regular independent reviews of how they are developing and the associated risks.
In the PR they say:
The government has embarked on an ambitious strategy to move most citizen and business facing internet services and related information to two websites, and, by 2011. These sites are well regarded by the public and industry and both have received awards.
The problem being that the strategy itself is a risk, as Helen Margetts, of the Oxford Internet Institute, told a recent conference (speech notes reported here):
Right now the UK govt has embarked on a high risk "supersite" strategy of centralizing e-govt services on two sites: DirectGov and BusinessLink (while closing down 2500 disparate e-govt sites at the same time). Both have low brand recognition and problems competing with other sources.
She's right, but the committee has just taken the strategy at face value and simply not asked the right, informed questions or invited critics.

This is underlined if you look at what evidence is cited in the report that directgov and businesslink are "well regarded" - the evidence comes from the sites themselves. It's self-serving, it's not objective evidence. A bit like the evidence cited when this strategy was launched that people wanted a portal, a one-stop shop. Very 'push polling'. Find the evidence to back up what you wanted to do in the first place rather than actually be 'customer focussed' and be prepared to iterate your strategy based on real evidence of behaviour. Like wot commercial sites do

As for the 'awards', who hands them out?

Like a lot of strategy, by the time it's adopted it's dated: 'supersites' are a bit yesteryear elsewhere and other big organisations are moving away from them (see Tesco). But just to take one example of a risk, when you centralise the side-effect is to disempower. Why should the organisation learn and become more focussed around the web if 'that's someone else's job'? Why should the actual service provider learn how to repurpose and retool? It just waits to be told and the corporate knowledge goes backwards.

One news nugget in the report is that, as I had heard rumours of, Google is talking to the Cabinet Office and this appears to follow on someone's engagement with the US government who have a cross government search portal (though not run by Google). This is good but history shows, however, that this may not end up going anywhere except into another piecemeal strategy which is dated before it arrives and fails to 'trickle down'.

So why is this report ultimately useless? No critics giving evidence, in a nutshell. Members proud in their ignorance (see Austin Mitchell). They spoke just to civil servants, critics giving evidence would immediately shake the whole shebang up. It's another version of the bigger 'walled garden' egov problem which means that progress is so bloody slow, partial and 'two steps forward' and the review function that this committee is supposed to do on our behalf is utterly toothless.

Monday 28 April 2008

Googley Design Principles

This is just brilliant, good consecution. Read it again:
The Googley Design Principles:

1. Focus on people—their lives, their work, their dreams.
2. Every millisecond counts.
3. Simplicity is powerful.
4. Engage beginners and attract experts.
5. Dare to innovate.
6. Design for the world.
7. Plan for today's and tomorrow's business.
8. Delight the eye without distracting the mind.
9. Be worthy of people's trust.
10. Add a human touch.

No Internet, no Obama

This is part of Obama's San Francisco speech from earlier in the month, the one which yielded the much repeated 'bitter' meme. It just emphasises - and this emphasis is needed - that if it wasn't for the Internet there would be no Obama campaign. I don't seem to be reading that point. It's a revolution. These lines were missed (the audio was shite) and have just been decoded.
I want to make a point about fund raising because I think it is illustrative of what else is going on. We raised 55 million dollars last month. ... I'm sorry. We raised 55 million in February; we raised 40 million that last month. Now, these are gaudy numbers.

But, what's interesting is not the amount raised. 90% of what we raised came over the Internet. 50% were for $50 or less. Our average donation is less than $100.

Now, essentially what we've done is we've created a parallel public financing system. That using the Internet and mobilizing people all across the country - over 1.3 million donors - we've created a system where ordinary people can actually finance, can fuel, a campaign at the highest levels.

It's the same way that we've competed organizationally. We didn't have all the fancy endorsements early on. We remember - you know, we had some courageous endorsements from Barbara Williams and some other folks - but most of the big names here in ... California went the other way. And yet, we were able to compete everywhere.

Why is that? Essentially, groups formed themselves using technology. We have an Open Source system. For people to just grab onto good ideas. They start organizing their neighbors, organizing their friends. And, next thing you knew, we'd built the best political organization in the country. And that's what we have. I mean, we have the best national political organization that anybody has seen in a generation.

NSFW: F***k Earth Day

Now in catch up mode and this video from last week is extra dry droll

Sits oddly with previous post NSFW: F*** Planet Earth.

Did the detox happen?

Well I managed a week without posting but only one day with no computer or TV. I did read a lot (Matthew Parris, Edmund White and history of Islam and C19th homosexuality) and potter around the garden between showers. Completely turning off would require being somewhere without access to anything, I think. That wouldn't bother me but if it's there ...

The excuses:
  • I really wanted to check the reaction to the Philadelphia Primary, video + blogs, just listening to the BBC radio news would have me gnashing my teeth, wanting to see what's really going on.
  • Same with Zimbabwe news, which is largely on blogs although the BBC has been much better than with Kenya plus Zimbabwean blogs are much thinner on the ground.
  • I just don't watch much TV but do watch shows online, like the Daily Show and the fantabulous Bill Maher's RealTime and catch-up on BBC iPlayer (my rare forays into Channel Four's online offering just emphasise how thin it is but missing ads is great). You can't watch yesterday's Daily Show online, so you have to catch it before it expires (or wait three months). I need my satire break and UK shows don't cut it (even Bremner, Bird + Fortune most of the time). About the only 'appointment to view' TV for me for months was Glenn Close in Damages and the close-up to Tigers show.
  • I needed to check email to see if a friend was OK.
  • 'Detoxing' for me includes SimCity.
I wasn't reading much online, though, or checking feeds and as I learnt from my break last year - you don't miss that much that's mind-numbingly vitally important.

I did see my backyard birds finally start using the water that's there for them and I love this every year, the babies starting to appear. This year they haven't nested in the planters though, thank god. Seeing plants 'come back' (and what hasn't + needs replacing, I have a habit of putting several plants together and eventually one bully takes over) is lovely too + it's been warm enough to spend time outside. Boring, I know, but that was the idea of the detox I think?

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Why the posts will be less this week

Adbusters is a great Canadian group, most famous for their fab spoof ads like these ones.

They've run 'TV turn-off week' for a few years and it's transmogrified into 'Mental detox week'.

And I'm going to try it! Do the garden, read, spring clean ... forget checking the feeds for a few days. Should be interesting because I do have a routine which revolves around this machine :{

As they put it:
Simple, but not at all easy.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Google Reader clips catch up

Not on Reader:

Friday 18 April 2008

The 12 master formats of advertising


Postscript: Search and suicide

Following my quite stroppy contact with the British Medical Journal (BMJ)'s Editor, my response has finally been published with one element removed because "it is damning the research in an unverifiable way".
It is notable that in a comment on my blog ( Graham Jones who runs the Internet Psychology web site said that he'd met some people who were connected to the research and "they were suitably embarrassed in private when I pointed out the simple flaws in the research".
I'm told that it took so long because they needed to check every single line "as we are liable for anything posted on our website". That paragraph is certainly unverifiable by them, unless they contact Graham, but it's also the sort of thing which might well upset the privately embarrassed.

Because I could only give them text without links, this means that the Letters Editor must have either had to go back and figure everything out from scratch or - more likely - get something of an education in this area from following the links on my blog.

All in all, quite satisfying.

Now let's see what, if anything, the BBC says from my complaint and the lead researcher from my letter ... I've had no response from my help offer to the charity Sane ...

Postscript: More responses are now appearing in the BMJ. I particularly like this one from a student at Otago Uni in New Zealand:
The selection of terms in this study did not include 'prevention', 'help', 'assistance', 'counselling' and were designed to return the sites they retrieved. Search engines ("web dragons") need skillful handling.
I wasn't at all sure what he meant but Web Dragons comes from a book of the same name, by Ian Witten, who's a New Zealand professor.

More seriously, a researcher from The University of Hong Kong reports his suspicions that users search for particular methods:
For instance, carbon monoxide poisoning by burning charcoal has been portrayed by the mass media in Hong Kong as an easy, painless and effective means of ending one's life since 1998.
Methods are described in the local media - something the UK media is not supposed to do - then people search for them. He concludes:
In view of the global nature of Internet, it seems logical that a global effort is needed to contain the negative effect of Internet on suicides.

Search and suicide

My work on critiquing the British Medical Journal (BMJ)'s research article last week on search and suicide has now been published on PublicRadar, in an article form.

I'm republishing it below as it's more digestible than the original post.

Been much boosted by positive responses from several psychologists who use the web, SEO and SEM full-timers and others who know this stuff far better than me.

As well, I was blanked for a week by the BMJ but am now waiting for either a response as to why they won't publish my criticism or if they actually will.

Unfortunately the BMJ PR went around the world and was published in a lot of media. They really need to unpublish the research article and issue PR explaining why but as one psychologist correspondent told me, "the BMJ is in a very conservative world where they still think that hiding or ignoring negative comment works".

How this serves medical practitioners, let alone the suicidal, completely eludes me.


Suicide on Search Engines

Last week the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published research headlined ‘Suicide and the internet‘.

Recent reports of suicide by young people have highlighted the possible influence of internet sites. Lucy Biddle and colleagues investigate what a web search is likely to find.

Those recent reports are of the Bridgend, Wales suicide cluster. Shock horror newspaper headlines often pointed at the web as a reason why a bunch of young people might have killed themselves or at least encouraged them. Of course, virtually none of the media reports looked at the research which has repeatedly shown that the media itself, particularly when it describes methods, has been demonstrated to encourage so-called ‘copycat’ suicide, but that’s for another day.

What Biddle and colleagues from Bristol, Oxford and Manchester universities claimed to find, and what the BBC and media around the world subsequently and dutifully reported, was that it’s search engines that encourage suicide. Methods are “easy to find” - and they’d proved it.

“The three most frequently occurring sites were all pro-suicide, prompting researchers to call for anti-suicide web pages to be prioritised.”

The trouble was the research was flawed in its methodology and Biddle et al aren’t experts in how search actually works. Worse, ways in which pro-suicide websites can be countered online are relatively easy and the methods used well established - so how this ‘prioritisation’ might happen wasn’t explained.

Starting with their idea of “most frequently occurring sites”, this is nonsense as the vast, vast majority of searchers don’t get past the first ten results and most of those don’t get past the top three.

So to rank, as they did, the ‘top ten’ searches as having equal value is false. This alone discounts their findings.

They also counted from searches on four search engines. Yet fully 86% of UK searches are via Google - they’d again counted each search on each search engine as having equal value.

As well, they gave each of ten search terms equal value when those terms have vastly different uses. Using a keyword suggestion tool, you can see that ‘Suicide’ has a daily UK search number of 7788 whereas one they picked, ‘Most effective methods for committing suicide’, has 0. This tool also throws up terms they didn’t use, such as ’suicide poetry’.

You can actually see this vast different in usage recognised by commercial sites as well as church and other small charity bodies who pay for advertising next to search results (’Cremated ashes made into glass: “Keep the memory”‘). They will naturally only pick the terms of most value.

Most tellingly they failed to understand that two terms they used ‘Methods of suicide’ and ‘Suicide methods’ are exactly the same term because ‘of’ is discounted.

In their paper they state that their ‘Search strategy’ was:

“To replicate the results of a typical search that might be undertaken by a person seeking information about methods of suicide. We conducted searches using the four most popular UK search engines and 12 broad search terms—a total of 48 searches. The terms entered were those likely to be used by distressed individuals, determined partly from interview data collected in an ongoing qualitative study of near-fatal suicide attempts and by using search suggestions provided by the engines upon entering terms such as ’suicide.’”

There isn’t any further detail on just how they could know what search terms were actually entered ‘by distressed individuals’ as opposed to ones without distress or how relevant ‘interview data’ would be in working that out.

If they had even bothered to ask some of the search marketing/search optimisation specialists probably around the corner from them, or possibly even within the same universities, they would have realised that their methodology doesn’t show anything. But as a result of this article being in the hallowed BMJ we now have web-bashing headlines around the world.

I would suggest that this article devalues the BMJ itself as a source of scientific information unless it is withdrawn. There was nothing scientific about this study.

It is notable that in a comment on my blog Graham Jones who runs the Internet Psychology web site said that he’d met some people who were connected to the research and “they were suitably embarrassed in private when I pointed out the simple flaws in the research”.

Biddle told the BBC that:

“This research shows it is very easy to obtain detailed technical information about methods of suicide.”

Her research did not demonstrate that finding pro-suicide websites is “very easy”. But, yes, if you are determined to find it you will find it. Just like the determined can find bomb making recipes and the Chinese in China can find rants against the Chinese government.

But this is not how most people operate, which you can see from what gets typed in most frequently.

Contrary to assumptions, I haven’t seen any evidence that shows that kids and teens are that much better, if at all, at finding things online using search engines than anyone else.

What I can say is that, using Google Trends, which covers searches going back four years, for general searches for ’suicide’ (tweaked to exclude unrelated Iraq/Afghanistan ’suicide bombers’ searches), the trend is clearly down. There’s some good news you won’t read in reporting.

Apart from no numbers on what the actual usage is of ‘pro-suicide’ sites, another point is whether the websites which charities and government create are actually helping kids and teens. I don’t know but I’d like to - there’s nothing about that in this research, why some kids and teens might be turning to these pro-suicide websites instead of ‘official’ ones.

The BBC quoted Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, saying the proverbial ’something should be done’. There’s actually a lot which could be done. For example:

1. How about running text ads next to more search terms than just ’suicide’.
2. Or employing some Search Engine Optimisation specialists to make sure that your pages come up first. They might even do it for nothing or just the publicity.
3. Or working with other charities to make sure you cover every possible term and intervene via content and ads on other sites or through social networks (simply creating a page on Mind’s website, already high-up results, which is titled ‘How to commit suicide’ would immediately help).
4. Or fixing your own websites, not only to make them more appealing to your target audience but also to fix errors such as the first result on a search for ’suicide’ on Sane’s website being ‘The National Suicide Prevention Strategy report’.

On one term you can see how smaller, more agile bodies aren’t moaning but are learning how to use the web to their own ends. ‘How to commit suicide‘ includes a top result which redirects people to an anti-suicide web page.

My issue with the research and its reaction is that the complainants are making no effort to ensure that their pages turn up tops on such search terms as ‘How to commit suicide’ . There are no excuses for this and to behave as if this is someone else’s responsibility - let alone ISPs - is childish and pathetic

Simply put, it is not ISPs but health practitioners, charities and government who are not doing their job properly online. They are failing the very kids and teens they claim to be helping and looking for someone else to blame - there’s an abdication of responsibility.

This is exactly what happens when you set up online walled gardens and fail to relate to the wider web - I am not seeing the NHS or government portal directgov anywhere in these results - and that ‘can’t be bothered’ ‘it’s all too complicated’ mentality apparently dominates the charity sector as well.

Hardly surprising when the ‘National suicide prevention strategy for England‘ contains no mention of either the web, the internet or even chatrooms.

Here’s what could be done:

1. Talk to the search engines, they are very interested in getting results right and can and do ‘tweak’ them. They won’t ‘censor’ sites or stop indexing the whole web but they will help and advise on improving positioning.
2. Don’t talk to the ISPs! Talk to the search engine experts such as the Search Marketing Association.
3. Talk to social networks about teaming up with them and others to create widgets and other tools so kids and teens can help others.

As well, these people would potentially do it for free or cheaply or for publicity. It would be very straightforward to out-manoeuvre the pro-suicide websites - what resources do they have vs. what resources do you have?

Research on how search may contribute to actual suicide may well be valuable, but it needs to be done by specialists who can use the tools established by the industry to track and analyse which sites are the most dangerous and where the traffic to them is coming from - it may well not be primarily search. That could be done. But the best course is a concerted effort by charities and government to direct ‘distressed individuals’ to websites which can really help them.

I am afraid that none of these people are listening though. What they are instead developing is an righteous effort, like has happened in Australia, which will end up in a censored Internet for all of us - and no real help for those they claim to be helping.


Postscript: Published in BMJ with one edit.

Thursday 17 April 2008

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Bush's green-ish speech: right-wing blogosphere goes nuts

Made me laugh out loud.

Iain Murray / The Corner:
President's Global Warming Surrender: “It will be very bad” — We're hearing some very bad things about the President's likely unconditional surrender on global warming today. One senior source suggested that the last line of sound defense had been breached and that “It will be very bad.”

Ken's already lost online

Here's the latest video from Ken Livingstone's campaign

Er, where are the gays? Nowhere. I sat through all the vids on the YouTube channel. Absent. And this isn't a minor point - gays are a really big part of the London electorate, maybe a million Londoners, and a lot of them are not voting for Ken and practically all of them use the Interweb. AKA - in this tight election, there's your winning margin.

A gay targeted vid would 100% definitely go viral, but the whole vid campaign is just .... I'm holding my head in my hands. This is just one example. Views for these vids are in the hundreds, which is pathetic and just not worth bothering with unless you're going to at least attempt to make them go viral.

They're actually running Google ads (which they need to, he isn't top search hit on his own name, though it has improved), but the link sends you to a 'Be Involved page' - not what it's advertising. Basic, basic 'I could scream' f*** up. YouTube isn't plugged on the main landing page. The website is text, text, stale, stale.

Are they (I doubt it) and if not, why not, involving tekkie supporters in this campaign? There's a lot of donkey work which can be 'devolved'. Or are they just whingeing on about 'not enough time' or money? Is it just 'top down' like Hillary's campaign?

Not that Boris is doing that much better. Try a YouTube search for 'Boris Johnson' and his channel is nowhere. And the viral vids on Boris (thousands of views) aren't complimentary. On BackBoris, YouTube is pretty much invisible.They should thank god for Iain Dale and the other Tory bloggers who actually have a significant web presence. On the plus side, they're running no Google text ads (they don't need to, he's #1 for his name) and Boris is dominating searches:

Paddick, now that he has some real expertise on board, has a in-yer-face great site. This is how to do it and I am hugely impressed. It's pretty much a carbon copy of US and Australian tried'n'tested methods (because they work). With some amateurish LibDem stuff embarrassingly tacked on at the bottom.

Here's his (snaps fingers) wor-king, wor-king, wor-king lead video:

Though it's sitting on a LibDem channel not a Brian Paddick channel, which is a mistake. This branding I can imagine someone who knows what they're doing yelling about - and losing. Actually, it smacks of 'we're going to lose but please vote for some Libdems ... ' And is Brian saying,, every chance he gets. Can't because for some bizarre reason he doesn't own it. It's - and is that being plugged at every single opportunity? Er, I doubt it. Why bother? He's wooden on TV.

Come on Ken's campaign! I have emailed suggestions but they're ignored. I have the button but they don't list me, just the in-crowd. Do we have to beg or are you plain deaf? It's both tiresome and a losing strategy.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

'Protecting the Royals' - why, and on which planet?

Royal Blackmail Target Viscount Linley Won't Have To Appear In Court

'Protection' not available to you. Or I. When is Britain going to wake up and ditch this nonsense?

n.b. Blogger is hosted somewhere on the US East Coast.

Album of Terror

Sokwanele's Zimbabwe Flickr photostream, Mugabe's reprisal attacks under the codename Operation Mavhoterapapi (Where you put your 'X').

More photos or video tagged with set_albumofterror on Flickr

The MDC Secretary for Ward 1 Zimuto Masvinga, who is 36 years old, was attacked on Tuesday in Baradzi Village, Masvingo. ZPF youth broke his door down and dragged him outside insisting that he take them to all the other MDC members houses.

He refused so was beaten with iron bars and logs of wood. He slept the night in the bush and then found his way to medical facility.

The thugs referred to their actions as Operation Mavhoterapapi - “where you put your X”.

More Zapiro cartoons

Search comes to Twitter

And now you can search Twitter.

Newspaper journalism's House of Cards starts toppling

Amy Gahran is a content specialist who I've been reading off and on for years. I starred a post of hers asking the question:
Is journalism a smart career path in 2008?
Short answer from her is yes, but not how you'd think.
Betting that you’ll spend your career working for mainstream news orgs is a losing proposition in most cases.
Given this reality, it "bugs" her that most journalism schools aren't preparing their students for the future of journalism.

Schools are not teaching the sorts of skills which they'll need to compete. These include
  • content management systems (including blogging tools)
  • mobile tools and mobile media strategies
  • social media
  • business skills
  • management skills
  • economics and business models
  • marketing
  • SEO
  • community management,
She explains more about just how they could be taught these skills in a follow-up.

Students think that:
Their career path will lead them to writing big investigative or literary features for major magazines or newspapers.
She finds that most don't have a clue - unlike many of their non-aspiring journo peers - about how to establish their personal brand or how to create opportunities outside of mainstream news organisations.

This is the sort of thing the Andrew Keen's and other King Canute's don't talk about (doesn't pay I'd guess) but the New York Times highlights one 'investigative journalism' - Keen thinks this sort of journalism is doomed - website which is booming, The Smoking Gun.

Says NYT reporter David Carr :

Much has been said, here and elsewhere, about how the emerging digital economy has decimated the business model of journalism. But the same digital technology has made each remaining journalist several times more powerful.

As working reporters, we are able to get information — through the public and government Web databases and proprietary digital sources — that our ancestors in the business would not have dared dream of. I know because I’m one of the ancestors.

And that:
The Smoking Gun has demonstrated that if you obey the metabolism of the Web, not the journalist, you can land with significant impact in a hurry.
This impact is happening in the US Presidential elections, where some newspapers (Mainstream Media - MSM) have adapted and are in the conversation, online.

Arianna Huffington, part-owner of Huffpost, which just cruised past Drudge as the top news site, and has both broken news and run 'investigative journalism' said in an interesting roundtable (The New Media Moguls Talk Politics) at NYU this week:
What is happening online is actually reducing the power of the mainstream media to set the narrative. The New York Times and the Washington Post are doing great things, but they are doing them online.
Talking about the MSM's supposed objectivity and why online news users are flocking to sites like HuffPost (and Drudge), as well as a slew of blogs (fully half of all Americans now read some sort of blog), she said:
People are now beginning to accept, increasingly, that not everything is a mixed bag. Part of it has been the coverage of the war in Iraq, with all the [MSM] people following the John McCains, like John King on CNN talking about soccer games, and good things going on.

How can you call this a mixed bag? It's like going to the doctor and the doctor says: "It's a little of a mixed bag, on one hand your acne has improved, but on the other hand you have a brain tumor." That's not a mixed bag.

There is a soccer game going on, while the whole world is falling apart and 4 million Iraqis have left the country, and there is less electricity than during Saddam. Where is the mixed bag?

That is changing, different blogs have different passions, our passion is Iraq so we choose every day to put on our top page what we believe is the truth about Iraq.
Just who is ignoring that 'web metabolism' remains a lot of MSM, particularly late coming newspapers like The Mirror and Daily Express.

And just how badly they're all doing running their web presence was shown in a piece on Research by Ernst & Young said bluntly to newspapers change your ad model and be more like Google (or die).

Their report looked at the potential wealth that could be created by newspapers online and concluded the CPM (cost per thousand impressions) ad model they commonly used wasn't generating 'the necessary growth'.

The report suggested that if top newspaper websites generated the same revenue per UK unique user in 2007 as Google, which uses a Cost per Click (CPC) ad model, they could have expected ad revenues of between £120 million and £250 million each from their domestic traffic.

Instead the report suggested that many nationals total online revenues barely reaching 'one fifth of this amount'.

They calculated that the top newspaper websites generated £15m to £20m in ad revenue in 2007, compared to Google's UK ad revenue of £1.26bn for the same year.

The report went on to criticise CD and other give-aways as having "only a short-term effect" and suggested that despite spending time and money upgrading the look and feel of newspapers, publishers were still struggling to attract young readers to their paid-for titles.

Given how much ad revenue they've already lost from print, particularly classifieds, and especially given print's declining political influence, the major loss making slow movers are just going to become too much of a burden for their influence-seeking owners. I reckon The Express will be the first to go.

Postscript: James Ball writes on his blog about 'what should journalism students learn?' in the UK. Quotes Bill Thompson.