Plumpton Mornings – a 50/50 project for East Africa Famine Relief

I’m delighted to be taking part in the 50/50 project, powered by the guys at Pipeline and Made by Many.  It kicks off officially tomorrow for World Food Day, and is raising money for East Africa Famine Relief.

I need your help to help raise money.

I can come round your house and bother you till you help, or you can just read this post.  It’s up to you.  If we do it the easy way, you don’t need to make me a cup of tea and dig out some biscuits…
So, how does this work?  Well, I’m creating a series of physical artworks from the ongoing digital ephemera that is Plumpton Mornings on Instagram…

Plumpton Mornings is a digital art project, exploring the relationship between physical and digital, certainty and uncertainty.  

Every morning as I climb the stairs at Plumpton Railway Station, I load up a photography application on a mobile phone, and ‘shake to randomise’.  

As I reach the same midpoint on the bridge, I take one picture, looking down the line towards Lewes, Eastbourne, Hastings and Ore, before jumping on the train to head north to London.  

Any beauty in the picture depends not on the photographer, nor the people on the periphery of the picture; we are all just the dumb meat on the edges of technology.

What atheistic qualities are simply derived as a result of the randomised digital combinations, the processors of the phone and the instructions of the programs dealing with fluctuations in light and focus. 

If there are human artists involved at all, they are unwitting ones; they are the programmers who set the code in motion, many miles and many oceans away.

Each morning’s photo is a mystery which will unfold only after the fact, much like the day itself.


I thought it would be interesting, and very Smithery, to create a project where the object wasn’t just to get people to donate money, but to give them something special in return; a tangible something.

A piece of art.

There are MANY plans for what these artworks may be, and in all likelihood, it will be a series of bigger and smaller pieces, at a range of different prices.

But in the meantime, I would ask of you just one thing…

If you think your, or your office/company/agency/international-confederation-of-superheroes MIGHT be interested in buying an artwork and donating to East Africa Famine Relief, then…

PLEASE leave your details HERE

Oh, and maybe one more thing, please do pass this link around; the more people who’re after one of the pieces, the more money it will raise.

If you want to get a feel for Plumpton Mornings, click on the image below.  AFTER you’ve signed up and told everybody, of course…

The Art of Gently Blogging

I’ve always tried to approach blogging with as little pre-formed intent as possible… stumble across something interesting, expand, refine, hit publish and see what happens.

But after Laptops and Looms, I couldn’t quite contain all of the stuff I wanted to expand on in my head, never mind one blog post.

(If you want to fall down the Laptops & Looms rabbit-hole, Adrian’s post is not a bad place to start).

Anyway, what helped me organise things a little more was using the artefact cards (details here, signup here) just to write out and link things together…

There’s stuff about the division of craft and human creativity from manufacturing, where that energy went, how digital let’s people put that energy BACK in in different ways, how some sectors (often alcohol manufacturers like Real Ale or Scotch Whisky) are very good at telling the story of that, how governments incentivise small-scale production in those sectors which they fail to do, where The Labour Theory of Value fits in to this, how it changes the purpose and point of the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, NOT Indis Pale Ale in this case), and the changing forces of knowledge work around storytelling, disrupting established agency models, then into unpicking the ‘social’ makeup of brands and companies from an anthropologically inspired breakdown of archaeology, linguistics, cultural and societal…

I could go on.

But just looking at this lot made me realise that, whilst I could just crack on and whittle the odd post here and there on the bits that interest me periodically, I thought I’d try something new, which I’m referring to as Gently Blogging.

NOT because of it’s a very passive, relaxing way to do it, but because of course of Dirk Gently, the Douglas Adams Character…. from the Wikipedia entry:

Dirk bills himself as a “holistic detective” who makes use of “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things” to solve the whole crime, and find the whole person.  This involves running up large expense accounts and then claiming that every item (such as needing to go to a tropical beach in the Bahamas for three weeks) was, due to this “interconnectedness,” actually a vital part of the investigation. Challenged on this point in the first novel, he claims that he cannot be considered to have ripped anybody off, because none of his clients have paid him yet. 

Gently has an odd facility for accurate assumptions, as every wild guess he makes turns out to be true. As a student he attempted to acquire money by selling exam papers for the upcoming tests. His fellow undergraduates were convinced that he had produced the papers under hypnosis, whereas in reality he had simply studied previous papers and determined potential patterns in questions. However, while innocent, he was arrested and sent to prison when his papers turned out to be exactly the same as the real ones, to the very comma.
You get the point, I think.

It’s about the interconnectedness of all the things I have on these cards, how small changes in one area can influence, and hopefully improve, things in another.

Exactly what form Gently Blogging takes will be interesting, but I think it’s make something like the physics diagram you saw when you were thirteen… rather than expanding ideas in series, it’s about expanding them in parallel…

I also haven’t decided whether to do it live from scratch, and advance each piece in the open, rewriting as comments and debates happen, or to get each piece to a suitable minimum standard, then do that.  TBC, I guess.

Anyway, I guess that’s the art of Gently Blogging.  I’m off to Vegas now to judging the innovation section for the LIA Awards.  This is entirely connected to current investigations.

Follow some random Elvis side project shenanigans here, if you like.

Digital Storytelling, Statues and Strata

Next week, I’m delighted to be doing some panel-wrangling at the annual Google Think Marketing event.

The title of the day is “Become a Digital Storyteller”, and before the illustrious panel members talk about how their different types of agencies are getting to grips with that, I’ve got to set the scene a little.  Here’s where I’m at

After a great chat with Shuvo at Google earlier, I’ve been mulling through what it is about storytelling that’s changed, from an agency perspective.  As my thinking usually improves (however minutely) by writing things out on here, so let’s see if it can help again…

I wonder if the answer lies in every company’s story quarry:

A story quarry is where companies have sent their agencies over the years to dig out interesting things about said company to turn into a story to use in marketing.

And by and large, for all sorts of reasons (mass media model, domination of television, etc etc), the agencies would go and find the biggest, chunkiest big of marble they could.

They dismissed and ignored anything in a story quarry that wasn’t large enough and solid enough for them to work with.

Why?  Because they were after something with which to make big, impressive, inspiring works of art.  They wanted to sculpt statues that people would gaze upon in wonder, and feel things inside they themselves did not understand…

But you can only make that big, impressive stuff with big, impressive chunks of marble from a story quarry.  All the rest of the stuff (the insights that didn’t apply to everyone, the innovations that would only apply to a few, the stuff that was interesting only to particular niches) was ignored by big, traditional storytellers.

But the thing about a story quarry is that it’s made up of interesting layers, formed as a company grows over the years.

The strata (as such layers are called in geology, according to my friend and yours Wikipedia) are comprised of all the things a company and its people have gotten up to over the years.

I wonder if the art of digital storytelling means good storytellers are much more willing to dig around in this stuff, because they know that they can find interesting bits and bobs that they can use at a scale that makes economic sense to do so.

Maybe we’re back to the trouble with BIG again, I guess.  The thing the agency world is still fixated on.

But you know, big isn’t all that.  If you haven’t done so (and that begs the question WHY), go and read Gareth Kay’s stuff on thinking small.

And story quarries are full of interesting, small things that great digital storytellers go and dig around for, pull out, and use.  It might be as practical as a bag of sand for weighing something down, or as beautiful as a diamond for showing someone how much you love them.

Maybe this is right, I’m not sure myself yet, but it certainly feels like a nice, daft way to open a panel debate.  It’s perhaps just another way of saying that the biggest problem that some agencies have is they don’t want to get their hands dirty digging around in a story quarry…


a note on the cards:

I’ve been using these blank playing cards a lot recently, for workshops, organising thinking, telling stories, prototyping and so on.  

Indeed, the cards themselves are a prototype, very clean, white, in a lovely box from Moo.

If I find it’s really useful over a meaningful period of time, I’m planning to make some proper sets and sell them as a Smithery product, along with some ideas on how to use them.  

If you want to be kept in the loop on that, sign up here.

The idea came from the excellent new Dave Gray book “Gamestorming” in which he talks about artefacts: 

“In knowledge work, an artefact is any tangible, portable object that holds information.  An artefact can be anything from a piece of paper to a sticky note to an index card.  Artefacts make it easier to keep track of information by making it part of the environment”

I’ve found that by using blank playing cards and fine-tip sharpies, in creating artefacts you somehow feel duty-bound to give it more thought before committing an idea, and you’re more likely to write or draw with more intent and care.  They’ve also got more of a permanence about them, so you move and shuffle them around more deliberately.

a note on artefact/artifact:

It’s fine, you can spell it either way, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise


Is music falling fast because it grew too quickly?

via Ed Cotton).  

There will be lots of talk about the end of the graph.
But I’m maybe more interested in the middle.
Music grew phenomenally from the late eighties to the end of the nineties.  It tripled in size.
But what comes up must come down.
Maybe the music industry is…
Thanks to @ImperialLeidure, who’ve pointed me in the direction of this post from Business Insider… it’s done the analysis properly, and the picture is somewhat different…
…though hardly with a happier ending.

From Dusk Till Dawn – Art & Comment for Insomniacs

A couple of weeks back, I met up with Chris Thorpe of Jaggeree, formerly of the Guardian, and now co-founder of Artfinder (think Last.FM for art).


Anyway, over two large cups of Earl Grey, we started talking about how Chris might take some of the stuff they’ve been building and turn it into something for the Guardian SxSW hack day, which was this weekend just gone.  The hack day was about finding new ways to present news & cultural information to people.


Chris sums up the idea here:


“We’d get real people to tell us how different bits of art made them feel, get their impressions and the put them together in a sort of image and audio slideshow and then see what came out”


…and this is what Chris put together to show at the end of the hack.



It’s wonderfully calming, I think, to hear gentle, considered opinions on the pieces from other people… too many audio guides in Museums don’t really work for me, they’ve too formal / haughty / monotonous in tone.  Full of detail and facts, not warmth and feeling.


I think there’s something very soothing about hearing a random mix of folk commenting on a piece, and the interesting, different takes on the same pieces takes your thoughts on lots of different journeys.


It’s very apt title that Chris bestowed upon the project “From Dusk till Dawn – the insomniac’s ambient audio guide to art in Austin”.


Anyway, you should sign up for an artfinder invite, and see what comes next…


A compact post on the compact disc



We went looking at cars yesterday. Second hand, enough space for kid and stuff, that sort of idea.

The salesman at one garage, after going through all the spec of the car, leaned over slightly, and with a conspiratorial twinkle added ‘…and it’s got a six-CD changer in the boot’. He might as well have said it was steam powered.

On Thursday, I met a lovely guy who writes music for ads, and produces bands too. So he’s got a good inside track on the music industry. “You just hear so many stories” he said “of well established bands who just can’t make the financials on CD sales stack up”.

This morning, I used this picture of my CD player as the latest submission to It looks like a lovely, friendly robot. But I realised it’s the only thing I’ve used it for in months and months… it sits dormant, the CD tray unloved & unused.

It’s the dog end of the CD days, isn’t it? And I don’t even see a small, passionate fanbase for the format like you have with vinyl.

“You can spill coffee on them and they’ll be fine” they said when they launched CDs. Very soon, all we’ll be using them for is coasters.

The death of Myspace… and lessons for everyone else

Last weekend, I had to build a Myspace equivalent.


No, not the whole thing from scratch.  That’d have taken longer.  Five days, maybe…


Nope, just a page for our band, Gamages Model Train Club.  Over the course of an afternoon, by stringing together bits of Tumblr, Soundcloud, iTunes, Facebook, Google Analytics and Feedburner, I made something that meant we’ve got somewhere where people can:


i) listening to / buy songs
ii) declare their love for the GMTC (or ‘like’ as Facebook would have it)
iii) follow what we’re up to
iv) subscribe for future updates


It’s here, if you’re so interested:





But hang on, you say, Myspace is still in existence, and gets millions of people sailing through its straits every day.


And what’s more, they’ve recently launched their new version.  It’s easier to use than before.  It’s got lots of different and new features…


Why not keep using it?  Why leave now?


Well, there’s three things contributing, from a personal ‘end user’ perspective, all of which I think are good lessons for Facebook or indeed any social platform that’s being built to last.


And these are they…



Never stand still


Nobody can ever accuse Myspace of ever having been terribly easy to use.  Wanted to change your profile?  You had to learn some HTML (or at least have the ability to copy it from other places).


But before the News Corp takeover, at least there were piecemeal improvements… week by week, new things would emerge, be talked about, asked for by the community or created internally by the team.  And it gave the people at myspace something to talk to people about.


Then it stopped.  Dead.


I think what happened is the same that happens when any big, old company takes over a small, nimble, new company.  The new company becomes subject to the same rules and expectations as the new one.


Don’t launch things small and often, let’s launch things infrequently, but talk about all the changes we make at once.  So don’t talk about anything in between that spoils this, please.  Oh, and we need a major review of what we’re doing with the site, platform, tech, so don’t do anything till that’s complete….


…and so and and so forth.  By trying to sort everything all at once, as old, established companies want to, and as you’d have to do with a newspaper redesign, Myspace stopped evolving.


It was dead in the water whilst the new crew sat around debating, discussing and analysing what it was that made the engine work best.  And the good ship Facebook sailed right on past…


Lesson one:  keep evolving in the open, trying things consistently with the people who know your platform best (i.e. NOT you, your keenest users)




Aim for simplicity 


Here’s the new Myspace home page.


In between the ads, it’s and endless array of buttons, options, drop down menus, updates, messages waiting…





Every time someone has a good idea, it seems to get ladled on top of what’s already there.  I’ve started to lose track of where everything is, and how to do things.  I can no longer work out how to remove some old songs from our profile (and believe me, I’ve looked through all of these options).  there are ten ‘major menus’ along the top.  TEN.  And then, to add to the confusion, the eleventh is a drop down offering ‘more’…


It’s an awful user experience that keeps getting worse.  And this is the new improved version.  No wonder people leave never to return… they probably can’t work out what they were there to do in the first place.


Lesson two:  if you do keep adding stuff, then more sure you keep taking stuff away too… clutter sucks




Small networks can make you… or break you


Despite the other two being important, I think this one is the killer.


Myspace for the GMTC has become a cold, dead world, inhabited by the occasional spectre of another band pleading ‘…please… come and see our band…


Of course, this is just our little corner of Myspace, where our friends, fans and other bands we like have stopped participating.  It’s not true for everywhere.  Not yet, at any rate.  So why is it important?


If (as Shirky, Watts et al propose) we are tightly connected as small groups, and loosely connected as large groups, the disappearance of a small group can have bigger repercussions than just the people within that group.






When a social network passes out of favour in a small network, the large network suffers.  The loose connections that held the wider network together start to disappear.  So the occasional thing which crossed over into different tightly knitted groups has also disappeared.


Our group has stopped functioning as a node in the network.  Just one small network has disappeared, yet the repercussions go beyond just that group.


There feels like there’s less going on, there’s less diversity.  If this starts happening with more and more small networks, it’s obvious that the large network suffers.  It becomes a less interesting, less lively place.  It becomes more boring.


And when it becomes boring, people have got no reason to come back.  Which is a pattern which can start repeating across the whole network, but spreads like a virus from small group to small group, as they’re loosely connected to each other.


All common sense, really.  And something you’d try your hardest to stop happening, if you were running a social network.


However, it’s really hard to spot it.


The more you’re focussed on the big, overall network numbers (this many unique users, that many daily hits), you’re going to miss the disappearance of small networks.


Or, rather, you’re not going to miss them, because the picture you’re looking at is far too big.


You really need to focus on early groups that were once hives of activity, but have dwindled to nothing.  Or those who were in your first 10% of users, but haven’t logged on for a month or more.


Lesson 3: Large network numbers are important, but put attention to what’s happening in your small networks. 





So, three things, admittedly all from a very small network viewpoint too.  But it’s really important for social platforms to develop and keep that perspective as they grow (or indeed are bought by bigger companies).


Because people aren’t on your platform because they’ve invested emotionally in your platform.


They’re there because they’re emotionally investing in the relationships with their friends.


And if their friends move on… so will they.

[PT] – “The Promoted Tweet”

As reported here in The Guardian, the latest OFT crackdown wants celebrities to reveal if they’re being paid to tweet about brands and products.




Which is, you know, fair enough I reckon.


And I don’t think people are daft enough to think that in the modern age of celebrity, it hasn’t been going on anyway.


But with only 140 characters to play with, it’s going to be pretty hard for people to add in a full statement along the lines of “This tweet was sponsored by The National Geographic Society”…


…so what I suspect we’ll see is some form of user-created shorthand for ‘promoted or paid-for tweets’, perhaps something like:




It’ll be short, clean and clear enough to be included at the end of a message.


Crucially, it won’t be something controlled centrally by twitter (which would be an unmanageable task), but a common practice that emerges from the PR & social ends of the industry.


What’ll be most interesting, if it happens, is seeing just how many tweets in the stream start to feature [PT] or equivalent… or do celebrities really just tweet about stuff because they like it…?