Recommended Reading… new book from Yochai Benkler

I’m a huge fan of Yochai Benkler’s work… his previous book, The Wealth of Networks, greatly informed a lot of my preparatory thinking for The Communis Manifesto, and now I’ve just started his new book, The Penguin and the Leviathan

Already the first few chapters make me think it’s a vital companion piece to Cognitive Surplus, plus it’s much easier going than Wealth of Networks too (which was probably more geared to an economics audience).

Anyway, here’s a link to the book (through the Amazon Associates program, a splendid example of cooperation in action):

The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest


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.

Everyone Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?

This morning, there was a certain amount of train chaos as someone nicked a load of cabling from a signal at London Bridge.

Big old electrical cables are worth a fair bit, given the price of scrap at the moment.  We had some nicked in the village from a generator which was there whilst they worked to stop a persistent power cut problems.  So someone nicked the cables, prompting another five hour power cut.

Everyone’s got a similar story, it seems.

People are ripping apart the very infrastructure the country needs to keep working.

If it’s not nailed down, and it’s worth something, people are off with it.  Looting during the riots, manhole covers, lead roof tiles.  The list goes on, thousands of small crimes adding up to a bigger trend.

People feel they have a right to things, and hang the cost to society; the infamous phrase, that ‘sense of entitlement’, was trotted out often by various establishment figures over the last weeks.

But is it any wonder?

Firstly, for decades we’ve been told to “look to ourselves first”… it’s every man and woman for themselves.  Thatcher from 1987:

“We have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand”I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or”I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.” 

Subsequent Major and New Labour governments didn’t really change things.  The free market was allowed to run riot, with consequences we’re all too aware of.

I’m beginning to think there’s something in the way that the story of the last few years has unfolded; there’s something in the constant news coverage that’s perhaps exacerbated this ‘sense of entitlement’.

The content and tone of the coverage of everything from MP’s expenses to Banker’s bonuses has suggested that it’s open season for everyone… take what you can, whilst the going is good.

People must look to themselves first, after all, eh?

And so people follow this new spirit of society.  Avoid whatever tax you can, scam a little here, nick a little there, bend the rules wherever you can.

Perhaps the Cranberries summed it up nicely – “Everybody Else is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?”

The looters did just that.  The going was good, everyone was at it… so they joined in.  And they targeted the brands they’ve been taught for years to desire above everything else.

They didn’t attack “government or authority” targets because they were told decades before that government wasn’t there for them.  They went for the throat of their new state figureheads; brands.

There’s a deeper issue here (and perhaps a longer post) within marketing about responsibility – how can you justify whipping up fervent desire whilst at the same time creating and maintaining financial barriers of exclusion?

Anyway, back to the point; people aren’t acting independently; we’re simply copying each other, and at perhaps the grandest scale of all.  It’s open season on whatever you can take, and anything goes.

As the Herdmeister himself puts it…

“Only by understanding the behaviour as a social phenomenon (and not one rooted in individuals) can we really get to grips with it and start to understand what we might do differently next time.” – Mark Earls

Beyond some of the other problems with the kneejerk ‘zero tolerance’ approach to lawbreaking being kicked around, it’s missing the bigger picture.

Our consideration of the problem needs to be wider, it needs to encompass everyone.

The banker, the looter, the MP, the benefit cheat, the tax evader, the thief who nicked the cables from London Bridge this morning; they’ve all been taught to look after number one first, and they’re doing just that.  And they’re copying each other.

What will it take for everyone to put a little more in, rather than take out whatever they can?







Brands are people, people are brands #159 – Nero Stars

Now, I can’t remember exactly when I signed up for this, but I think it was last Winter… oh, actually, around the same time as I wrote this post on it, maybe…

Yes, anyway, Caffé Nero sent me a letter, a poker-chip style token, and a couple of vouchers for free coffees. The deal? They wanted me to give the token to a ‘Nero Star’… a barista in their stores who was going above and beyond the call of duty.


It’s a lovely idea, I really like it. It creates a bond between customer and your staff that wouldn’t normally be there. And, actually, having that token nagging away in my pocket has probably made me think more about going to Caffé Nero over the last month as a result. Everyone wins, I think.

Anyway, I’ve given mine to the whole team that work here, in the lonely little booth at the far end of Victoria.


It’s the Siberia of the Nero empire. And yet they are always, without fail, lovely, charming and smiley.

Thanks, guys.

BMW; back in the film business, but now in the future business

Years ago (in the early noughties), BMW made some films.  They were great, lavish, statement making films.  They had Clive Owen in them.  They had freakin’ Madonna in them.



They told you this:  BMWs are for driving fast, looking amazing, living dangerously.


Especially if you were an insurance salesman in the home counties.


Looking back, it’s easy to see how the mental picture of the BMW driver was a gregarious, suited, loudmouthed wanker… it was all about the badge, that shiny BMW medal of belonging for Kevin and Justin and the golf club mafia.


Now, BMW are back in the film business.  But in a wonderfully different way…


A series of four films based around “The Future of Mobility”; a look to the future where we need to create a sustainable lifestyle for the human race.  They’ll all be released this month, and first is up here now




That guy?  That’s Buzz Aldrin.  Yes, the second man on the moon.  “You get where you wanna go, when you wanna go, with the least fuss… that’s what we need”.  Doesn’t sound like the message Kevin & Justin would bandy around the 19th hole.


It’s well worth a watch.


What’s beautiful about the films, and the idea, is that you get a sense of BMW as a group, a movement, an ideology… not because it’s chock-a-block full of BMW people (it isn’t), but because this is the kind of statement they want to make about themselves to the world.


And the thing about an ideology is that it can last forever, and transcend whatever it is you physically make or do as a company in any one era.  It’s probably as much of a message internally to BMW as it is externally for us.


In 1975, Theodore Levitt said this of marketers:


“To survive, they themselves will have to plot the obsolescence of what now produces their livelihood”


I guess “The Future of Mobility” feels like a future for BMW too… now let’s see what actions they use to back up the words.

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.

Passion and Scale – getting “participation” right

Off the back of the Verb, Reverb and Amplify post from before Christmas, we’ve been doing some work projects on what this means for participation; we’ve a whole host of brilliants clients & brands that have done participation and done it pretty well…


…although as always, you’re never sure who did it, you or the community who started, kept and spread the participation.  That’s another story though.


This is more about two things; passion and scale.


Passion is what fuels participation; a central group will be hugely involved and collaborative, and others who see it are drawn to join in if it’s


a) simple to do so
b) they feel there’s encouragement to join in
c)  it’s something they’re pretty interested in



You know all this, I’ll move on.


The thing is about passion is that it disperses the bigger the group gets.  Be it a function of the Dunbar Number or whatever, it’s just really hard to do participation on any sort of massive scale.


Which is probably what makes it really hard for companies & agencies who’re used to dealing at the scale that advertising delivers to work through how they become ‘participative’ in their marketing.


Too often, perhaps, the answer reached is “to make this participative activity a success, we must set a really high target for the number of people who participate”.


Which I think is the wrong approach.


Let’s go back to this idea of Verb, Reverb and Amplify.  Rolling in the idea of participation & scale


i) VERB – what you do with people; the participation

ii) REVERB – the natural resonance that creates in social spaces; usually small, usually fast decayingiii) AMPLIFY – the way you tell the story of the what you have done together at scale; ‘advertising’, for instance





As a working model, it’s interesting as a principle.


It helps prioritise an order for doing things.


It builds in a realistic view of what’s possible, by highlighting that the natural reverberation of social spaces isn’t huge.


Which means it lets you build up more realistic targets for success.


And it gives a clear role for the more traditional media spaces of still potent tools like television (the debate about how long it remains potent is again, one for another day).


The thing I find most interesting about it though is this; for anyone who comes into contact with it at any stage, it can feel participative.


Yet it’s not reliant on mass participation to feel like a success.  It’s reliant on you being able to scale it in the right way, to tell an entertaining story about the things you’ve done with people in a compelling way.


Entertainment is central to this; the recent globalwebindex survey showed that for 66% of 16-24s, the prime motivation to engage with brands was for entertainment.  The good thing about entertaining things is that if they like them, people share them.  That’s what you were after, wasn’t it, people to share your message.


Why do the share them?  Well, finally, I think Bilal Jaffery hit the nail on the head with this…


“If I tell my friends about your brand, it’s not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friends.”


So there you go; participation, scale, entertainment & sharing.  A rough model, granted, but we’re finding it kinda useful.

[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…?

Brands are people, people are brands



Increasingly the lines are being blurred between ‘brands’ and the ‘community’ of people who work together to make and do the things that company makes and does.

Where does brand stop and community start? Lush, who’ve always made a big thing on pack of the people who work there, are taking an interesting step to show that it’s not ‘a marketing gimmick’.

Although, arguably, is this now MORE of a marketing gimmick than the stickers of people on pots? Don’t know. But I like that they like their people.