MonthJuly 2005

Popbitch shows off the internet fallacy: if the Net works after a bomb, so will everything else… right?

Now I know it’s summer and that people go on holiday, but even so I just couldn’t believe the feature by Camilla Wright of Popbitch at The Observer. In “News from the streets, straight to the web” she’s either got some amazing irony thing going on, or serious delusions. I’m actually hoping it’s the irony thing.

Here’s just a few points where this article (about how nowadays, maaan, everyone gets their breaking news from the web) is loco.

Once upon a time, on 7 July, when London came under terrorist attack, Britain went into a frenzy, with hundreds of thousands of people trying to reach loved ones and find out just what was going on. Mobile phone networks crashed, unable to handle the traffic.

Online news sites such as CNN, Sky and the BBC all went down that morning, overloaded with people desperately trying to check out the latest information. Yet hundreds of thousands of media-savvy web users turned to the message board on celebrity gossip site Popbitch to get news and information before anyone else.

Um – the BBC website was fine. And I listened to the radio. And since when was PB the place to go to find out breaking news on terror attacks? (And this is just the first two paras. I skimmed, thinking things would improve.) OK, it’s certainly the place if you want to know about Dutch footballers and suppressed videos and Posh’s next failed contract and so on. However..

She then claims that PB was the place to go on 9/11 “when all news sites crashed and phone lines went dead.” Um, Camilla? I watched Sky News. Could have watched BBC 24. Online news site? Third alternative after radio.

When Shepherd’s Bush tube was targeted by a bomber, it apparently took the BBC three hours to get a reporter on to the scene, even though BBC TV Centre is less than a mile away. Online news sites can react much faster.

Yes, but can they get a reporter who can actually report – you know, find stuff out – to the site? That three hours was likely because the police wouldn’t let anyone near. It would have taken three hours if you were 100 yards away, probably.

Popbitch’s traffic skyrocketed. On 7 July, we saw a 300 per cent rise in users logging on during the first hours after the attacks. In the first hour, we had more than 10 times the usual hourly traffic. By the end of the day, we’d seen the second busiest day in our five-year history. The busiest since 9/11. So even if you couldn’t contact anyone by phone, you could post that you were safe and well, and know that this would mean something to thousands of readers.

Yup, that would be simple. I’ll just go to this internet cafe and… oh, there’s a queue of 5,000 people. Um.. I’ll email it from my phone! Oh no, the phone network’s down. Urr.. I’ll voice-phone it in. Oh, no, there’s a queue of 10,000 for the phone box. Maybe buy a Blackberry? No, the mobile network is down, remember. Guh.

There’s some trace of the necessary irony in this piece, though I wish she’d made it clearer and said that when the bombs hit Dresden that all the US POWs were able to write books to say they were safe and well… But come on, this is witless. It’s got the internet fallacy: the belief that because the Net can (in theory) work after a nuclear attack, everything else will. Ain’t so. You’ll need working phone lines or networks besides a hand-turned generator to keep the blog going, people. Quite apart from the other problems.

Comic Strip 126 : there are lots of different bloggers in the world, also real ones

Now I could be bad here and nick a whole lot of bandwidth off Comic Strip Blog by just including a link to the images (which are, duh, comic strips he’s drawn himself) but that would be kind of annoying (to him). I feel like I’ve done enough of that kinda thing for now. Plus the idea is to get you to go there and at least decide. It’s a blog in comic strip form. Do you follow?

I’m quite taken with Comic Strip 126 : there are lots of different bloggers in the world, also real ones though there’s plenty there on the front page. Plus it’s WordPress-powered, so you can read the strip and the comments right from your newsreader. Wa-hey.

That reminds me, I must go see how Get Your War On is, um, getting on.

(Via Comic Strip Blog.)

“After the iPod – isn’t that like asking what’s after the book”? Nice to get misunderstood…

Over at “Tim’s Tales, Travels, and Travails” he’s asking (himself?) Will subscription music come into its own? and pointing out how he’s got a subscription to Yahoo which lets him listen to any of a million tracks. (How’s it on Verdi? Maurice Chevalier? To name but a couple I’ve been ripping this evening. But I digress.)

He points to Jonny Evans’s Wired report about the Musictank evening that was title “I came, I saw, iPod: what’s next?”. I didn’t choose the title..

Anyway, Tim says: As long as I have room on my hard drive or access to the Internet, I can choose to listen to any song at pretty much any time. And: I question the folks who say things like: “After the iPod — isn’t that like asking what’s after the book?” asked journalist and keynote speaker Charles Arthur, who argued that music will not necessarily flow to cell phones.

Well, let’s at least clear up the issue of what I said after the phrase “isn’t that like asking what’s after the book?” I then said: “We all know that there have been lots of things after the book – films, TV, radio, DVDs. But the book keeps on going and maintains its popularity. Ask JK Rowling.” OK? Are we clear? I don’t see these things killing each other; they can all coexist. But everyone is driven by the media’s agenda to find “fights to the death” (which only happen with stuff like VHS vs Betamax) into believing that either iPods kill or are killed by cell phones. Uh-uh. Ain’t so. It’s books and videos, if you ask me.

As for his other point – about having room on his HD or access to the internet – I think that not having access to the Net is one of those things that geeks take for granted. But everyone else finds it unusual. About half the UK population doesn’t have internet access at home. Think on that one.

Oh, but the real reason I’m posting this here is that Tim’s blog *requires* that you have a Microsoft .NET Passport ID and sign in with it before you can comment. Err, clue – not about to happen. Certainly it’s a good way to deter spammers (or the ones who can’t be bothered to set up their own Spaces blogs on which to link-spam the world). It’s also a near-100% perfect way to deter everyone else, Tim.

Patience, please..

I’ve upgraded the site to the latest and possibly greatest version of WordPress, but not everything seems to have come along. Tweaks will follow. Your patience appreciated.

… (a little later..) Ah, OK. That should be it. Little matters like missing plugins – hah! And missing /ul/ markers all over the place. Trivial.
Now added: the “most commented-on” place. See if you can catch up with the G4 one! (Actually, being there will probably draw Google, which will draw G4 fans, which will..)

Let me know of any oddness you experience. Note too that hyphenated words in comments may get unhyphenated as part of the anti-spam measures.

..even later.. OK, it’s not perfect – the “recent comments” is smaller than the rest. I’ve lost a /ul/ or maybe /li/ somewhere, but can’t figure it out. Prize to whoever can.

Apparently it’s questionable to question someone else’s assertion that someone is a hack..

The following got denied for having “questionable content” by the comments filter on Ed Bott’s blog. (I couldn’t work out which bit, and the filter wasn’t telling.) So I’ll have to hope he’ll see this through trackback, as a response to his comment that “Andrew Orlowski [of The Register] is a hack”.

All I wanted to say was:

In fairness – or perhaps, better, precision – the top sentence says “some users”. Not all. So to say, Ed, that because you’re seeing it means that everyone is seeing it falls into what one might call “observer’s syllogism” (if it’s true here, it must be true everywhere).

Also, Robert Scoble saw this problem himself. And the story has been updated, twice, once with a link to Scoble’s blog.

(Disclosure: I write sometimes for The Register; I’ve worked with Andrew Orlowski on some stories, notably about online music stores’ cut of business: his figures were correct.)

Also, I’m never sure if “hack” is such a powerful insult for a journalist. It’s got a long and proud history in the UK.

It certainly seems, anyway, that AO’s story about IE7 beta blocking the Google search bar for some people has caused a storm. Read the story and follow the links, especially to Scoble’s blog and comments, for a good laugh.

(Later..) Ed’s problem was a spare blank line in his filters, which thus rejects all attempted comments. As Ed says, “I get hundreds or thousands of attempts per day” (tch – lightweight). Anyway, he’s gone further into the matter here. I think we can all agree that IE7 is a beta. (That’s why I’m not planning to write about it, nor Vista’s beta, in the next few weeks.) Even so, the discussion on Scoble’s blog is hilarious. Almost as funny as that at Josh Einstein’s. Now there’s a guy who *did* need to get a camping break this weekend. And thankfully did. Else I fear he might have shot his display.

Ian Hobson succumbs to the lure of “and what’s more…”

Ian Hobson (a regular here) has created Hob’s Blog. He’s already managed to work out how to post from his mobile phone. *And* he knows people from Pixar. That thing on his head? His propeller. Enjoy.

In The Independent: who’s going to buy Microsoft’s new Vista?

This week in The Independent I’m mulling over the renaming of Longhorn to Vista, and more importantly the question of who will buy Vista? Consumers hang on to their machines for about four years, and generally don’t update their OS. Windows XP is only now achieving two-thirds penetration (going by the stats at http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp – scroll down, pausing only to gape at the stats for Firefox, but noting that the visitors to the site aren’t representative of the Web as a whole). Businesses are only gradually moving to XP. That’s four years after XP launched.

Plus there’s the thorny question of quite what Vista will do that XP doesn’t. It all adds up to a big questionmark. But of course, there’s a long way to go.

(One editing slip is that it suggests that Microsoft’s naming video “tells us that “using Vista will, at last, enable you to: sit in front of a computer, show someone your tablet PC, show someone else your mobile phone, get into cars while carrying a laptop and walk through sun-soaked rooms with highly polished floors, even while being buffeted by pulses of multicoloured light.” Actually, that was Joe Fay at The Register’s take on it. Mm, pulses of multicoloured light…)

Sense of proportion department: the Daily Express today..

Ah, great. You wake up and find another considered headline from the Daily Express. Isn’t life grand? Daily Express front page

One wonders too why they held themselves back at that – surely they’d have preferred to have had the headline the other way round…

Also, when they say “asylum seekers” I think what they actually want to say is “illegal immigrants” because the latter is, um, illegal while the former are legal. But “asylum seekers” fits two decks in 72pt much neater than “illegal immigrants”. 6 units + 7 units vs 5 units and 10 units, for those who know how to do unit counts for headlines. (Every lower-case letter is 1 unit, except m which is 1.5, and i & l which are 0.5. Capitals are 1.5.)

And isn’t it enough to say “bombers are bombers”? Isn’t that far enough beyond the pale? Oh, no, because the Express isn’t as interested in getting rid of bombers as it is in getting rid of asyl… illegal immigrants.

(Oh, I took the picture in the newsagent. No way I’m going to pay for stuff like that.)

Those pregnancy blues.. and whites.. and the iPod Flea

Here’s a fun way to start your day. Join this pair of young expectant people as they await the results of their home pregnancy test pregnancytest.mov here. (Quicktime Movie, dunno how big – broadband for sure).

Oh, but even better is the iPod Flea advert. So many puns – flea collar (so you can store lots of them), the place you buy the songs (… market, geddit..?). And they’ve also got the Voice Of Doom voiceover bloke, or a soundalike. Very nice. Oh, although this seems to be a WMA, or possibly Real file.

What’s the point in embargoes? It’s not to keep things sikrit

Robert Scoble again. Sorry, but I’ve sort of found the time to dip into his bloggings. Microsoft has launched its Virtual Earth, which everyone has instantly compared to Google Earth and Google Maps, and found wanting (or at least very out of date), though RS prefers to link to Elliott Back writes: ‘Wow! These are just my first impressions, but it seems like Microsoft has built a Google-Maps killer!’ More like a Google Maps gooser. Killer… well, only if it becomes the default in some future operating system.

More interestingly, Scoble – who disallowed himself from leaking how “Longhorn” is now going to be monikered “Vista” earlier – wonders:

So, why do we have embargoes? I think it’s one of those last things that survive from old-school PR. They are trying to give everyone in the media an equal shot at being out at the gate. I personally think we need to reevaluate our rules here. The word-of-mouth network is just getting too efficient to try to live by these rules anymore.

Well, sort of. It’s really so that people who want to control news (usually not journalists) can be sure of what time that news will come out.

But it’s also about journalists being able to be sure that a particular story will come out equally across all places, so it’ll have impact that they won’t miss out on. And it gives them advance warning to do their own digging around; many science and health stories are released under embargo, which gives specialist journalists the time to truly evaluate their significance.

Often scientists will know about what’s happening, through this interweb thingy or more often from being at conferences where papers’ results are discussed ahead of publication (or in the bar after the conference). Embargoes have their value. Weirdly, stories have more impact when they come out across all media at the same time.

Exclusives are what journalists get on their own; I always used to tell PRs, when I was at The Independent, that I could make a better case for running a story to my newsdesk if I could say that everyone would have it at the same time. Else, if it were exclusive, the desk editors would look at me and say “Will it hold?” Meaning – can we put it by for a rainy day?

Scoble again:

By holding bloggers back from talking about it we’re just keeping us from getting involved in the conversation which keeps us from making sure you learn about the coolest features.

Hmm, after what you did with your “reports” about Microsoft and Claria, Robert, I’d have thought you’d be glad to be kept back from being involved in the “conversation”. (Read Jupiter Research’s Microsoft Monitor: “Why Not Get It Right the First Time?“) Just a thought.