Archive for April, 2009


April 23, 2009



After hearing my father has become Twitter’s number one fan, I have since learnt that the latest craze in social media is apparently becoming a firm favourite with the older generation. ComScore, the internet market researchers,  have released some surprising statistics showing that 45 to 54-year-olds are 36 per cent more likely than average to visit Twitter. It has rapidly become a voice for business as well as pleasure, which most likely explains its attraction to older users like my father, who have probably explored every other traditional form of business networking there is.


However, I have noticed that the younger generation have not yet fully embraced it. My guess is that the typically tech-savvy, younger users of Facebook and MySpace don’t really know what to make of such a simple concept. They can easily create an identity by filling a whole page with photos, videos and various other widgets, but without actually saying very much for themselves. They have become brainwashed and spoilt by the endless technology applications available. Perhaps the simplicity of Twitter stumps them, invariably making it more difficult.


I have to admit, myself being an occasional tweeter from the ‘younger generation’, I sometimes find myself a bit stuck for things to ‘tweet’. It also seems the most popular tweets to follow are those of the more mature users such as Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross. This gets me thinking that their worldly words are simply more interesting and that maybe they just have more to say?


Perhaps we are all wrong to think kids are the only ones jumping on new technology!


Phorm causing data privacy storm

April 17, 2009

The media has been crawling with stories on data security for months.  Whatever your choice of rag it has become almost impossible to escape the big bad world of data leak disasters and ignore the increasingly plaintive cries of data collection critics.

This week Amazon announced it will not allow online advertising system, Phorm, to scan its web pages in order to produce targeted advertising.  The Phorm Webwise service works by building a profile of users by scanning for keywords on websites visited and then assigning relevant ads. Essentially, it tracks users’ activities online and sends them targeted, context-sensitive advertising.

Phorm has already proved controversial – not only within the technology industry but also amongst politicians and, consequentially, the mainstream media.  There is an ongoing political debate about user consent and earlier this week the European Commission announced infringement action against the UK government for failing to take action over secret trials run by Phorm and BT.

Today the Wikimedia Foundation also asked Phorm to exclude all its domains and websites – including Wikipedia – from Phorm’s BT trials, because it considers such scanning to be an infringement of its users’ privacy.

I see why these data privacy campaigners are concerned, and I’m sure that there is a plethora of reasons why one wouldn’t want others to gather data on their surfing habits, but personally I don’t feel particularly affronted by the rise of such technologies.   Maybe this is because I always ignore internet ads anyway, or maybe it’s because I just don’t really care if a third party knows which websites I am visiting.  Too blasé?  Perhaps… I hope no-one clones my bank card details again! 


MIT wants to make the virtual a reality…

April 16, 2009


Augment your newspaper...

Augment your newspaper...


It seems it’s no longer about interfacing the technology with people, but interfacing the people with the technology.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  are working on a system to bring the Web 2.0 world into the real world.

The SixthSense project aims to create a wearable device that can augment the real world with projected images, turning any surface into a display screen. Users can summon virtual images at will and brush them away when they are done. At the moment the prototype is worn around the neck and connects via Wi-Fi to a user’s phone. 

The device tries to intelligently predict the information you will need by monitoring what you are doing in the real world and interfacing this with the web. For example, if you are looking at a movie poster, the system could display reviews and screening times beside it. The device also monitors the movements of your hands, allowing it to be controlled remotely. So if you wanted to take a digital photograph you could simply make a photo frame with your hands. Need to check the time? Just draw a circle on your wrist. Want to browse the internet? Draw an @ symbol in the air.

It sounds cool. We want one.

What do web trends and subway maps have in common?

April 9, 2009

Answer: Quite a lot if you live in Japan. Some clever people at Information Architects have mapped the most popular web trends of 2009 onto the Tokyo tube system map. Each rail line represents a topic – for example there is an Advertising Line, Entertainment Line and a News Line – whereas each station represents a particular trend, which could be a brand, person or internet meme.

But what’s really clever is that each web trend correlates to the characteristics of each real-life station. For example, if this was a map of the London Underground we might see YouTube represented as Liverpool Street, due its large traffic and association with flash-mob videos.  Similarly, Old Street might be Twitter due to the large population of social media types based in Shoreditch.


Obviously these subtleties will make more sense to those living in Japan but it’s an impressive piece of work none-the-less, and they’ve picked up quite a bit of coverage off the back of it too. Click here for a high-res version of the map.

A gift for causing offence…

April 3, 2009
You dont even know what you did wrong, do you?

You don't even know what you did wrong, do you?

International relations is fraught with danger at the best of times, but perhaps the most awkward gaffes occur when presenting diplomatic gifts. These presents have to be just right: valuable but not gaudy, meaningful but not obvious… and sometimes things go horribly, horribly wrong.

During his recent visit to the US, Obama opted to give Gordon Brown a box-set of 25 classic American movies and a couple of toy helicopters from the White House gift shop. This might have been seen as a cheap and thoughtless gift at the best of times, but it gets worse: the DVDs were Region 1 encoded, and so were completely unplayable in the UK…

Well, never mind, Gordon probably didn’t put too much effort into his gift either…

Think again: he presented President Obama with an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slave ship HMS Gannet. The oak from the Gannet’s sister ship, HMS Resolute, was carved into a desk that has been displayed in the White House since 1880. And that’s not all. Mr. Brown also gave President Obama a framed commission for HMS Resolute – a ship that came to symbolise Anglo-American friendship – and a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert.

When a public relations furore kicked off, a senior White House official didn’t help by saying to The Sunday Telegraph: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world. You shouldn’t expect special treatment.” Now that’s diplomacy!

Here are some other classic failures of diplomatic gifting:

  • In 2006, the Sultan of Brunei gave tongue-tied President Bush Forgotten English, a game for improving your vocabulary.
  • Hilary Clinton gave a red button marked “reset” to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as a light-hearted gesture to symbolise the thawing of relations. Unfortunately, her staff had mistranslated the word and it actually meant “overcharge”.
  • George W again. This time he received a high-powered assault rifle and a copy of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook from Gabon. Very appropriate at the time!

As Maxim and Arena close down, online reigns supreme

April 2, 2009


The news that the June issue of Maxim will be their last one in print is another blow to the media industry. With Arena recently closing too this is a powerful indicator that there is likely to be more bad news on the horizon this year.  If advertisers continue to cut their budgets the traditional media that has been relied on for so long to seed messages and ideas will not be able to survive.  Now, more than ever, brands need to be turning to the online world to reach their audience – targeting editorial websites, effectively engaging with relevant and influential bloggers or creating campaigns that target consumers through social media. This may mean getting out of the old comfort zone and learning entirely new skills.


The ones that jump in without researching these avenues first or gaining any insight into best practice have been, and will continue to be, the ones that get burned. And this burn doesn’t fade. The power of the online world is such that your mistakes are permanently etched into the web for all to see, leaving you with a lasting scar.  Ironically, the lesson here is that nothing changes – whether it’s traditional or social media, as always, it is the companies that take the time to understand their audience, and the channels they are using to target that audience, that will see the best results.  They’ll be the ones that sail through campaign after campaign not just unscathed, but in good health.


Let’s face it, gaming is good for you

April 1, 2009


We can pretty much guarentee that this wont happen to you...

We can pretty much guarantee that this won't happen to you...


It’s probably safe to say that if you’ve seen any gaming stories in the news recently it was a negative report. Games are reputed to be addictive, bad for your love-life, make you fat and, even more tenuously, groom children to become homicidal maniacs.

We’ve already covered how gaming is helping everyone lose weight through new platforms like the Wii Fit,  but it turns out that it can have many other beneficial effects. Here are just two…

It used to be said that sitting too close to TV and computer screens would give you “square eyes” (we can only guess how many children were permanently scarred by that one) but it turns out that regular gaming actually improves your vision and hand-eye coordination. Recent research has shown that gamers were better at spotting important information in busy, confusing scenes. Gaming can even restore stereo vision in people suffering from lazy-eye syndrome.

Problem-solving and coordinated team-based gaming has also been shown to increase the IQ of players, while they can also educate children about literature, history, art and music. According to a Cornell study, games have been shown to help children combat ADHD and increase concentration levels. Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad is Good for You, has even claimed that video games are the future of learning…

Is there nothing gaming can’t do?

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