Category Archives: The media

The web and the Minimum Viable Message

I started writing a post on how the web is the perfect delivery mechanism for a Minimum Viable Message – a highly-digestible, simple, powerful idea that invites you to ‘like’ it, or sign a petition, or re-tweet it. I was just getting into how troubling this is. I was going to muse on whether a million-strong Facebook group is more or less meaningful than a dozen activists who storm a building – an actual one, IRL.

There was probably going to be a bit about how terribly easy passive support is compared to active support, and how the internet, worryingly, is much more suited to the former than the latter.  I was going to wheel out the rise and fall of #StopKony2012 as an example of just how powerful – and fickle – an online movement can be, and how this was the perfect illustration of the web exponentially disseminating highly-polished polemic, steamrolling any nuances or critique that might have stood in its way, and then doing the whole thing again in reverse. Black, then white.

I was going to maybe conclude that the web is disappointingly bad at doing debate and discussion compared to real life, where the squidgy bits in between two sides of an argument can be fully aired and indulged, at the same time, on top of each other.

Then I got a bit tired and realised I should probably go to bed, and that this has probably been written hundreds of times before, and that Matt Andrews has more or less said all this recently. Read that.


Is txt spk gonna sneak into da papers?

Earlier today, a student I’ve taught on blogging workshops tweeted this:

I started writing a reply telling him that, in public, he should be spelling words correctly. His “durin” should be a “during“. Then I stopped, because I wasn’t sure I was right.

I’ve had frequent conversations with a multilingual colleague of mine about language, and how sacred it is. We live in a fussy newspaper world of word pedants: for most newsmongers, text speak is anathema, and correctness is king. But for my 12-year old nephew chatting to his mates on BBM, text speak is second nature. It’s his language.

It’s also a collision of numerous social changes. The world moves very quickly these days, so who wants 200 words when you can make do with 20, or 20 characters when you can have 3? We don’t write letters anymore, we send text messages, which often cost more the lengthier they are.  Inevitably, the message is adapting to the medium.

Add to this the changing vernacular of urban areas over the last twenty years, influenced by decades of immigration taking root, and with it, new slang and vocal timbres. Proper English doesn’t stand a chance.

And it shouldn’t. Things change. Look at this copy of the first newspaper ever published in America, in 1690.

It’s called “Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick“. Six words, of which three have since changed to do away with superfluous letters. The second paragraph includes “beholden” and “herunto”, antiques that would be laughed at if they appeared in a newspaper column today. Each “s” is an extravagant swoosh that arches above and below the letters around it. Beautiful, but dispensable.

And here’s a recent headline from The Sun.

Bruv. Enders. Yup, the headline writer was most likely trying to squeeze the copy into limited space. But I’m sure very few people flinched when they saw it, other than broadsheet sub-editors.  It’s a story that enthralled teenagers across the country, and I bet none of them flinched. If anything, it might have made the story more likely to come into their orbit than a finely-tuned, syntax-perfect alternative.

Languages changes, and always will.

But yes, Joe, for now, should be wary of skipping his “g”s. He’s an aspiring journalist who needs abide by the foibles of his prospective employers, however old-fashioned they might be. But I wonder if the same will apply when he’s the prospective employer?

What does it mean to love something on the internet today?

Wonderful stuff from Robin Sloan. Will get you thinking.

Jobs: Don’t Be A Slave To Focus Groups

A fantastic read: Walter Isaacson on The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs

The bit on focus groups really caught me. Many industries and product makers obsess over the opinions of their audience and customers, and build around their desires. Give people what they want. This makes a lot of sense.

Or does it? In Jobs’ mind, this was lazy. He wanted to give people what they didn’t yet know they wanted.

“When Jobs took his original Macintosh team on its first retreat, one member asked whether they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No,” Jobs replied, “because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.” He invoked Henry Ford’s line “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’”

Caring deeply about what customers want is much different from continually asking them what they want; it requires intuition and instinct about desires that have not yet formed. “Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page,” Jobs explained.” link

Trouble in the house of Google

Image: Aray Chen on Flickr/Some rights reserved

The Developer: Why I left Google

“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.” more


The Designer: Goodbye Google

“Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle…I won’t miss a design philosophy that lives or dies strictly by the sword of data.” more


The Platform Guy: Google Doesn’t Get Platforms

“The problem we face is pretty huge, because it will take a dramatic cultural change in order for us to start catching up. We don’t do internal service-oriented platforms, and we just as equally don’t do external ones. This means that the “not getting it” is endemic across the company: the PMs don’t get it, the engineers don’t get it, the product teams don’t get it, nobody gets it. Even if individuals do, even if YOU do, it doesn’t matter one bit unless we’re treating it as an all-hands-on-deck emergency. We can’t keep launching products and pretending we’ll turn them into magical beautiful extensible platforms later.” more


Related posts:
The pollution of Google: an impending tragedy?
Flipboard, Taptu, Zite, and the rise of Curautomation
Coming soon: a journalisitic state of nature

Anonymous URLs … do you care?

In the age of twitter, URL shorteners (like,, etc) have proliferated. I’ve often wondered whether this is impacting the breadth of what people are reading on the web. Historically, a passionate anti-Guardian punter might refuse to click on a Guardian link they came across it, or a liberal chin-stroker would be worried about what their colleague think if they were caught browsing the Sun or the Daily Mail. But often these days we don’t know where we’re going. Yup, many sites now have their own bespoke short URLs (, huff.po, etc), but most don’t. I’m fascinated to know if you care. Thanks.

• Here’s another thing I wrote on media loyalty in the internet age. I’m not sure I agree with myself anymore, but there you go.

Tokyo city guide for the Guardian

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I did lots of meddling for the Guardian’s Tokyo city guide. I’m very proud of it.

Nieman Labs, The Next Web and Mashable all ran stories on it. This made my tummy tingle a bit. How sad.