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Cash Gordon and the Tory social media fiasco

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

In a way social media is a bit like bomb disposal – get it wrong and the whole darn thing blows up in your face.

The latest ‘brand’ to get their fingers burnt (and eyebrows singed) are David ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron’s Conservative Party who launched cash-gordon.com to herald the start of online election battle and show just how on the pulse their finger is.

Set up to highlight Gordon Brown’s close relationship with the unions the site incorporated a Twitter feed showing any tweet containing the hashtag #cashgordon on the homepage. That’s right! Any tweet! And unmoderated!

Pretty soon the homepage was being bombarded by all manner of anti-Tory messages before users discovered that lines of code could also be included too. This allowed hackers to redirect visitors to other (darker) areas of the internet including, the Labour Party website, porn sites and, of course, Rick Astley videos.

Excellent Timeline courtesy of Meg Pickard

Further embarassment came when it was discovered that the $15,000  site developers had already built the template as part of a campaign against Obama’s healthcare reforms and is hosted alongside other sites including one that campaigns against gays in the military and another that aims to derail carbon trading legislation designed to combat climate change.

Compare and Contrast - "Cash Gordon" and "No Energy Tax"

The Tories aren’t the first and won’t be the last to make a pigs ear of a social media campaign and if anything can be salvaged from the debacle it is that they responded quickly and took the site down until the situation could be remedied.

While they are fortunate that the whole exercise won’t have touched the vast majority of voters, when you are trying to convince the masses that you should be running the country it doesn’t look great if you can’t even set up a website.

Walled Gardens

February 1, 2010 3 comments

Prison Break

At the end of the 18th century, the Maharajas were rulers only in name. The British showered them with jewels and Western trappings (like Vuitton tea sets). Grand palaces were created for them, which in effect were nothing but beautiful prisons. Is today’s ultimate trapping – the Internet and its peripheries – any less of a beautiful prison?

A recent FT editorial details the evolution of Apple. 1977 saw the debut of the Apple II; “owners were confronted with a cryptic blinking cursor, awaiting instructions” writes Jonathan Zittrain.  The computer was a blank canvas for the user to do with as they wish. Apple’s iPhone, Zittrain contests, is the antithesis, positing that the incredibly popular App Store was introduced only grudgingly. The chief fault with the App Store is the approval process, which eighteen months later remains byzantine and ad hoc. Zittrain rightly points out that the process excludes many harmful or offensive apps. There is, however, seemingly no specific criterion upon which apps are dismissed. To judge a piece of software on its inherent use as a service or product before it has been allowed to develop can lead to stifling of innovation. Zittrain notes “How worthy of approval would Wikipedia have seemed when it boasted only seven articles – dubiously hoping that the public would magically provide the rest?”

This argument casts Zeitgeist’s mind back to uni days spent studying technological determinism vs. social constructivism. As Ian McLoughlin explains, “The final form a technology does not, therefore, reflect its technical superiority, but rather the social processes which establish consensus around the belief that it is superior”. The Internet, originally a way for the US military to send emails, has grown inestimably beyond anything initially anticipated. Google, believing that an open-source platform will lead to innovation and advantages that they could never have thought of by themselves, have done just that with Android. Open access encourages collaboration, and always produces a more accurate solution than a smaller, more highly-qualified group. The Internet has already moved on once from the so-called “walled garden” era – when ISPs like CompuServe and AOL created their own, proprietary internets with approved material – we should not return to it.

Furthermore, a victim of its own success, the capacity of the Internet is straining under the sheer weight of data it handles. The Net Neutrality policy has been around for years but recently gained headway, finding a supporter in President Obama. There is increasing pressure on ISPs to provide preferential services (i.e. more bandwith) to certain companies, bodies or organisations who deem themselves to need it more (and who can afford to pay more for it). The upshot is a situation where certain information, or views, are more readily accessibly and available than others, “where consumers are at the mercy of the dealmaking prowess of operators and networks”. The proposed acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast has raised concern for some, especially given Comcast’s recent history. The prioritising of messages based on financial favouritism is a slippery slope, and those small and large (such as WPP) may find themselves adversely affected.

UPDATE: Australia is currently in the throes of its own net neutrality debate, according to BBC News.

Voices for Change

From the Winter 2009 Zeitgeist…

Voices for Change

“Even in the face of tyranny, people insisted that the world could change.” So said President Obama at the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Both Obama and the destruction of the Wall demonstrate the power of the populous. Weʼve seen time and again that when people have come together, online, to demand action over something, they have precipitated change. From Facebookʼs accession to Canuck privacy requirements, to HSBC changing their policy for student customers, social networks can help upset the order of things.

When more is at stake than the reinstating of an erstwhile chocolate bar, what then? Horace wrote some time ago “The mountains will be in labour; a ridiculous mouse will be born.” Thousands spoke out online in protest at the rigged Iranian elections – Afghanistan, with only 25% mobile and 1% fixed-line penetration, didnʼt stir similar attention–demonstrating a heart-warming solidarity with the Iranian people. But did it achieve anything substantial? CNN said Twitter and Facebook posts provided the US with “critical information in the face of Iranian authorities banning Western journalists from covering political rallies.” However, the camaraderie was not terribly helpful for Iranians. Despite months of protests on the streets, Ahmadinejad is still in power, and those caught face harsh punishment.

This past week has seen an event of potentially similar import in Denmark. Representatives of the developed and developing world alike attended the COP-15 summit in Copenhagen, debating how best to combat climate change. Ogilvy Earthʼs Hopenhagen campaign, charged by the UN, is designed to give people from all over the world a chance to show their desire for action to be taken. The 6.2m petitions may have played a part in the ensuing (albeit diluted) accord reached.

As Zeitgeist composes this article in the rugged environs of a remote WPP outpost, a radio station is playing Bachʼs Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. If intelligent life were to ever intercept the Voyager spacecraft jettisoned into space all those years ago, this piece of music would be the first thing they would hear. Though we can only hope for something to come of that mission, there are

pressing things on our planet that do require immediate action. Sometimes all that is necessary is to speak up and be heard. The alternative, as Niemöller pointed out, is surely far worse:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Augment that Reality

Augment that Reality

Recently, a prestigious blog (no longer an oxymoron) on advertising questioned whether despite all the hubbub, Augmented Reality might just turn out to be another Second Life: a flash-in-the-pan fad that was explosively white-hot at its inception but quickly lost its lustre when it became apparent that no one was making use of it. Could Augmented Reality [AR] suffer the same fate? Before answering, let us delve first into what AR is all about, as well as look at some uses of the technology.

It might be deemed unfair to make a comparison between Second Life and AR, purely on the grounds that one is an application and one is a technology. The difficulty in sustaining use will be in ensuring a practical and enjoyable use of the technology, i.e. fun without being gimmicky (a la QR codes).

Augmented Reality in its simplest terms is a virtual representation of the real world through still image or video overlaid with aspects of digital content. This content could be in the form of an animation to help show off a product, or it could be imagery showing a location that has been ʻtaggedʼ. Currently AR can be viewed with a webcam or with smartphones such as phones using the Android OS or iPhone. One of the most prominent examples at the moment is Layar. It can tell you where your nearest tube stop is, what the price of the house youʼre standing in front of is, a Wiki for the gallery across the road, a Flickr photo or tweet made nearby. Does all this risk being a little too much to take in though?

There are some singularly fantastic executions that companies have been doing over the past year or so. GEʼs example was the first example that Zeitgeist saw and is beautiful in its simplicity, as well as being a great piece of PR for the conglomerateʼs smart grid that President Obama has recently been tubthumping.

Lego also produced something extraordinary, featuring an ʻexplodedʼ version of one of its products on the back of the box, which then fits together, neatly assembled. Anyone who has ever experienced
any trepidation upon opening the hood of their car will welcome BMWʼs foray into the world of AR. Another example that demonstrates the usefulness for such an application is the work that AKQA produced for the USPS. Last month, Esquire magazineʼs AR issue hit the shelves: “The cover, which will feature actor Robert Downey Jr., will emerge on the screen in 3D and feature flying text and images that animate based on how the magazine is positioned.”

Only time will tell; there could even yet be a future for QR codes. Exciting prospects and practical opportunities for AR abound; the technology will have to convert consumers quickly by being easy to use with very beneficial results. Second Life turned out to be pointless; they built it, people came, had a look around and left. Let us hope the same does not happen with Augmented Reality.

Of Mad Men and Spider-Men

From the November Zeitgeist…

What do fictional characters and celebrity ambassadors say about the state of masculinity today? The last twenty years have arguably seen a dramatic shift in terms of representation in these fields, from a black president to a different type of action hero.

Indeed, we have gone from a period of filmic portrayals with Arnie and Stallone to a complete absence of testosterone-fuelled role models; Christian Bale toplines the Batman and Terminator franchises, Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man and Tobey Maguire is Spider-Man*.

Does metrosexuality, a word that Microsoft Word refuses to accept as real, now rule? The term suggests a love of the arts, of music and the theatre; it also seems to suggest a narcissistic obsession with personal appearance and general aesthetic. Russell Brand would seem to epitomize the more questionable side of this relatively new sexuality. Does he epitomise the direction manhood is heading?

Mad Men has become something of a cult hit in the UK, as well as Stateside where it has a bushel full of Emmy and Golden Globe awards. The show oozes style, cool and a love of the finer things in life. It also reminds the viewer of a time when men were [seemingly] far more in control; unquestioned, dictatorial, bitter, frustrated, introverted, promiscuous, manipulative.

Women were confined to the home, save for the most perfunctory work roles. Rather than illustrate a desire for males to return to this period of dominant bliss, what this show and its niche popularity really demonstrates is a wry enjoyment of seeing this tongue-in-cheek depiction of a world that once was, or might have been. Of indulging vicariously in a world without wars in the Middle East, without energy, water and food scarcity, without climate shocks and without gaping budget deficits.

The programmeʼs tone has undeniably bled into popular culture; the rounded collars and square pockerchiefs favoured by Zeitgeist have now become very au courant, as everything from clothing to luggage to scotch glasses becomes imbued with a touch of refined minimalist – but robustly masculine – elegance. The fictional lead, Don Draper, was recently voted the most influential man of the year by AskMen, ahead of such luminaries as Obama, Clooney and even the great Roger Federer.

Cultural depictions of men have clearly evolved over the last two decades to a less overtly aggressive portrayal. Are men more comfortable without these fantastical images? Perhaps a new pragmatism has arrived, one where men are willing to accept that moisturising may be as important as teeth brushing, and one where a superhero is not a ripped Arnold Schwarzenegger but rather a weedy, more accessible Tobey Maguire.

*UPDATE: Even Maguire is deemed too much of a man now, as Sony has scrapped plans for Spider-Man 4, instead returning the series to Peter Parker’s high-school days.