Monday, October 22, 2007

1984 Circa 2007

I mentioned in a past post how Christopher Hitchens, the author of Why Orwell Matters, claimed in an interview that sales of Orwell's books always rise in times of strife and conflict, because his message in 1984, Animal Farm, and Homage to Catalonia is perpetually relevant. When I looked online at Amazon ranking for 1984, I was disappointed to find this wasn't true.

Over the weekend The New York Times ran front page story on the current situation in the country, and Orwell made an appearance in the third paragraph:

“It’s not peace you see here, it’s silence; it’s a forced silence,” said a 46-year-old writer who joined last month’s protests in Yangon and was now on the run, carrying with him a worn copy of his favorite book, George Orwell’s “1984.” “We are the military’s slaves. We want democracy. We want to wait no longer. But we are afraid of their guns.”

This prompted me to recheck sales of the book over the last few weeks, and they indeed have risen. Hitchens may be right after all, which feels like good and bad news.

The pseudonymous Emma Larkin, author of Finding George Orwell in Burma, has been writing a lot about current events, and was back in-country recently. There's an interesting thread here too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Stupid Statistic of the Week: Spit Swapping

A quick, cheap, and simple way to manufacture news is to create a survey and publish the results.

Quick, cheap and simple it may be, but it is definitely not original: I counted 230 surveys on Business Wire just over the last 24 hours. My favorite this week is from the American Dental Association that shows 44% of Americans "are swapping spit" by sharing their toothbrush, some kind of national calamity it would seem. Apparently, 54% also report they'd use their toothbrush even if they dropped it on the floor. The same ADA also reported medical research suggesting how E.coli gets on a toothbrush and thence multiplies and is transferred to your mouth - disgusting stuff, I'll save you by omitting the link.

The PR goal here is presumably to enhance the public's understanding of oral hygiene, but this conflicts with the journalistic goal of manufacturing an amusing and titillating headline. The consequent news coverage can work in the right setting, but too often undermines the intended objective or diminishes the other, more serious intentions of the organisation behind the news.

More stupid stats in later posts - please send me suggestions.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Gartner ITExpo is over, at last. Some 6,000 blameless IT professionals have sat through hundreds of presentations on every conceivable aspect of IT. All these different presentations shared one thing in common - all were delivered using Powerpoint. It's very hard to imagine any presentation being delivered without Powerpoint today - it is ubiquitous. As a result there's many blogs discussing how to make your PP decks better: Creative services offers how-to hints; Indezine takes a design-centric view; Dave Paradi seems to have a broader perspective on presenting effectively with PP.

Death by Powerpoint is a real phenomenom, and PP isn't a very flexible approach to presenting any information, on any subject, as the excellent Edward Tufte makes clear. Often, I'm not even sure what it adds - many presenters seem to use slides as memory crutches, or read directly off the slide as if it where a script. Most slides add little additional information. All this is a shame, because many good analysts presenting at the Gartner event stood in front of gigantic, 20 foot screens that delivered miniscule value and which overshadowed what they actually had to say.

Without question the best presentation of the show was the (ironically) Powerpoint-less interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, well summarized in Deal Architect (and a podcast review here). He has an audience of a few thousand, and everyone was paying full attention. Ballmer famously dismissed social computing (aka Facebook and everything down to this blog) as a 'fad', although his recent pronouncements shows a more nuanced view. Microsoft clearly wants to take on Google, the darling of the analyst and Wall Street set: Based on what I saw, I wouldn't want Ballmer after my business, even if he is the guy behind Powerpoint.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Agenda Setting

I started this blog commenting on blogs, a kind of involution, I know. Anyway, commenting on hype brought me back to the subject. What is hype, anyway? From the wonderfully indispensable Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source - Share This
/haɪp/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[hahyp] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation verb, hyped, hyp·ing, noun Informal.

–verb (used with object)

1. to stimulate, excite, or agitate (usually fol. by up): She was hyped up at the thought of owning her own car.

2. to create interest in by flamboyant or dramatic methods; promote or publicize showily: a promoter who knows how to hype a prizefight.

3. to intensify (advertising, promotion, or publicity) by ingenious or questionable claims, methods, etc. (usually fol. by up).

4. to trick; gull.


5. exaggerated publicity; hoopla.

6. an ingenious or questionable claim, method, etc., used in advertising, promotion, or publicity to intensify the effect.

7. a swindle, deception, or trick.

[Origin: 1925–30, Americanism; in sense “to trick, swindle,” of uncert. orig.; subsequent senses perh. by reanalysis as a shortening of
hyperbole ]

Modern hype, in the Britney Spears sense, is a shameless, at-any-cost grab for media attention. In the Princess Diana sense, it’s something that is thrust upon the subject, no doubt with only nominal resistance, but is nevertheless persistent and audience-driven (she’s dead, remember, and ain't looking for any more publicity herself).

Blogs fuel hype – it’s all part of their amplification role. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the amplifier isn’t selective, as you can see from the attached chart from BlogPulse. I’ve graphed the blogging counts for SOA (nerd alert: service oriented architecture is a new movement in IT), for Web 2.0 (similar nerd alert applies), and George Bush (democracy alert on this one). Now, whether you think Bush is God’s gift to political life or a plaque on American values (correct answer is the latter), he is undoubtedly more significant, more known, more in the news than, say, Web 2.0. But you’ll see this is not reflected in the blogosphere: Web 2.0 is getting more attention than Bush.

Did anyone notice there’s a war going on?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hype Cycle

This week I’m attending Gartner’s ITExpo in Orlando, you can read more about it at their blog. I arrived at the hotel a few minutes ago – it’s strange to see thousands of middle-aged guys milling around with the 2 year-old Mickey Mouse set.

Gartner’s a strange beast, the 200 pound gorilla of the IT industry that can make or break markets, companies, and products. They started out in 1979 and now have almost 4,000 employees, of which about 1,200 are analysts. Forrester and IDC are the only other companies that really compete in terms of size and influence. IT is complex, and there’s not doubt that these companies add a lot of value by providing insight and context on how to make technology effective and productive. And from a marketing perspective, these firms are hugely influential.

Gartner has a concept called the Hype Cycle, which they apply to IT trends and new technologies, but which I’d love to see applied to diets, cars, bands, or movie stars. What’s strange about the Hype Cycle is that is can become a self-fulfilling prophecy – the very act of Gartner placing something on the curve elevates it and gives it new buzziness. Forrester famously got into trouble when the Internet bubble burst, and the Wall Street Journal showed how they’d fuelled positive forecasts for companies and markets right up until they’d collapsed. Some are seeing similar over-hype around the whole Web 2.0 phenomenon, which is a major theme at the Gartner event.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Soap Opera

I’ve worked in technology marketing for most of my career, and have always harbored a lingering envy for my consumer brethren. After all, they get to play with bongo bucks in the mass media, peddling aspirational lifestyles to young moms to sell soap. I get to drone on about SOAP message headers to Web services developers to sell SOA governance applications. It just doesn’t seem fair.

But over the last few years technology companies have wised-up to the wishful aspirations of even the geekiest of IT professionals, and have tried borrowing a page from the consumer marketing playbook. The results in press releases, whitepapers, and corporate reports are mostly painful and embarrassing – just visit the average software company’s homepage if you’ve doubts. Better yet, try Andrew Davidson’s marketing gibberish generator for a few simulated paragraphs of the stuff I’m referring to. Dack’s has a pithier version of the same.

Why does this happen? I think it’s a simultaneous desire to inflate value, combined with a wrongheaded notion that good marketing is monolithic. But more on the diagnosis later – for now, lets cut straight to a cure. A few years back Deliotte Consulting developed software designed to test for gibberish before it hits the wire or website: bullfighter. Give it a try.