Elsewhere: An Insiders View Of Government

The diary format is easy to dip in to – and that had been my intention – but I found I was hooked and could spend many hours reading; it’s not a slimline book!

A just posted a review on Goodreads and Amazon of Chris Mullin’s account of life inside the Labour government.

A View from the FoothillsA View from the Foothills by Chris Mullin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an insiders view of life as a Labour MP and, at times, as a junior Minsiter (transport and environment/Africa) this is a compelling read. The diary format is easy to dip in to – and that had been my intention – but I found I was hooked and could spend many hours reading; it’s not a slimline book! The inner working of government are fascinating: Mullin has a particular dislike for the poorly written speeches he was expected to deliver; the excesses of Ministerial cars and the fact that, as a Junior Minister, it seems impossible to actually get anything done. It’s interesting to see that a relatively few number of MPs – mainly those nearest the Prime Minister – can actually do very much at all; the rest expected to tow the party line. Mullin was not that close to The Man but he certainly has a different view than most of us. Of most interest historically, of course, are the discussions that lead to the UK’s support of the Iraqi war but, if you’re interested in how much of government works, this is possibly better positioned than some of the bigger names.

View all my reviews

Elsewhere: Jon Curnow Joins aiMatch as Director of Product

aiMatch announced today that Jon Curnow has joined the team as director of product. Jon will spearhead the company’s product development efforts to ensure its advertising intelligence solutions continue to meet the needs of publishers around the globe.

Press Release: Jon Curnow Joins aiMatch as Director of Product

RALEIGH, NC, July 29, 2010: aiMatch announced today that Jon Curnow has joined the team as director of product. Jon will spearhead the company’s product development efforts to ensure its advertising intelligence solutions continue to meet the needs of publishers around the globe. Jon has more than 13 years of experience in the online advertising industry, and joins the fast growing team of industry experts at aiMatch including executives Jeff Wood, Guy Taylor, Ryan Treichler, Steve Perks and Chris Hanburger.

Based in the UK, Jon most recently served as head of product management for Experian Digital Advertising. There, he was responsible for defining product requirements for the European launch of Experian’s addressable advertising products with major European portals. Working across multiple business groups, he also defined technical requirements, coordinated data management processes, and developed work-flow and ad-platform integrations with clients to successfully deliver audience targeting products.

Prior to Experian, Jon worked with many of his aiMatch colleagues at Microsoft Advertising, Atlas Europe, Accipiter Solutions, and Engage. Throughout his online advertising career, he developed online advertising solutions for new platforms including mobile, television, gaming and outdoor environments. He also served as an evangelist for emerging media platforms to publishers, advertisers and media/creative agencies. For years, Jon has provided European product expertise and direction and contributed to the  development and execution of EMEA strategy for these leading online advertising technology companies. He has also held positions at Dynamic Logic and IPC Media.

“I’m excited to rejoin my former colleagues at a company that’s so focused on delivering cutting-edge solutions to help digital media owners better understand – and control – their online advertising business,” said Jon. “It’s also a great opportunity to work with an experienced team of experts who are leading ad platform innovation and development.”

“Jon’s experience includes roles in nearly every aspect of online advertising, giving him a unique and powerful perspective of the entire online advertising ecosystem,” said Jeff Wood, aiMatch CEO. “That experience will enable him to work with our customers to make sure they get the most out of their online advertising technology investment.”

aiMatch has created a single, comprehensive solution for publishers to create, forecast, model, deliver and analyze online advertising products. aiMatch delivers advanced advertising intelligence tools to help customers manage sales performance and analyze the data that impacts revenue, and to take intelligent action based on that data. aiMatch overcomes the limitations of traditional ad serving solutions by enabling the analysis of unlimited amounts of data, ranging from the very simple to the extremely complex, and making that data actionable.

About aiMatch

Founded by a team of online advertising technology experts who have been entrenched in the industry since its inception, aiMatch is dedicated to putting advertising intelligence (ai)  in the hands of online publishers, helping them create new and better defined audiences, create new revenue opportunities, and maximize the value of their advertising inventory.

At aiMatch we understand that premium, guaranteed inventory is a publisher’s primary online advertising asset. That is why the aiMatch solution equips publishers with a comprehensive platform to help them make intelligent decisions. We solve the complexity of business intelligence, forecasting, simulation and delivery with unprecedented and scalable capabilities that match the best use of a publisher’s online advertising inventory.

aiMatch connects insight to action, enabling users to view and interact with data in the “big picture” – to be proactive and effective in inventory placement, packaging and pricing. For more information, visit www.aimatch.com.

Elsewhere: Blitzed! The Autobiography of Steve Strange

In some respects it’s a fascinating tale of fame and hedonism. If, however, you’ve read biographies of other Eighties pop stars then you’ve heard a lot of it before. The story seems to have been repeated: humble beginnings drive creativity which lead to fame and then there is a some-kind of fa

I’ve just finished Blitzed! The autobiography of Steve Strange and posted my review to Amazon:

Steve Strange was an icon of the Eighties music scene, a visionary and a leader. I suspect he’s often over-looked but his contribution was vital. His clubs kick-started a movement and the band he fronted, Visage, were pioneers of – what became – the New Romantics: make-up, big hair, big hats and even bigger shirt lapels and cuffs. From the beginning of the decade, and out of the punk movement, came the classic Fade To Gray. Visage and Steve Strange were combining fashion and music in a radical new way.

Blitzed has an informal style which makes it quite readable. Strange name-drops his way through a decade and apologises quite a lot for his behaviour. It’s a cautionary tale of a rise to fame, money mis-management and drug addiction. It’s the story of London squats and club-land rivalry and of a community who knew they were changing nightclubs, the fashion scene and music – and doing it all in a few short years. It is a struggle to stop a man falling over the edge and trying to make sense of a life where once his name was in lights but the money is long gone.

In some respects it’s a fascinating tale of fame and hedonism. If, however, you’ve read biographies of other Eighties pop stars then you’ve heard a lot of it before. The story seems to have been repeated: humble beginnings drive creativity which lead to fame and then there is a some-kind of fall (usually, drink or drug induced). Blitzed is an enjoyable read but Boy George will give you more and Marc Almond will take you further. If you knew the club scene of the time there’s a insight into the door policies of the new breed of Eighties clubs and how they worked. If you are looking for the story of Visage then, obviously, it’s covered here and this will be a valuable reference – but it’s more about the man than the band.

If you remember the decade then you’ll read this book regardless but, sadly, I felt there could have been a little more. Nonetheless, Blitzed reinforces Steve Strange’s rightful place as a leader of a movement who’s certainly not about to fade away.

Elsewhere: Blogging & Advertising

Over on the ukbloggers-discuss at Yahoo Groups, we’ve been having a discussion about advertising, prompted by Tom Coates asking, “Did we ever come to any conclusions about the appropriateness of advertising?” in the context of blogging. In essence we’re saying that blogging is personal and, if you decide that your audience will accept advertising, what does this mean and how iwll it work for a blog?

Over on the ukbloggers-discuss mailing list at Yahoo Groups, we’ve been having a discussion about advertising, prompted by Tom Coates asking, “Did we ever come to any conclusions about the appropriateness of advertising?” in the context of blogging. In essence we’re saying that blogging is personal and, if you decide that your audience will accept advertising, what does this mean and how will it work for a blog?

I started quite open to the concept,

I believe advertising is a compromise. Are you comfortable with a reader questioning your independence? I know it’s a very grand term but, nonetheless, it’s at the heart of the advertising debate. It may not matter to the vast majority of readers but it could (should?) to some. I don’t think anybody but me cares about my independence but it is the reason why I wouldn’t want any advertising on my blog.

But is it that simple? Blogging generally costs something – hosting, bandwidth, time and effort. Should a blogger be entitled to get a little something back? I don’t think advertising is a bad thing on blogs,

When typing my previous post I was being very careful not to say that I felt the acceptance of advertising is inappropriate (because I don’t think it is) but I do believe that while it shouldn’t change what you do or what you say, it may very well change the way you are read. And for some people, that’s a consideration (admittedly, probably not for many).

Or am I putting an undue emphasis on editorial independence for bloggers? Perhaps I am. Is it a silly notion to (try to) apply to weblogs in all their forms?

But then Tom introduced me to projectblog.com, a site aimed at recruiting bloggers with reasonable audiences “who would be willing to help advance their marketing efforts”, and introduced the concept of blogging about products you may have been sent as freebies or paid to write about. I think I turned cynical,

My first reaction was that it proved my point about editorial independence. Then, I was going to cite traditional broadcast media. There are some rules there to ensure clear distinction between programme and advertising content.

However, when you think about it, how many morning DJs talk about having seen new blockbuster that’s not released yet? Many of them. And most of them went for free. You do not consciously think their opinion is biased.

Perhaps the online world is playing catch up with traditional media. And I can’t decide if that a good thing or not.

Maybe it’s sad that I cling to the notion that connected networks somehow empower people. I am not against the commercial web but weblogs are a great example of a (generally) positive use of the technology. When the marketers get involved it changes my expectations. It’s not a surprise but the next time somebody raves about something new won’t you question it (even a little bit)?

Is it possible to turn into a world-weary cynic in the space of two hours?

And now? Well, I stand by my thoughts that you should be clear about what you write. Blogging to me is the fulfilment of the web’s promise of personal publishing for everybody. But, of course, money always gets in the way and there’s nothing wrong with advertising online. After all, it’s what I do, isn’t it?

Elsewhere: The Kenneth Williams Diaries

The diaries are very well written and Davies’ editing not intrusive. Williams certainly didn’t appear to edit himself and the result is a frank and articulate book.

In my quest to ensure that I review every book that I read for Amazon (because I find other people’s reviews very useful) I’ve added my latest. It’s for the Kenneth Williams Diaries. I seemed to be reading them for ages – there are forty years worth of entries. It’s interesting for me because, during the time I was reading them I have also been maintaining this blog. While this isn’t quite a diary, the process is very similar and one paragraph in the diaries struck me as interesting:

The preoccupation with diary writing is caused by various things: the desire to keep a record which can be useful later, and committing to paper what can’t be communicated to a mentor … oh! all kinds of reasons, but fundamentally it is about loneliness.

Is it? Maybe it is. Who knows?

The Kenneth Williams Diaries, Edited by Russell Davies (Harper Collins, 1993)

Kenneth Williams DiariesI honestly think Kenneth Williams was unique. He certainly seemed to hate much about himself and didn’t have a great deal of time for a lot of other people. Sadly, the Diaries’ reputation precedes them and I expected more of the bitchiness that he is – supposedly – famed for. Despite that, there is plenty of Kenneth’s acid tongue in this book. His barbs are aimed squarely at his fans, his colleagues and the shows he felt obliged to work in. Some of the most intriguing insights are those that relate to the Carry On film series. Before Carry On made him famous, he was a well-respected stage actor. The Carry On films made him legendary (and wealthy) but he often felt they were beneath him.

Kenneth is well aware of his own nature. On 20 March 1987 he writes, “Everyone was v. nice to me … it is extraordinary that I’m so liked because I’m invariably rude & tetchy” and that sums up much of the book. You get a sense of love for the theatre, plays, and poetry and even for some of the work. However he is also offensive to many and seemed to have few good words for much of British Theatre. Much of the hate is due to an inner turmoil over the lack of companionship in his life (“Never to speak of my love for a man”) and some from the frustrations of his nature. Obsessed by noise and cleanliness the very act of living seems painful – and in the end his illness and genuine pain appear to get too much for him.

The diaries are very well written and Davies’ editing not intrusive. Williams certainly didn’t appear to edit himself and the result is a frank and articulate book. Words seem to flow easily which is, perhaps, not surprising for a man who made a living in the final years of his life from his large collection of humorous anecdotes. Spanning over forty years it’s hard to keep track of the players in Kenneth’s life and at 800 pages it’s not a light read. Nevertheless, the diaries are a vivid, malicious and (at times) very funny read into the world of a man who, in his day, was considered outrageous.

Elsewhere: Everything Taboo

I thought Taboo was fantastic and I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I think I had envisaged it as something akin to Closer To Heaven, but it wasn’t really like that at all. I loved the fact that The Venue is quite small and quite intimate which made you feel closer to the stage (and the audience bits help) and, of course, it brought memories flooding back (although I was watching events in the early-80s from the safety of the north).

I went to see Boy George’s Taboo last Friday and have been contemplating the blog entry ever since. I have to say that I thought that it was fabulous and I want to see it again (I even ordered the soundtrack last night!). It’s a fictional account of a lot of real people but most of the plot must be based on Boy George’s own life story as I recognised may of the characters and plot lines from his book Take It Like A Man. Obviously, he is a key (though not the central) character. I would thoroughly recommend to this anybody visiting London regardless of the way you feel about Boy George. It’s a strange time capsule of a musical and his songs are great – although several of them are old (some of which are taken from the under-rated album Cheapness and Beauty which I regard as one of the best of all time). The story is tender, the performances top-rate and the whole thing is laugh-out-loud funny (especially, Julian Clary). Lastmiunte.com often has cut-price tickets a few days before a show. Go see it. Often.

I also posted a review to the musical fan group at Yahoo! This is what I wrote:

I thought Taboo was fantastic – and I wasn’t sure what to really expect. I think I had envisaged it as something akin to Closer To Heaven, but it wasn’t really like that at all. I loved the fact that The Venue is quite small and quite intimate which made you feel closer to the stage (and the audience bits help) and, of course, it brought memories flooding back (although I was watching events in the early-80s from the safety of the north).

I am a big fan of Boy George’s more recent albums – Cheapness and Beauty is one of my all time favourites. When I heard some of the songs were being reworked for the show I was worried. Luckily, few have been re-penned and those that have been re-done are still as good as they are on the CD (although different). I was stunned by how much the mannerisms of the Boy George character seem to be like the Boy George we see on TV etc. It was a remarkable performance. Duncan Bennett as Billy was superb (was he really in the band Point Break? I don’t remember him) as well as being some appealing eye candy 😉 It was a thoroughly entertaining night out and I would recommend it to anybody.

Julian Clary was superb and, of course, looked stunning in those Leigh costumes. I would be interested to see how other people play the part as he put his own stamp on it without it seeming to be too Julian Clary.

I’ve ordered the CD – the cheapest I could find it was £10.99 at play.com – although it was on back order I notice tonight that they have posted it to me. I’m sure the CD doesn’t do the show justice (they rarely do) but I hope it will be brilliant anyway! Lastminute.com always seems to have discounts on top price tickets. I bought the cheaper seats direct from the box office and, to be honest, I think my view was as good as anybody with the more expensive ones (the theatre isn’t really large enough for it to make a difference). However, Lastminute’s discount seats are even cheaper and I shall certainly be going again.

[Links: BBC News – George breaks 80s Taboo | BBC News – Matt Lucas’s comic extremes | Guardian – We were so naughty | I Love the 80s]

Elsewhere: When Love Comes To Town

My latest book review is now over at Amazon.!!

When Love Comes To Town by Tom Lennon

When Love Comes to TownThere are many fictional coming-out tales to choose from, so why this read Lennons?

Firstly, there aren’t that many set in contemporary Dublin. Secondly, there are not too many told with the humour and compassion of When Love Comes To Town. Finally, there are not that many that are such a good read.

Let me also be honest. There are few new takes on the coming-out dilemma, so don’t expect total originality.

Neil Byrne is a top class student who has realised he isn’t like all his coupled-up (straight) friends. The story takes us through Neil’s tentative steps into Dublin’s gay nightlife and his introduction to the characters of The Scene. Neil’s first love and family’s reaction are all covered and his confusion, pain, hopes & desires are well described.

The family’s response is not a model reaction, so don’t read this book if you are looking for a reassuring, positive take on the acceptance of loved ones to the news that one of their own is gay.

The book’s climax is certainly one of the more surprising aspects of the tale. In a dark moment Neil realises what he needs to do to survive the next few years of his life in an intolerant community. This ending results in a fine piece of writing that conveys the emotion of the final scene remarkably well and, I suspect, brings a lump to the throat of many readers.

Given a less positive ending than many similar books, I found this to be a refreshingly honest story. It is certainly a welcome addition to the genre.

Click here to buy it at Amazon

Elsewhere: Where Are You Now, Miss Boo?

My review of the story of Boo – an interesting tale of a business with no financial controls.

I submitted another review to Amazon.co.uk today and I was quite pleased with it. Having just finished Boo Hoo (the story of online “active streetwear” retailer boo.com) I thought I would add another review to my small list. I was particularly fond of the last line: “Live hard, die young and leave a beautiful corpse” could almost have been written of Miss Boo.
My full review submitted to Amazon.co.uk earlier today:

What a fascinating book. Take two Swedes, a desire to be “cool” and throw $135 million at them! Ernst Malmsten’s story of boo.com is a warning to all new enterprises everywhere: get some strong financial controls and make sure you stay in charge of your costs. Most of all, it tells us that there is no substitute for some experience when running a shop.

I was sceptical that Ernst et al. would hide behind others and not shoulder the blame. However, what comes through clearly is the founder’s vision, belief and desire to build a world class product as well as the management’s failings when developing that business. It is possible to read much by what is not said, as well as what story is directly told and in that, an incredible tale unfolds before you.

The book is well written and highly addictive. As the inevitable end approaches it becomes one of those books you pick up all the time, even just to read the next two paragraphs. As a story it is thoroughly thought-out, well-paced and fascinating. As an insight into online business history it may be one-sided and sometimes lacking but it remains compulsive reading and a captivating look a never-to-be-repeated economic boom (and bust) time.

Boo.com became synonymous with the “live the high live, party hard” culture that many cash fuelled Internet start-ups went (and spent) through. “Live hard, die young and leave a beautiful corpse” could almost have been written of Miss Boo.

Elsewhere: Acting Like Rank Amateurs

On the uk-netmarketing mailing list, Stefan asked, “Why do people seem to think it’s acceptable to act like rank amateurs just because it’s online?” It’s a question that increasingly comes up as we’re looking to develop service models for a digital businesses. I’ve been recently asking similar questions both of our ability to serve our customers and of those that service my little piece of business. Technology on its own can not create great customer service; those of us involved in designing and managing that technology have to start with a customer centric view.

On Monday, over on the uk-netmarketing mailing list, Stefan asked, “Why do people seem to think it’s acceptable to act like rank amateurs just because it’s online?” It’s a question that increasingly comes up as we’re looking to develop service models for a digital businesses. I’ve been recently asking similar questions both of our ability to serve our customers and of those that service my little piece of business. Technology on its own can not create great customer service; those of us involved in designing and managing that technology have to start with a customer centric view. Nonetheless, technology should be able to help us deliver better service. I posted a response yesterday:

I’m not sure I’d use the phrase “rank amateurs” but poor service still common in many parts of our industry despite the fact most pitches tell the client how an online presence can help with customer service.

And it’s not just customer service. It’s the service levels we give each other.

You buy a service – be that hosting, mailing list management, stats crunching, ad delivery, product fulfillment, whatever – and in a high number of cases you get plenty of promises and in reality a 9-5 service. Something goes wrong outside those hours and there’s an excuse. And I suspect many of us are guilty.

I used to work in another media environment where 24 hour operation was also the norm. And if something went wrong at 2 in the morning somebody was available – or at least on call – to fix it. In the 3 years I was there we never had a 100% service failure for more than about 2 minutes. Sure, sometimes small elements failed but tried and tested monitoring procedures provided backup so that the customer got 70% of the service.

I find this is not the case with online media. Servers go down at 2 on a Sunday afternoon and it isn’t easy to get somebody in to fix them. Pipe to ISP fails. Sorry they’re in a meeting? Somebody messed up the DNS records last night? Can it wait until Monday? (All 3 responses happened to me in the last 2 weeks) Where’s the backup & redundancy that’s in the initial sales pitch? I find the concept of a Service Level Agreement pretty hard to swallow – I accept things go wrong and I’m not in the game of trying to get compensation for every second over the agreed levels that the service isn’t delivered. However I’m slowly turning that way as it appears to me the only solution to some basic failures where I believe there should be redundant systems etc.

Now it isn’t everybody and as there are more and more online only or online centric businesses then it will get better but there seems to me a great reluctance to accept we need the professional service levels other media already have.

Am I alone with this view/experience?

jon

I genuinely believe we are in a place to change customer service using the web technologies for our customers but we must not forget the service we provide each other. The novelty, if I can use that word, of web-based service delivery should not be excuse for forgetting the lessons learnt elsewhere. If you service sucks your customers will, eventually, go to somebody else.

Update August 2009: Almost ten years since I wrote this and I’ve found it archived online by the good folks at Chinwag.

Elsewhere: Wayback When

Trying to find some of my earliest work on the internet was an interesting lesson in how we have failed to archive the internet but I did find some references to some early emails I wrote.

Two years ago today I left my colleagues at Satellite Media Services in Lawford Heath, Warwickshire and moved on to IPC where I can be found looking after advertising systems for ybw.com. I left copies of my original web presence on SMS’ servers but sadly they no longer exist. For a side project, I have been trying to determine when I first started building web sites. The Wayback Machine only appears to have an archived version of the SMS site from 1997 but, unfortunately, I don’t appear to have the earlier versions. Wayback does have a copy of the original Independent Radio News site we launched in 1997 but not of the original news audio we were serving for several years before that. If I am not mistaken it was the first real-time news audio service in the UK. Thanks to Deja News (now Google Groups) I can find references to the UK Radio Mailing List that we at SMS took over running in 1996 and one reference to a 1995 request for information about an indirect access service called 1602. It’s a shame those original sites are not archived somewhere. I guess this is a lesson in the transient nature of the web. We need to remember how easily digital history can be erased.

  • Update September 2002: Deja News links updated to Google
  • Update August 2003: Links updated
  • Update June 2009: ex-sms.com link added